Monday, September 26, 2005

To the Little Orange People, I am a Hero

I ran in my second ever autocross yesterday. Wow. Take all of the excitement of rallye driving, pack it into 55 seconds, then do it 5 times within an hour. The result, when mixed with an hour of course-work, an hour of walking the course and memorizing it, and at least two hours of prepping the car and watching others (oh, yeah, and driving 45 minutes to and from the event), is utter fatigue. With a little sunburn.

Every part of my body wanted to crash when I got home, but I still had to take another 30 minutes putting the car back together for street driving. This stuff is exhausting.

The course, which was set up at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, was based largely on the North Course at this year's SCCA Nationals. A fun, fast, and complicated course ranging over a huge piece of tarmac, it featured slaloms, hair-pin turns, narrow channels (some that curved), super-fast straights, braking nightmares, and everything you'd (n)ever want to encounter on the street. In short: it was awesome.

I think there were close to 100 competitors, including 6 MINIs (7 drivers), a bevy of Porsches, BMW's, Subies, a Mitsubishi Evo, and a Ferrari Modena 360 Spyder. Nice. Some of the cars were trailered in, raced, trailered, and taken back home. I can't imagine having the financial wherewithal to trailer a 1983 Morgan Plus 8, or a custom-built race car.

Anyway, in the first heat (of four), Daniel Gohlke and I were assigned to the third safety station. Our job was to reset cones if they got knocked down, to call them in as penalties, and to red flag drivers if an unsafe condition presented itself. That turned out to be ironic, as the third station was in the most unsafe possible place. We were in a place that was responsible for traffic coming from two opposite directions, and once had a BMW M Coupe come sliding right at us.

During the second heat, I watched a number of great competitors, and watched as the bar was raised higher and higher. This enormous course was being run in less than 50 seconds, and some had it down to 43 seconds.

Finally, our time came. I went out and did my very best, each time learning a little more about the nuances of the course: where to apply power, where to shift, where to brake, and when to turn. By the last run, I had figured out how to drift slightly through some of the later gates, which allowed me to turn the wheel before getting to the gate, kick out the back end, and wind up pointed at the next gate. As a result, I wound up cutting just over 4 seconds off my time.

Run 1: 57.170
Run 2: 55.329
Run 3: 54.555
Run 4: 53.701
Run 5: 53.127

And I never hit a cone. This stuff is addictive.

Monday, September 19, 2005

2005 British Car Days

Yesterday was the 2005 British Car Days, put on by the Central Virginia British Car Club. For some reason, there was a theme this year: "Tour of Europe". This meant that other European cars were invited to participate.

At first, I wasn't keen on the idea of having a bunch of random German and Italian cars in the mix. But yesterday, when I got to see a 2004 Maserati Coupe next to a Ferrari 360 Modena, everything was OK with the universe.

There were Porsches: 911 RS (American version), 930 Turbo (ah, memories), various Carreras, and fully race-equipped car (that burned a hole in the grass with his exhaust). There were VW's: R32's and Beetles (one done up as a baseball, complete with Rawlings leather seats and a baseball bat e-brake handle). There was a Citroen, a complement of Saabs from every era, a couple of really cool Volvos, and some other cars I simply couldn't identify.

The piece-de-resistance, however, was the 1969 Ferrari Daytona. With the hood open, you could see how spotless each of the 6 2-barrel carburetors were and how perfectly clean the hood-batting fabric was. This thing is well kept. From what I heard from others, it's well-kept for good reason: it's insanely rare. It won for "Best of Italy".

Mr. Kimmelshue took home the trophy for Best new MINI. Rock on! That car was spotless, thanks to Richard's incredible diligence.

I spent a good deal of time hanging around the EuroClassics Lotus Elises. Wow. That orange Elise was just begging me to buy it. The guy let me get inside, which I used as a photo op. I have never fallen more deeply in love with a piece of machinery.

The biggest disappointments of the show, however, were Crown MINI and the food. The food was awful and exorbitantly over-priced. Typical. Crown, though, has no excuse. They put a bunch of money into this thing every year; their ad shows up on the back cover of the program, and they just sat around all day. They didn't set up any signs, didn't hand out flyers, didn't do squat. No, that's not true. They left the cars for a long time and wandered around, then took my seats when they came back. Bunch of clowns. Just to make the disappointment complete, upon closer inspection, their whole-page ad on the back of the flyer was awful. The MINI in the picture looked like it was printed at 72dpi. Very amateur.

Anyway, we all sat in the intense sunlight and 90-degree heat for about 7 hours, taking in all the beautiful machines, and then headed over to Legend to rehydrate.

I had a great time, but wish it could have been about 10 degrees cooler and a little bit cloudy.

I can't wait 'til next year. Hopefully we'll be able to field more than 6 cars, although I was delighted to note that all the MINI's out there were members of RCM. REPRESENT!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Schroth and Autometer and Aubrey / Alistair

I've now competed in a speed-based event in my MINI. I participated in Sunday's Autocross, and boy oh boy did I have fun. I got a wicked sunburn, but I had fun. And I'm doing it again!

The harnesses made all the difference in the world. Previously, to keep my butt in place, I had to push my arms hard against the steering wheel, my knees against the sides of the cockpit, and my left foot hard against the dead-pedal. On Sunday, with the harnesses in and drawn tight enough to reduce circulation, I was free to just drive the car.

I was surprised that, over 6 runs, I never upset a cone or veered off course, although I went through a bunch of rubber. The course began with a zig left and a zag right, followed by a short downhill slalom, a sweeping uphill left 180, a very short straight, a sweeping downhill left 180, slaloms again, the uphill again, a hard brake, a hard left, and then a quick launch to the finish line. Amazingly, I didn't come in last place. The little Cooper showed its teeth, and while my times were nowhere near record-breaking, they demonstrated that this car can be mean. I was only .05 seconds off the best time of a Cooper S. Of course, he was competing in a stock class, and I was competing in a virtually unlimited class, but I think that, with a little more experience (and perhaps a performance driving school), I might be able to post some really good times.

My fastest run was 34.402 seconds, and my slowest run was 36.418; just 2.016 seconds difference. But, watching the videos, that 2 seconds is fairly easy to see. I need to see if there's a way I can make a split-screen video of the fastest and slowest runs.

As mentioned, I got lots of tire squeals, managed to get her a little bit sideways (on purpose), and had an absolute blast. I can't wait for registration to open for the next one.


I have now received my AutoMeter gauges, but they're going to be tricky to install. I don't have the highest expectations, but they will at least be in the car for the British Car Show on Sunday. I hope to have them both functional by the autocross on the 25th, as one of them directly measures lateral G-forces, and I would like to know exactly what I'm doing to the car on these runs.


Enough geekdom. Amanda is edging closer to the third trimester, and we still haven't fully settled on a name. Or perhaps I mean that I still haven't fully settled on a name. I like Aubrey (I just mistyped it "Aubrye", and thought it looked really cool). Really, I do. But it's so inexorably tied to Jack Aubrey that I might have trouble over time. I think it's also a name that I would tire of saying. But it's such a classic and classy name. Full of power and history. It's a name that I associate with emotional and physical fortitude.

Alistair, on the other hand, lends more to intellectualism and royalty. Yes, it's tainted by the famous Satanist, but every name has been assigned to at least one ill-bred fellow, right? Just think about all the poor folks named Adolf, Saddam, Fidel, or Kim. We can't hold the circumstances of history against them just because they share a name with a tyrant.

Both are the types of names that children often eschew in favor of their more mundane middle names (which, for Lumpy, will most likely be Paul, in honor of my grandfather: Albert Paul Chamberlain).

So which is it: Aubrey Paul Amos or Alistair Paul Amos? There's always the dark horse: Addison Paul Amos.

We've looked over scads of more pedestrian names, and they just don't ring true with either of us.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Gauges and harnesses, baby!

Three weeks after ordering them, my harnesses finally arrived. I got them installed a couple of days ago, and just that simple change makes the interior of the car look mean.

Now, to complement them, and to give me some knowledge of what's going on under the bonnet, I'm getting some gauges. I've ordered an Alta gauge-pod, and had my dad order an air/fuel ratio gauge, along with something called a D-PIC, which measures G-forces, wheel horsepower, acceleration, and braking. Both have lots of flashing lights and should give me a good indication of what changes need to be made to improve my performance.

It's all very exciting.

Even more exciting is the fact that I've put 356 miles on this tank of gas, and the OBC is telling me that I can get 61 more miles out of it. This might be a record. My computer's reporting an average fuel-economy of 29.7 mpg, which might be just a touch low compared to actual usage.

Unfortunately, I'll have to refuel today, but I'm not putting in more than half a tank. Why? I'm participating in my first autocross on Sunday, and experienced racers will tell you never to run with more than 3 gallons of fuel in the car. Gas weighs over 6 lbs / gallon, so running with 3 gallons shaves 60 lbs of weight.

Taking out the spare tire and toolkit takes off another 48 lbs, so I'll be running 100 lbs lighter than I generally run. w00t!

Thursday, September 01, 2005