Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cooper Vineyards III

Saturday was the 3rd (Annual?) Cooper Vineyards MINI rally. The event was scheduled back in November, but RCM completely forgot about it until late February, when the fellow who organized the last run announced that he would not be able to coordinate it. Bummer.

We searched around for someone willing to spear-head the event, all the while watching the days tick by, until I finally--begrudgingly--took it upon myself to "coordinate" the event (really this just entails coordinating the drive to the event, but that, in and of itself, is an event).

Mike sent me his directions from last year, and I spent hours on Google maps making an enormous MSpaint map showing the route. Daniel Gohlke was courteous enough to give me hosting space, but I totally forgot to publish links on NAM until just a couple of days prior to the event.

Anyway, we gathered in the parking lot of Bruster's on Staples Mill on Saturday morning, and when I drove up, it was clear that RCM did not have much representation. There were almost 20 cars there when I got there, and I only recognized 1 or 2. People I didn't know flocked to me to ask if I was their leader for the day, which terrified me, because I knew that I was. I haven't had to deal with authority-roles for a very long time, and it does not come naturally.

I got the maps and directions handed out, waited for a few stragglers, and then held my very first drivers' meeting. Weird. It's the strangest feeling to tell 30 adults what you expect of them, but they were all very gracious and considerate, and the drive went off without a hitch (22 cars in total made the drive, and we got some great looks from kids, adults, and even a few horses).

Alastair loved every twist, every bump, and every mash of the brakes. He's a born racer.

The winery was great, if a bit chilly. Just like in October, the temperature fell the whole time we were there, but the wine warmed our tummies, and Alastair warmed my chest (he rode around the winery in our bjorn).

We bought 3 bottles of wine: Coopertage Blanc, Norton, and Syrah. All very tasty.

The biggest surprise of the day, though, was how big a hit my car was. I had people gathered around the back of AHAMOS the whole time we were there, and folks were picking my brain about exhausts, suspension, why my wheels have 2 valve-stems, and whether I would be willing to do some install work. Folks just aren't accustomed to seeing a prepped Cooper, I suppose.

Alastair slept almost the whole way home, and I was beat.

It was a very good day (and I've decided that my new FAVORITE color is Space Blue w/ Silver roof).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Back to the drawing board

Evidently it was all a lie...or at least a huge misunderstanding. A JCW MCS does not qualify for G-Stock (and it shouldn't, really): it runs in B-Stock, the same class as the Nissan 350Z. Yikes.

Or at least it does for 2006. Oddly, a 2005 with a JCW retro-fit moves to STX, whereas a 2006 JCW with anything non-stock moves to STU.

Oh, it's all so confusing...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sunday Sunday Sunday!!!

So I did pretty well in Sunday's autocross.

First place Novice, 30th PAX (adjusted scores), 44th raw time. This is the first time I've won anything, and the first time I've cracked the top half in raw or PAX times. I finally feel competitive!

But I learned some interesting stuff on Sunday, and it's gotten me to thinking. I've reached what I feel is very close to the limit of my car's performance. I know there were a couple of places where I might have been able to gain another .25 seconds with another couple of runs, but basically I'm not the limiting factor any more.

I accomplished 2G transitions in about 2 seconds, which tells me the car was it its limits, but I was losing traction because the tightness of the course kept me in 1st gear. Even at 5K RPM, if I mash the pedal, the tires will break loose. However, there's so little torque down low that shifting to 2nd would have cost me well over 5 seconds. So it's a compromise, but I'm running in a class that does not allow compromise.

Basically I've modified the MINI to the point where it can't competently compete. I don't want to go back to stock and run in HS, because the car wouldn't be any fun for the occasional track day, and I don't want to start fiddling with engine internals in the hopes of somehow finding the "secret ingredient" to making a Cooper into a Porsche.

What to do?

The (only reasonable) answer comes in changes that MINI made in 2006, when they started putting JCW parts on at the factory. It turns out that any modification made at the factory is legal in stock classes. Richard West successfully drove his STX (some mods, but stock engine) to 2nd place PAX on Sunday, after retro-fitting the JCW engine kit. Rick Carson took 1st Place in G-Stock in what can only have been a JCW car.

Add to this that the single most competitive group out there (IMHO) is GS, and you start to see where I'm going. The temptation is very serious and very real to order a JCW MCS.

Think about it: I want to stay in stock class, which only allows replacement of coil pack (I already have an aftermarket one that would work just fine) and interior cosmetic / AV options (Ice-Link Plus). The JCW is competent on the track, too. Maybe not lightning quick like Chris's MINI, but certainly quicker than mine. The JCW has much higher resale value, too.

If I did get one, I basically would have to leave it alone. The only thing I could get away with is putting on my Kosei wheels. That means no more money thrown into the car. No aftermarket parts to squeak, no droning rattly exhaust, no brutal suspension, and no wondering if this part's going to be compatible with that part.

And that means a one-time investment. Period.

I could recoup about half of the money I've invested in aftermarket parts, too, which makes that one-time investment a lot easier to handle.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I'm a big fat slacker

It's so easy to move through my day reading other people's blogs that I just forgot to update mine for the last 2 weeks.

Alastair is smiling at us now. He's still growing at a phenomenal pace, and is wearing 3-6 month clothes (at 8 weeks). He's wearing size 2 diapers and will be weighed on Thursday. I have a feeling he weighs around 14 lbs, but we'll see. He's no longer getting a full swaddle at night, because he's gotten strong enough to wiggle out of anything binding his arms, so now we just wrap his torso and legs to comfort him (it works: if we just put him in pajamas, we get 3-hour sleep windows; in the half-swaddle, we get 6 - 7 hour windows).

I spent part of the day Saturday making the first of several adjustments to his car seat. I have a feeling that he'll be out of this car seat by June. That little turkey is just a weed.

Car stuff:

I got the MINI weighed on Saturday. I took it to the dump, rolled up on the commercial scales, and got them to weigh it for free! 2620 lbs with me and 1/4 tank of fuel. That means the car weighs 2450 lbs without me. Not bad. It's still a far cry from what I initially called ideal (2200 lbs), but "ideal" and "unrealistic" are synonymous.

Anyway, the first autocross of the season was yesterday (Sunday, 3/19), and Amanda came out to ride with me. The course was at RIR, and was probably the best opportunity I'll get to be competitive for a long time, as speeds never exceeded 1st gear. Due to overwhelming turnout, everybody got 4 runs (instead of 5).

Amanda rode along on the first two, and we consistently did 61.x seconds. After she got out, my time came down to 60.207, but I was bound and determined to break 60, since most of the good drivers were in the mid 50's. So I decided not to care about feedback from the car, and just mashed the accelerator (hey, it's got a rev-limiter). I got 57.894 on the final run, and was ecstatic. That's a very competitive time for a car that's not turbo or super-charged.

Monday, March 06, 2006


The surgery was successful; Randy is recuperating, and they should be home tomorrow.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Randy's surgery is tomorrow morning. Please keep her in your prayers.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The world is impossibly small

A week or so ago, I got a note from my good friend Daniel Gohlke. He works the Help Desk at Hunton Williams law firm, and was writing to tell me that he'd just deployed a new laptop to a fellow named Amos. At the time, I thought Daniel was just being weird.

He sent a link to the guy's corporate profile, at which I dutifully glanced before going on with my day. I didn't think anything of it for several days, but then I remembered that I had met a fellow named Amos in 1997 in Paris.

Unlikely, thought I, that it should be the same fellow, as that particular Amos was from North Carolina, and how freakishly small could the world possibly be?

So it gnawed at my mind for a couple of days. I went back and looked at the guy's corporate profile. His picture looked just vaguely familiar, so I checked to see if there were any other clues. Sure enough: he graduated from UNC in 1998.

OK, that's one coincidence, along with the fact that there can't be too many people named Amos. So I googled his name, and found that he'd played guitar in an "acoustic garage band" in North Carolina. Aha! Now this is getting closer, as I remembered my Parisian friend as being typical of most young musicians of the time.

Finally overcome with curiosity, I wrote back to Daniel and asked him to find out if this Amos fellow had been in Paris in 1997. Within an hour, I had confirmation that I had, indeed, found one of my travelling friends from that wild 37-day tour of Europe. In Richmond. Freak-show!

Over the years, I've kept up (off & on) with Kirsten Roeters, and once got a letter from a yankee girl I met in Munich, but those connections were sought out, and I had the benefit of knowing their home addresses. This is just random.

What I recall of the 2 or 3 days I spent hanging out with Amos is very slight. I was finishing my whirl-wind tour, was perpetually exhausted, and had become the grizzled traveler that new travelers look up to (it's very strange: when you travel alone, you go very quickly from being clueless to being a guru). I was staying at a hostel in the 5th Arrondissement, a very popular hostel with Ilsa and Virginie at the front desk, and had been reading in the lobby (probably Lolita or Dogbert's Guide to Management) when a troupe of newly-arrived Americans traipsed through the lobby, trying to figure out where to go for food.

As I'd already spent several days in Paris at the beginning of my journey, I remembered several good eateries, so I offered some suggestions, and out we went. Amos and I hit it off immediately, and it was he and I who stayed out the latest of the whole group, though I don't remember quite what we did. For some reason, I picture us sitting on the steps of the Pantheon very late one night, but that's about it.

I was so exhausted during those last few days that I took my final day in Europe to simply sleep. I didn't do anything else during the whole day, but my last memory of people in Paris was of Amos (and regretting that Virginie mon Ange was not working the front desk the morning I left).

It's good to see you again, sir!