Targa Miata
February 16, 2009 - Part of the preparation for the Laguna Seca event is a new windshield.
When I took the car out of the trailer on the way home from the race, I discovered a crack at the driver's A-pillar. There was no big impact mark, but the glass installer did discover a very small mark that may have caused the initial damage. Regardless, it needed replacing. So now it's super-clean!
I also spent some time with Janel fitting her in the car. No, not in the navigator's seat, but in the driver's side. She's proportioned differently than I am (much to her relief, I'm sure) and she needs to sit higher in the car. We originally thought she needed to sit further back as well, but the first test showed this wasn't the case. A bit of work with the leftover Backsaver foam and now she has her own booster seat. This means she can come out to Laguna Seca with me and get a chance to drive the car. The intercom will make it easy to coach her.
This is going to be fun. I want to do pace notes for the track. "Over crest into hard left over crest into medium right..."
entry 653 - tags: laguna, ergonomics
March 18, 2009 - Time to hit the road!
The car's packed up in the trailer along with a bunch of spares and tools. Not necessarily for me, but with over 100 Miatas pounding around the track I expect someone's going to need a bit of help at some point. I'm looking forward to this event simply due to the number of cool people involved. And I'm still using the same tires I had on for the race - which means they've travelled from the edge of the Atlantic to the edge of the Pacific. Cool.
I have some other news, but it'll come later. Right now, I'm trying to finish up my work so I can get out of here.
entry 662 - tags: Laguna
March 25, 2009 - A great weekend at Laguna Seca.
I drove out to California expecting a two-day track event, and ended up with quite a bit more than that.
Of course, there was a big track event. The Targa car spent around 7 hours on the track. I was playing with the fast guys in the A group. The open passing and chance to play tag with some of my friends in close company made the track far more interesting. Partway through the first day, circulating alone, I was sick of the same 11 corners over and over. But once I got into a chase with a few others, it added a whole new dimension. I can see how wheel-to-wheel racing could be addictive, although it's a different sort of game from the open road. I did notice that my peak speed on the track was only about 160 km/h.
During the Targa, our top speed on the Leading Tickles stage was 190 km/h. With trees and rock walls lining a bumpy road that we'd never seen before.
In the rain.

The car was handling perfectly. I'd nailed the balance with the new springs and sway settings, and I didn't touch the setup all weekend. When my good friend - and ex-pro driver - Rick Weldon took the wheel, he came in laughing and completely in love with the car. He didn't want me to change a single thing. It's good to get his stamp of approval, as it's always a bit worrisome to think that maybe I've adapted to the car instead of getting the car right. He really felt the car was prepared well and the handling was bang-on. Another fast driver commented on how it was impossible to get the car upset. No matter what I did, the car just ate it up and came back for more. Naturally, this seemed to be in context of my habit of making full use of the berms. "The track is wider for that car", one other driver noted. The hearty engine came in handy as well, even holding off at least one turbo Miata down the long front straight. Rick went out with Tom Matano in the passenger's seat of my car and got into a big scrap with one of his Spec buddies, everyone coming in with big grins.
Janel was also there, getting friendly with the driver's seat on the car. It was the first time she's really had the car up to temp and she was much happier than she had been at our little kart track day a few weeks back. As soon as she discovered how well the brakes worked, she started using them in earnest - she's always had the habit of coasting up to corners, so that's a big step. And more importantly, she discovered that all that information coming from the car is useful. As she described it to someone else - her Miata will do the same thing whether she takes a corner well or takes it badly, but not tell her. But the Targa car will let her know if she takes a corner well, giving her the feedback to improve. She can feel the tires working. She figured out turn 10 almost immediately, and I worked with her over the weekend to take what she was doing on that corner and apply it to others on the track. We worked our way around piece by piece - 6, then 4, then 5. It turns out she likes fast corners best. The Corkscrew wasn't her favorite as she had to muster the nerve to go over that blind drop. On her last session, she went out with Rick and he managed to coach her best driving ever out of her, including figuring out the Corkscrew. She was overjoyed and Rick was bubbling over with praise about how well she takes instruction. She's got a good feel for the car, and after this weekend I think she likes the driver's seat almost as much as the navigator's! She was nervous that Rick would be disappointed, but it was the exact opposite. Was I proud? Oh yes.
The only downer to the weekend was that, in a remarkable and extended spasm of incompetency on the part of US Air, she arrived 24 hours late and our planned mini-vacation in Monterey didn't happen. We'll be avoiding that airline in the future.
There were lots of fans of the Targa car there. I don't think Janel ever believed me about how many people know about the car and followed our race, but she got a chance to see the enthusiasm first-hand. Thanks to everyone who came up to introduce themselves! I was also surprised at the banquet on Saturday night when I was honored with an award for my contributions to the Miata community. Wow!
The car saw about 7 hours of track time. It was almost perfect, with only a couple of hitches. The first happened when Rick was driving the car, the check engine light came on and the car lost power. That's the Hydra Nemesis dropping back to the safe spark map to protect the engine. I haven't been able to figure out just what happened there, although the fuel level was getting low. I tossed in a bit of gas and some toluene (causing some real confusion in the pits, seeing as how I was pouring it out of a paint shop can) but the problem happened again. A full tank of 91 "competition" fuel and it cleared up. Weird. I'm going to change the fuel filter, as I don't know what's gone through that tank with all the small Newfoundland stations. Then, in the last couple of sessions, the high-rpm stumble from the last day of the Targa came back. Again with the puzzling problems! I'm going to brainstorm this one with my coworkers for a while and see what they say.
I also got the chance to drive Elvis, the LS1-powered Miata I autocrossed a few months back, on the track. Yee hah. The thunderous rampage down the straights was to be expected, but on top of that the rest of the car worked very well. It put down power far better than it had any right to do, and the overall balance was still very good. As it should be, because Elvis was running the AFCO suspension developed on the Targa Miata! When another car pointed us by, we didn't just pass them. We evaporated them. It would be an awesome Targa weapon, with huge acceleration, a wide powerband and the ability to dance in the twisty bits. Unfortunately, it got coolant into the cylinders and the car got parked. The current theory is that the modified heads were ported too far and got into a coolant passage. Whops.
Now, Elvis had been driven to California while I towed the Targa car out. So, other than a quick stop to change to street rubber in Reno (after going over a 7500' snowy pass on race rubber alone at 11 pm!), I drove the race car home without changing a thing. 7 hours on the track, 17 hours on the interstate. I've always said that a good Targa car was a good street car, but I never thought I'd have to prove it in this way. I averaged 30 mpg and 70 mph on the run from Sacramento to Reno, which is nothing to be be ashamed of. How's that for a dual-purpose machine?
entry 663 - tags: Laguna, skills, testing, handling
April 2, 2009 - Zandr Milewski - a big supporter of our Targa effort - was one of the instructors at the Laguna Seca event.
After reading what I wrote a couple of days ago, he sent me this note:
I followed Janel on that last session in AHHRRR. (an R package Miata with Toyo RA1s and suspension work - Keith). Until she figured out turn 2, I could reel them in every lap. Once she got 2 figured out, it was over. She was decisively walking away from me on all the straights, and I don't think I had much on her in the corners.
When you were headed north on 880 up to Rick's shop on Monday afternoon, I spotted the Targa very clearly from the other side of the freeway. That car can certainly be seen at a distance!

Thanks Zandr!
entry 665 - tags: Janel, Laguna
March 16, 2010 - I started the day planning to do some dyno testing on some intake variations.
But first, I had a couple of parts to install. First was a couple of springs for the rear, so I could get the ride height into a reasonable range. That was quick and easy.
After that, I decided to put on an ATi damper. Since the car's seeing a lot of constant high rpm use on track, I figured I'd like a bit of extra margin of safety for the oil pump. Besides, it makes the engine feel smoother and the guys at Flyin' Miata suspect there might be a bit of power in it. We'll see.
Unfortunately, the install of the damper and a few other jobs ate up my spare time so the dyno didn't happen. Soon, though.
I did take the car out on the road for a bit of a test drive with the new intake setup. The Hydra was able to autotune itself into a happier place - I suspect I never set up the part-throttle tuning after the fuel pressure change, and so it's running really rich at anything but wide open. Before the changes to the fuel system, the fuel pressure was tied to manifold pressure so I'd see a drop in pressure under vacuum. Anyhow, a half hour drive later and the car's much happier. And pretty fun, once you get used to the heavier throttle pedal. The dual spring suspension is working pretty well - it's quite comfortable on the highway and on smaller bumps as the softer spring takes the hit, but you can tell there's some real stiffness behind it. I think, on track, it's going to have an initial bit of lean and then the car will take a very solid set. Would it be a good Targa setup? I don't know. I need some more seat time.

I did think of one potential problem, however. The Laguna Seca weekend that's coming up in a month or so has a very high 102 dB sound limit - almost unheard of at Laguna. Janel's also going to be driving on Friday with another group to get some private instruction from our friend Rick Weldon. Well, that group probably has a 92 dB limit, and with the current intake setup I suspect the car isn't going to meet that limit.
entry 731 - tags: suspension, intake, damper, engine, sound, laguna
April 14, 2010 - Welcome to California!
Three days of track time with two drivers, mixing it up with faster cars. It's a good thing this little car is tough.
The first day was sunny and beautiful. The track day was run by the Checkered Flag Racing Association, which is basically a grown-up version of the Red Rock Racers I run in Grand Junction. Sessions were 30 minutes long and full of some very serious machinery. Even the novice group had a Porsche GT3, a fast little Caterham and a couple of Nissan GT-Rs. The Nissans were being driven extremely quickly, and were really in the wrong group. Overall, a very experienced bunch that were good to share the track with.
The goal for the Friday session was for it all to be about Janel. She's spent so long hanging around as I run around at the track it only seemed fair for her to have her own track day. So our friend Rick Weldon offered to give her personal instruction, and I was pit crew.
We started off doing a sound check. The limit was 92 dB, and we went by the meter at 93.3 dB. After a certain amount of chaos on the part of the organizers who all told us different things, we found that by holding 4th gear through turn 5 we tripped the meter at 88 dB. So there's that solved then.
Rick was running behind, so I went out with Janel for the first three sessions. We had a good time and everything seemed to be working fairly well other than a car that was very grouchy when cold. The biggest problem was dealing with the traffic.
Rick showed up just as we left for the third session, so he only got to ride with Janel for a couple of sessions. She was all warmed up and ready to go, though. He's a fantastic instructor and not only helped her with her lines, but also with how to deal with traffic. She's a great learner, and if you tell her to go full throttle through a certain corner without lifting, she'll do it!
I was running a stopwatch, and we saw her times drop by about 12 seconds per lap - partly due to the way that she dealt with faster cars passing her. The big grin is from her last session, when she spent two or three laps holding off a 911 GT3 (really!) before the monster power on the straight finally proved to be too much for the little Miata. She was putting down consistent 2:00 laps with only a few tenths of a second of variation, plus one solid 1:59.28. You can see her session on the video page. After seeing the times, Rick commented that she'd be a great endurance driver. On the way to dinner a couple of nights later, she asked me how you get involved in endurance racing...
Does she look happy to you?
entry 748 - tags: janel, laguna seca, track
April 14, 2010 - After Janel had so much fun on Friday, it was time to meet the hundreds of Miatas that had come for Miatas at MRLS.
The plan was for me to drive the car in the fastest A group and take people for rides, and Janel would drive in the C group. However, when I first jumped in the car, I discovered that it was very unhappy under part throttle. It was too late for me to do any more tuning on the car, but spending a single session with a laptop jammed under a seat would have made a big difference. Still, it was easy enough to drive around. I also discovered that while my spare rubber was up to pressure, I had the tires on the car about 7 psi low. Whoops. So the car should have been faster on Friday for Janel if I'd been able to take a quick test drive. Sorry!
For the rest of the weekend, the car pounded around and around the track. The other cars from Flyin' Miata were under orders not to run at 10/10ths to ensure they'd last, but that didn't apply to the Targa car. So I ran it pretty hard, and I know Janel did as well. This is one solid little critter, and so much fun.
The new suspension wasn't a big hit with Janel, and it certainly did allow a lot of lean. Still, it put down the power well and seemed friendly enough. I wanted just a bit less understeer but didn't want to mess with it after Janel had spent so long honing things with Rick.
I spent a lot of my time staying out of trouble with the A group, populated with winged beasts and drivers that were considerably faster than me.
Janel had a different problem. She was much faster than everyone in her group, and so she spent most of the time waiting for the slower driver to point her by. It was frustrating. She really should have been in the B group.
Sunday started off cold and looking like rain, and it started to sprinkle fairly early. Janel came into the Corkscrew with the back end of the car quite loose and almost looped it, and I found the grip level changing on every corner. So we parked the car, and shortly afterwards the skies opened. The track was closed early due to the deep water, and we packed up to go home.
A pretty good weekend.
entry 749 - tags: laguna seca, track
April 14, 2010 - New videos have been uploaded!
There's a video of Janel's fastest session on Friday as well as a couple with me driving in the middle of a fairly entertaining group. Videos
On Saturday, the event organizers gathered a few of us together for a video shoot. There was a hand-held camera in one of the cars, and the rest of us were basically tasked with putting on a good show. Two Spec Miata drivers and a couple of modified super Miatas - and my little rally toy. I was probably the least experienced track driver of the bunch, so I had to pedal pretty hard just to keep up! The extra horsepower of the Targa car let me reel in the Spec Miatas most of the time, but not always.
Still, it was like a little race. One of us would take the lead, then allow someone else to pass. Meanwhile, the camera car was zooming back and forth. I certainly wasn't the fastest driver or car in the group, but I consoled myself with the thought that if there was a speedbump in the middle of the front straight, I was the only person who could take it at full speed!

The Targa Miata is one solid little car. This picture was taken after Janel ran for a full day on Friday, and then she and I both drove the car on Saturday. On Saturday, the car was on the track for 20 minutes, then parked for 20 minutes before it went out again. And that's the state of one of the tires. A tire that we used in the Targa. A week long race, followed by a bunch of local track days, followed by two days at Laguna Seca last year, then repeat the local track days and two more days at Laguna. And it's only about half worn! Amazing.
entry 750 - tags: play, laguna seca, video
April 25, 2010 - Some pictures from the Laguna event.
More are coming. This is the first session on Saturday (it must be, I'm not wearing my driving suit) and that's John Anker coming down the Corkscrew behind me. He was never behind me for long!
Photo by Mark Booth.
entry 751 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - Mark got a this great shot of Janel at speed.
I'm not sure where it was taken - it's a right hand turn, so I'm thinking it's either turn 4 or 10, and something it telling me it's 4 - but I really like it.
Photo by Mark Booth.
entry 752 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - A shot of our video session from outside turn 2.
I'd just steamed by the whole group on the straight (with their acquiescence, as there's no way I could power by a couple of those cars), and was taking a wide line into 2 to let that Spec Miata run inside me for a cool pass. The camera is in the red car about halfway back. This was fun stuff. The photo was taken right at 2:00 in this video.
Photo by Mark Booth
entry 753 - tags: laguna seca
April 25, 2010 - Laguna Seca is a pretty track.
Quite a change from the dusty desert. Here's Janel about to dive over the edge into the Corkscrew. Photo by Got Blue Milk.
entry 754 - tags: laguna seca
April 4, 2012 - Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca!
Always a fun track. On the first session of our two-day visit, I got my first chance to try out the car on a big track with an engine up to full power and a track-prepped suspension and tire package. It was a lot of fun. It's been two years since I was at Laguna, so I was still feeling my way around. But the car felt pretty good, well balanced and very strong.
Then the heavens opened. On my next session, it was raining so hard that I was hydroplaning all over the place and struggling for any sort of traction. Add in some bad visibility from both the rain and windshield fog, and I pulled in after two very sketchy laps. There was nothing to be gained by throwing the car away and I wasn't comfortable. My top speed was lower than it had been on the Targa, and in that case there were times when I was following a faint yellow center line through the fog on an unknown road. But there you have it, I wasn't up to speed mentally yet.
The rain tapered off for the next few sessions, and grip levels started to come back. It was entertaining slithering around in the corners, but I would have preferred the ability to use full throttle once in a while just for fun! I can report that there's no concern about water inhalation with the new intake, though. Even through the comically deep puddle at pit exit.
I was getting a few odd messages from the steering in the fourth session, though. I was convinced that the wheel was off-center in places. But not always. And the car seemed to understeer sometimes. It was making me wonder. I pulled off the front wheels and checked everything over but I couldn't find anything. I even had Janel turn the steering wheel as I held the tire in place - she won and the tire turned. Puzzling.
The track had dried out, the sun was shining - it was time to go and have some real fun in the last session of the day. The first lap was exciting, as my passenger and I got released right in the middle of a big group of experienced drivers of varying levels of aggression and car speed. Lots of passing, both by us and of us. On the second or third lap, I went to turn into the fast turn 10 and the car just didn't turn enough. You don't get a second chance at that one so we went sailing off the outside of the corner. Luckily, it's right by the pit exit so we carried on and back into the garage.
I pulled everything apart and checked things out again. All of my alignment cams were in the correct location - after the alignment cam slipped at the Summer Camp, I'd marked all of their positions - but I did find one that was a bit looser than the others. My toe plates indicated that the toe wasn't right, so I figured I'd slipped again. I checked the condition of the tie rods, the inner and outer ball joints, everything I could think of. Nothing. So I torqued everything up hard and headed home.

It was bugging me. I hadn't had the usual clunking noises of slipping alignment, and the car hadn't seemed darty enough for the amount of toe-out I'd found. Driving the truck in to the track the next morning, I was still trying to figure out what was going on. Nothing was coming to mind, but I didn't feel like I'd found it. I jumped into the car and headed out to line up for the track - and with a squeal, the steering wheel moved 90 degrees off center. Then I moved it back with another squeal. The wheel was obviously not connected to the front wheels. So it was back to the pits again and more time on the jacks. Again, I had Janel turn the wheel while I restrained the hub - and this time I was able to make things slip. Once I pulled off the new undertray and splitter, a shiny spot on the steering rack told the tale. The rack was moving. The mount on one side had broken. I got lucky, the failure could have been a whole lot worse than a ride through the gravel. Imagine if it had broken at the Targa!
So that was the end of my weekend. What a shame, I'd been looking forward to having the engine back at full sea level power again and I barely got to use it due to the conditions.
Janel fared even worse, she'd only managed three laps before the rain came and later in the day she missed out because I was trying to figure out what was going on. Luckily, our good friend Rick Weldon stepped in and sent her out in his car. It's got a character very much like the old 4-cylinder version of the Targa Miata, and Janel proceeded to have a great time. She took me out as a passenger in one session and showed me what I was missing - those big sweeping fast corners at a bit of a slip angle that you just don't get to do on the Targa. So that worked out.

So why was the toe off? Probably because I hadn't managed to get the wheels straight and I was seeing the result of Ackermann. And more importantly, why did the steering mount break? After talking to V8Roadsters, it appears the mount was accidentally made of the wrong gauge steel. There were a few subframes made with these incorrect parts, so Flyin' Miata and V8Roadsters are working to determine exactly when they were made and where they went so the problem can be addressed. Boy, am I glad it let go the way it did...
entry 1034 - tags: testing, laguna seca, steering
April 29, 2013 - This is not something you want to see out the windshield.
That's my rear brake rotor. I came down the Corkscrew, hit 4th gear and turned into the fast turn 9. Just before I reached the apex, I heard a bang and the car snapped into a spin at somewhere around 80 mph. My first clue as to what had happened was seeing my right rear wheel rolling along the pavement as we rotated the first time, then we went into the dirt after the second spin. On the dirt, the car lifted a little bit like it was trying to roll, but stayed happy side up as we scrubbed off speed.
A big thumbs up to the track designers - we finished our ride safe and sound without hitting anything but a small drainage ditch. Then it was just a matter of sitting in the car with our helmets on and watching the other cars come around the corner, seemingly aimed directly at us. Finally, all the traffic was cleared and the flatbed showed up.
entry 1083 - tags: crash, failure, laguna seca
April 29, 2013 - This is the least amount of damage you can do if you lose a wheel in Turn 9 at Laguna Seca.
The bumper is just out of place. The exhaust got pulled out of shape and took some of the brackets on the body with it so the trunk floor is probably messed up. The skid plate under the diff is deformed and I want to check the subframe carefully. The front wheel is dented and the rear is all scarred up. But it's almost all bolt-on parts. There's one small dent in front of the missing wheel but otherwise is looks like the tub is untouched. Amazing. I got very, very lucky.
The car's back in the trailer (thanks to the help of Emilio and a number of other onlookers) and heading home to Colorado. I'll drag it out there and take a close look at everything underneath.
entry 1085 - tags: failure, crash, laguna seca
May 1, 2013 - Crash video.
How quickly did the failure happen? Pretty much instantly. Why did it fail? See the next post. http://youtu.be/3k2u2zaIA3c
entry 1086 - tags: video, crash, laguna
September 13, 2014 - Miatas at Mazda Raceway!
This is always a big event, but this year it was massive with the public reveal of the 2016 MX-5, a world record attempt, a showing of Racing The Rock under the stars and nearly 2000 cars. The paddock was mobbed and the track time was full.
It was also my first time to really let the new engine rip at sea level. I'm still in awe, it's a spectacular thing. Every time we got on the straight, I'd just power past every car in sight. Sure, it may not be as cool as catching a high power car in the corners and working out a clever way to get in front, but the big hammer is still pretty gratifying. Here's what it looked like from inside one of the other cars - I make an appearance at 2:00.

I was taking it a bit easy in the corners. Mostly because there's no prize for being the fastest at an event like this, and I did not want to crash. I was also backing off the throttle as I went over the crest halfway down the straight because the cars entering the next turn had no idea I was coming. With the closing speeds, I was essentially coming out of nowhere. This was a particular problem in the slower Group B, where I had one exciting moment as a Spec Miata moved over close to the wall as I came barreling up with about a 40 mph closing speed. I thought I was going to lose both door mirrors, one on him and one on the wall. The car was actually really well balanced, with a bit of inherent high speed understeer from the aero that could be counteracted with throttle.

The car, unfortunately, was not rock solid. When I had it down at Road Atlanta this spring for display purposes, it went into some sort of limp-home mode on me. I was never able to duplicate it and the car's been great ever since. Well, it started doing the same thing at Laguna Seca. I'd be powering along, and all of a sudden my drive-by-wire throttle would disable after a shift. It's not a fun experience, losing all power just when you're hitting the next gear. I found I could bring it back if I turned off the main battery switch, resetting the ECU. Of course, this wiped any error codes. Eventually, it failed on the way up the hill to the Corkscrew and I was able to coast back to the pits without resorting to the reset. It had to do with the electronic throttle.

Lots of theories bandied about and I tried to eliminate potential interference by wrapping the wiring harness, swapped out the pedal for another and generally got frustrated. It seemed to be heat related - and it alway happened on a shift. So eventually I just left it in fourth gear and avoided shifting all together. Still, I didn't trust the car so I parked it early. A bit of a letdown after the buildup to the event.

My current thinking is that I was hitting an airflow limit on the car's programming. There's one particular table that has to do with the amount of airflow expected for a given throttle opening, and I may have been exceeding it. That would explain why it's never been a problem with high altitude use, and why it happened when I was shifting and getting a big gulp of air when the throttle smacked open again. I'm going to mess with the table and see if I can duplicate the problem at altitude, then we'll see what happens next time it goes down to sea level again. Unfortunately, that probably won't be for another year, and I really don't want any questions around the car at that time. Some troubleshooting lies ahead.

Photo by Ben Sale. It's definitely not the classic Corkscrew shot, I love the different take on it.
entry 1130 - tags: MRLS, laguna