14 Oct 2014

Just got back from the SCCA Runoffs at Laguna Seca. It was the first runoffs that we’ve attended because they’re nearly always on the east coast or midwest. Personal impressions were, mmm, mixed:

1. Like autocross and trackdays, other than direct participants and their crews, there were few spectators. Judging from the large number of vendors and the lack of lines, I doubt any made much money. We wondered what’s wrong with the SCCA and Laguna Seca; why didn’t they offer a really low price for locals, like $20, instead of the nearly $100 (Disneyland does this all the time with lower pricing for locals). It would do a world of good to get people in to experience what it’s all about instead of casting it as an elite sport that attracts mostly, well, rich people, which leads into #2.

2. We were shocked how many huge car haulers there were, enormous 18-wheelers that held several cars plus complete onboard garages. Oh, there were some amateurs, out in the dirt lot with either a small motor home or just a truck and trailer – our people. I guess we were left with a somewhat bitter taste which only reinforced the feeling that we made the right decision years ago not to get into real racing. I mean, how much of a chance does a privateer have against a business-backed tax write-off where just the transporter costs $500,000. It’s sadly taken much of the “amateur” out of amateur racing, which leads to #3.

3. The Spec Miata race was okay, though neither of us gets very excited about a race where the only difference between cars is color. Sadly, all the excitement came after the race when the top 9 or so finishers were protested. Post-race engine teardowns found that nearly all of them had the same illegally-modified cylinder head. It turned out that everyone got their heads from the same machine shop (ironically, the owner of the shop was in the race as well) and probably had no idea they were illegal. It came down to the machine shop interpreting a rule one way and the inspectors interpreting it differently. Then there’s the issue of how in most races, if you’re found making illegal modifications, you’re truly disqualified – out, finished, through, off the list. However, for some reason all but one of the rule-breakers were moved to the bottom of the standings instead of being disqualified. All it did for me was underscore the feeling that not getting into this sport was a good idea. From all the strong remarks on the Miata forums, one has to wonder if the high blood pressure and high cost is worth the “fun.”

4. Other than all that, there were some really fun races, especially H Production race which included “normal” cars of all sorts of makes and models, though even there it’s hard to root for any particular make because many have ballast added due to the rules. That’s fine, but it skews the results in drawing any sort of conclusion about whether the Honda CRX that won is really any “better” than the Toyota Yaris that finished second hot on his heels.

5. SRF – Spec Racer Ford – was very interesting because without their shells they bare a striking similarity to Midlana – if it was a single-seater. I didn’t know anything about these cars when designing Midlana, though it wouldn’t have matter much. Of course, it does make one wonder about how a body shell similar to an SRF would improve top speed on Midlana, but that goes back to the question that’s already been bounced around: how fast do I really want to go? With the increased boost I’ll be at 150-160 mph at Fontana. My brother, with his now-400+ horsepower car is wondering the same about his car… At some point, mortality starts intruding into the picture!

6. Because the runoffs probably won’t be back to Laguna anytime soon, and because we had never done so before, we sprung for a suite “to see how the other half lives.” Wow, was that a new experience; people paid to be attentive, air conditioning, good food and drink, an unimpeded view of the last corner and front straight, indoor and outdoor shaded seating. I couldn’t help but have some fun with that, asking if I had to be careful to not spill wine on the commoners below, or “hey, if I drop a piece of bread down there, will the peasants fight over it?” Notice the last picture; in our suite we saw race results but in the simi-peasant suite next door, they were forced to watch what appeared to be daytime TV…

Here’s a driver who pulled off after he broke an axle or diff the last turn, safely pulling outside the fence where his wife could come talk to him. I can only imagine the conversation, something like, “And this is going to cost us how much?!”

On the way home we passed this place. You know the almonds you buy in the store? Literally billions are shelled each year and here are some (the facility is enormous, with this shot showing only about one third of the operation. This facility was on the aptly-name Brown Material Road. Not sure what they do with the shells… mulch? Compress it into “fire wood?”

In other news, the turbo shop reported that the turbo is good, so the oil must be due to excessive crankcase pressure – so be it. Two -12 fittings will be added to the cylinder head and run to a breather can that’ll separate the oil mist from the gases, then the gases vented out under the car. The turbo probably won’t be back in time for this weekend but the cylinder head breather and catch can will be worked on.

There’s a “car handling, skidpad, drifting” class as Willow Springs on 1 November. The timing isn’t quite right but this type of event is exactly what I’ve been waiting for, finally allowing figuring out the handling limits of the car. There’s nothing like getting a car into a slide to truly learn its personality.