Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pujo! attacks the track! Then the track counter attacks...

Pujo! finally got a chance to see what a real race track is like. Sadly only I was able to see what Pujo! is like on the track. Initially everything seemed pretty good, but I became concerned about a distinct lack of power. Handling is nice and neutral, braking is excellent, but the power just wasn't there. After about 15 minutes I noticed the temp gauge start to climb, I reduced my speed to right around freeway speed to see if it would cool off, and it did for about a lap, then it began to climb again. I wasn't overly concerned but through my ridiculously padded and insulated helmet (I'm rendered effectively deaf in the damned thing) I began to hear an alarming rattling sound from the engine compartment. Right about this time a '64 Mustang with a dry sump ruptured a line and dumped about 30,000 barrels of oil on the track. Fortunately I'd already slowed to about 30mph by the time I reached the Mustang Valdez oil spill and stayed on the track. Sadly the same couldn't be said of an Acura and an E30 (S**t, those things are friggin' everywhere) some sea otters and about a dozen arctic terns. Once I'd passed the environmental disaster and climbed the hill back towards the paddock, Pujo! decided he'd had enough and passed out by the side of the track. The radiator overflow then boiled over and clouds of steam billowed from beneath the hood. I tried to restart to keep coolant flowing but Pujo! refused to wake up. Once we rolled him back into the pits and gave him a chance to cool off, he restarted normally. Except for the disturbing rattling noise. We figured at that point we had a bad connecting rod bearing. I was glad we brought the trailer. After a 2 hour delay while hundreds of volunteers scrubbed the otters, terns and track with loving hands and Dawn liquid dish detergent, we finished the rest of the day in Bret's Miata and Brent's M3.

The next day Scott and I got to work on Pujo!. Embarrassingly the overheating appeared to be caused by an improperly burped cooling system. There was plenty of water left in the overflow bottle, but the radiator was several inches down. Since I was the last one to drain and fill the thing, the blame rests squarely on me. The lack of power turned out to be from a crack in the accordion hose between the MAFS and the turbo. Most cars won't run at all if that happens, Pujo! simply gets tired. Luckily, the old black car (remember Pugly from way back when we started all this?)had a good one it wasn't using any more. What about the alarming rattle from the engine, you ask? We pulled the oil pan and discovered the chain driving the oil pump was loose and could clatter against the timing chain cover. Thankfully all really simple and quick fixes.

Pujo! lives to drive another day.

Pujo! leading a 911. Well, ok, running away from Germans. At least he's not hiding in the sewers yet.

Pujo! being held by the Axis powers after he'd surrendered for the day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Battle of the Banned (F1 technology)

During a team meeting a few weeks ago we came to the conclusion that what this car really needs to give it the edge is some banned F1 technology. Active aerodynamics, that's what we need. I think the Faster Farms guys were clucking in the right direction with their bowling ball actuated ironing board wing. Brilliantly hillbilly that was. We're going with a more sophisticated approach. Brent (the artful) Picasso gave me a napkin sketch of his idea for a control unit.

Seemed too simple at first glance. My daughter disliked the flow of the drawing and betterized it.

This was starting to show promise. A few more tweaks and we had a working sketch.

I love it when a plan comes together! Now we just have to build it before Reno.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ha! Suckers!

We're taking Pujo! to Pacific Raceways in scenic Kent WA for the Northwest Alfa Romeo club track day on the 23rd. While I was signing up I noticed the "tech form" link. This tech form must be filled out by an ASE certified mechanic. Uh-oh, I thought. So, rather than click the "unregister" button, I figured what's to lose?

Last Friday I drove Pujo! to the nearest ASE certified shop and handed over the form with an explanation of what the car was built for.

"Really." said the man behind the counter "An endurance race for $500 cars? You mean like a demolition derby?"

"Well, I hope not." I replied "Anything short of a Caprice Classic is going to get seriously injured if it hits this thing."

"Ooookay..." said the man.

Seriously, this car has been rear ended harder than Elton John. Rolled, dropped, lifted by a giant forklift. There's Bondo on the roof. I personally do body work on it with a sledgehammer because any lesser tool just isn't sufficient. This thing has survived situations that would make Superman squeal with terror. A Honda or VW would just bounce right off and not leave a mark.

But, I digress...

After a short wait a nice young man named Carlos took my keys and headed for the parking lot. It took him a moment to figure out how to get in over the anti-intrusion bars. He even put a nice, clean paper floor mat on the floor. Two other technicians looked on in disbelief as Pujo! rolled into the shop followed by a subtle cloud of blue smoke. Soon Pujo! was up on a lift for all to see, displaying more evidence of past impacts than your average moon.

Carlos looked at the damage and said, "You race this, man?"

"Yes. Yes, I do." I said proudly.

He looked again at the crumpled floor pans and wrinkled frame rails and then looked at me as though I were obviously dangerously insane.

"F--k.... you're crazy, man." He said, shaking his head.

"Yes. Yes, I am." I said proudly.

Rather than argue with me, he signed off on the car and sent me on my way.

I hope the Alfa guys have a sense of humor.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Join the Comprehensive Reinvestment in Autocross Program!

Hi all,
Here's an only semi-simian post from your old pal Breauxt. I have found the recent discussion about public policy and economic impacts of legislation on a number of racing lists I'm on coincidentally amusing given the work I've been doing recently on a personal project I'm sharing with Ed Montgomery. I shouldn't be sharing this information just yet, as the PR roll-out is not scheduled to start moving until next week. Ed is, I guess I need to now refer to him as "Mr Montgomery" now; anyway Ed is the new Car Czar for the US government.

This is kind of weird in that Ed is just a dude I happen to know from Maryland with no more experience with the auto industry than you or me. But he's an enthusiast and loves cars and driving fast. He had an SS 396 Nova for a while as a young guy, and then moved on to more realistic machines as he pursued his doctorate, got married, and had kids. We all know the drill. He's got a Pontiac G8 now and is a cool guy.

I happened to meet him through work, oddly enough. I work with clinical research data and early last year was visiting Johns Hopkins in Baltimore on business. After my last data model review session, I was walking around the historic campus with my camera and spied Ed's G8 in a parking lot. I hadn't seen a G8 yet, so was giving his car a good bit of attention. He came out to his car to go home and couldn't help but notice me laying on the ground looking at the suspension of his car. This of course sparked a conversation. It turns out he has been a user of some research administration software my team built and we've, by now, become pretty good friends.

A few months ago, Ed and his family (he's got adorable kids, twins!) were visiting my family in Italy. On this visit I knew I'd be playing tour guide to the Montgomery clan and so had rented a 'big' car - in this case a 5 series BMW. I typically rent the cheapest buzz-bomb I can get, knowing I'll be mostly driving my parents' Peugeot (a perfectly adequate 308 diesel). The big Bimmer was the perfect ride for touring around northern Italy. My family and Ed's would caravan from restaurant to winery to historic race track in the Bimmer and the Pug, each time flipping a coin to see who would have to suffer the indignity of riding in the Peugeot for the next leg.

At one point, on the superstrada near Lucca at just over 190 kph (that's about 115 mph), I commented to Ed, "How come GM can't make a car like this? We're cruising along at a ridiculous speed and the people in the back seat are asleep". He piped back, "Bret, GM does make cars like this. My G8 is a prime example, as is any Cadillac". I initially scoffed at Ed as being a GM apologist, but then remembered that his dad has an S class Benz. Ed is no stranger to quality motoring. The conversation shifted to the power perception holds over even an educated public (myself being an example - a fan of the G8 assuming it was an order of magnitude less "good" than my 5 series rental).

Skip forward a few months and Ed and I have been chatting with increased seriousness about how a manufacturer can bridge the "perception gap" that exists with the American car companies. I had since taken test drives in a variety of American cars: G8, Malibu, CTS (and CTS-V Whoa Nelly!), Fusion, Mustang, etc. I found these all to be decent cars. There is no reason these cars and their stablemates should be being outsold by foreign products. In particular, not a car as boring and uninvolving as a the Camry.

As the financial apocalypse settled in, and the North American car manufacturers became the pariah of the national media, I became incensed. The news readers on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC would talk about how the "Big 3" weren't building efficient cars and I would scream at my television, "I just got a real world 50mpg in a week long test of a mid-size Ford Fusion Hybrid! Toyota's large SUV's are so inefficient that they might as well be clubbing baby seals in comparison to the domestic SUV's!"

A plan hatched in my mind. What if the domestic manufacturers took a grassroots approach to grabbing control of the perceptions of their products? After all, who does a person ask for car advice? A car guy, of course. What if the most prolific car guys (and car girls!) were privy to the real quality and performance of domestically manufactured vehicles? These folks would be evangelists unclouded by public perception or marketing influences, because they'd be driving the real products, right now.

I had written little more than an executive summary of the concept of seeding perception among the "car intelligentsia", when Ed started getting calls from the Obama Administration about a "high level" position. Ed had been helping me craft my proposal as a behavioral marketing experiment that I'd hoped to see conducted at Wharton or Harvard's business schools. However, as Ed started being vetted as a candidate for "Car Czar", we started thinking about the real and immediate market influence a program like ours could have by being federally funded. What if we gave 1 year free leases of America's greatest cars to America's biggest real world car fans? These are the thought leaders who impact the average Joe's buying decisions.

Now that Ed is Car Czar, our idea has been given a green light! We have 10,000 slots open for a one year lease of a premiere American car. I'm driving a CTS-V (and loving it, by the way) and am doing my part to show the country that American cars are just as good as anything in the market!

Here's where I get in trouble: I'd love to see as many "drivers" get handed keys to these cars as possible. Who really cares what some fashionista is driving anyway? I contend that racing enthusiasts and participants in autocross will have a bigger impact on public perception.

Want to get your name on the roster of candidate drivers early? You'll get the pick of the best cars available to the program: including Corvettes (yes Z06 is included), Mustangs of all varieties, the new Camaro, all the V series Cadillacs, as well as the hybrid offerings of the domestics (I don't think those will have much pull with this crowd). Click the link below to go to the website for this new program. This is a new site and it hasn't been announced yet. You'll want to act fast as the PR machine will kick in probably next week.