My third and final Optima USCA event of 2018 is in the books. I’d gone into the event with high hopes, but sadly I ended the weekend with my sails deflated.
After having recently installed the awesome new ECUGN in the car, it was running great. More than great. It was awesome. Full boost in every gear, correct AFRs, traction control. I was primed to kick some doors down. But it was not to be. This weekend was yet another lesson in bottlenecks and balloon squeezing.
But first, let’s talk about Barber Motorsports Park. I’d heard that this track was something to behold. The stories didn’t do it justice. I’ve been to some nice golf clubs. This place was nicer. The grass was perfect. There were sculptures hidden all over the place. There was a giant metal spider in the infield.
Arrival Friday afternoon was uneventful. The format was a bit different due to some peculiarities with the track and a PCA event running that day. I listen to the Optima podcast regularly, so I had the scoop on how it was supposed to work. When the time came, we made an orderly transition from the side lot to the paddock. It took less than an hour. Bit props to the staff for pulling that off.
Saturday is autocross and D&E day, and those went well enough. The autocross course was on a section of the facility called the proving grounds. Instead of a giant flat piece of asphalt, it was a series of curves around beautifully manicured grass islands, with an enormous banked turn in the back. I’d never driven on a turn with this kind of banking before, so I decided to push the limits early. I found them:
Lesson for corner workers: Run perpendicular to the car, not away from it.
My best run was a 39.3 I think. It was a mid-pack finish. The car didn’t feel as sharp as I’d hoped. Here’s the in-car of the best run, check out the Buick pulling 1.9g on the banking:
But the lack of sharp handling? Well, Brian Mason managed to catch me running from a vantage point up on the hill, and well, watch this boat pitch and wallow:
So, either my shocks have died, or the extra power and braking has imparted forces on them that they can’t handle properly, or a combination of the two. Either way, this thing is all over the place. I’ll need to fix that. Soon.
Then, on my last few runs, I started having issues with the car wanting to stall and popping. A quick check under the hood found a melted MAP line. That’s bad. On a speed-density system, if the MAP signal is wrong, the fueling is wrong, and you can damage stuff. Fortunately, the ECUGN has a failsafe. I have a backup table loaded that registers RPM vs. Throttle position, and specifies what the MAP reading should be. If the reading from the sensor is too far from that table, the ECUGN switches to the table. That keeps the engine fueled properly even in the event of a MAP line failure. the issue is at low throttle inputs, the MAP signal wasn’t far enough from the table value, so it switched back and stalled or popped.
These melted MAP lines would turn out to be a recurring theme for the rest of the weekend.
I did pretty well at D&E this year. 26th overall, scoring 74 points. I think that’s my best D&E finish ever. And I needed it. My middling autocross performance didn’t do me any favors.
Sunday was track and speed stop day. Hoo boy is this track fun. It’s technical, lots of elevation changes. Plenty of places where the wrong line will hang you out to dry. I loved it. For one session.
My best lap was my first lap. 1:56.9. I caught up with some of my compatriots and never got around them. The car felt great except in the downhill braking sections. Once again, the shocks weren’t up to the task. For instance, in the lap video above, you’ll notice a little screw-up braking through the corkscrew. The rear tires came off the ground. Oops.
Sadly, on the last lap of the session, my transmission temps hit 220, and fluid burst forth from the dipstick tube, running down on the exhaust, and creating a spectacular cloud of smoke. At the same, the car backfired, which led many observers to think I’d blown the engine.
But no worries! It was just that stupid MAP line melting shut again! Damnit.
And to top it off, the studs that hold the turbocharger to the exhaust manifold backed out and the gasket failed. Steel studs don’t like extreme heat cycles, and they finally gave up.
So, back to the pits. I shuffled off to the parts store to get some brake cleaner and more tubing. I cleaned up the engine bay as much as I could with the brake cleaner, and I replaced that melted tube again, this time covering it with some DEI branded high-temp sleeving. I cinched down the nuts on the turbocharger as much as I could and headed for the Speed Stop.
I managed a clean set of runs. But, at the end of the right side, the car stalled. The replacement MAP line didn’t quite fit right at the sensor nipple, and it was leaking. It also couldn’t build boost quickly because of the exhaust leak. Unable to address the issues at the track, I loaded up and headed home.
So, the event was disappointing for me, but at the same time, not a total washout. I still managed 307 points, which puts me at position six in GTV for the season. With two events left, it’s possible for a select few people to leap ahead of me, but there is still a slim (slim) mathematical possibility I could land one of the at-large bids to the invitational event in Vegas. I’ll know in October. It’s out of my hands now.
As for the rest of the year, well, how about the rest of this week? The SCCA CAM Challenge is this weekend in Peru, Indiana. So far I’ve already replaced the burned up transmission fluid and removed a lot of melted electrical conduit. The melted conduit has been replaced with DEI sleeving that should hold up better. The leaking MAP line has been replaced and also properly heat shielded. The turbocharger comes off tonight so I can replace those worn out steel studs with Inconel studs and lock bolts, and I have a new set of springs and AFCO shocks slated to arrive Thursday that I’ll throw in Thursday night.
So stay tuned! CAM East this weekend. The next big event for me after that will be the inaugural SCCA Time Trials Nationals at NCM in late September!
A huge thank you to Boost Crew Motorsports for help getting the ECUGN going and a list of other small bits of assistance that made getting there at all possible, and big props to the FM3 crew and Optima for putting on yet another fantastic event!