CAM East and other musings

Last year, I attended the CAM Challenge East in Peru, Indiana. I wrote up that experience, which was overwhelmingly positive. You can take a waltz down memory lane here.

This past weekend, I went again. Plus more. To say the past four days have been a blur would be a vast understatement.  On Friday, I made my way up to Grissom. I had to leave a lot later this year than last due to a well check for my daughter. We got onsite just past six. Even then, I was able to tech, register, and walk the course. But there wasn’t much chumming about.

My daughter came along with me this time, and seemed to have a good time looking at the cars and playing with her stuff and reading. Oh my. The reading. Read three books front to back this weekend. I won the lottery with this kid.

As for the event, it was a repeat of last year. Fast course, lots of awesome cars, everybody having fun. Most of the points I made in my post last year carry forward. The high dollar equipment showed up once again. Once again, nobody cared. We were all there to have fun. And Fun Was had.

I had a co-driver. James Bishir, who I commended last year as an exemplary n00b, had some highly publicized car trouble at Putnam a few weeks ago. Circumstances conspired against him, and his car just wasn’t ready. So in exchange for lodging and breakfast, he co-drove mine. Wouldn’t you know it, the stinker ended up faster than me by the end of the day! I beat him overall at the event due to a quicker morning session, but he’s a quick study.  Once he gets his car back together, he’ll be able to hurt some feelings.

But CAM East wasn’t the only thing on my plate. After dinner Saturday, my daughter and I packed up and headed for home. We got back about 9pm. We both got cleaned up and passed out… only to get back up again at 6am Sunday. There was another event at NCM that I needed run in order to earn my regional year end points. My daughter was also slated to make her autocross debut in a friends’s kart.

So, we made it to NCM with plenty of time. The SCCA Targa event was finishing up there. It was interesting. Randy Pobst was there, and his introduction to the Kentucky Region of the SCCA included a demonstration on how to properly perform intercourse with an Exocet by one of our esteemed STR drivers.

Sadly, my daughter was met with some heartbreak. It turned out she was too small to safely operate my friend’s kart. She was crushed, but she’s a trooper. She bounced back quickly, helped me get my tires changed, and the rest of the day went smoothly. Until a good buddy accidentally locked my keys in my car while doing me a solid and rolling my windows up during a cloudburst. Ooops. It was nothing an old Corvette antenna couldn’t fix, though.

And here’s where we get to the car. This was the first event weekend since installing a recirculating blow off valve. At the Wilmington Champ tour, I was plagued by lag. Every time I had to lift off the throttle and then get back on it, I could count to two or three in my head before the turbocharger came back. On the Wilmington course, it had to have cost me at least two seconds.

So I put a Tial 50mm ventilator on the car.

TIAL 50mm Recirculating BOV

TIAL 50mm Recirculating BOV

For those not familiar, this valve allows pressurized air that gets blocked by a suddenly closed throttle plate to be bypassed around the turbocharger and fed back in the inlet side. This prevents air from reverting backwards through the compressor and stalling it. The result is the wheel keeps spinning while the throttle is closed, and when I mash the gas back down, I have to wait less time for the turbocharger to come back up to speed.

Here’s a datalog chart from the Wilmington Champ tour that clearly shows the problem. After a throttle closed event, the boost takes a long time to come back:

Arrows point to extreme lag events

Arrows point to extreme lag events

Here’s a chart from Sunday’s KYSCCA event:

Post BOV. No more lag.

Post BOV. No more lag.

As you can see, there’s no more lag. The car is responsive enough to actually drift around corners without spinning. That’s not easy to do with one of these.

The car placed higher than expected this weekend. At CAM East, I was in the top half after the morning sessions. I drove less well in the afternoon and fell to 21st out of 34. I would have been 41st of 67 if I’d been in CAM-C like I was last year, which compares very favorably to my finish from last year.

At the KYSCCA event, It was the same story. I won CAM-T easily, and would have been just a fraction of a second out of a trophy in CAM-C if I’d run there.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. Exhausting, but fantastic. The car performed flawlessly. It was a moral victory of the highest order.

And now, the videos. Here’s my best run from Peru:

And my best from the KYSCCA event:

A BMW Reflection

A post on Jalopnik today jogged my memory about an experience I had owning a BMW. Below, you’ll find an updated version of a tale I spun many moons ago over on 502streetscene.com. Enjoy.

Once upon a time, I bought a BMW. 1999 540i with the manual six speed transmission. I thought I’d made it. I had  a BMW. A desirable one. The Benchmark for a four door sports sedan. I thought I’d stolen it. Paid nine grand for it, and after replacing the clutch and the tires, I was cruising.

To this day, I still remember how well it drove. How you could drive it all day and not be tired because the seats were just that good. The stereo was shit until I replaced the speakers, but everything else about the car was amazing.

Then it all went downhill.

Rist off, it started idling like crap. The intake re-seal had to be done. It’s a typical item item, not a big deal. That was expected when I bought it. Knocked the job out in a weekend. No biggie, but the sheer number of fasteners and the low quality of the gaskets that crumbled to dust after just 100,000 miles was disappointing. Ford used much higher quality gaskets on my then-wife’s Sable. They were still nice and bendy at 110K when I replaced them.

Then I started getting Digital Throttle Control codes, and eventually it went to failsafe and wouldn’t move. Both TPS sensors in the throttlebody were fried. Root cause? The electrical connector on the computer-controlled thermostat leaked, and coolant wicked up the wires all the way back to the DME and shorted out a bunch of shit. Cost to repair that was a $300 throttle body, a $180 thermostat, a few connectors spliced into the wiring harness to stop water if it leaked again, and oh, I had to tear the top of the motor off and do the intake manifold re-seal all over again. Oh, and corrosion from the coolant shorted a pin that ran the secondary air injection pump to the #1 TPS… inside the DME. That meant unplugging the secondary air injection system, which is an emissions component, which means the car could no longer be registered anywhere that has emissions testing without a DME replacement.

Then the shitty plastic snap-on connectors they use on the radiator hoses failed catastrophically and without warning, dumping all my coolant out on the road in J-Town. Normally a cooling system failure is preceded by a leak. Not on a BMW. That shit just explodes.

THEN the real fun began. One day I start the car and it’s making this high pitch squeal. It’s coming from the driver side valve cover. Pull the valve cover, and there are chunks of what turned out to be timing chain guide all over the inside of the engine. BMW uses a very brittle and cheap plastic on the timing chain guides. If the tensioner isn’t replaced at the proper interval, the chain goes slack, beats the guides, and they crumble.

The kicker? There’s no replacement interval for the tensioner in ANY of the BMW service literature or the owner’s manual, which means most of these cars are running around with slack tensioners. From reading other peoples’ experiences on bimmerforums, the tensioner should be changed about every 50K miles or so.

But alas, it wasn’t on mine. Replacing the chain guides is a 23 hour job according to the book. It requires over a thousand dollars in special tools to block the cams and the crankshaft at TDC so nothing moves while you have the chain off, you have to tear the engine down to the bare longblock, and the car must be re-timed and the adaptations in the computer cleared or it’ll run like shit when you put it back together. The crank bolt must be torqued to 100ft-lb, then turned another 150 degrees in three more steps. I borrowed a torque wrench that did torque angle. It quit when I hit 500ft-lb on the bolt, and I was only halfway through the second tightening.

I did the guide replacement myself and then had it towed to Stein for them to re-time it. That lopped 15 hours off the bill, and it was still three grand.

Oh, and I spent an hour with a set of needle nose pliers pulling chunks of chain guide out of the oil pickup. Had that stray piece not gotten jammed in the right spot and made the noise and alerted me to the problem, I’d have never known, and the pickup would have eventually been completely blocked and the engine would have been oil starved and completely ruined.

Oh, and behind the chain guides is an oil separator. It’s made of brittle plastic and will break as soon as you touch it. Once it breaks, the car smokes like a freight train. Replacing it requires tearing the entire engine down again, because it’s behind the damn timing chain.

So, I got all that fixed. Car was running great… for a week. Then the steering interlock broke, immobilizing the car. Towed back to Stein, they had it two weeks waiting for the interlock, new keys, and a new ECS module. $600 more.

I put it up for sale right after that. In a single year, the car had cost me $7500 in parts and labor, $2000 in depreciation, used up all of my tows on my AAA membership, and was actually in-service for just 10 of the thirteen months I owned it.

I added it up after I sold it. I literally would have been cheaper for me to walk down to the BMW dealership and lease a BRAND NEW 550i than it was for me to own that E39 for a year. Literally. Lump together purchase price, parts, labor, and depreciation and divide by 12 and I could have driven a brand new car instead. Maddening.

As for doing the work yourself, a good friend once told me that a BMW owner needs but two tools: a cell phone and a checkbook. I used PTO to take many days off work to fix that damn car.

The only good thing, maintenance wise, about that car is changing the oil. With the canister filter and easy-to-reach drain, I didn’t even have to jack the thing up. Fifteen minute job… of course, by the time you buy the $30 filter kit and eight quarts of the $7.99 Mobil1 or Castrol Euro formula BMW LL certified oil, you have an $90 DIY oil change on your hands.

Like I said, I LOVED that car when it ran, I really did, but it made me pay for the pleasure.