Monthly ArchiveApril 2018

Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car, NOLA

So, with the season upon us, it’s time again for a weekend recap.

I spent the weekend of April 14 driving to and from New Orleans, Louisiana for the second round of the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street car.

After my shakedown cruise to Charlotte for the SCCA Match Tour last month shook what I thought was most of the bugs out of the system, I embarked on my trip to NOLA with a fresh front fuel pump in the truck and a completely new fuel system in the Buick.

Data logged during my runs at the ZMAx dragway indicated my fuel system wasn’t building pressure as boost rose past ~12psi. The most likely cause was the return line was simply too small to bypass enough fuel. This hypothesis was bolstered by the drop in voltage seen when the fuel pressure plateaued.

The solution was a completely fuel system replacement from Racetronix. New sender assembly, a 450LPH pump, and new lines. A -8 feed, and a -6 return. It’s enough pump and line to put the car into the nines in the quarter, though I have no intentions of ever actually trying to test that.

The tow to NOLA was uneventful. I arrived on site early Friday as I normally try to do and got the car tech’d and stickered.

One of these rigs is not like the other

It was immediately clear from my parking lot mates that I was overmatched in the financial resources department. By a lot. But punching above my weight is what I like to do, so carry on.

Saturday morning threatened a deluge, and the event staff wisely got things going early. We managed three dry runs before the monsoon hit. The rest of the day was spent trying to stay dry, and getting Design and Engineering completed.

My best autocross run was good for fifth in GTV, with some very fast drivers in front of me. I was not ashamed of it at all. I think I scored 25th raw time overall for the entire event, which was top third. I’ll take it.

The car’s performance was pretty good, though I did feel it nose over at full throttle a couple of times. I still need to be more aggressive with it. The car pulled 1.3g in several places, but the sweepers were much less, which means I’m not pushing it far enough.

But I was pushing it hard enough to pick the wheels off the ground. Yes, the car was packing the inside front tire in turns, consistently. I’ll need some stiffer rear springs to push it back onto the ground.

D&E went well also. Again, I think I was 25th or so overall for the entire event, netting 73 points in the category. At the end of the first day, I was sitting in view of a podium finish in GTV.

Then Sunday happened.

The first road course session was reconnaissance. We all were learning the track and everybody in my run group was running in the 2:10 – 2:15 range. The car handled fine. The new brakes worked fantastic. It was such a joy jamming the pedal down and having the car immediately slow down, and do it rapidly.

After the first track session, I headed over to the Speed Stop challenge, and that’s where it all went off the rails. At WOT at the top of second, the car just died.

Then it did it again.

Back to the pits. I found this:

That’s not right

My charge pipe had come out of the coupler. So I put it back in. Went to run another speed stop, and it popped out again. Got it back in, then it popped out at the throttle body. Got that tighened down and it started leaking where the turbo outlet goes into the intercooler.

I missed the second track session of the day and burned up all my morning speed stop runs troubleshooting this. It was frustrating.

I ate lunch and completed my Road Rally requirement. Since the normal rally had been cancelled due to the rain the night before, we were tasked with getting a photo of our car at a local golf course. When I got there, another driver was there and was nice enough to get a picture not just of my car, but me with it.


Then, the afternoon road course session started. I though I had locked down the hoses, so I went out for another round. I got one crappy lap in before the hoses blew off. Additionally, at WOT before the hoses blew off, the car was leaning out to 12.4:1 AFR, so I was lifting. I topped out at 128 on the front straight and screwed up turn one, then had a pretty good lap. No drama. Could have gone a lot faster. Caught a Corvette in the twisties, but he walked me on the straight because I couldn’t put my foot down.

Shortly after this video ends, the hoses blew again. I limped it off the track and back to the pits.

I was able to piece the hoses back together enough to manage two clean speed stop runs at half throttle.

At the end of the day, I was 7th in GTV (out of 15 registered, but only 9 showed up). I scored 343 points, which isn’t terrible at all. But it was disappointing considering the car could be a lot faster.

On the bright side, at the end of the weekend, the car was still showing 23psi of hot idle oil pressure fresh off the road course. The engine is still healthy and holding up fine. I have new rear springs ready to go in, and new charge tube couplers and clamps are on the way.

So, despite the bad outing, the only real tweaks are rear springs, new hose couplers, and add some WOT fuel to the tune.

My next event will be with the Central Kentucky Region SCCA at UK’s football stadium onĀ April 29.

So, you’re at Costco and want some dinner?

Costco is famous because of a lot of things, but one of my favorites is the joke, “Where else can you go, spend $400 on food, and still have nothing to eat for dinner?”

It’s funny because it’s true.

BUT! This can be not true if you pay attention. In this case, I’m going to introduce you to the Costco deli. In the back of the store, where the meat counter, $4.99 rotisserie chickens, and baked goods are. There’s a case full of take-and-bake items. Pizzas, chicken salad, pork tenderloins, and so forth. These items are sold by weight, and look wonderful, if not sometimes a tad expensive.

But you can work with them. In this case, the “Salmon Milano with Basil Pesto Butter”. It usually sells at or below the per-pound cost of their plain salmon, but includes this yummy pesto butter. Too much butter, in fact. Three ice-cream scoops of it on top of salmon filet that’s been cut in three.

So here’s where it becomes a meal. You buy the dish and get it home. While the oven is pre-heating, you open up the dish and cut those balls of butter in half, and take half of it out and set it aside.

Once the oven is at temp, put the fish in and set some water boiling. Six quarts. Add some salt to it. If you time it right, halfway through the 25 minute salmon cook, the water boils and you drop a pound of pasta in. Ten minutes later, the pasta is done, drain it.

Then throw the butter you scavenged from the salmon into the pasta and toss it until everything’s covered. Right about that time, the salmon will be done. If you’re really clever, you’ll have steamed some vegetables alongside the cooking pasta.

Bingo! A meal. Big one. You’ll have leftovers. And it’s kid-tested. They’ll eat it. It’s basically fancy buttered noodles, after all.

You’re welcome.

The 2018 Season has begun!

It’s finally here: racing season!

This past weekend, I loaded up and headed for beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina, where the season opening Match Tour was taking place at the ZMax Dragway.

This was my first out of town tow with the new-to-me tow pig, and what an event to end up with for a tow. Three hundred sixty miles through the mountains towing with a 28 year old truck with 235 horsepower.

I wish I could report a trouble free trip, but I did have several snags preparing for the event and getting to it.

The big problem of the last month: electrical gremlins. I drove the car to the car wash one day, and it died on the way back home. Turned out that a questionable ground had fried the ECM. I pulled the entire engine harness from the car, resoldered all the splices, checked every wire, removed the circuits for the fans and the now-removed electric brakes, and got a new ECM and chip.

What a mess.

Then, on the trip down, at the bottom of an exit ramp just past Knoxville, the fuel pump in the truck’s front tank decided it didn’t want to run anymore. No worries, I switched to the rear tank and finished my trip. Ironically, after sitting at the site and cooling off for two days, the front pump came back alive and ran fine until the front tank was empty. I’ll be replacing it this week.

Arrived and unloaded at the site!

But the event! ZMax is a drag strip that happens to have a HUGE parking lot. It’s a surprisingly grippy sealed asphalt lot, behind the grand stands. Thanks to the grandstand elevation, it’s probably the best site for spectators of autocross in the entire country. They can see the entire course from about forty feet above the pavement.

Grid and Paddock. There’s a 60+ second course way off to the right.

How huge was the lot? The course was 60-70 seconds long depending on the class. The design was very good. It was fairly simple, kept speeds down, was fun, and didn’t result in a lot of cone hits. Considering the event was overbooked by 25 drivers, the lack of cone hits was a Godsend.

I drove poorly. First even of the year, new front suspension setup. New engine with new power delivery. New brakes. I found myself being tentative expecting the car to push, or getting on the throttle a tad early expecting more lag, and stopping short. The brakes work so much better I found myself coasting through a lot of features because I got on the brakes way too early.

My best run was in the 68 second range. The class winners for CAM-T were in the high 62s. It’s a big gap, but it also was a big course. I think I can chip away at that with more seat time.

Things I learned, besides “drive better?” The car needs a new fuel pump. As boost climbed above 12psi, the fuel pressure leveled off and the AFR started leaning out, ending up around 11.9:1 at 15.7psi. Not enough to cause knock, but I was only at WOT for one or two seconds at a time. I’ll be replacing the pump and filter and cleaning up the grounds and pump wiring this week.

Onward to the Optima Event at NOLA motorsports park!