Rusty Driven in Anger - And my First Racing Experience

On October of 2005 after several successful HPDE's in Rusty it was time for my introduction to what real racing is all about. I attended an SCCA regional licensing school at Summit Point Raceway. And apart from being exhausting I found it very rewarding. I had a terrific crew, Julie, JeffB, and my neighbor Guido who took care of Rusty and ensured the driver (me) stayed as coherent and lucid as possible during the whole affair. Friday classroom at 7:30pm with written exam and flag test followed by the "chalk talk" got me home at 10:00pm. Rise and shine the next morning and hit the track running with first cars on track at 9:00 am after student instructor intros. I hit paydirt in that my instructor drives (you guessed it) an ITS 2nd generation RX7 and has been for some time. His best around SPR is in the 1:28's. How the heck am I going to come close to THAT in poor old cobbled together Rusty? The last few weeks I've been fiddling with Rusty, checking the wear on all my used brake pads, examining just how much tread I had left on my near bald tires, and hoping that the 3rd gear crunch in the tranny would not get worse. As they say, to finish first one must first finish. So after throwing almost another $2k at the driver equipment (new driving shoes and nomex socks) and spares for Rusty (new tires, spare set of wheels, timing transponder, spare set of fresh brake pads and a few other bits and pieces) I thought I'd be ready. I was as prepared as my budget would allow.

And so it was that Rusty hit the track in all it's chainsaw sounding glory saturday morning in amongst the other newbies. And there certainly were some newbies. I haven't seen as many yellow flags in a single day as I did that saturday. I'd estimate on average 3-5 per **15** minute session! It was a hoot. After each session there was the dreaded debrief. This is where the "instructors" would lamblast the "students" for all the things we were doing wrong as observed from each of the corners around the track. Oh what joy THAT was. A firend of mine (also attending the shcool for the first time) and I decided to nickname one "Mr. Negativity" as he said absolutely NOTHING positive all weekend. As far as he was concerned we all sucked and shouldn't even be behind the wheel of a car let alone a racecar! So how did the practice sessions go? Well pretty decent overall I thought and I was learning that I was a tad bit faster than most of the pack...much to my surprise. In my run group were all the EP and GT cars, ITA, ITS, and ITE, and few other oddballs to essentially make up the "big bore" run group So there I was out on track with the likes of GT2 Porsches, a Factory Five Cobra, an ITE Corvette and even a Busch series NASCAR...errr....thing. A wee speed differential there was! I think my friend and I were the only two NOT running on Hoosiers! Throughout the day many a fun thing was witnessed and amongst the myriad of yellow flags the brand new pristine FF Cobra decided to try it's hand and being an airplane exiting turn 9 after hitting the inside tire wall and shedding a few body panels. Even though a reported altitude of 20 feet was achieved the driver decided it wasn't going to work. His weekend was over and I fear the car will be no more. It seemed that attrition was going to be the order of the weekend.

Not to jump the gun but our rungroup started with 23 and only 15 ran the practice race on sunday and 3 of those 15 were in rental cars after crashing or blowing up thier own cars! Back to the story. The instructor debriefs, as brutal as they were, did nudge you to push your car harder and drive faster...push the braking limits, test the lateral grip, stand on the gas whenever possible, that sort of thing....and so I did. :-) Until I spun in T1 all 4 wheels in full on lockup. It is then that I found my brake marker...or at least until I get the braking bias under control. Rusty likes to lockup the rear wheels a tad bit earlier than the fronts. As it were Rusty never ceased to amaze me. I pushed harder and Rusty would simply hang on. Deeper into T1. A quick glance at the speedo indicated about 135....IN RUSTY! (7900rpm in 4th). I was carrying close to 110 over the hill and into T4. I *felt* I HAD to touch the brakes entering T4 lest I not get things WOAH'ed enough for T5 and do what the NASCAR did at least a dozen times during the weekend and become a lawnmower. And essentially from T6 I was flat on the floor all the way to T10...which made T9 really REALLY scary I can tell ya! Throttle modulation? BAH! it was either buried in the floorboard or nothing at all. Binary throttle control ;-) Other than that the practice sessions went well.

Passing is anywhere you feel like you can make a pass stick which is a wild experience after so many HPDEs which are so regimented. So pass I did.... pretty much everwhere, T1 (RX7's even with the stupid bias issue have REALLY good brakes!) T3, T5 *on the outside*, inside at T6 and between T9 and T10. Yeeha! And all with only 150hp! :-) Then things get interesting on sunday. A few more practice sessions where racecraft is stressed - setting up for passes, how to pass, positioning the car etc etc. This is what I was really looking forward to. After watching so much racing on the TV would I actually be able to do the same thing? The passing was fun and exhilarating but perhaps the most striking thing I hadn't considered before is how a pass is supposed to take place, as in how close you are *supposed* to be when passing. The answer, as close as you can! Ideally close enough to touch side mirrors would be just about perfect. Why? So if your do screw up there is less distance to go before you hit them! Or they hit you! A nudge is better than BAM! Now imagine passing someone at the limits of adhesion, possibly in a corner, at 60+ mph with mere inches between you. Yes indeed...quite exciting!

Sunday afternoon rolls around and it's time for the practice starts and the practice race. Rusty is being a real trooper, Brake pads are hanging in there, tires are showing some wear (ie. they are now TOAST), the clutch is getting hot and slipping a bit shifting from 2 to 3, but otherwise it's business as usual. And something that made my day was the fact that I was well under the sound limit at a maximum of only 100dB on saturday morning (the limit is 103dB). Seems like the 4" 90deg exhaust tip elbow really does work! Now about the practice starts. Seems as if the instructors like having fun with the grid order placing the "faster" guys at the back. So what the hell were they thinking when they put me 3rd to last!!! In front of me is the ITE corvette (Oh yeah like I'm going to out drag him on the start!) and behind me is a GT2 Porsche followed by the NASCAR...thing. I'm am going to get squashed like a bug in this group! And to make things worse they put the slowest car in front of us 4. My only dissappointment was that my friend didn't make the field in his MR2 - rod knock.

So it goes like this (for those of you who don't know) we start in this "prepared" grid order and do a lap behind the pace car for a practice start. Pace car pulls in, look for the green flag at the start finish and go for it. Race to T4 and call it quits. Cool down for the remaining half lap pull into the pits and regrid in the new order and go out and do it again. Then on the third start the race is on. A short five lap "practice" race.

Back to the "live" action. 2 by 2 we circle the track, pace car is in, and I'm watching slowpoke in front of me, ITE corvette to my left, NASCAR behind me, GT2 Pcar to my back left. My big concern was getting around the slowpoke without becoming lunch for the monsters around me. So around T10 we come (I'm in 2nd gear at around 5500rpm - the ONLY powerband sweet spot for Rusty) wait...wait...peek around "slowpoke" and see the green and stand on the gas (remember to shift... remember to shift.... remember to shift.....) The sound is DEAFENING even inside my helmet. I can't even hear Rusty at 100dB. And then it if God himself spoke to me...the sea of cars parted. The ITE vette gets "picked" by the slower car in front of him and I shoot up the middle with the NASCAR...thing glued to my bumper and we both pass 8 cars by the FIRST corner! Two cars are off in the dirt in T1 but everyone else gets through cleanly. ITE Vette isn't done yet and both of us go side by side through T1, T2, T3, and up to T4. And THAT was only the first start. I was laughing insanely inside my helmet at the fact that "Mr NASCAR" was still behind me! w00t! Go rotary power! We coast around and into the pits. IIRC I moved up to about 7th. A couple of the midpack guys made their way to the front (Big V8 camaro something, ITE Rabbit with Hoosiers that stuck out 12 inches outside the fenders and the "other" GT2 Porsche) with the monsters and lil ole me peddling along just behind them.

Start number two comes around, ITE Vette is in front of me, NASCAR is beside me (freaking exhaust outlet -105dB -blasting my left ear), and the pack behind me. This time the start speed is up and I'm in 3rd gear and whaddayaknow the same thing happens, green flag and I get the jump on just about everybody. But alas twas not to be and HP rears it's ugly head. The ITE Vette picks off the Camaro and the Rabbit as does the faster of the two GT2 Porsches. NASCAR is getting REALLY pissed with the slower Camaro he's stuck behind and out of the corner of my left eye I watch him inch up on the rear of Camaro make contact with his bumper, lift the rear end of the car almost off the ground and *push* the Camaro down the straight! OH MY GOD! We go 2 by 2 through T1. The Camaro pulls ahead of me exiting T2...damn torque and NASCAR tries to take a position on me going into T3 but I manage to squeeze him out and keep him behind me for yet another start Now for the start that really is going to count as this start begins the 5 lap race. Front row ITE Vette and GT2 Pcar, 2nd row Camaro and Rabbit, third row NASCAR...thing and lil 'ole me. Again around T10 and the race is on. NASCAR now easily passes Camaro and Mr. NASCAR, Vette, and Pcar check out. So I end up tucked in behind the Camaro and the Rabbit. Now I KNOW the rabbit is fast in the corners but I can just about walk him on the straight...just. And sure enough the rabbit starts climbing all over the camaro in the carousel which slows them both down and I sit and wait sure enough the rabbit has to over slow a bit for T10 due to the brakeless Camaro "pig" and looses all his momentum. After hanging back a bit I am able to carry every ounce of momentum I can muster though T10 and pass the Rabbit by start finish. Now I'm on the tail of the camaro entering T1. And whaddaya know he overcooks the braking a bit, bobbles the turn in and I squeak by on the inside. Nothing but CLEAR track now! Uh wait a minute! Not so fast. The Rabbit is stuck to my bumper like glue. Seems like he followed me by the Camaro in T1 also. Gotta hold him off, just hang in there...3 more laps...2 more laps...1 more lap....every time into T5 he's right there and every time I'd pull just a enough on the main straight to hang on.

And which is how it all ended. HOT DAMN! From 13th to 4th in 3 starts and 5 laps. This was enough to earn me the Hard Charger award for my run group. The top three finishes were of course the NASCAR (who turned a 1:24), followed by the Pcar (1:26) and the ITE Vette (1:28). So what did Rusty turn to get the 4th place? A nice solid 1:30:6! I honestly had no idea Rusty had it in him. Hoosiers good for a second or two. A fresh motor (Rusty's ticker has 120k on the clock) maybe another 1/2 second, and a better rear end maybe another half second and maybe just maybe..... ;-) And so it ended. I passed the first of two licensing schools, Rusty held to together, and the driver is now a tad bit smarter and dare I say it perhaps a bit faster on the track too.

Rusty's first taste of racing. Tasted GOOD!

But Wait, There is ALWAYS Room for Improvement

Racing in Rusty was fabulous. But it is an old car, and certain areas could do with some improvement. Perhaps the most notable were the brakes and the clutch. The brake bias needs to be changed to preclude the tendancy to lock up the rear brakes, and the overheating clutch must be addressed. And so it is I put together my winter projects list for Rusty. The work includes:
Install FD fuel pump: better feul flow to supply the already freer breathing engine
Cut spring perches to drop front ride height another inch: The perches are not allowing the threading Ground Control sleeves to spin all the way down.
Flush and Bleed brake system: Always a good idea whenever possible
Fix loose battery tray: Discovered to be a broken tray - Dang it!
Install remote gas cap filler door release: Thsi more in the event I want to run an enduro which would require any refueling. Having to pop the hatch to open the fuel filler door is not exactly expedient.
remove fuel filler restrictor: Simply lets fuel go in faster
Fabricate dual oil cooler setup (twin Series OE coolers): Oil temps were fine in October but I have fears about the warm summer months. I have all the parts now I just need to fabricate and install.
under tray seal to front lip spoiler: The fornt lip spoiler has a duct that at the moement ducts to nowhere. It can be used to pump more air to the radiator and oil cooler(s).
upgrade clutch to ACT: Purchased a used (but nearly new) 6 puck clutch with ACT pressure plate. Sittin' on my workbench ready for the install.
Disable steering wheel lock: gotta do this to meet the SCCA regs. Shame on me for not doing it already.
Install Wilwood adjustable brake proportioning valve; See above. Have the adjuster just need to do the install.
Install dedicated front brake ducting: thsi is a nice to have as even though I had brake bias issues I never had overheating problems. I don't think Rusty is fast enough!
Rechip ECU to remove rev limiter: Hit the hard rev limiter at 7800rpm once and it was ugly. Must get rid of that.
Do something about pax side rearview mirror: stupid thing was wobbling all over the place. My "crew" managed to stuff some cardboard in ti the hold the mirror in place but ireally should fix it permenantly.
Underdrive pulley: a nice to have if I come accross a used one
Shift light: the mini-shift light I have in my FD rx-7 is great and I'd like to do one in Rusty as well at some point in time.
I could go on, S5 intake, fire suppression system, 5:10 rear diff, short 5th gear ratio, etc. etc., but I won't bore you any longer. Stay tuned for the installs and updated "Costs to Date" summary. I have a few ...umm...items to add.

Chapter I: To Begin the Hooptie to Hotrod Saga: Part 1 of the First 16 Installments
Chapter II: The Saga Continues beginning with Part 17 through 21, A Good Rear End: Part 17
Chapter III: Picking up the Pieces. Part 23 (clutch, adjustable proportioning valve + more)
Chapter III: Shift Mad Quick, Yo! Part 24
Chapter III: Getting a License - Racing School No. 2, Part 25
Chapter III: The S5 Decision, Part 26
Chapter III: S4 to S5 Conversion - CRAZYNESS! Part 27
Chapter III: Oil System Upgrades, Part 28
Chapter III: More Suspension Improvements? Part 29



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This page last updated December 21, 2005

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