Thanks Gary!

YSAR reader Gary emailed me and asked me if I would be interested in having my students drive his sim rig. A whole driving sim? Yes, the whole thing: Thrustmaster TX base with Sparco wheel, Fanatec ClubSport V3 inverted pedals, Fanatec H-pattern shifter, gaming computer with RTX 2080 GPU, 32″ curved monitor, Occulus Quest 2, speakers, headphones, and a custom-made cockpit with a Mustang seat complete with electronic controls. Not only did he donate this to the class, he also drove it up from Berkeley and installed it in my office. Who does things like that? Gary, apparently.

Oh yeah, my students are going to love this. Me too. This means I can get twice as many students in at a time. Also, they can race each other. I still have some minor adjustments to make on both rigs and some tidying up, but this is what my office looks like this afternoon.

The only downside to this is that my colleagues will think I’m loony. They already think I’m sus, but this is going to end up as cringe. Sorry, I don’t actually know what those words mean to young people, it’s just me trying to keep up with the times. In addition to the usual time trials and training sessions, I’m going to have to figure out how to get togue races going. Stay tuned.

Again, thanks Gary.

Sim Coaching: Student-R drops 4 seconds

As you may know, I’m a professor at UC Davis. We are encouraged to teach First Year Seminars on whatever topic we like. These courses are supposed to be a fun way to hang out with professors and talk about mutual interests. I teach a course on “High Performance Driving”. Usually this is a lecture only course, but this year I decided to bring my sim rig into the office and have students drive it. This gives me the opportunity to collect and analyze data from a variety of experience levels, and provide some coaching to observe how they improve.

Venue

As usual, I start with the NA Miata at Brands Hatch Indy with all settings at default values.

Session 1

This student, who I will call Student-R (in case there is more to say in another post), had had a little sim racing experience before, but he doesn’t own a rig. He’s probably played a lot using a hand controller. In his first session, his laps were in the high 1:07s. I had him go through the 3rd-gear-no-brakes drill and he eventually got just as fast doing that as he was using brakes and gears.

Session 2

A week later he came back to work on his driving. I say work because he clearly had that mentality. It’s much easier for me to coach someone who is serious about learning. We did the no-brakes drill again, but also worked on braking technique. Not that it matters much, but he uses his left foot to brake. As I was doing my own office work, I didn’t actually spend that much time observing or coaching. I would just comment a little about this or that and then he would go drive some more. In the end, he drove 90 laps and was in my office for almost 2 hours. Students are supposed to sign up for 30 minutes at a time, but there was nobody signed up after him, so he just kept training. At the end of the day, he improved his lap times by about 4 seconds.

Data

The panels from top to bottom in the image below are speed, brake pressure, steering angle, throttle position, and time delta. These are my favorite channels in general because they show the driver inputs and the results of those inputs. As usual, in the answer to the question “where is he faster?” the answer is “pretty much everywhere”.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the data. There’s a big difference in the brake pressure graphs. Instead of treating the brake pedal like an on-off switch, he’s learning to modulate it. There’s still some work to do in T2, but overall the braking is earlier and softer. By braking earlier, he’s able to turn and accelerate earlier. This isn’t the advanced form of backing up the corner yet, but it’s on the way there.

Analysis

I don’t think every student can drop 4 seconds between sessions. At least not when they start at 1:07.X. He’s now at the pace of some of the very experienced students who have their own sim rigs. How did this happen?

  • Take your training seriously. I think if he came in thinking “I’m just going to have some fun”, the session wouldn’t have been nearly as productive.
  • A little coaching can go a long way. I don’t think he would have made this much progress without someone looking in on him every once in a while saying “try this”.
  • No bad habits. Some experienced drivers have accumulated a lot of bad habits.
  • Examining data helps. He was very interested in the data as well as the driving.
  • It takes time. In addition to the driving time, there needs to be some contemplative time too. I don’t think he would have improved as much if his second session was the next day. Having a week between driving sessions is useful at the beginning. Later, you need train regularly to maintain your edge, but at the start, I think you need more time to reflect than to perfect.

 

Project: Assetto Corsa Endurace Server

I’ve got an idea for a new project, which is setting up an Assetto Corsa server aimed at the budget endurance racing community. That is, the cars will be older street cars, and the tracks will be those raced in Lemons and its descendants.

So why Assetto Corsa? I think a lot of people are doing their sim racing in iRacing. I find it highly unrealistic. Not the physics, which are quite good, and definitely not the tracks, which are top notch. However, the cars there look nothing like what you see in a budget endurance race. Where are the older Miatas, E30s, and FWD shit-boxes? You won’t find such cars in rFactor 2 or Automobilista 2 either. Assetto Corsa has loads of old street cars and most are free.

Here are the goals for the project:

  • Free content (where possible)
  • Free to race
  • 2 classes of exquisitely balanced vehicles with fixed setups
  • Track rotation is based on the next endurance race on the gestalt schedule (Lemons, ChampCar, WRL, Lucky Dog, AER, whatever)

Cars

Let’s talk a bit more about the cars. I want all of the cars to be available for free. This removes some DLC from Assetto Corsa and also elsewhere (e.g. the Spec-P71 racing series). Given that the series is shadowing budget endurance racing in the US, all of the cars are left-hand drive. Thematically, the cars are mostly from the rad 80s and 90s, but there are also some cool cars from the 60s and 70s. Nothing 2000+. Also, they must be street cars rather than race cars.

To balance the cars, there are several methods. Some cars come with more than one engine or tire compound. Assetto Corsa also has restrictor settings that go from 0-100 and ballast settings that add 0-200 kg. Apparently, the restrictor equation modifies torque by the following relationship: (1 – RPM * restrictor / 400000). Adding ballast is more straightforward, but if you add too much, you can fail tech by having a car too low.

At first, I have the AI drive the vehicle to set an ballpark time, but afterwards I drive it myself to create a hand-crafted solution to balance the median lap time of each car. I do all of the balancing at a secret test track. Of course this means that the cars won’t be balanced at every track.

A Class

Here’s the current list of A Class cars. If you know of any others that would fit here, please let me know.

  • BMW 325 E30. This is one of the most popular and successful vehicles across all budget endurance racing series. This is not the M version that comes with Assetto Corsa (I could add that too with heavy restriction and ballast). I feel like the standard version is more in keeping with the theme.
  • 1985 Toyota Celica. This is the first year of the FWD Celica. It doesn’t have a lot of power (150hp) but makes up for that with excellent handling and grip.
  • 1969 Dodge Charger 440. Of course we need some American muscle to go along with German luxury and Japanese sport. The Charger steers like a boat but accelerates like the hot rod that it is.
  • Pontiac Fiero GT. I wanted to find some kind of MR car for each class, and the Fiero is a great fit.
  • VW Beetle. There aren’t many RR vehicles in budget racing aside from the Beetle. The mod I found had a stock Beetle that was too slow for the B class, but included a drift version that slots in with the A class.
  • Nissan 240SX. This is an absolute staple of the drift community, but not all that common in endurance racing.
  • Mitsubishi Starion. The Starion was sold in the US as the Chrysler, Dodge, or Plymouth Conquest. It’s the only turbocharged vehicle in the A class.

B Class

  • Mazda Miata NA. The model provided by Assetto Corsa is probably my favorite car to drive. There’s excellent attention to detail in the 3D model and physics. As usual, Miata is always the answer.
  • Ford Mustang. There are a bunch of 1970s Mustangs in the same package. I haven’t decided which one to use. The vintage 1960s tires makes them challenging to drive.
  • Volvo 240 Turbo. Volvos have been highly successful in Lemons. This one is from the 80s. Even with the turbo, it still makes only 120 hp. It’s an easy car to drive.
  • Honda Civic EK9. This barely makes the 90s cutoff at 1999. In general, I’d like to find more Hondas, but most of the models are right-hand drive.
  • Porsche 914. This is the MR car for the B Class. Also the only Porsche at the moment.
  • 1995 VW Polo. Even though we didn’t get the Polo in the US, it fits well here. Also, I haven’t found another appropriate FF hatchback.
  • Chevy Monza. I really like this boxy FF coupe. It’s very similar to the Opel Ascona, which has a little more power. Not sure I’ll use both as they drive so similarly.

Tracks

Many of the tracks we race on are available in Assetto Corsa, and most of them are 100% free. Some have donations, like “buy me a coffee”. Others have Patreon links where you can subscribe for a couple bucks (you can subscribe for just one month, or you can be like me and keep subscribing). Finally, there are a couple tracks that are locked behind a paywall. They are still pretty inexpensive. Here’s a list of 48 North American tracks I’ve been able to find. Not all of them are high quality, but most are race-worthy.

  • Area 27
  • Atlanta Motorsports Park
  • Autobahn Country Club
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Brainerd International Raceway
  • Buttonwillow Raceway Park
  • Calabogie Motorsports Park
  • Carolina Motorsports Park
  • Castrol Raceway
  • Chuckwalla Valley Raceway
  • Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
  • Circuit of the Americas
  • Daytona International
  • Heartland Park Topeka
  • High Plains Raceway
  • Indianapolis Raceway
  • Laguna Seca
  • Mid America Motorplex
  • Mid Ohio Sportscar Course
  • Mission Raceway
  • Monticello Raceway
  • Mosport
  • MSR Houston
  • National Corvette Museum
  • NJMP Lightning
  • NOLA Motorsports Park
  • Oregon Raceway Park
  • Ozarks International Raceway
  • Pacific Raceways
  • Pittsburgh International Race Complex
  • Portland International Raceway
  • Putnam Park
  • The Ridge Motorsports Park
  • Road America
  • Road Atlanta
  • Roebling Road
  • Sebring International Raceway
  • Sonoma Raceway
  • Summit Point
  • Thompson Speedway
  • Thunderhill Raceway Park
  • Toronto Motorsports Park
  • Utah Motorsports Campus
  • Virginia International Raceway
  • Watkins Glen
  • Willow Springs International Raceway
  • Willow Springs: Horse Thief Mile
  • Willow Springs: Streets of Willow

When?

I’m thinking this will start up in 2023. That gives you some time to get yourself a sim rig!

Thank you Tire Rack!

Tire Rack just did one of the best tire tests I’ve ever seen. They tested the same tire (RE71RS) on the same car (2022 BRZ) with different tire and rim widths. Please go read their article because there are a lot of useful details there. I’ve copied the graphs below. But let me summarize.

  • If all you have is 7″ rims, you’re faster on 225 than 215 or 245. Wider rubber isn’t always better. And in the rain, you’re better off on 215 than 225 or 245.
  • If all you have is 8″ rims, you’re also faster on 225 than 215 or 245. Except in the rain, where once again, you’re better off on narrower tires.
  • If all you have is 9″ rims, you’re still fastest on 225 but 245 is close. Maybe with a 10″ rim the 245 will be the top dog. And again, in the rain, narrower is better.

OK, so how does any of this make sense? There are so many unlisted variables here that all you can say is that on this day (actually 3 days), with this car, these tires, and these drivers, this is what they got. If the day was much colder or much hotter, the results may have been different. Maybe the narrower tires got to a better temperature in the rain and on a hotter day that difference would disappear? These tests are difficult and time consuming. However, they are also essential because the results are impossible to predict. Thanks Tire Rack. I’ll probably buy my next set of tires from you because of this test.

The big take-aways for me are the following:

  • More rubber isn’t always faster
  • You’re almost always better off with a wider wheel

Office Sim

I moved my sim rig to my office at the University. This is so that the students in my High Performance Driving class can get some simulator time.

The main frame was something Tiernan and I built for his sim rig. It’s mostly a bunch of 2x4s and plywood I had hanging around fastened together with hardware sourced from the ground at various trips to Pick-n-Pull. Here’s a rundown of the various components.

  • Wheel – Thrustmaster TS PC Racer base with a Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 wheel.
  • Pedals – Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals.
  • Hand brake – From some supplier on eBay (not visible).
  • Seat – Mitsubishi Eclipse (Pick-n-Pull).
  • Computer – Various repurposed parts driving an nVidia GeForce GTX 1650 video card into a 2560×1080 LG curved monitor.

It looks pretty rough, but it’s sturdy and works well. The seat has the factory slider, so it accomodates drivers of all sizes. I also made the pedal position adjustable with some slotted angle iron and a couple bolts. Although the computer isn’t as powerful as the one I was using at home, the overall feel is actually a little better.

Student Drivers

So what am I having the students do? Despite the rFactor 2 download in view, I have them doing “the usual”.

  • Assetto Corsa
  • Brands Hatch Indy
  • NA Miata default everything

Some of the students have their own sim rigs and others have never used one before. It will be interesting to see how they change over time. I’m saving their telemetry.dump files in Race Studio Analysis. That should make for some fun analysis and discussion.

In addition to just driving around the track trying to set a decent time, I introduce them to a couple of my favorite drills.

  • Hand positions
  • 3rd gear no brakes

In the future I may add more drills like unbalanced setup, driving on dirt, etc.

Why is rotation important?

A few posts ago I talked about the R word. No, not R-comps, which is a favorite topic of conversation, because I think they’re basically useless. Also not racing, which is a great way to have fun, but also a way to gain bad driving habits by being too protective. Also not radios, which I have a hate-hate relationship with. Alas, the topic is rotation, and why it’s so important.

Two types of corners

You may have learned from “Driving in Competition” by Alan Johnson (or the people that quote him) that there are 3 types of corners:

  1. In slow, out fast
  2. In fast, out slow
  3. Everything else (compromises)

Or you may think of corners in their various shapes:

  • 90°
  • Carousel
  • Hairpin
  • Chicane
  • Esses
  • etc

However, a more simple taxonomy of corners is this:

  • High speed corners
  • Low speed corners

Before I can describe more about these kinds of corners, I want to digress into a more general discussion of cornering.

Corners in general

In any corner, you have two competing desires:

  1. Minimize the amount of time you spend in the corner
  2. Maximize the speed coming out of the corner

If you look at any book on driving, you will see a figure that looks a little like the following. This shows various lines through the corner of various radii. The largest radius line (C) is often called the geometric line through a corner. The shortest path is depicted by line (A).

Line (A) minimizes the amount of time spent in the corner. Not only does the corner have the shortest distance, it also allows you to brake much later, which maximizes the speed on the way to the corner. If the finish line was placed just after the corner, a racer who drove line (A) would win compared to line (C). However, if the finish line is farther down the straight, line (C) becomes a better option because it has a higher speed. That is, unless the car has so much acceleration (like JATO rocket boosters) that it can surpass the speed of line (C) by the time the geometric gets to the exit. The point of this discussion is to show you that even though line (C) is what gets taught most of the time, there are also very good reasons to drive the shortest path. In other words, spending less time in a corner is sometimes better than having highest speed (and vice-versa).

High speed corners

In a high speed corner, the optimal strategy is to keep your minimum speed as high as possible. If a driver enters 5 mph below the optimal corner speed, they will be well behind the pace by the time they get to the exit. There is no way to make up speed in a corner. If you enter slowly and attempt to go faster, you will create understeer as the weight and grip shift to the rear of the vehicle. This will cause you to lift throttle at the exit to prevent yourself from going off track. So just when you’re supposed to be at full throttle (exit) you’re lifting.

A car with a bit of understeer is easier to drive through high speed corners. If the goal is to set your minimum corner speed as high as possible, you don’t want the rear stepping out on you as you enter a corner. You want to feel your way into the corner using the front tires as your guide to how much traction is available. Then, once you feel the right amount, you can maintain it with throttle. In other words, you’re taking a geometric line through the corner where the corner speed is both constant and as high as possible. In high speed corners, your motor is in high gear, and doesn’t have as much acceleration, so you can’t bail yourself out of a lower speed with your engine.

Low speed corners

In a low speed corner, you need to change directions as quickly as possible to minimize the amount of time you spend in the corner. At lower speed, your engine is more useful, and in order to use the engine, you need to get the car pointed straight as soon as possible. Here, oversteer helps because it allows the rear tires to provide some of the steering. Note that the oversteer must happen in the first part of the corner, during braking. Once you get on the gas, you don’t want the car sliding sideways. That will reduce both grip going sideways and your ability to accelerate. Oversteer and rotation should happen early in the corner when the speed is lowest. Then once the car is straightening out, you can add throttle and get a faster exit speed.

One of the phrases that goes along with rotation is backing up the corner. This is the concept that you do more stuff in the early part of the corner, where stuff includes inputs (wheel, pedals) and outputs (change of speed, change of direction). A rotation corner should have a lower minimum speed than a geometric corner. In order to go faster later, you need to go slower sooner. The path through a rotation corner has compound radii. That is, it’s not circular. The radius gets tighter to the point of minimum speed, and then gets larger towards the exit.

Another concept that must be addressed with rotation is yaw. During rotation, the car will have some yaw. That is, it will be rotating on an axis that goes vertically through the center of mass. If you’re not experiencing yaw, you’re not experiencing rotation. Again, that yaw must happen during braking, not accelerating. In contrast, in a high speed corner, you don’t want yaw because that will reduce lateral grip, which would reduce minimum corner speed.

More thoughts

You can drive low speed corners with a high speed strategy. In fact, you will have a higher minimum speed on a geometric line. However, if you rotate the car, you will get to full throttle sooner. Which strategy works best depends on individual corners, the drivers, and the vehicles.

Rotation is a form of controlled spinning. If you don’t practice oversteer recovery, you may end up in a full blown spin. It’s a good idea to practice trail-braking, rotating, and drifting during training sessions, but during a race, you may want to drive with more in reserve. Driving a rotation line uses more fuel, tires, and brakes, so it’s not the best strategy for endurance racing.

Putting a big rear wing on a FWD vehicle actually makes a lot of sense. If the car is set up to oversteer in low speed corners (as it should), the wing can pin the rear down in high speed corners, but it will have very little effect in low speed corners. You can get a FWD car to oversteer quite a bit by putting less grippy tires in the rear (change compounds, widths, tire pressures). There are lots of suspension and alignment things you can do too.

Right Foot vs. Left Foot: Part 1

My recent surgery on my right leg meant that I didn’t have the use of my right foot for about 6 weeks. That prompted me to learn how to drive left-footed. I trained on a simulator for several hours and then started driving in the real world. It’s been both fun and educational. While I don’t recommend that anyone snap their Achilles tendon, I do recommend that people get out of their comfort zones.

Now that my left foot is fairly good at driving, it seems a good time to test the age-old question, “how much of an advantage is left foot braking?” Lots of people have asked and answered that. But this is YSAR, so I’m going to go one step further and test something nobody tests: “how good is left foot throttle?” Here are the four combinations.

  • Right foot only (RFO)
  • Right foot throttle, left foot brake (LFB)
  • Left foot only (LFO)
  • Left foot throttle, right foot brake (LFT)

Real World Observations

One of the things I’ve noticed while driving in the real world is that it’s easier for me to drive all righty or all lefty than to mix them. Apparently my brain is wired for one foot even when I drive lefty. While I would love to drive left footed on track, I don’t have a car that can do that. For the time being, I’ll have to test everything in simulation.

Here’s a question for YSAR readers. If you wanted to test left-footed vs. right-footed driving, what car would you use? Here are the criteria:

  • Automatic transmission
  • Ruinable/Cheap
    • I have to drill through the floor to install the left-foot adapter
    • I’d probably want to sell the car later
  • Compatible wheels (4×100 or 5×120 is convenient for the wheels I already own)

Are two feet better than one?

There are two main advantages of using both feet (LFB, LFT).

  1. Less time switching between pedals
  2. You can use both pedals at the same time

It seems obvious that the time it takes to move your foot from one pedal to another represents some kind of loss. I mean, you’re not doing anything during that moment, so it must be a loss, right? Maybe. It’s just a fraction of a second. I don’t think being 0.1 seconds later to changing pedals will result in 0.1 seconds of a lap. But I could be wrong.

The other reason to use both feet is that it allows you to apply brake and throttle at the same time. At first glance, this sounds wasteful if not stupid. But let’s look closer. What happens when you apply brake and throttle at the same time? Since your brakes are more powerful than your engine, it doesn’t necessarily make you brake less effectively. What it does is change your brake balance. Mixing brake and throttle is therefore similar to tweaking a proportioning valve.

Given that you can change your brake bias on the fly, it means you can and maybe should set up your car differently. For example, on a RWD car, you can set up with more rear bias because you can always remove some of that with the throttle. I’m not sure you would do that with FWD though.

In theory, I understand how to use both pedals simultaneously. However, I don’t have a lot of practice. So I’m probably not going to be very good at it, initially. I’ll have to train myself and see what happens.

Upcoming on YSAR

Check back for test results on the various kinds of footwork.

The team is racing at Buttonwillow in a week. I won’t be driving, but I’ll be post a race report and some video.

I started a new blog about my attempt to not suck at billiards.

10 years of Lemons

Patience… this is going to be a very, very long post.

10 years ago I entered my first car race. It was a 24 Hours of Lemons race at Thunderhill. It was my 4th time on track, and looking back on it, I sucked at racing. But I also knew I sucked at racing, so I had that going for me.

Here’s the amazing thing: we won. No, we didn’t get first place or even any of the individual accolades, but I feel like we still won. Everyone got to drive and nothing horrible happened. For a rookie team, that’s winning. The experience was life-changing and has kept us coming back for 10 years. Let me guide you through 10 years of Lemons races and my favorite 3 cars from each race. Most of the photos come from Judge Phil (Murilee Martin).

2012:09:15-16 Thunderhill

Our first Lemons build was a 1988 Toyota MR2 (AW11). We embraced the silliness of Lemons with Noah’s Ark theme. We literally built a boat around the car using a lapstrake construction. The bow was pretty long and slightly raised. While this made it look like a boat, it also made it nerve-wracking every time you went up a hill. You sort of said a silent prayer that you didn’t hit anything while you crested the wave.

We didn’t end up finishing the race. The engine died with a bearing failure. What do you expect from a 25 year old engine with an unknown history? What I remember most about the driving was my first experience with rotation. I had driven into T10 a little too deeply and had to apply some brakes mid corner. The car literally rotated around its middle. I had never experienced that before, and it would be some time before I did it intentionally.

My favorite car of the weekend was an amazing postal Jeep built on a Mustang frame. It’s one of the cleanest themes of all time. It didn’t attend many races. I wonder what happened to it.

My second favorite car was the CorVegge, which was an 80s Corvette with a Buick diesel engine that made 77 hp. It must have been horrible. I would have loved it.

Third on the podium goes to this Scion xB. If you’re going to drive a car that looks like a toaster, you might as well make toast. I’m not sure how they made the smoke. One reason I like this car is that it shares a lot of parts with my Yaris. For example, there’s a Blitz supercharger kit that fits both cars. This xB was outfitted with that in the next race… and they never got on track. This is a reminder to me to keep the engine as stock and reliable as possible.

2013:03:23-24 Sonoma

Given that we had destroyed the engine in the last race, we decided to swap the 4AGE “Red Top” with a JDM “Silver Top”. This provides a decent bump from 115 to 160 crank HP. The swap was mostly easy, although I recall that shimming 20 valves took several hours and getting the wiring harness to work was a total failure (we ended up paying someone to build one for us).

Given that we couldn’t see through the bow of the “boat” we decided to drill some big holes in it. That also inspired changing the theme from an ark to a fishing boat. We thought we had the best theme, but the Judges preferred the Tiki Bar (see next post).

On the Friday practice, Thomas was climbing up T3A when the right axle broke. When we examined the metal, it looked like it had been cracked for years and less than 20% of the metal remained. We then spent the rest of the day fixing it. The Snow Speeder team had some spare parts, so we cobbled it back together in time to start the race on Saturday.

PSA: The geometry of a 1986 MR2 isn’t the same as the 1988 MR2. The parts we got “fit” but were not really compatible. As a result, the right side and left side were very different. This resulted in the worst handling car I’ve ever driven. It would lurch to the side when going down a straight. On right turns, you could unload the left side and drive normally, but left hand turns were downright dangerous. Mario got in the car and brought it in on the out-lap, saying “my life is too precious to drive this”. I actually had a great time wrestling the car around the course.

We were able to find a proper MR2 axle at a Pick-n-Pull nearby and got that installed Sunday morning. While we didn’t get much driving in, we did get the car back to normal.

All of my favorite cars from this race are motor swaps. The Doublesuck MRolla is the pinnacle of Lemons engineering. The team welded the front half of a Corolla to the back half of an MR2. The front engine was manual and the rear was automatic. On their next build, they put 2 engines in an FX16 and called it an FX32. This was a double manual transmission with a single shifter and clutch. Amazing.

The Geo Metrognome is powered by a motorcycle engine. I wish there were more bike-engined cars in Lemons. The sound of this thing revving to 10k was amazing. This was a very fast, but slightly fragile car.

One of the most famous motor swaps is this Prius with a Harley motor. It ran the whole race and performed better than it should.

2013:03:25 Sonoma

“Sears Pointless” was an unusual race weekend. The typical weekend race had a such a long wait list that the organizers decided to add a second race on Monday, which was called “Sears (even more) Pointless”. We entered both races and finally got a chance to complete an entire race. We ended up in the top 20, which was a pretty good showing for a boat. At some point during the race, we lost the fish. Amazingly, the corner workers returned it to us at the end of the race.

The Judge’s Choice for the main race was won by the Tiki Bar Jetta (we won it on Monday). The attention to detail on the build is astounding. The entire roll cage was wrapped in bamboo. They served drinks out of the back. Lemons themes don’t get much better than this.

The Scrubbing Bubbles Beetle is a surprisingly fast car. While I didn’t know the owner at the time, Mike Kimball is now an important part of my team, being both an excellent driver and mechanic.

The IROC Maiden was a mainstay of Lemons racing for years. They had come close to winning several times and in this race decided to hire a professional racer to do the driving. All of it. They didn’t win.

2013:09:14-15 Thunderhill

For this race at Thunderhill, we changed the theme to Lamborrari. The left side was painted yellow and themed as a Countach, while the right side was painted red and themed as an F40. It was one of my favorite themes. We even had stickers and patches with our logo.

We ended up finishing 9th overall, which is pretty good considering we had a 10 gallon fuel tank and 185 other teams to contend with. Getting a top 10 finish felt like winning. This was the highlight of the MR2 platform. From this point onward, it was all disappointment.

We weren’t the only “F40” MR2 in the race. I think they ended the race with an engine fire.

The TinyVette is an Opel GT rescued, built, and maintained by Mike Meier. Mike has been in Lemons a long time, and used to live in Davis (where I live). The TinyVette is one of the iconic non-shitty cars of Lemons. I got to drive this on a practice day at Thunderhill West. The inside is as cute as the outside.

This event was made famous because of the surprise dyno test. They took the top cars and put them on a dyno. Each team had to declare their HP and then the judges gave them 1 penalty lap for each HP they were over their estimate. The Southworst claimed they had a junk yard motor and then the dyno recorded 246 HP. Consequently, they were buried in penalty laps. I heard later (confidentially) that they had a $20k race motor installed. At the time, I thought that it wasn’t really in the spirit of Lemons. But looking back on it, it doesn’t bother me anymore.

2013:12:07-08 Sonoma

We went into this race thinking we had a good chance to actually win it. Our car was performing great and our drivers were improving. Sadly, it died in the first stint with a head gasket failure. A better team would have swapped that out at the track, but we decided to pack up and try another day.

Pure awesome. Words fail.

The two teams that dominate the West coast are Cerveza and Eyesore. Cerveza runs an e28 BMW with a modern engine. They aren’t always the fastest car on track, but they do everything so well that they are always a threat to win.

Eyesore runs an NA6 Miata with a cobbled together turbo. It often sets the fast time of the day. Somehow, it’s also really reliable. In the old days, before they were encumbered by kids, the team had some of the best themes of all time. Really spectacular stuff.

2014:09:13-14 Thunderhill

This race was a landmark for 2 reasons. It was the first Lemons race on the Thunderhill 5 mile track. It was also the largest closed course road race in history. I have the Guinness  Worlds Record certificate to prove it. Our theme for this race was Royal Mail. We dressed up the are in the Royal Mail livery and had it deliver a giant letter to the Guinness World Records. Despite the theme being mostly stickers and tape, I thought it worked pretty well.

This was the first race for our Miata. The MR2 couldn’t make it because it needed engine work (again). The Miata ran flawlessly. I don’t remember what place we got. It was a great weekend no matter what.

My favorite car of the weekend is Saanda: a Saab powered Honda 600. Look at this thing. It’s straight out of Mad Max.

My next favorite car was this 911 with a diesel motor. The team posed as umbrella boys and hammed it up all weekend. It was brilliant.

For the third favorite, I couldn’t decide between the squeaky clean 871 and the Toy Story Pizza Planet. Both are incredible builds.

2014:12:06-07 Sonoma

We changed our theme nearly every race, and this one was no exception. We decided to try to make the Miata look like a CanAm car with a blocky rear and a wing. I dubbed it “Can’t Am”.

A Miata with a pretty minimal theme can still look fantastic. It’s just a couple of fins and a great paint job but the overall effect is really fun.

The Chotus (Chevy-engined Lotus) has been around Lemons a very long time. It rarely finishes a race. It looks great while it lasts.

OK, so I love pickups as race cars.

2015:09:12-13 Thunderhill

In this race we entered 2 cars, the Miata, which we had also been driving in Lucky Dog and ChumpCar, as well as the MR2. This was a great opportunity to drive both cars back to back and see which platform was superior. We raced this time under the name “Iron Flutterby”. We put graffiti on the cars. It wasn’t a very engaging theme.

Here’s a shot of the MR2 #314. It had a roof scoop feeding an oil cooler. Sadly, the engine died again. This time the culprit was a clogged oil pump from using too much sealer.

The Miata ran all weekend. It was faster and more reliable. This was the nail in the coffin for the MR2. We ended up giving to a team with the expertise to keep it running. That said, it hasn’t entered a race since.

The video below is queued up to the Miata passing the MR2. I haven’t watched that video in years. It shows me passing a lot of the fastest Lemons cars despite having a very simple and inexpensive Miata build.

Let’s look at some of the cool cars from the race. The Coyote is at the top of the list. This is a Miata with a Honda V6 swap and a couple hundred pounds of extra body work.

No, this isn’t an El Camino, but rather a Del Sol dressed up like one. This car has become a Lemons regular and puts down some really fast laps.

Keeping with the Ute theme, the Bavarian Ranchero is based on an E30.

2015:11:24-25 Loudon

This was the first race where I was an arrive-n-drive, and also my first time at NHMS. The car was an E36 318is. Team orders were to keep it below 5500 RPMs. Here’s some video of me driving. I get faster as I get more acclimated to the car and track.

The best theme for this race was the tribute to Mad Max.

The best build of the race is this MR2. Yes, you read that correctly. This van is actually an MR2.

Bert One is a Volvo 262 Bertone with a Sesame Street theme. Great car, great drivers, great people. I was chatting on the side of the track with a East Coast Lemons regular and he was pointing out all the dangerous drivers. When he pointed to Bert One, he had nothing but admiration for them.

2015:12:05-06 Sonoma

This was the first race where I registered as crew rather than driver. We brought 6 women drivers and 3 guys for “eye-candy”. The team was called “XX Racing” and sported a pink helmet with a “ponytail”.

The Model T GT is one of the most famous Lemons builds, both for its successes and its concept. I think I would love it if it wasn’t so damn fast.

Mike Mercado’s fastback Miata is routinely in the top 5 but has yet to win. They really deserve to win a race one of these days.

Just the usual German brands fighting it out: Porsche, VW, BMW. This van is way faster than it ought to be. The team shows up with about 6 of these. I think I would love to be one of those guys.

2016:02:13-14 Sonoma

Another arrive-n-drive, this time in a 240SX with the Bert One team (but not in their 262).

The car sprung a leak while I was driving, so I drove less than an hour. Here’s the entire stint.

The Faster Farms Plymouth Belvedere has been driving to the track, racing, and driving home for years. How? It doesn’t even look like should be able to move under its own power.

This diesel Mercedes coupe dressed up like a Dalek is pretty neat. I would drive that in a heartbeat.

This crazy build is all Yuzu. The driver sits behind the B-pillar. Spectacular even if I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.

2016:04:30-2016:05:01 Kershaw

This was my first time at CMP but the car was very familiar to me. It was my E30 track car that I gave to Ben Dawson to start a team on the East Coast.

It felt really great to be back in my old car again.

There are a lot of great cars in the East, but not as many great themes. Here’s an exceptional exception.

This is a great looking car.

You don’t see too many Datsun B210s in Lemons. At least I think that’s what this is.

2016:05:21-22 Thunderhill

In this race, we decided to race on Douglas tires and call ourselves “D-Spec FTW”. Honestly, I think Lemons should have a 400 treadwear rule and make us all drive on all season tires. Alternatively, they should have a D class for those brave enough to race that way (they actually did do that for this race, but just this once). The Douglas tires we got were 185/60/14, and were under $40 each. I mounted them myself with a Harbor Freight tire mounter. That’s some real Lemony shit right there.

So how does a Miata on Douglas Xtra Trac II tires drive on track? Like a fucking boss. This may have been my favorite theme because the driving was so much fun.

Lemons doesn’t love E36s. That is, unless you dress them up like a garbage truck.

The first time I saw a Bricklin at a museum in Ottawa, I was enchanted by the safety concept. But it’s a terrible car in every respect.

This is just a plain Nissan Sentra SE-R with no theme. It’s here because I’ve always loved racing against this car. The team has good drivers and the car is plenty quick.

2016:07:30-31 Thunderhill

Our Miata’s engine died early in this race. I don’t have good pictures or video of the car in action. So let’s look at the others instead.

This Porsche 914 dressed up like a CanAm car is pretty great. They have been around Lemons a long time. This used to race in the A class, but it’s probably C class now.

This Jeep thing is pure awesome.

Highway Robbery is an FD RX7 with an LS motor. In the hands good drivers, this car would win every race. But they race for fun and look good doing it.

2017:09:30-2017:10:1 Buttonwillow

This race I did an arrive-n-drive with NSR in their Ford 5.0 swapped Celica. This was a terrible car in just about every respect. OEM suspension, OEM brake pads, but 230 V8 HP. The brakes faded every corner. Apparently the owner’s strategy was to use the automatic transmission to slow the car. I hated it on Saturday but found the fun on Sunday.

An actual Lancia.

Anton’s Volvo is well-engineered and plenty quick. Perfect for Lemons.

Lemons needs more wagons.

2019:03:09-10 Sonoma

I stopped racing Lemons for a good 18 months. For some reason, I decided I wanted to do things a bit more seriously, and did more Lucky Dog, ChampCar, and SCCA stuff. I did eventually come back to my senses. Here I’m in an arrive-n-drive MX-3 with an MX-6 motor. I had never experienced torque steer before. I found it to be a lot of fun.

ReStart Racing is made up of actual corner workers. It’s appropriate that their racecar is carrying a car in the bed.

It’s not very often that you see an MR2 SW20 non-turbo on a race track. It looks fast but isn’t.

This Accent had an engine suspended in front of it at the start of the race. But it was wet and the engine ended up drooping into the driver’s vision. That driver would be Jay Leno.

2019:05:25-26 Thunderhill

This was the first Lemons race for the Yaris. An unexpected rain storm turned this into my favorite drive. During the storm, I might have been the fastest car on track, while driving a smog-legal Toyota Yaris.

In the video above, it took a long time to pass the Supra below. It’s a fast car with a good driver. It’s sporting a 2JZ engine, of course.

Ranger Road Motors is a team made up of war veterans with limb injuries. They have various driving assists so they can drive with 1 leg or with hand controls.

I love this Plymouth Scamp.

2019:08:10-11 Thompson

I had back problems this Summer and couldn’t race. I did a couple practice laps and that was it. The car I drove (briefly) was an Odyssey with a Mr. Rogers theme.

I’m a sucker for a good pun. This works.

This Mustang looks fantastic.

This car has a very tidy paint job, but it’s really not very Lemony. At one point I would have not approved of this car, but I’m all for it today.

2021:05:29-30 Thunderhill

We were in contention for a win this race, in C class under the team name Toyota Virus. It was a pretty good theme with a giant syringe sticking out of the car. The needle bent on the main straight and it flew off the car, causing some panic for the cars behind. I should have used a more durable pipe. Here we are at tech inspection with our hazmat suits on.

 

We were swapping the lead all day Sunday with a Saab 9-3. The Yaris kept overheating. Later, we realized this was because the head was cracked. We probably could have added more water and it would have survived the race, but I drove it until it died, about 1 hour from the finish.

2021:09:25-26 Buttonwillow

I joined Lemons staff as a Judge this race. It was a lot of fun. The Lemons moment that I will always remember is when team Dickass tried to go on track using the track exit rather than entrance. Kristen picked up the bullhorn and yelled “Hey Dickass, you’re going in the out hole”.

2021:12:04-06 Sonoma

I bought a JDM 1nz-fe engine and with the help of Tiernan and Mike we resurrected the Yaris. The engine worked perfectly. Unfortunately, we fucked up a bunch of other things. The car handled like shit and didn’t stop. Tiernan bounced the car off a wall and I earned my first black flag (I had no brakes and should not have been on track with a car behaving so poorly). I don’t even have any pictures or video of this race.

2022:03:12-13 Sonoma

We switched the name of the team to Toyota Kazoo Racing because we like the pun (the official Toyota racing team is Gazoo). There is a giant kazoo on the top of the car and also in the front (although people thought this was a hash pipe). The co-driver is so realistic that the safety marshals tried to wave us off track for having a passenger in the car.

Unfortunately, we were still fighting some problems associated with suspension and hubs. We did get some racing in though. Here’s Danny having a bit of fun.

2022:05:28-29 Thunderhill

Given my recent back problems, I decided I was going to slide into a team manager role, and didn’t even sign up as a driver for this race. Here’s MIke finishing out the race.

Thanks

Lemons has been 10 years of great memories. I’m not sure how much racing I’m going to do in the next 10 years, but Lemons has always and will always be my racing home. From the bottom of my oil pan, thank you Lemons. And by Lemons, I don’t just mean the organization, but the whole ecosystem.

Four reasons you may be stuck at the low intermediate plateau

Today, I want to talk about veteran drivers who have plateaued at the low intermediate level. How do I define low intermediate? Partly by lap time, but also by driving technique and knowledge. The intermediate stage is sort of like teen years in driving development. Some skills/knowledge may be at a surprisingly advanced level yet others are severely lacking. Intermediates primarily drive for fun. Given a couple hours of track time, their focus is on passing the other cars on track and setting their personal best lap time. This is in contrast to advanced drivers who use their time for training, testing, and tuning.

Low-intermediate veterans represent an interesting challenge.

  • One of the great things about coaching intermediate drivers in general is that some of their problems are easily fixed because they simply have the wrong facts in their heads.
  • One of the problems with coaching veteran drivers is that some of their bad habits are hard-wired into their brains. They depend on their bad habits, which make them very hard to fix.

1. Not every corner is a Type I

One of the first things novice drivers learn is the typical racing line through a Type I corner. Largest radius, highest speed, blah blah blah. This lesson can be so impactful that they think every corner is a Type I corner. So they drive outside-inside-outside regardless of the shape of the corner. There are many corners where it’s better to take the shortest path. For example, when driving through esses, just take the shortest path. And in a decreasing radius corner, it’s fast in, slow out.

Here are two suggestions to fix the Type I problem, which most low intermediate drivers don’t even recognize as a problem.

  1. Take the shortest path. Make sure to time yourself and record data. You may find that the shortest path is a lot faster.
  2. Drive off line. By intentionally driving off line, you may find a different line. Also, if you’re a Type I robot, you really need to explore the space of the track.

2. Loose is not fast

The phrase “loose is fast” isn’t actually true. Try the following experiment: put all season tires on the front of your car and time yourself. Then put them on the rear. With the slippery tires in the front you will experience a lot of understeer. Your lap time will be 1-2 seconds off pace. With the slippery tires on the back, your best lap will be 2-3 seconds off pace. Oh yeah, and you’ll probably get kicked off track for spinning every lap. So maybe do this experiment in simulation. Assetto Corsa doesn’t let you switch compounds, but you can pump up your tires absurdly high. Alternatively, use Gran Turismo, where you can change compounds.

People who believe oversteer is faster try to use their rear tires to help them turn. Seriously, they believe that by breaking the rear tires loose under throttle they will get through the corner faster. No, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t add throttle until most of the turning is done. Oversteer should happen in the first part of the corner, when the speed is lower. Also, corner entry oversteer is created from braking, not throttle.

If you have a car tuned for understeer, you can use trail-braking to restore balance. Sometimes the car will understeer so much that you can’t get it to rotate at all. Even in this case, trail-braking is useful as it adds weight and grip to the front tires to help them steer. On the other hand, if the car is tuned for oversteer, you can’t trail-brake at all. There’s already no grip in the rear, and trail-braking makes the matter worse. Since you’re always at the risk of spinning, you end up entering the corner slower. While the car may rotate pretty well by itself, you’ll be fighting oversteer the entire way out of the corner. Not only is loose slow, it’s also dangerous.

For those of you thinking “what about FWD?”, the same behavior applies to FWD: understeer is both safer and faster.

3. Downshifting doesn’t matter

There are a lot of drivers who think that the most important part of high performance driving is the engine. As a result, they make sure to downshift before every corner. But here’s the thing, nobody uses all of their engine in the corner. While cornering, you spend some time trail-braking, some time coasting, and some time at partial throttle. You’re not at full throttle until the corner is basically done.

One of my favorite exercises is the “3rd gear, no brakes drill”. This is just what it sounds like: drive the entire track in one gear and don’t use your brakes. Although it sounds impossible, you may find that you’re faster in the drill than when you drive with brakes and shifting. The reason why is simple: you brake too much. And the reason you brake too much? Because you are downshifting. If you enter a corner 5-10 mph off pace, you will end up in a situation where you can add a lot of power. This will either cause unwanted understeer or oversteer through the remainder of the corner.

While this may sound strange, it would be faster for many drivers to downshift after the corner. Staying in high gear through the first part of the corner will result in a higher entry speed. And being in a high gear won’t affect anything until you’re on the straight after the corner. Not that any self-respecting intermediate driver would ever do this. They need to show off their improper heel-toe technique. You know where they rev immediately, brake while the revs drop, and then ease out the clutch. Hint: if you have to ease out the clutch, you didn’t match revs. If you’re not going to heel-toe properly, just don’t do it.

4. The racing line is a result, not a goal

The racing line isn’t something you’re supposed to achieve, but rather the result of having the correct cornering technique from the entry to the exit. Let’s use tennis as an analogy. Take a look at the position of Andy Roddick’s serving arm. His palm is facing outward, away from his body. If your goal was to serve like Andy, you might look at this picture and attempt to get your arm in that position. That would probably send the ball into the neighboring court. The tennis serve is hit with the arm rotating as it extends (aka pronation). Having the palm facing outward is the result of follow-through. It’s not something he, or anyone else should intend to do.

Similarly, connecting the cones from entry to apex to exit isn’t going to give you proper cornering technique. The typical HPDE curriculum that focuses students’ attention on the racing line is putting the cart before the horse. I think it’s one of the dumbest things we coaches do. That’s partly why I made this snarky video.

Here’s what I suggest to fix this problem: drive the car. Listen to what it’s telling you. Sure, you can set up on the outside of the track as normal, but try different ways through the corner after that. Try moving everything earlier in the corner and then let your throttle application naturally push yourself to the exit. If you end up mid-track at the exit, that’s okay at the beginning. You’ll get there eventually. Don’t force the line, let it come to you.