02/22/12 The driving season draws near and so Pearl is going back together, with its shiny new powdercoated frame and anodized bits. We decided to try clear anodize which looks pretty much like bare aluminum, albeit less shiny. I think it's a good combo (although bellcranks will be black on all production cars).

We're not trying to do a 9 hour build here but instead are taking the time to check for any wear and anything unusual. This car has over 2,000 track miles on it (including quite a few off-track excursions, some rather spectacular!) and it's a good indication of what wears and how. So far, not much aside from primary chain which at the moment seems to be good for about 5 full track events (around 700 track miles at speed). The chain costs less than $100 so it's not a huge impact on operating costs which right now stand at roughly $1 per mile in consumables like tires, brakes, chain, etc. Fuel adds about $0.35 per mile to that for a total of $1.35 per mile give or take. In comparion when we last ran the MINI on the track it was going through tires, brakes and fuel at the rate of over $5/mile when on street tires and over $10/mile on R compounds (it would destroy a $450 set of two front Rs in just two 20-minute sessions).

The reason we're putting Pearl back together right now is that it and the yellow car are heading down to Infineon for some fun in two weeks. More on that later :)

02/29/12 This morning I realized it was the 29th of February, meaning that we are in a leap year. My first thought - 'Awesome, we get an extra day to get things done!". Much needed, too. It's been 7-day weeks for several months now, they tend to run together. Today was a typical day. For me it starts with some general administrative tasks, a bit of accounting/finances, then marketing/press/PR, then sales, then some CAD/design. This is before we leave the house. Then it's CNC machining/programming, composites repair/bodywork, more general admin, more design, some vendor interface/scheduling. Then we go home and it's yet more design, more accounting and now I get to blog about it :) Tomorrow more of the same. Ah, the glamorous life!

Yes, I'm actually having fun :) A few days ago I decided to finally bite the bullet and update my computer at home. The old system was way too old (4+ years) and with the size of files I'm working with these days it was basically unusable. There's good business justification - with a better machine on my desk I can do more useful work, more of the time. Fortunately these days a few hundred bucks gets you a LOT. With under $800 invested I got a quad-core machine with 8G RAM, 1T HD, a 27" 1080p monitor and a decent graphics card with almost a gig of dedicated memory. Keep in mind that my first PC had 64K RAM standard which I upgraded to 384K at great expense (yes, I'm that old ;). While I was at it I got a new video card (Nvidia GTX550) for my office computer too. For only $150 the thing comes with 2G memory and it runs the driving sim at 2560x1600 resolution, all settings maxed, at nearly 200 fps. Since I spent the first 20 years of my career as a computer geek designing everything from chips to complete systems to embedded RTOSs, I have a very direct appreciation for the amount of computing happening behind every rendered pixel. It just boggles the mind.

Anyway, back to the tasks at hand and the subject of this post. Pearl is coming together nicely, Tristan is nearly done putting it together.

It's getting a number of upgrades and refinements, including a Flatshifter system and a Power Commander. We'll see how much difference these make although tuning the PC will have to wait till later. The composites work mentioned earlier has to do with patching up the bodywork and the floor. This car has had a challenging life - it's been run hard and occasionally beyond the limits of the driver(s). There was the time when I took out a double-stacked 3' cone at 60+ mph. Obliterated the bottom cone. The bodywork ended up with some cracks but held up well overall. Then there was the time M left the track at 102 mph. She drove back to the pits, we dusted off the car and out it went for several more sessions driven with similar vigor. I am pleased with how robust the design is proving to be (and improvements have been made as a result of our experience to make it more so). A whole new floor is in the works but it won't be ready for our trip to California next week so I'm making aero tweaks and much needed repairs to the old one.

Of course it's been kinda snowing up here lately so no opportunity to test. Therefore we get to do a press event with a freshly put together car including several untried updates. No pressure. You'll read all about it soon, one way or another :)

Of course other projects are moving as well. Pikes Peak car, D2, Stiletto, some parts orders for customers... Can we have February 30th also?

03/05/12 Time moves right along but so do we. Pearl is now fully back together with a number of fun upgrades - I'm particularly looking forward to programming the PowerCommander and testing the FlatShifter. It's got a new carbon dash and of course newly painted frame and bodywork. Number of other tweaks too.

Now with all these new things and no testing we're off to a press event. Maybe someday we'll do something the easy way. Until then, life goes on pretty much as we know it. Somehow transporting two cars in a 20' trailer feels like it's symbolic...

When we get back in a couple of days the Pikes Peak frame will be here. The powdercoated D2 suspension is ready, D2 halfshafts have been ordered, as have shocks/springs and other bits. I just got done making a batch of drive flanges on the CNC and the plating should be done on our return. No rest for the wicked :)

03/07-03/08/2012 Press event at Infineon, hosted by Simraceway. This is our first experience of this kind but hopefully only the first of many. I have mentioned racing sims and their benefits before so when the opportunity came along to work with Simraceway we jumped at the chance. Our D1 is already available in their beta and D4 will be released shortly, to be followed by the D2 at a later date. The D4 was available in the sim for the event and some tweaks were made to the physics on the spot based on driver feedback. The purpose of this event is to introduce the press, Leo Parente and Brian Makse, to the virtual and real cars and allow them to see for themselves how the simulated experience relates to the real thing. The Simraceway crew made the whole thing happen and made sure everything went smoothly and stayed on schedule - I have to say it was impressive to watch and a pleasure to be a part of!

Needless to say there was quite a bit of anxiety on my part going into this. Never having participated in an event of this kind we didn't know quite what to expect, although both Leo and Brian are very experienced drivers and I was eager to get their opinion and feedback on the car. Of course the fact that Pearl had just been put together with no opportunity to test added another unknown to the equation.

On tuesday we did the 12-hour drive straight through, with only minor snow in the mountain passes across Oregon/California border, and even lucked out with the hotel choice at the last minute (M gets credit for that one) as we didn't know how far we'd get in one day.

Wednesday we arrive at the track and meet both our hosts and the journalists who will be driving and reporting on the event. The Simraceway facility is quite impressive, operating the Audi Sportscar Experience as well as a real-life racing school using Lola-made formula cars.

Today is our one chance to see if the car actually works, with me getting to drive it briefly on an autocross course set up in the paddock. Fortunately the pavement is much better than it is in the PIR parking lot. There are some tweaks (throttle spring needs adjustment, as does the secondary chain, and we eventually bypass the Power Commander and Flatshifter - they both need more tuning which we don't have time for right now although Flatshifter shows much promise). Tristan is quick and efficient with adjustments and soon we're as ready as we're going to be.

Pearl is to be the primary star of this show, with the yellow car playing a supporting role and posing for the chassis closeups. Once I was done with the brief shakedown the Simraceway crew went to work applying decals to both cars. They do look pretty good in race-like livery, if I say so myself.

With the preparations complete we move to the hotel booked by Simraceway for an amazing meal and some great conversation. Thursday is the real test.

Arriving at the track early we are handed printed schedules by Declan Brennan, Simraceway's marketing manager. Everything is planned out to the minute (and impressively goes according to plan as the day progresses). From hosting trackays we know how much work goes into event planning and our collective hat is off to Declan for his efforts.

The day begins with Nico Rondet, Simraceway's chief instructor, taking a few familiarization laps in Pearl. Nico is an extremely experienced driver and knows the track intimately. His third lap is a 1:40 flat and he comes back with some very detailed feedback. He suggests that the instability under braking could be addressed by adding some toe-out at the front (which we later do and it works exactly as he predicted). He is also of the opinion that the car could use stiffer springs, something that is consistent with what top DSR guys are running and while we didn't have a chance to try that at the event we definitely will in later testing. I'm very impressed with Nico's ability to jump into a car he's never seen, go fast right off the bat and then offer very specific and effective input on setup.

Nico's drive is followed by Leo and Brian taking their first turns at the wheel. I will leave it to them to relay their impressions and post videos - there were a lot of cameras on the car :)

Over lunch we make the alignment change while tweaks are also made to the car in the sim. Nico then goes out for some photography and a faster lap in 1:38s. Leo and Brian both confirm that the added toe-out made a big difference and their lap times improve accordingly. Good to see such instant validation. After a couple more driving sessions the car is rolled back into the garage for still photography and some interviews. I'm new to the whole being on camera thing and have much to work on in that regard :) Pretty much had to just jump in and do it. Next time M will probably make me shave and dress better... My argument is that as long as the cars look good and work properly all is well but she'll probably win. Anyway, we'll see how the results turn out soon enough.

At the end of the day got to meet Allan McNish. Didn't get a chance to have him drive our car, but maybe someday....

Overall a great experience and I'm really looking forward to seeing the reports and the videos. Many thanks to Simraceway for making this happen!

Monday life is back to normal - expect progress reports on the D2, the Pikes Peak car and the Stiletto soon.