03/13/04 I had been seriously considering running the Westie at the Alfa track day, and when the Elise developed an electrical issue it was an easy decision. So over lunch I went home, parked the Lotus and grabbed the Westie for the three afternoon sessions. This car is FUN on the track. I only did the first session solo and had a passenger in the other two. Ended up passing everyone in the advanced group anyway, without being passed myself even once. The Westie is especially fun in the chicane, as the short video illustrates. In fact it RULES the chicane :) There was too much traffic to get a clean lap but I did tape one which was 1:31 despite being held up by a Miata at the beginning and a Porsche towards the end. And that was in the first session too, before I started really leaning on the tires. I was watching the speedo going through turn 10 at the end of back straight and later in the day I carried my best speed ever through it - 95 mph. Normally I go through there about 80 in most cars, although most of them can do better. It's just a very intimidating corner. The fact that it's the one where I had the big Elise slide doesn't help ;)
Click on the picture above for a larger version. Photo courtesy David Birkbeck.
As usual for Alfa day, a bunch of neat cars showed up. I even got a ride around the parking lot in the Moke (this one having 140 hp). What a neat machine. It's on the list now.
Afterwards, putting the Westie up on the rack I discovered that the ATF lubricant doesn't prevent the reversing box from spitting it out. My improvised catch tank was full and fluid was again sprayed all over the bottom. Westfield people once told me that the box can run with a lot less oil than originally suggested. So I'll see how much lubricant gets sucked back in once the box cools down and maybe it'll just find its 'correct' amount by itself...
An awesome day overall and a great start to the new track season. Bring it on!
05/28/04 Lotus track day. After a rainy morning where the Meanie got to play in the puddles (see MINI page) the sky became a patchwork of blue and leaden grey, so I decided to chance it and run the Westie. So I went home and swapped cars, knowing I'll probably get wet but accepting it as the price of having fun. I haven't driven the Westie since the last track day more than 2 months ago and the drive to the track reminded me that I should really spend a bit of time on setup. The car tramlines pretty badly on uneven surfaces and is a bit darty. Perhaps some alignment tweaks would help, as well as some shock adjustments. Something to tinker with.
At the track, the rain mostly stayed away. There were a couple small but heavy clouds that rolled across the track sweeping a curtain of rain below them, but fortunately I was able to park under a canopy and wait those out. Overall, the transition from the Meanie to the Westie is a tough one. My mind was calibrated for Meanie's slower corner entry speeds and I had a really tough time switching to the much higher velocities of this car, constantly finding myself much slower mid-corner than I know it's capable of. So I started with some pretty slow laps in the 1:34 range but eventually forced myself to carry more speed and turned in a couple 1:29s. Still, I ought to be progressing, not battling to regain lost ground. I know the car can do much better - something to work on. The next session I ran with a passenger and was back to 1:34s. This is more of a mental issue since even though percentage-wise the weight penalty is significant I don't think it should be much over half a second in terms of lap time difference.
As always, on Lotus day a few neat cars showed up (literally few, this time - there were less than a dozen cars total in attendance). A Hayabusa-powered Caterham from Super7 Cars came all the way down from Canada. It's a pretty neat installation and I will probably use their low-profile manifold on the dp1. Following the car in the Meanie in the rain it looked like a real handful on the slippery track (I easily passed him) but in the dry it would be a totally different story. Unfortunately their engine suffered an internal failure once the track dried. I don't know exactly what happened but my guess is that their unbaffled wet sump did not agree with all the right turns at PIR once the car could carry some corner speed (the hayabusa oil pickup is on the right side of the sump). It is even more unfortunate since I was offered to drive the beast but never got the chance. Looks cool though. Later in the day I got to run behind a Formula Atlantic for a bit and kept him in sight for half a lap or so. Also followed a Pantera through the turns. I think this is the first time I've seen one at a track day. He couldn't hang with the Westie though even at my relatively slow pace. Here is a short clip of the two cars - notice the looming clouds and a patch of rain in the background...
Due to the small number of cars and the huge amount of track time we'd all already gotten as a consequence, the track day was ended early and I raced home just ahead of an advancing wall of rain. Some friends who took only another 10 minutes to depart were caught in a massive downpour (fortunately their cars are waterproof). For me there were a few iffy moments when traffic slowed to a crawl and I nervously watched the advancing darkness in my mirrors, but in the end it worked out and I made it home without encountering even a drop of rain. The Westie now has 735 miles on the clock, over 500 of them on the track, including 60 from today.
06/03/04 After the recent track day I put the Westie up on the lift and was reminded that I have some oil leaks to attend to. Which today I did. Went out and bought some 500 psi oil hose that is a bit more compliant than what I had in there before. Took everything apart, replaced some seals, used judicious amounts of gasket maker, then put it all together. Some 5 hours in all.
The new hose looks pretty spiffy and echoes the red accents elsewhere. With any luck it might even stay oil-tight. After running the engine briefly nothing seemed to be leaking but time will tell....
06/20/04 Finally some nice weather so I decided to tweak the Westie's front end geometry and try it out. I went for the very scientific method of adding precisely 'a bit' of toe-in, a half turn on each tierod. Coincidentally this is the most I can do without cutting things so I hoped it would work. And work it does - the change did wonders for stability both in a straight line and under braking. It is now possible to relax the hands on the steering wheel which was a bit iffy before. Turn-in is light and precise and overall the car feels great. I took my favorite road (in 4th gear to avoid attracting too much attention, this being a nice sunday afternoon), got fuel on the other end and then ran the same route back. At any sane velocity (less than triple the 'recommended' corner speed) it just goes, no fuss, no drama. And it seems to be oil-tight for the moment. Cool.
After the run, a quick wash and a few gratuitous pics:
Some may notice that the Westie has been for sale for quite some time. I've had a few inquiries but always seem to go out of my way to scare potential buyers away with dire warnings ;) Perhaps I'm not that eager to part with it and if I do I want to make sure it goes to a really good home... In the meantime, I'm looking forward to its next track outing sometime in July.
06/27/04 A rather crowded Tri-Club track day at PIR. I wasn't going to run this one but ended up bringing the Meanie out in the morning (see MINI page) and then getting the Westie for the afternoon. Only ended up running 2 sessions in each car with the Westie once again proving to be 10 seconds faster than the Cooper. Due to crowded conditions I couldn't get more than literally a couple clear laps. When I did, with a passenger I ran a 1:30:03 and 1:30:08. So it seems that my 'passenger penalty' that previously stood at consistent 4 seconds as been reduced to less than 2. Either that or I'll be going much faster once I run solo again :) I am still of the belief that the car can do 1:25s here but I am not at all confident in my ability (and/or resolve) to extract that performance. Still, fun was had and that's what matters (short video here).
At the end of the day, a guy parked his Firebird next to the Westie and while he and his two kids were checking the car out I thought it made a great picture....
The early 70's Firebird was my dream car in high school - one that was beyond my means at the time. These days I favor smaller vehicles but I still appreciate the old Pontiac.
Driving my Beast with the new geometry changes is much more pleasant, both on the track and on the road. So that is one change that was definitely worthwhile. I'll raise it up on the lift in the next couple of days to see how my leak-proofing is holding up. At a cursory glance all is well.