Lessons Earned

Guest post and 3rd place in the 2018 YSAR Author Contest. This one from my twin brother Mario. Editorial comments in red.

Lessons Learned Earned

I’ve been endurance racing for six years now, which is that middle ground where I’m no longer a noob, but I still don’t know shit. I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two, but if I add up the time and money spent, I think it’s fair to say the lessons have been earned, more than learned.

Alignment first – When we got our 1997 Miata it was set up with toe-out in the rear because the previous owner wanted to drift it. I found out really quick in Sonoma by spinning in T4. The instructor with me said “this doesn’t handle like a Miata.” I skipped a session, got everything aligned to zero, and it fixed everything. Another time our MR2 got sideswiped and it would crab sideways through a corner thereafter. Our teammate Ben Dawson could drive it like that, but I couldn’t get through two corners that way.

It wasn’t sideswiped. The axle broke from metal fatigue and the only replacement we could find on the day was from a previous year MR2 whose suspension geometry was slightly different. You had to saw the wheel just to keep it going straight. Mario got out of the car after one lap and said something like “I value my life too much to drive this”.

Don’t be obsessive about tire pressure – 200TW tires seem to work under a variety of tire temperatures. At a Hooked on Driving day I was at the center of a fairly volatile conversation between a Spec Miata guru and a tech from Tire Rack who completely disagreed on what my tire pressure should be. The former said to run my tires at 38-40 psi, the latter at 28 psi. The comments went from “You’ll fall off the track,” to “the tire will fall off the rim,” and back and forth.

Grassroots Motorsports recently did a 200TW tire test and tried a range of tire pressures. They found out that it didn’t matter much.

It was a bit shocking to find that the lap times were all the same. I think pressures start to matter more when you don’t have square setups. When goofing around I pump my rears up absurdly high. Also, off road so that the tires stay on the rims. 

Safety wire your oil drain bolt – I ruined half an HPDE day for everyone because the oil drain bolt came loose. If the corner workers had flagged me there would have been less cleanup, but for sure it was my fault. I now drill and wire the drain plug, and you should, too.

Get an infrared thermometer – If you’re a pro driver then you need a pyrometer to measure tire temps, but if you’re reading this blog, you can use a $20 infrared gun. It’s great for checking tire temps, seeing how hot your rotors get, checking track temperature, and various things under the hood.

MR2s are great endurance cars. Not. – Our MR2 spun every other race. No, it didn’t spin from snap oversteer like everyone wants to tell you, but it spun bearings all the time. And that requires rebuilding the bottom end. If you want to have a couple really great races and then replace the engine, the MR2 is an ideal platform. If you want longevity, look elsewhere.

Black flags matter – After too many black flags and unnecessary pit stops, we calculated the amount of time lost for a single pit stop vs different lap times. I wrote a whole blog post on this subject, but I can sum it up by saying the fastest driver with a single black flag is the slowest driver.

On some tracks where the stewards are outside the timing loop, a black flag can cost an extra lap.

Don’t trust a racing resume – We’ve had arrive-and-drives with impressive racing resumes, but they don’t mean much. One guy was slipping the clutch on purpose to keep the revs up (and bragging about that being the fast way around), and another had his hand on the shifter the whole time. He also downshitted and put our car to 9k revs, fucktard.

You need a coolshirt – We ran our first couple races without coolshirts and could manage 40-minute stints before we were a danger to ourselves and others (it was over 100 degrees and probably 114 off the pavement). One time we used dry ice to super-cool our ice, but haven’t done that since because most of the energy is locked up in the phase transfer from solid to liquid, and so it’s not worth the hassle of cooling ice further. A big block of ice is better than ice cubes.

Pit stop strategy – No battle plan survives contact with the enemy; no pit stop strategy survives the weekend. But it’s fun to plan them anyway. Also, you can make up time in the pits easier than on track. But like black flags, an unplanned stop takes more time than driving slowly.

Miata is always the answer – They handle, there’s always spare parts at the track, and they don’t break too often. They are underpowered and a bit too common, but still the answer.

Wear a diaper and a big hat – It took me a few races to get to where I could comfortably drive a two-hour stint, and when I was finally ready, my bladder wasn’t. Forty minutes into it and I was weighing the pros and cons of a pit stop vs peeing in my suit. I pitted and ruined our race strategy, but at least I didn’t soil the seat for everyone else. Now I wear a diaper (Depends) every time, and weirdly, have never had to use it.

I also wear a big hat because the sun can tire you out as much as anything. We were racing at Willow Springs one day and it was 108 degrees IIRC, and I had just finished my stint, so I was wearing nothing but a diaper and a big hat. I thought it was funny, so I texted my two sons a picture. One said “I can never un-see that,” the other said “Now I have to burn my phone.” It was so worth it.

Pit board > radios – We’ve had terrible luck with radios and headsets. We now run Boefang radios, but at the lower, and legal, 2w setting. And they still suck. Have a pit board on hand.

Bring a skateboard – Skateboards are great pit transportation, and if you have a longboard, you can carry a gas can on the front.

Don’t race on untested components – At the 24 hours of Buttonwillow, Ian put on tires we’d never used before, and the best brake pads we could find, but also hadn’t tried before (the Yaris has a dismal selection of brake pads). The tires sucked. And we ran out of brakes in the 8th hour. Of a 24-hour race. We only had one extra set of brake pads, and so the last 8 hours was pretty much downshifting and coasting with no brakes. Still placed third overall, tho!

Me culpa.

Put your most aggressive driver in last – I flew across the country for a race weekend. Our most aggressive driver went first. Nobody went next.

FWD is great – I love rear-wheel drive cars, especially in slow corners, but most of the time it doesn’t matter which wheels are driven. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had racing has been in my brother’s Yaris and Tom Pyrek’s Honda Odyssey minivan (Ninja Turtles theme). FWD is especially fast in the rain, and at the NJMP Lemons race, Tom’s rain laps were within 1% of our team’s best dry laps.

Quit racing – Ian and I keep talking about the day we sell our race cars. Then we’ll buy a couple brand new Miatas (him a Fiat) and do HPDEs and arrive-and-drives. Maybe we’ll still be saying this five years from now? I don’t know, but my wife was ready for that yesterday.

Mine too. Racing sucks most of the time.

Holiday shopping guide

Special mid-week post! Check back in a couple days when the Ghosting the Aliens series resumes.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the holiday shopping season are upon us! Sadly, so is the annoying Christmas music. Some of the deals you can find at this time of year can be really great. For example, last year I bought a new gaming computer. Even though prices always drop on computer stuff, I still can’t find a better deal than what I got last year.

In my family, we have some unusual holiday gift giving practices. Of course we buy presents for each other, but we also buy presents for ourselves. We wrap these up and put them under our tree. Well, it’s not always much of a wrapping, often just the shipping box. And truthfully, it isn’t always a tree, sometimes just a decorated table with cookies. And we don’t necessarily open them on Christmas day. We like the French-style midnight opening and we like how Hanukah spreads out the gifts over several days. So we mix it up and open presents at odd times (breakfast on Saturday, dinner on Sunday, midnight on Monday, whatever). Anyway, part of the fun of the holiday season is opening presents and sharing that joy with others. Believe it or not, the gifts you buy yourself can be some of the most fun for the others to share. “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted that, how cool!” is a lot more genuine than “thanks for the socks” or “just what I wanted” (because I gave you explicit directions on what to buy 2 weeks ago). With that in mind, let’s imagine some gifts to improve the driving of someone you care about (even yourself).

Expensive Stuff

  • Simulation Rig – While it may seem expensive, the return on this investment is huge. High performance driving is like any other athletic endeavor. To get get good, you’ll have to spend hundreds of hours practicing. There’s no cheaper or safer way to put in that time than with virtual training. You can buy a complete gaming computer for under $600 if you shop around. But make sure the video card is has a Passmark score of at least 2,500 (an nVidia 1050 is good). For the steering wheel and pedals, the best place to start is a Logitech G29 (PC + PS4) or G920 (PC + Xbox). These list for $400 but you can find them at Newegg for $200. There are lots of 1080p monitors for $100. If you want a system that can do VR, expect to pay more than twice as much. For more info, see the Simulation link above.
  • Telemetry System – There are lots of choices for telemetry systems from manufacturers such as AiM, Motec, RaceLogic, and RacePak. One of the most popular is the AiM Solo DL. This is a great lap timer and data logger that also reads OBDII data from your vehicle. Works best with 2008+ vehicles with CAN bus. On modern sports cars you get to tap into thousands of dollars of sensors for free (e.g. steering angle, individual wheel speeds, brake pressure, throttle position, RPMs, etc.).
  • HANS Device– There are several head and neck restraint devices available today. Personally, I like Necksgen because the tethers also protect you from side impacts. The Rev2 Lite model is their latest and best design. Generally, HANS devices like these require that you have a roll cage/bar and harnesses. If you don’t, you might consider a Simpson Hybrid, which also attaches to your body.

$400-500-ish

  • APEX Pro – This is a slick lap timer and data logger with an attractive LED interface that shows how hard you’re driving (it’s some mixture of G-forces and yaw I think). It sends data to your phone. You can review with the data with their phone app or download the data to your Mac/PC and view with Track Attack.
  • Aim Solo – The standard in stand-alone lap GPS timers. Rugged design. The Aim Solo 2 now has a color interface but the original unit is still great. The software looks like it was built for Windows 98, but it works well and most of the bugs have been squashed over the years.
  • Yi 360 VR – The latest thing in cameras are those with dual 360 lenses. They capture everything from a single point of reference. After shooting, you decide which camera angles you want in order to produce a typical HD video. I don’t have one of these and I don’t know which one is best, but I like Yi cameras so I’m listing theirs.

$200-300-ish

  • Rumblestrip DLT1-GPS – It’s just a delta/predictive timer with big red 7 segment LEDs, but it’s also the best thing I ever bought for my car. I feel naked without it
  • Cordless Impact Wrench – Changing wheels at the track is so much faster with an impact wrench. Buy one of the major manufacturing brands so that your batteries interchange with lots of other tools. I’ve got drills, saws, work lights, vacuums, etc. that all power from the same batteries. The tool I use most is the impact.
  • Action Camera – You can learn a lot by watching yourself drive. There are lots of cameras and they keep getting better and cheaper. While GoPro is the standard everyone knows, I’m using Yi cameras for both live streaming and SD recording. In addition to the cameras, you will need a good mounting solution. I use RAM mounts everywhere.
  • Coolshirt – On a really hot day, a coolshirt is a safety item. They are a little over $100. The big ticket item is the cooler. Fortunately you can pick these up used on eBay or Craigslist as cold therapy systems for $50. They both have the same fittings. You just have to figure out how to mount it solidly. I use a lasagna tray and ratchet strap.

$100-ish

  • Joes Racing Pyrometer – The best way to record tire temperatures is with a needle-type pyrometer. The one made by Joes is both inexpensive and robust. It has a convenient 90 degree handle which makes it easier to fit under the wheel well.
  • Bluetooth GPS Receiver – Your phone can be used as a lap timer, but with 1 Hz GPS updates, it’s not accurate enough for comparing telemetry data between runs or between drivers. With a 10 Hz antenna, you’ll get acceptable performance.
  • Dash Cam – Instead of using an action camera, you might consider a dash camera. If used only in your car, you don’t need one with a durable case or big battery. It’s crazy how inexpensive these have become. For insurance purposes, or just to capture the crazy shit people do, you might consider running one all the time in your street car. Some of the high end models have GPS and G-force sensors. Prices vary from $30 to $200 depending on features.
  • iRacing – If you want to learn how to race and stay out of trouble, working your way out of the rookie ranks in iRacing is a valuable experience. Price is normally $12 per month, but with holiday pricing you can subscribe for a whole year for half that. The subscription comes with some great cars and tracks but you’ll probably want to buy a few more.
  • Brake Bias Adjuster – One of the cheapest and most educational performance modifications you can make for your car is to install a prop valve. They don’t cost much but installing could be expensive if you have someone else do it.

Inexpensive

  • rFactor 2 – There’s a lot of people who think rFactor 2 has the most realistic physics. I think it depends on the car. But definitely, the physics are very good.
  • Assetto Corsa – If you want to drive obscure cars on obscure tracks, Assetto Corsa is the best simulator because of all the community created content. It’s also great for everything else.
  • Tire Pressure Gauge – Everyone needs a high quality tire pressure gauge. The simple analog ones from Joes Racing and Longacre are excellent.
  • Wide Angle Mirror – This is a great upgrade for your street or track car. The ones that clamp on top of your standard mirror work amazingly well. If your mirror wobbles too much with the extra weight, a little sugar water will make it stick in place.
  • Gear Bag – I recently started using the Harbor Freight Rolling Tool Bag as my travel bag. It’s so nice having a rolling bag in long airports. Turns out that it fits my helmet and race gear too. The design is more robust than typical luggage and the price is hard to beat.
  • Helmet Hook – Nothing says racecar quite like having a purpose built helmet hook mounted to the roll cage. It’s a bit of a frivolity, but that might make it the perfect little gift.

Books

Check the Library link above for a list of books I’ve reviewed. The following three are highly recommended.

  • Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Driving  – Basically the textbook from the Skip Barber school. Nuff said
  • Ultimate Speed Secrets – It’s one of the best book on performance driving. I’ve read it cover to cover several times. Get the kindle version so you can read it wherever you are.
  • Optimum Drive – My latest favorite driving book and the best thing you can listen to while driving to work. That’s right, it’s available as an audio book.

Budget sim rig

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a rabid proponent of simulation training. It’s the cheapest and safest way to improve your car control muscle memory. In this post, I want to talk about building a low budget sim rig in mid 2018.

Software

There are two main contenders: iRacing and Assetto Corsa. The downside of iRacing is that it has a subscription and collection fee structure. The subscription part is a monthly fee. The collection part is that you have to buy cars and tracks to add them to your collection. 1 year of iRacing will cost you $200 or more depending on how many tracks and cars you purchase. What you get is laser scanned tracks, great racing, and a really helpful community. I highly recommend it.

Assetto Corsa costs about 10% of iRacing. Most cars and tracks are developed by the community and are generally free. You can also pay for official expansion packs. Assetto Corsa is a lot more tweakable than iRacing and has AI opponents, which iRacing does not. If you want to race as a competitive eSport, stay tuned for Assetto Corsa Competizione, due out this Summer.

In addition to iRacing and Assetto Corsa, there’s also a few others worth mentioning: Automobilista, Project CARS, Project CARS 2, rFactor, rFactor 2, and DiRT Rally. I have all of these, and each has its merits. Some tracks are only available in specific simulators, so if you want to train at that location, you have to get that software. On the downside, learning how to use each platform takes some time. Here’s my recommendation: get Assetto Corsa first. After that, it depends on your goals. If you’re interested in wheel-to-wheel racing, you should be practicing against other people to learn the habits of stupid people, not predictable AI. You can do that with Assetto Corsa, but iRacing is better. If you’re driving off road, you can do that with Assetto Corsa too, but DiRT Rally is better. As you start to train for specific tracks, you may need to pick up Automobilista, rFactor 2, or even the venerable rFactor. And if you want to be blown away by how gorgeous a racing game can be, Project CARS 2 has the best eye candy.

Computer Hardware

Build or buy? Like building a car, building a computer takes time to research and some technical know-how to construct. If you’re not a computer builder, just buy the cheapest decent gaming rig on Amazon. Generally speaking, you can’t get anything decent for under $500. Sure, there are things marketed as gaming PCs for less than $500, but they don’t have a suitable GPU. The single most important thing in your computer is going to be the GPU. Most computers have sufficient CPU, RAM, and storage, but the GPU is highly variable. How do you check the performance of the GPU? Passmark. Assetto Corsa and iRacing don’t require a high end video card, and you can get away with a Passmark score of 1000. rFactor 2 and the Project CARS titles need higher end cards with a score of 2500 or more. My advice is get an nVidia GTX 1050. It has a Passmark score of 4500 and can be found cheaply whether you build or buy.

A quick perusal of Amazon shows you can buy an iBUYPOWER gaming PC for $499. But it’s got a GT710 video card with Passmark score 677. That’s no gaming PC. For the same price you can get a Shinobee with the recommended GTX1050. But who the heck are iBUYPOWER and Shinobee? Good question. You might prefer buying from a more established name like Lenovo, Dell, HP, etc. Expect to pay a little more for that, but maybe it’s worth it. In any case, you’re looking for a decent video card and probably a cost of at least $500.

If you want to build your computer, go to the Passmark best value table to find your GPU. Sometimes you can find screaming deals. I upgraded a GPU at one point for just $35. Right now, I would get a Radeon R9 350 (Passmark 2265) for $80. This is actually a card made for laptops that they shoe-horned into a PCIE slot. So it requires very little power and cooling. Looking at the local computer surplus supply, I can get a Dell with 8GB RAM for $150. I’d swap out the HDD for an SSD for $70. The end result would cost about $300 and the performance would be good enough. But for $200 more I get a lot of newer parts fully assembled, a warranty, the ability to return it to Amazon, and with twice the performance. So unless you actually like building computers, buy a budget gaming PC from Amazon.

Driving Hardware

The spectrum of hardware is immense if you consider the boutique companies making high-end products. But since this is a post on building a budget system, there are 3 major manufacturers to consider: Logitech, Thrustmaster, and Fanatec. I have not used Fanatec. I’ve steered clear of them for my own purchases because I’ve heard of too many horror stories with customer support. However, their hardware is really slick and it’s very popular amongst the top simmers. If you’re not building a budget system, look seriously at Fanatec. But for a budget rig, look elsewhere.

I own both Thrustmaster and Logitech products. I like them both. A sim rig really needs 3 things (1) force feedback steering wheel (2) all three pedals (3) brake pedal with progressive resistance. Although it aids in immersion, you don’t need an H-pattern shifter or hand brake.

Most of the recent Logitech and Thrustmaster wheels have good force feedback. Thrustmaster wheels have stronger motors. How important is that? Not very. What is important is the feel of the brake pedal. Most brake pedals have linear resistance due to using a single uniform spring. The more the brake pedal travels, the more brake is applied. Uh, that’s not how real brakes work. They work on pressure. The most authentic brakes push hydraulic fluid onto a load cell, just like in your car. They also don’t fit in the budget category. The inexpensive alternative is to use stacked springs, springs with varying rates, or rubber plugs. Mixing resistance types can give a brake pedal progressive resistance.

If you like tinkering, you can find older Logitech and Thrustmaster rigs on Craigslist or racing forums. Mod the brake pedal and you’re looking at some savings. You can also increase the precision of the sensor outputs with Bodnar cables. My rig is a mixture of Thrustmaster, Logitech, PerfectPedal, and Bodnar parts. The performance is probably up there with the boutique gear that costs $2000 or more. If your goal is sim training and not sim building, just get a Logitech G29. It has progressive brake resistance out of the box.

TL;DR

Expect to pay about $900 for a sim rig. If you build instead of buy, you could cut that in half, but at the cost of your time and labor.

  • $20 Assetto Corsa
  • $500 gaming PC
  • $90 1080P monitor
  • $260 Logitech G29

Update 2020

After doing extensive testing, I’ve come to the opinion that Assetto Corsa and Logitech do not play well together. If you really want to use Assetto Corsa, get a Thrustmaster wheel instead. If you really want to use a Logitech wheel, avoid Assetto Corsa. There are other good simulators out there, like rFactor 2, Automobilista, and iRacing.

How expensive is racing?

Back to back racing weekends? An endurance race at Laguna Seca with Lucky Dog followed by a sprint race at Thunderhill with the SCCA… Being able to race on world-class racetracks is not something I take for granted. I’m living a dream and I fully recognize it. It saddens me that not everyone has the chance to do these things. Auto racing is an expensive hobby. But exactly how expensive is it? Let’s investigate with my B-Spec Yaris as an example of a really cheap car to build and run.

Initial Build

The initial build cost me about $7000. I saved a lot of money getting the cage built by students at an Evil Genius Racing fabrication workshop. Sometimes I think $7k for a hobby is too much. But it’s also a completely legal street car that gets 45 mpg on the highway. So it does have some utility. Note that none of the costs below figure in my time. I spent and continue to spend many weekends working on the car.

  • 2007 Toyota Yaris $3040 (used)
  • Cage fabrication $1080
  • Fire system $370
  • Kill switch $40
  • Interior net $90
  • Window net & mount $90
  • Driver seat $100 (used) & bracket $100
  • Harness $140
  • Seat brace $200
  • Roll bar padding $60
  • Steering wheel quick release $130 + adapter $70 + wheel $30
  • Convex mirror $20
  • Front tow hook $12
  • Crash bolts $20 (for alignment)
  • Hood pins $10
  • Cold box $50 (cold therapy unit used from ebay)
  • Exhaust pipe fabrication $20
  • Wheels $400
  • Cold air intake $300
  • TRD suspension $520
  • Fuel testing port $80
  • Numbers $50

Operating Costs

In addition to the initial build, there’s the stuff that costs money on a regular basis. This includes alignment, motor oil, filter, diff oil, brake pads, brake rotors, brake fluid, and gasoline. Less regular, but still expected, are things like the engine, transmission, clutch, and body work. All of this amounts to about $65/hr. But we haven’t gotten to the big ticket items: event fees and tires. Endurance race fees are roughly $100/hr and 200 treadwear tires are about $25/hr ($500 per set and they last 20 hours). Sprint race event fees are about $300/hr and tire costs are $200/hr ($800 per set and they last 4 hours).

Endurance racing: $190 / hour

Sprint racing: $565 / hour

Other expenses

The build and operating costs do not include my personal safety equipment, cameras, radios, or telemetry. That stuff adds another $2500 or so. Those items are good for 10 years and can be carried from car to car. In addition, there are expenses for transportation, room, and board. I camp at the track and subsist on sandwiches, so those expenses are pretty low.

Budget Racing Builds

Do you want to build a car for endurance series like the 24 Hours of Lemons, American Endurance Racing, ChumpCar World Series, Lucky Dog Racing League, or World Racing League? Here are my thoughts on that topic.

Cheap, fast, reliable: pick two

This post is about budget racing, so cheap is non-negotiable. Also, in my opinion, the whole point of racing is the driving. That means being on track, not running to the junk yard to find obscure parts. That means reliable is non-negotiable. The good news is there are lots of cheap and reliable cars out there.

BMW or Mazda?

When it comes to budget endurance racing, two brands stand out: BMW and Mazda. Popularity is a good thing. It means that maintenance, tuning, and repair expertise is near at hand and that spare part you need is probably already in the paddock. Mazda Miatas are the most popular track cars now, and have been for some time. They are robust and so light on consumables (fuel, tires, brake pads) that they are very cheap to run. In addition, they have the highest corner speed, which makes them incredibly fun to drive. Before the Miata was the de facto club racer, there was the RX-7, which is also a good choice.

BMW 3-series are rugged and handle extremely well. The BMW 325 in the e30 or e36 platform is a fantastic track car. Each one is almost as popular as the Miata, and e46s are also becoming very popular. Although less common, the 5-series cars also make great endurance racecars. The 2.5 liter inline six is plenty of motor. The 1.8 is very durable and burns very little gas, but few teams are able to make it competitive.

There are lots of other cars that make good endurance racers. Volvos are the most reliable in Lemons. Simple FWD cars like Civics and Escorts do well. If the car is light, which it should be to keep consumable costs down, you don’t need much power.

Build or Buy?

When sold, racecars return about $0.25 on the dollar. An inexpensive $10,000 build is only worth about $2,500. That’s bad news if you ever want to sell a car, but great news if you want to buy one. In order to be competitive in Spec Miata, you need a 1.8 liter engine these days. That means there are lots of 1.6 liter racecars available for cheap. You can also find RX-7s that were former SCCA/NASA racecars. Expect to pay more for an e30 (Spec E30) or e36 (Spec 3) racecar because they are (a) less common (b) more expensive to build (c) BMWs.

As you peruse Craigslist, RacingJunk, racing forums, classified ads, etc., you may come across some can’t miss deals. Some of these will see you spending more money than a Mazda or BMW in the long run, even if you picked it up for free. You know that car that you coveted in your youth? It will break your heart and your bank. Racing is hard on cars. Use your head, not your heart.

Mandatory Upgrades

If you decide to build a car, there are certain things you absolutely have to upgrade or at least replace.

  1. Brake pads. Stock brakes are generally fine but OEM pads are not meant for racing. Brake pads work in defined temperature ranges. OEM pads are designed for stopping you when the pads and rotors are cold. Race pads are for when the pads and rotors are hot. At a minimum, get a ceramic pad designed for autocross. But you really want a pad that was designed for full on racing. Replace all the rubber hoses and replace the fluid with something designed for racing.
  2. Suspension. Replacing tired/worn suspension isn’t necessarily going to make you that much faster, but it will prevent you from getting into some bad situations and help you drive out of those you do get into. It’s okay to have some body roll, but you don’t want the car bottoming out or wandering around on you.
  3. Oils. Replace fluids as often as you can. Frequently changing  engine, transmission, and differential oils prolong the life of those components, which means you’ll have fewer lost days at the track. In endurance races, cars go home early all the time due to failures in these components.
  4. Tires. The simplest way to improve the performance of your car is to upgrade the tires. There are a large number of 200-ish treadwear tires on the market. Some are stickier than others and those also tend to wear out the soonest. See the end of the post for more thoughts on tires.
  5. Fueling. Another really simple way to improve your performance is to spend less time in the pits. Remove the ball valve in the fuel filler neck and figure out how to safely empty a 5 gallon tank into your car in under 30 seconds. Fuel spills can take extra time to clean up, so make your fuel filling routine as foolproof as possible.

Electronics

Every racecar needs at least one camera and some kind of telemetry device. Cameras are important for training and critical to untangle fault in an incident. Don’t go racing without a camera. It should be mounted to the roll bar with the driver in the field of view. Adjust the vertical position of the camera so that it also captures the rearview mirror. There are so many choices when it comes to cameras. You can go with the usual GoPro, but even dashcams are fine. I have a Mobius ActionCamera powered by a USB cable connected to the cigarette lighter. It shoots whenever the kill switch is on. It is set up to record in 1080p and lasts about 10.5 hours with a 64GB card. I also have a Tomtom Bandit for head-mounting and other uses.

To improve your driving, some kind of telemetry device is very helpful. There are two basic flavors: (1) immediate driver feedback (2) data loggers. Some devices do one, others do both. For driver feedback, I like the RumbleStrip DLT1-GPS. It shows your current speed and lap delta (difference between this lap and last lap at this position in the track). For data-logging, I use an Aim SoloDL. While the Aim also does predictive lap timing, I like the big red LEDs on the RumbleStrip. Smartphone apps can also be very useful. They have the ability to do feedback, data logging, and even video overlay. But the quality is usually a little less. An external GPS unit can improve things I hear, but I prefer dedicated devices.

Tires

Budget endurance racing series have converged on tires with 200 treadwear ratings (and some allow 180). There are a lot of tire choices. One of my favorites is the  Falken Azenis RT615K in 195/60/14. Yes, 14″. These routinely go on sale at Discount Tire Direct, and with free shipping and no tax, you can have them shipped to your door for about $85 per tire. They have good grip and are very durable. You can get about 25 hours of racing per set. If you have a Miata you may already have the 14×6 7-spoke rims that weigh less than 11 pounds. If not, you can pick them up cheap. BMW e30s came with 14×6 bottlecaps that weigh about 14 pounds. The nice thing about these rims and tires is that they are a breeze to mount with a $40 Harbor Freight manual tire changer. Wider tires with shorter sidewalls are a pain in the ass. The problem with 14″ rims is that there isn’t much choice for tires (there are Dunlops in 185/60/14, but they are much more expensive). Also, wider tires are faster.

Once you get to 15″ wheels, there are over a dozen that have 200-ish UTQG ratings. The sticky ones, like Bridgestone RE-71R, tend to wear out quickly. Although the treadwear rating is supposed to be indicative of how long they last (and therefore inversely proportional to grip) this number is controlled by the manufacturer (and their marketing department). Some 200-ish treadwear tires are more like 100 and some are more like 300.

  • BF Goodrich Rival – they are on the quiet side
  • BF Goodrich Rival S – never tried them, but they are often equated with RE-71R
  • Bridgestone RE-71R – fastest 200
  • Bridgestone RE-11A – middle of the road
  • Champiro SX2 – no idea, but some time trial folks win on them
  • Dunlop Star Spec II – most popular?
  • Falken RT615K+ – equally most popular?
  • Federal 595 RS-RR – cheapest and surprisingly good
  • Hankook R-S4 – liked the R-S3, and this is supposed to be better
  • Kumho V720 – seen bad stuff happen to these
  • Maxxis VR-1 – more PSI-sensitive than others I hear
  • Nitto NT-05 – lots of audible feedback, cheaper than most
  • Toyo R1R – supposed to be very soft, good for rain
  • Yokohama AD08R – also supposed to be a good rain tire

Obligatory Video

In the UK they race Jaguars as if they were crap cans…