Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April Gateway Event & NASA Competition School!

Good news and bad news over the weekend.  Got my NASA Competition Race License (aka COMP license), but it was in a rented Spec Miata (SM) and not the #929 Evo. 

The day started off cold and overcast.  I spent about an hour putting my stock gauge cluster back in, attaching the ACD, and all my aftermarket gauges.  After that I started it up and went to get fuel.  While waiting for fuel I shut off the car but left the lights on accidentally as it started to rain and in ~5min the battery was 100% dead.  So I jumped it, had the tank topped off and it still wouldn't crank.  So I jumped it again, drove it about 30 ft and it started sputtering and died.  My guess was the battery was 100% drained so it needed to charge for awhile??  I had a friend help me push it back to my pit area under the pouring rain and I was completely soaked.  Now missing the 1st 'track awareness' session, I hooked it back up to my truck and left both running to recharge the battery.

After awhile I disconnected the cable and the Evo started under it's own power.  I got suited up (including dry shoes/socks thankfully), hopped in the car and lined up for S2.  After a few mins in grid with the car running the gauges started looking weird including all 3 lights of the ACD on.  So I decided to shut off the car, and when I tried to restart it - nothing.  The grid guys helped push-start me so I got it going.  I got about 1/3 of a lap when the gauges starting flaking out again, then sputtering, then it died.

Back in the pits I hooked it back up again to the truck and let it charge ~5mins while running.  Keep in mind it's been raining all morning too!  I unhooked it and left it running with the lights on and defrost on high to see if it'd die and by the time I was back from our classroom session it was dead.  So it officially wasn't the battery, it had to be a wiring issue with the cage, the new Master Cutoff Switch or the Alternator.
We set off checking the wiring in the rain, checking fuses, using the voltage meter, etc.  I had a friend there that's an electrical engineer so I let him lead the search.  He also mentioned his Miata was available if I needed it - so I had a backup car in case we couldn't find the issue which at this point seemed unlikely before the 3rd session.

So around 11am I climbed into a friends Spec Miata to do our side-by-side exercises.  This would be my 2nd time ever in an SM, first time in this car, on a wet track - fun!  Besides the car having some pretty major blindspots for me (side mirror issues) and some touchy brakes on a wet track, I made it through unscathed.  After that it was back to the Evo for more group hypothesis!  By around 2pm as the rain stopped and the sun came out we were nearly sure it was in fact the alternator.  We had checked all the voltage on the alternator plug as well as the stock gauge cluster that was not showing the alternator/battery warning light. Everything checked out with the wiring, so we're left with the Alternator being bad.  I was able to source one about 35min from the track in Missouri, but apparently the removal isn't very straight forward so I had to debate that.

Next up was my 2:30pm S4 in the SM for our consistency exercises - which meant on a now slowly drying track with a car I've only driven once now I needed to run about 7 laps at a consistent pace!  Great huh - actually it wasn't bad at all.  First lap was a 1:26, then 5-6 laps of 1:21-122's.  I didn't dare push it to find more time as a spin or off would destroy the consistency goal of the exercise.  Feeling good with the SM and slightly better about the day I decided to finish COMP school in the SM with only 1 session remaining and get the Evo to a shop next week for the alternator fix.

S5 around 4pm was to be several practice starts, eventually leading to a practice race to fill the rest of the time.  We did 4 starts with me being in the last row, in the middle and on pole with another SM and everything went well.  There was also some random yellow tossed in to keep us alert and I was able to pass 3 cars on a restart - which all passed me back as they're simply faster!  I think my best lap was a 1:17.6 on a partially wet track which ended up being faster than the car's owner ran in the preceding TT session!

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