Miata merry-go-round

I took the Miata to its first autocross of the year. I bought a utility trailer and trailer hitch for the car so that I could carry race tires to the event, but I couldn’t get the trailer built in time for the autocross last weekend. I really, really wanted to carry my race tires to Rantoul though, so I decided that I would carry the tires in my Miata by putting one in the trunk, two in the passenger seat, and strapping one to the roll bar, which meant that I could no longer put the top up. Unfortunately, despite the extra grip, I still had one hell of a time keeping the car pointed where I wanted to go.

I came early on Saturday to help set up the event, but when I arrived, much to my surprise, there was already plenty of HISCC people from Peoria and Bloomington-Normal and my help wasn’t really needed. That was okay, as I now had the joy of having to change the Miata’s shoes from its street set to its racing set.

Jose brought along his Acura Integra that day in hopes of running the car on its new set of 17 inch wheels wearing well worn Azenis. Well, three Azenis at least. One wheel had a random all-season tire on it, and I suggested to Jose that it might be a good idea to put the stock 14 inch wheels with worn all-seasons on the back so that there was at least a matching pair of tires on the rear. He agreed, and we set off to swap the rear wheels.

Well, the mismatched tire was mounted on a wheel whose lug nuts had cross-threaded the studs. One stud was just fine. Another stud was okay after we forced the lug nut off. The threads on the third stud and its lug nut were sheared off, and the final stud broke in half. So now Jose had a back wheel that had only two studs, and to make it worse, the studs were not diametrically opposed, leading to a nice wobble at any speed over 15 mph. There was no way that Jose could pass tech inspection now, so I let him codrive my car. What’s the worst that could happen, right? I know very well that it often turns out that I’m the one beating on my car the most, no my codrivers.

Saturday’s course was an extremely tricky, technical course. It was very tight, and in order to get a clean run, never mind a good time, you had to carefully choose your line and stick with it. Well, I didn’t do a good job all day, and coned on every single run, and even spun out spectacularly on one run. Jose did a little bit better than I did. He spun once as well, but at least he got one clean run, if I remember correctly.

Driving on race tires was a whole new experience for me. For one, the grip was incredible. The car could carry so much speed in sweepers and pull more g’s. Braking was phenomenal, and with all the grip, there was never a moment where I nearly locked up the wheels. However, even with the added grip, I still overdrove the front end of the car, and I understeered a lot through some of the especially sharp corners.

The Miata also started overheating when I came back into the grid after runs. When Jose alerted me to the temperature gauge, I decided that we would push the car back into the pits and let it cool off and see if there were any serious problems. After the engine cooled off a bit, I started the car back up and everything seemed to be fine. For the rest of the day, we turned on the A/C when we pulled into the grid to force the radiator fans on.

I asked Steve for an opinion and we discovered that the coolant reservoir was empty. Not only that, there was some sort of muddy dirt sitting at the bottom of the tank! When I went home, I cleaned out the reservoir tank and topped off the radiator. I’m a bit concerned with the cooling system right now, so the plan right now is to replace the thermostat and then send the car off to a shop for a coolant flush.

Jose managed to win his bumped class of Stock novices and got a nifty plaque. I lost to Marty in the bumped C-Stock and E-Stock class, but because Marty had to leave the autocross early for work, I got the 1st place award by default. Woot!

On Sunday, I brought the Miata back to Rantoul for day 2 of the autocross weekend. Like the day before, I carried my race tires there with the Miata, with one tire strapped to the roll bar of the car. Course designer David had said that he would open up the course and make it faster, and indeed, it was faster than Saturday, for the first heat at least.

I was working timing and scoring the first heat, so I got to watch the first heat run from the comfort of the timing truck, which on this day was Phillip’s Cadillac Escalade. Unfortunately for me, the nice weather that the first heat ran in did not last, and the second heat was drowned by rain.

Autocross is not a sport that stops just because it is raining outside. During the second heat, the course was wet, with several areas where there was standing water, which completely negated any sort of advantage I had with my race tires.

So my focus on Sunday shifted from being competitive to having a good time. And I will admit, driving in the rain was a blast. Surprisingly, I did a pretty good job of keeping the Miata under control in the wet. There was still a lot of squirrelly moments, and I had a pretty spectacular spin on my last re-run, but for the most part, I kept the car pointing forward. Several of the other autocrosses told me that while I may not be one of the fastest drivers there, I’m at least one of the most entertaining drivers to watch. I guess I’ll take that as a compliment…

Now all of my stuff and my tires were all wet. I had no desire to put my wet race tires in the passenger seat of my car with a wet tarp, or to strap a wet tire to the roll bar of my car. And if it started raining again, I would not be able to raise the top of the car. What was I to do? Fortunately, Emanuel let me dump my tires into the back of his Subaru station wagon, and the plan is that I’ll pick up the tires from him at the club meeting when I finally have my tire trailer built.

After the event, I had some food at Hardee’s with some of the other autocrossers. Phillip and Jason were there, and both of them are leaving central Illinois very soon — Phillip will be taking up a job in South Carolina while Jason is moving to Chicago. The Honda guys David and Carl were there, as well as one other guy’s whose name I can’t remember now, but I’m sure will remember later. He’s a member of the local car forum CICEnet.

So despite the fact that I suck at driving, the weekend was a blast.