4-1-2006 California Speedway Event Report

The Ultima’s running again…now I’ve just gotta remember how to drive it…

The Ultima squats more than it should under accerlation. Too much bodyroll too…Time for higher spring rates.

When the Ultima is running right, stepping on the gas is being shot out of a canon. I don’t know how to get an accurate picture of the acceleration of this car into people’s minds, because it’s unlike any production-based car, no matter how modified, that I’ve ever experienced. Let’s put it this way: I think it’s accurate to say that if you are rolling at 10mph in third gear in the Ultima, it’ll still get to 80mph faster than the WMS Z06 will when starting in first. It’s unbelievable, and I’d forgotten exactly how fast it really is, which isn’t surprising as it hasn’t run like this for over a year and a half.

We’d been battling against the calendar to get the Ultima fixed for the past couple of months, with delays causing the Ultima to miss the last two events. Finally, by Wed, it began to look like the car would finally be done. The ECU, injectors and coils had been replaced, a new wiring harness had to go into the car, various other little things needed changing, but it all came together and the car fired for the first time in many months on Thursday night around 11pm. It was quickly tuned on the dyno on Friday, and put out 310rwhp and 350-380rwt (can’t recall, does it matter?). Those numbers looked awesome, and were actually better than the motor had done when first built years ago. We were finally back in business.

Now, since I hadn’t even seen the car in many months, there were a lot of little things to be done before we could go out on track. Saturday morning was forecast to rain until about 9am, so I figured I’d use the time in the morning to prep the car a bit and go out when the track had dried. The front bodywork had been altered to allow more clearance for the 275×17 tires, along with the addition of louvers to reduce the lifting of the front clip at speed on the track. The old splitter had also been altered and repaired, and a new, deeper carbon splitter was made, meaning I had a couple of hours of re-installing splitters, side view mirrors, etc before going out. Finally the car was back together by about 10am and though it was still sprinkling and the track had some huge puddles on it, I decided to go out and see how the car was.

The group on track at the time was White group, which is an “intermediate” group, which I thought would be good since I hadn’t driven the car in a year. Of course, the first thing I noticed was that my windshield wiper, which hasn’t been run or even thought of in the two years I’ve owned the car was shredded and useless. Guess I should find a replacement for that, if I can. On the plus side, the wiper actually turned on, which was a nice surprise 🙂 The second thing I noticed was that my virtually slick 2 year old Kumho V700’s were basically skis in any water deeper than 3mm, which led to some interesting moments trying to keep some speed up on the back straight so I wouldn’t hold the guys on treaded tires up too much. Also remembered something I’d forgotten about: with no windows to roll down, you can’t give point bys, and the intermediate drivers won’t pass without one, no matter how obviously you drive offline to indicate they should pass. So I gave up and decided to come back in after 3 or 4 laps.

The next run session was dry and went ok, the car running in the 1:13’s. The car should definitely run well into the sub :10’s, but with the old tires, the green track, and it being its first outing in a year I was ok with the times. After pulling back into the garage I found that there was at least 1/2 quart of oil in the under-engine pan. Uh oh. A little investigation revealed that the catch can had overflown, and I emptied it greatly relieved. I did a bit of cleanup to get rid of the majority of the oil and went back out for another session. After 5-6 laps I got black flagged for smoking, which was no surprise, and after coming back in it appeared there was a some new oil around the transmission. Like so many things with the Ultima, it turns out there was not one source to the problem; the side-seals of the Renault UN1 were toast, allowing oil to come out of the sides of the gearbox.

I cleaned that up, took a look at the seals, added some gear oil back into the tranny, and decided to go do some buzzing around in one of the empty satellite parking lots to see how much oil the tranny was putting out. After 10 minutes of pedal-down jackassery, there was very little new oil in the pan, and I decided it would be ok to keep driving, as long as I kept the lap count down and cleaned things up between sessions. I wouldn’t want to be a bad “track mate” to my fellow drivers, after all, and go oiling down the course.

Next day, I have a lot of little things I want to do to the car. Clean up the oil a bit better, try to troubleshoot why my tranny cooler pump is not running, stuff like that. The car also had horrible grip the day before, so I loosened up the dampers (I’d stiffened them up the day before for no apparent reason), and lowered the car 1″ in the front. The car is supposed to be extremely low to the ground, and I’ve been running it about 2-3″ higher than it’s supposed to be in order to save the car while I try to adjust to staying off kerbs when driving. This means the car doesn’t handle as well as it could, and the alignment is way off, but I figure I’d rather run it compromised than destroy the car by hitting the kerbs, right? So this morning I decide to lower it 1″ as a step towards the ride-height the car is supposed to have. Anyway, I spend the morning doing on this stuff then go out in the 2nd Red group.

My outlap is a 1:14.063. Awesome! That’s a blazing outlap, and I’m going through traffic to boot. 2nd lap: 1:13.8, with a pass, tires warming up. 3rd lap: 1:14.1 with a couple of passes. 4th lap is pretty clean and quick, and as I come out of the decreasing radius corner I see a Miata going through the chicane up ahead. I decide I really want to pass him before the end of the straight, so I plant my foot going into the chicane, and commit to keeping it planted (I’d been lifting just a bit through the chicane to this point). Well, it turns out I don’t quite have the grip to stay planted through the chicane.

I shift to 4th just before the chicane, and plant the gas. I’m probably going right about 100mph at this point, but I don’t have a speedometer in the car, so I’m guessing. There’s a temporary “plastic” kerb on the left side of the chicane, and I manage to understeer my way straight into into it, clipping the last 4 inches or so of kerbing. The splitter barely hits it, thanks to me being under full throttle, though it still manages to straighten one of the “c clips” that holds the front bodywork on (which are rated to 350lbs working strength). The body just behind the front wheel then hit the kerb HARD, which throws the left side of the car into the air, according to witnesses, “3 feet”, though I doubt it was more than maybe a foot and a half.

The car seems to come down a bit sideways, and instantly pitches into a spin, which really surprises me. I immediately give up on it and go both feet in (brakes and clutch), knowing this is way past saving and hoping my inertia will keep me off the walls on each side of the straight. I spin my way down the track a couple hundred feet, staring at the wall and praying I’ll stay off of it, and come to an uneventful stop in the middle of the straight.

Alvin Shon caught the tail end of my wild ride after hitting the kerb…

The tires are thoroughly flatspotted, so I put the car away without bothering to look around. After getting it home, I find the rear left upper A-arm is broken. By chance, the arm lodged against the bodywork, as you can see in the picture above, which held the rear wheel in place until I took the rear clip off. I didn’t even know it’d broken until I tried to open the rear clip. The front right shock mount is slightly bent as well. Looks like it’s time to find a good fab shop and get all new A-arms made for the car, as they’re the original arms and they should have been replaced by now anyway. Also have some minor repairs to make to the shock mount and bodywork. Looks like the Ultima will be down for a couple months again, after running for a total of 2 hours or so…but at least it was one hell of a good 2 hours!

The broken A-arm and the bodywork it was caught upon…

Notice: This work is licensed under a BY-NC-SA. Permalink: 4-1-2006 California Speedway Event Report

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