Tuesday, June 24, 2008

(21) Deals! On wheels!

I like cars. How could I race and not like cars? Check that, I love cars. I could say Maserati before I could say mommy. No, really, my first word was "car".

So it's no surprise that I'm drooling at the prospect of having my own car, racing or otherwise. So lets go shopping!!!

Don't worry, I won't do that again. Promise.

Anyway, I think you'd be amazed at what you can find for cheap. I mean, BMW isn't the first name that springs to mind with the word "cheap". Neither is Porsche. I mean, a Boxter starts at $45,000. So how on earth could a teenager afford one?!

Here's how. Go ahead. Click it (or ticket, har har har...)

Take this one: 1997 Porsche Boxter with 50,000 miles for $14,500

50,000 miles on a Porsche is nothing. They're like Hondas. So yeah sure you have a sealed engine (Germans, go figure). But they're relatively cheap to service compared to other mid-range sportscars like Mercs and BMWs, and they're a heck of a lot more reliable. A Porsche. For 15 grand. That's not from the 80's. And it has at least another 100,000 miles in it. A two-seater, convertible, mid-engined, German sportscar. SIGN. ME. UP.

I mean, Porsche is the iconic supercar. If you don't know much about cars, and you hear the word "supercar", you probably think of a Porsche. Or a Lamborghini. Or a Lotus Esprit. Or a Ferrari...

Okay so it's not that iconic. But what it does do is give people hope. I mean, you can throw your kids in the back of your Porsche, trundle along to school, then drive home again like your pants are on fire. Well that only really applies to the 911, and I don't like the 911 because the engine is in the wrong place and some other reasons that could get me shot.

Oh wait, Porsche owners don't have guns. It's an unoriginal choice. It's the midlife crisis car. It's too practical and safe. You just don't spend $90,000 to be practical. For just a little bit more money than you spent on your Carrera, you could have an Aston Martin V8, or a slightly used Audi R8, or an older Ferrari like a 512 or something. Anyway, point returning the to.

So the Boxter is a little bit out of the "first car" price range, and the insurance would be incalculable, but you catch my drift; cheap thrills. Not thrift store cheap, smart cheap. Which is ironic after my $100,000 paragraph up there.

Here, look at another specimen.

I'm seeing a 2001 325ci there with 100,000 miles. For 10 grand.

There aren't any deals on M3s at the moment, but I've seen '97 and '98 M3s for 8 grand with about 80k miles. That's a freaking fast car for 8 grand. 3 liter V6 with a honking great turbo bolted to it for 400 horsepower and really fat tires. Nice.

And remember, this is Ebay. It's kind of a national average. You look around in the back of newspapers and you'll find some amazing local deals. I went by a BMW dealer (so that's certified stuff) and saw a 2002 5-series for 8 grand. Not as quick as the M3, but newer.

I talk to a lot of people that just completely rule out a sportscar when they want "cheap and cheerful". They go straight for the Toyotas and Hondas. Okay so I'm a hypocrit, my parents bought a Honda Accord, but whatev'. It's what they wanted. I was the one that wanted the Subaru Impreza WRX. But nooooo...

Anyway, Japanese cars as a whole aren't bad, but some are. Too many people suffer from the "Common Carolla" syndrome. But a lot of good sportscars came out of Japan. The S15, the Impreza, the RX-7, the Supra... it goes on and on. Classic case in point for cheap thrills: the 3000GT VR-4. That's a twin turbo, 320 horsepower, 4-wheel drive Japanese supercar. It was 40 grand when it came to the States in the 90's. I saw a '96 VR4 for 6 and a half grand. 6 and a half! It's not like it was on it's dying breath, either. It still had easily 80,000 miles left in it.

Same case goes for the RX-7. Another 40 grand car new in the 90's, now it's around 6 to 8 grand used. So it uses a quart of oil every month and doesn't have any torque... it's still quick and neat-looking. So there.

But my favorite cheap car by far is the Honda S2000. It's back up there with the Boxter on price (36 grand new and about 12 to 15 grand for a 2001), but I took the liberty of plopping my skinny self down in one at a dealer a while back and I just felt at home. So the engine sounds a little weak, being a 4 cylinder. That can be fixed with a big exhaust and a 15 PSI turbo with a blowoff valve to chew on my investment.

There are tons of cheap cars that you just wouldn't think of in the sub-20 grand range. I'll put some names out there: 1998 Corvette C5, 2003 Infinity G35, 2004 Pontiac GTO (That's the Holden/Vauxhall Manaro for you Europeans), 2004 Mazda RX-8, 2004 Volkswagen Golf GTI... and those are just the ones I'm interested in.

Before your heads explode with topic weariness, a couple more tips:

Make sure the car has a reasonable amount of miles on it. A car from 1965 that has 4k miles on it will just explode when you try to drive it. The seals need a bit of oil every now and then and that requires the engine to run at regular intervals. If you do buy a car that's really old with very few miles on it, have the engine worked over even if the owner says he runs the car every day.

Buy custom. If you don't like mods that's fine. But a car with a skull gear shift knob will sell for less money than a car with a standard knob. Totally serious. Customized cars are cheaper on the used market. If you don't mind being unique then go for the custom jobs. I saw a Honda S2000 with a body kit, a spoiler, and big wheels and it was selling for at least a grand less than cars from the same year. And I thought it looked impeccable, and I don't normally like those big body kits. It was at least a few grand's worth in mods.

Kind of continuing from two paragraphs ago, but if there is a car you take a fancy to, look for one. You might be pleasantly surprised how cheap you can get your favorite sportscar.

Anyway I've talked for too long about car prices. I don't even know why I'm shopping when I don't actually have any money to spend. But that's a mere technicality.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

(20) Whoops...

So I went back and read the first couple of entries, just for fun. Man. I got boring. I bet I lost at least two of my five readers. So maybe I'll put a little bit more, you know, thought into my posts from now on and stop behaving as though I have the emotional warmth and charm of a hunk of granite. That might just move us back into the general vicinity of mildly interesting for you guys.

I'm thinking about how to fund the next year in racing (because it would just be silly to keep asking my parents for money. Silly. Absolutely). I fancy a job at the race track. I'll probably start out as a Coat Hanger or something and hopefully work my way up to Footstool or Bumrest by the end of the year. One of my friends in the series' dad's friends works at the track so I already have a partner in cri-, I mean business.

I think I forgot to tell you, but I got off my lazy bum and got to working on a driving permit. Because, it would just look silly if my parents were to drive me to work. Totally silly. But anyway I've only crashed twice so far so I'm doing a-okay! Seriously though I got 100% on the test. I wonder if being a trained racecar driver raises or lowers my insurance...

Oh and I'm progressively watching the 24 Heures Du Mans on my DVR (24 часа Ле-Мана in Russian. Russian is so cool). I'm on the 18th hour and Audi's in the lead! Don't go and spoil it for me. That would like, make me suicidal or something.

But that would be silly. Really.


my nerdy side took it's vengeance. Apparently it can't be repressed altogether. There is now a statistics page on the right side of the screen. Take a look. I'll really enjoy seeing those numbers grow as my career goes on.

Notice how there aren't any negative stats like times crashed. I'll leave you to figure out why (no, its not my astronomical ego... don't be silly).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

(19) I'm doing better! Really!

Well I got P7 again. But this time I actually gained 3 positions instead of losing them.

In qualifying, I was doing good, on my last and most likely fastest lap. I exited Monaco really nicely and I knew it was going to be a good lap. I blasted down to Kramer, hit the brakes early as I usually do, it's not a threshold corner. As I was slowing, I heard "chirp chirp chirp" behind me and knew that was someone behind me threshold braking. I prepared to let him by in Kramer (don't want to spoil my own lap trying to fend off a guy), when I heard a "braap" of an engine accelerating briefly. I figured he was doing the corner really aggressively and prepared to zip around him as he took the corner too aggressively (Kramer, going backwards, is uphill, off camber, decreasing radius AND it has a hump on the late apex so if you gas it before the apex like normal you're going to crest, pull negative G and slide the kart. It's a very tricky place to dive inside for a pass).

But to my surprise, I was hit from behind and my kart lurched forward and slid sideways. To keep myself within the general vicinity of the western hemisphere, I locked the brakes. That spun me around backwards and I was now facing my opponent. Who, naturally and obviously, slammed me again in the front. He gave me a shrug and a wave meaning "sorry", and as he pulled away to finish qualifying I went to start my engine and get back to the pits.

But, I turned over the motor and cracked the gas. The engine revved, but nothing happened. I looked back and saw, with dismay, that I had "high-sided". My rear (drive) wheels were hanging off the track and were completely off the ground. So, I was stuck.

In reality, it's not hard to do. The kart's chassis is only about an inch off the ground. So even if the track has a 2 inch drop down to the dirt, you're stuck if you straddle it.

I waved frantically for the corner marshal who was behind me. He lifted the rear back onto the track and off I went. I had only 1 more lap left and I didn't have a good run. So, I was in 10th spot (of 12) and 1.5 seconds off the leader. The guy who hit me went on to place on pole. So much for karma.

Well, that stuff just happens in racing. He explained to me later than he had slipped the brake. I went on in the race to pick up 3 positions for 7th place.

My spirits were lifted somewhat when I discovered that I was 13th overall in points, out of 25. So it's not that bad. And that was before the race. So I've picked up a few more points.

I think maybe I'll do another video, so check back in a couple of days for that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

(18) New kart, new track, new start. Sorta.

Well well. That was a very interesting day.

Started out by getting oriented with the karts. If you don't want to read the boring stuff, skip this paragraph.

First of all, the chassis structure itself was thicker diameter. I think Wes said that they were 32mm, up from 28mm. But I can't remember exactly. Then the rear axle is up from 40mm to 55mm. It also seemed to me like the actual wheelbase was slightly longer. The front wheels also got a new setup, it's now on a 3 lug attachment to the bearing, rather than the bearing being stuffed into the wheel itself. The front also got a strengthening bar inbetween the wheels (not an axle).

The result of all this beefing up is that the kart is much stiffer. You can't just chuck it in like the old chassis. I'll get to that in a minute.

Other more interesting changes are a new braking system and the seat is closer to the pedals, but more reclined, so it fits more like a Formula car.

The brakes are different in that they're a little less sensitive than the old ones. I'm not 100% sure, but it feels like you have to put a lot more pressure on to get to threshold. I like it better, it seems to work for me more.

Probably the biggest change was heavier steering. I mean, really heavy. The old steering was a bit stiff by comparison. This is like pulling on granite. But it's fine because that seems to work better for me. For countersteering, it's still just as loose as usual, so you can still flick it right to where it needs to be to correct slides. But you get even more feedback through turns, and it seems to help me get a better idea of how fast I can go. I noticed I was being a lot smoother, which might be because of the steering or maybe I'm just relaxing more.

Then the actual kart is stiffer. That does 2 things. Well, 2 major things. For one, it has more grip, which means it's faster. It also means that it doesn't do as well past the limit. You slide in a really stiff car and it'll really slow down, a lot more than usual. And that's a good thing for us beginners because it makes us want to be even more controlled.

And returning to steering, the new karts don't like to be pushed like the old ones. Literally. In the old kart you would push on the steering a bit to make the outside front tire grip better. The new karts seem to respond better when you pull on them a bit. No idea why.

I like the new karts a lot. I think they fit me better as a driver. I also like the new track.

The hardest part about the new track was just figuring it out. Getting the lines down and the speeds right. Helipad and Tic-Tac-Toe are killers going this way. You have a really bumpy braking zone going into Helipad and coming out into Tic-Tac-Toe isn't too bad, but the curb in the middle that you have to run over to take the corners at full throttle is just nasty. Going the normal way it's all right, but reverse it's a lot sharper and you really get some good air off it. If you hit it skewed you can really mess up your exit. At one point I went a bit too deep over it and heard a big knock on the bottom of the kart. Turned out to be fine though.

In general though, I like Reverse National more because it's higher speed. Most of the turns have bigger exit areas and more track out room. Going down the Start Straight is a lot faster since its downhill, you don't have a headwind and you can really launch off of Reverse Turn 1. I can hear the kart start to max out RPM for the last quarter of the straight or so. The instructors say we're still doing about 75 at the end but I don't believe them. The karts don't have speedometers so I guess we'll never really know. My best time so far on this track is 56.5 seconds, which was 3rd fastest in my group, and the fastest time I saw was 55.5. But laptime is only half the story. Last race some of the fastest per lap drivers were behind slower per lap drivers. It's all down to consistency.

However, the instructors haven't started to nitpick us yet. I still have a few early apexes to sort out and I think I can go a lot faster. Overall I improved as a driver and I think I have a good shot to score good points on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

(17) Testing, testing... (for real this time)

So tomorrow I go back Infineon to practice with the new chassis and on the new track.

I also want to shout out that BMW won it's first Formula 1 Grand Prix victory since it became a constructor (building it's own cars) this morning in the Canadian Grand Prix. They actually got a 1-2 finish with Kubica in P1. That's cool because I always liked the BMW F1 cars a lot ever since I saw the video of Heidfeld going around the Nurb. BMW is just cool like that.

Notice he goes around the top of Carousel. I don't blame him.

So anyway, I'll probably write up a thing on the new chassis/track either tomorrow afternoon or Friday.