Photography & Motorsports
Summarizing our rookie year in the Modified category with a few bullets, they would have to be;
Experience Quiet honestly, when I made the decision following my 2004 season ending season accident to move from competing successfully in the All Motor category, I thought that I could "pick up where I left off" in Modified so to speak. I was so mistaken! That was displayed for the world to see when we showed up to compete at the 2005 season opener in Moroso back in April.
Prior to the event, we were all encouraged by the way the car had turned out. On the chassis dyno, we made great horsepower and flat torque, we had made 5 or 6 1/8th mile passes and the car seemed to be OK. As many of you know, on the very first qualifying pass at Moroso, I launched the car and it wasn't long before I was in a whole lot of trouble. Suddenly, the car turned right and the wall was oh so close. I managed get out of the gas and steer away to save the car from hitting the wall. But the I did something that would literally scare the daylights out of me and everyone that was watching. I got back in the gas!
Unlike the All Motor car which could be "peddled" without too much effort, I had no idea what I had just done at this point. When the turbo charger began developing boost after being out of the gas (Turbo Lag) and the car was not in a straight line, it just shot me across the track to the other wall, then back across the track to the other side again taking out the timing devices in the process. How I managed to not hit the walls was miraculous. Talk about scary and embarrassing! All this on my very first pass in the car at a national event.
I was very fortunate to have several Pro RWD drivers come up to me a and say, "Never attempt to peddle the car again". This was the best piece of advice I could ever have received because as time passed and the more I drove the car, once the car was out of the groove (which was often in the beginning), the run was over anyway so I would just get out of the gas, press in the clutch and or pull the parachute and coast to the end.
For those who might be considering driving a similar car, learn from someone else's mistake (mine) and remember that in a turbo charged car with a chassis that is designed to be "loaded" only when you leave the starting line, it is NOT designed to turn sideways and that when you are out of the gas creating very low horsepower and then you are back on the gas, depending on engine and turbo combinations, you suddenly experience that "kick in the pants" high horsepower surge and before you know it, you're out of control. Please take note and if nothing else, remember what I have just said and what the Pro RWD drivers told me! Be safe.
Level of Competition
During the coarse of this RX-8 being built, myself and all of the guys who assisted me had paid attention to the performances of the other competitors during the 2004 season and we felt confident we could develop the horsepower needed to be "in the field" if we were consistent.
I can honestly say that I had no idea what was coming. From the staggering performance of both Paul Efantes and Justin Humphries to the experienced rotary driver Carlos Gonzales, I soon learned I would have to pick it up several notches. I personally like to be challenged or pushed and I love to compete but I knew that my lack of experience and seat time was real and that if I was careless, I would end up injuring myself and possible another car and driver. It was at this point that I heeded the advice of my fellow racers to take a step back and begin with taking small steps forward. That is exactly what I did following Englishtown 1.
Engine, Transmission & Rear End
Horsepower and gear ratios. Without the whole combination being "in sync" you can waste a lot of valuable time. Without any previous knowledge where to start with this car, the only way I knew how was to use the software simulator to give me a starting point.
We knew what tire size we were going to use, how much horsepower and torque we had so to obtain the best ET and MPH, I selected transmission ratios and a rear end 4.36 : 1 ratio. As I would find out even though I used actual power numbers in the simulator, what we ended up with at the end of the year would be way different because of where the engine rpm made the power on the track. In the end, the rear end ratio was 5.14 : 1, a big difference in anyone's book!
The most difficult engine related (and most important) challenge for us was tuning. Although we had tuned on the chassis dyno initially, I soon learned that at the track, that tune was too lean and from that point forward we struggled to make it right. Tuning a turbo charged rotary engine on methanol proved to be much more difficult than my normally aspirated All Motor experience had taught me.
This was the case at the final in Pomona. I had made great progress in the testing we had done the week before and our first qualifying attempt proved we were headed in the right direction but I made some poor decisions by adding fuel instead of leaning it out. This is what everyone was hearing, the missing at each gear shift that slowed us down. Even though the A/F ratio indicated it was lean, that was not the case.
Finally in the drive train equation is the clutch. It literally took all season to figure out where the clutch needed to be set to keep the RPM from bogging and at the same time, applying the power to the track. Additionally, setting all of the clearances of a "slipper clutch" only came at the end of the season. Not having this correct resulted in using up clutch discs and floater plates far more than we should have. However, that learning experience is now behind us and we will be ready come 2006!
Just so you all know, a pro 4-link chassis is a far cry for the door slammer RX-7 I was accustomed to. Even though the RX-7 had a "4-Link", the difference is like day and night.
As many of you will remember including the folks who witnessed our testing, we could not stay in the groove and always ended up making a right hand turn somewhere after the 60' mark. Once again my inexperience would show its hand. One evening following a test session, my friend Victor Sanchez came over (as he often did) to help with preparing the car for the next session. While I was working on an engine, Victor was under the car which was on a lift just checking things out. He made me aware that the rear end was moving too much from side to side.
Since the rear end was being controlled and held by a wishbone which I had checked personally several times, Victor told me that the movement was excessive. Long story short, this was a huge part of the problem. Prior to the fall event at Moroso, we traveled down to Florida a day before so that we could pay a visits to Tito's Chassis Shop to resolve the wishbone issue and then go and test with Tito the Friday before the event.
The trip to Tito's shop and testing was what we needed. Not only did we correct the rear end movement. we were able to adjust on the chassis and get the car to launch consistently in a straight line. That in itself was a huge relief to me as a driver as, for the first time, it gave me confidence and assurance that the car would go straight down the track every time. For the first time, the car felt stable.
Those adjustments have clearly made a noticeable change to the car proved out in the 60' times. To date, we have achieved a career best 60' of 1.15 seconds. Our goal is a 1.0 so we still have a little work to do but I am confident we achieve that since we have not even begun to play with instant center locations and shock setting.
This team has learned from its mistakes and inexperience. We know what we have to do to make this RX-8 competitive for the 2006 season. We will be improving on some of the engine parts we manufactured, we will tune the engine as best as we can, we will make more power and we will test and be ready for our 2006 season opener in Florida. Stay tuned during the off season for updates.
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