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Track Report

Road America Raceway

 Elkhart Lake, WI
April 12-13, 2003


Article, In-Car Videos and Photos by Philip Glazatov


Philip Glazatov's '95 Stealth RT/TT

{ Click the image above to go right to the photos and videos. }





Highlights


Road America is a very cool track. It is fast and reasonably safe.  There are open areas or sand pits in strategic locations and nice and cushy tire walls (which saved me once).  There are professional safety crews patrolling the track and flaggers in fireproof suits on every corner, who watch the cars and signal if problems occur.  If there is a problem with your car a crew will be there to help you in a few seconds.

The Midwest F-Body Association and Speed Seekers, LLP sponsored this very well-organized event.  Not too many strict rules and plenty of track time.  The contingent was very serious.  There were 120 cars and virtually all of them were high-power beasts.  Firebirds/Camaros galore, Corvettes, Mustang Cobras, M3's (those were FAST), Porsches, etc.  Even a Saturn and a Contour, which somehow got there were running very strong and were hard to keep up with.






Rich Merritt, Jon, and Jack T.


I finally met Rich Merritt. Yes, he is a real person.  :-)  He does not look like an old poop either.  He is much taller than he seemed in one of the pictures where I saw him sitting in his car.  I asked how he fits in his VR-4 and he replied that he goes not fit in the car, puts the car on.  He is a real hardcore driver out there on the track, trying to kill everything that moves, and usually does.

He is very hyped up about our cars, and rightfully so.  During our driver's dinner he had about 4 glasses of Scotch and we had to listen to him telling us about our ***AMAZING CARS***, LOL!  The only weak point, according to him, is the brakes.  This is also one of my top priorities now after I fell flat on my face with babying my brakes trying to keep them from overheating, not being able to open it wide on straightaways, having to let people pass me due to that, and still warping the rotors slightly by midday Sunday.

We met some new 3S people there.  A few local guys were there.  Jon from Iowa, Rich's student, was on the waitlist and could not sign up because the event was all sold out.  He came there hoping to buy someone's track time if their car breaks down.  He was a little chicken to pay half the price for one day that was offered to him by someone who quit after day one, but he had no excuses not to buy Jack Tertadian's track time for $20 in the afternoon on Sunday.

Everyone had a great time there.  Even Jack T, who ran only half a day Saturday.  He is just as great of a driver on the open track as he is on the drag strip.  He was not relaxing too much there.  He brought an AEM EMS to the track to map it right there.  He managed to correctly diagnose a fuel pump problem that was happening at 120 MPH.  Not many people can race ahead of the pack at 120 MPH while tuning a brand-new ECU and diagnosing bugs at the same time.






Tuning the Suspension


I left my AEM EMS at home. I had a JIC suspension there to play with instead, and it kept me busy most of the day Saturday.  I was fighting oversteer all day.  I did not quite figure out my new tires and new lowered setup with the JIC suspension and spun out the car in the first session into a tire wall. Click HERE to watch the crash into a tire wall video...  Normally that would have never happened.  The car would have gone sideways for a split second, I would have applied some gas and the car would have straightened itself out, just like it did here:

Sideways at Gingerman video 4-12-02

But the oversteer was way too severe and I did not have much power available in 3rd gear, so I could not save it.  Amazing, but here was no damage to the car other than a few paint chips on the front bumper, which was already banged up anyway and needed some paint work prior to the event.  Even after two days I could not get that turn #5 right.  I think I should have tried it slower in 2nd gear instead.

After this episode I realized that maybe I needed to spend some time tuning my new suspension.  I had a negative 2 degree camber all around, JIC in the mid-range front and rear, zero toe-in, and my tire pressure was 40/38 FR/RR.  I ended up doing a series of small iterations, after which I ended up with the JIC on full stiff in the front, 3 clicks soft in the rear, tire pressures 38/32 (when cold), camber or 1.50/2.00 FR/RR, a little toe-out in the front simply due to changing the camber, and I completely removed all the spring preload.  Springs are often installed on coilovers with some preload.  The stock front coilovers have a lot of preload.  The rears have very little.  I put only about 1/4" of preload on my springs, but then I realized that with the rear spring rate of 564 lbs/in a 1/4" of preload is 141 lbs of force.  The inner shocks often extend in the turns fully and become completely stiff as if there is no suspension out there, which is not good for traction or handling.  After all these changes I ended up with a great balanced setup where the car was neutral under partial steady throttle, with a minor understeer under hard acceleration and a minor oversteer with closed throttle.

JIC seems like an okay suspension, but I am not convinced yet that it has a good road racing or street potential.  It is oversprung and underdamped.  I did some dyno tests, about which I will write separately, and they showed that its front dampers are even softer than the stock "sport" setting.  It felt terrible driving through Chicago northern districts.  The car was rocking back and forth and did not want to stop. It was much better on the track though.  The car stayed solid flat all the time.  That allowed me to go nuts smoking those tires through the carousel and even toy with a light trail braking before some turns.  Not that it was faster, but I could do it if I wanted to.  The JIC does its trick with super stiff springs and does not rely on sway bars at all.  It is night and day in comparison to stock, but I think a softer setup with more damping would have provided more traction.






Fun on the Track


After I fixed all the steering problems I had a ball!  I was able to keep up with most and pass a few cars.  I could make distance on almost anyone on the carousel and the back straight after the carousel.  However, virtually everyone there was outbraking me.

I got Rich's friend Beluga, The Great White Whale, killed him on the back straight after the carousel and turn #11.  I loved that little high-speed kink there.  I was going at 100 mph there, squealing tires, scaring my passenger.  I was making 100 ft on him by the end of that straightaway. Even on the front straightaway I was doing not too bad. I saw him in the rear view mirror power oversteering coming out onto that straightaway.  Maybe because of his rear end was stepping out he was not making much distance on me there.

I had my car go 135 mph only once in the front straightaway and I was not even trying too hard.  I was trying to save the @#$% brakes, therefore I usually went at half-throttle there and rarely exceeded 120 mph.

I tested new tires too.  Flash rented me his wheels with old 17" Yoko A-032 tires.  The tires were worn but still good for about two track days.  Those are not street tires.  They have a treadwear rating of 70 and are a little noisy on the street.  On the track they were good.  They have some extra meat on the outer edges to allow for extra wear in that area during track use.  I expected them to be a little more sticky, but they were still very good.  They were a little slippery and too quiet for the first lap, but then they warmed up and worked very well almost to the end of the event.  I had to deflate them a lot (see oversteer troubleshooting above).  They still worked well at that low pressure with most of the wear still occurring in the middle.  They were still not rolling over too much.  I noticed some tread peeling on three of them by mid Sunday.  I could not use them further because I had another off-track excursion and broke one of the rims.






The Magic Exploding Rim


I never could get turn #5 right.  The same turn after which I spun out and crashed into a tire wall.  This time I went wide, past the rumble strips (oh, they are hard!), past the little asphalted section, and with two wheels off into the sand.  That did not feel right.  A few feet later I realized that I had a flat. I pulled over to the side in a quiet spot and then a flatbed came, loaded me, and took me to the pits.

In the pits I saw a few strange scuffmarks on the rims.  I thought, well, Flash won't get upset because now these old rims just looked a little shinier than before.  Then I noticed a lot more scuffmarks inside the rims, on the lower control arm and on the brake caliper, which puzzled me more.  Was that some rocks that got stuck between the brake caliper and the rim?  Nope, too many scuff marks to be left by a few rocks. The rim was round and everything else seemed fine. The outer lip was intact and the tire beads were seated as normal.  There was nothing except the scuffmarks that indicated a trouble.  Then... I saw a crack!  Right near the weld seam going all the way around the rim where the cast hub with spokes is welded to the aluminum rolled part of the rim.  The spokes separated from the rim!  We turned the wheel over and found no nipple!  It was gone.  But there was no nipple hole there either.  WOW!  The rim must have tuned around the spokes!  I gave the wheel a couple yanks and it came apart.

Here is the kicker: the two-piece wheel fell apart while I was off-roading with my right side for several feet.  During that time I heard several nasty clunks.  Then everything was normal on the straightaway, except in the next turn I felt that the front tire was losing pressure.  I stopped and only saw a flat.  I did not notice anything unusual.  The rim put itself back together!!!  It could not have come off the car because the cast hub with spokes is larger than the rim's ID.  So it wobbled around the wheel well a little and then worked its way back on the spokes somehow!  That happened so fast that nobody, not even me, noticed it.  I will post a video of this incident, but I could tell you now that it is not really spectacular.  It looked almost like a regular two wheels off the track kind of incident.

Now Flash wants me to get him a replacement rim.  I hoped that he would be happy that I broke it for him, found a "weak link" sort of.  Well, he is now worried about the other three rims but still wants them back nevertheless, including a replacement for the fourth.  If you could sell me one rim like that, let me know.  It is a 17" chrome 6-spoke 1997 or equivalent 3000GT SL wheel.  It could be ugly as hell, but must be reasonably round.

Then I mounted a set of my street 18" rims with Kumho 712 street tires that I conveniently took with me.  I was impressed with then for about four laps.  After they warmed up in 1/2 a lap they ran pretty well in comparison to the special track Yokes.  They had smaller slip angles, less yaw, they held direction better, steering was faster, crisper and more precise.  They had a little less grip, but still very impressive.  However the street Kumhos overheated after 4 laps and I could not push them hard anymore.  They had at least 20K miles on them and still about 1/2 the tread left!!!  They were the same tires that I had at Gingerman twice and with which I bought my car two years ago.  They felt great on the way home.






Final Thoughts


After driving my car at 130 MPH for two days straight on a stiff suspension and negative 2 degree cambers, driving my daily driver, which I earlier thought had a pretty sporty ride, now feels like bouncing on an old couch.  Yuck!

I am now irreversibly hooked on open tracking.  I am in one the of the last stages of addiction, way past the point of no return.  I look forward to seeing you all at the track next time!

--- Philip Glazatov, '95 Stealth RT/TT



Click here for the Road America photos and videos!




 


 
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