2000 miles in a Seven

One of things that I’ve always wanted to do in the Seven was go on a long road trip. However I’ve always been afraid of mechanical breakdowns which is why I took the Elise to LOG 31 in Vegas two years ago. Once the 2013 West Coast Lotus meet was announced for Seattle in July, I started toying with the idea of taking the Seven but kept prepping both cars so that I could make a last minute decision. As luck would have it I was changing the oil on the Elise a couple of days before the trip and found a transmission leak which meant that the Seven was now the only option for the 2000 mile trip.

I started checking weather forecasts along the route and thankfully it appeared to be little chance of rain which is a good thing in a roof/door/window/windshield-less car with potentially dodgy electrics. I did see that a heat wave was expected with temperatures in excess of 100F but having done a 98F trip down to Buttonwillow in the past I felt pretty confident that I would be able to handle it with my cool suit. In terms of mechanical reliability I had driven the car several hundred street miles in the past few months which made me feel good about making it to Seattle without an issue. The risky bit would be the track day at Pacific Raceway but if a terminal issue cropped up Rob @ DiestchWerks said he would be able to trailer it back on his race trailer if needed. With all this worked out I decided to take the Seven on an epic roadtrip.

Epic road trip begins

I started out with fellow Ultralite owner and GGLC member Jim R who was going to drive up with me till Shasta City. We started out at 7 am as I wanted to cover as much ground as possible before sunset and had set myself the goal of reaching Medford at the very least with Eugene as a stretch goal. Since the planed distance was only just over 400 miles, we even took a slightly longer route to get the obligatory pic with the Golden Gate Bridge just like my last trip tor WCLM 08.

Required photo op

The first couple of hours went quite well and we covered 100+ miles before it warmed up enough that I had to start up the cool shirt which is basically a shirt which pumps cold water through it to keep the wearer cool. They were originally designed for surgeons but are now used by firemen, military, hazmat and of course racing. I originally picked up a cool shirt to use it in Lemons racing but after I got the Seven I realised that it was the perfect way to stay cool in the car as well. Jim and I made it up to Shasta Lake before stopping for a bite to eat at the Basshole Bar & Grill in Lakeshore CA just after noon.

By this time the time the mercury was really rising and Jim decided to head home while I continued on to towards Oregon. As I entered the mountains below Mt Shasta the weather was quite pleasant (though assisted by the Cool Shirt :)) and I was feeling quite good about my progress for the day. That came to crashing halt as I got passed the mountains and entered Oregon where the weather really shot up. The temperatures in Ashland were well above 100F (Jim saw 108F at one point on his way back) and it was so hot that I literally just pulled off the highway and parked under a tree.

Heat break

At this point the ice cooler part in the Cool Shirt came in handy as it meant that I had some cold refreshments to help cool myself down. I then decided to try driving a little bit without my helmet on but the hot air hitting me in the face made it hard to breathe so I put the helmet back on and kept going in short 30 min stretches. By around 5 pm the temps started dropping and by the time I got to Eugene at 6 it was pleasant enough that I took the helmet off off and cruised up to Salem, OR where I spent the night. The next day I was up and running again and made it to Seattle despite some extreme heat and traffic in the Olympia area. My dash got so hot at one point that my phone overheated and shut down. In the end I did make it to Seattle with the car running like a champ with only the organic bit behind the wheel having issues with the heat (see below). BTW if you think I’m complaining too much about the heat, it was so bad that the WDOT had to shut down a bridge and water its deck to prevent excessive heat expansion.

This is what 850 miles in 100 degree weather looks like

The first official event at the West Coast Lotus meet was a track day at Pacific Raceways which was put on by the folks at ProFormance Racing School. We started out with some lead-follow laps as most of us had never driven the track before. Pacific Raceway is a fairly technical track with 350 feet of elevation change which means you have a lot of blind late apex corners. Plus the track is very different from my usual tracks with very little run-off or exit kerbing and plenty of surrounding greenery – it feels more like a hillclimb course instead of a closed circuit track.

After a few sighter laps and some conversations with the instructors I was able to work out a reasonable line and really got into the groove at the track. As you can see from the video below I was not pushing very hard as I did not want to break anything at the track. One thing to note is that I did discover that top speed on my car is 125 mph which I hit 2/3rd of the way down the looong straight – it was actually a bit disappointing as I thought that the Seven was a bit faster than that but I guess crappy aero performance really does take its toll. We did have a modified Elise (slicks, 300 hp, sequential gearbox, paddleshift) that was quite a bit faster and was hitting 140 mph down the same straight.

The most interesting moment of the video above was when I go off at the 14:20 mark. This was due to a stuck throttle though luckily it was stuck partially open and not at full throttle. I didnt realise this initially as the revs do go down when I get off the gas but the car did not slow down enough. I keep adding more brake pressure and end up locking the front wheels before I go off the course. At this point I go both feet in and the engine revs rise to ~4k rpm and I realise what the problem was. I was able to use partial clutch to get into the pits and killed the engine as soon as I got in. When I opened the hood I found that the bracket that the external throttle release spring attached to had broken off and the stock throttle spring was not strong enough to close it all the way which is why the engine was stuck at part throttle. I was able to ziptie the spring back together to get the car going again but called it quits for the track day as I didnt want to risk it happening again on course.

Went off with a broken throttle return supporting bracket. Back running with a quick ziptie fix

After the track day I headed over to the event hotel which had organized some excellent “Lotus Parking” for the duration of the event. This meant that we not only got to see the cars all together, but we also got to chat with all the owners as we came in and out of the lot. After the cocktails and reception many of us headed out into the parking lot to check out the cars and shoot the breeze with other Lotus fans.

Lotus everywhere

Day 2 started with an excellent tour of Paul Allens Flying Heritage Collection. Nothing to do with Lotus but it is an excellent collection of WW2 era machinery including airplanes, rockets and tanks. Many of the airplanes are still airworthy and are flown a few times a year. Its also right next to the Boeing Dreamliner factory where a bunch of planes were getting fitted for their customers. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes mechanical objects.

In the afternoon we headed over to the parking lot of Bellevue Community college for the WCLM autocross. It was a very tight course that you lapped multiple times to set a time. Most people were doing the course in first gear though due to my low gearing I was able to launch and do the entire run in second gear instead. The following video is of my 31.165 second run which ended up as the top time of the event. I was even able to avoid hitting “my cone” which folks were taking odds on whether I would hit it. Facebook users can see more photos from the autocross at the WCLM FB album

After the autocross we headed over to the Snoqualamie Casino where we had an excellent buffet dinner along with drinks on the roof right in the shadow of the mountains. Plus it was another great chance to check out the cars and we got a lot of regular casino guests coming by to ogle at the cars.

WCLM Dinner

I was feeling a bit under the weather on day 3 so I skipped the SOVREN Historic Races and the parade laps at Pacific Raceway. I directly went over to the LeMay museum in the afternoon where we were taking a group photograph before dinner and a private tour of the museum itself. The album below shows some of the cars on display in the museum, as well as some shots of the cars lined up for the group photo. Another wonderful place to attend and much better organized than the original warehouses that they used when I first visited the LeMay in 2010. After the LeMay trip I was hanging out with some Canadian attendees at the hotel who were quite surprised to learn that I had driven the Seven all the way from CA. Hopefully at the next WCLM we can have a some of them drive all the from Canada instead πŸ˜‰

The final stop on the WLCM calendar was at the Griots Garage retail store in Tacoma where we got look at some of their cars and also got a demonstration of their car car products. Not very Lotus specific, but they are definitely car guys as evidenced by their McLaren display below. I have to say that Doug and the ELCC really put on a great WCLM and are going to get a lot of repeat business the next time they host a WCLM.

McLaren

After lunch I headed out around 2pm with the goal of making it back to Eugene, OR before nightfall. The return trip was going well until I stopped just before the WA-OR border and noticed that the left side of the car was covered with coolant. The upper radiator hose had sprung a leak and was dripping coolant under pressure.

And now we're dumping coolant

I filled it up with some water and Rob @ DiestchWerks a call to see if I could get him to trailer the car back. It ended up he was about 45 minutes ahead of me so I limped the car over there while he stopped at an auto parts to see what he could find. In the end he cut the hose at the point that it was leaking at and used a plastic coupler and some hose clamps to put it back together again. I then got back on the road and started driving with frequent stops to check the coolant levels and to watch for any further leaks. I was able to make it to Canyonville before nightfall and stayed at the Seven Feather Casino which was the site of the WCLM 08.

Spending the night at the home of WCLM 08

I decided to drop my original plan to drive straight down I-5 as the temperatures in the central valley were expected to be well over 100F and I did not want to put additional stress on my cooling system. Instead I took US-199 over from Grants Pass to Eureka and then took 101 all the way to SF. This turned out to be a great decision because though the trip would be longer, it was much much cooler plus US-199 is an fun road to drive in a sports car.

Lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse

After having lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse above, I took the famous Avenue of the Giants route through Humboldt Redwood Park which was another fun detour.

The Avenue of the Giants in a not very giant car

At this point I was far enough inland that it was starting to heat up again and I had to put my cool shirt on again. Plus the temps never went about 95 which meant that the cool suit was able to keep me quite comfortable. I then stopped off to meet a friend in Windsor, CA and was able to avoid much of the evening heat before making the final 90 minute drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge and through SF to get home again.

Home at last

All in all the car ran quite well and apart from the throttle and coolant issues it gave me no trouble at all in over 2000 miles in some blistering heat. I got lots of weird looks and several photos taken of me on my trip but I have to say that it was great fun and I would say that all Seven owners should consider doing at least one long road trip in their cars – it is an experience that you will not forget and you’d be surprised how reliable our cars can be. Now where is WLCM 2014 going to be? πŸ™‚

Rahul Nair


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Cross posted on my personal blog

Going for a win – GGLC Members compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons

Story originally posted on the Racing geek:

Pink Pig E30

The Goin’ For Broken race at Reno Fernley raceway was the 5th 24 Hours of LeMons race for the Formula BMW team and the debut of our new Pink Pig race livery. Additionally the car was quite a bit lighter than the last race with the sunroof, dash, heater core and inner door skins being removed. We cracked our windshield during the dash removal which we replaced with a sheet of lexan to further drop weight. We were going with our regular driver lineup of Guy Argo and GGLC members Gabriel Matus, Rob Dietsch and myself. Since the racedays were of unequal length (8.5 hours Saturday, 5 hours Sunday), our plan was to have Guy, Rob and myself run a single 3 – 3.5 hour stint with Gabe splitting his stint between the two days. The long stints would minimize our driver changes and would allow us to pass people in the pits and finish higher than the 10th place we recorded at Thunderhill 08.

Emergency Wheel Spacing

I was driving the first stint for our team and got off to an inauspicious start when I had to pull in to the pits just before the green flag (Lemons has a rolling start) because of a loud noise and vibration from the right front on right hand turns. It turned out that our new wheels were rubbing against the right front strut while at speed. We had test fitted the new wheel on the left front tire where it fit with no issues but we had forgotten that we had bent our struts for extra camber at Altamont 07 which meant that while they fit fine on the left there was rubbing on the right which was aggravated on right hand turns. Luckily we were able to borrow a wheel spacer (Thanks Squirrels of Fury!) but by the time we put that on we were already 2 laps down on the leader without having driven a single lap. πŸ™

When I first went out under green my immediate impression was that we were waaaay faster than most of the cars out there and was passing several cars at each turn. This was probably down to my familiarity with the track and the car because after about 5-10 laps the cars became more difficult to pass as the other drivers became more comfortable with the track. About an hour into the race I noticed that the fuel gauge on the car was still registering full despite having plenty of hard racing laps in that time. This meant that our gauge was broken and we would have to time our pitstops based on fuel starvation. At about the 2 hour mark the car started fuel-starving on the fast right of turn 14 but was still doing pretty well elsewhere on track. We decided to keep going as long as we could and/or to wait for the next yellow. I kept driving the car in higher gears to help with the fuel economy but after about 5-6 laps the fuel starvation was getting bad enough that we were sputtering on the straights after right handers and i brought the car in for a green flag fuel and driver stop. It was about the 2.5 hour mark when I came in and despite the fact that my long stint had put us back on the lead lap (9th overall), we were still well short of the 3+ hour stint we were originally planning on. The good part was that we knew that we could use the right hand turn fuel starvation as a gas gauge to decide when to time our next pit stop.

Pink Pig at Reno
Photo by Jeff Balliet/ASK photography

Guy drove the next stint and kept in touch with the leaders. At this point we knew that we were in the top ten and were basically trying to put in reasonable laps without doing anything crazy. Guy drove for about 3.5 hours before the fuel starvation became bad enough that we were forced to do another green flag stop. At this point we were 4th overall and just 5 laps behind the race leader despite having the slowest “fastest lap” of any car in the top 15. Gabe got into the car with about 2.5 hours left in the day and was putting in some excellent lap times when he had an unfortunate spin at turn 15 which brought us in for a black flag penalty. Since we had been good racers for most of the day (and bribed the judges with some excellent Guatemalan rum πŸ˜‰ ) we were let off with a driver change penalty which put me in back in the driver seat for the final 10 laps of the day.

At this point the traffic had thinned considerably and I was able to able to drop my fastest lap down from a 2:51.844 to a 2:46.177. Right about this time the #72 E30 of the B-Team (who I knew from Lotus Talk) pulled up right behind me and tried to get past. I knew that I wasn’t racing them for position so I did not try to block, but I certainly wasn’t going to move aside and let them past either. They tried a few different attempts at getting past but I hung onto the inside line and was able to stay in front. About 5 laps into the battle they came right alongside me on the front straight which led to the action you see in the image below.

reno-animated-small
Source photos from Jeff M/The B-Team. Animation by Rahul Nair.

This moment started as we were coming onto the main straight when I got a bad run into the corner while the B-Team got a great slingshot out and pulled alongside me down the straight. This had happened a couple of times before but since I always held the inside line into the esses they had had to lift in the end and tuck in line behind me. On this particular lap the #26 Team Carpet Pissers CRX was pulling out of the pits and made it into the first bend of the esses right just before the two of us. Normally I would have tucked in line behind the CRX and passed them going into turn 2 but on this lap I spotted an opening and decided to pass them between the 2nd and 3rd esses expecting that the B-Team would get boxed in behind them which would give me some more breathing room. As luck would have it the B-Team driver decided to do the exact same thing on the outside and suddenly we were three wide through the turn at about 95mph. I was up on the rumble strip on the left while the B-Team was on 2 wheels in the gravel on the right. At this point the driver in the CRX sees the B-Team on his right (and I suppose didnt see me on his left) and jinks left to avoid them. The front bumper of his car hits my right front wheel and leaves a black line down both doors. The impacts pushes my car to the left but I am able to maintain control while the CRX unfortunately spins out. Amazingly both B-Team and I are still side by side entering turn 2 and I am able to get ahead under braking. While it looked (and was) pretty exciting it was still a dumb move on my part especially since we were not racing for position and the next day both B-Team and I went up to the driver of the CRX and apologized for putting him in a difficult spot.

At the end of day one we had completed 129 laps and we in 4th place overall, 6 laps behind the Eyesore Racing FrankenMiata. We were still the second slowest fast lap in the top 10 but we used our long stints to make up for our wheel issues at the start as well as 3 green flag pit stops. Now we just had to keep on doing more of the same for day 2 and hope that the leaders would trip-up enough for us to pass them in the pits.

Day 2 started with Gabe driving the car. It was obvious from the lap times that we had no chance on catching the FrankenMiata with speed alone. They were pulling away from us at 10 seconds a lap when they suddelny spun and stalled on course on lap 5. As they were being towed in we began to push like hell to make up laps and we got back 4 of the 6 laps before they got out on course again. Gabe kept putting in consistent laps but the FrankenMiata was back on pace and was consistant pulling out 8 seconds or so per lap. Both teams came in for a driver swap just a lap apart which kept us 3 laps behind with 3 hours to go. Rob put in some stellar laptimes including our fastest race lap of a 2:42.809 but in the end it just was not enough to catch the FrankenMiata.

Class win at Lemons Reno

We ended finishing first in class and 5th overall just 4 laps behind the FrankenMiata which hung on to win the race. We did get a nice trophy to stick on the mantel place but I personally am still annoyed at some of the mistakes we made which cost us a possible win. The good part is that we know what to fix and we know what we need to do at Buttonwillow in 3 months. We wont rest till we get some nickels (Lemons cash prizes are awarded in nickels πŸ™‚ )

Rahul Nair
GGLC Blog Editor
www.rahulnair.net/blog