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Philip Maynard
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Locost is underway! · 2008-02-10 by Philip Maynard

Here’s a quick pictorial on the Locost progress.

It all starts with a few tubes welded together.

And, a perfectly good Miata (sort of).

I tore apart the Miata, getting to the good stuff.

I sold off lots of pricey parts.

And I kept some of the basic parts for the Locost.

I welded up the rest of the frame in the basement:

Don’t worry, the conduit will be replaced by steel at some point. Maybe even before I get on track!

After that was done, I began putting Miata parts into the frame.

And, welding up the suspension. That’s where I am right now.

So far, so good. · 2007-07-02 by Philip Maynard

After getting embarrassed at a couple events and remembering it’s driver, not just car, I’m doing alright. I hit an Evolution autocross school to get back into my game, and it helped even more than I thought – contact Pat Salerno at Evolution and you WILL go faster!

With my driving on the mend, I enlisted the help of Jerry Jenkins to co-drive at the Devens National Tour. He’s a quick ES Miata driver from Vancouver who happened to be in town on business and wanting to race. He got to drive my car, and I got feedback on the car, help finding my way around my first Tour, and datalogs to compare our driving. He won the class, and I came in 3rd, winning contingency at my first big event!

I then headed to DC for a ProSolo, with it’s drag-style start. I nailed the starts but although I improved my driving since Devens, still didn’t catch up to the fast drivers. I am getting closer, though. The Finger Lakes ProSolo is next, and I’ve made some changes to help adapt my setup, originally developed by drivers on Kumho tires, to work with the Hankooks. Different pressures and alignment specs should give me more rear grip off the line and on corner exit, while still giving more rotation mid-corner. I’m extremely happy with the car, and I know all I have to do is not get out-driven to beat these guys. However, ES is a still class at the Pro, and out-driving them will be extremely hard. I’ll give it my best, though!

2007: Put Up or Shut Up · 2007-04-06 by Philip Maynard

After two years of campaigning the Contour in SCCA Solo’s Street Touring A class, it’s time to really go for the gusto. The Contour was not even close to the car to have for Street Touring, giving up hundreds of pounds to most competitors. A good setup and lots of torque helped dominate the Street Touring scene at Glen, Central PA, and Southern New York regional events, but when faced with competitors who had equally prepped, but far lighter Civics and Neons, I very rarely came out with a win. At Divisionals the car was far from fast, as after spinning a wheel bearing I had to throw on some junkyard parts and thrash for a week to get the car drivable. Fine-tuning was out of the question. Between those problems and poor driving as a result of trouble adapting to the three-run nationals-style course, I finished well behind where I knew the car and I could have.

The event was fun, but disappointing. I went home and fixed the car, and then spent the rest of the season fixing my driving. I used Live For Speed, a PC-based driving simulator, to work on my lines. I followed national champions around on course walks to pick up hints. I analyzed video and pictures of my runs to find where I was losing time. Between focusing on clean, consistent runs and a few more car tweaks, I finished the season strongly, but still usually two seconds behind the big dogs. That’s like getting lapped in autocross. I felt like Super-Aguri: a bit of a laughing stock, but with the car at least somewhat to blame.

But how much was the car? Yeah, the Contour was heavy, but I fit much bigger tires under it’s fenders than the econobox class-winners, and it would spank everything else in the class in the all-important 25-55mph 2nd gear pull, thanks to it’s 2.5L V-6 tuned for low-end power. I decided it was time to go for the gusto, and make an honest attempt at competing at the highest level.

In order to prep a car near the limits of the rules, but keep it affordable and maintain resale as a street car, I chose the Stock class. This is not a stock class in name only like NASCAR’s “stock cars”, but it’s not quite a showroom stock class either. Most components must remain standard, and no gutting is allowed, but shocks, front swaybar, exhaust, tires, and a few other items may be changed to improve performance.

The car I chose was a 1994 Miata “R-package”. This is a factory racing special, with manual steering, no power equipment at all, and slightly lower, stiffer suspension than other Miatas. Since so much must remain stock, it makes sense to start with the best parts available from the factory. The 90-97 Miatas compete in E Stock, with the Porsche 944/924S, first and second-gen non-turbo RX-7, first and second-gen non-forced induction MR2, and a few other cars. It’s a class for older, inexpensive pure sports cars, and as such is inexpensive and very fun.

To make the car as competitive as possible, I’ve modified it in accordance with the rules. Sticky r-compound Hankook tires in a wide 225 size are mounted to the stock wheels, the factory Bilstein shocks were revalved by Bilstein to help the softish stock suspension respond faster to inputs, the swaybar was upgraded with a unit from the ‘99-05 Miata, and the heavy stock exhaust was replaced with a lighter model. Many factory parts were replaced with new ones to make sure it was in tip-top shape for the rigors of autocross. There are a lot of tiny little tweaks on this car. One example is the swaybar mounts. I moved the swaybar brackets back and down, giving me a very linear response from the swaybar. People who just bolt on the 22mm bar from the ‘99 with aftermarket endlinks end up with less than optimal geometry. Is it worth much time to make sure the swaybar is just perfect? Not a lot, but many little touches like this add up and make the difference between the top few cars.

To help my driving, I picked up a MaxQData MQGPS system. This uses a GPS receiver and a PocketPC to map your line, and shows with surprising accuracy the g-forces, speed, position, and more. This can be used to examine data at home, on a PC, and figure out what to change on the car or with your driving style. It can also be used between runs to quickly determine how to approach a course. In autocross it’s common to have two runs that are about the same time, but have some sections of one be faster than the other, and vice-versa. With this tool I can look at where I went faster, and why, and then correct that on the next run. Since you usually only get three runs at a course, being able to figure it out very quickly is a very big advantage!

I now have no excuses. In the right hands this car should be able to beat the reigning MR2s in E Stock, maybe even for the national championship. Since I won’t be giving up a thing in car performance, and I have the tools to inform me of the best way to drive the courses, it’s up to me to just make it all happen. I’ll focus on tweaking the car and getting used to it for the first few local events, and then just worry about driving for the rest of the year. My goal is to win the overall indexed class at every SNY, NEPA, and Glen event that I can make it to, and to win my class at all the bigger regions I attend on occasion. I will also be attending at least one National Tour event, and one ProSolo. My goal is to trophy at all of those events, and beat a co-driver if I have one.

It’s a tall order, and I don’t expect to do perfectly this year. There are some amazing drivers who have been sorting out their cars for a lot longer than me that I’ll be running against, and I will have to be 100% on my game to make it happen. But if I don’t make it happen, at least this year I can’t blame anything but me!

Come race me! Autocross is a great way to get started in motorsports. Bring your daily driver, beater, or race car and come to an event!

SNY Region
Glen Region
CPR Region
FLR Region
NEPA Region
SCCA Main Site
Unofficial SCCA discussion
MaxQData

Locost plans and donor hunt. · 2006-11-14 by Philip Maynard

This is a Lotus 7 clone:

Colin Chapman made the 7 at Lotus back in the sixties. It was a front-engined, rear wheel drive sports car. Since Chapman made it, it was very minimalist and light weight. The design is so good they are still being made (by Caterham, who now owns the rights to the 7), and are widely copied. Companies like Brunton and Westfield make pre-fabbed kits that bolt together with some donor parts, like a Factory Five kit. Prices are comparable to the Five as well – pricey.

The origin of the 7 clone is the Locost. Ron Champion wrote a book entitled “How to Build a Sports Car for £250.” Obviously published in the UK, this book told how to scrimp and save on your way to building a 7 clone from an old rwd Ford Escort. £250 is a hard target today, mostly since the WWII surplus Champion used has dried up. Most builders end up at least $5,000 in the hole at the completion of a street-legal Locost. I am convinced that a sub $1000 Locost is possible, but that’s largely from buying parts as a donor car and parting it out, recovering more than was spent.

Coveland Motorsports makes a frame (not really a kit at all) that saves the time and effort of building your own. For under $3000 they make one that is specially designed to work with a Mazda Miata donor. Since the whole point of the Locost is bolting a light drivetrain to a very light tube frame, the Miata is a great choice. 130hp is nothing special in a 2200lb Miata, but in a 1200lb Locost it’s quite a rush.

The Coveland frame has brackets for all sorts of Miata parts, such as engine mounts, differential, e-brake, and more. This bracketry work is a real pain, since it has to be very precise. Using a jig, Coveland is able to use economies of scale to make a frame that sell for about twice what it would cost me to make, but is of better build quality, and available anytime. It also saves me hundreds of hours of labor and means the Locost will be ready to drive many months sooner. It certainly goes against the grain of the Locost idea, and pushes the total cost towards $7500.

The donor is key. There are millions of Miatae (Miata-geek plural of Miata) out there, and many are the first-gen 1990-1997 models. From 1990 to 1993, Mazda used a 1.6L engine with ~115hp. From 1994 to 1997 they went to a 1.8L mill with 130hp, as well as a stronger rear diff with optional Torsen LSD, bigger brakes, wider wheels, and a couple other nice things. Early cars can be found with around 150,000 miles and in generally drivable shape for $1500 with some hunting around. 1.8L models are hard to find under $3000, even if you’re willing to drive. Miata parts are quite valuable, and wrecked cars are tough to find.

A 1.6L Locost will be palpably slower than a 1.8L model, and has a rear diff that does not handle abuse well. For these reasons I’m hunting for a 1.8L donor car, preferably with Torsen. Finding one is proving to be a real challenge, and I may jump on a 1.6L model if I find a good donor.