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Philip Maynard: 2007: Put Up or Shut Up
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2007: Put Up or Shut Up · Apr 6, 10:17 AM 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!

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