Gridlife Round 1 2019
April 6th, 2019 marked the first GridLife event of the 2019 season at Mid-Ohio where Slumdog started another season and the newly dubbed “UltraMiata” got its first shakedown after a major overhaul during its first offseason. The weather continued to bounce back and forth in the forecast from rain over both days to a perfect window of dry and moderate temperatures in the 60’s, providing us with almost optimal conditions for a true shakedown. For Slumdog, a few solid outings showed us some minor changes are needed to compliment the new components put in place this year before the next event. As for the Miata, this first event was not only a successful shake-down, but also a shimmering glimpse into how ‘Ultra’ it really is.
The months leading up to this event were very busy for Mechanical Advantage Racing. Slumdog made the trip from North Carolina arriving early Saturday morning after a good week of prep work. On the Miata, our traditional To-Do list made from painter’s tape on the windshield never seemed to get shorter and with each task crossed off at least one additional was added to take its place. But, as with the 2018 season, the car fired up and pulled onto the trailer Thursday night before the weekend and was ready to go to Mid-Ohio for GridLife round 1. The MAR North Team packed up and made the relatively short drive out to Mid-Ohio from our, well, Mid-Ohio Headquarters (Grant’s House) and arrived at the track a little after 7pm Friday night. Upon arrival, the Miata received a quick oil change, alignment check, sticker and banner application, and final bolt check before passing tech and waiting patiently for our first time out in the morning where both UltraMiata and Slumdog would make their presence known.
With the new structure of the Time Attack series, our approach to these events as a team has changed. Since both Slumdog and UltraMiata run in the GridLife Unlimited series, Mechanical Advantage Racing competes as one entity with both cars. What this means is whether the Miata or Slumdog are out on the tarmac, we are scoring points for the same team. This gives us a bigger competitive advantage now that the team is split up geographically. For certain events that are a very long haul for one car or the other, we will all travel to the event to support the closer car and run that under the MAR tag. For events such as Mid Ohio where we were able to have both vehicles present, we are able to deem one car “Primary” and the other “Secondary.” If our primary car runs into any shakedown issues, maintenance concerns, or component failures, we can prep the secondary car and continue to keep MAR in the fight. For this first event, we were fortunate enough to have both cars there and the UltraMiata was deemed the primary car for its new build shakedown and Slumdog was the big hitter waiting in que.
Leading up to Round 1, numerous changes were made to both platforms during the offseason. In a brief, the Miata earned the “Ultra” addition by adding an Borg Warner EFR 7163 Twin Scroll Turbo on a freshly built K24 motor, a totally new Mechanical Advantage Racing designed rear dual element wing and chassis mounted uprights, suspension tweaks to help optimize the new aero set up, new Konig 15x10 Dekagram wheels wrapped in Avon Slicks, an entirely new ECU, engine wiring harness, and digital dash from Performance Electronics, and numerous other changes to help support the major overhauls. The Slumdog went through an overhaul as well during this offseason. Along with some new hardware, a 2.7L Stroker Motor from Callies Performance Products, new revision to the dry sump oiling system, a new X-Shift sequential gearbox with pneumatic paddle shifters, and numerous tweaks to the existing components brought the Slumdog together for the 2019 season. After the event, Slumdog made the trip to Performance Electronics for the same treatment given to the Miata prior to our debut at Mid-Ohio.
Jumping back to the action at Mid-Ohio, the sun started coming up on a chilly Saturday morning and the sound of the early Track go-ers filled the Paddock. GridLife Round 1 was underway! Time Attack qualifying was slated to begin at 10:30am and it was overwhelmingly obvious that the team was ready to send Grant out in the new and improved Miata. With the roar of the first Time Attack cars rocketing out of the Grid the first Session of the weekend on. With the new set up it was planned to take the first few laps easy to ensure there were no obvious functional issues and that the Miata was safe to find the limits and start cutting time. After the conclusion of last year, one of our top priorities was to change the set-up to eliminate the rather un-predictable oversteer characteristics we were seeing which made finding the true limits difficult and dangerous. As the UltraMiata rocketed around the course on the first true hot lap we were very pleased to find that we were successful in fixing this issue! We were able to basically eliminate the oversteer characteristic and actually induce a slight amount of predictable understeer at the limit. As far as our vehicle stability goals we were very close on our first outing of the year giving us a huge sigh of relief!
With one full session on the books Grant made his way back to the pits for a post run inspection and adjustment if needed. We did a full inspection of the car and found a few things we needed to change. The first thing that we found that needed attention were the fenders. Leading up to the event we installed fender flares to help with the aerodynamics of the new set up but we did not trim the existing metal fenders as we were unsure of clearance. Well we found out that in certain full or close to full compression situations with the new, extremely wide, slicks we did in fact rub a little bit. Thankfully it was not enough to do damage or to even be audible to Grant while driving but we decided to break out the trusty angle grinder (probably our most used tool!) and cram one of us in the wheel well to help clearance the meaty set-up. While hacking away at the fenders, the rest of the team turned their attention to the engine bay to check the new set up. What we found was that our bolts holding the turbo to the manifold were backing out. To ensure our snail didn’t run away on track, we installed new bolts with lock washers. After these few changes, it was time to relax, celebrate a little as a team, and wait for Session 2 where the Miata qualified for Time Attack Group A after putting down a time of 1:39 in the qualifying round.
In our second session the plan was to send the Miata out to run a few hot laps and continue to drop time, then after 1 cool down lap, return to the Grid and attach the transponder to the Slumdog and send Kendall out for a few shakedown laps. When the cars made it to Grid Grant was the first car out followed by our friend, Chris Bickford in his 2016 Chevy Corvette Stingray. It was great to see both drivers doing well and competing fiercely and even better for MAR seeing Grant stay out in front for all of his hot laps! After 4 hot laps we started to see our oil temps rise to our pre-determined “hot” threshold so after 1 cool down lap the Miata returned and out came Slumdog. Kendall made one lap and noticed that the Subaru’s coolant temperatures were running a little higher than normal so he returned to determine what the issue was. After a quick inspection we decided to “burp” the coolant system in the Subaru and keep it ready for the next Session. As for the inspection of the Miata upon it’s return, we found a few interesting and weekend-ending issues.
In an effort to save weight last year on the NA set-up, we fabricated a 3” steel downpipe that ran from the 4 to 1 exhaust manifold through the passenger front wheel-well to a 3” aluminum side exit exhaust. Well, what we have now learned with a turbo set up is your Exhaust Gas Temperatures are very hot… Hot enough to start melting the interior of the aluminum exhaust, spit it out the exhaust exit, and make the connection between the steel and aluminum fragile enough that a hit from the tire at full lock (another issue we found on track that we will be addressing by the next event, damn those massive slicks!) completely separated the exhaust. This was definitely an eye opening and jaw dropping failure that left us surprised and a little disappointed that we didn’t consider the idea of the aluminum exhaust being an issue with the new turbo set-up. Additionally to this failure, we found that one of the oil return lines on the turbo was experiencing its own heat failure. The line was run pretty close to the turbo housing which lead to the exterior protective sheathing melting and exposing the actual oil line. We did not get to the point of failure but we did not feel comfortable sending the Miata back out with either issue found so that was the end of the weekend for the UltraMiata. Not all was bad news though! At the expense of a few parts Grant was able to cut his time down to a 1:36.9! At this point we were sitting in 3rd overall in the Unlimited series and it looked promising that that’s where we would stay! With all the excitement after this second session, we had a short wait before sending The Slumdog out for round 3!
The Slumdog made its way to Grid for round 3 after resolving the coolant issue with the plan of improving on Grant’s time in the UltraMiata and scoring as many points as possible for the championship series. Now in it’s second outing of the weekend, the Slumdog sprinted around the track improving on its time until suddenly the clutch decided to make a pre-mature retirement. Thankfully it is now running the X-Shift sequential gearbox mentioned earlier and we were able to finish the lap and make it back to the paddock for evaluation. What we found was the hydraulic line feeding the slave cylinder failed. Even though this was another weekend-ending failure, it was a smaller failure than we initially thought it might have been and should be a simple fix. With Saturday’s final Time Attack session over, both cars were ready to be packed up after a short weekend but we were still sitting high in the points race and at an overall Unlimited 3rd place with the Miata’s 1:36.9!
As we watched the races from our respected homes through Sunday the time posted by the Miata never fell. Once the dust settled on Sunday the official results showed that Mechanical Advantage Racing held on for the 3rd place finish marking the first time the Miata has made a podium finish! As with any competitive racing team, we wanted more out of the weekend and out of the cars but considering it was a true shakedown for both cars after very busy off-seasons we can happily re-group, address our issues found on track, and come back stronger for the next events!
With the weekend at a close we were obviously happy with our podium finish, but this weekend was also about more than just the cars and the racing. Now with life taking members of the team further and further away we are more spread out making group events and team meetings harder to have. This event was not only a race for Mechanical Advantage Racing, it was also a vacation for some, a team outing for all, business for others, and just an overall enjoyable time with friends and family to have together doing something that most would consider outside the norm. From hanging out in the bed of the tow rigs, sleeping in the trailers, catching up with old friends at the track, meeting other enthusiasts and gear heads, to driving and watching the team’s cars tearing up the track, this is what we do it for. It’s not all about the cars. It’s not all about the posted times. It’s not all about the points or trophies at the end of the weekend. It’s about the whole building/designing/racing experience with friends on our own time as a hobby and being competitive as a grassroots team with dedicated racing teams. This is what Mechanical Advantage Racing is all about and what we hope to inspire others to do as well!