Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Is all this noise necessary?

It seems that over the past decade cars have gotten noisier. And it bothers me. Even though I'm an old fart now don't get me wrong I still like the sound of performance, that rumble and bark from a performance engine. The problem, at least from my perspective, is the proliferation of "performance" mufflers on otherwise mundane vehicles.

For whatever reason it started with pickup trucks and SUVs when people stuck on faux dual exhaust systems (cat-back systems). Then someone decided to add some rumbly mufflers. Its snow-balled from there to the point where manufacturers now push the noise allowances to the limit.

I was a kid once and I had my share of cars that were noisier than needed. Noise feels like power to a young ear. And some performance exhaust systems do increase power but no amount of noise will ever make a '71 Toyota Sprinter with its 1166 cc engine fast.
I know, I tried. Kind of like those "fart" mufflers the kids put on their cars, usually Japanese, now. They're just annoying.

I've driven some brand new cars that I have no idea how they pass noise tests. I won't name names. And don't get me started on motorcycles.

It isn't just exhaust noise. For the longest time tires were designed to be quiet. Now noise and comfort aren't part of the equation. Tires, performance tires and the tires that come on new pickups and SUVs specifically are very noisy. The auto makers have made the passenger cabins quieter so all this noise doesn't intrude on your cell phone conversations. That's nice but the noise outside has increased.

I may seem like a crank but my house backs onto a busy street, a race track at times. There is a sound wall that may reduce the noise but you really can't tell. I guess there are two problems - noisy vehicles and no enforcement of existing laws.

I once asked an ex-cop why Harleys don't get ticketed for excessive noise (the stock exhaust is the first to go on a Harley). He said that it was a pain to ticket a Harley rider because they usually showed up in court to fight the ticket. Given all the crime the police must deal with today I have to think enforcing motor vehicle noise limits is pretty low on their list.

So we're just going to have to live in a world that gets noisier and noisier. And if you're into contradiction think about the noise restrictions on racetracks.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spec Racing the Mazda Way - So Much Fun

Overcast, chilly and breezy; that can be normal for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey especially in the spring time. But the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup race presented by BF Goodrich warmed things up.

Take forty mechanically identical Mazda Miatas and put them all on one of the world's great tracks and you will have one hell of a race. There was close racing, rubbing, bumping, and off-roading (not by design) for forty minutes in the first MX-5 race of the year and the first for the all new 2016 Miata. There will be another race tomorrow, April 30, 2016.

But first a little info on the cars, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Cup cars. They come as a turn-key racer for $53,000. Now at first blush that may seem like a lot of money, about $30,000 more than a stock 2016 Miata, but for a race car it is affordable. Mazda pares the weight down to around 2,100 lbs. from about 2,300. A driver's weight of 220 lbs. is factored in bringing the total weight up to 2,320 lbs. Ballast is added to make sure all cars weigh the same. The engines, ECUs, transmissions and differentials are tamper sealed. There's a full roll cage for safety and grooved rotors to dissipate the brake heat. The engine remains basically stock (155 hp) but with the reduced weight it is quick. Tires are BF Goodrich g-Force tires (slicks or rain). There is a custom exhaust header; although there is a muffler there is still a nice exhaust note.

A lot of people will watch a race like the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup and think, "I could do that." They'd be wrong. Anyone who has ever raced will tell you it isn't as easy as it looks. I haven't raced but I have driven at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Out of a field of forty I'd probably qualify fiftieth and I'm here to tell you it isn't easy. This track is demanding and the first time you crest the hill and start down the Corkscrew you're likely to soil your pants. The track literally falls out from beneath you. You can't see the track and to set your car up for the first turn of the Corkscrew you aim left off track at a tree. I've driven the track in street cars dozens of times and the pucker factor has lessened but not by much. Now imagine doing this over and over again at speed with other race cars all around you.

Racing a spec car like the '16 Maita helps a driver hone his/her craft. One of the secrets to doing well is the same as it is in any race - consistency. In the race more than a few drivers lost places because they went off line and lost precious seconds. In a race of equal cars it's hard to make up lost time.

John Gallagher won the race, followed by John Dean II (2nd) and Nikko Reger (3rd). Reger was later disqualified because his car was underweight. Robby Foley who was 4th was moved up to 3rd. Gareth Nixon won the Battery Tender Hard Charger Award - he started dead last and finished 17th.

A huge shout out to Mazda. Mazda has almost single handed reinvigorated grass roots racing with the Miata. Single spec racing or SCCA you will see more Miatas than any other model.

It was an exciting race at a great track. The whole weekend should be great. Due to a scheduling conflict (work) I couldn't be there all weekend. But there's still time for you to get there. Besides the next Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup race, there will be a Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Lamborghini BlancPain Super Trofeo, and the Continental Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda race for WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Global Mazda Battery Tender MX-5 Cup @ Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

I'm headed to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey this coming Friday, April 29, 2016. This weekend is the Continental Monterey Grand Prix, Powered by Mazda but I am going to watch the Global Mazda Battery Tender MX-5 Cup race. Every single car in the field will be a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Glenn McGee and his MX-5 racer

I haven't been to a single model race in a long time, since 1990 when I worked for Honda Canada and I watched a couple of races of the Honda-Michelin Challenge. There have been others over the years. They all follow the same format - You buy a spec car and very little if any tinkering is allowed. Because the cars are as identical as possible it is all about the drivers and the racing tends to be really competitive.

That doesn't mean some racers won't try to find an edge. I remember in the Honda-Michelin Challenge hearing from one racer that if the engine was one litre of oil short it made more horsepower. Racers are racers; I'm sure they keep the tech staff on their toes.

I'll write more when I get back. But if you enjoy racing you should head to Monterey. There are four supporting races - IMSA Continental SportsCar Challenge, Global Mazda Battery Tender MX-5 Cup, Lamborghini Blacpain Super Trofeo, and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. The main event is the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. It should be a great weekend and the weather is supposed to be perfect - sunny and low '70s.

Now few words about Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It is a fantastic track. SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) operating the tract since its inception in 1957. Some members of the County Board of Supervisors are not happy with SCRAMP's management and are trying to find another entity to run the "park." The track is hampered by rules that limit the number of races held there, and the noise level (remember that when it was built the only "development" near it was an Army base and the complaints didn't start until expensive homes were built within earshot). I don't live in or near Monterey but Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a benefit to Monterey County, California and the United States. I urge the Supervisors and SCRAMP to resolve their differences.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pacific Coast Dream Machines 2016

Sometimes the camera seems to have a mind of its own. So many cars at the show and these are the ones the camera decided to capture. My absolute favorite is the last one (two pictures); a '61 Ford Starliner, 390 w/3 two barrel carbs and a 4-speed. Be still my beating heart.