Saturday, October 12, 2019

[Focus] New street wheels and tires

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 

Mountune UK was alarmed to hear about my experience, and they've asked me to send the dead pads back for their engineers to review and share with the supplier. They have offered to send me a new set of pads, unfortunately I can't feel comfortable with their track compound again so they're going to send me street pads. I will update this post once they share their findings.

The road to recovery started Wednesday night when I reinstalled the stock brake pads, and continued yesterday when I ordered new caliper boots and brake discs. I took the next step today, bringing my car in to install new wheels and tires.

I went through my wheel selection process in post 29 above, and at that time I was deciding between the Fifteen52 Podiums and the Holeshot flow-formed option they were teasing. In the end while I liked the look of the Holeshot, the size (19x9, et45) was just a little bit too aggressive for me and I went instead with the Podiums. To go with them I picked Michelin's Super Sport replacement, the Pilot Sport 4S.

I swapped out the stock lug nuts for a set of McGard's SplineDrive lug nuts. I've used these lugs on my Miata and my GT-R with excellent results. They don't rust or wear down, the seat of the nut spins independently to avoid chiseling paint off the wheels, and the black finish on my Miata hasn't faded whatsoever after 8 years of California sun. I expect to pull my wheels off frequently and the posts about people twisting up the stock lugs convinced me to make the change.

First look on its wheels, center portion and faux centerlock nut not yet installed.

I was really relieved to see how well these fit, as I agonized a great deal over offset and wheel and tire size.

On the ground with center caps installed. The only thing I forgot was hubcentric rings - these wheels are 73.1 versus the car's 63.4mm hub. Ordered some and they'll arrive tomorrow.

So here are the final facts and figures:

Wheels: Fifteen52 Podium, 19x8.5 et45, frosted graphite

Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, 245/35R19

Nuts: McGard SplineDrive

Suspension: stock

Aggressive driving is on hold until I get the brake discs replaced, so driving impressions for these tires will have to wait. But I love how the wheels look!

Friday, October 11, 2019

[Focus] Things brake

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred] 

[also note: I have condensed multiple forum posts into this entry, please forgive awkward transitions]

On Sunday I finished track day preparation by installing Mountune UK's track pads.

Installation was straightforward. If you're doing your rear pads, plan on visiting O'Reillys to borrow a brake pad compressor tool. The rear piston must be screwed in and it's a weird two-dimple thing that needs the tool.

I did not find any bed-in instructions, so I used a mish-mash of procedures published online and did the following: 5x 80-10mph stops, 10x 80-40mph stops, and 10 minutes of continuous driving with as little braking as possible to cool everything back down. I repeated that procedure a total of three times.

On Wednesday I drove down to Laguna Seca. 91 octane is $6 at the track, which used to feel outrageous, but these days things aren't much better outside.

Weather was cool and clear, peaking right around 70F. The event was coordinated by Hooked on Driving, who I have not run with before, and their execution of the event was in line with their strong reputation. There were three run groups, each getting 6 sessions across the course of the day.

I came with some changes based on what I'd learned last time out. First was magnetic numbers. I bought "404" from, and found when it arrived that, with the border and the heavy angle on the numbers, the 12" letter height was almost the size of the entire door. I cut the numbers out individually which allows me to combine them in a way to suit what's available. I guess I was channeling Lewis Hamilton with 44.

Here's a summary of my setup for the day, with changes highlighted in bold:

  • OE Pilot Super Sport tires (rotated front to rear from last time)
  • Stock brake rotors
  • Mountune UK track brake pads (was: stock pads)
  • Stoptech STR660 fluid (was: STR600)
  •  Goodridge / Mountune braided brake lines (was:stock)
  • Tires set to 35 psi cold, which was 45 hot

I knew that my tires were going to be pretty toast after this second track day, but I was hoping that the changes to the brake system would combat the fade I experienced on my first trip to Laguna.

The first three sessions of the day were excellent. The brakes had more bite than stock, but the pedal did begin to fade after 3-4 aggressive laps, much like last time out. There was a really nice variety of cars out on track and it was fun to dice (safely) with everyone and see where the RS can hang. I realized while lapping that the RS has turned some of the corners that were scariest when I was in my Miata into the most enjoyable thanks to the traction available. Turn 9 in particular (second photo below) is a gnarly off-camber downhill sweeper with a blind apex at turn in. It's frequently referred to as one of the most difficult and intimidating corners, but the Focus eats it up. I come out of there with so much speed it's amazing, and I slingshot into 10.

Photo credit: Brian Klug

Photo credit: Brian Klug

Unfortunately my braking story started to fall apart after the lunch break. The fifth session started much as the first four had, with strong initial brake performance before the pedal went soft. However, once the pedal went soft, braking power seemed to fall off as well and there was an unpleasant shudder coming through the pedal from the front end. It wasn't ABS, but it wasn't far off in feel - the same kind of high-frequency chatter. I was just starting to think about whether it was time to throw in the towel when I came into turn 2 and the brake pedal went to the floor at 105 mph.

There's not much time to react in that situation (you can hear my one choice word when I realized I was going off) and the best thing I could think to do was to try to "cut" the corner a bit and maximize the amount of time spent on pavement. Reviewing the video I came pretty close to destroying my suspension on the yellow sausage kerb. It's fortunate that I hit the kitty litter essentially backwards, as there is a real risk of rollover if I'd come in sideways. I limped around to the exit at turn 5, doing my best not to dump debris on the racing lane, and packed up for the day. On the drive home I enjoyed weak, screeching brakes ("must be rocks stuck") and a nice rhythmic thump from the front tires.

When I got home I pulled off the front wheels to see what had happened. As soon as the wheel came off, I saw something that I couldn't really believe:

Yes, my brand new "track" pads were completely and utterly obliterated. If you ever wanted to know what happens when you run your pads to zero, I can tell you. You boil your fluid, destroy your rotors, tear/melt your caliper piston boots, and fly off track at the end of the straightaway. Obviously I am largely at fault for this damage and my near-wreck. I should have been monitoring the brake pads across the course of the day, from session to session. I was checking the hardware - looking at the rotors for any irregularities, the tires to see how my pressures were working, oil level, brake fluid level, temperatures during the sessions. It did not occur to me that I would have any issue with my four-day-old track pads wearing out in the course of 4.5 sessions of driving and I simply did not look at them. That was a mistake I obviously won't make it again.

However, this result is insane for what are branded as "track" pads. I double-checked the part numbers on the box and on the pads themselves to see if I had received the sport/street compounds in error, but that does not appear to be the case. I sent Mountune UK an email with all of this information this morning and I really hope to receive a response. This is extraordinary and, in my opinion, absolutely unsafe to sell for any track use whatsoever. In fact my OE factory pads still have plenty of material left after an identical day of use, so these were not even up to OE performance in terms of longevity in a track environment. I am curious whether this was a bad batch of parts from the vendor who supplies Mountune UK's pads (I'm not even sure who it is).

Rotors are pitted and chewed up with some interesting small slices in them.

Caliper piston boots torn or melted from contact or temperature.

I like this one. How do you flat-spot tires on a modern car with ABS? Slide sideways. This explains the thumping I had for the drive home from the track. It's a good thing that I have an appointment tomorrow morning to install my new wheels and tires for street use.

So there you have it... a pretty scary end to what was otherwise a really enjoyable day. I ordered a set of replacement brake piston O-rings and boots from Optimum Performance, and new DBA rotors from TireRack. I reinstalled the factory front pads while I figure out what to do next. I will provide an update if I hear back from Mountune UK.

I've read, and I heard from people at the track, that our RS cars are hard on brake fluid and generate a lot of heat. Some theorized that it's a result of the clever traction systems that are dragging the brakes to control power transfer coming out of corners. In the case of this particular track day, I can't tell if this was "more of the same" mushy pedal from RS brakes getting hot, or if the extraordinary wearing of these brake pads was dumping a lot of heat into the fluid through the whole day.

I called and left a message with the RS Adrenaline Academy folks to see if they could advise on what fluid and pads they run - in theory it has to be something inexpensive and reliable, that works with the stock hardware, day in and day out. It might be time to try Castrol's unicorn blood expensive fluid to see if that does the trick.

Friday, October 4, 2019

[Focus] Four big boxes

 [note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred]

Got a little something in the mail...

Plan to mount them up after my track day on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

[Focus] Track photos, ordering supplies, pondering wheels

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred]

[also note: I have condensed multiple forum posts into this entry, please forgive awkward transitions]

I ordered a spare interior trim piece and removed some material to allow it to install with the Schroth lead in place. The correct part number is G1EZ5431057AA for the driver's side.

Mountune (USA) was offering 20% off for labor day, so I purchased their track brake pads, braided lines, and lowering springs. I have no idea if I actually want to lower the car but the savings were good enough that I went for it anyway. Unfortunately Mountune USA has bamboozled me again, as soon as I ordered I received an email informing me that the brake pads and lines, listed "in stock," are not in stock. No ETA was provided in the email and my two emails asking for more information have not been answered. Fool me once, fool me twice... never again with these guys.

I received the springs in the mail, and then I received a small box with the rear pads. Okay... Popped over to Mountune UK to find that the braided lines are much cheaper so I just ordered them from there. Unfortunately I suspect that the track pads are a different product, so I didn't order those. The next track day is a month away so I really need Mountune to get their stuff together or I'm going to have to go with a different option. was at the track taking photos, I purchased some snaps from them.

On the approach toward Turn 6

You're not a real car person until you have a shot coming down the Corkscrew...

Side-on at the bottom of the Corkscrew. Look at the load on that front tire! That's at 45psi hot...

Ended up ordering everything from Mountune UK: track pads, braided lines (half the price in the UK for some reason), and threw in an air filter while I was at it. Stuck the air filter in today. Result: more induction turbo spooling noise. Cool.

I'm never ordering from Mountune USA again. I have no idea how long they can run their business like that.

In other news, I'm looking at wheel options since my Super Sports are probably going to be toast after the next track day. I was looking for a do-it-all wheel/tire combo initially - light forged 18" wheels with streetable track tires or trackable street tires. Then I decided, if I'm going to keep going to the track, I should probably just purchase two different sets. It opens up more options for a better-aesthetic-but-maybe-heavier wheel option for the street and then having track wheels and tires that are more aggressive and better suited for that task.

RIght now I have my eye on the Fifteen52 Podiums for the street, but I am holding off ordering because they keep teasing a flow-formed option called the Holeshot RSR. It will launch in a 19x9 et45 size, which is confusing because it's 0.5" wider than all their other RS-specific fitments, but with the same offset. I don't want to have to lower the car and dial in camber to get these looking good so we'll see how it pans out. The Podiums are cast and slightly heavier (still lighter than the stock wheels I have now), but as I said if they're a street wheel I don't mind so much. I like the faux-centerlock style and interchangeable cap pieces.

Monday, August 26, 2019

[Focus] Reporting for track duty

[note: this post, like an air-cooled 911, is back-dated to when these events occurred]

The RS has been chugging along as my daily driver for the past 7 months since my last update, and I've been happy with the Mountune exhaust. Aside from having the rear tires plugged after they both discovered some roadside screws, it's been smooth sailing. On the way to Monterey for car week I crossed the 10k mark.

I have recently re-committed myself to getting out and driving more track days. Back in 2014/2015 I had a run of track days in my Miata (all at Laguna Seca) but then I lost momentum and hung up the helmet. I guess I just got busy. The Adrenaline academy last summer lit the flame again and I decided to shake off the excuses and get back on the track.

My Miata has always been my default track choice because (1) it's a Miata, and (2) it's not worth a particularly large amount, so if I totaled it I could walk away without being financially undone. This summer I started to get serious about making the Miata a comfortable and safe place to drive hard. Almost as soon as I started, I ran up against the same issue that foiled me before: I do not fit comfortably in my Miata. It's crazy, considering how everyone and their sister tracks a Miata, but the racing seat situation is pretty dire for anyone 6' or over in an NB. There is not a racing seat out there that gets me low enough to clear the roll bar safely without requiring major modification to the car. I track so infrequently that I am not willing to make those compromises (crush/remove the door cards, bash in the transmission tunnel, cut out the floor and fabricate drop mounts, remove the stock airbag steering wheel for something that comes away from my knees) for a dual-purpose street/track car. For once, Miata is not the answer.

So I looked around at the garage and got to thinking about how much I enjoyed the Adrenaline academy, how enjoyable it was to toss around the RS and how it conveyed so much confidence behind the wheel. I had resisted the idea of running my daily driver but I decided that, with the correct preparation, it could be done. About a week ago I saw that there were still some slots open with a group running at Laguna Seca on Saturday, so I set to work. The first step was to install a harness to keep me planted, and let me focus on driving rather than bracing myself while flying around the track. I looked at harness bars but dismissed them pretty quickly because I am not willing to compromise the utility of my car in that way. I discovered the Schroth Quick Fit and was impressed by the FMVSS certification and testing behind the product.

The Quick Fit really is the perfect solution for me - affordable, requires extremely minor modification to the car (and completely irreversible), and clips in and out in all of 30 seconds. Here's some detail of how it works and installs.

The image above shows the driver side belt. I went with the "Pro" variant, which has all belts coming together in one central hub so that the shoulder belts are angled and can retain a HANS device. You can see that on the inboard side, the belt clips into the factory female receptacles front and rear. This has the benefit of indicating to your vehicle that there is a belt clipped in, so it runs the less-aggressive airbag deployment protocol versus what it would run if it assumed you were an unbelted occupant.

On the outboard sides, you need to install two add-on pigtails, one front (first photo) and one rear (second). The rear mounting tab needs to be bent 90* out of the box.

The stock seat cushion swings up and reveals the fixing point for the rear pigtail - the lower mount for the rear belt. Add the pigtail to the stack, torque it to 30 ft-lbs, and that's it.

The rear end of the harness can be clipped into this point and the factory seat belt receiver.

For the front, you do the exact same thing but at the base of the B-pillar. Pop off the plastic cosmetic cover and install the front pigtail.

(sorry for the blur)

I found that the buckle of the Schroth harness butts right up against the plastic trim of the seat base, so I put some stick-on rubber pads on it so that I wouldn't have rubbing and scratching when the harness was cinched up. Clip in the front and the harness is fitted.

With that done, I replaced the factory brake fluid. Some say that the factory stuff is fine, but a track day at Laguna is expensive and I didn't want to find out on my second lap of the day that the factory fill wasn't up to the task. I signed up for this track day on short notice so I ended up having the job done by Z Car Garage, who works on my Skyline. They installed StopTech STR-600.

The last thing I did was to purchase track day insurance. I was willing to write off the Miata in the worst case, but I am not ready for that financial hit with my daily driver. Pricing was around $300 for a day at Laguna including $1m liability coverage, closer to $200 without. Track days here have some pretty expensive machinery (see photos) that I thought it was easier to swallow paying $100 to cover myself in case I took a $400k GT2RS into the wall with me when I ran out of talent. So with everything accounted for, it was time to enjoy myself!

This is how every event at Laguna starts - fog. But by run time, it had burned off and the temperature was on its way to 72F.

I ran with TrackMasters, and because of low car count I had the opportunity to run 6x 20-minute sessions, sharing space with the advanced drivers in open passing. The sound limit was 92 dB - I don't think I would have had any issue with pure exhaust sound, but I'd be shifting from 3 to 4 right by the sound booth and I didn't want a POP to spike the meter. So, I cruised through turn 5 in 4th gear and I don't really think it hurt me that much on pace.

Based on the suggestions of others on the forum, I dropped the tires to 35psi cold all the way around. I found that this correlated to 45psi hot. These are the stock Pilot Super Sports running stock alignment. The wear looked pretty even. I found that the tires offered maximum grip in the first couple laps of the session, and then started to feel quite 'squishy' and lost grip as they got hot. Pulling a number from my butt, it felt like maybe 20% reduction in grip after 15 minutes. The drop-off was gradual and their behavior was the same, but I just couldn't come through the corners as quickly. After cooling off, the tires were back to their higher grip level for the first couple of laps before the whole routine repeated.

The car was fantastic to drive. It felt just how I remembered it from the Adrenaline academy - tons of grip and a very high level of confidence for me behind the wheel. By lap 3 of the first session my jitters were gone - the car communicated well and we were going to have a good day. The harness worked so well that it was basically invisible, I just stayed planted and was able to focus on braking as hard as possible without bracing myself against the door, steering wheel, or console. It's obviously very difficult to make meaningful comparisons at amateur track days but I was able to punch a couple of classes above my weight class, harassing everything this side of a GT3. I received some comments from other drivers - they were seriously impressed by the pace of the Focus. No surprise to us owners!

I managed a whopping 6.5 mpg.

The Bay Area doesn't mess around when it comes to track days. On this day, a blue Ford hot hatch was quicker than a Lotus 11. That GT2RS ended one of the sessions beached in the sand off turn 9.

Unsurprisingly, the pinch points for the stock setup seemed to be temperatures. Coolant was right in the middle of the gauge all day, but oil temperature read 3/4 steady through my sessions. I didn't get any lights in the cluster or discern any change in behavior so I plowed on without issues all day. The brake pedal, which felt fairly firm on the road with the new fluid (about the same as stock), softened up almost immediately in the first session and has not reverted even a day later. The stopping power was still there, but the pedal feel was pretty mushy. I need to do some reading and see if that can be improved with some different pads or a re-bleed.

I ran the whole day in Sport mode. I felt traction control intervene only when I overcooked a corner and simply asked too much (plowing into Turn 2 way too late on the brakes, while also attempting to dial in a healthy dose of steering, while also trying to jump back on the power). I also felt it a couple of times through the corkscrew, when I was cranking it pretty hard to the right and the front tires were unloading over the crest.

I am going to return in October for another day at Laguna Seca. I am extremely impressed with the performance of this essentially stock car! I'll do some homework and see what I can do about the brakes, and then from there it would be cool to have some more tire, and then maybe some more cooling, and some more power, and and and...