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Equiraptor's Journal
Today was the second day of runs for the first group of people running. Today was also the day I needed to clean up my car, get stickers on it, and get it tech inspected (make sure the car is healthy enough to run).

Nugget and I slept in, which was fantastic. We made it out to the site around 10:00 AM, lazy us. Tomorrow, I need to be there much earlier, as I need to work first heat. After I work, I'll be changing the tires on my car, making sure my helmet has all the right stickers, and figuring out where my car needs to be for grid. I also need to walk the course - hopefully at least once in the morning before starting to work and at least once between heats 2 and 3 (when the course opens for walking again).

I'm excited, eager, nervous, scared, enthusiastic, impatient... I remembered, last night, on the drive back to the hotel, the sheer joy of throwing my car around a course, playing with the car, playing with the course, not worrying about my time. I need to latch on to that, grab hold of it. I need to keep that joy with me and feel that joy on my runs, rather than feeling like I need to do things right. I've had a lot of kind words from a lot of people. So many have told me I could do well at this event. So many have told me I'm good at this. They mean well, but this makes me feel like there are high expectations of me. I need to stop feeling like this is a test and start enjoying it.
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Today is Tuesday, the first day of racing at the 2008 Solo Nationals. Though I didn't run today, many of the people I knew ran. Some ran on the east course, some on the west course.

To back up a moment for those who don't know, there are two courses at Nationals. They're both set up through the entire event. The people running at Nationals are divided into two groups - the Tuesday / Wednesday group and the Thursday / Friday group. These two groups are then divided by east and west courses. So you get the Tuesday East / Wednesday West, the Tuesday West / Wednesday East, the Thursday East / Friday West, and the Thursday West / Friday East. I'm Thursday West / Friday East.

Lost yet? Good. You know just the beginning of how I feel!

I had a lot of fun today, watching friends drive, talking with people, and just hanging out with all the cars, the vrooming, the seriousness, and the fun. It's great to see an event run with such a balance of rules/procedures and fun. That can be a difficult balance to strike, and I think the many years of Solo Nationals have allowed the Nationals crew to find a good balance.

That said, it takes a lot of work from a lot of people to keep things running well. Spokes is a fairly experienced group, and some of the people take on major roles at Nationals. I got some insight today into the level of work Nationals needs from these people, and the ego-balancing they must do to keep everything running so well.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow, and I think I'm settling into a pattern that will let me study the course and prepare without making myself overly nervous. I'm eager for tomorrow to come, both for its own sake, and because once it comes and goes, I'll be that much closer to getting to drive, myself!
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It's already day 1, but day 0 came and went fairly easily. There wasn't much I needed to do - register... Um. That was about it, I think. As I don't run until Thursday, I have some time. We watched some videos at the RTRT trailer after dinner. BTW, it's too cold up here.

Now, day 1 in progress. A few Spokes members have already driven.
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I'm in Topeka. I was planning on taking two days for the drive up here, just so it'd be an easier drive. But then I decided I wanted to make it to Wichita... Then we had dinner in Wichita (at 8:00) and said, "Meh, it's only a couple more hours, lets finish the drive!" So here I am. Left Austin around 11:15 this morning, and made it to Topeka before my normal bedtime. There were very few problems on the way up - a wreck that had just happened in Texas, slowing us for just a few moments, and a couple of spots with construction (down to 60 or 55mph and one lane) in Oklahoma and Kansas. But overall, it was a quick and easy drive. Long hauls in the Miata with the trailer are much easier from a driving standpoint, but much harder on the ears and back, than long hauls in a Camry with a trailer (at least the ~112 hp Camrys I'd been driving).
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I'm nervous.

I'll be heading up to Topeka, Kansas soon for the 2008 SCCA Solo National Championship. I'll be running in CSPL, which is the "Ladies" version of the class for my car (my car is "street prepared" and is in the "C" level of street prepared). There are 7 entries in the class. Two are driving a California car I've been (sort of) following. It's the NC Ron Bauer's been driving. I know, without doubt, that this car is faster than mine. It has more modifications (and helpful ones), and has wider tires. I'm running with offset tire widths right now, which is bad, but has more grip than the narrow tires on all four, and I can't go to wide on all four yet. I'm not familiar with the first generation Miatas I'll be running against.

The people in my area have been wishing me well, telling me I have a good chance of winning. I must remind myself that this is my first time to go to Nationals and I'm still relatively new to autocrossing as a whole. My experience setting up the car for different services is minimal. I lack experience to draw on to use for so many judgment calls that must be made. Thankfully, the guys with Spokes (well, RTRT, I suppose), are great guys. I've been getting advice and helpful suggestions from them already, and I'm sure many more will come.

I need to remember the reason I autocross in the first place: It's fun!
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Vikra got new tires and an alignment today. The tires are Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec in 215/45ZR17. These are "Extreme Performance Summer" tires that have outtested my previous RE-01Rs (which I had in 235/40ZR17). I went for a tire width closer to the stock 205 as the wheels are only 17x7, and the 235 width was too much for them. The change in tire and size saved me $80 per tire, so $320. The Dunlops in 235/40R17 are $66 cheaper per tire, or $264 for all four. So far, I've only had the roughly 10 mile drive home on the tires, which is in no way enough to make any judgements.

The car got an alignment, as well. Settings:
         Left   Right   Total
Caster:  6.59°   6.69°
Camber: -1.10°  -1.30°
Toe:    -0.05°  -0.15°  -0.20°

Camber: -1.30°  -1.70°
Toe:     0.00°   0.05°   0.05°
Caster:  6.21°   6.58°
Camber: -1.21°  -1.27°
Toe:    -0.06°  -0.09°  -0.15°

Camber: -1.78°  -1.77°
Toe:    -0.01°   0.00°  -0.01°
Yes, my journal is now the, "All cars, all the time" journal.
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A while back, I had a Mazda 3 as a loaner vehicle from the dealer as my MX-5 was in for some repairs. This time, the dealer ran out of Mazda loaner vehicles and I ended up in a rental from Hertz. The rental is a 2007 Toyota Corolla with about 20,000 miles on it. This is about an order of magnitude more miles than the Mazda 3 had on it, but for a Toyota, that's still effectively infancy. However, life as a rental car is a difficult life.

At first sit-down, the Corolla feels very much like the 3. I can tell, immediately, that they're intended for the same basic market segment, just from different makers. Seating position is similar, steering wheel's similar, dash is similar, with just the different Toyota rather than Mazda styling. When I went to shift the car to reverse to back out of the parking spot, I saw my first major difference. The shifter in the Corolla looks like something out of the '87 Camry I used to own. The movement is straight forward and back, and there's a little button to push to allow the lever to move. Typical boring automatic stuff. The shifter in the Mazda is a different shape - it's more round like a typical manual transmission shifter, rather than long and narrow. It doesn't have a button on the side, and instead easily slides through an offset pattern to the different positions. This makes it easy to slip the shifter into manual mode or neutral while driving, and greatly helps with the "sporty" feel of the car. The lack of this smooth, button-less movement, combined with the lack of manual mode, leave the experience less sporty in the Corolla.

That said, the experience when I stomp on the throttle in the Corolla is far superior to that of the 3. The Corolla goes. I'm not sure which engine this Corolla has, but it's definitely a better match of engine and transmission than the 2.0 with the 4 speed in the 3. That said, I've spent some time in a Mazda 6 with the 2.3L engine available in the 3. The 2.3L has a lot more grunt - it would fix my displeasures with the acceleration of the 3. Still, in the cars I actually drove, I have to give this one to the Corolla. It accelerated and the transmission downshifted well when asked to.

However, the good driving experiences in the Corolla end there. The steering provides little feedback, has more play than the 3, and is flat out mushy and soft, even when you make it out of the dead zone. While one could argue this is due to the miles and the difficult life as a rental, this is consistent with Toyota vehicles. The car's sustained sweeper speed is lower than the Mazda 3's (or even the larger 6's). Communication is less, and the ability to correct understeer is significantly more limited. I asked the car to take a sweeper at high speed and discovered massive understeer. When I went to correct, I discovered triggering slight oversteer - just a bit of slip - was very difficult in this car.

As far as which vehicles with which options I've had, I'm guessing, to an extent. I'm also looking at the websites, new vehicles, for pricing, so this is different year models than I actually drove. Still, it'll give an idea.

The Mazda 3 would be $16,645, it seems. This is the lowest model with the only option as air conditioning. No ABS.
The Corolla would be $16,825. This is the lowest model with no options (includes air conditioning). No ABS, rear drum brakes.
Changing the Mazda 3 to the 2.3L with the 5-speed automatic (which come together - can't get one or the other) increases the price to $19,355 (this has no options - air conditioning and ABS are included in this).

I'm left with the feeling that the Corolla is the car for the idiot American who thinks the car should GO if they never step on the gas pedal, but never does step on a gas pedal, and wouldn't know how to turn a corner even after getting instruction from the best drivers around. The 3 is the car for someone who wants to actually play with the vehicle, feel what it's doing, enjoy the drive. Unfortunately, this is the sort of person who'd want the better match of engine and transmission of the 2.3L / 5AT, which pushes the prices further apart. Mazda really needs to correct that mis-match with the lowest end 3. I'm not asking for great acceleration, just not feeling like the car bogs down every time it shifts.

Driving this Corolla around has further impressed on me Mazda's skill at what they do - building cars that are fun to drive, no mater their actual role.
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So, those "more details" about the autocross...

I drove up to Fort Worth Friday. I managed to arrive in time to get the car tech inspected and get a few "test and tune" runs in. I didn't really properly tune the car on the test and tune runs - that's still an area where I have a great deal to learn - but I still appreciated the chance to drive on the surface and get at least a bit of a feel for the lot. By the time I was heading off for the tech inspection, my codriver (greengalnblack) had arrived. She introduced me to some of her friends, we checked in with registration, etc., etc. Friday evening was Friday evening, hanging out with the Spokes group. As the sun set, greengalnblack and I realized we were going to have to head out if we expected to go to bed at a decent hour, and since we ran first heat, we wanted to go to bed at a decent hour. She brought me to my grandmother's and headed off to her place to stay.

In the morning, greengalnblack was running late. Me being me, however, I had planned in some extra time for "just in case," so this wasn't a huge negative. We made it to the site and found everything pretty much as we left it, which left us plenty of time. We walked the course one final time, checked grid spots, and brought the car around to grid. I actually managed to put the car in the wrong place, but the grid workers preferred where I put the car, so we left it there. It was cold - the temps weren't all that low, but the constant strong breeze meant any heat was blown away. greengalnblack made her first run and came back with tires only barely warm. It wasn't long before I was out for my first run. Though things were slick, the car was well behaved, and I instantly vaulted myself into the lead. I had a second over Iain Peebles in Chris's MX-5. But, as far as I knew, that was Iain's first drive in that car, ever, so there was potential for him to gain a lot of time through the three runs. Iain essentially matched the time of my first run in his second, but I knocked .8 off for my second run, putting myself back into the lead. On Iain's third run, a cone got in the way, so I found myself going into my third run already in the lead. With the pressure off and my third run just a "widen the gap for tomorrow" run, I knocked another .8 seconds off, and gave myself a 1.67 second lead going into day two.

Through all of this, greengalnblack, Iain, and I traded teasing and good-natured insults. We gathered for lunch with a few of their friends, and then made our way back to the site to work third heat. I spent third heat in the sun, having forgotten to apply sunblock, and got myself a bit of a burn on my face. The rest of the day went well enough, with event-provided BBQ for dinner, and chances to walk the course after.

greengalnblack had me drive her S2000 on the way to my grandmother's this evening. That car is a blast. It definitely needs to rev to find its power, but once you reach around 6500rpm, it's a kick in the pants. As an S2000, it revs up to 9000rpm, so there's still plenty of room to play. It handled well, and it was easy to control that power through corners, even on the bumpy streets leading up to my grandmother's. That car definitely needs to find its way into an autocross, even if it'll be stuck in a class where it's not competitive.

Sunday morning, remembering the chills of Saturday morning, I put on every clean shirt I had left. That meant three fairly small shirts and a sweatshirt. The breeze, however, was gone, so it didn't feel nearly as cold. I ended up shedding layers quickly and early, shedding one or two before any cars even started running! My performance this morning was... Less than stellar. On my first run, my brain just hadn't engaged yet and I wasn't looking ahead. I got lost on course TWICE! I didn't hit any cones or DNF, but I did end up with some rather boneheaded slam-on-the-brakes moments. Iain's raw time on his first run this morning was faster than mine by a second, but he hit a cone. My second run would have made up just over two seconds (not getting lost is GOOD!), but I had hit an early cone, adding two seconds to the run! Iain had hit a cone on his second run, as well, though so I was still in the lead. But on Iain's third run, he ran clean. That time left him with a 107.mumble over the two days, which matched the 107.mumble that I'd had. Neither of us were sure what our .mumbles were, so I went into my third run not sure if I was winning or not. I knew "a clean run" would win it for me, though, even if it was fairly slow, so I took a nice little Sunday drive around the course. "Don't hit anything and don't get lost" were my goals, and I managed that. The raw time was about a third of a second slower than my coned run, but since a cone adds two seconds, it was a great improvement in my standing. I ended up winning my class by over 1.9 seconds.

After everyone else got to run that day, awards were presented. Spokes had done rather well, so many of us ended up walking up to get trophies. I tore out of there quickly after the presentation was over, eager to get home, unload the trailer, and find a few minutes to relax.

Overall, it was a great weekend spent with fun people, driving a wonderful car. I'm eager for the H2R autocross this weekend, and I need to get my tires and contingency money!
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Ouch. Next time, don't forget the sunblock.

It was an absolutely wonderful experience. I'm glad to have "done that" now. I had a wonderful time hanging out with the Spokes group. I won CSP.

More details to come later. Probably.
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This weekend is the Fort Worth National Tour (yes, that'd be autocross/SCCA Solo II). I'm heading up for my first National Tour event. I'm nervous, but not for any real reason. I've driven to Fort Worth countless times, I've hauled trailers thousands of miles, I've been to plenty of autocrosses. Still, it's my first Tour, my first event with contingencies, and I'm enjoying being nervous about it.

I'll be heading up to Fort Worth Friday morning, and I'll hopefully manage to get the car tech'd that day. My class (CSP) is in the first run group and third work group, so I'll be racing in the morning. There'll be a lot of tire changing, as I need the street tires on the car overnight, but the racing tires for, well, the racing (duh). There's two days of racing - Saturday and Sunday - and then it's back home to Austin for work on Monday. Weeeee.

Nugget will be with the Driver's Edge at Motorsports Ranch this weekend, instead of the National Tour. The track is more his car's style, while mine's more at home mashing through cones.
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Maybe I need to rename my journal, "All MX-5, all the time!"

My car has a Tire Rack sticker plastered across the windshield. It has this because it needs the sticker for the divisional and national tour, and the divisional was last weekend, and national tour is next (not this, next - 3rd and 4th), and I decided to leave the sticker on for two weeks. Last night, I went for a drive up Lime Creek Road. I'd catch up to a car, and the car would pull over and let me pass. Catch up to another car, it pulls over. Another... it pulls over. I wasn't even going all that fast! I was just "having fun" not "pushing." Of course, me having fun in the MX-5 on Lime Creek is a good deal faster than a Saturn wagon just putting along, but I wasn't tire squealing or tailgating or anything.

It was a wonderful drive that really brightened my evening.
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If that subject made any sense to you, you should have been there! That was "Southwest Divisional #1", an autocross event. It was this past weekend in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I went - Dan and I drove my car - and a few other people from Spokes were there, as well. I was second in CSP and Dan first, which was basically what we'd expected. Dan was gonna be first, because my car ain't slow and, well, it's Dan. Dan had told me some of the guys there would actually be competition for me - that I could take second, but I'd have to work for it. We borrowed 18" wheels with 285 width rubber for the back tires, so my car was running 285/30R18 on the back and 245/45R16 on the front. While this should be an understeer-inducing setup, we put a stiff sway bar on the back to balance things back out. The surface was grippy and the car very well behaved. The rubber was a bit too much in the back and was rubbing oh-so-slightly, so after day 1, Dan raised the ride height of the car just a bit. The car still has the stiff rear sway and the height increase, and I'm driving it around on the street tires now (which need neither), so the car's oversteery. And with my driving... Well, the car's a lot of fun! We'll get it put back together the "correct" way for both my street tires and my normal autocrossing setup soon enough.

As a female serious about autocrossing, codriving with a guy, I get a unique perspective of the events. I showed up at this Central Louisiana hosted event knowing very few of the people who would be there. But, hey, it's autocrossing, everybody's friendly, right? Well, not so much. Before my runs on the first day, I was pretty much ignored. If I struck up a conversation with someone, they'd talk politely enough, but people walking by didn't tend to say hi, or whatever. After I did a few runs, everyone was talking to me. All of a sudden, they figured out I might actually be interested in this stuff, and might actually have intelligent things to say about the course or the surface! Silly boys.

My runs on Saturday were rather bad, though. On my first run, I punted two cones in the slalom. Why? I dunno. I slammed into them quite solidly with the middle of the tire each time. I felt like my car was wider than I expected. After some advice from Vitek I went around again, and the slalom was fine. However, I managed a major "duh." I left traction control on. And because of how paranoid traction control is on the MX-5, and the shape of the course, the traction control kept trying to keep the car from sliding for a fairly significant portion of the course. AS long as the traction control was active (as in, adjusting the car), I couldn't turn it off. So I drove at least a quarter of the course with one hand on the wheel and one hand mashing the traction control desperately trying to get it OFF! And my third time around, I knew I could take the sweeper in corner 4 faster... So I did... A bit too fast. There was wonderful tire squealing as the car slipped to sideways, came to a stop, and stalled right in front of the next cone. Thankfully, we had four runs per day, and I relaxed a bit and took my fourth run slowly, which catapulted me into second place. Gotta love it. So frequently, in autocross, when you try to go fast you're slow, and when you try to slow it down, you end up going faster. It's about car control and smoothness, not flat out speed.

Saturday evening came around, and the group gathered in the host hotel, like they do, with booze and food. Being the evil non-drinker I am, I encouraged guys to drink more, drink more! The more your head hurts tomorrow, the slower you'll be... Mwhahahahaha! I don't think my plan worked, but I don't think it really needed to, anyway, as none of the guys I encouraged were in my class, anyway. ;)

My runs Sunday were improved, but I still wasn't driving my best. My first run was slow - I decided to take a relatively easy look around the course. On my third run, I completely botched the shift into third (yes, this was a third gear course for my car). After this run, a 46.49, Dan told me I could make it into the 45s... If I'd toss the car there, and if I'd give it just a bit more gas in the slalom, I could take off that half second. I responded, "Well, I totally botched the shift into third..." "You did? I heard it bounce off the rev limiter in second and then go in..." "No, that was it grinding going into third." "Oh, well there's your half second." So I went 'round again, and still managed to screw up the shift to third, though not as badly. I figured out how I was screwing it up, too, so at least I know for the next third-gear-using event. I tried to toss the car where Dan said I could, and over did it, so I lost some time there, and I took the 180° turn too tight (do not ask me how I did that... I have no clue) and punted a cone there. The raw time was a 46.0mumble - so close.

If I'm remembering the results correctly (I haven't managed to find them online yet), I was about 6 tenths ahead of third on the combined time. I'm content enough, but I feel like I should have been faster, and like I still have so very much more to learn and skill to gain. The National Tour in Fort Worth is but two weekends away, and there's a potential for money and/or tires at stake, here. Fort Worth is so much closer and so much more familiar to me - the drive out, etc. will be less stressful, at least.
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Today, nugget and I went out to Harris Hill Road in his Carrera. It was an absolute blast.

First things first: Carrera on the track: Wow. Oh, man, that's a fun car. We left PSM on the entire time, but in sport mode, which meant it let me have a little fun and only interfered when I was risking a spin. Unlike DSC (at least in my MX-5), which seems like the nun with the yardstick waiting to slap a stray hand, PSM feels more like a guiding teacher, pulling you back a bit when you try to let the back hang out a bit too much. And the car itself was a real joy. Feedback is great, it's responsive to all my inputs, the understeer I experience in autocross is entirely gone, and I can really control the amount of oversteer I get with the throttle. The Carrera on the track gives me the same grin my MX-5 does at autocross.

So, the day: We drive up and Bo and Eric are just finishing talking with another couple. The other couple leave and we introduce ourselves. Right away, it's, "Let's get out on the track!" Eric was driving a Mini S, and Nugget was driving the Carrera. I suggest Bo ride with Nugget and I with Eric, so each of us could have an "experienced" person in the car with us. So Nugget drove off with Bo and I hopped in the Mini. Eric and I talked about Minis and autocross and my Miata and... I realized I might want to hear about, ya know, the track, so coming around corner 4 I asked him to talk through the track with me. We got through corner 5, and were back on another subject already. Oh well. Nugget pitted, Eric followed him, and we swapped spots. Now it was me driving the Carrera with Nugget for a passenger, and Eric driving the Mini with Bo riding. We go out on track and I do about half a lap "slow" before I give into temptation and play a bit. I certainly wasn't trying to go as fast as I can, but I was trying to go at a fun pace, rather than a slow, "have a look around" pace. I did a few laps and found myself letting the car slide a bit through some of the corners. I definitely found myself wanting to push harder than I should on a "get to know things" run, so I pitted. Bo was grinning at me. Apparently, Nugget hadn't mentioned my enthusiasm for driving or my experience autocrossing to him, so he wasn't expecting the girlfriend to go play with the car that much. We went for a few more laps, with video running now, and then came back up. They asked if we'd gone around counterclockwise yet... We hadn't. They suggested we go, and gave some advice about going up the hill. As we walked back to the Carrera, Bo yelled to Nugget, "Don't listen to a thing Monica says until she's driven it!" Oh, THANKS! :-P

So we went around it clockwise a few times. I found I really felt familiar with corners 2 and 3 somehow, CW and CCW (I'm not re-numbering the corners for CCW). I also felt really comfortable with 6 and 7 CW. The hairpin (10) was great in the Carrera, as well, while corner 1 and I didn't seem to get along at all. Corner 4 seems like a very interesting, entertaining corner, both CW and CCW, presenting a different set of challenges each way. Bo and Eric were great to chat with, too.

Hopefully Nugget got some good video of the track.
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Well, instead of the autocross today *stabs AT&T* we went on a Tejas Miata Club drive. Around 18 cars made it, including an S2000, a 911, and a CLS55 AMG (that'd be a Mercedes). My instructor from my last track day, AC, was there, and I'm actually managing to recognize some of the regular Tejas Miata people now (I'm so horrible at recognizing people... I know those cars have gone on runs before, but which people belong to them?!?!). We had a great time driving down Texas roads of various sizes and states-of-repair, and more than once I was worried a rock had damaged something. That plastic lower lip on the front of my car makes a lot of noise when a good sized rock hits it. But I haven't been able to find any damage on the car.

My brakes are heavily worn, and that combined with the low water crossings made my left front brake just stop working for a bit. A few good presses on the brake pedal dried it out and got it working, but today's drive was definitely hard on the car in a way autocross and track time isn't. Low water crossings, cattle guards, and potholes definitely put different stresses on the car than relatively smooth pavement driven really really hard.

My mother made it out, too, with my old '94 Miata that's now hers. She seemed to have a wonderful time. She's always loved driving, and I'm so very pleased she gets to drive a car that's so fun to drive, now.
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This time it's a SASCA autocross. It's at the AT&T Center in San Antonio (used to be SBC Center). Registration closes at 8:30 (with late registration, for an extra $10, until 9). It's a nice site, and SASCA is a fun group to run with. Time to get there isn't much worse than the Spokes San Antonio Raceway events, and it's an easy drive down I-35. You'll see a sign for the AT&T center at the appropriate exit, turn left onto AT&T Center Parkway (or drive or whatever it is), make another right to go in font of the center, and turn into the parking lot at the very last possible entrance. Make your way to the back, behind the trailers, and we'll be back there with cones and cars waiting.


Oh, if you decide to come race, bring a copy of your insurancce. They want proof of your (street) insurance on record. Some AT&T center thing. *shrug*

Nevermind. AT&T canceled it.
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I was able to get my car back Saturday afternoon. I picked it up at around 2:30pm and drove off the lot, DSC off, happy to be back in such a great car. As I turned onto the I35 access road, I noticed the back end slipped out. I wasn't trying to make that happen, but sometimes it does... The car was low on gas, and as I searched for a gas station, I noticed the back kept losing traction, even at times I wouldn't have expected it to. Then, it dawned on me. Recommended tire pressure for my car is 29psi. Those back tires seem to like closer to 26. So as I gassed up the car, I let a few pounds out of each of the rears. This was, of course, made a bit more odd by the fact that I was still wearing a dress with a rather short skirt (not indecently short, but short enough for me to watch how I bent over).

With the tires pressures returned to "sane for these tires" and the car filled with gas, I returned to the road, much happier with the condition of my car. I35 was obviously a mess, so I just turned down various streets, making my way toward the house. I decided to take Westlake Drive, a curvy road in west Austin, and so cut through downtown to reach it. On the last four lane road before the two lane roads that led to Westlike Drive, a rather large SUV decided he needed to pass me. He actually speed up to get around me after noticing me. I just got my car back. I'm looking forward to some fun (not dangerously fast, just fun) corners, and some guy in an SUV has to intentionally put himself in front of me. Thaaaaanks... At least the guy was speeding on the straights, so I could stick to the speed limit there and not have to slow to under the speed limit for the various corners.

After the twisty two-lane Westlake Drive, I end up on Loop 360. This is a four lane divided roadway with both lights and exits (it over-passes some busier streets, only requiring traffic on 360 to stop briefly for minor streets). I'm coming up on a stoplight immediately after one of these overpasses, and as I approach it turns yellow. I'm rather fond of stopping for yellow/red lights, as I like braking hard and I like getting to be in front at the light. I figure I can stop by the intersection and start to brake. But there was a (yet again) SUV behind me. I watched my rear view mirror closely and discovered the SUV didn't have a chance of stopping. They were tailgating me and had expected me to run the light, so they were totally unprepared for my Miata's extremely short braking distance. I stayed on the brakes, but modulated the pressure, avoiding being hit, and discovered myself entering the intersection at 20mph. I throw the car into second and jam on the gas pedal, frustrated that some idiot's tailgating forced me to run a light I hadn't been planning on running. Thankfully, this person seemed to learn from the experience and stayed very far away from the back of my car after that.

I continued up 360, planning to turn left onto Spicewood Springs road, another fun little two lane twisty road. As I pull into the left turn lane at the light, I discover the car there in front of me is a sheriff vehicle. Oooooh, goody. The sheriff remained in front of me for essentially the rest of my trip home. Still, I enjoyed the top down, the stream, the responsive car, etc. I was certainly glad to have the car back, and I enjoyed the drive, despite the annoyances mentioned above.

Today was another Spokes autocross. I had asked Dan if I could co-drive his Mini S, as I wasn't sure if I'd have the Miata back or not by then. I chose to drive the Mini today, even with my Miata back (driving different cars is fun!). Dan and I met at the shop this morning, and the already seemingly-full Mini acquired a bit more stuff and a passenger. The weather was... not great. It was misting and sprinkling off and on, and continued this on the drive out to San Antonio Raceway. The lot there is definitely not perfectly flat, so not only was the ground wet, but there were puddles of standing water throughout the course. I found my morning runs in the Mini very frustrating - I felt I had absolutely no grip on the front, and since the front is acceleration, cornering, and braking in that car, I felt like I couldn't do anything. But the weather cleared up and the course started to dry (except the puddles, of course), so before the afternoon runs, Dan switched the Mini over to the Hoosiers. During the first afternoon heats, I watched Lance (in a Corvette) and Dan battle for top PAX time of the day as I tried to make sure I understood the course well. Dan claimed top PAX of the day when he made a run in 46.1mumble (raw time). Lance struggled valiantly to reclaim top PAX, getting a 44.4mumble on a very impressive looking run, but alas, it was not enough to wrench top PAX out of Dan's hands.

Eventually my turn to drive arrived. My goal for the afternoon was, "Be less than 2 seconds behind Dan." My first run was a 47.7mumble. On my third (and final) run, I hit a dumb cone - I should have been able to easily avoid it without slowing down - and had a 46.5mumble... 46.5mumble.... .4 behind Dan? Why, oh WHY did I have to hit that cone! Yes, I did have the advantage of a drier course, but still, I was extremely pleased with the time and kicking myself for that cone.

I'm told my 47.7mumble was enough to get me 7th in PAX, which leaves me very pleased, and I'm wondering where that 46.5mumble would have left me had I just managed to dodge that cone! I'm eager for the weekend of April 19th, the weekend of the first southwest divisionals this year.
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So I've had the Mazda 3 for over 150 miles and almost a week, now. This has been nearly exclusively city driving. The car is "Mazda 3i Touring 4 Door," a 2.0 version with a 4 speed automatic gearbox. It's white with cloth seats and a relatively pale interior (I don't pretend to know what Mazda calls the interior - I'm not an automotive journalist ;) ). The car does have power windows and locks, and AC.

As should be obvious from my journal, this is from the perspective of someone accustomed to a modified MX-5, set up for CSP in autocross, who autocrosses the car regularly, tracks it occasionally, and just generally drives hard. My "wants" from my car are very high - much higher than the general population - so many of my complaints won't be relevant for others.

Complaint number one: Front wheel drive. I know, it's a small sedan, get over it. It's still FWD, and it still sucks to have the front wheels trying to do everything. When it manages to try to accelerate through a corner, it ends up understeering.

Complaint number two: The transmission. It's automatic, yes, but that's not the real complaint from me here. The car has a 2.0 that actually manages to have some kick at high RPM. Though it won't be enough to call the car a "sports car" or a "sport sedan," it gives the car some life and some of that sportiness Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" implies. But the transmission ruins it. The four gears, the way they're setup, just don't allow me to use the engine to get that pep. If it had a lower first and another gear I could actually make good use of that engine, and the car would feel a lot better.

I have to say, though, I'm impressed with the turn-in on this car. It's more responsive and nimble than I expected, especially with the soft suspension and the amount of body roll. Direction changes happen easily and quickly. I'm also pleased with the car's response to correction attempts. It does understeer, as to be expected of a FWD sedan, but a minor change easily gets a bit of rotation out of the back of the car, correcting the understeer. Though I can't really accelerate through corners *cough* no power *cough* understeer *cough*, if I can enter the corner with some speed, the car will quite happily maintain it.

This specific car does not have ABS. Yes, a 2008 year model car without ABS. No, I don't know what Mazda was thinking. The first time I braked hard in the car I was shocked at how long it took to stop and how lumbering it felt. Then again, that's coming from my MX-5, which on OEM tires stops from 60 in 112 feet, and I'm accustomed to slaming on the brakes with R-compounds on. Not exactly a fair judgment. As I've grown accustomed to the car, I appreciate the good brake feel and the effective braking. Yes, it's not an MX-5 on slicks, but the brakes do a great job slowing the car, and it's easy to stop in a relatively short distance without locking up the wheels.

There are steering wheel controls on the car. The steering wheel and controls have a very different feel than the ones on my MX-5, but the same basic buttons are in the same basic places. I find my left thumb does have to reach a bit more to change radio stations... I prefer the wheel in the MX-5, but this one isn't bad.

I'm not great with interior / comfort reviews. I tend to only notice something if it bothers me, and I don't remember any particular annoyances with this car. If you have any questions or particular concerns about things I haven't mentioned, ask. I just may not have thought of whatever it was.
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I got a call from the dealership. My car apparently needs a new 3rd/4th shifter fork, new synchros for 4th, a new 4th gear, and a 3rd/4th housing. I'm not likely to have the car back before Wednesday. I'm pleased about the shifter fork replacement, as that fork was weaker on the earlier NCs than on the later ones, and some of the early 6MTs that were tracked have had issues with it. While I'm eager to have my car back, I'm pleased they're doing a thorough job, and I'm pleased they're not trying to fight me over warranty coverage.
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Someone I do not know is driving my car. It's off to get a shifter fork adjustment (it's been intermittently grinding going into fourth). The Mazda dealership was kind enough to bring me a Mazda 3 and pick up my MX-5.
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I'm here at my polling place waiting for the caucus to start. My polling place is my elementary school. Everything is so much smaller than it was when I was five!
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We decided to drop by the Apple Store tonight, and I'm trying out a MacBook Air. What better way to try than a LiveJournal post! I really need to trim my fingernails, though. Typing with them at this length is just not easy, and it's not really a fair test of the keyboard like this. I really love the way Apple laptops handle the trackpad now, though, and I appreciate a lot of it being added to my old iBook in software updates.
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This Sunday is the first Spokes autocross of the season. At this point, the registration is a wee little bit full, so if you're not already registered, you probably won't be able to run. If you're interested in running, you're still welcome to register on the waiting list...

Even if you're not interested in racing, you're still welcome to come out and take pictures, take rides with people on their runs, etc. Any camera in a vehicle on a run must be mounted securely, rather than handheld. Helmets must be worn, but there are helmets that can be borrowed on site. It's fun and a great chance to see how tame my driving on the street really is!
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My parents (Mark and Jean) are going to Rome (OK, OK, Vatican City) with their church choir to sing for the Pope. They are leaving in early March, and are holding a concert at the church here in town before they leave. My mother would like me to extend an invitation to all of you in Austin on February 25th to come! The performance starts at 7:30 at St. Austin's Catholic Church (2100 Guadalupe - the big limestone thing with the cross on the top).

Pictorial invite with the same basic information withinCollapse )
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by an 18 year old with a baaaaad attitude. Don't mess with that girl, she'll really show you!

I hope she's either just trolling, or she grows up without managing to hurt anyone.
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         Left   Right   Total
Caster:  6.49°   6.94°
Camber: -1.20°  -1.00°
Toe:     0.05°   0.10°   0.15°

Camber: -1.70°  -1.70°
Toe:     0.05°  -0.05°   0.00°
Caster:  6.53°   6.81°
Camber: -1.27°  -1.24°
Toe:    -0.06°  -0.06°  -0.12°

Camber: -1.72°  -1.71°
Toe:     0.00°   0.00°   0.00°


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