The push continues. A while back we got a set of new Wilwood FSLR 6-piston calipers for the race car. All along we knew the fit was going to be tight but that it should generally work. Last week I finally did a quick mock-up on our demo D2, the only car that has the bigger rotors so far, and decided that the clearance to the wheel upfront is too tight. So we ordered a set of the regular 4-piston Dynapros and made arrangements to return the FSLRs.

Friday a follow-up call to Wilwood revealed that the Dynapros had not yet shipped. This being a holiday weekend, and with ORP testing coming up Thursday, that leaves us hoping that the new calipers can be overnighted on Tuesday and that we can put everything together Wednesday. Generally doable, but too much depends on factors not in our control. When Tristan threatened to take the brakes off the demo car to put on the race car, I needed another option. Which is to see if the FSLRs can be made to work afterall, maybe going as far as machining down the calipers themselves if need be.

If we had the luxury of time (and extra cash), there would be numerous possible solutions – from the simplest of waiting for Dynapros to show up to things like going to 18" wheels and tires upfront to clear the bigger calipers. However, time is the key missing part of this equation and that takes all the above off the table.

Saturday was spent finishing up the run of parts that were already on the machine and today I designed and made a prototype caliper bracket. This is where having in-house CNC (and being able to use it myself!) really pays off. I went from an idea and a scrap piece of billet to a functional part in about 3 hours total time. In the middle of a 3-day weekend. I strive to not let the outside world dictate my schedule, to the extent possible. Mission accomplished in this case.

Next step is to test-fit the bracket and the caliper on the demo. The original plan was to run the race car with new bodywork and therefore no wheel-mounted fenders. Now that having the new body in time is very much in doubt, I had to test the fender mount fit as well, which I knew was going to be a challenge. So the old caliper comes off and the new goes on.

So far so good. The fender mount required some minor clearancing but fit it does. Barely.

Now the real test – the wheel.

Yes! It does fit with about 0.2" to spare which is plenty. No need to modify the calipers even. And no need to take apart the demo. Which means we’ll be able to test the bigger calipers vs. the regular ones back-to-back Thursday. Brakes are very important on the Mountain (counter-intuitive given that you’re climbing 5K feet, but true). Having the extra margin of stiffer calipers and more pad volume is a good thing.

Other systems have been progressing in the meantime. Various plumbing bits, tweaks to the airbox and intake, wiring, shifter linkage, etc.

The LSA is a super tight fit in the D2 chassis. The D5, which will use the LSA (or LT4?) as standard, will have an extra 6" of wheelbase, with the extra room split evenly between engine compartment and passenger compartment. So yes, in my customary fashion, we’re also doing D5 development here 🙂

All this has to be put in the context of the fact that we’re also scrambling to complete the first Sector111 Drakan car, build the next 4, order and make parts, finish D1 maintenance, make progress on D1 trailer, take apart and send off to powdercoat and paint the turbo D4, make progress on the Stiletto, machine and ship several different uprights orders, and a host of other projects. And right now there are just five of us doing all the above at once. Fun.

A significant milestone – got the engine fired up for the first time! Click on picture for video.

Still a lot of work before the car is drivable but it’s definitely getting there, and now it’s ‘alive’.

Testing on the Mountain is in two weeks and we pack up and leave for the race in less than a month. The paperwork for the test showed up yesterday as a reminder.

Obviously the testing will have to be done without bodywork, which is running late. It’s also looking like we may have to race with the old style body. As you know from earlier posts it is not entirely unexpected, although we haven’t given up pushing forward on getting it done as soon as possible.

More progress. In the previous post I mentioned the airbox Tristan was working on – here it is.

Other systems are getting finished up as well. All the plumbing for example – this car has the added challenges of air/water intercooler and a taller engine that required different radiator pipe routing. This in turn necessitated elevating the overflow reservoir and adding extra bleed hoses.

This weekend I’m machining more of the large brake hats, caliper brackets and other bits so we can put it all together next week. Goal is to have it running and drivable by Friday.

The race car is coming along. Would have been nice to have been at this point a couple months ago but that is always the case. At least we are much further along now than we were on this date in 2012, if that’s any consolation. Still LOTS to do before it even runs.

The plan is to first run the chassis without bodywork and this may well have to be how we show up on the Mountain for testing June 6. We’ll see.

Another point is that as massive as the rear tires look, testing has shown we could use more rubber. So I’m trying to find 18×12 wheels (vs 18 x 10.5 that we normally run) so we could mount 335 wide shoes on this beast. Just one more thing to do but it’ll work fine as-is.

One of the things that are getting done is the intake airbox. At altitude we’re already 6psi down from sea level and don’t want to lose any more to an air filter. But we need one. So Tristan has been putting together a contraption utilizing no less than 4 K&N filters in a mix of sizes. It’s turning out pretty cool – I’ll have pictures on the next post.

Next track test is on the 28th. We better have the car running by then because that’s the final chance to shake it down before we head to Colorado. Didn’t have the luxury three years ago but will make every effort to get it done now.

Testing continues. Today Jonathan flew out to run our regular D2 demo on three different tires at ORP. We’re also testing new brake pads and fluid. We got silver wheels for the new Hoosier A7s and the car actually looks pretty snazzy on them.

A key among the many things that make Pikes Peak so challenging is the fact that you only get one shot at it, with no warmup. So part of the testing is about making sure the car gives Jonathan enough confidence to push right out of the gate. This video is an example.

The results are encouraging. His best lap on R888 is 1:48, on earlier BFG R1S 1:45 and on the new Hoosier A7 1:43. That’s getting with the program, especially for an emissions-legal car that was driven 130 miles each way to the track and back. Overall track record is 1:37.5, held by a Formula Atlantic. Also confirms that the choice of Hoosiers is a good one 🙂

We have a huge amount of work still ahead of us.

Visited Lancair yesterday to go over the progress. Things are moving forward well. All my experience with CNC machining is really helping now – I can prep the CAD so that programs can be generated directly from it without any additional work on their end. For my part this requires figuring out how to stack the foam blocks for best use of material, changing features so that drafts are sufficient for the available tools and so on.

The door molds are being machined – here’s a quick video clip. The foam is first machined undersized, then glass and bondo are applied to make a rigid surface, then the part is machined again. While the first mold gets glassed, the next one will be going through the first machining stage.

The mold that will make both side panels is the one we’ll be doing next. It is considerably larger and more complicated but the principle is the same – single 3-piece mold to make both parts at the same time.

As before, the green surfaces are what the actual parts are going to be.

Lancair is first and foremost an airplane manufacturer (they just happen to be able to apply their composites expertise to other projects, like cars). So it’s fun to see several planes in various stages of construction. One of these years I’ll get one. Not this year though.

With the next mold ready to hand off I now have a small window to dedicate to catching up on other items, like testing. This weekend will be the first drive for the turbo AWD D4 that we’ve been building. That’s what I’d like to run at Pikes Peak next year and go for the new overall record. Jonathan will also be testing several tire configurations on the D2, as well as different pads and better fluid on the D2 brakes. More soon.

Good test day yesterday, the new brakes are working well but need some different pads. Will get that on the track next week as well as other items. In the meantime the bodywork is moving forward. The foam for the first set of plugs has arrived.

I will be traveling to Redmond tomorrow to go over the details of all the machining and production. The first plug should be in the machine soon so hopefully will have more pictures then. Below are some additional views of the new bodywork. Yes, for now the stepover height will be as high as the previous generation bodywork. We have a plan to try some modifications to ease entry/exit in the future, but have to do this one step at a time. I want to make sure that chassis rigidity and safety is not compromised for the sake of convenience. This is still a pretty hardcore machine (we’ll be developing the D5 for those who want something more street-friendly).

A quick update – got some higher quality renders of the new bodywork from Zukun so here they are.

Some minor details are still being tweaked but the overall design is basically final.

OK, the time has come – we’re pulling the trigger on bodywork tooling! In order to make this happen we’ve partnered with Lancair Composites in nearby Redmond, Oregon. As I’ve mentioned earlier, getting the tooling and parts done in such a short order is no small feat. Success is by no means assured but with Lancair onboard we have a chance. They’ve been building composite aircraft for some 30 years so they know what they’re doing. Still, we’re trying to get a 6-month job done in 6 weeks.

To create the design, Zukun put in a massive effort starting with my general outline and making it visually pleasing. I’m really happy with how the car is turning out. The goal was to make it closer related to D1/D4, accommodate my through-the-car aero and make it just refined enough – not too much as it’s still a raw track-oriented (but street capable) car, but much more so than the current version. I think it’s spot on now. Some quick pictures below, better renderings coming soon.

For tooling we’ve decided to go with urethane foam machined on Lancair’s 3-axis router. This means taking the raw 3D solid, fitting it optimally into available sizes of foam blocks (keeping in mind the operating envelope of the machine), then tweaking everything until a manufacturable part is achieved. Below is an example of a mold plug (pattern) that will make both lower door skins. Green is the eventual part surface.

It’s a sequential process – only one pattern can be machined at a time. However there are many steps for each part. First the program has to be created in CAM software, then the foam is machined slightly undersize. After that fiberglass and surface putty is applied, then the part goes back into machine for final surfacing. After that it’s hand finished, primered (repeat as necessary), prepped, flanged, and then molds are made. The good thing is that once we start, many molds can be in various stages simultaneously. So if we’re efficient at planning and ‘fill the pipe’ effectively, the total time to produce all the pieces can be much less than the sum of the times necessary to make each one. This is what we’re counting on.

The door mold CAD has already been turned over to Lancair and material has been ordered. Now I’m working on detailing out the remaining parts. The nose ‘liner’ is a good example. Zukun delivered the basic shape:

To this I now need to add all the various features – interface to the front wing, openings for suspension and service access, rain gutters, location for windshield wiper and so on.

The wiper is a particularly interesting challenge because it needs to use available parts, provide reasonable coverage and fit with the frame, bodywork and all the other surrounding components. Below is an illustration of how I go about solving the problem. Solidworks is an awesome tool for this. Its parametric nature lets me tweak and adjust things on the fly. The software does all the calculations so I can make it a real-time interactive process which goes pretty quickly.

We’re definitely in crunch mode. It’s both stressful and exciting – pretty much like every day of the 6.5 years of the company’s existence has been 🙂 Bring it on.

One of the many sayings I’ve come up with over the years is that ‘Competence can be taught, Brilliance requires talent’. In my quest to live the dream I’ve been fortunate to achieve a level of brilliance at some things and to painfully earn some semblance of competence in many others. The awareness of this has made me particularly grateful for the occasions when I can associate with someone way better at something than I am. Too often I’m tempted to do the StarTrek ‘Damn it, Jim, I’m an engineer, not a …. [fill in a hundred blanks]’. But there are times when I meet someone that makes me say ‘Hey, you’re …. [exactly what I need] – GLAD to meet you!’. Some of those people have even chosen to participate in the adventures over the years, to this day.

Driving of course is an obvious example. As much as I’d like to think I’m a great driver (and naively I did, long time ago), the truth is that competence is the best I can hope for in that regard. Fortunately I’ve had the chance to work with several great drivers and opportunities keep expanding. Even so, knowing what it takes and how cars work (especially my cars), I can help others improve. Yes, I’ve been able to ‘teach’ way above my level. And that is gratifying in itself 🙂 Specifics, you ask? In due time.

Another example is just getting the word out about what we do. Telling the story. May seem simple on the surface, but like any endeavor, there are some who do it and there are some who do it well. At this test day we had Andy from MyLife@Speed taking some pictures. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves (and more on this later).

So, the test day. Our crew worked diligently to install the drysump on the demo D2 so that Jonathan can push it harder. A few other bits too which included completely replacing the front suspension. It was done with hours to spare and we didn’t even have to stay at the shop till 3am as is tradition. M drove the car 130 miles in frigid weather to the track (picking up Jonathan at the airport along the way) while I trailered Neil’s D1.

The goals for the day were many. One was to establish a baseline for D2 performance both on street tires (NT01) and ‘R’ compounds (BFG R1) before we step up to the Hoosiers. I have developed a reference of how ORP lap time might relate to Pikes Peak time and have been eager to see where we stand now. Other goals had to do with D1 development and testing as well as helping Neil get more familiar with the car. He was also trying out his new camera and it seems to work really well, even the sound is good.

Jonathan went out in the D2 first on street tires, then on BFGs. The latter seem to be exhibiting some odd interactions between sidewall stiffness (or lack thereof), springs/shocks and the chassis overall. Bottom line is that he had to back off on the straights. Even so, a best of 1:44 and change is encouraging for the stock car. There are several weaknesses at this pace – primary being tires (just not right for the setup), also the brakes could use an upgrade when going this fast. Gives us a path to follow.

Another thing we did is have Jonathan do a half-dozen laps in Neil’s D1 to set a reference. It’s always tempting to speculate on where someone might improve and how much faster they could potentially go. Quite another thing to put a number on it and show exactly where and how it can be done. Not in theory, not armchair driving, but here, now and with cold numbers. Our digital dash (based on CMS Lap Timer) makes it possible. We looked at the data right there in the pits and Neil was able to use it to take a full 2 seconds off his lap time the next time out, with a clear plan on what to work on. This will be a valuable tool for us going forward as we evaluate strategies and modifications.

Overall a great day. Much was learned which is what testing is all about. We have many tasks ahead. An example is improving the brakes – this requires new rotors, and designing and making new rotor hats. Which in turn requires designing fixtures, writing programs and all that fun stuff. Which is how I spent my weekend. The new brake hat is substantially larger than the stock one (compare in the first picture) and it pushes the envelope of our machine. This requires some creative fixturing.

One side of four hats is now done, the other side is next. Then we mount and test the parts. Next outing is the 26th.

In other news, the bodywork design is done and I’m just waiting for some renders to get done before I present it. In the meantime I’m working on figuring out how the plugs will be machined, the total quantity of tooling foam to order and so on. Look for another update soon.