All posts by atomicalex

I found this oldie when replying to a BRZ thread. Original date was 15FEB2006.

I got the email from Volkswagen last evening: I would finally find out what my fast was about. I clicked in anticipation, who knows, maybe my fast would be special, maybe I would actually get a fast. Whatever, I was off for the e-ride.

My fast looked suspiciously similar to the fast I had already seen in the forums of TCL, but whatever. It was cute, if a little bit pudgy. Certainly more pudgy than the fast I have out in my garage, although it is certainly faster than the fast in my garage. That fast is not very fast, although it is very noisy and seems to think it can talk to me. I had the sneaking suspicion that my fast looked just like everyone else’s fast. Bummer.

I worked my way through the car configurator to see how fast I was going to go. I have to admit, the configurator was nicely done. Keeping tabs on the cost, advising when an option was part of a package, showing the parts on the vehicle, and good informational blurbs about each option. Very well done. I was particularly interested in the “joy ride” selection. I knew I was off for an e-ride, but an e-joyride? What the hell is that? I clicked. A clipped, European female voice advised me that the joyride would be handled by an expert driver on a closed course. It was right there that I went wrong. My wrongness would become readily apparent in mere moments.

At the words “expert driver on closed course” I made a critical error. My mind drifted. I let myself imagine who I would want my “expert driver” to be. I drifted further, would he be better looking than Schumi? More confident than Rubens? Would he be the racing equivalent of Fabio? I admit it – the sexy female voice told me I would get an expert driver. No crime in hoping for a good looking one. If I’m going to take a fantasy e-joyride with a guy, I want it to be nice, and good looks under the helmet will be a definite plus.

Then Helga popped up.

Uh, ok.

A porn star in a nurse’s uniform with a Cinnabon on her head is now on my screen. What does this have to do with joyriding? I have heels like that, I sure as hell don’t wear them when I’m racing. I don’t generally associate wearing them with driving at all. Little problem with ankle extension on the clutch foot, you see.

I want Hans, not Helga. And now she’s a cloying kitten, teasing the ******* in the rice rocket in the next lane over. This is embarrassing. Car chicks do not behave like that. We wear our clothes when we take your pink slip, thank you.

It would not be possible to abuse Mitsubishi’s j-cool concept more heavily than the creative people did in this bit. Stereotype takes on new meaning after seeing that car. Yellow may be fast, and stickers may mean horsepower, but daaaaaayyy-um! That thing had it all! And the wigger that was driving it? Please! The Icy-Hot Stunnas could not have done a better job of creating that train wreck. Did I see diamonds on those teeth? Holy crap. If I wasn’t laughing out loud at Helga, I’m laughing out loud at this fool.

So I watch while Helga drops the flags. The cars launch. Wait a minute, now she’s back in the car? Um, story board foul-up. It’s a bit hard to get around a launching vehicle and into the passenger seat if you are the starter. Wait, it’s supposed to be a fantasy e-joyride. I suppose anything can happen. It’s also a straight quarter, not exactly what I would do with a GTI – it’s supposed to be a You-Ro-Pee-N car with that fancy handling, right? What kind of handling is required for a straight quarter mile? More racing stereotypes leave me feeling cold.

With the rice rocket slain, Helga drops me off at the starting line and speeds off with those leg-breaking heels. I guess I’m supposed to be in some state of arousal at this point, but I am not. I am laughing. If humor was the point, I’m getting it. I am emailing this silly bit of teenage-boy marketing to my car-girlfriends so they can laugh at it, too. And they will. They will laugh and email it to their car-girlfriends, and so on. We will tell Helga jokes. Poor Helga. And we will snicker about this gorgeous GTI for a long time. We will probably not buy so many of them, because Volkswagen has told us where we stand in relation to it. We don’t.

You see, we’re not the target market. We’re girls.

TDIGate left behind a huge amount of work, noteably for the emmissions teams at the OEMs. These poor souls are tasked with tracking down cars that have been real-world driven for at least 30K miles, are unmodified, and preferably not raced, and then testing them to make sure no one was lying to the feds. Yikes. I got the letter in the mail detailing the current Subaru study of WRXs and BRZs and decided that as a former owner of not one, but two EPA non-compliant cars, I’d take one for the collective 86 team and see if my little blueberry could be of use. The offer included a late model loaner and a check for $350, so why not at least try?

In the case of Subaru’s BRZ and the WRX, finding suitable cars is a little more difficult than say, the case of the Chevy Sonic. When I dropped off my BRZ, the testing group was still trying to track down two unmodified and unraced WRXs, and were well outside of the usual hunting grounds of Metro Detroit in their search. I sneaked in with the requisite 30K and some creative answers to the phone screen which included questions such as:

Have you used the car to plow snow? No.
Have you towed with the car? No.
Have you street raced the car? If I did, I’m not saying anything.
Is the car modified (exhaust, tune, etc)? No. I promised not until the warranty expired.
Is the OEM cluster intact and unmodified? Yes.
Any new glass, paintwork, or other damage repaired in the last 90 days? No, but this is impressively crappy paint, even for three-wet.
Is the car equipped with the OEM tyres and wheels? Not at the moment, but it will be when I drop it off for you.

I drove my BRZ out to Boshart Auto Testing Services in Ann Arbor on a monday morning and met with their intake team. There was a more formal questionnaire that included much more detailed questions about racing which caused me some concern. I asked the intake tech about that, mentioning that I do HPDE and yes there are track stickers all over the car. He smiled and said “oh, skills improvement days! That is excellent! More people should do those.” I grinned and said, yup, lots of skills improvement days! He drives a boosted FiST and that is kind of cool in and of itself. He was amused that I was dragging a torque wrench and I explained I’d just put the stock wheels and tyres back on the night before and wanted to check after the drive out. No sense losing a wheel, right? We chatted about tyres (I am not happy or unhappy with the Falkens) and the process of transitioning from FF to FR. He noted that FF NA to FFT was a big deal for him – I was quite curious about that as the B5 is FFT and is actually quite a handful to drive if you are not ready for all of the boost. We laughed together about your car arriving in the next ZIP code before you do.

The tech handed over the keys to my loaner, and we also groaned about the automatic transmission. Really, Subaru. It’s a WRX and BRZ study. The two cars with the highest take rates of manual transmissions in the entire US. At least I avoided the dreaded CVT.

So, what exactly is EPA recert? EPA recert is a process where the OEM runs the target cars through the standard EPA testing protocols to see if there are any functional issues with the federally mandated emissions controls. It’s not that big of a deal, really. The cars are transferred to the OEM with chain of custody intact and strapped to the dyno. If parts have failed or are behaving uniquely, they will generally be taken for examination and replaced with new ones that, in theory, work properly. Typically, this would be the cat or possibly the ECU. Or who knows what, really. I would be ok woth it if they left the cat stuffing out… for science, of course. Once they are done, the car is washed, filled up, and returned to the owner with a list of any parts taken and the token check. Hopefully mine comes home with a report – I stuffed a folded Post-It note into the OBDII port requesting copies of any power pulls, pretty please.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’m tooling around in a white automatic Legacy sedan rocking a manufacturer license plate. It’s nice, I guess? Actually, it’s a great example of a solid family sedan. It’s roomy, has good road presence, and it’s quiet. Coming from the BRZ, it’s also heavy AF and huge. I can feel the AWD working, which is weird and contributes to the ponderous driving dynamics. Overall grip is very good, and driving through a terribly heavy rainstorm was completely drama-free. I would not expect the same from the BRZ, although the BRZ would likely have been fun. And sideways. The halogen headlights are woefully inadequate, but coming from HIDs and LEDs, everything else is inadequate. There is no good reason for any OEM to continue with halogens. The MMI features Starlink and the CarPlay integration is excellent. Fuel tank is generous at 14 gallons, good for 500 miles to the tank driving moderately aggressively.

Would I buy a Legacy? Heck no. It’s completely outside of my Rspec. However, I think I would recommend one. It’s a very solid car and I do like the interior, which is dialed back and reserved.

I also consider myself lucky. I got a nice Subie. My coworker coughed up his Stelvio and got a Jeep for a loaner. I get that I wasn’t going to get a BRZ, but shouldn’t he have at least gotten an Alfa something or other? Really, FCA…

The BRZ has an accelerometer in the stock instrument cluster. It is only visible when the car is at a stop. This is the result of my day at GingerMan.

Not bad? Not sure if it goes higher than 1.0G yet. Have to keep working on that.

Monday was 100% up.

Headed out to GingerMan for a CGI track day. Paid an extra $50 for an instructor and requested a RWD person. Got a guy with a 600hp Corvette. We did the standard Novice run at my request, minus the classroom. 

Holy ****. I have CAR. 

The instructor (Mark) helped me find a functional line and had me pushing into oversteer in two useful locations on the track. The line is so incredibly different. We spent the whole day talking about the differences and why I was defaulting to certain (FF) behaviours. He actually drove the car for the first couple of laps and said that it is far better than he had imagined and continued to comment on how awesome it is the whole day. That was kind of cool. He said it was a big treat for him to have an experienced driver who knew all the basics and he could just focus on getting me around the track faster. That was really cool to hear.

His evaluation was – my inputs are great, super smooth, and very controlled, and my experience was clear. Once I had a new line down, I was holding it and driving very consistently. He said he could see me moving around a little to try things out. We are both DR people (there is one section of GM that can be run DA or DR) and he said that my path through there was really sweet and that basically from inside of 3 to through 11 I was kicking ass and only going to get faster. I still need to polish 1 and 2 and the entrance to 3. He said the biggest deal of all was that I was pushing into oversteer and not freaking out. I was not oversteering that much, but I guess it was enough to count. I was just countersteering it and riding it out for fun. Because of the placement of the line he recommended, I had plenty of track to use for that. So no stress. 

I ran my last session solo and railed it. 

Met a bunch of 86 people (five cars started, one lost their engine , one runs Midwest 86 Cup) and learned about AIM Solo telemetry. Might need one of those. 

So tons of positive feedback about my driving and met new people and had a blast and started to actually DRIVE my little blueberry.

So. One last note on the PP Brembos. I have way more brakes than I realized. Like OMGHolyCowWTFBBQ brakes. Like Last Stick Brakes. Hmmm. That would be a good name for a friction supplier.

Still catching up on blogging here….

Another awesome day at Waterford Hills. 

Spent time continuing to work on evicting FWD habits. Spent lots of time on not braking (again). Getting speeds up and working on my own brain. 

The Azenis are very good, but I could feel the left front rolling up a bit. I was down to 20psi (cold) in that corner with about 25 RF and 35 in the rear. WHRRI eats up front lefts on all cars. I could have probably dropped the LF even further. The tyre is visibly heat cycled hard – getting a bit furry. Lots of rolls of rubber around the entire circumference of the one solid band of tread. I could feel the rolls building up in certain corners. That’s a super new experience and I love how communicative the car is about what is going on in various places. It was a really hot day (temps 90+°F) and I could feel a bit of greasy trying to come in at the ends of the sessions. But just a tiny bit, not enough to worry about. These will be fine for Gingerman when I head out there next month. I’ll be at the CGI day and have spent the extra cash to get an instructor for the day, even though I got booted from novice. 

One thing I’m starting to understand is that there are no truly bad tyres for this car. There are sticky tyres and not-sticky tyres, but all of them can be driven with the right attitude. I had the Michelins back on briefly trying to track down a noise (Brembo’s crappy PWI!), and found that since my first good day at WHRRI, the lack of grip was far less annoying. I felt a lot more in control of the car whether I had traction or not and was way less bothered by the tendency of the tyres to give up. So basically the driver is the fail, not the tyres. 

ie – the driver needs more training. 

 Must do more track days! Oh, darn. 

Then went home and spent the better part of 30 hours working on my son’s #RustyMR2. Will wrap that up after work today.

I hit Waterford Hills back in June. Here are some notes.

[URL=””]Waterford Hills[/URL] was excellent. Ran with the Trackalicious group, well-run day, only one incident involving a new Camaro that was a total loss. Sad as the driver was improving. Waterford Hills is a small track, barely more than a big shifter kart track. It is tight and fun. Very zoom-zoom. I think about 1.6 miles. Elevation change, a wall, some narrow runoffs, and a swamp. And like all of Michigan, turtles. They repaved it for this season and the surface is AMAZING. Considering that the old surface was half asphalt and half concrete, I am estimating that about 20% of my bandwidth was freed up due to no longer having to think about pavement transitions. The company that does Watkins Glen did the work and it was soooo worth it. Track went from thank goodness it’s close to home because that is the only redeeming factor to OMG, need more WHRRI days!!

I spent two sessions sorting out my new line, which was interesting as I was starting to carry some speed. Third session was devoted to the turn at the end of the back straight, which still requires work and braking practice. Fourth session was all about no longer braking for every little wobble in the track. That works great for FWD, but…. So by the end of the fourth I was carrying a lot more speed around the track, which was really fun. I think on my first lap, I probably pulled about 50 in Big Bend, by the end of the day, I was holding 65+ through it. That is a lot of improvement. I also was able to stop braking on the uphill section. This is so new to me and so much fun to be in the learning curve again. Last session, I just goofed off and stayed on my line and relaxed.

The Azenis RT615Ks performed well. They are now making an incredible racket. I thought I was losing a wheel bearing. Nope, tars. My LF was taking all of the load and the temps (hand check) were letting me know that. I did get a cheapo IR gun off amazon for $15 for next time. Emissivity be damned, it will be close enough for me.

The Schroth Rallye3 worked really well, in fact, better than I expected. I conned another driver into pulling my hip tabs for me, which made all the difference.

So, a great day and I am super happy with the car and finally feel like I am getting somewhere with it.

I bought a Cricut Maker. I now have magnet numbers. I recreated the font from the car numbers in MF Ghost.

Magnet numbers!

Magnet numbers how-to.

You will need a Cricut Maker (the $400 one), magnet vinyl (available from Michael’s and/or Amazon), software that can output .jpgs or .pngs, and the Cricut app. You can add colored vinyl to laminate with for an extra challenge.

1. Prepare the magnet vinyl by magnetting it to your washing machine, fridge, steel door, or any other flat surface. It comes in rolls and needs to be flat to go through the Cricut nicely. Leave it there for two days. If you are laminating vinyl on, then unroll the vinyl and hang that up to flatten, too.

2. Design your numbers. Use your graphics software or whatever. Output a graphics file that the Cricut app can read (.jpg seems to work better than .png).

3. If you are so inclined and really want hot pink numbers, laminate the colored vinyl to the magnet vinyl. This is not easy and it took me to the third go before I could make it look decent without a million bubbles. Don’t hate yourself. 

4. Load up the Cricut app and set your design. I found that using the whole 12×24 sheet of magnet vinyl on the 12×24 grip pad worked better, but then you have to drop the $$ on the big pad. 

5. Stick the magnet vinyl to the grip pad. Make sure it is exactly in the lines because the positioning rollers will push it around if you are running the full 12″ width sheet. This will cause cuts within 0.5″ of the edges to not be just so. 

6. Set the material to 0.5mm magnet sheet. 0.6mm also works, but tends to cut through and into the grip pad. DAMHIK. 

7. Cut your numbers. At 0.5mm it will run the pattern twice. This is normal. I think it does three times for 0.6mm.

8. Put your numbers on your car and look awesome at the track/autocross. 

I have been running this material for several track days now, and have left them on by accident (lol) for driving to work (lots of traffic and highway). It stays on well and doesn’t move around. Do make sure your car is very clean before sticking the numbers on as if there is dust, it will get into the paint.

There are probably a hundred different ways to learn Japanese. Then, there is my way. But you saw that coming.

The most important part of a learning experience is determining your goal. Right up front, my goal with this has been to be able to read work PowerPoints. Not very lofty on the surface, but actually pretty complicated. I read and speak German quite well, reading novels, newspapers, and yes, work PowerPoints. With a rehearsal or two, I can actually present in German. Getting to that level in Japanese may not happen, but I am going to try.

With the clear goal of reading in mind, the challenge of learning kanji, the graphemes that make up Chinese and Japanese text, is at the forefront. My exercise is not about learning Japanese so much as learning to read it and that means kanji is more critical than anything else. Kanji is a unique writing system that can be learned without learning any Japanese whatsoever, actually. In fact, pretty much all of my Shanghai-dialect Chinese consists of reading kanji and not having any idea how to say them. I am functionally voiceless in China. I do not want that to happen with Japanese. Research into kanji tools led me to a strange blog named Tofugu, and their kanji learning tool WaniKani.

WaniKani is a spaced repetition tool that uses the radical system for teaching kanji. It is focused on the top 2000 characters and the vocabulary that use them. It does not teach Japanese, rather, it teaches a way to read Japanese and learn to interact with the kanji writing system. So far, I’m on level 19 of 60, and ready to go from Painful to Death. The language of the tool is very cute and humorous, but so far it is working for me.

Kanji is also giving me a new way to express myself, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing some here. 私は漢字は好きです。My imperfect grammar will likely be painful, but whatever. It’s a whole new way to express my self, and that is kind of pretty baller all on its own.