Our Semi-Serious Autocrossing Debut Preview

by Alan J. Claffie

We're about to embark on semi-serious autocrossing, something that we've been talking about doing since we picked up that first Miata a year and a half ago.

Why it's taken a year and a half to go from the "talking about" stage to the "actually doing" stage is kind of a mystery, although we will admit that if we weren't playing wanna-be race car drivers this weekend, we'd be far away watching minor-league NASCAR at Watkins Glen. And while we have nothing against the Glen - the track's media guy emailed me earlier this week asking if we were coming, first time that's happened that I can recall - we're expecting that motorsports from a participant's perspective is going to be a lot more entertaining than from a spectator's perspective, regardless of how close to the "inside" we managed to get compared to other spectators.

Our competitive debut in organized motorsports will come on Sunday. We've signed up to run with a group called Autocrossers, Inc. which I think is somehow affiliated with SCCA, at least affiliated enough to require at least a weekend-long SCCA membership to participate. We'll be running in one of the parking lots at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins, a 25-minute ride from home.

Since AI is somehow SCCA-related, it uses that club's rulebook for determining how a car is classed, and that's something I didn't really want to get mixed up with. I'd always thought that I'd run with another area club that doesn't sweat make and model and how a particular car is modified, but instead running everyone in one big group and determining who's better than whom with a complicated indexing system. But that group has been chock full of participation, to the point that it hasn't been allowing newbies to join up basically since we got our first Miata.

SCCA's classification system is complicated. It doesn't take much to get a car modified out of the "Stock" classes - I've done that to both my cars with aftermarket springs and Kate's Mazdaspeed MX-5 is pushed out because it has a Flyin' Miata intercooler upgrade. This would put us in C Street Prepared (as opposed to C Stock) and BSP respectively. But the '90 is bounced into some uber-serious class with its airbag removed, and it, like the '99, has Flyin' Miata frame rail reinforcements.

For our first event, we'll take the '99, call it a CSP car and hope nobody notices the frame rails. I made that last part a little easier by spraying them flat black the other day. We're not really competing against the other CSP cars in the first place since we're going to be running in a separate Novice class against other newbies. And we're not really going to be competitive against the other CSP cars, frame rails notwithstanding, since we haven't bitten the bullet and bought the super sticky tires that everyone else has.

We did buy tires, though. Those familiar with our autocross exploits at Myrtle Beach and Texas are, no doubt, also familiar with my whines about Kuhmo AST tires and their sloppiness when pushed. I'm not ready to throw them out, although the rears are starting to show wear, so I took a spare set of 14x6 Miata "daisies" and got a cheap set of Falken Azenis to put on those. As I write this, the tires are mounted on the wheels but they're not on the car. Hopefully in the next day or so we'll get decent weather and we can ge them on and take them for a ride to knock the new off them before Sunday.

With these Falkens we still won't be competitive in CSP and everyone else's R compound near-race tires, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is a street tire class that they'd work better in. but the only wrinkle is that the SCCA class, STS, is not open to '99 and newer Miatas. On the plus side, Autocrossers Inc. has their own class, STX2, that runs newer Miatas on street tires. Too bad the car's not legal for that class with those darn frame rails.

This could be addressed fairly easily. The rails are bolted on, and while it's not that great a job to think about, they can come off in an hour's time. But it's easier to leave them on and assume nobody will protest them (being fairly uncompetitive will help here) than mess with the car. We have to remember that autocross is a ten times a year thing, but finding fun roads can happen any day I want. The frame rails do a great job stiffening up the car, so they'll stay.

Hopefully we'll come back to this space soon after Sunday reporting a fun time if not on-track success. We're running dear old dad's livery, #93 fielded by Parsimonious Racing, so we want to do at least passably well to not completely ruin any goodwill that comes with that number and team.

More later.

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