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 Post subject: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 11:53 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:47 am
Posts: 274
Location: TX
Hey guys,

As requested by 1 out of the 2 Ryans, I'm posting pics and stories from my time with Formula Mazda.

My first trip to the track out in Cresson was to buy my Miata. The road course is about 20 minutes South of my hometown by two-lane highway, the type you usually find cutting across the rural areas in Texas. More than a farm road, but less than an Interstate, well maintained and very scenic. Motorsport Ranch, a self-proclaimed "performance car country club" definitely looked the part. It was built in 1996 around a winding 3.1 mile road course spread out over a series of hills and valleys and surrounded by a clubhouse, garages and various workshops.

It was at one of these shops that I met the seller of a scruffy looking 1990 Miata, originally purchased with racing intentions but back on the market to fund repairs to their GT3 Porsche Cup Car. That was the day I learned that the contents of these shops and storage units were far more interesting than what you'd find in the parking lots and paddock.

Fast-forward to January 2012. I had friends in town from Germany and Afghanistan, both into motorsports. We decided to tour the track and pay special attention to what wasn't out on display. We started with a shop that had a fairly simple-looking open wheel racer parked in the lobby, and I noticed the decals on the cowl: "FORMULA MAZDA." I had never heard of FM at the time, and I initially thought that the car must have been built around a 4-cylinder like the B6 or BP from the Miata. I was way off.

We were met at the door by the very friendly staff who we promptly bombarded with all manner of technical questions. She fielded all of them in turn as we walked through the entrance and into the garage area, a cavernous multi-bay warehouse made of exposed beams and corrugated steel paneling. Spread out in front of us was a grid of ten of the FM racers varying in color and setup. In the bay to our left was a car that had just come in from a session with the cowl removed - I spied the familiar barrel-shape of the 13B behind the driver compartment.


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We asked about the series, the season and the cars themselves for a while, and I knew I had to take a shot in the dark. I asked whether they were hiring for shop help, eager to spend as much time as possible in, under and around the cars. I wasn't expecting more than a blowoff answer since my knowledge of rotary engines started and ended with what I've read and researched and the blown engine and trans I picked up and disassembled to test fit my Miata (yeah, the same one) for a swap. To my surprise, they took my request seriously and told me to send them a short resume detailing my mechanical experience. Turns out since the series is run according to strict specifications, the engines are a sealed unit built/rebuilt by a single shop and shipped to the various teams as needed. No prior rotary experience required!

I submitted my information the following Monday and was asked to come back out to the shop that weekend for a practical examination of my ability. I guess I did okay, because I was issued a uniform (3x black Formula Mazda T-shirts) and back the following weekend to help with preparations for the first race of the season.

That's Part 1. I'll continue with the stories and pictures broken out by the races I attended during the 2012 season.

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Here seems like a good time to fill you in on the specs of the cars and describe the series in a little more detail:

SCCA Formula Mazda is a spec series for the former Star Mazda series cars. You may have caught the races on Speed back in the day, or seen footage on YouTube (still up) taken from the network coverage or the drivers' onboard cameras. This is a unique series in that it finds a compromise between car performance and intermediate to advanced driver technical skill with affordability. The fields can range from a few cars to a few dozen depending on the region and track. Sponsorship at this level is basically whatever space you can sell on your car, but some of the more serious competitors attract bigger names and money. If you do well here, there's potential to move into pro feeder series like Indy Lights.

The FM chassis was first built in Japan by Hayashi for a racing school in CA. They made their debut at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1984 and new chassis are still being manufactured out of the fab shop in the back garage right here in TX.

The cars are built around the 13B with a Weber 2bbl carb sitting on a Racing Beat manifold. These are tuned to run between 180-190hp on pump gas, even low octane. There's a computer system that monitors the criticals and feeds the info to the driver through a digital dash. Motec was the unit most of the cars were equipped with while I was there.

They're mated to a VW sourced 5-speed gearbox through an adapter plate and gears can be swapped relatively quickly and easily from the back of the box.

The chassis is tube frame in construction with sheetmetal bulkheads and belly pans. There are radiators mounted on each side of the chassis just aft of the driver compartment. The wheelbase is 95" and the racing weight is around 1350 lbs wet with driver.

The dampers are Konis and the springs are Eibach. The suspension is fully adjustable. The front and rear wings can be dialed in for each track. Wheels are BBS and 13x8 F 13x10 R. The tires are Goodyear Eagle slicks or rains.

http://www.formulamazda.com/
http://www.motorsportranch.com/

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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 6:47 pm 
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Joined: Sun Dec 27, 2009 8:03 pm
Posts: 325
Location: Tucsan AZ / Davis-Monthan AFB / St.Croix Virgin Islands
Oh yeh thx a lot man was waiting on this. :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:18 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:47 am
Posts: 274
Location: TX
Race weekends consist of practice, qualifying and race sessions split out across three days, Friday - Sunday. This means that Thursdays (and potentially Wednesdays) are spent loading, traveling and then setting up somewhere at the track. When I arrived at the shop Thursday afternoon, I had no idea what to expect. I packed only the bare necessities and a light jacket, because even though we'd be in Houston it WAS February.

The trailer was a big gooseneck custom-made for the previous owner's needs. There was a space for everything if you loaded it the way the boss wanted it done - which, i learned, is the only way to do things right at Formula Mazda. If there's one thing I took away from my time working for him, it was definitely his model for keeping an organized garage.

So a typical loadout for a race weekend consisted of:

- 2-3 customer cars + 1 Pro Formula Mazda car
- 1 demo car
- 1 golf cart
- 1 pit bike, a small 75cc (?) honda with no front brake lever
- spare noses with wings for each car
- spare set of wheels and tires for each car, and additional spares
- parts drawers containing spare misc. parts and fasteners
- storage space filled with large boxed spare parts
- 2 large rolling toolboxes
- 2 gearbox toolboxes
- jacks, stands, fluids, cleaning supplies and timing gear

Motorsport Ranch Houston, February 24-26

Loading is a meticulous process and generally takes a couple hours to complete. Everything kind of fits together like a puzzle, sometimes requiring loading, unloading and reloading to make it work and get it secured. After checking the last box on the list (literally), we roll out of Cresson and start the journey. From this point it's really not unlike any road trip you've ever been on with your family - the team is that close-knit.

Unload and set up always seemed to take place after dark, and MSR Houston was no exception. After the trailer was empty and the cars were arranged under the fold-out canopy and covered, we made our exit and prepared for the next day's practice sessions.

Prior to working for Formula Mazda, I had only been to a couple dirt tracks, kart tracks, drag strips and parking lot autocross/drift events. The feeling you get rolling through the gates of an actual track on race weekend for the first time is like mixing equal parts Jameson and black coffee and consuming about a gallon of it. My head was swimming, my hands were numb and involuntarily clenched into fists as I tried to take everything in.

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MSR Houston is a relatively small road course South of Houston proper. Originally built in conjunction with our home track in Cresson, the general lay of things was sort of familiar to me. Parked all around us were sports cars prepped for their respective classes , spec Miatas, Formula Vees and even a couple NASCAR looking jobs with wide slicks and mean sounding V8s. My head was on a swivel until our drivers arrived, then it was all business.

My duties pretty much consisted of prepping and inspecting the cars before they went out, pit crew and timing while they were on the track, then post-session checkout and making them ready to go back out. My driver was returning to the sport after a seven year hiatus so we were both using the practice sessions to get a feel for things. After warming up the tires and bedding the brakes, he ran a pretty competitive pace.

The weather held out for the most part during the qualifying and race sessions the following days, a cold wind and light drizzle didn't really bother anyone enough to necessitate switching to rain tires. I think the Spec Miata guys got the worst of it, we saw some paint being traded and some "interesting" lines leading to several offs in the last two turns before the finish. I think that's probably just the nature of the class though.

Much of my time there was spent head-down, learning the ropes and keeping my ears open. On the couple occasions I did get to take the pit bike on excursions around the parking area, I got to see some interesting cars, my favorite being this Improved Touring B class Celica:

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As I find more pics from this particular weekend I'll get them uploaded, but for now they're archived somewhere on my backup drive.

edit: the following pictures are courtesy of AllanMcCallum.com, the website of FM driver and SCCA National Champion in the class. I had the pleasure of working with him during the season and witnessing some of his impressive driving.

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Last edited by lolumad on Fri May 03, 2013 10:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 10:36 am 
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Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:47 am
Posts: 274
Location: TX
Part 3: Texas World Speedway March 9 - 11

I had a race under my belt. The experience was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. Less baptism-by-fire, more settling into a new home. In preparation for the trip, we spent the preceding weekends cleaning up the cars, fixing leaks and replacing a dented muffler from a little shunt that occurred in the treacherous last turn at MSR Houston.

With everything nut-and-bolted down to the smallest detail, we loaded and rolled out under gray skies and light drizzle. If you ever want to see Texas from behind the wheel, stick to the back roads. We made our way South towards College Station sticking to single-lane farm roads with 55mph speed limits, passing through a couple-dozen small towns with not a single Wal-Mart or strip mall to be seen. If you ever get the chance to experience this, you'll start to notice the pattern: long stretches of open road with nothing but pastures and trees, maybe a farmhouse set back a ways at the end of a long gravel driveway. A couple small houses off by themselves as you come to the outskirts of some sub-1000 population community (watch for speed traps - small municipalities depend on your mandatory contributions to stay alive), densifying and aging inversely to the posted speed limit as you approach "downtown." You'll more than likely stop at the single intersection the city was built around, take a second to admire the architecture and absorb the slow as molasses pace; time literally stops here. At least until your light changes.

We brought the weather with us, and by the time we merged on to State Highway 6, it was pissing rain and threatening to worsen overnight. Our truck passed through the gate and entered the long tunnel just after dusk, and the boss searched for a suitable spot to park and unload.

This might be a good time to describe the venue. Texas World Speedway was originally built in 1969 and over 2 miles in length. This puts it in the same class as Talladega and Daytona, although it has fallen out of use since the early 80s due to deterioration. It's a typical steep bank superspeedway and hosted NASCAR and Indy events in its heyday. It was repaved in 1991 and has been catering primarily to club racing events and the occasional unsanctioned test session or shakedown. The large signage on the banking is visible from just about anywhere in the complex. Standing in pit lane, it's not hard to imagine the paddock and stands packed and buzzing with activity, heat waves mixing with gas fumes and the rumble of 70s-era engines shaking everything that isn't bolted down.

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While the age lends a historical provenance and no small amount of nostalgic coolness to the track, it comes with its share of pitfalls. Literally. The paddock and parking for haulers is spread out across a field with paved areas in various states of disrepair - potholes and uneven surfaces make driving your racer to the track a treacherous proposition. The layout isn't what you'd consider optimal; while the pro teams may have been able to successfully navigate their tractor trailers to a parking spot efficiently and expertly, the club racing crowd is a little different. We spent some time in the mud off the edge of the crumbling asphalt, lining up to afford our drivers and crew with enough high ground to stay as dry as possible.

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By the time we'd managed to get situated, unloaded and set up it was well after dark and our time slot for the first practice session meant an early alarm and getting to the track before dawn. We bailed for the day soaked and cold and ready to race.

Practice days are always the busiest, sometimes packing several sessions back-to-back meaning turnaround time is critical. The car setups can change pretty drastically according to the driver input, and can happen mid-session in pit lane or in a 30-minute scramble back at the trailer. Our cars were lined up in front of the trailer, all prepped and ready for the first practice on a wet track. The following sessions were mostly uneventful, the clouds trying to make up their minds whether to mist or pour and the drivers doing their best to adjust to the track conditions.

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By the end of the day the cars and drivers were as prepared as they could be for the first qualifying session. We left the track in high spirits, attempting to dry out as much as possible before hitting up the nearest BBQ place. A few experienced mechanics joined our crew that morning, but I felt immediately accepted and spent the evening listening in reverence as stories were swapped between old friends. The rain picked up as we turned in for the night and conditions didn't look as though they were going to improve by morning.

Sure enough, we awoke to find the streets flooded, huge puddles filling the gutters and spilling over the curbs. It was the same story at the track. The entrance tunnel had about 6 inches of murky brown water collecting at its low point. The path from our trailer to the track was similarly swamped, and it was a possibility our drivers would be rowing their cars to the grid for Q1.

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After managing to wring out what we could, we sent the drivers to their starting positions and awaited the start of the session. The atmosphere was understandably different today, tactics and rivalries for the season had started to form and tension was building everywhere. This was a faster track than MSR Houston with a long banked section at the line that meant high speeds into the first turn as the cars lapped. Gearing had been changed to account for this pre-race, but there were plenty of tight corners in the infield with nothing but grass, mud and temporary lakes to stop a car in the event of an off.

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From pit lane, the crew can put eyes on their car from the entrance of the bank and into turn 1. Most of the view of the road course is blocked by the paddock, garages and trailers. The only way we can tell if there's an off or a wreck is by listening to our radios, watching the flaggers and the wreckers. It's a little nerve wracking to think about your driver being out there in the car you prepped, a million things come to mind: Did I re check the torque on the lugs? Will that wing come loose again? Will that bodywork hold up or tear off? Your responsibilities as a mechanic don't end after the car leaves the trailer, and the life of your driver literally rests in your hands.

The rain continued through qualifying and into the race session. Visibility was low, especially if you were behind another car. The rooster tails of spray kicked up in your face means a serious disadvantage when you're following, making passing a risky proposition. Someone had discovered a couple of inundated low spots on the track in one of the more technical sections that caused a couple offs and liberated one of our cars from its nose/front wing. The sudden and drastic change in the car's handling properties were enough to take it out of contention but our driver managed to finish the race anyway. We were dispatched in the pickup to collect our discarded bodywork, and seeing that it was damaged beyond repair we fitted the spare and finished our work for the day.

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Sunday saw a break in the weather and the track conditions changed to mostly dry with a few puddles to watch for. Better conditions did not necessarily translate to an easier race, and one driver managed to damage his spare nose and wing necessitating a swap to an unpainted cone and wing. This really wouldn't suffice, so for the race the mechanics stretched their creative muscles and came up with some fitting livery:

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Rains came off, slicks went on and grudges from the previous day were addressed as the drivers went to work.

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This picture shows the mixed field that usually comprises an SCCA grid. The Formula Mazdas are in front with a full-bodied CSR and Formula Atlantic and Pro Formula Mazda in the rear. The disparity in speed and handling capabilities between the classes often makes for interesting racing.

Post-race means cars are hands-off as the SCCA workers perform their inspection. When the winner is announced, the drivers who managed to take a spot on the podium celebrated in the typical fashion.

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But the day wasn't over for the crews. Just as we started the long process of cleaning and loading the cars and equipment, the sun broke through the clouds and gave us some warmth to work with. Exhausted but accomplished, we headed home.

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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 12:42 am 
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Location: New Zealand
Awesome, that was a great read! :tu: :tu: :tu: :tu:

great pics too!

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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 2:38 am 

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Location: Adelaide
:lol: great stories! I went straight to the tube for some clips of formula mazda action!


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 Post subject: Re: Formula Mazda Experience
PostPosted: Fri May 17, 2013 12:46 pm 
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Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:47 am
Posts: 274
Location: TX
Hallett Motor Racing Circuit April 13-15

Little-known fact: Oklahoma was founded as a colony of the Republic of Texas as a place to send the infirm, inbred and otherwise undesirable members of the population. Today it is home to the descendants of the original settlers, though the gene pool hasn't varied by any great amount since. Geographically beautiful and relatively sparsely populated, it remains relevant to non-residents primarily for its Native American reservations and casinos and its state universities (where Texans send their kids as punishment when they can't even get into Tech).

If you're a fan of racing, you might be aware of the hidden gem that is Hallett Motor Racing Circuit.

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Located East of Tulsa and not close to pretty much anything else with a population over 100, HMRC was constructed in 1976 by a "gentleman racer," and is notable mainly for hosting the final Can Am race in 1986. Its secluded location in the Osage Hills is probably a big part of the reason the track has been dogged with financial issues over the years, but whoever currently owns it seems to be doing everything right from what I could tell.

Being surrounded with a lot of nothing has its share of benefits too; driving onto the track feels like stepping back in time. To enter the parking area and paddock, you actually have to cross a part of the track, so once you're in there's this illusion that you're cut off from the outside world. We made the trip from Cresson split across two trucks. The Boss drove the shop truck and I rode with another mechanic hauling a "friend of the family's" car in his own enclosed trailer. As we entered the gates just before sundown Thursday evening, I got my first good look at the complex.

Stepping onto the tarmac, the first thing I noticed was the strange time warp effect that seemed to emanate from everything I laid eyes on. Although it was built in 1976, it felt much older. I'd have believed it had been hosting races since before WWII if you'd told me so. The next thing to cross my mind was the topography - apparently there's about 80ft of elevation change along the course. I can't speak to how it drives but the change seems more extreme as you cross the paddock from one end to the other.

Hallett winds across 1.8 miles and 10 turns and encloses a grid and pit area, a big block of an office building, a checkered podium, gravel paddock space and large prefab shops and even a pond. Though the surface had probably seen better days, I think that repaving it would only detract from the ambiance.

This would be a good time to mention this was my first outing with my "real" camera, a Nikon FM10 that I'd bought for a dollar several years ago and repaired. Fully manual, running on film that had been in not-so-dry storage in Mississippi through Hurricane Katrina and equipped only with the standard 35-70 lens, but durable and capable of making a satisfying mechanical click that my phone was not. Although it was missing a strap and lens cap, I kept it handy whenever I wasn't busy and put it to good use.

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The "pillbox," office/restaurant/souvenir shop/small airfield control tower. Some weather was hovering North of Tulsa making for a foreboding backdrop.

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A spec Miata team unloads and sets up shop under one of the covered paddock spaces. The perceived tilt was intentional to illustrate the uneven surface... maybe

Setup was a breeze (pun intended - try setting up a canopy in gusty pre-storm conditions), we scouted an area next to the larger prefab workshop and were unloaded before it got too late.

Maybe it was because I had a couple races under my belt, or maybe it was the molasses-slow way that time seemed to pass at this particular venue, but I seem to remember a lot more downtime at this event. After I was done triple-checking every nut and bolt on our cars and polishing the barrels of the BBS wheels to a mirror finish, I was afforded enough time to explore and enjoy the experience. Because of the layout of the course, we had excellent vantage points of two of the most entertaining turns standing in front of our trailer. Thanks to this fortunate set of circumstances I was able to snap some pictures and video.

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Here's a really cool 914 I found hiding between two long trailers.

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This was one of my favorite cars to watch, an E-Prod SA/FB RX7 with a killer widebody and a sound that probably depopulated the immediate area of its wildlife inhabitants for the weekend.

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An FC I liked

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Another SA/FB widebody racer.

Parked next to us on the paddock was a group of SRF (Spec Racer Fords) with their support staff. They rolled up in a box truck, stacked two high and 4 deep from what I could see. These guys looked like they would have fit right in when the track opened almost 40 years prior. Seasoned mechanics from the look of them, their demeanor was all business as they handled set-ups and adjustments and post-session inspections. I even saw a couple of them with cigarettes jutting from their resolute grimaces as they worked. Their boss stood tall and bald amidst the chaos, usually followed by his dog. I don't remember her name but she was a very friendly lab mix that had been hit by a car and written off until he rescued her. Several years later she's going strong and seemed to be an integral part of the team.

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The team across the paddock from us was running an E-Prod Miata that sounded as mean as it looked. But the draw for me was their pit bike/cart: a trike powered by a single-rotor from a 12a. It was mind-bogglingly insane to witness this thing running and in action. The driver informed me that throttle application was a gradual and careful process.

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Our races were intense, the field was made up of our FM class, a full-bodied CSR and a couple Formula Atlantics.

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It seemed like track was the primary competition for this race. We spent more time replacing parts here than we did at any other race in the season. Our drivers focused on their pace, setting blistering times during the qualifying and race sessions. One set the current track record for the class, 1:14.058 over the course of the race on Sunday.

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I'll end with a collection of the photos I took while I was there. I captured what I could from the fencing, but I was limited by my lens. Sorry about that...

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E-Prod Miatas and an Acura(?)

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Fairlady Roadster being chased by a Z4 in Gulf livery

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The 914 being drafted by a white Miata... the Miata came out of turn 1 hot, lost it and spun off.

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A bugeye Sprite followed by a Miata and an e36.

The following sequence shows a guy in a Lotus 7 clone (wasn't sure which, maybe Locost?) trying to take the line from the Miata in turn 9. The consensus on the track was that the 7 driver was an asshat behind the wheel and otherwise. Basically, he was outside entering turn 9 and his line intersected the Miatas. The Miata had more mass, so the 7 slapped off his driver side, left the track and spun a few times before bogging down in the mud.

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Here's the pump located on the paddock:

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And some videos I took:

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v732/ ... 959de1.mp4

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v732/ ... f3cf75.mp4

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v732/ ... d1c70a.mp4

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