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Introducing the Garmin Catalyst Performance Driving Optimizer

From the first time we read Ross Bentley’s summary about the Garmin Catalyst, we knew we had to add it to our product catalog. So we’re proud to announce that GeorgeCo Motorsports is now an authorized Garmin Dealer. We’ve gotten our first few units in stock and as soon as we update the inventory database, they’re gone.

So let’s back up. What’s the Garmin Catalyst and why get so excited about a tablet computer? There are many lap timers and data acquisition systems out on the market, some better than the others. Some (most) are complicated to use, and require off-track analysis. The Garmin Catalyst takes a different approach, offering real-time feedback to improve your driving. It’s not about RPMs, brake pedal pressure, or throttle position. It’s about pace and form and line.

The Catalyst isn’t for every HPDE driver. A beginning student is going to be too inconsistent lap-to-lap and would find the feedback “carry more speed” is probably dangerous. And on the other extreme, the experienced racer looking for that final tenth isn’t likely to find it here either. (My go-to coaching advice: it’s your pedal release….) But the advanced intermediate to experienced advanced HPDE driver who knows there’s .5 to 2 seconds a lap to still be gained — that’s the target. You get the benefit of an experienced AI coach riding in the right seat, without the additional weight penalty of carrying a passenger. This could be a great tool for an enduro team to use in practice, especially if there’s a huge range of skills among the drivers that have teamed up for the race.

Too many lap timers give you an “optimum” lap time by pasting together your best times through every corner on a track. But that’s not how the real world works. Fast out of one corner often means a compromise into the next. The Catalyst gives you realistic track segments, and offers not only advice on line, speed, turn in, apex and exit, but can also show you what that line looks like. You can also choose how much coaching feedback you want to receive as you’re driving. Turn off the audio coaching and use it as a more traditional lap timer and review your session back in the paddock. Turn on basic coaching for feedback as you drive, or enable the advanced coaching feedback to fine tune your line.

Read about the details or purchase over on our product page. Look for upcoming posts as we unbox and install it. Garmin offers several mounting options and more accessories are coming out in the coming weeks.

Corner Weight & Cross Weight

One of the additional benefits of an adjustable suspension, besides being able to dial-in ride-height and rebound, is the ability to corner weight the car. “Corner weight” refers to the static weight at each of the four wheels.  50-50 front to rear weight distribution is ideal to maximize handling on most road cars, but a distant pipe-dream for MINI owners. “Cross-weight” compares the lateral total (Rear Left + Front Right) to the total weight. If that percentage is over 50%, that’s called “wedge” in NASCAR terms. (Reverse wedge if under 50%). Corner-weight can be changed by adding ballast if necessary to make a weight minimum, or making, adjustments to spring perches and sway-bar pre-tension in an attempt to equalize the weight at each wheel. But more importantly, what matters for handling is near 50% cross-weight in a FWD car.

Take my car as an example: I have an R53 with a rollbar, AC delete, race seats, and a gutted interior. With driver and a full tank of gas, my car weighs 2,685 pounds. 61.8% of that weight is in the front; 38.2% is in the rear. That is slightly better than stock which had a weight of 2,853 (with driver) and 62.7/37.3 weight distribution.

The first time we attempted to corner-weight my car, I only had an adjustable suspension to work with. I didn’t have adjustable drop-links on the swaybars. That resulted in a cross-weight of 52.4%. That isn’t terrible, but still helped to contribute to under-steer in left turns due to wedge. We installed Alta adjustable drop-links on both swaybars, and without adding any ballast, tried again. The results are below:

Each corner is within 5 lbs. of the target weight. Cross-weight is 50%. The car now seems very neutral in left or right corners, which for MINI means equal understeer in both directions, as opposed to excessive understeer when turning left. Result.

Read more about cross-weight at GRM. If you want someone to do the math for you, see this  corner balance calculator.

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

It has been a little over a month since this year’s Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona. Rather than recap the racing action, I thought I’d reflect on the event. It was my first time at a 24 hour race and my first time at the Daytona International Speedway. Neither was what I expected.

The speedway is both larger and smaller than you expect.  Imagine a super-sized baseball stadium, with all of the modern amenities you’ve come to expect over the last 20 years. Cut that stadium in the middle of center field and unwind it so it’s just one long straight, and bend it slightly around the start-finish line.  I guess you would describe it as a flat C or “(“. Add seating for 100,000+ people, but only fill it with 5,000. Take another 40-50,000 people and scatter them throughout the infield. That’s the Rolex 24 crowd.

You can move freely from Grandstands to Infield, but allow 20-30 minutes for the trip as you have to exit the Grandstands and take a trolly (or walk) through the tunnel to get there. Consider driving and parking in your favorite care corral (BMW, Porsche, or Corvette) or signing up for a luxury package from Audi to enhance your experience.  Grassroots Motorsports offers some excellent packages (we had the Stadium Ticket Package), and their Sunday morning breakfast may be the best bargain going.

The hardest thing is figuring out where you want to be.  From high in the Grandstands you can see the entire track above turn 1. With an optional garage pass you can walk among the cars and mechanics in the garages. Your best close up views are in the infield (turns 3, 4, 5). RVs and campfires fill the infield.  Most of the car clubs have tents with refreshments in the infield that provide a respite from the weather.  You can’t really escape the noise, but you don’t want to either.

You do want to think about your strategy for the 24 hour period. The race starts in the afternoon and runs about 4 hours before it starts to get dark. The transition into sunset provides some of the best action. We stayed into the early evening and then came back early morning. We were staying over an hour away from the track and would stay closer next time.  This year was interesting for the lack of extended caution periods or weather delays, but because IMSA got the balance of performance wrong, also didn’t have very exciting racing. It did set a record for most laps and longest distance run.

It is interesting to note that the previous track record from 1970 of 724 laps (2,758 miles) on the old road course (without the bus-stop) by a Porsche 917 in the top class was beaten by the Ford GTs in the GTLM class (2,787 miles). The 6th place Porsche RSRs,  missed that record by only 3 miles. This is truly the golden age of sports car racing.

(See this link on Flickr for my photo gallery.)

Go Big or Go Home. Wilwood BBK for MINI.

Last winter at the SCCA Motorsports Expo in Charlotte, I was speaking with a Wilwood brake engineer about my struggle managing temperature gain with MINI Gen 1 JCW brakes.  I told him I use the car mostly for track instruction and the instructor runs are generally 25-30 minutes in duration, though some weekends I might get 40-50 minute runs on Fridays. I have some brake ducting to the wheel well and fairly open 10 spoke 17 inch rims.  He had a couple of interesting recommendations including the use of the radial mounted 4 piston caliper and standard (not drilled/slotted) 12.19 inch rotor.  This setup for MINI, with the Caliper in Black, brake lines, and up-rated BP-20 pads runs about $1,000.

Wilwood for MINIInstallation was very straight-forward following the instructions included with the kit.  You do have to experiment with the included shims to get the right spacing, but that was not too complicated.  My car required four shims to get the caliper centered on the disc and one shim to get the pad to the outside edge of the disc without binding. The only real challenges were in removing the old dust shields (which are not reused) and getting the flexline to fit. The flexline passes through a bracket on the chassis and is held in place with clips.  I had to open the hole in the bracket just a bit to get it to fit, but a couple of hits with the Dremel took care of it. (See, yet another project requiring the use of the Dremel.)

I’m using the BP-20 compound pad which is supposed to be excellent for track-oriented street cars.  I’m heading to Summit Point on Friday and will see how it performs.

Sparco Evo Seats in a MINI

You may remember this video from my last track weekend.

Well, we decided it was finally time to put some competition seats in the GeorgeCo MINI. Since this was our first time trying to put this combination of parts together, we thought we’d document the progress to save you some of our headaches. Safety is a very personal thing: We aren’t recommending a course of action for you, just documenting our thought process so you can decide for yourself.
If you’re like most track junkies, your disease will follow the same five-stage progression: You take your street car to the track. You get better brakes and tires. You start to trackify your car. At some point, you cross a line and it becomes a track-car you can drive on the street. Then it becomes a dedicated track-car and you have to trailer it to the track. We’re at stage 4 with this car. Still street legal and we don’t want to completely gut the interior so we want to keep the front airbags and 3-point belts for the street, yet have fixed-back seats and six-point harnesses for the track (yes, and a HANS.) So this stage presents a couple of challenges with the MINI: How to anchor the 3-point belt? And how best to position the seat?

MINI has a pre-tensioner built into the belt receptacle. In the event of an impact, the belt tightens around the pelvic bone, pulling any slack out before your upper torso flies forward into the belt. This helps you not submarine under the belt. The slight twist in your upper torso with only one shoulder restrained also helps keeps your hips planted in the seat. The mounting point for the pre-tensioner is built into the stock MINI seat, not the slider, so if you want to reuse the slider, you have to find another way to anchor the belt. We chose to use the Sparco MINI Seat Base and a standard sized Sparco Evo Seat. Eventually we want the seat on a slider, but for now, it allows us to finish the installation and see how everything else fits. GeorgeCo is not too tall (5’8″) and has pretty short legs. Positioning the seat as far forward as possible without the slider is actually about the ideal position (and since the sliders hadn’t yet arrived) we went ahead and mounted the driver’s seat in a fixed position to see what that’s like to live with for a while. By sliding the seat as far to the center as possible, we were able to get the door to close without removing the door card. It does take some getting used to in order to get out of the car without looking like a complete idiot. The passenger seat was a whole other kettle of fish.

On the passenger side, we went with the larger EVO II US seat. The “US” means “large”, but the differences aren’t really that great. It just isn’t tapered to the waist so there’s may an extra inch to an inch and a half of hip-room. The shoulder width is the same and that’s the challenge: getting the seat low enough to get helmet clearance, but not have the shoulder wing contact the door-card with the door closed. The first challenge was just getting the base to line up. Not surprising, but the center tunnel is not symmetrical. There was enough room to clear the bolt for the pre-tensioner on the driver’s side, but not on the passenger side. We ended up going to a very slim bolt head design and persuaded the mounting point (ie, hammered) to move to the right just enough to get it to clear. When you use a slide with side mounted seats, there are three components to the seating support system: the side mounts (sort of “L” shaped brackets”; the slider (“U” shaped); and the base. Seat and all three components from the same manufacturer so you’d think everything would line up out of the box. But you would be wrong. Out of the box, the slider sets the rails about 13.5 inches apart. When the brackets are attached to the seats, the mounting point to the sliders are about 14.5 inches apart. So if you have four components they can go together, what, 24 different ways? The piece that ties the sliders together to form the “U” is made of very soft metal. It finally occurred to us to just bend it and make the “U” wider. Problem solved (2 hours later…) So the passenger seat is in, on a functional slider, and in the same reclining position as the driver’s seat, but it sits about 3/4 of an inch taller because of the slider. The shoulder wings (barely) clear the door card even when fully slid back.

Here’s the passenger side with the stock seat removed.
Seat removedThe first thing to notice (besides that we vacuumed the carpet) are the connectors. There are 5 of them, but really only two that matter. The five are for the side airbag; seat occupancy weight sensor; seat belt; pre-tensioner; and seat heater. Seat heater won’t be reinstalled on this side (but we are doing it on the driver side because we’re getting old). The seat belt and pre-tensioner will be reinstalled with the new seat base. The airbag we can bypass with a 3.9 Ohm resistor (MINI used to sell the part to do this.) So it’s the weight sensor that we have to worry about. (This is the part that recently was the subject of a recall on 2005-2006 MINIs.) It’s a non-servicable part that’s buried deep within the seat cushion, but without it you’ll get a SRS fault. seat weight sensor Since this one wasn’t working anyway, we decided to rip it out of the seat (it failed in the “on” position so the passenger airbag is always on, just like in the 2002-2004 cars so no worries there.) We just put it between the shell and the padding in the new seat, plugged it back into the wiring harness and good-to-go, no SRS fault. We test fitted the brackets and sliders before we figure out to bend the connecting bar as mentioned above. Brackets and Sliders We’re still not sure what’s the best (least worst?) order to install the components, but in the end we ended up putting the base and the slider in the car, then attaching the brackets to the seat before attaching the brackets to the sliders. Here you can see how tight it is between the pre-tensioner and the center tunnel. close fit
In the end, it turned out pretty well. We need to see if the seats are low enough with helmets and we still need to install the 6 point harnesses, but it looks promising. The 3 point belt is not ideal. The outside goes through the seat slot so it sits very low on the hip. The inside goes over the seat edge. But since the hip bone is still above the top edge of the seat it will still function correctly, just crush the seat edge in the event of a crash. But that will be the least of our worries at that point.
Sparco Seats Installed

Update: We’ve added 6-point harnesses to the car since this blog entry. We’re still working on the DIY guide, but here’s a couple of key considerations. If you’re going to mount the belts to the chassis, you need metal-to-metal contact. The easiest way to do it is to drill, then add captured nuts with backing plates, but as always, check your GCR before you start. Place the inner lap belt the same distance back as the outer. For the outer, we had some eyelets fabricated from the stock bolts because of their unusual size. Finding the right point for the sub mounts proved the hardest. Check your harness installation guide and then choose the appropriate spot based on access and availability. Eventually we will weld the backing plates, but they meet the GCR without welding.
Inner Mount PointSub Mount PointSub EyeletsInner MountOuter MountCaptured Nuts for Subs