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Archive for October, 2009

Identifying brakes

One of the interesting challenges that I’ve discovered while disassembling my Formula Ford has been identifying the parts when I need to replace or rebuild them.  The brake calipers, which I’m about to send to Neil Porter at Porter Racing to have rebuilt and re-plated, are a perfect example.

It seems like Swift DB-1 chassis all initially had Lockheed/AP LD-19 calipers in the front and rear.  These are standard issue on many Formula Fords, though some newer cars use the larger LD-20 calipers or the LD-20 replacements made by ICP.  In some cases, though, DB-1 owners have upgraded to LD-20 or ICP calipers for their increased braking force.

Figuring out that my DB-1 still had LD-19 calipers all around was fairly straightforward, since the pads they use are significantly smaller than those on the LD-20–they’re essentially square.  But when I laid the calipers next to each other once they were all off the car, I noticed how much variation there is within LD-19 calipers:

LD-19 calipers

The two on the bottom seem to be the same type, just with the bleeder screw and plug on the opposite sides (for use on the left or right side of the car).  The ones on the top look like they were cast for use on only one side of the car, and the one at the top right was then “converted” for the other side by tapping a hole for the bleeder screw and plugging the existing bleeder port.  Believe me, it looks less confidence-inspiring in person.  I think the top two are going to end up as spares, and I’ll replace them with new ones that Pegasus sells.

I assume that these variations evolved over time, and though I don’t know the history of Lockheed and AP manufacturing them, that probably plays a role as well.  Not surprising, though, that on a 25-year-old race car, some mixing & matching of parts has taken place over time.

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On Sunday night, I watched the season finale of the IndyCar series from Homestead Miami Speedway.  It was a great race, and the championship went down to the wire.  Last night, I watched the Grand-Am series finale, also from Homestead.  Even though it finished under caution, the race was just as good, and that championship wasn’t decided until the last laps either.  (Congrats to Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, and Bob Stallings Racing by the way–I’m a huge fan, and was on the edge of my seat for the whole race!)  And later this week, I’ll watch the American Le Mans Season-ender on DVR as well.

Three of the four racing series that I watch regularly are done for the season.  The fourth, Formula One, only has two races left.  For me, especially in a year where I personally sat out of racing, the offseason is something I don’t look forward to.  It’s more than three months until the 24 Hours of Daytona, and not only is there no good racing fix to be had in the mean time, I have to stay motivated for the very long to-do list on my Formula Ford.

Last year, I buried myself in work to get through the offseason, and as a result got very little done on the race car.  This year, I’m going to try something different.  Since my goal is to have my car ready for the first New Hampshire SCCA regional next spring, and there are dozens of things I need to do on the car before reassembly can start, this weekend I’m buying a dry-erase board to put in the garage.  It’s going to have to fit every task that needs to be done between now and the first shakedown laps on the car, so this will be a LARGE dry-erase board.  But I figure the best way to keep myself motivated is to never forget how much work there is to do.

There’s one other aspect of staying motivated: when the weather gets cold, I find it harder to go to the gym regularly.  (Isn’t it easier to just put on a layer of food-based insulation and hibernate?)  Other than having to fit into the same firesuit next year, I’m still working on the strategy for not letting my fitness slip.  If I figure something out, I’ll be sure to share it…

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It has been difficult over the last couple of months to keep up with the news about engine suppliers in SCCA Formula Ford.  Whether Honda’s proposal to allow the Fit engine into the class was what caused Ford to wake up and start paying attention after years of silence–or whether Ford’s interest was triggered by other events–I think it’s good for the health of the class.  For instance, word is now floating around the Web that Jay Ivey, one of the most successful engine builders in the class, has convinced Ford to start casting new blocks for the Kent engine.  Jay has been responsible for most of the upgraded parts that are now common in SCCA-spec Kents, including the forged crankshaft, new pistons, etc., so it comes as no surprise that he’s involved.

Setting aside all of the debate about whether there is really a shortage of used blocks, it’s always more reassuring to race in a class where new engine blocks are available at a reasonable price.  And if the blocks are made available by Ford, it would be good news not just for Formula Ford, but also for the other classes (many of them vintage classes) that rely on the same basic bottom end as we do.  Stay tuned for more news on the subject, hopefully there will be official announcements from Ford Motorsports in the near future.

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It’s no secret that racing on a budget is all about compromises.  In my case, a perfect example is my garage.  When I was looking for a space where I could work on and store my Formula Ford, I ended up settling on a shop that suits my purposes, but is not exactly ideal.  The main drawback is the floors, which are plywood on top of 2×4 joists, under which is plain old dirt.  The floor holds the weight of the car without any issues, but there’s nothing to keep moisture from making its way through the floor and into the shop.

As I found out last year, the result is conditions that are way too humid for a race car.  Once I noticed that any part on the car that could conceivably rust started doing so at an alarming rate, I bought a humidity gauge.  Over the course of a couple of months, it rarely dipped below 90%.  The problem isn’t just the floor, it’s that the shop isn’t ventilated enough to let the moisture out either.  Since the floor had some damage already, I decided that I’m going to replace it in a way that keeps the moisture out, but that’s a story for another day.

Now that I have the DB-1 frame back, I’m working on it in my basement while I’m fixing the garage floor.  When I moved my humidity gauge into the basement, I discovered that it’s almost as damp as the shop.  So today, I dropped $200 at Home Depot for a 45-pint dehumidifier.  Hopefully it can keep the basement at around 40% humidity, a much better level for racing equipment.  When the shop is done, the dehumidifier will go into it.  After a frame-up rebuild, the DB-1 deserves it, I don’t want to see my hard work go to waste!

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Today was a big day–I picked up the DB-1 frame from GMT Racing, where it had been stripped, repaired, and powder coated.  They did an excellent job, and it looks great:

DB-1 frame after repairs and powder coating

DB-1 frame after repairs and powder coating

Not only is it a relief to finally have the frame back, but it means that re-assembly of the car can finally start.  I’m under no illusions that this will be a quick process.  After all, there are still lots of parts that need to be repaired or rebuilt before they can go back on the car.  The fuel cell needs to be gone through, most of the suspension and driveline pieces will be shipped out to Protech or Fast Forward, the gearbox needs to be rebuilt, etc., etc.  But it feels good to be able to get started now.  Next step: ordering the belly pan.  More on that soon…

One other note: I’ve decided to do the first part of the re-assembly in my basement instead of in the garage, both because I’m in the middle of replacing the garage floor, and because it’s going to be a lot warmer in my basement in a couple of months than in an unheated detached garage.  My plan is to work on the car in the basement until I’m ready to start assembling the suspension.  At that point, hopefully the garage will be ready and I’ll have enough space heaters in it to avoid frostbite.

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