2000 ProSolo Finale

(As originally posted to the Talon Digest)

Two weeks ago, we decided that we didn't have enough to give the Rafferty Supra a run for his money. Faced with the choice of running an underdog car, or with making radical last-second changes to the car in the hopes of raising the bar high enough, we elected to try the changes. New springs were sent from ShockTek, and when we discovered that ProEFI's shop is in Omaha (three hours from Topeka, the event site) we decided to leave a day early, and spend a day and a half with ProEFI trying out the new computer. After all, if we didn't get done, we could always revert to the old setup and run that, and the opportunity to get install and tuning help direct from the supplier, in a real shop, wasn't something easily turned down.

The trip to Omaha, 12 hours, was thankfully uneventful. Nothing burst, shredded, fell off, or caught fire - for once.

We showed up at ProEFI's shop (co-located with HP Motorsports) at 8:00 Thursday AM and... wow. The shop is _beautiful_. And with a pair of rail dragsters going together on the chassis jigs, it looks like we've hooked up with people who know their stuff.

I install a Bosch wideband O2 sensor that I brought along to help tuning, and manage to pop the 100 amp fuse in the process. Doh! Luckily, the local Mitsu dealer has one (one!) of these Mitsu-only items in stock, although it takes 4 hours for the delivery truck to cover the 9 miles between us. We actually have time to drive to the dealership ourselves, to pick up the spare ignition power transistor I'd ordered, and make it back, before the fuse finally shows up. Note to self - buy a bunch of spares of this thing.

We change an option in the ProEFI unit that affects dwell time that should prevent popping the transistor on the car, and plug it into the ECU harness. It won't start. It'll fire and pop, but no go. I swap the stock ECU back on, and sure 'nuff, we're running on only 2 cylinders - the IPT has blown. I try the backup coil, just to be sure, and it's the IPT all right.

We now have a problem - I have exactly one spare IPT, and at $130 a pop and a 2 day wait to order, I'm not in any hurry to blow another one. Jason is pissed too - this unit is designed for the Lancer, and so we shouldn't be having this problem. It's supposed to plug in and go. After some discussion, we decide to install an MSD-DIS2, which will replace the stock IPT (and give me a 2-step too!)

MSD has the WORST installation instructions I have ever seen! But after about an hour or so, the unit is safely ensconced in the passenger side footwell, and all the wires are hooked up. I try and run it on the stock ECU, and it starts, but it's running like absolute crap, breaking up all over the place. We swap in the ProEFI, and the car starts and runs fine.

(A couple of days later, I discover that the poorly labeled "waste spark" selector switch on the MSD was set to the wrong value, and so the MSD was dropping spark every second revolution. Why the ProEFI ECU would work in either setting, but not the stock ECU, I'm not sure. All we knew at the time was that the car wouldn't run on the stock ECU, so our decision on which ECU to run had been made for us - we're running the ProEFI unit, for better or worse!)

We then set out debugging the wiring harness. ProEFI makes an adapter harness that plugs the stock ECU connectors into the ProEFI computer. This was the first one made for a 2G, so there are a few bugs to get worked out. After lots of probing with voltmeters, and even more poring over the 2G wiring diagram, we get the important stuff sorted out.

Jason then worked on the crank fuel map, the warm-up map, and the base fuel map, and pretty soon the car will start and idle without too much drama. We don't have the Idle Air Controller set up yet, so the idle is set (with the BISS) a little fast, but it's rock-solid, and with less than 24 hours before race time, little details like the IAC (and the A/C) can wait for now.

We do a little tuning in the (now dark) parking lot, and after a few passes, Jason has the car pulling pretty hard. However, the O2 sensor is acting funny, so we don't have much to go on as far as tuning info, aside from the Butt-O-Meter and the knock sensor.

It's now 23:00, so we leave the car in the shop and go back to our hotel. The car will start and run completely off the ProEFI unit. All that's needed now is tuning.

Back again at 8:00. It's a little cooler, so the start maps get tweaked a bit, but the car is soon started and running. We go out to the freeway, and start making passes - make a pass, tweak the map. Lather, rinse, repeat. This goes pretty quickly, although the lack of meaningful O2 sensor data is frustrating Jason. When we're finished, the car will pull pretty hard to redline with no significant knock, and is running pretty cool too. It's nowhere near optimized, but it IS raceable. The car goes back on the trailer, and we scoot south to Topeka just in time to make registration & tech for the Pro Finale.

Impressions of the ProEFI ECU, and of ProEFI the company: Jason really knows his stuff, and I'm REALLY glad we took the time to come out and visit. While everything he did, I could have done myself, it would have taken me about a month to get done what he did in a matter of hours. Watching him set up the software (and bombarding him with questions) taught me a lot and raised my confidence level in the whole endeavor significantly. Between him and Shep, you just can't go wrong here. Best of all, Jason has a lot of patience, which is a handy quality to have when you're faced with a panicky car owner/driver with less than 24 hours before the biggest race of the season.

As far as the wiring bugs are concerned, the issues were all about unfamiliarity with the 2G wiring harness (and some of it's idiosyncrasies, many of them OBD2-related) This is the price of being an early adopter. But once they've all been sorted out (and there's not many left) I expect that the ProEFI ECU will be a true "plug and play" installation - with the one caveat that it looks like you'll need an MSD along with it to run the ignition, at least until we can discover why it kept popping IPTs.

The software, once you learn where everything is, is really easy to use. My wife and I were able to remap the car later on in the week without any trouble at all.

As far as actual performance, the ProEFI has much, MUCH better part-throttle response and torque. Boost comes up sooner and with less load than with the stock ECU - and this is with the very rough tune we have on it now. Up top, there isn't much difference, but I attribute that 100% to the current mapping, not the ECU. Once I get the O2 sensor working right and get the car properly mapped, I expect to pick up power throughout the rev range.

As you'll see in the following chapters, I think putting the ProEFI unit on with such short notice hurt us in the short term, but I think that the long term will show that getting it on the car was the right thing to do.

Big, BIG thanks to Jason @ ProEFI for his time, expertise, and patience. Oh, and I want your shop.

Friday Night: We're in Topeka, the car is running, and it's time for the ProSolo Finale. We get our paddock spot for the week, unload the car, and bolt on the race wheels. Then it's off to Registration and Tech, and a long bout of course walking. We decide to skip practice starts in order to save wear on the clutch.

The course looks very familiar... in fact, it's last year's course, with a couple of key cones moved around a little bit. This is not good news - the course is very technical, and punishes little mistakes with an iron fist. Get behind on a turn on this course, and you'll pay for it on each and every following turn. The one bit of good news is that it's not a course that rewards power, so if our tuning is off, it won't hurt us all that badly.

The crew chief and I head over to the access road for nearby Heartland Park (the big NHRA dragstrip) and we make a few full-throttle passes up and down the road, while watching the little dot on the fuel map screen to see where the load winds up. The car is a little sluggish in a couple of spots, and in absence of a functioning O2 sensor, I decide to richen the maps up a little in those spots. It seems to work, so I guess I'm moving in the right direction at least.

Saturday AM: I'm lined up against Dave Shotz, currently tied for first place in overall points with Kent. Dave is driving an Audi S4, the twin-turbo V6 hotrod version of the A4, which is AWD, just like me. His car is chipped, and has decent shocks, but it's also fairly heavy, and I rule the launchpad - so I'm looking to pull him pretty hard on the first straight. The lights drop, I holeshot him, but as the tach hits 4000 the car just falls on it's face. 4000 to 7000, all I get is noise, not power. Incredulous, I shift to second, and I get a surge of power followed by a flat spot - and I see Dave's tailights. Whaaat! The rest of the course feels OK, but the car is just sucking wind on the first straight.

Strangely enough though, the lack of power makes the car a lot easier to drive, as I have more time to set up each corner, and the new springs are making the back end work more, so the car is rotating better. At the end of the first heat, I'm in the lead, followed by Navid in the M3, then Kent, then Dave. Kent and Dave are NOT having good runs, and this looks good - if I can win, and get two people between myself and Kent and Dave, then I can take the overall win!

Saturday PM: In between heats, I pull the spark plugs to have a look, and the center electrodes are bone white. This says "lean" to me, but I get a couple of second opinions, just to be safe. Everybody thinks lean, so I richen up the maps again.

In the second heat, the car is now falling on its face at about 4700, so it appears that I'm at least correcting the right way, just not enough. The extra speed though keeps changing the braking points, the turn-in points, and so on, and I'm having trouble stringing together a good run. And then, on a good right-sider, a pair of wire cutters that somehow got left in the console during the panic ECU install pop out, and start flailing around under my feet, and the distraction ruins that run. I eventually get a little faster on the left, but my right side is still slow, and even my "fast" left side is about half a second slower than I think it should be. Kent solves his rectal-cranial inversion problem, and yanks out fistfuls of time on both sides. At the end of the heat, Kent is leading, I'm in second just thousandths behind, and everybody else is breathing down my neck.

That night, we go back to the access road, and make pass after pass, richening up the maps each time. I get the car to the point where it will pull all the way to 7000, although 6000-7000 is still flatter than I'd like. The datalogger shows we're only running about 60% injector duty cycle, when previously (with the AFC set to -11%, which was richer than optimum) we'd hit 98% duty cycle - but maybe this is an artifact of the sequential injection, I really don't know. The car isn't knocking at all though, which is odd, because we're running way more advance than stock, and we're making 21 lbs of boost. Of course, we're only going as high as second gear, so we have torque multiplication on our side, but I didn't think we could run this lean without hurting something...

Sunday AM: Four more runs for glory. Kent and I go out, and I manage to pull a tenth off my right side time - and I have the lead again! But still, the times are not particularly fast, and I'm feeling really, really exposed. I go absolutely banzai on the last two, and get nothing on the left, but even after hitting the third turn too hot and pushing wide, I hit the backside really well, and pull another tenth out of the right. That should do it.

Heh. Except that Fate has other plans. On his last two runs, Kent finds a couple of tenths per side. So does Navid. And so does Karl! And that's the way we finish up: Kent, then a tenth, then Navid, then a tenth, then Karl, then 0.098, and then me, and then 3 tenths, and Dave. I'm fourth! The streak is broken; this is the first event this year I'm not in a trophy position!

How the hell did THAT happen? I was in the lead not 2 minutes ago!

"Some days, you get the bear. Other days, the bear gets you" Well, I've got bear teeth marks all over my ass.

There is some good news though. Firstly, I've scored enough points to sew up third place overall for the year - that's my highest finish ever. Secondly, I pull out the notes from last year, and I find I've gone about a second faster than I did last year in P2 on the same course, while people I use as benchmarks (to check for course differences) stayed pretty well the same. So at least I am getting faster.

But then Fate really decides to smack me in the chops. The ProFinale has an 8 car Challenge race for STS, STR, and SM cars, called the Honda Ultimate Street Car Showdown. It pays $2000 for the win, and you qualify through a really arcane system of points awarded throughout the year (but NOT the normal class points, it's a whole different system) They post the qualification ladder, and I'm in the 7th spot. Cool! I'm going to be able to run for the Big Money, at least. But then I notice something odd - Dave Shotz isn't on the ladder, and I know he has more points than me. So I grab the ladder, and head into Timing and Scoring. Sure enough, they somehow missed Dave, and he goes into his slot, bumping me down one.

Except... that Karl and I are actually tied for that 8th spot, with 21 points each. It was not an issue when we were both on the ladder, but now that there can be only one, there has to be a tiebreaker. And the rules say that the tiebreaker is... the finishing position at the Finale. Karl gets in, I'm bumped off.

I missed my chance at $2000 by 98 freaking thousandths of a freaking second. God damn, I just can't get a break, can I?

Even so, it's hard not to be happy with the season. I've got three seconds, a third, and a fourth. I pull off third overall for the year, and most importantly, I was seriously challenging for the win in every single event I entered. I think my total margin of lossage (add all the differentials from the lead in all the events this year) is less than 0.7 seconds - compare this to last year, where I was getting beaten at individual events by seconds a SIDE. No question, this is our best season ever.

Even so, there's lots more room for improvement, and the level of competition is going to be much higher next year, so we're going to have to step it up a couple of notches. And plans to that effect are well underway.

But right now, I've got 3 days to watch my friends run, tune the car, and walk course before the Amateur National Championships.