Sunday, April 25, 2010

Atom3 Canyon Drive - The Shock & The Awe

This morning, I drove my new Atom3 through several canyons and popular mountains roads for the first time. Rice Canyon/Mt. Palomar - both grades, Mesa Grande and up to Julien were the roads of choice. This was the longest I had driven it, so I enjoyed getting to learn it's style. It is a different beast with both Pros & Cons vs the Atom2. Yes, it is still as scary and lovely as the Atom2.

At a quick glance, the Atom3 is visually hard to differentiate from an Atom2. As you look carefully, the differences begin to emerge, especially in it's unique tubular chassis. The US built Atom3 is almost identical to its UK built cousin. One key area is that they now share the K20 Honda powertrain - which is a glorious bit of kit. The 9k redline is pure unadulterated bliss. This Atom sports the 300hp powertrain - dare I say it feels faster than my old Atom2? This may be partially due to the fact that the Atom3 is 100+lbs lighter.

Shifting the Atom3 is absolutely righteous. Honda makes a fantastic gearbox and shifting can be confidently executed with your finger tips. The gear knob feels a bit too small and the gear ratios feel almost too tight. The car revs so quickly that you are constantly shifting - did the Atom2 make me a bit lazy? Nah, I think slightly taller gears could do wonders for the usability of the Atom300. I suspect the gears may be perfect in the normally aspirated versions.

Sounds emanating from behind me are a bit more subdued. The supercharged whine is the loudest thing you hear. I'm hoping that it will pass Laguna Seca as we are holding the West Coast Atom Meet at LS in July. I'm still adjusting to the driving position with these new adjustable seats. The 6pt. anti-sub strap had me singing soprano so it will need a tweak before I drive her again! The hand brake is definitely in a worse position than the Atom2 - though it is easier to install and service.

We had taken this car to the Streets of Willow last Thurs for our Track Day and had the dampers set at the factory track settings. Our bumpy canyons demand softer settings to prevent my fillings from rattling out of my head! I set the adjustable Bilstein suspension to 3 in the front and 4 in the rear. The compliance of this car is excellent which is surely due to the improved bellcrank/pushrod/damper alignment. It soaked up the rough roads very well. Oversteer is easy to induce with the right pedal. I needed to adjust my inputs accordingly as this car felt more responsive than my last. I will play with suspension settings a bit futher as well to tame this beast to my liking and suit my modest driving skill. It really is the closest thing to a formula car for the street.

The small Aero Windscreen/Kickers are a sweet little addition. I am surprised at how well they divert the air. They also kill bugs fast (if I may borrow a lame ad slogan from Porsche). They kept my helmet visor quite clean and my head from experiencing too much buffeting. I also ordered the much maligned side panels. I love 'em - especially as I left around 7:30am when it was still cool out. The panels reduce air intrusion into the 'cabin' which is quite welcome when it is nippy out.

The Atom3 is wicked fast, like the Atom2 and every bit as titillating. A fair amount of concentration is required to drive it quickly. This car rewards a smooth and focused driver. Yes, I am love again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Atom 2 Windshield Upgrade

We recently retrofitted an Atom 2 with the new Atom 3 Windshield upgrade. With a couple of parts from the guys at TMI, we moved the brake and clutch fluid reservoirs above the steering column. This puts the reservoirs in the same spot as the Atom 3. The reservoirs needed to be moved so that you can install the windshield wiper motor and washer fluid reservoir.

Some Atom 2’s will have to be modified further if you have the fire extinguisher bracket welded directly into the chassis.

We also upgraded the car to the Atom 3 side mirrors. These use a 1-hole mount and now are part of the windshield panel mounting. They secure the outside corners of the dash panel. On our Atom 2, we removed the old mirror bracket that was riveted to the chassis as it was no longer needed. The other 3 mounting points are the same as the stock dash panel.

After installing the windshield, we were able to fit the new style bonnet to the car. This new bonnet has some really nice sharp lines. The fit and finish is very nice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Project Nirvana Update - Transmission Upgrades

Steve & Rick have just complete our various transmission upgrades on our Project Nirvana '05 Elise. The transmission itself received our 3rd & 4th Gear + 5.0 Final Drive kit. Steve worked with Bruce Nogrady, our engine builder, to build this transmission. This setup will give us shorter and tighter gear ratios that suits this engine. We'll be testing this setup at our Track Day on the Streets of Willow on April 15th. We believe our car will benefit tremendously on this tight track with this new shorter ratio box.

We also installed a few new tasty bits from OS Giken. Their STR clutch & flywheel combo & OS Super Lock LSD were both added to Nirvana's drive train to deliver more strength & grip. The STR clutch & flywheel have been balanced together & offer a much higher strength solution than stock. Thanks to a larger throw-out bearing, this setup maintains the same pedal feel & engagement point as stock making it the perfect solution for cars driven on the street & track. The clutch now has a cool Ducati-like sound...

OS Giken's OS Super Lock LSD has been a favorite amongst the LCS's fastest drivers. Its patented pressure ring design allows it to lock 100% & it does it progressively. There's no "on-off" locking like some LSDs. The OS Super Lock's innovative & compact design allows it to house a greater number of friction plates (12 total). Jack & Brent have both commented that they are able to get on the power sooner with this LSD.

This weekend we will be putting on the 500 break-in miles required for the clutch & flywheel so the car will be ready for heavy track duty on April 15th at our Track Day.