Saturday, February 15, 2014

Project Dragon Update: Intro and More

Project Dragon is the new car that we are planning to introduce later this year for both road and track use.  The 1800lb car will feature a 430hp V8 engine and 6spd syncro gearbox.  Our goal is to build a car with excellent performance, safety and reliability.  This car will be a pure drivers car with no electronic driver's aids.  Frankly we prefer cars that require our active involvement in driving.  We know that we can never compete with the likes of Chevrolet, Ferrari, Porsche, etc when it comes to technology.  So we have chosen to go in the opposite direction.  I've been calling this car the 'Luddite' as a result.  It really is the antithesis of the modern supercar.  We are not technophobes, in fact we love technology, especially this one, or this one and even this version.  We simply believe there are many driving enthusiasts who are looking for simpler sportscars that keep you engaged in the art of driving.  A perfectly rev-matched downshift is truly a thing of beauty...

We are working with Palatov Motorsport with a chassis that they have engineered.  Their car is known as the D2 and we are effectively designing a variant.  Ultimately we believe we can develop alternative bodies that clients can interchange onto this existing chassis.  We will offer the D2 for sale here in CA and have ordered a D2 body for our first test mule.  Our car will feature different cosmetics as well other technical differences including, suspension, brakes, trans and more.  I'm viewing Project Dragon much like the BRZ/FRS, Camaro/Firebird or other cars that share a platform and have varied levels of difference.  We will offer a windshield for those clients that want more protection and/or required for registration.

We've recruited a couple of good friends and engineers to help us with the technical validation of Project Dragon.   Ryan Kuhlenbeck will help with the mechanical integration and electrical systems.  This man's hobby is creating world-class wiring harnesses using OE connectors and methods.  He will take the supplied harness from GM and make them into things of beauty and most importantly, benchmarks of reliability. Dave Thilenius will be our man behind the wheel to help us with Ride & Handling along with pushing the car hard enough to see how it fares in severe track use.  Both of these gents (I do use that term loosely), have done much work at Sector111 and have been instrumental in the success and quality of many of our products.  

Additionally, Bill Thomas, from William Thomas Roadsters, is on board as our point man on the East Coast.  Bill's technical knowledge and expertise with light cars will be a great boon to our development.  Plus he can drive fast and will put our test mule through the paces on East Coast tracks this Spring.  Bill is especially pleased with our choice of MV as a design inspiration!  I've also got Jonathan Frost (Skip Barber Coach) queued up to do some test driving as he has driven the D2 on track and is currently coaching Stingray clients at SMMR.

We decided to do a very elemental body to start as the D2 already features a full body.  Additionally a simple body would not consume all of our limited resources.  To this end, we hired several designers from around the world to submit sketches to us.  We received several great renderings that ran the gamut of full bodies to more partially 'clothed' styles.  My love for the Atom was another reason to create a car that would be elemental.  There is nothing like blasting around in a semi-open sportscar!

We have now chosen one design that we are planning on producing.  The design meets my critical eye and will fit with the ethos of our car - especially at this stage.  I'm confident it will age well and not be viewed as too trendy in the coming years.  No new design ground will be broken, but the car will still be polarizing and aggressive.  Details and finishing are important to the over look and feel of this car.  These are still in-progress as the design still needs refinement.  We plan to use hardware and fasteners that will be exposed but look appropriate and fit with our aesthetic.  Expect a full front and rear wing kit for downforce and an added dose of aggression.  Our long time clients know about the design/technical innovations that we've implemented in the Lotus market, expect a few interesting things as well with Project Dragon.


The venerable LS engine is a reliable, powerful and cost effective engine.  GM introduced the eRod version of the LS3 for hot rodders and kit car manufacturers that were looking for a 50 state emissions compliant engine.  This lightweight crate motor comes with a factory ECU, catalytic converters, header, e-pedal, OBDII port, wiring harness AND a 24month/50k mile warranty.  Smog compliance plus the windshield will allow us to offer a special construction car (AKA kit) that can be registered in most US states and Canada.

The driving feeling delivered by 424lb-ft of torque coupled to 1800lbs will be completely different from the high revving motors we are used to in our Lotus/Ariel/BAC cars.  The ability to leave the car in a higher gear and have it pull from the corner will ultimately allow the driver to shift less gears and stay focused on his braking points, turn-ins, apexes and exits.  Over twenty years ago I owned a Yamaha FZR400 which revved to the moon.  It was a great bike and I loved ringing that engine out - it made no real power down low.  At the time I test rode a Ducati 900 Supersport and was immediately taken by the added torque and the ease of accelerating out of the corners.  That Ducati revved much lower with a very torquey engine and was lightweight.  Well soon thereafter, I bought a Duck and came to like both styles of power delivery - and the required change in riding/driving styles.  The Dragon works in the same way as  the Ducati when compared to the other light cars we adore.  Variety is the spice of (driving) life.  8^)

The transaxle that has been run in the D2 is a 5spd gearbox from a Porsche 911 (964version) and is a durable solution.  It has seen over 25 days of track use in the D2 test mule (see above).  This will be the base trans that we will offer.  Of course, we convinced ourselves that an even more righteous trans should be tested because we are lunatic track drivers.  The Porsche 997 GT2 6spd trans became the object of our attention.  This syncro box is available with a factory LSD, internal oiling and stronger syncros.  It is an expensive solution but one that we think will deliver higher levels of durability for the track day junkies that we hope to attract with this car.


We know that this car will be driven on the street and track.  The choices we are making for various components will take these intended uses into consideration.

Cosworth's latest dash technology has been selected for our car.  It has a fully configurable display with multiple screens.  This allows the user to toggle between a road screen and a track screen.  I tend to favor round gauges and have difficulty reading purely digital screens - I still like to see needles sweeping.  See the picture of the digital gauge with a needle. Shift lights have really become a boon to my track day driving and this dash has lights and a great rpm sweep that changes color.  A key criteria is the size - just right.  This dash gives us all the options we can hope for and offers optional data logging.  We've ordered one with all the bells and whistles to aid our technical validation of the car and log the ample data streamed via the eRod ECU.  We are planning on keeping the interior of the car, including the switch gear, very simple.  This Cossie dash will allow us to achieve that goal.

At the PRI show I met up with my friends at Schroth USA (HMS Motorsport).  Joe Marko, owner of HMS, is planning on visiting us to scrutinize the restraints in the car to ensure that we've routed everything correctly.  Joe turned me onto a cutting-edge, Schroth, 9pt racing harness - it will be something that we will likely offer.  Yes, you read that correctly, 9points!  I'll feature it in a later blog once we have it sorted.  He will also be reviewing a modular seat padding system that will allow us to custom fit a broad range of drivers into this car.  The car has a 18" wide seat so wide drivers will fit along with tall guys - we got 6ft5" Ryan into a D2 last year.

We are working with other companies to develop optional exhaust, wheel, suspension, brakes and more.  Expect some tasty upgrades to become available.

Our test mule chassis is nearly completed.  Palatov will be creating a new rear subframe to accomodate the GT2 trans.  We hope to have a running mule in March and will run her at SMMR soon thereafter...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

CEL on our Exige 'S' (DTC P0101 Troubleshooting)

After a spirited mountain run, our test Exige, 'Switchblade', threw a CEL (Check Engine Light). The scanner told us we were getting 'P0101' which translates to "Mass or Volume Air Flow Circuit Range/Performance". This means that there is an issue regarding the readings between the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor and the MAP (Manifold Absolute Pressure) sensor. The probable culprits? A dirty MAF, MAP, or leak somewhere in the intake system.

Let's try some simple tests/ fixes. First; we cleaned out the MAF by removing it from the air filter box and giving it a good cleaning using a MAF/MAP cleaner. This spray is available at the local auto parts store. We also cleaned off the MAP using the same stuff.  


You can run the risk of damaging the sensitive wires in the sensor and then you'll be left with having to buy new parts.

That first test didn't stop our code from coming back, so the next thing we did was search for vaccum leaks.  We grabbed a few cans of brake cleaner and sprayed the intake components of the engine while another tech kept an eye on the tachometer. We knew we found the leak when the RPM's started to climb after soaking the elbow that attaches to the supercharger.

We let the car cool off before diving in and taking things apart. There is a O-ring seal between the supercharger and the outlet elbow that has been an issue on a certain number of these factory-supercharged cars. Sometimes the rubber seal rips, sometimes it shrinks... either way, it's causing a boost leak. No Bueno.

If you've found an intake leak at this connection, you can follow these steps. Begin by disconnecting the MAP harness from the MAP sensor on the intercooler. Un-secure and remove the intercooler pipes. A good way to remove these pipes is to slide the rubber cup-link back to give you more space to pull them out - especially if you may have one of our BLADE kits installed.

Next, disconnect all of the ducting from the intercooler. Unbolt the intercooler, carefully remove it, and set it aside for inspection and cleaning. For those of you using any of our BLADE kits, remove the lower heat shield as this will be in your way.  With everything removed, you can now see the outlet elbow that sits on top of the supercharger held on with four 10mm bolts.


Unbolt the elbow and pop the elbow off. There should be little resistance so it should come off by hand. A light tap with a rubber mallet will break it loose if it is giving you a little fuss coming off.


The seal may be stuck to the elbow when removing it from the supercharger (as is shown in the photo below), so stay vigilant as not to allow it to fall into the blower. You will want to clean off the surface of the blower by spraying some brake cleaner onto a red rag or blue shop towel.

Use some blue painters tape to cover the hole when you are done cleaning the surface of the supercharger to keep foreign objects from falling in.  Clean off the surface of the elbow and inspect for any signs of major damage. There may be a little pitting on the surface -this is OK as they come this way from the casting process.

Replace the old o-ring with the new one and bolt the elbow back onto the supercharger. Make sure to torque the elbow down to 18 ft-lbs. using some blue Loctite. Don't forget to re-install the actuator bracket back on before torquing the 10mm elbow bolts to spec as well. When you are finished inspecting your intercooler for any debris and/or oil, begin the reverse process of re-installing all the parts.

Be sure to clear the ECU codes and test drive it for a few miles to make sure that the issue has been resolved. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

FIAtank Redux

We recently had the Art Car back in the shop for an oil service and to diagnose a wiring issue.  While it was here, the FIA tank was pulled for inspection to see if there was any degradation issues after a few years of track-only usage.  It has been installed in the car since 2011 (see here), so it was about time to see how this product was holding up.

After removing and draining the tank, we shipped it back to our friends at Fuel Safe to have them test and inspect it.  In the mean time, we gave a visual inspection to the Plug-n-Play fuel pump that was installed with the tank.  Some light debris was cleaned off the filter and all the connections were double-checked.  We opened the plastic unit to see if there was any debris in there, but it was all clean.

In a few days the tank was back in our hands with this report from Fuel Safe:

1.       Bladder surface was free of cracks, discoloration and was pliable.
2.       Foam baffling was in good shape with little discoloration, pliability was excellent.
3.       Internal check ball valves moved freely and all aluminum parts looked to have no corrosion.
4.       Outer aluminum can was in good shape with no visible cracks.

You can see one of the check ball valves at the bottom of the tank

Excellent news! We were happy to see that our parts were holding up, even in race conditions.  With a clean-bill-of-health, we re-installed the pump and the tank confident that it it should give trouble-free service for at least the next few years.

After picking up the Art Car, the owner went straight to Chuckwalla Raceway.  He set the fastest time of day against some serious Porsches.  Jack is an amazing driver and we are always glad to see him kick some asphalt!

Fuel starvation has been an issue on track for all of the Elise variants.  Our various fuel tank solutions fix the problem at the source.  Adding additional systems like fuel pots/surge tanks creates unnecessary complexities to these cars that can fail.  We recently learned of another client who had his Elise catch fire at Laguna Seca thanks to a failed surge tank.  We believe keeping things simple is the smartest approach with the Lotus - at least for those of us who prefer to drive instead of fix broken cars.