By Mike Kojima
Every once in a while we do a behind the scenes story about some of our Motorsports adventures and stuff we do on the road. Although this might look like we’re living the life according to what a lot of our readers think, when you try to perform on a high level, it actually takes a lot of blood, sweat, hard work, and passion to do what we do. We are often too busy making things happen in the Motorsports world to document our adventures but this time we decided to focus on one of our main projects for this year: Editor Chuck Johnson breaking the H/PS world land speed record at Bonneville Speed Week 2013.
Since this was an official MotoIQ project we brought along some of our staff to shoot video of the event and rented a motorhome so we could stay close to the action. I will attempt to write about what I did for this effort but I was only a very small part of the equation.
Chuck Johnson and his wife and contributing editor Annie Sam have spent the better part of their spare time for the last three years building a shell of a Nissan S13 240SX into a car to break a World Land Speed Record and to set a personal gold of exceeding 200 mph. Currently the car is configured for H/PS class which is a stock bodied, non engine swapped production car with a 1000cc to 1500cc forced induction engine. The car can be quickly configured for several other classes which is a cool thing about the platform. Although Chuck and Annie are quite experienced with mechanics and building race cars, a WLSR car is a pretty complicated machine and it has taken a while to get the car to this point. They have had plenty of help from numerous friends, neighbors and especially Nick Hunter of 5523 Motorsports and John Kuchta of Specialty Cars Fabrication who literally closed their own businesses to volunteer many hours to the project.
Chuck and Annie and Nick Hunter of 5523 Motorsports have been working around the clock for the past 3 weeks getting the car wrapped up. A lot of that problem is my fault. I gave Chuck my super trick ported and flowed SR20VE 20V head that I had been hoarding for the Dog car. Unfortunately, the head had a defective valve job which resulted in low power and 40% leakdown. The car still ran well enough to set a new H/PS record at El Mirage but during the record attempt it burned a bunch of trick Supertech valves due to leaking non concentric seats. Clark Steppler of Jim Wolf Technology volunteered his rare 20V head to replace mine and Nick Hunter burned the midnight oil to do a nice valve job, a clean up of the ports, installing the whole thing, and getting the car running in the Nick of time (bad pun). The day before we were to leave was spent packing our rented motor home at the palatial MotoIQ headquarters with lots of food, camera gear and way too much beer. We also took essentials like a back up motorcycle, a scooter, a big machete and a powerful pellet rifle just in case we ran into a The Hills Have Eyes type of situation on the road.
I know a lot of you think it’s easy to go 200 mph in a straight line on a huge flat surface with nothing to hit but it’s actually quite difficult and dangerous. First, the Bonneville salt flats are not perfectly flat and smooth, they are more like a smoother dirt road but still rougher than the freeway. The salt surface is slippery like dirt with little traction and for the H/PS class the car’s body must remain stock with no aerodynamic alterations at all. This is rather challenging for me being the team suspension guy. If a car loses control, at the least it will spin, at the worst air will get under that car and cause a very violent high speed flipping crash. A lot of guys have bought it out on the salt due to the latter. I had consulted an aerodynamicist before we had left and he told me that the car would conservatively generate at least 700 lbs of lift on the body. Not good for stability at all. What is worse is that we did not have time to implement some of the suspension changes I wanted to do like reducing droop travel and changing the rear ride frequency. However, we were ready to handle any problem that might have shown up at the event. We had enough KW spare parts to do anything from respringing to totally revalving the suspension. Here Chris Marion from KW loads up the tons of suspension stuff we brought with us.
We also loaded up tons of camera gear and camping stuff. Here we are all packed up and ready to go, our home for the next week sits outside the MotoIQ Megashop.
We hit the road and immediatly things go sour. We hit amazingly bad traffic and it takes 6 hours just to get to the Fontana area. Meanwhile, Chuck and Annie are getting hours ahead of us after leaving from 5523 Motorsports in the San Diego area.
We drive on into the night. Not stopping at all. The motorhome has a huge gas tank and a bathroom so we can go for hours without stopping.
With a fully stocked kitchen we can make food on the fly as well. This is pretty cool. We just can’t go too fast and the big box is scary to drive in side winds. At about 4am we pull off to the side of the road and take a nap. This is another cool thing about motorhomes you can do this in comfort. In addition to our machete and pellet rifle, we were packing a couple of Glock 9mm’s in case any weirdos decided to try to jack us. Sorry anti gunners but in this day and age it’s better to be safe than sorry. A motorhome on the side of the road at night out of cell range in the middle of nowhere looks like easy pickings to some banditos.
At about 7am it’s bright and sunny and starting to get hot so it’s time to hit the road again. I get a text from Chuck, he’s at the salt flats already and gone through tech. He is in line to make a run and we are a few hours out still.
Jeff is doing his Abercrombie and Fitch modelling thing.
Christa Kojima still looks pretty happy here. This ended up not being too fun of a trip for her. No one even had much time to talk to her.
Time to eat food on the roll again! Light off the generator and kick up the microwave.
You might wonder why race on the salt flats? Well the salt flats are one of the longest flat places to run in the world. You have a 6 mile long straight to try and go as fast as you can. Due to the commercial pumping of brine to produce salt, the salt flats have greatly shrunk in size since their heyday in the 60’s. Because of this the ultra fast record attempts by jet and rocket cars are now run in the Black Rock Desert or Tunisia but most of the attempts to break other speed records are held here. We are attempting to break the H/PS record which is for forced induction totally stock bodied sedans with a displacement of 1000-1500cc.
We arrive to find that Chuck’s car has suffered a major electrical glitch right on the starting line. The car stalled and won’t restart. We jump right in to try and help get the car back out on track. We think this is something simple…
The car is putting, not quite starting and pumping out gobs of black fuel smoke. We turn off the fuel pump while cranking to get it lit off and it starts and sort of runs. The engine is blubbering and pig rich like it is in limp mode but the ECU is not throwing any DTC codes. Two master techs and a couple of ME’s are now on deck trying to figure the problem out.
Chris Allen checks the ECU for codes while George Peters tries to start the engine. Both of these guys have years of SR20 experience.
I note unusually high airflow meter voltage. I also note high ground voltage in the MAF circuit so I rig up an external ground to fix that. We also clean the MAF sensor element. None of this helps. The car is set up to run a big Ford Cobra MAF and we have a friend in Salt Lake City about 150 miles away that has one. We send Sean Rossi out to fetch it.
The LSR car engine is a pretty cool piece. The block is a Silvia SR20DET. It is destroked to 1500cc with a SR16DE crank that has been worked over by Castillo Cranks. The bottom end has K1 connecting rods and JE forged pistons. The top end features a rare SR20VE 20V head which is the highest flowing SR20 head ever produced. Its flow rivals that of the Honda K motors. The head has SR20VE N1 cams. John Kuchta of Specialty Cars Fabrication built the intake manifold and surge tank. The exhaust manifold is a twin scroll part built by Full Race Motorsports. A Borg Warner EFR turbo is used with twin turbosmart wastegates controlling boost pressure. The boost is fed into a Spearco water to air intercooler with the charge pipes using a Turbosmart BOV to vent excessive surge pressure on shifts. Nick Hunter of 5523 Motorsports assembled the engine and Jim Wolf Technology did the tuning.
The carbon fiber air guide in the front of the car has the signatures from most of the people who have helped on this project in some way or form. There are a lot of people helping as you can see.
Chris Allen in his Polaris RZR. This handy small 4WD vehicle was essential in saving a lot of time. We used it to fetch parts and supplies almost continuously. It was also pretty fun to hoon around in!
Ever the task master, Chuck establishes dominance over his crew. We hate it when he gets like this…
Meanwhile Jeff documents the lack of progress and frustration we are experiencing with the car on video. We will have a cool video showing the drama behind the scenes as soon as Alex is done shooting some big movie somewhere and can work on it.
The good point of the day was that the great Larry Chen of Speedhunters shot the car for a Speedhunters feature. Look for that soon! The bad news was that we had to push the car around to get the shots since it was not running.
The rules say that you have to pack up and leave the salt every day by 8 pm. We still don’t know what’s wrong with the car so we go to a truck stop parking lot in Wendover to try and trouble shoot the car further. The sunrises and sunsets on the salt flats are breathtaking, but no one notices.
Sean returns from Salt Lake City with a new airflow meter and we install it in the parking lot and continue to work on the car. The new airflow meter doesn’t solve the problem at all. Meanwhile Chuck locates a Slivia ECU with a JWT Daughterboard from another friend in you guessed it, Salt Lake City, and Sean has to drive out there again in the morning to get it. By this time we have checked all the pin outs to the ECU with a DMM and are getting really pissed. The truckers we are disturbing are probably getting pissed too but they don’t tell us to stop. We are now reasonably sure the problem is in the ECU. For D/SP class you must run a factory ECU although it is legal to reprogram it. Unfortunately, the electronics in a 25 year old ECU can be temperamental.
Jeff in his usual state, semi clothed and horizontal. Jeff is not too modest about ventilating the ol’ sack and we were often treated to this sort of view and worse. You should see his fringed cut off short shorts. I am not joking about them either.
We leave the parking lot and go camp on the rim of the salt flats for the night. The stars at night are amazing and we watch a big meteor shower.
The next morning we meet up on the salt again. Chris fetches ice and drinks with the RZR. Sean was on his way to Salt Lake City AGAIN to get the ECU and we had another one due to arrive via air freight from JWT the next morning. Sean would have to go to Salt Lake City to pick that one too as Wendover is too small of a town to have next day air morning delivery. Sean must have driven over 800 miles fetching parts that week. What a friend!
Poor Annie, she spent a good part of this day crammed under the dash, helping me with numerous wiring issues. I could not fit or reach around the roll cage and intercooler tank and even Christa could not reach some things. Annie had all the tricks to get into the furthest reaches of the under dash region.
I think Annie is helping me relocate the main engine harness. My back hurt so bad that my eyes were watering. It was hot in there as well. I took a bunch of pictures of Annie in funny contortions and posted them on Instagram to annoy her.
Jerry Hoffman from DIY AutoTune.com stopped by to help. Jerry is a friend of Chris Allen and they are the guys behind the Megasquirt DIY ECU. Look for some cool Megasquirt projects coming up in MotoIQ. Jerry had a cool oscilloscope dongle for his laptop and helped us identify a few problems, like our battery was not providing sufficient voltage anymore and that our limp mode problem was accompanied by an unexplained voltage drop lasting a few milliseconds. These problems coupled with the fact that the ECU was not storing codes at all lead us to believe that the ECU was at fault.
Jerry showing us the logs of what’s up. That is one cool diagnostic tool. We are not going back to Bonneville again without a Conzult laptop dongle to look at ECU data. This tool would have saved us hours and hours of wire harness probing with a DMM.
Meanwhile Chris Marion adjusts the shocks to some of my new settings I have decided to try based on what happened during testing at El Mirage dry lake. While setting a new class record at El Mirage, the rear of the car was settling too much resulting in excessive lift which was making the car hard to control and we had some tricks up our sleeve to counter that.
Since we were stuck waiting for parts, Martin and Jeff took a few random shots around the pits. In Land Speed Record Racing there are many different classes so there are many types of different racers out there. Here is a Ferrari racer.
You must have your car set on a tarp which helps keep the salt clean. You are not allowed to drip or spill anything on the salt either.
The many different classes allow for a diverse range of cars to be competitive, more so than any other form of Motorsports. This makes for a visual treat as you roam the pits.
A lakester is a classic form of LSR car, made from a surplus, aircraft drop tank. This is a modern Lakester.
I think this car was suffering from driveline problems.
Like us, this car was running in one of the classes for production vehicles.
There are many classes for bikes as well. This was just one example of what we saw out there.
Well we came and didn’t exactly kick ass but we did manage to smash the previous record. One of the troubles about this sort of racing is that there is nowhere to test other than El Mirage which is only run a few times a year. Test and develop we will and we vow that next year we will do our best push the record much higher and break into the 200 mph club.
The car can easily do it and we can sort out the minor teething problems that plagued us this year. Our car is probably also pretty good for stuff like the Texas mile and once we have the H/PS record locked in, we will probably go back to 2 liters and run even faster. We think the S13 has some aero advantages over other cars that should be useful. We also have the potential to add aero and go for other records at other events.
Written by: Mike Kojima of Moto-IQ