Not a whole lot has been done on the Corolla this summer, as it’s mostly just been sitting waiting for the event this past weekend - my first two-day HPDE weekend, at Dominion Raceway. This one was a bit of a rollercoaster so beware - wall-o’-text incoming.
Since it was a two day event and I anticipated that the likelihood of mechanical malady to be high, I went ahead and rented a tow dolly from Uhaul. Last Monday, 5 days in advance, I had to go to two separate locations to place a reservation because the first didn’t have one on hand. The second one did so I reserved it for Friday evening through the weekend. Friday rolls around and suddenly they don’t have it even though I reserved one. So I have to go all the way across town to pick one up, and they tell me that as long as I return it before open of business Monday morning I will only be charged two days’ rental. Whatever.
I rolled up to Dominion nice and early, got all set up and ready to go. First few sessions went well, classroom times were interesting and informative, things went smoothly on track. With a lot of first-timers in HPDE1 this time around, traffic was the worst I’d yet encountered so learning to deal with that was a good experience for sure. On session 2 the car started to get much louder, so over the lunch break I determined one of the exhaust hangers had broken, causing the flex pipe to start leaking. After a trip up the road to NAPA, the exhaust was secured with a few big metal hose clamps. Still loud, but at least it wouldn’t potentially crack and fall down. Session 3 came around and all seemed well until around lap 8 or so when the car started to develop a bit of a shimmy at high speeds.
We finished the session and put the car up on jack stands to have a look around. We found the right front ball joint was a little loose, so I started calling around to find parts. No AE82 parts were around, but there were some nearly-bolt-on AE92 ball joints back in Richmond. Deciding to skip the last session, I instead packed up and took the car back home to fix that evening, so I could get back out the next day.
Of course nothing ever goes smoothly, and such was the case with these ball joints. There are supposed to be two pressed-in studs in each joint, but these were loose in a bag. When I went to go press the first one in by tightening the nut to draw the stud into the flange, the threads on the stud stripped clean and the nut just spun. I ended up using a bolt and nut instead, and using the bench vice with a socket to press in the rest of the studs. I also took a page out of Eric Kutil’s book and wrapped each joint in heat reflective tape. I feel that the half inch clearance between the joint and the hot rotor may have lead to its premature wear.
Back at the track nice and early, I was excited to see how the car would feel with the new ball joints. First session starts off well, but after a few laps, the shimmy comes bad harder than ever and seems to be getting worse by the lap. I pulled into the pits, jacked up the front, put the car in gear, and let the wheels spin to see if there was something wrong with the wheel, tire or axle.
Right away the problem was obvious - a huge tumorous bulge in the right front tire, caused by a broken belt inside. Being the awesome friend he is, my instructor Eric offered to let me use his Miata’s rain tire setup to finish out the day. So off came the shaved RA1's and on went some fresh-ish RA1's just in time for second session.
Things went well for most of session 2 until right at the very end when the mechanical bug bit again. This time, while at high speed in the uphill esses I heard a faint “pop” and suddenly the car was very unstable and the brake pedal was very very soft. Limping to the pits once again, we jacked up the car and that right front wheel/rotor had a ton of play, while the caliper remained still. The toasted wheel bearing would signal the end of the Corolla’s weekend at the track. However, determined to not miss out on the two remaining sessions, I packed up everything as fast as possible and towed the crippled Corolla home. Running in the house long enough to pick up the keys, I hopped in the trusty MR2 and flew back to the track with only a few minutes to spare before session 3.
With approval from the track day director, Eric and I went out for session 3 in the MR2. While on similar suspension as the Corolla, the MR2 is on 400tw staggered 195/205 tires and street/autox brake pads, all while being 400lbs heavier and with 50% more power. This was quite the change in driving style for sure, being basically the complete reverse of the FWD FX16.
Eric was so impressed with my improvement over the weekend, plus my existing familiarity with the track and how I was able to adapt to driving two completely different cars, he gave his blessing for me to go out solo for the last session. All of the struggles and frustration of the weekend up to that point were immediately forgotten as soon as went out on the track by myself that first time. It was absolutely sublime, even in an under-prepared car. Not wanting to push my mechanical luck any further, I pulled in after 5-6 laps and called it a day, with a huge smile on my face.
End tally for the weekend: 1 trailer misadventure, 3 mechanical failures, 2 cars driven on track, 1 session solo.
BONUS: Here’s a video of when the wheel bearing/axle failed, and a more detailed look at HOW it failed.