After going through many of the initial setup issues on the Seven and giving it a quick shakedown at Laguna Seca, I decided that it was time to take it on my first road trip. I drove it down to Buttonwillow Raceway Park to join a group of other Se7en owners for a track weekend. The fact that there were going to be other owners there made me feel more confident that there would be enough mechanical expertise to solve any mechanical issues that may crop up. Having been to Buttonwillow once before, I knew that the heat would be brutal and was glad to pitch in with the other folks to share a couple of garages with the other folks.
The drive down was uneventful and took me a little over 4 hours to complete. The fact that I was using my cool shirt on the drive down meant that I was extremely comfortable on the drive despite the high temperatures (80+ in Santa Clara to 98 in Buttonwillow). I even got to stop at the San Luis reservoir for a couple of great pictures.
There were 6 different Sevens taking part in the event including a Birkin, a Superstalker and 3 Caterhams (including the only R500 in the country) and we even had another Ultralite owner drop by to to say hi. The coolest car there was this maroon Caterham whose owner had put 70,000 miles on the car over 11 years but still had its looking like new. The even more amazing part was that he drove the car up from LA, completed a 2 hour enduro in it and then packed up and drove it to Lake Tahoe the next morning.
The track action was organized by NCRC and was up to their usual excellent standards. All of us had a blast and got to spend some quality time studying each others cars and talking to fellow Seven fans. As a bonus, Vanhap Photography got some excellent shots of the track action including a couple of staged shots of us together on track.
My favourite part of the weekend was a 4 lap sequence where I was tryng to keep up with the Caterham R500 above. The car has only slightly more power than mine (263 bhp Vs 240 bhp0 than mine but is significantly lighter (1200 lbs Vs 1400 lbs) which makes it much faster in straight line. The video below (watch it in HD) shows the action from my point of view and you can see that every time we get onto a straight he is able to pull away from me. the only reason I was able to keep up at all was because he would have to wait for point-bys from slower cars while I could just stream through the openings he made. Might be a good excuse for me to get that supercharger after all
The car performed very well on track and only had a couple of minor electrical issues. I had no heat issues and the coolsuit helped keep the driver cool as well. The tires performed very well and the only real problem was the too much rear bias in the brakes. Since the Ultralite has equal size brakes front to rear and equal sized master cylinders for each as well, the rear brakes are much too powerfull and will lock up way before the fronts even with the balance bar set all the way to the front. This means that I have to brake very early to prevent locking the rears and unsettling the car. I will likely be getting wither a smaller master cylinder or a smaller rear caliper before the next track day.
After packing up early on Sunday after I headed out early hoping to make it home before dinner. I was just over the half way mark when the car suddenly started producing a loud clunk from the rear when I either accelerated or decelerated. I pulled into the nearest gas station and looked under the rear to find that one of the two bolts holding the differential in place had backed out and that the diff was actually twisting around the remaining bolt and hitting the chassis to make the clunking sound. Unfortunately replacing it will require removing the gas tank which is not the kind of job to be done by the side of the road. Luckily I was less than a hundred miles from home which meant that AAA towed me back home for free
All in all it was a fun trip and I’m surprised at how happy I am despite having being towed back home I had a great time at the track and made some great new friends. The car was fast, fun and fairly reliable on the course. I may have broken down at the end but its an obvious problem and should be easy enough to fix in time for the next event. In the mean time you guys can check out the rest of the pictures below: