Monday, July 2, 2007

Track Day Arrives...and it's Over

It seems like it went that fast. Months of prep to get ready and two days before I hear a huge exhaust leak coming from the uppipe area of the car. I figure it is the uppipe to turbo gasket, because we had to do some creative things to get it to fit the first time due to a misaligned stud. One email to Nate over at BPM and I was able to pick up my warranty uppipe the next afternoon. I also got new gaskets from Jon over at Flatirons Tuning while I had him inspect the car for track day. It was going to be a long night pulling that uppipe out and replacing it. In reality it only took a few hours to replace the pipe which was not the problem at all. Turns out the plug I had used to fill the EGT bung hole on the uppipe blew out. I installed the new pipe anyways simply because it fit much better than the old one. I got to bed at a decent hour and tried my hardest to be well rested for the next day.

I arrived at the track about 8:15am and quickly unpacked the car and set up my pop-up tent for some shade. The track day was sponsored by Subaru of America, Flatirons Subaru/Flatirons Tuning, and Go4It Racing Schools. It was held at the Colorado State Patrol Training Track in Golden Colorado. It's a fairly basic track, good for beginners, but still seemed to offer a challenge to the more experienced drivers in the group. We had about 60 cars total, all Subaru's. Everything from mostly stock GC bodies to a 488whp STi driven by Scuba Steve (who is a maniac by the way!) The morning part of the day was mostly instruction and lectures on safety, basic track rules, and the basics of a racing line and car dynamics. We were able to follow the instructors around the track a a low speed to find the correct line and get familiar with the track. Lunch was provided by the sponsors and after a quick break we were split into three groups and went out on the track in 20 minute sessions.

The aggressive group were people who had experience on a race track and were comfortable pushing their car to the limits. The medium group had drivers that were confident in their driving skill and maybe has some experience on a track before. I chose to go out in the slow poke group since I had never driven that car very hard before, nor had I ever been on a road course racetrack before. In retrospect, I could have been in the medium group with no problems, I felt like I was pushing some of the other drivers a bit harder then they wanted to go at times. Let me say this road racing is addictive! I couldn't get enough seat time just trying to push the car harder, brake later, and carry more speed around the track lap after lap.

I got the car loose a time or two, which felt surprisingly good since I had never tested the limits of the car before. It's good to see exactly what it will do and the warnings the car gives you before it starts to lose grip. I learned quite a bit about myself and the car during the open sessions. I learned that I don't even come close to driving that car at the limit on the street. That is probably a very good thing because the Leg is fast! Being able to really push it in a controlled environment gave me a lot of confidence going back to the street. Also being able to watch some really good drivers make me look like a child out there gave me some perspective. That I need to get more seat time!

The day ended about 6pm with a few broken cars and a lot of burnt rubber and hot brakes. I am glad to report the Legacy performed in top notch shape the entire time. I was watching my temp gauge and it never really got hot even though it was 80 degrees plus outside. Brakes were awesome, didn't fade a bit even after 20 minutes of hard use. I did find a couple of leaks afterward in my XVR pipe connections, I'm guessing it was either from the extreme heat of constant boost or I forgot to tighten them all the way after the uppipe install. Either way, it was a small problem that didn't rear its head until after the track day was over.

I have to thank Jon Cooley at Flatirons Tuning for all his hard work setting this day up, and for such a great price! Also, thank yous should go out to Go4It Racing Schools and Michael Pettiford for his patience and instruction. Lastly thank you to Subaru of America for helping to keep the costs down for all the racers. Everyone I talked to had a great time!

Stay Tuned! Next Blog we'll get back to doing car modifications. I have my intercooler sprayer to get going, and I want to mount my AccessPORT so I can take advantage of it's live data and performance tests.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Last Minute Stuff

The past six months have been dedicated to getting the car ready for the track. I didn't want to be the guy who blew up his motor or cooked his brakes, so I took some preventative steps and added an extra layer of safety and performance in my previous blog entries. I still had two things to do before the day came: Add my lowering springs and get some tires for the track.

A few weeks before track day I took a Saturday and installed the Tein S-Tech springs onto the stock struts. The install took about 3 1/2 hours. Not too bad, it helped that I had done more than my share of suspension installs on previous WRX's. While springs on stock struts are not the most ideal suspension set-up for the track, I don't drive on the track most of the time. The lowering springs lower the center of gravity of the car making more stable in turns as well as adding a higher spring rate so the car doesn't roll as much. The S-Techs lower the car about 1.5" in the front and about 1" in the rear making the car very low. I have to be careful as the front bumper will no longer fit over curbs, but the ride is acceptable and the benefits in the corners with the springs working together with the upgraded rear sway bar is tremendous. Lowering the car also gives it a more aggressive stance and reduced the amount of "wheel gap", or the distance between the top of your tire and the fender of the car. The downside of the lowering springs is that they put extra stress on the struts and can contribute to failure of the strut. With my luck on the stock struts I didn't expect them to last very long anyways. When the time comes I will either buy a set of coil-overs or buy an aftermarket set of struts that can handle the lowered springs.

I also needed tires before the big day. The stock RE-92 Bridgestones are much better than previous versions of that tire, but still are pretty poor in terms of dry handling. My original plan was to buy a set of rims and summer tires and use those for the track day. But, the bills started piling up and we need to pay off our Europe trip, so I decided to buy just a used set of STi tires. The tires that come on the Legacy are considered all-season, meaning they were designed to work in the snow and the rain and the dry. When a tire is designed to work in every kind of weather, it must make some compromises. All season tires are not the best on dry pavement. The WRX STi models come with a summer only tire as the factory equipped choice. These tires are very expensive to replace, but they are very good on dry and wet pavement. Still, a lot of guys upgrade their wheels and tires to something else and sell off the stock setup. I didn't have a lot of cash plus I didn't really want to ruin a whole set of tires in one day, so I found a guy that had a set of very used STi take off tires for cheap. They were basically bald, but I just wanted them to last through the day at the track. They are also a wider size, helping to increase grip.

I now had the tires I needed and the suspension all set. I thought I had everything covered and was ahead of the game with a few days to spare. Yeah right! In the next installment we will cover the really-last minute problems that occurred and track day itself.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Finally Tuned---Kind of

In the last installment I got some much needed suspension and braking help. The next step before track day is to make sure the car is running safely and with as much power as possible. Notice that I put safety first and power second. I could be making 1,000 horsepower and it wouldn't mean a thing if the car breaks down. I don't have the finance to be doing a full motor rebuild at this time, so I told my tuner that I wanted the most power the car could produce while keeping safe air fuel ratios (AFR's) at all RPM's and engine loads. This keeps the engine from detonating or knocking, and destroying itself. I have the COBB AccessPORT v2 installed and was running the 91 octane Stage 2 map from COBB. At the time I purchased the AccessPORT from Flatirons Tuning they were running a special with a discounted rate for ProTune dyno time. I jumped at the opportunity to have the COBB Stage 2 map tweaked for my personal car, again making sure things were nice and safe for track day.

I took the car to Super-Rupair in Boulder, CO for the tune. I have known Harvey for many years in the Subaru community and really trust him to do whats best for my car. The AWD DynoDynamics dynometer is really a nice piece of equipment, and much safer than doing wide open throttle pulls on public roadways. This particular dyno reads quite a bit lower than some of the others in the area, it's referred to as "the heartbreaker" mostly because Harvey uses a 1.15 correction factor(CF) instead of the higher CF that most places use. Dyno numbers by themselves are useless unless you have something to compare them to. For example a stock 2.0 L WRX puts down between 160-175 WHP as measured on this dyno. A stock STi puts down about 235-245 on this dyno. A stockLegacy GT dynos at around 200-210 on this dyno. I'm not really concerned with the numbers themselves, rather the increase I get from adding parts and tuning and the smoothness of the power curve.

Harvey worked with my busy schedule and even left a local car show early on a Saturday to get me tuned. I pulled up and got right on the dyno as scheduled. Jon from Flatirons Tuning came by as well to see what kind of numbers my Legacy put down. We don't have too many modified Legacys running around here so I didn't know what to expect. What we found surprised all of us including Harvey.

We got the Legacy all tied down and ready to go in about 1/2 hour. I'm an idiot and forgot my camera so I don't have any pictures, but such is life. The hood was opened slightly but we didn't put a fan directly on the intercooler, just in front of the car to simulate normal driving conditions. The first run netted 234 hp and 260 lb-ft torque. We were amazed! The most impressive thing however, was the AFRs through the powerband. They were damn near flat indicating that the tune from COBB was a perfect match for the items I had installed on the vehicle. Harvey was very surprised, he said that he very rarely sees a factory map like the COBB be dead on perfect like that one was. We did another 2 pulls to verify and make sure it wasn't some sort of fluke and on the last run it made 236 hp and 264 lb-ft torque. Basically, the car is putting down as much power as a STi in stock form.

I couldn't be happier. Since Harvey didn't do any tuning he was a great guy and just charged me for a baseline reading, leaving my ProTune for when I have added more goodies. I'll post up the dyno graphs as soon as I get them scanned in the computer. Now I know the car is nice and safe, not to mention very fast, I feel more and more excited for track day!

Stay tuned, next installment is going to cover my way-too-complicated-and-expensive-intercooler-sprayer! I also need to get those lowering springs on! Too much to do!

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Few More Bits Added

Getting closer and closer to track day. In my last post I went through my shopping list of goodies from Flatirons Tuning. After I got the Stage 2 up and running on the AccessPORT v2, the need for better handling and stopping became even more apparent. Luckily, I knew that was going to be the case and purchased a few things to remedy that situation.

First off I bought a Whiteline rear sway bar. This pretty piece is a 20mm two-way adjustable that replaces the laughable 16mm excuse for a bar. I also purchased some upgraded Whiteline endlinks as I have heard of many drivers breaking the stock toothpick-sized endlinks when driving aggressively. For those who may not be familiar to sway bar upgrades, the bar acts as a link from one side of the suspension to the other. Actually, they should be called anti-sway or anti-roll bars as they prevent the body from rolling excessively. The endlinks connect the sway bars to the body. Subaru builds the Legacy to be comfortable and so that the average Joe driver can drive like an idiot and get away with it. The stock swaybar size does not allow the rear end of the car to rotate out, even in hard cornering acceleration. This is to prevent average Joe driver from spinning the car and getting in a potentially serious accident due to his overactive right foot. Subaru put such a small bar in the rear of the car that under nearly any circumstance the car will understeer or "push". Once again, this is fine for Joe, not fine for the performance enthusiast. Adding this stiffer sway bar really helps the car to feel less like a milk truck and more like a touring sedan. A quick twitch of the steering wheel after it was installed and there was no question it improves the feel of the car. Install was a cinch, and I have not noticed any decrease in ride quality whatsoever. Highly recommended!

The next issue we needed to address was the braking system. Now the stock Legacy brakes are quite large (12.3" in the front, 11.3" in the rear) and have good clamping force from the dual piston calipers in the front and single pistons in the rear. For the type of driving that I do, mainly street driving, not very aggressive, I simply wanted to make the best use of what came on the car. I'm not interested in a $2000 15" cross drilled slotted big brake kit, because frankly I would never need that much braking power. I have to admit the big brake kits look cool though! After doing some research I decided to go with the Hawk HPS pads, a SS brake line kit from Goodridge, and a flush and refill with some ATE Super Blue high temp brake fluid. These parts will make my braking system tough enough to handle the upcoming track day, yet not be too aggressive for street use. The Legacy SS brake kit has 6 lines as the rear brake setup has two lines per wheel, and replaces the rubber lines with tougher stainless steel braided lines. These lines are guaranteed for life by Goodridge and are DOT certified. Replacing the stock lines improves brake pedal feel eliminating the mushy feel that can happen especially when the brakes get hot. Adding the Hawk pads gives me improved braking through a much larger heat range than the stock pads were ever designed to see, while not being overly loud, dusting too much or eating away my rotors too fast. These pads are used by most AutoX drivers that use their cars to get to work everyday and race them on the weekend. Upgrading the fluid helps keep the braking consistent as the heat in the brakes builds up like it will during track day. The stock DOT 3 fluid will actually boil under extreme heat and allow air to enter the brake lines greatly reducing braking efficiency. The ATE Super Blue fluid has a much higher wet and dry boiling point so it takes much more abuse then the regular brake fluid would. At this point the rotors were still in basically brand new shape, so I saw no reason at this point to replace them. When that time comes I will most likely go with a slotted rotor for even more heat dissipation. With the new brake components installed and properly broken in I can tell you that the difference in braking is significant. I feel much more connected to the brakes and they get me stopped quicker then the stock parts did. I now feel confident that my brake system can handle track day without becoming a safety issue.

Thanks again to Jon Cooley at Flatirons Tuning for his help! Support your local speed shops!

Stay tuned... in the next installment I will be taking the car to Super Rupair in Boulder to have it ProTuned by Harvey!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Woo Hoo Stage 2!

Well, I finally broke down and spent all that part-time job money I've been amassing. I went and saw Jon up at Flatirons Subaru and purchased a COBB AccessPORT V2 with a PROTune by Super-Rupair's own Harvey, a front set of Hawk HPS front brake pads, a set of Goodridge stainless steel brake lines, a liter of ATE Super Blue racing brake fluid, and just for kicks a Mr. Dampachi doll from Tein. Besides wheels and tires, I am pretty much set for the track day put on by Flatirons Tuning coming up June 2nd. I just needed to get all the parts installed and set up my tune date.

A quick overview on the COBB AccessPORT for those who aren't familiar with it's capabilities can be found here. I would highly suggest downloading the latest firmware update when you bring your AccessPORT home before you install it in the car.

The original plan was to not install the AccessPORT until I took it up and had the ProTune done by Harvey. Then, I started thinking that it would be nice to be able to document the difference in the car with the COBB stage 2 map vs. the custom tune that Harvey was going to do. The thing that sealed the deal was my Check Engine light came on a few days after I installed the downpipe and cat-back exhaust. The CEL is caused from the rear O2 sensor readings being off from what the computer says they should be. Basically, when you install a high flowing exhaust system on these Subaru's the rear O2 sensor readings differ enough that the ECU thinks that there is a problem with the catalytic converters in the downpipe, and thus illuminates the Check Engine light. Some Subaru's are more sensitive then others in this regard. I've heard of people driving thousands of miles and the light never comes on, for some they only drive a few minutes after installing an exhaust system and it comes on. The AccessPORT, when installed, removes that code from the ECU so your Check Engine light goes out...or so I thought.

I reflashed the ECU using the AccessPORT instructions. Cobb requires at least a high flow downpipe for their Stage 2 map. They highly recommend a catback exhaust as well. On top of those two items I have a catless uppipe which improves things farther. This is known as Stage 2+ in the Legacy world. I chose the Stage 2 (91 Octane) map and in a few minutes the car was ready to drive. A quick test drive found gobs more power under the right foot. Boost increased from 13-14 PSI stock to about 16-17 PSI tapering down to about 13 PSI at redline. The car used to run out of juice above about 5500 RPM, but with the Stage 2 map from COBB it pulls like a madman all the way to redline. 100 mph comes up before you even know it, and the acceleration from 60-100 mph is crazy! I can tell from the smell of the exhaust at idle that it is running much leaner, no more stinky fuel smell from the pipes. The best thing about this is that there is no decrease in driveablity. Coming from the DSM world where you basically have to live with a car that idles rough and dies out occasionally in order to make decent power, this is quite a welcome difference. Absolutely the best "bang for your buck" mod out there for these cars.

One minor problem came up the next day as my silly Check Engine light came back on. I checked the codes using the AccessPORT and it was that stupid rear O2 sensor reading wrong again. I found that the code translated to the rear O2 sensor seeing a "low" signal. I thought that was odd since usually the codes are for "high" readings by the sensor. I did some research on the forums and found a guy that had the same code and found that the wires going to the sensor had been damaged. I put the car up on a lift and found that one of the wires had gotten rubbed through by the driveshaft and was broken. A quick wiring repair and a few zip ties to make sure it doesn't happen again and the light hasn't come back.

Overall I am very happy with the car at this point. The extra power really makes the suspension mods and better tires needed ASAP. I'll cover those in the next installment, as well as the dyno numbers with the base map (stock) vs. the COBB stage 2 map vs. the custom tune done at Super-Rupair.

Friday, February 23, 2007

It's been a while-- updates

Well, it's been a while since the last post. Holidays and everything else now winding down I finally have a chance to update everyone on the project.

Since the last post I have done a few things to the car. My original plan was to start with the suspension and start adding power after that. With the weather being the way it is here in Denver and the massive potholes left by two huge blizzards, I decided now is not really the time to lower the car. I have Tein S-tech springs and a Whiteline rear sway bar ready to be installed once the road repair crews have some time to work. So with suspension put on hold I decided to start amassing parts to make some more power.

The first thing I added was a BPM cross pipe and uppipe. Together BPM calls this package their "virtual header". Replacing the uppipe removes a very restrictive catalytic converter that is in the pipe right before the turbo. Having a catalytic converter or "cat" in the uppipe allows Subaru to obtain a lower emissions rating. But, adding a cat in the uppipe creates a significant restriction in the exhaust system before the turbo as well as creates the potential problem of having some of the cat material break off and get sucked into the turbo effectively ruining it. Removing it does two beneficial things:

1. It removes a significant restriction in the exhaust system before the turbo, allowing faster spool.

2. It reduces the amount of heat the turbo and all other under hood parts must endure.

My little disclaimer: I do not condone or urge you in any way to remove a working catalytic converter from your vehicle. To do so would be illegal unless the car is used off road only. BTW- The STi does not come with a cat in the uppipe, so that should say something that Subaru knows it is a big restriction.

The second part of the package from BPM is the cross pipe. This replaces the stock pipe that carries exhaust from the drivers side manifold to the passenger side manifold. BPM found that replacing this one pipe increased exhaust flow and effectively eliminated the need for a complete header system.

Below you see the stock cross pipe vs. the BPM XVR Pipe

As you can see the BPM piece is much nicer looking (though nobody sees it) and is larger diameter piping increasing the exhaust flow.

When I put an uppipe on my '02 WRX the gain in spool up and top end power was very noticeable. I had heard that the 2.0 liter motor in the early 2002-2005 WRX's responds much better to the uppipe then the 2.5 liter turbo motor found in the Forrester, Legacy GT as well as the 2006-up WRX's. The difference mostly comes down to engine displacement and turbo size. With the 2.0 liter motor trying to spool up the turbo with a big cat in the way was difficult. Increasing the displacement to 2.5 liters and spinning nearly the same size turbo is much easier for the engine, even with the cat in the way. After I added these parts I noticed a minimal gain in spool up time from the turbo, maybe about 200 RPM faster to full boost, but the real gains were found when I freed up the exhaust restriction after the turbo.

After the uppipe and cross pipe were done I focused my time, and money, toward the post-turbo exhaust. I purchased a COBB downpipe and heatshield from a vendor on as well as an XO2 catback exhaust off EBay.

I chose the COBB downpipe for a few reasons. First off they have been known to produce very high quality parts for Subarus for years. Their parts are expensive, but it's because they are well made and engineered very well. Their downpipe uses a cast bellmouth design and replaces the two cats found in the stock downpipe with either one high flow cat or none in their racing downpipe. Second the COBB downpipe has a bung in the top of the downpipe where you can add a wideband oxygen sensor. This becomes a very handy feature when you take the car to get tuned on a dyno, but more on that in another segment. Adding a downpipe to a late model turbo Subaru car is on e of the best "bang for your buck" mods you can do. The stock downpipe design is, in a word, horrible. Imagine running at full speed through a doorway. Imagine that doorway is very small and you barely have enough room to fit through it. Do you have to slow down before you go through the doorway? Of course, or you will run into the frame and hurt yourself. Now imagine if that doorway was the size of a garage door. Do you have to slow down to run through an opening the size of a garage door?
Nope, full speed ahead captain!

Ok, so the gases are at full speed through the downpipe, but Subaru designed the Legacy to be very quiet, like a luxury car. Quiet means restriction in the performance world. The next biggest restriction in the Legacy exhaust system is the mufflers. An aftermarket cat back exhaust fixes this problem quite well. There are many choices for the new Legacy in all different price ranges and audible ranges. I wanted a system that was loud and free flowing. The Legacy has always been way too quiet in the cabin for me. I normally use my ears to tell me when to shift rather than looking at the tach, but in the Legacy with the stock exhaust it was nearly impossible to tell if the car was even running. I chose the XO2 or "Ebay" catback because of its looks and its attractive price. I paid $400 including shipping for this system, where as the Perrin catback I was looking at was going to run me about $900 shipped. To me that's a significant difference. I am all about paying for quality, but I think sometimes in the automotive world people pay for brand names, and they pay alot for the name. I happen to know that nearly every exhaust system made is made in one of three places in Taiwan. Most of your "premium" brands are made right next to the "economy" systems.

I felt like, after reading the reviews on this particular exhaust system, that it was a good deal and I was not looking for a "quiet" system which was the major complaint from the people who had bought it. After putting on the downpipe and catback the car is definitely louder, but not to the point where it is annoying to me. I love the exhaust rumble of a Subaru, I could listen to a straight pipe exhaust all day long! If I don't want to hear the exhaust I just turn the radio up to level 7 and it's barely noticeable. Performance wise the car has become a rocket. Punch it in one of the lower gears and boost comes on instantly. Spinning wheels are very common with any amount of sand on the road. Punch it on the highway and 100mph comes before your ready. The car is almost scary fast at this point, and I rarely have the opportunity to even get into boost around town. But when I do have the chance, it puts a smile on my face from ear to ear. The really scary part is that I expect to get another 10-25 wheel hp from a AccessPORT and a custom tune.

Stay tuned, here in the near future I'm taking the car to the dyno and getting tuned. Expect my updates to come more frequently as the weather gets nicer and I have a track day to prepare for!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Back from the Dealer

Got the Legacy back from the dealer a few days ago. Took it in to have them inspect the rear struts again and to check out a loud whining noise while in reverse. I know that Subarus in particular are noisy in reverse but this was obscene. John Elway West was very helpful and gave me a loaner car while they were looking at it. Nothing found in the rear struts, they are not leaking at this time, nor were the technicians able to make them "clunk" as we have heard on occassion. I figured that it would be hard for them to find any problems unless they saw a leaky strut or something, so nothing was done there. The transmission however, was a different story.

I went on a test drive with a technician to confirm the noise, and he agreed it was an excessive amount of whine. The dealer called the next day to inform me that they were going to have to pull the transmission to locate and fix the problem and that it would be a few days to have it repaired. I then returned to the dealer that night to get something out of my car and the technician already had the tranny out and apart. I spoke with him in brief about the cause of the whine and he explained that his assesment was that the case had been "streched" because of repeated clutch drops. I then asked him about the wear on the friction disk of the clutch and he replied that it was only about 20% worn. I found this amusing that he thought the case had been streched due to abuse, yet the clutch is only 20% worn after 20,000 miles! My wife doesn't even know the meaning of the term clutch drop, so I am positive that IF this "abuse" happened it was within the first 3,000 miles before we purchesed the vehicle. He also informed me that the parts that were needed were in New Jersey and that it would be the next week before I got my car finished. I didn't mind, I was driving around an '06 Forester XT as a loaner.

I went home expecting a fight from the dealer the next day regarding covering this under warranty. To my surprise, I recieved a phone message that informed me of the problem and gave me a timeframe in which they were going to try and get the car done. Nothing about excessive abuse or voiding of the factory warranty. I called and confirmed that eveything was going to be covered under the factory warranty and was very satisfied with the service and demeanor of my advisor, Patty.

I know this sounds like a plug for John Elway West's sevice department, but I really was impressed with the way they handled my blown struts, twice, and this incident. I will stay doing business with them until I have a reason to go elsewhere.

They ended up replacing nearly the entire transmission, including sycros, the case, the forks, ect. I picked the car up the next week and have had zero problems with it since. The transmission feels a bit more "notchy" like my WRX's did, and the lack of noise in reverse is nice.

All in all I'm happy to have the car back and it looks to be in top shape and ready to recieve some bolt on parts. It's been nice Mr. Warranty, maybe I'll have one again on a different car.