Some Upgrades, Past and Present: Part 1

WIth one of the primary draws of Lucky Dog Racing Canada being a fairly liberal rule book, sometimes it’s hard to leave well enough alone. Here are a few items we’ve worked on or are working on.

Welded Differential

Our first race was at Shannonville, with many slow and tight corners (and a monsoon on this particular occasion). Aside from some tuner boi lowering springs on the rear, and some poly control arm bushings, our suspension is completely stock. This makes the car very forgiving and easy to drive. It also means the inside front tire becomes unloaded and spins and spins and spins on corner exit until some time later you can consider applying a little bit of throttle. Enter the welded diff. After much research and weighing the pros and cons, the differential was welded, and crunchy synchros replaced over a winter rebuild. Of course an LSD would be the ultimate solution here, but it’s hard to justify installing a $1200 diff in a $750 car.

The pros: The first race attended after the work was done was at Calabogie. Since I had never set foot on the property let alone driven on the track, I can’t make any comparisons there. Shonnonville on the other hand was a noticeable improvement. Whereas previously the inherent FWD throttle-on understeer would leave you sawing at the gas pedal trying to keep the nose pointed in, a little extra input would now help bring the car back to the inside of the corner. The hairpin was a much less dramatic experience than the open diff. Rather than searching for a spot that would keep both tires propelling the car forward, you could pretty much drive anywhere and get on the throttle in a timely manner.

The cons: Although I don’t have a lot of data to back it up, tire wear went up significantly. This could be the tires fighting each other as they were forced to travel the same distance over different radii around the track. It could also be that we were able to drive the car more aggressively and keep the power down. Either way, 8 hours on track removed any sign that tread had existed on our fresh Azenis 615k+’s.

By far the most dramatic change however, was the inability to manoeuvre the car in the paddock. Our route now had to be carefully planned, and U-turns became a thing of the past. With our OEM hydraulic power steering removed, it could easily be a two man operation to load the car onto the trailer. Unfortunately the seat is only big enough for one, so I’d need another solution.

Power Steering

With the welded diff sure to enrage my teammates in the paddock, I needed a solution that didn’t require filling the engine bay with pumps and hydraulic lines. Besides, that stuff had gone to the scrap yard long ago. After doing some digging, I came across some articles about retrofitting electric power steering from more modern cars, mostly onto hotrods. Despite having their own ECU’s and affiliated wiring, the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius electric power steering column was almost a plug and play affair. The system can be run in a safe mode that requires no connection to any of the Celica’s electronics. The steering shaft splines and main mount for the column were a direct fit for my application, only the pivot point for the tilt column had to be modified at my dash bar. Aside from a power cable run to the back of my kill switch, and a 12v supply to the ECU, the system is completely stand-alone.

The Pros: Despite still needing to accommodate the reduced turn circle, I no longer feel like a 16th century sea captain battling a storm when I try to turn the wheel. It also does not require the engine to be running to steer. As long as the system is powered on, I can turn lock to lock one handed with the car on all fours.

The Cons: It’s heavy. The steering column assembly/motor itself is quite bulky. If you are switching from hydraulic to electric, this should still be a substantial weight savings. If you currently have no power steering, I still think the added weight is worth the sacrifice.

Front Undertray

If you want to go faster, just buy a faster car. That was easy. If you’ve already dumped all of your resources into an econobox disguised as a “compact sports car”, then you will have to allocate your pennies into that as you collect them. In an attempt to reduce drag (and hopefully lift), a custom front undertray was added for our second season. I’d like to tell you I designed it on autocad and had it made out of carbon fiber, but I think we both know that is a lie. It was cut out of a sheet of 3/8 birch plywood by tracing the bumper, and sealed with a healthy coat of Tremclad. I avoided a full-on splitter as I would need a stronger and heavier material, and my team already has an aversion to pairing downforce with our 140hp pea shooter. When I attach something to the car that I fully expect to be destroyed in the heat of battle, I try to make it quick and convenient to remove. It also has to be simple to perform maintenance around. In this case, it is suspended with 4 linch pins that can be quickly removed without lifting the car. It’s hard to come up with real world testing on a race car after a project like this, so I have to trust the consensus of others that have had the resources to test. We did not run Mosport this past year, but I assume if we were to see any benefit in handling or fuel consumption, it will be there. We’ll have to wait and see.

The pros: Theoretically less drag and less lift. It also stops our floppy roll plastic bumper from flapping around.

The cons: Heat and weight. If you box off the bottom of the engine bay, you have to contend with the fact that the heat produced by the powertrain has one less place to go. With a healthy dose of hood venting, this didn’t prove to be an issue in our case. Plywood is strong and cheap (at least it used to be), but compared to more exotic materials, it does add a bit of weight. I would probably be more inclined to run a splitter or undertray on a momentum track like Mosport than a somewhere requiring rapid changes of speed and direction like Shannonville. Like anything else you stick to the bottom of the car, you also have to provide some consideration for jack points. One of which is compromised by the giant chunk of plywood hanging under this car.

That pretty much covers it for part one. More to come….

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