With the Probe still laid up waiting, and the Pine Mountain Hillclimb fast approaching, I made the decision to outfit the RX-8 with the proper safety equipment to run the event.
That means a four point roll bar, harnesses, and a fire bottle. Since the factory seats don’t have provisions for a harness, this extended into new buckets and sliders, as well.
But first among all of it, recalls. The car, despite being 18 years old, still had outstanding recall campaigns. The infamouse Takata airbags of death, an issue with the front lower ball joints, and a fuel filter issue. The great people at Neil Huffman Mazda in Louisville took care of that for me. Super good experience with their service department. They didn’t blink an eye at some of the mods on the car and concentrated on the recalls.
A byproduct of the lower control arm replacement was a fresh new factory alignment, which really improved things. I don’t know what the alignment looked like before, but it must have been screwy, because it drives great now.
I also replaced the steering rack. The electric power steering was working less and less often, and the torque sensor (which is integrated into the rack and isn’t field replacable) finally started testing out of spec. A new rack from RockAuto.com showed up in three days and only took about 90 minutes to install and re-set the toe. I did do this BEFORE it went to the dealer, so I did not screw up my new alignment.
It failed again a few days later. I’ve ordered a replacement wiring harness. Fingers crossed that will finally exorcise that demon.
Installing the roll cage was a breeze. Remove the interior, measure, cut the tubes, and weld them in. I did have a challenge with the floor reinforcement plates. The floorpans on this car are extremely thin metal, and it took much care to not burn through them.
I used a weld-in kit from Autopower. It was $300 cheaper than their bolt-in kit. I’d hoped it was just the bolt-in kit without the bolts, but it wasn’t. It required trimming five inches from the main hoop to fit, and the rear down bars weren’t even close. I had to trim and notch them myself. Next time I do this on a car, if there’s a bolt-in available, I’ll pay the extra money.
The interior is cramped. I can fit in, but getting in is a bear. Getting out in an emergency isn’t a problem, I just dive over the seat onto the ground, but getting out gracefully isn’t possible. I really should have tilted the main hoop backwards. I’ll fix that next winter. For now, I’ll get it through the hillclimb and the Time Trials Nationals, then put the original seats back in for the rest of the year. They provided a lot more room to get in and out.
A fire bottle and bracket from Amazon went on the diagonal brace.
The seats I chose were a set of MOMO Buckets. They’re FIA approved. Some brackets and universal sliders later, and in they went.
Keeping the engine healthy requires some better instrumentation. The factory water temp gauge is notorious for being bad. The needle gets just shy of halfway by 160F, but then doesn’t move again until coolant passes 209F. That’s terrible. The oil pressure gauge also isn’t terribly informative. it’s basically a switch. I’ve added a three gauge pod with water temp, oil temp, and actual oil pressure. I generally prefer logging and warning lights, but with the factory PCM, that’s not really possible. So, this will have to do.
Installing the cluster required removing the radio, which I broke. There’s a 10mm bolt that holds the radio into the dash. I removed the wrong bolt, and promptly pulled the faceplate off the radio. oops.
Some JB Weld and a bit of patience had that portion repaired, and it all went back together with out incident.
One interesting thing is the water temp gauge’s sensor went into a junction pipe that splices the lower radiator hose, so the gauge doesn’t move at all until the thermostat opens. The oil pressure and temp are tapped in at the filter, so that works immediately.
The actual Event
The Pine Mountain Hill Climb technically kicked off on Friday, April 22 at 5pm with the Pine Mountain Hill Climb Festival in Downtown Pineville, but we got there earlier.
Arriving at the site around 1pm, we unloaded in the upper paddock, and got the car down to the lower paddock for tech. This year, I got a full inspection and the car was issued an official SCCA Logbook. Turns out I can install a safe and legal cage and safety system after all.
We set up camp, then headed downtown.
We got there a bit before five, and grabbed some salad and pizza from Sauce, the local joint on the square, and took in the sights. Just like last year, lots of cool equipment showed up again. A real AC Cobra, several little go-kart things that looked like really big helmets with wheels. Plenty of locals came in for the show, too.
But the main event was the next morning. I was in the first run group, so I would get my first shot at the mountain fairly early. We headed for the cabin and watch a bit of a Harry Potter marathon, then hit the sack.
First impressions of the RX-8 on the hill were that’s too slow, but the handling and braking was superb. I then realized I’d left the traction and stability control on for my first two runs.
Turning that off cut two seconds, leaving me with my best run of the weekend, a 2:11.5.
The only issues with the car were it’s still leaking what I thought was oil from the top of the engine, and it got hot. Once the afternoon ambient temperatures passed 80, I was seeing almost 240 degrees F in the coolant at the top of the hill. The aftermarket fans that came with the aftermarket radiator were not up to the task. I ran the rest of my runs with the heat on blast, and Sunday’s temps were about ten degrees cooler ambient, so I managed to keep it under 230 the rest of the weekend.
The temps did come right back down once I finished my runs, so the radiator’s fine. I just need to get more air through it.
All in all, it was a fantastically successful weekend. A new personal best on the mountain by large amount, no mechanical issues, and I had fun. I also built an enormous amount of confidence in the car.
Looking ahead to the Time Trials Nationals Next month, I have two massive SPAL fans to install, and I’m still waiting on reinforced oil cooler lines to ship. I think what I though was oil is actually coolant that had sprayed backwards from the overflow when it got hot. I’ve had the entire top of the engine apart twice now and can’t find a leak.
And the fans, let me just make a comment:
Be careful when buying aftermarket stuff, please. This car came to me with an aftermarket aluminum radiator with a nice shroud and these two fans. But they’re not up to the task. They’re actually worse than the stock set up.
It’s hard to get CFM numbers for the stock fans, but OEMs typically do not mess around in the cooling department. The service manual says the OEM fans draw nearly 20 amps of current combined when both are operating. The data sheet for this aftermarket set says 4 amps. Combined. For both. And both fans together flow an advertised 1130 CFM.
There is no way these aftermarket fans are pulling anywhere near as much air as the stockers if they only draw 1/5 the current. Impossible.
So, these SPAL fans I got pull 1830 CFM EACH. They draw 38 amps, EACH. I’ll be using the stock fan wiring to trigger some 80 amp relays powered straight off the battery, but there should be no worries about moving enough air through the radiator to keep the engine cool with these.
So, onward to the Time Trials Nationals in Bowling Green!