This Saturday I went up to Motorsports Ranch in Cresson, TX for a track day with The Drivers Edge.  I brought along the MR2 Spyder for only its second ever track day, last time was the 3.1 mile course at MSR.  This time we’d be driving the 1.7 mile configuration, clockwise, which is opposite of the standard layout.  I’ve driven this before in the M Coupe with the BMW CCA, and I really enjoyed it.  The shorter configuration means more repetition on the corners, which is great for learning.  If you recall, last time I had a very oversteer prone setup, making for a few too many off-track excursions.  Prior to this event I ordered up some Swift springs in a 6kg/mm and 7kg/mm rates for front and rear respectively, therefore shifting more of the spring bias towards the front from the original 4/6 setup.  This should reduce the oversteer and bring the car closer to neutral.  You can read more about the work in this post.  Here’s a video from the first session.  It was a pretty cold morning, and the track was very green.  The Lotuses (Loti?) were have some serious grip issues, as you can see they were just poking around.  I had a decent time playing with the Boss 302 Mustang, who eventually caught up with me as my tires were overheating (I pumped them up pretty high due to the cold.)

The good news, the spring swap worked, the car was far closer to neutral.  The bad news was that my alignment and corner balance is still way out of whack.  The car really needed to be taken to a track alignment specialist rather than the local Firestone.  That will have to wait, because on my second session I got hit with worse news.  While headed down the back straight I lost all power and the dash lit up with a CEL.  I tried to turn it off and re-crank, but nothing.  It would turn over just fine, I had fuel, and the temp gauges were all normal, but no starting.  Fortunately I had enough speed to coast up through Ricochet and into the grid area.  I would have had enough momentum to carry me back to parking, but some guy with no situational awareness decided it was a good idea to just walk slowly in front of my coasting car.  I had to hop out and push it the rest of the way, fortunately a helpful soul joined in and pushed it back to my parking spot.  This video tells the story:

The sounds heard in the video weren’t audible to me at the time, as I had ear plugs in and a helmet on.  When I pulled in to parking I assumed it might be a simple wiring issue, as the car was having no issues turning over.  I removed the rear cubby floor to access the Apex PFC stand-alone ECU and J&S Safeguard, checking all the connections.  I even put the J&S into monitor mode to see if it was getting false knocking signals, still wouldn’t run.  I had my PFC Commander hand-held tuner, which I used to check all the sensors.  Everything was reading normal, as was my fuel pressure gauge.  So it wasn’t a fueling issue, wiring, or sensor.  It didn’t throw a belt, so I assume it was getting enough air.  So maybe spark somehow.  I tried cranking again, keeping the throttle full open.  It would fire, but was running extremely rough, like a cylinder was down, and would only run with WOT.  That’s when I decided to pull the plugs.  Not exactly an easy job on the Spyder, as the rear X-brace has to come out to pull the coils (coil on plug.)  I eventually got the coils out with the help of a fellow driver’s tool box, then I had to get a plug socket.  Fortunately the guys from Texas Track Works were a few spots over and gladly loaned me the tools.  I asked to borrow a compression tester as well, just in case it was a head gasket or blown set of rings.

I didn’t get to the compression check, because the first plug I pulled (Cylinder #1) looked like this:


Yes, that’s a smashed electrode, and smashed porcelain with it.  There are only a few ways that can happen and none are good.  There’s no fixing this at a track, so with the help of a few other drivers I pushed the car back on the trailer and called it a day.  Rather than drive back pissed off and tired, I retired to the hotel room and decided to leave in the morning.  The next day I woke to a fogged in Cresson, they definitely wouldn’t be out on the track in this.  I found out later that they postponed all the sessions until after lunch due to the fog.  That made me feel a little better about missing out but only a little.  On the drive back I decided to give Dave at DD Performance Research a call and see what he thought.  Dave is an all around 2ZZ-GE genius, and the man who tuned this car to begin with.  I asked to drop the car off at his shop down in Sealy, TX, as I really have no room in my garage to take on another engine rebuild.

Once I reached Dave’s shop, he brought out a Snap-on borescope and dropped it down into the #1 cylinder.  We could clearly see a valve standing on end, separated from its stem.  So all that turning over wasn’t helping matters, but the damage was clearly already done.  The worry is just how much damage may have been done to the underside of the head (#1 combustion chamber) and to the cylinder wall.  See the 2ZZ doesn’t use steel or iron liners, it has aluminum walls treated with Metal Matrix Reinforced (MMC) coating.  This coating is great for keeping the engine light and against normal wear from the the rings, but very easy to damage from things like valves and spark plug parts banging around.  The top of the piston is also done for.  So I’m out at least a valve-train and piston at a minimum, possibly a complete short block and head.  That’s a kick to the underbody considering I have maybe 3k miles on this shortblock and reconditioned head that I built not too long ago.  I should have scrapped the OEM valve-train from the beginning, especially since I was running longer duration Piper stage II cams.  The engine wasn’t over-reved, no money shifts, but it’s already an interference design in stock configuration.  So it’s possible a slight valve float could have created a meeting of the piston and valve and that’s all she wrote.

On a more cheerful note, here’s a little video of the Spyder shooting some flames at the Boss Mustang that was playing around with me during the first session, so enjoy.


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