Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NASA Midwest @ Autobahn 4.5 hr Enduro - "Into The Night" - Start!

This would be a fuel-mileage race, without question. We had six cars start the E0 class, us, three American Iron-prepped S197 Mustangs, and two E46 BMW M3s. We were the entry with the lowest horsepower, so our strategy was to run full fuel-load stints, hoping for around 75 minutes each, plus a quick splash-and-go towards the end. We assumed that the night-time stints would be at a slower pace, with no lights at all (save pit lane) on the 3.56-mile 21-turn course, and based strictly on the horsepower and weight of the AI cars, we believed that we could run one less fuel stop than they did, worth around eight minutes, or two and a half to three laps. The question was whether their pace could put us more than three laps down. The BMWs were the wildcards, with unknown fuel consumption characteristics, unknown fuel-tank (or cell) capacity, and had the potential to simply bury us with those hyper-efficient I-6 engines. All we could do was run the best race we could, and let the chips fall.

John, our crew chief, had an excellent strategy lined up for us. Dave (the owner) would take the first stint, to establish pace, and (hopefully) get us in a solid position on track for the first fuel stop and driver change. Then I would take over, running us through dusk and into the dark. Our last driver - Joe - who has a good amount of time in the car, would handle the anchor leg, and take it to the checker, if the car survived. As they say, plans NEVER survive contact with the enemy, and this was no different! After I came in from practice, Dave hopped in the car and got all belted in, while John handled the data and video setup for the stint. After a quick check of tire pressures and lug torque, the field was off for the formation lap and the race start.

Based on a random pit-stall layout, we wound up starting roughly P9 (out of 22 starters), right behind a Daytona Prototype, and right ahead of one of the AI Mustangs, an E0 BMW M3, then another AI Mustang.  What we wanted was to get up to pace as quickly as possible, find some spacing, and then just dial into a solid, consistent lap time that didn’t overly punish the tires and brakes, and make maximum use of the fuel onboard. That went out the window as well!

Right around 5pm, the green flag flew, and Dave dropped the hammer!  The race would run until 9:30pm!  I believe our fastest lap of the entire race was lap #5 while he was battling for early position. 
For another forty-five minutes, Dave just kept knocking off the laps, in the high mostly in the 2:48 range, flying by the Miatas, and getting run over by the DP and the Sports Racer, then 20 laps after the green flew, the car started to hiccough on left-hand corner-exits, and he knew the fuel load was about gone, so (as planned; since radio's weren't working) he signaled the crew by dropping the clutch and blipping the throttle three times on the pit straight.  We knew we had about 4min including the roll through the pits to be ready.  I was already suited up; just had to put on my helmet!  The sucky part; this was NOWHERE NEAR the 75-minute hoped-for fuel window; hell, it was less than an hour! We were uncertain exactly how much fuel the car would take after a fuel run, so we were planning on a 14 gallon stop, and praying not to over-fill and spill, and take a 5-minute penalty plus a second trip through the pits. Dave rolled into pit lane at a sedate 25mph and my stint was next!  More to come...

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