Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Autobahn 3.5hr Enduro - Saturday June 7th

 While at another event at The Autobahn Country Club, we seen a flier for a new 3-race Enduro series this year at Autobahn.  Race #1 was a 3.5hr event to be held on Sat June 7th.  With some (a lot) of planning, our same group that won the 4.5 hr NASA Autobahn Full Track Enduro was signed up!  That meant I'd be back in the #50 Mustang!

Last fall in the 4.5 hr, Dave (owner), Joe and I ended up running 5 total stints of about 50 min each for that race which ended in pitch darkness with me taking the checker in our E0 class.  This would be 3.5hrs and we eventually learned it would be the 2.1 mile South Track running from 4:30pm - 8pm.  Joe couldn't make it, and nobody else that Dave trusts could either, so this would be a 2-man event. 

About a week prior to the event we learned that Dave and our crew chief would be helping instruct an event on the North track all day.  So I immediately was thrust into the starter's role - no worries.  I'd also have the car at my disposal during the daytime to practice as I wanted and would need to qualify and do the final prep on the car.  Seemed simple!

I buzzed up to Autobahn about 8am Sat morning with a new personal best time of 2hr; 7mins - it's about 175 miles.  After being reminded of the battery cut-off safety feature Dave had installed, I got the car started and later went out for the 11:50 practice session.  The car felt fine, reminding me of the limited visibility it has!  The large hood scoop and big A-pillar do hamper things but it's doable. 
1pm was the driver's meeting and by then most of the crew (Ken & Heather) were there; with Dave escaping their instructing gig long enough to catch most of the meeting.  Nothing too crazy rulewise came up in the meeting.  Afterwards we prepped for the final 1:40 practice as we had plans to run the full 25min stint at race pace to gauge fuel consumption.  I think I got 9 laps in around a 1:39-1:41 pace on the Toyo RR's.  At that pace, there were several highly prepped Miata's that were going to be difficult to lap with.  While we were a few seconds faster than the Miata's, their cornering speeds are faster so passing would need to be respectful.

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We let the car cool down and then started prepping the radios etc for Qualifying which we thought was at 3:30pm.  We later learned it was from 3:15-3:25pm instead and we only had 1 tire swapped!  We also couldn't find a tire gun, so the 3 of us had to change everything with a rachet wrench which is painful and painfully slow!  We got things wrapped up with just enough time for me to get exactly 1 hotlap in!  Babying the brand new Hoosier R6 tires that def weren't up to temp, I think I had a 1:39x and was around 10th out of 15 cars perhaps.
We then had 1 hr to setup our pitstall and final prepwork.  The original plan was for me to start and run a full fuel load which we thought would be 1:10-1:15.  That would set us up for a 3-stop race; possibly a 2-stop if things were stretched perfectly throughout.

The race started with me behind the wheel - without too much drama.  Once the Hoosier R6's came up to temp, the car felt so much better than the old RR's we were practicing on.  I settled into pace - ahead of the Miata's at around 1:38 as planned, occasionally running a harder 1:37 by varying gear selection but always taking it slow through T1/2 complex to preserve the LF tire we were concerned about.  There was a double-yellow about 1 hr into my stint and as soon as that cleared up the car coughed for fuel.  I had been motioning into the pits during the yellow (that things were ok), but I noticed everyone thought I was motioning I was coming in for fuel, so it all worked out!  lol.
I loosened the belts as I made it into our pitstall when John (crew-chief) asked me how I was feeling.  I said 'Great'.  He asked if I wanted to double-stint and explained we were in 2nd in class and the 2-stop 3-stint strategy was lined up perfectly with my initial 1:20 stint.  I said 'sure'; and had John buckle me back in. Dave yelled out that I'd unofficially broken the NASA PTB track record... lol - I was well aware of that actually!

After waiting on fuel, I was off for another 1+ hrs!  The sun had started to go behind the clouds and twilight was approaching so the track was cooling.  The car stuck a bit better and I settled into a more aggressive pace.  My best lap being a 1:36.x while still protecting the tires a bit.  The stint was long and I was definitely getting a sore neck, hip (from heel/toe) and right-hand from the shifter.  I think there were about 13-14 shifts per lap!
Once the fuel load was done, I brought the car in and I surprised the crew as it must've been an official smoke-break!  People suited up, fueled the car and Dave hopped in to bring it to the checker with us firmly holding 2nd.  Twilight was upon us and Dave ended up with some light rain during a lot of his ~50min stint.  In the end, he kept it clean (Mustangs + Rain = No Grip!).  And 2nd place was ours!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

NASA @ HPT - 6/1 Racing??

(pic above;  Our pit area.  Included are the #7 and #18 Miata's I drove.  The #54 
was contending for the overall win before an engine failure; although they still won E1.)

After the previous night's Enduro awards at 9pm, we (some more than others) had a few beverages at the track before calling it a night.  Arriving around 7:30am I was eager to find out the status of the #7 and if I'd be racing on Sunday as it was a double race day!  With Quals at 8:40, there was < 1 hr remaining before I'd start missing track time. 

The first update I received on Sunday was that the spare transmission that they were trying to put in the car was having issues.  Either it wasn't healthy itself, or perhaps it was also stuck in a specific shift 'gate' instead of being in neutral.  After about an hour of mulling around while trying to call around for extra parts or help, Cris and I headed over to tell the guys to 'throw in the towel'. 

So there would be no Sunday race; 2 races down the drain.  I said my goodbye's and left the track around 9:45am.  I did the math and I could almost make the start of the Cardinals game in STL at 1:15pm if I really hurried.  I was close, but had to stop for food and ended up meeting a friend at his place to watch some of the 0-8 loss on tv.  Glad we didn't sit in the 94 degree temps for that!

All in all, it was still a fun weekend.  Crazy warm; over 90 all weekend and the entire HPT parking lot is blacktop!  It really sucks the #7 had transmission issues, and I think it was a problem waiting to happen inside the gearbox.  If it were still healthy, it would have been very challenging to run 2 fuelstints in 2 different cars in the 2.5hr Enduro with the heat!  Fortunately I had the #18 lined up and really enjoyed the alternate track config - and of course the win!
I'll leave you with a pic of our winning E3 car; the #18 with the sweet trophy carefully placed on the hood: