Part 7 - Loudon Annoying 2012
My alarm went off at 5am Friday morning. I threw a few last things in the truck while steve went for gas and dunkin donuts. By 6am we were on the road headed towards loudon. At 7am we were at the track and signing in. Over the next few hours we unloaded the truck, wrapped up a few last minute things on the car and realized we had almost nothing to do. Tech opened at noon, and we rolled through just after the first rush of people. Tech inspection was a breeze, not a single thing asked to be improved. While waiting for Phil to be done with cars in front of us for BS inspection Jay came over and told us "unless you really want to wait and be yelled at by Phil, I think we can just sent you along. We're giving you Zero laps and class C" No way we were going to argue with that, so we headed back to the pits.
The rest of the day was bizarre. We're used to scrambling with the car trying to get it ready to race, but now we had nothing to do. The car was running, and everything was squared away. We drove the car around the pits a few times to check a few things, and even received some cheers from teams who knew our failed past. Finally we headed off to home depot and dinner. We came back with an expandable drainage tube to use as a driver cooling duct and some flame print duck tape. Realizing we still had nothing to do we busted out the projector, ps3, and driving setup for some awesome GT5 action. This turned out to be quite the hit with other teams, and a small crowd formed waiting to fight for fastest lap around laguna seca.
Saturday morning I woke up at 6, showered, and searched for things to tidy up on the car. Following the drivers meeting we strapped Brian into the car and sent him out for the opening laps. We had barely done a lap and the green flag dropped. It was a weird feeling realizing that our car was actually out there turning laps with no visible problems. Optimism growing.
It took until driver 2 to break the spell of disbelief and find something wrong. We pushed the car out of the garage and Ben turned the key. A click and nothing. Crap. A mad scrambling for jumper cables and batteries. Turn key, click, nothing. Grab another car, jump it, click nothing. So the starter is dead. Our brand new starter. Screw it, we’re push starting this thing. Five people pushing, dump the clutch and off she went. We just accepted that we’d be following that routine for the day.
It wasn’t until later that we found a new problem when Steve called in with throttle problems. Ok, as long as it’s not engine problems. Turns out the hole in the firewall that holds the grommet for the throttle cable has become larger with rust, and it had pulled through. We set it back in place, and rigged up some temporary fixes. Steve went back out to finish his stint. The throttle problems plagued us through Chris’ stint, until we found a way to hold the throttle cable shielding in place.
Finally I got my chance to take the wheel of the car I had slaved over for so long. And immediately got black flagged. Driving the pit out lane, there is a sharp left onto the straight before the uphill. Someone had taken out some cones, so it appears that you started to blend at that point. I started easing out, and suddenly noticed more cones. Damn it. I took out about three of them. The next three corner workers waved the black flag, and I acknowledged them all. Back in the penalty box I was greeted by Jay exclaiming “this is still running?!” Since we hadn’t been in previously that weekend we were sent right back on the track and I finished my stint in a blur of terrified exhilaration.
I need to explain how scary this car is to drive. It won't take corners. It just won't. You approach a corner and brake way more than you think you should have to. And as you're standing on the brakes you realize the bias is set way too far to the rear so the tail is starting to squirm. And even after slowing to a crawl the car still under-steers like a pig. And while you're under-steering the car is leaning 5+ degrees over. Then as you snap back to level and apply power the car vibrates and sounds like it's ready to explode. Then boost starts to build and you're convinced the world is going to end, except it doesn't. Then you realize you're holding the wheel 20degrees rotated to go straight, and before you can figure out why, it's time to stand on the brakes again and every other car dive-bombs around you. It's amazing.
Saturday kept creeping forward, with me expecting the car to explode at any second, and it refusing to. It wasn’t fast, it was making 2 of the stock 12psi, and it hated corners with an undying passion, but it was turning laps. Shortly before 5pm with Chris at the wheel we turned our 100th lap. And then it died 3 laps later. The temperature sensor wasn’t working in that particular engine (something we didn't find till race day), so we had no idea what the coolant was looking like. Our method of baby the car and take long driver changes had gotten us to 5pm, but that was it. Chris called in saying it lost power and he was coming in. As he turned the corner around the garages i heard the unmistakable sound of rod knock. in the garage we killed the engine and cut the fans. That turned out to be a mistake as coolant started gushing out almost immediately.
We accepted that the engine was done, changed out of our racing gear, and set to work. Working at a comfortable pace and waiting for the engine to cool we got a new engine in place in roughly 5 hours. At 10:45 pm we rolled the car outside, gave it a running push, dumped the clutch and it sputtered to life. First push. I couldn’t believe it, the engine even sounded better than the last one. Tidying up a few last things we crawled into bed by 11:30. Optimism at a new high.
Sunday we were up at 6am again, and got to replacing the new starter with the old one. Miracle of miracles it worked, so we no longer needed to be push started. We got the hood back on, and the car buttoned up and I suited up to take the green. I managed the few laps under caution, and one under green before returning to the pits with suspension noise. Thank god for that because as soon as i pulled in the garage the car started puking water and steam again, as well as dripping oil everywhere. Turns out the fans were never on, and my gasket on the valve cover wasn’t really working. A little time to cool, a new valve cover, and some more water and we were ready to go.
Back on track the car was feeling decent. We had real boost for the first time all weekend, a whopping 6psi anytime you went near the gas. It was amazing. I jokingly asked Jay how long he thought the engine would last now that it was really making boost. He laughed and said "I give it till noon." That's the last time i ask Lemons HQ for a prediction. Right around noon with 36 laps complete for the morning Steve brought the car in sounding like doom and boom. After a brief discussion about how much we thought was wrong and what to do we just decided to save the last 5 laps the engine had left in it for the checkered.
With 10 minutes to go till the checkered flag I strapped in, and we pushed the car around towards the entrance to the track. With 6 minutes to go we fired up the car (now sounding like complete death) and headed on track. With the oil pressure gauge reading zero and and the car sounding worse by the second I limped the car around the track following the vikings who had attached a giant sail to their car. With just a couple minutes left the racing camper joined the madness with the same goal. On the lap leading to the checkered flag I struggled up the hill following the vikings, leading the camper trailer, and laughing my head off. This was the most insanely amazing thing I had ever done.
We came around the last corner to the main straight with the checkered waving. I resisted the urge to floor it and bring on a massive engine failure, and settled on just celebrating. Around the back of the track I slipped through the hole in the wall to avoid having to climb the hill again, and followed the line of cars off track. Waiting for the traffic to get off track the car cut out three times, but managed to start again each time. I rolled through the crowd lining the track exit to some amazing applause, high fiving Phil on the way by.
Our little daytona managed 143 laps on two engines. It made both green flags and took the final checkered. I couldn't have asked for a larger improvement after 2011.
Race #3 finished, 143 laps complete.
Tomorrow: The story up till now.
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