Topic: Road America - Finally!
This is our story... It is long, but I think it is a good read, and relates to almost everyone that races the 24HOL in some shape or form.
Our group of guys have been running in the 24HOL since MAM in 2010. At the start we decided it would make sense to also do this for charity. So we also race for Wildwood Hills Ranch which is in St. Charles, Iowa. We decorated a 1997 Geo Metro with yellow pain and the handprints of the children from the ranch. We started off with our Metro in Class C. That race we failed tech due to some cage mistakes and needed help from a John Deere fabricator and his welder to get on track. That race only had about 30 cars and we finished mid-pack. We were mostly clueless, but we had the "lemons-bug". Little did we know where this would go.
Over the last 4 years and about 15 races we've won class C 3 times with that Metro and were lucky enough to win an IOE at Gingerman. Despite that success, we felt we had developed enough cohesiveness as a team and had the driving ability to challenge for an overall win. We decided to look for a class A car in 2011.
We found a 325E in Illinois with a nice rats nest that hadn't run in 2 years. We first themed it accordingly for our first race at Gingerman. The chalkboard paint covered car with a judge picked BMW art car theme chalked on the spot. We finished 16th!!!! (ONE PLACE BEHIND OUR METRO!!!!) Not exactly the results we had expected from our A car. Then the same chalkboard paint themed car covered with pictures of pretty girls and "support" girls from the Tilted Kilt for the Autobahn race. The car ran flawlessly and we finished 4th. We weren't sure we had enough car or good enough drivers to get a win.
The car was then themed as the Enver Hoxha car with a poster on top as I presumed we had no chance for an overall win at Road America in 2012 due to a lack of horsepower on a big horsepower track. The thought was go for a judges award and have some fun. Unfortunately, the car had mechanical issues and our huge poster and flag acted as a huge parachute. We finished about 20th and didn't win an award, but Jay donated an entry to our cause and we donated the comparable amount to our charity. We re-themed the car as a tribute to soldiers for the fall Autobahn race without any flags and finished down in the standings due to poor driving in very wet conditions. We started wondering what we needed to due to have a chance at an overall win and started down the path of converting our Geo Metro to a high horsepower monster (still a work in process).
This spring we again ran at Gingerman with subtle additions of metal and we kept the US flag scheme paint to mimic the K-car that was roaming the states. We ran fairly clean (2 brief black flags due to flagging errors) but were again no match for the fast teams like Bucksnort racing who took the overall win, us finishing 5th. Autobahn we removed the additional paint and metal to try to shave weight. We altered our rear wing and removed our front splitter. Despite changes we didn't run clean, ended up with several black flags, and finished down in the standings. It just seemed that no matter what, we just didn't have what it took to win.
Approaching the Road America race this fall I decided to repaint the car to support the name we had for this car from the beginning. "Mark's Harder Lemon-aid". This name came about as one of our team members, Mark, was convinced in 2011 we needed a faster version of our Lemon-aid brand. We developed art similar to the adult beverage and I painted the car black with yellow racing stripes for the RA race. We go through tech and then BS. Phil says we're a hapless bunch of over-aggressive drivers that wear BMW hats and always screw up any chance to win the overall, zero laps class A. (Phil is often right..)
We planned to run 5 drivers and 5 stints per day with four pit stops. We wanted everyone to have equal track time and chose this over ultimate efficiency as we didn't even expect a top 10 finish. Day 1 we put our fastest driver in first and after a few laps we were in 5th. Not soon thereafter he was hit and we were in the penalty box explaining we really weren't a bunch of over-aggressive drivers. We were quickly sent back out to the track in 43rd position. He works his way back up to about 13th after a short 1hr 20 mins stint. Driver change and a couple more spots up in the standings. Meanwhile the fastest cars had some mechanical issues and they weren't in the usual spots in the standings. Throughout the day we gradually clawed our way up to 4th only 2 laps down from the leader. The car is running great, and we remained clean. We noticed we were running anywhere from 6-10 seconds per lap faster than the 3 cars ahead of us, a decision had to be made on our driver schedule for Sunday. We also new we needed to find every second possible throughout the day to catch the leaders. We approached Swiss Racing about borrowing two vented dump jugs to use. We had always run standard 5 gallon jugs without any significant venting. Our jugs dumped in 1 min 20 seconds, theirs dumped in 50 seconds. That's a minute per stop and 3 minutes per day (one lap). They were gracious enough to let us borrow their jugs.
Sunday AM the sun was shining and we were preparing our car for competition. It was decided that our shop owner, mechanic and one of our newest drivers would skip his stint to save us a pit stop. We set up to have our 2nd fastest driver lead off, our steadiest driver go 2nd, I would go 3rd and our fastest driver would go last. We go to the drivers meeting and it is announced that they will not stage the top 10 cars, but stage the top 3 cars in each class instead. We immediately had to get our car down to the staging area to try to get to the front of the pack. We end up staging 11th overall, and our day starts... 2 laps down from the top 3 cars in 4th place.
Our first driver makes great time and is gaining about 10 seconds per lap on the leaders. There is a long double yellow that allows us to gain time on Team Fiery Death, Back to the Past and Landshark. We had decided to run each driver 1 hour and 50 mins hoping our fuel (14 gallon tank with about 12 useable gallons) would last. Our first driver ends up being on track for 2 hours but 40 mins of that time was under double yellow. When he pits we get 11 gallons in the car and get our next driver out on the track. Pit time 3 mins 40 seconds.
Our second driver runs steady 3:20 lap times and we keep our gap at about 1 lap behind the leaders. It is apparent Landshark can go the longest on fuel, Team Fiery Death a little less and Back to the Past can go about 40 laps. Our 2nd pit stop after 1 hour and 50 minutes requires a little over 10 gallons and I get belted in. Pit stop 3 mins 20 seconds and I'm on track.
Still 4th place and about 1.5 laps out of first. Going into this stint I decide that I would be as aggressive as I can be and push the car as hard as I know how (this is contrary to how I have driven Lemons in the past). After about 30 minutes I hear over the radio that Landshark pitted and we are now in 3rd place. I am told I am running 10-15 seconds per lap faster than the cars ahead. I keep pushing. I notice cars are giving me space and my lap times stay steady. 30 minutes go by... I hear over the radio, "We are now P3... 40 seconds out of second... Team Fiery Death is in second". I continue to push and 3 laps later the bogey is in sight. I get the point by after the bend... second place. The radio then goes silent. I continue to push. No updates until about 30 minutes later... I'm braking entering turn one and I hear, "Chris... you are P1. P1. You have 15 minutes left in your session." Apparently the top 3 teams have pitted during my session at some point. Now the nerves all of a sudden creep in. I notice I'm worrying about just keeping the car on the track. Trying not to think about screwing this up. Luckily things work out and I roll into the pits P1. Driver change to our fastest driver, 11 gallons of fuel, and he is back on track in 3 mins 10 seconds.
At the time our fastest driver gets in we are down 1 min and 55 seconds to the leaders and in P3 after the pit stop. His fastest time on Saturday was 3:06 which was about 6 seconds per lap faster than the other 3 teams. He heads out on the track chasing Back to the Past and Team Fiery Death with Landshark breathing down our neck in P4. He goes out immediately on fire with his first lap at 3:07. I start to do calculations. We realize that Landshark is not going to pit again, and both Team Fiery Death and Back to the Past will likely need to pit. I estimate that if he continues to gain 10 seconds per lap that it will take about 11 laps (roughly 35 minutes) for us to catch the leaders. After about 30 minutes we are in P2 after Team Fiery Death has to pit. Landshark continues to churn laps now in P3 and Back to the Past is consistently running around 3:13's. It appears that Back to the Past will have to pit, but we aren't positive. We continue to press it, and our driver gets lap times down to 3:02!!! With about 35 minutes left he passes Back to the Past and we are in first!!! Now we start to realize that fuel is going to be an issue. Our fuel light starts to flicker with about 30 minutes left. We also realize that it isn't Back to the Past in P2 we are racing, it is Landshark in P3 that is our biggest concern. With about 20 minutes left Back to the Past pits and Landshark moves to P2. They are about 2 mins and 30 seconds behind us. Our fuel light is now on solid and we start to make calculations on conserving fuel. Our driver backs off, chugging the car around the track in 4th and 5th gear trying to coast and avoid using the brakes, and cuts lap times to 3:15, then 3:30, and then 3:45 and all the while Landshark is hauling the mail trying to catch us. We realize that we are on the second to last lap and Landshark is only 40 seconds behind us. We tell our driver to pick up the pace a little as Landshark gained a full minute on the last two laps. Final lap (although we're not sure it is the final lap) is nerve-wracking!!! We hear on the back that we are only about 4 seconds ahead of Landshark in Canada Corner, and tell our driver to hammer down hoping we will get the checkered this lap and that we won't run out of gas. He sees Landshark a corner behind him and he goes for it. He exits corner 14 with Landshark quickly approaching. The checkered flag comes out and our car appears over the hill. In first... 2 seconds ahead of Landshark. VICTORY!!!!
To say we're elated is an understatement. We hug and high five.
There are so many people to thank. Thanks Swiss Racing, without having the extra 3 minutes we may not have won. Thanks to the #711 Porsche team for advice and support in the pits. Thanks to all those that came by and cheered us on and congratulated us after the race. Thanks to Team Fiery Death, Back to the Past and especially Landshark for an unforgettable race. Thanks to the Lemons staff and corner workers for running such a well run event.
We realize how lucky we are to win. So many things have to go our way. Other contenders such as the Splatos team, Skid Marks and Save the Ta Ta's don't have good luck and aren't in contention as they normally are. It all came together for us.... FINALLY!