Thursday, October 20, 2011
Showroom Schlock Shootout: Schaturday
This is a recollection of Team Resignation's experiences at the 24 Hours of LeMons race at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., from October 7-9. It will be published in three parts and probably be very boring. But pictures!
Saturday morning brought a wicked chill that persisted for a couple of hours but burned off shortly after sunrise. As the team warmed up, they held an informal meeting (where Eric basically said "Bring the car and yourself back in as few pieces as possible") and a quick track overview.
The obligatory LeMons driver's meeting followed, which was standard stuff: guys wearing underwear as shirts, Jay Lamm calling an obnoxious driver at the meeting an asswipe, and the track manager mentioning that they wanted to do more than one race at Autobahn in 2012. (Wait, what? Well, the schedule is not yet released for 2012, but it should be soon.)
Johnny suited up to take the green flag and got on track with only a few major hassles. The green flag was delayed by about 10 minutes when multiple cars died on the parade laps. But within about 40 minutes of the green flag, Johnny was black flagged for bumping the Latch Key Kids' Neon. The honorable judges did not hand out a penalty, but they did make us alter our should harness mounting to accommodate Johnny's HANS device before he could return to the track.
With the harness mount altered, Johnny returned to the track but came back after a handful of laps. The motor was misfiring at and above 4500 RPM and he thought it might have to with inadequate airflow through our exposed K&N air filter. Eric threw the air box on it to concentrate the air flow and Johnny headed out again. However, he only turned a few laps before coming back in. The problem remained and he felt it was electrical in nature. Out of ideas, they contacted their offsite technical advisor, who said it could be: spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel filter, or fuel pump.
With that in mind, Eric headed out for new plugs, wires, and a fuel filter while Johnny headed back to the track to nurse it around a bit. While Eric was stuck at a railroad crossing and in the parts' stores glacially moving line, the rest of the team made a driver change and put Dave in the car. Halfway through the stint, Eric returned but Dave stayed out to keep turning laps while the rest of the team prepared to change parts.
As Dave pulled into the pit space, Kiko and Eric discussed that the problem could very well be the swapped-in OEM computer from a later-model year ZX2. In the end, the team opted to switch back to the ZX2's original computer and change the plugs and wires. They were done in short order and had Kiko in the car and on track in less than 30 minutes. Whatever they'd done had worked; the engine ran beautifully up and down the powerband and didn't misfire.
Naturally, it wouldn't last. While pushing the car hard, Kiko heard a thump followed by loud clicking noise. He brought the car in to investigate, and the team puzzled over it for a bit before eventually noticing that the driver's side halfshaft had broken. Luckily, they had brought a spare transmission and shafts, which they swapped in probably about 20 minutes (no one was looking at a watch). After adding fuel and strapping Norbert in the car, the total time lost was just short of an hour.
But with the car at its best for the weekend, Norbert took the wheel and set the team's fastest lap of the day with a 1:55.716 when no one else on the team had broken 2:00. Norbert continued his hot-shoeing, ticking off 5 sub-two minute laps. But in Turn 13 on the car's 72nd lap of the day, the exhaust mounting bracket snapped. The pipe dragged momentarily, then snagged on the right-rear tire, puncturing it. Norbert managed to get the car into the pits and about 100 feet from the TR paddock space. Eric grabbed a spare wheel and, after several minutes of finagling with the red-hot lugnuts and wheel (Thanks to the Dos Limons Fiesta guys for their help!), they swapped on a spare race tire just to push it back to their space.
Johnny quickly set to work welding [with a welder borrowed from Team Flaming Fiero. Thanks again you guys are awesome pit neighbors] the exhaust back in place. In about 30 minutes, the exhaust was good as...well...not new, but it was OK. Kiko tied it up with braided steel wire so that if it broke again, it wouldn't snap back and puncture another tire. Eric and Norbert threw the spare tires on the rear. Unfortunately, they were a slightly different compound from the fronts, meaning the car became more tail-happy.
With about an hour left of race time, Eric hopped in the car for his first stint, which started under caution from the Alfa that found the tire barrier on the outside of turn 1. After a couple of green laps, he started to push and find his limits, knocking a few seconds off his green-flag laps. But then something went terribly wrong, and he overcooked it into Turn 1, spinning out. Luckily, the car was alone and no contact came of it.
He headed to the Penalty Box for his inevitable black flag discussion:
Judge Phil: "What happened out there?"
Eric: "Well, I went into Turn 1, then I went out of Turn 1. Somewhere in between, I ran out of talent."
Phil: "Wait, what? Isn't the Nixon team supposed to deny, deny, deny?!"
Jay Lamm: "Hold on, hold on. They're admitting to being terrible; we don't want to send the wrong message here."
Jay: "Why don't you turn your driving down from about 3/10 to 2/10?"
Eric: "Well, I would, but I think I've only got 1.5/10 in me."
Jay: "That'll do."
The judges let Eric off without a penalty, provided he could make it the remaining 40 minutes without returning on another black flag. Meanwhile, the car had developed an extremely rough idle, which was quickly attributed to a vacuum leak. Eric returned the car to the pit, where the PCV valve was identified as the culprit and quickly fixed. The remainder of the day went without incident, as Eric regained the masterful point-by that had served him so well in the 2010 race.
The checkered flag at 5:30 on Saturday marked Team Resignation's 93rd lap of the weekend, leaving them far from the leader in 72nd place.
Sometime during the day, the LeMons judges had begun applying the Nixon stencil to cars passing through the penalty box that "looked like they needed Nixon on the car."
The team put the car up for the night and focused on food, which included steaks and hot dogs. A few dozen people from different teams streamed in and out of the pits, retelling their day's experiences, discussing previous failures at LeMons, and talking of all things racing and otherwise. The company was fantastic1, and the team went to bed tired but looking forward to Sunday.
See all of Team Resignation's photos here (Eric's photos) and here (Dave's photos).
1 A million thanks to Team Flaming Fiero, Smokey Saturn and the Bandits, the #22 Saab guys, Greg from Skid Steer Racing and, of course, Racing 4 Nickels for the homebrew and cookies. There were probably a dozen or so other people who came and went, but we didn't catch which car you were driving.