Race 6: 24 Hours, Now That's Endurance Racing

Time is a relative concept.  When discussing American History, 1 day is trivial when viewed in the light of 230+ years of history.  In racing, though, 1 day - 24 hours - is an eternity.  It has long been the unofficial international standard for testing the endurance of drivers and their machines.  The two most famous sports car races in the world are 24-hour endurance events: The 24-Hours of Le Mans and the 24-Hours of Daytona.  Many other 24, and even 25-hour races are run each year, but until recently, these types of events were out of reach of the normal, low-budget racers.  Then along came series like ChumpCar.  Now, we normal people, with normal budgets, can see what it's like to race for 24 hours.

Preparation for this race began immediately following the Eagles Canyon race in March.  The first order of business was to fix the brake failures we suffered at Eagles Canyon.  Deciding that overkill was the way to go, we switched to a rotor from a 350z with the Brembo Package.  At 12.75" diameter, it's a bit larger than the stock rotor.  We used 4-piston calipers from Wilwood.  We also had to redrill the hubs for the 5-lug bolt pattern, and get new 17" wheels to fit over the new brake package.  And yes, this all fits under the "2x OEM replacement cost rule."  And yes, it added rotating weight.  But we will not have another brake failure like at Eagles Canyon.


We also built a new light bar to mount our night-time driving lights.  Mark, Mark, and Thomas put their heads together in Austin, and built a very nice removable bar that also cleared the hood.  Tobey wired it all up with new switches for the lights.  With that out of the way, we replaced some ball joints and bushings as a precaution, changed all the fluids, and called the car good.

The 2nd order of business was to find a couple more drivers.  With just 4 of us, we would have had to drive 6 hours each; 2 hours on, 6 hours off, repeat 2 more times.  And those 6 hours off would not have been restful, as with only 4 of us, we would have had to catch what sleep we could in the pits, in case we were needed.  Yes, we are our own pit crew also, although we usually have some help from good friends.  But our normal crew of friends couldn't make it to the 24-hour race.
So, we drafted Don, who co-owns the car but only drives on occasion.  And we also drafted Denny, a Spec Racer Ford racer of some success.  Our normal crew chief, Mark, was also unavailable.  So we drafted Art to be our crew chief.  Art was part of a successful SCCA race team many years ago, and jumped at the chance to be involved with racing again.  We also got Vastan out to cook and help in the pits overnight.  And Patrick was able to come and lend a hand where needed, even manning the fire extinguisher during one of the stops on Sunday Morning.
Pre-race preparations done, it was time to go race.  We had a simple strategy: minimize pit stops, don't take too many risks, and just stay on the track, turning laps.  We had 11 stops planned for fuel and driver changes; basically every 2 hours of the race.
Our driver order was Clark, Denny, Thomas, Don, Tobey, and John.  The cars rolled on track under the double yellow at noon on Saturday, and the green flag dropped at about 12:08.  Clark began the race in 26th place.  But by lap 5 he was in 10th place.  During his stint, he ranged from 7th to 12th place, swapping positions many times.  At about the 1.5 hour mark, we began seeing other teams coming in for fuel and driver changes.  Our ability to stay out for 2 hours began to show its advantage, as Clark began moving up the position chart.  Clark was in 3rd place by the time we called him in for fuel on lap 51.
One of the ChumpCar safety rules is that fuel stops are a minimum of 5-minutes in length.  When you enter the pits, you stop at the entrance, and they put a timer on your car.  You stop again at the exit, where an official takes the timer and makes sure you stopped for 5 minutes.  Five minutes sounds like a long time, but this is another case where time is relative.  We can only add fuel from 5-gallon jugs; no fancy fuel rigs like in NASCAR.  It generally takes us about 2 minutes to fuel the car, during which no other work can be done except for the driver change.  So, we have to wait until the fuel cap is back on before we can pop the hood and check the oil, or change a tire, or service the cool suit cooler, etc.  Other than when we change a tire, we generally get everything done and get our driver to the pit exit in under 5 minutes.
Thanks to our speedy pit stop, Denny rejoined the race in 5th place; we had only lost 2 positions while in the pits.  It was a sign of things to come that the cars in front of us were two Miatas, #43 and #11, and a BMW #83 (the BMW was running out-of-class, and was not scored in the official results).  Also in front of us was another 240sx from Louisiana, #33.


The positions remained fairly static, with the #11 and #43 swapping 1st and 2nd a few times.  Then the #11 pitted, and the #33 had a problem that sent them to the garage, and Denny was running in 3rd place by lap 70.  Denny maintained 3rd as the #43 and #83 swapped the lead back and forth.  Our car is one of the faster ones in the field, but even with Denny, our fastest driver this weekend, behind the wheel, we just couldn't match the pace of the front-running teams.  We were holding out hope that slow and steady could win the race, or at least get a podium finish.  That was not an outlandish thought, as the other cars started pitting while Denny was able to stay out and run laps.  The #83 came in on lap 94, and Denny moved up to 2nd.  4 laps later, the #43 pitted, and Denny found himself in 1st place.  The #43 retook the lead on lap 100, and that is when we called Denny in for fuel.
Throughout Denny's stint behind the wheel, the car was beginning to overheat. He had to back off, and drive at less than optimal pace to keep the temperature under control.  We were hoping that once we got past this hottest part of the day, the problem would correct itself.  We were wrong.
Thomas went out next, taking the track in 4th place.  He quickly was in 3rd, battling with the leaders.  Or would have been, if the temperature had stayed under control.  But even backing off his speed to protect the motor, Thomas managed to stay in 3rd until lap 124, where he was passed and dropped to 4th.  By this time, the temperature was creeping up to 240 degrees at times, and Thomas was really backing off to save the motor.  But again, as the pit stops cycled, he ended up pitting in 2nd place on lap 152.

Don was next to go out.  We refilled the overflow bottle during the stop, and told him to manage the temperature.  However, after only about 14 laps, we decided to call him in as the temps were soaring out of control.  We used a bag of ice and water to cool the radiator as much as possible, and then popped the cap.  The radiator was about a gallon low on water.  It had puked the water out during the race, as it was full when we started.  It took about 7 laps total to get the cap off the hot radiator and refill it with water.  We sent Don back out in 6th place.  We had enough laps up on the other cars, that the extended stop only cost us a few spots.

Don ran a nice, clean pace, and the engine temperature stayed below 190 the rest of the night.  From here, the story gets very repetitive.  Tobey went out in 6th place, and while not running a fast pace in the dark, stayed out of trouble and turned the car over to John at 10:00 Saturday night in 5th place.  Tobey did take advantage of an extended full-course caution with the pace car slowing things down to come in and get the lights adjusted.  The overheating service and the light adjustments were our only unscheduled stops during the race.

As the night wore on, the lead 3 cars really separated themselves from the field, leaving the rest of us to fight for 4th.  We were running 5th, behind the #43 and #60 Miatas and #83 and #31 BMWs, and the #11 Miata and #61 BMW were close behind us.  The top 3 cars, #43, #31, and #60, swapped spots often, but 4th to 7th stayed pretty constant at #83, #92 (us), #11, and #61.  

Our drivers cycled again through the same order after John finished at midnight.  Clark, Denny, Thomas, Don, Tobey, and John.  We maintained 5th place for most of the night.  A pitstop sequence dropped us to 6th for a few laps, but we quickly were back in 5th.  We occasionally popped up to 4th place, but when all the stops were sequenced through, we would be back in 5th.  And that overheating problem?  It never resurfaced during the cool of the night.

When things are going right, endurance racing can be kind of boring for everyone but the driver.  And for the last 12 hours of the race on Sunday, things were going right.  Other than the flurry of activity during the stops, it was nice and quiet in the pits.  For the drivers, though, it was anything but.  Thomas, after battling hard to get around several cars on the front straight, found himself being pushed wide in Turn 1, and ended up in the grass.  Taking the path of least resistance, he headed cross-country to NASCAR turn 2, looking for pavement.  The video doesn't reflect the effort to keep the car under control in the grass, with the back of the car fishtailing like crazy.  Don was pushed off-track in turn 14, and later had a massive spin in the same spot.  Tobey went 4-off on the back straight after almost spinning the car in Turn 6.  But the car, and the drivers, survived.
Although we were running 5th overall, that was 4th in class due to the #83 BMW that  was running out-of-class.  With just over an hour and a half to go in the race, we had out last little bit of excitement.  The #43 Miata, which had been running 2nd all morning, was stalled on the course.  If they were out for an extended time, we could conceivably make up enough laps to finish 3rd in class.  But it was not to be.  They quickly diagnosed that the MAF connector had come loose, and had the car back in track just minutes after it was towed in.

As time ran down, John kept running quick, conservative laps, protecting the car and our finishing position.  As we approached 3 laps left, the ChumpCar staff herded all the people in the pits to the wall along the front straight to applaud the finishing cars.  Because just finishing a race such as this is an accomplishment.

When the final results were tallied up, we were 4th in class, just 6 laps behind 3rd place.  If only we had back those laps lost to the overheating problem, we could have been in contention for a podium finish.  It's amazing to think that over 24 hours of racing, nothing short of perfection is needed to get a podium finish.  Here is the finishing order, along with each car's single best lap time:
1st  #60 Miata  605 laps    2:03.957
2nd  #43 Miata  600 laps    2:05.135
3rd  #11 Miata  590 laps    2:04.753
4th  #92 240sx  584 laps    2:08.625
5th  #31 BMW  579 laps    2:06.638
6th  #10 Miata  570 laps    2:08.340
7th  #70 Supra 542 laps    2:08.584
8th  #72 Mustang 537 laps    2:07.216
9th  #28 Mustang  516 laps    2:13.512
10th  #44 Porsche 493 laps    2:15.005
The Vital Statistics:
584 laps
1,694 miles
144 gallons of fuel
8 tires
Avg. Speed:  70.6 mph (including all stops)