World Racing League Inaugural Event - 8's To Open Trips To Win, MSRH

by Tobey

A lot has happened since we last raced in September.  The next 2 events we wanted to attend got canceled.  A new racing organization was founded.  And we did a lot of work on the car.

After that September race at Texas Motor Speedway, we decided that the car needed some real maintenance.  After 10,000 miles of racing, it should have been no surprise when the wheel bearing went out on us.  So we replaced all the wheel bearings, got fresh spare bearings for the front and rear, and replaced the front inner and outer tie rods.  The front and rear lower control arms and ball joints were pretty new, so they were left as is.  Patrick and I also installed a new fire system, as required by the 2014 ChumpCar rules.

As I previously mentioned, a new racing organization was founded in November 2013, by Joey Todd, the TWS Track Manager and former Central Region Director for ChumpCar.  The World Racing League is another evolution of the budget endurance racing phenomenon.  You can read more about it on their website, and also in a couple of articles about the inaugural race, here and here (disclosure: I wrote the article in the second link).  Those articles to a good job of introducing the series, so let's just jump into the race.

Our car was classed in GP2 for the WRL event.  Also in GP2 were a couple of perennial top-3 teams in Namco Racing (Miata) and Team Operation (BMW).  And a fellow 240sx team, Split 5 Ways, shared pit road space with us.  Here we are on pit road, waiting for the race to begin (click on pictures for bigger versions):

I drove first and took the green flag in 19th position (unless otherwise stated, all positions are overall, not in class).  By lap 5, I had moved up to 10th place, and began battling the #70 Team Pimpra for the next hour and a half.  I reached a high of 7th (3rd in class), before pitting on lap 42 in 8th place.

John took the 2nd stint, pulling out of the pits in 13th position.  As usual, John was our fastest driver on Saturday.  He very quickly found his rhythm, and spent most of his stint in 6th place.  John came in for fuel and driver change on lap 105.  

John's stint wasn't trouble free, though.  The clutch started slipping a little on him about an hour in.  Since we were 3rd in class, we decided to baby the car, and do the best we could to hold that podium position.

Thomas went next, and managed to hold our position for the next 2 hours, running consistent laps and taking care of the car.  He pitted on lap 168, in 6th place overall, 3rd in class.  Clark drove the anchor leg, driving nice and smooth and like Thomas, taking care of the car.  On lap 221, Clark took the checkered flag in 3rd place for the GP2 class.  A podium finish in the inaugural WRL race!

But the day wasn't over after impound and pictures.  We had to replace that clutch.  Luckily, Split 5 Ways had a used one that they gave us.  And luckier, a shop at the track had a lift we could use.  By about 8:30 that night, the replacement clutch was in and we called it a night.  But, we weren't real confident with the repair.  The clutch was slipping was due to a leaky rear main seal allowing oil to get on it.  And we didn't have a replacement seal to install.

Sunday came with a cold front and the threat of rain.  We reversed the driving order for Sunday, since Clark and Thomas had to drive home to Ft. Worth and Austin after the race.  Clark took the green flag in 19th place.  He set a good pace, even clocking our fastest lap of the weekend on lap 27.  Now, Clark is always fast, but we also switched tires Sunday morning.  On Saturday, we ran some Falken Azennis.  They are not a bad tire, but they don't suit our car.  We put on some used Dunlops for Sunday, and suddenly the car was 2-3 seconds faster.  We won't be using the Falkens again.

The good news was that Clark quickly worked his way to 9th place, then started picking off cars one by one, getting up to 3rd place overall on lap 28.  He held onto 3rd place until pitting on lap 53.  The bad news:  the clutch was starting to slip again.  

Thomas went back out in 4th place, repeating Saturday's discipline of babying the car and not abusing the clutch.  Sorry if that sounds like a broken record; trust me, we weren't thrilled with the situation either.  But, driving smooth goes a long way toward good lap times, and Thomas maintained our top-5 position, pitting on lap 107 in 4th place.  John went next, and it was more of the same.  Smooth driving and take car of the car.  We did have a little luck come our way on lap 165.  The Team Operation BMW that was a position ahead of us lost their driveshaft when the center carrier bearing failed.  We never wish bad luck on our competitors, but we'll take whatever advantage we can get.

As the day unfolded, the 4th place GP2 car from Saturday was stalking us.  The #115 Lion Racing Miata was right there with us on lap times.  They were slightly faster than us at times, depending on the driver.  It was looking to be a very close finish.  Art and I were timing their pit stops, and trying to calculate their mileage as the race wore on.  It was going to be that close.

When John pitted on lap 173, the #115 was 2 laps behind us.  But our time in the pits allowed him to make that up, and I rejoined the race right behind the 115, on the same lap.  The Miata was turning laps 3-4 seconds faster than me, but I was still getting used to the slipping clutch and the better tires.  And we were certain that team needed at least one more pit stop for fuel in order to finish the race.  Art was pounding the calculator in the pits, trying to determine target lap times for me in order to finish ahead of Lion Racing, while nursing that clutch.

Then, about 20 minutes after I took the track, all that strategy was blown out the window.  It started to rain.

The track first got wet in the Bus Stop area.  That part of the track turned out to be one of the slickest parts of the track for the rest of the day.  Lap times increased by nearly 20 seconds just due to that section.  Within a few more laps, though, it started raining on the entire track.  It wasn't a hard rain, but it was enough.  Luckily, we had the wipers hooked up, and we had put on the better tires that morning.

With the slick track limiting power application, the slipping clutch became a non-issue.  But so did the fuel mileage calculations for the Miata that was ahead of me.  With the reduced reduced traction came reduced fuel consumption.  I was only a few car lengths behind the #115, gaining in some parts of the track, falling back in other parts.  It was going to be a stressful hour and a half trying to pass him.

Then, on lap 192, the slick track got him.  The #115 spun in the sweeper, allowing me to pass him.  He was able to quickly rejoin the race, but as the conditions got worse, he was not able to maintain his speed, and slowly started falling back.  

The Pass for 2nd in GP2

After that drama was over, it just became a race of conservation.  Maintain the pace and more importantly, keep the car on the track.  Which was easier said than done.  Some parts of that track were like driving on ice.  Other parts had good traction.  And some parts started ponding water, making the car hydroplane.  Always exciting.  What I found was that any non-original pavement had good traction, while the original asphalt felt like it had been greased.  So it became a quest to find every repair patch and  added track out area on the track.  It made for some interesting lines around the track, but I kept it together despite multiple close calls, and took the checkered flag on lap 219 in 3rd place overall, 2nd in class.

Close Call No. 147