Prologue: Shenzhou China, November 2011
A factory, like many others, sits on the banks of small river in China. Its purpose: manufacture of automotive rubber hose. A humble pursuit, yes, but one of many manufacturing pursuits required by modern world. Inside this factory are lines upon lines of machines dedicated to this pursuit – rubber hoses of all size, shape and color issuing forth
from machines in endless ropes, always under the careful eye of their operators.
At one such machine sits Lu Jiong Ken, an unremarkable machine operator in this unremarkable factory. He is in his early thirties, and tired from an unrelenting 12-hour shift among the grime and cacophany of noise inside the factory. It is the end of his shift, and he is thinking mostly of getting home to his family, and thawing his feet, cold from the chill in the factory’s none-too-warm interior. A buzzer sounds on the machine as a measurement goes out of spec. The sound is lost among the din of the machine’s mechanical labors, and in his fatigue, Lu Jiong does not see the accompanying warning light. As his shift ends, he shuts off the machine until the next operator comes in to take over.
Meanwhile, in the hopper which contains the machine’s product, a certain length of hose sits, produced by the machine while it warned of something being slightly awry. Unnoticed, the length of hose is eventually put on a container ship, where after a three month journey, it arrives in the United States, and is put in a warehouse.
Some time later, it arrives at a small race car manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest, and still later, arrives at the shop of an excited – and verbose – race car owner in Northern Colorado. The hose waits, its defining moment yet to come.
Byers, Colorado, May 2012
It is impossible to tell the story of this particular race weekend without telling at least a bit of the background. Those of you that have read through the build log of the lengthy
and slightly troubled gestation of this car will know that getting to the race weekend itself has been long in coming. Our final test day of three came in late May, after battling some
bad electronics (master switch), some bad brake lines (flares), and the usual expected list of new car teething issues.
However, during the final session of the day in our test, one unexpected problem occurred: a bleed hose from the radiator to the swirl pot split down its length midway through a session, resulting in the car puking out most of its water before temperatures rose and I returned to the pits. Though we replaced the line and refilled everything, and the engine seemed to be just fine in a subsequent session, it still cast a shadow of doubt upon whether or not any damage had been done.
After such a long trip from China, and lying in wait for so long, the proverbial 99 cent length of rubber hose may have managed to ruin a $2,000 engine. Cue dramatic music, fade to black.
Friday: Easy Bake Motor
So then it was, with great excitement, some trepidation, and of course, a new -4 braided stainless radiator bleed line that we arrived at High Plains Raceway for this car’s debut. Some 4 weeks, one wedding, and one honeymoon later, here I was back at the race track to have some good ol’ fun.
The plan was fairly simple: do a bit of a shakedown, scrub some tires, and then get started with seeing if I could find a balance that would work to race with for the weekend. Things started smoothly, but when we put on a set of old tires and began to try setting some times, I noticed water temperatures getting hot very quickly – within 3-4 laps. During our previous tests, we’d seen only 200-215 or so on the water. Things that make you go “Hmmmmmm!”
Not to say that conditions didn’t warrant it. 100* ambient temperature, almost no humidity, and 5000′ elevation means very thin air, which means no air for downforce, no air for the brakes, and most critically, no air molecules to run over the radiator and take away the heat from the cooling system. Other folks were having trouble too – All the F1000’s were running quite hot, but it seemed I was having more trouble than most.
A series of short sessions and attempts at fixes ensued: draining the water to put in a pure water mix, adding water wetter, Indian rain dances, Indian tech support, and attempting to
bleed the system as completely as possible in case I just wasn’t bleeding the thing completely. Nothing helped.
So, we were faced with an an engine that wouldn’t cool, and yet no obvious symptoms of a problem (not pushing water, held pressure with the radiator pressure test). Based on head scratching, consultation with the heavens, and chatting with some other mechanics, I concluded the engine must have a head gasket issue, and concluded therefore that our race weekend was finis.
Enter the smiling face and jovial laughter of one John LaBrie, fellow F1000 competitor and keeper of the “beer so cold it’ll make your teeth hurt.” Upon hearing that we were a’packing up and heading (quite literally) for the hills, John fairly insisted that we take his spare engine and install it in the car to be able to run. I spent the next hour and a half walking the paddock looking for somebody with a hoist, engine stand, something, and came up totally empty. In the meantime, John sends me a text message: “Engine is in your paddock spot. Do with it what you will.”
With that sort of generosity in hand, what could we possibly do but oblige? Bereft of an engine hoist at the track, we decided to load ’em up, drove the 2 hours back to the shop, and headed home for some sleep.
Saturday: Presto Chango
And so it was that at 7:00 Saturday morning I found myself shrugging on not nomex and helmet, but overalls and Mechanix gloves, in order to change an engine. John’s spare engine was a brand spankin’ new example from Mr. Dean, and was configured slightly differently from my own engine, so we ended up taking about 7 hours overall, including a high-tension fix of some munged threads inside the front engine mount.
In due time, the engine was changed, and we hightailed it (we “hightail” places out here in the Rocky Mountain West) back to the race track to register, get the car’s annual, logbook, and official pope’s blessing so that we could compete on Sunday.
Having gotten to the track, all of that was accomplished in due time, and once again I availed myself of some of Pete Coors’ finest from Mr. LaBrie’s stock while having a brief powow with JR Osborne in terms of setup options for Sunday, JR having run on some old, narrow, R25 Hoosiers from Runoffs – not precisely the hot ticket for a 100* day on a maximum downforce kind of track, as it turns out.
Sunday: Right into the fire
Sunday’s schedule did not include any practice time, which meant first session out was going to be qualifying. Needing to at least get a lap in to check for leaks, I did a hardship lap before the first session of the day. We did in fact find a good leak. Whilst removing John’s Geartronics gear position sensor in favor for the Suzuki one, I’d neglected to make sure the O-ring for the stock sensor was in place, and found myself with a nice big oil leak on the left side upholding our recent tradition of having at least one noteworthy leak on the left hand side of the car’s floor. That was corrected with one from Richard Cottrill’s collection, and all was well.
So then: Qualifying. Good thing you’ve got lots of time in the car, are confident of the engine, tires, setup, and know exactly what to expect…right? Yeah…that. Experience, don’t fail me now.
Fortunately, luckily, happily, divinely, the car setup was almost dead on. Going into qualifying, I had no clue if I was going to be ahead of the pace, way behind, or somewhere in between, or even if the car would have a driveable balance. It seems that getting the setup right on the F1000 is a bit tougher than the DSR, since your adjustments are hanging way out at either end of the car, instead of being big fat tunnels right in the middle. Fortunately, small rake adjustments still seem to work quite well overall.
Having not set any true hot laps all weekend, I had no concept of what to expect. The Speads guys were quite confident from the day before, having been close to on terms with JR in his Stohr. That led me to believe I’d probably have my hands full with them, being under no illusions as to my pace relative to JR’s! Happily, with the setup being so nice, I was able to immediately push and get comfortable with the car.
Ah, but here is the twist in our story: Remember our erstwhile section of much-maligned bleed hose, which ostensibly caused our engine problem. Not so fast, Inspector.
Rather than nice cool water temps as I’d expected, immediately they began to climb
once again, peaking at 238 when I backed out of it on lap 6, seeing a 1:43.8 on my dash. I had to figure that was going to be in the hunt, and unless I backed out, I was going to have
nothing but shrapnel in the engine bay behind me.
Here, ladies and gentlemen, we have what one would call mixed emotions. This means the old engine is OK…Celebration Maurice! Buttttttt, this means the car doesn’t cool well enough for the extremes of air and temperature that we have here in Colorado…sadness. More importantly, it means we might have high blood pressure in a month at Miller Motorsports Park too.
Accordingly, I resumed my casting about the paddock, this time in search of water wetter. I found it — no surprise by now — at Cap’n LaBrie’s House of F1000 Parts. Water wetter thusly
committed to the cooling system, we began the process of rationalization, prayer, sacrifice, and self-denial in order to convince ourselves that the car would now magically cool itself. It worked: we convinced ourselves it’d be OK.
Race time! My qualifying time had put me between the two Speads DSR’s in second overall, somewhat ahead of Chris Ash in the first FB, who had spun and exploded his third starter of the weekend early on in qualifying. JR had gone home in order to take advantage of the bounty hail had left for the roofing biz. John and Terry were lurking somewhat further back in the field. Rob Adams did not run, having suffered fuel pump problems the day before, and I believe that car had also been DQ’d for a wing being too wide, so Rob had exited stage West and returned to Denver – that would be “hightailed it and headed for the hills,” in Colorado parlance.
This being a BFG Super Tour event, we had the HPR pace car out, and we set out for our pace lap. Kirk in the DSR and I lined up side-by-side on the front row, and when the green flew, off we went! Kirk got a slightly better start and led into T1, but a small wiggle in 2 had me right on his gearbox (spar?) by the middle of turn 2, and we exited 3 in lockstep. He pulled a bit of length down the back straightaway to 4, but a small wiggle in 4 and a big ol’ tankslapper in 5 let me get a run down his inside on the way to T6, locally known as “Danny’s Lesson.” In this instance, it was “Kirk’s Lesson,” that lesson being “You are not going to get by me” as Kirk moved over suddenly as we came to the corner entry, forcing me to brake substantially in order to keep my front wing and nosebox on intimate
terms with eachother.
That was the last challenge I ever really had to Kirk’s lead, though the lead ebbed and stretched somewhat during the first six laps of the race, depending on the traffic we encountered. A few times he was balked substantially and I found myself back on his rear wing. Ultimately, my temperatures came up, and I realized I was not racing him anyway, so I backed off, and short-shifted my way to the checkered flag, never having seen the rest of the field in my mirrors after lap 2. Kirk came in with the overall win, and I was somewhat behind, taking the win in F1000.
Allow me to put in a “I’d like to thank the academy” section: First, the Hoosiers were outstanding even in the heat – no change from lap 1 to lap 18, despite the brutal track temperature. Second, John LaBrie for allowing the weekend to happen, Richard at Rilltech for the steady exchange of parts between the two of us, JRO for the phone-in tech support, and of course, my faithful crew and
parents, dear ol’ Mom and Dad.
How could you be any happier than that to start off with a new car?