Wait, mission accomplished? Sort of an odd statement to make after a problem-ridden season and a third place finish, yes? Hardly the sort of year for which somebody would proudly proclaim “Mission Accomplished,” right?
Ah, but wait – much like our erstwhile “commandificator in chief,” the lovingly misquotable Gee- Dubya Bush, I don’t mean what you probably think by happily proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”
Truly, it was a difficult year to get on the right track. As could be expected, the car arrived later, than, uh, expected. It took a good number of test days to sort out, between a bad master switch, faulty brake-line flare fittings, incompatible master cylinder connections, and miscellaneous other gremlins that one never seems to be able to anticipate. Add to that some funny behavior with the car’s cooling, and toss in a shunt and a resulting broken wing for flavor. Doesn’t make for the most enticing dish, let me tell you.
Such was the history behind us when September 14th of this year arrived. However, with a car that now seemed to be relatively solid, a new front wing allowing the car to once again turn following the oopsie at Miller, and a bit of determination left in the motivational tank to try to end the season well, into the trailer went the car, and eastward we a-went.
A few days later, we pulled into our spot, paddocked next to one of Colorado’s old salts of formula car racing, Dave Caswell. I commiserated with Dave briefly about the car troubles they were having with their car, and nodded my head when he quipped, “Don’t you just hate it when they break in the trailer?”
I returned to my trailer thinking “ho ho – I know such a fate will not befall me, for we are truly prepared!”
Friday morning. Seasonably cool as one might expect in northern Wisconsin this time of year, with the air heavy from overnight rain. We were the first Q session out, and as is my habit, I warmed the car before getting ready, and then gave one final test-start before getting my gear on. Perfect. Off I go to put on my superhero suit, I buckle into the car, flip the start switch and….nothing. Absolutely dead stick – even the dash shuts off. We attach the jump battery and it runs, but as soon as we pull the jump battery…dead. Nuthin. Nobody home.
Don’t you hate it when they break in the trailer?
Debugging ensued, and after much head scratching and pointing of fingers, Trevor from Stohr suggested we move the battery ground. Success! Wonky multimeter readings gave way to sense, sensibility, and conductibility, so we buttoned it back up, and proceeded to do nothing whatsoever, as by that time it was about three hours later, and nothing was left of FB Q1 but some cooling ink on freshly printed timesheets. Why the electrons picked that time to decide the battery ground was not good enough, after a season of working, only Murphy and Tesla know.
Soon enough Q2 arrived, and out we went…eventually. A healthy Kerblammo from the previous session not only delayed us by 20 minutes, but left a huge trail of oil dry from T8, through the carousel, and down through the Kink. Adding to the fun was a righteous late afternoon sun, which greeted us on the exit of turns 1, 5, and through the Carousel. It was especially blinding on our way from Turn 5 up into T6, as we were looking essentially straight up into the sun, just above the Toyota bridge. Yikes.
Fortunately, the sun fell a bit through the session, and the oil dry eventually thinned enough that the grip returned, and the session became a good one. I used all 12 laps to relearn my way around the track.
And ahhh, what a track. What fun to be back at Road America! Without fail, I always notice at least once a session the natural beauty that surrounds the track – from the canopy of trees overhead that go rushing by, the lush grass on the outsides of the turns, or even some early fall leaves whipping up over our wings or carried aloft in a diffuser’s upwash as we go streaking through the Kettle Bottoms. It’s a track of the old vintage that still makes you feel as though you’re going somewhere as you turn your laps.
I’d set out with a goal of getting under the 2:10 mark, based roughly on looking at the results from Q1, but really had little idea of what to expect from such a new car. As it turns out, a 2:11.0 was as good as I could muster, placing me 7th, with Cap’n Dixon a healthy ways up the sheet in the 2:08’s.
Most puzzling of all was a real lack of top speed – only 135-136 mph or so, and that top speed arrived with what felt like a real wall. One moment I was accelerating, the next I swear I would almost float in my straps as the acceleration stopped. I concluded there must be some issue with my engine or wiring, and made a note to out the car on the on-site dyno the next day. Even down to Canada corner, with my 16/47 gearing, I couldn’t pull 6th gear. I readied my Sherlock Holmes detective hat in preparation for the next day’s hunting of clues.
That night was the combined Sports Racer and f1000 party under Level 5’s tent (read: mid-size temporary house, complete with trees) down by turn 5, and a great time was had by all. Stories were shared, we all put faces to names we’ve seen only on the internet, and everybody made a good show of making it look like they weren’t trying to get an unauthorized peak at Tucker’s turbo car. It was my pleasure to hand off the DSR Sportsman’s Cup to Critter as the 2012 winner, which I had pretty much decided last year at the Runoffs, as he had finished changing my engine for me in my DSR while I lay in our RV with food poisoning. Congratulations!
Once again, cool and slightly damp, the paddock beginning to empty somewhat as races completed and folks began to go home. We started early, warming up the car and making hasty arrangements with the dyno folks to do some pulls and see what the story might be with the engine. Preacher George Dean came up to the trailer to lay his hands upon the sickened child Suzuki and see what he could find. He took a quick look at the car and the data off the ECU, and declared it saved, so down to the dyno we headed for a baptism by dyno.
The folks at the dyno were refreshingly professional, taking great care to ensure they did not scrape the floor of the or otherwise cause harm. After a brief warm-up, we proceeded to do a few pulls, and the result was a healthy 159ish for our stock motor.
So, motor’s OK…I guess the rest must be drag? Hrmph. Sherlock chewed on his pipe and the gears turned inside his head, but no answers were immediately forthcoming.
We returned to the trailer, not sure if we should be happy or sad about the result. I chatted with George briefly, who shook his head and merely said, “it’s never the motor!”
I zoomed down to JR’s pit to get some consultation on the finer points of going fast in a Stohr, and picked up a few tidbits of knowledge, some encouraging, some discouraging.
Back to the trailer I went, and we drilled some more holes to try and get more wing out of the front of the car, and gain a bit more balance in the process, as I’d had a bit too much front bite in the previous session.
We lowered the front flaps to about as low as they could go. JR had shared that they had been successful at gaining top speed by pulling wing out of the car, but that the net result had been a loss of lap time. So, with not a lot of knowledge, we made some small changes and hoped that excellent drivability would be enough to improve a bit. Additionally, we went with a very aggressive 15/47 gearing to see if we could at least pull 6th gear now.
Q3 arrived soon enough, at 5:20, FB once again finding ourselves one of the last sessions on track. This go-round we started on time, but that would prove the only highlight of the session, which quickly devolved into a game of “dodge the crashing Atlantics.” Cool temperatures meant the FA guys were having s lot of trouble getting heat into their tires, so by about two laps in, one was off the end of T1, another had spun blocking T8, and another had crashed in Canada corner. After a brief black flag we were back out, but before long, another was off in the Carousel, and a huge oil slick from a blown engine was making the track very sketchy from 6 all the way down to the Kink. I cried Uncle and came in, having learned that my top speed was definitely better, but I was right on the limiter. We’d have to back down the gearing. Nobody improved their times, but on the upside, I now had a great set of scrubbed tires for the race.
I began changing the sprockets once again, and at one point went to start the car. Again, nothing. Much swearing ensued, but the problem was found before too long, a screw that had fallen out of the starter switch. A replacement was found, and the night growing uncomfortably cool, we retired to Siebkins for a hot meal.
Race day! The paddock was now looking decidedly forlorn, more empty than not. Dave Knaack from DSR rolled up the traveling fun show and said his goodbyes as we finished the sprocket change. Next was a trip over to Critter, the new Sportsman of the Year laureate, for a new rear 46T sprocket.
For one last bit of insurance during the race, I added a 1/8″ gurney to the upper wing to get just a bit more stability for the race.
Just when we thought we were done, Dad rechecked the tires and found that one was not holding air! We zoomed over to the Hoosier tent, and after a brief discussion with Terry Gilvin, he suggested we just swap wheels and keep the scrubbed tires on for the race, offering his advice that he doesn’t think stickers are ever the tight choice for a race, but to always run scrubs….which is what we do.
My sincere Thanks to Terry and his guys in the Hoosier tent for good advice, and quick friendly service.
Race time! After a whole week of what seemed like nonstop work on the car, and tension about how the race would go, now for the relaxing part…actually being in the car!
The race itself was the best yet in my short career…what tremendous fun! Unbelievable, tremendous race. Passing, repassing, drafting, wrecks, four wheels off, FA traffic, you name it – this race had it all.
My car had great corner speed compared to those around me, but despite my small changes during the week, noticeably less up top, on the order of a 5-7mph top-speed deficit. The effect of the draft is HUGE in these cars – way more than it was in the DSR. This was so much so that I was able to stay with a car if I was in its draft, but could not pass it until braking – where I had a significant advantage.
We went out for our out lap, and the pace lap became interesting right away, as when I turned in for T1, I saw Jeremy Hill proceeding BACKWARDS on the inside of turn 1, having spun on cold sticker tires. I concentrated hard on getting my rear tires warmed up to make sure I didn’t share his fate.
We came up to the green in neat formation, nobody playing any games that I saw. I put my nose right under Larry Vollum’s rear wing, and pulled slightly to the right so I could see the flag.
Green flag oh yes oh yay hot damn hot dog let’s have some fun!
I got a great jump and immediately moved to the inside of Larry, pulling up near his rear wheel. But, he drifted slightly right, so I lifted and pulled back in to make sure I didn’t get stuck close to the wall.
That lift, along with me braking conservatively, saw lots of cars go streaming by on my left. I saw a flash of red as Jeremy Hill came from somewhere near Toronto to come whizzing by. A yellow car pulled up next to me, but I beat him on the run to T3, and set off after Jeremy, with Larry just ahead, and Mike Beauchamp just behind.
Jeremy passed Larry Vollum on the entrance to 5, which hurt Larry’s exit, and I snuck up the inside on the run up to 6, passing Larry on the entrance to 6. Hot through 7, and off to the left was a huge ball of dust as Brian Novak skittered off the outside and into the gravel.
Down through the Hurry Downs we went, through 8 and into the Carousel. I pulled right up behind the wing of a blue car, with Larry right on my wing just behind. Knowing I could not risk a lift, I pulled to the inside of the blue car as we exited the Carousel, and we went side-by side, side-by-side through the Kink, and down through the Kettle Bottoms. Through Canada corner and up onto the main straight we went, me now trying to put some distance on Larry. Up through Turn 6 again, and we caught the slowing Jeremy Hill, who had been called in for his black flag. As with the blue car, I stuck right to his rear wing through the Carousel, but could not get by as I had the lap before with the blue car, but instead passed Hill into Canada corner, putting him between Larry and I.
Still, the advantage wasn’t enough, as we came up to turn 5 on the next lap, Larry was able to simply drive by on the straightaway, and into Turn 5 we went. He led the way through, and we raced up through turn 6, Larry sliding wide, and again through the Carousel and even the Kink.
Down to Canada corner we went, and both of us went deeeeeeeep on the brakes, and again Larry slid wide, but kept the car in check. We went through 13 inches apart, and as we came up to T14, Larry braked too late and entered T14 much too hot, and began a loonnngggg lazy spin, which finally ended in the tire wall on the inside of T14, his race run.
Up the straight I went, the white Van Diemen of Michael Crowe next, with me screaming into my helmet, “you’re next!”
I spent the next few laps closing on Crowe, and got very close. He himself was chasing down Glenn Cooper, who had gotten a rocking start, but both of us were catching Coop, as I could see his car closer each lap – he always turning in for Turn 8 as Michael and I exited Turn 7.
Right as I was getting ready to pass Crowe, he half-spun in T14 and almost came to a stop in the middle of the track. Very close behind, I threw out the anchor as well, I, not sure which way to go, and not wanting to spear him. We both got going at the same time, and Mike Beauchamp came up behind us. I went for the outside to go by Crowe, Beauchamp took the inside, making it 3 wide down the front straight. Beauchamp and I got past Crowe, with me defending towards the inside of the track. Crowe’s good straightline speed put him on my outside as we entered turn 1, Beauchamp still on my inside. Crowe got bigtime wiggly and wibbly on my outside, late on the brakes as Beauchamp forced his way down my inside and through.
I went to repass Beauchamp down to T3, but thought better of it and tucked In behind as Mike defended. Down to T5 we went, with me fruitlessly trying to stay in Beauchamp’s draft. Once again I was the meat in a Van Diemen sandwich. Beauchamp won the race to the corner, and Crowe went for the inside this time, and got it.
Crowe and I went through 5 side by side, me hanging on the outside, eventually with 4 wheels on the exit curbing. Crowe moved even wider, and I put two wheels in the grass to avoid him, eventually going four wheels off, his right rear tire inches from my left front, my left front actually IN FRONT of his rear tire! I actually ended up turning further IN to the grass to make sure we wouldn’t lock wheels as I backed out of the throttle to get back on the pavement!
Beauchamp remained up the road somewhat, and I don’t remember how I eventually passed Crowe for good.
Once that was done, I set out trying to catch Beauchamp, steadily making up ground over several laps, and always up in the distance was Glenn Cooper, soldiering on. Some laps later, we finally caught Coop in T3, and both of us were able to drive by on the run down to Turn 5. Waiting until the last possible second, I popped on the brakes down into T5, and slid up the inside of Beauchamp, gaining two spots in as many corners.
Now I just tried to put distance between Mike and I, hoping the Atlantics wouldn’t be a factor. With just a few laps to go, the 4th or 5th place Atlantic put a late pass on me into T3, killing my exit onto the straight, and Mike drove by, not a thing I could do about it. I wasn’t close enough to make any move into 5, but right back to his rear wing I went, hunting him through 6, 7, 8, yet again inches away through the carousel.
Down to Canada we went, Mike pulling out a slight advantage, but I closed right up again, and into T14 we went, separated by the same few inches as always. Mike slid a bit wide on the exit of 14, and for the third time in the race, I lifted a tiny bit to make sure I wouldn’t spear him, and took a slightly tighter line.
I made an extra downshift to make sure I could pull out of the corner strongly, as he was sliding to the outside. That left us with a side-by-side drag race to the finish, 3rd gear, 4th gear, engines screaming in tandem, 5th gear under the bridge, c’mon. C’mon c’mon c’mon!!
Up the hill, within sight of start-line, and me gaining inch by inch. I was winning the battle, but the checkers fell just slightly too soon. Beauchamp pumped a triumphant fist, taking the silver medal by .017 of a second.
It took some time to sort it out in the pit lane after the race, but in the end, having learned that I’d earned my second Runoffs medal, after such a horribly difficult season, fraught with faulty parts, delays, parts failures, new car issues, and one very noteworthy driver mistake, this was just the thing to make the effort feel worth it again.
So, returning to our opening of this missive, why ‘mission accomplished’? The answer would be that we’ve happily achieved one of our primary goals of F1000 – that is, good, close racing with good guys for a lot less money than in DSR, and finally, a trip to Road America without changing an engine.
What a race!