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:. Racing .:. 2011 Great Salt Race

Can't Get No Saltisfaction

Many things in life just don't work out the first time around.

v1.0 of any software package is guaranteed to be a dog's breakfast of bugs and incomplete features -- ask me how I know. Abraham Lincoln lost his first run at public office in the Illinois legislature before going on to make stovepipe hats cool and win a few other elections along the way. Albert Einstein was considered hopeless by his teachers, but ended up being able to read, write, and even do a bit of math. Henry Ford had five businesses dead and buried before he finally founded Ford Motor Company. Nobody remembers Bill Gates' first business, "Traf-O-Data."

And, no less historically noteworthy than the aforementioned luminaries, our first attempt at the Miller Motorsports Park West track had been a disaster. Only a few months ago, arriving on the bluff-and-bluster of a strong Runoffs result, thinking I might be able to hang with Chris on his home track, we'd arrived, been trounced, experienced nothing but the most evil handling car all weekend, finally traced to broken tire pressure gauges and camber gauges, and returned home entirely deflated, tails pinned between our collective legs.

On this backbone of "you only fail if you don't try" mantra, or perhaps "denial is a powerful thing," we loaded up once again to head west over the Rockies to Tooele, UT, to take another crack at Miller Motorsports Park and see if perhaps we could reassert ourselves over the West track configuration.

Arriving somewhat early on Thursday, we already felt full of confidence and vigor, having braved neither wind, nor snow, nor rain, nor tornado, nor any other of the miscellaneous malarkey that Mother Nature seems wont to cast at the travelling racer.

Of course, it could not be completely simple, eh? 'Course not. Should such a thing come to pass that one merely loaded for a race, drove there, and arrived, this unknown-to-us "anti-world" would collide with the real world and both would immediately annihilate in a flash of heat, light, and Facebook posts. In this particular instance, the challenge was in that little eensy weensy detail of the biggish black round things that act as wheel protectors: There were none.

I called Goodyear back at the beginning of July for some more tires. Knowing how brutally hard MMP is on rubber, Goodyears especially, I had hoped to come armed with two fresh sets and a takeoff set, hoping that they might last the weekend, since last year, two sets had not been enough. With Akron unable to supply any black sticky goodness, I tried Hoosier, with unfortunately, a similar result: no rears.

So, I went down the only avenue left, and began calling friends to see if perhaps they might have tires I could use. Happily, Signore DiCoopola and Chris Farrell answered the call and were able to help me out. As such, my trip over the mountains included a stop by C&M World Headquarters in Salt Lake City, to grab a set of Hoosiers from Chris, do a bit of iTunes tech support, and gawk like Red Ryder Ralphie at the CNC machines making metal awesomeness.

Thus we arrived Thursday evening, and set up, ready to attack the weekend. I rode the bike around visiting folks - meeting Nicholas Belling, David Palmer, Larry Vollum and Taylor Archer in the F1000 crowd, and catching up briefly with Randy Mitchell. In addition to a slew of F1000's, in DSR we had me, Chris, Sam Souval, and Lee Alexander, with some Radicals thrown in for flavor.

Friday: Please Keep Your Hands and Fluids Inside the Vehicle at All Times
With nary a cloud in the sky, and so far just a gentle sun beaming down on a bright 75* morning, the first session was a wonderful start. I did have quite a lot of fun chasing Lee Alexander around, who, like me, was getting up to speed on the track. I had the odd experience of watching gasoline spray out the back of his car and splash up onto my face shield. I asked Lee about it later (also to make sure he didn't have a fuel leak!), and it turns out the air pressure under the rear wing where the vent line is routed is such that it actually draws fuel out of the fuel cell unless the overflow line is capped into a bottle of some sort - cool aero!

Unfortunately, I came back from the first session to find a nice long crack on my #4 header, snaking its way down the bend. We set about doing our various to-do lists, waiting for the car to cool so I could change the header out for my "big-block" whatchamaheaders. On the upside, the car's handling was feeling pretty good, as I was already within sight of my previous bests from the previous outing here in May. Amazing what having proper air pressure in the tires will do for driver confidence. The only issue was a touch of high-speed oversteer, so I lowered the rear a touch to see if it would settle a bit.

Having missed the second session changing the headers, our next session was after lunch. Back out I went, and this time, I spent a bunch of time chasing around Sam Souval, who has run about a billion laps of this track. Sammy and I had a grand old time, though this time I was the unhappy recipient of a steady stream of oil vapor from Sam's car, which coated all leading edge surfaces of the car. For part of this session, I did some lead-follow with David Palmer to show him the (or at least my) line around the track, for sure a high-speed version of the blind leading the blind.

I came in from this session, and added a bit of rear flap, since the car now felt fine in the slower corners, but I was still having to play catch in corner 1 and 2 a bit too much. Looking at tire temps, the rears were still much warmer than the fronts, indicating that they certainly were having to work a bit harder than they ought to.

This time, the problem was with the brakes. A curiously soft pedal was greeting me at the entrance to all corners after the long, high-speed sweepers, namely, corner 5 and corner 9. Calling upon an impressive level of denial, I hoped that the problem might just be an incomplete bleed, and we bled the front brakes. Chris offered his support by sprinting over and offering up an ad-hoc blessing of the car with various ministrations of his LED flashlight. Thus sanctified with the Holy (flash)Light I headed out for the track.

Fourth session of the day, the story was similar. I chased around Sammy and Lee for fun, ran some good laps, dipping into the 23's once again, and even running two consecutive laps exactly 1:22.912. I also found myself behind Steve Niklin, noting that he was driving the *wheels* off of his car, and thought to myself "Man, he's learned a LOT in two months!" As it turns out, I was chasing Jeff Shafer from Radical West/Factory 48, who was getting a baseline for the car.

I finished the session, cleaned the oil off of the front of the car, bled the brakes (rears this time...), and buttoned up. Good to have a routine, right?

For the last session of the day, I took it easy, scrubbing the new set of Hoosiers, but noted that the soft pedal was still in evidence. I had developed an enduro-driver style routine of tapping the pedal with my left foot before T5 and T9 which gave me reasonable braking performance. Super. Just love that confidence.

After the session, realizing that I was now plum out of calipers to bleed, yet still had a crappy brake pedal, I conceded that the problem must now be in the hardware. So, thinking it might still be related to the rotor float problem, I fired up the well-oiled brake-rotor-rodeo and swapped the fixed/vented rotors on the rear place of the floaters.

Having completed the day's running, we retired to Tooele's top restaurant (Applebee's), and operating on the principle that alcohol is the solution to all life's problems, sought, and found, inspiration at the bottom of my second margarita. Entirely confused at even what end of the car was causing the soft brake pedal, it struck me: if only I had a digital video recording device attached to my car that might somehow record the problem. Wait for it. Just a bit longer now. Inspiration dawns across a bewhiskered face: Ah-HA!

Returning back to the garage, we fell upon reconfiguring the ChaseCam to record the pedal box so that I could at least see which master cylinder was causing the soft pedal. I mounted a spare camera on one of the chassis tubes, and the Holy Flashlight was appropriated from Chris's toolbox and positioned such that it would shed its Holy Light on the Holy Footbox so that we could find out what the Holy Hell was going on.

Saturday: In the event of a water landing...
Wings-and-Things was the second session of the morning, so we roused ourselves, clicked on the Holy Flashlight, assembled the bodywork, and headed out to grid. I ran a few laps humming the Hokey Pokey to myself in deference to my right-foot-in-right-foot-out footwork, got to the point where you-take-your-pit-lane-out, and came in to watch the video (and shake it all about). Answer found: front master cylinder. That's what it's all about.

Unfortunately, that didn't get us very far. Checking our pockets, and those of friends nearby, we quickly concluded that we were fresh out of replacement Stohr wheel bearings, uprights, and hubs. At least knowledgeable impotence was better than ignorant impotence.

Qualifying was uneventful, though it was a delightful scrum of chaos for the first 3-4 laps, with everybody treating it like it was the first few laps of a race. On the opening lap, just to make sure I hadn't forgotten it was there, the VoltPhreaks shut off twice in succession again, and once again, operated flawlessly the rest of the weekend. Sammy, Lee and I worked our way through all the various traffic, searching for and never finding a clean lap. I saw a :23 pop up on my dash and called it good enough, and came in to save the tires.

With F1000 getting their own split start behind us, the sports-racer grid was pretty predictable - Chris Farrell on pole, Lee second, and me third, having pipped Sammy by a bit. Lee and I were running very similar times, and Sam has gone as fast as :21 here, so I was looking forward to a great fight.

We made our way around track, through a waved-off start, and took the green the second time around. I had myself tucked as far up under Chris's wing as I dared, hoping that I might be able to hang with the built-motor cars down to T1 if I had a bit of a tow. No such luck, as we all got about the same jump with the green. Lee and Chris immediately jumped away, and I found myself about four carlengths back at T1. I had hoped to bolt myself to Chris's rear wing and keep Lee out on the outside, but no such luck.

Instead, I slotted right behind Lee, but found myself very close through T2 and T3, Lee's car looking a bit unsteady on cold tires, and me having a big moment in T2 as well. He touched his brakes for T3 and I was able to get a run, tucking right up behind his wing on the run down to T5. Lee feinted slightly to defend, but braked early, so I ducked to the inside and shot by, getting whoa'd down just enough to make the corner and continue. We continued like this for a few laps, maintaining more or less the same gap.

However -- there's that word again! -- just a few laps in, coming through T3, I used a bit of curbing as I have sometimes, (since I still can't get the #*@(*&! car through there flat-out), and immediately heard the engine note change. Braking for T5, the engine sounded much different, sicker. I kept listening for anything else to change, but since power still seemed about OK, I thought I'd go with it for a while. The car sounded a bit different when the header had cracked earlier in the weekend, so once again drawing upon my Superhero Denial Skills, I kept going, but had to admit that the car was now not pulling anywhere near as hard.

Lee easily passed me down the front straight the next lap, and I futilely lagged behind, now unable to mount any significant chase, much less try to retake the position. That lasted just a few more laps before the gear position sensor failed, followed quickly by the water temp reading, and shortly thereafter the shift lights. I ducked into the pits, wondering what on earth was wrong with the car.

From there the situation worsened, as I tried to shut off the car but was unable. Jeff Shafer ran over to help and see what was wrong, but could find nothing. I pulled out of the pits to see if I could do a couple more laps and perhaps get my much-needed finish, but alas, while sitting in pit lane, the car overheated and spit out its coolant, washing the floor of the car and the pitlane with water and glycol. Game over.

...Your Carbon Fiber Can Be Used as a Water Retention Device
Returning to paddock and taking a gander under the rear deck, it turns out that the muffler had failed. That led to such extreme under-hood temps that the car's wiring harness melted together, resulting in the funky dash readings, as well as the inability to turn the car off with anything but the kill switch. The time sitting on pit lane overheated the motor, which led to the coolant spilling out, which on the floor of the car, looked remarkably like a popped head gasket milkshake.

With too many things to fix, we decided to call Time of Death of the weekend, packed up, and headed home.

MMP: 2, Jake & Co: 0

At least this time we weren't slow.

Looking forward, since I chalked up a nice big goose egg in the "finishes" column for this weekend, that means our next event will be the Last Chance Rational back at High Plains Raceway. Shouldn't be too hard, after all, I only need to repair the wiring harness, muffler, headers, engine, brakes, shocks, battery, uprights, and wheel bearings, right? P-Shaw.

Maybe third time will be the charm?
Hokey Pokey - Miller Motorsports Park Footwork

Can't Get No Saltisfaction - 2011 Great Salt Race (Sat)

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