Archive for April, 2010

Spring Training 2010

Welcome to 2010.  Thanks for reading.  I know I slacked on writing up the last two events last year, but work consumed me and winter left me without much motivation to do, well, anything productive.

But, before you think that my lack of work on the car will lead to a thrilling year of metal-wrecking-breakdowns and frustrated weekends, let me remind you my racecar didn’t even see my garage this winter.

Hawke and Lindstrands

The Hawke lived even further north in Darien, Wisconsin, tucked away between a Formula Continental and a Lola Sports 2000 at Lindstrand Motorsports.  You can see what they did to it on the bottom of this history page.  The big work for the winter included rebuilding of the tired (4 seasons?) engine by Curtis Farley.

So, unpeel a harsh winter to the morning of April 17th.  I arrived at Blackhawk Farms around 7:30am.  The weatherman, which has generally been reliable as Lucas electronics, said it was going to be sunny and 60.  The morning was chilly, somewhere between “it’ll warm up nicely” and “where’s my awesome-warm-hat from the last cold event at Blackhawk”, but there was not a cloud in the sky… Very nice.

Saturday Testing

Saturday was Midwestern Council’s Spring Training school day.  For those of us with licenses already (I obtained my SCCA National license over the fall, by the way), we could run the event just for track time.  On paper, it looked like a ton of driving – 6 or 7 sessions.  However, at the drivers’ meeting in the morning, us track-timers found out that we would be kicked out of 3 sessions.  This was fine with me, as after 3 or 4 sessions a day I’m pretty whooped.  And, given that some of the school students were experiencing a race car and race track for the first time ever, I’ll be happy to give them some room!  I remember my SCCA school, and it was quite intimidating to have experienced drivers in fast cars whizzing by when I was still learning not to use the clutch to shift.

Scrubbing tires

Over the winter I acquired a new set of Panasport Ultralite wheels, and wrapped them in new R35 tires.  The R35 tire is an option for the Formula Ford class, and illegal for Club Ford (where I normally run).   Why, you ask? Because I plan to run a few National events this year (scary, eh?).  Old tire, meet new tireAnd for my regular Club Ford events (regionals and Council races), I replaced the worn R60s from last season with new ones. This is the first time I’ve ever had “stickers” – which is a term used regularly by the guys with more money than I have (“How yer tires?”  “Oh, they’re stickers” “Ohh, gonna be fast today, aye?”).

So, with new tires, err sorry – stickers – you need to break them in.  They call this scrubbing.  Not having new tires ever before (always leeching off someones used ones) this was a new concept to me.  The idea is to go out and do 1-2 laps gently, to get the manufacturing-slick-crap off the tire surface, then 1-2 hard laps to get the tires heated up, then 1-2 cool down laps to, well, cool down, and then let them sit for a day.  All this supposedly does magic to the rubber compound and lets them stay sticky for a long time. Or something like that. I just listen to what the Lindstrand folks tell me.  It seems to work better that way.

My first session I went out on last year’s throw-away R35s, just to get re-acquainted with the car and track.  The car felt good. The engine rebuild made a difference – the combination of more power and the lighter spinny parts inside make it a ton easier to rev-match when downshifting.

Over the second and third sessions I scrubbed the R35 and R60 rubber.  The only change needed to the car was softening-up the front sway bar one notch, in order to get a little more grip up there and reducing understeer.   The between-session maintenance, performed by Jeff with Lindstrand (with the occasional head-scratching-commentary by Bruce), consisted of the usual uneventful nut-and-bolt checking and refueling; except that every session, the CV joint bolts were loosening up.  We had this issue last year, and since then replaced the hardware – but it was really happening much worse now.  I’m blaming the combination of engine having more power and the stickier tires putting much more stress on the drivetrain and suspension.

Left rear corner

Scrubbed too hard

I didn’t know it would be an issue, but for some reason I took a picture of the left rear corner on Saturday morning.  Little did I know, it would be an issue later in the day (cue suspense-movie-soundtrack here).  Take a look at the picture (go on, click on it) – notice how the black thingy from the right (the driveshaft) is connected to the silver thingy (the yoke).  There is a U-joint in there (a Hardy Spicer 1200, for those that have to know – the same joints used on Land Rover 4×4’s).  Note that the U-joint at this point of the day is in one piece (suspense-movie-soundtrack volume up, please).

The fourth and final session of the day was going quite well until about lap 11 of 20.  I came out of turn 3D, the slowest corner of the track (track map from Trackpedia), in first gear (which is normal).  I shifted into second and was only on the throttle for a second or two before a quick stab of the brakes to make the late-apex left turn-4.  When I returned my right foot to the floor atop the gas pedal, I heard what I describe as a bad noise – like a tornado tearing up your shed out back.  Metal on metal.

Along with the noise, I noticed I wasn’t moving any faster.  I was slowing down.  I initially thought that 2nd gear or the dogring broke – so I shifted into 3rd. Metal on metal noise again.  Ok – I should stop that.  I put it in neutral and coasted. I was too fast to make it into the service road at turn 5, so I coasted off-line , then into the grass, to the corner station at turn 6.  I quickly hopped out (which is what the corner workers really prefer) and told them I was fine, and told Jeff on the radio that something was broke.

Bruce and Jeff from Lindstrand motored over on their ATV (this is where having radios is quite nice).  They immediately spotted what I clearly missed – the left side driveshaft was no longer connected to the yoke and wheel.  Thus, whenever I put it in gear – it just flailed all over the place (see “metal on metal” above).

Back at the ranch

Upon towing the Hawke back to the trailer, disassembly begins by Jeff and Bruce. Disassembling the yoke from the driveshaft was surprisingly simple – as you can see from these two pictures that the t-bone thingy in the middle (the Hardy Spicer thingy) broke.  And, that rash on the upright was not there before this session.  It seems that the driveshaft flailing did some damage.

How much damage?  Enough to need to take all these parts off and replace or fix.  Note the shiny upright (undamaged)…Luckily, I had a spare right upright with bearings and a stub axle that came with the car a long while back… very lucky to have that with us.  The sway bar linkage was also bent, however, a few minutes alone with Bruce and it was straight again.

The spare upright was meant I might end up back on the track tomorrow, so I celebrated with a beer.  The problem was, the spare u-joint we had was a Hardy Spicer 1300, and what the car needs is a Hardy Spicer 1200 (didnt know that at the time).  It was too late on Saturday night, even in the bustling metropolis of South Beloit, to attempt to find a spare – of either a 1300 or 1200.  So, after much lamenting over this around the compound I drowned my sorrows in more beer. It is a very fine line of celebratory-beer vs grief-beer, and you don’t want to mix them – thus I recommend drinking each in its entirety before switching purposes of said beer.

The problem was that the needle bearings in the u-joint we had were too long, just by a little.  We thought we had enough short ones, but it seems the spare joint did not have as many as needed.  So Bruce and Jeff went at what they do – grinding, poking, pulling, more grinding, some profanity, too much grinding, more profanity, and on and on.   I went about what I do – getting in the way and asking too many questions.   About two hours later things looked good.  Hooray! Back to celebratory beer!   About this time, we found the remainder of the short needle bearings – they fell out on the ground in the disassembly process earlier. Whoops.  Well, now you know that you can grind long needle bearing down into short needle bearings.

In my most important activity of the evening, I was used as dead weight in the car so they could realign it – it was surprisingly close to being on-target, requiring some minor tweakage best left to the morning light hours.

Sunday Morning

Practice was around 9am.  The weather was a bit chilly still, but the sun and prior two run groups had warmed up the track nicely.  I got down to a 1:21.997, which was 10th fastest out of 18 cars.  Very impressive for a car that got flat-towed off the track 16 hours before.  My fastest time for Saturday was around a 1:19.7 on the R35 tires, which I was really hoping to better even on the harder, less grippy R60s.

While qualifying went without incident, it was not the best session.  Given the school yesterday, there were some novice folks out on the track, as well as some people with more car than they could drive.  I’m all for learning so I’ll be nice – but use your mirrors, people! I’m not the quickest guy out there by far, but I am generally courteous.

I will admit that a few times I had a faster car behind me (like F1000 fast) that wouldn’t pass with a point-by, I eventually moved off-line and let off the gas to force them to go around.  Bad idea, I know, but I ran out of ideas for emptying my mirrors – it gets tiring looking at the mirrors every 2 seconds to make sure someone isn’t about to declare war on physics and rub tires with ya.

I qualified 2nd out of 3 cars in Club Ford, with a 1:22.979.   Scott Durbin was ahead of me with a 1:22.189.  I was starting 14 out of 18 cars.

Sunday Afternoon Race

The race for group 3 started just before 3pm on Sunday.  The track was warm from the sun but the temperature still hovered around the low 60’s, which is a real good combination for good grip (warm track) and making engine power (cooler intake air).

Qualifying results had my club-ford nemesis, Scott Durbin/#41 to my right in the grid.  The pace lap (expectedly)  was uneventful.  I’m still not completely comfortable with starts – especially that I knew there were a few much faster cars behind me.  However, this wasn’t much of an issue and the different-speed cars quickly sorted out who was where.  Scott was on the inside of the track and was able to get slightly ahead of me on the start.  I ended up going into turn 1 just behind and outside of him, with another car nosing between us.

At some point in the first lap (I promise these race-recaps will get better once I get video hooked up) I got around the yellow Formula-Indy thingy between us, and hooked onto Scott’s tail.  For the next 10 laps I stayed behind Scott – unable, unskilled, and uncohonied at times to pass him.  A few times I ventured out into virgin air to pass on the front straight, but unable to get around him.  I later learned that there is a wake off the lead car (which should have been obvious, growing up on the water with boats) that I should have avoided – I basically sat where the air from his car was pushing me back.   Oops.

I was building up my confidence to pass Scott, as Jeff on the radio was giving me newfound confidence.  I am sure I was faster, but just couldn’t cleanly get around him.  In the car, I was getting irritated that this evil man in front of me wouldn’t get the hell out of my way (later, Scott found me in the paddock, and he’s quite a nice guy – has an many evil qualities as an NPR jazz special).  On this lap, maybe end of lap 8 or 9, I was getting a little splat of oil on my visor every few seconds.

We came down the front straight and there was more oil hitting me.  Bastard! He can’t shake me with his driving, so he’s resorting to his 007-trickery of spraying oil on the track to slow me down. What is next, I ask? Smoke screen? Spikes on his wheels?

Well, with not much time to ponder the evilness he was doing at 100mph down the straight, with braking (probably too early), downshifting (4th to 2nd, but at least I dont use the clutch), and turning in (again, probably too early or late – I’m new at this, ya know) – I disregarded this oil as typical spit from a race car.

As he exited turn 1, he was a little loose.  He slid around a little more than normal.  Odd, I thought. But maybe I am breaking him down. Yes…

Going into the carousel  (turn 3), I saw heaven. Or something really bright and sparkly.  Oh – that’s oil. Oh, my, my – that’s a ton of oil.  Oh, my – what is this?  The Gulf of Mexico?  I’m sliding now. I can’t see.. sliding to the outside of the track.  This is bad.  All I see is visions of little ducks covered in crude oil.   Where’s the Dawn, dammit? Where is Greenpeace to cover this?  Someone clean this off of me!
At this point (you’d think it was eternity), I’m at the end of the carousel (at least 300 feet further down the track).  Scott’s evil plan to lay down a little oil for me backfired, it seems – apparently his oil sender plug came completely out of the engine block – spurting 5 quarts of (most likely not crude, but expensive synthetic goodness) oil out – all over his wheels, onto the track, onto my car, my helmet, and everywhere else in sight.

At this point, Scott has realized his oil pressure light is on and something is wrong.  He pulls over just past turn 4 and I wizz on by.

The last 10 seconds of radio communication with Jeff went like this:

  • Mike: He is getting real loose out of one –
  • Jeff: He’ll make a mistake. Just be there to pass him.
  • Mike: He’s spitting. Something. Oil. A little.
  • Jeff: (blank stare probably)
  • Mike (in carousel): $&@$! Oil! Ack! $&@*! He’s dumping oil. All of it! $&!#!!
  • Jeff: Pass him!
  • Mike: (blank stare into visor. Oil-covered-duck-visions)
  • Jeff: Make your move. (other things I cant remember)
  • Mike: I dont need to. He isnt going further.
  • Mike: I can’t see shit. I got oil all over me.
  • Mike: (pulls visor tear-off off – cue “A whole new world” song)
  • Mike: If I didnt have tear-offs, my race would be over
  • Jeff: Now you know what its like to race Formula Vee!
  • Jeff: And, that means your in first place
  • Mike: yay

At this point, I knew the other Club Ford was far enough behind me that, as long as I didn’t do anything stupid, I could actually win.  The stupid part was harder than expected, however.  On the next lap, I saw the whole oil spill – it was right in the the racing line of the carousel, all the way through turns 3D and 4.  I played put-put through those turns, and then kept on trucking the rest of the track.

It mostly sucks when something like this happens for two reasons: first, I felt I could have eventually got by Scott with my driving skill (keep your laughter to a minimum) rather than Jack Bartlett’s nut-tightening-skill (which I found out later, might have contributed to the issue.  Scott’s engine is fine, by the way.)… and, with this much oil on the track it really makes for unpleasant, and possibly dangerous, driving conditions.

The remaining 12 laps (22 or 23 laps total) were uneventful.  I lapped a few cars, which is new to me.  On the last lap, I got shown the checkered flag and did my cool down lap… And while I realized I won my class, I was still surprised to be given a flag and allowed to go do my checkered lap.

This was a new experience to me – how in the hell do you hold a flag, steer, shift and expect to wave to everyone?

Run group results: MCSCC Spring Training Race Results - Group 3

Results by class: MCSCC Spring Training Race Results - Group 3 by Class

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