2011 ChumpCar 25:25.25 at Nelson Ledges

In the world of endurance racing, any race that you finish is a good one.  Making it through the whole race without stopping save for driver changes & fueling makes it great.  Beating your place expectations?  That really makes things awesome.  This past weekend at the Longer Longest Day we had an awesome race.

This was our second Chump Car event and also our second full-day event.  The Longer Longest Day is a play on 25 hour races, created to trump 24 hour affairs.  Crap can racers are certainly known for making things difficult on themselves, so the 25 hour, 25 minute, 25 second format is ostensibly the hardest track race out there, at least as far as time is concerned.

Preparation

Our car prep began only a few weeks before the event—after you’ve done a few races it’s pretty easy to get cavalier about it all.  Aside from a new set of tires (the awesomely named Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 Star Spec) and moving the battery, we had to fix the steering.  Our last race, the Chump Car 24 Hours of VIR, ended when we got T-boned in the last 3 hours, resulting in a broken steering ball joint.  The replacement part was slightly too long, giving the car excessive toe-out, which we fixed by grinding it to length.

The biggest change we made to the car was improving the lighting—our first 24 hour experience was completed on a single set of 35 watt Optilux 4″ HID driving lights.  We had a pair of 55 watt halogen Hella 500FFs in a fog pattern setup as apex lights, but they failed in the first night stint; their output was so dim relative to the HIDs that we didn’t bother diagnosing them.  Replacing the halogens in the 500FFs with HID lamps made a world of difference.  Night stints are no longer a stumbling affair of surprising corners, drivers can now confidently charge around track without fear of surprises hidden in the darkness.

To The Track

Nelson Ledges Road Course is outside of Garrettsville, Ohio and not far from Youngstown.  The track is about 6 hours from Cobra Kai’s home base of Arlington, Virginia.  This race brought in a couple of drivers from Miami who flew into DC on Thursday and one from Pittsburgh.  We convoyed to the track stopping at Costco & Walmart on the way to obtain various supplies.  Arriving late on Thursday was less than ideal—not knowing the track we couldn’t tell what an advantageous paddock spot would be.  Luckily the majority of teams had arrived much earlier in the day, making our decision fairly easy.  The weather was quite good, high 50°F at night and mid 70°F during the day, aside from copious nighttime dew each night which led to very soft ground in the paddock and around the track that persisted through the weekend.

Friday’s test session was an reasonable deal as far as these things go: $200 for 4 drivers from 9 to 5 with occasional interruption for racetrack-crossing traffic.  All of our drivers got enough time to learn the course and the car; two guys hadn’t ever been on track and three of them hadn’t even laid eyes on our race wagon truck.  For an additional $50, we got to do a night test session from 7:30 to 9pm which was invaluable.  We did 3 full driver rotations during this time, practicing pit stop duties and driver changes, in addition to giving all drivers a chance to see what night racing at Nelson Ledges is like.  Foggy, as it turns out.  Our session ended nearly on time when one of our drivers had an off-track excursion resulting in the newly trunk-mounted battery repositioning itself to the spare tire well.

After the night session we headed into Garrettsville for dinner at the local brewpub, which proved to be superb.  One more trip to Walmart for a better battery hold down solution, filling the gas cans, and we were ready to race.

Racing Time

In the morning we installed a battery box to ensure it wouldn’t move again and got rigged up to race.  Opening race traffic, combined with tire-cooling caution periods and furious passing on restarts, is not a good place for novice drivers, so Charlie and I were the only options for the first stint and my love of driving in traffic got me the first stint.  The first hour on track was a combination of nearly constant local yellows and long full-course cautions punctuated by furious battles for position on green track.  Our first contact of the race happened in the middle of my stint—attempting to re-pass a car that had just used power to get by on a straight, I tucked inside.  Between his not expecting me and the foreshadowing of future brake issues, I unintentionally PIT maneuvered the Band of Brothers in the penultimate corner.  The #23 car rotate across my bumper and we both went more than a bit sideways across the grass inside of the apex.  He rounded the final corner and went into the pits; I didn’t think anything had gone wrong so went easy through a few turns and then continued through the rest of my stint.  While contact happens in ChumpCar races (and was downright too common in this one), I don’t like having it happen that early.  We were both definitely pushing too hard, too early.

The rest of our stints prior to the safety break went similarly smoothly, though they were all similarly punctuated by the occasional contact and made tenuous by radio failures.  We knew how long the car runs for a tank (1:40 minimum, 2 hours with lots of laps under caution) so such inability to communicate just meant we had a driver hanging out on the pit wall well before the opening of the pit window.  At the safety break (only 8 hours in) we rigged up some running lights that the car was missing during the previous night’s practice.  Rob asked if we would have time to bleed the brakes because they felt a squishy, but we ended up not having time.  Despite the simplicity of rigging tail lights, it ate up most of the break.  The headlights were uncovered and we sent out our fifth driver for the dusk stint.

We recycled the order at 10PM when I got in for my first night stint—and immediately something felt weird.  The brake pedal had gone from having some dead space at the top, to intermittently going to the floor when called upon with urgency.  I initially chalked this up to the brakes over cooling, since we were running a full-on race pad compound and the temperature had dropped.  I radioed the team and told them to have some duct tape on the wall in case I had to come in and have them cover the brake ducts.  A few more laps of toying with that idea by dragging the brakes made it clear something else was awry.  It became apparent that the brake pedal often wasn’t inducing full pressure in the system when pressed, resulting in a delay until the ABS pump caught up and built pressure in the system.  The master brake cylinder was failing.

I radioed the team to tell them we should get a replacement, but the radio was dead.  This being an endurance race, I decided to continue on.  Giving the brakes a quick half-depression-pump before actually calling upon them to work gave me all the normal braking power and control.  I just stayed out of traffic and kept driving until snagging a puncture late in my stint.  Since I hadn’t been on the radio the new driver was ready in the pit.  I hopped out of the car and gave the other guys the rundown while we refueled and replaced the front tires.  The next driver agreed that continuing to orbit and get laps while we got a replacement was the right way to go, so he went back out.

A couple of us headed to AutoZone in Leavittsburg/Warren, which was open until midnight on account of the race.  AutoZone didn’t have an exact replacement, it did have hugely knowledgeable (thanks Dan!) that hooked us up with a visually similar part that they had on hand, some brake line, and some compression fittings that would (probably) work.  When we got back the other driver was still on track gaining places; we were moving up through the 20s in the standings.  As usual, we readied a new driver, fuel, and all of the parts needed to do the replacement.  At the end of his stint the report was that the brakes hadn’t gotten any worse and were still driveable.  We sent out another driver and continued on the largely functional brakes through the end of the race.

Success

Through the night and into the morning we continued to gain a few places each stint and only lose 2-3 during our 10 minute pit stops (about 7 laps at our 1:32 average pace), in part by taking advantage of the very-often caution periods.  By sunrise we were steadily making our way into the teens, a phenomenal result from humble beginnings and having our prior race terminated early.  We ended up in 13th place out of 74 entrants, ahead of at least two dozen cars that turned faster laps and were still running at the end of the race.  By having efficient pit stops and no mechanical failures we took the Volvo faux truck damn near the top of the standings.

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Upgrade: Weight Balance

The stock battery location for our Volvo, like many cars, is in the very front of the engine compartment.  For our 940, it’s actually nearly as far forward as is possible, underneath the right-front headlight.  One of the major components of how a car handles is its weight distribution—generally the closer to 50% over each axel is preferred.  Since the batteries weight 40 pounds or more, moving it from one end of the car to the other can have a significant effect on the weight balance, especially when those ends are as far apart as in our Race Wagon.  As such, I moved the battery from it’s stock location, a rusted-out pan in front of the right-front wheel, to a clean, solid cavity near the right-rear tail lamp.  Not only is it more secure, we ought to see an improvement in handling.

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Capitol Offense 2011

Cobra Kai race wagon on track

I think I stand in good company amongst LeMons race in being very happy just to be at the racetrack.  The camaraderie of crapcan racing makes for a wonderful atmosphere, and the competition is a great side benefit those of us who get fired up by the prospect of winning (or rather, beating everyone else).  That’s why it is so easy to be absolutely ecstatic that we ended up 44th our out of 102 cars at the 2011 Capitol Offense race.

Test & Tune

On Friday, we ran our car in the test day—the first time that the car had seen any racetrack and the first time three of the drivers had seen this circuit.  Everything went superbly on track, we got through tech & bullshit inspection without issue, and had a great day overall.  But the race wagon was certainly showing it’s wagonness around track, as Volvos are certainly not light.  The endless desire for more speed prompted an intense car stripping session that evening: our wagon arrived at the track with windows, a rear hatch, and an exhaust.  By the end of Friday, it was a a much leaner machine and also featured some sweet brake ducts made from house clothes dryer vents.

Snoopy & Woodstock cars

The Race

I took the first stint, hoping to use my experience at LeMons racing and knowledge of the circuit from prior track days to keep us out of trouble.  While I managed to keep the our wagon from getting physical with anything else on track, I did garner a couple of black flags.  It would become apparent that some of the flaggers were less than enthusiastic with their yellow displays, leaving a number of us with questionable passing-under-yellow penalties.  After we made it through a full rotation of drivers, everyone was on the same page: the driver changes got faster and the whole team started to get into the racing spirit  We started paying attention to the standings, deciding which cars it was reasonable to target getting ahead of.  While our race wagon wasn’t a screamer on track, with efficient stops and clean driving we made our way up the order.

Volvochero

We ended up 44th out of 108 entrants which is a damn fine result for a bunch of new drivers in a new car.  Our excitement was doubled when the ward for Index of Effluency, the crappiest car that did the most laps (often called The Real Winner) was the Volvochero team in their 1994 240.  While our car is a bit bigger in all dimensions, seeing such a similar vehicle win the award that we’re all really racing for left us all excited for our next race.

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What is this 24 Hours of LeMons Thing, Anyway?

Describing crapcan racing succinctly is a difficult task.  The form of racing familiar to most Americans is NASCAR and it is difficult to imagine something further from LeMons.  Whereas Sprint Cup cars are purpose built, million dollar machines, those of us in the crapcan realm make due with tired machines that were often designed for nothing more than obtaining groceries.

The basic rules for 24 Hours of LeMons races are quite simple:

  • Buy a car for less than $500
  • Equip the car with a roll cage, race seat, and racing harness
  • Apply a ridiculous paint job
  • Do whatever it takes to keep the car running for 16-24 hours

Though the price limit on the car, which guarantees crapiness, conjures up images of demolition derby in most people’s minds, that’s not what crapcan racing is about at all.  The 24 Hours of LeMons is an endurance race—in fact, its name is a play on the most prestigious endurance race there is: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.In the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency the winner is the team that completes the most laps.  In 24 Hours of LeMons, the team that completes the most laps is lauded for sure, but the real winners are those given the Index of Effluency and Organizer’s Choice.

The Organizer’s Choice goes to the team that most epitomizes LeMons: bring a car (and a team) so gussied up that even non-motorsports folks can’t help but die laughing at the hilarity they are witness to.  My memories still harken back to the 2010 Goin’ For Broken.  This race was not long after the Tiger Woods mistress debacle, which one team made into an amazing theme.  A Toyota Supra with “Escalaid” painted on the side adorned with a pair of mannequins depicting Tiger being beat with a golf club by his furious wife.

 

The Index of Effluency is awarded to the team that, however unlikely it seemed at the start, finishes the race.  A rare, exceedingly old, or highly damaged car is a great candidate here, and such cars usually require a significant amount of LeMons Standard Engineering (read: half-assed) throughout the race to keep working.

Perhaps the most highly coveted award at LeMons is the Heroic fix award, given to the team that manages to keep racing even when their car tries its best to stay off the track.  There have been cars that lost gears in the transmission and finished with single-speed, direct drive affairs, those that had multiple motor swaps throughout the race, and some that finished on a single cylinder engine.

The 24 Hours of LeMons is an amazing event on so many levels.  For those of us who are into cars and racing, we get a relatively cheap way to do what we love in a laid back atmosphere.  For the friends and families we convince to come to the race but don’t care how awesome it is that a limousine is competing on a race track, it’s a great view into how creative gearheads can be.

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This is Our Race Wagon

Cobra Kai race wagon
The Cobra Kai race wagon is nearly ready for the 2011 Capitol Offense event of the 24 Hours of LeMons on June 18 & 19 at Summit Point.
"Johnny" driver name

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More Welding

The roll cage construction is coming to a close, so the alluring blue spark will be no more. That is, until something needs to be reattached with molten metal.
Welding sparks
We’ve done a bunch of other important work on the car, like making the tow hitch all glitzy:
Stewart painting tow hitch

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Battery Porn

Check the Hell for Leather interview with Michael Czysz on his E1pc electric bike(s) at the Isle of Man TTZero, with cool pictures.

P.S. PlugBike’s roundup of the bike coverage

P.P.S. PlugBike’s tips for watching it live

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Our suspension is rad

Totally sweet and Lemons-aware suspension mods for the racecar.

Compressing and cutting springs.

Compressed spring

Adjusting spring rates.

Strut with tennis balls

Ooooh.

Tennis ball springs

More camber, the awesome way.

More camber

This is going to handle bitchin’; like a ’94 940 wagon with tennis balls in the springs!

 

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Welding Dreams

Lately it’s been hard to dream about anything other than welding and grinding.  The race is in less than two weeks and our brick is finally starting to come together..

Roll cage from the rear

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Roll Cage

Our volvo is starting to look like a race car on the inside too.  This weekend we installed the seat and got most of the roll cage stubbed out.  The driver’s seat is rather cramped but there’s plenty of room in the back for trophies..

Not your mother's volvo..

 

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