Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Coronet Goes Racing Again

This past weekend I headed down to Barber Motorsports Park, just outside of Birmingham, Alabama to race with Team Coronautski in our second 24 Hours of Lemons Race.  It was epic! Strap in for a ride.
The 17 turns of Barber Motorsports Park.

Friday we arrived early in the afternoon to check in, go through tech inspection and get our paddock spot set up for the weekend.  Lots of teams were already there making practice laps, but with our practice session a few months back, our team was confident in the car and our driving and decided to forego the Friday testing.
Team Coronautski waits in line for tech inspection.

We had a few very minor updates to make, but otherwise passed with ease.  Somehow, we were bumped down from B to C class with zero penalty laps! There was nothing stopping a Coronet victory in C class! We knew we had pace to run near the top of the entire field, so we were all extremely excited for the race Friday afternoon.
Jason gets his driver gear inspected by Lemons founder, Jay.

From tech we took advantage of a team that brought their mobile dyno to find out exactly how much power that ancient cast iron motor was still making. The 318 cubic inch motor is putting down 184 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque.  Not surprisingly, the big heavy V8 isn't making the horsepower needed to keep up with the front-runner cars, but still has enough torque to surprise most of the field. The biggest thing we learned was that most of the power falls off dramatically after 4,500 rpm, which was crucial in understanding when to shift to maximize our power output.
John keeps an eye as Kyle gets ready to run the car on the dyno.

Saturday morning we were at the track bright and early, got the car fired up and Kyle strapped in. Unlike our first race, the car was in grid and then out on track near the front of the field.  Like clockwork, we pitted Kyle in just as planned after an hour and forty five minutes on track from second place in C class.  I was suited up and ready to hop in to take my turn behind the wheel.
Kyle gets ready to drive Saturday morning.

I hit some heavy traffic on track right away.  Just seconds into the race it was clear this would be a much bigger challenge than our last race with 91 cars competing on the 2.27 mile track. After about 15 minutes I had finally gotten to a comfortable pace and was starting to line up passes and move through the field.  By an hour into the stint, I had the car up into first in C class!  Things finally started to flow and I was having a blast.  Barber is a fun, flowing track with lots more elevation changes than most tracks I've driven.
I check my mirror as I pull out into pit lane.

Unfortunately, about twenty minutes left in my stint, I lined up and committed to a pass into the downhill left-hand turn one at the end of the front straight. I was so focused on getting the 17 foot purple boat around the other car safely, I failed to notice a waiving yellow flag just before I made the pass.  Rookie mistake. Yellow flags signal an incident or some situation ahead that needs your attention.  No passing is allowed once past the station waiving or displaying the yellow flag.  Sure enough, later down the track I was shown the black flag and I had to make my way into the pits to serve the penalty. 
Kyle swaps out the worn front tires right after my black flag.

Luckily, it was my first and only mistake and after a few minutes of safety lectures by the supreme Lemons judges, I was released back to race.  Knowing the tires were worn-down and I was almost done with my scheduled stop, I opted to get the car back to paddock to make the tire swap and get Jason in the car.
Jason makes a pass coming out of turn 6.

Jason took off with fresh front tires and just kept going faster each lap.  Unfortunately he also got hit with a black flag for going four wheels off of the racing surface.  Again, a minor infraction and after a talking-to, he got back out on course.  Just as we were making track position up again, the car started getting hot.  Really hot.  After running at 160 degrees all morning, Jason radioed in reports of 250 degrees. 
Winning strategy.  Brian, Luke, and Jason plan their turn on re-fueling the car.

Pulling the car into paddock, we carefully filled up the radiator with almost three gallons of water and got Jason back out when the temperatures almost immediately plummeted back to normal.  We assumed the radiator cap might have failed and we knew we'd have to keep topping off the radiator to keep it on track.  It ran long enough to get to our final fuel stop of the day and get John into the car.  The new fuel jug modifications were doing the trick and we were turning some of the quickest stops down pit lane. Soon temps were rising again and by 3pm it was clear we needed to park the car and diagnose something serious.
We still have fun.  I made sure everyone knew they were HELLASWEET!

Once cool, we started tearing into the engine.  A spark plug hole full of water was the first clear sign we would need to replace a head gasket or pack it up for the weekend. We continued to disassemble the motor and found a variety pack of failure.  Spark plug wires were half-melted, the passenger side head gasket had failed in two locations, several push rods were bent, and one piston was significantly cracked.
The last of our water steams out of the radiator for the second time, which was time to park it.

By some stroke of luck, Landon had headed home in Georgia to take care of some family stuff and was headed back to the track, right near Summit Racing Equipment's huge store in Atlanta just after we diagnosed the issues.  He was able to pick up head gaskets, push rods, spark plugs, and a few other essentials for us and got back around 7pm.  By that time we had the top half of the motor laid out on the ground and were ready to start re-assembly.
The guys busy at work fixing the engine.

The team swarmed the car, cleaning up the motor and then piecing it all back together. Several other teams came by and offered help and even some free beer! Lemons is pretty cool since everyone is really there to just have fun, so it was nice to have a stream of constant encouragement while we wrenched away.  At 11:30 we fired up the car, confirmed it was back to normal and then did a quick oil change just before the rain hit.
The other half of the team cleans up the cylinder heads with the timing and scoring tower in the distance.

Sunday morning we gathered again, fired up the car, slapped on our second set of fresh tires on the front of the car and strapped Luke in.  The track was wet from rain all night and there was a very slight mist/drizzle all morning, but we knew Luke was up to the task.  The rest of the team made our way to the second floor of the mostly empty observation tower to watch the start of the race.  Not a minute later, up the stairs walked racing legend, SCCA Hall of Famer, and fellow Lemons competitor, Randy Pobst!  I knew he was just another car guy there to hang out and drive, so I said, "Hey, Randy! How's it goin? What are you driving this weekend?", and sure enough, he came over, shook hands and we hung out and chatted for about thirty minutes and swapped Lemons car stories.  Super cool!
John, Jason, James, Phillip, Randy Freakin' Pobst, Brian, Kyle (Sorry Luke and Landon! Thanks for keeping the car running!)

Luke worked through the field and moved up several spots during his two hour stint, getting us to the hour-long required lunch break without needing a fuel stop.  Amazingly, the engine seemed to be holding up and temperatures were back to normal!  Did I mention we couldn't find a replacement piston and were running the car with a cracked piston and still passing people?

The Coronet is on grid early, just past the Porsche Driving School's fleet that was parked for the weekend.
The hour break wrapped up and we had the Coronet, armed with our fastest driver, Landon (who holds a track record in his Camaro racecar with NASA) ready to keep our race alive.  The car made several laps before some of our competitors made it out on track and he kept ramping up the pace and eventually set our fastest lap as the track dried out.  The car was now up to 5th in class.
No engines during quiet hours at lunch time Sunday, so everyone chips in to get to grid.  The extra effort picked us up at least 2 laps on our class competitors.

The team put together a lightning-quick pit stop and got John back in the car since his Saturday stint was cut short.  John moved the car up the field even further and made the pass into 4th place!  With about 90 minutes left in the race our car was running and out-pacing everyone else in class.  Kyle was locked and loaded to close out the race. 
The Coronet pitted after the yellow car in pit lane and got back on track quicker!

With fifteen minutes to go, the third place car was knocked out of the race with a mechanical failure but it was just too late to pass for position.  With nearly worn-out tires, temperatures starting to rise again and the oil pressure dropping on left hand corners, Kyle stuck it out and for the first time in our team's history, brought the car across the finish line at the checker flag!
I make my way through turn 6, opening up the inside line for the quicker Porsche just behind, keeping both cars moving quickly through the corner.

In the end we didn't win any awards, but made an impressive recovery to finish 4th in class.  It was incredibly disappointing to drop to fourth from first, but I think we all felt overwhelmingly accomplished to have finished the race and everyone got a shot behind the wheel.  We proved that our transmission and cooling system improvements we made since our last race were exactly what were needed.  We also confirmed that we have six very fast drivers.  The lap time differences between us were generally only a couple seconds apart and everyone was moving the car up in the standings.
Final shot of the day of the timing tower showing the #155 car in 43rd spot overall.  Top half!

Huge thanks has to go to Alec for taking some amazing photos!  James and Phillip also gave up their weekend to man the radio and wrench on the car, which made all the difference in us being able to run our race and keep everyone coordinated.  We've got a crazy-talented team and I'm extremely glad to be a part of Team Coronautski.  Thank you again to everyone else that has been supporting the team and following along our progress!
James looking like a total bad ass during his time on the radio.

Phillip was also totally in the zone while helping with crew chief duties. 

We've got plans to re-build the engine and get the car out for one more race this year.  We are confident in every other aspect of the car and are determined to take a C class win.  More will come from Team Coronautski!
Fourth Place! Hellasweet!

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