Monday, September 14, 2020

Twenty Four Hours in 2020

It feels like we've been working on the car since our last race in February and FINALLY we were able to get back to the track. The Lemons folks have been fine tuning their COVID precautions the last few months and everything flowed pretty well this weekend. It was really nice to see all the racing friends and tune out everything else in the world for a couple days. So, our second ever continuous 24 hour did it go? 

Our deluxe paddock spot for the weekend.

We got the car loaded last weekend so it was ready to get to the track Thursday evening. Paddock space was set up and we prepared for running some test sessions on Friday with an hour in the evening to check out the night time setup and lighting. Fortunately our friend Robert was driving for us this weekend and brought his semi-truck rig to give us an awesome home base. He races on a regular basis so he was our hot-shoe ringer this weekend. Additionally, friend of the team James came up from Florida Thursday evening as well to participate in his first ever wheel to wheel event, so he balanced us out on the experience spectrum. Kyle and Luke rounded us out for a total of 5 drivers. 

Friday we got to it by giving everyone a session in the car to get comfortable and checking off a few last minute items. We made it through Lemons tech and BS inspection with the usual assignment of "A" class and 0 penalty laps. We have not placed better than 11th over all and have never beaten the top B class car at any event, so while we'd love to get B class, we know the reliability of the Miata will keep us in A. We got a pretty cool Star Wars themed stencil this weekend on the hood. 

This is the way.

Friday night we set up a projector in the trailer and reviewed some video and helped prep our newest member with some more last minute tips and tricks. Everyone was feeling good and ready but we knew the car was running a little rough. Suspecting a fuel issue, we prepared to send Kyle to the parts store Saturday morning so we could swap in a new fuel pump and fresh o-rings on the fuel injectors just out of caution. 

Three hours before the race, good time to tear it apart.

With all hands on deck, we jumped into action Saturday morning around 8am. We may be a "Bunch of Idiots" but when it comes to race weekend, you'll be hard pressed to find a more efficient and skilled team in the Lemons paddock. Everyone was buzzing, knocking out tasks left and right. Glass cleaned, transponder installed, injectors removed and new o-rings installed, the fuel pump came out and replaced in no time, tire pressure and lug nuts checked, everything was double checked. I suited up first and we got me on track just after 10:30 in preparation for the 11:00 green flag. 

Last year's headlight rig is back for more duty.

I pushed through until about 1:00 when we had a red flag situation for an accident in the kink (turn 10) that left one car on its side. Fortunately everyone was okay and they just needed us all to stop so they could get the emergency vehicles there quickly. Once they cleaned up the incident, we went ahead and pitted me to get James in the car. We were ready to pull him earlier than his scheduled 2 hour stint since we know it can be tough to last that long on your first race, but he radioed back that he wanted to keep driving so we left him out. He kept up a great pace and at 3:15 we got him out and put Kyle in the car. Kyle ran us until about 5:15 when he came in and Robert took over. 

Showing James some in-car from a previous race to get an idea of what to expect. The trailer makes an excellent movie theater!

Around 6 a massive down pour hit the track. Again, the team sprang into action, called him into paddock for our one non-pit lane stop to swap our fresh tires so he would have lots of tread to keep pushing a fast pace in the wet. In about 3:30 we had him in and out. 

The team stands by for a pit stop.

We heard the track was going to go full course yellow to provide supplies to the corner workers, so we brought him in early at 7:00 to align with the full course slow down and got Luke in the car. Luke very shortly got the second big deluge right around when something was interrupting the track radio system. Without the ability to clearly communicate between all the corner stations and emergency vehicles, racing cannot continue, so all cars were pulled into paddock while they worked out the issue. Luke rested in the car and drank some water for almost 30 minutes until he could resume his stint.  

Aside from pit lane, the track was very dark, making good headlights essential.

Luke took us until about 10:30, when we put James back in for his first night session. He carried us flawlessly to 12:30 when I got back in the car. Around 1:30-2:00 Kyle let me know over the radio that I had taken us into second place overall. Not a call I was expecting to hear at all since I really was struggling with traffic and dealing with the blinding headlights at night and had felt pretty crappy about my night driving. That call kept me going until 2:30 when Kyle took back over and I went to sleep. 

Crew gear on stand-by for pit stops

Thankfully Phillip, Adam, and Chris were there to support our pit stops over night so the drivers could sleep. It made all the difference. At about 4:30 Robert got back in and carried us to 6:30 or so. We managed to wake up Luke and he hopped in and carried us back into daylight. Around that time our pit strategy jumped us into first place overall! Knowing we were fighting for an overall win, we scrapped our plan to rotate tires again and adjusted our driver strategy.

All our SCCA friends and teams in paddock.

We hoped Luke could take us to 8:50 so Kyle could stretch us to the end and eliminate one pit stop, but unfortunately the fuel just wouldn't hold out. Kyle got in about 8:40 with a full tank of fuel and we told him to push hard so we could get Robert in with just a splash of fuel to really push the pace until the end to fight to keep the win. Unfortunately, around 9:30 there was an incident on track that triggered a full course yellow and it allowed the eventual winner to take a final pit stop without losing nearly as many laps. 

Luke charging into the morning.

We kept Kyle out until 9:30 then pulled him in, topped off fuel and let Robert push until the end. Unfortunately we fell back to 2nd on the stop and had 2 laps to make up. Robert was able to pass the lead car once, but the car didn't have enough pace to get past them again. Right at the very end he putted into paddock with an ignition issue, but with less than 10 minutes to go we sent him back out to limp it home and hold onto 2nd, now down by 3 laps instead of 1. 

Drivers left to right: Robert McManus, Brian Nixon, Luke O'Hara, Kyle Ray-Smith, James Tolson

It was a wild ride, but the car held up and the team executed nearly flawlessly all weekend and we got our best result ever of 2nd overall! We came so close to the win it was a bit frustrating but we are ecstatic to have beaten so many other cars with our little 1.6L engine that might put 100 hp to the ground.  Consistency, clean driving, teamwork, and communication all add up! I am so proud of all the work we've put into the car and what we can achieve. We've rebuilt our own motor, set up our own suspension, completed a ton of wiring and custom fabrication, plan and execute strategies, and manage all our own maintenance. We'll get back under the hood in a few weeks and we hope to take the fight to the field at Road Atlanta in December. 

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