Sunday, January 2, 2022

Endurance Racing, It Ain't Easy

It was a long, difficult year for the #287 Miata and the Bunch of Idiots team. We started the year by heading out to Sebring, Florida for the furthest road trip we had done as a team. After 9 hours of travel, we started our race Saturday by forgetting to connect the fire extinguisher system and got a late start to the race. Mid-afternoon we flung the main crank pulley and had to send half the team on a 8 hour round trip to find replacement parts. Sunday we were back on track but the notoriously bumpy 1940s pavement shook loose the exhaust bolts and we were back in for repairs. After a few hours more on track I had to bring the car back in when something felt really bad in the back end. The paddock analysis determined blown differential and we ended the race early to start our long trip home. 

Sunrise over Sebring. The calm before the storm.

Over the summer we began to pull the car apart and find out what all damage we had incurred. The car was making a worrying grinding sound when it was rolling. The hasty exhaust repair looks like it had nudged the hot pipe onto the rear differential. The overpowering smell of burnt gear-oil confirmed we had over-heated the fluid and the differential gears were worn down. We swapped in another differential we had. One issue down but the grinding noise was still there. 

On track at Sebring International Raceway.

Taking the rear hubs apart we found the driver side had probably also succumbed to the excess heat and vibration and the sudden feeling of "something is broken" I felt on track that Sunday. Some of the bearings had blown apart. Time to replace the rear wheel bearings. While waiting for the wheel bearings to show up we thought it might be worth sending an oil sample out for analysis to make sure we didn't do any big damage to the engine by losing a pulley. 

Oil analysis say, "Time to replace engine bearings!"

Extracting one of the broken main pulley bolts while the guys go find a replacement part.

We pulled the engine back out of the car and sent the crankshaft out to be cleaned up. A few weeks later we had bearings and a crankshaft again. It all went back into the car along with a new exhaust system that would hopefully stay more clear of stuff under the car that doesn't need to be red hot. We went all out and put high end racing fluid in the engine and differential to do everything we can to keep us on track. 

The bearings surrendered.

We had just enough time to get in a short test day with NASA at CMP in November before heading to our final race of the year at Road Atlanta. Everything seemed to be lining up again. 

Saturday our race was delayed by almost an hour due to heavy fog. The damp track sent tons of cars spinning. We saw more yellow flag track time than green, but I kept us going near the top 10. After three hours I finally handed over the car to Luke, who also got caught in lots of double yellows. Not much racing going on. Mid-afternoon the clouds let loose some seriously heavy rain and we pulled the car in for our wet weather tires just prior to a black flag period to keep the workers safe from the lightning. 

Me, about to take a nap on grid, waiting for the fog to lift.

By the time Luke got going again he was slicing through the field like he was the only one on dry pavement. We were quickly moving up the field but continued to get hit with full course cautions that held us back. We had just crawled back into 9th when we had to pull the car off on the last lap of the day due to a coolant hose getting caught by the serpentine belt and springing a leak. Back to 11th, and time to find some replacement hose to get us ready for Sunday. 

Luke wheeling the car on a wet Road Atlanta.

Sunday we finally got sun and a dry track. Kyle got behind the wheel and started giving the top 10 a run for their money. We were looking good to make a come back. Nearing the lunch hour break we got the radio call that he had to pull the car back off track due to dropping battery charge. We hadn't flung a serpentine belt in a few races, but we grabbed tools and belt and got ready to make a quick repair.

Cruising up turn 1 at Road Atlanta.

We watched helplessly as the tow truck driver took nearly 15 minutes to pick him up and drag him over to us. Popping the hood we saw our worst case scenario. Another main crank pulley, freshly installed, freshly discarded. No spare parts, it was time to pack it in early again. 

Crank pulley resting comfortably on the car's undertray when we popped the hood.

Between fixing the racecar Kyle came to help replace the fuel injectors on my truck so we could keep safely towing to events. Heading out to a NASA weekend at Road Atlanta for time trials I managed to blow out one trailer tire on the way there and another on the way home, so all four tires got replaced this year as well. Even the tow rig isn't immune to a tough year.

Two dead trailer tires.

In 2022 we kicked things off on the first of January by replacing the main crank pulley (again) and taking an oil sample (again). Let's hope everything comes back positive. We're going to try to compete in a new series for us, Lucky Dog   RACELUCKY.COM at CMP and AMP, then possibly an SCCA endurance race at VIR. Lemons returns to CMP in the Spring, so we're hoping to do something for that event as well. 

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