Thursday, October 21, 2010


The last time I tried to drive Mid-Ohio, the trip did not go well. I got about 3 or 4 laps in (during the $850 Mid-Ohio School, the only "test day" available) before my pro-built engine decided it was ready to die, and it wanted to be buried all over the back straight. But it wasn't the track's fault, so I was determined to go back there and have a better race weekend.

The WOR Games race weekend format has changed in recent years. It had been a 2-day double Regional race weekend, but this year they tried a 3-day, 3-event format: PDX (Performance Driving Experience) on Friday, an 8-hour sedan enduro Saturday, and a one-day double "restricted" Regional Sunday. This ended up being perfect for me. Since I couldn't take Friday off, I would have to tow the 8 hours (plus one hour for the time zone change) after working all day Friday. Following that up by getting into the racecar to bomb around an unfamiliar track would have been crazy. I still towed there Friday night, but I spent Saturday leisurely unloading, setting up, and trying to find where things were (I vaguely remembered where the grid was, but I needed a map to find the restrooms!) before checking in at the hotel for an early night.

The hotel, by the way, was excellent. Hampton Inn & Suites Mansfield South @I-71 is one of the nicest, cleanest, quietest, and best-run hotels I've stayed. That's not a free plug -- they earned it! The price wasn't bad, the room was very nice and very clean, and everyone who worked there was genuinely friendly and eager to help. Even the complimentary breakfast -- which is what other hotels call the mess of reconstituted eggs, soggy bacon, and warm OJ -- was much better than I've seen anywhere else. I'm sorry I was only there the one night.

I had to get up early Sunday morning because we were Group 1. The schedule was tight (qualifying at 8am), but the really unnerving thing was that it was still dark. The sun was just coming up while we were on track, which of course meant some glare in certain areas.

Find the Van Diemen in this picture.  For that matter, find the track!
No, that's not my excuse. I'd need something a lot more convincing than that to explain away my 1:51 lap time, so here it is: I've only driven 4 or 5 laps there before! Mid-Ohio is hard. Somehow the blind turns at Grattan don't suck the confidence right out of me like the corners at Mid-Ohio do. Even after I learned which way the track goes (and remembered it -- crest the left-hand 10A and the right-hand 10B is right behind it, but track position doesn't matter, and at this speed you could take 11 flat out), I just couldn't keep my foot off the brake. Still, that 1:51 gridded me in front of 3 FVs, though I would start behind 2 other FVs and well behind all of the CFFs and FFs. The polesitter qualified with a 1:38. I decided that I'd be satisfied to get down to a 1:45 during the race.
I hopped out of the car and headed for the Keyhole to watch the next group. Being a restricted Regional, there were only 4 groups (small formula cars, large formula/sports racers, small production, and big GT), so I couldn't afford the time to visit any other corners. I kicked myself for not staying to watch the enduro on Saturday. 

An FV setting a good bad example.
On the start of the first race, I stayed behind the two FVs for a lap while the FFs and CFFs drove off into the distance. I finally managed to pass one of the FVs, but I just couldn't catch the other. Amazingly, my lap time dropped dramatically -- my fast race lap was a 1:41! The leaders got down to the 1:35s, but how can I be unhappy with being 6 seconds off their pace, and 7 seconds off the track record? I'm closer to being competitive there than I am at Road America!

The second race didn't go as well. I passed the other FV on the first lap, but then I held him up badly from corner 7 through the Carousel. He finally squeezed past me on the inside of the Carousel, and I decided it would be wise to stay behind him for a lap to try to learn from a master. Unfortunately, the very next lap, my car started shutting down at the end of the back straight. It was acting as though it wasn't getting any fuel. A quick lift off the throttle brought it back to life, which is consistent with fuel starvation. At first it only happened at the end of the long straight, but it rapidly deteriorated. By lap 5, I couldn't make it through a corner without the car sputtering. It was obvious that I wouldn't make another lap, so I pulled in and called it a day. Is that my first DNF in this car?

This week has been spent trying to diagnose the problem. Every part of the fuel system is working properly, which is frustrating. The fuel cell vent line may have gotten pinched, but it's terribly unlikely. We changed the tachometer since the last race, and since that's the only change we made, we're wondering if this tach has an internal short that's cutting the ignition.

And then there's always the ignition coil. An internal short (which usually starts when the coil heats up, as it does when the car is run hard) would make the car falter. Lifting off the throttle decreases demand on the coil, which allows it to cool off enough that it would work better for a few seconds. Since this problem got so much worse so quickly, I'm inclined to believe that the coil -- which was either on the car when I got it, or else new in 2004 -- might be to blame. Ignition coils are cheaper (and easier to deal with) than lost track time, so a new one goes in tonight.

If the problem continues, I plan to pull into the pits and unplug the tach. And if the problem still persists, I'll find the nearest brick wall and commence beating my head against it.

The tow there and the tow home Sunday night were just excellent. You couldn't ask for better. We screwed up the directions a little on the way down (jumped the gun exiting I-90 and wound up driving through downtown Merillville), and we hit Chicago traffic on the way home, but the truck and trailer performed flawlessly. I still pinch myself that I can use cruise control (and the A/C) while towing a trailer. It is actually relaxing to drive that rig to and from the track.

Gee, maybe next year I could tow the 8 hours overnight and then hop in the race car in the morning...

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