Chapter 259 - December 2017
BIC at COTA with WRL
(it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...)
There is SO MUCH TO TELL for this chapter, but in the end, not much to tell. It was indeed the best of times with our WDMS gang and family getting to spend time together with the Pontini gang as well as McNeil Motorsports bringing Ben's yellow C5z with Louis, Messer and Weathers along too. Even if everything goes wrong, being at the track with this group is still fun. And it was. The WRL event for COTA is an 8 hour race on Saturday and another 8 hour race on Sunday.
Left: Wing and Splitter that Anna and I made for Burner and a back-in-the-seat Frank Bryan about to make laps at COTA!
The culprit that struck both Bic (our white 3rd gen GP4 Camaro) and Burner (McNeil's yellow C5z GTO-class car) was bad fuel. It struck about 7 teams in the race and made all of us chase our tails until we figured it out. For Bic, we had a FANTASTIC first stint with Frank Bryan behind the wheel. Car ran great, Frank was smooth and fast in traffic and then we pulled him in to swap drivers and fill up the tank. Burner did the same. We both arrived with full tanks in our cars, but many teams got fuel from the station right outside the track and so that local fuel went in at the end of the first stint.
Bic leading Burner heading into the carousel on the Friday test.
For Bic, I assumed it was a fuel pump issue. We've been using the same pump for a long time and I carry a brand new spare. We put it in and away we went. Then fuel issues again. Burner did similar, although they run twin pumps and so it was even more of a head-scratcher. Until we pulled the covers off the cells and saw how the hydramats had folded up due to blockage. A hydramat is a wonderful thing (google up a youtube vid if you don't know what it is) that minimizes fuel starvation as the hydramat acts as a filter and only pulls where there is fluid. Sadly, diesel fuel will contaminate and clog the filter and apparently the fuel we got, while mostly normal unleaded, had a small bit of diesel in it and over a few hours was enough to clog it up. So we were in/out of the pits all day trying to rectify this. Fast laps one minute, in the pits the next. Ug.
In the end, it was simply not our weekend. Saturday night we eliminated the hydramat all together and simply put a fuel pickup in the right rear corner of the cell, knowing we would fuel starve with a lot of fuel left so we'd have to shorten our stints and end up stopping 1 or 2 times more than the other GP4 cars. Our lap times were competitive, but with reduced fuel available, our strategy suffered and so our results did as well. Sadly, the car fuel starved even earlier than we thought it would! Doh! On the plus side we tried new radios this event (they ROCKED....perfect communication no matter where we were on track) as well as a "Z" box power steering setup that seemed to work fine.
Frank Bryan had not been behind a wheel in anger in quite a while but I knew he'd step right in and do great and he did. He had some good comments post-race as well:
FRANK BRYAN'S TOP 5 ENDURANCE LESSONS FROM COTA
1. You can procure any part or tool from a neighbor as long as you aren't a prick, especially if you aren't a rich prick
2. Stacking tires in apparently an art form that I have not yet mastered
3. The stereotypes about BMW drivers are still true
4. There is no salad in endurance racing: In 24 hours I had 3 burgers, 3 tacos, 4 taquitos, 4 redbulls, 6 beers, gingersnaps, banana bread, Oreos and that sweet, sweet Lacroix
5. My wife wasn't surprised that my race weekend was marred by "bad gas"!!
After that really nice short list, I asked him to expand and he delivered!!!
Louis crew-chiefing, Fertitta fueling and the Sunday morning fog delay....
My experience running up to COTA was one of distinct nervousness. It wasn’t clear we would run the practice and I didn’t want to press the team to get the car up and running on Friday just for me. So, in the week prior, I faced the possibility of hopping into the car midrace on an unknown track after seven years of downtime. Mostly I was worried about breaking the car or doing something profoundly noobish.
So, on Wednesday, I downloaded Project Cars 2 for my PC and pulled my sim wheel out of the closest. I spent 3 or 4 hours making laps around the virtual COTA in a combination of a Toyota GT86, a 66 Mustang, and a 109E DTM car to try to get a sense for the pace that I’d see on race day. The sim time was invaluable. It was best for memorizing the course and the flow of the Esses and stadium section. It was least helpful for understanding braking points and the specific line through 11, 19, and 20.
Fortunately, we were able to run the last two practice sessions on Friday. With the sim time, that went smoothly. I always laugh a little about the difference in expectations between HPDE and doing events like this. In HPDE, they do a classroom session, then put some instructor next to you who talks through each turn, stresses braking points, and extols a very precise line. On Friday, I got stuffed in the car with a tap on the roof, “get out there, don’t hit anything”
On race day, I was reminded why I like racing in the first place…and I LOVE endurance racing. Traffic is the real differentiator from other track events. Lap after lap, you are rarely alone. As a result, the driving is entirely improvisational. You’ve got to both manage slower traffic and significantly faster traffic. I got cut off and nearly wrecked three of four times. What might seem like two hours of repetitive lapping is really 1000 unique interactions with other drivers.
One specific experience I remember was trying to get past a GP3 car. I used everything I had down the back straight, going to 3rd gear out of T11 and then into 5th. We were two wide into 12 with a pair of GP2 cars also two wide just ahead of us. I nearly out braked everybody and spent a nervous couple of seconds, hard on the brakes, inching toward the GP2 car only a few feet ahead. Ultimately, it was just another moment among all the others.
Otherwise, Paul has done a great job with the #713 Camaro. It was easy to drive and entirely predictable. It can hang with anybody through the esses and has enough power to be competitive in GP4.
Corey Rueth was nice enough to loan us a famous RV he had "in inventory" to use for the weekend and that made it REALLY nice. The Pontini team grilled and so we had a great evening despite the troubles we all had on track (Pontini suffered steering rack issues).
The car did handle well and was very competitive yet problems struck us again at this track. Maybe 2018 will be our year???