NASA 3 hour Enduro 14 Nov, 2004

In which I pimp my ride.

Pictures by Larry
Pictures by Scott

For a race weekend that put 470 track miles on my racecar, things went pleasantly uneventfully. Sherrie Schaeffer flew out from Texas to learn the track before the 25 hour enduro in three weeks. She drove in both the Spec Miata sprint races and HPDE group 3, and the first half of the three hour enduro. I drove the second half of the enduro.

The worst damage that happened to the car this weekend, was in her Saturday race when an Rx7 tapped the left rear corner of the car, spinning her out in turn 6. It broke the lens for the side marker light on the bumper.

I've not had a chance to check the oil after the enduro, but before the enduro, the car had no detectable oil consumption, though it did seem as if it may have used a quart of coolant. With a thousand miles on the new motor, it may be time to retorque the head, and go from natural to synthetic oil in the engine.

Sherrie did a great job, with her laptimes steadily improving over the weekend. OK, maybe not so steadily, they improved more during the races than they did during qualifying. I think that there's a bit more incentive during the race or something. The group 3 sessions with their limited passing, made it kind of tough to get useful laptime data.

I drove for a couple laps in Saturday's group A warmup. Sherrie didn't want her first session on the track to be in the race group, so waited until group 3 to go on track. I only got about 3 laps, not even enough to warm up the tires, and my driving was far from my best. I just didn't feel "comfortable" or "settled" in the car.

My second session was the group A and enduro combined warmup session on Sunday morning. I was just barely starting to feel comfortable in the car at the end of the session, turning a 2:13.8 as my best time. 1.8 seconds slower than I had turned at the same course configuration in February.

The goals for this weekend was to help the crew learn to work enduros, help Sherrie learn the track, and to shake out any other bugs we could. Doing well in the race was of secondary importance. We accomplished all of our goals, and have a rejuevenated TODO list. Nothing serious, but several things that I'm glad we aren't discovering during the big race.

At the start of the weekend I had two sets of race tires. One set with several weekends on them, freshly flip-flopped, but pretty well worn. I am pretty sure, but not absolutely certain, that there is enough tread on them to run a three hour enduro. The other set is a mixed bag of takeoffs and well worn tires of indeterminate ancestry, that all have more tread than the "fresher" tires. My plan was to run the takeoffs at the beginning of the weekend, and when they were worn out, switch to the "good" tires for the enduro, and hope that they lasted.

Between Sherrie's Sunday race and the enduro, I checked the tires, and the takeoffs still had a lot more tread than the "newer" tires. Despite my finding them a little slower a few weeks ago, I decided to go with them for the enduro. We weren't trying to win, but I was certain that they'd last all three hours.

The enduro started out with a pretty good battle among three of the miatas, with Sherrie leading that contingent for most of the first 30 laps. On lap 31 the "Next Level" Miata got past her, and on lap 34 she pitted at 16:20, letting the Pun-Kass Miata by. I'm glad that we had worked the signal of turning the emergency flashers on for the last lap before pitting, because I had not been planning on calling Sherrie in for another 10 minutes. The fuel guage was reading empty (both of my Miatas read empty long before the tank runs out), and it was getting close to time for her to come in anyways, so she took the initiative. With the warning from the flashers, we were ready and waiting for her when she arrived.

During the driver change, I wanted to put a new tape in the camcorder, in the hopes of getting some night-time video of the track so our other drivers might get a chance to learn some of the night time landmarks. I was willing to sacrifice some time in the pits to do so. Due to a misunderstanding of the rules. the tape was changed while the car was still being fueled. This ended up earning us a "stop and go" penalty.

When I went out, at 16:30, it was still fairly light. My first lap was downright scary. The tires were greasy and unpredictable. I don't mind greasy, predictable tires. They can be a lot of fun to drive on, but I didn't feel like I could depend where the limit was on them. On my second or third lap, I was trying to find my line over the bypass, and when I "landed" I wasn't aimed at the apex, nor did I have the grip to get the car turned. Someone had tracked a bunch of mud halfway across the track and when I hit that, my tail end came around to get a better look at where we were going. I came down the last half of the hill completely sideways, taking out half of the cones across the access road with the drivers door, before I got the car back in line and heading the right direction.

There is something about racing at dusk that I find incredibly peaceful and relaxing. Several laps into my shift, just as it was getting dark, I felt calm, relaxed, even happy. I wasn't fighting the car, I wasn't pushing to go fast, but that seems to be about the time that I turned my fastest laps during the race turning 5 consecutive laps in the 2:14-2:15 range.

After dark, my laptimes quickly degenerated. One important thing I learned was that I had aimed my "fill" lights too low, and as low as I sit in the race car, I couldn't actually see the ground that they were illuminating. The race fairly quickly fell into a rhythm with me getting passed by one of the Birkins or the Factory Five Cobra replica every few laps. Occasionally, an Rx7 would go past. One of the silver Miatas (I think it was the Next Level one) passed me probably around 5:30. I tried keeping up with it, but got passed by some other traffic shortly thereafter and once it was more than a couple seconds ahead, I just couldn't keep up and learn his line.

I'm not at all pleased with my driving this weekend. I never felt like I really got into "the groove". I've got a wealth of things I can blame it on; the tires, the cold, or my being exhausted from a long weekend at the start of the race. That doesn't really matter though. We accomplished the objectives of the weekend, and did so without any major damage to the car. The sum total maintanance on the car for the weekend was adding a little water, tuning the tire pressures, and refueling. We've got several things that we can fix before the long race, things that I'm really glad we aren't discovering during that race.

Pictures by Larry
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Pictures by Scott Neville

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Copyright (C) 2004 Larry Colen

Most recently modified by lrc at Mon Nov 15 23:06:49 PST 2004