Saturday, January 15, 2011

Miami: 21st Place

It was the best of races and the worst of races. The race itself was a blast and the weather was perfect. The track was a big change from the short straights and sharp turns of CMP. At over 2 miles the track is twice the length of CMP and the .6 mile back straight lets you go as fast as your car can go. I heard the track described as 2 sections of freeway connected by 3 on-ramps. It was a pretty accurate description.

So the ugly part was that both Leslie and I were sick. Leslie caught the worst of it and stayed at the hotel for most of the weekend. I was a little better, but it made resting between stints difficult.

We drove down on Wednesday with Mark's father and brother. The drive took about 12 hours at a somewhat leisurely pace. The plan was to stay at a hotel that night and show up at the track early. Since Leslie and I were feeling the effects of our colds, we slept in while Mark and Alex showed up at the track at 9AM on Thursday and proceeded to wait. It took 2-3 hours for the staff to get folks situated into the pit area. We ended up pretty far from the pits off the paved area. That wasn't all bad. Across from us was a team from New York that had driven their race car down to the race... with a 6 foot tall model of the Empire State Building on their roof. Their support vehicle: a BMW Mini. We ended up lending them our extra set of wheels to help them get through the race. They ended up with the organizers choice.

Our tech and BS inspections were pretty uneventful. We got class B and 0 laps. Our only issue with tech is that he wanted to see some more padding around the rear bar in case the seat flexed. The race was to start at midnight, so we got some sandwiches and then tried to nap.

Mark drew the short straw and got out on the track to circulate. It took nearly 40 minutes to get everyone onto the track and check transponders. The green finally fell around 12:35 and Mark hadn't gotten a full lap in when we complained of a soft clutch pedal. We brought him in and bled it, but lost about 15 minutes.

We had planned on 2 hours stints but the fuel kept us shorter. After an hour and a half the car would sputter on the left-hander and about two laps later would start sputtering on all of the turns. We were putting almost exactly 9 gallons into the stock 12 gallon tank at each driver change which means that last 3 gallons was just sloshing uselessly away from the pickup.

I got the next stint; followed by Seth and Craig. Our pit stops went pretty smoothly. We had two people in addition to the driver to help with fueling and strapping the new driver in.

The car handled well on the turns, but was very limited in the straights. We had the shift light coming on at ~6k rpm to help the motor last the whole race. It was amusing to pass someone handily in the turns only to have them come screaming past on the long straight.

Our first real bit of drama came at the end of my stint. I heard a terrible clunk and loud vibration. At first I thought I had picked something up in the wheel that was smacking around in the driver's side wheel well. Thinking it was one of the new CV axles, I took the car in to the hot pit and Seth noticed a piece of the alternator belt hanging out of the car. The car went back to our pit and after opening the hood we sat that the alternator had shaken itself entirely loose.

Thanks to the generosity of some of the other Honda teams, we managed to scrounge the necessary hardware. As the belt was going back on it was apparent that the crankshaft pulley was loose. We grabbed the pulley off the spare and replaced it, but failed to notice the root cause of our problem: that the inner washer was missing. We lost about an hour and a half due to the parts run required to get more belts.

Because we can only fuel and change drivers in the hot pits, we needed to change our tires out in the paddock. We managed a tire change that would have made a NASCAR pit crew proud. With Mark jacking up one side of the car, Craig and I zipped the lug nuts off with the impact guns, swapped new tires onto the front and shuttled the fronts to the rears (the fronts had already been swapped once when we had the car in for the alternator). We managed the whole thing in less time than it took to do a fuel stop.

The good times didn't last. When we did the next pit stop it became apparent that the there was a problem with the alternator. The belt was shredded and the pulley was loose again and the locating key was destroyed. It was eventually properly deduced that the missing washer was the problem and that the key wouldn't matter if the bolt could be properly tightened with the washer in place. Fortunately Mark was smart enough to buy two belts during the last parts run, so we had the parts we needed. Another 45 minutes lost, but we were able to get back out.

Mark was running his last stint when he got black flagged for passing under yellow. Unfortunately his response to Judge Phil's questioning was "which one?" Nevertheless, Phil had mercy on us and he went back out. We called him in with about 45 minutes left and I went out for the last stint.

Since it was our last run out in the car, I started running the RPM's a little closer to the 7200 RPM cutoff. It made a big difference in how fast the car felt. Nobody was passing me in the straights and I was passing pretty much every car on the track except the race leaders. Later analysis would show that I was actually slower than my previous stint. The illusion of speed was created by everyone else being slower still as their tired hulks strained to reach the checker.

The party at midnight didn't compare well to what I thought it was going to be. We were all exhausted from racing and Leslie was angry because nobody had woken her for the finish. I had a couple of beers, chatted with Phil and Johnny and then we ended up heading back to the hotel. I never even got to down one of the celebratory 4lokos that Alex had brought for us. Fortunately I had booked a flight for Leslie and I home so we could stay an extra day in Florida. Most of that day was spent sleeping.

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