Countdown: The Last Checkered Flag

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

24 HoL: Sunday (Fear and Loathing in Houston, Texas)

Note: I just saw the final lap results and realized that our mistakes cost us more dearly than I had originally thought. I was basing my earlier comments on the standings posted at the scoring table, which are just snapshots. It turns out that on Saturday, we were running as high as 7th place and in fact, ran in the top ten for 20% of the race. I'll be back later after I have a good cry.

After climbing six places late on Saturday, the team was excited to get on track Sunday morning and continue the momentum that we had built. But at the drivers meeting that morning, Jay dropped the hammer on us. It went something like this, "Good morning everyone! Who is team number four?" We raised our hands.

"Oh, that's too bad. You could have slept-in this morning," he said. Everyone laughed.

It turns out that we had been busted for two mistakes that I made in the last three minutes of the race on Saturday. As the sun had dropped on Saturday afternoon, I was having trouble seeing the corner leading to the front straight. We had never bothered cleaning the windshield, so the glare was impossible to see through. For the last 15 minutes of the race, I could see the apex of the corner, but not the cars leading me. If somebody really checked their speed there, I probably would have rear-ended them. It was pretty bad. Then in the last couple of laps, I couldn't see anything, so I finally made a mistake, early-apexed and hit a cone on the way out. I went around one more time, expecting to see a black flag, but they didn't throw it. Then on the very last lap, I got really lost in the corner and when I finally could see, I was all out of shape and heading for the grass (which would have been a penalty), so I lifted and spun. I put both feet in, did a 270° spin, saw the cop car out of my side window, and then quickly put the car in reverse and got out of the way of traffic. As soon as the train had passed, I took the checkered flag for the day.

Damned PIT maneuver!

Nobody stopped us or said anything to us in the paddock, so we thought we had gotten away with it. Wrong. Somehow I escaped spinning the Wheel of Misfortune, but for the rest of the morning, our car looked like this:

Since Ken had missed Saturday, I asked him to drive first and do a double stint to make-up for his lost time without having to come in for a second driver change. We also sent him out with a cell phone and headset, since we couldn't get our radios to work dependably. Like us, Ken had never seen the track before, so Eric talked him through his session, spotted for him, and called-out yellow flags, which seemed to be our biggest problem. Ken ran very well. Here is some footage from his session:

Unfortunately, the cell phones were also undependable (as were our hand signals), so just a lap after Ken asked to come in, he kicked a cone and they black flagged him. He came in and they were none to happy to see us after warning us so strongly that morning. They started talking about the Sands of Time penalty, whereby they pour metal shavings into the oil filler. Our race would be over for sure. Luckily, it was time for the People's Curse Award and the judges had to run off for that, so they told us to go watch the poor Miata being destroyed and then we would regroup and they would decide our fate.

The People's Curse: an alleged "cheater" Miata pays the ultimate price.

After completely destroying the Miata, the judges must have felt something unusual coming from their cold, black, dead hearts...a feeling...of mercy. Either that, or it was heartburn from the steaks and shrimp they had taken as bribes the day before. Either way, they chose not to destroy our car, but rather they set us to work. Our punishment was to remove the starter motor from a competitor's dead car - a Lexus LS400.

We sprinted back to our paddock and grabbed our tools, jacks, and jack stands. In seconds we had the car up on jacks so that somebody could crawl under the car and look for the starter. After a few minutes of not being able to find the starter, it started to dawn on us that there was more to this challenge than we first thought. I grabbed my iPhone and started searching. After a few minutes, I discovered the cruel truth - the starter motor is underneath the intake manifold. I yelled this to the team, but they had already figured it out.

We dove in. Eric and Ken led the charge and Mark and I did our best to keep up. Everyone else on the team was bringing us tools as fast as we could call for them. The Lexus guys were standing around saying that the shop time for removing a starter motor is 5.6 hours. ORLY? We said, "Well, stand back, the Germans are here."

I have to admit that it was a good challenge. The intake manifold was only the beginning. The fuel rail started puking gasoline everywhere, some of the electrical connectors had hardened and stuck together, and worse, everything that needed to be removed, required two other things to be removed first. Those nefarious judges knew exactly what they were doing. Still, we pressed-on and in less than 40 minutes, to the amazement of the small crowd that had gathered, we had done it!

Ken holds the Lexus starter victoriously, while Eric celebrates.

The team celebrates removing a Lexus starter in less than 40 minutes. Lexus owners, if you didn't already know it, your dealer is ripping you off!

After presenting the judge with the starter, we immediately sent Andrew to drive his stint. Andrew drove flawlessly and Eric followed with another excellent stint. At one point, we had a heart-stopping moment when Eric hit a cone, but we think the marshal saw that Eric was forced into it (even if he had put himself in a precarious position) and they didn't black flag him. Eric came in, we refueled, put Ryan in the car and sent him out.

Almost immediately, they black flagged him. I couldn't believe it. When he pulled in, he said they told him something was leaking from the car. That's when I saw the gas running down the side of the car from the filler door. I opened it, checked the gas cap and it was loose. I cranked it tight and sent him on his way.

Ryan drove a great stint and then handed the car off to Kang. Both Eric and Ryan were complaining about the track being slick and maybe our tires were going away a bit. They both warned everyone to be careful, especially around Turn 1. We strapped Kang into the car, he took off, and then...promptly spun the car on Turn 1. Oh boy. He brought the car in and was rewarded with the Barack Obama Change We Can Believe In Penalty. We had to change the theme of our car with hammers and spray paint. We went for a hippie-style Peace, Joy and Love theme. It wasn't pretty and for the second time in two days, I got to drive the car after our car was redecorated for something that Kang did.

After we re-themed our car, I was about to make a bad decision to change the tires, but my friend Paul Costas was there and he insisted that I didn't need tires, but I needed laps. He got my head straight with some quick coaching and I jumped in the car to try and get the damned thing to the checkered flag.

The track was much more slippery than the afternoon before and I could see how Kang would have spun the car. I backed-off my previous pace and let anybody just have an easy pass, if they wanted one. I couldn't have done much to stop them anyway. It wasn't as much fun as the day before, but I felt good that I was doing my job for the team. I let Paul's Bikini Racer Camaro (driven by the actual Bikini Racer) through, because they were in 2nd Place, and I latched myself onto her bumper and shepherded her to the finish, lest anyone give her any trouble. We took the checkered flag under yellow.

It is accomplished.

Final Results:


Photo and Video Links:

Eric's Photos

Kang's Photos

Jimmy's Photos

Jalopnik Coverage:

Top 70 Lemons

I will probably make a couple more posts wrapping things up with some final thoughts and a look towards next year, before taking a hiatus until the 2009 preparation. I will also be putting together a video compilation from all of our footage, so stay tuned for that as well.


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