Countdown: The Last Checkered Flag

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Podium finish at H2R Enduro!

All it took for Team Unintended Acceleration to finally finish on the podium was for us to enter four cars in a gimmick race with only about a dozen competitors. your face!

Harris Hill Road (H2R) held their 3rd Annual 3-Hr. Enduro on Saturday. While we didn't officially enter as a team, we were using the race to test the grey car and its newly-transplanted engine. We were also hoping to gather some fuel usage data for the upcoming 18-hr Chump race at Texas World Speedway in July. Since the race was only three hours, we only needed one or two drivers, so we flooded the field with other cars to run. In the end, Eric and Bill drove the LeMons racer, Ken and Ryan drove Ken's Coupe GT ITB racer, Kang and I drove Kang's Miata, and Andrew drove his Cobra.

Kang and Andrew prepare their cars for the race.

The H2R race is a typical 3-hr. wheel-to-wheel endurance race, but the catch is that competitors are only allowed one tank of fuel and there is no refueling allowed. If you go too fast, you will run out of gas and you are awarded a DNF. If you are too conservative, you won't make enough laps to win. Past races have had cars idling around the track, coasting down hills, and wagging back and forth, trying to slosh gas into the fuel pickups. In the last 20 minutes of the race, there are no tows available and the track has been littered with out-of-gas cars. A driver can try to push the car across the finish line, but those heroics are dubious, since the start finish line at H2R sits on top of a hill.

Everything but the kitchen sink lines up for the start.

There were only a few competitors, but the variety of cars was impressive. Besides our cars, there were other LeMons heaps, cars that could be mistaken for LeMons heaps, a mess of ubiquitous Miatas, a couple of nice sporty street cars (370Z, Evo IX RS), and even a Toyota Camry rental car.

The team cars lined-up together. Ken's CGT ITB racer in the foreground.

According to the rules of the race, halfway through the race, the cars would be called back in, there would be a driver change, and then the cars would race in the other direction. Bill, Ken, Andrew, and myself were first out.

Bill Fluhr resplendent in his dapper polo shirt. Is that Nomex?

Real Man of Genius. We salute you, Mr. I-brought-a-Cobra-to-a-gas-mileage-contest-guy. Yes, he would come in last place.

The green flag dropped and the race was on! And by on, I mean it started in such a lazy fashion, that by all accounts, it looked like a parade lap. Everyone was driving slowly and nobody was passing. Later, we found out that many drivers thought we were on warm-up laps and that there would be another green flag. Once everyone realized the race was really on, the pace picked-up. The LeMons Opel spun in front of me (on what he thought was a warm-up lap), but otherwise, there were very few mishaps in the race.

I followed the Camry for a long time, waiting to see the tires chunk, go away, or explode within a few laps, but it never happened. In fact, a post-race inspection showed that there was very little visible tire wear, even after completing the race and doing a post-race burnout/j-turn. The same can't be said for the tires on Ken's CGT. Ken said he started feeling a nasty vibration, so he came in to take a look. He checked the subframe bolts, control arms, swaybar mounts, and steering rack (all of which had caused problems in the past), but found nothing. Then Kang walked over, pointed at the tire, and suggested that maybe this was the problem.

Just outside of state inspection tolerances.

Everyone agreed, yes, that was probably the problem. Ken mounted-up new tires and the car was back out.

My strategy in the Miata was to short-shift and only use 4th and 5th gears, except for briefly having to use 3rd to pull-up onto the front straight. I had also reduced my braking zones down to four, although I eventually added a quick tap down into Turn 5, because I kept pushing past the apex and I was losing too much speed on the back straight. Ryan had told me to try and latch-on to the white Miata, because the driver was a past winner with a Miata and knew the best race pace. He started about half a track ahead of me, so I gambled on spending the extra fuel to catch-up to him. It took a really long time, but I finally caught him. He was going much faster than the pace I was achieving with my short-shift rules.

I trusted his pace, but of course, I had burned a lot to catch-up to him, so towards the end of my stint, I let him go. When I turned the car over to Kang, it was just under an indicated half a tank of gas. Most gauges "go below E", so I felt like we were in good shape.

Most of the interesting things start happening in the second half of the race and sure enough, it wasn't long before we saw Eric on the side of the track.

Eric gets towed off the track, while Andrew flies down the front straight.

After Eric was towed off the track, Ken took a look and found that the battery had not been properly secured, so it had fallen over, yanked the cable free, and spilled acid all over the trunk. I didn't snap a photo, but does this sound familiar? Aren't we supposed to learn from our mistakes? Ken and Bill remounted the battery, hooked it up, filled it with water, and Eric was back on track. Unfortunately, he had lost about 25 minutes.

Luckily, we weren't the only ones having problems. Team Opel was out with mechanical problems and the usually formidable Evo and Mini Cooper ran out of gas. Consumer advisory: the Mini driver said that when he ran out of gas, the trip computer still showed that he had 33 miles remaining!

The race begins to take its toll.

Still, there wasn't near as much carnage at the end as I thought there would be. I noticed the Camry coasting down the hill, but most other cars were maintaining a good pace. Even though Andrew had to pit for some issues earlier in the race, I was surprised to find him there at the end. His pace was probably slower than that of his drive home, but it was still good showing. I was happy, just because I love seeing that Cobra on the track.

Andrew losing with style.

The plan with the LeMons racer was to run it out of fuel, so there was no effort to hypermile or conserve gas in any way. We wanted the data for our long endurance race this Summer. So, once Eric got back out on track, he sprinted until the end. We figured we would either run out of gas, or win.

Eric passes Andrew at the start/finish line, while Bo gets ready to throw the checkered flag.

Unfortunately, because of the time spent in the pits, neither happened. Still, we were very happy with the results. All of the cars fundamentally held together and even performed well. Bill and Eric placed 2nd in the LeMons division, Ken and Ryan placed 3rd in the Lemons division, and Kang and myself placed 3rd in the Street Car division. Andrew came in last, but he got to drive home in the coolest car.

Kang brings home his Miata, after a podium performance.

We had a nice post-race bull session with the other drivers and the H2R guys (and Stef!). Then we packed-up and dragged our exhausted bodies to Dave & Busters for dinner and our usual debrief.

Special thanks to H2R staff for hosting a great event and allowing a bunch of non-member chiselers on their track. Also, a special thanks to Jeff and Ethan Mangels, and Matt English for coming out and cheering us on.


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