Where to start… I guess the logical spot to start is at the Lincoln MiDiv event a week prior to the Pro Finale and Nationals week. At the end of my second run on Saturday morning we suffered a catastrophic engine failure. After getting over the initial shock and frustration of this, we loaded the car in the trailer and headed back to Colorado. We formulated a plan on the way home that was extremely contingent on parts-suppliers getting us the necessary bits to reassemble the engine.
Hsun and I disassembled the engine on Sunday (Aug 29.) After finding that the failure was what we expected, we set to work making a list of parts to get it reassembled in the very short (4-day) time window. We overnighted all the necessary parts and sourced some others from local sources. I took Thursday off work so that I could put the motor back together, and started on that around 9am. The car was fired up at 7pm and was on the road within 10 minutes, headed to Tobz’ shop for a retune. We got the car back up to SCR at around midnight and I loaded it up and left on Friday morning for the ProSolo Finale, back in Lincoln.
I made it to Lincoln just in time to do a couple practice starts, and then got the car all set for the next day’s competition. I drove it up to a friend’s house in Omaha and changed the oil on the fresh motor (approximately 200 miles on it by this time.) Once that was done I tried to get some sleep – But fears of the freshly reassembled motor having problems kept me from getting any rest. I ran the morning runs of the Pro Finale and was noticeably off the pace, but finally calmed down a bit after the car survived 4 runs with no hiccups or problems. I made some small setup changes and ran my afternoon runs, although I never really felt good about any of my runs at the Pro.
Sunday morning I swapped on new tires to scrub them in for Solo Nationals. Immediately the car felt immensely faster and my first run was a very competitive time, right up until I coned it away. Unfortunately, somewhere near the end of this run one of the rear swaybar endlinks failed, and for my next 3 runs I battled with very bad understeer and was content to settle with the 4th spot in Street Mod. The engine was running perfectly and not making any strange noises, so even though my finish wasn’t stellar I considered it a victory.
I left the car parked for most of the week and spent some time away from the Nats site with a friend who lives up in Omaha. It was nice to step away and allow my stress and anxiety levels to drop to a reasonable level. I walked both courses once on Monday afternoon, but decided not to focus on them until much closer to competition. Hsun and Steve flew in on Wednesday, and I picked them up from Omaha and we all drove down to Lincoln together to get registered and walk the courses.
We were all running the same course each day, and that was the West Course on Thursday. After walking it a couple times it was apparent that it was a very transition-oriented course that would punish you if you got behind/late anywhere. It also had several ‘pinch’ features that commanded very fine car placement and control in order to carry much speed through. I walked the course 2 or 3 times and was content to go back to the hotel and get some rest.
Thursday morning came and the clouds looked a little dreary, but no rain was falling as the competition started. We got the car over to grid and then transported the rain tires we had borrowed from Dave Kern’s AMS/NOS Energy sponsored Pikes Peak Hillclimb Evo. Our hope was that by coming prepared with a good set of rain tires we would guarantee a nice dry event. My first run out I hit a cone in one of the aformentioned ‘pinch’ spots on course, and was very conservative. I stepped it up on my second run and set a reasonable time that was about 0.7 back from the top spot held by Mike Simanyi’s M3.
Then the drama started. I got about 80% through my third run (and was feeling very good about it) when I entered a right-hand sweeper and it felt like the left-front tire had been completely deflated. There was no grip at all, and I had to back off to get the car to turn. Frustrated, I finished the run at a reduced pace and in the final sweeper I again felt like there was something very wrong as the car just wouldn’t turn. I got in line at the scales after picking up my much-slower timeslip, and then had a grid worker walk over and ask me if I felt the oil on course.
Aha! A quick glance at the left-front tire showed that it had a sheen of oil completely coating it, as if we were getting ready for a concours car show. We pulled the car back in grid and waited while the courseworkers diligently cleaned up the oil spill. Approximately 30 minutes later, the course was almost clean and ready to go hot again when it started to mist rain. At that point I knew my 3rd run would be no help and I was very happy to have gotten a reasonably quick and clean 2nd run to stand on. I concentrated on trying to scrub the oil off the left front tire so that Steve wouldn’t be affected by it in SSM during the next heat.
Luckily, all but one of my competitors went slower on their third run, and after day 1 I was sitting 4th in Street Mod, in the trophies and close enough to all my competitors that a fast run on Friday could help me close the gap. Walking the east course that evening was great, the course was a little more wide open and had a few spots to really stretch the Evo’s legs. I was encouraged by this and once again headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for day 2. I was also finally starting to relax and have some confidence that the freshly-built motor was not going to catastrophically fail, which allowed me to focus on driving.
Friday morning… Very dreary. 100% humidity, and cold, 55 degrees. Having never driven the Evo in wet conditions or on rain tires, I was very hopeful that no rain would come and we could get dry runs in. The rest of my AWD competitors were doing a rain dance and it worked – By the time our runs started it was drizzling and the course was soaked. We made the decision to switch to the wet tires and it proved to be the right choice, as my first two runs put a huge gap on Simanyi and everyone else in the class. After the end of 2nd runs I had a lead of over 2 seconds and the fastest time in class. The line was starting to dry out for 3rd runs and we were wavering on whether to leave the wet tires on or not.
Just as we had made the decision to stick with the wet tires, the course was stopped with reports of oil being dropped on course again. This time it wasn’t such a simple cleanup because the offending car had dropped oil around the entire course. The massive cleanup effort was masterfully choreographed and only took about 90 minutes to complete. Unfortunately for us, the rain had completely stopped and 80% of the racing line on course was now dry. We quickly switched back to our Hoosier A6 tires before the final runs.
Hsun went out and laid down a great time, over 3 seconds faster than his quickest wet time. I was very thankful to have a codriver to warm up the tires since the ambient temps were still only in the 50’s. Watching the rest of Street mod run it was very apparent that it all came down to this last run – times were dropping dramatically and that meant I had to not only drive a screaming fast run, but it had to be clean in order to help me climb in the standings.
I went out for my third run and decided to do my best to stay clean, but to also hang it out and drive as quickly as possible – After all, this is Nationals! After the run I didn’t know for sure if I was clean, but there weren’t any cone-calls and I was back in the top spot for the moment. I drove the car over to the scales to be weighed and waited impatiently for the rest of the class to finish their runs. Mike Simanyi came in with a blistering fast time, besting mine by 0.4 seconds. I was ready to concede defeat when the announcer added a cone onto Mike’s run, a 2-second penalty that dropped him back into the 2nd spot. David White was the last car in SM to run and he too had the raw time to beat mine, but also hit a cone on his final run which dropped him back to 3rd just behind Mike.
It was surreal. Everyone gathered around the car and congratulated me, even though I still couldn’t really comprehend that I’d won. It was only when the Impound worker came out with the results, and then instructed me to go to the Kumho Driver’s Center to get fitted for my jacket that I started to really understand. By the end of the day I was exhausted but excited and headed off to the banquet to get my trophy and some dinner. This was an incredible way to cap off the 2010 season after all the late nights and setbacks we encountered. I can’t thank Hsun and Steve enough for all their help and support throughout the year.
We’ll see what happens for 2011!
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