WDMS - Chapter 252 - December 2016
WRL AT COTA IN BIC
Rain. Lots of rain. For the weeks prior to this race, the forecast was solid "rain". It did not sneak up on the teams nor the organizers...it was predicted and known about and we all planned accordingly. Mostly. Kindof.
Bic, the WDMS white Camaro behind Ben's "Kamikaze" Toyota Celica-majig.
Driving for this event we'd have the usual Costas (me) and Ron and Cody, and we'd have Louis join us as well. The car was fairly ready but in the week prior I made sure we had good tires (fresh falkens and fresh hankooks) and the car was solid. The universal plan to do well in endurance racing is to keep making laps and the best way to do that is (obviously) minimize time in the pits. Since we can fill up the fuel faster than we can swap drivers, we frequently will double stint drivers to keep that first stop shorter and gain track position. With all the rain the pace would be reduced, driver fatigue (usually compounded by heat) would be reduced and so our (my) thought was to simply run two drivers per day with one driver stop in the middle of each day. With 8 hours of racing, that is 4 hours driving for each driver and gained time on the other two stops each day (assuming two hour stints). Simple, right? (frequent readers to this blog are noticing the 'foreshadowing!!!' flashing in their head).
Louis about to start the battle and a testament to our LED headlights!
So Bic did COTA in February of 2016 with a fresh motor and we had transmission issues. Those seemed solved and while my family welcomed child #2 into the world a week after that race, Bic had mostly sat until now. A month or so before the race Ron came over and we had a work weekend where we installed a new over-size-to-be-safe fire system, pulled a lot of unneeded metal out of the car and changed some fluids. We also added a Louis-sourced blower along with a piece of PVC with holes in it at the base of the windshield for an ad-hoc defroster and had it pull clear air from the floorboard area (foreshadowing). The wiper was hooked back up and seemed fine and we rain-x'd the heck out of the inside/outside of the front and rear glass. Hopefully we were ready.
Louis lap one turn one, going for the GP4 lead!
Louis started Saturday and was going to run 4 hours and then turn it over to Cody. He started the race with 77 other cars and 8 total cars in our class GP4. This is the slowest class (lowest horsepower to weight ratio) but in the past we've been able to mix it up with faster classed-cars quite well. At the end of lap one we were in 54th overall and moving up. Got all the way to 46th but pitted on lap 12 for a clean windshield and to repair an errant wiper. Send him right back out and he began to chew back through the field, cutting times that the faster classes were running. On lap 24 he got us into 45th overall and cut our fastest lap of the day at a 3:20.7 which was right up there with the top few GP4 cars, and smack in the upper middle of GP3 cars as well.
Louis sticking a pass on the outside of 16/17/18. He did it several times and made it look effortless.
By lap 30 we were actually in the GP4 ead, tied on laps with Ben McNeil's little "Kamakaze" Toyota, with three more GP4 cars at 29 laps and more right behind them. Our pace was good and although we came in a few times un-scheduled, so were most all the other cars. Fuel stop on lap 33 meant Louis was halfway done and he had us up into 38th on the next lap as pit stop rotations came into play and Louis and Bic crawled up the standings. On lap 49 we were in 27th but over the next few dozen laps the rain picked up and we had multiple stops to clear the windshield and re-arrange the blower to not suck up water off the floorboard, etc. We fell down to 38th by lap 62 when Louis pulled in and handed the wet car over to Cody, who picks up the story now:
30 laps in on Saturday and we're in the GP4 lead (barely). In the control room Bic flashes past the top right monitor!
My earliest memories of racing are watching Bobby Rahal, Michael Andretti, and Al Unser Jr drive in the old CART series of the late 1980s. I remember watching their battles around road course circuits and even though I didn't know anything about the series I was mesmerized by the speed and unpredictability of it all. Fast forward to the mid 90s and CART was well on its way to irrelevance, so I looked to Europe to fuel my appetite for racing. Shrill V12s being driven on even better road courses by names like Schumacher, Hakkinen, and Villeneuve. I was hooked. Almost 30 years have passed, but my interest in racing never has.
When construction of Circuit of the Americas was announced in Austin I was thrilled that the pinnacle of world motorsport would be coming to my backyard, and driving the track became a "Bucket List" item. At first it was F1 / Aussie V8 / WEC / MOTOGP only, but five years have passed now and that giant racetrack mortgage ain't paying itself...so when World Racing League got a COTA date and registration opened back in June I knew I had to get there. Fortunately Paul, Ron, and Louis were thinking the same. Enter the trusty Bic - a Camaro from the best CART decade whose lifetime achievements have far surpassed its humble "malaise era" beginnings - and it was all up to WRL to accept our entry application.
And accept us they did - along with 77 other cars. Paul spent lots of time prepping Bic, selecting tires, adding fire protection, and general Bic maintenance (ya know like motor swap, removing 100lbs - little things) from his shop in Bryan while I contributed morally from the other side of text messages. I spent about an hour watching Vimeo footage of Paul driving COTA as my main race prep, along with three karting sessions to remember some semblance of racecraft. Race weekend finally arrived and the day I'd been waiting 5 years for would soon be upon me. This was exact moment that things stopped going how I had imagined they would...
I drove down from Dallas on Friday night and it's raining in Austin. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft, but always raining. Forecasters called for constant rain all weekend, I was pretty neutral about. I arrive to find Louis, Paul, Ron, and Corey
Rueth wiring up running lights - required by rules due to use in the rain - along with windshield wipers, RainX, FogX, and a makeshift windshield defroster. Early discussion of our driver lineup ensues. Paul is absolutely sure he wants his drive time to be 4 hours on Sunday. Longest I've ever done was 3 hours at TWS a few years ago, but it's Paul and there's no convincing him - besides, it's his car! So we shuffle the "usual" WRL lineup a bit from 4 2-hour stints to 2-4 hour stints per day. And since we apparently look the most like crash test dummies Louis and I agree to drive on Saturday while Paul and Ron take Sunday. Chris Rivas arrives early Saturday morning to help crew for us - he's clutch with a gas can and knows his way around a garage so we were very thankful to have him.
Prior to this race I've been the starter for most enduros we've run. Being tall it takes longer for me to adjust everything to fit, so we hide that time prior to the green flag and everyone is happy. This time Louis decides to start the race - a tall guy in his own right - and with 77 other cars on course I wasn't too sad to let him have that honor. Louis spends most of his time engineering racecars, but when he puts his visor down he can hold his own on track. He went out on Saturday, kept the car clean through Turn 1 and did a stellar 2 hours running clean laps...until the fog rolled in. Not fog like you're thinking...this was windshield fog. He pitted a couple times as we struggled to rig up some sort of towel apparatus that might make his life a bit easier. Fortunately for us Louis knew a bit of a trick: use Dawn soap to coat the windshield on the inside and the fog will stay away. We implemented this on his second vision pitstop and it seemed to help for the rest of his stint. He pitted the car cleanly at high noon and it was time for me to go out. As I put on my gear Corey gave me his best rain race newbie pep talk: always hunt for grip, experiment constantly, try different lines, and remember what worked last time.
I slid in the car as the team refueled it, and once the fuel is over a new coat of Dawn was applied. I'm feeling prepared, confident, and ready to take my first ever laps at COTA in the absolute middle of a race being contested in the midst of steady rain. I crept down to pit out I'm feeling confident, relaxed, and prepared. And as I headed out of the pits and onto the fantastic run up to Turn 1 at COTA - all of those feelings were immediately erased. Despite being familiar with the course, after the first corner of my out lap the drivers' windshield wiper insert was flailing about like one of those inflatable tall wavy guys you see at used car dealerships. It was gradual at first, but once my wiper insert failed it took only 3 corners to fully eject. At this point I wasn't even to turn 4 and I couldn't see a thing - the spray from other cars was blinding, the rain was steady, and the track felt like ice. I missed Turn 5 completely that lap and was having serious second thoughts about ever participating in a race again by the time I arrived at Turn 10. That first lap I also missed 16 badly and ran outside of the curbing, and had I been able to see exactly where the pit entrance was once I exited T19 I would have pitted the car, hopped out, walked to the paddock and pointed my street car back to Dallas. But I even missed the pit entrance.
Another lap with no wiper. Great.
With no other choice, I was able to relax a bit and come to grips with my situation: 70 other cars, lots of water spray, steady rain, can't see much of anything. Lap 2 I kept it on track using mostly the side windows for visual cues and nailed that pit entrance. Chris and Ron were quick to take my passenger-side wiper and swap it to the driver's side - and just like that I'm back out on track. With some semblance of vision restored I was able to start finding lines and building confidence - first in the esses, next turns 8-11 and then the carousel. Braking into 12 and 19 is a consistent problem as significant water pooling in those braking zones led to serious lockup issues. I was blowing through 12 and 19 consistently, but I was finally able to make some passes and begin to settle into the familiar racing groove: inputs, mirrors, flags, gauges. The rain added: catch of oversteer, modulate the lockup, and hunt for grip to this rhythm. I finished out the rest of my first stint as my own windshield fog began to roll in. The defroster was ornamental at best, unfortunately just as it had been for Louis. When I pulled in for my fuel stop a new coat of Dawn was applied and I went back out, eager to clean up the corners I was still missing. Eventually 19 came to me, along with 20, and 1-5. The rain cycled in its intensity which was really hard to tell from within the car, but visual cues like increased spray and pooling on the track provided subtle - if too late - hints. I had a few good battles with slower GP2/3 cars and saw some pretty great spinouts in my rearview mirror. Was passed very blatantly in T12 under yellow by a Miata but nobody ever black flags Miatas because those cars apparently remind race directors of past girlfriends from college. A couple near misses (Green GPX 235i, black GP2 Ford were the most notable!). A LOT of near misses with whoever was driving the 999 black / lime green BMW on Saturday afternoon - some of the most disappointing driving I've ever seen, especially considering that we were in different classes. I was fortunate to avoid any car to car contact for the entire four hours of rain.
So like I said, the first hour was learning the track in the wet, the middle two hours were refinements, and the last hour was when things started to get pretty stressful. The rain, humidity, and heat of the car were causing the windshield to fog up consistently and I had resorted to wiping it off with my gloves on the straights. The fog on the left side of the windshield made looking around corners tough, and buildup of fog on the right side of the windshield (coupled with no wiper over there) made sighting right turns through the windshield basically impossible. My routine of inputs, mirrors, flags, gauges, catch oversteer, brake modulation, and grip hunting had a new addition of manually defogging parts of the windshield I could reach with my hands - and things were getting busy.
the red arrows showing the difference between T13 and T16.
With 30 minutes to go in the race I powered out of T12 and as I looked up my eyes told my brain "T16 next" - a long, right hand sweeping carousel entered at a high speed. I entered with T16 velocity and once my sight lines came in I immediately knew I was wrong - it was actually T13, a slow-entry, sharp right-hand corner. My entry speed was at least 2x what I needed it to be and I didn't have enough grip to straighten the wheel and slow down in this rain. I was running out of track - very quickly - and heading straight for the gray plastic barriers on the outside of T13. My brain shifted into damage control mode and I quickly modulated the brakes, worked the wheel in a bid to scrub speed in any way possible. I drove straight over the curbing and through the gravel while the gray barriers grew larger in my windshield. Once in the gravel I dropped the shifter into 2nd and gassed it while pitching the wheel to the right. I distinctly recall the roar of the 305 under my right foot and the gravel hitting Bic's undercarriage until the car slid onto the 10' wet grass strip at the foot of the crash barriers. I was about to find out just how bad this off was going to be.
extraction by the COTA workers!
Thankfully I had pitched the car maybe 30* sideways during my time in the gravel and when I hit the wet grass the car snapped another 30*. The rear tires caught and sent me immediately away from the wall and back into the gravel headed towards the track, so I reduced throttle a bit and hoped I could maintain enough momentum to slide back to the edge of T13 for a quick inventory of my bowels, and eventually back into the race. That plan worked for about 8', at which point the rear tires dug into the gravel like the end of a tractor pull run. I was stuck. A single, violent F-bomb filled Bic as I killed the ignition and main power. Nothing to do now but sit. To be honest, I'm still not sure if that F-bomb was because I was made I was stuck, or because I was 80% sure I was going to stuff Bic into a crash barrier just 10 seconds ago. I think it was both. Being stuck was clearly the better option, but I felt terrible sitting there as I thought the safety crew would retire me from the race and WDMS would DNF with only 30 minutes to go. I radioed into the WDMS crew a couple of times but I knew with where I was on track they wouldn't be able to hear me.
Cody in Bic fighting the spray, darkness and windshield fogging.....oh and 70 other cars!
The COTA crew arrived in about a minute and hooked their Tundra up to Bic's front tow hook with a long nylon strap. They'd assumed I was broken and upon telling them otherwise I was relieved to hear that they'd simply pull me out of the gravel and I could go on about my race. It was pretty tough for the open-diff Tundra to pull me out of the gravel in the wet, but once I got back on paved roads again the safety crew guy told me "you're gonna want to spin out a lot because there's a BUNCH of rocks in your car". I assured him I would "spin out" and thanked him profusely. Due to the local yellow I caused there were no issues doing a couple burnouts on the runoff area outside of T14 before rejoining the circuit. I kept an eagle eye out for blag flags but the race officials deemed my 3 minutes in the 'penalty box' enough punishment for my misjudgment and let me go on about my way. After my first lap with no black flags I settled back in nicely and finished the race - without saying a word over the radio ;) Although I had a pretty big mistake and we were out of the trophies, I was glad to bring the car back safely 4th out of 9 in our class.
bringing it home to the checkers running strong!
Saturday night's activities were focused around further waterproofing the car and defroster improvements, along with eating a lot of pizza. I won't get into details, but Bic's new RainSpec 2.0 (tm) was much improved and she was looking racy for Sunday. We even made a new friend in the process!
night service. On the right you can see the custom deflector (silver) and the
white PVC defroster spray bar.
The highlights of Sunday for me were: accidentally getting locked on the F1 podium, hearing that a car actually lost a wheel at T15, and hearing Ron call in on the radio "I was pointing the wrong way a second before you saw me". I'll let the rest of the team fill in the details on those.
The last thing I'll say is a HUGE thanks to Chris Rivas, Corey Rueth, Louis Gigliotti, Ron Miller, and of course Paul Costas for all the hard work and dedication required to enter and finish two 8hr endurance races. I couldn't have asked for a better team and I'm glad these memories include y'all. Until next time!!
Me: "Hey Louis, what happened?", Louis: "I helped a guy get out of the way". (Delivered quickly and with a straight face)
Cody and Louis both did a STELLAR job with a car that I'm sorry to say was not adequately prepared for the rain. Argh (falls on sword). I'm as competitive as it gets but even worse than that I feel bad that Louis and Cody struggled to get some clear windshield time.
Ron on the left putting in expanding foam, and Louis on the right putting in a heater core for our defroster to pull from!
As Cody said, we just missed the podium but the important part was WE FINISHED. Twenty (yes TWENTY....20!) cars DNF'd on Saturday and we lived to tell the tale finishing 4th in GP4 9 laps down from the leader and 6 laps behind 3rd. The fastest lap was Ben's Kamikaze at a 3:20.1, Bic with a 3:20.7 and one of the podium cars with a 3:21.8. GP4 is a good class! Speaking of the Kamikaze, it sadly got balled up near the end of the race. It is repairable, but Ben has a C5 Corvette he is looking to build so Kamakaze may take a long rebuild break while the Corvette takes over.
The Kamakazi may or may not live to fight another day...we'll see what the future holds for Ben's little wonder.
Saturday night we, literally, threw every trick we could think of at Bic. We put new wipers on again, Louis got a generic heater core and we mounted it to the hole where the HVAC goes through the dash and put the makeshift defroster intake up to it. To eliminate water in the car we built rain deflectors for the leading edge of the windows and used a whole can of 'expanding foam' to seal the passenger door (it won't open now). We bled the brakes and cross rotated tires to even out the wear and checked the car over really well. With a lot of hands on deck, this stuff went fast and we called it a night. Forecast for Sunday was more rain and who knows, maybe we were ready this time.
Ron and I talked and decided I'd start the race and he'd finish. It was drizzly and damp and for the first few laps the car felt great, I could see pretty darn well and I was reeling in cars. Starting 64th, I was up to 57th on lap 8 when the left rear wheel exited the car. Earlier that lap I'd decided to come in as the car was slighting pulling one direction on the gas and the other direction under braking but before I could get to T20, I had to go through T15 and that's where the car slid around and stopped. In the middle of the track. Doh. My actual first thought was that it sounded like it dug into the pavement and I wondered how much COTA would bill me for asphalt.
A flatbed scooped me up and brought me to the paddock and it was pretty glum. I was figuring loading the thing into the trailer with the least of headache and once we got the corner in the air we figured we could put in new studs and keep going. Louis found some studs, the crew pitched in and after EIGHTY TWO MINUTES (20 of that getting on the wrecker and unloaded in the paddock!) the car was almost back together. I wanted Ron to get some drive time so he suited up and headed out. We were WAY IN LAST place in GP4, but you never know what is going to happen so you just keep pushing. #KeepMakingLaps
Super lightweight shortened wheel studs and extra aluminum from the wheel that didn't need to be there. Doh! The view of Bic from Poorvette. DOH DOH!
Ron was running great and knocking down competitive lap times. The windshield was staying clear even during the heavier showers and he was consistently working his way up the order. He got in the car in 72nd place on lap 10, and although we were dozens of laps behind pretty much everyone, he picked off a few positions here and there overall (sadly, still last in GP4). Just past the halfway mark was a big wreck that pulled everyone into the hotpits for about 50 minutes. Ug. We were NOT making up time just sitting there. Ron went back out to complete about 3 hours behind the wheel and then pulled it in on our lap 66 while we were in 65th place overall.
Anna/Athena and Emily/Rhapsody made this a family weekend! Athena and I post-race on Sunday.
I slid in the car amused buy kinda chapped. On the long break I had while Ron clicked off laps two "AHA" moments came to the forefront of my mind. The first one was that while we had bled brakes and rotated wheels my guess was the rear wheel did not get fully seated with a flush rotor and I did not double check the lugs. I almost always do that, but this time they were torqued and I did not roll the car a bit and re-check (another sword for me to fall on plz, kthnxbye). The second "aha" moment was a bit later as Cody and I were exploring the area near our first garage and saw a door marked "Winner's Podium". Well....you just know we are going through that door, right? So we do. And we walked out to where the F1 podium is and we watched the race a bit from up there. I got some great shots of Ron drifting the exit of T20 and then we figured we'd been out there long enough and we go back to the door to go back down to our garage. Except this door locks from the inside. "AHA!". And then "DOH!". We called Rivas to come fetch us. LOL. AHA moments indeed.
Winner's Podium??? Let's go see what that looks like!!! and Ron finding out that paint is slick on the exit of T20 (crappy focus, sorry!)
Anyway, I slid in the car with nothing to prove but that we can run strong when needed and I got some time behind the wheel with good rain and then a track that was slightly drying and I made the most of it. I love racing in the rain and searching for the grip and putting down quick laps and I did just that. Thankfully adding the heater core, deflectors and moving the blower pickup all contributed to me have a really good visibility and I was just sorry that we didn't have this on Saturday as well (my fault!!). At the end of the day although we finished 7th in GP4 (58th overall) we had fastest Gp4 lap by over 2 seconds (my late race 2:54.0) and I'm kinda proud of that. I'd have been more proud to not have a wheel fall off in the first place, but you take the moments that you can get.
Corey kinda-watching our stop to put Ron in the car while Cody/Rivas handle fuel. Athena and Rivas trying to stay warm in the damp chill.
After the race I got quite a few compliments on our speed, with several drivers saying "thanks for teaching me the rain line" and "I learned I could pass there watching you do it!", which was very nice and helped the sting of finishing last in Gp4. Thankfully, the car ran like a top and drove right back into the trailer. We'll be back.
Just FYI, but 80 minutes at 3 minutes a lap is about 26 laps. We finished 22 laps behind the leader. Damn where is that sword? <grin>
We'll see what happens next time.
HUGE THANK YOU TO RIVAS, COREY, CODY, LOUIS, RON and our awesome families for letting us do this crazy thing we do!
Lucky lucky lucky...