WDMS - Chapter 218 - March 2014


Motorsports Ranch Houston

So with the advent of more and more crap-can race leagues, there has thankfully been one that showed up that catered to the serious competitive racers. You are welcome to bring a cheap car, an expensive car or any car in between and it will be classed into one of three power-to-weight classes OR it will be put in an exhibition class. The point is, the WRL is providing a place to endurance race.

I had thought about doing this race in Bic, our crap-can Camaro, but a lot of the team members had schedule conflicts and so it didn't look like we were going to make it. As it so happened, the organizer pinged me and said he knew a team who needed a driver and he vouched for me. So I'm thinking "ok...cool...wonder what kind of car it is?". I traded emails with Ben, the car owner and found out I was going to be the fourth driver along with himself, his girlfriend Jo and an instructor from PCA. I found out their team did a full season of ChumpCar last year and seem pretty organized and ready. The car is (was) a 1981 Toyota Celica. Strong 22r engine, a 5 speed and rear wheel drive. I can handle low horsepower cars just fine, but I'm just not a front-wheel drive fan so I was looking forward to this lightweight car. I feel pretty good at MSRH, having quite a few laps there. 

So well before dawn on the Saturday of the race I'm scooting south in Miss (92 1LE/B4C Camaro) to cross Houston and arrive at the track just as it is getting light. I find the car nestled in a garage spot on the front straight and start looking it over and Ben shows up shortly and I get introduced to the car and the rest of the team. We talk a bit more about experience and our game plan, but really, endurance racing is all about just making laps and so the goal is to keep the car out of the pits and circulating. I tech my gear and we listen to the drivers meeting and then get the car in the hot pits. Ben and Jo ran some practice yesterday and say the car feels fine and it's ready to go. 

Joey, the WRL organizer on the bottom left trying to get good snaps of the action!

Out of the 26 cars, we started 22nd and Ben put his head down and eased up the grid, getting to 16th by lap 12 before a loose oil fitting brought us in for a quick repair. Sadly, even a quick repair (about 25 minutes) at the beginning of the race saw us tumble down to 25th before we could get back out again. Again, Ben worked hard to move up and had to settle with 22nd when his stint was up. Ben ran good laps, typically in the 2:02-2:04 mark, but struck down to a 2:00.7 for his fastest time with clean track during his 43 laps. Our PCA instructor got in the car and knocked down 54 laps with a best of 2:03.6 on his way to getting us to 19th overall, but usually running a little slower than that as he tried to get through traffic. Our little car had great brakes and very good cornering speed, but we had likely the lowest HP of any car and therefore the long straights were killer. Having never driven the car, I was hopeful that I could work through traffic well and continue to bring us closer to the front. At the 98 lap mark, Jo got in the car and did pretty well. She was a bit slower and struggled to get a rhythm going with such speed differential between all the cars out there. About an hour before I was getting in the car, Anna and Ros showed up which was nice. They got to meet everyone prior to my disappearing for two and a half hours to make laps. The radios were working good and we caught a full course yellow on our lap 128 and so we brought Jo in for me to take over to run to the end. Jo had gotten us to 17th, but we fell to 18th with our driver swap and I was determined to get us in the top 15 by the end of the race. My first few laps were still under full course yellow, but when that finally cleared, I went to work with a first flying pair of laps at 2:04s. Followed by a single 2:03, a pair of 2:02s, a 2:01 and then three 2:00s in a row. Learning what the car liked, I was in the 1:59s and put down several of them before a FCY again hit and we decided to pull me in for a splash of fuel so I could make it to the end. Back on track, I put down three 2:00s followed by 4 1:59s with the last two being deads (1:59.0). There was more time in the car, but catching a clean lap with the traffic was tough. Also, I always kept reminding myself that: A) this wasn't my car, and B) we needed to race this again tomorrow!

So I kept working traffic hard, being pushy where I could get away with it and drafting and running with faster cars where that worked too. The car has working headlights and I'd flash them furiously as I flew up behind people in slow corners and many times they'd let me through. Sadly, it didn't always work and I never got a blue (passing) flag from any corner worker despite being one of the few cars running sub 2 minute times in the last hour of the race. Somewhere in all that fury of the last hour or so, I threw down a 1:58.3 to stand for our quickest time of the day and I'm pretty happy with that. Ben kept coaching me on the radios for traffic and times and when the checked flag fell we were solidly in 13th place after my 64 laps behind the wheel. I was pretty tired, but very happy and excited for us to have had a great last-half of the race. We went through impound and got checked and weighed to ensure we were legal and then put the car back in the garage and looked it over and got it ready for the next day. It didn't take long and then as Ben and Jo camped in their trailer, Anna, Ros and I went to our hotel and got cleaned up and found some dinner.


Ben spotting with the radio while Jo looks on and SuperRos catching some iPad time!

I could not stay all day on Sunday and Ben decided to have me start the race and do a long stint and then we'd work a schedule from there.

Being in the slowest class, I gridded the car at the very end of the line in the hot pits on Sunday. I had mentally gone over a lot of my driving from Saturday and felt that if it stayed dry (this close to the gulf this time of year...who knows!) I could drop a little more time assuming traffic didn't hose me too bad. A few cars had become terminal during Saturday and only 22 cars took the green on Sunday morning. I was the 22nd car, but bound and determined NOT to stay there. By the end of lap 1, I was in 16th and by the end of lap 2, I was in 12th. 11th by lap 4 and 10th by lap 11. I was being safe, but driving hard and snuck up into 5th by lap 28 and then took 4th on lap 31 for 6 glorious laps and then we caught a full course yellow and we pulled in for some fuel so I could keep going. So on lap 37 I fell to 10th, but was back into 6th by lap 46 and then 4th on laps 51-53 where I made one more pass and got us to 3rd on lap 54. I held third from lap 54 all the way to lap 74 when a fuel pump, for no particular reason, decided it was done pumping fuel. Out of 22 cars and starting 22nd, I was in 3rd at the almost 3 hour (8 hour race) mark. ARGH. A slightly dingy silver lining revealed I had done a string of 1:58s today and actually put down a few 1:57s as well. Yay.

Sadly, this was not a quick fix. The pump is easy to get to, but the spare gave us fits instantly as well and so we were down while another was sourced from nearby Angleton. We lost an hour and a half. Ack. Jo hopped in the car next and I coached her a bit on the radio and she did well and then when Ben got in the car and the car had been running steady for a while I started the trip home. I glanced at live timing frequently to see us slowly climb the chart as we went from 21st up to 20th and then the checked flag flew with our little car in 19th, still running. 

The 'nismorons' were pitted next to us with a few Aggies as well. Good group with a good blog www.nismorons.com too!!

It was a bittersweet end, but maybe we'll team up again and have more fun. It is an incredible momentum car to drive and those really force you to be good since there is nothing to mask your mistakes. In Scratcher I can botch up a little and cover it with the power, but in this car? No way. You've gotta be smooth and carry every ounce of speed you can everywhere...or you get crushed.

Thanks for letting me drive, Ben!!!