Our tactics for the race were to run 45 minute stints at a healthy pace and to avoid any unnecessary contact. Guy was our first driver and got to experience the Lemons start procedure. All the teams are asked to lineup in the pits and are slowly let out onto the track for yellow flag laps. Once the whole grid is on the track, race control randomly picks a team and throws the green flag the next time that team crosses the start/finish. At this point the race is on and its every man for himself. This is a short video of the start of the race – Guy enters the frame from the left at the 40 second mark.
We were keeping up an excellent pace and were among the faster cars out there. Our pitstops, while not spectacular, were decent enough and saw Rob and Jyri taking stints 2 and 3 respectively. About 2 hours into the race, Jyri pitted and I got into the car for stint #4.
I started out pretty tentatively, this was after all my very first race in a real car. On lap 2 I started to feel really brave and tried to pass a couple of cars around the outside of the banking. While I did end up going around the cars, I was unsighted going into the esses and found that someone had dragged quite bit of gravel right at my braking/turn-in point. This being Lemons there was no debris flag and I basically had two choices: a) squeeze the car on my left and attempt to avoid the gravel with the possibility of getting broadsided if it doesn’t work out and b) hit the freestanding tire barrier and hope for the best. Having seen other cars hit similar barriers without too much drama, I decided on option b and hit the brakes which locked the second I hit the gravel.
As you can see I hit the barrier with a glancing blow and knocked them over. You probably also saw that there was a third option available – turn right, avoid the barrier and skip the esses. Unfortunately I didn’t think of it at the time so that route really didn’t come into play. After the it the car seemed to be working fine and after slowing for a few corners I continued on my merry way. The following clip should give you a good idea of the action we encountered on track. Watch the grey Subaru wagon (Team Scooby) as it tries to pass me, it was one of the fastest cars on the track but I kept getting him stuck behind slower cars until he finally passes me two laps later 😀
About 30 minutes into the session I came around the banking and was about to pass another car when the back end of the car suddenly let go and spun me around. Luckily the car missed the tire barriers and ended up facing the wrong way on the inside of the first S. I tried putting it in neutral to start the engine but the gearshift had sunk about 6 inches lowers and I could not change gears. I tried starting it with the clutch in but only got an loud banging noise from the transmission with no forward movement. I then sat around waiting for the tow truck and watched cars coming head-on towards me at race speed – I even had one guy blow the turn and drive across the front of my car. After a few minutes the race was yellow flagged and the tow truck pushed me into the pits with the transmission making loud banging noises all the way.
When I came into the pits, we got down to diagnosing what was wrong with the car – the transmission was obviously busted but we didn’t know how or why. When we opened the hood we saw a most interesting sight, the radiator was bent outwards rather than inwards. It appeared that when our car had any forward contact (such as the tire barrier I hit), the engine was actually flexing the engine mounts and moving far enough forward in the engine bay for the distributor to hit the back of the radiator. This motion kept pulling the transmission forward until the transmission mounts finally snapped. At this point the transmission stressed the driveshaft enough that the two piece driveshaft just separated at the joint. /the driveshaft snapping was most likely the cause of the spin – it was equivalent to lifting mid corner which produced lift-off oversteer with no drive to allow recovery. Our car was now officially dead and we did not have any spare parts to fix it.
Enter our in-team mechanic: Rob Dietsch of Dietsch Werks. Now Rob usually spends his days doing high quality repair work on his customers cars, this obviously was NOT the time for quality work so he settled for quick and dirty fixes (emphasis on quick :-)). He started out by removing the two pieces of the driveshaft and used a hacksaw to clean out the joint between the two pieces before mating them together once again. We did not have any spare transmission mounts so he fixed the transmission in place using straps and bolts passing through holes drilled in the car floor. The final piece was to anchor the engine in place using chains so that it would no longer move forward if there was any impact.
The repairs took about 2.5 hours and dropped us to 62 place in the standings. Rob took the car out first to see how it would hold up. He put in some good times before handing it over to Jyri for the final stint. By the end of the day the car had suffered only minor body damage and was still putting in some excellent times. We were just glad to be running at the end of the day despite having such potentially race ending damage to our drivetrain.