As some of you may already know, Team Formula BMW finished in 10th place at the 2008 24 Hours of Lemons race at Thunderhill. Instead of the usual blog post with in-car video, I’ve tried something new with a video blog post of the off-track action. The goal was to create a mini-documentary that shows the Lemons experience as seen through the eyes of Team Formula BMW. It is a 25 minute video that goes all the way from car prep and transport, through tech and judging, ending with the actual race itself. My personal favourite is the section on the Tech Judging which starts at the 7:38 mark.
All the video footage was shot using a Nokia N96 cameraphone and was then edited together using Adobe Premiere Elements. A big thanks to Nokia and the WOM World folks for lending me the phone to me – I’ll post my official review of the phone in a bit. As I said before this is my first video blog post and obviously isn’t perfect. I learned a lot of things while making this video and I’ll have a future post with tips for making your own videos.
Update: We’ve made it onto AutoFiends and Jalopnik, you would think that professional blogs would be include a pingback when they link.
A few people have asked me what it was like to drive Thunderhill at night and I figured the best way to explain would be to show you what its like. This is a quick lap with no traffic from the 24 Hours of Lemons race in December. Its pretty hard to see the course so I have labeled the corners to give you a better idea of the course.
As you can see, the visibility is not the greatest which makes driving quite an interesting experience. While the lights do give you some idea of where the apex is, the real problem is in finding your track out point. Turns 1, 2 and 4 were especially difficult since the optimum racing line has a very wide track out point where you run over the outside kerbing on the exit. This is all well and good in the sunshine since you know exactly where you are going and you know that its safe. In the dark however, you simply cannot see the track out point when you turn in and you basically have to hope that the exit is clean and that no one has dumped mud or oil on the kerb. The other problem is that its really quite hard to see the track surface and/or its boundaries, especially when people drag mud onto the track. In many cases, the white line marking the track is completely obscured and you just have to guess at what your turn-in point is and hope that you wont put a wheel off on the inside. Some of this might be improved by using better lights: we used the stock E30 headlights and tried spreading the beam sideways to try and light up the apex but since it is a road car the amount of adjustment allowed was just too limited. The next time we will use more powerful, fully adjustable dune buggy lights instead. My solution to the visibility issues was to take it slow and always leave myself a margin for error, it may not have resulted in ultimate lap times but it meant that I always had enough “in hand” to be able to adapt to the any unexpected changes in the racing surface. Our goal was to just stay out of trouble and rack up the laps at a steady pace – since we were in 6th place after 10 hours I guess it did work .
The next video is an example of what happens in low visibility, the cars are just entering turn two after someone had an agricultural moment and dragged a massive amount of mud right onto the racing line. None of us can see the mud on the line and come into the corner at race speed only to lose all grip mid corner. One car spins out completely while dPunks and I have some interesting sideways moments. While I got through it ok, it did give me quite a scare and I ended up taking turn 2 quite slow for the next 3-4 laps. Endurance racers who race at 10/10ths all night must be either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb
The next video is of a couple of laps in traffic. As you can see it is actually easiers to drive in traffic since there are a lot more headlights lighting up the track . Also the headlights make it impossible for someone to sneak up on you which means that you always have a good idea of the cars around you and what they are going to do. This leads to much better manners on the track and less problems off the track. Compared to the October race at Altamont the traffic here was incredibly well behaved and there was hardly any contact.
This final video is a highlights package attempting to show some of the interesting from my 4 hour stint in the dark, I apologize for the crappy editing. All the video in this post was recorded using the PDR100 Racer kit from our sponsors at ChaseCam – I highly recommend it for your own racing/track video.
Craig from Group of Fools (Car #9) contacted me a few days ago saying that he had some on-track video from his car that included our car and asked me if I’d like a copy. After being deafened by my “Hell YES!!” he mailed me a DVD with a 10 minute video clip of their car following us around the track.
The following video merges 3 video streams for your viewing pleasure. The top and bottom camera views are from our car (#56 White BMW with a wing)). The camera in the center is from Group of Foolz (#9 Maroon BMW with a baby seat on the top). The video starts with me coming out of the pits to start my Saturday stint and by the 40 second mark you can see the #9 car right on my rear bumper. They then follow us around the track as we both go through slower traffic until they finally pit after about 10 minutes.
Major thanks to both #9 Group of Foolz for sending me the video and ChaseCam for giving us the video setup we used in our car.
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.
P.S.: If you have nothing better to do and want to kill a full 30 minutes you should watch this video of my entire stint.