This is a long overdue post covering the second part of the ChumpCar race at The Ridge last year. Much has happened since then and I’ll have to post a recap of past events as time has just flown by with life getting busy, travel, work, etc.
The evening before the race I’d found the seating position of the car didn’t allow me to reach the pedals so the morning of the race the team got to work taking the seat out and making adjustments. They were able to get the seat to slide forward enough for me to reach the pedals with the help of some padding between me and the seat back. I can’t say I wasn’t a bit concerned if there’d be enough time to make the adjustments as we were getting close to the start of the race. Everyone calmly got to work and just focused until it was done. Looking back, as a novice I found I probably worried about things more because it was all so new to me.
Shortly after the adjustments were done, our first driver went out to start the race and we headed to our team canopy behind the pit wall. Mike introduced me to this mobile app called Race Monitor which allows you to view timing and scoring data live from the race. It works on both iPhone and Android and was helpful for us to track our team car and I’ve also used it since to monitor other races I’ve attended.
Our car was running well and moving up the ranks nicely which was really exciting. I was the last driver in our lineup as I was the least experienced with it being my first race. The team completed successful pit stops and driver swaps and things seemed to be going well.
That was until the car had to come in because of fuel pickup problems prior to my first run. The team worked on the car, made some adjustments and were able to continue on with the problem seemingly resolved. It was then time for me to get suited up and ready to jump into the car for my first stint; I was beyond excited.
I’m glad I had the support of the team and pit crew the first time I got in the car. Getting all the gear on with helmet and HANS, getting strapped into the car, getting everything adjusted and ready to go takes a bit more than I thought. Things you wouldn’t think about like the order of putting your gear on and how to get in the car and get adjusted without being able to move much can be a challenge the first time. It’s a bit different doing it leisurely on your own compared to in the middle of a race during a pit stop. The team did a great job of helping me through it quickly and the next thing I knew I was strapped into a race car getting ready to head out for my first race.
I can still remember the feeling while waiting to leave the pits, it was a bit surreal as I glanced around me to see all the car’s gauges in what felt like a space suit strapped to a rocket at the time. A combination of excitement, anticipation, and a realization that “this is it”, the thing I’d been waiting to do for quite a while. All that instantly faded away as I was given the signal to go and felt that intense focus come on as I moved my thoughts away from my immediate surroundings and projected it forward onto the hot race track.
I was off, checking my mirrors as I made it past the blend line and onto the familiar line of the track. Although at the same track I’d driven before, this felt like a totally different experience. The car sounded great and handled amazing compared to my street car. Quite a difference driving a car with race tires, rear wheel drive, stiff suspension and roll cage. I very quickly found myself wheel to wheel with other cars on track going into corners together. I have to admit this was a bit nerve wracking at first not being used to driving so close to other cars at speed, into turns, or being passed by cars significantly faster anywhere on track. No point by’s or passing zones here but I quickly adjusted to the environment after a couple of laps and began to get a good rhythm going.
I was up to speed and catching some slower cars, made a couple of passes, and that was a very rewarding and exciting feeling. I continued on for several laps until I caught some cars that were running at about the same pace. I had a great battle with one car, the #74 Dead Bull station wagon, almost catching it for a couple of laps but it had a horsepower advantage on the straightaway so wasn’t able to make the pass despite my being a bit quicker in the corners. Then things got a bit weird with the car.
I started to notice it wasn’t quite responding to the throttle input as well and started to feel a bit sluggish and the car I was trying to catch start pulling away from me. I stayed out for a few laps to confirm and then decided to come into the pits to have it checked out. It was close to the end of my first run so figured it’d be best to have things looked at before the next driver switch. I came into the pits and told the team about it, they checked things over and put in the next driver.
The next driver went out for a few laps and then had to come into the pits as the problem seemed to be getting worse. That’s racing for you, you never know what’s going to happen. ChumpCar in particular as you can imagine takes this risk/reward ratio to the next level and really challenges the teams to figure out how to keep the cars running through the endurance race. Next door to us the team was in the process of doing an engine swap in the middle of the race. That made our problems seem small in comparison but something was definitely not right with our car.
After some more tweaking on the car we had another driver swap and after a while the car had to come back in for the same reason. We were quickly loosing positions and the team was baffled by what might be going on with the car. They had to bring it back into the paddock to get it on jackstands and look underneath.
There seemed to be a small leak coming from the differential but that wasn’t the cause of the problem. The team decided to change out the fuel filter since it seemed like something in the fuel system was getting clogged. Shortly after that repair, it was my turn again to go back out.
The car seemed to be running well in the pits so I went back out on track and was ready for some more racing. The first few laps were great, the car was quick and I was making some good passes and picking up the pace again. Then things got interesting so to speak.
The car started to get bogged down again and shortly after started sputtering and threatening to stall. I was on the other side of the track with no radio so I had to try and get myself back around the track to make it to the pits. I was starting to get blue flags as the car was slowing down and I had fast traffic coming up quick behind me. I was trying to rev the engine to keep it from stalling but at one point it just died. I caused a couple of white flags as I tried just rolling down hills while trying to get the car re-started to no avail. I pulled off the track near one of the flag stations and sat there trying to start the engine again. I finally got it restarted and managed to keep it on and limp it back onto the track with the help of the corner workers and eventually made it to the pits.
That was a pretty crazy lap as cars were zooming around me and I was hoping everyone was paying attention to flags and wouldn’t come crashing into me since I was limping along around the track off the racing line. In retrospect, as nerve wracking as that felt at the time, it was a actually a good learning experience. Knowing what to do in an emergency is pretty important and I feel I made the right choices keeping myself safe and communicating with the flag workers to help me get around the course and back to the pits.
Once in the pits, the team looked over the car again and decided it was done for the race. There wasn’t anything else left to do that they hadn’t tried without getting it back to the shop. It was a bit disappointing but at least we all got a decent amount of seat time and it was definitely a blast to drive when it was running well.
I’ve since kept in touch with Mike and learned the issue seemed to be the foam inside the fuel cell may have been disintegrating and clogging the fuel filter. They’ve since run the car in other events and it’s been working well.
That’s racing sometimes but overall I have to say I had a great experience meeting a great group of people, getting in the middle of some exciting and fun wheel to wheel racing, and getting a good amount of seat time despite the issues with the car. This race made me realize I really wanted to do this more often, and I’ll be sharing the rest of the journey here in future posts.