I’m sitting in a plane in Austin, TX waiting to depart to Orlando. When I arrive in Orlando, I’ll meet up with Colton Miller, my mechanic, and Darren Larsen, his helper, and we’ll head to Sebring, FL. We’re on the way to do something that’s never been done before – race 24 hours nonstop at Sebring International Raceway.
I’m driving for PC Racing in their #44 BMW. I was last in the car at Hallett a few weeks back, where Joe Bunton and I piloted the car to two wins in two back to back 8 hour races. Those wins propelled PC racing into the position of WRL GP1 West Coast champion.
This weekend will seal World Racing League’s East Coast championships. If we win this race, we also win the East Coast title.
I’m nervous. The driver lineup is still a little uncertain. Joe Bunton was going to drive with us. Then he got sick and was out. Rob Williams was going to drive with us. His father had a stroke and Rob is out. But Joe’s feeling good and has piloted himself and his wife down to Sebring in his private aircraft. We’ll meet up with him later.
I myself have been suffering from a cold – the first time in years that I’ve been sick. At 7AM I got a call from Peter Chang, the team’s owner : Rob’s dad has had a stroke. Joe is here and says he’s feeling 100%. I’ve also got Jay here. He’s a good driver, but he’s never driven Sebring and he’s never raced at night. I might need you in the car for 10 hours. Are you up to it or do I need to find another driver to fly in?
I told Peter I’ve got a cold but I’m feeling good. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do 10 hours in the car, but if I can’t I’m confident that Peter, an understated but very talented driver, will do just fine if he needs to drive. I don’t know anyone else we can bring in and know – with absolute certainty – that they can drive the car for two hours, make the lap times we need, and remain incident free. This is a 24 hour race. It counts as 3x the points of a normal race. We can’t go off. We can’t break down. We can’t get tangled up with another car. If we don’t finish, we can’t win. And finishing isn’t easy. I fully expect that 1/2 of the cars that start either won’t finish or will finish dozens of laps down due to car to car contact or off track excursions.
We picked up a PHEV Mitsubishi at MCO and we’re on the way to Sebring. It’s been raining on and off…
I haven’t had the good fortune of racing in the rain for more than a year. Daytona rained some, but they mostly parked us for lightning. Last time I raced in a heavy downpour? Oh yeah, the WRL 14 hours of Sebring last year.
And here it comes. 7 minutes from the track.
One thing I love about Sebring is staying st the 7 hotel. Named after turn 7, my room looks right over it.
It’s Friday afternoon. Jay and Joe have been out and say the car’s good. We’re about to put stickers on and go out to do some spring testing and make setup tweaks for Sebring.
After the spring tweaks we’re happy with the car. Going up 50# and increasing the rear ride height balanced the car, and that was really important. We had a significant push at Hallett and we burned up tires horsing through it. Our tires should last much longer with this setup.
My only clean lap was before the spring change, but it was enough to put our PC Racing #44 BMW on pole by a very commanding 3.4 seconds.
I’m back at the hotel while others are getting their practice laps in. I wonder what the noise will be like as I catnap between my stints behind the wheel.
It’s ll AM. The race starts in an hour. And… it’s raining. I’m mentally preparing for starting a 24 hour race. In the rain. On a wet, green track.
I worked up a commanding lead at the start, building up to a 30 second gap to second place, when a full course caution came out in lap 10. I lost the gap I had, but was able to work it back up. Here at 2:45 into the race I’m out of the car and I handed it to Jay in the lead. Jay’s currently 14 seconds ahead of the #701 porsche in P2, and both cars just turned nearly identical lap times of about 2:31.5.
As dusk approaches, only about 35 of the 47 cars that started are on track. Some have retired permanently. Others have swarms of mechanics desperately working to get them back in the race.
The #701 porsche, a hot contender of ours much of the season, is out for now. #346, Money Pit Racing, a car I haven’t seen before, was hauling ass and pressing us hard early in the race. Now they’re off the track, I don’t know why. #110, Thunder Bunny Racing, can be depended on to crank out lap after lap. They may not have the fastest car, but they’ll be there to nab you if you ness up. They keep their car running. They put fast. And they will slowly wear you down one consistent lap after another. Right now they’re in second place. We have 5 laps on them. It’s not a comfortable lead.
“What will we do about the leak”, I ask. “Nothing. Make sure it won’t lead to worse problems. We don’t have a spare exhaust. We need you to stay off the curbing and take it easy on the car”.
I’m back at our pit stall and ready for my next stint. My crew chief and mechanic told me we’re going to take 4 tires this stop – and investigate an exhaust leak we’ve developed.
It’s 10:00pm and I just finished my second stint. I need to grab some sleep, I get back in the car at 2:40AM. When I got in the car, it felt down a little on power. I started short shifting to keep the revs under 7000 RPM in case the engine wasn’t feeling good. At the end of my stint, Peter told me the exhaust leak is causing the O2 sensor to read lean so it’s running the motor too rich. That explains the 15 or so horsepower loss I felt and the slightly worse fuel consumption.
About 2/3 of the way through my stint third gear became recalcitrant and wanted to grind. I stopped direct downshifts from 5-3, went through 4, and rev matched very carefully. That did the trick and it shifted smoothly for me for the remainder of my stint.
After Jay got back on track, we were still in first place and our margin to Thunder Bunny has grown to 6 1/2 laps.
At about 1AM, I saw that our car wasn’t making laps. Around 2:30 it was back on track. I made my way down to pit road to find out what was up and when they needed me. We were in a distant 3rd place, Thunder Bunny has 25 laps on us.
“The clutch throwout bearing went”, Peter said. “We got it replaced, but in the dark Darren hit the rear wing and broke a mount. I had to remove the wing”.
Oh boy. At the 14 hours of Daytona this year, we removed the rear wing as an experiment. It was not pretty. We picked up 8 mph on the oval and gained a second a lap. But the car was incredibly loose on the infield where we lost the second and more, but more importantly the car lost it’s ability to maneuver in traffic. It was dangerous to drive. I told Peter “I’m glad we tried this experiment. Let’s never do it again”. Well, I guess unless we have no choice but to park it or run without.
Also, the 701 Round 3 Racing Porsche, which broke earlier today, is now only 11 laps behind us. If they catch us we’ll fall off the podium. Their car is running great and their driver seems hell bent for leather. They’re running 2:29’s – faster than they went in qualifying – and we’re running 2:35’s.
We had a caution and did a slash and go with Joe in the car. I should get in around 4:10-4:20. I took a quick nap in the car, and when I returned to our pit the crew was getting some shut eye too.
These guys have been up since 7am yesterday doing final car prep and eating breakfast. And we still have more than 8 race hours to go. After that, with a little luck, we’ll need to go through tech on the way to the podium.
Wow! What a ride. For those of you who’ve driven an older Spec Racer Ford, it was kinda like that. Throttle on oversteer. Lift throttle oversteer. Can you say “needs fast hands”?
I’m just glad to get out of the car with it in one piece. Especially after the #701 round 3 Racing car sat on my tail gor 20 laps. The car and driver were seconds a lap faster than me, but he wouldn’t pass me even with a point by and a stab of the brakes. My guess was he was hoping to get in my head and let me take myself out rather than try to make up their 10 lap deficiency.
As I exited the car, we’re P2. #110 Thunder Bunny has a commanding 26 lap lead and #701 R3R is 10 laps behind us.
I got in the car for my last stint around 9:40 am. We were sitting in second place. Thunder Bunny was too many laps ahead to catch, but we needed to defend against 3rd and 4th. The wingless wonder was just as tail happy in the daylight as it was at night. But at least I could see what I might hit if I spun the car a lot better in the light.
The race is over. We ended up P2 behind #110 Thunder Bunny, who were steady the whole race and didn’t break down. We finished ahead of the #702 R2R Porsche. They broke a left half shaft – twice.
Around 10:20 I got a “fuel pot low” light. Huh. That shouldn’t happen. I called it in. “Does it go off when you turn left? It could be the fuel transfer pump”. Me : “nope. Always on”. Pit road : “Probably a short, you can’t be low on fuel”.
Two laps later I got fuel starvation. “Come in for fuel”. I took on about 7 gallons. Back out. “Is the light going off”? “Nope. I think it’s the main fuel pump. I recommend replacing it”. “Agreed. Return to the Paddock”.
It was the main lift pump. We’ll be redesigning that part of our fuel system and adding redundancy before our next race. Colton got it replaced though, and we made it back out for the last 25 minutes of our 24 hour race.
While we came in second this race, we sealed the win of the 2021 Word Racing League East Coast Division champs.
We started the race with a really nice race car. We ended the race with a worn out race car. One header is cracked. Our muffler is reportedly somewhere drivers left of turn 3. The transmission and differential are well used. The wing got ripped off on accident during the throwout bearijg replacement. On the bright side, the car has a nearly new clutch throwout bearing and main fuel pump. They failed and got replaced during the race.
At our last race at Hallett we won the 2021 WRL West Coast Division championships. Our next races are a double header at Circuit of the Americas. Two 8 hour races on Saturday and Sunday will determine whether we become the next national champions or not.
Between now and then, I get a chance to warm up on Circuit of the Americas with next weekend’s Trans Am race, where I’ll be piloting the blue #32 Accio Data/Sampson Racing Engines/ARX motorsports Ford Mustang.