Road Atlanta ChampCar 14 hour race

Good finish for a race we almost did not make.

After our last race of 2018, there was not much work to do to the car.  Just change the oil and make sure the safety equipment was up to date for 2019 tech inspection.

We did find some bolts loose on the clutch slave cylinder but that was an easy repair.  Just glad we caught it in the inspection rather than at failure.

We had to get our Fire Suppression system certified for SFI.  I found that our ESS system was manufactured in Oak Ridge, so I made a trip to the factory and had an interesting talk with the inventor of the system.  He made sure our system was properly filled up and had the right stickers in place. Kudos to Sam for excellent customer service.

As we were loading the car in the trailer on Sunday before the race, we noticed a puddle of water that had not been there before.    After a lot of diagnosis, we determined that the water pump was leaking.

Changing the water pump on a 944 is kind of a big deal as it is located under two timing belts and their covers. Also, you can’t just run to AutoZone and get a water pump for a 1986 Porsche 944.  We were pretty discouraged.

After a few fruitless phone calls to local parts stores, I elected to have Amazon ship me one though their prime delivery service.  Then we set about removing the old pump.

The pump arrived as scheduled and I installed it.  There was some damage to the box, but I did not think much of it.  Only after everything was installed and the belts retimed and tensioned did I try to add coolant.  And then found it promptly leaked right back out of the new water pump.  My hopes fell again.

This was late Wednesday night and we had to load and leave on Thursday.  We were very discouraged but determined to make the race.  We tore down the front of the engine again and Gary noticed a slight bulge on one corner of the pump that I had missed.

I clamped the pump in the vise and cleaned up the burr.  We put it back on with a new gasket and this time added some water and pressure tested.  At first it seemed to hold but after adding 10% antifreeze, it started leaking.

So off it came again.  Gary did some more cleaning to the mounting surface on the block and I filed a little more on the pump body.  As final desperation move, we coated both sides of the gasket with Indian Head Shellac knowing that if this did not work, cleanup was going to be a bear.

We were all very excited when I pumped up the system to 15 PSI and there were no drips.  We added the proper antifreeze protection and called it a night as it was too late for me to be doing the delicate timing belt adjustments.

Early the next morning, I timed the engine and installed both timing belts. I carefully set the tension and reinstalled the covers. By noon I had the car loaded and ready for the trip to Atlanta. 

I never wanted to be one of those teams that is working on the car the night before the race but here we were this time.

This year we were in the Pro Pits on the infield side of the track.  I was worried about space, but it turned out to be much nicer than the club side that we normally use.  We could park the trailer much closer to out pit stall and there was no hill! The paddock area is nice and flat on the infield side.

We noticed the tech line was not very long, so I jumped in the car and put it in line and sent Tom after the last few stickers that we still need to install.  Bill Strong helped us with which old stickers needed to be removed and what new ones were required.  We ended up just using the sponsor panel as provided and not cutting it apart like before.  This helped cover more of the damage on the passenger door from the VIR incident.

At tech, our only issue was the window net.  We had known it was expired but the one Tom bought was an FIA certified unit with no expiration date.  I also did not like the way it fit on our supports.  We explained our concerns to the tech inspector who eventually let us pass with the FIA net.

The next morning, we visited Ron at Discovery Parts and got a G force net like the one we had before but with a current date.  This net fit fine but somehow the webbing blocks the side mirror more than the previous one.  I will look into how to adjust it before the next race.

We got in a few test laps during the test session with no issues.  We all took a few laps to get familiar with track again.

It was not as cold as we had expected on race day morning which was a welcome relief. Past races at Road Atlanta had seen temperatures below freezing at the start.

I ran the first hour and a half stint uneventfully turning a personal best of 1:56. I handed over to Tom with no refuel saving a couple of minutes on the pit stop.  He turned a personal; best of 1:55. These best times were two seconds faster than our bests from last year.

Gary took aver with a refuel stop that took 18 gallons into our 20 gallon tank. Some full course cautions and a red flag had helped extend the fuel.

Gary made a few cautious laps as he got used to the car and traffic.  This was only his second race with us and he was wise to be cautious as the track at Road Atlanta can be unforgiving in places.

He soon picked up the pace. I took back over for a mid-day stint.  The only issue I had that stint was seeing one of our good friend’s car hard into the wall and seeing the ambulance go by during a red flag.  Turns out he was ok, but the car was not able to continue the race.

Due to constant traffic I was not able to improve my best lap time, but I ran consistent and was able to pass people coming out of tun 5 and under braking in a couple of spots.  The Iracing practice really helped me in this regard.

Tom took back over and ran uneventfully.  Our next fuel stop again took 18 gallons.  Gary was more comfortable, but we had some trouble with the radio.  He could not hear as well as before and we had a miscommunication that caused him to come in for an unscheduled pit stop. We probably lost one lap due to this.

The next fuel stop took all 20 gallons we had ready to put in.  I took over as daylight was starting to go away.  We decided to go out with the lights on to make sure they worked before they were required.

The team noticed a tail light was out as I left the pits.  They called me in and made a quick reseat of the bulb to get it working.  We probably lost another lap due to this mishap.

night racing

The new LED lights in the stock headlight buckets worked very well for me. In the past I have hated driving at night, but this time I did just fine.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the stint. Tom took over and continued to run consistent laps in the dark.

Gary took aver for the final stint and we only partially fueled the car knowing it only had one and half hour left to go.   Gary took well to the dark and turned his fasted lap of the day a 1:57. He managed to spin on the final lap but that did not change our finishing position.

We finished 19th out of over 80 entrants.  We were just one lap short of 18th place. We were very excited with a top 20 finish considering in the past we had been mid pack or lower.

Laps time analysis showed our average was six seconds a lap faster and our best times were about two seconds faster.  The only change to the car since last year was stiffer springs so I think the big difference is in driving experience.

Overall it was a great day at the races. No new dents to repair and the car seems to have held up fine.  I will still be looking for more power and possibly more grip if I can find it.  But I don’t think we will do the 944S swap like the faster 944s have done.