- 10 Min Read
- By: Alex Fiehl
AER Race #2 - Palmer Motorsports Park - Weekend Recap
The difference between professionals and amateurs is the level of preparation. This holds true in many arena, from business to sports, and especially auto racing. Our second endurance race exploited the fact that we weren't as prepared as we had hoped for.
Leading up to the race, there was so much work that needed to be done to get the car back on track. You may have read that we needed a new engine. I have done head gasket jobs, timing belts, rear main seals, etc... but I had never assembled a complete engine. Since AER doesn't have particular classes based on modifications, but instead class you based on the average times you run in qualifying, I decided to beef up the motor some from the stock M20B25. I built a M20B27 with a Super ETA bottom end, mildly ported 885 head with 270 cam, ported intake manifold, eBay headers to a 2.5" exhaust with a single muffler at the back.
June 7th, the car completed it's first shakedown after the build. It ran really strong up to about 5500 rpm, but started breaking up after that. I short shifted and that car lasted the whole day, but needed some attention.
On June 10th, I took the car to my friends shop ECS Performance (not to be confused with ECS Tuning). Paul Scott has a dyno and is a master tuner and does not cut corners. We did a single dyno pull and Paul didn't feel comfortable doing another. The car was running really lean up top. Here is the dyno plot -
The good news is we made 173hp and 173ft-lbs at about 5200rpm! Bad news is Air/Fuel Ratio spiked to dangerous levels just past that.
I explored some options and thought the safest and fastest option was to call Mark D and get another chip burnt. I had a Mark D chip in the car already, so he should be able to correct the curve based on the dyno plot data, and knowing the existing settings. I had a conversation with Mark and got a new chip burnt which arrived on June 16th - the day we leave for Palmer.
I called Paul to see if he can squeeze me in to check the health of the engine now. I drove down right away and got halfway there and the car started hiccuping and bucking. WTF!?! I got the car to the shop and tested a few things and found the bottom of the intake boot wasn't properly seated. I tested the Throttle Position Sensor, the AFM, and the Crank Position Sensor. They were all within spec, and I cleaned the AFM. We put it on the dyno and here is the new plot-
As you can see the A/F ratio got better and is now a bit safer, but still needs some work. But now it's 2:00pm the day before the race and I was supposed to leave two hours prior. I packed up and went home to pack the truck with our tools and spares. I also bring a pop-up camper to save some cash on hotels and also to be close to the car at the track in case it needs some work, and since we are racing, it always needs some work! So my friend towed up the camper for me and I followed with the truck and car trailer.
I got to the track around 9pm and it was dark now. I had to unload the car under a street lamp. and set up the pop-up using my iPhone flash light. It's crazy thinking about all of the little things that one goes through just to go racing! But I was not the only one! There were a handful of other teams still prepping their cars. The #23 of Jared Pepper and Bob Gilberg, with Scott Barton assisting was parked directly next to us, and they had laptops hooked up to the car and were still wiring in gauges.
I had the pleasure to meet Joshua Hughes, who was parked next to me. His car was somewhat ready and he was more concerned about getting the USA vs. Ecuador Copa America Quarter Final game on his iPad than what was needed to be done to the car. Having gotten everything finally set-up , I grabbed some beers and joined him. The US won 2-1 and at the end of the game Josh asked if I had anything left to do. I mentioned that I still had to wire in the cool suit box, but I was going to wait until the crew got there in the morning. Without hesitation, Josh said, "Nonsense! That's a breeze to wire." He walked over to his car and grabbed a large spool of red wire and another of black wire, and just started wiring. Well, we had a few beers and we were chatting and about 12:30am we realized that the pump in the borrowed coolsuit box was not working. We tested the wiring on a known good box and it was indeed the cool suit pump. So again, without hesitation, Josh walked over to his trailer and grabbed a new coolsuit box. "Here, you can use this one!"
While finishing up that install at close to 3am, I couldn't help but feel warm and welcome in a paddock of strangers that would soon become great friends. After all, we are all just chasing the dream, right?
The next morning, despite the lack of sleep, I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed because it's race day.
On Friday, it's open track in the morning, and qualifying in the afternoon. We had a slow start because the other driver's and crew- Nate Vincent and Noah Decker, didn't arrive until mid morning. I took the first stint to make sure the car was all set. Next Mark Lydell got his turn. He was only out for 10 minutes before the track went cold for lunch. After lunch, Kim Estep got her turn, but was not comfortable with the seat. Uh-Oh! you need to be able to fit well in a seat if you are going to spend 90+ minutes at a time. By chance, Scott Barton had a spare seat, which we could make work and he was gracious enough to let us use it! (selfless gesture number 2 of the weekend!)
We got the seat in and were able to qualify 28th out of 48. OK, not bad. AER always puts on an awesome Pot-Luck dinner on the Friday night of the event! It's a great chance to give away a few beers and make some new friends!
Since Mark or Kim had never been to Palmer and weren't yet comfortable with the car, I started the first stint on Saturday. We were running really well! I quickly disposed of the half a dozen or so slower cars in front of me and for the next 30 minutes ran a nice consistent pace around 1:59-2:00 laps. All of a sudden, through the uphill esses, the car got really squirrelly. again going down into turn 8, the car slide sideways and the water temp was climbing!! I slowly got back to the pits and pulled into the paddock. We weren't sure what had happened, but when we started adding water, we noticed the lower radiator hose popped off. This is the stuff that kills your race. Remember the professional vs. amateur statement, well now in hindsight, I know that the coolant system wasn't bled properly, which caused an air pocket, which caused pressure, which caused the hose to pop off, which all could have been prevented by more testing.
What we also didn't know at the time, was that we probably sucked in a decent amount of air into the system, and try as we may, we couldn't bleed the system properly when the water temp is 210*F and we are desperate to get back on track. I got back out after 15-20 minutes, and the car ran great again, but slightly hot. I was able to put in some good lap times, but it is extremely difficult to make up time on the track. Even if you run 1-2 seconds a lap faster, that takes forever to make up 15 minutes in the paddock.
Kim took the next stint and did well. She wasn't quite comfortable yet, but put in some decent lap times!
Mark was next and was out for next and ran well for a while, but then he got tangled with a faster car trying to pass in turn 8. Turn 8 is a tricky corner, and this drone image by Alex Rubenstein does a great job of depicting the landscape:
The car came into the paddock with the left rear trailing arm bent and askew. We think most of the force was taken up by the eccentric bushing, but we couldn't get the suspension quite right the rest of the weekend. Is -5.5* camber a little excessive?! I'm not sure if it was the same incident, but the right rear fender was also pushed-in and cut a tire.
We flopped the driver rotation for the second half of the day, so next was Kim, then Mark, then me. A car spun off driver's right and kicked up a huge cloud of dust. Mark was at the wheel and slowed due to lack of visibility and one of the Team Mancave BMW E36's rear ended us in the right-rear.
After some more work in the paddock, I took the last stint. The car made it 8 hours and 30 minutes, before the water temp climbed to north of 220 so I shut it down and rolled back to the paddock. We tried to fix it but we were down 18 laps to the 5th place car and up like 12 laps on the 7th place car so we decided to stop running. Poor Nate burnt his finger on the hot steam too. He may or may not be trying to tell me something with this picture:
So we ended up in 6th place in class out of 10 on Saturday with some work to do on the car.
Noah and I set the rear toe and camber as best we could. The water pump shaft had some play so we took apart the whole front of the engine and radiator to make sure we didn't shear the impeller. It ended up being fine, but it was good to check. I was really tired at 1am so I got as far as i could, then woke up at 5am to finish (#becauseracecar, ammirite?)
Noah suggested that we wait to bleed the system with his vacuum filler when he returned in the morning. You need one of these to bleed a Porsche cooling system since the radiators are in the front and the engine in the back. Well, everyone should have one! It completely eliminates user error. It either works or it doesn't! We also cut the guts out of the thermostat just to be on the safe side.
Sunday we start from 28th. I took the first stint because I wanted to ensure the car is working properly. We sat on the grid and the car is running at 180*F! A great sign! On the first pace lap, when I took the first right hander, I heard a "Womp, Womp, Womp..." I thought to myself, don't tell me we just lost a wheel bearing. I pulled into the paddock. We had one more pace lap to stay on the lead lap. It ended up just being the rear brake line that needed to be better secured to the trailing arm. We zip-tied it together and got out there, but were a half a lap back. I ran a lap and I hear that the cool suit box is bouncing around the trunk. Well, I'm not coming in again and losing more time. I made it an hour into the race and the car was running at 170*F and the handling felt the best it felt all weekend.
Kim jumped into the car next and ran over 90+ minutes clicking off some of her best laps of the weekend! We made up some of the time we lost in the morning and were now running towards the front of the class.
We made a really good pit stop and put Mark in the car. Kim was ecstatic! She said the car ran great and she was finally feeling comfortable with the car. Hugs and high fives all around!
About 25 laps into Marks stint, the jubilation came to an abrupt halt. Mark pulled into the pits with the entire passenger side smashed in and dirt everywhere. He made a few mistakes while entering the fast left-hander turn 9, and lost the back end and spun into a tire wall.
That pretty much ended our chances for a podium finish. I quickly got changed to work on the car, again. Noah and I are getting good at this. We tried to reset the toe as best we could, but things aren't moving as well as they once were on the subframe anymore. We blew out the inch of dirt and dust from the interior, and hammered out the front fender. About 45 minutes later, we were able to get the car back out! Never give up!
I was a filthy mess, so Kim took the wheel. She hammered away some really good laps for the next 70 minutes gaining us 2 positions. I jumped in the car at 2:26pm and that's where I would stay until the finish of the race at 6:00pm.
I normally wouldn't stay in the car for 3.5 hours, but we had a significant delay when one of the Team Mancave cars hit a rock wall at about 100mph. I'm not going to get into details about the crash, but the driver ended up with two broken feet and clean up took quite a while. At this point it was about 4:00pm so we decide I would just stay in the car until the end.
After the restart, the car was a handful. I think the transmission fluid was low because it was really hard to shift. A few laps in we picked up a puncture on the right front tire. I pitted and we swapped a tire. I went back out and now the car developed a vibration. I pitted again to make sure everything checked out OK. I went back out for the next two hours. The time couldn't pass fast enough at this point. I was tired. My butt hurt from an unfamiliar seat. But in the end, we made it!
We finished in 5th place and I was able to make a race car last for 18 ('ish) hours! It was Father's day that Sunday and when I pulled into the pits after the checkered flag flew, I have to admit, I teared up a little. Seeing my family there to share in the triumph of putting in 100's and 100's of hours to pull off this effort was truly special. The two teams we shared the garage and pit boxes with, were also there to offer a round of applause. They recognized the massive effort the whole team put in to get the car to the finish, and getting that acknowledgment from them meant the world to me!
It was a roller coaster of a weekend, but the car is fixable and we are actively working on making it to NJMP July 15-17.
I need to thank so many people that made this happen-
To my saint of a wife Heather, who has put up with me spending way more time with the car than her in the last several weeks.
To my kids for being there to support their dad on Father's Day and for making new friends and keeping the paddock cheerful!
To Kim Estep and Mark Lydell for filling in driving duties at the last minute and joining our effort.
To Jerry Dowd for towing up the camper late Thursday Night!
To the rest of the Hurczyn clan that came to support and help - Mom, Dad, Andrew and Courtney!
To Jared Pepper for loaning us some tools and expertise!
To Scott Barton for loaning us his seat and tools and setting up our AIM Solo!
To Joshua Hughes for helping with our cool suit situation!
To the Team GTR #99 for setting an example of how to win and how a professional team operates.
And finally, to John Kolesa and the entire AER team for putting on the best amateur racing series in the country!
If you'd like to learn more about FCP Euro's Team 710 Endurance Race Team, check us out here.