Team CMP ChumpCar Update:
Watkins Glen, April 2013. By Travis Hill
I’m a week late writing this blog post… Partially because of the tight schedule we have, preparing for the new track season and partially because of the exhaustion from one of the more challenging race weekends we’ve had in a long time.
In the end, ChumpCar at Watkins Glen proved to be exactly what it was developed for. An inexpensive approach to great motorsports, full of challenging racing experiences that help you grow, no matter what the race budget was. And sometimes, the simple joy of crossing the finish line is enough to call it a successful weekend.
It started the way many ChumpCar events do; A mad dash the week before the race including pizza delivery and late nights working on the car.
By Tuesday at 11pm, we still hadn’t installed the motor, but we were getting closer – at least we had finally purchased our transmission, motor mounts, axles, and a couple spares. Hopefully we had enough parts for a working drivetrain.
Assembled, dropped into the car, minor electrical issues (as it is with most Chumps) and it fired up Wednesday night. Come Thursday, Trevor and I were wearing two winter coats, long underwear and thick gloves, ready for a couple hours of testing before we loaded the trailer.
- I should add at this point, we made some minor changes to the car after our unfortunate ‘hood pin incident’ at Road Atlanta back in the fall -
Apparently track testing at -1C is pretty cold without a windshield or roof.
Decreased body heat aside, everything seemed to be working great as we headed down the road for Watkins Glen..
Once we got to the track, however, the wonderful weather that greeted us was only the start of what tuned into a weekend of adversity. Additionally, we learnt that our tried & true brake pads being shipped directly to the track were delayed because of the storm, and wouldn’t arrive until Monday. So we had to source whatever pads we could from the local Advanced AutoParts.
(by the end of the weekend, we had gotten to know those guys quite well!)
Cold, damp, windy.. Not the way you want to start 15 hours of racing in a car without a heater, windshield, or roof. Practice day Friday certainly wasn’t the nicest. Thankfully, the great people at ChumpCar were efficient with entry and tech inspection, minimizing our waiting time in the cold. Post tech, we managed to dig out an old piece of Lexan to mount a makeshift windshield for the weekend.
Our driver lineup for this event featured Marc Steenbakkers, Jeff Steenbakkers, Bruce Gregory, Trevor Hill, and myself, Travis Hill.
Adding a driver new to ChumpCar, Jeff Steenbakkers (who’s been a tremendous help in building the car up to this point) was given priority for practice. Learning a new car and track, in freezing cold, wet conditions, with 90 other competitors was a lot to throw at him, but certainly better to do in practice than during a race. He got comfortable quickly, but had difficulty shifting into 5th gear..
Back in the pits, we noticed the motor clearly sitting crooked in the engine bay, caused by stripped case mounts on the transmission.
Great. An entire day of sitting in the cold, wet weather, for only 45 minutes of practice. Although we had brought a spare motor and tranny, doing a change like this at 5pm, we sure weren’t going for an early steak dinner and good night’s sleep before race day.
Thankfully, we had a great group of drivers/mechanics and were able to pull the drivetrain, swap the transmission, reinstall, change the oil, and fire it up by 7:30. At least we got that out of the way before race day!
Saturday morning, bright and early to make final preparations for the 9am start time. Still cold and wet, but at least everyone would be dealing with the same conditions. Marc started the race, fresh off his performance at Laguna Seca in another ChumpCar event a couple weeks prior.
Only a couple laps into the race, he had settled in and made a radio transmission that set the stage for the rest of our weekend: “Car feels great, but we’ve got no brakes!” Apparently the substitute brake pads weren’t going be much help.
The rest of the 7.5 hour race would have similar results. Our Civic roadster handled great and could carry plenty of speed through the corners, but breaking difficulty, whether by conserving or through lack of bite, kept holding us back. Capable of a top 20, extended pit stops for three sets of brake pads and a calliper change only allowed for a mid 40′s finish. Still relatively successful in a field of 90+ considering we didn’t set a wheel off track and had to make another trip to Advanced in the middle of the race.
New calipers on the car and a different batch of brake pads for Sunday. All drivers knew the track and were ready to set some faster times, hoping to hit a rhythm and steadily move up the rankings. Bruce started the race this time, getting a feel for the new brake setup.
Not much better than the day before, but at least we knew what to expect and had a little more experience at The Glen to know where to conserve brakes.
Fuel stop and driver change over to Jeff. The new pads showed significant wear, but seemed to have enough life for another stint.
As Jeff was getting even faster in the car, he noticed the brakes quickly fading.. “Hey guys, I think we lost the brakes!”
Moments later, the red flag came out.
We all hoped to have caught a break and could get the change made during caution, or allow them to cool during the red. Not quite.
“Guys, we’re on fire at the BusStop, but the safety crew is putting it out.” Towards the end of the back straight, the brake pedal hit the floor as Jeff tried to slow down for the famous BusStop chicane. As he managed to get the car stopped, flames shot out of the front fenders, catching the attention of the nearby flaggers and rescue team and causing the red flag.
The car arrived back in pit lane on the flat bed, with Jeff still in the ambulance for standard procedure. Once we pulled the wheels and cleared the cloud of dust made by the extinguishers, we noticed the brake pads had melted so bad, that the steal backing plate had literally welded itself to the calliper piston, leaking brake fluid and causing enough spark/heat to catch fire.
This wasn’t going to be a regular pad change.
Back to the trailer we went while Trevor and Bruce made one more trip to Advanced.
New callipers, pads and a fluid flush, we only lost 1h 20m and had Marc in the car to go back on track.
By the afternoon, the weather finally started to improve as we set our fastest times of the weekend. Clearly out of the running for a top position, we then set our goals on making up ground and took advantage of the attrition towards the end of the 15 hour event. The finish was finally within sight after couple more fuel stops and a final pad change with 2 hours left in the race. One lap at a time, we managed to pick up a few more spots in the closing laps to bring it home for a hard-earned top 60.
Looking back, its funny to imagine a mid-50′s finish being successful. Maybe not, had we run all of the laps. But considering what we went through to get that finish, and the struggles everyone faced, I’m just happy to have a car capable of driving itself out of the trailer.
And now, as we roll the roadster back into the garage at Calabogie Motorsports Park, we can’t wait to do it all again.
After we pre-order a few more sets of brake pads.