LOG 40, Day 4

Monday, September 13

For me, today is it, the highlight of the trip.

I wouldn’t say that I attend LOG for the track day, but I can say I don’t think I’ll attend a LOG that doesn’t have a track day.

Utah Motorsports Campus is the seventeenth track I’ve driven, in the ninth different state.

The facilities are top-notch. Of the tracks I’ve been to, only COTA has better. In many ways, this is COTA but on a smaller scale. The garages are just as nice, only smaller. The meeting rooms are just as nice, but smaller and fewer. It has a go-kart track, an off-road track (with a giant jump). There’s a restaurant and a clubhouse. The parking lot is enormous.

As for the track, it has four configurations: East Course, West Course, Outer Course, and Full Course. We ran the Outer Course, which is 15 turns in just a bit over 3 miles. It’s not billiard table flat, but there’s not more than a couple of meters of elevation change. It’s fast: there are no second gear turns. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about hitting anything if you go off.

We were asked to arrive at the track by 8:00 so everybody could get checked in in time for an 8:45 drivers meeting. I left the hotel at 7 and was parked in the paddock promptly at 8.

I’ve been in a lot of drivers meetings. This one was perhaps the least polished. Polished or not, all the important information was covered. The four or five instructors introduced themselves then the lead instructor started running through the topics. At times, he’d falter a bit and one of the other instructors would jump in and complete the thought or provide something the others had missed.

There were a couple of things that were out of the ordinary. First, everybody got out on track and followed the instructors around a very slow lap. At the end of it, we parked in rows of three with the first row at the start/finish line. An interesting and unusual photo opportunity.

Another unusual facet for me was that we never really used the paddock. Typically, we all empty our cars, placing our things adjacent to our parking places in the paddock. Today, we all unloaded our stuff into one of the garages and parked our cars on pit road. We could park anywhere along here when not on the track as we didn’t need to park near our stuff. And it was quicker and easier to get on and off the track. The relatively small number of cars made this possible. I can’t see it working with 60 or more cars. (I didn’t get a car count, but it was only about three dozen, including the instructors’ cars.)

The advanced/intermediate group was out first. I found myself behind our ghost town drive leader, Speedy Gonzalez. Turns 5 and 6 are the slowest. Not 2nd gear slow, but nearly. Speedy Gonzalez got to turn 6 and spun out. I was saving my camera batteries for later in the day, so I didn’t get it on video. Back in the pits, I asked one of the guys what happened. This is “hearsay evidence”, so not admissible in court, but I’m told he said that he “ran out of talent” in turn 6 and blamed cold tires. You’d think, after racing Formula Fords for hundreds of hours, he’d come up with an excuse that wasn’t the crutch of novices.

I cut my first session short. I was getting a brake warning light in some of the left turns. I needed to top off my brake fluid. I asked around and found a gentleman from North Carolina who kindly donated some to me. I’m sorry I didn’t get his name, but I really appreciated it.

I also cut my second session short. After a few laps, I started getting the rev limiter at 6000 rpm. Back in the pits, I tracked down Dave Simkin and TJ, who hooked their laptop up to my car. They quickly ruled out two or three possibilities and theorized I was low on oil. TJ checked the dipstick: it was dry. The switchover to the high cam is activated by oil pressure. Insufficient oil, no cam. I checked my oil before I left the house and it was okay. How am I a quart (or more) low?

To remedy my problem, I needed to make a trip into town. There’s an auto parts store about ten miles away, so off I went. I bought a quart of oil, poured it in, and now the dipstick showed oil almost to the top mark.

On the way back to the track, I decided to stop at the gas station in town to top off the tank. The pump wouldn’t accept my Discover card so I tried a Visa. Still no joy. A bit frustrated, I hopped back in the car and left. When I got back to the track, I noticed that I hadn’t closed the fuel filler door. And saw that I didn’t have my gas cap. Clearly, in my frustration, I forgot to put it back on. I’d driven off with the cap sitting on top of the car. So off I went, back to town, to find my missing cap. Luckily, someone had found it and given it to the cashier. Each trip to town was about half an hour lost.

When I got back to the track, my group was already on the track, so I quickly put my helmet on and joined the session. Each session was supposed to be thirty minutes. As I had cut my first two sessions short, I still hadn’t seen a checkered flag. In this session, when I saw that I’d done 12 laps, I knew I was well over the half-hour session length. By the time I was back in the pits, I was 14 minutes late. I never saw a checkered flag (which would have been shown to me at three different places), so I’m guessing they weren’t that strict about who was on track when. I never did see the checkered flag all day. But I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, all was good. A few minutes after the hour, I went back out. After 4 or 5 laps, I began having the limiter problem again. When I stopped back in the pits, the dipstick was dry again. Where is all the oil going? I’m not burning it; I’m not putting out any smoke at all. I’m not leaking it; there’s never a fresh drop of anything under the car, and a quart of oil would certainly overflow the undertray. And it’s not getting in the coolant, as the overflow tank is its usual pinkish color. Where’s the oil going?

I had no choice but to call it quits.

The instructors were giving rides. There were four Evora GTs we could ride in, but I’ve already driven an Evora on the track. One guy, Jonathan, had his 2-Eleven there, so I asked if he’d give me a ride. I don’t know how heavily modified it is. He told me it puts out 330hp, so it’s not stock. The body also features a lot of carbon fiber. This made it interesting getting in and out, as it has no doors and you must climb over the top of the roll cage without stepping on any bodywork.

We got me all strapped in and started down pit road. At the entrance to the track, the steward reminded Jonathan that the novice session was on track and he should take appropriate care not to divebomb the newbies.

The car is pretty amazing. It’s not quite twice the horsepower of mine, and at least 400lbs lighter. He’s running slicks (Hoosier R7), naturally, and he’s done thousands of laps here. There weren’t many cars on track, so we had an open run. On our out lap, in turn 6, he missed the turn and we went wide. “OPR”, he said: other peoples’ rubber.

Next lap around, in turn 6 again, where we went straight the first time around (and where Speedy Gonzalez spun on his first lap), all hell broke loose. The engine stopped, which threw the car into a spin. Jonathan took his hands off the wheel (so he wouldn’t break a thumb), we went around twice and were in a cloud of tire smoke. He restarted and went a hundred yards down the track toward the next corner bunker, which was showing us the “meatball” flag. He pulled off the track and stopped the car. We were leaking oil. A lot of it. There was a slick from turn 6 to halfway between turns 7 and 8. There was oil inside the cockpit, in the right front wheel well, and all over the ground under the engine compartment.

The rescue truck was there very quickly and the tow truck was right on its heels. Jonathan described the incident to the rescue crew as they winched his car onto the flatbed. He rode in the towtruck, I went with the rescue crew. First, we went back to the site of the spin (driving the wrong way on the track, which I’ve never done before). Leaving there, we made our way back to the pits using some of the infield service roads. Oh, and this was the first (and hopefully last) time I got to ride in the rescue truck.

I felt bad for Jonathan. After having my day ended due to an oil issue, to be his passenger when he suffered a catastrophic oil failure, made me wonder if I was suffering some bad oil karma for some reason. I know his problem was in no way my fault, but I felt some guilt nonetheless.

The cleanup took 45 minutes. By the time the track was green again, there were only about a dozen cars left. Everybody still there got to run as much as they wanted in the last hour of the day as they stopped running by groups.

Just before I left, there was a bit more excitement. When they opened the track back up, a yellow Evora that had been parked for a couple of hours got started up. That produced a fairly big cloud of white smoke. It wasn’t clear to me if it was oil or coolant or something else.

I took this as a sign for me to make my exit and go back to the hotel.

I bought three more quarts of oil and put a quart and a half into the engine before the dipstick indicated it was full. Still no smoke, no drips, no contaminated coolant. Where did it go? I’ll just have to check the oil every time I make a stop on the way home.

Both there at the track and back in the hotel parking lot, I discussed my experience with several people. Everybody had a look under the car, both front and back (the oil cooler is in the front), checked out my coolant reservoir, and scratched their chins in wonder. Nobody had any ideas.

After dinner, I started packing the car with the idea of making an easier departure in the morning. While I was doing this, Dave and TJ came by and we discussed the situation. They said the oil coolers and lines held about two quarts, or maybe two and a half, they weren’t sure. They said the oil cooling system doesn’t operate except under track conditions. It sounded to me like they thought this would somehow explain it, but it still didn’t make sense to me.

I didn’t run enough laps to thoroughly learn the track; I know I could have picked up a few more seconds. Particularly, I know I can take turns 1 and 11 faster. That said, no Elise passed me. I did get passed by some Evoras, but most of those were instructor-driven. I got passed by the 2-Eleven and an instructor’s 911. And I got passed by a couple of Exiges and the V6 Cup car. I could only manage 118 on the long straight. It was so long I expected to be able to top 120. I am somewhat disappointed that I only ran half the number of laps I expected to, but so it goes. I think I acquitted myself well.

It was an interesting and unforgettable day, that’s for sure.

Tomorrow, hopefully, my trip home will not be so interesting.