The team has built three cars in the last six months. The other two cars were used a few weeks ago in the One Lap of America. At that event, they met some Toyota engineers. Naturally, the Yaris build was discussed, and contact information was exchanged. We’re calling it a Lotus Yaris.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a problem with the car. We could drive it, could race it, even. But it wouldn’t go over about 5500rpm. There’s no power at all under about 3500, so we had a very narrow band to drive. I typically spend 90% of the lap above 5700.
The issue was that we couldn’t get the high cam to work. When the engine is cold, the ECU limits the rpms to the crossover point. With the stock Lotus tune, the crossover is at 6200rpm. On my car, it’s 5700. We have two ECUs for the race car, one with a Toyota tune (where the crossover is more like 6500) and one with a Lotus tune. This tune wasn’t the stock Lotus tune and was more like mine, but may have been more aggressive. So it’s not clear to me exactly where we’re getting limited. Something like 5500 or 5700.
We’d send a driver out for a session, Mike and Dan would brainstorm a solution, we’d bring the car in, make some changes, and send it back out. Nothing was working. This is probably the first time a Lotus was used as a parts car for a Lemons racer. At one point, they’d swapped the coil packs from my car into the race car. I said they could swap whatever parts they could easily swap, as long as my car was all put back together in time for me to go home. They had a few ideas. Mike even reached out to the Toyota engineers he met on One Lap.
Late in the afternoon, Mike came up with an idea that I was sure was the fix. He had put a different thermostat in the car, a 160-degree thermostat. The ECU wants more like 173 to work the cam. If the thermostat is opening early, the car might never warm up in this weather. Mike put it in the car early Sunday morning, in the pouring rain. Sadly, the thermostat wasn’t the answer. We never did get it fixed. So it goes.
Typical weather for this area in early June would be a high of around 80 with the sun pleasantly embracing you in its warmth. It might be the kind of day where the sun is so pleasant, warm not hot, that you might forget to apply sunscreen. Not that that would be a good thing to do. In the late afternoon, perhaps a thundershower would roll through.
A week ago, Kevin was concerned about it being hot enough to warrant wearing a cool suit. For track days, I don’t wear my Nomex long johns, but I do for the races. It’s a lot of clothing. I managed just fine in August when you can expect temps in the 90s. I wasn’t concerned. With rain in the forecast, I wasn’t worried about overheating. Turns out, even wearing all that, even with the Nomex underwear, I was sometimes chilly enough to put my hoodie on.
This was not a typical June weekend on the high plains of eastern Colorado. This weekend, as far as the weather goes, we may as well be in Seattle. We’re having one of the wettest springs I can remember. In Denver, we’ve already received the amount of rain it usually takes until the middle of August to get. My lawn looks as good as it’s ever been.
There’s a lot of standing water in the fields alongside US 36 between Byers and the track. The herd of buffalo stood ankle-deep in mud.
It didn’t start raining on us right away. But it rained. Boy, did it rain. It came over the track in bands, never very heavy, but modulating between light and moderate, with occasional short stretches of no rain.
We were parked just west of the fuel pumps. There’s an access lane next to the wall, the access lane bordered by concrete barriers. A few feet farther there’s a drain surrounded by sandbags that are there to keep sediment out of the drain. This is marked with a traffic cone. Naturally, this is the low spot in the immediate vicinity. I never bothered to pay attention to any drains in the paddock before, but off the top of my head, this is the only one.
Saturday afternoon there were rivers running to the drain in this low spot. And the drain couldn’t keep up. The sandbags formed a dam that guaranteed the water would get at least six inches deep. For starters.
Our next-door neighbors were set up a few feet from the drain. They were campaigning a brown BMW 3-Series cut up and rebadged to look like an old Subaru Brat. Their livery was a knockoff of a UPS theme: “URS. What Can Brown Do For You?”
They had two canopies set up, tables and chairs huddled towards the center in an attempt to stay dry. What wasn’t on the tables was in plastic tubs. Before long, there was a small stream flowing from the blacktop to the drain. It got bigger.
Once the HPR River was flowing strongly, they had to move some of their stuff. It was bad, but not that bad when I left on Saturday evening. Overnight, though, the water got so deep a couple of their tubs floated off and capsized, spoiling some supplies.
By Sunday morning most of the water had drained. That was temporary. It rained harder on Sunday.
I arrived on Sunday at 7:30. We had three canopies deployed, plus the awning of the RV. One canopy was for the car. When I got to our camp, one of the canopies had collapsed. It was partly under the awning, and the weight of the water coming off it was too much, breaking a couple of struts. Both the others were still standing, one holding about four or five gallons of water.
The rain started almost simultaneously with the start of the race. I was lucky to get some track time during one of the dry spells, but the bands of rain that blew over were a bit more intense. HPR River flowed fiercely once again. The puddle turned into a pool.
This drain is quite far from any lower ground. I began to wonder if it was really a drain. It would have to run quite a distance to drain to the ravine that forms the lowest part of the track. In Gilbert, we had retention basins all over the property. The idea was that no rainwater would leave the development. All these basins, big or small, had something that looked like a drain. I forget the term, but this drain is only six or eight feet deep and filled with rock aggregate. These wells help the ground absorb the water. In a heavy rain, they’re designed to back up. I think that’s what this drain is.
Sunday afternoon, the flood forced the URS folks to flee to higher ground.
At about 1:30, some wag sauntered up to the pool in shorts and flip-flops and took a “swim”. A brave soul. As you can guess, most of the puddles upstream had the rainbow sheen of various and sundry automotive fluids. I couldn’t help but think of all the horror stories about floodwaters in Louisiana with all the petroleum infrastructure there. But he had a small crowd of onlookers who laughed and joked.
This is now the third time I’ve jumped into and raced a car I’ve never driven before. There are so many cars on the track in these sorts of races that you’re in traffic pretty much all the time. To try to drive a car fast that you’ve never driven before, wheel-to-wheel through a turn, not knowing how the car behaves is a bit intimidating.
The stick shift was a bit sloppy. There’s no reverse gear lockout, and second is a bit hard to find, so you have to be careful. The suspension is quite stiff; the big bumps on the highway straight are sharper shocks to my backbone than in the Elise. It understeers a fair amount. The cure for understeer is to slow down. The weight is mostly in the front, so heavy breaking makes the tail light and prone to rotation.
With no high cam, it’s tough. Bouncing off the rev limiter slows you down. You have to shift as high as you can without hitting the limiter. It took me seven or eight laps to figure out which gear I needed to be in for each turn
Entering the track for the first time, I got passed by three cars before I got to turn three. Coming out of the pits, you join the track after turn two so that’s the first turn. I managed to collect myself by the end of the lap, and within a few laps, I was getting comfortable.
On Saturday, we had the Garmin running so we could see our lap times. The device supports multiple drivers, but we didn’t make a profile for me. Kevin drove before me, and we just kept his session running. It rained pretty much the whole time Kevin was driving, and his best lap was a 2:53 or 2:54.
For the first several laps, I’d exit turn two a second or second and a half ahead of Kevin’s best lap, but a third of the way through the lap I’d be behind his time. I couldn’t imagine I could lose that much time that quickly. He just must have been slow through the first couple of turns.
I ran for a bit over an hour. The radio was working, and the guys would periodically ask how things were going. I really wanted to use Kimi Raikonnen’s line, “Leave me alone! I know what I’m doing!” but I wasn’t sure they’d recognize it as a joke.
Finally, they told me to do a couple more laps and come in for fuel. The track was starting to dry and I was finally putting in some good times. I was improving by two or three seconds each lap. So I stayed out longer than they wanted. I got a few stutters on the sweeping right-hand turns, so I finally pitted. Kevin said, “I knew you didn’t want to come in, getting faster like you were!”
On Sunday, I got another hour of seat time. Again, I was lucky with the weather. Neither the Garmin nor the radio was working, so I had no idea what sorts of times I ran. Kevin told me later that I was turning in some consistent 2:28s. Eric had the team’s fast lap, a 2:24.127.
Viewing the official results, I think I managed to figure out which laps were mine and which were Eric’s. If I did this correctly, Eric had the 3 fastest laps. Of the ten best, 6 are mine and 4 are Eric’s. Of our 50 fastest, 24 are mine, 22 are Eric’s. Conditions, though, were extremely hard to compare. Eric has said he thinks he had a drier track than I did, but I’m skeptical. In any event, over 50 laps it looks like we compare pretty well.
We ran almost the same number of laps – I had 2 more. We ran our sessions back-to-back, me first on Saturday and he on Sunday. He ended both his sessions by causing full-course cautions with spins: one stalling the car when the starter wasn’t working and the other stuck in the mud. I had to stop my first session due to fuel but ended my second by getting a black flag (more on that later).
Kevin is quick to remind me that fast laps don’t matter. What matters is running laps.
There were 73 cars entered. We managed to come in 50th. Being an endurance race, the idea is to run the car as long as possible. The event is 8½ hours on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. We completed 201 laps. Given our lap times, accounting for yellow flags and red flags, that would be about 10 hours of driving. The winner completed 297 laps. If we’d have been able to run the whole race, we’d have done nearly that many. If we can get the high cam to work, we could be a contender.
Seventy-three cars on the track is quite a lot. Almost certainly, all 73 were not all out at the same time. Even so, there are more cars on the track than at my most crowded track day. And the difference in driver skill is pretty great. About 40% of the folks at the drivers’ meeting raised their hands to the question, “Who has never raced at HPR before?” That would include first-time racers and experienced racers from out of the area.
I saw license plates from quite a few states. Because my car always attracts attention, I talk to quite a few people. One fellow told me he has an ‘05 Elise. Not thinking, I said, “You’re not in the club.” Of course he’s not in the club: Jaap lives in Boston but is originally from the Netherlands. Another guy I chatted with was from Oregon and suggested he might have seen me on my Pacific Northwest trip. That would be a long shot.
Anyway, that 40% of drivers who have never raced at HPR before include some guys (and almost all the drivers were guys) who may be quite experienced at other tracks. But there will certainly be some drivers who have never raced anywhere before, like my teammates from my earlier Lemons race.
Given that there is a wide range in the speeds of the cars and the wide range of driver skills, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll eventually come across a car that you’re evenly matched with. It’s more fun to pass than to be passed, and it’s much more fun to race somebody that’s evenly matched with you.
I was able to pass in nearly every turn on the track and in a few braking zones. I also got passed in all those areas, plus a few. On the uphill sweepers, I could pass on either the inside or outside, depending on where the slower car wanted to go. Once I was passing on somebody’s inside and was a bit hard on the brakes. The rear of the car started to swing out; I was afraid I was going to hit the guy. He was on my right, and with no mirror on that side, I don’t know if it was a close call or if he had to take evasive action.
My only driving error cost me a black flag. There was a local yellow flag. No passing is allowed under the yellow. I was behind a Datsun 260. He really slowed down and moved way over to the outside and pointed me by. I knew I couldn’t pass under yellow, point-by or no. I looked at the next bunker and didn’t see any yellow, so I passed him. The next time around I was shown the black flag. When I explained it to my teammates, they joked that it might be a good strategy: point somebody by under yellow to try to get them off the track for a couple of laps.
My penalty was to be held at the penalty box until I won a game of rock-paper-scissors. I told him I’d serve a longer penalty than that, as our starter had failed and I needed my team to push me. They weren’t there (they thought I came in for fuel and were heading to the hot pit). I won the game on the second play, and the officials kindly push started me.
I leave the event with my giant ego intact. Eric blistered my best lap by 4 seconds, but he spun twice, once getting stuck in the mud. He thinks he may have been pushing too hard. I’m guessing had more “dry” laps than he did, giving me an advantage.
I enjoyed the challenge of jumping headfirst into driving an unfamiliar car in a race. Although this is the third time I’ve done it, I’m thinking it’s unlikely I’ll get another chance.
When Eric said he’d have a motor home there, I thought it’d be nice. Given the weather, it wasn’t nice: it was indispensable. I didn’t spend all that much time inside this time, but it gave us quite a bit more room out of the rain. Thinking about the next race, a true 24-hour race, where we’ll have to nap between stints, it will be a big advantage.
Because of the weather, tire wear was minimal and we never use the tires Don
and I mounted on my wheels. I guess I won’t be buying any tires for those wheels until after our September race. Not a big constraint.
Ryan raced in this event as well. He was driving a Dodge Caravan minivan. At least when they had brakes. He spent at least one night at the track camping in a tent. Not ideal. John, another LOCO, often drives one of the BMWs that’s always there. His teammates tell me he was on a trip to Watkins Glen.
I would have liked to have driven more laps. It’s my own fault. I’d have had maybe another half an hour if I didn’t get my black flag. Given the number of hours we were working on the car, though, I got my fair share.
I had a great time in spite of the weather. I’m already looking forward to the next race. If our engineers get the high cam sorted and we keep the car on the track, we could fight for the podium. The new challenge will be driving in the dark.
I only had the camera in the car on Saturday. All my best laps and best passes were Sunday. So it goes.