Despite Overheating in Florida the Team Starts to Gel
Wednesday January 28th and Rapier
Racing is back at the Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Florida)
for the second time in a month. This time the trip is not for testing, but competition
in the first race of the Grand-Am Cup season - the Daytona 250 is
the main support race to the famed 24 Hours of Daytona.
Wednesday was not a track day, but
was intended for technical inspection, crew chief meetings and setting up the
paddock. All the Grand-Am Cup teams share the same paddock and there was much
interest in the new boy on the block as the 07 Esprit was unloaded
from the team transporter and taken for the first technical inspection.
Apart from the installation of a
rear tow hook and several event decals, the car was cleared with no problems.
The only issue that caused some consternation was that the car is too quiet.
This is due to the two turn-down exhaust tips that Grand-Am required for sound
regulations, giving the car a soft burble rather than the roar associated with
V8 engines. Even with equivalent exhaust tips most of the other cars are much
After a protracted meeting, Crew
Chief Kirt Wightman was able to choose the pit location for the race. Following
the NASCAR practice each team was given the chance to choose their desired pit
in order of season points (or previous season finishes). Despite being near
then end of the list as a newbie, Kirt was able to get the pit almost opposite
start finish and central within pit lane. While one or other end is sometimes
desirable, Kirt rationalized that this location was opposite the TV cameras
and therefore should give exposure during the race.
Once the paddock was set up and
the car covered for the night, the Team adjourned to Outback for dinner. Unlike
many events, Grand-Am Cup does not require a large pit crew, so joining drivers
Zack Zarcadoolas and Charles Rayhall, along with crew chief Kirt Wightman, is
Bruce Cockrell, Dean Dino Barton, Lenny Jackson, Michael Fridmann
(of Michaels Motorsports), and your scribe.
Due to the vagaries of the schedule,
Thursday was a busy day. With three on-track sessions (2 practice sessions and
qualifying) and a re-visit to tech, as well as various drivers meetings, there
was little time to observe the rest of the teams or either the Rolex and HSR
Zack drove the car in the first
session. Despite improving his times it was apparent that something was not
right. A quick trip to the pits showed that one of the plug wires had broken.
Funny how running on seven instead of eight cylinders slows the car!
Charles took to the helm for the
second test session, and found that the intake temperature was rapidly rising.
During the all too brief test session at Daytona Speedway in early January an
issue with hot air in the intakes was diagnosed. Essentially, the heat generated
by the turbos under boost was causing the intake air to be heated far beyond
the desirable limits. Such high inlet temperatures equates to a major loss of
power. It was hoped that opening up the air intake would allow more cool air
to enter, however, it soon became apparent this would not be enough.
Charles did manage to improve his
times and learned a great deal about the limit of adhesion of the Hoosier tires
by spinning twice and flat spotting all four! Despite the relatively
poor lap time due to the lack of power (or perhaps because of them) other teams
were heard suggesting that sandbagging was our approach! Unfortunately, this
type of teething trouble is exactly what is expected for a new race car. Rome
was not built in a day and neither are winning race cars.
The Motec (www.motec.com) technician
provided on-site assistance in re-programming the ECU to try and reduce the
inlet temperatures. At the same time the suppliers of the special shocks, Moton
(www.motonsuspension.com), provided technical assistance on set-up. Having Michael
on hand proved valuable when inspecting the limited slip for any sign of wear
since Michaels company (www.michaelsmotorsports.com) is a supplier of
Quaife limited slips for post 89 Esprits.
Grand-Am requires that whichever
driver qualifies for the team, must start the race. Thus, with rain forecast
for the Friday afternoon, it was decided that Charles should qualify. The idea
being that Charles would start in the dry allowing Zack (with his extensive
experience in racing Esprits) to take over during the later part of the race
when rain was expected. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the driver choice
to the officials in time, so despite Charles best efforts we were placed at
the back of the grid. Given a race of 250 miles (about 3 hours) the starting
position is not as important as many may think.
The day at the track ended with
arranging a car corral area for the Florida Groups affiliated with Lotus Limited.
Situated right before the kink the grandstand at that location offered
an excellent view of much of the track. With these duties accomplished it was
off to the hotel and then to dinner.
Although Friday looked gloomy, the
sun tried its best to look out, and the predicted rain did not occur. As the
crew readied the car for the race, Lotus Club members arrived and had a chance
to look, feel (and listen) to the car. Also present was Garretts Andrew
Nunn, representing the teams title sponsor. At 1 pm a series of team photos
were taken with club members, and anyone who happened to be around. Zack and
Charles spent most of their time talking with club members and anyone interested
in the Esprit.
Prior to the start of the race the
pits were set-up and each crew member was given his allotted task for the race
fuel, jack, tires, fireman each person has their job and must
be responsible for that. Any mistakes can cost the team seconds to minutes in
Off to the grid and the start of
the first professional race for an Esprit in too many years. There are just
too many Porsches on the race track these days!
Grand-Am uses the US style rolling
start (rather than the standing start common in Europe and Speed Challenge),
however, in common with NASCAR no overtaking can be done until after the car
has passed the green flag. This hinders a faster car that is positioned at the
back of the grid, but Charles made a good start. Gradually picking off cars
on his way up the racing order. Despite consistent lap times Charles was having
problems with the cars handling. This was mostly due to not being able
to adjust the cars handling characteristics without being certain of the power
After almost an hour Charles brought
the car into the pits for a driver change and refuel. The required design of
the fuel rig gave some minor problems but nothing that Dino couldnt handle.
In fact in his red fire hood and black and gray race suit, Dino was the focus
of the Speed Channels cameramen for several close-ups. You will have to
watch out for that in the broadcast on February 14th @ 4pm Eastern.
Within a few laps of Zack getting
in the car, another competitors loss of a tire caused a full course yellow
to come out. Why could it not have happened a few laps earlier allowing us to
stop under yellow rather than green? Oh well, such is racing. Unfortunately,
the interminable full course yellow with slow laps behind the pace car allowed
the heat generated by the turbos to soak, such that when the race returned to
green the intake temperatures rose rapidly. At about hour two the decision was
made to err on the side of discretion and bring Zack in.
So in spite of not finishing the
race, no damage was done to the car and we have amassed the required data to
approach Grand-Am to allow slight modifications to ease the heat soak problems.
Sponsors Garrett are going to assist in this process. If Zack, Charles or any
of the Team were disappointed they didnt show it, the car had performed
beyond our expectations. Except for a problem with a clear solution, the car
had no issues and no failures.
To anyone who has raced a car before,
it can take many sessions to remove all the bugs and gremlins that lurk in a
new race car. The Esprit showed none of the little things that so often raise
their head during the first race. The most important feature of the weekend
was that all involved had fun (including the Lotus fans we hope) and
the drivers and crew found an instant rapport that is the key to a successful
Rapier Racing is looking forward to the second race of the Grand-Am Cup at Homestead, Miami (March 27th) and expects the car to be ready to take its rightful place on the grid.
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