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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 louder.

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 Michael’s 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 competitors.

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 ( 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 (, provided technical assistance on set-up. Having Michael on hand proved valuable when inspecting the limited slip for any sign of wear since Michael’s company ( 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 Garrett’s 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 penalties.

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 car’s handling. This was mostly due to not being able to adjust the cars handling characteristics without being certain of the power delivery.

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 couldn’t handle. In fact in his red fire hood and black and gray race suit, Dino was the focus of the Speed Channel’s 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 competitor’s 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 didn’t 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 team.

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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