Mylanta® , Bullets, and Bodywork – Welcome to Homestead Florida!
By Andrew R. Barron
Homestead Miami Speedway was the scene of second round of the Grand-Am Cup Series 2004: the “Homestead 250”. As part of Rapier Racing’s ongoing development of the Lotus Esprit V8 racecar the Homestead 250 was an important step after the overheating problems that had plagued the Team at the Daytona season opener. Once again the Esprit was piloted by Zack Zarcadoolas and Charles Rayhall.
After the overheating problems experienced with the intake air at Daytona, the Grand-Am officials had granted Rapier Racing the option of installing an intercooler. A suitable unit was obtained with the help of sponsors Garrett (www.turbobygarrett.com). This was successfully installed and tested on the dyno by Crew Chief Kirt Wightman. As expected the intake temperatures remained below 110 °F, a much more comfortable level than the 265 °F experienced at Daytona. In the near future, Rapier Racing hopes to offer an intercooler package to Esprit owners for both street and track use.
With a chance for a test day on Friday 26th March, the team arrived at the Homestead Miami Speedway (Florida). The Speedway is a “roval” course, which is it’s an oval track with an additional road course. Unlike many such tracks, the infield road course is landscaped with a series of elevation changes.
Friday test day was spent adjusting the suspension set-up, learning the track, and making sure the intercooler was working as expected. Zack felt that the car’s handling was much improved having been given the practice time to explore various suspension settings.
The Team had joked that with the improved cooling we would be “gunning” for the opposition. Little did we know the truth of those words? Friday night, the crew was at risk from the locals! Zack, Charles, Kirt, Garrett’s Rob Symonds and myself had already retired for the night, but team members Dean “Dino” Barton, Lenny Jackson, and Michael Fridmann as well as his wife, Diane, decided to enjoying a post-dinner drink at the bar/restaurant. Not the wisest move as it turned out, since they managed to be caught in the cross-fire when a fight broke out in the parking lot. Diving for cover under the table, as shots rang out, the Rapier Racing crew showed a high degree of self-preservation! After the police arrived and cleared the location the crew were finally able to return to the hotel for some well-deserved rest.
Back in the comparative safety of the track on Saturday morning the practice sessions allowed for continued improvement in the ride and handling. However, three problems became apparent. First, the brake pads were not of a sufficiently hard compound resulting in the Esprit having an earlier brake point than many of the other competitors. This was to prove an issue in the race. The second problem was more troublesome in that an oil leak was observed from the gearbox at the end of each session. After some discussion, it was decided to take a risk and get a qualifying time prior to effecting repairs, rather than risk not being ready for qualifying.
It was during Saturday that the third, and potentially most serious, problem arose. Zack was clearly suffering from an upset stomach, which required copious quantities of Mylanta. With the high speeds, g-forces and concentration required during a race, a racecar is not the place for a “Mylanta moment”. It was decided therefore, that Zack should qualify and start the race (the driver who qualifies must start the race) so that if he felt too bad Charles would take over for the remainder of the race.
On a bright note, although Michael is an invaluable member of the team, his wife proved equally invaluable. She won all our hearts by preparing fresh lobster sandwiches for lunch (nothing but the best for this team), and keeping the crew stocked with refreshments and cookies!
Qualifying went well and despite obvious discomfort Zack managed a respectable time, qualifying significantly closer to the pole times than was possible at Daytona.
With qualifying out of the way the gearbox was removed to reveal that the high torque of the race prepared V8 had caused the bolts to back out of the bell-housing. As a consequence the gearbox could leak oil under heavy acceleration, but also the studs were wearing the holes. A new bell-housing and clutch were in order, and the crew set about the task. However, being expelled from the track without being able to finish the clutch change, it was decided not to risk the local nightlife again. And so the Team retired to the Hampton Inn for a sumptuous dinner of KFC’s finest!
Without any significant problems the repairs were all accomplished in the morning with plenty of time to spare.
Grand-Am has decided to follow the European style grids for each race. The cars are allowed on a reconnaissance lap at which point they come to a stop on the home straight in their respective grid positions. For each car a team member is positioned with a large numbered sign to meet the car on the grid. As the temperature rose I waited for Zack on the allotted position: 23rd on the grid. Rolling to a stop, Zack’s first words were “can someone get me some Mylanta?” With final doses of Mylanta and water, it was time to set off on the pace lap and the start of the “Homestead 250”.
Within a few laps of the race starting, the general tone of the event was set. This was more NASCAR that sports car! Multi-car incidents became the norm, resulting in full course cautions with the pace car being brought out to lead the field. Despite Zack’s best efforts he could not avoid the general carnage. Receiving several bumps from behind, he continued to make progress. As another full course caution was called within our pit window, Zack came in for fuel and driver change.
With the drivers change and fueling accomplished Charles tried to make it out of the pits before the pace car passed. Unfortunately the pits were closed just as he tried to exit, precluding him getting a lap back. Once on the track, Charles settled into a steady pace and things looked like going well. Famous last words!
Monitoring the race control channel on the radio, I heard a call from the corner workers that number 07 Lotus was loosing fluid from the front of the car. Calling Charles in to the pits it was determined that one of the coolant hoses had ruptured. The car was quickly taken into the garage to effect repairs. With a replacement hose on the car and the system bled, Charles went back out into the race.
Within a lap the cause of the hose rupture was understood as the engine temperatures rose rapidly, systematic of a blown head gasket. Calling it a day half way through the race, was a disappointment, however, with only minor damage to the rear bumper, the car was relatively unscathed. While packing-up the team realized that we had escaped much less than some teams. The number of cars brought into the paddock area on wreckers was astounding.
Despite the lack of on-track success, Rapier Racing is encouraged by the enormous strides in coming to grips with the issues that face racing an Esprit V8. The presence of half a dozen Esprits and their owners at Homestead made the tribulations all the more frustrating. However, the Team has been heartened by the strong club support from Lotus owners, and we would like to thanks those that came to support the Team.
The Team has decided to skip the Phoenix event in April to allow for concerted testing and evaluation period. Rapier Racing looks forward to meeting Lotus fans north of the border at the Circuit Mont-tremblant (Quebec, Canada).
Those Lotus fans wishing to be part of the action can become an Associate Sponsor which includes a white polo shirt embroidered with the Rapier Racing, Garrett and Lotus logos; a black T-shirt with silver imprinting; a denim cap embroidered with Rapier Racing logo; a poster of the race car signed by the drivers; and a race credential holder imprinted with Lotus and Rapier Racing. Send check for $195 (made payable to Rapier Racing) along with your shipping address and your shirt sizes to: Rapier Racing LLC, 6209 Oak Ridge Commerce Way, SW Austell, GA 30168. Allow 3-4 weeks for delivery.
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