Sorry this comes a few days late. I was having email problems.
A number of you emailed me asking what happened. It’s quite a story.
On Thursday we went out for final qualifying. I was pretty quick right away, placing 4th in the session, and 6th overall to set my starting position for the race. However, on the 7th lap I felt the engine tighten up and shut it off. After I was towed back to our paddock, we began looking for the problem. The data was all normal, oil pressure, oil temp, water temp, so no clues there. However when we inspected the scavenge oil filter it was obvious that something had gone wrong inside the engine as it was full of metallic debris. We dropped the oil pan and saw that the no. 4 connecting rod showed signs of overheating, and was loose on the crankshaft. Our first reaction was that this was the end of our 2nd and final engine and we were done. We contemplated having the engine builder come down from London, ON with enough parts to repair the engine, but that plan was discarded when the only crankshaft for our engine in his shop turned out to be bent.
We removed the cylinder head and removed the piston and connecting rod. There had been a minor contact between the piston and the head, but other than a visible mark, they both appeared undamaged. We removed the rest of the engine from the car and removed the crankshaft. There was some bearing material welded to the rod journal, but it didn’t look awful. I took it to an engine shop in Topeka (that turned out to build engines for some of the local road racers) and we made a more detailed inspection. The crank was bent 15 thou between the 4th and 5th main journals, and the no. 4 rod journal would have to be turned down to at least 10 thou undersize to be useable. Steve Day, the owner of Absolute Automotive made a bunch of phone calls and found some undersize bearings in Kansas City. He needed to go the KC for some other business as well, so he picked up the bearings while there. At the same time, we headed west to Manhattan, KS to a machine shop (Precision Machine) owned by an old-time drag racer by the name of Billy Graham. His machinist was able to straighten the crank and grind the rod journal. However, we weren’t able to re-harden the journal, so that was going to be a risk. We drove back to Topeka and picked up the rest of the engine (including a connecting rod salvaged from the 1st engine) and went to Absolute Automotive. There Steve resized the rod so we had the correct clearances and helped up reassemble the engine – finished at 10pm Friday. Gord and Morgan had been resting, and when Bruce and I delivered the engine to the car, they (and Bruce) went to work (and I went back to the hotel to get some sleep). By 2am the engine was in the car and they quit for the night.
We all returned to the car at 8am, and by 11am the engine installation was completed, oiling system primed and the engine fired up immediately – no smoke, bad noises or any other issues. We proceeded to complete the normal setup of the car (corner weights, toe-in and camber) and were ready to go for the race with 2 hours to spare.
The start of the race was weird. First the pole sitter came to a standstill on the back straight just before the start. They sent us around again under a full course yellow, and just as we got to pit-in the outside pole sitter pulled off into the pits. We were 4th before the flag even fell. This engine wasn’t as powerful as some we have had, and I was outpowered into turn one by a number of cars. By the 2nd lap it was obvious that although I was slower that the 2 cars ahead of me on the straights, I was much faster in some of the corners. I got around Don Christman in his RX7, and then proceeded to battle with Chad Bacon in his Toyota for a number of laps before I got enough of a lead that he couldn’t catch me on the straights. After that things were pretty static until I came up on Lance Stout just pulling back onto the track after spinning out of 2nd place. After passing him, I was in 3rd and had a spot on the podium! Then the oil temp started to climb, and coming down the front straight the engine gave up. I think that the rod journal on the crank failed because it wasn’t hardened. I pulled off in a safe location and waited for the race to end, 4 laps later.
I was really proud of our team for the effort it took to get to the starting line. On Thursday, there didn’t appear to be any way to make the race, but we did it! Then to run as well as we did to get up to 3rd was my best showing ever. Was I disappointed not to finish? Of course, and today as we travel home (still 846 miles to go as I write) I think if there was anything we could have done differently to make the engine last the whole race. Of course there are no answers.
We will have to analyze all the problems we had during the 9 days at the race track, and make the necessary changes to eliminate them. Mostly I am disappointed about the engine trouble, as I thought we knew how to build good engines. Both were fresh for this race, dyno tested and ready to run. The first failed after about 140 minutes of running time, and the 2nd failed after only 14 minutes. This is unacceptable, and we have to work hard to prevent a recurrence. We will, and will be ready to go to Road America next September for our 4th attempt at a national championship.
The race will be shown on Speed TV on January 14th, at noon EST (9am Pacific). As last year, we carried in car cameras for Speed, and the camera crew said they got some great shots, so we should get some good exposure during the broadcast. I will send a reminder email a few days before the broadcast.
Thanks everyone for your interest. Looking forward to 2009!