4 days of testing, 4 days of qualifying, 3 days of racing…

September 27th, 2010

Well, I’m sitting in Chicago airport waiting for my flight to Vancouver. Morgan is waiting in a hotel in Milwaukee for his dad Gord to return from Mexico and then they will begin the long drive back to Vancouver.

We decided to treat the GT3 race yesterday as a test session. We were starting at the back and had little chance of finishing too high up. However, once the race started, the car was amazing and I was passing someone almost every lap. However about 20 minutes into the race, the engine shut off. I pulled off the race course, cycled the switches and it restarted. I pulled back onto the course and continued – after turning off everything that wasn’t essential for the car to run. I ran well for a while, and there was a full course yellow that allowed me to re-catch the leaders. When the green flag came out, we took off again, passing more cars. However the former race leader Mike Henderson who had pitted for repairs and came out right in front of me took off like he was shot from a gun. It was shocking just how fast he is. After that the problems came back, but I was always able to restart the engine after cycling the master power switch, and we made it to the end of the race, credited with 9th.

So, after 4 days of testing, 4 days of qualifying and 3 days of racing we ended up with a 5th place finish in GT Lite out of 21 competitors and a 9th place finish in GT3 out of 18 competitors. We had 2 goals for the event. The first was to win both GT Lite and GT3. This goal remains on the to-do list. The 2nd goal was to do better than we had ever done before and we achieved this in spades. In GT Lite, our lap times were competitive, we know what to do to close the gap to the leaders and our previous best finish was 12th. In GT3 we had a brand new car and we brought it home in one piece with lots of data for continued improvement.

In a year from now, we’ll do it all again!

5th in GT Lite yesterday…

September 25th, 2010

Well, it’s been very busy for the past few days. Sorry I haven’t kept up to date. It’s noonish on Saturday and by now most of you know that we came 5th in GT Lite yesterday. We skipped Monday’s qualifying session waiting for a replacement throttle position sensor to come in. It was due early Tuesday morning, but FedEx didn’t arrive till only about 30 minutes before our session at noon (UPS had been to the track hours before). We got the sensor, and of course it had a different plug on it. We rushed to figure out the wiring and get it connected, but as soon as we started the motor, everything seemed to freeze up. Ultimately we missed the session again. This was very disappointing. We worked for the rest of the day trying to figure out what was wrong. We could get the engine to start, but it wouldn’t do anything more. We found that the crank sensor was contacting the trigger wheel, so we replaced it and adjusted the gap. Still nothing. We had also replaced the ignition wires with new ones we made with wires we bought from the NAPA guys on site. Gord said he thought the motor had run better with our old wires, so we put them back in and also the ecu errors disappeared. The new ignition wires weren’t well enough shielded, and the spark noise was interfering with the ECU. The motor was still backfiring when you tried to rev it up though, and we were at a loss to know what else to do.

Wednesday morning, the Kristensen’s who built the motor had arrived, and they came over. We ran the engine and they diagnosed it as running lean. Apparently they had tuned the motor on 12 volts, and our Total Discharge Controller boosted the voltage up to 14 volts and the voltage correction leaned the motor out. In the pits it sounded like it was running OK, so we went out to qualify later in the day. I managed to go 6thquickest on the day – 8th quickest overall, but the motor never felt right, and by the end of the session, was firmly on 3 cylinders. Back in the pits we continued to work on the engine. A leakdown test revealed no internal problems. We changed the coils and the car stayed on 3 cylinders. The only thing we hadn’t changed was the fuel injectors. We were able to order a replacement set from RC Engineering, and they arrived the next morning on UPS by 10am. We put them in and the motor ran on all 4 cylinders immediately. We also made some changes to the airbox to increase the airflow to the intake. Late in the day, Nate Wilcox from B&J Engineering flew into Milwaukee with our new transmission as checked luggage. The crew pulled the well used and unreliable gearbox out of the car while we drove back from the airport, and had the new one in the car an hour after we got back to the track. As soon as we tested the new box on the jackstands we knew this was different. No noises, easy to shift and quiet in every gear was the first noticeable improvement.

We asked for and were granted a hardship lap yesterday morning, and even though the track was damp, we went out on slicks and I got the car to pull thru all 5 gears at wide open throttle. By now with the new injectors, the engine was running rich at 11.5 to one, and the new gearbox had one small problem. It popped out of 5th gear as soon as I took my foot off the gas. Back in the pits, Nate modified the 5th gear detent to increase the tension, and Joe Kristensen leaned the motor out by 8% and we were set to go.

At 10:30 the green flag waved and GTL was away. I took the wrong line into turn 1 and got passed by two cars, dropping me to 10th. I got one spot back fairly quickly going up the front straight, made a pass back to 8thcoming into turn 5 the next lap – only to see a waving yellow flag ahead. You aren’t allowed to pass in a yellow flag zone for safety, so I gave the spot back to avoid getting a penalty, and two corners later took the position for good. I ran down Bob Clark in his red CRX a lap later, and out accelerated him up the hill from turn 5 to turn 6. Up ahead, Chris Bovis retired after his grill was blocked by leaves, overheating his engine and damaging it. That put me in 5th, where I basically ran by myself for the rest of the race. I nearly caught Rob McFarlane at the end of the race, but he managed to hang on to his spot. We made our minimum weight by 2 lbs after the race, and had only 1 liter of fuel left in the car at the end, so we couldn’t have gone any farther. After the disappointments of the previous four attempts, 5th was the maximum we could achieve this year, and we did. The whole team was very happy with the result.

At the same time, the engine builder for the GT3 car, Sean Powers had received all the new parts he needed, got the cylinder head back from the head shop. By midnight Thursday he had the engine reassembled, and my best friend Bruce and his wife Jocelyn had left earlier in the day to make the 7 hour drive to Dayton, Ohio. They loaded the engine into our rental car and headed back to Elkhart Lake, arriving at 6:30 in the morning. After a couple of hours of rest, they came up to the track for the GTL race.

Yesterday, we put the engine back into the GT3 car – very easy job and it fired right up, just as TE McHale, the president of American Honda came over to see the car and talk to us. Talk about good timing. This morning we took the car to tech for inspection and passed, and then got our name put back on the entry list (they took it off because we hadn’t made any qualifying laps). So tomorrow we will start the GT3 race shotgun on the field – and the only Honda. Hopefully we will have another good result like we did yesterday!


Monday morning, the first day of qualifying.

September 21st, 2010

Well here it is, Monday morning, the first day of qualifying, and we won’t be on track – it must be the Runoffs again!

We got to the track Wednesday evening, and worked until midnight to get the new car ready to go on track the next morning. On Thursday I got my first chance to drive the car. Wow, what a difference. Going from a short wheelbase (86 inches), front wheel drive car with a standard H pattern gearbox (race prepared) to a long wheelbase (104 inches), rear wheel drive car with a sequential gearbox (like a motorcycle) was a huge change. The biggest difference is that except to get the car moving from a standstill, you don’t use the clutch. There is a switch that turns off the ignition for ¼ of a second for each upshift and you never lift your foot off the gas, and you brake with your left foot and make a small blip of the throttle with your right foot for each downshift. All the go-karting I have been doing this year has really helped with the left foot braking as that is how you drive a go-kart as well, but the shifting is all new.

We had a myriad of little problems thru the day, some bolts in the front suspension came a little loose, changing the wheel alignment, a bolt fell out of the gearshift lever (but we found it and put it back with some Loctite), lots of little tweeks to the engine management system (thank goodness the engine builder Sean Powers was with us for the first 2 days). We had a throttle position sensor go bad – very rare fault, and then the starter broke. The engine also would shut off after about 20 minutes of running and then spontaneously restart – and this is where the real trouble began.

We think that the transmission heated up enough by this time that the cooling pump was trying to turn on, and to be honest, it seems like our own Total Discharge Controller wasn’t able to keep the voltage up in that moment, causing a voltage dip into the ECU, and scrambling it (we were trying to run too many loads from the TDC). The real problem is that is caused the engine to lean out, and we ended up burning an exhaust valve (and the other 7 were showing signs of stress). One of the rocker arms that open the valves broke. Also our brand new starter failed – just normal racing bad luck. One of the points of testing is to get by all of it before the race.  We have revised the electrical system to eliminate the extra loads on the TDC.

So by Friday afternoon, our only engine for the car was damaged. After we confirmed the problem by doing a compression and leak down test – we left the track at about 11pm and had a beer and sandwich while discussing the situation. Friday night’s view was that maybe we should retire the car. I talked to Darlene overnight and she gave me the talk. We were here to race the car, and unless we did everything we could do to make the race, we couldn’t call ourselves racers. I knocked on Gord’s hotel room door at 7:30am, he came to the door in a towel and I told him we were going to pull the engine and drive it back to Sean’s shop in Dayton, Ohio. He said OK. And that is what we did. Dayton is 7 hours from Elkhart Lake. Gord left about 2pm, got to Dayton at 10pm. He and Sean worked till midnight to get the first look at the motor and then he drove back, only stopping at 3am for about 3 hours in a rest stop for a nap. Back at the track by 10:45am and we were out in the GTL car at 11:20 for our first test. 900.0 miles round trip – What an ironman.

If all the planets align, the engine should be repaired and ready to return to us by Friday. We will drive part way and so will Sean to minimize the time, so by Friday night we should have the engine back. One of the great features of the new car is just how easy it is to take the engine or transmission in or out. So we can easily finish the car on Saturday and it will be ready to race come Sunday afternoon. We will have to start at the back because we won’t make any qualifying session, but that will just add to the fun.

The first test session for the GTL car was anti-climatic. The plug fell out of the crankshaft position sensor and the engine stopped after only ½ a lap. The safety team pushed the car to a location where the crew was able to come to it and we put the plug back in and off I went. At the same time, there was a black flag for an incident in Canada Corner, so we didn’t actually lose any test time. The session started again, and after only 1 lap, another car scattered its engine all over the Carousel turn and we all went back into the pits again while they cleaned up – and the clock ran out on the session. The second session started with a damp track so we went out on intermediate tires. Partway thru, there was a little smoke in the car and at the same time the clutch stopped working. It turns out 2 of the bolts that support the hydraulic clutch actuator also clamp the case of the gearbox, and they came loose. We only had ½ hour till our final test session and the guys worked quickly to fix the problem. At the same time the sun came out so we put on a new set of dry tires and were ready to go just in time. This time we had a pretty good session, and I went over 1.5 seconds faster that my previous best, down to a 2:37.1 lap. But the car felt like it didn’t have the power it should, and towards the end of the session it developed a misfire.

Back in the pits we started to work. The first thing we found was that at full throttle, the Throttle Position Sensor showed only 85% throttle, so the engine wasn’t getting enough fuel – confirmed by the oxygen sensor that showed our air fuel ratio was over 15 to 1 (12.5 to one is about optimum). Plus it was noisy – the position numbers jumped around and the readings went up when they were supposed to go down. Clearly another TPS – different brand for a different system from the GT3 car, but same result. Both engine builders had the same reaction – Never happened to them before – but it does to us! They are bringing a replacement TPS, but won’t be here till tonight (Monday) and we don’t dare risk the engine with the one we have so we will sit the first qualifying session for the GTL car out.

So today we will do a bunch of housekeeping at the track – a few little things on both cars to take care of. Organize the trailer some more. Go for a run. Hopefully we will be out for the second qualifying session on Tuesday.


@ the 2010 SCCA run-offs with a new car

September 19th, 2010

Well, it’s that time of year again. We are about to make our 5th assault on the pinnacle of amateur sportscar racing, the SCCA Runoffs. (http://www.scca.com/event.aspx?hub=1&event=15558).

This year we are back in the GT Lite class with our 1976 Honda Civic, freshly rebuilt from the ground up with a new engine package that is making significantly more horsepower than last year. Last year we had an embarrassing transmission failure just before the start of the race and we were unable to compete. It’s going to be very close, but we should have a brand new transmission to put in the car with a day or two to spare from a new supplier that we will believe will resolve the reliability issues. We have build a transmission using the last of the parts from our previous supplier that we will use for testing and possibly the first day of qualifications.

We have a brand new car built for the next faster GT3 class. This is a full tube frame car with the body of a 2010 Honda Civic Coupe (one of the most aerodynamic body shapes on the market today). We made our own molds from an actual car, then made a body that was an exact replica in fiberglass. We then modified that body to be even more aerodynamic, added bigger flares to cover the wider tires that we run, and then made a 2nd set of molds from that body before we actually made the body that is on the car. This body is made of carbon fiber to be even lighter and stronger than fiberglass. The chassis is made of steel tubes, and we decided to use the 2.4 liter engine from the Acura TSX (the largest engine allowed in the class), but turned it by 90 degrees and made the car rear wheel drive instead of front wheel drive. The transmission is sequential like a motorcycle and can handle more than 450 horsepower – well beyond what we can make with the engine we are using. The rear axle is designed for racing and features quick-change gears that allow us to quickly adapt to any track. At Road America, we expect the top speed of the car to be almost 150 mph (over 240 kilometers per hour). This car was built for us by the best company in the business, Robinson Race Engineering, and the engine was designed and built by 2 of Honda’s top engineers (on their own time) from the Honda R&D Center near Dayton, Ohio. In the entire course of the two years it took to build this car, I have never actually seen it, only photos, phone calls and emails. I will see the car for the first time for real tonight when I get to the racetrack.

We will be testing the new car tomorrow (Thursday September 16th) and Friday. We have the day off on Saturday and then we will test the GT Lite car on Sunday. We have 3 qualifying sessions for the GT Lite car, one each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and 3 qualifying sessions for the GT3 car, one each on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There should be live timing for qualifying on the SCCA website (www.scca.com). Select ‘Club Racing’ at the top and then National Championship Runoffs on the left and there should be a link on the right of the screen for Live Timing and Scoring.

The national championship race for GT Lite is scheduled for 10:30am Central Time next Friday, September 24th(8:30am Pacific Time). The national championship race for GT3 is scheduled for 3:30pm Central Time next Sunday, September 26th (1:30pm Pacific Time). Both races will be live on the internet at www.goracingtv.comwith a full professional broadcast crew.

Wish us luck!

2010 Honda Civic

1976 Honda Civic2010 Honda Civic

Winning with the Total Discharge Controller

September 2nd, 2010

We were at Pacific Raceway Park (the old timers know it as Seattle International Raceway or SIR) for the Memorial Day weekend. This was a double header weekend with SCCA National races being held on Sunday and the holiday Monday. Sunday went very well, with a win in the GT Lite class, finishing 3rd overall in our race (the SCCA runs multiple classes of cars in one race, each race competing for its own result, but if you are one of the faster cars, you always want to win overall). Everything was prepared for the race on Monday. We were watching the battery voltage using our Radio Shack digital voltmeter, and it looked like the battery wasn’t charging properly (more about voltmeters in a later article). An hour before the race, we made the decision to change to our backup battery. As it turned out, the BCM20 didn’t have enough time to fully charge the backup battery before we rolled to pregrid. I didn’t think of it later, but I should have brought the team truck over beside the car and used the Alligator Clip cable to jump the battery as the Optima battery we use can tolerate a very high charging current.

I knew we were in trouble as I have my AIM dashboard set to alarm on battery voltage. There are three led lights on the right side, and as the battery get’s lower, first one, then two and finally all three leds come on. The first led came on after only one lap! It was a wet race, and our Goodyear rain tires were performing exceptionally well and I ran away from the entire field. I even lapped the car in 2nd place in GT Lite, all the while wondering when the car would stop. But even with all three led indicators on, it kept on going and going. Finally with one lap to go, the engine stopped while on the front straight, and I safely parked the car at the exit of pit lane. Because I had lapped the 2nd place car, I was still credited with the race win!

You can see from the above graph where I have overlaid laps two, nine and fourteen that the battery voltage fell from 10.9 to 10.3 and finally 7.7 volts. The output from the TDC30 remained relatively constant at over 13 volts for almost the entire race, only dropping off in the last couple of laps. The car stopped when the TDC voltage reached 11.2 volts – still higher than the actual battery voltage on lap 2! So without the TDC, the car would not have finished even a couple of laps, but with it, we won!

2008 SCCA Runoffs Final Report, October 13th

October 20th, 2008

Hi everyone,

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!

2008 SCCA Runoffs 2nd Report, Oct 9th

October 20th, 2008

Hello Everyone,

I was very pleased to see that a number of you watched the online qualifying. I was happy to finish 7th in the session, particularly as the time came on our first full lap, before I was up to speed. The rest of the news wasn’t so good.

Even as we left the pit lane to begin qualifying, water was blowing out of the cooling system overflow (a tube points at the windshield so I can see if this is happening). Otherwise all the gauges read normally, so we decided to continue. On the 3rd lap, I suffered the biggest engine failure I have ever had, with so much smoke in the car that I was convinced it was on fire and I activated the fire suppression system at the same time pulling off the race track onto the grass (from about 100mph). I was very happy to have recently purchased a new helmet that has a fresh air inlet that we have connected to a NACA duct on the right rear window, so despite all the smoke, I had no trouble breathing. The in-car video is spectacular!!

2008 Runoffs Wednesday Qualifying – Ends with a bang!

After we got the car back into our paddock, the work of changing engines began. By 9pm last night most of the work was done. The oil pan on the new engine doesn’t fit quite right (the fittings to connect to the dry sump pump interfere with the left side half shaft). We are meeting with the guys from Prather Racing at 8am this morning to take to oil pan to their shop right here in Topeka and modify it so it will work. We will also try to repair the damaged oil pan from the other engine so we have a backup.

2008 SCCA Runoffs 1st Report, October 7th

October 20th, 2008

Hello Everyone,

Well, here we are in Topeka, Kansas again for our third attempt to win a national sports car racing championship. We arrived here last Thursday after 2 ½ days of driving across the country (32 driving hours).

We spent the rest of Thursday and all day Friday getting set up and making final adjustments to the car. Saturday was our first test day, and we got 3 full 35 minute on track sessions through the day. We made a lot of changes and improvements to the car, and went over 2 seconds faster than our best lap time last year. On Sunday we tested again, but didn’t have such good luck. We ran the entire first session, but had a half shaft failure at the end. However, our lap time improved again over Saturday. On the second session, 5th gear failed on the transmission, and we were forced to make a transmission change. While we were completing the installation of the replacement transmission, we discovered a water leak in the cooling system. This proved more troublesome to fix, and it took until this morning to complete, making us miss our first qualifying session yesterday afternoon. Today we had the day off and did a number of small changes to the car, as well as taking it to the official scales to weigh and measure the track (distance between the front or rear tires) to make sure we were legal in these areas.

Tomorrow we will make our first qualifying attempt at 10am Central time (8am Pacific, 11am Eastern). You can use the link below to watch the session live, or to review the results later. Our class is GTL (GT Lite). Our final qualifying session is on Thursday at 2pm Central Time (Noon Pacific, 3pm Eastern). Our race is on Saturday at 4:15pm Central (2:15pm Pacific, 5:15pm Eastern).

Hello world!

May 7th, 2008

This is the site where I will chronicle the efforts of the RaceEnergy/Analytic Systems race team to win an SCCA National Championship in the GT Lite class. 2008 marks our third attempt.

Jim Hargrove