Monterey Car Week 2014- Part 2

What they had discovered was the aluminum calipers were so old and porous they were leaking brake fluid around the seals on the pucks. This was causing the spongey pedal after just a few laps.

There was nothing that we could do for this race, but Jim was already planning how to permanently fix the problem. His idea was to sleeve the calipers. Certainly a winter project.

For this weekend they would plan on bleeding the brakes for every session. I would be sensitive to any softness in the pedal and just take it easy.

One of the highlights of Saturday for Mary and I is having our whole family come out and cheer the car and Grandpa on. We usually get some team shirts and hats made up for everybody. It’s a lot of fun.

Here's everybody in their Team Luigi regalia. That tall interloper in the back is Adam Carolla.
Here’s everybody in their Team Luigi regalia. That tall interloper in the back is Adam Carolla.

The time came for the qualifying race and I lined up 23rd out of 44 cars. Unfortunately I got stuck behind a turbo Porsche that was quick down the straights, but slower than my CSL through the corners. It was pretty frustrating not to be able to get by him. I ended up finishing 19th.

I got an excellent start in the feature race, which was good because I desperatly wanted to get by the Porsche early in the race. Once by, I found myself racing with Ernie Spada in his IROC 911, and Dennis Singleton in his green RSR Porsche. We ran nose-to-tail for several laps. It was a lot of fun.

I sneaked by Ernie as he was balked by a slowing Ferrari coming out of Turn 5.

About this time Adam Carolla came up from behind in his ex-Paul Newman 300 ZX Datsun. He got by me just as we turned up the hill towards the Cork Screw. As we got to the top of the hill the red flag came out so we all pulled over to a stop.

Her I am leading Ernie Spada and Dennis Singleton. Adam Carolla is lurking in the back.
Her I am leading Ernie Spada and Dennis Singleton. Adam Carolla is lurking at the back. This was the lap before the red flag.

Unfortunately Ken Epsman in his Dekon Monza had a wheel break going through Turn 4. He went off into the tire barrier in a big cloud of dust, and his left rear tire bounced over the fence and into the grandstand. Fortunately no one was struck, but all emergency vehicles were dispatched to the scene.

After collecting the field with the pace car we had one last lap under green. I had a mirror full of yellow and green Porsches, but I was able to hold them both off to finish 6th. It was a great race, and a lot of fun.

Thanks to Ji
Thanks to Jim and Terry and their great work on Luigi.

At the Awards Ceremony we were given the Rolex Award of Excellence for Group 5A.  Certainly this was due to the beautiful restoration work done by Racecraft. Thank you Terry and Jim!

Adam Carolla does a video podcast called Carcast. He featured his outings in his Datsun, and there are some shots of the Luigi CSL. NOTE: These are rated PG-13 for language.

First, though, here’s my in-car video:

Now here’s Adam’s two videos:

Finally, here’s a dramatic video of the Monza loosing its wheel:

 

Monterey Car Week 2014- Part 1

Every year during the 2nd and 3rd weekends of August there occurs an event that boggles the automotive mind. It is called “Car Week,” and it happens on the Monterey Peninsula.

During the week there are 5 major auctions, 7 major car shows or concours, a dozen minor events, and the Rolex races at Laguna Seca. People come from around the world to attend the event.

Luigi on display in downtown Monterey on the Friday evening before the Pre-reunion races.
Luigi on display in downtown Monterey on the Friday evening before the Pre-reunion races.

This year I signed up for a couple of new events for us, including the Friday evening car show in downtown Monterey. About 25-30 race cars are escorted by CHiPS from the track into downtown Monterey and put on display for anyone and everyone. One of the local restaurants provides hors d’oeuvres for the participants. It is a very fun event that really kicks off the entire car week scene.

On the way back to the track the lead motorcycle officer cracked the throttle, and of course, we had to keep up with him. He had a big smile on his face when we arrived back at the track. Fun duty!

We raced the Pre-reunion race on Sunday. It was a bit of a disappointment because we only got 2 sessions on track for the whole weekend- qualifying and then the race.

We were still fighting some brake issues, but I managed to finish mid-pack. The group we ran in is was quite a mixed bag with a GTP Toyota, some big-block IMSA cars, and some tube frame Trans Am cars, along with the usual mix of turbo and non-turbo Porsches.

On Tuesday we again were part of an escorted group from the track. This time we traveled to downtown Carmel for the Concours on the Avenue. My grandson, Andrew, rode with me in the car. It was a lot of fun to come down from Highway 1 through Carmel to Ocean Avenue with crowds of people snapping pictures and cheering us on.

Andrew and I are part of the parade of race cars through Carmel to Ocean Avenue.
Andrew and I are part of the parade of race cars through Carmel to Ocean Avenue.

Luigi was awarded “Best in Class” among the race cars. Quite an honor and tribute to Racecraft’s work!

Racing began in earnest on Thursday. We had a practice session on Thursday, one on Friday, and then 2 races on Saturday. Luigi was in Group 5A- “1973-1981 FIA, IMSA GT, GTX, AAGT, GTU Cars.”

There were 2 other CSLs in the group, Henry Schmitt’s IMSA car, and the factory museum car. There was also the factory museum M1 driven by Randy Probst, along with Porsches, Datsun Z-cars, big block IMSA cars, an IROC Camaro, and Adam Carolla in is turbo 300ZX. Quite a collection of fast cars!

On Thursday I had the brake pedal go to the floor as I broke for turn 5. I was right outside of a 935 Porsche, and had to pump the pedal furiously to get the car slowed enough to make the corner.

I thought, “Oh no, here we go again!”

It turned out to be a new brake “problem.” It seems we threw a wheel weight, which struck the retaining clip for the brake pads, allowing them to move back out of position. How strange is that?

Friday’s practice went much better. I put in a couple of good laps and qualified 23rd out of 44 cars. I still didn’t have complete confidence in the brakes, and was breaking pretty early for turns 2, 5, and 11. After 5-6 laps the pedal was still getting spongy. Something was still not 100% with the brakes.

Saturday Mary and I arrived at the track early to find Terry, Jim, and Mike huddled over Luigi’s left rear brake caliper on the table in front of the Racecraft truck. It didn’t look good.

Bad Day at Black Rock- The Portland Historics 2014

MeinKoepchen@PDX_2014
Here I am sitting on pre-grid in the Koepchen 2002 waiting to go out for qualifying.

I had three cars entered for the 2014 Portland Historics, held July 11-13 at Portland International Raceway- the freshly re-done 700, the Koepchen 2002, and the Luigi CSL.

Right from the very first lap of practice on Friday the trouble began.

First to go down was the 700. On my very first warm-up lap in

Here I am being chased by John Murray in his 2002. Usually he is in front.
Here I am being chased by John Murray in his 2002. Usually he is in front.

practice the left side barrel separated from the block. Not knowing the cause, or if any internal damage was done, we decided it was best to park the car for the rest of the weekend.

Next up was the 2002. This car is pretty quick, however, the Group it was running in was made up of ‘B’ sedans from the 60’s and early 70’s, and since Datsun was the featured marque this year there was a whole bunch of very fast Datsun 510’s  up from California in my group.

I was able to qualify well, about mid-pack, and ran both races on Saturday without incident.

Sunday morning I went out for the warm-up session, and the motor did not feel right. Jim started to check the engine and found it had no oil pressure.

At first we thought that the drive gear had come off the oil pump shaft, but it turned out to be much more serious than that.

The motor went down to Terry Tinney and he found that the chain tensioner for the cam drive chain had broken and dropped down into the front of the timing chain cover. There it lodged in the chain and broke the crankshaft.

So we had 2 major engine failures. But wait there’s more.

Luigi working hard to stay ahead of some American Iron.
Luigi working hard to stay ahead of some American Iron.

That left me racing the CSL. You may remember that we had brake issues in Sonoma that almost caused me to wreck the car. Those issues reared their ugly head this weekend as well with similar results.

Jim had changed the brake fluid to a higher temp fluid. But the problem showed up again during my first qualifying race. Going into the chicane on the opening lap I almost wrecked it again when the front brakes didn’t work.

Jim put on some heat shielding for the next race, but still the pedal went mushy after a few laps.

The cherry on top of the sunday came on Sunday when a thunderstorm came through just before the flag race for the CSL. Since I don’t have rain tires for the car I was forced to sit it out.

Not a very fun weekend to say the least.

I did get some fun video though. Here are the links. First is the video from the 2002:

And here’s the video from the CSL:

PNW Historics- July 4-6, 2014

twins@Seattle_2014
The twins ready for battle.

I entered the twins for the PNW Historics at Pacific Raceway in Kent, WA. They ran in Group 4, and I drove the #34, while Terry Foreland drove the #35.

The weekend was a lot of fun. There was a great turn out of cars and a great  crowd. SOVREN put on a great event!

#34 entering Turn 4.
#34 entering Turn 4.

The last time I drove the car I had trouble fitting my legs under the steering shaft so that I could operate the pedals cleanly. Jim moved the shaft up quite a bit, so now I fit the car much better.

My lap times improved each session, which was gratifying. The car handles quite well, and the brakes work. The biggest problem I had was that I was running out of gear  about half way down the straight. I had to feather the throttle from start-finish all the way down to the brake zone for Turn 2.

For Race 4 I started to just lift off the throttle fully when I hit 8,000 RPM. This was happening just at the turn in for Turn 1. I would then mash the throttle again and by the time I was back up to 8,000 it was time to brake for Turn 2.

#34 leading a bunch of Group 4 cars. That's Pat Costin following me in his 911.
#34 leading a bunch of Group 4 cars. That’s Pat Costin following me in his 911.

I think all the feathering I did in the first 3 races may have contributed to the head gasket starting to leak in Race 4. We decided to park the car following that race before anything expensive happened.

Here’s the link to 3 videos I did about the weekend. The first is a promo for SOVREN. The second is the in-car footage from my car. The third is in-car footage from Terry Forland’s drive in the #35 car in the USRRC Seniors Tour race.

Hope you enjoy them.

SOVREN promo:

PNW Historics 2014 Promo

In-car footage:

Pacific Northwest Historics 2014 Group 4

Terry’s race:

Luigi’s First Race

Luigi CSL @ Turn 3
Luigi is back on track at the 2014 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival.

In just over 90 days since his arrival in America, Luigi is back in action on track.

Last weekend we took him to the Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma.

The weekend was not without drama. On Friday I came into Turn 11 and found I had no front brakes. I ended up spinning the car to the inside of the turn, missing the stacks of tires placed there to keep people from cutting the turn.

It turned out that there was a loop in the front brake line that went up over the transmission tunnel, but went way up high on the cowl. This was allowing air to accumulate there, making the front brakes ineffective.

Jim re-routed the line, bled the system, and all worked as it should after that.

The car is quite a bit different than my other CSL. This car is built from a factory motorsports chassis which is lighter and more flexible than my other car.

This car is also fitted with the motorsports suspension and brakes which are much more effective than the street suspension and brakes that was on the other car.

We ended up 11th out of 22 cars in my group. I am very happy with this result, especially since many of the cars were much younger than Luigi!

I am looking forward to getting to know this car, and learning how to getting the maximum performance out of it.

Here’s the video from the weekend:

Sonoma Motorsports Festival 2104- Group 13a

All the credit for the quick turn around for the car goes to Jim Froula up at Racecraft. He planned the project, found the people who could execute the work well but quickly, and effectively managed each step in the process.

Update on Luigi CSL Restoration/Prep- Part 2

The reassembly of Luigi is coming along nicely. Jim and his shop have been on top of every aspect of the rebuild. They do such a great job! Here’s some shots of what is going on presently:

102_1193
Jim and the Racecraft crew are hard at work putting the Luigi BMW back together. Our target race is the Sonoma Historics in May.

Here is the new fuel cell. The one that was in the car was a hill climb can, and didn’t have enough capacity for circuit racing, so out it came. We decided to not plumb up to the inlets in the deck lid for now, but that may be changed later.

102_1195

Here’s what’s going on inside the fuel cell. The picture is taken looking down from the top of the can. There’s is a catch tank that holds fuel under cornering and braking forces, a low pressure pump moves it from there into the black swirl pot which fills up and has a 10psi relief valve on top to provide a constant column of fuel available for the high pressure pump to draw off of so that air bubble free fuel goes up to the injection pump on the engine.

Jim Froula - inside of CSL fuel tank

Finally, the gauges are back from the rebuilder. The car had a stack panel that was installed during the rebuild of the early 90’s. We wanted something more authentic, so we decided to replace the stack panel with a fiberglass dash and then re-install the proper gauges. Yes, I know they are ‘P’ gauges, but that was what they used back then:

102_1196

CSRG Spring Event- April 4-6, 2014

I ran the mighty Willis Wonder and the Koepchen 2002 at the David Love Memorial race at Sonoma with CSRG.

The Willis Wonder at speed. Photo courtesy of David Schultz Photography.
The Willis Wonder at speed. Photo courtesy of David Schultz Photography.

The Willis ran in Group 1 with about 28 other production and sports racers from the 50’s and 60’s. The Willis had about 2 decades on the next oldest car in the group!

She ran well, and it was the first time I have tried the Dunlop vintage tires. I loved them. The car really settled down, especially the rear end, which had been very squirrely with the Blockley tires.

In the Sunday feature race I started 20th out of a field of 28 cars, and finished 13th. I had a race long battle with Marc Hugo in a 1954 Porsche 356A.

He was quicker than me through the Carousel and up to turn 7. I was quicker out of the slow corners and down the straights. We traded positions sometimes twice a lap. It was great fun.

Here’s the video link:

http://youtu.be/KrynExKOyEc

The Koepchen 2002 ran in Group 8, a mixed collection of small and large bore sedans prepared to early 1970’s specifications.

The challenge I faced this weekend was back to back races all weekend. I had to jump out of the Willis and into the 2002. The race stewards promised to hold Group 8 long enough for me to get safely buckled into the car.

That word did not get down to the pit lane stewards, and I ended up having to start at the back of the group on Saturday afternoon’s race after qualifying 6th.

I was frustrated, mad, and began racing like an idiot. Needless to say, that sort of situation cannot end well; and it didn’t.

The results from not thinking. Don't try this at home!
The results from not thinking. Don’t try this at home!

Fortunately I was not hurt, and the car can be repaired.

The sad part was that I had warnings that I was driving over my head, and I even said to myself that something bad is going to happen if I don’t take a deep breath, slow down, and just enjoy the race.

I learned a lot from this mistake, about myself, and about what circumstances can get me to act this way.

The car is being repaired, and it will be on track again later this summer.

HMSA Spring Event- Laguna Seca

We ran our first event of the year last weekend (3/22-23). It was the HMSA Spring race at Laguna Seca.

Here are the cars we exchanged. The second 2002 is parked further to the right.
Here are the cars we exchanged. The second 2002 is parked further to the right.

It was a bittersweet weekend for us. I made the trade with Jeff for the Jagermeister CSL. In exchange I got 2 1971 BMW 2002’s with Trans-Am history.

The weekend went very well for me. The only problem I had was adapting to the car. The pedals did not fit well at all, and I could not heel-and-toe at all. The pedals lined up in such a way that when I tried to roll my foot over to blip the throttle, my foot got jammed between them.

I ran in Group 3, which was made up of 29 of the best and fastest B Sedans on the West Coast. There were a bunch of Datsun’s, BMW’s and Alfa’s. It looked like a Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge grid from the early 1970’s!

Here's the grid from Saturday's race. Looks like a vintage 2.5 Challenge grid from 1971.
Here’s the grid from Saturday’s race. Looks like a vintage 2.5 Challenge grid from 1971.

I qualified 8th for the Saturday race, and finished 8th. My best lap time was 1:48.8.

That meant I started 8th in the Sunday feature race. Starting 9th was Adam Carolla in his fast, ex-Bob Sharp Datsun 610.

At the start he latched on to my rear bumper, and stayed there for the first 7 laps, giving me all I could handle. He finally retired with an engine problem.

Adam Carolla's fast 610 Datsun. It is an ex-Bob Sharp car.
Adam Carolla’s fast 610 Datsun. It is an ex-Bob Sharp car.

On the first lap I was following Steve Link’s 510 Datsun very closely when he suddenly slowed coming out or the Rainey Curve. It was all I could do to avoid hitting him in the trunk. He said later that he broke a half-shaft.

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, and I ended up finishing 7th. My best lap time of the race was 1:47.6, which was an improvement from Saturday.

Terry Forland drove the second 2002 all weekend. That car is not as well developed as the #34 car, and despite his considerable driving skills, he was never quite able to match the #34 car. He ended up finishing 11th on Sunday.

That's me on the top, and Terry Forland driving the twin 2002 on the bottom. I finished 7th, and he finished 11th.
That’s me on the top, and Terry Forland driving the twin 2002 on the bottom. I finished 7th, and he finished 11th.

It was a great weekend, and a great way too start the 2014 season. We won’t be back to Laguna Seca until the Rollex Reunion races in August.

Here’s the link to the video from my YouTube channel:

http://youtu.be/mb3Lwdyd6bw

 

Adam Carolla posted his video of following me. Here’s the link (Rated PG13):

 

Willis Wonder- Part 5

Willis BMW
Here is the car sitting in the Customs Warehouse at SeaTac, waiting to be picked up.

I became the current custodian of 51203 after I saw it offered at auction through Coys Auction House in January 2013. I have never purchased a car this way before. I have always approached a purchase in the traditional manner, looking carefully, researching, talking with experts, etc., before making any offers.

When I saw the car something deep inside me just clicked. I had only 2 days from the time I saw it on the ‘Bring a Trailer’ web site until the day of the auction, so I couldn’t dilly-dally. I did as much Google work on the car as I could in that time, and called a couple of people I thought might know something about the car. The more I learned about it the more intrigued I became.

I decided to take the plunge and submit a bid I could live with.

I contacted Coys and worked with Nick Wiles, who explained the various ways I could bid on the car. He was extremely helpful. I decided to make a commission bid, which means I sent them the highest price I was willing to pay, and they kept bidding in steps up to that amount. I filled out the paper work, scanned my passport, gave them a CC number as a performance deposit, and then waited until the following Saturday for the auction.

The UK is 8 hours ahead of us here on the left coast, so by about 2:00 PM, when I had heard nothing, I figured I had not made the winning bid. I was a little disappointed, but figured it had all worked out for the best after all. The idea that I would bid that amount on a car I had never seen in the flesh sank in, and I was almost relieved that providence had seemingly protected me from some horrible mistake.

But providence had something completely different in mind, and low and behold, when I got up Sunday morning and checked my email I found this from Nick:

“Hi Steve,

Congratulations you successfully purchased the BMW. Your high bid of -xxxx successfully bought the Willis. My colleague Valerie will shortly be sending a full invoice to you via email.”

Needless to say, I was stunned! I guess I never really thought I would win at the figure I offered, but I got it for something less than my top bid. I was ecstatic, and my wife was even more excited about it than I was. Now what do we do? Oh yes, get it home!

Coys works with a transport company called Cars UK. They contacted me and began the process of transporting the car to the Northwest. I decided to go ahead and have the car air-shipped, as I was concerned about having it locked in a container for 6 weeks in the salt air. Cars UK was wonderful to work with, and I would highly recommend them. The folks in their Atlanta office were absolutely tenacious when it came to dealing with the folks at US Customs.

We are back at Racecraft with the car. It started right up and I drove it up and down the street!

There were a few hitches, but just 2 and ½ weeks after the auction my wife and I drove up to SeaTac Airport and collected the car. We then took the car to Racecraft in Woodinville, WA where Terry Forland and Jim Froula operate a restoration, fabrication, and race support business.

We unloaded the car in their shop and all stood speechless for fully 5 minutes just looking at the car and soaking in its charm and character. It is truly a special car. My guts had been right. It was worth all the uncertainty.

We checked everything over on the car, filled it with race fuel, turned on the ignition, pulled the choke, and pressed the starter button. A few seconds cranking and it rumbled to life! I can barely describe the feeling to be sitting in a car with all this history and having it running happily, and best of all, knowing it was now mine.

After letting it warm up, I slipped it into gear and drove out of the shop and south down the Woodinville-Redmond Highway. It burbled a little below 2,000 rpm, but once it got to 3,500 it just came alive. Torque, amazing amounts of torque. How that little 6 makes all that torque I can’t understand. It just jumps up to 6,000 in a heart-beat. Of course the fact that it weighs only 820 Kg certainly helps.

After a couple of laps up and down the highway I drove it back into the shop and sat there in the car for some time just enjoying the moment and letting it all sink in.

Then Terry and Jim got all practical and we began to lay out a game plan for getting the car race prepped for the coming season. The only thing my wife insisted on is that we add back the roll bar that was on the car when it last raced in 2004-2005. So Jim stuck a brain bucket on my head and measured me and the car for a new roll bar. Fortunately we discovered all the openings for the previous bar were still present, and were covered with temporary covers.

Spares? What do we need for spares, and where do we find them? Campaigning a car this old presents certain challenges, not the least of which is spare parts to keep it running. We made a list, and Terry volunteered to start searching.

Finally, after several more hours of planning and talking my wife and I needed to head back to Oregon. Reluctantly we got back in our car and headed south down I-5.

But wait, there’s more!

Willis@Monterey_2
I will be racing the Willis up and down the West Coast at events like Monterey Re-union and the Sonoma Motorsports Festival.

When we got home from Seattle late that night the box of historical photos, trophies, letters, invoices, and articles that came with the car was waiting on our doorstep. My wife began to rip into it before I had my coat hung up.

Every item that came out of the box was just amazing, and a real tribute to the engineering and creative genius of R. C. Willis. The old pictures were particularly fascinating, as well as a couple of old race programs, and letters from R. C. Willis and Charles Bulmer about the car and its history, along with a collection of 22 cups won by the car back in the day. Many happy hours later we fell into bed emotionally exhausted.

To look now at the little car and think about all the history that has passed under its wheels is inspiring and a bit humbling. To try and accomplish what Willis did in this day would be incredibly difficult and expensive. It would be the equivalent of taking a BMW Z3, modifying it, and competing successfully in one of the current feeder pro series. My hat is off to you, Mr. Willis!

My plan is to continue to add to the storied history of the car by campaigning it in vintage race events and BMW events here on the West Coast. Come on out to a race and cheer this wonderful old car along.