One desire that I have long had is to drive a purpose built race car. That may, at first, sound a bit strange. What do I drive now if not race cars?
There is a big difference between a race car derived from a production car and a purpose built race car. No matter how refined and developed the production based race car is, it is still, in large measure, a compromise.
A purpose built race car, by conception and design, has a single purpose- to go as fast as possible within the rule set under which it is raced.
I have driven only one other purpose built race car, and that was a formula car at the Bondurant school I went to 10 years ago. It was a lot of fun, and quite a bit different than the Corvettes we were also driving that weekend.
So I went ahead and bought a car. Here it is:
It is a 1970 Chevron B16. It has a 2 liter BMW M10 engine producing about 215 HP. It weighs 1300 pounds without me. It should be a pretty fun ride.
The car was actually built in 2006 as a ‘continuation car.’ What that means is that it was built by Chevron using the exact jigs, materials, and parts as the original B16s.
Chevron built only 23 original B16’s between 1968 and 1970. These original cars are highly sought after, and fetch very high prices when they do come to market. Here is a link to a compilation of the race history of the B16 between 1968 and 1974:
My car is currently being trucked from Italy to England where it will be stored until we receive the EPA waiver we have applied for. Once we receive the waiver the car will be put on a plane and flown to SEA-TAC airport.
Here is a video featuring my car and its former owner:
At 10:50 all drivers are to be in their car, strapped in, and ready to go. The pace car leaves the grid at 10:55 and after 1 pace lap the green flag is dropped and the race begins.
There were a number a pretty fast cars (and trucks- see the video) that chose not to qualify in the rain. They started at the back of the field, but by Turn 4 of the opening lap they were coming up through the group I was racing with. It got pretty tight a couple of times.
After 2-3 laps I settled in and just tried to drive the car smoothly and consistently. Our goal was to make sure we finished, and I didn’t want to be stupid or break the car in my first stint.
All in all I drove 5 stints during the race, including the start and the checkered flag. It was quite an honor.
I had raced my 2002 at Thunderhill just a few weeks before this event, so I was very comfortable in the E30.
For the 25 Hour race they use a by-pass of Turn 5. It is a blind rise over the shank of the hill. There is quite a camber change as you go over the rise, and it gets worse the more you are to the right. The fast line is staying left, but when the fast cars come by we had to move right for them.
Just over the rise the track takes a hard, off camber, right around the base of the hill. It’s quite a handful, especially in the dark.
Our race went smoothly until my 10:00 PM stint. About 45 minutes into it morning. I was driving the car just shut down. The lights and everything stayed on, but the motor would not run. I coasted to a stop under the bridge on the back straight. Fortunately not to far from pit in.
After a short wait while the pace car picked up the field, I was towed back to the pits and the crew set to work diagnosing the problem. I went off to bed for a 4 hour sleep before my next scheduled stint.
When I got back to the pits the car was back out on track logging laps. The high pressure fuel pumped had failed, and it had taken about an hour to find the problem and fix it.
Mary had volunteered to act as cook for the team. She had prepared meals ahead of the weekend and warmed them and set them out for the team. We also had a table full of snacks, fruit, and drinks that she kept ready for the entire event. Her efforts were greatly appreciated by everyone on the team. What a gal!
Our race settled down again after the fuel pump replacement. We were able to do about 90 minutes on a load of fuel. The rules state that you can only change one tire during a pit stop unless you take the car behind the wall. We had developed a schedule of changing one tire about every 3rd or 4th stint. The system worked pretty well for us.
Everything was going great until our pit stop and tire change about 2 hours from the finish. Unfortunately one of the wheel studs broke off. We debated whether or not to fix it and continue. We were far enough ahead of the next car in our class to stay ahead of them even if we stopped.
At Mary’s urging the crew fixed the stud and I hopped back into the car and drove it to the finish. It would have been a shame not to drive the car under the checkered flag. It had taken about 30 minutes to fix.
We finished the race 36th overall, but 2nd in our class! To keep that finish we still had to pass tech. Seems like a no brainer, except for the fact that we had filled in a tech sheet that qualified us for our class and now those items would be checked thoroughly by the inspectors.
Fortunately we passed without any problems, so we got to keep our finishing position.
What a fun event! I can’t wait to run it again. It is the type of driving that suits my style and skills to a tee.
Following this event our trusty E30 was put up for sale. While it was very reliable, it was pretty slow. We got beat by a Honda Fit! We all want to run the event again, but with a better chance to place well.
Currently the team is looking for another, faster car.
I finally got the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to try- endurance racing. It was a real gas!
Terry Forland, Jim Froula, John Hill and I all went together and bought a 1989 E30 BMW Pro3 car. It was an old war-horse needing a few things, but E30’s are pretty simple, and the rules for Pro3 require only factory parts. We also purchased a couple of extra sets of wheels for the car.
We ran it in the Cascade 8 Hour Race in Portland last October as a warm up for the 25 Hour race at Thunderhill in December.
The 8 Hour is run without the chicane on the main straight. I used to race PIR in a lay-down go-kart without the chicane, so I quickly adjusted to not having to break at start-finish. The biggest problem for me was heading off into turn 1 in the pitch black at very high rates of speed. It was my first experience driving in the dark, and the lack of visual cues required some re-thinking.
All in all we had a good race. We finished 4th in class and 14th overall. Here’s the video from that event:
The 25 Hour Race at Thunderhill is held the first weekend in December, and it is a really big event. There are typically more than 50 entries, with several big teams and big names that run it each year- Randy Probst, Al Unser Jr., and Kurt Bush were all entered this past year.
Walking through the paddock Friday afternoon before the race was eye-opening! The amount of equipment, people, and support stuff was mind boggling. It was not like the vintage races we usually attend. One team had 3 Radical sports racers they were running, with 6-8 mechanics for each car. Mazda had 3 diesel 6 series sedans entered that were being driven by a collection of their dealers.
We arrived with the Racecraft semi loaded with our car and a spare E30 we could use for parts if the need arose. We figured that if the weather turned nasty the semi would also make a dry place for the team to hang out. As it turned out, that was never an issue.
Once the car was unloaded and our pit area was set up the crew set about giving the car a last once-over. Brett and the crew spent time checking everything over one last time- the suspension, the brakes, the engine, and even the lights. Once that was complete it was time to tech and qualify the car.
We had a bit of a problem in tech. When the officials looked over the roll cage they found some areas that had not been welded fully. These were up on top of the main hoop, and on the outsides of some of the diagonal braces. These were areas that you could not see, but had to feel by reaching in with your hand.
The crew surged up and down the paddock looking for someone who had a welder. Finding one, Jim folded himself up and jammed himself into some tight corners, and welded up the bad places. The car went back to tech and passed.
Qualification was on Friday night, and it began pouring rain about 30 minutes before we were scheduled to go out! I was chosen to qualify the car because I was the only one lacking sense. Being the old guy on the team has some advantages.
The big plus for me was that the rules required the driver that qualifies the car also has to start the car in the race on Saturday afternoon. I ended up qualifying 43rd out of the 56 cars entered.
A big problem I had to deal with was the fine spray put up by the cars with ground-effects. With our bright headlights it made it almost impossible to see. Quite a thrill!
This time of year it gets dark in northern California by about 4:30, and the sun doesn’t come up until after 7:30 AM. This means you spend a lot of hours racing in the dark at this event.
Thunderhill doesn’t have any lighting around the track itself. They have pretty good lighting in the paddock, and they rent portable lighting for pit-in and pit-out, but the rest of the track is pitch black.
The lights you have on your car are critical. We had invested in a powerful LED light bar we could mount on the hood, plus a set of aircraft landing lights in place of the factory high beams.
Qualification showed me that we needed to adjust them all slightly for maximum vision, but in general they were pretty good.
Saturday dawned clear, dry, and cold. The norm for this event is pretty nasty weather, with cold temps, lots of rain, and even snow some years. Looked like we had gotten lucky.
The cars are required to be on grid and ready to go by 10:30 or you have to start at the rear of the field. There is a lot of pomp and circumstance before the race with military color guards, bag pipes, and dignitaries walking up and down the grid of cars.