The Coop Chronicles
SCCA Double National
Sebring Int’l Raceway
January 9/10, 2010
I’ve got this really huge roll of duct tape. Not the store-bought kind that goes by the name of “Duck Tape” mind you; this stuff is for real, with a level of stick-to-it-ivness that’s absolutely incredible.
It’s 3” wide, and about 500 feet long, shiny silver, almost chrome look, with a cloth type backing. I’ve never seen anything like it for sale, anywhere, and funny thing is – I have no idea where it came from or how I came into possession of it…
Sebring. Just the way the name rolls off your tongue is special. Incredible Florida sunshine, and palm trees. Orange groves seemingly stretch to the horizon on the way down US27.
As the start to our Southeastern racing calender, it’s always an escape from the punishing, cold cruel winters of those unfortunate Northern States…
With over 50 years of racing on the famed 3.7 mile circuit in the history books, even Chrysler naming it’s best selling convertible after the track can’t take the shine away.
She’s like a grand ol’ dame in many respects, foremost in her want, no, need for some cosmetic surgery. This soon to be 58 year old has had a great run, no doubt about it, but I’ve got to say the time has come for some serious heavy equipment to come and pay her a visit.
I’m actually a little embarrassed for this place, where in just a few short weeks will see the 58th running of the famed 12 hour endurance road race.
I’m all about the historic perspective, but c’mon!
While many racetracks have some “surface undulations” the craters in the 60 + year old concrete at Turn 17 are large enough to swallow a small pony. One’a them mini horses mind you. Turn 1 is barely better with a serious “rocker section” that would do any pro Supercross track justice. Braking bumps from years of high downforce cars smearing the asphalt pavement elsewhere as though it were poured straight out of a Playdough Fun factory extruder are common throughout the track.
I don’t want to come across as hate’n (OMG Coop, did you just go all “Hood” on us? – Ed) on the track, it’s still one of my favorites, but let’s at least bust out a surface grinder and maybe some Quickcrete for the holes! C’mon Doc Panoz, your name is still on the papers, work it out. Rant over…
For the second weekend in succession, I’m extremely fortunate to have RFR Technical Director John “Indy” Hiberd at my side. As the #1 Go-To Guy in the shop, he knows the car inside and out, back to front…
Sunshine? Warm weather? Oranges? What the… It’s freezing, courtesy of the dreaded freak Arctic blast, dipping all the way down to the Keys. Rumors are that there is a Burlington Coat Factory grand opening in Havana scheduled for next week. Castro is scheduled to cut the ribbon, with Chairman Mao in the wings as a backup, in case there are any last minute “health concerns” for the great Fatigued One.
The Thursday test day has our group scheduled out first at 8:30 am. The mercury in the thermometer is shivering it’s little red ass off and can barely register North of the freezing mark.
I elect to sit out the first session – NOTHING can be gained from running in these conditions and PLENTY can be lost. About the only reason you’d run in damn near freezing temps would be to possibly break in a new gearbox or dif, or MAYBE trawl around the track at 60% if you had never been there before. As none of these reasons applied to me, I elected to stay in the motorhome. Another Chai Tea latte and we’ll see about it…
Session two and we take to the track and I don’t remember it being this bumpy. Huh.
The damping and spring rates of the new RFR F1000 are stiffer than anything I’ve driven here in the past, so that’s got to be part of it. The cold ambient temp is not helping either.
Earlier we had broken out my favorite roll of tape and did up each sidepod inlet about halfway. This stuff will hold up to a 150mph windblast, and is definitely “The Business”.
I’m shooting for a 2:05, and by the end of the day get down to a 2:06.7 on old tires left over from Homestead the weekend prior.
The new car is very easy on tires, even though I have gone one step softer, now utilizing the 25 compound Hoosiers. The rest of the test day goes well enough, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable trying to push the car with tires nowhere near optimum temperature. All things are pointing to this being a circulation / survival weekend as opposed (and greatly preferred!) to a race weekend. Unless of course the wind dies down, the rain stops and/or the mercury comes out of the basement. Two outta three, that’s all I’m asking… Yeah C’mon.
Friday Qualifying comes up and thankfully we are not first out like on test day, but are last out, Group 6. The only bummer here will be driving home after being the last race run on Sunday.
First out is Spec Racer Ford, and it’s the fendered tank drivers that will have to deal with the extreme cold first, hovering right above freezing. All I gotta say is thank goodness I had the foresight to purchase a Sunbeam heated mattress pad for the motor home. Dual controls, oh hell yeah!
We run the Q and come in. I’m not even sure where we placed in the order. More importantly at this early stage in the season is our continued testing and developing of the RFR. Which of course is easy to say, quite the opposite to do, given the current temperature constraints.
With each passing day I am forced to accept that we will not be having a rollicking good time railing around in the Florida sun, but will just have to wait until later in the Southeastern schedule to fully exploit the package.
Folks come by throughout the weekend and inevitably the conversation turns to asking how I like the car and how does it compare with my last ride.
The previous weekend at Homestead my reply was “I dunno, get back to me after I’ve actually run the car for a second time, and at a track that I’ve even been to before”, and at Sebring, the reply went “I dunno, I’ll get back to you after we run the car with tire temps over 42 degrees F”.
All kidding aside, I do have some comments. First off, the 4 piston AP calipers and ventilated rotors are phenomenal. The braking power is so strong that I had to force myself to brake deeper and deeper into T1 @ Homestead, and yet by the end of the Sunday race I was still rolling to the apex the slightest bit.
At Sebring this wasn’t an issue due to temperature imposed traction limitations, AND the desire to leave the frozen wasteland with a car in one piece and very shiny.
Other attributes that stand out are the near Formula Atlantic levels of grip afforded by the fat meats this thing is packing, a full 2 inches wider on the front and rear, AND as noted previously, one compound softer than I’ve ever run.
The chassis takes level to a whole new realm. Not that my last car had excessive brake dive or roll issues, it’s just that the new RFR 009 feels very flat. Flat as in good.
I’d be remiss to not mention how incredibly little effort it takes to push the car. In fact if while working on the car you lean on it the slightest bit, it will try to roll away!
Perhaps it would be a good idea to include a set of wheel chocks as standard equipment.
The amount of “freeness” this feature alone contributes to a quick lap is definitely worthy of mention…
Q2 later that day is going fine and I end up running a few laps with Sebring ’09 FB race winner Tom Beattie. After a few laps running together, we are onto the backstraight and initially something did not sound right. I first experienced this many years ago in my motorcycle roadracing days and attributed it to converging exhaust frequencies from the my car and the car ahead. After a few seconds it was clear that there were other, much more pressing issues, as the AIM Pista steering wheel mounted dash display was lit up like a Georgia State Patrol car in full PURSUIT mode, and Yes, the feeling in the pit of your stomach is identical.
I flipped the ignition switch off in hot pit lane and coasted to a stop. A very low oil pressure reading, combined with a very slight tapping sound at idle indicated an engine gone horribly south, possibly in an ill conceived effort to find some warmth a hundred n’ fifty miles away in the Keys.
In retrospect the cooling system bleed line that had come adrift the previous weekend at Homestead on the last lap of qualifying, DID cause some damage after all. These motorcycle engines do not tolerate just one overheat episode…
Indy and I immediately dive into it: We’ve got a couple of hours of daylight left before the sun and mercury go down, and according to the local forecast at least, the rains return.
We’ll hopefully have enough time to split the car in half, extract the engine, pull race bits off of it to dress up spare engine, get it all cleaned up and get it all ready for installation tomorrow. We do and it’s lights out.
Saturday Race 1 - The morning dawns gray, wet and cold. Like clockwork, Indy arrives at the Motorhome door at 7:30. We jump right into it, pulling the rear of the car into the trailer, and installing the engine. Later we roll this completed structure out and the front half of the car in, go back out and drag the rear back in and complete the operation.
A few hours later and it’s done for the most part, still gotta find an oil cooler in the morning, and go out in the 2nd Q session the next day to make sure all is good before the race. Sunday morning I do, and it was.
I line up for Race 2, P4 in class, and about 14th overall. The look on Ana’s face is priceless. “What’s the matter?” I ask from the cockpit, “You look a little lost”
“Well… it’s just I’m not used to seeing you this far back”. I chuckle and tell her it’s OK, remember we only had a handful of laps with an engine about to let loose. It’ll be alright, I’ll get ‘em on the start.
We take the green for about the first time in 10 years without someone on the radio calling the green. No problem as I get a pretty flashy flyer, moving up to 2nd in class coming out of T1. Two turns later and we go full course yellow when a couple of FE’s get together and end up in the T3 tire wall. I complete the first lap 2nd FB, one car behind leader Brandon Dixon in the Citation.
By the way, anyone not fully expecting Dixon to be running up front in the Southeast this year must not have been paying attention last year, and especially at the ARRC last November at Road Atlanta where he turned some of the fastest laps in the race, coming off a qualifying crash.
In fact we had not actually raced together last year, except for the ARRC. Last year he ran the 2 winter nationals, while I did not. He had problems at the June Sprints, while I did at Barber. I was at Mosport and Watkins Glen when he won the Savannah Double.
At the restart Brandon proceeds to walk away from me, and I end up running very solo, never having any challenge from behind. The laps run down, and we take the checkers.
Three 2nd place finishes from 4 races. Not overly shabby. I wish we were more on the lead pace, but considering where we started from last weekend (new, never tested and only barely started up before being thrown into trailer and hauled to Miami), I’m happy with where we are.
Now all that’s left is a 10-12 hour tow northwards. It seems the coolant temp in the motorhome is dropping with every mile marker we pass. Well this will not do, so eventually I pull over for gas somewhere in Northern Florida and break out my mystery roll of shiny duct tape. A Redline Oil box saved from the trash can is now pressed into service as a cold air blocker, taped right to the front of the grill. I lay the roll up on top of the gas pump as I am pulling the fuel nozzle out of the tank. My little voice, barely audible of the howling chill wind tells me “Don’t forget to grab the tape roll”, which of course I do, leaving it right on the pump. I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of the entrance ramp when I remembered about it. I actually lifted the slightest bit before common sense kicked in. It’s really cold out and I’m not about to pull over at the bottom of the ramp and trot back to the station to retrieve a roll of tape that technically is not even mine. The way I figure it, I was it’s temporary sensei. Showing it a whole ‘nother life. Exotic places with names like Watkins Glen, Mosport and VIR. For all I know this thing was previously on a crab boat, or did a tour of duty with a Boy Scout Troop.
One things for sure, sometime later that morning, probably around sunrise, someone had just taken the nozzle out of the filler hole, put the cap back on, went to hang the pump handle up, spied the roll of tape, uttered something to the effect of “Suh-wheat!”, and put the snatch on a half used roll of shiny, almost chrome like 3” wide tape, and tossed it into the bed mounted toolbox, where it would lie patiently until such time as it was needed…
GC FB 43
Ralph Firman Racing
__________________ "Driving a Lotus is a triumph of bravery over intelligence." Stirling Moss
Inherent to your "chronicles" is the failure of your GSXR engine. The concerns about engine failures seem to have died down considerably, whether the result of the season ending or the additional protections offered by the new dry and wet sump designs remains to be seen. So, I, at least am interested in any additional information that is gained when you've had the time to disassemble the engine.
The ambient conditions that you were running in would suggest that over-heating isn't a critical aspect (at least in this particular failure). As you know I am in the process of evaluating an alternative engine for FB application and the number of engine failures in FB application, particularly when compared to that same engine's reputation for reasonable durability in D Sport, has me concerned. Any insight into the situation would be much appreciated!
No, the cost of the BMW engine and the general lack of knowledge (it's REALLY new) were off-putting. While it isn't considered a front runner (except in World SuperBike, ala Ben Spies) I am messing around with the 2009 (cross plane crankshaft model) Yamaha R1.
Hi Hasty, As mentioned in the article, I had a -3 coolant bleed line come off in qualifying at Homestead the weekend prior. I saw 279 degrees on the dash when I came in. As the engine did not sound tight, or spin over slowly, or smell burnt, I thought I may have dodged a bullet...
TOTALLY my fault as I managed to screw the complete car together correctly, 'cept for this one teeny little s/s hose.
The engine was recently refreshed prior to HS by our old buddy Vic Fasola, fresh valve job, new bearings, new rings, and rod bolts. The engine had 8 test days/race weekends on it and he said it looked just fine.
I would definitely classify this under Coop's Blunder as opposed to Yet Another FB Engine Failure!
That just goes to show how VITAL every part of a race car is. One little mistake and it costs you bigtime. The only good that comes from it is that you will not make that mistake again. It's actually amazing thats all you had missed after the incredible thrash to get the car ready. Thanks for sharing.
Oh, I knew you were going to slap a little orange on that beast!
Hmmm...I'll get even more intrusive. I understand that you (quite rightly) attribute the current engine failure to your previous over-heating. What I am interested in knowing (once the engine is torn down) is what specifically failed. Rod bearing? If so which one? Scuffed piston in addition to the what I assume was a bearing failure (or imminent bearing failure) considering the drop in oil pressure? This assumes that you are willing to share!
I can't see any reason not to change my "open book" policy now.
Engine at Vic's now and will report, pics, etc when available to do so.
I suspect it was the #2 rod bearing, but will know soon enough.
I do know that it definitely was bearing material in the pan...
There's a joke there somewhere but I don't think my wife would appreciate me trying to expand upon the Harlottesville (really Charlottesville, VA). I do have a question though....where is that misspelling located?
Thanks for being so open about your activities. My intention is do so as well BUT, for example, some people have asked for the HP numbers that we (George, mainly) are generating from the 2009 R1. There are some exposures that only generate more controversy than any benefit derived.
Funny thing happened at Sebring. I'm out of my car at my trailer helmet off.
Your car approaches and stops. I awalk up and start talking to "you", how ya been, good to see ya, blah blah. I go on for a bit and finally the driver says "I bet you think I'm Jason". Priceless...
C Ya soon enough,