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Open Track Challenge 2002 -- Pat and Mark's Vegas Vacation
Event 7

Las Vegas International Raceway, Las Vegas Nevada 

Here is a REALLY quick update - more to come shortly. 

Unfortunately the RX-7 outran us at Las Vegas, and we finished 2nd Overall in T4.  I'm really sorry we didn't do better, but we gave it our absolute best shot.  The Mini lasted well, despite my efforts to drive the wheels off of it.  More on that later...

We are about to hit the road to return to the east coast, and I will work on putting together an update while underway.  Check back really late tonight (or early tomorrow) for pictures and commentary!


The day started out with promise, going tied into the lead with the Turbo II RX-7.  If we were going to beat him, we needed a certain type of track - mainly one that was very difficult to learn.  We had figured out by this point that the fairly modified RX-7 was a faster car in most situations than our Mini.  It had a very good aftermarket suspension, and enough engine modifications to bump out at least 40-50% more power than us.  And it was probably lighter as well.  It hadn't broken to this point, so it could probably last one more day.

The only places we beat the RX-7 were tracks that were "technical" or  very difficult and where the RX-7 team had little or no experience at.   We felt that given enough time at any track, the RX-7 would beat us.   So a really tough track would work to our advantage, since we could drive the Mini harder and closer to its limits, even on tracks we had never before seen. 

When I saw the track at Las Vegas, I was severely disappointed though.  It was the most simple of all the tracks we encountered.  It was flat with no blind turns, and no challenging elevation changes.  After the very first session there, I knew we would be in trouble, since it took absolutely no time to learn the track and get up to speed on it.   Quite frankly, within 20 minutes of driving on it, it was pretty much figured out.

Mini-Madness, one of our sponsors, sent us a nice 4 point harness that we were able to bolt into place.  Here you see me test fitting it in the Mini.  We had actually gotten the harnesses a couple of days ago when they fed-ex'ed them to one of our hotels, but we just now had enough spare time to do the installation.  They worked great at keeping us in the seats during hard cornering.

Duct tape, the racer's best friend.  Unfortunately I did a bonehead maneuver when I was trying to open the hood once on the Mini.  I'm so used to the reverse opening hood on my BMW M3 (the hood opens backwards from a normal car), that I tried to open the Mini hood that way, an nearly ripped off the plastic fender lip.   It was actually a very minor thing since I just damaged a few 50 cent clips which hold it on, but since we didn't have replacement clips with us, Duct Tape will do in a pinch.

Oh no, what are we going to do?  We're running out of Duct Tape!!!  Good thing its the last day...

Only in California do they hold races with Celebrity drivers.   Kind of like what they do on the Golf course with the golfing Pro-Am challenges, only instead of giving a celebrity a golf club, they strap him or her into a race car.  Sounds like Darwinian evolution to me, also known as a way to thin the herd, so to speak.  Here we have our own incognito celebrity, getting into the OTC action!

Here by popular request, the one and only Turbo Dog, mascot of the Flying Miata team.  It can get kind of hot at the race track, especially with the acres of blacktop and concrete laid down for the pit area.  Here Turbo gets a bit of shade, next to one of the massive goodyear racing slicks being run by the Flying Miata team.

Doug Hayashi and the Pulp Racing folks get around the pits on little gas powered scooters.   These are actually quite powerful, and unlike our little electric scooter, these can make it up the steepest of hills without being pushed.  I guess when you drive a supercharged NSX, or a turbocharged Porsche, you need a scooter that is appropriately powerful.   But our little electric one is just our speed...

Time to fuel the Mini at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but these darned NASCARs keep getting in the way.  That's all right, we don't mind sharing as long as they they don't hold us up in the turns.

In case you didn't know, Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a super speedway NASCAR oval, but we didn't run on the oval itself.  In the infield they have a short flat roadcourse, and that is where we ran our laps.

As the day wore on, the track got slower as the temperature rose.  Lacking the ability to add any go-fast parts, we decided to take a few off to see what would happen.  What does this part do?   Hmmm, I don't think we need a front sway bar linkage, anyway, do we?

This is actually an old autocrosser's technique to get the front end to gain more grip when coming out of the turns.  Thanks Tal Isbell, fellow T4 competitor, for the suggestion (and also the ever trusty mechanic/race car driver Bill Arnold, who also suggested it).  Since we were spinning our front wheels so badly under acceleration, we thought it might help to disconnect the front swaybar, which forces more of the car's load to the inside wheel.   Its not that the Mini has so much power, its just that when you are asking the car to both turn and accelerate while you are already at the limits of adhesion, it doesn't take much to spin the wheels.

Actually this worked, and the car was able to launch much better out of the turns.  But unfortunately the Mini became unbalanced and slower in other turns, so that the net effect in lowering laptimes was a big zero.   We think the stock suspension setup on a Mini is really quite good for casual track use, and that what the Mini really needs is a limited slip to get the power to the ground.  

So we didn't pull it off - we didn't beat the Turbo II RX-7 at Las Vegas, and hence settled for second place in Touring 4 (sigh).  

After the event was over, all of the BMW's went out on the oval for a group photo, to be published in Roundel Magazine, the official magazine of the BMW club.  One of the photo's was taken with the Mini right in the middle of the pack!   But there is some controversy about whether this photo (with the Mini in it) will appear in Roundel, since BMW is trying to differentiate the Mini as its own brand name.  We'll just have to wait and see.

It was a VERY long day, despite the fact that we didn't have to travel to another track this evening.    Our run group ran last, and then we had to pack up and load the Mini back on the trailer.    We ran back to the hotel for a quick shower, then raced back to the track for the awards banquet.

The banquet was a catered affair, held in one of the large hanger style garages that dot the infield.  These garages are there for the professional racing teams to use during race weekends.  The food was good and it was quite nicely done.

After dinner came the awards ceremony.   The Mini collected its 2nd Place Touring 4 trophy.  For our several first and second place finishes at various tracks, we got a few certificates towards brake pads from Carbotech Engineering, as well as a nice fleece lined helmet bag.   But there were two awards that we are most proud of.

One is a "Cinderella" award.  The Cinderella award goes to the car or cars that do far better than expected.  The best part about this award was that it was voted on by our fellow competitors.  There were two of these awards, and we got one of them, showing that the Mini Cooper S earned the respect of people in the know! 

The second award, and perhaps the most significant, was one we earned by our own skill and guts.  It was the "Big Dog at the Big Track" award.   The fastest and perhaps scariest track in all the West is Willow Springs Raceway.   EMI racing sponsored a separate and special award to the car in each class that took first place at the track that calls itself the "Fastest in the West".    So despite the fact that we had never set foot or tire on that track  (and most of our top competitors had), we kicked their tail!  Imagine the surprise in te crowd when they learned that our little stock Mini Cooper S was the BIG DOG at the BIG TRACK in class T4!   We got a bit of applause for that accomplishment.  Quite frankly, our competitors are still scratching their heads, wondering how we did it.  Here's a little secret - "don't lift off the gas, even if you think you're going to die!"

We shared some drinks with friends, and talked about plans for next year.  The Open Track Challenge is a great event, and I strongly encourage you to come on out and give it a try.

The next morning we hit the road once more, but this time we let ourselves sleep in until about 8:30 or so.  We want to get home, but we aren't in a huge rush.  We figure we'll take a different route home, this time across I-70 to the north.  The desert southwest is quite beautiful in its own way, but a change of scenery would be nice.

As I write this, we are in Colorado, and entering the Rocky Mountains.  Its a bit windy, and the road winds quite a bit, so I'll probably stop writing for now.  Check back in the Epilogue section for further updates of our return home, and perhaps some additional commentary about our adventures.

(P.S.  Sorry if the grammar and editing is a little lacking right now, I'll come back later and clean it up a bit!)


      Go to the next part of the adventure:  Epilogue