Open Track Home


Starting Line | Spring Mountain | Willow Springs | Streets of Willow | Buttonwillow_1 | Thunderhill | Buttonwillow_14 | Las Vegas | Epilogue | Contact Us

return to the home page

Open Track Challenge 2002 -- Pat and Mark's Vegas Vacation
Event 5

Thunderhill Raceway, Willows CA

We awoke bright and early at 5:40am, after getting to sleep after 1:00am or so.    Sleep is hard to come by during the OTC event, especially if you are keeping up a website while the event is going on.   Little did we know that today would be a most unusual day...

The damage to the Mini caused by hitting the tire retread was mostly cosmetic, although the impact did damage the A/C condensor as well.   The front chin spoiler was completely torn from the car.  (note to Pat's wife:  I was not driving at the time.  Pat's wife must think I'm a jinx since every car of Pat's that I get into comes to harm in some way...).  

The drive up I-5 took us through some beautiful farm country, and the insects in the region left their mark on our cars. That brown film on this RX-7 is not dirt, but thousands of tiny bugs!

When we got to the track, I immediately did my recon laps on the electric scooter, and then afterwards sat down to fabricate a new chin spoiler.  I felt it was important to keep air flowing properly over the car to minimize drag.  Using large plastic tie-wraps and cardboard, I made a spoiler frame.

Then we applied some super sticky duct tape to hold it all together...

Voila!  The finished product doesn't look half bad, and it should work reasonably well.  Most folks looking at it just assumed we taped over the standard spoiler to protect it.

Once again the documentary crew heads off to work.  After getting an email from someone following the website, we got the scoop on them.  They are working on a documentary on the Flying Miata team.   They are also shooting some extra footage of the event in the off chance they get enough material for a second documentary.  As part of this they did an interview with Pat and I as we were changing brake pads on the Mini.  

Notice in the background you can see one of the more difficult turns at Thunder Hill, I think they call it the "cyclone".  From this angle you can see the road crests at the top of the hill, but what you can't see is that it also turns 90 degrees right at that crest, which makes it very challenging.   Imagine the Mini flying over this hill on 2 wheels.  Let's just say the cyclone plays an interesting part in this story later on...

The Ferrari F40 is being made ready to go out on track.   The reason they left the event on Sunday was that one bank of cylinders wasn't properly firing, and it was traced to a blown fuse.  We'd crack a joke about that famous Italian penchant for reliability, but folks that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  I wonder what its like to have an engine that has more than one bank?  Hmmm....

Besides the fact that he drives a Ferrari F40 as a race car, Amir is a little different than the rest of us, as you can see by this rather interesting customized shift knob.

The little skulls for the door locks have a rather interesting flair as well, and it certainly indicates a certain sense of humor...

A better shot of the Mini-Madness decals on the hood, one white, one black, one silver.

The Honda showed up today, with a newly installed motor.  The engine swap took a bit longer than planned, and they had high hopes that they would be able to get their program back on track.  But unfortunately the gremlins have not yet been worked out of their mega-horsepower motor, and on their first lap out they got quite a bit of mis-firing which they have not been able to diagnose.   They weren't really able to complete any laps, so it appears they will have to withdraw from the event.

A rather nice vintage 240z, featuring a traditional Datsun racing scheme.  These cars were made popular by several successful racing campaigns in the 70's.   One of the more notable racers was Paul Newman.

Today Pat and I decided on a different strategy.  Pat would drive the first 2 sessions, and then I would run the second two as a mop-up.   The first session went quite well for Pat, but during  the second one, disaster struck...

One of two cables that connect the shifter to the transmission broke while Pat was on track.  The cable attaches to the transmission with a ball-and-socket fitting, and the socket on the end of the cable broke.  With the cable disconnected, the transmission was stuck in 2nd gear, so Pat was able to limp the car off track.  We took it over to the trusty BMW mechanic, Bill Arnold, who has saved our bacon more than once already.  Bill certainly deserves the humanitarian award, as he has never turned down a request for help.   And he has gotten several such requests each and every day.  With Bill's help, we were able to jury-rig a solution that hopefully will last us.  Bill hollowed out the socket portion of the cable end a little more, then we used plastic tie-wraps to lock it in place.  The whole thing was finished with little more than a couple of minutes to go before my first session.

So when I went out for my first run, I must admit I didn't have my "game face" on.  I was so stressed out at trying to get the car fixed, and the uncertainty of whether we could fabricate a solution, that I had trouble concentrating on the task at hand.  All the while I kept expecting the shifter linkage to break once more.  And then on my very 2nd lap I spun the car into the dirt at the end of turn 1!  And in doing so I stalled the engine (remember that we have to push start it due to our shorting problem).  Fortunately the car had stopped moving, and actually started rolling backwards a bit since it was sitting on a grassy hill.  I quickly stuck it in reverse and popped the clutch so that it bump started.   Whew!  Thank goodness it started or I might have to wait for a tow truck.  Little did I know that a tow truck was still in my future, but more on that later.    Because I went off track, I had to pull into the pits for a quick vehicle inspection.  The net result of this was that I wasted most of my 20 minute track session, so that I only got 2 productive laps (sigh).    This was not going to be good enough for a win today, so I'd better do better in my second session.

Between the first and second session we decided to change brake pads, which was a good thing because what was left of the original set was paper thin.  If we had waited just one more session, we would have been down to the backing plates.  The Porterfield R4E brake pads wore surprisingly even, and we got almost 5 track days out of them, which is quite good for a racing compound brake pad.  At this time the documentary crew came around and started shooting footage of us changing the brakes.  They asked us questions about our expectations for the event, and our background.  At one point they asked us if we were professional test drivers, and we got a kick out of that.   We had to explain to them we were just a couple of poor schmoes, out having fun...

By the time the second session rolled around, the temperatures had peaked at 90 degrees.   I needed to go out and turn some really fast times in order to make sure we maintain first place, but with only a few laps under my belt this was going to be difficult.  I ran the first several laps without incident, and the new brake pads were working quite well.  And then it happened.  I was going over the crest of the "cylcone", and I managed to get the drivers side wheels to jump over the apex curbing as I cut the turn.   The car flew over the hill on 2 wheels (Pat later said it looked quite impressive from the pits), and when it resettled itself, something strange happened.  Within a few turns the engine sputtered and died.  I managed to coast the car into an access road, and it came to a stop.  Uh-oh, this isn't good.  The car isn't running, and we left the trailer 350 miles away at Buttonwillow racetrack.  We did that because the speed limits on California highways are only 55mph if you are towing a trailer, even an empty and unloaded one. 

When the session was over we got the Mini towed back to the pits.   The  Mini is a crowd favorite (it's so cute and un-intimidating), so there were some disappointed stares from our fellow competitors and the few spectators that were there.    I told Pat that it felt just like we ran out of gas, and then we thought about it some, and concluded that the fuel must have been cut-off somehow.  It seems there is an inertial based switch in the Mini (and in all new cars, actually), that turns off the fuel pump if it detects an impact.  In this case, the switch thought the flying Mini was in a crash, so the pump shut off.  We reset the switch, and we were able to push start the Mini.  Whew!  So everything was ok, but we decided we need to talk to Flow Mini tomorrow to see how to disable the switch so it doesn't happen again.  Or I could just try to keep all four wheels on the ground, but that's no fun!

But the damage had been done, not to the Mini since it was just fine, but to our score because I only got maybe 10 laps total between the two sessions.  I was still learning the track, so I had yet to set our fastest laps.  We were bummed about that, but sometimes that's just the way it goes.

The results were soon posted, and we were surprised to see that we managed to get another 2nd place finish.  The well driven Miata R finished just ahead of us, and the RX-7 just behind us.  This really surprised us because we expected that the shortened sessions would mean a poorer finish.  But even though I only turned about 10 good laps, the best three of those were still pretty good.

This means we still maintain 1st place in Touring 4 for at least one more day.  With two days to go though, and such a slim lead (only 10 points over the RX-7), it is likely Touring 4 won't be decided until the very last day.

We hit the road by 4:30pm, and with 350 miles to go before bedtime, we put the Powerstroke Diesel Ford Pickup and the Mini through its paces on California Interstate 5.   Normally I only go about 10 over, but with so many miles to cover in so little time, restraint went out the window, but only in brief spurts when no-one was around...

Its about 12:30am, and time for some sleep.  So check back tomorrow for another update...


    Go to the next part of the adventure:  Buttonwillow_14