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Open Track Challenge 2002 -- Pat and Mark's Vegas Vacation
Event 2

Willow Springs Raceway, Rosamond, CA 

For a person of Italian descent, Pat is one of the fairest people that I know.  Unfortunately this can have its consequences when you spend the entire day out in the sun at a race track situated in a desert.

The heat in the Nevada and California desert is deceptive due to the low humidity, and the sun is unrelenting.  As you can see, poor Pat has an absolute terrible case of sunburn!  Needless to say, he is in a little bit of pain.

We arrived at the Willow Springs by 7:30am, and here the Mini is pictured with its original street tires.  We put the street tires on for the longer drives between tracks.  Even though the race tires that we use are street legal, they are very sticky and can pick up road debris easily, and we don't want to risk damaging them.  In the background of this picture you can actually see part of the race track, which stretches up the side of this hill.  Willow Springs is also a desert track, and it is an interesting contrast to the track we ran yesterday.  Willow Springs doesn't try to be "technical", instead it strives to be the fastest possible track, so the turns all have "good camber" which increases grip because they are banked.   It contains a lot of full throttle uphill sections which will severely test the cooling systems of all the cars, especially the ones that are highly modified.  So we expect some cars to brake down today.


Mike Conway, president of K-MTN TV  in Lake Tahoe, drives this beautiful Chevrolet Z-06 as the official "Camera Car" of the Open Track Challenge.   Mikes not competing in the Open Track Challenge, but he is joining us on track.  Get a load of this...

He actually mounts twin cameras on this car facing front and rear, and drives on track with us!  The resulting video is incredible and will give you a feel for what it's like to compete and drive on-track.  The video also contains exciting footage taken from great trackside vantage points.  This video will feature almost all of the competitors in action, not just Pat and Mark.  You can order the Open Track Video by calling this number:

Order the Official Open Track Video:  1-800-874-7488, (9-5, Pacific Time)

Tell Mike you saw this on Pat and Mark's Open Track Challenge website!

Pat and I have both ordered our copies already.  They are available in VHS, SVHS, MiniDV and DVD.  And the prices are quite reasonable.  But enough of this shameless plug, let us tell you what happened today. 


Fellow Touring 4 class competitors Gary and Tal unfortunately had car troubles with their Supercharged Taurus SHO.  They sorted out their computer problems, but their clutch has given up the ghost.  Because their car has much more horsepower than stock, they need a very special clutch which is not readily available.  So they are going to leave the event early and try to limp it back home.   You can see the rather well designed aluminum trailer that Gary built himself, and they use it to carry all of their gear behind the Taurus.  We enjoyed caravaning with them from Pahrump to Willows Springs, and will miss their company.

Behold, the "Honda from Hell"!   It is indeed an impressive beast, and quite frankly it is so much faster than the other cars in our class, that the rest of us may be fighting for second place.    The eternal dilemma in these endurance style events is that you can add lots of horsepower to a car, but you risk breaking down.  This is because by adding a stronger motor, you also need to have a bigger cooling system to remove the additional heat, and a stronger transmission and drivetrain to withstand the additional power, and bigger brakes to slow you down.  All of the parts are more stressed, especially on a track like Willow Springs which has a VERY long full throttle uphill section.

The stripped down interior of the Honda.  All excess weight has been removed, so this car probably weighs well under 2000lbs.  And with a souped up motor, it can out accelerate a Porsche 911 (we saw it do this yesterday).  So you might say we have our hands full right now. 

After each track session, the results are posted.  Competitors scan the results to see how they fared against their competition.   Each car gets 4 20minute sessions on track.  You share the track with about 12-13 other cars.  Your goal is to turn laps as fast as possible.  Your best 3 laps of the day are added together, and lowest overall total is the leader.    Pretty simple actually.

In a 20 minute session, we might get 7-8 laps, of which you hope a couple will be "clean", meaning you drove the track with few mistakes, and weren't held up by other cars.

This is the Corvette Z-06 of Rupert Smith.  He is the owner and designer of the Spring Mountain Motorsports Park, the first track on our journey.  He is actually competing in the event himself, and is kicking some tail, so to speak.

Pat on track in the Mini Cooper S, although since we don't know this track that well, I must admit I am unsure which turn this is.

Mark on track, coming up the hill and riding the apex in turn 4 at Willow Springs.  You can see the Mini Cooper S is nicely balanced with very little body lean.  And this is with a stock suspension, which we think is quite good. 

This picture is for the wife back home, that sometimes wonders why I needed a 28' enclosed trailer.  This is the Pulp Racing Rig, a 48'+ trailer, along with a stout F350 turbo-diesel.  I like Doug's choice in trucks...

This old MG shares some heritage with our British born Mini-Cooper S.    A rather sharp and serious car that can put bugs in your face at 100mph, since it lacks a full windshield!


When the day is done, many folks don't have far to travel.  Most tracks have RV facilites, and Rupert Smith (driver of the Corvette I mentioned above), has quite a beautiful RV that appears to be rather luxuriously appointed.   Maybe some day...

Does this even look like a car to you?  This is what happens when you take a Porsche 914 to the absolute extreme.   There is nothing left but a motor and frame, and a thin skin that resembles in some fashion the original Porsche from which it is born.  See the wide fenders that extend beyond the tail-lights?  Those are to accommodate the "slighlty" wider tires. I didn't get a picture of the tires, but if you stacked all four of them, they would be almost as tall as I am!  How often do you completely replace your brakes?  Every several years?  This picture was taken at the end of the track day, and these folks are going over the car, mostly replacing brake parts that have worn out after only a few days use. 

So you are probably wondering how we ended up today.   Well yesterday we finished 2nd in class to the Honda, but today the Honda had car trouble.  It's the old track maxim, that when you add power, you risk breaking down.  This is one advantage that we enjoy by running a stock vehicle (which by the way we've owned for less than a week). 

So we were able to finish first in class today, and that moves us into 1st place in class "Touring 4" for the overall standings.  But its a long road to go, and if the Honda gets its problems sorted out, it could easily overtake us.  Plus there are some other excellent drivers in our class that I will highlight in a future update.   So we will just keep plugging away and hoping for the best.

Thanks for following along, and we hope to have another update tomorrow.


Go to the next part of the adventure:  Streets of Willow