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What Have We Been Up To? - Page 3
The weekend of August 27th found us at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. We had just completed a thorough race preparation on the Lotus 79 which brought the car down to merely a bare tub with only the Cosworth DFV still installed. We serviced the clutch, gearbox, brakes, wheel bearings, suspension, a leaky water pump and also made many improvements on small issues which had been nagging us at previous races. We were confident the car was ready to win at Sonoma. Imagine our letdown, then, when we had a soft brake pedal on the first day of practice!
Nathan Thompson and Robert Metcalf roll the 79 into the tent after a session at Infineon.
Regogo Team manager Richard South and team member Nick London-Lund look on while Pete Hoag, far left, records the event.
You may remember that the brake pedal was soft as the car was delivered to us at Birmingham. The standard 3/4 inch master cylinders just did not displace enough fluid to move eight sets of brake pads into contact with the rotors. We installed some stepped master cylinders for the race at Montreal which solved the problem and gave Doc the confidence he needed to brake hard and late. One of the cylinders began to leak prior to the Infineon race which we replaced with an identical one, or so we thought. We fought a soft pedal just like the one we encountered at Birmingham all weekend in Sonoma.
Mario Andretti came by to check us out and say hello to his old car. It was a pleasure to chat with him and have him in our pit. Doc Bundy is such a professional, that the brakes did not keep him from posting the fastest time in Saturday's qualifying and we found ourselves on the pole for the race. This prompted Chris Bender and his crew to stay late at the track to try to find some additional speed from their Williams FW-08. When the green fell on Sunday, Doc jumped into the lead with Chris close behind. The brakes let Doc down, however, and Chris slipped by on the first lap. Doc fell back in the Lotus 79 still finishing a strong second but the win we hoped for evaporated like morning mist. To see videos of each day of the weekend, including in car video, click these links:
Richard and Nathan check temps and pressures at Infineon as Robert looks on. Doc waits patiently.
Back in the shop, we discovered the source of the brake problem. The stepped master cylinders use a check valve between the large and small portions of the cylinders By using our master cylinder test rig which uses a gauge to monitor output pressure, we discovered the preload on the check valve spring is critical. Adjusting this preload to the correct setting made the cylinders perform as they had at our previous races and produced the hard pedal that Doc likes. Nice to know, but it came one race weekend too late.
We then made a trip to Watkins Glen for the International Historic Races. The race weekend was successful and uneventful, but the trip to get to the track was one we will always remember. The week before, hurricane Irene had coursed up the East Coast and then Lee parked itself over the east dropping another 10 to 15 inches of rain on the already saturated soil. Our flight to Philadelphia was delayed three hours due to the weather in the Northeast and by the time we arrived, the connecting flight to Elmira, NY had left. We rented cars to drive to the hotel in Corning, NY. Little did we know what we were in for.
Many of the two lane roads on our journey were impassable due to high water or washed out bridges. We traversed one bridge which was a paved road over a large culvert much of which had washed out and left only one lane across the river. We drove across quickly! We came to a tree which had fallen across the road, blocking it. There was just enough room to get around on the shoulder. We drove another few miles only to encounter another high water area which made the road impassable. Returning to the tree, we discovered someone else had hooked the end and pulled it around enough to make the road completely impassible. Fortunately, a volunteer fire department crew showed up with a chain saw and cut it into manageable chunks which we drug off the road. We finally got to Endicott, NY about 4:30 in the morning and did not find any more passable roads. We had an on track session at the Glen at 8:30. We found a hotel which still had rooms and stayed for about five hours. The next morning we drove east and north from Endicott, passing a mobile home floating down the river, and finally arrived at the track about 2:30 in the afternoon. We should have taken the flight.
Fallen tree blocking our path at 2 AM.
Doc's Lotus 23B and Nathan's Van Diemen RF97 had arrived the previous day. We now have the 23B pretty well dialed in and it rarely gives much trouble. The Van Diemen, however, has not run much in the last couple of years and seemed to be complaining about it. A ground wire on the CD ignition box broke at Mont Tremblant. We borrowed a distributor and ignition box and discovered the broken wire as we changed them. After that event, we reinstalled the original parts and fixed the wire. When Nathan first went on the track at the Glen, the car seemed to work fine. Soon, though, it began to go flat at high RPM. We checked everything we could think of but did not find the problem. Never-the-less, Nathan was able to get ahead of a beautiful McLaren F1 car that showed up at the race. We hope to see this ex Denny Hulme car in the HGP races next year, but hope it is faster then.
Nathan in the RF97 passing the McLaren F1.
Nathan is outclassed in the Van Diemen running against SVRA's winged formula cars such as F/B, F/2 and Formula Atlantic so we didn't expect a high finishing position. We are getting the car sorted and getting him some seat time in preparation for a look at the Star Mazda series next year. Doc has been winning frequently in SVRA's under 2 liter class in the Lotus 23B and this race was no exception. It began to rain during the race and he radioed in that it was "slick as cat ....." Well you know what. He soldiered on and brought home another win in the rain shortened race.
We were invited to take the ex Gus Hutchison Lotus 41B to the second annual Racers' Reunion in Las Colinas on the weekend of September 24th. Gus won SCCA's very first professional series in the Lotus in 1967 having won 4 of the 5 races that year. Gus was in attendance as were Johnny Rutherford, Jim McElreath and Buddy Cagle. The Lotus was one of a couple of dozen very historic cars on display and Donald Davidson, the historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway kept everyone laughing with his stories of driver's antics. It was a great event and it was wonderful to see Gus reunited once again with his car.
Drivers in attendance at the 2011 Racers' Reunion. Robert is center of 1st row in red shirt. Gus is 2nd row to right in blue shirt. Our Lotus 41B was among many fine cars.
The next event was the SVRA race at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Being a reasonably new track, none of us had been there before. We found it to be a really nice track with great amenities. It has nice garages, VIP 'hotel' rooms above the pit lane garages, a timing tower, media center and gift shop. The track is smooth with small elevation changes. It is not a highly technical track like Hallett or Mid Ohio, but the turns are fast and require a bit of bravery.
Members of Paul Rego's family joined us in New Jersey and we were honored to have them there. We hope they can return to a race next year when we run the Lotus 79. It was an uneventful weekend (that's how we like them!) with Doc and Nathan each learning the track. They fell in well and Doc was clearly the fastest of all the 2 liter sports racers. Nathan was still outclassed in the F/2000 Van Diemen.
While Nathan was on the grid on slicks, it began to rain. With no time to change tires or setup, we had to venture out with a completely dry setup. He was able to change brake bias and anti roll bar settings to compensate, but driving in the rain on slicks is still a challenge. The other competitors thought so, as well, and two of them pulled in on the pace lap. When they came around for the green, several more followed the pace car in. When Nathan saw the entire field go into pit lane instead of taking the green, he followed them in, asking on the radio, "What's going on?" After a quick discussion, we realized the track was green and he went back out, the only car on the track. SVRA officials dropped the checker after 5 laps which made Nathan not only the only finisher but the winner as well! He won that one because he was braver than everyone else and because he had the skill to keep it on the track in those conditions.
After New Jersey, we towed to the CVAR race at Hallett, Oklahoma. Scheduled to run were Brian Findley and Jim Dillard in Merlyn Formula Fords. Jim's father passed away while we were in New Jersey so only Brian made the race. Our sympathies go out to Jim and his family. Hallet was a dreary weekend with two drivers of production cars also passing away due to heart attacks while on the track. The families of Ron Shade and Bill Hill have our sympathies, too. Brian ran well, running second in the Sunday morning race before beginning to fall back. Since he was not feeling well, we decided to load up and head home early. The Hallett race was not one of our better events.
Brian leading a herd of FFs out of Hallett's Turn 3
The weekend of October 16, we went to the annual convention of Lotus owners taking both the Lotus 23B and the Lotus 79 Formula One car. Coincidentally, it was the same weekend and location as the last Indy Car race of 2011 in Las Vegas. Close to two hundred Lotus owners gathered from across the nation with their cars. As you might expect, the 79 was a star attraction. There were various seminars, an autocross with trophy presentation and a very interesting talk given by Steven Hallam, former engineer with the Lotus and McLaren Formula One teams. During that time, Steven worked with Nigel Mansell, Aryton Senna, Gerhard Berger, Nelson Piquet, Michael Andretti, Mika Hakkinen, Martin Brundel and Mark Blundell. The big attraction for us was meeting Bob Dance who was the crew chief on the Lotus 79 during the Mario Andretti years. Robert's conversations with him were informative and entertaining. Bob is a wonderful guy!
The Lotus Owners Gathering 31 was a very nice event but was overshadowed by the incident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. Our sympathies also go out to Dan Wheldon's family, friends and fans. We hope Indy Car gets its act together and understands that you cannot responsibly run 34 cars in a group at 220 mph.
Our next event is the weekend of October 23rd when we take Johnny Spellman's beautiful Ford GT to the Texas Mile. After that, we have a test scheduled for the Formula One car, another race for our Formula Fords at Texas World Speedway and a Legends of Motorsport race at Sebring. Stay tuned for the next update.
Videos courtesy of Greg Smith at Shotsmith. Photos courtesy of Bob Chapman, Bart Stevens, Drenda Burris and originals by Robert Metcalf
Thanks to Paul Rego of Regogo Racing for letting us be a part of the Lotus 23B and Lotus 79 efforts!
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