So, as you may have heard, we finally won this thing. People talk about winning the “hard way” and I love sports cliché’s as much as the next ESPN junkie, but that one doesn’t work here. What happened was, we did it the “right way” and a bunch of newbie’s disguised as a factory backed racing team tried to bugger it up for us.
When I say “newbie’s” I mean to say that I believe their experience in “racing life” is mostly different from ours. I have friends that have been fortunate to make livings in motorsports and some of them raced as children and did every job in the shop – some of them ended up getting cool automotive engineering jobs after school and grew to love the sport later in life. Some guys (I hear) show up simply because they are paid to – that’s not what’s going on at Miatacage.com.
Have you ever heard the idea that in battle, a man defending his home is worth many times more than men who are attacking on behalf of another? Even though we travel here from Oregon, Thunderhill is “our house”. Those Honda guys were simply mercenaries coming to take what is ours – it never occurred to them that we had the upper hand.
As a child I was taken to see the movie Grand Prix. I remember a scene in which James Garner (who plays a brash American racing driver) is meeting with Toshiro Mifune (playing a character meant to emulate Soichiro Honda) about driving his racing car. Their conversation was frank, but respectful – I would continue to observe in life that this is how Japanese companies traditionally do business.
Monday, however, the American version of Honda plainly revealed that they still have no respect for us. They name us in a post race press release as “Mazdacage.net”. Really?
If you are from Honda and reading this 11 months from now, you have finally found the best place to learn about the Miatacage.com team. Perhaps someone has started a business at Mazdacage.net and provided a link for you…
For those who are interested in knowing who we raced, here is the first line from the “about” page on the Honda / HPD website – this is who they are:
“Honda Performance Development, Inc. (HPD) is Honda’s racing company within North America and is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda Motor Co.,…”
Having met the crew, I would presume that the press release was written by a PR lackey that wasn’t anywhere near the race track and likely knows little of racing. The crew, as I mentioned in an earlier post, were gracious men and we look forward to racing them again. PR person, whoever you are – say hello to cousin Bozo for me.
I could tell you many ways about how this race was won or lost, but to keep it simple consider this:
- We were a minimum of 7 seconds faster per stop to fuel the car
- We always got a full 10 gallons of fuel IN the car
- We had no penalties (Honda had two 5 minute penalties for fuel spills)
Honda talks about mistakes in their release, but we had problems, too. Our people won the race – we actually prepared to make no mistakes so that our problems would possibly be manageable. I am told that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy – we had accounted for that, as well. Honda hadn’t been bothered to consider that they had a rival. So, we were able to beat them 3 different ways on fuel strategy, alone.
We did suffer a horrible tire wear issue. We used the same Toyo RA-1’s as last year, but for some reason they were lasting about half as long. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Billy-Bob? We’re looking into that one…
We also had two serious brake issues. We used the same Carbotech pads that lasted the entire race last year. We had a horrible shake in the front, and one rear pad had to be changed toward the end of the race requiring a stop of over 7 minutes. We absolutely had to service the rear, but took the decision to nurse the fronts. From before sunrise, I was constantly calculating the amount of time we could sacrifice per lap and we slowed accordingly.
Photos by Carrie Sutherland:
Preparation and Testing:
Mostly, it was Ken Sutherland and Will Schrader that had prepared the car that would win – that meant sacrificing speed for reliability if necessary. Despite this care we had arrived without as much of the former as we expected, but with limited resources, sometimes that happens. Our fast race lap was quite a bit slower than last year. We have led this race for long periods of time in the past only to suffer problems late – we were due some good luck.
The engine was built using lots of new Mazda parts and machine work by Kevin Hay at E & L Machine Shop in Hood River. Kevin has helped Jon Davies and me build championship winning Spec Miata motors for years, and is now the default shop for Northwest Spec Miata owners.
That motor failed for a still unknown reason, however, after just one lap during a shakedown. With Kevin’s help, Ken immediately built another using the parts that hadn’t been damaged. Then the fresh transmission started acting funky during final prep and had to be replaced. The point is that even after leaving nothing to chance and using all of the right, new parts, goofy stuff happens.
The team also had decided to test a different spring / sway bar combination on the Miata. This process had started back in the summer. The idea was to give the car better stability / drivability and it worked well enough to bring it on the race car.
I was also concerned that NASA would not be able to effectively enforce the complicated rule-set that allowed the CR-Z into our Endurance 3 (E3) class. They did put GPS units into our car (and likely the Hondas) on Friday and later took us to the dyno to do a baseline test to compare with that data – so my concerns were somewhat mitigated.
Known problems race day morning:
- Motor down 7 horse power over expected number
- Used transmission in the car
- Unfamiliar (but very drivable) suspension package
- Competition brought guns to knife fight
Everything started predictably enough and Ken worked his way quickly to a top 3 position. The #93 CR-Z, which had started back in the field because of a very congested and shortened qualifying session, was cranking off very fast laps. Meanwhile, the eventual second place #19 CR-Z was serving penalties for sloppy pit work.
It appeared to us that the Honda strategy was to have the 93 car be the pro-driver / race winning car and the 19 would be a back-up winner (if necessary) and guest driver / press car. That plan got all turned upside-down, however, when one of the fast guys put the 93 on its roof between turns 2 and 3. We could see it from our pit box and soon would realize that the slower 19 car was now our focus. It wasn’t so slow, any longer.
We had a good-size lead and were having immediate issues with another E3 competitor that ran into us twice (laps apart) shortly after being passed each time. The car showed no signs of damage and we continued to monitor the progress of the #19 car.
It was during an early morning pit-stop to change tires when it became apparent that we had finally caught the attention of some Honda personnel. They observed as we put Ken in the car around 2am with four new dry weather tires. The rules only allow for the changing of one tire per “hot pit” stop – so to change all four, the car must go to the paddock. We were losing too much time to the CR-Z, so we decided to gamble on an early swap to the shaved Toyo tires, which would increase our pace over time. The tire / driver / fuel stop was lightening quick and were able to stabilize the gap at a happy level.
As the morning drew on we became increasingly concerned of a shake the car had under braking – it was described by the drivers as “violent”. We inspected as best we could and determined that one of the rear brake pads was nearing the end of its useful life. It was also probable, in our estimation that the rear disc rotors were part of the problem. Before day broke, we had our 7 minute stop to fuel the car and repair the rear brakes – Ken was out and Bruce into the car.
Bruce didn’t care for the transmission, but worked out a solution. The shake was still there and the tools and parts for a front brake repair were moved near the pit wall. During Bruce’s mid-stint fuel stop, we determined that the brake pads were fine and continued calculating the time-cost of the rotor solution. They were slowly gaining and there wouldn’t be time for a stop – second place was of no use to us.
Brian Clemons had been precisely calculating our fuel consumption, even during the hours of rain, full course cautions and red flag conditions. We left ¼ gallon of fuel in a jug only once. For the stop to put Jonny back in the car, Bruce had been called in as he passed the pits and the right front tire then failed on the back straight – only several hundred yards before the pit entrance. We were already waiting when we received the distress call. We later joked that Brian is so good that he was able to precisely determine the exact time of tire failures, as well.
The situation was coming into focus:
- We had a gap
- We had a fuel economy advantage.
- We knew they had to stop two more times than we did.
- If we ran laps in the 2:12 range, they couldn’t catch us.
With an hour and a half to go, Ken asked me to calculate the number of seconds per lap we could give – at that time I recall it was 8.5. Not so bad.
Jonny chugged away, all-the-while begging to run a faster pace. Soon would come the longest hour of our racing lives.
Sean (team owner) had moved away from the pit box where we had been all night. He had gone to the bridge over the back straight to serve as a spotter in the contact prone turn 14-15 area. Sean is amongst the best on the radio I have ever heard. He stood at that bridge for hours (without a potty break, I might add) and fed clear, useful information to both Bruce and Jonny.
Back in our pits the entire crew was on call to handle the un-expected. Math continued as the Honda passed us to get onto the same lap – they were running out of time. I located the race leading Porsche, as the only chance the CR-Z now had was a full course caution that had to happen while the leader was between us on the track. Mercifully, he was just behind us when the Honda passed, and within 2 laps had gone past them, as well.
In the end we crossed the line 1:10 ahead of the factory backed car. The car is used up. After two years of agonizing heart break at this place, the boys were able to pull it off. I said after our defeat last year that we race because it’s hard and that we wouldn’t want it any other way. Thank you Honda for making this hard. Thank you team for rising to the challenge.
We were 8th overall, 1st in Endurance 3 (E3), ahead of all Endurance 2 (E2) cars, and would have been second place if entered in E1.