Portland International Raceway
Portland, Oregon, USA
August 28 and 29, 2004
I've been looking forward to this weekend for a while. The weather reports were showing that it would be sunny on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With clear weather forecast for the whole weekend, there would be little doubt about what setup and which tires to use. Confidence in the weather would allow for a very relaxing weekends; I could bolt-up a set of dry tires, switch the suspension to full hard, and just enjoy myself.
I don't mind driving in the rain; it's a breath-taking experience. In the dry, I have to work and run a very high speed to get the car over its limits. In the wet, the water leaves the car's limits very low and even at very slow speeds the car is over its head. Though driving isn't so bad, waiting around in the rain is tiresome, and working on the car in a hard rain is almost impossible.
Sure enough, I pitched my tent and claimed my paddock space. I had a great spot; between my friends Carlo, Taryn, and Jon from TC Motorsports, and a large enclosed trailer. I'd have plenty of shade, and friends around to help me out. We've just bought some in-car radios and my custom ear buds came from the lab last week, so I was eager to play with the new equipment.
On Saturday morning, my practice sessions were great. I felt like I had the car under me, and quickly adjusted my tire pressures for the optimal hot pressure. Using my ear buds with my scanner was a joy: they fit very securely, and I could run the scanner at a substantially lower volume than with the foam plugs I had been using before.
At lunch, I took the wheels off the car to get a look at the brakes. I knew I'd soon need to replace pads and rotors, and wanted to see how the parts looked. When I removed my left-front wheel, I noticed that the metal along the inside edge of the rim had been scored. A balance weight was whittled down, and there were lines along the inside shoulder. Obviously, something had been rubbing, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I checked all the suspension bits, and couldn't seem to find anything wrong.
I went out for my Group 5 qualifying session to set a time for ITS, and noticed that I could get the car more carefully set for Turn 4, then carry a ton of speed through 5. My tires stuck well in the cool morning weather, and I was simply amazed at the line I could bring through T5 and T6 once I got the entry speed right.
About six laps into the session, I came up behind a couple of other drivers entering Turn 1, a right-angle right-hander into a tiny concrete patch called the Festival Curves. A 135-degree left immediately turns around and exits towards the sweeping parts of the track in the back section. Entry to Turn 1 requires a ton of breaking at the end of the front straight; I'll slow the car from about 115 or 120 miles per hour down to 40 or so, and turn right hard.
When I hit the brakes, the car slowed; then I heard a thud and the brake pedal went to the floor! I couldn't slow enough to take the difficult right-hander. I had to hope the other drivers wouldn't turn in, and they fortunately didn't. I weaved around them into the escape road (which is actually the front straight when the chicane is closed). Instinctively pumping the pedal, I brought the car to a stop and waited at the turn station.
We towed the car into the pits; the truck driver did an incredible job, backing my car into my pit slot without removing it from the tow hook! I got the wheel off and immediately noticed the problem: the brake line had ruptured, and was pissing fluid. I felt foolish for not thinking that the stainless-steel braided lines could've been rubbing my wheel and causing that wear on the rim. It had finally cut through and the line burst when it was stressed under the pressure of breaking.
I was very lucky to have been able to stop the car. At another location on the track, I wouldn't have any usable runoff room, or might have tangle with one of the other drivers had they decided to initiate their turn. At Mission, where there's nearly no runoff room, recovering the car would've been hopeless.
When I installed a set of these stainless lines on my street car, I ordered an extra set for the race car. That extra set should've been in my spares kit, but it wasn't! If I wanted to race, I'd have to get a new brake line. It's a simple fix, but the part isn't easy to find. The BMW dealerships in Portland don't open their parts departments on the weekends, and Baxter's Auto Parts didn't have a replacement line.
In order to race, I'd have to drive 180 miles back home, grab the parts, and make the return trip! Liz was visiting family on the east coast, and wouldn't be able to help me by driving half way to meet me, or bringing the parts down for me.
So, that's what I did. Making a mistake is bad enough, but now I'd have six hours of driving time to think about it. Worse yet, I'd have to get up as early as possible and fix the car. I'd have to replace all the brake fluid that leaked, bleeding the brakes and clutch after all the fluid was gone. Waugh!
But I pulled it off. I got back to the hotel with the parts (and a couple of cans of fluid) around 11pm, and tried to get some sleep immediately. I got up around 530am, and was at the track a bit before 7am. Replacing the line took only a few minutes, but I had to get the car in the air and bleed everything. The brakes were easy to bleed with my pressure bleeder. The clutch was another matter.
Taryn offered to help pump the pedal while I diddled the bleeder, but we didn't make much progress. Carlo gave some advice and coached us through the process ... and it helped lots! The clutch became usable, then started feeling lots better. I was ready to go!
I ran out and did my Group 5 session. I wasn't aware of my times, but I was thrilled that the car was working. The brakes were still a little bit spongy, so I bled them again very quickly before going out to set a time in Group 1 for my C Production race. The car was back! The brake pedal was very firm, the clutch was working great, and I was all set.
I cleaned up my tools and then went over to the Driver Services area to collect my times. I was on pole for C Production, a couple cars of Guy Selle, the other C Production regular. The real news was in ITS. All four drivers had qualified with a tenth of a second; we were in a group of 4 on the grid, with 0.430 seconds between the first car and the last car. Unfortunately, I was the last car, but what a race it would be!
The C Production race was rather uneventful. Guy squirted ahead of me at the start, but after two laps I tracked him down and passed him. The field spread out, and the big Vipers and GT-1 cars lapped me.
In ITS, I had a far more interesting race. I didn't get a good start because I'm tentative about forcing the car through the festival curves. A bunch of guys got head of me, and had to pick through them. By the time I did, the next ITS car had already garnered a bit of a lead. Lincoln Burns eventually slowed and I passed him during an exciting move where we went three-wide into Turn 10. He later told me his brakes had overheated and he had to slow down a bit. I kept Jack and Skip in sight, but ended up tripping over some lapped drivers and a yellow flag and couldn't reel them in.
What a tough weekend! My times were about three-quarters of a second faster than my best, but I couldn't manage better results. After the excitement of my brake failure, I was thrilled to have raced at all.
I'll replace my pads and rotors before going to Mission, and I hope to have a good luck (and more dry racing!) there.