Life moves pretty slowly after returning to normal life following a race weekend. That’s a known fact when you’re involved in some manner of motorsports. I was reminded of that last week. Two weekends ago I kicked off the racing season by heading to Road America for the World Racing League CanAm Endurance Cup. The racing activity comprised of an eight-hour race on Saturday and another eight-hour race on Sunday. That’s 16 hours of wheel to wheel racing on what I consider the best race track in America. In other words, it was heaven. A racer’s dream. To top it off the weather was absolutely perfect and the car ran great. That said, the weekend wasn’t without a few hiccups.
For the race my team of amateur endurance racing veterans brought out our trusty orange steed, a 1989 BMW 325i. It’s hard to believe, but the event marked our 9th year running the car we’ve affectionately named the E30 bomber. The bomber has evolved dramatically since its inaugural event at Brainerd many years ago and has morphed into a super reliable and reasonably quick little race car. This event again proved that meticulous maintenance during the off-season makes the racing a lot more fun (because the car runs as expected) during the racing season. Sometimes, however, human error can screw it all up temporarily.
A beautiful, sunny morning greeted us on Saturday in advance of the first race of the weekend. We completed our pre-race rituals and got Erik belted into the car for the start of the race. A total of 50 cars split amongst five classes started the race. Our class, GP2, was comprised of 20 or so cars with a particularly strong contingent of BMWs – a few e30 era cars and a handful of e36 era three series models. Shortly after 9am they crossed the starting line and kicked off what should’ve been eight hours of racing.
On lap eight Erik radioed in noting that the oil pressure was dropping in the corners. Uh oh. He proceeded to bring the car into the pits for us to take a look. Nothing looked or sounded out of the ordinary. There were no visible oil spills. No ear cringing knocks or rattles. Just the normal engine thumping of the e30 bomber. I then checked the oil and found it was low. Really low. Like two quarts low in a system that holds around five quarts. We topped it off and sent Erik back out. The problem went away and the car ran great from there on out. We lost roughly six minutes in the pits or the equivalent of just over two laps.
We were perplexed at why the oil was so low. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we failed to check the oil when we changed it three weeks prior, when we prepped the car in the subsequent weeks, when we brought the car to the dyno and ultimately the morning before the race. Simply put, we failed to check the oil a great number of times. No one was to blame. We were all to blame. You live you learn. We’ll never make that mistake again.
With this bump in the road behind us we crossed our fingers for smooth sailing. Fortunately, the car ran flawlessly from that point forward. The race itself wasn’t flawless, however. A car crashed in the kink bringing out the yellow flags. Someone dumped oil around all four miles of track prompting a red flag and a new track record for number of bags of oil dry applied to the track surface. Finally, with the red flag behind us we got back to racing. Then we got hit with a pit lane speed infraction. It’s an honest mistake that could’ve happened to any of us out for our first event of the season. What followed was a three-minute penalty bringing us down another lap from the frontrunners.
Back on track we kept on trucking, cycling through drivers. Mid-afternoon we heard quite possibly the most unusual report on the team radio. “A tree is on the track between 4 and 5,” Travis chattered. In what was a first for all of us, a tree unrooted itself on driver’s right on the descent into turn-five. Roughly one half of the track surface was blocked. For centuries folks have pondered if a tree that falls in the woods is heard. In this case, a tree that falls in the woods adjacent to Road America and blocks the track is heard loud and clear.
Catch a glimpse of the infamous tree in the in-car video below from a competing team. You’ll catch the tree on driver’s right around the 16:45 mark in the video.
Following another red flag, the resident Paul Bunyan on the Road America safety crew went to work sawing the fallen tree. Eventually we were back on track fighting to catch up to the cars ahead of us in class, but with eight hours of racing shortened to 6.5 hours of racing we didn’t have a chance. When I took the car past the checkered flag we had covered 464 miles finishing 20th overall and 9th in class. It wasn’t our best result, but on the bright side we had another try ahead of us on Sunday.
We went to work prepping the car for the eight-hour race on Sunday. We changed the oil, inspected and bled the brakes and gave the car a thorough visual inspection. Once everything was in order we focused on prepping the team for the day ahead with a delicious meal at Schwarz’s Supper Club. If you’ve never been you don’t know what your missing and need to check Schwarz’s out.
We returned to the track around 7am Sunday morning for our 8:30am race start. We were concerned about a chance of rain, however it never materialized. Instead, the weather stayed dry and comfortable. The car ran flawlessly as we cycled driving duties from Travis to me, to Erik, to Tom and back to Travis to finish the race. There really isn’t much to say about the race. The car ran great and driver’s ran nearly flawlessly. Our consistency paid off and we improved dramatically over the prior day’s race. All told we finished 8th overall and 4th in class covering 624 miles in the process. Unfortunately, we were quite a way out of 3rd place in class and this would become a topic of development moving forward.
Returning home and to everyday life on Monday the team got to talking. Prior to the last round or two of rules changes our car used to be competitive delivering podiums in class. Despite running a flawless race Sunday, we didn’t break into the top-three. To be competitive we need to develop our car further. A plan has been hatched and the E30 Bomber will be victorious again. Stay tuned…