Dec 4-6 , 2009 • Willows, CA
For those of you who have participated in any sort of race event, you know the logistics involved in just getting you, your car, and your crew out to the event, let alone what goes along with running the car for any length of time. Teams plan and prep all year for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill event. So when I was asked to crew chief on the Special Projects Gear X DC2 Integra-having an idea of the daunting task involved in keeping a car racing for 25 straight hours-I was a little apprehensive. Especially knowing this project and plan came to fruition just a month prior. Time was short. With only weeks to go, all hands were on deck at the Special Projects garage. I even jumped in to help plumb the fuel lines and fabricated the sexy modular HID light rack for the night portion of the race. To convert the car from a Honda Challenge sprint race car, a large twenty-five gallon Fuel-Safe tank was secured. To increase breaking reliability and effectiveness, the crew installed a set of big, bad brakes from Stop Tech, and pads from Dixel that will last for more than 25 hours in a constant race environment. A transmission pump and cooler, along with large oil cooler, were both added. Every urethane bushing was pressed out and replaced with PCI(Pro Car Innovations) trailing arm spherical bearings and a full control arm “bronze” bushing kit. Additionally, a set of aero-friendly PCI side skirts and an MR2 electric Power steering bracket kit were added. Hardrace came on board with all of the adjustable suspension arms necessary to dial in the car for the big event. Unfortunately, the engine and transmission were nowhere to be found. Shawn Moore of Big Power Company had the k24 build well under control, while Syncrotech had the transmission almost finished. Once the power plant and drive train arrived, a sigh of relief was heard throughout the garage. With the engine in the car and ready for battle, the crew took the car to Church Automotive Testing to tune the Hondata ECU and set the fuel and spark. With the car almost complete, it was loaded into the race transport Wednesday night.
The team consisted of
John Hsu - Team owner
Al Stewart from New Zealand
Dixon Chang from England
Jeff "kiwi" Owen
The crew consisted of
Brian "Scooby" Slames of PCI
John Warner Carl
Here's my experience of the event as we raced through the day and into the night:
Thurs 5:00am - The race car and practice car both leave Church automotive tuned, but unfinished. They're headed for Thunderhill in the race transport.
Thurs 12:05pm - Brakes fail on the race transport big-rig sending it flying down the "the grapevine," at 130 mph. Almost killing everyone and destroying the cars. You read it right, very scary.
Thurs 12:07pm -The decision to take the runaway truck ramp is changed at the last minute in favor of drifting a 52,000-lb big rig.
Thurs 12:20pm -The rig finally comes to a rest after coasting about 5 miles past the bottom of the mountain pass.
Thurs 12:24pm - At rest the inside drive tire explodes from the built up heat, Dixon goes running off into the side of the road thinking they were under attack.
Thurs 3:00pm - Tire fixed and air breaks holding pressure, the rig was back on the road to Northern California.
Fri 7:00am - The cars are rolled out and some of the final finish work is done. The rest of the crew sets up the hot pit area
Fri 1:30pm - The cars are aligned, fueled, and hit the track for the practice session
Fri 6:00pm - The car gets back on the track and qualifies with just one lap and only seconds to spare before qualifying ends.
Fri 6:10pm - Troubleshooting begins on the main car. Fuel pump, filter, TPS, map sensor, and fuel pick up are all changed. The wiring to the ECU is also double checked. Tires are rotated, oil is changed, and car is prepped for the race.
Fri 11:00 - We finish up everything we can, and get some sleep.
Sat 11:00am -The 25 hours of Thunderhill race begins, but the car is still strapped to the dyno.
Sat 1:30pm - Still on the dyno; due to insufficient cleaning of the fuel system and lines when it was recently built, the injector screens were clogged which caused inconsistencies in the fuel delivery. With gremlins now addressed, it was time to hit the track. (Better late than never)
Sat 2:00pm -With John Hsu strapped in the car, the Gear X DC2 finally hit the track and put down some impressive 2:06 lap times.
Sat 3:30pm - Our first pit stop; Dixon straps into the car. One tire change, and fuel dump. Much like another "first time"... It was fast and over before we knew it.
Sat 3:45 - We're called in for a sound violation for 97db, as the limit is 95db. We weld on a down tube on the tip of the muffler. Boom, problem solved.
Sat 5:00pm - Pit stop number two finds Al strapping in. Tire, fuel, and the HID light bar is pinned on.
Sat 5:30pm - Al comes in with a front flat from an off-track experience. Jeff (Kiwi) takes the car back out.
Sat 7:00pm - Fourth pit stop and John takes over. Tire and fuel again, but we find a puddle of Motul gear oil in the hot pit when the car leaves. Uh oh.
Sat 7:05pm - The car is off the track behind the trailer in our work area. Mauricio checks under the car "yep..trannie's done!" The return for the trans cooler pump had broken off and taken a chunk of the case with it.
Sat 8:30pm - Out with the old, and in with the new. We perform a full transmission swap without John ever stepping out of the car. In fact, he never even took off his helmet. I don't really blame him, the temperature was tickling the 34F mark and dropping. Finished up, the car heads back on the track.
Sat 9:45pm - Fuel up and tire change, then Tom gets in the car.
Sat 11:10pm -The third pit stop and driver change after the transmission change. The car is clicking off laps without a single issue.
Sat 11:30pm - John radios in "engine has lost all power..."
Sat 11:35pm - Back of the pits, Shawn determines the engine is done. The crew decides to swap in the spare engine in the now as the temperature reaches 31 degrees. Ten of us dive into the engine bay and start removing everything.
Sun 12:30am - Engine is out and seven of us left as we swap over all the parts from the old engine to the new bear long block k20 engine.
Sun 1:15am - Engine, tranny, and all of the smaller bits are ready to be dropped in. Just five of us remain working. I was freezing, but we all pressed on.
Sun 2:30am - Engine starts and Eric loads the k20 program onto the Hondata unit. Back on to the track it goes.
Sun 4:00am - Pit stop for driver change and fuel. Lap times have dropped from 2:06 with the fully built k24, to 2:19 with the stock k20.
Sun 5:30am - As the sun comes up over Thunderhill raceway it was clear we had made it through the hard part; driver change and fueling. We stopped changing tires because we weren't wearing them out. I had aligned the car to a less aggressive tow angle to save tire wear. That combined with low track temperature meant that the tires would not hold heat on the straights, which is good and bad.
Sun 5:45am - Dixon serves a stop-and-go penalty for fuel team dropping a small amount of fuel on the ground.
Sun 7:30am - The car pits, Dixon gets out, Jeff gets in.
Sun 7:40am - Jeff serves a 5min penalty for Dixon's pit speed coming in.
Sun 9:00am - Jeff (Kiwi) pits, but now with the car about four inches shorter (a signature for Jeff). Kiwi had "rubbed" a Miata slightly, which makes it ok. Jeff gets out and Al goes in, so does the fuel.
Sun 10:30am - Al gets out, John gets in, and 10 gallons of fuel follow him.
Sun 12:00pm - The Team Gear X DC2 crosses the finish line at the 25 hour mark. Success!
The team finished 47th out of 66 cars overall and 12th in our class, with a best lap of 2:05.442 by Dixon Chang. All and all, it was a great showing from the Gear X DC2, all of the drivers, and the Special Projects Motor Sports crew. Ask anyone that's ever taken part in this grueling event, and they'll tell you that just finishing the 25hours race in one piece is something to be very proud of.