There are two types of Professional Awesome mornings. The mornings I enjoy are the ones that consist of 11 am wakeup calls, good breakfast and a comfy couch for the remainder of the day. The other type of morning is a different animal all together. Generally the air is chilly, the Sun has yet to rise and a long day awaits. Our Gingerman test day was absolutely the latter type of morning.
After a ritualistic Burger King breakfast, we arrived at the track right on time. As I had the driver’s meeting the crew rolled the Evo off of the trailer. It was great to hear the old war bird start its engine with the smell of E85 permeating through the air. Grant’s ‘something bad’ started out strong with problem numero one; the straps that hold the Evo to the trailer were mysteriously loosened. The Evo went the 3 hour trip secured only by hopes, dreams and luckily a safety chain. Grant suspects that drunkards in the middle of the night may have played with the car on the trailer as it sat in the driveway. I think that we just need to check the straps more often, no harm no foul, lesson learned.
The primary goals of testing the car this weekend were to learn how the car handled with our brand new Kogition rear wing, ensure the Evo X differential worked well in our application and also try out new CL RC6 brake pads. With the first few warm up laps underway, everything was working as planned. The track was cool at about 45 degrees and the car felt very strong. At our initial wing settings, the grip was astounding, I mean genuinely crazy. How does steady state above 1.40g sound? How about a peak at 1.48g measured via GPS (I think our g-meter measured at peaks near 1.60g)? The added confidence of having the wing was fantastic too. The Evo has always been a little tail happy, even at very high speeds. Because of this, one would have to pucker thy butt at higher speed turns. With the new wing holding the rear of the car in place it is much easier to stay in the throttle. Did I mention the wing is AWESOME?!
Testing goal number 2 was going well too. The rear differential helps mostly in lower speed turns and boy does it help. The car would go into what I would describe as a set vector that was a few degrees off of what I would hold the steering wheel and just continue around the corner with tenacious grip until I was straight again. It is tough to describe, but it felt like a 3 wheel drift with the last wheel keeping everything from getting too crazy. My best morning lap times started around the 1 minute and 44 seconds mark.
Testing goal number 3 was for later in the day. First to get some feel with our usual Raybestos ST43 pads and then second, switch to the new CL RC6 pads for a direct comparison. Well this is about the time Grant’s prediction started to grow wings. After completing my second or third somewhat aggressive lap, downshifting from 4th to 3rd gear after turn 1, the clutch pedal hit the floor and decided to stay there. I managed to get the car back into 4th gear and limp it around and back into the pits. I explained the bad news to Lewin and Grant, they looked the car over and came to the conclusion that a snap ring that holds the clutch’s pressure plate to the throw-out bearing had released and couldn’t be fixed unless the transmission were pulled out. Grant, in his usual straightforwardness said “Well, we have two choices, either pull the transmission or put the car on the trailer.” I, in my usual laziness, didn’t feel like pushing the car up the trailer. So I said “We (by we I mean Grant and Lewin) better pull it.”
1 hour and 12 minutes. This is all the time it took to pull the transmission out. Being prepared is a good thing, a very good thing. We had all the tools organized, had practiced this before, had modified the exhaust to be quick release, had foreseen this being a potential issue. The snap ring that failed was still useable, but had to be bent and contorted to work. I heard “Piece of crap bad design” murmured numerous times throughout the process. I believe it took 3 or 4 test fittings of the transmission to make it work, but work it did and the crew had the car running with about 2.5 hours of track time left.
While the crew worked on the big problem, I took the time to swap out the Raybestos pads for the new CL-6 pads. A few minor suspension settings were changed and the wing was set to a more aggressive angle. Back on the track the car didn’t grip as well as it had in the morning. We are blaming it on two things, the rear differential stopped working, we believe due to the active differentials not being bled fully before going back on track. Also with the more aggressive wing settings, the front of the car felt lighter and it cornered with more understeer. This isn’t to say the car was slower, quite the opposite actually. As I got more comfortable with the added performance and new track layout, lap times kept coming down. I started to focus on releasing the brakes at higher speeds when entering turns which I believe is one of the next lessons I have to learn to improve my driving.
After an extended first stint, brake fluid boiling reared its ugly head. What happens is as the brakes generate massive amounts of heat it is transferred into the brake fluid and it boils. The now gaseous fluid doesn’t stop the car well, or at all, and the fluid has to be replaced. This wasn’t a scary situation as I have grown accustom to the symptoms and coasted around the track slowly and brought the car into the pits. This is when Grant discovered boiled over coolant coming out of the reservoir. This is a symptom of a blown head gasket, another problem that is familiar, but we had hoped solved. A quick check of the head studs was made to ensure they hadn’t loosened and the car was buttoned back together. There was one 20 minute lapping session left and no time to make any additional changes or bleed out the bad brake fluid. The good news was we had the lap times down to 1 minute 40 seconds.
Lewin sent me back out with strict orders to take it easy on the car, but we all know I don’t listen to orders. As I drove around slowly I kept a close eye on the coolant temperatures and felt the brake pedal to ensure it was nice and firm. Everything checked out and I slowly built up speed. The track was nice and clear as most other cars stayed in the pits and I started to click off faster times. 1:43, 1:42, 1:40 and then on the last lap 1:39.8! The car felt strong, still it had understeer, still the rear differential didn’t work magically like earlier in the day, but the brake pedal felt great, the clutch was perfect and my driving was getting better, OHH the potential! I cruised the car around for 3-4 cool down laps, keeping and eye on all the gauges and everything checked out, back to the pits to load up and go home.
So how was the weekend? I’d say pretty successful. We learned the wing is killer, we learned the rear differential is killer and I learned I can drive faster than earlier this year. Up for debate are if the CL brake pads are better or worse than our existing Raybestos, but only because the Raybestos are so good. Back to the garage to pull the cylinder head, tweak the aero and get the car ready for California. Confidence is high and the car is a grip monster, all we need is for Grant to keep is mouth shut and we’ll be fine!