Watkins Glen 2010

Posted: 2nd August 2010 by Joseph in Watkins Glen International
Comments Off on Watkins Glen 2010

I wish I could report that things went really well this past event, but unfortunately we struggled.

It all started well, we were able to get out of town early enough, arrived late Thursday night/Friday morning which gave us about 5 hours of sleep before we needed to be at the track (better than the 1 to 2 hours we got last year). Arrived at the track, unpacked, went through tech with no issues and got ready for our first sessions.

We were pretty confident with everything even though we hadn’t tested much. The biggest unknown was the proportioning valve in our braking system. The parking lot shake down we had done a few weeks prior wasn’t a good place to tweak the settings, so we had to wait until our first sessions at The Glen 

My first session was what I expected – scary as shiat since all I had were front brakes, a few unknowns and a bunch of crazy fast cars all around me. I tried to dial in the back brakes, but it was nearly impossible to know how much to turn the knob (in hindsight we should have purchased a gauge and put it on each caliper to see where things were before we went out on track). Anyway, the engine seemed strong, car felt balanced through the turns, computer was working, etc, etc. I made it through the session fine, but as soon as I got back to the pits and we checked the temp on the brakes, we realized the rear brakes hadn’t really even touched the rotors. The fronts were blazing hot and the rears were less than warm. So something was up. We unscrewed the proportioning valve knob about half way thinking we just hadn’t gone far enough and sent Jason out for his first session. At first he didn’t feel any change so he started to tweak the knob even more, but then all of a sudden the brakes went soft, which of course freaked him out so he had to come in.

We weren’t sure what the next step would be – he said we still had brakes, but the pedal was really low. So we figured I’d go out and get an idea of what was going on before we made any further adjustments. Once I got out there in session 2, I could confirm that we had brakes, but they were definitely spongy and low. Ultimately, all that needed to happen was a quick bleed in the rear and we’d have a great set of front/rear brakes, well-balanced and would last us throughout the event.

Sadly, that was the least of our worries. About 3/4 way through my session two, the engine started missing really badly so I had to come in. This would be the beginning of a torturous afternoon and evening. Our first thought was plugs – they were relatively new, but we thought maybe we could have burned them up in the parking lot since we were running it pretty lean at the time. We made a trek to the local NAPA, picked up some plugs swapped them in – no change. OK…. now what? Plug wires looked fine. Everything in the bay looked in order. Let’s see if we have spark on each plug. Jason pulled out each plug, one at a time while I sat in the car cranking it. We had spark on each plug. Now what? Coil packs. We have the MSD coilpack conversion which we’ve been running for the past 2 season without a hiccup. They looked fine. The wires leading into the coilpacks were a bit lose, but weren’t falling out. We had two extra packs with us, so we decided to start swapping them one by one. No change. WTF? To say the least, we were baffled. By now we were missing sessions 3 and our day was nearly over.

The one thing that you can’t miss about a track event is how nice people are – especially when it’s obvious that things aren’t going well with your car. We had several people come over, some with a great wealth of experience and others only curious but are there to talk you through it. I know none of those guys are on this forum, but just the same we have to throw out a thanks to everyone that stopped by to offer advice, parts, or just to talk and maybe inspire an idea. In the end, a younger guy who was a mechanic for a Porsche that the film crew was using (filming some pilot show) seemed to go out of his way to come talk us through the troubleshooting steps to diagnose our problem. Although we had previously verified that each plug was sparking, while wiggling the power wires on the MSD coilpacks he noticed the engine would smooth out. So as he pulled each wire out of the coilpacks and found that the spade connectors weren’t making great contact with the coilpack we knew we had solved the missing issue. We ran back to NAPA, bought some beefier and longer spade connectors and got everything back together.

After everything was reconnected, we fired her back up and realized we had more than one issue. Hoping maybe it just needed to be cleared out after all the tweaking we had done, we sent Jason out in his session 3, but after one very slow (and dangerous) lap he came back in with bad news. It wasn’t “missing” anymore more, but it was popping under load and it didn’t sound right. We spent the next several hours, staring at a VR6 engine bay with no real idea what was going on. Was it fuel, spark, weak spark, bad sensor somewhere…. no idea. VAGCOM didn’t tell us anything. AFRs were within reason. It idled nice, revved OK. But as soon as you got on it under load, it would pop like crazy. We were at a loss and feared it would be a very early end to a 3 day track event.

Exhausted, we gave up for the night around 6pm – I know, it sounds early, but we drove 5 hrs the night before, slept for 5 hours, were up at 5am, toiled over the car all day, etc, etc. We were beat. We spent most of the night on the phone with Olaf from Atomic Motorsports. I’ve gotta say, he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty with guys like us simply for running his logo on our car. Big thanks to him!

Anyway, with no idea where to start troubleshooting with the car on Saturday morning, we figured we should at least go to tech to make sure we were good to go “in case” we do get it running right. After tech, we brought the car back to our pit area and just sat there. We didn’t know what else to do. Plugs again? Jason had already pulled, checked and replaced them about 5 times at this point. Fueling? Who knew? How about I just take it out and romp on it and see if I can blow it up? So that’s what I did. I took it out in session one and buried the pedal as far down as it could go. Yup, it sure did pop a lot, but it was still making power. Interesting. I ran the whole 15-20 minutes session like this. AFRs were a little lean here and a little fat there, but surprisingly, I was turing laps times on par with my times from last year. Interesting… no, actually WTF?

So that’s what we did. We ran the entire day, making very few adjustments besides fueling tweaks via our APEXi with an engine that was less than perfect, but that still made power. What was even more interesting was that the popping seemed to happen less and less often as the day progressed. Also perplexing was that the popping was almost gone during the first two warm up laps, but increased in frequency as the car got hotter? All sorts of ideas were thrown at us – we ran to NAPA one more time during lunch and even bought some MAF cleaner – no change. Maybe the lift pump was cracked and sucking air so we filled the tank – no change – even right before I ran out of gas while on track so it wasn’t sucking air… yet 

Saturday’s lapping ended and it was time to enjoy the banquet dinner with the PCA group – which BTW really knows how to put on an event.

With Sunday’s sessions threatened by rain and the car less than 100% we toyed with the idea of packing it up, but ultimately figured that since we had lost most of Friday’s sessions we should stay and try to get a few sessions in. The car was the same, handling was fine, braking was solid, but the engine wasn’t quite right. We tried our best to stay positive and just enjoy what we did have until… Jason radio’d in that the windshield had just been hit by a rock and left a decent size spider crack. Dang, just can’t catch a break. We ran our morning sessions and I ran one afternoon session, we packed up and left. Fortunately the trek home was without incident.

We did manage, believe it or not, to knock a few seconds off our lap times from last year. Once I get a chance to check the GPS data I’ll be able to report back with exact times.

Other than the above mentioned headaches, and our REV limiter preventing us from getting past 115mph @ 5400 rpm, the car was great – haha. The cage was solid and thankfully we didn’t have to test its strength. We received several comments that it had turned out really well so we were happy that people noticed. A big thanks again to Mike, Tom and the crew at TyrolSport for their hard work in that area.

Fortunately we didn’t have to swap out our spare throw-out bearing. We had feared the one that was in the car was on its last leg so Allen at 53motorsports hooked us up last minute. As always, thanks to him for taking care of us first thing.

And again, a huge thanks to Olaf at Atomic Motorsports. Texting, emails and phone calls all day Friday and Saturday was huge. Who does that? We’ve never even met the guy.

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