Having missed my “usual” team’s run to an overall win at the Portland enduro in 2010, but interested to get back onboard for this year’s return to an 8-hour, I found myself without a ride as they were bringing back the 2010 line-up. I talked to a couple other possible teams, but my heart wasn’t really in it: every enduro I’d done had been with pretty much the same group of guys and it felt weird to team up with anybody else. That, and I had some specifications for what kind of car I wanted to drive (mostly that it be capable of a class win, whichever class that was). After a while, I’d decided not to bother, to save my money for off-season work, but then Mike Adams, who I’d briefly met in Spokane, posted that he and his cousin were looking for a third driver. After a brief e-mail chat about costs and how much driving time there’d be, I was sold.
The drivers and crew:
- The car: 1987 Porsche 944
- Owner/driver: Mike Adams
- Driver: Matt Chambers
- Driver: Steve Adams
- Crew chief: Matt “Fitz” Fitzgerald
- Fuel: Greg Tashjian and Gene Tyler
- Fire bottle: Joe Smejkal
- Tires: Brian Holstein (rear) and Matt Fitzgerald (front)
- Jack: Vince Mitchell
- Parts runner: Brett Anderson
There are two things that make the drive down to Portland for a race better than usual: 1) Not towing a racecar and 2) carpooling. This would be both, as I was driving my zippy little GTI and James Temple (crew chief for the Team EKR Porsche 968 Turbo in E1) would be my passenger. Of course, it was one of those fluke-y days where traffic was comparatively light and, even without taking the carpool lane down to Pierce County, I think I would’ve made good time. We eventually realized we were going to arrive at the track before the gate would open and, as we were both a bit peckish, decided to stop for a quick Krispy Kreme snack. Yum!
After arriving and finding the pit stall for team #14, “Two Adams, One in the Chamber,” I proceeded to… do absolutely nothing. I was all alone and realized that, duh, I didn’t have anyone’s phone number. I knew Mike had come down the day before with the car, but he said he’d planned on being there when the gates opened at 5pm and here it was after 6pm with no car in sight. He arrived not too much later and we unloaded the car and the canopies and then went off to register. While there, we were told that the guy doing tech inspections (Dave Dunning, my instructor from race school) was “around” and that he’d probably find us. Well, after more than an hour of trying to find him in an increasingly-deserted paddock, we finally did, head down in the Miata he was going to be racing the next day. Heh.
Problem solved and technical things inspected, we closed things up for the night and headed over to the semi-official, pre-enduro dinner establishment of choice, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, only to find ourselves seated one table over from the Team EKR people, who proceeded to mock Mike and I as we sat at our “table for two.” (Jerks.) (I’m kidding.) Whether the craft beer we were enjoying had anything to do with it, I don’t know, but Mike and I really hit things off and had ourselves a delightfully silly time. The waitress came by to check on us at one point, but we were so busy laughing that she answered her own question of “I wanted to ask if you guys were doing okay” with “It looks like you are!” before walking away. This, of course, just made us laugh even more. Eventually, though, we called it a night and headed off to our respective hotels about 10:30 with plans to meet back at the track around 7:30am.
Saturday morning started off not-so-great as the beer I’d enjoyed the night before resulted in a decent headache. This made me realize I’d forgotten to pack aspirin or ibuprofen in my rush to get on the road the day before. Worse, I then remembered that I’d forgotten the Camelbak insert I use to stay hydrated during long stints. Ack.
I arrived at our paddock space shortly after Mike, but with no other crew present. Apparently, they’d showed up at 6am and, after nobody else showed up for a bit, went off to have breakfast. Although Mike had been in phone contact with them a few times, by 8am they still hadn’t arrived and the drivers and crew chief meetings were coming up at 8:15. Matt and the crew must be big believers in the “just in time” method, because they all arrived as Mike and I were walking over to the drivers meeting. 🙂
Things back at the pit stall were still a bit, um, “freeform” when we returned and so we purposely missed the first 45-minute session (it had rained overnight and the track was quite wet) getting the car and our paddock space ready for the day. While the experience thus far had been a good deal less organized (to my eye, at least) than what I was used to, it also became pretty clear that everyone knew what they were doing and there was never a sense of chaos.
An hour later, when it was time for the second session, the track was still pretty damp, but we needed to get going on our day regardless. Mike went out on some old Toyos to check out the car. After about 10 minutes, and multiple radio reports that the track was “slicker’n snot,” he came in to do a driver change so I could get about 25 minutes of seat time before the race. I didn’t think I’d need a ton of time to get used to the differences, but I was about to experience a car that was 100 lbs heavier but with less than half the horsepower of my M3.
My first impression of the car was that it was a good deal “pitchier” than what I’m used to, either in my M3 or Eric Krause’s Porsche 968, and I needed to be a lot more aware of the fore-and-aft weight balance. My second impression, as I went into the brake zone for Turn 7 on the first lap, was that I couldn’t just jump on the brakes as I could in mine or I would lock up the front tires. Generally, I was surprised that it wasn’t the “same but less” compared to Eric’s 968 I had expected. Still and all, and despite the little problems you first encounter when driving a different car, I was really looking forward to some decent seat time come the race.
Next, our crew was one of just two participating in the Pit Crew Challenge… just by showing up, we had made it to the semi-finals! Basically, the task was to get a car up in the air, change all four tires, and then back on the ground with the wheel bolts/nuts properly tightened. What we missed in the rules for the event was this was a bit like bracket racing and our first attempt was way faster than the other team’s, which meant we’d have to be significantly faster in the finals to take the $100 prize. (Interestingly, the organizers came by to ask if we’d be interested in just splitting the prize. Even though they knew the steep challenge ahead of them, the guys actually doing the work emphatically said, “No!” They’d rather go down swinging than just accept half a prize. Love it.) Even though the other team was using two jacks to get their Miata up in the air all at once, our crew still managed to beat their time, but missed our own target by less than 5 seconds, and even that only due to a fumble with a single wheel nut out of 20. A little disappointing, I suppose, but fun as hell to watch.
Matt used about 10 minutes of the final practice to find any differences from his 944 and then we fueled the car while Fitz and the guys gave it a quick once-over. We parked the car on the Le Mans-style grid and got ready for 8 hours of fun.
I don’t know if the organizers changed the “tradition” for the 2010 event, but I was happy that the signal for the drivers to cross pit lane to their waiting cars came from a pair of air horns, rather than a brief run of an ambulance’s siren as in years past… I always thought that sends the wrong kind of message! Mike got in the car and was quickly belted in by Fitz, who’s done this kind of thing for Grand Am and ALMS teams. We were, from my view, the third car rolling down pit lane, although we were 8th or so by the time he got out on circuit. (Remember, we were in pit #14.)
I was in the trailer looking at the Timing & Scoring details when I noticed that our first lap was somehow 10 seconds slower than our direct competitors, not to mention that we’d somehow lost like 6 spots in the first lap. I came out to hear that Mike had reporting getting hit, really hard, while turning for the apex of Turn 10 by a BMW that had been a long way back when he entered the brake zone. The impression we got from the radio was that it was the blue and orange E46 M3 owned by Jim McCadie (fellow ST racer) and currently being driven by pro driver Dominic Cicero in the E1 class. Wow, we all thought, that’s being really aggressive for the first lap of an 8-hour race. But, you know, pro drivers… sheesh. We grumbled about it amongst ourselves, and Fitz reported that Mike was spitting bullets for the first few laps after that, but Mike eventually calmed down and started to focus on the driving. (Ron Craig, who was actually driving the silver and orange E30 325 that was running second in our class, came by later on and explained it’d been he who, as he put it, completely misjudged the braking ability of the car he was driving.) Soon, his laptimes were down where we wanted and with the added bonus that he’d found a “buddy” to run with, namely Cavan O’Keefe in Jason Vein’s L2-classed BMW E30 325.
By about 10 laps into the race, we’d made back one of the in-class positions we’d lost due to the hit in Turn 10. Mike continued to pull away from that car, but we were falling ever-so-slowly back from the two E30 325s in front of us. The good news was that it looked like we were still close enough that our expected fuel economy advantage would kick in later on in the race and we’d pass them during one of their fuel stops.
As we approached the end of our first 90-minute stint, we noticed that the 325s hadn’t pitted for fuel yet. The closer we got to our fuel window, the more animated our discussions about if and what we needed to do about that. We decided to push our stop out to the 1:45 mark, giving us some more options later on in the race to take advantage of a full-course caution. As we got close to that mark, though, the two BMWs still hadn’t pitted, so we decided to change our overall strategy and go for 2-hour stints. Mike, Matt, and Fitz were all pretty confident the car had enough fuel to do that, and doing just 3 stops instead of 4 was bound to improve our position by the end of 8 hours, all other things being equal.
And then, disaster: Coming out of Turn 7 (which leads onto the back “straight” at Portland), Mike thought he might be losing a little power. He was in the midst of a bunch of faster cars, though, so he initially though it was just his imagination. As he got a little further down the straight, just coming out of Turn 8, he got a quick flash of the low oil pressure light. From what I’ve been told, that’s the kiss of death in a 944, but he immediately switched the engine off and coasted the rest of the way around to the pits. He fired it up again briefly to give the car the little nudge it needed to make it down the pit lane, but he was reporting all the while to Fitz that he was worried. We did our driver change over to Matt and filled the car with fuel while Fitz popped the hood and looked for the tell-tale hole in the engine. He couldn’t see anything and there was no oil leaking from the car, so he gave Matt the go-ahead to start it up.
He immediately drew a thumb across his throat in the universal “we’re done” gesture. The engine sounded like someone shaking a box of rocks. 🙁
So that was it: We were done. The first car to DNF the race. We looked over the car but never did find any holes or cracks in the engine. There were a few spots of oil on the rear of the car, and some soot, but nothing significant. Then again, there was virtually no oil in the case, so clearly it had gone somewhere.
We sort of milled around for a while, chowing down on the multiple pounds of food we thought we were going to need for a full day of racing, before packing things up. A few of the guys were going to be able to leave early, as they’d parked a couple trucks on the outside of the circuit for parts runs or whatever, but most of us were going to be stuck there until the race was over. About an hour later, we decided to head back to BJ’s to drown our sorrows in beer. As we were going up the stairs of the pedestrian overpass, just past the exit of Turn 12 onto the front straight, I noticed what I was pretty sure was Eric’s 968 parked on the other side of the fence from Turn 10. Sure enough, it came around the turn a few minutes later “on the hook.” I would later learn that they had launched a wrist pin out of the block and left most of the engine oil at the beginning of the back straight.
I spent the rest of my time at the race watching, wandering around the paddock, and commiserating with the EKR guys about our bad luck. There was definitely some good racing, especially among the Limited classes, but watching other people race was definitely not how I’d planned on spending my day.