Forty-two hours and 3000 miles. No, this is not a long race with a very low lap average. It is, however, what the Hybrid R&D Racing Team had to accomplish in order to make the coast-to-coast trip from the team's work shop in California to Homestead, Florida. When they received word that one of the team's sponsors, Landmark Motorsport Equipment, would commit additional funding for the team to continue its bid for the Grand American Road Racing Championship, they wasted no time. "It was really too late, but knowing it was possible these guys (Hybrid Team Members) needed to hear no more and pulled together to make it happen," said Rod Everett, team owner. "The car was actually ready and sitting on the setup pad."
While certainly not intentional, the Hybrid Team was forced to make another last-minute dash to the track. Again, as the case at Phoenix two weeks prior, Everett had no concerns of his drivers Chris Bingham and Mark Simo getting the job done. "Chris and Mark had both raced and tested at Homestead with Chris in a Panoz and Mark with BMW," said Everett. "The track configuration is slightly different this time around using the oval turns 3 and 4 which increased the speeds and the braking zones. Otherwise, the same as before."
The Hybrid Team ran the AVE Ferrari to fourth place in 1998 (while actually running third when a spin occurred with only five minutes remaining). "The Hybrid Team ran very well in '98 while taking delivery of the Ferrari only two days prior to the event," said a team spokesperson. It seems to be a specialty of the Hybrid Team to perform near miracles. A specialty, however, they wish to trade for time and a budget.
The race did not go as well as did Phoenix with a similar late arrival. Several cars had drivetrain problems with the Hybrid Team as no exception. The difference though, was that Hybrid's misfortune came early after only thirteen laps complete when Simo radioed in reporting he was unable to continue (no drive to the rear wheels). "The radio communication quality was very poor for some reason and what we learned later is that Mark (Simo) had been trying to tell us that the transmission kept popping out of gear," said a spokesperson. The Hybrid Team had to work quickly not only to correct the trouble and continue but also had to get to the racecar and bring it in to the garage as the officials informed the team that they where not able to retrieve it.
When the car arrived at the team's garage, a broken driveshaft was discovered. While this was not the original trouble Simo had reported, the Hybrid Team elected to not only change the drive shaft assembly but change the complete transmission gear cluster as well. "This was two big jobs not normally done in a sprint race," said Everett. "Since it happened early, we didn't consider not doing it. The guys just went after it as if attacked by nearby alligators. Angel (Escobar), Larry (Adcock) and Dean (Goodrich) just got it done while at the same time we chose to make a couple of chassis and aero adjustments." In less than an hour Simo was back out with a much better racecar except now without second gear. "The explanation for this will be found deeper into the transmission, maybe the ring and pinion is causing some misalignment," said Everett who was surprisingly cheerful despite the trouble that the team has encountered. "I have worked with a lot of people over the years, but these guys (team members and drivers) do not know quit, give up or good enough. They make me proud and, knowing that our program will get stronger, we will be an even greater and more powerful force."
At this time of repair and continue, points became the only concern. The team took advantage of a full course caution on lap 80 bringing Simo in for a driver change and the last stop for fuel. Bingham continued and finished the race allowing both drivers to salvage points with a tenth place finish. While both drivers managed to lay down remarkable lap times all considered, it would not be possible to overcome the laps lost during the down time in garage. Since the race became more of a test rather than a race, the team decided to continue on the same Yokohama tires they started with. This in an effort to develop a further performance advantage race strategy when fuel economy is advanced with the teams Riley & Scott / Ford six liter engines. "The Yokohamas were nearly as good beginning to end," said Everett who was a bit concerned with the right front tire giving up a little of its edge.
With Lime Rock and Mid Ohio just a couple of weeks away, the team is hard at it once again to put a program together that will enable them to commit and compete at the level they are capable of. Chris Bingham and Mark Simo are currently fifth in the Championship points chase and only one point from fourth.
Hybrid R&D Racing is an Orange, California-based team that competes in the Prototype Sports Car category of the Grand American Road Racing Championship. The team's Riley & Scott / Ford powered racing car competes on Yokohama tires and is driven by Chris Bingham of Bellevue, WA, and Mark Simo of Carlsbad, CA. Team owner Rod Everett resides in Mission Viejo, CA.