RUNNING WITH THE BIG DOGS The invitation started with a phone call from a friend appointed software expert for the Lister team for the upcoming Rolex 24 hour at Daytona. His laptop and teenage daughter were making the trip. The laptop would ...
RUNNING WITH THE BIG DOGS
The invitation started with a phone call from a friend appointed software expert for the Lister team for the upcoming Rolex 24 hour at Daytona. His laptop and teenage daughter were making the trip. The laptop would provide data and Karie would calculate fuel stops ... would I like to join them. This endurance race starts at 1 pm and utilizes the banked and infield portions of the Speedway. A large field of WSC (World Sports Car), GT1 and GT2 cars took the flag under questionable skies. Competition in class included the new Vipers RT/10s, 911 Turbos, Oldsmobile Auroras, a Mustang, Callaway Corvette, and the EB110 Bugatti.
The team was organized by Lister company owner Lawrence Pierce after the successful run at Lemans in 95. Shipping the car, spares and the gang over the Atlantic was not a task for the timid, but everyone was cozy in the 15 rooms at the Ramada across the street. Practice went well and lap times were consistent/low; the key to success. My job was to start small, but to grow in size as the days progressed. It started as consultant for the driving lights installation. This involved conning the Hella reps out the last pair of lights (yes, your decals will be prominently displayed, etc ... ) to coaxing a midget soldering gun to make enough heat. The installation went well then it off to the motel for a few hours. Pre-race warm-up was set for the next day, 11 am.
I didn't have a pit pass, but convinced the guards that I was useful. I usually walked in front of the car, parting the seas, while carrying a black brief case. Then, I was transformed into the computer guy or the man with the bag of money. The inattentive usually thanked you ... nothing like a whack on the ankle with a low mounted spoiler. When that didn't work I walked in with a plate of sandwiches.
We started up front on the grid. At the drop of the green we were running very consistent and fast. Tire changes and refueling worked well. The team had better credentials than myself, but many came from varied backgrounds. The fuel man was a Lister owner who wanted to help out ... even paid his fare over. Others had worked for other teams such as Mclaren. My role was changing, but we adapted to one another. One thing they didn't need was another gawker/wannabe in the way, so you learn to move and anticipate. An occasional bump won't be followed by an excuse me ... you were expected to not be in the way.
Two offtrack excursions by the car brought my skills to bear. The left front corners of the bonnet were ripped away so the aluminum sheet and the pot rivet gun were called into action. It's tough to take two pieces of carbon fiber, join them together with aluminum and rivets and then cover them with the appropriate color duct tape. All this with trying to not cover up the sponsor decals. Each repair produced a "20 footer", a bonnet that from 20 feet didn't look bad. More importantly, it worked.
The car was adapted from the road-going car. The chassis is carbon fiber and aluminum while power comes from the trusty Jaguar V 12 mounted up front. The motor had been tweaked by Tom Walkinshaw and was stone reliable. We downloaded data which showed the Jag had consistent oil/water temperature and pressures. We also learned that the car would run 184 on the banking, pull 1.23 G's in the corners and -1.71 G under braking. Development was also being done for Michelin tires and Hewland, the transaxle folks. Initial problems started with the transaxle. A vibration turned out to be loose mounting bolts. This is turn, destroyed the drive shaft support bearing. A spare was installed, but 4 hours were lost. Back to the track ... times were still very good and we were one of the fastest cars on the track. Back to the motel for a quick shower and "Who is this guy" looks.
Upon my return at 3 am, I just caught a glimpse of the car's spoiler in the garage. The transmission again, but a different problem. The new 6 speed was a nice unit, compact and durable. It also was a sequential shifter meaning it works like a motorcycle. The shift level is a square rod next to the driver that he grips like a handbrake. The tranaxle oil pump had expired making the future look bleak. Decision time ... and quite a few minutes were spent in discussion and impromptu drawings on the back of the spoiler. The battlelines were draw. Yes, said the Hewland rep," we can take 2 transaxles out of one, but IHMO (in my humble opinion) this will be difficult". "Agreed" said the car owner, "but we didn't come 5,000 miles to sit around". His opinion was that as long as the race is running ... we work on the car ... period. More discussions and scratching on pieces of paper laid on the spoiler. I was in the background picking up tools ... not getting between the mechanics and the food, etc. One wrench turner was using a floor jack as a pillow.
All the deliberations were done with a minimum of yelling and arm waving ... to everyone's credit. We were 3 garages down from the Ferrari stalls ... they could give lessons. In the end, sleeves were rolled up and the transaxle comes out ... again. Brian Lister ... patron saint and father figure was standing in the wings. He had taken Lister to many victories in the 50's and 60's. He didn't give much input ... he didn't have to.
Morning arrives and work continues. Dawn is broken by the starter motor and the rumple of the V12 ... like an XJS on steroids. Ah ... the smell of methanol in the morning. Work progress well, but the gear selector is giving troubles. At 11 am. the car return to the track. Information is gathered ... all useful for Lemans. A few shakedown laps and disaster. The Lister and another car have a discussion over track placement, IMHO. The Lister lifts and does an end-over-end. The development stops. Promise is replaced by blank stares. "The driver is out of the car and walking to the ... " is the call over the PA. An hour remains in the race, but it is over for Team Lister.
The sharp black coveralls are stained with gear oil, the sponsors patches dirty with grease. The unloading from the rollback recovery truck takes time. Antifreeze runs out in a pool ... increasing in size. A car cover is brought out to cover up the shattered carbon fiber tub. The roof and roll bar section making a different angle now ... the rear wing/ writing table gone. The crowd scatters leaving the crew to put tools back in proper places. Thoughts had been given to Sebring in 3 weeks, but it's back to the UK. The brightest star is Brian ... he's been there before, but he came back. On to France and Lemans. The primary sponsor had been Newcastle United, the football team and Newcastle Brown Ale. They got their monies worth and yes ... they did think of the thirsty among us.
Look out, Le Mans.