BY: Matt Randall (10/13/2016)
Endurance racing. What’s the big deal? You split up the driving, cruise around for awhile, then you’re done, right? What’s the challenge?
The main thing you have to understand is just how rough racing is on a car. People always ask us why we're continually rebuilding engines and transmissions, and why the car requires so much work between races. The fact of the matter is, these cars weren't built to race. Even the more performance-oriented cars were built mostly for commuting. If commuting is like a walk to work, racing is like fighting your way through zombies , and therefore a 24 hour race is like completing a marathon through zombie-infested streets. Wheel bearings can usually last 100,000 miles under normal use. We're lucky to get a season out of them. Keep an average engine above 4,000 rpm for hours on end, and it's not going to last long. There's a reason endurance racing is used by automotive companies to develop and test new technology. It's the ultimate torture test.
So what happens when you're on a limited budget, and have to use mainly stock components? Pretty much, it's just an exercise in proving Murphy's law (anything that can go wrong, will). We’ve had the usual failures, like losing gears and spun bearings. But then we’ve also had some obscure failures. During our 24 hour race at VIR, the heat pressurized our (un-vented at the time) gas tank to the point where it shot out a geyser of fuel for a solid 15 seconds when we popped the cap open. At Pittsburgh, we literally drove the alternator off the car, causing me to sputter to an undignified stop 20 minutes shy of the checkered flag. Apparently a 1990 Integra won’t run on 8 volts.
And then there's the heat. We knew 24hr at VIR was going to be hot. Southern Virginia is August? Had to be hot. It's almost always hot when we race. This year Watkins Glen was hot, Calabogie was very hot, and VIR briefly made me believe I was in hell. None of us were prepared. I'm not even sure how you would prepare for such heat. The numbers don't even do it justice, but one telling number is that during about 15 hours of racing, our (borrowed) cool shirt system went through 300 pounds of ice. I actually passed out while working on the car. Tom and Todd were sick. Alex wasn’t far behind me. Not sure how Ryan survived. That race pushed all of us to our limits.
While dealing with heat we aren’t prepared for, and racing a car never designed to race, we also have to keep up a decent pace. You really can’t go out there and dawdle. If you’re not on the race line, going race speeds, and prepared to deal with race traffic, you are a danger. Faster cars coming up behind you have to guess what you’re going to do. Cars next to you assume you noticed them. So if you don’t know the track, you have to learn quick. Watkins Glen and Pittsburgh were both tracks we raced at last year, but VIR I had only experienced for about an hour on Forza. Not to mention Calabogie, which my only prior experience had been watching a couple laps on Youtube.
It all adds up be quite challenging. Even if your car works fine the whole time, it’s still physically and mentally hard. We’ve been doing this for two years now, and we’re only just starting to get the hang of it. Every time we race, we learn something new. We’ve never left the car alone between races. There’s always something that needs improvement.
So back to why we do this. The answer is, I'm not sure. Some would say competition. I'm sure that's true for a lot of drivers, but I've never been very competitive. When someone is asked why they would attempt something challenging, the cliche answer is "because it's there." But it is sort of the point. A challenge has been set, so why not see if you're up to it? Climbers have Everest, runners have the marathon, road racers have the 24 hour race. Set the bar high, and see what we can do.
-Matt Randall (10/13/2016)