It's Only 24 Hours...

@ Virginia International Raceway

BY: Alex Cohen (10/10/2016)

 

     This past weekend I had the privilege of doing something truly incredible. I got to do a 24 hour race. It was fantastic and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Now, you may be thinking, "A 24 hour race, you’re crazy!" or maybe even thinking, "It's only 24 hours." If you’re thinking the later you don't get it… I know this because I didn't fully get it. I truly didn't understand what I was doing until I started this event. It’s not just 24 hours. It’s the 24 hours of racing, the twelve hours to get to the race plus the setting up and preparing, and then there is the part you don't consider, yourself. I mean sure, you worry will the car make it through the race? What you don't think is… Will I make it?  That is until your racing in 95 degree weather with 60% humidity with only 45 minutes of sleep over 40 hours. Then and only then, do you begin to question… Can I do this? Will I be what breaks or will it be the car?

 

Well, here is how it went for the team and me…

 

     I got to the track the day before the race after the full day of summer highway travel and I was finally able to get excited about the race. I may have even had a touch of race fever. Upon arrival, we unloaded the car and set up the trailer. The trailer was where we would spent what little time we would have to sleep. It also served as a work space. Now, all this doesn't sound hard, but again in the heat it was exhausting and served as a wake-up call as to just how hard it was going to be to do this race. That night, I tried to get some sleep, but of course that didn't happen. So, I stayed up and kept going over the track in my head turn by turn. Eventually, morning came. It was 7am on Saturday; time to get ready for practice. Practice is everyone's chance to go out and shakedown the car.  The car was excellent, no problems, we couldn't have been happier with it! However, at about the time we started practice, I realized Todd was really sick and he wasn't going to be getting better any time soon. Even being sick he toughed it out long enough to get some practice laps in. So, we got through practice successfully; now the wait for the big race began which felt like a whole day.

 

     Fast forward an hour and a half, I'm getting strapped into the car for start of the race. All I can think is, "Am I really about do to this?!" It was a little bit surreal for a minute and I had a flashback to 6 years ago. When Rob Russell and decided it would be fun to try and do one of the 24 hour races on Gran Turismo 5. Adding to my dejavue feeling is the fact Rob’s team is also racing here. At this point, I was thinking how cool it would be if he was the starting driver for his team and how much fun it would be to drive side by side with him on the back stretch of the track. Well, guess what, 5 laps into the race I see Rob’s team car in my rear view for a few laps I was able to stay ahead of them, but eventually in the corner before the back straight, they got next to me. As we were accelerating down the back straight I looked to my right and saw a black helmet with orange lettering; Rob was driving for his team! It was then I realized that I was getting the opportunity to be out on a race track with one of my best friends. It was definitely a moment that is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

     I let Rob pass but just as I entered the corners following the straight I was hit! The car thought it could fit and pass me but it couldn’t, luckily the car wasn’t badly damaged. My time in the driver’s seat was up. Next up is Matt, his stint in the car is uneventful. Then Tom gets in for his stint and almost immediately got flagged for leaking fuel on the track.  We had drilled a small hole in the gas cap to vent pressure from the fuel tank, the pressure was pushing fuel back through the hole. It’s no big deal, an easy fix. But, as the car was put in reverse, we heard a bang and a clank. The clank was part of the transmission case breaking, and the bang was it falling to the pavement!

What was going to be a simple fuel system repair is now a full transmission swap. We all started the repair. At a typical race with a nice cool day it would have taken two hours, but VIR is more like working on the rim of a volcano. It was during this repair that I hit a physical wall; I was overheated and exhausted. I needed to cool off, to sit in the AC and recover a bit. This was also my first chance to see how Todd was doing since he took his practice laps; he still wasn’t doing well at all. I left him with our friends and family to take of myself or I would be no good to anyone. The break was just what I need but I found out on my return Matt actually passed out under the car from the heat. So our normal 2 hour swap was now 5 hours but we had the car back together. By now it was getting dark, time to do some night racing!  

 

     I decided to have Ryan drive at this point. He went out and drove for an hour. So everyone cold try night driving we did short stints. Tom was up next and then I finally got to go out for a second time. Racing at night was both very exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I mean you lose all visual cues on how far you are from corners. For the first couple lap I was just guessing where to brake and turn in for corners. As scary as it was I can’t wait to do it again.  It’s now 1am, about halfway through the race, Todd is feeling better so we put him in the car. The race gods are not with Todd for this race, 45 minutes into his stint the car died and he had to be towed to the paddock.  It 2 am so of course Tom, Ryan, and my dad were trying to get some sleep. Matt and I decided to let them so we would have fresh drivers later. We did our best to diagnose the problem but couldn’t.  

We had to wake Ryan for some help or we had no chance to get back on the track. It took until 3:30 am to finally diagnose the problem as bad fuel pump. We also realized the 3 of us all need some sleep. The goal here was to finish the race, to be on the track at the end no matter where we placed. Without so sleep that wasn’t going to happen. So, off to sleep we went. We were back at it by 5:30. (This is where I got my 45 minutes of sleep in 40 hours.) The 3 of us replaced the fuel pump this took about an hour thanks to our refreshing naps. The time now is 7am which meant only 5 hours left in the race. Just enough time for each of us to drive one more time. We sent Matt out first, then Ryan, then Todd, Tom went fourth, and finally me.

 

     The entire time, since we replaced the transmission, we were all wondering if it would hold together. Third gear had been grinding since the swap. Now it was up to me to bring the car home, to be on the track at the finish. All I had to do was not get hit, not go off track and not screw around. And that’s exactly what I did for 45 minutes, I just drove and had the absolute lap time of my life in that car. The entire time I was think how amazing our team had actually done. First time at a 24 hour race and we were going to actually finish. It wasn’t till I got to the paddock after the race that I was informed how well I had actually done on track. I had set the fastest lap of the day for our team. That was great but no what’s important to me. What was important was that the PLC Race Team had performed so well at that track. That we put in and worked as a team to finish the race. It was time to pack up the trailer and head home, maybe a shower and some sleep first.

A few things occurred to me on the long drive home. The PLC team did a 24 hour race with just one and half season under our belts and dealt well with a few big problems. Nobody yelled, nobody fought, and nobody seemed to get discouraged even with the heat and exhaustion. To me this just means that we are the prefect team. Everyone gave their all this weekend and it definitely paid off. I just want to say thank you to Matt, Tom, Todd, and Laura, my dad, Katie, and Ryan. Without you the team and I would not have been able to do this race.

  

-Alex Cohen (10/10/2016)


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