May 22, 2012

The Great American Meltdown, Road America, April 2012

We're very happy to have our friend Jonathan Gitlin  as a guest writer on Axis of Oversteer.   
It's endurance racing season and we hope to bring you more reports from inside races of all kinds to add prospectives you might not get elsewhere.   
Chump Car World Series, while focused on extremely low cost ($500 cars) is not to be confused with the 24 hours of Lemons.  As you may recall Axis was banned for life from Lemons guilty of not realizing it had nothing to do with racing....Jon did not make that mistake.

The Great American Meltdown, Road America, April 2012

As a regular reader of Axis of Oversteer, it's probably no surprise that racing is fairly important to me. Holidays often involve visits to various circuits, and it probably wasn't a coincidence that my wife and I spent our honeymoon in the Cote d'Azur when the F1 circus was in town.
But as much fun as watching other people race is, donning nomex and doing it myself has been a goal for quite a while. Sadly, racing isn't the cheapest sport out there, and a career in science has been more intellectually than financially rewarding.  Fortunately different racing series now cater to different budgets, and the advent of the ChumpCar World Series has meant that you too can get your grassroots endurance racing thrills without having to drive a parade float either.

My first ChumpCar experience was at a very cold and somewhat snowy Road America in April 2011, where I discovered that video games actually could help you prepare for some aspects quite well, but were nowhere near as much fun. 
Work commitments and scheduling meant that I had a very long off season, for that was the only time I managed to get out on track last year. A year is a long time to wait, but last month saw us return to Elkhart Lake, WI, for the Great American Meltdown, a pair of 7 hour races that marked the start of my 2012 season and the first outing for our team's new chariot for the year, an immaculately prepped 1991 VW Golf GTI; big thanks to our sponsors, Frozen Rotors,, The Alignment Guy, and The Four Firkins.

Photo: Alex Bellus

Thanks to a milder winter and a race that was scheduled for late April rather than March meant the snow that greeted us last time round was just a memory. The ChumpCar World Series has evidently been building steam as well, with almost twice as many teams present in the paddock. 
ChumpCars come in all shapes and sizes. The usual array of BMW E36s and E30s were present, promising to provide very stiff competition, but they were joined by Fiats and Alfas; V8 muscle in the form of Mustangs, Camaros and Firebirds; Miatas and Neons that are no strangers to racing, various Saabs, and even a Caprice Wagon that won many hearts, if not either of the races. All told, a wide variety of metal, but combined, probably worth less than the McLaren MP4-12C that belonged to someone in the paddock.

This is a Chump Car (photo: Alex Bellus)
This is NOT a Chump Car

Since it was the first race for the Golf, as well as for the team as a whole, our expectations weren't particularly high; a top 10 finish either day would have been good enough for me. 
Indeed, Saturday's race wasn't without technical trouble; a number of issues combined to limit us to below 5500 rpm in 4th and 5th, which was a bit annoying since that's where the engine started to make useful power.

Driving around the problem was doable, if a little annoying; failing to remember to short-shift meant hitting the limiter and jerking forward against the belts, and even though we could hang with the faster cars through the corners, one long straight later they were out of reach. 
With the front-running cars setting times around 3 minutes*, the quickest we could do was break under 3:10. Despite a lack of outright pace, good consistency meant we finished a respectable 7th, not bad for a field of 50-odd cars.

Overnight, the chaps, being much more mechanically minded than me, diagnosed then fixed the problems, and on Sunday we could use the entire rev range throughout the gears, adding a couple of seconds to our speed.

After the unexpectedly good showing the day before we started the race with a bit more confidence, and ran as high as 5th, but alas it wasn't to be easy sailing. ChumpCar rules require fueling stops to be at least five minutes to cut down the risk of pit lane catastrophe, and the plan was for each driver to run as deep into the two-hour limit per stint as possible to minimize our time in the pits. 
Seasoned veteran teams like Team Butterman were able to do this with ease, getting 30 laps or more between stops. Unfortunately for us, every 19 laps, regular as clockwork, a pickup problem resulted in fuel starvation following the long lateral G-load imposed by the Carousel, necessitating a trip into the pits to top up a half-full tank. The end result was one more stop than we'd have made otherwise, which lost us a couple of laps and the chance of a top five finish, so we had to settle for another 7th place.


In addition to a new car, this year we upgraded the team's data acquisition setup, with Traqmate's new Traqdash. I know AC and the rest of the Axis gang are big fans of Traqmate, and with the Traqdash I can really see why. Probably the best feature is the live predictive timing that gives you an easy visual cue to see if you're on a quick lap so you know if it's time to dig a bit deeper and push hard. In the off season we also ditched the Sony camcorder for a GoPro HD Hero2, which worked pretty flawlessly, resulting in the videos further up this post.

Our next race is at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, at the end of June, and I can't wait, although the prospect of 100˚+ temps and oppressive humidity may necessitate a cool suit set up if we're not to die of heatstroke. This time I want a podium finish!

*The race organizers, probably quite sensibly, had us run the motorbike chicane at Turn 10 instead of using the kink, so overall lap times were probably 10-12 seconds slower than they would have been otherwise.


  1. Very cool to see this on here! I was driving the DTM E30 and had a pretty good battle with you guys! Your car was pretty strong ! Will you be at RA again in Oct.? Good luck.

  2. Hi Jake,

    Yes, we plan to be back at Road America later this year, as well as Brainerd and Iowa. Hopefully we can find some straight line speed to bring the fight to the BMWs!

  3. Jon, I am one of the Northloop Motorsport team members (we have several E30s that we race/rent). Make sure to pack plenty of bug spray for BIR, last year the mosquitoes were even thicker than the humidity. See you there.

  4. Squirrelgripper - not on the two laps posted here, but on my slower ones I was.

  5. Squirrelgripper - I was H&Ting on some laps, but not the ones posted here. Found I didn't really H&T as much at Brainerd last weekend, maybe due to the circuit being unfamiliar?


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