Racing at Watkins Glen in late October, the trees blazing with fall colors, is simply glorious. Axis of Oversteer was recently invited to drive in twin 7.5 hour races by the new American Endurance Racing series and it was great!
|Photos by Bob Magee|
we have all been involved in competition of one kind or another, from SCCA Pro Solo autocross to Time Trial to NASA and PCA Club Racing to Carrera Cup and Ferrari Challenge.
Sprint races are great, we love the 11/10th-ness of it but endurance competition is also an integral part of the tin top experience, the pinnacles of racing with fenders being marathons: Le Mans, The 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, Daytona, Sebring, Bathurst.
CG has raced at the top of the pyramid: the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Bucket list taken care of but ultimately he found the experience somewhat frustrating, cost/benefit wise. As you can imagine, calling it expensive would be a wild understatement and the frustration of losing Sebring because of a faulty $10 brake pedal light switch is close to unbearable.
At the opposite side of the spectrum is what is affectionately know as "crapcan racing" and right here let me get one thing out of the way: Axis was banned from Lemons.
Here's the rub for the endurance pining tracktards, there is not much between the lofty heights of Pro/Am racing like Daytona and the comedy of Lemons. There are one off races Like 25 hours of Thunderhill and, closer to us, the 12 hour Devil in The Dark and there is Chump Car.
But what if you already take part it, let's say, NASA club racing and you feel the urge to endure? Where could you race your well prepared Honda Challenge or GTS or Spec E30 car for longer than 45 minutes?
This is where American Endurance Racing is hoping to fit in.
AER was started by group of Chump car refugees who were unsatisfied with the direction of that series. Their goal is a series with simple rules that can accommodate cars from SCCA, NASA, BMW and Porsche club racing as well as some faster Chump/Lemons cars.
AER invited Axis to race in their "VIP" car at the double 7.5 Hour Enduros at Watkins Glen. It's the first time anyone has deemed Axis worth inviting to anything, thank you AER!
AER solves that by mandating 140+ street tires. Most people used Dunlop Direzza or Falken Azenis, I believe most people used the same tire for Friday practice and both of that 7.5 hour races.
But wait, I'm not going to put street tires on my race car, it will not be any fun, you say?
OK, it will be slower of course but not nearly as slow as you think. If your car stays healthy you will set your fastest times towards the end of the race. I set what was the fastest lap in one of the two cars I drove, 6 laps from the end of the 7.5 hour race. Jeff "speedycop" Bloch drove another of the AER "press" SpecE30 to a 2:21.xx lap after pounding a well used set of Direzza for almost 90 minutes.
That's not slow, The lap record for SpecE30 at Watkins Glen, on Toyo RR is a high 2:18!
Street tires will, without a doubt, work your driving chops as will driving 90+ minute stints. I drove three stints of over 90 minutes over two days and I can tell you I drove almost every one as fast as the car would go, I know I'm a better driver for it.
|Josh Hughes busy running strategy|
What about pit stops?
The idea is to give those not willing to put a huge fuel cell and expensive filler equipment in their cars a chance so there is a mandated minimum number of stops based on the lengths of the race and each stop/driver change has to take a minimum of 3 minutes, pit in to pit out.
Classing is done based on qualifying times. Sandbagging will only cause one to be moved up in class.
That's mostly it as far as rules. At Watkins Glen, while the field was more Chump car than Club Racers, the classing seems to work quite well with only a couple of adjustments needed.
The AER press cars were mostly BMW SpecE30s. It would be fair to say that, while perfectly functional, they were all less than impeccably prepared. On the second day, Josh Hughes, Travis Okulski, Kyle Aaron and myself finished second in class despite a car that had become so slow, some of the local wildlife could climb the Esses faster. No matter, we all drove the car as fast as it could possibly go for our full 90 minute plus stints, using practically no brakes around the track and having fun with futile passing attempts like this.
So, racers, I urge you to take a look, the event was well run, cost is reasonable, drivers are good and the atmosphere was super friendly and fun.... I mean, c'mob, someone actually showed up with a whole pig to BBQ! It was delicious!
The final race of the 2014 season for AER will be at Lime Rock on November 21-22, bring your snow tires. In 2015 AER will expand with races at Summit Point, New Jersey Motorsport Park, Watkins Glen and more.