By Rob Krider
Nissan Team Diary At The 25 Hours Of Thunderhill
A lone and scrappy Nissan Sentra SE-R run by LeMons / ChumpCar alumni ran against Honda and Mazda factory efforts at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Here is how they Survived the 25.
We showed up at Thunderhill like any confident/cocky racing team. We thought we would win it. The only problem was there were 68 other teams that thought they were going to win. The nerve of those guys.
We found a few issues to worry about during testing on Thursday. We learned that getting the car off the ground in the bypass (Turn 5) was cool for the photographer, but it made the suspension work way too hard. We trashed a wheel bearing which needed to be replaced.
Jumping the car also destroyed the main front wiring harness from the left front tire rubbing (thus losing power to the headlamps and making seeing at night quite difficult). This little discovery kept Craig Rohning, Simeon Gracy, Dan “Gadet” Bordeau and AJ Gracy up late thrashing on the car to get it ready for qualifying.
We also found out during testing that the little SE-R was running 94.5 decibels on a track with a 95 maximum sound limit. We decided to play it safe and redo the exhaust, requiring one to be fabricated by Napa Valley Muffler and delivered by Bay Ex directly to the track ASAP. It arrived just in time and was bolted on two minutes before qualifying. The new exhaust worked great for diverting sound, and it also worked great at diverting carbon monoxide into the cab of the Nissan. Wanna get high anyone?
Ken Myers from I/O Port Racing Supplies installed a Traqmate data acquisition system in our car for practice. We learned quickly that data doesn’t discriminate. Looking at the information along with the video made me realize I was totally wussing out for Turn 9 (as well as a few other mistakes I wasn’t proud of). You can also see in the video how wicked fast the overall winner was, the ES class number 75 Porsche GT3 of Mercer Motorsports. With the camera and telemetry there was no more blowing smoke up the ass of the crew chief with things like, “I always short shift before 7,200 rpms.” BS! The Traqmate was a very helpful tool to get us to go faster, and more importantly, it doubled as a racecar driver lie detector.
Qualifying went okay, but we found out that our competition was extremely serious and well funded. Honda Performance Development brought two CR-Zs run by the Realtime Acura guys with one car driven by Lawson Aschenbach (2006 World Challenge Champion). During qualifying the turbocharged CR-Z (don’t get excited -the one at the Honda dealership doesn’t have the turbo) was crushing us, as well as everyone else in the 22 car deep E3 field, by 4-5 seconds a lap.
Robert Davis Racing (MazdaSpeed) had numerous cars at the event with two Mazda2s running in E3. They seemed to run solid but weren’t terribly fast. Some might even go as far as to say they were terribly slow; like slower than the kid they hire at McDonalds to sweep the floor and pick up the trays.
Our crew busted their butts all week, didn’t sleep much, and resolved all/most/some of our issues prior to the race. Even the morning of the race we had Steve Thatcher and Stan Lowrey bringing in parts and supplies (the most important component I was told was Starbucks for our crew chief, Steve Kuhtz, who was going to stay up the entire event).
As the 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning start approached, the number 33 Krider/Kramer Racing Nissan Sentra SE-R was finally ready for 25 hours of action (we hoped).
Keith Kramer, the owner of the number 33 car, started the race off and did great. We double stinted him with a quick stop for 10 gallons of gas and sent him back out. Our crew did a super fast and clean fuel stop. Honda Performance Development/Realtime spilled gas on their first stop and were given a five minute stop and go penalty by NASA. Their crew chief, Joe Cappelli, appeared extremely frustrated.
We did a fuel fill/driver swap and strapped me in the car for a double stint. The crew did another perfect pit stop without any penalties. This routine was how we were going to catch the turbo Hondas.
The fast line around Thunderhill with a front wheel drive car is to run it on three wheels (we have found that this is also good for tire wear). I got our lap times down to 2:08.636 (we gained a half a second between learning from the Traqmate data and having Ken Myers from I/O Port coach me over the radio) but we were still a few seconds a lap short against the Hondas. However, that didn’t matter, because as I came around Turn 3, I found a Honda CR-Z upside down! Unlucky for them, but good for us. Then the other Honda was called in for a sound limit violation and they had to fix the muffler during the race (something we took care of prior to the race). Things were looking good for the little Nissan.
Steve Kuhtz, our crew chief, kept careful records of our fuel mileage and pit stop strategy on his laptop (he loves his Excel spreadsheets. I’d swear that guy has his bowel movement schedule on a spreadsheet somewhere hidden on his hard drive). On Steve’s clock, I came in with about 45 minutes to go before the finish of the 6 hour race (the end of the Western Endurance Racing Championship points battle), and Keith Kramer jumped back in the car.
Besides driver swaps and fueling during our pit stops, we were swapping out HD cameras on the car because we were filming an episode for GoRacingTV.com. I’m no Martin Scorsese so my guess is a lot of the “footage” will be of me accidentally leaving the camera on and walking through the pits filming my feet and the ground. I feel sorry for their editor.
We were two minutes from taking the 6 hour checker (we would keep racing the full 25 hours, the event was two races in one, 6 and 25, run concurrently) when a fast ES class car (a grey Supertruck, number 17) spun Keith out in Turn 8. As the ES car/truck went by it knocked the front bumper and our lights off of the Nissan. It was lights out for car 33.
The crew cut the rest of the front bumper off, tidied up some wiring, used some 100 mile-per-hour tape to align the stock headlamps and got the car back on track as quickly as possible.
Our very bright (and very expensive) lights sat idle in the pits while the car went back on track without them.
Our third driver, NASA Road Racing National Champion Dave Schotz, jumped into the driver’s seat of our car and headed out onto a wet, dark track to make some laps. In the rain Dave was a madman, passing faster E0, E1 and E2 cars, all the while accomplishing this with hardly any lights to see with.
While Dave was on track trying to make up for the 20 minutes we lost from the crash, Keith and I headed to the awards ceremony for the 6 hour race to see where we ended up after the wreck. It turned out we finished second! We accepted our trophy with some of our crew and family. We knew that second place was the finishing position we needed to win the E3 Western Endurance Racing Championship for 2010. We were stoked about the championship but the celebration was short, we still had 19 hours of driving to go in the 25 hour race. The Dos Equis would have to stay on ice for a while longer.
Racing at night in the rain was extremely challenging. After Dave finished his stint we put Keith back in the car and the windshield began to fog up. He was racing in the dark and using a small squeegee to clean the inside of the windshield on the straight (yes, when we were building the car we pulled out the defroster to save weight –it seemed like a good idea at the time).
The crew was busy through the night switching from dry tires (Hoosiers) to rain tires as the weather and track conditions changed. We also had to swap out some Carbotech Brake Pads and rotors, which had been kind enough to last half of the race. The brake swap pit stop only burned about 20 minutes because we didn’t have to take the time to bleed the brakes. We used Prospeed RS683 brake fluid, which held up great and gave us a solid brake pedal the entire event. It was nice not to have to worry about the brakes, since I was too busy worrying about the carbon monoxide poisoning our new “silent” exhaust was causing us.
I got in the car around 2 a.m. for a two hour stint in the wet. Some of our crew were taking much deserved naps, which left the graveyard crew of Tim Jackley, Swayne Mason, Rob Diehl and Stephen Young (who worked day and night) to stay up to keep us running through the darkness. My brother, Randy Krider, and Tim Persico were up in a spotting tower freezing their asses off near Turn 10. Using the radio, they kept us out of trouble while watching for problems on course. I think they were up there for something ridiculous like 20 hours. Where the tower is, there isn’t a port-a-potty, which means you may want to watch where you step next time you are near the Turn 10 spotter tower at Thunderhill.
While going into Turn 8, the fastest corner on the track (100 m.p.h. for the SE-R), which has one line in the wet, a faster prototype car (Number 23, ESR Class) got impatient and tried to pass me at the apex of 8. He collided with the left rear of our car and sent me off into the wet and muddy grass at high speeds (I was praying I didn’t roll over and I’m not even religious). Just by luck the car didn’t get too sideways and catch, flipping me into oblivion. I was able to limp the Nissan back onto the track and waddle the car into the paddock. The left rear lower control arms were bent and the front toe was way out of adjustment. The car was driving semi-straight, but the steering wheel said I was making a serious right turn.
The crew scavenged parts off our red 38 Nissan SE-R and tried as quickly as they could to get us back on track. The unnecessary collision cost us an hour and ten minutes of down time. Our chances for a win, or even a podium finish, were snatched away from us in one millisecond from a stupid on-track incident due to an impatient driver. The prototype cars are so fast they are often quicker than the judgment of their operators. I went and found the driver of the 23 car in the paddock. We had words… enough said about that.
Our team never quit. Even with two collisions we kept hard at it, knowing that we wanted to finish the race. Keith Kramer got in the car and put down a great and uneventful stint -well it was uneventful until the fiberglass hood began to fail.
The front of the hood started coming apart (residual damage from the first crash), so our crew devised a way to fix that with a huge washer/backing plate for the hood pin made from a wrecked Honda fender that Tim Jackley sourced from a dumpster (the Honda fender paint even matched) plus a crap-load of racer tape. They got it on the car in just a few minutes as we threw Dave Schotz back in the Nissan and gave him ten gallons of go-go juice. Dave drove like he always does, quick and flawless.
The track started to dry out and the crew did such a good job fixing the car (again and again) that it was actually handling great. I got back in the little Nissan and had the opportunity to put down some clean laps as the sun came up. Joel Schotz went up into the spotting tower and kept me out of trouble with those pesky fast ES and ESR cars while giving Randy and Tim a well deserved power nap (and bathroom run).
We had been racing for 24 hours and we still had an hour to go. I popped out of the car after my stint and Keith jumped in to bring it home for the team. I stepped into my motor home and found crew members sleeping all over the place, my bed, the couch, the floor, the driver’s seat, one guy was sleeping in the shower. The entire motor home smelled like grease, feet and sweaty testicles. I may never get that smell out. I woke up the exhausted crew so they could see their hard work, the 33 car, complete the race and cross the finish line.
12 Noon, finally!
We did it! We survived the 25! It was the hardest thing any of us had ever tried to accomplish and we pulled it off. Seeing that car come across the finish line after all we went through the night before was the absolute greatest feeling. It was actually very emotional. I’m not admitting to being a cry baby, but I’ll stipulate that a small tear may have crept its way out of my eyelid when the checkered flag waved. We were all so tired, we had dealt with so much, our stress level was so high for so long, the release of all of that stress when the race was completed just came out of our bodies like a flood of emotions. We had done it. We completed the longest closed course road race in the world, 25 hours, and ran with the big boys from the factory. The event was totally epic for all of us.
The grime and dirt on the car showed the hardships that both the car and the team faced. The little Nissan SR20DE motor tuned by Jim Wolf Technology and Performance In-Frame Tuning never hiccupped once and ran great. We were in the hunt, but we just ran into (or it ran into us) some tough racing luck. It happens, but we finished strong.
The car was looking rough, but the team was invigorated by the fact that they survived the event. The Nissan crew went the entire 25 hours (and the entire WERC season) without a single fuel spill penalty (unlike Honda who had a five minute penalty and then finished in second place, one minute and ten seconds behind the winners, Miatacage.com -ouch that penalty came back to haunt Honda something terrible). Because of the efforts of the Krider Racing pit crew, we were able to finish 31st overall and 12th in class after two severe crashes (our racing peers, Evil Genius Racing, finished 13th). On paper that doesn’t sound all that special (in fact it is the worst finish we have ever had in any series), but you had to be there to understand how tough this event was.
Even finishing 12th, I felt like we won. We beat the race itself. Any team that finishes 25 hours through the rain, the darkness, the cold, the multi-class speed differential, and comes across that finish line at the end is a winner in my book. Thank you NASA for putting on such a cool/hard/awesome event. Now I have the rest of my life to try and sleep it off.