Welcome back, team! I’ll begin with a few pictures and videos from the event (more to follow):
First off, I’d like to congratulate everyone on getting the Wreck Racing Miata to the Ultimate Track Car Challenge. To the best of my knowledge, we’re the first academic team to enter this event, and one of the first two low-budget challenge competitors of any stripe to enter this high-power and high-budget competition. Upon our arrival we became Georgia Tech’s first track racing team, and those are all big steps from where Wreck Racing started just a few years ago. We could not have made it here without, as always, the help of our members and the support of our sponsors, so thank you all for contributing. You should feel proud to be a part of this landmark in our team’s history!
Yesterday the Miata put down three very quick (but untimed) test laps bright and early in the morning, and was brought back to the pits to address an issue with a loose fuel pump wire. And oil leak was discovered and the level was topped-off; we had lost about 2.5 quarts. Unfortunately, those were the last full laps the Miata would make yesterday. It seemed to be holding up as it left the pits to make its first competitive lap, but halfway through the course the power was gone and it was evident something was badly wrong. When it returned to the pits again we could scarcely turn the crank by hand. The engine had seized, its main bearings likely shot.
The gory details: we have yet to perform the autopsy, but so far the prevailing theory is that the engine had been pressurizing the crankcase, probably due to a combination of worn out internal parts (head gasket, piston rings, etc.) which were not sealing well after hundreds of thousands of miles of road use, an unknown period of time sitting in a barn and then years of racing by our team. This increased pressure was expelling oil from the dipstick tube (this discovered during testing prior to the UTCC). To prevent a serious fire hazard, the overflow was routed to the oil catch can. While the catch can was vented to relieve pressure, the additional restriction and corresponding pressure increase may have been the straw that broke our old rear main seal’s back. The failed seal let out enough oil to starve the bottom end of lubrication. Though we had an oil pressure gauge working, by the time we saw symptoms it was too late to save the engine.
It’s very bad luck, but as people said to us throughout the rest of the day on Friday, “that’s racing.” These things happen, and we’ll learn from them and improve. We will fix the Miata and it will be stronger and faster than before. The students working on the next competition vehicle will be better equipped to avoid, be able to identify, and know the remedy for these sort of problems on their own engine. You learn more from failure than you do from success, and while cliché I do believe our own team’s recent success has been a direct result of all the hardships we have met at competitions in the past. We will make good use of this one, and we’ll be back next year with something better.
I would also like to point out all the successes that happened these past days, weeks and months of preparation: we have really transformed the Miata with the addition of a custom intercooled supercharger, an entirely homebrew aerodynamics package, upgraded brakes, more reliable electronics, several new safety components and many well-spent hours of testing time. While we (thankfully) did not get a chance to test the safety equipment, the rest of these very ambitious projects resulted in systems that worked beautifully. We worked very hard, and it paid off with our first lap around VIR. According to our driver (Mark Nunnally), the car was delightful: the handling and braking were better than he could have imagined. We will have to wait for final results to come out, but if our shakedown laps had qualified towards competition, we would have been solidly mid-pack among vehicles with far higher budgets…next time!
Certainly, it’s disappointing we couldn’t get just one more good lap out of the car, to prove on paper what we can do with just a little bit of money and a lot of effort and engineering. We fell just one timed lap short of reaching every goal we set for this event, and that was no simple task! We’ve come a long, long way, and this setback is only temporary. Our next chance at competition will be in October at the $2011 GRM Challenge, and we’ll focus on that next. Grassroots Motorsports (the host of UTCC as well as the Challenge) said they would be happy to invite us to the 2012 UTCC, and I am eagerly looking forward to a big comeback there.
Sincerely great job, everyone. We’ll get to work putting a new engine in the Miata soon enough, but for now let’s catch up on some sleep!