Scott Lear
Scott Lear
5/20/08 2:06 p.m.
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This past weekend, we hitched up the BMW Spec E30 to the Pathfinder and headed due north for a race with NASA Southeast at Roebling Road near Savannah, Georgia. The Savannah Sizzler event promised gobs of track time: Twenty minutes each of practice, qualifying and a sprint race on Saturday, followed almost immediately by a 45-minute, Spec E30-only feature race courtesy of Factory 3 Performance called the IFU-2 (Inverted Field Unlimited). Sunday saw more qualifying and yet another 40-minute race. It was a great test of our off-season repairs.

From the moment we pulled out for our first practice session, we were encouraged. The engine ran much more happily with the new gas tank and unobstructed fuel return lines, and it seemed to be generating more power than before the fix. We weren't the quickest car in a straight line, but no longer were we dead slowest. In fact, we were able to motor by a few Spec E30s on Roebling's front straight. The brake repairs also appear to have done the trick, since there were no rear lockup issues and the ABS functioned when called upon.

A year ago when we debuted the Spec E30, we found ourselves nearly DFL and about 7 seconds slower than the front-runner in our first session at Summit Point; a disheartening gap. This year was shaping up to be much better; we found a 1:26.507 fast lap in practice, about 2.4 seconds slower than front-runner Daimon Moses and squarely in the middle of a big pack of fellow Spec E30s. Finally, we were going to be able to do some Spec racing with the meat of the field.

We qualified with a 1:26.212, good for 13th in a field of 27. We also ran the BMW over Roebling's scales and found ourselves to be a bit heavier than we expected based on the readout from our own scales; the Roebling scales indicated about 2790 pounds after burning gas in practice and qualifying. We calculated that we had plenty of fuel weight to meet our 2750 minimum weight for the sprint race, so we didn't top off the tank before the sprint.

The BMW gave us a fair rolling start, and were were in the thick of a pretty tight cluster of cars for the first lap. In fact, another Spec E30 found our left front fender in an abrupt evasive maneuver, smacking us squarely in the corner light and fulfilling the prophecy of the Impact decal on that corner of the car. As the race went on, our traction on right-hand turns seemed to be going away at an alarming rate, and we had a couple of offs at Turn 2 and one at Turn 4.

We pitted, confirmed that the tires weren't visibly damage and headed back out, only to notice a few laps later that the warning lights on the instrument cluster were all shining brightly. Assuming (correctly) that this was the universal symbol for no alternator, we pitted and parked it. It's a good thing, too, since our fellow competitors quickly informed us that the alternator belt runs the water pump, too. There were some minor percolating noises from the engine, but we seem to have caught the issue early enough to prevent a real meltdown.

With just a couple of hours to go before the feature Spec E30 IFU-2 race, we took advantage of the extreme generosity of our fellow racers and soon had a replacement alternator belt and the specialty wrench to easily remove the radiator fan that was chewed up and that wasn't necessary for racing anyway. A friendly GRM reader who also happened to be a BMW mechanic came by and offered a very helpful hand in removing the fan and shroud, replacing the belt and snugging the alternator back in place. We topped off the reservoir with a couple of bottles of drinking water, threw five gallons of gas in the tank and made it to the grid just in time for the IFU-2 race.

As a result of our shady sprint race performance, we had excellent field position in the Inverted Field Unlimited race. This for-fun event used a staggered start with groups of four released from slowest to fastest, with the theoretical goal of everyone reaching the finish at the same time. We started from P3 in the first launch group, and with a fresh and fully operation car we were in the overall lead fairly quickly.

For many laps we diced with Jim Pantas in his Pink Panther, and soon we noticed that he kept dropping off our tail quite a bit in the longer right handers. It wasn't long before we learned why firsthand; fuel starvation. Apparently, many of the later BMWs with the BM1B-spec tank we had just replaced suffer from terrible fuel starvation issues on right-hand corners. Since we were focused more on the weight of the car than the fuel load, the five gallons we had added before the race weren't a full fill. The problem killed our momentum off of Turns 2 and 9, but fortunately we were still in the lead, and the only person in our immediate vicinity was having the same problem. Then the double yellows came out.

The thing about the IFU-2 race was that it was meant to be unpredictable and a bit hilarious. A pace car appeared right in front of us, and brought us to the front straight where a red flag stopped the field. A row of Bookler flaggers on the right were a pretty strong indication that we were going to get a standing start halfway through our race. With an eager field of 26 other Spec E30s behind us and the inevitability of fuel starvation waiting to kill our exit momentum out of Turn 2, we found a good launch rpm and did our best to stay ahead of the Turn 1 mayhem.

Mercifully we had a fair launch, but sure enough the engine sputtered in Two and a pack of angry BMWs went zipping by on each side. It was the same story in each right hander, and by the time the checkered came out we had lost 15 positions on track. We later discovered that our starting position had been so advantageous that we were actually a lap up on many of the cars that passed us following the standing start. The paper says we came in fourth overall, but far more credit is due to Damion Moses for coming from the way back all the way to the front for a very real win.

Even before the fuel issue had set in, our lap times from the IFU race were way off our morning pace, to the tune of more than 2 seconds. In fact, we'd gone from a low :26 to a mid :27 in the sprint to a mid :28 in the IFU-2. We looked at our trusty old Toyo Proxes RA-1s--this was to be their last on-track outing, as the rules mandate the replacement Proxes R888 by early June--and figured that the left-side rubber might be growing old. For Sunday morning we swapped the tires right to left and front to back, and made sure that the fuel tank was overflowing, weight be damned. We were back in a healthier mid-pack position, qualifying 14th with our fastest time of the weekend, a 1:26.094 compared to polesitter and Speed "Setup 2" TV star Michael Skeen's 1:24.032.

We rechecked our pressures, aiming for approximately 38 psi hot. Then we topped off the fuel tank yet again, hoping we'd make it through the 40-minute race without fuel starvation issues. A reasonably strong start netted us a few positions on the first lap, and we decided to play it a bit conservative with a long race ahead. Sure enough, some overly aggressive driving by a few of the cars in front of us saw them spin off, and we had a great race playing through traffic of the slower and faster varieties. We tried our best to drive defensively and hold our spot against a very persistent young rookie named Robert Allen who filled our mirrors lap after lap.

In hindsight, we'd have mounted the camera backwards, since that's where our real race was. We dreaded the reappearance of our fuel starvation issue--Robert only needed a minor error on our part to nab the position--but mercifully the full tank had just enough to take us the distance. When the white flag flew, Robert tried one last, very hopeful outbraking attempt down the inside into Turn 1, but rather than punt us he very courteously pitched the car into what turned into a tank-slapper and cruised off into the grass, returning to the track after losing his own position to Al Taylor.

It was a refreshing thrill to actually race our BWM rather than run slowish parade laps waiting for the brakes to seize up. We're not exactly up front yet, but it's easy to see that the guys who are leave very little on the table. Perhaps as our confidence in the car grows we'll be more willing to push it toward that envelope. Our 10th-place finish out of 25 cars on Sunday was a huge step in the right direction.

The car drove itself onto the trailer, and the checklist before the next race is much more tolerable than the winter's long repairs. We need to revisit our weight, since it looks like the Chromepocalypse is overkill considering the amount of fuel we need to run. Some OEM-style trunk matting might be the solution. Also, a glance at the rulebook shows that fuel pumps are open, so we might add a second fuel pump to the tank to give us gas no matter which way we're turning. And we're going to need a fresh IMPACT sticker for that left fender.

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Quasi Mofo
Quasi Mofo MegaDork
5/21/08 7:28 a.m.

You might look into adding corner pickups or a fuel safe into (yet another) new tank...

Great story!

DILYSI Dave
DILYSI Dave MegaDork
5/21/08 9:15 a.m.

Sounds like a productive weekend. Congrats! Sorry I wan't able to make it. DoubleCross won out.

RangerGress
RangerGress New Reader
5/21/08 9:58 a.m.

Great write-up Scott. Good meeting you this weekend at Roebling. For a guy that is relatively new to Roebling, you were damn fast.

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