Tuesday, November 30, 2010

28th November - Ebisu 6 hour Endurance Race. Thomas O'Dowd (4 of 4).

Looking at the weather in Nihonmatsu the night before, I saw that it would more than likely rain during my stint. I don't mind rain too much as long as I have some thread and was looking forward to a new experience. Rain might give us a good fighting chance against some of the rwd race cars also.

When we turned up at the circuit it was pretty cold and unbelievably it soon started to drizzle. It wasn't really enough to make any standing water on the circuit so no major worries. Qualification was 15 minutes earlier than I was expecting. Opps. Anyway, getting ready as fast as I could, I listened to some of the other cars do a lap or two and the rain started to get harder too. So much for them drying the line for me. Damn.

I was quite apprehensive heading out as we'd 4 new tires on which had never seen a surface before. I was wondering how long they would take to start gripping in the wet. As such when I headed out, I was took my time and weaved and speed up gradually. Loads of time. Qualification is 30 minutes after all. Normally, I'd have come in after a few laps but I wanted to make sure that Mike had good tires to start the race with too with good air pressure so I stayed out. Times started coming down as I gained confidence in the grip. I took zero chances as we'd a full 6 hours and 4 drivers to go so I decided to come in when I'd got a 1'13.3. There was definitely more time there, but I figured that was fairly decent. Little did I realize but it put us 5th on the grid! Sweet!

The race itself should have been relatively straight forward from here. We were nearly 3 seconds faster than the next car in our class (in the wet at least) and 5th would be an interesting race start for Mike :-) I won't talk about Mike's run (as he has done so already) but midway in his session the officials were telling us to bring him in as the flap was hanging off dangerously on his front left wing. Took Mike a few laps to see the P sign but he finally came in much to our delight.

I'd already got tape and a cutter ready so the first thing we tried to do was repair by tape. This wasn't working though as the underbody was wet and I'd decided that it might come undone again. Better to take it off. We tried cutting the underflap next though but it was too tough to get through. Mike kept telling us to yank it off but I felt that it might do more harm than good to just yank as its pretty strong plastic and the last thing I wanted to do was yank and have the fender come off with it. I got a + out of the box and undid a screw which released one edge and from there we were able to pull clips and cut cable ties. It was off! It was the longest bloody pit stop and one of the hardest as we knew we were pissing away time. Anyway, once the official was happy, Mike tore off down the pit road in fury and we were all wondering if he'd end up in some ditch driving like a maniac to claw back any lap time. I think we were 3 laps down when Mike finished. Opps.

Sumi was up next and drove a steller pace throughout his session. We were 4 down as he went out and the course was drying out. After his session, there was 2 laps in it again. We still had a fighting chance. Alex was out next. Mike and I were wondering how our race would be looking when his 90 minutes were up. When he entered the course car 51 was just behind him and he somehow he stayed there for more than a few laps. This was looking good! Then car 51 got passed but didn't really pull too much of a gap. We were 4 laps down again. I started timing laps and Alex was doing pretty much consistent 1'13.5s. Fantastic. Suddenly he started to real back in car 51 and a few laps later he was passed. Wow! 2 laps down! We had a proper race on our hands again. Alex was performing wonderfully. Due to the other team pitting and us pitting, when I got out on the track, we were 2 laps down.

I got in the car as quick as I could and got the straps on, reset the TraqMate and started watching cars as they went past the first corner. The boys were starting on the 3rd fuel can when I saw 51 go around again. It took a while more to let me go but my target was pinned in my memory. Car 51. White. Big wing. Mine!

I went out and started to nail some laps together while checking the car. Brakes were horrid with the peddle almost going to the floor in a wishy-washy way that didn't inspire confidence. I knew it was just air though and I just believed in the nice thick new pads we'd put on the car and kept the speed up. It meant I had to brake early though. I had such a blast as I worked my way by so many cars without remorse. Finally I caught car 51 and noticed that he was quite fast everywhere except the downhill chicane and the downhill corner. I got by easily and Mike was showing me funny signs like -3 laps etc which I thought to egg me on as I couldn't be 3 laps behind them. Finally he showed me the -1 I'd been expecting and I just worked on lapping fast.

After passing so many cars, I finally came upon a fast B class civic that didn't want to let me passed to easily. He didn't block or anything but held his corners and had much the same speed as me up and down the hills. I'd another car behind that was trying to pass me also and for a few laps, I drove as cleverly as I could to keep the other guy behind while trying to take the guy in front. This was proving to be really enjoyable. I was really loving our 3 way battle. We got caught in traffic at the inner hairpin and I had to hit the brakes un-expectedly to avoid the black civic who'd done pulled right when I didn't expect him too. The little white TMC car got passed on the inside. That guy is good on the brakes. I was hoping he'd open the door for me on the civic but he was having the same trouble I was. Another momentum car.

I decided to try and pass him again rather than wait and I got him on the uphill first corner after he'd hit the brakes to avoid the civic making a mistake on the last corner. He was right on my ass again. What a race! I decided the only way to pass the civic was also the up hill corner. I'd got close a few times but he wasn't giving it to me easily. I left a bit of space before the last corner and got a really nice 3rd gear last corner on the gas up the hill. I got it just right and was on his bumper the whole way up the hill. I moved for the inside as the power kicked in cresting the hill and got him under braking as I ran out of revs. Awesome. The white TMC car came too. I wasn't going to let him passed though and concentrated on making a gap and finding that 51 car to take the lead.

Passing the 51 car to take the lead actually turned into a bit of a non-event.
I was on his ass from the bottom of the hill and he indicated left. Then I
guess he saw it was me and stopped indicating. He was coming up fast on
another car on the left though and he indicated again to keep left and I just
flew by... No fight and no drama, but we were in the lead. It would later turn
out that they needed a tire change badly and were just trying to hold off to
see if they could retain the lead. I didn't know this though.

Towards the end of the race, I was hoping pit wall would give me some lap info as I was running low on gas and was trying to figure out if I had pit time or I should tune down my right foot and start changing up more. I decided on the latter. I got fuel starvation with about 5 laps to go but decided that it was just under high G's so we might be ok. I figured the yellow light handn't been on long enough to use up 9 or so litres of fuel that might remain in the tank when it would come on. I kept out there as it seemed I might loose less time than a fuel stop the the pits were not ready for. I didn't get any more signs of fuel starvation after that one and when I saw the checkered flag. I was very relieved and very happy! We'd done it again. We'd gone and won the bloody race!

Well done to everyone who helped us work on the car! Thanks for all your time and effort. We couldn't have raced with out you. Thanks to all the team who worked hard in the pits and drove hard on the circuit. You can't win the race alone. You need a great team! Team Gaijin Racing.

Miguel keeps adding that photos and video are coming but I haven't had any
time to work on them yet. They are coming though...

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