No energy to do posts until now (well, even now, seeing how I just drove 28 hours from Colorado Springs to Portland, only 3 of which were sleep in a rest area). But I’m currently waiting to hear the official word on whether our class win will stand. So might as well write the blog in the meantime. Never a dull moment 🙂 Oh, and I got a couple additional pix that Jonathan took up top Wednesday, so here they are, just because I think they’re cool:

So now I’ll start where the last post left off. Friday practice was on the middle section again and was uneventful. We almost didn’t run, thinking that Tuesday’s optional practice on the same section qualified for the rookie requirement of completing a run on each part of the Mountain. It didn’t, so good thing we showed up to this one.

Jonathan used a couple of the runs to break in the new set of Hoosier A7s – they started out very slippery but came in quickly and after the second run he declared them ready. On the subject of Hoosiers, earlier I happened to speak with Mercedes factory driver Uwe Nittel. He said they were hesitant to run an American tire and brought in six sets of different European tires for comparison testing. The Hoosier A7 was by far the clear winner of the comparison and that’s what they ran in the race. Good to know.

Being the top qualifier in our class, our attendance at the Fan Fest Friday afternoon was mandatory. We showed up early and scored a prime spot.

It was a good opportunity to test out our new flags which work great (thanks to MyLife@Speed). Lots of fans, lots of positive attention. Quite a few dpcars blog followers stopped by to say hello. So did Pete, the car’s owner and our primary individual sponsor, who just got into town for the race.

Saturday we took the car up to the pits, unloaded, and went through everything. Tristan redid the belt tensioner adjustment just to be sure. In order to do that, the supercharger boost control valve connector has to be unplugged. Leaving it unconnected is what caused our 150hp power loss earlier, so I make a mental note to check it. After all is reassembled I start the car, blip the throttle and see a puff of black smoke from over-rich mixture. That’s what it used to do when the connector was unplugged so I mention it to Tristan. He says yep, I see it. Should check the connector. We talk to a few people, take some pictures, then load the car in for the night and head down to the barbecue that M has organized at the house.

After getting up at 2 am for a week, Sunday’s 5 am wakeup seems luxurious. We all pile into the van, manage to get around about 500 cars lined up to turn onto the Pikes Peak highway, and start setting up.

The weather is beautiful. Bikes run first, then they are done around 10:30 am and the cars line up. We are 6th among them. Jonathan straps in, cameras are on, he rolls up to the start and then he’s off. We anxiously crowd around the live timing screen.

Radio announcers mention Jonathan going by the Picnic Grounds speed trap at 106 mph. Wait… we were at 121 in practice, according to GPS data. It’s a sick feeling, like someone physically punched me in the stomach. I watch the screen for first section time and it’s much slower than I expected. I tell Tristan and his face goes pale. WE NEVER CHECKED THE BOOST CONTROL CONNECTOR AND IT’S UNPLUGGED! All the work, all the effort, all the training, all the fine-tuning. And now we’ve sent Jonathan into the fight with one hand tied behind his back.

We can’t roll back time although uselessly I keep wishing we could. In my head I replay all the opportunities we had to get this right. Just a simple click. We nervously watch the section times. They are not exactly real-time, so checking the watch after the expected interval and seeing a blank spot on the screen is excruciating. Then the final time comes up – 10:21. Based on the data we gathered in testing we were hoping for mid-9s. The relief of seeing a finish time and knowing Jonathan is safe and car is OK does not make the sick feeling go away.

DAMN. We’ve overcome so much and now we defeat ourselves, with something we knew about and had every opportunity to fix. But it’s not a total loss. We did finish. Jonathan obviously put in a brilliant drive (I later learn just how hard he had to push once he realized he had no power). Now we have to see if it’s still enough for a win. Layne Schranz, our closest competitor in the class, goes up next. We were consistently faster than him in practice but now his section times are shorter. This is not looking good. The third section time comes up and he is clearly ahead. But then the finish time never does. Layne blew up his motor at Devil’s Playground and is out.

The other car to watch in our class is the factory Honda NSX entry. They complete the run but finish with a slower overall time than ours. Now the weather is starting to turn rapidly. Looking at the summit we can see clouds and lightning. We get word that it is now snowing at the top and the race is temporarily stopped. Because the summit is covered in three inches of snow, the remaining competitors will only run to Glen Cove, approximately halfway up.

Then the day is done. The cars are on their way down. Suddenly we get word that because of the shortened race for some competitors, the results would be based on time to Glen Cove and not the complete runs. We are further told that since Layne was faster to that point he would get the win, even though he did not cross the finish line. Competitors who set records today are told that the record would have an asterisk attached but would be honored. We have some discussions with the officials. They are open to input but have a lot to deal with right now, which I can understand. Putting on the event is a huge undertaking and many decisions have to be made on the fly. In the meantime we can at least take some pictures of the car with the flag that Jonathan brought down from the summit.

We are eventually told that today the decision stands but we can protest it in writing if we wish and the protest would be reviewed with an open mind. I hurriedly dictate the summary of our position to Peter who scribbles it on the cleanest piece of paper we can find (my own handwriting is terrible, I’ve been typing for the last 30+ years). We submit it with the required fee, then attend the awards ceremony. Afterwards we pack up and head down to the house one last time. We have a long drive ahead and I don’t expect official word until Tuesday. The officials, staff and volunteers have a LOT of work to do cleaning up the Mountain and wrapping up hundreds of tasks.

Emotions are mixed. On the one hand, we have lots to be thankful for. We finished safely, with a fastest complete run in class. The 13th overall position puts us in top 10% among 133 competitors (barely, but still). Jonathan put in a drive of his life and there will be some good video once we are done editing it.

The protest could go either way and we’ve done what we can there. We feel our position is sound and fair – each competitor faces the Mountain and its challenges. Some get to the top, some don’t. We run in order of qualifying and the faster qualifiers have better chance with the weather. They earn this chance with the qualifying run. Those who make it all the way and cross the finish line to take the checkered flag, post a time. That time is theirs and should not be subject to modification after the fact because someone else didn’t make it to the summit. Now all we can do is hope that after considering all viewpoints, the officials will agree.

But then there’s still the sick feeling in the stomach that won’t go away. Unplugged connector – such a simple thing. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot. We’ve let our driver down. None of the controversy would be necessary if we had enabled him to keep his practice pace and put in a sub-10 run, which we know both he and the car are capable of. It wasn’t something we didn’t know about. We’ve looked the problem in the eye and somehow let it get the better of us. There are many lessons in this. We better learn from them as a team.

The liquor stores are closed when we get off the Mountain but our host Robyn ‘loans’ us two bottles of vodka (we buy her new ones in the morning). The booze hits the spot and takes the edge off for the evening, but of course everything is still there the next day.

So that’s how I set out on the 25+ hour drive home. It’s uneventful and I stay fully awake churning all the could-have-dones in my head. The officials call twice to let us know the time they’re going to meet and make a decision. I appreciate the calls, it makes the wait a lot easier.

We get to the shop, unload and wait. Then it’s official – the protest is upheld and we are the winners of Open class in the 2015 PPIHC. The time we earned is ours. Importantly, this decision also clarifies the rules going forward.

Now it’s time to look at everything and make plans for next year. We’ve run twice, both times with a class win achieved despite having preventable engine issues that resulted in half power. We’ve gotten into low tens but have not broken the 10 minute mark. It shows potential and promise, on which we need to deliver. I have some ideas 🙂

In the meantime many thanks are due. First, I want to express my gratitude to the organizers, officials and volunteers who make the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb happen. It is their efforts that make our part possible. I was impressed in 2012 and I have seen many improvements this year. The 100th anniversary will be even better.

Next, I want to thank our sponsors. Our primary individual sponsor, Pete Stoppani, deserves the most credit because quite simply, without him the car would not exist. Every individual contribution to our effort is deeply appreciated. Those of you who have supported us with $50 or more, now is the time to mail us your shirt and/or jacket sizes (need not be same) so we can get them made. Email details to

Our commercial sponsors have been essential to the effort, providing both financial and material support: ETAS, Hoosier, SolidWorks, Cantrell Motorsports, CMS Laptimer, Lancair Composites, Zukun Plan, Arcflash, Driveshaft Shop, Oregon Raceway Park, Wilwood, Ultimate3D, Portland Speed Industries, Lewis Fabrication.

And finally, I want to thank our customers who have been an integral part of the development process.

Next year will be even more interesting!

Eventful two days since the last post.

Yesterday we did the testing on the very top (well above the ‘upper’ section two weeks ago). Since the parking area is at 13,000 feet we decide to leave the trailer down below and just drive the D2 and the van up.

We set up as usual. It’s considerably warmer than it was when we tested up here in 2012. But only two weeks ago this parking lot was covered in 8 feet of snow.

One of the many cool things about this race is the great variety of cars and other vehicles competing at the same venue, at the same time. The Freightliner is in our class.

At the drivers’ meeting we are told that the pavement up here is very bumpy. Per our earlier discussions, Jonathan is going to take it easy today and focus mainly on learning the road and evaluating aero tweaks. The cars take off for their first run. There is an off, but the driver is not hurt. The times are posted showing that Jonathan did a 3:57. That’s about 30 seconds slower than I expected but I did tell him to take it easy so I don’t give it much thought.

The run is done and the cars come back down. I stand there waiting for the D2 to pop up around the curve… but it never does. Then we are told there was a problem with the suspension and Jonathan is stuck at the summit for the rest of the morning. There isn’t much we can do but wait especially since all our spares are 4,500 feet below us in the trailer. It’s rather cold at the summit and Randy Pobst is kind enough to take a jacket up to Jonathan on his next run, in the trunk of his GTR.

The important thing is that we have completed a run on the upper section, which is required in order to qualify for the race since Jonathan is a rookie at Pikes Peak, and today was our only chance to do it.

After the runs are done the car comes back on a flatbed and is then transported down to the trailer. Turns out the bumps launched the D2 hard enough to damage a suspension component, which bottomed out the car. We replace the parts in about 5 minutes while still on the truck, then load the race car in the trailer.

The second picture is of a bolt that holds the diffuser to the frame. It used to be a button-head. Tristan manages to remove it with pliers, on first try. Here’s a composite video of the run (thanks to MyLife@Speed), click on the picture below to view it.

The Mountain is definitely testing us – the car itself, Jonathan’s ability to control it, and our ability to do what it takes to keep running. We have to prove that we are worthy. Qualifying is only 12 hours away and we can’t miss that.

On with the task then – there is much to do. Checking and repairing any damage, figuring out what exactly went wrong and how to prevent or at least mitigate it in the future, and hopefully set corner weights. Working in a parking lot sounds like the primary option but fortunately one of our competitors, David Meyer (sponsored by his company Meyer Roofing), and his son Jon, connect us with one of their friends who can help. Nick lends us the use of his garage and tools while Jon brings out a set of corner scales. We even get a home-cooked meal! This is awesome – many thanks to a great group of people.

Around 8pm all is done and we’re ready. We call it an early night and after a reasonable amount of sleep get up and make it to the toll gate shortly before 3am.

Qualifying is on the lower section so we have the trailer with us in case the car needs further work. The usual setup and then we are off.

Jonathan’s strategy is to do a recon run then get back in line right away and do a second one. There are many cars and since some take over 5 minutes to complete the section, the line at the start moves slowly. Eventually Jonathan lines up and takes off. We now have the luxury of watching live timing on a screen near the start line. He does a 4:15 which is a top time for a while until Paul Dallenbach posts an impressive 4:02.

The cars come back down, we turn around and Jonathan’s second run is a 4:12. Our main rival in the class posts an improved 4:13 on his second run so there is definitely competition, although as far as qualifying goes we’re still first in class. Then we’re told that a car spilled fluids on the road and it’s starting to look like we won’t get a third run. Then even the second run is shut down so qualifying will be based on the first run results. This leaves us with a class lead and what looks like a 6th overall. Qualifying order matters because it gives us the best chance of good weather on race day. It is quite common for it to be clear, sunny and warm at noon but raining or even snowing on the summit by 5 pm.

As we pack up some emergency vehicles go up and we’re told that the road is shut down until further notice. Since we’re here we might as well do some maintenance like bleed the brakes, adjust shifter mechanism, swap tires, etc. This requires progressively higher levels of shade as the day heats up.

When the road is finally reopened we learn that the delay was because a motorcyclist competitor, Carl Sorensen, died in testing on the upper section. Our deepest condolences go out to Carl’s family and friends. It is a somber reality of the risks we accept when we come here and the challenges the Mountain puts before us.

We have to move forward, stay focused and do our best. Tomorrow is more testing, then Fan Fest downtown Colorado Springs. Saturday is a day to set up and finally Sunday is the race itself.

Finally can catch up and do a cumulative post…

Late Friday we finally finished the work on the car and loaded it up. I wanted to drive across Utah and most of Wyoming in daylight (some EPIC roadkill at night and I really didn’t want to add to it). So at around 8 pm it’s all packed, M and I go home for an hour or so to grab our stuff and then we hit the road. Tristan and Jay decided to fly – 25+ hours in the van again wasn’t appealing enough I guess. Not an option for us.

The drive is long but thankfully uneventful. I sleep for 3 hours in a truck stop but other than that it’s straight through. In the meantime the flyers encounter a challenge – seems their plane sucked a cone into the left engine while parked at the terminal. That’s a new one to me. Jay said the airline was insisting it was a bird strike for a while. Odd looking bird!

They were supposed to meet Justus, our intern, who is flying into Denver from the FSAE event in Nebraska. She landed at 2pm. They were originally scheduled to get in around 10 – a long wait now made longer. M and I get updates on all this via text message as the van devours the miles, now in darkness. I try to find ‘sweepers’ – trucks going at approximately the speed I want, to stay 500 feet behind. The hope is that any suicidal deer would meet their fate on the sweeper’s bumper and not mine. I see countless evidence that it’s a popular thing to do for deer in these parts. Some of it is very fresh. Fortunately the drive is without incident.

Tristan finally texts that they’ll be arriving in Denver around 2am. We’ll be driving by a couple hours earlier so we arrange to pick up Justus curbside. The toll road is odd – lots of automated checkpoints though it isn’t clear if they’re on or not. If all are, we’ll be getting quite a bill in the mail since price is per axle.

Arriving in Manitou springs the weather is quite nice, sky is full of stars and the only remaining unknown is whether I can fit the larger trailer into the gravel driveway off the steep street, especially after what is now 29 hours on the road. No problem, first try. Tristan and Jay show up shortly thereafter.

Sunday is a full day to recover from the trip. Jonathan flies in at midnight. Monday is registration and tech. Waiting in line to get teched we check out some of the other cars there. Pretty impressive machinery! The Honda factory LMP car is particularly fun.

Pikes Peak has very stringent safety requirements, for obvious reasons. Fortunately the D2 is ‘overbuilt’ by design and we only had to add two tubes to our chromoly frame to better resist boulder intrusion. The staff go through their checklists, measure thickness of rollcage wall tubes and firewall, then sign off on the car. We’re good to go!

After tech, Jonathan and I attend the rookie school and the general drivers’ meeting. Now all the formalities are done and at 3am the next day we’re up on the Mountain for testing. Our class (Pikes Peak Open, so far we haven’t been asked to move classes) is running on the middle section today. We follow a long string of cars and trailers up the road. The van struggles to get up to Glen Cove with the loaded trailer – it’s carrying probably 2,000 lb more car, equipment and spares than it did three years ago. But eventually we make it.

Setup is now routine – get unloaded, turn on the generator, go through our various checklists, wait for light.

Today’s primary goal is to test the new aero. We get four runs and make several adjustments. It is working well and responds to changes as anticipated. This section has few high-speed corners so the real test will come on top tomorrow and then qualifying below on Thursday. But this gives us good data to review. And some cool video that we took to see if the wing is moving or vibrating – thanks to Andy at MyLife@Speed for setting it up. All seems well in that regard. The Mountain is gorgeous in the morning!

Even without mufflers the car is still very quiet – here’s a video of one of the launches. As in earlier tests, we finish second fastest behind Paul Dallenbach.

Upper section tomorrow. Jonathan has not had any chance to drive it yet due to weather two weeks ago and the hectic schedule since his arrival. So we’ll be taking a cautious approach and focus mostly on fine-tuning the aero settings.

A crazy frenzy of activity these past few days. When we started up the engine I noticed it was running quite rich and not sounding exactly happy. Just a hunch, but having had engine issues in 2012, and knowing that we overheated this one twice, we had to know.

So we took the car to Portland Speed Industries again and put it on their dyno. First pull confirms that something is not right – we’re at only 400hp, or a full 150 hp down! I have a moment of quiet panic, then we start looking at data. Jason says that there is no boost. That’s actually good, because it’s likely fixable. Tristan starts looking around behind the firewall and sure enough – a connector was unplugged when we switched belt tensioners and never got reconnected. With the connection made, another pull confirms the problem is solved. We’re back up to 550+ hp at the wheels. The car sounds good with no mufflers – here’s a video.

I believe a good part of the engine surviving overheats is the fairly conservative tune that Jason did during our first dyno session. He backed the ignition off to where the engine never activated the knock sensor, giving it an extra margin of safety. Really great to be working with someone who understands our goals and doesn’t just crank out max power no matter what.

Now that we feel better about the engine, it’s time to put everything together again. The bodywork came back from paint yesterday and the assembly has begun.

We’re running with full street lights, windshield wiper, the works. This is truly a car anyone could buy and drive on the road (when assembled as a kit). There are some evolutionary steps from our previous standard cars and the main one is the wings package. I’ve been meaning to design and make one for quite some time (years actually) but other priorities kept getting in the way. The race is forcing my hand now and of course it’s all last minute.

The rear wing was put together by Marcus at Central Composites. He also made skins for the front one but it would be up to me to actually make the wing. It’s a bit complicated in shape and how it mounts. I designed the parts in SolidWorks and made sure everything fits in the virtual world. The angles are very odd and there is no good way for me to machine or otherwise fabricate the needed shapes. Perfect job for 3D printing though where there is no need to be constrained in shape by manufacturability. I’ve been talking to Robin at Ultimate3D about doing something for our cars and this was the right opportunity. He was eager to demonstrate what they can do. So I sent the files yesterday and this morning we have the parts – printed in carbon-reinforced nylon.

These are basically wing ribs and endcaps combined. Their purpose is to locate the wing skins in space, attach them structurally to the steel tubular spars, and define the overall shape of the wings. In case that wasn’t enough, the parts also serve as mounting surfaces for the endplates, with holes for helicoils designed in from the start.

Now it’s time to build the front wing while Mark fabricates mounts for the rear one (I designed and machined the clamps for rear wing mount tubes yesterday).

I trim the skins in place and then we bond them in with special adhesive. Everything here is an experiment piled upon another experiment. The goal is to arrive at a production solution that can be retrofitted to both existing cars and future ones, so it needs to work with both current and new bodywork. SolidWorks confirms that it should fit in both applications, and earlier CFD runs show its effectiveness. Now we just have to install and test. Takes a few hours but the car is now with wings and is ready for all the sponsor logos.

Now I need to design, fabricate and install all the endplates, including the nose-to-front-wing interface. Compared to everything that’s already done, piece of cake.

We are leaving for Colorado either tomorrow afternoon or, at the latest, early Saturday morning. Both trailer and van got some maintenance so hopefully the trip will be uneventful.

Honda just announced that they will be running an LMP car in this year’s event, with a driver whose experience includes F1. It will be interesting to see how they do, and how we do compared to them. Should be exciting 🙂

Since we are running with the old bodywork, it’s time to fit it and send it off for paint. Which is what we did, adding some extra ducting for the intercooler.

There is a list of various things we need to tweak. The main one is the alternator/waterpump belt setup. After talking to manufacturers of electric water pumps we’ve determined that we have to stay with the mechanical one for our application. To improve reliability we are switching to a manual tensioner and using a laser alignment tool to make sure all the pulleys are precisely in plane. Hopefully this will take care of the issue. Other bits include things like an improved shifter setup, changes to headrest and minor things like that.

Many have mentioned that our car might be too quiet for Pikes Peak – the spectators need to hear it coming. Electrics are forced to use an annoying siren for that. Just to make sure we don’t end up having to do the same thing, we built and tested a set of pipes without the mufflers. The catalysts are still on for 50-state emissions compliance. The car sounds cool! – here’s a quick video clip.

On the subject of videos, I went through our footage from the testing and put together a composite clip as well as three different camera views for upper and lower section runs. Links below.

Composite video

Lower section rollbar view

Lower section driver view

Lower section cockpit view

Upper section rollbar view

Upper section driver view

Upper section cockpit view

The axle did show up late afternoon on Monday, and the few hours waiting for it in the morning gave us a chance to catch our breath and even render some video. Here are two clips – the car launching for its very first test run, and a later run on the lower section. The engine is so quiet it really sounds like an electric. We’ll most likely make a set of unmuffled pipes for the race (still retaining the catalysts and emissions legality of course).

Once we picked up the axle, a 10-hour drive (with a couple more thrown in for sleep at a truck stop) reunited us with our trailer just before dawn, in a dirt parking lot. Fortunately the guys are used to these conditions by now, and we just happen to have the needed equipment 🙂 The axle even fits.

Dropping off the U-Haul, picking up a few extra lugnuts at a NAPA auto parts store just as it opens at 7am, then we’re on the road. The rest of the trip is uneventful but long. Not particularly looking forward to repeating this a few days from now but that’s what we’ve signed up for.

We get back around 9 pm to a much-changed but not yet completed shop and a long list of things to do in a very short time. In a CarsYeah interview a while back I said that when faced with challenges I always look for a way to get something done rather than look for an excuse why it ‘couldn’t’ happen. Doesn’t get any more real than the last few days. More of the same soon.

Tomorrow I’m half a century old. It’s been quite an eventful ride so far, but it really feels like I’m just getting started 🙂

A big upside of the testing being so early in the morning is that we’re done by 9am and there’s a whole day to try and work on any issues that came up during the test. Yesterday’s work involved calling 6 different auto parts stores and driving to 3 of them to get the various bits we needed to troubleshoot the problems. The result – yes indeed there was a fueling problem. A fitting inside the fuel cell, between the pump and filler plate, had come off enough to bleed off most but not all of the fuel pressure. The problem cleverly combined itself with the overheating incident to try and make it look like something else. And now we have a spare good fuel filter.

The weather cooperated beautifully during the day but towards the afternoon a few rolls of thunder (followed by an incredibly close lightning strike, must have been within 1,000 feet of where we are) announced that cooperation was about to end. Fortunately we were now done, just refilling the fuel tank (yes in a lightning storm – what’s the worst that could happen, right?) and bolting back on the pieces that were removed to get to things.

With the tarp on the car for the night we relax for a bit, walk around Manitou Springs, then call it an early night at 8pm and pass out.

Morning brings clear skies. Today we test on the upper section. We learn that there is ice across the road in the W’s so that’s as high as we’re going to go. On the upside there will be more runs. The start is now at higher elevation and it’s noticeably colder. The pits are in a rutted dirt lot but the D2’s suspension handles it easily. I actually enjoy watching it articulate over the ruts. We set up as the sky is getting progressively lighter.

Since it’s dry we decide to keep running on the Hoosier A7s, although we will most likely have to switch to the wets after a few runs due to wear on the rears. The sun peeks up above the jagged horizon. We line up and the first three runs Jonathan gets progressively quicker, getting down to 2:20. For the fourth run we switch to the wets and at the initial pressures we set they are not working well. Jonathan is a full 8 seconds slower on these tires and informs me they don’t inspire the needed confidence. Still, after four runs his earlier 2:20 time is the fastest anyone has gone so far.

We drop the pressures a few psi and the 5th run is 4 seconds faster, followed by a 6th that is at 2:21. Jonathan is now much happier with the tires – the pressure changes combined with a bit of break-in have made a big difference. He goes out for the 7th run and we soon get notice that he pulled off with coolant leaking. Sounds like another belt is done. This is confirmed when he coasts down. On the regular LS3 powered D2s I came up with a belt guard that prevents the belt from coming off the non-flanged waterpump pulley. Our best guess is that the rapid RPM changes in our application cause the belt to try and rapidly accelerate and decelerate the alternator, which may create temporary slack that the tensioner can’t keep up with. The fix seems to work well, unfortunately there’s no room for it on the LSA motor due to supercharger belting. There are a couple different avenues we can pursue and we are currently leaning towards an electric waterpump. Others are adding a flange to waterpump pulley and/or an extra flanged idler to the system.

This is why we test. We learned a huge amount from this trip and there are still three weeks before the race in which to react and improve. Paul again went a few seconds faster in the later runs so we are second fastest again, but that’s not bad and we know that both our car and driver have more to give. Just have to take care of the details. Based on what we’ve seen my goal of 9:20 is achievable if all goes well. We’re on more or less even pace with Paul Dallenbach which is gratifying. Paul’s car is a beast:

We took a lot of video but honestly I’m not up to editing and posting it right now. It does look cool. The oddest thing is that between the super-quiet exhaust and the whine of the straight-cut gearbox, the D2 sounds like an electric. No joke, I’m going to have to put a note on the video that it is NOT an electric vehicle. And speaking of electrics, the Honda factory electric car is a fun machine. They obviously spent a lot of effort on aero and are claiming 1,000 hp. Maybe they were holding back in early testing but their times were a ways behind ours.

Now all that’s left for us here is wait for the trailer axle, transport it to Wyoming and hopefully get all the way back home where a flurry of activity awaits. Tristan took a flight from Denver to get a head start on it, Jay and Peter will travel back with M and I.

As a quick touristy thing we walked over to the Cog Railway and took a ride up the Mountain. Today the train didn’t go all the way to the top due to 60mph wind piling 6 feet of snow on the tracks. The race is only three weeks away, what will the Mountain have in store for us then?

I really wish that someone was filming a documentary about all of this. No bandwidth to do it ourselves. Wouldn’t have to script any drama, we’ve got a non-stop stream of it. But in the absence of a dedicated film crew this blog will have to do. Read on.

So having sorted the clutch on Sunday (which could have been a show stopper given the time crunch), we spent the first three days of the week catching up on other things. Stuff like finishing the first Sector111 Drakan (nine more to do as of this writing). In order to be more efficient at building cars we need to rearrange our shop space. We did look at moving but decided that staying and making better use of the square footage we already have is a better approach. So while we’re off testing at Pikes Peak, the landlord is tearing out the walls. The place will look very different when we return.

To facilitate this, we had to move everything out of the half of the shop that’s being worked on. The trailer and van being gone is a big part of the motivation for the timing, and we’re using all the space that the two normally occupy.

All this is happening while working on the Sector111 car, the D4 turbo, machining dozens of parts, building trailer for Neil’s D1, and of course prepping for Pikes Peak. In addition to getting the car ready, van and trailer maintenance also gets done.

Wednesday night we’re ready to go and Thursday morning we set out Colorado-bound.

The first eleven hours of the drive are uneventful. Having had trailer issues before I check all tires and wheels for heat that may indicate trouble every time we stop for gas. All is well until shortly after merging onto I-80 in eastern Utah i hear an odd noise and see sparks in the van’s passenger side mirror. Quickly pulling over, in the middle of nowhere, we survey the situation. One of the trailer wheels has departed, never to be seen again, and taking the entire hub with it. It was fine just 100 miles ago when I last checked it.

At this point it’s 11 pm, we’re miles from anywhere and there are 5 of us in the van. Only Jay has cell service and M uses his phone to find a tow truck that would come out. While walking up the road to see what mile marker we’re at, Tristan and I discover a pile of roadkill – what appears to be an entire family of deer that seems to have been hit all at once. Well, at least we didn’t do THAT so there’s the bright side.

About an hour and a half later the tow truck shows up. He looks at the trailer and his opinion is that we’ll need to call a flatbed and have it hauled because the axle is sitting on the ground. It’s going to need a new axle, which can be made in about 5 working days. We are now 27 hours and 700 miles from our first scheduled test run up the Mountain.

Being an engineer and a problem solver I refuse to accept sitting by the side of the road and waiting for days for someone to make a part. So I figure out that if we lift the trailer and jam something in the axle linkage, the axle should stay off the pavement and we can tow slowly 30 miles to the nearest town. After a couple promising but ultimately unsuccessful attempts we find a block of wood in the trailer that is perfect (pictured below the next day).

30 miles takes an hour and leaves us in a dirt parking lot almost exactly halfway between home and destination, with nothing to do but wait 5 hours until places open in the morning and we can explore options. We unhook the trailer and find a gas station to park at so that we have access to a bathroom, then the five of us end up catching some uneasy sleep in the van. It seems a bit surreal.

Alarm goes off at 8 am and it’s time for a flurry of phone calls. A variety of scenarios are contemplated. I’ll spare you the details – what we end up doing is finding an open U-Haul car trailer, leaving our enclosed trailer in the dirt lot, ordering an axle to be delivered to Colorado Springs on Monday, and around noon our journey can again continue. Though even finding a trailer proves challenging. U-haul trailers are technically 79″ wide. Our car, with the tires mounted on it, is 80″ at the widest point. We take a tape measure and find an out-of-spec trailer among the 5 or 6 available that is 79.5″. It’ll have to do so we grab it and go load the car. Clearance is tight even by my standards but it works.

Of course now we can’t bring everything that we intended to, and I’m really hoping to keep possible rain out of the car. “There isn’t really any in the forecast” M says. But I make something out of a curtain we have for our canopy, that is getting left behind.

And so we pay a $441 tow truck bill (2.5hours and 70 miles after midnight) and set out for the 700 mile trek to Colorado Springs. The upside of the smaller trailer is that gas mileage instantly goes from 7 mpg to around 13-15, so on the 1,400 mile roundtrip from here to Pikes Peak we’ll be saving about half that bill in fuel vs towing our regular rig.

The curtain/tarp contraption is flapping around and I make a couple mods to it which just seems to make it worse. Then we hit some scattered showers. Pulling off under a gas station canopy we find that water is getting under it, and remove the electronic dash panel from the car as a precaution. I also make some further tweaks which seem to finally make it better.

The drive is generally uneventful and we approach Colorado Springs around 10 pm to the sight of heavy clouds and lightning strobe-lighting the entire sky. Then we drive into the rain. A torrential downpour that creates rivers several inches deep across the freeway. Van’s wipers can’t keep up on their most hectic setting. We take the exit and ford what seems to be a 2′ deep stream at the end of the ramp. Glad we took the dash out of the car, but a lot of stuff is packed into it.

M rented an AirBnb house that is only a couple blocks from the cog railway in Manitou Springs. It sleeps 6 and is very nice but accommodations are tight. Still, it’s the most efficient way to accommodate the whole team for many days. Per-day cost for all of us is comparable to a modest single hotel room, and we have a full kitchen to boot. Trying to get the van and trailer parked is a challenge but at least the rain now stops and we can do it without getting soaked. My improved tarp worked a bit better and some of the items in the car are actually still dry.

When all is said and done it’s now 11:30pm and we make plans to get up at 3am to be at the gate by 4.

Four hours of tired sleep and the morning is still dark and cold, but at least it appears to be dry. Today we test on the lower section. We drive to the pit area and set up with generator and lights. About a dozen other teams are doing the same. The sky is getting lighter.

It is now reasonably light and we line up for the first run. Since this is testing, our main goal is to gather data and to see what we’re really up against. Jonathan flew out Thursday and has driven the road a few times in his rental car during public open times. Can’t go at any speed of course but it gave him some familiarity with the layout.

First one goes well, then two more, progressively faster. At this point we’re the fastest car here, with Paul Dallenbach about 4 seconds behind in his monster open wheel machine. Given that it’s Jonathan’s first time on the Mountain, we’re street legal and 50-state emissions compliant, not bad. I’m pleased.

The 4th run I get note from the course workers that our car leaked some coolant. Jonathan is the last to come back and it looks like he coasted down. A quick glance reveals that the alternator/waterpump belt has been damaged and has come off, even though it’s still intact overall. We have been looking to increase alternator reliability (we use a premium brand but several have failed in D2 installations, always warrantied by the manufacturer). Our latest attempt is a larger pulley to slow the alternator down a bit. This may have something to do with it. The timing is unfortunate because Jonathan was having a substantially better run and was, in his words, many seconds faster. Data confirms that. But, our test day is done and in the meantime Paul improves on his time substantially so we leave the second fastest. Not that it means much, it’s only testing.

We grab breakfast, find an auto parts store and get a couple different lengths of belts. They’re installed in our fancy workshop:

Hey, at least it’s not raining. Yet. We fire up the engine… which promptly stumbles and dies. It won’t take throttle and makes a very odd sound when gas pedal is pressed. OBD doesn’t show any codes. We look at logged data and it shows that coolant temps went as high as 277F when the belt broke. This could be bad. We rent a compression tester to see if a head gasket might be the issue. All cylinders are within 10%. As of this writing, next on the list to try is a new fuel filter (this has the feel of a fueling issue).

Tomorrow at 4am is the upper section test. If we get everything working, we’ll run it. It is likely to rain and even if it doesn’t, snow melt is producing rivers across turns in the Ws. We did buy and bring rain tires.

Then, hopefully, the axle will be delivered on Monday so we can drive 700 miles back to Wyoming to install it. And hopefully it will be of correct dimensions. We’ll most likely have to install it in the middle of the night, in a dirt lot off the side of a country road. Then another 800 miles to Portland, fit and paint the first-generation bodywork since the new one won’t be ready, get the other trailer axle serviced, build and install wings, test at ORP and repeat the drive again for race week. We’ll be staying at the same place, it’s cool even if work space is on the rugged side.

Oh and there are several customer projects that need to be worked on at the same time. At least we’ll have more room in the shop, after everything is moved again. This is the glamorous life of a car builder. Challenges are never in short supply but there is immense satisfaction in overcoming them, when we do. This is why we do it. I turn 50 next week and I haven’t felt younger in years. Don’t have time for aging 🙂

I’ll go through this morning’s videos and will do a separate post on that, though probably not until tomorrow.

This is actually two posts in one. The reason for this is that it’s just been crazy dealing with everything we have had to do since Thursday’s test, and there just hasn’t been time to do a blog update.

First, the test. When we arrived and unloaded at ORP, things looked promising. We had sorted the leaking clutch circuit the night before and everything appeared to be ready. Also, Neil brought out his D1 and Roman came out to drive his D2 after some maintenance.

Jonathan took the race car out for some initial laps but came in after just a couple. Problem with the clutch – it seems like it doesn’t want to engage and is always slipping. After some calls, we learned that the carbon clutch needs to be broken in and should get better after a few heat cycles. Unfortunately, further attempts to run resulted in it getting progressively worse, to the point where the car couldn’t even be driven into the trailer at the end and we had to push it in. Not a good start but there was nothing more we could do with it here.

On the upside, the little track time that Jonathan did get in the car led him to conclude that the chassis is very confidence inspiring and that he’ll be comfortable relying on it up on the Mountain. This is a critical part of the equation so it is good to have that answer.

We never do just one thing at a time and this day was no exception. We brought our faithful demo D2 (now 60+ trackdays) as a backup to let Jonathan get more seat time in the chassis, and some old and new friends came out to experiment with video and generally have fun on track.

One of the things we want to do is share our adventures. There are countless ways to do that, this blog being one, and video is another. There are lots of new technologies – drones, gimbals, high-res cameras – but we are focused on the cars and don’t have the bandwidth to mess with it ourselves right now. So when someone comes along willing to put their own effort and resources into experimenting, we jump at the opportunity.

Today Arvid Elias (a Seattle-based car and video enthusiast) brought his drone, gimbal setup and camera to see how the video might turn out. Click on the picture below for a compilation of drone footage. Since all the sound that the drone gets is the whine of its own rotors, I used a royalty-free music clip that we purchased a little bit ago. Turned out pretty fun I think and we’ll look into getting our own drone down the line.

The reason this is fo the future is that we won’t be able to use a drone at Pikes Peak and our focus is on the race right now. With that in mind, we also tried a gimbal-mounted camera setup on the car. Here’s the result. I think it shows promise although further experimentation with location, field of view and sound is in order.

The rest of the day was used to get Jonathan more seat time in the demo D2, give demo rides and get more video and pix. All in all a good test day even though all didn’t go smoothly.

You’ll notice the D1 in the drone video – Neil was out with his car and making great progress. Jonathan now really has to work the demo D2 to try and keep up with him and it’s gratifying to see.

Getting back to the shop at 8pm, Tristan took the floor off the race car and peeked into the bellhousing with a flashlight. It looks like the release bearing is pressed hard against the clutch spring. This explains why the clutch is not engaging. There isn’t a lot of wear material inside the bellhousing so there is reason to be optimistic that this can be sorted.

An added challenge is that tomorrow is Friday and the weekend makes it difficult to place rush orders for parts and supplies. But we’re ready to scramble.

Friday the transmission comes out and we remove a 1/4″ spacer under the bearing that was installed to set the air gap to about 0.1″ originally. It seems the clutch spring has extended significantly in the first few minutes of use. In one of the phone calls from the track we were told this does happen, but it seems a bit excessive.

Still, the clutch seems OK so we put it together and reinstall the transmission. Still not enough space. So out it comes again and after writing a quick CNC program and machining down the bearing mount another 1/4″, everything now fits and the airgap is around 0.2″ just to be safe.

We test the pedal travel and clutch engagement, and both seem reasonable. But next week we leave for Colorado to run the first tests on the Mountain on the 6th and 7th. We need to verify that the car is working before we drive 25 hours each way.

Fortunately, Tristan has been talking to Jason Oefelein at Portland Speed Industries, a local tuning company that has a dyno and a lot of experience. They are enthusiastic about our effort and are willing to open up on Sunday to put the race car on their dyno. It’s an opportunity to both test the clutch under full power in controlled conditions and get some basic tuning done.

Right away Jason impressed me with both the extent of his knowledge and his approach – he starts with identifying the car’s intended mission and then comes up with a tuning strategy that’s specific to what we’re trying to do. In this case, ultimate power is not necessarily the goal but reliability and predictable power delivery is. Jason understands the challenges of altitude and knows the LSA engine well.

We strap the car in and an initial pull with everything still cold produces a little over 560hp at the wheels (that makes it roughly 660hp at the crank). Not bad on standard pump gas, with catalysts on 🙂 Click on the picture below for a short video clip.

We are running in 50-state emissions legal form for several reasons. One is just my personal belief that if racing can be made more environmentally responsible while still delivering the performance, we should take every opportunity to do so. The other reason is that we want to show what a customer D2 can do – this is a car anyone can buy and drive on the road, every day.

Jason explains that as the temps go up the power will drop slightly and that he is going to tune parameters like ignition timing, MAF scaling and fuel delivery to make the engine efficient, and also to provide a safety margin in the extreme environment of Pikes Peak. The final result is below – 542hp at the wheels with everything hot and 535 lb-ft torque. In a 1,900 lb car that’ll do.

Crazy few days and there’s still a bunch of stuff we need to do to the car but it’s all manageable now. We are basically ready to test. Current weather at the summit – below freezing and snow. This will be an interesting experience. Jonathan is flying out a day early to drive the road in a rentacar and see what he’s really up against.

Every time we have a deadline it comes down to this. After scrambling to make parts over the weekend and have a few overnighted from various sources for today’s delivery, about mid-day the car was pretty much ready to go. This was actually ahead of what we expected and it was looking pretty good. A few final items (and what about this? and this?) stretched to about 7 pm. We finally roll it out, I get in, fire it up, push the clutch in and try to engage reverse. No luck, as the clutch pedal sinks to the floor. Sure enough, there’s a puddle of brake fluid under the car. In stationary testing there was no indication of an issue.

So up on the lift it goes. The release bearing is a hydraulic type so it’s buried inside the bellhousing. Getting to it requires pulling the gearbox which is a several hour task. Not looking good. But there is an opening in the bellhousing through which Tristan can see the fittings on the bearing. He thinks he can try tightening them with a special tool which he fashions on the spot.

A few minutes later and it looks promising. Re-bleed the circuit and it’s time for another attempt at a test drive. This time I let Tristan do it. As the car pulls out and disappears down the block it sounds surprisingly like an electric. The relatively quite exhaust, combined with he whine of the supercharger and the straight-cut gearbox make for a very unique soundtrack. Click on the picture for video (and Tristan’s unedited reaction to pushing the throttle just a little).

Tomorrow we test at ORP. If everything works, Jonathan is going to have fun! Not so long ago he drove Neil’s D1 followed by the D2 demo, and it was the first time he said he wished for more power in the D2. Well, wish granted.

Now ideally we need more tire on the back, which means getting 12″ wide rear wheels in right offset, bolt pattern and pilot. On short notice that’s a tall order but we’ll see.

Now it’s 10 pm and I can finally go home. Tomorrow is a long day.