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.