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.