Challenges get bigger still!

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If you have followed this blog you know we’ve had more than a fair share of challenges, obstacles and setbacks, and have worked hard to overcome them all.  But just when we think we might actually be getting somewhere, life throws more at us.

This morning started out as a regular test.  It’s on the upper section, starting at 12,500 feet and going to the 14,100 foot summit.  We unpacked as usual in the dark.  The parking lot is gravel, bumpy and with a steep slope so one must be careful with placing cars and equipment.

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That is something that another team did not pay heed to.  As I walk towards the trailer I hear a loud crash and see people running.  Turning around I see this:

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Tristan was behind me and took the picture, that’s me running forward on the right.   A competitor’s car was parked on a slope above us facing down and was inadequately chocked.  As the competitor tried getting in it started rolling and smashed into our D1 bodywork, pinning it against the D2.  Fortunately Morgan was able to jump out of the way at the last minute – you can see her standing in front of the crashed car.  I won’t go into details of the discussions with the other team as the matter is still being reviewed by the officials.  It’ll be a thing to deal with later.  Now, we need to get on with what we’re here to do, the best we can.

We tape the D1 bodywork together so that it holds shape and inspect the D2 damage.

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The nose is cracked but usable with some gaffers tape applied.  Front wing is broken so we have to run without it.  There doesn’t appear to be any suspension damage.  So the D2 is good to run. The officials also approve D1 to run without bodywork so Rodney can get his required one run on this section as a rookie.

So now we get to deal with the challenges we had before this disaster.  On the D1, fixing the O2 sensor plug did not cure the problem.  In fact it became much worse here.  So it’s an altitude related thing.  The engine simply refuses to rev above 5K RPM, even at full throttle in neutral. After thinking about it, on a hunch I decide to put some pressure on the ambient pressure sensor.  Using a piece of plastic tube I blew into it as hard as I could while revving the engine.  Bingo!  It went to over 9K RPM.  It is now late in the morning and we need to get Rodney up the Mountain.  So we need to figure out a way to make the computer think it’s at lower altitude.  First we measured the voltage the sensor puts out and tried to cobble together a fake signal generator out of a flashlight battery. The engine refused to start and we are now running out of time.  A last-ditch attempt is to pressurize the stock sensor by attaching a water bottle with a hose, then squishing it with a couple zip ties.  It pressurizes for a few seconds but then bleeds down.

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We are out of time and have to go.

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Rodney takes off, engine sputters but keeps running.  He drives all the way up at tourist pace but his one required run is completed.  So he can qualify tomorrow, if we can get the bodywork fixed and engine sorted.  No worries, we’ve got over 20 hours left.

Things are better on the D2 front.  Replacing the plug wires cures the engine problems.  Jonathan does notice the missing front downforce and we reduce rear wing angle to balance.  We try the intended race tires/wheels and they’re horrible.  But we know the tires work well. So it’s the wheels – the weird reverse-build, valve-on-the-inside ones.  I wondered if the spokes being welded to thin unsupported section of rim was going to cause an issue, and it does.  The wheels flex and the resulting oscillation is extremely unsettling at speed.  So two sets of expensive wheels are worthless, but at least we have the current ‘old’ set to test on which are good, and we have new tires on the way.  Of course they show up Friday and we’ll have to find a way to scrub them in before the race.  It’s towards the bottom of the list of concerns, but on the list nevertheless.

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The team that crashed into our cars offered to get the bodywork patched at a local bodyshop, so we drop it off and head to the house.  At 11 am we get a call that they changed their mind and won’t pay for the repairs.  Another issue to deal with later, but now we have to go pick up the body and Jonathan takes off for Denver which is the nearest place we could find the needed fiberglass supplies.

In the meantime Morgan goes to an electronic supply place and buys a potentiometer.  This will allow us to precisely dial in the voltage that the ECU sees and hopefully make it work.   A bit later it’s wired up and YES, we can find a setting that will let the engine rev to full 10K.  Whew.  It might not idle and there may be other things (and more tinkering needed), but at least there’s progress.  We are able to duplicate the earlier problem by matching the stock sensor’s output voltage, so we know we have the cause and the cure.  How well it’ll work across full altitude range remains to be seen but it’ll be better than what we had this morning.

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So now I can take a few minutes to collect my thoughts and doing this post helps me do that, so might as well.  Still lots of work ahead.

As you might imagine, all this is stretching us past all limits and that includes financially.  Paying for fuel to get back is not a guarantee.  So we are removing the login requirement for the blog – send it to all friends, forums, media and anyone else you can think of.  We are not asking for handouts.  Rather, we hope that after reading about our efforts more people will find them worthy of support.  It’ll take a bit to get the login fully removed but you can publicly post the following credentials, with our full approval:  username media2016 password presspass  We will set up the convenient donate now button and all that when we have the time/energy, but for now donations in any amount via paypal to pikespeak@palatov.com will be deeply appreciated.  Anyone donating over $50 will get a t-shirt, and so on – the full details are on this year’s effort home page.

In the meantime, we are back to the mad scramble (we have to qualify tomorrow 4am), while life goes on leisurely around us with deer lounging on the lawn next to the house.

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