Yes, we’re back at Pikes Peak this year. The effort has already been quite eventful and full of stress and drama, I just haven’t documented it yet.
The reason for the late start on the blog is that until recently (like two days ago) we weren’t fully certain we were going to be here. There are two of our cars running this year, which I’ll go into shortly, but one is a full customer effort with a brand-new twin turbo D2 and didn’t require our presence. The other, Rodney’s D1PPS from last year, was a last minute decision and I’ll go into that too. Then it was ‘GO’ and everything was last-minute rush and no time for posts.
So here we are. Earlier this afternoon we arrived in Colorado and our home for the next seven days – a rustic cabin in a peaceful little town of Green Mountain Falls.
It’s a place for hiking, enjoying nature and getting away from everything. There is no cell service, but the cabin does have internet. Not an obvious base for a race team, but it’s super convenient to the Mountain (15 minute drive to the toll gate, and if we are at any point inclined ‘only’ a 6-mike hike to the pit area). A couple other teams seem to have the same idea too.
The drive from Portland was long but thankfully uneventful and we arrived about 4 pm to great weather, not having encountered any notable difficulties on the way. Tomorrow is tech and registration, testing starts Tuesday with the top section for us.
So now to backtrack a ways (this will be a long post).
David Meyer, a long-time Pikes Peak competitor and Colorado Springs resident, ordered his D2 late last year. Some may recall that he and his team helped us in 2015 by providing his garage and tools for us to use.
The plan was to get an early start on the frame and it was actually done late October (10/21 is the date on the pictures below).
The engine was chosen to be a custom build – an upgraded LS3 longblock from Turnkey Engines that is set up for forced induction, with a twin-turbo install designed and fabricated by us. Transmission is a purpose-built version of Mendeola S5R sequential with gearing chosen by David specifically for the Mountain (i.e. shorter than you’d normally see on a turbo LS). We would also be doing the electronic paddle shifter install.
The primary goal for the engine is drivability and a flat, wide torque curve. Secondary goal is ‘only’ 700hp at the crank – at 14,000 ft elevation. I spent a lot of time researching the various options, components, layout, etc., and settled on twin GTX2867R turbos in a mass-airflow configuration with twin water-air intercoolers.
Some of the details of the build are documented on the D2 blogs for those interested. The short story is that there were many delays and lots of hard work. Time was running short and on May 25 David headed to Portland with his trailer to pick up the car. As he left Colorado, the car was mostly complete but the engine had never run yet.
About halfway through his trip I was able to give him the good news – we got it started. Jason at Portland Speed Industries was kind enough to squeeze us in for an early-morning dyno run, before his day started. He got some basics sorted but we were topping out at about 575hp at the wheels. His guess was that the fuel pump we used was maxed out and we need a bigger one to go further.
We found one in stock at English Racing (who by the way became the first to go over 200mph in a front-drive car at the Colorado Springs half-mile time attack today – congratulations!). Installed the pump, back again at PSI for another early morning run. 674 hp at the wheels – now that’s more like it. David arrived in time to witness the last few pulls. Jason suggested that more work was needed but that was all we had time for.
Back to the shop to finish putting the car together, then off to ORP for some initial testing. The power and handling are fine, but the gearbox can’t get 4th or 5th gear (this also limited what could be done on the dyno). This is something David would have to figure out later. From ORP he continued on to Colorado. I designed and machined some different shift actuator parts and overnighted them to him. All was installed and he was testing on the Mountain on June 3rd.
Unfortunately things didn’t go very well. There was still no 4th or 5th gear. Worse, he hit a patch of ice on the upper section and went off. Fortunately he was OK but the car suffered some damage to the suspension. A scramble to get him the spare parts while he took apart and rebuilt the transmission, and the June 10-11 tests went better. Still a few glitches to resolve but it’s a usable car now.
Not content with good enough, David put the car on the dyno for more tuning. A swap to bigger injectors and E85 fuel yielded a crazy 850hp at the wheels (roughly 1,000 at the crank), with 854lb-ft of torque at just 3,500 RPM! This is on a ~2,000 lb car.
Now we’re talking. Next on the list is a paint job (he’s using last year’s prototype bodywork off the 2016 D2RS) and a few more tweaks.
This was supposed to be an easy one. Take last year’s car, make a few tweaks, and run it again. Rodney flew out from Taiwan to test at ORP on April 28.
Two laps are uneventful as Rodney started to increase his speed, then the engine started sounding a bit off. Then a lot off. He came into the pits, we pulled the bodywork off and it was a sinking feeling. Oil and water everywhere. Looks like we’re done for the day.
Rodney went back. Looking at the car in the shop, it was clear it overheated. Yet there seemed to be water in the system, the electric waterpump was working, nothing seemed obviously amiss. We took the engine out and drove it up to George Dean in Seattle to fix. Taking it apart, George confirmed the overheat diagnosis. Fortunately the pistons and all of bottom end survived, but head was destroyed and cylinder block warped. Easy to replace. Thermostat was stuck wide open confirming presence of water.
Normally a rapid temperature rise would be easy to spot and stop running before damage occurred. Unfortunately the temp gage on the dash was switched to C from F at Rodney’s request, but alarms were inadvertently still in F. Also, gage calibration was off. It’s never one thing.
Keep in mind that this car, as-is, ran Pikes Peak including testing and the race last year and did fine. Nor were there any issues in subsequent ORP testing last August. So the mystery as to what exactly happened remained. In the meantime, recall that we’re scrambling to finish David’s car and a couple other customer builds. It helped that our long-time customers and supporters Neil and Valerie Bradley were kind to cover the cost of the repairs as a sponsorship of our efforts – thank you!
Engine back together on May 15, car back together June 8. After looking at everything very closely, I realized that the coolant system on this one was put together slightly differently than our normal practice. Typically we put the overflow tank line at the input of the waterpump. This way we know that if there’s water in the tank, there is water at the pump. This is important because pump is not self-priming, and if there is no water at the input none will circulate. In this install, the line was connected further upstream and physically slightly lower than the pump.
My best diagnosis is that an air bubble had somehow formed at the pump as the car sat over the winter, and coolant didn’t circulate. The trip to SEMA last fall may have been a factor as well, transporting the car without running it. So we updated the layout to the proper one, refilled, tested, and fully warmed up a few times in the shop. Our only opportunity to test at ORP is June 14 (the day Autoweek is there to look at our D4 – no pressure). If it doesn’t work we have no time to fix it again – hence the delay of the blog publication. There are never any guarantees at Pikes Peak, but we wanted to at least make sure we’d show up.
Fortunately the testing goes well, Neil once again stepping in to help – this time as a test driver. We make some adjustments and tweaks, load the trailer and get ready to drive to Colorado.
And now this is where we are. To be continued.