After returning from Lime Rock with a trophy and high hopes, the eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team went into round 7 (Road America 2018) with something to prove. At both LRP and Watkins glen, we just barely came short. Close enough to prove the team could be a contender at the top of the class and earn podiums. The team wasn’t just looking for another podium this weekend, however.
A win was on the horizon, and everyone involved could taste it in the air. Maybe it was the 100 octane. Road America was a drastically different course from Lime Rock, relying on a completely different skillset to make fast laps around the 4 mile course that zigzagged across the rolling Wisconsin countryside.
Ran hard and put away wet; The cars had not returned to the shop for repairs following the high contact race at Lime Rock. The crew worked quickly to unload the cars and equipment as soon as possible. Extra time had to be spent in order to provide a level surface to adequately set up and corner balance the cars. The lower paddock at Road America is always a challenge to get this right, as it’s built on a hill.
With the help of a few laser beams and some substantial shimming, the scales were set up and the cars began their pre-race refresh. By the time the trailer and cars were set up, it was time for the long promoter test session in which we had enrolled.
Because the #10 needed some work, the #12 was set up for the session. eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing driver Kieron O’Rourke took the opportunity to run the #12 nearly the entire time (his home seat is in the #10), able to get more than a race stint under his belt and practicing fatigue focus. Multiple changes were made to the front suspension and rear wing to get the best flow and speed. The rear wing ended up being completely trimmed out as to generate as little drag as possible. We’ve never run the downforce this low before, so that was certainly interesting. It almost looked like the wing was tilted back.
For the first official IMSA practice on Friday, the #10 showed some familiar issues with the steering wheel around mid session. #10 driver Lee Carpentier came on the radio complaining of shifting issues which we have had to deal with before. Meanwhile Kenton and Tom toured the 4 mile course relatively trouble free in the much newer #12. The only suggestion was for a brake pad compound change to deal with the extreme heat built up in the brakes, and Pagid Racing supplied something that could take the heat a little better. At one point we were getting readings of around 900F degrees on the rotors in the pits, which is far beyond what they should be after some cool down time coming down the pit lane.
Even with these problems, Kenton Koch and Tom O’Gorman were able to set some extremely fast times and further boosted the team’s confidence. At the very end of the session, Team Owner Matt Moran gave the order to swap the steering wheels between the ailing #10 and the perfect #12 to easily verify the shifting issues. As suspected, the shifting problems followed the wheel to the #12’s VW/Audi DSG 6-speed by the end of the session.
Other teams fared much worse, with several cautions involving cars that had either hit the wall or started on fire. The eEuroparts.com crew was cautiously optimistic, even though the attrition was quickly building. Many teams were forced to do major rebuilds on their race cars overnight.
After the practice sessions were over, the cars would finish their spit shine back at the paddock space. Both would get new brakes, and the #10 would also undergo some more substantial hardware changes, including the replacement of the electronic steering rack which was reported to feeling heavier than usual.
We also had the misfortune of accidentally setting off the onboard fire suppression system in the #12, coating the entire interior and engine bay with thick greasy foam. Luckily, the crew was able to procure a spare charged fire bottle and quickly adapted it into the car.
The final practice session would be relatively early in the morning, and confirmed that all the repairs went well. The brakes were now much more manageable into the extremely heavy braking zones and the steering was worked out. We didn’t take any chances and left both of the steering wheels attached for the remainder of the weekend (taking them on and off stresses out the electrical connectors). With the cars set up and topped up with the appropriate amount of fuel, the drivers strapped in and went out for the brief and exciting 15min qualifying session.
After about 30 seconds, Tom and Lee were given the signal, and ripped out onto the Road America tarmac nose to tail. Even with the slipstream draft, the #10 struggled to keep on the bumper of the #12. The #10 was one of the first Audi RS 3 LMS’s to arrive on US Soil. With over 12,000km of the hardest green flag miles on the engine, it was showing its age.
Tom finished his first lap with an impressive 1’21.748, a time that was fast enough to outpace nine (9) of the faster GS class cars and best the second place TCR class qualifier by 1.3sec. The team parked him in the pits…Provisional pole position. Lee would be able to salvage a respectable 4th place qualifying position after having a short slide in Canada Corner on his final flying lap.
The crew gave a small cheer when the session closed with both cars in good position, the drivers did a few interviews over the PA system, and the cars came back to the paddock space to get ready for the race which would take place much later in the day.
Report to IMSA tech impound, get scrutineered, return to the paddock, pump all the fuel out, weight it, record fuel burn during the session, then fill to exactly 32kg for setup. Put the cars on the scales, do a final alignment and bolt check, put the race set of tires on, drop them to the ground, put Tom into the #12 and Lee into the #10.
Do the fan walk. Sign some hero cards, sign some t-shirts, talk to some fans. Make sure the fuel equipment in the pits is all full and operational. Check the nitrogen regulators and wheel guns. Arrange the spare tools. Get a few spare tires ready, and prep the wet set in case of rain. Brief the crew once more and …
The cars screamed down the front straight while the team finished each of their little checks. It felt like it was only seconds later that a panicked voice came over the radio. A few seconds after that, Lee drives the #10 into the pits with massive front damage. Kieron’s shoulders lower as his shot at a stint disappears while the crew pulls broken carbon off the front and inspect the extent of the damage. Ultimately, the lower control arm was ripped from the ball joint and the radiator was punctured. In the opening fray, a spinning car from the GS class in front crossed back out onto the track backwards. Lee had no time to react, clipping it on the right side.
While this was unfolding, Tom came in on the radio that the car was heating up fast and was going into limp mode. When he arrived, the crew looked on astonished as the bright yellow Continental Tire trackside banner was draped across the entire nose of the car, completely closing off airflow to the cooling systems. He had gone briefly off course to avoid the very same melee. Tom went back out to start another lap in attempt to cool the car. With oil temperatures peaking well past 400F degrees, astronomical coolant temps, and the car stuck in limp mode, there would be no way to salvage a result.
While struggling to get both cars back to the paddock space, the crew observed a horrible accident as it happened on the nearby jumbotron. The sight haulted everyone in their steps. A hush flew over the entire paddock while images of fire spread across the brightly lit display. The Kink had claimed another pair of chassis. Both drivers were alright although they were airflighted to the local hospital for evaluation.
Just like that the weekend was over. The team did a basic repair on the #10 so that it could roll, caught up on some lost meals while the race went on without them, and began to pack. There will always be days like that. The general consensus was that it was better to happen on the first lap. It was a hard pill to swallow as most of the crew had their hearts set on the team’s first win.
The next race is at Virginia International Raceway. With some of the wind taken out of their sails over the last few disappointing finishes, the eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team will take a step back and assess the data. VIR will be a new race, and both cars are going through substantial refreshes to ensure the damage taken over the last few arduous weekends will be gone over. That will include brand new engines for both the #10 and #12, and a significant going over by the highly talented engineers and mechanics. Keep en eye out for a VIR preview next week!