Fart-Hinder Racing is back for the 2017 Season – the 8th season of racing a Saab in amateur endurance racing and the 4th season for the Fart-Kontroll 1999 Saab 9-3. The venue this time was Road America in the Wisconsin countryside with the World Racing League (WRL). Four of the usual suspects signed on to our Racing Saab for this event: Captain Tim Winker, Mike Mandy, Travis McCormick and Mark Fitzpatrick. Fart-Hinder has been to Road America several times before with the ChumpCar World Series, but WRL had arranged to run the traditional road course including the Kink. CCWS has always used the motorcycle “Bend” between the Carousel and Kettle Bottoms and into Canada Corner to keep speeds down on the most difficult part of the track. WRL isn’t just any amateur series. In line with allowing faster cars to race, founder Joey Todd has required wheel-to-wheel racing experience from the competitors. This licensure, as well as Joey’s reputation for running a clean series, convinced Road America that we could handle the fast track. But could we handle it?
Facing Your Fears – and the Kink – at Speed.
First we had to get the car ready. It finished the last race of 2016 at Road America without any major issues, so we weren’t worried about doing too much. When Mike came home from Florida, he and his wife invited the whole team up to their home on Burntside Lake near Ely, MN for a weekend of wrenching (and beer drinking, eating, and sauning). Between home brews, we looked the car over, replaced all the fluids, swapped the brake pads with new EBC pads from eEuroparts, installed do88 silicone intake and idle control valve hoses also from eEuroparts, made a few minor changes, and called the car ready.
Race weekend arrived and we rushed to get through registration and tech. We were pleasantly surprised there was no long line for tech nor for registration. Most of our pre-race paperwork had already been taken care of online, so it took only a few minutes to verify. Fifteen minutes later, we were in the pits, looking for things to work on.
Race morning dawned cool, but dry and sunny. Perfect racing weather. Mike took the double-wide rolling start, and raced off to turn one at over 120 MPH. Functioning radios meant he could keep us informed of how smoothly the car was running. He said it darted a bit at the top of 4th gear – about 128 MPH in three different places on track. He stayed out the first two hours, and chipped away at his lap times until he got down to a 2:56 – about 4 seconds faster than the car’s previous fastest lap at Road America running the bend.
Tim took the second stint, and settled right in. In short order he ripped off a 2:55. Shortly thereafter, he got a free tow truck ride. Running fast into turn 14 he had a Spec Boxster filling his mirrors. He was slightly left of his usual line which meant he was on the rumble strips under hard braking. Next thing he knew, instead of a little trailing throttle oversteer to line up for the long main straight, the Saab did a quick 180 and slid across the gravel trap, sideways into the tire wall with the entire passenger side. The tow truck driver deemed it too damaged to flat tow, and elected to pick up the front end with the wrecker.
Back in the pits, the damage didn’t seem so bad. The front bumper cover had become disconnected from the front fender, but three zip ties solved that. The caved-in side panels all popped right out with a fist to the inside. We jacked the car up, checked for structural and suspension damage, and sent Tim out for the rest of his (fortunately uneventful) run. Mark went third, and picked off the fastest lap of the weekend – a 2:52.260. He reports a braver driver could have gone faster.
Travis was tasked with bringing the car home, and almost made it. With a half hour left to run, a hard coolant line to the turbocharger snapped and all the coolant was gone. He shut it down quickly and got back to the pits. With no time to complete repairs before the checkered flag, we just got the car ready for the second day.
A used spark plug boot was re-purposed to connect the broken end of the steel coolant line to the banjo fitting on the engine, and the racing Saab appeared ready to tackle another eight hours of Road America. Much less to report for the second day. Travis went out first, and after 5 laps our day was over. The transmission wouldn’t stay in gear. We checked the usual external suspects such as linkages, but came to the conclusion that it had to be an internal gearbox issue.
With about 5,000 race miles on that stock gearbox, we agreed that it was probably time to give it a rest, and maybe a rebuild. Even if we had a spare transmission, it would have taken too much time to change and still have time to race. So.. not the outcome we hoped for, but still a great weekend at the track.
Things learned from this weekend: Our 9-3 is fast, very fast, on Road America’s three long straights. At times we were able to power away from most of the BMWs, and the Honda that finished 2nd overall on Saturday. Unfortunately, the cornering on the racing Saab is still in need of work, costing a few tenths of a second at each turn. On the 4-mile road coarse, that adds up to as much as ten seconds a lap. There isn’t much available off-the-shelf for our Saab like there is for other marques, and what is there (such as steering braces and subframe strengtheners) are illegal under some sanctioning body rulebooks.
Experiencing Road America the way the pros run it was worth the trip by itself. The first time you come out of the Carousel and look ahead to the Kink you realize it’s closer, and much sharper than expected. (Not to mention that the concrete on both sides makes it very narrow and hard to see around.) It takes nerves and practice to build up speed through there. Several teams saw their weekend end with a misstep in The Kink.
We look forward to some more practice next time!