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Saturday, 30 July 2011

2010: Lake Gairdner Speedweek...

Ok, this is the wrap.

We left Sunshine at about 10am on Friday the 5th, the Rev and Colonel arriving together before PJQ and Frank who were in the Land Cruiser( the "Troopy") which tows the tank in Pete's(PJQ) trailer, Pete had had a little drama in peak hour traffic with fuel system and had had to bleed it on the side of the road. I'd trailered the car the night before and finally finished the sorting and packing of spares and tools ....but as always there were things that I wish I'd done as well.

It's a left turn at the end of my street and then 450miles before we leave the Western Highway at Murray Bridge. The Troopy pulls fifty to fifty-five so the two station wagons went ahead. The train spotters will be interested to hear that my 3.8V6 with an older style fogger LPG system and a canvas top trailer got exactly the same fuel economy as the Colonel's 5.7V8 with an injected LPG system pulling a slightly bigger slope front trailer.... and I mean exactly the same, er, except when it used more..........it might be down to driving style rolleyes...

So we turn off at Murray Bridge and head toward the Barossa Valley one of Australia's premier wine districts where we were going to stay with our mate Dirty Dave , plumber and bike nut. Dave and Christine turn on a feed with the best t-bone steak I have had in a very long time....also there for the night was Brett de Stoop with his 1000cc waterbottle in tow and his mate and early DLRA member Nigel Begg who was one of the founders of Deus ex Machina the Sydney custom bike business .

We head off the next morning after an early night , we miss the highly recommended organic farmers market and stop in Nooriootpa for fuel and the Reverend asks" where is the aeroplane museum?"......it's a few miles out of town. We find the place and get out of the cars for our first meeting with WH700 the Canberra bomber that our "bellytank" came from...the plane has two tanks on and we are still unsure as to why the one we have was separated from her but the build plate indicates it was one of the originals manufactured for the plane.We take some "family snaps" and get back out on the road for the four hours to Port Augusta.

In the "Gutta" we shop for food and buy a few things we've forgotten, then we go to the bottle shop shocked From the Gutta to the Lake is 130 miles, the first thirty five are sealed then it's onto the dirt....Saturday afternoon is generally busy and so it was , after passing a bunch of buses and slower moving tows we settle in behind Gnome Racing's Torana being towed behind a turbo diesel and they were hammering ,we made it to the Lake in under two hours and the road was generally good, dust was severe but the corrugations weren't as bad as they have been.

I drive straight out onto the Lake to claim a pit , laying out a tarp and dropping most of the tools and stuff off , a very very strong southerly wind is blowing. I head back up to the lakeside camp and we set up the "Casa del Canvas". Pete and Frank arrive with the Troopy and we send them down to the Lake to drop the trailer, Pete looked real tired , we owe him the world for towing our car these last two years, Pete decides to camp down the end of the campground with a view of the lake while we for some reason are in the boonies, our site at least was flat. We've barely eaten but after the massive meal we'd had the night before it wasn't surprising...we fixed a couple of gin and tonics, it started to spit.

It was a cold , blowey, and yes ....wet night....estimates of between a half and an inch of rain ....exactly what had happened last year, the sun rose with doom and gloom on the UHF, the Lake, was closed. At least this year we had the car in the pits. We walked down to the Lake and out to the pits which thankfully were a good mile and a half closer to the shore than usual, the stream which runs around the southern shoreline was flowing fairly quickly to the east but there was between one and two inches of depth and it was at least a quarter mile wide. When we got out to the pits we found there was a quarter of an inch covering the whole area, visibly flowing south east toward the shore and the stream, it was miserable. We opened up the trailer and got the car out and started getting organised.........the wind was blowing , the air was warm and the sun was starting to peak out, this was going to get better, the salt was rock hard, it might have had a covering of water but it was like concrete. There were already quite a few spectators walking out to the pits and taking photos and asking questions....we need to build a little box with a button and speaker because my jaw got sore telling people about the car, I reckon i told fifty separate people what we'd done to the motor in about an hour, always ending with " I'd better get on with it". We buttoned the car up , made everything weather tight and headed to the canteen.....we were in the middle of nowhere, out of contact with a bit of time on our hands and there on the hill was a little shack that sold food and beer......it was time to let our hair down a bit...truth is we were stuffed, I think we hit the wall at about 10pm and bedded down.

Monday morning was a better deal again, the air was dry, the clouds were gone .....we walked out to the pits and the surface layer of water was gone, the stream was only half as wide, this was going to happen. We set up the shade and the annex on the trailer and did all the fit up in the cart, the seat, computer and harness, did the "wheel alignment" mentioned above , polished the screen and got the car ready for scrutineering....there were mixed message about when this would happen so the last thing we did before walking off the lake was to push the tank into the line for tech, we were number four.

I got up at 6am and went for a shower, they are cold , and it was....I yipped as the water hit me...there was an old bloke laughing in one of the cans.." you're a braver man than me Gunga Din" I got on the push-bike and rode down to the pits, yep they were gonna start scrut'. I got the suit , helmet and log-book and unbuttoned the necessaries on the car. The Rev arrived just as Gaz finished . He picked us on a few things. We don't have a master kill on the extinguisher system to take out the hot side of the battery, he wanted more drainage holes in the bodywork, he picked a few bits of wiring that could be better protected , they will all be rectified for next year.

I left the tank sitting near tech until Rod Hadfield came over and asked me" how long are you gonna leave that there for James?"......I was pretty keen on being right on the spot when they opened marshalling.....we pushed her back to the pit about a quarter of a mile away and then hung around trying to work out how to swing it. The drivers' meeting was confirmed for 3pm, to be followed by the track drive....before the drivers meeting we rolled the car back near tech, the moment it finished we pushed to the marshalling point, we were fourth in line.....we went on the track drive with Simon Davidson photographer from Street Machine , he's a great bloke even if he is from Sydney and drives a Ford.

We get back from the track drive and it's all systems go. Its four o'clock as I drive straight into the crunchies from marshalling and everyone else drives around me...just like last year..this is the first proper drive I've had with the new motor...we elected to steer clear off the test track as it looked even rougher than last year, and I couldn't see then so we skipped it. The graded areas were rougher than last year we think because the salt was so much harder, another factor was that rather than using the club's old Dodge truck much of the work was done by tractors and some believe that the towing speed may have been too high giving a less satisfactory result.

So, here I am at the start line area for the second year. Last year the car ran 160 odd and felt like it was on hotmix and required almost zero steering input, we had a new motor ...I was itching to go. There was a succession of minor hitches with the clocks, then the first guy off the line was an altered 125, who stated he would be running a record, well, he ran the long track and they couldn't find him.......Speedweek 2010 was on.

I sat suited and belted in the car for nearly an hour, I'd had a small bowl of cereal and nowhere near enough to drink since dawn....I was feeling impatient....it turned out we were to run eighth.

With a rolling push from a few guys I took off and the car felt strong, but I hadn't got my posi right ...the change to the seat base meant I was sitting lower....I shifted into third and was getting hammered while struggling to get a good view AND keep my helmet off the cage. The track felt rough and the cross wind was strong.

The start line had been moved because of the wet to where it was only about 1 and a quarter mile to the quarter trap. The two mile mark was coming at me when I checked the GPS, this was a 175mph license and 'chute pass , I was pulling 138....at that moment I hit a patch of track that threw the car and caused me to back off momentarily, I got back into it and was immediately hit by a gust that pushed me from close to the right side of the track to hard on the left, once again I backed off , when I stepped on it the rear end broke loose causing me to back off....as I hit the first clock I glance down to see I was doing 155, I left the quarter at 165 and pulled the 'chute. It hit hard and as a consequence I clutched and hit the throttle at the same time giving her an over rev. I pulled off at the four mile worried that I hadn't made the cut.....I stopped about a mile off the track and waited for the Troopy.....the return roads were rough and the cones were scarce making it difficult to drive back unaccompanied and also for the first time there was a second track and I didn't want to risk the possibility of getting lost near the end of it. I followed the Troopy back going over the run in  my head....while I was driving I kept hearing what I thought was a clatter from the motor, and then I began to notice that she was feeling unresponsive, nothing  at part throttle and then blast off, it made it a real handful. We took it straight back to marshalling, I rolled the last few hundred yards, the Colonel was there...." how did it go?"...."there's something wrong" I said, "it doesn't feel right, i may have hurt it"......we fire her up and it's running on five, there is a clatter, after about ten seconds the Colonel kills it with a wry grin on his face and points at the left rocker cover and says "yep, there's something wrong, there, I can see a push-rod hitting the cover"............They announce that marshalling in closing so our number is taken and we roll back to the pit. On the way the Colonel says to me...." so, you've got that spare rocker gear with you?"....truth was when I elected not to bring the spare bottom end  and a spare head the parts that I had with them were left behind too.
 
 
 


We waited with baited breath as the first cover came off. There was the rocker sitting there , a tiny bit of swarf but nothing else...the bolt had simply backed out.  Seems the Colonel had undertorqued them. We checked the push-rod for true and did it all up again, then the other side. What a relief that was.

We hit the canteen , when people asked I confessed that I was disappointed, that I had been in a bad frame of mind, that I was impatient and that I had a bit of brain fade for the first fifteen seconds of my run. We had a great feed of roast chicken( no JN ,much better than it used to be) knocked over a few beers and had another early night, a camp near us kicked on til really late but we were in race mode.

As we were going to sleep the Rev said ....." fourth gear is forward right?", .."yeah, fourth is forward".........Come Wednesday morning we were up at sparrows and down to the lake .In the pit we checked the basics and rolled her up to marshalling. As usual the Rev was everywhere but hanging around the car , I got him belted in, with the general adjustment of the harness better than  we'd had it the day before with the catch centered better for the slightly lower seating posi. I stressed to him that he needed to "get into it early"....I didn't listen as he left the line, I raced back to take the Troopy......due to a change of arrangement at the last minute there was no way to avoid driving through the pits on the way to the return road...When we got down there the Colonel was waiting , " I think he broke it, he only pulled a hundred" ....we found him at the end of the GPS track, lost on the crunchies....he was very dull..." i put it in fourth, by the time I realised what I'd done it was too late so I got out of it and rolled through" he was shattered , I felt his pain.....we'd both driven three shades of shithouse and our pretty little car with it's new motor wasn't looking so great....... We went straight back to marshalling

As I sat at the start-line area I thought hard about what had gone wrong on my first run and what I had to do to. I had just scraped in on my 175 license so at least I could use the long track now....The seat felt better and I moved my head around trying to find a sweet spot off the roll bar padding and the head rest, most importantly I decided that I had to concentrate on staying in it, that I had to steer out of any wind effect and NOT back off, the peakier motor and no suspension mean that squirting the throttle means wheelspin and an unsettled ride.

I left the line and was on it from the get go, the car pulled very strongly  and I made the gear changes cleanly.....this time I was over 170 when I left the quarter and the car was pulling well with the speed increasing evenly. I passed the five mile and the GPS read 193, then 195 then 193 then 189...I had my foot in it still so I took this as a sign to get out........... I made it a mile or so off the track before missing a cone and going crunchy...I stopped and got out....the GPS read "top speed 195mph"...I was soup...exhilarated and exhausted ,I felt like yelling......but why did the motor go away , there was no noise, no oil light just a rather quick loss of power.

We thought about it. If it was windage and excess crank-case pressure we would have seen a rev-limit effect rather than the loss of power. We feel that the standard valve train is the cause as the hydraulic lifters will only handle 6250rpm for so long and then pump up holding the valves open. Other than that the ride was a little more "interesting" than it had been last year. Last year the track was really smooth and the car ran like it was on rails. This ride had a bit of wind in it and the track was much harsher. I fought the whole way down constantly steering back to the right in what felt like long carves with my foot on the floor……..

We whipped the cowl off and gave it all a look over when we got back to marshalling, it was AOK, it sounded good……we were fifteenth in line when they closed for the day.

The next morning the Rev told me he thought it would be better if I made another run for 200 rather than he repeating his ‘chute run , then he would go and if there was time have a crack at 200 himself. Anyone who shares a car will know that this was a fairly noble thing to do.

At the line for the third time I reasoned that I had to get going even quicker than I had the day before, to keep the ET down and see if the difference would get me over 200 before the lifters let us down…… I sat at the start and really concentrated, I paced a bit with my right hand going through the gear change routine……the night before the battery had given up, a motorcycle Odyssey type it was three years old, and dead….no-one had one with anywhere near the CCA we needed so the Colonel put an antenna base on the outside of the car as a hot contact so we could jump start her on the line without removing the cowl…… It all seemed to happen in a real hurry….one minute we were tooling about, next thing I jump in, we do the harness and then Cled waves us to the line, and signals me to go……. I nail it and aim for the right hand side of the track , the motor is wailing as I go into third at about 4 and a half, I change to fourth at about 5 grand and try to settle. The wind is strong and I feel like I’m crabbing….just as I hit the quarter trap my visor goes funny, like it was badly scratched, I think it may have been a bit of salt water from somewhere in the cab dripping into the air coming through the nose vent, whatever it was it meant I couldn’t see the GPS, or read the tacho…but I could see the track markers …..this was a pretty wild ride, I just kept my foot in it and steered her in long arcs fighting my way back to the right, in a straight line I had the steering quartered…I just figured I’d stay in it til the seven mile and so I did, I didn’t feel the power go down like I did before but to be honest I had a bit on my plate and some of the subtleties were lost amongst the noise , vibration and hairiness (NVH)………..Somewhere between the seven and eight I hit a rough bit of track and I think I got airborne, braked momentarily and got a little out of shape and then when I couldn’t see any cones I took the decision to pull off, then I saw the eight mile exit road, I lost track of that very soon after …the motor roll started once and then wouldn’t so I stopped…………I got out of the car and took my helmet off, the GPS read “top speed 195mph”….exactly the same as the day before, the clocks gave me an extra mile per hour, I reckon because I’d topped out a little earlier …..the Rescue crew took about a minute to reach me, they won’t tow or push so one of them helped me roll the car…I think he was a rugby player because he was as strong as an ox, we pushed the car about 400yards at which point I said “mate ,I’m going to die in a second”, then he ran back to the rescue vehicle and they called clear track….. I sat on the car , my adrenaline ebbing I realized we’d found the limit of the motor for this year…….it took about six minutes for the Troopy to catch up after various directions as to where to find me……….this time towing home I sat on top of the car with the canopy open….we had managed to keep the cab completely salt free but riding it like this meant the wind blew the flick up into the cab…but at least it was sort of bearable
 
…..being towed over some of the return roads the day before had been excruciating……….. As I rode back sitting like a rodeo rider it occurred to me that I drove a shorter distance to work each morning.

As we pulled into marshalling again I noticed a drip of oil under the car and a smear of it coming from the front of the cowl, action stations…… 
 
We took of the cowl to find the front of the motor wet and the source seeming to be the front seal, where the oil pump is. The Colonel said ….” It’s all over, pack her up”

I felt awful for the Rev who’d handed me another drive at his expense and now we were packing up and he’d had one unsatisfactory run……

We’d put 32 mph on our best speed from last year, we hadn’t hurt the motor( or so we thought) and we had plans for next year. It would have great to get to 200 but it was only our second year and lots of cars that had been knocking on the door got their 200 this year so it seems right that we wait…We met hundreds and hundreds of people, lots of them were fans of the car and had been following these build diaries, it is very touching some of the things people come up and say, we appreciate every bit of it .

The Reverend and I  worked our guts out for years building this thing but there are two people particularly that we need to point out have been instrumental. The Colonel makes it all work, keeps our feet on the ground and provides a necessary balance in the team between our personalities . Pete (PJQ) is our immaculate transport, he is there providing support and anticipates everything, we couldn’t do what we did without him and I’m never sure how to thank him.

We left first thing Friday and drove for thirteen hours, for thirteen hundred kilometers to my brothers house, we got home to Melbourne at 11am Saturday……yesterday I had a gig at a community festival ………..bring on 2011

 

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