NASA Race Weekend, October 7-8 2006

The GTI Cup paddock

The next race of the 2006 season found Shed Racing at NASA's October 7-8 event at Sears Point International Raceway, in the GTI Cup class.  There were 5 cars in class this weekend, with Ron Swett picking up the driving duties Saturday, and Tom Aiken driving Sunday.  Other competitors included Joe Craven, Scott Neville, Carlos Suarez, and Dan Piña

Ron and Tom scrambled in the weeks leading up to this event, making repairs from the rollover damage from the August race weekend.  Liberal use of hammers, body filler and spray paint, plus the installation of Lexan rear windows made the car meet NASA's 50 feet at 50 MPH rule.  The car turned out very well, all things considered.

Dan Piña

Marcus and Scott of Miller Motorsports showed up Saturday to help out.

The weekend go off to a bad start, when the car had essentially no brakes when it was unloaded from the trailer.  Bleeding the brakes helped, but the pedal was still somewhat soft.  Things didn't improve when Ron took the car out for the morning warmup session, and immediately returned to the pits with a bad vibration in the left front.  Tom and Ron immediately went to work disassembling the front suspension, looking for anything which might be causing the problem.  With no obvious source of the problem, the team decided it was probably caused by a badly out of balance wheel, and installed a known good wheel and tire for the qualifying session.  They also bleed the brakes again, trying to improve the pedal feel.  Carlos was fastest in the morning warmup, with a 2:05.2, followed by Scott Neville with a 2:07.2

Working on the rear brakes.  Again.

For the qualifying session, the vibration was improved, but still there.  Ron soldiered on anyway, and managed to put down some times.  Ron qualified third, with a time of 2:06.5.  Carlos earned the pole, with a time of 2:04.6, followed by Scott Neville wit a 2:05.8.  Dan Piña rounded out the field with a 2:07.5.  Joe Craven did not run in the qualifying session, and would start at the back of the field. 

Thinking the vibration could be caused by the bearing failing, (and grasping at straws somewhat) Tom swapped the hub and bearing assembly with the known good spare.  A drive around the paddock showed that this seemed to have fixed the vibration, so Ron suited up for the race with confidence that the car was ready.

Setting the toe.  Again.

The car felt good for the reconnaissance lap, and Ron settled in for the start.  The green flag fell, and Scott Neville got a good start, and led the pack up the hill.  Scott continued to lead into the carousel, where Carlos drove around the inside.  Scott and Carlos touched, kicking Scott's car sideways toward the inside of the turn.  Carlos took over the lead, with Ron right on his rear bumper, drafting him all the way down the straight.  When Ron turned in to T7 the vibration came back in the left front, shaking the car violently.  Ron limped his way back to the paddock and parked the car.

Scott leads the pack up the hill

With Ron out of the race, Carlos had the lead, followed by Joe.  Scott got back underway, and began chasing down Dan for third place.  Around lap five, Joe pulled off the track with a shifter linkage problem, moving Dan and Scott into second and Third.  Scott caught Dan on lap 8, and the pair battled for position for the remaining laps of the race, swapping positions six times in the last 2 laps.  Exiting turn 11 on the last lap, Dan had a one car length lead heading for the checkered flag.  The drag race was on, and Scott pulled slightly ahead when Dan bobbled the shift to fourth gear.  Scott took the checkered 0.2 seconds ahead of Dan and 10.8 seconds behind Carlos who took the win.  Joe had the fast lap of the race with a 2:05.1, followed by  Carlos with 2:05.4, Scott 2:05.5, and Dan 2:06.7. 

Scott after contact with Carlos

With the car broken, the team conferred to try and isolate the problem.  Scott Miller as a NASA driving instructor was allowed to drive in the Time Trial groups, so he got in the car and ran a couple laps to try and isolate the problem.  He determined that the vibration was speed related, and happened both in gear and in Neutral, also with the clutch in or out, and independent of engine RPM.

The only possible culprit was the driver's side axle. The outer CV joint was inspected when the hub was replaced, and showed no signs of problems.  The inner CV wasn't checked, simply because the inner joints are very lightly stressed compared to the outer, and very rarely fail.  The plan was to replace both axles.  The problem was sourcing new axles at 4PM on Saturday afternoon.  Luckily, Dan Piña works at an auto parts house.  Dan got on the phone to his work, and sourced the new axles before they closed.  There was no way to get from Sonoma to Redwood city to pick up the axles before the shop closed, so they hid the axles next to their dumpster.  Marcus volunteered to drive Ron down to pick up the axles, while Tom took the car apart.  Marcus and Ron spent the next 2 hours fighting San Francisco traffic on the way to Redwood City. 


When Tom disconnected the driver's side CV from the Transaxle, a metal chunk fell out, which was later identified as a bolt.  The stock output flange has a plastic cover to keep the gear oil in the transaxle from mixing with the grease in the CV joint.  Somewhere along the line this plastic cap was replaced with an aluminum cover, with a small bolt through the center to hold the cover in place.  The bolt had backed out, and had rattled around in the inner CV joint, causing the vibration.  

Ron and Marcus returned with the parts, and they were installed around 11PM.

Sunday morning, Tom took the car out for the morning warmup, and the car was good.  The vibration was gone, and the car was handling well.  In the middle of the Tom ran wide in turn 3A, dropping the left side wheels off the track, knocking the toe out of alignment. Even with the toe change, the car felt good.  Tom was second fastest in practice, with a time of 2:07.3.  Dan was fastest, with a 2:06.7.  Scott and Carlos turned times of 2:08.6 and 2:092 respectively.

Between sessions Tom and Ron tried to adjust the toe, and discovered that they couldn't adjust the toe any farther.  There was not enough adjustment available to set the toe to the desired setting of 1/8" toe out.  With both rod ends screwed completely on to the tie rods, they still had 1/8" toe in.  The team conferred, and the hasty solution was to use the sawzall to remove about 3/8" of material from one of the tie rods.  This was quickly accomplished, and a rough adjustment was made to the toe, with the plan to run the qualifying session and do the fine adjustment before the race.  Tom took the car out for qualifying, and was happy with the handling.  The only problem was a very occasional miss under load.  Tom Qualified third, with a best lap of 2:06.05.  Scott Neville earned the pole with a 2:05.00, followed by Carlos with a 2:05.05.  Dan qualified fourth with a time of 2:06.2.  The car had developed an exhaust leak, but aside from the sporadic miss was running well. 

Ron and Tom set the alignment, and decided to pull the spark plugs to verify the plug gaps to try and troubleshoot the miss.  One of the plug gaps was a little tight, it was regapped and reinstalled.  After everything was buttoned back up, Tom started the car and immediately heard a metallic knock from the engine.  The noise was RPM dependent, and a vibration could be felt in time with the noise.   With no way to determine the actual source of the noise short of a full teardown, and no time or parts to fix it in any event, the team threw in the towel. 

Tom and Ron used the come along to load the car on the trailer, and packed up for the somber trip home.

Loading up.

Scott started the race from the pole, but Carlos took the lead in turn 2.  Joe worked his way through the field, into second place.  Final positions were Carlos 1st, Joe  2nd,  Scott 3rd and Dan 4th.  Joe had the fast lap of the race, with a 2:03.84, followed by Carlos 2:04.70,  Scott 2:05.38,  and Dan 2:06.62.

With the engine dead, and their DNF and missed race putting them out of contention for the GTI Cup championship, Tom and Ron decided to call it quits for the season, opting to sit out the last race.


Both courtesy of Scott Neville:

Saturday Race start through contact with Carlos in T6  (7MB ASF File)
Last 3 laps of the Satyrday race, Scott battles with Dan for 2nd  (26MB ASF File)