Friday, December 14, 2012

Black Iron Racing: Lemons Chuckwalla Race Report

As we mentioned a few days ago, Daily Turismo tagged along with Black Iron Racing at last weekend's 24 Hours of Lemons endurance race at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in Desert Center, CA. They call it Desert Center because it's in the center of the desert...aka the middle of nowhere. Or depending on how you look at it, the middle of everywhere - since it's a more or less equidistant 3 to 4 hour drive from four major cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix). Regardless, the track itself is fantastic even if the infrastructure is a bit lacking in the track complex, due to the fact that it's still being developed. Lemons descended like a black cloud full of oil, exhaust fumes and beer - the first time this had happened at this track; a shocking and traumatic experience, no doubt. Black Iron had high hopes for this, the second race in their newest car, a rusted-to-hell BMW E36 325i. But of course, being a Lemons race, things couldn't just go smoothly. Daily Turismo would like to take this opportunity to share the race report from the team's viewpoint...

Photo by CaliPhotography

"Chuckwalla was a perfect track for this car," says Duder McBrougham Banana Hammock (real name withheld), team fabricator, crew chief and driver. "The combination of 17 turns crammed into 2.7 miles made for a braking and handling-intensive track without any extended straightaways. This let our relatively underpowered 325i make the most of its wide sticky Falkens and M3 brakes, allowing us to pass other cars fairly easily and exploit the extreme amount of grip to its full potential."


"The track was run counterclockwise for Lemons, meaning turn 17 was first, a right kink off the front straight. The cars passed from left to right as viewed from the stands. Long sweepers are the theme for this road course, including turns 16, 15, 14, and 3, and the double-apex combos of 7/6 and 5/4. Turn 13 is a brain-melting "bowl," an 11-degree banked 180 carousel turn providing seemingly infinte grip and wide enough for three cars abreast. The lead shot in this article was taken in the bowl, showing our Black Iron 325i (car #145) passing the eventual 3rd-place finishers, the If It's Not Punk It's Junk GP team in their E34 525i (car #525). Despite size and weight differences, the two cars share the same 2.5 liter M50 engine and vintage BMW reliability flakiness. The Punks had recurring engine management issues, and we couldn't shake the coolant loss problem that has haunted the car since before its first race at Buttonwillow this past summer. So at least we have something in common."

Photo by CaliPhotography

"We had a fantastic time learning the track, coming up to speed and weaving in and out of traffic as we moved up in position. The shot above gives you a pretty good idea of a typical corner situation in a Lemons race - not many clean 'racing lines' available - lots of traffic. Here we have a terrible '80s Audi sedan with some sort of plywood fin rigged to the roof, a Ford LTD Super Troopers tribute patrol car, a slow 1st-gen MR2 and some kind of equally terrible pink Miata. Don't get me wrong, these are decent cars for Lemons purposes. By any normal measure our E36 is pretty awful too."

Photo by CaliPhotography

"I started with the first driving stint. All was going well in the beginning of the race, and I actually set 3rd fastest lap in the first hour and had moved up to 8th place overall, one lap down from the leader, before the inevitable reality check," says Hammock. "There was a minor vibration I could feel in the turns and on deceleration, and at first I chocked it up to flat-spotted tires from locking up the brakes a few times. The vibration got steadily worse, but team orders were to ride it out and only come in if it felt terminal. Well, as I was entering turn 15 (a 90-degree right hand sweeper) the vibration got much worse, the car took a set in the corner normally, but then jolted upwards and back down with an extremely loud "bang." I instantly knew what had happened as soon as I saw my own left rear wheel pass me on the track. The car was already turning right, so with the complete loss of traction at the left rear it ended up spinning to the right in a complete 360."

Photos by CaliPhotography

Daily Turismo put together the .gif animation above from still shots, since no video has yet been found of the incident. Mr. Hammock goes on: "The car came to rest pointing in the right direction, still on the track. An E30 driver behind me managed to brake in time, swerve to the left and pass me safely in the dirt...and I'm very thankful for that! I watched the wheel roll off into the sunset, as it were; it only came to rest after it had reached the opposite side of the track in the infield."

Photo by CaliPhotography

"While I was sitting in the car waiting for the tow truck and recovery team, the image above was posed and shot by CaliPhotography - it almost looks like the product of a big-bucks photo shoot on a rented out racetrack - except for the fact that the car is an utter turd, and the left rear brake rotor and exhaust pipe are sitting directly on the asphalt. You can see where the rear bumper and bodywork was shoved upwards from the impact with the ground and/or the wheel during the incident. Losing a wheel on track was a bummer, but without any major damage or injuries it quickly became a source of good-natured sarcasm, prompting the team to repeatedly utter one of our favorite phrases (regardless of context): "Three outta four ain't bad."


Once the car was towed into the paddock area, Black Iron Racing set to work immediately fixing the damage. A kind member of the on-track recovery team managed to retrieve the errant wheel, so all that remained was to reattach it. Here we see Black Iron's mental giants trying to determine the best way to roll the car from the traffic lane into their perpendicular pit space on three wheels.


"Our guys determined pretty quickly that both the brake rotor and wheel/tire were reusable. One lug bolt was missing entirely; the remaining four had sheared off in the hub but thankfully weren't seized in place. So with a bit of persuasion the broken threaded tips came right out. A spot of filing on the wheel's hub-centric inner diameter and chasing the lug threads with the proper tap, and we got the same Beyern Bavaria wheel bolted back on with spare lugs. We think the root cause of the failure was one or two over-torqed lug bolts that yielded and failed over the course of a few laps, letting the wheel get loose and shear the rest of them. When we got back on track we'd dropped from 8th to 72nd place. All told it was only a one-hour delay from the time the car went three-wheeling to resuming the race, including re-fueling and a driver change."

Photo by CaliPhotography

Our hero wasn't being punished for a bad job on track - the driver change is a normal part of a 24 Hours of Lemons experience - so one driver can't take all of the glory (or blame). Being an endurance racing series, Lemons requires at least four drivers per team, per event. Actual race lengths vary but this "Arse-Freeze-Apalooza" was the typical double-7 format, meaning a 14 hour race spread over the course of two days with a nice break for food, drink and sleep in between. Banana Hammock is satisfied with the team's final outcome of 20th place overall in this 2nd outing for the 325i.

"We are still having some teething problems, but the kinks are getting worked out of this car and this team one by one. We were reminded of the old Lemons adage that fast laps don't win endurance races; even though we could pass almost every other car on track, we spent too much time in the pits with mechanical issues. Besides the wheel incident and re-charging the cooling system after overheating a few times, there was some contact on track that resulted in the "tragic" loss of our homemade aluminum & expanding foam rear wing (covered in animal print fabric, no less), and damage to the ad-hoc front splitter attached to the FD RX-7 rear bumper cover we slapped on the front of this E36. Nevertheless we managed to work our way back up from a low of 72nd place to 20th overall by the end. Now that the car's safely back in our Compton workshop, it's time to find out where all of our water goes!"

"We'd like to thank our sponsors for helping us goof around in this Ultimate Failing Machine, which despite its unreliability is incredibly well balanced and too fast for its own good. Thanks to Falken for the Azenis RT615K tires, Beyern for the strong, resilient rotary forged Bavaria wheels, Porterfield for retina-ripping brake pads, and Innovate for the clear and easy to set up gauges (coolant temp, voltage, oil temp/pressure, wideband AFR) that quantify just how crappy our engine is. Much gratitude to Daily Turismo for hastily spray painting their logo on the side of our car and drinking all of our beer. And of course, thanks to our wives for coming out to the middle of the desert to watch us behave like children."

Here's to continued breakdowns, fast laps and shenanigans for Black Iron Racing!

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