Wilwood Grand Prix Double-7-Hour Enduro
at Auto Club Speedway Roval
November 17-18, 2018
Story by Doc Waldrop, Pictures by Bill Strong
Saturday, Day 1
For the 3rd time in the 2018 season, ChampCar Endurance Series teams headed out onto the combination oval and infield road courses, the configuration more commonly known as “Rovals”. Rather than the single day contests like the 14-hours of Daytona and Charlotte, the competition at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California would be spread out into two 7-hour races.
Featuring 17 turns, the layout features rather long straights joined by several tight corner complexes, measuring 2.88 in total length. This would be the first time that ChampCar would see this layout and the jury was still out if the layout favored fast, high horsepower cars like the Ford Mustangs and Pontiac Firebirds, or the slower, nimbler, (and fuel efficient) Mazda Miata and BMW E30s.
As 33 cars started the event at 9:30 AM PST and the field settled down it was quickly apparent that the high horsepower cars had the speed as the EC class #302 Ford Boss Mustang took the lead. While campaigned by the RVA Graphics & Wraps team, the big Ford team was aptly named “Team Like a Boss”. They had a great battle going with the Bandits #47 Pontiac TransAm for several of the early laps and were joined up front by the #19 D class Ford Mustang GT of 5150 Racing. The EC class #333 of Occupy Pit Lane’s Mazda Miata and the Flyin Hawaiians & 2 White Guys #82 Datsun 280Z, which rounded out the top 5.
Several teams were having problems even getting off pit road for the start including the #37 Roto-Plooker #37 Mazda RX7 (with ECU problems from a change to OBD2 management), the Wilwood #119 Mazda Miata, and the Mini Cooper S #212 of Mini Madness.
Arsenic Racing’s #116 Mazda Miata was carving through the field soon overtaking the #1 plated (having taken the Championship at National Corvette Museum back in June) RVA GFX BMW E30 325is. The TRON #755 D class Chevy Camaro was also moving up rapidly from their 23rd starting spot and Pomona Speed Shop’s #236 BMW 325is and Zoom Zoom BOOM’s #114 Mazda Miata also looked to be contenders having moved up 12 spots each in the first 2 laps!!!
At the 1 hour mark those big motors and EC class cars started to get thirsty and they started trailing into the pits for fuel and a driver change leaving the RVAFGFX #1 BMW E30, The Flyin Hawaiians #82, Uncommon Friend Racing’s immaculately prepared Datsun 240Z #46, and the Mazda Miata of Arsenic Racing #116, and Zoom, Zoom, BOOM’s #114 to take turns at the front of the field into the mandatory driver change at the 2-hour mark. Several teams had cut it too close on their fuel calculations and stumbled into the pits low on fuel.
It seems running up front was almost a curse as shortly after Noon, the #46 Uncommon Friends Racing Datsun 240Z pitted with a broken exhaust header while running in 3rd place while some 20 minutes later the Flyin Hawaiians 280Z, running in 2nd, was seen at pit in with a stuck throttle. This left RVAGFX’s 325is alone on the lead lap with Arsenic Racing’s #116 Mazda Miata seen on course desperately trying to get his lap back. They would only succeed briefly when the BMW pitted near the halfway mark of the contest.
At this mark, Alchemy Autosports’ #30 Mazda Miata had clawed their way up to 3rd, trailed by Zoom, Zoom, BOOM’s #114, and Pomona Speed Shop’s #236 BMW 325is. The Flyin Hawaiians Datsun 280Z had recovered to take 6th, followed by the TRON’s D class #755 Chevy Camaro, Blown My Wad’s #135 BMW, Doorslammers’ #48 Pontiac Fiero, and the Boss 302 Ford Mustang who had charged back from yet another fuel stop to claim the last top 10 spot. NeoMaxiZoomDweebies’ had fallen to 15th from a top podium spot when they had lost their exhaust and had to pit to effect repairs. Arsenic Racing also pitted to replace front tires but had accomplished this in the pits during a regular fuel stop/driver change as the race headed into the 4th hour.
With 2 hours to go under the bright California sky, RVAGFX’s E30 was in command of the race with a lap in hand over Arsenic Racing’s Mazda Miata while the 3rd through 5th place cars were 2 laps down from Arsenic, being the Mazda Miata’s of Alchemy Autosport #30, Zoom, Zoom, BOOM’s #114, and the Datsun 280Z of Flyin Hawaiians #82. Alchemy’s run to the top was thwarted when they coasted into the pits with broken throttle linkage and they dropped down into 7th place.
With just over an hour to go, Arsenic’s driver had really put their head down and passed RVAGFX’s #1 BMW to get back on the lead lap. While the BMW was putting in steady lap times around the 2:10-2:17 range, the Arsenic #116 was setting yet another personal best fastest time of the day, first with a 2:04.600, then a 2:04.505, then a 2:04.308. You can see where this is going, right? What was once a minute and a half lead with an hour to go had been whittled down to just 30 or so seconds as the laps wound down. Having completed their last pit stop several laps before Arsenic, there was some question if RVAGFX was in fuel conservation mode, or just keeping up a healthy margin over P2 as they turned in some slower laps at first.
Meanwhile, back behind the two leaders, Alchemy Autosports was in 5th, locked in their own battle trying to catch The Flyin Hawaiians and Zoom, Zoom, Boom. The EC Class RVAGFX Boss 302 Ford Mustang was passing them all occasionally at times only to lose those spots back when they had to pit again for yet more fuel. After leading the race during the first hour the Mustang could only get back as close to the front as P2 with an hour to go. Besides being an EC car, not eligible for the overall win, they would have to stop again.
Doorslammers’ #48 Pontiac Fiero had 7th place in hand until they slowed and pitted with just under an hour to go with electrical problems but luckily the fix was a quick one and they returned to competition quickly, only losing 2 spots. Blown My Wad’s #135 BMW E36 had 8th place while the EC class #333 of Occupy Pit Lane had 9th, leading the final top 10 car, that of the D class #247 Missing Part Racing Ford Mustang 5.0.
As the minutes clicked off the clock down to the final few, the overall winner question was settled when the Arsenic Racing #116 Mazda Miata dove into the pits with 5 minutes to go, allowing the RVAGFX #1 BMW to back off his lap times having stepped them up as the Miata got closer. It seems that Arsenic had damaged a left front wheel earlier and a bad vibration had developed during the day. Fearing a hub was going to fail the driver had no choice but to save a decent 2nd place finish.
Alchemy Autosport was never able to catch their brethren Mazda Miata of Flyin Hawaiians or Zoom, Zoom, BOOM, finishing in 5th, but triumphed over the #302 RVAGFX Boss Ford Mustang which had stopped no less than 5 times during the race, 4 of them for fuel. Blown My Wad finished 7th while Doorslammers recovered to finish 8th, slipping past Occupy Pit Lane’s Mazda Miata in the final 30 minutes when the #333 pitted one last time on lap 171 of the total 189 that RVAGFX’s # 1 had completed. Missing Part Racing’s Ford Mustang 5.0 claimed D class honors in 10th place, hampered by the need for fuel every 90 minutes. NeoMaxiZoomDweebies #969 BMW 325is pipped GlitchHeroes’ D class #217 BMW 535i for 11th place with just 4 laps to go while 5150’s #19 Ford Mustang GT, Turdmeister’s #951 BMW E36, and TRON’s # 69 Chevy Camaro rounded out the top 15 finishers.
Doorslammers’ #97 turbocharged B-class Mazda Miata, while having led briefly on lap 30, had to settle for the fastest time of the day, a 1:54.455, with their disappointing 18th place finish. A smoking rear differential and the subsequent black flag had doomed their chances of a better finish despite rocketing around the track, clearly faster than any other car out there, including the EC and D class competitors. Two top West Coast teams, while having pretty good finishes, vowed to do better in Sunday’s results as The Flyin Hawaiians/Two White Guys (3rd) and Alchemy Autosport (5rd) BOTH had throttle cable problems.
Sunday, Day 2
While Saturday’s random draw of pit stall #24 for the start made it easy for the D & EC class cars to move up to the front since the majority of them were clustered near the pit in, Sunday’s start would be a whole different matter. They would have to get past a whole bunch of top finishers from Saturday’s results to take advantage of their speed before their thirsty cars sent them to the pits. At least the weather promised to be great yet again, even if their fuel mileage wasn’t.
As the 31 starters made their way to the 9:30 AM green flag, Alchemy Auto Sport was seen in the pits, frantically working on a loose and mangled lower ball joint that was somehow missed. Perhaps the crew was simply overworked and exhausted having replaced 2 engines as well as dealing with a host of other checklist items in the weeks prior to the race. They were not the only team to suffer early in the race; They were just late while the #95Doorslammers’ Mazda Miata came into the pits with damage and the #37 Roto-Plooker Mazda RX7 was seen on the working end of a tow rope just 10 minutes in.
There was no shortage of company in the pits and paddock as very quickly the #700 Bucket List Brigade BMW, Doorslammers’ #48 Pontiac Fiero, and the WFO Racing #539 BMW 328is were all seen off track by 30-minutes in. As the dust rose on pit road and settled down out on the track, the half-hour mark showed Doorslammers’ B class #97 (their last car left on-track of the 3-team entry) Mazda Miata in the lead over RVAGFX’s Boss 302 Mustang, NeoMaxiZoomDweebies’ (hereafter simply NMZD) #969 BMW, TRON’s #755 Chevy Camaro, and Occupy Pit Lane’s #333 EC class Mazda Miata. Bandits’ #47 D class Pontic Trans AM had 6th followed by Flyin Hawaiians Datsun 280Z, Glitch Heroes #217 D class BMW 535i, Turdmeister Racing Group’s #951 BMW 325i, and Arsenic Racing’s #116 Mazda Miata. Seems like the more powerful cars hadn’t taken that long to get to the front after all!
Arsenic’s hold on 10th place was not for long as the Miata was soon parked on pit road undergoing a left hub change, perhaps a holdover from yesterdays late stop that denied them a possible win. Speaking of “not for long”, about the same time that #116 pitted, the Uncommon Friends’ #46 Datsun 240Z joined the race late, set the fastest time of the day on their 4th lap with a 1:54.388, and promptly disappeared behind a dense cloud of smoke to the paddock for most of the rest of the race. The sister car, the #246 Datsun 240Z had risen to as high as 10th place on lap 41 before it too was retired. For the veteran crew of drivers, it was a very disappointing weekend.
After the 1st round of stops concluded and the field once again sorted themselves out, The Flyin Hawaiians 280Z, Bandit’s Pontiac Trans AM, and Occupy Pit Lane’s Mazda Miata had all led at one point with Zoom, Zoom, BOOM’s #114, Missing Part Racing’s #247 Ford Mustang 5.0, Doorslammers’ #97 (which had fallen as far down as 21st with 2 lengthy pit stops), NMZD’s BMW 535i, and Turdmeister’s 531 content to round out the top 10. Definitely NOT content was yesterday’s winner, RVAGFX’s #1 BMW 325is which had been busy erasing the Margin of Victory” penalty to run one-lap down to the leaders.
At the other end of the top 15 cars, Gunslinger’s #69 Mazda Miata, Uncommon Friends’ Datsun #246, Roto-Plooker’s #37 Mazda RX7, 5150’s #19 Ford Mustang GT, and Bucket List Brigade’s #700 BMW E30 had all dropped by the wayside. They had been replaced by Team Boss’s Ford Mustang, Missing Part’s Ford Mustang 5.0, the Orange Pumpkin #147 BMW 325is, and Blown My Wad’s #135 BMW E36.
For the next few others, nothing much would change in the top 15, cars simply changing positions within the group with different fuel strategies, or in a few cases with small mistakes or miscues. With 4 hours to go, Arsenic Racing had recovered from their hub change to displace Orange Pumpkin in their #147 BMW in 15th place, but a repeat of Saturday’s runner-up position was far out of reach. Other incidents were Alchemy Autosport suffering an off-track excursion and Zoom, Zoom, BOOM black flagged for a fuel leak from 8th place. With one more fuel stop coming up, Missing Part’s #247 was retired from the race from 10th place.
If the race had been rather staid up to this point, but with the impending last fuel stops coming up things got interesting in a hurry: Doorslammers’ #97 had been setting some blistering times, mostly in the sub 2 minute mark and had managed to draw away from RVAGFX’s #1 who had continued to climb up in the standings, but still just over a lap down and only turning times in the mid-teens. Ideally, Doorslammers would pit around 2 hours to go for their last stop, but with the clock showing 2:10 PM they all but stopped on the course and limped onto the pits for fuel. Compounding this unfortunate dilemma, the driver was seen to loosen his belts and dropping his window net before he entered his pit box and was assessed a 1-minute penalty for a rule’s violation. RVAGFX was on the lead lap!!!
Promptly at the bottom of the hour, RVAGFX pitted the #1 BMW 325is and while they could not match the pace of Doorslammers, the #97 would have to stop yet again for at least a driver change if not for fuel. More drama was evident in the field, just further down in the running order: Wilwood’s #119 Mazda Miata had moved up into the top 15 of their own sponsored Grand Prix with Missing Part Racing’s retirement while Orange Pumpkin’s #147 BMW E30 and Gunslingers Raceteam’s #69 Mazda Miata had replaced Bandit’s #47 Pontiac Trans Am and Zoom, Zoom, BOOM’s #114 Mazda Miata. The Pontiac had been smoking heavily and had retired to the paddock from 5th place while the #114 had fixed their leaking transaxle oil seal issue and returned to the track.
With just over an hour to go Doorslammers reluctantly pitted from the lead allowing RVAGFX’s # 1 to get closer when the unthinkable happened to the BMW: Approaching the turn into the infield the hood suddenly flew up and smashed the window, completely obliterating the driver’s view. While the BMW driver slowly circled through the infield the #97 completed their stop and rejoined the race seemingly in control with a lap in hand over the #82 Flyin Hawaiian’s’ Datsun 280Z in P2.
Once back to the pits it was revealed that the hood pins had sheared off the E30 and after having freed the mangled hood the RVAGFX crew, supported by Lowtide Motorsports, refueled the car and changed drivers. Their foray back on the track was short-lived as the broken windshield crumpled into the car and the team was forced to retire the car. While ChampCar recommends you run a hood AND a windshield, you MUST have either one or the other to compete and the stricken BMW had neither. On track, shadowing the top 2 cars, Occupy Pit Lane’s EC class Mazda Miata was moving up, having passed the RVAGFX Team Like a Boss 302 and the Mazda Miata of Arsenic Racing in 5th.
With the checkered flag almost in sight with 30 minutes to go, disaster struck the leader when Doorslammers pitted with a failed right front hub along with some flat spotted tires. The tires they could recover from; The hub not so much and the #97 Mazda Miata was slowly pushed to the paddock and retired. Alchemy’s #30 Mazda Miata, running in 5th place, had also been retired to the garage about this time with more ball joint problems: This time the upper one.
Back just after 2:35 PM, the Flyin Hawaiians #82 had pitted and the Arsenic Racing #116 had followed some 10 minutes later so both would be concerned with fuel, the 280Z more so than the Mazda Miata. The Occupy Pit Lane #333 Mazda Miata in P2 and the #302 Boss Mustang in P3 were splitting these cars, but as they were both EC class, thereafter not eligible for the overall win, neither was a concern for the 1st and 4th place cars.
Flyin Hawaiians indeed let the Occupy Pit Lane racecar by in the waning minutes but came home with the overall win with #302 in 3rd. Arsenic matched their 2nd place finish from Saturday with another runner-up podium spot while NeoMaxiZoomDweebies claimed the final podium step in 5th. Turdmeister’s #951 BMW 325is passed TRON’s D class winning Chevy Camaro in the last 15 minutes for 6th while Glitch Heroes #217 BMW 535i, Blown My Wad’s #135 325is, and Wilwood’s #119 Mazda Miata rounded out the top 10. Such was their lead, that even sitting in the garage the Doorslammers’ #97 Mazda Miata claimed B class honors with an 11th place finish.
Rounding out the top 15, were the Mazda Miata of Gunslingers Raceteam (P12), Zoom, Zoom, BOOM (P13) and Alchemy Autosport (P15). Only the RVAGFX #1 BMW in 14th prevented Mazda from claiming 10th-15th. Also of note regarding the competition in the race, 12 of the top 15 places had traded hands in the last 30 minutes out on the Auto Club Roval.
With just under a month to go until Laguna Seca (plus a major holiday), most teams headed out quickly for home to prepare for the Double-7 race there on December 15th and 16th. As opposed to Auto Club Speedway at least there would be a welcomed test day on the preceding Friday to perhaps work on the car. Not to mention shed some of those extra Thanksgiving pounds…
Congratulations to Team 1 RVAGFX and Team 333 Occupy Pit Lane on earning 1st place.
And a huge thank you to all the Corner Workers, safety team, and staff at LA Autoclub Speedway that helped keep our race safe, fun and running smoothly, and to all you racers who came out here to make this such a fun race.
The Race Results are in!
They can be found online at:
And you can download Lap times and Results from Google at:
ChampCar Live replay
Saturday Race 1
Sunday Part 1 Race 2
Sunday Part 2 Race 2