2018 Racing Radios’ Charlotte 14-Hour Enduro
Story by Doc Waldrop
Photos by David Allio, Bill Strong, Doc Waldrop, Kate Strong
Legendary Carolina blue skies greeted the RVA Graphics & Wraps ChampCar Endurance Series racers for the Racing Radios’ 14-hour Enduro on April 21, 2018, on the newly configured Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” just 2 weeks after the Daytona round held in early April.
While Daytona’s Roval layout is flat and has long horseshoes separated by the “Kink” and a dedicated chicane known as the Bus Stop, Charlotte’s configuration is anything but: Very sharp technical corners and plenty of elevation changes to challenge the drivers along with a “manufactured” traffic cone delineated chicane entering NASCAR’s turn 3 banked corner. Seems the curbs that were to be bolted into place were not there when teams arrived to take to the course. These cones would challenge the teams all race long as competitors kept modifying the layout though not really on purpose as it were.
Several teams were “doing the double” like both of Tuttle Motorsports’ Mitsubishi Eclipses, and the BMWs from RVA Graphics #111, Brew Krewe Racing, Team Troxell, and Blue Bayou. Rascal Racing also made the quick turnaround but only Team Troxell had anything to brag about from Daytona. The others were looking for revenge!!! Other teams joining the 59-car entry list had decided to travel to Charlotte from the snowed-out Road America round scheduled on the same weekend included E Racing (who had also been at Daytona), Cremaster Racing in their Miata #80, and Sped Source’s Mazda RX7 #75.
They would join an already potent entry list including the Bad Brains’ BMW #210 which won this race in 2016, the always potent #63 Simon Says Integra, Danger Racing’s SC300 #464 with an all-star driver lineup including Rodger Coan (from the Burningham Too team), Chris Huggins (Huggins Racing- the team that has now won several straight races), Wyatt Foster (arguably the fastest driver in the field), along with owner John Hurley. Other cars/teams fully capable of going for the overall win included the Schumacher Taxi BMW #189, Visceral Racing Groups’ Porsche 944, Damson Racing’s #346 BMW E46, the newly configured #255 Leviathan Motorsports’ Toyota MR2, and the #977 NLS Racing 240SX.
Some new builds/teams for the ChampCar Endurance Series were also joining the field, including the beautifully wrapped Mean Green Racing’s (formally Hit & Run Racing) Honda Civic, the NOVA Homeschool GT BMW Z3, a pair of Mercedes from the local Squirting Coronas team, and a Honda Civic from Lightning Motorsports, Full Throttle Racing’s Miata, and Munich Speed & Engineering’s BMW 325is #531.
As the new “Roval” track layout (that will be used for the NASCAR Fall Chase race) had not been used by any racing series, the 59 cars headed into turn 1 and the great unknown after being released by a beautiful Acura NSX courtesy if Foreign Cars Charlotte that was the initial honorary pace car. Jackie Sides would take over the normal pace car duties for the rest of the 14-hour contest in her familiar BMW. Turn 1 would be the main corner for overtaking and several incidents bringing out full course cautions (FCY) during the race as cars jockeyed for positions as they entered the technical infield portion of the layout.
The start of the race was marred by several FCYs, the first just shy of 15 minutes into the race as several cars were already stranded on course including the #107 Tuttle Motorsports C class Mitsubishi. Barely 30 minutes later the exit from the infield onto the banking claimed its first victim of the day as Gotham City Racing lost it and plowed straight into the Safer barriers. The preceding track layout and the transition back to the banking was fraught with danger as an off camber right turn led to descending left that in turn led to an off-camber section and small ripple in the pavement upset the car as the drivers set up for the hard left that sent them back onto the banking near NASCAR turn 1. The concrete wall to driver’s right was a bit intimidating, to say the least. Get it right and it felt great; Get it wrong and you were gonna be singing Molly Hatchet’s “Flirting With Disaster”. Getting it right was key to a fast lap and a great place to overtake cars that might have held you up in the infield.
The ChampCar Turn 1 would also be problematic all day, the cars having to brake hard from the fastest section of the 2.25-mile layout normally known as “The Beast of the East” but nicknamed for our ChampCar race by our very own Paulie Veltum as the “Raucous Roval”. It would prove to be an apt description as the day passed into the night for the 11 PM conclusion of the race. That 1st caution wasn’t long in coming as a Miata plowed hard into the tires at the entrance to T1 bringing out the yellow flag at an hour and a half into the race. Pit row got busy as teams gambled with the FCY and dove into the pits for their first stop of the day.
The running order at this point had settled down as the faster cars had made it through the pack from their starting position based on the random pit stall number. RVA Graphics & Wraps #111 led from Simon Says #63 Integra and the #61 Rascal Racing Honda Civic. The remaining Tuttle #108 Eclipse ran in 4th followed by Separate Checkbook’s Miata, Crash Management’s #18 Dodge Stratus, Danger Racing Group’s #464 Lexus, the Nissan’s of NLS (240 SX) and Wannabe Newman (300ZX), and the BMW of Schumacher Taxi rounding out the top 10. Such was the torrid pace set by the leaders, there were only 9 cars on the lead lap so early in the race.
Just as the cars that were maintaining the 2-hour time limit for driver stints and planning to pit the FCY came out for a hard hit in the back straight before the chicane. Seems the driver of the Visceral Racing #918 Porsche 944 checked his mirrors very briefly, looked back up and saw a car braking hard in front of him and locked them up to avoid rear-ending him. The Porsche pitched around hard and sent him into the inner Safer barrier with heavy damage. Their day was done, but business picked up on pit row as teams took advantage of a great break for them.
Virtually all the top 10 teams in the running order dove into the pits including RVA’s #111 BMW 325is, NLS’s #977 240SX, Simon Says in the #63 Integra, Separate Checkbook’s EC Class Mazda, Danger Racing Groups #464 Lexus, and Tuttle’s EC class Eclipse. Also pitting during the FCY were the Miatas of Full Throttle and 3Brothers, Wannabe Newman’s 300ZX, Crash Management’s Stratus, and the BMW 325is’ of Schumacher Taxi and Bad Brains Racing. Damson Racing’s E46 jumped up in the standings 8 places having pitted just earlier. Simon Says #63 emerged as the leader followed by Separate Checkbook’s Miata # 37, and the RVA BMW #111 in the final classic podium position. The field settled down to the next round of pit stops some 2 hours away.
The T1 tire barriers claimed their next victim at 11:30AM when the Hokie Pokies’ Mustang #835 went into them and brought out the next FCY. At this point, the cones in the chicane were faring better than the tires in T1 although they had been rearranged somewhat, especially at the exit leading back onto the banking. The Junk Player Special #500 did hit an errant cone and damaged the radiator and beat the intercooler up. One of the favorites in the pre-race predictions, the NLS Nissan 240SX (which had briefly run in 2nd place), was behind the wall in the paddock with the hood up but rejoined the field shortly thereafter and another favorite and overall winner 2 years ago, Bad Brains Racing’s BMW #210 was black flagged for hitting cones in the chicane.
Speaking of the cones, four hours into the race the chicane was not really a chicane anymore and a FCY was thrown to clean up the track from some car parts and this also presented itself as an opportunity to re-establish the chicane. Most all the cones exiting were simply gone, allowing cars to basically blow through this part of the track layout at full speed.
Once back to green flag racing, Yours Truly racing (not a team mind you; I mean ME, your author), never having raced the car with the cones in their rightful place managed to carry way too much speed into the chicane to even ATTEMPT to navigate the exit and promptly plowed through them. I was at least smart enough to bruise my ego rather than wreck the car, so I brought the car in promptly to serve my black flag penalty. The staff was wagging their fingers at me as I stopped and my crew gave me a respectful (???) golf clap as I passed by my pit. Pretty sure I “saluted” them as well… Bill Strong was even kind enough to annotate my lap charts so I did not forget. Not that he will EVER let me forget it.
About 2:40 in the afternoon the racers attention was momentarily diverted from the track to the skies as one of their fellow racers, Derek Williams with DDR Racing (and lately with Danger Racing) and his squadron mates, performed a flyover of the Charlotte Motor Speedway in their Apache helicopters on their way to an overseas deployment. What a great tribute to the friendships forged over the years in ChampCar Endurance Series and to have such service members in our ranks. We cannot thank them enough for their service to our country. It was entirely appropriate the Danger Racing in the Lexus SC300 #464 was leading the race at the time and I’m sure there was a moment of reflection in each of their hearts and minds. What an honor.
Back on the track, a FCY flew again at 2:55 with 8 hours to go for cars stalled on track and almost all of the leaders all streamed into the pits including the #464, the RVA #111 BMW, and the Integra of Simon Says, our top 3 cars. Danger Racing had now held the lead for the past 2 ½ hours and didn’t look to be giving it up anytime soon with a 2-lap cushion on P2 & P3. Crash Management’s Stratus, which had led earlier in the race, had dropped out of the top 15 having hit a stray cone necessitating a long pit stop for repairs. Damson Racing’s #346 E46 (the ex-Foxy Tires car), Schumacher Taxi’s #189 and Bad Brains’ #210, and Team Troxell’s #325, all BMW 325is models had been steadily moving up in the running order and all four were shown in the top 10. Blue Bayou’s BMW had unfortunately dropped out of the top 15.
Then, a slight bobble at the front when the #464 Danger car locks them up and nudges into the tire barriers in T1; the RVA GFX #111 BMW was there and by to get a lap back with just under half the race to go. It was still anybody’s game. Also of note, that 7 of the top 10 cars had cut their fastest time of the day (FTD) within the last 10 laps. The competition was heating up.
Then, the Danger Racing Group Lexus made another perhaps costlier mistake. Leaving pit row, with Wyatt Foster behind the wheel, the #464 exited directly onto the hot track, taking the path the pace car and emergency vehicles would take, rather than the hard left that led to a safer release onto the hot track. In Wyatt’s defense the iRacing track layout he had been practicing on in the ChampCar Sim Series races did not have the new configuration. A black flag for a stop and go penalty was issued and the #464 dutifully came in to serve it. The Damson E46 and RVA’s E30 moved into the P1 & P2 positions, now a lap ahead of the Lexus. Perhaps in response to the black flag, Wyatt reset the FTD to a 1:42.409 from Chris Huggins’ 1:43.172.
When the Damson entry hit pit row shortly after, the RVA #111 assumed the lead, having last led the race some 200 laps ago on lap 36. It was now lap 234 for the new leader. Danger’s #464 also picked up the 2nd spot during the #346 pit spot. The chase to regain 1st place was on for the Lexus which had led for the past 4 ½ hours. After numerous stops for flat and flat spotted tires, a black flag for hitting the chicane cones, and the car going into safe mode for low oil pressure the EC class #108 Tuttle Mitsubishi had clawed its way back up the leaderboard to be shown in 4th place. The Simon Says Integra had dodged a bullet when their car had kissed a barrier, damaging a wheel, but a quick stop had salvaged their position for the most part and they ran in 5th.
Rounding out the top 10 was the Separate Checkbook #37 Miata, the Schumacher Racing BMW E30, Wannabe Newman’s 300ZX #27, and the BMW 325is’ of Team Troxell and Bad Brains Racing. The NLS 240SX had finally succumbed to mechanical issues and had retired from the 14-hour contest. Wyatt, In the Danger #464 was slowly reeling in the RVA BMW, lowering the FTD further still with a 1:42.230 and gaining on the leader some 3-5 seconds a lap. Damson’s E46 had dropped all the way to 6th after their pit stop. By this time ChampCar had given up on maintaining the cones in the chicane and all the competitors were blowing through there at basically full speed. Dead and dying cones littered the apron all the way to NASCAR’s T4. Legally I was indicted for their demise, but never convicted; I’m pretty sure it was a technicality that got me off the hook.
Promptly at 6PM Danger’s Lexus retook the lead exiting the infield portion of the course and on the same lap put Simon Says, running P5 another lap down. Wyatt had reset the FTD yet again with a 1:41.475 some 8 laps after taking the lead. The next hour was rather uneventful in terms of the top 2 cars, but the EC class cars of Tuttle’s #108 and the Separate Checkbook Miata each lost 3 spots to the #63 Integra, the Damson Racing E46 #346, and the Schumacher Racing #189 BMW. Shortly before 7PM and the 4 hour-to-go mark another FCY brought RVA’s #111, Simon Says’ #63, and Damson’s #346 screaming into the pits from their 2nd-4th running positions. Danger Racing stayed out. Bad Brains, Munich Speed & Engineering, running 9th, 11th, and 12th respectively, also pitted under the FCY. The thirsty #464 Lexus came in 2 laps later. ChampCar also used this FCY to reset the cones in the chicane, hopefully for the last time since I was not scheduled to drive again.
Now it was RVA’s BMW time to make up time on the Danger Lexus and on lap 284 they did just that, passing the Lexus under braking for T1 on the outside. Tuttle’s #108 had regained their 3rd place position during the last FCY dropping Simon Says to 4th. Separate Checkbook had gained 2 spots to 5th. The EC class cars were on the move again. A spate of FCYs would plague the racing action for the next hour and a half with the first being the #189 Schumacher when the car ground to a halt in NASCAR’s T3 with oil pressure problems from 7th position on the leader’s lap 287. Two laps later the #464 passed the #111 heading into the chicane for P1 and the lead again. The next FCY would fall quickly as the #501 Team Rustang came to a halt in T1 followed very quickly by another FCY when the 14th place #42 No Panic Racing found the T1 tire barriers attached to the front of his Audi A4.
Once back to green the #111 wasted no time in retaking the lead with yet another outside pass, this time in T3, and the Tuttle #108 got by the #464 as well in T5 and then the leading BMW on the back straight to get back on the lead lap, albeit at the tail end of it. The next FCY flew soon after as one of the competitors blew up spectacularly on the tri-oval and cars hit the brakes hard with visibility non-existent. The smoke emanating from the car was worthy of ANY Formula 1 “lost power” or NASCAR “she done blowed up” moment. Most wondered how they built in THAT much smoke in any power plant. You could have easily hidden an Aircraft carrier or two behind the smoke screen that stretched virtually the entire front straightaway. Identified in the ChampCar Live broadcast as the #80 Cremaster Racing entry it was most certainly not as the Cremaster Miata was actually close to cracking the top 15 again. The Mean Green Racing #679 Civic decided that they too wanted to smoke up the night, locking up the left rear and billowing smoke in impressive fashion lap after lap.
Up front, it was time for the RVA GFX #111 to put some pressure on the Danger Racing Group and they did so in a methodical manner, logging laps some 1-2 seconds faster than Danger every lap, chewing up the clock as it was until the next and last pit stop coming up undoubtedly with 2 hours to go. Perhaps they had heard that the Lexus was possibly hobbled by a reported ball joint going bad. With 2:20 to go until the finish, the Tuttle #108 in P3 dove into the pits: They would have to stop again before the finish and re-entered the competition on track in P5. With 2:15 left to go, Race Control had no choice but to throw a FCY for all the debris that had accumulated on the track. Would the caution last long enough to allow the leaders to pit under yellow, take fuel, and still be able to exchange drivers for the push to the end without stopping again? That was the question on everyone’s minds.
Race control would also use the time to reset the chicane cones (I was nowhere near them and have an airtight alibi) into some semblance of a corner and the track used the opportunity to add some lights to the infield. They were no doubt using this race to fine tune the lighting package for the Fall NASCAR Chase race which would use a variation of the infield. When the green flag dropped with just over 2 hours to go, pit road erupted into a flurry of activity!!! The top 4 cars all came in, RVA, Danger, Simon Says, and the Damson E46 and all of them arrived at pit out at basically the same time having pulled off the stop with no issues. Waved back on the track in the same order they were in when they came in, the battle was on for the win. By virtue of not stopping the #108 Tuttle Eclipse moved into 3rd place on the same lap as the leaders as Separate Checkbook had also pitted with the leaders out of 6th place.
It was now up to the drivers to either press their car hard or nurse it to the finish depending on its mechanical condition. Advancing into the top 15 was the Cremaster #80 Mazda, the #835 Hokie Pokie Mustang, and the Pirate 2 Miata while the No Panic Audi A4, the Five Tales Racing MX-5, and the Wannabe Newman 300ZX (which had run in the top 10 virtually all day) dropped out of the standings. With Chris Huggins behind the wheel of the Lexus, he started to reel in the leading RVA BMW and made the pass entering T1 with just a bit under an hour and a half to go. A few laps later the overall win slipped away from the Danger Racing Group as Chris brought the car down pit road when the water temperature spiked. It took them several minutes to cool the car down, dropping them down the running order significantly to 6th.
With the overall win seemingly in hand now, the RVA #111 backed their laps times way down in fuel conservation mode having to only stay out of reach of the Simon Says Integra running in P3, 2 laps in arrears. The EC class Tuttle #108 was of no concern to them as it swept into the lead with just under an hour and a half to go. Besides, the Tuttle Eclipse had to stop again which would surely drop them down to P2 unless they could get a break with a late caution. They did get the break they needed when the yellow was waved for a car stranded in the infield turn 3 and they promptly dove into the pits for the mandatory driver change they had to have and replacing a right rear tire in the process as well. The field went back to green quickly thereafter, the race control coordination with the track crew both on their A game. The planning was so perfectly executed the pace car, driven excellently all day by Jackie Sides, was not even dispatched from pit road.
The Tuttle #108 went back to chasing down the #111 with 45 minutes to go, a lap down because of the stop. Overheating issues also struck the Team Troxell #325 BMW as they pitted as well with just over 30 minutes to go. It would cost them at top 10 finish by the end of the race as they tumbled from 8th place to an eventual 11th place finish. The Schumacher #189 had also suffered late race misfortune with excessive crankcase oil pressure dislodging the dipstick tube with a corresponding loss of oil. They would climb back somewhat to 13th place. By virtue of lap times very much faster than the leader, Tuttle’s Eclipse was once gain on the lead lap with just over 32 minutes to go until the checkered flag. The chase began and with 20 minutes to go the EC class #108 swept into the lead over RVA’s C class BMW.
The end of the race might have been considered “anticlimactic” but all the racing action leading up to it had been anything but Tuttle’s EC class Mitsubishi crossed the finish line first, but RVA’s BMW claimed the overall win at Charlotte fairly soon after their 1st overall win at VIR North. Justin may not be allowed back to the track on race day. Simon Says claimed P2, followed by and the Damson E46. The Danger Racing Lexus limped across the finish line in 4th with a flat front tire and the left rear tire hanging onto the rear caliper for its life. The EC class Separate Checkbook #37 had come across the line just in front of them.
BMWs claimed the next 3 spots with Bad Brains E36 in 5th, Munich Speed & Engineering’s A class 318i in 6th, Blue Bayou’s E30 325is model moving up 2 positions in the last 15 minutes to 7th. A late race stop for fuel had cost the #18 Crash Management a position and they finished in 8th. The ninth position went to the Team Troxell BMW with the Cremaster Racing Miata rounding out the top 10. Schumacher Taxi’s late oil issue had cost them dearly after running in 4th at one point and in the top 10 for much of the race. The Hokie Pokie Mustang survived to take 12th, the A class Pirate 2 Miata 13th, and the Mazdas of SLS Racing and Spedsource rounding out the top 15.
All and all, the Charlotte Roval race was an enormous success with the drivers loving the course, with the possible exception of the moving chicane. Every lap it was tough to look ahead to see what it looked like this time around. Hopefully, the bolt down curbs will be in place the next time the ChampCar Endurance Series visits the “Raucous Roval”. That would be hopefully next year. For E Racing, Junk Player Special, Kar-Go, Tuttle’s 2 car entry (Brian claiming both cars will be C class), and Visceral Racing Group it would be off to a sold-out Watkins Glen in just over a month. The rest of the teams headed home until the inevitable “we’ll get ‘em next time” race rolls around on their calendar…
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Next race –
May 5-May 6, 2018
THUNDERHILL RACEWAY PARK: 8+7 Enduros, $750
“The Thunderhill Grand Prix”
Early Pay Discount Ends: March 6, 2018
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