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Jack Olsen's Avatar
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Building a better Black Beauty #11: OTC Recap

Pelicanite Tyson Schmidt and I took second place in the Touring 2 class of the 2003 Open Track Challenge. We tied on points with the class-winning Acura NSX, but the event's tie-breaking rules gave the NSX the first-place trophy, even though we were ahead of them in the overall competition, as well as in the touring division.

Here's a day-by-day account of the event.

Saturday, April 5

The Spring Mountain track was opened for testing the day before the official start of the Open Track Challenge. So we finished the mechanical work on the car a little before 6 pm on Friday, and headed out to Pahrump, Nevada. On Saturday, we did some testing, and made some adjustments to the swaybar setup. Honestly, we were pretty surprised by the times we were turning. Last year (outside of one car that was simply off the charts) the best time turned in by any car in any of the touring division classes was a 1:52. And this year, the touring division was limited to much worse tires. But my 911 was turning out 1:51's with either me or Tyson at the wheel on off-the-shelf BFGoodrich G-Force T/A KD's.

It seemed too good to be true.

The only mechanical problem we discovered was a tendency for the left front wheel to lock up under braking. We decided we could live with this, since our times were so good, and that we could get a proportioning valve to even out front-rear brake bias some time later during the event.

Understandably, we were in a great mood.

Still, we hadn't seen any of our main competition drive, yet. Navid Kahangi had dominated T2 the previous year. Bill Arnold had beaten us in T3 with a car that was slower than the M3 he was driving this year. And the NSX that was entered in our class was being driven by Todd Southwell, a professional driver.

Sunday, April 6

Our strategy was to have Tyson focus on the shorter tracks, and me on the bigger ones, reducing driver fatigue and letting each of us play to our strengths. This would mean four tracks for me, and three for him. But then the event lost the big track at Las Vegas, and the ratio turned into four for Tyson and three for Jack. Either way was fine by me.

Our plan was to come out of the gate every day swinging with everything we had -- since the tracks were only going to get hotter and more slippery as the day went on. It was a good strategy, and Tyson knocked off a 1:50 lap at Spring Mountain in the first session. We were as surprised as anyone, and we were immediately way out in front.

By the end of the day, we started to get a picture of how the competition was going to shake out. The M3's had dominated their classes the previous year, but their heavy weight meant that street tires were a bigger liability for them this year than they would be for a lightweight car like ours. The main competition was going to come from the pro in the NSX. The car's owner was a capable driver, and he drove the NSX about how you'd expect it to go in an event like this. But with a pro like Todd Southwell at the wheel, the car was suddenly much more competitive.

Southwell could probably win this event in any of the cars that were entered. The rest of us were weekenders. He did this for a living.

Still, at the end of the day, we had three 150's, and Southwell had two 1:51's and a 1:52. We knew he already had quite a bit more testing with his car than we did -- so we were thrilled to be in first place, right out of the gate.

We later learned that it made Southwell a little nuts that we were kicking back with a couple of beers before the afternoon sessions had even started. We were done. Our times were good enough that we knew the track wasn't going to have much more in it. In retrospect, we probably shouldn't have made it look so easy.

Monday, April 7

The club course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is not a very well-loved track. Neither Tyson or I had ever set eyes on it before, but we knew it was fairly technical, and that Tyson's autocross experience would serve him well on it. Once again, we came out of the gate going for the best we could do, and had gotten a high 1:28 and two 129's by the end of the second session. Tyson loved the track, and he loved the way the car was driving.

Once again, we'd earned ourselves some time off in the afternoon, and we went to a local race supply house for the brake proportioning valve we needed. Problem is, Vegas is NASCAR country, and we weren't able to get the right fittings to make the valve work with our master cylinder. Instead of enjoying a cold beer in the afternoon, we had to make repeated trips to the parts shop to try and get our brakes to work. In the end, we put the system back to where it had been. We weren't happy with the brake bias, but we were still winning with the current setup. We'd wait to fix it later.

And we got an unexpected bonus when Southwell -- his back up against the wall -- threw himself a Hail Mary afternoon session. where he cracked a single 1:29. Unfortunately, he did it under the yellow, and while there was an emergency vehicle on the track. He lost all his times for the session as a penalty. The next day, he apologized to all the event participants at the drivers' meeting. As a pro, he should never have missed the emergency flags.

We knew he was feeling the pressure from our times, which made him more prone to mistakes like that. In this case, it cost him the second for the day, since Navid Kahangi was very strong on the track and was nipping at his heels.

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Tuesday, April 8

By the time we were cranking out 2:10's at Buttonwillow, we were beginning to actually believe that we had a good chance of winning first place in T2. We had sent ourselves a second set of tires, by UPS, and we didn't even mind it so much that the guys who mounted them took both of our afternoon sessions getting the new tires mounted and balanced.

We also got the proportioning valve to work, finally.

One disturbing development was that the second set of tires we'd be running on had been botched pretty badly when they were shaved. It was too late to do anything about it now, but the right front tire's shoulder was down to the cord in a long groove, and the tires hadn't even been driven on, yet. We decided to move forward and hope this set would last the rest of the event. We could have my wife bring a brand new set of fronts to Willow Springs, if necessary, but they wouldn't be shaved, which would make them slower than the botched set we were mounting.

We packed up to head to Thunderhill, and only checked the timing board at the last moment. Bad news. Southwell had come out in the last session in the NSX and taken three full seconds off his previous best times. He'd run two 2:09's and a 2:10. Suddenly, we were in second place for the day, and there weren't any more sessions for us to take the lead back from him.

We'd gotten confident, and left him an opening. As a pro, he knew to take his shots where he could get them. We'd made a mistake -- and had our first second-place finish, now, to show for it.

What's more, we knew we were looking at two potential second- (or even third-place) finishes for the next two days at Thunderhill. They'd be the first time that I'd be driving in the event, and -- while I knew the tracks better than Tyson -- I still had never been particularly strong at this track. The best I'd ever done, in either direction, was a 2:13. Navid Kahangi had recently won the 12-hour endurance race at Thunderhill in his M3, and Bill Arnold has taken second in his class at the same race in his own M3. This was a track where we stood a good chance of coming in third or fourth.

Suddenly, our lead wasn't looking so secure.

Wednesday, April 9

Good news and bad news. We had fixed the brake bias problem, and also discovered that the left front lockup was the result of a bad set of pads on the right side. With new pads, and functioning rear brakes, I was somehow able to shave 6 seconds off of my previous best time at the track, getting down to a 2:06 in the second session. But traffic and braking issues made it tough to get consistently fast laps. And Southwell was piloting the NSX with all the skill and consistency of, well, a pro.

On the good side, Navid's M3 was only managing 2:08's and 2:09's. At the end of the day, I had a 2:06 and two 2:07's. Southwell had two high 2:05's and a 2:07. Second place was okay, since we'd expected it. But the Buttonwillow second place finish had not been part of our plan.

Between the two days at Thunderhill, there was an impromptu dinner thrown together, that quickly went from 16 people up to about 40. Since there was no driving to be done that night, we got a chance to talk with all of our competition, as well as all the other participants. Across the board, this was a great bunch of guys. Even though there were a lot of close races, no one was pointing fingers or making any accusations of fishy business. Todd Southwell wasn't afraid to admit that he had never imagined running into any trouble from anyone at the event, least of all a 31-year-old 911.

Thursday, April 10

Same track, different direction. Pretty much the same results, though. I was getting a better feel for the car, but we still finished second to Southwell. This time, he got me by 2 full seconds. Clearly, he knows some tricks for the clockwise version of the track that I don't know. On the other hand, I was 3-7 seconds ahead of everyone else in the pack.

Friday, April 11

In the past, I've been faster than Tyson at WSIR. But with the new version of the car, Tyson was really shining. For whatever reason, he was on fire in this car, this week -- so we decided to split driving duties at Willow Springs.

This was one of the more heartbreaking days of the tour. We were tied for first at this point, and we knew if we won today, we could probably win at Las Vegas on the last day and take the class win. But Southwell's home track was -- you guessed it -- Willow Springs.

All day, the lead traded hands. By mid-day, we were ahead by 1/1000 of a second. But in the last sessions, Southwell threw a Hail Mary and clicked off an amazing 1:32.xx. All of the rest of the times between both leading teams were 1:33's. In the end, we lost by a cumulative total of 3/10 of a second. That's less than a heartbeat.

And it can be explained by the second mechanical surprise we found -- which was a vacuum forming in the tank side of the fuel system, which was leaning the car out in the long straights at Willow. At various times, it had us 700 rpm off of our normal speeds at the end of the front straight.

It was easily fixed by drilling a tiny hole in the breather line. But by the time we discovered it, it was too late. We took a painful second at our favorite track. The best we could now do would be to tie for first on points, even though we knew that this would still mean Southwell getting the trophy, since he would have four first-place finishes to our three.

Saturday, April 12

Back to Las Vegas for the last day of the event. This time it was just for fun, but we were all taking it very seriously. Tyson was put in charge of taking Southwell head-on. The track officials decided we couldn't run the track backwards, as had been planned, so we'd be facing off on the same configuration as day two, when Southwell had thrown away his best times by not seeing the yellow flag.

All day, the lead changed back and forth, with me and the NSX's owner radioing new fast lap reports to our drivers in their cars. Tyson was on fire, though, and none of Southwell's tricks (including taping over every gap in the NSX's body (for aerodynamics) were working. The NSX was having head gasket problems, by this time. Trying to keep up with us for seven days was taking its toll. Last year, the M3 that beat us had blown his motor in the effort. To Stuttgart's credit, all we'd done since last year's event was add the occasional quart of oil.

Porsche reliability.

At the end of the third session, Southwell came over and conceded for the day. They hadn't wanted to let us tie on points, but they knew they'd still get the trophy. As consolation, Tyson and I would be finishing ahead of them overall (19th to their 22nd) and ahead of them in the touring division (3rd to their 4th). On street tires, the only two cars to finish ahead of us were a Viper and a Mosler, each with close to double our horsepower, and both were in the next class up.

We were pretty happy, in spite of the fact that we'd missed the first place trophy for a second year in a row. However, if you consider that we'd been bumped up to a tougher class, and had the same motor and tranny that had gotten us a second the previous year, then the new version of the car has to be seen as pretty much a miracle of suspension design. It's 5-6 seconds faster, at most tracks, on street tires, than the old car was on r-compound tires. Same power. Lower laptimes.

After the awards ceremony, Tyson and I ended up closing the place down sharing Tequila and behind-the-scenes stories with Southwell and his wife. He'd been brought onto the NSX team to help the owner learn to drive his car better, but had ended up doing all of the driving, because the owner couldn't let himself take second place to a couple of guys in an old 911.

By the end of the night, Southwell was talking to Tyson about having TRE Motorsports put together a 911 for him and a friend to race. I think that's a heck of an endorsement for what TRE and Tyson did with this car.

Last edited by Jack Olsen; 04-14-2003 at 03:38 PM..
Old 04-14-2003, 03:25 PM
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Final thoughts?

Well, we could have won the event, pretty easily, if we'd avoided a couple of small strategic mistakes and had a little more time to discover and solve the braking and fuel-system issues.

Even so, when you consider that we put the car together in 12 weeks, and then basically threw it out onto the track, the number of teething issues becomes insiginificantly small. Tyson torqued down the last bolt on a Friday night. We drove it around the block, once, and took it to the track the next morning. Since then, through 12 full days on the track, not one significant mechanical issue has popped up. Considering that this is a one-of-a-kind 911, built in a hurry, that's pretty mind-boggling.

Watch out for us next year. I'm pretty sure we'll be back, and we want that first place trophy pretty badly.

Old 04-14-2003, 03:35 PM
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Old 04-14-2003, 03:41 PM
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WOW!! talk about goosebumps!!!!!

can you write a book on this???? maybe you'll be the next BS Levy???
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Old 04-14-2003, 03:51 PM
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Old 04-14-2003, 03:55 PM
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Sounds like you guys had a blast. Congrads.
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Old 04-14-2003, 04:03 PM
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Great write and great performance! You and Tyson should be very proud. It is unbelievable that the car war trailered into TRE just a few short weeks ago. ANd it took a pro race car driver to beat you - on a rule formality!
Old 04-14-2003, 04:04 PM
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Jack, Too bad they don't settle ties by making each team write an essay about their experience at OTC this year. Or make each team create a K-tel style party compilation disc. It would be more fair, and then you would be "ringer dude".

Great driving by both of you, and thanks for bringing us along w/ this recap.
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Old 04-14-2003, 04:15 PM
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Yowza, great story, imagine next year with the few extra ponies which must surely be running through your mind !
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Old 04-14-2003, 04:18 PM
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Old 04-14-2003, 04:24 PM
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Nice writup Jack!, congratulations
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Old 04-14-2003, 04:24 PM
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Great narrative, Jack, both you and Tyson should be quite proud, all of us are of you two!!! (PS think 3.8 Jack! ha ha ) Congrats to you both, Doug
Old 04-14-2003, 05:19 PM
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Great story Jack.....
How did the electrics hold up? (little bit of worry here).
It is amazing, the short prep time compared to the results.
Congratulations all 'round.
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Old 04-14-2003, 05:45 PM
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Great job, Guys! What's really amazing is the lack of seat time each of you had in the car and the relative newness of the car itself. It really shows that you and Tyson are superb drivers and the car was set up really well from the beginning.

I wanted to go cheer you guys on at Thunderhill, but my fuel pump gave out the night before and T-hill is a pretty long bike ride from my house! Next year, next year.............

Old 04-14-2003, 05:59 PM
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Thanks, guys. More power might have helped a little, but it's significant that we were the oldest and lowest-horsepower car in our class. Horsepower is great. But suspension wins on the track.

Bob, the electric boxes were a lifesaver. The total mileage for the event was over 2,500, and on all those long (and loud) highway miles, I ran a GPS unit, radar detector, sound-canceling headphones and an iPod MP3 player off of the front box. No battery worries, and both boxes held up like a charm.

Having super-cold AC and heat was nice, too.
Old 04-14-2003, 06:07 PM
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Here are some bonus pictures I just scanned. Click on any one for a larger version.

Old 04-14-2003, 06:13 PM
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Jack, you and Tyson are a winning combination. Well versed and mucho talented.

Great write up. You guys rule! I want to wish you guys a much deserved congratulations.
Old 04-14-2003, 06:20 PM
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Congratulations guys. Thanks for sharing the story.
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Old 04-14-2003, 06:21 PM
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Altogether just too cool! Great story and great job beating up on the non-Porsches!
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Old 04-14-2003, 06:24 PM
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