VDCA – Road Atlanta February 18-20, 2011
By Phil Wicks
Power and torque mean everything at Road Atlanta. Suffice to say, we found much more of it in the engine and handling work we did on the Snoopy dog Mini! After many conference calls with Don Racine at Mini Mania, I re-worked the existing cylinder head to better specifications along with slight changes to the Webber carburetion, which provided the car with more torque and BHP to the new rear sway bar and brakes we had fitted, all courtesy of Mini Mania. The result was an incredible 5 seconds a lap faster than the last race at Road Atlanta in October 2010.
Friday, February 18: The weather was mild, 65 degrees and dry. 17 small bore cars – 26 total – took to the grid for the first shakedown session, bedding in new brakes, adjusting my driving style to the different handling (rear sway-bar), and playing with tire pressures. When I pulled back in the pits, I found our quick little Snoopy dog MINI first in class and third overall. Lap times commenced at 1:55 compared with best lap time of 1:56 last October.
Second Session, Friday, February 18: After warming the tires and brakes for 3-4 laps, I settled into a much faster pace than I had previously experienced. And as soon as I saw a clear track in front of me, I went for a couple of quick laps. And boy did it pay off! I managed a best lap of 1:51, second fastest in the whole group and first in class. This put me on the outside of the starting grid for the next day qualifying race.
Saturday, February 19: The weather was warmer and our race was mid-afternoon – 75 to 80 degrees and I rolled into our first row grid position. A Triumph Spitfire that won the race overall at Roebling Road in December shared the front row with me. That race, he was 6 seconds a lap quicker than my Mini Cooper S. This race, he was only .5 of a second quicker. When the race started at the end of the pace lap and recalling my experience at Road Atlanta in October, 2010, I was more than ready to “get on it” as soon as the green flag fell. I had to let the Spitfire be ahead of me to avoid jumping the start. However, to my amazement, I pulled slightly ahead of him by the time we got to turn one. Being a very experienced driver, Rob Stewart in the Spitfire, came over and “leaned” on me to give him a good line into the fast uphill right turn (1). I immediately tucked in behind him and blocked my teammate, Mark Craig, in his Spitfire. Second place was mine – for the time being. We stayed this way for three laps. However, coming down the long back straight, the Mini suddenly went to 3 cylinders. I knocked it out of gear and switched it off, pulled to the left of the racing line, put my arm up and out of the car to signal I was not competing anymore, pulled into pit-in road and watched my teammate go by in his Spitfire. DNF – fast lap 1:51. A broken rocker arm was discovered to be the fault. Tests on the engine compression cylinder test showed no major damage.
A replacement rocker arm could not be begged, borrowed, or stolen anywhere. However, a fellow racer in an Austin Healy Sprite, Kevin Shorter from Huntsville, Alabama, came to the rescue and loaned us a complete unmodified rocker assembly. Being heavier than our race prepared rockers, it meant I would not chance using the entire 8500 rpm range. But it did mean we would be able to race next day, Sunday, February 20.
Sunday, February 20: I elected to not participate in the Sunday morning warm up session for two reasons: (1) I wanted to save the car for the race later in the day, and (2) the session was early Sunday morning and all of us Zapata racers wanted to have a leisurely breakfast and take our time to get to the track!
The start of the race was much the same as our first race. After holding second place into turn 1, I eased off and kept the revs to 7500 max with the result being my teammate in his Spitfire passed me. But I had a great race for 3rd place just holding off a Sprite, passing and re-passing – and finally, discretion being the better part of valor, settled for 3rd overall, 1st in class, and fast lap 1:53.
Many thanks to Team Zapata Racing for a great weekend and especially Bob Yeager for hunting down the loaned rocker assembly for which the owner only wants a signed “Italian Job” T-shirt from me! It’s in the mail!
Many thanks to Mini Mania Inc. (www.minimania.com) for supplying all parts, recommending mods to the car, and a new rocker assembly for the next race. And of course – Hoosier Tires. We roll on to the next race at VIR on April 8-10.