Enjoy the Track Featuring Driver Steven R. Rochlin -- Formula Continental and Ferrari 308GTS QV






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NHIS SCCA Race Track Event Blog, July 14 & 15, 2007 Van Diemen Formula Continental F2000 Racecar

  Have a seat my friends as you hear the story of the 20 cent washer. Well, two of these washers actually, but at this low price what difference does it really make? Well, quite a bit as let me tell you what these two washers have to do with rear wheel wobble and cutting my track time in half on Saturday. Those of you who read my SCCA Lime Rock event in mid June, you recall how during qualification there was a driver error and this caused the right rear upper suspension bit needing to be replaced. The race last month went well and all seemed fine.

Arriving at NHIS on Friday, the day before the two races, i began doing the usual bolt check while also changing the car's rear wing setup for high downforce. Everything checked out and was ready for qualification using NHIS' roval course. The car felt good, if a bit understeering, during the first few warm up laps. Around lap 7 was taking the lefthander (T3) and the rear of the car stepped out and wobbled. It felt much like the rear left tire going flat and so nursed the car into the pits. Naturally the first thing i did was check the rear left and the tire had pressure. Hmmm, interesting as there is a problem. A few moments later i noticed the two bolts that hold the top suspension bit, which was replaced at Lime Rock Park, seemed as though they had backed out considerable. Then realizing the shims that control camber, which these bolts secure down, were completely missing! This meant the missing shims, about 3/8th an inch worth, allowed the upper wheel connection to move that amount. This is some serious movement when one factors in the movement possibility at the top of the rear wheel!

Qualified fourth with a best lap time of 1:08.155.


What the ???

Scratching my head as was sure the bolt check was thorough, i chalked it up to perhaps missing those bolts. Fortunately had plenty of spare shims, about 6 needed for correct alignment, and so commenced to realigning the car and tightened the corresponding bolts. Of course these bolts did have a washer or two at their head so all looked fine. With everything set and the bolts tight, and using some Loctite Blue for good measure, it was time for the race.

During the race the car started off with a touch of understeer, yet by lap 6 was really neutral and was feeling great. Rifled off a few more laps and the car was coming on strong. And as some of you readers guessed, that is when things went a bit haywire on lap 10. Coming down the hill (T9) and taking the right the car had the same weird wobble as during qualification and so immediately pulled her into the pits. Game over, damn! Checking the rear left was astonished all my shims were once again gone! What the...!

Color me perplexed as this was just fixed! Of course i verified the rear left wheel assembly was tight. So that night i took that section of the car completely apart to analyze what was going on, as the bolts were indeed tight. Basically, the part of the rear wheel where the upper suspension bolts attach, and shims insert between, has the usual screw front and an opened rear. One would assume a long bolt would simply screw in and, if too long, would continue through the part and exit out the rear hole/opening.

Upon additional studying of the part in question (seen right), it appears the bolt screws in yet hits an end point and will not go though the rear opening. My study concluded that the bolts were indeed tight, though perhaps a very small bit too long. Perhaps when reassembly during the Lime Rock Park event one additional washer per bolt were necessary. You see, there was probably a looseness of only a few thousandths of a inch, as the bolts were tight against the end stop and not the actual suspension/shims/wheel upright assembly. This extremely small looseness while being undetected with the usual checks and balances, caused a shim to fall out while driving and then caused the other shims to subsequently fall out.

So even though i verified the tightness of the assembly and bolts while fixing it after qualification, this ever so slight and obviously undetected spacing was easily solved by using a single additional washer on each of the two bolt heads. The space taken up by the washers now meant the bolts were truly tight within the wheel assembly and not hitting the end stop. As for why there is a stop versus the bolt going all the way through the rear opening, my guess is that this part is so close to the brake rotor the design was to ensure the bolts did not go through to a point where it would make contact with the rotor.

And so that is my Saturday story of how a pair of 20 cent washers cost me two complete set of rear shims plus track time during qualification and cutting short the possibility of completely finishing the race. Fortunately the car did hold together past the half-way mark so did get credit for the race. Also, fast hands and quick thinking meant the car did not get balled up into the wall and, instead, was able to bring her back in to the pits to make the proper correction. We dare not think of what could have happened if the tremendous rear left wheel movement happened at certain moment and the car spun in a fashion that would have been catastrophic.

My thanks goes out to Rob Laverty for lending me a set of rear shims at the track, as i ran out of spares.

Best lap was 1:09.575 and was the first to retire from the race.


Sunday, July 15th Event

With the car now fixed, or had darn well better be, it was time for qualification. Today the race was not in the roval, but in the chicane-chicane configuration. This is the way i have driven this track quite a bit so was familiar with what was needed as many others have rarely, if ever, driven NHIS in this setting. Used the first few laps to get the car and tires warm while being sure the rear left was fine. It was a hot and very humid morning plus felt confident in the car so on lap 9 did a 1:14.244. Then i took a slight break for a few laps to make my last run at the end. This allowed more gas to burn off in the meantime and on the very last lap of qualification earned a third place qualification finish of 1:13.749. Perhaps all those years of watching Formula 1 combined with a small handful of SCCA events has taught me to make my best efforts with good spacing in front of me and when the car is at her lightest. Goodness knows i have made enough freshman errors already.


To Rain Or Not Rain....

New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS)That is the question. The on-again off-again rain showers continued through the afternoon. An hour before the race the rain was coming down in buckets, only to let off and eventually turned into a light sprinkle. With only 15 minutes until grid the sky was spotty yet still overcast a bit. Many of us were on dry tires hoping for slow to no rain as it did let up from time to time. Then the rain began coming down harder and so the mad dash to change to wet setup commenced! The gentleman in the pits next to me had his car on 1/2 wet and 1/2 dry so he only needed to change two of the four tires. Smart man! With a brand new set of Hoosier wets on the car it was time to roll out to the grid. Rob commented that, as Glenn at GTP suggested, a set of hand grooved Hoosier 25 as intermediate tires would have been perfect for these condition and be careful not the fry these full wet tires so seek out damp bits of tarmac if the track dries up.

The rain slowed up and we got two laps behind the pace car so as to get familiar with the now wet surface. i noted the transition from 2b to the NASCAR straight was very slippery. My new Hoosiers were not scrubbed in, and so they felt a bit 'pointy' and not quite flatfooted. Perhaps i had too much pressure in them, though did set them according to what was recommended. Under the second pace lap i saw the other Formula Continental driver pull off, later finding out he had an issue that caused an electrical short or some such with the smell of burning plastic filling his cabin. The other Formula Continental driver was out due to yesterday's event. So being the sole survivor in my classification and having never ran the car in the wet, felt it was best to take this track time more for a test session than as a pure race. No need to pitch the car to the very edge, and perhaps off the track and causing damage. Was also warned that this light rain condition could cause the full wets to overheat and ruin them. At these prices there was no need to cook a brand new set of tires, but being inexperienced i had no idea the feeling of using versus cooking.

And so came probably the slowest laps in the car as at the beginning the tires felt pointy, yet after 5 laps things started to come along and feel better. Sure i could have driven faster, yet in the back of my mind was frying a new set of wets or tossing the car off the track. The car was great on the straight parts yet during turns was a bit more challenging. My budget is limited and already needed a few new bits due to other circumstances at previous races. And so while finishing first by default, it was not necessarily the best drive of my life. After the race i looked at the tires and realized they could have easily handled the conditions and harder driving without fear of frying them. Darn! Well, at least there was now some wet weather experience under my belt and data recorded for future use.


Appreciation And Thanks

Rob Laverty deserves a huge thanks for lending me his rear shims and providing some excellent tips and hints. Rob's friends get a huge thumbs up for buckling me in and whatnot during the event. And of course my wife for putting up with my weekends away at the track. As always, in the end what really matters is that we all...

Enjoy the Track,

Steven R. Rochlin



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