…maybe a pop? Or a hiss? Disappointingly, it probably didn’t event make a sound.
With the Autocross season winding down, and my consistency not where I thought it was going to be this year, I wasn’t overly concerned about end of year standings. So, when the October double-header event came up and I knew I would only be able to do one of the two days, it wasn’t that hard of a decision to do something different and head out to Talladega Gran Prix for one of their open track days.
It had been a bit since I’d been out there, but it is a fun track and a great value for the amount of time you get on track. The downside is that it has a bit of a reputation for destroying tires, more on that later.
It was a great day for racing / driving. It started a bit cool in the morning, but the sun felt nice and the day had a near perfect warm up. The event itself was well run, casual, and had the right number of cars per run group for the track. Pretty normal pattern for track events: 3 run groups (beginner, intermediate, and advanced); each group getting 20 minute sessions. 20 minutes is a lot of laps on a track that short.
First session was really getting dialed into the line and remembering the details of the track, and trying to get a feel for the balance of the car. Coming out of the last Autocross event, I felt the front had more to give and increased the stiffness on the fronts a few clicks. Running the Mini through a few high speed corners, the balance felt pretty good. Turn in and mid corner felt great; corner exit had some understeer. I put that down to being FWD and have 61% front weight bias. The tires and LSD made it really manageable, I could control the car and place it exactly where I wanted it to go.
One of my favorite features of the Mini is how unassuming it is when you bring it to a track. Almost 20 years old, most people won’t give it a second look in the paddock/grid. Then after a couple sessions, you suddenly have people coming up and questioning what you’ve done to it, how much power it makes, etc. After the second session where I passed all but 1 car in the run group, I had a few people intrigued by the Mini.
I did have one exciting moment during the second session. I over cooked it going into the last set of corners and the backend of the car started to come around on me. I was able to catch it and only put 2 wheels in the grass, but the extra bump popped open the glove box. So, I had to pull into the pits to close it (couldn’t reach with the harness fastened). Other than that, the car was fast and consistent. I was really happy with how the day was going to that point.
After the session was standing around chatting with the other drivers (another driver had followed my lead and over cooked the last corner and had an even more exciting tank slapper). I looked back over at the Mini and then the day took a turn for the worse. There was a small drop of fluid coming from just behind the passenger side front tire. I watched it for a minute, and the small drops kept coming.
That was immediately game over for the track day. I tried to find the source at the track, but climbing under the car and trying to look over the top, there was nothing easily visible. All I could tell was that it was coming from somewhere on the backside of the engine. After some debate on tow vs. drive, I decided to drive it home.
Made it home with no issues. Put the car up on jack stands and started looking around. Decided to do the low hanging fruit first. Went ahead and did an oil change. Draining the oil showed that the leak wasn’t terrible and there was plenty in the engine. Also, after completing the change and ensuring that everything was tightened up properly, the leak was still present.
With the car up on jack stands and the wheel off, I could get a bit of a better view. Best guess at the leak was that it was coming from the oil heat exchanger:
I reached out to Way (Way Motorworks) and talked to him about it. He agreed that was the likely source, but recommended that we replace the entire filter housing and not just the heat exchanger. I looked through what it would take to replace it myself and decided that would be a terrible idea.
That meant I needed to find someone that I trusted to work on a track / modified car locally. Enter Corsa Crew:
I’ve known Joe for awhile. He and the team provide a number of services, including renting track cars for arrive and drive at a number of tracks. One of the cars he rents is a Mini. Joe was good to handle the fix. I had them flush and change the brake fluid and then had them just look through the car and see if they had other concerns. They did find a soon-to-be issue with the map sensor plug and that was fixed as well.
The Corsa Crew team had the Mini ready to go right when they said they would. Had performed test drives and whip downs and had ensured there were no other leaks when they gave it back to me. I picked it up this last Saturday and it just so happened that there was a HPDE event at Barber’s that day. Now, I didn’t have time to participate in the HPDE, but they did offer some lunch time parade laps. A good way to put the car through it’s paces, and more importantly an opportunity for me to get my son out on the big track!
It’s great to have the Mini back at home and not leaking oil all over the garage floor. At this point, we’re pretty much done for 2022. With the holidays, kids out of school, autocross season over, and it just being cold I’m going into planning and execution for One Lap 2023. Technically, I’m on the wait list again… BUT this time I’m #3 on the list.
As for what little Talladega does for your tires? Well, I’ll leave you with this image of my front right: