It has been just short of a week sense the end of Tirerack.com’s One Lap of America 2023 presented by Grassroots Motorsports. I’m still processing the last several days, it’s a bit of a blur with thousands of miles and many fast food meals in between getting to run some great tracks and hanging out with great people.
One Lap is one of those shared trauma events that brings people together and creates a bond. Everyone’s story is a little different, but they all share the same things. You spend 8+ days in a car and likely a hotel room with your teammate(s), you get so little sleep, you hurry up and wait constantly, there’s adversity that you have to overcome, you’re never quite satisfied with your on-track performance, you travel thousands of miles in all kinds of conditions, and you end up back where you started.
My stress at One Lap started before the event even began with the head rebuild and almost no testing to sort out any issues. I was able to drive about 35 miles before getting in the car to drive to South Bend for the start. So, from the start of the event, I was worried about finishing the event. The 10 hour drive up to South Bend helped to add confidence in the car. Aside from potholes causing tire rub and trim to be dislodged, the car ran great.
Another concern going into One Lap was the trailer. I had used it a few times and it seemed good to go, but 20 miles locally is substantially different than 4000+ miles all around the country, with expensive tools and gear and no back up plan. Again here, aside from the constant bouncing from our terrible interstates causing some minor damage to the items inside the trailer, the trailer itself was great.
All jacked up on anxiety and excitement, we set off to South Bend not knowing what was in store for us on the journey. Spoiling the end of the story, we made it. We completed the event, and participated in every on track session. It wasn’t without its trial however. Each time, the thought crept into my mind if this was the problem that was going to ruin the trip. That’s a terrible way to feel, but it took 2 years to get into the event, I spent a ton of money and effort getting ready for the event, I was terrified that it would come all crashing down and be a waste. **Deep breath** But it wasn’t. Here’s what all went wrong for us:
- The suspension on the car was setup to provide the best balance on track with just the driver in the car. That was fine, and the car felt great on track. It was less ideal on the transit drives. Adding a passenger, a hatch full of luggage, and a trailer full of tools, fluids and whatever else I thought we might need on the trip effected the ride height. On every transit drive (except the one from Road Atlanta to Nashville) the potholes on the interstate beat us, the cargo and the car up. At every gas stop, I was literally clipping pieces of trim back onto the car only to have it beaten off again. At the end of the trip the damage was pretty minor: a couple missing plastic clips, a set of pillar got broke (inside the toolbox), 2 of the plastic tubs with spares and supplies were destroyed and trashed, and my toolbox earned a few new dents and a bent handle.
- A wheel stud came loose when rotating our tires at Road Atlanta. Fairly quick repair (I brought plenty of spares), but had some PTSD from the last time I had to replace a stud.
- Check Engine Light (or Service Engine Soon for Minis) for a major evaporator leak. This one seemed to resolve fairly quickly. Vacuum lines were the first thing I checked. There was no obvious disconnects, but it did look like some clips had come loose (probably from the potholes) and some connections may not have been as good as needed. I worked through several of those, found some wiring connectors in a similar state and fixed those as well. Cleared the codes and went about the event.
- Got a screw in the tire either in the paddock, the grid, or on the track in Nashville. There was construction going on, so likely the source of the screw. 2 other teams also collected screws that day. Had to learn how to plug a tire.
- Return of the Check Engine Light. This time for a minor evaporator leak. I guess that means we had some improvement from the major. I chased this code the rest of the event. I think it is the connection on the purge solenoid. I would redo the connections, and the code would go away for a day or two, and then come back. It had been off until the last fuel stop on the drive home when it came back on. I guess I’ll replace it with a new one and see if that fixes it permanently.
- When we got to Oklahoma, we noticed that the fans were kicking on after a drive to cool the car. To this point, the car had run at a perfect 194 degrees the entire time. There was no visible damage anywhere, so we checked the coolant. It wasn’t clean. There was a small amount of oil that could be detected in it. I really thought this was going to be the issue that ended our event. We talked to the guys at the race shop at the track and one of the other competitors (Ian Stewart) actually runs a Mini repair shop. Everyone agreed that it was likely a faulty gasket on the oil heat exchanger. Oil in the coolant is much more manageable that coolant in the oil. After a brief consideration of letting the Dadbod Carmod guys rig up an external oil cooler, we decided to drive around the issue and monitor it.
So, what else could go wrong?
Well… namely… the weather. It always rains during One Lap. That’s a given. The gamble is on how much. Do you go for all weather performing tires and give up the ultimate lap time, or do you take the risk and get the tires that are amazing in the dry but compromised in the wet? We decided to run 245/40-15 size tires and that only left 2 choices. We could have run 205/50-15 tires and had more options, but given up contact patch. Going into an event like this, you want to give yourself every edge you can, so we went with the Falken RT-660s in the 245/40-15 size. These tires are amazing in the dry. They have so much grip. They are completely terrible in the wet. It rained… a lot. I think the only event that it didn’t rain was at Nashville (it actually rained overnight, but had cleared up by the morning).
Despite the conditions we fared pretty well. We definitely lost time compared to the dry, but I think the only event where we were the only group of cars impacted was during the afternoon session at Eagles Canyon. Most of the other cars ran in the dry and had packed up and left by the time the rain came and I got on track.
It wasn’t just the on track sessions that were impacted by the rain. We had several other transit drives where we battled through it. Driving from Oklahoma to Kentucky required a re-route towards St. Louis, and then a last minute change to a highway in the middle of nowhere to avoid the worst parts of the weather. The final transit of the event back to South Bend, there was no avoiding it and our tires were in terrible shape. Our speed dropped from 80, to 42 because that is fast as I could go without completely losing control. As it was, I’m pretty sure I was more of a Captain than a Driver that last hour or so.
One Lap is about overcoming adversity and making it to the end as much as it is about winning a trophy. The people and the teams come together to help everyone make it. All in all, our challenges were minor, everything worked out with just a little effort. Other teams faced major challenges, and other teams jumped in to help them overcome those challenges. The effort that the Toyota and Dadbod teams put out every day was amazing to see.