Scare at Laguna

Yesterday’s track day at Laguna Seca was quite eventful. When I arrived ~9am it was raining off and on, and with heavy fog/mist. Needless to say the track was soaked. Somehow Laguna didn’t get the memo that we’re supposed to be in a drought…

Despite the wet weather and having no wipers (I literally just removed them a few weeks ago) I decided to go out during the first session to scrub-in the new tires and see how the car feels in less then ideal conditions (crazy I know). The rain/mist never let up so a dry line never developed, however, I was able to make five laps that averaged around 2:10-2:20 per lap (30-40sec slower then normal conditions). Sadly the tires didn’t get scrubbed and the engine didn’t get warmer then 150deg but I was able to at least get a feel for the car. Also, the revised breather system was finally working, and the only issue I experienced was a leak from the transmission half-shaft seal (was loosing a little less then a half quart per 20min session).

The second session had some drizzle but finally a dry line was forming. I was able to run 1:57’s by the end of the session (10-15sec slower then normal conditions). The tires also got scrubbed and the transmission continued to leak.

The third session was finally dry and the car ran great. I ran consistent 1:49-1:51’s and was developing a new driving line that avoided the wet berms and took advantage of the new sticky tires. Despite the transmission leaking, it felt great. Probably the best it’s ever felt.

The fourth and final session of the day was well…interesting. The track was pretty dry and I was continuing to push the car hard. I was running consistent 1:48-1:49’s (on par with my daily driver GSR) until the unexpected happened on lap 7. I was coming out of the corkscrew heading into turns 9 and 10 and noticed the rear felt a little loose. I just figured the rear tires were getting hot and greasy and needed a cool down lap. I was coming into turn 11 (120deg left-hand turn onto the straight) and the rear unexpectedly snapped out while exiting the turn. I caught the spin and narrowly avoided a BMW that was riding my rear through the turn. After the spin I just figured it was either rear tires or driver error. Oddly I didn’t get black flagged by the corner worker (probably because I was in the open/pro class and saved the spin) so I immediately got back on line and headed down the straight at full steam because the car seemed to feel fine. As I went over the slight crest in turn 1, going ~95mph in fifth gear, the rear suddenly snapped out causing the car to slide sideways down into the turn 2 hairpin at over 95mph. I don’t know if it was luck or instinct from my past Skip Barber background but I kept calm and collected and did everything I could to save the car. While in the slide, I looked down the direction of travel I wanted, held the wheel so the tires pointed into the slide and kept both feet in (clutch and most importantly the brake). We slid for a good 75-100 yards, taking out numerous track entry cones, and watched the cement wall head-on while I tried to control the slide down the hill. Thankfully I was able to regain control and save the car from any damage.

As it turns out the rear upper control arm broke, leaving the rear trailing arm and wheel to freely camber inward and outward depending on the side load. What I believe happened is that the arm started to break giving the feeling of a loose rear-end. When I entered turn 11 the arm finally snapped causing the rear to suddenly swing out. After the spin and not knowing anything broke, the car seemed to feel fine going down the straight, however, as I went over the crest of turn 1 going 95mph, the load shifted to the left forcing the passenger rear wheel to fail and tilt outward, and causing the car to go into a slide.

Aside from a broken upper arm, the passenger side rear sway-bar link snapped and all four (new) NT01 tires were ruined.

I honestly couldn’t be more lucky and thankful that nothing else was damaged. This is a true lesson in “vintage” race car restoration and racing, and also a lesson for pitting for inspection after a spin. The rear upper arm was the original piece from 1999 so you can only guess the abuse this piece has seen. It was just a matter of time…

As for the brand of arm and swar-bar, they’re European pieces but honestly I don’t believe it was a design flaw, but rather a wear ’n tear failure.

I’ll be ordering a new set of rear adjustable upper arms this week and will put in an order for a new sway bar link. After an alignment check and new tires it should be ready to hit the track again.

Below are some pictures of the event, plus a YouTube video I just uploaded of the spins.

On track pictures still coming…

YouTube video of the spin/near crash:

The original manufacturer in the UK will be making some new blades for the broken pieces. In the mean time so more vintage racing information.

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