We get a lot of questions from folks who are interested in what we do, and many of those questions are pretty interesting. We are choosing the most common questions to answer. Today, How do you prepare for a race. Since this is a HUGE question, lets break it down. Today we will talk about preparing our car for a race. Races aren’t all created equal, heading out to a local day race vs heading to Mexico to race a long race are very different things. Today, I’ll just focus on a long race, because, well, it is a TON of work.
Our race car is a limited vehicle, with 7-8″ of suspension travel, 64 horsepower and 2800lbs to push around with our drivers onboard. It is able to navigate some of the toughest terrain on earth…but at a cost. That cost is, it takes a massive beating. Every bump and rock is hitting critical components over and over again, metal fatigues, engines, transmissions and all suspension components take the brunt of what the terrain has to dish out. So in order to go to a big race, all of that needs to be checked and checked again. It is a ton of work and that work starts months before a race.
When I say it starts months before a race, I should clarify. It isn’t as though the car is sitting up on a lift for 8 months being worked on. The car actually needs to be driven in order to make it better. If we can break it in testing then it WILL break in racing. So we need to really hammer on it to find the weaknesses. We make changes for the purposes of strength or speed or damping and go out and test it, then we make changes or repairs again and go test it. This process goes on and on until the car stops having issues. Every element of the car is inspected, we make note of when things are replaced so we can determine an approximate lifespan and we work on the car constantly. I would bet that for every day of testing, there is 15+ days of work on the car. It can be daunting at times, there is a lot of trouble shooting for fairly small amount of driving action. But every time you get out in the car it is totally worth it again.
It is currently August of 2016 and we are fully in the swing of researching and developing our next round of updates to the car in preparation for the Baja 1000 in 2017 that is still 15 months away. I know, it is hard to explain why there is so much work and time involved but let me use one of our latest issues to try to illuminate how this works. Following the Baja 1000 in 2014 we had to replace spring plates in our car. The bolt holes were ovaling out and the spring plates were deforming. After we replaced them and raced again the spring plates again are deforming. We had theories. Dual spring plates vs single plate or maybe it was the material or hardening of the spring plates. We raced again and again and deformed spring plates. The problem started to illuminate itself as we dealt with suspension tuning. As we continued to dial in the suspension we started to realize that we were reaching the limits of shock tuning and that triggered the understanding of the whole problem. Spring rates are to high. Because of the high spring rates we were putting undue stress on the spring plates and making our shocks work too hard. So the whole car came apart. The entire thing was weighed and every component was weighed, calculations were made and yes, we are over sprung. We are in the midst of this fix right now and testing will hopefully be right around the corner. This issue is being resolved right now: August of 2016 after 2 years of problems, the only reason we discovered the actual problem was because we were constantly testing this little car. (we will have a writeup when we are done on all of our suspension tuning)
Now, one thing to remember, all of this is a learning process. When we showed up to the Mint 400 this year we were confident that the car was in good shape. Months of preparation were put into the car and yet, 80 miles into the race we had sheered the frame horns in half. Why? Well, our design was built for speed and ease of use and it put undue stresses on the frame horns. This issue also shined a light on the idea that nothing is immune from breaking. So it added a layer of inspection to our preparations that we haven’t had before. Never assume that something can’t break… everything can and will break at some point.
We have one engine and two transmissions and before a major race like the Baja 1000 all of those will go back to Painters Grinding to be inspected, rebuilt, refreshed, whatever they need. Shocks will be rebuilt, all bearings, stub axles etc will all be replaced and well, for us, we always paint the car and make it look amazing before big events as well. After a few years of building and rebuilding we are nearly finished with a full prep list. This prep list gives us a full list to check off so we don’t overlook anything. With a team of people working on different sections of the car, this gives everyone the power to know what has been checked and what hasn’t so we can plan for redundancy instead of accidentally or unknowingly performing redundant tasks.
Racing is expensive and preparation is the cheapest insurance to make sure you can be as successful and safe as possible. Check back and we will have a writeup soon on chase planning for long races as well.