Sorry for the lack of posts so far this year! As the team evolved and changed through the off season, so did the Mercedes – and once the racing season took off, the team has been challenged to find the time to post an update aside from our NCM post.
Business up Front, Party out Back
First of all, we missed sharing our Gridlife Midwest experience. The Gridlife crew launched a new wheel to wheel class called Gridlife Touring Cup – or simply GLTC. The rules for builds are far more open to creativity than anything we’ve been a part of before and the races are fierce 20-minute sprints! The rule book balances the competition by equating horse power, weight and tire type with other mods such as front and rear aero. Needless to say, the 190E isn’t the best fit for the series, but we’re gaining a lot of experience by participating nonetheless – and we have some future plans here as well.
Max and Forrest were chosen to compete at Midwest festival since they had the most wheel to wheel experience to lean on; a valuable tool to have with over 50 cars on track at GingerMan Raceway.
We had two practice sessions on Friday to get a feel for the new aero devices we put on the car, which included a large front splitter and a rear wing. Measuring almost eight inches from the front of the car, the splitter was technically too big for the Gridlife rules, but they let us run anyways. First time out, the car was far too unstable for Max and an off-track excursion did some remodeling of the air dam. Once taped up, Forrest confirmed that we had a bad aero balance issue with the car in the second practice session.
The weather left a wet, slick track for the first GLTC race of the weekend as well as qualifying on Saturday. Continuing to battle the loose rear end and planted front, Forrest was able to out-pace a couple of drivers in qualifying, but we were still starting from the back of the pack. Gridlife staffer Derek Yarborough wasn’t able to set a time in qualifying and started from the rear. His on-board footage provided great insight into the handling issues Forrest was battling. The first few laps of Touring Cup race 1 was all sideways for our Merc.
The aero imbalance on the car coupled with a yet-unknown tire direction issue made for an exciting race for those around the Mercedes. See-sawing from side to side, Forrest wrestled the Merc into submission but was out-paces by a majority of the field. There were a couple of hairy saves captured by Derek’s onboard camera and even an opportunist dive or two from Forrest, but nothing the driver could do would make up for the shortcomings of the car’s loose setup.
The team lost sight of the 190 in the closing stages of the race, which encouraged us to make our way to the pit entrance/paddock area. Forrest was sitting in a stationary, red sedan at our entrance with no sign of life from the Mercedes’ 3.0L engine. It’s really easy to want to place the blame of any failure on an individual when something seemingly avoidable happens and causes a failure. That’s where the team was when when we found out Forrest didn’t catch a low oil pressure issue while out on track, but after a more thorough look at the situation we concluded that everyone one the team was responsible in one way shape or form.
The oil cooler lines were routed too close to the serpentine belt when installed, which caused the belt to rub against one of them. The rupture must have happened sometime in the GLTC race, because we had no indication of an issue throughout two practice sessions and qualifying. The driver should have been able to see an issue with oil pressure while out on track, but the placement of the gauges were too low for a clear line of site. Belt rubbing or chaffing is also an item that should be been caught in our pre-race checklist. So we completely blew the engine – the oil filter was so hot afterwards that it gave Max a 50 cent piece-sized blister on the palm of his hand. The whole list of these things happened because the team failed to address them – and we all take responsibility as a team for them happening. Failure is best school to learn from, and as a team, we took this failure as a learning lesson to carry with us in the future.
So our Mercedes only finished one of two GLTC races at Gridlife Midwest Festival, but the weekend was packed with the usual shenanigans and fun. The blown engine was probably an omen for the weather to come. A gust of wind, now being called “Tropical Storm Gridlife,” blew through our camp and trashed a couple tents and an awning. We survived, but not without a lot of unexpected excitement! While our race car only finished one of two races, one of our members got to drive on track throughout the weekend. Dusty brought his 2015 Mustang GT for HPDE beginner. After a quick jaunt back down to Lafayette to pick up a set of track pads that were failed to be delivered in time. The Mustang saw plenty of track time, which Dusty will use in future events while racing wheel to wheel.
Bourbon and Engine Swaps
After Gridlife, we had just two short weeks to replace the engine and prep for our first endurance race of the year – the Champcar Endurance Series NCM Motorsports Park 8+7-Hour Enduro in Bowling Green Kentucky. We’ve already got a post up for that here. The weekend required another engine swap overnight, but some fun racing on Sunday before a short trip on the Bourbon Trail en route to Lafayette.
Racing on Hallowed Ground
For the first time in two events, we actually had some time to fix a couple of things before our next race – the Double 10 TireRack Indy GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The whole team was looking forward to this bucket list event, not just because it was nearly in our backyard, but because we’d be racing on a track that’s seen race cars on it since 1911! The competition was set to be more intense than most Champcar events with some new teams and familiar faces.
We missed early registration, but were able to sign up for a Sunday-only entry. This was a great option for us since we were still trying to understand the health of the new engine we picked up during the NCM event as well as a couple of other changes.
We reduced the size of the front splitter to decrease the amount of downforce it was generating. We coupled that with a rear wing angle change to alleviate a stalling situation we think we had at Gridlife. A Gurney Flap on the wing also helped increase it’s efficiency at planting the rear of the car.
To chop up 10 hours of driving between four drivers, we decided to let Max start, followed by Nick, in two one-hour sessions. Then Forrest and Dusty would follow with two two-hour sessions, before Max and Nick finish the race up with two-hour sessions each. Max encountered a brake temperature issue in the first stint and unfortunately made contact with another car while entering turn 13. There was an issue with the installation of the brake cooling ducts, so the team went to work on fixing the issue while Max apologized to the team we hit.
Nick’s stint went without issue, except for running off track in Turn 4. A quick tow from the safety team got our Mercedes back on track. During the third stint of the race, Forrest encountered a tire problem. While we’re not 100-percent sure yet what happened, a missing chunk of tread might indicate that we hit some debris while on track. The fourth stint belonged to Dusty, who took some time getting up to speed. Two separate full course cautions bunched the field up and allowed ‘Big D’ to catch his breath. Some great racing with a New Edge Mustang and a Celica GT4 ensued.
When Dusty came in to hand the reigns back over to Max, we found another problem with the car. The fuel tank evaporation pressure relief was not working. A hair situation with refueling the car forced us back to the garage to find a quick solution before returning to track. The fuel evaporation charcoal canister was destroyed by a piece of debris and clogged the lined to the canister after imploding. We connected a new line to the existing hose and plugged it into a water bottle under the hood. In the final two stops of the day, we still noticed some pressure in the tank and will have to find a full solution before our next outing.
Max brought the car home in 58th out of 111 cars entered for event. While it wasn’t our best performance, the emotions were running high when we saw our own Mercedes – our own race car – cross the brickyard with the checkered flags flying overhead.
Remove Slowness, Add Unbreakiness
We brought home with us a car that had finished a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a list of items to help make the car faster and more reliable. First off, we’re going to have to do something about our transmission. The transmission fluid shared a shimmery tale of strife and anguish during the last fluid change after Indy, and the replacement transmission has a little bit of play between in the input and output shafts. We want to move to better tires as the Hankook RS4’s we ran at Indy not only gave up the ghost halfway through the day, they didn’t provide enough grip in a couple of crucial corners on track. We’re still encountering a lot of body roll, which is picking up the inside rear tire. There’s two thoughts coming from the team on fixing this issue – a larger rear bar or stiffer rear springs. We’re hoping to have it figured out before our next event. And of course, we’re looking into a better venting system for the fuel tank!
Our next event is just two weeks away for Gridlife Touring Cup Round 3 at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, IL. We hear Gridlife’s Track Day Picnic event is super chill and are looking forward to facing the challenge of a new track and further development of the race car.