Eastern Creek FF State Championship Round 4

Friday June 2, 2000

    We have tested at Eastern Creek twice, the last time before the Grand Prix in February.  I learned the track fairly quickly, and turned consistent low 1:42's which might put me somewhere in the top ten.  That's a couple seconds off Jack's time and the front of the State field.  Eastern Creek is about 25 minutes west of the Olympic Park area, so is very convenient.  It hosts a variety of motorsports, from motorcycles to karts to V8 touring cars to drag racing.  The drag strip front straight is very long and slightly downhill which means high top speed.  Turn 1 is taken flat out in top gear by the top drivers ("flat biscuit" in Oz-speak) and is pretty hairy in a crowd.  You have to get the line exactly right to avoid sliding too much and scrubbing off speed.  My car feels comfortable through there so I can take it flat out most of the time.  Turn 2 is a very tight, off camber, 180 degree left hander that tightens at the end and goes slightly uphill.  It's hard not to slide the car too much at the exit, but you have to really pitch the car in a power drift to get it turned.  Bending right up the hill into third gear and then a short straight over a crest.  Turn 4 dives down a steep hill and 90 degrees right, taken with a brake then throttle steer in third.  Turn five is a difficult 3rd gear left hander up a hill, with a concrete road extension on the exit which has to be used completely.  Over another crest then down another hill to turn 6, a tight second gear left hander that leads up a long hill and under a bridge.  Just past the bridge is a fast third gear left hand sweeper followed by a right hand 2nd gear hairpin.  A short straight where you really wind out in third (we may try different gearing next time to just get into 4th) then stab the brakes, downshift to 2nd for a fairly quick couple of left-handers.  The second left-hander climbs uphill onto the main straight, so it's very important for good lap times.
    We slapped on the old tires from Melbourne, with the replacement left rear which was even older.  From the start, I was back in the 1:42's, and it seemed like there was nothing I could do to lower my times.  The engine had a slight hesitation in turn 12 which hurt my entry onto the main straight.  The problem was one of those carburetor deals that only happens at speed, so you had to just take a stab at a fix then see what changed on the track.  Tim and Shane suspected a fuel surge/splashover problem that Webers sometimes have.  They put a mesh screen in the chamber splashing fuel out, and tried sealing the chamber that was getting fuel splashed in with selastic.  It seemed to help but not fix the problem.  While Shane and I were screwing around with that problem, Jack came in after a session with only three wheels attached.  The right front stub axle had broken as he entered the main straight and the wheel fell off.  FF's aren't very quick on three wheels, so Tim and Jack had to make the trip back to the shop to pick up a new upright.  Luckily somebody had retrieved the loose wheel and it was undamaged.
    I was trying all sorts of things to better my times.  Jack suggested left foot braking at a couple of places on the track.  I tried it and it was probably quicker, but  I had to concentrate so hard on making my left foot do what I wanted, I blew the next couple of turns.  Guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  We made some chassis adjustments to make the car turn a little better.  We stiffened the front sway bar to keep the front tires from rolling over so much.  I finally figured out that I was turning in to turn 5 too late, and making the adjustment to my line made a big difference.  One session late in the day, Shane stiffened the rear bar quite a bit and when I went out it was VERY tail-happy.  I pulled in after a couple laps and he loosened it up a little.  As soon as I pulled out, the checkered flag came out on the session so I didn't get a chance to try the new setup.  Next session, I was on my first flying lap and the car sputtered a couple of times under the bridge, then died completely just past the hairpin.  I coasted to a stop and waited on the wall for a tow.  Seems that the selastic had gotten into the jets and stopped the fuel flow completely.  In final session of the day, I was getting frustrated with the carby problem.  I tried my new line and concentrated on putting consistent laps together.  The hesitation was not as bad as before, and I managed a few laps in the low 1:41's.  FINALLY!!

Saturday June 3, 2000

    Again there were two qualifying sessions to determine the starting order for Sunday morning's race.  I was pretty psych'ed after the tough day Friday that ended in a quick time.  Should have suspected a pattern when the starter crapped again before we pulled out of the paddock.  Visions of a spin and stall flashed through my mind.  Shane pointed out who was around me on the pregrid and suggested I get past the two guys ahead of me quickly to avoid being held up.  I made a move right out of the pit lane and had a clear track ahead.  In the US, the track is yellow the first lap of qualifying so you might have to wait behind somebody.  I prefer being able to race right away.

    The first lap I noticed a bad miss in all the left hand turns.  Felt like fuel starvation again but much worse than before.  I almost lost it in turn 1 a couple of times when the engine quit at the apex.  You're at the limit of adhesion there at 110 MPH and the car lifts the rear end and pitches sideways if you come off the throttle.  I was pushing very hard because the lap timer said I was 2 seconds off Friday's pace.  Struggled to qualify 15th out of 28 qualifiers with a 1:44.1.  After the session Shane pulled the top off the carb and found one of the float bulbs had fallen off completely.

    The second session started a lot like the first.  Jack was a few cars back but caught me by the end of the first lap.  I waved him by and hoped I could keep up and get a quick time.  I followed for a lap but drafted past on the front straight.  Coming out of turn 2, the engine almost died and I pulled to the inside.  The car slowed so quickly, I was afraid Jack would run into me.  We followed each other a little while longer and were both stuck in the 1:42's.  We both thought we were holding up the other.  The session was red flagged when somebody spun in turn 1 and Dave Hyde ran smack into him at over 100 MHP.  Both cars were badly damaged but the drivers were okay.  Neither raced on Sunday.  When we went out again there was dirt and grass all over turn 1 and they stopped the session after another couple of cars spun on the other side of the track.  A 1:42.7 moved me up one whole spot to 14th.  It doesn't take much to move you back in this field.  Jack stood on his 1:40.9 from the morning session for 4th.

    After much discussion and a call to the engine builder, we decided the problem was probably with the selastic in the carb.  By sealing off the chamber, the float bowl couldn't breathe which created a vacuum starving the carb of fuel.  Since it was common to both cars, it seemed like a reasonable theory.

Sunday May 21, 2000

   The starting grid at Eastern Creek is on the front straight and slightly downhill.  I was trying to figure out how I was going to get 5500 rpm while holding in the clutch and the brake.  Some cars, like Jack's '94 Van Diemen, have a cable operated hand brake for just this situation.  Since we don't have standing starts in the States, it would never have occurred to me to need a hand brake.  Seems like a good idea now...  I carefully took my foot off the brake when the red lights came on and brought up the revs.  The car didn't start rolling right away and I managed a decent start.  The 14th spot on the grid is on the outside and I couldn't find a hole to switch to the inside going in to turn 1.  I pulled behind the line of cars and wound up in 12th.  Alan Gurr and national driver Peter Carr got tangled in turn 2 causing both to spear off into the dirt.  Both passed me again after a few laps.  My car still had a hesitation in left turns, this time in turn 6.  Jack's car was fine, and I guess he led at one point.  I was losing just enough speed so I couldn't pass the two cars right in front of me.  It felt like I was being held up, but everybody was quicker than in qualifying, and my fastest lap was a 1:41.3.  Just before the last lap, I was able to get a draft from the car in front of the car in front of me to gain a spot.  It was a job to keep him back there but I finished 9th.

    I tried the same start tactic for race two.  Unfortunately, the slope is a little steeper on the inside of the grid in 9th place.  I let my foot off the brake, brought the revs up, then the car started to roll.  I jammed the brake, the revs fell, then the start lights went out.  Damn!  Even though I got an ordinary start, I held the inside line and passed the two cars I was racing with in the morning going in to turn 1.  I think I passed somebody else going into turn 2.  I got by Grant Ashby's '93 Van Diemen going into turn 4.  We went through side by side and nearly touched wheels.  He backed out entering turn 5.  My car seemed to be running well so I kept pushing.  Peter Carr spun in turn 2 again and was sitting in the middle of the road waving his arms.  I went left which let me pass somebody who went right.  I guess I was 4th at this point.  Matt Howard had finished second in the first race driving Shane's former car.  The last time he raced was 1991 when he won the FF race at Bathurst.  He had big problems at the start and most of the field passed him.  He appeared in my mirrors about midrace and pushed me for a couple laps.  He tried a pass going into turn 1 after a good draft down the straight.  I held him out but had to let him go when he tried exactly the same thing on the next lap.  He pulled away a little and we both started to catch the leaders.  I turned my best laps with a couple of 1:40.8's.  The last two laps, the hesitation started again in turn 1.  The engine would start losing rpm about mid-corner, which really hurts your times.  Ashby nearly caught me at the end but I finished 5th.

    Despite the persistent problems, it was a memorable, enjoyable weekend.  I improved my best time, and had a good competitive race.  I moved into 7th place in the points and can move into the top five with another good result.  The second round of the championship has been rescheduled to the end of October, so it looks like I can run that one as well.  It will be at Oran Park, which I'd love to re-attack.

    We tested recently and I had engine problems all day.  Another carb, ANOTHER broken float, and no idea what the original problem could be.  Tim said he's going to change the fuel pump and distributor just to eliminate a couple more things.  He has a corporate rental day planned and will have Jack drive the car to try to track down the problem.  The test is at Wakefield Park, a very different track to Eastern Creek, so confidence is not high...

Complete Race Results
Sorry about the lack of photos, I'll try harder next race.


Kinda cool that they figure this is a "Major Event".


Leaving the pit lane, spent a lot of time here this weekend ...


At speed on the front straight,  just before the turn in point of turn 1.


Flat out in third gear between the sweeper under the bridge and the turn 9 hairpin.


Hard brakes and downshift to second for turn 9.  I've spun here twice ...