5/12-15/2011: First Weekend with Team 949Racing

For a more interesting account of this story, see William’s press release on TrackHQ.com.

Interesting weekend (May 14-16) to say the least.  Started with a Thursday (May 12) mad dash to finish a new car to represent the team at Thunderhill, the track which Team 949Racing will be competing in for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill in December.  We finished late Thursday night and made our way to Buttonwillow for a quick shakedown test to see if there are any issues with the car on Friday morning before committing to the big trip.

Funny enough, we had an issue before the car set a wheel off the trailer.  The trailer blew a tire as we were halfway to Buttonwillow.  Fortunately, we had a spare and continued on our way.

We arrived at Buttonwillow too late to park the RV in the paddock, but that didn’t stop us from parking and sleeping at the front gates to be the first in line at 7am.

Friday’s testing went well, but in a sense that we knew that we had identified some problems with the car.  We were able to deal with some on and off the track before arriving at Thunderhill.  One minor one was what we jokingly called “active camber/caster control,” easily fixed with a quick realignment and old-fashioned elbow grease.  One major one was that the engine, fresh from putting a “new” head on it, was eating oil, but at that there was nothing we could do about it until we returned to Socal.

Despite the setbacks we were able to figure that the new car is fast out of the box and easy to drive.  Though I did not drive at Thunderhill, I did end up testing the car alongside Emilio, as William nervously looks after two of his teammates tests his car for him.  This was also a rare opportunity to see how I compare to him directly to Emilio.  It just goes to show how good he is, as his best test lap was a second faster than my best, and that is with the “active camber/ caster control.”  With testing complete, we headed to Thunderhill from Buttonwillow mid-afternoon and didn’t get into the paddock until around midnight.

The morning of the first day’s racing was hectic.  We had to go to tech, pass tech, get to driver/team meetings for the races, practice and then prep for the race itself and do the race, all in a span of 6-8 hours straight.  It was even busier considering the plan was to get William to do a PTD class race, the endurance race and practice for each of them, all in an effort to get him to learn the track since he has never been there.

Unfortunately, we had a snag in the plan.  Apparently our cage didn’t pass tech as the cage had 4 incomplete welds.  Luckily, there was a race shop on the track premises that was able to help us out, but it took some time and William ended up not racing in the PTD race.

After passing tech, William was a happy camper just to race the 1.5 hour endurance race.

Our pit was sparse, but it got the job done.

Now, the races.  It was a new experience for me, as I never worked as a pit crew member or a crew chief, so I had to learn to communicate by radio to drivers (at the right time of course, I figured out later that I shouldn’t talk while a driver is distracted in traffic or midcorner…) and learn to fuel a car quickly in the pits using a 5 gallon fuel jug.  There was a fair bit of a responsibility as a fuel spill in the pits is a 5-minute penalty for the team, so it was definitely something I didn’t want to mess up.  Fortunately, I filled up the car quickly and cleanly on both days.  I was also in charge of communicating to the driver of the car by radio.

Here’s a clip of William driving.  Not bad for his first-ever time at Thunderhill.

949racing enduro E2 Miata at NASA Thunderhill 5/14/11 from william chen on Vimeo.

William and Emilio were driving and decided on a one-man driver strategy for each race day.  The results In a nutshell, we got second in our class both days (William on Saturday’s 1.5-hour race, Emilio on Sunday’s 2-hour race).  The first day, we were simply outran by our main rival, an E30 M3.  The second day, that M3 broke part of its subframe and retired halfway through the race, and from there, according to live timing, we had the race won as we were 4 laps ahead from our nearest competitor.

Unfortunately, through glitches in the way the live timing broadcast program works, there was another competitor in our class that was not listed (phantom car) and stole a win from us by 20 seconds.  We did not know this until the award ceremony.  The glitch that cost us the win involved two cars in different classes with the same number.  Though both cars are recorded in official results, only the first one that gets programmed into the timing software will show up on live timing.  It’s sad that the second one was a car in our class…  Hard lesson learned as we could have easily gotten the win as we decided to take a pit stop that would normally end 30 seconds sooner if we didn’t decide to be cautious on our fuel stop.  The extra 30 seconds was to top off the engine oil, a short-term solution to the problem found during Friday’s testing at Buttonwillow (engine eating oil).

Overall, a tiring weekend, but fun and a new experience for me.  Yes, it was a tiring 1100-mile round trip, but it was great to see how a team can operate together.  And the RV was a nice touch, as Emilio gets to watch himself drive as the RV is driving back to SoCal.

The next NASA endurance race is at Buttonwillow on June 25th, and by then I’ll have my race license, so I might get the opportunity to race alongside Emilio and William as it’ll be a longer 3 hour race. It could sooner too, as there is a 14-hour Chumpcar race on June 18th that the team is considering practicing in preparation for the June 25th event.

We will see…




  1. Pingback: William pat himself on the back again, Thunderhill Enduro press release - May 28, 2011

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