Imagine racing 24 hours with a team made of some of your best friends. Then imagine doing with it with a car worth no more than $500. Finally throw in another 60 teams (a few hundred people total) that are as crazy as you are, all doing the same thing. Thatâ€™s the formula that makes the 24 Hours of LeMons part insanity and part genius. And that’s exactly what we got involved in when we entered our second LeMons race at Gingerman earlier this spring.
Unlike our previous experience at Nelson Ledges, Gingerman isn’t in the middle of “Deliverance” country and has noise restrictions placed on it by the local municipality. What that meant is racing couldn’t go 24 hours straight and had to be broken into two segments on Saturday and Sunday. What that meant for us was that we could (A) enjoy a few beers and (B) actually fix our beloved crap-can mid-race without losing any places.
Like last year, we entered our (now battered and bruised) 1986 Toyota MR2. Based on our previous experience with the car, first generation MR2 contains enough engineering foresight and build quality to allow it to soldier through 24 hour races 24 years after it was first put into service. Save for an overheating issue at the end of day one, the car performed almost flawlessly. In fact the only real issues during the race was a bad brake master cylinder and “eventful” handling. But more on both of those later.
The event was classic LeMons. We showed up with an MR2 that skirted the rules due to a fully upgraded suspension (we went from not having one to having one), new engine mounts and a host of other small improvements. The result may or may not have raised the value of our car above $500. We’ll never know because we offered the judges two six packs of some local micro brew and all questions were quickly forgotten. For this we got the word “bribed” painted into our car (in gold no less). In the world of LeMons this is of course considered an honor.
Our car started out strong and we quickly worked our way through the field up to 10th position near the end of the first day. However braking issues likely caused by an extreme need to bleed our system (I blame Matt) and a failing brake master cylinder created an interesting game of chance every time you entered a corner. Imagine pumping the brakes at almost every corner to verify you arenâ€™t going through a field or wall at the other end. But the best part was that the lack of brakes was not entirely consistent. Just when you thought things were back to normal you got the scare of a lifetime when the pedal went to floor. So it’s not a surprise when one of our team members (who will not be named here) flatly refused to continue without a fix. Lack of attachments or common sense? You can debate that in the comment section. The rest of us quickly deemed it safe (enough) and continued on hoping to fix it during the 10 hours break between sessions.
And it got worse by the time of my second stint. Needless to say I found the experience a great way to clear the sinuses, let alone increase my concentration. But it also forced me to be very conservative in my braking and gave me an opportunity to allow the MR2 to do what it does best; out-corner almost anything on the track with the right line and some delicate car control. It was in this stint that gave me my best time of the weekend.
It’s also worth noting that through tire attrition we ended up running some old 18″ Ultraleggeras (shod with performance Bridgestones) that came off of Matt’s 2006 MINI. He doesn’t have the MINI anymore but the tire/wheel combo was still around so after a quick test fitting we decided it needed to be our back-up set of rubber. Now it’s worth mentioning that running 15″ wheels with all-seasons tires upfront and 18″ wheels with performance tires out back on a rear wheel drive car is not normally recommended. And after our experience running this combination for the better part of 16 hours I can (without hesitation) tell you this is all around a bad idea. The result was handling that can best be described as “late 70’s Porsche 911 Turbo driven by a drunk.” Anything to disrupt the car’s balance in turns would spin it. That means lifting; possible spin. Braking in a corner; possible spin. Sudden correction in a corner; possible spin. Squeezing the steering wheel too tight, sorry but youâ€™re probably already spinning at that point.
Needless to say the mid-point break brought a much needed sanity check, a few fixes, some rest and beer (not necessarily in that order).
The next day we found ourself around 20th out of a field of 59. Not bad but we had our eyes on at least 18th and hopefully better.
It’s worth mentioning that we finished our previous race in 59th place out of a field of 139. Yes, 139 teams, over 500 drivers and an atmosphere that was a combination Burning Man and 24 Hours of LeMons (no seriously). Not being a 24 hours race straight through there was an energy that sadly was lacking from our experience at Gingerman. Granted it was an easier race to compete in but looking back our experience at the decrepit (and frankly dangerous) Nelson Ledges was nothing less than magical.
That wasn’t keeping us from focusing on the task at hand. Throughout the last day we whittled away at the lap times and the cars ahead of us. In fact through most of the day we were locked in an epic battle with the MR2 team camped right next to us (hey thanks for the alternator – your check is in the mail).
But in the end we battled to a hard fought 17th place. Our car was running well save for some brake issues and some new bodywork alterations. Most importantly we beat all other MR2s in the field (hey small victories). Could we have cracked the top ten? Our brake issues were simply too much to overcome at Gingerman but with additional weight saving measures (doors anyone?) and some key fixes we’re poised to make some ground at our next race in October.
For those who have read this and are thinking about joining the circus that is the 24 Hours of LeMons, don’t even think about it. Just do it. Go to the site, pony up the cash and get into it. It’s the experience of the lifetime that almost anyone can attain.
If you would like to follow Team MRD2’s status as we prepare for the 1st annual Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500 this October, click over to our team Facebook page. And if you want photos, look no further…