With a used motor swap in place and several maintenance items taken care of the car was in great shape for the SCCA San Francisco Region season final at Thunderhill Raceway. Or so I thought...
Thursday Test Day
I like to arrive early at the track for the test day and check the car over before the first session. It also might be because I have a tough time sleeping the night before. The racer in me is so excited to be out on track again. Normally I stay at the Super 8 in Willows the night before but with a hectic work schedule I had to drive up to the track that morning. This meant a 4am alarm clock.
The good part about arriving early at this time of year is that you get to see a fantastic sunrise. Also visible was a planet which I believed was Venus. The infield windmills let you know it is Thunderhill.
We unloaded the car from the trailer and got ready for the first session. Over the break we had swapped a fresher used motor into the car, performed some brake maintenance and repacked the half-shafts with grease.
The first few laps of the first session and the car was running great. It felt good to be back out on track. Then towards the end of the session the car seemed to stumble intermittently under high load. Electrical? Fuel? Was heat an issue?
Pulling in at the end of the session, check the tire pressures, adjust as needed. I then went over the car to ensure that the electrical connections were solid and check to make sure it was not an electrical issue. I looked all over for gremlins and didn't find any. Pesky creatures.
With little time to spare on went the helmet. The next session out and the same problem occurred and it got progressively worse as the session went on. Suspecting a fuel supply issue, I swapped in a new set of injectors, kindly donated by Bob Breton. Thank you!
Unfortunately the injectors weren't the culprit. Suspecting a fuel supply issue. A quick check of the fuel pressure and it looked good. Next it was time to get the car in the air and check on the fuel filters and pump. Maybe the pump just wasn't keeping up.
Replacing the pump with a unit from the local CSR didn't work. The replacement pump wasn't putting out fuel, it didn't even build fuel pressure in the rail. Suspecting I had switched the polarity, I tried again and still nothing. Putting the old pump back in the car and there was good solid fuel pressure again. I was back where I started, we would have to go with the original pump.
With all the swapping and fiddling on the car I had missed a few sessions. I had checked the pump outlet filter and it was good and clean. The pre-pump filter also seemed to flow the residual fuel ok but blowing through it and there might be a slight issue, but it seemed ok.
It was getting late in the day as the sun was setting. With half the day spent fiddling with the car, I had eliminated a lot of items but wasn't convinced I had solved the problem. It didn't appear to be electrical but more fuel related.
I was tired, the early morning combined with working under the car most of the day and I was exhausted. Checking the fuel system over again, I made sure all my tinkering hadn't caused any leaks before calling it a night. That evening I went to the parts store and got a replacement filter in the hopes it was a fuel supply issue.
That morning I arrived early and passed registration. For SCCA in exchange for your log book, annual tech inspection, a page in your log book and of course some money; you get a wrist band for the driver and tech sticker for the roll hoop of the car. For a racer this is always a great deal.
Spec Racer Ford #77 had all the paper work done, but there was still a question whether the racecar would run right in the morning session. I arrived early to swap out the pre-pump filter and prep the car for the morning practice. As I removed the old filter I noticed some specks of black in the fuel filter under the light. I hadn't noticed those yesterday. Seems like it was in need of replacing.
Heading out onto the track with trepidation I wasn't sure if I had solved the issue. It would be a good 3-5 laps before I would know. I pushed the car hard in the cool early morning air and got some great laps in. It was enough to put me 4th on the timesheet with 2:04.040 not my best lap but still fast and only half a second off the top time.
As the session progressed the car seemed great, no sign of the stumble, and the car was running well throughout the session. Had I solved it? Or was the cool damp air of the morning masking any temperature affects?
I was happy and got the car and myself ready for the qualifying session in the early afternoon.
Again the car ran great all session long. Maybe it was just the pre-pump filter. I ended up qualifying 6th in class with a decent lap but I was still leaving plenty of time on the table. A video and data review and some more rest that night and I would be in good shape for the race.
Saturday morning I arrived to do the last minute touches on the car before Race 1. Reaching into the cockpit to place my data system, I smelt fuel. Thinking I had a leak from one of the hoses, I checked under the car for any fuel leaks. Nope, looked clean.
Not finding a pool of fuel under the car, I started to look to see where the fuel leak was occurring. We thought some of it might be residual from working on the car where some fuel might have leaked and ran down the frame or pan when replacing the fuel pump and filter.
We removed all the body work to get a better look and see where the fuel was coming from. At this point I suspected the worst. Had the fuel cell bladder failed? Maybe that was the gunk that had been trapped in the pre-pump filter.
I cleaned up any traces of fuel and checked over all the pan area of the car. I Checked the fuel filler inlet of the tank to ensure it wasn't leaking.
Checking the cockpit again I noticed a small amount of fuel, I thought I had wiped that area earlier. Cleaning it again, I waited and watched. The small amount of fuel came back and the frame rail and pan was slick again. At this point I had missed the grid for the start of Race 1. Wiping away and checking again, more fuel returned. It wasn't residual, the fuel cell was leaking. Checking with all the Spec Racer Ford shops and teams at the track and no one had a spare fuel cell.
Without a fuel cell it was the end of my weekend. I couldn't race and had to retire from the weekend. Not the way we wanted to end the season but it was still a good time catching up with everyone at the track and seeing all my racing friends. I packed up my gear, spares, got the car sorted and started the drive home. On the drive I reflected on the 2017 season and started a mental list of things for the car for next season.
It has been a great season with ups and downs, a podium finish on one weekend and fuel problems another. A big thank you to all our partners, sponsors, fans, friends and family who have been so supportive this year. We are looking forward to next season and the preparations have already begun.