The 40th Mitty at Road Atlanta
Posted: Mon May 01, 2017 4:13 pm
Above: We love our Ghias, and like Walter himself in the classic 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, daydream about really racing. We took our Ghia to the 40th Mitty at Road Atlanta, where we were tossed in with what the elite call the "real" racers. This is what happened.
40th Mitty at Road Atlanta
20Apr17; Thr. We arrive at the track and locate a place to paddock the Ghia down in the swamp, an isolated glade in the trees flanked by a stream, off the hot paddock asphalt. Great place to camp if you can tolerate the wildlife.
Above: Road Atlanta is a serious track. It opened in 1969, and I began racing there in 1974. It's most infamous feature is the long, fast, steep, downhill run from under the bridge. There are concrete walls on both sides at the bottom. Barret could take it flat out, without lifting.
21Apr17; Friday. The Historic Sportscar Racing 40th Mitty at Road Atlanta is officially underway. The day is clear and warm, with a projected high of 80F+. We have the Ghia at Tech at 0730 hrs, get our logbook updated. We're scheduled to be on track by 0915 hrs for Group 2 practice and qualifying. We are VP5 (Vintage Production class 5), the small-engine crowd. Our Ghia has a stock 85.5 bore but a 74mm stroke to show solidarity with the 356's, our venerable cousins. At just 9:1 compression, our engine is not highly stressed, and is not going to be competitive with the 356's in this event.
Above: Barret wipes the dew off the Ghia. We differentiate between the LeMons races with its Mad Max cars we run and the HSR series, as the HSR cars are the ones you have to wax.
Our Weber 40 IDF (Chinese copies) configuration is:
135 main jets
By the last race, the mains will be 155's.
Above: Group 2 bunches up at Turn 1. In that melee it is the golden age of sports cars again, cars with curves, small but fierce engines, and carbs you can tinker with. This is where the Ghia belongs.
At 0800, Group 3, which has all or most of the 356's and 2-litre 911's and a smattering of Datsun 510's among other famous marques launches its qualifying session. Jamie and I walk up from the swamp to Turn 1, which is the uphill run off the front straight.
Above: Datsun 510 at speed on Saturday.
One of the 510's suffers a stuck throttle coming down the straight, floors the brakes, and without ever attempting to turn, slides through the runoff gravel and hits the tire wall head-on at about 60 to 70 MPH. Jamie and I are about twenty feet away from the crash and I feel the impact in the soles of my feet. The driver was carried out on a stretcher, a neck support inflated under his chin. What a way to start the day.
Our VP5 competition is all British:
1959 MGA hardtop coupe 1676cc #42
1959 Austin Healey Sebring Sprite 1275cc #2
1966 MG Midget 1275cc #91
1968 Triumph Spitfire 1331cc #141
The British racing green (BRG) MGA coupe posts the fastest VP5 qualifying time of 2:02.6, then us at 2:04.2, with the MG Midget following us at 2.21.3. The (also-BRG) Spitfire was towed in and received no time.
The Ghia's oil temp pegged at or near 300F, and our Falken H-rated street radials began losing grip toward the end of the session as they heated up. A plug check on the BP8ES (cold) NGK's show we are running danger-zone lean. Barret feels that our 24-26 tire pressures are too high and drops them to 22-24. I don't agree, but let it go for testing.
We rejet the mains to 140's and refit .55 idles for our .50's.
Our new crankcase ventilation system is working. We learned at Barber during our test and tune day that we needed more breathing capacity, so we designed our own high-temp plastic filter-ventilated 2-gallon tank, fed by a 1-inch ID vent hose off the alternator stand oil filler cap location.
On our first session we got a touch of smoke from the new system and discovered after the main vent line just needed a hose clamp, as the push-on barb system allowed seepage once the hose was hot.
We are back out for a second qualifying at 1330 hrs. Barret experiences the same circumstances, 290F oil temp, and slippery handling as the tires heat up. But we are a little faster, posting a 2.03.4. The rejetting helped.
The Sebring Sprite also got faster, with a 1:59.0, the MGA turned 2:01.0, and the MG Midget posted behind us at 2:03.3. The Spitfire did not run.
The BP8ES NGK's are still bone white. We go up to 145 main jets.
We check the oil level in our 3-gallon dry sump tank. We're down almost a gallon due to the losses at Barber, so Jamie and Barret fill it up with our high-ZDDP Shell Rotella 10w40. I warn they may have left too little head space, but the square dry sump tank on the Blitzwagen that Jamie is familiar with reacts differently to tank volume and head space issues, and Barret isn't familiar with dry sump peculiarities at all.
Above; Our oil cooling problems were two fold. Lean jetting, and even with a fan, poor airflow over the cooler itself, which is mounted flat in the original luggage area behind the jump seat area, blowing down and out of the body. We discover at speed we develop too much high pressure under the body, countering what the fan can do. At a certain point, Barret could feel the cabin fill with heat as the air flow reversed itself.
The upshot of this is in our next session the Ghia burps out almost a gallon once the oil is hot and expanding. The new tank catches it all.
22Apr17; Our 3rd qualifying session, and surprises are in order. We go out at 0945 hrs. The Spitfire turns an amazing 1:49, running up with the fast 356's and 6-cyl Corvair's. And the red Sebring Sprite also dropped his lap time to 1.57.
Barret and the 145 main jets won the Ghia our best time yet, 2:01. He was able to stay ahead of the MGA the entire session; it's best time also a 2:01.
We are stricken by the 1:49 Spitfire times. He apparently has one very powerful 1331cc engine. After all, there are decades of racing development for the British engines. And we are in a social crowd that can afford the best. We jet up to 150 mains.
At 1615 hrs that afternoon we have our first race. Barret drives hard, but can't do more than 2:01, identical to his previous qualifying time. But this is racing, and not a competition for lap times.
The green MGA is ahead going down the hill under the bridge and takes the flag. Barret is right behind the red MG Midget, trying to pull out to the right to pass the Midget and take second but he got blocked on his right by the Spitfire.
LAST LAP VIDEO https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWImxKl795s
The MGA didn't get any faster, posting a best-lap of 2:01, same as Barret's time.
We have one more race. We jet up to 155 mains.
23Apr17; Sunday. Last day of the Mitty. We wake to steady rain, cool 60F ambient temp, and dark, churning clouds. Above us, the Valkyries are loose, ready to snatch souls for Valhalla.
The rain is so hard the race organizers consider calling off the event. We see teams packing up and towing out. Barret wipes RainX onto the Ghia's windshield outside, and anti-fog on the inside. We are hardcore and have no windshield wipers.
The echoing loudspeakers finally tell us the races will continue. We see only one other VR5 car has stayed, the fast Spitfire. In a race, especially in the rain, anything can happen. And if we're going to get beat, we're going down revving.
At 1400 hrs the green flag dropped and a reduced field of Group 2 & 3 diehards and desperadoes floored it in the rain, tire-spray off the sheets of water on the road blinding the drivers. In a normal start, the sheer force of all cars at wide open throttle can make your eyes vibrate. But in this rain, the howls are irregular and uncertain as the drivers are on and off their throttles, avoiding collisions.
Some of the cars skate and dart as they aquaplane. Barret maneuvers to stay out of the packs that form as drivers slow down. That includes the Spitfire. In its open-car configuration, the driver is as much assaulted by water as a motorcyclist driving through a car wash. You wonder how he can breath, much less see. He slows down.
On the long back straight, Barret takes it to the limit. The 155 main jets let the Ghia reach 6700 RPM in 4th. With our 3.88 r&p and 24-inch diameter tires, we're close to 130 MPH. In a coupe with no wipers, that is fast.
With the 155 main jets and the rain, our oil temp stabilizes at 240F.
The laps tick off, each minute an eternity. Disaster haunts every wet corner. Road Atlanta's several normally exciting blind corners become heart-stopping roll of the dice, your car or your life affairs.
Above: One fast Spitfire. Credit where credit is due.
The flying Ghia is gaining on the carefully driven Spitfire, but not fast enough. There are too few laps. On a dry track, the Spitfire with its 12 to 14-second best lap speed advantage could lap us, but in this torrent the best it can do is just stay far enough ahead as to be out of sight.
On the last lap, Barret saw his tach needle start to jump, and his power went away. It felt like he'd lost two cylinders. He mentally blamed the recently installed EMPI Accu-Fire mag-trigger ignition module.
So it was we finished an official second.
We get to do it all again in a few weeks, 20-21 May at the Barber Historics on our hometown track.