It was Friday March 22nd, 2013. We all arrived at the track around 10am. Much earlier than our previous attempt at Thunderhill (we only passed tech 5 min after closing time). We drove the car off the flatbed. Park it into our pit area. Looked at it with a smile. Started the engine. Our smiles grew. Break-lights were working. Now it was up to Mario to add some fishing-related decorations for tech. We put on our yellow raincoats. We get on the boat. Tech: be prepared, Team Babel is coming with Babelfish.
All went well at tech, except for two minor corrections-to-be-made (tape the hot-end of the battery and secure the harness on the role-cage). Done! Sure they weren’t too happy when they saw our 20v 1.6L 4-cylinder silver top in the engine bay, even though we had written on the engine it was a red top (with green permanent marker). They deemed it a cheater-engine and rewarded us with group A and 2 BS laps. As we would have any chance against the 5-series BMWs?
After having parked the car back in our pit area, we look with full content at Babelfish. It drives. We passed tech. No need for any last minute repairs. Not everyone thought that it was time for beer yet, as Harry and Ben would have loved to go out on track to learn the track. Not a bad idea, but the other four didn’t see the point in doing that. Lesson learned: beer drinking trumps testing.
The sun rises over Sonoma Raceway after everyone but Thomas bailed to go home and sleep in a nice and comfortable bed. A few hours away from the start of Sears Pointless 2013 and everyone made it to listen to some ill advices from Jay the LeMons organizer. Something about not hitting people, fueling in your own pit area, bla bla bla. Thomas dressed up and took the wheel for the first stint. For Saturday, the stints were scheduled to last about 80 minutes per driver. All goes well. Thomas is enjoying himself, setting good times, complaining a little about the front being a bit loose. Overall, the boat is very drivable. Than he comes back on the radio. Something about having problems and not being able to get back to the pit by himself. When asked what he thought the problem was: the right-rear axel. Several agonizing minutes later we saw a AAA flatbed truck arrive in the paddock, with our boat on it and Thomas in the cabin with a track-marshal. At first sight it is obvious that something at the right-rear had broken.
After removing the wheel and some other parts, it became apparent that we had some work laid out for us. Not only did the tip of the axel break of (at closer inspection a process that was happening for a while), the break-disk had snapped in two pieces, and the suspension hub was f’ed up. So, we needed a new right-rear drive shaft, a new break disk, and a new right-read suspension hub. Of course of all the spare parts we have, we left those at the shop in Davis. Going back to our old method: ask around and hope for the best, we scavenged the parts together from the MRolla and Snowspeeder guys (thank you, guys!! again!!!)
We put the pieces back on the car (we = Thomas) and noticed that things weren’t fitting as well as we thought they should. Some washers later, we were only a suspension arm away from going out again. Except that our suspension arm was too short. Again, we went out to find some pieces from our spare-parts friends MRolla and Snowspeeder, and after some bending, twisting and hitting things, we had our suspension arm on the car.
First to try out our new right-rear suspension was Harry. He does not know the track. He has never raced LeMons before. He has never driven Babelfish before. What could possibly go wrong. Not much, as Harry came on the radio after two turns: the car is undrivable. At first we all thought it was the light nose Thomas had warned us about. Not so much as we later found out. Harry brought it back in the pit and Ben went out to see how bad it was. He seemed to have a good time in it. Sure, the rear was a bit tail-happy and the front a bit loose, but it was a hella ride. He even came on the radio singing about how much fun he had on track. Next up was Ian. He managed to hold the car on track, but was substantially slower than Ben. He rubbed someone on the right side a little, but overall did fine.
Next up was Daniël. He had some more trouble, but tried to make the best out of it. As the rear was so tail-happy he aimed to stay out of people’s way. After several laps of staying out of people’s way the Tikibar from across the paddock hit him in the left rear in turn 6 (the Carousel). Their beautifully made splitter went straight into the tire and with a flat one, he came in assuming a black-flag for contact (and needing repairs). No penally was given, other than the advise to repair the damage. Who would have thought that? Repair a flat left-rear tires when Babelfish drives like a drunken boat when all four tires are inflated?
A new set of rear tires (from the old Nerd Herd car) later, Mario went out and came in ever faster than Harry, as he was convinced the car was undrivable. By now you would think that we would understand something was seriously wrong. Not so much, we made some minor adjustments and Daniël went out again. The new tires did make a bit of improvement over the old ones, but still the car was very hard to handle. After a few laps, he decides he had enough, comes on the radio that he is coming in and on his in-lap he gets hit from behind in turn 8 (the Esses) after someone bombed him on the inside (our apologies to who ever it was that hit us from behind). With only some minor damage, he made it back to the pit.
Thomas wanted to have a go, but came in after 1 lap. He made the first sensible decision: “no one is going out in this car!!” Except for Ben of course, who got in again and drove the undrivable Babelfish until the checkers fell at 6pm, ending Day1 of Sears Pointless. In total we had racked up 57 laps with a quickest lap of 2m26 something, of course by our only driver who could handle a three-legged dog of a car: Ben.
How bad was the rear-suspension. Well, it was rather asymmetric to say the least. We heard from other teams that they were afraid to pass us as the toe on the right rear was so bad it looked like it had 20 degrees toe (in or out).
The next day we were a little bit smarter. Thomas and Ian went to a pick ‘n pull in Sacramento to find the right right rear suspension as Mario went wild with the fishing/krakken theme. At 11am, we had the right rear-suspension on the car. This proved to be a success, as the car now handled just fine, albeit a bit loose on the front end. Babelfish wouldn’t try to snap away at any speed and any use of the throttle and any turn of the wheel and any change of tarmac. Quickly we set more competitive times in the 2m16s. We were racing again. But as we lost so much time with asymmetric suspension, we decided to treat Sunday at our testday for the race after the race: Sears (Even More) Pointless.
Sure we lost of our fish on track. But the marshalls at turn 4 were so kind to not only retrieve it, but also return to us at the end of the day. The other fish just melted of during the last stint of Day2.
At the end of Day2 we racked up a few more laps and ended 119th with 172 laps. The same spot we achieved in our first attempt. No progress yet. Maybe we would have less bad luck next time. And next time would be Sears (Even More) Pointless, the race the day after, aka the next day.
After our third attempt we won for what we came for: the Organizer’s Choice. Having heard many “what is that?” and “Oh, how cute!” and “Is that a boat?” and “Can you see over that bow?” [the answer is: not really!, red.]. We won it! Organizer’s Choice for 2013 Sears (Even More) Pointless, the Monday after race. Not only did we won the Organizer’s Choice Award, we also drove for the first time without any mechanical issues. A more detailed update will come at a later point. For now we will suffice by gloating.
A few more things to do, which includes leaving Ian and Ben up in the air.
Also successful: a few tests runs up and down the road.
Slowly we are getting Babelfish #77 into shape for Sears Pointless and Sears (Even More) Pointless.
Finally, but maybe a bit more important, an engine was generally thought to be a rather useful additional feature for Babelfish. Getting the engine. Sure, you just find it somewhere. Problem was, how many men does it take to balance an engine to put it into the engine bay? At least four it appears to be.
An extra day of getting all the wires and tubes connected and Babelfish has a voice (or as someone said: a weed wacker on meth):
We acutaly might make it to the race and have a race-ready car for a chance.