Event News: Team Infinity – 2013 Endurance Kart Race at Sonoma Raceway Report

Friday practice before the January 19th race was a textbook warm-up for an endurance event. Everything worked well and all drivers were on point, setting competitive lap times. Then the engine let go in spectacular fashion during the last session of the day. Needless to say, it was our number one race motor, which had been fast and reliable the entire year. This meant we would be running a back-up motor to start the race, leaving us with no other backup if we had any issues during the four-hour event.

Race day didn’t start any better. Our fourth driver, Will Preston, needed the morning practice to acclimate to the kart since he hadn’t driven it and had missed the previous day’s practice. We also needed to get final testing done on the back-up engine, and we were using the session to test transponders for the race to ensure accurate scoring. Only one of the eight transponders we tried worked, and its signal was weak, so we were not confident that all our laps would be counted during the race. Now we had to hand-score our progress in the event that the transponder failed. In the midst of the transponder debacle we lost any chance of gathering data on the back-up engine, and Will had to continually return to the pits to change transponders, so he never got into a rhythm with the kart. Nevertheless I was confident in our drivers, kart prep, and strategy, so I was still hopeful for a victory.

Starting positions were picked out of a hat and we drew eighth. When the green flag flew Jared Lile ran across the track to the kart old-school LeMans style and tore into fourth place by the second corner. We were on a specific fuel and tire plan and I instructed all drivers to maintain a high 51 to low 52 second lap time. This would ensure we did not ruin our tires early in the race and we wouldn’t have to worry about running out of fuel. I knew we would need good tires in the second half of the race so that we could push harder when everyone else’s tires would be wearing down and their pace would slow.

The first three karts were locked in battle and pulling away slightly with fifth place quite a ways back. It was looking really good for our strategy, Jared was driving conservatively enough to save tires and fuel, but was still able to distance himself from fifth place and stay on the lead lap. After 45 minutes I called Jared in for our first driver change and fuel stop. While lubing the chain I noticed that the brake pads were wearing much faster than anticipated, so our second driver Sean McDonald was instructed to go easy on the brakes and use the front tires to scrub speed into the corners, as well as conserve tires and fuel. This was a tall order, but Sean drove professionally and executed his orders to perfection.

I knew in the next stop we would need to change brake pads, so we pulled out our spare set. Sure enough the pads were about two laps from getting into the backing plates. We changed pads, refueled, and sent Will Preston out on track with the same instructions to conserve brakes but to push harder on tires. During the next stop we were going to change the left rear tire, which was the only one on the kart showing significant wear. Will kept the momentum going and continued to perform exactly as instructed.

During the third stint our strategy started to pay off. While everyone else was having mechanical issues and fighting deteriorating tires from pushing too hard too early, our kart was staying consistently fast and our drivers were fresh because of the shorter stints and not pushing to the limit. The only question for the end of the race was if we would have brakes.

Toward the end of Will’s stint we were in third place according to timing and scoring, with the second-place kart a lap ahead and the leader two laps ahead. It was time for our pivotal stop in the race, when we would change our worn tire and start to put pressure on the leaders. But when Will pulled in to the pits I was amazed that the tires still looked fresh, so I changed strategy. I could now postpone changing the worn tire, and run our kart on lighter fuel with fresh drivers for the remaining hour, giving us the ability to set fast times and push for a good finish. I told our fourth driver, Tazio Otis, that he could push hard on tires but we still needed to conserve brakes. After Tazio’s stint we would be three hours into the four-hour race, and I had us scheduled to end the race with two 30-minute stints. While Tazio was on track performing flawlessly, we got our hands on a better set of brake pads, and I decided that this fourth stop would be a little longer so we could change pads and as well as the worn tire. I knew that we would make up more time on track with a fresh kart than we would lose in the pits changing pads. Toward the end of Tazio’s stint I gave him the hurry-up signal because now I wasn’t worried about the brakes or tires.

After 45 minutes of textbook driving Tazio brought the kart into the pits and we descended on it like a Formula One pit crew. We got everything changed and sent Jared out with fresh tires, fresh brakes, a light fuel load, and instructions to drive as if it were a 30-minute qualifying session. At this point we were still third but catching up fast while the other karts were losing speed. During this stint the leaders blew an engine and we were closing in on the lead lap. With thirty minutes to go we brought Jared in, did a splash and dash of fuel and handed the seat to Sean with the same qualifying instructions. After the final pit stops we were on the lead lap with first place half a lap away. I gave the hurry up signal to Sean every lap, but he didn’t need it. Sean was catching the leader by over a second a lap, and with more than 20 minutes left in the race, we had a definite chance to win. With about five minutes to go, Sean caught the leader and passed him easily, then proceeded to pull away. Our strategy combined with disciplined driving and expert preparation had triumphed!

Much kudos to our crew of drivers for following team orders to a T and not putting a wheel wrong for four hours. Jared, Will, Sean and Tazio all performed flawlessly and were able to maintain a prescribed pace for the entire time and it paid off with a victory. Thank you to Jared Thompson for bringing back this event, we had a blast and look forward to the next one!

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