Team Diary: Racing for Children’s – SimCraft 24 Hours of Orlando – Post Race Report
Charity race team finishes 18th overall with P13 in class for 24 hour race in Orlando
A total of 34 teams took part in the SimCraft 24 Hours of Orlando endurance race at the Orlando Kart Center on January 31-February 2. 2020 marked the second edition of the 24-hour race, with all entries competing with the Briggs & Stratton 206 powerplant. Among those that returned for the second year is the Racing for Children’s team, set at raising money for the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. Competing in a 24-hour event, let alone for charity, is a lot of work. They agreed to provide us with insight into their event. Their first Team Diary was about the preparation to the event and this edition is what transpired during the 24-hour run in Orlando.
The 2020 edition of the SimCraft 24 Hours of Orlando was unkind to the Racing for Children’s team yet again. What started out as a promising weekend of pace turned into another weekend of reliability heartbreak. While the on-track result was not indicative of the team’s true pace and performance, the real win this year came from the fundraising efforts. This year, the Racing for Children’s Karting Team raised over $7,000 for the Children’s of Alabama Hospital! This is more than double what the team was able to raise last year. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the weekend details, a big THANK YOU to all of the donors, supporters, and fans of the Racing for Children’s Karting Team. Thanks to you, we will be setting our fundraising goals for 2021 just a little bit higher. We hope you’ll join us again next year as we aim to re-set the standard once more.
The team descended upon the Orlando Kart Center on Thursday, January 30 for what was to be an extremely busy day of set-up and prep work for the 24 hour race that lie ahead. One of the best changes from the 2019 event was the team’s lodging. As silly as it may sound, lodging for a twice around the clock test of endurance can be a major competitive advantage, or disadvantage, if not prepared for properly. In 2019, the team found a very nice rental house about 20 to 25 minutes from the track. The downside to having your sleeping arrangements off-site means that team members will be struggling to find a comfortable place to sneak a nap in here and there over the course of a 24-hour competition. When exhaustion and sleep deprivation sets in, it’s only a matter of time before an error is made either behind the wheel or on pit lane during a pit stop. This year, Racing for Children’s invested in a Class A motorhome that would remain on-site for the duration of the race weekend. This proved to be a very successful change and allowed the drivers and crew to stay ‘relatively’ well rested throughout the race weekend. This will likely be a staple for the Racing for Children’s Karting Team moving forward.
Friday turned out to be an early and long day for the team. Official practice didn’t begin until 7:00pm but open track time was available starting at 9:00am. The team took advantage of the open track and immediately hit the ground running. Drivers were able to get ample seat time and the team picked up right where they left off getting the set-up dialed in for the race weekend. The team’s pre-race testing just a month and a half prior proved to pay dividends. The kart rolled off the truck fast and only minor adjustments were needed to hone the set-up in for the specific weather conditions the team would be facing during the weekend.
At the end of the day, the team was sitting pretty. Racing for Children’s found themselves securely placed in the top 5 at the conclusion of the first official practice session of the weekend! The team concluded the evening finalizing strategy for the upcoming race. If Friday wasn’t busy enough, Saturday/Sunday was sure to put both the team and the equipment to the test. Prior to the Le Mans style standing start scheduled for 12:00pm EST, a final 2-hour practice session and 15-minute qualifying session were to take place. The team went to sleep as early as possible in preparation for the race ahead.
Saturday started with rainfall. Something that many teams may have been anxious about, but not the DCT prepped entry from Racing for Children’s. This team was ready for the less than ideal conditions. The team had turned hundreds of laps testing in the rain just a month prior. As a result, Racing for Children’s showed their true pace in the final practice session of the weekend. The team concluded the final practice session P2 while holding the top spot on the time charts for most of the session.
Once qualifying began, the rain intensified. Driver Nick Lefferdo was tasked with wielding the DCT prepped Tony Kart for qualifying. While qualifying for a 24-hour race isn’t the most important aspect of the weekend, it’s still nice to start ahead of as many competitors as possible. At the end of the 15-minute session, Nick was able to manage an impressive 5th place starting position. This was up two spots from the team’s 7th place starting position last year! Certainly, a positive step in the right direction and certainly a starting position that would give Racing for Children’s the chance to challenge for a win.
The strategy for this year’s race had Nick Lefferdo and Michael Gay driving the first 6 hours of the race. At the 6th hour, Pat Wilmot, Andrew Pinkerton, and Erik Evans would take over for the middle 12 hours, racing through the night and into the early Sunday morning hours. Nick and Michael would hop back in the kart for the final 6 hours taking the kart to the checkered flag. Like last year, Nick would be starting the race. Nick made a lightning fast start last year picking up 3 positions before the first corner!
The karts in front were able to defend their positions preventing Nick from making a few passes into the first corner. Despite the blocks, the team was still in great shape sitting in 5th place and gapping the rest of the field with the lead pack.
As Nick’s first stint was coming to a close, the first few hiccups of the event struck the team. Nick was struggling with pace and overall grip with the Racing for Children’s kart. The rain had stopped but the track was still wet so the race stewards ruled the track as a wet track. Like last year, a specific rule was written regarding a wet vs. dry track. If the track were declared wet, all teams were required to run on rain tires. If the track were declared dry, all teams were required to run on the spec Hoosier R80 tire. During the race, if the race stewards deemed that the track had changed from wet to dry or dry to wet, teams would have 15 minutes to pit and change to the appropriate tire. As the rain tapered off and the track began to dry, the changing track conditions did not suit the kart well and the team began dropping positions.
To cap off the handling issues, the team made a bit of a miscalculation with the fuel strategy. The miscalculation resulted in the team running out of fuel before the first hour. The mistake cost the team multiple laps and positions to retrieve the kart and execute the first driver change.
Michael hopped in the kart next to take over the 2nd hour of the race and the handling issues continued. The track was drying but still not dry enough for the race stewards to call it a dry track. While this event required all teams to run on the exact same Hoosier R80 tire during dry conditions, the rules allowed for teams to run any brand or compound of wet tire that they desired. Racing for Children’s opted to run a Bridgestone rain tire. As the track continued to change, Michael continued to struggle throughout his first hour of the race.
Nick took over the 3rd hour of the event and the pace of the #12 DCT prepped kart continued to fall off. The team was left scrambling to find pace as well as hoping for a completely dry track. The Bridgestone rain tires that the team had selected were now almost completely bald. With the team struggling for pace and well outside the top 10, lady luck finally showed up. The race stewards announced that the track was dry and all teams had 15 minutes to make their stops and change over to the Hoosier R80 racing slick. It was slightly off schedule, but the team had to comply with the rules so Nick pitted a few minutes earlier than originally planned. During the tire change, Nick handed the kart back over to Michael for his final stint on Saturday. With Michael in the kart to start the 4th hour and a fully dry track, the Racing for Children’s kart finally came alive.
With a dry track and the Hoosier R80’s securely bolted to the team’s Tony Kart, Michael set sail. The dry track and tire change was exactly what the Racing for Children’s team needed. Throughout his entire stint, Michael was consistently the second fastest kart on track, nipping at the heels of the defending race champs – Zanella Racing. The lightning fast pace combined with an excellent fuel strategy concocted by driver Andrew Pinkerton and lead engineer Wes Nail, Michael was able to move the team from 11th position, 8 laps behind the leader to 5th position only 4 laps behind the leader. The performance allowed the team to pick up 6 positions and 4 laps on the field in just over an hour. Nick picked up right where Michael left off to finish out the 6th hour of the race. With Nick’s blistering pace and machine-like consistency, he was able to pick up a few more laps on the field and move the team into 3rd place! The track was now completely dry. Pat, Andrew, and Erik were waiting in the wings and ready race through the long night ahead. Racing for Children’s was back in the hunt.
To start the nighttime hours, Racing for Children’s executed their first of two mandatory 10-minute pit stops. This allowed the team to make the proper weight changes as Nick and Michael were handing the kart off to Pat, Andrew, and Erik. Per the rules of the race, all teams were required to make at least two 10-minute pit stops at some point during the race. The longer stops meant that the team would have extra time to look over the kart and make any necessary repairs. The longer stops also meant that the team would be losing around 8 laps to the leader while sitting stationary on pit lane. Racing for Children’s pre-determined strategy for the race meant the #12 entry would be the first team to make their first 10-minute stop. After the first 10-minute stop was complete, the pit stop rotation set the team back outside the top 10 and 10 laps off the leader.
As the sun began to set on the Orlando Kart Center, temperatures dropped and the track began to slow. This caused all teams to fall off the pace from the sunlit, dry track just an hour prior. While this affected some teams more than others, the team’s Tony Kart was in excellent hands with Pat behind the wheel. Pat’s pace was comfortably in the top 3 on the time charts throughout his stint. Not only was Pat’s pace excellent, but he was also turning some of the most consistent laps by any driver, on any team, throughout the race weekend.
Pat handed the kart over to Andrew for his first stint of the race. Andrew was able to maintain the competitive pace and consistency standards set by Pat, keeping the kart clean and well inside the top 5 on pace. Erik, the newest addition to the Racing for Children’s Karting Team, took over after Andrew and continued turning times well inside the top 5 on the time charts.
Thanks to the careful, quick hands of Pat, Andrew, and Erik, the team had clawed back to 8th place just three hours after making their first 10-minute stop. This placed Racing for Children’s as the highest running team that had made their first of two mandatory 10-minute stops. But the fast trio didn’t stop there. Pat, Andrew, and Erik continued setting consistently quick times for hours on end putting Racing for Children’s in 3rd place at the start of the 12th hour! With teams still cycling through their first 10-minute pit stop, Racing for Children’s was poised to potentially move into the lead during the early Sunday morning hours.
Unfortunately, this is where things began to unravel. At the start of the 12th hour, the team was in 3rd place. At the start of the 13th hour, the team had fallen to 23rd place. Multiple mechanical failures reared their ugly heads, costing the team dozens of laps. The myriad of failures ultimately took the team out of contention for a win or podium result.
Despite the disappointing overnight hours, the drivers and mechanics soldiered on to finish the race in 18th position overall and 13th in class. While the mechanical failures were an unwelcomed surprise, they are a part of endurance racing. When pushing a piece of equipment for 24 grueling, non-stop hours of racing, things are bound to reach their breaking points. Hats off to the team’s technical partner, DCT SpeedSport for never giving up and making the quickest repairs possible. The folks from DCT did an excellent job of repairing the #12 Tony Kart multiple times throughout the weekend as well as preparing a very fast piece of machinery.
One last time, a huge thank you goes out to all of the donors and supporters of Racing for Children’s and the Children’s of Alabama Hospital. Your support and willingness to donate has been overwhelming this year and the Racing for Children’s karting team cannot thank you enough. A big thanks goes out to the team’s technical partner, DCT SpeedSport, for working with Racing for Children’s for a 2nd year in a row. Their support of the program has been vital to the team’s performance on the track as well as the team’s fundraising success off the track. Lastly, Racing for Children’s would like to thank you for taking the time to read our story. We can’t wait to racing for 24 hours again next year!