One of the advantages of taking over Cougar Motorsports this year, was that David and I were able to utilize the successful cars of the previous 3 build years. Whether it be for design, parts, or practice, they were a huge assistance. So when it came time to pack up for our Kansas competition we had two options: Rush the living daylights out of the current Mk IV build and hope it passes technical inspection, or brush the dust off of the previous year’s MkIII, and prep it for the upcoming race. Not wanting to rush our first full Baja build, we decided to bring back the heavy-hitting MkIII. With top-ten finishes already under it’s belt, it would be a fitting end to give it one last shot at the elusive podium. Very few things were needed to get the car ready, so after some regular engine maintenance, new numbers, and a very thorough once-over, we were good to go.
Packing up the shop is never a fun task. The stress of “did we pack this?” is constant through the entire competition, but luckily we were successful and brought everything we needed. Being able to pack an excessive amount of equipment is only possible because of Kramer CAT of Regina’s donation of a full size enclosed trailer, and a truck to tow it all with.
I think that most people from Regina would agree that the drive from here to Calgary is one of the most boring experiences possible. Sadly,we found something worse though; the drive from Regina to Kansas is a monster. 20 hours straight of prairie got real old, real fast. Arriving in Pittsburg, we immediately noticed the beautiful campus of Pittsburg State University, where the static events would take place in the following days.
The entire city welcomed all the teams with open arms, and just to prove the hospitality, the entire downtown strip was closed off for a Baja Show & Shine one evening. Teams were given a police escort-convoy to get their rigs into the downtown area with no delays, and after unloading the Baja’s from the backs of trucks or trailers we parked them along the center line and enjoyed the summer evening. With the combination of a local radio station blasting music, food vendors being set up, and the beautifully aged buildings of downtown Pittsburg framing it all together, it’s no wonder thousands came to check out the cars.
I think I can speak for all the teams when I say that I loved the atmosphere of the Show & Shine, and the few hours we spent feeling like we were part of a long-lived racing tradition of pre-race car shows. The night of relaxation was a much needed break from the events of the day. But we couldn’t relax too much, because the next day was a big one.
PSU campus hosted everything from Sales Presentations, to Design Judging, to the meticulously difficult Technical Inspection. Bringing the MkIII set us in the state of mind that we would pass this inspection with flying colors. Having passed Tech in both Bellingham and Rochester of last year should have confirmed our assumptions, but never have we been so wrong. Having taller drivers this year was an unforeseen problem, which meant that two frame supports that braced the roll hoops to the firewall were needed to give the driver adequate head clearance. Two supports sounds like a simple task considering the entire car was built with similar methods of construction, but having to rush them in time for the Dynamic Events raised stress levels to an all time high. This was an overnight project that needed to be completed with the same quality as the rest of the car. The catch? We were in the middle of a pitch black field, in Kansas. This is where our trailer from Kramer really shines; during competition it gets turned into a workshop complete with grinders, tool boxes, generators, and welders.
Luckily, we weren’t the only ones with this issue. After Baylor University kindly let us use their pipe bender, the guys over at UBC noticed us measuring up the same sort of thing that they were, and we started talking. As it turns out, we got along quite well and no more than an hour later we found ourselves teaming up to tackle the long night ahead of us. With generators running, and work lights glaring, we set to work. 2 hard-working pizzas later, the job was complete. We really can’t thank UBC enough for the help, and it’s a perfect example of the Baja SAE community.
Tech re-inspection the next day would have been a different story for both teams had we not helped each other out.
Dynamic Day: A massive mess of teams running about the grounds trying to complete two runs in each event. Breaks, repairs, victories, and let-downs happen hourly, and it really is something to witness. Teams had to perform in an acceleration challenge, sled pull, maneuverability course, and the ruthless suspension and traction event. The sled pull event meant we lowered the rear suspension of our car, which we all loved the look of. Acceleration and maneuverability aren’t too hard on the car, but the suspension course is built to do two things: Make you lose control, and wreck your car.
For example, the course designers thought it would be a good idea to dump massive jagged concrete blocks into a pile about 7 feet tall just a few feet before the finish line. Due to time constraints and a bad bounce sending us out of bounds on our first run, we weren’t able to have the pleasure of attempting the concrete pile. In some ways this can be seen as a bit of a blessing though, as we still scored a decent run, and walked away with a healthy Baja that was ready for the endurance race the next day.
Endurance race duties are usually given to the team member with the most seat-time in the car. David and I both have roughly the same number of hours behind the wheel, so we decided to split the race up; I would take the first two hours, and David would take it to the finish line.
With the grid set, I took a few moments and relaxed before the race began with a rolling start. For the first few laps you have only one thing on your mind: Don’t get hit. With 100 cars around you all fighting for the racing line through rhythm sections, drops, jumps, log fields, and mud pits, things get hectic very quickly. If I recall correctly, it was on the third lap when the car beside me got landed on by another. After spacing out and settling in for the long haul I eventually had my pace dialed in.
The car performed perfectly, and it stood up to the abuse as we knew it could. Two hours and many mouthfuls of dirt later, I came in for fuel, and the driver change. After checking the progress, we saw that the car started in 61st, and was now in 9th position. So we strapped David in tight, and sent him out.
Multiple-driver endurance racing has got to be one of the highest stress forms of racing possible. When it becomes your turn to take the wheel, all of the progress and hard work gets put on your shoulders and becomes your responsibility. The car you once knew as 400 pounds of metal, ends up being made of more than that now; you’re carrying the weight of the team’s hopes, dreams, progress, and expectations with you too. Does this make you push a little harder than normal? Try to close that gap a little bit more each lap? Of course it does. That’s racing. If you’re not doing this, then why are you even behind the wheel? So when I witnessed the Baja roll hard on the biggest jump, and get flagged at the start-finish line for a cage inspection, I won’t lie. My heart dropped. I think all of ours did. David’s even went upside down for a second.
When you think about it though, wrecking is just as much a part of racing as pushing to close the gap, overtake, and cutting down lap times is. David was doing exactly what he should have been doing, and nothing else. The only mistake made here was me foolishly not snapping pics of it happening when I saw it through my zoom-lens. Attempts were made for repair, as tech informed us what we could do to have the car re-approved.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to complete it though. As the checkered flag was waved, I lifted my welding helmet and knew it was time to call it. Like a doctor on a patient, we walked away from the car calling the time of death at 24:00 (the time read on the engine-hour meter). The leader boards displayed us in 41st position, of 116.
A few moments later we were gathered around the car for the obligatory team picture that gets taken whether you’re in first, or last, and whether the car is in one piece, or 37. I’d like to point out that those smiles on our faces aren’t faked; there was no “say cheese” needed here. Sure, we were pretty bummed for a little while, but we stood back, looked at what we had accomplished, where we were, and the fact David was perfectly fine after such a violent roll, and we couldn’t help but smile. As a first year team, even passing tech with an existing car was a massive accomplishment. Even just completing the logistics to make it down to Kansas was huge. We competed in all of the events, and did it with style. To top it all off, we still managed to finish in a decent position with a team a fraction of the size of any other team there. Our heads are held high.
So what’s next? Well the MkIII will be repaired and subsequently retired, but it will still be enjoyed for non-competition use on the odd occasion. I would also like to thank team mates Denis and Garret for being so awesome throughout the competition. The car wouldn’t have competed had they not been there. The great thing about going to competition is brainstorming ideas from all of the inspiring builds around you. David has some changes in store to the MkIV coming up and as a result, it will be better than it ever would have been had we rushed it. So thank you Rusty Roxanne, your sacrifice has already made your successor a better car.
Check back later in the summer for an update on the MkIV build!