Track Day to Pave the Way

AFTER ACTION REPORT

What a day… 

The day was filled with lots of highs and lows. The morning was like any other trackday morning, I was hitched up and ready to go.

I left the house early to head out to the track to make sure I had a good spot in the paddock. I arrived to an empty paddock, parked and started to setup my pit area.

Once everything was setup I went to work on the WRX’s alignment, which I had plenty of time to do. I setup the Quick-Trick alignment frames to measure toe and I found the cause of my turn-in and tire overheating issues from the last trackday. The toe-in measurement was a staggering 5/8″, or ~15mm for the metric folks. I must have messed something up when I was trying to center the steering wheel. It was at this time my dad an brother showed up. My dad helped me get the toe sorted out and I was happy with the nearly 0 toe. 

The car was then inspected for tech and it passed as always. I was really anxious to get out on track and see how the car felt with the alignment fixed and the new parts. I had installed the 24mm Whiteline swaybars, front and rear, along with the Autompower Race roll bar, Schroth 6pt harness and the RRS steering wheel with B-G racing steering wheel quick disconnect. 

Drivers meeting was at 9:45am to go over safety instructions and we were sending cars out at 10:30am. I was in “Blue” group, which was the intermediate run group which saw it’s first session line up at 11:10am. I was already in the car with my harnesses tight and helmet on when they called up our run group. I proceeded to grid and lined up first, in hopes to make some good hot laps on my quest for the 1:18’s. 

Once we rolled out on track, I took my ‘out lap’ at about 60% and was feeling out the car. The car definitely felt different, way more free than it had in the past. The tires were very audible, letting me know that grip wasn’t as good as I wanted. 

On my second lap, I started to push at about 90% and caught a Fiat 124 bringing up the end of the group by corner 5 and got the point by out of turn 8 onto the front straight. The brakes were warm and the tires were still fighting for grip. 

On the start of the third lap, just after passing the Fiat, I was pushing hard now, but still trying to get a handle on the car. The car was definitely getting into the corners better, but just didn’t seem to have the ultimate grip that I had felt at previous trackdays. I noticed on the back-straight the boost level was down from what I had set if for, only 15-16psi, not the 21psi I had set it for. I wasn’t too concerned as I had set the calibration to have the boost come on a bit slower. My lines were a mess and I felt like I was overdriving the car, but this all lead to a new personal best time of 1:19.49, which meant I was off to a good start. 

Lap 4 saw much of the same, but I missed some shift points and was paying attention to the gauges almost as much as the track. My driving was sloppy and things just didn’t feel right. My lap time was a 1:19.89, which was shocking as almost everything went wrong. 

I started the fifth lap, much the same, but noticed my EGT and Oil temp gauges were a bit higher than normal. I continued to push hard and by the time I was halfway down the back-straigh the EGT as 1650-1700°F and the oil temps had climbed to 255-260°F which was very uncharacterisitc. I slowed for the right hander at the end of the straight and headed in paddock turn and the car started to stumble and fall on it’s face, as I made the left into the first “S”, the car stumbled, choked, vibrated and something “let go”. I turned off onto the access road and the engine had already died. I stopped before I could get off the “track” and into the paddock. Smoke was coming into the cab through the air vents, I was concerned that there was fire, but others insured that there was not. 

The engine was done, and I was petty upset, but remained calm. Once the track was cleared, the track crew pushed me back to my pit spot in the paddock. 

When I got to access the damage, the coolant was gurgling badly, and the coolant overflow was bubbling with oil in it. Definitely a sign of a headgasket failure. I thought that was it, but later investigation showed the real damage, which can be seen above in the photos. What I think happened was the headgasket let go, flooded the cylinder, which then caused  rod to bend, or break which then lead to the rod cap hitting the case and lowing open the hole. 

I am lucky that the rod/cap didn’t come out of the bottom and put fluid down on track or lock the engine up and cause me to crash. It is definitely a bummer, but it could’ve been so much worse. 

My season is over, and the extent of the damage will need to be assessed. Worst case is that the entire engine will need to be replaced. I won’t know until I get to tear it down, but it is going to take some time to put the budget together in order to be able to get the car running again. 

I am setting my sights on time-attack when I return, in the “Street Mod” class for Gridlife. More news will come as I find out. 

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