Charge of the Headlight Brigade- The whole story


Charge of the Headlight Brigade Race Results- the whole story.

Team Superlite Cars descended on VIRginia International Raceway this weekend with a plan to dominate the weekend, running the #01 Superlite SLC that has been a crowd favorite since it first put a tire on the track.

The key change for the race was a brand new, specific enduro engine, supposedly making about 550 HP at the crank. We were sticking with the same enduro setup we’d run successfully last year, with a newly-rebuilt (for this season) transaxle and the 2012 aero update package.

The weekend began with a private practice day on Thursday. This was good, as the new engine had issues, not the least of which was that it seemed down on power, and was running lean. We got in some running-in laps with our two new drivers, Matt & Tim Bell, who would be sharing driving duties with regular Superlite SLC ace driver Ryan Ellis. Both drivers got to speed quickly, with times in the low 2-minute range.

But all of them seemed to sense a lack of power, so we dragged the car to the Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research (VIPER) dyno at the track. The bad news was that when we strapped the green machine to the rollers, it only pumped out about 370 HP, about 100 less than the last chassis dyno reading we had earlier in the week. It was also running dangerously lean. The team jumped in action, and adjusted the fuel pressure to fix the lean condition, but still made no more power.

Out of time, the car went to qualifying with a known engine problem- and still about 100 HP short of what we nominally had last week in Detroit.
Despite the loss of power, and difficulty find a clean lap, Ryan managed to run a 2 minute flat lap that was enough to take pole position. This was a big improvement from last year, when we started 62nd (and last, when we were unable to get rain tires that worked on the car in time to make a qualifying run in the wet). The car was fast, and according to our drivers, had excellent aero balance and superb grip in the turns. There were complaints that the transaxle was vague and becoming hard to shift, but Ryan thought that it felt about the same, so we checked the linkage and hydraulics and all seemed to be well.

We still missed the 100 horses that had escaped from the corral during the trip down, but pole is pole, and we still had speed, even if it was coming from the horsepower in the turns (i.e., the car’s native ability to corner at absurdly high speeds) instead of on the straights.

Then during night practice, the car got backed into a wall, damaging the wing, its mount, and some related things in the back.

And we still were missing the power we thought we had brought to the track.

Undaunted, the team thrashed into the night, fixing the wing and mount, and finding and solving (we thought) the engine problem. It turned out that the DBW throttle blade was only opening up about 50%, even with a command from the pedal to go WOT. That explained our low power. With a new electronic throttle unit, and a new throttle blade, we were hoping to be in business for the race. The team made it to the hotel in time for 3-4 hours of sleep before it was time to head out to the track in the morning. We were on a mission, and the team worked incredibly hard to get the car ready for the race.

Race morning opened a little cooler, and muggy, with a small possibility of rain. The track was damp, mostly from a heavy dew the night before.

At the start, the SLC leapt into the lead, and held it until turn 12 (Oak Tree) when Ryan spun on cold tires. Yeah, we had tire warmers all right, but in the sleep-deprived thrash before the race, no one had warmed up the race set. We got them out for the next tire change. But the spin didn’t seem to have mattered much, as Ryan retook the lead by the middle of the second lap, and steadily cranked out laps that were around 5-10 seconds faster than most of the field, and we began to widen the gap from the SLC to the rest of the field.

We pitted for fuel early, at about the 17 lap mark, because we wanted to establish a safe baseline for fuel consumption under race conditions. Now, the race has a two-minute minimum for fuel stops, and we were timing the stop, but in the excitement of the first stop, the car was waved out just a bit too soon. It turned out that we weren’t the only ones timing our fuel stops, as some of the other competitors were holding watches on the car to be sure that we stayed waiting for the required time. Apparently, the other-pits-to-race stewards communications channel was working quite well, and we got a visit from the stewards soon thereafter- we were required to serve a 2-minute stop-and hold penalty for leaving 10 seconds too early.

We served the penalty, coming in from the lead- and resuming in the lead- as we’d built up a substantial gap to the rest of the field by then, based on consistently quick laps.

After two stints, Ryan came in and was relieved by Tim Bell, with the car getting tires and fuel. Speeds were good initially, and then the radio chatter got more worrisome, as Tim reported that shifting was even more difficult than before, and finally, that he had lost 5th gear entirely. The loss of fifth was a problem, but the car had so much torque that running 4th a little high and then skipping fifth to go directly into sixth was possible without too much of a time penalty.

We were actually OK with running the rest of the race with one less gear, but eventually the news from the radio became worse- now the clutch wasn’t working well. Even pumping the pedal a couple of times wasn’t always getting it to disengage, which was aggravating the shifting problem. Downshifts were more difficult, and the need to granny-shift up and down was taking a toll on lap times. Sometimes it was taking a few tries to get into gear at all.

Tim stayed out until we were close to our refuel window, and we brought the car in for fuel and a look at what was happening in the back of the car.

Checking under the car, we could see clutch fluid dripping from the flex line leading to the slave cylinder. That was something we could fix, so we drove the car to the trailer, pulled off the tail and the team began to beaver around the car. The flex line had apparently been damaged somehow, and when it was replaced, and the system bled, it became apparent that there was more serious damage to the transaxle. The car still wouldn’t shift, and worse, when the driver pressed the clutch pedal, the entire transaxle case flexed, revealing a large crack in the casing.

It takes about 3 hours to change a transaxle on a cold car, and we actually did have a spare in the trailer. But there was no point, as we didn’t have a spare slave, and further analysis showed that it had been damaged as well.

After 82 laps of a race that we’d qualified on pole, and led every lap but one, we were done.

But of course, that isn’t the end of the story.

How a car from a small company in Michigan came to compete with the big boys, and dominate in the race until a failure of a supplier part took us out of the race is part of the story.

And how a low-budget team made up of young amateurs running a car of their own construction showed such speed as to be able to consistently run laps 5-10 seconds faster than most of the rest of the field is part of the story.

But most of all, how the team showed professionalism under great strain, their skill in finding and fixing problems that- according to one of our pro drivers- was better than many pro teams he’d driven for, how our drivers overcame the problems that came our way and still managed to crank out consistently fast times anyway (even with our problems, our worst lap times were still almost all faster than the best of the rest of the field), and how our team dealt with adversity—that’s the rest of the story.

Except for one thing: We’ll be back next year!
Drat, so close. this time the engine holds up but the transaxle goes down. Next race the 01 will have both firing on all 8. Awesome write up Will. How did 82 laps place?

Ron Earp

Pretty cool time lapse of the 13hr from a racer friend of mine, Justin Deffenbaugh.

[ame=]13 Hours in 60 seconds - YouTube[/ame]
Here is a cool video from a helmet cam. I think this was Matt Bell driving during the Thursday test day.


[ame=]Superlite Coupe VIR 13 Hour Test Day - YouTube[/ame]

Howard Jones

Could someone post a few pictures of the car as it ran. Especially the radiator exhaust and the front splitter along with the other new nose changes.

I'm thinking a larger exhaust opening and under hood ducting to avoid radiator exhaust air into the front wheel wells.
Our rad opening is moved forward and a new hole cut into the body.
The second outlet is actually for air from under the car to exit through, up and over the top of the car.
The front "splitter" we ran this season is actually a true wing profile, we spent months doing CFD on that part as a system component with the rest of the aero on the you will see there are no canards required now and also no endplates on the front wing.
This was a very interesting exercise and one that really paid off ,I learned alot about car dynamics and with aero balance being the true focus, all that have driven the car have commented on the front grip and overall balance of the car during the high speed testing.

The 18 car running the 25hr has the same front wing as do the other race only SLC guys in Cali.
The 18 car ran a 1.39 at TH testing last week, and they say there is another second or two left in the car.......wink

Howard Jones

The fastest time I have ever seen at TH is a 1:33 by a F Atlantic car. Faster that that is damn near lap record time for all types. I don't think that Porsche can run those times. The best lap they ran last year was around 1:50. Could there be a new 25 hour champ?

Could you post a picture of the new "hood"? I am thinking about a bigger opening to exaust radiator air over the top of the car. A picture is worth a 1000 words.
Here's a quick video of the SLC leading off the field at the start of the 13.

youtube find: [ame=]SL-C 13 Hour of VIR Test Day - YouTube[/ame]
Well, apparently that wasn't the whole story after all.

The 01 set a new lap record, slightly beating the one we set last year, even with less power than we had last year (due to the TB/ETC issue we had during this year's race).

Another year, another lap record. :)

2:00.442 is fast for a street-tire car at VIR, but Ryan felt there was another 3 seconds in the car as it was, given a clear track and the need to go faster. With the amount of power we planned for - and paid for- we could have been much faster still. But that's racing.
Down on power and still 2:00 minute laps - unbelievable. Certainly a testament to the SLC's great aero-design and current improvements - having good drivers doesn't hurt either. For those not familiar with VIR - after the "oak tree" turn one gets into a very long uphill straight. IIRC cars that are seeing a 2 minute lap are likely going 170mph plus at the end of that straight - that's pretty fast and you're going over a blind must have faith.