Let's get a couple of things out of the way. First, testing is very boring. Testing a race car has to rank right up there with taking an SAT test. Hell, taking the bar exam might even be more exciting than a day of testing. Having said all that, you need to face the reality that, if you expect to do well, you have to test. Races are won in testing sessions. You don't win the race on Sunday. No, you win it weeks before the actual race takes place. You win it with your testing program.
A lot of you also need to consider what you do at track events. Track events are really just like an extended test day. What brought this home is when Danny Kellermyer of DJ Racing explained to me that his drivers don't go onto the track to "learn the track." Danny's drivers need to be very specific about what turn, or braking zone, they intend to work on during a track test. As Danny puts it, the most important part of testing is having a plan. You need to approach track days the same way.
A lot of people just go out on the track and drive around-never getting any better. Then there are people who think they can get better if they just buy more parts. Hard as it may be to believe, you can actually get better with concentrated and focused practice. It's not always necessary to buy thousands of dollars in parts that don't do anything. Try a focused day at the track next time you're tempted to reach for your Visa card.
Danny Kellermeyer is one of the people in Corvette racing that everyone listens to. Danny has set more than his share of track records around the country, but I still think of him as the best crew chief I've ever worked with. After a couple of laps with Danny at the Waterford Hills course, I'll add driving coach as well. Danny is also the mayor of Waterford. During the weekend I spent with DJ Racing, I think everyone in the paddock came over to see Danny. Most had a technical question and left with an answer. No one is more giving than Danny. I loved watching him switch from being the mayor to being the professor of road racing.
Even though DJ Racing has a new C6 back in the shop, this particular weekend was for the C5 cars. Actually, at most tracks the C6 is no significant improvement over the C5. That one inch of added wheelbase on the C6 makes a real difference in the weight on the rear wheels. A difference that is not always good.
Both the #37 Corvette and #39 Corvette were built in 1999 (sort of) and were part of the Corvette kit car program. Remember that between 1998 and 2000, you could buy a Corvette that was delivered to you in boxes. You got the chassis, and the rest came in a bunch of boxes. Some assembly was required. That's a story for another issue, though.
Today's test is very focused. It's time to see if all of the effort that's been expended in the past few weeks actually works. The #39 car (Jeff Cauley's Corvette) has a brand-new engine and the #37 (Danny's Corvette) has a new transmission and rear axle. What really strikes me right away is that there are more cars than people at this test day. This is a new experience for me. Every team I've ever worked with has had more people than cars. In the ALMS, it used to get really silly with about 15 people for one car. Here I am looking at three Corvettes and just Joe Cauley and Danny Kellermyer. This 3:2 ratio is unheard of in racing.
9:30 - The track doesn't open until noon, but Danny has all three cars out of the trailers and ready to go. All of the pit boxes are in place. We're talking serious organization here.
11:00 - The #33 Corvette (Joe's car) gets all new brake rotors and pads. This takes Danny about twelve minutes. The best part is that he can carry on a conversation while he does it. Twelve minutes for a complete brake job-damn.
11:45 - The #33 and the #39 Corvettes are fired up and brought up to temperature.
12:00 - Joe Cauley and Danny are the first drivers out on the track. They're running about 80 percent of what they're capable of. Just slow, consistent laps. There's nothing to prove here.
12:30 - Both cars pull back into the pits. The #39 car (the one with the new engine) has a miss. It's not a bad miss-it's just that it doesn't seem to be running on all eight cylinders all the time. Joe says that the car is loading up in corners and has a unique crackle in the exhaust sound. Basically, something just isn't right. The first go around with an infrared scanner shows all of the exhaust pipes with the same temperature. Danny explains this simply means that all of the pipes are heat soaked. We have to let the car cool down and then fire it up again to isolate the cylinder.
Danny's car (#37) is not displaying axle and transmission temperatures. DJ Racing has temperature sensors for both the transmission and the rear axle. Your C5 only has one? Oh well. Remember I said that DJ Racing was thorough.
12:45 - While the #39 Corvette cools down, the #37 car goes up on jackstands. It's time to determine why there are no temperature readings in Danny's Corvette. It turns out that the sensors are dead. There's no real reason for this, except maybe they got damaged somehow in the rebuild process. At any rate, this is something that can be taken care of later this evening. Today's track time won't create enough heat to be a problem. These sensors will be needed during the next several days, but not today. This isn't the time, or place, to replace them.
12:55 - Danny fires up the #39 car again to check on the engine miss. This time all of the exhaust pipes went to 450 degrees-except for the #8 cylinder, which never even got to 250 degrees. Time to pull the plug and see what it looks like. It's wet. The rocker arm cover now comes off and we get a real surprise. The rocker arm adjuster nut is broken. Danny says he's never seen that happen before. A new experience for Danny-now that's really something unique.
Danny makes a quick decision that only two cars will be used for the upcoming weekend. Jeff Cauley's weekend is over before he even arrives at the track. On the other hand, this is not the time to destroy a motor. The Cauleys do this for fun.
2:10 - Danny's Corvette (#37) takes to the track. The #33 car of Joe Cauley quickly follows it.
2:28 - Both cars come back in and everything looks fine. They were both running about 230 degrees at speed. At full race speed, the temperatures usually run about 250 degrees. Remember, this is a test session and the cars are at only about 80 percent today.
2:35 - Danny notices that the left front brake rotor on his car is cracked. Not just a little crack-but a huge crack. For some reason, DJ Racing cracks a whole lot of rotors every spring. Then, as suddenly as this cracking begins, it all stops. Once they get to the first week in June, they seldom crack another rotor. Try and figure that one out. It may have something to do with the cars living through a Michigan winter. The combination of moisture and cold air during the winter may have something to do with it.
4:00 - We finally break for lunch. Damn. These guys are focused.
The really interesting thing is that on Sunday, no one even shows up at the track until 11:00. They roll the car covers off and fire up the cars. While everyone else is working on their cars, Joe and Danny are still home in bed. This is a no drama team. All of the work was completed before race day. I guess that's the point of a good testing program.
Danny's Three Rules of Testing
1. Have a plan-with specific goals-before you even arrive at the track
2. Stick to the plan, but be cognizant of other things that may be going on. It's OK to change a plan, but remember you first need a plan.
3. Keep detailed records of what takes place. DJ Racing has the most complete notes of any race team I've ever seen. There are shelves in Danny's office that hold a huge number of notebooks. Danny can tell you the tire pressures that he used in 1989 at the June Mid-Ohio race. You don't have to be quite that good, but you at least need to try.
Three identical Corvettes are fun to sort out. You can really only tell them apart by the numbers. OK, I can only tell them apart by the numbers. Danny and Joe don't seem to have this problem.