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Weekend Viewing: How I Wasted My Sunday..

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On: Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 5:05PM | By: John Welch

Weekend Viewing: How I Wasted My Sunday..

There was no sports car race, ALMS or Grand-Am. Ahem; there was no televised sports car race. The NASCAR event at Pocono was doomed at eight a.m. Torrential downpours the week prior had left the racing surface soaking wet and "weeping". Even after drying, the track will secrete water from beneath the initial layer of asphalt. It rained again on Sunday and the race was called off by five. Nice. This sort of Sunday will affect my mood for weeks.

Thankfully, my DVR is smarter then I am. Good 'ole DVR remembered that the X Games Rally final was on, even though I had completely forgotten about it. The DVR was even considerate enough to record the entire program. The reddish hue of the 'record' icon caught my attention in the middle of the Skate Park portion of the show. This is where the DVR earns its keep; rewind to the beginning of the Rally racing, while the skate boarding ends and they get on to the Rally final. Worth every penny; I was getting bored and considering ways to combine lawn mowers with fireworks five minutes earlier.

All racing should be this exciting. To me all racing is this exciting. There must be something different about this format because it didn’t make my company scurry out of the room to find their keys, or another beer, or a ballpoint pen with which to open their wrists. No, instead of their usual reaction to racing, my friends stuck around, riveted to the action. And I didn’t have to clean up any half-cocked suicide attempts for once; bonus!

I'll leave the actual 'reporting' on the event to a significantly more qualified source. People who were actually there.

What I would like to focus (for some reason, I hate the word 'focus') on here is the mechanics of the 70 foot, feverishly awesome 'jump' that connects the two portions of track. To call it a 'jump' is almost insulting. It's a . . a . . . well, ok, it's just a 'jump'. It seems to me that this 'jump' is absolutely the pivotal portion of the racecourse, even though it is a tiny portion. Get the 'biggun' wrong (there is also a 40 footer, not quite as spectacular,) and your car will nose dive into the gravel, hard, usually destroying every component your car needs to cool itself; radiator, intercooler, piping, oil pan, possibly half-shafts and the transmission. Of course, that isn't nearly as bad as it could be . . .

What I was fascinated by was the differences in the ways the cars handled the jump. There were three makes represented at the competition, Subaru, Mitsubishi and Ford. Ford entered with brand spankin' new Fiestas. These are not normal Fiestas. Used at Pikes Peak this year, this power train was putting out over 800 horsies. Yowza. Sissy name, not such a sissy vehicle. While I don't think these examples were putting down 800 horse, (Correction: the cars were weighed down with heavy ballast in an attempt to negate their 300 horsepower advantage,) they were definitely stout. The Subaru and Mitsubishi camps had a grab-bag of models, from shiny, new WRX STis to late model Evo 8s, 9s and 10s, even a ten-year-old Impreza. An interesting mix for sure.

The weight and balance of your car seem to be the biggest deal when trying not to kill yourself, even though you're participating in a race designed to kill you. This is where car choice seems key.
I hate to say it but the Mitsus are at a distinct disadvantage when being thrown off of 70 foot cliffs. To begin with, the engine is an inline-4 design. all of the pistons sit straight up. The Subarus are equipped with boxer engines; all of the pistons lie horizontally, opposing each other. The engine is physically shorter, allowing it to be mounted lower and farther back in the chassis. Because of this, the Subaru has a lower center of gravity, situated closer to the middle of the car. Huh?

When the Subaru takes flight over the 70-foot jump, its body stays flat, owing to the mass of the vehicle being centered. The Mitsubishis are nose heavy, so they tend to (excuse the pun) 'nose' over, causing the front end of the car to face-plant upon landing. (See image of ‘Mitsu Face-plant’,)

The Subaru's have a tendency to land a little softer. And a little more upright. What about those Fords? The Fiesta isn't sold here just yet, but it will be. Ford has finally decided to allow us a taste of its European offerings, mostly because they have too. The Fiesta Rally cars were decked out, full on Rally cars. They are however cursed by the same design flaw as the Mitsubishi, an inline-four engine design. Magically, the Fords handle the big jump with ease; possibly better then the Subarus. Tanner Foust and Kenny Brack seemed to be able to float over the jump, landing perfectly on all four wheels, each and every time. (Eh, Kenny had a slight nose-down incident, but it didn’t affect his race.

A casual observer, my roommate asked me why the Fords were equipped with large cooling ducts in its rear quarter panels. "If the motor and everything is all up front, what are those for?" (See 'arrowemblazoned' image,)

Balance my friend, balance. In the name of weight distribution the radiator has been mounted in the rear end of the vehicle. Radiators are heavy, and this peculiar mounting position helps to bring the center of gravity further back in the chassis. Thus, the Fiesta lands stupefying jumps with the greatest of ease.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the battery and other critical components are housed under that back-hatch as well. The Ford's were able to make the 70 foot leap without destroying themselves, but were also capable of embarrassing their Asian rivals on the straights and long sweeping corners. They obviously had some snort under the hood.
This was quite the entertaining show; I'm glad the Ford not only made it, but won the event. Kenny Brack drives as if his retirement never happened. He was by far the most fluid of the competitors, and raised the big trophy at the end because of it. A little hell-spawned Ford didn’t hurt either.

Next weekend we have American Le Mans Series racing; the Acura Sports Car Challenge of Mid-Ohio. This race marks the debut of the Pratt & Miller Corvettes in the GT2 class. MMmmMmmm, Corvettes and Bimmers and Porsches, oh my! and Ferraris and Vipers and prototypes, and I just don’t think I can wait five excruciating days for it.

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