Rain Rain Go Away…. the prevailing thought through the Friday setup and first day of competition at the 24 Hours Of Lemons season finale at Road Atlanta. It’s not as if rain in December is an unusual thing, or even unusual for this race – which has seen a wild mix of weather from 70 degree temperatures to snow over the last few years. Still, rain mixed with racing is rarely a great thing. Not only does it impact the track conditions, it has an impact on how hard it is to operate around or spectate the race.
Saturdays rain and challenges gave way to beautiful and cool Sunday weather. And while weather is never that interesting to talk about, it is a fitting analogy for this race which was equal parts frustrating and beautiful all in one whirlwind weekend.
More than any amateur endurance race in recent memory, this race kept the Lemons staff and track workers busy with wrecks and black flags – even once the weather cleared. For our team, we spent time frustrated and concerned yet still ended up with some big wins (despite the fact that we didn’t win), and especially so for one particular teammate.
Nearly 110 cars were registered to run Atlanta’s premiere race track – Road Atlanta. Team Nein Blinker was one of those cars and we’ll cover what happened at the race, how we did and how this day turned very special for one of our team members.
The Rain and The Wrecks
While Friday’s rain was more annoying than a problem, only impacting how easy it was to get setup. Another factor that came in Friday was fog. So much so that they stopped the Friday practice session several times, ultimately canceling it early.
Fridays fog however turned into Saturday mornings fog. This the start of the race stalled by nearly 30 minutes. One of the Team Nein Blinker team members took this opportunity to catch a little nap on the warmth of the car while he was waiting.
The fog ultimately cleared and the race got started. Team Nein Blinker started near the back of the pack, 89th overall out of 108 cars.
It wasn’t long before the rain and the wrecks started. A light drizzle throughout the day was enough to put standing water on the track. Afternoon thunderstorms dropped even more water and lead to a lighting delay. High speeds, rain and standing water one of one of the more difficult tracks to drive? What could possibly go wrong.
Saturday’s race quickly turned from a race into a parade of yellows. What came with a lot of yellows was drivers desperate for position. With a lot of cars on track and a lot of yellows popping up, quickly the problem shifted from wrecks to passing under yellow.
Mid-Race Drivers Meeting
I’d read about mid-race drivers meetings, but never experienced one. Champ Car had one at this very track to open the year. It was Lemons turn. Aggressive passing under yellow and lots of wrecks had the track officials and organizers fuming.
The Lemons official said it was the first time they had done this in their 12 years of east coast races. I have no idea if this is true for not, but they black flagged the entire race. They brought all of the cars into the pits and asked all of the drivers, current running or not to join them in the pits.
We got told in a straight forward way – stop passing under yellow and being dangerous or risk the weekend being canceled. They also noted that the officials at Road Atlanta threatened not to bring the event back if they couldn’t get it under control. It may have been idle threats, but it seemed to get most peoples attention.
With a few hours of the drivers meeting the light rain turned into a complete downpour. Running from about 2pm to the end of the days sessions at 5pm, and even beyond, the event was essentially just parade laps in the rain.
I had the final stint on Saturday. During the drive I noticed a pretty significant noise coming when making hard right turns coming from the left drivers suspension. Given the slow the pace was I chose to stay out, collecting laps instead. While I was concerned about the issue and would have come in if I was turning full speed laps, it just didn’t make sense to come in unless it got worse.
Turns out it was just a loose bolt backing out. We quickly tightened it up and were ready to go for Sunday.
The rain gave way to cold on Sunday. But at least it came with sun and mostly dry conditions. There were still a few wet spots even as the day started on, but overall track conditions improved dramatically.
The dry conditions meant we were able to turn faster laps. We were now regularly breaking the 2 minute line. Still, because we were slotted in with the “A class” cars we were 7-10 seconds slower than the fastest cars. One of the downsides of running Lemons is you are classed more on the likelihood your car finishes a race, rather than your speed. BMWs also are generally not well regarded unless they are very old.
Throughout the day we still managed to climb up to 43rd place overall of 108 cars. We were at 19th in class (of 29), barely able to make progress due to the speed differences.
Then we had more problems. While driving my stint one of our rear axles came loose. Another easy fix in the pits, it still required a 20 minute pit stop in the middle of the second to last stint. We lost some of the ground we made up, but due to so many yellows and broken cars it wasn’t a huge drop.
While the rain never came back, the bad driving did. Towards the end of the day a rash of passing under yellows hit. Also, the number of wrecks really increased. Again, with drivers losing so many fast laps due to the rain and as the yellows increased throughout Sunday the desire for teams in competition to make up ground with limited time meant drivers began to exceed their abilities. Spin outs and breaks became full blown wrecks on track.
Our team got black flagged for passing under yellow. We didn’t have to serve a penalty, but in reviewing the video – yeah, we totally did it.
By the time the second to last stint occurred we were back to parade laps. In over 1.5 hours of track time we had less than 15 laps that didn’t have a yellow flag.
A Magical Finish…. But Not Really
While we wouldn’t contend for a trophy, one of our team members got to experience a magical finish. Because of the rain Saturday he invited his family to come to the track Sunday afternoon. And he put on a show. He turned the teams fastest lap of the weekend. He also put in the best performing stint of the weekend. All in front of his parents and a few siblings. It was awesome to see.
It was going great, right up until he accidentially passed under yellow. A driver in front of him hit the brakes upon seeing a yellow and Jonathan drove past him. He was black flagged. Because of the repeats for passing under yellow, the Lemons folks ended our weekend with about 15 minutes to spare.
The irony is, a massive wreck occurred while Jonathan was talking to the judges. The race was called because cleanup would require blocking the track and there wasn’t enough time to resume the race. So that ended our day – like the whole weekend – with yellows and wrecks.
In the end we were able to “finish” before being disqualified because they called the race before the judge put in our DQ. Team Nein Blinker closed out the year at Road Atlanta this weekend, finishing 38 out of 108 overall and 19 out of 38 in our class. Time to look forward and be ready for the 2022 season.