48 hours of random weirdness.
by Pierre Martins
The Time: First week of September, 2008.
The Place: Gerotek Test Facility close to Pelindaba, about an hour’s drive from Jo-burg. To be a bit more specific, the 3km high-speed banked oval.
The Cars: Three Chinese Chery 1100cc and two 800cc models. Don’t laugh.
The objective: Set new 48-hour endurance records for 800cc and 1100cc vehicles. I said don’t laugh, dammit!
I got roped into this thing at the last minute by long-time Formula GTi racer Gerrit de la Rey.
What? Me, driving a little slow poke puny engined front wheel drive noddy car around in circles for hours on end? Oh what the hell, why not? I’m a track junky and frankly, I’ll drive a damn motorised wheelbarrow if it presented an opportunity to learn something new. Besides, this would be one more thing to add to my ‘been there, got the T-shirt’ list…
I remember getting something in my inbox a few days before outlining the event, but to be honest I didn’t read the email. At drivers briefing the organizers handed out information packs with schedules and whatnot. Teams of four drivers per car. Thank heavens they put me in one of the 1100cc cars and not an 800cc jobby. The modus operandi was that drivers would do stints of about to hours twenty minutes each, basically the time it took to drive out a full tank at full taps in top gear. Driver changes were done during scheduled re-fuelling stops, with tyre changes as and when required.
That was the gist of it. The event started at noon on September 2nd. I was scheduled to do my first stint around midnight, watched the start and went home to catch up on some sleep.
What the little 1100cc QQ3 felt like on the “High Speed” oval:
I wasn’t there for the trial run a few weeks before and didn’t do a single practice lap, so this was one of those ‘just get in and drive’ occasions.
So I did just that. Got into the little thing during the scheduled driver change and got it up to top speed as quick as possible. Well, I’m not sure whether ‘quick’ is really the operative word here…
Balls to the wall turned out to be a mind-boggling 160kmh on the dial, but believe me, you wouldn’t really want to go any faster than that in one of these little cars, he-he-he.
Once I got it up to speed I kept the accelerator pedal planted for the entire two hour twenty minute stint. Never lifted a fraction until it was time to come in. To run such a small engine flat out and get the best lap times possible, I was told to keep the sunroof and windows closed to eliminate unnecessary drag and to keep the air conditioner, fan and radio switched off to reduce the alternator sapping power from the engine. Small engines really suffer when you pull power off the crankshaft pulley. As a matter of fact, night-time lap times were a full second a lap slower on average, due to driving with the lights on.
Funny though, I wasn’t able to just sit there picking my nose. Keeping the lap times consistent and as low as possible meant running as close as possible to the outside armco lap after lap after lap. That was the best line, so instead of being bored I was kinda locked in a prolonged state of monotonous concentration, with only irritating issues like dodging the slower 800cc cars, my ass getting numb after about two hours and my right foot getting pins and needles, but that was all just par for the course, I guess.
I did learn something new about aerodynamics though. You don’t have to be right up behind another car to catch a slipstream. With the Cherys doing the same speeds and lap times, I could get a good feeling for when slipstreaming came into play. The rev-counter would sit at 5500rpm, but it would start to climb with the car ahead still a good fifty to sixty metres away and eventually hit 5700rpm as I got to within a few car lengths. Lap times dropped accordingly. This happened time and time again.
My synopsis – With all other things being equal, there is noticeably less drag on a car travelling through ‘turbulent’ air than a car travelling through ‘still’ air…
Oh, and I also found out that an oval track actually has four corners, believe it or not. The entry to the first corner is called T1, the exit T2 and the second corner entry is referred to as T3, with the exit T4. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? I think things must get very complicated when you start talking about Tri-Ovals, He-he-he…
There was nothing I could do, I collected the poor critter the instant it appeared in front of me. I sent out a warning call to the other drivers over the two-way radio, the car survived the impact and I was able to continue without losing much time.
But I felt like shit. That sickening ‘thud’ when you hit an animal at full speed kinda lingers in your mind if you’re an animal lover, trust me.
And if that wasn’t enough, in the last ten minutes of my stint I barely missed a big stray dog feeding on the road-kill from the porcupine incident, so I sent out another warning over the radio and hugged the inside line in turn three on the next lap, keeping well clear of the porcupine debris patch and what happened? – I hit the freakin' dog!
Figure that. I had never killed an animal on the road up until this point, and here it happened twice in one go. There were five cars and twenty drivers, yet this had to happen to yours truly, twice! How’s that for shit luck? Anyway, I felt miserable after that, parked the well and truly stuffed-up car in the pit, went home and got into bed just as the sun came up…
Back in action:
I couldn’t believe it, but called in anyway and made my way back to the track.
The front end damage was repaired and from that point on the gold car became the ‘chase’ car, used for punching holes in the air for the lime coloured number 1 and blue number 2 cars. I did the dutiful team player thing by letting them catch my slipstream and moving over at the last moment so they could slingshot past, slowing right down and speeding up again a lap or so later when I picked them up in my mirrors. Gerrit de la Rey was in the lead car and together we had this little ritual down to a fine art, repeating the same process over and over throughout the night.
At least that kept my tired mind and body occupied…
And that was that.
To me it felt like we had just completed the LeMans 24-hours, or something. We were all knackered beyond belief, blood-shot eyes and day-old beards, but elated. We did it, and as far as could be established, this was the first time a Chinese vehicle manufacturer achieved anything like this.
As for the cars, well you know people tend to slag Chinese products in general, and I have done so myself on occasion, but I must say I was thoroughly impressed by the stamina and reliability of these little cars. All five cars completed the event without a hint of mechanical hiccup or failure. Even the gold car ran flawless before, and after the animal incidents. And yes, the cars were probably thoroughly checked and properly serviced for this event, but you have to remember they were driven absolutely flat-out at maximum speeds for 48-hours, setting the record at 7 262km and 6 369km for the Chery QQ3 1100cc and 800cc respectively. All in all these five little cars covered more than 33 351km in the allotted time.
As for me, well I now have a sore bum and a little red certificate on my trophy wall stating I was part of this event…
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