P4-2017-10: Report from PittRace – Andrew Olsen

Recently I joined the Northern Ohio Region PCA for their HPDE weekend at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, or more commonly known as, PittRace.  Located in Wampum, PA just north of Pittsburgh, Pitt Race was recently expanded and completely repaved.  Its original 1.6-mile course, previously known as Beaverun, has now been mated to a 1.2-mile “South Track.”  PittRace has quickly become a premier facility as a result.  We ran the combined track which gives a total of 19 turns over 2.8 miles with just over 100 feet of elevation change.

This event was a 3-day HPDE event, with Friday being a lapping day for advanced drivers and instructors.  This was my first time at PittRace, and I now see why it is so popular.  The week prior, I had watched some videos of Caymans on the track, to get a feel for the layout and it seemed that a lap time of about 2:00 was “good” time.  Since this was my first time at this facility and my car is a bit slower than a Cayman S, I had set a goal of 2:10.  If I achieved that, I would be happy.

Friday was all about learning the track and getting a feeling for the line.  From the grid, there is a hard-left turn through turn one and a slight turn for two as you come up to speed on to the second front straight.  Then it’s a long pull uphill to turn three.  Turn three is a great setup for my favorite part of the track.  Turn four is a hard-right-hand turn downhill to turn five.  You plummet 80 feet in the 600 feet between turns four and five and then as you brake, downshift and hit the apex on turn five, it’s a wild pull back uphill through turn six.  It’s a bit like a roller coaster – except you’re not coasting.


This is the Turn 5 apex looking back at Turn 4 at the top of the hill

Turns seven through 12 are commonly called the esses, but these are real turns, and it takes a sort of rhythm to get them right.  There are no straight lines through these esses.  I found this section of the track is where I could make up ground on “faster” cars around me.  At the end of this section, if you turn in a bit early in turn 12 as you climb the hill, it will push you out in perfect position to take turn 13.  Turn 13… argh! Turn 13 is completely blind.  There are few, if any, visual markers for where you should turn.  You need just to “feel it.”  If you’re feeling “it” you can stay on the throttle and carry a lot of speed. If not… then you lift and lose a ton of speed through 14.  This is one of the most challenging spots on the entire circuit.

Turns 15 and 16 are just kinks, but you are carrying so much speed at turn 16 that the car needs to be planted.  As you brake for 17, the track goes uphill slightly and continues to climb up through 19 as you head back down the front straight to the start-finish line.

On Friday, I managed to squeeze out a 2:12.7 lap time in the last session of the day.  I was happy, but I knew I had room for improvement.  Saturday morning the track was becoming burned into my head.  I could anticipate each turn and focus on the line.  On the first session, I hit my goal of 2:10.4!  Then it rained.

During the rain, I switched to street tires and predictably, my times were 5 to 10 seconds slower.  But then the rain stopped, and I could go back to my track tires.  At the last session of the day, I could shave another three seconds off my time and get down to 2:07.1.  Now I was having some serious fun!

Sunday was the last day, and while the threat of rain loomed over us, it only misted slightly for about 15 minutes. My first session was not great.  I was only able to get 2:09.   Even though we were running expanded passing rules, there was still a significant amount of traffic in my group.  I also noticed my tire pressures were a bit low, so I re-calibrated them, and in my second session I was back on pace in the 2:07’s.

In the last session, a lot of people had already left – meaning I had a nice clear track. I had a couple of nice laps with no traffic whatsoever and could knock out a 2:06.7 followed by a 2:05.6 on the last lap of the last session of the last day!  What a way to finish the weekend.  Almost 5 seconds faster than the goal I had set for myself.

However, not everything was roses.  On my post-HPDE weekend inspection, I noticed copper flakes in my oil.  There are only two things that are copper inside a 928 engine.  Thrust bearings and rod bearings.  Thrust bearings rarely go bad in a 5-speed, but rod bearings are a different story.

I put the car on the lift and began pulling things off to get at the oil pan.  A few hours later I had the pan off.  The very first connecting rod I saw was for cylinder #5.  I pulled the connecting rod cap off and was devastated.  The rod bearing had spun.  Normally, the rod bearing stays stationary in the rod and rod cap.  In this case, the tang that locates it had been hammered allowing the bearing to stick to the crank, and rotate into the rod assembly.  Normally this is a death sentence because it scores the crankshaft and damages the connecting rod surface.

It appears I got lucky.  The #5 rod looked fine.  The crank also looked fine, and all other bearings were in good shape.  I measured the old bearing, and it was only 0.002” thinner than the others, so I must have just caught it before permanent damage was done.  I bought several lottery tickets that day, but all were losers.

After a grueling eight hours reassembling everything, the 928 Coke Car is back together with new rod bearings ready to hit the track again.  I’m taking some measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again hopefully.  I think it had to do with the ignition-timing chip I have been running and the hot track temperatures we saw at PittRace.  But that is a story for another day.

If you can make the 4-and-a-half-hour journey to PittRace, I highly recommend it.  It is probably one of the best tracks and facilities within a reasonable distance.  Thanks to Ed Baus and the Northern Ohio Region PCA group for putting on a great event!  I will be back for sure!

The Coke Car in line for final tech inspection