Monday, July 8, 2013
ChumpCar's The 36: The Results
In a far-flung corner of the United States, 49 race cars gridded up last Friday night, nerves jangled and jaws set in anticipation of a weekend-long meatgrinder of an endurance race.
Most teams knew they'd face unforeseen challenges, both of man and machine, over an endurance race the length of which none could fully prepare for.
The green flag dropped in the dark of night around 10 p.m. at Spokane County Raceway; the odyssey that had just begun would seen two sunrises before the starter held the checkered flag aloft before the Last Car Standing crossed the start finish line.
Thirty-six hours of racing, of exhaustion, of fun, of long lulls, of frenzied bursts, of camaraderie, of teamwork, of failure, of heartbreak and of triumph.
When the dust settled, only one team managed to avoid any serious mechanical maladies to take the checkered flag: Squirrels of Fury in their Volkswagen Rabbit earned their keep as the winners of America's Longest Endurance race, ChumpCar World Series' "The 36."
None will dispute that they earned it, quietly running what amounts to a perfect race for 35 hours before trading blows with crapcan heavyweights Will Race for Beer in their Saab 9-5 in a final-hour sprint that would have given Tom Kristensen ulcers. The title of Conqueror of 36 Hours hung in the balance for that hour until Will Race for Beer--who had towed their two-Saab team from the New York--broke their second CV joint with just four minutes remaining while they held a slim three-second advantage over the Squirrels.
It was a moment of pure heartbreak for the Saab squad, who received a sportsmanlike push around the track from the Rusty Igloo Racing Honda Civic to complete their final circuit. The final results show a two-lap margin of victory for Squirrels of Fury, but few will forget how close the race really was.
Will Race for Beer led an astonishing 918 of the race's 1,055 laps (87 percent of the race), including 902 consecutive laps after taking P1 on lap 116. They led by as many as 15 laps over the Squirrels of Fury, who themselves sat in P2 for more than half of the race.
With about three hours remaining and eight laps in hand, the Saab broke its first CV joint--the same issue that knocked them from the lead at ChumpCar Daytona in May--but the car turned laps about 20 seconds off the race pace while the team prepared to swap in a new axle in the hot pit. Will Race for Beer managed the fix and came out still in first place, but their lead had evaporated to just 30 seconds. The Saab driver responded by turning the car's fastest lap and their lead extended to well over a minute for the next hour.
However, a full-course caution with an hour remaining bunched up the field. The shootout for the win loomed with both drivers prepared to wail on their machines. With the nearest competitors some 20 laps arrears, the Squirrels driver flogged the Rabbit mercilessly to close the gap from 7.3 seconds down to a nose-to-tail fight for mega-endurance supremacy.
On lap 1018, the Rabbit wrestled the lead away from Will Race for Beer for the first time in something like 30 hours. Two laps later, the Saab squeezed past for the lead again; the Squirrels took it back two laps after that and held it for five more laps.
Will Race for Beer had something left, it appeared, and roared back again to P1 on circuit number 1028. The driver pulled out nearly five seconds of lead before the Squirrels' driver threw down a race-best lap and the Saab found itself with a mirror full of Volkswagen for another six laps.
With five minutes left and the battle for the win looking to be decided by which car used traffic better, the Saab slowed off the pace and came to a stop with its second broken CV joint.
It would be easy to suggest that the win was ceded to Squirrels of Fury, but that sells short their incredible accomplishment. The biggest part of winning an endurance race is being there at the end; the Squirrels got to that point by running a perfect race and leaving just enough in the car for a sprint to the checkered flag.
The biggest story in the rest of the field was the amazing success of Volkswagens, four of which finished in the Top 10 with two more just outside of it in P12 and P15.
The early hours of the race saw almost all of the first 100 laps led by either NNM Motorsports' Dodge Neon or Martini Racers' Volkswagen Golf. Martini Racers would go on to finish fourth in the race.
Attrition rates remained high, but most teams endeavored to fix their crapcans and get them back on the track. This included three cars that were rolled but were repaired enough to take the checkered flag, if not continue racing for a few hours.
Of the race's 49 entries, well more than half took the checkered flag and nearly half (21 teams) ran more than 2,000 race miles.
There were almost certainly hundreds of fixes made during the race and tens of thousands of exciting moments for the hundreds of drivers in the race. Come the checkered flag Sunday at 10 a.m., most participants found jubilation in knowing that they'd made it.
- Read the Squirrels of Fury's recap. Really. Do it. It's an amazing view on teamwork behind pit wall and on the track.
- Get the full standings here. Compare it with our predictions from earlier in the week.
- Read the race discussion and live updates from Race Control during The 36 from the ChumpCar Forum topic here.
- Only four cars led the race, we think. The Squirrels of Fury actually led the fewest of those four cars with just 10 (!) laps in P1. In descending order of laps led: Will Race for Beer (919), NNM Motorsports (63), Martini Racers (48), Squirrels of Fury (10). [Editor's Note: If you're wondering why that doesn't add up to 1,045 laps, that's because we couldn't find out through the records who led laps 1, 2, 56 and 97. So it's possible that four other cars led a single lap each. Anybody help us out with this?]
1. #25 Squirrels of Fury II (Volkswagen Rabbit) - 1045 Laps
2. #184 Will Race for Beer (Saab 9-5) - 1043 Laps
3. #39 Socket Monkeys (Honda Civic) - 1024 Laps
4. #10 Martini Racers (Volkswagen Golf) - 1022 Laps
5. #58 BSD Racing (Acura Integra) - 1012 Laps
6. #16 Son of Andre (Ford Mustang) - 989 Laps
7. #48 Mediocre Motoring (Volkswagen Golf) - 988 Laps
8. #26 Team Titleist (Volkswagen Golf) - 968 Laps
9. #960 Crapst Blue Ribbon Racing (Toyota MR2) - 960 Laps
10. #17 Cone Damage (BMW E28) - 956 Laps
Tell us your story from the race in the Comments section below, on our Facebook page, via Twitter (160 characters at a time...we like haiku) or through email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll throw it up on the website. As always, we love pictures of stuff that broke along with a good story on how it happened and how you overcame it.