My fifth race with my tbird was a complete and unmitigated disaster. Going into this race, I was feeling pretty good as this car ran without any drama for 6 hours at a track day this past June. The only problem I encountered then was with a starter solenoid so I just left the car running on idle between sessions. No worries.
I think I learned some valuable additional lessons should you be interested in sustained abuse of your tbird's 5.0L engine (running an engine from 3K-5.5KRPM constantly for 8+ hours cannot be classified as anything else other than abuse).
PROBLEM 1: Alternator Charging
- Despite having NO problems going into the race, our car refused to start when it came time to enter the track. We bump started it and laughably, it was the first car to be towed back in b/c it died in front of the grandstands.
- We didn't root cause this issue until after I had towed the car back to my garage.
- What we did find at the race was that the alternator was NOT charging the battery. I have no idea why this never came up during the track day.
- My problem was a mismatch between the chassis' 95 gauge cluster (kept because I kept ABS on the car) and the 93 tbird's 5.0L engine wiring requirements.
- The alternator requires a 12V signal going through a malfunction light to tell it ito charge the stupid battery. It doesn't look like that wire was correctly matched to a MIL light so I need to wire my own seperate line.
Apparently, this means that ever since I swapped in a V8 (which means after one full day of racing on a spare engine + one full track day), my alternator NEVER charged the battery; crazy.
OTHER LESSONS LEARNED:
- Install a volt meter in the car. That will help debug alternator charging issues more quickly.
- Susstained loads w/o constant recharging from the alternator WILL kill a battery dead
- If you have a dead battery and a faulty alternator charging setup, your engine will not rev beyonda certain RPM because it can't spark fast enough.
- If you own a big battery charger/starter(I do), bring it to the track. Otherwise, you'll need to borrow one.
PROBLEM 2: COOLING ISSUES
Despite a faulty charging circuit, we decided to just go ahead and do a some laps for fun. This brings us up to the second problem (which caused us to finally just pack it up for the weekend) -- our cooling system was inadequate and cooked the engine. If you spend the time and effort to rebuild your V8, don't just rely on your stock radiator (which might have had 50K-100K mi on it.). SPEND A FEW BUCKS spend a few more bucks and UPGRADE YOUR COOLING SYSTEM.
LESSON LEARNED 2a: get a better radiator
- The first thing I purchased was the biggest radiator I could find that would fit in the stock radiator position and had the outlets in the right position. I settled for this one: griffin 1-26242-X ($173.17 @ Summit Racing).
- I then had an aluminum bung TIG welded to the driver's side end tank (to read the coolant before it goes back into the engine). One reason I didn't catch the cooling problem earlier was because my aftermarket water temp gauge never read too high. This was because it was mounted at the very top of the engine block so the minute a little water turned to steam, the sensor would just read the (cooler) air.
- At 27.5" x 19" x 3", this two-row radiator didn't cost that much more than what a stock radiator w/ plastic end tanks would cost (maybe $30-50). The trickiest thing about using this radiator was fabrication of brackets to hold it in place. I made some with scrap metal I bent and welded into shape + some yoga mat material I glued to it for padding.
- My stock radiator's cap did NOT match what is needed for the Griffin radiator. After checking online and trying the cap off my neighbors truck (my tow vehicle), I found that the radiator cap for a 2000 Chevy CK2500 fits just fine.
- Given how many different metals now occupy my cooling system (aluminum, brass, and iron, I also picked up a zinc anode that will corrode instead of the guts of my cooling system. http://www.summitracing.com/parts/fld-fhp32004
- Cooling under a caution was also a concern I needed to address: my stock electric fan from my 95 Tbird is 5.5" thick and barely fits in combination with the crappy 1.5" thick stock radiator (total just under 7" from the radiator support).
- The solution is a pusher fan. What I found in my research is that the biggest fans you can get at a reasonable price are ~16" diameter and that only covers just under 50% of my radiator (recommendation is 80% coverage).
- After looking at all my options and placing calls to both SPAL and Summit Racing, I decided to forgo the high spec (3000 alleged CFM) attractively priced 16" Zirgo fan in favor of the slightly more expensive and lower spec'd 16" SPAL 30. http://www.summitracing.com/parts/spu-ix-30102048
(PM'd to Amazon @ $120). Despite only being rated at 2000CFM, the current draw is significantly higher so it's more likely to deliver the claimed amount of air while pushing against a radiator (vs blowing against free air).
LESSON LEARNED 2b: Get an oil cooler
A survey of other teams made me realize that we were missing another key helper in endurance racing - a seperate oil cooler.
While I was first directed at the Crown Vic PI's oil cooler, an oil-to-water setup seems like it would add a ton of unnecessary complication for not much net heat dissipation.
- My goal was to look for a the largest oil cooler I could reasonably desire to pay for (basically under $140) that used both 1/2" tubing (so that ALL the oil vs. just some can be directed through it) AND had threaded connections vs. barbs.
- The last thing I wanted was to have all my oil go through a hose that will get ripped and the engine's heartblood would just oil the track.
- Here's what I bought:
(needed to prevent backflow since I'm also plumbing in the accusump I before my last race).
- I will have my hydraulic shop fab me up some cloth, steel jacketed 300PSI high temp hoses.
LESSON LEARNED 2c: buy a better oil temp gauge.
- My current Autometer oil temp gauge only reads to 250F. The solution is to upgrade to a solution that can read much higher AND do something about it.
- This module will do double duty for me: it will be an oil temp gauge up to 500F and act as my voltmeter.
Engine Carnage (Aftermath)
The engine overheated so before we did further damage, we brought the car back in after a MERE 11 laps. If we didn't have the alternator problem, we probably would have swapped in the spare engine. However, given we had TWO issues, I really didn't want to chance having to rebuild BOTH engines.
In my post race autopsy, here's what I've found (so far):
(4-6) collapsed hydraulic lifters (replacing all of them since they've seen 100K mi)
(2-3) compromised valve seals (both heads will need to be reworked)
(ALL) bearings seem to show wear.
(unknown) discolored connecting rods [I hope they are OK]
The engine is not fully taken apart. I'm hoping I can save the crank with just a polish so i don't have to rebalance everything; we will see. THe engine was running when pulled except for a diesel engine like tick that likely came from the collapsed lifters. I'll know how bad it is soon.
All in all, at least I know what problems I need to solve for the next race.
That's part of the fun, right?
Bonus Lesson Learned
Q: Do you know what the worst part of the weekend was? On the way out, I was walking to drop off our transponder b/c we weren't going to be doing anymore laps and was randomly bitten by the dog of some idiot who thought that a racetrack is a suitable place to bring their young pitbull looking mutt.
I will carry a breaker bar with me next time I'm walking outside of my pit area. You know, just in case someone needs to borrow it.
The net result is that I did get this guy's information and am reasonably sure I won't die from rabies but it's amazing how many people will jump out and defend a dog owner online (I had to post on the lemons forums to get this guys info) despite the owner's own self admitted negligence. You may think your dog is a member of your family but a racetrack is no place to bring a dog or small children.