It turns out a fair number of Jalopnik readers are members of 24 Hours of LeMons racing teams, and today it's Saab-o-phile LTDScott's turn to tell the story of a heroic racing effort. You see, Team Saabs Gone Wild fielded three cars at the Altamont LeMons race last month, taking home the coveted Most Heroic Fix trophy in the process.
This is the "after" photograph of team mechanic Walter's Saab, which was cannibalized for numerous parts for the race cars during the race. His daily driver car, which he had intended to drive home after the race. Did these guys deserve to win it all or what? All right, enough from me- let's hear the tale of Team Saabs Gone Wild, in the words of LTDScott and teammate Alex:
The Saabs gone wild team fielded three cars, all 80's Saab 900 turbos. Two of the three cars were trailered in, but the third was street legal (passed smog and all!) and drove up from L.A. under its own power. It was loud, hot and windy at 80mph, and power steering fluid was leaking onto the exhaust, but it made no complaints otherwise.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we realized we had no tools, as our team mechanics were several hours behind us. So unfortunately we weren't able to get the cars out on the track immediately (silly things like glass and lights had to be removed, and we had no tools). The other cars had no gas in the tank. Man, we were off to a great start. Finally around 5pm the rest of the crew arrived, and work began in earnest.
3 cars meant thrice the amount of work, which turned out to be pretty devastating when it came right down to it. Trying to motivate a dozen people is not easy. Tires needed to be changed, gas runs made, final prep work, tech inspections, stickers applied, etc etc etc. It's like having triplets.
Somehow we managed to get everything done in time to turn some practice laps. The Altamont folks were kind enough to extend practice until 8:30pm, which allowed us to get all three cars up to speed for a few minutes. It was determined that lower air temps and familiarity with the course significantly improved lap times. With an open course we could run low 52 second laps consistently, versus our best 56.5 in July. All of the cars ran well, even the last minute one.
The time flew by and soon enough they were kicking us out. We vowed to return with more gas cans and a few more spare parts in the morning.
Race Day #1
Since we got most of the prep work done the day before, there wasn't a whole lot to do in the morning but finish decorating the cars and install radios and cameras.
Our team cars had a Viking theme. The centerpiece was none other than Valkyrie, riding into battle on her trusty steed— the black #3 car, which was a veteran of the July race (we came in 13th). We also ran a Viking ship with shields (black #4) and a silver Viking horned helmet (#2). We got a few appreciative smiles, although nothing quite like the Maximus guys. They did end up with the People's Choice award for their car and togas.
The field was packed at the start. In a perfect world, 80 cars on a 1 mile track means approximately 50 feet between you and the next car. In reality, it meant was trying to stay out of trouble with the dozen cars swarmed around you. Some of the larger cars took advantage of the traffic to go barreling into turns like a shark diving into a school of minnows. Team Do Or Die (the hearse) was one of them.
They basically didn't care who was around and just went for the shortest possible line through the turns. They took out several cars this way. We were one of them. The driver in our silver #2 car said he could see the guy's hands in the rear view mirror and he didn't even try to make the turn. The hearse hit him so hard he was spun completely around. The impact trashed the rear axle. This was less than one hour after the start. This car went into the pits and received a donor axle, placing it out of the top running.
Thus began the cannibalization of the mechanic's car. One of our team sponsors - Walter Wong - is a top notch Saab mechanic in L.A. He and two of his techs drove up to the race in a Saab 900 that he had recently purchased and intented to resell for profit. When the axle on #2 got bent, most of the team figured the car was done. But not Walter. He had a never say die attitude, so he and his guys swapped the rear axle from his own car to get #2 back in the race.
All of us who ran in July quickly realized that the level of competition had been taken up a few notches. Drivers were taking chances in complete disregard for their own or others' safety. I believe Jay did his best to penalize the biggest offenders, but there's only one of him and 80 of us. We later found out that Jay gave the Do or Die Team quite the tongue lashing and made them park in their pits for a while to cool down.
We did not escape punishment either. The second yellow of the race came without warning and caught one of our guys unaware. He continued at race speed and passed 6 cars before slowing down. He was black flagged and had open mustard bottles attached to the hood. We made sure to obey yellows after that.
Our next casualty was the Valkyrie (black #3). We were running great until a blow from one of the many BMW's in the field broke the passenger side half shaft. We were in 6th place. The mechanics grabbed a half shaft from their street car and got it back to running condition, but it effectively ended that car's bid at a top finish. Not 30 minutes later, one of the drivers spun in the gravel on one of the infield turns and narrowly missed being in a head on collision. When he restarted the car he was blinded by the sun and couldn't see the giant mud pit just off the course, and drove right into it, getting himself thoroughly stuck.
After being pulled out of the muck, it was finally my turn behind the wheel at around sundown. Once I hopped in the car, I immediately experieced a horrible vibration from the front end while going around the banked part of the course. It felt like one of the CV joints was going to let go, but I decided to just ride it out. That is, until I hit the brakes to make the sharp left hander before the starter's podium and found I had none. Luckily I found this out before starting into the fast banked part of the oval and entering the chicane - that would have sucked. So I limped it into the pits and discovered that the mud caked up inside the passenger front wheel had split one the brake line and leaked out all of the fluid, in addition to causing the vibration. A 20 minute pit stop fixed the brake problem (again stealing parts from the mechanic's car) and netted me a new set of tires - I forgot what it was like to not just constantly understeer around the fastest parts of the track!
A short while later, I spun out and stalled the car... that's when I broke the ignition switch trying to restart it, and had to sit and watch cars fly past me while sitting in a precarious position in the chicane until I got a push from one the service trucks and was able to bump start the car.
While all this was going on, the silver car (#2) had been steadily turning laps. The only concern was wisps of white smoke during shifts. It was still making good power under boost and the car felt tight. This, however, was a warning that the head gasket was ready to let go. We didn't have any stop leak and the car was running on straight water, so the mechanics decided to let it die. We had a spare engine after all.
An hour later the gasket gave up. There was only steam left in the coolant reservoir by the time it made it back to the pits. It was 6pm, just 3 1/2 hours after the start. We sent two teams out to auto parts stores to find a cherry picker and an assortment of necessesities. By 11pm the non-turbo engine from the mechanic's car was a running engine in #2, thanks to an amazing host of mechanics and pit crew.
Somewhere in all of this, the #4 car had been running great until an unknown electrical issue killed the engine after a hard hit on the left front corner (where the ignition box resides). After several hours, one of the mechanics correctly diagnosed the issue, but in the process fried the starter. Oops. We would have to wait for a parts store to open in the morning to fix it.
The end of the first day left the #3 car in 47th position. #4 and #2 were 67th and 73rd, respectively. It was a disheartening midpoint given our expectations, but at least we hadn't gone home yet. There was still life in this team.
Race Day #2
We started early by getting both the #2 and #4 cars up and running. They rejoined the field at the start of racing for day 2, determined to claw their way back through the diminished field. Just 50 cars returned to kick off the second leg of this endurance race.
The drivers of the #2 car realized quickly that they would not be turning fast laps. The engine the mechanics had put in was a non-turbo, making a good 50 HP less than its turbo'ed brethren. To make matters more interesting, the throttle cable would stick occasionally, sending the engine to bounce off the rev limiter. Admitting that the car would not be competitive, we decided to just keep it out there for laps. Our enterprising mechanics grabbed the bent rear axle and welded it on as a front bumper for the rest of the race. They took turns hassling the hearse.
I took another turn behind the wheel of the #3 car, and my stint was uneventful with the exception of making a Miata the meat in an Integra/Saab sandwich during an unavoidable multi-car pileup in the chicane. There was only minor damage to my car, but I later learned the incident killed the radiator on the Miata. D'oh.
Meanwhile, the #4 car was looking good. All of the drivers were able to turn decent laps and they were quickly making up time. Then, around 3 hours from the end of the race, the transmission quit.
#2 obligingly pushed the #4 car back to the pits, where it was determined that the transmission was completely shot. Having used up the spare engine and tranny from the mechanics' car, this was the nail in the coffin for #4. It would not finish the race and ended in 57th place. #2 finished in a dismal 72nd place. #3 bravely pushed on to finish 25th.
Fittingly, our team won the "Most Heroic Fix" award - a broken connecting rod trophy. We gave the trophy to Walter the mechanic, because he and his guys deserved it. He stripped his street car of all usable parts and left it for the recyclers to take.
Well, a disappointing finish for us, but good fun was had by all.
Before you check out our gallery, be sure to check out the 100+ excellent LeMons photos provided by Team Saabs Gone Wild here, then take a look at LTDScott's personal collection here.