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Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Spirit of Sunshine 2014 Lake Gairdner.

We had Highway to Hell blasting, we were on the western side of Renmark and had been making good time. There'd been a momentary hitch and a moment of levity when we stopped at the quarantine roadblock for fruit at the beginning of the Riverland. I still had some of my home grown peaches in a bucket...."can I eat one now?"...."No you can't , too late, do you have any other fruit and vegetables?"...."No , we don't " I said. " I need to look in the back"....There are a couple of issues with the top tailgate on the F100, firstly, it doesn't lock, secondly, the struts don't hold it up, but third, and most importantly, if you lift it too high it falls out. The fruit inspector was very keen to look in the back, which was jam packed with tools and camping gear, but first he'd have to deal with the tailgate.. By my estimation he grabbed it with both hands and lifted it quickly. We hadn't yet got our feet on the ground when we heard a loud "CONK" which was the sound of the tailgate pivoting in his hands and striking him squarely on the forehead. My nephew Tom and i arrived at the back of the truck from opposite sides to see the inspector resting the tailgate on the ground and rubbing his head, he looked a little ticked off.

"So, are you fellas going to fix that?" I asked. He shoved it at me, so i repeated the question. He handed it to me and walked off. It appeared the inspection was over. We put the tailgate back on with funereal expressions. We laughed for a good three minutes solid as we drove away.

AC/DC at dangerous volume, but through it, at the top of a long third gear hill I heard a noise, a sharp clattering , we turned onto the Goyder Highway and I began looking for somewhere to pull over, power was down, the beast was wounded. As I stood with my head under the bonnet a car pulled up, "are you OK?" "Yeah, we should be right "I said hopefully, "you've got a long way to go"....he'd recognized the bellytank, he was going where we were going.

We weren't right. We'd blown a head gasket, punched out the fire rings between 2 and 3 on the right bank, We sat at a roadside stop and I thought to myself that this year I'd really blown it, that I wasn't going to make it, that the manic period of preparation, which was barely enough , was wasted and now I had an expensive problem in the middle of nowhere.

I didn't know exactly what was wrong but I knew I could do about 50k's an hour and that giving up was not the answer, whatever the question was. We set off at about 7pm heading west without a real plan. After an hour I rang Dirty Dave who was coming to the salt and lives in the Barossa, we changed course and went south, 170km's to our oasis. We saw 100km/h down a hill at one point but mostly it was 40-50k's, it took three and a half hours. We got to Dave's just before midnight.

Dave had planned to leave at sun-up the next day with his friend Miles in Dave's beat up old Hi-Ace. With a bunch of phone calls, some expert opinion and some hard yakka we had it back together by about 7pm Saturday. Then, after starting it and doing a pretension of the head bolts I broke a rocker stud. We sourced another one ten minutes away , but while fitting it I bent a push rod, we got another, and a spare from Johnno again, this time we had it together and we could leave. We'd originally taken the route up the Calder after getting a text from Graham "the Colonel", it read "roadworks, roadworks, roadworks" and referred to the western highway, it's a shorter way but also includes the Pentland Hills, a few of my cars had died there, so the Calder via Mildura had been confirmed by Damian Moylan, a truck driver as the better way to go to Port Augusta, especially when towing. So much for that plan, we were now in the Barossa and the road to "the Gutta" was up hill and down dale for the first hundred and fifty k's.

When we pulled over for the first look at the motor I had jammed something up under my right thumb nail, the next day it was sore but today it was swollen and angry, anytime it touched something I jumped, so, a suspect motor and a septic thumb, just the right combo to be heading out to the desert for a week.

We got to Port Augusta by midday and spent an hour shopping and refueling. Dave had stopped at the first place that had gas.." yeah, we're the only place that has gas on a Sunday here" smelt like rotten chicken and she looked like she hated everyone. Dave paid 65 bucks for a small cylinder, the next place, and the two after that had gas, Dave, needless to say made light of it. We split up for shopping and agreed to meet "at the dirt", the point where you turn off the bitumen at Iron Knob and head west 165km's to Lake Gairdner.

It's always a great feeling leaving Port Augusta, it's where the desert really begins and you can't help but be awed by the size and age of this tired old landscape.

We arrived at the dirt and start the last checks securing everything and tying a tarp over the car to protect it from stone damage. Mike Davidson, club Dry Lake Racers of Australia club member number one arrived with his brand new streamliner "Flatattack", he's a seasoned campaigner but he didn't look well. He was talking to me as I checked the tie-downs, one of them snapped back and hit me squarely on the end of my rotten thumb, a ball of pus oozed out. I broke off the conversation as my body pushed out an allover sweat, I felt ill, it hurt like it had been smashed with a hammer. I'd been soaking it in peroxide on the drive from the Gutta, so now at least some of the pressure was relieved.

The drive in was much as always, nearly three hours of corrugated, dusty unmade road, we hit a washout about half an hour in that bounced the trailer off. It stayed on the chains and didn't damage anything. We arrived lakeside at 6pm to be told we couldn't drive on til the next day, we set up camp and shuffled down a few beers, hot and tired. We started early and got the rig out onto the lake by 7, pitting next to Tiny and Wilso who'd saved a spot for us and Chris Bryson, or as we call him, "Maxwell Smart". We spent the rest of the day preparing the pit and the car, much of it cleaning the dust from the drive in, removing the transport tires and fitting the safety gear. We had a new trailer this year and it vastly improved the loading/unloading procedure. We got through tech with just a few issues, no brakes.....We had to bleed the brake system which consists of drum brakes on the rear, apart from that we were ready to roll.

We had changed the final gearing of the car from 2013's 2.41:1 to 2.14:1 skipping the 2.28 gear set we had. Last year we ran 215.041mph(348km/h). We figured that 2.14 would be too tall, but if the car wouldn't pull it that it would give us an accurate idea of the cars total drag which we as yet hadn't been able to calculate..

This is the fourth year we had had the car there, and I now know that I need at least one run to get over the willies, it's always the second run when I seem to be able to commit to just mashing it. This year was the first year we have used first gear off the start line, the car stepped out to the right as I booted it, then again when I shifted into second, I wasn't thinking straight and changed too early, at 155mph instead of the planned 175, it bogged and accelerated slowly, tick tick tick on the mph, it got into the 180's and started to take off but at 190 it died. I still had a little power but nothing useable, I turned off at the five mile. When I pulled up I was too close to the second track and had smoke billowing from the cowl. The fire crew wanted to hit it with extinguishers, I said no and they waited. For my trouble I got a yellow sticker" CONCERN: BURNING OIL". We had to tear the car down in order to satisfy the scrutineers,the smoke was from oil that had soaked into the fiberglass exhaust wrapping during last year's diff change, while we had it apart we found that I'd also broken the 1st/2nd gear selector, the manager of the Mt I've station offered to lend is the part we needed from his eleven year old daughters Holden Ute, in the end we drilled a hole in the selector, tapped a thread and screwed the selector back together. The offer of the part was above and beyond but we were pretty sure we didn't want to be back under a Ute putting it's gearbox back together on Friday afternoon when we wanted to be driving home. In all it took about three hours and we had the car reassembled. Chief scrutineer Bob Ellis signed off on the sticker and we were free to line up again. We'd kept the same 2.14 gearing in the diff after realizing I had simply run out of fuel on the first run, yes, at 190mph I simply ran out of fuel.

We were nearly out of the pits when we turned back, and filled the tank with premium unleaded.

It was Wednesday, we had to get some track time. Like last year when it came to the second run I was more than ready to go, the trepidation of the first run was gone. Tom had been elected as the man to close the canopy as he seemed to be the only one other than me who had the knack of making it latch. With Dave and Miles pushing I left the line, last year we'd pushed the car with the truck as I was driving off in 3rd, I was using first gear this year. I was kind of shocked how hard the car accelerated off the line, I looked down and despite our best efforts we had managed to swipe the GPS to the menu screen and I already knew it wouldn't respond to my gloved hand. I ran up to the pitch I know is close to the red line, the car was pulling hard, in second it went sideways briefly as I dropped the clutch but I stayed in it. Once again I ran it into what I hope was the 6000rpm range and shifted into third, same again, it pulled hard but held traction with my foot on the floor. I could feel the acceleration in top which was encouraging rather than the sensation of bogging I'd had the day before. I held my foot on the floor and listened to the pitch climb until the last mile where it remained constant. I pulled off the track at the seven and a half mile and this time I could see the "Bali flags" and knew where to stop. Northern rescue arrived and gave me the thumbs up, one of them jumped out..."are you OK? yeah? did two hundred and four, congratulations!", he jumped back in and they drove away.

"So" I thought, that is the first time we'd hit an aero wall. With the gearing (2.14:1) we had that speed translated to 5280rpm, at those revs we have about 270 horsepower, it seems now that at 204mph our car has the equivalent of about 270 horsepower of drag, until now we'd gone faster and faster, now we knew what the limits were.

We took the car back to the pits and began to dismantle it to change the final gearing to the as yet untried 2.28:1. Everyone got dirty, Dave, Miles, Tom, Graham and I. We hoisted the car onto the metre high stands, off with the body, drained the water tank of its 60 litres, hoisted it off, hoisted the motor off it's mounts, removed the exhaust, the gear shift gantry, the furl tank and fuel system, just to get to the diff. It sounds ridiculous but the car is fast because it is small and has a good aero shape, to make that possible things need to be packaged very tightly. What does make things difficult is that the car has been hammered by it's time being transported on it's four trips to the lake, things don't fit as well as they used to.

We started at 4.30, working with the headlights of two cars we finished, exhausted at 10pm. We went back to our camp, had a few beers and crashed by 11.30. We were back on the lake by 6.45, Dave cooked breakfast while we fitted up the last of the body, refuelled and made some last checks, we were three groups from the start. There were delays as the track had been move across due to it's soft condition between the two and three mile where lots of cars had spun. We wouldn't run until 1pm.

I fumbled with the shift as despite our prep the car wasn't in first, once, twice, three times, I cursed, I shifted it into second, the clutch slipped and the stench filled the cab, I bounced it a few times before I let it out, now the car pulled hard. I ran to 95 mph just short of 6 grand. In the third the car pulled like a train, the numbers on the screen reeling, 120, 130 150 160, I shifted into top at 176mph, it took briefly, and then died, I pulled the clutch, revved the motor and dropped it again, nothing. I freewheeled for a bit, I was halfway through the three mile. I shifted back to slow it down. I was off the track by the four and a half. The crew arrived and it was all in the glance between Graham and I, it was Thursday, something was broken, the week was over.

Although the best run of 204mph wasn't as fast as we had run in 2013 we had still made some progress. 2013's 215.041mph was run with a 2.41:1 diff gear and we believed it was a rev limit in the motor ( valve bounce, lifters we don't really know)that had stopped us going any faster. Up until this point we had no reliable figure for the drag coefficient of the car which meant we could not calculate how much power we need to achieve the speed(240mph) that ultimately we hope the car will run. When the car ran 204mph with the 2.14 gearing and could not accelerate any further it told us the power it made at 5280rpm which is about 270hp equaled the drag at that speed, we will be back, we know more than we did before.

Getting home is always a dose of reality, it's a week later. the car is still on the trailer but at least I've washed this stuff off......

The rig. We went through about $1000USD in fuel....

The Malley country....

Your correspondent, red hat and all......

The road to Gairdner, wasn't the worst I'd seen it by a long shot, but that doesn't mean it was good.

What a place.....

Bali Girl danced all week

it's big

Me, a BNI/SCTA Inspctor who followed me out there  and Dirty Dave our resident plumber, gourmet chef and wine buff

I got a sticker!

Lining up at marshalling

Motor hoisted, water tank, fuel tank, exhaust and diff contents removed....

Graham pulls the pinion bearing during the diff swap

My nephew Tom, Dirty Dave and Miles pose in front of Simon's luxury mobile digs...

The best run, 2.14:1 gear set 5285 rpm
The Spirit of Sunsine in her 2014 "flipped" color scheme.....

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