For Running Bulls Racing the 14-hour Road Atlanta ChampCar event was almost more about the time before the event than the race. After a crash at Barber in the rain-soaked event in December, we were not even sure if the current e30 chassis could be repaired. We sent it to David Walsh, an e30 crash specialist that did a great job to straighten and repair the damage along with parts we got from a local donor. But even after getting the car back to our shop in mid-January it was still a big push for the team. Engine and transmission were out, suspension replacement, complete front end aero of splitter and air dam needed to be fabricated again, just everything we looked at needed work. But we made it and even had a few hours to dress up the livery a bit.
On test day Friday there were some sketchy impressions of the car, but it looks like much of that was related to an older set of tires, gusty winds playing with the car on some corners and a way too large replacement steering wheel. But at the end of the day on new tires, we thought all was good until our last practice session claimed the newly installed windshield that had not survived a day! So, a quick trip to Strictly German for a replacement and by 6:00 it was all installed and ready. The next morning pre-race we swapped the steering wheel back to a proper size and the car was back to what we knew.
We started the race 46th, Andrew Sides starting and made steady progress moving up. Our strategy was for 1:45 stints with 4 drivers. But with things going well we made a change to try to get full 2 hours stints early to get us “ahead” on the strategy and then maybe work with some yellow flag stops. Mike Merrill took 2nd stint, continued to move up but got called in for a black flag for contact, but we had none. ChampCar did get us right back out and gave us back 1 lap to cover the drive through. David Boring was in for stint 3 and moved up with a good clean stint, then to Michael Bulls for another good full 2-hour stint. By this time, we saw our position was strong and had to make the call on the rest of the race and we decided to only run three more stints and continue with the full 2-hour stints for strategy since fuel had not been an issue. Mike Merrill did stint #5, only issue was the engine getting hot during the red flag stop. Then Andrew Sides picked up stint 6 and all was well until about 45 minutes left when he commented that 4th gear was starting to not want to play! He nursed it with different shifting and then handed it off to David Boring for the final stint. David was left with the worst transmission but found a way to just drive most of the track, or at times, the entire track with the car in 4th gear and still maintain good lap times.
At the end, we were eyeing that top 5 spot and were watching the battle with Tuttle and McKibbins at the end thinking if either got too aggressive and even had a lengthy spin it might be enough to elevate us out of 6th to 5th but it wasn’t in the cards.
Regardless it was a fantastic finish for Running Bulls with a 6th place in this strong field of cars especially with a car that was all but destroyed 8 weeks prior. Good team work and consistent error free driving helped us to this finishing position. It was especially nice to hear from teams recognizing our good finish and complimenting us on the race, it means a lot when your competitors say you have done well!
Special thanks to all that supported us. David Bulls and his buddy Zach were a great team of fueler and fire bottle man! SooZee Merrill also was over the wall on every stop to help with driver and car. James Brooks Automotive as always helps with all our tire mounting and other items. It was a ton of work for the team but a great finish.
Photo Credit: Bill Land