The Story Of Hooncorp's 2017 24hrs of Lemons Campaign

Discussion in 'Motorsport' started by Nismonath5, Oct 26, 2017.

  1. Nismonath5

    Nismonath5 Premium

    New Zealand
    Hooncorp is an organisation that has been active in Auckland since the early 90's. We primarily aim to provide low cost fun motorsport and social events for rookies and professionals alike, with a heavy emphasis on encouraging people to be smart and save their fast and furious antics for the racetrack, not the road!


    The idea
    of entering the 24hr ofLemons had long been on our minds. Dad and I had spent months figuring out some ways of getting Hooncorp out there, exposed to the public. Too long we'd been sitting on our arse, planning and planning but with none of these plans bearing fruit. We had hosted a few public test days here and there, and these had garnered much attention individually but were few and far between. Too few and far between to retain our audience aside from loyal friends and family. We needed to do something different. Hence our entry into the 2017 24hrs of Lemons. A race focused on budget cars, getting out and having fun without breaking the bank! Now, let's be clear. This isn't a 24hr start-to-finish race. There was 9 hours' racing on Saturday and 9 hours on Sunday. Add in the 6 hour's of practise on the Friday, and the cars are doing 24 hours' worth of track time. That's how that works.

    Anyways, we entered. Naturally, the first big question was, "What are we gonna race?" And we had a few ideas. A team meeting was called for those interested to join in, and some ideas were floated around. A Nissan Pulsar Autech seemed the most logical, but then we were attracted to the idea of a Ford Falcon V8 ute, especially when one of the guys claimed he had all the parts and equipment to make it work. He could do this, fix that, add that bit there and make that look good as new... it seemed a bit ambitious, with only eight weeks to go, but do-able. We left the matter for a few days, which became weeks... eventually, we chased the guy up and asked what was going on. To make a long story short, he'd totally U-turned his decisions. His grandmother had died again or he'd left the oven on, but for whatever reason he couldn't build the ute any more. With five weeks till Lemons, Dad and I were back to square one. Everyone else had gone quiet too, it was just the two of us and this pipe dream.

    That's when Dad went to the shed and re-discovered the Commodore.

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    A late 80's - early 90's Holden Commodore VN with the 3.8 V6 motor under the hood. It had been built as a rally sprint car. However, the lad who owned it before us had raced it twice, knocked the rear bumper off while rallying in the forest and seemingly scared himself, because he put it up for sale shortly after. Dad snapped it up for an agreeable sum, and it had sat in the shed ever since. Now, we looked at it. It had a cage. The thing was built to hit trees, so there was never a concern for safety, it just needed some sanding and some paint!

    The other main issue was the front end damage. It had taken a front on knock somewhere in it's life, and the chassis rails had been pushed in. This would typically deem the car totally un-raceworthy, but the event didn't require the car to be race-worthy per se, only safe. So we asked for some advice. Jacob Simonsen, who is literally Mr. Lemons, (he runs the show,) visited the shed and inspected the car. If anything he was pleased with the damage, proclaiming the Commodore as "The literal definition of a Lemon!" It was clear he was keen as to see that car particiapte, so that pretty much sealed the deal. Then reality struck. We had to restore / prepare a racecar in just three weeks, all the while juggling work and school and all the other normal committments you'd expect.

    So, some long days were pulled. And sometimes we got unusually sick, making remarkable recoveries days later. ;)
    The list of things that needed doing included...
    -New race seat / harnesses
    -Road tyres as opposed to the rally ones on it
    -New clutch
    -New diff (or at least repair the leak)
    -New brakes (pads and rotors)
    -Rollcage sanded / painted
    -Fuel cell (Bigger than 35L, which wouldn't last long at all)
    -Headlights and tail lights

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    Rollcage restoration

    ...and a few other niggly bits. So we had our work cut out for us, really. Dad smashed out the mechanical work, while I was put in charge of the themeing. Every Lemons car needs a theme. There have been police cars, banana cars, even a Super Mario themed car! With only weeks to go, I didn't really have the time to get the mechanical stuff done and then turn it into a fire truck or whatever other theme we could think of. I thought of calling it LMP-1 (Le Mons Prototype One), but didn't really know what to do with that. It's not like I could fit some parts to make it resemble a Porsche 919 or Audi R18. So I just tried to make it look more racecar-y. I painted the spoiler black (discount carbon fiber look), covered the previous number with white patches which I was going to put our number on but I never got around to it, (though the patches unintentionally gave it an almost Marlboro-esque look) and gave the hood a simple but effective design.

    A new windscreen was installed, and we sent for a signwriter to make up some windscreen banners and window numbers for the car, and passed that off as a theme. It was the best we could do given the timeframe and the other priorities on the list. The next problem to be addressed was the seats and harnesses. We bought a brand new one-piece race seat, but opted to try and fit it on runners, so it could be adjusted to accommodate drivers of various sizes. (Ironically, even though I'm 6ft 2in, I have the seat really far forward when I race! I just have short legs in comparison to my body. :scared:) It took a bit of working, but after a few hours we managed to get the seat fitted to the factory runners and brackets, and in the car! Next up came the harness. A brand new, fully race-legal 5-point set of harnesses that went straight in, no worries! And with that, the interior was done and ready!

    A new set of tyres arrived a few days later, and we put them on the GTS rims it came with. (Turned out it's a genuine GTS Commodore. Who'da thunk it?) We had one full set on the car, plus two spares. Slowly but surely the to-do list was getting ticked off, with one of the last major items being the fuel cell. With a 35 litre tank in the boot, it would hardly last long enough without the constant need for refuelling. So Dad picked up a brand new 80L fuel cell. The only problem was that he'd never mounted a fuel cell before, so he mounted it with the pickup and everything sideways, so it was all facing the right side of the vehicle. (This will have signifigance later on....)

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    A quick but effective spray-can bonnet design made for a basic "livery", however rough.

    Out of time to finish everything, we had to hope that the clutch held together, and that the brakes were alright enough to at least survive the first practise day. The night before the practise day, we took it to an exhaust guy to have the exhaust extended. It had been cut at the middle, but was required to go over the diff and clear the bodywork. So that was a relatively quick job, and then it was on to Bridgestone for a wheel alignment. Surprisingly, the wheels were already remarkably good, with only some minor adjustments needed such as toe angle and camber!

    The practise day wasn't too exciting. We were absolutely dead stinking last in the lineup for scrutineering, so we were amongst the last on the track. When we finally got on track, the car had about 2 hours' track time total before having to call it a night. The car had at least proven that it wasn't going to break ten laps into the race. All we could do was get some rest. Overnight, it rained. And rained. And rained.

    Sunrise at Hampton Down's

    Ready for action!

    The unpredictable weather. Dark and gloomy on one side....

    ...clear blue skies on the other!

    On the morning of Day 1, the track was greasy as you may expect. The cars were on the grid at 8:30 for a 9am green flag, with Dad starting the race. But as the cars were leaving the pits and lining up, the rain rolled in. It didn't quite delay the start, though with much more water on the track, the start was that much more treacherous. After an hour of racing, the racing line had dried off, and I jumped in the car. I did 1hr 15min before I began to feel the car surging a little bit, so I came in for gas and while we were at it, swapped with Andrew Fong, our resident rookie. But while he was out, some more rain rolled in and greased the track once again. A few minutes later the Commodore was in the wall.

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    Luckily the only casualty was a headlight, and within half an hour we were back on track, sitting in 22nd. With his confidence knocked, Andrew took an early break and Fender Bender champion Shaun Stewart climbed in. Not only did he claw back the margin and put us in a battle for 19th, he smashed our fastest lap by three seconds! With periodic showers coming and going at unpredictable times, there were no shortage of safety car periods to bunch up the cars, further aiding our chances at climbing the leaderboard. Once he'd worked his magic, Rob Allen, uncle of professional drifter Shane Allen, climbed in and did his stint, further moving us up to 18th.

    Shane realised the Commodore was having some surging issues after only an hour's racing. Remember earlier I said Dad mounted the fuel cell with the pickup and everything to the right of the car? Well, Hampton Down's has heaps of long right handers, so every time he turned a corner and the fuel had dipped below a certain level, it would surge until it was around the corner. This was mildly irritating, but at least we were able to use the surging as an indicatior to when to start considering a fuel stop. It would still last an hour no problem, so it didn't really affect us too badly.

    Some concerns rearding oil leaks and overheating put the Commy in the pits for a while, but these were proven to be just fears. The car was fine. Dad hopped in for the last 45 minutes, aiming to see the chequered flag. With 15 minutes to go, the diff started to leak, and so he toned it down and nursed the car, simply hoping to get it across the finish line. However as 5:30pm neared, the officials decided to extend the race until 6pm! The Commy was visibly smoking, but Dad chose to keep circulating, dropping the pace from 1:35's to 1:42's, until eventually we made it across the line!


    -230 laps completed
    -Sitting 18th
    -26 laps behind 17th
    -63 laps behind leader
    -9hrs total race time

    The diff needed replacing. That much was obvious. Rattla Motorsport offered us their private hoist to get the work done, and that was accepted gratefully. There were a few friends who had offered their services over the weekend should we need them, so I made a few phone calls and within an hour there were three blokes helping out on the car. We replaced the leaking welded locked diff with an open diff, so it would be a bit friendlier in the wet. It recieved new brake pads, a clutch adjustment, and that was all. The tyres were fine, radiator was working perfectly, and the gearbox was mint. Work was done by 10pm, and with overnight security patrolling the pits all night, we opted to leave the car at the track and head home for the night.

    R.I.P. Integra. In actual fact, Team Willies managed to patch it back up in a couple of hours, get it back out there to see the chequered flag for the day, then they had all night to perform a more permanant fix for the next day's racing!

    We were up in the morning relatively early, and after a McD's run for brekky, we returned to the track. Dad decided to bleed the brakes, and decided to top up the brake fluid while he was at it. When he was done, he put it back next to the brake flui-

    Wait, what?!

    Unfortunately, the brake fluid wasin the exact same kind of container as the motor oil, with only the caps to tell them apart. So, Dad had just put motor oil in the brake fluid. This meant that we had to flush the entire brake system and fill it up afresh. Doing so meant we missed the green light by mere minutes. Dad had opted to go out first, fully expecting the master cylinder to fail in catastrophic fashion. Thankfully this didn't happen, so after a few test laps he got out and I got in, doing a double-stint. When I came in for fuel half way through my double, I remained seated in the car belted up during re-fuelling. That was a dumb brain fade, and wegot hit with a penalty. Not a race penalty, more of a humiliating penalty... For Dad at least. When I was back out, he had to stand in the pits and dance, weaing the "Cambelt of confusion" and balancing a clutch plate on his finger, until I passed the control line again.

    Ha ha..

    In total, I was in the car for over two hours, by which point I was really feeling the heat and a bit of dehydration coming on. I opted to last until the 300 lap mark but only managed to make it to 290 before tapping out with a migrane, and Rob went out for another double stint. He managed to claw us back some time and set a new best lap in the process. With inconsistent showers and sprinkles of rain, adaptability was key due to the ever-changing grip levels.

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    The Commy kept on chugging despite a bit of hazy oil smoke...

    While I refreshed and had some drinks, a couple of front runners including the fastest car on the track, an EG Civic, overheated and went bang, so that bought us a few placings. With five hours to go the rear main seal burst, and the Commy started spitting oil. It didn't appear to be dripping, and it was just a "fine" smoke (or so it seemed from the rear mirror / pit wall), but it was still losing oil so we limited our shifts to 3500rpm in an attempt to really nurse the car to the finish line. The next few hours were pretty uneventful, we were in conserve mode and simply circulating to get to the line. Andrew did his stint, and didn't biff it much to the relief of everyone, including himself, and dad did a second stint. On and off rain kept the track greasy but not wet per se. Finally, with 45 minutes to go, I climbed back into it to bring 'er home.

    Why is it the closing stages of an endurance race are always the most intense? The last half hour is when I experienced the most racing, other drivers really turning up the pressure to get that final result. At this point, we were 17th, and 3 laps ahead of 18th. 30 minutes later, they had made up the time and were going to catch us. I shouldn't have been told that over the radio, because I went straight from conservative laps to qualifying laps, and I beat the team's lap record by a tenth of a second, then trimmed it by another three tenths a couple later (1:33.0). Finally, the call came over Race Control that there was one lap left. That was a real thrill, I was actually bringing home an endurance race! A weekend of hard racing was coming to an end with me! I crossed that line flashing the lights, absolutely pumping! We ended up finishing 17th, having completed 457 laps and still only 15 seconds away from 18th!

    The face of accomplishment!

    -457 laps completed
    -Finished 17th
    -15 seconds in front of 18th
    -92 laps behind leader
    -17 hrs total race time

    Hooncorp ended up winning the "Ugly Stick" award, for the ugliest ride on the track. How rude...

    After calming down from our Lemons debut, we've already entered the next event, in May 2018. This one's going to be the first FULL 24hr start to finish race in New Zealand, once again at Hampton Down's (the only track in the country allowed to run such an event). We're looking at entering in multiple cars this time, at least three, and I'll no doubt do a write up for that one when it happens!

    Hooncorp on Facebook

    My Motorsports Blog

    More misc. pics!

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    Last edited: Oct 26, 2017
  2. Tom

    Tom Premium

    United Kingdom
    What a truly brilliant story and a fascinating read from the start to finish. Top work!
    Pete05 and Nismonath5 like this.
  3. TenEightyOne


    Absolutely ****ing awesome read, well done! :D
    Pete05 and Nismonath5 like this.
  4. Pete05

    Pete05 Premium

    I knew this was coming but, I didn't expect it to be so comprehensive. Well done Nathan :tup:

    What you all learned this year, you can put to good use for the next one in May 2018.
    Nismonath5 likes this.
  5. Carlos

    Carlos Premium

    That's very cool!! Good luck in March :D
    Nismonath5 and Pete05 like this.