ACEMCO’s Laguna Seca
What Do You Have To Do To Earn Some Good Fortune?
became the most remarkable story of ill-fortune for the ACEMCO team
– but one that demonstrated the team’s grit and fight,
and speed, which should, even with all the bad luck, have produced
a third place finish in GT1 in California – should have, because
a few minutes from the end, the final blow was administered.
During the race, despite extra stops and furious work from the pit
crew, Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem wrestled the Saleen for
nearly four hours without power steering. Somewhat remarkably though
the pair were more than able to keep up with the leading GT1 drivers.
This is a terrific racing story, and the ACEMCO drivers received
a round of applause for their efforts from everyone present at the
ALMS banquet on Sunday night. Everyone would rather have had that
third place – even better, that elusive win…
The ACEMCO Saleen
was reasonably quick straight away in testing at Laguna Seca. When
we put on a new set of Michelins, it was a bit of struggle to get
the fronts to come in, but even on Thursday night, on a dirty track,
we knew we had the makings of a very good racecar.
engineers made some changes ahead of Friday. We had two, one hour
sessions before qualifying, and as Terry was due to qualify, I drove
the car throughout the whole of the hour in the morning and Terry
had the car for the one hour session just prior to qualifying, so
that he could practice a “dummy” qualifying.
During the morning session we made some small changes,
and the car got better and better – even on Thursday night’s
used tyres. We set a 1:22.0, with 60 lap old fronts and 40 lap old
rears. We were only seven tenths off the fastest Corvette, and well
ahead of the two Astons and the Maserati, and that with three-quarters
of a tank of fuel and old tyres. The balance of the car was fantastic
and we knew that with new tyres, the car was going to be very, very
Before the afternoon
session (and qualifying), Terry and I discussed our likely qualifying
pace. We estimated that taking the fuel out, leaving say 20 litres,
should give us four or five tenths, then new tyres are normally
worth at least a second – and unusually for California, the
ambient temperature was actually cooling off rather than warming
up, so there would be no drop off in track performance for qualifying.
So going from my lap in the morning, we worked out that a 1m20.5
should be achievable.
Jim Bell actually
reckoned that it should be under a 1m20.5 on an all out qualifying
lap and bet Terry a gourmet meal that it would be! Now you have
to take into account here that Terry should have been born Scottish,
as he allegedly suffers from short arms and deep pockets!! So when
Terry went out and did a 1m20.3s, I’m not sure whether Jim
was more pleased at getting pole, or winning the bet!
We were actually a little fortunate that a red flag
came out, although we didn’t realise it at the time. When
you put on new rubber, the grip is there as soon as the tyres are
up to temperature, in say two or three laps, but the balance isn’t
quite there… after two or three more laps, you lose a touch
of grip, but then balance is perfect. Anyway, when Terry had to
pit for the red flag, the guys adjusted the tyre pressures, and
out he went with a perfect balance.
The Corvettes didn’t go out again: Johnny
O’Connell said that he’d been on a much faster lap when
the red flag came out, so maybe he could have gone quicker: who
knows? We were very happy though, because we knew ultimately we
had a great car for the race.
We were running a different front tyre at Laguna
Seca, one which gave a bit more front grip. Because the Saleen is
mid/rear engined, it’s easier on its fronts than a front engined
car, so we’re in a position to run a softer front than say
The Michelins are very, very good tyres –
and with the balance just right, we felt we were getting the maximum
from the tyres, and were lapping a massive three seconds faster
than at this track last year. The G forces were so much greater
– and perhaps that was the problem we’d stumbled into….
What we couldn’t be sure of was why the power
steering belt had popped off at Petit Le Mans, and then why the
replacement spare had run perfectly for over nine hours. The guys
tie-wrapped a spare down there, so they can crank the engine and
roll the spare on quickly if necessary.
That problem was going to haunt us, and had reared
its ugly head in Turn 9 already: we were getting some cavitation
in the p/steering pump through there, and we could feel the steering
loading up. But we made a few changes and it seemed better, and
we never had the belt break during the whole build up to the race.
we felt we had a perfectly balanced car, although in the warm up
on full tanks and worn tyres, Terry wasn’t completely comfortable.
I drove too, and we had a bit too much understeer, but we were still
second quickest after just a handful of laps, so we were still confident
for the race.
Terry made a good start, but Ron Fellows stayed
right with him – and then the belt broke at Turn 9 on lap
3, and pitched Terry off the track, although he managed to haul
it back onto the tarmac in second. With no p/steering, the Astons
and the other Corvette caught him, but an early Safety Car allowed
him to dive into the pits.
The team did a phenomenal job to pop the spare belt
on at his first visit, then sent him back out whilst still under
full course yellow to catch the pack back up, and then pit him again
for tyres, so that we wouldn’t lose a lap or miss the wave-by.
This kept us on the lead lap, albeit a minute back from the GT1
leaders, so after all that drama, we hadn’t lost out significantly.
the spare belt broke, and we were doomed to spend the rest of the
race “wrestling an alligator”, as Terry brilliantly
He fought the
car for nearly an hour, then I drove for something similar, somehow
passing Brabs in the 57 Aston Martin along the way, which was really
encouraging. After 55 minutes there was another full course yellow
and we pitted, which was perfectly timed as my arms felt like they
belonged to somebody else by this time! Terry took over from me
and heroically kept it going, and then I was in for the last stint.
of images graphically depict how the #63 Saleen was mixing it with
the other GT1 cars, despite the problems the two drivers faced almost
throughout the race.
The car was still very, very quick – but when
you haven’t got the p/steering, you can’t feel the level
of grip. You end up actually fighting the pump all the time, manually
forcing the fluid through – so it’s worse than a car
that isn’t fitted with power steering. If you can’t
feel the grip – because the whole system is so heavy and so
dead – you inevitably end up killing the front tyres…
and remember that was one area where we should have been very good.
You can’t turn the car in gradually, feeling
the grip – instead you have to turn in aggressively, and then
hold it there. But your arms get so tired, especially as every bump
tries to wrench the wheel out of your hands.
It was worst in T9, and with arms like lumps of
lead, I had to use my knee to help hold the wheel on lock through
there. It’s not the quickest way to go racing….
Another problem is that when you need opposite lock,
you can’t apply it fast enough – because you just can’t,
because you haven’t got the strength or feeling in your arms.
The misfortunes piled up in other ways – the
Maserati dumped its water, Terry was the next car along, right at
the end of his second stint, and the Saleen flew off the track,
ripping the front floor half off in the process.
I know Terry suggested that the loss of front downforce
should make the steering less heavy, but it didn’t feel any
less heavy to me!
So with this extra front damage, when I got in for
the final hour and five minutes, we had more understeer –
so I needed to use more lock, which was killing the front tyres
While I was
fighting the car, I was thinking all the time how best to deal with
it. With about 15 minutes to go, when I could feel that the fronts
were destroyed, I turned the traction control off, so that when
I got understeer, I could now boot the throttle and try and steer
it on the power, which did help the fronts a little bit –
as well as my arms.
actually brake dust....
Through the start of that last stint, I was between
the two DBR9s, but we knew the 57 car ahead still had to pit –
so it was only Pedro Lamy in the 58 I had to worry about. I actually
pulled away from him to start with: 23 seconds became 28, and I
was lapping consistently quicker … but think what that could
have been without the damage and the p/steering problem.
But I was still killing the left front, and now
that was hurting me under brakes! I flat-spotted the left front
at Turn 2 twice, so now with a bad vibration too, I had to brake
earlier, and Lamy started catching me. Then I had traffic, and I
had a car which was very difficult off-line – and on the line…
for example; if I went up the inside at the Corkscrew, I needed
more lock, and I couldn’t cope with more lock! So I lost a
chunk of time in traffic – and it came down to six seconds
between us, with six laps to go, and he was catching at more than
a second a lap.
He would have found it very difficult to get by
me though – after all we’d been through, I was going
to move heaven and earth to hang onto the podium spot. This was
for the whole team – we deserved it!
Then the 78
Porsche moved over on me before the Corkscrew: I was almost past
and clear of him… if he’d waited just half a second…
but he knocked me onto the dirt, so by the time I sorted that out
and got back on the track, I was approaching the turn way too fast.
I got it into the corner somehow, but the car took off and cleared
the gravel trap, and landed very heavily, which broke the left front
shock… I still didn’t pit straight away, just in case
I could make it to the end, as I knew there were only a few minutes
left, but smoke was pouring off the left front, and then the Aston
passed me at Turn10. I pitted…and after an inspection, the
voice over the radio told me it was all over.
I was distraught. I’d been fighting with everything
the car and I had left – and then that happened. When you’re
driving, even if it’s not your fault, you feel kind of responsible
when the car gets damaged, of course you do – but the team
was great. They understood what had happened, and, still sitting
in the car, I looked across at Jeff and he just shrugged... I felt
so sorry for all of the team and I told them.
All I wanted to do was go and collect my thoughts – it was
We could have won that race.
Jeff, the perfect gentleman, asked everyone to give
us that round of applause at the banquet, which was a very nice
touch. He was disappointed of course – he wanted to see us
beat the Corvettes in a straight fight. The GM guys want nothing
more than a good scrap, and although it was a fantastic race, I
believe it could have been even better.
After all the hard work over two seasons, Jeff knows
he has a potential Corvette beater. Since Mosport we had three chances
to go out and beat them, as we had the speed on the track to do
it. We beat them on the track at Mosport, and lost it with the refuelling.
Petit Le Mans was all those niggles, but we still got a good podium.
At Laguna Seca we managed to somehow hold off the Astons and hold
onto the Corvettes coat tails, even with all the problems, but again,
it should have been more than that.
that if we’d more chances to beat them, we would have done.
ACEMCO has come so far, especially in the second half of this year.
We may not have made it to the top step this year, but we sure as
hell went down fighting, and I’m very proud to be a part that.
The true fighting spirit of independent motorsport competition is
certainly alive and well at ACEMCO Motorsports!! GM, Aston Martin
and Maserati will vouch for that.
to Johnny Mowlem for all his input on dsc this year - and to all
at ACEMCO, for putting up such a great fight, race after race. Regis
Lefebure's photographs have added so much to this and other 63 tales.