|January 28, 2001
Speedvision recently ran a show about the various car manufacturers and their position on racing. Division heads were giving opinions on how important it was to have an active racing program in order to boost consumer sales of their product lines. One of the individuals quoted was none other than Len Hunt, VP of Audi of America. Len, standing beside one of the Audi R8Rs (1999 version), stated that it was important not only to promote racing, but to do so with all of Audi's product lines. It seems the general consensus is that in order for people to believe in buying a performance automobile, they need to have a reassurance that the marquee they buy knows what they are doing. Success in racing venues fuels that fire. The theory is that if you see someone like McNish, Biela, or Pirro in your local newspaper, winning a race in an Audi, then you will be more likely to buy a car made by Audi. Therefore, it seems probable that Audi of America will continue to support Audi racing in the US.
Who is Racing, and Where?
There are several teams currently in the US that race Audi S4s or, their close relative, the S4 Competition that is much akin the Audi RS4 and built by Audi Sport, UK. Rod Bymaster, head of Audi Sport North America, is in charge of Audi racing in the US and has been very involved with the two Audi S4 Competition racecars campaigned by Champion Audi out of Florida. These cars, driven by Michael Galati and Derek Bell, have been competing in the Speedvision World Challenge GT series this year with very promising results. Michael has been so successful that he pulled off a second place in the series this year, as well as a win in Las Vegas with a new RS4 motor rumored to be near 450 bhp.
Champion and Audi recently confirmed at the North American International Auto Show that there will be another two car S4 Competition team again for 2001. Michael Galati has been confirmed as a driver, though representatives from Champion have not confirmed whether Derek Bell will return or not.
Hurricane Racing had been campaigning an S4 in the Motorola Cup series but has recently been absent from the track. It seems they now have their S4 for sale, and have purchased a Porsche 996 for next year.
Istook/Aines Motorsport Group originally competed with an Audi S4 in the Motorola Cup in the first part of last season, though later moved up to the Speedvision World Challenge GT series for the last 5 races of the year (Texas Motor Speedway, Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca, Las Vegas, and San Diego).
General Challenges in Racing the S4
One of the issues with the S4 has been the weight of the car. Regardless of extreme levels of race preparation, the cars weigh a considerable amount more than the bulk of their competitors. The S4 and S4 Competitions usually weigh in at about 2,800 - 2,900 lbs without gasoline or driver. The S4 Competitions are running at well over 410 bhp, and the Istook/Aines car running around 380 bhp. Both were thought to lack the high-end power necessary for several of the venues found in the Speedvision series this year.
Comparing the S4 and S4 Competitions to the Vipers, Corvettes, and 993 Porsches, it is evident to many that the S4/S4 Competitions are down on power. If Las Vegas and its long straight-aways were any indication, however, this factor is minimal; Galati won Las Vegas after leading nearly the whole race.
Part-time Pit Crewmember for Istook/Aines
Don Istook and Bob Aines were gracious enough to allow a neophyte like me to be a crewmember for them for two Speedvision World Challenge races this year; including Laguna Seca and Las Vegas. What this entailed was performing a myriad of tasks associated with the car and with the race.
Usually the duties of the Istook/Aines Motorsport Group are broken down as follows. Bob Aines is the Team Manager, while Don Istook is the chief mechanic, driver, tractor/trailer driver, and cook. Steve is responsible for a ton of other miscellaneous tasks, and Aaron is another mechanic. Other people are called in from time to time to help out with events across the US. Stephen Hooks and the folks from APR provide significant engine tuning time and support, while Corey Smith, Sharon Levy and John Stahmann all assisted with miscellaneous crew duties during the season. John Rutherford has filled in as driver at several events this year, augmenting the driving efforts of Don Istook.
My jobs ranged from cleaning up the exterior of the car and changing wheels/tires, to cleaning wheels after a race or track session. I also assisted with removing exhaust, installing brake pads, and obtaining parts from a local Audi dealership.
The main benefit I derived from this experience was to see what exactly was necessary to campaign a car in the Speedvision World Challenge GT Series. I now have a decent understanding of what is involved. Costs associated with this type of endeavor are considerable. The tow vehicle and trailer were very sophisticated, very versatile, and most likely very expensive as well. Spare parts were always needed and many were found stored in various compartments in the trailer.
Overcoming Challenges with the Istook/Aines Team
One of the most surprising aspects of competing in auto racing is the amount of effort that is necessary in order to actually be competitive. It is necessary to be, not only fast, but also reliable throughout the race and the season. The Istook/Aines team has had many obstacles to overcome at various tracks during practice, qualifying, and during the races.
At Laguna Seca....
Brake fade or temporary brake pedal loss was experienced here during practice and qualifying. To combat this problem brake pad shields, new rotors, new master cylinder, new Castrol SRF brake fluid, and new hawk brake pads were installed. The brake cooling ducts were slightly modified to increase airflow, and a front brake misting system was developed. These modifications resulted in brakes that lasted the entire race at Laguna.
During practice, the transmission first/second slider gear became jammed rendering first and second gears inoperable. Don managed to qualify for the race without first or second gear, but the decision was made that it would be necessary to repair the transmission after qualifying and before the race. Time available was about 22 hours.
Don, with the occasional motivational boost from local Audi dealership staff and the technical assistance of Steve Shupe, an Audi of America tech trainer, was able to repair the transmission before the race. The Champion Audi team assisted with a rare clutch pulling tool, while also supplying first and second gear and synchros. By race time, the car was ready to go, with first and second gear operational.
At Las Vegas....
The team experienced a recurring problem where the fuel pump kept shutting down. Three replacement pumps were installed trying to combat the problem. These glitches were eventually resolved before the race start. A fluctuating boost problem arose was experienced near the end of the race. The malfunction brought boost down if the car was revved over 7,000 rpm. This problem persisted until the end of the race.
One surprising fact about auto racing that many might not know is the regularity with which other teams provided tools or assistance. This generosity is all part of the camaraderie that is associated with auto racing in America. Each team realizes that everyone can use an extra hand once in awhile, and perhaps one day it might be them.