We took the NG900 from street car to Chumpcar in only two months. It wasn’t tested, hell, It was barely put together. Regardless, it was time to see how our 20 year old, 231,000 mile Saab would endure under the stresses of a 15-hour endurance racing weekend.
I mentioned in a previous article that our racecar was still fully street legal. In our rush to finish the car we didn’t really organize a tow rig for the event, so I volunteered to drive it the two hours to Gingerman. Let me just say, for an August morning it was far colder than I expected driving down I-94W.
We arrived early Friday morning and I had already discovered one issue during the drive to the track – unpredictable handling under moderate to heavy braking. Since the brake pads were new, I wrote it off to not being properly seated, but we weren’t entirely convinced. We grabbed a spot to setup, unloaded anything we had stored in the race car, and began getting ready for a full day of practice. We dialed in the tire pressures, torqued the lugs, checked all the fluids, and gave everything else a quick once over.
The plan was to take it easy during the morning sessions to break everything in. The car was converted from a tired old street car to a Chumpcar endurance race car in just a couple of months. The brakes were overhauled with new lines, rebuilt calipers, upgraded rotors, and Carbotech race pads. The front suspension was refreshed with new control arm bushings, ball joints, tie rods, and end links. The axles were rebuilt. The fuel lines were replaced. Outside of the two hour drive to the track, this was the 900’s initial testing.
Since I volunteered to drive the car to the track, I also earned the first practice spot of the day. I spent the first few laps on track getting the brakes heat cycled, hoping it would fix the issue I saw earlier in the morning, but the issue remained. We tried bleeding the brakes, no luck. The ABS light was on, so we tried swapping over a few electronic bits from my daily ng900 in an attempt to fix the ABS and give us some assistance, but had no luck with that either. We decided it was just going to have to be this way, at least until we could deep dive it further.
We continued to practice, taking it easy into corners until we could think of a solution for the brakes. In the meantime, Tony complained about a strong gas smell during his first session. I went out after Tony and noticed gas splashing up into the backseat. The next time around I went to the pits to check it out. The high pressure line was leaking where it connected to the pump, spraying gas all over the backseat. Thankfully we had just replaced the tank straps, so the fix was fairly painless.
Upon removing the tank we also noticed the rear wheel was rubbing on the filler neck due to excessive roll and was about to start leaking. We couldn’t prevent the car from rolling, so we fabricated a shield for the filler neck using thin gauge sheet metal and riveted it in place.
We continued to run throughout the remainder of the day, but after a few hours our fuel line fix failed. We theorized the broken exhaust pointed directly at the tank (good ‘ole Michigan rust) was causing the gas to heat up, which built up pressure in the tank, forcing the worn clip to come undone. This time, to avoid dropping the tank, we cut a larger access port in the backseat. We used as many zip-ties as we could fit on the connector to help ensure it wouldn’t cause us any issues the remainder of the weekend.
We only practice for a little while longer before we called it a day and headed through tech. The good news, our safety was top notch; the bad news, we still had work to do. We spent the night attempting to improve the car by making a turn down for the exhaust, bleeding the brakes one last time, and ensuring our filler neck shield was robust for a full day of racing.
Saturday morning came in a hurry, I thought as I was getting strapped in to grid. I spent the first few warm-up laps trying to get the brakes and tires warm, hoping that it would help our braking issue. I really thought it was helping and I began gaining some confidence, but halfway into the green flag lap I got into the brakes and the car got tail-happy. Due to first lap congestion, I took the car off course to avoid any unnecessary collisions. I brought it in for a quick once-over, and upon a clean bill of health, I headed back out.
Not even 30 minutes later I started to hear some noise under acceleration. The helmet padding mixed with the noise around me muffled the sound enough that I was unsure of its origin. I stayed off the gas as much as possible as I nursed the car to the pits. At lower speeds away from the track the noise became more prevalent, it was definitely the engine. Upon pulling up to the pits the team knew the engine was knocking. We had two options, go home early and ditch the remainder of the weekend, or swap the engine. We chose the latter.
Now, an engine swap wasn’t on our list for the weekend, so we weren’t exactly prepared. Luckily Gingerman is our “local” track so a trip back home was only about four hours round trip. Tony and Hassan took the trusty F-150 to get the spare engine and supporting tools, while Gabe and I began removing the powertrain.
It’s worth mentioning at this point we definitely took the slower route getting the engine in and out. You can see in our latest time lapse that we just drop the front clip as a whole unit, versus partially disassembling the suspension as we did at Gingerman.
After about 5 hours Hassan and Tony returned, just in time, as Gabe and I were just about ready for the engine hoist.
Over the next several hours we removed the old powertrain and swapped over any necessary bits to the spare engine, such as the clutch assembly ,transmission, intake manifold, and alternator to name a few. An engine is only so big, so having four people crowded around to work on it was counterproductive, so I spent most of my time stripping the engine bay of any and all unnecessary components, such as the A/C system and cruise control module.
We spent the remainder of the night getting everything back together, and by about 1AM, we were finally finished. It took a long time, arguably longer than it should have, but we got it done. We cranked it, it started, and it was time to crash.
As you can hear at the end of the video above the car started, but its idle was too high, so spent a little time diagnosing the next morning. Thankfully, it was just the throttle cable that got hooked up incorrectly in the rush to get everything done. Hassan suited up, strapped in, and gridded up to take the green flag on the second day of the 2017 Chumpcar “Cookie Cutter Classic” at Gingerman Raceway.
Unfortunately, since we spent the entire day prior swapping powertrains, the car was still plagued with braking issues, and after a half hour Hassan brought the car back in. We unanimously decided the car was too sketchy to drive, and after what recently happened with the Civic, we weren’t in any hurry to total another car. We packed up the trailer, watched a bit of racing, and headed home.
It was an unfortunate weekend. We rushed to get everything done in time just to spend the entire weekend working on the car. It did, however, expose the car’s weakest areas, so we knew exactly what needed to be done before it saw the track again. We weren’t about to give up on the 2017 season. It was back to grind if we had any hope of making it to Pittsburgh a month later.