Our #664 1985 Celica GT-S heads back to the track in April, competing in the 24 Hours of LeMons Yokohama Sears Pointless 2021. The team had originally planned to participate in the December race in Sonoma, but it was cancelled due to COVID. We expect the car is better prepared than ever (wishful thinking?) and a new driver will make her debut. Since we prepared to race in December, we’ve been ready for the April race for quite a while. Here, I will detail this effort.
In preparation for the race that was cancelled, the team decided to solve the overheating problem, for once and for all, by installing a new head gasket. A team work-day in our Seattle garage proved to be fruitful, as we conquered the task in about four hours. The new four-post Bendpak lift made the job much easier. While the head was off the car, we decarbonized the combustion chamber and piston tops and made things look factory new (Soviet-era Tatra factory). A discovery that our resident 22RE expert made was that the timing chain was a tooth off, which might have contributed to the car’s sluggish performance and tendency to run hot. We fixed this, installed the new Toyota head gasket and did the reverse of removal. The car started and ran without leaking and we went home confident that the day’s efforts would result in a podium finish.
With our 22RE engine running better than ever, it occurred to me that the team might benefit from improved handling and braking in order to harness the brutal 115 horsepower that the Celica would unleash on an unsuspecting racing world. Our last race ended with street brake pads that made the car slow down about as effectively as a humming bird pushing against the front bumper. The four brake rotors were so grooved that one could hear The Commodore’s “Too Hot Ta Trot” if it were loaded on a turntable. I ordered two front and rear sets of pads, new rotors and installed the new parts on the car. Now for the handling. What could be done about its prodigious body roll? For years, I had sought an Addco front sway bar for the Celica. They were nowhere to be found. I had bought a rear bar, but it was useless without the matching front bar. Every six months I searched online in hopes that Addco had decided to bend up another batch of Celica front sway bars. One day while on Jegs’ (or “Jugs” as my wife likes to call it) website, I thought to search for the Addco 744 front sway bar. It was available to order! Jegs said it would ship from the manufacturer in approximately 45 days. I pictured Addco employees poised to make this sway bar as soon as I placed my order. I placed the order. I am convinced that green lights lit up at the Addco factory and bells alerted the workers that sway bar production should commence immediately. Upon its happy arrival, both sway bars were installed without incident.
NachoFriend Racing’s newest driver, Reagan, will make her debut at the Sonoma race. She had (until recently) no track experience, but at 17, she has driven for over a year with no citations (not saying she hasn’t been pulled over.) Vehicles that she has successfully piloted without wrecking include her F250, my Porsche 944, a 2013 BMW M3 and a C6 Corvette. In the hope of improving her chances of success at Sonoma, I scheduled her and her brother Nash for a track day at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington. We’ve raced LeMons at this track many times. Reagan was paired with a fellow LeMons team owner as her instructor, which was a huge benefit. She got to drive his manual VW R32 on the track before taking command of the Celica. She completed one lap in the Celica and returned to the paddock, reporting that she couldn’t see a damn thing (she’s 5’0″). I grabbed another piece of 5 inch thick foam, threw it on the seat bottom, buckled her back up and sent her out on the track. Her instructor reported that she did really well and should be ready for some fender to fender action in Sonoma.
The car’s performance was exemplary. We warmed it up in the morning and the temperature creeped up. We jacked up the front end, opened the radiator cap and let the air burp out of the system. The temperature immediately dropped to normal and we had no overheating problems the entire day. The engine felt like it wanted to rev more freely, likely the result of correcting the cam timing. Handling was quite a bit improved thanks to the new sway bars. The refreshed brakes were back to their normal performance with no fading and the aggressive bite we are used to. Unfortunately I was unable to record good lap times at this track day because passing was limited to a few straights on the track. The end result was that we were prohibited from passing in the corners, which is where we only pass during a race, but cars were allowed to pass us on the straights. I did record a 2:17 lap, which is only a couple of off of our best time ever. From subjective feel, though, the car felt much faster.
The team is looking forward to returning to Sonoma. We love the track and it will be nice to travel after everything has been shut down for the last year plus. For the first time, we rented a garage space so there will be no jockeying for a position for the trailer. Our rental house comes with a hot tub, so drivers can relax and soak there after a hard day of driving. We are also bringing our new dog, Toby, to the race. He’s deaf so the loud track shouldn’t scare him at all. Watch for the post-race report.