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Testing, Triumph, Trials, and Tribulations

Testing, Triumph, Trials, and Tribulations

Las Vegas Regionals, March 28 – 30, 2013

It started with a dream.  Crew chief Anthony Dicero was in transit with the Litton Racing crew from Sacramento to Las Vegas when he awoke from his road-induced slumber with a jolt. Eureka!  His mechanical mind had calculated the reason for the haunting clutch problem that plagued the car from the last run.

Opening hand turns out to be a "personal best" during testing
Opening hand turns out to be a “personal best” during testing

At Dicero’s urging, the crew’s driver pulled over at the next rest area and Anthony checked the clutch to discover that his sleep-induced hunch was correct.  The engine problem was due to the fact that the floaters between the clutch discs weren’t ground properly so they weren’t within tolerance.  Add to that miscalculations in fuel calibrations and he had the answer.  The clutch problem was actually more dramatic than he had ever thought.  Dicero’s revelation shed a bright-enough light on the test and tune Thursday to make a huge difference.

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The shut-down area gets short with no chutes!

“When we got there, we had a pretty good idea of what was going to fix the car,” Dicero commented.    “So we put in new clutch floaters that were flatter and didn’t change any tune-up, and the car ran down the race track phenomenally.”    By the time Bill Litton was at the end of that test run, he had put in his personal best time and speed at 5.433 at 260.66 MPH.  Strong winds shoved the car around the track a lot during the run but the driver stayed with it.  Those times were exactly what were needed to jack up the driver and crew as they stared down the rest of the weekend for the Las Vegas Regionals.  “This gave the whole team a skip in their step,” according to Dicero.   But one nagging problem emerged:  According to the computer data, the oil pressure was fluctuating mysteriously during the run.

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Cautious optimism…

It proved to be a bad omen.  After such a promising test session on Thursday, Friday’s first qualifying session didn’t go as planned.  A slower time of 5.864 and speed of 251.86 MPH proved not to be the biggest disappointer.  The biggest surprise was that the parachutes never deployed at the end of the run, and Litton had to ride it into the sand.

Now it was scramble time.  The crew had had to take off all the body panels and check the chassis for any cracks in the frame, broken parts, or cut fuel lines.  And a problem with the fluctuating oil pressure was still there.  Anthony attributed that to lint that partially clogged the filter, but there were no guarantees that he solved the problem.  In addition, an intermittent ignition problem prompted the crew to replace some crank triggers and ignition cables.

Getting reading to roll in next week's National event
Getting ready to roll in next week’s Nationals event

The second qualifying run didn’t provide many answers.  The engine continued to drop cylinders even more frequently and even earlier in the run.  But there wasn’t time to troubleshoot.  “After the second qualifying run, we had more of the same problems.  We brought it back and analyzed the data, but with three qualifying runs in one day, it made it really tough for everyone to track down the ignition problem.”

Now it was time for the tough call.  Dicero decided to bypass all the ignition timers and go straight off the mags (magnetos) for the third run, which meant timing couldn’t change down the course of the racetrack.  His desperate but deliberate hope was that the great run they found on Thursday would find its way back.    But it didn’t happen from the start.  “Unfortunately it fired and we lost fire almost immediately and then it refused to fire.  We ended up taking it back to the pit area where we found nothing wrong; it started right up.”  So he and the crew continued to hunt down the intermittent ignition gremlin.  The good news is that they had thumbs up on one more test run during the first run of eliminations on Saturday.

On Saturday, Anthony thought they had solved the problem after starting the car multiple times and cycling through to make sure the ignition curve was working.  But the times on the test run were disappointing – 6.332 at 228.81 MPH.  He summed it up by saying, “Hopefully we get things turned around.  I know the team is working really hard and Bill is trying really hard to stay focused on the starting line.”  He and the Litton crew are changing out several parts in the motor before next week’s revisit for the Las Vegas Nationals.  Dicero is determined to “make a stand now” at the beginning of the season to set the tone and speed of this year’s competition.  Viva Las Vegas this coming weekend.