Team GTI

2004 Charge of the Headlight Brigade
13 Hour Enduro at VIR

This was the one we've been planning for since mid-winter - by our count the sixth-longest closed-course auto race in the world, trailing only the 24-hour events at Daytona (Florida, USA), the Nürburgring (Germany), Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), and Bathurst (Australia); and the 25-hours of Thunderhill (California, USA).

The months leading up to the event were spent upgrading our 1996 Golf GTI to ITB specifications with the addition of wider Toyo tires from PhilsTireService.com, KONI struts and racing springs, new pads from Cobalt Friction, and a selection of racing and original-specification parts from VW tuning expert Bildon Motorsport.

Driving duties were to be shared by Southeast Honda Challenge and ITC standout Scott Giles (Leesburg, GA), past SCCA® Run-Offs® bronze medallist Greg Amy (Middletown, CT), Northeast division IT and Production hotshoe Evan Webb (Elkridge, MD), and car owner Kirk Knestis (Greensboro, NC).

This driving squad and an all-volunteer crew took the PhilsTireService.com Team GTI to a completely trouble-free run to 1st in ITB (of 6 in that class) and 28th out of 59 starters.

Ed Pipala Photos

It was understood going into this project that preparation would be the key to success but there were some potential issues that could not be addressed, due to budget restrictions. The biggest question marks would be next to the engine and transmission - both of which were the original and completely stock 122,000+ mile units.

While belts, gaskets, and ancillaries had been changed and a compression check failed to turn up any major irregularities, it was simply not possible to know for sure that the engine would survive, despite the VW 4-cylinder engine's reputation for toughness. The transmission had neither a limited slip differential nor the lower final drive gears typically installed in IT cars, compromising both ultimate speed and front tire wear due to wheelspin.

The team took advantage of an open test day arranged by hard-working staff of the North Carolina Region SCCA to scrub in 8 tires, bed two sets of Hawk Blue brake pads, and tweak alignment and settings on the new KONI struts.

The test day was made more productive than it might have been by the use of a DL-1 global positioning data acquisition system from Action Digital. This amazing kit uses GPS signals and internal accelerometers to measure lateral and longitudinal accelerations and speed at any point on the track, allowing drivers to compare performance. Every member of the driving crew found at least one place on the track where a teammate was faster, helping the entire effort to go faster.

Team co-owner Kirk Knestis spent a decade as a rally co-driver and understands the value of visibility at night, so he was pleased when Dave Zaslow and the folks at Rapid Parts helped out with the loan of heavy-duty lighting hardware. Their bits were augmented with additional parts and a light pod from rally specialist Hartmann Motorsport of Seattle, to build a state-of-the art, quick-fit lighting system for the Golf.

Competitors were split between those who were envious of the amount of candlepower the team would be putting into the Virginia night and those who were sure that the GTI's charging system wouldn't be up to the task of keeping them lit.

The team was sure that it would however, just as they had faith in the other systems of the car. Bildon Motorsport and Greensboro, NC import specialists Der Wagen Haus provided parts and service support to replace much of the running gear and brake parts in preparation for the 13 hours. In the words of Cameron Conover, the team's chief VW technician and master of understatement, "We had confidence in the car."

It is interesting to note that the Golf is fully inspected and licensed for street use, although the stock exhaust system - behind the catalytic converter - was found to be failing and was forcibly removed by the crew immediately prior to the 13 hours.

It had been determined in testing that the car would go nearly 2 hours on a full 13.5-gallon tank of unleaded premium pump gas from a station near VIR. However, Knestis discovered that when it finally did run dry, it did so without warning, when he was stranded on-track at the end of the final practice session on Friday evening.

Team strategist Lee Grimes conferred with the drivers and established an eight-stint plan that allowed sufficient flexibility, to take advantage of the safety car periods that were likely to occur with more than 60 cars starting the race. Scott Giles (second from left in the photo) would start with an abbreviated stint to double-check fuel consumption in race conditions. Knestis (far right) would relieve him, followed by Evan Webb (far left) and Greg Amy (second from right) in turn.

The order was juggled slightly for the second half of the race, with Knestis back in the car first, leaving his faster teammates to make up time late in the race if necessary. Giles was put in the challenging role of closer, taking the last, darkest, and potentially most treacherous stint of the race.

The PhilsTireService.com Team GTI gridded 2nd of six cars in ITB, and 48th overall - a somewhat surprising situation for the team, given that they expected to be the tortoise among the ITB hares.

The early hours of this long event went as planned, with the exception of a few surprises sprung on the team by their competitors. Giles was shoved aside in the first corner of the first lap by another ITB car (that subsequently crashed out of the event), putting the only mark on the Golf that it would suffer all weekend.

It was quickly determined that the car could run two stints on a pair of front tires and that, barring any unforeseen problems, the rears were going to go the distance. Initial fuel mileage figures were borne out and all of the other systems were found to be working precisely as expected.

Traffic played a role on the track of course, since most of the entries were in classes faster than ITB. The challenge was to minimize impact on lapping traffic - both literally and in terms of time - while giving up as little of a lap as possible.

The Golf performed nearly flawlessly as the race wore on: According to driver Giles, "The car felt exactly the same at 8:45pm as it did at 10:45am when I handed it over to Kirk." The only fault that could be found was the failure of the horn, which Knestis discovered when he tried to warn off an errant Spec Miata. He had to take the the grass to avoid contact (one of just a very few indiscretions committed by the driving squad) but emerged unscathed.

Greg Amy was similarly shoved off-track by a faster car on the front straight just past the pits, during his last - and very dark - stint. The crew pointed and watched as taillights bounced through the night, not knowing until the event was over that it had been their car. Evan Webb was a pillar of consistency for the team, striking a perfect balance between being quick and preserving the equipment.

 As was anticipated, Giles did indeed have to contend with the most "hateful" situations of the race (a word attributed to team chef and fellow racer, Karl Shultz). This, as the track got increasingly slick with dropped fluids, and grass and mud were pulled onto the racing line during off-track excursions. To make matters worse, a number of cars that had been in the pits for repairs returned as "walking wounded," trying to take the finish.

Dubbed "the refrigerator" by a competitor, the Golf turned a fast lap of 2:31.015 (with Amy at the wheel) as most other ITB entrants fell out or were delayed with problems. In the closing hours of the end of the event, it came down to a pit-stop battle with the BMW of Willis, Willis, Vilkkila, and Shelton - as they were able to run far longer between stops but turned slower times on-track. This tactical situation would have been far more difficult to figure out, had Team GTI not had the use of an iCard wireless scoring system courtesy of OG Racing in Virginia. This system made it clear that, unless fate intervened, the 'fridge would be ahead at the end.

At 10:15pm, the checkered flag flew with the number 42 GTI holding a 5-lap lead over the Bimmer, first of six cars in ITB. The final results, posted late after the race ended, listed the PhilsTireService.com team in 28th overall as two Spec Miata entries were excluded for fuel tank irregularities.

The team averaged better than 11mpg and more than 72mph as they covered 938 miles over 13 hours - and doing so without changing brake pads. In fact, in addition to scheduled tire changes and windshield cleanings, the only service performed during the race included the addition of 1/2 quart of oil (at approximately 10 hours), topping up of the brake fluid to compensate for pad wear, and the installation of the lights at the beginning of Evan Webb's second stint.

In all, the Charge of the Headlight Brigade enduro was a huge success for the hard-working group of amateur drivers and volunteer crew members that made up PhilsTireService.com Team GTI. Expect to see them back in 2005, in this and potentially other enduros on the East coast.

This victory was made possible by the following people and companies:

Promotional Partners
PhilsTireService.com - Toyo RA-1 race tires
KONI Racing - Quality suspension struts
Cobalt Friction Technologies - Competition brake pads
Bildon Motorsport - Racing parts for VWs
Der Wagen Haus (Greensboro, NC) - VW parts and service

Isaac Head Restraints - Head and neck restraint systems
Competition Cages - Rollcage construction and fabrication
LTB Motorsports - Racing and aftermarket parts
Action Digital GPS Race Data - Onboard data acquisition
OG Racing - iCard wireless scoring
Rapid Parts - High perf
ormance lighting
Recaro USA - High quality racing seats
Brad Gates Construction - At-track construction and support

PhilsTireService.com Team GTI
Greg Amy - Driver
Cameron Conover - Lead VW technician, tire changer
Collins Conover - Radio communications engineer
Clark Doggett - Crew
Kathy Forrester - Engineering data analyst
Scott Giles - Driver
Lee Grimes - Crew chief, tactician
Brad Gates - Carpenter, mechanic, refueler
Laurene Johnson - Team co-owner
Kirk Knestis - Team co-owner, driver
Mike McAlpine - Carpenter, crew
Ed Pipala - Photographer
Chris Schimmel - Truck driver, mechanic, refueler
Karl Shultz - Head chef, tire changer
Evan Webb - Driver

All photos Copyright 2004 Ed Pipala unless otherwise noted - use by permission only
Last updated 31 October 2004

Project GTI is headquartered in Greensboro, NC


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