From LeMons to Le Mans,
Eyesore Racing's Victory Tour
Part 2: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Le Mans-Winning Corvette's Air Conditioner.
by Dave Coleman
Getting to Le Mans is hard. First you have to build a fast LeMons car, assemble a good team, wait until Jay Lamm gets drunk and sends out an e-mail promising to send the LeMons season champions to Le Mans, and then make an all-in press for championship points, landing on the podium at 7 LeMons races in that one critical year. Then you actually have to find Le Mans, France, population 150,000 (plus 250,000 race fans).
For our second attempt at finding the track, we tried the time-honored method of following the directions we were given (leave the farm house, turn left, follow the signs to Le Mans) and stopping along the way to buy an old-fashioned paper map. it worked brilliantly.
Jay promised not only to get our whole team to France with just enough money for a pit pass and a shower, but he also promised to hook us up with some fellow LeMons racers while we were there. The first phone number he gave us was for Bill Riley of Riley Technologies. He's based on the East Coast, so we've only raced against his LeMony Ford Probe V6 speedster once, when we towed our Frankenmiata all the way to Florida for the brutal, midnight-to-midnight 2010 season ending 24 Horas de Cuba del Norte. In our one and only meeting Bill and his team trounced us by over 30 laps. That kinda got our attention.
Amazingly, Bill had nothing better to do than spend a couple hours showing us around the track and comparing notes on our shitty LeMons cars.
The first thing Bill did was introduce us to Pratt and Mller Corvette Racing crew chief Dan Binks, a LeMons legend in his own right, Binks is infamous for getting caught red handed at his first race with a 300-hp AER-built smallblock, and then taking his penalty (post-race confiscation of the engine) like a man and vowing to return next year with a verifiably shittier engine.
Binks wasted half an hour that should have been spent prepping for the next day's racing to show us around the cars. As endurance racers ourselves, the the stuff that interests most people (power, speed, who is driving, blah blah blah), wasn't nearly as interesting to us as how he signals to his driver that the gas tank is full, how you take the doors off the car when you work on it, and arcane shit like that.
Here, then, is the arcane shit that interested us:
1: Every team is required to run on spec fuel supplied by the A.C.O. That fuel, which is really nothing more exciting than european pump gas, costs $8 a LITER. The Pratt and Miller Corvette team has to ship hundreds of gallons of the stuff across the Atlantic to tune the engines and test the cars, not to mention the colossal amount of fuel consumed during the race itself. Ouch.
2: Check out these door hinges! Just pull those two quick-release pins and the door pops right off.
3: Look at this big carbon fiber intake honkus that sits inside the passenger's-side door:
Turns out, that's the intake for the air conditioner. Running an air conditioner is actually more efficient and more effective than running a cool suit. There's less weight than a cooler full of ice, the A/C pump has been optimized to the point that it draws only 1.8 hp, there is no need to change ice during pit stops, and, perhaps most importantly, directly cooling the driver with a cool suit wouldn't satisfy Le Mans comfort rules.
The A.C.O. actually requires that the interior of the cars can never be more than 10 degrees hotter than the outside air, and they have sensors in the car to confirm that barrier is never broken.
Still, cooling air is most effective when delivered right to the driver's hindquarters, so this special vented seat is used to deliver most of the cooling air where it does the most good, while bleeding enough into the cabin to satisfy the A.C.O.
The A/C compressor is mounted here (bottom) at the very back of the car, along with one of the alternators.
Zooming out a little bit you can see the whole rear-mounted transaxle. We expected rear-mounted accessories like this to be belt driven off a CV joint or something like that, but if you look just forward of the axle, you'll see an accessory drive built right into the transmission. That belt appears to go back to a jackshaft mounted on the back of the transaxle that drives the AC Delco A/C compressor (bottom right) and the alternator, each on its own belt.
We didn't actually notice this until after we left the pits and started looking through the pictures, so we're not really sure how it works, but we're guessing this accessory drive is probably driven off the input shaft so the accessories can get up to working speed before the car is fully hauling ass.