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Kelly's turbulent times on track - Can-Am Mini Challenge races at Road Atlanta USA

Many of you will have seen in previous posts, that currently our most active competition member in the USA, Kelly Wittenauer, has never been far from a race track this season and along with her husband John and son Dylan, have been competing with her Unipower Comp GT and the family Mini's in various local championships. This year has not been without its problems, the most recent of which was at the Can-Am Mini Challenge races, held at the well-know Road Atlanta circuit in Georgia, USA.

Kelly kindly sent in the following race meeting report, where the extent of her wows and the commitment shown by her and her family, really demonstrated true determination to get back on track. Tremendous effort Kelly. Enjoy reading her very entertaining tales, for some anyway !

" Coming up the hill toward the bridge, with just a couple minutes left in Thursday's last practise session, the engine seemed to stumble a couple times, then backfired & quit!. Thankfully, I had enough momentum to make it over the crest & coast downhill into the pits. With the car towed back to the paddock, diagnosis began. It would crank, but not even attempt to start, despite having fuel at the carb, spark & compression. Eventually, the distributor was pulled & found to be broken. Another was installed & the car started, but was rough. It stalled while attempting to dial it in. Then found the clutch pedal wouldn't depress & the starter stopped engaging. Pulled the cover & found a broken crankshaft!

The other end of the broken crank. We believe the final separation happened in the paddock, while we were attempting to dial things in, after replacing the distributor. Still wondering which came 1st, cracked crankshaft or broken distributor.

Despite my urging him to get the track time, John chose to spend Friday getting my car going again. It was a nearly 16 hr job to pull the engine, get a spare together, mated to the gearbox & reinstalled in the car. It was finally ready to start about 10:45pm. We made it cough a couple times & left it till morning, to avoid disturbing those camping at the track.

As the 3 of us headed to the grid for Saturday morning's final qualifying, John found he had no brakes & stayed in the paddock for repairs. I received the 'meatball flag' (Ed: I assume this is the American name for the Black Flag here in the UK :) ) in T9 & returned to the paddock, without completing a full lap. My car was dripping oil, from a line that didn't get fully tightened in Friday's thrash. Both cars were fixed, in time for the afternoon's Spreen Cup race however. John & I both arrived on the grid, thinking Dylan was close behind & would come by to take his place further toward the front. Turned out, his battery was dead & he got someone to tow-start his car, just in time to join us at the tail for the start!. Dylan dropped out during the 4th lap, with a front hub issue, just before a red flag appeared for an incident. As we restarted from pit lane, I found my car wasn't pulling above 2nd gear & pulled off at T5. John continued & finished 7th overall & 3rd in his class, for which he received a plaque. I also was awarded a plaque for winning my class, as I was the only one in it!. The ceremony happened while I was being towed in, so John accepted on my behalf.

Patrick Tremblay photo

In Sunday's Mini Challenge race, my car again had no go when I shifted up to 3rd & I had to drop out on the pace lap. The same tow truck driver retrieved me, from the same spot!. Being flat-towed thru the very steep hills of the infield, for the 2nd consecutive day, the brakes overheated & I had to dodge the tow truck, when he stopped!. John thinks the clutch didn't get setup precisely enough, doing it on the fly at the track & that it began to slip under load. "

Patrick Tremblay photo

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1 Comment

Kelly Wittenauer
Kelly Wittenauer
Nov 15, 2022

Thanks for posting this, Gerry! John has already begun rebuilding the engine, with the project now waiting on the next delivery of parts. We've not yet removed the hastily prepared & installed "spare". Still need to do that & determine whether the motivational issue is clutch or gearbox. Hoping it's not the later!

To clarify, the "meatball" flag is a variation of black flag. Black with a red or orange disc, which resembles a meatball, I believe some refer to it as the "mechanical" flag. It signals the driver to pit immediately, as marshals have spotted a problem with the car. Versus the solid black, signaling a problem with the driver or course. Many club courses here have only the…

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