What you need to know to go the distance in the 24 hour non-stop event. Drawing from the experiences of 4 x time participants (and 2 x time winners)
At Autohouse, we go far beyond just a regular Brisbane Car Storage facility. We like to get involved in the motoring world first-hand, and theres no better 'vehicle' for that than through the means of motorsport competition. One event we have been actively involved in over the last few years is the famous or maybe infamous '24 Hours of Lemons'. Deriving its name from the famous sports car endurance race, the 24 hours of Le Mans, the 'Lemons' version offers a slight more budget-orientated experience from its French counterpart.
Now endurance racing is tough - If regular motorsport has highs and lows, endurance motorsport has summits and crevasses. It is the ultimate test of man and machine, pushing both beyond physical limits either knew they had. So then, buy a car for $1,000 or less, put some safety gear into it and then attempt to pull it through 24 hours of non-stop mechanical tortue? How hard can it be?
What is the 24 Hours of Lemons?
Ok first things first. The 24 Hours of Lemons is an American-born concept that made its way to Australian shores in 2016. Its designed purely as a budget-motorsport endurance style event. 24 hours being the race duration, the 'lemons' representing the lemon of a car you've undoubtably procured to do the job. The concept is pretty simple:
1. Rally together a crew of Drivers (4 or more)
2. Purchase a car up for the job for circa $1,000 or less
3. Install the safety necessities
4. Drive it until you finish the race or it breaks (and if breaks then fix it and keep going)
Its obviously a little more complex than that, let us explain...
1. Rally together a bunch of motorsport-orientated colleagues. Its imperative to have Drivers who understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and will drive accordingly. At least one of you must be mechanically-orientated, and be able to quickly diagnose and solve issues with your car. I'm talking the ability to dictate a middle-of-the-night, trackside engine change (seriously, we had to do that in the 2017 event).
For us, Lemon's was a great opportunity to get a few mates involved who have a keen interest in motorsport, but just didn't have the budget or know-how required to get into it.
2. Purchase a car for $1,000(ish). Treat this as a loose guideline. The $1,000 car rule is really just in place to deter anyone from bringing an actual a race car along. More than 6 cylinders? Forced induction? We advise against them both, as with your increase in speed will come an increase in refuelling stops and a decrease in reliability. Our mighty Nossan cost us $2,200 off eBay, and we bought it as a high mileage, completely stock car, which actually broke down on the test drive. We knew then it was mean't to be.
An important thing to note is that money spent 'making your car safe' is not counted in the $1,000 rule. This includes your roll cage, seat, harness, fire extinguisher, battery isolator, brakes and suspension components. Be sure to have properly read the rules and regulations before building your car! The scrutineers pay special attention to the quality of the roll cage, racing seat & harness and electrical kill switch.
3. The safety stuff - Lemons Organisers are big on this, in fact we'd argue that they are more vigerious with safety than real motor racing sanctioning bodies such as CAMS or AASA. This is likely because we are competing in cars likely never mean't for competition. Putting a roll cage and racing seat into a ordinary road car will make it safer, but not exactly 'safe'. It's important to read the rules and regs very carefully, and after that, read them again. Ensure your cage is good quality, ensure your battery isolator does what its supposed to (completely kills the engine whilst revving at 3,000 rpm) and ensure your racing seat and harness and safely installed and secure.
All the gear, no idea...
You will need to invest (or borrow) in personal racing gear. At a minimum you will require:
A proper two or three layer fire-proof racing suit
Helmet with min AS1698 standard and HANS compatibility
We strongly recommend a fire-proof balaclava as well as proper racing boots. If you are a first-timer, and have absolutely no gear, satisfying the above may be an expensive exercise. Luckily, racegear outlets such as Revolution Racegear and Raceline are aware of this, and offer bespoke 'Lemons packages' to cover all the bases at the most effective price. You can be even more budget conscious and borrow gear from friends and family, and don't forget you can share race gear between team mates (if you don't mind putting on a sweaty suit or helmet that is).
Do the events actually go for 24 Hours?
Yes..and no. Lemons hold two different types:
The 3 day event - these are the more common events, and run in similar fashion to a conventional race weekend:
Saturday: Racing 8am-5pm (approx)
Sunday: Racing 8am-5pm (approx)
These events are for the less extreme teams out there. The entry fees and running costs are less, and the day-time only structure means a good nights sleep is had by all. It also means you have time off the clock to repair and refresh the car on the Saturday night. Not exactly the '24 hours of Lemons', more like the '18 hours of Lemons'.
The proper 24 hour non-stopper - this one separates the men from the boys. This is a bonafide 24 hour race that runs through the dead of night. A much greater challenge of both man and machine, however a challenge we truly relish. After doing two 3 day events, we had a crack at the non-stop event, in which we came out victorious. After experiencing the tranquility of racing through the night, it was difficult to even consider doing another 3 day event.
What car do I chose?
Chose something that:
Is obviously cheap to purchase
Is known for its rugged relability - think rugged Japanese cars from the 90s
Is easy to procure spares parts for - whether it be factory new, used or after-market.
Actually drives ok - you don't want to spend 24 hours driving a shopping trolley
Is rear-wheel-drive. They are always going to be a better balanced car and will likely mean less intensive tyre-wear.
Has a manual gearbox! An obviously but we've seen auto gearboxes contest the race before! Don't do it! Your brakes will wear out much faster and you'll put a lot of strain through the transmission in trying to do something it wasn't really designed for.
Our Top 3 Car Recommendations
We believe these three offer the best ratio of (low) performance and reliability:
1. Hyundai Excel
Sexy Excels? Perhaps not, but these humble Korean hatches actually go alright around a race track, and its very hard to kill them. So much so that they are one of the most popular choices of race car in Australia, and provide ultra competitive, yet budget conscious grass-roots racing. As they are a well established in the motorsport world, it means that turn-key race cars are readily available. An Excel Cup Car will have all the safety requirements you need for Lemons - just don't expect to pay $1,000 for one!
2. Nissan S-Chassis or Skyline (Non Turbo)
The old Datsuns are some of the best value for money performance out there. Admittedly a lot have been violated from years and years of ruthless owners, however the non-turbo versions are generally robust and can generate a reasonable driving experience. This was the path we went down, with our purchase of a 1990 Nissan Silvia S13.
What have we done to this beast you ask?
Aside from all the mandatory stuff -
Upgraded Brakes - the original callipers were prone to failing, so putting bigger better brakes from an R32 Skyline on all four corners resolved that issue, and also led to a huge decrease in brake wear (bigger brakes = cooler brakes = less pad wear).
Upgraded Suspension - we found a set of second hand coil-over's that we threw on. Admittedly this mean't an increase in handling performance (don't tell the scrutineers), however it also mean't a far more enjoyable car to drive around a race track.
Extended the Sump - oil surge resulting from longer corners is not something a road car engine is designed for. Long sweeping bends starve the engine of oil and can blow up as a result (again, it happened to us in our first lemons). An extended sump with baffles will help minimise this problem.
Cut the Fat - weight is the enemy of motorsport. We cut out about 50kg from our car overtime, which reaps all sorts of benefits such as better handling, less tyre, brake and component wear and of course increased fuel efficiency. Leave nothing in the interior aside from the absolute essentials. Go through your engine bay and rip out charcoal canisters, wash bottles and air conditioning systems. Doesn't matter how small it is, if you remove 50 small things that will equal a big thing. Less really is more! Bonus: you can sell your unwanted parts on facebook marketplace or gumtree for a bit of extra cash.
3. Toyota Corolla
Not too fused on driving experience and just want something light and reliable to get you home? 90's/early 00's Corolla's seem to be a decent choice for those 'just there to have fun'. Don't expect to be at the pointy end of the field, and expect to chew through a few sets of front tyres.
1. Dont cheap out on safety - Both car safety and personal safety. Cheapest certainly isn't best when it comes to motor racing products. Your investment in safety is your life insurance policy! Get a professional roll cage installed (we went with a bolt-in number from AGI Rollcages), and invest in a proper heavy duty adjustable seat bracket. Seat bracket steel should be a minimum of 3mm thick, or if you're using alloy 9mm thick. Broken racing seats are a leading cause of fatalities in motorsport, so invest in a quality seat - think brands like Sparco, Velo and OMP. A minimum 5 point harness is required - your anchors points are high-tensile steel, and be sure to backing plates under the nuts. You will also need to install a small fire extinguisher thats within reach of the driver whilst fully belted in.
All these components combined are the things that may save you in any worst-case scenarios.
2. Cut the fat - Haven't got horsepower? Then add lightness. Got horsepower? Then add lightness anyway. Go over your car with fine tooth comb and remove anything that is not absolutely imperative for the operation or safety of the vehicle. We're talking interior, plastics, side intrusion bars, window washer bottles, charcoal canisters, insulation, sound deadening. Hot tip: dry ice is good for removing stubborn sound deadening.
3. Don't run it dry - Its likely your engine was never designed for racing, so oil starvation as a result of gravity around long sweeping corners may be an issue. Investing in an extended, baffled sump may be a solution to this problem (it was for us).
4. Brakes Brakes Brakes. Do you research on a good-wearing racing-style pad. In the most recent event, we used Forza FP3 pads, and we managed to make one set last the 24 hours, and not having a length pad-change pitstop is what probably won us the 2018 race.
Upgrade your brakes if you deem it necessary, and be sure to use a good DOT 4 racing-spec fluid (try Motul 660, Castrol SRF or ATE Superblue). Using a good fluid will mean less bubble formation and a firmer pedal throughout the race (which will equate to better performance).
5. Tyres Tyres Tyres - like pads, tyres are a critical dispensable item. Lemons organisers are very vocal on their 'road-tyre only' rule. They do not want anyone running any kind of track or racing-orientated tyre at a 'low performance event'. Fair enough we say! We had great success with the Dunlop LM704. We made one set, which cost us a total of $390, last the entire 24 hour non-stop race! Enough said. Nonetheless do your homework on tyres and their respective levels wear. Durability is key!
6. All of the Lights - Doing the 24hour non-stop events that run through the night? Then some aftermarket lighting is absolutely essential. Organisers will do their best to light up the track, however to properly sight track characteristics you will need something more than the likely sub-par headlights your car is equiped with. We installed a fairly hefty light bar that did the job nicely. Be sure that it (or your stock headlights) don't turn onto high beam, as you'll be blinding anyone who is in your path - which is a pretty dangerous prospect on a race circuit.
7. Talk to me - a pit-to-car radio system may seem like overkill at this kind of event, however there's no denying it certainly comes in handy. No need to go and purchase something fancy - we hired a quality Kenwood system from a place in Brisbane called Comex. The hire cost us circa-$80 for the weekend.
8. Break it in testing - Get your car prep organised well in advance and enjoy the benefit of pre-race testing. Go and do a general practice/sprint day and do as many laps as possible. If you're going to break anything (which you likely will), testing is the ideal time to do it. It'll iron out any weak spots in the car, give you an idea of improvements of performance and driver comfort, as well as some valuable seat time. It's also a good opportunity to test your fuel capacity and the accuracy of your gauge and/or warning light.
How Many Drivers Should We Have?
The minimum amount of Driver's is currently 4, however we've only ever done it with 5. We feel this number is good because:
It makes the weekend more affordable with the extra person to split costs with
Two people can be 'off-watch' and resting at any given time, as it only takes 3 people (including driver) to conduct a pitstop.
You will still get circa 4-5 hours of seat time, which is plenty in a 24 hour period
What Do We Pack for the Event?
1. A tool kit comprehensive enough to rebuild the entire car if needed
2. A comprehensive package of spares, with particular focus on parts that are prone to failure - wheel bearings, master cylinders, alternators, power steering pumps, radiators etc. Got a spare trailer and tow vehicle? Go down to the wreckers and buy a doner car! You'll have an entire catalogue of spare parts ready to go!
3. Battery or pneumatic rattle gun - will save you a lot of time changing tyres
4. Enough sets of tyres and brake pads to get you through (recommend two sets of each).
5. Keep your fluids up - ensure you have ample reserves of engine oil, gearbox & diff oil, radiator water, brake fluid etc etc
If you bring more tools, spares and expendables than what you think you need, you are heading in the right direction
During the Race
Minimise the pit stops - your stints should ideally be based around your fuel tank capacity - I.e. each driver stint should end when the fuel runs out. For us, this was about 1.5 hours - a long stint yes, however we were all relatively fit and at Queensland Raceway you have time to rest down the straights.
Maximise Pit Stop Efficiency - like any form of motorsport, races can be won and lost in the pits. Refilling with regular Jerry Cans is adequete, however if you really want to save some time invest in a hand-pump & drum system. This is a cost-effective means to nearly halving your refuelling time. Its also far more accurate and minimises the risk of spillages. Each person should know their role before the car pulls in. Whilst the driver change is taking place, have your most mechanically-minded member take a good look around the car and in the engine bay for any issues or soon-to-be-issues - think leaks, brake pad levels, tyre wear, etc.
Its a marathon, not a sprint - remember this simple concept and you will go a longer than you think!
Thanks for reading!
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