Service Parts Restorations Engine/Trans/Diff About Us Contact Us Home

The Argentina Odyssey

Building and shipping race engines around the world has its fringe benefits. Sometimes you get to follow them. In 2006, Korman Autoworks shipped a race engine and other competition parts to Juan Alberto Molinari in Argentina for his BMW 2002 vintage race car.

Juan so enjoyed the performance of his Korman engine that he invited Ray Korman to co-drive  in the Annual 500 Kilometer Race at the Autodromo de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. This is a truly legendary circuit with Formula 1 wins going back to the days of Ascari, Fangio, Gonzalez, Moss, and American winners: Phil Hill, Masten Gregory, and John Fitch. This was an opportunity and adventure that was not to be missed. Ray left his wrenches home, packed his race gear, and headed south.

 Dos Amigos

Ray Korman’s racing career has spanned forty-three years starting with a BMW 1800Ti, then to a BMW 2002 in the IMSA RS Series. After many victories in many different model BMWs, including the 24 Hours of Watkins Glen in 1986, Ray still drives and wins, most recently in a rain swept Octoberfest club race at Watkins Glen this past September in Lou Mendola’s  BMW E36 D Modified. The Buenos Aires event would be Ray’s first race in a 2002 in over thirty years. Juan’s season had been very successful, but racing is always unpredictable. Ray did not get to drive one lap. A new race gearbox built in Buenos Aires failed at the start of practice and the spare went out early in the race. Even so, Ray thoroughly enjoyed the most generous and warm hospitality of Juan and his friends with evenings of Argentine beef and vintage Malbec wine. Still, with a seventeen hour trip each way, it was hard to think about coming back for another try.

 

Without a doubt, Juan is a very determined man. He had Ray build an even stronger engine with a bigger cam, and steel rocker arms for higher revs and more durability. Now a BMW gearbox was back in the car. Juan’s 2006 season was even better and more reliable than the year before. The team, the car, the drivers were ready for another 500K attempt. This was a challenge that could not be ignored. Ray arrived in time for the first practice.

With a quick study of the track layout it looks like an easy club circuit. It is long at 3.5 miles, but with just two esses, one hairpin, and a long 190 degree sweeper. After running several laps, Ray found the easy looking circuit was actually very demanding. You exit the third gear hairpin onto the pit straight, shifting immediately into fourth as you track out, then into fifth before clearing the long pit row. You now stay in fifth for the next two and a half miles! Turn One, into the high speed esses, is just a quick, hard drag on the brakes, then back on the throttle, sweeping right into a late apex to set up for a quick exit out of the left hander. There is a rise in the  track between the two turns of the esses and the view of the second apex is momentarily out of sight. You need full confidence that you are on line and guts to stay hard on the throttle as there is a large lake just beyond the track-out of the left hander. It sits there waiting for anyone who turns in too early and runs wide at the exit. Remember, you are sliding through here in fifth gear at more than one hundred miles per hour. If you mess up you’ll probably hit the water with such velocity that you will cross half the lake before you slow down enough to start sinking.

 

Always someone hot on the first lap!           

Assuming you are still dry you now have six tenths of a mile to continue winding up in fifth before you come to the BIG SWEEPER. This is the Mother of all sweepers! It is faster than the famous old Turn Nine at Riverside. It may be the fastest long, flat turn in  the world. I was told you could turn in without lifting. Ray wondered if these helpful “amigos” were just trying to see if the old guy from the North was dumb enough to try that. It took Ray several laps before he could force himself not to make a quick touch on the brakes here. He worked up to just  a light lift, then turn in, nail the throttle, aim the car, and hold on. You are sliding, correcting, and looking ahead for reference points at 120 mph or more. The turn seems to go on forever. The exit tightens up so you leave enough track to lift, rotate the car, ease quickly back onto  full throttle, and focus ahead for the exit apex. If you run wide here and put a wheel off the outside curb, it drops off about ten inches into soft dirt. Juan said he did that once and bounced about three feet in the air. Luckily he came down still pointed in the right direction!

The straight now in front of you is a full mile long and you’re already wound out in fifth. It’s a good time to check the gauges and listen to the engine screaming away. You are grateful to have steel rocker arms here. Aluminum would have turned to dust.

There are no 3-2-1 reference signs at any of the corners. You really need one at the end of this long straight but you look for a bump or change in road surface to mark where to jump on the brakes and slow down for the slower esses ahead. Ray was advised to use third here but he found a good line and scooted through in fourth.                    

 Third might be better for a thirty minute race but for the long haul, Ray felt better easing the engine through in fourth. Coming off this turn it is back to fifth for the long run down into the third gear hairpin, completing the lap. The average lap speed for the 2002, still clad in stock fenders and with no spoiler or wing, is about 107 mph! A hot lap is three and a half miles in just under two minutes. For this track, you must have an engine with strong, bulletproof top end power, and with so few turns you must absolutely fully maximize every one of them. You can probably gain or lose more than two seconds just the way you go through the long, high speed sweeper.

Juan started the race, quickly passed the other BMWs in his class, then worked through the cars in the class above into first over-all. He started ripping off faster lap times, increasing his lead and just kept rolling on. As Ray’s turn was coming up he was wondering how he could follow a drive like that, especially since he was still learning the circuit. Pulling on his helmet, Ray looked up and saw Juan pulling up to the garage with a smoking engine.

So what happened to their “bullet-proof” engine? Well it seems that someone in Buenos Aires was selling some super trick valves and Korman’s proven stainless steel valves had been replaced. A new valve had broken.

The team had a great, but somewhat subdued lunch at an outstanding restaurant before taking Ray to the airport. Not the victory celebration that was anticipated. When encouraged to return next year for another try, Ray was quiet. In two trips he had not driven one race lap, and to add to the misery, the trip home was awful. Arriving at the airport at 5 PM, the flight was delayed and did not go until 2AM. Ray missed his next two connecting flights. Seventeen hours down, forty-three hours getting home. Wow! Anyone would be nuts to make another trip like that. Argentina? Been there, done that!  

Heading into the pits

 

However, racers are known to be nuts about racing. The challenge was there. Ray and Juan felt sure the car could win. After all that effort, and all they had learned, should they give up? Juan came up with some convincing inducements. He would have Ray start the race. That way he would be assured of driving. Well, as long as the car did not break before the race as before.  There was more good news. The first two years they had raced on dead stock 175/70R13 tires. That was a handful! This year they would run 14 inch Yokohama AO48 spec tires with Pozzi adjustable coil-overs, all thoroughly tested and dialed in. Joining the team as third driver would be Oscar Larrauri, former Brun Racing Team piloto in Formula 1, Le Mans, and IMSA GTP. Say no more! Ray was hooked. He packed his bags and headed south again.

 Ray started the Molinari, Korman, Larrauri BMW first in class and fifth over-all in a field of 52 cars. He hung back just a bit at the start to get a run on the fourth place car which he passed just beyond the start/finish line. The next two cars boxed him in approaching the high speed esses. He made an extra late apex into the right turn to set up for an inside exit out of the following left. He swept by the two cars on the inside coming off the corner and was now in second place. And that is where the team wanted to stay for most of the race. The lead car was potentially faster. They did not want to race head to tail with him for 500 kilometers. Every time the pace car came out, the BMW would close up again. If the leader would be still running near the end of the race, they would make a charge on him in the last thirty minutes.

Oscar and Ray talk strategy and rev limits

 

Ray turned fast, comfortable laps, staying under 7600 rpm, and was being very cautious lapping the many back-markers. An Alfa broke loose just in front of him going into the esses and slid off the left side of the track sideways. Ray lifted, anticipating the other coming back across just in front of him, going off  on the right. He punched full throttle just as the spinning car came back left across the track , this time just behind him. So much for getting comfortable! In the U.S. we race with side windows down for safety. Down there they race with all windows closed for better aerodynamics. Why not down for safety? Heck, at that speed if you roll, all the windows are coming out anyway!                       

 

 Ray is turning such steady, fast laps that Juan keeps him out an extra ten minutes. With everything going so well, Ray is ready for another hour, but it is Oscar’s turn. He is ready. He is fast, and only knows one way to drive: flat out! He immediately goes after the race leader, passes, then presses on with record laps. He comes by the pits so quickly he can’t see Juan’s “SLOW DOWN” pit signal lap after lap. After about fifty minutes he rolls in with an overheated engine. Juan takes the car back out for a check and comes in immediately. The BMW’s race is over. The team packs up, heads out for the great lunch and non-victory celebration and then to the airport.

 Ray at least got to do “his thing”. It took three long trips for him to be able to show that old guys rule! When he came in at the end of his hour the TV crews had rushed over for interviews and congratulations. There was a lot of hand shaking and back patting. That worried Ray. Early celebrations always have bad endings, and sure enough, the car did not finish again. Is it worth another trip in 2009? Stay tuned.  

2009 Follow-Up

The "dos amigos," Ray and Juan, fourth and surely most successful assault on the 500 KM's of Buenos Aires was not to be.

Mid-year, Juan's long time and irreplaceable crew chief and car builder was diagnosed with cancer.  As the race date grew nearer, his condition declined.  It was a time for reflection and reconsiderations. The BMW was not entered in the race. 

  Pozzi Adjustable Coil-Overs available at Korman Autoworks      

 

© Korman Autoworks, Inc. 2629 Randleman Rd. Greensboro, NC USA 27406