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.
|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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Adjustable Coil-Overs available at Korman Autoworks