Retirement to Riches: Student Crew Leads Evans Cooled 86 Comeback

The lead-up to the penultimate round of the Australian Manufacturers Championship was the most challenging of any event before for the volunteer crew at Pedders Racing. A chapter never to be forgotten from the racing story as the student crew from Motorsports Training Australia led the way with preparations, problem solving and performance, seeing the #86 go from retirement to riches in undoubtedly the most challenging and rewarding week in the team’s five years of national competition.

Having secured three from three Class round wins so far this season, engine gremlins took their place following the latest Queensland success, the Motorsports Training Australia (MTA) crew starting the assessment immediately upon the return of the Pedders 86, even with the knowledge of the eight week break that was ahead. As investigations and post-race reviews wrapped up, the injectors were on their way to Melbourne for specialist repair while the students got back to work creating custom features and learning all trades involved in motor sport tech.

On arrival of the refurbished injectors it was noticed the wrong seals were provided so the parts returned to Melbourne once more. With another week passing, the injectors came to MTA once more, this time fitted to the #86 but not functional, and on removal the delicate seals were destroyed so back to Melbourne for a third attempt on the injectors as the Pedders Racing crew began to chase contacts across Australia, New Zealand and the United States for supply of the correct seals and their custom application tooling. Weeks on once more, the injectors returned while the final Australian stock of seals arrived, but time was of the essence with most of the mid-round break now past.

Successfully fitting the injectors back to the race engine, the MTA crew were ready to test but #86 now had dash lights yet would not turn over. Three days and more than 30 hours were spent researching manuals, scanning and dismantling electrical systems, sensors and engine components, but still there was no answer. There were now only two days before the event and the 86 wasn’t going anywhere – cue senior crew, teachers, automotive electrical specialists, tuners, and local automotive staff, and still no answers.

Race week Thursday, and in a last ditch effort to check relay systems, the MTA crew removed two relays from the fuse box and stumbled across a complete computer system reset. As suddenly as she had stopped, the engine came back to life as the Pedders Racing crew arrived at MTA. You would almost think #86 knew the bosses had arrived and knew it was time to get to work. Although now running, the engine was neither smooth nor consistent and continued to fail. Step by step the investigations continued, setting the 86 back to its factory tune then installing the custom performance tune, but the issues continued. There was now no choice but to complete a pre-event day engine change with two spares in the parts armoury.

Race engine out, but again things didn’t go to plan. Spare engine number one was unwrapped to find it was missing seals and vital components and there were no further seals available in Australia, the team had already cleared out all stock. On to spare number two, and more disappointment, the recent purchase had arrived as only a short motor - no starter motor, alternator, wiring harness or injectors. With seemingly no options remaining, the afternoon before Round 4 had Pedders Racing retire from their first ever national event, but even after day four of 10+ hour days, the crew would not give up.

As the dejected team sat discussing the disappointment, a late idea… what if the injectors were again the key to the problem and the solution. A last attempt to go racing had the MTA and Pedders Racing crew carefully remove the injectors from the first of the spare engines, intense focus successfully removing the delicate seals to great relief. With injectors out from the race engine, it showed that those that had been back and forth for repair were again not right, and not firing.

Spare injectors into race engine and the sweet sound of the 86 had not only returned, but was running smoothly, and with the custom performance tune installed once more, #86 was back! With Phillips on board, a short test on the Motorsports Training Australia track drew cheers from the crew and teaching staff as enthusiasm for race weekend kicked up a gear once again. The dramas were surely over but it was now Thursday evening and too late to make the journey. An unplanned night in Wodonga became a celebration for the dedicated crew with smiles all round as tired bodies retired ahead of an early rise to complete final preparations and go racing.

In the early hours of event Friday, the Motorsports Training Australia and Pedders Racing crew completed final preparations then with the Pitman Trucks transporter loaded, the 86 on board, doors closed and support vehicles packed, it was time to raise the tailgate and hit the road, but not yet. An electrical fault in the controls combined with a hydraulic solenoid fault to see another scramble as crew took to fix the truck. Challenge accepted, challenge overcome, Pedders Racing were on the road to Wakefield Park.

Arriving to stunning Wakefield Park Raceway just in time to get on track for sponsor rides, Phillips took each of the MTA crew members for a spin, a small part of the thanks for their incredible efforts to get the team back on track. Putting up the garage branding the team had come to be known for, it was time to take the new Pedders Racing golf car ‘Little Bull’ and relax overlooking the now peaceful country circuit.

Race day Saturday began with spanner checks and setup adjustments ahead of the dual qualifying sessions. Turpie took the wheel for Q1 and laid down strong times, the Pedders 86 was now where she needed to be. Phillips took the seat for Q2, laying down the laps as the session ticked away, then on approach to turn one at high speed and going for the clutch, the pedal was already flat to the floor making for an interesting ride through the fastest turn at the track. In the garage with just minutes remaining, it was done, the team disappointed but excited as Turpie took his fourth Class pole position of the season. With work on the 86 again underway, the team missed Q2’s parc ferme meaning Phillips’ times were stripped, but they still had the pole and had found loose slave cylinder bolts, a quick fix and a final mechanical review had the young volunteer crew ready to race.

In the afternoon sun, the Australian Manufacturers Championship field took to the grid for the first of two races, Phillips taking control for the opening session. Lapping consistently, things were looking good for the Pedders/Heidi Yi Cosmetics entry, and then came the next challenge. When a Safety Car was called on lap 12, Crew Chief Matthew began radioing for Phillips to head for the lane for the compulsory pit stop (CPS) to no avail. Communication systems were again failing the team so back to the old school pit board and waving from the pit wall, and Phillips was in to hand over to Turpie who returned to the track, just catching the train of competitors behind the Safety Car in the nick of time, as the track went green.

Consistent with the lap times, it was all about to become another major challenge as having posted the fastest laps of the 86’s race so far, it was all about to come to an abrupt end. 43 laps in the bank and the cabin began filling with smoke. As Turpie slowed keeping clear of the race line, the Lynton BMW came in to the turn three/four esses too hot, slamming the rear corner of the limping 86 and guaranteeing not just a return to the pits, but a mid-race retirement with heavy rear damage sending the #86 into the garage as frantic work began in the hope of salvaging a weekend result.

As parts came off, the extent of the damage and the cause of the smoke were discovered, a disintegrated three season old diff seal had allowed for the oil smoke and original slowing, with the hit crumpling the rear left quarter panel and bending the Driveway Labs diffuser. Borrowing slide hammers from generous fellow competitors, and some skillful old school ‘wood and hammer’ panel beating, the quarter panel and diffuser would soon be good enough to go, the diff the key issue as with no spare diff or seals, again options were running out.

Frantic calls to 86/BRZ owners, parts suppliers, local automotive stores, tuners and fellow 86/BRZ competitors had stress levels high and negotiation skills at their best. A savior soon rose in the form of renowned 86/BRZ parts suppliers, Forged Performance, a replacement diff made available so Phillips led a small crew on what would be a tiring eight hour road trip north of Gosford to collect the parts that would get us back into the weekend of racing.

Work continued until darkness had well fallen until the Pedders/Heidi Yi Cosmetics entry was fully race-prepped ready for the diff install that would go ahead in the latest of many early and demanding mornings in the garage.

One final early start, one final day of the Shannons Nationals race week at Wakefield Park, the Motorsports Training Australia/Pedders Racing crew impressed yet again fitting the replacement rear end and completing final checks for self-assurance, getting Turpie out for warm up and confirming we were back on track for a strong finish. Leading up to the final race of an incredibly challenging event, the atmosphere was finally back to being more relaxed, tyre pressures set for the conditions, refuel completed, spanner checks clear, Turpie headed out to line up for the 90 lap finale. A clean start, consistent laps in the light rain, Turpie brought her in for the driver change as the CPS window opened on lap 15. Phillips took over and continued to work the #86 forward in the pack as competition faltered. Looking for the ideal setup as conditions cooled, Phillips came in for a drop in tyre pressures before bringing the Pedders/Heidi Yi Cosmetics 86 home to the chequered flag to secure the team’s fourth Class victory while equaling the team’s best Outright finish with 6th across the line. A truly amazing effort from all involved as Pedders Racing’s most challenging event became the most rewarding as explained by Phillips, saying,

“Unbelievable. We’ve had five seasons in national competition, we’ve had many tough events, we’ve had many who doubted this little volunteer country team would keep going, and now we’ve had this weekend which has undoubtedly shown exactly what our crew is all about.

“Dedication, passion, professionalism and teamwork have always been the core of Pedders Racing, and I am still trying to take in everything that this outstanding group of people has overcome.

“We can’t thank the students and teachers at Motorsports Training Australia enough for all the effort, time and talent they put into our team, not just at this event, but by operating the 86 all season. If anyone would ever have thought to question if these kids have what it takes to work with the best of the best, under pressure, and still with enthusiasm, we can absolutely tell them they’re wrong! The MTA crew and our Pedders Racing crew are just incredible!”

Turpie echoed these thoughts, saying,

“What a weekend. What a lead up! It’s been tough on the mind and body for everyone over these last couple of weeks with the physical preparations and all of the running around to beg, borrow and almost steal, to make sure that the 86 made the grid, and then made the end.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the people this team is made up of. Everyone has their part and everyone plays it like a professional.

“Being on the wall with all of the crew as the car met the chequered flag was a moment to remember. All of the work and stress just lifted, and it was hugs all around as we could celebrate a finish, another class victory and another outstanding outright finishing place.”

Stuart Membrey, Business Manager of Wodonga TAFE (parent organisation of Motorsports Training Australia) was thrilled to receive the news that the drama had passed and his students had again done MTA proud, explaining,

“Our students are here at MTA because they are passionate about motorsport, committed to learning and determined to achieve their best, and the best results for every team they have the opportunity to join through industry placement.

“These kids show up every day to learn how to make their place in Australian and world motorsport, and to see the way they dedicated themselves to getting ‘our’ 86 to Wakefield, and to get it home to the flag was testament to the teachers and the learning programs that MTA prides itself on.

“Pedders Racing put their faith in our teachers and students allowing them to fully operate the vehicle side of the team this year, and we know that they are thrilled with the ongoing results, and share our pride in the level of achievement these kids continue to show.”

Pedders Racing wishes to sincerely thank Crew Chief Matthew, Nathan and Alex, along with all the teachers and students of Motorsports Training Australia, who without their persistent efforts this achievement would never have been possible. Thanks go to our loyal Pedders Racing crew, Chris, Justin, Kat, Jayson, Kimberley, No Bull Chick Claire, our young ladies in learning, Stephanie and Emily, and our crew back home. Thanks to Kalen at Forged Performance for saving our weekend with the generous supply of vital parts; to our fellow AMChamp crews who lent tools as we fought to stay racing; and to our ever-supportive sponsors who back us every step of the way. Thank you to our families who keep home a happy place and allow us to go racing; thank you to all of the staff and officials whose dedication allows us to race; and thank you to all of our supporters, near and far, whose passion and enthusiasm for this team keeps driving us to never give in.

The season is almost over so don’t miss the finale of not only this season of the Australian Manufacturers Championship, but the final round of the series as we know it, when we again join the Shannons Nationals, this time at Sydney Motorsport Park, 13-15 November for the Australian 4 Hour and our sixth Pedders Racing 86/BRZ Mega Meet. There’s great change coming for next season so stay tuned via as we work towards Pedders Racing’s fourth national class championship.