Calabogie NER/RSR DE Event – July 8-9, 2010

July 8, 9 and 10 there was a joint Driver’s Education event between the Northeast Region and Rennsport. I decided quite late to register, so I had to seek special approval to register after the deadline – and pay a small penalty fee. I was assigned to the White run group, which is the equivalent of Rennsport’s Blue group.

When I arrived at the track at 7:00 AM, the paddock was already full of numerous transporters, trailers, motor homes trucks and cars. Virtually all of our American friends had arrived the night before and many were staying at the track overnight. The paddock was almost as full as it is for a race weekend. I had to drive down behind the administration building to find room to park. I ended up beside a man I had spoken to briefly at Watkins Glen (named Allan), and we chatted amiably throughout the two days I was at Calabogie.

We were in the middle of a typical July heat wave and the temperature was already 21C when I left home at 5:30 AM. It quickly rose as the fog burned off, reaching 30 by mid-morning and a high of 39C around 2 PM! That’s 102 Fahrenheit. Fortunately we were allowed to wear short sleeves while driving, although we still needed long pants. Many people changed into shorts and sandals while waiting for their next stint, including me. I only wore my gloves for two stints in the morning and didn’t bother in the heat of the afternoon because they were just too uncomfortable. Everyone drank as much fluid as possible and the water supplied by the organizers quickly disappeared. Fortunately, on the second day the weather cooled dramatically, with the temperature reaching only 21C and with rain beginning around noon. Even though it spoiled the driving somewhat, we were grateful for the respite from the intense heat.

Day 1 – Thursday

My first stint was scheduled for 10:20, so I had a long wait after the driver’s’ meeting. But it wasn’t without some excitement. During the very first session of the day – for the Red run group (instructors) – one of the cars dumped its entire load of coolant on the track at Turn 14. It turned out to be Bruce – one of the track’s owners – in his 996 GT3. One of the coolant hose connections had come apart, where it is just a press fit. Apparently this is a common problem caused by a cheap design. Most racers TIG weld all of these connections to avoid the problem. Fortunately, Bruce keeps other cars at the track and was able to use his Radical for the rest of the weekend. But the track was closed for almost a half hour while the spill was cleaned up. So the remaining morning run groups were shortened to 15-20 minutes (from 26 minutes), to allow us to get back on schedule by 1:30.

My first stint lasted only two laps, as I had a mechanical problem. I had recently changed the seal on the transmission shift rod to stop a fluid leak. When I put the shift linkage back together, I had found the sweet spot for the two concentric splined shafts and tightened them firmly. But I must have had the splines in contact with one another, instead of in the intervening grooves. When I down shifted to third for Turn 12, the shift lever went way too far forward. Although I was able to select the correct gears for the remainder of that lap and the next one, I knew the shafts were not as tight as they should be. So I pitted and readjusted the linkage to tighten it up again. By the time I was finished, the shortened stint was over. So I had to wait until noon for another shot at the track.

One of the NER rules is that all solo drivers in Blue and White must take an instructor with them for at least one stint on each day. Because I had registered late, I didn’t know in advance who my assigned instructor would be. I sought out the NER chief instructor and asked him about it. After a while he tracked me down and told me it would be Jim – owner of Kanata Ford and the Speed Merchants shop. I have known Jim for a couple of years and we drive at many of the same events. I found him and we had a good laugh about the assignment, since we both have many, many laps at Calabogie. He thought it was quite ironic that he should try to show me how to drive the track. We agreed to do what was expected, but not until later in the afternoon.

For my second stint, the ambient temperature was already over 30C, so I watched my temperature gauge closely and shifted gears between 5000 and 6000 rpm to try to keep the oil temperature reasonable. Nevertheless, after about 14 minutes it had climbed to over 120C and I stopped to verify the temperature with my infrared thermometer. It showed a reading of about 105C so I was relieved to know that the gauge is a bit optimistic, as I had seen at The Glen. However, because the stints had all been shortened, I didn’t have time to go back out on track before the lunch break. The other instrument problem I was having was with the tachometer. In extreme ambient temperatures, it tends to freeze while parked or after start-up. And it may or may not unfreeze while I’m driving. Fortunately, I know all my shift points at Calabogie and I know the sound of my engine, so it’s not really a factor – just disconcerting.

In the afternoon, my first stint was at 2:49 and Jim joined me for that one. I had to get my Chatterbox intercom from the truck, since Jim’s had not held a charge overnight. We had a good, full stint, although I stopped halfway through to check the oil temperature with the infrared gun in the pit lane, since the gauge was showing about 125C. But the infrared showed 105, so we resumed with more confidence. Jim made a couple of suggestions to help me maintain a bit more momentum, which were useful. At Turn 5, he suggested apexing a bit later to allow me to carry more speed to the turn-in point for Turn 6. And at Turns 1 and 16 he suggested braking a bit earlier and lighter, to carry more speed – while balanced – through the turns. Both ideas were very helpful and I now feel more comfortable driving faster in those turns. I shot a good video in the morning of the second day, but my lap times had not improved over my previous day at the track.

The fourth stint of the day was very enjoyable, but extremely hot. So the engine’s power was down a bit and the temperature was pretty high – although still OK when tested with the infrared. I was very glad to get back into shorts for the drive home. There was a beer and wine social at the end of the day, but I just spoke to a few people and grabbed a couple of bottles of fruit-flavoured water for the road. By the time I got home, I was really worn out and didn’t stay up very late in the evening.

Day 2 – Friday

What a contrast in the weather! It was still about 20C first thing in the morning, but the temperature never rose much above that. Once again my first stint was at 10:20 and the air felt very much like rain would arrive soon. The track had more grip and the engine felt stronger, but my lap times were still around 2:50, in spite of Jim’s coaching. Some of the NER guys who had been learning the track on Thursday were a bit quicker on the second day, but there was still a bit of traffic to deal with – both behind me and in front of me. There are a lot of fast cars in Rennsport and NER and I have to watch my mirrors closely. At one point I was following a Subaru into Turn 5, when he clipped the turn-in cone on track left. The cone went flying into the air, toward the right, and landed on the track right in front of me. I was far enough back that I had time to dodge it, but from then on the marshal at Turn 3 had a debris flag on display and the line into Turn 5 was a bit odd. Yes, NER permits non-Porsches to run. There were two BMW’s and two Subarus in the mix, but not all in my run group.

Between stints I spoke to Bob from Rennsport, who is responsible for organizing DE events and signing drivers off for the Black and Red run groups. He had given me a check ride at Mont Tremblant in May, but I had failed to move up to Black because my braking was a bit harsh. I told him I didn’t want to try again at Calabogie, but would wait until later in July to try at Le Circuit. Sort of like getting back on the horse that threw me. He agreed and said I had been very close, so we’ll do it there.

 In my second stint – around noon – two things happened. First of all, the rain came – lightly at first and then it picked up to large raindrops falling in a widely scattered pattern. Before long it became a heavy downpour, but only after I’d stopped. I had to pull into the pit lane early, because I was black flagged. I couldn’t figure out what the problem could be, but was told that the reason was puffs of smoke. I told the official that the oil pressure, temperature, level and air/fuel ratio gauges were all good, so it must simply be “old 911 syndrome”.

The rain fell very heavily and persistently until about 2 o’clock, but because there was no thunder or lightning, the track was open. By the time my stint came around at 2:49, the track was still wet, but the rain had stopped and the track began to dry out. Of course my speeds were lower and grip was an issue, so I just practised my wet line and enjoyed a relatively empty track. Several people didn’t bother to go out, because they didn’t feel like changing tires or didn’t have a second set suitable for the conditions. Once my stint was over, the rain started again and persisted for the balance of the afternoon. I found Jim and we agreed that he didn’t have to ride with me again, once again laughing about the irony of him trying to teach me the track. Because it was raining steadily, I decided to forego my last stint and simply packed up when there was a short break in the rain.

While waiting for the weather to improve, I had a good long chat with Travis, who is another En-Track instructor and a Grand Am driver. He has an interesting background, having started with karts when he was twelve. During our discussion, the MCO guys who had reserved the track for 5:00 PM started to arrive. Evan came over to join us and we had a good discussion about Targa Newfoundland, which he had won in 2006, navigating for Glen in a 911. It seems that’s something that Travis would like to try some day.

Overall, the car ran very well, notwithstanding the oil temperature question and the puffs of smoke. A few days later I mentioned this to Chris (the engine builder) and he speculated that might have been black smoke caused by the accelerator pump, not oil smoke. The oil level gauge has stopped working again, but I checked the oil manually and it had used only a half litre over the two days. I did a total of about 250 kms, or 50 laps, and burned about a tank’s worth of 91 octane. Overall, it was a good event and a lot less expensive than attending Fiat Freak Out!

Video is available at…



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