Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant June 24-26, 2011

After touring Mid-Ohio, Virginia International, Mosport and Watkins Glen, plus a couple of days at Calabogie, it was time to visit my alma mater – Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant – where I got my first taste of track driving in 1991 with the Jim Russell school. I really enjoy driving that track, in part because of the fond memories I have of the school and also because it is a challenging track to drive quickly. This was going to be a three-day event and I was looking forward to applying all that I’d learned at these other venues about how hard I could push the car in different situations. For example, I now had a much better appreciation of how accelerating through a turn simply gives the car more grip and allows even greater cornering speeds, albeit with increased body roll.

I had been to Le Circuit already for a one-day private event at the beginning of the month, but it hadn’t been a good day because I was tired and the track was covered with marbles and loose sand/stones which my worn-out front tires picked up too easily. This time around I had much higher expectations, since I had new front tires and I would be arriving the night before the event, to get a good night’s sleep. I left home around 2:30 PM for the 2-1/2 hour drive and got to the track a few minutes after five. There had been a group of motorcyclists using the facility during the day and they were all packing up to leave when I pulled into the paddock. A few miles before I arrived, I passed a biker going the opposite direction and he gave me a low biker’s salute, once he saw the Porsche on my trailer. I guess he must have been a track junkie too.

Through the evening, it started to get a little cool and windy and the drizzle started before nightfall. It would last until Sunday morning! This wasn’t a surprise, since the forecast for the weekend had been wet, but I was hoping the forecasters might have been wrong, just as they had been for my trip to Watkins Glen. But it was not meant to be.

Friday morning I was up at 6 after a restful night and I arrived at the track around 7 o’clock after my Egg McMuffin and coffee. I went through the tech line early and registered, bumping into a few people that I knew. I checked the duty roster and was happy to find that I had no staging or tech line duties assigned for that day. In fact, I had no duties all weekend, which was a bonus. After the usual drill at the drivers’ meeting, my run group (the Blue group), was scheduled to take the track at 9:20 and the rain was coming down lightly, but steadily. About fifteen of us went out and gingerly felt our way around the track, dodging puddles and learning the very low cornering limits of our tires. All of the four stints on Friday were like this and I didn’t bother mounting the video camera because the laps were so slow. There was free beer on offer at the end of the day, but I didn’t stay for it, since it wouldn’t be much fun standing in the cold rain. I had a quiet evening in the hotel, after picking up a sandwich and some snacks, when I spent some time reading my library book.

Overnight the street outside the hotel dried a bit and I thought things might be looking up. But by the time I finished my morning ablutions, the rain had started again and the day looked as though it would be a repeat of Friday. This time, my first stint was at 10:00 AM and the track was quite wet. On one lap, I tried entering the 180 degree Carousel about one percent faster than I had before. I discovered that my seat-of-the-pants speedometer was pretty accurate, as the car started fishtailing halfway through the corner. I was able to catch and correct the spin, just like driving in the snow, and carried on without leaving the asphalt. But it was a good lesson in judging speeds – trust your instincts! I had the video camera running and was planning to save and share that near miss, but I forgot to turn off the camera and the memory card filled up with useless footage. I decided I’d better erase it so I could record another, drier stint at some point, since I had not brought the laptop computer to download anything from the camera.

The next two stints were surprisingly dry, due to a break in the weather and the efforts of other run groups in drying the line. I had enough camera battery left to record one good stint before lunch and that’s the only video I took away from the weekend, for reasons I will explain later. I was pushing pretty hard and felt that I’d at least matched last year’s best laps and when I reviewed the video at home, I found that I had been right. My best lap in that stint was a 2:14, compared to 2:15 last year. On Sunday I would go even faster but I don’t have video evidence.  The fourth stint on Saturday was in the rain again, so the edge was gone and we were back to very careful driving in pretty slippery conditions. At the end of the day, Speedmerchants hosted a barbeque in mostly dry conditions, which was a great social benefit.

I spoke to Bob – our DE chair and former Chief Instructor – about getting a check ride the next day to evaluate my promotion to black. I asked him if he could come out with me at some point and he said “No!”, to which I responded, “Well screw you!” His tone had been very curt and we’ve joked before about how he may or may not enjoy driving with me. He can be sarcastic at times, with good intentions. But this time, he was just a little stressed because everyone wanted something from him.  So he suggested a few other instructors who could do the job in his place, which surprised me because I understood that he had said earlier that either he or Bruce (the Chief Instructor), had to evaluate all candidates for Black. I went with the flow and said I would choose one of them; then the rain started so I left for the hotel. The next morning, he apologized and spent some extra effort assuring me that someone else could stand in for him. We also talked about a few tricky lines on the track, such as the entry to the esses. I was pleased that he had realized his faux pas and tried to make it right.

Saturday night we had a really torrential downpour around 9 o’clock. I was standing outside under the hotel’s main entrance overhang, talking to a fellow from Quebec City whom I’d just met. The rain was just teeming down and I learned when I got home that some people had experienced basement flooding from it. My great neighbor had taken the trouble to verify that my sump pump was keeping up. He also reported that my eaves troughs were overflowing in a couple of places, so I have to unplug them to correct that.

Needless to say, the track was soaked on Sunday morning, but the clouds showed some signs of breaking up as our 10 o’clock start time approached. As the weather began to clear, we all felt more comfortable standing around and getting to know one another, rather than hiding under some kind of shelter from the rain. One of my colleagues from Calabogie was there and we were in the same run group, so we enjoyed sharing stories after each stint. Also, an old friend from my Bell days was there for his first Rennsport event – he had been at Calabogie for the Mark Motors day, when we rode together. It was interesting witnessing both his familiarity with the track and his skills progress throughout the weekend. We were parked next to a group of guys that I knew by reputation, a few of whom I had met before, and we got to know one another much better. At one point we were all standing around my engine while I described the past failures and what I learned (and from whom), to improve the durability of this one. It was like a mini engine clinic in the paddock, with me as host. There was another fellow there whom I’ve gotten to know a bit in the past, named Ken. His brother Derek was also there and recently they both have bought GT3’s –Derek’s a brand new model! They’re both manufacturers’ reps for high growth equipment lines and sales are obviously very good. I followed Derek for a lap or two in Blue and was pleasantly surprised that I could keep up with him. But of course his car was new and he was still learning to respect and control it – in that order.

By the time 10 o’clock rolled around, the track had dried in most places and we were able to push pretty hard while the drying process finished. I applied a couple of the points I had been discussing with Bob and pressed harder everywhere else, so I know my lap times were lower. In the second stint just before lunch, we barely got halfway through our first lap when one of our colleagues in a GT3 lost a rear wheel (completely!), causing a red flag and a temporary wait in pit lane. I think his wheels were of the centre-lock variety, which requires an enormous amount of torque to seat properly. Once we got moving again, my driving was very fast and I was very happy with my lines. I had already spoken to an instructor named Dave, whom Bob had suggested for my Blue-to-Black check ride. We hadn’t gone out together yet because of the damp conditions, but hoped to do so after lunch.

When that time rolled around, I picked Dave up in the paddock and started to drive towards staging. He tested the three-point safety belt in the passenger seat and couldn’t get it to lock. So for safety reasons, he wouldn’t accompany me. I took the stint anyway and afterwards disassembled the belt’s mechanism to try to fix the problem. The mechanism wasn’t broken or visibly worn and seemed to work properly when I put it back together, but when Dave tried it later it still wouldn’t work reliably. So I finished the day without a check ride (and without the video camera installed), and will remain in Blue for now. Aside from the belt failure, both seats are starting to come apart where they’ve been repaired before. So I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s time to either replace the belts and reupholster the seats, or replace them with racing seats and harnesses, plus a bolt-in half roll cage. On the way out of the paddock, I stopped at the big Speedmerchants trailer and asked Angelle for a price quote. Then I saw Jim – the boss man – and asked him as well. He promised to give me a good deal, such as cost plus 10%, and I saw him speaking with Angelle as I pulled away. Now I’m looking forward to stripping the interior and making ready for the seats, harnesses and bar. Hopefully I can get them installed in time for the Lime Rock event I’m hoping to attend on July 15th.

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_N-Mzr-cXc

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