Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant – August 19-21, 2011

My last scheduled PCA Driver’s Ed event of the year got off to a good start. A few days before leaving for Le Circuit, I learned through Facebook that I’d been listed in the roster for the event as running in the Black group. I had been expecting to have another check ride before being promoted, but I guess the powers that be decided I was ready without it. The event was fully subscribed, so that may have motivated them to move me out of Blue to make room for someone else. Regardless, I feel comfortable with the change and am grateful for the opportunity.

I had gone to great lengths to make sure the car was properly prepared, going so far as to buy a new compression tester and run a full test in advance. The results were very encouraging, with all cylinders reading 150-155 psi when hot, after the same number of cranks on the starter motor. So my approach to tuning for the season had paid off. Although I’d driven the car hard for over 23 hours, the engine was still strong and pulling well to 6500 rpm. My diligence in maintaining it thoroughly had been worthwhile.

On Thursday I left home around 2:30 and I arrived at the track a couple of minutes after 5 o’clock, following a relaxing drive up into the mountains. While crossing the Ottawa River on the ferry from Cumberland, I ran into an old friend from my Bell days. We had a few minutes to get caught up during the crossing and I learned that he and his daughter were going up to their chalet at Mont-Tremblant for the weekend. When I arrived at the track a number of cars were already there and the paddock was filling up quickly with trailers and transporters. Four guys from the Northern New Jersey Region (NNJR), parked their rigs quite close to me and I got to know them a bit the next day. I met the two cousins whom I’d gotten to know at Watkins Glen – Marc from Montreal and Francois from Toronto – and then my friend Paul arrived from Ottawa in his Boxster. While I finished unloading, Paul set up a little shade tent among the trees near the lake and then we agreed to meet for supper.

I went to the hotel where I thought I had a reservation – the same one Paul was using – only to find that I was in a different building part way up the mountain. I got directions to it and drove up there, only to find that there were two hotels beside one another and I had gone to the wrong one. Finally I found the correct one and got registered, only to turn around and drive back down to the public parking area so I could meet Paul in the lobby of his hotel. We walked up the main shopping street a little ways and found the restaurant where I’ve eaten a few times in the past, where we enjoyed a cold beer and a pretty good meal. We had some good conversation about my travels this year and Paul’s work which involves corporate acquisitions in the dental instrument and fixtures field. After dinner I picked up a few snacks and we parted company, me returning to my hotel to relax, read and get a good night’s sleep. On the way I bumped into another friend from the track whose name I couldn’t remember immediately – it’s Frank – but who remembered mine, along with his girlfriend and another couple. We chatted in the street for a few minutes before parting ways and wishing each other a good night.

Friday morning it was cool and foggy, but that burned off quickly and we had postcard perfect day. I bumped into Bruce from Calabogie at McDonald’s, where we had breakfast and got caught up before heading to the track to get into the tech line. I cleaned all of the dew off the car and went through tech, where I got my first Black windshield sticker. It felt about the same as a Blue or White sticker, but when I registered and got the Black wristband, that felt good. The lady doing registration actually had a brain fart and tried to hand me a Green wristband until she quickly realized her mistake after I said, “I don’t think so.” Then there was the usual waiting period until the Drivers’ Meeting at 8:30, during which I caught up with a few other friends.

During the mandatory speech at the meeting, Bob made quite a point of explaining that in the event a red flag might be shown, we should pull off the track onto the grass and stop in sight of a marshal’s station. He said that the grass is kept nice and short so there would be little risk of a fire from a hot engine on overgrown grass. This proved to both prophetic and ironic. In my first afternoon stint, a red flag was thrown when I was entering Turn 6, so I pulled off the track on the right and stopped where I could see the marshall. After a few minutes, a track employee came along in his car – en route to the incident – and told me to get onto the asphalt in the cut-off for the half track. I wasn’t too shocked at the conflicting message and complied, later taking the cut-off to return to the paddock when directed. The incident was caused by a newish GT3 losing one of its rear wheels when the centrelock hub broke! The single nut wheels are the worst design change Porsche has developed in recent memory, They require 500 ft-lbs of torque, meaning a special wrench, and take longer to change than a conventional 5-stud design. At the day’s end I mentioned the mixed messages to Bob and he obviously spoke to the track worker about it, because this guy found me during the beer social and explained why he’d told me to move. Apparently, even though the grass was short, it was smoldering under my hot engine and was threatening to turn into a second incident! So I’m glad I didn’t hang about to argue the point.

My first experience with Black was pretty rewarding. In the first stint, I was passed by only 4-5 cars and I was able to keep pace with a cluster of 3 others for quite a while, I was pushing pretty hard to do so and recorded my personal best lap time of 2:07, plus a couple of 2:08’s, taking seven seconds off my previous best. During that stint I stayed with a yellow GT3 being driven by one of the NNJR guys. He had more straight line speed (of course), but I kept catching him at Bridge, Namerow and Turn 1. Early in the stint, he caught me by surprise when he braked at the turn-in point for Turn 1, at the bottom of the valley before turning right to climb the hill to Turn 2. I had to brake suddenly to avoid contact and lost all of my momentum. After that I gave him a bit more room, which was wise because he did the same thing a few more times. After the stint, I spoke to him about it and he explained that he’d lost his courage and was a bit confused by the track’s revised configuration compared to the old days. But he was grateful for the feedback and improved quite a bit later on. He said he was 71 and losing a bit of his edge and that he’d been a Chief Instructor for NNJR. Oddly enough, one of his friends passed me on the front straight in a later stint and braked in front of me at the same place because he had overestimated his ability to pass me and still make it through Turn 1 at a higher speed.  I tried to avoid those guys during the next two days!

In my second stint, I started to experience an odd problem with the car. In right hand corners when I tried to squeeze onto the throttle, it would hesitate and buck, which threw me off like a turbo coming on boost unexpectedly in a turn. After the third stint when the problem got worse, I cleaned all of the main carburetor jets and air correctors. I found a tiny fleck of something in the jet for number two carb, so I thought I might have solved the problem. But it persisted in the fourth stint and became obvious that it was a fuel pick-up problem occurring only in right hand turns. Before the beer social I removed the fuel level sensor to try and see into the tank, but was unable to see a problem. The odd thing is that the largest part of the tank is on the left and the fuel pick-up is over there, yet that’s the side where fuel would go in a right hand corner. I will try ensuring that the tank is more full on Saturday morning and maybe remove the fuel line to look for a problem. Maybe there’s a loose bit of debris in there that’s being pushed to the left under hard cornering. I hope I can clear the problem up because it slows down my laps considerably.

At 5 o’clock the beer came out and I struck up a conversation with Dr. Peter (with a surname eerily similar to mine), who is Ottawa’s face lift guy. I had tried to sell him a laser a few years back, so we’ve had a nodding acquaintance since then. It turns out we know several of the same people from the track and elsewhere and have a number of things in common, so we had a good conversation over a couple of beers. Paul’s wife was arriving about this time, along with another couple, so we wouldn’t be having another supper together. After having had a fairly substantial lunch with Paul and a full day of driving, I decided to head back to the hotel, have a shower and finish my book. And work on this!

The weather forecast had changed several times in the week leading up to this event, but each time it showed a fair probability of showers for Saturday. However, when dawn arrived the skies were mostly clear and it looked like another great day ahead. I had been awakened several times by a loud party on the floor above until well after 1:30 AM, although I’d slept pretty well between each awakening. And each time I’d been awake, I’d given some thought as to why there was a fuel pick-up problem and what to do about it. I’d also been mentally troubleshooting a nagging problem I’ve been having with the air horns. When they first stopped working a few months earlier, I’d done some testing and determined that the relay had failed, so I bought a replacement. When that didn’t help, I tested the compressor and found that it didn’t work, so I disassembled it and found that a winding had broken, or been burnt out. I was able to get a replacement at NAPA for a mere $25, but when I plugged the relay in, the horn sounded continuously, scaring the bejesus out of the neighbours. Then I tested the relay’s socket and found 12 volts on a pin that should have been idle. So I still had to find the circuit that was feeding 12 volts to that pin, through a bad or incorrect connection. I would have plenty of maintenance work to do this day between stints!

When I reached the track the skies were clear and it was a little cool, but very promising. I went through the tech line and ran through various ideas of things to try related to the stumbling problem. I discussed it with Paul but we couldn’t come up with anything concrete, so I just added more fuel to ensure that a low level would not be the cause. Our first stint wasn’t until 10:20, so I had lots of time to consider various causes and to try troubleshooting the other problem with the horn. I didn’t find the cause of that problem and it will have to wait until I’m home, for a systematic review of all the things I’ve touched in the past several months and a complete test of those circuits. For the stumbling problem, I decided to try the first stint with well over a half tank of fuel, to see what difference, if any, that would make.

Well, it didn’t make any difference at all and my lap times were way up around 2:15 to 2:20, exacerbated by having to let more cars pass. I decided to seek other help, so I approached Marc B. who has built a Kremer K35 replica and might know a few things. We talked for several minutes but couldn’t come up with anything new. Then I bumped into my friend Philippe, who was not driving but who had ridden his motorcycle to the track to see Bruce about something. He didn’t have any new suggestions, but he mentioned a couple of mechanics or knowledgeable guys whom I might approach. I wandered down the paddock until I found an older 911 race car with a mechanic working on it. I introduced myself and we began talking about the possibilities. He mentioned that it could be an ignition problem related to the coil, since they had a customer who’d experienced something similar in street driving that turned out to be caused by a coil that had leaked its oil. I didn’t know that coils have oil inside them! We also talked about carburetor jetting and I realized that the worst right hand corners were the ones where I was completely off the throttle and running on the idle jets for a moment. I had already experienced a rough transition from a too lean idle condition to the rich main jets and I though this could be the source of the stumbling.  So I thanked him for his time and went back to inspect and clean the idle jets. I found five of the six appeared dirty and I also richened the idle mixture, to make the transition from idle to main jets smoother. While I was at it, I verified the float levels and checked to be sure that the accelerator pumps were working. And, I checked the coil and found no evidence of an oil leak. Finally I ran the engine and jacked up the right side of the car to simulate a hard right hand corner, but it ran fine under these conditions.

The second stint was a little better than the first, since the idle jets were clear and the idle mixture set at a richer level. But the stumbling problem persisted and I was running out of options. At the lunch break, I went into Ste Jovite for more Shell fuel and a sandwich. Then I swung by my friend Pauline’s condo, but she wasn’t there. The guy who answered the door was a bit surprised at the doorbell ringing, but he was polite about it and said that they were using the condo this weekend. In my wanderings around the paddock after lunch, I encountered Bruce and we talked about carburetors and fuel pumps for a while, but he didn’t have any new ideas. He did suggest checking the coil wires to ensure that the insulation hadn’t broken on one of them, causing a short to ground. When I returned to the car, I decided to try one more thing. I loosened the mounting for the coil and rotated it 180 degrees. My thinking was that if the oil inside had thickened with age and had been pushed to one side by G-loading, it could be similar to the situation where the oil had leaked out.

Finally at 2:45 it was time for the third stint. We had received a brief, hard rain shower right after lunch, but the track was mostly dry when my time arrived. I took the customary warm-up lap at moderate speed and felt no evidence of the stumbling or bucking problem. On the next lap I pushed harder but had to deal with a lot of traffic. On the third lap I pushed even harder and had less traffic and turned a 2:09. Then a 2:07, a couple of 2:09’s and a 2:08. Problem solved! Either the car healed itself or the rotation of the coil had fixed the issue by moving the oil to a different place. During the fastest of these laps, I got blown away by a Ferrari F430 passing me coming out of the Carousel. Turns out it was Lawrence Stroll, the track’s owner. In the fourth stint, I was pushing even harder and passed a couple of cars, but they weren’t going flat out for other reasons. I’m sure my times got a little better, but I don’t have video evidence, probably because the memory card had filled up. Very frustrating! If the weather holds on Sunday, I’ll try again. We had one brief heavy shower in the afternoon but the track dried out before my last stint.

After that there was another serving of cold beer, courtesy of Eurosport, during which I chatted up our Zone 1 Representative whom I’ve seen at numerous events but who never seems to be approaching other people to meet them. He’s quite a personable guy from Toronto – a stockbroker by trade and well-travelled to various PCA events and numerous tracks. When I left the social, I filled up the car’s fuel tank and went to pick up a sandwich and fill the truck for Sunday’s drive home – and work on this.

It rained heavily Saturday evening and several times through the night, so Sunday morning was grey and soggy. By the time we started, the track was thoroughly wet but the rain was very light. Everyone with slicks scrambled to install rain tires, but only about half the total number of cars took the track. I did the entire session without any incidents, but it was pretty slow. The rain eased off afterwards and the track dried out pretty well by noon when my second stint was scheduled. I got in a couple of decent laps before the showers started again and I pitted early out of frustration. The forecast called for more rain all afternoon. So like many others, I loaded up and left for home around one o’clock. I got home about 3:30, after driving through a monsoon in east Ottawa. If that rain made to Le Circuit, it would have been really ugly.

After solving the stumbling problem, I was really happy with the car’s performance. And mine too. Maybe I’ll look for another date at Watkins Glen in September, since there won’t be any lapping days at Calabogie. It’s been a good summer so far and I don’t want it to end!

Video is available at   http://youtu.be/63eoFzXRA9k

 

 

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