Archive for February, 2014

Watkins Glen – 14-16 June 2013

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

The 2013 edition of the 48 Hours at the Glen was definitely on my radar, until the date of my son’s university graduation ceremony was announced. It was scheduled for the Thursday on which I had planned to travel to the Glen, making it very impractical to try to fit both into the calendar. I had already registered for the Glen and made a hotel reservation, so I cancelled both and resigned myself to missing the track event this one time.

But then a really nice surprise came along. A friend from Calabogie and a fellow Porsche Club member contacted me to see if I could make it somehow to the Glen, because they were very short of instructors. He felt that he could get me into the National Instructor training and evaluation day on Friday, making me eligible to help with the instructing load over the weekend, assuming that I graduated. As I thought about this and all that it could mean, I started to look for a way to attend the graduation in St. Catharines and still make it to the Glen that evening. It turned out to be quite feasible, since I could take my son to St. Catharines on the Wednesday, stay for the graduation on the Thursday and then let his mother bring him up to Toronto on Friday, where he would stay with friends while looking for a job.

So I re-registered for the track event and renewed my hotel reservation, with absolutely no difficulty. We made the trip to graduation and had a great time, including the night before when I helped him design some graphics for one of his clients’ clothing line. I had no trouble making the shorter trip from St. Catharines to the Glen and arrived at the normal check-in time, along with my friend and a few others from our club.


I had been accepted into the PCA National Instructor program without delay, so Friday began with a classroom session and the introduction of my mentors for the day. The format would an alternating series of classroom discussions led by the National Chief Instructor, followed by on-track sessions in my car in which I would “teach” the mentor as though he was a novice student. At the end of four such cycles, I would have a different “student” who would evaluate my progress and subsequently discuss my qualifications with the others. Having instructed at Calabogie for four years previously, I was pretty familiar and comfortable with the entire curriculum, so I had no problem meeting all of their expectations.

After finishing but before being notified that I’d graduated, I went over to the event registrar and volunteered for duty as an instructor, just so he would know that I was willing. A few minutes later the Zone 1 Chief Instructor came over and said, “Now that you’re newly minted”, would I evaluate a driver for him who wanted move up from White to Black. So I agreed and went out with a fellow in a mid-‘80’s Carrera that was rough, loud and fast. It had been heavily modified and rode very firmly, but it was a fast car. He drove the correct line, although a little crudely, but we talked through it and he smoothed it out. I recommended him for promotion to Black. The next day I was assigned a student in the Yellow group, in a 996 coupe as I recall, who did pretty well on the first couple of laps but then had a flat tire as we exited the Boot, which we didn’t diagnose until he was approaching the Inner Loop. We were able to pull off safely in the bypass and had to wait for the safety crew to arrive before installing the spare and limping back to the paddock. Later on he was able to get a replacement tire and we continued.

Meanwhile, a problem developed with my car – with the brakes yet again. After having changed the rotors and pads and having rebuilt the calipers, I wanted to verify that everything was OK and I wouldn’t be boiling the fluid. So after a couple of stints on Saturday I measured the disc temperature with my infrared thermometer. Imagine my surprise when I found the rear discs were over 200 degrees Celsius, while the fronts were around 30! I was basically getting no braking action from the fronts. I got into a long discussion with my friend and also the mechanic who I had used many times and who had built my engine (several times!). We talked about all kinds of possible explanations, including collapsed lines, blockages, faulty calipers, etc. The more we exchanged ideas the more I became convinced that the culprit was the master cylinder. For as long as I’d had the car, as the brake pads wore I’d had to adjust the brake pedal’s height to compensate. That’s just not the way it’s supposed to work. The master should draw the pads away from the discs so that the pedal height is not affected. Now that the front brakes were not working, I concluded that an interior seal (or two) in the master was leaking and not applying pressure to the fronts at all. So for the remainder of the event I braked early and lightly and slowed down a bit, to be safe and to avoid overheating the rears.

After I got home I immediately ordered a replacement master cylinder and replaced it – about a week later. After extensive bleeding to clean all of the air out of the master, the brakes were excellent again and the front and rear temperatures were almost identical. That wasn’t the end of my brake problems though. I was still wearing through caliper dust boots and it took some careful inspection and measurements for me to figure out the reason. A previous owner had upgraded the rear brakes to Carrera (’84-’89) vintage, involving larger, thicker discs and different calipers. But they hadn’t finished the job by replacing the trailing arms as well. So the mounting holes for the calipers didn’t leave enough room for the calipers to be installed in a way that would prevent the dust boots from contacting the drum portion of the disc as the pads wore down. I corrected this problem by making the holes in the calipers a little oval (by about 2 mm), and mounting them a little further from the drums. I’m not using the outer 1 mm of the pads now, but the dust boots do not contact the disc hubs as the pads wear. I think I finally have the quality and reliability of my brakes that Porsche intended.

And I have a wallet card and window stickers identifying me as a qualified PCA Instructor, representing the achievement of a goal I set in 2008.

Watkins Glen – 15-17 June 2012

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

2012 was a rather different year than 2011, with respect to track days and rallies. Having scrapped the rally car in July due to ongoing mechanical and electrical issues, the rally career had ended, except for a few volunteer stints as a worker. Since I was busy looking for a new house and preparing for the move later in the year, I decided to cut back on out-of-town track days considerably. It was also a way to save some money while waiting to reap the financial benefit of moving away from the city. I still did 16 days at Calabogie Motorsports Park, to instruct and drive, as well as two shortened races in the GT series.

But I could not resist the appeal of driving again at Watkins Glen in the annual 48 Hours event in June. That track is just too enjoyable, not to mention the camaraderie of being with several Porsche Club friends. When I loaded up the day before departure, I included a small foldable bicycle that I had rebuilt and restored during the winter. A neighbour had given it to me after getting it free from an acquaintance, thinking that I might be able to use it around the paddock, wherever I might go. Even though it folds up, it still took a fair bit of room in the truck, so I’m not sure I’ll take it everywhere, but I thought I’d try it out. As it turned out, I used it only a couple of times to explore the interior roads at the Glen during breaks between stints. The paddock there is pretty compact, although large enough, that it really wasn’t required to get around that area.

After the usual drive of a little over five hours, I arrived at the track early enough that I had to wait a few minutes for the gate to open – after being scolded by the attendant for not abiding by their directive not to arrive before 6 o’clock. Once that dust cleared, I got in line and made my way to the garage, where we had several bays reserved for Rennsport Region drivers. So I was fortunate to have a garage space available for the weekend, along with several fellow Rennsport members.

The first day – Friday – was an interesting and tiring day. It was set up for solo lapping only, with the White, Black and Red groups all being eligible. Being in Black, I had the opportunity to drive in combined groups with both White and Red, as well as a dedicated Black group. So through the course of the day, I got five and half hours of track time! That’s as much as I might get in an entire weekend elsewhere! Needless to say, I burned a lot of fuel and was pretty tired at the end of the day. But the car was running flawlessly and I was reaching higher speeds before braking for the Inner Loop, despite shifting between 5500 and 6000 rpms. I had decided before going to lower my shift point in order to preserve the engine. Although it’s nominally red-lined at 6500 rpm and will probably go to 7000, it’s not meant to be driven that hard all the time. That night a bunch of us had a good meal at the Seneca Lodge and at around on the porch for quite a while, just shooting the breeze and reliving various aspects of the day.

Saturday turned out to be more interesting. It was a normal DE format, with four run groups of 25 minutes each and lots of waiting time in between stints. That gave me lots of time to test the bike and relax with friends to get my breath and prepare for the next stint. One of the things I frequently do after each stint is check the brake fluid level, just to be sure I have lost any due to overheating. After the second stint in late morning I did so and was alarmed to find that the level had gone down by a full half inch! To me, that suggested a problem beyond overheating, so I began to look for a leak. I couldn’t find any evidence of a leak at any of the wheels or the master cylinder, although it looked like there might have been a problem with one of the hard lines at the master. Because I couldn’t find anything, I decided to do the prudent thing and stop. If it was a problem with the master, I couldn’t fix it or replace it there, so the wise thing to do would be to pack up and come home. My problem paled in comparison to that of one of my friends, whose 996 engine had blown up at the entrance to the Inner Loop, in a big cloud of smoke – right in front of me. While we sat around and commiserated about that, I grabbed a quick lunch and loaded up. I was home in five hours – early enough to attend a friend’s 60th birthday party down the street.

Over the next week or so I discussed my brake problem with him and another neighbour who’s a top mechanic, as well as inspecting everything thoroughly. The best explanation either of them could come up with was the possibility that the brake fluid I’d used when flushing the system in April had been contaminated with water, after sitting all winter in an unsealed container. That began to make some sense after eliminating all the potential sources of a leak, until I inspected the brake rotors and pads. Over the next couple of months I replaced the rotors and pads and rebuilt all calipers. The brakes returned to full operation eventually, but left me puzzled as to the cause of the problem. In fact, I suspect it was a combination of excessively worn pads and rotors and defective seals on the calipers, all of which led to excessive heat and the boiling of the fluid. It wouldn’t be until a year later that the true cause ongoing brake issues surfaced and could be remedied.

Despite all of this, it was still a pleasure to be back at the Glen and to enjoy the flowing, high speed nature of the track. It remains one of my favourites.

Fearless Garage II – November 2012

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

In my Manotick house, one of the first things I had done was to insulate and finish the inside walls of the garage. Then I made a large workbench and installed several shelves over it, to hold all of my supplies and some tools. I used inexpensive OSB board for the walls, which I painted white, and didn’t finish the ceiling after the insulation went in. Later on I repainted the inside of the back door in a checkered flag motif. My brother named it Fearless Garage after I undertook a repair to the Mazda rally car’s engine that he thought was very risky.

That garage was big enough for the three small cars I had, although I could only work on whichever one was in the middle. And I had various things hanging from hooks on all of the walls – it was organized but looked cluttered. I resolved to do better in whatever new house I found, once I had decided to move. So when I found this house in Perth, my prayers were answered.

The new garage is attached to the end of the house with inside entry to a laundry room, with a powder room in the same space. The parking space is about 22 feet square and it has an eight foot square shop area tacked on to the left corner as you drive in. When I moved in, part of the ceiling was finished with drywall and the walls abutting the house were also covered with drywall, but it had never been painted. The rest of the walls and about half the ceiling were exposed joists and studs, without insulation. In addition, there were three structures built from 2 x 4 lumber and plywood – a work bench, a shelving unit and a loft storage shelf.

After taking some measurements and thinking about how I wanted to use the space, I developed a plan and some sketches to guide me through the build process. I began by disassembling those wooden structures, which proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated, as usual. They had been overbuilt and screwed together with three inch Robertson-headed screws, without drilling holes for the screws. So every one of those hundreds of screws was difficult to extract – some were so tight that I had to use vise-grip pliers and I had to cut off a few that simply wouldn’t budge. When I was finished, I had a pile of usable lumber that took up a lot of space in the basement, where I had established a workshop.

The next step was to hire an insulating contractor to finish the ceiling and exterior walls and to spray foam insulation into the attic above the old drywall, where it had never been insulated. Then I hired a drywall contractor to finish the existing walls with new mud and tape and install new drywall everywhere else. After several days they were finished and I proceeded to paint all of the walls and ceiling. While they had been at work, I was busy downstairs cutting lumber and making new work benches for both the shop area and the back wall. I pre-fabbed everything and painted it all semi-gloss black, so I could simply assemble it in the garage once the space was ready. Once the benches, window mouldings and baseboards were installed, I bought eight Husky steel wall cabinets and hung them over the work benches on three walls. Finally I hung pictures, a shelf for rally trophies and a 32” TV set. Finally Fearless Garage II was finished and ready for cars, just before winter arrived.

I had an open house on November 17, which was attended by about 20 friends from my various car clubs and the garage was a hit with them all! It wasn’t until the following summer that the weather was warm enough to allow me to clean and paint the floor with an oil resistant sealer, to finish the project. I installed a propane heater in January and was able to get a head start on the driving season by working on the cars during the winter months in the comfort of a heated space. I continue to be very pleased with the finished product and my visitors are always impressed with its appearance and cleanliness. Total cost – about $8300.

The Big Move – 5 September 2012

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

On January 3, 2012, the jet-style water pump in the basement of my house in Manotick stopped working. It would have been dead wrong and probably not possible to replace it in kind, so I had to find a contractor to come out and dig up the frozen front yard to find the well head and install a new submersible pump. Because the well head was buried, we had to guess at its location, based on the recollection of neighbours and the measurement of a fish wire inserted by the plumbers who had been brought in. Of course the ground was frozen, so it took the backhoe operator a little time to get a hole started once we decided on a location. He excavated to a depth of about eight feet with no success, so he moved a few feet further south, and then east and tried again. Then he went back to the original location, all the while slipping and sliding in really soupy mud caused by the high water table. This time he dug down to about ten feet and found it. Then it took the specialized welder another half hour to install an extension to the well head which would leave it about a foot above ground. It took several days to install the pump and then a new line from the basement to the well, and then to backfill all of the earth. By the time they finished in March, the yard was a complete mess and I was short $8700!

That was probably what prompted me in late February to contact my favorite real estate agent. That house was 35 years old and was not well built, having been of modular construction and being situated on a low lot with a high water table. Something told me that I would be dealing with structural and drainage issues as time wore on, especially around the garage, which had no drainage tiles around its three sides. In addition, although the house was paid for, I was running up a significant balance on my line of credit (for which the house was collateral), to pay for my third son’s university education. He had another year to go before graduation and I couldn’t foresee an alternative to paying off that debt other than withdrawing the money from my retirement savings plan. It seemed pretty clear that a better strategy would be to trade that house for a cheaper, better one and use the proceeds to eliminate the debt. After reviewing this plan with the realtor and discussing the housing market in Manotick, it seemed highly likely that I could achieve this objective if I was prepared to move to a smaller community, some distance from Ottawa. So that’s what I decided to do.

Beginning in March, I began reviewing the real estate listings throughout eastern Ontario. I was looking for a smaller house with a large garage, or with the space to build a large garage, anywhere in eastern Ontario. I was connected to a real estate agent based in Brockville, whom I was assured would be better equipped to help me in the various outlying towns I’d be interested in. Between site visits with her and on-line searching, I looked at hundreds of homes. Virtually every house I visited had basement water issues or recent repairs for same, or had some other structural or locale issues that turned me off. It wasn’t until I visited this house in Perth where I ultimately landed that I found one that satisfied all of my criteria. In the last week of May I finally found this house and made an offer a week later. The house was only 23 years old, sits on an acre of land just outside of Perth, has an oversized garage big enough for two cars and a shop, and has more living space and unfinished basement space than the Manotick house. As a community, Perth has a lot to offer and is missing only a movie theatre, a Home Depot and a Best Buy store – all things that I could do without. It is known as the prettiest little town in Ontario for good reason, and is located only an hour west of Ottawa. I had to wait until Labour Day weekend to take possession and move in, but it was worth al the effort since I took $100,000 out of the deal and ended up with a bigger, newer, better house.

The only major negative arising from the move is that the new house had wallpaper in all of the rooms except the bedrooms and bathrooms, which was as old as the house and looked it. In addition, the vendors were both heavy smokers, so there were nicotine stains everywhere. Over the next 16 months I would strip all of the wallpaper and repaint every paintable surface, making it clean, fresh, bright and my own. I also installed a propane-powered generator to protect the sump pump against power failures and I finished the garage to make it as nice as most people’s living rooms. With all of these improvements and many more maintenance projects, I have increased the value of the house by at least $50,000. Now I just have to decide whether to stay 🙂

Death of a Rally Car – 4 July 2012

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

After the Rideau Winter rally, things started to fail on the Mazda in a cumulative way. In early February I took a long drive and stopped to do some shopping. When I tried to leave the store, the car would start but wouldn’t keep running. I finally got it going enough to get home after jiggling wires and fuel hoses, but didn’t really know what the problem was. Over the next four months I replaced the fuel pump, coil, ignition igniter, fuel injection relay and distributor and cleaned and re-terminated numerous ignition wires, without ever being sure that I’d solved the problem.

In addition to that ongoing issue, other things started to fail, including a transmission fluid seal, both front calipers and a rear wheel cylinder. It was becoming expensive to keep this car on the road and I’d lost confidence in it for the purpose of using it in a rally. Then in April I noticed that the left front fender had rusted through near the shock tower, so the end was in sight. Over the next two months my frustration level grew and I had developed a plan to sell my house and move out of town, so the handwriting was on the wall.

At the end of June I stripped out the rally computer, removed the fog and driving lights and put the original wheels and snow tires back on the car. On July 4 I loaded it on the trailer and took it to the scrap yard, where I received the grand sum of $163. Over the next few weeks I was able to sell the good wheels and tires, rally lights and computer for considerably more, so that made me feel a little bit better. The car had cost me $1100 and over six years I put another $11, 500 into it, as well as 58,000 kilometres, but it gave us five good years of rallying, with increasingly better results, and tons of good memories. It had been a good car for that purpose and I sometimes think of it now and miss it, particularly in winter.