Watkins Glen – 15-17 June 2012

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.

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