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Rally of the Tall Pines – 29 November 2014

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

This year I hadn’t planned to volunteer to work at Tall Pines, partly because of the discomfort of working outdoors in the cold weather and partly because I wanted to spend time with my new girlfriend. But I received a plea for help from Ross, the Clerk of the Course, a couple of weeks before the rally and it turned out that my girlfriend likely would be busy on the day of the rally. So we discussed it and agreed that I should help out because they were short of people, even though her plans might change in a way that she’d be free.

So I quickly made arrangements for one of the subsidized accommodations for two nights and organized my packing to provide a small bag for the rally and more clothes to visit her right afterwards. It’s the same distance from Bancroft to her house on Grand Calumet Island as it is from there to Perth, so it made sense to go there directly from the rally. The subsidized housing was Cedar Hill Camp, which appeared to be some sort of bunkhouse. So I didn’t expect much.

I left home around 11 o’clock on Friday and made the two hour trip to Bancroft easily, since road conditions were good. At this time of year you can never tell what Mother Nature might bring, so I was lucky there was no blizzard. I had asked Ross for a work assignment that would allow me to be close to rally HQ where I could stay warm and he promised to try. As it turned out though, I was assigned to help with timing at three controls, fairly close to HQ but definitely exposed to the weather. I would be working with a friend named Darryl, whom I’ve known for several years from previous rally experience.

When I arrived I was given a package of information and I looked for Darryl, so we could plan how we would proceed and learn how to use the timing equipment. In the old days, timing had been performed by manual clocks, flags and hand signals. But in the last couple of years the organizers have adopted electronic equipment which required set-up and training to operate correctly. I found Darryl and we started discussing the questions we had, but he was also helping with technical inspection of the cars, so we didn’t get much time until late afternoon. Then we started looking for someone who was knowledgeable with the timing equipment, but didn’t find him until late evening.

There was a meeting at 9 PM for all workers and it was only afterwards that we had some time with the timing expert to see the equipment, learn how to assemble it and get an idea of how to use it. Ross said at the meeting that they’d tried to assign knowledgeable people to the timing teams, but they failed in our case! We picked up the equipment that night, along with the control point signs, and went to our overnight accommodations knowing that there was still a lot that we didn’t understand.

Cedar Hill Camp turned out to be very rustic. I think it was designed for hunters and fishermen, because the beds were in a large, well built building with a large common room at one end and a hallway of bedrooms at the other, each bedroom containing eight bunk beds! The rooms had been pre-assigned so I found mine on a mid-afternoon trip to scout the location, which was five kilometres down a narrow country road, about 27 km from rally HQ. The room assignments included both men and women, but at least there was a separate ladies washroom! When I returned at 11:30 to go to bed, there were several volunteers socializing in the common room and their voices carried quite well into the bedroom area. I didn’t get to sleep until close to one o’clock because of the noise they were making. There was electric heat in the building, but it wasn’t really warm; so I slept in a tee shirt, sweat pants and socks, and stayed wrapped up as warmly as possible in my sleeping bag. At least there was only one other occupant of the room, so I didn’t have to sleep through three (or more), other guys’ snoring. I was up a little after six AM, welcomed by the smell of bacon cooking in the basement cafeteria – which was a welcome feature.

I met Darryl at HQ and we had a chance to talk with a couple more people who clarified the tasks we had been assigned. Then we had most of the morning to wander around talking with old friends and looking at the cars along with the public, before the cars were launched from the start ramp amidst rounds of applause and flashing camera lights. At 11 o’clock we were supposed to gather at the beginning of our first stage, so we could watch the cars pass through an intersection on an earlier stage that used the same road. We were able to get front row seats in the comfort of our vehicles and watch the cars go through, before beginning our assignment. We stayed in our vehicles to keep warm and I used a huge amount of gas running the truck’s engine for over an hour – achieving 75 L/100 km fuel consumption!

Around 12:30 the road was clear and we moved into position, to set up the beginning of stage A7 on Langdon Road. Timing at the start of a stage is pretty easy, since the equipment consists of only a clock, a set of red/orange/green lights, a battery and a tripod to hold the lights., It also involves a team member (Jane) sitting in her car and radioing the start time for each car to rally HQ. We got that equipment set up pretty easily and figured out the equipment with the help of some experts who stopped by to ensure we were ready. About one o’clock the cars started to arrive and then it became very busy for a little over 30 minutes while we started the cars – every two minutes for the first five and then once per minute for the remainder of the 30-car field. When the first few cars left, the noise was unbelievable, since the standard approach was for the driver to raise engine speed to the rev limiter in the last five seconds before the green light, and then drop the clutch and explode with a spray of gravel and ear-splitting sound as he launched down the road.

As soon as the last cars had passed us, we had to disassemble the starting equipment and drive a little further down the road to set up a finish line for Stage B1. There was very little time available to do this, since the first car was expected in less than half an hour. The finish line equipment was far more complex to set up, since it consists of two infrared transceivers, two batteries, three clocks and two radio transceivers, all connected by cabling. Fortunately we had some additional help from two safety workers, since it would be very difficult to see the car numbers as they flew past the finish line at upwards of 150 km/h. It took us a while to get the infrared transceivers aligned so the beam was working and then to arrange all the clocks and cabling in a convenient way. One of the clocks and radio devices went into the radio car which was positioned about 300 metres downstream from us. We got everything set up and tested with only a few minutes to spare, before the leading car came through. It was 7-time national champion Antoine L’Estage in the black Mitsubishi, travelling well over 150 km/h and a little bit sideways. It’s good thing we knew he was first, because there’s no way any of us could see or read the car number! It was pretty exciting, but my truck got sprayed by the first two cars until I backed it up a few more feet. I can’t find any major damage, but I think there are a couple of small chips. With the later cars it was easier to read their numbers, so we finished our assignment comfortably, not making any mistakes.

We packed up all the equipment and had a four hour wait until we were to meet for the start of last stage (C4) of the rally on Old Detlor Road. We met with both the start and finish crews at 7:30 and drove to the starting line, from where the finish line crew carried on to the end of the stage. By this time it was getting pretty cold and extremely dark, since we were out in the bush where there are no inhabitants. With the help of flashlights and the headlights of the radio car, we set up the tripod, starting lights and clock and then waited until about 9:30 for the cars to arrive. The course-clearing cars came through (Cars 000, 00 and 0), and then it was time to get serious. We had lost one of our team members, so it was up to me to man the starting lights and clock, while Darryl and Jane welcomed each team and gave them their departure time. Jane loaned me an LED flashlight that I could hook into my coat collar so I could see the clock – otherwise I’d have been juggling a small flashlight and the clock while trying to enter each car number on schedule. Everything worked out well, except one team stopped a bit short and I couldn’t stretch the cabling far enough to see their route card in order to read their starting time. We lost a bit of time fiddling with that, so I had to delay their start by a minute and mark up their card to reflect that. By this time I was shivering pretty badly and stamping my feet to keep the circulation up in my legs. It was very cold just standing around on frozen ground. Finally the course clearing car (number 99) came through and we packed everything up.

Daryl and I decided to drive the stage so we could pick up signs and yellow tape that had been strung along driveways and side lanes, to clean up the stage. I couldn’t believe how narrow, twisty and hilly the stage was. It was barely wide enough for a car, with trees on both sides and some of the hills and crests were extremely high and sharp, with big rocks and potholes everywhere. I would love to watch the rally cars go through there at speed. I suspect the faster cars were just skipping over the crests. We got back to rally HQ about the same time as the winners were being announced. So we handed in all the equipment and I left for my bed immediately, while Darryl stayed for some of the celebrations. I was very cold and tired and just wanted to sleep. The celebrations went way into the night back at the bunkhouse, but at least they closed the door to the bedroom wing and kept their voices down. My roommate didn’t return, so I had a fairly good sleep, although I was never really warm. I got up around 7:15 – having thankfully slept more than the night before – had a light breakfast, and left for Grand Calumet around 8:30. I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and enjoying the company of my girlfriend, and still needed a couple of good nights’ sleep to recover. I will not be volunteering to help again – it’s asking too much!

Trip to Florida – November 2014

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

The winter of 2013-2014 was the coldest and longest in over 30 years. While waiting for spring I began to think about spending at least part of the next winter in the warm, sunny south. As the driving season started winding down in August I began to think about it more seriously. Then I met a lady on one of the dating sites who told me that she had crossed the same bridge last year and bought a trailer in Florida that she would leave down there. The more I thought about it, this seemed like a good strategy, since I could vacation for several winters at a fraction of the cost of renting hotels or condominiums. And I would have the added benefit of being able to try different sites without additional investment. Another benefit would be the opportunity to spend more time with my son and his wife, who live in Orlando.

In September I began looking at travel trailers, to learn the market for both new and used models and as many questions as I could identify to help me choose one. I also spoke with a couple of neighbours who are experienced in trailering, to pick their brains and get some advice. After a couple of weeks, I decided to look for a good used trailer, starting in Florida. It didn’t take long to realize that buying a trailer over the internet would be fraught with difficulties, especially after looking at a few used models locally. So I began looking in earnest at Ontario dealers within a couple of hours of Perth, so I could actually inspect a trailer before committing. As luck would have it I stumbled across a dealer in the adjacent town of Smiths Falls, who had a seven year old 27 ft. model for a very reasonable price. When I looked at it, I couldn’t believe my luck. It had been used very little and the dealer had been renting it to occasional users – so I knew all of the equipment and systems should work properly. After sleeping on the problem, I went over and negotiated a very good deal. They did some minor work to address small issues and prepare it for me and I towed it home September 19. I then spent the next 6 weeks checking out all the systems and equipping it with linens, dishes, a BBQ and an electrical heater.

During the same period, I found a camp site north of Orlando – Wekiva Falls Resort – and asked my son to check it out before committing. It passed muster and I reserved dates from January 12 through March 29, plus a storage arrangement starting November 3. I chose the dates to bracket the Daytona Rolex 24 Hour race and the Sebring 12 hour race. As luck would have it, on October 10 I met a wonderful woman through a dating site. We seem to mesh perfectly and may have long future together, so my plans for future winters in Florida may have to be modified.

After preparing numerous lists of things to do and things to take, I was ready to leave on November 1st as planned. The weather was overcast but dry and I set out around 7 AM, learning how the truck and trailer behaved at various speeds on the road down to Highway 401 from Perth. It drove pretty well at speeds up to about 100 km/h, but the first thing I noticed was the lousy fuel economy, at about 25 L/100km. That’s almost double the consumption with an empty truck and no trailer and 25% more than pulling the car hauler fully loaded. This was going to be an expensive trip! When I got to the bridge and border crossing, I encountered the longest line for US Customs that I’ve ever seen. It seems that November 1st is a very common date for snowbirds to head south. I stopped in the Duty Free shop and I think I jumped several places in the line by doing so. The delay was a total of about 30 minutes and the Customs agent’s questions were very brief, to keep the line moving. From then on it was an easy drive in familiar territory until I entered Pennsylvania.

Shortly after crossing the PA border the Check Engine Light (CEL) came on, which was a bit alarming. I stopped at the next opportunity and used my scan instrument to read the stored code. It said “Low voltage Oxygen sensor #2 Cylinder bank #1”, which told me the problem was not serious but that it might mean I would use more fuel, since the engine’s computer reverts to a full rich fuel mixture when an O2 sensor fails.

The next little alarm came while driving through the perpetual construction zone in Scranton, PA. I was crossing a long stretch of concrete roadway (instead of asphalt), when the truck and trailer started to bounce on what felt like waves in the road surface. The longer it went on, the bigger the bounces felt, so I was concerned that I’d had a flat tire or broken an axle. So I pulled over in a five lane portion and checked everything out. There was no obvious damage and I resumed, after waiting quite a few minutes for a break in the traffic. After getting back on asphalt the problem went away, so I can only conclude that it was caused by undulations in the concrete which happened to match the spacing of all of my axles. From then on it was a long, uneventful drive to reach my first overnight stop, at a Pilot/Flying J truck service centre in Hagerstown, MD.

When I pulled into the centre I couldn’t see any other RV’s or trailers, so I parked in a line of 18 wheel transport trucks. By the time I’d gotten something to eat at McDonalds and prepared for the night, the parking area was full – of idling diesel engines. It was quite noisy all night but I got a decent sleep, in spite of external temperatures around 3 C. I actually turned on the trailer’s heater a couple of times to take the edge off the chill, because I hadn’t brought a down-filled duvet – just a light comforter. I slept in most of my clothes and managed to escape without catching a cold.

During the second day I passed through my favourite scenery in the east – the Shenandoah Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. The views along I-81 through Virginia and I-77 through North Carolina are spectacular and must be seen to be appreciated. Some of the grades were challenging for my poor old truck, but I just stuck with it and tried to maintain a decent speed without taxing the engine too hard. Once on 1-95 in South Carolina the driving took on a whole different character, with the left lane very busy with southbound snow birds, while the right lane was very relaxed and well-spaced. I saw the most peculiar thing before sunset that afternoon. I caught up to what looked like a pick-up truck being hauled in the back of a dump truck, but rather slowly. As I pulled out to pass I could see that the whole rig was being towed – by a school bus! Only in the redneck south would you ever see something like this. Eventually I arrived at my next Pilot/Flying J rest stop near Hardeeville, SC  – just north of Savannah, GA. Once again the parking area was full of big rigs with no RV’s or trailers in sight, and it was full. I had to create a parking spot in one of the wider roadways; otherwise I’d have had to leave. It was cold again that night, with temperatures around 3 C, so I used the trailer’s heater several times to take the edge off.

I got off to an early start on the third day and arrived at Wekiva Falls exactly at noon, after phoning ahead to be sure I was expected. The drive was uneventful, except for extensive construction through Jacksonville, in which the right lane ended unexpectedly in an off-ramp! I was able to change lanes at the last minute and avoid an unscheduled tour of the city. At Wekiva I was directed to a street of unused trailer sites where I could store mine and I parked it and removed the battery and licence plate. Then I found my future home ten streets away and met my future neighbour, named Roger. We spent some time chatting and looking for my sewage drain, which eventually I told the manager to find for me before January. I left there and visited a local Chrysler dealer to see about replacing the O2 sensor, but they couldn’t fit me in. So I drove to Orlando and waited for the kids to get home from work.

I had a very nice, restful visit with them for the next 10 days, dong a lot of walking and reading, eating out a couple of times, going to an Orlando Magic basketball game and visiting the Kennedy Space Centre. I also went to an Orlando Chrysler dealer, but they couldn’t replace the O2 sensor because they didn’t have a new one in stock and were afraid they’d break the exhaust pipe because of all the rust on it. They’re not used to surface rust down there, I guess.

It seemed like no time at all before it was time to leave Orlando and begin the circuitous drive home. I had decided well before my trip to visit three friends from the Fiat club  – whom I hadn’t seen since 2011 – along the way, which I knew would make the trip longer but more of an adventure. I had used Mapquest to get directions to and from each small town, so all I had to do was follow them. It worked pretty well, but not without some challenges.

My first stop was Blairsville, GA to see my friend Craig. To get there I had to go through Atlanta, which I reached on Friday afternoon around 3:00 – the beginning of their rush hour. Traffic on I-75 was very heavy, at times spanning seven lanes bumper to bumper. I had not noted the distances between turns, so I had to keep a careful eye on all of the highway signs as I navigated the traffic. Eventually I cleared Marietta and spotted the sign for Highway 5 to Canton, which was my exit. After leaving the interstate, i went through two little villages and saw a sign saying “Highway 5 Ends”, but I persevered for another 20-30 minutes before pulling into a strip mall to check the map. At just that moment, Craig phoned me so we tried to figure out where I was and what adjustments I might have to make. It turned out that I was exactly on route but simply hadn’t reached the first milestone where Highway 5 and 575 turned north. So I kept going and had another hour’s drive before I got close to Blairsville, at which point I phoned Craig and we met at a gas station. I followed him in his BMW for a good half hour on a hilly, twisty mountain road and then made a couple of turns until we were on his road, which was narrower, hillier and twistier! It was a two-fisted drive to just keep up with him! His wife had prepared a lovely dinner of Mexican food and we enjoyed a pleasant evening of chit chat and a quick tour of his garage.

In the morning Craig made bacon, eggs and grits – my first taste of them! Then he took me out to explore some of the better driving roads in the Georgia mountains. After 20-30 minutes we came to Blood Mountain Road, which is one of the most outrageous mountain roads I’ve even been on. Switchbacks, rapid changes in camber and steep grades made for an entertaining ride, along with a tiny hint of stomach upset! Then he took me on the Richard Russell scenic drive, which flowed a little better but was equally picturesque. Finally it was time to leave and I set out on simplified directions that Craig had supplied, destined for Walkertown, NC and my friend Denise.

After a few short miles I reached North Carolina and then Highways 129 and 19, leading to the town of Murphy. This was a lovely winding four-lane road until I reached the Nantahala pass where it reduced to two lanes because of the very hilly terrain and narrow gorges along the Nantahala River. Through this section the scenery was spectacular, as I paralleled the Nantahala River through white water rafting country. The hills got ever higher as I transitioned into the Great Smoky Mountains along Highway 74, some peaks being about 1000’ above the roadway and some with dwellings at the top! The road switched back to four lanes as I crossed the Little Tennessee River and the scenery just kept getting better and better. This was now the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway and it led directly to Interstate 40 after crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway – twice! Once on I-40 it was a straight shot to Winston-Salem and just a couple more turns to reach Denise’s house in Walkertown in mid-afternoon.

We had a really good visit in the afternoon, spending some time in the garage/shop talking to her husband and looking at race cars – and trying some apple pie flavoured moonshine! They had another couple over for supper, so we had a full table with lots of chatter – and deep southern accents – about racing, Canada, moonshine, etc. They kept visiting until late in the night, but I went to bed a bit earlier, waking up to the smell of bacon from the kitchen. Denise made me a nice breakfast and I set out for Pennsylvania around 9 o’clock.

I was only an hour from Denise’s house when I reached the familiar turf of Martinsville and Highway 220, leading to Interstate 81 at Roanoke, VA. From then on it was like a reunion as I followed I-81 all the way to Mechanicsburg, PA, where I exited to get onto I-76 heading for Philadelphia. From then on, I got quite busy. I had to make eleven turns before arrival, many after dark and onto streets with no highway numbers – just normal urban street signs. But I was out in the country with no lights showing anywhere – not houses, stores or streetlights. Needless to say, I missed a couple and had to turn around a few times, but eventually I found Shaun’s house down a long dark lane that turned out to be his driveway. Fortunately I had given myself an extra hour, so I was only 10 minutes late arriving.

After a quick stop to freshen up and find my room, he and his wife and daughter and I piled into his Prius and drove to his car storage warehouse in Reading – about 15 minutes away. He owns about 180 cars, either for restoration and sale or for spare parts, and 110 of them are crammed into this warehouse. He has found a new site that is bigger and newer, so all the cars will be moved there over the next year. Most of them are Italian, but he has a few American, German and others as well. There are so many that it’s not possible to squeeze between them – one can only stand on the mezzanine and look over the lot of them from above. After this tour we went to a nice diner-style restaurant and had a good meal – and then we all retired early.

The next morning was a Monday so everyone had to go to school and work, so I left early – around 8 o’clock – and started the final leg of my journey home. Getting out of Shaun’s neighbourhood in the cold drizzle was almost as challenging as finding my way in the dark, but I managed to stay on route and eventually found the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 81. I hit snow around Watertown, NY and followed it all the way home, where I found 2-3” on the ground. The total distance of my return trip was about 2750 km – about 500 km further than the trip south. But it was worth the extra time, distance and fuel to visit three good friends at their homes. What a great trip!

Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – 18-20 July 2014

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

This year I decided to attend the three-day event jointly hosted by Northern New Jersey and Upper Canada regions at CTMP. I know a number of guys from NNJR from their events at the Glen, so it would be a good reunion of sorts.

I drove down Thursday afternoon in about three hours – it’s nice to live closer to CTMP! I found a new high for the price of gasoline in Havelock at $1.36 per litre – this is crazy! The new paddock gave me lots of option on where to park, so I selected a spot and unloaded; then went for an early supper since my hosting friends in Pickering would not be home until much later.

Friday morning I was up at 5:30 to get to the track around 7 AM for registration, but needn’t have hurried since it was a very simple, self-serve process for instructors. I met several familiar friends and my student, who drove a 2011 Turbo S cabriolet and was middle-aged. At least he knows the track reasonably well, so my work should be fairly easy. My friend and host came up to the track mid-morning; we had a good visit and he saw some good driving, even getting an excellent photo of me on the front straight. There was an incident right in front of me at Turn 6 when a 911 RS America hit some oil and spun, almost catching it completely before nudging the fence. They had to clean up the oil after missing it the first time, so the track was closed for a while and the driver surveyed the damage, deciding to bend the fender out a bit and keep driving. There were lots of faster cars and expanded passing, so it got a little busy out there.

Friday night I treated my hosts to a great feast of take-out Chinese food, as we frequently do. And we had a relaxing evening visiting and getting caught up. Saturday morning was sunny and not too warm, which would make for a good day. At one point I did my fastest lap of 1:58 while being passed four times, so I was happy with that. My student progressed very well but seemed to tire at the end of the day. He skipped the last stint and began talking as if he might not return Sunday because the weather forecast didn’t look too good. Sure enough, he texted me Sunday morning to say that he wouldn’t return. And it was wet, raining lightly all morning.

There were a lot fewer cars on track in the rain and people started to pack up to leave early for New Jersey. I drove one stint in the rain and spoke to the chief instructor on my way into the pits afterwards. He said he wouldn’t drive in those conditions unless someone was paying him, and I agreed. So I packed up and left in the late morning. It was a good weekend although shortened by the weather and I’m glad I went.

Le Circuit Mont Tremblant – 16-17 June 2014

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

This year I decided to do one DE event at Mont Tremblant and June is the best month weatherwise. I drove up and unloaded Sunday afternoon after visiting my son’s family in Orleans, bumping into several old friends in the paddock. I had decided to stay at a small Auberge very close to the track, so I checked in there and turned on the air conditioning – it was very hot!

I was registered to drive in the Black group, since I have not been welcomed into the Rennsport instructor group, although I asked in late 2011. After a couple of stints Monday morning, the president of our region asked what run group I’d been in at the Glen, because he said I handled my old car very well. I told him I’d been instructing everywhere else and offered to help if necessary. After I got home and put a video on Facebook, our chief instructor looked at it and “Liked” it, so maybe they have talked and I’ll be included in the future.

On both days the driving was excellent and the car ran beautifully, although it got a little warm in the heads on Saturday. So I retarded the timing a bit Sunday morning to cool it down, which helped a lot. By Sunday afternoon, it was still very hot weather and the valve cover gaskets were weeping, so I decided to stop mid-afternoon and take it home for some mid-season maintenance.

Saturday I spent a lot of time talking with a doctor friend whom I’ve known for several years and that evening we went for dinner at Quintessence, a luxury hotel in which he was one of the initial investors. He’s not involved any more, but it is a first class establishment under new ownership, struggling along in a weak economy. The meal was top notch.

On the way home a truck passed me and threw a stone against my truck’s windshield, starting a small crack at the lower right corner. It will need replacing soon. I will take off the valve covers, adjust the valves and replace the gaskets and the car should be ready for Mosport (CTMP) next month.

Watkins Glen – 6-8 June 2014

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

For this year’s 48 Hours of the Glen, I had a passenger for the trip, in the person of a former neighbour who was staying with me for a while during a difficult period at home. He had some experience at track events at Calabogie and is an avid photographer, so he was looking forward to visiting a new track and getting some great shots. We had a smooth drive down Thursday afternoon, arriving just in time to gain access to the track and unload the car at the garage.

There were very few attendees from my home PCA region and another friend and I had two garages almost exclusively to ourselves. We were still on the hook to work the tech line each morning, but others from different regions joined in to spread the load for us. Another friend joined us from Toronto and we shared a room, my neighbour taking a small cabin. Almost all of the old cabins at the Seneca Lodge had been replaced with new, more modern cabins so I must choose one of those in the future. The weather on Friday was overcast but dry and the weekend was mostly sunny and warm – excellent for our purposes.

My car ran perfectly all weekend, the only problem being a blown fuse for the brake lights that was pointed out at the instructors’ meeting Sunday morning and easily fixed. The driving was great as usual and I really enjoyed myself, including a stint where I took my fellow instructor along. His only comment was that I could push a little harder through the Inner Loop, so I felt good about that.

Both my friends had a great time and the four of us spent two enjoyable evenings talking while sipping bourbon and scotch on the deck and eating excellent meals in the Lodge. My fellow instructor’s 2004 GT3 developed a coolant leak which turned out to be a failing water pump, so his driving was curtailed. And my former engine builder overcooked it on the way down the hill in the Carousel in his Cayman R, sliding sideways across a berm and bending a tie rod.

My student was a guy my age with another 77 911 that had been a club racer – no muffler, full cage, etc. It took him all weekend to get back into his former form, but he did OK. I took his son and him both out for a few laps, which helped them both, especially the son. Later I went out alone in Yellow and turned my fastest lap due to reduced traffic.  I did 375 kms in anger and used ½ litre of oil – amazing.

It was a great boys’ weekend out – definitely fun to have friends along.

Virginia International Raceway – 16-18 May 2014

Monday, July 28th, 2014

After being very cold in Ohio in April, I looked forward to the warmer weather in Virginia in May. I had been there for the same spring event in 2009 and 2011 and it had been consistently sunny and warm, so my fingers were crossed. However, the weather en route was not very encouraging. On Wednesday it was cool and overcast and construction along Interstate 81 contributed to a long day, whereby I reached Chambersburg, PA in about 10 hours instead of 8-1/2. Thursday was no better, with a severe rainstorm just north of Roanoke slowing traffic significantly and making visibility a challenge. It was still raining steadily when I checked into my hotel in Danville. But I met another Porsche driver from North Carolina at the hotel who declared that it would clear by morning, so I remained optimistic. Thursday night I went to the track and got registered and through the technical inspection, so I was all ready for Friday.

I had volunteered to be a mentor for the National Instructor Training program, so Friday morning I attended a meeting and met my instructor candidate. The plan was for me to behave like a new student – after showing the candidate how I instruct – and then allow him to instruct me for three stints. We should have used his car, but it was a BMW race car with a fixed seat and he was a lot shorter than I – so we had to use my car. He was a Middle Eastern gentleman who was very polite and deferential, but too much so. He should have been more assertive and direct in his instruction, to clear up mistakes and improve my driving. I didn’t recommend him as an instructor, but the fellow I evaluated at the end of the day in his new BMW was much better and should do well. The track looked absolutely spectacular, with its newly repaved surface and a fully paved, huge, paddock.

Having been here twice before with the same group, I started bumping into more familiar faces. I spent some time with my instructor from 2009, as well as a club exec from then who was the event organizer in ’09. I also sat with two guys at lunch, one of whom remembered me because his father has a very similar car, with bad track rash on the hood. My neighbours were nice folks from Richmond – a couple who both drive a Honda Prelude but had technical problems today, a single guy (Tom) almost my age with a nicely built 911 race car (but he’s very modest and polite). And a single lady named Beth who’s in the intermediate instructed group in a 996. Tom had never been to VIR before, so I was his resource for knowing where stuff is, etc. There was a guy with a very loud, very fast 65 Mustang which was very cool, but he left.

Saturday was a little….different.  My first stint was at 8:45 and my student’s at 9:45, after he had a classroom session. During mine, I noticed a little bit of stuttering or misfiring and I checked the plug wires afterwards. One might have been a bit loose.

When he began to drive, it was obvious that we were going to have to work on smooth inputs. He jerked the wheel, his hands were at 10 and 2, he braked too late and too sharply and he was on and off the gas up through the esses. Sure enough, I started to feel queasy after 18-19 minutes and I told him to pit. It turned out that he felt nauseous also, which happens, but rarely. So we talked about the reasons for a while and then split up. Next thing I know his car and his extra junk were gone – he never returned.

So it was pretty easy after that. I had two more stints and experienced the misfire again. So I removed the coil and re-wrapped it with electrical tape to avoid it grounding out. Then I noticed that one of the two small wires on it had a loose crimp fitting, which I now believe to have been the cause. I crimped it better and we’ll find out tomorrow. There was a lot of waiting time between stints – due in part to some charity laps – and there would have been a lot of waiting for the BBQ after 5:30, so I left. Those things are OK, but people tend to bunch up in cliques of friendship, leaving the visitors to fend for themselves. Been there, done that – no thanks.

Sunday was a very good day of driving as well as spectating. I really felt comfortable on the track and pushed pretty hard, all the while limiting the engine’s rev’s to about 5500. I’s have to wait until I got home to compare these lap times with my previous best. I had no further trouble with misfiring or stuttering and the car ran great all day. I left after the 2:40 stint since I was starting to feel a bit tired and I had a big day ahead.

Monday morning the drive home was going well until I got to a long steep grade about 5 miles south of Lexington, VA. I was in the right hand lane when all of a sudden I saw great billows of white smoke pouring out from the engine of the truck. I immediately thought the engine had blown or I was driving through some white powder on the road. I quickly moved over onto the very wide shoulder lane and pulled to a stop. As soon as I looked at the front of the truck, it was obvious that I was losing liquid and the smoke was actually steam. Sure enough, when I popped the hood there was steam everywhere and antifreeze was running down the engine and radiator. It didn’t take me long to find the reason – the lower radiator hose had split to a length of about 4 inches. I tried wrapping it with duct tape after drying it off, but the tape blew off after only a half mile or so because I had screwed the radiator cap on too tight, allowing pressure to build.

At this point the shoulder was barely one vehicle wide and I was on a slight uphill grade, but I had no choice but to stop again, since the engine temperature was rising quickly. No  one stopped or even slowed down to see if I needed help, so my only option was to unload the Porsche and drive to the nearest town to look for a replacement hose. At least I had all the tools I would need to effect a repair, assuming that I could find the correct part. The nearest town was Lexington and when I found an Advance Auto Parts store, they didn’t have the hose that I needed. But they phoned around for me and found one in their affiliate store in Staunton – about 35 miles further north. So I bought a couple of hose clamps and gallons of anti-freeze mix from them and drove up to Staunton. I successfully found the second store, bought the hose, gassed up the car and drove back to the truck – a detour of about 130 km. After a couple of hours struggling with the old hose clamps and cutting off the old hose, I was able to complete the repair and get back onto the road. It was more than a little intimidating, lying under the truck with 18 wheelers roaring past at 75 mph mere feet from my head!

At the end of a long day I pulled into a Holiday Inn Select in Gibson, Pa to spend the night. It was a bit expensive, but worth it to get off the road and have a good night’s sleep. I got home Tuesday afternoon about 2 o’clock without further incident. This was a great trip to VIR but next time I could do without the drama! Video is available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28W11dYqEJw&list=UUymvezGbFO-lUNTnDuTSZsQ

Mid-Ohio – 25-27 April 2014

Monday, July 28th, 2014

After looking forward to it all winter, in March I was finally able to register for the first event of my season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It was also warming up a bit, so I could work on the car in the garage without using too much propane for the heater – the price of which had gone through the roof!

So I went through the annual process of changing the brake fluid, checking CV joints, etc. I had already bought four new Yokohama S-drive tires and installed new rear brake discs, as well as changing the engine and transmission oils and adjusting the valves. I also bought two new thermocouples for the cylinder head temperature gauges and replaced the turn indicator assembly which had broken while I was fixing the horn. Then I got a technical inspection and saw that the rear sway bar bushings were badly worn, so I replaced those in April. At our instructor day at Calabogie I also saw that the oil reservoir tank was still leaking a bit, so I bit the bullet and replaced it as well – for $1900!! There’s always one more thing. By the time I was ready to leave for Ohio, I had spent $3600 and the car was as good as I could make it.

We’d had a very long winter with lots of snow, so the weather was still quite cool in late April and most of the melting had come quite late. So the drive to Ohio was pretty cool and it rained all the way to Buffalo. I had left two days early to visit my son and daughter-in-law in North Canton, so I arrived there Tuesday evening and we had a nice dinner. We visited throughout Wednesday until they had to leave for the airport and I killed time until Thursday afternoon, when I left for Lexington. Thursday morning I came out to the hotel parking lot to find that my car and trailer had been totally boxed in by a commercial van! It took me a little while to find the culprits and get them to move the van, but it would have been very interesting if I couldn’t have found them. I arrived at the track a little after 5 o’clock, registered and unloaded the car before checking into my hotel in Lexington. After a long day of driving, I had no trouble falling asleep.

Friday dawned overcast and drizzly and it never improved all day. The temperature was quite low (under 8 C) and the track conditions were as awful as only Mid-Ohio can be. I did 6 laps, in three groups of two – all wet. And I haven’t been this cold since…February! As expected, this place is just ugly when wet. And the patches/sealer areas are so big there’s almost no safe place to go. In my middle stint, I had intended to shoot a demo wet video, but forgot to remove the lens cap! So I had to go out again to get it. It’s really, really slow. At no time were there any more than six cars on track and nobody stayed out long.

Because of the weather, there was lots of time to socialize. I ran into two of the guys I had met there in 2011 and I met my paddock neighbours, including a nice couple from Akron with a 458 Italia and a Cayman S. I helped another fellow tune his PMO carburetors, since he’d forgotten the correct steps to follow and I had recently done mine. At the end of the day, I met my student who seemed like a nice fellow with some familiarity with the track. I had a quiet evening of reading and looked forward to better weather for Saturday.

Day two was clearer but still quite cool – cooler than it had been a year earlier for my son’s wedding in North Canton. I met up with the very nice lady I had met during the wedding weekend and had a look at her three cars – a 2011 Carrera S, a 968 race car and a Ferrari 360 Modena track car, as well as the hauler from her business in Columbus. We had several nice visits through the day and got a good picture of the two of us with our cars, which are the same model and colour but seven generations of Porsche 911 apart.

My student was very good and had quite a bit of experience with the track. We just working on fine tuning. He didn’t  want to solo, although he could, because he appreciates having the instruction – which is fine. My driving was good although I didn’t set any lap records. Just had a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of instructors my age who feel the same way.

At the end of the day there was a nice meal available, with lots of socializing in the technical shed.

Sunday was another good day, although it was 3C this morning; and windy. My first stint wasn’t until 9:40, so I had to try to stay warm. It got really crazy out there with expanded passing – which means ANYWHERE, with a point-by. Having a slower car, my left arm got a work-out.

Two cool things happened. The photographer caught me on three wheels going through Carousel, so I bought a print.Secondly, I put two tires in the dirt exiting the Keyhole while pointing a few cars by. No damage or loss of control, but the Golf behind me had to eat some gravel.

I left with one stint remaining – enough is enough. Met some great people – with too much money – and made some long-lasting track friendships.

Oh – I shared a hug when I left. Video is available at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3J6qCtTDoU&list=UUymvezGbFO-lUNTnDuTSZsQ

Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – 21-22 September 2013

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Following the event at the Glen, I had a couple more opportunities to drive at Calabogie. On one of these days I noticed that I’d used some brake fluid, so something was still not right with the brakes. I changed the rear pads and found that I had to rebuild the rear calipers. The dust boots were still making contact with the centre of the discs, where the parking brake drum is located. I realized that I could solve this problem by moving the caliper away from the hub by about 2 mm; and I could accomplish this by enlarging the mounting holes in the calipers into an oval shape, by using a round file. I set about to do this and it worked very well. Because the calipers are attached with two large bolts each, along with lock washers, enlarging the holes would carry very little risk of them moving afterwards. As a result, the pads are not completely contained within the disc surface, but the overlap is only 1 mm and shouldn’t affect braking materially.

The next event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (formerly Mosport), was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, September 21-22. I went down Friday afternoon and met my girlfriend – the lady I had met at the Glen. She had been driving in a charity lapping day on Friday, so we met at the track and then went together to my friend’s house in Pickering. They prepared a nice meal and we had a very enjoyable evening. The next morning we were up early and at the track in plenty of time for registration and some socializing before the drivers’ meeting.

Before we started, I spoke with one the instructors to be sure that I would follow their customs with respect to passing within the Red group. Essentially they are quite liberal and will accept a passing signal on either side in some of the corners where either side is feasible. Unfortunately it was very cold and wet on Saturday, so the driving wasn’t very good. I tried a lap a couple of times but the windshield fogged up badly and I couldn’t see, so I gave up. On the second attempt, I don’t think I was pushing very hard, but I touched the brakes at the top of 2 and slid halfway down the hill! It was also very slippery exiting three and I spun the tires exiting 5! My car can’t do that! My girlfriend had the same bad luck, although in her case it was a lack of grip.

I had a student in the Yellow group on this day – a fellow from Montreal in a 944 Turbo. He was doing quite well until mid-afternoon, when disaster struck. He passed a couple of cars on the front straight, but didn’t complete the pass as early as one would like. His entry speed to Turn 1 was pretty good, but he couldn’t start turning as early as he should. So by the time he was turned, he was still gong a bit too fast and his rear end got loose. We immediately went into a spin and he locked up the brakes. We slid backwards for at least 100 ft before crossing the track and smacking the concrete wall with the left rear corner. We were both okay but the light assembly and fender were damaged quite a bit. The acting chief instructor and track chair came to inspect the scene and learn what had happened. After they were satisfied, they said the car could still be driven in the event, but the driver was very concerned about having to drive back to Montreal, so he stopped. As far as I know, he made it successfully.

On Sunday the weather was much better, although still very cold, and we were able to have a full day of good lapping. I had four solid stints and drove in a very relaxed, controlled way. I matched my best lap time from 2011 when I was pushing really hard to achieve it and this time I was shifting at 5500 rpm. Go figure. I was assigned a new student in Yellow – a young Oriental named Ivan (!) driving a 2013 GT3RS 6-speed. His father used to drive and Ivan had obviously had some good coaching, because he was really good – smooth, consistent and fast. We reached 240 km/h at the top of the hill several times, until I told him to slow down so my stomach could survive the uneven pavement. Of course, we passed everyone.

I like what they’ve done to the track. The concrete patches have all been removed and replaced with grippy, Calabogie-style asphalt. They’ve removed a lot of trees at the south end, so that now, when you go under the Continental bridge, you can see the entirety of 4 and 5 laid out before you. It’s a totally different sensation from driving into the former gloom of the shadows. I really enjoyed driving it, but it’s still not the Glen.

After the event I loaded up the car and left it at the track, to be retrieved after spending the night in Toronto with my girl. Unfortunately a number of things occurred between us which made me realize that our personalities are incompatible. So I spoke to her after getting home and ended our relationship – sad, but better to find out early. We’re still friends at least.

Watkins Glen – 2-4 August 2013

Monday, March 17th, 2014

I was really looking forward to returning to the Glen, after correctly diagnosing my brake problem and fixing it with a new master cylinder. But I realized a week before the event that I should get new tires – the old Yokohama S-Drives were showing their age. I looked for replacements on line and then at a local tire shop, but couldn’t get a full set. I had to look for a different brand and settled for Falken FK452’s. The price was right was this was a bad choice. They are adequate tires for the street but do not provide the same level of grip as the Yokohamas. As a result, I was understeering badly and it changed my approach to all corners. Despite their aggressive tread design, they weren’t as good in the wet either.

It was an interesting event and it turned out to be quite enjoyable. Initially I wasn’t terribly enthused, because I knew only one guy (Mike, one of my evaluators from June), and the other NJ folks weren’t all that welcoming. A big part of the fun at these things is going with a few people I know, and then meeting more. On day two I met a couple of people from Toronto; we hit it off; I helped him with his 77 911 fan belt and her with her driving (in White) and her brake pads (in a 944 Turbo). He was a rank novice, loved my car and I took him for a few laps Sunday. He said he’d never been in a fast car before and I said “You still haven’t!”

My student was a challenge. He’s Israeli, having immigrated 6-7 years ago. He’s very bright and does financial work. But he filtered every comment I made about his driving and rationalized when I pointed out mistakes. I needed all of my patience to be firm, clear and explanatory so he would buy in to the suggestions. At one point I instructed him to pit prematurely so I could chew him out! He was very fast, but extremely rough at first. By the time I finished with him, he was more consistent and much smoother – but still very fast. And anxious to be signed off to solo, which I refused to do. I’ll leave it up to his Region to do that, which they understood and agreed.  We hit 145 mph before the Inner Loop and he engaged the ABS as we slowed for the turn, tires chattering on the way in. Not cool.

Speaking of which, three print Sprint Cup haulers had already arrived. And they’d painted all of the rumble strips/turtles a pretty red and white for TV.

The drivers in Red were generally pretty courteous, but there’s always a couple that pass without receiving a signal. The worst was on the way downhill into Turn 6. There were three cars behind me and I gave two signals, but the third guy in a Cup car went anyway – on the inside – taking away my ability to turn in for the apex. I shouted WTF! But he didn’t hear me. There were three different “someones” who passed without a signal – typical New Joyzee hotheads. And it was emphasized in the Instructors’ meeting every day. Once at my request. It’s a good thing I don’t wear a Hans device, because it would be impossible to look over my shoulder for “that guy”.

There were several spins and spills – including one that caused me to go off in Turn 8 – that held things up a bit. I was following a couple of newer cars that had passed me as I approached 8. I took my usual line and braking point and turned in (to the rght), but halfway through the corner the car stopped turning and went straight off into the grass. I braked lightly and turned a bit to the right to avoid hitting the fence. Initially I thought I might have a flat tire, but I kept rolling and couldn’t feel anything odd, so I drove to the paddock. The safety crew there is top-notch, so there wasn’t much of a delay.

The student’s car was a 2009 C4S Cab – translation:  Carrera AWD Cabriolet with 385 bhp and PDK. I’ve decided I don’t like PDK, because when you add throttle it may downshift two gears and give way more torque than you expected or wanted, eg. exiting Turn 7. And he was so anxious to be fast that we drifted around Turn 7 twice – in AWD! The car has so many nanny controls that it saved his ass (and mine) a few times. And he was timing laps until I put a stop to it. He admitted that he was better after the weekend than he was going in, but he really wanted to solo because he had last year at Pocono. But guess why they put him in Green? He needed more work!

We had a great BBQ Saturday provided by Paul Miller Porsche of NJ – free beer and tons of ribs, chicken and veggies. I made good time coming home, arriving in 5 hours. It took 6 to get there, with a lot of rain and a half hour at the border. I covered about 320 km on track and 890 on the roads – spent way more on gas than everything else combined. The cabin at the Seneca was only $135 for three nights!

Le Circuit Mont Tremblant – 22-23 July 2013

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Since moving from Ottawa to Perth, the trip to Mont-Tremblant has become an hour longer, but I decided to make at least one trip up there because the track is a lot of fun to drive. Because I hadn’t been through the Rennsport Instructor Training program, I registered in the Black run group. I would simply drive and enjoy the trip. Before the 2012 season I had asked to be admitted to the program and twice my e-mails weren’t answered! In any case, I wasn’t prepared to commit to attending half of the Rennsport events, which is a prerequisite to be one of their instructors. In the future, if I’m asked to help out, I will gladly do so.

I left home around 2 o’clock, leaving 3-1/2 hours for the trip, through Ottawa and across the ferry at Cumberland. As planned, I arrived at the track before 5 o’clock and had to wait a few minutes for the day’s group to clear out so I could find a parking spot. As I was unloading, I said hello to a few old friends and got myself organized for the morning. Then I decided to drive by an old friend’s condominium on one of the golf course, to see if she was there. When I knocked on the door, I was greeted by a man! He knew my friend and had bought the condo from her. He also turned out to be a Porsche fan, so we talked quite a bit about our cars and experiences. After a pleasant visit, I went to my hotel and got settled.

The next day I met a number of old friends while waiting for the drivers’ meeting, including the Chief Instructor who hadn’t answered my e-mails. We chatted about various things, but he obviously wasn’t aware that I’d successfully completed the National Instructor program at the Glen and I didn’t bring it up. So I was able to drive in the Black group without controversy and had a great time, although the weather was quite hot. I had to watch my oil and cylinder head temperatures and take it easy in order to keep them under control. But the brakes were excellent.

At one point, while going through Turn 7, I heard a noise and my charging lamp came on. I slowed and made my way to the paddock, where I confirmed that the alternator belt had broken. Fortunately I always carry at least one spare, so I was able to change it quite easily – although I did drop one of the shims and had to borrow a magnet to retrieve it from below the pulley. The fellow who loaned it to me was a friend from Ottawa, who suffered a bigger problem around the same time. The clutch on his 944 let go, leaving him stranded without a ride. There was nothing to be done other than trailer or tow the car back to Ottawa. I offered to let him use my trailer and I would drive my car, but he had a CAA membership that would cover a flatbed tow, so he used that. It must have been an interesting drive home, because the flatbed driver didn’t speak English and my friend doesn’t speak French!

On the first day I hooked with a guy whom I think I met two years ago. He has a pristine white mid-80’s Carrera (maybe 87) with 226,000 km. It is bone stock, right down to the brake pads. He wanted to run together, so we started at the back on two stints and I followed him for lap or two, but I was clearly faster so he waved me by. He’s carrying a lot of weight in the interior (seats, stereo, speakers, spare tire, tool kit, etc) so he couldn’t keep up, except on the straights where he was using more rev’s. My lap times were about 6 seconds slower because of short-shifting, offset a bit by better brakes; but his were 7 seconds slower than mine. We talked a lot between stints about where I thought he was losing time, such as not carrying full throttle through 6 and 7 (after the apex) and braking early for 7, 8 and 10. He improved a bit, but without track pads, his braking was limiting. I was also going to play with another friend in her ’13 Boxster, but she was just too fast for me to keep up.

On the second day, I left before the last stint, since otherwise it would have been very late by the time I got home. I had to stop on the way home a couple of times, after going over the very rough roads in Mont Tremblant and a construction zone in Namur, to tighten the straps. Then in Kanata, after getting through very slow rush hour traffic around 6 o’clock, there was a very heavy thunderstorm, so I stopped again after the exit for Carleton Place to tighten the straps because they were soaked. I also need to stretch my legs because I started to get one of those deep leg cramps (in my left leg – the braking one), during the storm – very disconcerting.

It was an excellent event, with only about 100 cars. And the weather was perfect, if a little hot for the engine temperatures. Now I have only about 10 days to get ready for the Glen again, with a couple of Calabogie Lapping days thrown in for good measure.