Watkins Glen – 14-16 June 2013

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

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

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

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

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.

ORRC Rideau Winter Rally – 21 January 2012

January 22nd, 2012

This would be the first rally of the ORRC schedule hosted by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa – my home club. Apart from knowing the territory pretty well, the biggest advantage for us is that it’s close to home – no need for a long trip with truck and trailer.

Leading up to the event, I had been busy repairing damage to the front end of the car that first appeared in the January Jaunt and prevented us from finishing. During that event we had stopped during the third Leg due a rattling sound coming from the right front. If we’d only removed the wheel to inspect the brakes, we could have repaired the damage and continued. The pins holding the brake pads in place had come loose and one had broken, but we could have effected a temporary repair with long zip ties that I have in the tool box. But we thought the damage was more serious – like a wheel bearing – so we simply loaded the car on the trailer and left. The damage had been caused by my sons who drove the car at high speeds with a severely deflated right front tire, causing it to pull significantly to the right.

After fixing the brake pad problem I found that the front end was still making unusual noises. On further inspection I decided to change the left side drive axle, thinking that the CV joint had been damaged. While that may be true and didn’t cost me anything due to its warranty, there were still noises. I determined that the right wheel bearing had some play in it, so I replaced that, only to find that there was free play between the new bearing and the stub axle on the hub. So I replaced the hub and installed yet another new bearing, since the first replacement had to be damaged in order to disassemble the hub. This resolved the noise problem, but then I discovered a small leak of transmission fluid coming from the place where the left drive axle enters the transaxle. I had to seat the axle 2-3 mm further into the transaxle to eliminate this leak and then refill the transaxle with oil. Finally the car was ready to rally again.

Saturday dawned partly cloudy and fairly cold – at around -11 C – but the forecast promised no significant snow fall and reasonable temperatures. I took the car for a short drive to check everything out and it was fine. But then I was going to take it to pick Gary up in town and it died in the driveway! I used the truck and hurried home to do some testing. I believe the problem was dirty contacts on the coil wire, because the coil tested OK and there was spark at the plugs after I reconnected the coil wire. So I cleaned the connectors and everything was fine. We drove out to Perth and bought gas, arriving at the restaurant around 3:30. We were the second last team to register, so we were assigned car number 9. After getting caught up with our friends from out of town, we departed for Section 1 a couple of minutes before 4:39, our nominal starting time.

It quickly became obvious that this was not going to be an easy rally. All of the side roads – both paved and gravel – were covered with a sheen of ice plus loose powder snow and sand. They were very slippery and all of the corners required great care not to understeer off the road. Section 1 was pretty straightforward for an odometer check, but with a twist. We were given an elapsed time to a distance beyond the odo check point and average speeds beyond that.  The elapsed time distance was more than 5 kilometres beyond the odo check, so there could have been a checkpoint just beyond it. So we had to be careful to stay on time once we reached that point, just in case. As expected, the first checkpoint was before the end of Section 1. As I approached it, I thought we were running a bit late. But if I’d looked at the clock and remembered that it was timed to the minute, I’d have slowed down. We checked in at 56 seconds after the minute. If we’d been four seconds slower, we’d have been right on time. Oh well, on to Section 2.

We were given a series of tulip diagrams but only a few had non-accumulative distance from the previous instruction. So we had to keep our eyes peeled for turns that matched the diagrams, as well as changing speeds often. All of the roads continued to be icy, so the driving was stressful whenever we were in a twisty section. I believe it was in this section that we ran into a problem. We were travelling at around 65 km/h when we came to a 90-degree left turn that was not marked and was not visible well in advance. I tried to brake to scrub of some speed and depressed the clutch to roll around the corner, but we were just going too fast. We slid sideways into a snow bank that was only about 10” high and went right onto it. All four tires were in deep snow and I couldn’t get any traction to move either forward or back. Another team stopped to help us and we tried pushing the car and then pulling it out with theirs (a 4WD Mitsubishi), but my toe rope came apart at one end.

Fortunately another car came along and stopped to help. This was a couple who had intended to compete but had arrived too late for registration, so they were just using the instructions for practise. They had a good tow strap and a 4WD Subaru, so were able to pull us out reasonably easily. As we left the site, the car seemed OK but it was pulling a bit to the right. At the next checkpoint I took the maximum Time Allowance of 19.5 minutes, which allowed us to come very close to zeroing that control. I also checked the tie rod ends to make sure nothing was bent and couldn’t see a problem. I should have looked more closely at the tires! When I checked them the next morning I found that the right front was almost totally deflated and we had finished the rally on it and driven at highway speeds back to the city. Just like my sons had done , causing the same symptom! Will I ever learn?

Section 3 required us to plot the shortest route between the beginning and end of Section, while passing through three points. The changes in average speed were given in descriptive terms that didn’t reveal any tips about the route, so Gary had to use the end of section map and carefully devise a route that would get us there. He did a great job and we were pretty successful at the next couple of controls.

Section 4 had an odd set of instructions, where the cumulative distances were given in miles without tenths, as though they’d been read from an old car’s odometer that began the section at 171,834 miles. The average speeds were also given in miles per hour. So Gary had to convert all the distances and speeds to metric and then we had to pay close attention to the various turns, since we didn’t have precise distances to follow. For example, one instruction told us to turn left at mileage 171,849, but all we really knew is that the turn would be somewhere after we reached the metric equivalent of 171,849 and before the metric equivalent of 171,850. I think we did pretty well in this section, although were a little early at one control. I was basically driving as fast as I could comfortably, given the conditions, and it caught up with us at that checkpoint.

Section 5 was the place where the driving really got interesting. We were on cottage roads in the Rideau Lakes which are hilly, narrow and twisty, as well as being icy. The speeds don’t sound all that challenging, in the low sixties and mid-fifties, but they were. None of the curves are marked and you never know what’s over the next crest, so I had to take it easy just to stay on the road and be comfortable. The instructions were simple enough, but the driving was exhausting! We were the last car to arrive at one of the checkpoints, so the workers followed us for quite a while, which was comforting. Then we caught up to and passed another competitor who had just been pulled out a snow bank by the same team who had tried to help us earlier, so I knew I was doing the right thing by being cautious. We ended up being late by about five minutes at the two checkpoints in this section, but at least we stayed on the road.

The final Section was very simple and relatively short, being designed simply to get us back to Perth over some more reasonable roads. We had no trouble with it, although the frequent speed changes and turns caused us to be a little late at the last checkpoint before the finish. We correctly calculated the finishing time for the end of rally and handed in our route card at the restaurant, sharing some harrowing tales of the nights driving with a few people before leaving.

Gary needed to get back to the city as early as possible to join his wife at a social event, so we didn’t wait for the results to be finalized. We knew that we would have a pretty respectable score, especially since we had not missed any turns or gotten off track at all. That’s the first event for which we can say that! As it turned out, we finished second in Expert class with a score of 9.4, which is very gratifying. There were four teams in Expert, so we did well to beat two of them, despite the flat tire! Now I have to check the car over carefully to make sure there is no damage. At least I have a couple of months before the next event, so the pressure is off. I had the video camera mounted in the car, but was so busy with the driving that I didn’t even think to turn it on. That’s a shame, because some of the footage would have been spectacular.


ORRC January Jaunt Rally – 7 January 2012

January 8th, 2012

The 2012 ORRC season began as usual with the January Jaunt rally, run out of Waterdown, ON, near Burlington. Since the season-ending event in Perth in November, I have been busy making improvements to the Mazda for the new season. It started with the replacement of a burned out headlight bulb (both actually), which happened on the way home from Perth. Next I spent a bit of time under the car trying to find a small oil leak on the left side, which turned out to the seal on the transmission shift rod. That was a fairly straightforward job, made easier by the mild temperatures we had in November.

Then in December I decided to tackle a job I’d been procrastinating on – the rusty frame rails just behind the seats. Once I began removing the rusted and rotten metal, I discovered just how serious a problem it was. By the time I’d finished cleaning up the two sides, I had a four inch diameter hole in the floor behind the driver’s seat and a section 7-9” long on each side where the frame rail was completely gone from rust. I made a patch for the floor out of sheet metal and screwed and riveted it in place. Then I covered the top and bottom of the patch’s seams with fibreglass maxi-fibre.

For the frame damage, I calculated that I could weld a steel strap to the good frame rail in front of the damaged sections and extend it over the damage to the rear trailing arm mounts. It would have to be shaped like a hockey stick to follow the shape of the rail and it would require some bracing to provide strength in the vertical direction. Using some of my friend’s inventory of 1/8” x 1-1/4” steel strapping, I made the necessary flat pieces and he welded them together. Then I made two braces of ¾” angle iron which he welded across the angle of the hockey stick shape. He then welded the assembly to the floor board and we added some side pieces to increase the strength, since the floor metal is quite thin. Then I filled in the void between the new pieces and the floor with expanding foam and covered the whole thing with fibreglass maxi-fibre. Finally a coat of Tremclad rust paint to protect the whole thing and some yellow highlights to show where the good jacking points are.

The next major project was to replace the fuel lines between the engine and the fuel tank, which were clearly on their last legs. I had lost two brake lines in the same area as the rusty floor repair about two years ago. So I knew the fuel lines wouldn’t last much longer. I took a shortcut and used flexible rubber fuel hose from the top of the tank down to the floor level; then 5/16” steel lines up towards the engine compartment. I left the old lines in place and simply zip-tied the new lines to them in multiple places along the floor. I took advantage of the opportunity to relocate the fuel filter from the firewall to the area vacated when I moved the battery to the trunk, to improve accessibility dramatically.

I also replaced the engine’s coolant temperature sensor, which is used to trigger the radiator fan, since I had had an overheating problem in October when I had to replace the radiator. I also tweaked the toe-in a couple of times to get the steering perfectly neutral, had the right front tire remounted to solve a slow leak and had the left front tire re-balanced to remove a vibration. The vibration sound is still present, but the wheel is balanced! I’m just hoping the vibration is nothing serious, since the front bearings are new and the brakes are not rubbing. If a tire is breaking an internal belt, we’ll find out in the rally!

My travel plans for the rally were a little complicated this time, since I would take my son to Toronto to catch a bus to St. Catharines for school; then I would pick Gary up in Toronto at a hotel where his wife is staying while working on a big project; then we would drive to Waterdown and compete in the rally. At the end of the rally, my old friend Rob might meet us in the restaurant after delivering a car to his son in Waterloo and catch a ride home with me – after dropping Gary in Toronto and spending the night with my other old friend and his wife in Pickering. Whew!

We left Saturday morning about 8:10 (thanks son!) in the midst of some freezing drizzle that had left 1/8th of an inch of ice on the cars. The roads were somewhat slippery until the temperature rose from -5 C to about freezing, when the ice started to fly off the truck in chunks and the windows cleared, along Highway 401. We made pretty good time despite the conditions and only made two pit stops before reaching Toronto around 12:15. I dropped my son at the bus station and picked up Gary and we were off. The weather in Toronto was remarkably different from Ottawa, with sunshine and temperatures reaching +9 C. We arrived at Waterdown with plenty of time to spare, so I filled up the truck, which turned out to be fortuitous.

After registering, saying hello to old friends and listening to the drivers’ meeting, we departed at 3:10 PM with Expert instructions in hand. There were 18 teams entered – 3 Expert, 2 Intermediate and the rest Novice – many first timers. We were the only team from Ottawa, which is often the case. The rally was going to be about 300 km long and was divided into three legs – A, B and C. The rally organizer – named Kurt – is known for preparing challenging instructions and he didn’t disappoint. Even the beginning odo check section was different, with average speeds provided for the whole section, including the pause which is necessary at the odo check distance.

We had been warned at the meeting about a section that was arranged in reverse and Section A2 proved to be it. Not only did we have to start at the end and work backwards – calculating all of the distances to turns – but each tulip diagram was reversed, with left meaning right, stop signs misplaced and the angle of side roads reversed. We struggled a bit with it at first, but then Gary got the hang of it and we did fairly well, although we had to take a time allowance early to compensate for our confusion.

Section A3 was a fairly common line diagram, but it was drawn as a spiral to challenge the reader to keep track of lefts and rights. The starting point was not defined, but it was easy to figure it out from the first intersection. As we progressed, we were confused by the average speeds, because they didn’t make sense with the speed limits we saw. Only much later (in Section A4) did Gary notice that the average speed tables for Sections A3 and A4 had been placed on the opposing section’s page! Despite our confusion over the speeds, we stuck to our guns and were rewarded with a checkpoint midway along, so we knew we were still on route. The roads got a little more interesting in this section, with some twisty bits and plenty of hills, on a wet gravel surface.

Section A4 was a nightmare! The instructions required the navigator to find several small towns on a greyscale photocopy of a small scale map and connect them with straight lines to define intersection points. We were supposed to find the shortest route between the beginning and end of section while driving through all of the intersecting points. Local knowledge would have been a big help here, because we couldn’t find some of the town names no matter how hard we tried. One of our fellow competitors paused just before the section and took nine minutes to sort out it out, following with a nine minute time allowance at the next checkpoint to compensate. We stopped at several points to try and figure out the route and we stayed on track for a while. But about halfway along we were about to take a wrong turn when along came a Novice team, equipped with simpler instructions. When we saw which way they turned, we immediately decided to follow them and give up trying to plot our own route. This became kind of funny, as we followed them wherever they went, including a wrong turn! But they got us safely to end of section at the rest stop and we thanked them for their unwitting help. As we saw later, our overall efforts for Leg A weren’t bad, with a total score of 7.2 (compared to 2.6 and 6.1 for our competitors).

Leg B was a different story. Section B1 was a disjointed map of two squiggly lines, accompanied by a road map. We had to match the lines with roads on the map and follow the route. When we started out, we incorrectly identified the starting point and wasted about 17 minutes getting back on track. Then we missed a turn or two and wound up finding a checkpoint from the wrong direction. But it was CP 3, so we had already missed two. It turned out that if we’d kept going another half kilometre, we’d have found CP’s 1 & 2, since they were stacked extremely close together. Then we missed another one before eventually finding the end of section.

Section B2 was a series of tulip-like pictograms of certain intersections, combined with instructions on certain waypoints we had to pass through. We struggled with that one as well and missed another CP or two (I lost count). There was another short break after Leg B and we were one of the last cars out.

Leg C instructions consisted of one page – a map telling us to drive Leg A in reverse! Fortunately we still had all of our notes from Leg A but it was still difficult to get oriented, especially since we’d followed the Novices for Section A4 and had no clue as to the correct route. When we began Section C2, we were supposed to be driving the spiral line diagram in reverse. We got a bit confused early on and I turned around in the wide entrance to a quarry. As I cranked the wheel hard to the left at slow speed, we heard a horrible death rattle coming from the right front wheel. I got out and looked at it with a flashlight and couldn’t see anything broken or out of place. So we drove on a bit and stopped again for more examination.

The best we could figure was that the wheel bearing had let go, explaining the grinding noise we’d been hearing all along. It was hard to believe, since the bearing was only six months old. A local resident stopped to offer assistance, so we accepted his offer of accompanying us back to a major highway, where we could phone the rally organizer to seek a rescue. We made the call and it took a friend about 40 minutes to reach us – that’s how far west we had gone from Waterdown. He drove us back to the starting point where Gary handed in our (blank) route card while I fetched the truck and trailer. We drove back and loaded up the car, heading for Toronto about 11:30 PM. I dropped Gary off at his downtown hotel and made my way to my friend’s house in Pickering, arriving there about 1:30 AM. It had been a long day!

On the way home the next day, I realized that the bearing might have failed because that tire had been really low on air due to an undetected overnight leak, when my sons took the car on a shopping trip. About 60-70 km at highway speeds with only 50% of the appropriate air pressure would not have helped that bearing at all. I’ll assess the damage when I take it apart in a day or two. Our next event is in two weeks, so I should have plenty of time to make repairs.

Postscript: Upon removing the right wheel, the damage was obvious. The two tiny hitch pins that retain the brake pad locating pins had come out and one of the locating pins had sheared off. After installing new parts, everything is good. I believe this was caused by the tire being run on very low air pressure.

Video of Section A4 is available at http://youtu.be/lUUiZz4sSJs


ORRC Open Road Rally – 5 Nov 2011

November 6th, 2011

The final rally of the 2011 Ontario Road Rally Cup series was hosted by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa and sponsored by Open Road Motorsport. It began and finished at the Perth Restaurant on a beautiful, clear day with temperatures threatening to reach +10 C – a perfect day for driving. This may be the best event of the series, because we always use the awesome roads of the Lanark Highlands and/or the Rideau Lakes, both of which regions are known across the province for their twisty, hilly nature. We had a total of twenty-four teams entered, including all of the top teams from Peterborough, Toronto and Kitchener, as well as the Subaru club. This was the largest field of the year and you could see the excitement and enthusiasm in everyone’s eyes before the start – as well as afterwards!

For us, this was the easiest rally logistically, since it’s a mere 70 kilometres from my house to the restaurant. We arrived shortly after one o’clock and had plenty of time for socializing before departing at 2:37 PM (being Car number 7).

This rally would decide the provincial championships in both Expert and Intermediate classes, since there were very close races for the driver’s title in both classes. Due to substitutions during the year, the navigator’s championships had already been decided. So at least three navigators were there solely to support their drivers’ quest for the title – one (Perry) even supplied the car! And Gary was the second, supporting me! In our case, we needed to finish at least three positions ahead of Tim and Perry for me to win the title. We had won two events outright, while they had won four, including three events where we went head to head. Fortunately for us, there were two other teams registered in Intermediate who could act as spoilers if they did better than Tim and Perry and if we could finish first. All we could do was give it our best effort and hope for the best, as always.

We began the rally with a simple set of instructions to get us to the odometer check and the end of Section 1 – just distance to turns and an elapsed time to reach EOS (end of section). They took us southwest of Perth, towards Westport. Section 2 had instructions of a type that I don’t remember seeing before. There were tulip diagrams based on incremental distances, but they were out of sequence. So we didn’t know which diagram applied until we reached an intersection where the incremental distance from the last one matched one of the diagrams. This required precision, since some of the distances were similar, so we were lucky to have a perfectly calibrated rally computer to help with that. The odo check had not required any adjustment to the calibration, which helped greatly. When we reached the first Checkpoint (CP) in this Section, I believed we nailed it to the second.

Section 3 had a complex series of “rules of the road”, which told us that we had to (a) turn right at all right junctions, (b) turn left at the first opportunity whenever on highway 12, (c) always turn right onto highway 12, (d) go straight through all four-way intersections, etc. We were doing fine until we came to a four-way where the road on the left was marked as “no exit”. So we turned right, applying rule “a” above. But Gary soon realized we were on the wrong route, so we doubled back and treated the four-way according to rule “d”. This turned out to be correct and I know that several teams missed the next checkpoint because of the error. During the scoring, it was decided to give all teams (Intermediate and Expert were the only ones affected) a zero for that CP as a result. The road that we were on after the four-way was Kingston Line, which is very twisty and hilly, and I was trying to go as fast as possible to minimize the TA that I would take at the next CP. It got pretty exciting at times, but we got through safely and requested a TA of 4.5 minutes, which turned out to be pretty close.

The instructions for Section 4 were in the form of a long, continuous tulip so it was pretty easy to stay on route. However, the average speeds were quite aggressive and the roads made it demanding to stay on time. Between the challenging speeds and making one wrong turn, we got a little behind, so I took a TA of 1.5 minutes to compensate. This was as close as I could get, since TA’s have to be on the half-minute. Section 5 was short and very scenic, as we wound along the north side of Dalhousie Lake, through cottage country on old logging roads. We were following a simple narrative and had no trouble with the directions or the speeds. I can’t remember the instructions for Section 6 at all, probably because of the problems we had in Section 7!

This penultimate section had a diagram shaped like an “X”, showing four lines with little tails sticking off the sides of each line. At the centre of the X was a circle with an “A” in it, while there was a “B” at the end of each of the four arms. The lines represented four different possibilities for the route we should follow. As it turned out, all four lines were identical as we progressed from A towards B, until near the end. But Gary had to compare them all at each intersection, to ensure we stayed on track. The little tails represented roads which we had to “leave” on the left or right, signifying turns or straight aheads as appropriate.  Generally this type of instruction is pretty easy to follow, but we tried valiantly to make it difficult by beginning at “B” instead of “A”. Why, I’ll never understand. So we wasted a lot of time and distance until we realized our fundamental error and got back on route. I kept track of the time we wasted fairly accurately and I knew we’d need a TA of at least 12-13 minutes at the next CP. We only had 13.5 minutes remaining, of the total allotment of 19.5, so I used them all at the CP. As it turned out, this was pretty close to correct.

The final Section was a simple set of instructions to take us back to the restaurant. By now we both knew exactly where we were and how to get back, so I concentrated on driving the route while Gary calculated our check-in time for the end of the rally. We arrived at slightly before 6:24 PM and our check-in time was 6:25, so I trotted briskly inside to hand in our card and begin to share stories with the other teams.

As we waited for the scoring, we did a little socializing and had some supper. We found out that one of our fellow Intermediate local teams had missed 2-3 CP’s, so that didn’t bode well for Tim and Perry being worse. When the scoring was finally completed, they announced that due to errors in the instructions for Intermediate and Expert, all teams would receive zeroes for CP’s 4 and 9, as well as the finish. That meant that there was a chance that our complete result (no missed CP’s) wouldn’t help us. As it turned out, we finished first with a score of 9.5, fully twenty points better than Tim and Perry, who finished second. So we won the battle, but not the war. Tim will be crowned the champion of Intermediate by a one-point margin. It doesn’t get any closer than that.

We had an uneventful drive home – still on the same tank of gas – and arrived shortly after 9 PM. As he was leaving, Gary pointed out that one of the Mazda’s headlights was not on. The next day I verified that it was the bulb that had burned out, so I got a replacement. I also found that two spark plug wires were loose, so the roads must have been pretty rough. Fortunately they stayed close enough to the plugs that the engine didn’t miss a beat. That’s it for this season. The Mazda will now become my main transport for skiing, groceries, etc., so I don’t use too much gas or wear out the truck over the winter.

ICCO Fall BBQ – 22 Oct 2011

October 23rd, 2011

This year’s fall BBQ for the Italian Car Club of Ottawa was a great success, although the weather almost killed it before it got started. It had originally been scheduled for October 15, but as that day approached the weather forecast was not very good. So it was postponed by a week. And then the 15th turned out to be sunny and cool – a typical nice fall day. We had an excellent September, with many crystal clear, warm days. So maybe the club should re-think the timing of this event, which is usually the best attended of all. On the 22nd the morning was damp with heavy overcast and there was even some light Scotch mist around 10 o’clock. Warm clothes would be the order of the day, especially with the top down on the Fiat.

I had spent several hours on the Thursday – while it rained and got very cool outside – washing, waxing and Armor All’ing the Fiat to have it looking its best for this last outing of the year. On Saturday morning I pulled it outside to finish polishing the paint and chrome and I also cleaned the Momo wheels with Meguiar’s Hot Rims spray, which is a great product for their complex shapes. I was a little concerned about the temporary fix that I’d fabricated for the carburetor linkage, after losing one of the two clips that retain little balls in their sockets. On my way back from NAPA (in the Porsche) where I picked up a new bottle of Hot Rims I stopped at my friend Steve’s to trade some stories with him and Morley. While there I mentioned these clips and Steve immediately got down a box of old parts from Weber carburetors – most of them from Volkswagens. Sure enough he had at least a dozen linkages with two of these clips on each! I took one pair home, quickly determined that they were the same size and installed two of them so they would match. What a great guy and resource!

I had been talking to a fellow Fiat enthusiast named Adam who owns a ’74 Spider a few days earlier, at which point I offered to drive him to the BBQ. His car is temporarily off the road while his clutch assembly is being rebuilt. So I left home a little early to pick him up en route, suitably bundled in my winter jacket with three layers underneath – top down, of course. It was pretty cool at about 7-8 C but I reminded myself that if this was March I’d be happy to drive topless in such temperatures. For some reason traffic was very heavy on the surface streets, so we arrived at Marc’s a few minutes later than expected, a little after two o’clock.

When I pulled up to the driveway entrance, I stopped and did some arm waving to get Marc’s attention and to indicate that I wanted to know where to park. He immediately gestured for me to drive right up and into the paved back yard, so I could park right in front of the four-door garage – a place of honour! It’s really a shame that Marc doesn’t do much wrenching on his own cars, since he has such a large garage in which to store and work on cars. With considerable hard cranking of the non-power steering wheel, I was able to get positioned squarely in the middle of the four doors, with lots of space for people to get around both the front and rear of my car. Of course I had a pretty large audience, since a number of people had already arrived but had parked on the street.

I knew most of the people who were already there and more familiar faces continued to arrive over the next hour or so. The garage doors were all closed, since the BBQ is typically an opportunity to unveil new acquisitions or restorations. But the collection of cars parked in the yard and on the street was already pretty impressive. Marc’s Alfa Romeo GTV and Dave’s ’64 Alfa Giulia SS were parked in front of me, while an early Fiat 500 was behind me. Dave’s SS is a beautiful classic in excellent condition, of which there are only six in North America. It is quite valuable and very pretty. In the driveway Marc had parked his Multipla and Stuart’s yellow 1960 Fiat 600. As we all stood around enjoying some wine and trying to warm up, Delio arrived in his Alfa coupe, another old 500 pulled in and then a gorgeous new Maserati GT coupe backed, with both its stereo and its Ferrari engine competing for best sound. Chuck and Marcia filled the end of the driveway in their Lancia Monte Carlo, while several Fiat Spiders (both 124’s and 850’s) were parked on the street. In all, there must have been thirty people and at least 15 cars present – an excellent turn-out.

My car looked perfect and was not upstaged by any of the other classic Italian iron in the yard. Adam found a new guy named Jay whom I had invited on the FiatSpider.com forum and he came over to look at my car and to ask about recommended paint shops. Of course I told him about having my car done at Milano Body Shop in 2006 and he couldn’t believe the quality of the paint – not to mention the condition of the car – especially when I told him how little it had cost. A little later I introduced him to Tony from Milano and they agreed on a plan to provide Jay with a quotation for repainting his black 1980 Spider.

Around 3 o’clock Marc called the meeting to order, because one of our objectives this day was to honour and thank Delio and Giovanni for their years of support in maintaining our cars at Frank’s Auto Centre in Little Italy. They have decided to retire after 38 years and have sold the building to a real estate developer. Sadly that means that Frank (not the owner) and Hugo (their mechanics) will be out of work, so they must decide what to do next. It also means that several ICCO members who are not mechanically inclined must find someone else to help them with their cars, which could be problematic. There are no other Italian car specialists in Ottawa, although a few small garages seem to be willing to help some of the members successfully. By the way, Giovanni’s car was a classic 1960’s Lancia Aprelia four-door sedan, which he parked at the foot of the driveway. Delio was the founder of the Italian Car Club.

Marc had pulled together some gifts and mementos of Delio and Giovanni’s years with us, including two nice photo albums assembled by the club’s resident photographer, in which we were all asked to find our cars and autograph the page(s) where they appeared. He also had gifts for Frank and Hugo, which was a nice touch and a few remarks from other club members. After this small ceremony, it was time to open the garage doors and unveil the cars hidden from view. Marc began with Door #1, commenting that the club is not only about vintage Italian cars as he revealed Sandra’s new red Fiat 500. Next came Alex’s beautiful 1967 Fiat Dino coupe, which we had seen before but which had never before been introduced formally to the group. Behind Door #3 was another Fiat Mulitpla which Stuart had just finished restoring in a lovely two-tone blue paint scheme, as well as a Fiat 500 Abarth in race trim which Joe (the owner of a popular pub) had recently acquired. Finally, behind Door #4 was yet another old Fiat 500 which a different Joe (one of the Carguys group) had just restored, after buying the car for a mere $250.

All this while Lucio had been grilling the usual Italian sausages and from then on people enjoyed a sausage, some meat balls, salad and desserts contributed by the members, along with numerous bottles of wine and Italian beer. There were lots of clusters of people engaged in lively conversation and examination of the cars – both revealed and simply parked – so it was easy to move among them and have a rich experience of friendship and fellowship. The enthusiasm of this group for their cars and the Italian spirit is quite amazing and very enjoyable.

As the sun got lower in the sky, people began to leave and the temperature began to drop noticeably. I realized that it would be getting dark by the time I could expect to get home, so I raised the top on my car in the interest of comfort for both me and Adam. After a bit of a wait for the driveway to clear, I manoeuvred the car out of its tight spot with some help from Terry and other onlookers and then picked Adam up at the street. We left around 4:45 and once again the traffic was very heavy for some unknown reason, but eventually I got home around 5:30. The day had been very enjoyable; the car ran very well; the carburetor fix remained intact and I had a great time. That’s about it for this season though.

ORRC Not the President’s Prize Rally – 15 Oct 2011

October 17th, 2011

This year the President’s Prize was temporarily renamed the “Not”, since the fellow designing it is not the President of the Peterborough club and the club has been without a president all year long. But he’s an experienced rallyist, so I expected a challenging and long route (at 300 km). The rally would start in Peterborough at 11 o’clock Saturday, so we had to leave at 6 AM to get there in time, especially since we’d have to hunt a bit for a suitable place to leave the truck and trailer. At the end of the event, I’d be driving the Mazda directly to Kingston for my 40th anniversary university reunion, while Gary would drive the truck and trailer back to my house and retrieve his car. I’d been watching the weather forecast for the weekend closely, since I was hoping to get up to Calabogie for a few more laps on Sunday afternoon. But as of Friday evening, it didn’t look promising, with rain being forecast for the whole weekend, both in the Ottawa area as well in Peterborough. It wouldn’t be a President’s Prize without a big mud bath anyway.

Saturday dawned cloudy but not raining and we made it to Peterborough around 9:45. We easily found a place to park the truck on the street near the registration spot and took care of the necessary business with lots of time to spare. They had a good turn-out of about 15 cars and we were assigned car number 11. There was only one other car in Intermediate class – our main rivals and friends, Tim and Perry.

Things got off to a pretty good start as we headed south of town into the hilly countryside. The first couple of sections were fairly straightforward tulips with multiple speed changes. But soon we came to a section that had problems. Near the end of section there was an instruction that showed a T intersection where we should turn left. But when we got there, we found about 8 other teams stopped and discussing what to do. The intersection was a four-way and the distance did not coincide with the instruction! We tried going both left and straight but neither led to the next and last instruction on the page. Several others turned right, so we did too, but with the same result. So we decided to go to the end of the new sew section, concluding that the entire section would have to be scrubbed from the scoring, due to the massive error. And so it was.

Shortly afterwards we finished the first leg with only one other small error in the instructions and stopped for a break. Everyone was milling around, discussing the frustration of the errors. I sympathized with the organizer, who had received no help in checking the route against the instructions and who had completed the rally’s design in a very short period of time.

After the break, things got a little more interesting. The first section, as well as the second last one, was in the form of a story about the travels of US presidents, both living and dead.  Each had attributes, based on his politics or reputation. For example, when Obama spoke, it represented a left turn. When George W. Bush spoke, we should ignore it because you couldn’t believe anything he said. The first section began with a tricky series of turns that required a map to sort out. Fortunately, I had brought a large scale, coloured highway map that Gary had to use because the photocopy we were given was hard to read and had an End of Section sticker in precisely the worst place.

In the remaining sections, there were numerous speed changes and it was difficult to maintain the correct speed when, for example, we had to average 76 km/h for only a kilometre or less, between two lower speed sections. After a while Gary got behind on the calculation of estimated times of arrival, so we were early at a couple of checkpoints. I haven’t seen the detailed scoring yet, but overall we accumulated 4.5 points, which isn’t bad. But Tim and Perry somehow got only 1.9 points, so they finished first in our class. I’m curious about the details though, because I understand that nine out of twenty checkpoints had to be scrubbed from the scoring due to mistakes in the instructions or in the location of the checkpoint workers.

I left as soon as the rally ended and drove to Kingston, where I arrived in time for the entire supper with my classmates from Queen’s. I visited with several guys that I wanted to see and had a good conversation at the table where I sat with people I knew but who had been in different streams of engineering. When the disc jockey appeared and the dancing started, I headed for my room, since it had already been a long day. In the last rally of the season, I will have to finish first and Tim will have to finish third or worse in class for me to have a chance at the championship. It doesn’t look too likely, but stranger things have happened.

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fav5KEXR57Q