ORRC TAC August Challenge Rally – 6 Aug 2011

October 13th, 2011

In August, the Toronto Autosport Club put on a new rally, called the TAC August Challenge – how appropriate. It was intended to replace the Infinite Monkeys, because its organizers had resigned from rally activities over a personal conflict with the Rallysport Ontario President. Such is life.

The start of the rally was at a shopping mall in northern Mississauga at 10:30 AM, so Gary and I drove to Pickering the night before and had a great visit at my friend Les’s home, with him and Maureen. If memory serves, we left his house around 8 AM to allow for Saturday morning Toronto traffic and arrived safely at the start with plenty of time to spare. We found a corner of the shopping centre parking lot in which to leave the truck and trailer and joined everyone else in Timmie’s for snacks and coffee.

There were three of us competing in Intermediate class and we were given car number 5. So we set out at 10:35 and headed northwest towards the Caledon Hills. There were two Legs in the rally with a one-hour break in the middle. During Leg A, one section required us to find the names of small villages on a photocopy of an area map. Then we had to connect the two points with a straight line and find the route which crossed that line the least number of times. Because the map was a grey photocopy and the village names were in small print, it took us quite a while to find them and plot our route, while parked beside the road. I had to take a Time Allowance at the next checkpoint to compensate. Later in this Leg there were more complex instructions which took extra time and effort to sort out. Along the way we got crossed up and missed two checkpoints. However, we found out at the break that Chris and Jon, also in Intermediate, had missed four! So we didn’t feel so bad. One checkpoint was in a small siding road, between the main road and some railway tracks. Both times we were supposed to get on the siding road to stop at the checkpoint and both times we drove a few hundred yards past it before realizing our mistake. It wasn’t turning out to be our day.

In Leg B after the break, the instructions didn’t get any easier and we missed five checkpoints. I can’t remember the instructions now, which is probably just as well. In one of them there was a tulip diagram which had been reversed intentionally and this threw us off, as well as several other teams. There was also a line map and we couldn’t figure out which end of it was the beginning, so that also set us back. We used our entire allotment of Time Allowances and wound up finishing in third place with 170 points. We took little comfort in knowing that a lot of the scores were high, since we lost points to Tim and Perry, our chief rivals in the class championship race.

But the best was yet to come. On the way home, we pulled off Highway 401 into a service centre near Kingston, to stretch our legs and make a pit stop. When we walked around the trailer I saw that the front right wheel was covered in some rusty coloured substance and the rear wheel had grease all over it. On closer inspection we found that the wheel bearing on the front wheel had disintegrated completely and the wheel was held on only by gravity! The rear wheel bearing was loose, but we were able to tighten it up. So we removed the car and the heavy steel ramps from the trailer and took off the front wheel. I couldn’t get the hub and retaining nut off because they were jammed by something. So Gary drove the truck with the trailer on three tires while I followed in the Mazda. Just a few hundred feet after we pulled back onto the highway, I saw the hub fly off the damaged wheel and roll along the shoulder, missing me by only a few feet. There was following traffic and I couldn’t stop to retrieve it, so we just kept on going. We took Highway 15 from Kingston to Ottawa to keep the speed down and avoid the major traffic on 401. All the way home I was seeing sparks every time the trailer hit a bump, when the bolts on the right side shackle hit the roadway.

When we eventually made it to my driveway, we could see that the shackle bolt was ground down and bent as a result of all the contact. A few days later I replaced all four of the wheel bearings, plus the missing hub. This time I made sure that the retaining clips were properly in place on all four wheels, to avoid another similar incident. This has definitely been the year for wheel bearing replacements!

MCO Open Road Rally #5 – May 25, 2011

October 7th, 2011

There was a very small turn-out for the fourth rally in the MCO Open Road series – about seven cars, four of them in Expert class. We started at Tim Horton’s in Stittsville and would finish at the Cheshire Cat pub on Carp Rd. After Gary and I arrived at the start, I had a good chat with Glen about my trip to OH and VA, and about the performance and tuning of the Porsche’s engine. Glen was curious about the reason for old “what’s his name” to have trouble with engines blowing up, which I was able to talk about with some level of confidence!

When we got started, the first section was simple distance to turns, incorporating the odometer check. I had pre-set the rally computer calibration wheels to match the rally organizer’s odometer, based on previous experience. So we didn’t have to make any adjustment at the 15 km odo check. That gave us extra time to try to figure out the instructions for Section 2, which were a bit tricky.

The section was based on a photocopy of a map on which several sections of road had been erased, along with the end-of-section map, which was in a different scale. We were supposed to follow the shortest possible route from start to end by using each missing section only once. Gary struggled for a long time, trying to plot the correct path, and never did figure it out. We took a Time Allowance of 3.5 minutes at the first checkpoint in the section, to compensate for this period spent puzzling over the route. Then we followed Gary’s best guess as to the correct route, until we were obviously off track. So we went to the end of section and started fresh on Section 3. When we arrived at a checkpoint, we assumed that we must have missed one and expected a 20 minute penalty as a result.

Before checking in with the control worker, I should have asked him which checkpoint number he was. When I looked at the sticker he gave me, I found that we had not missed a checkpoint and I could have simply requested a Time Allowance for about 10 minutes and been close to correct! That mistake basically determined our losing score for the entire rally. We finished Sections 3, 4 and 5 almost penalty-free, which were based on tulip diagrams and distance to turn type instructions. It turned out that the solution for Section 2 was simply to approach each intersection and look for the turning direction that would require us to take a road with a missing section. We ended up with a score of about 12.5, which was fourth in Expert class – not very satisfying, but it was a fun night regardless. Now we’re a little better prepared for the next ORRC event on June 4.

This turned out to be the last MCO rally of the season, because the organizer – Open Road Motorsports – cancelled the June and July events due to low attendance. Personally, I believe he should have warned people first that the series was in jeopardy, before cancelling the events. It would have given people a chance to declare their interest before pulling the rug out from under those who like these events.

ORRC No Winter Maintenance Rally – October 1, 2011

October 7th, 2011

The No Winter Maintenance rally was organized by the Subaru Performance Driving Association as a replacement for the First Frost rally held the last couple of Decembers. It is the eighth rally of the 2011 provincial season. The objective was to utilize better roads (i.e. more gravel), in a more rural setting and I’d say they succeeded admirably. The rally was centred in Flesherton, ON, which is only 40 km south of Georgian Bay and very rural in character. It’s hard to believe, but the Niagara Escarpment stretches all the way to this area and we were also on the back side of Blue Mountain, resulting in some excellent gravel side roads with lots of elevation changes and twisty bits.

Flesherton is almost 540 km from home in Ottawa, so we left Friday afternoon and went to stay at my friend’s house in Pickering – a drive of about four hours. He and his wife are very gracious and welcome us into their home whenever we need a rest stop en route to these distant ORRC events. After arriving there about 9:30 Friday night, we enjoyed some good cheer and chatter before retiring fairly early to rest up for a long day ahead. Saturday morning came pretty quickly and after a cup of coffee and more cheerful banter, we hit the road about 7:30 for the remaining two-hour drive. En route we passed through a huge wind farm, just north of Shelburne, which we had no idea existed. It was pretty impressive and led to all kinds of speculation about how much power was generated there, cost of construction, etc. When we arrived at Flesherton a little after 9:30, there was already a large crowd of rallyists lined up registration and staying warm inside the restaurant, since it was only 3 Celsius!

My chief competition for the Intermediate class crown could not attend due to some family commitments, but his co-driver (Perry) did come, with a new driver who had a lovely new Lotus Evora. They used Perry’s Ford Focus wagon in the rally, but we had a chance to examine the Evora before starting out. Although it’s cool that Lotus has a new model, I can’t say I’m in love with the styling – it’s an odd combination of curves and straight lines that doesn’t work for me.

Because they had twelve new teams entered in Novice class, they put both the Expert and Intermediate teams at the front, so we wouldn’t be held up along the way. We were given car number 3, so we got away at 11:03. We promptly missed the first turn, which came up quickly after the first side road! After turning around and undoing the odometer appropriately, we had no trouble reaching the odo check at around 13 kms. But the odometer correction factor was large, so I had to estimate how much to include for the mistake at the beginning. It turned out all right and the correction factor meant that I could run at, say, 70 km/h to achieve an average calibrated speed of about 65 km/h, which helped us avoid speeding tickets whenever I had to make up time. At the break, Perry told us that he was having a lot of trouble with their Terratrip rally computer, since it seemed to be malfunctioning and their distances and speeds were all off. This may have helped us in the end.

Section 2 was all simple tulip diagrams, in the correct sequence, so we had no trouble zeroing the first few controls. Or I thought we had. In the final scoring, I saw that we had been a minute early at the second one, which I don’t believe. The sub-section was only 5.2 minutes long and they claim that we finished it in 4.2 minutes. That suggests a 20% average speed error, which is highly unlikely. They also scored us one minute late at the next control, but that turned out to a scoring error, which didn’t affect the results. I must ensure in the future that I verify our “in times” at each checkpoint before I leave the checkpoint worker’s car. The third section was a series of tulip diagrams where we had to choose from three different tulips once we arrived at the intersection, which slowed us down a bit. They had put on intersection out of sequence, which caught us, and the intersection didn’t match any of the related diagrams in our opinion, so we got turned around a bit until we figured out where to go. Then we came to another intersection where none of the diagrams worked, but we kept going straight and it was the correct choice. In fact, they’d intentionally reversed the symbol for the stop sign at that corner, which we didn’t notice! I took a Time Allowance at the next control, which was enough to minimize the damage, as it turned out. Section four was a single large tulip diagram, covering about 20 kms, with which we had no trouble, as soon as we verified that we’d chosen the correct end of the diagram as the starting point.

There was a 45-minute break at the restaurant at the halfway point, at which we had time to learn that Perry and his partner were struggling with their odometer. But you can never be sure that Perry isn’t pulling your leg, crafty Englishman that he is. So we pressed on in the assumption that we had to continue to do our best in order to beat them. The rally organizers had provided free sandwiches and veggies, which was a nice treat. So were able to rest and re-fuel our bodies indoors (to stay warm), and get ready to leave again in relative comfort.

The first section after the break was a hand-drawn map without distances or road names, showing a symbol at each intersection – one each for straight, left and right. It was a simple matter of interpreting the symbols and following the directions at each intersection once we arrived at it. There was one intersection where the reality did not match the map, so we just kept going straight and it worked out fine.

Section 6 was a complex system of using map coordinates to identify certain points and then connecting them with a line. The place where the line crossed a road indicated where we should be going. It took Gary a while to figure it out and plot our route, so I waited after a checkpoint to give him time to do this, planning to take a corresponding Time Allowance at the next control.  That was fine, except that somehow we missed one of the turns, resulting in us driving around a bit before we got back on route. Then we came to a junction where it appeared that we had two equivalent choices, both of which would lead to the same place. So we and the car in front of us both took the first choice, which turned out to be the wrong one. We both missed a checkpoint on the second path! By the time we reached the next control, I had to take the maximum Time Allowance that we could, since we’d used up our allotment by then. It turned out to about 3 minutes short, but better than 18 minutes late.

The final section involved road counting, where each intersection carries a special number representing the number of roads you count – starting at zero for the road you’re on and proceeding clockwise (in this case), until you reach the number. As we progressed, the numbers got bigger and bigger, but there’s an easy way around this. At a four way intersection, the road you’re on is zero, four, eight and so on, so it’s easy to account for a number like 53. Likewise, at a three-way intersection, the road you’re on when you approach it is zero, three, six, etc., so it simplifies the math for a large number. Near the end of this section, we passed Perry and his driver going the wrong way, so we knew we might have a good chance of coming out ahead.

After checking in at the restaurant, we had loaded the car and chatted with a number of people before we left, and there was still no sign of Perry. We were given some brownies and cookies baked by one of the organizer’s mothers and hit the road a little after five o’clock. A couple of hours later we phoned him and got the results – we had won our class! Later I was able to look at the detailed results and found that Perry had a score almost three times as high as ours, so I guess they had major problems. We got home a little after eleven o’clock, after a 535 km drive – tired but satisfied with our performance. Next up is the President’s Prize rally in Peterborough in two weeks. We are still in the hunt for the championship, but we must win both of the remaining rallies to come out ahead, assuming that my chief competitor attends both.

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

August 22nd, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fiat FreakOut – 21-24 July 2011

August 14th, 2011

I decided to attend Fiat FreakOut this year – having missed the 2010 edition – despite the fact that it would be held in Nashville, TN. That would be a two-day trip each way, at about 1650 km and it would be very hot there in mid-July. I decided to trailer the Spider, since the truck has both cup holders and air conditioning, while the Fiat doesn’t enjoy running at prolonged high engine speeds in the intense heat.

Before departure date arrived, I spent at least three full days detailing the car to prepare it for the concours d’elegance. I polished the paint and then I waxed and buffed it. I went over all of the black rubber and vinyl pieces with Armor-All and polished all of the chrome. By the time I was finished, the car looked and felt better than it ever had and I would be proud to show it. The weather began to get very hot in Ottawa, reaching the mid-30’s Celsius and mimicking the weather forecast for Nashville. I would get no respite from our northern heat wave, but at least I would have air conditioning. I packed a good selection of T-shirts, collared short sleeve shirts and shorts – as well as my swimming suit – to be prepared for the heat.

When Wednesday morning finally arrived, the car was already on the trailer and a collection of cleaning supplies and towels was packed in the truck, along with the usual selection of tools and equipment. I left home a few minutes before 8 AM, looking forward to a trip down the familiar route of I-81 and I-90 towards Columbus, OH.  I was making good time and everything was going smoothly until I reached the US border. The guard gave me a peculiar look and asked me whether I’d ever been the subject of a “vehicle inspection”. Initially I didn’t know what he meant, connecting the word “inspection” with safety regulations or the like. But of course what he really meant was a “search”. Well, I had not and I don’t think it would have stopped him if I had. My number had come up in the randomness of the computerized process, so I had to park the truck and hand over the keys. However, it was a painless process at it turned out. By the time I’d walked into the customs building, filled out a declaration and returned, the four guards who had been waiting for me had finished their inspection and I was free to go. It simply cost me ten minutes on my total trip.

From there to Syracuse it was smooth sailing and the temperature crept up into the high 20’s C. By the time I got onto the NY State Thruway, I was ready to be cooled off with the truck’s handy air conditioning. I turned it on, but the desired effect didn’t last long. After a short while I realized that the cool air was actually just air blowing on me – not cool at all. Of course I tried the usual idiot tricks of turning it off and on again, adjusting the fan speed and vent setting, but nothing I did made a difference. When I stopped at a service area for fuel and relief, I heard strange grinding noises coming from under the hood. When I looked at the belt, it seemed fine, but something – likely the A/C compressor – was not rotating silently. Ironically, I had brought along two spare serpentine belts (not knowing precisely the length required), just in case the belt failed. But it looked as though I would have a more serious repair to make and it wouldn’t be at the side of the road!

So I soldiered on all the way to Lexington, OH – the home of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – where I had a reservation at the Days Inn. Somewhere around Cleveland I phone my friend Denise, who would be at FFO, to ask for help in finding a dealership in Nashville that could do the repair on Friday. Like the good friend that she is, she phoned back in a half hour or so with the name and number of the closest Chrysler dealer – Gary Mathews Chrysler in Antioch, TN. I phoned them and arranged an appointment for first thing Friday morning and I planned to get directions from the hotel, although the service representative described some simple directions over the phone.  Feeling better about that problem, I continued to Lexington, by now absolutely bathed in perspiration from the extreme heat.

When I checked into the Days Inn a few minutes after 7 PM, I inspected the trailer and found some fluid under the Fiat’s right rear wheel area, a few inches inboard of the hub. It didn’t have an odour and didn’t feel oily, but I wondered if I’d damaged a brake line when I attached the trailer straps to the axle. The only other source of fluid in that area is the shock absorber and I couldn’t imagine why it would be leaking, especially something that felt like water. It remains a mystery to be solved after I get home. While checking in, there was a bit of a problem finding my reservation in the computer. The woman who I had spoken to was very soft spoken and I suspect her hearing wasn’t too good either. She had misspelled my name and shown my home address as Connecticut. When I told the East Indian manager that I had just been in CT the previous week, he said “You’re freaking me out, man!” in his best put-on Indian accent. Later we had a good laugh about it over a smoke and agreed that comedian Russell Peters is a pretty funny guy.

Thursday morning I got up early and left Lexington around 6:30, so I could get to Nashville in the early afternoon and have time to cool off. The traffic in Columbus was very heavy, since it was the morning commute, and the drivers there are very aggressive. I just stayed in my lane and did the speed limit, letting them work around me. Cincinnati was not nearly so bad and I was amazed yet again by the five levels of curving overpasses that criss-cross the waterways outside of Three Rivers Stadium. Someone had to be very creative to design such a traffic pattern in free space, elevated at least 70 feet above the water. I had forgotten that you enter Kentucky while still within sight of the Stadium – people there must have strange mailing addresses, being in Cincinnati, OH and Kentucky at the same time.

The interstate between the city and Kentucky Speedway was under heavy construction, with traffic limited to one lane. That might help explain why so many people had trouble getting to the recent Nascar race there. I stopped for gas and refreshments at Bowling Green, right across the street from the Corvette factory and flea market, and behind the National Corvette museum, but didn’t do any shopping. While in that area, the temperature on the truck’s thermometer hit 36 C! Around 2:30 I arrived at the Sheraton Music City hotel in Nashville, having had no problems with the directions from Mapquest. The total distance from home was 1640 km, which I travelled at an average speed of just under 90 km/h, using fuel at the rate of 18.7 L/100 km.

I met up with several guys I already knew, including Dave, Craig, Mike, Gary (Pope), Tony, Lee and some new people. There were at least 15-20 new Fiat 500’s scattered around the front and rear of the hotel, plus a large outdoor arrangement of furniture designed to look like a bistro, which was situated in the rear parking lot. All of this had been arranged by Fiat corporate, as part of their contribution to sponsoring FreakOut. The group decided not to take one of the available shuttle buses into downtown Nashville to sample the bar scene, opting instead for several separate outings to local restaurants in small clusters of friends. Dave and I waited for Denise and Mike to finish working at the FLU goodie store and the registration desk and six of us went to a nice local steakhouse for supper around 8:30. By the time we finished and returned to the hotel, I had had enough and went to bed earlier than some, knowing that I had to get up early to get the truck repaired.

Friday morning I left the hotel around 7 AM and drove to Gary Mathews Chrysler, in Antioch. I had used Mapquest in the hotel in OH so I had a pretty good idea of how to find them, but I had to stop in a gas station to get the last ¼ mile of directions because the dealership was down a road that looked rural at first, but which turned into a newer commercial/industrial area. The people there were very friendly and helpful and I had a good chat with the shuttle driver when he returned me to the hotel around 8:45. I just had time to talk to a few people before it was time to leave in a convoy for the Lane Motor Museum.

The FFO agenda included a trip to this museum partly because they had bought the first new Fiat 500 that had been brought to the US by our Irish friend Jim in 2008 and subsequently driven across the country and back on an epic journey. The shuttle driver had told me the easiest way to find the museum, in case I was too late for the convoy, but we followed a different route that used more thruways and added some unnecessary complexity. Nevertheless, we got there safely and the weather was already heating up considerably. We all parked behind the building and did what we could to minimize the sun’s damage to our interiors.

The first car we saw stopped us in our tracks and was the subject of much conversation and gentle teasing directed at me. It was an early ‘70’s Porsche 911T that had obviously been rolled, wrecked, burned and stripped of usable parts, which was sitting abandoned in the parking lot. It was a pretty sad sight and I hope the museum was simply waiting for the scrap metal truck to remove it. There’s no way that car should be considered for restoration! We all filed into the museum and began walking around and photographing the numerous cars, motorcycles and airplanes on display.

The Lane Museum has one of the most eclectic collections of vehicles I’ve ever seen. The accompanying pictures tell a better story than I can, but there is everything from famous race cars (and replicas thereof) to the largest collection of micro-cars imaginable. There are three Tatras, multiple Fiats, a couple of Renault Alpines, several late forties MG’s, a replica of Paul Newman’s Datsun 240Z race car, a midget sprint car, numerous motorcycles, a Citroen with two drive trains and steering wheels that can go in either direction, a home-made wooden car, etc. It’s interesting, but not for everyone.

After looking around thoroughly and having the included lunch, I decided that I’d seen enough and left early. It was blistering hot, so when I got back to the hotel I delayed my shower long enough to wash and detail my car, since I was drenched in sweat already. On the way to the museum I saw the Brake warning light flickering, although the brakes were working just fine. When I checked, I found that the fluid level was a bit low, which I attributed to the very high temperatures. This continued the next day since I had no fluid with which to top up the reservoir, but it was never a problem.

After washing the car I cleaned myself up and went looking for Dave or someone else who might be willing to come with me in the Fiat to pick up the truck, since they had phoned to tell me it would be ready at 5 o’clock. The shuttle driver said he couldn’t be sure he’d be able to get to the hotel early enough to guarantee that I’d arrive at the dealership before closing, so I needed a back-up plan.  Many of my friends had taken the scenic drive after leaving the museum and I couldn’t find anyone I knew to help out, so I decided to take a taxi in order to avoid any last minute stress about getting the truck back. The taxi ride cost about $35 but the peace of mind was worth it. I only waited about 10 minutes after reaching the dealership until the truck appeared and I was presented with a bill for slightly more than $1000 US – about what I had expected.

After returning to the hotel, I found the rest of the gang hanging around lobby, trying to stay cool. Around 6 o’clock we migrated towards the pool/patio area where a buffet meal would be served following a complimentary bar. Dave and I grabbed a beer at the bar and found a large table with many of our friends. That table continued to expand with the addition of more friends and more tables, until there were at least 20 of us there. Afterwards, we heard others refer to it as “the fun table”, since it was full of some pretty notable characters that many people know from the forums as the more experienced and helpful members. At one point I said that I felt like a member of multiple regional chapters, including Detroit, West Michigan, Indianapolis and Chicago. The buffet dinner was pretty good, although the line-up was long, and the beer kept flowing during a couple of short speeches from our club executive.

After dinner, we all retired to the dedicated parking lot, where people were arranging their cars so they would be facing the temporary inflatable movie screen where the The Italian Job would be shown after dark. People were also milling around Lee’s pop-up canopy and station wagon, where he was mixing up batch after batch of mean margaritas. Most of the “fun table” crowd was there and great conversation was flowing, along with the drinks. I wandered over to where I had parked, as I could see some work lights and people standing by watching something. It turned out that two young guys from Oklahoma were trying to change the guibo (driveshaft rubber donut), in their ’78 Spider. They had the front tires up on the curb and a jack under the rear, but only one jack stand to support the rear. Since I had a full tool chest in the truck, I asked them if they needed any help and they said a second jack stand would be useful. So I went up to the other parking lot and drove my truck down close to them, bringing my jack stand down to their car. They carried on gratefully and finished changing the guibo by the time the movie had ended. They were very lucky that one of the suppliers had brought one along, which they were able to use.

Having seen the movie more than once before, many of us just wandered around making conversation, while a number of the newer members sat in their cars or on lawn chairs and stared at the screen. The sound was being piped over a radio frequency, so they could use their radios to listen along. Whenever I looked at the screen, I found it hard to see the picture clearly, since it wasn’t really dark enough. But they seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I guess it was acceptable. Around 11 o’clock I’d had enough and the guibo job was finished, so I packed up my truck, moved it back to the trailer’s parking spot and called it a night.

Saturday morning dawned clear and hot – again. I made some coffee in my room and wandered down to the parking lot, to begin preparations for the drive to the show field. A few people were frantically washing and polishing their cars, but since I’d already done that, I simply wiped it off and buffed up a few spots that needed some attention. They had free coffee and donuts (the edible kind), available, so I helped myself and started chatting with Bernie and his wife who are from Baltimore. The organizers began marshalling people for the drive to the Parthenon a little ahead of schedule, to spread out the arrival of all of the cars at the staging area for the show field. Bernie’s wife loaned me a cup holder that would hook over the glove box door so I could finish my coffee and we set out in a parade of about 10-15 cars.

We had a drive of about 20 minutes to the other side of downtown Nashville, so of course traffic lights interrupted our parade a couple of times. Since I didn’t have a co-driver, I was relying on others to lead the way but suddenly I found myself at the front of the train with only a sketchy idea of the directions and a brief description in the event pamphlet. When part of the train peeled off on what I believed was the wrong portion of a multiple exit from the freeway, I was truly out there leading the blind! But with a little bit of horn tooting, some hollered directions and a switch to a two-person car to lead the pack (Shaun F. and his family), we eventually navigated our way to the Parthenon field. It is quite a site, being situated in the heart of Dixie – a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Greece, constructed of huge stone blocks. I believe it was built to celebrate Nashville’s centenary, but why they chose that particular design is beyond me. The show field was a very large flat lawn that is part of a municipal park and was open to the public, but not to their cars.

We staged at the entrance to the field and waited (in the shade of some welcome trees), while the organizers finished staking out the field with little flags to mark where they wanted the rows of cars to be parked. Eventually they got it done and beckoned each of us to drive over to the photographer’s location where individual photos were taken of our cars with the Parthenon in the background. The pictures are good, but the building is so big that the cars and people all look very small in the foreground. They had organized the field to group cars of each model and vintage together, so I was directed to a place where all of the ’75-’78 Spiders would be located. As it turned out, I was the first of my group, so I got a great spot at the end of a row near where the vendor displays and food service would be. People would be able to see the entire left side of my car from a distance, as well as up close, while the other cars in my group were parked close to one another and harder to appreciate.

I was quite happy with this arrangement, since it gave me a chance to show my car to its best advantage. After everyone else had parked, I unloaded my trunk and placed all of the non-essentials under the rear of the car. I displayed a provenance sheet on the windshield, along with my official show card, and laid out my tool kit, owner’s manuals and a copy of my book in the open trunk. I looked over the other five cars in my group and felt pretty good about my chances to win a prize, maybe even first place. One of the cars was the two young guys who had replaced their guibo and that car was still a restoration in progress, with a pretty rusty hood and trunk lid and a body desperately in need of significant work. Another car was not very clean and had major rust on its rear chrome bumper. The other three were nice examples, but each had significant flaws, such as body dents, scratches, mismatched interior bits, dirty engine bays, etc.

After all of the cars were parked, we waited quite a while for the photographer on the scaffolding to declare that were ready to shoot the panoramic photo. At this point, all hoods and trunks had to be closed and people were expected to stand by their cars. Getting the pictures taken was like herding cats, but we finally settled down enough to get it done. From then on, everyone spent the next couple of hours wandering around admiring the various cars, the vendor displays and the scenery, and lining up for some pretty good pizza and cold drinks. We all voted for the cars in our respective classes and handed in our ballots, having endured the mandatory speeches from the club executive. Around 2 o’clock people started to drift off, some of them going on a scenic drive of downtown Nashville and the rest of us returning to the hotel. It was so hot that I simply wanted to find somewhere to cool down.

I returned to the hotel, loaded the car on the trailer and immediately changed and headed for the pool. Many of the gang from the “fun table” had the same idea, so we resumed our conversations and camaraderie in the water, grateful for the respite from the heat of the day. After showering and changing, I wandered down to the lobby to stay cool and talk with whoever happened to be there. Between multiple conversations and browsing the vendor room, I killed enough time to fill the gap before the banquet was scheduled to begin. Dave and I lined up and entered the banquet hall, but found that the “fun table” gang had already filled one table of eight, so we started another one. We were joined by Shaun and his family from Indianapolis and another couple, so we got to know each other a bit while having drinks and then lined up for the buffet.

While waiting in line, Bobb (yes, two “b’s”; one of the club’s founders), brought over Laura Soave and her entourage and asked me to shepherd her through the buffet line. She is the head of Fiat USA and seemed like a pretty nice lady, although she has a twangy, high-pitched NY City accent that’s a bit hard to take in person. She mentioned that she has relatives in London, ON and we were starting to get comfortable talking to each other, when Shaun F. came over with his little daughter and asked Laura to step out of line for a minute to talk to his family. Shaun bought the first Fiat 500 in the US and has had many photo ops with Laura, so she was happy to oblige. Later on during the dinner, Shaun came over to our table and apologized to me for interrupting our conversation, as though he thought I was hitting on Laura or something! That was pretty funny to me – I’m old enough to be her father!

Through dinner I was seated next to a fellow named Ed Zabinkski, who races professionally with Level5 Motorsports and The Racers Group and coaches drivering at Road Atlanta. He knows Mark Wilkins well and we shared several stories about the different tracks we’ve driven. After the usual speeches – again – from the club executive and Laura – we were ready to hear about the winner’s of the concours d’elegance. They started with the oldest Spiders, so I didn’t have to wait long before they got to my group. They announced the third place winner, then the second place winner and I was poised to stand up to go to the front receive my award for first place. But it wasn’t me! I was shocked and disappointed! I don’t know which cars won each place, but I couldn’t believe that I had won nothing at all! My car was the only all-original Spider; attracted many viewers and compliments from people outside of our group; and it showed extremely well. I had prepared it as well as I possibly could and it has never been cleaner or shiner. But I won nothing. I was really disappointed and ticked off at the process. So as soon as I could, I left the banquet hall and went to bed, where it took me a while to eventually fall asleep.

Sunday morning I woke early, packed my stuff and left long before everyone else was up or the special breakfast had begun. I was on the road at 6:15 AM and made it to Willoughby, OH around 4:45 – a distance of 860 km, averaging about 90 km/h. Throughout the trip I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why my car hadn’t been chosen for any prize. I concluded that the voting process has a major flaw. Since there were only six cars in my class, it would take only two members to elect a winner for each prize, if everyone else voted for their own cars. I don’t know how many votes I got for first place – other than my own – but I was surprised that the young guys from OK didn’t support me, since I had helped them and they had admired my car Friday night. But if two of the others agreed to vote for one of their cars and everyone else voted for their own, that would do it. So I have become as philosophical about it as I can, but it still irks me that the process can work this way.

Monday morning I left Willoughby around 7 o’clock and crossed the border at Buffalo, since there were radio announcements that the NY State Thruway was closed north of Watkins Glen due to a car fire. This detour added about 65 km to my trip, but it saved me about a half hour, since the border crossing was faster and I didn’t have to slow down for toll booths or construction zones. There was a major thunder storm in the Buffalo – Niagara Falls area and the heat wave broke – finally. The temperature dropped at least 10 degrees in about 15 minutes and it was a welcome change. I had rain from Kingston until highway 416 and then it cleared up for last dash to my home. The total trip was 1705 km, in which I averaged 18.8 L/100 km and about 90 km/h. I may attend another FreakOut in the future, but only if it’s a lot closer to home. That’s a long way to go for such disappointment, notwithstanding the good friends I have met through the club.

Photos are available at  http://s229.photobucket.com/albums/ee234/kilrwail/Fiat%20FreakOut%202011/#!cpZZ1QQtppZZ24

Lime Rock Park – July 15, 2011

July 17th, 2011

The last track on my “bucket list” of traditional race tracks in the North East was Lime Rock Park. I had been planning to go there in 2009, but engine failures got in the way. So I was really looking forward to getting there finally this year, as well as looking forward to the road trip to Connecticut. I has visited that beautiful state several times with my family as a boy and I remember it fondly as a place of rolling hillsides and a green environment. I had visited Lime Rock about 20 years ago for a sports car race, but had never been on the track.

I decided to drive there the day before and stay at a nearby inn for just one night. I would come home the evening after the Driver’s Ed event had finished, getting home around midnight. The car had been on my trailer for a day and a half before leaving, so I could use the garage to polish and wax the Fiat Spider before going to Fiat Freak-Out in Nashville the following week. I had just finished stripping out the back seat area of the Porsche in preparation for the installation of racing seats and harnesses, as well as a four-point roll bar. It looked really good with the gloss red bare metal in the back, but a little odd with stock seats and no roll bar. That would be rectified by a local shop run by a friend of mine during my trip to Nashville.

I left home around 9:30 Thursday morning, planning to get to Lime Rock around 5 PM, to unload and check into the inn. When I crossed the border, the guard thought he was a comedian. After asking me the usual questions about where I live and where I was going, he said “How did the headlight on the race car get broken?” I said “WHAT?” and he laughed – just joking. Along the way past Watertown and all the way to near Albany, I kept seeing a steady stream of street rods, customs and restored ‘30’s to ‘60’s cars heading north and west. I suspect there was a show at Alexandria Bay, NY but I haven’t been able to confirm it. On the way home, I saw many of the same cars heading east across NY state.

I arrived at the track a little after 4:30, having travelled 610 km. After unloading in a great paddock spot near the tower, I went out to find the Inn at White Hollow Farms, which turned out to be less than a mile from the track. It’s an unusual place, since there was no staff to be seen – ever! There was an envelope taped to the front door with my name on it and a key inside. When I “checked out” the next day, I simply left the key on a hall table near the front door. The inn is a very old white clapboard structure which is in excellent condition. The room was very nicely finished and decorated, with high quality fittings, nice carpentry and lots of fluffy towels. But the bed must have been from the pioneer days, since it was less than six feet long! So I had to sleep diagonally.

I went looking for a place to eat supper and found the Black Rabbit Bar & Grille in Lakeville, just a couple of miles from the track. The whole area is quite beautiful, with rolling hills, a mixture of country estates, horse farms and golf courses, and lots of woods. Speed limits are low and the lifestyle appears quite relaxed and peaceful. While having a meal of New England clam chowder and blackened chicken quesedea, a couple arrived and took a table near me. From what I could see, the young woman was extremely attractive and seemed very down-to-earth – clearly the prettiest girl in the place. The next day at the track, I saw her again – in her red 1977 Corvette with the vanity plate STACYS77 – while she visited with some of the staff at the coffee bar. It was my pleasure J

Passing through Lime Rock village on my way to the track from the inn, I could see why there is no racing there on Sundays. The highway bisects the village and the race track is immediately behind the row of houses along the south side of the road. Right across the road from the track’s administration building and main spectator gate is a large, old, stone church and cemetery. Clearly there would be a major problem if race cars were tearing down the front straight during services! I drove to the nearby village of Sharon, CT to find a gas station for the truck and to get some coffee; and then arrived at the track a little after 7 AM on Friday.

I had parked next to two guys who were regulars at the track, named Jeff (2007 Porsche GT3) and Scott (996 Turbo), and got to know them pretty well while waiting for registration to open. Subsequently, I met two other guys on the other side of me named Jim (Cayman) and Bob (can’t remember what) who were also regulars. When I registered, I discussed again with Susan the registrar (also an instructor), the need for me to have Al (full name Alphonse, whom I know from Le Circuit and who lives in Vermont) with me for the first stint, to show me the line around the track. He hadn’t arrived yet, but after a while I saw him come in and went over to renew acquaintances. Another Italian fellow named Tony arrived and parked next to Al and they referred to each other as “goomba”. Al agreed to ride with me and we set it up for 10 o’clock, the time of the first stint for my run group. I checked the tire pressures, cleaned the windshield, attended the drivers’ meeting and then waited. The day was being shared with the Lime Rock Club, so we only had the track every other hour, for three runs of twenty minutes per group, with the club using the track for the alternating hours. But there were four stints of twenty minutes each scheduled throughout the day, with no specific lunch break built in. So the amount of track time was the same as it would have been at a normal DE with additional run groups for instructed novices and solo novices.

Lime Rock is a very short track, of only 1.5 miles. Here’s a typical lap. Leaving the pit lane, stay completely to the right of the blend line all the way to Turn 1 (Big Bend) while in third gear (in my car). Tap the brakes and turn in to the right fairly sharply, riding at or on the edge of the curbing well past the first apex. Allow the car to move a few feet to the left as you maintain steady speed, then lift the throttle slightly to cause the rear end to rotate to the left, which will point the nose towards the second apex (Turn 2) on the right before the exit. Apply full throttle from there to the exit on track left and accelerate down the short chute towards Turn 3, crossing the track to about ¾ of the way towards the right hand side. Brake firmly in a straight line and look around the Left Hander (Turn 3) to the exit, which is against the curbing on the left side. Turn 3 is a slow corner of about 90 degrees and the exit is critical to set up for Turn 4 – the Right Hander.

Apply full power at the apex of Turn 4 and exit almost all the way to the left, maintaining that steering arc past the exit to set up for the twisty bit between Turn 4 and the Uphill (Turn 5) – called No Name Straight. There’s a right and then a left that require only tiny steering inputs to set up for the straight line approach to The Uphill. Upshift to fourth about 100 yards short of the turn-in point and tap the brakes before turning right earlier than you first think you should. The compression of the uphill section immediately after the turn-in allows you to carry far more speed than you could if the corner was flat. The hill climbs at least 30 feet (if not more) and when you reach the crest you should be just left of the centre of the track, with the steering wheel straight. The car will get very light at the crest and you don’t want to be still turning the wheel, or a quick adjustment will be required as you clear the crest. You’re at full throttle now and going slightly downhill towards Turn 6 (West Bend), along a short straight of about 200 yards. Touch the brakes medium firmly and turn to the right (again), looking through the corner at the marshal’s stand just before the overhead bridge. Get on the gas hard at the apex and track out all the way to the left edge; and stay there all the way down the hill into… you guessed it, the Downhill (Turn 7).

Everybody – except Le Mans prototype drivers – brakes for the Downhill, finishing the braking just before the turn-in point at the bottom of the hill. The compression at the bottom of the hill allows you to carry a lot of speed through here, also because there’s a small amount of positive camber at the apex. Look well down the track along the left side, to the end of the tire barrier, to ensure that you use the whole track for your exit. You’re on the gas fully from the Apex of Turn 7 all the way down the front straight past the start/finish line towards Big Bend. In my car, I was reaching an indicated 190 km/h and the newer cars were much faster here. Start your braking for Turn 1 around the 3 or 2 sign, gearing down to third and trail braking into the apex for Turn 1. Leave your turn-in well past the cone on the left, so you can late apex Turn 1 and get into the right position for trailing throttle oversteer to help you with Turn 2.

My best laps were about one minute, fourteen seconds. The fast guys were trying to break 1:03, while the professionals in LMP and Gran-Am prototypes are down around 50 seconds – and they use two chicanes at the Uphill and West Bend! After my first stint with Al in the right seat, I felt confident that I could remember the turns and the lines, especially since there are only seven and they’re all right handers except one! So I had two good solo stints after that, improving my times as much as I could when there was less traffic. But because there were 25 cars in my White group and the track is so short, there were very few instances where I wasn’t being passed (being the oldest, slowest car in the group). Passing is permitted between all corners except 1 & 2 and 6 & 7, despite the short length of some of those “straights”, so it was pretty busy all of the time. I think I had only one lap in which I wasn’t passed at all. In my last stint, someone was out in a Lotus Exige, being instructed, and I was able to pass them right after the Uphill. That was the only time!

Overall I did about 39 laps (94 km) in one hour of track time. It was a long way to go for only an hour on track, but I’m glad I made the trip. When I started driving on track in 2007, I didn’t have a “bucket list” of all the tracks I wanted drive. But I soon realized that I should try to visit all of the traditional race tracks in the northeast and I have now done that. I wouldn’t mind visiting Lime Rock again – partly because it’s so pretty there – but I would have to combine it with a trip to another track for it to make sense. It got pretty hot that day and I was glad to get into my shorts for the drive home, but the car ran perfectly and all of the instrumented indicators were within spec – although the oil temperature approached 120 C in the last stint. Two of my new friends – Jeff and Scott – had tire troubles that ended their days prematurely. Jeff’s right front Hoosier slick developed a crack in its outside shoulder through which we could see the cords, which is odd because it’s very lightly loaded for most of a lap. Fortunately he had trailered his car and was able to load it without difficulty for the drive back to New York City. Scott developed a flat tire in his left rear and when I loaned him my jack to raise and remove the tire, we found that it had delaminated halfway around – a well used Michelin Pilot Sport. He was able to borrow a wheel and tire from a colleague and use that for the drive to Hartford, instead of using the inflatable spare. So I got off easy, the only maintenance being tire pressure adjustments. I didn’t even have to add fuel, since I had started the day with about 60% of a tank of mixed 91 and 109 octane.

I decided to leave the track after three stints, at around 3:30, so I would get home at a decent hour. Had I stayed until the end, I would have been two hours later and more tired, so I think it was the right decision. I took a different route when I left Lime Rock, heading due north into Massachusetts to hook up with the Mass Pike. Once there, I passed into the Berkshire Hills, so now I know where that is. I stopped a couple of times for a rest and once for a meal, but I still got home in just over seven hours. The trip was a total of 1285 km and I averaged 18.7 L/100 km fuel consumption, which is pretty good. I left the car on the trailer overnight and unpacked the next morning, happy to be back in my own full-size bed. This was the last DE that I would do with the stock seats and safety harnesses. Now I will have two race seats, six-point harnesses and a roll bar installed. Can’t wait to try them out!

Videos are available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vv1GZuUXKc

And at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSTqRzRGbRU

Blossom ORRC Rally – 4 Jun 2011

July 17th, 2011

This event was a complete bust! But we finished in second place in Intermediate class.

We arrived 45 minutes before the rally was to begin, because Gary was 20 minutes late to my house.

By the time we unloaded and registered, we barely had enough time to choke down a sandwich before starting out.

First couple of sections were not difficult, but we missed a turn due to inattention and took a 6.5 minute TA.

Section 5 was a line drawing of map that could be read correctly if viewed through the back of the page (it was drawn backwards). No streets were labelled nor were distances given. A road had been closed due to wind damage subsequent to the organizer’s inspection, so we had to guess which way to go. We missed a checkpoint due to the route change.

Section 6 instruction sheet was missing from our package, as well as the other Intermediate team’s. We had no clue what route to follow – only the beginning and end points – so we missed at least one checkpoint.

Started to hear a faint grinding noise around section 4 and it got progressively louder. By the time we were totally frustrated with section 6 and the missing instruction, I was reasonably certain it was the left front wheel bearing. So we went to the end of section 7, which an intermediate break point. All our friends were already there, so I borrowed Perry’s floor jack and raised the front of the car. Tim asked me which side while I was jacking and he immediately tried to rock the left tire. Then he spun it and we could all hear the ball bearings rolling around like so many marbles in a fish tank.

So our rally was done and I went into damage control mode. There were only two teams in Intermediate, so all we had to do was collect the remaining two route cards, enter a finishing time on each, and hand them in at the end of rally point, which is where the rally began. We took the most direct route to the end point and handed in the cards. By the time we’d loaded the car, Tim and Perry had completed the second leg and they said the instructions had not gotten any easier, having missed two checkpoints themselves.

So we should have been scored in second place unless their car broke down completely, but our score will be very high – probably 150 or so. It almost feels like “start and park” in Nascar! At least we got home around 10:30, instead of 2 AM.

As it turned out, we were scored in second place, so now we’re one point behind our rivals in class. We’ll have to step it up a notch next time out in August. I have since replaced both the front wheel bearings and the car is running perfectly.

Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant June 24-26, 2011

June 28th, 2011

After touring Mid-Ohio, Virginia International, Mosport and Watkins Glen, plus a couple of days at Calabogie, it was time to visit my alma mater – Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant – where I got my first taste of track driving in 1991 with the Jim Russell school. I really enjoy driving that track, in part because of the fond memories I have of the school and also because it is a challenging track to drive quickly. This was going to be a three-day event and I was looking forward to applying all that I’d learned at these other venues about how hard I could push the car in different situations. For example, I now had a much better appreciation of how accelerating through a turn simply gives the car more grip and allows even greater cornering speeds, albeit with increased body roll.

I had been to Le Circuit already for a one-day private event at the beginning of the month, but it hadn’t been a good day because I was tired and the track was covered with marbles and loose sand/stones which my worn-out front tires picked up too easily. This time around I had much higher expectations, since I had new front tires and I would be arriving the night before the event, to get a good night’s sleep. I left home around 2:30 PM for the 2-1/2 hour drive and got to the track a few minutes after five. There had been a group of motorcyclists using the facility during the day and they were all packing up to leave when I pulled into the paddock. A few miles before I arrived, I passed a biker going the opposite direction and he gave me a low biker’s salute, once he saw the Porsche on my trailer. I guess he must have been a track junkie too.

Through the evening, it started to get a little cool and windy and the drizzle started before nightfall. It would last until Sunday morning! This wasn’t a surprise, since the forecast for the weekend had been wet, but I was hoping the forecasters might have been wrong, just as they had been for my trip to Watkins Glen. But it was not meant to be.

Friday morning I was up at 6 after a restful night and I arrived at the track around 7 o’clock after my Egg McMuffin and coffee. I went through the tech line early and registered, bumping into a few people that I knew. I checked the duty roster and was happy to find that I had no staging or tech line duties assigned for that day. In fact, I had no duties all weekend, which was a bonus. After the usual drill at the drivers’ meeting, my run group (the Blue group), was scheduled to take the track at 9:20 and the rain was coming down lightly, but steadily. About fifteen of us went out and gingerly felt our way around the track, dodging puddles and learning the very low cornering limits of our tires. All of the four stints on Friday were like this and I didn’t bother mounting the video camera because the laps were so slow. There was free beer on offer at the end of the day, but I didn’t stay for it, since it wouldn’t be much fun standing in the cold rain. I had a quiet evening in the hotel, after picking up a sandwich and some snacks, when I spent some time reading my library book.

Overnight the street outside the hotel dried a bit and I thought things might be looking up. But by the time I finished my morning ablutions, the rain had started again and the day looked as though it would be a repeat of Friday. This time, my first stint was at 10:00 AM and the track was quite wet. On one lap, I tried entering the 180 degree Carousel about one percent faster than I had before. I discovered that my seat-of-the-pants speedometer was pretty accurate, as the car started fishtailing halfway through the corner. I was able to catch and correct the spin, just like driving in the snow, and carried on without leaving the asphalt. But it was a good lesson in judging speeds – trust your instincts! I had the video camera running and was planning to save and share that near miss, but I forgot to turn off the camera and the memory card filled up with useless footage. I decided I’d better erase it so I could record another, drier stint at some point, since I had not brought the laptop computer to download anything from the camera.

The next two stints were surprisingly dry, due to a break in the weather and the efforts of other run groups in drying the line. I had enough camera battery left to record one good stint before lunch and that’s the only video I took away from the weekend, for reasons I will explain later. I was pushing pretty hard and felt that I’d at least matched last year’s best laps and when I reviewed the video at home, I found that I had been right. My best lap in that stint was a 2:14, compared to 2:15 last year. On Sunday I would go even faster but I don’t have video evidence.  The fourth stint on Saturday was in the rain again, so the edge was gone and we were back to very careful driving in pretty slippery conditions. At the end of the day, Speedmerchants hosted a barbeque in mostly dry conditions, which was a great social benefit.

I spoke to Bob – our DE chair and former Chief Instructor – about getting a check ride the next day to evaluate my promotion to black. I asked him if he could come out with me at some point and he said “No!”, to which I responded, “Well screw you!” His tone had been very curt and we’ve joked before about how he may or may not enjoy driving with me. He can be sarcastic at times, with good intentions. But this time, he was just a little stressed because everyone wanted something from him.  So he suggested a few other instructors who could do the job in his place, which surprised me because I understood that he had said earlier that either he or Bruce (the Chief Instructor), had to evaluate all candidates for Black. I went with the flow and said I would choose one of them; then the rain started so I left for the hotel. The next morning, he apologized and spent some extra effort assuring me that someone else could stand in for him. We also talked about a few tricky lines on the track, such as the entry to the esses. I was pleased that he had realized his faux pas and tried to make it right.

Saturday night we had a really torrential downpour around 9 o’clock. I was standing outside under the hotel’s main entrance overhang, talking to a fellow from Quebec City whom I’d just met. The rain was just teeming down and I learned when I got home that some people had experienced basement flooding from it. My great neighbor had taken the trouble to verify that my sump pump was keeping up. He also reported that my eaves troughs were overflowing in a couple of places, so I have to unplug them to correct that.

Needless to say, the track was soaked on Sunday morning, but the clouds showed some signs of breaking up as our 10 o’clock start time approached. As the weather began to clear, we all felt more comfortable standing around and getting to know one another, rather than hiding under some kind of shelter from the rain. One of my colleagues from Calabogie was there and we were in the same run group, so we enjoyed sharing stories after each stint. Also, an old friend from my Bell days was there for his first Rennsport event – he had been at Calabogie for the Mark Motors day, when we rode together. It was interesting witnessing both his familiarity with the track and his skills progress throughout the weekend. We were parked next to a group of guys that I knew by reputation, a few of whom I had met before, and we got to know one another much better. At one point we were all standing around my engine while I described the past failures and what I learned (and from whom), to improve the durability of this one. It was like a mini engine clinic in the paddock, with me as host. There was another fellow there whom I’ve gotten to know a bit in the past, named Ken. His brother Derek was also there and recently they both have bought GT3’s –Derek’s a brand new model! They’re both manufacturers’ reps for high growth equipment lines and sales are obviously very good. I followed Derek for a lap or two in Blue and was pleasantly surprised that I could keep up with him. But of course his car was new and he was still learning to respect and control it – in that order.

By the time 10 o’clock rolled around, the track had dried in most places and we were able to push pretty hard while the drying process finished. I applied a couple of the points I had been discussing with Bob and pressed harder everywhere else, so I know my lap times were lower. In the second stint just before lunch, we barely got halfway through our first lap when one of our colleagues in a GT3 lost a rear wheel (completely!), causing a red flag and a temporary wait in pit lane. I think his wheels were of the centre-lock variety, which requires an enormous amount of torque to seat properly. Once we got moving again, my driving was very fast and I was very happy with my lines. I had already spoken to an instructor named Dave, whom Bob had suggested for my Blue-to-Black check ride. We hadn’t gone out together yet because of the damp conditions, but hoped to do so after lunch.

When that time rolled around, I picked Dave up in the paddock and started to drive towards staging. He tested the three-point safety belt in the passenger seat and couldn’t get it to lock. So for safety reasons, he wouldn’t accompany me. I took the stint anyway and afterwards disassembled the belt’s mechanism to try to fix the problem. The mechanism wasn’t broken or visibly worn and seemed to work properly when I put it back together, but when Dave tried it later it still wouldn’t work reliably. So I finished the day without a check ride (and without the video camera installed), and will remain in Blue for now. Aside from the belt failure, both seats are starting to come apart where they’ve been repaired before. So I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s time to either replace the belts and reupholster the seats, or replace them with racing seats and harnesses, plus a bolt-in half roll cage. On the way out of the paddock, I stopped at the big Speedmerchants trailer and asked Angelle for a price quote. Then I saw Jim – the boss man – and asked him as well. He promised to give me a good deal, such as cost plus 10%, and I saw him speaking with Angelle as I pulled away. Now I’m looking forward to stripping the interior and making ready for the seats, harnesses and bar. Hopefully I can get them installed in time for the Lime Rock event I’m hoping to attend on July 15th.

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_N-Mzr-cXc

Watkins Glen June 18-19, 2011

June 21st, 2011

Once again this year, the 48 Hours at the Glen was scheduled for Father’s Day weekend, which also coincides with one of my grandsons’ birthday. We had to work around those conflicts because this is one event I don’t want to miss. I had a great time last year and this time it was even better, although the weather forecast right up to the day of arrival didn’t look very good. Fortunately the weather in the Finger Lakes is very unpredictable and turned in our favour for the entire weekend – nothing but sunny skies and moderate temperatures throughout.

There was a track walk scheduled for 5:15 Friday afternoon, after the Instructors’ lapping day had ended. So I left home around 10 AM to ensure that I’d get a good parking spot near the garages that had been reserved for our Region and I’d be able to get settled before the walk began. Just a mile from home I hit a heavy rain shower, which darkened my mood for five minutes or so until I got on the highway and the rain stopped. I only experienced a few more small showers all the way to the border and then no more until just before supper Friday night. At the US border crossing, the guard asked me my citizenship and where I lived, as usual. Then he said “Are you going to Watkins Glen?” instead of “Where are you going?”, since there had already been a number of Porsches passing through. He took a quick look in the back of the truck and sent me off with no more fanfare.

I arrived at the track in good time at about 3:30 after taking a small detour past Seneca Lodge to a portion of the original Grand Prix circuit, which used public roads. Those roads were narrow and twisty and lined with ditches and forests – it must have been quite a thrill to race on them. One of my co-instructors from Calabogie – named Ted – was near our garages and pointed me to a parking spot right outside the door. We asked a fellow from Mass., who had just arrived, to move his rig just a bit to provide more space and I was all set with a perfect location. We were in garages 1, 2 and 3, which are the best because they are close to the area where the drivers’ meetings are held, close the entrance from pit lane, close to the washroom outbuilding and farthest from the tech line and staging area, so there is little congestion outside. I parked my car in garage 2, right beside Ted’s.

Once I was unloaded and settled in, Ted asked me if I’d like a taste of the track in his car. So I grabbed my helmet and climbed into his 2004 GT3. Ted is one of the most seasoned PCA and En Track instructors and has raced for years. He and I are of a similar age, although I suspect he’s still in his fifties. He has a great sense of humour and can pull your leg with a deadpan expression that masks his mischievous intent beautifully. And he can drive! I tried to focus on the road ahead, to minimize the onset of nausea, and was pretty successful for about 6-7 laps. At that point I asked him to pit, to avoid feeling any worse or doing some damage to his interior. The car is very fast and the brakes are very good, but although he’s extremely good, the ride was a little violent due to the extremes of acceleration and braking. I mentioned this to him the next day by saying that he was driving pretty hard and he said “You think that was hard?” Then he went on to say how racers drive even harder, with extremely rapid changes in acceleration/deceleration, such that it’s difficult to be smooth on the transitions because of the speed at which they occur. But they’re never abrupt, which is something I continue to work on.

As 5 o’clock came around, the other Rennsport instructors came off the track and several other friends arrived, so we soon had a crowd of about 8 familiar faces in our garages. We planned to have dinner together later, but first the beer came out and there was still the track walk to deal with. Neither of my non-instructor friends (Peter and Paul), were planning to do the walk, so I had just about decided not to as well, partly because I knew it would take a couple of hours to complete. But then Jennifer – the Zone 1 representative – came over and asked me if I’d be willing to take my truck and trailer out for the “walk”, so people could ride on the trailer like, a sleigh ride, between corners. She’s a lovely young lady (and a PCA instructor to boot), and was hard to resist, so I agreed to do it. I’d get the benefit of the walk without the exercise and Paul decided to join me for the ride.

I should mention here that it was starting to get a little warm, but my truck’s heating/air conditioning system was acting up and I could only get the A/C (or heater), to work on the high speed fan setting. So if it got any warmer or if it started to rain, we wouldn’t have much help from the ventilation system. I have since Googled the problem and learned that it’s likely the blower motor which has failed, causing an inline resistor to burn out. Looks like I’ll have to replace the blower motor and resistor before long.

I reconnected the trailer and people piled onto it, as well as another trailer, and we drove slowly down to Turn 1. There was a little bit of oil on the trailer from a tiny leak my car has developed at the oil reservoir – I hope nobody sat in it! The instructor who was leading the track walk had told Jennifer that he would speak at several corners, but we would drive between them to speed up the process. However, when he started it was clear that he wanted to tell the people everything he knew about the track, so they all walked from Turn 1 to Turn 2. Then they got onto the trailers and we drove part way up the esses, only to stop again halfway up the hill. From then on, they walked all the way around to the toe of the Boot, as I drove at walking speed and idled quite a bit. By the time we got to the Nascar cut-off at Turn 5, Paul had had enough and asked Jennifer to arrange a ride back to the pits in the Glen’s service truck which was accompanying us. I stuck with the walkers until they dismounted again in the sole of the Boot, when Jennifer and I drove back as well. It had been showering lightly on and off but the walkers didn’t seem to mind, probably because most of them were novices who found the learning very valuable.

After returning to the garage, I unhooked the trailer and drove down to the Lodge to register, thinking that all of my friends would have finished supper by then. But when I checked in, I learned that they had just arrived, so I was able to join them for a nice supper in the very busy dining room. It was an enjoyable evening of eating, drinking and story-telling and I got to bed a little later than I would have liked. My cabin was one of two adjoining units, so I had to listen to the couple next door talking until they finally settled down for the night. Needless to say, it had been a long day and I slept reasonably well.

Saturday morning dawned clear and bright, promising to be a good day. The President of Rennsport had volunteered us to be on the tech inspection line both mornings, so I got to the track before it began at 7 o’clock, after picking up a coffee and muffin in town. I had a few minutes to check my tire pressures and install the camera, but then I spent close to an hour tightening lug nuts on about 120 cars. When there were about 4-5 left in the line-up, Ted came over and volunteered to take over, to give me a break. What a comedian! The drivers’ meeting began at 8 o’clock and lasted at least 25 minutes, allowing little time for the first run group to get ready. I was back at my car checking something, when a voice from behind me said “Is that motor still running OK?” I didn’t see a face or recognize the voice, so I turned around with an automatic response already formed, to say “It’s just fine.” The person was “Chuck” the engine builder, with a smarmy, smirky grin on his face. He just kept on walking while I said, still on autopilot, “How are you doin’?”, since I was too surprised to think of something more clever to say, such as “It’s fine…now.” But that’s okay, since later that morning the Red group was black-flagged because one of them had gone off track and crashed pretty hard down in the boot – it was Chuck. Last year he blew up his engine and stopped traffic for the clean-up. Maybe he should stick to wrenching.

In my first stint, I had no trouble remembering the line or the turning points and I don’t think it would have mattered if the cones had been removed. I had the camera running, but later when I wanted to view the video I realized I hadn’t erased all of the videos from Mosport. While I was doing that, I hit a wrong button and accidentally erased the new one. So I didn’t have a baseline to use for comparisons later in the weekend. But I was happy with my driving and the car’s behaviour, and I looked forward to the next run, which was supposed to be an instructed run. I asked Ted to come with me and he agreed, so about an hour and a half later we went out. He was happy to find that he didn’t need to fumble with a six-point harness, but by the end of the drive he was running out of things to hang onto.  After a couple of laps I was given a passing signal part way along the back straight leading to the Inner Loop. I accelerated and got past easily enough, but my speed was pretty high and I left the braking a little too late. As we approached the turn-in point I knew I wasn’t going to make it, so I said “expletive” and drove straight between two cones into the escape road. Ted simply said, “You handled that well” and we motored on when a break occurred in the traffic. Overall, he said very little about my driving, but towards the end he suggested accelerating harder through the Inner Loop and lifting slightly to encourage rotation for the second left-hander at its exit. He also suggested shortening up the entry to Turns 6 and 9, just to save some time. After we finished, he suggested that I work on applying the brakes a bit more gradually with more consistency, to be a bit smoother and to allow the car to be better balanced.

In the afternoon, my third and fourth stints were good, but I shortened them considerably when I saw the oil temperature gauge approaching 120 C. The ambient temp had reached the mid-twenties, which frequently correlates with higher oil temps, but I suspect the gauge may be inaccurate. After the fourth run I quickly got the infrared thermometer and measured the external temp at the sender while the motor was still running. Although the gauge still said 115 C, the thermometer read 85-90 C, which is a huge difference between the inside and the outside of the case. The oil pressure had stayed strong throughout, so I have to find a spare gauge somewhere that I can use for comparison testing. During one of these stints I could see my magnetic vinyl number on the hood flapping at the sides, where I had not used racer’s tape to secure it. At the top of the esses it suddenly flew off and went sailing over the car. On Sunday it was returned to me, looking like it had been run over by a train! It is now mounted on the wall in Fearless Garage.

At the end of the afternoon, we hung around the garage until after 6:30, drinking beer and shooting the breeze. We planned to meet at the Seneca Lodge dining room for their famous Saturday ribs at 8 o’clock, but when we arrived the place was hopping and we had to wait in the bar until close to 9 o’clock before they could organize a table for 12. To add insult to injury, they had run out of BBQ sauce, then sauerkraut, then the ribs themselves! But we had an enjoyable meal all the same and crawled into bed around 11 o’clock.

Now, to the people.

  • When I arrived, I met Greg and his wife from Acton, MA. I mentioned that I met someone else from Acton at either Mid-Ohio or VIR and he spent the whole evening trying to figure out who it could have been. But I couldn’t remember the guy’s name or where I’d met him, so it was inconclusive.
  • On Sunday I met another guy named Wayne who was raised in Toronto but now lives in MA. He encouraged me to come to Lime Rock on July 15, since he’ll be there and he’s sure I would enjoy it.
  • We have a new member named Marc who lives in Montreal and whose cousin is a Rennlist member from Toronto (who was also there). They discovered each other after 40 years and found that they had the same model and colour of car – 996 GT3’s. Marc had bought his car from an insurance company in Arizona after it had been crashed and he rebuilt it completely. Ted drove the car briefly on Sunday and said it was really awesome – tight, flat and fast. Marc and I sat together during dinner and he was very interested in the engine history of my car.
  • An instructor named Richard was there from Toronto – the same guy who had steered an entire lap at Mosport in my car from the right seat the first time I went there. He blew a cooling hose in his GT3, which Marc diagnosed, and called a mechanic from nearby who came to the track Sunday morning to fix it for a nominal fee.
  • A fellow was there named Dan, from NYC, whom we had met last year. He complained about a strange wobbling feeling that appeared Saturday morning in his GT3 former race car and that he couldn’t diagnose. He and I spent a lot of time exploring the various possibilities and concluded that he might have a bad tire (although they were new), since he swore that all of the suspension joints were good, having just had it modified and rebuilt. But Richard’s mechanic took a look at it and found that one of the eccentric bolts that are used to adjust rear camber and toe-in was loose. So Dan was able to tighten it with the loan of my tools and got back on track.
  • Ted couldn’t understand why I was adding air to my tires Sunday morning, thinking that the pressures should still be good after sitting overnight. But I remove air during a normal day, to reset the cold pressures before every stint. So I have to replace that air after the car sits overnight, to get back to the correct starting point. Sunday morning Ted checked his own and discovered that he had the same problem, so he admitted that he’d learned something. Then he wanted to know where I’d bought my portable air tank, since he will now need one!

Sunday morning the tech line was voluntary, so we had very few customers to check over. We learned at the drivers’ meeting that the apex cones had been removed, although they left the turn-in cones beside the track, about 20-30 feet from the edge. To me, this is a much better way to learn to drive fast, not being distracted by the presence of the cones. I had two really good stints in flawless weather, setting my fastest lap times of the weekend back-to-back when the traffic was fairly light. Using the video recordings, I measured two laps of 2:40 in the first stint, which were a full ten seconds faster than last year. Apart from both the car and me being lighter – by about 50 lbs – the main reason was that I was pushing harder, everywhere. The tires were squealing in most corners and it was necessary to upshift from third to fourth halfway up the esses because I was taking them at full throttle from turn-in all the way to the bus stop. It was very satisfying to look at these videos Sunday night at home and realize what I had accomplished. In the second stint I was slowed down a bit because I got caught up in heavier traffic, mostly very fast cars that I had to let by in clusters on both straights – even going into the boot. I had no problems with oil temperature on Sunday, partly because the ambient was a little lower.

I decided to leave early and miss the final stint, so I could get home at a decent hour – just like last year. When I passed through Canadian border control, the guard showed keen interest in my weekend, by asking me how much it had cost to drive at the Glen and how fast I was going (about 190 km/h actual). I got home around 7:30 and unloaded, knowing that I’d have to check a number of things before my next event at Mont Tremblant four days later. I drove a total of 257 km on track and spent about $350 on fuel for the truck and car. I had to tighten the trailer axle nuts twice, so I must remember to do that often on all future trips. It was an outstanding weekend at one of my favourite tracks, which now holds the record for my fastest average speed – about 122 km/h. Can’t wait to go back!

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o40dW1HX8QY

Virginia International Raceway – May 20-22, 2011

May 26th, 2011

I left Lexington, OH at 7:15 AM on May 16, expecting to arrive at Danville, VA around 4:00 PM. The temperature when I left was a chilly, damp 6 C. There was a group with 3 Balls Racing who were running at Mid-Ohio that day and they would not have a very good time if it stayed that way. I had met one of their guys in the parking lot the night before and commiserated about the weather.

All I had were the Mapquest directions, since I couldn’t find a map of the eastern US anywhere. Once again, I had lots of time since I would only be going to my hotel, not the track. There was a motorcycle event all week at VIR, so I had to kill at least three days before going to the track. One of the things I needed to do was go to South Boston to get more race fuel. The other thing I planned to do was call my good friend Denise in the Winston-Salem area and possibly arrange a visit.

The trip across Ohio was predictably boring and damp, with continuous drizzle all the way. Things got a lot more interesting in West Virginia, because of the terrain. Everywhere I looked there were more hills – good size hills, jammed very close together and covered with forests. The Appalachians, I guess. I don’t know where anyone lives or works in WV, since every valley was occupied by either a road or a river! I77 from Charleston, WV southwards was like a four-lane Tail of the Dragon; twisty and very hilly, with virtually no service or rest areas. There’s no place flat enough!

Leaving WV you pass through the East River Mountain tunnel – which is about a mile long – to enter Virginia. A few miles later, you go through the Big Walker Mountain tunnel, which is about a half mile long. I can only imagine the roads those tunnels replaced. Later in VA I crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the summit, there were some homes with spectacular views – both north and south. As I started down, I saw several warning signs for 6 miles of 9% grade. The brakes had better be good. About halfway down there were 2-3 signs for an upcoming runaway truck lane. By the time any runaway truck reached that lane, it would already have crashed a dozen times! The road was a continuous series of 30 mph switchbacks that no runaway could have navigated. At one point there was a lay-by with an unbelievable view to the north, but I couldn’t stop for a picture because it was on the westbound side with oncoming traffic. There was a second runaway lane, but it was downhill! Unlike any I’ve seen in the Rockies, that’s for sure.

I passed my first sighting of a BB&T branch – Clint Bowyer’s Nascar sponsor – but I don’t really know what they are – a bank and trust I suppose. I took the by-pass at Martinsville, which loops around the south end of town. You can see the Speedway grandstands briefly from the highway. I arrived at the Super 8 in Danville about 5 o’clock, delayed mainly by the huge hills I had to climb, at speeds that dropped to 60 km/h at times. I checked the fuel consumption during one such effort and it was 44 L/100 km! In Danville it was a blessed 23 C, more like the month of May I love. Time for snacks, reading, e-mail and sleep.

Tuesday morning I tried to sleep in but was up about 7:30. I grabbed some breakfast next door at Burger King and drove to VIR, about half an hour away, without needing directions or a map. At the gate I told the man on duty that I wanted to establish a pit presence to work on the car and to leave it there all week. He looked puzzled but checked with the girl in the office whom I’d spoken to about camping and got her approval. So I trailered into the north paddock and set up shop at the far west end, well away from the bikers who were using the track. After unloading, I began a series of checks, namely, brake pad thickness, torque on the half shaft joints, wheel nut torque and tightness of the locking pin in the shift linkage.

At this point I decided to drive to South Boston to get some more VP Race Fuel at the agent I had learned about before coming. However, when I found the place, it had a small notice on the front door saying they would be closed until Wednesday. Honestly, the place looked as if it was already out of business! So I turned around and headed back towards Danville, stopping to buy gas for the truck, a map and a sandwich along the way. I also began looking for Shell gas stations so I could replenish my stock of V-power 91 octane. Unfortunately, it looks as though Shell has no presence in the heart of Nascar country – there are no stations in the area. This was confirmed by the owner of the NAPA store where I  stopped to buy a bolt for the jack handle, which had somehow slipped out. While I was there, I spent an extra $36 to buy an air pressure “pig”, which will be much more convenient that the 12 volt pump I’ve been plugging into the cigarette lighter.

I went back to the track and ate my lunch. Then I warmed up the car and drove over to the gas pumps they have. Although their 100 octane unleaded race fuel has less than 10% ethanol, I figured one tank full wouldn’t kill the car. Especially since it was “only” $7.70 per gallon, compared to $3.70 per gallon for 87 octane at most stations. That’s a lot cheaper than $5.50 per litre for VP 109 unleaded! And I won’t have to mix it. I drove back to my pit and checked the ignition timing, to be sure it was still at 32 degrees BTDC when warm – it was. On my way out I stopped at the VIR Store and bought myself a T shirt and green coffee mug, to add to my collection. All chores having been attended to, I drove back to Danville and visited the Dollar General again (another Nascar sponsor) for some more milk and cookies. Then I went to Wal-Mart for a new pair of jeans, since these seem to be wearing out from over-use. I should have taken a camera J to capture on film some of the outrageous people I saw there. I subsequently ordered a replacement speedometer sensor from Pelican Parts, so I could keep track of cumulative kilometres and speeds.

On Wednesday, I had nothing specific planned, so I looked around for a Denny’s to have a big breakfast, but had to settle for McDonalds again. After that I went to the track to check on the car and trailer. They were exactly as I’d left them, so I just did a quick nut and bolt check on the top of the engine, replacing a missing small bolt on the fiberglass engine cover. Then I ran the engine for a few minutes and everything was fine. I phoned my good Fiat friend Denise and arranged to visit her home around one o’clock, which is a 90 minute drive from Danville. The weather was partially clear and warming up slightly, so things were starting to look good for the weekend.

I left the hotel a little before 11:30 and followed Highway 29 (Business) through Danville, paralleling the famous Danville Train lines for quite a while, but I didn’t see a train or museum. South of town I crossed into North Carolina and picked up Highway 158 West, which would take me almost to Denise’s door. Along the way I stopped in Stokesdale and had a nice Subway lunch, and subsequently arrived at her house a few minutes before one. She immediately gave me a tour of the go-kart parts business, the go-kart race shop (6 karts), the wood shop where their business of making high quality walls, columns and flooring for PGA hospitality tents is centred, her Fiat garage and the other garages and trailers. They built the house themselves at the end of a lane, on land his father had owned and where a number of family members live. It’s in beautiful rolling countryside, just a few miles northeast of Winston-Salem. I met Denise’s youngest daughter – who also races go-karts at age 12 – and we went to W-S to pick up her 14 year old daughter who hates racing, but loves Canada and Canadians. We hit it off right away. By the time got back it was time for me to leave for Danville. We had a nice visit and will see each other at Fiat FreakOut in Nashville this summer. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped and got more snack food, plus a stiff wire brush to use on the spark plugs.

Thursday morning and the waiting was almost over. I grabbed some coffee and went looking for a Best Buy, thinking I might find a good deal on a better laptop. The internet at the hotel was down, so I couldn’t look it up. I went to a large sprawl of shopping centres in the north end, but had no luck. I decided to go to the track to clean the spark plugs and move the car and trailer closer to the admin and tech buildings. The California Superbike school was still there, but they take up so little space in the paddock that I was able to move much closer without coming close to being in their way. After cleaning the plugs and moving my gear, I watched the bikes for a few minutes before leaving. They were still in learning mode, so the speeds weren’t nearly at their full potential, but it was interesting to watch their lines through Turns 2 to 5 from the patio. It was only 10:30, so I decided to head back to the hotel to recharge both my phone and my video camera, which I had neglected to do before leaving Ohio.

While things were recharging, I decided to go back to the main shopping centre area to explore the Target store. I had never been to one before and was curious about how it compares to other chains. It’s basically very similar to Wal-Mart, but the displays are all red and white and the people are a bit more normal looking. They didn’t have any deals on laptops or other electronics, so I didn’t stay long. Since it was a beautiful day, I decided to go to the track early and relax there, rather than stay cooped up in the hotel. By the time I picked up some lunch and bottled water, it was about 1:30 when I arrived. I washed the car and put my helmet into it for the tech line, then relaxed in the shade of the restaurant’s patio to kill a few hours with my book. At one point I wandered over to the garages overlooking the front straight and went upstairs to the balcony to watch the bikers fly by. You can get a really good view of parts of the Hog Pen from up there, which provides a different perspective than you get in the car.

Eventually 5 o’clock rolled around and the main gates were opened, resulting in a steady stream of cars and trailers into the paddock. There were something like 190 entrants, so it would be a full house. After a few minutes Christian arrived and we hooked up for registration and the tech line. We then agreed to have supper together with his mother, whom he is bringing back from her winter in Florida. Their hotel recommended the Outback steakhouse, which is located near Target, so I led the way. We had an enjoyable meal and talked about all kinds of things, mostly car related of course. We agreed to meet at the track by 7 AM so we could change Christian’s brake pads before taking to the track, since they’re badly worn.  So it turned into a fairly early night for me.

Friday morning arrived fairly quickly, since I got up a few minutes before 6 so I could get to the track early. By 7 I was there and Christian arrived moments later. We immediately started to replace all of his brake pads and hit a snag right away. To jack his Cadillac CTS-V, you have to use either the frame rails or the control arms, which are well under the car. And the car sits very low, so it’s not possible to get a jack far enough in there to use it correctly. To create more clearance we drove the car a few feet onto the ramps of my trailer, which solved the problem. The job went pretty smoothly and we finished it well before our first stint at 9:15, including time off for the drivers’ meeting.

The first stint didn’t go as smoothly. We barely got lined up in the staging lane when the stint was aborted. Apparently a corner worker had a heart attack or some other kind of medical event and they said they would bring a helicopter in to take him to hospital. In fact, they took him in the track’s only ambulance, so the track was closed for close to an hour as a result. When we finally got going again, it only lasted a couple of laps before we were all brought in because a driver of a BMW had his steering wheel come off, with disastrous consequences. He hit a wall somewhere and badly crushed the front of the car – but he was not injured. We finally got a stint in before stopping for something to eat, although they had cancelled the lunch break so we could get back on schedule. I remembered the line all right, but was a little ragged on some of the details. I missed a few braking points and was entering the climbing esses too fast, which makes them seriously more challenging. I was also a little uncomfortable on the front straight, because the car was floating a bit – that straight is a little off-camber for drainage purposes and it was a little unsettling to feel the car wandering to left as the track went right. The solution for that was simply to stay in the throttle, to keep the car more firmly planted.

Part way through the day, Christian and I were talking about our interests, families, etc. He told me that his wife (Veronique), works at Export Development Canada – the same place where my oldest son Michael works. I phoned Mike and confirmed that they actually know one another! Small world – again.

About mid-afternoon we had our third and final stint, but once more there was an incident that interfered with it. Someone blew an engine on the front straight and dumped oil for several hundred yards near pit-out. It took about 15 minutes to clean that up, so our on-track time was shortened somewhat. However, by now I was getting into a rhythm and feeling more comfortable, so it was quite enjoyable. I still need to review the videos to check lap times and my line, but I think I was improving. Without a working speedometer, I don’t know my maximum speeds on the long back straight, but I was using fifth gear and pushing 5000 rpm before braking. I would guess I was doing about 190 km/h. I made a big mistake when the guy blew his motor though – I didn’t see three black flags as I drove past them! I got and deserved a reprimand in the pit lane. I guess I was just too focused on the track. It won’t happen again. Now it’s time for a shower before joining Christian, his mother and another friend from Calabogie – Benoit – for a nice Japanese supper.

Saturday was another great day at the track. The weather was clear, sunny and increasingly hot as the day wore on – the temperature reached 30 C. The track was in excellent shape and we all felt much more confident and familiar with the task at hand. Christian, Benoit and I had hooked up in the paddock with two brothers – Erik and Chris – one from Ohio and the other from Virginia Beach, who both drove 944 Turbos. We spent a lot of time enjoying the shade of their portable canopy and chatting about many different things.

The day was not without incidents, though. In the first stint, I was following a BMW M Coupe (Z4) into Turn 3, when he unexpectedly went deep into the corner and blue/gray smoke started pouring out of his exhaust pipe. He pulled off line and got around Turn 4 so he could pull off the track near a marshal’s stand. A little later in the same stint, another BMW – this one a 3 series coupe – put two wheels in the grass on track right approaching Oak Tree. He tried to bring the car back on track and immediately spun and hit the tire wall on driver’s left. So two more BMW’s had been lost! Fortunately, neither incident caused a delay longer than a local yellow and the rest of the day was incident-free.

I had three really good stints and I shot a good video during the second one which should show a pretty quick lap time – probably a 2:42. I feel quite confident that I was hitting 200 km/h on the back straight, since I was seeing 5000 rpm in fifth gear before braking for Turn 14. The car ran absolutely perfectly and all of the vital signs were very safe. I was impressed with the car’s power, as well – I was able to pull away from Boxsters, pass another older 911 and have a good drag race with a newer Carrera 2 on the back straight. In the afternoon stint, a newer Carrera spun in front of me exiting Turn 1, but he only put two wheels off and was able to recover without holding me up very much. There was a minor nuisance of sorts, with a bright yellow 914 that had a 3.6 Carrera engine and open megaphone pipes. It was horribly loud and actually pulsed my ears noticeably as it passed and pulled away. I was glad to see the last of it once it passed. At the end of the day, we got cleaned up and congregated at Christian’s hotel and sat around the pool with a beer for a while, before going to Ruby Tuesday’s for a pretty good supper.

The third and final day at VIR was outstanding. It started off a little cool and overcast, but quickly cleared by mid-morning and became very hot – about 33 C in the afternoon. The track conditions were ideal and we only lost one (more) BMW – a 3 series coupe in later afternoon, with some kind of mechanical problem. We had three good stints with a long break between the second and third due to Sunday noise restrictions, so I finished around 4 o’clock. Christian and Benoit left for home at one o’clock, so they could arrive the same night. But Erik, Chris and I stayed until the bitter end and then had a beer in the shade of Chris’s pop-up tent. I may have to get one of those for the really hot days ahead. Erik and I exchanged business cards so we can keep in touch, particularly if they decide to try our Canadian tracks.

During the run we had around noon hour, I got Christian to stay behind me as we exited Oak Tree and accelerated up the long back straight, so he could check my maximum speed before braking for Turn 14. Afterwards he told me that I’d peaked at 190 km/h on his Cadillac’s speedometer, which I have to take as accurate. It’s certainly fast enough in this old car! Needless to say, I pointed him by on the front straight and he disappeared. I was very happy with virtually all of my laps, making only a couple of tiny errors which didn’t have any negative consequences. The car ran perfectly, although with the extremely high ambient temperature, the oil temp reached 115 C, causing me to pit a lap or two early as a precaution. I probably could have changed the jets and spark plugs to compensate for the heat, but couldn’t be bothered for the sake of the one remaining stint. And, the engine used almost no oil over the three days. I am very satisfied.

I had planned to take two days for the 1250 km drive home, to relax and enjoy the scenery and maintain a reasonable pace for fuel economy. My first stop would be Carlisle, PA where they have the famous antique car show, but it’s not this weekend, so I’ve missed it. Actually, when I got to Carlisle it was only 1:30, so I decided to press on. I got home around 10 PM (15 hours) after a 50 minute delay at the border. The total trip had been 3850 km at an average fuel consumption of 18.8 L/100 km – not bad at all, considering the mountains I had to climb. What a great trip!

Video is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9Ox0sd83Ec

Photos are at:  http://s229.photobucket.com/albums/ee234/kilrwail/VIR%2020-22%20May%202011/