Archive for September, 2010

Another Porsche Engine Failure

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

I finally got to Road America after years of anticipation, but I came home with a blown engine. It was the annual TRAC event hosted by Chicago Region, where I met a lot of nice people who were very helpful and welcoming to this visiting Canadian. I had six good stints on track over the first two days until the trouble began.

My engine is a built 3.2L with PMO carburetors, based on a 1979 case, with 120/104 cams, MSD ignition and a 9.5:1 compression ratio (CR). Oil appeared on the fibreglass engine cover on the left side and I called my mechanic to discuss the possible reasons. The engine seemed to be running fine otherwise. Oil pressure was strong; temperature never exceeded 120 C; the Innovate Air Fuel Ratio (AFR) gauge which monitors both headers never exceeded 13.5. We concluded that it might be the low oil pressure switch that was leaking up the centre. So I made a diaper out of paper towels and duct tape and did another stint. There was much less oil this time, so I felt that we had correctly identified the cause. In my last session, I lost power dramatically going into Turn 5 and pulled off the track. The only smoke was coming from a small amount of oil dripping onto the left header.

After the 1500 km drive home with truck and trailer, I took the car to the mechanic for diagnosis. We got the engine to fire, but it ran really roughly. Here’s what we found:

The #1 spark plug had a broken ceramic core and the electrode was half burned off. The #2 plug looked normal. The #3 plug had a broken ceramic core. The plugs on the right side were fine.

Compression in #1 was 25 psi, in #2 we had 105 psi and in #3 it was zero.

This engine was rebuilt twice last year after melting pistons and breaking rings, which we attributed to a worn/dirty/defective CIS system that caused an excessive lean condition. Hence the switch to carburetors and the installation of the AFR gauge. When it failed this weekend, it had 35 hours of track use since going back into the car in April. I have never missed a shift or exceeded 6500 rpm.

A few days later, the mechanic had removed the engine from the car and proceeded to dismantle the cam towers, remove the cam shafts and remove the cylinder heads. Here’s what we found.

  1. Cylinders 4, 5 and 6
    1. All spark plugs look normal
    2. All valves are very light grey
    3. All combustion chambers and piston tops are lightly coated with carbon deposits, which is very dry and baked on
    4. All rings are intact
    5. Deck height is between 1.27-1.35 mm
    6. Cylinders 1, 2 and 3
      1. All valves are dark grey or chocolate, but the colouring is a bit oily
      2. All combustion chambers and piston tops are lightly coated with carbon deposits, which is a bit shiny
      3. Deck height is between 1.23-1.48 mm
      4. Cylinder #1
        1. Spark plug cathode burned off by 50%
        2. Spark plug anode ceramic missing to a depth of 7-8 mm
        3. Core of spark plug (metal) is hollowed out to a further depth of 2-3 mm
        4. Remains of core ceramic is heavily crystallized and shows a blue colour
        5. All rings are intact
        6. No apparent damage to piston or cylinder wall
        7. Cylinder #3
          1. Spark plug anode ceramic is broken about 4 mm from the end but still held in place by the central wire
          2. Spark plug cathode is intact but shows signs of burning at the tip
          3. Hole in cylinder wall adjacent to cylinder #2. Hole is teardrop shaped; round end (about ¼” diameter) is centred on the edge of the deposit which marks the end of the travel of the topmost ring. Teardrop extends towards crankshaft.
          4. Erosion of circumference of combustion chamber adjacent to hole in cylinder
          5. Rings are fused to piston adjacent to hole in cylinder; gouging of piston top
          6. Ring end gaps are not close to the hole
          7. Spark plug cathode tip is aimed towards hole in cylinder when fully screwed in
          8. There are tiny metal deposits on the top of the piston, likely coming from the melted cylinder wall
          9. Cylinder #2
            1. Spark plug looks normal
            2. Top ring is broken in one place
            3. Damage (melting) to outside of cylinder adjacent to hole in cylinder #1
            4. Ignition: No damage to inside of distributor cap; plug wires (Magnecor) to cylinders 1-3 have similar resistance levels.

While the carburetor jetting is undoubtedly too lean, based on all available advice and literature, it is unlikely to have caused the above damage.

I have subsequently spoken to numerous acknowledged experts in air-cooled Porsche engine construction and racing, namely:

  • A senior member of The Racers Group, who “grew up” with air-cooled Porsches
  • A former senior mechanic with the Farnbacher-Loles race team, who now has his own Porsche shop and has 30 years experience with air-cooled engines
  • The top air-cooled motorcycle and Porsche engine builder in the Chicago area, whom I had met at Road America
  • An experienced Porsche specialist from the West coast who has a very successful Porsche specialty business
  • A representative of a Porsche racing shop in Florida which specializes in air-cooled racing engines
  • The owner of a Porsche performance shop in Canada with over twenty years experience in building air-cooled engines
  • The Canadian technical support people for NGK spark plugs
  • The Porsche Club of America air-cooled technical advisor
  • The widely acknowledged global expert in air-cooled Porsche engines, located in California, who has written a book on the subject and is revered in Porsche circles

The opinions of all of these people are very similar, as outlined below, although none of them can explain why one bank of cylinders failed and not the other. And each of them has his own opinion as to what triggered the failure, with very little congruence among them.

  1. Having set the carburetor jetting to achieve an AFR of 13.2 at 6000 rpm, we were asking for trouble with an air-cooled engine that would be used almost exclusively on the track. It should have been in the range of 12.5 to 12.9 at wide open throttle and 6000 rpm.
  2. I should have been using racing fuel to minimize the probability of detonation – at least 96 octane if not 100.
  3. I should have been using racing spark plugs with a colder heat range for the same reason – at least heat range 7 if not 9.
  4. The timing was too far advanced at 35 degrees BTDC for exclusive track use – more like 29-30 degrees, to be optimized on a dynamometer.
  5. Perhaps the deck height was too large, which at least one specialist believes can stimulate detonation.
  6. We should carefully examine the cooling vanes to ensure unrestricted air flow behind the alternator.
  7. We should test and possibly upgrade the fuelling system to ensure clear lines – both fuel and tank venting – and sufficient flow and pressure.

There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with the way the engine was built; rather, the problem lies in variable tuning parameters as outlined above. The last expert listed above wants to measure the cam shafts to see whether the back side of the lobes is shaped properly to avoid improper opening and/or closing of the valves. We have sent the cams to him for this purpose.

Since the AFR sensors measure everything that’s “seen” in the two headers, there is a chance that the observed readings were misleading. Once a plug had failed, that cylinder would be rich. But if the other cylinder(s) were lean, the sum of the three might still be a normal reading. The left bank of cylinders was probably running too lean until the plugs failed, so there should be a very light grey deposit on those valves. But it might have been covered by a sooty coloured deposit once the plugs failed.

The fundamental mystery is

a)      Why did the left side fail and not the right side?

b)      What was the primary cause of the failure?

No one has been able to answer these questions unequivocally. My current theory is that all tuning parameters were at the limit and Road America put such a strain on the system that something had to give. In this case, I suspect it was the two spark plugs, with others soon to follow, as evidenced by the beginning of crystallization on their ceramic elements. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that plug #2 is failing and would misfire if tested.

Comments are Welcome, but No Spam!

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

I appreciate all of the comments I have received that are really comments on my work. I do not appreciate the so-called comments that are posted here to promote other people’s products or web sites. This is not a public advertising site or chat forum and such comments, pingbacks and trackbacks will be removed.

I post these articles to share with my friends and family the details of various events in which I participate. The public is welcome to view them and all comments related to the content are appreciated – either positive or negative. But if you post an irrelevant comment here just to create a link to your web site or products, I will remove it and categorize it as spam.

If you enjoy my stories and are curious about others I may have written, please post such a comment. I will e-mail you and tell you how you can obtain a hard copy book containing all previous blogs about my automotive adventures.

Thanks for reading!

Road America – September 3-5, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Ever since I began reading about Road America in Road & Track magazine – particularly in Peter Egan’s columns – I have wanted to visit there. He makes it sound like such an idyllic place and such a great track that you just want to experience some of the atmosphere. The beautiful Wisconsin countryside, the quaintness of Elkhart Lake, the magic of the track itself, the camaraderie in the paddock, the pleasure of camping among like-minded people – they all contribute to the siren song. Once I began to experience the satisfaction and excitement of spirited track driving, I knew I would have to include Road America on my list.

I knew that the Chicago Region of PCA had scheduled its annual TRAC weekend of Club Racing and Driver’s Ed for the Labour Day weekend at Road America.  When my son Scott told me he wanted to return to university in St. Catharines on September 1, I realized that I would be about 35% of the way there. I could drop him and his furniture in St. Catharines and carry on towards Wisconsin, arriving the day before the driving would begin. So I quickly contacted the registrar and co-chair to confirm the eligibility of myself and my car, since there were some restrictions described on the Chicago web site. They were planning only two run groups – those with cages and racing seats and those without – so there would be no problem for me to participate in the second group (DE-2). I registered for the event and made plans for the 1400 km trip (each way), intending to camp at the track but to use motels for the overnight stays I would need while travelling.

As the magical date of September 1st approached, I made lists of all the equipment and supplies I would need for camping and started to lay it out, to be ready for packing at the last minute. We made a few last minute improvements to Scott’s car – such as replacing the automatic transmission range sensor – to ensure that it would survive its trip to St. Catharines and run reliably for the foreseeable future. I had a technical inspection conducted on the Porsche and made sure I had packed all the usual track tools and supplies that might be required for a three-day event.

At 7:13 AM on September 1, we set sail for western Ontario, with Scott and his friend riding in Scott’s car and me alone with the truck, trailer and Porsche. The boys went to Tim Horton’s for coffee while I headed straight to the highway, which turned out to be a mistake. I expected them to catch up to me before we got to highway 401, since I was driving at the speed limit and I expected them to be going a bit faster. When they hadn’t caught me before I reached the old Brockville service centre, I pulled into the entry lane and waited. I couldn’t reach Scott on his cell phone, which began to concern me a bit. But I figured they had the stereo turned up or the ringer turned off accidentally, so I tried not to worry too much. After about 15 minutes I decided to drive through the service centre site – which is under reconstruction – to wait in the exit lane. Of course the boys chose this exact moment to pass the service centre, when I couldn’t see the highway. I waited in the exit lane for another 10-15 minutes until Scott finally phoned to say they were at the Gananoque exit – about 15 minutes ahead of me. I jumped on the highway and made good time to our scheduled rendezvous at a Napanee gas station, when I learned that Scott’s cell phone had been in the glove compartment! Duh!

After that it was pretty smooth sailing, with another gas and food stop at Port Hope before tackling the midday Toronto traffic. I asked Scott to follow me through Toronto because of the traffic volume and intensity, plus the necessary lane changes to work our way down to the Queen Elizabeth Way from 401. That was probably a wise idea, since the Toronto traffic was especially crazy and there were several places where Scott might have missed a turn. When we reached the QEW in Oakville traffic was very heavy and the outside temperature was 35 C. Thank heavens for air conditioning! Eventually we reached his new apartment in St. Catharines, almost 7 hours after starting out.

I left St. Catharines about 2:15 and drove through to Sarnia with one quick stop for lunch, buying more gas just before crossing the bridge into Michigan. There was only a brief delay at the border crossing, where the guard asked a few questions on where I was going and why. He did a quick search of the truck’s bed and peered through the Porsche’s windows, then sent me on my way. The weather changed almost immediately, as the skies clouded over and a light rain began to fall before I reached my overnight destination in Flint, MI around 7:00 PM. The Super 8 motel was acceptable and cheap, with paper thin walls and chatty neighbours. But I befriended them for a while and learned that she was from Ottawa, so we had a nice chat. It rained most of the night and the parking lot was one huge puddle, but the truck and car were unmolested and I was able to leave there about 8 AM Thursday morning following a really nice hot shower, still in a light drizzle.

I stopped near Lansing for gas and a snack and finally began to see some signs of sunshine in Indiana. As I reached Gary, IN, I followed the Mapquest directions and took a toll road which I suppose is intended to be a bypass. But it was under heavy reconstruction and consisted of numerous lane shifts, narrow lanes, big bumps and potholes and generally rough conditions. It was so rough in places that the trailer’s beavertail bottomed out and scraped the road. By the time I was finished paying tolls to get through Gary and Chicago, I had paid at least $18 which I hadn’t expected. On the Dan Ryan expressway, approaching Chicago’s downtown core, I passed the White Sox stadium and could see the lower half of the very impressive skyline. The upper half was completely enshrouded by fog and cloud! Traffic was very slow and very heavy – it took about 45 minutes to get around the central area.

After clearing the Chicago traffic, it was a straight shot up the west coast of Lake Michigan. At the rate I was going, I should arrive at Road America well before the paddock would open at 5 o’clock. Once in Wisconsin, the sky cleared the temperature went up from 23 to 28C – things were looking up! When I got to Milwaukee I began to look for a left lane exit from highway I-94 W to I-43 N, as per the Mapquest instructions. However, Mapquest was wrong! The left lanes led to the 894 bypass and I couldn’t get into the right lane because of heavy traffic. So I took a detour of at least 40 km as I went west of the city to the first exit and circled back on state highway 18, through the northern ghettos of Milwaukee. Eventually I found highway 57 N, which led to I-43 N and I got back on track – all of this without a map! From then on it was clear sailing until I reached Road America around 4 o’clock, being passed by several Porsches and transporters going to the same place.

Everyone had to wait outside the track in an open area near Turn 14 until the procession could begin through the Kohler tunnel under the track. I walked over to the registration building and signed in, asking the man behind the counter where I could pitch my tent near the showers and paddock. The fellow behind me in line volunteered to help me by showing me on the track map where I should be able to find a good site. After going to the track office to pay for camping, I walked back over to where I’d parked and found the same man had parked right next to me. His name was Mike and we struck up a conversation, along with another neighbour. By the time we were all able to enter the paddock, Mike and I had become friends and I ended up spending the whole weekend in his company whenever I wasn’t at my campsite. We had to wait quite a while after 5 o’clock to actually enter the tunnel, since the dozens of teams with large transporters and reserved paddock spaces were given priority. There was an amazing assortment of very expensive equipment and race cars there for the Club Racing – Cup cars costing over $250,000 and many, many GT-3’s and other high-end Porsches.

After driving around the infield once, I found a place that was appealing for a campsite inside of Turn 3 – a short drive from the showers and paddock. As I began to set up the tent, light rain showers started to fall. The rain became quite heavy by the time I had the rain fly on the tent and I barely got my gear into the tent when the skies opened and it simply teemed with heavy rain and a major thunder storm. I had to stay inside for about three hours while the storm passed through, with lightning and thunder right over head for quite a while. Eventually it stopped and I was able to get a surprisingly good sleep before awaking at 6 AM to prepare for the track.

In the morning it was still overcast and threatening rain, and pretty cool. I dried off the car and applied racer’s tape to secure my large magnetic numbers and then went to the tech inspection shed. After a return to the campsite to retrieve my registration packet which they needed, I was frustrated again by them closing tech so the driver’s meeting could begin at the tower. By the time the meeting ended, there wasn’t enough time left to get through tech and start my first on-track session on time. Mike had volunteered to take me around for a couple of laps in his car to show me the line, so we did that in the few minutes remaining in my stint. It was useful and appreciated, but I learn better by doing than by watching, so I was looking forward to the next stint to experience the track for myself.

At both 10 AM and 1 PM on Friday I had two good stints in which to learn the line and search for more speed. There was a lot of traffic to deal with, but it wasn’t a problem until late in the second session when an impatient guy tailgated me coming out of Turn 7, expecting a pass signal on the right. But the racing line between Turns 7 and 8 is on the right hand side, so I gave him a passing signal for the left and he quickly jigged to that side and went roaring past. There was no contact, but he was very close behind coming through 7. For the 3 o’clock stint, it began raining lightly and the track got pretty slippery because of all the rubber that had been laid down by the many race and DE cars. Numerous cars pulled off the track rather than drive in those conditions and I eventually did likewise, after sliding noticeably in several turns, including Carousel. That’s not a place where you want to get loose.

Let’s take a lap around this 4.04 mile track to understand the way it’s driven. The Start/Finish line is at the highest point on the track, about halfway along the 3025 ft front straight. Around the 200 ft marker begin slowing and braking for Turn 1, downshifting to third gear just before turning to the right around this 90 degree corner. Accelerate hard away from the apex, heading downhill past the marshal at Turn 2, towards the next 90 degree right hand corner at Turn 3. There’s no need to shift up, since the car reaches 6000 rpm just about exactly where the braking zone begins. Look around the corner and turn in, a little earlier than you may expect, to apex mid-corner and accelerate hard on the next long straight. Keep the throttle wide open as you run up through third and fourth gears, hitting 6000 rpm just as you must begin to slow down for the downhill braking zone for Turn 5. It’s best to stay on the left side of this 2636 ft straight until the braking zone, since the track falls away to the right if you’re on the right hand side. Brake hard and downshift to second for the left-handed Turn 5, which is the slowest corner on the track. Don’t go wide on the exit here, because the rumble strip at the right side is very bumpy and can upset the car’s ability to accelerate quite severely. Accelerate up the hill towards the bridge through second and third gears, braking after the crest and the bridge for the 90 degree left-handed Turn 6. Accelerate hard from the exit on track right towards the left edge to set up for the fast right-handed Turn 7. Lift slightly and/or tap the brake before turning into 7, since running wide or clipping the apex can be very unsettling due to the harsh nature of the rumble strips.

Accelerate hard down the hill in third gear, reaching 6000 rpm as the braking zone arrives for the left hand Turn 8. It is another 90 degree turn with no banking, so it is not possible to carry a lot of speed here. Accelerate hard towards the next bridge, short-shifting into fourth gear just before turning for Turn 9/10 which is Carousel. Enter the turn from mid-track, tapering closer to the right as you swing around this 180 degree curve. Accelerate to balance the car and especially to build speed once you reach the turtles at the very late apex, to get a good run down to Kink (Turn 11). Be very careful entering Kink – it is the least understood and most dangerous corner on the track. It is important not to miss the early apex and not run off track at the exit, as the concrete walls loom large on the left and right. Accelerate all the way down to Canada Corner (Turn 12) as you weave first right, then left, then right and finally left again along this 2736 ft section. If you’re going to let cars past, stay tight on the left side since the track is not very wide through this series of small bends. Brake hard, downshift to third gear and late apex Turn 12, staying on the left side after the exit to set up for Turn 13. This corner is uphill to the left, with a blind apex and line of sight until you crest the hill. You can run quite wide on exit, so stay in the throttle and use all the road, just tucking back in towards the left at the last second to avoid the grass on the right. Drive straight towards the braking zone for the last corner – Turn 14 – leaving your braking quite late and following your vision to apex late. Get on the throttle as early and as hard as possible for the long run up the hill on the front straight. This hill rises 90 ft and requires all the engine’s power to reach the top in third gear, shifting up just before the crest at 6000 rpm or a little more. You can now see the starter’s bridge and can make the final run to the Finish line. My best time on video was about 3 minutes fifteen seconds. The racers were in the neighbourhood of two minutes twenty seconds – quite a disparity!

Friday night I cooked a burger at the campsite and was ready to have some dessert, when Mike and a couple of other guys came by in their trucks to pick me up and go into Elkhart Lake. That was a pleasant surprise and we went to a bar called the Brown Baer, where we had a few beers and some wings and spent a couple of hours shooting the bull about politics, health care, things Canadian and, of course, cars. One of the guys was named John and he’s planning to open a brew pub in Chicago, so we talked a lot about that business and the restrictions/regulations he faces. He hung out with Mike and me for the balance of the weekend as well. I was delivered back to the campsite and spent a very cold night snuggled into my sleeping bag, with my head inside to preserve the heat. In the morning it was only 8 degrees Celsius on the truck’s thermometer!

Saturday morning I had two good stints and achieved my best lap times. I tried starting further back in the long queue to reduce the number of cars that would have to pass me and was largely successful. I then had a nice hot shower and went to town to refuel the car with 93 octane, after making myself some lunch. There was only one additional stint Saturday afternoon, in which Mike followed me for a lap or two. During this stint there were two Boxsters that spun off in front of me, in Turn 1 (with no damage) and in Canada Corner (with a medium-strong impact to the right-hand concrete wall). When we stopped Mike mentioned that he’d seen a bit of oil smoke coming from the left side, so I lifted the engine cover and found oil all over the fibreglass cover. Some had dripped down onto the exhaust manifold and was causing the smoke. I went back to the camp site and cleaned off the oil; then I ran the engine to see if I could identify the source of the leak. The only place I could see oil forming was from under the fibreglass cover, near the front end of the engine beside the vent housing. This was very puzzling, so I phoned Chris (the engine builder), to explore the issue. The only potential source we could identify was the low oil pressure light switch, which sits on the top of the engine near the centre. If its Bakelite core had broken down, it could leak a small stream of oil up the centre.

I didn’t have time to do anything else Saturday afternoon, since there was a concours and banquet scheduled for that evening in Elkhart Lake. So I got cleaned up and changed and grabbed the camera, taking the Porsche into the town. I hung out with Mike and another friend named Randy, who has a beautiful 930 Turbo, while we admired the other cars and strolled around the pretty resort area. There are two great hotels and condo development right beside the water, called Siebken’s and the Ostof Resort. There was a really good buffet banquet around 7 PM, where I met others named Dave (has been to Mosport) and Gorman and Sara (who both drive). We had cocktails before the meal and I ordered a Jack Daniels with no ice and a touch of water. When the waitress brought the drink, none of us could believe our eyes. It was an Old-Fashioned glass filled to the brim with undiluted Jack! There was no way I could or would finish it, so I shared it with John and Mike. It had to be a fourple!  Afterwards Mike led me back to the track by way of a twisty, dark side road that was a lot of fun in our cars.

Sunday morning the sun was shining, although it still wasn’t particularly warm. After another great bacon-and-eggs breakfast from the Coleman stove, I made a diaper for the oil pressure switch, using the top of a plastic coke bottle, a paper towel and lots of duct tape. I did the first stint at 9 o’clock and found a small amount of oil on top of the engine, but nowhere near as much as before. So I assumed that we’d correctly identified the source of the leak and I prepared for the second and last stint at 11:30. Meanwhile I checked voice mail and found a message from Chris suggesting that maybe the problem was a loose or broken rocker arm and that I should remove a valve cover to check. Thinking that we’d correctly identified the oil switch as the problem, I did no such thing before the last stint.

The session began well enough, but when I reviewed the video afterwards I could see that my lap times were 8-10 seconds slower. At the time, it just seemed that I couldn’t maintain as much speed because of heavy traffic. After 4-5 laps, disaster struck. Going into Turn 5, the engine lost a lot of power and made an ugly B-R-R-R noise. I pulled off the track to the left and waited for help to arrive. There was very little smoke and no oil dripping from the engine, but the safety crew called for a flatbed truck to remove the car at the end of the session. When I tried to start it in order to load it onto the trailer, it wouldn’t fire and was reluctant to turn over. Fortunately another new friend named Patrick was nearby and he helped me push it down a slight incline and onto the trailer. I decided to pack up and hit the highway, rather than stick around for the racing and delay the diagnosis any further.

I quickly packed all my things, had a light lunch, got cleaned up and hit the road around 1:30 PM. After a fairly uneventful drive across flat Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I arrived at the motel in Sault Ste Marie (Canada) about 9:30 PM Eastern time – a drive of 7 hours. The only mildly interesting thing that happened en route was a near miss with a family of deer that had started across the road in front of me. Fortunately they turned back as I was braking hard and nothing bad happened. I left the Sault around 7 AM Monday and followed highway 17 all the way to Ottawa, covering 800 km in ten hours. It rained all the way across Ontario and the temperature never exceeded 20 degrees – a far cry from the day I left.

I am really glad I went to Road America, since I had wanted to for so long. But I won’t be going back anytime soon. I didn’t find the track to be enjoyable, since every long, fast straight section was followed by yet another flat 90 degree turn. In comparison, Watkins Glen flows much better, with each sweeping turn being followed by another similar curve of different proportions. I did a total of 400 km on track and 3025 km on the highway, saw some interesting countryside and cities and made some great new friends.

But I came home with a sick engine that put a pall on the whole affair. Now it remains to investigate the cause of the engine failure and to have it rebuilt once again. This is what we’ve found so far:

Diagnosis: Plug #3 broken ceramic but still attached, plug #2 looks normal, plug #1 broken and missing ceramic + burned electrode; Compression #1 – 25 psi, #2 – 105 psi, #3 – 0 psi, #’s 4-6 normal at 155 psi. What could cause all three left cylinders to fail? Carburetor? Camshaft? Bad valve springs? Won’t know until the engine has been dismantled.

Photos are posted at

Video is available at

MCO Open Road Rally #5 – August 18, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The final rally of the 2010 MCO Open Road series would decide the championship in Expert class. After having completed the Infinite Monkeys ORRC rally only four days earlier, Gary and I were well prepared for this one. Going into the event, we were twenty points behind our closest rivals for first place, with the potential to move ahead of them with a good finish – although they would have to make a serious mistake as well. As we all gathered in Carp for registration, it was a beautiful clear evening, but cooling off quickly. There were a number of new teams – for a total of thirteen entries – plus special guests in the person of two handicapped veterans of the Canadian forces in Afganistan, who would be competing in Targa Newfoundland later this year. They were practising for Targa while raising money for Soldier On, a fund designed to help wounded veterans develop new activities in spite of their handicaps.

We were given Car Number One status, so we left the Cheshire Cat pub at 8:01, headed east towards the odometer check. The instructions in Section 1 were very simple distance to turns and we completed the odometer recalibration and the remainder of the section without incident. The instructions for Section 2 were simple tulip diagrams in the proper sequence, with numerous changes in average speed. Shortly after beginning the section, we were hustling along the Old Almonte Rpoad at 66 km/h when we passed through a left hand bend, followed by a right-hander, only to find the first checkpoint right around the corner. Fortunately we were just above the desired average speed and I had no trouble slowing to exactly 66 km/h when we passed the control. So we zeroed the first checkpoint and felt good about our start. The rest of the section went fairly quickly, although we had to be careful to change speeds accurately and time our departure from known intersections. Some of the tulips did not have distances marked in the instructions, so we had to pay attention to the configuration of those intersections when we approached them.

The next section had a combination of distances, turning instructions and average speeds that Gary had to correlate on the fly so we would stay on time. But once again, this was a familiar format on familiar roads, so we had no trouble staying on course. Two of the intersections involved long curves in the main road from which a secondary road would go straight ahead at the beginning of the curve. But we knew that “Straight Ahead” meant just that, rather than meaning “stay on the road you’re on”. So we had no trouble there; although I suspect some of the newer teams weren’t as successful.

The next section used incremental distances, so each time there was an instruction, I had to reset the incremental odometer reading, even if the instruction was “straight ahead”. In one portion of this section, Gary told me that our average speed should be 61 km/h and I was maintain that very well until he said, as a reminder, that our speed should be 67! I double-checked and sure enough, he had been looking at the cumulative odometer instead of the incremental and had given me the wrong speed. So I accelerated sharply to try to make up some time, but we arrived at Glen’s checkpoint before I could get even close to 67. I asked for a Time Allowance of 1.5 minutes, which turned out to be way too much. We were 1.3 minutes early, whereas a TA of 0.5 minutes would have put us 0.3 early. As it turned out, this mistake did not cost us a victory, but it did put us in third place behind our main rivals. So it might have cost us the championship.

As we began the last section, we were on Diamondview Road, paralleling Highway 417. I said to Gary that I’d bet there would be a checkpoint as we approached the stop sign at McGee side road, since Robert (the rallymaster), seems to favour that particular spot. Sure enough, when we rounded the last bend before the intersection, there was Evan at the side of the road waiting for us. The last portion of the section was simple distance to turn instructions and when we got to the corner of William Mooney and Cavanmore, the instruction said to turn left. But the intersection was so dark that I couldn’t see a road on the left. So I turned right and we quickly realized that it was not the correct way. So we turned around and found the very dark correct portion of Cavanmore, and proceeded to the end of rally at the Cheshire Cat.

When we checked in, Robert pointed out that we’d missed a checkpoint! But in the ensuing discussion it became obvious that the checkpoint worker had not been there when we passed. As other teams eventually checked in, we learned that he’d gone to the wrong place initially, realized his mistake too late and gone to the designated place. But two cars including ours had already passed his intended location. So Robert had to ignore all the results for that checkpoint and just calculate the end of rally expected times from other data.

We finished third with 1.7 points, while the winners had only 0.2 and the second place Experts had 1.1. If we hadn’t made the mistake with the TA, we would have had 0.7 and would have finished second. Can’t change it now, so we have to live with second place in the championship. We had a good season, finishing with only 13.2 points for the whole season, while the champions had 12.9. Now that’s close!

Infinite Monkeys ORRC Rally No. 6 – August 14, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Give an infinite number of monkeys in an infinite number of cars and an infinite amount of time…and they, too, could figure out the instructions and complete this rally. Maybe. This is the most difficult rally of the Ontario Road Rally Championship, being designed each year by Rita and Paul, who are consistently one of the best road rally teams at whatever level they compete. This year it did not disappoint, requiring almost six hours to complete about 260 km, with a short pit stop in the middle.

Gary came to my house Friday night, to sleep over, since we had to leave Saturday morning at 5:00 AM to drive to Newmarket. After one stop for gas and nature, we arrived at the little strip mall around 9:45 and found a place to park the truck and trailer so we could unload. After registering, we had a light lunch of Tim Horton’s sandwiches and talked with various competitors while waiting for the drivers’ meeting. Gary took a ten-minute nap in the car, to rest his brain.

We were car number 9, so we left the mall at 11:09 and headed for the odo check. We made good time and found that the odometer was already almost spot on with the rally master’s, so no adjustment was required. We zeroed the first check point within Section 1 and felt good about ourselves. The instructions for Section 2 were simple tulip diagrams, but there were over forty of them; they were not in sequence; and, three of them had no kilometres indicated. We would have to watch out for these three unique intersections on the fly. The first mystery diagram came up fairly early in the section, when we passed through a four-way intersection with traffic signals, while looking for the next tulip. One of the mystery diagrams was a T-intersection with traffic signals and it turned out to be this one! The drawing was incorrect! After passing through it twice and wasting 6-7 minutes, we finally reached this conclusion, turned right and got back on track. I took a Time Allowance (TA), of 7.5 minutes when we reached the next checkpoint, which was approximately right. The balance of the section went fairly easily, although it was very long, with many speed changes and different types of roads. There were two checkpoints only 30 seconds apart on a very twisty section with an average speed of 71 km/h, so of course we were late for the second one by two tenths.

I don’t remember the instructions for the remaining sections prior to the break, exactly. One involved Chinese names organized into three dynasties, each dynasty representing either a Left, Right or Straight Ahead instruction. Another involved a picture of a Chinese warrior facing you, with his body divided into four quadrants, each carrying two Chinese labels. In each case, the navigator had to read the instruction and translate the given Chinese name into the correct interpretation for the driver. We did well on these sections and I give Gary full credit for not going blind or crazy trying to decipher the instructions.

After almost three hours we had covered about 130 km and the car was beginning to stutter on acceleration. I diagnosed the problem to be the fuel pick-up in the tank, since the level of fuel was down quite a bit from Full. At the brief pit stop break – where we exchanged our route card for a new one – I filled up the tank. The problem went away until we had covered over 250 km and then it began again. I must look at the pick-up and either clean it, bend it down to the bottom of the tank or replace it. We have another local rally on Wednesday and I don’t want a repeat of this problem.

When we left the mid-rally break, we immediately got into a train of slower local traffic that prevented me from reaching our target average speed of 76 km/h until the last minute before the average speed changed. This was very frustrating and we began to calculate how much of a TA I should request at the next checkpoint, since I didn’t think we had a chance of making up the lost speed. However, it worked out that we did make it up just in time, so the TA became unnecessary.

After a fairly simple first section following the break, the next one looked pretty easy. It was a large tulip diagram showing the entire 23 km section, with no mileages on the diagram. All we had to do was watch for the next right turn, or the next small bridge, or other landmarks, and follow the map. Unfortunately, while working ahead on the next section’s instructions, Gary’s attention wavered and he forgot to tell me about an important left turn! We finished the section at approximately the right mileage and began the next section, only to realize that we were on the wrong road. With so many roads being spaced at the normal concession road distances, it’s not always clear. We backtracked and found End of Section by using the provided map. We hadn’t missed a checkpoint and could have taken a shortcut, but I didn’t want to take that risk. So we continued into the next section, disregarding the average speed instructions, until we came to the next checkpoint. Fortunately the crew was still there, although we were late enough that they might have closed the control. I knew we were very late, so I requested a TA of 19.5 minutes, even though that would exceed the available TA allotment. In the scoring, they overlooked the fact that we had exceeded the allowable maximum (in error), so we got credit for the 19.5 TA – but it still wasn’t enough and we picked up 4.0 points for that control.

From then on, we did our best to stay on track and on time and didn’t very well on the remaining checkpoints. At the end of rally, Gary made an arithmetic error and gave me the wrong clock time for checking in, so we picked up a penalty of another 3-4 points. There were a lot of teams entered, so the organizers were very busy compiling the scores at the end. I think they tried to do it quickly, which led to several discussions and corrections before the results were posted. While they were scoring, I was loading the car on the trailer and having a meal, so I didn’t go over to their table to check the results until they had been finalized. We had several questions for Rita which she couldn’t answer, so we accepted our third place monkey trophies and hit the road. Our chief rivals for the Novice championship had finished second, picking up one more point against us in the standings. We got home a little after 10:30 PM, after having driven over 1200 km in one day, and I slept like a log. The next day Rita sent us an e-mail describing the scoring errors she had found, pursuant to our questions. There were six of them! Some were in our favour, but others were not, resulting in a corrected score that was significantly higher than she had posted. However, once the Steward has posted the results, they are considered final, so our third place finish stands. We learned a few things that we will apply next time, not the least of which is to maintain a log of actual scores by checkpoint as we encounter them, so we can check it against the scoring in real time. It was a great event in spite of the problems and challenges, and we lok forward to three more good rallies in the 2010 season.

Video is available at…

Replacement of a Mazda Automatic Transaxle July 30 – August 3, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Soon after the end of his first year of university, my son Scott and I decided it was time to get him his first car. He would be working through the summer and would need a ride to and from work every day, since it would take too many bus transfers to be practical. And he would be able to drive himself the 550 km to university, not to mention visit his girlfriend about 190 km away. Since I already had a Mazda (my rally car), that I knew my way around pretty well, I pushed hard to find him an inexpensive used Mazda. They are all built using a similar architecture and I figured it would easiest to maintain that way. After a couple of false starts (both with Mercurys), we found an $800 1997 four door 626 model – with an automatic transmission. Even though Scott can drive a manual shift if necessary, he was pretty adamant that he would prefer an automatic. 

I wish I had researched the car and its transmission before we finalized the purchase. It has the Ford CD4E automatic, which seems to be the most trouble-prone automatic that Ford ever made. It is fully electronic and has a history of developing shifting problems, partly due to the components and partly due to the effects of excessive heat in the hydraulic fluid. Sure enough, after we fixed a few things to get the car certified for the road, some performance issues began to recur with the transmission. It got so bad that I looked for and found a used transaxle for $480 that we planned to use as a replacement. We scheduled the project a couple of weeks hence, believing that we had enough flexibility to do it at our convenience, some time before he would return to university. We should have done the swap immediately, as it turned out.


The replacement of the transaxle started earlier than planned. We had set aside Saturday to do it, but he called Friday morning while I was cutting the grass – fortunately I had stopped the mower to talk to Kipper. The car had died on his way to work and he couldn’t get it to move. He could start the engine and shift gears, but the transmission was not working. I told him to wait a few minutes for the oil to cool and then try again. He had pulled into a side street and partly into a driveway and I wanted to see if he could get it back on the street. He called me back to report that he’d succeeded in doing that, but the car wouldn’t move again.

I loaded my tools into the truck and hooked up the trailer, borrowing a chain from Kipper and taking all my tie-down straps. When I arrived at the car, it was positioned on a side street facing a busy road (Prince of Wales); so I had to back the trailer into the side street immediately in front of his car. We tried to push it onto the ramps and succeeded in driving it part way up, but it wouldn’t go any farther. I had a bright idea – to back the trailer under the car! We chocked the rear tires and I slowly reversed the truck, scraping the ramps on the road. This worked beautifully until the ramps reached the rear tires, when it wouldn’t go any further. I hooked up the straps and chain and started the tedious process of winching the car forward. Scott suggested trying to drive the car one more time and this time it worked! I drove it directly onto the trailer and we were home free!

We got the car home safely and I moved my Mazda and the Porsche out of the garage so we could back Scott’s Mazda inside and begin to work on it. We started the job around 10:00 AM, by jacking the car up to remove the front wheels. The first of many challenges immediately reared its head – my old cast iron floor jack wouldn’t lift the car high enough. I tried to bleed any air bubbles out of the fluid, without success, so I made the first of several trips down the street to Steve’s to borrow his good aluminum jack. While we were at it, we brought back the engine hoist, which we would need later on. I had intended to get Scott started on different steps in the process – which I had written out and posted on the wall – while I continued to cut the grass. But after I had cut the area between my house and Kipper’s, plus the west side of the back yard, the lawn care company guy showed up and sprayed the entire yard with fertilizer. I would have to wait a day to finish cutting the rest – which turned out to be a good thing. From then on, Scott needed my involvement in a big way.

The first step was to disconnect an oil line from the transmission to determine the direction of oil flow. That would tell me where and how to install the small radiator-style oil cooler and in-line filter I had bought. This test went off without a hitch, but when we tried to find a relay for the fuel pump we struck out. I was hoping to relieve the fuel system pressure in case we had to disconnect any fuel lines, but decided to just mop up any spills that might occur. We then began the serious disassembly process. While Scott removed the battery, air intake snorkel, air box and both oxygen sensors, I removed the crossmember under the rear of the engine, the exhaust down pipe, a bracket connecting the longitudinal engine support to the transaxle and the left splash shield.

Then we began the steps necessary to remove the drive axles. I separated the two tie rod ends after a quick trip to Steve’s to borrow a ball joint separator, since Gary still had mine. The tie rod ends have a castellated nut and cotter pin on the bottom and we could not remove the pin on the left side. Eventually, it broke into small pieces without coming out; so we had to use the air wrench to force the nut off. On examination, it was clear that both tie rod ends were damaged where the cotter pin hole had weakened them, so I called NAPA and ordered replacements. Then we loosened the two lower ball joint and tried to separate them. I used my spring compressor, a bottle jack to raise the hub, a crowbar, pickle fork (another trip to Steve’s), without success. I decided to abort this attempt and remove the wheel hub/steering knuckles from the struts instead.

This went fairly smoothly, but the removal of the main wheel centre nuts was another story. The right side came off fairly easily with a big socket and my breaker bar plus pipe extension, but the left side would not budge – even with the air compressor impact wrench. No matter how hard we tried to use the breaker bar plus heat from my propane torch, it simply wouldn’t move. In the process, I gave myself a cut under my jaw when the wrench slipped and I whacked my jaw on the top of the fender at the edge of the hood. Finally I decided to cut it off with the angle grinder. I cut into the nut on four facets, getting the blade as deep as possible into the rotor’s centre without cutting the rotor. With the cutting, plus the extra heat from the angle grinder, the nut came right off with the breaker bar – success! And the threads on the end of the axle weren’t damaged in the least. It’s a good thing I already had bought two new nuts. Then it took another few minutes with a hammer and various punches to get the axle to move inwards in the hub, eventually coming free. The splines on the axle were very rusty – there hadn’t been grease there for years!

After that effort, I thought it was time to remove the axles – wrong! We hadn’t yet drained the transmission fluid! With only a small puddle, we got the first axle back into place and properly drained the case. Then it was safe to remove the axles. I went under the car to remove the intake manifold support bracket, so I could get to the starter motor. Then we removed the longitudinal support under the transmission. At this point we hooked up the chain and positioned the engine hoist to support the weight of the engine, while putting the floor jack under the transmission. I measured the height of the car to ensure we could get the transmission out and discovered that the car wasn’t high enough. So we jacked it up even more on the left frame rail and moved the jack stand forward to maximize the height. I put the floor jack under the transmission and lowered the engine/transaxle assembly to get better access to the starter motor bolts.

Then we embarked on a long, slow process to remove the three bolts holding the starter in place. The one at the bottom was fairly easy, but the two at the top required us to relocate numerous portions of the wiring harness, just to get a wrench on the bolts. One of them came out easily enough, but the other one became harder to move the more we loosened it. The reason was that the end of the bolt had been exposed to the elements and was quite swollen with rust. In addition, it was evident that some bright lad had applied locktite to the bolt, making it extremely difficult to remove. Eventually it came out, but that process had to consume at least a half hour.

The next step was to remove motor mounts at both the front and rear of the engine. The front one had to come off so we could reach one of the big bolts holding the transaxle to the engine, even though the mount itself wasn’t attached to the car’s body. This is the one that rests on the longitudinal support, which by now had been removed. In order to reach the bottom two (of four) bolts, I had to contort myself under the car and over the legs of the engine hoist. The rear motor mount was far more difficult, because, once again, the two bolts fastening it to the transaxle were buried under the wiring harness and the heater hoses. I opened one the heater hose connections to get access and, of course, we got a big puddle of coolant for our efforts. We succeeded in getting one of the two bolts out of the motor mount, but the rear one posed a bigger problem. There wasn’t room to get a socket wrench on it, so I tried a box wrench with a dogleg at each end. That was the right tool, but we couldn’t get the bolt to move at all. I think the right tool is a shallow socket with a wobble extension and I decided to see whether Steve has such a thing in the morning. We quit for the night around 10:30, after working for 12 hours! I don’t think the original plan of doing the whole job on a Saturday would have worked!

Day Two

Saturday morning I awoke at 6:15, not exactly raring to go but knowing that I’d need the whole day to finish. I remembered that we still hadn’t disconnected the shift cable or speedometer wire, so that would have to come first. I also remembered that I have a shallow 17 mm socket in the small tool kit in the rally car, so I would try that on the motor mount. But first, I would clean up the mess on the floor and organize the tools so we could find everything again. At least we had used several clear plastic containers for all the nuts and bolts, so we should be able to find them. While Scott slept in, I also made a bracket for the new transmission oil cooler and mounted it in front of the air conditioning radiator, which is front of the normal radiator, surrounded by trombone coolers for the transmission and power steering fluid. What a mess of plumbing up there!

It’s a good thing we inadvertently chose a long weekend for this project, because it looked as though we’d need all of it. To remove the stubborn bolt from the rear motor mount, we tried all possible combinations of wobble joints, universal joints, shallow sockets with built-in universal joints, air wrench, etc. In the process I broke my own 3/8” drive universal joint and Steve’s 17 mm socket with built-in universal. Finally I decided that bolt was not going to come out without seriously improving our access to it. Even if I’d been able to unfasten the rear portion of the motor mount from the firewall, the transaxle portion was still too big to allow the transaxle to drop down and out of the car. Soon I decided that I could disassemble the universal joint and create some space between its pivot drum and the stubborn bolt. I was able to get a wrench on the left end of the motor mount pivot bolt from underneath and slowly loosened it. But when I tapped it out with a hammer, it collided with the hard power steering lines near the firewall and wouldn’t pass. After a few false starts I realized that if I raised the engine, the bolt would be able to clear the lines; so that’s what I did. Then we still had to get a wrench on the stubborn bolt to remove the transaxle half of the motor mount. To accomplish this and ultimately succeed in removing the stubborn bolt, I crawled under the car and used a 24” long socket extension to pry the transaxle away from the firewall far enough that Scott could get a socket directly on the bolt.

At this point my old friend Rob had come over to bleed his brakes and check on our progress. He helped us begin to lower and separate the engine and transaxle, so we could see the nuts which fasten the torque converter to the flywheel. It seems that these nuts are visible only through a ½” gap between the flywheel and the engine case, requiring some kind of special 14mm offset wrench to clear the flywheel’s teeth and sit squarely on the four critical nuts. Certainly I don’t have such a wrench and neither does Steve, so we decided to make on by cutting the head off a box wrench and welding it back on the handle parallel to its original position – creating an offset for 4-5 mm. By now it was 7 PM and Scott was going out. So I finished cutting the grass with the tractor and sat down to relax. Not much progress for a full day in Fearless Garage!

Day Three

Sunday morning I watched the Hungarian Grand Prix with my friends and had breakfast at the Swan. Afterwards I went to Canadian Tire to exchange two broken tools and to buy a sacrificial wrench for the flywheel nuts. I stopped at Steve’s on the way home to verify that he’d be able to weld the special tool that I wanted to make; then I went home and began to make it. I cut the head off a 14 mm box wrench about ¼” from the head and ground flat surfaces on the stub handle and on the main handle, clamping them in the desired position with Vise-Grips. Steve welded them together beautifully and I went back to try it out. By then Scott had returned from his night out and we got into position, with me under the car and him on the crankshaft pulley with a wrench, to rotate the flywheel for me. After a few minutes of trying to fit the new tool, I realized that I needed 15 mm, not 14 mm! How frustrating! Everything else on the car is either 10, 12, 14, 17 or 19 mm. But this Ford transaxle uses 15 mm nuts! So the sacrificial wrench has been sacrificed to no avail.

I found that I was able to use a 15 mm offset box wrench successfully, plus an articulated ratcheting box wrench I borrowed from Steve. After about 20 minutes of careful wrenching we had the four flywheel nuts removed. Then we carefully lowered the transaxle to a dolly, using a combination of the engine hoist and floor jack. It took a little while to find a position that allowed me to disconnect the speedometer wires from underneath our favourite motor mount, which is a really dumb place for an electrical connector. We had to raise the left side of the car a couple of inches to get enough clearance to remove the transaxle on the dolly, while supporting the engine with a bottle jack and piece of 4” x 4” wood. This was a major milestone – we were halfway home!

At this point, Scott pleaded his need for a nap, since he’d been up most of the night before. So I sent him to bed, while I finished cutting the grass with the hand mower, to pick up the previous day’s cuttings and trim the edges. I cleaned up the spilled oil and coolant from the floor and spread oil stain removing powder everywhere. Then I covered the wet area with a piece of vapour barrier, so I could lie on the floor without getting any dirtier than necessary. I reinstalled the troublesome motor mount and removed a redundant bracket from the new transaxle. Then I decided to begin the process of installing the replacement transaxle, since most of the work could be done using the hoist and jack. After a lot of manoeuvring, I positioned the transaxle correctly to allow the insertion of the main bolts which attach it to the engine.

Once we finally got all the bolts in position and partly threaded in, I was ready to start installing the flywheel-to-torque converter nuts. But I found two problems: first, I could see the studs on the torque converter, since it had slipped inwards (towards the transmission) and studs had become recessed from the rim of the bell housing, and second, the studs were not aligned with the holes in the flywheel.  So we had to remove the big bolts used to connect the transmission to the engine and move the transmission back so I could get a tool on the studs. I got a pair of pliers on one of the studs and jiggled the torque converter back and forth, while pulling it to get the studs closer to the flywheel. This worked really well – too well in fact. The torque converter came out too far and disconnected from the splined shafts at the transaxle end! No matter how I jiggled and pushed, I could get it centred correctly on the shafts.

This is a great illustration of why everything happens for a reason. Exactly at this moment, Morley came by to see how we were doing. He asked me whether I’d filled the torque converter with fluid before installing it. I hadn’t and perhaps I should have. This particular torque converter does not have an opening around its circumference to draw in fresh fluid – it’s a sealed unit. The only place to pour in fluid is the central splined receiver for the transaxle shafts. So I would have to lower the transaxle and remove the torque converter in order to fill it. Then I would have to insert it into the transaxle while fluid drips out and position it precisely on the splined shafts so it would mate correctly with the flywheel. Sounded like a job for Monday morning, so I sent Scott off on his date and went to bed. But first I posted a question to a Ford help web site, to see if I could get some expert help on how to install the flywheel nuts and to verify that I should fill the torque converter.

Day Four

By Monday morning I hadn’t heard back from a Ford expert, so I had to do a little more internet research on the installation procedure for the transaxle. I found a forum where someone had written that they’d put a quart of oil in their torque converter before installing it, but then I got a reply from Shawn – a twenty-year Ford master technician – who wrote that it wasn’t necessary. He also said there is an access hatch to allow for the installation of the torque converter to flywheel nuts, but didn’t say where it is located. Armed with this profound knowledge, I went to the garage.

I began by removing all of the large bolts that hold the two units together; then I lowered the transaxle almost to the floor so I could remove and partially fill the torque converter. After pouring a few ounces of fluid into the centre shaft opening, I turned it on its side and a small amount of oil came out. So I knew I could not add a full litre without making a real mess. While lying on my back, I lifted the forty pound converter into position and slid it onto the splined shaft. It took quite a bit of jiggling and pushing to get it to seat properly, after which I had no blood flow in either arm! But finally it snicked into place and I began to raise the transaxle into position next to the engine, using both the engine hoist and floor jack. 

Before raising the transaxle, I rotated the converter to position one of the four studs at the bottom, where I would try to match it with a hole in the flywheel. I discovered that I could use a screwdriver to move the flywheel one tooth at a time, instead of relying on my helper (who was still sleeping), to rotate the crankshaft pulley. Once I got the stud and hole close to alignment, I began raising the transaxle.  It took me a long time to find the right angle, clear a few obstructions and reach a point where I could start the main bolts into their holes. But eventually they were all threaded in properly and I tightened them enough to bring the studs on the torque converter into the holes on the flywheel. I used a bent coat hanger to determine whether my stud and hole at the bottom were aligned; then rotated the flywheel using the screwdriver and a convenient notch to pry it into position. Once I felt that it was as close as possible, I tightened all the main bolts so the gap between the engine and transaxle was less than 1/2”. Then I went to the crankshaft pulley and jiggled it a bit, using a socket wrench. I heard a distinct “click” and sure enough, the stud had seated into its hole.

I loosened the main bolts to widen the gap between the engine and transaxle and when I examined the stud I could see that it had barely entered the hole in the flywheel. I needed to find a way to bring the torque converter closer to the flywheel so I could start the nuts on their threads. Just then I noticed a hole in the bottom of the transaxle case, just about where the edge of the torque converter would be. I inserted a long thin screwdriver, made contact with the seam of the torque converter, and pried.  Presto! The torque converter slid easily towards the flywheel and I could see the full length of the stud! I yelled out “Yes!” and celebrated a small victory. It was then a simple, but tedious, matter of installing the four nuts using long needle nose pliers and tightening them with the 15 mm offset wrench. When Scott surfaced a little while later, I got him to hold the crankshaft pulley while I torqued the nuts as hard as possible. I never found Shawn’s access panel, but got the job done anyway.

After that, our assembly process went fairly smoothly, although not without small challenges along the way. We tightened all the big bolts, connected the speedometer wire, installed the starter motor and intake manifold support bracket, raised the engine/transaxle assembly, connected the motor mounts, installed the right drive axle and assembled the right steering knuckle/strut. By this time it was past the supper hour, so we stopped for the night. While Scott began to prepare supper, I disconnected the engine hoist and cleaned up a bit, confident that we would finish the job the next day.

Day Five

And I was right, but it took us until 4 PM to finish. Tuesday began sunny and cool, but quickly warmed up and got pretty humid. By 10 o’clock I was already drenched in sweat and I’d only been working on a wheel! I finished up the right side tie rod end and installed the left drive axle. But first I had to grind the end of the axle to remove the burr I had created while hammering it to remove it! Then I began to install the new lower ball joint on the left side, which I’d picked up from NAPA early that morning. I had connected the tie rod end and put the steering knuckle back in the strut, but found that I couldn’t get the old ball joint off with everything else in place. By now Scott had arrived and we disconnected the steering knuckle to get better access. It took quite a bit of prying and lifting to separate the control arm from the steering knuckle; then we supported the knuckle on a concrete block. I tried to use my ball joint separator (which Gary had returned), but the joint was too big; so I tried to hammer the joint out. Then I realized it had a C-clip holding it in place, so I removed that and the joint came apart pretty easily. From then on it was a straightforward process of installing the new ball joint and reconnecting the knuckle to the strut.

Then we began the process of reassembling the rest of the pieces that had come off first. I had already secured the many tentacles of the wiring harness with their original clips or zip ties, so we reconnected all of the electrical plugs. While Scott reassembled the air intake – four pieces – and the battery box, I was under the car installing the exhaust downpipe, oxygen sensor, front engine support beam, rear crossmember and splash shield. I added as much radiator coolant as I could and poured in 4-1/2 litres of transmission oil, plus a half bottle of Lucas conditioner. After a brief pause to go through mental checklists, I told Scott to start the engine.

It caught the first time and idled smoothly, with no strange sounds or smells. I checked the transmission fluid level and added two more litres. Then I got Scott to select different gears so I could observe the motion at the front hubs – the wheels were still not mounted and the car was still on the jack stands. After cycling through all of the gears, the brake rotors were turning in the right direction, although the first time Scott put it in Drive, he had his foot on the brake and didn’t tell me! I couldn’t figure out what was wrong! We quickly rectified that mental error and things seemed pretty good, except the transmission didn’t want to engage Reverse unless it had been put into Park first. Before installing the wheels, we measured side-to-side the distance between the front and rear of the brake rotors, to see whether we were in the neighbourhood of a decent toe-in setting. There was a 1/16” difference between front and rear and I had used white-out to mark the position of the tie rod ends, so it seemed safe enough to drive, if not good enough to leave that way.  Scott then installed the wheels and we were ready for a test drive.

After driving around the block a couple of times, I checked the transmission fluid level and it seemed good, but the engine temperature was too high. I added more antifreeze and measured the engine temp with my infrared thermometer, watching the temp drop to more acceptable levels. After a couple more laps around the block the temperature was extremely high, so I knew we had to burp the system to get air bubbles out. Pointing out that this is not recommended and not for the faint of heart, I carefully opened the hot radiator cap a few degrees with a rag and heavy glove. We could hear a lot of loud gurgling as the air bubbles escaped, so I knew we were on the right track. After adding more antifreeze, Scott did a few more laps and the temperature was good. I checked for more air bubbles and got nothing, so the cooling system seemed to be fine. I checked the temperature of the new transmission oil cooler and it was about 43C, so that seemed to working properly as well. After cleaning up the garage and himself, Scott was free to go to his girlfriend’s for supper. He thanked me profusely several times and agreed that he had learned a lot of useful things over the course of the five-day project.

Later that night, while I was relaxing with a book, the doorbell rang. It was unusually late for an unexpected visitor, but I went to the door and it was Morley. He had seen a small ¼” drive socket extension fall out of the car while Scott was doing his laps and had stopped by to return it. That gave us both a good laugh and I took the opportunity to thank him for his support and useful suggestions. I guess Scott had left it on top of the radiator moulding while he was assembling the air intake and forgotten to put it away. So the learning continues – but we had a great time, saved some money and learned a few things. It was a great project, but I won’t be doing it again soon! As a post script, we had one leftover bolt, the purpose of which has escaped me completely. We tried and tried to reconstruct the disassembly process, to remember where it had come from, but could not remember or find an empty hole where it should go. I am confident that everything important is well fastened, but it contuse to bother me that we missed something. Maybe someday I’ll have an inspiration and we’ll set it right.

Pictures are available here…

Ted Powell Memorial Race Weekend – July 24-25, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The 2010 Motorsport Club of Ottawa Ted Powell Memorial Race Weekend went off without a hitch, in beautiful weather. However, it didn’t come together easily. During the planning stages through the winter and spring, it became evident that we might not receive the number of volunteer corner marshals necessary to use the whole track at Calabogie  and perhaps not even the east half of the track. Newly clarified regulations from CASC-OR dictated that we must have at least one senior corner marshal for each marshalling station, qualified to act as Corner Captain. That would require thirteen senior marshals in order to run the half track, and twenty for the full track. In addition, we would need at least one other certified marshal for each station, if not two. Since these are all volunteer positions, it went right down to the wire before MCO could make a decision regarding the track configuration that would be used. We wound up using the East Track instead of the full track because we didn’t get enough Corner Captains.

I’m not sure that the racers minded this too much, since the East Track contains the most challenging turns and it’s still 2.81 km long. In particular, Turn 1 is a very fast, sweeping right-hander that requires precise driving and excellent grip to maximize one’s speed through there and all the way to Turn 10. Personally, I find it an excellent challenge and a nice change from the slower corners of the full track configuration. Sometimes the racers go through Turn 1 two abreast, which can get pretty dicey at high speed. But this year there were no major incidents there, although a few cars did put two wheels in the grass.

My weekend began Friday morning, when I set out for Capital City Speedway where the MCO trailer is stored, to pick up my brooms for Track Services, as well as two coolers for water bottles, plus a generator and a can of gasoline for the PA system. I had to rearrange the contents of the trailer somewhat in order to find five of my brooms, which were at the bottom of the pile, which was kind of annoying. The Autocross guys use them to sweep up the course when they’ve finished, but I guess they just throw them into the trailer and then stack all their cones and boxes of stuff on top. When I left the speedway I decided to take some back roads as my route to the highway, in order to avoid backtracking towards Ottawa. That added a bit of time to my trip, since one of the roads was being graded with fresh gravel. It was wet and dirty, so my truck was a little grubby by the time I reached Calabogie.

Upon arrival, I put a couple of MCO magnetic logos on my doors, parked in my designated prime spot near pit-out and picked up a radio and headset from the tower. Then I visited Jane in the track office and got a mug of her excellent French vanilla coffee. I hadn’t arranged for any of my crew to be there on Friday, so I simply had to register, get my tee shirt and hang around chatting with people while the racers were practising. Things were going pretty well until I heard on the radio that there was some oil down on the front straight. Almost immediately, calls began coming in to Race Control that there was oil in Turns 9, 10, 11, 12 and all the way around to Turn 17! The Rescue vehicles were all dispatched in a hurry and Jane called over to me “Peter – get your crew!” Well I didn’t have a “crew”, so I hollered for anyone nearby to volunteer to help. One racer stepped forward, saying “The sooner we get this cleaned up, the sooner we’re back on track.” We went out on track and worked hard for 20-25 minutes sweeping Absorbal all the way from Turn 20 around to Turn 17 – about 90% of the track – on the racing line. The oil had come out of a Formula car – either 1200 or 1600 – which I didn’t think could hold that much oil! All the Rescue people and many corner marshals were involved in sweeping and we had all the trucks out there spreading Absorbal and driving through the resulting powdered line. Finally it was cleaned up, but for the rest of the weekend we had a reminder on track of exactly where the preferred line was located.

Friday afternoon I hooked up with my friends Jeff and Andrew (and his son Dave), who were planning to race their Triumph Spitfire GT6 in the Vintage class. I had been following the construction of this car regularly, since Jeff owns the NAPA store where I live and I shop there often. I had also been following Jeff’s progress as a driver, since he had very little track time when he got his racing licence. They were having trouble with the engine overheating and with inadequate power. But they persevered and found a better timing setting to reduce the heat and they borrowed a set of smaller Weber carburetor jets to increase the power output. We fixed an oil leak around the fittings for the oil filter and breather hose, as well. Over the weekend the car ran pretty well, although Andrew felt that it needed bigger venturis to get the most power possible. While helping them with the car, I began to make suggestions to Jeff as to how he could carry more speed in certain corners, by braking and downshifting less. Before long, two or three of his paddock neighbours had joined the discussion, since they also had Vintage cars that would have to rely heavily on momentum. By the time we stopped, they were all grateful for my suggestions and made positive comments over the weekend about the results they were getting. This was very gratifying for me and I was glad to help. Friday night we all had a great dinner at the Staye House restaurant in Arnprior and retired reasonably early to our rooms at the Quality Inn.

Saturday morning I arrived at the track around 7:30 and had a brief conversation with the chief rescue official about our day’s activities and responsibilities. My Track Services crew started to arrive and we gathered around the pit-out area to give them their team assignments and corner positions. One of my volunteers didn’t show up and I found out later he’d had an emergency at work that held him back. I juggled the team assignments a bit to ensure we’d have three workers at both corners 10 and 17 at all times, since they tend to be busier spots. At 8:45 we went onto the track for a couple of reconnaissance laps and to drop the Turns 10 and 17 teams at their stations. The previous evening I had promised Dave a ride around the track since he’d never been on it, so I took him along and described the racing line as we went. He had a great time and was very grateful for the experience.

The morning’s agenda included practice and qualifying for the Vintage, G70, GT, Formula Classic/1200/Libre/1600 and the Enduro racers. There were no incidents and we spent a very quiet time in the paddock just watching the action and chatting with various people that I know from prior events and lapping days. Over the lunch hour we all got sandwiches and fruit and I ran into the BARC crew from Toronto, who were managing the mock grid at the other end of the paddock. I had a few pleasant words with Angelina, who is one of the BARC volunteers and a very nice, attractive lady I’d met before. I also met with Betty, whose husband Carl has a NASCAR Nationwide-style Taurus stock car that he brings to lapping days. He would be running in the GT-1 class and the Enduro race. Betty asked me where she could buy one of our volunteer T-shirts, so I told her they weren’t for sale. Then I went up and got one for her from the registration room! She’s a very nice lady too.

In the afternoon we had a bit of work to do. There was an oil spill between turns 12 and 14 that required my crew (now stationed at Turn 10) to get out our brooms and sweep up the Absorbal. Once we’d finished, the Race Controller released cars from the pit lane for the next race, behind the pace car. I was told to hustle around to my Turn 10 station, but by the time I got to Turn 9, the pace car had pitted and the track was green! So I really had to move it to stay in front of the field and get off the track by the time they reached Turn 10. That was an exciting lap, but we made it without incident! The afternoon’s activities included races for all classes, ending with a one-hour Enduro. Carl was running his Taurus in the Enduro and looked like a sure thing to win it. But he neglected to make a mandatory one-minute pit stop during the allotted time and had to forfeit the win. I spoke to him afterwards and he admitted that he didn’t know about the pit stop, although it had been covered at the drivers’ meeting. I don’t know whether he had skipped the meeting, but he won’t do it again – he was very disappointed and down on himself when we spoke.

At the end of the day there was free beer for all the volunteers, plus a barbeque in the tent near the administration building. But before the food was served, there was a wedding on the front straight! That’s right – a wedding! Mike and Mary have been together for 23 years and have a lovely daughter, so they finally decided to get married. They are responsible for scrutineering for CASC-OR and everyone knows them. So after the simple – and Quaker – ceremony, they walked down a makeshift aisle formed by friends and workers holding marshalling flags like an archway. It was very cute and everyone had a great time. Then the line formed for the barbeque and Dale and I decided to go into Arnprior rather than wait for a half hour just to get a free hamburger. We ate in East Side Mario’s, which is attached to the Quality Inn, at a table right next to Jeff, Andrew and Dave (plus the two wives).  Once the women had left for Ottawa, we joined the guys and had a few more beers, while telling jokes and stories from the track. It was a good evening and once again, we didn’t stay up too late. Dale and I shared a room, but thankfully neither of us woke the other with our snoring or bathroom breaks.

Sunday morning was another perfect day, but cooler than Saturday had been. I had one new crew member and one who didn’t return from Saturday, which was expected. By now everyone knew the drill, so we did our recce laps and got ready to settle in. But race control asked me to check each marshal’s station to ensure they had at least one fire bottle. So we did one more lap, stopping at each station to see how many bottles they had. While several stations wanted a second bottle – which we couldn’t provide – they all had at least one. So we returned to our station at Turn 17 and got ready for the action. After a couple of practice sessions, the racing began with Formula 1600, followed by Formula 1200. During that race, two of the F1200 cars came together at Turn 17, right in front of us. They both went into the grass, but only one was able to continue. I asked for, and received, permission from Race Control to push the disabled car out of harm’s way. Then after the race I towed him into the paddock. We were told to stay in the paddock until the end of the next race, at which time I did another hot lap to get back to Turn 17 ahead of the field. In the afternoon we were stationed back in the paddock and there were no on-track incidents requiring our involvement for the rest of the day.

But there was some really good racing – especially a Formula Libre race near the end. I don’t know how the qualifying order was established, but one of the fastest drivers – Nick in a black Radical – started from the second last grid position. The pole belonged to a red Radical owned by a friend of mine named Bill. There were three other Radicals, a Diasio and several open-wheeled racers separating the two. After four laps Nick had moved up to fourth place and was challenging for third. In a couple more laps he was in second and the battle began in earnest. No matter how hard he pressed, he could not get the better of Bill’s car and that’s how they ran until the chequered flag. I couldn’t believe that Bill had held him off, although Bill is a skilled driver. But when the helmets came off, it was clear what had happened. The driver of Bill’s car was another fast guy named Clive, whom Bill had put in the car. Both of them were overjoyed and everyone in the pit lane was delighted with the result and the quality of the racing.

The racing all weekend had been exciting and clean. I really enjoy watching the Vintage and G70 classes, especially with two old Porsche 911’s running. I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the short track configuration. And everyone was complimentary about the quality of the event and precision of its running. Now that everyone has had time to catch their breath and rest up, I’m sure they’re looking forward to next year. I know I am!

Video is at…

Pictures are at…

Calabogie NER/RSR DE Event – July 8-9, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

July 8, 9 and 10 there was a joint Driver’s Education event between the Northeast Region and Rennsport. I decided quite late to register, so I had to seek special approval to register after the deadline – and pay a small penalty fee. I was assigned to the White run group, which is the equivalent of Rennsport’s Blue group.

When I arrived at the track at 7:00 AM, the paddock was already full of numerous transporters, trailers, motor homes trucks and cars. Virtually all of our American friends had arrived the night before and many were staying at the track overnight. The paddock was almost as full as it is for a race weekend. I had to drive down behind the administration building to find room to park. I ended up beside a man I had spoken to briefly at Watkins Glen (named Allan), and we chatted amiably throughout the two days I was at Calabogie.

We were in the middle of a typical July heat wave and the temperature was already 21C when I left home at 5:30 AM. It quickly rose as the fog burned off, reaching 30 by mid-morning and a high of 39C around 2 PM! That’s 102 Fahrenheit. Fortunately we were allowed to wear short sleeves while driving, although we still needed long pants. Many people changed into shorts and sandals while waiting for their next stint, including me. I only wore my gloves for two stints in the morning and didn’t bother in the heat of the afternoon because they were just too uncomfortable. Everyone drank as much fluid as possible and the water supplied by the organizers quickly disappeared. Fortunately, on the second day the weather cooled dramatically, with the temperature reaching only 21C and with rain beginning around noon. Even though it spoiled the driving somewhat, we were grateful for the respite from the intense heat.

Day 1 – Thursday

My first stint was scheduled for 10:20, so I had a long wait after the driver’s’ meeting. But it wasn’t without some excitement. During the very first session of the day – for the Red run group (instructors) – one of the cars dumped its entire load of coolant on the track at Turn 14. It turned out to be Bruce – one of the track’s owners – in his 996 GT3. One of the coolant hose connections had come apart, where it is just a press fit. Apparently this is a common problem caused by a cheap design. Most racers TIG weld all of these connections to avoid the problem. Fortunately, Bruce keeps other cars at the track and was able to use his Radical for the rest of the weekend. But the track was closed for almost a half hour while the spill was cleaned up. So the remaining morning run groups were shortened to 15-20 minutes (from 26 minutes), to allow us to get back on schedule by 1:30.

My first stint lasted only two laps, as I had a mechanical problem. I had recently changed the seal on the transmission shift rod to stop a fluid leak. When I put the shift linkage back together, I had found the sweet spot for the two concentric splined shafts and tightened them firmly. But I must have had the splines in contact with one another, instead of in the intervening grooves. When I down shifted to third for Turn 12, the shift lever went way too far forward. Although I was able to select the correct gears for the remainder of that lap and the next one, I knew the shafts were not as tight as they should be. So I pitted and readjusted the linkage to tighten it up again. By the time I was finished, the shortened stint was over. So I had to wait until noon for another shot at the track.

One of the NER rules is that all solo drivers in Blue and White must take an instructor with them for at least one stint on each day. Because I had registered late, I didn’t know in advance who my assigned instructor would be. I sought out the NER chief instructor and asked him about it. After a while he tracked me down and told me it would be Jim – owner of Kanata Ford and the Speed Merchants shop. I have known Jim for a couple of years and we drive at many of the same events. I found him and we had a good laugh about the assignment, since we both have many, many laps at Calabogie. He thought it was quite ironic that he should try to show me how to drive the track. We agreed to do what was expected, but not until later in the afternoon.

For my second stint, the ambient temperature was already over 30C, so I watched my temperature gauge closely and shifted gears between 5000 and 6000 rpm to try to keep the oil temperature reasonable. Nevertheless, after about 14 minutes it had climbed to over 120C and I stopped to verify the temperature with my infrared thermometer. It showed a reading of about 105C so I was relieved to know that the gauge is a bit optimistic, as I had seen at The Glen. However, because the stints had all been shortened, I didn’t have time to go back out on track before the lunch break. The other instrument problem I was having was with the tachometer. In extreme ambient temperatures, it tends to freeze while parked or after start-up. And it may or may not unfreeze while I’m driving. Fortunately, I know all my shift points at Calabogie and I know the sound of my engine, so it’s not really a factor – just disconcerting.

In the afternoon, my first stint was at 2:49 and Jim joined me for that one. I had to get my Chatterbox intercom from the truck, since Jim’s had not held a charge overnight. We had a good, full stint, although I stopped halfway through to check the oil temperature with the infrared gun in the pit lane, since the gauge was showing about 125C. But the infrared showed 105, so we resumed with more confidence. Jim made a couple of suggestions to help me maintain a bit more momentum, which were useful. At Turn 5, he suggested apexing a bit later to allow me to carry more speed to the turn-in point for Turn 6. And at Turns 1 and 16 he suggested braking a bit earlier and lighter, to carry more speed – while balanced – through the turns. Both ideas were very helpful and I now feel more comfortable driving faster in those turns. I shot a good video in the morning of the second day, but my lap times had not improved over my previous day at the track.

The fourth stint of the day was very enjoyable, but extremely hot. So the engine’s power was down a bit and the temperature was pretty high – although still OK when tested with the infrared. I was very glad to get back into shorts for the drive home. There was a beer and wine social at the end of the day, but I just spoke to a few people and grabbed a couple of bottles of fruit-flavoured water for the road. By the time I got home, I was really worn out and didn’t stay up very late in the evening.

Day 2 – Friday

What a contrast in the weather! It was still about 20C first thing in the morning, but the temperature never rose much above that. Once again my first stint was at 10:20 and the air felt very much like rain would arrive soon. The track had more grip and the engine felt stronger, but my lap times were still around 2:50, in spite of Jim’s coaching. Some of the NER guys who had been learning the track on Thursday were a bit quicker on the second day, but there was still a bit of traffic to deal with – both behind me and in front of me. There are a lot of fast cars in Rennsport and NER and I have to watch my mirrors closely. At one point I was following a Subaru into Turn 5, when he clipped the turn-in cone on track left. The cone went flying into the air, toward the right, and landed on the track right in front of me. I was far enough back that I had time to dodge it, but from then on the marshal at Turn 3 had a debris flag on display and the line into Turn 5 was a bit odd. Yes, NER permits non-Porsches to run. There were two BMW’s and two Subarus in the mix, but not all in my run group.

Between stints I spoke to Bob from Rennsport, who is responsible for organizing DE events and signing drivers off for the Black and Red run groups. He had given me a check ride at Mont Tremblant in May, but I had failed to move up to Black because my braking was a bit harsh. I told him I didn’t want to try again at Calabogie, but would wait until later in July to try at Le Circuit. Sort of like getting back on the horse that threw me. He agreed and said I had been very close, so we’ll do it there.

 In my second stint – around noon – two things happened. First of all, the rain came – lightly at first and then it picked up to large raindrops falling in a widely scattered pattern. Before long it became a heavy downpour, but only after I’d stopped. I had to pull into the pit lane early, because I was black flagged. I couldn’t figure out what the problem could be, but was told that the reason was puffs of smoke. I told the official that the oil pressure, temperature, level and air/fuel ratio gauges were all good, so it must simply be “old 911 syndrome”.

The rain fell very heavily and persistently until about 2 o’clock, but because there was no thunder or lightning, the track was open. By the time my stint came around at 2:49, the track was still wet, but the rain had stopped and the track began to dry out. Of course my speeds were lower and grip was an issue, so I just practised my wet line and enjoyed a relatively empty track. Several people didn’t bother to go out, because they didn’t feel like changing tires or didn’t have a second set suitable for the conditions. Once my stint was over, the rain started again and persisted for the balance of the afternoon. I found Jim and we agreed that he didn’t have to ride with me again, once again laughing about the irony of him trying to teach me the track. Because it was raining steadily, I decided to forego my last stint and simply packed up when there was a short break in the rain.

While waiting for the weather to improve, I had a good long chat with Travis, who is another En-Track instructor and a Grand Am driver. He has an interesting background, having started with karts when he was twelve. During our discussion, the MCO guys who had reserved the track for 5:00 PM started to arrive. Evan came over to join us and we had a good discussion about Targa Newfoundland, which he had won in 2006, navigating for Glen in a 911. It seems that’s something that Travis would like to try some day.

Overall, the car ran very well, notwithstanding the oil temperature question and the puffs of smoke. A few days later I mentioned this to Chris (the engine builder) and he speculated that might have been black smoke caused by the accelerator pump, not oil smoke. The oil level gauge has stopped working again, but I checked the oil manually and it had used only a half litre over the two days. I did a total of about 250 kms, or 50 laps, and burned about a tank’s worth of 91 octane. Overall, it was a good event and a lot less expensive than attending Fiat Freak Out!

Video is available at…



Pictures are posted at…

Watkins Glen –June 19-20, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Watkins Glen is about the same distance from Ottawa as Etobicoke, in the Toronto area, at 435 kms. But it takes about 6 hours to get there, instead of 4-1/2. This is mainly due to the border crossing, construction on the NY State Thruway and the lower speed limit on Highway 14, from the Thruway to the Glen. It’s a long drive, but not unpleasant. The entire western shore of Seneca Lake, along Highway 14, is dotted with vineyards and attractive properties, plus the pretty town of Geneva.

Last year I had intended to go there in August, but had to cancel when my engine blew up. This year I was determined to go, so I registered early for the PCA Zone 1 48 Hours at the Glen, which is traditionally held on the third weekend in June. It is a large event, drawing people from all over the northeast, as well as from other PCA Zones. I believe there were over 200 cars there this year.

I left home around 10:40 AM on Friday, hoping to get to the track in time to have a courtesy ride from another Ottawa guy (Ted), who would be there for the instructor day. However I didn’t make it in time, because of the longer driving time, as well as missing a couple of turns, in both Geneva and in Watkins Glen. When I stopped at US Customs at the border, the guard was one of those professional border guards, with the short sleeved shirt shrink-wrapped around bulging biceps. He asked some very peculiar questions, like: “How long had I owned the Porsche? Had I made any modifications to it?” In contrast, on the way home, the Canadian Customs woman asked me how I’d done in the “racing”!

There were eight Ottawa guys at the event, all sharing garage space for our lawn chairs, coolers, etc., plus several other Ottawa and Montreal guys from Rennsport and some Upper Canada Region people. Canadians were well represented. The garage space was most welcome, since it became very hot on both days and we had some rain Saturday afternoon as well. The garage at The Glen is huge, containing 30 double bays under a single roof – a very busy place and the location for all drivers’ meetings, classrooms, etc. The Porsche club has introduced a new feature this year, whereby noted professional driver David Murry is present and provides seminars, individual in-car videos with coaching afterwards and on-site corner observations and teaching.

Just like at Mont Tremblant last month, the Ottawa contingent didn’t escape without its share of mechanical problems. After our first stint on Saturday, Peter W. Discovered that he had a power steering fluid leak in his 2007 GT3. When we finally got the car partially on a trailer so he could work underneath, he discovered that a line had cracked just under the driver’s seat area. The lines are made of a hard plasticized material and there was no way to repair it, so his driving was over for the weekend. By the time he got it off the trailer and loaded up, it was too late to go home until Sunday. So he and his wife Chris stayed for supper Saturday night and went home Sunday morning. That’s an expensive 30 minutes of track time! The other incident occurred Saturday afternoon when Chris – my engine builder – blew up the engine in his 1967 911 race car in a big way, spilling lots of oil in Turn 10 and the pit-in lane. A couple of cars spun in the oil, but thankfully no one hit the Armco. A connecting rod had gone right through the engine case, so his driving was over as well. At least he has the know-how to build another one!

I had registered for the event in the Yellow run group, so I could learn the track with an instructor. Obviously, I wanted to be signed off to drive solo, but first I wanted to be sure to get as much input as necessary to be able to drive the track correctly. When I checked in on Saturday morning, I was told that my instructor had blown his transmission on Saturday and he had left for home. So I was assigned a new guy whose student had cancelled out. While I didn’t meet the first guy, I couldn’t have asked for a better substitute. His name is Jos and he’s in his early thirties. Apart from being a PCA instructor (with the NY Metro region), he also sky-dives. He was friendly, easy to talk to and gave clear instructions. I had a bit of trouble understanding him because he wears a close-faced helmet and the intercom tends to become a bit muffled, so I encouraged him to use hand signals to help me make adjustments as we drove. That worked really well and I had no trouble learning the line in my first stint Saturday morning. We made a few refinements in the second stint and Jos was prepared to sign me off to drive solo after that. Unfortunately, the organizers have a policy that no one could be signed off until the second day, so Jos had to accompany me for the remaining two stints Saturday afternoon. There was very little dialogue in those two stints and we had a great time.

The skies darkened after lunch on Saturday and the promised rain storm moved in for a short time, just before my third stint. It was raining lightly as we began, but stopped shortly into the stint. It was fun picking out the correct line while the track was wet and as it began to dry. With my street tires (and new ones on the front, at that), I had no trouble with grip. There are numerous concrete patches at The Glen – just like at Mosport – so it is a good idea to avoid them if possible under wet conditions. Oddly enough, most of the concrete does not hug the curbs in the apexes, showing that the powerful cars that are responsible for tearing up the asphalt are not clipping the apexes as well as they should. But to avoid a slide, it is a good idea to avoid putting the loaded outside tires on the concrete. So it’s necessary either to slow down and drive the normal line, or to swing wide to get the outside tires on asphalt. In Turn 10, this became really exaggerated, since the concrete patch is about 10 ft wide! But we had no trouble in the wet and the track dried out quite a bit before we finished.

On Sunday morning, it was nice and sunny again. After the drivers’ meeting, Jos and I sought out the registrar so I could be approved to drive solo in the White run group. When Jos told him what we wanted to do, his first question was whether I normally drove in White. I said, “No. I normally drive in Blue.” When he looked puzzled, I explained that in Rennsport, Blue is a more advanced group that White. Oddly enough, he was surprised to learn this, since in many eastern U.S. regions, Blue is a junior solo group. Without further hesitation, he awarded me a White wristband and I was ready to go. Jos was kind enough to put some complimentary comments in my log book, although he used a blank page in the French section, out of sequence with all of the previous comments in the English half.

They had removed all of the cones for Sunday’s driving, which is how I like it. Without the cones, you’re forced to drive the road, instead of relying on the cones to tell you where to go. This is more natural and more enjoyable to me, especially given my experience as a rally driver. There are no apex cones on country roads! I had no trouble remembering the line and I became smoother with each lap as I tried to add more speed. Of course, in the White group there were more fast drivers. But passing was accomplished efficiently and I didn’t have to lift very often to let the newer cars through. Based on the videos I shot, my lap times were all around 2:50, which works out to an average speed of about 115 km/h over the 5.45 km track. We were using the full Grand Prix track configuration, which includes the “Boot”. There are dramatic elevation changes, climbing significantly through Turns 2-4 (the “Esses”), dropping down equally through Turns 6 & 7 into the “Laces” and “Toe” of the Boot, then climbing again at the “Sole” and “Heel” of the Boot back up to the front straight elevation. My car struggled in the climb up from the Toe, since it’s quite steep and the Toe is quite slow. Perhaps I should have used second gear in the Toe, to help with that. Next time, I must give that a try. The first climb up the Esses is quite a thrill ride, as you corner hard and accelerate first right, then left, then right again onto the back straight. I was reach a top speed of about 170 km/h indicated just before braking for the Inner Loop and on the front straight before Turn 1. They had recently repaved the braking zone for Turn 1, on track left, so there were cones blocking off that area – to allow the asphalt to cure properly before an IRL race in a couple of weeks. Next time I go, I look forward to driving the correct line into Turn 1, which will be rather different from the tight corner I experienced this time.

In total, I drove about 240 km on track, which would be about 52 laps. I decided to skip the last stint on Sunday afternoon, to enable me to get home at a decent time. Otherwise, I would have been even more tired and wouldn’t have gotten home until at least 11 o’clock. I used about a tank of fuel and no oil to speak of. The engine temperatures got a little high, but didn’t exceed 120 C. Chris checked the engine case temperature with his infrared gauge and found that the actual temperature was a little lower than the gauge was indicating, which is reassuring.

I absolutely loved the track. It is so smooth and flowing that it’s a pleasure to drive. And I know there’s more speed to be had with further experience. I will definitely be back to The Glen!

Pictures are available at

Video is available at

Club Calabogie – June 9, 2010

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Wednesday dawned partly cloudy and cooler, and I lay in bed wondering if it might rain. If so, maybe I would skip this day at Calabogie. I got up and checked the weather forecast and it looked OK. So I had my orange juice, put the coffee on and went up to shave and shower. Once dressed, I found the first mistake of the day. I hadn’t turned on the coffee! So I was already behind and hadn’t even started yet. After killing some time waiting for the coffee, I finally hit the road about 10 minutes late. I did my usual routine of stopping for more coffee and some breakfast en route and arrived at the track about 8:15. There were only a couple of cars there, but I was sure that more would appear shortly. I began to get organized for the unloading, only to discover that I couldn’t find the key to the Porsche! I looked everywhere, but it simply wasn’t there!

By this time, Bruce had arrived and my friend Ray had parked next to me. We talked for a few minutes about the folly of my ways – but it seems I’m not the first one to make that mistake. I won’t name names, but I already did! After a brief discussion, I decided to unhitch the trailer and drive back home to get the key. At worst I would miss the morning’s track time, but with unlimited access I would still have four hours available to satisfy my appetite for speed. So I took off a few minutes after 9, after unhitching and locking the trailer, and tried to maintain a sensible but aggressive speed all the way home. When I arrived, I found the key in the old jeans I’d been wearing the day before when I loaded the car on the trailer. Back I went to the track, arriving about 11:45. It turned out that the lunch break was scheduled for noon, so I had plenty of time to offload, change my shoes, catch up with a few more guys and grab an Italian sausage “dog” from the new concession stand. Bruce was kind enough to give me a cutrate price for the afternoon’s lapping, which was a nice bonus.

While driving home I had seen my friends Thane and Dave on their way to the track, so we all got together with Ray and a couple of other guys and hung out for the afternoon.  Ray was driving the Diasio and getting tips from Bruce (and a ride-along) in his Radical, while Dave has a recent Carrera S. Thane has an ’81 SC Targa and our cars are almost identical in terms of speed and handling, both being on street tires. So we went out together each time, playing follow, and catch-if-you-can, the leader. Neither of us ever passed the other, nor did we lose sight of each other. It was good fun and probably contributed to our lap times being pretty good. Most of the ones I videoed were 2:47, with the fastest being a 2:45. For the most part, I stuck to the “teaching” line, except on the entry to Turn 12, where I stayed quite close to the right hand side to shorten the line – just like the entry to the esses at Le Circuit. We kept our stints fairly short, at between 18 and 23 minutes, so we wouldn’t get too tired. In total, I drove about 130 km, which works out to about 32 laps, spread over about 6 stints. By 4 o’clock, Thane had to leave and I had had enough, so we packed up and went home (again for me). I did a lot of driving today and I’m sure I’ll sleep well. But the track time was a great tune-up for Watkins Glen and for two instructional days next week. Oh, it started to spit rain when we left the track.

Video is posted at