Archive for May, 2011

Virginia International Raceway – May 20-22, 2011

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video is available at:

Photos are at:

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course – May 13-15, 2011

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I left home at 6:14 AM on Thursday, expecting to reach Mid-Ohio around 5 PM. Registration would be open until 8 PM, so I could take it easy en route and still not be late. It felt great to be on the road at last. It had been a hectic week, preparing for the trip and taking care of a number of other issues at the same time.

When I had the technical inspection down the week before, the mechasnic had told me that the right rear wheel bearing had a tiny amount of free play, but it would be OK. But when I checked on Tuesday while inspecting the brakes, I found that it was wobbling by at least one, if not two, millimetres. That would be unlikely to survive 600 kms of track driving, if even half of that. So I arranged for the mechanic to replace the bearing the day before departure. I had to keep all fingers crossed that he wouldn’t encounter a major problem along the way. I could have attempted it myself, but Murphy’s Law being what it is, I would have had some kind of major problem and run out of time. So I paid for peace of mind and last-minute convenience. As it turned out, the job was completed without a hitch. However, I noticed a small vibration on the back straight at Mid-Ohio and sure enough, the right front wheel bearing was a little loose. So I tightened it over the lunch break and it was all good again.

Thursday the weather was clear, cool and sunny all the way through the border crossing and past Syracuse. It started to cloud over a bit near Buffalo, but it stayed dry. As I got closer to Cleveland, the temperature went up to 30 C and it was humid. Just south of the city the skies opened in a deluge, including hail – which I missed. I pulled into a rest area to use the facilities and by the time I left there, the rain had all but stopped. However, a few miles north of Ashland, the three lanes of traffic on I 71 came to a complete stop. I was stationery for 10-15 minutes; then a little movement; then more parking. At one point a Porsche Cayenne pulling a red enclosed trailer with Porsche logos (Shultz from Utica, NY) pulled alongside and we chatted for a few minutes. They were on their way to Indianapolis for an historic event.

Traffic finally got moving and as I approached Ashland, there was a large fluorescent pink diamond-shaped warning sign on the left side saying “Accident Ahead”. A few hundred metres down the road were two more similar signs saying “Right Lane Closed”. So of course the traffic bunched up while people emptied the right lane. But the right lane was not closed, so the congestion was unnecessary! As a result of all of this I lost an hour, but still had time to arrive with a margin of safety. A little while later, I saw a sign for Mid-Ohio saying to take the next right exit. I had been using Mapquest directions, but I figured a little local knowledge couldn’t hurt, so I took the exit. A bad mistake. I followed the signs – which promised 23 miles to the track – for at least 23 miles, until I ran out of signs. At that point I was somewhere in the greater Mansfield area, south of Highway 30, without a map. I wandered around for a while until I saw signs that should get me back to the Interstate and they did – about where I started! I had lost close to another hour.

Just before getting onto the highway, I heard a loud metallic bang from behind and I thought I’d lost a ramp off the trailer. So I pulled over and checked the ramps and they were OK. A few minutes later, a family passed me on the Interstate and pointed to the right side of the trailer. I stopped again and found that the front right trailer tire was completely shredded! I phoned the club registrar to let her know that I might not make it by 8 o’clock, because by now it was 7. But I changed the tire in 5 minutes, followed Mapquest’s directions and got to Mid-Ohio at 7:35 – over 13 hours since leaving home.

I found a place to park; unloaded the car and went through tech inspection, finally registering around 8 o’clock. I was happy to have parked near three nice guys from Cincinatti, named Fred (944), Lee (Cayman S) and Chip (Z06). We shot the breeze for a few minutes, getting to know each other a bit, and then I headed for the hotel. By the time I found it and checked in, I was plenty tired and hit the bed – hard.

After a solid but too short sleep, I got started early Friday morning with my usual track day routine – an Egg McMuffin and a coffee. Having already registered and gone through tech, all I had to do was check the fuel level and tire pressures and re-torque the wheels, before the Drivers Meeting at 7:35. I asked the meeting’s chair – Frank – for an instructor to show me the line and they assigned me a nice younger man named Rick. His father Dick (!) is also an instructor with a silver ’77 911 S. We chatted a few times and found a few things somewhat in common, such as his wife being from Newfoundland. Rick came with me on the first stint and did a great job of showing me the line, the braking zones and the turning points. From then on it was easy to remember his tips and use them as the basis for improving my smoothness and speed.

The Mid-Ohio Region has a few different rules, such as passing in any straight, on either side; no tech inspection required after the first day; lights on in the rain, etc. The track is very fast from Keyhole to Turn 7, where I was reaching 190 km/h. Then it becomes very technical from Turn 7 to 11 where the line is critical. And both Keyhole and Carousel are very slow right-handers where patience is rewarded. I was getting lots of tire squeal in virtually all corners, partly because of the sealer they’ve put down and partly because the asphalt is quite polished from heavy use. During the lunch hour I found a replacement tire and wheel for the trailer at Tractor Supply Co., with help from people at Wal-Mart and Suburban RV centre, for $128. Solving that problem was a relief. I made it back in time for the afternoon stint which was going pretty well until heavy rains came with about 2-3 laps remaining. I stayed out on my street tires, but it was pretty miserable and slow, so I came in a lap or two early. Too bad I didn’t get a video of that one.

When I was changing the trailer wheel, I dropped the spare on my left hand and injured the second finger. It’s not broken, but it got quite swollen until I was able to ice it down in the evening. The car is performing very well and all temperatures and pressures are within spec. I’ve added fuel several times in a grassy area away from the paddock, continuing to mix 33% unleaded 109 with 91 octane Shell V-power. From my early review of the videos, my best lap time so far was 2:08, but I’m sure I can do better with growing confidence. We had beer and food supplied at 5 o’clock and I met several new people, including men from Ohio and Omaha, NB. There are several other guys here from Ontario, including Scott from Mantis Racing in Oakville. The hotel is aptly named the Comfort Inn Splash Harbor, since there’s a covered pool area within the centre of the U-shaped building – right outside my window. When I turned out the light for sleep, I heard the noise for maybe 30 seconds – I was gone!

For Saturday morning, the schedule indicated a tech line at 6:45 AM, so I got there early only to find out that it was meant for new arrivals only. I could have slept in! Through the course of the day, I had three really good stints, with improving speeds and times. For the first one we used the “Pro” track, i.e. without the chicane before Keyhole. That allows a much faster approach to Keyhole and a faster exit speed, which translates into a higher terminal speed at Turn 7. Fred told me he was following me into the Keyhole and saw my right front tire off the ground more than once at the exit! During one stint I clipped the end of the curbing at the apex of Turn 7 and got a bit of a jolt and at Turn 1 I trail braked a little too long and got a bit of high speed squirm, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Towards the end of the second stint, the speedometer quit working and I can’t find a quick fix, so I’ll have to estimate distances and speeds. Right after the third stint, the skies opened once again, with really heavy rain. But our day was done anyway, so nothing lost there. In the morning I had noticed a slight vibration on the back straight so I checked the front wheel bearings and found the right one a little loose. Before the third stint, I tightened it and it was fine after that. From my videos I think my best time was 2:02, but a friend of Fred’s said he timed me at 1:55, so I’ll have to check the videos again. Over lunch I met another nice guy named Mark from Columbus with a ’79 Turbo (930), also running street tires.

Sunday was a lost cause, due to bad weather. It was wet overnight and continued to drizzle all morning. A lot of people loaded up and left early since the forecast didn’t look very good. As a result, they combined run groups A & B for all DE driving, using Group B passing rules. I did part of a stint around 9:15 but it was very slow and not much fun, so I came in early. I walked up to the Keyhole and took some photos of a race group, but it continued to drizzle so I packed up and returned to the hotel. It was a fun event at a great track – I particularly liked the technical stuff between Turns 7 and 11, but I found both Keyhole and Carousel too slow to be enjoyable. However, I’m glad I went!

Video is available at:

Photos are at:

Calabogie Lapping Day – 1 May 2011

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

May 1 dawned early and clear, although it was about 5 C when I left home at 6:10 AM for Calabogie.  En route I noticed that the truck’s steering wheel wanted to stay aimed a little to the right, so I’ll have to adjust the toe-in at the left tie rod, which I just replaced. There’s always something.

After stopping in Arnprior for fuel, I arrived at the track a little after 7:30 and was surprised to find very few cars in the paddock. As it got closer to the time of the driver’s meeting at 8:30, more people had arrived, but there were no more than ten drivers present to do any lapping. There were 4-5 other Porsches belonging to people I know, plus a couple of Mitsubishi Evo’s, a BMW and a C5 Corvette from Toronto. The guy with the C5 is familiar to us and shortly after he unloaded he found that he had a blown seal, so he re-loaded and tried unsuccessfully to rent a Mustang. But a few others had rented Mustangs so he was out of luck – a long trip for no lapping. There was only one novice – a fellow around age 65 (at least he seemed older than I), named Laurent, whose company had done all the exterior stone work on the admin building – and he would be my student! Because of the numbers, it was decided that the day would be 100% open lapping. They would throw the chequered flag every 30 minutes to ensure that people didn’t become over-tired or dehydrated, but otherwise the track was wide open. In Laurent’s car, we kept our four-way flashers on to alert the other drivers.

While Laurent spent some time in the classroom with Rob, I prepared my car and had a sound level check. With the Bursch muffler, it registered 90.8 dB at 4000 rpm – well below the threshold of 100 dB. So I didn’t have to worry about swapping in the used OEM muffler that I had brought. I then went out for 2-3 laps to warm up the tires, the engine and me. That was worthwhile, as I hadn’t driven the track since October and I needed to get into a rhythm. The car ran well, although it was backfiring quite a bit until it warmed up.

Laurent’s car is a 2011 Corvette Grand Sport, which has the brakes and suspension of a Z06, but with a lesser engine of “only” 436 hp. It is a shade of red best described as claret, with a grey interior. It has an automatic transmission with buttons on the steering wheel – push to upshift and pull to downshift –at both the three and nine o’clock position. It also has numerous electronic features that require an owner’s manual or a 10-year old child to decipher. It took Laurent several minutes to figure out how to disable the seat memory function so I could fit into the driver’s seat comfortably – he’s only about 5’6” tall! Then we had to disable the GPS and who knows how many other voice prompts, so we could drive in peace.

After showing him how to position the seat, mirrors and steering wheel for the proper driving position, I pushed the start button and we left the paddock in Drive, headed for the pit-out. We left it in fully automatic mode for the entire day, to concentrate on learning the track instead of worrying about learning to downshift, etc. The car was very easy to drive smoothly and had more than enough power for the job at hand. I spent the first 3-4 laps showing Laurent where the marshals and passing zones were, as well as the correct line around Calabogie’s 20 corners. Then I gave it a little more gas to show him what the car could do. I was very impressed with both the power and the brakes, as well as the cornering forces we able to generate. I could learn to like this car!

After a brief break, we switched seats and Laurent took the car out for the first time. He had never been on this track, or any other, but because he’s a veteran motorcycle rider, he thought he already understood a lot of the principles involved. He admitted later to Rob that there’s a lot more to this than he realized. He progressed reasonably well through the morning, but he required more than the average number reminders of where to position the car on the track and when to begin his turns. He had a lot of trouble remembering to use all of the available asphalt, so we spent too much time in the middle of the road and cornering awkwardly. As lunch time approached he was obviously becoming fatigued, so I got him to stop a few laps early. During the morning I took him out in my car a couple of times, to emphasize the line, as well as to push it a little and monitor the vital signs. They were all good and I was looking forward to adjusting the tuning a bit for the afternoon, by changing to colder plugs, adding more 109 octane fuel and advancing the timing a bit. I did all of that after lunch and before the track reopened, settling on about 32 of timing advance.

The lunch was a catered pasta dish served by a nice young lady, plus a fruit cup and the requisite selection of cakes – very tasty. I sat between Laurent and another new addict who had been signed off only the day before at the Open House day. He was also an older man – late 50’s perhaps – and drove a 2-3 year old Mustang. We all had a pleasant chat while eating and they both had lots of questions, which made it enjoyable and productive, I hope. After the meal I completed my tuning adjustments with an audience of a man and woman who were just visiting, although they knew a few participants. He was quite interested in my car, its provenance and the engine’s history.

At 1:30 Laurent and I went back to work and he showed the usual improvement that comes after the lunch break. He was smoother and remembered the desired lines much better, although I had to continue to remind him in several corners of how to minimize his steering inputs and maximize his use of the available road. We took frequent breaks and he continued to improve as the afternoon wore on, including a nice evasive manoeuvre in the middle of corner 2 when a groundhog decided to cross the road. The only other incident we saw on track was before lunch and had an interesting story attached, which I heard at the break. A guy named Darin, who owns five tennis and golf bubbles in the city, was my student early last year. At that time he drove a fairly current Carrera 2, but now he has a recent GT3 that Travis’s tuning company has breathed on heavily, to add lightness and power.

Darin was driving and Travis was assisting him, as they went through the Duck complex. In Turn 12B, Travis wanted to show Darin how to hold the line at the apex, so he reached over and held the steering wheel, which was turned a fair bit to the right. I guess Darin didn’t understand what Travis had in mind, so he lifted! Of course the rear end got way too light and they spun, hitting first the grass on the right and then ending up parked in the grass on track left. Fortunately they didn’t hit anything solid and we came along just a few seconds later to find a waving yellow and to see them talking about it in the car. We had a good laugh about it when they told me the story.

Around 2 o’clock I took my car out alone and ran 3-4 good laps to check the cylinder head temperatures and throttle response. It was running great and the CHT’s were fine, so I looked forward to some more solo lapping later on. A funny thing happened on my last lap, causing me to stop a bit prematurely. The engine went down on power and was obviously misfiring, but the only problem I found when I pitted was that the number 4 spark plug wire had come off the plug! I’ve had trouble with that plug all winter, so I must look at the connector to make sure this won’t happen again.

Laurent decided that he should leave around 4 o’clock so he could get home for supper and to tell his stories to his wife and adult children, so we did a lot of driving with him behind the wheel up until that hour. He showed significant improvement and by this time I was saying very little – usually just a few compliments when he finally mastered Temptation and Turn 14, which is always the toughest corner to learn. If he had stayed for the last available hour, I would have signed him off to try a solo stint, partly because by then there were almost no other cars on track.

At 4 o’clock we stopped and I told him how I felt about his driving ability and the progress he’d made. He was very satisfied and thanked me for a good day, also commenting to Rob separately about his satisfaction with my approach. We said our goodbye’s and I took a brief break to check tire pressures before heading out on track on my own. After a couple of warm-up laps I started to push it quite hard, running the rev’s up to 6500 and using more brakes. I didn’t bother to install the video camera so I don’t know my lap times, but I’d say I was approach the best times I’ve ever run. Using that many rev’s and downshifting to second in Turn 14, I have to short shift significantly to fourth gear before Spoon, to keep the car stable down the fast right-hander. I caught and passed a Mitsubishi Evo, which made me feel pretty good. However, later on Paul mentioned that he had noticed that its driver still had some learning “issues”. So maybe it wasn’t such a great pass after all.

With the reduced weight and the rich, advanced tune, the car feels very fast. Going down through Spoon I had to pay very close attention to get the right line that would allow me to use full throttle without the rear end getting loose. It was very exhilarating! Later on Paul told me that the car sounded great going down the front straight. The highest speed I saw was 180 km/h on Rocky Road, at about 5000 rpm in fourth. With a better exit on Turn 3 and later braking for Turn 5, I could improve that. After about 20 minutes I was getting a bit tired and I’d seen all the testing evidence that I needed, so I stopped for the day. The CHT’s never reached 350 F, the oil temperature stayed below 100 C and the oil pressure remained close to 8 Bar, which is quite high. The amount of backfiring reduced significantly after my warm-up laps and of course the AFR remained quite rich, peaking at about 0.84 Lambda at wide open throttle. I’d say the car is running as well as it ever has.

I loaded up and packed away my gear, while chatting with Paul and a few others. It was a good day and I was looking forward to getting home to unwind. When I arrived about 6:30, I had a chat with Steve at the end of the driveway about his Porsche’s oil leak and alignment, as well as his impending race school. Steve also wanted to comment on the Lexus LF-A that had visited Dale and Betty the day before, which I’d already heard about from them. Apparently it has an almost F1-style exhaust note and rev’s like crazy. Then a neighbour (Chris) came over to ask about the performance improvement he should expect from a cold intake on his Hyundai Genesis turbo coupe. I finally got inside the house and had something to eat, before going back out to unload my tools and pick up a load of tree branches from the windstorm two days earlier. It was a full and enjoyable day and I’m looking forward to more lapping next Sunday evening before heading down to Ohio.

Spring Run-Off ORRC Rally #4 – 30 April 2011

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

We left home at 6:30 AM for the 3-1/2 hour drive to Hastings, ON for the start of this rally. I was up a little after 4:30 – about an hour early – after having a really weird dream and not sleeping very well. It was looking like a long weekend and I don’t mean a holiday weekend! The weather was clear and cool, but promising to warm up nicely – a great day for a rally. I was confident in the Mazda’s condition, having spent several days recently patching up the body work and removing the evidence of rust. From 100 feet, it almost looked good! I was also confident in the performance of the car, since I’d just finished (the day before), replacing the right front wheel bearing and ball joint. The car was running smoothly and quietly for a change. My only concern was the speedometer cable, since the bracket used to hold it inside the transaxle housing had broken off – in my fingers! – and I didn’t have time to make a proper repair. If we lose our speedometer and odometer, it could be an interesting rally.

We arrived at Hastings after only 3 hours 20 minutes, much quicker than I expected. So we had lots of time to unload, socialize and grab a light lunch. Tim and Perry were there, but not driving his Triumph TR4 since it’s still in the body shop following their February mishap, waiting for panels from the UK.  Chris and his son Jon were also there from Ottawa and those two teams made up the rest of our Intermediate class.

We got away smoothly at 11:10, having been assigned Car No. 10, and arrived safely and early at the odometer check, at exactly 10.00 km. There was a note in the route book saying very clearly that we should remember the regulation that prevents the organizer from placing a checkpoint within 5 kilometres after an odo check. So we confidently left there early, allowing us to drive a slightly more leisurely pace.  At around 14 km we entered a twisty, hilly road and were watching for the instruction at 14.99 for a bridge crossing, at which point the 5 kilometre restriction would no longer apply. We came over a crest at a pretty good clip and saw the bridge – and a checkpoint exactly 0.01 km later! I slammed on the brakes and slowed to a crawl, but the best I could do was to pass the checkpoint 34 seconds early. Not an auspicious start.

After completing Section 1 we began following a series of tulip diagrams, always trying to stay ahead of the pace. We were following Chris and Jon and I let them get ahead of us by a little bit, but sure enough we came over another crest and found the next checkpoint, not too far alter the first one. Once again I slowed to a crawl, but we were still 8 seconds early.

After leaving there we continued to follow the tulips and made several turns, ending up on Coyle Road, which is another dirt road with a sandy surface, climbing over glacial drumlins and eskers and down into valleys between them.  While going down on of these hills I felt something odd in the steering and very quickly found the steering wheel turned about 30 degrees to the right, even though we were going straight. While I was processing this information, the car suddenly nose-dived to the right a bit and I quickly brought it to a stop near the side of the road. We jumped out and assessed the damage and found that the new ball joint had separated from the spindle. It turns out that it was the wrong part and the pin going into the spindle was too short, meaning that the pinch bolt had not engaged the groove in the pin – it was at the top of the pin and simply jammed in. We then began the process of disassembling the hub with the small tool kit I have in the car, to remove the pinch bolt and insert the pin back into the spindle. Then we realized that the axle had been pulled violently away from the transaxle and the inner CV joint was separated and its rubber boot destroyed. Our objective then became just to get the car rolling so we could load it on the trailer, if not drive it back to the village where the rally started.

Fortunately a local resident stopped and offered his assistance, so we quickly told him the tools we would like to borrow, if he had them. Eventually he returned with a whole case of new metric wrenches, which allowed us to remove the pinch bolt (which broke), remove the brake calliper and rotor to create more room and then loosen the joint between the strut and spindle so we could get the ball joint pin back into the spindle. Meanwhile we phoned the rally organizer, relying on an old phone number from the previous Peterborough rally, and he arrived to help us as well. We sent him home to get a selection of bolts to replace the broken pinch bolt and he soon returned with a few options. We were able to re-attach the ball joint to the spindle and jam the broken bolt back in, with the broken axle still in place. Gary didn’t believe that I’d be able to drive it, but the Mazda is basically a one-wheel drive vehicle, relying on the left axle for power. So the car actually moved under its own power.

Then the rally organizer was kind enough to drive us back to the village so we could pick up the truck and trailer.  En route I phoned NAPA and spoke to Jeff, describing the problem and its cause. He then took the VIN of the car so he could try to find exactly the correct ball joint. We drove the truck and trailer back to the site of the incident and easily loaded the Mazda up. All this while we had been trying to decide whether to finish the rally in the truck. Gary was able to use the End of Section map to determine that we were pretty close to the beginning of the last section and we could get there at just about the time we would have arrived if we hadn’t had the problem. So we decided to finish the rally in the truck, with the trailer in tow. This wasn’t particularly easy because of the size of some of the hills, but we managed it alright and checked in at the restaurant only a few minutes after everyone else.

During the scoring, one of the Peterborough club executives pointed out the regulation that requires you to finish the rally in the same vehicle that started, so it looked like we wouldn’t get points for third place. But then the scorer and the rally organizer suggested that all we had to do was unload the car at the finish line and drive it one metre to qualify. They also suggested that we had just done that! They would score the results this way – giving us credit for finishing – unless any of the other competitors complained. I thought this was very gracious of them and I would have been quite happy to actually unload the car and do this if necessary. Once the draft results were posted, we left for home and don’t know yet whether anyone protested. If the results stand, we earned third place points which will help us stay in the lead in Intermediate. Of course I have some work to do to replace the broken axle and incorrect ball joint, but I don’t think there’s any other damage. An interesting day, to say the least.

Follow-up Edit:  When I repaired the damage on Monday I found that the ball joint was actually the correct part. I had made a mistake installing it, whereby the pin that goes into the spindle had slipped before I got the pinch bolt in, resulting in me missing the groove in the pin. I was able to reuse the pinch bolt from the previous ball joint and install it correctly. After pulling out the broken axle CV joint, it was a simple matter of installing the new axle and tighteneing everything back up. The car is fine now and I’m only $137 poorer. I will check my work more carefully in future!

Video is available at: