Thursday, February 13, 2020

I miss my Civic!

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I actually don't mind winter, and since we bought a dedicated winter car a couple of years ago, I have no problem with winter driving either. In fact, one thing that makes winter more fun is TSD rallying, and I will be heading up to the Mont Tremblant area this weekend for a rally with my habitual co-driver Josée. We usually have quite a good time together.

I miss the Civic though, and driving on the track in general. I hope that Pat will be able to install the new engine as early in the season as possible so I can start driving it again.

The somewhat strange looking AMG GT63
A rare sight in winter
Wool winter wheels, a Urus and further ahead, a Jaguar F-Type
Another winter-driven M2
Another winter-driven M5!
Excellent choice for tinter fun
... and an unexpected choice.
A loud modified STi
Jules seemed interested in this clean Land Cruiser

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

My intro to sim racing

For my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a basic sim racing setup. My computer has a fairly powerful video card, so I downloaded IRacing, a well-known simulator. I bought a used steering wheel, a Logitech Driving Force GT, for 50$. The combination of this steering wheel and this game was a real revelation to me. I didn't think the driving experience could feel so realistic with only one screen on a desk. What I didn't like about IRacing was that you can't just jump online and find a race at a track you like with a car you like. Also, you have to pay for additional cars and tracks. This prompted me to buy the game Assetto Corsa. The driving is very slightly less realistic than IRacing, but the car choice is much better, and there are pretty much constant track day simulations at the Nurburgring. In only a week of playing in my free time at the office, I feel I have learned more about lapping the Nordschleife than in years of casually playing Gran Turismo. I am not fast compared to the people I race with online, but I have a much better idea of what types of corners are coming up next. I have always been a bit slow to learn new tracks... I hope this will help if I get the chance to travel to the Nurburgring.

Low-buck racing setup
Saabaru after a wash in the garage
After years since its appearance, this was the first time I have spotted one of these on the road
Oscar with the clean Saab
There are quite a few M cars on the road in winter
At the country house, we tried making our own bread... it was a success!
I bought an upholstery cleaner and used it on the passenger seat of the Saab, to great effect.
Another winter-driven M2
I didn't go to the car show this year, but I saw them unloading the new Land Rover Defender
A lovely and clean Maybach
One of my favourite versions of the Miata
These Lambo SUV's are becoming quite popular...
... here is an unwashed one.
V8 M3 convertible in winter? Why not.
Current M3 with nice wheels
I am starting to really like the current Civic Si's 
People are still driving their sports cars in winter, which is great!
Those 2 sports cars are in the background here, overshadowed by this Rolls coupe

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Quebec Touring series, 2005, part 2 of 2

Quebec Touring 2005 Race 4 - Trois-Rivières, August 5-6-7, 2005

The Civic on the streets of Trois-Rivières
After a frantic 3 weeks involving an engine change and the valves hitting the pistons on the new engine, we managed to make it to Trois-Rivieres for the Touring and GTU races with zero testing on the car. Carl was running in the GT-class race with 40 other cars of up to 700 hp (Porsche 935). I got to see the street circuit at low speed the night before the event started, which made me less nervous about running a new track, especially one lined with armco.

Carl practiced first and all went well. He was around 25th out of 40 cars, despite having one of the lowest powered cars out there. Later in the day when I went out, the alternator light came on in the dash, first at high RPM, then all the time. The alternator belt was toast yet again. It turns out the crank pulley and alternator pulley don't line up since we put in the new block. I managed to run within 2 seconds of Carl's time, which was about right given that he was on Kumho V710 race tires and I was on Hankook K104 street tires. We had 2 extra batteries with us and Carl qualified on battery power only. He managed a 27th out of 38 cars still running, which was not bad at all. The next morning, I qualified 20th out of 27 cars, which is consistent with how I've been running all year. I was within 1.7 seconds of Carl's time, so I was happy with myself... it meant I was learning the track well.

We hoped Carl would last the 40 minutes of his race with no alternator and we had a spare battery in the pits just in case. He was having some good battles in the race when he pulled off the course after 27 minutes. We were wondering what happened because usually you have some warning before the battery dies. It turns out the motor let go. I guess than when the pistons hit the valves the week before at a track day (when the timing belt skip several notches), it had weakened the wrist pins under the shock.

We knew it was a risk going in, but after four trouble-free sessions (engine-wise), I was quite shocked and a little depressed. It cost 500$ to sign up for this event and I hadn't even turned one race lap. When all seemed lost, my crew member and friend Roberto offered me the use of his car for the race the next day. He has a Touring car as well but took the weekend off to save some money. I had driven the car the week before at a lapping day and found that it had evil handling characteristics... but I accepted anyways, figuring I could take it easy, drive conservatively and have some fun. His car is similar to mine on paper: it's an Integra with a stock Type R engine and tranny, about the same weight and spring rates. He runs the fat Progress rear sway bar an I run none.

We went to Montreal and got the car back to the track the same night. They had added a morning warmup session to the schedule (thank you!). I had my buddies disconnect the rear sway bar and they noticed the front one was loose on one side. Carl adjusted the Koni shocks to a setting he said I would like (if there's a guy who knows how to set up Konis on an Integra, it's Carl Wener) and I went out for 2 laps before a car caught fire and ended the session. Well, 2 laps is better than 0.

I was gridded last for the race, which was 24th. I had qualified 20th, so it wasn't a huge drop. The start went well: by the 3rd lap or so, I had passed 5 cars and was getting into a battle with the Carrier Jetta that I've been fighting with all season. The guy who qualified 19th was in front of me, so I was where I was supposed to be all along. I could not keep up with that guy and exchanged position with the Jetta 5 or 6 times. Carrier had seen his own problems with the Jetta, as he blew his tranny in qualifying and was running an open diff (with big VR6 power and torque) in his spare tranny for the race. We were both handicapped then, and still running together. I got caught up lapping a slower car and lost a lot of track position to the Jetta in the final laps. We were getting lapped by another white Integra and the Jetta was blocking him, thinking it was me! The fast Integra lapped the Jetta and I was close behind on the start finish straight. I was only a couple of feet behind the Jetta, thinking I would try to out brake him for turn one... when the checker fell. I hadn't known it was the last lap (although had I known, I doubt I could have done anything differently, as I had already made up a huge deficit in two laps). We ended up 13th and 14th, and I was quite happy with that, since I haven't finished better than 13th all year. I had gained 10 positions from my last place start with a borrowed car, so I can't complain. My lap times were less than a second off my qualifying time, which shows that I was probably not pushing as hard as I would have with my own car, since Rob and I are usually very even in the series. At least I had made the car handle safely (if not conservatively). I can't wait until they show the race on TV, as apparently our battle was featured heavily on the jumbo screens (assuming they use the same shots to produce the TV version). Usually, you never see me at all unless I'm getting lapped.

Back in action after swapping to Rob's car... note how I used white tape to make his 89 into a 00
There was also pro racing at Trois-Rivières, and teams like Speedsource were in attendance
Civic on track
Battling Carrier's Jetta in the race
The Touring race, just afte the start
Thanks to Rob and his trusty Integra!
The Civic just after unloading all our stuff
Carl poses with one of Gilles Villeneuve's old formula cars
The crew working on the Civic
Integra to the rescue!
Another pro team, T.C. Kline, with a nice street car under the tent too
Posing with the Civic
Me and Stéphane Carrier after our race
All in all, it turned out to be an excellent weekend thanks to Rob and the rest of the crew, as well as Trac Racing and TK Race Heads, who worked so hard so I could be there. Thanks guys!

Quebec Touring 2005 Race 5 - Sanair, September 10, 2005

Sanair, Quebec, September 10th 2005

The Quebec Touring championship took us back to Sanair, a small but fast track about 40 miles from Montreal. This would be our second visit to the track this year, this being a replacement event because the series did not run as a support race for CART at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve as we had hoped. For those who have not read one of my race reports before, the Quebec touring series is sort of like the Speed World Challenge series or the U.S. Touring Car Championship, except every race takes place in Quebec. I am one of the low-budget guys and I’m the only guy who drives the race car to events. I had suffered some bad luck in the past few weeks, first spinning a rod bearing, then changing blocks only to have the timing belt skip several notches, bending all the valves, followed by a blown engine at Trois-Rivieres. I managed a 14th place at Trois-Rivieres with a borrowed car and was sitting in 14th place in the championship and 2nd in rookie points behind Carrier’s Jetta VR6, mainly due to a DNF on my part at the 3rd event.

At our previous visit to this track, I finished 15th and was the second placed rookie at the event. I had won a race-long battle with my main rival in his Jetta. I didn’t know until the last minute whether I would even make the event. I decided to have Patrick Boyer, a fellow racer whose season had ended prematurely after a huge crash at Trois-Rivières, help me rebuild my B18c1 with the spun bearing. I had very little budget for this. I bought some used B16a pistons, new rings and bearings and had the crank balanced and the cylinder walls honed. Apparently the crank was barely salvageable. Tom from TK Race heads again helped me with the head by changing 4 more bent valves and checking the head (the head that allows me to have great torque for a Honda, thanks Tom!) Patrick finished the engine last night and we drove it to the track together this morning. So much for a break-in on the rebuild. He wanted to come to the race and I had no crew, so it worked out well for me. I revved to 8000 on the highway on the way there and the alternator light briefly came on. Bad omen. The (brand new) belt was slipping on the (almost brand new) alternator. I had alternator problems at three of the previous four events due to wrong brackets, old parts and poor alignment. As a precaution, I brought two extra batteries to the event, in case I had to run with no charging system. Since there was one practice, one qualifying session and then the race, I figured one battery per session would suffice. When we got to the track, Pat checked the tension on the alternator belt and found two things: one, it needed to be tightened, two, the grooves in the belt were V-shaped and the grooves in the pulley were square. No wonder it was slipping at high RPM.

There is a long straight which is actually a drag strip, where a car like mine hits about 185 km/h  (8000-8100 rpm in 4th, USDM ITR tranny). This leads into a double apex hairpin to the right with a little kink to the left on its exit. There is then a left-right combo that can be taken flat out but demands concentration so that you can end up on the right side of the track for the bumpy braking zone before a 90-degree left onto a mini-oval. A small lift before turning right on the small flat oval, another lift before another right which takes you downhill into another bumpy braking zone before a right under a bridge leading onto the drag strip, which is lined with cement barriers awaiting those who understeer, oversteer or early apex!

For the first session, Pat instructed me to use part throttle and shift at 7000 rpm for the first 5 laps. I had my ECU reprogrammed to cut at 8400, so that this new engine would last until the end of the year (2 races left, both at Tremblant in 2 weeks). I did as I was told and settled in behind a Geo Storm that usually runs about 2 seconds a lap off my pace, figuring I could still follow him. It turned out that I could. The alternator light was coming on at about 6000 rpm and I was glad I had 2 other batteries waiting in the pits. After 4 or 5 laps, I decided to push the engine normally. Surprisingly, I could not easily catch and pass the Storm on the long straight. On the following lap, I decided to pass from quite a way back, figuring he would see me and leave me space on the inside of the wide hairpin so I could pass after the braking zone. Unfortunately, I locked up in the braking zone and was headed straight for the Storm that had now turned in. I punted his rear bumper at a 45-degree angle, then pulled off the track. I had spun him and he had recovered and got back on the track. My car seemed to have some damage and I wasn’t sure whether I had a flat. This was an error in judgment (that I could pass that driver in that spot) combined with driver error… basically 100% my fault.

The corner worker let me back on and I went straight to the paddocks. The Storm had headed in too. I went straight to the driver to apologize for my bonehead banzai move (in a practice session). Fortunately, his car had light damage. The bumper cover didn’t break, although a lot of paint flaked off. The rear fender was also slightly bent. However, I hadn’t touched his wheel and the damage was purely cosmetic. He had a great attitude and was not as angry as one would expect, saying “that’s racing”. I know he doesn’t read this site, but I apologize yet again, Eric.

When I got back to my car, I saw that the damage was worse than I had thought at first… The nose of the car was bent up. The driver-side headlight was in pieces, the bumper cover was all bent and the hood too. We got the hood open and removed the bumper cover, then the bumper beam just fell off. The holes around the bolts had deformed. The other headlight was broken where it met the rad support. The rad was intact but had popped out of one of its support holes. The worst part was that the rad support was bent all the way back to the power steering pump. A fellow racer named Yvon had an excellent idea to pull out the rad support. Instead of using a 2x4 or a pry bar, he told me to go find an OEM-style scissor jack and insert it between the block and the rad support, then expand it. This worked unbelievably well! We were gradually bringing the rad support back to its original location and we could adjust it gradually and precisely. We then attacked the hood and managed to make it line up and close with the hood pins. At this point, I felt relief, knowing that I would be able to get back on the track. We bent the holes in the bumper beam back into shape and bolted it back on. I taped together most of the shattered headlight and attached them both to the rad support with tie-wraps. We got the bumper cover back on and the whole setup looked remarkably good… A racer buddy who arrived late didn’t even notice any damage when he first saw the car. Did I mention that Pat’s family has a body-shop? Boy was I glad to have this guy with me today!
Although I didn’t have much practice, I was looking forward to qualifying since I knew the track quite well. Although I had no chance to qualify that well (I’m not a great qualifier), I wanted to see how I would do in comparison to the other three rookies who could potentially beat me:

Stephane Carrier’s Jetta VR6… the guy leading the rookie points. In the 3 races I finished this year, I beat him in two of them after long battles in the race, losing at Trois-Rivieres by 0.3 seconds. We have become good racing buddies and I feel very safe in close racing with him. He has a much bigger budget than me though and keeps improving the car between races. He dyno’d 192 whp last week according to my sponsor Trac Racing. That’s quite a bit more than me!

Babu’s (one name, like Madonna) Tiburon V6, one of four identical cars, Babu is a VJ on a Quebec music station and a DJ on the radio as well. Although I had beaten him at the first event, he beat me at the second and was kicking my ass at the 3rd event by 7 or 8 positions before I DNF’d. Unfortunately for him, he had a serious motorcycle accident on the street and missed the 4th event. He was still only three points behind me in the rookie standings, so if he beat me by three positions today, we would have been tied in points.

Manuel Bastien, a late-comer who has no real chance at the rookie title, but he beat both me and Stephane at the previous event. He drives an H22-powered Integra.
Basically, I wanted to qualify as well as possible against these guys with the hopes of improving my position in the rookie and overall standings. I felt good because I managed to follow Babu for most of the session and last time we were at Sanair, he had qualified 10 positions ahead of me. However, the stopwatch indicated that the session was not that great for me. I managed a 1:02.9, only 0.1 seconds off my best lap last time we were there, but all three other contenders qualified ahead of me. Bastien was 0.2 seconds ahead and Babu, 0.6 seconds and Stephane was 1.1 seconds ahead. As I had expected, it was getting harder and harder to hang with him as the season went on. There were only two cars qualified behind me: the Storm and a Neon, both over two seconds back.
When we checked over the car, we noticed that the axle had crapped all over the inside of the wheel. We managed to borrow one from a fellow racer (the eventual winner) and his crew even helped us install it. One of the members of that team running in the GT class had blown his engine in the morning. As an exchange for the CV-joint and labour, I offered him the use of my car in the GT race, which came after my own, as long as he used his own wheels, tires, pads and discs. He seemed pretty jazzed about the offer, but eventually declined, worried that he might damage my car. I owe these guys a beer then (and an axle). We finished the install just in time and headed to the false grid. I was sitting in my spot dying of thirst as I hadn’t had any water all day. I felt so stupid, realizing I was jeopardizing my performance… when you start a race this thirsty, imagine how you finish it! I spotted a ½ empty bottle of water on the roof of a car a couple of spots ahead of me on the grid. Despite the fact that we were due to leave momentarily, I popped out and headed over to the car, whose driver I knew (Bastien’s brother, in fact). I asked his girlfriend if I could take the bottle and she said “sure, it belongs to Bastien and he doesn’t want any more.” I felt much better and hopped back into my car. We then heard there would be a 15-minute wait as the cleanup crew was putting oil dry in every turn as someone had left a trail of oil on the racing line for a whole lap! Ironically, Bastien, who was gridded beside me, asked his brother’s girlfriend for water and I had to tell him that I drank it… ooops.

I figured my strategy would be to pass (thirsty) Bastien after the start in the braking zone for the hairpin and then try to attack Babu, who I still thought I could keep up with. We were given two warmup laps before the rolling start. Bastien was not keeping up with the pack and I was hanging back a little, feeling guilty about starting so far ahead of a guy who out-qualified me. When the flag dropped, I was a little bit behind the pack and Bastien was yet further back, but due to the difference in our gearing and power, he cruised right by me way before the braking zone. I went into the hairpin with only the Neon and Storm behind me. I managed to claw my way back up to Bastien’s Integra and passed him under braking. I saw Babu pass the Jetta after he blew the braking zone (you can still turn, but you usually lose a position) and they still seemed within reach. I slowly caught them and the car was feeling good. I was running on the battery only (I had changed it just before the race) and had been granted permission to run with my lights off due to my mishap in the morning which damaged the lights, but the car was handling well. The Jetta and Tiburon were pulling away in the straightaway and I would catch up dramatically under braking and through the hairpin, only to lose more ground in the flat out esses before getting close again in the mini oval. I figured if I kept up the pressure, someone would crack.

It turned out Babu cracked first. He slightly botched the braking zone at the hairpin and as the Jetta squeezed by, so did I. We managed to leave him behind after a couple of laps and it seemed that his heart wasn’t in it, as I think he could have tried a comeback with such a well put-together car.

The yo-yoing with the Jetta continued and I got quite close on some laps, but not close enough to make a move (except maybe a desperate one). When we caught the Storm and Neon to lap them, I made sure not to waste any time, since at Trois-Rivieres, I had lost a lot of ground on the Jetta by not being aggressive enough in lapping back-markers. We were both through at the same time. I was watching for the “1 lap to go” signal at the start-finish line (another mistake from Trois-Rivieres, I hadn’t known we were on the last lap because I was too concentrated on the battle). After a straight where I’d had an especially nice exit speed from the last turn, I managed to get close to the Jetta in the braking zone, then get on the inside of him in the hairpin. However, the Jetta pulled beside me while exiting that curve and cut off my line through the esses, forcing me to lift. or use the grass at almost 160 km/h. I was yelling and swearing in the car, but it was a fair move on his part and I would have done the same. A couple of laps later, I saw the signal… one lap to go. I was not particularly close to the Jetta at the time, but hoped that I could brake off line, later than him, and pass before the hairpin. Then I realized that the 2nd place Golf that had been catching me to lap me, was passing me on the straight. I couldn’t pull out to try to out brake the Jetta, as the Golf was in the way. Luckily, he finished passing me just before the turn-in point, and as the Jetta left room for the Golf at the apex, I made it through as I stuck to the Golf’s bumper. I was ecstatic, but Carrier hadn’t lost much ground and he out-accelerated me again and cut off the racing line in the esses. I was pissed! I decided that I could out-brake him for the 90-degree left into the mini oval and I went for it. He was forced to leave me room and I turned in from the inside of the turn, cutting off the apex for him. To actually make the turn, I had to go pretty slow as my line forced me to turn quite sharply. When I got on the gas at the apex, I realized I was way out of the power-band and I quickly grabbed 2nd without lifting, carrying me onto the big turtles at the exit of the corner. I was checking my mirrors like crazy, praying he could not pass me in the next three turns before the straight. Somehow, I kept him behind me and as we headed out onto the straight, he was right behind me. I swerved off the line, leaving him no room near the wall and trying to make the way around me more of a pain. When he moved out to the right for the pass, I held my line, as I don’t think it would be fair to make several moves to block him. I crossed the finish line 0.138 ahead of him… fortunately the finish line was not that far down the straight.

I couldn’t believe it. I think this was probably my single best performance ever. I managed my race properly and waited until late in the race to make a move. I also used the car lapping me correctly and timed the last pass as well as possible. I had managed a 1:02.6 as a fast lap, and most of the others had gone slower than in qualifying (maybe the oil dry made the track slower).

I ended up 10th overall, my best result to date. I was also the top rookie and moved closer to Carrier in rookie points. I also won the hard charger award as well for moving up the most spots from qualifying. I think I’ve also moved into 10th overall in the championship. I’m still on the high as I write this. Sorry it was so long!
Next event: season finale double at Tremblant in two weeks. Stay tuned…

Quebec Touring 2005 Races 6 and 7 Tremblant Fall Classic, September 23, 2005

The last two events of the Quebec Touring season took place this past weekend at Tremblant. Friday was a practice day with 2 sessions and there would be a race Saturday and another Sunday.

I was on the second race with the newly rebuilt B18c1 bottom end and the engine had worked well at the previous race, where I got my best result of the year, which was a 10th place. I had done some testing last Monday at St-Eustache and it looked like my alternator problems were finally solved (no more slipping or throwing the belts, nor more frying the regulator).

The first session went relatively well. I was not pushing too hard in corners 1 and 2, trying to build up speed there gradually. There was no transponder timing in the session, but I could see I was faster than the Subaru 2.5 RS and I slowly gained on the H22 Integra during the session, so I was satisfied, as that was where I usually placed in races. I knew I could go couple of seconds faster in the next session.

Before session 2, I went to talk to Stephane Trahan of Trac Racing, who is a veteran who knows the track well. I asked him where I should be braking for turns 1 and 2 and he told me not to brake at all, just to lift at 1 and come back on the gas to power through 2, decreasing the period of lifting as my confidence grew. This sounded like it would be A LOT faster, but also quite scary, as turn 2 is a blind apex over a crest.

I went out for the second session and on the second lap I tried not to brake for 1, then power through 2. It was not as hard as I thought, although I was not full throttle all the way through 2. I figured I would be able to steadily improve throughout the session and the weekend by following Stephane's advice. A little while later, I was following a Prelude uphill towards Namerow when the engine just let go... no mis-shift or anything like that, just popped at about 6000 rpm. I started to make the turn and spun in my own oil. I used gravity to roll away from my position in the middle of the track and then down into pit lane.

There was a hole the size of a tennis ball in my block. I didn't have money to buy a block that evening, which is too bad as three separate teams offered to do the swap with me (again, I can't get over how helpful the other racers can be!). I tried to borrow or rent a car from Trac Racing, but the cars were already rented by people with more money than me. I know Stephane would have let me drive their ex-SWC Beetle if he could, but there were paying customers who obviously got priority over me.

I spectated all day Saturday, watched my race take place without me in it, saw the battle between an RSX and the H22 Integra in which I probably would have been involved... the whole day was quite depressing. At least the day ended nicely with my wife surprising me and showing up at the track. We had a nice dinner and went home a day early. That's it for 2005... A season of ups and downs ends on a down.

Pitted near the Echo Cup cars

One of the track owner's lovely street cars
Cool Abarth race car
There were a few Ferrari Challenge 360's on hand
That's the hole in the block
Can you tow a Lotus with a 4-cylinder Volvo? Apparently yes.
A Cool Lotus 7
The Civic left on a flatbed
Cool British duo
More cool vintage racers
914 looks surprisingly good with Revolution wheels