Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Winter... not that bad this year?

Winter really didn't seem that bad this year. Part of this is due to the fact that I no longer have any fear of winter driving conditions and getting the car stuck somewhere. Part of this is also due to the relatively mild weather we've been enjoying. The fact that I've been pretty busy with work has also made time fly and made winter feel shorter.

There is not much going on car-wise. We went to the car show in January, but it was extremely busy, as we went on the weekend. The Saabaru has been reliable and had a couple of decent workouts in the two TSD rallies I attended with Josée.

I haven't done a single think to the Civic to prepare it for the upcoming track driving season, but, aside from fitting new tires and swapping on a few parts I have in my basement, there shouldn't be much to do to it before the first racing school in April.

The BMW should be coming out of hibernation in the next few weeks and the Saabaru will go into storage. I think this is the first time we've ever owned 3 cars at once, all functioning... here is a photo montage. The cars really couldn't be more different from each other!

As has been the case in other years, there are still cool cars roaming the streets, even though it's winter.

Cool little Fiat-based camper
Cool grocery-getter (literally, spotted at the grocery store)
My favourite current M-car, parked on my street
A top choice for a winter car, rare colour
Never seen a Lambo in winter until now!
Another unexpected winter car
I have seen a couple of i8's on the road this winter as well
Another hard-core winter driver
One of the highlights of the car show: Mazda Cosmo
...alongside a 3rd generation RX7
Oscar enjoyed sitting on motorcycles at the Honda and BMW stands
I love the first and second generation Civics... so small!
I also love it when Jules comes to hang out at my office.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Our second TSD rally of 2018.

Following a strong result and all-around fun time in our first TSD rally together a month ago, Josée and I decided to attend the second (and last) rally of this winter, organized by the Club Auto Sport La Licorne. Things had gone quite well at our first rally, and I wanted to see if the bit of experience we had gained would help us achieve an even better result this time around.

The rally would depart from Ste-Agathe, about an hour north of Montreal. I met up with Josée at the hotel where the event would start and finish and we grabbed our route book in time to do a few average speed calculations in the margin. We were car 31 out of 37, so we were in no rush, a we would only be heading out 31 minutes after the beginning of the rally.

As soon as we turned onto the first back-road, I could see that a major difference between this event and our last one would be the number of curves… the roads in the Eastern Townships, though hilly, were often arrow straight. The roads in the Laurentians… not so much. Many corners were blind and I was driving quite cautiously. The road surface was a mix of gravel and asphalt, with many snowy and icy patches. It’s hard to know if it was even an advantage to have all-wheel-drive and a turbo in these conditions, and I was sometimes a bit jealous of the people who were driving small and light front-wheel-drive cars, of which there were several. Still, I feel that the large variations in road surface taught me a lot about the Saabaru, which is still relatively new to me.

The car again performed flawlessly, and the suspension dealt with everything that was thrown at it, even the speed bumps in Ste-Agathe at the end of the rally. Josée was patient and funny, never boring, which makes her a great co-driver. The rally was long. Like, really long. We got lost in the first half of the rally, through no fault of our own (there was a mistake in the route book) and this cost us about 20 minutes. We only found our way back on course using the GPS and a street name from one of the instructions. Then when we got to the halfway point, where there was a 30-minute break, and the gas station there was already closed. I heard someone say the closest open gas station was in Hawkesbury… this sounded really far until I checked my GPS and saw we were only 2 km away… it just goes to show how the driver does not realize where of how far he’s traveled during the event until he looks at a map. Anyway, I judged we had enough gas to finish the rally and I was not wrong.

We were having a lot of fun, but the event was more taxing than the first rally had been, because it was longer and because of the constant concentration required to deal with the icy and often bumpy roads. By the last couple of stages, we were chatting more about our shared background as West-Islanders and less about the event, and I think we were both pretty happy when we knew the finish was approaching. We finished after 3:00 am, and I just wanted to get home to my bed by this point. Luckily, I had enough sugar and caffeine in my system to stay awake on the way home.

Two people who could use a nap
Looking at the scoring, I can see that we scored much better on the first part of the event than the second part, where we took a couple of big penalties for arriving too early at checkpoints (which still baffles me, as the average speeds in the route book often seemed unachievable by someone driving conservatively on twisty roads in winter conditions). At least we made no mistakes with our calculations of what time to enter for our arrival and the end of each leg. We seem to have finished 12th out of 37 cars, which is good enough for me. I still need to catch up on the sleep I lost though. It seems I have most of a year to recover before the next winter TSD, so I should be OK.

From rally car back to the school/daycare run
Someone actually recorded the route of the rally... we covered a lot of ground.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

TSD Rally - Back to Basics

A few weeks ago, I came across a Facebook post about a TSD winter rally to be held on January 20th in the Bromont area and asked Will if he was up for it. It had been 15 years since I’d participated in any type of rally, but I figured that now that we have a proper winter car, it would be fun to give it a shot. Will was up for it, but in the days before the event, everyone in his family got the stomach flu, so he had to bow out. Since I had already pre-registered and made arrangements at home to be gone all evening, I decided to try to find a last-minute replacement. The night before the event, I posted on the rally club’s website that I was in need of a co-driver and I was pleasantly surprised when after only a short time, Josée, a woman I know from road racing circles, volunteered her services.

Josée and I met at the rally HQ and completed our registration. We chatted and took a quick look at the route book while I ate dinner before the rally’s start. Josée went to the rookie orientation meeting (she was not a true rookie, but hadn’t participated in a rally as a competitor in 10 years). The event was about 240 km long and would take about 5 hours.

We headed out at our scheduled time (7:17 pm) and did the odometer check using an app Josée had downloaded. We weren’t using all the features of this navigation rally app, really just the odometer. I was driving conservatively, as the roads were mostly gravel covered in snow with some ice patches. The temperature hovered near the freezing point.

By the time we finished the odometer check, which was stage 1 of 10, we were already slightly behind schedule. I guess I was driving a bit too slowly. Car 16, which was in fact a huge pickup (a Ford Raptor), was far enough ahead of us that we never saw it again.

We got going on the first real stage and it was really fun. The roads were often straight, with many elevation changes. I had been worried that the stock headlights would not be enough, but they were fine.

We weren’t trying to be perfect on time, but rather just try to hit the average speeds by feeling. Josée rightly pointed out that just going 90% of the posted speed limit put us right on the average speeds specified in the route book. The directions were very clear and even included street names. We had a slight surprise when a deer ran across the road right in front of us, but we managed to brake and weave around it. We noticed that both car 15 and car 16 were no longer ahead of us. They must have taken a wrong turn.

Over the course of the rally, we only made two small errors which we caught really quickly (300 and 400 meters before turning around, if I recall correctly). Josée was very patient, repeating the coming directions very often until I could not help but get them right. We often came across other competitors and it gave us an idea of what speed other cars were going. Sometimes, it was quite confusing, as there were at least three other dark-coloured Subaru wagons in the cars around us. It’s much easier to maintain speed when following another car, although you can’t use your high beams in those situations. Sadly, one car rolled into a ditch at one point, but no one was injured in the accident.

The event was long… we finished after midnight. The last stage ended at a Tim Horton’s and when I parked and went inside, I was asked by the time keeper what time I wanted them to register for our arrival. I stupidly didn’t make any type of calculation or even look at the official rally clock, so we ended up taking a huge 5-minute penalty on that stage. Our total penalty was 11 minutes and we finished 10th out of 25 cars (the winner had 2 minutes of penalties). I should have been satisfied with this, but without my mistake, we would have finished several places higher.

Josée and I after the event, pretty satisfied with our experience
Still, the event was great fun. It’s so rare that driving on public roads at legal speeds is really enjoyable, but this was the exception. Our little Saabaru was the ideal car for this type of event and it performed flawlessly. The car easily soaked up the bumps and traction was never a problem. It was really satisfying to come out of a corner, see the road open up onto a straight, and put the power down efficiently, even on snow and gravel.

Car 17, back to school-daycare-run duty
I realized that I am not yet an advanced driver when it comes to AWD cars like this one, as I was never using the throttle to tighten our line in a curve, but rather choosing an entry speed where I knew the car could hold my chosen line all the way through the corner. I will try to work on this in a safer environment than public roads.

I recommend this type of event to anyone who is a driving enthusiast, because it’s really great, inexpensive fun (the entry fee is only 60$ per team). I hope to try another TSD rally in the future and see if we can’t finish a bit higher up in the standings. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Winter is here...

It snowed about 3 cm last Sunday, which made it feel like winter. We event went tobogganing on Mount Royal. Then yesterday it snowed 20 cm and it definitely feels like winter now. We're not too bummed out about winter this year, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we went to Cuba a couple of weeks ago, our first time travelling to an all-inclusive resort as a family. It was quite relaxing, even though we mostly had to adapt our sleeping schedule to that of the boys. The only negative about the trip was the insane amount of mosquito bites we all got. Still, it was a great trip.

Another reason we aren't dreading winter as much is that we now have a proper winter car. In the snow we've had so far, the Saabaru has been great. I've replaced the rear wiper motor and battery tie-down and am fixing some rust in the rocker panels, but other than that, I haven't had to do anything to make the car into our daily driver. I love the car's small size and the responsiveness (and growl) of the turbo 4-cylinder. Alex likes the car too.

We also celebrated Oscar's 3rd birthday last weekend. He invited a couple of daycare friends for a little party at home, which was quite fun.

I stored the BMW for the winter at my friend's triplex. It's parked outdoors under a cover with the battery removed. The Civic is at another friend's house, indoors. I have sold a few more parts from the smashed car and bought what will probably be the best upgrade possible for the car: a used race seat. I just need to raise the funds to install a roll bar and the project will be complete.

Jules' snow angel (not that much snow)
Alex and Jules climbing back up the hill
Oscar after a session of Dance Magic, with a leftover party baloon
The boys enjoying the mountain a few weeks ago, before the snow came
The Saabaru on the day we bought it
The Civic just before it was stored for winter.
The M3, clean and ready for winter storage
An unexpected spot for early December
He did not have winter tires...
This rare Mercedes G550 4x4 squared looked ready for winter
It's tall
Another 4x4 squared in a very loud colour
Alpina B6 sedan... nice
A lovely 993
You don't see these every day... back when 300 hp was a very big deal

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Winter nostalgia...

When winter rolls around (I know, it's not winter yet!) and the racing season is on hold, I tend to look at old racing photos on my computer and think fondly of cars from my past. Here are a couple of the photos I dug up, one for each car, from the oldest to the most recent. 

I attended my very first driving events with this car in 1998. It wasn't suited for the track, but at least it didn't break.
In 1999, I bought a Neon that was supposed to be more economical and more suited to track driving.
In 2002, I bought my first Civic, which was also my first "real" race car (i.e. with a roll cage)
In 2003, I bought this old rally Mazda 323, also with a full cage
I built this 2000 Civic coupe in 2004 and kept it until 2014, going through several engines through the years.
I bought this 2002 Civic SiR in 2016 and it was fun right out of the box. Too bad I crashed it in the summer of 2017...
The latest Civic track car, another 2000 coupe, is a work in progress, but already a capable track car.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our new winter car: the Saabaru

When Alex and I realized we would be driving Jules to kindergarten every weekday, regardless of weather, we decided to buy a car equipped with all-wheel-drive for winter. Initially our budget was 10 000 $ and we were looking at various BMW's, Audi's and some nice Subaru's. Alex was leaning towards the luxury brands, while I preferred a turbo Subaru. Then we decided it would be more reasonable to spend around 5 000 $, so it became unlikely we would find a super-clean car in great mechanical condition. I went to look at a BMW and an Audi, but both needed a lot of work. I tried to find a nice Subaru, but WRX's are either in really rough condition or are really expensive. Then, I saw an ad for the WRX's weird cousin, the Saab 9-2X Aero. We went to see the car in Victoriaville and the owner, a mechanic, inspired confidence. The car was in pretty decent shape, had low mileage, and even came with winter wheels. We negotiated the price down to 4 600 $ and I drove the car home.

I am much more excited about this car than I would have been by an Audi or BMW... this car is so different from our M3. It's not modern-feeling or luxurious. It feels more like a high-performance tractor... It's so analog and everything feels so mechanical. I can't wait to drive it in the snow! I left it parked for 5 days after we bought it and the battery was dead, but hopefully it's because I forgot to shut off the map light (I'm not sure). Anyway, I will be putting the M3 away for winter for the first time since we've owned it (since 2010) and start daily driving the Saabaru as soon as I can confirm that the battery holds a charge.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Racing season is already over...

The track driving season is officially over: there are no more events to attend and even if there were, I would need new tires before hitting the track again. I have been working on small projects with the Civic, the first being attacking the rust I found on the driver's side floor and around the gas cap. I applied a couple of heavy layers of POR-15 rust treatment, and I hope this will be enough to stop the rust in its tracks. 

I want to improve the comfort and safety of the car before addressing any of the performance issues. The performance of the car on track was actually fine, apart from the fact that it really needs a race seat. The acceleration, braking and handling were satisfactory, and just installing fresh tires in the spring should make quite a difference in lap times. Carl let me have the old OMP steering wheel from my former Civic, and I will install it in the new car as soon as my Ebay hub arrives. Hopefully, I will be able to make the horn work. I also have to figure out what is the most economical way to get a roll bar installed before next season.

There are still many cool cars on the road, and there were some cool cars at the ASE track day I attended on September 30th as well. 

I handed the race steering wheel to Oscar when we picked it up, and he fell asleep shortly afterwards
One of the best spots of the year: a Delta Integrale on Laurier street
Oscar was offered to sit on this police motorcycle for a photo. He was pretty happy about it.
Cool brown 80's 911, with roof rack
This Saab 900 looks almost identical to the one I had in the late 90's. 
Carl's new Civic Type R looks at home at the track. I got a passenger lap and it was darn quick, even in "break-in" mode.

This S15 Nissan Silvia had some kind of cool V8 swap.
This insane Alfa Romeo 155 touring car replica was mechanically pretty stock, but still hit the track.
Shelby Cobra and 991 GT3 ready for some track time
A couple of nice convertibles near the office
A dirty Challenger Hellcat in Old Montreal
This is how you transport a Civic hood with a BMW M3...
Carl's Civic Type R, first time I've seen one "in the wild"
Maybe the best wheel you can install on a GTi
I used to really want a Datsun 510... simple and fun
A nice white Ferrari 488
A very clean Jaguar XJS