Thursday, September 13, 2018

The only photo of my first sports car

This is the only photo I have of my first sports car: a 1987 Mazda RX7 Turbo II. This was my second car (my first was a Dodge Aries I had bought from my Mom). I never had money to fix it properly and it used more gas than a V8 Mustang. I hade a love/hate relationship with the car because it was so expensive for me to own, given that I was a student. Also, I had not yet discovered track driving, so I never got to enjoy it on track. Do I regret selling it today? Not really, it was not in the best condition over all and if I really wanted another one today, I could sell my Civic and buy one. For a track car, I prefer the Civic.

The RX7 just before I sold it
 As far as car spotting goes, there are fewer exotics and classics on the road these days, but still some interesting stuff:

The best angle for the Civic
Rare aftermarket wheels on a Tesla
Nice wheels on this Civic
The RS3 looks better from the front than from the rear
My first choice for a daily driven dream car
Nice wheels on this 350Z
I would consider a clean WRX like this as my next winter car
Surprising spot: a fire rescue Nissan Patrol
Nice Golf R32 on Porsche wheels

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Civic has become reliable again!

Thanks in large part to my friend Pat, the Civic is back to being reliable. As I had committed to instruct at a BMW driver education event at Tremblant on September 10th, I really wanted to try the car on track before that event. As I had been away on Monday the 3rd on a family trip, my only chance to get on track before the event was to try the car at a Wednesday night at ICAR.

I hadn't been back to ICAR since my crash there last year. Pat decided to join me and we headed up to the track together in the Civic. We were occasionally getting a check engine light on the way up there, but it turned out not to be anything important, probably something to do with the idle.

By the time I got on track, it was around 7:30 pm and getting pretty dark. I was driving tentatively and getting passed a lot... it was hard for me to see the best line on track with the fading daylight. Still, the car was reliable and I was satisfied. Pat went out for another session in the car and was several seconds per lap faster than me. I guess he's not afraid of the dark! He dropped me off at home and left with the Civic so he could perform a bit more work on it: he was going to finish installing the catch can and swap the new muffler back to my old one in an attempt to make the car a bit more quiet.

He brought the car back to me on Saturday and I didn't drive it until early Monday morning for the trip up to Tremblant. The check engine light came on a couple of times, but by the time I was halfway there it was off and it would not come on again all day. The noise level on the highway was indeed reduced by the muffler swap. The forecast had been for rain, but it looked like the rain would only come in the late afternoon and I would have access to some dry track. On my last day at Tremblant in July, it had rained so much that even the drive to and from the track had been scary. It would be my first time at Tremblant in the dry with this Civic and I was very curious to see how the car fare in comparison with my previous Civics.

I arrived just in time for the instructor's meeting at 8:15 and had a few minutes to set up the car (basically, check the oil level and tire pressures) before my first session at 9:00 am. The cars on hand were extremely varied, but there were many, many Porsches, especially Caymans and Boxsters.

I took it relatively easy in my first session, but my data shows I managed a 2:06 on my last lap. My best lap with my previous Civic was a 2:03, so I hoped to manage a similar lap with this car, or at least a 2:04.

My second session was cancelled due to a Subaru catching fire after some kind of mechanical failure. There would be other cancelled and compressed sessions during the day, due to an Audi TT-RS losing a wheel and an unfortunate crash by an instructor.

My former student Joe wanted to ride along with me in my second session, and I happily obliged. Of course, the lap times are slower when you have a passenger. The car was performing reliably, but I did not have quite the confidence to carry big speed into the faster corners like I used to with my old race car. As a reference, I had managed a best lap time of 1:58 in the past with the 1.8 liter engine in the race car, and a 2:02 with the 1.6.

My students were driving two completely different cars: a Honda CRX with an LS-vtec engine, and a brand new Audi RS5. The CRX was a nicely set up car and the driver did well with it. The driver of the RS5 was really a novice when it came to track driving, but he made excellent progress throughout the day. The RS5, to me, was an extremely boring car for the track. It had lots of power and grip, but felt heavy and disconnected. There was virtually no engine sound from the twin-turbo V6. I imagine it makes a lovely street car, but it's not a track car.

My last session turned out to be my best. I was getting more confident with each lap when a Fox-body Mustang entered the track ahead of me. I thought I would pass it right away, but even on its warmup lap, it was not going slowly. I ended up following that car for the rest of the session, and my lap times improved, as I eventually hit a 2:02.9. I was happy with that, and happy not to be the absolute slowest car in the instructor group (I don't think I passed anyone all day).

I would have had access to one more session at 4:30, but it had started to rain a bit and I preferred to end the day on a high note (and be back in time for dinner with the family). The ride home was without incident or traffic and I parked the car, where it still sits ready for its next event. I look forward to seeing if I can improve on my best lap time at St-Eustache now that the engine seems to be making its full power. Stay tuned!

Different approaches, similar results! 
Super rare in North America: BMW Z1
The Mustang I chased for several laps... fun times
The Civic Type R in its natural environment.
This R8 V10 passed me often
This 280Z looked great and was not slow on track
Same thing for this lovely Corolla GT-S

One of the lovely Porsches on hand
A rare 1M
The Z1 with its roof and doors down
My Civic, resting between sessions

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A tale of two breakdowns

On Saturday, I got the call from my mechanic Pat telling me the Civic was ready to be picked up. He had welded up my broken header and rebuilt my sketchy distributor with parts we both had laying around. I convinced Alex to come with me to the South Shore to pick up the car and we headed home in separate cars. The check engine light was off for the first time in months. Suddenly, as I was about to get onto Champlain Bridge, the engine just died, while I was driving. I pulled over to the side of the road and tried to restart it, but there was nothing I could do. I called Pat and he told me that the igniter in the distributor must be old and must have overheated. I called a tow truck and waited for a tow home. When I got home, the car started right up, as Pat had predicted it would, since the overheated components had cooled down.

Flatbed tow #1
I had a brand new ignitor at home (from the 2000 Civic I sold to Carl), so I figured I could do the repair myself. My intitial plan was to change the ignitor without removing the distributor, so as not to affect the timing. However, I was unable to loosen the screw holding the rotor in place so I couldn't access the distributor's internal parts. I marked the position of the distributor and brought it into the house to work on it on the kitchen counter. I had a lot of trouble getting the screw out, but managed after a while. It was tight and on the verge of stripping by the time I managed to get it off. Several other small screws were also hard to remove, but I managed. I put everything back together in the dark, even dropping and finding the tiny ignition coil spring, and the car started right up. I was pretty self-satisfied and happy I would be able to go to Monday night lapping.

Imagine my surprise when the motor conked out again Monday on the way to the track… I was on the highway and managed to coast to the nearest exit. I had to stop at a red light and then get help to push the car around the corner to safety. I was on a small side street and had some tools with me, so I figured I would take a look at the distributor in case something I had installed had come loose. Everything was intact… I called Pat and he was quite surprised the car had died again… I decided to wait an hour to see if the car would start after a cooling off period. During the wait, I did some online research to see if it was possible that the coil had failed this time, and not the ignitor… It seemed like it might be the coil. Of course, I didn’t have one on me, but Pat did, so I called CAA and had the car towed from Ste-Thérèse to La Prairie, which is a pretty long way (50 km). This was my second tow in 3 days! Luckily, we hit no traffic at all and I was at Pat’s before sunset. Even after all this cooling off, the car would not start. We changed the coil and the car started right up. We decided to drive around as much as possible to see if it would die again, but it didn’t, despite over an hour of driving around. We plugged in Pat’s programmable ECU to see of there were any error codes, but only found a code related to idle speed, which we could ignore. So now, I guess that I will only know if all is well when I next head to the track. As I’m going away Labour Day weekend, I will probably go to ICAR next Wednesday to do some testing. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Civic is in the shop

I went back to the track Monday last week and had a good time with the Civic, but it was clear there was still some kind of misfire or something going on. After struggling to change the throttle position sensor on the throttle body, I decided it was simpler to just buy a whole used throttle body than to try to fix the one I had. After installing it on the car, the check engine light was still on. The car felt OK, so I took it to the track as is.

I managed a best lap of 1:02.74 and the setup of the car felt right. I also took out one of our members' girlfriend for a few laps. She seemed to enjoy it. I feel that there is still some top-end power missing. Since I've eliminated the TPS issue, if there was one, I am thinking it's a spark/distributor issue. Also, there was clearly some kind of exhaust leak by the end of the evening. As a results, I dropped the car off at Pat's last Thursday so he could look into these issues. He immediately noticed that the header was cracked, but said not to worry, as he would weld it back up. As for the distributor, I brought him most of a used one and I hope he can replace whatever needs replacing.
He still has the car and I'm waiting to hear from him. Hopefully he can solve the engine issue quickly and I can be back on track Monday.

Here are some photos from last Monday. Thanks to JAG for the photos.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Despite some hiccups, the Civic is performing on track

Since the super wet Wednesday at the track at Tremblant, I managed to get to two Monday nights at St-Eustache. The little hesitation when I get on the throttle was still present, even though I didn't have the problem of the engine cutting out at certain RPM. I also changed the driver door after a pleasant trip to Kenny U-Pull. It was like hunter for treasure looking for a red Civic door in decent condition. The one I got was not bad. The window still needs a bit of help to seal properly, but it is a huge improvement. It took me almost an hour to change the stupid door lock, but only 10 minutes to change the actual door, once I got the fender off.

New door coming up!
I felt I was driving well on the first Monday, and I got in a lot of laps, but I couldn't even break into the 1:02's. I managed a best of only 1:03.5 and decided I would take the car to Pat's before my next time on track to see if we could figure out what the problem was.

JAG photo of the Civic at St-Eustache
Civic in action
Pat hooked the car up to his laptop and found codes for the throttle position sensor and the distributor. By unplugging the TPS and plugging it back in, something improved. I ordered a new one and will rebuild my distributor with parts I have from an old one to see if that will get rid of the problem.

I went back to the track Monday. In my first session, I could not even get into the 1:03's. The best I could do was 1:04.6, which was pretty depressing, considering I had managed a 1:02.7 in the spring. Where would those 2 seconds come from? A quick look at the lap data indicated I was probably down on power. It was very hot out, but I was still perplexed. Imagine my surprise, then, when on my warmup lap in the second session, I clocked a 1:03.9, followed by a 1:02.48 and a 1:02.50. I was really astounded. Those turned out to be my best laps, as the tires seem to only deliver for a couple of laps before the performance drops off slightly.

It took me a while to improve on my times from the spring, but I finally feel like I'm headed in the right direction. It seems totally realistic to drop into the 1:01's with some cooler weather. Can the car go even faster than 1:01? I hope so, but that would require shaving off another 1.5 seconds, which is a tall order. Stay tuned...

Other than that, I bought the cooling fan parts I need to fix the M3 at Adriatic Auto... they seem to be able to fix any European car there... there was even a Tatra parked out front! I just have to budget the time to do the repair.

Rare RS4
Not so rare AMG GTS
Spotted at Kenny U-Pull... I think there is a decent chance this was my father's old Jaguar XJ6L... they were very rare in Quebec, especially in brown. It was listed as a 1977, and my Dad's was a 1976, but still...

First spot of a Tatra... ever!

They also had this lovely BMW 850 Csi
I see this AMG almost every day in our neighbourhood

The last proper Jaguar saloon in my book...
Rare 190e 2.3-16 at Tremblant

The M3 still looks good after a wash!
Becoming rare: 993 turbo

Nice colour for this TT-RS
I still like the relative subtlety of the current M3
Nice Integra Typr R clone at St-Eustache (sunroof is a giveaway)
The Civic in its home element
There is a lovely variety of cars at St-Eustache this year
Super-clean Toyota 4Runner
Rare yellow M3
Nice clean Alfa Spider Quadrifoglio
Rat-rod VW bus
Nice Defender 90 in the neighbourhood
Super rare Celica GT4... I used to want one of these so bad!
Rare but weird... Chrysler TC by Maserati, with whitewalls and spoked wheels!