Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Time flies!

Wow, already nine days since my last post. Time sure flies. It actually snowed last night. I had to search in the storage area for the frikkin show brush this morning... guess it's time to throw on the winter tires.

I went to look at this used car the other day:

Clean Saab 900
I have been toying with the idea of buying an old Saab as a sort of project car. I have fond memories of th 1989 Sport 900 I used to have. Alex remembers that same car as a piece of crap. Anyway, there is a classic 900 I have seen a few times in the neighbourhood which seemed to be in solid condition. I always thought that if it was ever for sale, I might be interested.

Well, sure enough, I see the car on Craigslist for 650$. I make an appointment to go see the car and the body is as good as I remembered it. Not a single real spot of rust, no holes. It turns out it's an imported Vermont car. When I took a closer look, I noted several issues besides the fact that the car needed a whole new exhaust system:

- no cruise control (not great for road trips)
- non-functional A/C
- non-functional ABS
- non-functional airbag
- non-functional driver's side window
- broken shift knob
- the number 900 was gone from the trunk

If you wanted to fix even 1/2 these items, you would almost be in the price range of a nice 2001 9-3. Also, the car felt old. The controls and materials simply did not feel modern. It was a 1992, but felt like a vintage car. What's funny is that during the test drive, there was another classic 900 behind me on the road, a Sport 900 with the wing and Minilite style wheels. I took it as a sign: buy the one you really want, don't settle for less. When you think of the money and time you will spend on the car, it's worth waiting or paying a little more. I noticed that today, a few days later, the car is advertised for 500$ must sell. Go down another 400$ and I might be willing to take it off your hands!

As for the race car, I picked up a rear bumper beam. One more thing to check off the list to make the car ITS legal.

There are still some cool cars out there, but the number will surely decrease due to weather:
Audi S8
Audi RS6
Audi RS4
Lamborghini Gallardo
Maserati GT
Volvo P1800
RHD Mitsubishi Pajero Turbo
Bentley Continental GT
Porsche 911 GT3
MGB (good year)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lots going on...

A lot has happened since I last wrote. I will have to divide this entry into several subcategories!

Closing of Trac Racing Depot

It’s official: Trac Racing Depot, one of the province’s premier race shops, has had to close its doors this week. It’s a sad day for Quebec racers. Stephane Trahan, my friend, sponsor, driving coach and sometimes co-driver, has had no choice but to close the place down due to financial difficulties. It’s too bad… this is really a clear indicator that it’s not easy to run a business based on racing in Quebec. Indeed, racing in Quebec is in a sore state, with extremely low attendance at many events… but that’s a topic for another entry.

VAG Tuning day at St-Eustache

I was invited to instruct at the VAG Tuning lapping day at St-Eustache. I gladly accepted, as I wanted a last chance to hit the track with my now functional (albeit less powerful) race car before winter hits us. VAG Tuning is a tuning shop that focuses mainly on Volkswagens and Audis. I had proposed my services to Alex, who works there, earlier in the season for their ICAR event. At that event, the inexperience in the organization showed, although the customers seemed to have a great time. Alex called me a couple of weeks ago to see if I wanted to instruct again and to bring along fellow instructors who might be interested. I called JP, and he was in (when does JP ever say no to anything?).

I proposed to Alex and Mathieu to have three run groups, and that’s what we did. We did follow the leader sessions with the beginners and the more advanced drivers were allowed some passing zones (with point bys). All in all, I got a bunch of track time, racking up 246 km on the track. The car behaved absolutely beautifully. I wanted to monitor oil consumption, and there was some great news on that front too: the oil level barely moved all day and I never added a drop of oil. If this holds up, it will make things easier when it comes to enduros (one less thing to worry about during pit stops).

In my first session, I stupidly nicked the passenger mirror on the pit wall during the follow the leader laps. The housing cracked and the mirror popped out and broke. I decided to up my level of concentration. I remembered an article I read recently in Grassroots Motorsports about using track days to focus on certain elements of your driving, like shifting, for example. I focused on shifting for part of the day, then on smoothly getting back on the throttle, then on my line coming out of the bus stop. It was really fun. By my third session, I pulled out the stopwatch. I managed to dip under 1:03 for a couple of laps. I greatly enjoyed trying to keep up with JP and his Civic. We have similar cars: we have the exact same motors, but he has a more aggressive final drive and a bit less weight. In the following session, I managed a 1:02.73. I was having a blast and driving quite well. I was barely more than a second slower than my best ever time with the old motor. In our final session, JP and I had an epic battle… we were chasing down a stupidly fast Nissan 180SX, which we could not catch until he screwed up the braking for the bus stop. One of the other instructors was following us in his Porsche 911 GT3RS. JP slowly caught me and went for the pass at the entry of the hairpin. I proceeded to re-pass him on the oval. He tried it again two laps later, and I managed to pull beside him heading into the pit wall. I then cut him off going into the esses. I was laughing in the car, as I’m sure JP was too. Over all, it was a very enjoyable day and a great way to end the year.

The ITS Civic project

Fall is here. There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees. I had to wear a sweater today. This means it’s time to put away the race car and put on the snow tires. Sigh. At least this winter, I have a fun project: getting the race car ready for ITS. The biggest part of the job is done: then engine swap. There are, however, a bunch of details to work out and small parts to find. This allows me to combine my love of shopping and finding bargains with my love of cars.

I’m really happy with my decision to downgrade the car. I realized it this Saturday: I’m simply not that worried about the engine anymore. It cost 650$. If it blows up, I cannot do more than 650$ of damage. That’s a great feeling. The car is by no means slow, but it reminds me more of my old white Civic… probably because I’m having so much fun, just like I used to with the old car. One thing that reminds of the old car: you just add gas and drive.

Indeed, I felt on Saturday that I was driving much closer to the limit of what the car can do and I hope that I can focus on simply becoming a better driver in the future. Maybe I wasn’t ready for 220 hp. Whether that’s the case or not, 160 hp seems to suit me just fine.

My desire to buy another less powerful Civic to make into a race car has dramatically decreased. I believe I have the race car I’ve been wanting. The philosophy of the race car will be fun, reliability and low operating costs from now on. Hopefully, this will help me meet my goal of one day running in a 24-hour race. I am seriously considering entering a 12-hour race in 2009 as a step towards this long term goal.

What I’ve been watching

Since I’ve bought a DVD player with a USB port, I’ve been downloading a bunch of racing related TV shows. I’ve watched every WTCC race this year, a bunch of BTCC races, as well as every episode of Top Gear and Fifth Gear. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman’s series called Long Way Down (as well as Long Way Round). In this show, Ewan and Charley travel from Scotland to Cape Town on motorcycles.

Long Way Down
The show focuses on the planning of the trip and of course the trip itself. Watching this show has made me think about getting my motorcycle license again (this comes up every couple of years, but I never do anything about it). It also makes me want to take a super long endurance-testing trip by car or bike. Alex has been watching the show too, and she has the same feeling. She would like to drive to Tierra del Fuego. I would like to start out with something more local, like driving to Labrador and Newfoundland. We both want to do a massive American road trip that would take us to the West Coast. However, time is money, and I don’t know when we’ll both be able to take that much time off. I’ve often contemplated what car I would buy or build for such a trip: a) an old Saab 900 (1979-1993), which can accommodate a double futon in the back, b) a Chevy Astro, which can comfortably sleep 2 but only comes in automatic, c) a Nissan Pathfinder, which could probably sleep 2 and could go off-road when needed or d) a 2000 Saab 9-3 plus a tent, a car that will really swallow up the miles in comfort and that I will enjoy as a daily driver after the trip is over. Something to think about…

Cool cars spotted:
BMW 635 CSi
E36 M3
New M5
Ferrari F430
Ferrari 328
Porsche 997 turbo
Ford GT
Bentley Continental GT
Audi S6
Audi RS4
Audi S4 wagon

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Blog’s #1 Fan

I know there aren’t many people who read this blog, and that’s OK. I would like to use this opportunity to dedicate this post to the blog’s number one fan: my lovely wife Alex.

Alex at the Ferrari Gallery
Alex is extremely supportive of this blog, of my hobby, and of pretty much everything I do. She has traveled with me to Watkins Glen, Mosport, Tremblant, Misano (Italy) as well as other tracks, both to watch me race and to watch pro races. On our trip to Italy in 2007, she accompanied me to the Ferrari Gallery. On our trip this summer to Portugal, she insisted we stop at the Estoril Formula 1 track and take some pictures. Although she doesn’t love cars and racing, she has joined me at many an event and has listened to several boring conversations about cars. She almost always comes with me on road trips to buy used parts when she’s available. Basically, she does it all. Now, if only I could convince her to take the Trac school in one of our Civics… I’m sure she would be an excellent student! Alex, Thanks for being my number one fan!
Alex at Misano, Italy

Monday, October 6, 2008

The new engine rocks!

Thanks to Jeremy Glover for the pics

Well, I totally wailed on the car this evening at lapping and it never missed a beat. I completed about 70 laps over several sessions. Not only is the car reliable, it's not as slow as I had thought it would be despite the 50-60 hp drop. I timed a bunch of laps with my stopwatch and was often hitting low 1:03's (best was a 1:03.10), which is only 1.5 seconds off my times with the 1.8. Not bad! The car feels great and the engine really likes to rev. I guess the lack of a downstream oxygen sensor did not rob the car of any horsepower. I took some video, which I haven't watched yet. If it's any good, I'll post it.

It turns out that next week's lapping might be on Tuesday instead of Monday, so this may have been my last TLC appearance of the year. I'm sure glad I made it count! I really drove the car as much as allowed before dark (I let Carl have a few laps as well, and he seemed satisfied). I would get the checkered flag, exit the track, and head straight to the back of the line heading out again. JP accused me of trying to run my own personal enduro...

Speaking of enduros, there is a 12-hour at Summit Point in June every year. Is it too soon to start planning for 2009?

Almost winter, gotta hit the track for the last few times!

Jeremy Glover posted some cool pics of last week's TLC lapping at St-Eustache. Here are some of me and my street Civic. As you can see, stock suspension makes for a lot of body roll:

Last night I picked up the race car from Pat Boyer's. He installed the 1.6 and everything seems to have gone well. There is a check engine light because the OBD2 ECU requires an oxygen senson on the exhaust line which I don't have. This will not be a problem when I get an adapter to switch back toOBD1. I drove the car a few km from Pat's garage to my place, and all seemed good. There is no torque, but the power is not bad. I think the acceleration will improve a lot when I change the final drive in the transmission.

I plan to take the car to lapping tonight to see if everything is OK and get an idea of the on-track performance of the car in IT-spec. The car is essentially ready to run in the SCCA ITS class, as there remain only a few things to do to make the car legal. These things will not really change the performance of the car.

I saw Ferrari F430 on the way to work this morning. It turned a corner out of sight, but I heard the high RPM wail of its engine for several blocks. What a sound...

Cool cars spotted:
Aston Martin Vantage
Ferrari F430
Viper Coupe
New M3 (a bunch of them)
chrome-bumpered MGB
BMW 2002

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Driving everybody's car but my own.

I went with my friend/mechanic Pat to pick up my new used engine. In an ideal world, it would have been installed last weekend. In fact, Pat did not have time to install it last weekend. I went to Monday night lapping anyway, with the blue Civic. The blue Civic can only take about 5 hot laps befire it runs out of brakes and the temperature begins to climb. It's fun while it lasts, but it sure doesn't last long. Luckily for me, my friends at the lapping club are very generous with their cars. I got to drive Pascal's blue Civic. It looks a lot like mine, but it's got an Integra GSR motor, Koni shocks, Neuspeed race springs and some weight reduction. The result is a seriously fast and fun to drive car. It's almost as fast as my race car was (before dropping a valve). The car handled like a go-kart and was confidence-inspiring.

Yesterday, I instructed at a Trac Racing Depot corporate day for a private group. Three of the seven students had 996-Generation Porsche 911's. This presented a good opportunity for me to drive a 2WD Carrera, a 4WD Carrera S and a Turbo in a short period of time. All are great cars, but my favourite at a track like St-Eustache is the 2WD narrow-body non-turbo Carrera. Even though it was a convertible, it was the best of the bunch. The Carrera 4S had a problem with the stability control, which kept intervening all the time for no reason. To stop the problem, I shut off the PSM and the car was back to normal. It's stable enough so that it can be driven hard even without PSM. It helps to have the wider body with 4WD. I was a bit disappointed that a car that was not that old felt so used though. The car was showing its age... Until yesterday, I was under the impression that 911's were bullet-proof and did not really deteriorate. This was not really logical, but it was an impression I had. Yesterday, I saw that they can get worn out just like any other car. I guess you can't beat on them all the time and expect them to just take the punishment.

Tonight I will help Pat remove the old engine so we can install the new one over the weekend. If all goes well, I will be able to take the car to the track Monday night for testing. There are only two lapping evenings left. I would really like to get the car out for both of them. I hope it works out!

Cool cars spotted:
Saab 900 SPG
Porsche 997 turbo
Nissan Skyline R32 GTR
Ford GT
Ferrari 328