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 Civics at St-Eustache
My busted mirror

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

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