Monday, September 28, 2009

War Bonnet Enduro Race Report

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Photos by Elizabeth Somers.
As has now become tradition, I attended yet another 3-hour enduro with my Civic at Mosport. This time, it would be the War Bonnet Enduro, part of the annual event Indian Summer race weekend organized by the British Empire Motor Club. Carl was unable to join us as the ASE Lapping Club was organizing its own event at St-Eustache on the same day as the race. As a result, the plan was for me to team up with JP and Pascal St-Cyr, who now had 3 races under his belt, for the 3-hour event. I left the car with JP and Pascal to prepare it for the race. They have always done a good job preparing the car and I was sure this time would be no different.

About a week before the event, I got a call from our buddy Steven “Choo” Leitao. He said he wanted to run the race with his Civic and asked if JP or I would like to co-drive with him. I told him he could “borrow” JP from our team and that Pascal and I would share driving duties on our own. Of course, JP jumped at the chance to drive a Civic with 100 more horsepower than mine! We therefore became a 2-car team, just like that. The new plan called for Choo, JP and Pascal to do the test day Friday with the two Civics and for me to join the group Friday evening.

On Friday, I arrived just in time to take a team photo with the guys. The test day had gone well and Pascal had already matched my best time of 1:44 with the 1.6 liter engine. He got in many sessions as he was not sharing the car with anyone. JP had managed a 1:36 with Choo’s car, and Choo, a road race rookie just like Pascal, was only a couple of seconds behind. The guys had installed a borrowed rear wing (thanks Nigel) on the back of my Civic, which was supposed to make a difference in rear stability in the high-speed corners of Mosport. We raided the nearby Zellers and LCBO for snacks and drinks (and pillows for those camping wimps Choo and JP!) but turned in early, as it was a bit cold to hang out outside. Fortunately, I had a proper sleeping bag, because it was frikkin cold overnight. In fact, we woke up to find a thick layer of frost on all our cars. I just started mine and left the heater on for a while. Choo put one of the camping heaters in his car (see earlier camping wimps comment) as he had no heater.
I decided I didn’t like the way the wing was installed, as the trunk was too flexible for the wing to really do anything. Luckily, Choo had some flat aluminum plate we could use to make a proper base for the wing. Pascal and Choo dilligently re-installed the wing as I strapped into the car. We went out for the first practice and I could not believe how many cars there were on the track. They had combined the practice for the enduro competitors and the sprint race competitors and I was constantly being passed left and right. I regretted not having participated in the test day, because almost everyone else on track seemed to be up to speed. After only a few laps, the session was over and I was not very happy about my performance. Also, there was quite a bit of vibration in the steering wheel in the high speed sections. One good thing: it was my first time driving with a HANS device and it did not hinder my driving in any way as I was afraid it might.

Pascal went out in the second practice session and seemed quite comfortable. We had to have the valve changed in one of the tires as it was leaking, but the Tirecraft guys made quick work of this. I was scheduled to run the qualifying session and start the race. We were hoping to do the 3-hour race with only one stop for fuel and the driver change. We were unsuccessful in our attempt to do so this spring, but I figured if there was a full-course yellow or something, maybe I could stretch out the fuel economy and last until the halfway point.

Qualifying was uneventful and I finally managed some cleaner laps. I was getting more comfortable again. It always takes me so much time to get comfortable at Mosport. I guess I have a really strong self-preservation instinct, maybe too strong to be a fast driver. I was one of the slowest qualifiers, but I didn’t really care, as things have a way of sorting themselves out in a 3-hour race.

We were classified in GT5. This was a class for cars that ran 1:41 to 1:45. The classes in bracket racing are a bit arbitrary, but at least the other cars in your class are about the same speed as you. As neither of us had ever gone faster than 1:44, we were not in a great position in such a class: a bit too quick for GT6, a bit too slow for GT5. There were a bunch of cars in GT5: a couple of Miatas, a couple of Porsche 944’s, another Civic, a Nissan NX2000 and a 200 SX SE-R, a couple of E30 BMW’s… a typical mix of cars. Choo and JP were running in GT4. GT4 was for cars running 1:36 and slower. As JP had already run 1:36’s, the car seemed well classified. However, if the car dipped down into the 1:35’s, there would be a 1-lap penalty for breaking out of the class (per breakout lap). There were some seriously fast-looking cars in GT4, including other Civics and a Cobalt SS. In the prospects for the overall win, there was a Viper Competition Coupe, a quick Nissan 350Z and a Subaru WRX Sti.

Something strange happens at every enduro: the 3-hour gap between qualifying and the race seems to fly by and all the stuff we planned to do: practice driver changes, nap, etc., do not get done. In keeping with tradition:

Car 4 (Vince and Pascal): after I pulled into the pits, I was told by an official to go see the stewards. I asked if he knew why, and he did not. I headed over to the stewards’ room and waited my turn. I saw another driver from car 04 (nice youg chap, named Andrew) and figured they must have got me confused with him. When my turn came, I went in and sat down with three stewards. I still had no idea what I was doing there. One of the stewards asks me to sign a form stating that I do not object to the calling of the hearing and the constitution of the jury and I’m wondering if I should have an attorney present, as I still don’t know what this is about. One of the jury members explains to me that I arrived in corner 2 beside a Miata while a yellow flag was being waved and ended the corner ahead of him, thereby making a pass under yellow. I breathed a sigh of relief, as I knew that I never passed anyone under yellow (I barely passed anyone in the whole session). I explained that the Miata was much quicker than me in corner two and that he probably pulled out to pass me, then changed his mind. The jury didn’t buy it and said they would have to talk to the Miata driver. Unfortunately, he was unavailable as he was about to participate in a sprint race. I was told to return later to see if I was off the hook. I managed to get a quick word with the Miata driver before his race and he confirmed my story. I went to get the car ready, which meant topping up the fuel and oil. I guess we were lucky, as there was not much else to do, and I had to return to the stewards to confirm that the Miata driver confirmed my story, which took quite a long time, since they were busy discussing another incident: two cars had collided in the paddocks, of all things.

Car 176 (Choo and JP). When I pulled in after qualifying, I saw that JP and Choo were doing more serious work on their Civic. It turned out there was a hole in the radiator. I heard that they were heading to Canadian Tire to get another one (but then I was busy with my own stuff!). A long while later, when I got back, they didn’t seem to have a radiator from Canadian Tire. What they did have was a borrowed Acura RSX belonging to Scott Nichols. Their plan was to use his radiator for the race, then reinstall it in the Scott’s car. The idea was sound, but the timing was a little crazy, as we were getting pretty close to race time,.

I wished them luck, but there was nothing I could do to help, so I got our stuff ready to bring up to the paddocks for the race: jack, spare wheels, tools, and all our fuel jugs. Pascal was helping them with the radiator install. I was on my own to get our pit area ready, so I drove up there with my street car and unloaded all our stuff. This implied many back and forth trips, as I could not park that close to our spot. I saw that most cars were already lined up for the race. Where had the time gone!

I hurried back to our paddock spot and got into the race car, then went to line up in our spot. I was starting 35th out of 41 cars, but I didn’t really mind. Somehow, just before they sent us off, Choo showed up with a functional car and headed for his spot (13th). As the race began, I was driving quite conservatively, and this had me mixing it up with the GT6 cars. I was often getting stuck behind slower cars and generally, I was not driving that well. This seems to be a recurring theme at Mosport, where I always end up driving too tentatively and regret not pushing more. I figured that one advantage of driving slowly was that I was probably using less gas. Pascal and I hoped to use a one-stop strategy and make up for our lack of outright speed. The plan was for me to turn on the 4-way flashers when I had my first taste of fuel starvation, then stay out as long as possible and flash the high beams two laps before I pitted. you have to let the officials know you are pitting in two laps in advance.

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Choo takes the start.

I had a stopwatch taped to the dashboard so I could see how much race time was left. After a while, I finally got it together and started to pass all those GT6 cars. I was getting lapped often by the fast guys, including Choo. After initially dropping back to 33rd spot (there were some guys who had not qualified and passed me early on), I eventually got to 15th. I was not really passing people on track. The other cars were either pitting or breaking down. As I got to the 1 hour 20 minute mark, I realized I had a chance to make it to the halfway point and that we could manage only one stop. The fuel gauge was dropping, but there was no fuel starvation. I made it to 1:25, 1:30, 1:35… the gauge said empty, but there was still no fuel starvation! I flashed the 4-ways, as I had made it over the halfway point and it was time to let Pascal drive. I came into the pits after competing 59 laps for a total time over 1:40. I knew this would be our only stop, so I hoped we would not screw it up. I remembered my two tasks: open the fuel door and shut off the engine (I forgot that second item in the Sundown GP this spring!).

I told Pascal all was good in the car and he headed out. The pit stop dropped us down to 23rd position, but at least we would not have to stop. I saw that my best lap time was a 1:44, which was not great, but not terrible. It only took Pascal a few laps to get into the 1:44’s. After 20 laps, he managed a 1:43 and eventually a 1:42. He was clearly in the groove. I was happy the way things were going as the race had been uneventful. We were cheering in the pits after the checker dropped. When Pascal pitted in, however, we saw damage to the bumper, fender and wheel. The another driver came over to talk to Pascal before any of us good and started really giving him hell. It turned out that Pascal and another car had collided on the last lap, and the angry guy was the co-driver of that car, driven by his wife. I can see why he would be mad, but he could have communicated the same message without so much yelling and after giving us a moment to welcome our driver in the paddocks. He told us he would be filing a protest. We went to park the car and decided to go and try to clear the air with the drivers of the other car. The guy was still yelling. He could not even conceive that the responsibility might be shared. The woman who was actually driving the car during the collision was not too happy either, but she was coherent and seemed to be having a normal reaction to the whole incident. She recommended we just walk away, so we did. After we arrived at our paddock area, a guy came over to tell us that the stewards wanted to talk to Pascal. Although I had planned to leave right after the race to get home at a decent hour, I went with him, for moral support and to see if there were going to be any translation issues.

They jury kept Pascal in the meeting room for a while, then they met the driver of the other car. I think we were there more than an hour. We completely missed the barbecue. Choo and JP did too: they had to remove the radiator and put it back in the street car, and it was getting pretty dark. It turned out that both Pascal and the other driver were considered partially responsible and they each had a note added to their files. We were told that our final result would not be affected.

Speaking of final results, we finished 3rd in class out of 11 cars, and 14th overall out of 41 cars. Our class was won by Greg Kierstead, who often wins GT5 with his Miata, and who finished 11th overall. The second place GT5 car was another Civic who finished 13th. Choo and JP did even better, finishing 6th overall and 2nd in class behind a Cobalt SS. They were really flying, and Choo was only about one second off JP’s best time of 1:36. We didn’t get to relax and hang out after the race as we would have like to, or enjoy the BBQ, and we never saw our trophies, but all in all, it was a very satisfying event. Also, I ran my longest stint ever at over one hour and 40 minutes, which was pretty satisfying. We will surely be back next year and we will be focusing on running the race with only one stop from now on.

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