Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Classic at Tremblant

This past weekend I participated in the Fall Classic at the Mont Tremblant circuit. I had a good time, despite the constantly changing weather, and got reacquainted with sprint races, as opposed to enduros. Unfortunately, despite the very large number of cars, there were few with as little horsepower as mine. As a result, I often found myself running alone. I let Carl run one qualifying race on Sunday and, as often happens, he was faster than me by a few tenths (at least it wasn't a couple of seconds!). I recorded some video and, more importantly, data, so I can see why Carl is faster (he is not faster everywhere, at least!).

I pitted with my friend Pat Boyer and he and his parents could not have welcomed me any better. I enjoyed all my meals with them and shared their motel room. What a nice bunch of people! Unfortunately, Pat was involved in a race incident on Sunday which caused heavy damage to the other car (little damage to his Integra). On top of that, the other driver, a super nice guy named Luc, was pitted right beside us, which led to a tense moment after the race. Fortunately, everyone kept his head.

Here are some pictures I found online and on Flagworld:

Pat and I on Saturday
The Boyer Family and I in front of Pat's Integra
Me driving the Civic
In the middle of the pack in the GTE-GTF race
Driving alone
More Saturday action... a race start
Sunday races
Hanging out with the other 4-cylinder guys
A cool pic of the Civic
... and another one
I don't know exacly where I finished in class, but it was not very high. I was in the slowest class, for those lapping in 2:00 minutes or more. Given that my best lap was a 2:02.381, I was well behind the people who were lapping in 2:00.something. Still, I was happy to lap faster than I had at the August VAG lapping day, despite the lack of a limited-slip differential and 4.78 final drive In the enduro, I finished 32nd out of 47 cars. As there were 38 finishers, I was not "almost last". The car performed as well as expected, but I am a little turned off by my lack of power compared to almost everyone else racing in Quebec!

On Friday, I will hold my second basketball practice for the girls. I will make them sign the contract we negotiated which is mainly concerned with disciplinary items. This is part of my plan to increase the level of discipline in comparison to other years. Having an assistant coach should help me stay on top of things. We will see...

My own basketball league starts up on October 15th. I look forward to that as well.

News of Alex:
Alex is still working hard in Chicago! The impression that I get is that her level of devotion to her students far surpasses the ordinary. I hope they realize how lucky they are! A couple of her friends visited her last weekend and she now has a few acquaintances in the city itself. Hopefully this makes her stay in a foreign city more enjoyable and less lonely. Thank God for Skype and Google Phone!

Cool cars spotted:
Porsche GT3 RS
Porsche 930
Ferrari F430
Aston Martin Vantage

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Basketball team is a GO

After tryouts last week, I held the first practice for my grade 7-8 girls' basketball team today. Things are looking up this year. Seven girls from last year's team are back (all those eligible, in fact) and 11 girls tried out for the final five spots. It was difficult to cut girls who actually knew how to play (a luxury, compared to the past two years) but the result should be a strong team. Another bonus this year: I have an enthusiastic assistant coach, a player from the grade 11 team.

At the practice, I told the girls I would be increasing the discipline level. It had been pointed out, by my own players, that I was not tough enough on them last year. This year, I thought I would try something different. The plan was to teach the girls about contract negotiation by working out, as a group, the various punishments for infractions like arriving late or missing practice. The first part has gone well, in that we negotiated the punishments. We will now have to see if the application of the contract goes well.

As far as talent and skill go, this seems to be my best team yet. I think it is realistic that we might win 1/2 of our games this year. Stay tuned...

This weekend, I will be participating in the Fall Classic at Tremblant. It seemed the perfect way to end the racing season. I have not raced there since 2005, but I got quite a bit of track time last month at the VAG track day and got familiar with the track again. I know I will not be winning any prizes, but it should be an enjoyable (although rainy) weekend. It's been a busy week at work trying to get enough done to afford the day off for Friday practice. There is plenty of track time on offer, including three races. Should be fun!

I saw the new Honda CR-Z on the road. I did not get a really good look, but I did not especially like what I saw.

News of Alex.
Alex was back in Montreal for the weekend. I hope she enjoyed herself, I know I enjoyed having her here. She is working very hard in Chicago, so it was nice to see her taking a breather. She is now back there teaching her class. Luckily for me, she will be back for another visit in October. I miss her when she's gone!

Cool cars spotted:
Ferrari F430
Ferrari California
Lamborghini Gallardo
Lotus Elise
Aston Martin Vantage
Porsche 996 GT2
Porsche 997 GT2
Porsche 993 Turbo
Mazda RX7 twin turbo
Maserati GT
Maserati Quattroporte
Bentley Continental
Rolls Royce Ghost
Corvette Z06
1965 Mustang

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fiat Alfa Romeo Quebec Track Day

Today our Monday night lapping crew organized a track day for the Fiat Alfa Romeo Quebec club members. I had seen the list of entries before the event and was expecting a bunch of Fiat 500's, Spyder's and a few Alfa's. The plan was to provide an introduction to track driving to these Italian car enthusiasts.

My first surprise was that the only cars that had arrived when I got to the track were a nice Porsche 911T and a clean Datsun 510. Eventually, several Fiat's and Alfa's did arrive. Second surprise: there were a couple of Italian cars that had not been on the list: a Ferrari F355, an F430 and a Lamborghini Gallardo. Also, there was a Fiat Barchetta, a neat little two-seater that was never sold in North Amercia. Final surprise: there were two new Fiat 500's. I don't know if these cars are going to be sold in Canada, but, as far as I know, they are not available now. I guess these guys are connected in the automotive world.

As head instructor of the fast group, I got the chance to drive several of these cars on the track. Here are my impressions:

Ferrari F430
I drove this car for ten minutes at a relaxed pace and it just felt at home on the track. The power delivery was awesome, the F1 gearbox worked seamlessly and the car dealt with the bumpy track with no issues whatsoever. This is the first car I have been in where the "engine start" button seemed an appropriate addition to the (beautiful) interior. The seats were awesome and, surprisingly, were manually adjustable. I approve of this, as electric seats add a lot of weight for such a small benefit. What a fantastic track car.

Ferrari F355

This was the convertible version, which is nice if you're only taking a few laps in the car. The interior of the car is also nice. The transmission featured the traditional Ferrari gated shifter. this was a lovely car, but the differences between it and the modern F430 were staggering. The brakes were wooden (I suspect the pads were to blame) and the gas pedal was so stiff that it was hard do modulate. The engine pulled smoothly from low revs, but it had very little torque. Modern performance engines seem to have torque everywhere. The gated shifter takes a bit of getting used to, but has a nice mechanical feeling. I suspect the car would have felt a lot faster with some more revs.

Lamborghini Gallardo
This car was a blast to drive. It inspired confidence right away. It had the same awesome power delivery as the F430, and felt really planted coming out of the slower corners. Like the Ferrari, the suspension was firm but compliant enough to deal with the track's bumps and rumble strips. The fact that the car was convertible just made the experience more enjoyable because of all that awesome V10 sound. My only criticism was that the shift paddles were a little bit on the small side compared to the wings behind the Ferrari's steering wheel. I guess that that's not a problem if the steering wheel is straight, but the paddles were not always there where I expected them to be. After I drove for a few laps, the owner took the wheel. However, all the day's participants had eaten a huge catered meal, and he was not feeling great after a few laps in the Lambo, what with all its grip and acceleration. The gracious owner encouraged me to go out again for another ride while he sat on the sidelines. What a nice guy! I went back out with one of the club members' kids in the passenger seat. I think he had a fun time... I know I did. What a car!

Alfa Romeo GTV 2000
I was pretty psyched when the owner of this car asked me to take his son out for a few laps in this car. Lately, I have been wondering what it would be like to drive a sporty vintage car like this. This is the first time I had ever driven a car with a wooden steering wheel. Neat. The shifter was sloppy and the steering was a bit vague, maybe due to the high profile, low performance tires. The car reminded me of my old Mazda 323: peppy and fun. You had to plan what you were going to do well in advance, and there was not enough power to have to worry about wheel spin. The only issue I had was that there was so much slop in the shifter that when I wanted to grab second gear, I would pull the shifter until it hit my thigh, then I had to move over my thigh to get the gear in. I was black flagged by Dave, who though there was too much smoke coming out the exhaust when I was driving the car. I told the owner and he said it was normal for these engines.

New Fiat 500
Looks pretty good
OK, I admit that I actually asked the car's caretaker if I could take it out for a few laps. He gladly accepted. I went out for a few laps and quickly realized that this was not a sports car. It was a pleasant car to drive, with adequate power, not unlike a Mini Cooper, but I could not help but wish it had better tires and suspension. Still, the interior is lovely and this would surely make a great daily driver. I'm sure it will sell well in Quebec if ever it is offered for sale here.

Over all, this was a great event and I think the drivers had a great time. I love seeing people enjoy driving on the track for the first time, and I also love seeing people drive their sports cars as they were meant to be driven.

To top off this great day, I was handed a doggy bag of leftovers from the catered meal. What a day!

P.S. Trong asked me if I had now driven most of the cars on my wish list, and I realized that, in fact, I had. Here is a list of cars that I've at some point wanted to drive, and that I then got to drive:

Any Ferrari
Any Lamborghini
Porsche 911
Acura NSX
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8
Subaru WRX Sti
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Nissan 350Z
Mazda RX8
Mazda Miata
BMW M3 (E46)
Mini Cooper S
Audi RS4
Honda S2000
Lotus Elise
Dodge Viper
Acura RSX Type S
EP3 Honda Civic SiR

Cars not on the list that I'm happy to have driven nonetheless
BMW M3 (E90)
Maserati GT
Porsche 996 Turbo

Still on the list:
Nissan GTR
Mazda RX7 twin turbo
Porsche Boxster
Any AMG 6.2 liter

ICAR Sundown Enduro Race Report

A couple of weeks ago, Carl and I decided to participate in the ICAR Sundown enduro. The race was scheduled to run for three hours, beginning at 2:30 on Saturday and Carl and I would each be driving half the race. Pascal’s brilliant plan was to drive the entire 3-hour race by himself!

Carl would be arriving in town late from his trip to Lincoln Nebraska where he competed in the U.S. Solo 2 National Championship. I was in charge of getting the car ready and to the track. I arrived at the track at 7:30 am and got the car set up. As always, I drove the race car to the track, then emptied the car and changed the wheels. Being able to drive the car to the track saves us from having to have a truck and trailer. If there is a problem with the car, I can always call CAA for a tow home.

We had practice at 8:30, qualifying at 10:30 and the race was to begin at 2:30. The plan was for me to run the practice and Carl to qualify us. We were disappointed to see only 10 participants signed up for the enduro, but events like this take several seasons to build up a reputation and become a regular addition to people’s calendars. I just hoped I would have someone to race against!

The car was basically in the same specification as last year, except that there is now no limited-slip differential in the transmission, as I have temporarily installed a stock transmission in the car while I await the parts to rebuild my other tranny. I was hoping this would make very little difference, but on a track with three second-gear corners, I would have to ease onto the gas rather than just mashing the throttle at corner exit. My practice session was uneventful. I had been to this track once before at a lapping event and my best time was a 1:44. Carl had managed a 1:38.5 last year on fresh tires while Pascal had managed a 1:39.9. I was not driving particularly aggressively or even well, and I only managed a 1:44. I was a bit lost in the complex made up of corners 8, 9 and 10. The tires were brand new Nitto NT01’s and they felt a bit too new to provide maximum grip. Maybe the grooves were too deep, allowing the tread blocks to squirm. Maybe it was all in my head. As for Pascal, he was having transmission issues similar to the ones I had a few weeks ago. The transmission would pop out of third under part throttle or when he lifted. This meant that he would have to hold the shifter in gear in certain corners. Trust me, this is not pleasant. I can’t imagine having to do that for three hours!

Carl strapped in for qualifying and ran a bunch of laps in the 1:42’s, then a few 1:41’s, and managed a 1:40.7 on his last lap. This put him a few tenths behind Pascal. I knew I would have to pick up the pace and get closer to Carl’s qualifying time if possible. We were both qualified near the back, behind Mark Gawronski’s fast Civic, three BMW’s and two Mustang’s. We were qualified ahead of the Porsche 944 of one of our Monday night lapping buddies, Sebastien. Carl was able to give me a few tips, like telling me to short-shift into fourth before the esses and just take them flat out.
The rules required each team to make a mandatory 5-minute pit stop at some point in the race. Our plan was to have Carl drive the first half of the race and stop at exactly the halfway mark to refuel and carry out the driver change. Pascal had a similar plan, but he would get out of the car and get back in after the refuelling. We switched the tires from front to rear to even out the wear a little (ICAR is a real tire-killer), changed the oil (I hadn’t had time to do it last week) and waited for our race. The maintenance is really quite simple on the Civic, as so many of its parts are stock. Meanwhile, Pascal was working under his car, trying to adjust his shifter to make the car stay 3rd gear. As far as I know, this did not work.

Our little team, ready for the race
The green flag dropped and Carl got the jump on Pascal. Pascal re-took the position within a lap and the various drivers got into a rhythm. Carl lapped in the 1:42’s and high 1:41’s for the first 25 laps of the race. Pascal was slowly pulling away from Carl, a few tenths per lap, until his lead stabilized and eventually started to decrease. On lap 26, one of the BMW’s lost an engine, resulting in a full-course yellow. After four laps under yellow, the green was shown and Carl dropped right back down to 1:41’s. Carl eventually caught Pascal and the two changed positions several times before Carl eventually began to slowly pull away. Near the halfway point, we called Carl into the pits using our pit board, since we don’t have a radio system. Our pit strategy was simple. We had five minutes to change drivers, add fuel and check out the general condition of the car. My friend Rob was in charge of pouring the fuel. Carl, who would be hopping out of the car, was in charge of holding the fire extinguisher while Rob poured. Our buddy Choo was in charge of looking over the car. I had prepared a bottle with about 1/3 of a liter of oil to be added to the engine during the pit stop, as I know my engine, like many Honda Vtec engines in race conditions, uses a bit of oil. I figured it would be faster just to dump in a specific amount of oil rather than try to measure the oil level in the small amount of available time.

After Carl jumped out of the car, he told me that the car felt good and that everything was going well. I waited for the fuel to be added, and got into the car. I had time to turn on my video camera and properly adjust the belts and strap in while waiting for the official to let me know the five minutes were up. I got the signal and made sure I didn’t exceed the very low 40 km/h pit speed limit.

I hit the track and was basically alone. A couple of the ten cars had already dropped out of the race with mechanical issues. I was running alone, occasionally getting lapped by the leader in his M3 or Marc in his Civic. I occasionally lapped the 944. I ran a few laps in the 1:44’s, then a few in the 1:43’s. Carl’s trick to take the esses in 4th gear flat out was working. I could tell I was still losing time in turns 8-9-10, but I was approaching the limit in the slower corners. I was “settling in” and driving quite comfortably in endurance mode. I assumed that the rest of the race would be uneventful. I was wrong…

With 10 minutes remaining in the race, I was passed by a 2006 Mustang, who was followed by Pascal in his Civic. I did not know the Mustang’s position, but I strongly suspected that Pascal was passing me for position, as I figured he had now made his own 5-minute pit stop and had nibbled away at the lead Carl had built for us. I quickly decided that I would do everything in my power to stay with Pascal and maybe even pass him if he screwed up. At first, it was not too hard to keep up, as Pascal himself was being held up by the Mustang in the slower corners, which allowed me to catch up to him. In following Pascal, I realized that I could actually go much faster in turns 8, 9 and 10 (10 km/h faster, according to the GPS lap timer). Pascal eventually passed the Mustang, and I felt as if I had been sleeping for 35 laps and that I was now awake. I began to push more and more and my lap times immediately dropped into the 1:40 range. I could see this on the dash display and I was kicking myself because I had not began to drive this way earlier, which would have kept me ahead of the Mustang and Pascal. Of course, you don’t drive the same way early in the race as when there are fewer than 10 minutes remaining, but I couldn’t help but regret my earlier “cruise control” driving style. I did all I could to stay close to the Mustang in the hopes of passing him somewhere. I hadn’t passed anyone all race and did not even know where I would try. I was quite close to the Mustang and not too far behind Pascal when the checker fell.

It turned out that both Pascal and the Mustang had passed me for position, dropping me from 3rd overall to 5th. I was a little disappointed about that. Still, I was happy with my driving in the last laps. My before last lap of the race was a 1:40.08. For once, I had been faster than Carl. We headed over to the trophy presentation and Jacques Villeneuve was there, just hanging out. I was hoping he would be the one handing out the trophies, but he was just chilling. Pascal had taken the class win and 3rd overall. Carl and I were second in class, 5th overall. I felt like having my photo taken with JV, but was too shy to go up and ask his permission. Carl had not even noticed he was there, despite taking a group photo where Jacques was in the middle of the group!

By the time we got back to the cars, the crew had already changed the tires on my car. I had the car loaded up and ready to leave for the restaurant in a matter of minutes. Pascal, who has not run as many race events as us, took a bit longer. I think he was still basking in the glow of his achievement. It’s not easy to drive any car for three hours, let alone a Civic with a bad synchro on a track like ICAR, where there is no real time to relax at any point in the lap. We were all impressed with this accomplishment and I did not mind losing out the class win to a friend like Pascal.

In all, we completed 95 laps in the race. Carl drove 140 km in the race, while I drove 138. The car took the three-hour beating without complaint and was driven home and parked, ready for its next race (Tremblant in 2 weeks, maybe?). As is always the case with endurance races, I had a blast. I’d like to thank my co-driver Carl and my crew (also Pascal’s crew), made up of Alex, Kevin, Rob and Choo.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Catching up...

... or should I say catching my breath! I have been pretty busy with work and time has been flying. As I mentioned in my last post, the race car was receiving a new transmission to finish out the season. The installation went well and the tranny shifts nicely. The car is not really that much slower, despite the lack of a limited-slip differential.

I finally decided to get some real racing done this season! Carl and I will share driving duties at the ICAR Sundown 3-hour enduro tomorrow. Carl bought us some brand new tires. It should be a fun race, although we have been lumped into an "under 2.0 liter" class, so we will not be that competitive. Still, as long as there is someone to race with, it will be enjoyable.

On Sunday, I will be instructing at a Fiat/Alfa club event at St-Eustache. It will be a car-intensive weekend!

There was no lapping this past Monday, but on the previous Monday, I drove a BMW 135 for a couple of laps and it was really quite a pleasant drive, with lots of torque. Fun little car!

I saw a fully electric truck on the road for the first time yesterday. It was a Frito-Lay truck. I guess this is the beginning of a new era. Electric vehicles will no longer be seen as novelties, but rather as part of everyday life.

Next Wednesday, we are holding out first basketball tryouts of the season at College Reine Marie. We hope to be able to put together three teams this year. I hope most of my team from last year shows up, as most of them were young enough to play in "benjamine" for another year, which could lead us to winning a few more games. Also, one of the older girls volunteered to be my assistant. It would be nice to have a reliable assistant!

I plan to refine my coaching philosophy this year and make the following changes:
- set out the requirements and punishments with the girls on the first day, then make them sign a "contract" on the following day incorporating the terms upon which we agreed (you're never too young to learn about contracts!)
- talk more about the philosophy of teamwork and the general principles behind basketball
- focus more on team-building, enthusiasm and confidence
- try to be less of a softie.

As is the case with many sports, performing well is not just about what skills you have, but also how you feel and your level of confidence. In team sports, the confidence issue extends to how much confidence you have in your teammates. I hope I am right about this!

I have been going running every other evening for the past few days, because I find it's a nice way to end the day (before talking to Alex on Skype) and because I like running when the temperature is a bit cooler. I am gradually getting my cardio back into shape.

I bought a Playstation 3 and have been playing Gran Turismo Prologue (although not much this week, due to a lack of time). Gran Turismo 5, the complete version of the game, comes out in a few weeks. The online play is fun, although I usually get crushed.

News of Alex:
Alex is still in Chicago, but she will be back for a long weekend in one week. Needless to say, we are both looking forward to that weekend! We get to talk on Skype and her class, although labour-intensive for her, is going well. I think she has the same parental instincts vis-à-vis her students as I have towards my basketball players!

Cool cars spotted:

Very clean 1984 Civic
Very clean 1982 VW Rabbit
BMW M6 (1987)
BMW M6 (new)
Audi S8 V10
Audi S6 V10
Lamborghini Gallardo
Lamborghini Murcielago
Shelby GT500
Bentley Arnage
Bentley Continental
Dodge Viper SRT10
Dodge Viper ACR
Aston Martin DBS
Aston Martin DB9
Aston Martin Vantage
Maserati GT
Maserati Quattroporte
Maserati Spyder
Ferrari F430
Ferrari 458 Italia (! first time ever)
Ferrari 456
Ferrari California
Ferrari F355
Noble M400 (!!)
Ford GT
Porsche 912
Porsche 997 Turbo
Porsche 930
1970's Porsche 911S
Lotus Elise
Nissan GTR
Nissan Skyline R32 GTR
Nissan Pulsar GTiR