Sunday, April 24, 2011

BMW Club of Quebec Open House

I was happy to find that there was nothing seriously wrong with the race car. Marc found that the problem was an axle and he promptly changed it. I picked the car up before my basketball game Friday (we lost by 15 points, I missed about a million easy shots) so that I could bring it to Sanair on Saturday where I would be instructing at a BMW Club of Quebec event. It would be my first time instructing with this club and the format for instructors was that you have track access with your own car for several sessions per day when you are not instructing. Sanair is not an especially technical or exciting track, but it is still fun, for variety's sake. I hadn't been there since 2005, so I thought it would be fun. It was.

When I arrived at the track, I noted first that there were not as many BMW's as I was expecting. I noticed second that there were some serious cars on hand, both street cars and track day cars. As you can see from my photos, the variety was impressive.

The weather was cold with occasional rain and I found myself changing tires several times from slicked out R-compound tires to Hoosier wets. I had some pretty competent students, some of whom had never before been on the track. There was one with a Mitsubishi Evo 10, one with a Lancer Ralliart, one with a Jetta VR6, one with a turbocharged Miata, one with a Subaru Legacy GT and one with a Subaru Legacy Outback turbo.

I had a great time during the instructor sessions (5 of them!) and took out some of my students for rides. They seemed to have a good time. I know I was having a good time trying to chase down the other instructors. I turned on the lap timer for fun and noted that I was running in the 1:03 range with a student on board. My goal was to aim for a 1:02 with no student aboard and this was achieved in the next session (1:02.5). I can't believe how much grip these old Toyo tires still had. The lap times matched my 2005 lap times, which were achieved on street tires, but with more horsepower. The new transmission really feels nice and the acceleration is quite decent. Surely the cool weather was helping me make a few more horses.

This is a tough track on engines as there is a long straight (even I managed to hit 170 km/h with my 1.6 liter!). However, the Civic never missed a beat and generally kept up with the other cars on hand. I used more than a full tank of gas on the track. This made for a tiring day, but rewarding. I think everybody there had a good time and I would not hesitate to instruct at another BMW club event in the future.

I didn't get any action photos, but here are some pics from the paddocks:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunday = also fun!

The second day of the AISA race school was another fun day, despite some more crazy weather, which included hail and ice pellets as well as rain. When I arrived at the track, it was cold and raining and I mounted the rain tires on the race car. By the time lunch time was approaching, and the track time made available to instructors, the rain had stopped and the combination of strong winds and many cars driving on the race line had mostly dried the track. As a result, I switched over to my dry tires, some mostly worn out Toro RA1's. I waited for Pascal to be ready in his Subaru STi and allowed him to pass me on the track so I could see if I could keep up. As can be seen in this little video, I managed to keep up, but just barely. That Subaru gets out of the corners pretty quickly!

I managed a best lap of 1:03.60, which is pretty decent considering the cold weather and old tires. The new transmission shifts smoothly and I often found myself hitting the cutoff in third gear, due to the new final drive.  I think that the new track surface will generate better lap times this year. Will I see some 1:01's? After a few laps, a severe vibration appeared and I pulled off the track. When the vibration did not clear up after changing to street wheels, I decided to leave the car with my trusty mechanic Marc. Hopefully, there is nothing seriously wrong with the car.

I also got the opportunity to drive one of the cars on my "List of Cars I Would Like to Drive":


The owner was one of my students and asked me to take him out for a couple of laps. The car's acceleration is brutal. It reminded me a lot of a Porsche 911 Turbo, with the same feeling of stability and massive torque. After a couple of laps, the street tires were squealing and I realized that there was no point trying to push the car. As one of the instructors mentioned, there is a certain video game feeling when driving this car and shifting with the paddles. After only a short drive, it was already clear that the car had immense performance. However, I don't know if it would be that fun to own as a track car because it is not that involving. Also, I believe it would make a frustrating daily driver, given that you could never use that extreme performance in the real world. Over all though, it is still a great car.

My advanced students did really well and many race licenses were handed out. The extreme weather conditions allowed the students to experience a wide variety of track conditions and the result was probably one of our best ever schools.

Here are a couple of photos of my Civic taken by professional photographer Jeremy (JAG):

I love JAG!
Great action pic
My next track activity will most likely be the BMW Club of Quebec open house this weekend at Sanair.

Cool cars spotted:
Audi R8
Audi RS4
Maserati GT
Aston Martin Vantage
Porsche 993 Targa
BMW 633 csi

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pretty good weekend so far.

Despite the fact that Alex has been at a conference in Chicago since Wednesday, I've been having a pretty decent weekend so far. Yesterday, my basketball team was playing for a spot in the semi-finals of our garage league. Despite the fact that there were only five players present on my team, we played a strong game and managed to win by 10 points. For what is probably the first time in my life, I was the high scorer of the game, with 19 points. I managed to get a couple of easy rebounds and some medium range jump shots. Also, I felt the offense was really gelling for the team. Next Friday, we will start the best of three semi-final.

Today was the first day of our two-day AISA road race school at Autodrome St-Eustache. I am in charge of the advanced group, and it is one of our best disciplined groups ever. There are four Civic race cars in the group, as well as a Porsche GT3, a Nissan GTR and a supercharged Mustang. Things went well, despite the crazy weather, which included hail, freezing rain and plain old rain. It was barely above freezing all day.

I managed to get a few laps in the M3 on some clear track at lunch time. It was my first time driving the M3 on a track. The conditions today were far from ideal, although the track was still dry. I definitely had fun... I think I must be one of the first people to drive this track since it was repaved late last fall. It was pretty neat.

My impressions of the car: 
Compared to my Civic, the acceleration is insane. It is sometimes frustrating driving the M3 on the street, since as soon as you get on the gas, you are driving at illegal speeds. As it was my first time on track with the car and Alex would kill me if anything happened to it, I kept the DSC on the whole time. When the weather is nicer and I'm feeling more confident, I will try driving without it. I could feel it kicking in coming out of the two slow corners in 2nd gear and a couple of times at full throttle in 3rd. The ABS came on a couple of times as well when I began my turn in before having finished my breaking. Rev matching during heel and toe downshifts is quite manageable (I was in Sport Mode). The brakes were up to the task, and there was no hint of fade. In fact, the little bit of squeal that remained after my rear pad change (probably due to the new pads not being mated to the discs yet) was gone. The car seems to enjoy the track. I don't know if it's my imagination, but the car felt more alive on the drive home.  

The car feels very stable and safe. Driving on street tires is different from R-compounds, as there is a lot of warning (i.e. squealing) before they let go. I would say that the worst aspect of the car in its present state is the seat: you just slide around too much on leather seats with the stock seat belts. 

As far as lap times, I was running in the 1:06 range, which is not terrible, but not great. I run around 1:03 with my Civic on R-compound tires. I figure I can probably get the M3 down to a 1:04 with the present set up if I drive less sloppily. My average track fuel economy was 35.4 liters/100 km, almost three times worse than daily driving!

I made the video using my new CruiseCam headrest camera mount. The mount worked well, except for the jiggling/vibration sound it made in the recording. Hopefully, the weather will be warmer and dryer tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Provincial basketball championship

Although my girls' basketball team was eliminated in the regional semi-finals a few weeks ago, my school's grade 11-12 team won their regional final and headed to the provincial final this past weekend. I went to help out as a second assistant coach and I saw what an impressive team my friend Pascal has built over the past four years. The girls won three of four games and took the provincial bronze medal. Their only loss came against the powerhouse Ecole Secondaire St-Laurent team, the easy gold medal winners (55 games per year, 200 practices!). I was proud to be part of our little Reine Marie basketball program.

My own team won our last regular season game and, since we finished in fourth place, we will have to win this Friday if we want to make it to the semi-finals.

This weekend, my club AISA will be holding our first race school of the season at St-Eustache. Although it doesn't seem we will have great weather, we will have an excellent instructor lineup, including Claude Bourbonnais and Kuno Wittmer. Pretty impressive. I hope to get in a few laps with the M3 and, if the car is ready in time, the race Civic as well.

Cool cars spotted:
Maserati GT
Aston Martin Vantage
Porsche 997 turbo
Audi RS4
Audi A4 Avant
Audi S6
Audi R8
BMW M3 E92
BMW M535i (RHD)
Dodge Viper
Lamborghini Gallardo

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's hard to be sure spring is really here...

It seems to go down to 0 degrees every night. It snowed a bit today. I'm glad I kept the winter wheels on the BMW. The Civic is being tuned by my friend Marc at his place (Marc is the guy who built the Lotus Seven replica which I test drove last year at St-Eustache). When I saw the shopping list of parts that were needed to refresh the car, I was glad that my race car is a Civic and not a BMW or Porsche. As soon as I get the car back, I will be able to park near where I live for the first time ever, as I have rented an indoor parking spot in the neighbourhood. I can't wait!

My first chance to drive the Civic will be the St-Eustache AISA race school in two weeks. I hope the weather is warmer than it has been in the last few days! A week after that, I might instruct at the BMW Club of Quebec open house at Sanair. If I do, I will try to find a friend to help me get both cars there so I can try them both out.

I am watching the NCAA final on TV as I write this. It's 13-8 for UConn after 8 minutes. I have not been able to find a non-championship game for the girls yet, but I hope the activities technician at the school manages to figure something out. If we don't schedule a game soon, I am afraid it will be very difficult to keep the girls motivated. Still, 10 of 12 uninjured players showed up last Friday (and I'm pretty sure one of the other two was in detention!). My men's team will play in the wild card playoff game this Friday evening. If we lose, our season is over. If we win, we will be in the best-of-three semi-finals. Our team has been plagued by injuries and we never really got into a groove, unlike last year. Still, we have some strong players. It would be sad to see the season end so soon.

I went running again last Wednesday. I managed 10 km, but was unable to maintain the 4:30 pace as I had last Sunday. The following days, I had quite a lot of pain in the lower part of my hamstring. I was not sure if it was an injury, or just soreness. I ran half a block on Saturday to see if I could even run at all. I had received an invitation to run with Franck and the gang from the Running Room Sunday morning at 8:30. After the short test, I figured I would be OK to run. By the end of Saturday evening, though, I had drank half a bottle of wine and eaten a lot, including several cheeses and a very dense dessert. I went to bed without setting an alarm, not planning to run in the morning. However, at 7:22 am, I was awakened by my smoke detector, which had gone on the fritz. I knew I would not be able to fall back asleep, so I got ready to go running. I didn't have much breakfast food, so I ate a banana and a Power Gel. Franck was going to run 30 km (ouch!) and my plan was to join him for 10 km. I met the group and we headed down towards the Lachine Canal at a leisurely pace (4:50-5:00 per km). It was cool and sunny, a beautiful day. When I first looked at my distance run, I was already over 5 km. Since it was out and back, that meant i would be exceeding 10 km, but I did not mind. I felt surprisingly good, despite the food, wine and hamstring. It must have been the weather. I turned back after 7.5 km and, after struggling to climb Peel street to its top, ran a total of 15 km. Although I was a little sore today, I am pretty happy with how my mini-comeback to running has gone.

Cool cars spotted:
Aston Martin Vainquish (!)
Aston Martin Vantage
C6 Corvette Z06
Porsche 959 (! same one as last year)
Porsche 997 Turbo
Porsche 993 Targa
BMW M3 E92
BMW M3 E90
Bentley Continental
Maserati Quattroporte
Jaguar XF-R
Lexus IS-F
Audi RS4
Audi S6 Avant
Audi R8 Spyder
Ferrari 360 (pulled over by cops)