Wednesday, September 21, 2011

War Bonnet Enduro Race Report

A couple of weeks ago, Pascal suggested to me that we should share a ride in the War Bonnet 3-hour enduro at Mosport. We decided to use my car as Pascal was more used to it than I was to his Civic. Also, there was no chance that my car would be faster than the GT5 class time limit (1:41.00), whereas his car could surely beat that time and put us near the back end of the GT4 class.

Marc N. got the car ready by changing the pads and I picked up some used Toyo RA1 tires that should be able to last three hours. We decided Pascal should bring his Civic to the track so that we could have some spare parts and, if needed, a whole spare car. I drove to the track in the race car, as usual. I noticed another race car driving to the track, an old GM Player’s series Camaro. Cool. We registered Friday night for the enduro and the three sprint races, two of which would be held on Sunday. This would be my 8th enduro at Mosport with the Civic. We were used to having a bunch of time between sessions, but the practice, qualifying and sprint race added to our usual Saturday schedule really put a new twist on our race day. We decided Pascal would run the Saturday sprint race. This meant that he would go out first for the sprint practice. Pascal did not take long to get a feel for the car and, in his first session, managed a best lap of 1:42.122, a tenth faster than I had ever been before with this engine. The pressure was on for me to lay down a good time in the enduro practice. However, the car overheated on the starting grid for my session and we had to rush back to the paddocks. The session had been delayed due to an on-track incident, which allowed us to change the radiator (it was leaking) for Pascal’s Civic before the end of the session. By the time we were done, I only managed one lap, with a crappy time of 1:49.079. It was going to be tough to be fast with so little track time.

There was a major incident where a Porsche took out a section of guardrail and the track had to be shut down for two hours. This gave us time to bolt in the passenger seat and drive to Canadian Tire to get some stop-leak for the radiator, which I would be needing on Sunday. We got back just in time for the driver’s meeting. Pascal went out to qualify for the sprint race and managed a 1:41.876. The car was running fine. I went out to qualify us for the enduro, but only managed a 1:43.650, which put me in 26th place out of 35 cars. I briefly got stuck behind fellow Quebec racer Mark Gawronski, who is usually much quicker than me. It turned out he did not have an early night the night before the race. I was a bit disappointed with my lap time, but I knew that I could improve during the race.

Pascal went out for his sprint race and managed to finish second in GT5 behind a beautiful Mazdaspeed 6 (a GT4 car, in my opinion) and again improved his best lap to 1:41.342. Ouch. That was not going to be easy to match!

There was only one session between Pascal’s race and the enduro and by the time we loaded up the car with stuff we might need in the pit lane, people were already lining up for the race. We had not discussed pit strategy or anything, but our plan was to fill up the car to the max and go for a one-stop strategy. I rushed back down to the paddocks to fill up the car. I poured in one of our four jugs and the car was not full. I picked up a second jug and it was empty. The 3rd and 4th jugs were already up in the pits. I drove the car to the staging area and asked if I could add fuel there. The answer was no. Doh! I would be starting the race with a tank that was less than full do to bad planning. I had done one hour and forty minutes on a tank in the past, and I hoped there was enough fuel to get close to the halfway point.

I lined up for the race start and headed out on the pace lap. The car beside me had a problem and I headed out with no other car beside me. The start was uneventful and I held my position without gaining any positions. There were a few cars that had not qualified that caught and passed me and, before long, I was already being passed by the leaders (Nascar trucks, Porsche GT3’s and insanely fast Subaru’s). I briefly pulled ahead of a GT5 Miata, but he managed to re-pass me. I was in 20th position for many laps and my lap times were steadily improving. The silver Miata that had been steadily pulling away from me spun in corner 5 and I passed him. I was just trying to drive consistently and stay out of trouble. It took me until lap 25 to drop into the 1:41’s. I was finally getting into the groove. I only had one somewhat scary incident: a GT4 Chevy Cobalt SS and I were both catching a slower Nissan 240 SX at corner 3. Our closing speed was pretty big and the Cobalt decided to pass on the inside. I decided to outbrake the Nissan on the outside, but he had not seen me and when the Cobalt passed him, he jerked his car to the left. I had to put my two left wheels on the grass to avoid him, but I got things collected in time to get back on the asphalt and brake. The whole incident only cost me two seconds. On lap 39, I had my best ever lap at Mosport, a 1:41.261. I was driving smoothly, no longer braking for turns 1 and 8, not even lifting in turn 4. It took me a while to get comfortable in turn 2 (tap the brakes, then immediately part throttle, squeezing to full throttle by the halfway point of the cement patch) and the data would later show that Pascal was faster than me in that corner all weekend. On a good lap, my shift light would come on (= 8000 rpm) in 4th gear before turn 2 and then again before turn 3. By lap 46, I was beginning to get fuel starvation before corner 4 and on the straight. I signaled to Pascal that I was coming in in two laps. The starvation got much worse and I short shifted when possible to make it the two laps.  By the time I pitted, I was in 17th position over all.

My role during the pit stop was to hold the fire extinguisher while Pascal poured the fuel. Someone reminded me to close my visor, which I did. Only after Pascal began pouring the fuel did an official point out that his visor was up and that we would be penalized. I was a bit angry, but I could hardly blame Pascal for forgetting the same thing I had forgot myself. He finished pouring the fuel, I poured in a small quantity of oil while Pascal strapped in, and he was off.

Unfortunately for us, there was a full-course yellow four laps later that lasted several laps and the cars that pitted during that period lost a lot less track position than we had. Still, Pascal was driving well and had us in 19th over all and 2nd in class. Then, on lap 79, Pascal pitted unexpectedly. I asked what was wrong and he told me there was coolant all over the windshield as another car had blown its engine right in front of him. This had caused him to go off track because he could no longer see out the windshield, I grabbed a rag and someone’s half-empty water bottle from the pit wall and began to clean the windshield. Pascal headed back out, but we had lost a full lap and dropped from 2nd to 5th in class just like that. I was a bit pissed off, because race cars are supposed to run water in their cooling systems, and not glycol-based coolants. I tried to remain calm and enjoy myself. After all, we were there to have fun. Pascal had a mostly uneventful stint after this and was also suffering fuel starvation by the end of the race. The checker dropped and we finished 5th in class, 16th over all. No trophy for us. Still, I was happy with my new best lap time at Mosport, I was happy with Pascal’s performance (consistent good laps with a best lap of 1:41.541) and the car was in one piece. The race was won by a Nascar truck, and Serge Tousignant and Seb Rochon finished 2nd over all in Serge’s E36 M3… pretty impressive. We reinstalled the passenger seat to drive back to the hotel, exhausted.

The following day, after switching the dead front tires for spares, Pascal won GT5 in the first sprint race and I decided to let him run the third race rather than start in last position (due to a driver change). It was the right call as he won the 3rd race as well, which gave him the GT5 trophy for the weekend (and a new best lap for him: 1:41.293). We changed the radiator back into Pascal’s car and headed home. On the way home, I began to feel a big vibration (probably an axle) and the check engine light came on, but we made it home by 9:00 pm. The weekend was over and, for the 8th time in a row at one of these Mosport enduros, the Civic had performed like a champ. 


Photobucket Photo by Elizabeth Somers

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