Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It feels like summer is here!

I’ve been quite busy and haven’t had much time to post lately. At least I have been driving my car again!

When Pat finished my engine swap in the Civic, I took the car to Sajan’s shop, Synoptic Tuning, for a dyno tune. The numbers did not disappoint, as the new engine made 184 whp.

I lent my car to Pierre and Jam for the SPC road race at St-Eustache, which was to be held at the same time as the ASE time attack. Pierre and Jam would do their runs, then swap on my race tires so I could go out for my own runs. They each managed a top-10 finish with the Civic, but my own lap times were disappointing. Also, Pierre managed to scrape the wall and leave a few nice scratches on the righ side of the car (he has offered to pay for repairs). I was personally hoping to dip into the 59-second range, but my best lap was a 1:01.7. It didn’t help that the vtec was not engaging at the correct RPM (this would later be corrected by Sajan).

After that unsatisfying day, Pascal convinced me to enter the car at last weekend’s Spring Classic at Tremblant. This event is the subject of my previous, more detailed post. Suffice it to say, the car performed well, but it sure puffs a lot of smoke when I release the gas pedal!

I went out to Monday lapping before yesterday and still could not go faster than 1:01.7. I compared the data to last year’s laps, and the car is not significantly faster at the end of the straights. I don’t know if I’m still making 184 whp, or if I screwed something up. The car is presently at Marc’s and hopefully, he will be able to figure out what’s going on after fixing my power steering. At least I got to drive a C6 Corvette ZR1 for a few laps. The power of that car is simply insane! It must be the most powerful car I have ever driven, with 638 hp. 

Other than that, the weather has been pretty great and it feels like summer is already here. Alex and I are quite busy at home making preparations for the baby in August, and I will take a weekend off from racing to do some baby shopping and assemble a mountain of furniture from Ikea.

Alex with a Princess Cake (eaten by Vince) at Ikea
My next track event will be the BMW school at Tremblant on June 9th and 10th.

Cool cars spotted:
Early Porsche 911
Aston Martin Vainquish
Aston Martin DB9
Ferrari F430
Porsche 997 Turbo S
Porsche 968
Mercedes 190e 2.3-16
AMG C63 Coupe
Lamborghini Gallardo
Audi R8 V10
Audi RS4
C6 Corvette Z06
Rolls-Royce Phantom

At Tremblant:
Porsche 997 GT3
Porsche 997 GT3 4.0 (!)
Porsche 997
Porche 997 Turbo
Porsche 944 Turbo
Audi R8 V10
Porsche 993 Turbo
New BMW M5
C4 Corvette ZR1
Ferrari 328
Ferrari Mondial
Ferrari 360
Ferrari F355
Lamborghini Diablo (!)
Lotus Elise Supercharged
Lotus Evora
Acura NSX

All these GT3’s were parked near each other in the spectator parking at Tremblant:


Tremblant Spring Classic Race Report

Pascal and I decided to sign up for the Spring Classic race weekend at Tremblant. We knew that even if there were not many cars in our class, at least we would be able to race
against each other.

The weekend was made up of a practice session, a qualifying session, three sprint races and a 45-minute “enduro”, so there was a good amount of track time available. By the time we were both registered, we realized that we were the only two cars in the GTE class, for cars that lap between 1:55 and 2:00. The weekend was turning into another Vince vs. Pascal type event!

Last year, my best lap was a 2:02, but that was with my old motor. The new motor made quite a few more horsepower and I was curious to see how this would affect lap times.

Pascal was 2 seconds per lap faster than me in the practice and qualifying, down in the 1:58 range. Of course, we qualified before last and last. It’s hard to keep up with GT3’s, Vipers, Radicals and M3’s!

We lined up for the first race and I managed to get the jump on Pascal in turn 2 and make the pass. I kept him behind me for the first lap, but he draft-passed me at the end of the straight on the second lap and then gradually pulled away. I was unable to keep up. I though I caught a lucky break when a full-course yellow came out, as I would be able to catch right up to Pascal, but Pascal would have none of it, and we kept racing for a while until we finally caught up to the group being led around by the pace car. The race ended under yellow, and that was that. Pascal 1, Vince 0.

It looked like the next race would be a bit more fun for us, as the G70-class semi-vintage cars would be running with us. This weekend, the G60 class was made up entirely of E30 M3’s and Porsche 944’s. This meant that there would be more cars running at around our pace. Sure enough, when I arrived at the grid, I wasn’t in last place… there were several cars behind me, some because they were slower, some because they had not put in a qualifying lap. There were also two cars between Pascal and me, so it would be harder to get ahead of him. Harder does not mean impossible: I had another great start (my video camera battery had died at this point, but Pascal has some video) and managed to pass several cars in the turn 1-2-3 combo, including Pascal, and I even managed to put one of the 944’s between us. I was quite excited about this, and Pascal was busy fighting with a 944, which meant he was too busy to catch up to me. Eventually, the 944 tried an insane pass on Pascal in corners 1-2 on the outside, in the marbles, and wiped out. Luckily, the car did not crash. Pascal then slowly began to reel me in. After a few laps, he was quite close behind me, but it’s not that easy to pass a car with almost exactly the same horsepower. What made matters worse for Pascal was that there was a standing yellow flag covering the second half of the straight, thereby removing Pascal’s best chance at passing me. I wanted the race to be over, as I was narrowly hanging onto my lead. I saw the “one lap to go” signal, and just focused on running a very clean lap. The yellow was still there on the straight, so I did not worry about him passing me at the end of the straight. I managed to hold on and take the checker, less than a second in front of Pascal. That last lap was my best of the weekend, a 1:58.6. After all the DNF’s, we ended up 12th and 13th out of 21 cars. Pascal 1, Vince 1.

We drove home to Montreal together and I watched Pascal’s video in the car as we chatted about the day. We headed back to the track Sunday for the final two races. 

Alex with me and the two Civics
For race 3, I decided to try some Toyo RA1’s instead of my Nitto’s. This turned out to be a mistake, as the tires had less grip and one of them was not properly balances, leading to an annoying vibration. Also, one of my power steering hoses had come unbolted on Saturday and I had no power steering fluid. I thought Carl or Kevin would arrive with some more fluid, but after an evening at Pascal’s, neither of them made it to the track in time. Running without power steering actually made me smoother with my inputs in corners 1 and 2, and I think I actually improved my line there in race 3. It was cooler in the morning and I felt the car was making more power. Unfortunately, I was no match for Pascal, and he just pulled away and left me for dead. My poor tire choice and average driving meant that I had wasted a chance to dip down into the 1:57 range. Pascal was well ahead of me by the end of the race and had managed a lap in the 1:56’s. Pascal 2, Vince 1.

For race 4, I had added power steering fluid (thanks Kevin) and put the Nitto’s back on. It would not be enough. I did not have a great start, as I got caught up with faster cars that were somehow starting behind me. Pascal was again slowly pulling away and I again found myself alone. I experimented with different gears in different corners, and was driving like I was at a lapping day. A few laps before the end, I was somehow catching up to Pascal. It turned out he had a wheel bearing that was starting to go. I unfortunately ran out of laps before I could get close enough to attempt a pass. Pascal 3, Vince 1.

All in all, it was a fun and not too stressful weekend. If Pascal had not been there, it would have been quite boring for me.

When the race was over, I didn’t even change my tires or anything… I just loaded up the car, softened the shock settings, and drove home. I am still amazed with the Civic: I can thrash it on the track in wheel to wheel racing, then just drive it home. It’s a pretty amazing car, and I look forward to seeing what else it can do this summer.

Here are some pictures from

Civic on track

One of the only cars with a license plate

Chasing Pascal

Getting lapped by some single seaters

Keeping Pascal behind me

Entering the track

About to be passed!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When will I get to drive my race car again???

Last Friday, my men’s team won game 2 of our playoff series. I didn’t play a great game offensively, but I contributed on defence. Winner take all this Friday evening!

I was back at the track yet again Saturday instructing with the BMW Club of Quebec. Again, I had no car. The Civic was almost ready, but I did not have my new header yet, so Pat could not complete the job.  I did get to go out for a few minutes in Amélie’s nicely modified E36 M3. I forgot to shut off the traction control, so I was not as “quick” as I might have been. I did get to enjoy several laps chasing and being chased by a Porsche Cayman R. There were some pretty nice cars there, including a very rare Porsche 911 GT3 4.0.

GT3 4.0 RS

A rare M535i
E30 M3
Alex and I dropped by Rob’s place and it was a good opportunity to photograph our cars, as they were all clean at the same time.

E46 x 2

Rob and Alex and her baby bump
Both clean
On Monday, it was back to St-Eustache for ASE’s lapping night. Sadly, I still did not have a car. AARRGHHH! There were some neat cars on hand, as usual.

Old person's Vette?
I should have my Civic back tomorrow. There is a time attack at St-Eustache Monday and I REALLY want to be in it! Also, Jam and Pierre may borrow the car for the road race being held the same day. If all goes well with the car, I will probably enter the Spring Classic at Tremblant the following weekend. Stay tuned!

A rare Mercedes 500E
Cool cars spotted:

At BMW day:
E30 M3
E24 M535i
Porsche 997 GT3 RS
Porsche 997 GT3 RS 4.0 (!)
Porsche 928 S4

At St-Eustache:
Corvette C6 ZR1
Acura NSX
BMW Z4M Coupe
Dodge Viper SRT10

On the street :
Ferrari F430
Ferrari 360
Maserati GT
Bentley Continental
Volkswagen A2 Golf Gti 16v
Volkswagen Golf R
Volkswagen Corrado
Porsche 911 Carrera (1980’s)
Porsche 991
Porsche 997 turbo
Mercedes 500E
AMG C63 Coupe
Audi R8 V10
Audi Ur-S6
Flat Grey E92 BMW M3
Nissan Pulsar Gti-R
Alfa Romeo Spyder

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A lot of time spent at the track...

Apart from my failed attempt to run a 12-hour enduro a few days ago, there have been other car-related events going on.

First, there was ASE Lapping Club’s first Monday night lapping. The weather was clear and there were dozens of cars. The evening went smoothly and I think there were quite a few happy campers. Here is a neat pic that shows how popular M3’s have become at our events.

The Civic is still awaiting its new engine. Unfortunately it will not be ready before the BMW Club of Quebec track day at St-Eustache this Saturday. Here is a rare pic of both my cars together.

A rare pic of both cars together
On Friday night, my basketball team played in the first game of the finals. After being down 28 points in the second half, we came back part of the way to lose by 7. We have to play quite a bit better in game 2 this Friday, or the season will be over.

The next morning, I woke up at 4:30 am to head to Calabogie for the second AISA school. I did not have a track car, but I made arrangements to go out for a few laps in this:

It’s a Formula Mazda powered by a carburetted 13b rotary engine. It weighs something like 1150 pounds. I took it very easy during my few laps on the track, but I was still able to understand why people love formula cars. The car I sat in after lunch felt huge and heavy.

There was once again some rare machinery on display at the track. Here is a pic of maybe the rarest car there, a Panoz Esperante:

There were other neat cars at the Calabogie school:

After a full weekend of track activity (and a trip to the dentist), I headed back to St-Eustache for our second lapping evening of the year. The weather was beautiful and again, there were many cool cars out there:


It doesn’t feel all that great to go to the track every few days without my track car. I hope I will get it back quite soon…

Cool cars spotted:
Aston Martin Vantage
Audi R8
Audi Ur-S4
Corvette Z06 (C5)
Corvette Z06 (C6)
Ferrari 599
Ferrari California
Ferrari F430
Ferrari F360
Porsche 914
Porsche 928 GTS
Porsche 996 turbo
Porsche 997 turbo
Porsche 993 turbo
Nissan GT-R
Nissan Pulsar Gti-R
Maserati Quattroporte
Alpina B7
AMG C63 Coupe
AMG SLS convertible
Lexus IS-F
Lotus Exige
Volkswagen Golf R
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 1

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Devil in the Dark non-race report.

After weeks of planning, our team, made up of 9 members, was set to head down to New Jersey Motorsports Park for the Devil in the Dark enduro. We arrived at the track Thursday evening and unloaded the Civic in a near-empty paddock. We noticed that the temperature needle was sitting a little higher than usual at idle and realized that the rad fan motor was dead. A trip to Advance Auto parts solved this issue. We headed to the hotel, where we were joined by the rest of the team at around midnight. 

On Friday, there were 4 hours of open track testing followed by a 40-minute practice session, then 20 minutes of qualifying and an hour of night testing. The 12-hour race would begin at noon Saturday.

The team was made up of three drivers and six crew members. I would be driving along with Carl and Jean-Michel (Jam). The crew was made up of Marc, Choo, Shawn, Patrick, Alain and Pierre. We planned to drive my Civic.

The weeks of planning involved deciding which parts to bring as spares and what tires to use for qualifying and the race. For the practice day, we decided to save our good tires and mounted some used Toyo RA1’s. Since none of us had been to the track before, we decided to take turns during the practice runs. As in the race, Carl would be starting out, followed by Jam and myself. 

Carl making the car "pretty"

Pit action

Seeing double?

Not that warm in New Jersey!
 Carl went out and began to learn the track. After a few laps, he was in the 1:42 range. This was far behind the fast cars in the class, but, in my opinion, the Civic 1.6 is not really properly classified. For example, a Spec E30 BMW, which has a 168 hp inline six, is one class lower than our car. Also, there was an Integra Type R with aftermarket brakes in our class. Anyway, we were there to do the best we could with the equipment we had. 

Carl in the Civic
Carl was happy with the setup of the car and handed it over to Jam. Jam went out and was instantly on pace. He did a bunch of laps in the 1:41’s and then dipped under 1:40. Hew came in all smiles as well. 

I went out and realized quickly enough that this track was not going to be that hard to learn as far as where to be on track, but it was going to take a while to get to the point where we were going flat out through several of the corners. I was a bit slower than the others for most of the session, but as I got a bit more comfortable, I managed some 1:42’s. It was my first time using the radio system too, and I thought it was pretty neat, although the track required almost constant concentration (there’s a lot of turning at high speed!) and I didn’t talk on the radio that much. 

One of our "competitors"
Carl hopped back into the car and his lap times dropped under 1:40 as well. I knew from looking at past results that we had to be lapping around 1:36 to be on the pace, but I figured we would eventually get there. Usually at these types of events, I run my best lap times late in the weekend, in the actual race. 

Jam went out again and again hit the 1:39’s. We decided to see what the car was like without the rear wing, as we were wondering if we were sacrificing top speed without gaining any handling advantage. Jam went back out and clicked off a 1:38, but he said the car was more twitchy. I was able to confirm this when I headed out and had a little tail-sliding moment in corner 1. My session was interrupted by full-course black flags on a couple of occasions and I was having trouble getting in a rhythm. Luckily, after one of the black flags, our buddy Seb Rochon was gracious enough to let me follow him at a lower speed (lower for him, at least!) to show me the line. I realized I had not been taking the best line through the final slower section of the track. Thanks Seb! I was not pushing terribly hard because I was not too sure about the rear-end stability of the car. Sure enough, I had another couple of slides, but managed a 1:41 before the end of my stint. 

The crew in action

Carl went out and was complaining on the radio about the rear tires being shot. The car was a bit of a handful by now. After Carl came back in, we reinstalled the wing. All three of us were more comfortable with a but of rear downforce. 

By then, the test session was over and we had to plan the evening’s track time. The crew were all over the car and installed the first set of Nitto NT01 tires that would be used for the race so we could scrub them in. We got everyone registered and the Civic got its first SCCA log book. I was told to install a fuel test port and a rear town strap before the next SCCA race. No big deal, and we were done with tech and registration well before most other teams. 

It was time for the first official race practice. First out was Carl, then Jam, then me, with tire changes between each driver to scrub all 6 front tires. We were happy with the grip level and the car felt planted again. Carl then went out for qualifying and after a few laps, he pitted in, satisfied with his time of 1:39. Qualifying is largely irrelevant in endurance races anyway. The only session left was the night practice, which would be divided between Jam and me. 

Jam went out and we noticed that our new HID headlights were nice and bright. We were unprepared, however, for how ridiculously bright some of our opponents’ lighting set-ups would be. Jam was on the radio saying that he could not see anything a) when the very bright shift light came on in our car and b) whenever anybody came up behind him. After a few laps, Pierre, who was wearing the headset allowing us to communicate with the driver, turned to me and said that the engine had blown. He said it so casually that I thought he was talking about a different car… indeed, I could not imagine our stock Honda motor blowing up. He then confirmed to me that he was talking about our Civic, which was now stopped at the end of the front straight… 

Jam was towed in and I still refused to believe that the engine was toast. After the car was delivered to our paddock area, we opened the hood. There were no fluids anywhere or apparent holes. I was quite certain that we were just dealing with a timing/distributor issue. The timing belt was still intact. The distributor cap was removed, but the rotor was intact. Pierre began to remove the spark plugs and, by the time he got to the fourth one, we knew there was a problem as it was very hard to unscrew. When he pulled out half a spark plug, we knew the engine was finished. 

The crew did not miss a beat and began pulling the engine and Carl and I began the search for a replacement. We didn’t have a spare engine with us… in fact, I never imagined we would need one. I was pretty much speechless by this point. I couldn’t believe that after all the planning and driving and spending, that we might miss out on the actual race. 

The crew hard at work...

... pulling the engine

Carl and I shopped around the paddocks, but could not find any B-series Honda engine for the car. We had the time and the manpower to install a replacement, but no engine! Over the next couple of hours, several plans materialized.

Plan A: fellow racer Andrew mentioned he had a non-vtec B18 sitting in his garage an hour away, but that it did not belong to him. He would try to contact the owner of the engine and get back to us with a price.

Plan B: Pierre had a spare Type R engine at home (in Gatineau, eight hours away!) that was 90% uninstalled from his Civic. His plan was to have a mechanic friend get that engine and drive towards New Jersey while Choo and I drove to meet him halfway. It was a bit of a crazy plan, but if it worked, we would have a functional Civic by about race time.

Plan C: maybe the craziest plan of all… remove the B20 engine from Choo’s Honda CR-V and install it in the race car, only to remove it after the race and re-install it in the CR-V. 

After an hour and a half, our blown engine was out of the car and sitting on the ground. The crew was waiting anxiously to install our new engine, whatever it might be. Plan A failed because Andrew never reached his friend. He came by to apologize. Plan B failed because Pierre and Jam’s friend could not be convinced to undertake the crazy adventure of picking up the engine and driving all night to bring it to us. Plan C failed because it was a little bit insane and I did not want to put the guys through this many hours of work to end up with a car of unknown performance.

We headed back to the hotel still trying to think of a solution that would allow us to race. However, by the time that we settled into the hotel room, we began to realize that we were not going to get to run the race. I was slowly getting used to the idea. Carl did not seem at all bothered, as he was still having a fun weekend away from the office. Jam was really down, so Carl and I tried to cheer him up. We reminded him that this kind of thing could have happened to any one of us. We all eventually dozed off and had no plan to wake up very early. 

We woke up around 9:00 and had a ridiculously high-calorie breakfast at Denny’s, where my Mastercard was declined (maybe because of the hundreds of dollars of fuel charges in the previous two days). We headed to the track and started to pack up. My plan was to watch the race start at noon and then pack up and leave with the Boyer’s and Marc. Carl and Choo planned to stay the night after watching Seb’s team and maybe helping them out. There was no way to cancel the hotel rooms anyways.

The Civic, minus one engine
We were in a pretty relaxed mood and the race start was quite exciting. Although I thought I had got over our failure to make the start, I began to feel some pretty strong emotions when the race actually started. It was very difficult to see the race happen without us and to see our empty pit spot…

You can see our pit spot.. it's the empty one!
Sitting in our empty pit spot as the race waabout to begin
We watched the Audi R8 disappear from the track on the first lap and then a multi-lap battle for the lead between a Cayman and two M3’s. We went over to the far side of the track and one of the guys noticed that Seb and Serge’s M3 had not come around. We then saw the car pull into the paddock spot… not good. It turned out that they had blown a transmission after about 90 minutes of racing. Like us, they did not have a spare. Their race was over too. Both teams from Quebec were out and we ended up packing up our trailers, side by side.

Seb's M3
Pushing the Civic back into the trailer
Carl and Choo had no reason to stay anymore and all members of both teams got ready to drive home. We finally headed out in the middle of the afternoon and I eventually rolled into my parking spot at home at around 2:30 am.

Remarkably, I do not feel that terrible about the whole weekend. There are many possible outcomes that are worse than blowing a motor. For example, someone could have been injured or the car could have been destroyed in a crash. Carl was happy that we got to visit and drive on a new track. I was happy to learn a bit more about endurance races. I really think that we could have had a good race with the car we had and, especially, with the amazing crew we had. I think all nine of us had a memorable weekend, even though we came back from New Jersey empty-handed. I know it’s a cliché, but I really can’t help but think about what we are going to do differently next year…