Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Repost from 2002: my first race

By 2002, I had made the jump from owning a modified street car to a fully caged race car. I wanted to go racing for real, wheel-to-wheel. I signed up for a race licensing school with the Easter Motor Racing Association at Shannonville in Ontario. This is the story I wrote about it back in 2002.

Licensing school and first wheel-to-wheel race, Shannonville, EMRA, May 25, 2002

Well, I survived. I attended the school and race with the EMRA at Shannonville in Ontario Saturday. The goal was to get the race license (for which I needed to finish both races) and have a good time while, if possible, not finishing in last place overall. After some trailer problems the night before the race, we put on the race tires and taped the lights at the motel. I drove the 10 miles to the track on race rubber.

When we got to the track around 7:30, there were maybe 20 other cars there. I was the only Canadian ( I think) and one of only 2 cars that actually drove to the event (the trailer had been for tires and tools, not my car). There was a wide assortment, including formula cars, a Sport Renault spec racer (SR), many other Hondas, VW's, bmw, MG, Fiat, a neat 3/4 Nascar, etc.  The cars were not all esthetic, but they were arriving on trailers and almost all had Hoosiers or Kumho’s.

The 2200$ race car, ready for action
 I brought my car over to tech inspection and watched them inspect the cleanest 1991 Sentra SE-R you'll ever see. They seemed quite meticulous and I was getting worried. I had to leave the car there to avoid missing the driver's meeting, but my friends Liam and other Vince stayed with the car during the inspection. I couldn't help but worry as I glanced over from the driver's meeting to see the guy looking over and under the car. 

Finally, Liam told me that except for a few little things (missing number on rear of car, protection for battery terminal, installed the extinguisher i had brought), the car was OK. I was already less nervous. Thank God for duct tape (I had brought 3 different colours!).

The day was divided into 2 practice sessions and 2 races for me (6 laps and 12 laps). They assigned me a great instructor named John who had a Civic of the same generation as mine, although much better prepared. He drove my car for 3 laps and then let me drive with him as a passenger (I don't know what the other students did, most having only 1 seat). He showed me the line and we were going SLOWWW. I had watched maybe 100 laps of in-car footage, but I still had trouble getting the line, so we went REALLY SLOW. Liam asked me after if I had a problem with the car, going slow as I was, I told him the problem was learning the line. My instructor said not to worry and to concentrate on learning the line. After this session, my confidence was low, knowing I had only one more session before the novice race. 

Ready, but nevous

John's idea for the 3rd session was for me to follow him around for 3 laps and then he would follow me for 3 laps. I followed him and it really helped, then he let me pass and he followed me for one lap and then pitted. He later told me that I was doing fine (and that he was saving fuel for the enduro) so he did not feel the need to follow 3 laps. By the end of the session my confidence was growing, but I would have like a few more laps before the race. I really have to thank John. He was the most unselfish instructor of the group and he REALLY helped me.

The time had come for the novice race. They told us that there was no qualifying and it was first come first served. I made sure I wasn't first. I tried to be last, but the SE-R and SR arrived after me. I eased up on the throttle at the start to let them pass, knowing a pass in the 1st corner might be dangerous. I was in last place, but I really only wanted to finish. The car was going well, the laps felt pretty good and, to my surprise, the SR was not pulling away! In fact, I was faster than him in many sections (although not the straight, with my 92 hp Civic. I was following quite closely, but was afraid to pass, thinking that he was a novice too and might not expect anything fancy. There was really only one place for me to pass him, but if he closed the door on me, we would make contact. I decided not to risk it, I wanted the novice license, so I followed him to the checkered flag. Last place, but car still running well, confidence higher. The SR driver came over to talk to me later and explained that it was his first time driving the car. That would explain his cautious early braking. Still, I was happy to be able to hang with a real race car, even though it was less powerful than mine (although much, much lighter!).

For the real race, they paired us up after the last qualifiers. The SR was behind me again, but this time with its real driver. I again let him pass on the start, but when things had settled down, I was again right behind him. We passed a Fiat X1/9 as I continued to follow the SR. There was no way I could possibly pass it with this driver, but he could not pull away either, so we were having a good time. We passed a Renault 5 and an ailing Camaro, both safely in the straight. I noticed that we were soon going to lap the Fiat (now also having problems) soon. Then, suddenly, in the middle of a double-apex hairpin, the Fiat was right there, going like 15 mph on the racing line! I hadn't realized we were going to catch him so soon or that he was going THAT SLOW. My choices were to ram him or go off. I chose to go off. Shannonville is a flat track with almost nothing to hit. I had slowed down before hitting the grass and managed to drive around the Fiat on the outside, on the grass. I was back on track, but had lost at least 10 car lengths on the SR. I could not catch up, but he still wasn't pulling away. I noticed in the distance that an ITB Golf was lapping at the same rate as us as he was always ending the straight when we were beginning it. Then, to my surprise, I was black flagged. I went into the pits and the guy yanked off my front spoiler lip, which had come loose after the "excursion". He said my car was smoking, but it looked ok. It turned out that some oil from my oily engine bay had dripped onto the exhaust manifold. He let me back out on the track and there were 2 laps to go. I was lapped by an RX-7 and BMW in those laps and tried to follow them as long as possible. I finished the race behind the BMW. I had placed last among the non-broken cars, but I had had a good time and they gave me the license. The SR guy came over to talk about our little battle and the Fiat guy came over to apologize.

I had a huge grin on my face. Liam told me that he and others in the stands thought I was doing a decent job out there. I had done what I set out to do, the car and I were still in one piece and I had a road-race license. It was time to load up and go home.

It had been a huge day for me and I'm really glad Liam and other Vince were there with me. I was also proud of my little 2000$ track car, which handled the 90 minutes of track time without even breaking a sweat. The EMRA guys are great, helpful and friendly and I can't wait to race with them again. I'm looking forward to going back for Watkins Glen in the fall and maybe even doing the 2-hour enduro.

Both the car and I made it through the event unscathed

More cool spots + Alex has a birthday

Here are some more spots from near my home or work:
Someone found a good use for this ML55...
When you need a stable but fast camera car, call AMG
This lovely Sunbeam Tiger was parked across from the camera car.
I assume it was part of the shoot
This is a "Plain-Jane" Audi R8, but it looked great with these wheels.
This satin black M3 was parked at our neighbour's house. I am over these flat colours, but the car still looked good.
I was very surprised to see this ultra-rare Porsche 964 Carrera RS America parking near my office the other day.
Given the number in the side rear window, I presume it sees some track time, as it should!
You don't see a lot of these Z4 M-Coupes, but I quite like them. They are very exotic-looking.
Alex had her birthday last weekend, which involved several pleasant meals with friends or family. Here we see Jules and Alex on the terrace at the Croissanterie.

La Croissanterie
I baked a cake and practiced drawing Peppa Pig in icing so that I can make a similar cake on Jules' birthday next month. It should be a surprise, as Jules was not around to see this "test" cake. We had both Jules and Oscar sleep over at family members' houses on Saturday night, as a another sort of test: will Alex and I be able to go away for a weekend without the kids this fall? The test went well, so I think the answer will be "yes".

Peppa cake!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Some spots + sidecar Jules

Some cool cars spotted downtown:

Recent Viper GTS
Tastefully brown 911
Superb Aston Martin Vainquish
Neat colour E92 M3
This old Saab looks a lot like the one I used to have (mine was dark blue, same wheels, same wing)
Our neighbour was gracious enough to let Jules play in the sidecar of his Harley (note that there are two seats, front to back)

Monday, July 20, 2015


I saw this design painted on a building in Oslo. When you line it up just right (see second picture), you see one cohesive design on two different planes. Pretty neat!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Spotted in Montreal

I think this is the most exotic car I have spotted this year, and it was right outside my office. It sounded amazing...

Lexus LFA

Other neat spots around the city:

I almost never like 3-spoke wheels, but they just look right on this Mitsubishi
How do you spice up a plain-Jane Mercedes E-class wagon? Huge white wheels!

Huge wheels also look good on this Audi RS4
Sora's "Electric Superbike"
I really liked the rugged look of this VW Westfalia 
Spotted at the Longueuil court house... some lawyers are doing pretty well, I gather.
These Volvo Polestar's don't look too radical, but I like the idea of a subtle high-performance wagon... plus they sound neat!

Spotted in Europe

Here are some photos of cars that I spotted during our family trip to Europe last month.

Norway is not what you would call a car enthusiast's heaven, but there were still a few interesting cars about.

Audi A1, I sort og like it
I can't believe how right these Compomotive wheels look on this ratty Volvo!
Lightly modded vans were quite popular in Oslo
This 90's Range Rover was in great condition
This 323 reminded me of my old Mazda's. Note the low-profile Euro-spec bumpers
I still really like these 1-series 5-doors, especially with some nice wheels
We never had the original Honda HR-V in North America. It's a bit weird, but I like it.
This is just what a wagon version of my car would look like...
Super clean Citroen BX Sport on its way to a Citroen meet

These Fiats were driving around promoting a pizza chain

Electric cars are very popular in Norway. Most are not as cool as this Tesla
We came across this neat Citroen meet in a public square



There are more opportunities for auto enthusiasts in France. Here are some of the more interesting spots from Provence. I really love those French hot hatches!

Ford Escort RS
Peugeot RCZ
Renault Sport Mégane
Ferrari 599 in St-Tropez
Brabus G-Wagen in St-Tropez
The new Peugeot 208 GTi
Citroen Méhari... these are minimalist!
Nice off-roader Land Rover Defender 110
Another Renault Sport Mégane
One of the best hot hatches ever, the Peugeot 205 GTi
Not a hot hatch, just our rental car, a Peugeot 308
Another Renault Sport Mégane
Lovely colour for this Alfa Romeo Spider
Yes, that's another Mégane
Renault Sport Twingo at Paul Ricard

Another Renault Sport

Renault Sport Clio

Serious-looking Subaru at Paul Ricard