Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spring car-spotting in Montreal

There are more and more cool cars on the road these days. Here is a sampling:

From the 80's:

Saab 900 SPG with aftermarket wheels
Very clean Porsche 928 S4
Lovely BMW 318is with cloth interior, no sunroof
The 90's:

A 993 that still seems to be daily driven
Cool Westfalia with Audi wheels
2000's and up:

The M4 looks sharp with HRE wheels
Don't know if these wheels are OEM or not, but they look great on this Unitronic GTi
I love who the C63 looks and sounds
Who buys a Rolls, then blacks out all the chrome?
The Aventador has a bit of that Countach quality, in that it looks more like a UFO than a regular car...
The Huracan is pretty special-looking too.
The new Maserati Quattroporte is not that popular, and the proportions are slightly off compared to the previous generation.
I liked the aggressive wheels and exhaust on this Z4M
A rare colour for the E46 M3, and nice wheels too.
I will be heading to Calabogie tomorrow for our second AISA racing school. I will take the Civic and hope to get in a couple of sessions on track. I haven't done anything else to the car since the last school, except properly bleed the brakes (with Alex's help, thank you). This car should be more comfortable to drive long distances than my last Civic, mainly due to the cruise control, softer suspension and stereo system.

And finally, a couple of cute photos of the boys.

Sitting together at the little desk
Oscar helps me in the Civic

Thursday, April 21, 2016

First track outing with the new Civic ay the AISA school

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The Civic on the back straight
I finally got to try the Civic on the track last weekend at the AISA race school at St-Eustache. As an instructor, I had access to one lunchtime session on each day, so I had to make them count. Before the event, I hadn't taken the time to change the pads and bleed the brakes, as I figured the brake temperatures would not be that bad with only one session per day. I set the tires at 32 psi all around, taped my cheap camera to the bumper and put my phone with the Race Chrono app in my phone holder and off I went.

The first things I noticed when heading out on track was that the car seemed really tall in comparison to my last Civic (it is, of course, much taller). After a few laps, I got used to this, however, and did not feel as if the car were going to tip over any more. As for the tires, I was hoping they would have awesome grip... that wasn't the case. They were OK, but I guess I had been expecting more from the most aggressive street tires out there. I think this was due to having run too high a pressure and just expecting too much from a 205 width tire on a 2700-pound car. The brakes began to fade after only a few laps, but, with help from the ABS, I didn't mind continuing my braking into the beginning of the corners located after the heavy braking zones. Aa far as lap times, I had sort of predicted the car would lap in the 1:02 to 1:03 range at St-Eustache with good tires (my old Civic lapped in 1:00) and hoped to achieve a 1:04 or 1:03 in my first weekend on track. The Race Chrono lap timer app on my phone was working from the start, and there is a rectangle at the bottom which is red or green, to tell you if you are in the plus or minus in comparison to your best lap of the session. Pretty neat. You don't even have to look right at the phone, as you can see the colour of the rectangle out of the corner of your eye. My first lap was a depressing 1:08, but I settled into the 1:05's after a while. True to myself, I achieved my best lap, in the 1:04's, while chasing another instructor's car (a Miata). Here are some of the things I noticed: the gearing of the car was near perfect for St-Eustache, as it was clear that 2nd gear was the one needed for the slower corners, and I could rev out 3rd in two of the high speed sections. It helped that I raised the redline from 7100 rpm to 7500 the night before the event (using the Hondata K-Pro). The power of the car is its best feature. What I really missed was my race seat and harness. Even though the seats in the Civic are excellent, they do not really hold you in place like a race bucket and you find yourself bracing yourself a lot. I was very happy with the pedal position and was managing to heel-toe with no problem. The first session was therefore uneventful and I was satisfied with the car so far.

Before the Sunday session, another instructor, Alex, helped me change the front pads to race pads and at least bleed the front brakes. I also lowered the tire pressures in front (to 26 psi on the front right, 28 on the front left). I went out and the car felt better, mainly due to being able to really lean on the brakes. The ABS barely came on. I was hitting the 1:04's more regularly. The car felt very stable, and the limiting factor seemed to be front end grip. I saw fellow instructor Karl up  ahead on the track of me in a bone-stock 2014 Civic Si sedan, and slowly chased him down. The 2014 Si also has a K24, but it's a heavier car. It does, however, have a better 6-speed transmission and a limited-slip differential. It was a fun session, and I clocked a best lap of 1:04.0. I hadn't achieved my goal of a 1:03, but I wasn't too far off. With a few laps under my belt, I can now set my goal for the season: without any further modifications, I would like to see a high 1:02. How can I shave off more than a second without any further modifications? Tire pressures and driving: I think that I still haven't found the optimal front tire pressures (front right still rose to 45 psi hot) and that I can also improve my driving when I get a better feel for the car.

The school generally went  quite well. We had some quick drivers and some quick cars in the advanced group, as we usually do. One of my students had a new Porsche 911 (991) GT3. When he was forced to sit out one session, he suggested I take his car out for a few laps with his girlfriend (who was also a student) in the passenger seat. He didn't have to ask me twice! Of course, I left the traction control and stability control in "full nanny-mode", and even so, I took it easy. Still, I managed to have a memorable few laps, as the car has so much grip that I could accelerate pretty quickly, even with the constraints I had given myself. The car was just so darn stable and the acceleration was so linear. I found the brake pedal to be quite hard and often thought I was on the verge of engaging the ABS, but I eventually pressed harder, and the car just braked even more. I am not used to carbon ceramic brakes, but I guess that to get the most out of them, you have to lean on that brake pedal. I managed to keep up with one of my students in his C7 Corvette Z06, which was a bit surreal, given the way it accelerated on the straights. Over all, it was a fun time for me.

There is another school in less than two weeks, at Calabogie. I look forward to taking the Civic out on track again. I made a video of my Saturday session (my little camera froze on Sunday and I did not get the better session on film). My friend Dave also sent me a short video of the Civic as seen from the start-finish line, which I incorporated into my video.

The 991 GT3 I got to drive
My old friend Stéphane finally managed to bring out this MR2, which he has owned since the 90's!
A rare photo of me with my car
My old steed was on hand for some testing by Sajan. Even on old tires, he was lapping in the 59's.
Another quick car from my student group
This car stopped by, but did not go on track
Another cool car that never saw the track.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spring Car Spotting

The rare classics and exotics are not all out yet this spring (maybe because it snowed as recently as last Monday?) but there are starting to be more and more interesting cars on the road...

Cool Mk.II Jetta

The always impressive GTR
It could use a different wing though...
The colour of this M3 reminds me of a certain Civic...
This Mercedes is nothing special, but the BBS wheels really enhance its looks
Not that rare or exotic, but still quite nice
You don't see many of these T-birds anymore... Weird reflections in the chromed wheels... 
Oh, and the boys want to know when Spring is really arriving!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Track Car Project: Part 4: alignment and tires

The Civic project continues to move forward. I took the car to the alignment shop on Monday and also asked that the mechanic also install the new tires I got from Carl at Perry Performance (Bridgestone RE71R in 205-50-15).

Everything went really well until I got home and realized that the car now had 1/16 of an inch of toe in instead of the toe out I had asked for. It was my own fault, as I had handed the mechanic a paper with numbers on it and I had forgotten to place a "minus" symbol in front of the toe number. 

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I took another appointment and went back today and the guy adjusted the toe again. He did not even charge me and would not take any money either. I really respect that (Auto BG in Laval, if anyone reading this needs an alignment). I haven't been able to enjoy the engine, suspension or tires much on the city streets, which are full of terrible drivers and incredible spring potholes. I can't wait to drive the car on the track! I've topped up the oil and I think the car is ready for its first track outing this weekend. That's pretty much it for the modification portion of the project. Now, I just want to get out there and drive it!

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Cool 2012 photo

I found this photo from 4 years ago, so I edited it (to make it seem even older) and I like the way it came out. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Track Car Project: Part 3... moving forward!

Well, the inspection went well. The car passed on the first try. At the inspection center, I had a nice long chat with the owner of the Mitsubishi Evo MR pictured below. He was sent to inspection by the police due to his tinted windows. There was also a Porsche Speedster replica waiting for his own inspection. It seemed to be really well-executed.

So the whole inspection aspect worked out really well, as I was able to register the car in my name on the same day as the seller's temporary registration was expiring. I could finally drive the car without worrying! I headed to the city offices to get my resident parking sticker, but it closes at 1:00 pm on Fridays, so I would have to do without, which resulted in some strategic parking over the next few days (I finally got the sticker before yesterday).

I decided to try to install the coilovers on my own, but as soon as I got to the first major suspension bolt, I was forced to give up. The job would need a lift and/or some real tools. I decided to make an appointment for Thursday with my friend and mechanic Marc.

Front coilover, fully assembled
Rear coilover, some assembly required
Despite the snow and slush, I decided to go to the appointment yesterday. As I had hoped, Marc made quick work of the job (I was able to help him when two people were needed). When he was done and we lowered the car off the lift, it looked like there was about an inch of toe-in. A drive around the block confirmed that the car was unsafe to drive home in that state. Marc adjusted the toe almost to the limit of toe out, and the car, to the naked eye, looked OK. I drove it around the block and all seemed fine, so I drove it home. 

On the lift, ready for some new suspension
Front installed
Marc assembles a rear coilover
It snowed again overnight, so I decided to postpone the visit to the alignment shop until next week. One thing that surprised me on the way home: the ride is actually less harsh with the coilovers than with the stock suspension. Maybe my old shocks were almost dead? Anyway, this is how the car looked as of this morning. So next steps: alignment, buy and install some tires, replace the brake fluid and I should be ready for my first track outing!

The car now sits 1.5 inches lower in front, 1 inch lower in the rear.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Track Car Project: Part 2... My new Civic is here!

After a 1600 km road trip over Easter weekend, my new track car is finally here! Here is the story of the new Civic so far...

Alex and I decided that the most fun way to travel to Tiverton, Ontario to pick up the car would be to make a weekend family road trip out of it. We recruited my mother (and her Honda Fit) so that the driving could be shared on the way home (I would be driving the Civic). This is why we chose Easter weekend, as the daycare would be closed Friday and Monday and Alex and I would not be working those days either. The plan was to leave Friday morning and return Sunday evening, so that we could still have a relaxing day on Monday.

We left home at around 9:30 on Friday and were in Kingston by lunch time. We were happy to find a Panera restaurant to enjoy a leisurely lunch. In order to keep the boys in a good mood, we tried to break up the car travel into manageable stretches. We drove straight through Toronto and stopped at a Swiss Chalet in Guelph, only 40 minutes away from our destination for the night, in Drayton, where we would be staying with my uncle Peter and aunt Christine. Say what you will about Swiss Chalet, Alex and I enjoyed our chicken and the place was very kid-friendly. We got to Drayton before 9:00 pm. Oscar had fallen asleep, but we managed to transfer him to his travel crib without really waking him. Jules was quite excited and did not go to bed very early. He shared a bedroom with my mom while Alex and I shared one with Oscar. 

The next morning, we decided that Peter and I would go see/buy the Civic while Jules, Alex, Christine and the boys stayed in Drayton. There was to be an Easter egg hunt in Drayton and this was deemed to be the most fun option for Jules. 

Peter and I headed out to Tiverton, on the shores of Lake Huron. We rode in Peter's Dodge Caravan, a very comfortable vehicle for the passenger (me!). I appreciated not having to drive, but the roads were quite boring, being mostly straight lines through farm land that began to all look the same to me. We easily found our seller's house. Brian, the seller, had a nice detached workshop, and the Civic was inside (along with a 360 hp turbo CRX!). He rolled out the car, and I knew right away that everything he had told me about what good condition the body was in were spot on. We headed out for a drive, Brian driving the first portion and taking us on a twisty access road leading to the Bruce nuclear power station. The road was almost covered in winter sand, but the car gripped. When he floored the gas pedal, I was not blown away by the acceleration, but it was more than brisk. I drove the car back to his place and I was sold. There was nothing visibly wrong with the car and it was really nice to drive. As I had pre-negotiated the sale price with Brian, the deal was basically done. We filled out the paperwork and, after loading up a few spare parts, Peter and I headed out. I was very happy with my purchase. We stopped for lunch in a local diner and met the family back in Drayton. Jules was ecstatic about the Easter egg hunt... He had won the draw in his age group, the prize being a John Deere carrying case with toy tractors and animals in it. We loaded up the Civic and the van and headed to a family party for another of my uncles, Tim, who loved 15 minutes away in Palmerston. 

I took my uncle Gordon out for a spin on the farm roads outside Palmerston, and he was impressed with the car's power to weight ratio. We headed back to Drayton after the party and had an early night, as we would be returning home the following morning.

On Easter Sunday, we managed to leave the house before 9:00 am, which was a pleasant surprise. I rode alone in the Civic with the rest of the group in the Fit. We had brought some old walkie-talkies, but the batteries died after an hour. Anyway, we knew where we were going. We had a stop to make on the way home, in Pickering. 

While shopping around for a track-oriented suspension for the Civic, I had been offered, by Sajan of Synoptic Tuning, a used set of Dynamics coilovers from the 2005-2006 Honda Michelin Challenge Series. This was a 2500$ item in its time. Sajan had a used set. I was doing research online to see what a fair price would be for the used set... that's when I came across an ad from 2014 on the Ontario CASC race forums for a new-in-box set of the same suspension (not exactly the same, Sajan had modified his set to make it height-adjustable). I sent a message to the seller to see if they were still available, and they were. The price was 1200$ negotiable, so I offered 1000$, which was accepted. The deal was, of course, conditional on me actually buying the car when I saw it in person. 

So we stopped at John's house in Pickering to pick up the suspension. John was a hardcore Honda guy, having worked for the company for 27 years. He had a Pilot, a CRV, a 99-00 Civic SiR (with Honda Michelin wheels on it!) and, in his garage, a 60's Firebird and a mint condition 1992 Acura NSX! He had raced a bunch of Honda's in the past, even an NSX it turned out. We could have talked all day, but the family was waiting to get home. John also offered me some Cobalt race pads for 50$ a set, so I picked up 2 sets and we were on our way.

We stopped for lunch before leaving the area and had surprisingly good bagel sandwiches. After lunch, Alex and the kids came aboard the Civic for the rest of the ride home and my mom headed home alone in the Fit. It seemed to me that the car's engine was improving over time, maybe due to the fact that the winter gas, with added fuel stabilizer, was being gradually replaced with fresh gas. Anyway, the car was super stable on the highway and has a lot of available torque, for a Honda. I'm sure it's nothing like the new turbo models, but I was duly impressed.

We stopped in Cornwall and the kids played in a lovely park on the waterfront. We made a final stop to eat at the first Quebec service center and took our time getting home. We got home pretty late from the kids' point of view, but we had Monday to recover.

So that's the story of how I ended up with my 6th Honda Civic. I have to thank Alex and my mom for making the trip into a fun weekend with the family instead of just a there-and-back trip to pick up a car. It turns out you can go on car-related road trips even when you have a family!

As for the car itself, all of the seller's representations about the car were spot on and this Civic should be very fun to drive on the track, while still being civilized enough for the street. The colour, officially called "Euro Yellow", will not be to everyone's taste, but it's starting to grow on me. I like that it's a rare colour, as it was only offered in 2002. At least people will know I have arrived when I show up at the track! In the next chapter, I will cover the SAAQ provincial inspection and, hopefully, the installation of the coilover suspension.