Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fun at Autodrome Montmagny

A few weeks ago, I decided to try to find a track event somewhere I had never been before, to experience something new. I found an event held by the a club called Sunday Cup that was to be held at a small track about 45 minutes away from Quebec City called Autodrome Montmagny. It was an oval track that was recently expanded to a road circuit. My friend Will, who lives in a Quebec suburb, would share the car with me and the whole family would come along for the weekend. On Friday afternoon, I loaded up the car, picked up the boys and then Alex, and we were off to Quebec City.

On Saturday morning, Will, his oldest boy Charles-Riddick and I drove to the track. The plan was for the rest of our families to join us later. We signed in and could see that it was a low-key event where everybody just wanted to have some fun.  In addition to Civics and BMW's, there were some interesting and unexpected cars, including a turbo Toyota Tercel, a Toyota Paseo track car, and even a Chrysler Crossfire. There were also about 20 Miatas, as a Miata club was sharing the day with the Sunday Cup gang.

I had watched some video online to get an idea about the track. The lap time was well under a minute and the layout utilized about three quarters of the oval track. At the exit of the oval, there was a chicane with a sharp drop in elevation, like a miniature version of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. It was not clear to me where one was supposed to brake for that corner, but I figured we would learn soon enough.

 photo Montmagny_zpsplybmmuz.jpg
This is the track map created by my GPS
Will went out first and came back in smiling. He had managed a lap in the 55-second range, not really pushing the car as he had never driven it on track before. Also, he had his son with him in the car. I went out in my session and also enjoyed myself. After a couple of laps, I realized that I had not been shifting gears... at all. I was just leaving it in third, and this seemed to be working. There were corners that were slow enough for second gear, but none of them were followed by areas where strong acceleration would have been useful (they were just followed by other sharp corners). In a later session, I tried using second gear in a couple of places, but I concluded it was best to just run the whole lap in third gear. GPS data revealed that the lowest speed attained in a lap was 63 km/h, while my top speed was 130 km/h. I was having fun with the mini-corkscrew, as I realized that even on those laps where I screwed it up by coming in from the wrong angle (which happened often, given that it was a blind corner), there were no real consequences, as I just had to use more brakes to correct my mistake. Also, it helped that the car has ABS. I had bought a new pair of tires, Hankook RS-3's, which I installed on the front of the car, relegating another pair of now quite used RS-3's to the rear, replacing my very worn Bridgestone RE71R's. With the all-Hankook setup, the car was more neutral-handling. The rear could be provoked to let loose a bit with a lift of the throttle mid-corner, which was not the case with the sticky RE71R's in back. (I went to St-Eustache Monday and confirmed that indeed the car was more neutral).

My second session was organized like a race, with the cars gridded 2 by 2 and following a pace car. They call this the Gentleman's Race. We were allowed to pass without point-bys on the first 2 laps. I was gridded last, as I had to wait for Will to arrive from his session. When the green flag dropped after the pace lap, I made sure I was in second gear and I immediately passed the two cars ahead of me. Then I settled in behind the suprisingly quick Paseo, which I eventually passed when he drifted a little too much in the oval. I managed to catch and pass a Golf GTi later on, but as my tires began to overheat, he re-passed me. My best lap was a 53.0. Will had done a 53.8 in his session. I figured a 52-flat was possible.

After lunch, we each had 5(!) more sessions available to us and we made the most of it. The rest of our families showed up for lunch and we were geneerally enjoying ourselves. I managed to get down to a 52.4, but could do no better. I was finally really pushing it in the oval, the tires screaming all the way through the long 180-degree corner, and I figured there was not a lot more I could do to gain the last few tenths of a second. We both decided to skip the last session so we could meet our families for dinner in St-Jean-Portjoli, where Will's mother-in-law lived.

The day was a success from our perspective. The car performed flawlessly. We had no off-track excursions. We were physically tired and very satisfied. We were back at Will's house a t a reasonable hour Saturday night and took it easy on Sunday before heading home for dinner time. Thanks to Will and his wife Marie-Hélène, as well as Alex, for making this mini road-trip into a memorable weekend.

Here is a video of the Gentleman Race filmed from the Civic:

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