Friday, November 25, 2016

Re-post from 2003: Our Lime Rock Adventure

Here is a re-edited version of a race report I wrote back in 2003 following a race at Lime Rock on 
November 1, 2003. The race was organized by EMRA, the Eastern Motor Racing Association. After class wins in the enduros held at Shannonville and Watkins Glen, I realized I was in the hunt for the class championship in the ST1 class, even though I had missed a couple of events.  This is what led Carl and I to attend the Lime Rock event. Enjoy!

This was to be the last race for my first Civic race car, my 1988 ex-Honda-Michelin Civic DX. By 2003, its original 92-hp engine had been replaced by a 125-hp SOHC Vtec engine from a 1992-95 Civic Si. Later that fall, I bought a 1991 Civic of the same model and, over the winter, I built it into my next race car. That 91 Civic never saw a single race, as I crashed it on its very first outing on track (at the "oval-in" corner at St-Eustache. This would lead me to buy and build my third Civic, the 2000 SiR coupe that I would own from 2004 until I sold it Carl in 2014.  

Well, EMRA or posted the results of the Watkins Glen event and I realized that I was leading the ST1 enduro championship. When I consulted their website, I saw that to win a championship, you need a minimum of three events and you have to volunteer at one event. I emailed EMRA to find out if I could race and volunteer the same day. That was Tuesday. I got the answer Thursday and Carl Wener (my buddy, Integra Type R enthusiast and co-driver) and by Friday morning, I had decided to have a go at it. Did I mention the race was Saturday? Our road race season, which was supposed to end after the Watkins Glen event, was to be extended.

Lime Rock, in Connecticut, is 475 km from Montreal. We figured we would simply drive the Civic to the track with the Toyo RA1 race tires already on the car and that we would carry some rain tires in the back. We threw in a fuel jug and some tools and our bags of gear and that was it. The car was still mostly prepped from the Glen event two weeks earlier. Although we have driven the car to a few events, we usually have a crew or a backup vehicle to get home in case something goes wrong. This weekend, we would be performing without a safety net. Crazy? Maybe… Did I mention that we decided to leave at 2:00 am to get to the track at 7:00 so that we wouldn’t have to spring for a hotel?
So we left at 2:00 am and everything on the way there went fine. We stocked up on calories for the day at 5:00 am at a Denny’s near Albany with a Meat Lovers’ breakfast. The sun was rising as we approached the track and the scenery was lovely, especially at this time of year. I’d never been to Lime Rock or even Connecticut for that matter. Carl had been there back when he was racing in SpeedVision World Challenge, but his diff had broken on the first lap so he hadn’t seen much action.

We had to get organized quickly : register, get a transponder, sign up for work duty, get the car ready (not much there : remove the passenger seat, tape up the headlights). I was a little worried when I heard the guy ahead of me at get put on the waiting list for the enduro as there were 60 cars vying for 45 slots on the grid. Fortunately, it turned out I had an automatic spot guaranteed since I was in the fight for a championship.

There were a bunch of SCCA racers there. The atmosphere was less laid back than at other EMRA events I’ve been to. For example, there was this SCCA RX7 parked in the lane that goes around the paddocks, right where they were doing tech inspection. At some point, a security worker comes by and asks me if I know whose car it is, which I don’t. He tells me to tell the owner to move the car if I see him. So I see actually see the owner about 20 minutes later and give him the message. He says “Why would I want to move it”. I repeated that the security guy asked him too (I could have said “cause it’s in the way, dumbass”). He said “Yeah, I’ll get right on it”. I didn’t even realize that he was being sarcastic until I had walked away. I mean, what kind of loser leaves his car parked in the tech lane for 45 minutes then refuses to move it? I hadn’t met any jerks at an EMRA event until then. Carl said “welcome to the SCCA”.

The EMRA people are starting to get to know us as « those crazy guys who drive the race car to events from Canada». They were surprised to see us, as we told them we weren’t coming to the last events for lack of budget. We were just happy to be at one last event, especially with the warm weather we were getting.

Carl was signed up for the 18 lap sprint race and we would share driving duties for the 1-hour enduro. Carl would do his practice and qualifying before I ever got on the track for the enduro combined practice and qualifying.

As for my volunteer assignment, they had assigned me to the corner one station as an assistant flagger. I met Sheryl, the flagger, at the station. She was really nice and had been around the wolrd of racing. She even flags for CART and has even done the Motegi events in Japan. With 40 cars on a 1.5 mile track, there was more than a little action. Needless to say, I was waving a few yellows.

When I got to see my own car in action and it wasn’t pretty: more body roll than almost any other car out there, and it was hurting the car’s performance much more than at the Glen. Carl was running 1:10’s and others in the class were running 1:06’s. When I talked to Carl after the session, he confirmed that my low-buck suspension was simply not going to cut it here. There are too many important quick transitions between turns 2 and 3 and between 3 and 4. Normally, we get beat on the straights and catch up under braking. At this track, we could only count on the brakes to catch others. Another problem was that the Toyos in front weren’t worn down enough. I had only run them in the rain and in the rear in the past. We decided we had to switch them to the front. I proposed we do it before Carl’s qualifying so he could get a better time in, but he said it could wait until later and that he preferred to have a few more cars to pass in the race. It’s true that Carl gets much more motivated in the actual race, especially starts. So Carl qualified without too much drama with a 1:08. We weren’t expecting him to win the class anyway.

It was finally my turn to get on the track. We had changed the tires around and were hoping for a little more handling. Since this was a new track for me, I was hoping to get in behind somebody slower so I could learn the line quickly. I knew that this would be possible, since in the enduro, all classes run together, even the cars with only 65 hp. I'd watched a few laps on video, but it’s not really the same, especially with tracks that have elevation change.

I managed to follow a couple of different cars and could immediately see that we were at a handling disadvantage. The car was not reacting well to transitions and it was sliding a lot in the long turns. It wasn’t understeer or oversteer at least, it was just neutral, but with a low limit. At least the track wasn’t that hard to learn (not learning how to go really fast, just learning where to go). I was satisfied with my session and figured that even with a lot more track time, I wouldn’t be going much faster, because I was near the (low) limit of the car on many of the turns. Carl timed me in the 1:08’s.

It was time for Carl’s race and I was back at my flagging station. Despite the large number of entrants, the race went off without incident for Carl. However, several crashes eventually caused a general black flag to clear the cars and debris. They lined the cars up in the pit single file. I went to see how Carl was doing and to tell him I believed the rule to be “racing straight out of the pits”. Carl found this hard to believe. The race was re-started and, sure enought,  you were allowed to pass right out of the pits. Carl wasn’t prepared to risk a black flag for an illegal pass, so he didn’t take advantage. He finished the race without any problems, ending up 4th in class. The race hadn’t gone the full 18 laps. I thought Carl was disappointed with the shortened race thing and the fact that my car was pretty sloppy on this track, but he told me he hadn’t had so much fun racing since his early years in Quebec regional racing.

It was almost time for the enduro. We filled the car with as much gas as humanly possible to make sure we could go 60 minutes without fuel starvation. With my car, this usually happens in right-handers, and every turn but one is a right-hander at Lime Rock.

Because of a computer glitch, we weren’t ordered according to our qualifying times but rather by class. Carl who was to drive the first part, wasn’t too happy : since we were in a theoretically fast class, we were starting near the front of the pack, with a Nascar-type truck and other beasts behind us. Carl wanted to run the first part because he liked starts, especially with a 45-car field. The plan was for Carl to run 20 or 25 minutes and I would do the rest of the hour. In our class, there was a Porsche 944, an old Alfa Giulia, an RX7 Turbo II (is that really fair?) and a 280Z. We knew we were far from being the fastest, but we also knew we could run an hour without refueling and that we would pull off a quick driver change.

The group got the green flag and Carl was off to an excellent start. After one lap, Carl had passed a few cars and a few had passed him. There were no fewer than 12 Spec Miatas in our race, almost all SCCA guys. These 12 cars all started behind and it was clear that most of them were faster than us. Carl was getting on pretty well and came in for the driver change after about 20 minutes. We managed a lightning quick driver change and I was off.

What’s fun about a 45-car field on a small track is that there is always someone to battle, even when you’re slow. I was passing cars from the slower classes while getting lapped or passed by cars from the faster classes. I had a few nice exchanges with a Dodge Charger, a Toyota MR2, a Mustang and a new Mini. I had a little off because I basically lost my concentration when I saw a NASCAR truck coming up to lap me on the start finish straight and expected him to get by before turn 1. I lost sight of him and didn’t know if he was going to do it or not. I went off at the entrance of turn 1. When I tried to give it gas to get back on the track, I realized that the engine wasn’t running so I turned the key (I was still coasting the whole time) and restarted the engine and got back on to the track . The whole incident cost me only 8 seconds according to the stopwatch.

A group of 5 or 6 Spec Miatas that were running together caught up to me and the Mini and they passed us very aggressively, basically acting like they were the only ones out there. The field was black-flagged to clear some of the smashed or broken cars. Most cars didn’t come in for the flag and the few of us that did waited while they ran another lap. I mentioned this to the official, since it was an enduro and the transponder would register an extra lap for them. I don’t know if they took this into account.

After the restart, I was having fun out there. I was battling with an Alfa Romeo Milano 3.0 which had really good straight-line speed. All of a sudden, the back end started to come around on me for seemingly no reason. While trying to catch it, I realized that I had just been hit in the corner by a red Spec Miata. Not only that, he was still pushing the side of my car because I guess he didn’t lift off the gas since the initial contact. Basically, he was turning me around NASCAR style. I kept my foot in and drove off the track safely. While I was waiting for traffic to allow me to get back on the track, I was happy to note that the jerk in the Miata was also off the track, but pointed in the wrong direction. Looks like you get what you give. After the race, Carl asked me how I lost 10 seconds on that lap, and I showed him the dent under the taillight, the dent in the bumper cover and the red streak stretching the whole rear half of the car.

I continued on my way. The race seemed to be longer than 60 minutes. We got the “2 laps remaining” notice and I had a fuel starvation cut-out in turn one. There were 2 red Miatas behind me and I wondered if one of them was the one who bumped me. I was trying to keep them behind me while driving in a way that wouldn’t slosh my remaining fuel all to one side. I was losing time, but there were no cutouts… until the last turn of the last lap… after which a red Miata passed me just before the finish line. Still, in the same situation two weeks before, I was trying to keep a slower car behind me with fuel starvation and ended up sticking it in the gravel trap on the last lap of the enduro, so crossing the finish line was an improvement. I just hope the Miata driver doesn’t think he made some sort of miracle past based on extreme talent.

As I had suspected, the race had lasted more than an hour. We finished with 55 laps. With an average of 1:08 or 1:09, that makes 63 minutes of racing, without counting the time for the pit stop and the black flag wait.

As far as our class, we were faster than the Alfa and Porsche (which broke anyway) and the 280Z and RX7 Turbo also DNF’d. Result for us: another class win for the Civic. Go attrition! So for 2003 : 3 enduros, 3 class wins, all unexpected. At the trophy presentation, the presenter said “here are the 2 guys that got up at 1:00 in the morning and came here with no sleep from Canada to race!”. People were surprised to hear our little story and that we had actually driven there with the actual race car.
For Carl and me, it was mission accomplished. Another event in the season that was supposed to have ended 2 weeks ago, another 2 trophies. We had taken a risk by coming down with no crew or support vehicle, but everything worked out perfectly (except maybe for the dents and scratches). We were tired, but not too tired for the drive home. Thanks to a “good” average speed, we were home at 11:15 pm, still grinning. The whole trip lasted only 21 hours, but it felt longer, maybe because there was no sleep in those 21 hours.

To conclude, I’d like to thank Carl for joining me in the craziness. I don’t think he has any regrets. I also have to thank my sponsor TRAC Racing and my fiancée Alex for letting me duck out of both a brunch and a dinner we had planned for the day. I again highly recommend EMRA events to anyone who races. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Season One with the 2002 Civic...

The 2016 track day season is over. What can I say about the Civic after its first season? The car did not disappoint… it has been reliable, pretty quick, and fun to drive. I chose this car because I wanted all these qualities on a very low budget. After one season, it looks like I made the right call. Here are my thoughts on various aspects of the car:

How fun is it to drive on track? 8/10

Just from driving on the street, I could tell that this Civic was not slow. The car is fast enough in a straight line that you can’t really enjoy all its power on the street without greatly exceeding the speed limit, except maybe when getting onto the highway. From the first laps I drove the car on the track, I could see that power was not going to be an issue. In the corners, the car felt very tall in comparison with Civics I have owned in the past (it really is much taller). However, as it had no tendency towards oversteer, I was able to drive it with confidence from the very first day despite the fact that the whole car felt less stable than my previous, lower-slung cars. As with my previous Civic, achieving a good lap time came down to getting the front end to grip in corners so you can carry good speed. How fun is this? Managing understeer in a FWD car is not the most fun thing in the world, which explains why the car does not get a higher score in the “fun” department. However, having a car that tends toward understeer, for me, makes me less afraid to push the car harder on tracks where I am less comfortable than St-Eustache (like Mosport or Tremblant), which is quite fun. How challenging is the car to drive? On a track like St-Eustache, I don’t think the challenge is that great. I think I have gone about as fast as I could with the current setup, and that I achieved this level after maybe 4-5 events at St-Eustache. If the car were set up with a tendency to oversteer, it might be more fun and more challenging on tracks I know well, but at the same time, it would be less confidence-inspiring and I would hesitate before pushing the car hard.

Lap times: 8/10

Before turning a single lap with the car at St-Eustache, I tried to predict what lap times I could achieve with my setup. Taking into account that the best lap time I had achieved with my old Civic was 1 minute flat , which was at least as powerful and 350 pounds lighter, I was thinking I should be able to hit 1:03 to 1:04 for the new car. In the end, I managed to get down to 1:01.8, on two separate days, on (very aggressive) street tires, so I can’t say I’m disappointed. However, I am competitive by nature, and my fellow ASE Lapping Club instructors are almost all faster than I am. Most of them are in the 59-second range, and some are in the 56's, and even those with relatively modest Civic builds are faster than I am. I guess I hadn’t thought too much about what it would mean to bring a 2700-pound Civic to the track. The car is much more comfortable and quiet on the street than any Civic I have ever owned, but it is really much heavier. I started out the season on very good 205/50/15 tires on 6-inch-wide wheels and I could tell that the car would benefit from something wider. Later in the season, I switched to 8-inch wheels and 225-width tires, and the improvement was minimal (which may be due to the compound of the Hankook tires, which is less aggressive than the Bridgestones). Running a 205 or 225 tire had always been enough in the past, but with a heavy car like this, I think I need something wider, or much stickier, at least in the front. I have checked out the sizes being run by heavier Hondas, like mine or S2000’s, and people seem to be running 245 or 255 width. There are very few tire choices in 245-40-15, but a few more in 17-inch sizes, which would mean selling my wheels to get another set. I will try to borrow a set of 245’s or 225 real race tires on 9-inch rims for a session or two to see what difference it makes as far as lap times. I have been using RaceChrono all season to gather date on the track, and when I analyze my lap times and cornering speeds at St-Eustache, it’s hard to see where I am losing time to the faster guys, specifically. I think that what I need is more front end mechanical grip, and more traction accelerating out of the slower corners. The latter issue can be helped with a limited-slip differential. I have already purchased a whole 2008 Civic Si transmission and am waiting to hear what condition it’s in, but at the very least I will have an LSD in my 5-speed tranny for next year, although most likely I will end up with a workable 6-speed unit.

Affordability: 9.5/10

The only reason I am not giving the car a perfect score is that its tendency to eat front tires meant that I could not make it through the season on a single new set of tires as I had planned to do. This added about 750$ to my season expenses, which is a lot, considering how low the other running costs have been. The brake pads don’t last very long either, but I bought 4 sets of pads for 200$ from the same guy who sold me the suspension. I ended up using 3 of those sets. Other than that, not a single item has broken or failed on the car, I have never been left stranded and have not had to carry out a single repair on the car at the track. All I do is occasionally add oil and put in gas, while rotating tires to even out their wear. Driving the car on track is really very simple: I get to the track, empty out my stuff, remove the spare tire and check the oil level and tire pressures. I did not adjust the shocks once all season. I can literally be on track within minutes of arriving at the track, and I am rarely the slowest car out there. Could I have bought a faster car with the money I spent on this Civic? Probably (it would probably be some lighter Civic or a stripped out Miata), but I don’t think the car would have been as reliable. My old Civic was clearly not as reliable and left the track on a flatbed more than once. I have limited time to attend track events now that I have kids, as well as limited time to work on the car myself or travel to and from my mechanics. So the fantastic reliability of the car has really served me well and any items that I modify in the future have to maintain this reliability. I can think of a few things that fit this bill...


As I mentioned above, the weight of the car causes excessive wear on the brakes and front tires. The limited-slip differential may help with tire wear. I can’t really reduce the weight much, or at all, without compromising the usability of the car. Eventually, I plan to upgrade the brakes with brakes from a different Honda. There are bolt-on 11-inch and 12-inch front disc options to replace my 10.2-inch discs. The 12-inch option involves changing wheels to a 5-bolt pattern, which I hope to avoid. 

Goals for 2017

I really, really want to somehow achieve a sub-one-minute lap time at St-Eustache. That would be a first for me, in any car. While anybody can throw money at a car to make it faster, I would like to achieve my goal with as little extra expense as possible... and I think I can do it with only a few changes. I need to shave about 2 seconds off my lap time of 1:01.8. I already plan to have a 6-speed LSD transmission installed, which should help at St-Eustache, where there are two slow 50 km/h corners that require strong acceleration on exit. The installation of this tranny is surely worth a few tenths, maybe more if the better gear ratios help acceleration. I also plan on getting the car tuned by Synoptic once the new exhaust line is installed. This should net a few hp and maybe some torque. Hopefully these changes, combined, should shave a second off my lap time. How can I shave off yet another second? I think I can do so by temporarily reducing the car's weight by about 50 pounds (I could lose 5 to 7 pounds myself too), by removing the passenger and rear seats, then installing some 225-45-15 Hoosier race tires in the front (Carl must have a set lying around), on some borrowed 15x9-inch wheels if possible. On a cool day, this should be enough… shouldn’t it? 

Regardless of what I achieve in 2017, I am already very happy with the way this project has worked out. Just having a track car (and the opportunity to use it thanks to my understanding wife) brings me more happiness than any other material possession I can imagine. In fact, just writing this blog entry is getting me excited about next season... stay tuned!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The next generation of Basile runners is here.

A couple of weeks ago, Jules ran in his first running race, a 1 km event. Even though he was under the weather and it was raining... a lot... Jules finished the Parc Lafontaine event without complaint. I was and am very proud of him. Great job Jules!

Watching runners in the other distances
Ready for the race!

Mosport 2016 ASE Lapping Club Track Day Report

When I discussed my track season with Alex in the spring, I told her I wanted to do a few full day events and as many Monday nights as possible at St-Eustache. Everything worked out: I got to attend a full day of lapping at Tremblant, a bunch of Monday nights, the Club Civic Quebec track day at St-Eustache and a track day at a new (to me) track, Autodrome Montmagny. However, there was one event that would involve me spending the night away from home, without the family, which I absolutely did not want to miss: the Thanksgiving day ASE Lapping Club track day at Mosport. The last time I attended one of these days, or even turned a lap was in 2011 (see the story here: LINK).

The plan was to leave in the late afternoon on Sunday with Rob, who would be attending with his super clean E36 M3. Rob and I haven't had the chance to attend any events together this year, so I was looking forward to that aspect of the trip as well. Generally, I am a bit quicker in the Civic than he is in the M3, probably because I am more comfortable pushing the car hard than he is. I was not sure if this would hold true at Mosport, as power and top speed play an important role compared to St-Eustache.

To save time and money, Rob and I decided we would each sleep in our own car. Neither of us felt like setting up a tent at 10:00 pm in the cold October weather. I had tested out a layout using a Rubbermaid bin on the floor and the rear seat folded down and sure enough, I could lay almost flat in the car. I brought a thin camping mattress and my good sleeping bag, and hoped I would get a good night's sleep.

The drive to the track was uneventful. We arrived before 10:00 pm and it was barely above zero degrees. I went to hang out with the gang, who had built a fire. Rob decided to set up his EZ-up tent... I don't know why, these tents are usually only useful to protect you from sun and rain, and it was going to be dry and 3 degrees on Monday morning... in other words, a driver should want all the sun he or she can get! Anyway, Rob's plan was to park under the tent and lower it down to the level of the car's roof, to retain heat I guess. We went to bed early and I slept pretty well. When I awoke a bit before 7:00 am to help with registration, the car was covered in a thick layer of frost. It was a cold morning.

We had access to seven 30-minute sessions in the day, which is a lot. Mosport is not a terribly relaxing track to drive on, with average speeds over 140 km/h. It requires serious concentration. As a result, I doubted many people, including myself, would drive in every available session.

With the track so cold, Carl wanted us to make sure that the drivers in the first group were having a trouble-free session before we headed out. This was fine with me. I was not going to try to break any lap records in the first and coldest session of the day. What kind if lap times was I hoping for? The best lap I had ever achieved with the old Civic was 1:41, with a 1.6 liter engine. At Tremblant, I managed to get within a second of my best time with the 1.6, si I hoped I could do it again. I hoped to get into the 1:42's at some point in the day. I also hoped to do better than Rob!

There were many cool cars on hand, including race cars, modern Corvettes, M3's and Porsche's. There was also a wild Triumph TR8 racer (which we had seen at our events before). The best towing rig setup has to go to Marc Julien, who was towing he Lotus Exige with his new Focus RS! Each saw track time at some point.

In the first session, I was mostly looking around at the track. In the five years since my last visit, they paved over some new areas, most notably the area outside of turn 2, which used to be grass. If you screwed up turn 2, you were almost surely going to be trying to regain control of your car on the grass, at very high speed.

As I was unused to losing the back end of this Civic, I was taking it really easy in turn 2. I tried the 2-apex line and the single apex. I preferred the single apex, as the 2 apex required a tightening of the line mid-corner, which required steering imput at a time when I just want the car to stay settled. I think this line is better suited to cars for which the rear tends to step out a bit, naturally tightening your line. After one session, I was in the 1:47's, but I wasn't worried, as there were many places I could safely push harder.

Throughout the morning, I shaved off a couple of seconds and was lapping in the 1:44's. I realized that 1:42 would be tough, as I was only willing to push so hard in a car with no harness or rollover protection. Still, I knew I would not be satisfied with my driving if I didn't at least break into the 1:43's. Satisfaction would come in my second session after lunch. I managed to hook up with fellow instructor Nick Miron, who was driving a Honda S2000 with the same Hankook RS3 tires that I was using. I was able to keep up with him, as I was faster on the straights and he was faster in several corners. I managed my best lap of the day: a 1:43.04 (see video below).

The session after that I only managed a 1:44. I wasn't adjusting anything on the car, but I noted when looking at the date that having the driver window down cost about 4 km/h at the end of the straight versus windows up. In the sixth session, there was oil in the last couple of corners and the car just didn't feel as stable. After a moment in turn 2 where I aborted my approach and drove off the line onto the paved runoff area, I decided that there was no point in continuing, as I would not beat my best lap time. Rob was also done after six sessions, so we packed up and headed home. As it was the end of Thanksgiving weekend, we hit some nasty bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 401 and lost a couple of hours. We were still home at a reasonable hour, as we had left an hour earlier than planned. It was a fun little trip, even though it was exhausting. Rob and I had don't get to see each other that often, so I was glad we got to attend such a memorable event together. It was also our last event of the year, so I'm glad we made it count.

The Civic never missed a beat
Big size difference between these two 2-seaters
Crazy tube-framed C7 Vette
Nice colour for this E92 M3
Crazy fast TR8
Lovely street registered Cayman race car
The same shop brought this nice E46 M3
Yet another C7 Corvette
Lee came by in his 135i and his buddy had this lovely 4th generation Civic, with turbos visible through a cutout in the hood
Selfie from my phone/lap timer. It was warm enough to shed the jacket, but not the hoodie
My in-car sleep setup. Enough room for one.
Rob and me at the end of our day 
Here are some of the excellent photos taken by one of our club members, Jean Sirota:
Rob in his clean M3

Not too much body roll in the Civic

Edited photo

Rob is keeping his eyes ahead

2 M3's, 2 generations apart

Artsy photo

Similar yellows?

Nick's S2000

It was sunny, though not that warm

Here is a video of my best laps of the day, following Nick's Honda S2000.