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!

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