The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: June 2016


Monday, 20 June 2016

Tire blowout.. Happy Father's day!

Today started great. My wife planned a great day for us today, being father's day. She and our son made a little gift for my office. We then went to a local wild life park with our son, which he seemed to love. Then we had a picnic. In the evening, though, we had to go to the store to pick up some groceries and life had different plans about ending the day.

We were driving home and heard a pop. The car drove normal and there were no other noises after. I figured we hit a piece of plastic or something and we were above to pull up in a few minutes so thought I'd check it then. We stopped at a traffic light and when we pulled up after it went green, I heard and felt the unmistakable noise and vibration of a flat tire. I pull into a parking lot, go to look, and sure enough - the wheel was basically sitting on the asphalt separated by a layer of rubber. The tire was completely flat.

My first thought was: "Crap tires!" The tires are Aeolus all season tires. It's a Chinese tire brand and I have a lot of reservations about buying Chinese tires. I realize that we now buy a lot of stuff that's made in China and a lot of it is great quality but when it comes to tires, I have yet to buy them. Today didn't help. I didn't even buy the tires - they came with the car. I tried to replace them when we first got the car but then put it off and ended up forgetting about it. When I took off the tire, I found a hole in it that looked like it came from a nail so, to be fair, it could've probably happened to any other brand. But it didn't. I've never had a tire blowout like that. What made things worse is that the nail or whatever punctured the tire was gone. I think the car drove normal for the first few minutes because the nail was still in but then it fell off and all the air came out.

The tire looks like it's fixable but I don't think I'm going to do that and will just go back to finding a set to replace all four. Right now, I'm just thankful to not have had that happen earlier today on our way to or back from the park, which is about 40 minutes away and changing a flat tire on the side of the highway has plenty of risks. I was able to put the spare on in the parking lot and drive home safely. Happy father's day to all the father's out there and hope your day ended better than mine!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Ram's Eye Goes Racing!

That's right, as of last weekend, I am officially a rookie race car driver! I have always wanted to race and ever since I started going to our local track for HPDS, lapping days, or time attacks, I became even more serious about it. Last weekend, I took the Race School and was able to get my racing license. The race car? An IT (Improved Touring) 1995 VW GTI race car. The car was prepped and is maintained by the Vantage Motors race team and it's a blast to drive, but I'll get into that later. I have expressed interest several times before and last year I have all but committed to the Derek Lugar, team owner and Chief Race Instructor for our region (Atlantic Canada). He agreed to let me use the car if I cover the costs and I was absolutely thrilled and proud that he let me use their car. Speaking of which..

The car's power is mostly stock to meet the SCCA IT-B classification rules. I have been told more than once that it makes "108-112 whp" which would put it right around the stock hp rating for the 16V 2.0L GTI, according to Wikipedia. It's certainly nothing to brag about.. but that's where the "shame" stops. The car is incredibly well balanced. It does what you ask it to (unless that's accelerating too fast..). Understeer? No such thing. The car is tuned to oversteer. Turn in, and it's the back end that you have to watch for, not the front. Getting hard on the brakes while the car is less-than-straight will require counter steering. It sounded scary at first when I was getting "debriefed" but drive the car and the fear disappears. It's all progressive and predictable. The gas pedal easily balances the car if the rear end feels like it wants to overtake the front. The car begs to be driven fast. It has a great limited slip differential and, combined with little power, means you're flat out for a lot of the track, with no understeer under power, and there are no inside wheel spinning shenanigans. It's a momentum car so if you make a mistake, you lose a lot of time. The upside? It makes you a much, much better driver. And a braver one, because the brake pedal becomes your #1 enemy. Scrubbing off speed is easy. Building it, not so much.

There was no timing on the school day, Saturday, so we were just learning the cars, dealing with cars side-by-side on the track, passing in corners as opposed to just straights according to lapping and HPDS rules. But by the end of the day, I was starting to get comfortable and was getting very curious about lap times. I asked what the car can do and was told about 1:19-1:20's on the Hoosiers and 1:21-1:22 as equipped - Toyo Proxes RA1's, the rain tires. I thought I don't want to push too hard (since it's not my car) so I will set a goal for 1:25-1:26 and be happy with that. Sunday was race day. There were two qualifying sessions, two races by class, one "unlimited" race, and one 1-hour endurance challenge.

First qualifying session comes on Sunday and I line up to get ready, wait for my first hot lap... and it was a 1:30.x. Ouch. Another lap, 1:30.x. I run into some traffic and start running 1:32's-1:33's. Far off the mark. I'm now thinking that's a big mountain to climb and with so little power, all the time I have to find is even harder. My best lap for the session was 1:29.8.

After the session, I have a chat with the team members and ask for guidance. They were all too happy to help, one GIANT advantage I didn't foresee having when I decided to go in with this team as opposed to on my own since I couldn't afford to. Moreover, they say they'll help me through the helmet radio to find time. I strap back in the car for qualifying two, and adjust my expectations to 1:27 by the end of the day. Boy, was I in for a (very pleasant) surprise. I run another 1:30.x hot lap before the radio starts to show its benefit. "That was a minute twenty eight!" I radio the team as I pass the start finish line and see the telemetry read out on the dash. "Good job Mike". Another lap goes by "minute twenty seven!!", I radio on the next lap. I'm at the goal already! But it doesn't stop there. 1:26 came the lap after. And 1:25 the lap after that. I started running consistent 1:25's, with a best of 1:25.7 - enough to qualify 2nd in a class of three so mid pack. With that said, the other two cars where a second generation Honda CRX and a first generation (Spec) Miata, both are faster cars and also happened to be on better (dry) tires.


Our class was GT6, the slowest, so I knew we would all be at the bottom of the positions and would only be racing each other. Unfortunately, as I was getting more familiar with my car, so were other the other racers in my class. I was running low 1:25's during the race and even had a best of 1:25.07. The other two were running just under 1:24's, though. I wasn't too aggressive in defending my position as I was still very much a rookie and the car isn't mine so I lost my position and became third in class but an incident (luckily, the guy and the car were fine and continue to race for the rest of the day) resulted in me gaining a position and finished middle of the class and second last over all, just as I started. For the second race, I start again in the middle in the second race based on the qualifying. I stayed with them for the first 4-5 laps.

Unfortunately, the CRX had a driver swap and he was even quicker. The Miata's driver was getting also quicker as the race went on. They were running low 1:22's. I had found another second and was running 1:24's, but that's still two seconds off and by the second half of the race, they were two or three corners ahead of me. I was no longer in the race. I ended up coming second last again, but only due to a DNF for one of the higher classes. A little disappointing but not the complete story. The bright side was that I was getting quicker, with a best of the race (and the day) lap time of 1:24.19 and only two seconds off the pace of what the car is capable of. Moreover, Mr. Lugar drove the car for the last two races of the day and got best laps of 1:22.198 and 1:21.790. In other words, it takes his skill, one of the fastest drivers in the region, if not the fastest, to make up for the disadvantage vs. the other quicker cars in the class so I couldn't have reasonably expected to do any better. Can't complain!

It was a little bittersweet due to my finishing position but I had nonetheless absolutely and fully enjoyed the weekend! What a blast! I would like to give huge thanks to my sponsors - Vantage Motors and ONSA. I wouldn't have been able to do this otherwise. Next race weekend is the last weekend of June. Stay tuned!