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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!


Comments

  1. Great read! I look forward to not spinning out next weekend and giving you a good run Mike. See you at the track
    Slower CRX Guy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha thanks! To be completely fair, you very well could have been just as quick, considering I did improve by about 1 second in the second race.

      Looking forward to the race tomorrow too, best of luck!

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