Track Day

Tales from Ontario Time Attack – Firsts of fury

2048 1367 Kevin Wong

2017 was an interesting season for me – it would be a first for many things: first full year as an instructor with Pinnacle Advanced Driving Academy (PADA), first full season of Ontario Time Attack (OTA) and first full year of flat out hard tracking my Honda S2000 still in stock form to allow myself to find my own form.

And find my form I did. I managed to podium in all but one event and even come in 2nd a few times but was typically behind first by a decent margin. I looked back at myself and asked one painful question: am I ready to move on past stock? Am I truly ready to season to taste?

Countless hours of winter were spent pouring over my videos from the past season and after a few debates with fellow instructors from PADA, I decided that I would at least throw in my offset ball joints (for more front end camber) and finally decide to go full ‘square’ tire setup. For those of you who don’t know what that means: same tire sizes across all four corners of my car (as opposed to the original factory staggered setup with 225/45/17 up front and 255/40/17 in the rear). I also addressed an engine mount issue which cost me 1st place at OTA’s second last event of the year Shannonville Motorsports Park (evidence here).

Another first for 2017 was that I unwittingly became Chief Timer for OTA as the person who was originally supposed to take over left the province. Being the honorable dimwit I was, I volunteered for the role and so 2018 would be a new year of even more firsts…


Sweet Christmas, that’s a lot of people in Grand Touring 3, I thought to myself as I spent Friday night prior to OTA event #1 (at Toronto Motorsports Park -TMP) building the timing database. The timer’s role is to ensure that everyone who registers as a competitor gets slotted into the right class with their Performance Index (PI) being entered correctly as OTA uses the iPAX scoring system to balance out those who run fairly stock cars versus those who run highly modified ones.

With a grand total of eleven cars and two incumbent champions (one from GT3: Alex and his RX8, one from GT4 and now moved up to GT3: Eric and his race Miata), it was going to be an utter dark alley fist fight for me to even podium in this class. Then there were the new guys – one of whom I know quite well to be an excellent autocrosser – Joseph with his Civic Si. And then the dark horse: (or should I say dab unicorn?) Deep with his super gutted and liveried up GTi. As the home base for PADA, TMP is my home turf to defend. The irony of teaching at this track is that I spend more time in the right seat than I do driving it. While that helps to know the track, it doesn’t really qualify so much as actual driving time. It was time for me to really reach deep (hi Deep) and pull out all the stops to put my best foot forward come race day.


Setting up the timing truck with OTA was thankfully a somewhat easy task with the help of the former Chief Timer, Perry, showing me all the ropes (literally – there are ropes) and nuances of the laser trap and RFID readers to ensure all competitors are picked up as they pass the start/stop line just on the exit of turn 12. The opening morning portion for most competitors involves open lapping (thus passing is allowed) and everyone is timed to get a relative idea of how to grid everyone for the actual competition in the afternoon. What that means is that I’m busy ensuring the timing system is capturing everyone’s laptimes and if not, sending someone out from the truck to flag down whoever is not being captured to ensure their RFIDs are in the right place. It ensures competitors will get time, keeps the day humming and totally…

SHIT – DID I JUST MISS MY GROUP’S SHAKEDOWN LAP???

Run fat boy, run.

I huck my fat ass over to my car and line up to get on track with the wrong group (of course they’re a couple of classes faster than me), totally unprepared for what will be my first time out on track with a full square 255/40/17 setup on my S2000.


Everyone always talks about snap oversteer and how a car’s back end just suddenly comes out on them and that it is the car’s fault, magically taking the driver out of the equation. Totally incorrect. I’m in charge and I totally send the car sideways into turn 3 and hit the curb pretty hard but straight on. Thankfully the car survives and drives just fine. Thank god Honda built this thing damn well.

It was a revealing and humbling two sessions – my RE71Rs do NOT like high temperatures and high pressures. Point taken. Going to drop this sucker down to 30 / 29 psi, front / back hot. At first, I was nowhere near my 2017 personal best time of 1:25.855 and was likely dead last in my lapping session group but I managed to whittle it down.

As I returned to my fellow timing volunteers in the timing truck, a few comments emerged about how Deep and his GTI were just ahead of me.

Those Who Are Last Shall Be Sideways and Smiling” – some Brit guy.

Sideways yes. Smiling? Not so much.


Lunch rolls around and with the help of event registrar, Gary, I now have a sorted afternoon grid list (based on everyone’s morning lap times) and making sure the pit marshal and race steward gets them.

I am again reminded of the fact that Deep was just in front of me and last year’s GT3 champ, Alex, right behind me. Not quite the sandwich I prefer but …

So time to go Super Saiyan and just seeeeeend it.


Just as I line up for my first hot session (of three), it begins to rain. Of course.

The thing with rain is that you want it to dump heavy and hard quickly in order to wash the track and all the oils, sand and whatever that does not maximize grip right off the track. Instead, we get the worst kind of rain: a light drizzle. Not enough to turn on wipers for, but just enough to moisten the track and bring up all the slippery bits to the surface and keep it there. The first competitive hot session starts and I’m totally sideways into most turns and out of them. Two years ago, this amount of slip angle would have me totally fill up several adult diapers on a 5 lap session that OTA allows for each competitor per session (1 warmup, 3 hot laps, 1 cooldown). Thanks to my fellow instructor, Val – I’ve since learned a key thing.

Image result for adapt improvise overcome

So I put on a bit of a drift show for the marshals (hi Ping).

But I’m still stuck in 2nd place at the end of the 1st session – still behind the Dap Unicorn that Deep was driving…


Thankfully, the drizzle was the last bit of precipitation we would see at TMP for the day. As the sun finally revealed itself, I actually remembered to drop my tire pressures and settled it well within my targets for hot pressures. As I watched Deep take off, I did a simple breathing exercise and rolled out as soon as the green flag dropped. The ensuing session as captured below, was a perfect combination of going to the limit, compensating for quick errors and a couple of recoveries that would have stopped my heart 4 years ago. I don’t even flinch anymore.

The thing with being the Chief Timer is that when you’ve completed your stint, you wind up rushing back to the truck to follow up with the other timing volunteers to make sure everything is still running smoothly. As I approached the truck, all of them turned to me and as deadpan as possible, Joe, a fellow PADA instructor and timing volunteer, turned to me and congratulated me for taking ahold of 1st place in GT3 with an all new personal best of 1:23.765 – a whopping 2 second reduction from my personal best last year. Alex was still behind me and Deep was dangerously close behind with a 1:23.800. The day was not over yet.


As luck would have it, Deep wound up getting some technical issues and dropped out of the third and final hot session and in my euphoria of sitting in first and watching the race, I almost forgot to actually, you know, race. I scrambled to my car and totally forgot to let the air out of them and my third session was a total mess. Thankfully, Alex didn’t get into the 23s and my victory was secure.

I had defended home turf.

As the race day closed on time with no notable incidents, the competitor and OTA official in me relaxed and I could finally enjoy the moment. It was a great day, everyone was safe, there were some very tight competitions amongst the classes (shout out to Jesse and his 330 for best time in GT4) and everyone thoroughly enjoyed some of the best grassroots driving in Ontario.

In a lovely turn of events, PADA instructor-in-training, Daniel and his Toyota Echo hatchback, easily took T3 with an amazing time 1:30.133s, more than a full second above 2nd place. It was a glorious moment as the two of us stood side by side as champions for the day.

As final unofficial results were read and medals were handed out, Deep and Alex, both class acts, congratulated me on the win.

The thing with grassroots racing is that all the competitors do this for the love of the sport. No one is going home with a sponsorship or a paycheque. We all do this for the comraderie, fun and to challenge each other to be our very best. A week after the race, I posted the above video of my fastest run that day and I remembered that Alex had mentioned that while he did break a new personal best, he seemed to have hit a mental wall and was making mistakes. I reached out and told him that I would gladly coach him to eke out a new personal best, even if it means beating me. I genuinely meant every word of it and he knows it.

As someone who enjoys being competitive, I’ve always felt that the best competitor I can always face is myself. In making others quicker, I force myself to improve and so I truly mean it when I say: let us at Pinnacle Advanced Driving Academy help you find and exceed your limit safely.

Ontario Time Attack provides the perfect venue for you to safely explore in a competitive environment and even just the smallest bit of coaching can go a long way to allowing you to truly find out what you and your vehicle are capable of. I’m sure you’ll go home smiling regardless of the win or not. I know I did last year.

With events #2 and #3 right around the corner for June 9th and 10th at Mosport Driver Development Track, I’m happily nervous again. This is where Alex is really, really good – having just nabbed 3rd place at another series just this past weekend. Deep’s newfound confidence is turning him into a legitimate GT3 threat. And then there’s Eric Rier who’s quietly sharpening knives in the back. I look forward at doing battle again.

Oh and this time I won’t forget to lower my tire pressures.

One down, five to go.

-Kevin Wong

Turbo Pressure

500 500 Kevin Wong

*This is a parody of Queen’s “Under Pressure” if you haven’t guessed it already – we highly suggest you sing it to the tune.*

*Cover art by Eva Cabrera*

**bass solo intro ends with boost waste gate relief sounds instead of cymbal smash**

Mm brap brap pfft
Hnng boom brap pep
Hnng boo-boom brap bap pfffffttt
Pressure, spooling down on me
Pushing air in tubes when asked for
Turbo pressure, that brings more horses abound
Cuts my lap times in two
Beats people in Street
Hnng boom brap pep
Hnng boom brap pep
Boom brap ah
Boom brap ah – that’s okay
It’s the terror of not knowing
When this engine will blow
Watching that pressure
Screaming “LET ME OUT!”
Pray tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on pistons, those rings better seal
Dea-dea-dead
Mmm-hmmm
Oh-god-its-ba-ba-bad
OKAY
Scroungin’ around – gut the engine on the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
EEH ARRGH EH
ARGH WHAT THE FUH?
Umm… to the dump!
Man up!
Piston rings seal – please seal ah yes
Piston rings seal – please seal please seal please seal ah
It’s the terror of not knowing
When this engine will blow
Watching that pressure
Screaming “LET ME OUT!”
Pray that the next lap gets me higher, higher high
Pressure on pistons, those rings better seal
Blown away in competition like a rookie
Prayed to the gods but she won’t start
Keep comin’ with a rebuild but its a hack and slash
Why – why – WHY?
Boost boost boost boost boost
Insanity laughs as head gaskets keep blowing
Can’t we give ourselves one more bar?
Why can’t we give her just one more chance?
Why can’t we just rebuild rebuild rebuild rebuild
Rebuild rebuild rebuild rebuild rebuild…
‘Cause boost is the worst drug
That fools you with rebuilds and
Head gaskets that seal at peak boost
With which you get more torque and so many more horses
Caring ’bout nothing but
This is our last lap
This is our last lap
This is ourselves with
Turbo pressure
Turbo pressure
Pressure

*Pssssh*

Don’t get rid of your Primacy tires. Wear them out.

1000 457 Val DiPietro

For the love of Jeremy Clarkson, if you buy a new or gently used FRS/BRZ/GT86 (which will henceforth be referred to as a Twin) and it has the standard Michelin Primacy tires: WEAR. THEM. OUT.

The factory Michelin tires are actually good. Not good for grip. But good for pretty much everything else. And whether you are experienced or a novice, you owe it to yourself to spend time on those tires. Spend time on the street, spend time at autocross, and spend time on the track. If you do, I’m confident you’ll enjoy yourself. The limits of the car will be within reach pretty much all of the time. This will accelerate your acclimatization with the car. The lower speeds will mean more time spent learning how the car behaves to everything you try to do with it. For example, since the mid corner speeds will be lower, you’ll spend more time in that corner – feeling the car yaw, push, and slip. For sure you’ll go faster sooner if you immediately grab a high performance tire. But I’d argue you won’t get better faster if you do that.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Primacys will ride fairly well. They’ll be quiet while still having a competent yet compliant sidewall; Michelin is good at that. This lets the car be pleasurable to drive pretty much all of the time so the ‘honeymoon’ period with your car will be more enjoyable. Before you get the oversized wheel/tire combo that rides horribly and/or tries to kill you in colder temps or less than ideal dry conditions.

I’ve driven a number of Twins on stock rubber and the chassis balance and steering response still shines through with the Primacys. There’s a reason why they shipped with that tire and I believe this setup should be experienced. It was how the engineers thought it would be best enjoyed.

What do you think? Were the engineers wrong? I can be frequently heard spouting, “Less grip. More fun!” So I may be biassed. Subaru’s new 2018 BRZ tS has ended up much more capable Pilot Sport 4S tires which another outlet thought made the car kinda “worse.”

Leaving those Primacy tires on might also put you into one of those classic David v Goliath scenarios. And you just might humble another Twin that’s much better equipped than you. The reality is, if you’re competing in any form of motorsport in a Twin, you’re pretty much guaranteed to go up against another in some form. And nothing gets you respect faster than punching above your weight.

It is worth noting however, that there are cases where stickier tires are necessary. In CASC/SCCA Autocross C Street class, the Twin needs the best 200TW tires you can get to be competitive. But I promise you’ll be better equipped to use those uber-sticky tires if you spent time killing your uber green Primacy tires.

So get out there. Take those Primacys and generate some slip angles. Thank me later.

Car-cuterie

5312 2988 Kevin Wong

Standard disclaimer: This article was written in jest and good humour poking fun of my own experience on the track as a competitor, lapper and HPDE instructor. I am by no means offering any professional advice and this is not a comprehensive list of the only things to follow. They are only suggestions and as with all things on the internet, subject to your own research and liability. 

For maximum enjoyment of your first time at the track, might I highly suggest the following platter…

Ingredients:

  • Helmet (#melonlivesmatter)
  • Plenty of potable water (4L minimum suggested)
  • Sunscreen (daywalker or not)
  • Torque wrench with an upper limit of 150 lbs-ft
  • Socket that fits your wheel lugs for said torque wrench
  • Windshield cleaner
  • Paper towel roll (might I suggest that of the recycled variety)
  • VTEC juice Engine oil (a 1L bottle as a minimum is suggested)
  • Tire pump
  • Tire pressure gauge (preferably one with a quick bleed valve)
  • Approved gasoline storage container (5L minimum suggested)

Optional:

  • Painters tape (to mask off plates or front lip of bumpers)
  • Chalk to mark your tire sidewalls see how much your tires are rolling over
  • Multi-head tool (to take off license plates if you didn’t want to tape it)
  • Laser thermometer
  • Car jack (remember to check if it will go under your car and know your jack points beforehand)
  • Folding / collapsing chair
  • Mini cooler with ice packs (stay frosty!)
  • Biggest umbrella you can fit
  • Spare parts (or spare car if you’re Thomas Holland)
  • Plastic tarp
  • Non vintage brake fluid (ie: fresh unopened)

Directions:

  1. Inspect your car the week before. Check your oil level and quality, brake fluid color and level, air filter, tires for damage or wear and if your car would pass any reasonable mechanical safety. Put it this way, if you have any remote fears the car would not survive a continuous trip between oil changes, you should not be on the track with it. Ideally, get an oil change before the day of. It’s the cheapest way to ensure your engine has clean coursing in its veins.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep before hand. Go to bed super early as you’ll be far too excited to fall asleep quickly enough. Trust me.
  3. Get a decent breakfast but nothing too heavy.
  4. Wear clean, dry, comfortable shoes you know well. The comfortable part is easy but why clean? So you can remove your floor mats. We don’t want one curling up behind, say, your brake pedal do you?
  5. Arrive as early as possible. In fact, I suggest arriving as soon as the gates open. This gives you plenty of time to set up and find the best parking spot that offers a good balance of being near the pit in and pit out (which may or may not be the same), washrooms and area to hang around in. PRO TIP: I said near washrooms not right next to them lest you enjoy any leaks of the non-motoring kind near you.
  6. Check your tire pressures when you get there. Some old farts will scribe a chalk mark from the edge of the tire face (the surface that hits the ground) up an inch or two on the sidewall. This is used to mark how much your tires are rolling over when you corner. After each session you can check your chalk marks and if the sidewall marks are still intact, it means you’re not rolling your tires over. If they’re all gone, this means that your tire sidewall is bending and scrubbing on the ground to that point. Might want to add some more air to the tires to help them stand up to the lateral loading.
  7. Junk-in-the-trunk becomes projectiles-for-missiles when you’re flying around the track. Are you the type where a rattle will bug the $#@% out of you on the road? Well imagine that THUMP as you CRUNCH swing left BOINK and right BAMF on every corner HRRK or bump GIGGITY. Check all cavities and empty all them giblets onto your pit area. Weight reduction.
  8. The junk you just unloaded onto the pit area? It’s the equivalent of dogs pee-marking. YOURS NOW.
  9. Make sure all your wheel lugs are tight as per factory spec (read your manual).
  10. Check your oil level again. Do it. Again. Don’t be that guy.
  11. Clean your windshield, inside and out – Mr. Magoo is funny on TV but not so funny on the track.
  12. Stay hydrated. Fun fact! Your brain is about 73% water and as you dehydrate, you might as well be impaired. Find your body fluid rhythm and work with it. For me, I hit the washrooms before the track and take a gulp of water. After I get back, I gulp down more water and stay in the shade. Repeat.
  13. Skin cancer is real. You still want to keep doing this for years to come right? Apply sunscreen at the beginning and don’t forget to reapply throughout the day.
  14. Attend the drivers meeting and pay attention. Know your passing zones (if any), which side to pass on and how to indicate a pass. Know the flags and where they’re located and keep an eye out. Find out if there are instructors available for first timers. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS. They will help you maximize your enjoyment and remind you of the things you may have already forget about the drivers meeting. Who knows, they might become your friends!
  15. Drive at your comfort level and always be aware of your surroundings. Check your rear view mirrors well before a turn and after a turn. Cars don’t teleport: you just didn’t see them come at you.
  16. Yield to faster drivers. Key words there being faster drivers. Think that dinky little Miata won’t be able to keep up with your Camaro on the twisties? Guess what, if (s)he’s on your butt at the twisties and you lose them on the straight only to be caught up again at the twisties? Imagine how fast they are going in the twisties to catch back up to you. Don’t be that guy. Let’s be nice and yield. They will likely wave back in gratitude.
  17. Depending on your physical endurance and the track size, I highly suggest doing 15 minutes on and 30 minutes off. It doesn’t sound like much but you will get tired. Your heart rate will skyrocket, you will tense up and all your muscles will scream OH MY GOD THIS IS FUN and this will tire you out. Get off the track and see point #12 about hydrating.
  18. Make sure all your wheel lugs are tight as per factory spec (read your manual).
  19. Check your oil level again. No, you didn’t get Alzheimer’s – this and point #18 are a repeat on purpose. Top and torque up if necessary and keep track of oil consumption.
  20. Don’t ever feel like you have to get back out there. If for whatever reason you feel unwell or out of it, pull yourself out. You want to go home safe and sound, we all do. Don’t push yourself so hard so fast. You will learn to find your limits in due time. It will come.
  21. Have fun. Smile. Talk to people. It doesn’t matter what you drive. You came out and tracked your car and that makes you awesome. Many of us came to know each other because we all share the same enjoyment of driving. So come and join the house; we’d love to have you.

– Kevin Wong

 

Season To Taste

604 453 Kevin Wong

All creations take a finite amount of time, copious amounts patience, deft skill, the right ingredients and a degree of passion to produce. So when someone takes your perfectly seasoned, sous-vide cooked steak and completely drowns it in HP sauce before cutting into it, you can’t help but feel a little sad.

Angry even, justifiably so.

So with that said, I’m sure car designers are probably holding back a few emotions whenever their latest creations are released and there’s already a whole host of aftermarket “upgrades” for the car. It takes a lot of resources to design a car, especially one entirely from scratch. Even ‘parts bin’ vehicles (ie: assembled from various parts from other cars), have a modicum of engineering design and checks to make sure the car isn’t just a resurrected corpse that wants to off itself shortly after birth.

If you want your car to look great, there’s tons of dress up available these days. There’s entire subcultures of making cars look stunning and there’s absolutely no shame in that given that looks are a subjective thing.

Let’s not confuse that with becoming a faster driver however. That’s now in the realm of the objective – things you can measure, quantify and observe. People are often enamored with spending large amounts of money on car parts because it’s something immediately tangible. You can grab a sway bar, you can feel how light forged wheels are and you can hear the pops and burbles of an exhaust. But if you throw the finest ingredients into a blender without any thought or understanding of what makes for a good dish and the technique behind it, the ensuing mash will still taste quite foul.

Start with stock.

Some of the best dishes in this world are ones that embrace simplicity and merely accentuate what is already there. Most notable of these are stocks. Chicken, beef or even the lowly vegetable; restaurants will have vats of this stuff and it’s the primary reason why your gravy is limp and weak compared to the deep richness that is theirs. Stocks are typically made from overlooked carcasses or meats, root vegetables and plain old water. It’s then allowed to cook and steep, releasing crevices of godly aromatics, marriages of flavours and entire family trees of tastes that weren’t present before. The same applies in driving.

Someone’s already taken the time to engineer you a vehicle and before you go about and slather on that sauce, take a bite and see what you can discern what they’ve provided. In that specific order. Can you actually perceive what the car is telling you or are you merely beating it into submission? Is the car truly understeering or are you going in way too hot?

Fun fact: A 1998 study by The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand concluded that 67.4% of surveyed drivers believed that they were better than the average driver. The Dunning-Kruger effect: a cognitive bias which renders people unable to properly assess their levels of competence – or more importantly, their incompetence – at a task which results in overconfidence in their abilities to accomplish said task.

So when it comes to determining your recipe for success as a driver, you need to find your limits in order to learn what your car’s limits are. Take an advanced driving course, attend a few lapping days, find your place in the time records, refine and simmer.

What might have been previously perceived as a low limit might now be seen as an opportunity to ride said limit more often to hone confidence at and beyond the knife edge. What was once the hard carcass of understeer could be an opportunity to trail brake and scrape up every ounce of weight transfer for front end grip much like bone marrow butter.

And as you spend the effort to marinate with seat time and spice things up with various techniques to eke out every ounce of performance in the car’s raw form, you will begin to truly understand the flavour profile on hand and where to go next.

Now, season to taste.

-Kevin Wong