Track: Toronto Motorsports Park, Cayuga
Weather Conditions: 21°C Overcast
My plan this year was to move up to Super Street AWD but Can-Jam Motorsports hasn't quite finished re-building my WRX yet. That wouldn't stop me from at least attending and trying to pick up some valuable points! They generously lent me one of their STI's for round 1. I picked the car up the evening before so I was pretty much going into this event with zero seat time behind an unfamiliar car.
Compared to my WRX last year this car was different in some ways but familiar in others. The main difference was a slightly bigger turbo and a JDM 6-speed. The suspension was similar being BC Racing but the spring rates were softer at the stock 8k/6k vs. my 10k/8k. I would run the R-compounds I bought for this season, 255/40/17 Hankook TD's. And to make things feel like home, we ported over my JDM Spec-C driver's seat with the Schroth 4-point harness and my rear triangle brace. This car also had 20mm/24mm swaybars vs. my 24mm/24mm front/rear.
Since I didn't have any car to shake down with in April/May, I had more butterflies than usual going into the first event. I kept tossing and turning in bed and ended up with only 1 hour of sleep. Terrible start for the morning. And on top of that my body was still a bit sore from an endurance karting event I raced in two days earlier. But I wouldn't let this ruin my day so I tried not to think about it too much. I was relying on adrenaline to fuel me through this event!
Without any data available on the car and lots of traffic on the track it was very difficult to dial in a proper setup. This is why it's so important to do a shakedown on a less busy day. If you wait until the morning of an event it's too late. But we had to make do.
I ran with my StarSpec ZII's first just to get a feel for the car and to find the 6-speed gearing for each section. It had a lot more body roll than I was used to because of the softer springs but that didn't translate to less grip. The wider tires (255 vs. 235) and more aggressive alignment (-4° vs -3° camber) made the car feel very planted. I didn't have as many moments where the car wanted to slide out from underneath me.
As usual we had a disappointing time trying to tune the BC Racing dampers. I can't wait to get my car back and see what a real suspension can do!
Lap times with the StarSpec ZII's:
Session 1 - 1:26.95
Session 2 - 1:27.49
After getting a feel for the track conditions we put the Hankook TD's on. The plan for this session out was to just get them heated up and come in for a quick stop to check the pressures. Immediately going into T1 the car started to slide like I was driving on ice. So this is what R-comps feel like when cold? Scary as hell. But by T2 I had some minor grip and by lap 2 they were already starting to show better grip than the ZII's. After getting the tires set up it was time to start looking for a good lap time.
As I started to put more and more laps down some problems were becoming apparent with the car. On the main straight in 5th gear, the power would intermittently break up around 5500-6000 RPM. And occasionally I had a very difficult time downshifting into 3rd gear, especially on the final hairpin leading to the main straight - the worst possible place to have this happen. Also the car started to leak radiant heat through the vents. With the windows up I was melting inside.
I brought the issues up with Can-Jam and they figured the power cutting issue could possibly be boost related (likely overboosting). It was a last minute tune so that was not surprising. They sent Sasha Anis out on the track to verify the issues and to see if they were fixable.
I was fortunate to tag along with Sasha and took a mental note of the difference in his line. Riding with him was a similar experience to when I rode with Peter Hanson. Lots of actions per minute revolving around the steering and throttle inputs. Always testing the limits of grip by twitching around the steering wheel. During this session we only managed a few clean laps, producing a 1:23.95. But there was something clearly wrong with the car, not to mention 3rd gear popping out once. We pulled back into the pits to take a look at the AiM Solo data.
Booting up his laptop, Sasha compared the laps we just did with my best lap of the day which was a 1:21.17. Immediately we noticed a 15 kph difference in his top speed vs. mine. We determined that the car was heat soaking so badly that it was losing about 5 kph top speed PER LAP. When hot, the car was even slower than my Stage 2 WRX! Unfortunately he didn't bring his tuning software with him so we couldn't make any changes to the tune. Also some of the GPS traces seemed a bit off, possibly due to poor satellite reception.
The strategy going into the time attack was now clear. Cool the car down as much as possible and don't let it idle in pit lane. Sasha estimated I would only have power for 1 lap so I had to make my first lap count.
At this point I had about 1.5 hours left until the competition so I decided to take it out for one last run before letting it cold soak. I popped the center grill piece out in an effort to increase airflow to the rad. But it felt like it actually made the condition worse. It was like driving in a sauna so I called it quits after 4 laps, only managing a 1:23.53. I put the grill piece back on.
With the 1:21.73 I qualified in 4th place. Ahead of me was Mike Harvey (last year's SSA champion), Alex Li from team NV Auto, and the Maryuichi Auto GT-R R35. Mike and the R35 were seconds ahead and out of reach. But Alex was only 6 tenths ahead. If I wanted to sneak onto the podium I would have to beat him!
It was now time to cool the car down so I took all the ice from my cooler and spread it out on top of the rad and intercooler. At this point I realized the car also had an IC spray system. With a good suggestion from my friend Erik we also dumped some ice into the IC spray reservoir. My tires were also getting cold from inactvity so we bumped the pressures up by a couple PSI. Can-Jam also gave me some VP 109 race gas to use because I had already used up both my gerry cans of 94.
Lap times with the Hankook TD's:
Session 3 - 1:23.86
Session 4 - 1:22.17
Session 5 - 1:23.52
Session 6 - 1:21.73
Session 7 - 1:23.95 (Sasha)
Session 8 - 1:23.53
Clouds came over and covered up the sun. The air was chilly again so I had a really good feeling about the time attack. Lady luck seemed to be on my side right now. Lining up in the queue, I gave the IC a couple sprays of ice cold water.
I knew the tires were cold and I needed to build temps up fast. Engine bay temps would climb too so I wanted to get this over with quickly. I decided to take the warm-up lap at about 85%. Things were going well until I hit the hairpin at T6 just after the short straight. On corner entry something went immediately wrong. The tires felt like they hit an ice patch and the car went into a drift. I flicked the steering wheel into opposite lock but the car was still drifting towards the grass at a high rate of speed. I thought I saved it but nope. Car went straight into the grass. Wet grass flew all over the windshield and inside the car. @#$%^&!!! I had a flashback from 2011 SRTA #3 where something similar happened and I ended up with a DNF. I thought to myself that there was no way in hell I came this far to let that happen again. I slammed it into 1st gear and banged the limiter getting back onto the track. The funny thing is that we didn't put washer fluid in to save weight. So I couldn't even wipe the dirt off without risking worse visibility.
At this point I knew that I lost a ton of tire heat from the wet grass. But I also knew that if I held up Alex who was behind me, I would be disqualified. I looked into my rear view mirror and saw nothing. Back on the gas hard. Time to re-build all the heat I lost. T10 came up and the same thing happened. Excess slip angle on the cold tires threw me into the grass once again. But the car was still moving forward(ish) so I just kept going. I went through the final hairpin onto the main straight with a car covered in dirt and grass. There was no time to be embarrassed in front of all the spectators. Eyes on the flag marshal showed a green flag - GO TIME.
Time Attack Lap Times:
Hot Lap 1 - 1:21.20
Hot Lap 2 - 1:20.47
Hot Lap 3 - 1:20.86
I knew I was probably beat after seeing Alex get really close to me by the end of the 3rd hot lap. Coming into the pits the news was broken to me that he beat me by just over a second. That was an incredible run by him so I didn't feel too bad.
Checking the leader board I found out that I beat the Maryuichi Auto R35 to sneak into 3rd place. Yeah podium!!! So overall I managed to collect 80 points in Round 1 and set a new personal best in car I'd never driven before. Results I am more than happy with.
Today I learned an important lesson: warm up R-compounds in a straight line, not in the corners! Hard acceleration and hard braking with some careful swerving to build up carcass temps. I also feel that I'm not driving the tires optimally. They have a lot more grip than the street tires I'm used to so that means my braking points may need to change. I'm confident that this will be resolved with some more seat time.
See you at Round 2 in Grand Bend!
PS. Sleep never felt so good in my life lol.