2009 Sundowner Grand Prix

Over the Victoria Day weekend, I drove in the Sundowner 3-Hour Enduro at Mosport. I can’t say that it was very successful for anyone in Team 00, although Steve was able to place second in class in a wet race Saturday afternoon.

We went down with 2 Acura Integra Type-R’s, both now in bright yellow livery. They looked fantastic in the paddock, sitting side by side. There were three drivers for each – Dr Dolan, his son Pat Dolan, and Nick were to run in #00, which is a stock Type-R, while Steve, myself and Jay were running in #40, and ex-Speed World Challenge Type-R prepared by Real-Time Acura.

I signed up for the test day on Friday, as I had wanted to have time to learn the new cars. This was the first time I was racing since my big accident in the Team 00 Honda Civic at Calabogie 9 months ago. Although I owned a Type-R for about 18 months (I sold it to buy my first house), I needed time in the racecars to learn their handling characteristics.

Friday morning, I had 15 minutes in the #40 car, and Steve had a session in the car. After the second session, we noticed that there was a problem. There was smoke coming from the dipstick hole. We figured that the oil pump was toast. As the pump is inside the motor, there was nothing we could do – the motor needed a rebuild.

Now down to only 1 car, Nick gave up his seat in #00 and I took his place. I had two 15-minute test sessions in the #00 Type-R during Friday. I had a huge spin at the bottom of Turn-4. I was heading down the hill full-bore when I decided I wanted to be wider for the entrance to Turn-5A. I turned the wheel left a little and the tail of the car stepped out. I counter-steered right, but the tail whipped around the other way and I drove up the grass on the inside of Turn-5A fully sideways, looking out the driver’s side window at the marshal station. Luckily the car stopped before re-entering the track and it missed the paved ditch. The grass was deeply embedded between the tires and the rims. I drove to the pits, and took the chequered flag for the session.

Grass in the wheels
Grass in the wheels

The team started making phone calls to see if we could find a replacement motor and eventually settled on Teknotik in Toronto. It was a good deal financially, so Steve, Nick and Pat put the #40 car back on the trailer and drove to Toronto. It should have taken only 2-hours, as Teknotik does 3-4 engine swaps a day.

The evening got late and those still at the track went to bed. In the morning, there was no sign of the #40 car. We called and found that they had been up all night long. The motor swap took so long as the fittings from Real-Time Acura were often different from the stock motor (the donor motor came from a street Type-R). In the morning, the swap was completed, only to find that the clutch was toast. It took many more hours to complete the clutch change.

Time was ticking. Steve came back and ran in the first race of the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Toyo Tires series (CCTCC). He placed second, which seemed to bode well for the Enduro.

Working on #00
Working on #00

The #40 car finally arrived back at the track just before 4pm. The Enduro started at 5pm, and there was much that needed to be completed on the cars. Both were refueled, the oil was topped up, tires changed, tire pressures set. The #40 car needed to have the transponder setup, and the radio put in. I worked on the radio, but we were missing parts (the push-to-talk button), so at the very last minute (literally), I had to cut out the non-functional radio. The #00 car needed to have a fan installed to prevent fog on the windscreen – the forecast was for rain during the 3-hour race.

Even with 5 extra crewmembers working full out, the #40 car (which needed more work) missed the mock-grid. That was not so bad, as we had no qualifying time – we would have started at the back of the grid anyways.

Steve and Nick took the first stint in #40 and #00 respectively. We pulled Nick in after less than 45 minutes, as he had had only 40 minutes of sleep in the previous day, as he was involved in the engine swap and clutch change.

Pat Dolan in #00
Pat Dolan in #00

Steve came in around the hour mark and I took over.  However, as I was strapping in, I heard Vern (crew) yelling that there was a lot of fluid in the engine bay and Steve told me to short-shift. So heading out, I had no confidence that the car was ok, and was afraid that I would end up spinning on my own oil.

I had not been comfortable in either car all weekend. Either I was sitting wrong in the car, or the seat was in the wrong place, or the mirrors were set incorrectly. However, this time, it was perfect. I felt comfortable and could get on with racing.

It took a long time to build up trust in the car. My lap times dropped from 1:50 in the cold (Friday) to 1:46, which was showing improvement, but the car should have been able to reach much better times. The cold was effecting everyone, but in the #00 Honda Civic (107hp), I was able to set a time of 1:44.1; in good conditions the Type-R (197 hp) should be capable of setting sub-1:40 lap times.

Towards the end of my hour in the car, I feel I was pushing harder than I had in the Civic. I was not braking for either Turn-1 or Turn-4, and was only touching the brakes for Turn-2 and Turn-8. It felt like I was going faster than in the Civic, but that might also be because in the cold (it was only about 10 degrees and very windy) the tires had much less grip and I was closer to their limits.

Around 7pm, I was brought in for our only fuel stop and Jay took over. I found out after I got out of the car, that Vern had actually said there was “not” a lot of fluid. The reason for short-shifting (I was shifting at just over 7000 rpm, when redline is over 8500) I found out was because the redline would cut the fuel instead of a soft redline where the ignition is cut – this hard cut in a corner would have instantly spun the car because of weight transfer. I thought I was told to short-shift because there was a problem with the motor. Had I known, I would have shifted at 8200 rpm.

Jay did a great job in #40, posting lap times as low as 1:43.5. However, with 20 minutes remaining in Enduro, the replacement motor let go as he drove by on the pit straight. There was a hole in the block. We don’t know the root cause for loosing the second motor.

Steve in Turn-5
Steve in Turn-5

On Sunday afternoon, Steve started the second CCTCC in #00. However, he had a hard time, finishing last. The transmission would not stay in fourth gear, so he had to hold the shifter and the steering wheel in some of the high-speed corners – far from ideal.

So, I am disappointed that my lap times could have been better. I do feel good that I will be able to find that speed later this year with once we work out the kinks in the two Type-R’s. And towards the end of my stint Saturday afternoon, I was passing slower traffic, which was good experience. Once the reliability issues are resolved, passing will be easier.

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