This past weekend, I was racing at Calabogie Motorsports Park as part of Team00. We had 5 cars up for the weekend – two Integra Type-R’s (#40 & #00), one Integra with a K20 motor (#04), the Saturn SC (#03) and the team’s “new” 1970’s Ford Fiesta (#227). We had 5 drivers too, although we jumped from car to car depending on the series.
I came up for the test day on Friday. I wanted to have a session in the #04 Integra (which has a K20 motor), as it is by far our fastest car. However, there was drizzle during my session, so I didn’t work up much speed. I was very gentle on the throttle to prevent spinning off the track. I also had a lot of problems finding fourth gear. Listening to videos from other drivers in the same car, we all have the same problem. It’s just an awkward reach back and to the right.
After lunch, I took out #40, the ex-World Challenge car. This was the car I would be racing for the weekend in GT Sprints, so I wanted to have a session to prepare myself and get a feeling for the car again. I haven’t driven it since last season.
I prepared to take #40 out again for the final session of the day. As I was about to roll off mock grid, I reached up to connect the window net and the fitting snapped off. Without a window net, I could not go out on the track. I got out of the car, changed out of my race suit and then ran around the paddock trying to find someone that had a welder. No one I spoke with had one, but someone suggested that there was a garage in the village of Calabogie. I left the track to find the garage. I eventually did find it, but the lights were off and a sign was posted on the door reading “Back on Monday”.
I drove back to the track thinking my weekend was over before it even began because of a seemingly non-critical weld. Luckily, in the evening we found a team with a welder who fixed us up. When I tried the fitting to make sure everything still worked, I broke off the fitting at other end of the same rod. Unbelievable! We could not weld this new problem (not enough room to gain access), so we safety-wired the end of the rod to the roll cage, and duct taped everything. For the rest of the weekend, we would be getting in and out of the car using the passenger door – that window net was not to be touched again!
Saturday started with a short practice session. The schedule was very tight, so the track time was cut down for all sessions. I started the weekend with a 1:28.431 in this session, which was near the back of the GT-4 class.
The qualifying was just before lunch. It was a short 10-minute session, as the GT Sprints field was split into two groups (partly for safety reasons). My time was 1:27.076, which was only a slight improvement. But it was way off the pace. On the last lap, one of the rear tires burst and went flat. I’m glad I was able to instantly react and brought the car back to the pits. Jay thought that the poor tire condition might have contributed to the slow times. I was so disappointed. Jay was in the same car for the GT Challenge series earlier in the day and his qualifying time was 1:21.916 – over five seconds faster on the short track. I just couldn’t believe I had done so poorly. It really bothered me for most of the afternoon.
The race was in the middle of the afternoon. I had fun, but still finished second last in class. I was happy I made some good passes. Sadly, the video camera wasn’t on because I couldn’t properly reach the on-button while I was on mock grid (and belted in). I was also happy that I brought the lap time down to 1:24.586. Still not great, but a good improvement. A friend had told me the best place to pass was on the outside of Turn-15 (aka Spoon), so I tried that over and over again – it worked great the few times I could close up on a competitor before the turn!
Meanwhile, Steve was working on the #04 Integra. He was also racing in the GT Challenge series and decided to put on a set of racing slicks. However, once we had the tires mounted, the rims wouldn’t fit because of suspension clearance. We fixed that problem with a bunch of spacers. Next, the tires were rubbing on the bodywork. So we spent 30-45 minutes rolling the fenders to allow for the larger tires. During the 1-hr race, Steve went like hell for about 30 minutes before the slicks were done and his lap times plummeted to over 1:40 per lap.
Sunday morning, as we were preparing the cars, we worked on the hood pins on my #40 car. One of the rivets had come out, so we spent time re-attaching the fittings. There was a short 10-minute practice session in the morning, so I got ready and took the car out. I had only driven about 150 meters before the hood snapped up, caught by the wind, and smashed the window and wrecked the hood. I was able to see under the bottom of the hood and slowly followed the outside white line around the track to the pits and back to the paddock. The windshield was destroyed. We could run without a hood, but the broken front window was irreparable. I thought my weekend was over (again). I was heartbroken. Calabogie has not been very successful for me (one totaled Honda Civic (2008), one DNS and last place because of brakes (on #40, 2009) and now another broken car (#40 again)).
Steve and talked about it and came up with another solution. We changed cars. Instead of the Integra, I would take out the #03 Saturn and Steve moved from the Saturn back to #04 (with regular R-compound tires instead of the destroyed slicks). We arranged everything with the registrar and timing and everyone gave us the thumbs-up.
Due to the number of cars registered in the GT Sprints, they had to split the field into GT1-3 and GT4-6 for Sunday. Instead of two 20-minute races, each group would only get a single 30-minute race.
We set up all the cars for video, as four of the five drivers would be out for the final race. Steve and I started at the back of the field because of the car changes. The Saturn was in GT-6. There were three cars in GT-6 on Saturday, so I expected to be racing with two other cars.
On the start, a car spun at the apex of Turn 1 and was blocking part of the track. I saw an opening on the grass to the right, so I went for it while part of the pack was bottled up on the left side. I made a few places to faster cars that took the positions back over the next few laps.
On the first lap, I passed Nick, driving the Fiesta in GT-6. On the front straight at the end of the first lap, I missed a shift and lost the position to Nick, but I took it back before Turn 2. I passed Bruce (in Team00 Integra #00) in the Ducks Head section of Calabogie on Lap 2 – he was competing in GT-5.
Once past Bruce, I had clear track for a while and I pushed hard looking for the third car in GT-6 (a Honda Civic).
Both Steve and my cars had working radios, with Jay and Joshua providing updates and encouragement from the pit straight and the berm in the quarry section.
It took a few laps to get confident to go through Turn 1 flat out without lifting, as the rear of the Saturn never feels truly planted. The Saturn is easy to drive. It is only lacking acceleration due to the low horsepower and all the extra weight; it still has all the original glass and door mechanisms for example. What it does have is momentum, just like the Civic we used to have in Team00.
I had to find a comfortable shifting pattern too. I had not driven the Saturn in about 2-3 years. It’s not a high-revving engine like the Honda and Acuras, so finding the right places to shift is important.
Over the next 5 laps, I slowly reeled in other cars in GT-5, still hunting for the other GT-6 car. I’m really proud of how I was able to pick off a few of the GT-5 cars, making good passed for overall position.
Near the end of the race, I lapped Bruce and Nick again, while I was still trying to catch the other GT-6 Civic.
At the checkered flag I whopped and hollered because I should be in second place as I never saw the Civic, a good showing for the problems of the previous sessions and considering I had not been in the Saturn in a few years and had no practice.
At the podium, they did the GT-5 and GT-4 trophies and then thanked everyone for coming. “Hey!” I said, “What about GT-6?” The timing sheets were consulted and reviewed and the presenter realized that he had missed us.
He started with Nick in second place. I instantly realized that that meant that the other GT-6 car did not start the race. That meant that I won my first race!!! Hurrah!! He called my name to take the top step of the podium and I hollered in joy. I was given the gold medallion and a bottle of Forty Creek Whiskey. I was so happy. My first win! All these years of racing, all those second places, and finally some pay off.
I also felt that it was not a full victory, as there were only two cars in GT-6. I pumped myself up a little by remembering that I not only passed a number of the GT-5 cars but that I lapped my only competitor and one of the GT-5 cars as well. It wasn’t a cruise to the finish line. And when I was racing, I thought I was still racing to catch the other GT-6 car, which didn’t actually exist (it didn’t take the start because of a mechanical issue).