This year, through my involvement with the IMSAPorsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada, I have been able to work as a scrutineer and pit lane official during the 2013 Grand Prix du Canada weekend.
The weekend began on Wednesday when I drove to Montreal to help with the setup of the IMSA tech area. This involves setting up the car lift and scale, then levelling both (very difficult in this case because the pavement was sloped) and setting up the awning.
On Thursday we completed our technical inspections of all competitor vehicles and driver safety equipment.
Friday was the first of the track sessions. This introduced me to the special procedures for the support series at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. All the support series were paddocked north of the hairpin, at the far end of the island from the pits and starting grid. An hour before our session starts, we line up the cars on a false grid near the paddock, on the narrow road along the Olympic rowing basin. At 30 minutes before the session, we move the false grid further up the road to the next false grid area. This is right next to the track fence, so we could watch the other sessions, including one of the Formula-1 practice sessions.
Finally, when the previous session ends, we are ready to move to the pit lane. Moving from the last false grid area to pit lane is only possible via the track, so it can only be once all the vehicles in the previous session are off the track. If the previous session was another support series, they are moved out of pit lane and drive counter-race back to a different track exit near the first false grid area, at the same time as our series moves up into pit lane. As it is a long distance, no one can even walk to or from pit lane – they must be on golf cart or pit bike. There is no way to enter the pit lane without a Formula-1 paddock pass, and we were not issued with those valuable passes.
In pit lane, we had to stay on the right hand side, away from the Formula-1 garages. There was a row of pit lane marshals down the centre of pit lane keeping us away from the garages. All the pit equipment for the Porsche teams was pushed up against the outer pit lane wall.
But just being at the circuit and being in pit lane during the Formula-1 weekend was so amazing. I have wanted to be part of the weekend for so long.
Our final race was the last event before the Formula-1 race on Sunday. This meant we were told we had a hard cut-off time. Unfortunately the previous session had caused damage to the track guardrails, which delayed our start. The Clerk of the Course (Support Series), Cindy Armstrong, was able to get the Porsche GT3 Cup series most of our track time by pushing out the session end time.
After the final post-race technical inspection on Sunday, we started the teardown of the IMSA equipment and trailers. We got everything down and most equipment packed away when we walked over to the hairpin to watch the first few laps of the Formula-1 race. We left the island after that, while the race was still on; if we had not left then we would be forced to stay for 2 hours after the race before they allow cars on the exit bridges.
This weekend was a dream from me, to be part of a Formula-1 weekend.
I am deeply saddened by the lost of long-time racer and instructor Bob Armstrong. I had been looking forward to seeing him at the CASC-OR Race School next weekend.
He was a one-of-a-kind person. He was so generous with his time at the schools and for other racers. And his amazing race skills were second-to-none. I remember watching as a marshal at Shannonville one weekend as he pulled out an incredible lead on a GT Sprints field after only a single lap in the rain. I was told he held the Formula-1600 lap record at Mont Tremblant for a number of years.
It was a privilege to be able to work with Bob and his wife Cindy for the Race School and Race weekends hosted by MCO. They were both at the top of motorsports; Bob was Chief Instructor for the race schools and Director of Track Safety for the Formula-1 race in Montreal, Cindy wrote most of the CASC-OR rule book and is a highly respected Clerk of the Course. I co-drove with Cindy in the Armstrong Motorsports #44 in 2005.
This past weekend Bruce, Jay and I raced the ‘Last Chance at The Glen’, a 4-hour endurance race at historic Watkins Glen International. The race used the 3.4 mile “long” track configuration. It was the first time at The Glen for both Bruce and I. For me it would also be the first time driving Bruce’s #80 Ford Mustang.
The racing was only on Sunday, as there was a school on Saturday. We left Ottawa Saturday morning, stopping near Syracuse for a late lunch. The Finger Lakes area of New York State is magnificent the the fall – still lakes and lush forests of green, red and gold on the rolling hills. We arrived at the gate at 5:30PM, but we were not allowed to enter until we were registered. As the registration did not open until 7:00pm, we parked the RV, truck and trailer next to registration and started the BBQ for dinner. Registration took some time while we applied for a 1-day SCCA license (based on our CASC-OR licenses)
It was completely dark when we finally parked in the paddock, and we did not have time (or light) for a track walk. Our first experience would be on the hot track Sunday.
Bruce took his Mustang out for Qualifying the next morning. We intended to do a drivers change half way through the 60-minute session, but the session was black-flagged due to tire wall damage before we could swap. The session clock eventually ran out. This meant that I did not have a chance to drive the track before the race.
We had a quick lunch, topped up the 80-litre fuel cell, checked the other fluids and changed to another set of tires. We decided that I would start the race. The logic was that at least I would have the pace lap to see the track before I had to race.
On false gird, we elected to start last (44th) instead of our qualifying position of 37th. Jay explained this to the grid marshal, “It’s his first time at the track and first time in the car.”
The grid marshal replied, “Are you really sure that’s the best strategy?”
The grid was unusual. Of 44 starters, 32 were Mazda Miatas. They were like a pack of mosquitoes to the bigger Mustang. They were quick, nimble, and they were everywhere. While the Mustang had big-ass acceleration (about 400hp at the wheels), the Miatas owned the corners like a pimp.
I had watched two laps of the track on YouTube, and studied the track map next to registration, so I knew the left and right of the track, I was surprised to really experience the elevation changes, especially the hill rising steeply through The Essess.
At the start, I stayed back to follow the other cars for two laps before I started moving up. It took me until the fourth lap before I could reliably find fifth gear, which is really an overdrive gear. It provided no more acceleration, but it dropped the revs and the fuel consumption.
I was able to use the straight-line speed of the Mustang to pull off a few of the Miatas, but there were others that eventually started lapping the Mustang. I let them through rather than fight corner after corner in a car and at a track with which I was unfamiliar. Sometimes, I lagged back on purpose so that they could pull away.
There were many full-course yellows during the 4-hour race. The first one came around half way through my stint. When we came around for the restart I thought I should just give’r. I was feeling more comfortable with the car. I used the 400hp to pass four Miatas down the front straight. It was awesome. I lost one position on the run up the hill through The Esses, but got it back again on the back straight.
I love the bus-stop. But never felt I was near the limit for the following carousel, although I could use the shoot down to the boot to gain some speed. I also know that I lost a lot of time in turn-9 and 10 where the boot rejoins the NASCAR circuit. I never quite figured out those two corners in the Mustang. The camber and runoff made me cautious with the big, torquey V8 engine.
Near the end of my stint, I began to hear a noise in the front of the car. I grew more and more worried, so I came in to the pits. It turns out it was a known steering noise, and was nothing to be concerned about. I went back out, but I had lost a few positions.
I came in after about 75 minutes during the second full-course yellow. Fueling the huge tank and a driver change took 8 minutes; Bruce was the second driver. He drove his full session without incident, but had three full-course yellows.
Our second pit stop took much less time than the first, as there was more fuel in the tank due to the yellow flag periods. Jay took the final stint.
Jay had a good race, really mixing up with the Miatas, but came into the pits for 2 extra pit stops. The first time was because he was confused by the American blue flag (which has a diagonal yellow stripe); this was clarified by one of the pit marshals. The second time was because the interior mirror fell off and was sliding around the floor. As the Miatas were everywhere and sometimes hard to see, he elected to come in an have the mirror put back on with a few metres of racers tape.
Jay took the checkered flag at the end of the 4 hours. He also set the fastest time, 2:17.903 and had many other laps close to that time. My best lap was 4.7 seconds slower, and my laps were not consistent. Overall, we finished 29th of 44, after starting dead last.
With the extra pit stops and novice drivers, we were never in contention for any trophies. We were also the only car in our class, so there was no one to directly compete against.
Over all, we had an awesome time. Myself, I learned so much from the dual challenges of a new car and a new track. It was a relaxed weekend with no issues, which was a nice treat at the track.
The track was a mix of polished ice and a line along the snow banks with more grip. Greg Kierstead and others spent hundreds of hours during the winter to prepare the track, which is used for both the MCO Ice Race and Snow Cross series and the popular Winter Driving School. There was warm weather during the week, but no rain. This helped preserve the track better than the 2010 Ice Race. There were two soft spots where the ice was too thin to support the race vehicles, so cones were placed around them.
I spent 3 hours at the track yesterday to help prep the track. Others, including Greg, worked until nearly 10PM.
This morning I arrived at 8AM. I helped the race staff with the race setup. After the drivers meeting, we opened the track for a 2-hour practice period. I took an early session to get an idea of the performance of the Civic on ice, and to assess the overall track conditions. I went out again just before noon to check how the conditions had changed. A nice line was forming around the outside of some corners.
The race started just after 1PM. Jay let me take the start. The grid was set by the order teams registered. That meant I started in third place of twelve cars. Unfortunately that meant my grid position was slightly uphill on glare ice. When the green flag dropped, I could do nothing and I lost places to the four-wheel-drive cars and to the front-wheel-drive cars that started on the outside where they could get some grip.
I slotted in when I finally got up to speed and tried to avoid sliding into anyone on the opening lap. I had lost 4 places on the start, but made up 2 just before the chicane on the second lap.
Then as we came through the cutout chicane on the second lap, the car in front of me spun. I managed to stop without hitting him, but the cars behind me piled up, hitting me side-to-side and hitting each other. I could feel four good bumps. Luckily I was not stuck, so I reversed out and continued.
My session was good. I had great speed for a FWD vehicle. I made awesome overtaking moves, something that I had thought would be impossible on the slick ice. Instead, the race was about capitalizing on the mistakes of others, minimizing my own mistakes, and having the confidence that came from trusting the car and knowing its limits.
I had a few spins but I was quick to select reverse and floor the gas, which spun the car back around to face forward. Then, just as quickly, I selected first-gear and pulled through the 360-degree spin without losing a spot.
After an hour, I pulled in to the pits. We had lots of time for a drivers change. The Supplemental Regulations stipulated a minimum of 2-minute pit stops (to prevent panicked accidents during refueling) and a total of 20-minutes accumulated stops. Our pit stop was 4m20s.
Jay drove for about 50 minutes. He also had no issues. Our fuel usage was low, so we did not need to refuel. I am not sure if any team had to refuel.
At the second driver change, we changed the battery in our GoPro Camera HD camera. We discovered that the battery had already died. This happened at the last race at Mosport too, so perhaps the three-year-old battery is due to be replaced.
Our second (and last) stop was exactly 15m40s in order to exactly meet the requirement for 20-minutes accumulated stop time.
I went out for the last hour of the race. I was going great against the 4WD cars. I continued to overtake on mistakes.
I did have one incident – I was black flagged. Just before I turned in for the chicane, I saw a car spin perpendicular to the track in the middle of the chicane. It looked like the track would be blocked, so I made the decision to take the escape road to avoid becoming part of a pile-up. After committing to taking the escape road I checked and saw that the spun car had actually rotated out of the way and did not block the track. So I waited for the car that was in front of me at the entrance to the chicane to come around; I slotted in behind him. The marshal called Race Control and said that I had gained a position by taking the escape route and I was black flagged. I pitted and explained the situation to the official and strongly disagreed with the reason for the black flag. Looking back, I wonder if the call was actually about passing the car that had spun. If so, I don’t agree that it was gaining a position, as the spun car had lost positions to the other competitors that drove around it in the chicane. My decision to take the escape route was for safety. The chicane was glare ice, and I felt there would be an accident when no one could stop for the spun car.
At the end of the event, I helped the scoring officials calculate the stop times of each team.
I had to leave before the unofficial results were available, as Rosa was expecting me at the Ottawa Fashion Show. Jay called me later to tell me the great news – we had finished first in class and third overall!
I was working as an assistant clerk again on the weekend, this time with Roger Falconer, for the CASC-OR Celebration Weekend at Mosport.
I met Roger Saturday morning on mock grid. The other assistants and the group leads (chief course marshal (CCM), mock grid, operations, etc) made sure everyone was in place, and then Roger, Jeff (Operations) and I took a hot lap around the track. Roger said he was checking that everyone was in the correct place and that the tire walls were ok. He specifically noted that the tires had to be in a particular geometry for the formula cars.
Once in the control tower, he assigned me to handle the Request for Actions. This was a great deal of responsibility, although it was not as active as being one of the radio dispatchers like I did at the DAC weekend. A Request for Action (RFA) is where an incident is reported to the clerk that may involve a breach of the racing regulations (such as a pass under yellow) or driving misbehaviour. When a report comes in, I was then to gather enough data to assess of the report should be forwarded to the Stewards of the event. This could involve requesting a written report from the person observing the incident (a flag marshal for a yellow flag report, or perhaps the starter for a jumped start), then request that the drivers report to the Clerk. When the drivers arrived, I would try to first interview the person who impacted by the incident (i.e. the person who was passed), then interview the accused. In each case, I tried to word my questions in an open way to get the drivers to volunteer information rather than being lead by my questions.
Then I would fill out the RFA report and would hand the report and other written documentation to the Stewards and tell them that both drivers were available.
There were two pass under yellows and one jump-start that I had to deal with. One of the incidents was dropped, but the other two concluded with penalties assessed against the drivers.
I also helped with a very unusual issue brought by one of the crew. The car had never run at Mosport before, so they did not know what class the car should be in. After reading the rules, the team thought they would have until after qualifying to set their class – with the presumption that they could change their class up until the end of qualifying without penalty. However, once they changed their class (to align with their qualifying time), the grid sheet put them at the back of the grid because of the class change. I worked with Roger, the stewards, timing and the regional Race Director to review all of the rules and try to find the best solution. I also interfaced with the team crew chief, keeping him informed of the progress and also trying to impartially convey his concerns to the other officials. In the end, because the rule was a bit vague, everyone agreed that he would be gridded by his qualifying time and not be penalized for the class change.
The Celebration weekend is the last regional race of the year. There are no more race events until May 2012 – a long layover. It’s one of the downsides to living in Canada.
Jay and Frank left for the track Thursday with Car #40.
On Friday we encountered our first problem – the clutch on Car #00 broke while loading it on the trailer. A quick run to Plus 1 Performance fixed that issue and Steve, Nick and I left for the track with #00 around 6pm.
Arriving around 10pm, I immediately put up my tent. Jay and I shared the tent, as there was not enough room in the RV. I brought many blankets and a tuque; it was only 3 degrees overnight.
Saturday morning I took to the track in #00 for the 15-minute practice session. The track surface was so cold and the tires so old that I had a good scare at the bottom of turn 2. There was little available grip especially on the numerous concrete patches. I only managed a lap time of 1:53, well below the expected range.
Steve also went out for the practice in #40, but only managed 1 lap before he retired with a potential electrical issue. We managed to have a new distributor brought up from Acura East, the dealer in Ajax, and replaced it before the qualifying session.
After a long 2-hour delay to repair guardrail damage in the morning, Steve and Jay went out for a qualifying run. Steve again retired after less than a single lap; we could not find the root cause of the car’s electrical problems. This time, the fuel pump did not seem to be working. Steve was not able to continue and would not start the enduro. Jay took #00 out on old tires and qualified 10th of 13 in class, 30th overall out of 35, with a 1:46.
Jay and I both struggled with second gear during the day. I would normally use it only in Turn 5B. The shifter kept popping out of gear. The workaround was to stay in third gear for that corner.
The afternoon was long, so we had lots of time to prepare the one car for the race. We fuelled it up as much as we could, chose a good set of slightly used tires (i.e. already scrubbed-in) and put together the pit kit.
I made sure I ate a proper dinner this time and was much more relaxed for the start of the race.
During the pace lap, the back of the pack was a mess – the rows were not formed up at all. After a previous experience, I decided to ignore the other drivers to my left and stay right on the bumper of the car directly in front of me. As I was wired up for radio, I heard the call for the start at the exit of Turn 9. I got on the throttle immediately. With the cars all strung out, I found lots of room to move around. I made three positions before the first turn! The other drivers might have been caught out without a radio.
I lost one position when a GT-2 Porsche GT3 went by in Turn 5 and another position when Nicholas Krikorian (GT-1 Subaru) blew by on the back straight. They are both in a faster class and had started behind me.
By the time I came around to complete the first lap, I was in 26th place, as some of the other cars must not have made it to mock grid.
During the first few laps, I had to work hard to hold off Jamie Steenbakkers in a Honda Civic. I believe it was her first time at Mosport, and put up a good fight. I was able to slowly pull away, mostly by capitalizing on my speed in the corners – Mosport is damn intimidating for a first-timer.
I stayed in 26th or 25th place until lap 11 when I started to climb up the charts. By lap 19, I was in 21st place. I had a good race against a Mazda Miata driven by Mike or Peter Adamovits. Sometimes he would get by, but I had higher speed on the long back straight and could take the position back.
By lap 47, I was as high as 19th place, but that was also due to the other teams taking their pit stops.
Steve queried me on fuel state during my 90-minute stint. The first 60 minutes were ok, and I wasn’t lacking for speed. But after that, it became obvious that I would not make it to the 90-minute mark for our only pit stop. We think the bottom half of the tank is smaller than the top half, as we had similar fuel-usage results at the Victoria Day Speedfest.
I had to start short-shifting. At first, I just shifted earlier and earlier, but the fuel level kept dropping. I then started keeping it in fifth gear from the top of the back straight to Turn 9. Eventually, I also upshifted before Turn-2 as well and kept it in fifth-gear until Turn 10. This was not the best solution, as it meant that if I got into trouble I would not have enough torque to pull myself out of a spin. I did everything I could to conserve gas and keep my momentum in the fast corners. My lap times grew from 1:41.529 to 1:46.660 and finally to 1:51.409. That sucked. I kept telling Steve I was loosing places, but we had to keep moving to the 90-minute mark. The motor started starving for fuel in the corners, and yet I kept going. When the motor started starving on the straight, I called in that I had to pit “Now!”
It was close enough to the half-way point that the time for the pit stop would be enough to get us to the end of the race – if Jay could conserve just as much fuel.
During the pit stop, we switched the GoPro HD in the car for another one with new batteries. We found out later that the first GoPro battery died after 15 minutes, so I have little of my half of the race on video.
Jay went out and could start pushing right away. The tires were in reasonable shape and the temperatures were good.
Jay left the pits in 27th place but had to come in for a stop-and-go penalty as we spilled too much fuel during the pit stop.
Jay came back up to 25th place over the next four laps. He stayed in 25th place for the next 12.5 laps.
On lap 75, as he was heading down the hill at Turn 4, the motor made a “pop” sound and died. He used the momentum to pull off after Turn 5B, and parked the car near the woods, out of the way. There were still 35 minutes remaining in the race. It was depressing. We had such high hopes.
I only raced two weekends this year – the two 3-hour enduros. In both cases, the car died before the end. It is the first year of racing where I did not finish a single race.
I did find some positives about the weekend. I had another fantastic start, moving up a number of places. I was able to keep off a challenge from Jamie and had a good scrap with Peter or Mark in the Miata. And I learned about fuel conservation, short-shifting and keeping up my momentum. It was good experience and practice.
Steve and Nick left that night around 10pm. Jay, Frank and I retired to the RV for beers (or Pepsi in my case) and to watch some of our videos. We had a good talk, but I had to fight not to fall asleep – I don’t remember being so exhausted at the end of a race day. We had a quiet trip home Sunday morning.
It was my first time in the Mosport control tower. Unlike a regional weekend, a bank of TV monitors linked to the television cameras around the track were set up along one wall of the control room. There was also an instant reply system in the back of the room. Altogether it was a great way to view the racing.
I attended the drivers meetings for the GT3 series. The key messages were about jump starts and blocking. It was a relatively quiet weekend (clean racing) in the tower. I also watched some of the other series (such as the American Porsche GT3 Cup series).
We had a good turn out for the season finale races. There were 18 entries for the weekend, which meant the racing was great!
Saturday evening I talked with the Race Director about the year in review, and to gather feedback, which was positive. We also discussed the 2012 season. I want to be part of the series again next year.
The racing for me was over around noon on Sunday. The afternoon was reserved for the main 2h45m ALMS race. I did not go into the tower during the ALMS race – it would have been far too crowded. Instead I left for home a little early – it’s nearly a 4-hour drive back to Ottawa.
This past weekend I was working as an assistant clerk of the course for the DAC weekend at Shannonville Motorsports Park. I was working under George McCullough. I was one of two vehicle dispatch communicators. It was a busy role, but I shared it with another assistant clerk.
On the vehicle dispatch radio network, we had all the emergency vehicles, the safety car, two tow vehicles, pit lane marshals, and scrutineering. Shannonville is a good place to learn in the control tower because 90% of the track is visible from the tower. We could see nearly everything happening. At other tracks, you can typically only see the front straight and the clerk must rely entirely on the radio calls from the corners for details.
We had some issues with the radios during the weekend. The safety car in particular did not have headsets and they had difficulty hearing our calls. This means that sometimes they missed picking up the leaders when we had a full-course yellow condition. For example, we would call for the safety car to ‘stand-up’, which indicates to them that they should start the car, buckle up and be ready to roll out on the next radio call. That allows them to prepare. Where possible, we should also give them the current leader car number and car colour. Then if we do next the safety car, we can then dispatch them immediately. However, if the first call was missed because they could not hear over the noise of the race vehicles on track, they would not be able to roll out as quickly as possible.
Another issue was having two people doing the same vehicle dispatch role. We kept stepping on each other. I understand that it was because George already had a vehicle dispatcher when I asked if I could clerk as well.
Overall, I enjoyed the weekend as an assistant clerk of the course. I could see how other clerks operate, how important clear communications are for running an event, and about the interactions between the different groups (clerk, timing, vehicles, pit lane, registration, and so forth).
As a customer day, the instructors were asked to dress with black pants and shoes. We were all given black Cadillac hats and white golf shirts. We looked great! And we were all given magnetic nametags, which looked classy.
There were 16 drivers attending the event. The Ontario Regional Director of Marketing represented Cadillac. There was a full team of photographers and filmmakers were recording the event for a video that should be available later.
The catered lunch was really delicious, and it provided a good time to relax and talk with the participants. They all were enjoying the day so far; I knew that the afternoon was going to be even more fun than the morning exercises.
The afternoon was dedicated to tracking their high performance vehicles. We used the stadium track at CMP, which was a blast. Some of the customers were driving CTS-V coupes with supercharged V8 engines producing 556hp! Wow!
At the end of the day, the drivers had a wonderful gift bag, including a large framed print of them and their cars, a group photo, and the Cadillac logo. It looked great. And it was done so fast – the pictures were taken at lunchtime.
It was a pleasure to work with the team and to provide a special day for the Cadillac customers. I would like to participate next week at Mosport, but I am not going to have enough time due to our upcoming trip to Europe.
One bonus for myself is that I could practice my French. I tried to use only French any time I could, although I sometimes had to fall back to English if I could not understand.
The weekend was interesting in the control tower. The three-story tower itself was built the day before. It was an enclosed wooden upper story, and the base was steel. The base had big steel wheels; the tower had been pushed into place the night before. It was a bit scary, as it would sway in the wind and provided little protection from the noise.
I had a chance to meet Wayne Pollock, one of the Quebec clerks. To gain more experience, perhaps I can try working with him next year if there is an opportunity.
The Porsche series races ran smoothly, although one competitor wrote off his chassis Saturday morning and the series leader broke his suspension at the start of the Sunday race, leaving only four cars to complete the 45 minute race.
I snuck up to the control tower to watch some of the NASCAR folks, and it was chaos. They all had hoarse voices as if they were long time chain smokers. I think it from yelling over the noise for season after season. The noise from the cars was overwhelming. There were times I was standing next to someone and could see their lips moving, but could not hear them at all.
During the weekend, I crossed paths with former Formula-1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Someone told me that he was a good friend with one of the announcers covering the race.
[Updated Sept 19, 2011: Sadly, Wayne Pollock passed away in his sleep overnight]