Thursday, July 2, 2015

Another Weekend of Racing (Day 1)

My friends invited me to attend a lapping day at Shannonville on Saturday June 20th. We already had the MLRC rallycross booked for Sunday, and figured - why not - it will give us a chance to spend some time with the car, practice our driving technique, and really get ready for the competition runs on Sunday. Sure tarmac and gravel are very different surfaces, but racing is racing, and there's no such thing as bad seat time.


Oddly enough, despite having a collection of tires that would make many small garages jealous, we didn't have anything we could use on the wagon for tarmac, so off to the classifieds we went to find another set. Luckily we managed to source a set of nice JDM Legacy wheels, wrapped in Michelin Super Sports - the exact same tires a good friend of mine had on his E46 M3. This gave us a great opportunity to settle our Subaru vs BMW rivalry - car vs car with all other variables being the same. So we picked up the wheels, and I've invited my friend to Shannonville with us for a demonstration of why he bought the wrong car.

Problem was - despite my regular teasing of the Bavarian, our wagon really was no match for an M3 around a track. Sure it had the tires to match, but with half the horsepower and stock Impreza suspension the BMW would walk all over it even if my friend drove blindfolded. Luckily we had another, more appropriate weapon - Danil's 03 WRX with aftermarket downpipe, uppipe, and STi pink suspension. That's more like it. 



So on Friday after work we packed both Subarus with tools, tarmac and gravel tires, and set off in a convoy of two buggeyes and an M3 down the 401 towards Shannonville. We camped out at the track, and in the morning the rest of the gang arrived in a 911 Turbo (a 2-door WRX with the engine in the wrong place) - the owner wearing a t-shirt with the slogan "the world is flat" and an image of the boxer engine - nice! Shame I didn't wear mine.

At the driver's meeting we were pleasantly surprised to meet our friend Sergio from St. Lawrence Auto Club who would be overlooking course safety for the day - he was happy to see us, and offered to show us the track as he knew it like the back of his driver's glove - an offer we happily accepted.



We got out onto the track - the "long" configuration that we've never run before, and quickly ran into a bit of a snag. Danil's WRX had Stoptech street performance brake pads on the back - good, and stock Subaru pads on the front - not so good. The stock pads were good for two or three laps, but any longer and they overheated and started to fade badly. The most annoying thing was the way they behaved when overheated - initial bite was only slightly worse than usual, but as the pad contacted the rotor and heated up it would quickly loose more and more braking power - so the harder you press on the pedal the less braking force is applied. It was very difficult to adjust to.

What's worse is that if you were trying to brake hard with the pads faded, you would intuitively push harder and harder on the pedal, and if the wheel would hit a bump it would go from no braking force to full lockup with no warning at all, and you'd only find out about the lockup by the catastrophic understeer and cloud of smoke you left behind as you finally realized you should let off the brakes, and dove in towards the apex of the corner.

The other annoyance was the JDM 5-speed gearbox, with it's 4.444 final drive ratio. Great box for acceleration in a straight line, when you have the freedom to shift whenever you want. Not so great for Shannonville, where a lot of the times we found ourselves between the rev-limiter in 2nd and below optimal revs for boost in 3rd. That meant a lot more shifting than we would have done with the stock USDM box.

And lastly, the lack of bolstering in the seat meant our left leg had to be constantly glued to the dead pedal to support our bodies through the corners. Left-foot braking was out of the question.

And so, with a sufficient number of racing driver's excuses out of the way, I can finally admit that we didn't have the M3. According to the data logger on my phone his best lap time was 2:12.37, but all we could manage was a 2:19.65 with me driving, and 2:21.46 with Danil behind the wheel. Two main reasons for that - our crappy brakes were no match for his, and the fact that he had about 100hp more than us - his speed down the back straight was 159km/h, while we only managed a mere 145. Interestigly, even the corner speed was slightly higher in the BMW, despite having a similar weight and identical tires. Bummer. 

It wasn't due to the driver either - I did a few laps in the Bimmer and shaved 4 seconds off my best lap time in the Subaru (running a 2:15.57). I'd be even faster, if it wasn't for the awful ergonomics. At 6'1 I fit comfortably in the Subaru with a nice upright driving position. In the BMW - I had to lean the seat so far back I could barely reach the steering wheel. 


This lapping day was the first time I got to try out some new toys I bought - a good Longacre tire pressure gauge (to replace our Canadian Tire gauge that usually gave a reading somewhere within 10psi of the actual pressure), and probe pyrometer (to accurately measure tire temperatures after a session). Wow. I can't believe I haven't bought these two sooner. It made setting ideal tire pressures, and figuring out any car setup issues an absolute joy instead of the mystery it was before. I will never go to a track without these two now.


At the end of the day I went out as passenger in the 911, which completely destroyed my understanding of what a fast car is. From the second he got on the gas coming out of the pits, to the very last lap - I couldn't stop giggling like an idiot. Not only was it one of the most powerful cars I've ever been in, it also had the handling to match. As we were coming up to the penultimate corner just before the front straight - a hard braking zone with a bump into a tight left - I noticed a dark black line that wasn't there before heading straight off the track. Turns out it was Danil's - he locked up a tire over the bump, and understeered straight off the track. The car was fine, but the tire was flat-spotted developing a nasty vibration. Hopefully we can get them shaved at a tire shop to get them nice and round again.



So, lessons learned - stock Subaru brake pads suck; pyrometers, tire pressure gauges, and data loggers are essential; M3s are faster than WRXs even if you can't reach the steering wheel; and by putting an engine into the trunk of a WRX, loosing two doors, and nailing a fancy badge to the hood you get a car that absolutely blows your mind.

With that newfound wisdom, we said goodbye to our German-carred friends and pointed our Subarus north towards Bancroft - to do what they were really designed to do - fly sideways through a forest spraying gravel and mud everywhere. But that's a story for another blog post.

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