While I stood in line at registration back in August 2008 for my first ever autocross event, I was pretty sure I was going to like this driving quickly through cones thing, but I never imagined that first day among the cones was going to be the gateway it has since proved to be. I never thought that within three months of that first event that I would own a second car and that I would be purchasing it primarily to be an autocross toy. I didn’t envision spending countless hours under that car learning to do things like install performance parts, adjust suspension, service brakes, and tweak boost controllers. Nor did I imagine being in charge of timing and registration for the MCO series or being recognized by the Club for my efforts, but all of this, and more, came to pass. To some, this might seem like a guy who is closing-in on 40 refusing to let go of his youth. The reality is that for as long as I can remember, I have loved cars, loved driving, and loved speed. I’ve dreamed of owning a sports car and having the opportunity to drive it under conditions where I can push my driving abilities to their limits, in the hope of becoming a better driver. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to realize these aspirations, so 2009 represents the realization of life-long dreams. So, now that Ginger is safely tucked away for her winter nap, I think a recap of how she and I handled ourselves this summer might be a good idea…
It was still the dead of winter…
… when the MCO Solo II organizing committee convened its first planning meeting for the 2009 season. Having had a great time in the last six events (two podiums) of 2008 in Zhaan, our Mazda 3 Sport GT, I had volunteered to be “general labour” for 2009 so that I could contribute to the series and learn the ropes. Given that I’m comfy with computers and that most don’t like working with timing and registration, I had mentioned to the more experienced guys that I would be willing to help in that area. However, at the meeting, my “general labourer” status morphed into “Head of Timing and Registration”. While I was kinda worried about whether all the gear was going to fit into Ginger, I felt OK about the job as it seemed the more experienced guys would have my back even though I still couldn’t match-up all the names to the right faces. The meeting ended and we all headed home through the cold, snowy February night. Top down driving and autocross seemed and eternity away.
Wired or Wireless?
Having taken on the role of timing guy, the early spring was spent on a blend of learning the timing system with the help of luker and working on Ginger. While work on the car was going well, the timing system was proving pesky. It would behave perfectly during testing at my house, luker’s house, and DEye’s house, but refused to work nicely at Scotia Bank Place.
We discovered this at the MCO Summer Performance Driving School, which pedwar completed from Ginger’s driving seat. I spent the first part of the day as a cone monkey keeping the exercises in good shape as the students flattened cones, but we also took the time to test the timing gear in advance of the next day’s autocross, which would be be Event 1 of 2009. Lo and behold, the wireless system refused to work so we went to the wired system, the standard contingency play. It worked… or so we thought.
The next day arrived, along with a two hour long registration line! I was drowning in registration forms, freezing in the cold, and really feeling pressure as no matter how fast we took forms, handed out bracelets, and entered people in the timing system, the line didn’t get any shorter. Eventually, we got all 97 entrants registered and got the event rolling and as if the delay and the newbie organizing crew weren’t enough, we were then plagued by weird timing issues that really slowed things down as re-run after re-run was necessary. It was an exhausting, humbling day with only five timed runs.
pedwar and I were both driving Ginger and with all of the registration work, I had not been able to do a course walk or coach her on how to do it. The result was that she spent the day getting lost and my largely driving the course from memory (we ran the course in 2008) in a car that I had never really driven in anger. To top it off, the alignment specs I had put on Ginger were horribly wrong, making her an over steering nightmare, but driving aspect of the day was still a hoot and I think the autox bug had landed on pedwar’s arm and was preparing to bite.
2009 Event 1 Results
Inter-Event Hand Wringing
All the timing issues and the line-ups at the first event really had us concerned, but with only a week before Event 2, there wasn’t a lot we could do. Besides no one expected another large turn-out so early in the season, particularly given the challenges of Event 1. Boy were we wrong as we had 96 entrants, many of which were new and again needed to be entered into the computer.
On the upside, we had fixed Ginger’s alignment making her much more controllable. pedwar arrived earlier and took more course walks, this time knowing what to look for and what to think about. The result was that she only had one or two DNFs and cut the gap between our times from 20 seconds to 8 seconds — that’s 12 seconds faster after only event! She was also hooked, not only on the driving, but also on the friendly atmosphere and great people.
2009 Event 2 Results
One Hundred and Ten!
Yup, Event 3 saw a field of 110 competitors, which meant long wait between runs, limited paddock space, and frayed nerves, making the on-going timing issues that much more annoying. Despite all this, we still managed four timed runs. No, that’s nothing to be proud of, but at least we held the line despite the larger field size. Discussion raged in the forums regarding how to address the timing issues. pedwar’s shoulder was becoming more an issue at this point and she decided that the violent steering required for autocross, coupled with the need to brace one’s head and body against the cornering loads was only making her pain worse. She watched from the sidelines, making Event 2 her last autocross of 2009. I kept getting more comfortable in Ginger and as my confidence grew, I was getting quicker. Course Map – 2009 – Event 3 – 2009 Event 3 Results
Regular Service Resumed… Almost
Event 4 saw another 90+ field, but with fewer brand-spanking new bodies, registration was becoming easier, allowing us to start on time. While we continued to face timing issues, the earlier start time meant we were still able to get seven timed runs. Everyone rejoiced as it was apparent that the organizing crew, composed largely of newbs (myself included), was starting to gel.
Course Map – 2009 – Event 4 – 2009 Event 4 Results
First Trip to PMG
To virtually every MCO autocrosser I asked, those three letters meant autocross nirvana — huge expanses of smooth, flat, flawless asphalt totally devoid of curbs, light posts, painted lines, or pot holes. A place where coneheads could push with reckless abandon that lay a mere 2 to 2.5 hours outside Ottawa in Blainville, QC.
PMG is actually the name of the firm that operates the Transport Canada automotive test facility in Blainville. The facility is huge, with a massive banked oval for high-speed testing and of course the large skid pad that we would be using. There is nothing dramatic about getting there, but going from the front gate to the skid pad is another story: waivers are signed at the front gate and cars are led in by security in groups. Once at the skid pad, parked cars must have their engines over the grass, not over the asphalt. Also, any use of jacks is to involve a plank of wood between the jack and the asphalt. Yes, PMG does consider the asphalt that precious.
While it was a beautiful day and our CADL hosts ran a great event, we were disappointed at the tight technical course. After all, we can do tight and technical at home. Here, we wanted 3rd gear speed and fast flowing corners. I had a really hard time driving the course without cone penalties and was pretty frustrated all day long, but still had a great time. After the event, I made 123go, the CADL/MCO double-agent promise me a fast course for the next PMG event, planned for late September.
Some Things Must Be Done, No Matter How Hard
Event 6 (or Event 5 if you only count the local events) was the first where the MCO Solo II imposed a cap on registration and began to require that current participants register on-line. We took some flack and there were concerns voiced by highly respected members of the community, but DEye made the hard call and stuck to his guns. The 75 driver cap worked and we ran with 78 participants. Even with continued timing glitches, we managed a relaxed six runs. The event flowed better, people had space, and everyone’s anxiety began to slip away. Change is hard, but sometimes its necessary.
As we progressed through the next events, we moved the cap upwards as we got better at dealing with timing glitches and could reliably hit our run target. Event 7, for which our CADL brethren joined us saw us hit 6 runs with 96 competitors. Event 8 had 83 competitors, each of whom got 7 timed runs. Event 8 also saw us discover that the wired system was actually the cause of our problems. Out of desperation, having tried everything else, we switched and ran problem free for the rest of the day! How annoying that the very strategy we adopted to avoid problems was causing the problems. Course Map – 2009 – Event 8
Once the switch over happened, we were rolling as we wrapped up the last point-paying, local event of 2009. All that was left was the members only event of October 13th, which saw 61 members swapping and sharing cars as we ran the course clockwise in the morning and then counter-clockwise in the afternoon — yes, that’s 8 runs and we had tons of fun runs, too. A great day, with pizza, beverages, and cookies. Does it get any better?
2009 Event 6 Results – 2009 Event 7 Results – 2009 Event 8 Results – 2009 Special Event Results
I’m singin’ in the rain!
The last MCO event of the year was back at PMG where CADL was hosting the annual Inter-Provincial Cup (IPC), where Ontario and Quebec drivers square-off to determine the fastest province. It’s all in good fun and since the event is run under the rules of the hosting club, the hosting province tends to win. We left for PMG in convoy bright and early under torrential rain that didn’t let up until the event was almost over. What this meant was that PMG’s flat, drainless asphalt was very, very wet, with lots of standing water. Combine that with fun course that 123go promised and it made for a hell of a fun day of driving, even if marshalling was cold and wet. Root_Moose and I traded cars for fun runs and I discovered just how forgiving Ginger is. She wants to please and does all she can to follow the commands I issue through the steering wheel and the pedals. Root_Moose’s AP1 Honda S2000 was a different matter. Unlike Ginger, it heard my requests, considered them, and then not-so-politely told me where to go — I spun three times on my first run, avoided a couple spins on the second run, and put down a respectable time on the third. bigdog and sfong, regular S2K drivers, were laughing at my bug-eyed expressions in the car. Root_Moose? He was off doing his best times with Ginger, who just a week earlier had needed to be towed home.
Needless to say, Quebec won the IPC and the results of the day decided the MCO series champions once I got home and entered the data in our timing computer. My work as timing guy was done for the season and I felt pretty good about how I had handled myself and I later discovered that my peers were pretty happy with me, too.
Discovering friends you didn’t know you had…
… is always a great thing and that’s what I found when I made it out to a few St. LAC events. Not only did I see another approach to running events, but I also made some great friends in the form of Rob and Bill and their respective families. If you’re ever able to make it out to a St. LAC event, even if its one of the two-hour evening sessions at Shannonville, I highly recommend it. Say hi to Rob, Bill, Greg, Rob Sr., and the Brunners for me. Next year, I’ll be a dues-paying St. LAC member.
St-LAC hosted my last autox of the year, again at Picton, on our anniversary weekend, which also saw Ginger and I hit the race track at Shannonville for the second time this year. I had so much fun, I went back on November 1 for my last hurrah of 2009.
Car and Driver: A Season-Long Progression
Through the middle of the season Ginger was a different car every couple of weeks as the Flyin’ Miata goodies got installed, but as she was improving, so was I. This graph charts how my times compared to FTD (Fastest Time of the Day) at the MCO events this season (I treated the members-only event as two events to capture my morning time vs. my afternoon times).
As for lapping, with no precise instrument for measuring my times, I’ve had to rely on video footage, which shows that between October 18 and November 1, I managed to trim 5-6 seconds of my laps at Shannonville with no changes to the car. I’m pretty happy with that after about 8 hours on track in my whole life.
Overall, this has been one of the best summers of my life. I’ve done things I didn’t think I would ever do, I’ve gotten to be a better driver than I could have imagined and I know I can improve more. My wife and best friend has also become enamoured with the scene and the activity and I’ve made a raft of new friends in the process. The crazy thing is that I get to do it all over again next year!!! :)