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Watkins Glen – Fall PCA 2009 Trip Report

October 14th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few beers at the Seneca Lodge Sunday night and the Monday morning wakeup came early.  The word for this entire trip will be COLD.  It could have been negative 20 for all I know, but I know it was cold.   Tires were cold, making my limited tread feel like grease, and I found myself huddled in the car instead of wandering the paddock.  The cold air however was like cat nip to the turbo, bringing it to a new heightened state of preparedness.  No worries of over heating and no heat saturation on intercoolers today.

I made it through registration to find out that Tim was my instructor, a position he got without even requesting.  It is hard being in the driver seat with Tim instructing.  Tim knows how I drive and some of my areas I need help on, so like an annoying personal trainer, he makes me work harder into those areas and easily finds my faults.  Where I have a passive approach in a lot of areas, Tim will get me to drive the car in harder than I normally would, watching how I handle the situations.

There is one piece missing however, and that is Tim hasn’t driven this car.  This is where I would “monolog” for about 30 minutes praising the engineers at Mitsubishi.  I will summarize however by saying that I am not even close to pushing this car.  For the early sessions I sandbagged the brakes, mostly because I was on questionable tires and it was cold.  That leads into the highlight, which was making Tim cringe.   We received the late pass signal going into turn 1 after we had some healthy speed out of the front stretch.  Appreciating the late pass, I wanted to make sure it was not in vein, so dove the car towards the corner and hit the gas.  Tim moves into a position that resembles a cat, trying claw for traction before heading into the water.  A tight squeeze of the brakes and the car drops into the corner effortlessly, I reset angles for exit and nail the gas.

The brakes bring a tear to the eye.  No really, you lay into those things and you almost loose consciousness.  It is freakin sweet.   I can’t convey how much more braking I have to the guy sitting in the passenger seat, so it takes a longer time to gain their confidence in the car.

With some great sessions, I get the sign off to solo for the last session of the day and tick off some great laps.

The Track Walk

At the end of the first day of the Fall PCA event at Watkins Glen, they setup a track walk. It really was a drive to each turn, hop out and talk about it, more than a walk.  There was no way we were going to survive the cold weather walk, so it was a great alternative.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3787

After seeing the option to jump in the back of a cold pickup truck, I asked if I could just take some people out in the car.  Brilliant move on my part, I must say.  Besides rifling off pictures of the car on the track, it had a heater that was blessed by the turbo gods that day, making the trip out there a little less painful.

The angles of the track are so drastic, yet you never recognize them behind the wheel at 140.  The surfaces of the track are deadly to understand.  They must have had a sale on sealer for some of the pavement areas.  Being able to see the textures of the different surfaces put some better understanding in how to approach some of the lines and offered some alternatives for the wet weather.

While Jim talked about each turn, I was glad to hear he agreed that a lot of the “suggestion” cones were mis-placed on the track.  I have found myself moving the turn in points to get later into the turns going both into the laces and out of the off camber.

The Reliability Factor

I had some lofty goals this summer to make the car faster, most of which turned into dust with some financial strains.  While the car received a clean $10 air filter and a boost gauge which I already had in the garage, it was relatively stock.  The car did not miss a beat and was an absolute blast to drive.  The cold air helped the turbo coming out of “the boot” and it had enough to overtake most everything in the white group, with the exception of the Z06 running slicks.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3762The other two teammates however were not so lucky.  Chris had some turbo  problems into the second day, indicating that the larger turbo on the car was shot.  While we mocked that he received car number 13, it certainly was unexpected for what is a relatively new turbo setup.  He had to call off the last sessions of the second day, but got to drive the car home with no boost pressure.

Watkins Glen PCA Fall 2009 3775The Galant VR4 has this tendency to remind everybody that it is an 18 year old car.  If it had a foot, you could almost visualize it kicking Tim square in the family jewels on a regular basis. While the rest of the paddock looks organized, the VR4 needs a constant barrage of work after every run, turning the area into a trama center.

The car has a blown head gasket.  While the temperatures remained cool, the pressure would add air to the system, pushing the coolant to the overflow bottle, causing Tim into a routine of dumping the overflow back into the radiator between sessions.  He ran low boost and made relatively tame laps.  It was a good thing because the water injection wasn’t working right anyway.

Tim cracked a rotor on the second session of the first day, and spent the lunch hour replacing the front rotors and putting things back together.  So that Tim could take a minute to eat the sandwhich we grabbed for him, I went to take the car out for a spin to bed the brakes in.  I made it 10 feet, the car died and wouldn’t start.  Long story short, the MPI fuse was blowing, a result of the O2 sensor wire melting and shorting out on the manifold.

The almost final straw is the throttle body breaking on the last session before we go home.  The bar that crosses the throttle body and mounts the throttle plate corroded through and snapped.  It looks like one screw was missing for a while, and it fatigued it’s way out with a little corrosion help over time. Through a miracle of DSM availability, the Archer Racing built Talon was on site with Greg Sterman becoming the savior of the day.  After the last run of the day and the talon in the trailer, Greg let Tim take his throttle body off, so that he could drive the car home.

After surviving that beating, we got on the road a few hours late for home, being the last to leave the paddock.  A few miles down the road, I told Tim to pull over because his chains were dragging on the trailer.  They were dragging because the trailer hitch assembly had let go, breaking the welds that held it to the rusted bumper.  This would be another kick in the jewels area, especially after surviving the throttle body incident.  After emptying the entire trailer on the side of the road and shoving it back into cars, an extension cord acted as a torsion bar to keep the hitch in place for the trip home.

If it were a horse, the car would have been put down a few times over.  Even Tim, who finds his pride in squeezing out the most bang for his buck, looked tired after this weekend.  That man needs an Evo for Christmas.

The PCA

The more I attend the events, the more I am impressed with how well they run the group.  Everything from coordinating food on the site to getting TSX Sports to make everybody a quality looking event shirt, it really is a bargain to get onto Watkins Glen.  While I don’t own a Porsche and probably don’t intend to in my lifetime, the group makes you feel like family.

They had a driving simulator company come out and show off a motion based simulator driving none other that Watkins Glen.  They should have picked a different track, because it felt off in some of the dimensions and I couldn’t drive it worth a crap.

Late Passing Drills

The PCA has adopted a more progressive, say it realistic, approach to track driving. The early run groups (white, green) were put through 10 minutes of “late passing” drills, in which it enforced slower cars to give late pass signals into turns and faster cars to learn to adapt to a different turn approach and exit.   In the fall, this didn’t exactly go smooth.  With some feedback from last time and some clear instruction in what was expected, this turned out to really progress things along.

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