Loose Nut: Phil’s DE Notes

EVERY YEAR I DO THE SAME THING and promise myself that I’ll make a pilot-type checklist and have it laminated for the glove box. DE pre-departure check:

  • Tech form, check
  • Helmet, check
  • HANS device, check.

Nope, that’s something else I never got around to doing during the COVID lockdown. I was 20 kilometres into my first DE road trip before it hit me. Damn, I left the signed COVID waiver form sitting on my desk back home in St. Davids. I called ahead to a friend who would also be attending our first PCA UCR DE of the year and he printed off another copy for me.

This was supposed to be our third DE of the season, but the latest state of emergency declaration produced another province-wide, stay-at-home order in early April. That effectively wiped out the April Introductory Driving School (IDS) sessions and the 2021 crop of enthusiastic new Porsche drivers looking for their first on-track experience, in addition to the May 1 DE weekend.

We had faint hope for the June 5 weekend, but you can’t take your Porsche out for the mandatory technical safety inspection within two weeks of an event and also comply with a stay-at-home order, the two are mutually exclusive.

Everything we did before has now changed. The hugs and handshakes are replaced with awkward nods and smiling eyes above a sea of masked participants who should all be easily recognizable, but there’s a lot of “it’s me under here!”

The 215-kilometre drive takes significantly less time on the 407 ETR and even the $70-plus cost of tolls during peak time seems a bargain compared to stop-and-go 401 traffic all the way across uptown Toronto in Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic with a truck and trailer hauling the pink 944 track car.

I signed in Friday evening at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) gate and dropped off the car and trailer and headed to a friend’s home in the area. Counting sheep and running through an imaginary check list are not the same. It’s not a great night’s sleep.

Everything we did before has now changed. The hugs and handshakes are replaced with awkward nods and smiling eyes above a sea of masked participants who should all be easily recognizable, but there’s a lot of “it’s me under here!”

After registration with the ubiquitous colour-coded driver’s run-group bracelet snapped on to the left wrist, we entered the track and started preparing the cars. The excitement started to build a little and I had that Thin Lizzy song “Boys are Back in Town” playing in my head.

It was turning out to be a beautiful day after several days of rain and I was thinking how lucky we are. It was going to be a perfect day with a high of no more than 25 degrees. That’s a different voice on the loudspeaker. Graham Jardine is handling tower duties this weekend, sitting in for our regular “Voice of Mosport” John Adam who couldn’t make it, but I was assured by the track team that he would be back for the August 21 DE weekend.

I actually miss the official morning driver’s meetings. I liked getting everyone together and seeing who’s attending and who you want to drop in on in the paddock and catch up with. Some regions publish the attendees list, but for some reason we don’t, so unless you pass by and recognize a face or a car, you don’t know who else is there until registration and the morning driver’s meetings.

The alternative driver’s meeting was broadcast on FM 90.7 and you had to be in your car or tow vehicle at 8:30 a.m. to listen to the day’s instructions and special notices. It was also broadcast over the loudspeakers and that’s another big improvement in the paddock: a public-address system that can be heard from just about everywhere.

It was, I thought, a pretty good turn-out with 137 drivers registered but I found out later from Track Chair Dave Osborne that we still had spare capacity. There were no fresh IDS graduates as mentioned earlier as in-car instruction is mandatory at that level, so no green (novice) run group, but we did have 17 yellow run-group drivers and rather than in-car instruction we were going to try something new to UCR. A lead-follow routine.

This was all spelled out by the instructor co-chiefs Andy Wright and Peter Carroll during a Zoom conference call held earlier in the week. In theory, the student driving solo for the first time was to follow the instructor’s car around the track, staying back two to three car lengths to learn the proper driving line. Faster two-car groups could pass if given two identical passing signals by the two slower cars to be passed.

In practice the distance seemed to average more like six to seven car lengths. One student driving in yellow commented that he still had lots to process, the flag station marshals, his driving, braking, downshifting, turn-in points, acceleration and track-out points, etc. He didn’t want to add the anxiety of another major faux pas: do not run into your instructor!

It actually seemed to work out quite well. The instructor team already contribute its time to work with new drivers. Pre-session briefings, post session de-briefs, written evaluations and now they are burning an extra 80 to 90 laps worth of fuel.

A big shout-out to all the instructors. This was a major departure from our regular, highly effective DE routine and you went out-of-pocket to give these 17 yellow students an opportunity to get back on track (pun intended) towards being competent high-performance Porsche drivers and I’m sure they all appreciated your efforts.

It was a new learning experience for everyone. Some instructors worked out hand signals between themselves and their students. Signals for switching positions, you lead and I’ll follow you for a few laps, etc. I heard Driving Tours Chair Larry Funnell’s story, he was leading when the instructor’s car had a mechanical problem and fell back out of sight. What’s the correct signal for that? Larry was obviously experienced enough to give an overtaking two-car group the pass signals and proceed into the pits until his instructor limped in and got him set up with fellow instructor and tech chief Adam Holland to finish off his day without losing out on track time.

It wasn’t until my third session of the day that I finally shook the winter rust. I had new, unfamiliar rubber on the car and I was being a little tentative as I warmed up. I had missed a couple of down shifts and realized the shifter was popping out of fourth gear, which is not good going into corner eight. As soon as I got my confidence back and added a little more throttle management there was enough weight in the tranny to hold it in gear.

When I got back into the paddock fellow drivers were asking if I had found the problem. “Yup, I found a loose nut.” “Which one?” they asked.

“The one behind the wheel!” </>

By Phil Downe
Photography by Christopher Hebert

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