Reflections on racing a 944 SP
WHAT AN INCREDIBLE JOURNEY! Roughly two years ago, after starting IDS in our 997.2 cabriolet, as well as many DE days, there has been much celebrated including my first anniversary of club racing with an incredible 1:38 flat at Mosport in our SP2 race car. That’s a little over a second above the track record for that class. For those of you who know the track, that is mighty fast for a 944 SP2; and if you don’t know the track, it’s an incredible feat at one of North America’s fastest circuits.
Other major celebrations include a podium finish at Monticello, and passing my mentor at the Mosport Clubrace. It was quite the accomplishment and a bit of a wake-up call as I pulled into the paddock saying to myself “there goes any advice from him in the future.” I thought it, but it’s not true; even when we are all fighting for the top step, we are in it together to see competitors alike grow and get better. I had a terrible start to the season with mechanical issues and would not have been able to complete at the Watkins race without parts from a team mate. Apparently, a working air flow meter helps. We all work together.
I remember it like yesterday, navigating the track with my instructor, thinking the car was at its very limit and saying “geez, this is so fast!”.
Lots of advice was given to me in the beginning… some more memorable – first spend and work on the driver not the car; don’t buy a GT3 until you master a 944; and finally, my favorite; if you can learn how to tackle and respect Mosport (CTMP), you can drive anywhere.
The decision to go with the 944 SP2 platform has been so rewarding – using a car to the maximum of its capability with no intervention from “nannies”. I was quite lucky, actually, when I realized I wanted so much more from my DE experience and to eventually work toward racing. I knew I needed a purpose-built race car. Lo and behold my weekly (if not daily!) adventures in the auto trader paid off. I found a listing for a 944 SP2 vehicle ready to race. Now I needed to add DE days and coaching – after all, some of the top 944 cup drivers live within an hour of our house. I remember it like yesterday, navigating the track with my instructor, thinking the car was at its very limit and saying “geez, this is so fast!”. Well…. that was running 1:46s and really, I just needed more experience to realize the more the mind acclimatizes to speed, the faster you can go, and adjust to vehicles around you and what the car is doing.
Podcast after podcast encouraged me that the final few seconds I wanted to shave off would require me to do something out of my comfort zone, push the car to its limits, and learn to handle it while out of shape with corrections. It wasn’t instant. Everyone with experience knows this and those looking to move forward on this journey should know this. Gradually you feel the car’s slightest twitch and correct to where it becomes muscle memory. I now watch videos of my races and laugh “that can’t be me!”
As I have advanced from the back of pack to mid pack and now even podiums, I am fine tuning the car and tire pressures, logging everything from weather to asphalt temps.
Each time I went to the track I set goals, reviewed what I did right and wrong, and planned on how to correct. Small bites at a time… I’ve always found carrying a notebook and debriefing before getting out of the car helped the most while info was fresh. In the beginning, tires and suspension were a set it and forget it mentality; only this year, as I have advanced from the back of pack to mid pack and now even podiums, I am fine tuning the car and tire pressures, logging everything from weather to asphalt temps.
Many ask how hard it was to get a license. My answer is not that hard at all, if your mind is in the right space. No heroic activities are necessary. In the beginning, you have nothing to prove. Just survive and stay calm. My journey was simple: IDS to DE to race license in less than a year. That’s unusual, but I was quite determined. I documented every time I was on track, who my coach was and basic info to help the next person working with me know what stage I was at.
One of the questions that keeps coming up from prospective PCA members who are looking to go to the next step is what kind of budget do I need. Ah, the dirty word budget. Well, it’s such a loaded question. I’m the worst example of how to stick to a budget! All kidding aside, the one thing I feel strongly about is buy a car that is well on its way to being a race car already. There are tons of club racers willing to help recommend or review specs of a car when you find one. Second thing is with a good base vehicle, even if it isn’t the lightest or freshest motor, setting up the suspension and working on your driving will yield phenomenal results and a happier wallet. Over time, as you hit the pinnacle of your abilities and want to add more spice to your ride, there are lots of home projects and diets for the car to yield additional time savings.
The greatest part of my journey has been racing and practicing on the many storied tracks in North America. Within 5 hours of Toronto, Ontario (our home base) there are some of the most challenging road courses – Mosport, Watkins Glen, Mont Tremblant and Mid-Ohio. In summary, you are never too young or too old to get out and race if it’s your passion. There are many entry level vehicles for spec classes between 15-30k. Most importantly everyone is welcomed with open arms like I was. </>
Story and photos by By Jon Dunski, UCR Member