WINTER DRIVING DIARIES 2015/16 SEASON

IMG_7790By Andrew Combes – UCR Member (from Provinz February 2016 page 32)

UntitledSo finally, winter may be upon us.  For the hardy souls of UCR, the very mild fall and early-winter have permitted us to extend our passion for driving our Porsches well beyond the normal salt-free months.  I should imagine that the folks running the excellent Camp4 are wondering where they can import sufficient snow and ice from to enable that particular distraction to go ahead!

Regular readers of my column may have noticed there has been a bit of a hiatus—I dealt with some family issues that kept me away from the track for the bulk of the season this year.  I am, however, now back to full engagement with the club and the track side of our endeavours and am glad to report that our excellent new editor at Provinz has allowed me to stay on the “payroll”.  Thank you Randy—and of course thanks to Emily who did such a wonderful job over the past few years.

At the time of writing, I have not yet departed the Great White North for the palm tree belt although my Cayman track car Martini was shipped down a couple of months back.  Now that she’s a fully-fledged track-only car, that was a more interesting exercise than in years past.  Regulars will know I have written before on the various ways to get a car to Florida for the winter season—and the pros and cons of each.  It becomes a little more fraught when your car has a ground clearance that will scalp a soldier ant with the front splitter—loading such a vehicle can be problematic.  Add to that another layer of bureaucracy if the vehicle is not plated and licensed for the road.

I solved the ground clearance problem by engaging the good folks at TFX International to undertake the trans­port.  This Toronto-based company boasts a fleet of very smart enclosed tractor-trailers and is very experienced in handling all types of exotic vehicles including motorcycles and race cars.  Located close to Pearson Airport, they are very well located for most UCR members.  I towed Martini down to them in my enclosed trailer and was helped with unloading by a very helpful gentleman who turned out to be Wally Horodnyk, the owner of the company!  He spotted the sets of spare wheels and tires in my trailer and asked if I wanted them delivered to Sebring with the car.  I had not been offered this opportunity before and accepted straight away—no doubt my Border Collie Ben will appreciate not having that little lot riding with him in the minivan when we drive to Florida in early January.  The wheels were promptly loaded onto a pallet and wrapped and are now wait­ing for me at Sick Sideways, the race shop I use in Sebring for winter storage and prep.

TFX had advised that it is far easier to cross the US border with a car that is fully road legal.  Martini is still plated, insured and licensed, so I avoided any issues there and will continue to do so for the next three years.  At that point, she’ll need an emissions test and a whole new chapter will open, I’m sure.

Martini herself took part in just three DE events this summer and fall but ran very well and without major issues… if one doesn’t count the dreaded “ice pedal” for which so many track Caymans are notorious.  That is when the car’s computer is con­fused—generally after a bumpy section or a foray onto the turtles—and initiates “ice” braking mode.  It presents as a rock-hard brake pedal that gives no more than 10% of braking force, no matter how hard one presses the pedal.  At CTMP, it tends to raise its ugly head at the braking zone for 5A—not an ideal situation as Martini will generally be trav­elling at 110–120mph.  The only fix is to back off the brake for a split second to allow the computer to reset and then reapply pressure.  That split sec­ond can seem like an eternity!  Many track-prepped Caymans exhibit this trait and it appears the only permanent fix is to fit an aftermarket stand-alone ABS computer.  Not a cheap and easy prospect, but I think it is something I will need to do, and sooner rather than later.

Seat time is, as we all know, crucial to maintaining the skills we learn from our track time during the season.  For me, the long winter without that invaluable time on track most certainly leads to “ring rust”.  Getting back behind the wheel after a lengthy break can be a steep learning curve all over again.  Which is why, a few weeks ago, I arranged for fellow UCR Cayman enthusiast Chris Bourdos and CTMP-regular Brandon Comella from NNJR to try a race simulator.  None of us had any experience at video or online racing but had heard great things about the full motion simulators often used by professional drivers to aid with learning a new track or in helping set up a race car.  A call to Ilker Starck at Sports Car Boutique in Toronto soon had us set up for an entire afternoon on their Simcraft Apex racing simulator.

DSC05505The Apex is not exactly an average set of pedals and steering wheel, such as are often employed in home iRacing setups.  It is a serious and seriously expensive piece of kit that can provide full motion in three planes (roll, yaw and pitch) to the Recaro seat that’s mounted inside a fully-welded chro­moly chassis.  The view from the cockpit is provided by three high-resolution LCD screens and all controls are adjustable by the driver.  A 5.1 surround sound system completes the picture.

The Apex was set up in iRacing mode for us with a full race BMW Z4 GT3 as the car and the track was, at our request, CTMP.  At first, we sucked.  So badly in fact that it was quite a while before any of us recorded a lap time—we simply found that we could not complete a lap without crashing!  Each of us has literally hundreds if not thousands of laps under our belt at that track and we all run in the Black group.  None of us has ever crashed and yet here we were being made to look foolish by a bunch of electronic wizardry – humiliating!  Now, I can tell you that the BMW was extremely twitchy, the steering very sensitive, and the power delivery and amount of torque astonishing—but none of that really explains why we were quite so incom­petent.  After all, just before strapping in, we had witnessed Nathan Kelly of SCB deliver a blistering lap in the very same car, so it is possible.  Slowly, very slowly we began to master the beast and after two and a half hours, Brandon was consistently putting down some respectable lap times.  Chris and I struggled but did improve.

Before our three hours was up, we all decided to call it a day, not least because we all felt somewhat motion sick!  That, we decided, was due to the strange effects that you experience when standing next to the Apex, watching all the visual clues of motion while actually remaining physi­cally motionless.  Our collective opinion, thrashed out over dinner and a few cold ones later that evening, was that while good, the system did not fully replicate the full ex­perience.  In particular, we felt the lack of fore and aft pitch motion on the SCB unit meant that we found it difficult to judge speeds—and in particular rates of deceleration under braking.

DSC05594And then a strange thing happened.  A few days later, I returned to SCB with a friend who has never driven on-track but does have a lot of video racing experience.  Using exactly the same set up, he mastered the sensitive steering in just five laps and then proceeded to lay down fast and very smooth laps.  After a half hour, he had beaten Brandon’s previous fastest time of the day by no less than 5.5 seconds, an extraordinary result.

And then an even stranger thing happened.  Ilker thought I’d find another sim, R-Factor, to be more realistic—he uses it for practising new tracks and says that it mimics to perfection the set up and feel of his Cup car.  While the track remained the same, the car this time was a Ferrari 458 Challenge.  The graphics were not so good—but oh boy, it was an entirely different experience!  Even with a less than perfectly dialed-in car, I felt completely at home—it was just like the real thing and the mid-engined 458 did exactly what I expected it to do.  Now the tables were turned as I banged out lap times far better than those of my video-racing friend.

So would I use the Apex on a regular basis?  You bet, but only with R-Factor or R-Factor 2. With that setup, you have a totally engaging and fully immersive experience that can doubtless keep the ring rust at bay.

Next month, I will report on the PBOC Winterfest at Sebring and my first Chin Motorsports event of 2016.

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