I was keeping a nervous eye on the US/Canada border closure talks as I was signed up to head to Calabogie, ON in late July for Trillium BMW CCA‘s event. I and several of my track friends went last year and we had a blast. This is a trip I’ve been taking for nearly a decade now, but this year the pandemic prevented it from happening. With the announcement that the border will remain closed until July 21st, both my lodging and Trillium have refunded me my deposits on my trip. Others who planned on traveling with me had already decided to not go, so while I’m sad to not attend this year, I’m glad I’m not going to be the only Patroon member there.
Attended Patroon BMW CCA‘s Open Track event Saturday, June 20, 2020 at Lime Rock Park, and it was great to get back to the track. Things were a bit strange, what with social distancing and masks, but we got used to it quickly and focused on turning laps. This was a successful event for Patroon, and we were discussing what factors went into that. Was it the end of quarantine for many? Was it the open track format? We’d like to repeat the success of the event, that’s for sure!
All of May’s motorsports activity has been wiped out. However, there are attempts to get some events off the ground in June. For me, that means a track day with Patroon BMW CCA scheduled for June 20th is still on the calendar. We’ve been talking with the track, and until the current CT guidelines allow for gatherings of more than 5 people are loosened, we can’t attempt to hold the event. The track has stated they are not offering refunds, so the club can’t get money back if government entities allow the event to take place. We’ve changed the format of the event so that no in-car instruction is needed, meaning only non-novice drivers will be allowed to participate. Also, traditional gatherings such as classroom sessions will be ditched. Drivers’ meeting would be changed to spread everyone out, and registration itself would likely be changed to limit contact between participants.
Not sure when we’ll hear whether we can move forward or not.
My first time back to Calabogie Motorsports Park since 2017, when I blew a turbo in my first session and discovered the real value of my newly purchased 2016 Chevy Colorado tow vehicle and a 2015 Econotrailer. It’s a great facility, with yet another new garage onsite, and has a fantastic track layout. The track has a reputation of being a real tire grinder, and that once again held true. I arrived with a set of Nitto NT-01 tires that had six light sessions from Lime Rock Park on them, and when I left after three days, two tires had the outlines of tread on them, and the other two were worn smooth.
The hot weather that plagued the northeast US the weekend of July 19th, 2019, was also present in western Ontario. Friday’s portion was an open track day for attendees, so I had no students to take care and could focus on my driving. This was to be the coming out of my Evo after a season of mechanical issues, including the aforementioned turbo demise, a rebuilt tranny, a replaced head gasket, and my more recent CV boot replacement and rerouted brake ducting. These changes held up to a last-minute event I attended at the end of June with CT Valley Chapter BMW CCA at Lime Rock, and so I was hopeful they would do the same here. Spoiler alert: the car held up well. I was a bit worn out, but the Evo was good.
Days Two and Three were a traditional HPDE, and I was assigned two students. Neither of my students had been to this track before, so I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to sign anyone off in good conscience at least until the second day of the HPDE. This is no fault of the students, as I had a very difficult time as an A student when I first visited, taking three sessions before I learned every corner. The heat was brutal, and having back-to-back-to-back sessions of an instructor session, the A session, and the B session meant you were in a car for nearly a full hour. I ended up skipping a session or two of my own. As luck would have it, my A student got bumped down to C as it was a lightly attended group and allowed him to better learn the track without having to continuously watch his mirrors and issue point-bys. My B student was a very critical thinker on the track that quickly picked up a set of skills that made him one of the quickest cars out there, despite his modest HP car. Both were very entertaining gentlemen and underscored my sense of track folks being some of the best folks around.
Trillium Chapter put on this event, and they did a hell of a job. Isi P, the president of the chapter, wasn’t driving this weekend, and he did much of the heavy lifting in making sure the event went smooth. Need coolers of ice for the 40 cases of water for attendees? Isi got them. The food shack is no longer on site and can’t feed the 100+ attendees? Isi arranged with a local grocery store to make brown bag lunches each day for attendees to purchase. He did a hell of a job.
Another side story was from a fellow instructor I met from the Quebec BMW CC chapter. He showed us Americans an email that Quebec Chapter and Ottawa Chapter members received an email urging them to boycott this event. We were stumped as to why, but as we dug into the details, we found out that Trillium Chapter, centered in Toronto, was drummed out of BMW Club Canada due to a disagreement between Trillium and the other Canadian chapters based on voting rights – Trillium members represent about 40% of total Club Canada membership, so they wanted proportional voting as opposed to 1 chapter, 1 vote. I heard the arguments from both sides, and I had to agree that Trillium made a good point. Why should another Club Canada chapter with 19 members have the same say as a chapter with 1,000 members? We flew a pirate and beer flag as part of our paddock camp, and we felt the pirate flag held even more meaning after learning about this issue. Oh, the resolution for Trillium is they petitioned and were granted the ability to join BMW Car Club of America, so this move has actually benefited them as they gained
I had done some homework and verified that the local Calabogie Brewing microbrewery had some good stock on hand, so I stopped in and stocked up on some of their Five Island Watermelon Gose and Front Porch Kolsch. One of the highlights of this event is come 5pm when the track goes cold, we gather under our EZ Up and start bench racing with some brews. Being this far into Canada, there’s not much going on in Calabogie, so many just hang around the track and socialize on a regular basis. Our gang of 4 Patroon Chapter members were able to paddock together and visited on a regular basis, and were able to attract a steady stream of characters to stop in and visit with us. Great times!
Crossing the border note: I bring my stepson’s old BMX bike with me, on a rack attached to my trailer. The Canadian border guard took one look at it and said “Who uses that bike?” I told him I do, and I could see he was going to challenge me on that before he broke out into a smile and just accepted my answer.
STM had the Evo ready to pick up after a week. As suspected, it had a blown head gasket. They machined the head, but said the rest of the head components looked good, so the bill was less than expected. They also fixed the tune to ensure the engine wouldn’t blow the head gasket again. They also pointed out that there were some non-OEM parts used in the work performed, which STM replaced.
As it was basically winter time here and I had many pressing issues to attend to, there was no opportunity to test the car outside of getting it on and off the trailer. Next up will be a track day with Patroon at Lime Rock Park in May 2019.
Well, this was supposed to be a farewell to the 2018 driving season for me, but I didn’t get to do much driving. Back in September, I took my Evo down to Canton, CT to a shop called RRT Motorsports for some mods and maintenance. Several Albany-area Evo owners recommended the place, and the owner, a young guy by the name of Raif, was friendly and seemed pretty knowledgeable. I had a pretty extensive/expensive list of things I needed done, including:
– transmission rebuild w/ beefed-up syncros
– new clutch and throwout bearing installation
– GSC S2 cams installation and tune
Raif suggested carbon syncros for the transmission rebuild, and putting a new water pump and timing belt on the car while he was in there; it was a good idea and I agreed. Well, the car came back and seemed pretty strong: the tranny was now shifting relatively smooth, the clutch was solid, and the new cams and tune seemed to be rock-solid. Time to take it to the track and check it out. Prior to the track event, I started to throw codes related to the front O2 sensor, and Raif and I decided it was likely the sensor had failed. $340 for a new sensor, and I had my friend Adam install it, along with some new front brake rotors and pads.
Friday was a test day at Palmer, and since we were running the track in a clockwise direction for the first time, I decided it would be a good way to learn the track so to better instruct my student I was assigned Saturday and Sunday. The car was strong in the cold, sunny weather, and I felt really good about the outcome of the RRT work. But when I got into the pits, I noticed what appeared to be smoke coming off the right front of the car. Figuring it may be a stuck brake piston or piece of race rubber stuck to a hot rotor, I got out to see what was up. I was greeted by a growing puddle of green coolant from under the nose of the car. I checked the dash and sure enough the temp gauge was pegged. I had apparently overheated during the session and was dumping coolant – that would explain why the car got a bit greasy in left turns towards the end of the session.
I traded some emails at the track Friday with Raif, and noted the O2 sensor code was back despite the new O2 sensor. He took a look in the old tune and found that the 02 codes were all disabled previously, so I really didn’t need a new 02 sensor. That annoyed me – wish he had did his homework prior to all that.
After some troubleshooting with my buddy Phil S – a former Evo owner – we confirmed the water pump wasn’t leaking, and the thermostat was functioning. I bought a new radiator cap to confirm it wasn’t a pressurization issue, and went back out in the afternoon session. The car ran well for about 10 minutes before I noticed the temp gauge start to climb once again, and all suspicions pointed to it being a leaky head gasket. I had noticed that Raif was a drag racer at heart – his Evo is a 1300HP 1/4 mile beast – and didn’t seem to know too much about track driving or road racing. He told me he had turned up the boost when he tuned it, and it picked up 30HP over the last tune I had at STM (part of the back story). The added boost and dyno numbers were a sure sign I’d gone out of the safety zone of a stock block according to Phil, and I’m guessing he’s probably right. How to prove that it was that and not just a naturally failing head gasket on a 15 year old car with 88K miles of hard motorsports usage is the real challenge.
So, I turned to the local Albany Evo crowd to see if they had any good suggestions. They suggested taking it to STM for expert diagnosis. My issue was STM had told me earlier this summer they were no longer performing mechanical work due to the loss of a mechanic, but the suggester told me they had just brought a friend’s Evo back from STM 3 weeks ago. I made a call and was told they were indeed taking in limited work, so I have an appointment to tow the Evo out to Spencerport on 10/29 and hopefully get it all straightened out without too much more $$$ flying out of my pockets.