The Competition Begins
By Frank Ewald
“If I had just a couple of more laps, I would have caught you!”
How many times have you heard that while you were out at the track? Did you smile and brush them off? Or were you worried because you could tell that they really and truly were starting to take chunks out of your time? And are you man enough to be beaten by a woman!
As a driver I have had my target – the car/driver combination that I wanted to better. It adds to the enjoyment of the season as you see yourself gaining on your nemesis, although in my case I rarely if ever catch them. Now I know what it is like to have someone set their sites on me. I am the nemesis, the target that they are not going to be happy about until they catch, equal and probably better my time. There will be nothing that will make me happier than when that day comes. Why? I’ve been coaching this driver since she was a baby. The driver who has set her sights on me as the person to beat this season is none other than my daughter, Katie.
She was born in 1989. I purchased my Nissan NX1600 in 1992. In many ways the two of them have grown older together. When Katie was eleven or twelve she tried to arrange a deal with me so that she could buy the NX – and she is still trying to bump me out of the driver’s seat. In a little while she will stop trying to get me into another car; she will probably be trying to swing a deal with Mike Kojima to get one of his cars that has far more potential than our GA16 powerplant.
This season Katie and I are both competing in the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs – Ontario Region (CASC-OR) SoloSprint series. This timed race series takes place at local Ontario tracks such at Shannonville Motorsports Park and Mosport’s Driver Development Centre and the amazing Mosport International Raceway. She is #258 (white and grey helmet) and I am #259 (red and black helmet). We share my NX1600 so sometimes you may notice in the pictures that we have forgotten to switch our numbers. We are already at the halfway point in the season after four races, I can feel Katie breathing down my back. Case in point, I was in the washroom getting some grease off of my hands when another competitor looked at me and commented “Aren’t you the guy that’s getting beaten by his daughter?” With a polite smile, I responded, “True, she did beat me in the first heat. I was just taking it easy to get used to the track.”
Sure, getting used to the track. I have more track time at the DDC than I have at any other track in Ontario. What I was really getting used to was being beaten by my own daughter. The young lady that I’ve been coaching and mentoring for the past three years on the track and literally for her entire life. It is also wonderful that the two of us, who have had many father and daughter ‘discussions’ over the years, actually have an amazing rapport on the track and in the car.
I knew she was a solid driver, but thought that getting involved in SoloSprint would still be a year or two down the road. However, after having her at the CASC-OR SoloSprint School in early May I knew that she was ready to run the season. Every coach that was in car with her – some of whom I had tapped on the shoulder and asked them specifically to ride with her – were unanimous that she had the skill to drive. As a coach myself, I purposefully stayed out of her car and line of vision. Late Sunday afternoon Katie requested that I ride along. The adrenaline rush could have been fear as it was my daughter and my car – but I have to say that she was fast and knew what the car needed to do. My little girl, turning into corners before I would have suggested it, just pointing the car in the right direction and then going there. Looking where she wanted to be – something I have yet to master. She was ready for more than one or two events. It was time to enter the season.
Event #1 was at Mosport’s small track that’s also referred to as the driver development centre. Its twelve corners packing into a 1.5 mile course with just enough elevation changes to make it interesting. Katie was gridded last in her run group and, since we share cars, I was bumped up into a faster run group where I also had the privilege of being gridded dead last. There is just something about the GA16DE powerplant that inspires organizers to put you at the back of the pack. Fortunately for both of us, we did not stay there very long. While Katie did have one faster heat than I did, I was faster in that session but it was not so for several other male and the two other female competitors. She had moved well up the grid and when the second day’s racing began she was in the top half of her run group of about thirty cars. In SoloSprint you do not pass on the track, but on the grid and Katie was now ahead of a dozen other drivers. I was also moving up and, since the track is ideally suited to the handling characteristics of the NX, I finished off the day in a run group that had me running with an Acura NSX, a few Subaru WRXs plus a STi and I was just ahead of a Corvette. There is just a feeling of satisfaction to be driving a car with around 112 horsepower at the crank and to be running faster times than a Corvette – a car we all admire and would love to own. I should point out there were a few ‘vettes well ahead of me but I will not focus on that! When all was done and the times posted I ended with a respectable 67.455 compared to her 68.850, for third and fourth place in our class.
The next day was Event # 2 and, while it began with an early morning rain, the sun was quickly out and the track was perfect by the start of racing. The track configuration was the entire outer loop running counter-clockwise. This was new to both of us – I had run the outer loop many times clockwise but not the reverse. Katie’s job assignment for the day was to assist the timer, so she had easy access to my times for her ongoing comparison. The track was hot, our NX1600 was running perfectly and the grip that our Hankook Z214 tires had was awesome. We fielded a few questions from folks who wanted to know what turbo we were running, how the SR20 was running and cheerily pointed out that it was a naturally aspirated GA16 under the hood. Katie finished in third place with a 63.494 to my 62.354 which put me second. There were some challenges. I had been marshalling at the far end of the field with a sharp left hand turn. If you go four wheels off anywhere on the track your time is not counted, and I had to black flag my own car as Katie did one of the smoothest FWO that I have ever seen. She did not blink or lose a second – but rules are rules. When I did later question my own call after the heat, I was informed that everyone in the timing station had observed green on both sides of the car, so my call was quite accurate. We are members of the Subaru Performance Drivers’ Association (even though we drive a Nissan) so perhaps she’s picked up some of their rally skills!
Shannonville Motorsports Park was the location for events # 3 and #4. I had signed us up for event #3 only, simply because of the cost and it was a hectic time at work for me. In addition, with both of us running the car I knew that our Z214s would be at their wear limits as they had already seen a lot of use. We could not fit two sets of tires into the car and I was too cheap to have us take two vehicles on the three-hour trek to Shannonville. That is right – we drive the car to every event that we participate in, swap our Z214 R-compounds on and go racing. Each outing we have learned a lot about communication as what is happening with and to the car is obviously very important to the driver who will be running in the next heat. We both had job assignments so had very limited time to chat between run groups. Our tires had now gone through multiple heat cycles and were well past their ‘uber’ sticky phase. I started our day off by doing an on-track spin during warm-up first thing in the morning. Katie learned more about car control as she also experienced some offs, which, while they did not boost her morale, they did enhance, her knowledge of how far she could push the car. The SPDA Solosprint ambassador, Paul McFadden, spent time showing Katie the line while I was out on corner marshalling duty. Katie finished in fifth with 59.969 with me in third at 58.621 seconds. More importantly, Katie was not ready to leave and she called home to convince her mother that we needed to stay for event #4 at the Pro track. While I think my wife, Pamela, thought that I put her up to this, I am wiser than that. With permission from home, we relaxed for the evening. Katie went for a ride on a Honda 600 motorcycle and then a ride around Shannonville Long Track in a Corvette Z06 that is currently the car/driver holding down the fastest car on the track title in our series this year.
The morning of Event #4 started with beautiful sunshine and I walked the track while only the birds were awake. It looked like it would be a great day, but it went downhill from there. The night before I had put the street tires on in the dark and driven to town to purchase Sunoco 94 so we would have a full tank for the day. The two of us had used up half-a-tank on Saturday – compared to the guys running V8’s and had already filled their tanks once or twice – but now that it was daylight my heart fell. One of our tires was corded and unusable. We were here for the day and on a very fast Pro track were going to be relegated to street tires that were two seasons old. That sunken feeling lasted only a short time, as our key rivals and friends at Associate Racing had mounted a new set of Z214s on their Honda Fit and they were more than happy to share one of their ‘discards’ with us. Well worn, but a wonderful gift that kept us in the running. Katie and I both had clean sessions as we pushed the car as hard as we could. The Pro configuration has a fast third gear right followed by a lightly banked third gear left. A couple of more turns including a 180 degree second gear turn that brought us out onto the straightaway that is also used for quarter mile drag racing. Obviously, we lost ground here to our higher horsepower competitors but we kept our speed up through the corners. Another second for me and Katie closing in on me with a third.
At the driver’s meeting it was announced that Katie is in fourth place in the Overall Novice Championship at this point in the season. She is an amazing young lady who, I will say in print, is a better driver than I. Hopefully; I can continue to have a couple of more tricks up my driving suit sleeve so that I can stay in front of her. On July 4 Katie and I will be at Mosport International Raceway for a school. I will be coaching drivers and Katie will be a participant. She has previously had 90 minutes on the track, but more seat time is mandatory. July 5th will be the next SoloSprint event. Stay tuned for updates during this competition between Dad and Daughter.