Interview with a Rally Driver – Viv Dilkes Frayne

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been friends with Viv for many years now and he’s been an instrumental figure in helping me learn how to steer around a race track however, as one of the quieter members of the crew, there’s a large side to Viv outside of a tarmac circuit that we don’t usually hear about!

When he’s not assisting others with driving tuition at Winton, Viv is one of those crazy people that think hurtling through a forest at insane speed trying to avoid trees is fun.

A few weeks back, Viv was driving at a Rally which was quite close to Melbourne (in the Yarra Valley) and he invited me to come spectate knowing that I had no excuse not to come and watch him for the first time

NB: In retrospect, probably another one of his ploys to try ruin/enrich my life :P- See previous post.

So on Sunday morning in September, I set off with Jally and Peter not really knowing what to expect.

As a fan of WRC back in the Solberg/Loeb days I’d always thought that rally drivers were the best drivers in the world however, nothing had prepared me for this.

It was an eye opening and intoxicating experience. Witnessing first hand with my own eyes their ability to navigate an ever changing surface with varying weather conditions while trying to avoid crashing into the rest of the forest is something that has to be seen, heard and felt in person to truly appreciate.

I had an absolute blast and attempted to take photos to capture the day but honestly what better way to give you guys some insight into the mind of a Rally driver than by interviewing a Rally driver!

The below is my interview with Viv with questions myself as well as some random reader questions.

Photos: Pics I took at the Yarra Valley Rally and some I stole from Viv’s Facebook page taken by John Doutch.

Viv and his co driver Jayson checking in to the Rally with Facebook. 😛

History:

1) How did you get into Rallying?

Watching motorsport as a kid, I was into F1 and SBK racing but nothing compared to watching Possum Bourne, Cody Crocker and Simon Evans driving Subaru rally cars through the forest. I was totally hooked on rallying.

From seeing how fast I could ride my bike around the block, to hire karts with friends, I loved racing and going fast.

It wasn’t until I had my first full time job that I had money to spend on organised motorsport. I had to buy a Subaru.

Through a work friend, I was invited to join a skid pan day with EXE. The event was split between skid pan and two short timed road stages (mini wang and long wang). The skid pan was fun, but the road stages were epic!!

From there, things escalated insanely quickly!

Within the next year I had somehow driven trackdays at Winton and Spa-Francorchamps, driven the Nürburgring and found myself at the annual Excel Rally test day.

2) How long have you been Rallying?

Akademos Rally is on Oct 21, 2018. That was my first rally 7 years ago. It’ll be great to go back to the start line where I first wrapped my hands around the steering wheel of a rally car, preparing to drive flat out on a gravel road.

3) What Rally cars have you driven/owned?

– Hyundai Excel – my first and most winningest rally car.
– Subaru Impreza WRX GC8 – absolutely unbelievable to drive.
– Subaru Impreza WRX GC8 – yes, other one, equally as good.
– Ford Fiesta R2

4) Tell us a bit about the differences between them all.

The Excel is a brilliant car to start rallying in. It’s nimble, balanced, low cost and parts are plentiful. When learning to read blind gravel roads, listen to directions from a co-driver and feel how a car reacts on different road surfaces, you appreciate the extra time you get from the limited power of the Excel. Having said that, once you get it wound up, it’s not unusual to top 150kph. It just takes a little longer to get there.

Viv behind the wheel of the Excel. Photo: John Doutch

The WRX is a different beast. I jumped from entry level straight to one of the fastest rally cars in Australia. It’s hard to describe the experience of driving a high power 4wd rally car in competition. Everything happens so quickly and the speed is so high that it’s hard to stay ahead of the car. You have to think so far ahead that the car control itself becomes instinctive. You need to process the pacenotes 2 or 3 corners ahead. And it’s not really a car you can drive slowly. The sequential gearbox and low-end torque encourage you to keep pulling gears, the big brakes urge you to brake late and the diffs make it feel like you can carry incomprehensible speed through the corners.

Viv in the WRX. Photo: John Doutch

Now driving the Fiesta R2 is probably the step in between Excel and WRX that I skipped. It’s a step quicker than the Excel, a bit more stable and has some great upgrades like sequential gearbox and good suspension.

The WRX:

5) Can you tell us about the lead up to the WRX accident and what happened?

We were in a solid 2nd position in the Victorian Rally Championship (VRC) after two podium finishes in the first two rallies. Darren Windus had a clear lead and had shown that he was a level above, but he missed this event, instead giving the keys to his son Arron. So there’s a good chance that had we finished the rally, we would have been leading the championship. That all went pear-shaped 5km into SS1 where Tracey and I lay on the road injured with our car on fire, while Arron and co-driver Joe tried to put out the flames under the bonnet.

The rally started like any other. Chris Ellis had prepared the car well, Tracey and I had done a good recce the day before and written notes we were happy with. Our goal as always was to have a clean run and drive well.

We knew SS1 was a dangerous stage, with tricky surface and a lot of trees near the road. That’s not unusual for a rally. We knew we had to keep it tidy on this stage and drive with more precision than the other stages, which were more open and flowing. It was also the first rally after a break, so I knew it would take some time for me to get back up to speed.

I had the normal calm excitement and anticipation on the start line. This was a self-start rally, so we watched the countdown on our in car RallySafe unit. Straight away from the launch, it felt good to be back in the rally car. I could feel the surge of the power, the tyres scrambling for grip and the diffs working to maximise the acceleration.

The first couple of km were narrow and twisty, with stumps and logs on the apexes of corners and plenty of trees to catch mistakes, so we kept it neat, trying to drive fast enough to make the car handle properly but with a margin to drive precise lines. A nibble on the handbrake in the slow corners.

At the bottom of a short downhill straight, there was a bump, then a dip into a fast right-left corner. You don’t just leave the road and hit a tree. There are always several things that contribute. In our case there were many factors, but in short, we entered at high speed and got the line wrong over the bump, which put us off line for the right, into the left. As we left the road, a log damaged a wheel and made it harder to control. We hit the tree head on in the centre of the front bumper. It all happened within a couple of seconds, but I remember every moment.

From the moment of impact, the rally safety procedures kicked in and the organisers and first response teams were brilliant in how quickly they were able to respond. Thanks to the RallySafe system and the planning of the rally organisers.

That was the end of our season, the end of the car and the start of a tough recovery for us.

6) Are you still as confident in your skills as before your big accident? – Charlie C

It was months before I was allowed to drive, so there was no chance to get straight back on the horse. I also didn’t have a car to drive. The next year in the absence of rallying, I did a full season with IKC hire kart racing and Nugget Nationals time attack. That helped to rebuild my confidence. I still don’t have the same level of commitment in the car as before.

7) What made you decide to go back to rallying after the crash, did you at any stage think that you didn’t want to? – Steve K

You don’t lose a lifelong passion overnight, so I was pretty sure I’d get back to rallying. I also had a lot of support from everyone, especially Jally and my family.

I don’t know whether I’ll do it at the same level, competing for a state championship. That takes a high level of commitment both in the car and financially. But I still love driving on gravel and rallying is the safest way to do that. You control the risks by how hard you push and how much you invest in safety gear. Before the accident, we spent a lot of money on having the best safety gear and it proved to be worth it. The HANS devices in particular literally saved our necks. I’m glad I did go back. I have really enjoyed it since coming back this year.

The Fiesta:

8) How did you manage to get a seat in the Fiesta?

Looking back to the Excel Rally training day where I went to take a first look at entering rallying, it was John Carney who offered me a drive of his Excel for my first rally experience behind the wheel. He has supported many drivers trying to start out in the sport.

He sold me an Excel Rally car and I joined his team Gunnawyn Motorsport. We won the next two years of the Excel series together, then upgraded to the Subaru and finished 2nd in VRC.

After a couple of years apart, John had various other projects and one was kicking off the Fiesta series in Victoria. The Excel series has been very successful, so it made sense that you could use the same concept in an intermediate level, more recent car to give people an option to step up without going to full budget turbo 4wd or insanely fast 2wd.

In supporting the series, John wanted to enter a car. He asked if I’d like to have a drive. Pretty trusting of him, given what happened the last time I drove a rally car. It was a great chance for me to drive again, join the awesome Gunnawyn guys and try out the Fiesta series.

9) What is your favourite thing about driving the Fiesta?
Any car with a sequential gearbox is a hoot to drive! I like the Fiesta overall. It’s at home on gravel. Fiesta rally cars are a great choice, because of the development work done by M-Sport based on the FIA specs. They’ve ironed out the bugs and worked out how to prepare them to be quick and reliable.

10) How did the start of the day go on the Yarra Valley Rally?

For me, the rally had extra significance. These are the roads where I watched my rally heroes compete. Back in the day, after spectating at rallies I would explore in my road car. But the VRC hasn’t used these roads since I started rallying, so this was the first time I’ve been able to drive them in competition. It was amazing!

Mt Slide road was great to drive at road speed in my 1984 Honda Civic. It’s unreal to drive it in a rally car unleashed. I was beaming!

11) How did the day end?
We were getting faster through the day and getting closer to the times set by Steve Raymond in the leading Fiesta. With 1km of gravel stage and one tarmac stage to go, we hit a small set of holes on the road in just the wrong way and it broke our suspension.


We tried to get it to the end, but with the wheels facing opposite directions, it wasn’t possible to continue. It was very disappointing to be taken out by the last pothole of the event.

Random reader questions:
12) Do you think an S13 with lift kit is an appropriate beginner’s car? – Kam A

Actually yes, why not. As long as it’s not stupidly powerful. An S13 would be a lot of fun. Chuck on some used gravel tyres and big mud flaps and give it a go at an autoX.

13) Have you ever had to pee during a stage? – Charlie C

You usually go before a stage, but sometimes the timing is so tight that you can’t stop and get out. On stage, you’re so busy that you quickly forget you needed to go. It’s also more of a challenge to get fluids in than out, ‘cos it’s very physical and can be hot in the car when you’re wearing a race suit, so you need to drink a lot.

14) Are big balls soft or hard? – Perry T

Soft, then hard.


15) Do you wear your glasses under the helmet? – Steve K

Yes, I wear glasses with an open-face helmet. I can’t see very well without glasses, so it’s probably best for my co-driver and the spectators that I wear them.

16) How different is it to a standard time attack event? – Steve K

If you think of time attack, but the track is gravel, 20km long, half as wide and you have to set your best time on the first lap. You’re pretty close to rallying.

Then add in some blind crests and corners where your only guide is a co-driver telling you where the road goes.

And you drive 7 different race tracks in a day, all for the first time.

A lot of rallying is about the navigation and teamwork in the car, as well as the ability to read a road for the first time. Where time attack is more about learning the track intimately and making little improvements to get faster each lap.

17) What skills do you find different to time attack or wheel to wheel racing? – D Napo

Unlike F1, in rallying you need to respect the track limits, because the run-off is trees.

18) What would be your dream rally car? – Ying

I drove my dream car… Subaru Impreza WRX GC8. This is the car I always wanted to drive and I’m very lucky to have had the chance to do it. It’s an unbelievably good car to drive on gravel, especially at maximum attack.

If not the WRX, I’d love to have a go in a Group B Peugeot 205 T16. Those things were insane!

19) We noticed that the cars with ‘misfiring system’ sounded really cool at the rally.Where is your misfiring system? – Peter N

I think the Fiesta is loud enough! Don’t you? 😀

It’s not like the Excel where people can’t hear you coming.

Nothing beats the sound of anti-lag in the forest. Although it does make it very clear to all the spectators when you’re not on full throttle.

No turbo on the Fiesta, so no lag, so no anti-lag.

20) What kind of events do you recommend for someone looking at starting rally? – Ying

AutoX is a great place to start. You can drive a road car and meet a lot of the great people involved in rallying. Everyone helps each other out and is more than happy to help you get started.

There are plenty of events around Victoria. Several of the clubs have “come and try” days, specifically for newbies. There you get to play at pretty low cost events.

21) Why are Rally tyres so skinny? Where are the 295’s? – Peter N

Grip on gravel is a bit different to grip on tarmac. You want to tyre to bite through the gravel to the surface below. If the tyre is too wide, it floats over the loose gravel and you can’t get any traction, a bit like aquaplaning.

22) Do you play Rally games? If yes, do you think they are realistic? – Brett S

Before I started rallying, I played a lot of rally games. Colin McRae Rally 2 was awesome. Not realistic but great fun.

The most realistic was Richard Burns Rally, a game released in 2004 and never beaten. The PC version was quite realistic and taught me a lot about car control on gravel. The original game was single-player, but it was patched by the I gaming community so you could compete online. I played for many many hours.

23) What is your preferred drive train lay out? – Peter N

Given the choice, I’d take AWD. They can do things the others can’t and driven well they’re great to watch too.

24) How important is a co-driver to your success as a driver? – Ying
About as important as windscreen wipers in the rain. Without them you’re basically driving blind, probably in the wrong direction… and you’re late.

Co-drivers don’t just give directions. They make sure you book into each time control on time. They do the fuel calculations. And they often run the logistics for the entire team, including service locations/times, accommodation, food, etc.

A rally would not run without co-drivers.

25) What character traits or skills do you like your co-driver to have? – Ying

The main thing is being able to work well together under pressure and spend the whole day in the car side-by-side without driving each other nuts. I’ve been lucky to have some really awesome co-drivers.

The best co-drivers can call the notes with expert timing without looking up. They don’t need to see the corners, ‘cos they can feel them. That way they can keep a constant flow of the notes without pausing to look up at the road, potentially losing their place in the notes.

They also know how hard you’re pushing and how well you’re driving, to tell you to speed up or slow down.

26) Is fear a positive or negative when rallying? How do you make the most of it if it’s positive or manage it if it’s a negative? – Peter J

Depends what you’re afraid of. You have an instinctive fear when you think you’re driving beyond your ability. It’s good to listen to that fear and back off a bit.

Fear of crashing generally goes away after you feel fear and survive, proving that you need not fear. That comes with experience. Often you’re too busy concentrating to be afraid.

27) Do you prefer gravel, tarmac, or mixed surface rallies and why? – Peter J

Is snow not an option? Driving on snow and ice is awesome! I would love to drive a snow rally one day.

In terms of rallying, to me tarmac is either too fast or too easy. I like mixed surface for variety and I wouldn’t say no to Targa Tasmania or Rallye Monte Carlo… but I do love driving on gravel.

28) What does the roof scoop do? Is it necessary? – Aytac

The roof scoop has two important jobs.

A car with no air con and two people in race suits gets pretty hot. Any fresh airflow is good.

It also creates positive air pressure in the car, which stops dust from being sucked in through the many little holes there are in a car; holes you don’t know exist until you go rallying.

With a roof vent, you can drive with the windows up. That keeps the car aerodynamic and dust-free.

29) Anyone who you would like to thank? – Ying

In motorsport, especially rallying, you always want to thank everyone and you can never thank them enough.

Family, teammates, organisers, volunteers, sponsors; everyone who enables you to pursue your passion. You can’t name them all, but they know who they are.

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Autocross: A Dirt Newbie

After being inspired by our Rally spectating experience last week, my increasing urge to try driving on dirt had been amplified.

It’s an idea that I had been keen on for some time, as one of my earliest ideas was to make one of the original Nugget Nationals rounds a dirt circuit however, I hadn’t found that many people were interested in taking their cars set up for tarmac circuit onto a dirt one…go figure.

The original plan was that after the Nugget Nationals track day in October (where the Echo will return for the first time after “BunkerGate 2017”) I would swap the Echo back over to the stock suspension and try find some Autocross or Khanacross events.

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Maybe something like this – Photo: Yaris World

As we were driving home from that Rally, Pete and I wondered how we could try our hand at a very entry level version of dirt driving. We were after something that was nice and beginner friendly, much like an open field with nothing to hit. Definitely something with no trees.

The story is a familiar one, Pete had a car doing nothing and again I had suitable “community wheels” doing nothing and as usual, things escalated. Within 3 days of spectating our first IRL Rally, we found ourselves entering the Victorian Autocross Club Series event the following weekend.

My alarm went off at 4:30am on Sunday morning and I headed over to his house to begin the journey up to Maroopna, 10kms away from Shepparton.

On the way there, we released how stupid this idea was but were also smart enough to check the tyre pressures seeing as my wheels and tyres had not been used in a long time.

The front passenger wheel was sitting at 19 PSI after our 2 hour drive. Nicccce.

We then also realised how out of our depth we were when we had no idea what tyre pressures we were meant to run on a dirt circuit. None of us had ever driven on a non tarmac surface before.

(Note: Thanks to Pete for all the following photos as I have again managed to smash my camera into pieces and couldn’t take any photos on the day.)

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As we drove into the event, we begun to fully comprehend what we’d gotten ourselves in to.

Some of the friendly regulars (who probably thought we had taken a wrong turn) were quite amused when they realised we were competing.

“You guys drove here in the car your competing in? Jeez that’s brave.”

The first thing I noticed was that the huge open paddock that I had imagined was actually a 1.4km track surrounded entirely by trees and rocks.

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Google Satellite Image of the Track

Secondly, I have found over the last two weekends the variety of cars that enter Rally or Autocross events is fantastically amusing and really makes me happy. We thought we were diverse with Nugget Nationals?

We’ve got nothing on these guys.

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Yes that’s a V6 Camry and it sounded awesome with it’s straight pipe.

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A Ford Laser Lynx! When was the last time you even saw one of these on the road let alone at an autocross track.

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No Evo, No worries.

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Anything goes.

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My personal favourite on the day was this Familia. He was also an incredibly skilled and entertaining driver to watch on the day.

I took to the sighting run and noted what a fun and technical course it was and commented to Pete;

“This would actually be a great tarmac track”

But alas, we were here to try our hand at steering on dirt and I can now say with first hand experience that it is nothing like steering on bitumen.

As the rally guys say;

“Bitumen is just for getting to stages!”

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Quietly shitting myself.

It seemed that none of our tarmac circuit experience could have really prepared us for this.

For anyone who has driven at speed on dirt before, this probably sounds incredibly dumb and obvious but it’s all quite foreign to me.

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I’d like to think that I occasionally have an idea of what a racing line is and where the racing line was in relation to this track – but I could never actually get the car to go in that direction on the dirt.

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One of the faster drivers was named Josh (he’s a 15 year old that drives the above EG Civic) and was quick to offer us some helpful tips.

“You need to keep dabbing at the handbrake and make sure you keep on the throttle while you do it.”

Oh of course…that’s everything that I’ve never done before.

As I went out again with his advice in mind, it immediately started to make sense with the car rotating with a bit more ease.

I’m still terrible at it, but it was fun to keep playing with the handbrake and seeing at what point it should be applied in conjunction with more throttle input.

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I’m both thankful and disappointed that I had my Go Pro set up in such a way that it doesn’t accurately capture the wild flailing of my arms as I tried hopelessly to keep the car on track.

I absolutely suck at dirt driving but am pretty relieved I didn’t bin the car.

Drawing from his years of Sim Dirt Racing, Pete was really getting the hang of it by the end of the day.

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Thanks for letting me drive the Mugen AMG Civic again!

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All in all, we’ll both give it another shot and hope a few more people come and join us too as it was a lot of fun and we met some really nice folk there that day who were giving us plenty of advice and support.

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Shout out to the Civic and Excel guys we were parked next to for being very welcoming and encouraging to us first timers.

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Also thanks to Rodger in the Buggy for the tips and lending us his map.

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Powered by a 1200cc Kawasaki bike motor.

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H Nats 2018

With every intention to track the Starlet at Hnats, my poor decisions shone bright like a diamond once again.

Unable to source 205/50/15’s in time (for some reason Bridgestone don’t stock a tyre they have advertised and there is a 4-6 month wait on RE71R’s) I opted to buy 225 RS4’s knowing very well they were probably not going to fit but hoping that some gentle persuasion of my guards may entice them to comply.

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I knew the fronts wouldn’t be too much of an issue…

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But the rears were out by a good inch.

The first corner was going to see the body of Tart make out aggressively with the surface of my new tyre.

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Before you say it, I refuse to run over fenders.

As I’m sure lower lap times will come from having the fatter tyres, the new plan will involve buying some wheels with higher offset which is a bit of a shame given the RPF1 were purchased specifically for this car.

During this guard rolling exercise, I was also reminded with why the Starlet is such a light car in full factory trim. As Human Perry put it so eloquently:

Like I knew the Starlet was a tin can, but it’s not even like a sturdy Suntory can. It’s Kirk’s quality at best.

Given I had my first track incident last year with Car Perry, I’ve lost a lot of confidence and have questioned my ability to steer a car around a bunker rather than into bunker.

That cage I was talking about when this car was first finished has suddenly become a priority and while I’m there, I’ll also finish the rest of the safety items with a proper race seat and harness too.

So bringing us to the week before track day this had left me with a paid spot at HNats and no vehicle. After chatting to PB King Peter, we found ourselves in the same predicament. His S2000 wasn’t ready either and we were both going to be attending the day car-less.

If only someone had banged up Honda sitting around…

Oh wait, Pete does but the only problem was it was sitting on some extremely unroadworthy tyres which were down to the belts. Fortunately, as I’d just purchased the RS4’s, I now had an old set of AD08R’s mounted to my CR Kais.

We decided that the only thing to do was to Captain Planet together and combine powers to create one car that we could track for fun at the event.

So on the morning of Hnats, I arrived at 5am for an F1 style wheel change in the rain before heading off to Winton.

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As we were going for super relaxo track day, we decided to pack no tools and the only thing we had in my back pack was a few rolls of tape which we were not even going to use for ‘fixing’ the car.

Checklist:

  • Positive camber on the front wheels – Tick
  • Sketchy brakes – Tick
  • Lots of race tape – Tick

This was the first time I’d actually seen this car in any sort of light.

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Upon arriving at Winton, we got to work scrutineering cars and signing drivers in. The conditions looked miserable with the rain falling hard and unrelentingly.

Both Pete and I were suddenly quite OK with the fact that both our cars had not made it.

Daniel’s AH carefully making it’s away around the extremely wet track. He also finished the day with the “Organisers Choice” award.

As expected, the field was largely made up of S2000’s and Civics.

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So I’m always drawn more to the one’s that don’t fit into that category…

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This Del Sol was spotted with L plates on and from what I could tell, his dad was giving him driving lessons. What a cool family bonding experience! Also, Accords that track are cool.

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Nick won the trophy for “Fastest Newcomer” in his Honda City.

Civics of every kind.

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Speaking of EK Civics, we had also decided earlier in the week that the missile Civic needed some more visual horsepower.

Expectation:

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VS

Reality:

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Geddit? It’s Peter’s car and it’s a Silver Arrow. Peter-onas and Y.Bottas…Ahh nevermind.

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I only purchased enough tape to cover the side of the car viewable by spectators. What I had not anticipated (and what we soon discovered) was the cars tendency to violently lock the rear brakes under braking and we both performed the exact same spectacular spin on the straight just before the S bend.

Apologies to our fellow drivers in Group A if we ruined any ones flying lap as we learhnt about the cars unusual braking characteristics the hard way.

Something also might have been wrong with the seat rail as I couldn’t move the seat forward enough for me to clutch in properly. I negated this by sliding forward a bit every time I had to change gears haha.

After one half wet/half dry session in this car, I realised that I was no F1 driver and the other guys drove it for the rest of the day.

Now where were we? Oh yeah, there’s a real track day going on.

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If you’ve just joined us, welcome back to S2K Nats.

A familiar car with a different driver. The Honed EF was on loan again this year and being driven by Kevin today. From all reports, I hear he enjoyed it as much as I did when I drove this in 2017.

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More ED/EF’s.

I get berated when I refer to them as the wrong thing so I’ll just group them all together now.

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With some reprieve from the rain, a dry line started to form and drivers were starting to push.

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And then it rained again.

EG’s.

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S2000’s.

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Berty won an award for fastest something that I can’t remember.

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The ultimate battle of the day was between Brett Dickie in his Prelude and the BYP guys in their Integra.

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It’s a crazy day when a 1:25.4 lap time isn’t good enough to win you the trophy for fastest lap.

This trophy went to BYP with a blistering lap time of 1:23.2.

If you’re reading this post, I assume you know what that car looks like and if you don’t you’ll need to google it because I forgot to take a photo. Oops!

For more impressive driving; watch this clip of Rhys, who also won an award for
“Fastest time made by a car with no fancy Kswap*”

(*Wasn’t actually the name of the award)

After a crazy day of rain, hail and shine, Victorian weather decided to troll us with a beautiful rainbow at the end of the day.

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If I missed taking a photo of your car, it’s because it was hard to shoot while holding an umbrella and being whipped in the face with artic winds. In spite of some terrible weather and not being able to feel my hands or feet all day, it was still an enjoyable outing and as always it’s good to catch up with people who I only ever see at this particular event.

Thanks to all that made this day happen, congrats to all who won awards and well done to everyone who stuck it out and made it to the end of the day!

For better photos and write ups follow or search HNationals on Instagram and Facebook. 

Autumn Drive: Coffee to go

Anticipating that this might be the last nice weekend we had before Winter was upon us, a last minute drive was organised to enjoy the beautiful Autumn weather.

Perfect subject matter for a perfect day.

One of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken of Adam’s car. It nicely captures the peacefulness of the day.

A typical drive for us involves a bonnet up. This time it’s Ruthran trying to troubleshoot his boost “problem.”

The community votes that ‘epic dose’ is not a problem.

Adam is always happy when it’s not his car with that has issues.

But we’re soon ready to set off again.

I anticipate that my time with Cherry Roadster may be coming to an end, so it’s nice to get out together while we still can.

Who knows where the road will take us…

Winton: EXE – Tart shakedown v4.0

After a hiatus from driving the Starlet, it wasn’t the easiest lead up to this event with the car only starting again at 2:15AM on Friday morning (a few hours before I was set to drive off to Winton).

Running a slightly revised set up with less power, a new swirl pot, new intake (thanks to TJB for the 1am fabrication) and a lot more toe in (because I had no time to get an alignment).

Happy I was even going to be driving at this event, the plan was to just cut some laps and see if we had finally eliminated the mysterious over heating problem that Tart was plagued with earlier in the year.

The morning started off well…

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The difference in track prep when you own a Honda with a Honda motor VS when you own a Toyota with a Honda motor.

I timidly went out for the first session with Grant, all eyes on the temperature gauge.

Things appeared to be in order and with that, I gained a renewed confidence to push the car a little.

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Photo: Vijay

I’m still running my 4+ year old 205/50/15 AD08’s as my grand plans to get 225 RS4’s were foiled by the fact that they don’t fit without significant scrubbing. GG.

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Thanks to Swain Sports Photography (Brett) for almost all the photos used in this post!

For those who read my last blog I was questioning why I keep persisting with this incredibly troublesome thing when I could’ve picked a significantly easier path.

I’ll be the first to admit it, Tart is a pretty horrible car.

In fact, he’s quite the “ruffian” as Rhys would say.

He’s a challenge to drive and at times has crushed my spirit as well as the spirits of the two pour souls who are often called upon when this car throws a tantrum.

Much like it’s owner, the Starlet can be uncomfortable and obnoxious, hideous on the outside but with a heart of gold.

As the saying goes, ‘It can’t rain forever’ and when the cloud eventually clears only the tiniest amount of sunshine*  is required to reveal enormous clarity.

*NB: Sunshine refers to track laps.

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Perfectly Imperfect.

It’s you.
It’s always been you.
No silly Honda could ever tempt me away.

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Photo: Lawrence

A+++ would drive again.

I’m not sure Tart quite feels the same way about me as there appears to be a very fine line between the car loving me or hating me.

See:
Exhibit A –

 Exhibit B –

On this day, there were no PB’s to be had ( a 1:39.2 puts me over half a second off my old time last year) but it didn’t even really matter because the fact it was out there driving around was enough.

Should I be faster in this car? Absolutely.

I’m sure a better driver would be a few more seconds quicker in the same car but I know with a bit more time and some tweaks I can get to my arbitrary goal set for myself.

I’m still a bit (maybe a lot) scared of it and am not pushing it in places where I could be. I’m still trying to figure out the right gear selection as I think I should be in 5th gear in the sweeper rather than lifting off in 4th to avoid limiter bashing and I need to be less terrified to grab 6th gear on the straight.

Note: you can actually see me hesitate to in the video.

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Black indicates gears used. Orange indicates what I will try out next time?

Whilst others have been kind enough to let me drive their cars (which I have enjoyed) I still can’t articulate why I like *this* car so much more. It makes me want to smile and cry at the same time but all I know is that it makes me want to “do better.”

Alright, enough of me justifying why my rubbish car brings me joy…

On this day, myself and Perry had settled on a little wager prior to the event.

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Today was a big day for Perry, as it was the debut of his newly completed S13B.

Yes, that is a Silvia powered by a 13B!

As the proud/dumb owners of illegitimate car children, we had placed a bet earlier in the month on who could complete the most laps by gates close.

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“A woman who drives a Toyota powered by a Honda waving to a man driving a Nissan with a Mazda engine.” – B.Swain

On the day, we both only halfheartedly kept tabs on our laps but ultimately Perry elected to sit out the last session after a damaged power steering hose started spewing fluid all over his engine bay.

We both didn’t really care about the wager as this outing counted as a huge success for us given none of our cars were on fire or upside down.

The day was made even more special for young Perry, as we surprised him for his 21st birthday!

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Custom plates organised by Winnie.

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Custom cake organised by Annie.

Unreliable rotaries are a myth.

Winnie’s FC was also running well this day.

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“How the f*ck is this car still running?” – A. Nguyen

All in all another great day at the track and a big thanks to: EXE crew for a perfect day, TJB and DCW for giving up their time to make sure the car would be ready for track, Brett Swain for all the photos used in this blog post.

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Honed Acquaintances.

H Nats 2017

Unfortunately the Starlet didn’t make the H Nationals event back in August however, TJB was kind enough to let me have a steer of the Honed Developments EF2 Civic for the day.

Because I am a fool, I did not consider that this may have been a trap.

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Thanks to Peter for this and the next 2 photos.

It’s one of those things where conceptually I understood that Honda’s were better handling cars with better suspension.

I knew that they’d probably be better than the Nuggety beam axle Toyota’s I insist on driving.

But I didn’t expect…it to be this much better.

In fact a little devil popped up on my left shoulder and said, “Imagine how nice this would be with a K swap…”

Followed shortly by an angel popping up on my right shoulder punching me violently in the throat yelling, “SNAP OUT OF IT YING.”

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As I was driving the car around the track, I remembered a flashback from 2 years ago and heard Grant’s voice in my head after he looked under the back of the Starlet for the first time and saw the rear suspension.

“Are you SURE you want to do this?”

Back then, he explicitly stated that the Starlet was a terrible base for a K-Swap… and now I know why.

The Civic is everything I never knew my front wheel drives could be.

I’m not very good at explaining how cars handle on track or why I like them (because let’s be honest, I don’t really know wtf I’m doing) but this car was incredibly direct in it’s steering and progressive in it’s handling. Compared to the Starlet, everything just felt so much…easier.

I’m actually ashamed about how much I enjoyed driving it. Yuck.

Given this car has the Honed Development Tie Rod Ends and Roll Centre Correction Kit I’m just going to pretend that this is some weird anomaly.

Honda’s aren’t for me.

Nope, Honda’s aren’t for me.

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I hardly took any photos on this day but here’s an Old NSX.

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And a new one too.

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Honda Enthusiasts were pretty excited about the above two cars, but as I am not one of them, I was excited about the 660 Kei Car adorably sitting in between the garages.

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Kawaii!

Whilst I was busy marveling at 1980’s Honda technology all day, I should probably mention that there was actually a whole event going on in the background with some fierce competition going to take out the class wins with trophies and sponsor prizes up for grabs!

With cars dipping into the 20’s and low 30’s, there were some seriously fast cars out on track but as this is a late blog post, you’ve probably seen all the updates by now (if you’re  haven’t and you’re interested search the HNats tag on Facebook or Instagram).

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After driving the Civic 3 hours back to Melbourne and swapping back into the blue Toyota to head home, I felt some internal turmoil building up.

This is confusing, why did I like driving a car that I’ve spent my whole life avoiding?

As Perry once said to me:

“Hondas are great to drive, just not so great to be seen in.”

Don’t worry Ying, you’ll drive the black Toyota at the next event.

It will all make sense again. 😉

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A great day out thanks to the H Nats/EXE/Honed Developments crew.

Grape Kings: From weekend warriors to seasonal sailors

In true Grape Kings fashion, none of us were going to make it to the meet point in time.

You’ll note from the chat above, there’s no mention of Tony having any car issues and that’s because…well, he didn’t.

For the first time ever the rescuee has become the rescuer.

I should also mention that he’s purchased another more reliable Soarer.

Somehow, five months have slipped by since I last drove the MX5 (I thought it had only been a month or two) so that explained why the car battery was completely dead when I tried to start it. As I would later learn after stopping to fill up petrol at the meet point, it doesn’t hold charge at all anymore.

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Don’t stall it Ying!

Of course that meant that I would stall it 10 mins later trying to take off from a round about.

After a unplanned stop with hazard lights on in the middle of the road, a quick jump start and Charlie documenting my incompetence, we were back on our way.

On loan from the collection of Tein

Lots of long weekend traffic meant it was a leisurely drive with the group getting split up along the way.

But everyone knew where to meet back up.

Our breakfast.

In the Grape Kings on board arsenal.

Charlies recently turned the GX71 back into a GX71.

I have no photos of the new/old 1G motor as I was busy buying donuts when the bonnet went up.

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Doily donut goodness

As the Winter months set in, it’ll probably be our last drive for a while so it was nice to be able to feel the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair before going into hibernation.