Repair costs suck. Saving money for your new set of wheels is so much better than replacing that frustrating headgasket, radiator or damaged suspension damper. We know that we have to spend big money to fix everything, right? Well, maybe, or maybe not. Are you smart enough to find ways to save yourself money on repairs? Maybe you'd appreciate a guide? Here's some advice I can give you.
Let's start off with the easiest way to save yourself money; knowing your car. If you own a car which is fairly common, look at the parts that most of the owners replace most frequently. Here's a quick list of things to expect from various classes of cars. Bonus: reading every car's various problems will help you to understand how to prevent problems on every car.
Common Inline 4 Engines
Inline 4s are generally fairly reliable, given the usual manufacturer concerns, with things like fuel economy, reliability and the acceptance of the idea that lower power output is inherent. These engines are usually slightly detuned to allow them to keep running for longer periods of time, which is something that the majority of automotive consumers appreciate because it saves money.
These are the sorts of cars that really run well with only the usual things, such as oil changes, coolant flushes, power steering fluid changes, and other fluid refreshes. Keep an eye out for oil leaks at the valve covers. They're fairly easy to fix and even easier to spot. Keeping the valve cover gasket in perfect condition can prevent contaminants from getting into your valves, which will cause very expensive damage. You should do it on any car and engine type, but I've seen lots of cars with oil leaking from the valve covers, and many/most are Inline 4 cars, not because of the design of the engines, but because the engines are so common. Remember, you're not just replacing the valve cover gasket to keep oil in, but instead, to keep dirt out. A $20 gasket to save you a $1000+ engine replacement or rebuild? I'd say that's a great investment.
Subaru's EJ2x Series Engines
You've got a Subaru and you've heard the horror stories about head gaskets. You don't want your head gaskets to go bad, right? That's a hefty bill. Did I mention that every car with two cylinder banks will always have two head gaskets? That's why Subaru cars blow head gaskets so frequently. They have two of them.
Oh, and the static electricity built up by the function of the engine also does a huge amount of damage to your engine and head gaskets. When the engine is running, static electricity is generated by friction. Keeping your oil and coolant fresh can minimize the friction, for sure. But, there's an awesome way to verify that your car's engine won't develop static electricity. Every engine made after the discovery that engines create static electricity should be equipped with a ground strap. Your Subaru EJ2x series engine has several of these ground straps. Some of them might come out due to idiot/lazy mechanics, stray stones, (yeah, we know, Subaru is a rally car!), rust, or accidentally tugging on it while removing the engine to change the spark plugs and/or timing belt, because you or your mechanic forgot to remove the strap. It breaks. Replace it! It costs about $3 Canadian to buy another one, but it is the first and best line of defense against the buildup of static electricity, alongside the frequent changes of engine oil (5000 km. or less, please!) and coolant (once every year or two. I like to replace my coolant while I'm replacing my brake fluid, since they go on the same interval (every two years).
"So, a $3 ground strap and a $4 bottle of coolant can save my Subaru engine's head gaskets?"
Okay, okay, I can't promise it, no. BUT, I recommend it anyways. It's $10 total, after taxes and the pack of gum you buy because those sneaky department stores have gum marketing strategies nailed to absolute perfection. Well, it's not even $10, but the cashier is beautiful and friendly so you give her a tip, right?
Also specific to Subaru's engines, is the idea that boxer engines can experience oil starvation in hard cornering. At least, one cylinder bank will experience some oil starvation. Gravity pulls your oil away from cylinder bank 1 in a left hand corner, and from cylinder bank 2 in a right hand corner. If you've got a Subaru and you're about to hit the track with some grippy tires... You need to intentionally overfill your dipstick by about a tenth of a litre or two. Go to full and then a tenth of a litre beyond that. It won't damage the engine unless you put like an extra litre in, in which case the increased oil pressure does produce more friction and wears out gaskets, rods and things sooner. But, ensuring that your Subaru has slightly more oil than necessary really helps keep your boxer engine alive. If you can afford one, get an oil baffle. The EJ series engine is the one engine that benefits the most from an oil baffle.
Race Cars, Drift Cars and Rally Cars
Anyone who drives hard knows that some components wear out faster than others, when they're exposed to track/racing/rally/drift usage. Right? Right.
But, that doesn't mean that you can't do more to prevent damage.
Step one is engine oil. Always engine oil. In an upcoming article, I'd love to invite a friend of mine, Andrew Hughes, to discuss his aftermarket oil catchcan's function and so on, to explain why he did it and why it helps him get more power, and more reliability. Then, read the final paragraph about the Subaru EJ series engine if you're going to put racing slicks on your car. You need to have an adequate oil supply and an oil baffle if you want to put on proper racing slicks onto your car. That'll really help you make that engine last.
Step two is about your driving. If you're in fourth gear at 8000 RPM, don't go into second gear right away. If you want to use engine braking, you need to go from 4th to 3rd at around 5500 RPM, depending on your gear ratio. Going above redline does indeed slow the car down a little more, but only at the risk of blowing it up. This is the most common engine failure I've seen in racing, second only to oil starvation.
Step three is adequate cooling and temperature/heat resistance. Before you go out and shred the track, let the car get up to temperature. Put on some trustworthy brake pads and (rotors if you have the spare money), and get a big brake kit if you really need more braking potential. If you've got a big brake kit, you'll want an aftermarket radiator. Some uprated radiators are a great investment to keep your engine cool. I plan on purchasing a Mishimoto radiator for my Eilish the EK Civic build, and maybe a big brake kit. Keep an eye on your engine temperatures.
Step 4 is pressures. Oil pressures and water pressures are vital. If you lose oil pressure or water pressure, re-read steps 2 and 3, respectively. Shut the engine down and pull the car into the grass, in a safe zone, ASAP. If you lost oil pressure or water pressure on track, well, you may be spitting engine oil or coolant all over the track behind you, creating a serious safety hazard. I'm serious. My friend Milan was driving a Volvo S60 R at a track day, when he went into a corner and found a nice slippery oil patch. He ended up in the grass in a dangerous way under yellow flag conditions. Marshals were not happy with him, but he apologized and agreed to drive more carefully under yellow flag conditions in the future. With that aside, paying attention to your water/oil gauges could prevent more serious damage, versus if you kept the car running.
Step five is the air-fuel ratio. Things happen at the track that you would never expect to happen. A stray cloth clogged my intake in my old 2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS Sportwagon "Hanna," which led it to spontaneously shut off with no warning signs. I looked at my air-fuel ratio and realized that the car wasn't able to get any air into the engine. I took my intake apart, found and removed the cloth, and proceeded to drive home from the track with no damage to the engine or anything, all because I knew how to get the car running again, with more air.
Step six leads on from step five. During my loss-of-power experience, I used a diagnostic tool to read the engine data and saw that there was no airflow into the intake manifold, even with the throttle body wide open. Something was blocking it, because the other numbers seemed normal and there was no sign of any other damage or problems, but the car simply couldn't get air. The ability to see 40-50 engine performance parameters in a split second of work (plugging in the OBD-II reader) is the greatest way for you to save money. No tow truck, no expensive repair, no paying a mechanic to have a look around for you.
Bottom Line: thinking and planning, maintenance, and preparation will save you money on repairs. I've never had a car break down, except for the cloth-clog I mentioned in the article above. I don't mean to brag, I mean to inform: This is my method. This is how I've never had a car break down.
Lots of people think that driving in the snow is dangerous and tricky, and some even believe that they should never drive in the snow. They get a taxi. Maybe they don't have the tires. Maybe they don't have the confidence. Or, maybe, they haven't figured out the most vital key to getting to your destination through even the toughest of blizzards. For this article, I'll forego the usual mention of snow tires as a necessity. It's true. Assume that it is true that you need snow tires. But, don't worry, I don't want to reiterate everyone's favourite "he only crashed because he was going too fast for conditions" or "if you want to drive in the snow, you need snow tires." We're tired of hearing that echo chamber. Let's look at it from a new perspective.
Regardless of snowy conditions, tires, and grip levels in general, when you're trying to get to your destination, you need to leave some space between your car and the car in front. That's a given. Remove grip, add following distance. Add gravel to the situation, you should stay at least 20 seconds behind the car in front to avoid getting stone chips. Add snow, but not snow tires, and, well, the game changes entirely. No longer should there even be a measurable following distance. You need to be at least 30 seconds behind the car in front. Talented drivers could maybe do with only 25 seconds safely.
See, not even a talented driver can stop a car on summer tires in snow, as quickly as even the worst driver can stop a car in snow on winter tires. The difference is huge. But, again, we don't want to tell everyone to just go and get snow tires. You've heard that argument and it's all water under the bridge, if you have the true key to winter driving: an understanding of momentum, braking distances, and smooth driver control inputs.
The key to kicking winter's ass, this winter driving season, lies with the smoothness of the driver. You see, in the midst of the really weird spring of 2016, my region of Ontario, Canada was hit with a truly weird weather pattern. It was 20 degrees in places and I felt like I had to take my snow tires off. The winter tires were overheating and I barely felt safe with driving on them; there was very little traction, and the tires were taking some huge wear & tear damage from the excessive temperatures. I took my snow tires off. Two days later, the temperatures had plummeted fairly unexpectedly, and there was a massive icestorm. I needed to get to work, still, though, and I worked 50 kilometers away, (actually, I literally mean exactly 50 kilometers.)
And I was late. I used my spare time to scrape the ice from the windshield, and I most certainly didn't have time for reinstalling my snow tires, which would take 10 minutes or more.
Instead, I relied upon the same expertise I offer my students. I relied upon the judgement of my stopping distances, braking points, steering reflexes and general driving smoothness. And you know what? I didn't even slide, at all, for the entire drive. My WRX just gripped. I wasn't even on all-seasons. I was on Continental Tire ExtremeContact DW tires. Those are summer only performance/luxury tires. They're made for quiet, brisk summer drives on sunny or maybe rainy days. It wasn't the tires that kept me in control. It was me. It was the fact that I travelled 20 km/h below the speed limit, left 30 seconds of following distance wherever possible, and didn't over-react to the other cars. I planned my braking points and turn-in points to compensate for the lack of grip. I kept my steering neat and tidy. I kept my throttle (mostly) in check, although who can really say that they don't let their turbocharged 265 bhp engine breathe a little from a stop light every once in a while? Way. Too. Much. Fun.
And, it worked. This winter, do what the rest of the internet says and get some good snow tires. Or, don't, since I can't convince you to spend your money on something you don't think is necessary. But, no matter whichever tires you have, don't depend on the tires. Depend on your skill. Your skill and better judgement will not stop at a certain temperature. Your skill only grows with a wider variety of conditions. Get out and drive, even in the winter. Or especially, really. Oh, and say "hello! Like my summer tires?" to every winter tire driver who still wound up in a ditch by overdriving their car as you drive past. Did I mention that I drove past an 8 car pileup on summer tires? Funny, that. I wonder how I did it...
Drake's always been a Subaru guy in the time I knew him. He's the guy I'd go to, if I had a Subaru question right now. His knowledge of Subaru cars fascinates many enthusiasts. His passion inspires many of his friends, too. But, he's a man of a simple vice; he needs speed and power. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that when he decided to sell his previous 2012 WRX, he wanted to buy something even faster - lighter, and with more power. And, where most people would be terrified of buying a car like this - in another province, and with a known faulty transmission - he stayed his path, well aware that his mechanical competence and manufacturer affinity would see him through. Sure enough, he picked up this gorgeous example of a project car with minor blemishes, and proceeded to fix them. He's got plans for this car, rest assured. He had plans for his 2012 WRX, too, but decided that the 2012 platform just wasn't for him. Faster is better. Faster is more fun.
Drake's new project was born as a sedate 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS coupé. It was optioned with the Blue Ridge Pearl paint that it still wears to this day, and... That's all that I really know about the original equipment the car came with - the STi swap was extensive, and then the number of parts added on top of that really further hazes the finer details of the OEM version of the car.
he car was sold somewhere in Canada, as it's a typical left-hand-drive Canadian market car. At some point in its life, however, it received a Version 7 EJ207 swap, Deatschwerks fuel pump, [unknown brand] injectors, and a Forced Performance 76hta turbo. Then it was tuned by Neetronics, fell into the ownership of a man in Montréal, and then experienced hefty transmission trouble, before being posted for sale. Not necessarily in that order, though.
Drake, though, is no stranger to pulling gearboxes and doing transmission work. He assisted me with the clutch replacement on my WRX, and also replaced the clutch on his WRX, as well as replacing a blown gearbox on his WRX. He knew that - no matter what the problem - he could fix it.
He had the car towed back to his home in Ontario, and with only $450 and some spare time, managed to get the car running. The car now runs on a 6 speed gearbox, but with the Melons' Better Driving preferred fixed-torque-split differential for consistent, predictable cornering behaviour. Subaru's Driver-Controlled-Center-Differential never did appeal to me, in much the same way that the GT-R's torque split switching didn't appeal to me. It detracts from the driving experience; the very same driving experience that Drake craves.
Drake's 2.5RSTi was finally on the road, putting down its 387 wheel horsepower in a vicious display of manliness. Every shift causes a huge lunge as the power goes away for the duration of the shift and then a lunge in the opposite direction, pushing you back into the seat when the power returns. Drake's shifts are lightning fast, and smooth when cruising, but even the fastest shifts he can do still result in a big shunt, which is actually a very fun thing. It adds to the excitement and brutality of the car.
That brings us to now, where he just dropped by as he was passing through and took me for a spin to get acquainted with the car. This car is savage. The feeling you get from the cockpit is not toned down. It's visceral. It's aimed in every way at being fast, aggressive and fun. Lots of fun. The winter tires that are currently equipped are nowhere near good enough to keep the power of the brakes under control. The squirm of the sidewalls on this car as its shear, brute braking force pulls you toward the dash is immense. This car's brutality is its most notable feature. If you're beginning to sense a theme, that's good - that "brutality" theme is the theme of the car, played out proudly like the overture of the Ride of the Valkyries.
In a previous article, I mentioned the brakes on the GT-R and said they were "good." They are. But, braking in the GT-R is relaxing compared to this car. The extra 40 centimeters (400 mm) of contact patch on the GT-R is like cheating in a video game. Sure, you're still playing the same game, but the GT-R's brakes can't kill you. The car is too poised, too perfect to ever be as raw and terrifying as this Impreza. That's not to say that the GT-R isn't the better car; for anyone who wants a GT car, the GT-R is the king. Its name implies that. But, if you want an exciting, lively and fun car, this is where you come.
The sound this car makes, in my eyes, comes across as thrilling but brash. It's loud, unique and full of attitude. I named the article after its unique external wastegate noise, very similar to an exceedingly angry rattlesnake, giving you your last warning.
We headed out to a loop of curvy roads through some farmland. The perpetual gravitational pull of this car isn't the true masterpiece. It's not the sort of car that will rearrange your internal organs nor cause your eyes to bleed. Cars barely need to be that fast. But, the way this car responds to the driver, always willing to listen to every input and maintain some composure while still maintaining its willingness to effortlessly slide when commanded to do so is more rewarding than any surgery-inducing madhouse of a car. The car simply glides into corners, and Drake knows exactly how to place the car in the corner to get the best performance out of it. The pair work in tandem very well.
From here on out, though, Drake's focus is shifting towards lap times and so forth. More power, less weight, wider, grippier tires, and bigger brakes await this car. Methanol injection will add power that the tires simply won't be able to handle. So, Drake will install some wider fender flares which are bespoke to the car (no universal fender flares for this car!) in order to accommodate wider tires. With those wider tires, Drake will be able to apply more brake pressure through the pedal without locking up, facilitating the installation of his Stoptech big brake kit. Then, he will strip the interior and install a rollcage... He needs one, with the power this car has, the tracks he visits and the speeds he reaches. That kinda explains a big portion of the decision not to use a shift boot... He just didn't bother, since it's all coming back out again anyways!
Finishing it all up will be some bespoke aerodynamic pieces. I extended my offer to help him design any DIY aerodynamic pieces that he may come to need. We'll have to see if he accepts my offer.
And, with owning a car which is half rat-rod, half race car, and wholly custom, there comes a certain freedom to do whatever you want without concern for what the outside world thinks. They might not get it. But, who cares? It's more fun this way! You can spend $100,000 on a factory supercar and have some fun. But, I believe that this route is much, much more rewarding. Great build and great find, Drake. I'm excited to see what you make of it.
The Porsche 911 RSR has moved its engine forward of the rear axle. Why? And why was the engine behind the rear axle before now? We explain...
In order to understand why the engine placement that Porsche had been using since the inception of the 911 model in 1964. To put it bluntly, technology, engineering and science have all come a long way in those 52 years since the first 911 rolled off of the assembly floor. The car began with racing intentions from its very beginnings, although with a humble horsepower figure, barely in the triple digits. The now-world-famous air-cooled flat six barely breathed above 120 horsepower, in its first years. This was a fairly good thing for the drivers, though; it was more than enough power to propel the car up to speeds where the limited grip of its now-dated tires could easily spell disaster for any person whose bravery exceeded their talent.
But, from the beginning, the 911's designer, Ferdinand Porsche (in this case, the junior of the two) stubbornly insisted on putting the engine in the back of the car. Why? Why would anyone want to put the engine in a spot where the car becomes more difficult to drive?
There are two reasons, actually. The first one is traction. When a vehicle is stationary and about to set forth into motion, then the weight of the car will shift backwards, pressing the tires into the road. If the engine, and therefore the weight, is already sitting on the rear tires, then the car has an ever-so-slight advantage in traction. That's not the main reason why the 911 was rear-engined, but it's a big bonus to the actual main reason.
The main reason, however? Well, it meant that - once the car had gotten up to speed and was approaching a corner - the rest of the performance, be it corner entry direction changes, or braking, (but hopefully not both at the same time, you maniac with a deathwish! This is a Porsche!) or corner apex slip angle. You see, forgetting what I mentioned about the stationary car thing before, where weight transfer helps to improve traction at stationary-to-low speeds, there comes a point where inertia and momentum far exceed the amount of extra grip supplied by the weight transfer. In other words, with higher speeds, the very same advantage in low speed traction works against you, by hindering cornering performance. That weight makes the car lazy, and it won't turn nor change directions as quickly as it labours under the intense load you place on it.
That huge load placed on the tires overwhelms the tires, and suspension, and the car is no longer even nearly as nimble as it would be without that engine being where it is... At least, it wouldn't be as nimble as that, if it had a normal engine placement over the front wheels, like a C1 Corvette with even narrower tires. Placing the engine over the back wheels, however, meant that the front of the 911 became agile, where the car's front half entered the corner with such vigor that the rear ended up sliding out if you weren't careful. But, in capable hands, this gave the driver an upper hand. The 911 could enter corners faster, brake harder and generally handle better with the same tire size. Why did early 911s take aim at the Corvettes, even though they had very narrow tires? Because of the balance and poise of the rear-engined platform.
Porsche were so proud, that they continued using almost uniquely rear-engined cars ever since. Every subsequent iteration saw a power bump. The later cars became less hellish to drive, too, with further iterations increasing the tire width and the tire grip, until even big rear spoilers were being fitted to keep the car in contact with the ground, while also helping to keep the air cooled flat six engine fresh, supplied with cool air coming from the laminar airflow over the rear window. You know that famous Porsche shape? It was dictated by the necessity to have airflow staying laminar (attached, not turbulent) around the rear window to prevent overheating issues.
Then came the 1990s, when suddenly the 911 was in its final air-cooled iteration. By then, the rear-engined platform and shape had become quintessentially 911, like milk and cheese, or Queen and Purple Rain. The aerodynamic design was open for more crazy airflow trickery, including the first generation of the 911 GT3RS to go from a dual-purpose engine-cooling spoiler to a proper GT wing. After all, there was a radiator in the front bumper now. Which, by the way, if you own a Porsche, don't think that you're safe to hit your front bumper into something without damaging your engine anymore!
Downforce figures began to skyrocket with the new watercooled 911s. They rose and rose and rose, up until the governing bodies of motorsports told them to stop adding downforce to the back of the cars. By 2009, the rear wings on 911 GT3 RSR cars were getting to be massive, in some cases spilling over the sides of the cars, like a square muffin-top.
Then, without much warning, in 2016, IMSA decided to reduce the amount of downforce generated by the wings and diffusers, but only one the back ends of the cars. The front downforce figures could remain unchanged. The engineers saw years and years of work on balancing the aerodynamic balance to suit the rear-engined layout of the car disappear. Cars like the Ferrari 488 with its mid-engined platform suddenly had a large advantage once more against the Porsche. Something had to change.
How do you fix a 52 year old tactic that turned into a curse?
I have a confession to state out in the open: from here on out, the article is essentially an educated guess. I'm 99% sure that the information I am about to explain to you, dear reader, is somewhat accurate. But, I can't give you any details because it is untested and unproven. If you happen to have millions of dollars and want me to develop and test this theory in actual practice, I will gladly do that. But, for the purpose of simply explaining why this change would happen so suddenly and so dramatically, as to be - possibly - the first mid-engined 911 ever.
Let's recall from the earlier paragraph, that only rear downforce was reduced by IMSA. The drivers in the 2016 campaign complained and complained that the car was harder to drive and less stable than the competition, in their Corvettes, BMWs and Ferraris, which weren't rear-engined platforms. Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and the rest of the Porsche team were struggling to find a setup that helped to overcome the aerodynamic problems they encountered but there was no solution. The previous 911 RSR had been "grandfathered" into IMSA competition and its replacement was already being designed.
The concept of an aerodynamic deficiency was earth-shaking to the Porsche team. Porsche depended on its rear downforce figures as a lifeline. Front downforce wasn't even as important in comparison. You see, downforce is most effective on lighter cars. If you have a 1000 pound car, but 3000 pounds of downforce at 130 miles per hour, then that 1000 pound car, on the right tires, can actually hit around double the gravitational forces (aka g-forces) that act on a 2000 pound car with the same downforce figure. The math doesn't work out that nicely, but, the essential idea is the same.
For a full explanation on why this works this way, check out this video by my friend Kyle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abheF2qkenE&list=PL6R7zR4ZbGkOny_RGsc2V3DULdd2SPwSU&index=11
So, if reducing the weight improves the efficiency of the downforce your chassis creates, what does moving the weight of the chassis do to the aerodynamic balance? If you moved the engine of the 911 RSR forwards, you would have a greater aerodynamic balance towards the rear of the chassis of the car. That enables the designers to negate the problem of the reduction of the aerodynamic downforce of the 2017 911 RSR to comply with IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship regulations and homologation. And, according to the rulebook, Porsche were fully able to move their engine a few inches forward. This Porsche 911 RSR they unveiled for 2017 cleverly utilizes the rulebook to reposition their team back in the fight with an equal car compared to its rivals again.
When you apply science and engineering to a problem imposed upon you by the governing body of motorsports. This is what I love about motorsports now. The amount of engineering and so on that goes into these cars which is based in finding the most efficient, most simple way of changing something... It's amazing to see. This is what Melons' Better Driving loves to see.
Great job, Porsche engineers. That was clever. I raise my glass to you!
DriveTribe, the latest and seemingly best automotive social media site, is a creation that was heralded by the "Three Musketeers" of the former version of Top Gear, and current show "The Grand Tour" as the definitive place for car guys to go.
It's still under wraps, but I just wanted to make a post to drum up support and thank them for the raft of changes and updates that have been announced since I got early access. I'm not sure how much information I can leak, except that the platform is very promising in its current form.
What I am allowed to say, is that I have created my own Tribe, which I have called "Melons' CurbHoppers." On there, you can expect the best of the best of Melons' Better Driving content, but with an emphasis on the creation of discussion beyond just informational articles that I have posted on here. It's not going to be information, like the IMSA series updates I do regularly, but instead it's going to be experiences and ideas that you can discuss and share; think of it as Melons' Better Driving gone social network.
But the main thing I wanted to discuss here, is the huge overhauls that are happening behind the scenes at the request of the most active users in the Feedback and Help desk areas. Lots of bugs are being patched, lots of changes are being made and lots of feedback is being heard.
Unlike on various platforms I had frequented before, I feel like my voice at least matters in terms of input and feedback, which was a very welcome change when I was visiting the site the first time and realized that it wasn't quite what I had imagined. The site is fantastic because of the Content Creation tools, but I found that the bugs and problems and lack of customization of experience was going to impede the truly beneficial sides of the platform. My concerns were handled swiftly and appropriately, some even within a few hours of posting them.
Furthermore, the Feedback system itself was improved with an entire website system being brought online within a day. The speed of the programmers and developers in creating the new system which includes an FAQ section is amazing and very well appreciated.
Subaru Rally Team Canada heads through the Iron Bridge spectator stage at the Rally of the Tall Pines, 2014. Photo by myself, and posted onto DriveTribe. The full gallery of images that I got from this vantage point of the spectator stage is available on DriveTribe as soon as the public is granted access.
All told, then, I think you should be cautiously optimistic of what the site holds. Last night, after spending some time on the site, I was very pessimistic about the site's future, but numerous users and staff have genuinely reassured me... The future looks bright for DriveTribe.
How the public reacts, we have yet to see, but I promise that I will work as diligently as possible to bring it up to a top level standard for you, my dear reader, to enjoy Melons' Better Driving content into the future on this site as well as DriveTribe. Expect some genuinely heart-felt articles to come soon, some funny articles, and even some photo galleries and more.
Many cars have been heralded as the greatest car of all time. Even within the constraints of one segment of automotive endeavour, such as the sport compact segment, there is much discussion about which car is the best car. At the end of the day, it's all heresy; there is no best car, and there never will be.
You see, most journalists, car owners and car enthusiasts will all tell you about some feature, some design language, some statistic or some feeling. They base their informed judgement on the things that you notice; maybe a car like the Nissan GT-R has weird door handles that make it less easy to load your groceries into, but more "streamlined" (in a future article, I'll cover why streamlined isn't a great word for describing this...) at the track. That's the sort of thing that a journalist or an owner will tell you.
No car reviewer will ever really consider the idea that someone could ever modify their car, too. If a reviewer will complain about the lack of power from a BRZ, have they considered that the average BRZ owner will at least lightly modify their car? This is my old WRX, which I had gently modified to perform exactly how I wanted. Photo by droneplayer
But, beyond what my fellow journalists will tell you, there's a world beyond the physical statistics and design choices of a car. There are a few things to mention, beyond the usual things mentioned by the people who drive so many cars that they sometimes miss the soul/personality/purpose of a car.
I have a few examples of things that really should be mentioned more heavily in mainstream automotive journalism:
So, why then, do we insist that one car is the absolute best? I'm no saint, I have cars that I dislike, but in my years, I've never found a best car, ever. 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage is certainly the least expensive to own and operate I've ever encountered. A heavily modified 2004 Toyota MR-S with a turbocharged K24 in it, pushing 400 whp was certainly the coolest car I ever experienced. A 600 bhp Nissan GT-R was certainly the fastest car I ever drove. But, if I had to choose, out of any of the cars I've ever driven... You'll have to get back to me in a few years. I won't find the answer without climbing to the temple at the top of the mountain, for the answer lies within the person. A wise person would never claim that their car is the best car ever made; a wise person chooses a car that they like, or a car which gets the job done, or... The list is unending of reasons to appreciate what you've got.
Even the absolute best drivers can sometimes need help. There are many excuses for why not to get a coach, but no excuse to not learn from what a coach can teach.
If coaches were unnecessary, hockey teams would be just a group of teenagers or twenty-somethings slamming each other into the ice. Coaches within sports provide guidance and some semblance of order. They tell the team vital information. They give pep-talks. They setup game plans and they coach (etymology/wordsake at work) players to be the best that they can be. Why is racing treated any differently?
In my years as a track day coach/racing instructor/crew chief, I've heard lots of excuses for not getting some outside assistance. The most common one I have found, is usually some arrogance mixed with anxiety. Everyone loves to think that because they passed an Audi RS6 at their favourite track, they're the greatest driver ever. That driver might be in a purpose-built, racing-prepped Honda S2000 or such, but it doesn't matter; they passed a car with much more power and so they're the greatest driver. Meanwhile, the Audi RS6 driver is actually out at his first track day ever and he's only using 30% throttle and missing every apex. The slightly more experienced S2000 driver has no other reference point, except his prey in the Audi RS6. Nevermind the idea that an S2000 on R-comp tires or even racing slicks has much faster cornering speeds, no, that's unimportant. Nevermind the colossal size and weight difference and the difference in experience, the S2000 driver is proud of overtaking his prey because that proves his manliness.
Within that last example, the S2000 driver is ten seconds off of the pace of what is possible in his S2000. The Audi RS6 is 20 seconds off of the pace of what is possible in his Audi RS6 - it's his first track day and his primary focus is not crashing his expensive, unprepared daily driven Audi. The S2000 driver, though, thinks that he has absolutely maximized the potential of his car because of his prowess in overtaking "perceived-faster cars."
The Audi RS6 driver knows that he has room to improve. For months he practices, now, to improve. The RS6 driver hires a driver coach. He returns and drops 15 seconds off of his lap times now. Suddenly the S2000 driver gets passed by the RS6. He asks the RS6 driver which part of his car was different from last time. The RS6 driver looks bewildered. "What do you mean?" he asks, out of complete confusion.
"Well, it's just that, last time you and I were on track together, you were so slow! Now you're so much faster. How are you going faster?"
"Well, I hired a driver coach. The car is still the same, except I had to change the brake pads and brake fluid to keep my braking performance more consistent. My coach told me that braking is the key to getting a good lap time in an RS6 and taught me how to do it. He also mentioned that my brakes were inconsistent and that a lot of my anxiety in going faster were due to the underwhelming budget pads I had installed on the car. Now I changed my brake pads and my driving style. That's all I changed."
Sadly, however, the S2000 driver just hears "brake pads" and thinks that this was the entire solution. It wasn't. His S2000 - his pride and joy track toy - is very well prepared with years of testing. Whenever S2000 driver wants to go faster, he looks at the car. He spends thousands of dollars a year on tires and puts in a lot of effort to keep up with the latest tire trends. The S2000 driver is missing the biggest difference in the equation. The S2000 driver doesn't know that his grip is not perfectly linear, and that at higher speeds, he has less grip, so in lower speed corners he can push a little harder without losing grip. He's missing a lot of time. He's still missing 10 seconds per lap off of what the car is capable of.
Now, S2000 driver retires from racing. He sells his S2000 to a young hot-shoe who wants to use the car for time trial. Suddenly the S2000 is 9 or 10 seconds faster without even a single change to the setup. The young hot-shoe praises the car's setup and incredible performance. Suddenly, the retired driver sees the error of his ways.
I've actually seen this situation play out more than I'd like to admit. Okay, maybe it was never that conclusive that the driving was the biggest issue. Maybe the difference was only two or three seconds. Unless you toss rain, dirt, or snow into the equation, most drivers can still get within 6-8 seconds of each other. I've never seen anyone ten seconds off pace first hand. But, I have heard the stories from longer tracks like Germany's Nordschleife or America's VIR, of people being several seconds - or even minutes - slower per lap than the theoretical best lap.
I don't want to self-advertise too much, but, I will toss in some real-life examples that I have experienced first-hand. You see, a very good friend of mine whom I have mentioned several times within Melons' Better Driving content, but never by name, he has been playing sim racing games for several years. He thought that he had absolutely mastered his driving potential within these sim racing games... Until he raced with me and saw what I brought to the table. It was at that same moment that he sat back and listened to me telling him almost everything there is to know about racing. He went from being ~5 seconds per lap slower than me, to now challenging me to go faster... And don't even get me started on that day we went karting together and with my coaching he was able to edge me out by less than a tenth of a second. Okay, okay, I was bump-drafting him because we wanted to set a new track record, so maybe his lap time wouldn't have been faster if I hadn't literally pushed him to go faster. But, as a coach, when you long-term student is now suddenly faster than you, it's a double edged sword of both pride of a job well done and jealousy of knowing that your diamond in the rough is now more polished than you.
Author of the article driving his old car as fast as it would go with his ex-girlfriend in the car at Toronto Motorsports Park, Cayuga. The car experienced brake fade after a single lap, but that single lap was one of the most exhilarating things that she had ever done. Photo of a touge.ca event. Photo by Kevin Kwan.
That's not saying that I'm slow, it's just saying that my student is fast. Very fast. Like, he's absorbing what I'm teaching him so quickly that within a year he has gotten several seconds faster across the board, with better knowledge of suspension tuning and geometry, among other things. He knows that he has a direct line to me at all times, be it via cell phone, Facebook messages, or even emails. If he's got a question, he can ask me and get instant answers. People like him - people who love racing and want to improve their race craft, or people who love cars and want to build better cars - are what inspire me to keep going.
But, here's the thing: some of my students didn't always believe me and didn't always believe that I was faster until I proved it. There's a huge amount of arrogance associated with driving. Everyone thinks they're the best at it. It needs to stop. I'd dare anyone who thinks they're good to try to race against the likes of Pat Richard, "Crazy" Leo Urlichich, or Antoine L'Estage before claiming that they're the best. I'm fast because Crazy Leo taught me, and because I have like 14 years of racing experience. I really want to race Leo on tarmac, which is my specialty, but I will easily cede that he is a far better driver on gravel. I am not brave enough to drive like him on gravel. I'm not the best driver ever; therefore, I chose Leo to be my coach. He taught me a lot and I learned ever more and I got even faster by applying what I already knew to what he taught me.
You're not fast until you've proven that you're faster than a top level driver. This is Rally of the Tall Pines 2014, where Subaru Rally Team Canada was leading until the car rolled with a bad pace note. Rally drivers are a different level from us mere mortals; driving like this on roads that they barely know!
Certainly, if you can afford to, go and hire yourself an internationally acclaimed rally driver to be your coach. Or, if you can't, hit up a less expensive coach. Even I offer my services as a coach, with a far more personalized system and with more time to dedicate to you, and all for less money. Race Lab, Crazy Leo's own business creation is great if you have the time, money and so on. But, some of us are budget limited and so we can't always afford to have him coaching. But - regardless of whomever you choose to go with - coaching is something we can all benefit from. Ask Leo yourself, on his Facebook page, whether he learns from other drivers and whether he ever had a coach or someone to teach him. You know he did. Driving coaches are important.
The International MotorSports Association (IMSA) has long been known as a great staple of motor racing, ever since the days of the IMSA GTO series.
However, in the late 90s and early 2000s, it lost some popularity due to a rough patch, where some of the decisions made by the leaders of the sanctioning body were questioned by the mass public, and where the safety of the drivers and fans meant making sacrifices to the quality of the racing.
In 2016, however, things have now changed. We held our breath with anxiety, in 2014, as we heard that IMSA was buying the American Le Mans Series of yesteryear, as the ALMS was arguably the more popular of the two series at the time. IMSA had made some mistakes, some "ugly" cars, (we won't agree or disagree) and we were nervous about whether ALMS and IMSA could really join together and create the "United Sports Car Championship." At least, we wondered if they could do it successfully.
Well, to cut to the short version of the story, they did. 2016 was arguably one of the best seasons ever in the history of the IMSA sports car series, simply because of the caliber of the cars and teams, and the enthusiasm and spirit of the organizers, sponsors, media and fans. The cars that made it out to the 2016 races were incredible, too!
I do have some areas of improvement that the IMSA team could work on, based on the 2016, but they're all fairly minor, and I'll list them after the reasons why you should watch the series in 2017.
Reason #1 to Watch: The Cars
Obviously, the most important thing to mention when discussing the IMSA series in 2017, is the cars. There's no way around it. IMSA's GT field will have some of the best cars in sports car racing, some of which won't race among each other anywhere else in the world!
Beginning with an explanation of the class system, we'll introduce the cars. There are four classes that will compete in 2017, which are not racing against the other classes, but racing among their own class. Top honours go to each class individually, as well as the "Overall" win, which is mostly for bragging rights (like, for example, the Porsche 911 RSR should not have won Overall in the 2015 Petit Le Mans, but crazy weather meant that the Overall winner was not from the fastest class, which meant that a GTLM car claimed overall victory and had massive bragging rights, but didn't score any bonus points or anything.) You can win the race, even if you don't win overall.
Let's start with an explanation of the biggest class in the field, the Grand Touring: Daytona (GTD) class. GTD is known as the slowest class, generally, because it is intended to be the heaviest, least powerful class with the least downforce and somewhat limited modifications. It's all meant to mimic GT3 spec cars for international continuity between series. This doesn't mean that they can't win overall, as it has happened before in some strange races back in the late 2000s, but it means that it shouldn't. For a GTD car to win, things have to go fairly badly for every other class! This class's entry list for 2017 could include:
GTLM class, the Grand Touring: Le Mans class, is a step above the GTD class. It's still based on road going cars, but this time, they're heavily race prepped with massive downforce and more power and so forth.
2016 saw the arrival of the Ford GT, battling with the Porsche 911 RSR, Ferrari 488 GTE, BMW M6 GTLM and Corvette C7R. Those cars are expected to return for 2017, with no major changes to the series, except that Porsche is going to upgrade the 911 RSR up to a dedicated GTE car, which will still be known as the  911 RSR. The 2017 911 RSR is expected to make better use of the specifications to be more competitive and more evenly-matched within the GTLM class. The previous generation 911 RSR was actually based on the GTD car, and was therefore not fully optimized for the GTLM class, because the car was not immediately designed for that particular class. The changes that were made were able to make the car successful, but there were vast differences in the performance of the GTLM cars, which made the Porsche faster in some sections of track, and slower in others. It didn't have the downforce of the true GTLM cars, and therefore usually did well on tracks with longer straights and slower turns. This explains its lack of pace at Road Atlanta, a track with lots of high speed turns. The 2017 car aims to be competitive at every track, making the racing even more closely contested!
The Prototype Challenge class is a spec series, meaning that every car in the Prototype Challenge class is the same. Winning in this class depends on driver talent.
The PC class is an open-cockpit prototype series. What this means, is that the PC class is not based on road going cars, but instead was created with the sole purpose of racing. The car is not available for purchase for use on the road in any way. It's noticeably lighter and more aerodynamically efficient than any road car, permitting it to be faster than the GTLM cars with less engine output, with power around 485 horsepower. PC is the only class where driver assists are completely banned, meaning absolutely no traction control systems can be fitted, making it a great test of driving talent and capability.
The Prototype class is open to closed-cockpit prototypes, including the Daytona Prototype international (DPi) bodystyle, and the LMP2 bodystyle. DPi cars are made to be equally fast as LMP2 cars, but they are permitted to design the cars to mimic the styling of road going cars, with design features such as grilles, headlights, and taillights. These cars are essentially the same prototypes as in PC class, but they are closed cockpit, and make about 100 horsepower more. This makes them very, very fast.
Chassis manufacturers are as follow:
Reason #2 to Watch: The Tracks
America and Canada have long been known as the area where you will find some of the most prevalent and unchanged racing history, and most challenging circuits outside of the Nuerburgring.
With circuits like Road Atlanta, Sebring, Virginia International Raceway, Watkins Glen, Mosport and Circuit of the Americas, the tracks on offer from the IMSA WTSC are truly extraordinary.
The bravery required to storm through VIR's undulating section of turns, from Turn 6 to turn 10 full-throttle is unmistakable. If you thought that the Nuerburgring was terrifying, you've never driven VIR. Being on two wheels for most of the section of corners from turn 5 to turn 9, at speeds of up to 260 km/h is probably one of the most terrifying sections of track in endurance racing, anywhere.
The immense, stomach-churning drops of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (aka Mosport, because I'm a stubborn Canadian and I remember what it used to be called,) make the section of track from Turn 1 all the way through to Moss Corner (Turn 5) incredible. Turn 1 is flat-out with little run-off room. It's not quite VIR terrifying, but it's very, very close. Dab the brakes for turn 2 and again for turn 3, and ride the helical turn 4 down into the depths of Hell and back up through the rise of Moss Corner, which is so steep that it's difficult to walk on (as I found out in 2010, first hand, while walking the track after the American Le Mans Series races). The speed of the car will barely drop below 210 km/h through that section of track, before the braking zone into Moss.
The precision required at Watkins Glen, where the corners flow into each other, means that if you're an inch off of the first apex, you're several feet off of the next, and, if you don't correct in time, you're into the wall.
The tracks of the IMSA WTSC really set the series apart from other series. There's less runoff room, there are higher speeds, and there's a lot more elevation change and undulating series of corners. Sorry, Europe and Asia, we have the best tracks!
Reason #3 to Watch: It's FREE!
Since you can read this, it can be assumed that you have an internet connection. Since you have an internet connection, click this link:
That's right. There's a YouTube page dedicated to IMSA race uploads for all of IMSA's major racing series. You're welcome for the link. Enjoy it.
How Melons' Better Driving Wants to Make it Even Better
Before I go into this list, let me point something out: This is pulling hairs. There is so very, very little to improve that this list is going to be short, and it's going to be full of very minor, trivial concerns.
Efficiency is a single word that means quite a lot in the modern world. Resourcefulness stems from creativity. A clever solution is often the best solution towards minimizing waste and maximizing the value of the project. In modern times, this is becoming more and more clear, as people become more cautious with the resources allocated to certain projects.
Efficiency has long been at the center of racing. Why? Allow me to give an example. The* example. This is the best example anyone will ever find:
Dan Gurney, the racing legend who created the Gurney Flap and has various other significant contributions to racing to his name, was leading the 3 hour long race at Daytona when his crankshaft had failed. This meant that his car came to a stop… Mere feet from the finish line. The efficiency aspect of this? He waited a full lap at the start/finish without crossing, in order to only complete the number of laps he needed to finish to win. If he had begun another lap within the 3 hour time frame, he would have been expected to finish it. Another lap would have been unnecessary and wasteful. His ailing engine would not have made it; he would not have won. But, with the assistance of the banking, he simply coasted across the finish line, allowing the gravity to do the work for him.
See, this race from 1962 actually speaks volumes about the future of motorsports. Now, it’s no longer about just being the fastest - it never has been so specific as just being the fastest. Now, more than ever, it’s about conserving the cars, the fuel, the tires, and the brakes. While there are some tips for making the drivers more efficient within this online magazine, there are also some ever more vital steps that began way before the driver ever saw the prototype of the race car. Engineers are now expected to make the cars more environmentally friendly, more fuel-efficient and more aerodynamically effective than ever before.
The best part? Some of the devices invented by Dan Gurney are still some of the most utilized devices in modern race car designs. You see, racing has - despite everything you may have heard - always been somewhat obsessed with efficiency. Long before the daily driver cars of the public ever saw any use from the aerodynamic wind tunnels that racing teams were using, there were cars like the 1937 Auto Union Type C “Streamliner,” which proved that our obsession with speed was not meant to be wasteful, but which actually created the modern idea of speed through efficiency. Compare the streamlined Auto Union Type C with the 1937 Fords, and you will notice one of perhaps the largest, most striking differences between performance-built race cars and public-built road cars, that ever existed. You see, even to this day, the Auto Union Type C is one of the fastest cars ever built. The speeds it hit were incredible. How was this possible in 1937?
The answer to that question is staring at you, literally. The striking design meant that the relatively low-power (by modern standards) 560 horsepower engine was able to accelerate the “tear-drop shaped death trap” up to absurd speeds. Even the road cars were slightly rounded for aerodynamic benefits, but they still had the frontal surface area of 3 Type Cs, and several unnecessary “separation zones” (a term used by aerodynamicists to refer to areas of inefficient aerodynamic design which cause the fluid flow to separate from the surface of the vehicle.) Picture a car with a giant invisible bubble behind it, where the invisible bubble is the turbulent air which has been forced away from the bodywork of the car by an overly sharp angle or an unnecessary piece of bodywork, like pop-up headlights. The more efficient, the smaller the “bubble.” In actuality, it’s not always that simple, but it gives a good indication of the idea. The most aerodynamic design is a waterdrop; that’s not just a coincidence. The water drop is formed that way by the air around it, that it is falling through.
Jump ahead 80 years into the future, and the cars are much faster, and the engineers have a more thorough understanding of how aerodynamics work. But, it’s still as important as ever, or more important. You see, with the way that fuel continues to cost ever more, and the increasingly strict environmental regulations, every racing team on the planet wants to go faster with less money. Smaller tires, smaller engines, more power, less fuel… The design expectations of modern race cars are an immense undertaking for even the best design firms.
One such design, however, shook the world, recently. The Deltawing, which is a bizarre monster of a Le Mans Prototype, is probably the smallest race car to ever race at Le Mans. It still has four wheels, but it uses half the fuel and half of the tires of the other cars. It does this by reducing its weight and reducing its aerodynamic footprint. It still generates lots of downforce, but with less drag simply due to the frontal surface area being much lower, and having a very small coefficient of drag. This car can reach the same speeds as the old 1937 Type C mentioned above, but with approximately 1/10th of the amount of fuel required. Oh, and the Deltawing is much, much safer.
Road cars are the same way. But, the question begs be asked, what would have been if racing had not existed? How much fuel would modern cars burn, if racing had been frowned upon sooner? The answer to the world’s pollution problems is not to stop racing. Oh no, the answer to the world’s problems right now is to race even more, and to relax the restrictions on ideas to save fuel and make the cars more efficient, safer, and smarter. This is why racing matters.
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.