Four Seconds

In 2017, John Drysdale, a newcomer to racing, partnered with veteran driver Steve Phillips in "The Rocket", an e36 BMW M3 with a S54 engine swap from the e46 generation of M3. "Four seconds" is the true story of a novice race car driver working to cut four seconds off his lap time in his rookie season of amateur GT racing at Atlantic Motorsport Park, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

PART 1: Prologue

By John Drysdale

How does one become a race car driver? Maybe more importantly, what makes someone a good race car driver? Maybe I have the odds stacked against me in this game called racing. I started on track with true tarmac and rubber when I was 32.

To by benefit, I was imprinted, like a duckling, with cars from a very young age. My dads stacks of Road and Track, and Car and Driver, made an early impression. When I was seven years old I was drawing air cooled Porsche 911's (and in 2014, I got one). In the early 90's I was playing "Need for Speed" in a Dodge Viper. I didn't really start driving to any degree until I graduated University in 2003. And I was pretty bad at it. My girlfriend (now wife) at the time was terrified (of note, I still terrify her now, but for different reasons). I grew up in the country and did not know what to do at an intersection in the big city. The lights were green but I would always slow as I was quite sure someone would come out in-front of me.

HPDE beginnings

in 2006 or so, my wife made the mistake of getting a PlayStation 2 to play "Rock band." The next thing she knew I picked up a copy of Gran Turismo 3, and a logitech wheel with two pedals and force feedback. Between the PS2, Xbox 360, PS3, and later PC, I logged on countless hours and laps on tracks all over the world. I quickly upgraded my rig to a respectable one with three pedals and a six speed shifter. I always drove with all assists off.

In August of 2012 I went to my first high performance driving school (HPDS) with the BMW Club Atlantic Canada. I had a new to me 2009 BMW 328xi (AWD). After the initial fear and shock, I was the fastest in my beginner class. Real life driving was much different, but in many ways easier as you had more feedback. The digital lessons I learned about smoothness and the cornering line carried over into real life. In that first school, only a black Ferrari 430 spyder did not wave me by... and I was catching him steadily before he pulled into the pits. I was hooked.

After that first school I became a member of just about every local car club that ran schools at our local track, Atlantic Motorsport Park (AMP). I was keen to learn, and did every school I could. Over the next four years, I brought out my restored 1973 BMW 2002Tii, a used 2010 Mazda Speed 3 that I bought from a buddy, a 1984 911 3.2 Carrera, My dad's 2006 BMW Z4 M coupe, and finally a 2016 Ford Focus RS. Lap times went from 1:31 in the 2002Tii, to 1:27 in the 911, to 1:25 in the M coupe, to 1:24 in the speed3 (with sport cup tires). The 911 then came back hot-rodded and did a 1:21. Finally, in it's maiden voyage to the track ,the Focus RS did a rather effortless 1:20 (in comparison to my assist free, snarling air cooled 911).

My 1984 Porsche 911 with a healthy dose of customization. A fun, but beastly car to drive. At 2400lbs, and ~275hp, It truly puts hair on your chest.

Brands hatch Indy Circuit. I had the opportunity to lap there in my first ever (manual) RHD car in the Spring of 2016.

In the Spring of 2016 I did my first and second away visits to other tracks. In visiting family in England I opted to rent a lightweight, gutless 2002 Peugeot 106 GTI race car, and a Caterham Academy race car, for use at Brands Hatch and Donnington Park GP Circuit respectively.

To me racing was not a matter of if, but rather when. I had planned to start in 2018. I was going to buy something fun, but sensible like a Spec Miata, or Spec e30. All plans went south when "the Rocket" came on the market.

The Rocket

The Rocket is a bit of a dream build in these parts. It was a lowly, but rust free, 1997 BMW M3 coupe that had seen plenty of HPDE track time locally. It had bad engine knock. Steve Phillips of ISI Automotive, with a partner, purchased this car, and Steve began to turn it into a full out race car. No corners were cut: Top to bottom this was a professional build. S54 engine swap, MCS suspension, full fire suppression and roll cage, full telemetry. In our neck of the woods it was considered to be quite the "Hollywood" build. And it was Quick!

In it's maiden year of local competition, it dominated its class and won the class championship. On Hoosiers it did under a 1:11.6 lap, which was the fourth fastest lap AMP had ever seen in a GT car. In 2016 it ran 2-3 races only. In the winter of 2016, with only 20 hours on the car, it was put up for sale. It was a chance of a lifetime, and I bought it.

All I can say is that the winter of 2016/17 was one of the longest ever. I was quite excited, but starting out in a race car with this kind of prowess seemed like a bad idea waiting to happen, even in my books...