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 3: Sophomore Slump?

By John Drysdale

My second time out in "the Rocket" was again in less than ideal conditions. It was May 22, and it was still cool... single digit temps (Celsius) cool. It was a two hour race car practice (5-7pm) after the Atlantic Sports Car Club performance driving school, at the end of a three day long weekend. At least it was not damp.

Generally I find that fatigue is setting in by this hour of the day, but adrenaline took over. On the way to the track I had a great back-roads warm up ride on my 1973 2002Tii . Nothing puts a smile on your face like driving smooth, twisty, near deserted country roads in an agile, under-powered, lightweight car with a school-bus sized steering wheel. Well, nothing except an e36 race car with a S54 engine...

Upon arrival at the track I promised myself that I would take it easy. I was a bit tired, it was cold, there would be other cars on track, and I knew my brakes would be a bit soft as they were on their last legs when I got in the car a week prior. Mind you, I had no point of reference the first time in the car, so they felt fine to me, if a bit long in travel. Today I figured I would work more on managing slower traffic, and gaining comfort, than on outright lap times.

A generational clash with my 1973 2002Tii, and a 1997 e36 M3.

Steve started the session, but with so little brakes, he did not see much benefit in additional seat time. He knew the car anyway.

Requiring much more seat time, I took it out, and the car immediately felt like it was running out of gas on the warm up laps. Like it was suffering and sputtering from fuel starvation, or like the car had a huge lumpy race cam. It just did not like low RPM's, But, as the revs went up, everything smoothed out. Oh, and by this time the brakes were near non-existent. Despite my goal to keep methodically shaving time of my laps, I opted to wind things back a few steps to avoid becoming "that guy." You know, with the freshly de-tagged gear that ruins his expensive race car before his first race ever starts. With weak brakes I had to be careful. I think that kind of discipline is important, and I thought it would make for good practice.

By the end of the brief session, I was only able to match my prior 1:18.5 lap time. This was a bit disappointing as I had hoped to shave at least 0.5 seconds off, but at the same time, with less brakes, getting an equal time meant that I must have picked up a bit of time somewhere else, so not all was lost.

The downside was that the car would no longer idle. Steve figured it was the VANOS system. With my first race in less than a week, I hoped it would not be something significant. I have a track record for bad luck, so I crossed my fingers.