Everybody — please welcome Jorge Monteiro, an old pal of mine from the BMX days some twenty-plus years ago. We’ve never met in real life, because we’re separated by an ocean, but we’ve been exchanging BMX stories and tips for a long time. He sent in a brief write-up of his first trackday behind the wheel of his new Civic Diesel. I think Estoril is used fairly often for Porsche new-car press events… but given how Porsche feels about me, the closest I’ll ever get to this famous track is reading Jorge’s writeup! A lot of our native-English autowriters could learn something from reading this as well — JB
After buying my first brand new car, a 120-horsepower Honda Civic Sport 1.6 i-Dtec, I spent the first 6 months cruising at low and middle revs, getting better than 55MPG, I decided it was now time to push this little Honda hard and see what it could really do. It’s not a Type R, but it’s a well-made balanced car, with strong engine, good suspension and nice Michelin Primacy HP tires. What better place to push hard your car than a race circuit? No police radar, no street dangers (animals, persons, etc), plus you’re sharing the track with experienced drivers (or not… but too much complex to write about it).
Believe me that it was not an easy decision take a six-month-old car to a track day, I just prayed that nothing bad would happen.
I’ve never been in a track day, and I’ve never been in (illegal) street racing events. I try to drive safely on the road, but I confess that in my mind, I’m always driving methodologically in a kind of “slow racing mode”, saving braking points in my mind and trying different lines on my day to day course.
I also drive virtually in Gran Turismo “the real drive simulator” on my PlayStation 3, using Logitech’s Driving Force GT driving wheel. I’ve been racing with the Portuguese GT PS Community all the championships for 2 years. I’ve learned a lot about driving techniques and the physics and I’m much smoother now in the game. What about in real life? This track day would be the opportunity to get the answer to that question.
I was registered for a 20 minutes Honda Day Session with Ebisu, my local importer. My car was the only Diesel out of twenty-five Hondas.
My 120 horse power at 4000RPM and 300nm at 2000 RPM car totally standard, no mods, sharing the International Estoril circuit with a lot of modified imports with V-Tec inside; this was going to be interesting!
Estoril circuit was immortalized by Ayrton Senna’s first F1 win. It’s an old school track, very funny but tricky to ride, full of blind corners. The camaraderie was very nice in the paddock, with a lot of car lovers and some race drivers too. I was so excited to get my Civic on the track — and fortunate to have my wife as co-pilot!! She had the important task of watching the mirrors all the time and giving me feedback on the faster cars passing me. Our hearts beat when we entered through the pitlane into the track.
I felt very good in the track with my stock Diesel Civic. The car’s handling was very good. My strategy was to brake early, use the weight transfer to enter smoothly in the turn, and start to push early on the exit of the turn. It worked very well. On paper, I should accelerate until 4000RPM and change gear up. But in Turn 3, I felt a lag when going through in 3rd gear. It’s a little bit uphill, doing it in 3rd gear was too much lazy. Started to push 2nd gear until 4500RPM, with better results, but still with that turbo lag. This gearbox was designed for economy. And believe me, on that the Japanese engineers did it very well.
Back on Estoril track… due to the lack of power there was no need to brake on turn 4 so with a late apex, I pushed hard to the back straight (with turn 5) at full throttle. I braked 100m from the end on the downhill. I had 2 choices in turn 6: do it in 4th gear using those Michelins at the edge, or in 3rd gear and save my tires.
I have to say that turn 6 and 7 are the trickiest ones. Turn 6 needs to get an early apex and early throttle opening at the line on the outside. There’s no camber, so if you missed the brake you’ll sufer a lot of understeer. Many professional racers fail in this turn.
Turn 7 is also very difficult because it’s still downhill with no camber. It’s very easy to brake too late and lock the wheels, get some oversteer and even lose the car. After a strong brake for turn 6, in turn 7 my Civic’s brakes should be hot, so I always brake early, choose an early apex, release the brakes, feel the back of the car unweight. One or 2 times, the rear tires yielded, which was great.
Then smoothly through the chicane, into turn 12, and enter the parabolic turn. I hit a top speed of 168Km/h before braking at the 200m sign. Our maximum street speed limit is 140km/h, but my co-pilot yelled more… more… more… For that I have to improve the parabolic turn line and brake later. The first straight starts to downhill 300ms before turn 1, so it’s fantastic to hit the brakes hard and toss the car in. In the parabolic that is uphill I have to enter in 3rd gear and need to change to 4th in the middle of the turn, but the G force and the pressure on the steering wheel was so much doing it at full throttle, I was worried I wouldn’t have enough strength in the left hand to keep the line if I took a hand off to shift.
Then I realized that my left hand should be placed below the left arm of the steering wheel to hold it strongly on this looong turn.
Now I could get out of the parabolic turn at 110km/h and reach the fantastic 173Km/h at the 200m mark before braking at 150m for Turn 1.
I was getting closer to a S2000 and did my only pass in the parabolic turn. Of course that S2000 was driven by another tourist like me, but the last 2 laps have that kind of racing flavor on my mind, pushing my CIVIC hard to keep that S2000 behind us. This is my first Diesel car and this i-Dtec engine is only good for 6000RPM. After the 3500RPM the engine starts to roar…. But the redline is already there at 4500RPM.
I used to have 8000RPM engines. The gear changes are shorter but the torque is there really soon. At the end of the 20 minutes session, my wife and I, both felt so happy and excited with our HONDA Civic’s performance and this kind of ”From Virtual to Real Life experience”.