Lucky Dog Racing Canada (LDRC) is a Canadian-based endurance series for grassroots racers who are looking to race with friends in a cost-effective manner. With a simple rule book, which has a heavy emphasis on keeping things safe and cost-effective, LDRC is a great place to race.
The key component is having a race-prepped car, with a cage and all the modern safety products, capable of being reliable for two eight-hour days of racing over a weekend. Most teams run a platform that they are familiar with, so that repairs can be done on the fly, at the track during the weekend, or where parts, such as engines, are easily purchased at scrap yards. There is a healthy mix of brands, such as Honda, BMW, Porsche and Toyota. Cars are from all vintages and in the case of the Porsche 944, a proven endurance platform with lots of aftermarket support makes it a fantastic well-balanced option.
Newer platforms, such as the BRZ and 86, are cropping up in the field as a modern option, with a well-balanced and reliable chassis. Splitting the cost of racing across four or five drivers, in addition to the mandated use of 200 treadwear summer performance tires, allows for a team to participate in a race weekend for as low as $1,500 per person, or seats can be rented with reputable teams, with a no-worry arrive-and-drive approach, for $2,500 to $4,500.
Our team, Ultraray Motorsports powered by Mantis Autosport, has been endurance racing since 2018. I was introduced to endurance racing by a fellow sprint racer and jumped into this style of motorsport at Watkins Glen International, with a 115-car field. It was such a rush that, at any given time or stint, you were immersed in being door-to-door with other cars. I was hooked and the quest to be a staple in the paddock began.
Within a few months of that first race at Watkins Glen, I bought into a team, which would then go on to form Ultraray Motorsports. The key for the first few years was baselining our car to be reliable, so the focus could be on race strategies when at the track. Timing pit stops decreased the time required to perform the pit stop – fueling, driver changes and tending to cameras or tire swaps. Eventually, with our group of drivers, we could fuel the car and change drivers in roughly three minutes and do this, in addition to a four-wheel tire swap, in five minutes.
Pit stops are mandated at five minutes to equalize the field, as not everyone is in a position to engineer quick fill systems, using the factory-supplied filler neck and basic fuel jugs. Most series do not allow quick disconnects or fueling towers, so maximizing flow using the factory neck, while evacuating air in the tank and ensuring the least number of spills, can be tricky.
As a team of Porsche enthusiasts, we stuck with the 944 platform as it’s our passion, yet it also has an 80L factory-installed fuel tank and a 50/50 weight balance, making it the perfect endurance machine. With proper preventative maintenance and a healthy base block, they are very reliable; combined with the 2.5L and 2.7L platform being eight valve heads, doing a head gasket or swapping heads is easily done in the paddock. You name it, we’ve done it in the paddock – gearboxes, head change, alternators, etc.
As you may have read in prior Inside Track profiles, there is a weakness that we have experienced; the fuel rails can crack or the oil lines come loose, which are both not so conveniently located by the hot headers, creating impressive fires. I personally have experienced this twice in a 944 and we now know how to modify the fuel rail to be much sturdier and avoid sandwich-type oil cooler interfaces, as they fail in an impressive ball of flames. As these engines are massive displacement four-cylinder configurations, they have balance shafts which, if they go out of type, will shake the engine violently, loosening even the tightest of bolts.
Despite all of this, we love the platform and have learned from our issues in the past five years to modify maintenance intervals, to spot issues with the balance shafts and fuel rails. Each endurance platform has its challenges, whether it be a BMW e30, Honda with some form of K-swap combo or our beloved 944s; teams learn their platform and, through forced teambuilding exercises at the track, fix and push on to race another day. This is part of the alure of endurance racing, overcoming the odds of wheeling a sometimes 30-plus-year-old platform for eight hours a day for the elusive taste of the podium. The race gods somehow know, just as we are ready to give up and never come back to the track again, that a podium is the shot in the arm to keep doing it.
This year, like every year, has had its challenges. We started the season running our top-level car #668, a 1987 944, with a 3L 16v 968 engine. This combination, much like the magical language of mixing K numbers together on a Honda, makes a monster endurance car. We won the championship with it last year and visited the podium several times, with a few DNFs due to gearbox failure and a seat rail failure. It’s not as fast as the modern Toyota 86s, but with a strategy of consistency in driver lineup, pit stops and keeping the rubber on the tarmac, the end result is typically on the podium.
The last comment regarding keeping rubber in the margins of the racetrack is most important, as a 20-second excursion off-track could take an entire two-hour stint to make up. Being slower and consistent is far more important than banzai runs with lots of mistakes. Our second car, affectionately known as Killer Kermit, for its green look and winning yet menacing personality, is still in the Muppet hospital after a catastrophic engine failure. Like all grassroots teams (yes, with lots of sarcasm) we have a backup car #248, an ‘89 944 with a 2.5L, which has become a visitor to the podium as well.
Our five-event season opened at Shannonville Motorsport Park in April. Day one was a test day to shake the winter bugs out of the cars and was followed by the first points race, on the Sunday. Our main car, #668, did well, finishing second overall in a field of 30-plus cars. We held the lead for the entire day, with a very tight margin over Nummi Racing in their Toyota 86.
Following my highlighted rule above to the letter of the law, I proceeded to push the #668 heavily, chasing fastest times on eight-hour-old tires, only to swap ends and beach the car on the freshly paved edge of the esses. As I radioed into our team captain that ‘I’m beached, get me the tow truck asap, I’m sorry guys,’ the reply, in a curious and confused tone, was ‘say again??’
The tow truck was slow to respond and, when it did arrive, I quickly communicated to just pull me off the ledge. By then, the lead car got by and the others, who were previously laps down, were uncomfortably close. Still, a great finish to an amazing weekend, with a script-like ending that it’s not over ‘till it’s over. Our second car, the #248, didn’t fair so well, despite the drivers being on top of their game; the balance shafts went out of timing, causing us to retire the car halfway through the day.
Fast forward to May for the CTMP twin eight-hour race weekend, we were as prepared as we possibly could be, with both the #668 and #248 in tip-top shape. In fact, the #668, which has been a work in progress to continuously improve its driveability, was in the best form ever, with a recent brake bias adjustment to help avoid rear lock-up on heavy braking, which likely caused my final hour mistake at Shannonville. The #248 received a laundry list of work, as the balance shafts shook things loose and broke the oil pick-up tube. We had remedied the issues and changed our interval for checking the belt.
Sadly, the #668 would have a decent crash in the first two hours of racing, taking the car out of the running for the remainder of this season. One of our semi-pro drivers had a split-second error in judgement, regarding the location of a car he was overtaking, which led to the crash in turn four. The safety gear did its job and both drivers walked away without a scratch.
With only one car, my focus was directed to the #248 which, despite being slower compared to the field, finished seventh on the Saturday. The next day, we kept our pit stops tight and a consistent pace. At around 3 p.m., I started doing calculations with my brother, the crew chief of the #248, and we devised a plan to keep consistent and safe lap times, avoid getting held up by traffic and, based on this, be in the rear-view mirror of the leader by the last 15 minutes of the race.
We slowly chipped away at the delta, to which I believe, along with standing on the bridge with our headsets and phones doing calculations, alerted the leading Nissan Maxima to pick up its pace slightly. Regardless, a late-race double yellow flag would thwart our plan to battle the leader on the final laps and we finished a respectable second-place in the GT2 class.
This shift in my ability to strategize with my brother reminded me of why I got into endurance racing, to race and have fun with my brother, who has been a great friend, mentor and partner-in-crime in all sports that we’ve participated in together. The #668 crash was expensive and catastrophic to that team, however, it brought to light the original mission of why we were racing – to have fun and spend some amazing time together.
The most recent race on the schedule was race three at Calabogie Motorsports Park. Having only the one car in a position to race, our backup car #248, which was now ironically in the points lead for the GT2 championship, we loaded up our single trailer and headed to the track. Having one car brought back the simplicity of racing, when we started this effort, towing a single car trailer behind the RV, with drivers either on board or en route. The weekend went very well; we kept digging all day, with each driver keeping the car within range of the lead lap. As a slower car in the field, we went with our strategies mentioned above and slowly, as the clock ticked on, saw attrition of the faster class cars allow us to finish second, with the winning car sputtering on gas, so close!
On day three, everyone was back in the field after a typical evening of wrenching and returning cars back to race-ready. We had our work cut out for us, especially as my brother broke the push-to-talk button for the radios, when he was transferring the car to the starting grid. Despite tons of effort on the grid, with a portable soldering gun and our weak eyes soldering wires that only mice could navigate, we couldn’t fix the button. Our drivers would hear us but not be able to talk back.
This did not hinder us, as we devised a plan to communicate over the radio to the driver, who would then provide hand signals as the car passed the front straight. Despite this crutch, we raced through the day, with this method, including a very tired car shaking like crazy by the third and final stints. Again, we would taste the elusive podium for a third-place finish in class, keeping us in the lead for the GT2 championship.
Despite all odds, we fought hard through heat, mechanical failures, driver error and still pushed on. So many teams celebrated their own mini victories at Calabogie. After all, just finishing a 16-hour weekend with your car and pride intact is a win in my books.