Profession: Sailor, Olympic athlete
Hometown: Brampton, Ont.
The vehicles: 2007 Audi A3 and a 2010 GMC Sierra truck
- 2008 World Championships, silver
- 2007 North American Championships, gold
- 2007 Sydney International Regatta, fourth
- Competing with his Suzuki in the Canadian Sport Compact Series (CSCS)
He started sailing at the age of four and, at 11, competed in his first race.
Since then, Kevin Stittle has captured a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships and a gold at the 2007 North American Championships.
He also competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with teammate Oskar Johansson, finishing four in the Tornado class and narrowly missing a medal.
And now Stittle has taken up another sport – off the water. He loves motorsports so much that he bought a 1990 Suzuki Swift GT and souped it up to race at the track. Since it's not street legal, around town Stittle drives a 2007 Audi A3 and a 2010 GMC Sierra truck.
What sparked your interest in racing?
Motorsports is something I was brought up with. When I was really young, my dad drag raced. We would be at the track every weekend camping out while he was riding the car.
Then the family got into the beach lifestyle and beach culture, so our weekends went from motorsports to sailing. That's how I got introduced to sailing and had a career in it.
Now, our family had a resurgence in motorsports. We wanted something new and challenging again. My dad has built another drag car and I have a car that we race in the local series, the CSCS.
As a higher level athlete, it got to the point that I didn't even sail in Canada any more. It was all international, away from the family and home. The really nice thing about this is it's back to grassroots and it's back to family – my brother is driving and my dad is pit crew with me. I'm building the car and we're all working together again.
We've just re-embraced the whole motorsport side. It's come full circle again for us.
What modifications have you done to get the Suzuki track ready?
It's a very small compact car. For any good race car you need it to handle well, brake well, and to accelerate.
The easiest thing to do is to take weight out of the car. So everything is stripped – it's simplified down to only the things that need to be there. My car is down to 1,500 pounds, which is very lightweight. A regular car is about 4,000 pounds. Because it's lighter it can accelerate quicker with less horsepower and it will brake sooner with less distance.
I've done everything on the car myself. I've had the car since 2001. I've had every single nut and bolt off of it. I've refinished it. It's been upside down so I can refinish the bottom. It's been a complete education for me – all self taught.
Because it's an oddball car – it's not a Honda Civic – I can't buy parts at a mall for it. I really have to work hard to source parts from different places. The bumpers are from Australia. The steering wheel is from New Zealand. The lights are from Argentina. There's a ton of parts from Miami.
I've done everything from building the motor up to the brakes and suspension. I have some fibreglass skills from working on boats, so I hand-built a carbon hood and a hatch just because parts aren't available for them.
What have you tweaked the engine to?
The engine is up to 120 hp. Stock, it's at 80. One-hundred-and-twenty horsepower in a 1,500-pound car is better than the power-to-weight ratio in a STI because its lighter and you have the better stopping distance and acceleration. The next thing we're doing right now is a close-ratio gear kit. All the gearing will be really close so it keeps it at an optimized power band all the time so the acceleration is a lot better.
Racing is an expensive hobby.
It is. For me, building a car was a mental break and a release from concentrating on sailing. It was educational and a nice hobby to have.
What have you learned about racing?
You really have to be meticulous and work out all of the bugs. Last season, we'd drive three hours to the track and have a small leak in the brake and have to stop – that's it.
We're finally getting close to the point where we can do pretty well, except for the last event. The last lap of qualifying we were looking pretty good at getting podium in the event. But in the last lap, my brother went to pass a car and shifted from the top of third to go to fourth but he hit second so it over-revved the engine and bent all the valves so we were done for the day and that's a full rebuild. There's a lot of learning, but its fun.
What's your best time?
At Cayuga, probably the track people know most, it's the benchmark for reference in Ontario. We were 1:23.2. But the top car in our division is the high 1:19s. With the new gear kit and the rebuilt engine we hope to be close to that.
Why did you go with a Suzuki instead of a Civic Si or WRX STI?
My dad owned a '93 Geo Metro as a commuter car. When I got my license, the car got passed to me. I also wanted to do something different. It had the same '90s body style as the Civics that were popular in the tuning scene. I saw good potential for it.
Your daily driver is an Audi A3 – why did you go with that?
It looks so similar to my Swift actually. It's white and lower. I just like the styling of it.
It was a dream car and then a friend was looking to sell his car and I had the opportunity to pick it up for a good price. It had all the modifications I would have done to it. It was lowered with a performance exhaust and chip. It was already good on horsepower.
Why did you buy a GMC and not a Ford or Ram truck?
Family influence – my dad was always a General Motors truck guy. He's a domestic brand and loyal guy. It probably comes from drag racing. And the loyalty program was good at the time – there were good discounts on the truck. Its good value – that's what I was looking for.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Kevin Stittle's fourth place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games was the best in any Olympics in sailing. While it was the top finish in those games, in fact, Canada has won nine medals in Olympic sailing events since 1932.
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