For me, one car stood out above all the rest at the L.A. Auto show this year. Not to spoil the surprise too early, but it may not be the reborn Italian sporting machine you imagine. Many of the others were significant in their own way, either in potential sales or enthusiast terms, but none had the emotional appeal of my number one. 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio The North American debut of the 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio was easily the most visceral and riveting of the 2015 Los Angeles Autoshow. Following a blistering multimedia presentation, the car rolled down a long catwalk, flanked by some very long-legged ladies in racing suits. Passion indeed! Any why not? Raw emotion is as much a part of Alfa’s DNA as anything else, and the Giulia is the embodiment of that euphoric feeling. In short, this car is about performance, first and last. Powered by a Ferrari-derived 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 that produces 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft. of torque, the Giulia is an out-and-out rocket: 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, top speed of 307 km/h and a blistering 7:39 lap time at the Nürburgring - the fastest lap time of any production four-door sedan, according to Alfa Romeo. North American ETA is slated for late second quarter of 2016. 2017 Hyundai Elantra Hyundai’s sixth generation Elantra boasts a design that departs significantly from the current model. A prominent hexagonal grille centres the car’s front end that also features adaptive HID headlights with vertical LED daytime running lights. Contoured body lines – which Hyundai claims were inspired by the precision of fighter jets – give the Elantra a sleeker, longer profile. The ’17 Elantra is slightly longer (by 20 mm), wider (by 5 mm) and taller (by 5 mm) than its predecessor. Under the hood, the Elantra will be powered by an all-new 2.0-litre Nu MPI Atkinson 4-cylinder engine with multi-port injection, a first for an Atkinson cycle engine in the compact class. Power output is rated at 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft. of torque and can be matched with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The 2017 Elantra will begin arriving in Canada in February. 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Almost 50 years after the original Alfa Romeo 124 debuted, now it’s reborn as a Fiat, not an Alfa. The new Fiat 124 Spider will come to market with some Japanese DNA, as it will be sharing a platform with the Mazda MX-5 and will be built alongside the Japanese roadster in Madza’s Hiroshima plant. Mazda touches are noticeable in the interior, with common trim bits visible in the dash and centre console. The design and drivetrain are all Fiat, however, with FCA’s MultiAir 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (160 hp / 184 lb-ft.) mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Fiat 124 Spider is slated to start arriving across North America in the summer as a 2017 model. 2017 Infiniti QX30 The first vehicle to be produced through Renault-Nissan’s technical alliance with Daimler Benz, the Infiniti QX30 shares a platform with the Mercedes-Benz A-Class platform that underpins the GLA, among other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The QX30 will also share its powerplant, a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (208 hp / 258 lb-ft.). The exterior looks – wide open-mouth grille, large air intakes and sharply angled headlights, with dramatic character lines – are all Infiniti. It bears a strong resemblance to its stablemates, particularly the mid-size QX50, in that regard. A tastefully refined interior, complete with soft leather seating and handsome piano black and satin-finished chrome accents, also contains a few Benz touches in the instrument cluster and on the centre console, but they’re well integrated into the overall design. The 2017 QX30 will go on sale in Canada in mid-2016. 2017 Buick LaCrosse The all-new 2017 Buick LaCrosse, revealed for the first time in Los Angeles, is a direct descendent of the Avenir concept that was revealed at the 2015 North American International Autoshow, in tamer production form. Due to begin arriving early next summer, the 2017 LaCrosse features bold grille, highlighted by a wing element that spreads out from Buick’s traditional tri-shield logo. Greater use of high-strength steel has lightened the LaCrosse by 136 kg (300 lb) compared to the current model. Powering the LaCrosse is GM’s second gen 3.6-litre V6 (305 hp / 268 lb-ft.) mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. 2016 Mazda CX-9 The biggest of Mazda’s three crossovers, the CX-9, finally gets the all-new treatment for the 2016 model year, bringing to a close a first generation that has been around (with two significant facelifts) since 2007. Due to go on sale across North America next spring, the big news here, aside from adopting the same design Kodo design language of other late-model Mazdas, is the changing of the guard under the hood. Gone is the Ford-sourced 3.7-litre V6 in favour of Mazda’s SkyActiv 2.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder mill, which is rated at 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft. of torque. The switch is expected to improve fuel economy by up to 20 percent, according to Mazda. 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL Class When the next-gen Mercedes-Benz iconic grand touring roadster rolls into North American dealerships in the spring, not only will it be wearing spiffy new duds reminiscent of the GT, but power will get a boost as well. The beginning of the model range, the SL 450, gets a beefed up 3.6L V6 with 362 horsepower (a 34 hp increase) and 369 lb-ft. of torque. The 4.7L V8 in the SL 550 gets a 20 horsepower boost to 449 (516 lb-ft.). On the AMG front, the SL 63’s 5.5L biturbo V8 is rated at 577 horsepower (up from 530) and 664 lb-ft. of torque, while the 6.0L V12 in the range-topping SL 65 puts out 631 horsepower and 738 lb-ft. of torque. Subaru Impreza Sedan Concept Subaru took the wraps off the Impreza Sedan Concept, the first vehicle from parent company Fuji Heavy Industries’ Mid-Term Management Vision Prominence 2020 strategy. Essentially, this means the Impreza Sedan Concept is being positioned as a sign of things to come from Subaru on the design front. The new Dynamic x Solid design language features a low and wide stance, prominent hexagonal front grille with hawkeye headlights, pronounced character lines along the sides and extended fender flares. Dimensionally, the concept has a longer wheelbase (by 25 mm) than the current Impreza sedan, yet is shorter (by 30 mm), wider (by 140 mm), and lower (by 12 mm). It will seat five passengers, like the current car, but there’s no word yet from Subaru on powertrain specifics. 2017 Lincoln MKZ There’s a lot of Jaguar-ness in the all-new 2017 Lincoln MKZ, especially from the front, but some new engineering steak to go with that more graceful steak. Once it begins to land in dealerships next summer, it will be available with a brand new 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged GTDI (Gasoline Turbocharged Direct Injection) V6, slated to produce 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft. of torque. All Canadian models will come with standard all-wheel drive. A hybrid powered by a 2.0-litre GTDI (245 horsepower) four-cylinder will also be available. 2017 Range Rover Evoque Convertible One of the most intriguing debuts in Los Angeles was the 2017 Range Rover Evoque convertible, a vehicle that takes top honours for being the most audacious. I mean, when was the last time you saw a convertible SUV make it to production? At any rate, the Evoque convertible will go on sale across Canada next spring starting at $64,990. It’s a four-seater, but cargo space will be a bit tight (251 litres). Operation of the top, however, will be fast: down in 18 seconds, up in 21. Power will come from a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 240 horsepower and 251 lb-ft. of torque and will scoot from 0-100 km/h in 8.6 seconds.
Placing the 2015 Porsche Panamera GTS in its rightful place in the automotive universe is like picking out a fine wine pairing from an extensive list when one’s not sure what’s on the menu. Porsche’s extra sporting family hatchback is priced around the topend versions of fellow German luxury automaker performance four-doors, yet within its own extensive Panamera lineup, it’s only half way up the performance ladder – if you only look at straight-line power. So you’ll have to continue up the Panamera hierarchy if you hunger for the full fire-breathing horsepower to quash the rest of its largely German rivals in all-out acceleration or top track speed. But overall power is far from the only key consideration in this sporting six-figure four-door segment. Especially in this land of revenue-generating, strictly enforced highway speed limits. Styling, interior appeal, practicality and of course that ephemeral brand allure all feature large for these buyers, as may dynamic factors such as ride and handling, each driver with diverse priorities and tastes. Enter Porsche marketing 101. As Porsche has mastered with the 911, adding multiple versions of the Panamera allows the company to slice and dice the unique appeal of its sporting full-size hatchback, with diamond-blade precision in the case of the GTS. It stacks up well in these other categories that don’t require that rarity of a traffic/people/ cop-free curvy road, and yet will appeal to enthusiasts who want something sportier looking and feeling than a regular Panamera. And as soon as you sit in its snugly contoured leather seats, hear the bark of its notably louder engine, and experience your first entertaining highway ramp, you’ll quickly realize that the GTS badges sprinkled around the car actually means something laudable for enthusiasts, cherry-picking many of the handling and braking upgrades from the Turbo, but in a lighter, more track-focused package. Walking up to the GTS, changes are subtle from those of other Panamera models, outside of the GTS logos on the car’s lower doors and rear hatch. The front end features the same larger air intakes as the Panamera Turbo, as well as that car’s trick rear four-way spoiler that folds out at just over legal highway speeds, but doesn’t totally give you away to traffic police, because it stays deployed down until about 60 km/h. Black accents that match that GTS script on the doors subtly surround its entire lower body, providing some menace to the rear diffuser and matte black quad tailpipes. Performance-wise, the GTS starts with more power than regular Panamera or S models, its 4.8-litre V-8 pumping out 440 hp, a 20 pony bump up from the 2015 Panamera 4S, that peaks at a lofty 6,700 rpm, or just under the slightly higher 7,100 rpm redline of the GTS. Torque comes in at 384 lb-ft, at a much more city-friendly 3,500 rpm. Together with the standard Launch Control system that comes with the Sport Chrono package included in the GTS, plus the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission standard on all Panameras, the GTS can launch itself from rest to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds, says Porsche, on up to a 288 km/h top track speed. This impressive acceleration is no doubt also helped by its standard all-wheel-drive, as well as its curb weight that comes in a couple hundred pounds less than rivals like the Audi RS 7 and BMW M6 Gran Coupe four-door hatchbacks. All these factors help the GTS at least stay just behind but in the same acceleration ballpark as those cars, even though it’s down at least 120 horses to those two. In turn, that Audi and BMW fall just under the pony count of the blazingly quick but much pricier 570 hp Panamera Turbo S. But the true charm of the GTS lies not in its extra power, but in its extra varroooom sounds. Its extra large air intakes are connected to what Porsche calls a Sound Symposer system, activated by the push of the Sport button, which transmits intake noise through a special membrane in the A-pillar, all to provide a more visceral and connected driving experience. The Sport Plus mode offers faster and sharper gear shifts and throttle response, which also increases the engine noise quotient. Then there’s a separate dual exhaust button that opens up flaps in the standard sport exhaust that reduces back pressure and increases ‘aural excitement’ even further, in a system that’s smart enough to remember your setting next time you hop in the car. Even if you’re not travelling much faster than a regular Panamera 4S, it sounds and feels as if you are. In addition to the aforementioned AWD, the Panamera GTS cuts a cleaner line through the corners courtesy of a body that’s been lowered by 10 millimetres, with firmer dampers to help minimize body roll and a five-millimetre wider rear footprint for added stability. On the options list, there’s Porsche’s anti-roll PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) system that actively counteracts the g-forces with roll stabilizers at both axles, as well as PTV Plus, a torque vectoring system that pushes more torque to the outside rear tires in a corner, helping to lessen understeer and increase turn-in crispness when pushing hard. Inside the Panamera, there’s plenty of space up front, though the two rear seat riders have a couple inches less legroom than usual in this class. From a usability standpoint, the Panamera interior’s extreme button count may not look nearly as artful as some rivals, all of whom have largely moved to some type of controller mouse and/or touch screen to cut down or eliminate buttons altogether. But once you’ve located and deciphered all the pictograms, it’s perhaps the easiest of the luxury car systems to use, with a similar layout now in the 911 and Cayenne. The lack of a fifth seat may hurt it from a practicality standpoint, but then it’s a common trait of the four-door ‘coupes’ with which it most closely competes. It gains some of those practicality points back with its unique hatchback body style and handy power tailgate, which allows the rear seats to be folded easily to make a much larger cargo area. Its overall 12.6 L/100km fuel efficiency average is no Tesla challenger – there’s a Panamera plug-in hybrid for that – but it’s also surprisingly close to the Panamera Turbo’s 12.8 average. When all is said and done, consider the Panamera GTS then the grizzly Clint Eastwood of the German four-door sports car contingent: it’s not the most muscular action hero, but its growly demeanour belies plenty of speed and cardio training. Its upgraded handling and amplified V8 engine response is geared to those that appreciate ultimate handling and more aggressive looks, but don’t want or need the 500+ ponies of the Panamera Turbo models. SPECIFICATIONS 2015 Porsche Panamera GTS BASE PRICE/AS TESTED PRICE: $129,400/$144,455 ENGINE: 4.8 L V8 POWER/TORQUE: 440 hp/384 lb.-ft CONFIGURATION: All-wheel-drive, front engine TRANSMISSION: 7-speed PDK automatic DRY WEIGHT: 1,925 kg TIRES: Michelin Pilot Sport PS 2, 255/40R20 front, 295/35 R 20 rears FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (CITY/HWY/ COMBINED): 15.1/9.7/12.6 L/100 km WARRANTY: 48 Months/80,000KM ALTERNATIVES: Audi RS 7, BMW M6 Gran Coupe, Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, Tesla Model S 85D OPTIONS ON TEST VEHICLE: 20-inch RS Spyder wheels, Lane-Change/Blind Spot Assist, seat ventilation (front), Reversing camera including ParkAssist and Surround View, Burmester High-End sound, two-tone leather
Whether you are a novice venturing out for your first track day or a seasoned racer, there is always something to learn and several key concepts to keep in mind each time out. This article is geared towards a beginner driver, but I encourage all drivers – even those who are highly experienced – to have a read here as there are several core concepts and a few details that will be beneficial and applicable to advanced drivers as well. SET YOUR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS Step one is to fully understand the environment and be properly prepared. Going to a driver education or lapping event is not racing, but all of the inherent risks are still there. We are still going fast and accidents can happen. In most cases you will be in a street car, which is very different from a race car. While a street car often has as much or more horsepower than a fully built race car, it does not have any of the safety features of a race car. I’m talking about roll cages, fire suppression systems, window nets and harnesses, etc. So, right off the bat, it’s important to understand that, if you are involved in a crash, you are more likely to be injured in your street car than a race car. This reality should temper your enthusiasm and ego accordingly. Try to set your goals on healthy things such as learning the racing line or perfecting a certain corner. Avoid getting wrapped up in lap times or beating “that guy” in the ______________ (insert your exotic car of choice here). SET HEALTHY PRIORITIES SAFETY FIRSTFirst and foremost, focus on the essential safety equipment. A good helmet, six-point harnesses and a HANS device should be the starting point. A racing seat with full side and hip bolstering is a smart idea as is a proper racing suit, gloves and shoes. A full roll cage will make the car illegal for road use (therefore necessitating a trailer and tow vehicle), but it really is an important step fairly early in your development, as is fi re suppression and window netting. A half cage is a decent starting compromise and helps with the six-point belts as well. SEEK PROFESSIONAL INSTRUCTION For men, our egos often struggle with this one, because we are naturally born as the world’s greatest lovers and drivers, right? Hiring someone to teach you how to drive is sacrilege! Well, we also used to think the world was flat, so let’s get with the times and understand that track driving has nothing in common with street driving and that it requires specialized training. Learning things from a legitimate pro (someone who makes their living in the driving world) will A) Get you up to speed faster, B) Make you safer, and C) Help you avoid many of the bad habits all too common from doing it by yourself or working with a lower tier instructor. The power of habits is damn near infinite. I’d say 75 percent of everything I do in my professional coaching career is getting people to “unlearn” bad habits they picked up by saving money, or thinking they didn’t need any guidance in their early days. It is much easier (and cheaper in the long run) to learn something the right way the first time. GET BETTER BRAKESStreet car brakes are not designed for the load and heat that track driving produces. It’s incredibly easy to kill a set of pads, boil your brake fluid and warp your rotors in less than a day of track driving (less than 20 minutes in many cases). Not only will this get expensive really fast, it’s also dangerous. Once your brake fluid boils your pedal gets long and your ability to stop reduces dramatically. Take it from me – feeling your brake pedal go to the floor while nothing happens is one of the scariest things you can ever experience on a race track! UPGRADE THAT SUSPENSION Cornering fast is fun. Improving your suspension also improves your safety due to the increased control and stability. Look into upgrading your bearings and bushings as well; as with stock brakes, most cars are not designed for the loads a race track will generate. Not having to replace bearings and bushings all the time will save you money long term. IT ISN’T ABOUT HORSEPOWER Notice I listed this last? Until you (and your brakes and suspension) are ready for it, adding horsepower will just make you more dangerous. The quickest way to lower your lap times is through learning to drive properly through your braking and cornering – hence professional instruction. We professionals racers make fun of the guy who shows up with his juicedup, jumbo turbo, chipped, custom exhaust super motor. Especially when we lean in and see stock seats, a three-point harness and a $100 motorcycle helmet. AT THE TRACK MOVE THAT SEAT UP Seating position is rarely considered, but makes a massive difference in your driving. Most of us sit too far away from the steering wheel. You must be close enough to the wheel that, with your back pressed into the seat, you can get a full lock of steering on and still have a bend in your arm. The angle of the back of the seat is important as well. You don’t want to be too upright or it will put your natural vision resting position too low. We need to have our natural line of vision up and looking at the horizon. Pay great attention to this detail. This means the seat should be reclined a little. LOOK AHEAD Hands down, vision is the number one most important element to driving on a track – or anywhere for that matter. Ninety percent of proper driving instruction is all about where you look. Here is the science behind it: out of the approximately 180 degrees of vision we have, there is a narrow band called the Central Focal, or Foveal Vision – it’s about three degrees of your 180. What this sees directs all of your body movement. It is how you catch a ball, ski through the trees, pick up a pen, or walk through a doorway. It is your body’s hard-wired visual targeting system. Therefore, where you are directly looking is king. Step one is to understand this reality. Step two is learning to move your eyes and use this to your advantage. The biggest issue track drivers have is not being used to the rate of approach. Simply put, you are going much faster than you do on public roads and the scenery (or more importantly the next corner) is approaching faster than your eyes and brain are used to dealing with. Learning to look farther ahead, and move your eyes to the correct target (i.e. braking point, start of the corner, apex, corner exit) at the correct time is where the skill and art is found. We need to give our eyes and brains time to get up to speed. The advice I give to my clients is to start off slow, drive the first few laps really slow (less than 50 percent or below 125 km/h), get your eyes accustomed to looking farther ahead and get your head and neck accustomed to looking around, side to side, up and down. While going this slow, focus on nothing but seeing the track. Look for the important bits – track bends, braking markers, apex curbs, exit curbs, etc. These details will increase as your visual powers grow. HIT THE BRAKES - HARD! The other relevant starting point is how we use the brake pedal. And this is not a beginner thing – it’s common with most advanced drivers and club racers. We need to hit the brake pedal with much more force than we are used to. We need to modulate that force in the exact opposite way as well! It’s a whole new muscle memory to learn. Our street driving habits are to gently increase brake pressure. On the track we want to quickly develop maximum brake pressure, then gradually release that pressure as we get closer to steering into the corner. Hit it hard, activate and feel the ABS – hard! Then bleed off pressure. By gently releasing the brake pressure as we near the corner, we are gently balancing the weight of the car and giving the front tires more grip to steer with. It also has a side benefi t of making the corner entry seem less ragged and on edge. It calms the nerves and allows you to be more precise. Exploring how hard you can brake helps you discover your car’s true stopping potential, and allows you to stay on the gas pedal longer. Experimentation with braking force is a good idea. Mastering brake release in conjunction with steering input is what separates the good from the great. Eyes up, hands relaxed and enjoy the ride. Aaron Povoledo is a Canadian professional race car driver and driving instructor now based in Orlando, Florida.
I love racing but these days I hadn’t considered myself a motorsport fan. After a decade of working in the industry, motorsport has become a thing that I do. I know I’m lucky and, for the most part, I wake up in the morning thinking how amazing it is that I get to work in a business surrounded by such passion and excitement. But it is my job and, just like any other job, mine brings with it the occasional bout of frustration and sense of monotony. But recently I had an experience that changed everything, and turned me into a fan all over again. I escaped the cold weather this winter to attend this year’s Race of Champions in Barbados. As a guest of the Bushy Park circuit, I had an incredible go-anywhere credential that gave me outstanding access – vehicle staging, hot pits, VIP suites and the drivers’ lounge included. Generally speaking, I’m unmoved by celebrity, so when I headed for the drivers’ lounge it was not because I knew it was where I’d find the big-name drivers, but because it had the best view of the action and I would most likely find a few industry people I knew that I could hang out with. Even so, I was not prepared for the experience of meeting my hero. When we came face to face, I was dumbstruck. I found her by accident. I knew there was a chance, of course, because she’s the co-founder of the Race of Champions. But it happened unexpectedly. I was standing on a balcony outside the suite watching a Formula One driver comically struggling to manage a Volkswagen rallycross car around the track, and she was suddenly there, a couple of feet away, chatting with a friend’s brother. It was really her, the inimitable Michèle Mouton, Group B legend. All I could do was stare. Mouton is a lifelong hero – to me and, I’m sure, to just about every other woman working in motorsport. And no doubt to more than a few men, as well. Her performances in the toughas- nails Group B era are legendary. A standout performer, her career has been judged on her strengths as a driver – not on her record as a female driver. She wasn’t just good “for a girl,” she was flat-out good. In 1981, Mouton and co-driver Fabrizia Pons debuted the all-wheeldrive Audi Quattro in the World Rally Championship and took it to a win at Italy’s Rallye Sanremo – the first victory for Audi, the first win for an all-wheeldrive car, and the first win for a woman in the WRC. She very nearly won the 1982 championship as a factory driver for Audi, and her success at Pikes Peak in the Group B era – second in 1984 and a win in 1985 – are indisputable. She wasn’t always warmly received. After she won the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1985, Bobby Unser approached her to tell her he wasn’t thrilled that she had broken his family record up the hill. As the story goes, he didn’t hold back, and neither did she, apparently telling him: “If you’ve really got balls, you can race me back down again.” He declined. At the track in Barbados, my colleagues in motorsport did nothing to dispel the myth. “Madame Michèle,” they told me, didn’t suffer fools lightly. I had caught a glimpse or two of her that weekend. I spotted her across the paddock in a golf cart, pedal to the medal and barking orders into a radio; and again striding into an office with a clear sense of purpose. Of course she’s older now than the image I have of her in my mind. If you’re a rally fan, you’ve seen the image I’m thinking about. It’s from the mid-80s and she’s got those strong eyebrows and a halo of fluffy brown hair; she’s leaning on her Audi S1 with an intense look on her face, like she’s just finished telling somebody what to do, or where to go. Unser, maybe. Now, some 30 years on, she has lost nothing of that assertive presence. As a 600-horsepower rallycross car – the closest thing to a Group B car racing today – exploded past our trackside suite unleashing its snapcrackle- pop anti-lag bangs, there I was, staring at her. She was bound to notice, as you do when somebody looks at you for an uncomfortably long period of time. And when she looked back, my mouth went dry. My mind was blank. I couldn’t say anything, so I did the next best thing: I looked away. She, like a sensible person, turned her eyes away from the obviously crazy person standing two steps to her left and returned to her conversation. My moment had come, and it had gone. I tried to catch it and, like chasing a spin with slow hands on the wheel, I broke in with my eloquent opener: “Um… I’m a big fan.” Hey, it’s what came to mind. She was gracious and said hello in return. And, in an instant, this untouchable hero became a human being. I pressed on and introduced myself. I told her I admired her as a driver, as the co-founder of Race of Champions, and for her continued work with the FIA’s Women and Motor Sport Commission. I told her how, when little girls come up to me when I’m wearing my racing suit and tell me they want to be racecar drivers like me, it makes me proud to think I’ve continued her tradition – helping to nudge open a door to a future possibility that these pigtailed cuties never even considered could be possible. I told her she had done that for me, and countless others, just by being “badass.” And I told her that I’m grateful. We spoke for about 10 minutes more, about racing, Group B, women in racing and the Race of Champions. She is smart and talks fast. She’s got opinions but asked me to share mine. In short, she’s everything you could have hoped for in a hero. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to pose for a photo; it felt like that would cheapen the connection somehow. So, meeting Michèle Mouton is an experience that I will stow in my mind with all the other great memories racing has given me. Memories that I’ll call up the next time I need to remember why I work in this crazy business – the ones that remind me why I really am a motorsport fan.
Salinas, Calif. – The CEO of Mercedes-AMG, Tobias Moers, is purposefully evasive when he talks about his latest creation, the Mercedes-AMG GT. Or maybe he’s just confident. Or mysterious. Whatever the case may be, a brief interview with him in between track sessions at Laguna Seca does help to bring added perspective to this new supercar. First of all, despite the use of the name “GT,” this particular AMG is not a “gran turismo.” Not even close. “It’s just a name,” Moers says matter-of-factly. The earliest impressions of the launch version – the GT S – were gathered during a drive from San Francisco on public roads; they confirmed that it’s more sports car than GT. In an almost identical program to the SLS gullwing launch in 2009, we skirted the coast, battled traffic and headed south, then inland to the historic and daunting racetrack. This drive proved that the suspension system on the GT S is firm for everyday use and the sport seats need more lumbar support over bumpy roads – exactly the same feedback the SLS inspired. One of the AMG representatives suggested that a softer suspension system for the new car could be brought to markets with roads that are not so smooth. (The eventual “base model” could conceivably have this feature.) Also, while the passenger cabin of the GT S is certainly beautiful and luxurious, it’s a different kind of beauty and luxury compared to the other high-priced cars in the Mercedes fleet, such as the SClass Coupe. The quality of materials and finishes is uniformly excellent, but there are ergonomic restrictions placed on a two-seater that just don’t exist in a more passenger-friendly car. In other words, everything in the GT cockpit is clearly focused on driver engagement and not necessarily on comfort. The second fast fact: the Mercedes-AMG GT is not a replacement for the Mercedes- Benz SLS AMG. Well, that’s the company line according to Moers, even if every single article on the new car will hasten to mention its predecessor. He describes the SLS as having a limited lifespan from the moment of conception; their first attempt at manufacturing a supercar entirely in-house; a project car that was always meant to pave the way for future activities rather than be part of the line-up forever. Still, there’s no doubt the AMG GT is a direct descendant of the SLS AMG – the two cars share components, are visually similar and have a consistent approach to generating performance. The common consensus is that the new car nicely fills a gap created by the departure of the old car. The biggest difference between the two? Not performance, but price. The SLS was a very expensive car, with the 2014 version of the “base” gullwing coupe starting at a staggering $202,000 USD. When the base version of the Mercedes-AMG GT arrives in 2016 (the GT S will be here first, later this year), it’s expected to cost about $70K less. When you take into account the relative performance levels of the two cars, the AMG GT appears to off er stunning value. The production SLS AMG was powered by a 6.2-litre V8 (which was labeled a 6.3) that developed between 563-622 horsepower and 468-479 lb-ft of torque, depending on the version. The quickest of the iterations accelerated from 0-100 km/h in about 3.5 seconds and had a reported top speed of 328 km/h. The AMG GT features a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that is, according to Mercedes, the first sports car engine with turbochargers mounted inside the cylinder banks, a design called “hot inside V.” This layout enables better response and a more compact design overall. The reason for the engine swap is simple: the new V8 is smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient than the old. The first two versions of the new car – the GT and the GT S – will be powered by this same engine, but with different levels of boost. In GT trim, the twinturbo V8 will develop 456 horsepower while the GT S will roar ahead with 503. The AMG-GT doesn’t appear to match the SLS in terms of straight-line performance, but it’s important to bear in mind that faster iterations are coming, something Moers has confirmed by forecasting the eventual arrival of Black Series and GT3 race versions. As tested, the GT S version has an estimated 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 311 km/h. But the new engine contributes to the startling fuel effi ciency of the base version – the estimated combined rating of 9.3 L/100 km would make it the absolute supersports class leader. The GT S is only marginally thirstier. There are other similarities between the SLS and the GT: both are two-seaters with a front-mid engine/rear-drive layout. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is a direct carryover from the SLS. So too, is the front suspension system. The main differences: the AMG GT features a shorter wheelbase, taller profile and lower curb weight. The concept behind the GT is that it would be a more affordable, more approachable supersports car; this direction led to the decision to dispense with the gullwing doors of the SLS, a particularly tricky feature when engineering as low a centre of gravity as possible. Moers denied the decision to go with conventional doors was related to CoG, but this certainly would’ve made things easier for the engineering team. New car launch events held at racetracks are a great thing. Of course, they can be a massive amount of fun. More than that, though, they can off er more insight into how confident the engineers feel about their work. Without question, Moers is chuffed about this car; the fact he is an engineer himself, and was the first person to drive the working prototype of the GT adds further strength to his resolute demeanour. This is not always the case at new car launches, even for new cars that are marketed as being “track-ready.” We’ve seen new cars fitted with extra coolers just to make sure they lasted a day without overheating. We’ve seen tires chewed to pieces in a few hours. We’ve been instructed to do just one hot lap at a time because the brakes couldn’t last longer without fading to pieces. Here’s what happened at the launch of the GT S: despite the smattering of rain, the instructors from the AMG Driving Academy encouraged testers to start out in the most extreme of the four driver-selectable settings: track. This was a surprise… until we actually took to the track. (Note: For the drive to the track, we were given various versions of the GT S. At the track, we drove the GT S Edition 1, the launch edition that features a different front splitter, a fixed rear spoiler, a carbon fibre roof and 10-spoke lightalloy wheels.) Within a few laps, key aspects of the car revealed themselves. It does not feel ridiculously fast like the faster versions of the SLS or the SLR McLaren. But this could well be because the new car feels so easy to control at the limits, so manageable and so predictable. When things aren’t happening in a panic, everything feels like slow motion. A few sessions with the last of the driver aids engaged and it was time to turn all the systems off. It was at this point that one thing became clear: the GT S behaves exactly as you would expect a proper sports car should behave. The steering wheel produces direct, linear responses. The dual-clutch transmission, triggered by paddle shifters, is crisp and quick. The low centre of gravity, weight distribution and aerodynamics on the car – combined with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires – produce significant downforce and fantastic cornering capabilities. The electronically-controlled locking rear differential – a magical piece of design – pitches in to help further manage the cornering forces. Then, when the limits of adhesion are exceeded, when all of this engineering proves not enough to keep pace with the twin-turbo engine sending power to those large rear wheels, the latest AMG proves it is just as impressive at drifting. The 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S is a brilliant car and is certainly a very serious competitor for the class-leading Porsche 911, which Moers admits was the target from the outset. Perhaps more interestingly, the GT S makes us wonder just how good future versions of this new AMG supercar will be?
Technology blows my mind on a daily basis. Every morning I read about new discoveries and technologies that amaze and inspire me. One technology I didn’t think would make it into my generation with any refinement was virtual reality headsets. But I just started using one with my favourite racing simulator – iRacing – and I have to tell you, this is a new level of reality. The Oculus Rift is a device which, through the use of an internal yaw sensor and external tracker, is able to perfectly track your head movements and project an image that smoothly and naturally displays what you are looking at. Suddenly you feel immersed in a new world or, in my case, in the cockpit of a Williams Formula 1 car. Where it would have previously been awkward and impractical to look around the apex of a hairpin and spot the exit, the Oculus Rift lets you spot the exit and straighten your head out as the car rounds the corner, allowing the insane speeds of the Williams to now be somewhat manageable. Mosport is clearly the track to run this car at, as corners one, two, four and half of eight are essentially flat-out. This is a car where you need to be looking far, far ahead if you want to have any chance of survival. And with the Rift it is totally natural. The laps are more consistent and significantly more intense as you are much more engaged with the car. Most of my friends who have tried it to date have screamed and taken their hands off the wheel at an impeding crash – it’s that real! The problem with simulators is that they have always been too distant, too disconnected. It was so easy to crash because there was no sense of speed. Many companies have tried to shake and vibrate the user with huge and expensive motion machines, but that has always seemed too delayed and out of sync for me (perhaps it’s the systems I have used). The inputs you get from these machines need to be perfectly matched with what the car is actually doing in the sim – within thousandths of a second – or else your brain is going to sense a conflict and have trouble using that stimulation as anything completely useful. I was worried the Rift would be this way, too. Delayed motion when looking around would be just about the worst thing possible, and would certainly lead to nausea. But the motion is perfect. Even my fiancée, who is normally incapable of leaving pit-lane without crashing, was able to turn some relatively clean laps around Daytona. It gives the connection to the sim that we have been lacking for so long. Right now the Oculus Rift is an in-development unit, but I am incredibly excited about it. My only hope is that the finished version has an even higher resolution, as right now you can easily see the pixels – about the only thing reminding you that you are in a virtual world. There are other VR headsets out there, and I have a strong suspicion these will revolutionize gaming and – what we are most interested in here – sim racing. The addition of VR headsets to sim racing reinforces my stance that they are the most effective training tool for a driver out there. The cost is next to nothing. When compared to the cost of running a real car, it’s not even relevant. The tire models have improved to the point where cars react in exactly the same fashion to those of a real car, so the habits and skills you develop in the simulator transfer over to a real car quite effectively. The tracks are laser scanned and almost perfect – right down to the bumps. My most significant testament to the effectiveness of racing sims is the fact that I was able to set a new race lap record at VIR last year after having never been there, in the extremely competitive IMSA Continental Tire series. I was driving the Mantella Autosport Aston Martin and had only two hours of seat time to “master” the track before the race. Thanks to iRacing, it was more like two hours of learning the Aston on a track I already knew. With how cheap and accessible it is, you can afford to have a sim setup in your house and the ability to put in as many hours as you want, thus reducing the amount of expensive track time that is needed to get up to speed. Your wife will look at you like you’re a child playing video games, but when she does, just show her this article (and buy her flowers, you’ll be busy for a while).
As the sun set on the 2014 Formula One season, the new regime at Ferrari set about cleaning house. In the process, a number of accomplished individuals walked or were given their papers and a host of others were welcomed to Maranello. One of those who departed for pastures greener was lead driver Fernando Alonso and Pat Fry, the team’s former technical chief. Soon after his departure, Fry had the occasion to provide an interview for a Brazilian enthusiast site. In that interview, the British engineer encapsulated the reason why Alonso had been vastly more competitive than teammate Kimi Räikkönen in 2014: “There were two issues,” Fry was quoted as saying: “The first is that Fernando is more adaptable and the second is that the limitations of the car and tires are especially difficult with Kimi’s driving style.” Without a doubt, the competition between the two former world champions turned out to be no contest at all. Alonso out-qualified Räikkönen 16-3 over the course of the season and out-raced the Finn as well; in only one race where both drivers finished did Räikkönen cross the stripe first. Alonso had eight top-five finishes in 2014; Kimi had just one. Alonso scored two podium results; Räikkönen had none. In the final championship standings, the departing driver finished sixth with 161 points and the returnee finished 11th with a mere 55. Clearly, one driver performed far better than the other – and that driver should have been retained… or should he? For all his success relative to his teammate in 2014, Alonso still finished a mammoth 223 points behind titlewinner Lewis Hamilton. For the first time since the 2009 season, Alonso also did not win a single race. No one would suggest that Ferrari’s lack of competitiveness this past season was Alonso’s fault – the opposite, in fact. But at what point must the Spaniard assume some responsibility for failing to win the championship the four previous years, when Ferrari was in with a shout? The Ferrari-Alonso relationship began in the best possible way, with victory in the first race of 2010. But from that point on, there’s been far more disappointment than there have been reasons to celebrate. Let’s also not forget that Alonso last won the championship in 2006, a long time ago. In the eight seasons since, he’s had a race-winning car six different times and he’s won races with those cars… just no titles. In 2010, Alonso had his best chance at the championship with Ferrari, winning five races during the season and just failing to beat Sebastian Vettel in the final race. Bear in mind, though, that this success happened with a car that Alonso had no part in developing because he was new to Ferrari. The following season, he captured only one win; in 2012, he scored three victories; in 2013, he dropped back to two wins. It’s also worth noting that, in every single season from 2011 to ’14, Alonso took no victories in any of the final 10 races. So, while other teams and drivers were getting stronger as the seasons progressed, developing their cars to become more competitive, the Spaniard was not – despite the fact he was working with the largest budget in the sport. There’s very little debate as to whether Alonso is a fantastic racing driver with the rare ability to secure top results with second-rate machinery. The question is: Where does he rate as a development driver? And another question: Is he too adaptable for his own good? After all, if a driver produces decent results with a mediocre car, maybe he’s hurting himself in the long run. Maybe he’s masking how much work needs to be done to the car to make it truly competitive. For all his faults – and there are more than a few – Räikkönen is an unquestionably fast driver… when he has a car that suits his driving style. He shares the all-time record for fastest laps in a season with 10, a mark he made in 2005 with McLaren and again in 2008 with Ferrari. He also has 40 fastest laps in total, third on the all-time list behind only Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost. That’s a greater total than Alonso (21), Hamilton (20) and Vettel (24), drivers who have all enjoyed more races in truly competitive cars than Räikkönen. But perhaps his greatest strength is this: the Finn doesn’t rest until he has a car that suits his driving style perfectly. When Räikkönen was at McLaren, Fry was there part of the time as well, overseeing the engineering of both team cars after previously being race engineer for Mika Häkkinen and then David Coulthard. He knows a driver’s strengths and weaknesses, then. “He was very sensitive to the front of the car,” Fry noted, speaking more about Kimi’s struggles in 2014. “It was the same at McLaren. When he and Montoya were together, I think we had about seven different front suspensions for the season.” When the Finn rejoined F1 in 2012, he was notoriously unrelenting with the Lotus engineers, requesting change after change to the steering of the E20. But the persistence paid off: Räikkönen had a stellar comeback year, winning one race towards the end of the season and taking third in the championship. In 2013, he took another race win and was competitive until a change to the Pirelli tire compound saw him lose the front-end feeling that he evidently craves. Clearly, last season was largely disastrous for Räikkönen, his worst as an F1 driver. And for someone with as much experience, the Finn should be far better at adapting his driving style to suit the car. On the surface, it also seems that it takes him a long time to communicate exactly what he wants to change – either that, or he’s particular to a fault. But, say you’re an F1 team manager and you have a choice to make on the driver front: you can have one former world champion who drives his heart out every race, or another who works tirelessly to develop a winning car. The secret: pick the one driver who is extremely adaptable, just not to a fault.
Car enthusiasts planning to take their vehicle to a closed track for a lapping day or high performance driving course often feel conflicted when it comes to auto insurance, as most car insurance policies in Canada won’t cover drivers participating in timed or any form of track event. So even if you’re ostensibly becoming a better driver by taking such a course or learning how to control your car at higher speeds during controlled lapping sessions, your insurance agent may not see it this way. Some drivers have even had their auto insurance policy cancelled after mentioning their track activities to their agent, or their rates increase exorbitantly, sometimes for all their personally owned vehicles. This leads many drivers to adopt the common but risky ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t crash’ policy when it comes to grassroots track days. A new insurance policy geared towards amateur drivers offers an intriguing solution. Dubbed Track Day Insurance Canada (trackdayinsurance.ca), and created by Moore-McLean Insurance Group in Toronto and Pace Motorsport, the service offers short term insurance coverage that’s not connected to your regular auto insurance. This is the first such insurance product in Canada, says Moore-McLean, designed to protect drivers from exposure during sanctioned track day events in Canada and the U.S. One of the most appealing aspects of the site is the ability to receive a super quick online quote by just typing in the value of one’s car, including any mods. For example, a car worth C$50,000 would pay approximately $435 for a one-day event in Canada, or $760 for a two-day event, according to the website. For Canadians looking to insure vehicles at U.S. events, the company says it’s available, but requires a phone call (1.888.404.0000), and not just through the site. In comparison, U.S. insurance company Chubb and Lockton Affinity Motorsports offers a similar online insurance tool for high performance driving courses (locktonmotorsports.com/ product/track-event-insurance) for U.S. consumers, and it quotes a single event rate of US$311 for a US$50,000 car. So not directly comparable insurance products, but the figures are close enough to suggest that this is a good deal indeed – especially if it’s the only such insurance available in Canada. “For years, track day devotees have faced uncertainty when participating in these events, either worried about repercussions from an accident or simply shying away from the events all together because they don’t know if they are covered and they don’t want to ask their insurance company,” said Moore-McLean Insurance’s Andrew Mangialardi. “This new product can be purchased separate from any existing insurance plan, and will cover drivers who want to take their prized possessions to the track.” This area of insurance has traditionally landed in a “grey area” of coverage, as most policies either don’t cover or don’t state that they cover such track events, and in some instances expressly prohibit any track activity. This separate policy protects drivers against physical damage to their licensed vehicles, damage to the track or fire damage directly following an accident at a sanctioned track day event. Should a claim be made under the policy for an on-track accident, it should not impact the driver’s personal insurance automobile coverage in any way, preserving any “claims-free” or “preferred ratings” status. There are approximately 355 track day events in 10 communities across Canada each year, the company estimates. It has put together a list of sanctioned track day events at trackdayinsurance.ca/events, and is willing to add others to the list. “People tend to go to the track protected only by hope and a prayer,” says Robin Virtue of Pace Motorsport, one of Track Day Insurance Canada’s program consulting partners. “It’s been proven popular south of the border and for the first time, Canadian drivers can participate worry free through the entire track day period,” according to Virtue. “It should make for a very exciting - and busy - track day season.”
This year, RM Sotheby’s Auctions has held three “Cars & Coffee” days at its headquarters in Blenheim (near Chatham) Ontario. This is like a standard cruise-in day held at the RM facilities, but with the added bonus of being able to visit the collection of cars in the so-called “Exhibit,” and to get a peek into the restoration shop, which is attached to the main world headquarters building. At the two previous C&C days, they also let a few lucky visitors put their cars up on the shop’s dynamometer. In July, the restoration shop was going full out to get about 10 more cars ready for the Pebble Beach show in mid-August – either for the concours or for the RM Sotheby’s Auction there, so they were not able to spare the hands to show off the dyno this time. Despite being under pressure to get ready for Pebble Beach, Mario Van Raay, manager of the restoration shop spent time with me explaining the operation and taking me on a guided tour through the different parts of the shop. The whole place has an air of extreme quality and efficiency that are reminiscent (to me anyway) of the pristine shops of Penske’s racing operation in North Carolina – the kind of place that you can produce concours-winning and auction-starring cars. RM Sotheby’s has become one of the world’s leading collector car auction houses – if not the leading one – and its restoration shop has to be one of the best in the world. So, we’re talking serious money here and high-roller customers as clientèle. Despite this, RM has chosen to throw its doors open for a low-key get-together for mostly local enthusiasts. I can’t imagine it is getting them much business, but it has to make for good relations in the Chatham-Kent area community. The main attraction of the day has to be the so-called RM Classic Car Exhibit. This is a large warehouse crammed with a remarkable collection of over 60 collectible cars, both pre-war and post-war. You might think this has been set up as a museum because this collection would rival some of the better car museums in the world but it’s not. This is actually a working storage facility, part of the RM operation, which is used to store cars temporarily. Most of the cars are on their way through – waiting for their turn in the restoration shop, for delivery to customers, waiting to go to an upcoming auction or concours, or in storage for collectors. I did see a few cars I’d seen on an earlier visit, so I assume there are a number of cars on long-term residence here, making it somewhat of a de facto museum. The staff is busy herding all the visitors and their cars around during Cars & Coffee, leaving most visitors to the Exhibit on their own trying to figure out what all of those extraordinary cars are. However, the Exhibit is open pretty much every day; and on regular days the attendants have time to walk visitors through the assemblage of cars and tell their stories. One car I was able to identify was a pre-war Adler. This 1,700 cc front-wheel-drive streamliner ran at Le Mans in 1937 and somehow managed to survive the war and end up in the States afterwards. Now fully restored, it had been scheduled to cross the block at the RM’s Monterey auction in August. Among the riches of the assembled cars, there are a few Ferraris and a couple of Bugattis; I think some of them were scheduled for auction at Monterey as well. Of course, the yard outside happened to be filled up with the visitors’ collectible cars, and this made for an interesting show in itself as there were several quality cars among the visitors. Two that caught my eye include a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria with the transparent roof and a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino that had been customized and featured full air bag riser suspension. While plans for next year have not been finalized, RM has been pleased with the response this year and it’s expected the Cars & Coffee days will continue again next year. For sure, RM’s exhibit is worth a trip to Chatham. My recommendation would be that you go there a day early and take in the guided tour before the crowds collect, stay overnight in Rob Meyer’s Retro Suites Hotel in Chatham (RetroSuites.com) and then show up for the Cars & Coffee day the next morning. For more information on the Exhibit and the Cars & Coffee days call 519-352-9024 or go to “RM Cars & Coffee” on Facebook.
Starting with the lowest-priced car in the country – the Nissan Micra S – there’s now an all-new, one-make racing series that’s shaping up to be the coolest championship anywhere in the world today. While the well-heeled have numerous choices of spec series – Porsche, Lamborghini and even Ferrari are happy to sell you a car and give you a place to race it – it’s been years since Canadian drivers have had an affordable spec series option.The underlying theme of the Nissan Micra Cup is to keep costs down and, more importantly, manageable over the course of the racing season. The road-going Micra S, with a starting price of $9,998, is relatively lightweight, has modest power and comes equipped with a manual transmission. If that sounds like a decent recipe for an inexpensive racing car, you’re not alone.The Micra Cup race car is a lightly modified version of the S. The interior is removed and fitted with a roll cage, racing seat, harness, window netting and fire extinguisher. Underneath, each race car gets a suspension kit from NISMO – not the Micra kit, mind you – but the kit from the Note NISMO for its stiffer spring and damping rates, as well as a different exhaust to make these little racers sound a little racier. Pirelli slick racing tires are mounted on alloys from Fast Wheels and racing brake pads are from Endless. A complete race car costs $19,998 and I don’t need to tell you that the Micra Cup racing car is a bargain. After running costs that include tires and consumables, entry fees, transportation, Nissan suggests that you can run the entire series for another $20,000. I suspect, however, that if you want to be at the sharp end of the grid, you’ll want a slightly bigger budget.Series promoter, Jacques Deshaies, hatched the idea for the series immediately following the Micra’s Canadian launch in early 2014. As the story goes, it took all of about 15 minutes to persuade Nissan Canada to support the series. And support the series they do, from getting on the schedule at the very high-profile Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal and the legendary Trois-Rivières Grand Prix, in addition to the massive amounts of technical support required to develop, build and supply a couple dozen highly competitive drivers. Rightly, given that Québec is Canada’s race-mad province, the Nissan Micra Cup is a Québec-only series, at least for its first year. With 22 cars taking the green flag of the first race at Mont-Tremblant (followed by 25 in Montreal), there’s an obvious appetite for a high-profile, one-make series. To keep the costs down and maintain the competitiveness of each car, no modifications are permitted. Teams are allowed a little suspension and tire pressure tuning, but beyond that, the car’s livery is the only thing a team can change. Once you’ve seen a Micra Cup car in person, it takes on the aura of a racing car. In my mind, at least, it’s no longer an economical, five-door. With all its racing bits, it has made the leap from grocery getter to hardcore racer. Luckily for me, Nissan invited me to the ultimate test drive – to race in the inaugural round of the Micra Cup. For all of the racing, track days and driver coaching I’ve done, I have never driven Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant. That became an advantage, since the series mandated an extra test day prior to my race weekend. After picking the brains of my pro-instructor friends with countless thousands of laps under their belts – thanks Pierre Savoy, Philippe Létourneau and Jean-François Dumoulin – I was able to get the little Micra up to speed after a couple of sessions. Since Nissan had equipped my car with a top spec data acquisition system from AiM, I used that to my advantage, emailing my data to Peter Krause for analysis. Krause is one of the leaders in data-based coaching and I implemented his insights immediately. Before the test day was even over, I was satisfied with a lap time about a second off of what I’d heard was quick. In qualifying, a combination of a less than optimal tire setup and a power-to-weight disadvantage put me 15th on the grid. The total weight for a Micra Cup car and driver is based on a 180 pound pilot, and while I was getting 100% out of the car, I’m not quite in the range of 180 pounds and was paying the cheeseburger penalty.Starting in the middle of the pack can often be a disaster. Watch any race, from amateur to pro, and more often than not disaster strikes in the pack, not at the front. Since my one and only year of karting, I learned to be a great starter and prepared to capitalize on that for my first Micra Cup race. From my vantage point at the start, I couldn’t see the starter’s station, but my team radioed the drop of the green flag, and I was off. Tremblant’s first three corners are scary enough when you’re driving alone, but in a pack of Micra’s driven by bunch of crazy mad men and women racing drivers, it’s completely mental. Foot to the floor, I told myself, and I kept it there, slicing my way through the pack and settling into ninth spot by corner four. As I was settling in to a comfortable race pace to manage the longevity of the front tires, one of the regular series competitors and I had a dispute over the same piece of tarmac in Tremblant’s fast corner 11. I got the worst of it, spun, and since I’d seen numerous hard crashes in that corner in previous days, I managed to spin my Micra to a stop on the track surface. Disaster averted, but that also meant rejoining the race in last position. I picked up a couple of spots straight away and a couple more following a full course yellow, ultimately finishing race one exactly where I started in 15th position. One of the great things about motor racing is that it’s entirely unpredictable, so Sunday meant that it was not only a new day, but an entirely new race. I was looking forward to another great start and bettering my previous result. As a racer, you have no choice but to go for the gap, and I started this second race aggressively. At the drop of the flag, I couldn’t thread my way through the field as easily as I did the day before. Flat out through corners one, two and three, as I approached the braking zone for corner four, the field bunched up and I saw my teammate and GT Academy winner Abhinay Bikkani, spinning to my left. Suddenly, the driver to my left darted right to avoid another spinning car and didn’t realize I was there, making heavy contact with the driver’s side of my car and knocking me off the track.Just like race one, I rejoined the race in last position, but this time my Micra was hurt. The alignment was knocked out, the steering wheel off centre, and it had a completely different handling balance. I felt out the car over the next few corners to determine whether any suspension components were broken and indeed nothing was. This Micra is a tough little race car. The impact did give me a few extra degrees of negative camber on my front left wheel, which made low-speed right turns a blast because it turned in so easily, but it made corners one, two and three, the high-speed right handers, downright frightening with crazy amounts of oversteer. As a racer, you never give up and I wasn’t going to let a bent suspension get in the way. Even with its fun and frightening handling, I managed to pass a few cars and have some great battles with series drivers, working my way up to 14th at the finish. There’s an allure to one-make racing that you don’t find in other series. Other championships may place emphasis on tire choice or engineering, but a spec series places driver skill above all else. To have access to a high-profile, low-cost, one-make series is the dream for many drivers and we have that again in Canada with the Nissan Micra Cup. What makes great racing, for competitors and spectators alike, is close competition and that’s what the Micra Cup is all about. Even after the first couple of races, this little series in our little county is getting attention from around the globe. For all the attention that high-dollar GT racing has been getting, the Nissan Micra Cup is a breath of fresh air, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it grows quickly beyond Québec after this first season. Montreal GP mania: Micra on Canada’s Biggest Racing Stage By Shaun Keenan I was fortunate to be a guest of Infiniti Red Bull Racing for this year’s Canadian Grand Prix, and while it would have been nice to see the two Danny’s – Daniel Riccardo and Daniil Kyvat – finish on the lead lap, it was the two Nissan Micra Cup races that had the crowd on the edges of their seats. The Micra Cup cars peel away from the start/finish line like a swarm of bees and largely stay that way for the duration of the race with small break-away packs spreading out the field at both ends. A small army of cameras capture all the on-track action on GP weekend, and the monitors around the track were the place to watch. From rubbing tires and trading paint/vinyl to bump-drafts and car-flipping, the Micra Cup races had it all, including Canadian racing legend Richard Spenard, former NHLer Marc-André Bergeron and a couple of virtual-turned-real-racers from the GT Academy. Watching them bounce up on to two wheels, cut corners over the grass and close each other’s side mirrors among other things, it was obvious they were having so much fun. And from the sidelines, I was too. The Micra Cup just might have been the most entertaining racing in Montreal.