Drivers at Every Level Benefit from Race Schools
Honing your skills behind the wheel can dramatically improve your lap times and help you get the most out of your car. There are many options across Canada for racing schools and so we decided it was time to investigate some of the leading schools around and see what they offer.
Jim Russell Racing School
|Location: Circuit Mont Tremblant
Price Range: $395 -$4295
Highlights: 62 Famous Racer Graduates, great location
Long considered one of the benchmarks in race training, the Jim Russell program has just celebrated its 40th anniversary of successful operation. The lon¬gest running and most recognizable name in International Driver Training, the Jim Russell Racing School’s roots go back to England starting in 1957. Today there are two independent schools operating under the Jim Russell banner.
The Canadian operation is based at Circuit Mont Tremblant and since 1969 has been providing aspiring racers and enthusiasts alike the chance to learn from the pros and enhance their driving skills. Jim Russell’s proven methods have developed more successful drivers and world champions than any other racing school.
The key to their success has been threefold: the best equipment with seasoned instructors on arguably Canada’s most beautiful racetrack. Spending time in the Tremblant area is more of a vacation than anything else with its rolling hills, colourful scenery and bustling resorts. The 4.26km track is as smooth as it gets during the undulating elevation changes and series of turns. As a competition track that plays host to touring cars, GT cars and in the past, Champ Car, the track is versatile enough to do it all. The width of the track ranges from 11 m to 36 m, leaving plenty of space for passing on this picturesque track. Ask any racer what their favourite track is and the Tremblant name will pop up repeatedly. This makes it an ideal spot for a racing getaway like Jim Russell.
The list of Jim Russell graduates reads like a who’s-who of the racing world. Many of the worldwide schools’ alumni have gone on to success in racing series ranging from touring cars to Formula One. With 62 famous racers to their credit, the Jim Russell Schools have fostered F1 greats like Emerson Fittipaldi along both Gilles Villeneuve and son Jacques. Also, Scott Speed, the former F1 racer and now NASCAR hopeful and the late Greg Moore, whose promising Champ Car career was cut short received training from the Jim Russell schools. A total of 14 Jim Russell Racing Schools’ graduates have gone on to race Formula One including current points leader Jenson Button.
“The comprehensive Jim Russell training program is a 3-day affair making it a gruelling effort as day after day you have to be ready both mentally and physically,” said Manager Keith Blatz. “The course provides all of the essentials for driver de-velopment, the dynamics of racing and effective passing in traffic but you have to bring yourself in top shape.” There are classroom sessions in addition to the on-track instruction, but the Jim Russell School with its small class sizes guarantees more seat time behind the wheel than offered anywhere else.
The car of choice is a serious piece of equipment, a Van Diemen FR02 F2000 open wheel car. It pumps out over 170 hp from its naturally-aspirated mill though a Hewland sequential 4-speed gearbox. This lightweight car is capable of reaching speeds exceeding 200 km /h on the straights and over 2.0 g around the turns. Students who successfully push this car to the limits are ready to tackle just about anything on four wheels.
The Jim Russell Racing School is ASN Canada FIA certified. It offers programs from three hours to three days available to drivers of all skill levels.
Introductory level programs start at $395 with the three day program costing $4,295. All programs include top level instruction, insur¬ance and the use of track equipment.
Upon arrival students are outfitted with a Sparco racing suit, gloves and a Bell Racing helmet. If you students choose to bring their own gear, that is fine providing it meets the current standards and is in good condition. Graduates of the Techniques of Racing Course are eligible to obtain a regional race license from any of ASN Canada FIA, SCCA, Federation Auto Quebec (FAQ), or Canadian Automobile Sport Club (CASC).
Bridgestone Racing Academy
|Location: Mosport Driver Development Track
Price Range: $595 - $3995
Highlights: Jacques Villenueve, Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier
The Academy offers the following experiences for beginners: Thrill of a Lifetime, Learn to Lap, Private Coaching and Race Licence. Intermediate drivers are able to enrol in Advance to Racing, Lapping Practice and Race Days and participate with others in head to head competition. The school’s fleet includes several 2008 Van Diemen Formula SCCA cars. These lightweight cars are used in competition and pump out 170hp with 170lb-ft in a chassis that weighs next to nothing at 1000lbs. Of course, all cars are equipped with the latest Bridgestone Ultra High Performance radial tires, the outstanding RE-11. The team of professional instructors is on hand to teach the students proper techniques of wheeling around the Van Diemen. With a 24 year safety record, the skills learned are transferable to every four-wheel vehicle on any race track.
Widely known as a favourite for many racers, the Bridgestone course is held on the Driver Development Track at Mosport International Raceway just one hour outside Toronto. The undulating circuit has hosted many event over the years and many of the world’s best have cut their teeth here at the DDT, more recently Indy Lights Driver James Hinchcliffe.
The Academy is a combination of great equipment, a great track facility and some of the best instructors in the business. It has produced great racers; Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier both started here. Then there is 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve who perfected his skills at a very early age while enrolled in the Academy. With graduates like that and the chance to drive a world class course in a Van Diemen racer for as little as $595, this is one school worth a closer look.
Jacques Villenueve Academy
Price Range: $99 - $3799
Highlights: 3.5 km of road course, ¼ mile drag strip, designed by Villeneuve
One of the highlights in grassroots motorsports as of late has been the development of the ICAR facility. Built on the site of the Mirabel airport, this expansive and smooth bit of real estate makes for an excellent race track only minutes from Montreal. Its popularity has snowballed and everything from track days to major events have been a resounding success. The Jacques Villeneuve Academy operates on this newly-formed race track to instruct drivers from beginners to those ready to go pro. We talked with ICAR’s Laurent Madore about what this new facility and the training programs have to offer.
“There is over 3.5 km of track that breaks down into multiple configurations with sections raging from 12 m to 20 m wide,” Madore said. “There is enough room there to perform all kinds of manoeuvres and passing.” The course does lack exciting elevation changes like those at Mosport since it is as flat as a board. However, the surface is smooth and provides loads of grip for all kinds of vehicles, including your own if you wish to bring it.
The Jacques Villeneuve Academy breaks down into three distinctive areas of instruction, the Mustang GT experience, Formula ICAR and instruction in your own car. The Mustang GT instruction ranges from a half-day basic training cover¬ing braking and effective cornering all the way up to a full three-day competition course. Recognized by ASN Canada FIA, the competition course covers passing manoeuvres and features over 100 timed laps with an instructor present at all times. Students who complete this $3,799 course will be granted a racing licence and will be ready for heads-up competition.