After a dreary, rain filled day, the sun finally came through as I headed west on the 401. The late evening sun warmed my face as the wind gently buffeted the top of my hat and I realized that I had just had the best day off I have had in ages.
A day of lapping in a Mazda MX-5, shared with my kid. A day hanging out with legends of Canadian Motorsport. Wrapping up the day watching my kid score his first kart racing pole position and then narrowly miss a podium finish after a hard fought 3 way battle. All in all, a fantastic day!
Between my catering business and my media work, I spend a lot of time at a variety of race tracks but the sad reality is that I don’t get to spend much time actually driving these days. Noticing this, Rick Morelli of the driving experience company Driveteq invited me to a special lapping day being held on the development track at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to increase awareness for the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame(CMHF). Like an Italian Nonna at a family dinner urging everyone to eat more, Morelli decreed that I should drive every session, all day long.
The good folks at Mazda Canada were happy to provide the perfect ride for the day, a 2018 MX-5 RF with 6-speed manual transmission, finished in suitably racy Soul Red. The one caveat was that the car was going out to another journalist the next day, so “please bring it back with tires and brakes”. That last bit might have had some affect on my ability to follow Morelli’s instructions had it not rained for most of the day.
Essentially a convertible with a retractable hardtop, the MX-5 RF is unique in the market in that with the top up, it is quite possibly the sexiest coupe ever built. Press a button and some mechanical wizardry turns it into a targa style roadster with no roof and an open rear window flanked by a pair of gorgeous flying buttresses. The aerodynamic effects of the package allow for open air driving even in the rain. That is a good thing for lapping, as most drivers will not be able to wear a helmet with the top up.
The CMHF was well represented by a collection of inductees and board members including long time racer Peter Lockhart and motorsport medical pioneer Dr. Hugh Skully. Canadian racing legend Ludwig Heimrath, who is still racing Porsches, was on site all day, revelling in the opportunity to tell stories of racing back in the day.
For this particular event, lapping day regulars had been hard at work recruiting newcomers and it showed. More than a dozen lapping day newbies took part in the novice school, in which students spend the morning in a classroom session with Driveteq instructors before heading out to the skid pad to learn some basic techniques. In the afternoon, the group made its way onto the track where students had one to one instruction, gradually working their way up to pace.
With a few Winter driving and rally style instruction sessions under his belt, my son Duncan took part in the intermediate group sessions, where he was paired with a trio of instructors. Why other instructors and not me? Trust me, that would not end well for anyone!
The factory tire option on the Mazda is great for everyday driving, but they create a very tail happy Miata on a rain soaked track. In three half hour sessions, I had only three laps that could be considered even close to dry. It became an exercise in patience and gentle throttle application. Of course the Mazda’s stability control works to prevent any rapid rotational moments (aka spins) but it is good fun to dance around the limits while learning just how close to the edge one can get without technology coming to the rescue.
These were actually perfect conditions for building on the loose surface training Duncan has already had, without him really driving very quickly. It also meant that the tires and brakes were treated very gently indeed.
Part way through the afternoon, another participant, whose son was also being instructed commented on how cool it was to see so many father/son pairs taking part. An informal count turned up at least 5 such family pairings. In each case, dads who have been regulars in the motorsport community over the years were introducing their offspring to the joys of high performance driving, a pastime that for many lasts a lifetime.
Too young to drive on the street, fifteen year old Jack Polito, multiple time Canadian Snow Cross Champion took part in the novice school, beginning the four wheeled aspect of his pursuit for speed. At the other end of the spectrum, when many his age are navigating a walker in their slippers, octogenarian Heimrath wheels a race spec 911 GT3 Cup in the heat of battle. Other participants on the day filled out the range, proving that the passion for driving is truly a life-long endeavour.
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