Driver’s Log September

By Tom Swift

The Thrill of the CanAm DE

In mid-July the NNJR DE program ventured north to Mosport, a track just east of Toronto. We hold the Canadian/American DE in partnership with the Upper Canada Region of PCA. As most of our members have not been to Mosport, I’d like to share some thoughts on the experience.

The Drive
At 500 miles from central New Jersey, it is a long drive. It is not a very scenic one, with one fabulous exception, that being where you cross the St. Lawrence River at Thousand Islands. The bridge is narrow, looks delicate and is not ideal for those suffering from acrophobia.
Yes, customs can be a pain. I found myself in the bilingual lane and the officer spoke with a strong French accent and a not entirely friendly cadence. First time going over in the NNJR van, I fumbled a question, causing me to receive a curt command to pull over for what became a one hour process. The search was completed in ten minutes. The criminal background check took two minutes. The wait in-between took 45 minutes. Aside from the guy in the booth, all were exceptionally polite while I was cooling my heels.
While we are on the subject of law enforcement, Ontario does not take kindly to speeding. At 50 kph over, you are subject to a $10K fine and vehicle confiscation. A bit Draconian and reminiscent of justice in Singapore.

The Area
Toronto is a lovely city, but the track is just a bit too far away, although some UCR members commute from their homes. There are some B&Bs near the track and the usual hotels in Bowmanville, about 20 minutes from the track. We tried one of the B&Bs one year and it was a bit strange. Not Bates Motel strange, but the layout was architecturally challenged and the décor was just a tad odd.
The track is surrounded by a lot of nothing. Which these days is a good thing. Nothing rarely complains about noise levels.
Restaurants in the area have greatly improved and there are a couple very good ones. Those old folks who are wrecked after a day at the track can find a variety of fast food joints, although Canadian fast seems a bit more leisurely than US fast.
If your spouse wants to take a side trip, I’m told Pickle Lake is as far north as you can drive (on paved roads) in Ontario. About 2000 km from Mosport. The town markets itself as “the end of the road.”

The Track
The main attraction for gearheads, by far, is the 2.5 mile long track. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, nee Mosport, is challenging and intense and with a brilliant history. Some 14 F1 races were held there between 1961 and 1977, as well as many CanAm races. Aside from being widened, it is essentially unchanged since it was built in the late 1950s. Driving it fast is not for the faint of heart. What follows is not intended as a technical turn-by-turn how to, but rather a description of how it feels to drive the course.
After a warm up lap, you enter the short front straight. The track turns downhill towards the end and turn one is a high speed right hand sweeper. There isn’t much run off room on driver’s left and on the right is the apex curbing, behind which only a few feet is the concrete barrier wall that defines the pit out lane. A lot of speed, a lot of cornering force and a lot of hard stuff to hit if you screw it up.
Turn two follows almost immediately thereafter and you approach it very rapidly. It is a double apex, downhill, blind entry, fast left hand sweeper. You must commit to a line before you can see over the crest of the hill to the first apex. You know immediately if your turn in point is on target or not. If not, you make adjustments and hope (or pray, speed dependent) that you do not run out of grip. Going off on the right used to be a quick ticket to a body shop or the new car dealer. With recently paved runoff, however, recovery from four off is possible and the fear factor is reduced. Reduced, but not eliminated.
After one and two, right hander three is a bit of an anticlimax. Except that there is a bump right at the apex that adds a bit of anxiety if you are not prepared for it.
Turn four is a very fast, sharply downhill left hand sweeper. You can take it in fourth or fifth gear with your foot on the floor and live. However, you feel as if you are driving off a cliff. Go too wide to the right and you will hit negative camber and clagg, likely exit the track and fall off the cliff. Go too far to the left and you hit a small curb with a vicious little bite. This is the Yorkshire Terrier of curbs. It may be small and hard to see, but kick it and you will be sorry.
Screaming down the hill is very exhilarating but then the bill comes due almost immediately. The track goes sharply uphill and turns right. In very little time, you must brake very hard, downshift or double downshift, turn right, brake and perhaps downshift again while again turning right. If you exit 4 in 5th and exit 5B in 2nd and you shift the old fashioned way, the amount of work in a short period of time is very high, and a small error will spin the car, or worse. The back straight feels almost like a small vacation after 4, 5A and 5B, and my subconscious is busy congratulating me for again making it through turns 1-5.
At the end of the Andretti Straight is the three turn sequence of 8, 9 and 10. Eight is another very fast sweeper. A lovely turn, as long as everything is working. Once I lost the front splitter of my cup car in 5B, having caught the curb, but I did not know it until I turned into 8 and noticed I had additional power steering boost. Or so it seemed. Alas, the reduced steering effort was offset by the increased mental effort as I realized that the car did not really want to turn in. Major understeer (push for those who are syllable challenged). Afterwards I congratulated myself on a lovely recovery and tried to forget that OMG moment at turn in.
Turns nine and ten are not especially exciting, except when things go wrong. For me, my driver’s side half shaft decided to self-destruct upon entering nine one year. The car became “dynamically challenged.” I kept if off the wall and limped into the paddock while shedding ball bearings the size of marbles. Thanks to a local race shop and the talent and generosity of Mike Carr, we replaced the damaged shaft and salvaged the weekend.

The wrong turn
This year I had my best run ever at Mosport, thanks to coaching and encouragement from Ron Lipson and Matt Muller. I felt very pleased with myself as I packed up late Sunday afternoon.
Heading home, I took a right out of the Mosport facility, following the route sign, thinking that I would save time vs. taking the usual left and following the familiar but presumably longer path. Alas, at the next intersection, no route signs are posted, I had no GPS, so I was on my own. I went straight. This proved to be my worst driving decision of the event. After a few hundred meters and up and over a hill or two, the road surfaced turned to dirt. I may be in the RED run group on track, but I am in the GREEN run group piloting the club van with my enclosed trailer attached. It took me a very long time to back the rig up, relying on blind hope that no one would approach me from behind. Back up X feet, lose control of the process, shift into D to straighten out, repeat about 50 times.
Sic transit gloria mundi.

Bottom line
Niki Lauda has called Mosport one of the best tracks in the world. It remains today as it was fifty years ago: very challenging and supremely exhilarating. Very few of the early road racing circuits remain unchanged. The Nordschleife is much harder to learn and a bit harder to get to. Good luck getting track time at Monoco. If you love road racing, you need to drive Mosport at least once.