At Mosport, Dick Fell mentioned he was going to attend a DE at Mont Tremblant (en français, Le Circuit Mont Tremblant, or LCMT) hosted by the Rennsport region. Although I had never been, I had heard many good things about the circuit, and there was a nice gap in our own DE schedule, so I signed up. Greg Mills, one of our Tech Stewards, had just been before our event at Mosport and signed up for a second go around at Tremblant. Ralph Calistri had missed several events due to an engine issue and wanted to make up for lost time now that he was up and running. Knute Hancock had not been to LCMT in a number of years, so with his wife Shirley, we had a total of six NNJR members making the trip (the group would later grow to seven, more on that later). Dick, Greg, Ralph and I met up at a rest stop on the NY thruway around 9:00am on Thursday. Knute did his best impression of “No-Sleep Sal” and was on the road by 3:45am, getting most of the way to LCMT by the time the rest of us met up in Plattekill.
The ride through upper NY State north of Albany was nothing short of spectacular. The route was very scenic as we drove through pristine forest and mountains. When we stopped for lunch we ate outside and enjoyed the sunshine and the sweet smell of pines. We were making good time; that is, until we approached Montreal. Mont Tremblant is located 1.5 hours north of Montreal, which is about as long as it took to crawl across the Lake Champlain Bridge and creep through the maze of construction, congestion and confusion in the city itself. Our moods, needless to say, had somewhat soured. After traveling through intermittent rain showers, we arrived at LCMT in plenty of time to find a good spot in the paddock next to an inviting lake.
Mont Tremblant is in Quebec, a French speaking province. My mastery of the French language is limited to three words: oui (yes), merci (thank-you), and bonjour (hello). However, most natives knew enough English to get by, so ordering at restaurants, interacting with hotel staff, etc. was not a problem. The local area had much the feel of a European village, with outdoor dining, hanging flowers, and lovely French women. The daily driver’s meeting was conducted by Bob Rouleau, Rennsport’s chief instructor. Bob conducted a bilingual meeting, effortlessly switching back and forth between English and French and managing laughs in both. Like NNJR, there were work assignments for staging, but we were told that unless they were in a pinch, none of us needed to work. Dick, Knute and I were also not assigned students, so this would turn out to be a very leisurely event. In fact, we were bordering on stir-crazy at times. Runs on the track were only 20 minutes, and after we returned to the paddock there was usually an hour and a half until the next run. Lots of sitting, but it gave us all the opportunity to catch up and chat, something that instructing, track chair, and/or chief instructor duties do not usually allow at an NNJR event.
The track itself more than lived up to my expectations. The surface was perfect with good grip. For the first session I followed Knute around for a few laps to learn the line and I tried to remember what was coming up next. After a few runs I was moving along fairly well and the overall character of the track became evident: this venue has the best rhythm and flow of any track I have driven. Combine that with 2 blind turn entries, sections where finesse is required, and several spots with a high “pucker factor”, you can understand why some drivers consider this one of the best tracks in the world after the Nürburgring. The most challenging section for me was the Turn 1-2-3 complex. After the front straight, there is a drop before you turn right into Turn 1 and up the hill to Turn 2. Locals had said not to brake before turning in, and although over the course of the event I greatly reduced the amount I was braking, I still felt the need for a slight tap before the drop in the track. Taking Turn 1 late lines you up to be straight as you crest the hill towards Turn 2. Positioning is key- well before you can see where you are going and you need to be on the gas to keep the car planted. Most of us used the 2 sets of curbing on the right to gauge if we were headed in the correct direction over the hill. Once the hill is crested, there is a short and fast downhill section as Turn 3 is approached. Turn 3 comes up on you fast, and your first instinct is self-preservation: Brake! However, after seeing several cars pull away from me here, I finally had the intestinal fortitude to not brake and had the confidence that the compression at the bottom of the hill would provide enough grip.
Friday and Saturday were spectacular, but after the driving day ended on Saturday some torrential showers passed through. This would be a harbinger of Sunday – the forecast was not great and we all packed it in and left LCMT by mid-morning. Still, I was very glad I went and plan to return. Rennsport put on a nice event at a great venue.
Recall that I said our group grew to seven members. Early Saturday morning after arriving at the track, Ralph discovered an intruder in his truck. Unlike all the attendees that make it legitimately through the track’s front gate (including one dog we saw), this vagabond was not wearing a wristband. The unwanted visitor did not speak English, and there was concern about his health. Cold and clammy, barely moving and groggy, he was helped to a patch of sun next to the lake in hopes that he would warm up. It was not worth reporting the trespasser to the track personnel or authorities – the drifter was small in stature and seemed harmless enough. Nevertheless we were puzzled about how he had gotten into Ralph’s truck and went undetected for at least 12 hours. Although we were concerned about his well-being, the driver’s meeting was about to start and we didn’t want to violate any rules, so we left the interloper on his own and went to the meeting. After the driver’s meeting, there was a long gap in the schedule so we went out and had a nice breakfast, but not before confirming that Grenouille (what we later learned was his name) was still very sleepy and had not moved from his spot. Upon returning to the paddock, the sun was now warm and bright. We went down to the lake and Grenouille was nowhere to be found. No doubt the sun had awakened him from his slumber and he had gone for a swim.
I should at this point fess up. My French vocabulary now totals four words. “Grenouille” is French for “frog”, and I don’t mean that to be slang for a resident of Paris. Ralph had stopped for ice the previous day and packed his cooler with several bags. The next day at the track he unloaded a few bags for Greg. At the bottom of the cooler, frozen like an amphibian popsicle, was Grenouille. How he got there is still a mystery, how he managed to survive will be topic for the next Discovery Channel special “Fabulous Frozen Frogs”. I hope Grenouille enjoys his new home.