The Rough Draft

If you can't go through it. Go around it.

Not the fastest section on the track but you get the idea.

It’s no secret I enjoy pushing my own limits. Whether it’s with the V-Strom up on the pegs blasting down the Translab or trying to use a dirt track to cross a mountain pass better left alone, and now it’s trying to go as fast as I possibly can around a track in my JCW Mini. Some would say it’s a bit mad and who’s to say they’re wong? But I’m willing to bet, if you were measuring my heartbeat and blood pressure at those moments (with the exception of that mountain pass episode which got stupidly out of hand) you’d see a pretty steady set of measurements.

I can’t explain why I like this sort of thing but ever since I was given the gift of wheels as a small boy, I’ve wanted to go faster, further to the limits of where they’ll take me.

So here’s me trying to explain the feeling inside.

I don’t know much about Zen Buddhism but I’m pretty sure I’ve had a few Zen moments. Back when I was a teenager I was big into slalom waterskiing (a single ski). The best time to do it was early in the morning when the lake was like glass, before the wind had picked up and the waves gained strength. You could just carve away back and forth behind the boat. It was like flying but the Zen part of it was when you’d pull your body through the turn to cut back across the wake of the boat. There was a moment where everything was in perfect alignment, your arms, your body, the boat, the water, even it felt, the universe and it was like somebody was strumming a universal chord and you were the string and then you’d shoot back across the wake.

The other time was on the Translab. I was up on the pegs, leaning forward on the bike and doing just over 1oo kmh. The bike moved underneath me in very unnatural ways but there was a trust there between me and it, that this was the way it was supposed to be and it was as if my head was in it’s own bubble of calm. Everything fell away and my world became that rushing tunnel of three hundred feet in front of me and just the light tough of my hands on the bars and the nudges of my knees on the tank to keep me in line and once again, there was the feeling of that universal chord.

Last year was a tough one, physically and emotionally and to be honest, the final verdict on my riding days is still not in but when a big part of what defines you is wrapped up in something, it’s damned hard to let go of it and the feelings inside it generates. However, the JCW does pull me back towards my mental happy place. The second I drove it for the first time, I knew I’d be buying it and I knew I’d be getting it on a track. There is no greater sin in my eyes than having a thing built to do something and then never doing the very thing it was made for. John Cooper was always about the track. His entire focus was making things that went very fast and handled really well. What he did to the very first Mini’s to make them competitive is the stuff of motorsports legend and the JCW marque on the new Minis does him proud. So when I had the opportunity to learn how to lap my car properly and safely last October, I took it and it was an eye opener to say the least. Though I’ll admit, not very Zen. More of the other creature that also lives inside my head. The one that goes, “Yes, this thing is for us.” You start out a bit timid and unsure of how far you can push things but once you get the hang of the limits you can go to, you push up against them as hard as you can.

October to May is a bit of a stretch time wise or at least it feels as if winter is never going to end. For what was going to be my second track day with Infinite Motorsports I found myself back in Novice class. Which is fine. You need to show what you learned the previous session has stuck and to be fair, my first few laps were rusty and skittish until I managed to settle myself down. I’ll be honest, I was nervous. After the second session, my instructor cut me loose solo on the track. I was consistent enough to satisfy him.

Smooth is fast

Ross Bentley – Ultimate Speed Secrets

I’m on the back straightaway which is a bit of a misnomer as it’s actually more of a shallow curve to the right from turn 5C all the way up to the entry to turn 8. I’m closing on the Canadian Tire Bridge at the top of turn 7 with my accelerator to the floor in 5th gear. It’s taken two half hour sessions in the morning with an instructor to get me to this point. When I pass under the bridge I’m covering just over one hundred and eighty feet every second my braking point is about two seconds past the bridge. In three heartbeats, I’ll cover roughly the length of a football field before hitting my brakes hard enough to load my front end suspension and drop my entry speed into the corner to 150kmh. My tires howl in protest as a push the car tight into the turn aiming the front right tire for the white line at the inside edge of the track.

“Let her drift out, find your grip.” The voice of my instructor plays in my head. I ease off the turn a little and the car drifts to the strip of asphalt about three feet to the inside of the edge of the track. Once the front wheels are on it, I turn in to the right of the car, hold the curve and give her throttle. My tires sound like wounded dogs as I cross the apex of the turn and head into turn 9’s left hander.

Hard on the brakes, down into fourth. None of this Triptronic stuff for me, I’m in a manual, so it’s the ballet of left foot, right hand, accelerator. Turn 10 is another quick flick down to third and let the wheel wind out as I head onto the front straight at 120kmh which feels a lot slower now than it did this morning. I’ll shift into fourth as I cross the start finish line and trail brake into turn 1 so I can enter it at about 125kmh.

First Solo Lap minus my instructor – Shit just got real.

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is a technical track with many blind corners, which are also off camber. There are also a lot of elevation changes. Each one has its challenges obviously but there are sections I really enjoy like the drop from Turn 2 around 3. Turn 4 is a bit unnerving because you have to brake quite late before you turn in to go down the hill then brake hard as you can and downshift to 3rd as you charge up the hill to the apex of 5b with its tight 34 foot radius. I’m still working on tackling all the sections of Turn 5 properly. Which brings us back to the top of this section.

The thing about Track Days is it brings out a wide selection of people and cars. Everything from a Nissan Micra (one of my favorite racing classes to watch at the track) to McLarens and a good smattering of Porsches and other fastness. All are enthusiasts and everybody likes to talk about their car or their time on the track, compare notes on corners etc. The funny thing at least for me is, I like the social aspect but it really is just the down time between my times on the track.

Next month I’ll be at Watkins Glen for a couple of days, I’m really looking forward to it. There’s a good chance it’s going to be all the time off I can manage this year. At least I’ll be taking it at speed.

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