Monday, February 18, 2013

Track Review: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport)

by EJ

Back in 2011, two of my track rat friends decided to head North and experience Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP). Upon their return they talked about their on-track experiences in terms they hadn't used for other tracks we had been to. They kept mentioning how several turns demanded your full attention and respect, and how difficult it was to trust the advice of others and drive full bore in some turns when your head was saying "this is unsafe - slow down". These friends were good drivers, and I trusted their opinions and impressions, so I was curious as to what manner of layout could keep them coming back to discussions about this track and the constant references to "wear your big boy pants". The following year, I decided to find out for myself.

EJ in his track-prepped Evo VIII at Mosport

Track History
Previously known as "Mosport" (pronounced "MOE - sport") until early 2010, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has a storied history dating back to its opening in 1961. Located in the woods and rolling farmland that lay just over an hour east of Toronto, the facility has hosted many important and historic events and drivers, from Can-Am to F1, and drivers such as Brabham, Moss, Andretti, and Foyt have turned wheels in anger here. It's one of only 3 tracks in the world that has hosted F1, Can-Am, and Indy car events. In recent history, the track has hosted ALMS and Grand Am races, among others.

First Impressions
One of the first impressions I had was how bumpy and rough the track surface was - those years of having various professional racing machines scrambling for traction have left many scars in their wake. "Sketchier than hell" was my reply when asked by one of my track rat buddies what I thought of the track so far. Ripples in the asphalt and cut-out concrete patches abound in the turns. My Mitsubishi Evo VIII, with a track-prepped suspension, certainly is stiff but with the amount of jostling I was taking while navigating the circuit, I literally started consciously keeping my teeth apart as to avoid the stereotypical "teeth rattling".

I couldn't begin to imagine how a Le Mans prototype would make it around at speed, trying to feel the limit of grip all while the track surface itself is masking what your car is trying to communicate to you as you swoop down through the turns. My respect for pro racers performing their craft on this track surface is immense. Some portions of the track, especially turns 9, 10, 1, and 5 had me taking lines that were less about maximizing my speed as they were about minimizing the jarring from the surface irregularities. While many tracks should have you looking far ahead and expanding your view, this surface keeps drawing your eyes to certain details of it in order to successfully avoid the worst portions.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Track Layout
The elevation changes at this track are like being on a roller coaster. The first half of the track is alternating level and dramatic drop sections. Turns 2 and 4 are sections that require your "big boy pants". While each turn is unique in its details, both consist of a level approach, followed by the track surface falling away from you and turning to the left, as the rest of the landscape falls away to the right. Both turns have a small but precious amount of friendly camber on the left side of the track. Both turns lose positive camber if you drift to mid-track, and your prospects of maintaining your car's bodywork, let alone any semblance of momentum, are very slim if you wander out to the right side of the track.

The approach into Turn 5A is incredibly entertaining, as you take a roller coaster up swoop, regain your bearings as you crest and then wait patiently for a fast approaching turn-in point, exiting an impossibly tight Turn 5B to the right, and then spend the back straight eventually regaining your altitude. By the time you reach the Start/Finish line, you're ready to begin your ride down again. That back portion of the track, while not featuring the dramatic elevation changes the front half does, can still make you feel like a hero if you can nail some segments. The right hand turn at the end of the back straight allows you to carry some serious speed around it, but make sure to hug the right side of the track. The left-right complex of Turns 9 and 10 seem easy, but they can bite you with a slower exit speed onto the front straight if you make some small mistakes, and can put you into the abundant tirewalls or a guardrail if you really make a mess out of them.

Turn 8
Mosport in the Rain
Now imagine driving this track in a pouring rain - something I got to experience on Day Two of my three-day event. Speeds of 65mph seemed almost reckless, especially given the cars I saw feeding the infamous tirewalls during the morning sessions on that rainy day. A brand new set of Hankook R-S3s made me feel like a hero during my sessions, passing everything I came across. I felt sorry for the Porsche GT3, which crawled around the track in the rain, but I fully understood why he felt compelled to do it that way. All those concrete patches were hazards in the wet, so you needed to either avoid them or make sure to cross them straight. At the slower speeds I took in the rain, I began to fully appreciate the beauty of this track. The bumps seemed to disappear, due both to the slower speeds and the use of lesser traveled portions of the track surface in a search for grip. The circuit took center stage, rather than the track surface, and the track finally seemed to reveal its true character during this day. It was finally evident to me that safely completing a fast lap was something to take real pride in.

Spartan Track Amenities
Being in the middle of farmland, amenities are few in the immediate area. We found one - yes, one - gas station just north of rt. 401 on Regional Road 57 offering 94 octane gas (equivalent to 92 in the U.S.), and that was an exit west from where we stayed in Bowmanville. The gas station, and our hotel, were about 25 mins from the track. Because of that, you need to cart your own gas to the track. The track had a good food shack that offered some decent food. The facilities themselves were a bit spartan. The common rooms used for registration and driver meetings were garages with low roofs. The paddock area is paved, but a good portion of it close to the activity is as tilted as the landscape making up the track. We had a trailer roll downhill and punch a hole with its tongue through the women's room wall during our stay. Find a level portion to use.

On to the New Season!
So now that you have all that track knowledge about CTMP based on the 2012 season, realize that some of it has changed. The track has undergone limited renovations and continues to be improved under the ownership of famed GM road racer Ron Fellows and some investment partners. The concrete patches have been removed and new pavement has been put down in those sections. There are also big changes being made to the infrastructure, with a new timing tower constructed, and an expanded pit lane also being constructed. Other changes are rumored to be planned, and the rumor that the entire track surface will be replaced is welcome conjecture and hopefully not just someone's wishful thinking. Can't wait to get back and see how my big boy pants fit with the changes in place.