A Ride with VCMC AutoCross!
Like most of you, everyone here at MotoIQ loves automobiles and motorsports have obviously been an interest for years. Taking our cars out for a track day are an absolute highlight. Time Attack. ChumpCar World Series and ChumpCar Canada. Simply attending races of various levels over the years and even being privileged enough to photograph some of these events. However, unlike some of the enthusiasts at MotoIQ who have participated in everything, this writer has never attended an AutoCross event. Anywhere. Not even as a spectator! So when VCMC provided an invitation to join in their Autocross Warm-Up, signing up was not a question. (Disclaimer: they didn't personally invite me. They invited newcomers to join them at no charge – and you need to move fast when opportunity knocks! Unfortunately, moving fast to get the free spot was the only quick action on my part during this autocross event).
There are a few basics that are needed for any motorsport activity. Decent tires. Great brake fluid. Excellent brake pads. Those were all set and looked after. The intent for the 2004 Mazda RX-8 was to run Toyo R1R's. While they have seen a considerable amount of street use, only a fraction of their life has been track work. They are getting close to the wear bars so will need replacing soon but they were more than adequate for a day of fighting cones. The weather here in the south-western corner of British Columbia was not cooperating, however, and the plan to swap from snow tires to summer tires did not happen. More about that later but suffice it to say that eight year old snow tires simply do not provide any grip on a wet autocross course. If you want to practice your car control skills, then this combination is ideal so the set up was perfect.
Autocross in the Vancouver area is mainly held at the YPK Pitt Meadows training facility. Through the week this massive 500 000 square foot paved lot is used for training professional drivers like police officers and fire fighters. The advantage of this for autocross is that there are no light standards or other large objects anywhere on the field so autocross course designers can be as creative as they want. The course was a pleasant surprise as it included some great sweeping corners and not as many serpantine paths as anticipated. Autocross occurs throughout the winter months here at Pitt Meadows – and really hits its stride during the spring and summer.
VCMC is hosting the 2017 ASN/FIA Canadian Autoslalom Nationals at the JIBC Pitt Meadows venue from June 23 through 25, 2017. All 500 000 square feet of pavement will be utilized to create four courses to challenge drivers over two days of competition (the first day is a test and tune day). An adjacent runway will be used for staging and paddock space. Drivers from across Canada and the United States will face some great competition and fantastic camaraderie. American drivers, like Joe in the blue BRZ featured in the cover photo, will also get the benefit of a strong US dollar – at time of writing $1 US will buy about $1.35 of Canadian goods.
Recognizing that this winter in south western BC has been one with more snow than the past fifty years, there was simply no way that the snow tires were coming off. With the R1Rs, the risk of snow meant getting stuck on the smallest of inclines. It was a good thing too as we had snow the day before, the day of, and shortly after the VCMC Autocross Warm Up. The downside was that these Toyo winter tires were old. Literally. If they were kids they would be in elementary school. With a manufacture date of 2609, these eight year old tires have literally become hockey pucks. If the front end was not washing out in corners then the rear end was in constant oversteer mode anytime the gas peddle was put to use. Nothing like bad tires to create a bit of humility! In addition to the tires letting us down (all racers have excuses and this is one of the best), the weather was absolutely confused about what it was doing. The morning started off overcast but somewhat dry after a night of rain. Three quarters of the way through the first run group a light rain began. During the second run group it became a heavy rain and then a wet slush started to fall. It was not big, light, white, fluffy snow flakes. It was literally slush. When the first group went out for our afternoon session, the weather started to clear and we got the course partially dry. That meant that the last group of the afternoon managed to get in some reasonably fast sessions on a reasonably dry (in a few places) course with a smattering of big puddles. In some countries these puddles might have been called lakes.