Learning Curve: Epic Tracks - Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
By Corey Rueth
July 18, 2016
While recently sitting on the back porch of Harris Hill Road, a club track in Texas, one of the most common conversations that I heard was the debate over which tracks are the most epic. We all have different criteria for what makes a track truly epic, but for most racers Canadian Tire Motorsport Park fits the bill perfectly.
Mosport was designed and built in the late 1950s, and it was Canada’s second purpose-built road race circuit. It is an epic track for many reasons, and for me it begins with history.
As I pulled into the front gate overlooking the track I could see it tucked into nature’s bosom, flowing like water through all of Canada’s natural glory. It became immediately obvious that I had wandered into the history books of motorsports legends, and I begin to channel Stirling Moss – I could hear the Lotus 19 revving in the wind like a child hears the ocean in a seashell.
Mosport has honored its heritage with minimal changes to the facility throughout the years, and the cries from the enthusiasts were loud and clear when they decided to pave the runoff area of Turn 2. Safety is not always the number one consideration with historical tracks, and the inner Can-Am racer inside me thinks that this is part of what makes this track epic.
As I suited up to take my Mazda MX-5 Global Cup car out for my first session I must admit that the butterflies in my stomach felt more like bats, yet as I hit the track my concerns were immediately replaced with adoration. The track swoops through the hills and valleys like a student pilot trying to hold straight and level on their first flight lesson.
The intense speed and the absolute lack of any need for my lower gears made me aware that I should respect this track and its closely positioned walls, yet I somehow felt safe and confident that this track had my best interests at heart.
I have noticed that I tend to really enjoy the tracks built in the 1950s before there was an established “right” and “wrong” way to engineer a corner. Race tracks should be like fine art in that there should be no formulated way to create them. I personally enjoy a track that flows, and I have never driven a track that flows better than this one. I feel like modern racetracks tend to feel familiar even when I have never driven there before, being built with a standard set of corners that you come to expect. Yet Mosport has character and unusual nuances for nearly every single turn, making it much more interesting to drive.
To list a few of my favorite differentiations I’d have to start in the middle of the track, at a turn with the most “character”: Turn 5 (AKA “Moss Corner”). Moss is the slowest part of the track, and on the track map it appears to be a standard hairpin.
As I crest the blind entry into 5 light on my feet and sliding with a very slight slip angle, it becomes clear that this is a three-part challenge that is anything but ordinary. There is a bit of a separation between 5a and 5b where I must gather up the car from the sketchy sliding entry and make sure that I can find the blind second apex, which leads to the longest straight where the uphill climb begins. The second apex is farther away than I expect every time and I always struggle with how much roll speed I can carry over the crest of the first apex and not blow the second apex.
The second apex is also difficult to see, and it’s marked by a curb large enough to jam your shock absorber through your hood if you misjudge it. The exit of Moss corner continues to impress with an exit curb that is forgiving, aside from the black tar-like substance at the end and the huge bump in the grass after the curb ends that upset my car so bad once, I was convinced I’d spin.
The data revealed that no matter what you do in this turn, make sure that you hit the second apex perfectly and try to beat your competitors to the skinny pedal. The trick however is using your slip angle and trail braking to help you point the car to the second apex before you pick up throttle or you will instigate a driver induced understeer that will destroy your exit speed. As I get more comfortable with the track my lap times keep falling and I discover that each turn has tricks to maximize your average speed.
The next critical turn is Turn 8, a corner that shows how just imperative corner entry speed is at this circuit. Turn 8 is at the end of a long uphill straight section and is one of the most ambiguous turns that I have ever seen. I brush the brake and roll fifth gear towards the apex with a tiny slip angle hoping to get the car back to the right side of the track.
I continue to coast and slide my way up to Turn 9, and somewhere I must downshift to fourth, then return to throttle briefly before I am back to the brakes to give up exit speed so I can be sure that I am far track left for the fourth gear entry to Turn 10 which leads to the front straight and Turn 1.
Each time through Turn 1 I used less and less brake until I finally accepted the idea of just a slight lift to 50% throttle with lots of roll speed and full throttle right before the apex curbing, setting me up for a hair-raising exit over the exit curb, narrowly missing the grass.
When done properly, Turn 1 feels like you have way too much entry speed. Turn 2 was much the same where I gradually used less brakes and eventually settled on none at all with an early turn-in to clip the first apex, flying over a crest that made me feel like my next stop was the tire wall. But as the car settled into the mid corner section I was collected by the new asphalt and able to pick up full throttle again in fifth gear for another over the exit curb departure.
Once again I always feel like I am going too fast in the entry phase of this corner, yet somehow with careful steering inputs it all works out. Turn 2 is interesting in that we are feet, not inches, away from the second apex when we are doing it correctly and it feels completely unnatural.
Next up is Turn 3. I was perplexed at first by Turn 3 because it has an increasing radius, but eventually I was able to figure out how early I could pick up throttle and still remain on the track. I use a slight brush of the brake, downshift to fourth gear, and turn in to follow the contour of the new asphalt. Here, clipping the apex curb right near a large bump reminds me that this track will bite me if I am not very careful with smooth pedal and wheel inputs. The bump always unsettles the car but the widening radius saves the day as I run out to the very rough exit curb.
I usually glance in the mirror at this point to see if any gunners are planning on dive-bombing me at Turn 4 which is a full throttle fifth gear turn with – you guessed it – another bump near the apex. When no challengers are present I set up far right as I approach Turn 4, force myself to keep the throttle pinned as I gently bend the car in early to clip the first apex, and crest the hill with a straightened steering wheel where the car will always buck and slide as if to warn me that things could go very wrong here if I am not careful.
After I crest the hill safely, full throttle finally feels like a great idea again as I am greeted with tons of grip and confidence to add more steering input as I come back into Turn 5 trying to judge the braking zone and collect the car from top speed to minimum speed again.
It all flies by in just over 90 seconds and it never gets old, lap after lap.
The fast laps here feel more intuitive than strategic. There are very few clean and clear braking and apex points yet it quickly feels familiar and rhythmic, like an old 80s song. I think that the bumps help inform my decisions more here than most tracks that I have driven, and its oddly helpful to assist in keeping faith that the car is positioned correctly despite the lack of landmarks.
During warm up laps I scanned the tracks edge to see the high trees and lots of green grass that could rival any park in the world and I was amazed at the number of spectators cheering and waving as we passed by. The Canadians seem to have the same lust for motorsports as Europeans. A friend taught me that if I wear my driving suit to the food trailers that the fans will always pay for your lunch! How cool is that?
According to my wife, an epic track must have epic camping and spectating opportunities with epic fans and Mosport definitely checks all of these boxes. Now I hear what you are saying – not all spouses want to hang out at the track in the heat like mine does. But we found that Canada has many beautiful things to see surrounding the track, like Niagara Falls, which is best seen from the Canadian side in my opinion and well worth the walk.
Mosport is surrounded by small towns that are about thirty minutes in each direction. Our favorite place to explore was Whitby, which is full of great shopping and amazing food. My family is hard to please in that arena, but we found many options for Farm to Table organic cuisine to make up for a long day at the track. My favorite spot was a restaurant called KB where we had no problem getting our hands on a delicious, chef prepared, seasonal selection of both paleo and vegan, allergen-free meals while enjoying their broad selection of craft cocktails and extensive wine bar. There is something for everyone here, and heading back to Texas in mid-July makes me anxious to return as I sit in the 100 degree heat, staring at my panting dog in the sun-wilted grass.
The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich tires has proven to not only be the most competitive pro series around (with the top 20 separated by tenths of a second), but also the best way to end up at legendary bucket-list tracks. If you are ready to start checking off the tracks on your bucket list then give Winding Road Racing a call and I will meet you at VIR or Road Atlanta for the next chapter in Global MX-5 history.