When I received the invite to the Bridgestone Racing Academy – I couldn’t contain my excitement. The Bridgestone Racing Academy is one of a kind and it teaches future race stars and racing enthusiasts how to successfully and safely drive a race car. Now where else would you get the same experience as Danica Patrick or James Hinchcliffe, who were once instructed at this very same school?
The Bridgestone Racing Academy is held at the newly named Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP), formerly Mosport. The day starts out with some classroom time led by owner Brett Goodman and chief instructor Jamie Fitzmaurice. They both went over certain safety procedures as well as how to handle some tricky corners around the race track. Surprisingly, every media member in this group would be in a Formula car for their first time, so I’m sure there was plenty of nervous tension to go around from the drivers to the instructors who have a 28-year injury-free safety record intact.
The formula cars were powered by a Mazda engine producing 170 horsepower, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but what you need to consider is that these race cars only weigh 900 lbs., so it’s a hell of a lot faster than you think.
The day wouldn’t be only about racing, the team from Suncor were on hand to teach us more about Ultra 94, a premium gas that’s used in these very Formula cars. Considering the cost of fuel nowadays, I’m sure many would like to understand more about why they need to stick to using this higher quality fuel. But first it was time to hit the track and feel that Ultra 94 in use.
Drivers, start your engines!
We were supplied racing suits, shoes, gloves, and helmets, you name it – they had it. They supply you with everything to make you feel like a race car driver, but it was left to me to actually drive like one. We all know there was no chance for that, but the main focus was to master the correct braking points, hit the racing lines and keep up with the lead instructor.
Little did I realize that the biggest challenge might be getting in and out of the Formula car. It’s no longer a shock why most race car drivers are petite in stature and I start to feel sorry for the Justin Wilsons and Mark Webbers of the racing world. I manoeuvred myself into the cockpit and had belts fastened over each leg and over each shoulder. Safe to say I wasn’t going anywhere as I could barely move, but nothing could contain my excitement.
I flicked the engine switch on and pushed the big black button to start it up queuing one of the best adrenaline rushing sounds you’ll here.
These cars are fitted with a sequential gear shift, so that was easy to work with as long as you remember or feel what gear you’re in. It took a little time to get used to the clutch as this car didn’t work like your typical street manual. Once you start to depress the clutch you have to get on that throttle and give it some – this wasn’t going to be a test on how smooth you could do it.
We were off and running for three separate sessions. The first would be a slower ride to get familiar with the race car and CTMP’s 12 turns and we got progressively quicker as our comfort level improved.
After starting off I put it in second gear and pedalled my way through turns two and three. It would definitely take a little time to get used to driving these Formula cars, because you’re so close to the ground as if you’re driving one of those Flintstones’ cars while leaning back. To understand it fully, I was at level with those Bridgestone Potenza tires.
During the second run, I started to gear shift quite frequently between second, third and fourth to get a good feel for the sticky shift and find the appropriate moments to ease off the throttle and shift down while approaching the corners.
I tried to incorporate all of my racing knowledge while in these beautiful specimens. I broke before the corners, gently accelerated from the turning point to the apex and hit the throttle hard as the steering wheel straightened out. The biggest thrill were the corners before the long straightaway that you can attack hard by shifting down to second and picking up the throttle quickly into third and then fourth allowing you to reach your highest speeds and fly down that large straight. Some might have tested it in fifth gear, but it was fast enough in fourth and the instructors did warn us of the concrete wall at turn 12, so I didn’t want to push it – I'm a guest after all.
I always love track time, because it gives me the chance to improve on my racing skills and the Bridgestone Racing Academy gave us more than enough laps to master our craft. I’m definitely using the word master loosely!
Before I knew it my time was done and the thrilling experience was over. For a person that gets some track time occasionally, I had an amazing experience that I’ll never forget. It just proves what a great corporate event or birthday present the Bridgestone Racing Academy could be. Brett, Jamie and the rest of the crew take you through the ropes in class with tips on how to tackle each corner and they continue that lesson with helping you out whenever you need during your track time. They really know how to make it a fun experience while keeping the entire day organized and safe.
In the middle of the session and after lunch, we were treated to an Ultra 94 presentation as mentioned before. If you’re not familiar with Ultra 94, it’s the super-premium gasoline offered at Petro Canada. It surpasses the recommended octane in any street vehicle, so the question is why would people spend the extra money to get it?
Ultra 94 is a choice and it's nice to see that it's offered to us, but what are the benefits?
The 94 octane level resists knocking which is when abnormal combustion occurs creating the fuel/air mixture to burn more rapidly. The higher the octane, the more resistant it is to knocking and the better performance you get out of your vehicle.
If you’re really into getting the maximum performance out of your vehicle – Ultra 94 can definitely help. The people at Ultra 94 preached that it will maximize horsepower, acceleration and performance. Furthermore, it will optimize fuel economy and reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.
It’s not for everybody or every car, but if you’ve paid for a high-priced luxury sports vehicle like the BMW M6 Coupe or the Mercedes-BenzSL 63 AMG Roadster – you might want to partake in some Ultra 94.
Should you pay if you have a Scion FR-S or Subaru Impreza WRX STI?
You need to figure out if it’s worth it to you – all depends on what you’re doing with your car. If you like to take it to track and get the most out of it, it might be worth it. If you’re driving back-and-forth from home to work in it with the occasional fun drive, you might be better off with the recommended octane listed.
The advantages of Ultra 94 were intriguing and it worked it sync with what they do at the Bridgestone Racing Academy. Ultra 94 is trying to increase their awareness and recently became the new title sponsor and official fuel for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada. Racing is the perfect arena to demonstrate Ultra 94’s performance and it showcased its talents at the Bridgestone Racing Academy and I’m sure it will do the same in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.
If you’ve ever had the desire to try out a racing car, I can’t think of a better place to start than the Bridgestone Racing Academy. It was an experience I will remember forever and one where I want to try several more times. It was a thrilling ride and the instructors allow you to go at the pace you want while being safe in the process. Therefore, if you’re more experienced you can tackle the course at the speed you wish; while on the flip side, if you’re new and want to take a more conservative approach you can go at the speed you’re comfortable in. It’s your experience, so do what you want with it and have a blast – I know I did.