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Exotic Car Track Day comes to Calgary
Exotic Car Hoedown is Music to the Ears
By Doug Neilson
It was just before dawn one mid-summer morning near Calgary, Alta. On the western horizon, the first pink rays had just begun their gentle, short-lived dance on the snowcaps of the Rocky Mountains. The air was cool and fresh inside my car, with the window partly down as I cruised sedately down an empty stretch of highway south of the city.
I knew it was going to be a beautiful day in every way; it was a day I had waited for over eight weeks to enjoy. At precisely 5:56 a.m., I pulled into the entrance of RaceCity Motorsport Park, signed the usual waiver, and waited for others to arrive. I was a touch early, and I was wide awake -- this was definitely a very special day.
The first wave of arrivals included the familiar faces of local fellow performance driving instructors, most of whom are members of the Southern Alberta BMW Club. After a few handshakes, a bit of chit-chat, and a couple of laughs, there was a brief meeting.
Our chief organizer for the day had e-mailed an extremely thorough set of guidelines and assignments to the instructor group before this event. We were all completely keen and ready. Then came the flood of voluptuous, boldly-colored exotic automobiles, along with an accompanying symphony of exhaust notes, and of course, their smiling owners, who had come for the ZR Auto Exotic Car Track Day. (The event took place in June 2007.)
Once the dust had settled, a total of 27 exotics were registered for the track event. Their owners were guided to the hot pit parking and towards a breakfast buffet. The hot-pit parking was in itself a smorgasbord of automotive delights. The Ferrari lineup consisted of one yellow Enzo, six 360's, five 328's, two Testarossas, one 355, one 550, one 575 and one brand new 430. Lamborghini representatives included three Diablos, one Murcilago, and one Contach. The group was rounded out by one Pantera GTS, one Lotus Espirt Turbo, one Mercedes SL55, and one Bentley GT: not a bad turnout!
They had come from all over western Canada and the western U.S., and many of the exotics had been shipped to Calgary for this event by their well-to-do owners.
After breakfast, the chief organizer welcomed everyone and introduced the instructors. He then presented a brief and informal orientation, introducing the run groups and day schedule, pit entry/exit instructions, cone set-up definitions, guidelines to manage many safety issues and several tips of the trade.
The exotic owners had been split into two run groups by the event organizers: A) those with 'some experience', and B) 'first timers'. The A-Group participants were first on deck for some train lapping in order to get familiar with the 11-turn 3.2-km road course and the preferred 'school line'.
Train lapping has an instructor driving his or her own vehicle in the lead position with one or two students in their cars following in line. The instructor begins by slowly driving the school line, demonstrating the braking point, turn-in, apex, and track out for each corner, and then gradually increases the speed with careful attention to the student's skill and comfort level via the rear-view mirror.
Every three or four laps, the 'train' comes into the pits to allow the students to take turns directly behind the instructor car. Meanwhile, with several 'trains' lapping, B-Group was shuttled around to various viewing locations around the circuit to observe the line through various corners and to learn basic track information from their instructor. After the 25-minute session, the run groups reversed roles.
With dance partners assigned, the Hoedown got into full swing later in the morning when the instructors were in-car as passengers with the students for 25-minute road course sessions. After a few slow mellow renditions of the road course with instructors pointing out the finer details of the track, advising on the line, braking points and technique, as well as proper gear selection, things could gradually speed up with the increasing comfort level of each student.
The straightaway speed was the primary attraction for most students, but many had learned to fluidly waltz or jive through the corners by the end of the morning. After a gourmet lunch, the likes of which Race City Motorsports Park had never seen before (I'll never be able to eat a track burger there again!), it was back onto the track for more road course sessions with the students.
Later in the afternoon some of the instructors demonstrated their own 'dance' skills using their own vehicles with the students as passengers for a few hot laps. For me, the grand finale of the exotic tailpipe symphony occurred during the last open track session of the day, when four exotics in close proximity blasted down the front straight. It sounded like a soprano belting out the final high notes of an opera's last chorus. Several exotics at full song is a glorious sound indeed.
At the end of the day, students, instructors and organizers alike were tired, dusty and sweaty. But every one of us had an extremely wide and satisfied smile stretching from ear to ear, which was the result of the more-than-ample legal speed fix that only the track can safely provide. It was truly a very special day.
Doug Neilson is a freelance writer based in Calgary, Alta. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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