The Most Fun You Can Have for $40

I overheard that remark at an Autocross event recently and wondered… can you do anything illegally for $40?

If you have never been to (or have never heard of) Autocross, then you are in for a real treat. We get together (now-a-days with the BMW Trillium Club) at the CAA Centre (formerly called the Powerade Centre) in Brampton, conveniently located near Highways 407 & 410. Six times a year we can push our cars through twists and turns, hairpin curves, slalom pylons and tight chicanes, safely and without ever getting out of second gear – although on one particularly tight course, I had the gumption to leave my Cayman in first gear for the entire run. Whew… about an adrenaline rush!!

We arrive at 9:00 am sharp on a Sunday morning (rain or shine) to register and to marvel at the bewildering number of orange traffic cones laid out on a vast empty parking lot. What do the organizers have in store for us today? It’s never the same course twice! There are only a few basic requirements: (i) you must be a “card carrying” member of the PCA or BMW or any other CASC club (ii) you must wear an approved safety helmet (Snell 2015 or 2010 recommended). Not to worry if you don’t have one as there are always several available on loan at no charge.

After registration and the drivers meeting, we all do a track walk to understand the layout of the course. At first glance, the course is often quite complicated and part of the exercise is definitely a memory test. However, the pylons do provide clues as to the proper line to follow. Get off course – which is something that can happen to even the most seasoned veteran (me too) – and it’s a DNF. For first timers, it’s highly recommended to ride “shotgun” to get the feel of the course. 

These days, Autocross (or as the BMW folks like to call it: “AutoSlalom”) operates under the SCCA Solo Model using PAX weighting factors to neutralize the power and weight differentials among various makes and models of vehicles. A highly accurate (and expensive – so stay away from the little white boxes) mechanism is used to time each of five official runs through the course. Hit an upright cone and it’s a two second time penalty; miss a gate or hit the cone at the end of the “stop box” and it’s a DNF. 

Your best raw score is tabulated and PAX is applied to arrive at the final rankings for each session. The best four out of six event scores are used to determine the overall winner for the year. Consistency and attendance pay off. For example, in 2017 yours truly, who is generally a mid-pack runner, was third overall in the final standings. “Yaaaa hoooooo, I’m on the podium!!”

After the official runs, there is always time for a few untimed “fun runs” before we clean up the pylons. The events are usually completed by early afternoon so it doesn’t take up your entire day.

After the official runs, there is always time for a few untimed “fun runs” before we clean up the pylons. The events are usually completed by early afternoon so it doesn’t take up your entire day.

So you don’t have a sports car – no problemo! All makes and models are welcome. Besides the P cars and BMWs, there are often Miatas, Subarus and VWs. There’s Ken’s TR6 (with a Corvette engine), and at times, a Fiat 500 Abarth, an Alfa Romeo 4C and even a BMW i8. Panameras do well and during one event, as a Cayenne went through the course, we all stood there with our mouths wide open: that vehicle has no business being so quick. For the past few years, we’ve had a group of enthusiastic Ryerson Engineering students gathering “flight” data from their SCCA/SAE racer built from scratch – a glorified go-kart. That’s really fun to watch. I bet a Macan would be a great Autocross ride.

If you are highly competitive, Autocross is for you. If, on the other hand, you want to start to explore the limits of your car and of your driving ability in a controlled, safe and collegial manner, then Autocross is also for you. If you are on the fence about Autocross, then come out and see how it’s done and ride shotgun. You’ll see that it’s a real blast and definitely the most fun you can have for $40 – legally or otherwise. </>

Here’s a video from our former Toronto Star location:

Story by Al Forest, UCR Member  | Photos by Richard Chan, UCR Member

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