Adrenaline Rush

THIS YEAR, AS COVID EASED, we were back to a full slate of autocross events: six, plus a bonus round in October. There were 70 individual participants — perhaps a record number — with some drivers coming from as far away as Texas and California. Average turn-out was 22 over the season. Again this year, the series was held in conjunction with the BMW Trillium Club at the CAA Centre in Brampton.

Autocross, or auto slalom as the BMW club calls it (in some jurisdictions, these gatherings are referred to as a “gymkhana” after equestrian events of the same name), is a timed automobile event where the driver must navigate a predetermined “track” outlined by traffic cones while exercising a number of different driving skills.

The course is different for every session and kudos to Ashley Beatty for designing and setting up the challenging tracks this year — some tight and tricky, others very open, but all the while laid out with safety in mind. A significant part of the challenge to achieving a fast time is memorizing the course, although there are clues in the set up of the cones.

This year, thanks to the fine organizational skills of Layla Thomas, the participants were divided into three separate groups to keep the proceedings moving along efficiently, while ensuring that all help with marshalling and clean-up. There was a mnemonic used as an aid for the activities; MRT, so group A would Marshal, group B would Rest, and group C would drive the Track.

For a newbie, it is often best to marshal first in order to learn the course layout by watching the veterans drive. During the rest period, riding shotgun with another driver also helps to understand the course. Then it’s your turn to drive.

Each driver is given five timed runs (no test runs to learn the track) and since there is a variety of vehicles, the SCCA PAX (Professional Auto-X) handicapping system is used to allow for a more equitable competition. Ultimately, of course, the primary objectives are: to be safe, to have fun, and to improve your times. Speaking of the variety of automobiles, this year there were plenty of P-cars (22), including a couple of Cayman GT4s, and all manner of BMWs (13), but also Miatas, BRZs, a Tesla (with a back-up generator in tow), and even a Daihatsu Copen.

In the past in these pages, autocross has been described as an adrenaline rush. Let me provide some personal details. At one event, I wore a heart rate monitor. Resting before my first run, it registered about 65 beats per minute. Then, waiting in the start box, it was up to 95 BPM. Oh yes, I was getting ready to go. In the stop box, after that first run — 145 BPM. Wow! Believe me, I was breathing hard, although not from physical exertion. Each time in the start box, the readings were about the same at 95 BPM, but over each of the four subsequent timed runs my end rate was reduced: 135, 125, 115, 100. With more confidence, my heart rate was gradually going down and my run times fell.

After all the timed runs have been completed, then it’s “fun run” time. No timing equipment, just let it all hang out. Then afterwards, clean-up time. All pitch in and the parking lot is back to normal in a jiffy.

With consistency, once again this year, yours truly, in our 2009 Guards Red base Cayman (car #1) was the top Porsche driver, although I was not the series champion, as I was last year. That honour went to Eric Rier in his 1997 Mazda Miata (#11) with a score of 398.96 (400.00 would be perfect). It is tough to beat the Miatas at autocross. Second was our event co-ordinator Ashley who managed to find time and focus (pun intended) during the events to compete and to score 394.77 in his Ford Focus ST. Ashley was one of five drivers to participate in all seven events.

Also it should be noted, that Tim, from Sunnyvale, California, in his 2016 Cayman GTS (#75) was the quickest driver in all three of the events that he entered. Now that’s great driving. Honourable mention also should go to Adam who pulled out some surprisingly excellent times in his stock Subaru Legacy station wagon (#87).

While not figuring as prominently in the season results, four of the seven events were actually won by UCR drivers. Tim Szeto, in his 2016 Cayman, won all three events he competed in, and based on that form, would likely have been season champion if he had run one more event. Ian and Ginger Drew made a cameo appearance, and Ian ran fastest overall and corrected time in his 2021 GT4 at that one event. So Caymans — or their drivers — seem to be a sweet spot in terms of results. The complete results can be found at the BMW Trillium website.

You don’t need a performance automobile to have fun and autocross is the kind of fun that you simply cannot get in any other place. All this, while safely learning about the limits of your car and hanging out with a group of friendly and like-minded individuals. There’s no better way to spend a Sunday morning and early afternoon, rain or shine. There have been thoughts of organizing a winter autocross. Now that would be a real blast.

We’re already looking forward to next year, and to help and encourage, look for an article or two in upcoming issues of Provinz about preparation and driving at an autocross event. </>

Story By Al Forest | Photography by Dave Ross

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