Those of us who take part in UCR’s Driver Education (DE = track days), find that the consistent routine makes the events comfortable and easy to navigate. Likewise, the opportunity to reconnect with friends regularly at events and exchange a few tales is very much part of what we enjoy. However, sometimes we need to get out of our routine and try something different. Visiting a new track can be both a challenge and rewarding. Several of my DE friends suggested I try Calabogie. So, recently I spent two days doing DE at Calabogie Motorsports Park (CMP) for the first time. Following are some observations of a first-timer at CMP.
Where Is It?
CMP is out in the country, sort of in the middle of nowhere. It is situated in rolling hills about an hour west of Ottawa. For those of us in the GTA, it is a 3.5 – 4-hour drive from Toronto that includes paying the robber barons that run the 407 to head as far east as the road goes, a couple of hours on two-lane Highway 7, and a quite delightful 100 km of winding sports car road with limited traffic and rather poor asphalt at the east end. The latter is not so much fun if you are towing a race car, but great if driving your track car.
How To Book?
DE, coaching and even rental track cars (Mustangs, Toyota GRs, Miatas, but no Porsches) can be booked directly on the track’s website, or you can connect with one of the commercial driving schools to look after the details. It looks like the track has one two-day DE event per month, usually on a weekend.
Pricing is reasonable, although still significantly more than UCR at Mosport. The commercial school route saves having to figure out the details and is easier for the first time, at least. The commercial route will also introduce you to some new friends to share with.
CMP uses a slogan that implies they are trying harder, and first impressions would back that up. The staff are very friendly, polite, and helpful and they are all attired in identifiable uniforms. The grounds are tidy, the event was run in a very punctual manner, and the washrooms are plentiful, very clean and modern (!!).
There is a strong safety culture and the rules regarding clothing, helmets, cars (except no fire extinguisher requirement) and passing are very familiar to UCR DE attendees. They even have roll call to ensure all drivers attend the drivers’ meeting. The same zero tolerance for poor driving/passing/flag response that we know is also enforced.
There is an excellent food trailer, a gas bar/souvenir shop, and a full-service garage on site. Gas is either 91 or 94 octane and appears to be more expensive than track gas at Mosport – at least they keep longer hours. There are a very few, very nice suites right in the paddock area – very comfortable, and great to retire to the a/c of your own room between sessions on a hot track day! The track provides ice chests with cold water all day to help with hydration.
Given the limited number of suites at the track, other options in the area are rooms at the golf course, the ski hill or other vacation facilities in the area. I would suspect that summer weekends book up quickly and booking well in advance would be advised. Some DE events precede race weekends and this really puts a premium on lodging as the race teams arrive early. Given the location, most attendees will have to arrive the night before, and this is good for being rested to start the first day. The track closes at 4, so driving home at the end of the last day is feasible, although the fatigue from lots of track time should be factored into that decision.
The track is a long one, over 5 km, and has twenty turns, many of which are blind. There is lots of elevation change (not surprising in an area near a ski hill). There are several sequences of two and three linked turns. Many of the turns are decreasing radius, requiring lots of patience in how you approach a turn. CMP really teaches and reinforces patience! There is only one straight of any real length. To a newcomer, the turns may look very similar to the point that the track has actually installed signing at a number of points showing which way the circuit goes next. Clearly, preparation in the form of reviewing YouTube videos or spending time on a simulator will shorten a newbie’s learning curve. Before my visit, I spent several sessions on my simulator, and I had the track flow clear in my mind, allowing us to immediately concentrate on fine-tuning the driving line.
For a first-timer, coaching is very strongly recommended, especially if you haven’t got the track layout down cold. I spent a morning (3 – ½ hour sessions) with a coach. The fastest and/or safest line through several of the corners is not immediately obvious, or is not the one you would first choose, and a coach can sort that out with you in short order. My coach was excellent and made suggestions on both my CMP-specific issues as well as fine-tuning some basic driving habits to work better in this particular environment. Trail braking is very effective (almost required) at four or five locations on track, so that becomes a skill that is used more than at Mosport. Also, there are situations/locations where braking is required that seem to violate the basics that we were first taught and typically use elsewhere.
The pavement surface has a reputation for being quite hard on tires and the track is also fairly demanding on brakes. I can attest to both of those being true. Make sure when you are preparing that you have lots of rubber and your brakes/fluids are in first-class condition. CMP does not require you to provide proof of a formal mechanical inspection before running, but it is always a good idea to have your car professionally checked over before a track session, especially if you are not your own mechanic.
Structure of the Day
To run, you must first subject your car to a sound level check, both stationary and moving. You then need to get a wristband to show you have completed the track’s waiver and another to show which run group you have been assigned. Then comes the drivers’ meeting at 8:10, with track open from 9-noon and 1-4. Instructors connect with drivers at the drivers’ briefing.
For my DE days, there were only two groups: a novice/entry intermediate and the advanced intermediate/experts. Each group received 6 – ½ hour sessions per day. The novice group also received classroom instruction to augment their driving sessions.
This is a lot of driving, more than we are used to at UCR – get some good rest in the week leading up to your event! The many sessions allow you to get past learning the track and then learning the line, to actually driving briskly and having fun.
There were supposed to be about 30 cars in each group, but the track is long and spreads out the cars, so it was not as crowded as anticipated, and passing was less frequent than expected.
What is Driving CMP Like?
Driving at CMP is demanding, both physically and mentally. The corners come at you rapid fire, and a momentary lapse of concentration will not only affect the corner you are entering, but possibly put you out of position for the next two or three corners (think DDT). Long pants are mandatory, even in 30+ degree heat (and it is humid there), so it can get pretty hot in cars with no a/c. As with all track days, hydration is key to maintaining good concentration.
At first, learning the track, figuring out the braking and shift points, and learning the passing zones meant that it was hard to find a rhythm, and the track was not totally satisfying. But within a few sessions, especially when a coach with local knowledge shows you the best lines, the flow of the track is revealed and the track becomes quite entertaining. The long track length means fewer laps per session that we are used to, and thus the 30-minute sessions go by quite quickly.
The advanced/expert group allows passing almost anywhere (and that is quite a number of spots), so that was more liberal than my White group at UCR, adding to my learning and growth.
The nature of the layout, with several long tight turns, means that vision is important. One is often looking out the corner of the windshield or out the side window to find landmarks. This is another type of learning that driving CMP encourages. For DE days, the track places marker cones at turn entrance/apex/exit, as we do at UCR. These are invaluable, as finding other landmarks on the circuit is hard. Sometimes a cone is just tall enough to find the corner that would otherwise be invisible. Interestingly, the simulation model I have for CMP shows the cones, which is unique, as I have not seen it for any other track mod, and most helpful in transferring from the sim to the track.
Certainly not the most convenient place to visit (unless you live in Kingston or Cornwall), but a well-run facility, lots of track time, and an interesting and challenging layout that grows on you, and that is a bit hard on equipment. Overall, a lot of fun, which is why we do it, plus a good learning experience in a different driving style and circuit layout. Would I do it again? Absolutely – now that I have the track mostly figured out, all the more fun next time. </>