Objects of Desire May 2013

emily-atkinsThree hundred and Twenty

Now that’s a number to get excited about. It’s the number of kilometres I drove on my first track outing of the season on April 26th at the CTMP (Mosport) Grand Prix track.

What a day! Beautiful spring weather, lots of lapping time, and track improvements that made me smile. How is it that a little sticky pavement and wider runoffs can make an old, familiar friend seem so much more interesting?

Like so many drivers, I was both skeptical and dying of curiosity about the track improvements CTMP embarked on at the end of the 2012 driving season. The pictures that circulated of the old concrete patches being jackhammered out and paved with special, sticky asphalt, along with the new, widened run-offs at corners one, two, five, and eight through ten whetted appetites all winter long. Speculation about the changes circulated with the ferocity of a NASCAR race going round and round an oval—lots of sound and fury, but going nowhere.

So it was with fluttering stomach that I drove out onto the new track. It was cold out—well below the optimal operating temperatures for my R-compound tires—giving an even better excuse for extreme caution than the unknown pavement and uncharted corner run-offs. At first it was hard to tell if the new track felt any different; at slow speeds and with cold rubber there wasn’t much to say about it. But as the tires and the driver warmed up the differences became evident.

The new pavement is sticky like flypaper. Small cars are in danger of getting mired in it if they’re not carrying enough momentum, and big cars will be launching off the stuff like jump-jets from an aircraft carrier. It’s seriously different from what we experienced last year. I am very much looking forward to the track walk event to get a close-up look and feel, even a sniff of the stuff.

It has essentially reversed the old problem of going from regular track to slippery concrete. Now the transition to watch for is from the new sticky sections onto the old track surface, which does not offer quite the same level of grip. The car may be upset by the switch in new locations on the new track, but it doesn’t take much getting used to. The new swathes of sticky-toffee paving are wider than the old concrete and seem to extend much further, giving better adhesion through a greater part of every corner. It will be really interesting to see how the new asphalt behaves in very hot weather and in the wet.

The expanded run-offs require a different adaptation in your driving. Sightlines are tremendously modified, especially at the fives and through nine and ten. It takes some laps to stop sightseeing the changes and find your own marks and targets on the track and surrounds. At ten, particularly, the absence of the old tower is really noticeable.

Going back to the track this year is like finally meeting up with an old flame you’ve been thinking about, then realizing they’re actually better looking and more charming than you remember. There’s nothing like a makeover to make an old friend more appealing. At the core, it’s still the same old Mosport we know and love, but the new-look CTMP is pretty attractive. Under the cosmetic changes, the track still undulates and winds just as we expect it to, but now it’s a faster, possibly safer, and definitely glitzier version of its old self.

Once I started driving it was really hard to stop. That checkered flag was a major nuisance, and the half-hour run sessions sped away like a GT3 leaving my 944 in its exhaust on the back straight. Each lap felt better than the last, speed and confidence increasing with every turn. I felt giddy, falling in love with the new track, with spring and my car with its new tires.

I will still miss the old Castrol tower, though. As someone driving that day said with some irony, “What’s the problem? That was just an ICON?” Sums it up pretty well. Get the makeover, just don’t change everything!

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