By Andrew Combes, UCR Member
All photos by Colour Tech South Motorsport Photography (from Provinz February 2014 page 14)
Hands up, everyone who breathes a sigh of relief each October once the Oktoberfest DE weekend is done and you can polish your Porsche before putting it away for the next five months? No, didn’t think so.
Ever-increasing numbers of Ontarians willingly adopt the title of ‘snowbird’ and head south of the border each winter. Many end up, like me, in Florida.
There are four things you should know about Florida: Daytona, Sebring, Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) and Homestead. They don’t close for the winter. In fact, they are probably at their busiest, as race teams, car companies and car clubs from all over North America make their annual pilgrimage to the Sunshine State. Several PCA regions are active during the winter, and there are plenty of events put on by the likes of Chin Motorsports,
Advanced Drivers Group and PBOC. I have been participating in some of these events for three winters now and can attest that not only are they fun, but the continued seat time at the track is very good for keeping your skills up to scratch.
Before you go
A little planning can make your track time work more smoothly and prevent headaches. The sort of preparation you need depends in part on how your car is set up for DE. Do you drive it to and from the track, or is it strictly trailer only, or something in between? Over the three winters I have been tracking in Florida I have gone from completely street to trailer only with an ‘in between’ season sandwiched in the middle, so I know a little about each and will try and address specific issues wherever necessary.
Insurance is always my first priority—especially south of the border. Check with your insurer that you are covered; generally this is included in your policy. Some insurers will limit the length of time your car may be in the US, but are often open to negotiation if you are a good client. High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) insurance is readily available in the US and you may want to consider taking advantage of it. You will almost certainly not be covered by your Canadian carrier for liability or physical damage while inside the gates of a racetrack. I have found a company that does such coverage for me, but that is a subject worth an entire article another time.
How will you get your car south to the sunshine? Reckon on 2,400 km, one way, to central Florida from Toronto. I send my car south each year with Hansens Forwarding, based in Scarborough. They run a weekly service to Florida with two large transporters, and charge around $1,200 door-to-door. Be aware that US Customs generally allows nothing to be packed in the car; there is, however, a special exemption for snowbirds, who may pack a few clothes as long as these are included on the manifest. If you want a spare set of rims and tires on hand, you will have to find another way to move them or have a set you leave stored in the US year-round, they cannot go with the transporter. I have a hitchmounted cargo carrier for my SUV that can take a complete set.
Don’t want to drive that far but have a track-worthy daily driver? You could knock 1,400 km off by driving to Lorton, Virginia and loading the car onto Amtrak’s Autotrain, which 16 hours later will disgorge you and your cargo just outside Orlando. The cost for the car is very reasonable but the total can soon mount up depending on the class of accommodation you reserve. Just be aware that there is a minimum ground clearance of four inches required by Amtrak for loading and unloading purposes. And they may require you sign a rim damage waiver if you have very low profile tires.
If you decide to tow your own rig south, my advice is to think carefully about where you will store it if you want to leave it for the winter, and maybe fly back and forth. While there are plenty of public storage facilities in Florida, they get busy in the winter and you should consider booking ahead. Make sure you pick one that has resident onsite managers and 24/7 access for security and convenience.
Something important I have learned over several seasons as my Martini has evolved into a track rat from a perfectly respectable street car is that you should put some thought into choosing the outfit that will look after your car. If, like me, you decide to let a motorsports outfit store, service and transport your track vehicle, choose one that is located within reasonable distance of whatever your southern ‘home track’ will be. That will cut down very considerably on transport costs. And make sure the shop is conversant with your model of car, or at least has a good working relationship with an outfit that knows enough about your likely needs.
Generally speaking, pretty much any licensed shop can be used for track tech inspection for CHIN and other commercial track-time providers. PCA Suncoast and Everglades Regions have lists of approved centres, but I have certainly found Suncoast to be pretty flexible. Don’t expect to find a host of PCA events down here—there are just two from November to the end of April this winter, the majority of your track time is likely to be provided by CHIN or others. Costs are somewhat higher. This season, CHIN has raised their price to $325 a day, but certainly in their case you will experience a very professional level of presentation and a big emphasis on safety. About the biggest compliment I can pay CHIN is to say that the GM, Mark Hicks, and his team most closely approximate what we all experience at a UCR DE, minus the ‘volunteer duties’.
So is the DE experience down here very different from back home? Not really; you can get a feel for it from the following extract from a letter I sent recently to some Canadian buddies:
Sebring, 3.7 miles, 17 turns, a lot of bumpy concrete surfacing from the original airfield, miles of run-off room, really a very nice, fast, safe road course.
Saturday started overcast but warm and humid. I went out for the 30-minute warmup session at 8:30am after the usual excellent drivers’ briefing given by the CHIN general manager. Warm-up is run under full-course yellow, and with 200 cars at the event this was not going to be a session to try out my new engine. Good mix of marques and cars: Porsches aplenty, lots of Corvettes in all stages of tune, Camaros old and new, newer Mustangs, Ferraris, Evos and STis and even a Ford GT40 this time.
First time out in my run group I soon got up to speed. Too soon it turned out. A ‘four wheels off ’ at T5 had me scooting across the dusty grassless earth on its outside. I dutifully came in to the pits for a little talk, with Mark Hicks it turned out. We chatted and I learned that he too runs a Cayman and has a Stilo helmet and he had a pat answer for the mishap. “You can’t hear the Cayman’s engine at all with the Stilo fitted with the noise attenuating earpieces”.
Back out and a more judicious use of newfound torque had me carving my way past the complete field save for one fast Corvette. Throughout the day I took advantage of two sessions of pro coaching and decided that I had better seek a move to blue group on Sunday.
Sunday and the heavens opened on the morning runs. At Mosport I would, before the new tarmac anyway, have sat out the dance, but I knew from previous experience that Sebring maintains a decent amount of grip. More judicious use of the throttle and Martini continued her dance through the diminished crowd quite nicely, even without donning her new wet Hoosiers. My check drive went very well and I moved to blue, where passing is unrestricted, something I find very helpful with my fabulous new Cup car brakes. They really do test the retention capabilities of your eyeballs time after time with absolutely no fade.
I hope this has whetted your appetite! Next month, Episode 2 – The Season So Far, Coming Back into Ontario, Nexus.