Auto Racing

At the track with Canadian Indy driver James Hinchliffe

Steven Bochenek,
7/17/2014 6:32:31 PM
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A clutch of excited boys cleverly disguised as middle-aged writers take turns sampling assorted sensations of speed at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The reason we're here: it's nearly time for Toronto's Honda Indy and Honda Canada is gearing up for the big race with this event featuring Indy racing rock star James Hinchcliffe.

The event features track time in three different cars: a Formula F race car; a 2014 Honda Civic Coupe Si, a zippy street monster whose 2.4L 4-cylinder engine emits 205hp and 174lb.-ft. torque; and some dangerous-looking go karts that speed up to 70 km/h mere centimeters from the ground.

Hinchcliffe is just the big draw for our editors. It's driving the cars that we're here for!

To be fair, Hinchcliffe is a draw. Not only are his racing credentials impeccable—Hinch managed three Indy victories last year and took home 2011's ‘Rookie of the Year' title—but he's a rare Canadian who has made a name for himself as a professional racer.

Calling my own experience on the track “racing” is something akin to sitting in a 25-cent grocery store ride-on space-ship and calling that a trip to the moon. But, let me try to explain what it felt like anyway, because it's about as close as most of us normals will get to the moon—or to being a professional race car driver.


Appropriately Lightening Crashes and rains falls until just minutes ago. So, despite the rising heat, the three tracks are patchily damp and puddled. My group is driving the go karts first.

24 year-old Daniel Morad, already a Canadian racing legend (he won the 2007 American Formula BMW championship and 2010 World Championship in the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in La Conca, Italy), warns us of oversteer. We have rear brakes only on this wet, yet wonderfully challenging track. In spite of Morad's warnings, for a half hour, we all spin 360 degrees in turns tighter than LIVE performing a third encore after a four-month tour.


‘Use the whole track.' The peppy Civic Si is my flying classroom. Voice crackling instructions via walkie-talkie, pro driver Jeff Boyce coaches us. We take turns flying through the circuit behind Boyce, observing where he floats, brakes, begins and completes turning. Pylons at corner apexes beckon the eye (briefly) into turns. Other series of cones, grouped into threes, twos and ones inform when to brake, then turn.

There's a lot to know and years of poor habits to overcome.

It occurs to me how fortunate my group is. We began with fun go karting to quell nerves, then this technically challenging and massively educational hands-on schooling in Civics to heighten awareness — saving the best for last.

Then we see the Formula F racer up close. ‘Will we even fit in that?'


I'm a sausage, zipped inside a Honda suit that restricts breathing, shimmying into the Formula F ‘casing'. They remove the steering wheel for driver access. My small Caucasian keister and broadish shoulders barely fit. It's uncomfortably tiny, like the suit.

Then they say, “Go!” Suddenly, this restrictive cylinder magically expands to an angelic extension of my consciousness — a roaring vengeful angel!

The steering is too precise; it feels unreal. Marking then finding apex and braking cones becomes almost second nature. The shifter is the width of a pencil and tempting to shift with pinky extended as though drinking tea.

Power? The uninitiated may scoff at the 2013 Honda Fit engine, outputting 110 hp. But this speedster weighs just 1,125 lbs with driver (keep in mind that a driverless Smart car weighs 1,650).

Then there's the speed sensation. Consider: why does sliding prone on a skateboard, face near the ground, trump 900 km/h at 20,000 ft? Perspective. The VanDiemen's view is about as high as the go kart — but 17 times more powerful. Imagine driving a really fast and stiff sleeping bag. And the feeling? Like a sunny Friday June afternoon when you got a raise and your boss was fired.


I'm shotgun as Hinchcliffe rips out a hot lap. Weirdly, it's nothing compared to the crack hit I was riding just minutes back. The car is so much higher up, it feels more normal, and when you're just a passenger you're not the one with all that power at your disposal. For Hinch doing these hot laps must be about as thrilling as an unintended afternoon nap.

Leading up to lunch, I poll the event's professional drivers for tips on driving better.

* James Hinchcliffe: “Safety is the most important thing for people who want to drive better. For young people interested in racing, there's a whole other side to your career — the marketing.”

* Chris Bye: Three-day racing courses re-teach important basics. They cost thousands but nobody ever told him it wasn't worth it, even if they never raced afterwards.

* Jeff Boyce: Take his race-school training.

* Daniel Morad: Using a different language, he said the same.

What acute irony that Hinch emphasized marketing's importance just before his colleagues shilled for their driving schools. Yet they weren't wrong. If dangerous idiots were forced to buy track lessons and learn the essentials of speed and motion, our roads would be far safer.


Aglow from driving the light speed Formula F, I spy a pretty woman grilling meat and accept the rawest steak she has.

Steven Bochenek is a freelance contributor, Canada's pit stop for auto enthusiasts and car buyers alike.



James Hinchcliffe (Photo:


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