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Learning to drive on Canada’s only year-round racetrack

Because racetrack driving is about a lot more than just going fast and looking cool

There is nothing more exhilarating than flying around the corner of a racetrack so quickly that had there been photo radar installed, the fine would’ve probably cost you your left kidney.

The roar of the engine, the screeching tires on tarmac and the intense G-forces of track driving almost can’t be described with words. However, despite what The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift may have led you to believe, there is much more to racing than wearing sunglasses at night and stomping on the accelerator. 

I had the opportunity to take Taste of the Circuit this summer, which is a program offered by the Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit for novice drivers. The course is designed to give you the skills to confidently deal with any potential racing mishap, something that no amount of everyday driving could prepare you for. 

Instructors at Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit.
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

Every Taste of the Circuit (TOC) course starts with the basics of the basics: how to set up your seat. This often neglected skill is more nuanced than I had originally thought. The instructors demonstrated the proper seating position and how to use the dead pedal, which is the foot rest left of the brake.

Supercars at Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

Before going onto the track, we went through a slalom course in the parking lot using traffic cones so that we could learn in a safe environment. TOC guests can elect to use either their own vehicles or one of the many available for loan, ranging from your aunt’s Subaru all the way up to carbon fibre supercars like the Alfa Romeo 4C. If you want, you can even rotate through all the cars and drive up to eight cars in a day! 

Track at Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

Driving on a racetrack for the first time is a spectacular but also strange experience. Road lines are replaced with racetrack lines, and unlike street driving, you can use the entire road without worrying about crossing into oncoming traffic. There are also no speed limits to worry about, and you can rest assured knowing that the track is closed off to only you and your fellow guests. 

Believe it or not, the first thing we were taught on the track is that speed is not the most important thing. Rather, it’s being able to be in control at all times. My instructor, a former professional rally car driver, made it clear that driving smoothly and consistently was far more important than driving quickly, and if anyone would know anything about driving fast, it would definitely be my instructor. 

On the track we were all provided radio systems so our instructors could communicate with us and provide driving advice. TOC students follow the instructors leading the course who also act as pace cars, just like in a NASCAR race. An instructor will demonstrate a technique such as entering a turn and properly exiting through the apex and you are then given the opportunity to practice the skill.

Inside view of car at Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

I learned so much driving on the 2.3 kilometre, 19 turn track. I learned how to brake during understeer and oversteer, properly apply power, sight corners, and brake when entering tight corners. Since the track had nearly 300 feet of elevation gain, at times it felt like I was driving on the side of a mountain, which made the course equal parts challenging and fun. 

Race car at Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit
Photographer: Alexander Cheung

I had a total blast driving on the Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit and taking the Taste of the Circuit course. If you want to learn how to drive safely and quickly on a track, you need to pay the Vancouver Island Motorsports Circuit a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood. The track is open to anyone, and for a couple hundred dollars, you could see yourself taking corners like a champ too. 

Alexander Cheung

Alex is a writer and photographer with the Gateway. He is a senior contributor and specializes in tech and travel.

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