Jaguar Owners Association / JOA-Montrea *
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As some of you are aware I have been procrastinating for several years on the idea of taking a 3-day racing drivers school. At one point I was hoping to go to Lime Rock in Connecticut and take the Skip Barber School but the cost at $3,500 USD and the cost of hotels etc. was a negative. Then I wanted to take the Jim Russell school at Mont Tremblant but the track was closed for a couple of years. It has now re-opened and the school is running again. Last week I attended a school in Charlotte, NC which gave a quick course on how to drive a NASCAR. It was there that I met a gentleman who runs racingschools.com and we got to talking about the best value for money as far as 3-day formula car schools are concerned. To my surprise, he advised against Skip Barber or Jim Russell schools, unless you are absolutely bent on paying through the nose for a chance to drive at Mont Tremblant or Lime Rock. He highly recommends Autosport Basi Racing School, operating out of Autodrome St. Eustache (road course)in Montreal, Canada. I must admit, after doing my homework, that he is right.
The cost for a three day racing school at Basi is $2,500 canadian dollars (about $1,700 U.S.), less than half what it would cost to attend Skip Barber school. It could get quite a bit cheaper too if we were able to get a group together. Take note that the guys running the Basi school are the same guys who used to run the Jim Russell school at Mont Tremblant before that track was sold and new management put in. The nice thing about doing the course at Basi is that we Montrealers can actually commute to the school everyday, thereby avoiding the cost of hotel and food for 3 days if we went to Tremblant or Lime Rock etc. For those of you who are thinking of coming in from Ontario or the northeast U.S. for the school, take note that you can find some clean and cheap accommodation close to the track or perhaps you could even bunk in with one of us in Montreal, thereby saving a ton of money.
The bottom line is: you will get a LOT more seat time at Basi, and we all know that developing skills in a racing car is all about seat time. I encourage you to read the reviews and testimonial I have copied below, and for more information visit the website at http://www.autosportbasi.com
I am looking to book myself into the three day "Competition Racing Course" at Basi and the dates I am looking at are May 19-20-21 (Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday). Note that these dates are only a suggestion; if wee see the probability of booking a group later in May or in June we may change the date, but generally the 3-day courses are run on a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday. The school provides everything you will need: helmet, driving suit etc. All you really need for this course is enthusiasm, a knowledge of manual shifting and of course $2,500 cdn. It would be great fun if we could get a gang of people together to attend this course, it is always more fun doing something like this when you are with friends! If you have an interest in attending the course, send me an email ASAP or phone me:
Daniel Thompson (Jaguar Club of Montreal etc.)
toll free in Canada: 1-800-667-0716
COMPARISON OF RACING SCHOOLS (from http://www.racingschools.com):
You've probably heard of the Skip Barber Racing School programs. They've been around since the early 70s but ran into some financial problems in 2001 and filed for bankruptcy in early 2002 leaving many customers, employees and vendors with unpaid claims. The name, operations and assets were purchased out of foreclosure in December 2001 by a group of former customers who hope to bring the school back to its former status as a leading provider of road racing programs. For now, the status quo remains.
What you need to know before choosing Barber as your choice:
- They enroll as many as 28 students in a single three day school program. That's more than twice as many students as some other schools.
- You'll always have to share a race car with one or more student.
- More students may equal less track time.
- No passing is allowed during the entire length of the curriculum.
- No full, uninterrupted laps on the track until the afternoon of the final day.
- No data acquisition is used at anytime.
- Their three day school price can be as much as 50% higher than other schools. Peak time programs at Mont Tremblant or Lime Rock Park costs $3,595 U.S.!
Another well known operator is the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School. Their basic three day program is priced competitively ($2,495 U.S.) until you realize that you'll need two of those three day programs at a total cost of almost $5,500 U.S. to get you to the same level as some of their competitors. Basic and advanced three day programs are offered simultaneously, on the same dates resulting in up to 30 students sharing track time. Not the best scenario either.
Now compare that to the average three day school price of other reputable operators at around $2,675 with some great schools offering their three day programs as low as $1850 to $2,595. That's a huge difference and a higher price won't get you more track time or better race cars or better instruction no matter what the claims.
The best programs enroll no more than 14-20 students, use data acquisition in every race car, don't make you share a car with other students and allow passing and full track laps as early as the morning of the second day.
The best Formula Three Day school programs are currently being offered by the Bertil Roos Racing School in the East ($2,495), Autosport Basi in Montreal, Canada (around $1,650 US) and the Derek Daly Academy in the West ($2,595).
Always ask about race car damage liability limits. Some schools hold you responsible for as much as $5000 in crash damage while others (like Bertil Roos) have NO crash damage liability during their Three Day school program.
JOURNALIST TESTIMONIAL (from http://www.autosportbasi.com):
Québec in the early fall is indeed a beautiful place. In mid-September the maples are just beginning to turn, and if you are fortunate, you will be able to experience an Indian Summer – those glorious, balmy days in fall that often precedes much cooler weather. I was lucky enough to have three glorious days when I recently participated in the Autosport Bäsi Racing School.
I stayed with friends in Rigaud, Québec, while taking this racing school. From their house it was but a short drive to the ferry docks in Hudson, (one of the most picturesque communities around Montréal). From there it was a short 15-minute ferry ride across the Ottawa River to Oka, famous locally for its wonderful cheese, (but perhaps more infamous to the rest of us for the native standoff there of a few years back). This ferry ride proved to be a wonderful way to start the day and to wind down at the end of it.
From Oka, it is but a short ride over to St. Eustache, where the Autodrome St. Eustache racing circuit, (otherwise known as le Circuit Deux Montagne), is located. Weather conditions for the duration of my three-day course were well nigh perfect, with hardly a cloud in the sky and highs near 28°C everyday! Wonderful stuff!
I was also fortunate to participate in a school that was not sold out. The Campbell family from Cobourg, Ontario, (who proved to be wonderful, competitive companions), joined me for this three-day course. Its funny but your fellow students can either make or break a school experience as intense as this one was touted to be. I owe them a debt of gratitude for helping to make this a very memorable experience.
The Autosport Bäsi Racing School has developed successful methods of instruction from over 30 years of racing experience, and has evolved from the famed Jim Russell Racing School, which itself had been based at Le Circuit Mt-Tremblant. They have had a long-standing tradition of developing outstanding instructors that combine experience with a proven ability to teach. There is really no better way to learn than from professionals who have enjoyed much success in race cars identical to the cars that the students drive.
An important element of the Autosport Bäsi teaching program is that their instructors work with their students to develop their skills at their own pace. Their method recognizes each student’s learning pace, individual strengths and weaknesses. In that way, students are able to develop a feel for their race cars at there own pace.
Autosport Bäsi offers several racing programs that are geared to aspiring racing drivers. They have a great Internet site that is fairly self-explanatory. It can be found at:
I took the 3-day Introductory Level Training (ILT) Program. When successfully completed, this course allows eligibility for race licensing under the CSA, QUCC. A typical ILT program can accommodate up to 12 students, and typically runs from Monday through Wednesday. As I said, at our school there were only 5 students, which allowed a lot more interaction with our course instructor and more track time!
With the purchase of the Mt-Tremblant racetrack and the Jim Russell name last year by financier Lawrence Stroll, and the subsequent renovations to the track this year, there was no choice but to move the location of the school or close for a season. Since the later choice was in fact no choice, the school moved to the highly technical and challenging Autodrome St. Eustache racing oval / road-circuit just north of Montreal.
As a teaching venue, the circuit presents challenges for both the novice and advanced driver. Its main claim to fame is as a tri-oval, but over the years it has been expanded to include a drag strip and a road course outside of the oval.
Autosport Bäsi operates both HJB Formula 2000 and Van Diemen Formula 1600 racers. Their 12 HJB Formula 2000 cars are purpose built for race instruction, and they introduce the advanced driver to ground effects and aerodynamics. At a curb weight of 430 kg., (950 lbs.), and with 130 bhp, these Formula 2000 race cars can reach speeds in excess of 225 kph (140 mph) and are utilized in all their advanced racing programs and the Formula 2000 Championship Series.
The Van Diemen 1600 chassis has often been described as the perfect training car, since it allows the driver to feel the road and develop better car control. The school maintains a fleet of 15 of these purpose-built tubular steel, spaced-framed cars, weighing only 385 kg., (850 lbs.), and delivering 100 bhp. Yet they are able to achieve top speeds of around 160 kph, (100 mph). Their 1.6 litre engines are fitted with carburetors. For many of us accustomed to the immediacy of a fuel-injected engine, this would prove something of a challenge.
Power in these cars is transmitted to the wheels through a 4-speed Hewland non-synchromesh gearbox, which required deft heel and toe downshifts. This was the car with which I was introduced to the world of open wheel racing.
Following general comments, Autosport Bäsi Manager Keith Blatz outlined the 3-day program and got us to sign the requisite school and track waivers. So far, so good; not too much different from the formalities of our own Advanced Driving School program. Next up was the fitting of driving suits and helmets. These are assigned to the student for the duration of the program.
Keith next introduced Philippe Létourneau, Chief Instructor for the Autosport Bäsi Program, who was to take us through a very detail, goal-oriented program. Philippe came to us with some impressive credentials. His résumé is impressive, having raced in Formula Renault, Canadian Formula 2000, Canadian/American Formula 1600, Formula Vauxhall (in England) and most recently in the 1999 Motorola Cup.
Both Keith and Philippe went through the Bäsic layout of the cockpit and the operation of the Hewland 4-speed gearbox. It has a typical “H-pattern” layout, with an offset reverse gear, but there is no lockout on first gear. (Typically on road cars, first gear cannot be engaged above a certain speed – not so on the Van Diemen 1600). Hence great care must be taken when downshifting through the gears.
Once the car familiarization aspects were covered, Philippe moved on to discuss the more technical aspects of car control. Those of you who have taken our BMW schools and have read our manuals will be quite familiar with this discussion.
We were soon through with the course introductions and on to the real challenge – assignment of cars and commencement of our first on-track exercise – Braking and Downshifting. For the Campbell’s, who had already taken the Bridgestone School at Mosport, this was old hat. For me however, my primary concern was not to stall off the grid! I had nothing to fear however. Having become intimately familiar with BMW’s four-cylinder power plant, I was soon comfortable with the power characteristics of the Van Diemens.
Each student is assigned to a car for the duration of the school, barring unforeseen mechanical gremlins. Mine was Car number 5 – visions of Nigel Mansell’s Red 5 quickly appeared in a smattering of red mist, but was quickly dispersed! Once we navigated our way around the cars, we were soon being strapped in, and the exercises were underway.
The braking and downshift exercises are fundamental to the racing, and indeed, you will find it fundamental to competitive track driving. Since there are no speedometers on the spartan instrument panels of our racers (no space in the tight cockpit), our sole arbiter of speed was the tachometer. AND of course, there is no in-car instruction. Philippe advised us on a maximum rpm for each exercise, and both he and his mechanics closely watched us to make sure we complied.
After each run of the exercises, Philippe debriefed us individually. His debriefs were objective and concise. There was no pressure to achieve a predetermined goal. Once comfortable with this exercise, we quickly moved on to high-speed slalom exercise. For me this was particularly interesting, as it quickly illustrated the handling characteristics of a true mid-engine racer. Formula 1600 cars run on treaded high-performance street tires, so their limits in slalom are quite predictable. Quite clearly, the fun quotient of the school was beginning to skyrocket! All too soon it was time for our final debrief of the morning and lunch.
After lunch, we moved on to the cornering exercises, which utilize the double-apex carousel. The beauty of having a multi-configuration venue is that the track can be subdivided to highlight sections with particular handling characteristics. And Philippe is able to drive to several observation areas close to the track. All too quickly we had to bid adieu to our Van Diemens and go back to the classroom for our final debrief of the day. Philippe piled us all into one of the school’s minivans and took us on some quick laps of the circuit for a first-hand view of the techniques we were to explore on the following day. Again, we had a very carefully explained, detail layout of all the braking zones, correct gears for the corners, and above all ideal lines required for maximum speed. Tomorrow, after all, we were to embark on timed laps, a concept that (hopefully) will be foreign to all you driving school participants!
On day two, we built on the driving principles developed on day one, delving into the principles of cornering and the theory behind downshifting in far greater detail. Philippe went over each corner in great detail, outlining ideal lines and proper gear selection. And this was the day that we were to put it all together and drive the complete track!
By mid morning we were out on the circuit and Philippe’s black Mustang, (we’ll have to get them into a BMW sooner than later), was constantly moving from corner to corner watching our progress. After each 20-lap session, Philippe debriefed us individually back in the pits, and went over our timesheets with us. During the course of day 2 and day 3, it was certainly satisfying to watch our laps times drop after careful and considered analysis of the previous laps.
One thing that we had to contend with on the full circuit was a wicked, first-gear chicane, which necessitated a 4th to 1st sequential downshift. Philippe stressed to us the absolute requirement to go down through ALL gears, event though we were using a H-patterned gearbox. This one corner required the most concentration and held the key to the greatest reduction in lap times. And it highlighted the one Achilles’ Heel of a carburetor-based engine. You absolutely have to maintain your revs through here to maximize your exit speed. Once achieved though, it was probably the most satisfying corner on the entire course!
Having access to our lap time charts was perhaps the most objective evaluation of one’s progress, and illustrated graphically what we felt intrinsically. And it certainly spurred us on among us students – remember what I said about the competitive nature of the Campbells'! At the end of the three days we were down in the 1:10 to 1:08 range, but I can tell you, finding those last 1/10ths of seconds requires careful analysis and near-perfect execution. Not unattainable, given more time in the car.
Now lets just see when I can book another course! Having been a veteran of the BMW Club of Canada Advanced Driver Training program, an instructor in that program and an instructor for the Ferrari Club of Canada, I thought I had the bases pretty well covered. But nothing quite prepares you the first time you light up a purpose-built race car! Philippe had warned us that we would be sore at the end of three days in the car, but nothing quite prepares you for the mixture of sheer exhilaration and exhaustion, not to mention sore muscles, knuckles and elbows you will get after time spent in these cars. At the end of three days, your raison d’être will have been reduction of your lap times. Yet your nemesis may well be unconditioned muscles. Maximizing speed through the carousel will result in very sore neck muscles – the very task of holding up your neck may very well seem daunting. Use of a proprietary neck brace is highly recommended until you have acclimated to the stresses.
The sole arbiter of progress at a Racing School is lap times, a concept that may be foreign to driving school participants. Yet a detailed analysis of one’s lap times can reveal much about one’s progress on the track. As I have found out first hand, developing speed in a race car rarely comes as a continuous regression of lap times. Far from it. Progress seems to develop as a series of steps, based on close scrutiny of previous lap times, analysis of one’s mistakes and methodical correction of those mistakes. Indeed, one should strive for consistent lap times over the course of a 20-lap session. I was able to string 8 laps together within 0.5 seconds of each other.
Without this detailed analysis, you cannot hope to progress in a logical, sustainable manner. I was able to progress from a 1:27-lap on the morning of the second day to a 1:10:3 by the end of the school, in a manner that was logical and I know will be sustainable. If, in my opinion, you do not leave the school analyzing your mistakes in detail, and possible areas where you can make up time in your next session, you may find it hard to progress at a steady pace. But don’t forget, the beauty of the school program is that you have one-on-one debriefs with your Instructor – and believe me, Philippe does not miss much! So, coupled with your objectivity and your instructor’s critique, you can only succeed at bringing your lap times down.
Having successfully completed the course at St. Eustache, I had been asked to compare it to the Mt-Tremblant circuit. From a driver’s standpoint, St. Eustache in my estimation is a better teaching facility for race cars than Mt-Tremblant - simply because you do not have the drastic elevation changes that you had at the later venue.
In your own road car, Mt-Tremblant as with Mosport for that matter can be a daunting place for first-timers, but you are at least familiar with your car. Given that you may very well be newly exposed to a race car, holding the school at a facility such as St. Eustache allows you to gain comfort with the CAR without the added pressures of having to deal with daunting track topography.
Track location may well be important for other reasons as well. For those of us that have been to the Mt-Tremblant region, I think you will agree that it is a magnificent venue for many outdoor activities in addition to the Le Circuit. But once you are there, there is where you stay for the duration of the school. It is not practical to commute between Montreal and Mt-Tremblant on a daily basis, particularly if you are fatigued from long days on the track.
Having the School program at St. Eustache allows participants far greater access to Montréal – one of Canada’s most vibrant cities - since St. Eustache is located in suburban north Montréal. Should you wish to book a race school next summers, you will now have far greater opportunity of combining it with an on-going visit to one of the city’s many summer festivals such as the “Just for Laughs” Comedy Festival or the world renowned Montréal Jazz Festival. Who knows, now that BMW is back in Formula One, you might want to combine a visit to the 2001 Canadian Grand Prix with a grand prix of your own at the Autosport Bäsi Racing Drivers School.
Needless to say, having completed the program I would highly recommend it to those of you whom would like to take your track activities to the next level. For those of you contemplating vintage racing, a racing course such as the Autosport Bäsi program would be a prerequisite to getting regional certification. But again, the course is not intended for everyone. If you are serious about your driving, you will stand the most to gain from it. Having said that, previous participation in the BMW Club’s Advanced Driver training program will certainly help you to better appreciate this school and its fantastic Van Diemen 1600’s.
I would like to extend my thanks to Philippe Létourneau for his considered instruction and comradery; to Keith Blatz for his organization of the schools and behind the scenes work, and to the mechanics who made sure that “our” race cars where always ready for duty. It truly has been a memorable experience.
Should you wish to find out more about the school’s programs and course availability, access their website at: