It was a list to make any motor head weep with joy. A dozen of the quickest, most desirable sports cars and sedans lined up along the pit road, each and every one waiting to have the wheels driven off them — or at least given a good workout as defined by the abilities of the assembled.
The sampling included the Subaru BRZ and WRX, Alfa Romeo 4C, Porsche Cayman S and 911, BMW M3and M6, Mercedes C63 AMG and AMG GT, Lotus Evora, Jaguar F-Type R and Audi S3. Plus, there was some vintage iron, a Ferrari 308 GTB, Porsche 911E Targa and a BMW 2002 tii.
Oh yeah, a guy by the name of Max Papis — he of Formula One, ChampCar and NASCAR fame — was hanging around the track, ready to show us how to get the most out of the cars.
These tempting morsels of motoring mayhem were on hand to assist in our experience of the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, a private membership club and motorsport “playground” that officially opens next month. Situated in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, about a 45-minute drive north of Victoria, the 2.3-kilometre-long road course situated on 275 acres — on land that was an active logging site — is the newest venture of GAIN (German Auto Import Network), a dealer group that consists of nine higher-end import dealerships owned by Toronto-area businessman Sylvester Chuang.
While it might be easy to dismiss the new club track as a sanctuary for the spoiled rich and their overpriced, over-powered rides (individual membership is $48,000 for a 25-year term, along with $4,800 annual fees), this is not merely another profit centre for GAIN. According to Peter Trzewik, a partner who runs GAIN’s operations on the Island, the plan for the new year-round facility is to provide a challenging yet safe environment for enthusiasts wanting to exercise their high-powered cars. “This circuit will test passionate drivers of every skill level and provide a safe and sophisticated place where they can continue to hone their skills for years,” he says. The club will not host racing events or invite spectators.
Nor will it merely sell memberships — which started in April and is to be capped at 499 — to anyone with the money, Trzewik says. There is a vetting process in place for both applicants and their cars.
In addition to the 19-turn road course, Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit includes a 15,000-square-foot, fully equipped clubhouse with storage facilities for members’ track vehicles and rooms to support meetings and special events. Noteworthy is a 14-screen control room that helps drivers review their track performance, with in-house instructors available to discuss ways to improve their skills.
The German engineering and architectural firm Tilke GmbH, which, over the past 20 years, has created most of the Formula One racetracks around the world, designed the reconfigurable circuit. Built to FIA standards, it features smooth pavement, plenty of safe run-off areas, dramatic changes in elevation and state-of-the-art timing and communication systems. The facility is still evolving, notes Trzewik, with an adjacent smaller circuit, skidpad facility and off-road course in the planning stages.
The circuit is tricky, but there is a logical flow to it. I started off in the rear-drive Subaru BRZ — a lovely compact sport coupe with plenty of grip but not an overabundance of power — to get to know its twists and turns. Cones were placed at corner entry and apex points to provide an idea of the proper line to run.
Over the next couple of hours I progressed to a WRX (significantly more power and all-wheel-drive traction), a Porsche Cayman S (strong acceleration and grip, with a balance to it that had me believing it is the ideal sports car for the track) and, with only a few minutes left in the track session, a couple of quick laps in the fast and frenetic Alfa 4C (a shoebox of a car that’s fun, but a bit coarse). Most of the time I (more or less) found my cornering lines, occasionally I blew them completely, but the circuit layout is challenging and kick-starts all your senses while still feeling safe (maybe I wasn’t going fast enough?). Dilettantes and poseurs need not apply.
The highlight, however, was “Mad Max” Papis’s curiosity about the new rear-drive Porsche 911S, a car he hadn’t previously driven. Hopping in beside him, he slowly left the pit area as I snapped a couple of photos. Lowering the camera, I looked at him, he looked at me — and then, with a smile on his face, he dropped the hammer! It might not have been the cleanest line around the track, but, as God is my witness, it was stinking fast. With deft arm and foot movement, he had the 911’s butt hanging out in what I was sure was going to result in the sports car looping, only to catch it and line it up for the next set of turns. Having no control over my mortality, I whooped with glee. For three laps Papis flogged the snot out of the car — and it took all he gave it. Pulling into the pit lane, he gave me a Cheshire cat grin so wide I thought it would split his face. Then he gave me a fist bump. (Master, I am not worthy!)
So, here’s my take on the whole deal. Driving fast cars fast is fun (duh!). Driving fast cars fast on public streets is stupid (also duh!). Having a safe and controlled environment in which to exercise your mega-horsepower, high-priced chariots is, for those with the financial wherewithal to do so, a far better proposition for one and all (this is, as Trzewik previously stated, the impetus for the new club). Having the opportunity to learn how to become a more proficient driver is the bonus.
According to Christian Epp, director of Americas for Tilke, and the person who designed the Vancouver Island circuit, motorsport country clubs is a growing — and, for his firm, highly lucrative — business. And it’s a phenomenon that’s catching on in North America as sales of high-performance cars reach new levels and public roads become more congested.
One thing is obvious; GAIN did not cheap out on the club’s construction. And if the year-round nature of the first-class facility also attracts manufacturers with high-performance cars needing a place to promote their products, that’s just good business.
Taking a spin in these classics was a youthful dream come true
The new high-performance machinery, all samples of what’s sold at GAIN’s group of dealerships, was the obvious hook by which to explore the technical nature of the track layout. However, there were a couple of not-quite-vintage-but-still-desirable older cars from the late 1960s and early 1970s available for a try — a BMW 2002 tii and a Porsche 911E Targa. I snagged the Targa for a couple of laps. I’d like to say the experience was magical, but the poor Porsche was tired — or maybe it was me. Arm-strong steering, a mop-in-pail shifter (with first down and left under reverse) and a boxer six that felt like it was KO’d in the third left me sad that something I lusted after in my teenage years wasn’t living up to my expectations.