2017 Nissan Micra Cup Pre-Season Test: Circuit ICAR, Mirabel
After a crazy few days of travel, life changing decisions, bouncing between hostels and a distinct lack of food and sleep, I was relieved to finally get behind the wheel of the Nissan Micra Cup Car. While my day ended early due to a mechanical issue, there were still plenty of positives such as being able to do laps of both the slick and wet Pirelli tyres, and experiencing the great comradery within the series.
One word. COLD.
After the 3 hour drive from Quebec City, Jacques Belanger and I were greeted with some classic Canadian weather as we arrived at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, located about 50km north-east of the Montreal city centre. I definitely knew I was no longer in Brisbane, with a combination of sleet, rain and temperatures barely over zero degrees.
The day started with a briefing where there were introductions for all the key people from Nissan Canada and the Micra Cup, along with rookie drivers like myself. While I didn't understand much as most of the briefing was in French, I didn't miss my name and the word Australia!
What I definitely noticed was a big commitment from Nissan Canada to the series with plenty of people present to look after everything from technical inspections, to a film crew documenting the day. This was important to see, as it was one of the big reasons behind my decision to come to Canada and race in the Nissan Micra Cup.
After the briefing, it was straight into my gear and out onto a very wet and cold track with quite a lot of standing water in areas. The focus for the day would be to get a feel for the car and figure out the driving style required to drive a Micra Cup Car quickly. As an added challenge, it was also the first time I've driven on 100% racing wet tyres of any kind (other than go kart wets), so I was looking forward to see how the Pirelli wets would perform.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much grip the Micra Cup Car had on the Pirelli wet tyre, even in such extreme conditions. Admittedly, I was driving slightly on the side of caution as there isn't really a lot of run-off at at Circuit ICAR and I can't really afford to fence the car, but by the end of the session I was on a similar pace to the cars around me. The important thing was that I got my first laps under my belt and I found one key area to improve to unlock more speed - limiting wheel-spin.
The Micra Cup Car doesn't exactly have an overwhelming amount of horsepower, but being very much still a road car, it retains the standard open differential meaning it is very easy to light up the inside front wheel. Unsurprisingly, due to the limited power it is important to get every bit of power to the ground, and every bit of wheel-spin costs you time.
The rain had eased by the second session, but most of the track was still wet so it was back out on wet tyres. Taking what I learnt from the first session, the focus this time was to work on finding a way to minimise wheel-spin without losing time anywhere else. I definitely felt I made a step forward in this area, but the competitive side of me was a bit frustrated when towards the end of the session, one of the faster drivers in the series was in front of me and I wasn't quite able to keep up. No matter what I tried I was losing time down every straight.
After a decent break, the weather cleared enough for the track to dry meaning slick tyres would be needed for the next session. While Jacques B had generously stayed for the first two sessions to get me started, by this time he had left to make the 3 hour trip back to Quebec City so I didn't have any tools to change over to slick tyres.
This is where I owe a BIG thank you to fellow Micra Cup driver Peter Dyck and his mechanic Chris who I had only met that morning. They noticed that I was now on my own and unselfishly offered their help to change my wets over to slicks. Furthermore they continued to help me run my car for the rest of the day, offered their trailer as a place to keep warm between sessions, and even bought me lunch! Safe to say I owe them one (at least).
This level of unselfishness can be hard to find in this day and age, so I was extremely grateful for their help and it made me feel even more welcome as a member of the Nissan Micra Cup community.
SO. MUCH. GRIP.
With slick tyres fitted, I headed out in the third session knowing I would again have to get my head around how these tyres worked as quickly as possible. After a few loose moments from a combination of cold tyres, and the tyre shine that was on the sidewalls (because Jacques B had the car on display in his workshop), I was surprised at the grip that was available.
The wet Pirelli was great, but the extra grip from the Pirelli slick quickly gave me confidence to push much harder. Limiting wheel-spin was still a big factor in getting speed out of the car, but the extra grip available meant I could brake even deeper than I thought and carry a lot of speed into and through the corner before getting on the power.
At about the halfway mark of the hour long session, I felt I was driving quite well but still wasn't quite able to keep up with the cars around me, again losing time down each straight. I pushed a bit harder but started to make some small mistakes, plus a worsening cramp in my shin wasn't helping (the lack of food and sleep was catching up with me) so I decided to come in for a drink and reset my mind.
After a quick break, I attempted to head out for the final part of the session but the car didn't even make it out of the pits before it cut out and wouldn't start back up.
After a quick inspection, Chris (Peter's mechanic) found that all but 2 bolts on the intake manifold had fallen out and it was a miracle it hadn't completely fallen off as those two were loose too. While I don't exactly know when the problem started, or how much it was hurting me, but it was probably robbing me of some power which could explain my lack of straight line speed.
While easily fixed, I didn't have the spare bolts required to re-fit the intake properly so I made the decision to park the car for the rest of the day. I'm praying there is no associated damage to the engine from breathing some unfiltered air, or to the clutch or gearbox from the associated loss of vacuum pressure as I don't exactly know when this issue began.
Looking at the positives
While this wasn't exactly the ideal start, there were still plenty of positives and I feel I've learnt plenty about how I need to drive the car. I know this is literally just the beginning, and I've still got a lot to organise before the first race weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on May 19 to 21, so its eyes forward from here.
Another positive is that I have some promising options surrounding how I'm going to store, transport and prepare the car so I'll hopefully have it confirmed and be able to announce it soon!
Firstly, thank you to Jacques Belanger for offering to tow my car (and me) 3 hours from Quebec City to Circuit ICAR, I wouldn't have made the test without him. Next, thank you again to fellow Micra Cup driver Peter and his mechanic Chris for unselfishly offering your help, shelter, and food during the test day. You made me feel very welcome and I hope to return the favour through the year.
Next, thank you to Luis from MIA for giving me a place to store my car until I make my own arrangements, and again a big thank you also to Gilles, Jacques, and everyone from the Micra Cup and Nissan Canada for making me feel so welcome.
Finally, thank you to Stefan, the Race Director at Circuit ICAR at the test day for the lift from the circuit to the Metro so I could get to my Hostel in Downtown Montreal!