Why I travelled halfway around the world to race a Nissan Micra
From representing Australia at the 2016 Nissan GT Academy International Final in the UK, to travelling from Australia to Canada to pursue a drive in the 2017 Nissan Micra Cup. All the reasons behind my decision to fly halfway around the world to continue to chase my dream of becoming a professional racing driver.
Life after Nissan GT Academy. What next?
The entire Nissan GT Academy adventure is something I'll treasure for the rest of my life. Well, all except that moment in the MY17 GTR when I knew I my GT Academy dream was over. To come so close, but fall just short, that hurt. A lot. While I knew that winning GT Academy would have only been the first step in realising my dream of racing professionally, it was a challenge I felt I was ready for.
Knowing it was "back to the drawing board" in terms of finding a path to realise my dream of racing professionally, I sought as much advice as possible before I left the UK. While the options were infinite, a good conversation with Gareth Evans (NISMO Marketing and Communications Manager) and Sam Collins (NISMO TV) lead to the first ideas of travelling to Canada to race in the Nissan Micra Cup.
After returning to Australia in October the goal was always to be on the grid somewhere in a competitive series with the potential of using it as a stepping stone to the ultimate goal, racing professionally. Racing in Australia was the obvious choice but there was a problem. I simply didn't have the money to race at a national level in a competitive category in Australia. I could afford to race at a regional level, but I would have to do so knowing it would mainly be for the enjoyment of racing, with no guarantee it would lead to anything else.
It was a frustrating few months, but it allowed the idea of racing in the 2017 Nissan Micra Cup to develop further.
Why the Nissan Micra Cup?
Let's face it, a Nissan Micra Cup Car isn't exactly a raging beast of a race car but it ticked four important boxes.
1) Parity and a focus on driver ability
While no race car will ever be 100% the same as another, Nissan Canada have ensured all the Nissan Micra Cup Cars are as equal as possible. Every single car has been built by the same workshop with all gearboxes and engines sealed, and all cars are regularly checked by Nissan Canada during race weekends to prevent cheating. The car itself is still very much a production car with most modifications only to improve safety and reliability, plus to simplify the category, there is only limited scope for adjusting car setup within the rules.
While a few more HP might be fun, the result is a car which is consistent and cheap to maintain while producing extremely close racing, putting the emphasis back on race craft and driver ability. The lack of power requires the driver to carry as much momentum as possible to get the most out of the car and the tyres - a valuable skill in any category of racing.
2) Quality of competition
The goal of any sporting competition is to win, but you don't want to win against anyone. You want to earn the win knowing you did your absolute best, competing against the most talented people also doing their absolute best. The Nissan Micra Cup has fielded some of the best up-and-coming drivers in North America and 2017 will be no different.
Both the 2015 and 2016 champions, Olivier Bedard and Xavier Coupal have proven themselves in many categories and will be back to try and secure a second title. Olivier finished 2nd in the 2014 Formula Ford 1600 Tour Championship and has twice represented Canada at the World Karting Championships along with plenty of karting success in North America. Xavier represented Canada at the 2011 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in the 1600cc Kent class winning the Pre-Final and also setting the fastest lap in the Final, plus has raced in the Canadian Nascar Series and also has had plenty of success in karting.
Another driver returning to compete in his second season is Stefan Rzadzinski who is a previous Skip Barber Scholarship Winner with experience in karting, Formula Ford, Canadian Nascar and also sensationally raced in the Race of Champions last year after winning the fan vote. Add to that Kevin King and Valerie Limoges who have both been regular podium finishers and championship contenders in the past two seasons and you start to get an understanding for the quality of drivers competing in the 2017 Nissan Micra Cup.
It's the bottom line for most things in life and at the end of the day I had to pick a series I could afford to race in. While I would never consider any form of car racing 'cheap' the Micra Cup just barely ticked the 'affordable' box with a season maybe costing between $30000 to $40000 including the purchase of a secondhand car. While I would have to save money in every way possible, risk every cent to my name and still need to find sponsorship or some extra income between races, the key point was that I could afford it if I put everything into it.
4) Continued relationship with Nissan
While I didn't win the coveted NISMO contract through GT Academy, my experiences from the program will stay as one of the highlights of my life. Therefore if there was any way I could keep a relationship with Nissan and give back in someway for the opportunities and experiences they have given me through GT Academy, I wanted to do so. The concept behind the program, to take the best Gran Turismo gamers and give them a shot at making it in the real world, is something I love and support. It's already unearthed the likes of Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordonez, who otherwise would never have been able to realise their motorsport dreams. Add to that my love for Nissan cars that started in my early teens and lead to my first car being a 1987 R31 Nissan Skyline, you can probably see my affinity with the Nissan runs more than skin deep.
While I would have to leave Australia, the Nissan Micra Cup allows me to keep this relationship with Nissan and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a thought that it could still lead to a drive with NISMO someday in the future with some good results.
To be, or not to be...
After a few weeks of talking to the Micra Cup organisers I was still struggling to make my final decision, so I did a list of Pro's and Con's and it read like this:
- I can continue to follow my dream
- Parity of the cars and focus on driver ability
- Affordable - it would take all my life savings but still possible
- Manufacturer supported and a continued relationship with Nissan
- No other commitments currently that are holding me back
- I would have to travel to Canada with no guarantee I would find a car to drive
- I spend all my money, it leads to nothing and I have to start from zero again
- Being away from friends, family and fur-mily (Fur-mily: I have 5 guinea pigs)
- I get lost in Canada or eaten by a bear (or mauled by a savage group of raccoons or squirrels)
On paper it looked fairly clear what I had to do, as to me, the Pro's outweighed the Con's. Even so, the anxiety behind the decision was almost paralysing and may have lead to some moments on the floor in the foetal position wondering whether I was crazy, but in the end I took that leap of faith, went all in, jumped into the very, VERY deep end and booked my flights to Canada. My #QuestForMicraCup had begun.
Ready to RACE
As I write this I've only been in Canada for 12 days but it feels like I've been here for a lot longer! It's been flat out every day to have a car ready to race for Round 1 of the Nissan Micra Cup this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport), but I've made it with some help I've managed to find for the entire season, so I can't wait to announce more details about this soon.
Right now I'm just looking forward to travelling to Mosport (about a 6 hour drive from Montreal) and getting down to the business of driving the car this weekend and hopefully getting a few good night's sleep too! Hostel life has been better than expected, but I'm a light sleeper at the best of times, so a few night's without people coming into the dorm at all hours would be more than welcome. I'll be sleeping in a motorhome at the track with 3 other guys though, so my hopes of better sleep may not be entirely well placed... wish me luck!
The first round of the 2017 Nissan Micra Cup will race as part of the Castrol Victoria Day Speedfest Weekend at Mosport located about 100km ENE of Toronto. The track action will start on Thursday for the Micra Cup with three practice sessions, followed by another practice and qualifying on Friday, and a 30 minute race on both Saturday and Sunday.