The Nissan Micra Cup headed to the picturesque Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec for Round 2 of the 2017 season as part of the Spring Classic race weekend from May 26-28. This would be the first of three visits to Circuit Mont-Tremblant this season meaning success around this track would be vital for any championship aspirant.
Third new track in four weeks
While Mont-Tremblant is better known as a skiing destination there was (thankfully) no snow in sight when we arrived on the Wednesday. The 4.26km Circuit Mont-Tremblant has a lot of history including being the home of the Canadian F1 Grand Prix in 1968 and 1970 and is currently owned by Lawrence Stroll, father of current Williams F1 driver Lance Stroll, so it was pretty cool to be able to race there. It would be my third new track to learn in four weeks, but like any racer I was looking forward to the challenge of learning the undulating circuit set amongst the hills of the region.
New 2017 Suspension Package
As an added challenge this would be the first time the Nissan Micra Cup would be running the new 2017 control suspension package aimed at lowering the centre of gravity of the cars. The new suspension was scheduled to be available for the whole season but a shortage of parts meant we ran the original NISMO suspension for Round 1 at Mosport (as used in 2015 and 2016). Due to the back-to-back rounds not many people had the opportunity to test the new suspension prior to the weekend meaning every session would be vital to find a setup and understand the changes to the handling of the car.
Thursday was a dedicated test day with seven sessions scheduled to learn the track and dial in the suspension but unfortunately a vibration in the front left corner meant I missed all but one session as we tried to find the issue. To make matters worse, even after checking everything in that corner of the car and changing everything we could, we still weren't able to fix the problem so I would have to drive around the issue for the rest of the weekend.
It was hardly the ideal start to a weekend where I had to learn a brand new track and find a setup with the new suspension, but the positive was I was on the pace immediately despite the problems with the car.
Friday: Fast, but...!
While Thursday was a day to forget we still had two practice sessions on Friday so all hope was not lost. I was able to go 4th fastest in session one, and 2nd fastest in session two showing the speed was definitely there but that's where the good news ended. Session two had started with light spots of rain but nothing heavy enough to necessitate wet tyres. While the track remained predominantly dry, I was one of the first cars to head into the turn 10 and 11 chicane after a slightly heavier shower causing me to understeer wide on the exit. Not able to steer or stop the car on the wet grass, I made contact with the outside concrete wall.
While it wasn't a big impact, concrete isn't very forgiving at the best of times and I did a fair bit of damage to the front right corner (opposite side to the vibration). While we were able to replace most of the damaged parts (lower control arm, both tie rod ends, driveshaft, wheel and tyre) unfortunately the car still wasn't 100% straight and I would have to drive a car that was now compromised in both front corners for both qualifying sessions and races.
The positive was though that while the car was still damaged and didn't look pretty due to the associated body damage (she was nicknamed Frankenstein), I was still able to compete in both races over the weekend..
Heading into Saturday, qualifying for Race 3 of the season would be the first time I drove Frankenstein after the crash so was just hoping I would still be competitive. While Frankenstein wasn't the easiest car to drive, with no feel in the front and a tail happy rear, thankfully she was still relatively fast and I was able to qualify in 8th position.
Race 3 of the season turned into a story of two halves. Off the start I was able to hold position but was struggling to hold onto the cars in front as I battled front tyres that had no grip after a handful of laps. Thankfully an incident between championship leader John-Michel Isabelle and 2016 champion Xavier Coupal brought out the safety car allowing me to catch up and elevate me to 6th place. I was able to make another two positions off the restart elevating me to 4th and was able to hold position to the finish, even with a late race safety car resulting in a one lap sprint to the finish.
Considering the problems with the car 4th wasn't a bad result and my consistency had elevated me to 2nd in the championship.
With the experience from driving Frankenstein the day before I was able to qualify 7th for Race 4 of the season on Sunday, only 0.036 off 4th and 0.4 off 2nd. The car was still a bit of a handful to drive, but I knew from Race 3 that I just needed to get a good start and do everything I could to stick with the lead pack.
Unlike Race 3, this time I was able to stay in the lead pack of 8 cars and by half race distance had worked my way up to 6th position after passing Metod Topolnik and John-Michel Isabelle in successive corners. Unfortunately this was where it all started to come unstuck. With 4 or 5 laps to go, I had a big rear end slide entering turn 7. I still don't know if there was also some contact from one of the cars behind that caused the slide, but fortunately I was able to save the car without spinning and rejoined in 10th.
While the front pack were now out of reach I was able to recover one position by passing Frédéric Bernier and crossing the finish line in 9th position.
Unfortunately a post race penalty for side to side contact while passing John-Michel earlier in the race was deemed to be my fault and avoidable resulting in a 3 place penalty demoting me to 12th position, and also dropping me from 2nd to 6th in the championship.
The penalty was essentially the result of a misunderstanding between passing standards I've adhered to while racing, and the specific rules of the Micra Cup. Growing up watching sedan racing (V8 Supercars especially) I've always respected the B-Pillar (line between front and back door) rule when it comes to passing. The understanding is that while passing, if the passing car can get the nose of their car to the B-Pillar in a controlled manner, the car being overtaken has to give racing room to not make contact. I felt I achieved this, but unfortunately AFTER the race I was told the passing car has to be COMPLETELY alongside when making a pass before the car being passed has to give room.
For this reason, and the fact that John-Michel lost one position due to the contact, I was deemed at fault. While it wasn't the best way to learn of these passing standards in the Micra Cup, I have to accept the decision and trust the rule will be enforced consistently for the rest of the year.
While the result from Race 4 has hurt my championship position, it's the crash on Friday that's really done the damage. While incidents like these happen in racing, it definitely wasn't in the budget. So far the damage has cost me over $2000 (CAD) and once the body repairs are done it's looking like a $3000+ "oops" moment.
Piggy Bank EMPTY...
I came to Canada with just over $30000 in personal savings and once all the bills are paid from these first two rounds, even with the support from SolidXperts the painful reality is that I am basically back to zero. The positive is there is an 8 week break till the next round so I'll be returning to Australia and doing everything to find more sponsors, work as many jobs I can find, and even sell my car if needed (anyone want to buy a 2008 Ford Transit?) to find the budget to return to Canada and continue my #QuestForMicraCup.
I'm not ready for this to be the end...