What I Learned About Driving A Race Car

Now this is Yummy. Mummy. My Way.

What I Learned About Driving A Race Car

Bridgestone Racing Academy

I spent 2 days at the Bridgestone Racing Academy (in Bowmanville, Ontario) and I have to say this—driving a race car has been on my bucket list for a long time. Where else can I legally go crazy fast and be taught the methodology of going even faster? And have a team of mechanics on hand so that I don’t have to think about fixing the car?!

I’ve been driving since the day I turned 16 (so that was a while ago), been around cars for a bit, and driving a regular car is so second nature to me that it took some getting used to in terms of thinking about what I was doing with the race car, when to shift, how to take corners, how to go faster. Apparently a three-day session also teaches the art of passing.

Race cars weigh approximately 1,000lbs and have 170 horsepower. That’s something like a Honda Odyssey with over 700 horsepower (base model has 248hp). Do you know how fast you could get to the next soccer practice with that kind of minivan?

When I first got into the car, the mechanic told me to sit like I was in a bathtub. I can’t tell you the last time I took a bath—there’s no time, I live a shower-only life! The mechanics made sure we had the right seat padding to be comfortable and they put our 5-point safety harness on (I know, I’m spoiled!). We were under the watchful eyes of Brett Goodman (Race Director), Jamie Fitzmaurice (Chief Instructor) and Santiago Rojas (Lead Race Mechanic).

In two days, I went from completing the track in 86 seconds to 67 seconds. The fastest time ever on the track is 55.69 seconds. 

As soon as the engine started I was getting giddy! Here’s how I shaved almost 20 seconds off my time:
  • Braking: My first time around, I was still used to driving a regular car where I don’t want to work the brakes too hard. I was thinking about brake fade or overheating the brakes. It took me some self-reminders that these were racing brakes and could withstand extremely high heat. Once I got past the worry of overheating the brakes, I had to remember not to slam the brakes on or else I’d lock up the wheels. 
Note to self about braking—not too hard, not too soft… just right.
  • Transferring weight: Since the engine is in the rear of the car, most of the weight is there too. Weight is thrown to the rear when you press the gas pedal weight, and weight is thrown to the front when you press the brake pedal. It was an adjustment for me to get that right, because too much braking and not enough gas will cause the car’s rear to spin out… which did happen to me once, I’ll admit, sheepishly. 
Note to self—more gas and less brake.
  • Tipping:  I’m used to driving regular cars, with stabilizer links and bars to prevent them from tipping during corners. In my mind, I kept thinking that I was going to tip. In reality, the race car is super low to the ground so there’s just no way that it could tip unless I did something really reckless. 
Note to self—nearly impossible to tip the race car.
  • Turning corners: I was so cautious going around corners because I wanted to maintain control and not tip the car that I didn’t even notice I was coasting through corners with the clutch in and no brake or gas pedal applied. Santiago coached me. “No coasting!” he said. He wanted to hear something coming from my car around corners, I needed to be on the gas pedal to throw the weight of the car to the rear and get more speed. So I did what the coach said and what do you know, I had my best lap time ever.
Note to self—no coasting!
  • Patience: I remembered that Brett said we were to “…wait for the speed to come to you.” At the time, it totally sounded like mantra-talk, but the first time I came out of a corner way too fast I knew what he meant. The problem was that when I gave it too much gas the car was harder to control and I had to really yank on the steering wheel to prevent the car from going off course.
Note to self—patience is a virtue that I still need to work on.
Bridgestone Racing Academy development track

These are differences that I learned about driving a race car versus my regular car. As soon as I left, my Corolla did feel a little… sluggish, of course, in comparison. But it was a good break for my hand (no shifting) and my foot (no clutch)… I just put the automatic transmission in drive and had a relaxing commute back home. 

I’ll be back, Bowmanville, to chase that 55.69-second record on the track!

If you're in the need for more speed, check out the Bridgestone Racing Academy.


The 2014 GMC Sierra: Re-engineered

Off to the Wild West for this road test!

The 2014 GMC Sierra: Re-engineered

2014 GMC Sierra
My 7-year-old son and I recently had the opportunity to go to Calgary, Alberta to road test the 2014 GMC Sierra pickup truck. He LOVES pickup trucks so it was an easy sell.
At my auto repair shop, we regularly service pickup trucks but you know, nothing beats a brand new and shiny truck! During our stint in Calgary, we went glamping at the Sierra West Ranch in a just-like-home trailer courtesy of Bucars and checked out the Calgary Stampede — YAHOO! We watched chuck wagon races — and to think, four horses pull that wagon and I had 355 horses in the Sierra!
Bucars RV at Sierra West Ranch   Calgary Stampede
I drove the Sierra on different landscapes, city driving, highway, through gravel and even gave the truck a ‘country car wash’ through the creek. I liked the rugged style of the truck without the rugged ride. It was smooth and responsive, which came in handy when I wanted to pass slow vehicles on the country roads.
Thoughtful interior features
  • Storage compartments: I loved that there were no shortage of storage compartments in the Sierra. Travelling with my son in the truck was great — I had space to put my essentials (sunglasses, electronic devices, water bottles, and snacks up front) and he used a few compartments in the rear doors to put his toys too. The centre console has a compartment to hang file folders and the long storage compartments easily hold legal size documents — great for those using the truck for business!

  • Power outlets: The Sierra is available with a 110-volt outlet, up to 5 USB ports, 4 12-volt outlets and an SD card slot. Perfect for multi-tasking various media devices!

  • Rear seats: The rear seat is a 60/40 split-folding bench to provide more space flexibility in the passenger cabin.
  • Cloth seats: While leather seats is an option, get this — the Sierra comes with high-wear cloth that is designed to resist staining. “A spilled drink will bead on the fabric, not soak in.” Great because if you’re like me, I’ve had the odd spillage in the car. D’Oh!
  • Dash controls: Here’s what I mean about the thoughtful rugged style of this truck — the knobs and buttons were large and within easy reach. They also coated the knobs using a ‘rubber-over-mold’ technology so even if you're wearing gloves, they're easy to grip. 

Handy features
  • Turn signal: There’s a feature that if your turn signal remains on for more than 1.2 kms, the display will notify you and a chime sounds. Have you ever followed a car with a never-ending turn signal?!
  • Reverse tilt mirrors: When in reverse, the mirrors tilt downwards to help you get a better look. You can adjust the degree to which it tilts. 
  • Cargo box corner steps: The rear bumper has corner steps (also affectionately known as saddle steps) and matching hand grips in the top of each bed side to make it easier to climb into the truck bed whether the tailgate is up or down. 

  • Tailgate: There’s no need to hold the tailgate as it’s coming down for fear that it will come crashing down. The Sierra uses an integrated torsion bar (similar to the function a spring) and damper to ease lifting and lowering of the tailgate.

  • Telescoping steering wheel: In addition to the common steering wheel tilt feature, the Sierra’s steering wheel also has the ability to telescope, bringing the steering column closer or further from you. This is great because I like to be able to hold the steering wheel comfortably, without sitting too close to the dash.

Fuel efficiency
  • The 2014 GMC Sierra comes with the EcoTec3 engine, which uses direct injection, cylinder deactivation and continuously variable valve timing to maximize power, torque and fuel efficiency.
  • Cylinder deactivation is a technology pioneered by GM to increase fuel efficiency. My truck was a V8 and when possible, deactivated 4 cylinders to become a V4. I was told that the transition takes less than 20ms and I really didn’t notice it when I was driving the truck. Note: the Sierra uses oil pressure to deactivate the cylinders, which adds to the functions of engine oil and the importance of getting those oil changes done on time and with the right type of engine oil.
Child safety
  • Electric child door lock button: You can control the rear passenger door lock without having to physically go to each door.  The button is located inside with the window switches on the driver side door handle. This prevents anyone in the rear passenger seats from opening the door on the inside. With the button, switching this feature on/off depending when your kids are in the truck is a cinch. This is often an overlooked and underused safety feature… remember the Toronto toddler that fell out of the moving car
  • Child car seats: The headrest of the rear bench in the truck is quite small and likely won’t interfere with a forward-facing child car seat. It is removable so it’s not a problem at all. If you are installing a forward-facing child car seat, be sure to read the owner’s manual as it has very specific instructions for how to route and connect the tether strap. The rear seats are relatively flat so you shouldn't have a problem getting the angle right for a rear-facing child car seat.


Basic maintenance
  • Detailed owner’s manual: GM never disappoints me here. The owner’s manual is full of information, specifications and do-it-yourself tips about the truck and its systems. Many of our clients admit that they don’t read the owner’s manual until after something happens with their car and often tell us that they wish they read it sooner to be proactive about their auto maintenance! The owner’s manual for the Sierra includes how-to-do self-checks like starter switch check, automatic transmission shift lock control function check, park brake and park (P) mechanism check, etc. 
  • Under the hood: Components are laid out to be within easy access including engine oil level dipstick, battery terminals, fluid reservoirs and air filter.


If you know me or have read other car reviews I’ve done, you’ll know that I LOVE my analog gauges. Love them. So I thought I was in gauge heaven when I got in the Sierra! Aside from the usual fuel level, speedometer and tachometer, the cluster also shows coolant and transmission fluid temperatures as well as battery charge. 
The only item that I would have preferred to have on the Sierra is the ability to see the fuel range and trip odometer reading at the same time. The average fuel economy and trip odometer are paired together. If you’re transitioning from a passenger 2-wheel drive car to a pickup truck keep in mind that your maintenance costs will be higher. The Sierra requires synthetic oil (the 5.3L V8 engine that I road tested took 8L of oil) replacement with heavy duty components and more fluids to maintain (differentials, transfer case, etc). Overall, the maintenance schedule for the Sierra is quite reasonable. 
The 2014 GMC Sierra starts at $31,615.

Canada's Green Car: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Fusion Hybrid wins inaugural Canadian Green Car Award

Canada's Green Car: 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

In April 2013, the 2013 Ford Fusion won the first Canadian Green Car Award, presented at the Green Living Show in Toronto. To be honest, Ford doesn't immediately come to mind when I think of hybrid technology so I was curious about the Fusion Hybrid and jumped at the chance to drive it from Ottawa back to Toronto.
According to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the award “...not only emphasized fuel economy and emissions, but also considered other environmental features within each vehicle – for example, use of recycled or naturally sourced materials — and steps each manufacturer has taken to green its operations. Equally important, it assessed market potential — factors such as build quality, driving experience, overall features, availability, general consumer appeal and price.”
Finalists this year included Ford's C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Hyundai's Sonata Hybrid, Mazda's Mazda3 and the Volkswagen Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid. 
Esthetically-speaking, the Ford Fusion is a nice car with sporty look and sleek design. The centre console appears to be one piece due to the electronic parking brake — which also adds to the seamless feel of the design. The drive was quiet and smooth, but gave me enough road feel so I didn't totally feel disconnected with the road. 
Under the Hood
At first glance it may seem a bit much — if you're not familiar with cars, it may be overwhelming. However, to those familiar with what they're looking at it's well laid out for most (if not all) of us to do basic maintenance. The coolant reservoir, washer fluid bottle neck and engine oil level dipstick are all very accessible.
Child Car Seat
If you're trying to install a rear facing child car seat, you'll likely need to use pool noodles or towels to get the angle right due to the 'bucket-style' seats. Because of the roomy interior, chances are you'll still have enough room to sit in the centre rear seat even if you have two child car seats installed in the rear. 
Fuel Mileage
For every 100km of driving, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid has fuel efficiency ratings of 4L city and 4.1L highway. In comparison, the 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid reports ratings of 4.5L city and 4.9L highway while the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Hybrid notes ratings of 4.5L city and 4.2L highway. 
Overall, the Fusion Hybrid was a nice drive. Keep in mind that because the vehicle is a hybrid, you'll lose some trunk space. Though I didn't particularly like the car's seat design, it was definitely comfortable. The Fusion is loaded with airbags including, interestingly, driver and front-passenger knee airbags.
The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $29,999. 
Special thanks to Rob Simpson at Twin Hills Ford for additional information about the 2013 Fusion Hybrid.