Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Summer's here, and the time is right...

...for racing in the streets.

Or so the song goes, anyway... the Bruce Springsteen song, that is.

Moss Corner, Mosport - Trans-Am Racing

Street racing may not be legal, but there’s nothing wrong with a road course. It’s been a long winter, and as well as being the traditional time to open up the cottage, Victoria Day heralds another long-standing event: Speedfest Weekend at Mosport International Raceway.

Mosport, about an hour east of Toronto and north a bit, is a legendary track in racing history. Some of the greatest have competed here: Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Richard Petty, Jackie Stewart. Stirling Moss, the story goes, even made suggestions to improve turn 5, the "Moss Corner" that now bears his name. Canadian icon Gilles Villeneuve contested the 1977 Grand Prix, his last appearance here before his death at Zolder in 1982, and even “The Maestro” Juan Manuel Fangio is said to have driven the track. Nestled in rolling hills, surrounded by woodland, with a view on a clear day of Lake Ontario to the south, it’s a beautiful place to hike, take photos, and enjoy the scenery. As long as you remember to take some earplugs.

Up at the crack of dawn and eastbound on Highway 407, narrowly missing a goose that decided it would be an excellent place to stand, and onto the country roads that lead to the track. The day started bright, but bitterly cold – three degrees Celsius, and very windy. Just before nine in the morning, after nearly being blown off the bridge over the pit straight and unintentionally taking a few photos because my numb fingers fumbled the shutter button, I headed for the relative shelter of the paddock.

Mosport International Raceway - Canada's Home of Motorsports
Damn, it was cold up there.

Here, the cars wait to compete, while mechanics, spectators and drivers buzz around. I met Flickr acquaintance f1design, avid motorsports fan and photographer par excellence. He and his friends were likeable, enthusiastic, and tooled up with some serious photographic equipment that put my (ok, Mrs. Ricardipus's, actually) camera to shame, much though I like it.

The day consisted of hiking the track, which at 3.9 km in length and surrounded by hills and at-times dense woods, was a workout. We made the entire circuit during the course of the day, stopping at different vantage points during a full slate of races. After some qualifying sessions, the first was the Speed World Challenge Touring Car event, with race-modified Acuras, Mazdas and BMWs dueling for the lead.

Espenlaub vs. Cunningham, Mosport, 2009
Acura vs. Mazda... the Acura won, this time.

That was followed by the GT race – this time, high-powered sports cars: Corvettes, Dodge Vipers, Porsches, a Mustang Cobra and a pair of surprisingly fast Volvos, in the hands of pro- and semi-pro drivers.

Speed World Challenge GT - Volvo S60
Not exactly your parents' Volvo.

Next up was the Canadian Touring Car championship, a very competitive race featuring a huge field of lightly-modified road cars: Subarus, Hondas, Hyundais, Fords, Toyotas, BMWs... even a Mini:

#47 Mini Cooper at Mosport
It came second in its class; not a bad result, really.

The final event of the day was the Trans-Am race (not featuring any Pontiac Trans Ams, though – the car took its name from the racing series, not the other way around). Here, heavily modified Jaguar XKRs and Corvettes battled with a lone Mustang and a hopelessly outclassed Mazda RX-7. A spectacular run by German driver Klaus Graf, starting dead last and demolishing the field to take the win, was the day’s highlight.

#6 Jaguar XKR, at speed
Klaus Graf, taking everyone to school.

At the end, after a tiring walk back up the hill to the car parked in the infield, I said goodbye to 'f1design', and headed home, nursing a nascent case of sunburn on both ears. I’ll be back in August for the repeat of last year's American Le Mans race, if not before.

The long walk back.
Two photographers, heading home. I'm neither of them, obviously.

I took over 240 photos on the day. Some of them are shown here; if you’d like to see the rest of the ones that turned out well (far less than the number taken, believe me), they’re found in this set. More information about Mosport’s history can be found here, for anyone who might be interested.