~ by Daniel Demaras ~

As a lifelong fan of open-wheel racing and motorsports, I’ve always wanted to try the real thing. Watching it on TV and playing it in video games is fun and all, but it doesn’t satisfy me. I’ve always wanted to drive an open-wheel racecar. At Toronto Motorsports Park in Cayuga this Wednesday, I finally got to do it.

I had no experience in anything like the Reynard F2000. I’d driven a road car on a race track once, when I took a Ferrari F430 out for hot laps this summer. The F430 was a paddle-shift semi-automatic, and my only experience driving a manual transmission stick-shift (like the one the F2000 was equipped with) came in a couple of two-hour driving lessons in a Honda Civic last December! Needless to say, this was a very new experience.

It rained the entire drive up to the track, and throughout the in-class instruction. But the skies cleared up just in time for the group to head outside. After taking pictures with the racecar, we drove our road cars onto the circuit, over to where the F2000s were pitted. Even as a passenger in my dad’s lifted GMC Sierra, driving down the front straight at Cayuga was pretty freaky.

I got a chance to check out the cars before driving them. What struck me was how they were both so small and so simple. Seeing the gear shifter sticking into the cockpit, directly connected to the engine, located right behind the driver showed this vehicle was clearly meant for performance only with no thoughts spared for comfort.

Watching the other drivers take out the racecars before me, I realized that this would not be easy to drive. Lock ups, missed shifts, spins and stalls were frequent, as everyone tried to come to grips with their machines.

Finally, it was my turn. I stepped into the tiny cockpit, got belted in, fired up the engine and put it into first gear.

And I stalled it.

I tried again, and stalled it again. Now, in my defense, my experience in stick-shift cars is very limited, but after some time fighting the car, I got it to engage and off I went. After feeling out the car, finding where to shift and where to brake, I got into a rhythm. Fourth gear on the straights, third, then second into turn two. Third gear into the final corner and back into fourth. The tires were squealing often and I had to fight the car at some points, but I had it under control. After a couple laps in I tried to push my braking zone into the final turn, but instead I carried too much speed and spun it. I started the car back up, put it into first and got going again.

Once I got over the jitters, and got my first spin out of the way, I really started getting the hang of it. I pushed harder into the corners, accelerated earlier, and tried to brake later and later. I ran up behind another racer on-track and decided to go for the pass. Taking a nice tight apex on the final corner I had the inside line on the front straight, where my dad was filming. I hammered the throttle, leaving it in gear right up to redline as I zoomed past.

Driving an open-wheel racecar was a dream come true for me. For those laps, I felt just like the drivers I’d watched and idolized all my life. It was nerve-wracking but it was also incredible. A totally new experience in a new motorsport discipline.

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