If you’re looking for competitive racing, you probably wouldn’t think to look at racing that’s based on the cheapest new car in Canada. But the Micra Cup brings with it some surprises that can help make it a lot more of a show than any series like this has any right to be.
I’m not going to call this series cheap racing, any driver who has attempted to race cheaply knows that those two words combine like oil and vinegar. But it is definitely more accessible than most series. A ready to race Micra will run you $23,400, and you can even pick your colour. Some of the teams are able to make it through the season with budgets of about that same amount. A set of the Pirelli slicks the series uses is just $1,208 and while that might be steep for tires on a subcompact hatch, it’s nearly a steal in the world of racecar tires. And they’ll last, too, even at the sharp edge of the field. Two-time series champ Olivier Bédard buys fewer of the tires than any other driver.
For that price, Nissan offers an impressive package in the Micra Cup. How many budget series get you into top-tier race weekends at tracks like Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Circuit Mont-Tremblant, and, of course, the street circuit at Trois Rivieres? The series also boasts an impressive media package that lets fans watch every race on the Micra Cup TV YouTube channel, and has a partnership with TSN and RDS to show race highlights during prime time. The Saturday night of the Grand Prix, Nissan hosted a show with comedian Etienne Dano and singer Travis Cormier. They introduced the Micra Cup driver lineup to the thousands of fans in attendance.
It’s the kind of exposure that drivers at this level can’t afford to buy. The kind that helps make a lower-cost series even more affordable. Going to sponsors is never easy, but when you can offer your sponsor a package like this it can make attracting their dollars a whole lot easier, a sentiment shared by several of the drivers I spoke with. None of that really matters, though, if the racing is boring.
109 horsepower hatchbacks don’t sound like the secret to competitive racing, but it’s the details that unlock it. Start with the car itself. These Micras are nearly 25 cm narrower than the Pinty’s Series NASCAR racers that are the main attraction this weekend. That means that there is more than enough track in turn one to let them race four wide. And they do race four wide. The races this weekend saw 26 car fields and was full of drivers tossing their Micras into gaps that wouldn’t even exist in other series, battling for position on nearly every lap.
It’s not just in the race. These mighty Micra drivers are throwing the car in deep to make a pass even in practice and qualifying. Where other series drivers might drop back for the opportunity to set a fast qualifying lap the next time around the circuit, these drivers are passing aggressively for track position.
And they’re not afraid to do it because this is an affordable series to run. When your new car costs less than the weekend tire budget for some series, you can follow the Harry Hogge rule of racecar personal space: “rubbin, son, is racin’.” Fenders and bumpers take a beating here, but when you have factory support and a reasonably priced starting point, replacements won’t break the bank. A whole field of new Micra Cup cars, ready to go on track, is less than the cost of the motorhomes that top-tier series drivers live in. The biggest consumable part seems to be door mirrors. No fewer than six were left on the track during the first race of the weekend. With tiny curb weights and rear drum brakes, some of those mirrors are getting replaced more frequently than brake parts.
But that missing mirror could be an advantage. With cars that are built to be as identical as possible, trimming off a few extra pounds, and adding an extra km or two to the top speed, could help a driver place a little bit better at the end of the race. Racers wouldn’t ever do something like that to get a tiny advantage, would they?
They might have to. With all of the cars built by one race shop, advantages are hard to come by. The cars are teched at the start of the season, and then at the track. Try and trim too much weight and you’ll end up disqualified. Driver Jake Exton suffered some damage at Calabogie that put him underweight by just a kilogram and suffered that fate. The first few seasons, the cars didn’t even offer adjustable damping. If you’ve watched videos of some of the first few races, the cars can look a little bit tipsy.
Starting last season, the cars got a new suspension package. One with adjustable shocks that series vet Alex Habrich says makes the cars much more stable and better to drive. Watch them on track and they look it, too. Better able to use the Pirelli slicks in the corners.
These low-power cars, built to the same spec, are quicker than they look. A look at the time charts suggests that moving a Micra Cup car up to a higher-spec series might not be out of line. Bédard’s one-minute 21-second pole position lap would have put him just four seconds off of the back of the Canadian Touring Car Championship grid. That’s against Touring Class cars that offer about 100 extra horses, unrestricted suspensions, and much more rubber at the corners. Maybe Nissan should offer a Micra SE-R with the 125 hp engine from the Kicks or the 141 hp four of the Qashqai
I expected the Micras to be an also-ran in an event that featured touring cars, Porsche GT3 racers, and NASCAR stock cars. But frankly, it held its own against the bigger series. It had more cars, more bumping, and best for everyone, it had more racing all the way through the field. Even the backmarkers were finding someone to race with and working aggressively to set up a pass. With drivers ranging from ladder-climbing young stars to gentlemen (and women) racers, to the mayor of Trois Rivières, that’s an impressive accomplishment.
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