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Video: Kenzie races Mosport in a Mini

I had never raced one on a track. As Joni Mitchell sang, Life is for learning.

  • The image of cars in a showroom

I first met Alain Lauzière when I was running a BMW 318is in the Firestone Firehawk Showroom Stock racing series back in the early 1990s. He was a friend of our top driver, Jeff Lorriman, and helped crew the car.

VIDEO: Kenzie races at Mosport

As partial thanks for his efforts, we let Alain run a race near the end of the season.

He was instantly faster than I was.

Darn, these French-Canadian kids all seem to have the Villeneuve gene.

Lauzière now works for BMW/Mini Canada in Montreal. Three years ago he decided to get back into racing. He acquired a badly bashed Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works package on it from the States.

With help from Vic Simone in Newmarket, Jeff Lorriman, Kevin Abe and a few other friends, he put the bits from the crashed car – including the bottom end of the engine with 37,000 km on it – into a new body shell.

He won the Ontario GT class championship in 2006, and the Castrol Touring Car Championship (Touring division) last year.

Various constraints have meant a reduced race schedule for Lauzière this year. As the season was drawing to a close and he wasn’t in contention for the Castrol championship again, he offered me a chance to race the car last weekend at Mosport.

Let me think abou … YES! I have a fair amount of experience in the Cooper S JCW – I run one in the Targa Newfoundland rally which is coming up a week from next Monday (more in next week’s Wheels).

However, I had never raced one on a track. As Joni Mitchell sang, “Life is for learning.”

The first practice session was to be at 9 a.m. Saturday. I live an hour and a half from the track, and Alain wanted me there early so we could fit me into the seat, adjust the seatbelts, etc.

For someone who normally gets up at the crack of noon, this was looking like the toughest part of the job.

Got there in time. Fitted into the car fine. Could have got another hour’s sleep.

I was more than a little apprehensive when I headed out for practice in the stunning bright orange Mini (apparently, a Camaro colour from the early 1970s). First, there are a lot of places at Mosport where you can fatally kill yourself. (I actually heard that phrase once on a Buffalo TV newscast.)

Second, I hadn’t raced at Mosport for a few years.

Third, we hadn’t even talked about who would pay for what if something got bent.

Fourth, the other cars on the track would be competing for championship points. I didn’t want to take one of them out.

But hey, a race is a race.

I was very ginger for the first few laps. The gearing on Alain’s race car is a lot lower than my Targa Mini, and lower than any car I had ever driven at Mosport. In corners where I would normally be in third, this car wanted fourth. To my great surprise, we actually touched sixth briefly on the long uphill back straight, then had to carry fifth through the long sweeping right-hander that is Turn Eight.

Yikes.

But I managed to get around without getting in anyone’s way.

Alain was running the car in a parallel series that day, and when he came in from his practice, he said the car felt “darty.”

“Um, yeah, maybe a little,” I agreed.

He and Jonathan Proulx, his crew chief du jour, checked the front suspension and decided a tie rod end was a bit sketchy and replaced it. I went out for my qualifying session. Yep, more stable for sure.

Because of the gearing, the car accelerates quicker than my Targa car.

When the time sheets came out, I was major-league surprised to find myself at 1:39.682, seventh out of 13 cars in the Touring class – essentially, stock engines, free suspension. (The Super Touring cars are allowed more modifications.)

So, six cars ahead of me, six cars behind me. That’s my life as a race car driver – definitely mid-pack. Now, Alain typically has this car on or very near the pole.

If I ever have a strategy for a Mosport race, it’s to try to get to the inside for Turn One (another right hander) at the start, so if (i.e., when) things get bumpy, I won’t be shoved off the outside of the track.

So at the end of the second of our two pace laps, I dove right and careened up along the pit wall.

This managed to get me past the sixth-qualified car, Brad Young’s Honda Civic, and into a little group battling for fourth through seventh, consisting of brothers Anthony and Andre Rapone in Acura Integra Type Rs, and the Super Touring Hyundai Tiburon of Lee Chaplin – which might well have been the very car I last raced at Mosport a few years back.

Andre and Lee were really going at it – paint was swapped, bodywork was modified. I was more-or-less in the mix for the first few laps, trying not to hit anybody or be hit, but looking for the chance that they might take each other out and allow me to go after Anthony.

Then I missed a shift … Turn Two is scary enough in fourth. In sixth? Ah, no.

This set me back a few tenths of a second, and in racing this close, that’s all you need.

I was also worried I might have over-revved the engine

I missed another shift, and decided I better refocus.

During all this, Brad Young regained his position, and it became a bit of a procession.

Alain’s intercom system was not compatible with my helmet headset, so I had absolutely no communication with the pits. I had no idea how many laps were left. At times like these, you pray for the checkered flag.

I had forgotten how tiring this can be, especially as that thing they called “the sun” seemed to be making things really hot. (Why do they take air-con out of race cars? Come on …)

But then I noticed I was reeling in Andre Rapone. I wasn’t going any faster (there’s a lap time read-out in the steering wheel) so he must have been going slower. Turns out he got a slow leak in one of his tires.

Andre Rapone. Check.

Then I noticed I was reeling in Chaplin too. All right!

NO NO, NOT THE CHECKER!

GIVE ME TWO MORE LAPS!

Even if he was not in my class, you still love to pass people.

Darn.

Anyway, started seventh, finished sixth.

Didn’t crash, didn’t die. For me, that’s a good day at the race track.

I didn’t beat anyone who qualified faster than me (except poor Andre). But nobody who qualified slower beat me either.

My best lap – 1:39.937 – was 2.5 seconds slower than Alain’s best lap in the second Castrol race the following day (he started dead last, finished second – I told you he was fast) and I’m good with that.

Most of my laps were 1.40s, bunched pretty close together. I may not be fast, but I am at least consistently slow.

Which may be why we don’t do badly in Targa. That’s a five-day, nine-tenths sort of event.

But to win in a sprint race, well, call Alain.

Wheels’ chief automotive reviewer Jim Kenzie can be reached at jim@jimkenzie.com.

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