What Brings Drivers to Nissan's Micra Cup?

It sets a benchmark where a driver can see how well they're doing based on driving and not based on how much they've spent.

By Evan Williams Wheels.ca

Aug 14, 2018 6 min. read

Article was updated 5 years ago

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The Micra Cup has one of the most widespread groups of racers of any series I've ever seen. The drivers here run from up and coming top tier hopefuls, to drivers who race as a hobby, to politicians who are here to try and win a bet. So what brings such a wide group of drivers to the smallest race cars around?

For two-time series Champ Olivier Bédard, it was a matter of timing. Bedard was at the end of a successful Formula 1600 open wheel season with no drive for next year. He heard about the Micra Cup series just two weeks before the season was set to start.

That lead to a flurry of phone calls. Bédard told me that he called every single Nissan dealership in the province of Quebec, looking to find one interested in going racing.

Bédard found that dealer and bought his Cup car the Monday before his first race. That Wednesday, he was on track.

Alex Habrich Micra Cup

He credits Micra Cup for saving his career. Taking a year off of racing for a rising star can end what was a once-promising driver's run. Micra Cup didn't just get him racing, it offered a package that was a dream for sponsors. Backing from a major manufacturer, including a major social media push. The series has a deal that sees races broadcast on TV and on the Micra Cup Youtube Channel. That meant exposure. National exposure on a level that is unparalleled by a North American series at this level. Not just for him, and his efforts to further his career, but for his sponsors. Sponsors that are greatly needed for the young driver, even in this relatively affordable series.

Bédard said that the series also lets him show how he can handle competition. With a field of up to 28 identical cars and limited setup options, it's talent and tiny setup changes that wins championships. Not the cubic dollars required in other series to eke out more power or make yet another chassis upgrade. He's shown that he's up to the task, battling through nearly the entire second race this past Sunday with his SolidXperts-sponsored Micra nose to tail and side-by-side with the L&P Apparel car of Kevin King. The side-by-side battle into the narrow and unforgiving Porte Duplessis saw Bédard come out on top.

Alex Habrich Micra Cup

For other drivers, it's a return to the track. Jake Exton, from Guildford in the UK, had taken a 10-year break since racing karts as a kid. He heard a friend was racing and offered to come turn wrenches. Exton was offered a chance to take the car around during a practice session at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. He beat the friend's best lap time by around eight seconds. So Exton entered his first race that weekend. It ended in a car-destroying crash. For the next weekend's race, Exton had a new car and a team and went on to win the rookie trophy in that second race and the rookie championship by the end of the season. He's now taken over his friend's car and is driving the Moovit car full-time in the series.

That friend was driver Craig Willoughby. He'd been racing circle-track mini stock cars at Kawartha Speedway for years but wanted something different. What lured him to Micra Cup? "The TV commercial." He saw it on Speed Channel, and wanted to try it. Willoughby showed up way too late for his first race, with a competition licence that probably hadn't quite finished drying. He'd never road raced before. "Put on your suit, get out there and run a lap or you can't race this year," Exton says Willougby was told. He made that lap and ran a season before opening up his seat to Exton.

Alex Habrich Micra Cup

For Trois Rivières mayor Yves Levesques, there was honour at stake. And mowing on the line. At the race last year, the mayor was challenged by actor Michel Barrette. The two would race at the Grand Prix Trois Rivières this year, and the loser would have to mow the lawn at city hall. With a push mower. The old-fashioned style with no motor. The lawn at city hall is actually a park that takes up a full city block. Levesques gave it an impressive effort, despite pranks like a hunk of sod placed under his seat before Friday's practice sessions. But a pair of crashes left the car battered, and losing to Barrette probably left his ego bruised. His Worship will get a chance to think about how to improve his performance for next year while walking behind that lawn mower.

Alex Habrich raced a 700 hp Dodge Viper Competition Coupe in the GT Challenge Series for years. The Gentleman Racer. Paying his own way because he loves doing it, not as a stepping stone for a shot at Formula 1 or NASCAR. What brings him to a series where the cars make such a small fraction of the power and are driven by the front wheels? It doesn't hurt that the budget for an entire season is comparable with the price of tires for a weekend in a Viper, or that a replacement Micra is less than a Viper hood. He moved to this series to give his son Michael a chance to race. "You're not gonna start in a Viper. You'll kill yourself," the senior Habrich said. Alex Habrich drove the series for two years by himself, because Michael couldn't miss school for races. Michael entered the series last year.

Alex spent that first season watching Michael more than his own driving. Coaching over the radio in the middle of the race doesn't help your own times. This year, Michael is on his own and Alex has moved from the back to the middle of the pack. Does he miss the other 600 hp he left behind with the Viper? "Oh yeah, big time." But driving this car "teaches you to brake better," and is less forgiving of driver errors. The Micra is also much nicer in the rain. "They really stick" on rain tires, he says. Habrich also likes the idea of a spec series, where talent and skill are more important than cash. It sets a benchmark where a driver can see how well they're doing based on driving and not based on how much they've spent.

It’s the broad range of motivation, experience, and background that helps make the series interesting. It’s the wheel to wheel and bumper to bumper racing that keeps it that way. Just don’t leave a mark on Alex Habrich’s car. He’ll make you leave a second one at the end of the race. He hasn’t hit another car in 15 years of racing, so if you leave a mark on his paint he’ll make you sign your name to it.

Alex Habrich Micra Cup

Also Read: Nissan's Tiny Racing Series Lives Large

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