Jim Russell Racing School
After waiting for many years, my long awaited dream finally arrived. I was going to attend the famous Jim Russell racing school in Quebec, Canada. The week started off with me driving up from Virginia to Mont Tremblant. I arrived Sunday evening around 9 pm, having left home at 7 that morning.
Monday morning brought gray clouds and rain. I met the instructors and other students and the lessons began right away. The Formula Ford cars were very direct, and a lot of fun to drive.
However, my left foot kept getting caught in between the clutch pedal and a crossmember. It was especially bad because of the rain. Every time I got in the car my shoes were wet, making it very easy to slide off the steel pedals. Also, the shift linkage took some getting used to. This meant that everyone was missing shifts and grinding gears regularly for the first few hours.
Each exercise was designed to emphasize specific techniques. For instance, braking while downshifting was the first exercise because braking is the first stage of a corner. As the morning wore on we practiced heel-and-toe (though you never really use your heel) and then the slalom.
The parking lot was quite odd when we left for lunch. Everyone was relearning how to drive their street cars. My Honda felt like a bus, and all the controls were much too light. After lunch it was all classroom theory, followed by walking the track and taking notes. For each turn we had to identify where to brake, shift, turn in, apex, and exit. Basically we learned exactly where to place the car throughout each lap.
Le Circuit Mont Tremblant is a very exciting track with challenging corners (some blind) and fantastic elevation changes. After the day's lesson we all went our separate ways before meeting again for dinner in the nearby town of St. Jovite. The whole class and the instructors got acquainted. It was a great opportunity to relax and get to know everyone else.
The village of Mont Tremblant is simply gorgeous. There are several lakes and a very good biking/running trail. I didn't have much time to explore, but I did manage to go running before dinner. It was very nice, even in the rain.
Day two was a replay of the first in terms of rainy weather. But the clutch pedal was adjusted to my liking, and I didn't have any more problems. We practiced cornering for most of the morning. It drizzled off and on all day, so there was no need to spray the skid pad prior to our next exercise. We practiced understeer and oversteer for a while to get a feel of the cars at the limit.
One student somehow broke the nosecone of her car by losing control, not lifting off the throttle, and not pressing the brake or clutch. Her car ended up on a grass embankment, minus a few pieces. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
After the classroom discussion about the various flags, and a quiz, we took to the track behind the Mustang GT pace car. At each corner a person in the back seat would flash a number representing the gear we should use. It felt quite spirited since it was our first time driving around the entire track. For the rest of the afternoon we lapped behind the pace car, though progressively quicker, preparing for the third day.
At the end of the day I went back to the hotel to workout and then went running. Mont Tremblant was a pleasure to visit, and especially affordable since the US to Canadian exchange rate was quite favorable. I had never experienced such wide, well maintained, and winding biking/running trails. And even though I was only going to go on a brief run, it was so much fun I went twice as long as I had planned.
The third (final) day was all lapping sessions. Even better the skies were clear and the track was dry. We started off at a rev limit of around 3400 rpm and progressed to 4400 by day's end. It doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind that a FF1600 engine is probably not making much power above 5000 rpm anyway. And with the gearing as tall as it was, the likelihood of going much over 4400 was low.
Between each 15 lap session the instructors would debrief each student about his performance, where he could improve, and where he was doing well. Everything went along at a good pace. But early on two things hampered our progress.
One was the driver involved in the previous day's mishap. She was so slow that we would lap her every four laps. This track is almost two miles around with 11 turns. Imagine the frustration of turning several laps in the 1:30 range, and then being stuck behind her for half a lap and turning a time of 1:55! Everyone was unhappy. The instructors politely asked her to come back the next day to finish. She agreed.
So the stage was set. But then one of the FF2000 cars we were alternating track time with blew a hose and laid down a strip of oil most of the way around the track, right on the racing line. We had to be very cautious for quite some time.
All in all though, we learned a lot and were able to go faster and faster as the day wore on. I thought I had gone as fast as possible. In hindsight, though, I realize there was time to be gained. Going in to most of the turns I found it hard to feel what the rear tires were doing, and could not carry as much speed as I wanted. Treaded tires may have been part of the reason, as was the stiffness of the rear suspension.
It takes time to learn these things. But I am happy to say I was one of the quickest and most consistent drivers. I learned a great deal about driving, about racing, and I'm ready to take the next step.
After the last day's six sessions (90 laps total) I still felt as fresh as that morning. I was able to push harder and harder, and slow things down in my mind. Other people were suffering from sore hands and arms, and I had not yet begun to get mentally tired.
It's proof that the fitness program that I have been on for the past year has definitely paid off. It also helped a lot on the long drive back home. All in all, those three days were times I will always remember. Was it worth it? Every last dollar, US or Canadian.