Pop Culture

If I Was a Rich Man: Motorsport Country Club on Vancouver Island

Duncan, British Columbia – Say your uncle leaves you a nice inheritance and you buy a Porsche GT3.  Great. You’ll get admiring looks from other drivers – but if you want to explore its performance potential without getting it impounded and/or endangering yourself and other drivers, you’ll need a place where you can put the pedal to metal without running afoul of the law.

That’s basically what motivated a group of premium car dealers on Vancouver Island to build the new Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, a private track and clubhouse for their customers, corporate groups and others where they can enjoy their high performance machines in a completely safe and legal environment – without the need to obtain a racing license.

It’s one of a growing number of member-only ‘country club’ racetracks around North America where performance enthusiasts can satisfy their lust for speed and meet with fellow members who share their passion for fast driving.

Vancouver Island may seem like an out-of-the-way location for a brand new motorsports circuit, but as a private members-and-guests-only club, it’s the only facility in Canada where the climate is mild enough for the track to open year-round (closed on Christmas Day).  About a 20 minute drive north of Victoria and 40 minutes from the Victoria airport, the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit will have its formal grand opening in June.

The 275 acre site comprises a 2.3 km circuit with five different track configurations, a dynamic testing area with a skid pad, four pit garages, an off-road track and a 15,000 square foot Clubhouse with a Presentation Centre, display area for rotating vehicle exhibits, restaurant, observation deck, change rooms, lockers and showers.  There’s also onsite vehicle storage for members who want to leave their cars at the facility.

The facility is the brainchild of Dr. Sylvester Chuang and Peter Trzewik, enthusiastic car guys and principals with the GAIN dealer group, a consortium of nine premium automobile dealerships on Vancouver Island, and the AWIN dealer group of nine dealerships in Ontario.  While attending a dealer track event at Las Vegas Speedway, Chuang remarked, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could offer so much fun to clients at home.”  Despite a general lack of interest from vehicle manufacturers, the dealers felt the project would be a success and threw their full financial weight behind it. “This is our marketing tool for selling sports cars in Western Canada,” said Trzewik. “If you can arrange a test drive on a track, how can you not sell more Porsches?”

The circuit owners made the wise decision to employ the services of world-renowned Tilke Engineering to design the course.  Tilke has designed or renovated over twenty F1 and MotoGP circuits, including the Nurburgring, Hockenheimring, Paul Ricard, Motorland Aragon, Circuit de Catalunya, Moscow Raceway, Fuji International Raceway, Shanghai International Circuit, and Circuit of the Americas.  Although this circuit is not big enough and fancy enough to qualify as an F1 circuit, it is built to FIA safety standards with run-off areas, impact barriers, pit lane entry and exit merge lane, camera monitoring, and digital flag system.  The owners have plans to double the length of the track in the future.

In addition to the club’s professional driving instructors, Trzewik says he plans to invite well-known professional drivers as guest instructors for short periods of time.

In addition to the track, the facility includes a four-acre driving dynamic area used for slaloms, tire testing and emergency braking maneuvers.  The skid pad that can be wetted down to test wet weather performance.

Owners who leave their cars at the track can have them washed, gassed, and prepped ready to go when they arrive.  The facility includes a repair and maintenance shop that can do oil changes, tire changes and tire pressure adjustments, wheel alignments, brake repairs and adjustments.

The facility will also include a one-kilometre off-road course that winds through the tall forest and natural terrain nearby. It will include ten off-road challenges such as a water crossing, wooden bridge, rocker, cross fall, and axle-twist. There’s a ‘green track’ for novices and less capable vehicles and a more difficult trail for capable vehicles and drivers.

The organizers invited journalists to the new facility and offered them a variety of performance cars to drive on the track in addition to allowing us ride shotgun in some very cool and expensive classic cars. This included a rare Mercedes-Benz 300SL restored by famous classic vehicle restorer, Rudi Koniczek (that’s him in the driver’s seat).

Though it doesn’t look like it from the aerial photograph, the track is built on the side of a hill with some dramatic changes in elevation with uphill inclines up to 11.5% and downhill slopes up to 12.5%.  Turn 1, for example, is a sweeping uphill right-hand turn climbing up to the top of the track where a right-hand turn leads to a flat-out straight that culminates in a 90-degree right hand turn leading to another off-camber 90-degree right-hand turn.  The curvy track then winds it way back and forth downhill to within sight of the clubhouse where it winds its way back up and then down again to the front straight.  The 19-turn circuit is an exhilarating and challenging track with good sight lines.  Though it was challenging for amateurs (like me), it is not a dangerous track because of the ample runoff areas and lack of trackside obstacles - apart from the concrete wall along the pit straight.

How much does it cost to join, you ask?  There are four categories of memberships, Founding, Individual, Family and Corporate.  Individual 25-year memberships cost $48,000, which Trzewik is quick to point out averages only $1,920/year and includes access to the facility up to 20 days per month all year.   Memberships can be sold to others after five years, with the organizers’ approval.  Other membership prices are yet to be determined.  So far, Trzewik has signed up about 50 Individual members and plans to limit total membership to 499.  However, just because you have $48,000 doesn’t mean you can gain automatic membership - each member must fill in an application form and be approved by the organizers.

Trzewik anticipates that members will come from all over Canada, the U.S. and overseas to enjoy some track days and many will bring their families for a holiday on Vancouver Island.  The organizers also own the nearby Villa Eyrie resort where out-of-town members can find luxury accommodation and a fine restaurant.

“To understand what we are in the process of building, imagine you are in Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, Toronto or any other city with direct flights to Nanaimo or Victoria.  You look out the window in November or any month until April, it is cold and snowy and you decide to fly to Vancouver Island on Friday after work.  There you take a rental car and drive to a hotel and spend the night after having a great dinner overlooking the ocean. The next morning, you drive to the resort and your car (that we keep track ready in storage for you) is waiting for you in the paddock.  You drive for three to four hours and enjoy your car, your skills and maybe you have made improvements in your lap time or figured a corner out more than the last time. Then you hand the keys back to our staff and spend the afternoon doing something else on our beautiful island. The best thing is, you can do this virtually any day of the year.”

For those who can afford it, it’s a rare chance to experience their performance automobile the way it was designed to be driven and enjoy after-track socializing with like-minded members in a country club-type atmosphere.

I’m ready to sign up.  All I need is $48,000 and that GT3 I was dreaming about!

More information can be found at www.islandmotorsportcircuit.com