There's a long list of car-guy must-dos out there, but here's something that should be at the top: driving an open-wheel car. It's not easy or cheap, but being stuffed into a featherweight, open-top, mid-engine tub and thrown onto a track is one of the few things that can provide an intense man/machine interaction. And even fewer will throw you into a spin as easily.
Bridgestone's Racing Academy, based at the Mosport International Raceway just outside of Toronto, Canada, offers a racing school dedicated to the open-wheel driving experience. It's also one of few places that let you pilot a formula car and begin to feel aero grip - assuming you have the gumption to corner at speeds high enough to induce the effect.
The Reynard F2000 chassis used by the academy is a tube frame fiberglass monocoque powered by a 2.0-liter SOHC Dodge Neon motor putting out roughly 130 bhp. Mated to a four-speed non-sequential dog-box, the 1000-pound chassis - shod with Bridgestone's new RE-01R street tires - can still race to 60 mph in under five seconds, even with its tall first gear. But going in a straight line is the least of this car's talents. The capacity to take tight 90-degree kinks at well over 50 mph and fly through mild sweeping turns at triple digit speeds with the throttle floored is what makes the F2000 unlike any streetcar.
The open-wheel track experience also takes out all the complexities of tracking a conventional car. Its near-perfect balance strips away the need for driver tricks necessary with some layouts, like trail-braking in a front-wheel-drive car. It rewards classic driving skills: early braking, smooth neutral-throttle turn-in and fast-track out. It also gives the driver no nonsense response while still retaining enough suspension to use fundamental track skills like proper weight transfer (unlike karts).
And it's the best way to figure out just how good you are. Manhandle the controls and the car gets upset. Develop a delicate racer's touch and the machine will dance through corners. With so little weight over the front axles, turning the wheel is a matter of finger effort. Any slight motion prompts immediate response. The same goes for the gearbox and unassisted brakes. Heel-toe downshifts come with just a twist of the knee, while upshifts can be done with a slight throttle lift and no clutch.
The Bridgestone Racing Academy offers several courses, ranging from a one-day beginners' event to a full three-day training, where you're taught not only how to drive a race car, but how to race wheel-to-wheel with passing and race starts. This happens rain or shine. If you're lucky, you can even open-wheel race in the wet and learn about the rain line; something most amateur racers know nothing about (especially those from California). Prices range from 565 CND to 11,990 CND for a full nine-race series. We think it's worth every maple-leafed penny.
Bridgestone Racing Academy