Being able to drop down three gears while taking the hairpin turns at speed is a blessing.
After buying the property formerly known as Mosport International Raceway, Carlo Fidani, Al Boughton and Ron Fellows injected a truckload of money into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) in Bowmanville, Ontario. This location is the perfect backdrop for the well known, and well-run Ron Fellows Driving Experience. This seasonal driver education program is in partnership with General Motors Canada, and the fine folks at Chevrolet invited us out for a fantastic evening with Ron and his team to live the full experience.
Originally opened in 1961, CTMP currently has a Driver Development Training track, and the large setup known as the famous Grand Prix track. The GP track has historically been host to a large number of big name and international races, such as Formula One, Players 200, IndyCar, SCCA Trans-Am, NASCAR among numerous others. The track is one of the fastest in North America in terms of average track speed, and thus is a fantastic setting for Ron Fellows and his instructors to inject some racing skill into enthusiasts.
Patrons of the Driving Experience come through via either corporate events, or their local General Motors dealership as part of a new vehicle purchase. The current Ron Fellows Driving Experience (RFDE) fleet consists of several Cadillac CTS-V sedans, seventh generation Z06 Corvettes, as well as a variety of Camaros. As these are all serious performance machines, General Motors wants to ensure that buyers of their top-tier products have the opportunity to get proper training and experience what these cars are capable of when pushed to the limit.
Drivers are grouped with an instructor in groups of up to five cars, and trained in a lead-follow style. Unlike the typical driving instructor where the instructor is sitting in the passenger seat, the RFDE lead-follow technique believes that it is much less intimidating and a more efficient learning experience to be driving your own car, following the instructor in an identical car.
Each vehicle is equipped with a radio so that you can hear explanations and instructions provided by the instructor as they pilot the lead vehicle in front of you. This allows the students to see, hear and feel the car and track on their own terms, without feeling the pressure or fear of judgment if a slight misstep is made.
The subject matter of our training session was the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro, present in three different, track-ready flavours. My driving group was ideal, consisting only of myself and one other driver, with Sam Fellows, Ron’s son being our instructor for the evening. We were the luckiest group of all, as we were assigned the lowest horsepower vehicles first and successively went up in power with each heat as we became more and more comfortable with the track.
Up first was the 2020 Camaro Turbo 1LE package with a six-speed manual transmission. The 1LE package adds all of the track-ready goodies, like a spoiler, Brembo Brakes, suspension changes, as well as some unique appearance items to a regular Camaro to make it a serious competitor. With a peak of 275 horsepower at 5,600RPM, the 2.0L provided plenty of power to blast around the track while getting my bearings for the first five or so laps, listening intently and watching as the instructor explained when and why to brake, what to feel, and when to make the engine roar.
After a short break, my group was presented with our choice of manual, or 10-speed automatic Camaro SS cars, all equipped with the 1LE performance package. We opted to stick with the six-speed manuals, and took off after our instructor with the roar of the 6.2L V8 engine and its 455 horsepower at 6,000RPM singing a fantastic tune around the track. The extra 185 horsepower was apparent, with appropriate braking now much more important, and our average track speed increased significantly with more power and confidence.
Finally, another break and our last heat, now at the helm of the supercharged 6.2L powered Camaro ZL1 1LE, equipped for us with the 10-speed automatic. As a daily driver of a manual-transmission car, the automatic was an unexpectedly welcome surprise on the track. With peak horsepower and torque both wearing the number 650 (horsepower and lb-ft. respectively) the ZL1 is a monster to handle around the track.
Being able to drop down three gears while taking the hairpin turns at speeds the ZL1 can handle is a blessing. Feeling the massive tires sticking to the asphalt along with all of the downforce through the turns is exhilarating, and watching the heads-up display roll past 215km/h nearing the end of the straightaway is an incredible experience, followed by the intense force of the Brembo brakes hauling you back down to street speeds before the turn.
Following the instruction laps, you are left with the idea that you actually now know what you’re doing, and could become a race car driver. This is when drivers are invited to hop into the passenger seat with an instructor, and go for a hot lap to see what the cars can really do, and realize you were nowhere near the limit. Unfortunately for us, the weather was spitting rain and threatening worse conditions throughout the day, so to err on the side of caution hot laps were cancelled for the evening.
After all of the adrenaline, noise and exhaust, guests return inside to enjoy a few beverages and a lovely meal with Ron and the instructors, better than any food you would ever expect to eat at a race track. The bar, while reasonably well equipped for whatever wets your whistle, prides itself on serving the track’s locally brewed “61” beer, a celebration of its complex history and future, and a perfect way to debrief on the day’s events with your peers.