I’ve just landed in Brussels, and am sitting in the arrivals hall at a coffee shop awaiting the arrival of BD145 from LHR.  I’m in Belgium to attend the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa with Hans and Wido.  Hans and I are repeat F1 offenders, but this is Wido’s first GP.

I didn’t sleep on the flight, so I’m expecting to down a few Kwak’s (Belgian Beer) and pass out early today.  Hopefully I’ll be able to write and post some pix from our hotel near the circuit.

mJm

Today I had yet another life-changing experience.  I had my first instructor-in-car track day at the Shannonville Motorsport Park just east of Belleville.  The day was being organized by the new owners/management at BMW Waterloo, who also own Parkview BMW.

I have done lots of driving in my life.  I spent lots of time in parking lots when I was getting my license learning how to control understeer and oversteer (thanks, Dad.  That wasn’t just fun, it was a very valuable skill for winter driving, as well as collision avoidance).  But I had never had the benefit of an instructor sitting in the right seat helping me with my technique.  Today, that changed.

Before I get to the fun at the track, I’ll recap last night.  We had a driver’s meeting with head instructor Ian Law.  Ian has forgotten more about advanced driving than I know.  He’s an engaging speaker, and someone you can learn alot from.  He took the group through the basics of advanced driving.  We were going to be separated into 2 groups:  beginner and intermediate/advanced.  The beginner group would not be allowed to pass, and would be lapping at a slower pace, while the advanced group could pass when signaled on the back straight, and drive to their individual limits.  I *really* wanted to be in the advanced group.  My wish was granted after a conversation about my car and driving history.

So first off, the beginners took off for 40 minutes of lapping, while I sat on the pitwall watching excited waiting for my turn.  The skies were grey, but it wasn’t raining, although the track was wet from the earlier rain.

Soon enough, the “advanced drivers to your cars” call went out.  I got in my M5, and took position near the front of the pack.  I really wanted an instructor with me for several reasons:  I wanted the driving feedback, he would have “the line”, and I’d learn alot more.  I was lucky to have race driver/instructor Cam jump in with me.

The first few laps were a bit rough.  I was having trouble with braking, and wasn’t yet comfortable with really hammering the brakes late before a corner.  Add to this the rain that had fallen on the track prior to our stint, and you can imagine the challenge.  But once my confidence in the car (yeah, as dumb as that sounds driving this incredible car, you need to build up that faith by testing the limits of braking at 180kph).  With Cam’s great feedback, each corner was becoming smoother and faster and I was starting to get closer to my “Best Lap”.  The back straight is a place where you can get up to speed quickly if the tires will grip.  The right-hander at the end of the back straight is a tight one.  Imagine flooring your car, getting up to 160-180kph and hitting the brakes as hard as you can at a point 125m before you ease off the brake and turn into the corner.  Exciting stuff.  I can tell you than when you’re doing this, you are thinking of absolutely NOTHING other than the road well in front of you.  Cam and I felt that the braking in my M5 was working very well, and we should attempt to brake at the 100m marker.  So, on the next lap, at somewhere between 160 and 170kph I let the 150m marker fly by my window.  I what seemed a nano-second, the 100m marker was upon me, and I stiffly and quickly pressed the brake pedal.  The ABS went into “I’m in charge” mode, and it became clear to both of us (although Cam verbalized it) that we were coming in too hot for the corner.  Fortunately, we had discussed this situation ahead of time, and I used the long, paved runoff area.

We pulled into the pits, where Cam wanted to check my tire pressures.  He felt that we weren’t getting enough of a contact patch on the track, so he wanted to see if we could drop a few PSI.  We did that, and waited for our next outing.

As my M5 sat parked it was making some very interesting sounds.  I’ve never heard the brake disks pop and crackle before.  This is normal.  It’s the thermal expansion/contraction of uber hot brake disks cooling in the moist air.

Our next stint was on a pretty dry track.  This was a TON of fun.  I really got a great sense of what the M5 is capable of.  It is a tremendously forgiving car when the driver’s aids are on.  As long as you don’t overreact and try to fight the car, you’ll end up pointing in the right direction.  I had several “moments” where you react without thinking, but just to the feel of the situation.  If you have to think about what to do, it’s too late most times.  Got some understeer?  Reduce the slip angle of the front tires by straightening slightly the wheel until you get grip, while gently easing off on the throttle.  Got some oversteer?  Look where you want to go, steer in that direction, and ease off on the throttle.  Easy-peasy.  Ha!

We couldn’t tell if the PSI reduction Cam did was making the car more drivable because the conditions had changed for the better, but we definitely had faster (it felt faster) and more controlled laps in this stint.

For the 3rd stint, I swapped seats with Cam for a few laps.  He was giving me great advice and I wanted to see him put my car through some hot laps.  He was smiling the same way I was when driving.  He commented on how much torque there is all the way to redline.  It’s true that from 4k to 8k the car just wants to rip the road apart.

He gave me back the wheel, and off we went for some more laps.  It had started raining again, but I was in pretty good control through each corner.  Cam must have felt I was “competent” because he asked me “do you want to turn off TC?”.  Now for those of you who don’t know what TC is, it’s an abbreviation for Traction Control, and it’s the feature that keeps your rear wheels from spinning wildly when you are accelerating.  This usually isn’t a huge issue, but when you’re driving “in anger” on a wet track, TC is definitely your friend and guardian angel.  Formula 1 cars were using TC until this year when the technical regulations banned it.  Really great drivers don’t need TC.  Weekend lappers (like me) are often saved from embarrassing “offs” by it.  I was taken a bit aback by his suggestion.  Wasn’t he the instructor who was supposed to stop testosterone-filled drivers from trying to live a Michael Schumacher dream in the rain?  At the same time, I was flattered, because the absolute LAST thing I thought I’d hear from an instructor would be “let’s turn off TC”, especially since the head instructor told us that nobody should disable any of their driver aids.

So, I said “sure, let’s try it and see what happens”.  So Cam hit the button, and the HUD on the windshield showed the ominous “Warning DSC Inactive” Icon.  We were just before the hairpin turn.  I braked as normal, but knew I’d have to be very careful with the throttle accelerating into the back straight.  Well, I wasn’t careful enough.  The back end started getting jiggy, and I eased off on the throttle and gott us pointed where we needed to be.  No harm, no foul, just another “moment”.  But I was driving my M5 like a REAL MAN and in the rain, no less.

We continued to build up speed, albeit more carefully, as there were pools of standing water that we would aquaplane through.  It’s a fun game of “no steering” and “no rear traction”.  Fortunately, those puddles lasted for a split second, and going straight is pretty safe.

The right hander at the end of the back straight fast approached.  I braked well, and made a good turn into the corner.  As I started to accelerate into the “esses” (which was my favourite part of the track) all hell broke loose (as well as the back end of my car).  The esses were a great right left combination of corners that I was taking at around 115kph, but this time, I lost the rear under acceleration, and we started to spin.  I’m beyond proud to say that I recovered from this moment, kept the car on-track and pointed in the right direction.  Having that happen while cornering at 115kph in the rain is something you have to experience to understand.  It all happens so quickly.  I think the ability to feel what to do and do it is critically important in situations like that.

In any event, after recovering, I said to Cam “experiment over, let’s turn the TC back on”.  He agreed completely.  But I was pleased that we had at least tried it, and that while I did lose the back end at speed, I nicely recovered.

I had another break while the beginners were on track.  It was clear I would need more gas.  I’d gone through a tank already.  That’s 60 litres gone in about 60 minutes of driving.  Wow. So I headed out to the nearby Sunoco with the driver of the M6 that I was driving with for many of my laps.

After refueling and prepping for my final stint, I thought that I should bring the video camera out.  I really wanted a lap or two recorded for posterity (or abuse).  We were once again asked to take our positons in the pit lane.  Cam jumped in, and I asked him if he thought he could hold on while filming.  He was very complementary of the M5 “Holy Sh*t Handles”.  They’re solid!  He said “sure, I’ll give it a try”.  Well, he recorded the entire session.  I have some great commentary from him, as well as the fun “cat and mouse” game I was playing with my new friend in his M6.  He would always pull away on the straights (the M6 has the same engine as the M5, and about 200lbs less weight).  But I was catching him on the corners.  I’m so happy he filmed this.  If you’re curious, you can watch some of my last laps on YouTube right here.

Well, that’s pretty much all I have to say about the day at Shannonville.  I’ll definitely be back, and am looking forward to sharing this kind of experience with Sophia.

One final note.  I refueled (again) for the drive home, and the heavens opened up.  The 401 was crawling from Bowmanville all the way to Toronto.  I was tired, and wanted to get off the road and enjoy the fresh memories of this great day.  So I pulled off and am writing this from the Holiday Inn in Oshawa.  Part of being a safe driver is knowing when you’re done.  And I was done.  But I was still smiling, and I’m pretty sure I’ll wake up still smiling.

mJm

When we last left off, Helen and I were finishing breakfast and heading for the FCA 2008 Meet track events at Mosport.  I’ve never been there, but have known about the track since I was a little kid.  It used to host the Canadian Grand Prix until it moved to Montreal 30 years ago.

Our drive from Niagara Falls to Toronto was pretty uneventful.  We had the roof down, and drove through fog.  We contributed smiles and waves to numerous point and shoot and phone camera owners photo collections along the way.  You know, you really have to be careful what you do when driving in a 360 with the roof down.  It’s as private as the grounds around 10 Downing Street.

We had some excitement as we passed through Toronto.  It was intermittently foggy along the way, but as we got to Pickering, it started raining.  So I had to move us from leftmost lane to rightmost lane to reach the safe shoulder.  We accomplished that, and God bless the guys in Maranello for building this fully automatic and fast roof deployment system.  Up it went, left turn signal, shoulder and mirror check, then press left foot hard and go through the gears.  No worries there!

Since neither of us had been to Mosport, we programmed it into our TomTom GPS.  But, the damn thing took us to an exact point in a farmers field that was most definitely NOT a world renowned track.  Crap.  So, back to Bowmanville we went, as Helen consulted the printed directions the folks hosting the event gave us.  We now knew where we were going.  I made a couple of passes, because I absolutely HAD to make it to the track by 12pm to do my laps.  On my last pass, I caught up to what I saw in the distance was a black Ferrari.  As I closed in on it, to my delight, I saw that it was the Texas F430 Scuderia!  Thank you TomTom for screwing up and putting me in this spectacular spot.  We followed her into Mosport, and parked with a stable of other beauties.

We met up with some new friends and some folks I know from the Toronto area as we strolled through the venue.  Ferrari of Ontario had a huge display (including Remo’s F430 Scuderia and Schumachers F1 car).  I picked up a couple event shirts, and then we got ready for our laps.  It was $50/person and all for charity.  At 12:10 we were heading off, so me, not wanting to be late, had Sophia warmed up and moving towards the starting area at 12:00.  My eagerness paid off, because we were right behind the escort car, driven by one of the many instructors.  It was a beautiful yellow 599.

After a few pix, we were off.  Now nobody gave me a “do’s and don’ts” document, and it was up to my common sense and conscience to figure out what was appropriate.  But put me in a Ferrari on a spectacular track, and somehow my frame of reference shifts.  Luckily, riding in the right seat was the other half of my conscience!

Mosport is really a fun track, and I can see how challenging it would be when driven “in anger”.  Our leader was letting us have “reasonable” fun, but we were not going to see 100+ MPH today.  But that was fun enough.  Taking corners at 70MPH and feeling understeer was more than satisfying enough.  I decided well before we started the engine that I was leaving the traction control engaged.  Spinning the car and likely damaging it was not going to be something I wanted to happen.

So we did 3 laps in total, one “out lap”, one “hot lap” and one “in lap”.  It was all great fun, and Helen took some great pix during our drive.

Well, that’s it for now.  We’re back at the hotel in Toronto (after another rain-induced fast lane-change-pitstop-roof-raise.  It’s the awards dinner gala tonight, then up early and home tomorrow.  We’re driving the kids to Washington DC on Monday morning!

mJm

Yesterday morning, Helen and I started off on our first Road Rally.  I’ve never been on one, and Helen told me last night that the last time she was on one, she was in an accident (totally NOT her fault, BTW).

We, well actually, I, enrolled us in the “non-competitive” rally.  I thought that for our first, we should just enjoy the drive.  God knows what happens when my competitive fuse is lit, so I quite maturely, I think, decided that we’ll do that “nice drive to Niagara” challenge.

Well, funny enough, it’s Helen who put an end to that nonsense.  While queuing in line for the ladies restroom, Helen spoke with some women who had picked up their “Rally Forms” for the competitive drive.  She looked at ours, and said “this is lame, no clues, or challenges, just a drive”.  So we decided to improvise – instead of doing the lame drive, we would take the competitive challenge, but not be timed, and not actually compete for the prizes.  Sweet.

It actually made the drive alot more fun.  And, unfortunately, slowed me down, and kept me at times going SLOWER than the traffic behind me.  Hey, you try finding the “copper mailbox” at 70MPH.  We started the rally at Legendary Motor Cars in Halton where we were treated to a continental breakfast, and a fascinating tour of their restoration facilities.  And their showroom, Oh My God.  Helen doesn’t know this, but I smuggled out one of their current offering/price lists in my underwear.  And they have a beautiful F40.  It’s also the home to the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.  Will I see Matthew on the walls there one day?  Who knows!

It was a bit rainy as we started off (at 9:57am, according to my “we’re not really competing, but I just want to know” wife).  The first challenge was “Something a giant chocolate Easter bunny would leave”.  No fricken clue.  Ok, confession.  I hadn’t quite grasped the “slow drive == better observation” concept, as I headfaked my traction control through my first corner.  Sweet start, IMHO.

I won’t take you through the whole adventure, but a couple of key points need to be made.  First, I have found, thanks to this rally, some INCREDIBLE roads around the Halton/Niagara Escarpment area.  Wow.  You have to experience this stuff for yourself.  I’m going back often.  Second, when I see “Road Closed” at what I believe to be the “first opportunity to turn left”, I’m assuming the Rally organizers know about this closure.  <insert ASS U ME reference here>.  That “little” issue had us driving down  HWY 8 looking for a stop sign (the obvious idiocy of that task didn’t make itself apparent to me as I was driving).  So anyhow, we had a wicked backtrack involving U-turns and Queen E runs.

The rally ended at Vineland Vinyards, a beautiful setting.  Vineyards surrounded by Ferraris is a site to behold.  We were all enjoying the food and wine sampling, and touring the production facilities.

Alas, time was marching on, and I wanted to get us to Niagara Falls before the weather turned again.  We took the scenic route through Niagara-on-the-Lake, and eventually arrived at the Sheraton Fallsview hotel.  Did you know that every Friday and Saturday night there are fireworks over the Falls?  Neither did I, but don’t tell Helen because I have her convinced that I did ;)

Our room was right at the top.  Penthouse level.  There are only 2 rooms there, and it’s so exclusive that not even the elevators go there!  When I made the reservation, all I asked for was a Falls view room.  I will attribute the complementary upgrade to Sophia!

So, we’re now finishing breakfast, and getting ready for Track Day!  Sophia will enjoy the legendary turns and hills of The Mosport International Raceway today.  I can’t wait!

mJm

Helen and I are in Toronto for the Ferrari Club of America Meet.  On Thursday, there was a Concours of incredible Ferraris from past and present.  The Concours was at the Eagle’s Nest Golf Course in Richmond Hill.  Today, we’re going on a Rally to Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Hopefully the weather holds out.

Last night, we were enjoying Remo Ferri’s hospitality.  Remo owns Ferrari of Ontario, and is the major sponsor for this year’s meet.  The reception was at his Ferrari dealership in Toronto.  Remo spoke for a few minutes to the group and explained that Ferrari has had to change and evolve over the years, and the current economic and environmental issues are driving changes now.  I will have to look more into this, but I recall reading about an EU law coming into effect that requires all automobile manufacturers to have a specific fuel consumption/emissions target that is much more aggressive than ever before.  Ferrari has announced it is building a hybrid that should hit the market around 2015.   Remo also said that to survive, Ferrari must produce more cars.  I have mixed feelings about this.  The brand is special because the cars are unique and relatively rare.  Mass production leads to lowest-common-denominator cars.  I hope that never happens with Ferrari.

Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m up at 3am, so I used this free time to post some of my pix from the Concours to flickr.  Seeing 2 F430 Scuderias, an Enzo and an F40 together was a sight to behold.  Those are just incredibly beautiful cars, and each different in it’s own way.

Our Rally ends at a vinard in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Helen and I are going to stay in Niagara Falls for a night, then head to Mosport early on Saturday morning for some fun on the track.  Can’t wait!

mJm

To many of you, this is old news.  But I have resisted writing about it in my blog because I’ve felt uncomfortable about “going public”.  But I have recently come to the conclusion that I should share my experiences on this topic because I am so passionate about it.  So here goes.

Since I was a little boy, I’ve loved sports cars.  When I lived in England, I’m told that I would sit on the floor in our house and race my little cars while listening to the trucks and cars go by on their way to a track where Jackie Stewart would practice.  Like many young lads, I had that iconic Ferrari Testarossa picture on my bedroom wall, along with assorted Porsche’s, and Lamborghini’s.

About 8 months ago, at breakfast, I mustered up the guts to say, out loud, to Helen “Honey, I’d really love to get a Ferrari.”  So I’m expecting a rational, well thought out response something along the lines of “well, that’s nice dear, but it’s not an effective investment vehicle, so let’s not do that.”  But God bless Helen, she says “You should do it!”.

So that started the process.  I started looking at F355 Spiders.  I really liked the look of them.  And due to the incredible strength of the Canadian dollar (or is it incredible weakness of the US dollar?), I decided that the best selection/price combination would be found by importing the car from the US.

I have never imported vehicles into Canada.  Helen imported both our vehicles when we moved back to Canada.  So I had some homework to do.  I quickly establishes that the F355 is not currently admissible by Transport Canada’s Record of Imported Vehicles (RIV).  So I started looking at the newer (and curvier) 360 Spider.

The 360 is a much different car mechanically, and esthetically from the 355.  I love them both, but the 360 is much lower cost/hassle on maintenance (so you drive it more).  More research was commenced.  This particular Ferrari was the first all aluminum chassis/body model, which reduced weight while maintaining stiffness.  Here’s a view of the 360’s other vital stats:

  • Engine: 90 degree 32 Valve V8
  • Engine Displacement: 3586 cm^3 (thus the ~3.6L = 360)
  • 395 BHP (redline at 8500, and what a sound that is!)
  • 0-100km/h in ~4.5s
  • Curb Weight: 3197lbs (fuel+lubricants, no people)
  • Production Years: 1999-2005

What years was I looking at?  What options?  Color – well, my first Ferrari was going to be Rosso Corsa Red with a tan leather interior.  I settled on finding a car with these options:

  • Year: 2002 – 2004
  • F1 Gearbox
  • Scuderia Shields
  • Tubi Exhaust
  • 1 or 2 owner car with low (but not ridiculously low) mileage

Those were my “must haves”.  However, I was concerned about the import process, as well as finding a quality car, so I reached out to James Simpson, President of Simpson Automotive Consulting.  He specializes in importing exotic cars into Canada, and knows all the ins and outs.

In late January, the search was starting to turn up some candidate cars.  After some discussion with the dealers (I wanted to stay with Ferrari factory dealers), we narrowed the search down to 2 cars.  One in Scottsdale, AZ and one in Denver, CO.  After some more diligence, we decided the Denver car was the one to look closely at, and have a Pre-Purchase Inspection performed.

As fate would have it, I was driving from Waterloo to California for my last week at McAfee, and could stop in to see the car myself, and take her for a drive.  It was a great plan!

So, to make a long story a little less long, but still longish, the test drive blew me away.  Bill Orth, the GM of Ferrari of Denver was a wealth of information about the car, company and brand, as well as a really nice guy.  After the PPI came back clean, I said “Bill, ship it to me!”.

My 2004 360 Spider, affectionately named “Sophia” (after that other curvaceous, beautiful Italian lady), arrived April 8, 2008.  She also has the following options (in addition to the ones above):

  • Power Daytona seats with black piping
  • Modular Wheels
  • Black carpet
  • Front & Rear Challenge Grills
  • Premium Sound (like the sound coming from the engine isn’t premium enough?)

One of the places I’ve learned alot about the cars is FerrariChat and FerrariLife.  I’ve met some great fellow owners and enthusiasts in the Toronto area, and have gone on a couple of country drives.  What a great days those are!  Imagine 17 Ferraris touring through the hills and curves north of Toronto.  Heaven!

Helen and I took Sophia to Montreal with us for the F1 weekend.  Sophia was VERY popular with the crowds on the street.  And she managed to consistently get us primo parking right in front of the restaurants we were dining at.  We are both still getting used to all the attention coming our way when we’re driving her.

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had driving her.  When a childhood dream comes true, it’s hard to describe how special that feels.  But I don’t for a minute forget how fortunate I’ve been, and while I’ve worked very hard and started from pretty much zero, I’ve also been blessed with great opportunities that 99% of the people I share this planet with don’t have.

Oh, and for those of you who are screaming “Mid Life Crisis”, I will share with you a joke I was told prior to buying my first Ferrari:

A man comes home to his wife and says “Honey, I need to get a motorcycle, a 20 year old mistress or a Ferrari.”  His wife says “Dear, you better get the Ferrari, because the other 2 will get you killed.”

Thus my torrid affair with a red headed Italian girl begins…

mJm

I’ve been working furiously to review, edit and post my best shots from the F1 weekend to flickr.  After I had posted a few in an initial batch, I got an email from an editor at Wikipedia.  He had seen my photos on flickr, and was asking if I would allow some of them to be used within articles about F1.  This was a pretty big honour to me, and being able to actually put content back into Wikipedia is something I’m really happy about.  In order to make this possible, I had to change the licensing on my images to a Creative Commons License.  So I took care of this, and about an hour later, my images were dressing up several articles.

Here’s a sampling of my images on Wikipedia pages.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canadian_Grand_Prix
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kubica
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bmw_sauber
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_Sauber_F1.08
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubens_Barrichello
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_RA108
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastian_Vettel
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scuderia_Toro_Rosso
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Coulthard
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Bull_Racing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Bull_RB4
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Windsor

So, that’s it for now.  Back to the creative destruction we call home renovation…

mJm

I forgot to mention that my LA friend said he was hoping to meet up with a friend of his who drives an F1 car.  He gave me the following hints:  Drove for Benetton, drove for Red Bull, and it Italian.  Now, I pride myself on knowing a bit about these things, and thought I knew who it was.  There are currently only 3 Italians racing:  Vitantonio Liuzzi (but technically he’s just a test driver), which leaves Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella.  Fisi fits the bill, but didn’t drive for RedBull.

When I told him “I think it’s Fisi but I don’t think the RedBull part he right”, he said “correct”, and showed me his Blackberry Curve with the SMS thread he was having at that moment with Fisi.  They met in Italy years ago when my LA friend was doing some production work for a TV show there.  I was pretty excited about the prospect of partying with Fisi, but held little hope this would happen.  It’s not like these drivers can go out on wild benders with the likes of me then crawl hungover into the cockpit of their cars.  Did you hear that Kimi – try to keep it real this weekend ;)

Anyhow, the SMS thread continued for a while, with Fisi saying we’ll try to meet later.  But he probably went to bed.  Another “almost” brush with greatness.

mJm

We just got back to our hotel room after a stunning event at BICE restaurant in Montreal.  Because it was too far to walk, we decided to drive there.  I checked with the restaurant, and they have “special parking”.  So we arrived, and on the way I was a bit concerned about showing up to the party in a non-BMW car.  Oh well, no time for those kinds of worries.  We arrived and were given a primo parking spot on the curb right in front of the restaurant.

I screwed up a bit because I thought dinner started at 7pm, but when I looked at my email on the way to get the car, I saw that it started at 6:30..Oops..So we arrived a bit late.  We saw Lindsay Duffield, the CEO of BMW Canada, and the kind gentleman who has extended the invitations to these events.  We were taken to a table next to his, and introduced to the people at our table.  What an interesting group.  Sitting right next to me was a Hollywood Movie/TV producer.  You’d definitely know his work.  We hit it off right away, and were pretty much brothers by the end of the dinner.  We laughed alot.  Dining with him was a very impressive woman who is the CEO of a major automotive company.  I spent most of the dinner bantering back and forth with my new LA friend, and enjoying the atmosphere of this very nice restaurant.

Shortly after we arrived and were introduced, Dr. Mario Theissen arrived.  He’s the head honcho of BMW Motorsports.  I had met him a few years ago when Hans and I went to my first BMW Team party.  Then there was an announcement that the BMW Sauber drivers had arrived.  I wasn’t sure who was going to be doing PR duty tonight, but to my surprise and delight, both pilots, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were present.

After a few minutes of Q&A from the moderator, Nick and Robert mingled with the crowd.  Sitting next to the CEO’s table has it’s benefits.  Dr. Theissen was seated there, and the drivers came over to meet and greet.  Some of the kids there lined up to get an autograph, and that’s when I struck.  I’ve been carrying around on F1 weekends a speeding ticket I got from Cornwall OPP officer Lalonde in my M5.  I had Dr. Theissen sign it a couple of years ago, and got Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel last year.  Now I could complete the collection with Nick’s autograph.

So there I stood, surrounded by kids, waiting my turn.  I got up to Nick and said “Nick, could you please autograph this?”.  He gave the paper a puzzled look, and said “What is it?”  I told him “It’s a speeding ticket I got in my M5!”.  He laughed and asked “How fast?”.  When I told him I don’t think he was impressed.  Then he signed it.  I showed him where Dr. Theissen, Robert and Sebastian had signed it, and told him that now I can get it framed and mounted in my office.

The drivers then left, to get a good night’s sleep.  Robert qualified P2, although he had the pole right up until Lewis Hamilton secured it on his final lap.  Nick was further down the field in P8, but is likely fueled heavier.

As the night proceeded, the conversation turned to the Paddock Club.  For an F1 fan, the Paddock Club is Heaven.  It’s close (right above) the pits, and is overflowing with great food and drink.  My LA friend and the CEO asked me if we were in the Paddock, and we had to admit that we were out with “the unwashed masses”.  So then the question came:  We have a single Paddock Pass for tomorrow, because the CEO is flying to Italy.  Do I want it?  Now, the way this plays out will clearly piss off Hans, and he’s probably forever question my judgement, but because it was 1 pass and not 2, I had to pass on the Pass.  I really enjoy these events with Helen, and I can’t imagine leaving her out there while I literally partied like a rock star.  But still, it was a tantalizing and very generous offer.  When we do the Paddock Club one day, we’ll do it together.

So with dinner finished, we took our leave, and thanked everyone for a wonderful night of conversation and laughter.  I do hope to see these folks again one day.  Mr. LA made me promise that we would do the South Carolina BMW M Driving School, and also said “I have to take you to some Premiers”.  That would be pretty amazing.

So, that’s the update from Montreal tonight.  I’ve started reviewing/editing pictures and will try to post some to flickr tonight.  For those looking for my pix, you can find them at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ph-stop

Tomorrow is Race Day.  Weather is likely going to be a major factor, because the forecast calls for rain.  Can’t wait!

mJm

Apologies for the tardiness of this update.  If you have ever attended an F1 weekend in Montreal, you’ll understand why sitting at your computer so you can update your blog is extremely low on the list of daily priorities.

So, Friday is Practice day at the circuit.  This is the day I take alot of pictures from track level, and generally scope out the circuit and buy some team logo-ed shirts.  The day started out with me leaving our room at 730am and heading down to get my car.  I am doing Valet Parking, but I parked the car myself, with a Valet sitting in the right seat making sure I wasn’t doing anything “inappropriate”.  I am 100% against giving the keys to my car to a Valet.  l’m sure most are very responsible, but the ones that aren’t don’t wear “Hello, my name is Wreckless Idiot” stickers on their nice jackets.  Once I had dropped off the Valet at the front door of the hotel, I told TomTom where I wanted to go.  I find GPS devices usually very useful and reliable, but if you’ve ever tried using one downtown when you’re surrounded by skyscrapers, you’re then familiar with the “Nav Nervous Breakdown Syndrome”.  The symptoms are pretty easy to spot.  Your GPS throws a fit, and starts moving you around the city in multi-block chunks spread only seconds apart.  I had that happen in Boston once, and I swear to you I drove around the city for 30 minutes just trying to catch up with the GPS and get agreement on our exact location on this planet.

Anyhow, I digress.  The Luigi Ferrari club had arranged for “secure parking” as part of a charity fundraiser.  The parking lot is on the island, so I decided to give it a try.  I still have to walk for close to an hour to get to my seats on the far end of the circuit, but even by taking the Metro, the walk is about 45 minutes.

After picking up some shirts, and my KangarooTV, I decided to check out our front row seats.  Well, let me just say that the placement of a TV screen and the associated scaffolding has been moved so that we have an even better view of the track.  Now we can see part of the main straight, start/finish line, turn 1, turn 2 and up the back straight to turn 3.  Sweet!  And we’re close enough to the track that I could *in theory only* all out of my seat and land on the monocoque of Lewis’ MP4-23.

So, next was scoping out some shooting spots for the Practice Session starting at 10am.  Because it was a bit rainy/misty, the crowds were lighter.  I was happy about that.  The area I prefer to shoot from is an “exclusive access” area only.  You have to have a pretty plastic badge that has your name, picture, blood type, SIN/SSN, height, weight, hair colour, eye colour, boxers/briefs, favourite author and mother’s maiden name on it.  I don’t have that, but I do have Photoshop and time on my hands ;)

But alas, like security in the virtual world, the physical world is rife with soft spots.  And I just climbed over and down one of them.  The key to not getting booted is to not look like some prat who shouldn’t be there.  So, pop a big lens on your camera, carry a rediculously large and heavy amount of equipment and look generally pissed off.  I practice this in front of a mirror before each GP.  Just ask my friend Hans about how far looking like you belong somewhere will get you in Montreal (like a JordanF1 exclusive team party).

It was about 15 minutes before the track was green, and I struck up a conversation with one of the “pros” who wear the much coveted (by me) official FIA “Photographer All Access” smocks.  The nice gent I met was a freelancer from northern NY state and covers open wheeled racing in North America.  We exchanged some race experiences and then settled down to “work”.  The early cars during practice are what I like to think of as “street sweepers”.  They are the less competitive cars/teams who’s primary job during practice is to drive around the track and clean it of debris, and try to leave as much rubber in the corners as possible.  Once the top teams are satisfied that the cleanup is complete, they’ll start sending out their cars.  You’ll never see a McLaren, BWM or Ferrari hitting the track first during practice.  Bet you didn’t know that.  Ok, Hans, you knew that.

My new pro photog friend made a gesture with his eyes and head that indicated to me that I should turn around to see something interesting.  I was figuring it was going to be some inconceivably beautiful pitbabe, but to my amazement it was a smallish guy in his 50s with short grey hair.  It was none other than SpeedTV’s Peter Windsor!  Well, that was very cool.  He was standing with a few other SpeedTV guys chatting, so I decided this was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I went over to meet him.  We had a brief chat (he liked my camera equipment and said I must take great pictures).  I asked him who his money was on for this weekend, and he said as he pointed “that boy there”.  Lewis Hamilton was driving by in his shiny McLaren Mercedes.  Well, Peter Windsor favouring Lewis Hamilton is like Don Cherry favouring Doug Gilmore.  Anyhow, back to the action…

A few months ago, I got a Facebook notification from someone I went to University with.  It was a total surprise and wonderful news.  We were both going to be at the race, and were sitting 1 grandstand apart.  So we called each other and met up.  It’s always amazing to me how guys who haven’t seen each other in 20 years can just pick up where they left off.  We’re both a big bigger and greyer, but mostly the same too though.

After a few Bud’s with my long lost friend Andre and his brother in law, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner with Helen at the Ferreira Cafe on Peel Street.  It was an event hosted by the Ferrari Club of Ontario.  Dinner was really good, and the people we met were interesting.  But Crescent Street was calling me.  Just before we left the restaurant, Andre called me and said that they were coming back into town to “do Crescent Street”.  So we met up, and I drank too many Martinis and had a great (but way too expensive) cigar.  Another great night in Montreal.

So, that’s where I’ll wrap it up.  I have to get on to pictures and re-capping today’s Qualifying news.  Tonight, we’re at the BMW Sauber team dinner.  Helen and I think Nick Heidfeld will be there tonight.  He hasn’t been to any of the previous dinners, because he’s usually the “#1” driver who is higher on the grid.  Last year we met Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel.  I’m actually hoping Nick is there because I need to get his autograph on my M5 speeding ticket before I get it framed.  I’ll then have the autographs of the 3 drivers and the Team Principal.

mJm