John Potter's column: The challenge of a new circuit

John Potter's column: The challenge of a new circuit


John Potter's column: The challenge of a new circuit


John Potter, owner and co-driver for IMSA TUDOR Championship GTD class Porsche team Magnus Racing, will be blogging for this season.

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (née, Mosport) is one of the oldest tracks on the North American circuit, and most of our competitors in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship have been there countless times. Given that it was part of the American Le Mans Series schedule to boot, there were very few people who showed up to the event having never turned a lap.

Unfortunately, I was one of those people.

Anyone who follows racing knows that pre-race preparation is one of the most important factors in a race. If you show up at the track with the car ready to go, it’s a lot easier to stay on top of your weekend especially when things go wrong. For drivers, it’s no different. If you show up still trying to figure out what YOU’RE supposed to be doing, you never really get on top of your driving, especially since these days everyone is instantly up to pace.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about the track, and there’s no shortage of YouTube clips showing spectacular crashes, so given our place in the championship I was actually a little nervous when I got on the plane for Canada.

For a guy like me who doesn’t race as a full-time occupation, learning new circuits is one of the more challenging parts of racing. I can’t speak for any other drivers, but a lot of the “tools” available to help someone learn a new track just don’t seem to do much for me.

Take simulators, for example. I hear a lot about young guys getting on some of the services out there and knowing a track well in advance of ever turning a lap. I was part of one of the more known simulator services a while ago, but to be honest, it just never did anything for me. I ended up giving the system away to my brother-in-law to play with his nephew. Like many, I really need to feel what I’m doing: the setting of the rear tires, the impact of elevation changes, and the simulators that I’ve tried have simply never done it for me. I’m sure it works for those who use them, but I just can’t name a time I ever felt the benefits of doing simulator time so I stopped a long time ago. I’m also cheap.

That leaves me with whatever videos I can find on YouTube and notes from guys like my teammate Andy Lally who has done hundreds of laps there. I did what I could to study before I arrived, but to be honest, none of it goes very far compared to actual track time.

When we arrived for the track walk on Thursday, I was definitely impressed with the circuit. It’s fast, there’s a lot of hills, and it’s definitely made for those with proper “attachments.” The one thing I was especially thankful for is they’ve made several improvements in the runoff areas making it much safer and easier on mistakes. For example, I saw some old videos of Turn 2, a fast left-hander that is off-camber and downhill, and the outside was lined with grass that literally sucked you right into the tire barrier if you went wide. When I arrived, I discovered the grass was gone and it’s now paved, which is a huge improvement.

Bottom line is, this isn’t the easiest track for those who’ve never been there. I couldn’t face the crew if I went out and immediately wrecked the car.

When first practice started, Andy began the session per our usual routine, working on a baseline setup before handing over to me to get some much needed track time. My first impression of the track was it was definitely fast, and you really have to come into the corners full of confidence.

Knowing that one mistake could put us behind on the weekend, I opted to not take too many risks getting up to speed, and it took longer than I would have liked finding my comfort zone. That’s killer with how competitive this series is.

The other issue is we had some handling problems with the car that were, quite frankly, never resolved. The speeds at Mosport put a premium on aerodynamic balance, and it brought out some items that we did our best to sort out all weekend, but we just never found some of the sweet spots that a few other Porsche teams did.

Basically, every session I got a little faster, and every session we would discover something new on the car setup, but we were never there on pace.

One of the secret ingredients to our team has been, even when we struggle on pace, we do a great job in the pits and pit strategy. However, when a race is caution-free, such as last Sunday, you’re completely reliant on your pace and tire management. That’s why we ended up ninth; it’s too bad given the effort everyone has put in.

We were never really where we needed to be, but thankfully it’s the only track on the schedule I’ve never been to and we’ll be well prepared for next week at Indianapolis…where we’ve won!