The day might start or end behind the wheel of a fine example of automotive beauty — in my case, a classic red 1980 Alfa Romeo Spyder — with some fine dining and great driving in between.
How great is that driving? Worth a cool million, if you play your cards right. A million dollars of automotive engineering in a series of cars and SUVs that you can push to their limits, or so it seems. No need to be discreet about it, either; you will be encouraged to push and push some more.
The Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit in North Cowichan has been described by Autoweek magazine as “the most beautiful track in the world.” With 19 corners and 91 elevation changes, it is a treat for drivers. The scenery is a bonus.
The circuit offers a series of special days each year that allow eager drivers to experience some of the finer cars sold by dealers in the GAIN group. The range of vehicles available includes Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes Benzes and Audis.
These days — known as Tour d’Italia or Taste of Germany, depending on the vehicles involved — include driving on main highways and side roads along with the track.
The track experience is more than just a chance to drive fast. The techniques you learn on a track, and the confidence that you gain, translate into more safety in your everyday driving. Seriously. Once you have taken your skills to a higher level on a track, you will be a safer, more capable driver in real life.
Many vehicles are about transportation — how to get from this point to that one, how to haul stuff, whatever. No matter what you are driving and where you drive it, the lessons learned in a performance environment will pay dividends.
But back to the special days and the special cars.
Tour d’Italia is offered once a month and is capped at just six vehicles, and 12 drivers, per session.
It starts with breakfast at the Villa Eyrie Resort. Then there is a drive in an Italian car through Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay, Cowichan Bay, Duncan and Maple Bay before arriving at the track for some basic driver education and a lunch with a touch of Italy.
Instructors will lead you around the track, showing the best ways to move through corners, when to brake, when to accelerate, and more. It’s not as obvious as it may seem, and the radio contact with the lead driver helps you understand what is what.
The early hot laps might seem difficult at first, but by the end of the day your laps will be much faster, and you will be itching for the instructors to get out of your way. (I am sure they know that; that is why they ensure you can’t get into trouble by going beyond your skill level.)
You will have several chances to change cars, allowing you to experience the track in everything from an Alfa 4C sports car to a Maserati Levante SUV. You can also switch drivers, because being a passenger can still be fun.
The day ends with a drive back to the Villa Eyrie for Italian-inspired refreshments and dinner. The price is $899 per vehicle, plus $150 for additional non-driving guests.
For cars from the other side of the Alps, the circuit offers A Taste of Germany, which is offered twice per month. Like the Italian tour, it is capped at six cars. The idea is much the same, including the Villa Eyrie for breakfast and dinner, this time with a German theme, and plenty of driving.
The price for the German experience is also $899 per vehicle, plus $150 for additional non-driving guests.
Along with those two signature events, the circuit offers a variety of ways for everyone to enjoy its thrills. Here is a summary:
A Taste of The Circuit
This is one of Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit’s most exhilarating driving experiences. It includes a welcome tour, dynamic car control training, techniques and autocross.
Participants will learn better cornering techniques and have an hour, about 30 laps, of driving on the circuit. You can use cars provided by the circuit or your own. Hint: Use one of theirs.
The session is offered twice a month and is capped at 12 participants per session. A half day is $795 and a full day is $1,185, with a $200 credit if you use your own vehicle.
Performance Driving Program
The Performance Driving Program offers an authentic racing atmosphere — and plenty of excitement — in a variety of exciting vehicles. Instructors will give you professional tips and tricks that will help you become a better driver.
Performance Driving — Level I
An entry to performance driving, designed for those looking to sharpen their driving skills. The level 1 curriculum has up to 60 laps of instructional circuit driving. You will learn to perfect driving lines, and understand basic weight transfer, understeering and oversteering.
It is suitable for drivers of all experience levels.
The day includes a welcome tour, a walk of the circuit to discuss corners, braking and cornering markers, personal coaching, as well as rentals of vehicles and helmets. A lunch will be provided, and at the end of the day, a Certification of Completion will be given to participants.
The Level I course is offered twice a month, with up to 10 participants per session. All-inclusive packages are $1,295.
Performance Driving — Level II
Available to drivers who complete Level I, Level II enhances driving skills and offers a deeper understanding of cornering, driving lines, acceleration, braking and downshifting, and weight transfer with respect to over- and under-rotation.
The day includes a comprehensive walk of the circuit covering weather and driving conditions, personal coaching, up to 60 laps of the circuit, as well as rentals of vehicles and helmets. A lunch will be provided, and at the end of the day, a Certification of Completion will be given to participants.
The Level II course is offered twice a month, with up to 10 participants per session. All-inclusive packages are $1,395.
Performance Driving — Level III
The third level of the Performance Driving Series further examines and sharpens skills to focus on driving lines, threshold braking dynamics, overtaking on the circuit, late and trail braking along with motorsport vision.
Successful completion of the Level III program will help drivers become eligible to participate in the planned pro-driving series.
The day includes a comprehensive circuit walk, personal coaching, up to 60 laps of the circuit, advanced use of vehicle driving modes, as well as rentals of vehicles and helmets. A lunch will be provided, and at the end of the day, a Certification of Completion will be given to participants.
The Level III course is offered twice a month, with up to 10 participants per session. All-inclusive packages are $1,495.
Nutritional expertise and advice for the dinner and breakfast before the driving day are offered at no additional charge.
Lindsay Rice — Ladies Driving Series
This driving program is for women only, and is led by a professional race car driver.
Lindsay Rice began her professional racing career in 2015. She has won three times on the GT Racing circuit, and hit the podium 13 times.
She has raced at Watkins Glen in New York, and at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
A day of driving with Lindsay will improve your driving knowledge and ability.
Don’t want to drive? You can experience the track as a passenger for five laps in a circuit taxi driven by a driving instructor. The day also includes a tour of the facility as well as the use of a helmet and helmet liner. The price for five laps starts at $229.