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Roaring opening for Island motorsport racetrack, unique in Canada

It was the moment GAIN Dealer Group president Peter Trzewik was waiting for, an automotive spectacle that had a crowd of 400 revved up.

It was the moment GAIN Dealer Group president Peter Trzewik was waiting for, an automotive spectacle that had a crowd of 400 revved up.

Last Monday’s grand opening of Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit signalled the start of what track operations manager Brent Evans hopes will be “prosperity for years to come” in terms of economic spinoffs.

“When you think of all the years and work that has gone into this, and the excitement on our customers’ and members’ faces, and the [automobile] manufacturers represented here today, it’s amazing,” Evans said in a spacious pit garage adjacent to the start/finish line for the motorsport resort’s 2.4-kilometre track.

He was echoing a refrain as common as the thunderous sound of high-performance vehicles in motion under the hot sun.

The 19-hectare resort, at 4063 Cowichan Valley Hwy., is surrounded by wilderness. It was designed by Germany’s Tilke Engineers and Architects, a sight to behold, with its 19 turns and breathtaking elevation changes.

GAIN spared no expense showcasing what the members-only club will offer to people who pay $48,000 for a 25-year membership and a $4,800 annual fee. Other membership packages are also available.

GAIN Dealer Group has 10 Island dealerships, representing brands such as Alfa Romeo, Audi, BMW, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, MINI, Porsche, smart, Sprinter, Subaru, and Volkswagen.

Guests enjoyed fine wine, champagne, craft beer and food, including pork from a trackside pig roast, king crab legs, oysters and a scotch-tasting with chocolates in the sleek silver-and-grey clubhouse.

Trzewik is aiming for 499 members at the circuit, which includes the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, presentation centre, observation deck, four state-of-the-art pit garages and personalized driver training.

The only track of its kind in Canada, the year-round resort also has a helipad, with another at Villa Eyrie, its 40-suite European-style partner hotel (formerly the Aerie) above the Malahat. Among other options, members can have their automobiles stored in secure facilities and rendered track-ready by top-tier technicians.

Some guests got to drive or become passengers during “hot laps” with professional race-car drivers. “It was fun, awesome and very fast,” said Tara Shobert, whose driver was Kevin Schwantz, the American former world champion motorcycle road racer. “I only tried putting the brake on once with my foot on the passenger side,” laughed Shobert, who found the sloped track’s “corkscrew” stretch particularly exhilarating.

Grammy Award-winning music producer David Foster seemed right at home on the track after jetting in from Los Angeles.

The self-described “full-fledged racing geek,” who performed the national anthem two years ago at the Indianapolis 500 with Seal, said he came home to support GAIN Dealer Group, a big supporter of his David Foster Foundation. He also paid tribute to his Victoria-born cousin Billy Foster, the legendary driver who became the first Canadian to race at the Indy 500. A plaque in Billy’s honour was unveiled.

“Growing up here, I would never have dreamed there could be something like this,” marvelled Foster, who zoomed around the track in a hot-yellow Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S and a blue 2016 Porsche 911.

“The Porsche just wants to hug the ground, and for an amateur like me that is just amazing,” the Victoria native said. “That’s what we need. We can’t allow for drift. The way they run this is top-notch. It’s safety-first.”

The event attracted an eclectic crowd of automotive movers and shakers, including founding member and auto restorer Rudi Koniczek, and Peter Baljet, the Duncan-based racing legend who brought several cars from his automotive hangar.

While Trzewik said he loved the wild-and-crazy action automobiles like his candy-apple red Lola Can-Am provided on Monday, it didn’t reflect what “the normal operations of the track” will be.

“This was loud, noisy fun with people like Max Papis driving like a wild man. It’s borderline out of my comfort zone,” laughed Trzewik, whose day ended quietly at the Villa Eyrie in conversation with Papis, the Italian stock-car racer; Tilke architect and engineer Peter Wahl; and Christian Epp, the track-designer’s director of the Americas.

“This is not just about making noise and driving around in circles,” emphasized Trzewik, whose track was booked by Audi in April for the Canadian launch of its new Audi R8.

Wahl was understandably grinning ear-to-ear.

“For us designing a track, it’s like we are pregnant,” he said. “This day is the birth of the baby, and if it works, it starts crying, which it is.”

Danny Sullivan, the former Formula One driver whose wins included the 1985 Indianapolis 500, gave the track his stamp of approval after doing 20 laps.

“It’s quite challenging in some places, but not so fast that if somebody gets into trouble they’re going to have a problem,” said the Kentucky-born driver, who recently participated in the Indy 500’s 100th anniversary.

He said the facility would probably do well, as such clubs are attracting drivers who are frustrated because they can’t get track time elsewhere.

“All the big racetracks around America are booked up a long time in advance, so you can’t get on, and all of a sudden a guy says: ‘I want to take my Ferrari out to drive!’ ”

Boston Pizza International co-owner and Dragon’s Den panelist Jim Treliving flew into Finlayson Arm on a float plane from Vancouver to participate. “I love coming to the Island,” Treliving said. “I’m thinking it’s become one of the most sought-after spots in the world now.”

The Manitoba-born entrepreneur said driving several cars reminded him of his early days with the RCMP, learning how to do high-speed chases safely.

“But we were in a straight line, and there’s a little bit of turning here, and you’ve got to be thinking of things ahead of time,” he said. “But it’s been a fun ride. It really gets the adrenalin going.”

Dr. Sunny Tatra, whose dental practice is a sponsor at GAIN’s annual Vancouver Island Motor Gathering charity events, said he couldn’t resist buying a membership.

The longtime GAIN customer’s membership number, he noted with a smile, is M6 in honour of his BMW M6 convertible.

“I’ve always loved cars and what these guys do is phenomenal, from their driver’s education to reminding us all to give back,” Tatra said..