Hot lapping a Formula 2000 racecar around a 12-turn
road course on street tires isn't the quickest way
around, but it's a great way to prove the worth of
a tire and test a driver's skill.
At the invitation of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.,
a score of us, all salivating at the prospect of
strapping into a formula car, journeyed to Canada
to see just how ultra the Bridgestone Potenza S-03
Pole Position ultra high performance street tire
Nestled a stone's throw away from the famed Mosport
International Raceway an hour's drive from Toronto
is the Bridgestone Racing Academy, named for the
tire company that keeps academy proprietor Brett
Goodman in rubber for his fleet of Reynard formula
The fact that this tire company builds tires for
Formula 1 and wants to prove its premier street product
on a racetrack makes perfect sense. As a marketing
tool, Bridgestone gets to show hundreds of academy
students a year what its go-fast Pole Position tire
We arrived on an uncommonly Canadian warm, sunny
day, perfect for showing off the capabilities of
the S0-3 in fair weather. The day before the forecast
had called for much lower temperatures and a 20 percent
chance of thundershowers, which would have shown
us another dimension of the tire, but that was not
to be. Too bad.
In assessing just who will be driving Mr. Goodman's
cars without any financial risk to the driver, as
is academy policy, he learns through introductions
that several of us, including myself, have racetrack
experience, including three of us who have driven
formula cars, myself included. (Editor's note: When
he's not writing for iZoom.com, Richard Gray drives
his own formula car in club-racing series in the
"We're very proud and comfortable to have you
whipping round out there on street tires," says
Goodman. "It's not one of those things that
keeps us up at night."
The school has a perfect safety record -- 19 years
with no injuries -- and chief driving instructor
Ugo Provencher has all well in hand. He instructs
us on the basics of performance driving physics,
the art of heel-and-toe down shifting, and the fact
that the track's only concrete wall at the end of
the fast straightaway will win every challenge.
After we're outfitted with fire suits, helmets,
gloves and shoes, off we go for a session to learn
the track and practice heel-and-toe, which is a misnomer.
For the record, this technique is the art using the
right foot on the brake and the accelerator at the
same time. It's done by placing the ball of the foot
on the brake and rotating the side of the foot to
push on the nearby gas pedal. The aim is to match
the engine speed with the speed of the driving wheels
for smooth, transmission friendly downshifts.
Academy staffers are strategically stationed around
the course to witness how much gear grinding occurs
and to assess the skill of each driver for assignment
into two groups, one of them the faster group.
With my experience campaigning my own Formula 2000
car shod with racing slicks, I made it into the fast
group without any trouble, other than the fact that
the pedals weren't positioned just right for me to
expertly perform the heel-and-toe exercise.
I elected, for the moment, to mimic Michael Schumacher
and use my left foot to brake and my right to raise
the engine speed for the down shifts -- I left-foot
brake in my tow truck all the time just because I'm
While it is customary to use the clutch in heel-and-toe
down shifting, the clutch is not necessary to shift
these non-synchomesh gearboxes. I don't use the clutch
in my own racecar to shift and I thought it wiser
- and quicker -- not to confuse my muscle memory.
Although one of the school's eager and competent
mechanics-in-training improved the pedal arrangement
before the hot lapping, I found it more comfortable
and faster to continue left-foot braking for the
rest of the day. I don't left-foot brake in my own
car, but next time racing I'm going to try it.
After a lunch of sandwiches, salad and bragging,
we moved into the hot lapping sessions. We had four
of them, each about 20 to 25 minutes. An instructor
leads three or four cars and every two laps he slows
and motions for the car directly behind to fall to
the rear so the others can move up. We each take
turns following the instructor.
For my group, instructor Mike Gayowski says he will
go as fast as we are comfortable going, an academy
policy. Now we get to see what these Potenzas can
The academy's training track - designed by Goodman
on a napkin over a long-ago dinner -- has a variety
of interesting turns, including a blind rise that
leads into an off-camber turn to the left followed
by a downhill run with a right hand kink heading
into a 90-degree right at the bottom of the hill.
Next is a short straight followed by a decreasing
radius turn to the right, leading uphill turn to
the sharp left and then a quick, tight right turn
dumping us on a long flat-out long-radius sweeper
storming into the last turn, a hard right, with that
concrete wall closing fast through the braking zone.
Make that unscathed and there's a short straight
leading to another hard right followed by a quick
full-throttle left and up to the blind turn. That's
My group quickly picked up the pace, and as we drove
faster with each session, I had to remind myself
that we were driving on street tires. They didn't
feel like street tires. They didn't squeal, the tread's
minimum depth didn't squirm, and they gripped the
track comfortably even when I could feel the g forces
in the turns and the wind trying to pull my helmet
off in the triple-digit sweeper. The tires managed
heavy braking duty without complaint and with confidence-building
We pushed even harder.
On the last session, the track was getting a bit
slippery. On a handful of occasions the tires reminded
me they were street tires. I had to apply a good
amount of counter steer in the off-camber turn and
in the decreasing radius turn. That wasn't surprising
considering that my group was making good time around
the one-mile course. Even with these moments, the
tires behaved well and predictably, bolstering me
We, as a fellow driver observed, "were flying."
When I asked about our lap times, Goodman said they
were not being recorded. He didn't want our competitive
juices soaring lest one of us over-drive a Reynard
and get into trouble that he would have to pay for
Goodman, a Canadian racing champion turned businessman,
built the track after attending other driving schools
in his youth: his complaint about them was that they
didn't teach the art of racing for position. So his
father suggested he start his own.
The Bridgestone Racing Academy, which is open only
eight months a year because of Canadian winters,
offers a variety of instruction, 18 various programs,
ranging from the basics to the one-day lapping sessions
that we enjoyed all the way to a full-blown four-day
An astute businessman, Goodman also offers a training
course for mechanics. As part of their instruction,
they help the drivers fit into the cars and strap
them in. My mechanic, a petite young Oriental woman
named Agnes, pulled the belts so tight it was hard
"Is that ok," she said.
I managed to squeeze out a "Yeeh."
She told me I was too low in the car. I like a low
center of gravity, but after a bit of foam padding
on the bottom, I had to agree with her. She also
adjusted the mirrors so I could see the edges of
the rear wing and outward beyond the rear tires.
Mirror adjustment, I learned, is the first thing
the academy teaches its student racecar mechanics.
Between sessions the mechanics re-torqued the wheels,
topped off the fuel cells with Sunoco 94 octane and
inspected the cars to make sure the drivers didn't
break anything during the hot lapping.
Bridgestone is plenty proud of this tire with its
sticky 140 tread wear rating and predictable handling
ability, and I can see why. It would take a clear
road on the street and local police patrols on lunch
break to push these tires as hard as we did. The
tread wear was even across the tires and the shoulders
did not show they was abused, even though we tried.
At the end of the day, we were tired. But the tires
were ready for more. Goodman says each Reynard uses
two sets a year. Your mileage may vary.
1985 Reynard, with numerous upgrades
140-horsepower single-overhead-cam Ford 2.0-liter,
950 pounds, more or less, without driver
No sway bars fitted for tossing around easily
One-mile, 12 turns, lots of variety, including elevation
changes, with 24 configurations
Friendly, knowledgeable, comfortable, willing to
With gearing and track configurations, top speed
is 187 km/h (nearly 120 mph)
Acceleration, 0-100 kph (62 mph) in 5.5 seconds
Half-day experience at $525 (Canadian)
Four-day racing school, $5,275 (Canadian) racing
Corporate programs available
April to October
Bridgestone Racing Academy, 905-983-1114, www.race2000.com
Bridgestone tires, www.bridgestonetire.com
Retail locator, 1-800-807-9555