Track days offer enthusiast drivers a chance to test the limits of their talent on local closed courses without shredding their licences. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) east of Toronto, for example, hosts more than two dozen a year for marques such as BMW, Porsche and Ferrari.
But tracks such as CTMP and Mont-Tremblant are old-school venues with limited access. Those who need more are embracing the automotive equivalent of the private golf and country club.
Private track clubs are nothing new in the United States, where enthusiasts ante up tens of thousands of dollars to join California’s Thermal Club or the Motorsport Ranch in Texas.
Country-club tracks that combine hot lapping with luxury amenities have been absent from Canada but two British Columbia projects are finally bringing the concept north.
A group of ex-racers that includes Formula One and IndyCar champion Jacques Villeneuve is behind Area 27, being developed in British Columbia’s South Okanagan.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Island Motorsport Resort (VIMR) is being built in the Cowichan Valley by the island’s German Auto Import Group (GAIN).
Construction has begun on a course about 45 minutes north of Victoria, designed by Tilke Engineering, the German company responsible for most of the newer Formula One circuits. It’s scheduled to open next May.
Area 27, named for the racing number used by Villeneuve (who designed the five-kilometre course) and his legendary father, Gilles, will be located on Osoyoos Indian Band land. President Bill Drossos said once Ottawa approves its 99-year lease, former Players-GM series racer Trevor Seibert’s excavating company will break ground this fall, with driveable pavement in place by May.
Racer Richard Spenard – who coached Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier and the late Greg Moore – will oversee driver training.
Details of club arrangements at VIMR were not available. GAIN principal Peter Trzewik turned down an interview request after his company cancelled recent plans to invite journalists to tour the project, citing a forest-fire threat.
The buy-in for Area 27 will be $30,000 for a charter family membership, plus $3,000 in annual dues, climbing to $40,000 once memberships, which are transferable, rise past 200.
Drossos said the club has sold about a third of its initial target of 300 memberships to fund construction.
The heavy financial hit has not scared off “regular people,” Drossos said. Members range from middle-class gearheads to wealthy entrepreneurs.
“We’ve got one guy who’s a mechanic at Canadian Tire, a senior tech,” he said.
Although Area 27’s website features images of Ferraris, Porsches and McLarens (a $105,000 corporate member), Drossos said the place is not about supercars.
“Most of the people that buy those cars buy them to [say] ‘Look at me, look what I have,’” he said. “We’ve got some older guys with vintage cars, like old Morgans, Austin-Healeys.
“There’s only really one common denominator, that’s a desire to want to drive their machine and find out more about themselves, to become a better driver and have a venue to use their car. Or bike; we’ve got a lot of motorcycle members, too.”
Membership has drawn from British Columbia and Alberta, with interest from Ontario and as far away as Mexico, including people who have Okanagan vacation homes.
“They’re looking at keeping a car out here and just fly in two or three times a year,” Drossos said.
If Area 27 has a model, it may be Virginia International Raceway (VIR), which opened in 1957 in the heyday of sports-car racing but closed in 1974. It was resurrected as a motorsport resort in 2000 and now has about 400 members. Initiation fees are $3,000 (U.S.), with $175 monthly dues.
VIR also hosts races and is a testing venue for auto makers, something Area 27 expects to be as well. And like VIR, Area 27 plans housing development on the property. You can buy or rent a villa at VIR or rent a suite right over the pit-lane garages.
“One thing, though,” said marketing director Mike Rose, “is you can’t sleep late.”
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