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Steering the Course at the Bridgestone Racing Academy

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With the sun beating down and heat from nearby engines surrounding me, I thought to myself, “They definitely don’t prepare you for this in journalism school.”

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There I was, fully clad in a Nomex racing suit – plus shoes, Nomex socks, racing gloves, a helmet and a balaclava – squeezed into the cockpit of a 2008 Van Diemen Formula SCCA car. As with most assignments for Tire Review, attending a media day at the Bridge­stone Racing Academy in Pontypool, Ont., was a new experience.

The academy dates back to 1991, when former racecar driver Brett Goodman purchased cars and equipment from the former Spenard-David Racing School and created Goodman Motorsports. A year later, Bridgestone/
Firestone Canada Inc. signed a title sponsorship agreement with Goodman, officially creating the Bridgestone Racing Academy. The tiremaker has since renewed its sponsorship through 2019.

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The academy welcomes a wide variety of guests: each year, about 1,500 participants – CEOs, soccer moms, teenagers, grandfathers and tire dealers – attend sessions at the school.

The school offers 18 different courses, from a half-day session to a three-day race license school. It also hosts four- and eight-month “motorsport immersion” programs for participants from all over the globe.

Like all programs at the academy, ours began with a classroom session in which chief instructor Jamie Fitzmaur­ice went over the long list of safety and driving basics.
Chief instructor Jamie Fitzmaurice shows the cockpit controls to participants.
While revving the engine to warm things up before my first driving session, I quickly reviewed everything: how to brake and accelerate to maximize the grip of the tires – in this case, Bridgestone Potenza RE-11s. Which turns are sharper than others. How to use the sequential shifter to keep the engine’s RPMs within the desired range. There was a lot to keep in mind, and as I glided out of the pit area, I just hoped it would all make sense once we got going.

The racing academy’s track, which has 24 different configurations that feature a multitude of varying corner-straight combinations, was designed to be challenging, yet safe, for both beginners and accomplished racers – a fact that likely has contributed to the school’s 25-year injury-free record. The lack of walls and guard rails, as well as the inclusion of wide run-off areas and superb sight lines, made it easy to quickly gain the confidence I needed to test the limits of the car and tires.

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After a couple laps, I was ready to kick things up a notch and take advantage of the car’s power. The single-seat, open-wheeled Van Diemens are equipped with 2.3 liter, 170 hp engines and five-speed gearboxes and can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just over four seconds. What was more impressive – and what really enabled me to take quick, but controlled, turns – was the racing performance friction carbon metallic brake pads on all four wheels, which can take the cars from 60 to 0 mph in under three seconds.

The Potenza RE-11s kept me on the track and in control the entire time. And while I’m sure I could have pushed the envelope a little more, by the end of the day the six-point racing harness felt natural and I was pleased – and impressed – with the performance of the Van Diemens and the tires.

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For Bridgestone, title sponsorship provides an ideal venue to build brand awareness and reach end users in a different way. It also helps showcase the tiremaker’s UHP tires.

“It’s an opportunity for us not only to showcase a product, but to see how it performs under extreme conditions,” said Jeremy Smith, manager of brand public relations for Bridgestone Amer­icas. “Consumers don’t get to drive street tires in this type of environment. It’s a great opportunity to see how well they perform under such stress.”

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