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Racing a Nissan Micra

I’m not talking about street racing. No, that would truly be ridiculous. I am, in fact, talking about taking Canada’s most affordable car and participating in a sanctioned and recognized monotype racing series. 

The Micra Cup
So many things must come together in order for this to happen. In a nutshell, an esteemed colleague of mine, Jacques Deshaies, had an idea shortly after Nissan Canada’s early 2014 introduction of its then newest and least expensive car and it went something like this: “Why not make a racing series starring the car?” History will recount the numerous phone calls, meeting, emails, and hours spent at negotiating tables to make this happen. 
In roughly a year’s time, a promotion company was founded, a team was put together, and the first prototype racecar was built, developed and honed. More than 25 race teams were created, purchased cars, and tracking this tiny dwarf car with a dragon's heart and soul began.
 
Shortly thereafter, the media got some wheel time with a few cars at the more-than-fantastic Circuit du Mont-Tremblant. This is where I come in. Actually, I was approached earlier on to start my own team, but then I met the woman of my life and bought a house… Damned woman.

As I had to turn down the opportunity to run what would have been MSP Racing (has a nice ring to it, no?) I was invited to take part in one race as an invited member of the automotive media. I immediately acquiesced to the request, but there was one condition: I needed to get a regional racing license. 

License to race
Enter Jim Russell’s J-F Dumoulin, Philippe Letourneau, and Martin Roy. These three individuals are world-class instructors and it was up to them to make me shine as much as possible in order to impress the powers that be at the ASQ (Auto Sport Quebec) so that they may deem me worthy of a racing license. 

As I wait for a response (apparently I did very well on the track, but failed miserably at filling in the necessary documents), I can tell you a little more on the car. 

The 2015 Nissan Micra is a small (as the name would suggest), lightweight car that is nimble and incredibly fun to push around. The cars you see are base Micra S models that have been prepared by MIA (Motorsports In Action) in St-Eustache. Essentially, the cars are stripped, have a full roll-cage installed, race brake pad set-up, racing seats, harnesses, a NISMO suspension, and more. In the process, these Micras lose the right to circulate on public roads. 

What’s it like to drive hard?
The Nissan Micra is an absolute blast. There are a few things that one needs to remember though. I don’t have the exact specs, but the car’s weight distribution must hover around 65/35, which means a few things. 

You see, the rear end of the car does very little except trail behind the front. This means that it takes a long time for the rear tires to heat up. As the front handles the vast majority of the braking (on top of forward motion and steering), the rear brakes don’t necessarily get hot or work hard. This explains why the rear drum brakes are intact while performance pads clamp the front discs, hard. 

Heat can be your friend, especially when the tires finally get hot. When cold, the Micra is unsurprisingly apt at oversteering, but becomes predictable and very manageable when the rear rubber reaches an optimal temperature. 

The lack in power on paper is deceiving. Once speeds are achieved, the goal is to keep the momentum going; this is after all a momentum car. Corners are briskly strung together as hard braking is only necessary in 3.5 corners out of 15. The faster I went, the more the car rewarded me. Later braking returned higher trap speeds without sacrificing corner entry speeds. I developed a huge amount of trust in the Pirelli DHH slicks and quickly became accustomed to their grip. 

The brakes are extremely responsive and very powerful. As I became comfortable with the car’s handling, I began left-foot brake-tapping in certain areas, but however little pedal pressure I put down it turned out to be too much every time. More track time will improve my braking dexterity. 

A truly competitive car, and series
By the end of the day, I’d spent nearly 60 minutes at the helm of the microscopic racecar. I started out in the rain, but by the end of the day the sun was out and track was warm and dry. 

I’ve been lapping for over 15 years and have done so in many cars, from my own MK2 Volkswagens, MX-6 GT to my WRX to a Lancer Evolution, a Porsche Cayman S and a Ferrari 458, and my favourite is the Micra, and by a hell of a margin. 

If the drivers (including me) can keep the racing clean, it promises to be quite a competitive series as the cars are all identical, built by the same shop, and sealed against tampering. The drivers make all the difference in world. 

I’ll be participating in the Classique d’été at the end of July at Tremblant, and I hope I finish the race shiny side up.