Launched in Quebec in 2015, Nissan’s Micra Cup has expanded to Ontario for 2016, attracting new teams and fans to this very competitive championship. Ontario venues include Calabogie Motorsport Park, outside of Ottawa, and the world renowned Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where the series will compete during the circuit’s two largest events of the year – the July 7-10 Mobil 1 Sports Car Grand Prix and the Chevrolet Silverado 250 on Labour Day weekend.
Based on the Nissan Micra S, the same new car you can buy for $9,988, the hatchback is modified for racing and every car in the series is identical, making it the lowest cost spec racing series in the country. I’m willing to argue that it’s the most competitive in Canada, too.
Modifications start with removing the interior, fitting a bolt-in roll cage, racing seat and harness, racing steering wheel, fire extinguisher system, and window net. Underneath the Micra, modifications are limited. The standard suspension is replaced with the Nismo suspension kit – springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars – from the Note Nismo, which is a fantastic little hot hatch that unfortunately doesn’t make it to Canada.
The engine is unmodified and makes an earth shattering 109 horsepower and 107 pounds-feet of torque. To make these little Micras sound a little more exciting, the exhaust system is changed to include a louder muffler, and a cold air intake is fitted under the hood. Brakes are stock Micra pieces, save for the racing-spec brake pads, and Pirelli racing slicks are mounted on cool looking racing wheels. As delivered, though, it actually comes on the black steel wheels you see in some of the images here.
For $22,900, a Micra Cup race car is sold race ready, though that’s not entirely true because you do need to add your own transponder, which I had forgotten about and had to rent one for our first race weekend at Calabogie Motorsport Park.
The rules allow for nearly zero modifications that are limited to brake cooling ducts, as well as the addition of two-way radios and a data acquisition system. To teams, that means the only tuning that can be done to these Micras is tire pressure and alignment. Yes, that’s it, and that levels the playing field, putting much of the burden of performance squarely on the driver.
Last year I competed in two Micra Cup races over the course of one weekend at the famed Circuit Mont-Tremblant and was so taken with the series that I knew I had put together a team. With the expansion of the series to Ontario, it became logical, as much as racing could ever be logical.
Our Guelph Nissan – Waterloo Nissan – County Road Auto Group racing team came together fairly late into the year. We picked up our race rig – a 2016 Nissan TITAN XD Pro4X and a matching black trailer – and drove to the Ottawa region. In fact, we actually took delivery of our #13 Nissan Micra Cup car the night before our first test day at Calabogie. We knew the car would never be the same again, so I managed to snap a few photos of a brand new Nissan Micra Cup racer before the sun went down. As the images show, it’s a near standard specification Micra S that’s been lightly modified for racing, but in race trim, it’s definitely a racing car.
Our Calabogie plans didn’t include racing, but rather taking delivery of our car, taking some laps around the circuit to complete the mandatory test day and then taking the car back to its new home in the showrooms of Waterloo and Guelph Nissan. However, the series promoter, Jacques Deshaies, persuaded me to compete, despite not having our crew available. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’ll be fine,” he said, though I had my doubts. I suppose now that I’m glad we did race.
By “we”, I mean me and my friend, John Kit, who joined me on this trip. He makes bespoke slot cars – visit studio-65.com if you’re into that sort of thing – and hasn’t really worked on a full size car, let alone a race car, so it was a learning experience for him, as well me. Never mind not having an experienced crew. We didn’t have our two-way radios yet, nor our data acquisition system. We were running blind, as they say, but we were very competent at applying the custom graphics from Select Window Coatings & Graphics to the Micra.
There was no way we’d be competitive without our talented crew, so get us in the ballpark, we asked Motorsports In Action, the blokes who actually build these cars, to put a basic racing alignment on our car. We also asked them to bed in the new brake pads so that it was as near race ready as possible. Over the course of the weekend, MIA also helped us get a handle on tire pressures, which is by far the most critical aspect of setting up these little Micras.
Rolling onto the track for the first time in a brand new race car is pretty daunting, especially at an unfamiliar circuit. Once I got up to speed, though, I remembered why I racing in the Nissan Micra Cup is such a blast. As a race car, the Micra is light, nimble, and easy to handle. My first session was so much fun that if I didn’t have a helmet on, you could have seen my smile for miles.
I’ll save you the boring details, but for race one, I qualify in a disappointing twenty-first, but after a great start and a little attrition, our #13 Micra Cup finishes in thirteenth. That could be more fitting for our first race.
By the time I qualify for race two, I’m getting a better handle on the car and the track – and Calabogie is not one of my favourites. I qualify the car a little further up the grid in eighteenth. It’s cold this day, around seven Celcius ambient, and this race starts just like any other. I do my best to warm up the tires and brakes. I get in starting formation with the rest of the field. Green flag drops. Little do I know that I’ve got a front row seat for some real mayhem. Now is a good time to watch the video above to try to comprehend it.
Just past turn one, there are cars spinning in front of me, crashing into one another. There are two cars barrel rolling to my right, though at the time I could only see one. No, I don’t have time to think about what was happening. The only way I was able to avoid contact is pure instinct and heads up driving using everything I’ve learned in my years of racing.
That’s definitely the wildest situation I’ve ever experienced as a racing driver, but what’s most important is that all of the drivers involved are OK. Yes, it’s true. And Motorsports In Action sure builds a strong race car. If I had any concerns about my safety before, I don’t any more.
After all of the craziness of that race, this brand new race team finished the race in seventh, placing us ninth in points after a race weekend we hadn’t even planned to attend.
The next day we dropped off our Micra Cup car at Guelph Nissan for a little rest and relaxation, and there was not one person who believed we made it through that pileup without a scratch. Indeed we did, and this Micra has earned its name – Lucky Thirteen.