Our Series is all about turning people who’ve never autocrossed into dedicated coneheads by providing an environment that is fun, welcoming, supportive for all, and safe. Newcomers are identified, welcomed by our “Newbie Ambassadors” and paired with more experienced drivers to help them find their way.
What is Autocross?
Autocross (also known as Autoslalom) is a low-cost form of motorsports that allows anyone to enjoy the thrill of driving at their limits in a safe, controlled, and legal environment.
Yesterday this happened, first round of the MCO Autocross Championships. What a blast with great people. A class act organization, the egos are in check with some friendly rivalries, and respectful help from all!~ André P.
In an autocross event, participants drive a course demarcated with pylons on a large parking lot or other paved surface. Drivers race their cars independently of each other, allowing them to concentrate on braking and cornering at the limits of their car’s (or their own) ability, while having their run electronically timed to thousandths of a second. Course design emphasizes car handling skills and manoeuvrability with speeds rarely exceeding normal posted highway speeds.
Who (and What) Can Participate?
You don’t have to be experienced or “fast” to participate! In fact, our Autocross Organizing Team (AOT) is committed to welcoming the participation of beginners. Most participants compete using the car they use to pick up groceries, go to work, etc. Given the variations in vehicle capabilities, the field is broken into five classes so that Toyota Corollas, for example, are not having to battle against Corvettes.
There are very few restrictions on the types of vehicles that cannot participate. SUVs and Mini-Vans are generally not permitted, but some other cars are also prohibited. If you go through the quick process of classing your car, you’ll determine if your car might be affected. If you’re unsure, please contact us, and we’ll be happy to help. If your car is not suitable, but you know a good friend who might also be interested, sharing cars is totally permitted. In fact, most of the couples who participate share a vehicle.
How Do I Prepare?
Autocross happens rain or shine at Lot 9 at the Canadian Tire Centre, and you’re going to be outside pretty much all day, so some preparation goes a long way to making sure you have a great day:
Preparing Your Self
- Clothing–Bring clothing appropriate to whatever the forecast is showing. Having it and not needing it is better than being uncomfortable if you do need it.
- Water–We generally have water onsite in big containers, so bring a refillable container and some back-up fluids in case we run out. Dehydration can be a real drag.
- Food–Everyone needs food. Bring snacks to keep you sharp and happy all day long. 98% of the time, we break for lunch, but sometimes you might have to dash out to get lunch while the event is still rolling.
- Sun protection–can take many forms, including sunscreen, clothing, and umbrellas. Also, bring a hat that will stay on your head even when you’re running. Not only will it keep the sun off your head, but it will save those who suffer unsightly helmet head.
- Helmets–Speaking of protection, you’ll need an approved helmet. If don’t have access to a helmet, we have some available for $5 for the day. Just bring cash with you when you check-in. If you want your own, you can find a list of acceptable helmet certifications in section 4.5 of this document. It’s also nice to bring a set of lightweight work gloves to keep your hands clean.
- Course Maps–Course maps are posted several days before the event, both on the Schedule & Results Page and on the event’s pages on MotorsportReg.com. We recommend you print a copy, have it on your smartphone, or whatever else works for you. It’s a good general reference and is indispensable when building the course.
- Attitude–is the biggest determination of how your first day is going to go. Yes, it’s a competition, but there is no prize money, no glory. No matter how you finish, it’s about fun, making friends, and enjoying your car.
Preparing Your Car
- Loose Items in Your Car–You will be asking your car to corner and brake pretty hard during your runs. That means that anything loose inside the car is going to be flying around, and no one needs random items hitting them or getting in the way when they’re trying to put down a scorching time. That’s why it’s obligatory that the passenger compartment be free of all loose items, including your floor mats. Loose items in the trunk will certainly make a racket, but they could also be damaged or cause damage to your car. Bottom line: Leave everything you don’t need at home. Child seats can be left in place.
- Tire pressure–If your car is a normal, everyday car (not a sports car), it will benefit from some extra air in its tires. On your way to the Lot, stop at the gas station closest to home and inflate your tires to 45 to 48 psi. Just make sure you don’t exceed the “MAX. PRESS” indicated on your tires. This advice holds if your drive to Lot 9 is a short one. If you’re coming from a long distance, or if it’s wet, please adjust your pressures closer to Lot 9.
Once you’ve done a few runs, one of the Newbie Ambassadors will show you what to watch for and how to adjust your tire pressures to optimize grip. If you have a tire pressure gauge, bring it. If you don’t, just about anyone in the paddock will be happy to lend a gauge.
- Car Number–When you register for an autocross event, you’ll select your car’s number. This number needs to be clearly displayed on both sides of your car. Masking tape in contrasting colour is normally the easiest way to do this. The other alternative is shoe polish on your rear-side windows.
- Mechanically Fit–You car needs to be mechanically sound. We always recommend you have you car inspected prior to participating in any events during the season be a certified mechanic. We like to recommend to Ralf Koulaib of Canadian Tire’s Carling Avenue location, which is one of our sponsors. Ralf and his team can assist with any and all inspection needs. Please call 613-725-3111, choose the menu options to get to Automotive Service, and ask for Ralf to book an appointment.
Final Note on Preparation: As we mentioned, your car is going to be emptied during the day, so a container to protect your clothing, food, etc. is a great idea. A simple plastic/rubber storage bin with a lid and small cooler is usually the perfect gear for the job.
How Will the Day Flow?
Our event schedule looks like this, and we do everything possible to respect it.
- 07:15 – 08:00 Course Set-up
- 08:00 – 08:30 Course Clerking (COURSE IS CLOSED TO WALKING)
- 08:00 – 09:00 Check-in
- 08:30 – 9:30 Course Open for Walking
- 09:10 – 09:30 NEWBIE COURSE WALK
- 09:30 – 9:45 Driver’s Meeting (mandatory)
- 10:00 – 16:00 Timed Runs with Morning and Afternoon Run Groups
- (45 minute lunch break or rolling lunch)
- 16:00 – 17:00 Course Tear Down & Clean Up
07:15 – 08:00 Help with Course Set-up & Check-In
During this period, a few things are happening:
- People are arriving and prepping cars
- The organizing team is coordinating:
- the unpacking of our trailer
- setting up the course
- getting the timing equipment ready
- setting up the check-in table
- Once the course is set-up, participants take their course walks
For newcomers, a great approach might be:
- Arrive before 8AM, park your car, unpack it, number it, etc.
- Head over to the trailer to check in, sign our insurance waiver, and get your fancy paper bracelet. You’ll likely also be partnered with a more experienced participant at this point and get to know a Newbie Ambassador
- Once that is done, consider helping with course set-up. Just stroll out to one of the people arranging cones, introduce yourself, and say, “It’s my first time out. Mind explaining what you’re doing, and how I can help?”
- Once the course is set-up, start your course walks (do as many as you can). Odds are that the person who explained course set-up might even agree to do a course walk with you and give you some ideas about what to look for and think about. Take in what you can, but don’t worry about retaining it all. Like everything, practice and experience count for a lot.
- On your subsequent course walks, try to join a different group of participants. You’ll be amazed how friendly and helpful everyone is.
If you think we’re exaggerating how welcoming the crowd in Lot 9 is, here are some comments from a participant after their first event:
I was welcomed by the MCO with enthusiasm. The people I met at the event were super friendly and welcoming. Autocrossing felt a bit like a “speed date” in the sense that after each run you had a role marshalling. During your marshalling you will meet some great people willing to discuss the track, their cars, or just shoot the breeze. Speaking of the breeze… we had major wind and rain. That didn’t change the mood though! The people I met were willing to give the shirt off their back…literally! I saw members lending rain jackets for marshalling duties, a group of Mini’s exchanging wheels and tires to improve a time, strangers helping diagnose car troubles, and a general “let’s all be better” attitude. ~ Jordan D.
09:10 – 09:30 Newbie Course Walk
This is a group course walk led by a seasoned paritcipant. Despite its name, even those with years of experience participate, as it provides an opportunity to get additional insight into how to approach the course. You should feel free to ask questions during this walk.
09:30 – 9:45 Drivers’ Meeting (mandatory)
The Drivers’ Meeting is where we explain the general safety rules:
- The parking area (a.k.a the Paddock) is always filled with cars moving in and out of parking spots, people working on their cars, personal effects, etc. For safety, cars should move no faster than a walking pace and everyone should be alert to their surroundings.
- Everyone on site must sign our insurance waiver. Minors must have their parent or guardian complete the minor waiver.
- Anyone who wants to take a ride with a competitor must also wear a helmet
- All body parts must be in the car at all times.
We’ll also go over how the day will operate, marshalling procedures, and any other special considerations resulting from weather or other special conditions (see next section for elaboration).
Lastly, we’ll take final attendance and identify the marshal assignments for the first runs.
10:00 – 16:00 Timed Runs (45 minute lunch break or rolling lunch)
Our event format is simple and is based on car numbers. Low numbered cars (e.g., 1, 2, 3… ) run first and high numbered cars run last. This means that this period starts with the lowest numbered cars at the start line and the drivers of the highest numbered cars assigned to marshal stations. From there, this period is essentially a repeating cycle during which each participant progresses through three phases:
- Prep & Run — During this phase, you’re getting your car ready, bringing it to the starting line, making sure your helmet is on, doing your run, and parking your car. Once you’ve completed your run and parked your car, you enter the Marshalling Phase.
- Marshalling Phase — In this phase, you’ll grab your hat and gloves and head over the person near the MCO trailer holding a clip board. You’ll tell that person your car number, they’ll assign you a marshal station, log where they sent you, and you’ll head to that station. Once at your assigned station, you’ll relieve the person who was there. We’ll discuss the various marshal stations further below. Once another participant arrives to relieve you, you’ll enter the Chillin’ Phase.
- Chillin’ — In this phase, you’re free to do as you please. Chat with other participants from the sidelines, tweak tire pressures, or work on your tan.
The only transition that requires your attention is from Chillin’ to Prep & Run. The signal for you to move from one phase to the other is the numbers on the sides of the cars in the starting line. For example, if you are in car number 7, you would be one of the first cars to do a run . From there, you park your car and do your marshal stint, replacing a driver with a very high number. You would then be relieved by the driver of car with a number in the double digits, putting you into the Chillin’ Phase. You’d switch back to Prep & Run when you see the highest numbered cars in line waiting to run. Rinse. Repeat.
There are three types of Marshal Stations. The type to which you are assigned is entirely random, but if you have a physical limitations that make you better suited to one type or another, please let us know. Below are general descriptions of each type of station. More detail will be provided at the event.
Type 1: Cone Stations
|Location||These are spread out on the course with the precise location depending on the course layout.|
|Staffing Level||Two participants|
|Equipment||Radio, Fire Extinguisher, Red Flag|
|Job Description||– Watch the cones in your area as cars go by
– Check any that nudged, replaced any that are knocked out of place
– Report associated penalties over the radio
– Watch for safety concerns and stop vehicles by deploying the Red Flag
|Safety Notes||– Share the workload with your partner
– Watch your partner’s back when they are on course replacing cones
– Err on the side of caution in all matters
Type 2: Stop Box
|Location||At the area following the finish line|
|Staffing Level||One or two participants|
|Equipment||Radio, Red Flag|
|Job Description||– Watch for even the slightest contact between vehicles and any cone in the stop box area
– Report any contact over the radio
– Restore any touched cone to its starting position
– Watch for safety concerns and stop vehicles by deploying the Red Flag
|Safety Notes||– Do not turn your back to oncoming traffic
– Err on the side of caution in all matters
Type 3: Clip Board & Waiver
|Location||At a table near the MCO Trailer|
|Staffing Level||One participant|
|Equipment||Waivers binder, bracelets, marshal assignment clipboard, pens|
|Job Description||– Assign participants to marshal stations and log that assignment
– Be the welcoming, friendly ambassador of the series to any spectators
– Assist spectators and visitors with completion of waiver form, including acting as witness and ensuring minor waivers are completed for any minors
– Control access to waiver bracelets to ensure that only those who have signed the waiver get a bracelet
|Safety Notes||– Always err on the side of courtesy and friendliness when dealing with your fellow participants and visitors|
A Bit About Cone Penalties
Each cone that is standing upright on the course will have a box around its base, commonly referred to as the “chalk box”. The graphic below describes when a cone penalty is and isn’t warranted. If you’re better with words, a penalty is warranted whenever the cone is knocked over, regardless of its position relative to the chalk box; or if its standing and no longer touching any part of the chalk box.
If a vehicle nudges a cone, but not enough to get penalty, marshals are expected to put the cone back into the centre of the chalk box. If a penalty is warranted, put the cone back in the chalk box and use the radio as follows:
- Press the button to transmit
- Speak clearly into the radio, “Car XX, Y cone(s)”
The timing tent will acknowledge your call. If they don’t, wait a minute or two and repeat.
16:00 – 17:00 Course Tear Down & Clean Up
The time at which we stop timed runs is a bit fluid as we try to maximize the number of runs while still respecting the ultimate deadline of 5PM. Once we do stop running, everyone is expected to spring to action to get packed-up. In general, things look like this:
- Marshals On Course:
- Start stacking cones into stacks
- Place fire extinguishers with stacks
- Carry radios, flags, and any garbage to the the timing area
- Radios go on a table
- Flags in the big canvas bag for flags
- Garbage in a garbage bag
- Participants in the paddock
- Drive carefully to pick-up the stacks of cones and bring them to the trailer for loading
- Others commence loading the trailer and taking down the tent
When everyone is doing their part, pack-up can be completed as quickly as 15 minutes!
17:00 – 19:00 Post Event Awards, Prizes and Festivities
This part of the day is not mandatory, but it’s encouraged. It’s an opportunity to chat over some refreshing food and drink, celebrate our winners, and hear about upcoming events and activities.
Oh yeah! There’s also a draw for some great prizes, courtesy of our sponsors.
We hope this has been helpful in providing some insight into what goes on at one of our autocross events and that it has perhaps convinced you to join us.
If there are things we didn’t cover in enough detail, please let us know by email.