Honda Tame the Track Event. Click image to enlarge
Bragging by Jacob Black, photos by Honda Canada
There is a little line on the bottom of the Civic Si advert running here in Canada at the moment. You know the one, right? The ad that ends in some dork yelling “You got owned, Hinchy!” and then some footage of James Hinchcliffe driving aggressively in the Si? The sharp-eyed amongst you may have seen it. It simply says, “Do not attempt unless you are professional race car driver James Hinchcliffe on a closed course.”
It’s cute, because it’s a next-level of specific to that totally unnecessary legal disclaimer. It turns it from something irritating that a paranoid and timid legal boffin thought up to something playful and fun that makes me chuckle.
But it left me confused. You see, I am not professional race car driver James Hinchcliffe. Yet, here was Honda, guiding me, coaxing me, goading me into driving a Civic Si quickly (well, quick for me) around a closed course.
“But, the legal disclaimer says not to!” I protested.
“It’s okay, we won’t tell if you don’t,” said Honda.
So I did. In fact, I not only drove the Civic Si on track, but also had a run in a Honda-powered F1600, before duking it out with young-gun Daniel Morad in a kart around the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park kart track.
Oh, and to cap off my magical Honda Indy appetizers, I got a ride around the Toronto IndyCar circuit in the IndyCar two-seater with Britain’s Martin Plowman at the wheel. 240 km/h down Lakeshore Boulevard – you know, as you do.
All this track excitement was triggered by the build up to the Honda Indy Toronto 2inTO – an IndyCar double header on the streets of Toronto. You can read more about the race itself in my Black Flag column.
But for now, let me tell you about my day at Tame the Track. We were split into groups and taken around by different instructors. Our group lucked into the best sequence of the day. Step 1: A lead-and-follow with race car instructor Jeff Boyce around the CTMP driver development track southern loop in the Civic Sis. We pushed and pushed, lap after lap. Using second, third and fourth we threw our Civics left and right, through some fast-flowing esses, a long sweeper and a tight right hander.
The Si scrambled to put the power down out of the tight second-gear corner, the fronts scrambling as we short-shifted to third through a left and then snatched fourth just before taking a big bite of curb through a right hander. Carrying speed around a little kink before settling it down, braking down to third gear and turning right for a long back straight.
The Si impressed with its steering and braking feel, but the brakes did start to soften towards the end of the runs. The engine note was crisp and enjoyable, the VTEC engine screams a joyful roar when you let the needle climb above 4,000 rpm. The Honda gearbox is a slick unit, razor sharp changes and exactly the right amount of throw to make shifting easy but still fast. The feedback from the clutch pedal and the lever are both great at speed and heel-and-toe shifting capability is dialed into the pedal set up. See? Thirty-odd laps on a track and I talk like a racer! This is probably the real reason for that legal disclaimer.
Honda Civic Si Click image to enlarge
At speed I was impressed by the steering feel of the Civic Si – in that I didn’t expect it to have any but it was actually quite good. Concentrating on finesse allowed me to better exit that tight right-hander, and by the end of the session I was going fast enough to feel the front tires scrubbing under me on the longer, faster corners. I have been guilty of scoffing at the Civic Si in the past – after pushing one at a proper clip I think I stand corrected. There is even a satisfying amount of lift-off oversteer, and you can get the back to rotate better if you give the brakes a wee stab just before the corner.
To say I had fun in that short session would be a dramatic understatement. I had the same look on my face that a three-year-old would get if you told them dinner tonight was chocolate ice cream. I was so happy that when one unkind journalist referred to my apparent love of ice cream, I didn’t even get sad.