A lap of Mosport

Editor’s note: This track map is from the Canadian Grand Prix program in 1961. Most interesting to me is that they must have considered the straight to be straight, as what has been known as corner 8 is marked as 6 in the map! The photos used in this article are of Mosport in its current state.

About a week ago Gary and I tossed this idea around. Originally my plan was to give people an idea of what a lap of Mosport was visually like for a driver. It was not really to be how to drive the track but more what the corners appeared to be like from a driver’s viewpoint. Mosport is today the fastest road course in North America and one of the fastest in the world.

Now I haven’t driven Mosport for many years but basically it is the same track. It is 10 feet wider than when I drove and the top of 2 has been cut down a bit and 10 feet taken off the top of the hill at 7. The result means the turns have a larger radius and the climb up the back straight is 10 feet less. The reason for this was to lessen the chances of cars getting airborne cresting the hill, which had happened more than once. Even in my Elva at about 125 mph the car would get light in the front end if the wind was blowing down the straight. A real danger in really fast cars. I am not sure of the reason for the change at 2.

Since then a bit of a discussion has arisen on the CASC forum about driving the track in those early days and how the drivers must have been brave because of the track safety or lack thereof. Two adult offspring of early drivers said they thought their fathers must have been brave. Both offspring are involved but have not raced. I happen to know both drivers in question and one was a friend and we actually both drove the same MGB at different times. He also navigated for me in a Winter Rallye. That was brave! The other raced a Merlyn Mk6a BMC in the same sports racing class as I did.

Racing back then was far more dangerous than it is today and Mosport, despite the far lower speeds, certainly was far more dangerous. But we knew the dangers and accepted it. I did not consider myself brave and I don’t think they or any other drivers did. Stupid maybe, but not brave.

Cars were far more likely to lose parts then, especially wheels. I had 2 lower front A arm failures but luckily not at Mosport. Had interesting rides both times. Hit a spectator fence on the second occasion. Worst thing was I was in 3rd overall with 3 laps to go in a money race and I was already broke. $2.50 in my pocket and a flat bank account.

We often drove in tee shirts and jeans. Helmets were all open face and really not very good. Roll bars were often questionable. Only lap belts. My MGA had a 2 inch thread through. The other cars I drove had 3 inch quick release. My right knee rested against one of my aluminum gas tanks in the Elva. It was slung on metal straps outside the tube frame with just the thin fibregalass body for protection. No bladders or foam inserts. That was the standard. It was just accepted. Deaths and serious injuries were very common in racing then but again we accepted the situation.

The huge difference in lap times today is to a large extent due to tires and improvement in brakes and aero. Vintage cars that used to run about the same speed as I did are now 10 seconds a lap faster, mostly because of tires. Our tires could last for hundreds of laps! No slicks. All had treads. Not nearly as much grip as most road tires have today.

Now on to a lap of Mosport. The difference from my original idea is I now will describe more what the off track area was like as well. Starting on the pit straight initially there was no protection for the pit personal. By the mid 60’s there was a single row of armco. Cars entered the track before 1. As you approached 1 you could see which way the track went but most of the turn was blind. It is a very fast down hill sweeping right with a late apex. Through the early part of the turn there was a steep hillside to the left and a lower one on the right side. As you exited the turn the sides dropped away and the spectator tunnel went under the track. The run off, as it was around almost all of the track, was one car width of gravel. Over the tunnel was a row of armco on each side at the edge of the gravel. John Surtees went over this at one race.

There then was a short straight approaching the famous turn 2. The entrance is slightly uphill and the turn totally blind. You are in the turn before you can see anything. You have to be correctly positioned before you crest the hill well to the left of the right verge. Again an extremely fast turn, but to the left this time and steeply downhill with a drop of at least 50 feet. It is very slightly banked but so steeply downhill the effect is a reverse banking. There are two apexes using the normal line. One several feet below the crest of the hill and the second at the bottom of the hill as the track levels out. There is a second way to take the turn very rarely used and requiring huge gonads. That is going down the outside of the turn with a very late apex at the bottom. Bruce McLaren often used this line. I have used it just so I knew it. At the entrance the spectators are above the track especially on the infield side giving a view from the exit of 1 all the way to the entrance of 3. Part way down the hill the infield is slightly below the track and there used to be no protection for spectators. The bottom of 2 on the infield side always had a reasonable amount of run off but you could go a long way off. Today there is a tire wall in front of a concrete wall and cars often reach it.

Heading to 3 it becomes uphill just before the right hand corner which is blind. You can see which way it goes but that is it. The spectator area approaching the turn is below the track on the outfield but well above it on the infield. The turn itself is an opening radius turn with an early apex and hard acceleration exiting. There has always been a low curb on the inside. Now there is a reasonable run off on the outside exit and a little on the entrance. This is the slowest corner so far but still very quick. The spectator area is above the track until the exit when it becomes track level. Originally no protection.

A medium straight is the approach to 4, or the chute. Totally blind until you are in the turn. A steep downhill left hander and very very fast. Normally a middle to slightly late apex. A steep bank on the left but more level on the right. You are in a wooded area on the right. At the bottom of the hill you cross a creek and this was where there was the second bit of guardrail. Just the same more than one car ended up in the creek on the outside of the turn. People crashed on the inside as well but I do not think anyone went over. It was my favourite turn. I did more passing there than the rest of the track combined. In the Elva over the bridge was the fastest point on the track, just over 130 mph we calculated. It is a turn that if you are confident enough you can switch your line to try a pass and the approach to 5 (Moss) which follows immediately.

There is a fair amount of compression as you reach the bottom and go steeply uphill into 5A. It is blind and a sharp right that levels right out as you crest the hill at the apex of the turn. The uphill is so steep it shortens the normal braking distance. The passing trick, if you didn’t actually do it on the downhill was to dart to the right and get alongside another car in the braking area on their right. As you passed the apex of 5A the track was level for a very short run to 5B which was a true 90 degree turn with very slight banking. It and 5C were wide open visually. There was and is a fairly high curb on the inside you do not want to hit. Between A and B on the infield side it was flat but no spectators. The outfield is a popular spot. There used to be a 3 car wide gravel runoff before an earth bank. Many a car hit that bank and rolls not uncommon. Behind the bank the hillside rose giving a great spectator area. On the outside of B there was a few feet of ground before a steep hill. Originally there was only a lanewide strip of gravel and then rocks and remains of trees. That was cleaned up fairly soon and the speeds were such an off there was not normally serious. Now you were on the curving uphill back straight. 5C, a lefthander was just about a 100 yards along and except for high powered cars no problem in the dry. I did manage to get a little sideways in the rain once. The trouble was there was an unprotected drop on the right side into the trees and really fast cars could lose it there in the dry. Cars did go off there. A very dangerous spot.

The back ‘straight’, now called Andretti, curved slightly but after C was never a problem. The actual climb started just after 5C. The sides varied between hills and below track valleys. 6 is a marshal post part way up the straight.

7 is at the highest point on the track and again is a marshal post. Before the hill was cut down this was where cars got airborne.
Turns 8, 9 and 10 were a combo and close enough together that you had to throw one away. In other words you could not take the best line through all three. You didn’t want to throw 8 out as you were at high speed and for many cars their highest speed just before entry. 10 led onto the pit straight which is fairly long and leads into a fast corner (flat out for many cars now). So 9 was the corner you sacrificed.
8 is a very fast long right hander slightly uphill and you naturally scub off speed through it. It is visually wide open all the way. 9 is a left with a late apex but you cannot see the exit as you enter it.. You do not take it as fast as is possible as you want to be over to the far left for 10, a right hander onto the pit straight. 10 actually is the sharpest turn on the track, about a 100 degrees but as the track widens out for the pit area it is faster than 5. You can see around it but a view of the ensuing straight is partially blocked by the original tower.

The inside of 9 had a tendancy to flood in a heavy rain so you had to be aware of that. It was a good turn to pull off a pass if the other driver was unaware. You stayed out wide and could go faster than someone on the normal line enabling you to get the inside for 10. It would only work once and was easy to block. You also had be sure there was not a car headed for the pit entrance on the right side of the track.
9 had a low curb on the inside and soon so did 10. For a long time the approach to 8 was more to the middle of the track than you would expect. A series of washboard type bumps quickly developed on the outside and upset any car staying out there.

Mosport had not received its final coat of pavement before financial troubles stopped work and some areas showed this. There were also uneven joins from the paving that normally would have not been there after a final coat that you had to watch for. The approach to 8 was level on the outfield and slightly below track level on the infield. There was an earth bank on the outfield through the turn. The entrance to 9 was below grade on the infield but well above the track on both sides through the turn. The infield side had an earth bank all the way around until the guardrail over the paddock access tunnel started. The outfield had a bank and the natural hill, again until the guardrail started. It was too low and Jim Hall in the Chapparal went over it. The outfield at 10 was above grade but also had an earth bank for protection. Nothing on the inside until later. There was no runoff anywhere through 8, 9 and 10.

In the very beginning there were rocks, tree stumps and limbs just off the racing surface around most of the track but that got dealt with quickly. However there were still large rocks in the earth berms and that was a real danger that certainly contributed to one death in a rollover.

As I said early on these were the normal conditions at not just Mosport but most race tracks around the world and we just accepted them. Things gradually improved on the safety front and Sir Jackie Stewart was the first driver to really push safety.

Mosport today is far far safer but extremely fast and challenging. It has often been said that if you are fast at Mosport you will be fast everywhere. I believe that. I hope this has given you some idea of what a lap of the track is like and of what it was like early on.

This year Bob Long, the current F4 Champion, will be racing in at least some region races. He turned a 1.26 last year and he is in his 70’s. He will have raced in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s 2000’s and 2010’s. He is the father of F4 in Canada and designed and built his current car. He is a former Region overall champion and multi time F4 class winner. If you make it to a race drop by and say hello to a remarkable man.


  1. Gary Magwood says

    Nicely done, Leighton. Mosport is indeed one of the finest, most challenging road racing circuits in the world. I'm not sure if there's a driver of any note who could honestly say they put together a "perfect lap." And, you're right: a driver who could "master" Mosport or learned to race at Mosport, could easily get down to competitive times at most other circuits around the world.
    But, I have to tell you, teaching at Mosport was a major challenge as I found out when I started my racing school at the track. Keeping an eye on students was virtually impossible and they found some very "interesting" places to fall of the track and, in some cases, be hard to find on a recconaissance run!

  2. Leighton Irwin says

    I know I never put together a perfect lap.
    Yes, teaching at Mosport could be downright interesting. Finding out your student has never driven a stick shift when they drop a gear going into 5 and just let out the clutch for one.
    For a ‘lost’ car I think the Lotus 20 that went into the forest at the top of 4 was the best, or worst. A chain saw sure would have helped getting it back out. Hand saws took a while!

  3. Jeremy Sale. says

    Good story about what it was like before being sanitized! We are lucky to have such a great track nearby. I was interested in the turn two lines. I see more and more people taking the non-traditional one apex line. Not sure which works best. The traditional two apex line does seem a little counter -intuitive as you seem to be pulling the car into the second apex and thus seem to scrubbing off a bit of speed. Also, at the entrance to the turn you say you should be "correctly positioned before you crest the hill well to the left of the right verge."
    My question is, how far left of the verge and why? I have heard this advice before and wondered why wouldn't you be well over to the right?
    Appreciate your input. Turn two is my favourite at Mosport BTW!

    • Leighton Irwin says

      If you stay completely over to the right you are too far into the turn before you set up. There used to be a long narrow patch on the track that was the perfect marker for the set up. You really are turning before you crest the hill. You do stay to the right until the set up. In effect you are turning into the turn before you can see it.
      Remember too I have not driven the track since it was widened.
      The real outside line is rarely used. Eric Jensen was using it for a while in the Atlantic car but he reverted to the standard line by race time. Bruce McLaren used it for a long time but eventually went to the standard double apex.
      I tried it a few times just so I could use it if I had to. I did not like it but it was pretty fast. The track can also accumulate marbles out there. Not knowing what to do out there probably cost one driver his life.
      My favourite was the Chute.

  4. says

    I can't wait to try this place in June.
    I've putted around on parade laps, but now I need the real thing to compare it too my other home track.

    Mosport was the very first track I ever visited back in 2005 so it holds a special place in my heart.
    I hope I can live up to the expectations 😉

  5. C.J. Allen says

    Wonderful article. I always thought my father was brave, because having flagged at Mosport, I know how badly the track can bite you when you get it wrong. My father turns 75 on June 24th. I have 8mm video of him driving the Merlyn around Mosport and photos of his various race cars, including this positively ugly car that he said was the worst car he ever drove (apparently his rear wheels made it to the corner before the race car did on a regular basis) called a Lartini. I believe he plans to be at the VARAC Festival again this year.

  6. Leighton Irwin says

    Gary: There is a picture of Ron in the MK6A Merlyn in Tom’s upcoming book ‘British Racing Cars in Canada. Originally a BMC 1100 and then an 1800 cc motor.
    I will have a prepublication copy with me. I also have another picture with Ron right behind me in the Chute that I will bring.
    Colene has seen both.

  7. Mark Little says

    Sanitized Jeremy? Maybe a little, but the monster still has teeth……..

    Great Article Leighton as per usual!

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