• By: Neil Moore

“Are we there yet?” never asked during father-son road trip

Photos by Neil and Adam Moore / Feature photo: The race begins. Micra Cup, now in its third season, is a series that features Nissan’s Micra subcompact – fully fitted for the track.

I’ve heard it said that in the hearts of today’s youngsters, particularly teenage boys, electronics have replaced cars.

I beg to differ.

Through the magic of Gran Turismo, car culture is alive and well. At least digitally, with my 15-year-old son having a virtual garage that would be the envy of Jay Leno.

The game has given him an appreciation for things that go fast. All vintages, price points, segments and automakers. He has as much fun racing his 241-hp, twin-turbocharged Toyota Yaris as the uber-pricey Aston-Martin V12 Vantage.

And although Gran Turismo is Adam’s main connection to motorsport, both he and I have enjoyed it live – namely, Canada’s most affordable race series: Micra Cup. Now in its third season, it takes place over six weekends spanning Ontario and Quebec.

These Micras may be running stock four cylinder engines, but much weight has been shed to give them an excellent power-to-weight ratio.

The series is based on Nissan’s Micra subcompact. And not the fancy one with air conditioning and other power doodads, but the barebones base model – stripped down and refitted with a safety cage, NISMO suspension kit, FIA-approved racing seat, high-performance brake pads, racing tires, and a low-flow exhaust system to add decibels.

After all, when you’re up against Porsche GT3 Cup and the ear-splitting NASCAR Pinty’s Series, a little noise helps meet the expectation of race fans.

Adam and I may not be diehards, but we readily accepted Nissan Canada’s invite to the recent Micra Cup races in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. This included a press vehicle to get there.

There were several ‘sensible’ options, and the 370Z Nismo – an even more track-ready version of their iconic two-seat sports coupe. It’s powered by a 350-hp 3.7-litre V6, mated to a six-speed manual transmission that did some neat tricks like “blipping” the throttle to smooth downshifts. And it rides on a stiffer, sport-tuned NISMO suspension.

My son wasted no time giving a “thumbs up” to the Z, so I went along despite some misgivings about what lay ahead. Which was a 1,400-km return trip along highways choked with cottagers, campers and truckers, victimized by the Einsteins who decided that narrowing this busy corridor to one lane in several spots was a good idea.

My son (and photographer) Adam Moore meets Saturday’s winner Stefan Rzadzinski during the post-race autograph session.

And don’t get me started on the stretch of Highway 40 through Montreal. The vibrations from its patched, pocked and roughed up asphalt will be felt by my next two generations.

So the qualities that make the 370Z Nismo a delight on open highways and curvy secondary roads, made it less so on this ribbon of disrepair between provincial capitals. That being said, the leather/Alcantara Recaro sports seats were a treat, hugging you like a catcher’s mitt during hard acceleration, braking and cornering.

Also sweet was the royal treatment we received at the Trois Rivieres Hippodrome. We were asked to park in the front row, while ‘lesser’ race fans were banished to a nearby field. My son was beaming as we were slotted in with eye candy like Porsche, Corvette, Maserati, and even McLaren.

I’ve previously covered Micra Cup in Mont Tremblant and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (north of Bowmanville), but none had the energy and crowds of the Trois-Rivieres Grand Prix (GP3R). This event is celebrating its 50th year, and drew some 70,000 spectators in 2016.

Rain threatened our weekend, Saturday in particular, but after a few early morning showers, skies brightened for the first Micra Cup race, seventh of the season.

In terms of muscle, these 109-hp microcars won’t match the hardware in GP3R’s other races – NASCAR, Porsche GT3 and IMSA – but what they lack in raw power, is made up for in character.

And in number. Micra Cup put more vehicles on this road course (28 at the start), than any other series at GP3R.

Cars are still tightly packed following the start of the race. Faster drivers will soon move ahead.

After the green flag, it was a blast watching the swarm of Micras jockey for position, and although there was minimal banging in the first race, Sunday’s event saw several crashes – including one just before the finish.

On Saturday, 2015 champion Olivier Bedard earned pole position, but was quickly overtaken by Albertan Stefan Radzinski, who held his lead finishing one second ahead of Bedard, with 2017 season leader Kevin King just behind.

Bedard also had pole position on Sunday, but was passed by 2016 champion Xavier Coupal who remained in front until the checkered flag. Second place went to Bedard, followed by Valerie Limoges, who passed Rzadzinski.

After Saturday’s race, we dropped by the paddock for autographs, where Adam posed with winner Stefan Rzadzinski. Point in favour of Micra Cup is the ease in meeting and chatting with drivers, allowing you to quickly get hooked on the personalities and on-track drama. How many professional sports can say the same?

Another weekend highlight took place on the Trois-Rivieres waterfront, where drivers took the stage, and then comedian Michel Barrette and winner of “La Voix 3” (The Voice 3) Kevin Bazinet entertained an audience of thousands.

I liked that the show was free. Unfortunately it was in French – a language I’ve let slip. Barrett had the crowd in stitches, so I followed their cues. You know the saying, “When in Trois-Rivieres…”

Interestingly, Barrette was also a Micra Cup driver, finishing third in the Novice class during Sunday’s race.

On race day, it pays to show up in a sweet ride. My press vehicle, a Nissan 370Z Nismo, was slotted in the front row along with other eye candy.

The weekend wrapped up all too soon, as I would have liked to explore the vibrant downtown further. It was closed to vehicle traffic much of the weekend, making it a large pedestrian mall chock-a-block with restaurants, cafes, shops – and even a Ferris wheel.

The drive home was a slog – nearly eight hours including a dinner stop – but the traffic was a silver lining. It gave me a loads of one-on-one time with my son. Unplugged.

This wasn’t some coming-of age-movie, with parent and child reflecting on how the weekend’s happenings somehow encapsulated life’s profound secrets to success. But we did drill a little deeper than the usual “How was school today?” “Fine.”

Or from few years ago: “Are we there yet?” and “I have to pee.”

The hours confirmed that Adam’s non-stop retinal attachment to his computer and iPhone isn’t without its benefits. He’s surprisingly up-to-speed on everything from current affairs to cars, with few topics on which he doesn’t have an opinion.

Hmmm, wonder where he gets that from?

And on his part, hopefully, he’s discovered that Dad isn’t entirely without a clue – at least not like those morons ahead who kept changing lanes in hopes they might arrive at their destinations a nanosecond sooner.

I pulled into our driveway more tired than the usual ride home from Pearson airport, but at the same time more energized. Road tripping has a different pace, allowing more time to connect with your fellow traveller – with less time suffering in lineups and dealing with humourless airport staff.

Adam and I can both see this becoming an annual event. At least until he asks for the car keys…