It’s been a fruitful several months since late summer last year when all the rumours were confirmed, that there was a serious effort underway to develop a new motorsport facility in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia, and operate it as a membership-based ‘motorsport country club’ just like a golf or tennis club.
As winter turned to spring, which is early in the desert climate of Osoyoos, the folks who are putting together this project called Area 27 decided it would be a great idea to hold a big social event where existing and prospective members could get together for a weekend of fun. Of course, since the love of driving high-performance automobiles is the common thread that runs through everyone involved, the event quickly became a road rally, and the first annual Area 27 Rally would be run from May 30 to June 1.
Of course, even the most avid enthusiasts do not live by driving alone, and the weekend’s activities were quickly filled out by such niceties as gourmet meals, wine tasting and the presence of a few of Canada’s motorsport legends, including track designer Jacques Villeneuve and Area 27’s new chief driver trainer, Richard Spenard. Unfortunately, Jacques couldn’t make it, having been summoned to Europe to test his rallycross car, so Patrick Carpentier ably filled in, and has since decided that he will also be doing some driver coaching at Area 27 alongside Spenard.
It was natural for the Rally’s home base for the weekend to be at the wonderful Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa, as both it and Area 27 are located on Osoyoos Indian Band land. Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, many of the exotic cars were already parked around the circle outside the main building, providing a sense of anticipation.
Friday evening, in the Desert Cultural Centre, we were welcomed to the event and to the Resort by Chief Clarence Louie. It was the first chance most of the members had had to hear this visionary First Nations leader speak, and he left no doubt that he is a strong supporter of the project.
The next morning dawned sunny and warm. Following breakfast, Spenard got the crowd warmed up with some stories, driving tips and an overview of the rally. The main point was that it was in no way to be a competitive event. There would be several groups of roughly 10 cars heading out on a staggered schedule to follow behind a group leader, either an Area 27 Founding Member or special guest.
The roads chosen for the route were well off the beaten path of Highway 97 through the Okanagan Valley, winding and hilly, largely devoid of traffic and, therefore, ideal for having plenty of fun in all the high-end performance cars. Some speed limits might have been exceeded a couple of times, but there was nothing crazy and no encounters with the constabulary. On that level, the rally was a huge success!
Given that the Okanagan is wine country, it was no surprise that the pleasures of the grape played a big part in the event. For lunch, everyone gathered at the Poplar Grove Vineyard, northeast of Penticton and high on a hill with a wonderful panoramic view of the lake and valley below. And to get the evening started after the rally, several wineries set up booths at the resort for tasting before dinner. One of them was the Osoyoos Band’s own winery, Nk’Mip Cellars, which kindly supplied several bottles for each table at dinner, and a splendid time was had by all!
The other big attraction that evening was the presence of VRX Racing Simulators (www.vrx.ca) with their simply amazingly realistic machine that was on sale for $55,000. Many of the world’s great tracks could be “driven, as we have seen before, but there was one track that nobody has yet seen. That’s right – Area 27 was on the simulator, accurately realistic down to the millimetre! The technology employed is so advanced that all the work designer Jacques Villeneuve and construction contractor Trevor Seibert have done so far has enabled the generation of a completely realistic simulated driving experience. You could say this was a popular seat all evening, and that this track will challenge everyone up to the most experienced racer. It likely played a big part in the signing up of another dozen members over the weekend.
The approval process for the project is moving along, with the federal government departments expected to provide the ‘go-ahead’ at the end of this month for the ‘designation vote’ by the Osoyoos Indian Band members, followed by the vote itself in September, with a positive result getting Area 27 construction started soon thereafter. Given that the winter weather in the South Okanagan is so dry, Seibert hopes to get his equipment on site by early fall and get some work done before Christmas, and then get going in earnest by early spring. With that kind of schedule, the pavement should be down by late summer 2015.
A new era will begin, but between now and then, all the members and other enthusiasts who made the first annual Area 27 Rally such a big success can probably expect another event or two along the same lines. They will be a good warm-up for the first day that real cars actually turn laps at Area 27.