Imagine waking up on a Sunday morning, walking down to the Monte Carlo Country Club, and climbing into a race car sponsored by George Clooney’s tequila company. Imagine receiving a police escort while driving this race car through the side streets of Monaco past party-goers still venturing home in their gowns and tuxedos after a night of lavish partying. Imagine you enter the race circuit, drive through the famous tunnel, down past the luxurious yachts, and park in front of the Ferrari Formula 1 team’s garage. Imagine one of the greatest dreams you’ve ever had come true. Imagine.
The story of how I was lucky enough to live my dream, and venture from driving tractors on a farm in Canada to driving race cars in Monaco, is one that officially began way back in 2002. It encompasses 15 years of exceptionally challenging hard work and support from many people. It’s a story that deserves to be told at some point in the future, long after my racing career is complete, but it’ll take a book to cover the life changing events that transpired during that period of time.
For now, I’ll focus specifically on the months leading up to the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix weekend. The money, the risk, the stress, the blackmail…everything!
The Allure of Monaco
Since becoming a fan of Formula 1 back around the year 2000, I have fallen in love with all of the race circuits on the F1 calendar. To be able to compete on the same circuits as the Formula 1 greats, also in a single-seater formula car, was a huge dream come true. Hockenheim and Nurburgring in Germany, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Red Bull Ring in Austria, Imola and Monza in Italy, Silverstone in England, Paul Ricard in France, etc, etc, etc, it’s been a huge privilege to drive on these storied race circuits in the footsteps of those I used to eagerly wake up to watch on TV in the early pre-dawn hours of a Sunday morning.
I have driven on many of these illustrious circuits on numerous occasions and the experience can start to become normal. But one thing was always lying in wait as the ultimate circuit of circuits and it was clearly going to be a major task to drive on it… Monaco!
The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most prestigious and exclusive sporting events in the world and it is the crown jewel of the Formula 1 Grand Prix season. Monaco is a small principality carved out along the Mediterranean Sea on the French Riviera and the race circuit itself is made up of daily used streets that run right through the heart of Monaco. In fact, on Grand Prix weekend, these streets are opened up at the end of the day to allow traffic to flow and then reclosed again in the early morning hours prior to the day’s events. It is a circuit that is in use only on one or two weekends a year and it is therefore extremely difficult to have the chance to compete on.
I have had the opportunity to visit Monaco on several occasions but each time I refused. I wanted my first visit to this legendary place to be for the sole purpose of driving a race car and I didn’t want to lay eyes on it until that time.
Charting a Path
On a Grand Prix weekend there are several “supporting” race championships that compete alongside the main Formula 1 World Championship. At the Monaco Grand Prix it has typically been the GP2 Series (now known as Formula 2), Porsche Supercup, and at the time, the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship.
The Porsche Supercup isn’t single-seater racing so it wasn’t high on my radar at the time while the GP2 Championship is just below the Formula 1 level and would require a massive budget… so that left the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship as the most immediate and attainable option for me to be able to race through the streets of Monte Carlo.
The problem is that in order to compete in Renault 3.5, I would have to put together a budget of at least $1.5 million CDN. So this was a huge task that lay ahead, but it was a serious goal to push towards and the only possible way for me to race in Monaco within the immediate future.
From Deflation to Elation
In 2014 and 2015 I had been driving a Formula Renault 2.0 race car (little brother to the Renault 3.5) and at the end of the 2015 season I had been left wondering how I was going to put together the proper budget to compete somewhere in 2016.
Earlier in 2015 I heard that Renault was dropping their support of the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship but I assumed that another manufacturer would take up support of the Formula 3.5 series. I woke up one morning in December 2015, looked at my phone, and saw a piece of information on social media that had somehow escaped me for the previous few weeks. Renault is the one that had control over their spot on the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, and because they were no longer supporting the series, Formula 3.5 would no longer be racing in Monaco.
Talk about a kick in the gut! Now what was I going to do. The cheapest and most attainable option for me to drive a single-seater race car in Monaco had just been kicked out.
But that’s when I read further and realized to my surprise that the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup Championship would be taking its place!!
Wow! Talk about a rush of adrenaline. The same car I had been racing for the last 2 seasons was now going to be allowed to race through the streets of Monte Carlo at the Monaco Grand Prix just minutes before the main Formula 1 race would take place. I absolutely HAD to find a way to make this happen!
The Challenge Grows
There are several different championships/levels that used the same Formula Renault 2.0 race car. I had previously been racing in the Northern European Cup, which was supposed to be a partial step down from the main Renault 2.0 Eurocup, however, exactly the same teams and drivers were racing in both championships anyway so there was little difference except the price.
It has always been possible to jump freely between the Renault 2.0 Eurocup, Northern European Cup and Alps championships, just pay your entry fees and you can race. Those not participating in the full championships would be classified as “Wild Card” entries.
My initial thought was to find just enough money to do a couple of races and make sure one of them was to enter the Monaco event as a Wild Card entry. Then to my great disappoint I read that only those signed up for the entire 2016 Renault Eurocup season would be allowed to compete in Monaco, NO WILD CARD ENTRIES ALLOWED! Uh oh, this was a big problem…
This was a big problem because of the enormous cost needed to complete a full Eurocup season. Although I have always only been able to bring a budget that is a fraction of my competitors, it is still a substantial amount of funding that must be put together. I had been able to do the previous seasons in the Northern European Cup for annual budgets in the $250,000 – $350,000 CDN range. To do a full season in Renault Eurocup, even on the extreme low end, would cost in excess of $500,000 CDN.
Finding a Solution
I began reaching out to numerous teams that competed in the Renault Eurocup to discuss opportunities of driving for them and what type of budget we would be looking at. All knew that my single biggest goal was to compete at the event in Monaco.
I managed to boil everything down into a candidate for a potential team. The team was from Italy and presented an extremely unique offer for me to get around the budget problem of completing a full season and Wild Card issue for Monaco.
The idea was that I would pay the team’s entire entry fee for the FULL Renault Eurocup season (a relatively small fee) and then, since Monaco was towards the beginning of the season, I’d be able to compete there and could always leave the championship after that. This team assured me that it would be no problem on their end in regards to their standing in the championship as they already had another driver who would be able to pick up where I left off and finish the season in my car if necessary.
This wasn’t ideal as I would love to do the full season, but given that I would have less than two months to put a half million dollars together, it was the best option for me to be able to achieve the goal of racing in Monaco.
Injection of Hope
I settled on an agreement with this Italian team to complete the first 7 rounds of the Formula Renault Eurocup Championship, including the necessary 6 Official Eurocup preseason test days. I made sure to include in our contract that my participation in Monaco was mandatory and that the team would pay an enormous financial penalty, equal to almost the entire contract fee, should I not be able to race in Monaco, whether it was the team’s fault or anyone else’s.
Now the sweating was about to begin. I would need to make an initial deposit to the team upon signing the contract and then an additional $100,000 CDN only 10 business days later. If I emptied my bank account I had just enough to cover the small initial payment and, apart from some hot irons in the fire, I had no other guarantees. I hesitated on signing the contract as I didn’t want to sign, then not be able to make the 2nd payment and lose the initial deposit.
Suddenly, in one simple phone conversation, I was able to put together half of the amount needed for the 2nd payment. I’m simplifying things a little as there was a lot of legwork here, but we will save that for a book later.
With this sudden injection of hope, I did something I very rarely do in business, and that’s take a financial gamble…I normally like to bet on sure things. I signed the contract, emptied my bank account, and began praying that I’d find the remaining $50,000 within the next few days.
Before you think I’m completely insane, let me assure you that the hot irons in the fire were all pretty hot and, if even a single one of them worked out, it would not only allow me to make the next payment, but also potentially provide the budget necessary to exceed the short term contract and complete the full season in the Renault Eurocup. It was worth the risk!
Throughout the process I tried everything I possibly could. I had a business proposition that I felt was competitive, if not superior, to anyone else seeking advertising/media dollars and I attacked wherever I could. I even reached out to 100 CEO’s from across Canada, mainly by guessing most of their email addresses. These emails led to dozens of promising phone calls that still to this day have potential opportunity, but unfortunately none of them flourished during the time necessary.
Each day passed quicker than the next, and one by one I watched these hot irons I had in the fire mysteriously begin to extinguish. D-Day was quickly approaching when the 2nd and largest payment of the season would need to be sent to the team… and I was still only halfway there! Losing sleep, working early morning till late at night, waking up each day with a pounding headache…it seemed impossible.
Then, on the very last day just before the payment is due, my phone rings. It’s a caller from the most unlikely place, offering to make sure I could make the next payment. Talk about a pressure release, I rarely cry but I will neither confirm nor deny that this may have been one of those occasions.
Sacrifices are a Choice
With the payment made I headed off to Europe to begin the Official Renault Eurocup preseason tests. Keep in mind that at this point I still didn’t have enough money lined up to make the next two payments, and those payments combined to equal a similar amount to what I just previously so narrowly scraped together.
I did everything I could to make things work financially. I cancelled my television, downgraded phone/internet to the lowest levels possible yet still able to conduct business, lived on the cheapest food I could find, literally digging through the pantry to look for whatever food had been tucked away in the past. I opted out of playing hockey for the first time in my life because I couldn’t afford the fee. While my competition was staying in 5-star hotels I stayed in the absolute cheapest places I could find, most often in a strangers spare bedroom somewhere along the way. I used every last air mile I had accumulated over the years as well as all the free car rentals I had compiled.
But let me stop for a second. Please don’t think that I am complaining and I’m not looking for any pity whatsoever. None of this was forced on me, it was all a choice that I made as I didn’t have to attempt racing cars. I’m stating this simply so you’ll understand what it took to turn this dream into a reality and that my journey to Monaco was far from glamorous.
It’s also important to note that during this time I received a massive amount of support from so many people who helped in so many ways. Some provided financially while others providing necessary support in different ways including generously opening up their homes for me to stay free of charge. There are far too many people for me to even begin mentioning them here because I know I will accidentally forget someone on the list at this moment.