Felicity Johnson describes Area27 as an “escape from reality” for its members.
“It’s their piece of heaven,” said Johnson, corporate events manager of Area27.
That piece of heaven has exceeded expectations for Bill Drossos, president and general manager of the venue owned by South Okangan Motorsports Corporation. Since it’s soft opening last fall, Area27 has grown to 246 members from the nearly 150 when the project got the green light to go ahead with construction in 2015. Drossos expected to start the season with 175 members but word of mouth helped it grow. They expect to be sold out with 300 members by the end of October.
“It gives you confidence. Any time you exceed your targets and your goals, it helps,” said Drossos.
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Since the opening, the track designed by Jacques Villeneuve has been tested by members during driving school. Area27 has a policy in which members must do the Academy 27 school and receive proper training from instructors, which include chief instructor Richard Spénard, guest instructor Patrick Carpentier, Scott Hargrove, Stefan Rzadzinski and Zac Zawisza.
The 4.83-kilometre (three-mile) track has 16 corners to manoeuvre.
“We wanted to give a lot of our members an opportunity to take the course, to learn how to drive on a proper road strip,” said Drossos. “We had a few lapping days. It was a chance to get our early supporters, early members a chance to get out on the track and experience it. It worked exceedingly well.”
Hargrove said teaching the members how to drive has been a lot of fun.
“Being a race car driver, in day-to-day life, you don’t have a lot of different situations where you can apply your skills and benefit from it,” said Hargrove, who races for Pfaff Motorsports in the Canadian Porsche GT3 Cup. “Having the coaching at Area27 and being able to share what I’ve learned in my career and my racing, with other people and how to drive safely and fast is pretty fun.”
Since it opened they have done more than 10 lessons with people who had no experience.
“Everyone has had a blast. We take them step-by-step so we get some people that are extremely nervous when they first start,” said Hargrove, who recently won two races near Toronto.
Hargrove said the members realize after that they don’t have to be extremely talented or have a lot of experience to lap the track.
“If you think you know what you are doing, we pretty much are able to show you that you still have a lot to learn,” said Hargrove, who won six of 10 races in 2016. “They can build their skills in a structured way. People really seem to enjoy that.”
When Hargrove works with a driver they are curious as to how he is doing on the circuit and what race he has coming next.
“I just think that they enjoy having not just somebody whose full-time job is just to teach people. Someone who is actually pursuing a career in it. I think they enjoy that. I think it adds something to the school.”
Hargrove, 22, got involved with Area27 after meeting with Drossos at an event. They started talking and Drossos talked about the need for coaches.
“It’s cool to be a part of that. It’s good for the community, just seeing how much business has been brought to the local area,” said Hargrove. “We have a lot of fun, which is the key. People bought memberships because it’s a fun thing. They want to improve their driving skill.”
Johnson said she has received a lot of inquiries regarding the track. She also handles the day-to-day operations.
“Everyone seems to be curious and want to know more about the track, it’s exciting,” she said. “The community is creating a lot of buzz.”
Corporate members also get use of the track. They are alloted four private track days per year. Those members are companies, car dealerships, or manufacturers. Area27 has upwards in the 60 corporate event days. Johnson said members seem extremely happy and come away with smiles.
The track at Area27 is complete, but other aspects of the facility are still being worked on as the area leased from the Osoyoos Indian Band is 227 acres. With different phases planned, work will continue over the next five to six years. Drossos said the project was conceived as a motorsports resort.