Saanich racer takes aim at podium in North West series

Gavin Aitken sits in third place in North West Formula Continental standings heading into weekend race at Mission Raceway

Gavin Aitken keeps his F2000 formula racecar in the garage of his home near Prospect Lake where he works on it between races. Aitken won the Vancouver Grand Prix at Mission in 2015 and is hoping to defend his title this weekend.

At the bottom of a well-treed slope, Gavin Aitken wheels his 1,200-pound Formula C race car from his garage onto the middle of his driveway near Prospect Lake.

The car is prepped for Aitken’s race this weekend at Mission Raceway, where he hopes to repeat his 2015 success by winning the Ronald McDonald House Formula C championship.

It’s the third leg of the five-event North West Formula Continental series and it’s Aitken’s third season competing in it. If he wins this weekend, the 35-year-old will jump into the first or second spot in the North West FC standings, where he currently sits third. Aitken started the season with first and third place finishes at the first two races of the year, hosted in Spokane.

“I’d like to win the series if I can,” he said. “It was a good start in Spokane, especially since we weren’t planning on going.”

Aitken credits local mechanic shop Autospiel for rushing the Formula 2000 car into race shape in only two days ahead of the Spokane race.

“We were getting some pretty major stuff done starting Wednesday with the race on Saturday, but they were game to finish it,” Aitken said. “They worked all day and night so we were ready to travel down on the Friday morning.”

It takes a lot of community and family support to run a formula race car, he added. His wife, Jennifer, has played a big part, though she’s pulled back a bit with the arrival of their two-month old son Teddy. On any given weeknight, it’s Aitken and his brother-in-law Blaine Alexander in the garage, taking the car apart and putting it back together again.

“Finishing the race is probably the hardest part, it’s pretty common for cars not to finish. You have to check and tighten every single bolt, like a pre-flight check for an airline,” Aitken said.

Then there’s the financial costs, which is the biggest barrier to auto racing. As an entrepreneur Aitken is able to fund himself.

Aitken co-founded the local tech company Go2Mobi in 2011, a successful start up that won its fourth Viatec business award last month.

“I work hard at the business so I can afford to race, this car gives me that opportunity,” he said.

Aitken didn’t grow up in an auto racing family that some drivers do. He played hockey and did some triathlons as an adult.

“The thing I enjoy about racing is how it requires physical and mental skills,” Aitken said.

The average speed around the track is about 150 km/h, causing a lateral G force of more than 2Gs.

“I equate it to the focus needed to hit a golf ball, then holding that focus for 30 to 45 minutes [which is the length of his races].”

If just looking at the Formula 2000 doesn’t already say it, the car gets going pretty fast. The English-made, two-litre engine can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds, 0 to 160 km/h in 8.6 seconds and reaches a top speed on the track of around 220 km/h.

Formula 2000 is a step below Mazda’s Road to Indy on the ladder to North America’s top open wheel competition. It would be a big jump, especially for a 35-year-old, Aitken admits, but he’s not closing any doors.

“I’m not expecting to go pro but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it if I could. I do like racing and plan to keep going with it.”

To no surprise, there is another race car in his driveway. It’s not the black Porsche he drives to work, but a well-used 1990s Subaru sedan.

“I got into racing through rally cars but I got tired of spending 10 hours scraping dirt out of every crevice after a race,” Aitken said.

Instead he replaced the suspension on the Subaru with a road-kit and started timing his runs at Western Speedway. That led to the purchase of the Formula 2000, which he may soon take to Western Speedway for some solo runs as he looks to maximize the car’s performance, he said.

 

The final race of the North West FC schedule is at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton on Aug. 27-28.

 

 

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