Speeding, panic stops and slaloms – all in a safe setting

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LEWISTON – Autocross is coming to the parking lot of the Androscoggin Bank Colisee Sunday, July 22. Several dozen contestants, both club members and novices, are expected to take part in the event, being held under the auspices of the Cumberland Motor Club.

Autocross competition is run on a traffic-cone course with one car at a time attempting to achieve the best time and accuracy against a list of similar vehicles. It’s set up similar to a slalom course for skiers with turns and gates delineated by placement of red and yellow cones.

“This will definitely be a novice-friendly event,” said Chris Moberg, who is CMC’s autocross chairman. He said a new venue usually brings out a lot of newcomers and interested spectators.

The objective of autocross, known as gymkhana and Solo II, is to teach a driver how the vehicle used every day handles in emergency situations (turns at higher than normal speeds, panic stops, slaloms).

Developing these skills makes for a safer driver, Moberg said. It’s also a good opportunity for younger drivers to experience exceptional moving conditions in a controlled environment..

Founded in 1957, CMC is Maine’s pre-eminent motor sports club with 15 events scheduled in the southern, central and Down East areas of the state, Moberg said. Besides autocross, the club holds rallies and social events.

Moberg said public participation in the July 22 autocross is encouraged, and spectators are welcome, at no charge, as long as they check in, wear a wristband they will be given and stay in designated areas.

“You don’t have to be a member to enter a car,” said Moberg, who expects a fairly high number of people who are new to autocross try test their vehicles and their driving skills on the Colisee course.

All cars are inspected by an on-site team to ensure that the wheels are secure, that the brakes function, and that there are no loose objects inside the car or under the hood. Batteries must be secured. All drivers must wear an approved helmet. Loaner helmets will be available.

Before competing, drivers walk through the course with a veteran who explains when they will speed up, slow down and turn. First-time participants can ride along with an experienced autocross participant before taking the wheel.

“The majority of the entrants are just daily drivers,” Moberg said. Some drivers bring modified cars, but past autocross events have seen everything from a Volkswagen Rabbit bought for $1 to Mercedes Benz 600 SLs.

Top speeds are around 45 mph. Since it’s not a wheel-to-wheel race, damage is unlikely. Nevertheless, Moberg points out that the course is stressful on tires and brakes.

Registration for the events is at 8:30 a.m. The first car will take to the course at 10 a.m. Late entrants (after 9:30 a.m.) will pay an extra $5.

CMC advises participants to bring about $20 to cover entry fees, as well as a bag lunch, some water or juice, sunblock, a lawn chair, and a tire pressure gauge.

“The event goes on rain or shine,” Moberg said. “We only stop for lightning.”

The Cumberland Motor Club has held recent autocross events at the Windham Mall, the Portland Jetport annex, the University of Maine at Orono and Storyland Park in Glen, N.H.

“We look for venues with a big space, like the Colisee parking lot,” Moberg said. “We bring exposure, and the event offers something for them, something for us.”

He said the Colisee building will not be open during the event.

For more information about autocross, including a short video shot through the windshield of a car navigating a course, go to the Cumberland Motor Club’s Web site at www.cumberlandmotorclub.com.

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