At just 13 years old, St. Michael Catholic Elementary School Grade 7 student Oliver Regier already has three years of kart racing under his belt. And if he has his way, he will eventually realize his dream of competing in the Formula 1 or IndyCar Series, like his hero, Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe.
Oliver’s father, local Royal LePage agent Stefan Regier, has been a fan of F1 racing for as long as he can remember. When his oldest son was born, many weekends were spent cradling Oliver on his chest while watching his favourite driver, Kimi Raikkonen, compete on the track.
Stefan has no racing experience himself, other than hanging around with a close friend who attended the Bridgestone Academy and dabbled with competitive driving, until it got too expensive. But since day one, it’s always been a way the two have bonded.
So one could say Oliver has come by his love of racing naturally.
Three years ago, Oliver began the Arrive and Drive program at Cameron Motor Sports in Hamilton. He completed the introductory weekend program, earning his racing licence that summer. He continued going to the track almost weekly, gaining confidence, getting used to the open-wheel go-karts, and learning how to strategize and navigate the track. Most professional drivers begin their career on the kart circuit.
Powered by a Briggs & Stratton engine, the karts are able to reach a top speed of about 70 kilometres per hour. They are totally open, and the drivers are not belted in. It sounds dangerous, but this is actually a safety precaution. The open cars have no roll cage, so if there is a rollover, the driver needs to be able to be thrown from the car, says Stefan.
He also points out that the race suit Oliver wears has an external “rib-cage.” It’s there to protect the driver’s ribs from bruising as he is jostled back and forth within the kart. It also provides protection in the event of a collision.
In the Arrive and Drive program, Oliver drives cars provided and maintained by Cameron Motor Sports. The family pays a fee for the privilege of using the equipment.
Last year Oliver stepped up to the Canadian Mini Indy Rookie Series, as a competitor. The Hamilton races run on a bi-weekly schedule. Each session includes two practice runs, two qualification heats, and a feature race.
In 2018, in a field of about 100 drivers from all over Southern Ontario, he placed third overall at the end of the season.
Also last year, he took part in a Make-A-Wish Foundation charity race in Toronto, where he finished second. There, he stepped on to the podium next to Canadian professional drivers Robert Wickens and his hero, James Hinchcliffe.
The following week, during the Toronto Indy, Hinchcliffe recognized Oliver, who was wearing a Hinchcliffe ball cap, in a sea of people. His idol took Oliver’s hat and signed it for him.
Watching his son race is a thrilling experience, says Stefan. The family, including mom Sarah and younger siblings Simon and Charlotte, has spent a lot of time at the track.
Stefan, in particular, has enjoyed talking strategy on the way to Hamilton. As well, he usually parks himself at the corner of the track, cell phone in hand, shooting video of his son’s practice laps. Once Oliver steps from the kart, father and son discuss how he did on his cornering, with particular focus on the timing of his braking. As Stefan says, races are won with the brakes, not with the accelerator.
Oliver is focused. Stefan always thought of his son as mild-mannered, but noticed for the first time, through his racing, how competitive he is.
“When Oliver’s on the track, he’s there to win it. He’s not there to be your friend. He’s there to take first place and go home with points.”
Oliver’s will to compete, and to win, has prompted him to develop his own strategies for preparing for every race. For race day, he ensures he gets a good night’s sleep the night before, and follows a strict diet the day of, heavy in protein and carbs. It is essential that his body be ready for the gruelling physicality of the 15-lap circuit.
The practice laps are key, as they allow him to understand the track layout as well as to plan his “race lines,” or his way around that layout. As Stefan says, it’s key that Oliver drives “the fastest 15 laps, not the fastest lap” in order to win.
Oliver is back on the track again this spring, heading into his fifth competitive race in the junior lightweight class this week. The classes don’t necessarily go by age, but instead by weight.
Through four races thus far in the 2019 schedule, Oliver has been on the podium each time.
His last race was the Victoria Day Cup. In that one, he held onto first place until a minor slip-up in the sixth corner. He fell back to fifth, then clawed his way back to finish second. Though admittedly it is early, he is currently tied for first in the season points standings.
Oliver races on Wednesday nights, but often takes part in weekend practice sessions. There, he gets to learn from and watch the pro drivers, who pilot their own karts on the same track, hitting speeds exceeding 100 kilometres per hour.
As the kart racing schedule occupies him from early April to Thanksgiving, Oliver is left with little time for typical teenage boy pursuits, such as soccer and hockey. And that’s fine for Oliver, as he is singularly focused on getting better and better each week.
The next phase in his progression as a driver will involve stepping up to his own kart. As Stefan points out, this is where it becomes real. From what he has researched, it will involve an annual budget of about $120,000 per year.
Buying the kart is the least of the expenses. Each week’s race requires a new set of tires. With his own kart, the cost of maintenance is up to his team.
And then there’s the travel expense, as he would be stepping away from racing strictly at the Cameron Motor Sports track. Sponsorship, of course, would be a big help when that time comes.
And when the time comes that Oliver reaches his 18th birthday, he is hoping he can enrol in the Bridgestone Racing Academy, where his hero Hinchcliffe trained.
Recently, Oliver asked his father if he would have to move to the Kawartha Lakes area to attend the school. Of course, that would be part of the deal.
Despite the cost, and the potential distance if he’s accepted into the Bridgestone Academy, the Regier family is willing to do what it takes to help Oliver to continue to chase his dream.