Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Montreal Grand Prix: How to get there if you're handicapped

For the 9th year, I was in Montreal this past weekend for the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. It was the best race I have seen thus far, with tight battles, lots of passing, interesting accidents and great support races. It was also a different weekend for me because I was on crutches and unable to get around that well, and I'll start with that because I could not for the life of me find anything on the 'net that talked about handicap access to the Montreal Grand Prix race.

The moment I broke my leg in April, I contacted Octane Racing, the promoter of the event, and gave them my predicament. My seats in Grandstand 11 are 3 km from the Metro station, and worse, the Metro is (1) basically the only way to get to the track, and (b) not handicap/wheelchair accessible. There are very few stations with elevators, and most are nothing but LOTS of stairs. Crutchers hate stairs.

I thought we would take a taxi to the track. You can do that; it generally doesn't get you much closer, but it's better than a wheelchair inaccessible Metro. I thought I would rent a wheelchair, and travel in a wheelchair the 2.5 km from where I thought the taxi would drop me.

So I called Octane (several times; it's hard to get them to call back) and explained my predicament. No problem, they said. They asked me to send them a note from my doctor, copies of my x-rays, and copies of my tickets. I did, but they gave me the wrong e-mail address (a .com address instead of a .ca), so I waited (and waited) and finally got back to them asking what next. After I finally got them the info they needed, they rush couriered me a parking pass to lot P7. I told them I wanted to take a taxi; I got a parking pass instead.

The back of the pass
I had no idea you could park on the track. I had no idea where P7 was (other than it was near my grandstand), nor how to get there. They sent no instructions about how to get there. I asked via e-mail how to get to P7; their answer was take the bridge (not helpful; there are two). And there are 16 parking lots on the track. I figured we could get a taxi to take us there, and the taxi driver would know -- but Montreal taxi drivers have never struck me as knowing much. So finally, we figured we would take a risk, rent a car and follow the signs.

On the Friday, we drove across the Cartier bridge to the normal access point for Parc Jean Drapeau, where the circuit is. No signs, for F1 or parking or anything. We knew we had to get onto Isle Notre Dame, so we followed the signs for that. Then a truck with a P7 tag pulled a U-turn and got in front of us so we followed him. 
Low traffic in the middle of the island
Passing the Biosphere
After security checked our parking pass, we drove across the Cosmos bridge (used by 50% of the 100,000 people who come to the race via the Metro), around the back side of the support race pits...
A tent full of Ferraris 
Some racing team
Dudes working on race cars
...then passed through security who checked our parking pass, and cross checked it to our Grandstand 11 tickets. Cleared through, we drove on the far side of the rowing basin on a dusty gravel road...
The view of the Casino across the basin
...past the access for the F1 teams, drivers and media...
Left to P7, right to the exit and where the bigwigs park
... to the back corner of the circuit -- which is where P7 is, but also where nearly every forklift in Montreal is parked (Note: when we left on Sunday, ALL of them were in motion).
Hundreds lined each side
P7 is a small space in the trees, with room for at most 100 cars. And they are packed in so tightly that they make you leave your name and phone number so if the car behind you needs to leave, they can. And there is a tow truck stationed there full time to tow people out of the way who won't answer their phones.
The cars are 6 deep
P7 is about 50 yards from Grandstand 11 & 12. There's a small space where some company was hosting a private party. The road was full of McLaren, Marussia and Mercedes team palates, all marked "Catering Supplies".

We spoke with a few folks parked there about how they got their passes. Most were handicap folks like us, who asked Octane for them. Some were VIPs, but in a place where George Lucas was at the track, I'm not thinking they were too important.

Getting out of that back-fourty was interesting. On Saturday and Sunday, they open a quick exit to downtown across the Victoria Bridge, which is literally 200 m from the P7 parking lot. On Friday, that exit isn't open because it runs beside the first lock on the St. Lawrence Seaway. So on Friday, you almost retrace your steps, though you actually drive down to other side of the rowing basin, where the REAL VIPs park. Like, say, Raikkonen, Hamilton & Rosberg (the latter two had left by the time we drove by, but Raikonnen's Ferrari was there)...
Expensive parking
...and Ricciardo's Infinity Q50s was still there, complete with "My other car is an RB10" bumper sticker...
...and Valteri Bottas' BMW X5 was there, too.
Vergne had left, however
This is how the drivers cross the rowing basin to get to their cars.
Walking on water, like all Gods
In the end, it turns out that Octane Management was VERY accommodating in providing me a parking pass. Once we figured it out, it was quick and easy to get there. It was WAY easier (and cheaper) to rent a car than take taxis, and not actually much more expensive than taking the Metro.

Now all we have to do is get one of our group to break their leg every year...