2014 TestFest: Viva Niagara!

American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls & Niagara Falls - Shaun Keenan 2014
American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls & Niagara Falls – Shaun Keenan 2014

What a week it has been, my friends! I just returned home from six days and six nights in the beautiful and vivacious gorge town known as Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was no second honeymoon and, no, I wasn’t there to gamble. I did break even at the Fallsview Casino roulette wheel though — the only gambling device I’ve ever had any success with — but no big jackpots this time. Well…

My task was to drive as many brand new 2014 and 2015 model year vehicles of various shapes, sizes and capabilities in an effort to find the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s, 2015 Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY). Along with 70 or so other automotive journalists from across this great nation called Canada (RIP Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent — Oh Canada!), we have done just that! But even we don’t find out who wins until the 2015 Toronto auto show next spring.

You don’t have to wait that long though because I’m giving this round to… the 2015 Ford Mustang.

2015 Ford Mustang GT - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Ford Mustang GT – Shaun Keenan 2014

The new Mustang GT, with its 435-hp 5.0 V8, fully-independent suspension and all of its other upgrades, is super composed and predictable in corners like it has never been before. It could be the next AJAC Canadian Car of the Year (dare I say it handles even better than the 444-hp 2012 Boss 302?), but the new Mustang EcoBoost is an even likelier candidate for that. Its 310-hp 2.3L turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine is the stuff that winning is made of. Plain and simple. And that’s not even taking into consideration the Performance package the three test cars were packing.

2015 Ford Mustang - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Ford Mustang – Shaun Keenan 2014

After the dust had settled upon my driving 29 out of a possible 50 qualifying vehicles — mostly luxury and performance ones, of course — and shredding the Challenger Hellcats Pirellis thoroughly and truly with a burnout Ralph Gilles would have been proud of to put a double exclamation point on what was a near perfect week; the real excitement for me — both personally and professionally — took place on the eve of the final day of our little TestFest.

As much fun as it is to drive cool cars all week long, away from my usual stationary desk in Toronto where I manage a great team of up-and-coming editorial talent, it is a lot of exhaustive work for all involved. So, thank you to everyone who helped make this TestFest perhaps my best one ever. Sure, there were many familiar faces missing from this year’s event, but that meant I had more time to meet new and interesting people in my circle of friends and peers.

Like most week-long gatherings, partaking in some evening festivities is part of the crusade. Some of it is even mandatory. Well, only the annual general meeting is mandatory, but missing AJAC’s house band “The Troubadours” rock out  to a full house inside Margaritaville, or the Automotive Journalism Awards banquet on the penultimate night was not on the agenda this year.

The Troubadours rockin’ out at this year’s AJAC party at Margaritaville in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, October 21st
The Troubadours rockin’ out at this year’s AJAC party at Margaritaville in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, October 21st

The latter function is what made this week a bitter-sweet one for me because not only did Ignition Luxury & Performance win a print design award for the third consecutive year, I managed to break the egg on the writing side this year, after a decade of trying. Now, I’ve won photography awards in the past and, while I don’t use the best equipment or consider myself a pro, I can still get great results. On the other hand, with writing I am the only equipment; and, while it’s true that all I need is a computer with a keyboard, there is no shortage of world-class automotive writers in AJAC. So, to win the 2014 Wakefield Castrol Award for Journalism (for vehicle testing), I’m extremely happy about it! It’s nice to have those monkeys off my back. So, thank you to VW Canada for inviting me/the magazine to drive the 2015 Golf GTI this summer for it was a truly memorable experience for me.

Shaun Keenan: Winner: Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing), presented by Ian Hutchison, Marketing Manager Wakefield Canada Inc.
Shaun Keenan: Winner: Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing), presented by Ian Hutchison, Marketing Manager Wakefield Canada Inc.

The Wakefield Award has been a mainstay of the association for 18 years. This year’s judges were three experienced Canadian automotive writers themselves, Dale Bass of Kamloops, BC, Gordon Walker of Toronto and Chris Allan of Montreal.

I can’t wait to deliver our second Kia Design Award (third including a runner-up for the 2012 Nissan Design & Layout Award) to our team of amazing graphic designers at the Performance Publications Media Group office on Monday morning, and I’m sure they’ll congratulate me on my award too.

An Automotive Journalist is at the ready to evaluate a Dodge Challenger in the Sports/Performance over 50k category, on a course set up for “real world” back to back testing at “Test Fest” in Niagara Falls on Wednesday, October 22nd
An Automotive Journalist is at the ready to evaluate a Dodge Challenger in the Sports/Performance over 50k category, on a course set up for “real world” back to back testing at “Test Fest” in Niagara Falls on Wednesday, October 22nd

But while I might be satisfied right now, those who know me well know that I won’t be for long. And that’s all well and good because we are only just getting started. The pedal is staying pinned to the floorboard, and what better way to proceed than to head straight to Las Vegas for the huge annual SEMA Show?! ‘Hey Vegas! I’ll see you next week. Get your jackpots ready! I also fully expect to see some 500-hp EcoBoosted 2015 ‘Stangs on the floor, so don’t disappoint.’

Ah, oh yeah, just wait until the Winter 2014 issue of Ignition Luxury & Performance magazine comes out. It’s gonna be a doozy! And there will be plenty more on the vehicles in the 2015 CCOTY competition in our upcoming 2015-16 Luxury & Performance Buyers Guide as well.

 

More photos below…

2015 AJAC CCOTY TestFest - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 AJAC CCOTY TestFest – Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible – Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Corvette Stingray Convertible – Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe - Shaun Keenan 2014
2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe – Shaun Keenan 2014
Automotive Journalists pose with the Canadian Tire truck ice sculpture, as part of the “Winter Lounge” hosted by Canadian Tire in the Hilton Hotel’s Mystic Lounge, high above Niagara Falls on Monday, October 20th
Automotive Journalists pose with the Canadian Tire truck ice sculpture, as part of the “Winter Lounge” hosted by Canadian Tire in the Hilton Hotel’s Mystic Lounge, high above Niagara Falls on Monday, October 20th
Automotive Journalists enjoy the festive atmosphere as part of the “Winter Lounge” hosted by Canadian Tire in the Hilton Hotel’s Mystic Lounge, high above Niagara Falls on Monday, October 20th
Automotive Journalists enjoy the festive atmosphere as part of the “Winter Lounge” hosted by Canadian Tire in the Hilton Hotel’s Mystic Lounge, high above Niagara Falls on Monday, October 20th
Automotive Journalists enjoying this year’s AJAC party at Margaritaville in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, October 21st
Automotive Journalists enjoying this year’s AJAC party at Margaritaville in Niagara Falls on Tuesday, October 21st

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Shaun Keenan, Runner-up: Best Print Design Award presented by Kia Canada, awarded by Jack Sulymak, National Manager of Corporate Communications
Shaun Keenan, Runner-up: Best Print Design Award presented by Kia Canada, awarded by Jack Sulymak, National Manager of Corporate Communications
Shaun Keenan: Winner: Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing), presented by Ian Hutchison, Marketing Manager Wakefield Canada Inc.
Shaun Keenan: Winner: Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing), presented by Ian Hutchison, Marketing Manager Wakefield Canada Inc.
Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing)
Wakefield Castrol Award for Automotive Writing (Vehicle Testing)
Runner-up: Best Print Design Award presented by Kia Canada
Runner-up: Best Print Design Award presented by Kia Canada