Okay, it was a really exciting finish at Montreal yesterday – when Carl Edwards managed to pass Marcos Ambrose on the very last corner of the very last lap to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Circuit-Gilles Villeneuve – but the significant news of the weekend is that NASCAR has got its eye on Toronto and this could mean big trouble for the Indy Racing League.
Okay, let’s take this from the top, one step at a time.
The Nationwide race in Montreal this weekend was the third. However, it was the first promoted entirely by the International Speedway Corp., which is a) NASCAR and b) the France family.
ISC previously was in partership with Quebec auto-racing giant Normand Legault in the venture known as Stock Car Montreal. They bought out Legault several months ago and NASCAR is now in charge of all racing at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, including the Formula One race – if it ever comes back.
The stock car race this weekend attracted more than 100,000 fans, which is impressive.
ISC officials said this weekend that the company would work hard over the next few years to solidify the spectacle and then would consider expanding from Montreal – to Toronto and Vancouver.
Now, Canada has always been open wheel country. Stock car racing exists – and has existed – at small speedways all across the country but the big national events over the last 50 years have been Formula Atlantic, Formula B, Formula A, Indy cars (primarily CART) and Formula One.
F1 has been a Montreal mainstay since 1978. Toronto, Vancouver and – more recently – Edmonton have been Canadian markets for Indy-type racing since the mid-eighties.
The Vancouver Indy car race went away a few years ago when the business community said it could not support it because all its marketing and promotions budgets would be going toward the 2010 Winter Olympics. That’s how Edmonton got its race
Toronto lost its race for a year when Champ Car and the IRL suddenly merged in early 2008 and it was too late to squeeze T.O. into the schedule. It returned this summer as the Honda Indy Toronto but it was far from the stellar spectacle it had been for years going back to 1986.
So the IRL and Andretti-Green Promotions, owners of the race, have their work cut out for them. If they want to protect their turf, and the growth of Indy car racing in Canada, they had better start working to improve the 2010 race and the 2011 race and so-on. And that means starting right now, not six weeks out from the event.
They have been warned. A repeat of this summer’s lacklustre, poorly organized race and Toronto will be ripe for the picking by NASCAR (which, in the end, some people might think is not such a bad idea . . . )
– David Brabham and Scott Sharp won the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Mosport yesterday. Please see my race reports from the weekend at wheels.ca
– Andrew Ranger finished third in that Nationwide race, behind Edwards and Ambrose. Jacques Villeneuve was fourth. Kyle Busch was tenth. Last year’s winner, Ron Fellows, was a victim of the bashin' and bumpin' of NASCAR racing and his car was eventually too damaged to continue. He was classified 35th.
– J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge won the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve yesterday. Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., was second and Kerry Micks of Mt. Albert, Ont., was third.
Pierre Bourque of Ottawa was seventh, which is a terrific result for him.
Defending champion Scott Steckly of Milverton, Ont., went upside down after colliding with Don Thomson Jr. of Ayr, Ont. He wasn’t hurt.
– Ryan Briscoe won the IRL race at Chicagoland Saturday night. Scottt Dixon was second and Mario Moraes was third.