When J.R. Fitzpatrick heard that Quebec’s Circuit ICAR would host a race in next year’s NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, he immediately decided to take another crack at winning the national championship.
Fitzpatrick, a 22-year-old from Cambridge who finished second in this season’s points race behind champion D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, had decided to focus his 2011 efforts on racing primarily in the United States, where he’s had some success the past two years in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
To that end, Fitzpatrick’s father, John, put two of the race team’s cars up for sale and laid off long-time employee — and five-time CASCAR champion — Don Thomson Jr. in order to more fully concentrate on marketing and promoting his son’s career down south.
All that changed for J.R. when he heard the news about Circuit ICAR, which has been developed at the old Mirabel Airport site, north of Montreal.
“I can safely say that I’ll more than likely be back here (in the Canadian Tire series), young Fitzpatrick said yesterday at a VIP Reception hosted by NASCAR at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District where details of the 2011 season were released.
“I’m pretty bumped up seeing that one road course there (ICAR). You can bet your ass I’ll be up there come April, testing that place. As soon as I heard the news, I texted one of my good friends who has online racing games. I told him to find that place and I got him to load it up for me and I’ll tell you, I can hardly wait to get out there practicing.”
Details for a 12-race series for the national championship were issued during the reception.
The season will start at Mosport Speedway on May 28 and conclude at Kawartha Speedway on Sept. 24. In between, the series will travel to Circuit ICAR (June 5), Delaware Speedway near London (June 11), Mosport’s road course (June 26), the Honda Indy Toronto (July 9), Motoplex Speedway near Vernon, B.C. (July 23), Auto Clearing Motor Speedway at Saskatoon (July 27), Trois-Rivieres for the Grand Prix there (Aug. 7), Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve (Aug. 20), Barrie Speedway (Sept. 10) and Riverside Speedway near Antigonish, N.S. (Sept. 17).
Missing is the Honda Indy Edmonton, originally scheduled for July 23. But since negotiations to get that event back on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule have resumed, the NASCAR Canada race — which would be part and parcel of that weekend — could fit in if the race in Vernon, B.C. was moved back a week.
Only time will tell about that, however.
Mosport President and General Manager Myles Brandt appeared pleased that Mosport Speedway would kick off the 2011 season — a position on the calendar that’s been occupied in recent years by Delaware Speedway.
“We did want the opening race,” he said. “We thought it would be something special, particularly with D.J. (Kennington) and Castrol being the champion. And we’re hoping to use the oval race to drive people to the road course event (a month later).”
Drivers and series officials had plenty to say about all the locales but Circuit ICAR, the new track on the block, kept cropping up in conversation.
“Airport road courses are good for car owners,” said Jim Bray, veteran NASCAR race driver and current owner of two entries in the Canadian Tire Series.
“They have a lot of ‘egress,’ as they say downtown, so there’s not a lot of walls to get into.”
Fitzpatrick, after he finished praising ICAR, cautioned that nothing was “set in stone just yet,” but did say he liked racing in the Canadian Tire Series.
“Obviously, I’d like to come back and race (in the Canadian Tire Series). We had a fairly good year, considering a lot of things broke. Getting down in the States — and D.J.’ll tell you the same thing — is really hard; it takes a lot of money and the money’s just not there right now. I have people working on that stuff for me and they’re doing a good job. If that does not happen for the States, then I’ll be 100 per cent focused on winning this championship.”
Fitzpatrick, who's had some memorable dices with two-time series champion Andrew Ranger — who’s been trying his luck mostly in the U.S. this year — said he wished his opponent would come back to Canada to race more.
“Him and I, we might not get along, but we put on a good show together," Fitzpatrick said. "He’s probably one of the best in this division and we both know it. We run each other hard and it’s a lot of fun.
“Is he coming back next year? I hope so. I bet he’s been at that track before (ICAR), so I’ll have to do my homework.”
— It’s Canada, folks, and someone from NASCAR should have checked on the pronunciation of the names of some pretty important Canadian racing figures. One NASCAR executive up from the U.S. could not pronounce the name of the patron saint of Canadian motorsport, Gilles Villeneuve. Not good. . . .
— There was a second announcement of great importance yesterday. The Ferrari Challenge series, for owners of those magnificent, exotic sports cars, will be racing next July as part of the program at the Honda Indy Toronto. Usually seen only at the Formula One Grand Prix of Canada in Montreal, the Ferrari drivers put on a great show.
One of them, former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisebois, could do double duty. As well as the Ferrari Challenge, Brisebois could also find himself racing in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event, which is also on the Honda Indy program.
Leafs fans could turn out en masse and boo . . .
— Don Thomson Jr., who lost his ride when the Fitzpatricks decided to scale back their racing team, is “looking around.” Thomson said at the reception that he’s got a meeting scheduled with long-time sponsor Home Hardware, and after that he’ll have a better idea of what he’ll be doing in 2011.
2011 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Schedule
Sat., May 28 Mosport Speedway (.5-Mile) Bowmanville, Ont.
Sun., June 5 Circuit ICAR (1.86-Mile road course) Montreal, Que.
Sat., June 11 Delaware Speedway (.5-Mile) London, Ont.
Sun., June 26 Mosport Int'l Raceway (2.459-Mile road course) Bowmanville, Ont.
Sat. July 9 Toronto Exhibition Place (1.755-Mile road course) Toronto, Ont.
Sat., July 23 Motoplex Speedway (.5-Mile) Vernon, B. C.
Wed., July 27 Auto Clearing Motor Speedway (.333-Mile) Saskatoon, Sask.
Sun., Aug. 7 Circuit de Trois-Rivieres (1.53-Mile road course) Trois-Rivieres, Que.
Sat., Aug. 20 Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (2.709-Mile road course) Montreal, Que.
Sat., Sept. 10 Barrie Speedway (.333-Mile) Barrie, Ont.
Sat., Sept. 17 Riverside Int’l Speedway (.333-Mile) Antigonish, N. S.
Sat., Sept. 24 Kawartha Speedway (.375-Mile) Peterborough, Ont.
Tentative - Subject to Change