• Grand Prix of Canada

Racing Roundup: Both the Grand Prix and Honda Indy are still on 

My brush with Murray Walker; Max fastest in F1 test, new Ontario sprint car series launched and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald March 15, 2021

Everybody – well, nearly everybody – is asking the same questions:

Will we have a Formula One Grand Prix of Canada in Montreal this year?

Will we have a Honda Indy in Toronto this year?

Both races were cancelled last year because of COVID but a year later, with vaccines going into arms, there is hope these races, can be held.

So here is the situation as of this morning.

The Grand Prix of Canada, scheduled for June 11-13 is on. The F1 team in Montreal is working as if there will be a race. However, they will know for sure sometime in the middle of April when the government says whether it will be a go or no go. Why then? Because it takes two months to set everything up. So April 10 would be the deadline.

The Honda Indy Toronto, scheduled for July 9-11 is on. Jeff Atkins, president and general manager, told me he is optimistic there will be a race and there is no reason for him to think otherwise.

My take: it will be impossible to hold a Grand Prix in Montreal in June. No provincial premier or public health official would give the green light for something to be held with spectators. Just 25 per cent of the race day crowd would be 25,000 and even if COVID suddenly disappeared tomorrow, nobody would take the chance of kick-starting the pandemic again.

The only way the race could be held this year would be for promoter Francois Dumontier to ask for the Canadian race to be held in September and even then there would be no guarantee because some models are showing there could be a third wave across the country. Everybody will have to be vaccinated – the prime minister says that would be by September (although he has also said the end of September) but if this thing flares up again, all bets are off.

Same thing with the Honda Indy. It would be a miracle if it could be held as scheduled. Whether Atkins could convince the city to let him close down Lake Short Blvd. in the fall would be a challenge. I think by New Year’s Eve, 2022, we’ll be in the clear. Maybe that’s when we can start to get excited about watching big-time racing again.

Speaking of the Grand Prix, I was wondering along pit lane in Montreal back in the mid-90s and looking for the great writer Nigel Roebuck and who should come walking along, carrying a briefcase, but Murray Walker, who died at the weekend at age 97. I knew him right away – he was a member of all our families, after all – although he didn’t know me from Adam. He wasn’t very big, probably 5-8, but stocky. Solid. He could’ve played football – our football – when he was younger. When he spoke, he sounded exactly like he did when he was on the air. A voice that said Formula One. Like Paul Page’s voice said Indy cars and Danny Gallivan and Foster Hewitt said Montreal and Toronto hockey. You heard those voices and you knew who and what was on the television. Anyway, he looked around and then said, “What is your name?” And I told him. “If I bump into him I’ll tell him you’re looking for him. You’ll be at the media centre?” And I said yes. We shook hands – a firm handshake, by the way – and off he went, nodding hello to each and every person he met.

Now, I can’t write a tribute to Murray Walker that would really do him justice. But if you click here, you won’t be disappointed. Liberty Media’s F1 website has prepared a tribute and it’s beautiful. (5) Formula 1 on Twitter: “”It was never work to Murray, it was never just commentating, it was simply telling the world about something he loved.” Murray Walker remembered…

Meantime, F1 had a pre-season test in Bahrain, two weeks out from the opening race. As many have pointed out, you can never really tell who’s doing what during testing as some teams are running race distances and others are trying to show off by setting quick times because they hardly have any fuel in the tank.

But Red Bull looked particularly good, setting fast time every time Max Verstappen was on the track. Vallteri Bottas was quick for Mercedes in one session while Lewis Hamilton (slow) and Sebastian Vettel (mechanical) both couldn’t really get up to speed.

Vettel’s teammate Lance Stroll of Montreal didn’t turn any heads either, with a slow time. The Toronto-connected Williams (sponsored by a Toronto company and one car driven by a Toronto driver) went well, both George Russell and Nicholas Latifi setting reasonable times that might have seen them starting mid-field if the times had been set in qualifying.

One thing bothered me. With just one on-track test between winter and the first race of the 23-race season, Williams had a Formula 2 driver, Roy Nissany, in the car on the first day of the test. Yes, he has a development contract with Williams but with so little time, would it not have been better to let him drive in one or two first-practice Fridays rather than taking up a whole day of a three-day test, giving the regular drivers just one day apiece.

So I asked Latifi about this during a trans-Atlantic zoom session on Saturday and he allowed that he wasn’t too happy about the situation.

“First, I’ll state the obvious: there are only three days of testing so you want all the time in the car that you can get. It’s obviously a team decision; he has a contract with the team. But when I was the reserve driver, I sometimes had to forego my time in the car so the regular derivers could do a proper test. It’s part of it. I think because it was just a few days of testing, it wasn’t ideal but I guess I would assume his deal would have been in place before we found out there were only a few days of testing. It’s how it goes sometimes.”

Now we wait. The F1 season can’t come soon enough. The first one or two NASCAR Cup races were good but I’m sick of the roundy-round now.

Grand Prix of Canada


In a release last week, Multimatic Motorsport of Markham announced it had been chosen by Porsche to supply the spec damper for the new 2021 Porsche 992-based, 911 GT3 Cup car. Multimatic DSSV dampers are used by many of the world’s top racing teams, including 40 per cent of the 2021 Formula 1 grid. Now, the release said, every new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car, competing in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and numerous national Carrera Cups will benefit from the very same Multimatic DSSV technology. Good stuff.

A new, Ontario-only, touring 360 sprint car series called the Knights of Thunder will launch in April and conclude in October. Race drivers, including Jim Huppunen, Cory Turner, Glenn Styres, Aaron Turkey and Holly Porter, will strap in for 27 feature races at seven speedways in the province – Brighton, Humberstone, Merrittville, Ohsweken, Brockville, Cornwall and Southern Ontario Motor Speedway (formerly South Buxton). As well as weekly shows, holiday races are planned at Merrittville on Victoria Day weekend, Canada Day at Humberstone, Labour Day weekend at Brighton, and Monday and Tuesday night shows at Ohsweken as part of the first NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series stock car dirt race. The series website has all the information: knightsofthunder.com.

Now, that is a lot of races for any series, never mind one that’s brand new. I suspect this is because of the uncertainty surrounding the entertainment industry brought on by the Covid crisis. Races could get cancelled, for instance, so the schedule looks to be front-loaded. Many of the racers travel to speedways in Michigan, Ohio and New York (and vice-versa) and can’t, so long as the border is closed (those races at Brockville and Cornwall, for instance, would be in partnership with the Patriot sprints and the Empire State Super Sprints Series out of New York and the plug could be pulled on them if the racers can’t cross over. Maintaining any kind of pro racing car costs money and this looks to be an attempt to get some cash into wallets.

Gavin Sanders, Rookie of the Year in the Nissan Micra Cup Series last season, will move up to the new Nissan Sentra Cup Series this year with Braidan Motorsport and other commercial partners. Gavin is a third-generation racer. Good luck to him.

Grand Prix of Canada

If she qualifies, Jessica Zemken Friesen and her husband, Canadian Stewart Friesen, will become the first husband-and-wife to race against each other on the same team in a major NASCAR event, this one a Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in two weeks, Jessica will drive a sister truck to her husband’s, which will be entered by Halmar Friesen Racing. Only Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise have raced in NASCAR previously as husband and wife.

Jessica is well known to sprint car fans at Ohswegen Speedway near Brantford where she would haul in from her home in Rome, N.Y., to take on the World of Outlaws. She always (it seemed) finished in the top ten. Although she had a crew to help her at the track, she travelled the various sprint car circuits alone, her only company being a large German Shepherd.

After spending a year in supermodifieds at New York’s Oswego Speedway, Zemken took some time off from racing to deliver a baby son and has been running against her husband in northeastern dirt modified races since.

Sprint car driver Dick Mahoney is in the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga recovering from spinal surgery. I guess one too many upside-down flips might have done some damage. In any event, if you know Dick well enough to say hello, why not give him a call and cheer him up. His number is 416-996-1324.

Trent Hindman and Alan Brynjolfsson, driving a Ligier JS P230, won the IMSA Prototype Challenge race at Sebring International Raceway Saturday.  For a full story please click here  High Voltage Win for Brynjolfsson, Hindman in IMSA Prototype Challenge at Sebring | IMSA Meantime, 36 cars are entered in next Saturday’s 12 Hours of Sebring (not many, eh?). Three Canadians will be driving – John Ferano of Toronto is racing in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class, Bruno Spengler of Montreal is in the GT Le Mans class and Zacharie Robichon is leading the Pfaff Motorsports entry in the GT Daytona class. The 12 Hours will start at a little after 10 a.m. next Saturday morning. Some will be on NBC; for the rest in Canada, you will need one of the super pay channels.

Austin Cindric was cruising to victory Saturday in a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix International Raceway when Canadian Alex Labbe spun into the wall with eight laps to go, bringing out the yellow. Cindric didn’t really have a problem holding off a challenge from closest challenger Justin Algaier but that was because Algaier and others on back were having trouble staying off the wall, they were trying so hard. When the dust settled, Ty Gibbs finished second with Brandon Brown third. For a full story, please click here Austin Cindric wins NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix Raceway (yahoo.com)

As he said, it took awhile but Martin Truex Jr. finally won a Cup race, this time Sunday at Phoenix. Joey Logano was second and Denny Hamlin finished third. For a full story, please click here. Martin Truex Jr. wins NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway (espn.com)

The following two stories are ones I like to call “slices of life.” They’re interesting, that’s all.

Don’t you just love motorsport? I do because of the competition and the commitment and the romance. Others like the danger and the gladiatorial aspect. But the higher up the ladder you go, big money comes into it and big money always attracts questionable characters. I wrote a column once about the number of Formula One teams and owners there had been since 1975 and it was something like 100. Some of the owners of those teams were in jail.

Same with other series, teams and team owners around the world. In IndyCar – although it wasn’t called that then – you had the Whittington brothers and Randy Lanier who were all sent to jail for smuggling drugs. In sports cars you had John Paul Sr., also a drug smuggler. There were others.

In the early 1990s, there was a CART team called Project Indy. They ran one car in all 16 rounds but they had five drivers. A couple of those guys ran a race apiece and one drove in six. One time, the morning of the Molson Indy, everybody was lined up to check out of what was then called the Holiday Inn on King. Everybody did it that way; they checked in Thursday afternoon, worked Friday and Saturday, then checked out of the hotel the morning of race day because they went to the airport right after the checkers, (The truck drivers couldn’t fly, of course; they’d start racing back to Indianapolis . . .)

In any event, I remember standing behind a guy I recognized from the Project Indy team. Everybody checking out had used a credit card; he had a briefcase that he opened and it was full of money. Just like those briefcases full of money you see on the cop shows on TV. He took out a roll, took off the rubber band holding it all together, and counted out what was owed in $100 American bills. They had to calculate the exchange but that’s how he settled the account and I remember thinking, “If I was as cop, I’d start asking questions.” It might have all been on the up-and-up, of course, but when your Spidey sense starts tingling, chances are there’s something going on.

Last week, all the racing websites carried stories about a woman named Bia Figueiredo joining Team Hardpoint EBM to drive the No. 88 Porsche 911 GT3 R with Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship starting next weekend at the 12 Hours of Sebring. There are not many women drivers and I pretty much know, or know of, them all. I was not familiar with Bia Figueiredo. It turns out she used to race in the IndyCar series as Ana Beatriz. In fact, if you go to Wikipedia, she is Ana Beatriz, full name Ana “Bia” Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo. It also turns out that she is – or was – under investigation in her native Brazil with her husband and father-in-law for embezzlement. She supplied her new team with documentation showing she was not involved so is good to go for Sebring.

As I said, those two stories were “slices of life.” They are what they are.

By Norris McDonald  /  Special to wheels.ca