• Grand Prix du Canada

Racing Roundup: Canadian GP this fall? Is racing pay-per-view coming? And all the news

The latest in the year that a Canadian Grand Prix was held was on Oct 8th. 1978 when the legendary Gilles Villeneuve won his first Formula One race in his first full season of competition.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald May 11, 2020
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I had reason to speak to the promoter of the Grand Prix du Canada this past week and he remains optimistic that there will be a race at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal this year – fingers crossed.

Calling himself an “optimistic realist,” Francois Dumontier said that he is in “constant contact with Formula One” and that they are trying to put together a calendar.

“I don’t envy Chase Carey (CEO of Liberty Media, owners of F1) right now,” he said. “With the season shortened as it is, and all the countries that are on the calendar, and what is happening with COVID-19, trying to work out a compromise is not an easy thing.”

He said that Canada is aiming to hold a race in the autumn. “We don’t have a specific date at the moment but that is when we will probably have to do it.” He added, however, that he will not promote an event that would have a negative effect on the health of the drivers, the teams, the workers or the fans.

“I won’t put them in jeopardy, so it’s clear that health will be the main focus. But we are optimistic that we will have a 2020 race in Canada.”

The latest in the year that a Canadian Grand Prix was held was in 1978 when the legendary Gilles Villeneuve won his first Formula One race in his first full season of competition. That took place on Oct. 8 and anybody who was there knows it was fr-fr-fr-freezing!

In fact, it was so cold that when the little French-Canadian got out of his Ferrari – the only team he ever drove for in his F1 career – he put a parka on over his driving uniform. The then-prime minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, was also warmly attired when he presented Villeneuve with a giant bottle of – no, not the traditional champagne, but – Labatt 50.

That was the one and only time that ever happened, by the way. No, not the warm coats, the beer. F1 had, and continues to have, a contract with champagne companies. Drivers are supposed to spray bubbly from the podium, not suds.

In any event, there are two weekends in October that could work: Sunday the 5th and the Sunday of
Thanksgiving weekend, the 12th. Even then they might be taking a chance but after that it would be impossible. It’s Montreal in October, after all. It snows there.

If the GP was to be snowed out, it would be cancelled, unlike the last time I was at a race that was snowed out. That was at a CART Indy car race at Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania in April, 2000. It had been gorgeous on Friday, cloudy on Saturday and we woke up on race day to a foot of snow on the speedway. The late editor of National Speed Sport News, Chris Economaki, walked into the lobby of the Bethlehem Holiday Inn while I was waiting for my ride to the track and “reported” that all the drivers were trying to find the switch on the steering wheel that turned on the defrosters. They rescheduled the race for May, when it was beautiful.

F1, meantime, is hoping to get its season going at Austria on July 5 and there will not be fans in attendance. Hopefully, as the “season” rolls along, spectators will be allowed in.

I hope that NASCAR and IndyCar know what they are doing. NASCAR will re-start the season next Sunday at Darlington and run two races there before going to Charlotte (ditto) for races on the 24th and the 27th. (Yes, that’s correct: races Sunday and Wednesday at both tracks. The Xfinity stock cars and the truck series will also get their seasons going at those speedways.)

NASCAR officials released stage lengths and at-track schedules Friday. There will be no mandatory drivers or crew chief meetings; they will get emails instead. These will be one-day events, with the health (temperatures, etc.) of everybody allowed into the pit area checked both going in and out.

As many of you know, three tracks have had their spring races cancelled and moved to Darlington or Charlotte. This initial “realignment“ has taken events away from Chicagoland Speedway, Richmond Raceway and Sonoma.

IndyCar will start its season June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway without fans – although that could change if Texas eases up on the number of people allowed to gather in one place. Like NASCAR, IndyCar will have a one-day event with everybody arriving on chartered flights, traveling to and from the racetrack on special buses, temperatures checked, etc.

Now, two things: One, everybody will be on their best behaviour and ‘fess up to not feeling well before embarking on the trip but what will NASCAR or IndyCar do if, during the day at one of these traces, somebody starts showing symptoms of the coronavirus? That’s what has me concerned. Remember, F1 was ready to go in Australia until somebody started sneezing and was tested. They had to stop right then and there. Will lightning strike twice?

Two, many of the so-called experts in the world say we are never going to return to “normal.” That there might be lulls in the fight against the virus, which will allow racing, and baseball, etc., to get up and running, but then wham! Back to quarantine. How long will it be before 200,000 people will be able to attend the Indianapolis 500? Or 20,000 go to watch the Leafs or Raptors at Scotiabank Arena?

Until there is a vaccine, or medication to knock it out of you if you catch it, maybe never, So how will racing support itself? Baseball? Hockey and so-on?

Pay-per-view. That’s how. I can’t think of any other way. We’ve all talked about it coming someday. Well, it’s here. Its time has come. And it’s time we got used to the idea.

If racing can finish its “season,” and baseball, hockey, et al, figure out some way to play again in 2020, maybe the pandemic will pass and 2021 will see business as usual. But if not, if we are still quarantined and hunkered down a year from now, pay-per-view will become reality.

NEWS and NOTES

There’s this thing going around on the Internet about the most influential person in the history of F1. How can it be anybody other than Bernie Ecclestone? Without him, there is no Formula One. Or certainly not like the F1 we have now.

And what is it about Juan Manuel Fangio? Once again, he’s seen to be the greatest of all drivers. With due respect, he was a good driver but I’m not even sure he was the best of that generation. He always had the best car. And those were the days when the No. 1 guy could commandeer the car of his teammate if he was knocked out of a race for any reason and Fangio was not above doing that. And a season was often only seven or eight races.

Liberty Media has reported taking a huge financial hit in the first quarter with no races, no TV revenue and less revenue for teams. The difference? $39 million this year as compared to $246 million a year ago. CEO Chase Carey said there is no extra money for teams and they will have to economize. McLaren’s Zak Brown should be calling his friends in the media any day now to opine more dire predictions for the health of the series. Last time, he said up to four teams could go kaput. I’m sure this time he will say there might be more. Of course, if Bernie was still running things, this wouldn’t be happening. Bernie would just give the teams the money they needed to keep going. Let’s hope F1 can get going in Austria, otherwise geese could be cooked.

Other racing without fans is going on, by the way. The World of Outlaws sprint car series ran at Knoxville (Iowa) Friday night and David Gravel was the winner with Ian Madsensecond and Logan Schuchart third. There were no fans in the stands but it was live on DIRTVision Internet TV. The Outlaws issued invitations to 48 series regulars and if you didn’t have an invitation you couldn’t race. Social distancing was observed and face masks were worn. Kyle Larson, starting his rehabilitation following sensitivity training, was tenth in the feature. He was fired from NASCAR after uttering a racial slur during a virtual racing event a month or so ago.

Larry Curry, who convinced sponsor John Menard to give dirt-track racer Tony Stewart a shot at Indy car racing, thus launching the career of an Indy and NASCAR superstar, has died. Respected throughout the racing community for his expertise with a toolbox, Curry spent several years in penitentiary for embezzling about a million dollars from that same John Menard, who later said he accepted Curry’s apology. If memory serves me, he won a fair amount of money in a state lottery after he was let out of prison. He was 68.

Ray Lee Wood, one of the famous Wood Bros. of NASCAR fame, has died at age 92. As well as winning championships in NASCAR’s early days, the Wood brothers were hired byColin Chapman to service Jim Clark’s car in the 1965 Indianapolis 500, which he won. At the end of that season, Ray Lee retired and never went to another race, preferring to spend Sundays at church and with his family. Brother Eddie Wood said Ray Lee started a rose garden and soon had a thousand bushes. He bought two Persian show cats and worked up to 50. He was into Siberian huskies and giant goldfish. “Whatever he did, he went at it 100 per cent,” Eddie said.

Ray Lee Wood

Another death: Lonnie Caruthers, cousin of California midget-car racers Dannyand Jimmy Caruthers and a pretty good racer himself, has passed at age 71. Danny was killed racing on the way up the ladder and Jimmy died of cancer after making it to Indy. Jimmy finished second to USAC midget champion Bob Tattersall in a midget race at Flamboro Speedway, west of Hamilton, in 1969. Lonnie won more than a dozen USAC midget series races in his career. Something about the genes, I guess.

Here’s some virtual racing information. Andrew Brooks of Toronto won the first race in the FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships 2020 online series, racing in the Nations Cup division at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya Grand Prix track. And in the Formula E Racing for UNICEF virtual series, seen on the Formula Electric YouTube Channel every Saturday at 10:30 a.m., Pascal Wehrlein won the “race” through the streets of Monaco.

And, finally, Toronto’s Nicholas Latiffi is now officially a Formula One driver. To watch a short video of his first day on the job, please click here.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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