Canadian racing fans have their last chance to see the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) on their home soil this weekend before it gets swallowed in a merger with rival Grand American.
Those feeling sentimental might also want to venture out to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) on Sunday to watch the final race, since it has not been announced that the new merged series, called United SportsCar Racing, will have the Bowmanville, Ont., track on its 2014 calendar.
“While no decisions have been made, CTMP is certainly under serious consideration for next season,” said ALMS president Scott Atherton.
“This racetrack is one of the fastest and most challenging anywhere in the world and we know it has outstanding fan support – it is a Canadian national treasure. The importance of the greater Toronto market to many of our stakeholders and the benchmark setting improvements to the facility will certainly contribute to our decision making.”
Ironically, the final Canadian stop is at a track once owned by ALMS founder Don Panoz, who engineered the merger with NASCAR-controlled Grand-Am. In addition, one of the co-owners who bought CTMP from Panoz is Ron Fellows, a former ALMS champion in the GT class.
The Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix starts at 1 p.m. Sunday and goes for two hours and 45 minutes.
The race weekend will also give Canadian fans their first chance to see the futuristic DeltaWing, which looks more like the Batmobile than a racing car. Although track sessions started Thursday with several different series getting in some practice time, the DeltaWing is scheduled to make its Canadian debut in ALMS practice on Friday afternoon.
While it looks neat, its sleek DeltaWing will be in tough on the weekend with the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing duo of Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf showing up at one of their favourite tracks. The pair has scored three consecutive poles and wins at CTMP and will be looking to make it four in the No. 6 HPD ARX-03c. Luhr also holds the series’ career record for wins at 44.
Although it’s a plus that CTMP has hosted an ALMS race in every year of the series existence, there is no guarantee that the new management under NASCAR’s direction will bring the merged series north of the border.
On the other hand, NASCAR has a close relationship with Fellows, who successfully lured the NASCAR Truck Series to race at his track on Labour Day weekend. In addition, Fellows and his real estate developer partner Carlo Fidani have easily spent millions of dollars upgrading the facilities at CTMP to help attract both corporate events and new races. The renovations include a new event centre that holds the media room and meeting facilities, as well as an expanded pitlane and improvements to the track.
The investments and the storied history of great racing at the track should go a long way to convincing the United SportsCar Racing to find room for CTMP in its 2014 schedule.
“We’ve been able to witness firsthand the passion and loyalty of the many enthusiastic fans at CTMP,” Atherton said.
“We will take the opportunity throughout this weekend to thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their tremendous support. The fans clearly appreciate this racetrack and our unique brand of motorsport, and it’s not possible to put into words the appreciation we have for them.”
There will also be several Canadians in the field, including Tony Burgess of Toronto who joins Dyson Racing in Bowmanville and will drive the No. 16 Mazda/Thetford/Norcold Lola B12/60 in the Prototype 1 Class for the rest of the season. Burgess will race for the team next year in the united series.
Montreal’s Kuno Wittmer will be behind the wheel of the SRT Motorsports No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra Viper GTS-R in the GT Class, while the Prototype Challenge Class has Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, Ont., and Vancouver’s Chris Cumming sharing the seat in the BAR1 Motorsports No. 8 Merchant Services LTD/Evident Capital/MBRP ORECA FLM09.
With German prosecutor filing charges against Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, many have begun to wonder just how long he can keep his grip on the controls in the grand prix paddock.
The 82-year-old confirmed on Wednesday that he had been indicted in a bribery case involving the German banker who was in charge of the sale of F1 to CVC Capital Partners in 2006.
It is alleged that Ecclestone paid a $44-million (U.S.) bribe to Gerhard Gribkowsky of Bayern Landesbank in order to ensure that F1 would be sold to CVC, which had indicated that it would keep the octogenarian in charge of the day-to-day running of the sport.
Ecclestone admits paying the money, but countered that it was a shakedown by Gribkowsky who had threatened to go to U.K. authorities on some issues involving his Bambino Trust, which could cost the F1 boss millions of dollars in back taxes. The case will likely go to court later this year, if it is not settled beforehand. If convicted, Ecclestone, who is worth about $6.3-billion, could serve up to 10 years in prison.
The bigger question is whether CVC will keep Ecclestone in the chief executive seat as he faces his accuser, who is already serving time for receiving the money from Ecclestone, tax evasion for the unreported $44-million, and breach of trust.
Should Ecclestone leave the paddock, it would be the end of an era which saw the sport go from a mom-and-pop style operation in the 1980s to a massive commercial success with earnings of about $2.4-billion annually.
On the other hand, it could be a huge opportunity for F1 to change direction and embrace many new ideas and technologies that Ecclestone not only continues to ignore but also actively resists, such as YouTube and social media.
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone