It was another interesting year for racing in Canada, with American Le Mans, Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR again coming to this country to ensure motorsports fans got their fill of action.
Along the way there were some performances and races that stood out. So, here are the moments that made 2011 a memorable year in Canadian racing:
Best performance by a Canadian driver — Robert Wickens, World Series by Renault 3.5
Wickens became the first Canadian to win a major title in Europe since Jacques Villeneuve took the 1997 Formula One world championship. Along the way, he beat two drivers supported by Red Bull, which dropped Wickens from its young driver program two years ago. The World Series crown earned him a day in the Renault F1 car at the annual Young Drivers’ test in Abu Dhabi to go along with a day with Marussia Virgin, the team that signed him as a reserve driver in 2011. When the test was done, Wickens had put up the quickest lap times for both teams.
Comeback of the year — James Hinchcliffe
After missing the first race of 2011 due to a late deal with sponsor Sprott Securities, Hinchcliffe started the IndyCar season in a hole as he went for the rookie of the year crown. Being taken out by another driver in his debut race didn’t help matters and by the time May’s Indianapolis 500 was in the books, Hinchcliffe sat 33 points behind rookie points leader J.R. Hildebrand. The Newman/Haas driver chipped away at the lead as the season wore on, outscoring his rival by 39 points in the next 11 starts. After taking a slim six-point advantage into the final stop at Las Vegas, Hinchcliffe took rookie of the year honours when that race was cancelled following a massive crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon.
Most deserved win in a Canadian race — Marcos Ambrose, Napa Auto Parts 200
After leading 149 of a total 273 laps in the first four NASCAR Nationwide Series events at Montreal and coming away empty-handed each time, Marcos Ambrose finally sealed the deal. And the Australian did it in style after starting from the back of the 43-car field because he missed the morning driver briefing due to his Sprint Cup duties in Michigan. While he moved to the front with about one-third of the 74 laps left, Ambrose got rammed by Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in a battle for the lead on a restart and it looked like his bad luck in Montreal would continue. Instead, after some quick repairs he back from 28th place in a damaged car to get his Montreal win.
Two-wheeled performance of the year — Brett McCormick
It’s been a rare thing for anyone in this country to talk about a dominant performance in the Canadian Superbike Championship and not be referring to Jordan Szoke. But McCormick changed all that in 2011, riding his way to six consecutive victories on his factory BMW to clinch the Canadian Superbike title. While Szoke battled hard and chased McCormick’s exhaust all year, he and his Kawasaki simply could not challenge the young star. The change at the top ended a streak of five straight Canadian Superbike titles for Szoke.
Biggest gaffe — Sebastian Vettel, Canadian Grand Prix
The Red Bull ace rarely made any mistakes this year, but the eventual 2011 Formula One world champion served up a doozy at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. After a torrential downpour red-flagged the action for two hours, Vettel picked up where he left off and continued to dominate the action in Montreal. Vettel looked to be cruising to a fourth consecutive victory and his sixth in the first seven races of 2011 when he showed he isn't perfect. With a fast-closing Jenson Button putting on the pressure in the final 10 laps, Vettel fended off the challenge until the last lap when he pushed too hard and got a wheel onto some wet pavement at the side of the track. While Vettel saved his car from a spin, the mistake allowed the McLaren to get by and carry Button to the win.
Best off track move — Ron Fellows
When the veteran Canadian racer, along with developer Carlo Fidani and businessman Alan Boughton, became one of the three co-owners of the legendary Mosport International Raceway in June, it was seen as a boon to racing in this country. Yes, it’s just one of many tracks in the country, but Mosport has been a key locale in Canadian racing for the past 50 years or so and having it in the hands of someone who has forgotten more about racing than most of us know signals a bright, new era in Canadian motorsport.
After racing there for the better part of the last three decades, Fellows knows exactly what the track needs in upgrades — such as the new tunnel that was dug to accommodate transporters — and he also has the pull and connections to get more major series racing there again. Having 43 NASCAR Nationwide cars bump and grind their way around Moss Corner is only a matter of time.
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