The best word to sum up the first half of the 2010 Canadian Touring Car Championship is action. As well as healthy doses of fender banging and bumper rubbing, there have been daredevil passes, three-wide racing, a few frayed tempers and one airborne car.
Of course, this is the stuff that makes racers happy, and for series president John Bondar, it's the sign of healthy competition that will continue to grow as the season rolls on.
"Among the first six cars or so, the racing has been really tight," said Bondar. "As I watch it, I'm jealous that I can't be out there but also recognize that I probably couldn't handle it."
At the same time, Bondar is pleased that his drivers have, with some notable exceptions, given their fellow competitors room to race. But, of course that doesn't mean they make it easy for each other.
Karl Thomson's Honda Civic and the Mini driven by P.J. Groenke came together in the first race at Mosport International Raceway, near Bowmanville, Ont. while battling for second place. While Groenke had a brief off-track excursion and went on to claim second spot on the podium, Thomson headed to the pits with a cut tire. Then at the ICAR circuit near Mirabel, Que., Gary Kwok's Mitsubishi Evo became airborne after striking the wall near the front straightaway and came to rest in the middle of the straightaway. Kwok was unhurt but the race was red-flagged.
Along with the action comes some wreckage. Before the cars take to the track at the Exhibition Place circuit for the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend, Bondar plans to deliver a message at the drivers meeting: calm down.
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"The last weekend (at Mirabel) there were too many bumpers hanging off, so everybody's going to get a lecture," he said. "Every race season, in every series, there's one event where everybody gets a little silly, and that was it. There was a bunch of bumping and grinding that didn't need to happen."
This year marks the third time the touring cars will compete as part of the Indy race weekend. "It's a big deal," says Bondar, because drivers get to race on the same track that will host Dario Franchitti and Danica Patrick. As well, the weekend offers another chance for the CTCC to use its large fields and close racing to attract new fans.
The CTCC cars will practice Friday morning at 7:45 a.m. with qualifying from 5:30 to 6 p.m. The first race takes place Saturday at 5:40 p.m. The second race takes place at 9:20 a.m. on Sunday. The Indy cars race at 12:45 p.m.
The CTCC consists of a combination of amateur and semi-professional drivers competing in two classes of production-based race cars: the Touring class cars (2.0-litre machines such as Toyota Corollas and Mini Coopers) and the Super Touring class cars, which include 2.5-litre Saab 9-3s and BMWs.
Series drivers compete over seven weekends with stops at Mosport, the ICAR Circuit at Mirabel, Que., and as a support event at the Honda Indy Toronto this weekend. After a trip to Trois-Rivieres, Que., racers head back to Mosport Aug. 27-29 and end the season at ICAR on Sept. 11-12.
Coming into the Indy weekend, Nick Wittmer of Montreal is leading the Super Touring class with 710 points, followed by Dave Ciekiewicz of Toronto with 650 points and Mathieu Audette of Ste-Anne-Des-Lacs, Que. with 619 points.
Wittmer has been grabbing a great deal of attention during the first half of the season and is one of the drivers to watch during the Indy weekend. Wittmer pulled off a daring pass in the series' opening weekend at Mosport on the outside of the tricky, downhill, turn two. He also finished first in the Super Touring class in both races at ICAR July 3 and 4.
"It's an absolutely fantastic victory that I had to work hard for," he said. "It was only at the end of the (second) race that I could ease up a little."
Wittmer's teammate, Alex Healy, the 2009 CTCC rookie of the year, completed two races in the series' first two weekend events, both at Mosport, before splitting from the Lombardi Racing team. Healy plans to finish off the touring car season on his own, driving his No. 5 Acura RSX.
In the Touring class, Anthony Rapone of Thornhill, Ont., leads with 703 points, with Karl Thomson, of Toronto, in second place with 637 points. Michel Sallenbach, of Roxton Pond, Que., sits in third with 616 points.
After a stint in the Mini, Groenke is set to be behind the wheel of his regular ride at the Indy, a Volkswagen GTI in the Touring class, fielded by Pfaff Automotive Partners of Toronto.
Christopher Pfaff, president of Pfaff Automotive Partners, is pleased to be back involved with racing in Canada after a four-year hiatus. Pfaff says the timing was right to get back into racing with the CTCC.
"We wanted to get involved in something home-grown, and the series has really come a long way," he said. "We're not expecting to win the championship this year, but next year we'll have a good shot at it. After, the second year, we'll assess it," he said.
In addition to the VW effort, Pfaff said he's considering entering an Audi - another of the brands he sells - into the series. Nothing is firm yet, he adds, but a few drivers, including Barrie, Ont.'s Kyle Marcelli, who is driving a prototype racer for Primetime Sport Group in the American LeMans Series, have been considered to step into the cockpit of an Audi.
"We'll see what happens," said Pfaff. "If we can do something with Audi, they're expecting it to be done right."
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