If you run a top-quality racing series, Ron Fellows probably wants to talk to you.
With the upgrade of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park moving into its second phase, the racer-turned-track-owner continues to look for more action to showcase at the storied facility, and he's not shy about singing his track's praises.
“I think probably the only guy we haven't talked to is Bernie,” said Fellows, referring to Formula One commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.
“We are talking to every sanctioning body. We now have that option, whereas for the previous ownership, it was a little more difficult.”
Fellows and his partners, Trailcon Leasing president Alan Boughton and Orlando Corp. chairman Carlo Fidani, bought the facility formerly know as Mosport International Raceway in 2011 from Don Panoz, who also runs the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). Boughton was bought out by the other two partners last week.
As ALMS is a competitor to NASCAR's Grand-American Series, attracting the Nationwide or Camping World Trucks Series to the 10-turn, 3.96-kilometre road course used to be out of the question. That's not an issue now that long-time NASCAR road race ace Fellows has the keys to the Bowmanville, Ont. track.
Part of the plan to get more series interested in racing at the track, which hosted the Canadian Grand Prix eight times between 1967 and 1977, is an ambitious renovation project to modernize the aging facility. The name was changed earlier this year after retail giant Canadian Tire came onboard as a long-term title sponsor.
Along with their involvement in the planned renovations, the retailer also stepped up its marketing of the track and NASCAR's regional Canadian Tire Series.
“From our standpoint right now, we are really focused on getting the word out,” said Allan McDonald, a senior automotive vice-president at Canadian Tire.
“It's a step to bigger and better races and even more exposure for Canadian Tire. When we made the investment, it was for what this facility can become and not what it was.”
A new tunnel has already been dug under the track to accommodate the haulers that carry the race teams' cars and equipment. Previously, the trucks had to get out of the facility by crossing the track, something that was not possible on race weekends until all the action was complete. A project to improve the infrastructure in the paddock area and the infield is also under way.
This summer, they will also break ground for a new “event centre” across from the pitlane. The building will house the press room, timing and scoring and track communications, as well as the track's administration offices. More importantly, it will also have luxury viewing suites and a conference facility, which will be able to accommodate between 150 and 200 people.
“The event centre is a really important next step for us in terms of attracting new and bigger events – ultimately, that's our goal,” said Fellows.
“We really feel that this event centre is absolutely critical. We need to get 21st century corporate entertainment, and that's key.”
The upgrades to appeal to corporate clients and improvements to the pitlane will also serve as a carrot to attract major series like NASCAR and IndyCar to Bowmanville.
George Silbermann, NASCAR vice-president of regional and touring series, was at the track on the weekend to take in the action. He would be instrumental in awarding a race to the Bowmanville track. He chose a good weekend, since a huge crowd showed up for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series season opener.
The victory in Sunday's Vortex Brake Pads 200 went to J.R. Fitzpatrick, who ended a two-year winless drought in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series. He last took a chequered flag at the Edmonton City Centre Airport circuit in July 2010.
D.J. Kennington was second, followed by defending champion Scott Steckly. Andrew Ranger took fourth, with Louis-Philippe Dumoulin rounding out the top five. The next race is the ICAR Circuit outside Montreal on June 3.
While Fellows wants NASCAR to add a second Canadian race to the Montreal Nationwide stop, the track simply does not have the pitlane and garage spaces to accommodate the stock car series.
“It's no secret that if we were to host a NASCAR event, we need 43 pit stalls and we don't have enough,” Fellows said.
“When the event centre is built, it gives us some options in terms of growth for the pitlane.”
Essentially, the new building will allow the owners to knock down the existing control tower and media centre and expand the pitlane to the entire length of the start-finish straight.
Even without the pitlane upgrades, several drivers in the Canadian Tire Series already see the difference in the facility and the number of fans who came out due to some heavy promotion by Canadian Tire.
“I've never seen this many people here, this much excitement, and stuff for the kids,” Steckly said.
“It's definitely good for the drivers when you see this many people out to watch one of your races, and hopefully all these people who are here will follow us to the next race and keep coming back and become race fans. It's definitely good for the sport.”
Spengler gets another podium
Canadian Bruno Spengler continues to raise eyebrows in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, taking his second consecutive podium for BMW in its return to the German touring car series.
After qualifying third, Spengler finished second in Sunday's race at the U.K.'s Brands Hatch circuit, despite a broken front splitter that slowed his progress in the final 10 of 97 laps.
The result pushed Spengler into second overall in the point standings, with 43. He is 25 points behind Mercedes driver Gary Paffett, who won on Sunday. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
While he trails Paffett, Spengler is the best of the BMW drivers and has outscored his other five teammates combined.
The other Canadian in the field, Robert Wickens, finished 14th after qualifying 17th.
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