The Canadian Touring Car Championship will start the 2010 season with several new cars, several new drivers and one less event.
The series is also entering its fourth year, which series founder and president John Bondar calls a "milestone.
"It's a big deal to be in our fourth year. They say in racing you have to get through three seasons before you can consider yourself successful. Here we are in year four," he said. "We survived. And we did it in pretty tough times."
Despite those tough times, the CTCC could see several three- and four-car teams take to the starting grid. Two-car teams are typical in all forms of auto racing but three- and four-car teams are not unheard of - look to Andretti Autosport's four-car assault on the IndyCar Series as just one example - but they're usually associated with boom times in the automotive business and in the world of sponsorship and marketing. The last year has been anything but, and the additional cars on track make Bondar especially proud.
"It shows we've proven ourselves," he said. "A lot of pretty serious planning goes into it (adding cars to existing teams) but the teams are willing to make the investment."
The Canadian Touring Car Championship 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, beginning with the Victoria Day Speedfest May 22-23 at Mosport International Raceway near Bowmanville, Ont., and ending at the ICAR Circuit at Mirabel, Que., on Sept. 11-12.
CTCC racers will make two more stops at Mosport during the season, another stop at ICAR and will also race at Trois-Rivieres. They'll also again compete in support races at the IndyCar event in Toronto during the July 16-18 weekend, but the race weekend at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa has been dropped from the 2010 schedule.
"Last season the schedule was very tight and everyone really needed more time between race weekends," Bondar said of the change.
Bondar says the series will start with 11 new cars in the field, with more expected to enter as the season progresses. With two weeks left to go before the first race, 51 cars were registered to compete - although not every car will compete in every race. During the 2009 season, an average of 37 cars took to the starting grid at every race.
Defending Super Touring champion Nick Wittmer, of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., returns to defend his title, as does defending Touring class champion, Alain Lauziere of Vaudreuil, Que., behind the wheel of his Mini Cooper. Lauziere will field a two-car team that could expand to four cars as the season progresses.
Other team expansions include Durabond Racing - which competed in the series last year with Touring car class runner-up Anthony Rapone - teaming with Compass360 Racing to field Honda Civics in the Touring class for drivers Karl Thomson, runner-up in the 2007 Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge; series rookie Andrew Danyliw as well as Rapone.
Wittmer will be back in cockpit of his Honda Civic Si, once again prepared and managed by Lombardi Racing of Montreal.
"I'm really looking forward to the start of the season and defending my title this year," said Wittmer. "I have full confidence that we will once again have very competitive equipment; our Civics are built with stock parts and truly respect the philosophy behind Touring Car racing."
Lombardi is bringing another two drivers along this year in an effort to secure back-to-back championships. Alex Healy and Benjamin Distaulo round out Lombardi's driving lineup.
While not yet household names, both Wittmer and Healy have been steadily building on their early racing pedigree. During the off-season, Wittmer was named Canadian Road Racer of the Year by Inside Track magazine which also named Healy Up and Coming Racer. Healy, 20, of Ottawa, is a former karting champion who first had a taste of the CTCC in 2008 when he claimed three podiums in five starts. In 2009, he earned 10 top 10 finishes in 16 races and was named the series Rookie of the Year.
Healy says his ultimate goal is to race full-time once he completes his university education, but he realizes that can be an uphill climb and racing often takes a back seat to the business side of the sport.
"In Canada, it's tough because you can spend a lot of time looking for sponsors," he said. That's a sentiment echoed by Wittmer. "Often instead of one sponsor, you get several smaller sponsors. But it all adds up."
Also fielding a car in the CTCC this year is Pfaff Automotive Partners of Newmarket. The automotive retailer is well known in Canadian racing circles but hadn't actively participated in the sport for four years. P.J. Groenke will race a Volkswagen GTI in the Touring class for Pfaff. Groenke has competed in the series since 2008.