If reaction at the Canadian Motorsport Expo over the weekend is any indication, hardcore racing fans might need time to get accustomed to the new name for Mosport International Raceway.
But should the new partnership between one of Canada’s most storied race tracks and a homegrown retail giant live up to its potential, they will soon accept it as the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“This is the biggest sponsorship deal that Mosport has ever had and, for us as a facility, to have a marketing partner that is an iconic brand in this country couldn't be any better,” track co-owner Ron Fellows said of the long-term deal.
“Not only is it going to be great for the track and events, but also it is going to be good for auto racing and that’s part of the motivation. It's going to take another year or so but having Canadian Tire as a partner raises the bar on the credibility factor when we are talking to sanctioning bodies – you don’t ignore a $9-billion-a-year company that is involved with auto racing.”
A veteran road racer with an impressive resume that includes class titles at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, GT championships in American Le Mans Series, and NASCAR Nationwide Series wins to name a few, Fellows is also well known in racing circles for his dedication to helping the next generation of Canadian stars realize their dreams.
Now he gets to live one himself as a partner in the historic Bowmanville, Ont., circuit. A Mecca of racing in this country, the 10-turn, 3.96-kilometre road course welcomed Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix eight times between 1967 and 1977 and was the marquee venue for the old Can-Am Series that featured some of the greatest drivers in racing. Just about every significant racing series has turned a wheel on the road course. The facility also has a half-mile oval, karting facility and the Bridgestone Driving Academy.
All the positives aside, Allan McDonald, Canadian Tire senior vice-president automotive, is aware that some may not like losing the Mosport name.
“I think people have an emotional attachment to the facility and it's going to have all the things it did in the past along with some new characteristics, so I suspect the few that are sad to see the old name go will embrace the name shortly,” he said.
“Mosport has the potential to be as great tomorrow as it was yesterday and we are going to work really hard with the ownership and Canadian racing associations to do everything we can to make that a reality.”
The deal announced last week cements the relationship between Fellows and Canadian Tire, which has backed some of his NASCAR Nationwide drives since 2010.
Although there’s more action and better overall experience on the horizon in Bowmanville, fans might also need to show just a bit of patience as plans fall into place.
While the track has undergone some improvements since Fellows and his two partners, Trailcon Leasing president Alan Boughton and Orlando Corp. chairman Carlo Fidani, bought the facility last year, it won't be completely ready for a huge influx of racing events until 2013. One of the biggest changes fans and race teams will see this year is a new tunnel under the track that can accommodate two 18-wheeler transporters passing in opposite directions.
One obvious sanctioning body the deal may attract is NASCAR, which already has Canadian Tire as a title sponsor on its Canadian regional series. The track already hosts two NASCAR Canadian tire Series events and it would not be a stretch to think that the Nationwide Series would be in the facility's not-too-distant future. A slot on the NASCAR-owned Grand American schedule wouldn’t be a crazy idea either.
And, Fellows sees other opportunities too.
“When you look at other sanctioning bodies, such as IndyCar, we are of the mind that if the Toronto [Indy]race ever went away, we'd be happy to step up,” he said.
“There's the World Endurance Championship that would be awesome to have – the prototypes are Formula One cars with a roof, they are spectacular. There isn’t anyone we haven't spoken to and are not currently communicating with regularly to add events.”
The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile-sanctioned endurance championship begins in 2012 and will feature Le Mans Prototype and Grand touring classes. It replaces the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
One interesting byproduct of the sponsorship deal is that Finland will no longer have to substitute for Canada when it comes to some testing for Canadian Tire products.
“It provides us with a permanent facility where Canadian Tire can work on some of its developments in terms of the wide range of automotive products,” McDonald said.
“Right now we do some tire testing in Finland and this gives us a great opportunity to bring some of that home. Being able to have our own permanent testing facility in Canada is fantastic.”
With the pressure on and results expected, the newly named track is in good hands with Fellows whose career has been intertwined with the facility so much in the past four decades that he could likely complete a lap blindfolded.
“It's been a huge part of my life,” said Fellows who attended his first ever Canadian Grand Prix there as an 11-year-old in 1969.
“To be part of it on the ownership side is just an opportunity I could not turn down. I’m really excited about what this place is going to look like five years from now and what the partnership with Canadian Tire can do for us and for auto racing in this country.”
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