With the NASCAR season just around the corner, Canadian racing fans who want their first close up look at the Sprint Cup Series' new car will get the chance next weekend at the annual Canadian Motorsport Expo in Toronto.
The seventh annual edition of the popular racing-focused show will have four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon's new "Gen-6" No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevy SS show car on display for the first time in Canada. The new car is called Gen-6 because it's the sixth redesign of the top-tier NASCAR racer.
The Gen-6 model that replaces the six-year-old "Car of Tomorrow" makes its race debut on Feb. 24 in the Daytona 500, known as "The Great American Race." The new car looks more like the showroom models offered by NASCAR manufacturers Ford, Chevy and Toyota.
Gordon's car will be part of the display by the Canadian Motor Speedway planned for Fort Erie, Ont., which has the No. 24 NASCAR driver as a partner. The proposed speedway will have a one-mile oval and a 4.18-kilometre road course inside a 65,000 seat stadium. The $150-million project received Ontario Municipal Board approval last year.
The Canadian Motorsport Expo runs Feb. 8-10 at the International Centre next to Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
Once Gordon's car gets race fans revved up, the Expo will deliver many other ways to keep them slack-jawed.
"We've gone over and above to make this year's Canadian Motorsports Expo the best yet"," said show spokesman Greg MacPherson.
"The Wiseco-DragRaceCanada Corral will have upwards of a dozen of Canada's top drag racing machines, for our biggest straight-line display ever. AIM Autosport (Ferrari) and Multimatic (Aston Martin) are bringing cars that competed at the Rolex 24 Hour last weekend, and Michigan International Speedway's booth will have the actual NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy and fans can have their picture taken with it in their booth."
Unlike previous years when one marquee stock car driver made an appearance, the Expo made a huge investment this year to bring two NASCAR Sprint Cup racers, Kyle Busch and Michael Waltrip.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Waltrip will sign autographs for fans and appear on-stage at the show where he will answer questions from fans. The veteran of 770 Sprint Cup starts in 28 seasons won the Daytona 500 in 2001 and 2003.
Last weekend, Waltrip, along with co-drivers Rui Aguas, Clint Bowyer and Rob Kauffman, drove the No. 56 AF Waltrip Ferrari team to an eighth-place finish in the GT class and 16th overall in the 51st annual Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
Waltrip is also interesting because even though he is one of the older drivers in NASCAR and only competes part-time in the Cup series these days, the 49-year-old Tweets like a teenager. One of the most active racers on Twitter, Waltrip's @mw55 account has almost 193,000 followers on the social media site. He actively engages and entertains fans with his relaxed style and great sense of humour, which makes him a popular choice for the Expo.
While Waltrip still races occasionally – he hopes to make his 26th career start in the Daytona 500 two weeks after the Expo – he spends most of his time running Michael Waltrip Racing. The Cup team has Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin as drivers.
Busch appears at the show a day after Waltrip, and will also participate in a question and answer session with fans and sign autographs. One of the young starts of NASCAR, the 27-year-old has 24 wins and 10 poles in 293 starts over nine seasons in the Sprint Cup. He was also the 2009 Nationwide Series champion.
The No. 18 Toyota driver will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 2012 Cup season, where he scored only one win and finished 13th overall in points. It was the first time since 2007 that he hadn't take more than a single victory. Things didn't go much better in the Nationwide Series, where Busch was kept out of the winner's circle for the first time since he started only seven races in his debut season of 2003. In the four seasons prior to last year, Busch won 40 of 114 Nationwide starts.
As for big name Canadian racers, only Ron Fellows will attend in his role as co-owner of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Fellows and senior vice-president of Canadian Tire's automotive department, Allan Macdonald, will update fans on progress at the Bowmanville, Ont., racetrack and answer questions from fans on Saturday.
IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., will miss the show this year as will Guelph, Ont.'s Robert Wickens. Hinchcliffe has other commitments in Indianapolis where his Andretti Autosport team is located, while Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters driver Wickens is in Germany.
While Mercedes has not announced its 2013 DTM driver line-up, fans might want to hope that Wickens is in Europe to sign a deal to continue as a driver with the manufacturer for a second season.
2012 DTM champion Bruno Spengler is also back in Europe after traveling to Canada last month to meet fans at the Montreal International Auto Show. The BMW driver was also in Montreal over the Christmas holidays.
Saturday at the show will also have a panel of Canadian motorsports journalists taking questions from fans and taking about the state of the sport.
For those looking for something closer to home than the Sprint Cup, visitors will also see several Canadian racing series represented at the Expo, MacPherson added.
"And as always, the show will feature the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, the Canadian Touring Car Championship, Targa Newfoundland as well as many grassroots series and tracks from across the racing spectrum," he said.
Tickets are $18 per day for adults and $12 per day for youth (aged 10-15) and seniors (65+), while kids under 10 get in free when accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased online at: www.CanadianMotorsportsExpo.com .
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