GRAND-AM Road Racing: Excitement Reigns in Montreal

By Auto News Log • August 26th, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Most anybody who has experienced a race in Canada will tell you that everything is just a little bit different north of the border.

Canadian cities have a different – and mostly positive – vibe and energy. The food is similar, but not quite the same, in mostly good ways. And the scene on and around the racetrack is a little bit different, and maybe a bit more fervent.

Nowhere is that more evident than Montreal and its unique Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, where the GRAND-AM Rolex Series visits for the fourth time this weekend for Saturday’s Montreal 200.

The 2.709-mile, 15-turn permanent road course sits in the shadow of downtown Montreal on Ile Notre Dame in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Being on an island, roads for ingress and egress are few and parking is limited.

No worries though, as Ile Notre Dame is easily accessible via the “Metro,” which is Montreal’s subway system. Even most of the teams and drivers use the Metro to get to and from the racetrack.

Excitement reigns on the island. Thousands of diehard race fans pack the grandstands, even if it means braving elements like heat or rain, and those fans sometimes inspire the competitors to kick it up a notch on the racetrack.

“The Montreal fans have always been extremely supportive of motorsport,” says Canadian racer Mark Wilkins, who will share the No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford/Riley with Burt Frisselle this weekend. “Montreal loves their racing, be it open wheel, closed wheel or stock car.

“I think you see that in the Crescent Street festivities that lead up to the race. Everyone just really gets into it and they really get involved in it. More than pretty much any other place that we race, there’s just that enthusiasm and passion for motorsport.”

Every Rolex Series race in Montreal has provided more than its fair share of excitement, but maybe none was more exciting – or satisfying to the Canadian fans – than the 2008 event. Following a number of strategic twists and turns in the two-hour race, Darren Law’s race-leading No. 58 Brumos Racing Porsche/Riley ran out of fuel just shy of the finish line.

Toronto’s Wilkins and Spain’s Antonio Garcia rocketed around Law in a drag race to the stripe, which Wilkins won by a Rolex Series-record 0.064 seconds in the No. 61 Ford/Riley. It was the first overall Rolex Series victory for Wilkins, then-co-driver Brian Frisselle and the Canada-based AIM Autosport team, and it couldn’t have come in a better place.

“Coming out of the last corner and onto the front straight, I thought, ‘Well, we got third; that’s an awesome result for the team,'” Wilkins recalls. “Everything happened so very quickly. Antonio Garcia went one way and I went the other way and we just kind of split the Porsche and it was super close.

“When the guys came on the radio and said, ‘You won,’ it just seemed very surreal. For the team, it was our first victory in the series and we’d worked so hard for quite a long time to get to that point. To do that in Montreal was fantastic.”

Growing up in Canada, Wilkins has seen his fair share of racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve over the years. And if you’re looking for the best vantage point on the island, he’s got some good advice.

“I’d be in the hairpin for sure,” he says without hesitation. “I’ve always sat down in the hairpin, mostly because it’s probably your most exciting place to see passing opportunities.

“It’s really exciting to see the capabilities of the cars. That’s probably why I would pick that spot to watch.”

Source: GRAND-AM Road Racing


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