NASCAR’s roar won’t return to Montreal in 2013
MONTREAL - After a six-year fender-bending, sheet-metal-crunching, crowd-pleasing run on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the checkered flag has dropped on NASCAR racing in Montreal.
And not because NASCAR wanted to leave.
The stock-car sanctioning body told The Gazette Friday that despite its strong desire to return to the historic island racetrack, the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA 200 will not return to Montreal in 2013.
Octane Management head François Dumontier, whose Montreal-based company promotes the NASCAR event and Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix, confirmed NASCAR’s departure a few hours later during an afternoon news conference at the Île Notre-Dame facility.
There was published speculation on Friday that the German-based DTM series, featuring heavily modified Audis, BMWs and Mercedes, might be coming to Montreal. If it does, DTM would replace NASCAR to join Formula One as the second summertime race on the Villeneuve circuit, two motorsport weekends allowed annually on the civic-owned Jean Drapeau Park layout.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice-president of racing operations, said in an interview that the door is never closed to his sport’s return to Montreal.
But consider the odds of NASCAR’s comeback to this city about as good as the repatriation of baseball’s Expos, which moved to Washington, D.C., eight years ago.
“I can tell you it’s a bit of a surprise to us,” O’Donnell said of NASCAR’s exit from Montreal, speaking from his office in Daytona Beach, Calif. “We certainly feel like we’ve had a great run in Montreal and certainly anticipated being back next year, if not many years beyond that. That was our intention.”
In the end, it seems that Dumontier made NASCAR an offer the governing body couldn’t accept.
O’Donnell said that Dumontier suggested he couldn’t make a financial go of a race in Montreal unless his Nationwide Series event was twinned with an elite-series Sprint Cup race, or was switched to a Cup race.
Furthermore, O’Donnell said, Dumontier told NASCAR he wanted a Sunday event, not a Saturday on which Nationwide Series normally runs.
“We had a sanctioning call (for a 2013 date) about a month prior to this summer’s event,” O’Donnell said. “Everything was great.”
By that time, after lengthy efforts, Dumontier had been able to secure $800,000 in funding support for the race from the governments of Canada, Quebec and Montreal, as well as Tourisme Montréal.
“That was tremendous,” O’Donnell said. “We’d planned to do a big promotional event before the race with our drivers to embrace the governments for their support. But that was cancelled last minute by the promoter. That was a surprise but again, we didn’t think too much of it and went into the event feeling good.”
By then, Dumontier was speaking publicly about needing a Sprint Cup event to make his ends meet.
“We never discussed that during our sanctioning call,” O’Donnell said. “But we got through the race weekend, then had a call the following week.”
It was then, two days after the sixth annual NAPA 200, O’Donnell said, that Dumontier told him he was struggling with organizing the NASCAR race.
“He told us: ‘I need to think about it, it didn’t really work financially for me this year. I’m going to need some help from you guys to pull this off,’ ” O’Donnell said. “Up until then everything was going well. We’d fully intended and wanted to be back in 2013 and well beyond, but then François asked for the a Sunday date at a time that made no sense to us to promote a race or get it on TV.”
NASCAR told Dumontier it couldn’t meet his demands and about a week ago, nearing the release of its 2013 Nationwide Series schedule, got an email from its Montreal promoter.
“It said: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to want to be in the sanctioning business with you for next year,’ ” O’Donnell said. “So we agreed to part ways.”
NASCAR, which with much fanfare replaced the Champ Car World Series on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007, is now gone, possibly replaced by DTM touring cars.
Even with the 2013 Nationwide Series schedule within weeks or less of official release, Canada might yet welcome a race. Look no further than Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, formerly Mosport Park, in Bowmanville, Ont., north of Toronto as a likely site.
Track co-owner and occasional NASCAR road-course racer Ron Fellows, the hugely popular veteran who won Montreal’s NAPA 200 in 2008, was coy when asked Friday noon about the possibility, preferring to wait until later in the day to comment.
Said O’Donnell: “Canadian fans are huge supporters of NASCAR and it’s very important for us from a national-series perspective to be there. So we’ll certainly explore all avenues to do that. Who knows what the future brings? But it’s unfortunate it didn’t work out in Montreal.”
Fellows did express disappointment as a race driver and student of his sport that the Montreal date is off the calendar. Fellows often wore a Gilles Villeneuve T-shirt under his firesuit here, a tribute to the late Ferrari F1 legend he idolized and for whom the track is named.
Loyal NASCAR fans who flocked to this city’s race will be devastated by the departure. Nationwide Series drivers and teams will be no less unhappy; they loved coming to Montreal, enamoured by the city’s cosmopolitan flavour and amazed by fans who endured torrential rains without leaving the grandstands, hanging in for wheel-banging action that never failed to materialize, six different drivers winning the six races.
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Dernière modification par WestAust ; 05/10/2012 à 15h51.
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