Bringing in the next wave of
Canuck stars is Champ Car’s best bet to brush off the IRL’s
inevitable charge on Canada.
The success of the Canadian races, or “Molson
Indys” if you will, have arguably been responsible,
alongside the Mexican events, for Champ Car’s very survival
in the past two years. As they say, “it’s the drivers,
stupid”, and Champ Car’s popularity in the Great White
North, thanks to its Canadian hero hot shoes, gave it a
much-needed help to stay afloat during the turmoil of
And yet Paul Tracy, at 35, isn’t exactly getting any
younger. Tagliani hasn’t quite been winning races by the
bunch, and the rumors of Pat Carpentier defecting to the IRL
refuse to go away. Who’s going to be the next Canadian hero?
We think Champ Car would be wise to come up with an answer
As of now, two prospects stand out: 17-year-old Andrew
Ranger, who despite his young age and his condition of
rookie has consistently been on pace with Toyota Atlantic’s
frontrunners, and perennial hard-lucker Michael Valiante,
24. Since the IRL’s desire to take over the Toronto,
Vancouver and Montreal Molson Indys is well-known, Champ
Car’s best chance for success on the inevitable dispute for
the Canadian market may ride on its ability to not only
retain Ranger and Valiante, but also promote them as the
next sources of Maple Leaf pride.
Despite sharing the same nationality, Andrew and Michael sit
on diametrically opposed situations. Valiante’s story is
known all too well: as the 2002 Toyota Atlantic runner-up
(to Jon Fogarty by a single point, after coming into the
last race atop of the standings), the British Columbia
native had a handful of Champ Car tests, impressing Derrick
Walker enough to assure a ride for the ’03 finale at Fontana
- until the wildest of wildfires prevented him from making
his major-league debut.
With Walker Racing’s 2004 deal coming almost past the 11th
hour, and Derrick’s decision to sign Mario Haberfeld,
Valiante found himself living the Via-Crucis of every
rideless driver: trying to get as much “face-time” and
handshakes per race as possible. Not exactly a racer’s best
idea of having a good time: “It’s the most difficult thing,
showing up on race weekends without knowing what will
happen,” he admits.
Ranger, for his part, lies in a much more comfortable
position. His rookie status in Atlantics gives him some
cushion to make mistakes, and the French-Canadian has shown
speed, if not yet consistency, throughout the season. Most
importantly, Andrew enjoys a luxury seemingly reserved to
Mexican drivers as of late: a sponsor willing to nurture his
way to the upper echelons of racing.
Procter & Gamble Canada advertises its Tide
detergent on the sidepods of Ranger’s Sierra Sierra
Enterprises car. Their willingness to step up a notch
appears to be the defining factor on Andrew’s eventual rise
to Champ Car - likely a matter of “when” rather than “if”.
Although Ranger reckons he is “very fortunate” to have a
company of P&G’s stature behind him, most paddock sources,
if not himself, admit a 2005 move to Champ Car would likely
be premature. Andrew has yet to find victory lane in his
Winning in Atlantics is something Valiante has done plenty -
five times, to be exact, en route to runner-up and 3rd place
campaigns in the ’02 and ’03 championships. Clearly done
with feeder series racing, Michael’s still looking to make
at least one Champ Car start this year. His best chances
remain with Derrick Walker, “if either of us can come up
with the funding,” he reveals.
Valiante can’t help but feeling puzzled by the lack of
involvement by Canadian sponsors, the very ones that could
provide him with such funds: “It’s one of the hardest things
to understand. Player’s [cigarettes] benefited so much from
its Champ Car program, and not just by having their names
painted on a team’s sidepods.”
Apparently, Canuck businesses prefer to spend their
motorsport dollars on an all-too familiar place: stock-car
racing. NTN Bearings is an example of a Canadian company
involved with NASCAR and CASCAR sponsorships. Turns out,
their reasoning is similarly too familiar: “It’s so hard to
find Champ Car on [Canadian] TV these days,” says Valiante.
“A sponsor knows that if they can’t find a product on TV,
neither will their potential customers,” he reasons.
Michael has been so close to a Champ Car opportunity so many
times, and has seen it crumble down in so many ways, he’s
found a psychological defense to avoid further heartbreaks
in the future: “Unless I’m inside the car, I won’t ever
think it’s a done deal.” Yet not even an experienced racer
like him can avoid bursts of disillusionment: “I see the
fans’ passion and patriotism at the Canadian events, I just
wish Champ Car would worry about it [getting the media and
the sponsors excited] as much as they do about the
As a guest of RuSPORT during the Molson Indy Montreal
weekend, Michael continues his almost everlasting search for
a top-league seat, knowing time is hardly ever on a
sidelined racer’s side.
“It’s good to know people still think about me for a ride,”
he states before confessing: “But I know it’s only going to
last for so long.”
Valiante is aware that for himself - and for Champ Car’s
hold on its current monopoly of Canada’s big-name drivers
and races - the clock is ticking.
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