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Little room for mistakes at Mont-Tremblant
A new mountain course on the Champ Car circuit will leave little room for mistakes.

"It's a track where taking chances is really rewarded, but that's a tough game because there aren't many spare chassis around," three-time series champion Sebastien Bourdais said Thursday. "It is a place where if you make a small mistake it can have disastrous consequences on the car, and maybe on you."

The Champ Cars were bumped off Gilles Villeneuve circuit, the Formula One track in Montreal, by the arrival of a NASCAR Busch Series race this summer, but found a new home in the Laurentian mountains a 90-minute drive north.

Qualifying at the picturesque, 2.65-mile track ringed by tree-covered hills begins Friday, with a second qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday.

It is the first of three consecutive events in Canada, with the Toronto race a week later and Edmonton on July 22.

The Mont-Tremblant Circuit couldn't be more different than Montreal, where hard braking and quick accelerations are key to negotiating long straightaways leading into abrupt turns and chicanes on a completely flat surface.

At Mont-Tremblant, known mainly as the east's biggest ski resort but which has had motor racing since 1960, the turns are mostly long and fast and the track rises and falls with the contours of the mountain.

And the cliffs leave little room for run-off areas, so going off-track will likely mean banging a wall.

"It was designed in the 1960s and safety standard-wise, it was probably very good then," said Bourdais. "But it wasn't able to evolve with the speed of the cars.

"They've done what they can and that's pretty good, but it's definitely a place where you can wreck a car."

Most of the drivers got an advance look at the track in testing sessions in May and know what they're in for. Organizers have added 12,000 tires for protective walls since then for a total of 40,000 around the course.

Canadian driver Alex Tagliani was not so worried. The Lachenaie, Que., native said it is no more dangerous than oval tracks, street courses or even some of the road courses Champ car visits where the walls are close and threatening.

"It's a little tight, but in Elkhart Lake, we have no run-off," Tagliani said. "This track could definitely be much better, but for the first year, I think it's decent.

"We also race on street courses and where's the runoff there? The run-off is a wall. There's definitely room for improvement, but with the time they had, I think they did a great job."

It has also been approved for safety by Champ Car vice-president Tony Cotman and FIA official Charlie Whiting.

The Champ Cars raced for five years in Montreal, dropping from 172,000 in total attendance in 2002 to 110,000 last year. Normand Legault, who runs the Canadian Grand Prix, decided a NASCAR Busch race would work better in the city.

The race looked doomed, but Mont-Tremblant track owner Lawrence Stroll, who made his fortune from the Tommy Hilfiger clothing line, teamed with Legault and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte to bring the Champ Cars north.

They expect a modest start. There are only 10,000 seats and although fans can sit on the grass, race general manager Francois Dumontier wouldn't say how many are expected. Some say 35,000 for the three days would be good.

But they expect it to build over their five-year contract to hold to event. Having the Cirque du Soleil stage a mountaintop show after the race should help.

"This year, I see it more as showcasing the track - having an intimate race with hard-core race fans who have known the track for years. who came here 30 years ago when F1 was here," said Tagliani.

"In future we have to think about how to make it a big event so we can get people out."

Both Formula One and Indycar races were held at Mont-Tremblant in the 1960s, but it was used mainly for smaller events and for a race driving school since then.

Now it has had major work, including a new asphalt surface, as it prepares for the powerful Champ Cars. Canadian Press

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