Canadian Drivers Seek Home Advantage in Montreal
A trio of Canadian drivers will be looking to win in their home country Friday when the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 visits Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for the Montreal 200 (SPEED, 8 p.m. ET Friday).
Mark Wilkins of Toronto, Michael Valiante of Vancouver and Marc-Antoine Camirand of Quebec will be competing in the series' premier Daytona Prototype class, while Montreal native Sylvain Tremblay, Jean-Francois Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres and veteran Toronto driver Ron Fellows lead a group of Canadians racing in the GT division.
The only Canadian team in the Grand-Am Rolex Series, AIM Autosport, has been one of the most improved teams in the paddock in 2008. The team has raised its sights, finishing a career-best fourth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and has five top 10s, though none have come in the last two races. The team would like for that to change this weekend.
The team flexed new-found Ford muscle at the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, when each of the team's drivers had the car in the lead at the end of their opening shift. The team ran with the leaders until several nighttime incidents dropped them out of contention.
Since then, AIM Autosport has been a frontrunner, finishing in the top eight in five of the following six races and ran seventh in the team standings. Wilkins won the team's first pole at Daytona in July, while in the most recent event, Brian Frisselle passed series front-runners Scott Pruett and Alex Gurney late in the race and led 15 laps, only to have his engine fail with 13 laps remaining.
"We've been looking for podium finishes at recent races, but we're looking for a win at Montreal," said Wilkins, who co-drives the No. 61 Exchange Traded Gold /Mike Direct Connect/Telux Ford Riley with Frisselle. "We led here quite a bit last year, and it was one of our best races last season. This is a race that we're really targeting to be ‘our race.'"
This weekend, Wilkins hopes previous experience here will help him find the top step on the podium. Frisselle led six laps here last year, with the team posting a seventh-place finish.
Another Canadian looking for victory this weekend is Michael Valiante - which would be a repeat performance for SunTrust Racing. Last year, Max Angelelli teamed with Jan Magnussen and came home a winner. This year, Valiante is Angelelli's new co-driver on a new car, as the No. 10 team switched to the Dallara chassis this year. Valiante, who won a pair of poles and led in six of the opening seven races in 2008, finishing a season-best third in the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen.
Open-wheel star Marc-Antoine Camirand of Saint Leonard d'Aston, Quebec, co-drives the No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote with Guy Cosmo. Montreal is one of the selected races the team is running in 2008. Camirand won here in 2004 in the Hankook Tire Touring Car race.
The three Canadians have joined the remainder of the Daytona Prototype field with a common goal - trying to stop the TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley of Pruett and Memo Rojas. The pair, which finished fifth here last year, won six of the opening nine races - including the Rolex 24 of Daytona (joined by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti) and the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, where Pruett drove the final three hours in 90-degree heat. They hold a 60-point lead (295-235) over last year's champions Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty.
Gurney and Fogarty have struggled throughout this season after winning seven of 14 events last year in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. They were winless through the opening seven rounds of 2008 before finally breaking through in the rain at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Since then, Gurney was passed on the final lap by Pruett in the Daytona event earlier this month, and the car's clutch failed after Gurney led the most laps at Barber Motorsports Park.
Riley-Matthews Motorsports won in Mexico City with drivers Jim Matthews and Marc Goossens. Cheever Racing had its best showing of 2007 in Montreal, when rookie Antonio Garcia led three laps en route to a fourth-place finish. Garcia has competed in eight of the nine Rolex Series races this season, and welcomes back former co-driver Christian Fittipaldi, who spent 2006 and 2007 as the team's lead driver. In addition to the Daytona Prototype run last season, Fittipaldi has competed at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Formula 1 and the former Champ Car World Series.
Other teams have been closing in on victory this season. Brumos Porsche posted back-to-back runner-up finishes with Toronto-born Darren Law and David Donohue; Michael Shank Racing had both of its Ford Rileys on the front row for the Rolex 24 At Daytona; Doran Racing has been running near the front with its two Dallaras; Krohn Racing is running the new Lola chassis, with its two-car lineup including Formula 1 veteran Ricardo Zonta and Nic Jonsson in the No. 76 Pontiac and Tracy Krohn teamed with Oliver Gavin in the No. 75 Pontiac; and Rum Bum Racing led the most laps at Mid-Ohio with rookies Matt Plumb and Gene Sigal.
Canadians Tremblay, Dumoulin and Fellows Lead GT Teams
Tremblay and co-driver Nick Ham look to continue their upswing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazdaspeed/Castrol Syntec Mazda RX-8. With two poles and two victories in as many races (Brumos Porsche 250 and Porsche 250 at Barber), the duo is inching closer to GT point leaders Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards in the No. 07 Banner Racing Banner Engineering Pontiac GXP.R, with only 14 points separating the teams (292-278). The SpeedSource sister car, the Watkins Glen-winning No. 69 machine driven by Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal, looks to rebound from two straight 17th-place finishes.
After winning three races early in the season, Collins and Edwards have been off the podium in three straight events. They look for better results at Montreal, where they placed eighth last year despite running third on the final lap. The sister Banner car, the No. 06 Pontiac GXP.R that finished fifth here last year, is slated to be driven by team owner Leighton Reese and Canadian native Ron Fellows, who will also drive Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide Series car in the Saturday race.
With one victory in 10 GT events in 2008, Porsche will be looking to return to the form that saw it win here last year and take three of the top four positions. Andy Lally, who teamed with RJ Valentine to win last year's race, returns to lead four Porsche GT3s entered by TRG, which is seeking its first race victory since last year at Montreal. Lally will co-drive with Tim George Jr. in the No. 67 entry, while Valentine teams with Bryan Sellers in the No. 68 Porsche GT3. Also entered are the No. 65 TRG/Riegel Autosport Porsche GT3 driven by Craig Stanton and Canadian Hima Maher and the No. 66 TRG Porsche GT3 driven by Ted Ballou and Spencer Pumpelly.
Dirk Werner and Bryce Miller of the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3 look to continue their hot streak, with two consecutive second-place finishes in the past two races. The pair also finished second in the 2007 Montreal 200. Leh Keen and Eric Lux of the No. 86 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche won at Mid-Ohio, and the team's third car, the No. 88 Porsche, is slated to be driven by Toronto's Dave Lacey and Steven Johnson.
The No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Stevenson Automotive Pontiac GXP.R team of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell hope to capture a podium finish, which narrowly eluded them in the last contest at Barber. They are sitting first in number of podium finishes in GT for the season with six, and are tied for fifth in points with 265.
Blackforest Motorsports have two cars entered for this weekend's competition with a lineup dominated by Canadians. The No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang GT will be driven by Jean-Francois Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, and Tom Nastasi of Stamford, Conn. The No. 50 Mustang will seat drivers David Empringham and John Farano - both of Toronto.
Practice for the Montreal 200 begins at 12:30 p.m. ET Thursday. Qualifying begins at 1:15 p.m. ET Friday, with the 200-mile race (74 laps with a two hour time limit) taking the green flag at 4:21 p.m. ET.
- This is Round 11 for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. The combined Daytona Prototype/GT race is two hours or 200 miles (74 laps), whichever comes first.
- The green flag for the race is scheduled to fly at 4:21 p.m. ET on Friday. The race will air same day delay on SPEED, beginning at 8 p.m. ET (Leigh Diffey - Play-by-Play; Dorsey Schroeder, Calvin Fish - Analysts; Brian Till, Chris Neville - Pit Reporters).
- All cars must make a mandatory pit stop prior to the 45-minute mark in the race, and each driver must complete 30 minutes of the race in order to earn points for their respective standings.
- 2007 Montreal race winners were Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen (Daytona Prototypes), and Andy Lally and RJ Valentine (GT).
ROLEX SERIES WEEKEND SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EASTERN)
- Thursday: Rolex Series Practice (12:30-1:30 p.m.); Rolex Series Practice (2-3 p.m.); Rolex Series Practice (3:30-4:30 p.m.); Rolex Series Practice (5-5:30 p.m.); Rolex Series Trueman/Akin Practice (5:30-6 p.m.)
- Friday: Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Qualifying (1:15-1:30 p.m.); Rolex Series GT Qualifying (1:35-1:50 p.m.); Montreal 200 (4:21 p.m.; 200 miles/74 laps/two- hour time limit).
2008 IN REVIEW
Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas hold a 60-point advantage (295-235) in the Daytona Prototype standings after six victories and second and third-place finishes in their first nine starts. They won the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami, the Bosch Engineering 250 at VIR, the Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, the Brumos Porsche 250 and the Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant in the No. 01 TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley. In the Brumos Porsche 250, Pruett passed Gurney on the final lap to win the Brumos Porsche 250. Defending series champs Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty won the rain-soaked EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley. Marc Goossens and Jim Matthews won the Mexico City 250 in the No. 91 Bob Stallings/Riley-Matthews Motorsports Pontiac Riley, while Ryan Dalziel and Henri Zogaib earned their initial Daytona Prototype victories in the No. 2 SAMAX BMW Riley at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Consistency and nine top 10s - including three class victories this season - have No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R co-drivers Kelly Collins and Paul Edwards atop the GT point standings, 14 points (292-278) over their closest competitors, Rolex 24 At Daytona winners Sylvain Tremblay and Nick Ham in the No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8. Overall, Tremblay and Ham have won three GT races this season. No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Pontiac GXP.R co-drivers Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis won two straight races this season, and No. 69 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 drivers Jeff Segal, Emil Assentato and Nick Longhi won the Sahlen's Six Hours. Eric Lux and Leh Keen drove the No. 87 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3 to the victory at Mid-Ohio.
NEWS & NOTES
- Hometown Heroes: Three of the Daytona Prototype drivers reside in Canada. Marc-Antoine Camirand lives in St. Leonard d'Aston in Quebec, while Mark Wilkins resides in Toronto and Michael Valiante in Vancouver. In addition, Darren Law was born in Toronto. In GT, Blackforest Motorsports will field two Mustangs for three Canadians. Jean-Francois Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres will share the No. 5 Mustang with Tom Nastasi, while Toronto drivers David Empringham and John Farano co-drive the No. 50 entry. In addition, Dave Lacey of Toronto will share the No. 88 Farnbacher Loles Racing Porsche GT3, co-driving with former NFL tight end Steve Johnson.
- Home Turf for AIM Autosport: The No. 61 AIM Autosport Exchange Traded Gold Ford Riley is the only Daytona Prototype team based in Canada. Mark Wilkins and Brian Frisselle drive for the Toronto team.
- Double Duty: Three drivers are expected to compete in both the Montreal 200 and Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Daytona Prototype point leader Scott Pruett will drive Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 40 Fastenal Dodge in the NASCAR race after sharing the team's No. 01 TELMEX Lexus Riley with Memo Rojas in the Montreal 200. Ron Fellows, who will drive the No. 06 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R on Friday, is expected to drive a Chevrolet fielded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race. In addition to driving the No. 27 O'Connell Racing Porsche GT3 in the Montreal 200, Kevin O'Connell will drive the No. 09 General Environmental Chevrolet in the NASCAR race. Kevin Roush, his Rolex Series co-driver Friday, will be his spotter the following day.
- Rolex Grads in NASCAR Race: La Salle, Quebec driver Patrick Carpentier, who will drive in the NASCAR race, has competed in 10 races in the Daytona Prototypes, with his best finish second in the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Sports car veteran Max Papis, who shared the 2004 Daytona Prototype championship with Pruett and is a five-time Rolex Series winner, will drive the No. 64 Atreus Homes Chevrolet. Brad Coleman also began his career in the Rolex Series as part of Team 16 in the 2005 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
- Substitute Roles: Oliver Gavin will join Krohn Racing this weekend, pairing with car owner Tracy Krohn in the No. 75 Pontiac Lola. He has two victories and two runner-up finishes with the team. He will substitute for Eric van de Poele, who will be in his native Belgium this weekend, seeking his fifth victory in the 24 Hours of Spa at Spa Francorchamps. Due to a recent knee injury, Ross Smith will be replaced by Peter Ludwig, who races fulltime in the KONI Challenge Series, to co-drive with Doug Peterson in the No. 30 Racers Edge Motorsports Mazda RX-8.
- Hall Pass: Originally, Ricky Taylor was expected to miss Friday's race due to a conflict with classes at the University of Central Florida, where the 18-year-old is a freshman. However, he was cleared by the school to race the No. 47 Brach's/CDOC Doran Racing Ford Dallara for the fourth straight race with Burt Frisselle. His best finish with the team is fifth in the most recent race at Barber Motorsports Park, matching his career best of fifth in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona, where he co-drove his father Wayne Taylor's No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley.
- Hollywood Style: Actor and GT Series competitor Patrick Dempsey is slated to co-drive the No. 40 Hyper Sport Mazda RX-8 with Joe Foster. Dempsey has six starts this season with a best finish of 11th at Daytona.
ROLEX SERIES POINT STANDINGS
- Daytona Prototype: 1. (tie) Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, (295); 3. Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty (235); 5. (tie) Marc Goossens, Jim Matthews (224); 7. (tie) Mark Patterson, Oswaldo Negri (217); 9. (tie) Darren Law, David Donohue (210).
- GT: 1. (tie) Kelly Collins, Paul Edwards (292); 3. (tie) Sylvain Tremblay, Nick Ham (278); 5. (tie) Andrew Davis, Robin Liddell (265); 7. Tim George Jr. (240); 8. Ted Ballou (229); 9. (tie) Bryce Miller, Spencer Pumpelly (225).
- MESCO Building for the Future Rookie of the Year: 1. Tim George Jr. (240); 2. Ted Ballou (229); 3. Ricardo Zonta (206); 4. Jeff Segal (205); 5. Lawson Aschenbach (203).
- Pruett, Ganassi Continue Winning Record: Scott Pruett and Chip Ganassi continue to set records for overall wins in the Rolex Series. Pruett notched his 20th overall win in the Porsche 250 presented by Bradley Arant at Barber Motorsports Park, now seven more than second-place James Weaver. In turn, Ganassi earned his 21st win - all in Daytona Prototypes - 10 more than the SunTrust Racing team. Pruett has also finished in the top 10 in 28 consecutive Rolex Series Daytona Prototype races.
- Pontiac Owns Class Win Record: With seven class victories this season, Pontiac has passed Porsche for all-time class wins. Pontiac owns 51 class wins, while Porsche, which won for the first time in 2008 in the GT class at Mid-Ohio, has 50.
SELECTED PRE-RACE DRIVER QUOTES
Paul Edwards (No. 07 Banner Racing Pontiac GXP.R): "We were running strong last year until a big pile up in the Casino turn and I spun. We were able to get a good toe down the straights and the GXP.R is always good in transitions and through the corners. We were able to hang with the front cars. We are still at a deficit to the other cars so we will need a trouble free race on the track, pits and in the inspection line. Montreal is a great track; I would love to be on the podium for this race. It supposed to be nice and cool, (so) we can turn the A/C off and get a couple extra horsepower."
Marc-Antoine Camirand (No. 09 Spirit of Daytona Racing Porsche Coyote): "It's always great to race in Canada, but especially at Montreal, because it's only an hour from my home. I love the circuit - I've won here a few times in other cars - and the crowd will be awesome. The people there are real racing fans.
"A lot of my friends and family members will be there, so it will be good to go to Montreal and race in front of that crowd of people as well. I've raced there before, but obviously at these levels the competition is pretty tough, so I'm sure the other drivers are going to figure out the track pretty quickly as well."
Michael Valiante (No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac Dallara): "Any time I get to race in my home country, it's a big honor to be representing Canada in this series. Racing in Montreal is a little bit different from being in my home town in Vancouver, but I'm really looking forward to it. It's a great facility and I really enjoy Montreal."
Jean-Francois Dumoulin (No. 15 Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang GT): "Last year we finished fourth - and we almost got third, actually. The Mustang passed me on that last turn. There was an incident in the last corner. Obviously we all want to try and win races, which is why we're all here. I think we have a good chance with the Mustang at Montreal, and since it's my home track, I'll be pretty excited. The team's been working really hard. We had some motor issues this year, but I think everything should be sorted out for Montreal. I know that track and my co-driver and I are really good at that track. It's a warm-up for my real race - Trois-Rivieres.
"It's always fun to race at home; you know a lot people. All my friends will be there. I don't really get nervous when they are all there. Actually, I think the extra pressure helps me out."
Christian Fittipaldi (No. 16 Cheever Racing Pontiac Coyote): "I am happy to be back with Cheever Racing and the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Race Team, and especially look forward to driving again with Antonio (Garcia). We get along very well and I admire his skill as a driver. This combination has great potential."
Mark Wilkins (No. 61 AIM Autosport Ford Riley): "I've raced pretty much everything here: Formula Renault, Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Mazda, so I've got quite a bit of experience here. It's different from the tracks we usually race on, so I'm looking forward to it. Running the open-wheel cars helped me in my move to Daytona Prototypes here last year, because the lines are pretty similar. Getting used to the extra weight of the Daytona Prototype was the big difference, but the experience in open-wheel cars really helped me get up to speed last year."
Sylvain Tremblay (No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda RX-8): "It's my hometown; my home track. We had a great run there last year, just with some problems. I really enjoy the track and the French-Canadian culture. It's neat to bring my team and my crew to where I grew up, so they can see a lot of the things I talk about. That's always fun.
"We focused improving a couple of key areas for our run at Montreal. We made some changes to improve our car dramatically and that should make a big difference there. Every year, it's a case where there will be someone I haven't seen in 10 years - and it's always fun to go. It's a very busy time for us, with extra family and that sort of thing, but I enjoy all of it!"
Alex Gurney (No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley): "Montreal is a great track and one that I've always loved. Having watched the F1 races over the years, it's always a special kind of feeling racing on the same track as they do. Now, with the NASCAR Nationwide Series there as well, our Montreal weekend is a very big happening. Last year, it looked like we were headed for a win but a faulty wheel gun put a stop to that. We fell to 10th after our mishap and I had a great time trying to make it back toward the front. I made it up to third and was very happy to get by Scott Pruett in the last few laps for the last podium spot. There are some very long straights at Montreal, which hasn't been our strong suit this year, but everyone on the team and everyone at Pontiac have been doing everything possible to give us the best possible package. With the championship looking more and more difficult, we very much want to win this race, especially since we think we gave one up at Barber."