O Opinions & Commentary

Canada’s ‘Major’ Auto Races are Falling one by one

Oakville, April 15/21 (GRW) There are four ‘major’ auto races held each year in Canada: The Canadian Grand Prix, Toronto’s Honda Indy, the IMSA race at CTMP and the NASCAR Truck Series race at CTMP. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing in Canada, it is beginning to look like none of these four races will happen this year. All four were cancelled last year and it looks like none of the four will occur this year either.

To me, it’s a sad commentary that, of this set of four ‘majors’, none are truly Canadian – they are all in the ‘visitor’ category – all US-based, with F1 having a primarily European identity. Long gone are the days when series like the Can-Am and the Formula Atlantic series had a real Canadian identity. But, if these four majors don’t happen this year, any actual racing that happens in Canada will be definitely second tier or lower. Those four races are the only ones (with the possible exception of Trois Rivières) that get much of a crowd – or TV audience – to speak of.

The Pinty’s Series has already bailed out on their traditional dates at CTMP in may and Toronto in July – and going to three double-headers to fill out their roster of races.

When I started thinking about writing this commentary earlier today, only one of these major races had been scratched – The IMSA race at CTMP – but the other three of the four majors were still on the calendar. By lunch time, another one had been cancelled – the Canadian Grand Prix.[Yes, I know that this cancellation of the CDN GP has yet to be officially confirmed, but there's no way that this 'rumour' is not true.]

IMSA immediately filled the open date with a second race at Watkins Glen on more-or-less the same date. Surprisingly, they have chosen to hold this race on a Friday, July 2nd, rather than on the actual July 4th date the CTMP event was scheduled for. Perhaps, given that the teams were already going to be at the Glen for the traditional six-hour IMSA event, having the second race on Friday would mean a shorter lay-over in upstate New York. Or, perhaps, they wanted to avoid the Independence Day holiday given that this two-races-in-two-weeks event is unlikely to draw much of a crowd at any rate. It’s worth noting that there will also be a two-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge (GT4) race on the Friday as well.

As for the replacement for the Canadian Grand Prix, most observers believe that F1 had already lined up a replacement race in Turkey – presumably on the same date, June 13. There is an ongoing bad taste carrying over from the cancelled 2020 Canadian GP. Apparently none of the people who had purchased tickets for that race have received refunds – only promises that they will get the money back some day. I hope this is not a sign that Octane, the local promoters, are so short of funds that they are unable to give back their customers’ money. As I see it, this is bad faith business – bordering on a Ponzi scam – and I worry that this may bode badly for the future viability of the Grand Prix here.

So what about the other two races in question?

Already, the City of Toronto has cancelled all major in-person events up to and including July 1. The Toronto Indy is scheduled for July 11. It takes more than two weeks to set up the temporary ‘street’ track for the event. Will that construction schedule overlap with the July 1st date and bring the IndyCar race under the in-person event ban?

Beyond that, a significant consideration in cancelling the Grand Prix was the 14-day isolation requirement on anyone who enters Canada under the current rules. Who believes that the US-Canada border will be open any time soon?

My bet is that the Toronto race will not happen this year. Some speculation has it that this date will be tacked onto an existing date in the US, making for a double-header two race weekend there. Perhaps at Mid-Ohio, a track owned and operated by Green-Savoree who also stage the Toronto Indy race.

The CTMP NASCAR Truck Series race is currently on the calendar for September 5th, the Sunday of the Labour Day weekend. That may seem like a long time off and a lot of time for the vaccination program in Canada to be nearing its completion.

But ... First, Canada is a have-not country when it comes to vaccine supply – we do not produce any vaccines in this country and are reliant on supplies from other counties who put their own citizens first. We’ve already had a number of disappointments over missed or delayed shipments of vaccines, we can’t be sure how this is going to play out. Second, the US-Canada border has been closed for over a year now and those who allowed to cross are expected to go into lockdown for a 14-day period. That’s incompatible with the whole entourage of any racing series crossing into Canada for a weekend of racing.

Already the Cobble Beach Concours, scheduled for September 19, has been cancelled. No doubt concerns about participants being unable or unwilling to try to cross the border had to be a significant consideration. If there’s no Cobble Beach, what are the chances for a Truck Race at CTMP two weeks earlier?

For my part, I have only two event dates circled in my diary – I have booked hotel rooms for both of them. First is the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen in August and the second is the Concours at Hilton Head at the end of October. But I have made sure I will be able to cancel either of those bookings with no cancellation fees – just in case.

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