Monday, July 22, 2013

Muscle Milk Team Wins Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, Canadians Fared Well

Photo Credit: American Le Mans Series

Canada's oldest surviving motorsport complex, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park continued its tradition of hosting some of the greatest sports cars on the globe. Sunday's Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix is another occasion over the 2.46-mile road course's 50-plus year history where classes of premium cars and drivers found themselves challenging the track's tricky turns and elevations. Though the only Canadian race on the American Le Mans Series has recently existed as a spot where car counts were lower than major races at Sebring or Daytona, the 2013 edition of the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix still attracted the likes of the SRT Viper GTS-R, Chevrolet Corvette C6.R ZR1 and a DeltaWing chassis P1 car.

The #6 Muscle Milk sponsored HPD ARX-03a driven by Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf went unchallenged through the event. With only three P1 entrants part of the 2013 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, there was never a prospect of an overall battle at any point during the weekend. The 2-hour, 45-minute sports car race simply confirmed the suspicions. The second highest entry in P1 finished 7 fewer laps around the 2.46-mile track. The Mazda-powered #16 Dyson Racing vehicle piloted by Canadian Tony Burgess and Chris McMurry took the second in class honours. The Luhr/Graf combination in the #6 prototype has won their fourth-straight event in the 2013 ALMS championship.

Finishing four laps behind the Muscle Milk race car, the P2 class battle was more wide-open affair. Drivers Scott Tucker and Marino Franchitti prevailed in P2 behind the wheel of the #551 car for Level 5 Motorsports. The #551 car would also serve as the second finisher overall in the 2013 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix. Second in P2 was the Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-03b race car shared by Scott Sharp and Guy Cosmo. The #552 car was third in the P2 class. Part of the driving team for the second Level 5 Motorsport machine was IndyCar Detroit race winner Mike Conway. Conway was filling in for Ryan Briscoe who sustained wrist injury last Saturday at the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto event.

The PC category finish was the tightest in the prototype class at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park sports car race. With the class' top-three on the same lap at the end, it was the #05 Core Autosport ride driven by Jonathan Bennett and Colin Braun who snatched victory. While the Core Autosport car finished 15 seconds ahead of the second place PC entry, a battle between the #81 and #8 cars was less than two seconds apart. The  Mirco Schultis and Renger van der Zande prevailed for the runner-up spot over the entry driven by Canadians Kyle Marcelli and Chris Cumming. Missing out on victory in class with #8 BAR1 Motorsports car, Marcelli's third place finish is his first podium at the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix after three DNFs in previous years. In the lead of the PC category during the early stages of the 2013 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix, the #9 car piloted by Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende would be taken out of contention for their second 2013 ALMS class win by a starting issue following a mid-race pit stop. Eventually restarting their #9 Oreca FLM09 for RSR Racing, Junqeira and Ende settled with a fifth place class result.

Photo Credit: Richard Prince for Corvette Racing

As usual with the 2013 American Le Mans Series season, the GT classes provided the most amusement. In the main GT class during Saturday's qualifying, the SRT Viper GTS-R recorded its second pole of the 2013 championship season. Jonathan Bomarito recorded the top time in the #93 car co-driven with Canadian Kuno Wittmer. In the race, the final laps was a scrap between the SRT Viper GTS-R cars and the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C6.R. Crossing the line a mere 0.27 seconds ahead of the #91 Viper GTS-R of Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goossens, the #4 Corvette Racing machine was the winner. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner captured their first win together since the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring earlier this season. A finish that mirrored the intensity of a 2000 battle on the Mosport track between the than-young Corvette Racing and the experienced Vipers in the hands of Team Oreca, the result in 2013 was in favour of Corvette.

Nearly as exciting as the GT class was the GTC category result. Winning by 2.3 seconds, the #22 Alex Job Racing car driven by Cooper MacNeil and Jeroen Bleekemolen took their second victory of 2013. Second in Porsche 911 GT3 Cup dominated GTC class was #45 Flying Lizard Motorsports car of Nelson Canache, Jr. and Spencer Pumpelly.
Only two cars were classified as not running at the end of the 2013 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix. The #7 PC class machine for BAR1 Motorsports ended the race with a hard hit in turn 1 after competing 85 laps. Prior to this, the promising Elan-powered DeltaWing P1 car was retired after only 16 laps.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sports Car Converge on Toronto for RaceFest Exhibit Ahead of CTMP Race Weekend

Photo Credit: American Le Mans Series

Just days after the Honda Indy Toronto exhibited some exquisite racing action, the downtown streets of Canada's largest city will once again be a stage for showing off high-horsepower motorsport vehicles. Venturing away from open wheel, fenderless vehicles, sports car racing will gain the limelight in the streets of Toronto for a brief time on July 17th. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park's RaceFest will cause an additional bustle of auto racing excitement ahead of the 2013 Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix. Celebrating the essence of the American Le Mans Series sports car racing tour, the RaceFest will take place on Wednesday between 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. within Yonge-Dundas Square.

There will be several worthwhile components to RaceFest in Toronto providing close encounter with sports car racing culture. Live pit stop demonstrations will be performed by the Corvette Racing team. A special guest for the pit stop exhibition is also planned to make an appearance. Canadian auto racing legend, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park track part-owner and upcoming Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Ron Fellows will once-again pilot the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R sports car.

What could have been the look of the IZOD IndyCar Series, a DeltaWing race car will be displayed as part of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park's RaceFest. Powered by a Elan engine, the 2013 DeltaWing will make its Canadian debut in sports car racing competition this weekend at the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix. The unusual but innovative lightweight sports car will be piloted by Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge at this weekend's race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as one of three entrants in the P1 class.

Also competing in the P1 class will be Toronto driver Tony Burgess. Piloting a Dyson Racing Mazda-Lola race car, Burgess will be part of Wednesday's RaceFest. A popular, young Canadian driver Kyle Marcelli will also be part of the pre-race event in Toronto. Piloting the #8 Prototype Challenge category car for BAR1 Motorsports, Marcelli is eagerly seeking his first class win at the only home stop for American Le Mans Series. Kyle Marcelli is teaming up with Vancouver driver Chris Cumming this weekend. In addition to Canada's greatest American Le Mans Series contenders, home country drivers from the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Challenge Canada and Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup will be present at RaceFest.

Following the RaceFest festivities in the center of Toronto, competition at Canadian Tire Motorsport will run from July 18th through to the 21st.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Are the Days Numbered for Auto Racing on Streets of Toronto?

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

This year’s Honda Indy Toronto closed on a high note. Headlined by the IZOD IndyCar Series’ first doubleheader event on the streets of Toronto, we have seen two action-filled races where Scott Dixon came out on top with a $100,000 bonus for sweeping the weekend. The first standing starts in the IZOD INDYCAR Series on Sunday also provoked an extra tone of excitement for race fans. With the 2013 edition of the July weekend motorsport near-tradition is in the books, the future of the auto racing on the street course could be altered. Last renewed in early 2012 through to the 2014 season, there is a possibility that the same thundering roar of engines may not be produced by the waterfront location.



Originally called the Molson Indy, the most of North American open wheel racing has catered to established auto racing fans and won over so many others since 1986. Back then, the CNE grounds was a more bustling location for entertaining Canada’s largest city. The Toronto Blue Jays were still playing at a stadium on the land, the Canadian National Exhibition was larger and nearby Ontario Place provided all the reason for the area to be a go-to place for fun. For better or worse, the Blue Jays have long been playing at the Skydome (Rogers Centre) while Ontario Place is currently an unattended island. Despite this, one ongoing event has been held 26 times in 27 years has been a modern mainstay that has both noise to property lining Lake Shore Boulevard. Cancelled in 2008 due to the Champ Car series merging with the Indy Racing League, the race returned in 2009 through the intervention of a seven-time Toronto event winner Michael Andretti. Assuming the title Honda Indy Toronto, shaky Champ Car fields prior to 2009, a one-year absence and an economic downturn led to a less impressive spectator count for the race headlined by the IZOD INDYCAR Series. Crowds have been gradually returning to the race event (although real number to confirm this have not been released by the less-than helpful race promoters. attendees and television viewers of the 2013 Honda Indy observed near full grandstands within a crowded CNE grounds.


The Changing City


Toronto has been a city undergoing a major metamorphosis. Thanks to high property values, every parcel of land in the city is seen as the next condominium development or big box store location. Until a city council vote put the kibosh on the Toronto casino plan, the CNE grounds was being eyed as a location for a gambling-related resort area. This move would have undoubtedly prompted the immediate end of the Honda Indy Toronto (at least in its current location). Even Scott Dixon noted the high-rise development during the Sunday press conference after the 2013 Honda Indy. It is widely suspected redevelopment of the Ontario Place grounds could involve the addition of new condominiums or other buildings. Part of it is already stated to be reimagined as a giant green space that will still require the movement of heavy equipment in and out of the Ontario Place grounds. Construction that has gripped the city could cause a rethinking of the Honda Indy Toronto’s route.

With a 2017 target date set for Ontario Place refurbishing, part of the land is slated to be used for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Hosting one of the largest, international multi-sport gatherings behind the Olympics, the Pan Am Games will run July 10 through to the 26 (squarely within the Honda Indy Toronto‘s typical dates). Though the two events are significantly different, it could prove difficult to stretch City of Toronto resources for a pair of major sports. It is possible the Honda Indy Toronto and Pan Am Games will divide attention for three days (not including the pre-race activities).

Without an announcement for a contract extension, the Honda Indy Toronto may be faced with cancellation or relocation in 2015.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Where the Honda Indy Could be Held in 2015?

Throughout the running of the racing festival on the streets, closing down a stretch had not been popular for non-race fans. While many Toronto festivals involve street closures, the Honda Indy Toronto has been earning distaste for some since it causes traffic interruptions for multiple days consecutively. If the long-used CNE grounds would be unavailable, the IZOD IndyCar Series and other support series could presented near Toronto with two options involving no street closures.

The first future venue choice could be the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (traditionally known as Mosport). Serving as a venue for the USAC open wheel series four times from 1967 to 1978, recent development of the road course facilities around the 2.46-mile track has been underway. Along with hosting sports car racing and other national racing series, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park will be hosting its first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race late this summer. Would the road course prove as welcoming to IZOD IndyCar fans as the street circuit in the heart of downtown Toronto?

From the oldest-operating track in Canada to what will be the newest, Canadian Motor Speedway under construction right now in Fort Erie is more than a one and a half hour drive from Toronto but have the potential of treating IZOD IndyCar fans to oval track racing on our home turf. The one-mile oval serving as the centerpiece of the project will host a grandstand capacity for 65,000 spectators. A 2.5-mile road course is also part of the Canadian Motor Speedway complex.



While the Honda Indy could be moved, there could be a strong likelihood the race may stay by the Toronto waterfront. It would be a shame the electric weekend of this year’s event would cease being a part of a Toronto summer.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

XSL Speed Reporter Exclusive: Mark Wilkins Looking for Hometown Success in Toronto

Photo Credit: Kia Motors

Besides the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto working as a showcase for IZOD IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani to compete for national pride, the historic weekend always involved Canadian drivers in an array of support series. Sometimes its the teenage protégé and other times the line-up contains Canada's finest driver who may not be recognized as household names. Toronto's Mark Wilkins adds his name to the Canadian contingent fighting to win on the popular street circuit.

For the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto weekend, he'll be a GTS class force in the wildly diverse and competitive Pirelli World Challenge sports/touring car championship. The Canadian's weapon of choice is a Kia Optima Turbo sedan for Kinetic-Kia Racing coincidentally painted red and white. With nine rounds completed in the class so far in the 2013 season heading into the streets of Toronto's Acura Sports Car Challenge, Mark Wilkins resides second in the overall GTS standings. Describing his race car, Wilkins expressed, "The Kia Optima Turbo is a really fun car to race. Given that it is a high horsepower front wheel drive car, it certainly drives a fair bit differently than the open wheel and other sports cars that I have driven."

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

A highlight of this season was a race victory just across the border in Detroit. Contending against V-8 powered machines, Mark Wilkins and his team has been nothing less than impressive heading into the Honda Indy Toronto event. "In the GTS class, we race all sorts of different makes with completely different set ups. With our car, we do the lion share of the work with the front tires where many of our competitors have either front engine rear drive setups or mid engine rear drive setups. We have to manage the front tires on our car where our competitors would be focused on managing the rears. In the end, all of the cars are really closely matched and we have some epic on track battles." said Wilkins driving his first full season with the Kia Optima race car. He joined the Kinetic-Kia Racing team in 2012 at the Leguna Seca round.

For over a dozen years, Wilkins has compiled a rich resume of open wheel and sports car racing pursuits. Starting his professional career with the Canadian Formula Ford Championship, he spent five seasons across several Canadian and North American open wheel driving tours including the Star Mazda series (Now called the Pro Mazda Championship). During the 2005 season in Star Mazda, Mark Wilkins was in competition with future superstars James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal. In fact, with AIM Autosport backing, he was a teammate with the younger Hinchcliffe in the series. "2005 was one of the most challenging years of racing for me. The talent pool in Star Mazda that year was incredible. I certainly learned a lot of race craft from racing with James, Marco and Graham. It was one of those years where you really had to push yourself to find the last tenth every weekend. We certainly had some great battles that year!" A pair of fourth place finishes were highlights to his 2005 season.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The time in Star Mazda would come ahead of a transitional period in his career where his racing focus turned to sports car racing. With AIM Autosport's Daytona Prototype effort in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Wilkins would be part of two wins in 2008 including an ultra-close victory in Montreal. In 2010, Mark Wilkins paired with the Level 5 Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series Prototype Challenge class in 2010. Wilkins and team won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and the Leguna Seca event. Two years later, he would add a Petit Le Mans victory to his resume driving for Core Autosport. "I love sports car racing so my heart is certainly in that space.. So many great cars these days." said Mark Wilkins. At this years Rolex 24 at Daytona, he participated with the AIM Autosport team once again to drive a Ferrari 458 Italia. "I never thought I would get the opportunity to race a Ferrari let alone drive the road cars! To finish on the podium at Daytona with Ferrari was an incredible experience."

Experiencing good times at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) near to Toronto, Wilkins presence on the street course along Lake Ontario has been limited by the fact he had only raced once at the street course. Having raced on the circuit nine years ago in a North American Formula Renault Championship race, he was taken out while leading. Wilkins is ecstatic about visit to his homeland with the competitive Kia Optima. "I love home races! I spend so much time racing south of the border that when we get the chance to race at home it is just a surreal experience.. I have lots of friends and family coming out to support me which is really nice as well. The fans in Toronto are really enthusiastic so it should really be an electric weekend!" said Wilkins.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Racing on Sunday at the Acura Sports Car Challenge race in Toronto, Mark Wilkens is pleased with his GTS class season in the 2013 Pirelli World Challenge championship so far and remains motivated for more . "This has been a great season thus far for Kia Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge. With 4 podiums to date and a win in Detroit, we have certainly showed that the Optima Turbo is a top contender. My goal at the start of the season was to finish every race and focus on a championship run. As we roll into Toronto second in the points and after a solid run of finishes, I'm anxious to keep the momentum going this weekend."