IMSA drivers elated at return to ‘old school’ Canadian Tire Motorsports Park

IMSA drivers elated at return to ‘old school’ Canadian Tire Motorsports Park

For the first time since 2019, IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge are racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. The drivers are eager to go back to the track formerly known as Mosport for the first time since COVID shut down cross-border racing, both for the love of the fast, flowing circuit and the Canadian fans. That’s especially true of the Canadian racers looking to race on home soil again.

For the Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR winners at Watkins Glen, Mark Wilkins and Robert Wickens, it’s going to be an especially sweet homecoming. The Canadians are going back triumphant after having won only a weekend before in the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR — Wickens’s first racing victory since his IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018 that left him without the use of his legs. That victory might sell more than a few extra tickets for this weekend.

“There’s great fans that have been longing for this day to be able to come back to a race,” said Wilkins. “So this is going to be big. I think it’s going to be a full house. I know there are tons of supporters of Robbie and I. And I think it’s really suits our car too. I think we have great momentum going into our home race. We’ve got Hyundai Canada support. They’re excited and you know, it’s … yeah, no pressure! I think if we just need to keep our head down like we did , focus on everything we can control and just go out and try to deliver a great result for all the fans and supporters.”

Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is “such a constant flowing circuit” that any momentary loss of momentum can ruin a whole lap, says Robert Wickens. Scott R LePage/Motorsport Images

It has been since 2009 that Wickens last raced at CTMP in a Formula Atlantic race, but he was there earlier this week for a Hyundai Canada event. He’s impressed with the changes the track has made, especially for safety, but believes the character of the circuit he describes as “a driver’s track” remains intact.

“The most challenging part of Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is honestly the whole track,” explained Wickens. “It’s is such a fast, flowing track that you have to get through Turn 1 well to make sure that you can roll good speed through Turn 2 and then Turn 2 rolls right into Turn 3. It’s just such a constant flowing circuit that if you break momentum in one of those corners that kind of ruins the whole lap. 5A, and 5B is probably the most critical corner on the track that leads onto a long, uphill back straight. So time-wise if you can get through there quickly, you’re probably in pretty good shape. But it’s a challenging place and so old school; it’s a raw track. I think that’s why it’s always a driver favorite – it’s just such an adrenaline rush with all the elevation, blind corners, fast corners. You have to fully commit to try to be competitive.”

Ricky Taylor, who with Filipe Albuquerque won the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Watkins Glen a few days ago, concurs with Wickens’s assessment of CTMP being a high-speed commitment track. But despite the momentum of victory and coming in leading the championship for the Wayne Taylor Racing crew, he downplays the chances he and Albuquerque have for success in Sunday’s 2h40m race.

“It’ll be the first time for Wayne Taylor Racing with the Acura, which is a bit of a different subject,” he says. “There’s some things that we’re worried about, to be honest, that we didn’t face with the Penske program that have changed over the past couple of years since we’ve been there. So, it’s a little bit more of an unknown than I think most people from the outside might think. We’re we’re not as optimistic as we were ; we’re going to have to do some work, I think.”

The two-hour Canadian Tire Motorsports Park 120 for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race is Saturday afternoon at 4:10 p.m Eastern, and streams live on Peacock. The 2h40m Chevrolet Grand Prix for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship begins at 3:05 p.m. Eastern on Sunday and will be carried on NBC. Those series are joined by the IMSA Prototype Challenge, which will run a 90-minute race on Sunday morning.