Speed bump for Montreal

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:38 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The mood in this Formula One mad city yesterday was one of cautious optimism about the return of the Canadian Grand Prix in 2010.

At former world champion Jacques Villeneuve's Newtown restaurant on Crescent St., for example, everyone appeared excited at the possibility that the Grand Prix would return with its high rollers in tow, but there also was concern about who would promote such a major event if it were to appear on next season's F-1 calendar.

"Normand (Legault) has already said he is not going to be involved and NASCAR's ICS (International Speedway Corporation) has been the promoter of the only race this year in Montreal," waiter Robert Rouselle said.

Legault, the legendary promoter who helped bring F-1 to Montreal three decades ago, was the one who leaked the story that the series would be back after a one-year absence on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

But a closer look at the statement his office released shows there still is a big gap between the deal he did with F-1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and the deal that still must be completed between F-1 and the City of Montreal.

Legault and Ecclestone had been at odds about money each claimed the other owed for previous Grands Prix in Canada.

Yesterday, Legault said all of those issues have now been resolved "to his satisfaction."

When he said that, the local media immediately pronounced the deal was done to bring back the race that pumps more than $100 million into the city's economy.

But Legault, himself, was much more hesitant to declare success.

In fact, he warned the economy is such that no promoter could put on an F-1 race without losing millions and that only with government support could it be made even remotely possible.

"I explained last fall that I did not wish to ask the governments for support in order to meet (Ecclestone's) financial requirements, and so it became unthinkable for me to continue to act as promoter" he said.

"I believe, however, that considering its value for our local economy, it is important the event return, and I wish every success to those who decide to take over the work that I have done over the years."

Even F-1's official website was pushing the Canadian GP's return ahead on the premise that the provincial and municipal government would be there to fund the race.

"The race is an important foothold in the Americas and F-1 teams hope that it will help as the sport tries to do a deal with an American promoter," F1.com reported. "It is believed that the new deal will be funded with largely government money."

Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay, however, is being tight-lipped about how negotiations are going with Ecclestone. His only statement thus far has been that F-1's return must make economic sense.

That makes Ecclestone's earlier demand for a $175-million fee for the race a definite deal-breaker.

So it remains a wait-and-see situation with just about all parties wanting the race back but at a cost that won't have taxpayers holding the bag for the exorbitant costs of putting the event on.

The date for the race, if it is indeed back on the schedule, has been set for June 6, 2010.

Chase challenge

An interesting note this week as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship begins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In previous seasons, the drivers on the outside looking in were more often than not reticent to be seen as roadblocks for the 12 contenders.

No one, it seemed, wanted to be labelled the guy who took out a potential Cup winner.

This year the mood is much different, and it probably has to do with the number of quality teams -- like the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick and the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch, who would like nothing more than to grandstand in the final 10 Sprint Cup races.

Bobby Labonte, a former champion, said there are a lot of drivers who want to show owners and fans that they can compete at the sport's highest level.

"Those who didn't make the Chase still feel like they have something to prove, otherwise the last 10 races would only have 12 cars show up," Labonte said. "So, yeah, you might have some guys being a little more aggressive, maybe take some risks that they wouldn't have taken earlier in the season."

Finish lines

Canada's J.R. Fitzpatrick returns to the No. 4 Equipment Express Chevrolet this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Campers World Truck series race. It will be Fitzpatrick's first trip to the flat one-mile oval. ... Ford plans to debut its new engine next month at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C. It will be used by at least one Ford team not in the Chase.

Fast fact

On Sept. 18, 1994 Paul Tracy led 192 of the 200 laps to win the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix before a crowd of 40,000 at Nazareth Speedway. Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi finished second and third to give the Penske Racing team its fifth 1-2-3 sweep of the year.

Canadian corner

Don Thomson Jr. led a race-high 106 laps in the NACAR Canadian Tire Torbram Electric 300 on Barrie Speedway's .333-mile tri-oval and took his No. 4 Home Hardware Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time this season, beating Mark Dilley by .180 seconds.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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