Franchitti, Keselowski at CME

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

TORONTO - The 2011 auto racing season in North America may kick off officially with the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona Jan. 27, but here in the Great White North, the high octane starts to flow with the launch of the three-day Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto on Jan. 21.

And heading up this year’s show at the International Centre will be two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time IZOD IndyCar series champion Dario Franchitti, along with NASCAR Nationwide series champion — and budding Sprint Cup bad boy — Brad Keselowski.

Franchitti has something of a racing love affair in Canada, having won twice in Toronto and once in Vancouver in his open-wheel career.

“I’m really excited about coming to the Canadian Motorsports Expo,” Franchitti said in a release. “I always have a great time racing (in Canada) each summer. I’m looking forward to talking with the fans and signing autographs at the CME.”

Keselowski, who quickly is challenging Kyle Busch as the driver fans love to boo in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, will have an even bigger platform this season when he gets behind the wheel of the legendary No. 2 “Blue Deuce” Dodge for Penske Racing.

Franchitti will be at the CME on Jan. 22, with Keselowski on hand the next day.

For more information visit www.canadianmotorsportsexpo.com.

TEXAS TWO STEP

The first shovels of dirt have been moved in the construction of the planned $250 million US Wandering Creek Circuit near Austin, Tex., that will house the 2012 United States Grand Prix.

But with just over a year to finish what is expected to be a permanent Formula One home in the U.S., there are as many questions as there are answers about whether the project will be finished on time and on budget.

While F-1 czar Bernie Ecclestone has given his blessing to the project by promising a date on the 2012 race calendar, a lot can happen between now and then.

The U.S. economy, for one, continues to sputter, and even in oil-rich Texas there is no safe bet that the funds need to complete the Hermann Tilke-designed course will be forthcoming.

ALMS GETS TV DEAL

The American Le Mans Series has snagged a TV deal with ESPN that will see the sports car series races telecast on several of the giant sports network’s platforms.

ALMS boss Scott Atherton labelled the contract a “game-changer.”

The series has been in an expensive battle for cars and viewers with the NASCAR-owned Rolex Grand Am series for the past several years.

“The innovative deal involves televising the sports car series over several media platforms, including ABC, ESPN2 and ESPN3.com,” ALMS said in a statement. The first broadcast will be March 20 with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Included in the televised package will be a live telecast of the only Canadian stop on the ALMS schedule, the Mosport Grand Prix, in July.

FINISH LINES

With time closing on finding a full-time ride for 2011, Canada’s Paul Tracy is still on the outside looking in as far as the IndyCar series goes. KV Racing, with Tracy’s buddy Jimmy Vasser at the helm, has its sights on Takuma Sato, E.J. Viso and Mario Moraes for its three cars ... Venerable NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief Jimmy Fennig will remain on top of the pit box to start 2012 with Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team. Getting the job and keeping it are two different things at RFR, however, as Fennig was Kenseth’s third crew chief of 2010, taking over for Todd Parrott, who earlier had replaced Drew Blickensderfer .... Great line from 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray in an interview with Sporting News. When asked what sporting event he most looked forward to being at in 2011, and why, McMurray picked the Kentucky Derby because: “My wife wants to buy a big hat.” ... There’s another Aussie hoping to win his way into NASCAR. Detroit Free Press motor sports writer Mike Brudenell reports that 24-year-old Andrew Hagen is hoping to jump from Super Late Models to NASCAR with help from Keselowski, who backed him this past season at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway ... NASCAR Hall of Fame member Junior Johnson is planning to back his 17-year-old son Robert Johnson in the full K&N Pro Series East season. The 79-year-old Johnson has hired veteran mechanics Craig Hermann and Robbie Harrison to work on Toyotas purchased from the Red Bull Racing Sprint Cup outfit ... Ferrari will launch its 2011 F-1 car in the final week of January, a week ahead of most of the rest of the F-1 teams who normally roll out their 2011 chassis at the first official test of the year that starts in Valencia, Spain, on Feb. 1.


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