Standing on the top of a hill, with a dense forest of green trees and undergrowth in front of you, and the massive expanse of water from the St. Lawrence river behind you, you’d be forgiven to think you were in paradise. But that quiet utopia is interrupted. At first it’s a distant rumble. Nothing to take note of. The birds continue chirping, the groundhogs go about their business. But that distant rumble turns to a deafening roar and the ground beneath you begins to shake as NASCAR practice gets underway and these behemoth cars roar past one by one. It’s mid August and that means Circuit Gilles Villeneuve comes to life once more with the sound of racing engines.
But instead of the pitchy wail of Formula One that the circuit is known for, the grumbling of V8 NASCAR engines from the Nationwide series and the chorus of noises from the Grand Am sportscars have their day on the island street circuit.
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is like none other. It is known far and wide among drivers and fans for producing the best racing on the planet. Tight turns, separated by fast flowing sections, a few chicanes and a massive straightaway make this somewhat undulating island paradise a place that has always drawn people to it. Photographically speaking, there is nothing quite like it. A cross between a street circuit and a proper purpose built race track make it a dream for working professionals like myself. The whole circuit is lined with vines that have tried to take over the track, and with forests on all sides, there is no shortage of beautiful scenery to combine the fast moving cars with lush foliage surrounding and enveloping the track. Step out of the pit lane though, and you walk into another world. Sometimes you feel like the jungle surrounding this track is trying to eat you, and your cameras, alive. Getting tangled in thick vines and and dense trees is par for the course. Watch your feet as well because snakes are everywhere around here. Occasionally a startled groundhog will go sprinting back into the bush, and spiders can be found crawling all over you (and your camera gear) after a practice session romping around in the jungle.
Canadian driver turned local hero, Alex Tagliani, took pole on Friday afternoon stunning the grid of NASCAR regulars. Canadian born 1997 F1 World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve (son of the circuit’s name sake), was also on hand and qualified near the front of the grid, setting it up to be an emotional race for the Canadian fans who had plenty of “dogs in the fight” to cheer for.
The cloudy weather from Friday qualifying made way for bright sunny skies and perfect late summer temperatures for race day on Saturday. The Rolex Series, who was sharing the weekend’s spotlight with the Nationwide runners, was first up to bat with their two hour race on Saturday morning. Almost immediately after, NASCAR pushed their cars onto the grid for the start of the NAPA 200.
After a shoe being thrown on course and ruining Danica Patrick’s race (Watch that here), spun cars, a few delays and multiple cautions toward the end, brought the race to a climactic end with the hometown favorite Jacques Villeneuve getting bumped out of contention for the win on the final lap of the race allowing Justin Allgaier to claim an unexpected road course victory. You just never know who will win these things. NASCAR road course racing is known for being spectacularly unpredictable.
Many thanks to LAT, Mike, Lesley, Russell, Nick, Regis, Wheelen and Magnus racing, as well as Montreal and the friendly people at Circuit Gilles for a trouble free weekend.