The Grand-Am sportscar series arrived in Mont-Tremblant and left the surrounding hills echoing with the sounds of elite professional road racing for the first time in decades. Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, twice home of the Canadian Grand Prix and former host to Can-Am, Trans-Am, and group 7, welcomed the Rolex Sportscar series for a six hour endurance event weekend.
This 15 turn, 4.3 km track achieved legend with a combination of fast turns and elevation changes. The deterioration of the track surface and growing emphasis of track safety left the track increasingly out of date and in May 2000 a renovation was begun. This included a complete resurfacing and the widening of the track surface in full accordance with F.I.A. standards.
The recent completion of the upgrade meant this would be the first visit for many of the drivers to the new look facility. Scott Maxwell, Grand-Am cup GS1 polesitter, offered "I first raced here in 1984, 1985. Now it is like a new track."
The first sequence of corners, a blind right turn followed by steep bending descent into a 90 degree right, drew particular attention. Kevin Buckler of The Racers Group shared his opinion. "The first turn is particularly difficult. I can already see my way through most of the turns but I'm not sure about turn one." The behavior of the cars on track indicated a general agreement. Cars constantly varied their driving lines through this turn complex in a constant struggle to find the fastest driving line.
Competitors this weekend were helped with the addition of a Thursday "Track Test Day." This day of untimed practice gave the Grand-Am teams additional opportunity to come to terms with this complicated race course.
The conclusion of the first day of practice finished with the Doran Dallara quickest setting a fast lap of 1:24.749 and the new absolute track record. The GT class featured the arrival of a second Ferrari 360GT, campaigned by Le Circuit owner Lawrence Stroll. This car, identical to the class leading 360GT of Ferrari of Washington, is making its first competition appearance.
Grand-Am Cup qualifying concluded setting the grid for Saturday's 250 mile event.
GS I points leader Scott Maxwell claimed pole in his GT3 cup Porsche."I took two flying laps and was fastest on the second. The tires are usually fastest on the first lap."
GS II pole went to Nick Longhi in an Acura NSX. "You have high speed corners here where the NSX is good. I had two fast laps and was trying to start another but I saw a yellow flag and decided to be cautious," said Longhi.
The first three spots in ST I were claimed by Team Lexus. Andy Lally set fast time followed by teammates Ian James and Chuck Goldsborough. Lally felt that he could have pushed the car even faster: "I made a rebound change. We went a little too far. I was looking for a little oversteer." The team was very pleased by the 1,2,3 performance. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen," said Goldsborough." The team was more sanguine about its chances in the race. "We are carrying 300 pounds more than the competition. We these tires we can do one quick lap but not a whole run," according to Goldborough.
ST II pole position went to Will Nonnamaker in an Acura Integra LS. "Track position is very important. We will be lapped every six or seven laps and it very important to stay on the class leaders lap."
Nick Longhi and Emil Assentato, drivers of the #53 Mustang Cobra R GS II entry, expressed what it takes to win endurance races. "It is more to do with understanding average speed over a stint," explained Nick. Emil added,"You need to run a consistent time, not the quickest time. You leave a car for your partner." The drivers believe that smart driving is more important than absolute speed. " You have to be in a position to capitalize on something good that happens," added Nick.