News & Media

Canadians want to reward hometown crowd

August 18, 2012, Mark Aumann,

MONTREAL -- Drivers agree party in the stands would last a while if one were to win Saturday

In this hockey-mad city, the only thing that might eclipse another Stanley Cup for Les Habitants would be if one of the Quebecois in Saturday's field were to win the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

The party might not stop until NASCAR returns again next year, said Andrew Ranger.

"Oh my God, I've had the chance to win in the Canadian Tire Series race a couple of times, and you can see the fans in the grandstands going crazy," Ranger said. "In 2009, in the Nationwide race, I fought with Marcos Ambrose and [Carl] Edwards and had the chance to lead there for 10-15 laps, and the fans were cheering.

"The fans here are great. They put on a great atmosphere."


NAPA Auto Parts 200

2.S. Hornish Jr. 96.649 100.905
3. J. Villeneuve 96.633 100.922
4.D. Patrick 96.169 101.409
5. O. Kelly*96.163 101.415

"It's a great feeling. We're all race fans and we love racing. And I think the fans love NASCAR, too. If one of us could win here, the crowd would be amazing."

The racing fans in Montreal get there early and stay late. And they come prepared. A little bit of rain? That's what plastic ponchos are for. They even cheer for the flagman.

Imagine Talladega with a French accent.

"The fans here are great," pole-sitter Alex Tagliani said. "They put on a great atmosphere. You go out there and you'll see [Saturday] there's going to be a lot of people cheering and screaming."

The maple leaf flew proudly over the track in 2008 when Canadian Ron Fellows won. But what the majority of these fans want to see is one of the hometown boys hoist the trophy at a track named after its most famous Formula 1 driver.

And that's what lured Patrick Carpentier out of retirement, what had Tagliani on the phone trying to set up a deal after the IndyCar race in China fell through, and what keeps Jacques Villeneuve hungry to add a NASCAR victory to his already impressive resume.

"It would be crazy for the fans," Carpentier said. "They deserve it because they come out in such large numbers.

"NASCAR is bringing a weapon that I didn't expect in Kyle Busch. So it will be a tough deal but it should be fun. I think we have a good car and we need to make it a little bit better, but I'm pretty happy so far."

But that's the whole thing. If it just came down to an experienced driver and a top-notch car, there's little doubt the Quebec natives would have taken turns in Victory Lane. As Carpentier pointed out, skill can only take you so far when the race comes down to a double-file restart with a handful of laps remaining.

"It's a lot of luck, believe me," Carpentier said. "In the last 15 laps, everybody in the stands would wish to be sitting in that car, to see what's happening. Man, there's pushing and shoving, it's so bad. So the main thing is just to stay on the track and try to finish. And if you're there the last lap -- let's say your car is decent -- you've got a pretty good shot at it."

The Montreal circuit is murder on the car, so each driver will do his or her best to conserve whatever he can -- tires, brakes, transmission -- for the end of the race. But even then, if there's a late-race restart and you can't get through the first two twisty turns without getting run into or run over, it won't matter how well you managed and strategized all day.

Tagliani came close in 2011, finishing second. He'd like to move up one more position this time around.

"In every race, there's a little bit [of luck involved]," he said. "Here, Turns 1 and 2 play a very special role, especially on starts and restarts. That's where you play the race, basically. I think last year, I was more proud of bringing the car back to Roger without any scratches than the second place."

Fellows knows what it's like to win at Montreal and hear the cheers of his fellow Canadians. And he can only imagine what it would be like if Saturday's winner was one of the local guys, but not necessarily at his own expense.

"Obviously, it would be huge for them," Fellows said. "This is their backyard, more so than mine. I wish them well, but not too well."