50 Years Ago There Was This Formula 1 Race..
2017 marks a very special anniversary for Motorsport in Canada, 50 years since the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix for Formula 1. The race was held at Mosport in Bowmanville Ontario, now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP). Recalling this event fills me with awesome childhood memories and excitement. It was the first major international motorsport event I ever attended. A special thrill as well, since I got to watch my father, Al compete in the support races and win that weekend in his Corvette. Seeing iconic drivers such as Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt and Jack Brabham and getting their autographs are memorable moments I’ll never forget. At the time I had no idea that the drivers I met and watched would be such iconic and influential figures in the sport. A sharp dressed dapper looking man I saw near driver Jim Clark intrigued me, he looked like “the boss” in that pit. I was told he was Colin Chapman and “better get him to sign your program” my Dad said.. so I did, right on the Lotus ad on the back..and yes he WAS Lotus, the owner and creator! My Mother, a big race fan, was in on the action as well. With her Kodak Super 8 camera she captured a lot of the action in the sixties silent colour movie medium. I particularly like her shots of stars Graham Hill and Stirling Moss giving her “the look and a wink” as most ladies of the race paddock would get from these ’60s era playboys.
My most memorable F1 driver encounter was sharing the condiments at the snack bar with a very nice fellow, we were dressing up our fries and I asked him to pass the vinegar..”you like that?” he asked in a European sounding accent. I said “yes”. I guess he was not thrilled about putting acetic acid on his, passed it to me, then he smiled and walked away eating his fries with ketchup. Then a family friend Gary, said “you do know that was Jochen Rindt?” Really??!! I scooted over before he was out of sight and he also signed my program without hesitation, and said thanks to me..he thanked ME..a kid. Jochen, while leading the championship in 1970 sadly was killed in a brutal crash during practice for the Italian GP at Monza. He was the only posthumous F1 world champion. In the paddock, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Jackie Stewart all the greats were there. So were two Canadian drivers entered as well, Eppie Wietzes and Al Pease, both unfortunately did not finish. Australian driver Jack Brabham won the inaugural race on that rainy day in September. Mosport (CTMP) was host to this race for F1 from 1967 to 1977 with only the ’68 and ’70 seasons going to Le Circuit in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. In 1978 the event permanently moved to Montreal.
The first Montreal edition of the Canadian Grand Prix in 1978, was on a purpose built circuit created on the site of Expo ’67 on Île Notre-Dame. The race was won by our most legendary Canadian race driver Gilles Villeneuve driving for Ferrari. He was presented the winners trophy at this new venue by car enthusiast and current Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau. The fast and fearless Villeneuve tragically lost his life qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix. The organization for the circuit in Montreal honoured our Canadian race hero by renaming the facility “Circuit Gilles Villeneuve “. Gilles son Jacques followed in his father’s footsteps and made to Formula 1, winning the 1997 world Championship. He however never won in Canada at his namesake’s track. In 2017 the Grand Prix is back once again during the June 9-11 weekend in Montreal.
This summer during the Father’s Day weekend June 15-18, the Vintage Automobile Racing association of Canada (VARAC) with be hosting an action packed weekend of historic racing with the annual VARAC Vintage Grand Prix featuring the F1 Masters historic series which has a group of classic F1 cars that will be racing as they did back in the day. You will see McLaren, Tyrell, Lotus, Ferrari and others once again tearing up the track with the memorable sounds and smells of the past. The F1 Masters are due to race on the Friday and Saturday of the anniversary weekend. But that’s not all, also on hand to excite the fans will be the international world tour of the Formula junior series. This series was adopted in 1958, entry level open wheel cars built utilizing inexpensive road car parts the average person could afford. Don’t let that fool you though, these cars are quick! Adding to that, are the full grids of VARAC Historic and Classic race cars. Porsches, Mustangs, Corvettes, Minis, BMW are some of the marques represented.
As I wrote at the beginning, this anniversary of the event is special to me. I was at the first F1 GP in 1967 and yours truly will be competing in this 50th anniversary celebration at CTMP. Driving my 1981 Audi Historic racer in the Classic sedan division, I’m thrilled to be a part of the weekend’s events. If you are a race fan or a car nut in general, this weekend is a must see to put on your summer activity list. For more information and schedules, go to www.varac.ca or www.canadiantiremotorsportpark.com
Written by Perry M. Mason
Photos courtesy of Masters Historic Racing and the Mason Racing Archives