Monday, September 3, 2007

Blame Canada!

Once again its Labor Day weekend which traditionally signals the end of summer. Also causing me to reflect upon the long vanished yearly tradition of trekking north to Vancouver, BC for the annual Molson Indy. Which STUPIDLY Vancouver dumped in favour of the 2010 Winter Olympics…

And as the time flies by I recall less ‘N less of those trips Up North, Eh? As I truly miss this event. Although not being a huge fan of Temporary Street circuits which seem to run their course. The trend seems to be making a strong revival at earlier venues expense. Excluding Phoenix’s second demise with Champ Car)

As my only experiences with this type of racing are the much lamented Iceberg Grand Prix and the Molson Indy. Does anybody remember that Formula 1 raced around the downtown streets of Phoenix, Arizona from 1989-91? Even funnier was the title sponsor in regards to Arizona’s cool summer climate. As I vividly recall it being 104 degrees on June 4th, 1989! But hey,
“It’s a DRY Heat…” (And so’s your oven!)

But I thoroughly enjoyed both venues, especially the Molson Indy, which seemed to ALWAYS have a LARGER crowd then Portland during CART’s heydays of the early 1990’s.

I guess part of the attraction of the Vancouver event was its great location, being situated around False Creek nearby BC Place. This locale was also the site of Expo ’86. A very popular World Exposition that unfortunately I attended on the day it set its record attendance of 211,000+ spectators. Yet Expo ’86 itself was a fairly fun event.

The Molson Indy Vancouver BC race ran for 14 years before coming to an unexpected demise with me already writing my thoughts about Willy T Ribbs darkest moment as a professional driver, which I witnessed live in 1990, when an errant corner worker ran in front of the oncoming Ribbs… To which I’ve been told isn’t politically correct to write about.

I attended the first five events, before being dropped from the group attending the races. This is when the course was still in its original vane, my favourite circuit configuration. As we had seats reserved in the first corner hairpin where we watched several drivers trying to out brake one another Including numerous skirmishes between ‘Lil Al and Mikey… As I seem to recall also being present when Al Unser Jr barrel rolled his Galles/Valvoline race car!

In 1997 the circuit was heavily revised, leaving little intact from the original layout nearby Pacific Place. Yet I also enjoyed the new circuit as I finally made my way back to this great race in 2000, as it offered unbelievable access to view the Champ Cars. Especially at the Science World hairpin, where you could stand 30+ feet from the circuit

And I also enjoyed the fantastic Art exhibits they had in the latter years, as I seriously considered purchasing an original painting of Greg Moore along with oogling over a beautiful bronze of Gilles Villeneuve

And the track was always popular with the drivers, whom claim it was one of their favourite circuits to attend. I suspect because of the amazing spectator support. With records showing that Al Unser Jr and Michael Andretti ruled the roost from 1990 to 1996. With ‘Lil Al winning four times to Mikey’s three, before “Big Mo” (Mauricio Gugelmin) broke this streak. The win was popular since Gugelmin scored his only Champ Car victory for the local PacWest Racing team.

The event was also dominated by the Team Kool Green boyzs Dario franchitti with two victories and native son Paul Tracy scoring a Hat trick in the events waning years.

My favourite moment had to be the year we took Auntie Harriet to the race and witnessed Roberto Moreno doing victory doughnuts in front of us as we were clouted by billowing clouds of tire smoke!

And towards the end, the city even had an elaborate scale model of the area’s proposed renovation, in which the track would be incorporated into a Monaco-esc setting. Yet nearby residents complained about the noise and the date was eventually moved from its traditional Labor Day spot to early July. Of which I attended for my final trip north.

My other most vivid memory involves Alex Zanardi. As the mighty CART champion had returned to the series after a disappointing season at Williams. After a force one year sabbatical, Zanardi made his return to racing with the fledgling Mo Nunn team.

And as I stood at the Science World chicane during practice, I watched “Zorro” spin haplessly. Looping the Pioneer Reynard/Honda while entering the turn with his nose facing me! Zanardi managed to not hit anything and kept the engine running as he waited for competitors to pass by before ultimately killing the lump. This in turn brought out a yellow flag and a safety vehicle was dispatched to give Zanardi a restart tow.

I recall thinking how far Zanardi had fallen as he was struggling at the back of the pack, trying to wring every ounce of performance out of his new mount. Yet unbeknownst to me, this would be his last complete race.

As sadly he would suffer life threatening injuries in the following CART round held at the Lausitzring a fortnight later…