Weekend Racing: Le Mans, Canadians rule everywhere

Wheels Editor Norris McDonald finds that Ford GT test driver Scott Maxwell is happy about the big win at Le Mans but a little melancholy too; Bernie insults Montreal and North America and Canadians rule just about everywhere there’s a car race. Well, almost.

By Norris McDonald Wheels.ca

Jun 20, 2016 13 min. read

Article was updated 7 years ago

Join the Conversation (0)
Wow! This was one wild weekend of motorsport.

Toyota lost the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the last lap; Multimatic Inc., of Markham, race/test driver Scott Maxwell of Toronto and the Ford Motor Co. of Detroit, Mich., enjoyed one of their finest hours; Alex Tagliani won the NASCAR Canada race at Sunset Speedway near Barrie and Paul Tracy finally got to drink the milk at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Plus Devlin DeFrancesco of Toronto won another British Formula 4 race and Steve Arpin - remember him? - won a world rallycross event.

Where to start?


Okay, the American websites and wire services are all talking about what a wonderful day in France it was for the red, white and blue flag of the United States of America after the built-especially-for-Le Mans Ford GT finished first in its class and third overall in the Le Mans 24 Hours, which some say is the most important auto race in the world.

Even Joey Hand, co-driver of the winning car with Sebastien Bourdais and Dirk Muller, was quoted as saying, “Hashtag America.”

And I say phooey on you, Joey, and all the rest of the U.S. chauvinists who think the sun rises and sets on that country to the south of this one. I say that Ford, Chip Ganassi Racing (selected by Ford to race the car) and the three successful winning drivers couldn’t have done it – could not have done it – without the experience and expertise of Multimatic Inc. of Markham, Ontario, Canada and the brilliance of, arguably, Canada’s most successful and reliable endurance racing driver, Scott Maxwell of Toronto, who did all of the early testing of the car at Calabogie Motorsports Park near Ottawa and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park north of Bowmanville and was still involved in the tweaking of it almost up until the last minute.

In an interview Sunday night, Maxwell – who’s now heavily involved in the development and testing of the road car (a limited edition of 250 to 500 will be constructed at a purpose-built Multimatic Motorsports facility in Markham) – wrapped up his feelings about the GT’s success in France in two words: “Mission accomplished,” he said.

But he also admitted to having mixed feelings, because although he wasn’t on the race team, he was driving the car on the simulator and they were making setup changes and testing them as late as early last week.

Maxwell, who won at Le Mans in 2000 with John Graham and the late Greg Wilkins, said he was happy Ford beat Ferrari – which was the purpose of the exercise when the prototype was unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January 2015 (although Ford was coy about going to Le Mans for months afterward) – because he has many friends who worked hard and were involved in the car’s behind-the-scenes development and “today they were part of motorsport history.”

But where the mixed feelings come in is that although he is still very involved in the simulation, he hasn’t actually driven the race car since last November. As a result, he felt a bit disconnected from it all as he watched the race unfold on television.

And after initially being told he would be on the race team going to Le Mans, he subsequently discovered he would not.

“For the first two months,” he said on Sunday night, “I was the only one to drive the car so I was a small part of a team that was more or less shaping what this car was to evolve into. For the first two-to-three months, I was ‘the guy’ that the Ford Motor Co. entrusted their baby with, to help develop this incredibly important and high-profile program.”

And then, it was pretty much over. And all of a sudden he was on the outside looking in.

“You are dealing with all the problems,” he said. “You are the guinea pig, the one who discovers quite quickly what is wrong or not right . . . sometimes with not-so-nice results. It wasn’t easy, it can be quite dangerous, and sometimes you go home at the end of a test with your confidence not quite where it was when you woke up in the morning.

“So you push through all these issues and begin to evolve a machine that eventually is a beautiful piece of technology, which the Ford GT is, and then they take it away from you! So it’s a bit hard to watch from the outside, if I’m honest.

“I was told way back, before the car existed, that I would be part of the racing program, including Le Mans, but that changed over the course of last summer. I could see, as the program got bigger and bigger, that there were a lot of other people getting involved and that I might not actually be part of the racing team.

“Age was a big deal (he’s 52) but in the end it was the right decision. You need young, hard chargers. Every driver on that team, 12 in total for Le Mans, were great selections and deserved to be there so I’m not bitter. In fact I would have done exactly the same thing if I was choosing the drivers.

“I’m just honoured to have been asked to play a small part in the evolution of what now is a huge victory for Ford and Multimatic.”

And for you too, Scott.

No less a luminary than Joe Foster once said, in an edition of Road & Track magazine, that nobody knew more about the Ford Mustang than Scott Maxwell. I’m no Joe Foster but I can say I don’t think anybody knows more about the Ford GT than that very same guy.

So all hail the Ford Motor Co. for sticking it to Ferrari 50 years after doing it the first time. But they couldn’t have done it without more than a little help from their Canadian friends.

So make that red (times 2), white (times 2) and blue.

From Autoweek.com, the podium finishers at Le Man

Everybody who’s been paying attention knows by now that a Toyota being driven by Kazuki Nakajima, with help from Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, was winning the 24 Hours when, with less than four minutes remaining, it lost power. The Porsche 919 Hybrid driven by Neel Jani, Marc Lieb and Romain Dumas took over the lead and went on to win. Here are the full podium results:


1 - Porsche Team (No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid) Romain Dumas - Marc Lieb - Neel Jani

2 - Toyota Gazoo Racing (No. 6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid) Mike Conway - Kamui Kobayashi - Stéphane Sarrazin

3 - Audi R 18 Team Joest (No. 8 Audi R 18 Team Joest) Lucas Di Grassi - Loïc Duval - Oliver Jarvis


1. Signatech Alpine (No. 36 Alpine A460-Nissan) Gustavo Menezes - Nicolas Lapierre - Stéphane Richelmi

2. G-Drive Racing (No. 26 Oreca 05-Nissan) Roman Rusinov - Will Stevens - René Rast

3. SMP Racing (No. 37 BR Engineering BR01-Nissan) Vitaly Petrov - Viktor Shaitar - Kirill Ladygin


1 - Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA (No. 68 Ford GT) Joey Hand - Dirk Müller - Sébastien Bourdais

2 - Risi Competizione (No. 82 Ferrari 488 GTE) Giancarlo Fisichella - Toni Vilander - Matteo Malucelli

3 - Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA (No. 69 Ford GT) Ryan Briscoe - Richard Westbrook - Scott Dixon


1 - Scuderia Corsa (No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia GT2) Bill Sweedler - Townsend Bell - Jeff Segal

2 - AF Corse (No. 83 Ferrari 458 Italia GT2) François Perrodo - Emmanuel Collard - Rui

3 - Águas Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing (No. 88 Porsche 911 RSR) Khaled Al Qubaisi - Patrick Long - David Heinemeier Hansson

One quick note: Bob Varsha, who handled the hosting duties for the FOX Sports Racing presentation of all but about six hours of the LM24, paid a lovely tribute to old friend Rod Campbell – a Canadian, natch. Rod started in the radio business in London, Ont., after the Second World War, moved to ad sales at CJAD in Montreal, helped in the building of Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant, announced the first F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Mosport, met Jackie Stewart and became his North American representative, formed Campbell and Co. and handled all of Ford’s PR for years, and retired to California where he’s still wheeling and dealing. His son-in-law is Townsend Bell, who was a co-driver of the winning Ferrari in the LM GTE Am class. He also discovered and has personally supported Gustavo Menezes, who was the lead driver of the winning LMP2 Alpine-Nissan. Varsha pointed out the Menezes connection; I filled in the other blanks.

For a complete story on Le Mans, please click here.


I’m not going to say much about the European Grand Prix held Sunday in Baku, Azerbaijan. Nico Rosberg led from start to finish for Mercedes, followed home by Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Force India). Lewis Hamilton had problems with his Mercedes and finished fifth.

Perez passed Kimi Raikkonen with a lap to go and I suggest this will be Kimi’s last season in F1. Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari’s new boss, was present and was not pleased. Look for him to dump Kimi as well as team boss Maurizio Arrivabene.

Who will replace Raikkonen? There are suggestions it will be Rosberg, who – even though he’s winning – is fed up watching Mercedes favour Hamilton. Others say Perez, and I agree. Nico won’t move even though he might be tempted. And if you had a choice between driving for Force India or driving for Ferrari, which one would you pick?

The street course the F1 cars had to race on was stupid in the extreme. There was an S-curve that was only eight metres wide and the drivers had no choice but to go through it single-file. One false move . . . It reminded me of the Champ Car race through the streets of San Jose - you know, the one where they had to drive across railroad tracks!

Three observations:

- The castle looked like the one they used as a model for the castle in the movie The Great Race, which had the funniest line in the history of cinema. Peter Falk dressed himself up as a monk to bust Tony Curtis (the Great Leslie) out of jail. Told that Leslie had been helped to escape “by a small frier,” the bad-guy general sat straight up in bed and exclaimed: “Leslie was rescued by a chicken?” Okay, maybe you had to have been there (but the pie fight was fantastic).

- According to the announcers, street sweepers were out in the city every night “belching out diesel smoke” and I immediately thought: “My God, do Kathleen Wynn and Glenn Murray know about this?”

- Finally, did you hear what Bernie Ecclestone said about Montreal? Boasting to reporters about how wonderful Baku is, he said – as reported by F1i.com: "We just left the greatest place in the world: North America," he said. "And compared to here, it is a bit of a shit hole, isn’t it?"

Lines like those will have people calling for this head, of course, but Niki Lauda – being touted by some as his successor – said not so fast. “It will not be easy getting rid of Bernie,” he said. “Nobody else could have gotten our engine parts out of Russian customs so quickly . . .”

For a complete story of this race, please click here.


Alex Tagliani, who can drive and win in just about anything and everything when it comes to racing, captured the NASCAR Pinty’s Series Leland Industries 300 presented by Dickies for the second year in a row Saturday at Sunset Speedway south of Barrie.

A year ago, Tagliani – like this year, fresh off a mid-field finish in the iconic Indianapolis 500 – lapped the entire field en route to his victory. This time, however, he had to hold off teenager Cayden Lapcevich following a restart with 33 laps remaining in the 300-lap event.

Larry Jackson finished third for his first NASCAR Canada podium finish. Jostens Rookie of the Year contenders Adam Martin and Kevin Lacroix completed the top five. The rest of the top ten: D.J. Kennington, Josh Collins, Andrew Ranger, Matthew Scannell and Trevor Seibert.

There were eight caution flags for 68 laps.

Lapcevich is now tied with Andrew Ranger for the Pinty’s points chase lead with 83 points but Ranger has the edge as a result of a victory in the season opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Victoria Day Weekend.

The Leland Industries 300 presented by Dickies will be televised on TSN2 at noon EDT next Saturday, June 25. The NASCAR Pinty's Series will return to oval racing for the second week in a row with the rescheduled Chaudiere 300 at Quebec's Autodrome Chaudiere this Friday, June 24.


While the VARAC Canadian Historic Grand Prix was being held at CTMP up here, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) conducted its Indy Legends Charity Pro-Am at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Paul Tracy finally got to drink the milk in Victory Lane.

The “Thrill from West Hill” teamed up with fellow Canadian Gary Moore to win the B Production class road-course race in a 1965 Ford Mustang GT 350.

"This is my second win at the Speedway," Tracy said, in reference to his victory in the 2002 Indianapolis 500 over Helio Castroneves that was taken away after it was determined he hadn’t completed a pass of the leader before a yellow light came on for a crash in the closing laps.

Another famous name to make it to the top step of the podium was Robby Unser, who co-drove his way to the A Production win. And Peter Klutt of Halton Hills, Ont., teamed up with Al Unser Jr. but wasn’t able to go higher than third in the A Production class. His son, Gary Klutt, finished 13th in that NASCAR Canada race at Sunset.

Devlin DeFrancesco of Toronto won another round of the British Formula 4 Championship at the weekend. This is what the official British F4 website had to say about his success:

“Devlin DeFrancesco stormed his way to the third F4 British Championship certified by FIA powered by Ford victory of his career courtesy of a jaw-dropping move around the outside of Zane Goddard at Sunny on the opening lap.

“With a clear track ahead of him DeFrancesco pulled away from the field. The Canadian never put a foot wrong with an inch-perfect drive to the checkered flag; despite the inclement weather which had set in over the 2.125-mile North Yorkshire circuit.

Said the three-time race winner DeFrancesco: “I thought the start was going to be the key to everything and Zane made a really good start. I felt I had a lot of grip under me and a lot of confidence in the car. I braked a little later than I normally would into the corner and Zane braked a little earlier, so happy days. Then I just kept focusing on myself and my inputs every lap, getting the gears right and going quicker and quicker.”

Kevin King and Olivier Bedard each won a race as the 2016 Nissan Micra Cup held its fifth and sixth races of the season at the Autodrome St-Eustache, near Montreal.

In NASCAR Camping World Truck Series action, William Byron drove to his third win of the season, holding of Cole Custer in a three-lap shootout at Iowa Speedway. Cameron Hayley of Calgary finished third for one of his best results this season. For details, please click here.

Here’s a nice Father’s Day story. One of Joe Gibbs’ regular drivers was injured, so he called Sam Hornish Jr. to fill in for the Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway Sunday. Sam wins it – and he hadn’t been in a stock car for nearly a year. Ty Dillon was second and Brad Keselowski third.

“I don’t know, it doesn’t get much better than that,” Hornish said in Victory Lane. “Got my wife and kids here. It’s the first time the kids got to be here for one of Dad’s wins.”

Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont., driving now for Chip Ganassi in the Global Rallycross Series, won the Daytona Speedway round on Saturday in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Supercar final. His teammate, Brian Deegan, finished second while Sebastian Eriksson, who won this round a year ago, placed third this time. Arpin was an up-and-coming stock car racer a few years ago but saw his career falter. But he’s making a comeback with Ganassi in this form of car racing and don’t be surprised if you see him back in one of the Chipster’s stock cars at some point.

In NHRA drag racing action, Tommy Johnson Jr. drove to his first Funny Car victory of the season Sunday at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) also won as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series approached the halfway point of its 2016 schedule.

NORRIS NOTE: I am going to Nova Scotia on vacation and will not be writing next weekend. You’re on your own so pay attention. I won’t be around to bail you out . . .


Follow Wheels.ca on




More from Wheels & Partners