• NASCAR at Darlington

Weekend Racing Preview: NASCAR at Darlington, CTMP online

While there will be no fans at Darlington, ironically, the virtual race from CTMP will likely have a large crowd.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald May 15, 2020

It was going to happen, sooner or later, but real racing will duke it out with virtual racing this weekend.

The real racing will be seen on TSN Sunday afternoon when NASCAR restarts its Cup racing season with the first of two feature races at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. The second race there will take place in prime time next Wednesday before the tour moves north to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 and then a second race at the same track three days later, a week from next Wednesday.

The virtual racing will take place at several locations but particularly at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where the traditional live-and-in-person Victoria Day Speedfest has been cancelled because of the coronavirus but will live on because of technology.

A release from CTMP Thursday said the e-schedule will include three virtual races during the weekend, all hosted on the iRacing platform.

“Racing at CTMP on the Victoria Day long weekend has been a long-time tradition,” said circuit President and General Manager Myles Brandt. “Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are not able to hold the event this year, so to do something special for our fans and partners we have decided to bring the event online.”

To kick off the weekend racing activities, the Saturday afternoon feature will be the Wayfarer Insurance GT Pro Invitational featuring some of Canada’s best real-world drivers. In addition, guest drivers from around the world will compete in a double-header-format GT iRacing event utilizing the World Challenge Cadillac CTS-V race car. This race will be live-streamed on G-Force TV at 4 p.m.

On Sunday the second round of the Lacroix Tuning Canada Sim Racing Series will put real life Canadian racers like Kevin Lacroix and Alex Labbé in a head-to-head battle with the top qualified sim racers in this 150 km race. There will be a public qualifying race in the morning with the top three finishers going to the main event later Sunday. Anyone with iRacing can race their way into the final. The qualifier race and final will both be shown live on G-Force TV at 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Also Sunday, according to the release, the weekend’s main event will be the NASCAR Pinty’s Series iRacing Invitational for the Castrol 150 presented by Canadian Tire featuring past and present NASCAR Pinty’s Series drivers like D.J. Kennington, Lacroix, Labbé, Alex Tagliani, and more, with special guests like Daniel Morad and Stewart Friesen lining up. This race will be shown on TSN at 7:30 p.m. after SportsCentre, which will follow the NASCAR Darlington race.

That Darlington race, the Real Heroes 400, will go to the post Sunday at 3:30 p.m. EDT with the pre-race show coming on at 3 p.m., both on TSN.

By the way, the announcing staff will be watching the race like you and me – on television in Charlotte – with one pit reporter at the race. The spotters will likely be spaced out in the upper stands, strict social distancing will be enforced, there will be no practice or qualifying and the teams invited will all start. There are a bunch of other rules and I’m sure they will all be explained on the pre-race show so I will stop.

But one last thing: while there will be no fans at Darlington, ironically, the virtual race from CTMP will likely have a large crowd. And beautiful weather. Crazy.


Okay, here goes on what will happen in F1, because there are only two stories that anybody cares about.

First, will Lewis Hamilton sign to continue at Mercedes? Of course. I think he would have gone to Ferrari but the Scuderia decided to sign Carlos Sainz. Stupid move – but what do you expect from Ferrari? They’ve botched just about everything in the last year and a half.

Sebastian Vettel could go to Mercedes but that’s highly unlikely if Hamilton re-signs. Or is it? Vettel is three years younger than Lewis. That could count for something. F1 racing is a business and management will always do what’s best for the team. Toto Wolff has said time and again that the driving championship is nice but the constructors championship is what counts. So if the braintrust determines that Lewis is slowing down ever so slightly and Vettel still has his mojo, well, guess what?

But if there’s no ride at Mercedes, Vettel will take a sabbatical before cherry-picking races to drive in, like Fernando Alonso has done before him. Le Mans and Indianapolis, for sure. And let me tell you this: if Sebastian Vettel drives in the Indianapolis 500, and if he wins it, he will own North America. Why?

He’s a nice guy. Yes, he is all business on the track but off it he’s fun to be around. He has a twinkle in his eye and a big grin on his face most of the time. He is very easy to talk to. And this is what really sold me on him.

In Montreal last year, Vettel rode a bicycle to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Ile Notre-Dame from his downtown hotel. He parked the bike underground at the Casino and jogged/walked over the paddock. Hamilton arrived in a stretch limo and used a kick scooter to get from the parking lot to the paddock – he didn’t slow down as he bombed through the crowded paddock, either – and his two bodyguards had to run behind him. He was motoring and they were hard-pressed to keep up..

Vettel wears his heart on his sleeve. I thought his hissy fit after he was robbed of the victory at the Canadian GP last June was one of the great moments in sports. Who could ever forget when he got out of the car in park ferme and switched the signs that said 1 and 2?

The Silly Season, as all this is called, is in full swing and there hasn’t even been a race yet. It sure keeps the interest up, though.

P.S. on F1: Just heard that Daniel Ricciardo is leaving Renault to go to McLaren. Good move. I’m not sure Renault is going to be around F1 much longer.

IndyCar has determined their season-ending race will take place in St. Petersburg on Oct. 25. They seem to be pretty sure that the season will start on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway and roll unimpeded to October in Florida. One of the races in between, of course, is July’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Now, Gay Pride has been cancelled, as has the Caribbean Festival. Just this week, they cancelled the CNE. Somebody has it in his mind, though, that they can still hold this race.

Mayor John Tory was asked about this and said that it was, in fact, still possible to hold the race but they wouldn’t be able to have fans on site. Gee, I didn’t think the promoters were that well off that they could hold this race without people paying admission and buying food and beverages and companies buying suites. But maybe I’m wrong.

Oh, until the border opens, though, do Roger Penske and all those drivers and team members know they will have to quarantine for 14 days before they can come up for air? The PM says no exceptions. The Honda Indy must be one really important race for them to be willing to do that . . .

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca