Canada’s newest sports car championship is drawing some heavy hitters
When I started racing in my youth, I had a choice of seven Canadian championships: two open-wheel series, which never held my interest, and five production car-based series, if I recall correctly. Shortly afterward, tobacco sponsorship was outlawed and the number of championships dwindled. Here in Canada, sports-car racers are left with only a handful of choices. More often than not, drivers and teams look south of the border in search of stout competition—but that may soon change.
The motorsports landscape has shifted recently in Canada, as it has around the world, and two new, globally-homologated categories—TCR and GT4—have emerged that are attractive to amateurs and professionals alike. TCR series are based on turbocharged, four-cylinder-powered, front-wheel-drive cars; GT4 fields rear-drivers with front- or mid-engine layouts.
These two formulae are helping to revitalize global motorsports. They encourage often staid carmakers to become directly involved in the manufacture and sale of these cars: Teams will purchase the track-prepped versions and receive support from their motorsport divisions or from racing companies contracted to provide those services.
Insofar as Hagerty’s own Jack Baruth calls TCRs and GT4s fake race cars, they’re exceptionally approachable for amateur drivers. Both types of race cars are relatively straightforward to engineer, and each championship can easily manage Balance of Performance among its respective grids.
Thanks in part to these new categories, the motorsports landscape is changing. Canada will soon field an entirely new series: Long-time racer Chris Bye has announced a new championship specifically for GT4 and TCR machinery.
“There seemed to be an appetite for something different in the Canadian sports car market and it started really with just a couple of people talking super casually, then it started to spread pretty quickly,” Bye says.
“We had a Zoom meeting, had 48 people on the call, and we said, ‘If you’re serious about doing something, send us a $1000, fully refundable deposit. If the series doesn’t go, or you choose not to run in it, the money would be refunded.’
“In a matter of weeks, we ended up with 18 deposits, with an equal split of nine TCR type cars and nine GT4 cars. Four of Canada’s, if not North America’s, biggest and most successful sports car teams: Multimatic Motorsports, AIM Autosports, Pfaff Motorsports, and R. Ferri Motorsports,” Bye says.
Since both categories field race cars based on production models, one of Bye’s goals is to encourage involvement from manufacturers and dealers. Hyundai is already committed to the TCR category, with its current Veloster N TCR being replaced by the Elantra N TCR for the 2021 season. (The road-going Elantra N hasn’t debuted yet, but the snorty compact is on its way.)
Honda, Volkswagen, and Audi offer TCR-spec versions of some road cars; even Alfa Romeo makes a Giulietta TCR available in North America, despite the fact that there is no road-legal version here. GT4 race cars hail from Ford, BMW, and McLaren, in addition to many other familiar marques.
For Multimatic Motorsports’ Sean Mason, 2021’s travel environment means foregoing the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship with its Ford Mustang GT4 racers, so Bye’s new championship is a good fit.
“We’re committed to run it. We were kind of hopeful for more of the endurance format, but we understand it’s going to go to more of a 40-minute sprint race, in which case [those] are single-driver races,” Mason says.
For the new series, Mason plans to run the same Ford Mustang GT4 that Multimatic builds on behalf of Ford Performance and sells to customers around the world. In fact, the Mustang GT4 is the only GT4 or TCR race car that’s built in Canada. Having its thundering V-8s compete on home soil will be special both for the series and for Multimatic.
“For us as a GT4 manufacturer, it looks great. Our customers are racing Mustangs in the U.S. and also in British GT and European GT4, so this gives us the opportunity to race our own Mustangs in Canada and hopefully help to build this series into something meaningful,” Mason says.
For long-time Hyundai dealer and racer Bob Attrell, the new championship will be a family affair. Attrell’s competed in Hyundai TCRs for a couple of seasons already and, with the addition of the Elantra N TCR, he will team up with his two sons to run a three-car, Hyundai-branded squad.
“After going through COVID, I think you’ve got to grasp the opportunity to spend time with your family and build memories, so we’re going to run a three-car team and it’s going to be the two boys and me,” Attrell says.
Attrell’s got a different perspective this year. “You go through a year where you’re locked down and all you’ve got is your immediate family and you think, ‘You know, times like these are precious when you get to spend time together.” So you know what? It’s going to cost me some money. Hyundai’s a major sponsor of mine, obviously so is Quaker State, and we’re going to run a three-car team together,” he says.
Ian Willis, team principal at AIM Autosports, has been in the motorsport business for a long time and is one of the most sought-after engineers in sports car racing. Though AIM has committed to running a GT4 car in the new championship, details are scarce at the moment.
AIM has historically competed with GT3-based race cars—think of them as big brothers to the GT4 cars—and Willis thinks these homologated categories are good for the sport. “I’ve been in this game a long time, which implies I’m really old,” he says, “and the amount of work and effort goes into building race cars is phenomenal. There’s certainly a lot of people in this country that are capable of doing that, but that [method] is going the way of the dinosaur.”
The TCR and GT4 platforms are not inexpensive, but Willis says that they’re pretty foolproof. “We’ve run GT3 cars since 2013 and we’ve done hundreds of thousands of kilometres. Even a well-done, home-built race car just can’t do that.”
Willis is optimistic about Bye’s new championship. “I think all the right pieces are sitting together in the short term,” he says. “It’s going to be a startup, and it’s going to go through its peaks and valleys, but I think in the long term it’s got legs and will be great for Canadian motorsports.”
With 18 committed entries to date, Bye and his team can begin assembling a calendar and finding a tire partner for the as-yet unnamed series.
They’ve mapped out a schedule with five tentative dates stretching from May through October of 2021, with a couple of weekends at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park; one at ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec; one at Calabogie Motorsport Park; one weekend with dates that conspicuously coincide with the Honda Indy in Toronto; and another weekend that’s yet to be determined.