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2017 marks 50th anniversary of IndyCar in Canada

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IndyCar racing, in its various forms, has long made a habit of visiting Canada, and this weekend’s Honda Indy Toronto (July 16, 3:00 p.m. ET, CNBC) marks the 50th anniversary of the first Indy car event held north of the border.

That race, conducted at what is now called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), featured a pair of 100-mile outings that saw Bobby Unser win both. Later that year, the series returned to Canada, at the Circuit Mont-Tremblant, a race won by Mario Andretti, and IndyCar’s treks north of the border were off and running.

Along with CTMP and Mont-Tremblant, Canadian rounds of the IndyCar championship have been held at Sanair Super Speedway (1984-1986), Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (2002-2006), Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver (1990-2004), Edmonton City Centre Airport (2005-2012), and Exhibition Place in Toronto (1986-present).

Although somewhat intermittent in the 1960s and 1970s, Canadian races began their rise to prominence during the 1980s. Toronto joined the picture in 1986, coincidentally the final year CART (the sanctioning body at the time) visited Sanair, and the 1990s saw Vancouver join the mix to make for a pair of popular Canadian venues.

They peaked in their presence between 2002 and 2004, with Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve giving CART three races in Canada. Although Vancouver and Montreal dropped off the calendar in 2005, Edmonton was added that year and joined Toronto as mainstays on the calendar. Mont-Tremblant was added in 2007, again making for three Canadian rounds.

All three were again scheduled for 2008, but the IndyCar/Champ Car merger saw only Edmonton remain on the 2008 calendar. Toronto returned in 2009 to give the Verizon IndyCar Series two Canadian rounds before Edmonton dropped off after 2012.

Local hero James Hinchcliffe, who hails from the Toronto suburb of Oakville, highlighted Toronto as one of the most special venues of the year for him.

“As you’d expect, this is an event I look forward to every year,” he asserted. “It’s one of the busiest for me, but one of the most enjoyable, then to go home and race in front of the home crowd at the racetrack that I went to as a kid that really made me fall in love with IndyCar racing. Getting the chance to race there every year is exciting. The support that I felt from the city, and the entire country, has been overwhelming the last 100 starts of my career, and it’s going to be exciting to have number 101 there.”

Despite the prevalence of Canadian races, Canadian drivers have struggled to score victories in races on home soil. The last Canadian driver to win a race in Canada was NBCSN IndyCar analyst Paul Tracy, who last accomplished the feat in 2004, when he won at Vancouver.

TORONTO- JULY 11: Paul Tracy driving the Players Forsythe Racing Ford Lola during practice for the Molson Indy Toronto, round ten of the C.A.R.T (Championship Auto Racing Teams) ChampCar World Series on July 11, 2003 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

Tracy is also the only Canadian driver to win at Toronto, doing so twice in his career (1993 and 2003).

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GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA