SPORTS

Canadian GP looks to improve site, build fan base under new 10-year agreement

03/10/2015 03:56 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - This year, Francois Dumontier can sit back and enjoy the start of a new Formula One season.

The promoter of the Canadian Grand Prix goes into the 2015 campaign armed with a 10-year agreement to keep the elite motorsports series at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve through 2024.

It's a 180-degree turn from a year ago, when the contract for the 48-year-old race was up for renewal amid fears the city would lose the biggest event on its annual sports calendar.

"It's quite different this year," Dumontier said Tuesday at his office a short drive from the track. "It was a long process to renew that contract.

"At the same time last year, we were in the last phase of finalizing the agreement, to make sure we'd have an agreement before the race. Now we have a 10-year agreement. We can now look forward. It's less pressure on my shoulders."

The 20-race F1 season opens this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. As usual, the Canadian GP on the first weekend in June will be the seventh stop, two weeks after the jewel in the F1 crown, the Monaco Grand Prix.

The Mercedes AMG team that won 16 of 19 races last season, led by defending champion Lewis Hamilton and pushed by Nico Rosberg, is expected to lead the pack again. Ferrari, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel now on board, Red Bull and Williams are the main challengers.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo won the 2014 Canadian GP, but that was the second most significant event that weekend.

Taking centre stage was an announcement that the federal, provincial and municipal governments had come up with a $187-million deal to keep the race going for another decade. Only five years earlier, it had been taken off the calendar for a season in a funding dispute.

The city is to spend $32 million rebuilding the garages, paddocks, control tower, media centre and paddock club by 2017, when Montreal will celebrate its 375th anniversary. The same year, the Canadian GP will mark its 50th year since the first one in 1967 at Mosport in Ontario.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone had stressed the need for updated facilities at the Gilles Villeneuve track, which the race has called home since 1978.

Dumontier hopes to have a "signature" building in place to give it a new identity, even if he insists that no changes be made to one of the more unique tracks in F1.

The tight Gilles Villeneuve layout on Notre Dame island across from downtown Montreal is not the most technically demanding for the world's top drivers, but its long straights, hard braking and frequent incidents are a test of nerve and patience.

The event draws more than 100,000 spectators on race day and gets better than average crowds for the Friday practice and qualifying on Saturdays.

The racing teams like it because they can stay in downtown hotels and get into the off-track activities. Most races are held at sites well outside major cities.

"The team managers all say the same, that they truly love to come here," said Dumontier. "It's the track, the site, the city, the atmosphere.

"I travel to a lot of other races and I don't see that. Maybe in Monaco and now in Singapore."

Another project will be to attract younger fans to F1.

Without divulging numbers, he said ticket sales have gone well so far and that they should attract more American fans with the U.S. dollar stronger than a year ago. More than half the tickets are sold to fans from outside the Montreal area.

And he said ticket sales rise when the pre-season testing ends and the real racing begins.

MORE:cpSports