Several years ago I had the tremendous good fortune to attend the Monaco Historique Grand Prix. With the exception of a brief A1GP demonstration around the streets of Deansgate in Manchester, this was my first opportunity to enjoy motor sport coming to the people. While the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal may not be located downtown, it is one metro stop from the centre and the whole city gives itself up to racing for one weekend every year. Everywhere you look, shops and restaurants are bedecked with Ferrari flags, chequered flags and images of racing’s heroes. The whole city throws itself into the event and the spirit of celebrating the automobile. The centre of the festivities is Crescent Street, located near the financial district and home to some of Montreal’s swankiest bars. Crescent is closed to vehicular traffic and opened up to pedestrians. There are stalls selling beer and advertising all manner of automotive-related products. A big outdoor stage features bands and DJs and there’s an Indy Lights car on another stage playing host to a pitstop challenge for the general public. It’s true that this isn’t a celebration of motor racing in its rawest form, and certainly if house music and girls with exposed midriffs are your thing then this is the place for you, but it’s refreshing to see so many members of the public getting into the spirit of the event. I cannot imagine one finds the same interaction with the populace in Bahrain, for example.
While Crescent Street is the acknowledged nucleus of the Grand Prix week festivities, other parts of the city also put on a big effort. The streets were awash with sportscars; Porsches and Ferraris virtually commonplace, as well as (closer to) home-grown heroes like the SRT-10 and Corvette bellowing away from the traffic lights. Walking down one of the main shopping boulevards on the Thursday before race weekend I chanced upon another street closed to vehicles, but this time full of Lamborghinis. There must have been thirty in total – Diablos, Gallardos and Murcielagos of all varieties, including a Blancpain-sponsored GT3 specification Gallardo. The public were free to roam around and enjoy the cars, which proved a hinderance for the photographer but fun to watch young kids enjoying what might be their first close-up experience of something so rare and charismatic.
While I have some admiration for Lamborghini, my real allegiance in the battle of the Modenese supercar manufacturers lies with Ferrari. By sheer good fortune, down a sidestreet in Vieux Montreal one evening, we stumbled upon another road closed to traffic. Ferrari had set up a temporary awning, housing one of their brand new FF supercars. It was in front of a glamourous-looking hotel, with the car itself cordonned off. The rest of the street was given over to a display of other Ferrari road cars – F430s, 550s et al. While photographing these, there was some commotion back at the hotel and a bevy of photographers was crowding around the FF. I ran back up to find Ferrari junior driver Jules Bianchi posing with a group of chaps, who must be part of Ferrari’s management team. A couple of paparazzi shots and they were away again. Right place, right time, I suppose. While Bianchi somewhat confusingly drives for the Lotus-sponsored ART team in GP2, he seems to be well-established at the Scuderia and the following day saw him presenting trophies to the top-three in the Ferrari Challenge races.
Also while wandering Montreal, we very nearly literally ran into Anthony Hamilton whose son we’d been chatting to the day previously. It transpired that the whole HRT team was staying in the same hotel as my parents for the weekend. The concierge had just escorted Narain Karthikayan to his cab as we arrived. Like I said, bringing Formula One to the people. In a final flurry of excitement, an hour or two before the train back to Toronto and passing one of the city’s more upmarket hotels, my eyes were drawn by a trio of Lotus Evoras. As if they weren’t exciting enough, behind them was hiding a vivid yellow supercar I’d no previous awareness of. It turned out this was Quebec’s foremost (read only) supercar. Called a Plethore LC-750, it achieved fame in Canada by securing funding on the nation’s Dragons’ Den franchise. Aping the three seat arrangement of the McLaren F1, with the driver positioned centrally and forwards in the cabin, it looked rather good. Shut lines were tight, the doors closed solidly and it appeared every inch the proper supercar; even more so when the monstrous Chevrolet LS9 engine barked into life – in superchanged form, all 750bhp of it. A little research suggested there are probably no more than half a dozen in existence so it should be considered something of a lucky spot.
Montreal and its inhabitants make Grand Prix weekend something very special. Buzzing with excitement in a city well-furnished with excellent places to eat and drink; even away from the track it’s a hell of an experience.