Despite receiving a much–deserved upgrade fattening the track’s girth from 28–feet to 36–feet, and adding or improving runoffs just several years ago, Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant still remains a bit of an anachronism as many of its peers have literally turned into concrete–and catch fence–lined high–speed pinball machines.
Celebrating its 42nd year of existence, Le Circuit Mont–Tremblant, St. Jovite, Quebec, Canada, remains an oasis among a desert of circuits so vastly “improved” that their individual charm, aura and even legacy have been diluted, or completely paved or painted over in the process as well. Admittedly, as several drivers pointed out, the lack of a perfectly fully paved paddock at Tremblant was a drawback, as everyone ingested the dusty aftermath of a hot dry spell the area had been experiencing. But, it was still refreshing to turn back the clock for a most enjoyable weekend where the ambiance perfectly complimented the great vintage machinery that we watched dance through the track’s 2.65–miles of meandering (and the occasional blind) heart–stopping turns (15). Representing Canada’s second oldest track, Le Circuit remains one of the most challenging, exciting and passively picturesque facilities in North America (if not the world).
Opening its doors with the first event held on August 3, 1964, the track has hosted all the major racing disciplines over the decades. Amazingly, over 50,000 strong populated this quaint setting as Formula One and Can–Am World Champion, John Surtess, drove his Lola T–70 Spyder to a win at the inaugural Can–Am race in 1966, while Mark Donohue amassed four consecutive Trans–Am victories at Le Circuit. American legend, Mario Andretti, raced (and won) USAC/Indy cars here, as did Jacky Ickx, Bruce McLaren and others. Two FIA F1 Grand Prix were contested in 1968 and 1970, as well as numerous Formula Altantic, Super Vee and club races all adding to the annals of Le Circuit’s heritage and making it a natural atmosphere for Murray L. Smith’s “Sommet des Legendes” vintage racing event.
Celebrating its 4th year, the Sommet des Legendes once again summoned another exquisite sampling of automotive art this past July 8–10. Six decades of various machinery, approximately 200 strong, endured the hot, steamy, sauna–like weather conditions, turning up the temps even further with three days of heated practice, qualifying and feature race sessions. Moreover, the unmistakable high–rev song of nearly 25 F1 chariots from the Historic Grand Prix organization also returned to the St. Jovite sandbox for a second stop on their calendar, while a full menu of large and small bore sport and production cars, the exotic sports cars of the 50s, gaggles of various open wheelers, FIA Group C/Can–Am racecars, and numerous other platforms added their special brand of road racing swagger to entertain the enthusiasts over the three days.
And while not every participant’s ride was weaned from birth for competition, it was astonishing how many “Legendes” were scattered throughout the paddock. Many amazingly stood out so even the unqualified weekend motor racing historian could spot them, like John Dimmer’s 1971 Tyrrell 004, once driven by Jackie Stewart in the Monaco GP, and Patrick Depailler in the U.S. and French GP, all in 1972, or the eye catching, Ferrari 512M owned by Lawrence Stroll (Le Circuit Mont–Tremblant owner). When was the last time you saw a Ferrari out of its characteristic red pigment? Stroll’s Ferrari is the sole ex–Penske Sunoco–livered (also sponsored by Californian Ferrari dealer, Kirk F. White) 512M (Modificata) and was raced by Mark Donohue/David Hobbs in 1971. BTW, the monogrammed “Jackie Stewart” on Tyrrell’s tub was a dead giveaway.
Several other notable racecars attending were Bud Moeller’s ex–Giles Villeneuve Ferrari 312 T5, James Freeman’s ex–Jim Clark Aston Martin DB4 GT Lightweight, Ross Bremer’s Ford Escort and one of several history–laden Listers. One in particular was Nick Colonna’s ex–Cunningham, Momo prepared Lister–Jaguar BHL–101 “Knobbly” that Walt Hansgen wheeled to a National Championship in 1958, and I might add, was smoothly guided to a respectable 13th place in Saturday’s enduro (one of the event’s two protracted races) by Nick and his co–driver, Mark Hamilton Peters.
On paper, the Sommet des Legendes may appear like any other vintage race outing, and in fact, was with a full menu of Group competitions that kept you glued to the fences. But add the great historic ambiance of what many described as one the most technical road courses in North America, the slew of many more wonderful and exotic racecars strutting their stuff, and let’s not forget, the total Mont–Tremblant–St. Jovite experience, collectively creating one of the most truly “vintage” racing venues everyone should enjoy at least once.
The people speak French, but quickly make you feel at home in English in any one of the hundreds of Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and Caf´s. The charming Alpine ski village at the foot of Mont–Tremblant is worth an extra day or two, too. Heck, I won’t even mention that driving maestro, Duncan Dayton’s fluid Group B.O.S.S. run rewrote the record book with his 1:20.7, and then faster, 1:20.0, to eclipse Didier Theys’ (Dallara–Judd) 1:22.961 established in ’02. Dayton’s weapon of choice, his 1995 “Player’s Ltd.” livered bullet (Reynard–one of three sister racecars-chassis #4) campaigned by 1995 Indy 500 winner and 1994 CART “Rookie of the Year”, Jacques Villeneuve. Oops, I guess I did mention the new track record after all, au revoir!......Walter Pietrowicz