A Lap of Montreal

Atlas F1

A Lap of Montreal

by Gerard F Furlong, Canada

Early last December I had the opportunity to take a trip to Montreal. I immediately jumped at the chance, for one reason and one reason only: I just had to visit Circuit Gilles Villeneuve at Ille Notre Dame.

This opportunity was presented with short notice, saying yes was very easy. Like countless other fans I have seen my favorite sport only on television. I am sure that for pure viewing purposes that is the best way to see a race. None of the people at La Source saw the collision between Coulthard and Schumacher. None of the people who saw that accident saw the demolition derby at the first corner. I, sitting in front of my television, saw it all, repeated several times. I did indeed have the best seat in the house. Or did I?

The trip is another story, but we finally arrived at the outskirts of Montreal. From the direction I arrived, the first thing that caught my eye was the Olympic Stadium. Home to major league baseball and little else. But I knew that I was close at hand to the track. Within the hour I was deposited at my hotel and with little ado I was off the find a cab to my goal. I climbed into the mini van and asked to be dropped off at the track. The driver's look said it all. The 1998 race was just under six months ago, and the 1999 race is still over six months away. He advised that there is nothing at the track this time of year. I knew differently.

As we crossed over a bridge I could see the bottom hairpin and some kids rollerblading on the straight leading to the finish line. If they can get in there so could I. The cab dropped me off and as I paid him as he again gave me the "look".

I wandered across a walkway and got to an opening. I stepped onto the track just above the hairpin, and started walking towards that turn I have seen so many times. I saw a thousand cars from all different years making passes at that turn, some passes worked, some didn't. I saw Nigel rolling to a stop banging away at the wheel. I saw all that I could remember... but the feel of being there was different. I was walking where six months ago I would have been mowed down by V-10 engined machines designed for one purpose - to decide the World Driving Championship. I stood just on the inside of the turn looked back up the road to where they start a braking maneuver that will take then past an opponent or perhaps just to catch up to start a drafting move. I looked down at my feet and saw some small pieces of debris, some fibreglass, some carbon fibre. Who knows what car it came from.

I started walking back up towards the pits, listening for the sound of an engine. But all I heard was background traffic and some ships in the river. In my mind, though, I heard 16,000 rpm screams of a Ferrari, Mercedes, or a Mugen-Honda. This is one of the fastest parts of the entire season, rivaled only by Monza and Hockenheim. In the length of time it took me to walk up that straight I would have been "lapped" 10's of times. I passed where Nelson Piquet sat by his Brabham watching Alan Jones take the world Championship, Franks William's first of what was to be many to come. Over the pavement where the namesake of the track took his first victory lap. Where his son threw away his best chance, so far, to win it.

The pits were locked solid, but in there is where mechanics toiled countless hours to get a chassis in top form after an incident or just to ensure that everything is ready for the race. Walking along past where in 1996 Michael Schumacher's Ferrari threw a half shaft out while leaving the pits, and in 1998 where he missed seeing Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

I was doing what I had read hundreds of the early heroes of F1 did - I was walking the track. They walked it to make sure they knew it intimately, I walked it to marvel at the feats of these drivers and their cars.

At the site of the melee of the 1998 starts I paused to see if more "souvenirs" were lying in the run off areas or the grass. Some more shards of carbon fibre along with various other small metal items were there. As good as any corner marshall is, he cannot get all the treasure swept up.

I began to walk back to where I entered the track as it was getting dark. I DNF'ed my first walking lap of the home of the Canadian Grand Prix.

The track did not have a festive air to it, there were not thousands of people cheering or basking in the sun. I had the track to myself, the rollerbladers having left when they saw me walking up the straight, and while I was alone I did not feel lonely; I had the company of hundreds of memories.

Gerard F Furlong 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
Send comments to: furlong@pei.sympatico.ca Terms & Conditions