Auto123 invited a husband-and-wife team of race fans share their experience of the two 2022 Sentra Cup races held during the weekend of the Montreal F1 extravaganza, this past June 17-19. We turn over the microphone to Hélène Crépault, sister of Auto123 contributor Michel, and Andrew Simmonds. Yesterday we got his take; today, it’s her turn!
I still remember the first time I crossed that bridge over the racing track on Montreal's Île Ste-Hélène and heard the sound, felt the vibrations and saw the cars zooming by beneath us. My husband and I looked at each other and simply smiled.
We had been watching F1 racing for many years but had never been fortunate enough to see a race in person. We had gone to watch motorcycle races and drift races but never the apogee of motorsports. I guess you could say that we both enjoy the thrill of the chase, the competition between teams, the daring overtaking, the excitement at the start when all five red lights go out and finally the checkered flag waving in front of a Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari.
Over the years, we were lucky enough to attend a few races thanks to family connections (thank you, brother). However, it had been eight years since the last time we had attended a race and with Covid, there hadn’t been any racing on the man-made island for the past two years. We had to satisfy ourselves with watching the competition on television.
Through another fortunate event, we were invited to attend the grand return this year.
However, in addition to the major race on Sunday, we were to see a Nissan Sentra Cup race as well. Nissan Sentra? We had seen a Nissan Micra race a few years back at Circuit Mont-Tremblant and fare enough, it had been a very exciting event. Those small little cars had proven that they could easily race though the mountain wavy tracks.
So, we arrived Saturday morning for qualifications. The weather was not on our side and in fact it rained throughout the day. We sat in our amazing places at the hairpin, thankfully I had brought a blanket to sit on and were both wrapped in our rain proof gear. The first race was indeed the Nissan Sentra cars. We missed most of that first event as it took longer to make it to our place than we had planned. After so many years, we had forgotten the patience one needs to make their way through the thick crowd, slowly, very slowly stepping one foot at a time through very small corridors of opened space. The organizers still need to work on that aspect if you ask me.
Still, we got to see very fast cars going around a wet and dangerous track, splashing water and spraying us as they went by. The race was cut short many times due to the weather. The rest of the day was pretty much the same watching F-1600 cars, Ferraris and finally our heroes trying their hardest to achieve best times under such conditions.
Let’s be honest, although the cold and the rain make it somewhat uncomfortable to watch at times, it also brings an additional element of danger and excitement.
I would add that I strongly recommend going to both days as a full experience, rain or shine. Arriving early gives you the chance to fully appreciate the experience and share the moment with thousands of people who, like yourself, enjoy the noise and yes, even the smell. It also provides you with the opportunity to discover new racing categories, such as the Nissan Sentra Cup, the Ferrari Challenge, the F-1600 or even the drivers’ parade.
All ages and genders
Sunday was perfect. Not too cold, full sunshine and this time we got up at 6h30 so ensure that we would be at our seats in plenty of time. We sat along a morning crowd and waited for the first race.
The names and order of the drivers appeared on the screen right in front of us. Names that we were not familiar with but to my surprise, two women were on that list. There hasn’t been a woman driver in a Formula One race in over 46 years. It was nice to see that the Nissan Cup included fierce competitors of all ages and sex.
The 40 minutes race actually lasted less than that has the yellow flag had to be waived on many occasions. Still, it was long enough to give us a glimpse at a sporting event that provided both speed and thrills, like the F1, but on a familiar level.
The names of the drivers could be one of our neighbors, they lived somewhere in Quebec or Ontario, not in Monaco. They went to work in between races as electricians, businesspeople, or teachers. It makes the dream of motorsport racing a reality for some 30 drivers or so that will probably never sit in a multimillion-dollar race car but get to race on a legendary track such as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
What's the rush
After the race, why not stick around? In time, you can make your way to the track. There's something magical about walking on the same track where minutes before cars were passing by at speeds of 360 km/h. Some folks can even be seen picking up the tires debris to keep as precious souvenirs. Nobody wants to leave or for the day to end. In the background, you can hear Bizet's famous opera ouverture from Carmen. The music of champions.
My husband said to me, after we learned more about the Sentra race itself, that getting to hang out in the pit lane and then race on a F1 circuit on the morning of the Canadian Grand Prix would be worth the price of entry. I am more of a spectator myself and do not crave the adrenaline of sitting in a speeding bullet, I cannot even drive manual to my husband's great shame. But I understand what he means. The Formula One world is very restricted, for the selected few, and to be able to race before such an event most be a moment in life that one never forgets.
Count me in!
So, would we go again to watch a Sentra race? Absolutely. We must wait a full year to be able to watch, either live or most probably on the screen, another F1 race in Montreal. However, there are six Sentra Cup weekends during the calendar year, all close enough to drive to and watch in person. In addition, even if the track in Montreal is legendary and cannot be compared to any other in Canada, it's nice to sometimes drive to a race, park your car, walk only a few steps to a selected spot where you can sit on your folded chair or on the grass and enjoy the race
Nissan’s Sentra cup is an excellent way to promote their new Sentra and at the same time offer an opportunity to anyone who may want to enter the world of motor racing. The next race will be held at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec on July 22nd to 24th. We're planning to attend more Cup races this year, hoping to enjoy a full 40-minute session and get our racing fix at the same time.
The series itself is held on race tracks around Ontario and Quebec. Six tracks in total, including the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Race weekend passes start at $1,350 or $10,500 for the entire 12-race series. A race weekend consists of a 30-minute trial, a 30-minute qualifying and two 40-minute races. For those interested, there's more information available at www.sentracup.com.