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Nissan Micra Cup's Keishi Ayukai: the passionate pursuit of a dream


Trois-Rivieres, QC – The sights and sounds of the race track are filled with awe and smile, as 28 Nissan Micra Cup drivers lineup to compete for glory and bragging right.

It's a typical racing weekend at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres (GP3R), an event that's been run since 1967. For the Micra Cup, it's the third time on that schedule, and with each year comes new faces on the grid. The Micra Cup series is known for its various competitors from all walks of life, but nothing quite like Keishi Ayukai, a Japanese-born 30-year old from Brisbane, Australia.

Ayukai comes from the 2016 Nissan GT Academy program, not uncommon from others in past years including Thanaroj Thanasitnitikate of Thailand, Abhinay Bikkani of India, and Wisconsin-native Nicolas Hammann. The GT Academy finals gave them all a chance to join Nissan's racing academy program, but as things went south in the final race, they all moved north to Canada to the Nissan Micra Cup series.

The Nissan Micra Cup is a spec-series featuring race-ready Micras – the least expensive vehicle in the Nissan lineup. It not only provides these drivers a chance to continue to their racing dreams, but an opportunity to receive vital racing experience in a highly-competitive field.

What separates Ayukai from the aforementioned rest, is that he's had to do it all on his own dime. Unlike the others, Nissan Canada hasn't been a part of his decision, nor has a major sponsor or team come to the plate with a pile of money. Ayukai came to Canada with $30,000 in savings, along with a wing and a prayer.

For four months, he has had to jump between hostels to most-recently a friend's floor. As for transportation to various racing stops, his chariot out of necessity has been the bus, all in order to pursue his racing dream.

Ayukai's story is one that shows a different side of racing – the constant pursuit of sponsorship that at times becomes more stressful than the race itself. Sports at the highest level is big business, but the same business motto applies even at the Nissan Micra Cup level.

We caught up with Ayukai at GP3R – the antepenultimate racing weekend of the season to learn more about how he ended up in Canada, as well as his experiences and challenges.

Cost-wise continuing to race in Australia wasn't going to work out, so Gareth Evans (Marketing Communications Manager – Nismo, Nissan Motor Corporation) told me to seriously look into the Micra Cup,” explains Ayukai.

After talking with Micra Cup promoter Jacques Deshaies and Sports Director Gilles Villeneuve, Ayukai took the plunge and hopped on a plane with his savings, knowing if he didn't, he would never know what might have been.

Deshaies and Villeneuve assisted on sourcing a second-hand car for Ayukai, and a few days after the purchase, the Australian was on track for the first test of the season. Adapting to a left-hand car didn't take long. “the challenge was learning the tracks and getting comfortable in a highly-competitive field.”

Throughout the year, Ayukai's confidence in his racing abilities hasn't wavered, “I know I have the abilities, I just haven't been able to do anything with it.” It's possible that a lot of this has to do with financial pressures, and Ayukai admits that has crept into on-track decisions.

It's not that I'm scared to drive the car, I'm scared to bend it. When I'm handed a 50/50 decision in a corner, I have to be fully committed. I'm not left with an option to take a peek, I have to think about each and every move.”

At GP3R's double header, Ayukai finished in 14th and 15th place, respectively, but was left with more damage after tapping the wall in Race 1, followed by an incident on Lap 1 of Race 2 with the No. 40 car of Kevin King.

With two weekends to go at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) in Clarington, Ontario and back to Circuit Mont-Tremblant in late-September, Ayukai sits in seventh spot in the overall driver's standings with 156 points, 8 points out of fifth. But his attention is focused less on a top-five finish, and more on how to raise money for entry fees and repairs. Not to mention, what will be next year?

This weekend, I'm not even paying the team to look after my car, and I'm running on the same tires since the spring,” adds Ayukai. “My mind is focused on sponsorship and networking at the moment. It's been a mentally-draining year, but you just have to work at it. Mid-day – I'm on the phone, and it's all about that chase to find bits and pieces and scrape it all together.”

That might have worked for him ahead of GP3R as he took a last-minute job as a Japanese interpreter for a rally cross weekend at the track, but Ayukai admits without those two weeks on his friend's floor, he wouldn't have made it.

And CTMP in early-September might need the same luck. Recently, Ayukai set-up a Go Fund Me page to at least cover his entry fee, two new tires and transportation to Ontario. In total, there are four different financial goals, one of them being $80,000 to fund the rest of his season.

Ayukai's story is like many hopeful race car drivers – it's just rare to travel over 15,000 km from Brisbane to Montreal to continue that dream in a small Canadian racing car series. But for Ayukai, racing is home, regardless if it's in Trois-Rivieres or Sydney, Australia. And the only place he wants to be is in that race car, no matter how many bus rides he has to take or sleeping bag sleepovers he has to endure.


Engineering student wins opportunity of a lifetime from Infiniti

Have you ever wanted to land a dream internship? For 10 Canadian engineering students, a chance of a lifetime was presented to them by the Infiniti Engineering Academy.

The Infiniti Engineering Academy is now in its fourth year – second time in Canada – with seven students chosen from around the world representing various regions (Asia and Oceania, Canada, China, Europe, Mexico, the Middle East and the United States). It originally began as part of the Red Bull Racing/Infiniti partnership, but that venture has expanded and been embraced by Renault Sport, naturally tying into its Renault-Nissan alliance.

If you've ever watched American Idol, you would get a sense for what these students will go through – only in an accelerated two-day competition. It's a gauntlet of sorts: stand out from thousands of resumes, various phone and in-person interviews, test well on video and media training, use on-the-spot problem solving skills, possess technical abilities and knowledge of the industry, and work as a team to build a successful miniature race car.

It was a two-day grind that had its ups and down, but the cream eventually rose to the top. For 2017, it was Matthew Crossan, a Masters of Engineering Science student at Western University who impressed the three judges and a host of automotive journalists to claim this coveted internship opportunity to begin in October.

With the win, Crossan receives a one-year paid internship opportunity split between working with Infiniti's European Technical Center in Cranfield, UK and the Renault Sport Formula One team at its Technical Center in Enstone, UK.

When my name was announced, I couldn’t believe it,” explains Crossan. “I met nine other very capable and strong candidates in the final, who were all deserving of the opportunity, so I feel very fortunate to be selected as the winner. I can’t wait to get started and I will give it all to prove I am a winner worthy of this amazing opportunity.”

For the second year in a row, the event took place at Luciani Infiniti in Montreal, ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix. A few tweaks were made to the program, as according to Tommaso Volpe, Global Director, Infiniti Motorsport, “the program is constantly evolving.”

For this year, the academy has partnered with Microsoft, and in doing so, the students have been tested on more technical elements involving data sorting. In a few weeks, a culmination of sorts will occur when the American academy program takes place at Microsoft's headquarters in Seattle.

But like many great television show cliffhangers, the Infiniti Engineering Academy saved the best surprise for last when Renault Sport Nico Hulkenberg made an appearance, announcing Crossan as the winner.

Engineering is priceless in Formula One, and bringing the next generation into the team can only help bring race wins, and hopefully a championship,” adds Hulkenberg.

The Infiniti Engineering Academy may have started as a small venture to recruit young talent, but awareness has grown with an increase from 4,000 applicants in 2016 to a whopping 12,000. According to Volpe, its more than just a marketing ploy, as last year's UK winner Daniel Sanham will soon start a full-time position in the electronics department at Renault Sport. 



Jaguar gets back to Formula Racing

Jaguar today takes the wraps off its new electric motorsport future, revealing its Formula E team’s official name, vision, title sponsor, driver line-up and electric racing livery.

Starting with the debut race this October, Panasonic Jaguar Racing will compete in the third FIA Formula E season with the first all-electric Jaguar race car in the company’s history: the I-TYPE 1.

The new I-TYPE 1 made a dramatic debut at the Jaguar Collections Centre in Gaydon, England driven by the team’s official reserve driver Ho-Pin Tung. The private media event served as the backdrop from which Jaguar outlined the brand’s commitment to ‘Race To Innovate’ – a mission to change the perception of electric vehicles, to develop new electric technology and to inspire future generations.

Jaguar’s return to top-level racing is spearheaded with an exciting race driver line-up that includes a mix of youth and experience with both Adam Carroll and Mitch Evans confirmed to drive the I-TYPE 1 in the team’s inaugural season.

Jaguar detailed its partnership with Panasonic that will see the leading electronics and automotive technology company partner with the Jaguar Racing Formula E team to develop a future that promises to push the boundaries of electric technology in a performance environment. In addition, Jaguar was pleased to announce automotive seating and electrical systems supplier, Lear Corporation, will also join as an Official Team Partner.

Gerd Mäuser, Chairman of Panasonic Jaguar Racing said: “Today marks a new chapter in the history of Jaguar Racing. As the first premium car manufacturer in Formula E we are proud to be back in top-level motorsport. The future is changing and we’re part of that change. We can’t wait to begin racing competitively in world famous city locations inspiring a whole new generation of Jaguar Racing fans to join us on this exciting journey. Formula E is the perfect platform to inspire the next generation.”

Nick Rogers, Executive Director, Product Engineering at Jaguar Land Rover, underlined the important role Formula E will play in developing next generation electric vehicle technology and the importance of electric vehicles in Jaguar Land Rover’s future product portfolio. Jaguar Land Rover is Britain’s largest research and development investor across any business sector.

Rogers said: “Over the next five years we will see more changes in the automotive world than in the last three decades. The Formula E championship will enable us to engineer and test our advanced technologies under extreme performance conditions. We will apply this vital knowledge as part of our real world development. At Jaguar Land Rover we employ 9,000 engineers and the team will draw on these engineers to extract data and push the boundaries of electric technology in a race environment.”

The Panasonic Jaguar Racing team has successfully completed 21 days of testing, up to and including the last Formula E public test, which finished at Donington Park Circuit yesterday.

James Barclay, Panasonic Jaguar Racing Team Director said: “Today is a proud moment for myself and the entire Panasonic Jaguar Racing team at our official launch. Everyone has worked very hard over the last nine months to prepare for our debut in the Championship. I am delighted to welcome Adam, Mitch and Ho-Pin, Panasonic, Lear and all of our new fans into the Jaguar family.

We want to be successful on and off the track. We know that the challenge will be strong – our competitors have a two-year head start. We will be keeping our expectations in check in our first season. Ultimately, we’re here to win but we’re here to innovate too. I would like to thank Jean Todt and his team at the FIA and Alejandro Agag and his team at Formula E for their vision in building this innovative series and for their help and support over the last 12 months with Jaguar’s entry.”


Adam Carroll, 33 years old, Northern Ireland
Adam brings speed and experience to Jaguar with a career that spans from karting, to F3, GP2, A1GP, IndyCar and WEC. He has also successfully carried out the bulk of Panasonic Jaguar’s Formula E testing duties.

Adam Carroll said: “It's a real privilege to be racing for Jaguar in Formula E. You only have to look at the calibre of the other drivers in the series to see the level of competitiveness and prestige that this championship now has. To drive for Jaguar is also a dream come true. They are the biggest brand to come into the series and one of the most evocative names in racing.”

Mitch Evans, 22 years old, New Zealand
With multiple karting and open-wheel championship titles to his name including the 2012 GP3 Championship, Mitch is a young driver with proven race credentials. He has also competed in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 2nd in class in 2015. In 2016, he competed in the GP2 Series for Campos Racing.

Mitch Evans commented: “Formula E is a real drivers’ championship with some of the most competitive racing in the world. Any of the drivers will tell you how challenging it is to find the limit in a Formula E car and gain those extra tenths and I’m looking forward to the season ahead. Some of history's most iconic cars have been developed by Jaguar, and I'm thrilled to be part of Jaguar’s electric future and our return to motorsport."

Ho-Pin Tung, 33 years old, China
Ho-Pin joins Panasonic Jaguar Racing with extensive open-wheel racing experience including F3, A1GP, GP2, WEC, IndyCar and F1 testing. Tung also brings real-world Formula E experience to the team, having competed in three races in the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship.

Ho-Pin Tung said: “I believe that Jaguar’s entry to the series is a significant moment for the FIA Formula E Championship. I have direct experience of racing in this series and have seen how effectively Formula E brings a thrilling showcase of next generation technologies right to the cities of fans around the world. I am looking forward to making a meaningful contribution to the future of electric mobility and to Jaguar’s significant racing legacy.”

Control of F1 may be sold to American company

Speculation is mounting that Formula One is about to be revamped by a U.S. takeover that could bring new life and a higher profile for a sport that is struggling to attract new fans.

Media reports suggest that F1's largest and controlling shareholder, the hedge fund CVC Capital Partners, is preparing to sell the business to U.S. media conglomerate Liberty Media for around $8.5 billion; more than four times CVC's original outlay in 2006.

At last weekend's Italian Grand Prix, Formula One's commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone met with CVC co-chairman Donald Mackenzie, whose rare appearance in the paddock fueled speculation of an imminent deal. When speaking at Monza, however, the 85-year-old Ecclestone would not confirm whether or not a sale is going ahead.

Liberty, a multi-billion dollar, mass-media company is run by 75-year-old John Malone. He is ranked 184th on the Forbes list of billionaires — 69th in the U.S. — with a net worth of $7.1 billion, and Forbes credits him as being the "nation's biggest individual landowner, with over two million acres across seven states."

Malone would not be a newcomer to the high-end world of sport, since Liberty owns Major League Baseball side Atlanta Braves.

Reportedly, with Malone in charge, F1's new chairman would become Chase Carey, the executive vice-chairman of 21st Century Fox.

Despite its American base, Ecclestone was skeptical as to whether a takeover by Liberty would increase F1's success in the United States, which currently hosts only one of 21 races on the calendar and has no drivers competing in the championship. The only U.S. representative on the grid is the U.S.-backed Haas team, which arrived in F1 this season and has done reasonably well thanks to experienced French driver Romain Grosjean.

"To open the American market you need to have 10 races in America, sell tickets cheap and have a huge number of hamburger stands — but then it would not be F1 any longer," Ecclestone told F1.com, the sport's official website. "But if all that scenario of the takeover is happening, then they can do what they want."

CVC is F1's biggest shareholder with a 35.5 percent stake, followed by U.S. fund manager Waddell & Reed with just over 20 percent. Ecclestone has 5.3 percent stake in F1 but his family Bambino Trust has a further 8.5 percent, rounding up his involvement up to about 14 percent.

Ecclestone's own position in the event of a Liberty buyout is another subject of interest in the F1 paddock.

When asked about it, the British billionaire replied in his trademark enigmatic style: "I haven't got a clue."

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who welcomed Liberty's interest, could not foresee a near-term exit for Ecclestone even under new management.

"It could be a really exciting deal for Formula One if it happens," Horner told reporters at Monza.

"But for a new group to come in without him being there would be very difficult, so I'd assume he'll be around for some time."

Like Horner, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes head of motorsport, is enthusiastic about the prospect of a change of ownership - despite being a close ally of Ecclestone.

Wolff, who was interviewed alongside Ecclestone by F1.com, highlighted that the sport's longstanding business boss "has built an empire and we are benefiting from it."

However, Wolff is also aware that a new investor could boost F1 — which is in a transition period as it tries to win back flagging TV audiences, battles against falling crowds and plans to implement new rule changes for 2017 designed at increasing speed and overtaking.

Veterans like Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso are edging close to retirement, and a wave of talented young drivers, led by 18-year-old Dutch star Max Verstappen and 19-year-old Frenchman Esteban Ocon, is breaking through.

Along with fresh investment, Wolff thinks the sport would also benefit from U.S. expertise in promoting sports in a digital world. By contrast, Ecclestone has been reluctant to open F1 up more to social media.

"There are things we can learn from the American way, particularly in the digital areas," Wolff said. "They will have a close look and then analyze what they think needs to be changed and what needs to remain.

"There is a reason why these guys can afford to buy this."

Power and Hinchcliffe share spotlight in Toronto

The 30th running of the Honda Indy Toronto provided a show for the fans with plenty of of battles throughout the field. In the end, it was Australian Will Power of Team Penske that drove his car to victory – his third this year and third in Toronto.

Power may have received all the accolades and driver standing's points, but it was the hometown favourite and driver of the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car, James Hinchcliffe who became the star of the show, placing on the podium in third position while wearing his racing suit signed by donators to the Make-A-Wish Canada Foundation. It was Hinchcliffe's first ever podium out of seven tries on the streets of Toronto.

The race took a turn in favour of Power, Hinchcliffe and second-place finisher Helio Castroneves of Team Penske when Ed Carpenter Racing's Josef Newgarden hit the curb on Lap 47 of 85 at Turn 5 – an asphalt curb that didn't hold up between the 22 Indy cars and the Toronto heat.

Newgarden's crash into the wall changed the complexion of the race benefiting Power the most, who pitted seconds ahead of the incident. A long yellow caution favoured the drivers who had already pitted to the detriment of the front runners at the time including pole sitter Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, his teammate Simon Pagenaud and KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais. 

“We finally got a yellow to go our way,” Power announced on the team radio after clearing the checkered flag. “It was a late call as the 22 car [Pagenaud] was being held up by the No. 8 [Chip Ganassi Racing's Max Chilton]. It was perfect timing and when I saw the yellow light on my dash – it was just amazing,” Power added in a following interview.

Hinchcliffe had a similar take as Power, “For once, we finally got a break in TO.”

It wasn't an easy coast to third place for the Canadian driver, as he had to fend off veteran Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan until the very end as a late caution went green with one lap to go. Kanaan would finish in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt's Takuma Sato who rounded out the top-five.

“I got a little extra boost from seeing the Canadian crowd in Turn 11,” explains Hinchcliffe.

Power's win makes it three victories in the last four races to place him only 47 points behind teammate Pagenaud. Castroneves' second-place finish catapults him from 5th to 3rd in the driver's standings; while Hinchcliffe was the biggest mover from 13th position into 8th.

The IndyCar series moves next to the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio for its race on July 31, but for now Hinchcliffe will be relishing his moment in front of the hometown fans. Typically, there's one major party reserved for the winner; however on this day as Hinchcliffe puts it, “there will be a party here tonight in Hinchtown.”

The Nissan Micra Cup: fun things do come in small packages

Bowmanville, ON – The desire to be a race car driver resides in the heart of many driving enthusiasts. It's a dream that's played over in our heads from a very young age. We study the famous tracks like the Nürburgring, Silverstone, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, or my personal favourite Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.

For the 99 percentile (and I can probably add a couple of decimals to get it closer to 100 per cent), this dream never gets a whiff of reality. And I'm not just talking about a Formula One ride, I'm talking most of the major racing series unless you have the rare combination of racing talent, lots of money, connections and a bit of luck.

It most likely is a pipe dream to be a race car driver at that level, but there's a new racing series from the people at Nissan Canada that can put your dreams back on the map, and for a relatively minimal cost of $22,900.

It's called the Nissan Micra Cup, a single car series that's billed as the most affordable racing series in Canada. Currently, it's in the middle of its second year and just went through their first race at the well-known Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) race track in Bowmanville. CTMP is part of its Ontario expansion plan for 2016 that sees the Micra Cup host 6 of its 16 races in the heartland province.

A buzz has surrounded this growing racing scene and I had to see what the fuss was all about with 26 drivers having a blast during CTMP's race weekend. Luckily, Nissan Canada made an exception a day after the weekend races for me (I was unable to attend the regular journalist event the week prior) to get some alone track time in the race-specced Nissan Micra.

It was a bright, sunny day; the track was free from all other cars; and there weren't any spectators in sight to watch my amateurish driving. That's what I would call ideal conditions for my first run in this car.

Waiting for me was a helmet and neck brace for safety. I put those on and awkwardly placed my legs inside of the Micra. Remember, this isn't your typical road Micra, as it's been stripped and transformed into a racing machine. The team at MIA (Motorsports in Action) out of St-Eustache fit each car with a roll cage, racing seat, new door panels and floors, racing steering wheel and Nismo suspension making it difficult to get in and out of, but as you will soon find out – so worth it!

I started up the Micra and headed out onto the track with the instruction to stay in third gear throughout. Unusual, but the 109-hp compact car could maintain high speeds without having to hesitate for gear shifts. As a good student does, I obliged and we were quickly into third and ready to test out its acceleration and handling abilities.

What surprised me the most was the sheer quickness of the Micra. You don't think fast thoughts when its 109-hp 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine comes to mind. But for this track, the Micra performed admirably and I could have gone even faster.

The whole experience was really smooth as I followed the layout of pylons and worked my angles and sight lines correctly. Perhaps, the instructor being in the car deterred me against pushing it harder, but I was in a relaxed zone piloting from side to side as the track got windy.

Braking was quick and harsh, exactly how it needs to be on track. This setup allowed me to quickly regain the balance of the car with added traction before making the turn after the braking zone. The overall weight transfer process appeared simple and seamless without any fierce jerking of the car, but a lot of that may have to do with me staying in third gear throughout.

In the end, it was a quick 10-15 minute session in the race-specced Nissan Micra car. Enough time to get me excited about the racing experience and bewildered about how the little Micra car can be so much fun to manoeuvre around. The most uncomfortable thing about it was getting in and out of the car; and trust me, if I didn't get out, I would have gone back for more laps. That's the addictive nature of the Nissan Micra Cup proving that you don't need a 500-hp sports car in order to have a good time on the track.

Hamilton remains king of Montreal

Montreal, QC – Montreal has always been a second home to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and he used the Canadian stop for his second win in a row closing the drivers' championship gap on his teammate Nico Rosberg to nine points.

It was Hamilton's fifth victory at the Canadian Grand Prix after starting on pole position for the fourth time. However, it wasn't a clear cut race for the 31-year old Brit who lost the lead on the first corner of the race as Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel took the inside lane to gain an advantage and an early 1.2 second cushion over the defending champion.

The start of the race was exciting, but it was pit stop strategies that would determine the outcome. Vettel would be the first driver to the pits on Lap 11 – a two-stop strategy that didn't pay off for Ferrari – and he wouldn't be able to recover that lost time as Hamilton would brilliantly only pit once, while managing his ultra-soft and soft tired to the finish line.

“I was really enjoying this race,” said Hamilton. “They [Vettel's Ferrari] really gave us a run for our money and I just happened to be on a one-stop.”

In the end, Hamilton would finish five seconds ahead of Vettel – the closest gap thus far in the season between Mercedes and Ferrari.

As for Rosberg, it was a challenging afternoon that saw him make tire contact with Hamilton after the first turn on Lap 1. Hamilton would call the incident unintentional, but it sent the German off track and back into ninth position. Rosberg would work his way into the top-five setting up a exhilarating battle with young sensation Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing. Rosberg would attempt several moves including a pass on the outside of turn 13 on the final lap, but he would spin out while trying to complete the turn and pass. Rosberg recovered to finish fifth as no other challenger was in striking distance.

Rounding out the podium was Williams' Valtteri Bottas for his second consecutive third place finish in Canada.

“Montreal has been pretty good to me, and to us as a team,” said Bottas. “We've been really pleased with what we have done and it didn't come easy.”

After winning the race, Hamilton dedicated the victory to the late Muhammad Ali. He even did a few boxing dances in his memory to the feverish chants of the Montreal crowd.

“I never dedicate wins to anyone, but Ali really inspired me throughout my life,” said Hamilton. “For the last 15 laps, all I could think about was him: Rumble in the Jungle. This win is to him and his family.”

Hamilton went on to talk about what Ali meant to him in the press conference following the race.

“More importantly it was his political views that inspired me. To not let anyone dictate what you have to be...he was someone to look up to.”

The drivers will not have much time to reminisce about Canada as the next race will be in Baku, Azerbaijan in one weeks time. It's the latest new addition on the Formula One calendar, making it a level playing field for all the competitors. Can Hamilton make it three-in-a-row and take over the lead in the driver's championship? We will have to wait-and-see.

New people, new vision behind the Renault F1 team

The Renault name has been synonymous with Formula One since 1977. It has had its glory years in the mid-2000s with back-to-back driver championship from Fernando Alonso, but most recently the Renault name has lurked in the background as an engine supplier.

Things changed this February for the fourth largest automotive group in the world when they completed its takeover of the Lotus F1 team to once again become part of the constructors' championship. The Renault name is nothing new to the grid, but the people leading the way have changed and appear to have their act together with a three-to-five year plan in the works straight from the top, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.

At the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, I was able to spend some time with a few of the top brass from the Renault Sport Formula One team including President at Renault Sport Jerome Stoll, Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur and Canadian test driver Nicolas Latifi.

Renault Sport might have had to make a quick decision ahead of Lotus' insolvency, but the plan according to Stoll took a while and had many people involved in that decision.

“The decision to come back to Formula One as a manufacturer was not an easy one,” said Stoll. “We felt it was right for Carlos [Ghosn] to make that announcement, because the project was not just to come back to racing; it was to develop awareness for the brand and use different marketing tools to attract more road customers.”

Being competitive and eventually winning is the No. 1 goal for the Renault Sport team, but they also want to tap into the information received from testing and racing and transfer it back to regular road cars for all of its brands that include Nissan and Infiniti in Canada. Additionally, making the engine more compact is essential to the Nissan-Renault group for the reduction of emissions, as well as changing the minds of customers that you can have a 1.6-litre engine with plenty of power. 

“This year is a transitional year for us,” adds Vasseur. “As our leader Ghosn says, the plan is to be competing for a podium in three years and then fighting for the top spot in five years time.”

Many teams talk about success with little backing behind those words. For Renault, it may seem strange given the fact that the team has scored six points from six races in 2016, however, the team is committed to this cause and not financially strapped like others on the grid. They have the full backing of its fearsome leader Ghosn, along with Stoll and Vasseur.

That leads us to Vasseur. The name may be new to the Formula One grid, but it's a household name in France and in the world of racing after 10 years of building his ART racing team. Perhaps the perfect individual to lead this young crop of drivers that include Denmark's Kevin Magnussen, UK's Jolyon Palmer, as well as a young core of test drivers that has a sprinkle of Canadian content in 20-year old Nicolas Latifi.

If anyone can get this group up to speed, it would be Vasseur, a man who developed the talents of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean, to name a few. All of those drivers came up through ART in Formula3, GP2 and GP3. According to Vasseur, 60 per cent of the grid came through ART at some point.

Currently competing in GP2, Latifi is still wet behind the ears, but is chomping at the bit to get into Renault's new Formula One car. He has a future test planned later this year, but for now his only ride experience has been in a 2012 iteration at Silverstone. Right now, it's all about the learning process and getting acclimated with the team mostly through observation and simulation.

Winning at GP2 is Latifi's focus right now, but he's soaking in the atmosphere at the Canadian Grand Prix and picking the brains of Vasseur, Magnussen and Palmer will go a long way in becoming the first Canadian on a Formula One grid since Jacques Villeneuve in 2006.

The Renault Sport team has a little of old and a little of new, but still a long way to go in terms of being competitive. One thing is for certain though, they have a clear vision in mind to not only gain knowledge for the track, but also for the street. The message is clear and distinct from the top down without any wavering whether it's from Ghosn, Stoll or Vasseur.

Now, we just have to play the wait-and-see game to see if Renault can be as successful on the track as they are at  the dealerships.

Renault gets back into the F1 game for only £1

Formula One is considered one of the wealthiest sports to be a part of, whether you're a team owner, driver, or fan. However, there are certain special occasions, where getting back in the Formula One field can be on the cheap.

Just before the Christmas break, Renault successfully got back into Formula One by reacquiring 90 per cent of the Lotus team for a measly £1. It sounds great for a headliner, but there's a little more to it.

Less than a year ago, the Lotus racing team were said to be in debt up to $200 million and Renault swooped in to pay off a $4 million tax bill. The debt never went away, so under this new agreement, Renault will take control of Lotus' debt.

Renault purchased 90 per cent stake in the company with a deal through its majority shareholders Genii Capital and Gravity Motorsports. Those two companies have retained the final 10 per cent stake in the team. In order for this deal to take place, Genii Capital had to first purchase the six million-plus shares from Whiterock Alliance Ltd.

Renault first owned the Lotus team back in 2000 after acquiring it from Benetton. Eventually, Renault got away from the Formula One game and transferred ownership to Genii Capital in 2009.

Grigny, a subsidiary of Renault is the actual company that hold all the shares, but the team will be under the Renault name.

Plans for what will happen next should occur in the new year.

2015 Honda Indy Toronto race report: CFH Racing finish 1-2

Toronto, ON – In the constant spitting rain of Toronto, the 2015 Honda Indy Toronto went off without much trouble. Only two yellow flags were waved during the 85 lap street course around Exhibition Place, but in the end, a 1-2 finish from an unpredictable duo of Josef Newgarden and Luca Filippi of Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing stole the show.

It was not only Newgarden's second victory of the year and career, but the first 1-2 finish from the small team that merged together in the off season.

Newgarden started the race in 11th place, while Filippi had a brilliant qualifying session to fight his way to a sixth place start. Both drivers were on different strategies, but found a way to come together and battle for the race win. Newgarden edged out his teammate by 1.4 seconds, distancing themselves from Team Penske and driver Helio Castroneves, who ended up in third.

It was a bit of luck that got Newgarden to the front of the pack pitting just ahead of a full-course yellow for an individual incident involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' James Jakes on Lap 29. That pit stop catapulted Newgarden to the front of the previous lead-pack that included Filippi.

“I'm not going to deny that that yellow for sure helped us win this race,” said Newgarden. “Once we got to the position to be able to win the race, you can see that we had the cars to do it...we got there with a little luck, and we still did the work we had to do to win the race, and I'm really proud of the whole team.”

For Filippi, it was a long road to his first podium in IndyCar. After the race, the Italian-native talked about his struggles to find a ride that found himself only a few years ago broadcasting IndyCar and Formula One on Sky Sports in Europe. He's only racing on street and road tracks this season, as owner and teammate Ed Carpenter fills the gaps during the oval tracks, but he clearly has made the most of his opportunities with this result in Toronto.

Third-place finisher Castroneves led the race for a total of 15 laps, but fell victim to a yellow flag for debris during his scheduled pit stop, reshuffling him back to 15th position. He would fight his way back to third, but had nothing left for the two CFH drivers.

Chevrolet dominated the Honda Indy Toronto fielding the top eight drivers that included Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon. The top Honda driver was Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Graham Rahal in ninth, maintaining the top Honda spot, which is fifth overall in the driver standings.

With a fourth place finish by Power, he shrunk the gap between him and points leader Montoya to just 27. The other two drivers in striking distance are Dixon (47 points back) and Castroneves (52 points back). Newgarden jumps up to eighth in the driver standings, 108 points behind Montoya.

The 2015 Honda Indy Toronto race wasn't without its Canadian content. Oakville-native James Hinchcliffe, currently out for the season with an injury made a special appearance in Toronto as the Grand Marshal for the 29th running of the event. For the many cheering fans that packed the grandstands on Sunday, it was a big moment to see their local favourite, who helped fill-in driver Conor Daly throughout the weekend.

The IndyCar season will now move to Fontana, California for the MAVTV 500 on June 27th.

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