Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, June 6, 1998

Tobacco Law Gives Drivers A Lift Before Montreal Prix

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - Canada's decision on anti-tobacco legislation couldn't have come at a better time for motor racing just ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix in Montreal.

The announcement earlier this week by Health Minister Allan Rock that the government will postpone a total ban on tobacco advertising for another five years giving racing teams time to find alternate means of sponsorship also comes at a time when Canadian drivers have never done better in motor racing.

Their achievements are impressive: In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve became the first Canadian, and the youngest driver ever, to win the IndyCar title and the Indianapolis 500. Last year, he became the first Canadian Formula One world champion.

Greg Moore is in second place in the Championship Auto Racing Teams series, where last year he became the youngest man to win a race, and where Patrick Carpentier was the 1997 Rookie of the Year and Paul Tracy has 13 victories.

Scott Goodyear is known as the most deserving driver never to win the Indy 500, having finished second twice, and been disqualified once while in the lead.

Moore associates their success with ''the Crazy Canuck theory,'' where seemingly nice, polite Canadians are really wild under the surface, especially behind the wheel.

Others, like Pierre Savoy, a racing teacher, credit their driver training grounds. Savoy taught both Villeneuve and Carpentier as teenagers at the Spenard-David Racing School in Shannonville, Ontario, where Moore too was a student.

Both Paul Anderson, president of the Canadian Racing Drivers Association, and Gerry Malloy, an automotive engineer and racing journalist, add to that the tracks at Mont Tremblant, Quebec, and Mosport, Ontario.

''They're two of the most challenging tracks in the world,'' Malloy said. ''If you can master those tracks, you can race anywhere.''

Savoy said that the current crop of drivers were inspired by the example of Gilles Villeneuve, the father of Jacques and the first Canadian Formula One hero, who died in a crash in 1982. ''And there will now be another wave of young people who are inspired by Jacques' career,'' he said.

But without the support of the tobacco companies, there would be no Canadian racing heroes. Most were sponsored by Imperial Tobacco Ltd., of Montreal. Its Player's brand cigarettes created a team for Jacques Villeneuve in IndyCar, and without that showcase he would not have gotten to Formula One.

As a result of the Villeneuve success, Player's started its Driver Development Program, directed by Richard Spenard, who co-owned the Shannonville school.

But tobacco money has not yet helped Villeneuve's Williams car. The driver, named Canada's male athlete of the year is hoping recent improvements will give him his first victory this year, and on the track that bears his father's name.

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