Our national and local motorsport programs are small but mighty, and they produce a volume of talent that far exceeds their reach.
What is less common in racing, however, is that a true Canadian team here is formed almost entirely of Canadians and provides an internationally competitive platform for some of the most promising young talent in this country.
Starting with the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona, and throughout the year in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pfaff Motorsports will do just that.
The team will contest the full season in the GTD class in 2019, making it the largest and most ambitious program in the team’s 35-year history and its first entry into any form of endurance racing.
Inside a store in Woodbridge, Ont., amid a cluster of luxury car dealerships also owned by the Greater Toronto auto sales mogul Chris Pfaffteam leader, manager Steve Bortolotti and his crew worked hard to get their all-new #9 Porsche 911 GT3 R ready for Daytona, the grueling 24-hour endurance race that opens the WeatherTech Championship season.
Two of Canada’s most impressive rising stars have been handpicked to take the reins of the 12 races that make up the series schedule, including the only stop north of the border at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July. Both already boast impressive driving CVs.
Scott Hargrove of Vancouver, British Columbia, is 23 and won the USF2000 championships in 2013, Porsche GT3 Cup Canada in 2014 and 2017, and the Pirelli World Championship GT Sprint class in 2018, the latter two while racing under the Pfaff Motorsports banner. His relationship with Porsche Motorsport and his history of success with the marque have earned him Porsche Selected Driver status.
Hargrove says advancing with the team to the highest level of IMSA competition is the natural next step in their partnership, and being part of its growth gives him a great sense of pride.
“I never would have guessed when I joined the team where this would take me,” says Hargrove. “You see where they’ve come from so far and it’s amazing. We have probably twice as many people as before, and they’ve run five cars at GT3 Cup level and now we only have one car.
“A lot of interesting things have come out of this opportunity, and I’m just grateful and proud of the team.”
Joining Hargrove at the wheel at 27 Zacharie Robichon of Ottawa, who joins Pfaff straight after winning a championship last summer in the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada with Mark Motors Racing. He had an utterly dominant season, winning not only 11 of 12 Canadian events, but also seven of the final eight races of the season in the Porsche GT3 Cup USA.
Robichon says Canada’s smaller motorsport scene might actually provide a better platform to help the most talented drivers rise to the top.
“In the United States they have so many options,” he says. “I think the fact that we have limited options almost helps us because a lot of good drivers end up in the same series. You don’t just race against two or three good guys. Most of the time you have a lot of drivers really talented because it’s the only place we can race at this level.
“If you look at the Canadian GT3 Cup series, the last three champions (Robichon, Hargrove and 2016 champion Daniel Morade) race at Daytona. That says a lot in itself.
“Even though we don’t always have the most cars, the fast guys in the Canadian series are almost always some of the fastest in the world. A lot of people think they need to get to the States as soon as possible, but I think I’ve proven that’s not necessarily the case.
The precise amount of Canadian personnel the team houses will fluctuate throughout the season. At shorter events where Hargrove and Robichon do all the piloting, it will be higher; when Porsche factory test driver Lars Kern of Germany joins them for the longer races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and the Petit Le Mans season finale at Road Atlanta, and Norwegian Denis Olsen becomes Daytona’s fourth driver – plus the additional necessary behind-the-scenes personnel are added – the number will drop a bit.
Yet at its peak, the Canuck Quotient pushes well north of 90%. From every angle, it’s both rare and impressive.
“Many reasons why Chris (Pffff) was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame (in 2017) for his support of young Canadian talent,” said Bortolotti, who is entering his fifth year as Pfaff Motorsports Team Principal. “We think they’re really overlooked internationally because our racing market is so small.”
“Being a Canadian company, and over 90% of my team are Canadian, is a great sense of pride for us. »
The team has every conceivable hurdle to overcome in one fell swoop at the start of the season: a brand new series, new team members, a new driver and a new format: neither Hargrove nor Robichon have ever raced more than an hour at a time. time, and neither does the team, which means their endurance program is more or less a clean slate.
And then there’s the matter of the 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 R, which is an all-new car released this year for GT3 customer racing. Based on a manufacture 911 GT3RSall parties involved say it’s a race car unlike any they’ve ever experienced.
“The previous generation car was really just a GT3 Cup car on steroids in that many systems, many mechanics of the car were similar but just improved,” says Bortolotti. “This car is much closer to a 911 RSR (Porsche Factory GT Racer) than the previous generation, so everything is completely new to us.
“I think the official word from Porsche is that there are three parts that are identical (from the previous generation),” adds Hargrove. “It’s a completely different car, and you feel like you’re in a different car when you drive it. It’s still a 911 and it still handles like a 911, but the most important thing is the feeling of driving something that was designed for racing from the ground up. When you sit in the seat, it’s more like a cockpit that wraps around you. The seat is in a more aggressive position, so you’re reclined more like a prototype or formula car than a tram.
“One of the really interesting things about the car is that it’s still manual with a sequential gearbox, which you activate via the paddle shifters, but you no longer have a clutch pedal. We have actually an electronic clutch on the steering wheel If you imagine a Porsche PDK (transmission) that uses paddle shifters but you don’t have a clutch pedal it’s kinda like that but you still have a manual transmission and there’s the computer that controls the clutch for you. That’s cool.”
While Hargrove points out that it’s been a while since he’s gone a full racing season without a win and considers it a goal for this year to score at least one, the team in its ensemble sees learning and consistency as the primary goals. in their first IMSA outing.
“I set the goal for the team to finish every lap of every race and gain that experience,” Bortolotti said. “It’s just a matter of getting all the data, getting all the information we can so that we can put ourselves in the best position throughout the season.
“With our driver team, if we complete every lap of every race, we could be in a championship conversation with Petit. But it starts with getting that experience for the drivers, for the crew and for our engineering staff as well. .
And all the while, no matter what, everyone involved will proudly wave the flag of this unofficial Team Canada.
“Every member of the team wears this badge with pride,” says Robichon. “It means a lot to everyone.
“In the future, I think we’ll come back to it and realize how special it really was.”
Other Canadians to follow
Hargrove, Robichon and the Pfaff Motorsports team are just a few of the Canadians competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Here are the other Canucks to watch:
– Mikhail Goikhberg and Devlin DeFrancesco: Toronto’s DeFrancesco teams up with Russian-born Canadian Goikhberg in the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi.
– Daniel Morade: The 2016 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion from Toronto co-drives in the GTD class in the #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3.
– Roman DeAngelis: This young racer from Lakeshore, Ontario, is one of the pilots at the controls of the Audi R8 LMS GT3 WRT Speedstar Audi Sport #88 in the GTD class.
– Paul Dalla Lana: Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, this long-time Am-level driver joins the roster of drivers for the No. 51 Ferrari 488 GT3 Spirit of Race in the GTD class.
– Cameron Kassel: Co-driver of the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports LMP2 team, Cassels hails from Coldstream, British Columbia.
– Jesse Lazarus: De Montreal will race Motorsports in Action’s #69 Quebec-based McLaren 570S GT4 in the GTD class.
– AIM Motorsport: This seasoned Canadian racing team, also based in Woodbridge, has teamed up with the former IndyCar team owner partnership of Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan to form AIM Vasser Sullivan, which will field two Lexus RC F GT3s in the GTD class.
How to watch
The Rolex 24 at Daytona runs from Saturday, January 26, when the green flag flies at 2:35 p.m. EST, through Sunday, January 27, ending when the checkered flag drops the same time, at 2:35 p.m.
IMSA is working on a contract with a Canadian television partner for the 2019 season. At press time, that deal is not yet in place and it is unclear if it will be in time for Daytona. If television coverage is not available, Canadians will be able to watch portions of the race live on imsa.tv. To visit imsa.com for more details.
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