Sanair has had all-too brief moments in the international spotlight but today has slipped into relative obscurity, lingering more in the memory for the crash which badly injured Indycar great Rick Mears rather than any more recent exploits.
Comprising a road course, drag strip and separate tri-oval (which has it's own 'roval' road course) the track is today more known for drag racing than any other form of organised motorsport.
Hot lapping on the various courses is available on various dates across the year, while the oval is home to a stock car driving experience hosted by Canadian NASCAR drivers Jean-Paul Cabana and Andrew Ranger.
Sanair was built by owner Jacques Guertin in stages, with the opening of a small oval and modern drag strip in 1971 the first elements of the complex to be completed. The original plans had called for a road course to be included as well, but delays over the summer of 1969 caused by striking construction workers meant this would not be ready as originally planned. The road course finally opened with a regional Formula Ford race in May 1972, combining part of the quarter-mile drag strip and its return leg with the ⅓ mile oval to form a 1.25 mile circuit.
While not the most inspiring of layouts, the St Pie facility found itself a beneficiary of the financial and political troubles at Mont Tremblant early in its life. In 1972 and 1973 it was host to the Trans Am Series, while the popular Formula B/Formula Atlantic cars made four appearances. The drag strip too enjoyed a successful run, featuring events of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) for a number of years until Canadian fuel regulations, prohibiting leaded race fuel, effectively banned the top series cars from across the border.
By the early 1980s, the venue was struggling to attract anything other than local racing, but a new development offered some hope. Sanair Super Speedway, the rather optimistically-titled 0.826-mile (1.33 km) paved triangular oval, opened in 1983 to the south of the drag strip. A NASCAR-sanctioned race was its first event on August 7, won by American stock car veteran Harmon "Beaver" Dragon.
The tiny oval attracted the cars of the CART World Series between 1984 and 1986, with Sanair becoming the shortest oval ever used for Indycar racing. Sponsored by brewing giants Molson, the Indy Montreal event got off to a bad start during practice for the first event, when Rick Mears misjudged a passing manoeuvre and speared into the pit wall, which was then composed of metal safety barriers, which ripped the front off his March Indycar, causing the Penske driver serious foot and leg injuries which affected him throughout the remainder of his career. A concrete wall was put in place for the following year's event.
Danny Sullivan took the first win in Doug Shierson's Lola-Cosworth, while Johnny Rutherford prevailed in 1985, though it was one of the most controversial race finishes in Indycar history. Under caution on the final lap, Rutherford led second place Pancho Carter and appeared on his way to victory. As the field came out of the final corner, the pace car suddenly veered into the pit lane and the field unexpectedly started racing to the finish line. Carter got the jump on Rutherford, and edged his nose just ahead at the stripe, appearing to steal the victory. Officials initially deemed Carter the winner, before later reversing the decision in favour of Rutherford amid much acrimony.
The final Indycar race was taken by Bobby Rahal in a Truesports March, after which CART decided to switch its attentions elsewhere. Racing on the oval was then headlined by the CASCAR Super Series, forerunner of the current NASCAR Canadian Tire series, though the latter has never raced at Sanair. The only significant racing action in recent years has been the American Canadian Tour late model stock car racing series, though Sanair was dropped from the schedules following the 2013 race.
Today, Friday night drag events, hot lapping, kart events and track days are the mainstay of the track activity and it looks doubtful that Sanair will ever regain its former status for racing without significant investment.
- Sanair, 669 Le Bas du Petit Rg St François, Saint-Pie, QC J0H 1W0, Canada
- +1 450-772-6400
- Official website
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