Trois-Rivières is the one of the oldest street races in North America and has become something of Quebecois racing tradition, having seen countless up-and-coming stars fight it out for victory round the small but challenging track.
Instantly recognisable from the Porte Duplessis archway through which the course passes, the Grand Prix has been a near-constant since 1967.
While it once hosted Formula Atlantic, Trans Am and the American Le Mans Series from across the border, today's Grand Prix is altogether domestic affair, with the NASCAR Pinty's Series as the headline event.
The idea for the race came to a group of enthusiasts who were keen to replicate what they had seen on the streets of Monaco. Jean E. Ryan, Leon Dufour and Yves Girard and a 30-strong committee of like-minded individuals formed the Club Autosport Mauricien to make their vision in reality. They soon gained the support of the the local agent of the Labatt brewery, Guy Poirier, and with the approval of the town's mayor René Matteau, the first event was organised in 1967.
Having raised a budget of $ 20,948, the Compétitions Labatt Trois-Rivières took place on roads almost exclusively within the grounds of the exhibition centre, save for a short section of Boulevard du Carmel. The 1.14 mile course was run in a clockwise direction (the only occasion it would do so; all subsequent races were run anti-clockwise). With little more than a few hay bales to protect spectators and errant race cars, the circuit was much more open than the concrete canyon of today, but it still featured the run through the Porte Duplessis archway as its signature corner. Jacques Duval set the first lap record in a Porsche 906E at 1m02.600s during the main sports car race, which has also went on to win.
The following year saw the event change its name to the more familiar Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, running on a revised 1.25 mile course which now included a longer run along Boulevard du Carmel and then headed along Rue de Calonne. For the only time in the race's history, the start line was moved to Rue de l'Hippodrome. Single-seaters made their debut, with Formulas B, C, Ford and Vee included on the race card. The event witnessed the first significant accident when Bob Barrell's Mini Cooper lost its brakes and plunged on at the end of Boulevard du Carmel, striking a number of spectators – fortunately without significant injuries.
International stars begin to arrive
In 1971 modifications were made to the Turn 6-7-8 area, resulting in a new lap distance of 1.3 miles, with racing continuing to feature a mix of the major Canadian championships. A young Gilles Villeneuve would make his debut in 1973, the same year that major changes were made to the western part of the course, which now included the Ryan hairpin (named in honour of event founder Jean Ryan) and a re-located pit lane. For the first time the event was starting to garner international interest, with Jean-Pierre Jassaud invited to take part in the main Formula B race. Jassaud crashed at half distance, with the race being run by Tom Klausler.
Formula B gave way to Formula Atlantic in 1974 and this proved the springboard for the Grand Prix's rise in status. Jassaud was invited back, along with Patrick Depailler; the pair finished in second and third, with American Klausler taking victory for a second year in a row. Also in the field were Patrick Tambay and Tom Pryce; Villeneuve was eliminated in a start-line collision. Minor revisions were also made to the course, with Turn 10 reduced in angle (it would later be named 'Villeneuve') to create a safer transition onto the start/finish straight.
An unchanged course would be used in 1975, '76 and '77, during which time the highlight was Gilles Villeneuve's victory in the 1976 GP. He led from lights-to-flag, having started from pole ahead of a field which included the likes of James Hunt, Alan Jones, Vittorio Brambilla, Patrick Tambay and Bobby Rahal. An impressed Hunt lobbied for his McLaren team to give Villeneuve a run-out at the 1977 British Grand Prix, launching the great Canadian's F1 career.
In 1978, the course was lengthened to 2.01 miles by diverting it along a new M-shaped section laid inside the horse racing track. Exiting the Hippodrome, the cars then swept onto Boulevard des Forges, bypassing the Porte Duplessis. The new straight gave the Can-Am cars, which were by now included on the race card, a place on which they could stretch their legs.
Financial troubles lead to a pause before revival
The revised course remained in use through to 1985, after which the race organisation entered a turbulent period. The loss of Labbatt as a sponsor came as a huge blow (rumours that overtures had been made to rivals Molson probably didn't help) and the loss of Can-Am from the race card pushed up operating costs to unsustainable levels. The difficult decision was taken to suspend racing while proper financing could be organised, meaning that there were no races held in 1986, '87 or '88.
In 1987 a new non-profit organisation, the Association of Motorsports Trois-Rivières (ASMTR), was formed to take over the running of the race. The following year saw the city purchase all of the equipment needed to run the race, including the stands, fences, guard rails and the naming rights to the event of the former management team, with the aim of restoring racing the following year.
Happily, 1989 did see a resumption of racing as planned, albeit on a shorter form of the circuit, which largely mirrored the classic 1973-77 version, including the trip through the Porte Duplessis. A new, more pronounced, first corner was introduced, while the run to Turn 2 was widened and given a slight curve to create a more sweeping entry to the corner.
Trans-Am and Indy Lights would become mainstays in the late 1990s, while Grand-Am and the ALMS made high-profile appearances in the 2000s. Minor tweaks to the circuit saw a widening of the exit of Turn 1 in 1999, following Dog May's crash in Trans-Am the previous year, and the moving back of the outside wall at Turn 3, at the exit of Porte Duplessis in 2000.
The Canadian NASCAR series has been the headline act since 2007, while new interest was added in 2014 with the addition of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, using a modified version of the track utilising a trip through a dirt section in the Hippodrome.