Stroll excited for first home grand prix

MONTREAL — Lance Stroll is stoked for his first Canadian Grand Prix, and so is race promoter Francois Dumontier.

Ticket sales have jumped by more than 10 per cent for the 18-year-old Stroll’s first appearance at his home grand prix. The Montreal native will be the first Canadian on the grid since Jacques Villeneuve of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., a decade ago.

“The wait is over,” Dumontier said Tuesday. “The fans are excited about it and we saw that at the ticket office, and media-wise with a lot of coverage. So there is a Lance Stroll effect.”

Stroll, who signed with the Williams F1 team in November after winning the European F3 series, has had a difficult start to his rookie campaign in Formula One. He has finished only two of his first six races and has yet to earn a point, but would love to make his breakthrough at his home race Sunday at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

“He’s still on a learning curve,” said Dumontier. “He wasn’t lucky in a few races, but this track has suited the Williams team in the past.

“We’ll see this weekend. It’s the first time he’ll race here on, top of the emotion, I think the crowd might give him a push.”

His best finish so far was 11th at the Russian Grand Prix, one spot out of the points. He was 16th in the previous event in Spain. But he has not finished his last three races, including two weeks ago on the hilly streets of Monaco where his engine failed with only seven laps to go.

“It’s a dream to race in the grand prix in Montreal,” Stroll said at a news conference. “It’ll be very emotional.

“My family and friends are here and a lot of people are coming this weekend to watch me, so it’ll be very special.”

The setbacks have been put down to inexperience, but there is concern that he was rushed into FormulaOne and got into the world’s top racing series only because of financial backing from his father, fashion billionaire Lawrence Stroll.

Stroll doesn’t deny that having money helped, but he hopes to prove he has driving skill as well.

“I’ve been very fortunate growing up, however, I took advantage of it and won all the championships to get where I am,” he said. “I’m very thankful for all the support I’ve got through my career but I’ve taken it with both hands and made the best of it.

“In motorsport, I think that’s the area that needs to be worked on. It’s unfortunate in this day and age that it’s so difficult to make it to the top, especially when you’re not from Europe. Just to get over to race in Europe to get on the Formula One radar is so tricky.”

Stroll has been groomed to be a race driver since boyhood with the encouragement of his father, who owns the race track at Mont-Tremblant, Que.

He moved when he was 12 to Europe and came up through the stages from go-karts to more powerful cars, first as part of the Ferrari academy and later with Williams.

Now he is looking to match the exploits of Canada’s last F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve, who won the championship in 1997 with Williams, or his father Gilles Villenueve, the Ferrari ace who won the Canadian Grand Prix in 1978.

Jacques Villeneuve has criticized Stroll, suggesting he takes F1 for granted and hasn’t got the fire in his belly to succeed. So it wasn’t surprising that Stroll said he finds nothing special in racing for Villeneuve’s former team.

“Times have changed,” he said. “Formula One is very different now than when Jacques was there. I’m concentrating on what I have to do.”

But like Villeneuve, Stroll should enjoy solid support at his home race.

“This is home and it will always be home for me, and it’s great to come back,” said Stroll. ”I’m still in touch with everyone I want to be in touch with and it’s really cool.

“It’s positive pressure. The media pressure is always there at this level, but what you need to focus on is the fans and the positive energy you receive from them. So far this week, from what I’ve seen, it’s been very positive. I’m looking forward to seeing some Canadian flags in the grandstands this weekend.”

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