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Season of firsts for Canadian touring car series

Etienne Borgeat of Montreal won the Super Canadian Touring Car Championship behind the wheel of his Pontiac Solstice.

Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship

This year's Canadian Touring Car Championship season was a season of firsts. The series held its first night race, and crowned two first-time champions – one of whom notched his first win of 2011 in the CTCC's final race.

When the checkered flag flew on the last race at Circuit ICAR near Mirabel, Que., on Sept. 11, Etienne Borgeat of Montreal won the Super championship behind the wheel of his Pontiac Solstice. Tom Kwok of Markham, Ont., won the Touring class championship in his Honda Civic Si. This was the fifth year in a row that the class champions were decided in the final race of the season. Dean Fantin of Amherstburg, Ont., placed second in the Super class championship in his BMW 328 and Bob Attrell of Brampton, Ont., drove his Hyundai Genesis coupe to third place in the Super class.

In Touring, Alain Lauziere of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., finished second in his Mini Cooper while teammate Michel Sallenbach of Roxton Pond, Que., came in third.

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Hyundai was awarded the manufacturer's championship in the Super class, while Honda won the manufacturer's championship in the Touring class.

Although the competition was fierce throughout the season, series president John Bondar was pleased that the drivers and teams maintained a sense of professionalism.

"The atmosphere around the paddock has really improved," he said. "I've been surprised at how close everyone has become (over the past few seasons) and this year they really brought it to a higher level. Nobody's screaming at each other."

Borgeat, racing in his fifth CTCC season, was particularly pleased with the championship after a dismal 2010 season – his first after swapping his BMW 3-series for the Solstice.

"A lot of people thought I was crazy, but the Solstice is cheaper to run and it was a good challenge for us," he said. "They say it takes three years for a car to be really competitive so I'm hoping for a really great season next year."

Heading into the final race with podium finishes but no wins gave Borgeat some additional motivation. "All I had to do was finish the final race, but I didn't want to win the championship without winning one race," he said. With just two laps left following a yellow caution period, Borgeat was able to overtake Sasha Anis in a Hyundai Genesis and take the win at ICAR.

Tom Kwok came into the season with the goal of winning the championship, but often had to fight hard against his brother and teammate Gary as well as the two Mini Coopers of Lauziere and Sallenbach. Gary Kwok finished the season in fifth place.

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Tom Kwok spent a lot of time on the podium during the season, finishing in the top three in most races, except for the races at Trois-Rivieres and the final rounds at ICAR. He also won the Touring class at the Honda Indy Toronto. Kwok was a DNF in the last race of the season due to a broken rim but still managed to secure the Touring championship.

Race cars in the CTCC are divided into two classes: Touring and Super. Touring class is for 200-horsepower, production-based cars such as the Honda Civic, Volkswagen GTI and Mini Cooper. The Super class includes cars such as the BMW 3-Series, Audi A5 and Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Super class cars are also production-based but are powered by 300-horsepower engines.

The eight-weekend, 15-event CTCC season began with the Victoria Day Speedfest at Mosport International Raceway. In addition to two more race weekends at Mosport, drivers also competed in support events at the Honda Indy Toronto in July and at the Napa 200 NASCAR Nationwide race weekend at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal in August. For the first time, the cars competed under the lights in a night race at Trois-Rivieres on Aug. 5.

"That was the best race I've seen in five years," said Bondar. "The drivers were so buzzed when they came off the track that they didn't go home – they hung around and talked about the race."

That race was red flagged shortly before its scheduled finish after P.J. Groenke, driving a Volkswagen GTI in Touring class, collided with Michel Sallenbach and ended up sliding down much of the Trois-Rivieres' back straight on his roof. Groenke was unhurt, but his car was finished for the season. Groenke did however manage to return the series in a Honda Civic Si owned by the Kwok brothers. Alain Lauziere took the Touring class win in the night race at Trois-Rivieres, followed by Tom Kwok and Jocelyn Hebert in a Honda Civic Si. Mathieu Audette won the Super class driving an Acura RSX, with defending Super class champion Nick Wittmer's Honda Civic in second and the Hyundai Genesis of Sasha Anis in third.

The series also notched another first this season when Luc Lesage took the checkered flag in a Scion TC at Mosport in July. The Touring class win marked the first time a vehicle from Toyota's youth-oriented brand lineup won a road-racing event in North America.

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