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Former Indy 500 champ Jacques Villeneuve looking to open motorsports complex in Oliver with partners
The greatest race car driver in Canadian history – and a few of his speed-loving friends – are hoping to develop the finest motorsports training facility of its kind in Western Canada and one of the best in the world on Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) land in Oliver.
Jacques Villeneuve, the only Canadian to ever win the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Championship – has signed on to be the track designer for the Area 27 and South Okanagan Motorsports Corporation.
Villeneuve is one of three drivers in history to win the Indy 500, Formula One World Championship and the CART Indycar title. The two others were Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti.
Villeneuve and his business partners Dave King and Bill Drossos unveiled their plans to build an executive driving academy, training centre and racetrack facility on a large tract of land in Oliver during a press conference at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Spa and Resort in Osoyoos on Sunday afternoon.
King and Drossos are business owners in Penticton who share a love of automobiles and envision a racetrack and driving academy second to none in North America.
“Our goal is to provide one of the premier driving experiences anywhere in the world,” said King.
The business partners have signed a “letter of intent” to lease land from the OIB.
Chief Clarence Louie of the OIB was on hand with Villeneuve, King and Drossos for Sunday’s announcement, saying he and the OIB are genuinely excited about this potential partnership and economic opportunities it will bring to this region.
Villeneuve said his
main role in this endeavor will be to design the track and make occasional promotional appearances.
“I live in Europe and I’m still busy with my racing career,” said Villeneuve, who met with hundreds of race car fans before and after Sunday’s press conference.
“I have always relished the challenge of designing my own racetrack.”
In order for this project to proceed, the project partners are hoping to sell a minimum of 200 “club memberships” similar to those sold at exclusive golf clubs, said Drossos.
The original 200 memberships would be sold at approximately $35,000 apiece and provide the working capital needed for what could potentially be a $12-million development, he said.
“We can only get off the ground if we get 200 members,” said King. “If we’re six months down the road and we have 10 members, this isn’t going to fly … but we don’t expect that to happen.”
These members would receive exclusive privileges as founding members, he said.
The goal is to eventually sell 300 memberships in the next year or two – the final 100 would be sold at roughly $30,000 apiece – within the next two years.
The membership drive officially started Sept. 1
The project would be constructed in phases with the preliminary Phase 1 track construction budgeted at approximately $7.5 million. Phase 1 would comprise of all of the asphalt for the track, the construction and development of a driving academy, a karting track and access roads, security fencing and additional supporting infrastructure.
A small group of supporting members have already committed to investing a substantial amount of money to the project, said King.
Phase 1 construction is expected to take between six and eight months.
The target market for memberships will be people who are “financially secure” and are avid automobile enthusiasts who own expensive cars and need a place to race and store them, said King.
The circuit Villeneuve will be asked to design once confirmation of this proposal is finalized is expected to be between 4.5 and 5.5 kilometres in length.
Once the South Okanagan Motorsports Corporation gives final approval to proceed, the OIB will initiate a “designation vote” process to approve the project, said King. This process will take from four to six months to complete.
The racetrack will be built to international standards and feature all of the safest possible features available, said King.
Drossos said he grew up loving race cars and racetracks and had to “travel 5,000 east” to Ontario to get professional training as a driver and hopes this facility will provide a wide spectrum of opportunities for car owners and drivers across the region and western Canada.
King didn’t deny that original investors who purchase memberships will have to be very well-heeled.
“You are looking at people who really do have this capability” to invest $30,000 or $35,000 and maintain the annual membership fees of between $3,00 to $4,000, said King.
If the project partners are successful in raising enough capital for this facility to be built it would have enormous economic impact for his band and the residents who live in Oliver, Osoyoos and the entire South Okanagan, said Louie.
“This would mean jobs, jobs and more jobs,” said Louie. “It would mean opportunity … and money.
“I can’t wait for the words ‘ladies and gentleman start your engines’ … I love those words. I really hope this happens.”
A project of this size and scope would attract car owners and racing enthusiasts from across the province and likely much of Canada, said Louie.
“I’m really excited about this project,” he said. “It would bring a first-class project to the Oliver and Osoyoos area.”
There are many young OIB members who are “wrenchheads who love working on their cars and trucks” and opening this facility would allow many of them to land jobs and work at the facility, he said.
Villeneuve said the proposed site would provide a unique and beautiful setting that would compare with any in this country.
Drossos said he has dreamed about opening a facility of this size and scope for a long time and started making contacts after driving past the proposed site a couple of years ago.
“I’ve never seen a better location anywhere,” said Drossos.
He met the following week with Villeneuve to discuss the idea and his good friend was on board as a business partner, he said.
The final two phases of the project would include building condos and townhouses on-site and large grandstand with scoring tower.
King said he expects most of the members will come from Calgary, Vancouver and Kelowna.
The facility would also be available to hold large concert events and car shows, said King.
Racing and testing expensive automobiles and race cars usually involves high levels of noise, but testing so far indicates the proposed site is far enough away from residential homes to not cause any problems, said King.
Members will be guaranteed full access to the facility at least 15 days and two weekends per month and all other events would be rescheduled as members will always be given the highest priority, he said.
All membership funding will be held in escrow until the project receives final approval, he said.