• Raphael Lessard

Racing Roundup: Lessard sweeps Pinty’s; Sky ignores Latifi 

Hungarian GP was a Gong Show and all the rest of the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald August 3, 2021
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Welcome to the Monday Racing Roundup on Tuesday.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series veteran Raphael Lessard (see poto, above) won both races Sunday night as the 2021 NASCAR Pinty’s Series for late-model stock cars kicked off at Sunset Speedway near Innisville. Esteban Ocon won the Grand Prix of Hungary (a.k.a. the Gong Show) for the French F1 team Alpine and Toronto Formula One driver Nicolas Latifi scored his first world championship points and the first points for his team, Williams F1. Plus other results.

PINTY’S SERIES 

I have long thought – going back to the CASCAR days as well as the early days of NASCAR Canada – that the Pinty’s series was one for “gentlemen” racers. You know, a series geared for racers who are doing it for fun rather than preparing for a shot at the big time.

Yes, on occasion, retired IndyCar star Alex Tagliani can still be in demand in other series and D.J. Kennington has raced in several Daytona 500s. But, for the most part, it’s been a series for recreation.

But looking over the entry lists for this year’s season, I get the impression that this might be changing. The previously mentioned Lessard, from St-Joseph-de-Beauce, Que., is only 20; Treyten Lapcevich of Grimsby is 17, Shantel Kalika of Prince Albert, Sask., is 21.

Defending Pinty’s champion Jason Hathaway, now retired, agreed with my assessment but was quick to point out that younger drivers can quickly run out of money. Auto racing at any level is expensive and while a sponsor might have the means to help out a youngster one year, they might not the next. And to move up the ladder costs even more because money buys speed.

Years ago, individuals and companies Down Under got together to pool resources – primarily fund-raising – to send a “Driver to Europe.” That’s how Chris Amon of New Zealand got to the Continent to start climbing the F1 ladder. Ditto Jack Brabham from Australia. Without that financial help, those famous racers wouldn’t have been able to leave home to seek their fame and fortune.

So, we need a Driver to the U.S. Here’s a challenge: led by Pinty’s and helped by TSN and other Canadian corporations like Canadian Tire, a proper budget has to be established to buy a season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with an established team like, say, Joe Gibbs Racing. The money would go to the highest-placed Pinty’s driver under age 25.

I think it’s a shame that a guy like Lessard, for instance, who has all the talent in the world, is held back because he doesn’t have the cash. The Canadian racing community has to give him, or whomever, a hand.

That doesn’t mean these young folks just have to sit back and wait for the cash to flow in. Far from it. One young guy getting an early start at raising a budget is Kyle Steckly of Milverton, son of four-time Canadian stock car racing national campion Scott Steckly. Kyle must have a dozen local sponsors helping his effort, led by Qwick Wick Fire Starters and A.W. Millwrights.

Although his father didn’t appear to be too enthusiastic about it, Kyle – who started racing in a small, six-horsepower machine that was not unlike a go-kart but had a roll cage on it and who’s racing this season in the Pro Late Model Division at Flamboro Speedway – told me his goal is to run in the Pinty’s series. “Were just taking things one race at a time at Flamboro,” he said. “But we’re learning every day, every weekend.”

He’s run three race meets so far this season, out there against as many as 18 cars. “The first race, I got involved in a wreck,” he said. “The next night, we did double features and I finished second and third and the last night we did double features again and I won both of those races.”

Kyle said he wants to make the move into the Pinty’s series “when I’m ready. I’m in no rush. I want to take my time, prove myself, earn respect from the drivers around Ontario and learn. So, when I come into this series, I’ll be experienced, I’ll know wat I’m doing and what the cars are like and everything about the racing. I know then that I’ll be ready.”

Good luck to him.

In the first Pinty’s race at Sunset Sunday night, the Frontline Workers 125, Andrew Ranger (second) and Tagliani (third) followed Lessard across the line. In the second race, the General Tire 125, Kennington finished second and L.P Dumoulin was third.

By the way, Lessard was filling in for Donald Theetge who suffered a hand injury and was forced to miss the Sunset races. And Lessard has only run three Pinty’s races and he’s won them all. The kid’s got talent.

latifi

HEY, SKY: IT’S LATIFI 

On July 24, the Toronto Star’s TV guide, Star Week, had a cover photo of an American Olympic athlete and inside the magazine, the stories were all about U.S. athletes. The Star’s Public Editor, Bruce Campion-Smith, got an earful, as you can imagine.

What happened is not unusual. As it has for years, the Star buys the magazine from an American publishing company, which only cares about Americans. The Star manager in charge of Star Week said he had notified the publishers that the Star wanted Canadian content (at least on occasion) but I can tell you from experience that likely won’t happen. I mean, our population is about the same as California’s. We don’t really matter.

On many occasions, I’ve told the IMSA and IndyCar PR people that Canadians can’t get NBC Sports Channel or Peacock and that they might say in their releases where Canadians can tune in to watch the races but that’s always fallen on deaf ears. Once, when Player’s sponsored the American-administered Formula Atlantic Series, the Atlantic PR people would send out entry lists that would say things like, “Bill Smith, Santa Fe, N.M, Bill Jones, Galveston, Tex., Bill Park, Canada.” I would write them letters, but it never did any good. Finally, the Globe and Mail used to buy the feature Your Morning Smile from an American syndicate. I changed that (when I worked there); I even wrote a book about it.

I’m telling you all this as background to the anger that I and others are feeling these days toward the Sky Television Network and their close-to-ignoring of Canadian Nicholas Latifi’s achievements in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Of course, they couldn’t stop gushing over homeboy George Russell, even after he’d had his ass kicked by Latifi.

Latifi (seen above, arriving for the race) finished eighth Sunday and Russell ninth (each depending on the appeal of Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification). They both earned their first world championship points and they scored the first points for the Williams team since 2019.

That Latifi beat his teammate is one thing; here is what really impressed me.

Early in the race, because of the kerfuffle triggered by Valtteri Bottas and pit stops made by others, Latifi found himself in third place. For the following 15 laps, or so, before he had to make his own pit stop, he stayed third. Nobody could pass him. That said two things, to me: 1, he has the race craft and the skill to run at the front, or near the front, of any Grand Prix he enters and, 2, if you put him in a Mercedes, as Russell had been a few races back, he’d have driven/raced the thing every bit as well as his Williams teammate. Maybe even better.

Here’s the amazing bit: all the while that this guy from Toronto was holding down third place in that Grand Prix, there was NOT ONE MENTION of him by that Sky crew. If it had been Russell, that’s all you would have heard, but not Nicky.

Afterward, Russell was interviewed by Johnny Herbert and his crew and Karen Chandhok had him on for a segment of the best lap he drove feature, but not Latifi. Herbert, et al, finally got around – about an hour later – to talking about Nicky’s “solid performance” and he was part of the media scrum, but he did not get the attention or respect that Russell did.

So Canadian broadcaster TSN has to pick up the phone and tell Sky that Williams has two drivers, not just one, and the other one is a Canadian who just became the team leader. We have to depend on Sky for our F1 race coverage and thus, they have a responsibility to check their bias at the door and to report what’s going on fairly.

Sky had a quick shot of Russell shedding a tear in the paddock afterward and they said it was because was overcome with emotion after scoring his first points. I think he was feeling sorry for himself because he’d been beaten by his teammate, but that’s just me.

Lewis Hamilton

ONE CRAZY RACE 

Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix had to be, without a doubt, one of the most stupid ever held in what is alleged to be the best racing series in the world.

Call it the Gong Show.

Where else would you see a car line up for the start (in this case, a restart) and be the only one on the track? Yup, it happened on Sunday (see photo, above). On the formation lap for that restart, 19 cars pulled into the pits to change to dry tires; one didn’t. Lewis Hamilton took his place on the grid, waited, the red lights were turned on – one, two, three, etc. – then they went out and away he went, all by his lonesome.

(This was reminiscent of the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis when only six cars started and that was a lesson learned – to never let something like that happen again – that was obviously forgotten in Hungary on Sunday. I guarantee that if the late Charlie Whiting was still around, it never would have happened. Why? As soon as he saw what was about to take place, he would have thrown another red flag, declared it a dry race, and let everybody change tires.)

Then we have this nugget. When the cars went piling into the first turn after the original start, Valtteri Bottas screwed up and triggered a pileup that eliminated five cars plus his own. He probably caused at least half a million dollars in direct damage (if not more) plus untold millions in indirect damage (driver and team points lost). For this, the stewards (all members of Mensa, I’m sure) penalized him five grid positions in the next race.

Meantime, Sebastian Vettel drove a great race, balls-to-the-wall the whole way, giving great entertainment to millions of TV viewers around the world plus those in attendance at Budapest, and when he finished in second place behind winner Esteban Ocon, it was found he had less than a litre of fuel left in the tank of his car. For this, he was disqualified. Thrown out. Declared persona non grata because HE BROKE A RULE.

Apparently, finishing a race with less than a litre of fuel trumps destroying five cars and robbing drivers and teams of valuable points.

But wait, there’s more. Two things in particular. Chris Medland, who covers F1 for Racer.com and other publications, tweeted that at least one other car was also under investigation. But almost at the same time, the official results were posted and guess what? Vettel – and remember, he’d been disqualified – was back in second place, pending the outcome of an appeal by Aston Martin. The last time this happened was in 2008. Romain Grosjean was DQ’d and when they posted the official results, he was still DQ’d pending an appeal. Even later still, the FIA posted their official votes and had him DQ’d again.

So, what does all this mean? It means they don’t have a clue. The rule book is so convoluted it takes someone with common sense to decipher it and that’s something the people who run F1 these days are lacking.

My friend, Gerald Donaldson, calls F1 the “world’s fastest soap opera.” This has been yet another instalment.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff apologized to Christian Horner and the rest of the Red Bull team for Bottas ruining the races of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. That this is the second consecutive race in which a Mercedes driver has created problems for a Red Bull racer hasn’t helped matters any.

French President Emmanuel Macron telegraphed Ocon following his victory and thanked him for bringing glory to France.

My first recollection of Hungary was in 1956 when their attempt to break away from the Soviet bloc was crushed by the Red Army. Thousands were killed. It was one of the first international stories to be covered live by television. But as it is everywhere in life, you repeat what you’ve learned. Those who are abused will abuse. Those who live in an oppressive state will oppress, and so-on. Hungary still has laws on the books outlawing homosexuality, sexual transformation and so-on. Sebastian Vettel wore a t-shirt during the Hungarian national anthem supporting the LGBTQ+ community and was summoned by the stewards. Several others – Lance Stroll, among them – were hauled onto the carpet for not taking off their We Race As One t-shirts during the national anthem. All received reprimands. (Can you imagine a young A.J. Foyt putting up with this crap?) Vettel said they probably would disqualify him for doing it and he didn’t care. Maybe they were looking for a reason.

Great racing: Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton put on a wonderful display of racing open-wheel cars. It was enough to make you forget the rest of the Gong Show.

Lewis Hamilton got dizzy on the podium and required medical attention afterward. I have pointed out that he hasn’t been himself since he came down with COVID but a medical doctor friend of mine suggested that Hamilton simply suffered from dehydration. Said the doc: “He found himself last and had to fight his way through the field to the front. Then he had that battle with Alonso. No wonder he was dehydrated.”

OTHER RACING 

T.J. Marshall won the Canadian Vintage Modifieds feature at Flamboro. Quinton Murdoch won the second feature. Justin Collison won the first Super Stocks feature with Lane Zardo winning the second. Shawn Taylor won both Mini Stocks races. Reece Bourgeois won her first Pure Stocks race wile Megan Mitchell won her first race in the nightcap. Mark Lucas was first in Pro Modifieds with Dan Pettit first in the second race. My thanks to Ashley McCubbin for providing these results. . . . . . In the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Lea Pruett won the Top Fuel race and Ron Capps was first in Funnyu Car. Aaron Stanfield (Pro Stock) and Matt Smkith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were first in teir categories. . . . . . Tommy Goudge reports that Jordan Poirier passed Jim Huppunen on the last lap to win Saturday’s Pinty’s Knights of Thunder 360 Sprint Car series A-Main at Humberstone Speedway. The victory helped Poirier to sweep the Knights of Thunder portion of All-Canadian Championship weekend and remain undefeated in 2021. And Jacob Dykstra swept the Action Sprint Tour fueled by Pinty’s portion of All-Canadian Championship weekend at Humberstone Friday night. . . . . . Dylan Westbrook of Brant won the feature Wednesday night of the ASCS Sprint Week at Caney Valley Speedway in Kansas. And Mike Lichty of Kitchener won the King of Wings supermodified race at New York’s Oswego Speedway Saturday night. Canadians rule.

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