Racing Roundup: Safer Race Cars and Penske must run 500 Sans Fans
Keselowski gets contract extension, Latifi has a reason to celebrate, we want Larson and all the news
Now, before I get going, I have something to say (Editor’s Note: No kidding). As many of you know, I am constantly shooting off my mouth about race-car safety. I was so glad to see F1 adopt the halo cockpit safety cage and IndyCar to follow up with the aeroscreen. Bravo to both. But there is still work to be done.
There are hundreds of old Formula 1600 cars and North American formula cars that are used in series like the Road to Indy (Indy Lights, etc.) where there are no halos/aersoscreens and the drivers are still sitting right out there, exposed.
When I was moaning and groaning about this a few years ago, pushing for a supermodified-style roll cage to be installed on all open-wheel cars, I was told there was no way it could be done and any chassis changes, modifications or additions would have to wait for the next generation of car.
Well, I have a friend who isn’t waiting. Brian Stewart, who owned and operated an Indy Lights racing team for years after winning several Canadian national racing championships as a driver, has designed and installed a mini-halo on a bunch of old Champ Car Lights racing cars he’s got in his shop up in Sutton, Ont.
We were visiting last Saturday and I noticed them and asked what was up? Said the man who launched the careers of, among others, Paul Tracy, Scott Maxwell, Bryan Herta, Filipe Giaffone, Cristiano de Matta, Pedro Chaves, Eric Bachelart and P.J. Jones, “I’m working for a fellow who likes to drive these on the road course at Toronto Motorsports Park. He does it for fun but wanted to feel a little safer.
“So I got some chrome-moly steel tubing and did some welding and figured out a way to attach it so that it didn’t compromise the integrity of the racing car and there you go. And I actually made an improvement to the design – I moved the mirrors off the sides of the chassis and mounted them on the tubing and they don’t shake like they do when they’re just attached.”
Stewart figures he can install the mini-halos – see photograph – to just about any open wheel car for about $500. Interested? Call Stewart at 1-289-338-6787.
I am not at liberty to reveal the name, plus I got this second-hand, but a very well-known member of the IndyCar community said these exact words earlier this year when the coronavirus forced the postponement of the first race of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series and put others in jeopardy:
“Run the 500 at some point and call it a day for the 2020 season.”
The 500, of course, is the biggest, best-known race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Initially postponed from its traditional date of the last Sunday in May, it is now scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 23.
The Sunday, Aug. 23, date would include fans. IndyCar executives have said that if the virus forces them to postpone that date, they would be able to run it as late as October. But there would be no guarantees they could hold it then either.
In the last couple of weeks, IndyCar has really been hammered by COVID. They had to cancel the last two races of the season at Portland and Monterey. Then, just this weekend, next weekend’s double-header at Mid-Ohio was cancelled. And as of last night (Monday), opening day for 500 practice, next Tuesday, has been postponed.
Right now, with the exception of a doubleheader at Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis (Aug. 29 and 30th), there are no races scheduled anywhere except two in Indianapolis the first of October and the postponed race at St. Petersburg Oct. 25.
And COVID-19 doesn’t appear to be going away in the United States anytime soon, putting even those races at risk.
The big dog is television. You can’t just run the Indy 500 anytime you feel like it. Baseball, basketball and hockey is under way now and the NFL is coming. So the Indy 500 is being backed into a corner.
If I was to advise Roger Penske, et al, this is what I would say. Run the 500 Aug. 23 without spectators. Get it in. The Indiana University Health Network, which packs a lot of weight, is against having spectators there so why fight it? Run the big race, the two in St. Louis (if you can) and then call it a season.
The last thing you would want is to run till the end of August and then disappear until the first of October and then disappear again till Oct. 25th. We know this has been a weird year, but that would be ridiculous.
A friend of mine who knows of these things says he expects an announcement about the 500 to come in the next week. Maybe sooner. Let’s hope whatever comes out is decisive and realistic. This year, 2020, is jinxed and has been from the start. Let’s cut the losses and plan for 2021.
One last thing about IndyCar: Unlike all sorts of other people, I do not want Jimmie Johnson, a great seven-time NASCAR champion, racing in IndyCar. He is finished in the stock cars – watch any of the races and he is not really all that competitive any more. His presence in IndyCar will do nothing for the series (except that he will be yet another “really nice guy” taking up a seat).
Do you know who I want? Kyle Larson. He is young, and he’s a rocket. Why go for old and a step slower when you can have young thunder and lightning?
The British Grand Prix held at Britain’s Silverstone circuit Sunday was dull as dishwater till the last three laps when the wonderful Pirelli tires all started to disintegrate.
Lewis Hamilton held on for the victory in his Mercedes but limped across the line; Max Verstappen nearly caught him in his Red Bull. Charles Leclerc was third for Ferrari after Valtteri Bottas, who ran second almost the whole race, suffered a flat tire and had to drive his Mercedes all the way around before he could pit for a new one and he finished out of the points, as a result.
For a complete story on the weekend’s race, please click here.
Ferrari’s sabotaging of Sebastian Vettel’s season continued when they gave him a car that was just about undriveable. He managed to finish 10th and in the points.
I used to quite like Danny Kvyat. No more. After he crashed and was walking back to the pits, he lashed out at a camera. His slugging of the camera (and the cameraman) is inexcusable and I trust there will be a fine and that it’s hefty.
Toronto’s Nicholas Latifi made his first legitimate F1 pass for Williams when he got by Kimi Raikkonen. Whoopee!!! Pretty good for his first season in a car that is not up to the task. It took Rikky Von Opel, who drove for Ensign in 1973 and Brabham in ‘74, two seasons to do that. Rikky was so excited, he bought everybody drinks on the plane home to England from Sweden, getting drunk himself in the process.
When Sergio Perez was ruled out of Sunday’s Grand Prix after testing positive to COVID-19, the call went out to Nico Hulkenberg to replace him at Racing Point alongside our Lance Stroll. I can’t understand that. Racing Point is rounding into shape and becoming a threat. The car needs a driver or drivers capable of getting everything possible out of it. Hulkenberg is just one of those seat-fillers who do next-to-nothing to justify their existence at the top of the ladder in motorsport. In 177 starts, he hasn’t made it onto the podium once. That’s just not good enough.
Now, Hulkenberg is a nice guy. I like him as a person. I have had chats with him and you won’t find a more open, pleasant individual.
But we’re talking Formula One here. (Or IndyCar. Or NASCAR Cup.) I fail to understand it when I hear things like, “Nico is such a nice guy, he deserves to be on the grid.” Or “So and so should be on the grid; he’s so good for the sport.”
You know who’s good for the sport? Lewis Hamilton is good for the sport. Nico Hulkenberg is not. You are in F1 or IndyCar or Cup because you are a winner of races or you are consistently in a position to win races. You do not get points for niceness.
I know Hulkenberg has a superlicence and there aren’t that many around. But this is Force Majeur. An arrangement could be made for one race. And what to make of Racing Point’s naming two drivers as reserve/emergency replacements if both are either unavailable or incapable of doing the job? What is that about?
Stoffel Vandoorne is one but he is racing in Formula E this season, which is getting rid of its 2020 schedule in one swoop this week by holding six races in Berlin. Esteban Gutierrez is the other and he hasn’t turned a wheel in anger in F1 since 2016 and would not likely be up to date on the technology. I think this is pretty poor management. Two emergency drivers and neither are available?
In the end, of course, it was all moot because at the last second an engine gremlin got into Hulkenberg’s power unit and he couldn’t race. Although Hulkenberg is there and ready, Racing Point still has time to do better. Fernando Alonso, perhaps?
Brad Keselowski (see picture at top of column) won the Cup race at New Hampshire Sunday, with Denny Hamlin second and Martin Truex Jr. third. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick followed in fourth and fifth. There were a couple of nasty crashes and a bunch of cut tires that put the drivers concerned into the wall.
But it was a routine Cup race; nothing particularly interesting. I did think, though, that the socially-distanced crowd reminded me of the turnout for IndyCar races the last couple of times they went to Loudon. (That’s a joke . . .)
For a detailed story on the race, please click here.
Keselowski is doing a terrific job for Roger Penske this year and was rewarded Monday by signing a contract extension, although interestingly, the news release didn’t say for how long. A year, probably. At some point, Keselowski or Joey Logana or Ryan Blaney will have to move on, to be replaced by Austin Cindric, who’s a pretty good racing driver but who also happens to be the son of Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing. Nepotism at work.
Meantime, good for Keselowski. He calls a spade a spade. This is what he told motorsport.com after the race Sunday about how talent and results are no longer a guarantee of employment:
“The landscape is very strange,” he said, “not just because of the virus, but I think one of the things that really stands out that’s changed the landscape is the threshold, or the bar, so to speak, you have to pass as a driver to be eligible for the Cup Series. It’s been lowered significantly since I’ve been a part of the sport.
“That’s starting to bring a wave of kind of paid drivers, so to speak, drivers that pay for their ride. That really does a lot of damage to the contract market when there’s drivers out there that are willing to pay for your ride, let alone you getting paid.
“They’re willing to pay to take your ride. That really changes the marketplace pretty dramatically.”
That’s the way it is in other series too and – I’ll come right out and say it: it’s wrong. Can you imagine Jimmy Bryan or Eddie Sachs or Fireball Roberts or Dale Earnhardt Sr. having to come up with money to buy a seat in order to go racing? The thought is ludicrous.
I didn’t see the race Sunday. So I am printing a news release from IMSA written by ace, long-time sports-car racing writer, David Phillips:
While it’s inconvenient, even downright uncomfortable, for fans in attendance, there’s nothing like a rain shower (mixed with thunder, lightning and a dash of hail!) to liven-up a road race.
A mid-race downpour is Mother Nature’s joker; reshuffling the proverbial deck, forcing drivers to instantaneously adapt to treacherous conditions, teams to swap calculated strategies for split-second decisions based on instincts rather than spread sheets, and race officials to find that delicate balance between safety and the suddenly added entertainment factor. Inevitably there are winners and losers – often not the ones who appeared destined to win or lose before the advent of precipitation.
It goes without saying that Acura and Team Penske, DragonSpeed USA, Corvette Racing and AIM Vasser Sullivan and Lexus were winners at Road America. But the DPi win was particularly satisfying for Acura and Penske, given the announcement last month that their partnership would conclude at the end of the season.
Apart from reinforcing Team Penske’s consummate professionalism, the victory (coupled with the front row “lock-out” in qualifying) can only strengthen Acura’s bargaining position when courting potential partners for 2021 and beyond. And speaking of bargaining positions, Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya all made strong statements about their future “employability.”
As well, DragonSpeed USA nailed the change to wet tires even as the LMP2 class-leading PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA slithered off course to turn what had appeared a rout (they trailed the leaders by 3/4 of a minute at one stage) into a victory for Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman.
Meanwhile, in contrast to their GTLM rivals, Antonio Garcia and Tommy Milner managed to stay on the (slippery) road to score a one-two finish and a third straight win for the Corvette C8.R even as AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo secured Lexus’ fourth GTD win in as many tries in 2020.
Okay, losers is a harsh term but certainly Mazda’s decision to not call Oliver Jarvis in for rain tires before the red flag stoppage cost and the ensuing yellow cost them a legitimate chance at a second straight Mazda DPi win at Road America.
And while no one can say what might have happened had they kept their noses clean under admittedly challenging conditions, Porsche’s Earl Bamber and Nick Tandy, John Edwards (BMW Team RLL), Simon Trummer (PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports) and Mario Farnbacher (Meyer Shank Racing Acura) are surely ruing their “offs” that may well have cost them class wins.
More Winners? The spectators on hand who checked the weather forecast and brought their rain gear and thus watched those final hectic laps in relative comfort; likewise the fans who watched from the dry comfort of home on NBC and were treated to a race that saw not one, not two, not three but four class winners decided in the final minutes of a thoroughly unpredictable 2 hour and 40 minute race. And for that they can thank Mother Nature, not to mention the IMSA competitors in DPi, LMP2, GTLM and GTD.
CANADIANS AT PLAY
Jeff Kingsley, a 22-year-old from Whitby, won the first of two rounds of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA at Road America on Saturday. He was second in the race Sunday. Looks like he’s another Porsche GT3 Cup Canadian driver with a bright future. . . . . . This is called keeping it all in the family. NASCAR trucks driver Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake continues to clean up on the dirt modified circuit. Saturday night at New York’s Fonda Speedway, he won the feature and his wife, Jessica, finished second. . . . . . Kyle Marcelli of Barrie finished second in the IMSA Pilot Challenge race at Road Atlanta at the weekend. . . . . Greg Panunte, Dave Bailey, Josh Sliter, Fabio Olivieri and Jordan Fidler all reached Victory Lane at Merrittville Speedway at the weekend.. . . . . Mark Wilkins of Toronto co-drove with Harry Gottsacker to drive their Hyundai Volester to third place in class at Road America. . . . . Former NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion Alex Labbe has been suspended for two races in the Xfinity Series by NASCAR for violating a rule that forbids practicing on tracks where races will be held. Labbe was caught testing for an SCCA team on the Daytona road course in advance of upcoming NASCAR races there. . . . .
And that’s it for this week.