• Turkish Grand Prix

Racing Roundup: Saudi Arabia Triggers PR Push

Castroneves finally wins a championship with Penske, IndyCar’s Seniors Tour and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald November 16, 2020
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Lewis Hamilton tied Michael Schumacher, Helio Castroneves finally won a championship driving for Penske and Canadians had banner weekends. But first, The Sermon.

A week ago, when Formula One announced it planned to race in Saudi Arabia in 2021, I wrote about how the people who run F1 should know better. I was – and remain – aghast that the world’s premiere racing series would trade, in the words of the late Conn Smythe, class for cash.

By planning to race there, F1 would be ignoring the flagrant human-rights abuses that take place in that country in return for millions of dollars of blood money. I was – and remain – disgusted with Chase Carey and the lot of them. My personal protest? Beginning next season, the year this travesty will first take place (unless somebody comes to his or her senses), I will not write about F1 even though Canada will have two drivers in the series. I won’t watch the races either.

I was ready to let it go at that point, but something happened this past week that got me even more upset. An interview with an official of that murderous Saudi Arabia regime was published on the Racer magazine website. In it, the official said everything was just peachy keen over there and he had no idea where people got the idea that the governing royal family was anything but charitable and loving.

I’m not making this up. I’m thinking, does that guy really think we’re so stupid as to swallow that claptrap? Amnesty International says don’t go there. Others have pointed to the Lewis Hamilton-led “We Race As One” campaign as being inconsistent with F1 travelling to that hell hole.

Here are excerpts from that interview. The interviewee gave similar statements to other motorsport websites. His name is Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al Faisa and he is, apparently, president of the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation. Besides having the temerity to say they would love to host a round of the W Series (the all-women series that will run in support of some F1 races next year), he said he wanted to change any preconceived notions about the place (as if the world’s major media and human rights organizations are making everything up).

“People coming to Saudi Arabia and seeing the country and then going back and reporting what they saw, maybe this will make people change their mind and come. That’s why we would like to invite you; we don’t have anything to hide,” he said.

“Hopefully, with honest press who report what they see — not what they need to say — when you come to Saudi Arabia and just report your experience . . . just give us the opportunity to welcome you and for you to come and see who we really are and have the chance to meet freely with our people.”

He made a point of talking about women being given the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018 as an example of how the country is changing. “Over the last two years, we really are promoting women and especially women in motorsports, so we would like to inspire our locals and see more women racing in Saudi Arabia.”

Okay, this is how these butchers and other tinpot dictators use international sports like F1 and the Olympics to polish their image in the eyes of the world. “Come see us and report what you see,” they say. Except you can only go to certain places in those countries, where the locals are on their best behaviour – or else it’s the gulag for them after you leave.

After what happened to Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi (murdered and his body dismembered in the Saudi embassy in Turkey – all for writing words), I don’t know of any journalist who would dare go there. With respect, F1 reporters, for the most part, are F1 reporters and nothing more and their world starts and ends in the paddock. No, if Saudi Arabia really wants to open itself up to scrutiny, it will welcome political reporters and columnists and give them carte blanche to go anywhere and talk to anybody. But I can tell you that pigs will fly before that happens.

And women drivers? Women are second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia, as they are throughout most of the Arab world. While there does, in fact, seem to have been some progress in this area, many of those agitating for this right in the beginning were arrested and, according to the New York Times, tortured. More were arrested even after some women got licences and many more charged because of their activism. As far as anybody knows, they’re still in jail. All because they wanted to drive.

And this is where Formula One wants to go to race?

I rest my case.

TURKISH GRAND PRIX 

Lewis Hamilton won the race and his seventh world championship Sunday at the Turkish Grand Prix. Hamilton is now tied with Michael Schumacher for most world championships. Sergio Perez finished second in the race and Sebastian Vettel was third. Lance Stroll, who won his first pole position on Saturday – he was the first Canadian to win a pole since Jacques Villeneuve way back when – led for much of the race but has a thing or two to learn about managing his tires and could only finish ninth.

Be that as it may, it was great to watch Stroll win that pole. Recall that when he first signed with Williams, all the British racing writers (in particular) poo-pooed his talent and suggested the only reason he was there was because of the massive amounts of money his father was “investing” in the team. Then, when his dad, Lawrence Stroll, rescued Force Indy F1 by putting together a Canadian consortium and buying the team that was in bankruptcy protection, it was said that “daddy” had to buy a team for his son because, otherwise, none of the other teams wanted him because his talent was questionable. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say about our Lance now. Really interesting.

For a complete story on the F1 race, please click here

Oh, by the way, I asked our Nicholas Latifi, who had a miserable day of racing in Turkey, about F1 going to Saudi Arabia, and this is what he said: “As a driver, it’s always nice to go to new places, new tracks. It’s always a big challenge. On the pushback that many people have about going to places like that, it’s not my decision to make. As a sportsperson, it’s my job to show up wherever Formula One dictates races be held so, to be honest, I don’t have much more to comment on. It’s a decision that Formula One makes.”

At that exact moment, my Internet connection went dead and I lost the link to the Latifi conversation. Coincidence? Or something else. I really don’t know.

IMSA 12 HOURS OF SEBRINGTurkish Grand Prix

Helio Castroneves was a member of Team Penske for 21 years and never won a season’s championship until Saturday, at the 12 Hours of Sebring, when he and co-driver Ricky Taylor finished first in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s glamour-puss DPi class – by a point.

He cut it kind of close, though, seeing as Sebring was the last race he would drive for Roger Penske. Penske closed down his Acura sports car racing team as of Saturday night’s checkers, leaving Taylor and Castroneves temporarily out of work. Ricky will undoubtedly rejoin his dad’s team, Wayne Taylor Racing, and Helio has signed on to drive six IndyCar races with Meyer Shank Racing, including the Indianapolis 500, which he’s won three times. The third driver Saturday, Alexander Rossi, raced the car as a one-off and will continue his employment with Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar Series next year.

Of course, every time I think of Castroneves, I can’t help but think of our Greg Moore, who had signed a contract to race for Penske, starting in 2000. Although Penske is revered for saving IndyCar, and I admire him greatly, he is absolutely ruthless in his pursuit of success. Moore was killed in California during the last CART race of 1999 and hadn’t been dead an hour before Penske dispatched one of his lieutenants to track down Castroneves – in the parking lot, it turned out – and sign him to a contract. All the agent had on him was Moore’s contract, so he scratched over Greg’s name and wrote in Castroneves’s – something that got Helio into serious trouble with the U.S. tax department years later because Moore’s company was headquartered in the Cayman Islands and Helio didn’t do business there. Whatever, Castroneves’s success could have been Greg’s and that continues to hurt.

For a link to the DPi championship race and results, please click here

For a link to the GT championships, please click here

SEBRING NOTES 

Turkish Grand Prix

Oliver Gavin called it a career Saturday night after 19 years as a Corvette driver. And he went out a winner as Corvette claimed the manufacturer’s championship in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Le Mans division. The current team is great, but when I think of Corvette Racing, I think of Gavin, Olivier Beretta, Johnny O’Connell and our Ron Fellows. They were wonderful drivers but there was also something romantic about that quartet of gunslingers that set them apart. Meantime, Corvette’s Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor won the GT Le Mans driver and team championships.

Mario Andretti, 50 years after an amazing come-from-behind victory for Ferrari in what is still called the most exciting Sebring race ever run, returned this weekend as Grand Marshal. . . . . Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, co-driving with Nate Stacy, won the 2020 GS IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series championship. . . . . Jeff Kingsley of Whitby won the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama championship and did it in style, winning the last race of the season at Sebring Friday over his arch rival, American Riley Dickinson. Kingsley has already done some driving for Karl Thompson’s Compass Racing and will likely continue to climb the sports-car ladder in 2021.

Now, every time I watch a sports car endurance race like Sebring, I can’t help but think about Memo Gidley, a remarkably talented driver of Mexican-Canadian vintage who was born in the United States and who survived one of the worst crashes I think I’ve ever seen in any kind of racing. In the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona, a Ferrari had lost power and was stationary on the side of the infield portion of the track. Gidley, who obviously didn’t see the car that was stopped, pulled out to pass another car and hit the stationary one while going about 120 miles an hour (click here for video). He was one of the most talented and versatile of drivers (Indy cars, sports cars) and although he’s still out there, that wreck pretty much finished his career.

Motorsport has had its problems with Covid but has been extremely responsible. This weekend, everybody at the F1 race in Turkey and the IMSA race in Sebring was wearing a mask (when out of the cockpit) and practicing social distancing as much as possible. The Masters golf tournament was also held this weekend and I was shocked to see that none of the athletes and not all of the small number of spectators were wearing masks. And then people wonder how this virus spreads.

Speaking of the professional golf (we weren’t, but I need a segue), they have two tours – the regular PGA Tour and the Seniors Tour. I was talking about this, and the 2021 IndyCar driver lineup, with a friend the other day and it struck us that IndyCar could also have a Seniors Division next year: Helio Castroneves, Jimmie Johnson, Ed Carpenter, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastien Bourdais are all over 40. But they say that life begins at 40 (I always thought it meant you were half dead, but what do I know?) so we’ll just have to watch how things work out. . .

There are many strains of Covid around, I think. Much like the flu. If you catch a mild strain of flu, you throw it off; if you get zapped, it can make you really sick. Same with Covid. Guys like Jimmie Johnson get the mild kind and don’t miss a race; Lance Stroll recovered but it took some time. And then there’s people like Jim Pace, who was 59 when he fell ill with this scourge and died on Friday. Pace was the owner of a vintage racing organization, Historic Sportscar Racing LLC and, as a racing driver, was an overall winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1996 with Wayne Taylor and Eric Van de Poele. Earlier in ’96, he was overall winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Taylor and Scott Sharp. Lyn St. James, who was inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame this weekend, was shocked by the news. “I can’t equate it in my head,” she said. “He was young and he was vital. I don’t understand it. It’s a huge loss.”

Finishing off this section, legendary radio and TV announcer Ken Squier (he’s the one who first called the Daytona 500, “the Great American Race”), has been diagnosed with Covid. Squier is 85 and battling the infection at his Vermont home. His daughter said he’d been following guidelines – wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing social distancing but that he’d come into contact with someone who didn’t show any symptoms but had been in contact with someone who has since been diagnosed. That’s why, when the doctors say stay home, they mean: stay home.

Alexander Berg of Calgary has been selected as one of 19 finalists taking part in the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Shootout Tuesday-to-Thursday at Road Atlanta with five earning scholarships to help them advance in their racing careers. Alexander, of course, is the son of 1980s-era Canadian Formula One driver Alan Berg, a Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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