Racing Roundup: Hamilton, Dixon, Byron, Hathaway and more all win
IndyCar must examine finishes under caution, F1’s dilemma, non-professional results and all the news
This weekend’s Formula One race ended the way they always end, with Lewis Hamilton winning. The NASCAR Cup race ended the way they always end, with a crash (see photo) and a green-white-checkers overtime. The two IndyCar races – well, one ended they way they always should and the second ended, for the second straight week, under yellow. However, both featured, in the words of my friend Jim Cooke, “strong, tough, terrific racing.”
That pretty much wraps things up.
Okay, okay: Vallteri Bottas was second and Max Verstrappen third in that Grand Prix of Belgium Sunday. William Byron raced his way into the NASCAR Cup playoffs Saturday night by surviving the carnage in the last regular-season race at Daytona International Speedway. Chase Elliott finished second and Denny Hamlinwas third. Just about everybody else’s car went off on the hook.
Scott Dixon won the first IndyCar race Saturday at St. Louis. It was his 50th victory in IndyCar competition, leaving him two short of second place record-holder Mario Andretti. A.J. Foyt, of course, is still king with 67 in total. Takuma Sato was second in that first race and Pato O’Ward finished third. Josef Newgarden won the second race Sunday, with O’Ward and Will Power second and third.
Oh, before I forget: the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series promoted Twin-125 races at Flamboro Speedway Saturday – no spectators – and Jason Hathaway won the first race, with Kevin Lacroix second. Lacroix won the nightcap with Hathaway second.
Okay, before I get to Notebook Jottings on all of the weekend’s action, let us pause for some food for thought.
There has been a debate since the Indy 500 was checkered – and remember: it finished under yellow, as did the race in St. Louis Sunday – whether the race should have been stopped so there could be a dash to the finish. I don’t want to get back into this particular incident again (it’s been discussed to death; IndyCar president Jay Frye talked about it yet again Sunday,) but I do want to talk about the future of auto racing.
I have been a fan of racing since I was a small child. I understand “tradition.” I understand it when people say (and I said this myself in my post-Indy 500 column) that the Indy 500 is 500 miles, not 502 or 505. I can understand a race sometimes having to finish under yellow.
But that’s just me. I am 100 years old. So are many of the writers covering this sport. The world is changing and if we want IndyCar racing to survive and grow, there at least has to be a discussion about where it’s going.
It can’t be afraid to change. Other sports have changed and it’s always been for the better.
Take hockey. Regular-season games used to end in a tie. It was “tradition.” Then the NHL had polls and surveys taken that revealed people wanted a winner, that tie games were no longer satisfying. So the five-minute, 3-on-3, sudden-death overtime was introduced, followed by the shootout. It’s now part of the game and after some misgivings in the beginning, most people love it.
In 1972, the NFL moved the hash marks closer to the centre of the field to help open up the running game. In 1974, the goalposts were moved back 10 yards, from the goal line to the end line; the point-after attempt was recently moved back to make it even harder. There were many other changes but the biggie came in 1999: coaches were given permission to challenge calls on the field by using TV replay. The last time I looked, the NFL was still the most popular sport in the U.S. and getting more exciting by the minute because of this willingness to change with the times.
I believe that most people now prefer to see race drivers racing to the finish, whenever that is (which could mean the 500 becomes the 505), not cruising behind a pace car. I might very well be in the minority on this; maybe even wrong. But I don’t think so. The world is changing, people have different expectations than they used to have, and IndyCar racing absolutely must take that into consideration.
As has now happened in this series twice this year, a slow (or late) green flag led to a crash before the start Saturday of the first of two IndyCar races at World Wide Technology Raceway, a.k.a. Gateway, outside of St. Louis.
Pole-sitter Will Power didn’t help matters by being sluggish in bringing the field around for the start but, in the end, the starter was at fault, as he was at Road America earlier this season.
Indy cars are not stock cars. The stockers, the Clydesdales of racing cars, can be crunched up together, all going 50 mph while waiting for the green flag. If they bump into each other, big deal. But Indy cars are the thoroughbreds of racing cars and they need elbow room and speed in order to stretch their legs.
In short: although IndyCar has a starting zone, they should move it back – way back. The pole sitter should be on the hammer coming out of Turn 3 and everybody should be flying going through Turn 4.
Because of slowpoke Power and a starter who would be better suited working for NASCAR than IndyCar, the field started bunching up as they moved onto the main straight Saturday and rookie Alex Palou had to move out of line to avoid crashing into the car in front. He was penalized, of course, which destroyed his race. Next time, he should just go ahead and crash the guy in front and knock a dozen cars out of the race, rather than the five who had to withdraw as the result of an accident that happened when cars further back in the pack did what Palou had done, but not as well.
I used to think the worst officials in the world were the stewards at Formula One races, followed by NHL referees. But the IndyCar stewards are giving those two groups a run for their money.
I was at Nazareth with my pal Gary Morton the day Scott Dixon (see photo taken Saturday) won his first Indy car race. It was in 2001, he was driving for PacWest Racing in the CART series and he didn’t look old enough to shave. Now he’s 40, married, and the father of three.
There was some incredibly close racing both days, with heart-in-your-mouth passes and spectacular car control. NASCAR calls its Cup drivers the best in the world. If that’s true, how come they crash and crash every race while the IndyCar and F1 drivers don’t? While the F1 race was the bore of the century, there were a couple of passes that left you shaking your head and wondering how there hadn’t been a crash. Some of the IndyCar drivers were beyond incredible. Open-wheel drivers are the best for the simple reason there is no comparison.
James Hinchcliffe was back on the NBC broadcast team after his wonderful Top Ten finish at Indy. He’ll complete the year reporting from the pits but he’ll be back in the cockpit, hopefully full-time, next year. Of course, he’s a pretty good reporter, too. He did a nice interview with Robbie Wickens Sunday and Roger Penske told him that 100,000 people had already renewed their Indy 500 tickets for the Memorial Day (May 30) race in 2021. Cross fingers the pandemic is either over or in hand by then.
Love that Power. He was so angry at his team several times during the race Sunday that he was reportedly verbally abusive and then he gets out of the car and spends his on-air minute kissing butt. Everybody in the world must know by now that nothing they say is in confidence. You say it, you live with it. There’s an old expression: it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to start talking and remove any doubt. Every entertainer and pro athlete out there should remember that.
The president of the sponsoring Bommarito Auto Group, John Bommarito, gave the command to start engines the way it should be given. He said, and I quote: “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!” Music to my ears, I tell ya. Warmed the cockles of me old heart, it did. If a woman had been racing, I’m sure he would have said, correctly, “Drivers.” But the 23 starters were all men, so the legendary command was correct.
Tony Kanaan “retired” Sunday. He’s had a fabulous career, including an Indianapolis 500 victory. But I don’t think he’s finished. Yes, he’s prepared for life after racing – he scouts out and mentors – eventually managing – talented young kart racers. And he does TV commercials in Indianapolis. And so-on. But I just have a feeling that he’ll be in a car next year. Maybe just for Indy, but he’ll be out there.
Liberty Media is a U.S. entertainment conglomerate that owns Formula One. I would suggest it start to concentrate on making F1 entertaining, which, at the moment, it is not.
Ali lost in the ring, as did Tyson. Palmer didn’t win all the time because Nicklaus or Player could beat him. The Penguins or the Bruins don’t always win the Stanley Cup. In the last five years, five different teams have won the baseball World Series.
In the last six years in F1, Mercedes won the Constructors Championship and they will win it again this year. A Mercedes driver, always Hamilton except once, won the world drivers championship in that period of time. The one year Hamilton didn’t win was when his teammate, Nico Rosberg, did and Nico promptly retired, telling friends he wouldn’t put himself through that again. He wasn’t talking about the pressure of racing; he was talking about having to put up with Hamilton.
At the start Sunday, commentator Martin Brundle urged Bottas to make a race of it. (Bottas was going to take a crack at overtaking Lewis on Lap 6 but was discouraged by the team.) Near the end, play-by-play announcer David Croft said, “Oh, I wish there was rain in those clouds.”
Liberty, like IndyCar, has to sit down and decide where it wants to take this sport. The purists might like total dominance but fewer and fewer will tune in to watch if the winner is, for all-intents-and-purposes, pre-ordained.
All the teams have signed the Concorde Agreement, the document that governs the sport going forward, but Ferrari managed to hold onto its veto, which makes it difficult for Liberty or anyone else to make major changes to just about anything. Ferrari’s Mattia Binotto told reporters that, “We have maintained what we call the protection right, or the veto right, which is important for Ferrari because of what Ferrari represents for the entire F1 and the history.”
I can’t figure out how one team can hold such power over every other team in the paddock, particularly when it was apparently caught cheating (engine) last year and its punishment (if there was any) kept secret.
Ferrari, by the way, couldn’t get its cars into Q3 Saturday and Vettel finished 13th in the race while Leclerc was 14th. How embarrassing for such an “important” team.
Despite being bad for the sport, Hamilton’s achievements are incredible. His victory at Spa was his 89th F1 victory. He started from his 93rd pole, matched Jim Clark’s record of four wins in Belgium and set a record for the most kilometres spent leading Grands Prix. Like Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Senna and Schumacher, Hamilton is an outstanding race driver. Glad for him. But it’s not doing the sport any good.
Although Canadian Nicholas Latifi (see photo) finished 16th, he recorded the sixth fastest race lap during the GP Sunday, Yes, I was surprised too. But Ricciardo was fastest with a lap of one minute, 47.483 seconds. Hamilton was second. Latifi was sixth fastest with 1:48:048. Our other Canadian, Lance Stroll, set a time of 1:49.136, which was 13th fastest during the race. Latifi’s teammate Russell (before he crashed) set a time of 1:51.754.
Latifi’s pattern, as he’s moved up the racing ladder, is to take a year to get used to the formula and then to start getting better as the seasons roll on. I asked him after the race Sunday whether he felt he was on schedule in this, his rookie year.
“I feel I’m improving every session,” he said. “I think this weekend was a good step forward. I felt I had a very strong P3 and that set me up well going into qualifying and despite the actual qualifying results – I got quite unlucky with the yellow flags and I had some power lags; some trouble with the upshifting – I think it would have been one of my stronger qualifying performances. So that was definitely an improvement.
“The race: it definitely felt like a big struggle out there (he had some paddle issues). But at the same time I feel much better off as a driver having finished it and having dealt with the issues I was facing so although it wasn’t easy behind the wheel and it didn’t feel like it was one of my stronger races, in that I could attack the whole race, be aggressive like I did at Silverstone, I learned a lot doing the whole Grand Prix.”
When the last regular-season race of the NASCAR Cup season started Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, three drivers were vying for the last two playoff spots available – William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto and Jimmie Johnson.
When the race ended, Byron had won his first Cup race, DiBenedetto finished 12thand Johnson was 17th. So the first two guys are in and Johnson, who is in his last full-time NASCAR season, is out. Don’t worry, though; Johnson will still be racing the playoff races, although he won’t be in contention for the championship, and he’s hoping to drive in IndyCar next season, so will not be disappearing from the scene.
NASCAR wouldn’t be NASCAR, however, if they didn’t have Big One crashes and they had not one but two on Saturday night during the last 13 laps. Ten cars were eliminated in the first pileup and 11 in the second. On the last lap, there was even more crashing but the checkers came out before anybody counted up how many cars were eventually involved in that one.
In other NASCAR races: Sheldon Creed won the trucks race at the St. Louis speedway where IndyCar was racing. Quebec racer Raphael Lessard finished sixth – his third Top Ten finish in the last four races. Justin Haley won the Xfinity Series race at Daytona. At Flamboro Speedway:
Jason Hathaway (see photo) and Kevin Lacroix split the Twin 125-lap races promoted by the NASCAR Pinty’s Series. Hathaway romped off in the Pinty’s 125, leading from green to checkered. Lacroix worked his way up from sixth to second but it wasn’t enough to catch Hathaway.
Hathaway’s teammate Brett Taylor rounded out the podium, with Alex Tagliani and D.J. Kennington filling out the top-five.
Once the field was shaken up for the PartyCasino 125, Lacroix’s luck finally turned. After drawing a second starting position, Lacroix jumped to the lead and never looked back, even with Hathaway breathing down his neck. Hathaway would miss sweeping both races by 2.186 seconds, as Lacroix scored the third oval win of his career. He led all 125 laps.
In his series return, J.R. Fitzpatrick finished third in the PartyCasino 125, following a finish of sixth after getting spun in the Pinty’s 125. Kennington finished fourth, with LP Dumoulin fifth.
My thanks to NASCAR Canada for the information. I would love to be at the races but I’m in the danger zone so far as COVID-19 is concerned and it’s just not worth taking the chance.
Mitch Brown won the 360 sprint-car feature at Merrittville Speedway Saturday night. Brad Rouse won the Sportsman feature, Dave Bailey was first in stocks, Kyle Rothwell won the 4-cylinder race and Josh Dmytrow took the V6 feature. . . . . .Kevin King won both Nissan Micra Cup races at Calabogie Motorsport Park at the weekend. Gavin Sanders and Valérie Limoges were second and third in the first race (see photo) and Jesse Lazare and Justin Di Benedetto were second and third in the second race. The series will now race at Circuit ICAR twice the weekend of Sept. 11-12 and will wrap up the season at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant with a double-header Sept. 25-27. . . . . . In Canadian Touring Car Championship racing at Calabogie,Zachary Vanier (#9 Audi RS3 LMS/Pfaff Motorsport) was the winner of the first race Saturday, with Travis Hill (#41 Audi RS3 LMS/TWOth Autosport) second andMarco Cirone (#82 Audi RS3 LMS/Mark Motors) third. In the second race Sunday, Vanier was again the winner, with Louis-Philippe Montour in his No. 45 Volkswagen GTI/GT Racing second and Cirone third. Vanier won the 2020 TCR Championship and was named Rookie of the Year. At just 17, he is the youngest driver to ever win a CTCC championship. Second place in the TSC class went to Cirone while Ron Tomlinson finished third. Orey Fidani (No. 13 McLaren/AWA) was the champion of the GT Sport class.
Finally, Devlin DeFrancesco of Toronto, in only his second start on an oval, won the Indy Pro 2000 Road to Indy race at St. Louis Sunday. Devlin, who was the smallest baby ever to be born at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, is a veteran of European road racing who made the switch to North American racing this season and it seems to suit him. He’ll be in IndyCar in a couple of years. You watch. Congrats to Devlin and all of this weekend’s winners.