• Fernando Alonso

Racing Preview: Kellett, Latifi gear up for Round 2 (and 3, in one case)

Johnson makes miraculous COVID recovery and Alonso’s move to Renault is yet another bad decision

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald July 10, 2020

Here are some racing odds and ends to chew on as we approach a weekend that will feature a Formula One race, two IndyCar races and a million NASCAR races.

First, Dalton Kellett of Stouffville will be the lone Canadian in this weekend’s two NTT IndyCar Series races at Road America (Saturday, 5 p.m., Sportsnet360; Sunday, noon, Sportsnet360). We had a back-and-forth yesterday (Thursday) about the second-and-third races of his Big League IndyCar career.

“I’m very excited coming into this weekend at Road America,” Kellett said in a text. “Having my rookie event under my belt is definitely a confidence booster. I’m coming into this weekend with a better idea of what to expect. During that first event, I had lots to get used to and there were certainly some question marks. It’s good to have those crossed off.

“I felt an improvement over the course of (last weekend’s) GNR Grand Prix,” he said, “and dedicated time this week to determining which areas to focus on during this weekend’s races (he has a simulator at home).

“Improvement over the course of my rookie year is the goal and I expect to keep learning all year.”

One of the problems faced by all the IndyCar drivers last weekend in Indianapolis was the oppressive heat. Kellett’s drinks system in his A.J. Foyt Racing team’s car was faulty and he couldn’t take on liquid during the race. The team promised to fix the system for this weekend but drivers have been careful to make sure they are hydrated properly going into the races.

“Hydration is going well,” Kellett continued. “I’ve been staying on top of it all week and feel prepared going into the weekend. Being a double-header, it will be more physically challenging. Temperatures will be slightly lower than they were last weekend so there’s a silver-lining there.”

Meantime, in Austria, Nicholas Latifi is preparing for his second Grand Prix as a Formula One driver with Williams F1. Latifi, of Toronto (although he’s frequently described as being from Montreal, where he was born), said he’s really looking forward to his next race and has fond memories of his first.

Fernando Alonso

“My first lap was quite exciting,” he said. “To finally line up on the grid, waiting for the lights to go out, for sure the adrenaline was starting to go. It’s one of the most exciting parts of the race and one of the most enjoyable parts of the race.

“I was in a situation where I didn’t want to risk anything; starting at the back, if something was going to happen it was going to happen in front of me. As I’ve said, I want to do every single lap possible this season, so I kind of took it (that first lap) a bit cautious, a bit on the conservative side. But it was quite cool to be in such high-performance cars; it is such a big step up from Formula Two.”

I asked him if he hopes to finish a few positions ahead of where he starts on Sunday. Although he made his way up to 11th place last Sunday, it was misfortune suffered by other drivers that saw him gain positions rather than him passing other cars. He said it was a difficult question to answer.

“Where I finish in the race is not solely dependent on my performance and the improvements I make,” he said. “There are a lot of things out of my control. I’m quite confident that if I apply what I learned last weekend that I will have a relatively better qualifying and relatively stronger race pace. But that doesn’t always mean a direct correlation between a high qualifying position or a higher finishing position. Everybody else will be making impro9vements as well.

“I’m confident I’m going to be quicker in qualifying compared to the other cars. I don’t expect to be as far off in qualifying as I was (last week). At the same time, I hope my race pace will be quicker as a result. What position that results in – it’s not really in my control.”

Last night (Thursday), Austin Cindric won the first of two Xfinity Series races at Kentucky Speedway. Riley Herbst was second and Ross Chastain finished third. Here is a link to a full story on the race that was held without spectators. The second Xfinity race will go to the post tonight (Friday) on TSN at 8 p.m. Saturday afternoon at 2:30 (FOX Sports Racing), the ARCA Menard’s Series will go to the post and then at 6 p.m., also on FSR, the NASCAR trucks will take the green flag, also at Kentucky. The NASCAR Cup Series will run the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Sunday afternoon at 2:30 on TSN.

Jimmie Johnson has been cleared to drive this weekend in the Cup race at Kentucky after being diagnosed last Friday with COVID-19. This has to be the fastest recovery in the history of this virus. NASCAR and Johnson should let everybody else in the world know what the secret is.

Speaking of NASCAR, the sanctioning body unveiled updates to its schedule this week, including the addition of a new weekend of racing at Daytona Aug. 14-16. The new Daytona event, which replaces Watkins Glen, will take place on the road course there.

Other changes include Cup Series doubleheaders at Michigan (Aug.8-9) and Dover (Aug. 22-23). The All-Star race will be held next Wednesday night at Bristol (30,000 spectators are expected; uh-oh).

Here are several examples of the challenges sports leagues face when they vow to “quarantine” their athletes in order to keep a lid on COVID-19.

When the NHL shut down a few months ago, a famous team sent an older, more mature player home with one of its younger stars, who has a reputation for partying, to essentially babysit him. The babysitter went along with this nonsense for a couple of months but then up and left. Before long, the star was out clubbing and fell ill with COVID.

The Blue Jays are holding a “training camp” at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto.  They are staying in the attached hotel and are not supposed to leave the facility. Poor Vlad Guerrero could never chance going out to a bar because even I would recognize him. But who wants to bet that others haven’t snuck out? I’m just waiting for the first story to break.

Which brings us to Formula One. They are holding back-to-back races in Austria (the second one is this Sunday – TSN at 9:05 a.m., qualifying Saturday, also on TSN, at xxx)  and when everybody reported to the Red Bull Ring before the first race last weekend, it was made very clear that they all had to stay in the bubble. So what do Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc do? The race ends and they fly home to Monaco.

The teams can yell at the drivers all they want. When you’re male, young, athletic, good looking and rich, there are women out there or wives at home and time’s a-wastin’, even if there is a pandemic. On the flip side, those two showed the world how they consider themselves more important than their teams.

The other thing is that those two had better hope nobody gets sick because they went AWOL.

Speaking of F1, Fernando Alonso is returning to the Big League in 2021 and will drive this time for Renault again. Another disaster awaits.

Fernando Alonso is one of the world’s greatest racing drivers. But he and his management team have made some really boneheaded decisions when it’s come to his career. This looks to be yet another one.

Fernando Alonso

He won two consecutive world championships with Renault, in 2005 and ’06. Then he left. It’s been pretty much downhill ever since. There was “Spygate,”: and “Crashgate,” but he escaped censure both times. He had problems with teammates and joined teams that were good but just as he arrived, they started to tank.

He says he’s thrilled to be back at Renault but Daniel Ricciardo, who’s a pretty good shoe, couldn’t wait to get out of there. What does that tell you?

And then there was Indianapolis. He nearly won his first time out. Then he missed the show completely because of incompetence all around him. Can you believe, in 2019, somebody at Carlin (who agreed to run him) didn’t know the difference between Imperial and Metric measurements? I’m serious.

He’ll try again this year with McLaren SP. But he’ll be the third car. Those sorts of arrangements never really work. Like it or not, a team’s loyalty is to the drivers who are there race-in and race-out.

Yes, he was an add-on at Andretti the year he nearly won but there were extenuating circumstances. IndyCar got it into its head that Alonso at Indy would attract the eyes of the world. They hoped to convince him to run a full season (which he would never do but that’s what they thought).

IndyCar ran a special TV feed on its website the first day he showed up at the track. They rolled out the red carpet. They really hoped he would win. Since then, he’s shown he won’t run a season. So now, they don’t really care. In fact, I bet they’d love to see him get his ass kicked.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca