• Scott Dixon

Racing Roundup: It’s “Gentlemen,” not “Drivers” 

The return of F1 racing is a disaster, two NASCAR races are the best of the weekend and all the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald July 6, 2020
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Five races this weekend – three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Here (in order) is how they finished.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES: Scott Dixon made it look easy when he won the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday, with Graham Rahal second and Simon Pagenaud third. Veteran James Hinchcliffe of Oakville started 19th and finished 11th while rookie Dalton Kellett of Stouffville wound up 21st, a lap behind, after starting 26th. The big challenge for all the drivers was the intense heat. More about that later. Here is a link to a story on the race

NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: Chase Briscoe appeared to be out of the running with just a few laps to go in Saturday’s race but came back to win it, with Justin Haley second and Noah Gragson third. Of all the races this weekend, this NASCAR second-tier one – part of an IndyCar-NASCAR double-header at IMS – was easily the best. Lots of heart-in-your-mouth passing with a surprise ending. Here is a link to a story on the race.

IMSA WEATHERTECH SPORTSCAR CHAMPIONSHIP: Mazda Motorsports celebrated a one-two finish in the WeatherTech 240 at Daytona International Speedway Saturday, the first IMSA race since Multimatic of Markham took the operational helm of the Mazda Motorsports DPi race program. Drivers Harry Tincknell, Jonathan Bomarito, Oliver Jarvis and Tristan Nunez were unbeatable. The Mustang Sampling machine from JDC-Miller MotorSports shared by Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais completed the podium. The race, held up for 40 minutes by lightning, was run without a full-course caution, the 12th caution-free race since 2014. Click here for a story.

Meantime, there was more Canadiana in the GT Daytona class. AIM Vasser Sullivan (AIM Autosport is Ian Willis, et al, of Vaughan) finished one-two for Lexus with Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz first and Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo second. Mario Farnbacher and Matthew McMurry were third in an Acura. Please click here for a full story (link #1). In the GT Le Mans class, Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor scored Corvette Racing’s 100th victory in IMSA competition, which was also the first for the revolutionary, midengined C8.R race car. Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor finished second in a Porsche and Nick Tandy and Frederic Makowiecki, also in a Porsche, were third. Please click here for a full story.

FORMULA ONE – GRAND PRIX OF AUSTRIA #1: There were a whole lot of people going crazy over this race Sunday. “Fabulous race.” “Incredible racing.” “Glad we had to wait.” Those were some of the things I read and heard. This shows what happens to people when you deprive them of something. I thought it was a terrible race. Nearly half the field didn’t finish at the Red Bull Ring and they only have 20 cars on the grid to start with. There was a bunch of careless driving (Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and those two are supposed to be the best), suspensions collapsed, hydraulics stopped hydraulicing (is that a word?), computers went wonky and engines and gearboxes just stopped working and it was all rather pathetic. F1 is supposed to be the top of the mountain, the best racing in the world. Who says? Anyway, Valtteri Bottas won for Mercedes, Charles LeClerc was second in a Ferrari and Lando Norris (my new favourite driver; guess why?) was third for McLaren. Canadian Nicholas Latifi of Toronto finished 11th in his first F1 start (weren’t we all cheering for yet another car to drop out so he’d earn a point in his maiden race?) while Lance Stroll of Montreal was forced to drop out because of mechanical gremlins. Please click here for a link to a story on the race.

NASCAR CUP BRICKYARD 400: Not as good as the Xfinity Series race the day before but the second-best race of the weekend saw Kevin Harvick win his third Brickyard – his second in a row – at the Indianapolis Speedway Sunday with Matt Kenseth (who’d retired but was recruited by Chip Ganassi to take over the car previously raced by the disgraced Kyle Larson) was second and Aric Almirola (who’s been knocking at the door in recent races and will win one of these days) was third. Denny Hamlin was comfortably in the lead with seven laps remaining when a tire went down and he hammered the wall between turns one and two. He wasn’t the only one and I would expect NASCAR will be sitting down with Goodyear (the sole supplier of tires for NASCAR Cup cars) this week to talk about the state of the rubber. Indy is a relatively flat speedway compared with the tracks NASCAR usually races on and the loads on the tires could be too great. The race was held up by lightning and finished just as the sun was disappearing behind the western grandstands. It was a bit of a close call. Please click here for a full story.

Scott Dixon

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS

I’m confused about COVID-19 – and I think this is the sort of thing that’s giving millions of Americans the wrong idea about this deadly disease.

Jimmy Johnson was diagnosed with the coronavirus late last week and was unable to race in the Brickyard. Johnson said his wife tested positive and that’s why he took the test. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said Saturday – and I quote: ““Obviously, it’s unfortunate that Jimmie is going to be out of the car this weekend. Hopefully two negative tests next week and then get back in the car at Kentucky.”

Back in the car at Kentucky? That’s next weekend. Foolish me. I thought if you tested positive, you had to quarantine for 14 days. Johnson might have a mild case and, being a very fit athlete, able to throw it off in a relatively short period of time. And maybe it wouldn’t be fair to Johnson to order him to stay out of the car.

On the other hand, being diagnosed and then racing the very next weekend is the wrong message to be sending citizens of a country where large numbers think the whole thing is overblown, or a hoax, and refuse to take even simple precautions like wearing a mask.

I can hear it now: “Jimmie Johnson had it and only missed a race. It’s like the flu. What’s the big deal?”

Let’s hope he doesn’t rush things too much because if it’s hiding and comes back to really bite him, he could miss a lot more races than one. And then what would those cynical fans think?

Nick Cordero, the Hamilton-born Broadway star who’d battled the disease for 13 weeks in hospital in Los Angeles, died Sunday. He was as slim and as fit as Johnson. He was also just 41.

Attention Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR: That’s food for thought.

Townsend Bell had what you could call an interesting weekend. He’s an NBC announcer and races in the WeatherTech Series, which can sometimes be something of a challenge.

After practicing for the IMSA WeatherTech 240 at Daytona Friday, Bell had to do some highway driving to get to Indianapolis, where he would broadcast the IndyCar race there early Saturday afternoon. Then, he planned to fly back to Daytona after the telecast, so he could arrive in time for the 6 o’clock sports car start.

That was the plan, anyway.

After the race, he got on board a private jet with his sports car team owners Jimmy Vasser and James (Sulli) Sullivan for the flight to Florida. However, the plane had cabin-pressure issues and there were thunderstorms everywhere and the jet had to put down at Jacksonville. They drove the rest of the way to Daytona, arriving just as the call was made to fire up the engines.

“Frightened is probably accurate,” said Bell of his experience. “We had an issue in the sky. Any time the pilot is pulling out the owner’s manual mid-flight is generally not a good sign. It was one of those things where we could tell even on takeoff, your ears, the pressurization was kind of in and out.

“I could hear the pressurization pump in the back of the plane going. I went up to talk to the pilot and they said, ‘We know; we are working on it.’ We had to level off at like 12,000 feet while they worked on it. Then they said we’re not going to be able to do this, we have to go back to Indy. I said there is no way, after all the effort put into this, that I’m missing this race.”

Which he didn’t.

Scott Dixon

Okay, moving right along – three observations about the Formula One race Sunday morning:

Is age catching up with Lewis Hamilton? When you’re 30 in F1, you’re at the top of your game. You have experience and you are lightning sharp in the car. As you get older (Lewis is 35), little things start to creep in. You don’t give a guy enough room. It happens. But when you do it two races in a row (okay, the last race was in 2019, but . . .) and are penalized twice for the same infraction, a guy like Toto Wolff will take notice. It’s contract time and maybe the words “long term” aren’t part of the conversation any more.

Sebastian Vettel shows time and again that he just doesn’t care any more. He pulled yet another bone-headed move Sunday when he tried to follow Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc through while passing McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. Halfway there, he realizes he can’t make it and hits the brakes but it’s too late. He and Sainz touch and he spins. He’s just not paying attention. It’s going to be a long season.

I am predicting that Gene Haas will leave F1 at the end of this season. Both his drivers had to drop out of Sunday’s race. Haas is spending a fortune for nothing. His team is going nowhere. His driver wins the NASCAR Xfinity race on Saturday and another of his drivers wins the Brickyard 400 on Sunday. He doesn’t spend a fraction of the money and he’s a winner. He will pull the plug, guaranteed.

Does Roger Penske have to do everything? Penske, who bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway late last year and has spent most of his waking hours since giving the place a do-over, is a perfectionist. Everything is spit ‘n polish in his world. You would think it would have rubbed off on the new people around him by now, specifically those in the new Penske Entertainment Division of the umbrella Penske Corp. Here is the sort of thing that would make him scream.

Twice on Saturday, just before the NTT IndyCar Series cars and the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars were fired up, and again Sunday, just before the NASCAR Cup race went to the post, there was a commercial for DieHard Batteries built around the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway phrase, “Gentlemen, start your engines.” It was narrated by Penske himself and was quite gripping. And then, on Saturday, the governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb, gave the command for the IndyCar race by saying “Drivers, start your engines,” and the winner of the IndyCar race, Scott Dixon, said the same wrong words for the NASCAR race. It happened again Sunday. Danica isn’t racing any more and Pippa Mann only drives in the Indy 500. So what’s with the “Drivers?”

When Janet Guthrie qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977, stories were written about what the command would be. Yes, it was that important. Speedway owner Tony Hulman, famous for belting out “JENNULMEN, START YER ENNNNjins (it was said he rehearsed for a month before the race), got around it by saying, “In company with the first lady ever to qualify at Indianapolis, JENNULMEN etc.”

Tony Hulman died later in 1977 and his widow, Mary Fendrich Hulman, took over the duties and with Guthrie again in the 1978 race (she finished ninth, by the way), she changed the phrase to “Lady and Gentlemen.” Their daughter, Mari Hulman George, continued saying “Lady and Gentlemen” for Lynn St. James and Danica and only twice in recent years, when grandson Tony George took over and Pippa was driving, has “Drivers” been used.

I suspect when Roger gets wind of all this that the word “Gentlemen” will be back in the start command. And that’s the sort of nit-pic that the executives in charge of Penske Entertainment should have noticed: it’s “Gentlemen,” not “Drivers.”

Of course, Roger has a more pressing problem: he has to find a way to widen pit lane at Indy. It’s narrow for the Indy cars but even narrower for the stock cars and they had an expressway-type pileup in there Sunday during the running of the Brickyard. Plus a guy was hurt – a tire-changer and you can’t have that happen.

One thing about racing these days, whether it’s at the Red Bull Ring in Austria or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: you don’t have to look to see the size of the crowds because there aren’t any. The TV ratings are now more important than ever.

For the IndyCar drivers, Saturday was like racing in an oven. The air temperature was in the mid-90s F. The cockpits were even hotter. The open-cockpit cars are no longer open because of the aeroscreen, so there were no cooling breezes blowing, Winner Scott Dixon, a.k.a. The Iceman, looked none the worse for wear afterward but the other drivers were a little bushed.

Canadian Dalton Kellett of Stouffville, who had spent much of the past week hydrating himself properly in anticipation of it being a hot day, told me Sunday that it had worked.
“It (the hydration prep) was especially critical as my drink system in the car never worked. So I went the whole race without hydration (except the team threw a squirt bottle into the cockpit, during the one yellow stop, so I could have a quick splash – I threw it out of the car as I was leaving the box. Without the hydration prep, I would have been far worse off at the end of the race. Overall, I felt physically prepared but the conditions were very tough.”

Kellett said the A.J. Foyt team promised to have his drinks system working by the time they get to Road America next weekend.

Twice this weekend, NASCAR commentators made mention of Tony Stewart climbing the fence at the start-finish line to celebrate his victory in the Brickyard. Saturday, when Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race, they said Chase would climb the fence “just like Tony Stewart,” and then again Sunday, when Harvick won, they brought it up again. You would think that somebody might have remembered it was Helio Castroneves who started that “tradition.” Indy announcers, after all, will always point out that it was NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett who first kissed the yard of bricks at the Speedway. So fair is fair.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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