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Hinchcliffe fails to qualify for Indy 500, Latifi linked to McLaren F1 drive, fog creates havoc at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Photo caption: The fog was so thick at Old Mosport Saturday that the program was put on pause for several hours. Photo by Norris McDonald

Three years ago, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville nearly died after crashing while practicing for the Indianapolis 500. He lost so much blood that it was nip-and-tuck whether he would survive.

He did, and two years ago, in one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of sport, he won the pole for what was then the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.

That was then. This is now. The story this May Saturday is that the same James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify today for the 102nd “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” that will go to the post next Sunday.

Failed to qualify.

Say that again.

Failed to qualify.

Could not get going fast enough to be among the 33 drivers who will take the green flag for the 2018 Indy 500.

Thirty-five cars and drivers went out at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday to joust for those 33 starting places and, in the end, Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann, another veteran of this famous race, were out and household-name racing drivers like Kyle Kaiser and Stefan Wilson were in.

Unbelievable.

Two other Canadians, Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph, who is Hinchcliffe’s best friend and teammate, is solidly in the field as is Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal.

But not Hinchcliffe, who said afterward that the team would learn from the experience and come back stronger. “We finally have bumping again, which everybody is thrilled about, although I’m not as thrilled about it as I was 24 hours ago,” he said, but it’s not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.

And he’s right about that. Bobby Rahal didn’t qualify for Indy in 1993; both Team Penske drivers – Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. – missed the race in 1995. And just because he didn’t qualify doesn’t mean he won’t be in the 500 starting field because there are options.

His team could purchase a car that has already qualified and make him the driver. Or, unlikely, but he could ask his teammate, Wickens, to step out of his qualified car so he could race it in the 500, something that has happened in the past on other teams.

Meantime, people were furious. Alex Tagliani, an Indianapolis 500 veteran who’s at the Bowmanville-area Canadian Tire Motorsport  Park this weekend racing in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, thought people were kidding him when he arrived at the track’s event centre for an interview.

“My God,” said the Canadian who won the pole for Indianapolis back in 2011. “I can’t  believe it. I’ve been there, though. You don’t sleep for a long time.”

L.P. Dumoulin, a former Pinty’s Series champion, was angry. “They have been having a hard time keeping that series going. Sponsors are very important. You can’t say to a sponsor these days, ‘Sorry, your car didn’t make it.’ This is a big blow for IndyCar racing.”

Back at Indianapolis, Helio Castroneves was fastest on the day. He and the eight other fastest drivers – including Danica Patrick – will race for the Indy 500 pole position in special time trials planned for Sunday. The other 24 drivers will re-qualify their cars to determine their starting positions in the race.

The 500 itself will get the green flag next Sunday shortly after noon EDT.

TORONTO DRIVER LATIFI LINKED TO McLAREN F1 DRIVE

Meantime, on an absolutely miserable day at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, with rain and fog so thick it brought all activity on the storied sports-car circuit to a halt for awhile and forced a reshuffling of scheduled practice, qualifying and racing sessions, came a ray of sunshine for Canadian fans of Formula One.

Nicholas Latifi of Toronto, currently racing in Formula 2 for the DAMS team, could  soon – maybe, perhaps – be in F1 driving for the storied McLaren team if a story reported today (Saturday) by the racefans.net website proves to be true.

According to the story, McLaren Group received what’s being called a capital injection of £203.8m, made by Nidala (BVI) Ltd. to purchase 888,135 ordinary shares in the Group.

Michael Latifi, CEO of the major Canadian food conglomerate Sofina and father of F2 racer and current Force India test driver Nicholas Latifi, reportedly has interests in Nidala.

Nidala is thought to stand for Nicholas Daniel Latifi.

A McLaren spokesperson would not disclose the shareholders of the British Virgin Isles-based entity, saying, “We aren’t at liberty to disclose details of the investor.” The spokesperson would also not comment on whether a race seat for the 22-year-old is a condition of the investment.

During a briefing in Barcelona, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told journalists that McLaren was financially secure, saying. “Our shareholders have been in the sport a long time. They completely understand the sport.

“If you look at the sponsorship that’s come in to Formula 1 teams this year, we’ve brought in more new partners than anyone else. They’re patient, understanding, know the sport. We all want to bring in as many sponsor partners as possible, but they also know it’s not that easy.

“They give us what we need to go racing. They continue to invest in the racing team. So the more we bring in, the more we can get. But we’re not strapped for money.”

Latifi, who currently sits ninth in the FIA F2 standings, would be the second Canadian to race in F1 this decade if a McLaren seat opened up. Lance Stroll, son of Canadian multi-millionaire Lawrence Stroll, is a driver for the Williams F1 team and critics have suggested he’s in the seat because of an $80-million cash injection made by his father.

As they say around the short tracks, money talks. Everybody else walks.

NEWS ‘N NOTES

The headline NASCAR Pinty’s Series had to cancel its qualifying session at CTMP because of the foggy weather. The field for the 1 p.m. Sunday race will be set by 2017 car-owner points. The qualifying period was replaced by a 30-minute practice session . . . . . The first of two weekend races in the Nissan Micra Cup championship was held before the fog made things impossible. Olivier Bedard was the winner over Normand Boyer and Kevin King. Sixteen cars were on the grid . . . . . As predicted by Canadian Touring Car Championship founder and president John Bondar, the first race of the 2018 season attracted a small field. Fifteen cars took the first green flag of the season. Etienne Borgeat finished first overall and won the GT Cup class, Sam Fellows (son of CTMP co-owner Ron Fellows) was seventh overall but first in the Super Touring class and Shawn Little was the winner of the Touring class and 12th overall . . . . . Daniel Morad of Toronto won the Pirelli World Challenge GT race on Saturday. He has a new sponsor, Mercedes-Benz Oakville, now that he’s driving a Mercedes. B.C. racer Scott Hargrove was fourth . . . . Lowson Aschenbach won the PWC GTS race . . . . . Beginning in 2021, IndyCar engines will produce more power due to a new configuration, the sanctioning body announced today. The 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines are projected to generate at least 100 more horsepower than the current 2.2-liter platform, with more than 900 horsepower achieved when using push-to-pass overtake activation. The engine formula will remain in effect for six years . . . . . Here’s news about Robbie Wickens’ old DTM team. Edoardo Mortara won his ninth race in the German Touring Car Series (DTM) while driving a Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM. It sounds like an exciting event.  After a crash at the start, a safety car and a race stoppage, Mortara chalked up his victory . . . . . That race stoppage was the result of a huge crash involving reigning DTM champion Rene Rast, who was taken to hospital for observation but wasn’t injured. He won’t be able to race Sunday, though, because his car was literally destroyed . . . . . Raj Nair, the executive that the Ford Motor Co. fired earlier this year because of “inappropriate behaviour,” is the new president and COO of Multimatic Inc., the Markham auto parts manufacturer and racing company that is building the Ford GT for the Detroit company. In a related, but also unrelated, development, Jamal Hameedi has left his position as chief engineer at Ford Performance to take up a job at Jaguar Land Rover’s high performance division, Special Vehicle Operations, or SVO for short. Hameedi was responsible for the GT, the Mustang Shelby GT500, the Edge ST and the Ranger Raptor . . . . . Parts Canada will sponsor the 2018 Mopar CSBK National motorcycle road racing Championship series, supporting the Amateur Sport Bike National Championship class. As well, Parts Canada will back the Dalton Timmis Insurance presents Mopar CSBK on TSN SuperPole sessions, recognizing the top Qualifiers in the featured Pro Superbike division . . . . . Ohsweken Speedway got its 2018 season under way Friday night as 116 drivers signed in to compete at the 23rd Season Opener presented by Ackland Insurance. The night featured the inaugural race for the Action Sprint Tour powered by RaceRivalz.com. When the dust settled on a busy night, Aaron Turkey made history as the upstart tour’s first winner. Reigning champion Dylan Westbrook claimed the win in the Kool Kidz-Corr/Pak 360 Sprint Car Feature while defending champion Dave Bailey won the Middleport Mechanical Thunder Stock Feature and Nick Masi scored the opening night victory with the HRW Automotive Mini Stocks.