Racing News

Monday Morning Racing Roundup: GP of China best in years; Bourdais pass at Long Beach breathtaking; NASCAR, IMSA, et al

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

The Grand Prix of China Sunday morning was one of the most exciting and interesting Grands Prix in recent years. It featured wonderful driving, numbskull driving, extremely quick thinking on the part of one team and several spectacular passes pulled off by one driver in particular.

You can read the nuts and bolts, the quotes and the excuses here. These are my observations and  impressions:

THE PASS by eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo on Lewis Hamilton, which came from so far back nobody expected it, including the defending world champion, was reminiscent of Jacques Villeneuve’s surprise pass of Michael Schumacher at Estoril in 1997. It came out of nowhere.

The difference this time compared to 21 years ago is that Hamilton accepted that he’d been beaten and backed off, holding his line, unlike Schumacher, who turned into Villeneuve in an attempt to knock him off the track.

THERE ARE 24 million people in Shanghai. About 125,000 were at the race and entire grandstands were covered over by advertising and slogans. Few people were in general admission areas. Why bother racing there?

I know they say the manufacturers want to be in China but for what purpose? It’s obvious that nobody cares.

And talking about attendance, only the IndyCar race at Long Beach drew a crowd. The number of spectators for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Bristol, Tenn., was embarrassing. There was nobody there. I know it was cold, but so what? Remember the first CARS movie? The model for the opening was Bristol, with the grandstands packed and the cameras flashing.

It’s sad to see the decline and fall of anything, but particularly NASCAR Cup, which can only be attributed to the stubborn ruling family’s refusal to consider anything other than the model and strategy that worked for years and years but isn’t working anymore. It’s 2018 – time for fewer races, shorter races and road and street-course races.

NASCAR can save itself but it has to act fast or it will be over.

I’VE CHANGED my mind about the halo. I was at the New York auto show and was able to examine a halo on a Formula E  Jaguar chassis up close. It’s not far off from what I have been suggesting for years – a supermodified-type roll cage.  And the prong in the middle that you think would be a distraction for the drivers isn’t because they are rarely looking straight ahead. Their eyes are either looking left or right for the next turn that’s approaching.

I would like to see some sort of plexiglass cover so the type of accident that killed Justin Wilson and nearly killed Felipe Massa wouldn’t happen but other than that I have to say I am a fan. I wish IndyCar would either get going with their canopy or else adopt the halo before somebody gets hurt.

MAX VERSTAPPEN reminds me of Paul Tracy. Max has all the talent in the world and is a wonderful racer. But he’s been around for four years now and he still makes the same dumb mistakes. Running into Vettel was something only rookies should do.

ONE OF these times, Kimi isn’t going to let his teammate get away with those opening-lap moves and there will be a big ka-BOOM-er. Of course, and we don’t know this for sure, but , there might be a clause in Kimi’s contract that says when push comes to shove, he always has to let Vettel go.

TALKING ABOUT great opening laps, that one in China Sunday was terrific. Nobody went off or was pushed off and it was wonderful open-wheel racing. Our own Lance Stroll went from 18th on the grid to 12th in a  lap. Unfortunately, the 2018 Williams is a dog and that’s about all Lance will be able to do this year. He  eventually finished 14th.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL has officially got the World’s Worst Haircut. That sort of tonsorial treatment might suit a guy like Hamilton, but not “Seb.” Somebody has to tell him.

FERRARI NEEDS a serious shaking up. I’ve never been a fan of team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and twice Sunday the Scuderia was caught napping and when you are in F1 and fighting for the world championship, that sort of thing should never happen.

If it happens once, that’s knuckle-rap time; twice, you’re fired.

Vettel lost the lead to Bottas because Ferrari were asleep at the switch on the timing of the first tire change and then, again, when the two Toro Rossos collided. Red Bull were fast enough on the mark to get both of their drivers into the pits for fresh tires (a move that won Ricciardo the race and the chance – as the photo shows – to spray the bubbly) while Ferrari could have called in Raikkonen and Mercedes, Hamilton.

Snooze, ya lose, and Ferrari lost twice Sunday because they are just not sharp. Hamilton will demand changes at Mercedes, too, or else there will be trouble.

LIBERTY MEDIA plans to launch F1 TV as of the Spanish Grand Prix. Bernie tried this and it didn’t work. Presumably, these guys learned from his mistake(s). Because I don’t know the details, I don’t know what the implications are. Will you have to pay more to watch F1? I don’t know how I would feel about that. I already pay to watch sports on TV through my cable TV bill. In fact, I pay a premium to get all the channels so I can always watch F1 and IndyCar. I don’t think I am alone. We’ll have to wait and see but if this is how Liberty Media plans to increase revenues, I hope they are ready for a shock.

THE RED BULL guys were either really on the ball, words-wise, Sunday, or else somebody is writing their lines for them. (I’m serious about that last bit. Muhammad Ali had a guy writing his stuff . . . “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. . .”) Christian Horner, when asked near the end of the race how he would be able to stay calm with Ricciardo leading, said: “Well, we’ll just clench our butt cheeks . . .” And then Ricciardo came out with this classic about passing Hamilton: “Sometimes you just have to lick the stamp and mail it.”

BOTTAS WAS not happy after the race. I suspect he’s more than just disappointed that he hasn’t won the last two times out. I think he’s hearing footsteps.


ROSSI LEADS LONG BEACH INDYCAR RACE FROM GREEN TO CHECKERS

The IndyCar race was almost as good – but not quite. Alexander Rossi won and dominated from the green flag. Here is a link to read all about it. Here is what I thought:

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS is the bravest racing driver in the world. The Dale Coyne Racing team leader, who was nearly killed at last Year’s Indianapolis 500, has been back on his game this season but particularly at Long Beach Sunday where he drove like a man possessed.

Never mind all the other things he did during the race, his pass of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan (words would never do it justice; Google Bourdais Pass Long Beach and watch for yourself) was pure poetry. The fact that he went out of bounds when he set up the move and that made it illegal shouldn’t take anything away from it. He went by Dixon on the right before cutting inside and passing Kanaan on the left. Poetry in motion.

Although it’s too bad he had to give the spot back to Dixon (who followed Rossi past Kanaan), it was the right call. While this was the pass of this century (so far), Alex Zanardi’s pass of Brian Herta at Laguna Seca was the pass of the last one. It was allowed to stand but shouldn’t have because it also resulted from being out-of-bounds.

While some people are debating whether Bourdais was really out of bounds, or whether two wheels constitute out-of-bounds, or whether it should be all four, my take is that out-of-bounds is exactly that. One wheel  is enough for me. Although in this case it was a line on the pavement, it could have been a wall. You hit a wall and you are punished. The same should hold true for a line on the ground.

GRAHAM RAHAL said his rear wheels locked up on him when he hit the brakes to try to avoid hitting Simon Pagenaud at the beginning of the race. He, of course, then ran into Pagenaud, putting the Penske driver out of the race. My observation: he was going way too fast to NOT hit Pagenaud, regardless of the excuse.

RARELY DO you hear racing driver’s admit fault. There’s always something. With six laps to go, Will Power – who was running second – had almost twice as much push-to-pass juice as Rossi, who was leading. Somehow, by the time they got to the last lap, Power had used most of his up and Rossi still had lots left and had never been threatened by the second-place guy.

The question: with all that extra horsepower, how had Power not been able to run Rossi down? Oh, said Power, push-to-pass is only good for three or four seconds, as you go up through the gears. “Then, it’s no good. They should go back to just giving us 10 real bursts and then you’ll see some passing.”

Sure. Face it, Will. You blew it. Why not just say so?

SPEAKING OF push-to-pass, it gives the driver under attack some ammunition to fight back. Unlike the DRS in F1, which means the car in front is a sitting duck, the push-to-pass can even up the fight. You just have to manage it. I think it’s superior to the DRS for that reason.

I WAS NOT impressed with Rossi previously. I think he lucked into his Indy 500 win and his 2017 season was so-so. But boy, has he ever been dominant in 2018. He won at St. Pete, was on the podium last week in Phoenix and almost ran away and hid at Long Beach. He is going to be tough to beat at every race this year and is looking strong to win the championship.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE of Oakville was top Canadian in the race – he finished ninth. Robbie Wickens of Guelph had a bad day and although he was running at the end, gearbox trouble prevented him from being competitive and he finished 22nd, one spot ahead of another Canadian rookie,  Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal.

They will all get another chance next Sunday at the Grand Prix of Alabama. When the TV shows starts, let’s hope Paul Tracy looks a little happier and a lot more aware that he’s on live international television. Sunday, he was standing at the front of the grid at Long Beach with Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell and was frowning and clearly distracted, as if he was looking for someone.

ONE LAST thing before we leave Long Beach. I will allow the TV director to show that stupid Flipper fountain shot once during the race – at the start, for instance. Then, get rid of it. I don’t want to see fake fish, I want to see race cars. Find another location to put your camera. Seriously. The thing is irritating.


NASCAR RACE FINISH POSPONED TILL MONDAY

Rain forced the finish of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee to be put over till Monday. Kyle Larson was leading when the red flag was displayed. Really nothing to report; they were all just running around in circles.


OTHER RACING

Joao Barbosa and Filipe Albuquerque drove a Cadillac DPi-V.R. to victory in the IMSA-sanctioned BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach Saturday, thus ending a three-year winning streak for Wayne Taylor Racing’s Cadillac DPi-V.R. team of Jordan Taylor and Renger van deer Zande, who arrived home third. Finishing second in a Nissan DPi came Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp. In the GT Le Mans class, the ageless Oliver Gavin and the not-that-old Tommy Milner were first in their Chevrolet Corvette C7.R. It was Gavin’s 50th victory while driving for the team. Second and third went to Ford GT drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook , and Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller. . . . . . In Formula Electric racing, Sam Bird won the inaugural Rome E-Prix. Lucas di Grassi was second and Andre Lotterer finished third.  . . . . . There are people in this world – other than some F1, IndyCar and NASCAR Monster Cup drivers – who can still make a very good living racing and Stewart Friesen of Niagara-in-the-Lake is one of them. Although driving full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, Friesen still gets into a big-block modified on occasion and Saturday night was one of them. He won $7,500 for finishing first in the feature at Grandview Speedway in Pennsylvania – not a bad payoff for 50 laps on the dirt. . . . . . Another modified driver making good these days is Ryan Preece, who won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Bristol. Like the Red Bull team in the Chinese Grand Prix, Connecticut native Preece pitted for fresh tires with 10 laps to go and the gamble paid off. He won the race and $100,000. Preece had to borrow money to buy three races with Joe Gibbs Racing a year ago. That, too, is paying off . . . . .  Eli Tomac won the Monster Energy AMA Supercross race at Minneapolis Saturday night. Nearly 50,000 fans showed up for the spectacle, which is pretty incredible considering the ice storm that was creating chaos there and just about everywhere else.