There’s a rumour going around that the France family will sell off NASCAR in three stages.
I kill me.
Okay, here is what happened in motor sport this weekend:
Will Power wins 200th IndyCar race for Roger Penske; Canadian Robert Wickens finishes third in Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Canadian Zachary Claman De Melo has a great race. For details, please click here.
Lewis Hamilton wins Spanish Grand Prix. For details, please click here.
Kevin Harvick wins Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Kansas. For a full race report, please click here.
Plus, lots of news ‘n notes.
HERE’S ONE REASON WHY NASCAR IS LOSING POPULARITY
Last weekend, Justin Allgaier won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race. As well as winning the race, the trophy and the money that went with it, Allgaier won a $100,000 bonus “Dash for Cash.”
Tuesday, NASCAR disqualified Allgaier because of cheating. He and his employer, JR Motorsports (Junior Earnhardt’s team), lost their five playoff points plus 25 driver and owner points. The crew chief was fined $25,000 and suspended for two races.
But NASCAR let Allgaier keep the $100,000 Dash for Cash bonus he won by cheating. And he’s still in the record books as the race winner.
The mind boggles.
Memo to NASCAR: If you cheat to win and are caught, you should lose everything, not just some things.
NASCAR fans are not stupid. They have had it with this nonsense.
NOTES ON SUNDAY’S SPANISH GRAND PRIX
Sean Bratches, commercial director of the Formula One Group that now runs the sport, said during an interview about a potential Grand Prix in Miami, Fla., that F1 is being transformed from a motorsport company to a media and entertainment company.
They had better do something about the entertainment aspect – and quick – because yet another victory by Lewis Hamilton is not doing anything to “entertain” people. In fact, his dominance, and Mercedes’, is irritating.
Toto Wolfe and Niki Lauda can get excited all they want but every time I see them yucking it up after yet another Mercedes cakewalk, I come this close to never watching another race until F1 becomes more competitive.
Roger Penske once said that an F1 race is over by the first corner and he was right about that Sunday. Hamilton won the pole and, once the race started, was never out of the lead except when he was in the pits.
I’ll tell you how exciting the race was on Sunday. The last 20 laps, I was reading the New York Times Review of Books. I mean, watching the last 20 laps of that F1 race was the same as watching NASCAR – round and round and . . .
So making “the show” more competitive and exciting has got to be Job 1 for F1.
Okay, moving right along, Martin Brundle was back at the Spanish Grand Prix and the broadcast was all the worse for it. His grid walk was the usual disaster – CARLOS! CARLOS! CARLOS! CARLOS! He was running after the driver and screaming out his name and being ignored. It was obvious that Carlos Sainz didn’t want to talk to him but Brundle couldn’t take the hint. And earlier, while Sean Bratches was talking about Miami, Brundle suddenly asked a question about Silverstone and Bratches actually asked him where that came from.
It’s time he hit the road.
He’s nasty, too. Saturday, Lance Stroll was winding up for one of his banzai! laps to get the Williams into Q2 and spun out. The camera switched to show Felipe Massa in the Williams garage, looking at a TV monitor. Said Brundle: “Felipe is trying hard not to laugh.” Oh? He could have done better with that pig of a car they have the nerve to call a Formula One Williams? Don’t make me laugh, Martin.
(Actually, Brundle didn’t say laugh. He said ‘loff.’ Does anybody know what a ‘loff’ is?)
Dump Brundle and let Paul Di Resta take over permanently. He was a pleasure to listen to at Baku when Brundle was absent and deserves to be the No. 1 analyst.
A friend sent me a Twitter message, wondering how come TSN5 was the only channel the race was on. Premier League Soccer was on the main channel.
First, as I said to him, I can only watch one channel at a time, so having it on TSN5 was fine with me. And TSN, for the second straight year, is bringing Canadian viewers the entire British Sky TV lineup of pre- and post-race coverage. You get about five hours of F1 on race day now, instead of just the two-hour race. I appreciate that.
But there is no doubt that TSN isn’t putting as much effort (or money) into F1 as it is Premier League Soccer. TSN has a Canadian panel on air before the soccer games and at various other times during the telecast.
Once upon a time, it had Vic Rauter as host of F1 races with Gerald Donaldson reporting from the paddock at race tracks around the world – but no more. And why is that?
Yes, the program director of TSN might be more of a soccer fan than he is of auto racing, but that only goes so far. Probably, it’s because not all that many people are actually watching the races – at least, enough people to make it worthwhile to spend money to Canadianize the product.
And why aren’t more people watching? Because Lewis Hamilton always wins, mainly.
On the cooldown lap Sunday, Hamilton – who’s been ahead in the world championship although this was his first victory of the 2018 season – said this to his team over the radio: “This is more like it . . . let’s keep- this up.”
And I said, “No, don’t. You and Mercedes might not know it – but you’re killing this sport.”
MAYNARD TROYER, JACQUES VILLENEUVE SR.’S TUTOR, DIES
In 1984, David Billes of the Canadian Tire Billeses, entered a team in the CART Indy car series with sponsorship from the family business. He put Jacques Villeneuve Sr. in the cockpit. Villeneuve was already a great road racer but soon was struggling on the ovals.
At the spring race in Phoenix, the Jimmy Bryan 150, he qualified 16th and finished 13th. At Indianapolis, he crashed while practicing and missed the race. At Sanair he qualified eighth and finished eighth but then he didn’t qualify for the Michigan 500.
Although some road racers think oval racing is easy, it isn’t. In fact, it’s completely different. There is a degree of jerkiness when driving and racing on a road or street course; on ovals, you must be smooth all the way around. Villeneuve was having trouble making the transition.
So Billes, a knowledgable fan of all types of racing, picked up the phone and called NASCAR short-track modified sportsman racing star Maynard Troyer at his shop near Rochester, N.Y., and asked for his help. Troyer told Billes to take Villeneuve to nearby Oswego Speedway, a fast-as-lightning paved oval on the south shore of Lake Ontario, where he’d have one of his cars waiting for him the following Saturday night.
The Mods were at Oswego for a regular NASCAR tour race. Troyer, a master car builder who’d given up trying to make a living race-driving (he’d spent two or three years at the Winston Cup level in the early ‘70s before starting Troyer Engineering), talked to Villeneuve about how to drive the ovals and then sent him out to practice by following some of the modified regulars around and watching how they did it.
There are eras in every sport that are called “Golden Years” and for the NASCAR modified sportsman division, the ‘80s fit that definition. Besides Troyer, the guys Jacques Villeneuve went out to learn from included Richie Evans, George Kent, Jerry Cook, John (a.k.a. Reggie) Ruggiero, Jimmy Spencer and the Bodine brothers, Geoff and Brett. Every one of them was a giant of the speedway.
Whatever happened that night in 1984 at Oswego Speedway worked. Jacques Sr. went to the fall race at Phoenix, the Bobby Ball Memorial 150, and not only won the pole but set a world speed record (at the time) for a mile track. He eventually finished ninth in the race but there was no doubt that Maynard Troyer and his NASCAR pals had done their jobs well and taught Villeneuve how to turn left, and left, and left, and left.
I’m writing about this today because Maynard Troyer died at his Rochester-area home last Thursday at age 79 following an illness. He was remembered as a man who changed the face of modified racing.
“Anybody who’s anybody has driven a Troyer modified at some point in their career,” said Burt Myers, the 2010 NASCAR Modified Tour champion. “He helped make modified racing what it is today.”
Writer Ken Bruce of Dirt Track Magazine said Troyer was one of the sport’s great innovators. “Not only was he a great driver, Mr. Troyer was a master in building great modified race cars, both on asphalt and on dirt,” he wrote.
Tim McCreadie of Watertown, Barefoot Bob’s son and a modified champion in his own right, called Troyer “an icon of auto racing.”
INDYCAR RACE AT INDIANAPOLIS HAS ONE BIG UNANSWERED QUESTION
So while Will Power was on his cool-down lap, savouring his victory in Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis (see photo of one of the early laps, above, courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing), at least four of his opponents were stranded around the road-race track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, out of fuel.
Most of the others barely made it back to the pits. But the winner, who went faster toward the end of the race as his fuel mileage improved, had plenty of ethanol to spare.
How did that happen?
Far be it from me to suggest there was anything remotely suspicious about what turned out to be Team Penske’s 200th IndyCar victory but I can never really understand how those things happen.
I suppose there is a reasonable explanation. Penske Racing wins 200 races because they leave nothing to chance. They probably have their drivers – Power, Pagenaud, Newgarden – practice in fuel-saving mode, which is something some of the others don’t. Third-place Robbie Wickens of Guelph said as much in a post-race media conference.
“I’ve never raced in a category where you had to save fuel,” Wickens said. “In winter testing, you always put it on the list, like oh, we’re going to practice a long run with fuel save, and then obviously the engineers get greedy, you end up doing setup change, setup change, setup change, and you run out of time, and then we don’t actually end up doing it.
“So really, like apart from warmups or kind of like ins and out laps, I’m not really practicing it that much, and it’s something that became very apparent to me this weekend, like this afternoon, that that’s something that I have to work on because obviously they were hitting the same numbers that I was to try and make it to the end, but their pace was way quicker than mine.
“Yeah, I have to work on it, but yeah, that was definitely a first for me.”
That was diplomatic. He was overheard on the radio during the telecast as saying something to the effect that there was no way Power (and second-place Scott Dixon, at that point) could match the fuel number needed to make it to the end.
Power, incidentally, said after the race that Wickens is a champion-in-the-making and he could even win the IndyCar title this year. Power, of course, is right.
Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe, another one who could win the championships if the stars aligned, finished seventh and called the race a “long day at the office.” He said a turning point was when he had to check up to avoid hitting Ryan Hunter-Reay in the pits and lost two places, as a result.
Meantime, it was an okay race but not a nail-biter. Dixon – who Penske paid the ultimate tribute by calling him the “best in the business” – never ceases to amaze. He had a terrible qualifying and started the race 18th and then finished second. He truly is a master.
Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal, who is sharing a Dale Coyne Racing car this season with Pietro Fittipaldi, got to drive an extra race because Fittipaldi’s injuries, suffered at Spa a week ago, kept him in the hospital. The Canadian took full advantage of the situation and finished 12th after starting 19th. He was up to tenth at one point.
I’m sure the Twitterverse will be touting him to replace Fittipaldi in the 500 but I will repeat what I said previously. He’s too young and hasn’t had enough experience to race at speeds of more than 200 miles an hour around that big place. Indianapolis is dangerous; you have to know what you’re doing.
There are several experienced drivers available – Ryan Briscoe among them – and the name Katherine Legge was thrown into the mix this week. Either would be a better choice than a young guy who is still getting his feet wet in the big league.
You’ll notice that I waited till the end of this segment to mention the 500. Everybody else talked about it in the context of the Grand Prix being a good warmup for Indy (which is a little strange, considering they already are at Indy). Wickens talked about it, as did Power. Hinchcliffe too. And on and on.
Conor Daly even went so far as to hold a press conference on Friday, the day before the race, to announce that the Lily pharmaceutical company of Indiana would sponsor his car in the Indianapolis 500 and in an upcoming NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America. So the Grand Prix doesn’t really mean much.
And that’s yet another objection I have to them holding this race in May in Indianapolis. It is a nothing race; it is a “warmup.” And yet they want all the other races on the schedule to be viewed as important events in their own right.
They can’t have it both ways. They can’t say that while the Indy 500 is an important race, it is still just one of 17 races in a series and then turn around and use the Grand Prix, which is a race in the series, as a warmup – a sideshow, really – for the real reason to be at the Speedway in the month of May.
Go ahead and hold the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Just do it at another time of the year.
NEWS ‘N NOTES: NASCAR, ETC.
Parker Thompson of Red Deer, Alta., won the Pro Mazda race at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday . . . . .
Here’s how dominant Kevin Harvick has been this NASCAR Cup season: his victory at Kansas Saturday (NASCAR never races on either Easter Sunday or Mother’s Day) was his fifth of 2018 and matches the most he has won in any single season – and 24 races still remain in 2018. It marked the third time he has won at Kansas and was his 42nd career Cup Series win. He chased down leader Martin Truex Jr. with a lap-and-a-half to go and held on after passing him to win by .390 of a second. In the race, there were six caution periods for a total of 31 laps. Only 15 of the 38 drivers finished on the lead lap. . . . . .
Nicholas Latifi of Toronto didn’t fare well in the Formula 2 races in Spain at the weekend. He finished 14th in the first race and eighth in the second. Devlin DeFrancesco of Toronto, who’s competing this season in the European Formula 3 Series, crashed out of both races at Pau, in France.
I haven’t talked too often about the World of Outlaws this year but I should report that perennial winner Donny Schatz is at it again. He swept the weekend at Eldora Speedway in Ohio for his seventh and eighth trips to Victory Lane so far this 2018 season. And the wins were his third and fourth in his last five starts. . . . .
Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake finished third in the NASCAR Camping World Series truck race at Kansas Speedway Friday night. His shifter knob fell off at one point and he was a little worried it would roll under the gas pedal (it didn’t) and he ran Kyle Busch onto the grass once but, all in all, he enjoyed a great night of racing. “I have to apologize to Kyle,” he said, “but if you let those guys eat you up, they’ll eat you up every week.” By the way, Camping World will not be the entitlement sponsor of the trucks next season. As of the first green flag of 2019, the series will be known as the Gander Outdoors Truck Series . . . . .
This is a reminder that there is racing everywhere on the Victoria Day long weekend. The NASCAR Pinty’s Series headlines a strong weekend of competition at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, with the Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Pirelli, the Nissan Micra Cup, the Pirelli World Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Canada presented by Yokohama all on the bill. . . . . .
At Toronto Motorsports Park (Cayuga), the Pro/Mods, Alcohol Funny Cars, the world’s fastest jet freightliner and other drag racing classes will be going down the quarter mile. Go to torontomotorsportspark.com for all the details. . . . . .
And don’t forget to check the website of your favourite speedway. They will have all the information about racing at their tracks right there. . . . .
The Honda Indy Toronto has announced that CAA South Central Ontario will be the official roadside assistance sponsor at the annual event through the streets of Exhibition Place on July 13-15. . . . . .