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Racing Preview: Fellows (Sam, that is) to run Touring Car, 3 Canadians aim for Indy 500 pole, NASCAR All-Star race on tap

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

The photo above of sprint cars on track at Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford was taken by Dale Calnan of Image Factor Media and was sent to me in a release by Clayton Johns saying that the Action Sprint Tour powered by RaceRivalz.com’s inaugural race will take place Friday night at Ohsweken, known as the birthplace of Crate Sprint Car racing in Canada.

Check the Ohsweken website for details. And if you have a favourite speedway in the southern part of Ontario, be it Merrittville, or Cornwall, or Sunset, or Sauble, or wherever, please check out their websites because all will have special races and programs on tap.

And don’t forget the drag racing that will take place at Toronto Motorsports Park (Cayuga).

Watching racing on television can only whet your appetite for the real thing.  Nothing beats motorized competition when you’re up close and personal to it. So plan to go somewhere and take it all in this weekend.

Meantime, the Ontario road racing season will get going in earnest this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the run for the pole at Indianapolis and the NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte will set the stage for two of the most famous races in North America, if not the world, that will go to the post next weekend – the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.

And although Formula One is quiet this weekend, next weekend will see the most famous of all F1 races, the Grand Prix of Monaco, go to the post.

So batten down the hatches. It’s going to be a wild ride.

At CTMP, the NASCAR Pinty’s Series will kick off its season and Kevin Lacroix, D.J.  Kennington, Alex Tagliani and a host of others will take aim at the national championship. The Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Pirelli will also begin its season and a late entry will see Sam Fellows, son of Canadian champion sports car racer Ron Fellows, begin his race-driving career.

Opening races of the season in the Nissan Micra Cup championship and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada presented by Yokohama series will also take place, along with a number of classes in the Pirelli World Challenge series.

If you can’t make it out to CTMP, you can watch Indy 500 qualifying on either ABC or Sportsnet360 at 4 p.m. for two hours both Saturday and Sunday. Three Canadians are vying for places in the 33-car starting field – James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph and Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal.

The Indy 500 qualifying rules are complicated. The last two hours on Sunday will tell the tale of who’s on pole and who doesn’t qualify for the race. There are 35 cars and drivers trying for the 33 starting spots. Two won’t make it.

The NASCAR All-Star Race – no points, this is just for fun and lots of money – starts at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on TSN. Qualifying for the All-Star race will have been be held earlier in the day. The first race of the evening is called the NASCAR Open and unqualified cars for the money event can race their way in through the Open. Like the Indy 500, the rules are complicated.

What follows was sent to me by the Verizon IndyCar Series PR people.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday, famous names set the pace in the third day of practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, with the likes of Rahal, Kanaan and Andretti at the top of the speed chart.

Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, was fastest of the 35 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on track Thursday, putting down an early lap at 226.047 mph in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda that held up throughout the seven-hour session.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, was second fastest at 225.896 mph in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. He was followed by Marco Andretti, the third-generation racer and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, who ranked third at 225.584 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. Andretti’s fast lap of 227.053 mph on Wednesday remains the best of the week thus far.

INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESENTED BY PENNGRADE MOTOR OIL: Day 3 practice results; Combined practice results

Rahal explained that he was attempting a qualifying simulation when he set the fast lap, with the assist of a car coming out of the pits ahead of him.

“Stefan Wilson came out in front of me,” said Rahal, who drives for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team co-owned by his father, Bobby. “He was at the end of the back straight as I was going out of (Turn) 2. I thought, for once I’m just going to stay in it (on the accelerator). Not normally my M.O., but I thought I might as well put a good one up there, at least lower my dad’s blood pressure for the night.

“Today was definitely a good day for us overall just to make a huge step forward in a lot of phases.”

Drivers again spent much of Thursday running in groups getting accustomed to how their cars react in traffic under race conditions. Some made qualifying simulation runs when the track was quieter, in preparation for this weekend when the 33-car field will be set for the iconic 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Will Power, fresh off a win May 12 in the IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course, topped the list of driver laps without the benefit of a tow from cars ahead. Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power’s 223.971-mph lap headed up the no-tow chart. Sebastien Bourdais, in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda, was second on the no-tow list at 223.348 mph.

Speeds are expected to increase on “Fast Friday,” the final day of practice before qualifications. IndyCar permits an increase in engine turbocharger boost of 100 millibars, equating to about 50 added horsepower. With the same boost level a year ago, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won the Verizon P1 Award for the pole position with a four-lap average speed of 232.793 mph.

Kanaan, who sat on the Indy 500 pole in 2005, said the focus now shifts completely to dialing in a qualifying setup in Friday’s practice that will hopefully carry over to the nail-biting four-lap attempts on Saturday and Sunday.

“Tomorrow, it’s just Fast Friday and you worry about four laps (in qualifying simulations),” Kanaan said. “That’s all you’ve got to worry about. Then four laps (in qualifying) the next day, and hopefully (four laps in qualifying) on Sunday. From tomorrow on, it will just be making the car as fast as you can and the most consistent for qualifying.”

The first on-track incident in three days of practice occurred less than a half hour before the end of Thursday’s session. JR Hildebrand drifted high exiting Turn 3 in the No. 66 Salesforce/DRR Chevrolet and skimmed the SAFER Barrier, then slid along the wall before the car came to rest on the track in Turn 4. Hildebrand was uninjured and the car sustained minor right-side damage.

“We were looking forward to making a long run at the end of the day in traffic,” Hildebrand said. “We weren’t that deep into the run and we had something happen in Turn 3 with the car. We are still analyzing what might have happened.

“The car felt out of the ordinary. I didn’t feel like I was losing the car at all. I thought for sure I could save the car, which is why I’m a little confused on what happened.”

Friday’s practice will run from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

NBA ALL-STAR OLADIPO TO DRIVE 500 PACE CAR

Victor Oladipo, who blossomed into an NBA All-Star in his first season with the Indiana Pacers, was named the honorary pace car driver for the Indianapolis 500. Oladipo will drive the 2019 Corvette ZR1 pace car and lead the field of 33 drivers to the start of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI TALKS TO REPORTERS

Pietro Fittipaldi, whose chance to drive in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time this year ended when he was injured May 4 in a World Endurance Championship sports car crash, met with media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since the incident.

The grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi is targeting the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on the last weekend of July for his return to the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

“Now it’s my other race,” Fittipaldi said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Now I’m focused on getting back as fast as possible, you know, getting back to be able to do a good job.”

Fittipaldi, who sustained a broken left leg and right ankle, has already begun physical rehabilitation and therapy in Indianapolis. He has been counseled by his grandfather, cousin Christian Fittipaldi and uncle Max Papis on the path to recovery, as well as teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who sustained fractures in his pelvis and hip when he crashed during an Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt a year ago.

“I was speaking to him for an hour or so,” Fittipaldi said of Bourdais. “He was telling me all about his recovery, his rehab, how he got back in around eight to 10 weeks, something like that. It’s obviously very inspiring.”

SCHMIDT PETERSON PARTNERS WITH S.A.F.E. PROJECT US – AND THIS IS IMPORTANT

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has joined forces with the S.A.F.E. Project US in the national fight against the opioid addiction epidemic.

S.A.F.E. stands for “Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic.” The non-profit is headed by retired U.S. Navy Adm. James (Sandy) Winnefeld Jr., a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Winnefeld and his wife, Mary, were compelled to start the organization after their 19-year-old son Jonathan died last September from a dose of heroin laced with fentanyl.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars driven by James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens will carry the S.A.F.E. Project logo in the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

“We want to solve this epidemic at speed. What better way to do something at speed than the Indianapolis 500?” said Winnefeld, a 37-year-old military veteran and the 21st commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command.

S.A.F.E. focuses on awareness, prevention, encouraging learning, providing resources and support for drug addiction and overdoses centred on the opioid epidemic plaguing the United States. Schmidt’s willingness to become involved provides a great platform for the message.

“We’re walking on air literally that we have this opportunity to gain the exposure for this epidemic and the potential for people to contribute to resolving it that this opportunity presents to us,” Winnefeld said.