Toronto Star Motorsports

Lance Stroll to Mercedes? Don’t Bet Against It.

Written by Norris McDonald

Auto racing columnist Norris McDonald previews the weekend’s racing action and suggests Canada is on the cusp of delivering a lot of serious talent to the big leagues.

I don’t want to get too carried away here, but I am going to suggest we are on the cusp of an explosion of Canadian talent in big-league open-wheel racing.

We know that last weekend, Lance Stroll started on the front row for the Italian Grand Prix. He was a legitimate fourth fastest in the monsoon that hit during qualifying on the Saturday and moved up to second on the grid because of penalties handed out to others.

He kept his nose clean and stayed out of the way and eventually finished seventh, ahead of his teammate, Felipe Massa. His performance opened a lot of eyes.

Suddenly, Stroll isn’t the son of a rich guy who’s only in F1 because of daddy’s money. Never mind that he won championships in every series he entered, the word was out that he was a marginally talented driver who was only in the big league because his father had bought him the seat.

The performance in qualifying convinced just about everybody that Lance Stroll is the real deal. While he will most likely spend another year racing for Willliams, I will not be surprised at all if he’s racing for Mercedes, right beside Lewis Hamilton, by the 2019 season.

Maybe even before.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolfe has talked glowingly for the last two years at the Grand Prix du Canada about Lance Stroll’s talent. I always thought his praise was genuine. Now that Lance is performing, a decision to give him a good ride on the top Mercedes team can’t be far off.

So, Lance to Mercedes to partner Hamilton? Don’t bet against it happening in 2019 and maybe even before.

A second Canadian could be in Formula One by 2018, as well. Jolyon Palmer is finished at Renault and Nicholas Latifi of Richmond Hill is in line for, at the least, a look-see.

Latifi is a test driver with the F1 team and has been racing in the FIA F2 Championship this season. He won a race earlier this season and has scored six other podium finishes – most recently in the race at Monza in treacherous weather conditions. He started 14th, finished fourth on track and won his podium when the winner was DQd for cutting a corner.

Canadians are always good in the rain. Driving in snow makes the difference, I think.

Okay, in IndyCar, James Hinchcliffe could have company from two other Canadians in the big league next year – Zacharie Claman de Mello of Montreal and Dalton Kellett of Toronto.

Claman DeMelo will make his IndyCar debut a week from this weekend in the Grand Prix of Sonoma driving a second car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The 19-year-old Montreal native finished fifth in this year’s Indy Lights championship and won a race.

Team owner Bobby Rahal, father of full-time driver Graham Rahal, said he thinks Claman de Mello has the ability to drive in the IndyCar series.

Finally, another Indy Lights veteran, Kellett, is at a crossroads in his career – much as Hinchcliffe was seven years ago. At that time, Hinch didn’t have a ride but told me he was either going to IndyCar or he would be looking for a new career. Although he missed a race at the start of the 2011 season, he signed with Newman-Haas Racing and, as they say, the rest is history.

Kellett has raced two complete seasons in Indy Lights and the time has come for him to either move up or, as Hinchcliffe indicated he would do, look for another career. There is no doubt Kellett has the necessary financial backing. Whether his racing record is up to snuff is debatable. He was 10th in the standings this season with two podium (third-place) finishes.

Whatever, 2018 could turn out to be a banner year for Canadians in F1 and IndyCar.

NEWS `n NOTES: The last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race before the Chase will take place Saturday night at Richmond. Joey Logano has to win to make it into the playoffs; Dale Earnhardt. Jr. also needs a win to make it into the post-season in this, his farewell year. If either one of those guys wins, the screams will be long and loud. Why? Because neither one has had a particularly good year and a victory would be completely out of character. . . . . Whoever wins Saturday, does anybody want to bet that there won’t be cheating? I do not think there was a week went by this year that some NASCAR Cup team wasn`t penalized and the crew chief suspended. . . . . . Porsche is going Formula E racing next year but now comes word that it is exploring an entry in Formula One in 2019. . . . Adam Martin of Ayr, Ont., has won the Jostens Rookie-of-the-Year Award in the NASCAR Pinty`s Series. The Pinty`s Series has two races remaining in the 2017 schedule – this weekend at Autodrome St. Eustache in Quebec and the finale at Jakusa Motor Speedway outside Cayuga in two weeks. Alex Labbe of Victoriaville, Que., has a solid lead in the championship and could – could – wrap things up as early as this weekend. . . . Monster Energy is putting up $1 million for the winner of an all-star exhibition Supercross race at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Oct. 14 . . . . . Cotton Inc – Niagara’s Complete Concrete Contractor – is set to complete Merrittville Speedway’s 2017 Season Saturday with the Southern Ontario Sprints Championship Night. The S&W Service Centre Sportsmen will also be featured in a Super DIRTcar Series 50 lap race as will the Hoosier Stocks in a 50 lap Duel on the Dirt event. Rounding out the final event of the season will be the Eataly Foods Pro 4 Triple Truck Challenge Series Finale and the Novice Sportsmen. “It’s shaping up to quite a night,” said Merrittville’s Don Spiece. “There’s definitely something for everyone in our season finale, whether you like sprint cars, sportsmen, street stocks or trucks, there’s some of the best drivers on dirt coming together for an action-packed night.” . . . . . Popular driver Memo Gidley, who was injured in a crash during the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, is returning to the cockpit in IMSA competition. Gidley is slated to co-drive the No. 14 Newmark Knight Frank Maserati GT4 from Motorsport USA with Cavan O’Keefe and Michael McAleenan in the four-hour IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 23. . . . . . This from Randy Spencer: With the summer winding down,it’s Enduro time and the first of two was on tap Labour Day Monday afternoon at Bennett Chevrolet Flamboro Speedway. Four hundred laps of intense action was on tap. To keep track, the Waterloo Region Kart Club brought their transponders. It was one of the biggest payouts in Flamboro Speedway history. The winner, Josh Shantz, was paid

$12,000 for the win. Dave Bailey was second and took home $5,000 and Rodney Rutherford was paid $3,000 for third. That’s serious money for an Enduro. I might have to consider a comeback . . . . .


Friday, 7:30 p.m., TSN2, NASCAR Xfinity Series, Richmond International Raceway.

Saturday, 1:30 p.m., FOX Sports Racing, NASCAR Camping World Series trucks, Chevrfolet Silverado 250, CTMP (tape)

Saturday, 2:30 p.m., TSN4, NASCAR Pinty’s Series, Total Quartz 200 (tape)

Saturday, 7 p.m., TSN4, NASCAR Monster Energy Cup, Richmond International Raceway.