Racing News

Monday Morning Racing Roundup

Written by Norris McDonald
Monday Morning Racing Roundup

Ricciardo to replace Kimi at Ferrari? Gene Haas might change his mind about American drivers. Our D.J. Kennington’s coming on strong in NASCAR. Tagliani signs RONA deal. Lots of other good stuff.

Lewis Hamilton was the surprise winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sunday – although, is it really a surprise if Lewis Hamilton wins a Grand Prix? At Talladega, the annual 500-mile Spring Crashfest was held and when the smoke cleared, Joey Logano was in Victory Lane.

And Canadians were active in those two races, as well as elsewhere.

For a detailed story about the F1 race, please click here.

Ditto for the NASCAR race. If interested in a blow-by-blow account (or crash-by-crash), please click here.

Herewith some random notes and observations about the F1 race through the streets of Baku, the capital of that former Soviet socialist republic.

I suggest Daniel Ricciardo will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next season. Kimi is on a one-year contract extension with the Scuderia – his third – and while he is everybody’s favourite GP personality for any number of reasons, he will be 39 when the 2019 season starts and his best-before date will have passed.

Ricciardo, of course, will have had it with Max Verstappen as the result of their collisions Sunday. The wheel-banging was bad enough but what looked to be a double move by Max that resulted in the rear-ender as the race wound down will have been the straw that broke, etc.

Yes, I know that Christian Horner said both drivers were at fault. But that was for public consumption. I’m sure he’s aware that if he wants Ricciardo to stick around, it’s situations like Sunday’s that can’t be allowed to happen ever again.

While he doesn’t want to throw Max under the bus, you can bet he will have a stern word with him before the next race in Spain. And there will be a team understanding that if Ricciardo has a faster car at races going forward, and gets anywhere near Versteppen, that Max will be ordered to step aside.

Horner looked angrier Sunday than I’ve ever seen him, including the time Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel collided. Max has tons of talent and a youthful exuberance but he’s immature and – as Toto Wolfe has hinted – will take a long time to grow up. Which is another reason Ricciardo won’t want to stick around.

Martin Brundle was missing from the Sky Sports team at the weekend (their coverage of the races is seen on TSN) and that allowed German Touring Car Championship (DTM) driver Paul di Resta to show what he could do as a colour commentator and analyst.

The relative of Dario Franchitti – the di Restas and Franchittis are among a number of related families who have Italian surnames and speak English with Scottish accents – not only passed with flying colours but should be given the job full-time. Brundle has been around for so long that his observations and answers are formula; di Resta has an enthusiasm that only somebody new to a job can bring and his insights Sunday were refreshing.

It also meant that others had to take over the traditional “grid walk” and that was a huge improvement, as well.

As someone who has had experience doing grid walks, I can tell you that “flying by the seat of your pants” is not the best way to go about it. How many times have we watched Brundle (or Robin Miller in IndyCar, or Michael Waltrip in NASCAR) running around trying to find someone to talk to and coming up empty? Or, as in Brundle’s case on more than one occasion, being told (in so many words) to piss off?

Sunday, the other members of the team had people lined up to talk to and the only person who had to do any running around was the cameraman. It was organized, interesting and informative. In short, it was good stuff.

I loved the presentation and singing of the national anthem. You had a grand piano out on the tarmac and a lovely soprano singing (although I have to say I was a tad worried she was going to be blown over by the wind). Pride in country is a wonderful thing and the TV shot of that cherubic young choirboy belting out the lyrics warmed the cockles of me old heart. Of course, the day the music died for anthem lovers in Canada was way back in 1981 when Roger Doucet passed. He used to sing O Canada before Montreal Canadiens games. He was the best on this side of the Atlantic and he’s still missed today.

Canadian Lance Stroll
finished eighth and scored the first word championship points for Williams in 2018. He moved up two places from his tenth-place starting spot on the first lap but couldn’t advance beyond that. He earned his money, though, and gave his fans a thrill, during qualifying on Saturday when he had to bear down at the last second to turn in a superlative last flying lap to get into Q2. That lad’s got talent; somebody just has to give him a car that will allow him to show it.

Sebastian Vettel’s a racer, let there be no doubt. He could have played it safe on that late-race restart and tucked in behind Valtteri Bottas and guaranteed himself a second-place finish and maybe even a win because of Bottas’s puncture – but you never know. In his mind, though, he had to go for it and so overshot the braking point and flat-spotted this tires, eventually finishing fourth behind the winner, Hamilton, and Raikkonen and Sergio Perez.

I’m not sure he should have even been in that position, though.

The championship will be – as it has been for a number of years now – between Vettel and Hamilton. If he stays in front of Hamilton, Vettel scores more points, whether he wins or not.

On Lap 22, Hamilton locked up his brakes – something that doesn’t happen to him ever, if at all – and flat-spotted his tires. If I’m on the wall at Ferrari, I immediately know (or I should have known) that Hamilton would be pitting for fresh rubber. Why didn’t the Scuderica call Vettel to pit then? It would have changed the entire complexion of the race and he would likely have walked away with it. But they left him out there till his tires started losing grip and he started losing time. It was then that they called him in and it was then that he lost the lead to Bottas and – as we then saw – was never able to recover.

You can either be able to think swiftly and be in control, or not. Ferrari makes too many of these kinds of mistakes and is frequently behind the 8-ball. 

Gene Haas, partner with Tony Stewart in Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR and owner (by himself) of a team in Formula One, got some attention during the winter by saying there weren’t any American drivers good enough to drive and race in Formula One.

I would say there aren’t any French or Danish drivers good enough these days, either, and the two I’m talking about race for him.

Romain Grosjean, who is allegedly the No. 1 driver at Haas, is 19th in the driver standings so far in 2018 and has yet to score a single point. Kevin Magnussen isn’t doing a whole lot better.

At Baku Sunday, Grosjean crashed during the last safety-car period. He was driving all by his lonesome when it happened. First, he told the team that Marcus Ericsson had probably hit him from behind (putting him into the wall) and then, when somebody undoubtedly told him that the camera was on him and there was nobody else around, he blamed it on a cockpit switch that he’d just fiddled with to give himself more rear brake.

How refreshing it would be if any one of these people ever said, “My fault, I screwed up, sorry, let’s move on.”

I would frankly say that Grosjean’s ill-advised attempt to fib his way out of responsibility for nothing other than brain fade could very well have a negative effect on his credibility within the team going forward. As in, would you believe anything that guy told you?

Magnussen, meantime, was given a 10-second time penalty after the race for an incident near the end with Pierre Gasly. 
Perhaps Mr. Haas would like to revise his snub of American drivers. Alexander Rossi could drive your car, sir, and do just as good a job and probably could do a whole lot better than those two. Josef Newgarden, too. There are others, but I have made my point.

Carbon fibre shards are as sharp as razors and sometimes impossible to see. It’s like dropping a water glass on your kitchen floor when you are in your sock feet and then trying to find every last piece before you start to walk around again. So when there is a crash in an F1 race, I don’t know why they don’t stop it in order to have a proper cleanup. It just makes so much sense. As it is, the marshals and other track workers run out there and they can’t do a proper job because they are so busy worrying that a car, or the field, will soon come thundering past and maybe even run into them. Their inability to find and sweep away every last bit of that stuff likely robbed Bottas of a victory.

So I say red flag it, clean it up, and then go racing.

NASCAR: Talladega, James Hylton dies, two drivers and one car

Although I referred to it as a crashfest earlier, this spring’s Talladega 500 was a bit of a tame affair this year with only two real ka-boomers of note. Yes, there was a Big One but James McMurray’s practice crash, in which he barrell-rolled half a dozen times, was far more spectacular than anything that happened Sunday.

As mentioned, Joey Logano won the race for Penske and the good news for Canadian fans is that D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, Ont., who has been driving the Gaunt Bros. Toyota Camry more-or-less on a week-to-week basis (that’s low-buck terminology for win enough this weekend to go racing the next) recorded a Top 20 finish. Granted, it was 20th place exactly but it’s better than where he’s been finishing previously.

Kennington is committed to driving in every race of the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series, which opens its 2018 season May 18-20 headlining the Victoria Day Speedfest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, so you likely won’t see him that weekend at the all-star race festivities in Charlotte.

But the 600-miler on U.S. Memorial Day weekend? You can bet he and the Gaunt brothers, originally from Barrie, by the way, will be running in that one.

Meantime, tragedy struck Friday night/Saturday morning when long-time NASCAR competitor James Hylton, 83, and his son James Jr. were killed in a highway crash while driving home from an ARCA race Friday night at Talladega Superspeedway.
Always an independent team owner and driver, Hylton won two races in what started out as the Grand National Series – the Talladega 500 and a Cup round at Richmond, Va. In tribute, NASCAR issued the following statement: “Racing competitively in parts of six decades, James Hylton’s dedication, passion and longevity in motorsports is virtually unmatched. Hylton won the rookie of the year at NASCAR’s highest level, the 1972 race at Talladega Superspeedway and regularly contended for championships during the early years of his career. His racing influence continued into the ARCA series, where he competed as a driver and, most recently, a car owner.

“We have lost a truly special member of the racing family and a beloved figure among generations of competitors and race fans alike.”

He last made headlines with an attempt to qualify for the 2007 Daytona 500 at age 72.

“I am doing this for seniors to show that at 70 years old you don’t have to go hunting for an old folks home,” Hylton told the Associated Press before finishing 23rd in his qualifying race.
My kinda guy, James Hylton.
By now, I’m sure you have all heard of Matt Kenseth’s return to Monster Energy Cup with backing from Wyndham Rewards, a hotel loyalty awards program.

Those of us who are cynics would suggest that Kenseth, a former series champion, just bought himself a ride with Roush Fenway Racing. But as there is apparently not enough money in this particular deal to justify running a separate car with crew for Kenseth, the race team decided to turn one of their two full-time drivers, Trevor Bayne, into a part-time driver.
In other words, for the first time that I can recall in NASCAR’s top series, two drivers are going to share the same car. Kenseth will get his first start at Kansas in May; Bayne is not happy.
Roush Fenway, of course, says the reason is to improve the performance of the No. 6 car. Bayne hasn’t been too successful so far this year – or any year, for that matter. He did win the 2011 Daytona 500 but other than that, it’s been pretty much zilch. Since signing to drive for Roush Fenway, Bayne has competed in 117 races and had four top-five finishes and 13 top-10s.
The question remains, however, that if Kenseth is now good enough to push Bayne half-way out of the seat, how come Roush didn’t keep him last year and furlough Bayne instead? Why was Kenseth cut loose at the end of the 2017 season?

The answer, of course, is money. AdvoCare International LP, a marketing firm, is Trevor Bayne’s sponsor. They signed on last year for three more years and deposited money into Roush’s bank account at that time. Wyndham Rewards is backing Kenseth – but they only agreed to come on board in recent weeks. You have to pay to play in NASCAR now, and this is just another example of how the system will likely work from now on.

Finally, as Paul. Di Resta did a great job on the F1 race telecast Sunday, so did a bunch of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers Saturday during the TV coverage of the Xfinity Series stock car race from Talladega on Saturday.
It was a gimmick, but it was a gimmick that worked. There were no professional race hosts, play-by-play announcers or pit reporters. Just drivers reporting on, and interviewing, other drivers. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all did excellent work and all have broadcasting careers ahead of them if they wish to go that route after retirement.

But all of them (with the possible exception of Bowyer) still have long driving careers ahead of them so the Darrell Waltrips and Larry McReynolds of the word can relax – for now.

Canadians and other racing series results

Nicholas Latiffi of Toronto is a test and relief driver in Formula One with Force India and a full-time competitor in the  FIA Formula 2 Series, the main feeder series for F1. At Azerbaijan at the weekend, Latiffi finished fourth in a sprint race and fifth in the feature. The feature run was particularly impressive, in which he went from 20th starting position to fifth. Well done, Nicholas. . . . . . This is why you don’t believe PR people. They tend to gloss over things. This is the report following the Cup race at Talladega: “The No. 41 Monster Energy Haas Automation Ford Fusion had a radio communication issue prior to the waving of the green flag. The crew easily fixed the problem and Busch still started second.” Now, this is true, but it all depends on how you define the word “easily.” If “easily” means two guys, at the very last minute,running to beat the band to the garage for one to get another helmet for Busch and the other to get a spare steering wheel and then both having to run like hell to get back to the pits in time to get the helmet on the driver and the steering wheel attached so that he could make it onto the track before the one-lap-to-green signal was made, then they did it “easily.” But I don’t think it was that easy – at all. It was by the skin of their teeth, in fact. . . . . .Alex Tagliani (see photo at top of story) announced at a motorsports show in Quebec on Friday that he had signed a two-year sponsorship deal with RONA home improvement stores to join EpiPen (Pfizer Canada) and St. Hubert Chicken in fielding a car in the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series being prepared by Scott Stekly’s 22 Racing Team. I am doing a complete story on Tagliani and the 2018 Pinty’s Series for next Saturday’s Toronto Star Wheels section. I hope you check it out. . . . . . Mark Wilkins of Toronto won the Pirelli World Challenge TCR race at Virginia International Raceway on Sunday. It was his second victory of the 2018 season. . . . . . Karl Wittmer of Hudson, Que., finished third in the Touring Car class. . . . . . Scott Hargrove of Vancouver was second in the 60-minute SprintX round, with Daniel Morad of Toronto finishing fourth. . . . . . In the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, N.C., Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car(), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycles) won in their respective disciplines. . . . . . Oh, speaking of that Xfinity Seriies race that was “all drivers,” the winner was Spenger Gallagher, who got past Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick on the last lap for the win. . . . . . At Salt Lake City Saturday, Marvin Musquin won the AMA Monster Energy Supercross over Eli Tomac and Blake Baggett. . . . . . In Formula Electric, Jean-Eric Vergne won the Grand Prix of Paris . . . . . Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso will be racing in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. . . . . . IndyCar veterans – our James Hinchcliffe, among them – will practice today (Monday) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the Month of May has (almost) arrived and the Indy 500 is right around the corner. Tuesday, our Robert Wickens will take the rookie orientation program and Danica Patrick will take a refresher. Live streaming both days can be found at . . . . .
You can reach Norris McDonald at nmcdonald@thestar.c