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Racing Preview: Pro rider hurt at CTMP; Hinch, Kellett look to make Canada proud

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

Barcelona F1 track tight, Latifi says, and Tagliani opts for NASCAR trucks, leaving Pinty’s Series car for Treyten Lapcevich

We have tons of auto racing news to report and dissect so let’s get at it.

The second round of the 2020 Canadian Superbike Championship will be held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend – 13-time Canadian champion Jordan Szoke will be looking to extend his lead in the standings – and, unfortunately, one of the competitors was injured Thursday in practice.

Pro rider Jeff Williams was admitted to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto after being airlifted from the circuit north of Bowmanville following a crash.

He is currently under sedation and being examined for injuries suffered to his ribs, clavicle and knee and will also undergo tests to determine if he suffered neurological injury.

On behalf of the Canadian motorsport community, I wish to extend best wishes to Jeff and his family. Please get well soon.

Our James Hinchcliffe, one of the most popular drivers ever to race Indy cars, inexplicably lost his ride with the McLaren SP team during the off-season but being James, he landed a sponsor for three races this year, one of which is next weekend’s Indianapolis 500.  

Eager to get hired full-time by somebody next season, but preferably by one of the top teams, Hinch went out for the first day of practice this week on Wednesday and promptly set the fastest time of the day – 224.526 miles an hour.  

Not bad for a part-time driver, eh? 

Now, although James wouldn’t mind winning the pole this weekend – it would be his second – his real goal is to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, which happens to be the most famous (and important) auto race in the world.  

Win the Indianapolis 500 and his chances of full-time employment in 2021 would improve greatly.  

But first things first: how’d the Andretti Autosport-prepared car feel, Mayor? 

“Luckily, not a ton of surprises,” he told the NTT IndyCar Series information team. “A couple of new elements, one being the aeroscreen, but everybody at Andretti Autosport has worked their tails off to prepare for this race. It’s just practice; there’s obviously a long way to go. But whenever you can kick off the month strong and know you’ve got a decent package, you can kind of work on it from there. It makes your sleep a little better now and between the race.” 

He wasn’t driving the fastest car Thursday. He slowed a smidge to a mere 223.630 mph – good for 17th fastest (of 33 entered and who will all qualify). 

But Hinchcliffe, now a veteran of the NBC Sports IndyCar announcing/reporting team as well as a driver, wasn’t discouraged. 

“A solid day for the No. 29 Genesys Honda,” he said, plugging his sponsor as well as informing his fans. “We had a lot of things we wanted to get through on the check list and got through most of them. Spent a lot of time in the morning doing some loose prep for qualifying runs tomorrow and then, like everyone else, kind of went to the group running and race trim. We’ve got the car in a decent spot, and there’s not a lot to do to it — just fine tuning it and get it comfortable in traffic. All in all, a pretty trouble-free day.”

You can watch Hinchcliffe and the 32 other drivers work their way through two days of qualifying, starting on Saturday from 3 p.m. till 5 on NBC/Sportsnet and from 1 p.m. till 3 on Sunday, same channels. Sunday is the important day because the runs for the pole will take place. 

There is, of course, a second Canadian in the 500 field, Dalton Kellett from Stouffville. Unlike the veteran Hinchcliffe, this is Kellett’s rookie year and he’s racing for the legendary A.J. Foyt, who seems to like Canadians. For several years, he had Alex Tagliani in a second or third car at the Speedway. Now he’s got Indy Lights vet Kellett racing primarily on the road courses but also in the 500. 

On the first day of practice, Kellett’s fastest lap was 220.825 mph; he improved to 221.959 mph Thursday. My take: Kellett won’t be near the pole but he does well in long-distance races and I suggest he could do surprisingly well in the big race. 

But let’s let him speak for himself. 

“We had a great day working on our race setup,” he told the IndyCar reporters Thursday. “We’ve just been chipping away slowly at how we want the balance and downforce level to be for race running. At the end, we did a couple long runs and keeping with the pack. The car feels pretty racy, feels pretty quick.  

“I think across the three teams (he’s driving alongside Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball), everyone’s pretty happy, so all in all, I’m pleased with how the day went. We didn’t do any qualifying runs. We’re saving that for tomorrow, so we’ll have to see how it goes when we crank up the boost and trim things out tomorrow. It’s going to be exciting. Looking forward to my first Fast Friday.”

The Indianapolis 500 will be held a week from Sunday, without spectators. Originally scheduled for its traditional date in late May, the 500 was postponed because of the virus. Although there were suggestions it could be held as late as October, IndyCar officials were told by their broadcast partner, NBC, that it would be difficult to carve out a minimum of five consecutive hours to broadcast the race if the decision was made to wait. 

So they’re going next weekend. 

Meantime, Formula One and NASCAR will also be in action this weekend. The Spanish Grand Prix will be held Sunday (with qualifying Saturday) and a full slate of racing in all of NASCAR’s divisions will take place on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. 

F1 qualifying will take place Saturday on TSN at 8:55 a.m . and the race Sunday, also on TSN, will go to the post at 9:05 a.m. Our Nicholas Latifi said in a trans-Atlantic interview this week that qualifying will be key because the track at Barcelona does not have as many passing possibilities as there were at Silverstone in England, where the Grand Prix drivers were racing the last two weeks. As well, when he was asked about spinning during practice, he said it was because he was experimenting in finding the limits of the car and that, sometimes, was the result (which is how Gilles Villeneuve used to explain the benefits of practice: “You keep going faster till you spin; then you know how fast you can go without spinning.”) 

Sergio Perez will be back in the Racing Point car, sending Nico Hulkenberg packing back to Monaco. Perez missed the races in England because COVID-19 tests he underwent came back positive. 

Treyten Lapcevich is only 16 and he’s got big shoes to fill by driving Alex Tagliani’s car in Pinty’s races this weekend. CREDIT: Courtesy, 22 Racing

Here’s a good story. 

At the start of the year, Alex Tagliani made his annual deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports to drive one of the team’s trucks in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Labour Day weekend. Tag would also drive his regular ride in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race scheduled for the same weekend. 

Then three things happened. 1, CTMP was forced to cancel all spectator events because of the pandemic. 2, NASCAR Canada announced that six Pinty’s Series races (three double-headers) would be held after all, but without spectators. The first double-header would be this weekend at Sunset Speedway, south of Barrie. 3, NASCAR. In attempting to make up for races lost earlier in the schedule, particularly the road race at Watkins Glen, decided to run all three traveling series – Cup, Xfinity and trucks – on the road course at Daytona this weekend. Tagliani is a magician in many ways but it was going to be very difficult for him to be in two places at once – Daytona and Sunset Speedway.. 

Now, money was involved in that truck deal. The race at Daytona this weekend would make up for the cancelled race at CTMP on Labour Day. So the decision was made for Tag to run the trucks race at Daytona and for the youngest of the famous southern Ontario Lapcevich racing clan, Treyten, who’s 16, to make his Pinty’s Series debut at Sunset. 

Tagliani’s car is prepared and entered by four-time NASCAR Canada champion Scott Steckly of Milverton and he’s delighted that Treyten will be making his debut in the No. 18 car.  

While the PInty’s Series races will be seen on tape delay on TSN, here are the start times for this weekend’s live-and-in-colour NASCAR races at Daytona: 

Saturday: Xfinity Series, 2:30 p.m., TSN 

Sunday: Cup, 3 p.m., TSN 

Sunday: Trucks, 6 p.m., FOX Sports Racing (FSR) 

Incidentally, that $50,000 fine levied by NASCAR against Canadian Xfinity Series owner Mario Gosselin and Canadian driver Alex Labbe for using a stock car to practice for an SCCA event at Daytona in violation of a NASCAR rule prohibiting practicing at a track where a series will race in future was overturned on appeal. 

Finally, REV-TV, formerly MAV-TV Canada, has made a deal with Speed Sport, a multimedia company based on the weekly National Speed Sport News, which was owned and edited by the legendary Chris Economaki until his death, when it was purchased by TV commentator Ralph Sheheen and partners, to produce and distribute select motorsport events. I’ll take a closer look at REV in the not-too-distance future.  

Enjoy the weekend’s racing, everyone.