Tag Archives: indycar

Forgotten success

Several motorsport titles were decided on Sunday

Reflecting on 2011 - titles were sadly overshadowed on Sunday. (Paz Chauhan)

The motorsport world was busy handing out trophies last Sunday before a lovely day of racing was cruelly ruined by the terrible events in Las Vegas. While I can’t quite bring myself to deliver a full review of each it is worth noting the titles won and lost over a packed yet bleak weekend for the sport.

Formula One saw another Sebastian Vettel victory at the somewhat sterile environment of Yeongam in South Korea. More importantly but no less inevitably Red Bull wrapped up the Constructors Championship with Mark Webber finishing third after a thrilling duel with Lewis Hamilton who came home second after starting on pole for the first time this year, a great effort from the 2008 champion.

Unfortunately Moto GP was a little disappointing for all but the Aussies as Casey Stoner romped to a home win at Phillip Island and clinched the final 800cc title in the process. Good on Casey and Honda who have been the class of the field in 2011, but the edge was taken off the race by the non-starts for Yamaha’s Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo, the latter’s hopes of defending his title were left in tatters after a very nasty finger injury on race morning.

Back home at Silverstone the BTCC boys had a refreshingly respectful end to the season despite heading into the final triple-header of the year with five still in title contention. Matt Neal’s win in race one set up an all-Honda duel between himself and Gordon Shedden as Plato and Jackson suffered punctures while Nash just didn’t quite have the ultimate pace although that didn’t stop him taking the indie trophy in his dated Vauxhall Vectra. Shedden seized the initiative with a win in the second race but it was Matt Neal who kept it cool to take his third title in the final race of the day as Tom Chilton won the reverse grid race.

Honda have fought against a competitive field, a certain moaning rival and even against themselves to take the crown with a rich variety of different machinery chasing them. I just wish the final rounds were held at Brands, Silverstone is too smooth and fast to lend itself to truly thrilling touring car racing in the modern era.

Then there is the crown that is destined to be forgotten; Dario Franchitti’s Indycar title. It is a trophy he will barely be able to look at, champagne will be toasted to the memory of a fallen comrade rather than sprayed in celebration. He is the Indy driver du jour, but this isn’t the moment to dwell on that. It was already a rough year for Indycar even before the horror of Sunday, let’s hope for a brighter 2012 for the fastest and friendliest racing series of them all.

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Filed under F1, Indycars, Moto GP, Touring Cars

This time was different

Dan Wheldon at Goodwood 2011

Close to home - racing touches many of us. (toomuchracing.com)

It is around 48 hours after the tragedy of the Las Vegas 300 and I’m going to share a few of my own thoughts along with links to some lovely tributes and images of Dan Wheldon.

I’ll start by applauding the power of the internet. I’ve been watching racing my whole life so inevitably I’ve seen some terrible accidents. My parents were long ago bitten by the same bug so back in the days when we lived together we could talk things out when a bad accident happened.

We were eating dinner when Senna’s death was confirmed on the news. We sat on our sofa and spotted the giant Stars and Stripes being lowered as the cars continued to race at Fontana in 1999. We were actually there at Daytona in 2001. This time around was different though.

In the online age the word community is shifting its meaning. No longer simply a description of people who physically live in close proximity with one another, instead a community can be groups of thousands whose only common denominator is a shared passion and access to the web. For us that passion is racing, just as it was for Dan.

As the tears started to clear I came to realise that this little box of wires and silicon was connecting me to the most intimate and intense statements from others who shared my love. Sometimes they vocalised what I couldn’t, sometimes they offered memories as a comfort. Others shared news, nothing but the facts mind you, there was no tittle-tattle in my timeline; I discovered that those I follow on twitter are a good bunch. In the thousands of messages that expressed shock, sadness and affection I never saw a single unfounded rumour or tasteless statement. Not one.

It was a dignified collective response to surreal events that surprised even somebody like myself who has witnessed thousands upon thousands of races across almost all disciplines. To my eyes it was the single most violent accident I had seen; the sight of multiple cars flying through the air like darts disturbed me in an instant, my much-better half rushing to comfort me within seconds as I was already shook up by what I’d seen. As she left for bed I was alone, save for a snoring dog, in a dark room. A problem shared is a problem halved, not that this is really my problem, but like many of you I invest a lot of passion into motorsport and feel a part of its community even though I was sat thousands of miles away vainly hoping that a man I’ve only seen in the flesh a few times would pull through. The sense of loss was tangible even at this great distance, the look on Dario and Tony’s faces as they realised their friend’s fate was too much to bear.

It was the online race fans that offered me nearly as much comfort and insight as my own family had during similar Sundays past. I’m grateful. These are people who know what May the first means or why a racing driver is honoured to carry the number 27. These fans fall silent on lap three at Daytona, they trek into the woods surrounding Hockenheim to show their respect. They don’t just know who is on the grid, they know who is missing from it too.

Then came the mass media reaction. While the specialist press told the story with class and precision the wider world of journalism showed questionable taste, little knowledge and the kind of amateur-hour scrutiny that makes me doubt just how much they know about their staples of politics, war and crime. I won’t name and shame as this isn’t the time, but suffice to say that I now know which papers to read and channels to watch. There were notable  exceptions, but back in his home country the lack of understanding about Dan Wheldon and his chosen profession was profound. A shame, if not a surprise.

Amongst the many tributes shared over these dark days were a few that moved me to tears and even the odd one that briefly brought back a smile, here are a few for you to read if you haven’t done so already. The obvious ones are from Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller, two very personal and touching accounts. Roy Hobbson offers an ‘inside-out’ perspective from a man who finds himself in the paddock but for whom it took a tragedy to enlighten him about something that previously left him puzzled – the good-nature that I’m proud to say is the bedrock of our sport.

Meesh Beer was on fine form, Joe Saward showed the restraint that the tabloids couldn’t and all the recent posts on popoffvalve.com are worth reading. The picture above is courtesy of toomuchracing.com where you will also find another considered and reflective post. Even if the photo was taken at Goodwood, it neatly illustrates how close the Indycar paddock will let you get to its stars, something that amplifies the occasional losses it suffers.

There are many more of course, feel free to share yours or your favourites with me. Other heart-warming and heartbreaking images and insight have also emerged since Sunday. As predicted by Robin Miller, Dan Wheldon had signed a contract to return to the team that brought him the most success. Greg Moore’s father Ric was at Las Vegas for what has been said to be his first trip to a race since his son was lost. And the most poignant of all, Dan and his wife had matching tattoos done just before the fateful race.

Another lasting tribute that was called for by James Hinchcliffe and thousands more will be that the 2012 Dallara Indycar will carry Dan Wheldon’s name. This stronger, safer and more advanced machine will carry the hopes and dreams of those who wish to follow in Dan’s footsteps over the coming years. It was Wheldon who led its development from the driver’s seat, what a shame that he will never see it race.

Of all the lovely images shared over the past couple of days it is this one that moved me the most. Probably the two greatest motivations in Dan Wheldon’s cruelly short life are there to see.


Filed under Indycars

Goodbye Dan Wheldon

The terrible news of Dan Wheldon’s passing has barely had time to sink in, maybe it never will. Like so many racing drivers he died doing what he loved, what he was born to do. Forever he will be frozen in time as a winner and as a star of his chosen profession.

This awful day will also be viewed as a final tragic chapter in true open-wheel oval racing, an era that met its end not with triumph but with heartbreaking tragedy and poignant tribute. After 100 years we only needed to see out two more hours of racing before the introduction of the new, safer Indycar that sees semi-enclosed wheels designed to prevent this kind of accident ever happening again. That Dan Wheldon was the test pilot for this new breed of oval racer is beyond ironic, it is simply tragic in the truest sense of the word.

I often get tearful over this sport of ours. I shed tears of joy at the British Superbike finale last week, sharing in the euphoria and excitement of a man and a team I’ve never known. Motorsport has that power, it is loaded with tales and characters that are so appealing. Few sports can match the drama inherent within this distant descendant of the chariots of Rome.

If the victories can be so sweet you can almost taste the champagne from the stands or on your sofa, motorsport can also be so bitter it makes you question this most burning of passions. There is no other entertainment on Earth that serves up such life-affirming experiences, nor is there one that has the potential to show tragedy unfolding before your eyes. Even the news will shy away from showing death in the raw, often coldly simplifying the darker side of life. If you watch racing long enough you will experience a day like this one; the Sunday that should make your week breaks it instead.

I first saw Dan racing in Formula Ford and Vauxhall Junior back in the 1990s when his contemporaries included Jenson Button and Mark Webber. I was impressed by him, but no more so than any other young-gun of the time. Quite unlike his peers Wheldon eschewed Europe to take a totally different approach to his career, something that endeared him to me. Other drivers who landed in Indycars were rebuilding their careers after failing in Formula One whereas Dan moved Stateside at an early age and started at the bottom of the US racing ladder with the aim of seeing the winner’s circle at the Indy 500.

Now it is relatively common to see foreign hopefuls lining up against homegrown talent in the States, back in 1999 it was a move as brave as any Dan had pulled on the racetrack. “It was very difficult to start with,” he told The Independent in 2007. “Formula One is everything when you’re brought up in Europe. It’s what you aspire to. All I knew about Indycars was Nigel Mansell, who came out here when he was forced to leave Williams. But when you come here and your heart’s still set on Formula One, it detracts from your programme. It was affecting my performance and there came a point where the team owner sat me down and said ‘you have to commit, otherwise you will lose what you have here’. So I am committed, I turned down an opportunity at the end of my last contract [to join BMW-Sauber]. I enjoy the racing scene out here.”

It seems trite to bring up the bravery needed to do what the Indycar drivers do, but it cannot be underestimated. Pulling 230 miles per hour inches from other cars and in-between unyielding concrete walls takes a unique talent that is seldom appreciated in Dan Wheldon’s home country. Britain largely ignored his rise from Formula Ford rookie through to Indy 500 and Indycar champion. Only in Europe would we ask an Indianapolis winner if they regretted their career choices as if they have failed. Like Dario Franchitti, the winner of 2011’s now hollow championship, Dan appreciated the history of a branch of the sport as old as any other motorised contest. “It would be great to win Monaco, or the Daytona 500 in a Nascar, but the heritage, even of Monaco, is nothing like the Indy 500.”

Since the heady days of 2005 with Andretti Green Racing when Dan took the Indy 500 and the championship, he went on to compete with the crack Ganassi squad, coming within a point of another championship, before finding himself at Panther Racing where he failed to win in 2009 and 2010. This slight slump left Wheldon without a ride for this year, a shocking state of affairs. He headed into a one-off appearance at the 2011 Indy 500 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports as an unlikely winner, a man with a point to prove.

Dan’s seat at Panther had been taken by the hotly-tipped young American JR Hildebrand. In the closing stages of the 500 miles Hildebrand found himself leading the race only to lose control on the final corner, his car sliding towards the finish line on two wheels. Through the wreckage came the man he replaced to sweep to one of the great Indy wins. Right there Dan Wheldon’s standing went up, his career lurching from the brink of ignominy to the edge of something new and exciting. Fortunes can turn so fast in this business.

Fast forward from the spring to the autumn and Dan Wheldon was suddenly a man in demand. After endearing himself to the fans with his excellent commentary during the races he wasn’t competing in and buoyed by his second child, he had never seemed more content and happy. The Las Vegas 300 was to be only his third race of the year, one where he was being unashamedly billed as a star attraction. He alone was deemed eligible for a $5 million bonus if he was to win the race, a gamble fit for Vegas. He had been leading development on the forthcoming new generation Dallara Indycar and as such was seen as a key asset to whomever he would drive for in 2012. Sadly this new era for Dan Wheldon will forever be a ‘what-if?’ question to be filed alongside ‘what if Greg Moore had driven for Penske?’ and other such unanswerable conundrums imposed on us by fate.

Alongside Scotland’s Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon will be remembered as the master of a turbulent era of Indycars. It seemed certain he would also play a key role in the sport’s reinvention in 2012 too. Sadly it is a safer new era that he will never see. We hope that the car he helped develop and the events that took his life will at least conspire to become a ‘Senna moment’ for Indycar racing that will see more heroes step uninjured from shattered racing machines in the future. That is the legacy the sport now owes him.

I’ll leave the final word to the US commentary team that did such a sterling job of keeping perspective in the midst of a disaster.  American sports have a sense of theatre that stands above other so-called events, which undoubtedly formed part of the appeal which drew Dan Wheldon away from the scientific world of European racing to the glitz of the Indy 500. Broadcaster Jack Arute greeted him after his first Indianapolis win with the words, “Mr Wheldon, welcome to immortality.”

That is the perception of an Indy 500 winner; the pages of history will carry their names forever, their likeness standing proud on the Borg-Warner Trophy alongside the Unsers and Andretti, Foyt and Fittipaldi, Clark and Hill.

There were  further profound words in the video above, this time about Dan rather than addressed to him, uttered in mourning rather than celebration, but they are no less powerful. The hastily arranged parade of cars was truly heartbreaking, a simple and appropriate way for Indycar to pay their respects. Please watch the video above, it is as much a tribute to the spirit and unity of all motorsports as it is a tribute to a man. “Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”

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Filed under Indycars

Danica and Nascar set to get hitched

Danica is a big name

Half driver, half marketing dream - Danica is huge in the States. (LuRoGo)

AP is reporting that a deal is on the table for Danica Patrick to make the full-time switch to Nascar in 2012. The plan, according to insiders, is for her to run full time in Nationwide with the Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports while Tony Stewart will also be fielding an extra car in the premier Sprint Cup series for the world’s fourth highest paid female athlete. Considering the lengths to which Danica went to in her early career to escape oval racing this is clearly a money move – something that does her no favours in the eyes of the non-believers.

This long-predicted move to tin-tops is a blow to Indycar, but that series has far more pressing concerns as it still struggles to return to its brilliant best. They can console themselves with the fact that winning the Indy 500 remains a priority for Danica – she looks set to disrupt her Nationwide season by missing three races to try to finally fulfill the promise she showed when she came back from a crash to lead her debut race at the Brickyard back in 2005, only losing out in the dying laps.

I for one have been positive about Danica Patrick, if only for the fact that it was refreshing to see a female driver receive some proper support. Ford, BMW, Rahal and Andretti are amongst the big names who have backed her and now she has become involved with Dale Earnhardt Jnr and Tony Stewart – about the two most popular racers in Stock Cars. I remember watching her in Formula Vauxhall Junior and Formula Ford back in the late 1990s as she failed to shine in either. The one rather huge exception to that was her second place to teammate Anthony Davidson in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival – the best finish in this prestigious event for both a woman and indeed an American. Despite this I didn’t think she was much cop at the time if I’m brutally honest, but I’m happy to say I was wrong.

Between these early days and her jump up into Indycar in 2005 she was guided by Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, although a second season of Formula Ford was curtailed by not wanting to waste her sponsorship on the year-old car that was available to her. Instead Rahal lined her up to drive in British Formula 3 just as his paymasters at Jaguar removed him from their racing programme and the deal collapsed. This left Danica to race in unfamiliar tracks in an assortment of machinery back in the USA having failed to crack the European elite. During her junior career she never drove in a series for more than one season and didn’t truly settle until she took Indycar by storm in Bobby Rahal’s squad that he co-owns with David Letterman.

What was so remarkable about Patrick’s Indycar baptism was that it was her first time on ovals. Danica took to the 230 MPH challenge like a fish to water as she claimed pole positions and led races. Her performance as a rookie at Indy was startling; gamely battling for the win after a bruising spin, something that endeared her to many. Eventually she claimed her first victory at Motegi in 2008, a savvy fuel-saving final run that was typical of Danica who often out-smarts the boys even though she doesn’t appear to have the ultimate edge over them in traffic. This was her only win since a successful karting career, with the exception of a victory in a race for celebrities – a tag that applies to her more than any other driver today. At one point she was signing more autographs than all the other Indycar drivers put together – something that her rivals once threatened to strike over!

It has always seemed baffling that Danica struggled on the road courses after her upbringing on the twisting racetracks of the UK, although her petite frame wasn’t helped by the lack of power-steering on an Indycar. I actually believe that an F1 car would be more forgiving in this respect, but once Patrick makes the leap to Nascar it will be game over for her ever performing on the world stage.

This move will unquestionably be a boost for Nascar, but over in the States it could barely be any more popular as it is. Danica has performed as well as any other rookie usually does in Nationwide during her sporadic appearances this year and with the emphasis nearly 100% on ovals Nascar should be a happy hunting ground for her. Of course a few more fans may watch her progress, though the world’s most attended spectator sport is not short of all-American heroes as it is. Neither Danica nor Nascar need this deal, though both will want it. Patrick needs a fresh challenge and Nascar will gladly provide it.

This neatly opens up room for the exciting Simona de Silvestro to become the top lady racer in Indycar, expect her to get a decent seat in the new-look formula in 2012. It seems likely that Simona could deliver more wins than Danica in the future, although the US likes its homegrown heroes so don’t expect the young Swiss racer to appear in every second advertisement on ABC any time soon.

Good luck to Danica on her mission to infiltrate the Good Ol’ Boys of Nascar, she has already set new standards for female racers and there is no more testosterone-laden arena than Stock Cars. If the little lady from Indiana can continue to fight with the big boys after the switch it could be the much needed cultural catalyst that sees more girls take up racing in the future. There are many wonderful aspects of this sport of ours, women competing with men on an equal basis is something to celebrate so I will continue to cheer for Danica and Simona no matter where their careers take them.

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Filed under Indycars, Nascar

Driver in knowing his sport shocker!

Karun Chandhok sits in a Williams F1 car

Moments like this aren't lost on Karun Chandhok. (pic lukehmuse)

I remember reading a Nigel Roebuck column many, many moons ago that mentioned in passing that many racing drivers aren’t too clued up on their own sport. To my fast-developing sense of motorsport geekery this was akin to being a Milli Vanilli fan then finding out about their dastardly miming or being an Evertonian when Rooney put on a red shirt – I was disillusioned to say the least. These superstar drivers didn’t deserve to have my dream job! I’m sure the astronauts currently orbiting the Earth in Atlantis know exactly who Neil Armstrong is.

Every driver who drives a Formula One car is well aware of what a great opportunity they have from a career perspective, but do they know why Grand Prix racing is so magical? Do they know the legends that have shaped the sport they play? One driver who emphatically does is Karun Chandhok. He’s fast becoming my unsung hero for his encyclopedic knowledge of Ecclestone-era Formula One and his appreciation of turbo-charged Indycars. On the track Karun is not shabby either, his GP2 win at Spa was a great effort and taking a totally untested HRT out into qualifying at Bahrain last year was a minor piece of heroics. On top of that he is a pleasure to listen to on BBC 5live’s excellent commentary team, another dream job for a motor-mad man such as he, though one he must be wishing he wasn’t doing right now.

Dario Franchitti is also pleasingly aware of his place in history, the photo of him looking at Jim Clark’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Tales of Valentino Rossi watching Norick Abe on video every day before school tells you a lot about how the great man feels about his sport, that is the sort of obsession usually reserved for the anoraks. I also loved this video of Lewis and Jenson exploring Mclaren’s vaults of obsolete yet iconic racing cars, I just can’t picture Kimi and Juan Pablo ever going in there and knowing their MP4/1 from their MP4/4. They probably didn’t know what MP4 even signifies.

As ever, I digress. Senna may be the racer’s racer, but Chandhok is the geek’s racer for sure – and he got himself another page in my good books this week by putting VJ Mallya in his place. It’s well worth a click, fellow Indian star Narain Karthikeyan also has a message for Mallya. The big businessman and former amateur racer (who was a rival of Karun’s Dad once upon a time) has given the former Jordan team an Indian makeover to create the Force India squad, but Mallya’s lack of faith in racing drivers from his part of the world is a little bit disheartening. Both Chandhok and his recently side-lined countryman Karthikeyan, another fellow with a keen interest in racing’s past, have not even been invited to test with the nominally Indian team.

Karun Chandhok delivered the man with the posh yacht an eloquent and accurate dressing down saying, “I think it’s a bit sad that in one breath the chairman of our Indian ASN is talking about how much he has done for Indian drivers and then in the next breath he is criticising India’s only two Formula One drivers.”

Mallya has been accused in his brief time in Formula One of not paying bills and using Force India as a giant ego-trip. This is from respected journos and insiders, as I’ve never been invited to party on his big boat I will defer to their knowledge. I doubt very much that he’s the biggest scoundrel this sport has ever seen, nor is he the best representation of it either. Unlike the two Indian drivers who are currently within touching distance of a proper F1 chance, Mallya clearly isn’t aware of the footsteps he is treading in. He is a speed, money and glamour man, while the drivers he belittles appreciate the artistry of racing.

So here’s to Karun Chandhok for telling Mallya that he’s wrong and generally being a great ambassador for his sport and his country. He knows a lot about the past of his beloved racing, it is so apt that he is amongst the few Indian drivers to be carving out their own pages of history.


Filed under F1, Indycars

Great racing wherever you look

Plato rolls, Conway wins and Nascar entertains (pic Rob Dunckley)

F1 provided the race of the weekend from where I was sitting, but there was so much good motorsport going on that it was hard to keep up with it all. We had a four-wide finish at Talladega, the closest World Rally ever, a new and truly heroic winner in Indycar and the BTCC boys bent some metal. If I don’t get a chance to watch Superbikes from Assen or my beloved Aussie V8s on a wet street track then I know there was a lot of rubber being burnt around the globe…

First up was Talladega with the Sprint Cup race that anybody could win which was taken by Jimmie Johnson, the winner of the previous five championships. It may not be the ideal result for the fans or the title race, but it was certainly spectacular as the leaders finished four-wide after the tandems we saw at Daytona returned. Clint Boywer was a mere two thousandths of a second behind the winner, but I still can’t truly enjoy the bump-drafting. Nationwide saw Kyle Busch get involved in the ‘big one’ before driving his battered machine back to the front just as the race was halted for yet another big wreck. If anything the relative unknowns in the ARCA race provided the best and cleanest racing at ‘Dega, their cars aren’t built to run the whole race nose-to-tail and the extra space between them made for some far more satisfying racing that saw Ty Dillon edging out Frank Kimmel at the flag.

Astoundingly the WRC was very nearly as close and every bit as thrilling in the dust of Jordan. Sebastian Ogier continued in his winning ways, beating Latvalla by a mere 0.2 seconds – the closest World Rally to date. The event was shortened  after political and logistical problems, but it was still remarkable to see a smaller gap between the leaders after two days rallying than we saw in F1 after a mere 15 minute qualifying segment. It seems that Ogier is the real deal.

Another young driver with a very bright future is Britain’s Mike Conway who scored his first Indycar win at the Long Beach Grand Prix last night. Most Indycar viewers will know Mike best for his bone-breaking Indy 500 shunt that could so easily have taken his career away just as it started. Now recovered and driving for Andretti Autosport he drove a sublime final few laps to blast his way up from sixth place at the final restart to the lead. Conway endured a troubled pit-stop and had to dodge the now-predictable crashes to take the fight to Ryan Briscoe’s Penske that led for so much of the day. Long Beach is one of the greatest street tracks in the world and Mike Conway knows a thing or two about racing around cities after taking wins at Monaco in GP2 and Macau in F3; he’s certainly in the right series for somebody who excels at racing inches from concrete walls.

The walls aren’t quite so close at Donington Park but the BTCC boys still managed to find them. The races were won by Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan and crowd-favourite Matt Jackson, but the talking points were the slew of accidents including a roll for champion Jason Plato.  The racing was good and luckily everybody survived their crashes with nothing more than financial damage, although Plato said he “tweaked his manhood” as his Chevy Cruze rolled three times. Amazingly the RML boys got Jason’s car going again for race three and he even managed to score good points with the roof still squashed! The Craner Curves are a fine place to watch a race and for those stood by Starkey’s Bar they will have witnessed Plato’s accident, a multi-car crash in race three and a fast shunt for Neate’s Ford Focus on the final lap of the day along with a scary ride down the hill for Rob Collard too.  Wish I was there.

I will be heading to a race next week as British F3 heads to Oulton Park, just down the road from here. The F3 season is already underway at Monza where Felipe Nasr won twice for Carlin and cemented his status as championship favourite. Rupert Svendsen-Cook took a win too but it’s Nasr who everybody will be focusing on when British F3 heads back to Britain.

The best junior category in 2011 looks set to be Formula Renault 3.5 where there is some serious talent on show, not least of all is Red Bull’s test driver Daniel Ricciardo. He was absent from round one at Arragon, so whoever emerged on top from the two races on Spanish soil would likely become his main challenger for the season. It was Lotus-affiliated American hot-shot Alexander Rossi who took a win in a spectacular race one, his racecraft was top drawer as he diced with Move and Wickens in a very entertaining battle. He followed it up with a second place in the Sunday race just behind Kevin Korjus – the youngest driver on the Renault grid and a very surprising victor. Expect a bunch of these guys to follow fellow Renault World Series graduates Vettel, Kubica and Kovalainen into F1 very soon, there is a rare amount of talent on that grid this year.

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Filed under Indycars, Junior Formulae, Nascar, Rally, Touring Cars

When winning just isn’t enough

Tony Kanaan and De Ferran out of Indycar

Tony Kanaan has been priced out of Indycars (pic ktpupp)

De Ferran Dragon Racing have announced that they are abandoning their 2011 campaign, a sad sign of the times for Indycars and the wider world of racing. A pair of Brazilian Indycar champions with the support of Penske have been forced to shut up shop, while the new management of the series are throwing $5 million in loose change into an effort to recruit a few Nascar stars into a one-off appearance at the end of the season. That’s two signs of the times for the price of one.

Despite a whopping 88 meetings with potential sponsors, Tony Kanaan announced on Wednesday that he is likely to quit Indycars and take his talents into sports cars or back home to Brazil, presumably to Stock Car Brasil. He’s even had Kyle Busch trying to tempt him to try his hand in the Camping World Trucks, but it’s a long slog to the top in Nascar as Montoya, Hornish, et al will testify to. Tony has form in LMP2 and touring cars would be a giggle, but at a time when Indycar needs all the star power it can muster this is a blow to the series as much as to Tony, Gil and their team.

De Ferran Dragon may be leaving the series, but before they hit ebay with all their kit they should take the Las Vegas gamble and run a car for Tony Kanaan at the final Indycar round of the current era. With a $5 million prize for any guest driver taking the win it could be a race that more than pays for itself for the two beleaguered Brazilians. If the yet to be determined criteria for the five guest slots don’t go their way then they could always just gamble their Dallara Hondas in the casinos down the road. The odds may not be good, but with the new Indycar rules kicking in for 2012 they may as well take a punt on the tables of Sin City.

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Filed under Indycars

What’s the point?


BSB riders give chase - new points systems are all the rage (pic MSV)

In the past you needed to be Watson the supercomputer to work out who scored what in a Nascar race, now the Sprint Cup has adopted a new points formula that should be easier to comprehend for those like myself whose brains freeze when faced with any more than a couple of digits. So it’s 43 points for the win, a solitary point for last and you can guess the rest. Throw in a point for leading a lap (always a great incentive for action) and another point for leading the most laps (always a well earned point) and there you have the new system. Simples.

So things are easier to follow, but the Sprint Cup is only claimed after the season’s ending series of 10 races known as The Chase. Played out on dull ‘cookie cutter’ tracks, the top 12 drivers have their points almost equalised and only these chosen few can race for the title. Not so simples.

Jimmie Johnson has claimed the last five straight Sprint Cups, timing his push to the top 12 perfectly every time while other stock car superstars are left fighting over the scraps. So can Jimmie still win under this new system? Of course he can, he’s the complete driver with a shrewd crew chief and the best team in the business, but at least we may see some more representative results for strong drivers who have missed the Chase in the past such as win-a-holic Kyle Busch or King of Concrete Carl Edwards.

Last year British Superbikes adopted their own Chase-style system, branded as The Showdown, that saw Riuchi Kionari taking the crown at a thrilling final round at Oulton Park. Nobody doubts the quality of the Japanese rider, so it’s certainly worked for the BSB and looks set to stay. It’s also a hell of a lot better than Bernie’s silly medals idea he keeps going on about ever since he took his little trip to Beijing with the Blairs back in 2008.

For what it’s worth I’m not a fan of a Chase format that freezes out riders and drivers. It’s nice to see a championship develop over the course of a season. But what do I know, I’m still stuck with the opinion that the only proper points in F1 are the top six.

The Chase seems fairly popular on the Nascar scene, so the current talking point is the weird scenario that the top three series are all being led by drivers who didn’t win during Speedweeks as it was part-time interlopers Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne who struck gold. Only giving points to regulars was a response to Sprint Cup drivers scooping the honours in feeder series, such as Brad Keselowski’s title success in Nationwide last year.

I think it’s a truly wonderful thing that Nascar has drivers guesting across its various formulas – it gave us a truly feel-good story with Trevor Bayne’s big win last Sunday. It provides feats to marvel at such as Kyle Busch winning more races in one year than you could count on your fingers and toes. Some of the greatest races on two wheels have been ridden by wildcards, I only wish that F1 would lighten up and allow a Rossi or a Loeb to join the grid once in a while.

Today Indycar announced a massive prize-fund for their Las Vegas season finale to encourage some series-swapping, a move in the right direction for the new management of the series. A cheque for $5 million will be given to any guest driver who claims the win; what price Mario dusting off his overalls? “Oh boy,” tweeted Marco Andretti, “if my grandfather finds this out we will be a 5 car team!”

The Nascar debate about guys who finished second and third leading the way is a moot point – it’s great that they have guest drivers competing in the first place. And the fact we can even have this discussion without picking up a calculator is a success for the simplified points system.

After Nascar hits the desert in Phoenix and Vegas over the next couple of weeks the charts will doubtless look a little cleaner and those sensitive souls who are troubled by the scoring anomalies thrown up by the thrilling events of Speedweeks will have forgotten the current odd look of the tables. However the memorable feats of Waltrip, Stewart and Bayne will be imprinted on the minds of the fans forever.

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