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Norris’ racing blog: F1, ALMS, Indy

Published July 20, 2012

For updates on today’s racing activities, please click here

Meantime, Fernando Alonso won the German Grand Prix today over Sebastien Vettel and Jenson Button – although the stewards were meeting over Vettel because the world champion passed Button while using some of the Hockenheimring’s runoff area that some say is not part of the racing surface.

It was Alonso’s third victory of the 2012 season and extended his lead in the world championship.

Button’s performance was his best since early in the season. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, failed to finish.

Earlier, German racing driver Klaus Graf, who turned 43 Saturday, celebrated by winning yet another American Le Mans Series pole by ripping off a lap around Canadian Tire Motorsport Park of 1 minute, 6.486 seconds (133.147 miles an hour) that put him more than two seconds clear of his nearest rival.

Graf was going so fast that his qualifying run included a “big-eye moment” halfway through Turn 2 when he nearly left the track.

“You have to be brave,” to drive a good qualifying lap,” Graf said later. “You have to pray once or twice” a lap he said, in describing how most of the former Mosport International Raceway’s turns can now be taken flat out.

“It takes a lot of guts,” he added.

Chris Dyson, who drove a Le Mans Prototype 1 like Graf, qualified second fastest at 1:08:637 (128.974 mph), a tick ahead of Eric Lux (1:08:746/128.770 mph). Canadian Tony Burgess will share the Lola B11 LMP1 entry with Lux.

Other pole winners and their times:

Martin Plowman led the P2 qualifyers, with a time of 1:08:853. He will start the race fourth overall. Colin Braun won the Prototype Challenge pole with a time of 1:10:698 and will start sixth overall, just in front of Kyle Marcelli of Barrie who will start eighth overall and third in the PC class.

Jan Magnussen will start from pole in the GT class. He turned a lap of 1:15:478 that translates into a speed of 117:285 mph. And last, but certainly not least, Damien Faulkner won the pole in the GT Challenge class with a time of 1:21:615/108:465 mph.

Graf, who won the last two Mobil 1 Presents the Grand Prix of Mosport races with co-driver Romain Dumas in 2010 and current co-star Lucas Luhr last year, said that although he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to be overconfident going into Sunday’s main event, he knows how to won at the Bowmanville-area track.

“Both Lucas and I have been winners here many times, so it doesn’t take us long to get up to speed,” he said.

Faulknef, who won the pole in his class a year ago, said his team ran into trouble during Friday practice and the crew went through the car “with a fine-tooth comb,” finishing the job after one o’clock in the morning. The car was up to the job in Saturday qualifying.

“This is a big, fast, flowing track,” he said, “so the plan is to keep out of trouble and finish first (in class), hopefully.”

Magnussen, who won his class a year ago in his GT Corvette, said the GM marque has always been fast around Mosport.

He said the only team orders he’d have to follow would be “to not crash into the other yellow car,” but then added: “We have to play nice with each other . . . but there is a championship to win.”

Colin Braun, who won the Prototype Challenge Class, didn’t do his reputation any good when he took a totally unnecessary shot at Kyle  Marcelli. “Everybody thinks he’s the world champion around here,” he said, “so it’s nice to beat him here.”

The most interesting of the press conference drivers was Plowman, who’s drivng full-time in the ALMS after a career in open wheel that included several races in the IZOD IndyCar Series. He said that it`s very rare to get the balance of a racing car exactly right and suggested it was like an out-of-body experience.

Although 29 cars were entered, only 26 went out to qualify for the race that starts at noon Sunday. Burgess and Marcelli are the only Canadians in the field.

Meantime, in Edmonton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won the Honda Indy Toronto two weeks ago, showed he`s ready to try for his fourth victory in a row in that series when he won the pole Saturday for Sunday`s IZOD IndyCar Series race in Edmonton.

But because of the insane IndyCar engine-change rule that penalizes the driver when an engine goes kaput and has to be changed, he will start 11th Sunday, putting Dario Franchitti  on pole.

Alex Tagliani of Montreal qualified fifth and James Hinchcliffe qualified 12th.

Earlier . . .

Here’s a quick update on other auto racing stories of note:

- Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the pole for Sunday’s German Grand Prix over Red Bull teammates Sebastien Vettel and Mark Webber.  Webber, however, will drop back five places because of a gearbox change, so fourth-fastest Michael Schumacher will go off third in his Mercedes, which will certainly make the fans at Hockenheimring happy. Nico Hulkenberg will start fifth for Force India.

There were no real surprises in qualifying, which started in dry conditions and ended in the rain, other than Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean both failed to make it into the top ten. Massa keeps talking optimistically about his future at Ferrari but then he goes and turns in a sub-par performance. Grosjean has been one of the nicest surprises in F1 this season so his immediate future is secure.

- Marussia F1 announced that injured driver Maria de Villota has left hospital in England and returned home to Spain to continue her convalescence. She suffered severe head and facial injuries, including the loss of her right eye, in a testing accident several weeks ago.

- James Hinchcliffe of Oakville was fourth fastest and Alex Tagliani of Montreal was fifth behind pace-setter Helio Castroneves of Brazil in practice for Sunday’s Edmonton IndyCar race. Qualifying will be held later today (Saturday).

Meantime, the last time racing drivers Townsend Bell and Bruno Junqueira were on a track together in the Toronto area, Junqueira was leaning over Bell’s car and screaming at him.

Both drivers will be racing in Sunday’s American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Mosport but in 2002 they were both in the Molson Indy Toronto and had crashed together at the CNE circuit’s treacherous Turn 3.

Bell had tried to pass Michel Jourdain Jr. going into the turn – a hard right off Lake Shore Blvd. W. onto a road leading up to BMO Field – and misjudged his speed. Bell couldn’t make the turn and crashed into Junqueira, eliminating him from the race and costing him valuable points.

Junqueira jumped from his wrecked car and ran over to Bell’s. He straddled the front of the car, put his finger up against the front of Bell’s helmet and started yelling at him. It took the CART safety team to calm him down; Bell was subsequently disqualified and fined for reckless driving.

Bell, who will drive a GT-class Lotus-Cosworth in Sunday’s ALMS main event, said Friday that he still has bad dreams about that accident.

“Every time I see Bruno, I think he still doesn’t want to talk to me and it’s beeen about 10 years (since it happened),” he said.

“I was far more aggressive and single-minded back then,” said the now-veteran racer who includes an Indy Lights championship, a Formula 3000 podium, a Formula One test and six Indianapolis 500 starts on his curriculum vitae.

“I just expected back then that I should be at the front of every race all the time,” said the California resident who acts as a pit reporter and race analyst for U.S. television networks when he’s not in the cockpit.

“Even if I was 11th and one lap down (as was the case in 2002), and somebody was in front of me, I would go for it. Bruno was a lap ahead of us, and running in front of us, and we got to the turn and he took the traditional wide turn-in (popular with drivers running by themselves) and I was racing for position and ran out of road, ending his race in the process.

“I didn’t feel good about it and he was understandably pissed off but he was so animated that there came a point where I was tired of listening to him shout at me so I called him back over to the car and let him know what I thought of his tirade, I think I called it his Brazilian enthusiasm, and that sent him into yet another tailspin.

“They (the safety team) got me going and I drove another couple of laps, only to find out that they’d disqualified me. I was out of a job shortly afterward.”

Junqueira, who finished second to another Brazilian racer, Cristiano da Matta, in that year’s CART championship, was not as forgiving and obviously still upset.

Asked about the circumstances Friday, as he prepared to practice for Sunday’s race in an Oreca-FLM09-Chevrolet that will compete in the Prototype Challenge class, he initially said that he didn’t mind racing against Bell again and the 2002 incident was history.

But then his eyes hardened and he said: “I was running for the championship; he was a lap down. He was a pay driver. An amateur!”

Junqueira has raced in the American Le Mans Series previously – he was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park a year ago – but this will be a first for Bell, although he’s been on the property previously and has a link to the legendary circuit.

“My father-in-law, Rod Campbell (formerly of Montreal and now of Santa Monica, Calif.) was the English-language announcer for the first Formula One Grand Prix of Canada back in 1967 at what was then called Mosport,” said Bell, who was late getting to the track Friday after getting lost while commuting from his Peterborough-area hotel.

“And Rod and I came to Mosport four or five years ago to visit Walter Wolf, who’d entered one of his cars in a vintage car race here. Rod managed Wolf’s F1 team for several years in the 1970s.”

As well as the 29 entered American Le Mans Series cars, cars entered in the Canadian Touring Car Championship, Cooper Tires Prototype Lights, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada and the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup series all practiced Friday, mostly without incident.

The first race of the weekend, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, will go Saturday afternoon shortly after 1 p.m. American Le Mans Series qualifying will then be held, followed by more support races.

The Mobil 1 presents the Grand Prix of Mosport will go to the post at noon on Sunday. Whether Townsend Bell and Bruno Junqueira will give each other a wide berth remains to be seen.

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