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IndyCar still doesn’t get it; Pruett and Patrick news

Published January 25, 2013

NASCAR knows it’s in the sports entertainment business and acts accordingly. Formula One, not so much but it doesn’t matter because the fans are happy.

IndyCar has suffered from an identity crisis forever. Once the playground of cigar smokin’, beer-drinkin’, two-fisted, dirt-track cowboys, it became a wannabe F1 (the CART years) with all the arrogance that went with that, and then a kind of open-wheel anti-NASCAR, where everyone was just down-home friendly.

These days, it’s kind of flailing around. It had a fan-friendly CEO in Randy Bernard but the owners and some of the sponsors didn’t like him so off with his head. This week, it released a whole bunch of rules, regulations and procedural changes that don’t really mean anything and the one rule that could have been changed if they cared anything about the fans wasn’t.

I’m talking about the insane rule that penalizes the driver for something over which he or she has absolutely no control. Still in effect for the 2013 season is the regulation that stipulates a driver will be penalized 10 grid positions for an unauthorized engine change.

So let’s say I go to the Honda Indy Toronto in July and Oakville’s own James Hinchcliffe wins the pole position. There is joy in the land. But wait, after qualifying, it’s discovered that the engine in Hinchcliffe’s car has to come out and another one put in because the engine builder screwed up. So naturally, because this is all James’s fault, he will start the race from 10th place instead of from first.

Is that stupid, or what?

If James went out during practice and spun  because he was going too fast before his tires were warmed up, or something similar, then throw the book at him, I say.

But how can any racing series apply such a draconian penalty for something that, to repeat, the driver has no control over?

It’s the fans who are cheated when that happens. Which shows that the people who run IndyCar still don’t get it.

Don’t forget the Rolex 24 at Daytonathis weekend. It’s on Speed TV beginning at 3 Saturday till 11 and then from 9 a.m. Sunday till 4. And Wheels’s own Gary Grant will be there, along with photographer John Larsen, and will be covering all the Canadians in the big race (as well as in the Continental Tire race on Friday) on a live blog at wheels.ca.

Meantime, Scott Pruett, driving a Target Chip Ganassi Racing BMW/Riley Daytona Prototype, will start from pole Saturday after turning a lap Thursday of 1:40.553 (127.455 mph). It marks the third time Pruett has started from pole at Daytona and if he wins, he will be tied with Hurley Haywood for most wins with five. Scott Dixon made it an all-Ganassi front row with a lap of 1:40.646 (127.337 mph). Nick Tandy was the fastest GT class qualifier with a time of  1:47.631 (119.074 mph) in a Porsche GT3.

Social note: Sprint Cup rookies Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are dating. Now, back to our regularly scheduled column.

I went out for brunch this week with my good friends Bill Brack, the champion racing driver, and Gerald Donaldson, the champion auto racing writer, and in the course of the conversation, Gerry pointed out that the words “race car” make up a palindrome: they say the same thing frontwards and backwards.

I just thought I’d pass that on.

Oh, and Gerry says there are now “embedded journalists” in F1, which means friendly, supportive journalists are allowed into a team’s inner circle and guys who actually ask questions aren’t.

Congratulations to Charlie Johnstone, long-time general manager of the Honda Indy. He’s been promoted to president of the Honda Indy. There will be two feature races for the Indy cars at this year’s Honda in July, with the first on Saturday featuring a standing start while the second one on Sunday will be a rolling start. (I still think my suggestion of going clockwise Saturday and counter-clockwise Sunday is better, but what do I know?)

The races will be on Sportsnet in Canada and the cable channel NBC Sports Network in the U.S. ABC used to include Toronto in the four- or five races it carries each year but not this year, which is too bad because it was great PR for our city.

The North American rally season opens this weekend in Michigan and the Can-Jam Motorsports Rally Team with Crazy Leo Urlichich driving and Carl Williamson co-driving is entered. Urlichich and Williamson plan to compete in all Rally America and Canadian Rally Championship events in 2013. More than 40 teams are entered in the Michigan rally, so the boys have their work cut out for them.

Have Bus Racing Tours will be at the Canadian Motorsports Expo Feb. 8 to 10 at The International Centre in Mississauga. They sent out a note the other day that there are (or were) 31 days till the Daytona 500 but only 25 days until they leave Toronto for Florida with a busload of NASCAR fans heading for the big race. Their whole 2013 schedule is at their website. Click here.

The Bruce Peninsula and Georgian Bay will be the location and backdrop of the first Concourse d’Elegance to be held in Canada. Planned for Sept. 14, the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance will celebrate the world’s finest cars and join such esteemed locales as Lake Como, Italy, and Monterey, Calif., in presenting a red carpet automobile event. Proceeds will go toward funding a helipad at Sunnybrook Hospital in midtown Toronto. For more information and to purchase tickets (which start at $25 and go up to $1,100), click here.

It’s official. Montreal’s Alex Tagliani will return to Barracuda Racing (Brian Herta, owner) for the 2013 IndyCar season. Todd Malloy, son of Wheels contributor Gerry Malloy, is chief engineer.

Jarrett Andretti, son of John, grandson of Aldo, second cousin of Michael, third counsin of Marco and grandnephew of Mario, is continuing his development as a driver the way his daddy did it. Unlike Michael, who was a formula car driver from the start, John Andretti learned his trade in sprints and midgets before landing in CART and then NASCAR. Jarrett, who was the Oswego Speedway rookie-of-the-year in the supermodified division last year, will continue in super one-offs this season and also plans to run as many sprint car and midget car races as he can.

Never say never. Remember that offer by Roger Penske to Tony Stewart to race in the Indianapolis 500 that Stewart rejected? Well, it turns out the door was not completely closed, as Stewart revealed this week to journalists attending the annual NASCAR media tour in Charlotte, N.C. Said Tony:

“I talked to Roger and I actually had dinner with him in Indianapolis after the IMIS Trade Show reception. He didn’t necessarily back me into a corner, but he made me a generous offer and I made him a counter off that is an open-ended invitation. So even though we didn’t accept this year, maybe some year down the road we might be able to accept that offer. He never said no, so as far as I’m concerned we have an open invitation to run with him.”

I, for one, would be very excited to see that happen.

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