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On NASCAR, pit crews and the Petit Le Mans

Published October 21, 2012

News and musings following a big weekend of auto racing:

Bruno Spengler, a French-born Canadian citizen from Saint-Hippolyte, Que., won the German Touring Car (DTM) Championship Sunday for BMW.

He won the title in grand style by racing to victory in the last DTM race of the season at the Hockenheimring.

It was Spengler’s first championship. He was the good soldier for Mercedes for years and years but was never able to close the deal. He moved to BMW this season when the marque returned to the DTM after a 20-year absence and stepped right up.

The other Canadian in the field, Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto, retired after 20 laps. His rookie reason in touring cars was not the success that he, and his fans, had hoped for.

For complete details, click here

NASCAR Canada held a reception on Saturday at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel on King St. W. to honour the 2012 Canadian Tire Series champion, D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, the other drivers in the series, and the many officials and sponsors that make the National Championship the success that it is.

Dana Gladstone of major sponsor Canadian Tire said a few words, as did series director Brad Moran. The drinks were free and the hors d’ouvres were hot. It was very nice.

However (there’s always one or two of those, aren’t there?), when NASCAR purchased CASCAR from founder Tony Navotny in 2006, it was a big deal. Following the 2007 season, its first under the NASCAR banner, the Canadian Tire Series participants were treated to a lovely banquet at an east Toronto hotel. TSN’s Vic Rauter was the MC and all the drivers, wives, crew members and sponsors turned out for what was a really swell time.

Since then, everybody’s had to make do with an annual two-hour reception and, frankly, it’s not enough for a National Championship.

This should be a Big Deal – and it’s not.

One other thing. If I went to Florida as a representative of the media of Canada and mispronounced the names of – say – some of NASCAR’s favourite sons (“I’d like to say thanks to Bill FRANK and the FRANK family . . .”) I think I’d be run out of town on a rail.

This is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve had to listen to some NASCAR executive fly up to Toronto and mangle the name of the patron saint of Canadian motorsport, Gilles Villeneuve, while mispronouncing the name of the race track in Montreal that’s named after him.

Memo to NASCAR: It’s Sir-quee Jeel Veel-noov, NOT sir-cut gil vilnuff.

You would think someone would have had the good manners to ask how to say it corrrectly by now, wouldn’t you?

Okay, enough of that.

Jim and Joel Robinson, who produce the Canadian Tire racing TV programs for TSN, were singled out for praise and they do a great job. Here’s a link to a video that’s representative of their work.

Now, the reception was rife with rumour that NASCAR is on the verge of making an announcement about either a truck series race or a Nationwide Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next season.

One fellow “in the know” said it was a lock that the Camping World Series trucks would be the headliner at the track next May 24 long weekend.

But with the Nationwide cars out of Montreal for 2013, I still say the possibility of that race being moved to Old Mosport is very real. And the fact that a Nationwide car was practising out there in the last two weeks just adds to the intrigue.

We should know in the next week or two at the most whether one or more of NASCAR’s touring series will be at CTMP next year. Cross fingers.

Just before I wrap up the “Canadiana” portion of this column, I must say that poor James Hinchcliffe must rue the day he agreed to travel to Australia to participate in a V8 Supercar race on the Gold Coast Down Under.

They ran two races at the weekend and he didn’t finish either one of them.

Click here for a link to a video showing how his first race went. And the second one wasn’t much better.

Okay, moving right along, the Daytona Beach city council has approved an application filed by International Speedway Corp. to develop some land it owns adjacent to the storied speedway as well as an application from the Daytona Speedway itself for redevelopment.

Want to take a guess what that all means?

Hint: look all around downtown Toronto and what do you see?

Condominiums.

Actually, I’m surprised they’ve waited this long. And I’m puzzled why they haven’t started down that road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, too.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship ran its sixth Chase for the Championship race at Kansas Speedway Sunday and it was won by Matt Kenseth. For complete details, click here.

Question: Kenseth has won two of the six races in the Chase to date. Why is he in NINTH place in the standings.

Why don’t the drivers who make it into the Chase start off even, as is the case in most other sports when the playoffs start?

Why aren’t the Chase drivers scored differently in the playoffs, with winning being the only thing?

It is wrong that Brad Keselowski and Kenseth have each won two races in the six that have been run since the Chase started (Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin won the others) and yet Keselowski is in first place in the standings and Kenseth is in ninth.

Nuts.

The North American sports car season is finito. Saturday at Road Atlanta, the American Le Mans Series ran its Petit Le Mans 10-hour race and the winners were (this can get complicated):

- Neel Jani, Nicolas Prost and Andrea Belicchi finished first overall and first in Prototype 1 driving a Lola-Toyota.

- Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut and Luis Diaz were second overall and first in P2 in an HPD ARX-Honda.

- Alex Popow, Ryan Dalziel and Toronto’s Mark Wilkins won the Prototyep Challenge class in an Oreca-Chevrolet. They were seventh overall.

-Scott Sharp, Toni Vilander and Johannes van Overbeek were first in GT in a Ferrari Italia.

- Henrique Cisneros, Mario Farnbacher and Jakub Giermaziak won the GT Challenge class in a Porsche 911 GT3.

Muscle Milk Picket Racing won the team and drivers’ championship in the glamour-puss P1 class. Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf fought back from early-race adversity to wrap up both titles.

Now, an incident at Kansas Speedway and another at Road Atlanta illustrated perfectly this weekend why auto racing is the most complex and exciting team sport there is.

At Kansas, Jimmy Johnson’s pit crew kept him on the lead lap while doing repairs to his car after he backed it into the outside wall early in the race. He recovered to finish ninth and to score enough points to stay just seven behind Chase leader Keselowski, who finished eighth.

It took the Muscle Milk crew a little longer – an hour, actually – to repair the damage after Luhr tangled with a GT Challenge car early in the Petit Le Mans. But their expertise and effort was unparalleled on this day and they got the car back on track for the drivers to score sufficient points to wrap up the championship.

Great stuff !

And one last thing: Don Panoz’s pet, the Delta Wing project powered by Nissan, finished sixth overall in the Petit Le Mans, driven by Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez.

You will recall that Jeanette was knocked for a loop late in the week during practice and the race car emerged a mess. Once again, it was the crew that saved the day.

They repaired and reworked the car in time for Saturday’s race – an amazing achievement.

Panoz, in an interview, said he still thinks there is an open-wheel future for the car. 

Take it to Indy next May, I say. If Andy Granatelli could get his turbine to work there in 1967, Dr. Don should be able to find a way to get the DW into the 2013 classic’s qualifying line, don’tcha think?

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