Monday Morning Roundup: What did you learn today?

No Racing Allowed in F1, IndyCar; Phoenix ‘crowd’ ridiculous; Brundle needs help; other racing

  • scott dixon

I’m often out the door before it comes on at 6 a.m. EST, but when I’m home I like to watch a TV program on MSNBC called Morning Joe. Just before going off the air at 9, they have a segment called “What did you learn today?” in which the hosts and guests do a quick revelation/review of something they hadn’t known before.

So I am going to start out these Monday Morning musings with a “What did you learn today?” segment of my own. And what I learned is that when it comes to racing, two of the three big-league sanctioning bodies that presented some this weekend really don’t want any.

Racing, that is.

For instance, they start the Grand Prix of Bahrain on Sunday and Nico Rosberg gets the jump on his Mercedes F1 teammate Lewis Hamilton, and leads going into Corner One, which is a very sharp right-hander. Lewis drifts just about all the way out to the left-side of the track while preparing to turn right, leaving the door to the corner so open that you could have driven a bus through it.

Valtteri Bottas in the Williams has had a great start and he’s bombing up the inside and sees this wide-open space in front of him, which is so gaping that it reminds him of Saskatchewan (if he’s ever been there), and he sticks his nose right in there, just like any good racing driver full of red mist would have done.

And the way I see it is that Lewis Hamilton then chops right in front of him and there’s a collision that essentially wrecks both their races (although Lewis battles back to finish third behind his winning teammate Rosberg and second-place finisher Kimi Raikkonen – click here for complete story and results).

Me? I call that a RACING accident. Bottas saw the hole and went for it; Hamilton was trying to catch Rosberg and either didn’t see Bottas or figured he would back off. Bang.

The Formula One stewards saw it differently. “F1 is not a race, it’s supposed to be a parade,” thundered one of them, I imagine. “We must send a clear message that racing is not allowed,” agreed another. So they gave poor Bottas a drive-through penalty that killed any chances of a podium finish for him.

That’ll learn him.

(I know that is what the stewards were thinking, even though I wasn’t there. I was watching the “race” on TV with my wife, who was taken aback by the start. “Gosh, that was kind of gritty for F1, wasn’t it?” she said. “Aren’t they all supposed to drop into line?” So, there you go. Out of the mouths, etc. Who knew?)

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, our James Hinchcliffe went off 22nd (he finished 18th) in the IndyCar race at Phoenix. He’d crashed during practice and couldn’t post a qualifying time so had to start at the back. About 10 laps in, Helio Castroneves, who’d gone off from pole, approached him from the rear and the TV commentators suggested that it was only a matter of time before he passed him.

Now, it might have taken James a few laps to get comfy in the car. He’s been through a lot. Whatever, he suddenly got his foot in it and, try as he might, Castroneves not only couldn’t pass the Oakville driver, he couldn’t really get close to him.

That didn’t stop the IndyCar officials from showing Hinch, for information purposes, the blue “move-over” flag a few times. And I’m yelling at the television set, “IT’S A RACE! WHY SHOULD HE JUST LET ANYBODY PASS HIM??? IF HELIO WANTS TO LAP HIM, THEN HE SHOULD PASS HIM.”

Or words to that effect.

Castroneves was angry that James just didn’t get out of his way, as were several other drivers later in the “race,” most notably Graham Rahal, who let himself get bent all out of shape because some other guy wouldn’t slow down, bow from the waist, and pull over.

C’mon everybody! Smarten up. Racing is racing; it is not follow-the-leader. The sport is in enough trouble these days without the people who run it taking away its raison d’etre.

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS (written during all races)

– I really don’t know what to make of Phoenix promoter Bryan Sperber’s gushing over the commercial “success” of the IndyCar “return to Phoenix” on Saturday night. He told John Oriovicz of that “there was so much buzz and excitement in town about this race coming to Phoenix.”

Look, nobody wants to see IndyCar succeed more than I do. I love auto racing of all kinds and I am particularly partial to IndyCar racing. But I am not in the public relations or promotion business. I’m a reporter, a journalist, and I know buzz and excitement. Buzz and excitement is the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays. Buzz and excitement is the NBA All-Star game in Toronto. Buzz and excitement was the Molson Indy of the 1980s and ‘90s. Buzz and excitement is where everybody’s aware of what’s happening and talking about it and the venues are all sold out.

That is a long way around to saying this: If the pathetic crowd that turned out for that race at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday night represented buzz and excitement in that huge metropolitan area that includes the cities of Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale and Avondale in addition to Phoenix proper (total population: 4,192,887 of which 3,629,114 are classified as urban dwellers) I’ll eat my shirt.

That Phoenix crowd rivals Toronto’s these days. Between 6 and 7 million people now live in the Greater Toronto area and maybe – maybe – 25,000 or 30,000 show up to attend the Honda Indy on race day and the promoters and the PR people look at the media with a straight face and say, “Pretty good crowd, eh?”

Are they kidding?

There are now 67,000 permanent seats at Phoenix International Raceway – my favourite speedway, incidentally, after Indy and Oswego. I used to go there all the time. Of course, the sprint cars at since-demolished Manzanita Speedway might have had something to do with it. But I digress. On Saturday night, if they had taken everybody out of the middle section of the main straight and put them with all the others in the big stand between turns one and two, they would have filled it completely. There might even have been a bit of an overflow. Maybe.

But it they’d really done that, all of the seats from turn four all along the main straight almost to turn one (what the hell; we’ll give them that overflow) would have been empty. The place would have looked barren. You’d have seen nothing but silver. There was nobody on Rattlesnake Hill. There seemed to be some people standing on the berm overlooking the backstretch. There were no motorhomes up there, though, and if there were, there couldn’t have been more than one or two.

And yet we’re told that everybody was happy with the turnout.

Can you imagine going to a Blue Jays game in the 55,000-seat Rogers Centre and there’s 10,000 people there and be told that it’s a pretty good crowd? Or to go to a Leafs game at the 20,000-seat Air Canada Centre and the place is half empty and be told there’s a whole lotta buzz around town about the Buds?

Don’t make me laugh.

I have a suggestion. And I’m serious. The next time IndyCar goes to Phoenix, have the Rolling Stones do a set. Then, when they take a break, have a race. Then let the Stones come back to finish off the evening. I guarantee you that the place will be full to overflowing. Then they can seriously talk about what a success it was. But not before.

– Even though I just trashed attendance at that race, I am still protective of IndyCar. A bunch of the NASCAR drivers were Tweeting on Saturday night about how boring the race was. Fair enough. But I would to remind them of all the boring Sprint Cup races I’m forced to sit through these days: Daytona, Pocono, Dover, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Kansas. I could go on. Yes, even Martinsville. It’s a good thing they crash on occasion or I’d sleep through them all.

– Speaking of Martinsville, Kyle Busch was in Victory Lane Sunday after winning the Sprint Cup race (click here for race story and full results) and was praising Denny Hamlin to the skies for his support and encouragement. Four years ago, Kyle Busch screamed on international television that he was going to kill Denny Hamlin. How times change, eh? Sunday, Busch won. Four years ago, he lost. I guess how he feels about Denny Hamlin depends on the circumstances.

– The runup to the IndyCar race Saturday included a really good feature on Hinchcliffe and his recovery. Well done.

– Helio Castroneves made mention of how hard it is to drive an IndyCar because they don’t have power steering. Which begs the question: how come?

– Juan Montoya, Rahal and others (including TV commentator Paul Tracy) talked about all the blocking and dirty driving that went on during the race. Doesn’t IndyCar have three experienced stewards, including former drivers Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk? What are they doing? Should they not be calling stuff like that?

– I couldn’t be certain, but it sure looked like a tire cart was partially blocking winner Scott Dixon’s way into Victory Lane in Phoenix. If so, really? (Click here for a full race report and results.)

– I really liked Paul di Resta’s breakdown of on-track activity during the Bahrain GP telecast. I particularly liked the way he could stop and start the recording at will. Somebody should tell Don Cherry. You know how, on Coach’s Corner, he’s always saying, “Stop it right there,” or “Go back,” in order to illustrate his points? Now he can do it himself, as di Resta showed.

– Speaking of F1 coverage on TSN, it is now fabulous. There is no stone unturned. The pre-race show, the post-race show. It’s all there.

– Having said that, Martin Briudle’s walk through the field before the start of Grands Prix is the worst in the history of walkthroughs (including Michael Waltrip’s), which is something I know a lot about, having done a walkthrough before the start of the Budweiser Classic for Supermodifieds at Oswego Speedway for eons. A good walkthrough demands order. Brundle needs a scout out ahead of him to line people up.

– Anybody who’s read my stuff over the years knows I’m not a fan of Brundle’s. Sunday, he was all over Bottas for – in his mind – causing that turn one accident. Asked what he would have done, he said he would have backed off. I suggest this is yet another reason why he won exactly zero races in a career of 158 starts with zero poles and zero fastest laps.

– The Crown Prince of Bahrain, Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and I have a lot in common. We think alike. Asked about the problem with what I call Musical Chairs Qualifying, he said the drivers should have another set of tires so they don’t have to worry about using up all their rubber. Bravo! It’s the same thing as fuel in IndyCar racing. If I hear the phrases, “they’re saving fuel,” and/or “they have to save fuel” one more time, I’m going to scream. Give them all the fuel they want. This is not an economy run; it’s a car race. IndyCar was the first to use methanol – an environmentally-friendly fuel (they’ve since switched to ethanol) – so who cares how much they use?

– Meantime, they’re still screwing around with F1 qualifying. After a meeting in Bahrain Sunday, at which the team principals nixed a third set of tires and said under no circumstances would they return to qualifying a la 2015, they are now apparently going to consider a whole new proposal to be used in China, which is just around the corner. They will meet again on Thursday. Do any of those people realize how stupid they look?

I have a friend, Juliana Chiovitti, who suggests this: 20 minutes only. One big shootout. One set of tires, no radio communication, full fuel load. Best man wins. I agree with her. Simple is best. Get on with it.

– I don’t think I’ve ever seen the F1 drivers line up in a row for a country’s national anthem like they did in Bahrain Sunday. That’s a good start. Why don’t they take a page out of NASCAR’s playbook (since adopted by IndyCar) and have the drivers line up with their cars and crews. Canadian Grand Prix officials: take note.

– I don’t understand this sort of thing. Kevin Magnussen had to start from the pits because he was penalized for not stopping at the scales after his qualifying run. He is a professional athlete. How can you forget something like that?


Reigning champion and Red Bull KTM rider Ryan Dungey (who else?) won the Monster Energy AMA Supercross race at Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday night. It was his sixth victory this season. Ken Rollczen finished second and Jason Anderson was third. . . . Donny Schatz won his fifth World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series rface of the season at Chico, Calif., on Saturday night. . . . Cameron Hayley of Calgary finished ninth in the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Saturday, a race won by Kyle Busch . . . . Well-known Panoz Delta Wing Racing engineer Catherine Crawford is recovering in hospital in Italy after emergency surgery for a brain tumour. She was on holiday in Rome with her husband when she developed a severe headache and other symptoms. . . . Antron Brown in Top Fuel, Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car and Jason Line in Pro Stock scored victories Sunday in the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas. It marked the first time in NHRA history where three women have raced to wins in nitro categories in consecutive events. DeJoria’s Funny Car win follows Top Fuel victories in Phoenix and Gainesville by Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force . . . . Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez won over Valentino Rossi in the Argentina MotoGP Sunday. Lorenzo, Dovizioso and Iannone crashed out. For a full report and results, click here.

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