Racing Roundup: Bourdais’ brilliance, Gragson’s stupidity
Pfaff perfect at Sebring; Stroll selling out (of Canada) and Ludwig Heimrath remembered
Here’s how the world of auto racing looks to me this Monday morning:
Sebastien Bourdais proves – again – that he is one of the world’s great racing drivers.
We are four days away from the start of the 2021 Formula One season (thank goodness).
NASCAR Cup wannabe Noah Gragson should be benched for endangering the lives of a competitor’s crew members.
Okay, last first.
Anybody who knows me knows I have no patience for stupidity.
Saturday, during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Gragson entered the pits behind driver Daniel Hemrick. His pit was right in front of Hemrick’s and he overshot it slightly. He reversed through his own pit and into Hemrick’s, damaging the front of Hemrick’s car and causing Hemrick’s crew to scatter. He then pulled forward into his own pit where his car was serviced.
Afterward, while Gragson was doing a TV interview on pit road, Hemrick walked up and pushed him. Gragson then took a swing and the brawl was on.
Now, if it was just two guys fighting, as happens in hockey, so be it. But the hockey players get penalized for their actions, so something has to happen to the race drivers. I leave that to NASCAR to decide what’s appropriate.
But when you are so stupid as to willingly endanger the lives of unprotected pit crewmen who are over the wall just doing their jobs, then NASCAR has to take action. Strong action. Noah Gragson should be set down for – say – five races for his indiscretion. Which means he shouldn’t be able to drive in any NASCAR-sanctioned event during the time he’s serving his penalty – no trucks, no Cup, no ARCA, no nothing. And he should lose the points he won for finishing fourth Saturday.
Of course, once again, NASCAR has taken its boys-will-be-boys view and has decided, in its wisdom, after calling Gragson onto the carpet, that it was all just a big misunderstanding and will take no action whatsoever against either driver.
For a full story on the Xfinity Series race, which was won by Justin Allgaier, with Martin Truex Jr. second and Harrison Burton third (Hemrick was ninth; Canadian Alex Labbe was 17th), please click here.
Although it was – frankly – a boring race, I was sorry to see Kyle Larson, who won the first two stages of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and led most of the third till his tires gave out shortly before the end, lose to Ryan Blaney. Larson managed to hold on for second and Alex Bowman finished third. If you must, the complete report can be found by clicking here.
Two-time NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch continued beating up on the small fry Saturday at Atlanta when he wracked up his 60th victory in the Camping World Truck Series, a championship defined as being for young stock car racers learning the trade as they start the climb up the NACAR ladder. Saturday, Busch defeated people with household names like Chase Purdy and Sheldon Creed to set his personal best mark that would have meant so much more if the people he was driving against were named Harvick, Hamlin, Logano and so-on. Austin Hill finished second and John Hunter Nemechek was third. The guy driving Nemechek’s truck last year, owned by Kyle Busch, incidentally, was Canadian Raphael Lessard. He’s struggling this year and dropped out of this race with mechanical problems. For a full story on the trucks race, please click here.
Speaking of the NASCAR trucks, Pinty’s Foods, which sponsors Canada’s national driving championship, the NASCAR Canada Pinty’s Series, will sponsor the Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night, with the green flag flying shortly after 8 p.m. Bristol is a paved short-track speedway and they’ve covered it with a couple of tons of dirt for this event. The Cup cars will also race there on the dirt next Sunday.
I’m not sure why this is, but TSN will carry that trucks race. FOX Sports has held on to that NASCAR property even though TSN has been trying to get it. Whether this is a one-off or not, it’s good news because the truck races are great. That’s 8 o’clock next Saturday night.
And speaking of the Canadian Pinty’s Series (we were, two paragraphs ago), it was announced this week that Treyton Lapcevich, son of the great Jeff Lapcevich (oval racing, road racing) and brother of 2016 Pinty’s champion Cayden Lapcevich, will run the 2021 series with Scott Steckly’s 22 Racing team. Cayden was a terrific young racer but many close to the scene said his younger brother was just as good, if not better. He’ll be fun to watch. The 2021 season starts Victoria Day weekend at Sunset Speedway in Innisfil, south of Barrie.
IMSA 12 HOURS OF SEBRING
I have long written that Sebastien Bourdais is one of the world’s great racing drivers.
He got screwed out of a Formula One career when he was signed to drive for Toro Rosso – I mean, Indy car drivers really aren’t good enough to drive in F1, you know – and he was partnered with a guy named Sebastian Vettel, who got all the attention.
But other than that, whether it was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, CART, the Champ Car World Series, the Indy Racing League and now IndyCar, he’s always been in the hunt, if not unbeatable.
Saturday night, as the clock wound down on the 12 Hours of Sebring, Bourdais was ahead in his Cadillac when all sorts of things started going wrong.
It was, to put it mildly, an adventure, said the press release from IMSA that I will quote from now on.
After struggling for two days to find speed in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling/JDC-Miller MotorSports Cadillac DPi-V.R – and without a properly functioning rear wing at the end of the race – Bourdais found just enough pace Saturday night to lead his team to an improbable victory.
When the top element of the rear wing went missing shortly after a restart with 19 minutes remaining in the race, Bourdais managed to stay just far enough ahead of the field. He brought the damaged car to the finish line 1.435 seconds ahead of Harry Tincknell’s Mazda to claim the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Bourdais wasn’t sure what had happened when the wing broke. Before he discerned it was a problem with the car’s aerodynamics, he nearly lost control of the Cadillac.
“I’m just really lucky that I didn’t stuff it in Turn 17 before I made the adjustments,” Bourdais said. “That was a very, very close call there. At the same time, thankfully I had enough of a gap to (Tincknell) that he didn’t pass us by the time I collected myself. I didn’t know it was the rear wing until I got out of the car (in Victory Lane), but I knew something had happened aerodynamically.”
With his car out of shape and suddenly two seconds a lap off pace, Bourdais’ relatively comfortable lead over Tincknell dissolved into a nose-to-tail chase over Sebring International Raceway’s 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit. Tincknell challenged for the lead several times, but Bourdais didn’t relinquish.
“Every corner that was coming, I was like, ‘Man, how am I going to do this one?’” Bourdais said. “The flip side of (the broken wing) is that the car was extremely fast down the straightaway, too. I was very hard to pass there.
“I don’t know. Sometimes with the gods of racing, you don’t know what’s happening. You just take it and move on. That was one of the most improbable situations that I’ve ever been a part of that turned out in a good way.”
As previous leaders encountered crashes and mechanical problems during the course of the race’s first 11 hours, Bourdais and his co-drivers, Loic Duval and Tristan Vautier, found their Cadillac in the lead late in the race.
In other prototype classes, Mikkel Jensen, Ben Keating and Scott Huffaker teamed to take the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports ORECA LMP2 07 to the front in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), while Colin Braun, George Kurtz and Jon Bennett co-drove the No. 54 CORE Autosport Ligier JS P320 to a win in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) class.
Meantime, for the second straight year, Porsche powered the winning entries in both the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes. The No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19 was victorious in GTLM, having the door to victory lane opened Saturday night when the two cars ahead collided with minutes remaining in the 12-hour endurance marathon. In GTD, the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports of Toronto Porsche 911 GT3R paced a 1-2 Porsche finish.
It also pushed Porsche’s total of class wins in the Twelve Hours of Sebring to 100.
“I’m just happy to see a 1-2 for Porsche in GTD and Porsche winning GTLM,” said Lars Kern, a co-driver in the No. 9 Pfaff Porsche who also works as a Porsche engineer. “I think it’s just the perfect race weekend for Porsche.”
The No. 79 WeatherTech Porsche appeared destined for a third-place finish behind the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R and the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE. That is, until Connor De Phillippi tried to muscle the No. 25 past Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 at the Turn 7 hairpin with just eight minutes to go.
Both cars went off course after the collision. De Phillippi was penalized for incident responsibility, the pit-lane drive-through relegating him to a second-place finish. Garcia limped the No. 3 Corvette home in fourth. Barely able to avoid the fray in the No. 79, Mathieu Jaminet accepted the spoils and the win he shared with co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Matt Campbell.
The next race for the GTLM class is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, June 24-27 at Watkins Glen International.
In GT Daytona, Zacharie Robichon of Ottawa was worried things were going too well. But in the end, he didn’t have to worry. Laurens Vanthoor knew the No. 9 “Plaid” Porsche was good and, along with Robichon and Kern, drove it to the GTD victory.
Combined with smooth pit stops and excellent strategy, the driver trio kept the No. 9 in the hunt throughout the 12-hour race. They fended off challenges from a myriad of GTD contenders, including the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche, both Vasser Sullivan Lexuses and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
In his first season of GTD competition after collecting five WeatherTech Championship GTLM wins and the 2019 championship with the Porsche GT Team, Vanthoor took over for the final race stints. The 29-year-old Belgian bumped his way past the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus and into the lead with 90 minutes remaining and wasn’t seriously challenged after that.
The No. 9 Pfaff Porsche won by 2.112 seconds over the No. 16 Wright Porsche, with the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 placing third.
“It went really, really smooth,” Vanthoor said. “We had a really good car. We had it in Daytona as well, but we made mistakes. We did a flawless job (at Sebring) and everything went perfect. That’s the way you win races.”
Robichon felt a sense of redemption since the Canada-based Pfaff team was limited to two races last year due to COVID travel restrictions. The win was a welcome reward for everyone on the team.
“It’s pretty special, especially after last year,” Robichon said. “It was a difficult year for the team. Obviously, we didn’t race very much, so to come back here in only our second race back, so to speak, we end up in victory lane – at Sebring, no less – is pretty special.
“The race was almost going too well at one point. It felt like something had to go wrong and, luckily, I was wrong. Nothing went wrong.”
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season resumes May 14-16 with the Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio.
Thanks, again, to IMSA for the information on Sebring.
Here are some notes I’ve made heading into the F1 season.
TSN is showing the entire season again, starting with second practice on Friday morning at 10:45 a.m. on TSN2; qualifying Saturday at 10:55 a.m. and the race Sunday at 11:05 a.m.
If you missed it Saturday in Wheels.ca, Gerald Donaldson and I preview the season. You can find it if you click here.
The reason F1 has scheduled a record 23 races for 2021 is because they will likely have to cancel some of them. I think that although many people are getting vaccinated, there will still be flareups of this plague resulting in lockdowns and some promoters won’t be able to afford to stage races without spectators.
Daniel Ricciardo says that to make his career complete he needs to win a world championship. He’s not going to do it with McLaren and he’s not getting any younger. He has to either dampen his enthusiasm or get himself into a Mercedes when Lewis leaves.
Everybody (just about) in the field is optimistic about the season. Mercedes is talking a big game but you get the sense that maybe they’ve lost their mojo, that they are ripe to be beaten. Red Bull could win as long as Max Verstappen performs. He hasn’t before, so I’m not sure he can turn it on now. But we’ll see. Sergio Perez is already making excuses – he says he needs at least five races to really settle in at Red Bull – so we’ll have to wait to see what he’s got. Ferrari and Aston Martin could be nose-to-nose. The worst team will be Haas. They have got Mick Schumacher aboard but he’s a rookie and the other rookie, the Russian, is there only because his father is a multimillionaire.
Aston Martin team owner and car company managing director Lawrence Stroll is reportedly divesting himself of all properties in Canada, including the Le Circuit racing circuit at Mont Tremblant. He sold his Ferrari dealership several months ago. An aside: that is not good news for Le Circuit, which has had financial problems time and again since its birth in 1964. It has closed down for seasons at a time, in fact. Lawrence Stroll gave it stability, which it needed. Without him, I don’t know what will happen. When the track was built in the early 1960s, the local hotel and resort owners were looking for something to bring crowds to the area in summers; winter was no problem. The scene has changed. With the emphasis on the environment these days, people leaving the city on weekends want peace and quiet when they camp in the forest and people who own cottages and camps aren’t fussy about noise and people showing up with no respect for things like fences and signs that say No Trespassing. Of the three major international racing circuits built in Canada since WWII – Westwood, Mosport (now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and Le Circuit – only Mosport has operated non-stop since it opened (1961). Westwood is now a subdivision on the outskirts of Vancouver and Le Circuit appears to be on the bubble. There are some other tracks around – Atlantic Motorsport Park, Shannonville, Calabogie and Area 27 in the interior of British Columbia – but the situation for the future of Canadian racing is not good, particularly considering some oval tracks might not operate this year.
MORE ON LUDWIG
The photo (above) of Ludwig Heimrath, his wife Brigitte and their son Ludwig Jr., was taken by my pal, Paul Madder, during a Molson Indy weekend at the Exhibition grounds in the late 1980s. At the time, Ludwig Jr. was driving in the CART Series for Hemelgarn Racing with the financial backing of the Canadian investment firm, Mackenzie Financial. On all other Heimrath obituary stories written by me that appeared on various Torstar websites, they were illustrated by a picture of Ludwig with a trophy he received for winning the first race at the newly opened Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant in 1964. It was taken by Lionel Birnbom, of Ottawa, Canada. Birnbom has published a wonderful picture book called “The Golden Years of Motorsport in Eastern Canada and the U.S.A.” If you would like to buy a copy, go to www.lionelbirnbom.com
Ludwig’s passing brought forth several reminiscences and salutes. Dr. Hugh Scully, chairman of the board of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, wrote:
“Ludwig was a very competitive, talented and successful racing driver in many series. He was passionate about the sport and personally interested in, and supportive of, other drivers and encouraging rising stars. He was also always committed to helping the development of Mosport / Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“With me personally, he was always interested and supportive of the efforts and advances that my medical and safety teams created. We became friends and, as with you and others, he was always saying that he wanted to drive me around Mosport “to experience how it should be driven.” And, as it was with you, it never happened.
“Happily, I had a nice conversation with Ludwig two weeks ago and wished him well on his voyage.
Ludwig and I were inducted into the Hall together in the “class” of 2000. He cared deeply about the Hall, attended many Inductions, promoted the Hall and was a great participant and supporter of our annual Celebration of Speed. There were always long lines of apprehensive fans anxiously waiting for their “ride-along 3 laps” with Ludwig and his super Porsche-of-the-day!”
Thanks Dr. Scully. Now we turn to Kitchener racing historian John Wright, who sent this memory:
“A number of years ago, on a Sunday, things were winding down at a VARAC weekend. I was hanging out with Craig Fisher who had brought Paul Kitchener’s Ferrari 355 Challenge car to Mosport. We were in the pits, and Craig sees Ludwig pulling out onto the track, giving someone a ride in his Porsche. ‘Let’s go chase Ludwig,’ says Craig. Away we go. ‘Let’s try and pass Ludwig,’ says Craig. ‘It will piss him off.’ After a few laps, I say, ‘Craig, Ludwig will never let you pass him, I’m not a good passenger. Maybe we should pull in. . . ‘ Now, we’ve lost both of them to the inevitability of time.”
And last, in my obit/tribute to Ludwig, I made mention of his love for his wife Brigitte. He adored her. Robert White, who used to take photographs for Club Racing magazines at CTMP in the 1960s, had this reminiscence:
“For a time, both Ludwig and his wife, Brigitte, were sponsored by Paddy Shanahan, who operated a Ford dealership in Scarborough. Ludwig raced a Mustang, Brigitte raced a Capri (I believe), both done up in Shanahan Ford colours. During a Club Race at Mosport, in which they were both entered, Brigitte lost control of her Capri coming out of Corner 9 and rolled over. Ludwig came by shortly thereafter, and must have slowed to a crawl as it took him forever to come by again. By this time the track marshalls had Brigitte out of her car. She stood by the edge of the track and waved to Ludwig as he went past. He took off – and won the race.”
On that lovely note, I will say goodbye until next Monday.
Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca