• Motorsport Economic Collapse

Racing Roundup: Brace for Motorsport Economic Collapse; Stroll, Latifi make us Proud

Lewis has a right to be angry but not for that reason, what’s up with Christian Horner, and all the weekend racing news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald July 20, 2020
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Several weeks ago, because of something the president of the United Sates said, social media were transmitting lists of corporations that had received low-interest loans from banks. Many on the lists were racing teams.

While the Twitterverse got itself caught up in what the president had said (gee, what a surprise . . .), I was more caught up in something else: the impending doom descending on motorsport.

It really seems to have escaped the attention of people that the world is in a very perilous situation economically. Never mind the health aspects of this pandemic, which are bad enough. It’s our financial future that’s at stake and yet everybody – and this includes our political leaders and other people who should know better – seems to be breezing merrily along without giving what’s coming so much as a second thought.

You know all that money governments are printing to hand out so that everybody can continue living as if nothing has happened? Well, they are going to have to get most of it back at some point and each and every one of us is going to have to pay the piper. Some people have been tapped out already, and I’m not only talking about all the bartenders and servers in the restaurant business or the suit and shoe salespeople in retail, I’m talking about some of the businesses and corporations who sponsor racing cars in motorsport’s four big leagues – IMSA, IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One.

Rarely does a sponsor write a cheque for the full value of their commitment. It can be a third down to start and then a second third and so on through the season. There can be other arrangements. I know a NASCAR Cup team that gets paid by its sponsor by filing an expense claim at the end of each month.

So teams in all four series – some, not all – might have had money from a sponsor to get ready for the season, and possibly for the first couple of races, but because of what’s happened in the world since March are finding themselves more and more behind the 8-ball because that sponsor doesn’t have the money any more.

Which explains why, when the U.S. COVID-19 Small Business Loan and Grant Programs were announced, auto racing teams were among the first to fill out applications. And while I’m not going to print the whole list, Andretti Autosport, A.J. Foyt Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Carlin, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway and on and on took out loans ranging from $1 million to $10 million.

Some of that money might have to be used to get through this season but it’s my hunch that a lot will be salted away for 2021 because unless things turn around fast, there will not be much sponsorship money available next year for people to go car racing. And then what happens in 2022 and beyond? The new governor of the Bank of Canada said the other day that it will take between three and five years for the economy to get back to where it was at the beginning of 2020 – and that forecast was predicated on the pandemic coming to a somewhat early end.

A friend wrote me this weekend to say that there was word around the IndyCar paddock that some well-off Silicone Valley racing fans – some of whom race in vintage events – have their eyes on two or three Formula One teams that might be acquired for – in big money terms – a song. They like the hard spending cap being introduced and think that sort of limit would make it economically viable to own a Grand Prix outfit.

As my friend said, “McLaren and Williams borrowed $$$$ to keep going and have pledged buildings and Vintage F1 cars as collateral.” It’s fair to say that both those companies are vulnerable for a takeover and Gene Haas has clearly lost interest in F1 so those three teams could be in play.

But before anybody gets carried away thinking about getting involved in F1 at the ownership level, I would suggest they have a chat with the second Canadian to purchase and operate a team in the Big League, Alex Schnaider of Toronto. In February, 2005, he bought Jordan Grand Prix from Eddie Jordan, renamed it Midland Grand Prix and talked enthusiastically about how he planned to use the team to promote Russian racing drivers (Schnaider was born in Leningrad) and as an advertising medium for his various business interests. Something didn’t work out; he sold the team and was gone from the sport 18 months later.

Like Schnaider did then, we all are sailing into uncharted waters now. It’s best that we get ready to hang on. There will still be F1 races and NASCAR races and the rest. But they won’t be like they are today and we’d best be ready for that.

MEANTIME . . . 

Lewis Hamilton won yet another Grand Prix for Mercedes Sunday in Hungary, with Max Verstappen second in his Red Bull and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas third. Canadian Lance Stroll of Montreal was fourth for Racing Point (he’d qualified third) and Alex Albon was fifth for Red Bull.

A second Canadian, Nicholas Latifi of Toronto, didn’t have a great race but qualified well – he made it into Q2 – and went off 15th. In a conversation we’d had last week, I suggested he was a Canadian and Canadians always do well in the wet and he proved that by moving all the way up to eighth at the start Sunday, which took place on a damp track. But an unsafe release during a pit stop by his Williams team resulted in a collision and a flat tire. His race went backwards from there.

There wasn’t an opportunity to talk to Latifi after the race – he was rushing to the airport – but Williams sent out an audio file of a post-race interview.

“It was the first time I did a wet start in this car,” Latifi said, talking about the beginning of the race, “as well as all the action that goes along with a wet start. I got the car positioning right and kept the nose clean, which is the most important thing, and managed to pick up a few positions. So that was quite good.”

There was one surprise. “Already on the formation lap,” he said, “there already was a dry line for me. Which was surprising. But the (intermediate wet) tires then kind of shredded on me,” and he had to go to the pits, where he had the crash.

“Unfortunately, I thought I was releasing into a clear, fast lane – I had no indication there was going to be another car there – so when you see a light (a green light on his steering wheel) you just go. I hit Sainz, or one of the McLaren cars, got the puncture, and from there the race was pretty much over. I sustained an insane amount of floor damage bringing the car back to the pits. I had to go so slow. I could feel the tire almost wanting to explode. I could feel the damage it was doing to the floor. It was a very long race, just keeping the car on the track.”

For a full report on the Grand Prix, please click here:

Josef Newgarden won the NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway Saturday night while his Penske Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud was the winner Friday night. I thought the Friday night race was more exciting than Saturday’s half of the double-header (Pagenaud started last in the 23-car field but was first when it counted) while the crowd seemed bigger Saturday night (it was limited, but still . . .)

For full reports on the Friday race, please click here; and for Saturday’s, please click here:

In IMSA sports car racing at Sebring Saturday, Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani won the DPi class and were first overall in the Cadillac Grand Prix of Sebring. They were driving a Cadillac, by the way. And Corvette Racing won the GT Le Mans class with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner driving. Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth, driving a Lexus, won the GT Daytona class. For the DPi story, please click here (it includes a link to the GT Le Mans and Daytona story).

In NASCAR Cup racing at Texas, Kevin Harvick celebrated his 700th start in the series, only the 18th driver to reach that milestone. Austin Dillon won the race, however, with Tyler Reddick second and Joey Logano third. Said Dillon afterward: “Not bad for a silver spoon kid, right? I’ll take that. (Teammate) Tyler Reddick, he raced me clean. 1-2 for RCR – this has been coming. We’ve had good cars all year. (Crew chief) Justin Alexander and my whole crew. I’m just so happy – thank God . . . To tell you the truth, it means a whole lot. Just for the family, for everybody, all of our partners. That was fun. … I definitely had to earn it.” For a full report on the race, please click here. Now, Kyle Busch, who finished fourth in the Cup race, won the Xfinity Series race on Saturday but was disqualified when his car flunked post-race inspection, handing the win to Penske driver Austin Cindric, his third straight. (Please click here for a full story.) Busch, however, put his disappointment behind him and went out and won the Gander Outdoors Trucks Series race. Please click here for a trucks race report.

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS

Lewis Hamilton has every right to be angry about the short amount of time reserved for F1 drivers to take a knee before the playing of the Hungarian national anthem Sunday. But I would suggest he has as much of a beef with some of the other drivers as he does with F1 or the race organizers. I’m not talking about the two or three who are refusing to kneel. It’s some of the others who were late getting to the area blocked off for the demonstration.  There’s no excuse for that. There are no spectators or sponsor reps or beautiful people on the grid these days, so what was holding up those drivers? You either support something, or you don’t. If you do, the least you can do is show up on time.

Christian Horner seems to be unusually tense these days. Is Red Bull energy drinks boss Dietrich Mateschitz putting on the pressure? With bars shut down all over the world, maybe not a lot of cans aren’t being sold and Mateschitz might want to know why Max Vertsappen isn’t winning races (while Max drove a great race after crashing on the parade lap before the race Sunday, he still just finished second). Whatever, Horner seems to have a short fuse, particularly when it comes to No. 2 driver Alexander Albon. In fact, he seems to enjoy putting Albon into difficult positions, like sending him out to qualify Saturday in the middle of a pack of other cars when the driver asked for the team to wait for a good gap. The best Albon could do was qualify 13th and he complained to the team on his cooldown lap. That he fought his way up to finish fifth in the race didn’t seem to impress Horner all that much. I mean, what’s the guy supposed to do when he’s obviously No. 2? I have a soft spot for Albon, having had a good exchange with him at last year’s U.S. Grand Prix in Austin. In fact, I cracked him up (see photo), which makes him a good guy in my books. But if Horner’s worried about team performance, there’s an answer staring him right in the face: Sebastian Vettel.

Motorsport Economic Collapse

Speaking of Vettel, he and our James Hinchcliffe have something in common, it appears. Vettel was told at the end of the 2019 season that his seat at Ferrari was safe and that he should plan to race for the Scuderia in 2020 and 2021. Then, over the winter, he got a call saying they weren’t going to continue with him past 2020. Vettel said the call came out of the blue. That is reminiscent of what happened to Hinch and his ride at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now Arrow McLaren SP). Told by Sam Schmidt that he would be in the car in 2020, he let his guard down and was caught completely unawares when he got a phone call telling him he was a free agent. Something like that is bad enough but Ferrari really rubbed it in by taking Vettel’s name off his Ferrari coats and jackets. At least, Schmidt Peterson didn’t do that to the Mayor, did they?

Speaking of Hinchcliffe, he fit right in with Leigh Diffey and Paul Tracy during the telecasts on NBC of the IndyCar races from Iowa. Hinch was subbing for Townsend Bell, who was racing his sports car at Sebring. It is really no surprise that Hinchcliffe has broadcasting talent. He’s a friendly, convivial fellow with wide interests and lots to say about everything. Plus, he did colour and analysis on Champ Car World Series international telecasts, so he has experience. His sense of humour showed through Saturday night. Diffey was waxing eloquently about how talented Scott Dixon continues to be as he heads toward his 40th birthday and you heard Hinch quietly say, “I’ve heard of him.” Okay, maybe you had to be there but it’s that subtlety that helps him to stand out from the rest. I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC doesn’t have him on some of their NASCAR telecasts, because he is far from being a one-trick pony.

Now that “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” has been replaced by “Drivers, Start Your Engines,” every NASCAR race and IndyCar race should have one person and one person only belt out those words from now on. Retired football star, and current NFL analyst, Terry Bradshaw, delivered the command before the Cup race at Texas Sunday and should have the job for life, it was that good.

Friday night, in the runup to the first of the two IndyCar races, the gentleman who delivered the invocation went on and on. And on. Was that the reason Sportsnet didn’t join the NBC telecast on Saturday night until both the prayer and the U.S. national anthem were over?

When Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed leaving the pits on Saturday night at just about the same spot he’d crashed leaving the pits Friday night, Hinchcliffe said the driver would be upset. Tracy, who did a fair bit more crashing in his time than Hinch ever did, immediately opined that the person who would really be upset would be the owner of the car, Michael Andretti. And as somebody who’s owned race cars, I say Tracy was spot on.

That commercial, for Heineken no-alcohol beer and featuring Keke and Nico Rosberg, is brilliant and should win an award.

Four drivers stood out this weekend: Lance Stroll, who’s getting better and better (I can hardly wait till he’s world champion and then I intend to call all those British motorsport reporters who wrote back when he joined Williams that the only reason he was in F1 was because of his daddy’s money and what would they like to say about him now?), Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew, who will give Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson the race wins and ultimate championships they’re looking for, and Scott Dixon, who’s nearing 40 and driving like a 21-year-old.

Here is my prediction for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021. Dixon will retire and be replaced by disgraced NASCAR driver Kyle Larson, who will spend a year out of the Big Leagues and then be in a position to return. Except Ganassi, who has him under contract, won’t send him back to stock cars; Indy cars are in his future. Here is his record in sprint and midget car races since May 30:  2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 6 1 4 1 1 1 6 1 4 1 6 1 1 1 1 1. Average finish, 1,909. Twenty wins, 28 podiums, nothing worse than sixth. And most of those victories took place against U.S. Auto Club and World of Outlaws drivers, who are the F1 and IndyCar drivers of sprint and midget competition. Thanks to @JacobSeelman for the info. Oh, and if Dixon doesn’t retire, Ganassi will find a way to run two cars with paid drivers, as he did when Dario and Dixon were teammates.

And that’s it for this week.

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