• Nicholas Latifi

Racing Roundup: Good News for Latifi, Bad News for Hinchcliffe

Michael Latifi has purchased 10 per cent of The McLaren Group (yes, that includes the Formula One team).

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald May 22, 2018
Comments

It is Tuesday after a three-day-long weekend in Canada and the highs and the lows of auto racing are on full display.

The high is that Toronto businessman Michael Latifi has purchased 10 per cent of The McLaren Group (yes, that includes the Formula One team) for – wait for it – a little more than 200 million pounds (which is a little more than 343 million Canadian dollars).

Speaking strictly for myself, I was not aware there was that much money in Canada.

When I first got wind of this on Saturday, I was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Victoria Day Speedfest (more about that, below) and soon found myself in the company of people who know their way around a dollar. All were interested in the report; all expressed surprise. But not one suggested it wasn’t possible.

McLaren, itself, cleared that up on Sunday by issuing a media release confirming the purchase by a Latifi-controlled corporation called Nidala. Nidala is thought to stand for Nicholas Daniel Latifi, Michael Latifi’s son.

Now, the reason there is great interest among Canadian auto racing fans in this news is because Michael’s son Nicholas is a pretty good racing driver. He is racing this year in FIA Formula 2 in Europe (currently ninth in the standings) and is also a reserve and test driver for the Force India F1 team.

Although everybody is tip-toeing around about this next bit, there is no doubt in my mind that Nicholas Latifi is now in line for a drive with the McLaren Formula 1 team. Fernando Alonso is not getting any younger and is already exploring other racing options – the Indianapolis 500 a year ago and the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year. I would not be surprised at all if Nicholas replaced Alonso at McLaren in 2019.

Racing Roundup: Good news for Latifi

If not, there are other avenues. McLaren could go IndyCar racing – they have in the past – and Nicholas could be out there racing against other veteran F1 drivers like Alexander Rossi and Max Chilton. Or he could drive for a McLaren entry in the World Endurance Championship.

It is folly to suggest that there is not a connection between the purchase of the shares and a race seat for the son. Nicholas is a good shoe and a great young guy (I was able to interview him when he visited the Canadian headquarters of Nissan) and I would expect, all things considered, that he will soon be in a top ride in a top series.

Here’s another scenario: he could join another talented young Canadian, Lance Stroll, who is currently racing for Williams F1, although not for long. Stroll’s father, like Latifi’s, has invested a fortune in his son’s career and will not continue to pay Williams for his son, who is very talented, to finish last or nearly last all the time.
There is a rumour around that Lawrence Stroll will buy the Force India F1 team. If so, Latifi already has a connection there and the two young Canadians could race on the team together. F1 could have a Team Canada in 2019 and wouldn’t that be fun!

As they say around the short tracks, money talks. Everybody else walks.

Meantime, the other Team Canada – the one already in existence in IndyCar – suffered a major disappointment at the weekend. James Hinchcliffe of Oakvile failed to qualify for next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 and it is an embarrassment for him, for the team, the sanctioning body and the sport.

In short, everybody has a black eye.

I was not at Indianapolis for field day on Saturday, when 35 entries went out to try to nail down one of the traditional 33 starting spots in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” I was at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Victoria Day Speedfest and keeping track of the time trials through the timing-and-scoring app at IndyCar.com.

The trials had started and then there was a brief shower – there were a couple during the day. Hinch was among the first out after they dried the track and he accepted (or the team accepted, rather) what seemed to me to be a kinda slow speed – 224 mph-plus. But, as I said, I wasn’t there and maybe they thought it was better to be locked in.

But as the afternoon wore on, it appeared that everybody was going faster than 224 and change, including his Canadian teammate, Robert Wickens of Guelph, and two ride-buyers you’ve never heard of. I sent a text at about 4 p.m. to a friend suggesting that Hinchcliffe was in trouble. And I’m thinking, “Why not withdraw the speed and go again? He can do that.”

Instead, they waited. I have no idea why. Sometime after 5 p.m., in the last hour, when things were getting frantic and some drivers were re-qualifying to try to go faster in order to get into the Fast Nine (only the Fast Nine would get to challenge for the pole on Sunday and Alexander Rossi was one driver who took that particular shot), and others were just trying to get up enough speed to squeeze their way in (Conor Daly, who made it, and Pippa Mann, who didn’t), after all that, his Schmidt Peterson Motorsport team finally sent him out.

Racing Roundup: Good news for Latifi

But he had a vibration. He couldn’t go 20 miles an hour, never mind 200-plus. A tire sensor came loose and was rattling around inside. He pulled into the pits and got a new wheel but by the time the car was teched again – a rule at Indianapolis – and he got back into the qualifying line, time ran out.

IndyCar has a problem when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. There are a whole bunch of people around who call themselves racing drivers who have money and they pay to get into a car and they put their foot down and hold it there and they can hold their breath long enough to go fast enough to qualify. That they really know what they are doing is debatable. But there is little, it seems, that can be done to keep them out.

My suggestion so that this sort of thing never happens again? If, at the beginning of the year, a driver and team commit to running the full 16 or 17-race IndyCar season, then they should be given an automatic slot in the year’s biggest race. There is too much money at stake to let this sort of thing happen. Once upon a time, maybe. But not now.

The following scenario is unlikely to happen this time, because Hinchcliffe’s Arrow sponsor is solidly behind him. I think. But if you are in the game to support one driver in particular, and you pay to sponsor that driver for the entire year while planning to take 300 guests to the Indy 500, and then your driver isn’t in it, there is a very good chance you will not renew that sponsorship. So what happens to the Honda Indy Toronto, and the Long Beach Grand Prix, and all the rest of the IndyCar races?

If you run the season, you run the Indianapolis 500. If you’re a one-off, you take your chances. But commitment must be rewarded, or the sport will be in trouble.

WEEKEND RACING: VICTORIA DAY SPEEDFEST AND OTHER RACING

In 2013, at the first NASCAR Camping World Series truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Chase Elliott bulldozed Ty Dillon out of the way at the last corner to win the Chevy Silverado 250. “Ya gotta do what ya gotta do” to win, Elliott said afterward.

Two years ago, in 2016, John Hunter Nemecheck drove Cole Custer right off the race track in that same last corner at CTMP and held him out there while they careered underneath the flag stand, where the starter was waving the checkered flag. Not only did Nemechek use his truck to assault the other driver’s vehicle, he was off the track and out of bounds when he crossed the finish line.

Last year, in an interview before the race, Austin Cindric told me that if push came to shove, he would knock another truck out of the lead in order to win. Which he proceeded to do. And when he came into the mdia room afterward for the post-race press conference, he saw me and said: “See, I told you I might have to do that, and I did.”
In all three instances, the drivers were allowed to keep their victory and, so far as I know, suffered no other discipline afterward.

Sunday, at CTMP, on the last lap of the Clarington 200 for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, stock car racer Kevin Lacroix was the leader and Andrew Ranger was right behind him. In just about the same spot that Cindric dispatched his race-leading rival a year ago, between corners 5A and 5B, Ranger tried to pass Lacroix and spun him out. He also got himself out of shape and before he could recover, third-place L.P. Dumoulin, who was breathing down both their necks, slipped past and went on to the win the race, with Ranger recovering to finish second.
But hold on. NASCAR opted to penalize Ranger for his indiscretion – I mean, WHAT? – and he wound up 12th.

There was confusion everywhere. Reporters – me, in particular – were wondering if NASCAR would like to explain the reasoning behind the penalty, considering that NASCAR has always called its brand of racing a “contact sport” and turned a blind eye to all of the instances cited above
They have yet to offer and explanation.

Having said that, opinions were split. While some thought NASCAR had lost its marbles, others liked the call because, from their perspective, knocking people out of the way is not racing.
The end result is that whichever way it goes, consistency is the key. All of the podium drivers at the media conference afterward agreed on that. Say what the rules are, if any, and enforce them.

NASCAR Canada, in the first race of 2018, indicated it will not allow this sort of thing to continue. Everybody will be watching to make sure they follow through in the races to come.
Meantime, with Ranger off the podium, Marc-Antoine Camirand of Saint-Leonard-d’Aston, Que., moved up from third to second and Noah Gragson, of Las Vegas, went from fourth to third.

The Clarington 200 was the feature race of the annual Victoria Day Speedfest at CTMP that traditionally kicks off the Ontario road-racing season. An extra-large crowd was on hand for the Pinty’s race as well as races in six support series.

Winner Dumoulin, who’s from Trois-Rivieres, Que., said he’d experienced some difficulties during the race. On the third or fourth lap, his shifter-knob broke off and he had to drive the rest of the race without it, “but you do it.” He said he had a slow leak in one of his tires and that the windshield became loose toward the end of the race.
“But we led the most important lap. You never give up and you do your best and good things happen.”

Camirand said he had a good car, although it wasn’t good enough to win but was good enough to be on the podium. “It’s a brand new car,” he said. “We tested a little bit in it last week but we need a couple more good tests to make that car top-notch. To fine-tune it.”
Gragson said he came to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for two reasons – “one was to win, and we didn’t get that done. On a high note, we finished third and I learned a lot all day. This is just preparation for when I come back here for the truck race later this year (in late August). I’ll make notes and I’ll study them and we’ll come back stronger.”
Gragson then surprised everyone by paying a tremendous tribute to the Pinty’s series and its drivers.
“They are so badass in this series,” he said. “The top five or six guys, I don’t think they get enough credit from everybody in the States. These are the most badass road-course racers in the nation, in my opinion, so to be able to run up front with them . . . I think I could run with them (for the win) so I’ll have to come back up here in August for some redemption” (in the stock car race that will be held before the Camping World trucks race).

In other racing:

Etienne Borgeat won both races in the Canadian Touring Car Championship at CTMP. He drives a Porsche in the GT Cup class. In GT Sport, Tom Kwok won the Saturday race in a Honda Civic while Ethan Simioni was first on Sunday in a BMW. In the Super Touring class, Sam Fellows, son of CTMP co-owner (and Canadian racing legend) Ron Fellows, won the race on Saturday in a BMW while Marc Raymond was the class winner on Sunday. And in Touring class, Shawn Little (Honda Civic) and Paul Joakim (Mazda) were the winners on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Olivier Bédard and Kevin King won the Nissan Micra Cup races Saturday and Sunday.

l

Nissan Micra Cup Sunday race winner Kevin King (middle), second-place Olivier Bedard (left) and Valerie Limoges celebrate on the podium. (Photo by Cathy Adams/photograffics.com)

Ed Carpenter won the pole for next Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 during a special nine-car shootout Sunday. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power will share the front row with the popular Indianapolis resident. Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais and Spencer Pigot start on the second row while Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon make up row three. Canadians: Zachary Claman De Melo of Montreal will start 13th while Robert Wickensof Guelph will start 18th.

Kevin Harvick (who else?) won the NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Saturday night. No points and no real glory but he won $1 million and that will look nice when he goes to the bank machine and checks his balance.

Zach Robichon of Ottawa won both races at the weekend in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama race at CTMP. Robichon, a former open-wheel racer, hasn’t lost so far in the 2018 championship.

Lawson Aschenbach won his fourth straight GTS Sprint 50-minute race in the Pirelli World Challenge at CTMP.

Daniel Morad of Toronto won the Pirelli World Challenge GT race on Saturday. He has a new sponsor, Mercedes-Benz Oakville, now that he’s driving a Mercedes. B.C. racer Scott Hargrove was fourth . . . . .

Daniel Morad of Toronto won the Pirelli World Challenge GT race Saturday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. (Photo by John Larsen/photograffics.com)

Beginning in 2021, IndyCar engines will produce more power due to a new configuration, the sanctioning body announced Saturday. The 2.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines are projected to generate at least 100 more horsepower than the current 2.2-liter platform, with more than 900 horsepower achieved when using push-to-pass overtake activation. The engine formula will remain in effect for six years . . . . .

Raj Nair, the executive that the Ford Motor Co. fired earlier this year because of “inappropriate behaviour,” is the new president and COO of Multimatic Inc., the Markham auto parts manufacturer and racing company that is building the Ford GT for the Detroit company.

Parts Canada will sponsor the 2018 Mopar CSBK National motorcycle road racing Championship series, supporting the Amateur Sport Bike National Championship class. As well, Parts Canada will back the Dalton Timmis Insurance presents Mopar CSBK on TSN SuperPole sessions, recognizing the top qualifiers in the featured Pro Superbike division.

Ohsweken Speedway on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford got its 2018 season under way Friday night as 116 drivers signed in to compete at the 23rd Season Opener presented by Ackland Insurance. The night featured the inaugural race for the Action Sprint Tour powered by RaceRivalz.com. When the dust settled on a busy night, Aaron Turkey made history as the upstart tour’s first winner. Reigning champion Dylan Westbrook claimed the win in the Kool Kidz-Corr/Pak 360 Sprint Car Feature while defending champion Dave Bailey won the Middleport Mechanical Thunder Stock Feature and Nick Masi scored the opening night victory with the HRW Automotive Mini Stocks.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

Follow Wheels.ca on

Facebook

Instagram #wheelsca

Twitter

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

FOLLOW US ON: