• Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Racing Roundup: Hinch’s team went from ‘not for sale’ to ‘for sale’ - what happened?

It’s Hathaway and Hamlin in NASCAR, Power in IndyCar and all the rest of the auto racing news.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald August 19, 2019
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Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports were in action Sunday at Pocono – James Hinchcliffe finished 20th after being involved in a first-lap crash and finally parking his car after struggling for 19 laps and Marcus Ericsson was 12th in the lightning-and-rain-shortened race won by Will Power – but they only have three more races to go before the NTT IndyCar Series season will be over and the team and the brand become history.

Now, so what? As I wrote in a column last week, they didn’t cure cancer. So what’s the fuss about? Having said that, here’s why I’m a little annoyed: I don’t like being manipulated.

I’ve been writing about auto racing for a long time. I’m not naïve; this is not investigative journalism. In fact, 95 per cent – maybe even more – is out-and-out public relations (as is most sports writing). And I, like most writers, don’t mind this at all and play right along. But if I’m going to play this game, the people seeking the publicity have to be straight with me and I’m not sure this has been the case with the SPM-McLaren story.

Three months ago, in May, Dan Thorne, who reports for a website called WTF1, reported that McLaren was looking to fast-track a full-time entry into the IndyCar series by taking over an existing team. Wrote Thorne:

“Rather than partnering up with another team, as it has done for its Indy 500 entries (with Andretti Autosport in 2017 and Carlin in 2019) or building up a squad from scratch, it seems McLaren may be looking to simply take over an existing team.”

Thorne went on to say that SPM had been rumoured to be the team in line to do some sort of deal. He wrote that the team’s main sponsor, Arrow, also sponsored Alonso’s IndyCar, and even appeared on McLaren’s F1 cars. But he quoted SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt as insisting his team wasn’t on the block.

“No (we’re not for sale),” Schmidt told Thorne. “Ric (Peterson, co-owner) and I finally got our heads above water! We got our heads down, good program here, five-year deal with Arrow. I think if there was a deal like that to be had (with McLaren), they’d probably be with us this month (May, at the Indianapolis 500.) But they’re not.”

So what happened? How come, in three months, the deal went from “no sale,” to Schmidt and Peterson being demoted to initials? How did Arrow go from being listed as a co-owner and title sponsor of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to being co-owner and title sponsor of McLaren Racing? Where have Arrow and Peterson been when two quick telephone media conferences were held (one of which hardly anybody knew about)? What happened to Honda, who were dumped unceremoniously at the curb in favour of Chevrolet (despite Schmidt saying it was Honda who pulled the plug, which was a very cynical explanation of what really happened)? And what about James Hinchcliffe and his ties to Honda? He has a contract for next season and Schmidt and McLaren say they will honour it. But then there were suggestions (never denied) that Felipe Nasr would drive for the team next year, and maybe Colton Herta (who says he’s out of Steinbrenner next year in any event), and maybe Alonso and, if you throw in Hinchcliffe’s name, that’s four drivers for two cars and that’s two names too many.

When the most recent announcement was made, the arrangement was termed a partnership. That was what the Associated Press reported. Since then, things have been murky. For instance, McLaren CEO Zak Brown said that team Sporting Director Gil de Ferran would be present during the last four IndyCar races this season (including Pocono Sunday) and would take over as Sporting Director of Arrow McLaren Racing SP as of the conclusion of the last race of 2019. So what will Peterson and Schmidt do next year? Everybody keeps saying they will continue in their current roles but, clearly, that won’t happen. I could go on.

Why didn’t these guys just call a media conference and announce that SPM had been sold, Arrow would partner McLaren and be title sponsor, driver Marcus Ericsson would be a free agent as of the end of the season, the future of driver James Hinchcliffe was up in the air and Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson were retired and would pass the time counting their money?

See? Wouldn’t that have been easy? And then serious speculation as to the future of Oakville-native Hinchcliffe, a national hero, could get going without all the rest of these distractions.

WEEKEND RACING

Grim reminder – but it was a year ago when Robbie Wickens of Guelph, the rising star of the IndyCar series, crashed at Pocono. He survived but the struggle to regain use of his legs continues.

So, of course, they have to have a big crash on the opening lap of the IndyCar race (see photo above). It seemed to have been caused by Takuma Sato, Who knows? Sometimes the camera lies. Two other things: Pocono is really too dangerous for the Indy cars to continue. And I don’t know why they don’t put the aeroshield on the race cars now. Alexander Rossi had a close escape in that wreck Sunday, as did Hinchcliffe. Both of them nearly had debris land in the cockpit. They are going to use the shield in 2020 so why wait? They say they have to do more testing. Really? Didn’t take long to clamp the roll cage on all those European formula cars. Wickens, incidentally, tweeted to suggest that the time for Indy cars racing at Pocono had come to an end.

For a complete story on the ABC Supply 500, please click here.

In a day defined from the outset by chaos, controversy and unpredictable weather, Team Penske’s Will Power had some wild swings of fortune typical of his 2019 fortunes, but this time he turned misfortune into advantage and swept to victory in a weather-shortened ABC Supply 500 at Pocono.

The Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame will induct Clive Ng-A-Kien at their annual induction banquet Nov. 2 at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel and Conference Centre. Clive was national champion from 1980 through 1984. Other inductees will be announced between now and then.

Does anybody out there think the big money in car racing is in NASCAR or IndyCar (forget F1, which is in a financial league of its own)? I bring this up because Mat Williamson, of St. Catharines, scored a $100,000 payday the other night at Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown. N.Y. driving a big-block modified dirt track car.Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake finished second. Friesen will be racing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next weekend in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Friesen’s wife, Jessica (nee Zemken), who’s a pretty good sprint car racer, finished 20th in the Orange Country race that saw more than 40 cars start. Dirt legends like Billy Decker, Danny Johnson and Brett Hearn run that circuit, which pays big bucks to win.

Eli Tomac locked up the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship Saturday in Maryland when he won the GEICO Motorcycle Budds Creek Nationals.

This was filed by Alex Gallacher after the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race at Riverside International Speedway in Antigonish Saturday night:

When Jason Hathaway returned full-time to the Pinty’s Series, he had one goal in mind, to win. He did that Saturday night – on his car owner’s birthday, to boot. A couple of late-race cautions set up a thrilling overtime that saw Hathaway hold on to beat D.J. Kennington, with Alex Tagliani taking the checkers third. It was Hathaway’s 10th career win and first since the 2016 season finale at Kawartha Speedway.

“It’s a good way to get a win,” Hathaway said. “It’s (father-in-law and car owner) Ed Hakonson’s 70th birthday, so I gotta keep him happy.”

Hathaway won by bumping race leader Kevin Lacroix out of the way. The ensuing fracas saw Kennington and Tagliani sneak through, as did L.P. Dumoulin and Alex Labbe, who were fourth and fifth. Lacroix recovered to finish sixth, Andrew Rangerwas seventh with Mark Dilley, Donald Chisholm and Marc-Antoine Camirand rounding out the top ten.

Points leader Ranger has an 11-point advantage over xxx going into the race next weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The Bumper to Bumper 300 will air on TSN on Sat., Aug. 24, at 1:30 p.m.

Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity Series race at Bristol on Friday night. Brett Moffittwon the trucks race on Thursday night. The trucks will be at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next weekend.

Meantime, in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Bristol Saturday night, Denny Hamlin took the lead from Matt DiBenedetto in the closing laps to win the Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race. Brad Keselowski was third followed by Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. It was bittersweet for Hamlin because although he had to fight for the win on behalf of his employer and sponsor, he was hoping DiBenedetto would be able to hold on. Why? Because the second-place driver had been told before the race that he would not be driving for Leavine Family Racing in 2020 and just about everybody felt badly for the nice-guy racer.

For a full story on the Cup race, please click here.

Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin overcomes mechanical issues and halts upset bid of Matt DiBenedetto, who was told his team won’t bring him back next season.

There’s really nothing to say about the Dale Jr. plane crash. Seems pretty cut and dried. The pilots came in too high and rather than pulling up and going around, they just bellyflopped that private jet, which bounced hard twice before the right-side landing gear collapsed. They all got out because they were all lucky.

Formula One, a.k.a. Liberty Media, has been talking to U.S. cities like Miami and Las Vegas about a race in future. They are wasting their time. Once upon a time, street racing was accepted and, in fact, embraced. Not any more. Except for Long Beach and Toronto, where the races are long established spring and summertime festivals, communities don’t want them. The not-in-my-backyard crowd is just too strong. Places where tracks are near the cities but not in the cities get away with it – Indianapolis (the Speedway is in a suburb) and Montreal being two. It’s time for F1 to lead the parade back to road racing’s roots – Watkins Glen, Road America, Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta. Tracks like that will work. Streets won’t.

Josh Hansen of Beamsville won the Action Sprint Tour powered by RaceRivalz.comsprint car race at Brighton Speedway Saturday night. New Hampshire’s Mike Ordway Jr., driving for the legendary Clyde Booth, won the ISMA supermodified race at Delaware Speedway near London on Saturday night. Ryan Maxwell of Toronto, son of Canadian superstar international racer Scott Maxwell, won the 2019 Canadian Karting Nationals for Cadets this weekend. He started 18th; finished first in the final. Otto Sitterly of Canajoharie, N.Y., won his ninth supermodified track championship at Oswego Speedway Saturday night, dethroning the legendary Nolan Swift of Syracuse.

In top-level drag racing, Minnesota native Jason Line won a race for an NHRA-record 16th straight season on Sunday, racing to a wire-to-wire Pro-Mod victory at his home track during the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota. In other classes, it was a double-up victory for Don Schumacher Racing for the first time in 2019, as Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel – she beat top qualifier Brittany Force, photo above) and Ron Capps (Funny Car) won in their respective categories at the 17th of 24 events on the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

Former F1 and IndyCar driver Scott Speed, currently a Subaru Motorsports USA rallycross driver, suffered fractures to three vertebrae in his back during his opening heat race in the Nitro World Games at the Utah Motorsports Campus. Speed, the Americas Rallycross points leader, suffered the injury in a hard landing from a jump on Friday.

By Norris McDonald / Special to wheels.ca

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