• Charlie Whiting

Racing Roundup: Not Many People Watch IndyCar Races on Canadian TV

Bottas has it in his head he can beat Lewis; Canadian writes Charlie Whiting tribute; Cadillac dominates Sebring 12 hours; Busch wins 200th and all the rest of the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald March 18, 2019
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Formula One, Canada’s most popular TV motor sport (you scoff, but it’s true – and more about that in a second) got its 2019 season off to a great start in Melbourne on Sunday with Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas winning the Autralian Grand Prix. His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, was second and Red Bull-Honda driver Max Verstappen finished third.

The Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were fourth and fifth (although Leclerc, clearly faster than his teammate in the closing stages, was told to hold position or else he would have been fourth).

It was a good F1 race – for a change – although Bottas was never headed after beating pole-sitter Hamilton into Turn One at lights out. But there was plenty of passing, offs and other drama to keep devoted fans and first-timers interested from start to finish.

And Canadian Lance Stroll, driving for the new Canadian-owned SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team, finished ninth and in the points. Well done.

For a blow-by-blow story, please click here.

Now, racing fans – particularly IndyCar fans – have been perplexed by Sportsnet’s decision to relegate race coverage to pay channels (TV or digital, they both cost about an extra $20-a-month) rather than putting those races on its seven or eight channels that cable subscribers already pay extra to get.

The reason is simple: not that many people watch IndyCar races in Canada.

These are last year’s figures but F1 races in Canada average about 260,000 viewers. NASCAR Cup races attract an average of 220,000. IndyCar races in 2018 averaged just over 50,000 – 51,900, to be exact.In the words of one television executive I spoke to, “You can put just about anything on television on Sunday afternoon and get 50,000.”

Here are a couple of other interesting tidbits about IndyCar racing on Canadian TV. That 50,000-plus average was recorded when the races were shown on Sportsnet 360. When they were on Sportsnet 1, that figure dropped to a tad over 37,000.

Here’s something that’s surprising. The most popular IndyCar race in Canada on TV is the Honda Indy Toronto, which in 2018 attracted 125,800. The Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of IndyCar racing, only attracted 117,500 viewers. However, both those races were watched by more than 100,000 and those are the two races that Sportsnet will make available on “free” television this year.
When TSN lost the IndyCar contract back in 2013, executives I talked to at the time said they were sorry to lose the Indy 500 but they couldn’t have cared less about the other races. I didn’t think to ask them about the Toronto race but it is now clear why they weren’t losing sleep over the others.

I, personally, am amazed by those figures. Never in a million years would I have imagined they’d be so low. There are 10 provinces in Canada (we won’t worry about the Territories for now) and that 50,000 means an average of 5,000 in each province are all that are watching my favourite sport. My goodness, that 50,000 isn’t even capacity at the Skydome.
I don’t like it but when you see those figures you have to say to yourself, ”Now I understand why TV executives aren’t fussy about IndyCar. I mean, how can they sell advertising that will be seen by so few people?”

Pretty grim.

NBC issued a release after the St. Petersburg race last Sunday about how thrilled they were to have had 500,000 watching in the U.S. To be honest, they should be as concerned as Sportsnet.
If anybody’s wondering, I don’t have an answer. IndyCar has the best pure racing of all the series. The cars are fast and attractive. The drivers, for the most part, are more interesting than drivers in other series. I don’t get it. But the numbers don’t lie.

F1 NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS

Charlie Whiting

– Anybody who reads my stuff knows I am not Martin Brundle’s biggest fan. I find much of what he says to be simply irritating. He was a pretty good racing driver but when talent is spread around, it gets thin. So on the telecast Sunday, he says that Pirelli only has three tire compounds this year (for dry races) – hard, medium and soft. Then he says, “To help you understand this better, think knife, butter and jam.” Huh? Does he really think it’s difficult to remember hard, medium and soft? . . . . .

(Which reminds me of my old pal “Wild” Willie Stutzman, a supermodified driver from Indiana. Willy had a water-softening business that he advertised on his trailer. In great big blue – on yellow – letters, the sign said: GOES IN HARD, COMES OUT SOFT. Everybody got a big kick out of that sign. But I digress . . .)

– I have a friend who calls Robert Kubika “Bob,” as in “Bob Kubica.” I was going to steal that but then I thought it to be rather disrespectful. So I will stick with Robert. Having said that, I can’t respect his driving abilities, which were terrific when he first started but are not good enough for Formula One any more. He was embarrassingly uncompetitive Sunday. Williams should put either Esteban Ocon or Canadian Nick Latifi in the car and let Robert revert to being the reserve/test driver. . . . . .

– I took NASCAR to task a week or two ago about showing taped fights in the pits and crashes to “liven up”races where there were no crashes or not much of anything happening generally. I said they had to do this in order to make happy the fans who tuned in to see crashes and there weren’t any. So I turn on TSN at 8 a.m. Sunday for the recording of the race that was live earlier at 1 o’clock in the morning and what do I see? A bunch of “highlights” from 2018 that were just a bunch of cars crashing. TV producers must think that’s what people want to see or else they wouldn’t do it.. . . . .

– I got a kick out of Bottas in his post-race interview with Brundle. Calling the race in Oz “my best ever,” he said it was because of “the work I did up here,” patting his head. So much of professional sport is psychological. Valtteri was saying he finally got it through his head that he could beat Hamilton – and he did. Somebody should tell that to the Maple Leafs.

CHARLIE WHITING DIES

Charlie Whiting

Charlie Whiting, who followed Bernie Ecclestone from Brabham to the FIA and became a trusted lieutenant, eventually being named Race Director, died shortly after arriving in Australia in mid-week. Tributes poured in and among them was one from Dr. Hugh Scully, chairman of the board of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, who was a friend of Charlie’s. Entitled “In Memorium: Charlie Whiting,” Dr. Scully wrote:

The entire world of motorsport was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death of the iconic Charlie Whiting of a pulmonary embolus on the morning of Thursday, March 14, in Melbourne, Australia, the day before the first Formula One race of 2019.

Charlie devoted his entire adult life to all aspects of motorsport. He was a mechanic with the Hesketh Team in 1977. He joined the Brabham Team owned by Bernie Ecclestone in 1978, working his way up to becoming Chief Mechanic, being instrumental in Nelson Piquet winning F-1 World Championships. When Bernie became involved in his phenomenally successful promotion of Formula One, Charlie was appointed FIA Technical Delegate in 1988, becoming ever more involved in the technical and safety aspects of motorsport.

Recognizing his great knowledge and experience, and his dependable poise and calm under pressure, he was appointed F-1 Race Director, Safety Delegate and Permanent Race Starter in 1997. Over the next 22 years, Charlie earned the respect and admiration of drivers, constructors, team owners, race promoters, circuit builders, the international race media, race rescue and medical teams and organizations and national and international motorsport organizations.

“I first met Charlie in 1978 when he was a mechanic with Brabham (together with Herbie Blash and Alan Woollard). We became comfortable friends over the past 40 years.

In my many travels with my great friend, Prof. Sid Watkins, we often had conversations with Charlie about medical and safety aspects of motorsport, particularly F-1. He was a determined supporter of reinforced tubs, wheel tethers, the HANS device, head-surround protection and the HALO. He was a consistent participant in the deliberations of the joint engineering / medical discussions of the FIA International Institute for Motor Sport Safety in Paris from 2007 through 2017. At the ICMS in 2017, he generously accepted our invitation to be a special speaker at our Annual General Meeting in Indianapolis.

Charlie Whiting was aware of the volatile politics in Formula One, but his was a constant voice of calm and reason. He was an iconic and charismatic ambassador for all of motorsport. He will be missed by all.

(Signed)
Hugh E Scully, BA, MD, MSc, FRCSC, FACS, FCCS,
Professor of Surgery, University of Toronto,
Chair-Emeritus, ICMS,
Former Member, FIA Medical Commission,
Former Member, FIA Institute for Motor Sport Safety,
Chair, Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame

Charlie Whiting wasn’t the only significant death in the world of motorsport last week. Rev. Glenn O’Connor, 66, of Indianapolis passed and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway issued this statement:

Everyone at INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened about the passing of Father Glenn O’Connor. His passion for auto racing, especially his beloved Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May, made him a legendary and revered figure across the paddock. His devotion to serving God and people through his various ministries fueled a life of inspiration, giving and character. Father Glenn had such a warm personality, with a wide smile and hearty laugh that he shared with everyone he met, whether he was celebrating Mass in Gasoline Alley with his trademark checkered flag stole or turning a wrench for an Indy 500 team. We’re going to miss him dearly.”

Okay, time for a little levity. We all know that Charlie Whiting was a saint, but saints can sometimes be sinners, too. As was the case when NASCAR appointed The Greatest Cheater In The History Of Auto Racing, Gary Nelson, to the position of Chief Cheater Catcher, Charlie was not exactly someone who adhered to the rules in his younger days either. As Adam Cooper wrote in a 2006 issue of Motor Sport magazine:

“Ex-Brabham men Herbie Blash and Charlie Whiting are F1’s ultimate poachers turned gamekeepers and in both roles they’ve been working for Bernie Ecclestone.

“It wasn’t always like this. The FIA’s Whiting and Blash today ensure that a Grand Prix weekend runs like clockwork and that any indiscretions by teams or drivers are properly punished. But a few years ago they were on the other side of the fence, trying to seek out any advantage as key employees of Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team.”
Now, I am not going to publish the entire story, just a few paragraphs. Like these:

COOPER: The busiest period for clever rule interpretation was the early ’80s, things like putting on heavy wings for scrutineering and so on…
WHITING: “They’re rumours, they are! I don’t know anything about that. But some wings were inevitably heavier than others, and somehow seemed to find their way onto a car at the end of a practice session.”
BLASH: “I think that might have been one of the problems at Brabham. We were very inconsistent with the weight of the bodywork and the seat and so on…”
COOPER: And even the driver’s helmet?
WHITING: “Actually, that was diabolical. Nelson (Piquet) had this crash helmet that was just like plastic. It was only for his neck, because he was a feeble chap when it came to fitness. I remember he said, ‘Shall we test it and make sure it’s all right?’ We got it out in the yard at Brabham, got a big bit of pipe, and we were bashing this helmet to see if it would crack. It didn’t, so it was all right.”
BLASH: “I’m not mentioning any names, but at some of the very high-speed circuits the seat belts would be quite loose around the driver, so he could actually slide lower in the cockpit on the straights. You always took things to the limit.”
COOPER: What else did you get up to?
WHITING: “We had the water-cooled brakes. We had a win taken away from us in Rio in ’82. But the brakes just wouldn’t run without that cooling. You’d go off at the end of the straight without that water pouring on to them!”
BLASH: “Sometimes it all pumped out before the start of the race. I don’t know how the brakes survived.”
COOPER: And you topped up fluids at the end, of course…
BLASH: “You had to. That was the regulations!”

Everybody knows that Piquet was one of the greatest pranksters in the history of Formula One. F1 ace reporter David Tremayne tells of the day that Piquet “got” his old pal Whiting:
“On one occasion, the mischievous Piquet pitted to inform him that there was fluid in the dockpit. Charlie investigated and, prompted by his driver, went so far as to stick his fingers into what he assumed to be brake or clutch fluid and then tentatively tasted it. Piquet collapsed with laughter and then told Charlie that he had actually relieved himself in the cockpit . . .”

R.I.P., Charlie. F1 won’t be the same without you – in so many ways.

PIT PATTER: This roundup is way too long as it is. So, to wrap up:

Charlie Whiting

– Kyle Busch won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race in California Sunday and it was his 200th win in NASCAR. He’s a great racer and should have gone to Formula One. But some people prefer to be a big frog in a little pond and that’s most people who race in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon was another who had the talent to go elsewhere but opted to stay close to home. Too bad. Those two, plus our own Paul Tracy, could have gone to F1 and taken on – and beaten – the world. For a full story on Busch’s triumph, please click here.

– The 12 Hours of Sebring was played out in front of a monster crowd Saturday and had everything – a rainy start behind the pace car, careless driving, great racing and an after-dark yellow flag with only a few minutes remaining that saw a mad scramble to the checkers. In the end: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Eric Curran took the overall victory in the race. They were chased to the checkers by a second Cadillac driven by Renger van der Zande, Matthieu Vaxiviere and Jordan Taylor. Joa Barbosa, Felipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley drove yet another Cadillac to third overall. For complete results, including the GTLM and GTDaytona classes, plus results of the 1,000 kilometre World Endurance Championship race, please click here.

– At the NHRA Gatornationals in Florida, Richie Crampton won the Top Fuel class, Robert Hight was first in Funny Car, Bo Butner won Pro Stock and Andrew Hines came first in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

At Indianapolis Saurday night, Marvin Musquin won the AMA Supercross feature in front of 61,106 screaming fans at Lucas Oil Stadium.

And that’s all, folks.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

 

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