• Stage Racing

Racing Roundup: Stage Racing Could Beef up F1 show; IndyCar Drivers put on Best Race in Years

Toronto’s Nick Latifi continues to dominate F2, why does Lance Stroll look so happy after failing, and all the rest of the news

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald May 13, 2019
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I’m not going to waste time, energy and space on the Formula One race in Spain Sunday because it was won by a Mercedes driver (Lewis Hamilton), who beat another Mercedes driver (Vallteri Bottas) while a Red Bull driver (Max Verstappen) finished third. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were fourth and fifth for Ferrari. They started the race 1,2,3,4,5 and finished 1,2,4,3,5. Whoopee!

I know, F1 has that mystique. It features, allegedly, the best drivers in the world racing in cars whose R&D budgets put NASA’s to shame. The beautiful people attend. Incredible locales like Monte Carlo, Shanghai and Montreal provide incredible backdrops. F1 comes close to having it all – except good racing.

The races are boring. Yes, there are exceptions, but the excitement usually lasts from lights out to the first or second corners and that’s just about it. Such incredible buildup and then . . . it’s over. Kinda like sex. (For a full report on the “race,” please click here.)

Wait! I just had a brainwave! The start and the restart Sunday were really exciting. (There was a safety car period late in the race after Lando Norris knocked our Lance Stroll out of the contest.) So why not borrow a page from NASCAR and have stages? That way, you would have the start and at least two restarts every race! Maybe even three restarts! Built-in excitement! Award a point for a stage win and then hand out the usual points for winning the race. But it would make each stage count and the drivers would always have to be pushing because a point could mean something at the end of the season.

It doesn’t work in NASCAR, because they have a hundred yellows every race anyway, so they don’t need stages to break up the monotony. But I bet it would be great in F1. As a friend of mine said, the purists would hate it but face it, friends, they have to do something.

IndyCar does not have that problem. Not by a long shot. If you missed Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, you missed what was probably one of the most exciting races in any series in years. It had everything. Close, hard racing in which the field would go three, four, even five cars wide at times. Dry racing and wet racing. This race had everything.

One nit. (C’mon! Did you really think I wouldn’t be critical of something?) Castroneves spun exiting the pits and got hung up on the grass beside the track. They threw a yellow. OK. But then the pace car was out there for-ever! Seven laps to pull a car off the grass? Sure, it started to rain hard and just about everybody went to the pits for rain tires but some people had done it earlier (Tony Kanaan) and should have been rewarded for their foresight. By holding up the field till everybody got properly shod was unfair and unnecessary. This is a race, and some drivers and teams are better in the rain. And preparing for the rain. Their expertise should be rewarded.

Talking about rain racing, however, the IndyCar drivers were spectacular in the rain. Nobody hit anybody; nobody caused a yellow. It was poetry in motion. And the final laps! Pagenaud fought his way back from tenth and, with two laps to go and out of push-to-pass, he caught and passed leader Scott Dixon and then opened up a gap.

Incredible. Even the winner called it his “sweetest victory.” (Click here for a full report.)

Stage Racing

Dixon held off Jack Harvey, who finished third, just ahead of rookie Matheus Leist and Spencer Pigot. Our James Hinchcliffe, who had one of the worst up-and-down days of his career (poor qualifying, drive-through penalty, up to third, shuffled back and then making mistakes on the last lap to lose three positions), finished 16th. His Arrows teammate Marcus Ericsson spun out and hit the wall early in the race and was classified 24th and last.

As was pointed out before the race, the Grand Prix is nicknamed the Roger Penske Benefit because Penske drivers have won five of the six events, including this one. This was Pagenaud’s third victory in the Grand Prix and it was Dixon’s third consecutive second-place finish in the race. Josef Newgarden still leads the series standings, with Dixon second and Alexander Rossi, who finished 22nd Saturday, third.

On Tuesday, they will turn the cars around and go the right way at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as practice will start for the Indy 500 in two weeks. Next weekend, thirty-six cars will be out to qualify for the 33 starting positions in the iconic race. Anything that is carried by NBC will be available for viewing in Canada. If anything changes (as in, Sportsnet decides to carry the additional programming available in the U.S. next weekend on the NBC Sports Network), I’ll let you know on my own website, norrismcdonald.ca. But don’t hold your breath.

One last thing before I get to the Notebook Jottings: I didn’t hear the name Fernando Alonso once during Saturday’s telecast. Now, I didn’t watch the pre-race program, so maybe I missed it. But during the race telecast, nada. WONDERFUL. I love Alonso, but if NBC or anybody thinks you need the name of an F1 legend to goose the gate for the 500, they are sadly mistaken. I’m not saying you don’t say the name Alonso ever, but you say it only after you say the names of the 24 superlative IndyCar drivers who battled it out Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS:

Although he only finished sixth in Sunday’s sprint race, Nicholas Latifi of Toronto drove another marvelous race to win the Formula 2 Feature race in Barcelona Saturday. I saw a bit on TSN (the Home of Auto Racing) before I had to go out. There is a word around that Williams F1 will take Robert Kubica out of his car and put Latifi in (which I hope doesn’t happen). Nick needs a season at the front of the F2 field, and a championship under his belt, to properly make the jump to F1. Having said that, a one-off at the Canadian GP in Montreal might be a treat for the fans – two Canadians on the grid – but other than that, let Nick finish out his apprenticeship. Click here to watch a video of Latifi on the top step on the podium, with his parents watching and our anthem playing. You might have to click on the picture twice to bring up the sound. And watch the Mayor of Barcelona screw up the trophy presentation. Hilarious.

https://twitter.com/FIA_F2/status/1127279368882073604/video/1

I want to ban two words from television – “absolutely,” and “emotion/emotions.” When an anchor hands off to a reporter, the first word out of his or her mouth is “absolutely, Jack (or Jane, or whomever)”. A definition of that word is “totally,” which is not necessarily what the reporter then goes on to explain. And it’s lazy. Tracy and Bell do it all the time with Leigh Diffey and DW and Jeff Gordon do it all the time on NASCAR telecasts. (Not to mention each and every one of the people on CP24.) So let’s Deep Six “Absolutely.” And the next Victory Lane interviewer who asks a driver to “talk to me about the emotion(s)” should be shot.  I suspect the winner is pleased as punch. What’s he (or she) going to say? “I feel like bursting into tears?” C’mon. If any of them wants to learn a thing or two about how to do the job of interviewing, I suggest they find a YouTube copy of Scott Oaks’ interview of Eric Carlson after the Sharks beat the Blues in the NHL Stanley Cup game Saturday night. Brilliant. Didn’t hear one “absolutely” or “emotion(s).”  Which is the way it should be.

Jack Harvey crossed over two or three lanes in the first two or three laps to block Scott Dixon from passing him. I saw that and I was reminded of Maximum Security crossing over two or three lanes in the Derby and being disqualified for his trouble. Anybody who knows my stuff knows I hate blocking, or “defending” of any kind. I didn’t see Dixon blocking Pagenaud late in the race when it really counted. That’s because Dixon is a class act. Blocking should be made illegal.

An aside: the reason I can’t stand blocking is because there once was a super talented race driver from Buffalo named Ron Lux. He was a natural and a cinch to run Indy someday. He was in a sprint car race at a speedway in Oklahoma City one night and fell victim to a slide job put on him by Arnie Knepper, who did make it to Indy. Ronnie went over the wall and was killed. I’ve hated deliberate blocking/defending ever since because of the potential for fatality. It’s not necessary. You get passed, you pass back. That’s the way it should be.

The Spanish GP will be replaced next year by a race at Zandvoort in Holland (sure hope they have the sand situation there under control) while the German GP will soon be gone to be replaced by a race in Vietnam. Really? Has Liberty lost its mind? Does nobody else notice that some of these races are being taken away from places where democracy is king to be replaced by venues that are ruled by totalitarian regimes. Forget Dubai for a moment. China? They only have a million people jailed in concentration camps (oops, detention centres) for political philosophy retraining or re-education, take your pick. Political prisoners, in other words. And yet F1 goes and races there. And we keep trying to trade with them while they hold our people hostage. Nuts. Vietnam? Same thing as China. It is to weep.

I see where the NBC Sports Network’s Gold package for the IndyCar races (practice, qualifying and all the races not on the full NBC network) is advertising $15 off its subscription. This means they probably aren’t getting the numbers they expected. And they risk getting pushback from the people who already paid the full price. Brilliant, eh?

Marcus Ericsson crashed against what is normally the first turn wall at Indianapolis, just a little further up the track from where Ralf Schumacher crashed in 2005, which resulted in all but six drivers refusing to race, primarily because their insurers told them they were on their own if they raced and were injured. That’s because Michelin hadn’t brought sufficient tires to handle the loads of a 190-mph corner. Bridgestone had. So the Michelin drivers withdrew. Michael Schumacher won on Bridgestones.  Tiago Monteiro, driving for Jordan, was rarely heard of before and certainly not after but he finished third and on the podium and literally had to be dragged off of it, he was so thrilled.

Graham Rahal is like Marco Andretti, talented racing drivers but not winners and if their fathers didn’t own IndyCar teams likely wouldn’t be employed. Case in point: Rahal was leading Sebastien Bourdais down the backstretch Saturday and somehow managed to drive off the side of the track while approaching the braking zone. That took him too far and, to make the turn, he had to take to the grass and Bourdais sailed past. Townsend Bell said Rahal was likely looking in his mirrors and that’s what led to the mistake. Champions don’t make mistakes like that. Graham’s a nice guy and works hard for the sport but he doesn’t seem to be able to bear down like his father could – and did.

For a guy who’d just been crashed out of a Grand Prix, Lance Stroll looked entirely too relaxed and happy walking back into the paddock in Spain on Sunday. Interesting, but few of the people back there seemed to notice him, or know who he was, as he sauntered along. I guess he must know he has tenure (like Rahal and Andretti), driving for his Dad’s team, which might explain the relaxed grin. But would you ever see a look like that on Schumacher’s face? Or Hamilton’s? Or Hinchcliffe’s? Kimi would keep his helmet on so people wouldn’t see him swearing. Somebody has to tell Lance that it’s better to look pissed than happy and content.

Stage Racing

Lewis Hamilton had this to say following the Spanish Grand Prix: “It’s been an incredible day for the team. I’m very proud of everyone back at the factory and thankful for all their hard work. The guys here at the track are all performing at an extremely high level as well, thank you all. When the lights went out, my initial getaway was quite good and we were very close all the way down into Turn 1. I think the Ferrari was alongside us at one point too, so it was a great battle and also a decisive moment in the race. After that, I just had to keep my head down and focus on trying to deliver each lap. I want to dedicate this win to Harry, a young kid who sent me a message today. He was my inspiration out there. He could’ve chosen any other driver, so for him in the most difficult of days to send a message like that is really humbling and much appreciated. I’m sending you love, Harry.
Five-year-old Harry Shaw was diagnosed with cancer in August 2018. His parents have set up the following fundraising page to inform about his case and to raise money to fight children’s cancer:


https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/harrysgiantpledge

The first time Felix Rosenqvist’s car caught fire during a fueling stop in the Indy Grand Prix, it was bad enough. The second time was inexcusable. Did they not try to find out what happened the first time? This is Chip Ganassi They are better than that. Usually. And by the way, toward the end of the race, Rosenqvist flat out ran into Santino Ferrucci, pushing him off the track. Why no drive-through? Hinchcliffe got a drive-through early in the race when he ran into the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay. If IndyCar has had a negative going back to the IRL days, it’s this inconsistency in assigning blame and, subsequently, penalties.

Here’s a couple of quickies: F1 teams are building hospitality units at some European circuits that are two- and three-stories tall and are, in fact, Taj Mahals. From Spain, some teams planned to have them towed to the harbour in Monaco. Millions of dollars on even more glitz. If some of the lesser teams spent fewer dollars (oops, Euros) on that crap and more on the car and engineers for the cars and, etc., maybe they would perform better on the track. . . . . . The Haas F1 paint scheme this weekend was very reminiscent of the John Player Special livery of the old Team Lotus days . . . . . Saw ace Haas communications manager Stuart Morrison dashing past the TV cameras en route to his team’s garage. Stuart is from Montreal. . . . . . Race drivers as robots. Carlos Sainz was asked about his special grandstand at the Barcelona track by both Sky TV reporters Karun Shandhock and Natalie Pinkham and gave them both the exact same answer, word-for-word. Do you think Sky noticed this and aired both pieces on purpose? You betcha. . . . . . Lots of interesting documentaries being made these days. One on Michael Schumacher, with his family’s cooperation, will be out by Christmas, One on Gordie Lightfoot is out now. And the Mario Andretti one – the first part, anyway – was on NBC on Saturday. Do you think documentaries are replacing biographies? Hands up, please. . . . . . Finally, what is with Ferrari? Where is Jean Todt, or a guy like him, to straighten that team out?

OTHER RACING

Formula Electric held a race through the streets of Monte Carlo this weekend and called it the Formula E Grand Prix du Monaco. If I’d been Liberty Media, I’d have been annoyed but it turns out that Liberty owns 25 percent of Formula E. The race started on the main street of the principality but when the cars got to St. Devote, they took a detour and rejoined the GP track at the chicane leading out of the tunnel. The electric cars can’t handle the distances that F1 cars can, so take shortcuts. They wound up with kind of a kiddie-car track. They missed the run-up to the casino, the jaunt over to the hairpin, the hill down to the harbour and the tunnel. There are a bunch of ex-F1 drivers in the field, a couple of wannabe F1’s and a bunch of others you never heard of. Jean-Eric Vergne was the winner. Formula Electric will be racing in London again this summer (cities usually wind up as promoters of F-E races and usually lose their shirts, which is why the series tends to move around, with a couple of exceptions, every year). Now Formula One is musing about building a track inside the London city limits which, understandably, has Silverstone a little on edge.

Jacques Deshaies is a Quebec auto writer, racing promoter and the founder of the Micra Cup Series. He sold the idea to Nissan’s communications guru Didier Marsaud and the Nissan Micra Cup Series was born. Jacques was telling me when we were both out west with Toyota last week that he was thinking of pitching a series for Nissan Leafs but how to power up the batteries was a problem. I suggested he consider doing what Jaguar does with the i-PACE Series it runs in Europe in conjunction with Formula Electric. They bring in the cars, there is no practice and the race starts without formation or pace laps. Twenty minutes later, when they are all out of juice, they bring in a bunch of flatbed tracks and load them all up and take them back to the factory or company headquarters and resolve the problem in time for the next race, usually by plugging them in. It could work with a Leaf series. Although the car companies all talk about hydrogen and electric fuel cells, plug-in and fully electric cars are getting all the time and most of the money. As a friend of mine says, “follow the money.” The first EV manufacturer who comes up with an EV racing series will win.

Speaking of Nissan Micra Cup racers – and champions – Olivier Bedard of Terrebonne, Que., won the first Toyota Tires Formula 1600 race of 2019 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend as the annual BEMC Spring Trophy Races got the season underway. Bedard followed that up by winning the second race of the weekend. Twenty cars started both races, which was a healthy turnout. More cars will join as the season gets going. You watch.

Finally, Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Kansas Saturday night. It was a ho-hum affair of no real consequence as NASCAR plays out its string before heading to Charlotte for the All-Star race and then the World 600, er the Coke Zero 600, or is the Pepsi? I dunno. Don’t care, either. Click here for a full report.

Stage Racing

Oh, Zacharie Claman de Melo of Montreal, who ran in the IndyCar Series last season with Dale Coyne, is back in Indy Lights this year. He finished second both times in Lights races at Indy on the weekend. And Parker Thompson of Red Deer, Alta., who either won or finished second in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA Series last weekend, pulled off two top-five finishes in the Road to Indy F2000 series. Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake was winning the NASCAR trucks race on Friday night at Kansas when he ran out of fuel. Ross Chastain was the winner but it wouldn’t have happened if Friesen hadn’t suffered bad luck.

And that’s it for this week.

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