• Andrew Ranger

Racing Roundup: Three Canadian Championships Won and How I wish that Charles Leclerc Would Stop Whining

Andrew Ranger, Roman De Angelis and Marco Signoretti win in stock cars, sports car and little cars to claim titles.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald September 30, 2019

Andrew Ranger won his third Canadian national auto racing championship when he finished fourth in the deciding race of the 2019 NASCAR Pinty’s Series season at Jukasa Motor Speedway, Roman De Angeles won the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama and Marco Signoretti won the Nissan Micra Cup championship – all on Saturday.

And four were eliminated from the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championship Sunday. But first . . .

I don’t know about you, but I am reaching the point – rapidly reaching the point – where I have just about had it with Ferrari newby Charles Leclerc. The guy is a lightning fast driver of racing cars but he doesn’t strike me as being a particularly good racing driver.

There is, as most fans know, a difference

For the second race in a row – this time it was the Russian Grand Prix Sunday that was won by Lewis Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas second and, yes, Charles third – he has gotten all blubbery over the fact that his teammate didn’t pull over and let him pass so he could go on and win. This after vowing to do better after he got all upset at Singapore the other week.

Charles, I was under the mistaken impression that you were in a “race,” not a “procession,” which is apparently the way you like things.

Here’s a radical thought: if you are angry that Sebastian Vettel, your teammate at Ferrari, is in front of you rather than behind you, where – apparently – you think he belongs, then why not pass him? I’m starting to think the reason is because you can’t. Or you don’t know how.

There are a bunch of old racing photos on the Internet that are part of my Twitter feed. Guys who raced midgets, sprint and championship dirt cars in the 1950s and 1960s – braver-‘n-Dick-Tracy men who clawed out a living by racing six and seven times a week and if there was some way to bring some of them back to see where racing was at today, I think whining of the kind exhibited by Leclerc would have them rolling around on the floor, killing themselves laughing.

Guys like Allen Heath, who was born in Saskatoon and started racing those primarily dirt-speedway cars when he was just a teenager in Seattle. Known as “Ironhead,” or “Splinterhead,” he was upside down so many times in race cars (no cages, not even a roll bar) that even the nickname “Canadian Screwball” did not seem out of place. A character, he once survived a terrible accident at a speedway outside Portland, Ore., in which he slid along the track and lost much of the skin on his face. Quipped Allen: “I didn’t need a shave for a month.”

Another time, at the Illiana Speedway in Indiana, Heath suffered two broken legs, a broken left arm and shoulder and his left hand was crushed. In the hospital, he told a reporter that “you name it and I broke it. They needed a shovel to put me on the stretcher.” Gangrene set in and he lost his lower left arm. Fitted with a prosthesis that was like a hook, he went on to win two midget-car championships and dozens of races in the years that followed.

Andrew Ranger

You can bet Allen Heath and guys like him never waited for somebody to move over so they could pass. It’s time that Charles Leclerc manned up and started to take his A-game to the front. He’s got the talent. He just has to clam up and get on with the job.

Just two quick Notebook Jottings this week:

Paul Di Resta is getting better and better every week as a commentator/analyst on F1 telecasts. Sky Sports should furlough Martin Brundle and let Di Resta, Damon Hill and Jenson Button handle the whole show. Along with the regular announcers, of course.

Next Friday, the World Motor Sport Council is expected to confirm the draft calendar for the 2020 world championship and 22 races will be on it, starting with Australia in March and ending in Abu Dhabi at the end of November. The Dutch GP will return to the calendar on May 3 – it will be 35 years since the last one – and Vietnam will become the 34th host country on April 5. Liberty Media hopes to eventually have 25 races on the calendar. But it will be a struggle unless they decide to race at places purpose-built for car races. Miami is never going to happen – there is just too much opposition – and environmental groups are already lobbying the government in the Netherlands to stop F1 from holding the already-scheduled race at the Zandvoort circuit there.  It is going to be tough sledding to get to that 25.

For a story on the Grand Prix Sunday, please click here.

At Jukasa Motor Speedway Saturday night, Champ Car Series veteran Andrew Ranger won his third national championship by finishing ahead of arch-rival Kevin Lacroix in the Pinty’s Fall Brawl, the last race of the 2019 NASCAR Pinty’s Series season.

All year, it was almost impossible to separate Ranger and Lacroix. The two Quebec drivers traded the points lead back and forth since the season opened at CTMP in May and were the only two drivers in contention for the championship when the green waved at Jukasa Saturday.

It was only fitting, then, that the trend continued as Ranger edged Lacroix by one position – he was fourth while Lacroix finished fifth – to earn his third Pinty’s championship.

Ranger won the inaugural Pinty’s Series championship in 2007 when he was 20 and followed that two years later with a second championship. He’s remained a dominant driver – he is the series’ all-time leader in wins with 28 – but has repeatedly suffered heartbreak chasing his third title.

Following four wins and a nearly perfect 2019 season, a fourth-place finish was all Ranger needed to finally return to the pinnacle of the sport.

“It’s a dream and I’m so happy for my crew,” Ranger said. “Everybody here works so hard and it’s fantastic to win our third championship. I knew that we were really fast, we knew we had to finish in front of him (Lacroix), and we did just that and won the championship.”

Despite leading the most laps, Kevin Lacroix would once again fall short of his first championship. He finished the season with two wins, but the bad luck struck again.

Lacroix started the race on the provisional pole after qualifying was rained out, and dominated the first half of the race, locking up bonus points for the most laps led. But following the halfway break, he began to fade.

“We had a fast car today,” Lacroix said. “We went for the win, so we tried an adjustment but it didn’t work out. We are just very thankful for the great season that we had.”

As Lacroix fell back, it was the pair of Ed Hakonson Racing drivers who saw their cars jump to life. Brett Taylor and Jason Hathaway battled for the last quarter of the race, treating fans to one of the most high-intensity battles of the season. As the laps wore down, Taylor tried everything he could to get around his teammate, which he finally did in the most dramatic way possible.

On the final lap, in the final corner, Taylor made his move. Putting the bumper to Hathaway, the Calgary driver led only one lap all evening: the most important one. Scoring his first career Pinty’s Series win, Taylor would make history in the process.

“[Jason] gave me enough room on the bottom to race him clean,” Taylor said. “I was super loose and every time I got to his door, I had to back off cause I didn’t want to blow a tire.

“In the end, all I had to do was give him a little bit of a bump,” Taylor added.

With the victory, Taylor becomes the first Western Canadian driver to win in the Pinty’s Series –158 of the first 159 races were won by drivers from Ontario and Quebec, with Donald Chisholm (Nova Scotia) the previous outsider.

Hathaway would come home second, just over a tenth of a second behind Taylor. Donald Theetge finished third in his final start as a full-time driver.

Ranger and Lacroix completed the top five.  Pete Shepherd III finished sixth after having to start at the rear, with Alex Guenette, who was subbing for Alex Tagliani coming home in seventh. D.J Kennington, Mathieu Kingsbury and LP Dumoulin would complete the top ten.

The Pinty’s Fall Brawl will air on TSN next Sunday, Oct. 6, at 12:30 p.m.

Meantime, it was the perfect ending to a perfect season on Sunday for Roman De Angelis in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama. In the final race of the year at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in the Quebec Laurentians, De Angelis of Windsor started second on the grid behind Parker Thompson of Red Deer, Alta.

Thompson, in the No. 3 SCB Racing Porsche, led for nearly all of the 45-minute contest but was passed by De Angelis with three minutes remaining. It was De Angelis’ 11th first-place trophy this year out of 12 races and came one day after securing his first GT3 Cup Challenge Canada Platinum Class championship.

“It definitely wasn’t unentertaining,” said 18-year-old De Angelis. “I worked pretty hard to make Parker make a mistake, but Parker did an awesome job as always. I was finally able to get him with an old Formula Ford move that we use to use here with the draft on the back straightaway. I made the move and was able to pull a bit of a gap. It was an awesome race, pretty entertaining.”

This is De Angelis’ second GT3 Cup Challenge Canada championship in three years with Mark Motors Racing, after winning the Gold Class championship in 2017. He credited the team following the race and especially teammate Marco Cirone, who captured a sixth GT3 Cup Challenge Canada Platinum Masters championship of his own on Saturday.

“The last three seasons, it’s been phenomenal,” said De Angelis. “I couldn’t be happier . . . it’s a family rather than a team. I look forward to racing every weekend with them. A perfect season not only for myself, but the team with Marco winning the Platinum Masters championship. I can’t thank Marco enough for all of the advice the past three years and before that. So, a perfect year and I couldn’t ask for a better team to be around me.”

Thompson held on for a second-place finish which, coupled with a fourth-place showing on Saturday, elevated him to second behind De Angelis in the 2019 championship standings.

Completing his rookie season in GT3 Cup Challenge Canada was Sam Fellows, driver of the No. 35 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche. Fellows – son of legendary sports car driver Ron Fellows – secured the Gold Class championship after racing six events this year.

“My dad and I, when we were talking about where is the best place to learn in Canada, for him it was the Player’s Challenge and Porsche 944 Rothmans Turbo Cup back then,” Fellows explained. “This is the best place to learn, I think, and my dad and I agree, we wanted to be here. Pfaff had the Gold car, so we got on the grid. Yes, we didn’t get as much competition as we wanted, but we wanted to learn and that’s what we came to do. We’ve learned the hard way in some situations, but it’s all part of the process and I’m trying to embrace the process.”

The series will make its return in 2020 at the annual Victoria Day SpeedFest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, May 15-17.
Also at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, Ontarian driver Marco Signoretti, a rookie in the series, claimed the 2019 Nissan Micra Cup Championship title. With this win – the trophy was presented to him by Nissan Canada president Steve Milette (picture) – he becomes the first rookie driver and the first from Ontario to win the title.

In a battle for the overall title with Quebecker Kevin King, Signoretti managed to finish with enough points to win the championship. “I thought back at my 12 years of experience in karting and the errors I sometimes made,” Signoretti said following Saturday’s race. “I then managed my race the best I could knowing that the ultimate goal was to claim the title. I’m very ecstatic to have won the Nissan Micra Cup in my rookie season.”

Andrew Ranger

Quebec driver Valérie Limoges won the race after a great scrap with Jake Exton and another young karting driver, Gavin Sanders, who finished second.

On Sunday, Signoretti won the second race of the weekend ahead of Exton and Austin Riley, the young autistic driver whose third place finish rounded out an exceptional season. Sylvain Ouellet’s sixth place finish gave him the Senior Class title.

In the overall championship, Signoretti was first ahead of Kevin King, Valérie Limoges, Jake Exton, Taylor Near, Austin Riley, Sylvain Ouellet, Frédéric Bernier, Nicolas Barrette, and Éric Chaput. At least 37 drivers took part in the 2019 Nissan Micra Cup season, which will resume next May at CTMP.

Chase Elliott overcame a lap-66 crash to race his way back to the front and register a spectacular victory in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL  400 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Alex Bowman was second with Kevin Harvick third, Clint Bowyer fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth in the cutoff race for Round 1 of the Playoffs. Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones were the four drivers eliminated from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship contention. I am not a fan of the Roval, particularly when there are so many great road courses available to host Cup races and Charlotte has more than its share. One more thing: I love drivers who throw water into the face of another when he’s sitting on the ground and then scampers away before the victim can get up and retaliate, don’t you? That was Bubba Wallace after Sunday’s race; Alex Bowman was sitting down. For a complete story of this NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race, please click here.

Andrew Ranger

Nick Latifi of Toronto finished second in Saturday’s F2 feature race at Sochi and fourth in Sunday’s sprint race. He’ll be in F1 with Williams next season after Robert Kubica announced he would not be continuing in F1. That team is in need of big help, though. Not just a young driver. They called Kubica in Sunday to save wear and tear on his car (which means they have to be careful or they won’t be able to finish the season.) Nyck de Vries, by the way, wrapped up the F2 championship Saturday.

A.J. Allmendinger won the NASCAR Xfinity race Saturday.

By Norris McDonald / Special to Wheels.ca