• Racing Roundup Wickens breathing on his own

Racing Roundup: Wickens Breathing on his Own; A Gift for Justin Haley

The best news of the weekend is that the terribly injured Canadian IndyCar driver, Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph is breathing on his own

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald August 27, 2018
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As there is a ton of racing news to get to, I will dispense with the sermon for this week. Rest assured, however, that I will be back in my pulpit before long to pontificate on why Fernando Alonso will not sign up for a full-time IndyCar ride and why IMSA, at the end of the day, remains the best bet for auto racing sanctioning body longevity.

So, let’s get to it.

The best news of the weekend is that the terribly injured Canadian IndyCar driver, Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph is breathing on his own (no medical equipment or technology needed now) and is talking to his family. He remains in hospital in Allentown, Pa., which is where he was taken after the crash at Pocono International Raceway last weekend.

His convalescence is under way. His broken ankles and broken arm have been set and his bruised lung is getting better. The spinal injury will take time to both diagnose properly and be treated. I am optimistic, however,  that Robbie will make a full and complete recovery.

The keys words in that previous paragraph are “take” and “time.” He was beaten up very badly and he will not be walking out of that Pennsylvania hospital any time soon. In fact, he will likely be moved to hospital in Indianapolis first and then to a rehab facility there.

He needs patience and understanding. I think of him often, and I hope you do too.

Here is the rest of the weekend’s racing news.

Regardless of how often NASCAR drivers say – with straight faces, too – that you wouldn’t find them knocking a rival out of the way in order to secure a victory, the fact of the matter is that every time they come to race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, there are fireworks on the last corner of the last lap.

Actually, what happened Sunday at the conclusion of the Chevrolet Silverado 250 was beyond the last lap. The race was in overtime when the two front-runners couldn’t resist a little tradin’ paint and the guy driving along in third place, minding his own business, suddenly found himself the winner.

Here’s what happened:

Justin Haley won a barn-burner of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race Sunday at CTMP when he was handed a gift of victory.

As is usual with this race, there were fireworks at the final corner of the final lap. Todd Gilliland was leading going into Corner 10 but left a slight gap and Noah Gragson, who was running second, went for it. The two cars bumped together and then spun, allowing Haley, who was well behind in third, to scoot through to take the checkers in first.

Here’s some irony for you: the winner was driving a Chevrolet-powered truck in a race sponsored by Chevrolet. The two trucks that could have finished first and second but wound up off the podium were both Toyotas belonging to Kyle Busch Motorsports. And yes, the two protagonists are teammates.

When the dust had settled, John Hunter Nemechek, who won this race two years ago, finished second and Brett Moffitt – driving a truck sponsored for this race by Don Valley North Toyota of Toronto – was third.

Racing Roundup Wickens breathing on his own

Justin Haley and his crew celebrate in Victory Lane after winning the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at CTMP Sunday. CREDIT: John Walker/CTMP

Here’s how Canadians did in the race: 

Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a star of the DIRT circuits driving in his very first road race, arrived home seventh. He is the only Canadian to qualify for the playoffs (he did it in his first full-time season) and while he has his work cut out for him, he’s very much in the hunt to move on to the next round.

Alex Tagliani of Montreal was on a strong march to the front when he was tapped into a spin at Moss Corner and fell back to 20th. He finished 10th in the race. “Tag,” as is his want, was very vocal about an apparent lack of talent in the NASCAR ranks.

“It takes no skill whatsoever to just bash somebody out of the way,” he said later. “It takes skill to make a pass – there are plenty of places at this track to do that –  but it’s just easier to run into somebody.

“It was like when I passed David Reagan at Mid-Ohio, I set him up and I passed him cleanly. He didn’t have the patience or the skill, so he just drove into the back of me and I was off the track. And they do it because they know I won’t be there next week to get them back. If I was going to be there next week, they wouldn’t do that.

“NASCAR has to do something about that. Otherwise, it’s all just talk and the drivers won’t change.”

D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, Ont., was 12th. Jason White of Sun Valley, B.C., finished well back in 23rd.

Gilliland said he was furious, but he could have been angry with himself for allowing Gragson to get beside him. For his part, Gragson, the winner of the first two stages of the race, took responsibility and said he would apologize  to all concerned.

Haley said he expected something would happen going into the final corner. “I knew going in there that Gragson would do something not the smartest,” he said, “so I was ready and took advantage.”

Gilliland said he had the fastest truck but didn`t win again and would have to talk with his teammate. “I`d like to go fight him right now but I can`t. I have to get my emotions in check and go talk to him.”

“That one`s on me,” Gragson said later, in reference to taking out his teammate and himself. “I was going for the win and I apologize to Todd . . . but we`re in the playoffs and I was trying to get a win. It`s just unfortunate (what happened).”

The second stage of the race was highlighted by a hard charge by Canadian Friesen. He took the green flag in 20th place and by the end of the stage he was up to sixth.

Racing Roundup Wickens breathing on his own

Pinty’s Series race winner Alex Tagliani leads second-place Kevin Lacrois and third-place L.P. Dumoulin at CTMP Sunday. CREDIT: Matthew Manor/NASCAR

Okay, change of subject. There is really only one thing to say about Sunday morning`s Formula One race in Belgium, won by Sebastian Vettel, followed by Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. That one thing? Thank God for the halo. If you want to read all about the race, please click here.

Fernando Alonso`s car landed on top of Charles Leclerc`s in that start-line pileup and if it hadn`t been for the halo cockpit protector, Leclerc could have been injured – or worse. Yes, F1 officials are saying more investigation is needed before issuing a verdict on its effectiveness but it’s as plain as the nose on anybody’s face that if that halo was not in place, F1 would have a big problem on its hands today.

F1 acted fairly quickly following the death of Jules Bianchi to have the halo attached to all its European formula cars and it`s paying off. I know that IndyCar is working on perfecting their version of the halo –  a canopy – but this should be an empetus to accelerate the testing and the introduction, hopefully in time for the 2019 season.

There are indications that the FIA action was as the result of a lawsuit. Bianchi died months after his car left the track during the Japanese Grand Prix and hit a tractor/front-end loader but action was swift following his death. All other open-cockpit organizations would be wise to take note.

Here are some thoughts on Saturday night’s Verizon IndyCar Series race from Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, which was won by Will Power, with Alexander Rossi second and Scott Dixon third. Dixon still leads the championship with two races remaining – next weekend in Portland, Ore., and two weeks after that in California.

For a complete story on the race, in case you missed it, please click here.

James Hinchcliffe, Wickens’s teammate and best friend, finished ninth in that race.

Will Power has tied the legendary Bobby Unser on the all-time Indy car victory list.  With all due respect, and even while acknowledging Will Power’s enormous talent, he is still no Bobby Unser.

IndyCar had better get a handle on something happening in oval racing or it is going to have another Robert Wickens incident. I could not believe the number of blocking incidents that took place Saturday night in St. Louis. Are they crazy? Even Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy seem to have accepted the concept  of “defending” a position. On a road course, maybe – although I don’t like it there, either. On an oval, though, it is suicide. In one incident, Scott Dixon moved up on Power and one false move on either of their parts could have resulted in disaster. Open wheel racing is dangerous enough without adding to it.

Okay, I have to say it. I try to bite my tongue – I really do – but I can’t help it: there weren’t just some empty seats at Gateway, there was an entire empty grandstand. I don’t get it.

If I hear the words “saving fuel” on an IndyCar telecast again, I’m going to scream. That is the sort of thing that puts people to sleep, or causes them to change the channel. Don’t drive fast, or hard, because you might run out of fuel. This is a race: give them all the fuel they want. Or need.

From start to finish, the final Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama race of 2018 belonged to series champion Zacharie Robichon. On an overcast Sunday morning at CTMP – and one day after he clinched the Platinum class title by finishing first – Robichon, of Ottawa, started from the pole position and led flag-to-flag to capture his 11th Porsche GT3 Cup Canada victory of the season’s 12 races.

The only race Robichon didn’t win this season was Round 5 at Circuit Villes Gillenueve in Montreal back in June, which saw the victory go to his teammate Roman De Angelis of Windsor in the No. 78 Porsche. On Sunday, De Angelis took his second runner-up finish of the weekend after starting from the fourth position. The 17-year-old finished 44 points and runner-up to Robichon in the championship standings.

Nicholas Latifi of Toronto won the FIA Formula 2 Championship support race at the Grand Prix of Belgium Sunday in convincing fashion. Leading from reverse-grid pole to the checkers (Latifi had finished eighth in Saturday’s race), Latifi scored his first victory of 2018.

In the NASCAR Canada Pintys Series race Sunday morning, the TOTAL Quartz 200, Alex Tagliani really didn`t have any trouble, taking the lead fairly early in the race and then controlling it the rest of the way. Kevin Lacroix fought his way up to second from his 15th starting position and pole-sitter L.P. Dumoulin was third.

Andrew Ranger, who started on the front row, was racy from the start but developed engine trouble and was never a factor thereafter, eventually finishing eighth. And there were a couple of incidents of cars going into tire walls, spins and so-on  but nobody was hurt and there was really nothing of consequence.

J.F. Dumoulin finished fourth, Anthony Simone was fifth, D.J. Kennington was sixth, Gary Klutt arrived home seventh, Ranger was eighth, Malcolm Strachan was ninth and Donald Theetge finished tenth.

Mick Schumacher, son of you-know-who, won his third race in five starts Saturday in the FIA F3 series. You go, kid.

Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR Infiniti Series race Saturday at Road America in Wisconsin. Sports car racer, and sometimes Indy car driver, Katherine Legge, finished 14th in her first NASCAR start. Pretty good. The long-retired Bill Elliott (Awesome Bill from Dawsonville) finished 20th – in the 40-car field. Good for him. Austin Cindric, who won last year’s Camping World Truck Series race here at CTMP, was 37th.

Which brings us to Conor Daly. This is not funny. More than 30 years ago, his father, ex-F1 and IndyCar star Derek Daly, used an expression in conversation with a reporter that was used frequently at the time. It is not an expression that is acceptable today. It was not acceptable then, although used widely. Somehow, somewhere, this was reported in recent days. Conor Daly had not yet been born when this happened. As  a result, however, the sponsor of Conor Daly’s car in the Xfinity race in Wisconsin, Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, withdrew its sponsorship of him on Friday, two days before the race. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this – if there was any. He drove anyway and was credited with a 31st-place finish. But he has been scarred, let there be no doubt. The sins of the father . . .

Several regular readers wondered about my reaction to some criticism I received on Twitter about something I wrote the other day. This is what I told them.

I write a column of opinion. That`s my say. Readers then voice their opinion, either by writing me directly or taking to Twitter. That`s their say – and that`s the way it should be. If we all agreed on everything, I would find life kind of boring.  And I usually learn from my critics. I have an open mind and I would hope they do, too.

The Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) conducted two races as of early Saturday afternoon. In Round 9, which went to the post Friday evening, Martin Harvey was the overall winner, finishing first in GT Cup in a Porsche GT3. Ethan Simioni was  first in GT Sport, driving an BMW M4 GT4 while Marc Raymond won the Super Touring class in a Porsche Cayman GT. Paul Joakim was first in Touring class, behind the wheel of a Mazda RX8.

In the second race Saturday morning, Mario Guerin finished first overall in the GT Cup class, driving a Ferrari 458. Malcolm Strachan won the GT Sport class in an Audi R8 GT4 LMS, Raymond repeated in Super Touring in his Cayman GT and Joakim won again in Touring class in the Mazda RX8.

The series will conclude, and champions crowned, Sept. 29 at Circuit ICAR near Montreal.

The Nissan Micra Cup championship saw history made twice in two days. On Saturday, Valerie Limoges became the first woman to win a Micra Cup race and on Sunday, Jake Exton of Lakefield, Ont., became the first Ontario driver to win a race in the series.

The Saturday race was held in the rain and was a barn-burner. At the checkers, Normand Boyer crossed the line first, with Kevin King and Olivier Bedard second and third. Limoges was fourth. But several hours later, it was determined that the top three men had deliberately gone off course during the race to take advantage of the conditions and were each penalized a finishing position, which resulted in Limoges being declared the winner.

The sunshine returned for the start of the 50th race of the series on Sunday. This milestone was highlighted by 2017 Novice champion Exton earning his first series pole position. During the race, Exton held the lead until the mid-way point before being passed by Bédard, who started in eighth. However, the Englishman who now resides in Lakefield was relentless and regained top spot just in time to claim his first Micra Cup victory, and first win for an Ontario driver in the series. Limoges was third.

The Micra Cup championship will be decided at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant Sept. 22-23 when the final two races of the 2018 season are held. Bédard remains in the lead ahead of King. Boyer in the Senior Class and Fadi Mourad in the Novice Class lead their categories and are expected to be crowned champions.

Racing Roundup Wickens breathing on his own

On Saturday, Valerie Limoges became the first woman to win a race in the Nissan Micra Cup championship.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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