Sunday, August 30, 2009

JR Fitzpatrick wins big NASCAR Canadian Tire Series big at Montreal

The 2.7 mile Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is playing host to their biggest race weekend for 2009 as Formula 1 race took a one-year hiatus (A 2010 return is all but set).

On Sunday, just before the big league racers of the NASCAR Nationwide Series the nationally-based NASCAR Canadian Tire Series warms up the road course. In this one visit to Montreal on the Canadian racing calendar, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series teams and drivers get a chance to display their skills in front of up to year-topping 60,000 racing fans. On top of that, Canadian Tire series drivers are ideally positioned to show their talent while teams of the headlining NASCAR Nationwide event made be scouting for 2010 drivers.

Taking pole for the second race in a row, Alex Tagliani took pole for the NAPA Autopro 100 as the green fell just before noon Sunday. When the green dropped on the field, the pace was slowed by a lap 1 caution for Kent Nuhn's #18 Chevrolet. Four cautions total would fall in the 23 lap event with the most dramatic being a roll over crash invloving Don Thomson Jr and 2008 Canadian Tire series champion Scott Steckly. The incident, which also resulted with a red flag, started on a late race Green-White-Checkered restart when the Steckly and Thomson (running 5th and 6th at the time) ended up in the guard rails with Scott Steckly's #22 Dodge ending on its roof. Both drivers were physically fine but left without top finishes at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Dominating his presence in the lead of the NAPA Autopro 100 JR Fitzpatrick (making a rare appearance in conjunction with his Nationwide series run for Kevin Harvick Incorporated) grabbed the lead from Kerry Micks on lap 9 and would never let go. Andrew Ranger fought hard to pass the #17 Dodge of DJ Kennington for second followed pass by Kerry Micks. A noted appearance by NHL player Patrice Brisebois resulted with a 12th place run for the dual athlete. In another heartbreaking race for Alex Tagliani, another pole in the #81 Chevrolet ended with a mechanical failure relegating him to a 27th place finish in a very full field of 34 cars.

The ABC telecast of the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 deserves applauds for showing highlights during their broadcast throughout Canada and the United States. For Canadian race fans of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series who didn't witness this exciting race firsthand or caught the brief ABC highlights, you'll have to wait nearly two week for September 12th when TSN will air a time-compressed version of the race.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canada's race weekend conflict! NASCAR or sports car?

With only about 6 to 8 months of the year to comfortably run on a selection of ovals and road courses, Canadian auto racing only has a few chances to attract the finest international competition on four wheels. With the Toronto Honda Indy and Rexall Edmonton Indy having wrapped up this past July, two race weekends in August consists of closed fender motorsport competition. The Grand Prix of Mosport has been a staple to the summer sports car racing calendar on one of Canada's oldest race courses. On the other hand, the popular NASCAR Nationwide series is being welcomed once again to Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

For 2009, native race fans are being plagued by one of the biggest mistakes in Canadian event promoting. Realizing that both races are pivotal events to Canada's racing calendar, it is amazingly crushing that attendance to these venues will likely come at the cost of the other race. Mosport and Montreal main events will also enter into competition on television Sunday as both races will be under green during the mid-afternoon. Ron Fellows commented about this year's scheduling nightmare by saying "Having two major league car racing events on the same weekend, just hours apart on the highway, is a scheduling screw-up for sure. It’s an absolute shame that race fans have to choose one over the other." Fellows remains hopeful that the conflict will be resolved for 2010 as does many Canadian racing fans wanting to attend both of these top class racing events.

However, with this weekend requiring a tough choice, hardcore Canadian race fan will likely watch one race in person and catch the other shortly after on a DVR (or for less tech trendy people, VCR).

Here are the contenders:

Grand Prix of Mosport

Track Type: Permanent Road Course, 10 turns through 2.459 miles (3.957 kilometers)
Top Series Competing: ALMS, Cooper Tires Toyota Atlantic, IMSA Challenge, Formula BMW, Star Mazda
Top Cars: Acura prototype, Corvette C6R GT2, and Porsche 911.
Length of headliner race: (ALMS) Timed race of 2 hours, 45 minutes
Sample of Canadian Contention: Robert Wickens, Alex Ellis
Race Ticket Price: $50 for Sunday

Fan Tip: A picturesque setting shielded from the nearby City of Toronto by acres of woodland, Mosport International Raceway also operates as a camping ground. This scenic positioning also restricts travel options to driving. For the individual race fan, be aware that there is no grandstand seating. Bring a blanket, towel or even a travel chair and you will be able to find an excellent spot on a grassy hill along the front stretch.

Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

Track type: Street Course, 15-turn along 2.71 miles(4.361 kilometers)
Top Series Competing: NASCAR Nationwide, Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series
Top Cars: NASCAR Nationwide stock cars, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Stock Car, Lexus Daytona Prototypes
Length of headliner race: (NASCAR Nationwide) 74 laps
Sample of Canadian Contention: Ron Fellows, Patrick Carpentier, Andrew Ranger, Jacques Villeneuve, Michael Valiante Mark Wilkins
Race Ticket Price: $40 General Admission Sunday, Two-day grandstand seating starts at $95.
Fan Tips: Built on an artificial island created from the excavation for the City of Montreal subway system, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is linked via this exact subway. No vehicle parking is available over the race weekend.

Verdict: If you're a fan of Canadian racers, the NASCAR weekend of Montreal has possibly indulged your interests more than the sports car weekend of Mosport. However, the accessible feel of the Mosport International Raceway would certainly make for a great outing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Q & A With Canadian Sports Car Racing Ace Ron Fellows

2008 provided one of the most thrilling races in Canadian auto racing which . Perhaps just short in significance to the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix where Canada's Formula 1 great Gilles Villeneuve brought his Ferrari, last year's NASCAR Nationwide race another great Canadian auto racing moment. Competing against the best of NASCAR stock car racing, the technical street course, and powerful weather elements, through this monsoon-like downpour rose three-time 24 hour of Le Mans champion Ron Fellows taking victory of the 2008 NAPA Auto Parts 200 on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Having won 5 times in NASCAR competition just across the border in Watkins Glen, New York, an excited Ron Fellows celebrated around his #5 Chevrolet that the stout team of JR Motorsports provided for the weekend.

In a special honour for this auto racing reporter, defending NAPA Auto Parts 200 winner Ron Fellows kindly agreed to answer some questions about his career. I welcome you to read what I hope are viewed as insightful questions:

1. Having raced in the rain last year at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, if the rain package were fitted for Sprint Cup cars at Watkins Glen this year do you think it would have provided an entertaining race?

Definitely outfitting the Sprint Cup cars for a rain race isn’t any different than the Nationwide Series cars. It would certainly be entertaining as the Sprint Cup cars have 150 more horsepower than an NNS car! NASCAR has yet to decide whether to run the “big show” in the rain on a road course, and I don’t know the reasoning behind it.

2. What does it mean to drive for for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide road races again in 2009? Did the win at Montreal last year make up for that Busch race at Watkins Glen that Dale Earnhardt Jr stole in 1999?

To drive for Dale Jr. and Rick Hendrick is a great honour. And having won in Montreal with the JRM team last year, was a great thrill. I said then that if I didn’t drive another race, I would be satisfied with what I have accomplished in my career. Their team is great fun to be around. I feel like a kid at Christmas. The team is just so well organized, and with some great personnel. And it definitely makes up for the win that got away in 1999! I think...

3. Winning all 6 of your NASCAR wins on road courses, would you like to have more stock car racing opportunities on ovals?

The media continuously talks about the road course ringers – good bad and indifferent. But I’m proud to be the only one that has managed to win any NASCAR races. The reality is, that a team committing to a driver who’s in his 5th decade – with little oval experience – is likely not going to happen for me. Would I like to do more? Absolutely. And I now have the time!

4. Your racing career was obviously built on determination as much as on talent. From the time you raced Formula cars to the international success of winning the 24-hour of Le Mans and your NASCAR victories, could you explain one or several things keys to motivation as you climbed to the highest apex of auto racing?

Thanks. It’s a number of factors. Obviously believing in your ability and proving it on the race track is one. The other factor is convincing corporate supporters that you are worthy of their investment. I have been very fortunate that some of the people that have helped provide career advancement opportunities for me, have become great friends. Bob and Helen McGraw of AER Manufacturing and Jim O’Donnell, former President of Mackenzie Financial, helped get me to a position where I was eventually hired by Herb Fishel at General Motors. From the time I began racing cars at 18 or 19 years old, to the point where I became a decently paid sports car driver, was more than 15 years! I’m not sure I could do it again!!

5. On the same weekend as the Nationwide series race in Montreal, the your past colleagues of Corvette Racing are running at Mosport with the American Le Mans series. Firstly, do you believe this was a poor circumstance for Canadian race fans to choose between two top racing series on home soil? Secondly, what are your feelings about the new GT2 Chevrolet Corvette?

Having two major league car racing events on the same weekend, just hours apart on the highway, is a scheduling screw-up for sure. It’s an absolute shame that race fans have to choose one over the other. But it is what it is, and maybe in 2010 things will be different.

The GT2 class Corvette C6.R, is a work of art. The Pratt & Miller team have done an incredible job with this new entry and it’s absolutely the right move for Corvette. We want to race against the best production based sports cars – like Porsche, Ferrari and BMW. Although about 5 or 6 seconds per lap slower than GT1, it’s still racing, and it’s a much bigger field.

Ron Fellows returns this weekend in the #5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. I pass my thanks to Ron Fellows as well as a special thanks to Lynda Fellows for making this article possible.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brad Keselowski driving Sprint Cup for Penske Racing for 2010

Without a vacancy in the Hendrick Motorsports until 2011 at the Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski made what was certainly a difficult choice to leave the team related to jumpstarting his career. For 2010, Brad Keselowski will become a member of the Penske Racing stable. Moving from Chevrolet to Dodge, Keselowski will takeover the #12 car which currently has David Stremme at the helm.

Having won spring's Sprint Cup series event Aarons 499 at Talladega, Brad Keselowski pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the decade in NASCAR's premiere division. As 2009 counted as a rookie ran driving the majority of the schedule by alternating between Hendrick Motorsports and James Finch's Phoenix Racing team. As 2009 passes two-thirds distance, Keselowski's performance in the Cup series effectively backed up that outstanding Talladega victory. It also brought to reality that he would no longer be suited in focusing on the #88 Nationwide car that Dale Earnhardt Jr owns in cooperation with Rick Hendrick since 2008. Winning three Nationwide races also in 2009 and most recently taking the Michigan round, Brad Keslowski was a real asset to the Sprint Cup ladder series week after week.

Due to the four-car cap set by NASCAR preventing Hendrick Motorsports to add Keselowski in a full-time ride, the 25 year old driver Cup dreams with Chevrolet for 2010 was also impacted by Dale Earnhardt Jr's unwillingness to expand JR Motorsports into the Sprint Cup series.

The #12 Dodge Charger will continue to be sponsored by Verizon (through NASCAR's deal with Sprint/Nextel prevents the cell phone provider's name from being displayed on the track.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brian Vickers resigns with Red Bull amid major victory at Michigan

Up until this weekend, Brian Vickers and Team Rad Bull had been negotiating a contract extension in the early part of the year. Arriving at a deal more than a month ago, silly season speculation continued to surround Vickers as Red Bull had allegedly not signed the deal officially placing their lead driver back into the #83 Toyota. Obviously the win at Michigan International Speedway's Carfax 400 would haved certainly served as motivation in sending a pen in motion. Said to be a multi-year deal, Brian Vicker's future is clinched with a crucial second win. Though taking the Red Bull Toyota to a win in Michigan may be an unpopular moment in the backyard of the American three automakers, this victory was definitely better accepted by NASCAR fans than Vickers' first victory at Talladega when he steamrolled past than teammate Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr on the final lap in 2006.

Outside looking into the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Vickers' sits only 12 points behind Mark Martin for the coveted 12th place in the standings with only 3 races remaining.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Andrew Ranger trails the path at Trois Rivieres GP3R 100

Representing 1 of 4 stops for the NASCAR Canadian Tire series 13-race championship contested on road or street circuit, the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieres (advertised as GP3R) is a historic Quebec street race event known for showcasing the best of Canadian racing talent. A fixture event amongst open wheel ladder series such as the Atlantic and Formula series schedule, the narrow 1.53 mile circuit hosts the star-studded field of Canadian racing stars. Including NASCAR Canadian Tire series regulars Andrew Ranger, 2008 champion Scott Steckly, and 5-time CASCAR champ Don Thomson Jr., the GP3R field added two prominent French-Canadian road ringers. Alex Tagliani would prove strong for the weekend in the #03 Canadian Tire Chevrolet while the second Quebec born race talent would be no other than Jacques Villeneuve. 1995 Indy 500 and former Formula 1 world champion, Villeneuve returns to a circuit which helped allow his as well as his father Giles Villeneuve's race career to florish. During Saturday qualifying, Tagliani took pole over the #17 Dodge of DJ Kennington and the Ford of Andrew Ranger in setting the field for the Sunday afternoon event.

As the green flag dropped on the 100 mile race of the GP3R, a two-car collision occurred immediately between JF Dumoulin and long-time CASCAR competitor and road race profesional Robin Buck drawing the first caution before lap 1. Officials discounted the first start and allowed Alex Tagliani to take the field to green for a second time as race drag-raced DJ Kennington into the tight first turn preserving his lead position. Tagliani would end up leading many of the race's laps. Just a few race positions behind, Jacques Villeneuve held station in fifth place. With a second caution drawn for the halted Scott Steckly Dodge at lap 14, Alex Tagliani, Andrew Ranger, the #95 of Anthony Simone, DJ Kennington and Jacques Villeneuve was the running order when the race resumed at lap 20. Four laps later, the lead would change as the #27 car of Ranger made a brave move on the than dominate Chevrolet of Tagliani. However, this pass for the lead might have been helped by a race-ending engine problem which gripped Alex Tagliani's #03 car on lap 28. As Tagliani's car failure proved to be the most significant move at top of the leaderboard for the GP3R 100, residence deeper in the field were drivers providing near endless entertainment for the Quebec crowd. Mechanical problems also plagued the field as Scott Steckly, Mark Dilley, and Patrice Brisebois would retire in the latter stages of the race. The final caution on lap 39 was brought out following Jason Hathaway's impact on the track.

With a three-lap shutout to settle the winner, series sophomore Anthony Simone applied heavy pressure to the experienced Ranger. Holding off the #95 car, a challenged Andrew Ranger takes green at the GP3R 100 with DJ Kennington 3rd and Jacques Villeneuve coming home 4th.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Should the Sprint Cup's Car of Tomorrow be revised today?

A combination of years of study into improved safety and for fostering a healthy competitive atmosphere created the so-called Car of Tommorrow (COT) race car to replace an older style race vehicle which was being used since the purpose-built stock cars of the 1960s. While seen as a safer vehicle in its limited introduction to the 2007 Sprint Cup schedule, the COT's effectiveness in advancing NASCAR's record for close competition remains debated.

Running for its 75th time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series at the Michigan International Speedway the COT car continues to be daunted by questions on the performance of this race vehicle. Drivers have also been vocal about the bulky, uneasy handling of the car. When Kyle Busch won the first COT car race at Bristol, his victory lane comments were far from flattering about the car's driveability describing it as "sucks". Most recently, fan favourite driver Dale Earnhardt Jr diplomatically commented through media sources on the COT car saying "I think NASCAR could probably be a little more urgent in improving our product." In almost direct response to Earnhardt's statement, NASCAR's president Mike Helton comments a day later reiterated the sanctioning bodies' policy not make any major rule changes which may open up the performance potential of the COT. Though the COT is far from deserving a critical panning, Earnhardt's proposition of an easier to drive new car could work miracles in filling the grandstands which appeared less populated in recent years as race fans must consider there limited entertainment dollars. NASCAR's reluctance to make changes to the car is on the belief that by leaving the rules unchanged Sprint Cup teams would have a consistent baseline for developing the car. Cost of these proposed changes to teams has also been mentioned an obstacle.

The main basis of the COT was to increase the aerodynamic drag on the competition cars by increasing the vehicle's size and through implementing special drag-inducing features such as an adjustable front splitter. Through actual racing, this splitter has been proving to be an Achilles heel to the Sprint Cup drivers as continuous rubbing along the ground and trip off-track would wear out the splitter's retaining brackets or even the bulletproof material itself. A component of a less aerodynamic front end than compared to the previous car, the splitter contributed also to the vehicle's long held compliant of aero tightness called understeer. While the understeer concern has been a constantly addressed issue by Sprint Cup crews, the problem is far from being completely solved. However, the new car is proving quite entertaining at restrictor plate races as the aerodynamically deficient shape meant more horsepower from engine was needed in maintaining near 200 MPH speed, This provided near normal throttle response. The COT's shape was also more catering to straight line bump drafting since NASCAR aligned the bumpers. This proved to be the best design feature of the COT. The rear of the COT as well holds a rear wing replacing the long used spoiler on the Cup car. Though NASCAR argued that this aerodynamic device was suited to the Sprint Cup COT, planning for the anticipated Nationwide COT vehicle intends to carryover the spoiler in a slight twist.

When building the COT car, one of the objectives was to reduce the cost of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. By standardizing measurements once left up to the teams to spend countless time and resources to enhance to specific tracks, NASCAR wanted to minimize the number of cars a team had to build to be competitive throughout the full Sprint Cup schedule. In the early stages of the COT in racing, Sprint Cup teams were seemingly able to exploit this advantage with cars raced at the Martinsville short track would also appear at the road course of Infineon Raceway. As could be expected, even the well-funded teams complained about the initial investment into building cars to all-new specifications. However, what those teams would rarely convey is that many major teams would be building new cars regardless to rule changes. In this aspect, NASCAR's Sprint Cup COT provided little to no savings as the superteam's stables grew equally as robust with cars as before 2008.

In opinion, is NASCAR truly happy with the performance of the Sprint Cup COT? NASCAR may be listening to the car owners about expenses to comply to new rules, but if the show improves, the investment may pay back as COT teething problems are now eliminated within teams and as concerns in the media.

Carfax 250 Nationwide race ends in thriller finish

The 2009 visit by the NASCAR Nationwide teams to the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway provided a stunning show in the midst of a steamy hot August afternoon. Brian Vickers' #32 Dollar General Toyota took the field to green with the #99 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota piloted by rookie speedster Trevor Bayne starting alongside. Dominating the front row and sparking fears into the heartland of American automobiles.

The Carfax 250 took little time to provide a pivotal moment to the fight for the Nationwide championship. As Carl Edwards fought to remain in striking distance of Kyle Busch's Nationwide dream season, the combination of a slick track and slight contact between the young Trevor Bayne would spell doom after just two laps into the race. As the #99 entered turn one in the middle of a three-wide battle, Bayne's car swept up into Edward's #60 Ford Fusion. While the initial contact appeared to be light, the slippery Michigan race track surface caused Carl Edwards to fight for control of the #60 car which resulted in the Ford Fusion nosing hard into the outside wall. With he damage to Edward's Ford too severe to repair, this race promised to become a points breakaway for Kyle Busch's championship hopes.

As the race progressed, Michigan claimed several mechanical casualties running hard through the triple degree weather with 10 cars ending the race behind the wall. At the front of the field, Brian Vickers and later Kyle Busch would share the lead for much of the afternoon. At lap 105, a caution resulted in a pit stop opportunity for the lead vehicles with Busch and Vickers taking fuel and four tires. Running steadily in the top five, the #88 Chevrolet of Brad Keselowski was pitted for only two tires under the advise of crew chief Tony Eury Sr. Allowing the #88 to leapfrog the teo fast Toyotas, the Carfax 250 would result in a 12-lap climax. On the restart, Vickers and Busch wasted no time to pass Keselowski's car making it a battle amongst to two of them as they put distance on the third place Chevrolet.

With two laps from the finish, Busch fought to overtake the yellow #32 car as they ran down the backstretch. Entering turn three, Vickers moved high then low into turn four blocking Busch's advances. Little did either driver knew, Keslowski used the battle between the Toyotas as a chance to make a three fight at the white flag. Rushing the #88 through the turn three/four complex, Keslowski allowed his speedy car to run along the outside of Vickers and Busch edging a lead as they take the white flag. Getting three wide at times on the final lap, Keslowski and Vickers made slight contact out of turn two as the race remained side by side until out of the final corner where Brad Keslowski beat the Japanese badged contenders for victory.

As Brad Keslowski celebrated his third win of the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide season in victory lane, Kyle Busch provided some post race drama as he was disturbed (to say the least) by Brian Vickers' determined racing to protect the lead. In the pits, Busch slowly collided with the #32 Toyota of Vickers and was intent to share some choiced words with the rival. Angered that Vickers seemingly allowed Brad Keslowski to win simply by blocking his NOS Toyota, a frustrated Kyle Busch called the actions "Stupid". Brian Vickers, on the otherhand, found it important to say in a post race interview that "this is not the Kyle Busch Show". While the altercation between the Toyota drivers was mild, NASCAR may review the pit road collision and issue any penalties in the days to come for potential reckless driving towards Busch.

Finishing third in the Carfax 250, Kyle Busch should have been happy that his Nationwide points lead grew to 339 over Carl Edwards. Keslowski in 3rd place in the season's standings also prospered after the Saturday race closing to within 50 points of Carl Edwards as they race Bristol this upcoming Friday night.

Brian Vickers doubles up on pole awards at Michigan

For both 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup races being run on the 2 mile Michigan International Speedway Brian Vickers and the Team Red Bull #83 Toyota will lead the field to the green flag. Securing the pole for Sunday's Carfax 400, Brian Vickers also defends his 2008 pole for his third straight at the Michigan oval.

Being a race symbolic in distance to the three American auto companies, Vickers' Toyota Camry will be under full attack by four Chevrolet qualifying 2nd through to the 5th place spot. June race winner Mark Martin #5 Kellogg's/Carquest Impala leads the bowtie brand starting beside the Red Bull #83 on the front row. Giving the Target car runs similar in strength to the IndyCar team in past races, Juan Pablo Montoya continues to find the bulls eye timing in third. Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr round out the top five. Last year's Michigan late summer race winner Kurt Busch starts in sixth position.

Two drivers provided big surprises through the Friday afternoon time trial session. Bill Elliott in a blue and white Wood Brothers #21 Ford Fusion bombed the top 10 in an echo two their past success at Michigan Speedway. With the limited scheduled #21 Ford rolling out ninth, 39th place is held by Kyle Busch who appears to be lacking the typical Joe Gibbs Racing speed in his #18 Toyota. Chances are that Kyle Busch will be in a hurry to get to the front.

With 44 cars vying to be part of Sunday's Carfax 400 field of 43 cars, the lonely driver and team out is Tony Raines #37 Dodge missing the cut by just 0.051 seconds.

Carfax 400 Starting Lineup

Sunday, August 16th 2009

1. Brian Vickers
2. Mark Martin
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Jimmie Johnson
5. Martin Truex Jt.
6. Kurt Busch
7. Ryan Newman
8. Joey Logano
9. Bill Elliott
10. Kasey Kahne
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr
17. Greg Biffle
18. Tony Stewart
21. Jeff Gordon
39. Kyle Busch

Friday, August 14, 2009

Danica, please stay in IndyCar racing!

Without Argument, the attention drawn to Danica Patrick in the IRL IndyCar series can be described like a halogen light beam through the darkest hours of open-wheel racing. As the IRL was still attempting to prove itself as a support-worthy series, Rahal/Letterman Racing created some vital headlines in 2005 by drawing a 22 year old Danica Patrick into the open wheel series. Having shown promise in the Toyota Atlantic series the year before for Bobby Rahal's cars, her rookie year in the IRL IndyCar series caused a storm of intrigue highlighted by a starting and finishing fourth in the Indianapolis 500 as well as by three pole awards. Quickly she fostered a passionate fanbase as admirers enamored themselves to the racer for a variety of reasons. While some of those onlookers being Maxim magazine readers seeing an attractive woman, others enjoyed seeing one of the most passionate drivers on the IndyCar roster dicing, including a large contingent of female fans who now freely support open wheel racing. Since then, Danica Patrick joined Andretti-Green Racing becoming a leading figurehead of the IndyCar Series and one of the sport's top moneymakers through endorsements even while her on-track performance has resulted with only one win at the Twin-Ring Motegi circuit in 2008. Having such a magnetic pull, its little wonder that NASCAR would want Patrick racing in the stock car series.

Rumours of Danica Patrick's move to the full-bodied stock car series started to mount last year but ended as idle allegations. This year, her current contract to drive the #7 car of Andretti-Green Racing nears completion, the rumour mill is in full swing again. Speculation strongly hints at her leaving the so far winless team for 2009 in search of other opportunities. While some sources indicate staying in IndyCar (A third Chip Ganassi car has been mentioned) or Formula One with one of the developing US teams, NASCAR has been one of the most championed routes. Fueled by visits to race shops, little else has indicated what direction she may be pursuing. However, this fragment of news was enough to drive the newsrooms of major auto racing media outlets going crazy about the idea as having a top female racer in one of NASCAR's major divisions.

With Danica Patrick being potentially wooed to NASCAR, she would be far from the first open-wheel driver to enter the series. Eying lucrative deals sparred by NASCAR's growth through the 1990s into the first half of this decade, even a middle tier driver in the Sprint Cup series can earn $3 million a year excluding endorsements and souvenir sales. Appearing on Forbes #100 Celebrities list for 2009 making $7 million US, Danica Patrick may not immediately stand to prosper from a NASCAR deal. In a competitive and financial gain standpoint, her only chance elevate herself in NASCAR is to sign with one of the best teams as she's indicated to be the only way she would make the move. With Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Racing full, finding a winning ride is complicated as Joe Gibbs Racing has no interests in expanding their team for 2010. The likeliest NASCAR opportunities again exists with Chip Ganassi who partly owns Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing. With the #1 car vacated by Martin Truex Jr at the end of this year, EGR has shown some impressive pace this year but would have Patrick enter into another win-starved team. There could also be possibilities in Nationwide competition but she would not likely run a full season in a development series following years in IndyCar racing.

A cautious note to Danica Patrick with a transition to NASCAR can be marked by the short-lived careers of other open wheel transplants. After winning the 2007 IndyCar championship, Dario Franchitti's outing in NASCAR Sprint Cup ended after just 10 starts. Having also started the Sprint Cup season of 2008, Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier would not finish the year in their rides as a result of a hotly competitive series. However, the success of open wheel migrants Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya can bring some promise.

Finally, in simplest terms, Danica Patrick belongs in the IndyCar series. With 2009 being the first year of the completely reunitified professional open wheel body, Danica Patrick's presence in the series has allowed for maximum exposure for her and the IRL IndyCar series. Though winless so far in 2009, Danica Patrick has locked down 9 top 10 finishes and sits 5th in the points standing for her best year overall. Also, fans in IndyCar no longer thinks of Danica Patrick as a woman driving a race car but rather a race car driver who just happens to be a woman. She's really one of the guys in the competition standpoint.

With the motorsport world likely to be gravitated on Danica Patrick's decision for where she is racing in 2010, her path will be followed by a legion of male and female fans.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Victorious Tony Stewart feeling Heluva Good! At The Glen

Literally raining on the parade for stock car drivers, teams, and fans when the planned Sunday August 9th start of the Heluva Good! At The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup event was pushed to Monday. As many of us are forced with busying ourselves with earning a hard day's pay, the Sprint Cup teams took to earning Sunday money. As Jimmie Johnson #48 Lowes Chevrolet led the field to the start of the 90 lap affair, Kurt Busch overpowered Johnson for the top spot and held on for 19 laps. Road race professional and Sprint Cup rookie took the helm of the race Marcus Ambrose by staying out when the majority of cars received tires and fuel. At this point, Ambrose's team were establishing themselves for a long first run which wouldn't see the #47 Toyota on pit lane until lap 43.

Early mayhem resulted as the #12 Penske Dodge of David Stremme made a dive into Watkins Glen famous busstop chicane and lost control through the grass within the corner. Creating the second caution for the race, Stremme's spinning car honed in on Jeff Gordon's Dupont machine which escaped maliciously with only light contact from the black #12 Dodge. This luck did not hold for Gordon as the #29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet Impala of Kevin Harvick could not avoid the out of shape Dupont Chevrolet resulting in heavy right front contact for Harvick and a serious blow on Jeff Gordon's passenger side. While Stremme and Gordon were able to soldier on from the accident, Harvick's car spent a multitude of laps behind the wall.

For the legions of Dale Earnhardt Jr fans awaiting for the resurgence #88, the Watkins Glen race further paints the tapestry illustrating a season of misfortune. Before the race even started the season of the AMP/National Guard car has been plagued by a 2009 season with few highlights. Last year, Earnhardt and the #88 Hendrick Chevrolet came into Watkins Glen 4th in Sprint Cup points. For the 2009 season championship, Dale Earnhardt Jr entered the race weekend 23rd on the points sheet.

Once the green flag fell, the #88 Chevrolet Impala diced from its 38th place starting position, passing 13 cars in only 12 laps around the Watkins Glen race circuit. However, in course with this season's trend of good race runs materializing into poor finishes, Earnhardt Jr's car began to experience brake problems after 1/3 distance in the race. By Lap 41, Dale Earnhardt Jr's car lost braking power in turn 10 and was left heading into the back of #43 Dodge of Reed Sorenson. Without sufficient brakes, Earnhardt Jr could only turn his #88 Chevrolet into the sod along the corner of the track but was unable to avoid contact with Sorenson. This collision resulted in both cars becoming buried in the gravel runoff area where the incident attracted the third caution.

At the lap 45 restart, Kyle Busch ceased the lead for only the restart as Tony Stewart bypassed the #18 M&Ms Toyota. The younger Busch brother was never happy about the handling of his Toyota throughout the race but his pit crew would become invaluable in keeping the #18 in the upper part of the scoring board through to the checkered flag. Holding on for 11 laps, Tony Stewart's #14 Old Spice Chevrolet ran faultlessly until him and 6th place Juan Pablo Montoya made four tire pit stops. Kurt Busch and the wounded Dodge of David Stremme took turns leading the event until former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed took the spot for the first time on a road course during a Sprint Cup series event.

At lap 62, the biggest accident of the today was commenced when Kasey Kahne #9 Budweiser Dodge and Sam Hornish Jr #77 Mobil Dodge were battling through turn 9. Turn 9 at Watkins Glen had been already been a epicenter of chaos through the NASCAR Nationwide series as Jason Leffler and Joey Logano both had dramatic crashes into the retaining barriers. In Monday's Heluva Good! At The Glen, Kahne's Dodge delivered an unintentional side-by-side rub to Hornish sending the #77 Dodge off track and into the outer wall's tire barriers. Instead of drawing the car to a stop with the impact, the Sprint Cup Dodge slid sideways allowing the #77 to bounce off the tires and spun back up to the track surface. With a group of race cars rushing past, one of those cars was Jeff Gordon's Dupont Impala which was violently hammered by the #77 Dodge's rear end. The impact drove Gordon hard into the inner Armco guard rail completely compacting the #24's front. Hornish's car would also collect Jeff Burton as the vehicles' front ends collide. In spite of the severely mangled sheetmetal of those cars as well as a few cars which escaped with only slight damage, all drivers escaped this without serious injury. However, the incident's effect on Jeff Gordon's preexisting back problems were, and are likely to continue to be, a matter of concern.

Following a 20 minute red flag to clean up the scattered debris, Scott Speed enters the pits relinquishing the lead to Kyle Busch with Tony Stewart, Marcus Ambrose, Greg Biffle, and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top five with when the green flag would drop again at lap 66. The next lap, Tony Stewart and his #14 Old Spice Chevy took on Busch's #18 Toyota in turn two, allowing his Hendrick engine to propel him by for the lead. This move proved to be the last lead change of the race as he led the final 27 laps to win the 2009 race at Watkins Glen. With some drama developing from fears that many of the leaders, including Stewart, would not go the distance on fuel economy, all the lead cars made the checkered flag. The #14 Chevy even had enough fuel for celebratory burnouts.

Having grabbed the pole for the 2008 Cup race and winner of the Watkins Glen Nationwide race for the last two years, Marcus Ambrose lived up to expectations by finishing second place. Rounding out the top six in order is Carl Edwards who ran a quiet yet productive race, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, and Juan Pablo Montoya. With Ambrose and Montoya full time NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, hired gun road course racers found it hard in this event at Watkins Glen. Finishing best amongst the group of limited schedule runners was Max Papis in 8th place (though him and Germain Racing have included numerous ovals this season in commitment to run much of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule). Andy Lally traded his typical Grand Am sports car Porsche GT class car for The Racer's Group's (TRG) Chevrolet Impala coming home 27th, on the lead lap. Apparently, Lally was the only road course regular not to be bitten by mechanical gremlins or by the competition. Second place finisher for the 1999 At the Glen race Ron Fellows was left out of contention for a strong finish early with a faulty starter in his #09 Chevrolet. Another freelance road racer failing to score a worthy result due to mechanical issues was fan favourite Boris Said. His #08 Ford's engine was struck with overheating problems which caused him to park the car at lap 76. Concluding the road ringer bunch were PJ Jones and Tony Ave who dropped our early by a listed transmission and overheating problem. Finally, Patrick Carpentier day consisted of having his #55 NAPA Toyota used as a pinball by David Stremme and later Elliot Sadler through contact with the French-Canadian driver. Carpentier was listed running at the end, 12 laps down from the leader.

The third points win for Tony Stewart this season, the two-time Cup series champion is well in reach of clinching his birth in NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup for 2009. After missing the top 12 just one year ago with Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart's current 698 point lead over 12th place in points Matt Kenseth could secure a position by the next race at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rain washes out Sprint Cup race at Waltkins Glen. Where are the rain tires?

Photo provided by Ford Media

For the second week in a row, the Sunday feature race for NASCAR will be running on the first day of the work week. The Heluva Good! at the Glen road course race at Watkins Glen for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series will start Monday at noon. With Watkins Glen being a road course, the delay for the race is highlighted by the fact that NASCAR had rain tires available for several previous years. As we would learn watching the ESPN broadcast of the Nationwide race on Saturday, Goodyear did bring rain tires but only for the Nationwide series cars. In the television booth, NASCAR's president Mike Helton took a few minutes to explain that it was "a business decision" not to use Goodyear rain tires during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race activities. He did not elaborate specifically but it left me wondering what resulted in that business decision.

One of the more plausible thoughts relates to Goodyear's logistical abilities to provide an sufficient tires for the longer Cup series race. However, road course race strategy would justify that only one more set of rain tires per car would be needed (if even that many). The Sprint Cup cars run only 8 scheduled laps more than the Nationwide series variants. However, with the Nationwide series race run under dry conditions, the question is whether those Nationwide tires could be been converted to run on the Sprint Cup cars. For the steel wheels themselves, wheel size and stud patterns are identical. For many race tracks, in attempt to save time and money needed developing proper rubber compounds for NASCAR, Goodyear would frequently arrive with the same race tire for Nationwide and Sprint Cup series for race weekend at a single track. This was even allowed to continue with the Sprint Cup's fundamentally different Car of Tomorrow (COT) for multiple oval races. Therefore, it should be feasible to fit rain tires to the Sprint Cup series machines. Goodyear spokesperson has commented on the that the company is confident that the current package would work if NASCAR would elect to employ them in the top series.

The Montreal race at Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve was one of the most exciting Nationwide events in 2008. On that day, NASCAR was initially hesitant to drop the green flag but found that those fears were largely without basis. Of course there were a few cars that lost traction but that is common even during dry weather road races. In fact, many of the NASCAR oval track regulars were surprised at the minimal learning curve needed to run these heavy Nationwide stock cars in the rain. While the rain was halted past the halfway point when the rain turned to a monsoon, cars raced skillfully through a steady downpour for more than an hour. Canadian Ron Fellows won a thrilling home soil victory that year in his Chevrolet as fellow Canadian and open wheel transplant Patrick Carpentier came home second. A big race for Canada in NASCAR, it was also a significant event for road course specialists (so-called Road course ringers) as they snatched four of the five top finishing positions. While this point may be resulting in a very thin conspiracy theory, might NASCAR and regular championship contending teams fear rain tires could allow important Sprint Cup series races to fall in the hands of road course ringers? It should be noted that NASCAR regulars such as Juan Pablo Monytona and Marcus Ambrose (who came close to winning the rain-soaked Montreal race) came from road racing backgrounds, favoured for victory as much as dry weather. Also, the one conclusion that could be drawn from the splendid Nationwide race at Montreal last year was that race car drivers throughout NASCAR are capable to almost instantly adapting to the unique wet weather race. Camping World Truck series driver Ron Hornaday as well as young oval track ace Carl Edwards placed fourth and sixth on the final running order.

As a third thought, perhaps the Sprint Cup's COT car isn't prepared for racing in the rain. The older style Sprint Cup cars were fitted with wet weather racing equipment (treaded tires, windshield wiper, rear signal light, and defogger system) since Suzuka, Japan exhibition of 1996. The closest this package came to racing in the NASCAR Cup series came in 1997 when the non-points race on the Suzuka road course ran almost completely in the rain. With exception to one practice session held at Watkins Glen ages ago, Cup cars never ran a competitive lap in wet weather on North American soil. This historical lack of demand for rain tires and the costly addition of rain equipment has likely contributed to its exclusion for 2009 COT vehicles.

Back to the 2009 running of the Heluva Good! at the Glen, the weather forecast for Watkins Glen, New York hints strongly at the same rain and thunderstorms which postponed Sunday's planned running. With this likely not to be the only fan voice to urge the usage of rain tires for the Sprint Cup road course races, we shouldn't be surprised if NASCAR, ever desperate to remain on the fan's side, might provide some requirements to the Sprint Cup COT cars for 2010.

Friday at the 2009 Honda Indy Part 2

Since the 2009 Honda Indy Toronto concluded nearly a month ago, does it not make sense for me to post part 2 of my trip to the Friday event? I'll just say I was backed up and that I send my apologies to this website's viewer. The good news is that my sunburns have finally resided after a full day at Toronto's CNE grounds on July 10th.

With part one of my adventure ending during noontime its prudent to pick up from that moment. By the time I finished my lunch after a long morning of indulging in the Honda Indy festivities, the drivers and teams of the Firestone Indy Lights series complete their second practice of the day; this second and final session before later afternoon qualifying. Australia's James Davidson topped the session during the last minute of practice with a 1:05.5191 second lap. While not evident by the throaty engine notes and their aggression around 11-turn street course, the Firestone Indy Lights car will show themselves four seconds slower lap speed to the IndyCar series when timing is settled for the day. Another noteworthy driver rounding out the practice session is hometown favourite 24 year old James Hinchcliffe placed fifth fastest.

As the Indy Light cars depart the track, the showcase was given to a the nostalgic grouping of the Vintage and Historic GT race practice. Perhaps a refreshing taste from the flooding servings of open wheel racing, these classic vehicles are built to compete in sports car racing of the 60s, 70s, and into the 1980s. With the newest car being a 1989 Pontiac Firebird, the oldest entry is an elegant Jaguar E Type from 1963. Regrettably, their half hour session involved very few green flag laps for the day. Through much as the brief session a blue #17 car, a 1966 Ford Mustang, struggled to leave pit lane as crew members made a feverish attempt to give Matt Fusillo and his car track time. Admiring these classic performance cars as they briefly reunite with their pedigree of speed, the practice fortunately ended without the loss of any of these machines.

As the Vintage and Historic GT cars depart back into their paddock area inside the Direct Energy Center, the IndyCar open wheel racers take back to the track for an afternoon practice. With Penske's Will Power leading the first session, this second chance to find speed was an opportunity to improve on any morning struggles or back up their previous fast times on the warmer, faster Toronto street circuit. The session contained a few additional moments of excitement for two drivers. The first involved 2005 IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon looping his #4 National Guard car when negotiating the difficult turn 3 after the fast stretch of Lakeshore Blvd. No damage came to Wheldon's spin, but the second major incident of the session would not end so fortunately for one of the Penske cars. Helio Castroneves made some on track contact which resulted in damage along the right front corner of his red and white #3 race car. In a minor surprise, the top of the speed chart of the second IndyCar practice was rookie driver Raphael Matos who appeared in the top two for both IndyCar prep sessions. Justin Wilson and his Dale Coyne racing team found some considerable speed as her vaulted himself from 12th in the first IndyCar practice to 2nd in the afternoon session. Will Power, Robert Doombos, and Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top 5 speeds. After posting 5th fastest time, Paul Tracy's #15 Ontario Honda Dealers/ team slipped to 13th overall in the afternoon practice. With only the Toronto and Edmonton race planned with KV Racing, Paul Tracy committed “in the afternoon we tried a few things for the race setup that didn't work for the car, so we lost our way a little bit”. Tracy continued to say that we felt confident about Saturday qualifying for the Sunday main event.

Of course, between the time of the Friday practice and when this posting is being completed, we know about the Sunday event resulting in a race ending crash between Helio Castroneves and Paul Tracy. While as a fellow Canadian, I wasn't thinking too highly of Castroneves at the moment when he was attempting to hold his position on worn tires, but watching his interview being held shortly after a chorus of boos from the grandstand full of Canadian flag race fans made me quickly sympathize with the Brazilian driver. Being very apologetic by the incident with Tracy, Helio Castroneves seemed almost saddened to bring such displeasure to the Toronto crowd. Following the Friday afternoon practice session I can almost guarantee him to be fan's racer. At the end of the practice, Helio rode with his crew members on the team cart as his car was due to arrive to the attention of Penske's mechanics. Considering the fact that some race car drivers take even minor vehicle damage seriously, a crowd of race fans saw a chivalrous Helio Castroneves who signed autographs and posed for photographs with dozens of fans with a smile on his face. Just as he was relishing the fanfare his damaged Penske Dallara-Honda was being guided into the paddock area by a tow truck.

On the other side of the Paddock, one of the biggest fan draws was Danica Patrick. With hundreds of people standing around her car at all times, Danica made herself scarce through the day's racing activities as she lent little time to converse with fans. Perhaps of victim of her own success, the sports star and the model provocative ads is sought over by adoring fans who holds no ill feelings for the most popular woman in motorsports. Danica Patrick's on track performance on the street course may have been a concern for her, an ultra-competitive driver who trailed all but two other drivers in the final practice of the day. However, while Patrick never gained the speed she needed for qualifying on Saturday, she survived the chaos of Sunday's race for a resurgent sixth-place finish.

With the leading series' on track activities wrapped up for the day, the feeder series of Firestone Indy Lights championship set out at 3:10 for a 45 minute qualifying match. Columbian 19 year old Sebastian Saavedra grabbed the pole mid way in the session and held on to the coveted spot for Saturday's race. James Hinchcliffe's came close to the pole coming less than two-tenths of a second away from Saavedra mark. Falling just short of the first place starting position for his hometown race, his efforts was applauded from the grandstands as he achieved greatness through merely a hearted attempt.

As a finale for the four-wheel proceeding of Friday, the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship presented by Toyo Tires take to the 1.721 mile street circuit for the second time of the day for their qualifying. Their practice at 8:00 am provided the first engines to voice the festivities of the waterfront race competitions. Featuring an eclectic group of Honda Civics, BMW 3 series, Saab 93, and even a pair of Hyundai Genesis coupes, 43 cars of these Canadian tour compete within two classes. During the qualifying, Gregory Pootmans took his BMW 328 to the pole position for two races held on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning at an average speed of 124.273 kilometers per hour (75.73 miles per hour). The close automobiles to what would be seen along the street race route during the majority of the year, these Canadian Touring Cars were obviously tested.

Spinning within the turn 10 and 11 complex, the #64 Lexus IS300 of Andrew Wojteczko (which placed second in the morning practice) quickly recovered without contact. Wojiteczko's Lexus would place 4th overall in the timed session.

As the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship concluded after just half an hour, I began to make my trek back home via the TTC streetcar. This trail went through one last visit to the Direct Energy Center where I partook in purchasing a few well-priced items at the vendor area.

In days passing, I've been attempting to gather information on the attendance for the 2009 Honda Indy weekend but has noticed that some news outlets were unable to obtain this data. Knowing that the race in its prime years of the 1990s drew between 130,000 to 150,000 spectators for the three-day event, estimates have placed attendance lower for 2009. Not surprising for the result of a higher Canadian dollar and a less than favourable economic picture forcing some belt tightening, the 2009 Honda Indy event would be no less of a casualty than the majority of auto races. There was also a threat of weather on the Saturday morning which likely injured the gate sales during that day. However, as a witness to the beautiful weather of the Friday action at the CNE grounds I can attest that the crowd appeared to be right on par with Fridays of yesteryear editions of the Toronto race.

With that ended my day at the 2009 Honda Indy and my first time back at the Toronto Indy car race since 2003. I forgot how much I missed it, feeling only relieved that this year's event brought a strong, reunified presentation of open wheel racing.