Wednesday, December 29, 2010

US Postal Service Unveils Indy 500 Centennial Stamp

Photo Credit: USPS

When the 2011 Indianapolis 500 festivities start this upcoming May, the famous 2.5 mile Brickyard oval will celebrate 100 years since the first 500-mile event was run at the historic track. A monumental occasion that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is marking through an annual acknowledgement, the centennial year of the event will also be recognized by the United States Postal Service.

To be released fittingly during the month of May, the USPS will be selling a commemorative stamp to the 100 years of the Indianapolis 500. Set to feature the yellow and black Marmon Wasp which Ray Harroun piloted to the 1911 Indy 500 victory, this is going to be the second time the postal service will depict the vehicle's likeness on a stamp. In 1987, the Marmon Wasp was included as part of a Transportation Series themed USPS release. Along with the image, the stamp will also sport the lettering "INDIANAPOLIS 500" and "100 YEARS OF RACING" on the bottom.

The Indianapolis 500 centennial stamp will join other upcoming 2011 USPS special releases including the Latin Music Legends series, American Scientists, and a single stamp in honour of the 40th United States President Ronald Reagan.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Naughty and Nice for 2010 Racing: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Kicking off the XSL Speed Reporter annual race season review, teh 2010 Naughy and Nice list starts with the 25 races, 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.  

Nice: Young blood Austin Dillon's rookie season

In only a rookie year, Austin Dillon made the most of his grandfather's resources. Participating in a reactivated #3 Richard Childress Racing team, Austin Dillon arrived at Daytona with the guarantee the 19 year old would receive the best equipment possible. As in the case with any driver, the pressure was on for Dillon to prove he was deserving of the dedication. Gaining a pole in the first race of the season at Daytona, the die was casted for an interesting rookie campaign by Dillon and the #3 Chevrolet. Dillon would go on to clinch 4 additional poles over the course of the 25-race 2010 Camping World Truck Series season proving he was indeed a fast driver. However, at the Iowa Speedway's truck race in July, Austin Dillon took home his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory. Winning that time on a short track, Dillon would take a speedway event as well in September. Both times, Austin Dillon's #3 Chevrolet wins came after qualifying efforts resulting from pole. Following the 2010 run, Dillon finished 5th in the final standing certifying this driver as a potential threat to the 2011 truck and maybe a NASCAR Sprint Cup series contender in the near future.

Naughty and Nice: Daytona demolition

 The Nextera Energy Resources 250 compiled an anxious 36-truck field for the 2010 kick-off to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. A race promising great action, competitors were eager to take on the 2.5 mile superspeedway with Austin Dillon's #3 Chevrolet leading them through what would be a short race for many prime contenders. A lap 2 caution resulted with a range of twisted and bent sheet metal as 10 trucks were part of a early big wreck. Very shortly after the race restarted another 10-truck crash saw the field slowly getting stripped down as more than half the field sustained major damage over the 250 mile race distance.

The good parts about the 2010 season opening race for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Daytona were many to count but is highlighted simply by the final lap. Timothy Peters aced a last-lap scramble for a slim 0.068 second lead over Todd Bodine. Peters, driving the #17 Red horse Racing Toyota, would go on to put together a successful year with the help of his team placing 6th overall in Camping World Truck Series points.

Nice: Todd Bodine and Germain Racing's Rise to the 2010 Championship

When earlier this season the prospect of seeing the #30 Germain Racing Toyota going the full season looked doubtful, Todd Bodine and team parlayed a 2nd place finish at Daytona into a solid 2010 campaign which would go on through the entire season. Taking the lead for the first time briefly after the Atlanta Motor Speedway race, Bodine assumed definite command of the Camping World Truck Series points lead following the Charlotte Motor Speedway's North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Thanks to a season which equated to 20 top-10 finishes and 4 wins, Bodine clinched his second NASCAR Truck Series title at Phoenix. Following the Ford 200 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Todd Bodine left with a 207-point lead over Aric Almirola.

Rusty Jarrett/ Getty Images for NASCAR
Naughty: Defending Truck Series Champion's title defense

As the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series closed, Ron Hornaday Jr and the #33 Kevin Harvick Incorporated were celebrated a championship after a 6 win season. 2010 proved to be a stark difference for the #33 Chevrolet team. While Ron Hornaday Jr's 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ended with wins at O'Reilly Raceway Park and Martinsville Speedway to add up his tour-leading total of 47 victories, 9 race finishes of 24th or worse resulted in a his worse average finishing result. Defining his season, Hornaday had two sensational big wrecks at Atlanta and Talladega races where he was lucky to escape both times without injury. Hornaday's season ended with a 7th place in the final points standings 627 points away from the lead.

Nice: Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday dueling for Kansas Speedway win

The 5th race of the 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series tour, the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway provided one of the more thrilling lead battles between Ron Hornaday's #33 Kevin Harvick Incorporated Chevrolet and the #13 Thorsport Racing Chevy truck of Johnny Sauter. Both drivers were fighting for their first victory in 2010 season which has proved a harsh start. As Sauter's truck led with 21 laps to go, Hornaday surged on the #13 Chevy sizing up the Thorsport Racing driver for the valuable lead. As Ron Hornaday was able to get alongside Johnny Sauter into turn 3, impact resulted between the two truck. As consequence, both truck went into a sideways drift through the turn 3-4 complex. Amazingly, both Chevrolet trucks of Sauter and Hornaday were able to regain traction. Initially coming out the winner on the near wreck, Ron Hornaday's #33 truck lead across the line for lap 147. However, fatigue on the #33 Chevy through the incident apparently set on as Johnny Sauter was able to blast by Hornaday through the very next lap. With an over 5 second lead over the 2nd place Ron Hornaday, Johnny went on the win the Kansas event.

Naughty: Poor, Broke Busch Story

As much I respect Kyle Busch and the fact he should be considered one of the top driver in overall auto racing (not just NASCAR), his first venture into team ownership in NASCAR has not gone without some excitement. While Kyle Busch himself went on to win a season-leading 8 races and the #18 team were crowned the 2010 team champions in the series (points scored by the #18 team's result with any driver in the truck), issues off the track regarded the team's race shop with a contractor placing a lien on the building and the discontinuation of second truck driver Tayler Malsam's effort when his sponsor pulled out of the team.

I'm sorry to say I can not completely sympathize with a multi-million NASCAR Sprint Cup star crying poverty in running a race team. However, the situation points out a phenomenon almost every professional team owner accomplishes by not spending their own money to go racing. After all, auto racing teams are businesses before pleasure

Nice: Aric Almirola delivers a solid runner-up driver's points performance

The past few year have been a roller-coaster for Aric Almirola who once presided in a NASCAR Sprint Cup ride. Finding a chance to regroup in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Almirola immediately performed as a potentially forgotten talent. Collecting the most top-10 finishes of any driver on the 2010 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Almirola's full schedule with the #15 Toyota of Billy Ballew Motorsports resulted in 2 wins and a runner-up position in the series points standing. Aric Almirola is moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 2011 with the JR Motorsports' #88 Chevrolets.

Photo Credit: Jason Smith/ Getty Images for NASCAR

Naughty: Toyota's near uncontested manufacturer crown

The one problem in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the absence of a firm manufacturer's championship battle. For the past several years, Toyota (who went on to win the series' manufacturer championship again in 2010) has optimize the possession of leading teams to win handsomely without any sizable opposition. In the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, for example, 12 of 36 trucks competing were Toyota Tundra race trucks. While economic troubles have led Chevrolet and Ford to scale back their support to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the American three auto makers have have largely neglected the tour for many years. Chevrolet had a reasonable contingent led by KHI and Thorsport, Ford only had a limited effort the Dodge/RAM truck stable involved mainly one team (the #23 truck driven by Jason White). However, even Dodge's presence with the #23 team was not exclusive as the team experimented with other truck brand bodies throughout the year.

Nice: Elliott Sadler winning inaugural Pocono truck race

Fighting to assert himself in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with as much bad luck as poor performances within the embattled Richard Petty Motorsports team, Kevin Harvick had been offered Elliott Sadler the chance to drive selected races in the 2010 Camping World Truck Series. Debuting at the Daytona with a strong run up until getting caught in a crash, Sadler and the #2 KHI team were able to piece together an outstanding performance at the first truck race held at the 2.5 mile Pocono Raceway. Leading 31 of the race's 55 total laps, Sadler found himself in a NASCAR winner's circle for the first time since winning the 2004 Pop Secret 500 at California Speedway.

While Elliott Sadler lost his Sprint Cup Series ride, the restored confidence and apparent chemistry with KHI his earned a multi-year pairing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for 2011.

Photo Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR

Early Christmas Gift for Tony Kanaan; Ride with de Ferran Dragon Racing

Photo Credit: de Ferran Dragon Racing

Ahead of Christmas and the 2011 new year, 2004 IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan heads into both celebrations knowing his racing career is more secure. Alongside fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran, Kanaan sat at a press conference announcing he will be driving the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series tour for de Ferran Dragon Racing. Often an infectiously cheerful and happy presence in the IZOD IndyCar paddocks throughout the tour, Tony Kanaan said early in the press announcement  that "Christmas came early for me this year. I want to call Gil Santa because he has that much white hair and that big belly (laughter)."

Surging back into victory lane at Iowa Speedway, Tony Kanaan's productive 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series campaign resulted with a 6th place in overall series points and 4th in the Mario Andretti oval championship trophy. Despite having signed a five-year extension with Andretti Autosport in 2008, the withdraw of team partnership 7-Eleven from primary sponsorship has led the team to release their long-time driver shortly after the end of the 2010 season. Departing a four-car operation, Kanaan's 2011 IZOD IndyCar team is a considerably more humble team. "Obviously it has been eight, almost nine years with a big team. So it took me a little bit to get used to it. But in a funny way, I think it's great. It's a big challenge for both of us." Tony Kanaan said. Extremely confident on the team, Kanaan candidly commented "Obviously, as you guys knew, I was negotiating with a few other teams at the time. But I was honest with Gil, he was honest with me, and we started to talk. I was on vacation doing my tryouts. I did the test and it went really well. I really liked the people I saw what I wanted for me as far as a race team. From that point on, it made it much easier for me to make my decision."

Talking about the his team young in the development process, de Ferran Dragon Racing's co-owner describes the hiring of Tony Kanaan saying “This is a great signing and a major coup for de Ferran Dragon Racing,". de Ferran adds "...he is a proven Champion and brings with him a great record of successes on the track."

Planning to remain a single-car operation at this time, two-year IZOD IndyCar Series talent Raphael Matos appears to be looking elsewhere. However, since Gil de Ferran stoked the fires of IndyCar Series team ownership in 2009, he had indicated an indication to run a full-time two-car team. With three months before the St Petersburg season opener for the open wheel series, Matos' time with de Ferran Dragon Racing may not be over. 

Rumours of a second car for Davey Hamilton (who drove for the team on a limited basis last year) could result for 2011. de Ferran Dragon Racing's Gil de Ferran would not provide any details other plans for the team or even sponsorship package of Tony Kanaan's upcoming season's effort.

Besides Christmas and the new year, the de Ferran Dragon Racing announcement also comes ahead of Tony Kanaan's birthday on December 31st.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cadillac's CTS-V Coupe in SCCA World Challenge Race Trim

Photo Credit: General Motors

Cadillac has seemingly a fair-weathered relationship with auto racing in recent history. Represented in 2000 as an American Le Mans Series sports car prototype, their three-year involvement was turbulent competing agains the likes of Panoz and most notedly the legendary Audi R8. Through the first season was a disaster, major updates through the final two seasons eventually saw the Cadillac team as a podium contender by 2002. However, a decision was made by Cadillac to terminate the program after the 2002 American Le Mans Series season without achieving a single LMP victory.

After the three-year Le Mans Prototype run, Cadillac chose to remain in sports car racing but changed their level of involvement. Focusing on production-based racing, Cadillac entered into the SCCA World Challenge series in 2004 with their new CTS-V cars. Achieving a much more fruitful outing in the GT category of the SCCA World Challenge series, Cadillac operating as a factory team won 12 races between 2005 to 2007.

On December 13th, Cadillac announced an official factory-supported effort now using their newly-minted CTS-V Coupes for the 2011 SCCA World Challenge GT category. Remaining as a production-based sports car series, the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe race car will share the 556-horsepower, 6.2 liter supercharged V-8. The words of Cadillac's vice president of marketing Don Butler provided understanding to the luxury brand's renewed interest in sports car racing saying “Returning to racing in the SCCA World Challenge is a great way to demonstrate the performance and capability of the CTS-V Coupe,”.

Inserting themsleves into a category where the Volvo S60 campaigned by K-Pax Racing, Cadillac Racing has lured one of the 2010 Volvo drivers, Andy Pilgrim, back to the General Motors fold. Pilgrim's sports car racing with GM is referenced with long-term involvement with the American Le Mans Series' Corvette Racing program. Andy Pilgrim was also the 2005 SCCA World Challenge GT champion with the previous Cadillac CTS-V race car. Joining as a veteran to the General Motors sports car driver is Johnny O'Connell who is set to race the two-car Cadillac effort at the 2011 SCCA World Challenge season opener at St Petersburg in late March.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rahal, Kimball to Drive for New Chip Ganassi Team in 2011

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney
At the season finale race for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series in 2010, orphaned driver Graham Rahal received multi-year support from auto parts service business TBC Retail Group heading into 2011. As financial support (knowing the adage that money buys speed) serves as a vital ingredient in obtaining a major league ride.  In a major announcement with superstar car owner Chip Ganassi, it was announced that Rahal and the TBC Retail Group has found a home in a new team accompanied by American Indy Lights stand-out Charlie Kimball.

Running just a partial 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule last year driving for four separate race teams, 21-year old Graham Rahal was undoubtedly happy with the development between himself and a champion-proven team owner. “This is the kind of opportunity every driver dreams of. I have been working diligently, specifically over the past several months, to get into one of Chip’s Indy cars, and now that dream has become a reality with the help of Service Central, and many others.” Rahal said.

To pilot a new #38 machine starting at the season opener of St Petersburg, Graham Rahal will be joined by rookie series teammate Charlie Kimball driving the #83 car. A California native driver will competed in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights Series, 25-year old Kimball drove for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport consistently to 4th place in the final points standings. The #83 car will be sponsored by diabetic product provider Novo Nordisk which holds special meaning because Charlie Kimball is personally diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Assembling an all-new IZOD IndyCar Series team for 2011, this Chip Ganassi-owned operation will run largely autonomous to the current Target Chip Ganassi Racing team helmed by drivers Scott Dixon and 2010 IZOD IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti. This team will operate out of a large shop owned by drag racing legend Don Prudhomme who himself has indicated an interest in future IndyCar Series involvement. With Rahal and Kimball together, this team will serve as a much-needed bolstering of American open wheel drivers. As a series which is primarily run in the United States, a call his beckoned for a long-time to see a stronger, more populated American driver contingent on a regular basis.

As part of Chip Ganassi's statement on his new team venture, the 2010 Indy 500 and 2010 Daytona 500 winning car owner said "This should create some excitement for the series both on and off the track”.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review of Friday Action at the 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto: Part 1

Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Alright, being December, I am fully aware that my entry on the 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto is quite late to be considered as current events I want to profile on XSL Speed Reporter. Due to other more pressing writing obligations has diverted my attention away from exercising more creative endeavours on this site. While my intentions is never to withdraw my dedication to completing this Honda Indy of Toronto review, time was never on my side. Being better late than never, I will hopefully allow you to reminiscence of the dog days of summer while much of Canada becomes covered with snow.

Following the productive year I had in 2009, I thought all I needed to do to make this year's coverage perfect was to add more updates and bring sunscreen (it took two weeks after last year's Honda Indy to overcome have serious sunburns on my face, neck and arms). Regrettably, I admit I was unable to attend this year's race in the official capacity of a member of the media. Having been granted the honour of media access last year, this first time experience didn't allow me to fully make use of my press flexibility. It was my intention to avail readers of XSL Speed Reporter to exciting coverage. Maybe representing the latest resurgence of IndyCar after reunification, larger media outlets (including many television stations which were not even present for Friday on 2009) covered the action of the first day of the Honda Indy weekend.

Media vehicles for CHCH TV, CP 24 and CBC were noticeably on attendance
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy

It would also be a relief that this year's general media presence were a little more accepting of the 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto. The 2009 event was almost slandered by sports writers more familiar with 'stick and ball sports'. More positive of the event, there was still articles questioning the presence of the major Canadian auto race.

As was the case last year, the race promoters did not publicize spectator numbers but I imagine media outlets simply observe the grandstands expecting everyone to be seated throughout the race weekend. For anyone who attends an IZOD IndyCar Series road or street course event, you know that this is unlike many year-round sporting events that last only for a few hours. The Honda Indy of Toronto is a three-day festival which encourages spectators to bask in the sights and sounds of the July atmosphere.

While lacking the press access, my love for the event would allow me to forgive my non-inclusion as a reporter. Coming on Friday for the 2010 Honda Indy weekend, I looked forward to again attend the race action as a spectator. Thanks to Honda Canada had provided a Free Friday promotion (giving patrons a chance to absorb the true amazement of the auto racing action) I can attest anyone attending the race was given almost as much freedom as I had last year in viewing to on-track action. As ambient high temperatures sailed past the mark of 30 degrees Celsius.

Photo of Toronto beautiful skyline
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Arriving in the early morning for the CNE grounds via the TTC streetcar, I Iucked out that a gentle rain shower had long ceased with much of the evidence evaporated under mid-summer temperatures that resided inside the 20 degree range. Following a short TTC street car ride, I was enjoying the chance to relish my attendance of the 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto. At the gate, spectators were endorsed to donate fairly to the Make a Wish Foundation Canada. While Free Friday was worth while for fans, there is not one fiber of my being that would not appreciate this charity drive.

After making a proper donation, as did many considerate race fans, I was treated once again to one of the more thorough security checks ever instituted at a sporting event. Bags were checked (which for me pertained to only my camera bag) and food or drink were prohibited beyond the gate. While I give the benefit that this is done for safety, the looks of the concession stand pricing inside the event would definitely need some kind of 'outside food ban' to keep brisk business. But, high prices at food and drink concession stands is only part of the sporting event experience.

As I cleared the front gate to the CNE grounds, my 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto experience started by appraising the paddocks of 6 individual racing series'. Four of the six touring exhibits were found inside of the Direct Energy. Throughout the day, the shelter of the cooler Direct Energy building served some comfort as the July sun and humidity beamed over Toronto. Passing the fleet of Honda Ridgeline trucks destined to parade the drivers of the IZOD IndyCar Series prior to Sunday main event, passage through the Direct Energy Center gave me a look at the Acura World Challenge and Trans-Am on the right side of the building's interior. Far to the left, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series transporters and teams were assembled.

Inside Direct Energy Centre with Honda Ridgeline ceremonial vehicles in view.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/ XSL Speed Reporter

Becoming a oven-like warm Toronto morning, the grounds of the CNE were ripe with activity. The more stabilized and recognized IZOD IndyCar Series as well as the Free Friday promotion was clearly making an impact on attendance. As perhaps the most assuring signal was the presence of families at the race track taking in this affordable sporting event. Compared to Toronto Blue Jays tickets cost around $50 for cheap seat viewing at the Roger Center or a Toronto Maple Leafs game costing at least $150 to $200, the Honda Indy of Toronto provides refreshingly wallet-friendly trips for parents careful amidst these complicated economic times. Even though concession prices could make lunch a more expensive than usual, the no-charge admission succeeded in offsetting that cost.

As I stepped outside, my ears were ringing with an enchanting sound of race engines bellowing around the temporary 2.84-kilometer (1.765-mile) street circuit. Taking to the track early was the 2010 SCCA World Challenge and Trans-Am series competitors. Knowing that the sports cars were positioned as a supporting attraction to the open wheel racing, the sound of these vehicles echoed the best sound of any car competing during the Honda Indy of Toronto weekend. The sight of Volvo S60, Lexus IS300 as well as Volkswagen GTIs in race trim provided a roar which could be compared to a mix between Formula 1 and a Grand Turismo video game.

Tomy Drissi's Jaguar advertising the future release of the movie
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/ XSL Speed Reporter

Acura Sports Car Challenge vehicles and SCCA Trans-Am series race cars returned for a second practice during the afternoon ahead of their Saturday afternoon event which saw the Realtime Racing Acura TSX piloted by Peter Cunningham win the GTS class. Randy Pobst took a close 0.821 second victory in the GT Class with a Volvo S60 as Montreal, Quebec's Kuno Wittmer came home 6th in a Dodge Viper. SCCA Trans-Am Series race's pole was snatched by the Jaguar XKR of Tomy Drissi but the Honda Indy of Toronto race was claimed by RJ Lopez (a first-time series win by the Dominican Republic native) and his Corvette by a nealy 9 second margin. Stouffville, Ontario's Blaise Csida retired with only 21 laps on the board with a mechanical problem.

Randy Pobst's K-Pax Volvo S60 on Friday.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Back to Friday morning as the Honda Indy of Toronto was still a memory waiting to happen, the IZOD IndyCar series took to the track for their first practice of the 2010 event. The headliners of the July weekend speed festivities, the array of drivers such as Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti all returned after running last year's event (the first under the IRL/IndyCar Series structure). It was also the return for 2010 for the 2nd Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car driven by Graham Rahal. Of course, being one of two Canadian rounds for the major open wheel racing series, Paul Tracy rejoined the tour alongside French-Canadian regular Alex Tagliani in competition.  Tracy was running his 2nd race of the season after driving for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing at Watkins Glen in place of the injured Mike Conway.

Graham Rahal ahead of his first practice back with NHL Racing for 2010.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/XSL Speed Reporter

Just like the 2009 event, the IZOD IndyCar teams paraded from the paddock area to the pit lane ahead of every session allowing fans to get a look at their favourite Dallara-Honda Indy cars and drivers. Compared to 2009 where Patrick moved like a flash between locations shielded from view, the popular IZOD IndyCar driver turned over a new leaf in respecting the Canadian race fans. Upon my first sight of her ahead of the first IZOD IndyCar series practice, Danica Patrick would walking down gasoline alley smiling as she cheerfully signed a few autographs. Whether the pressures of her sponsors through IndyCar as well as NASCAR in 2010 or an improved mood, the more congenial Danica Patrick was no less than a welcomed inclusion for the 2010 Honda Indy of Toronto.

Danica Patrick embracing her usually abundant fanfare.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/ XSL Speed Reporter 

Danica Patrick along with Simona de Silvestro and Milka Duno were the female composure of a very diverse grid for the 2010 race in Toronto. With the G20 Summit gathering occurring just three weeks prior, the IZOD IndyCar Series presented a rich international representation of drivers from 12 different countries. Even though the Honda V-8 engines buzzed loudly along the Toronto lake shore, its arguable the race action was more peaceful.

The first time to measure up the competition for the event, the one hour session was led by Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon over Justin Wilson by leading the circuit in 1 minute, 3.9149 seconds. Within several minutes of the green flag being displayed for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series cars, the KV Racing #5 car of former Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato lost traction through the final corner backing his car into a retaining wall. Assisted by the safety crew, Sato was able to restart his car suffering a loss of his rear wing. Belgium's Bertrand Baguette also left the first practice session with damage to his #36 Conquest Racing car. Being the first visit to the Toronto circuit, Baguette was continuing a hard-fought rookie campaign in the IZOD IndyCar Series which started at the 3rd race of the 2010 season.

Picture of Takuma Sato's KV Racing #5 car seconds before impacting the
frontstretch wall.
Photo Credit: Christopher Nagy/ XSL Speed Reporter 

Third-fastest in the first practice session, Alex Tagliani and the FAZZT Race Team posted an effort many home country fans were eagerly seeking from the #77 car. Driving the Make a Wish Canada #15 car, Paul Tracy could only muster a 15th place run against 26 cars. Being Canada's drivers, both Tagliani and Tracy appeared to have a higher than usual amount of obligations to press as well as sponsors. Ahead of noon, Alex Tagliani's FAZZT Race Team's presided within the IZOD IndyCar paddock spotted for one media engagement. Getting in and out of his Hot Wheel-sponsored #77 car, an adoring crowd surrounded the Canadian racer.

Alex Tagliani seated in #77 Hot Wheels/FAZZT Race Team car
Photo Credit: XSL Speed Reporter

As the IZOD IndyCar Series left the track, the Firestone Indy Lights support series were next to lap the circuit starting their practice quarter past 11 in the morning. Leading the series points, J.K. Vernay was ahead of Charlie Kimball and Oakville, Ontario native James Hinchcliffe. Personally having the pleasure of interviewing Hinchcliffe ahead of the Honda Indy of Toronto for PRN Magazine, it was clear to me that a Firestone Indy Lights victory on the temporary race track for the 24-year old would be a major career achievement. In preparations for the Toronto 100 race, James Hinchcliffe would claim fastest time in the first practice.

Venturing around the race track all morning, I face much of that time attempting to find a source of refreshments. As I have already singled out the concession stand prices, it may be obvious it was an issue with me. Being a frugal deal-hunter, I have trouble spending almost twice the price for drinks. In hindsight, I probably should have been more willing to forgo an expense. Drinking fountains were few and far between on the CNE grounds with me eventually finding one inside the Direct Energy Center to refill my empty water bottle. Past noon time, I believe I was in the early stages of dehydration as I began to feel ill effect for not bracing for the elements. Clearly, I was alright after sitting down for about an hour inside the Direct Energy Center after recovering some water.

A productive and enjoyable morning at the 2010 Honda Indy, a brief rest reinvigorated me for what would be an even better afternoon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Proton/Lotus Announces 2011 Formula 1 Partnership with Renault F1

Photo Credit: Renault F1

In just one year back in Formula 1 resulting in the Lotus Racing team's 2010 on-track campaign without scoring points as a new outfit, it could be said that Lotus has at least mastered the art of gaining publicity. Having officially announced in the last weeks of the 2010 Formula 1 season their agreement to replace Cosworth engines with Renault power for 2011, paddock buzz surrounded the possibly that the Lotus Racing and Group Lotus' parent company Malaysia's Proton Group was considering a venture with another Formula 1 team for the next season. These rumours have turned to reality December 8th as Group Lotus and Genii Capital publicized their new partnership called Lotus Renault GP.

With Genii Capital existing as a stakeholder within the current Renault F1 effort, Group Lotus is certified as a holding equity share in the new Lotus Renault GP team. Unveiling the 2011 team's new livery, a black and gold car accented with touches of red bares a close resemblance to the John Players Special paint scheme used during the original Team Lotus' last great heyday. Unlike the Lotus Racing team where Proton has merely provided licensing of the British auto company's name, the car company has a ownership stake with Lotus Racing GP for the 2011 Formula 1 season guaranteed to feature Robert Kubica as the #1 driver. Russia's Vitaly Petrov has a 50/50 chance with returning to the ride for 2011. 
Questions exist where how the new agreement will affect the current Lotus Racing (or Team Lotus). Using the famous British sports car builder's name under license, Lotus Racing has presently stayed largely mum on the formulation of the Lotus Renault GP team. However, on Lotus Racing's team principal Tony Fernandes twitter page one message posted following the Wednesday announcement read "Dany bahr has done us a favour. Never felt better about our future and Team Lotus. Looks like the trying to hijak our black and gold idea.". It should be noted that the past few months have consisted of rumours that Proton Group and the Lotus Racing team have not been on the greatest of terms. 
While it seems that there will be a Team Lotus and a Lotus Renault GP team competing on the 2011 Formula 1 grand prix circuit, the biggest question being immediately presented is what will be the team livery of the 2010 Lotus Racing team. Having planned to change to the black and gold racing colours, the Lotus Renault GP team has apparently taken possession of the paint scheme. Whether the Team Lotus organization will stick with green and yellow or which to another team colour is unsure.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

NASCAR Sprint Cup Fans Vote Dale Earnhardt Jr Most Popular Driver

Photo Credit: Jason Smith/ Getty Images for NASCAR

It appears that streaks are becoming common place within the Hendrick Motorsports stable. First with the #48 Lowes Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson storming to a 5th straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, the #88 Chevrolet team has reason to leave 2010 with some sense of fulfilment. At the annual National Motorsports Press Association’s (NMPA) Myers Brothers Luncheon held prior to the NASCAR Awards Banquet, Dale Earnhardt Jr was named the 2010 winner of the Hamburger Helper Most Popular Driver Award.

Though the #88 driver finished the season in 21st in the overall standings with only 8 top-10 finishes to show for efforts of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Dale Earnhardt Jr along with the team of the #88 AMP Energy and National Guard Chevrolet did persevere through a difficult 36-race stretch to finish each and every race. Though some have doubted Earnhardt Jr's future in Hendrick Motorsports and even the sport in general, a majority of fans have demonstrated the third-generation driver is still their favourite competitor in the premier stock car tour in North America.  “I’ve enjoyed winning it – my fan base has stayed strong. It’s become an important honor each year for me. I’m glad that fans still feel their support for me. I appreciate their dedication and loyalty.” Earnhardt Jr commented accepting the award Thursday afternoon.

With more than 1.5 million fans voting in this year's Hamburger Helper Most Popular Driver Award, Earnhardt Jr beat out the likes of Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards for the 2010 honour. One honourable mention making it into the top-10 of Most Popular Driver voting was the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte.

Scoring his 8th Most Popular Driver Award in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr is only two shy of a benchmark set by two-time Daytona 500 winner and 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott. Enjoying a steady and dedicated fanbase just like Earnhardt Jr's, Elliott was voted most popular 10 times in a row concluding with 16 overall honours.