I have only been so nervous and excited I could hardly catch my breath about five times in my life.
– The last game of the 1972 Canada-Russia Series, when Paul Henderson bailed us out with 34 seconds remaining;
– The 1993 Molson Indy Toronto when an exceptionally fast final pit stop got Paul Tracy out in front of teammate Emmerson Fittipaldi and he went on to win his hometown race;
– The last race of the 1997 Grand Prix season when Jacques Villeneuve survived an attack by Michael Schumacher and finished third in Spain to win the World Championship of Drivers.
– The 2002 Gold Medal men’s hockey game in Salt Lake City, when Canada beat the U.S.
I love auto racing and everything about motor sport but that hockey game was special, wasn’t it?
Sidney Crosby for Prime Minister!
And, by the way, what will the Olympics ever be like without Brian Williams?
He is the Olympics in Canada.
He’s a pretty good car racing play-by-play man, too, although it’s been too many years since we heard him in that role.
Now, back to the real business of this column.
It seems that cooler heads are finally prevailing in Formula One. With only two weeks remaining before the season-opening Grand Prix of Bahrain, the USF1 team – according to a report on Speed TV last night – has asked for a year’s extension to join Formula One.
It became more and more apparent in recent weeks that USF1 wasn’t going to make it onto the grid for Bahrain, primarily because they don’t have a car. Whatever funding they were promised in the way of sponsorship apparently didn’t materialize and they were up the creek.
So instead of continuing to bluff their way through – "please let us miss four races and we promise to show up then . . ." – USF1 has asked for the extension and the FIA would be wise to grant it.
Apparently, the Campos F1 team won’t be in Bahrain either but the other two new teams – Virgin and Lotus – will be, so half a loaf is better than none. It’s time to put a cap on this aspect of the F1 pre-season and start to concentrate on what really matters, which is the racing.
The final test before Bahrain finished in Spain yesterday and, at end of day, Lewis Hamilton was fastest in his McLaren, with Mark Webber a millisecond behind in a Red Bull followed by Felipe Massa in his Ferrari, Adrian Sutil in a Force India, Sebastien Vettel in a Red Bull, Michael Schumacher in the Mercedes (here’s the split – Hamilton, 1:20:472; Schumacher, 1:20:745), Rubins Barrichello in the Williams and Kamui Kobayashi in a BMW-Sauber.
After that, the times dropped off with Sebastien Buemi (1:22 and change in a Toro Rosso-Ferrari), Robert Kubica (1:23+ in a Renault), Heikki Kovalainen (1:25 in a Lotus) and Lucas de Grassi (1:26 in a Virgin-Cosworth).
And then there is the mysterious Stefan GP, the Serbian outfit that claims it will be in Bahrain, even though it doesn’t have an official entry for 2010.
I’m afraid you can’t believe a word those people say. They said they’d planned a test of the car (allegedly one of the new Toyotas that had been built before the company pulled the plug) but had to cancel because they couldn’t get tires. Bridgestone, they said, wouldn’t supply the rubber because they weren’t in the club.
It turns out they couldn’t conduct a test because they don’t have a car, or cars. Toyota won’t release them until it receives payment for them.
There are motor racing companies out there that could have gotten the job done. David Richards, chairman of Prodrive and Aston Martin Racing, comes to mind. It makes you wonder why Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA got mixed up with some of these people, doesn’t it?
I can’t report in detail about yesterday's Sprint Cup race in Las Vegas because, like everybody else in the country, I was dying a thousand deaths watching that hockey game.
I was on and off the bandwagon so many times yesterday I just about had a stroke.
In any event, I did switch over to Fox Sports between the second and third periods of that game to try to get a feel for the race and can report that they had a good and healthy crowd on hand to watch it, which is an improvement over the California stop last weekend when the grandstand looked like the one at an IRL race.
For the record, Jimmie Johnson won his second race of the three-race season to date, meaning that 1) championship No. 5 looks to be very possible and, 2) it’s going to be a really boring season if he wins all the races.
(No wonder the reporters are all going nuts over Danica Patrick.)
Kevin Harvick was second, Jeff Gordon finished third (he was in charge most of the race but opted for only two new tires on his final pit stop while Johnson and others took four), Mark Martin was fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
The Cup series will travel to Atlanta next weekend for the Kobalt Tools 500.
Speaking of Danica, NASCAR really rubbed it in on the weekend when the series moved to Las Vegas.
Danica had been testing with IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama all week and the people who run that series pretty much ignored her because they didn’t want to upset the other drivers.
(Democracy is wonderful, but not when more people watch taped poker games than your races. But I digress.)
The first thing NASCAR did when she arrived in Sin City was to make her the first guest on the Speed TV program "Trackside." Then, when her segment ended and Juan Pablo Montoya came on, the panelists spent most of the time asking him questions about her.
Now, this is all about marketing. NASCAR lost significant audience share on TV last season and there were a lot of empty seats at the speedways. It is trying any number of ways to turn that around - telling the drivers to trade a little paint, increasing horsepower at restrictor-plate races and exploiting the name, charm, good looks and potential stock car driving ability of one Danica Patrick.
They’ll do this until it doesn’t work anymore. Then they’ll zero in on the next best thing.
The problem with IndyCar is they don't have a next best thing. Except for her, they don't have anyone with any name recognition. Dario Franchitti maybe. Helio Castroneves maybe. Marco Andretti maybe. Paul Tracy, yes, but you'll note he's not in the series.
I always say this to people: go out on the street and ask the first 10 people you meet who Scott Dixon is. No one - not one person - will be able to tell you. This is a guy who has won the Indy 500, who’s been IndyCar series champion twice and yet people look blank when you mention his name without context.
Scott Dixon is possibly one of the Indy car drivers who gets upset when the camera is always on Danica. In a way, you can’t blame him. In comparison to him as a race driver, she’s done nothing. But - and there’s always the but - if the IndyCar drivers were truly concerned about the health and future of the business they’re in, which is open wheel Indy car racing, they’d be climbing aboard her bandwagon without hesitation.
Look at the NASCAR guys. To a driver, they’ve all bought in. You will not hear one discouraging word from any of them, because they know that how NASCAR goes, they go (and they’ve all got private jets and mansions on lakes around Charlotte, N.C., and/or penthouse apartments in New York City. Somebody should tell the Indy car guys . . .)
In the Nationwide race at Vegas on Saturday, she ran into the back of a car driven by Michael McDowell, putting them both out of the race. Watch the video and you decide who was at fault. But just listen to what poor McDowell said afterwards.
"It’s completely my fault. Not the spotter’s fault. . . I apologize and I hope that Junior Nation and Danica Mania don’t attack me because I’m a big fan."
He knows which side of the bread his butter’s on, doesn’t he?
For the record, the Nationwide race was won by Kevin Harvick, with Denny Hamlin second and Carl Edwards third.
P.S. Reporter Robin Miller said on the Speed News program last night that Danica wouldn’t talk to reporters after the IndyCar test in Alabama. You can interpret that statement one of two ways:
1. She’s getting too snotty and it’s imperative that her employer, Michael Andretti, who has her under contract, tells her to smarten up or he’ll fine her.
2. More likely, she’s already decided to go to NASCAR sooner rather than later. In short, it’s only a matter of time.
In closing, here is some positive news from that IndyCar test:
- Formula Atlantic graduate Simona De Silvestro turned heads while testing for Keith Wiggins’s HVM Racing team. In only her second time in an Indy car, she set 16th best time.
If she can come up with a budget for the season, she will make her mark. At the moment, she’s only confirmed for the season opener in Brazil.
I saw her race at Mosport last summer - she’s 21 and from Switzerland, by the way - and she’s got serious talent.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if she got enough money together to be able to run the Honday Indy Toronto (July 16-18).
I can just see the marketing now: SIMONA VS. DANICA.
Oh, I forgot. This is IndyCar. More likely it’ll be: EJ VISO VS. MIKE CONWAY
(Okay, I'll knock it off.)
- James Hinchcliffe of Oakville was fastest of the 14 drivers who took time during a Firestone Indy Lights test, also at Barber. Philip Major of Ottawa was 11th.
- Bryan Herta Autosport had its new Colombian driver, Sebastien Saavedra, out for practice in the Indy Lights test and he was fourth fastest. Saavedra, who finished third in the Lights championship last season, has also been entered for this year’s Indy 500 by the Herta team
.- Conquest Racing of Indianapolis (Eric Bachelart, owner) had Brazilian driver Mario Romancini aboard at the Barber test and says they will run the whole Izod IndyCar Series schedule in 2010. The 22-year-old rookie ran in Indy Lights last season.
Okay, and now for a slight change of pace . . .
- Joey Logano has announced he’ll compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 Presented by Dodge on Aug. 28-29 at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.
"I’m looking forward to racing again in Montreal," Logano said in a release, although he added he hopes it doesn’t rain like it did in 2008 when he first raced there.
"Everyone had a hard time seeing and that was the first time many of us raced under those conditions," he said. "But, I think we’ve all gotten a lot smarter in terms of racing in the rain. We all have new windshield wipers now and new (rain) tires so we’re ready."
That 2008 event, by the way, was won by Mississauga’s Ron Fellows, who knows how to race in the rain.