1. Jacques Villeneuve shows he’s still an exciting racer
2. Paul Tracy reportedly to drive warmup for Toronto
3. Toronto’s Wilkins eyes points lead in Grand Am Rolex
Usually, this Monday Morning racing roundup would concentrate on the Sunday races – Jimmy Johnson’s NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in California and Tony Kanaan’s exciting IndyCar win in Iowa, which was his first in two years – but both pale in comparison to Jacques Villeneuve’s performance in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Road America.
I know, Villeneuve didn’t win but if it hadn’t been for a broken alternator wire he not only would have been fighting for the victory but been guaranteed a solid second at the checkers.
As it was, when his engine started gasping for life on the last lap (it started coughing a lap earlier), Villeneuve was passed by car after car on the four-mile-long Road America circuit until he finally made it home in 25th place.
Sprint Cup regular Carl Edwards, who was in a class by himself on Saturday, won the race with Mississauga’s Ron Fellows second and Brendan Gaughan third. J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge, who partnered Fellows as a "Team Canada" entry for JR Motorsports, finished seventh, giving team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. two cars in the top ten.
Villeneuve, who was driving the first of two races for Braun Motorsports – the other will be the NASCAR race at Montreal in late August – was the star of the race for showing time after time that you can make a pass in a NASCAR race without having to run into the guy racing next to you (see Sunday’s Cup race at Infineon for a comparison).
With 17 laps to go, Villeneuve passed five – count ‘em, five – cars going into "Canada Corner" on the Road America track and took the lead by holding the inside on a three-wide entry into the turn.
No muss, no fuss, no bashin’ and crashin’. Just guts and nerve and beautiful race-driving ability.
Villeneuve, who won two races at Road America back in his CART Indy car days, had this to say afterwards:
"I still remember the track as if I had driven it last week," he told Paul Gohde, of racingnation.com. "It was always one of my favorite road courses and I was looking for an excuse to come back here and it's been great fun.
"These cars (as compared to the Indy cars) are very heavy and don't have downforce. It's a huge difference, especially in the high-speed corners. You change your braking distance. In the Carousel (turn) and the last part of the track where you have rolling corners and high-speed corners – in an Indy car you wouldn't brake. You'd stay flat or lift a little bit. Now you have to brake a lot and position the car."
He did all that with style and sophistication and talent befitting a Formula One world champion: He certainly impressed winner Edwards, who told a TV interviewer:
"Wow, to race all day with Jacques Villeneuve and then to hold off Ron Fellows at the end, it’s just cool."
– Rusty Wallace might have been a great racing driver and might have talent in other areas (he designed the speedway in Iowa where the IndyCar series raced Sunday) but he’s a disaster as a TV colour commentator.
First, I don’t know what it is with these U.S. announcers that they can’t seem able to pronounce the name "Villeneuve." Is it really that hard? Paul Page, for years, called Jacques. "Vellino." Now, I like Paul Page and always felt his voice said "Indy car racing" like no other could, but he’s a professional announcer and it drove me crazy to hear him mispronounce Jacques’ name.
Now we have Wallace mangling it even more. How in the world does "Villeneuve" become "Val-a-new?" Which was the word that came out of Rusty’s mouth every time he mentioned Jacques’ name on Saturday.
And then – I have to watch my blood pressure here – he actually had the audacity to say, "Jacques ‘Valanew’ reminds me of Marcos Ambrose."
That’s like saying Placido Domingo reminds me of the guy I heard singing in the church choir.
Way to go, Rusty. You’re comparing a world champion to a go-kart racer, which is what Marcos Ambrose is in comparison to Jacques Villeneuve.
There’s more to life than NASCAR, Rusty. Open your eyes.
– If I know Ron Fellows, he pulled out his cellphone after the Nationwide race and called Dale Earnhardt Jr. to tell him, A – that he’d finished second and, B – that he was available to fly to the coast and take over the 88 Cup car if Junior wanted to give it up.
Earnhardt, of course, would say thanks but no thanks. But he’d be wise to take the chance because every time Ron Fellows straps himself into a competitive race car these days, he’s a candidate for the top step on the podium.
As it was, Dale Jr. finished 11th in California Sunday. Who knows if Fellows could have done better – but it’s a good bet, considering the way he's driving these days, that he might have.
– J.R. Fitzpatrick did a fine job to finish seventh on the road course and has several more shots lined up. And expect an announcement this week on some oval starts that he’ll make before the season is over. All these, of course, in addition to his regular ride in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
– Although it doesn’t really fit in here, we’ll stick it in anyway. Fitzpatrick’s arch rival in the Canadian Tire series, Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Infineon on Saturday. He ran out of fuel on the final lap but managed to get the car around to the checkers before anybody caught him.
Ranger and Fitzpatrick will go head-to-head in the NASCAR race at the Honda Indy Toronto July 16-18, which should be really exciting. Those two usually put on a good show.
– Fellows hit one of his crewmen when he was pulling into his pit during an early-race stop. The guy wasn’t hurt but some front-end damage was done to the race car . . . NASCAR’S conducting of road-course races is awful. Why in the world would they do two pace/parade laps of a circuit that’s four-miles long – at 35 miles an hour behind the pace car? One is enough. And although the TV announcers said the red flag to clean up a huge crash was 31 minutes long, it sure felt like twice that . . . The race ran so long that Villeneuve’s pit crew had to leave to catch a plane to California where they had to work the Cup race Sunday. Some of Jason Leffler’s crew were made available if JV had to make a late-race stop (which he didn’t) . . . David Hobbs was the track announcer at Road America. The ex-F1 and Indy car pilot lives part-time in Wisconsin.
Rusty Wallace’s hero, Marcos Ambrose, pulled one of the great boneheaded moves late in the Cup race at Infineon Sunday that many of the published and broadcast reports said cost him the victory.
There were still six laps to go when this happened and perhaps he holds on and perhaps he doesn’t. Personally, I don’t think he could have stayed in front of eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, who had a full head of steam on. Robby Gordon was second and Kevin Harvick finished third.
This is what Ambrose did that’s got all those tongues clucking. To save fuel, and while running in the lead during a caution period, he turned off the motor of his car. Now, this isn’t unusual: over the years, many stock car racers on road courses have done the same thing to conserve petrol. You’re going downhill, so you shut off the engine and coast and when you have to pick up the pace you fire it up again You might only save a cupful, but it could make all the difference at the end of the race.
But Marcos decided to turn off his motor when he was going uphill. It was like he stopped on a dime.
By the time he brought the car back to life, he’d dropped to seventh place. He immediately blasted past everybody and took what he thought was his rightful place behind the pace car but NASCAR sent him back to seventh for "failing to maintain pace."
Anyway, it was an exciting race for people who like the tradin’ paint aspect of NASCAR. As explained above, I personally prefer the artistry shown by Jacques Villeneuve at Road America but maybe I’m in the minority.
The big news to emerge from the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Iowa, won by Ton Kanaan by a heartbeat over Helio Coastroneves, with EJ Viso third (Canadian Alex Tagliani was 12th), is that Paul Tracy may have a ride for the next race at Watkins Glen, on July 4, which would give him a warmup before the Honda Indy Toronto on July 16-18.
Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star reports that Tracy is all but certain to be racing for the Dreyer & Reinbold team alongside regular driver Justin Wilson with Graham Rahal possibly in a third team car.
Tracy had said in Toronto a few weeks ago that it was possible he’d be in a car for Watkins Glen entered by KV Racing Technologies, which ran him last year at Watkins Glen and the two Canadian stops at Toronto and Edmonton.
The great Canadian champion, who failed to make the lineup for this year’s Indianapolis 500 because KV Racing withdrew his car and he was then unable to get it back into the field, said at the time that because he hadn’t run at Indy there was unused money available for the engine lease program so it wouldn’t cost a sponsor much to back him for the race at the Glen.
But it didn’t happen and Tracy was looking at only the two Canadian races with KV Racing until the opportunity came up with Dreyer and Reinbold. He’s apparently signed a contract.
Oh, Takumo Sato had another crash in a KV Racing car at Iowa Sunday. Maybe KV couldn’t run Tracy at the Glen because they’re out of cars . . .
Oh, and Danica Patrick, who was 10th at Iowa, will return to the NASCAR Nationwide series for a one-off next weekend at New Hampshire. If she doesn’t have to qualify her way into the race, she can thank J.R. Fitzpatrick for finishing seventh at Road America and getting the No. 7 car into the Top 35 in points, which would lock her into the field.
– It was poetic justice at Mid-Ohio Saturday during the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car race after Max Angelelli ran Rob Barbosa off the road while trying to pass where he knew he couldn’t.
So Barbosa blasted his way back onto the track, kicking up some stones and grass and mud in the process. Along came Angelelli seconds later, only to lose control and spin when his wheels came into contact with the muck on the road left by Barbosa.
Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the race, as usual (it was their fifth win in seven races) with Ozz Negri and John Pew second. Closing fast as a bullet at the end was Mark Wilkins of Toronto (with American partner Burt Frisselle) in the AIM Autosport of Woodbridge Pacific Mobile/Biosign No. 61 Ford Riley.
Wilkins passed fellow Canadian Michael Valiante of Vancouver with two laps remaining to make it onto the podium. The finish moves the AIM team drivers into second place in the standings behind Pruett and Rojas.
– James Hinchcliffe of Oakville and Philip Major of Ottawa finished fifth and sixth respectively in the Indy Lights race at Iowa won by Sebastian Saavedra. "Hinch" now holds down third place in the Indy Lights standings. By the way, rookie Major drove the fastest lap of the Indy Lights race – 160.218 mph (20.076 seconds).
– Jamie Collard of Burford made a thrilling last-lap pass of leader Glenn Styres of Ohsweken to win the Southern Ontario Sprints feature at Brighton Speedway on Saturday night. Keith Dempster of Alton was third.
– Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., won the World of Outlaws Late Model Series race Sunday at Cornwall Motor Speedway. The win was worth $10,600. Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., was second and Tim Fuller of Watertown, N.Y., was third.