1. Alonso wins Italian GP but Webber leads series
2. Ho-hum NASCAR race reminiscent of CART parade
3. Minor leaguers provide most of the excitement
This was a strange weekend. Two major racers were held – in which Fernando Alonso won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza (full story here) and Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Chevy Rock ‘ Roll 400 at Richmond (full story here) – but although I can’t come right out and say one or both were boring, they were definitely lacking in pizzazz.
In the Grand Prix, there wasn’t really anything to get excited about. Nobody did anything stupid that we could debate afterward (like Sebastien Vettel piling into Jenson Button and putting them both out, as happened at the last Grand Prix) and even the stewards didn’t get involved in anything, for a change.
In the NASCAR race, nobody rocked the boat – there were only three yellows the whole race and one was for a rain shower – and even Kyle Busch was on his best behaviour, both on and off the track.
Once past the big leagues, however, there was plenty of excitement:
– Canada’s Robert Wickens won the final GP3 Series race of the year at Monza;
– D.J. Kennington beat Don Thomson Jr. by an eyelash in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race at Barrie Speedway;
– Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard won this weekend’s Rallye Défi in Quebec, the fourth of six rounds in the 2010 Canadian Rally Championship;
– Nick Wittmer of Montreal won the Super Touring Car title and Anthony Rapone of Thornhill wrapped up the Touring Car championship as the Castrol Canadian Touring Car Series season came to an end at Le Circuit iCar at Mirabel, Que.
As usual, the start of a Grand Prix is tremendously exciting and this one was no exception, with McLaren’s Jenson Button beating Ferrari pole-sitter Fernando Alonso into the first chicane and assuming command of the race from the get-go.
Felipe Massa managed to hold third for Ferrari, despite being run-into by McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. The collision destroyed Hamilton’s right-front steering arm and his race was over at the next corner when he went straight into the kitty litter instead of turning right.
Although several other drivers cut corners, everybody else got through the first few turns unscathed for a change and we didn’t have the usual first-lap flurry of pit stops for new noses or fresh rubber.
Mark Webber, who ended the race in sixth place and is ahead in the world championship standings again, had a rotten start from sixth and fell all the way back to ninth.
Although he told reporters later that the team hadn’t performed well and could have done a lot better, I would suggest Mr. Webber take a look at himself in his mirror before pointing the finger at others.
The only pass for the lead took place on Lap 38 when the Ferrari mechanics were fast as lightning getting Alonso out of the pits in front of Button. Once ahead, Alonso had no difficulties holding the lead until the finish.
With the European season now over, F1 will jet off to such romantic locales as Singapore (in two weeks), Japan, Korea and so-on. Everybody should be reminded not to drink the water.
Webber, with 187 markers, leads Hamilton by five points. Alonso is third with 166, which is one ahead of the defending world champion, Button. Vettel is two behind Button, at 163.
– Massa doesn’t look comfortable. You can see it in his eyes.
While Rubens Barrichello feigned annoyance at having to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari all those years, he was happy to do it because he knew, in the end, that he wasn’t as good as his teammate.
I think Massa is still fretting about Germany, when he was told to let Alonso past. I think he thinks he’s as good as Fernando (and maybe he is) and it’s really sticking in his craw that he has to be No. 2.
I wonder what Felipe will do the next time?
– Red Bull says one of the brakes on the car failed to fully open after a curve and that’s what slowed Sebastien Vettel down early in the race, not a motor problem.
Eddie Jordan had suggested – for all the conspiracy theorists watching the race – that it might have been a deliberate act on the part of Red Bull’s computer engineers to let Webber pass his teammate.
I, on the other hand, was speculating that perhaps Vettel had accidentally brushed a button, or pushed the wrong one, on his steering wheel and that’s what had temporarily balked the engine’s performance.
But it was just a lazy brake, the team says.
How disappointing . . .
– It might have been his day but Alonso kept making little mistakes. At one point, in the laps before the pit stops, he got right up behind Button but then clipped a curb, which caused him to fall back. Then, near the end, when he had a bit of a lead, he cut the corner of a chicane, driving straight through.
Not the sort of performance we expect from the guy who’s Ferrari’s No. 1.
– Having said that, Alonso can do no wrong – apparently – in the eyes of the tifosi. According to Martin Brundle, Alonso is the most popular driver for Ferrari since Gilles Villeneuve.
He said it; not me.
– How come they continue to get away on world-wide TV calling Ferrari, "Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro?"
– Jenson Button said he spent the part of the race when he was leading looking in his mirrors and guestimated the gap between his car and the Ferrari following him by looking at the big-screen TVs scattered around the Monza circuit.
It shows you how good those guys are when they can drive an F1 car at nearly 200 miles an hour and watch TV at the same time, eh?
- Kevin Kalkhoven was shown watching the race with Sir Frank Williams. Kalkhoven, co-owner of Cosworth engines, former owner of the Champ Car World Series and current team owner in the Indy Racing League, lost a client at the weekend - Lotus, which will go with Renault engines next season.
– Now, I’ve tried – oh, how I’ve tried – not to say anything bad about TSN and their coverage of Formula One recently but I can’t help myself: they cut way from the coverage yesterday morning before the post-race interviews were finished.
It’s like there’s some guy down at that station – or at Rogers Cable, I could care less which – who sits with his or her finger on the button, waiting for someone to stop talking for an instant so they can punch that button and get that stupid auto racing off the air just as fast as they possibly can.
And what do they then put on the air? The 15 millionth rerun of Sports Centre. I mean, if it was something interesting, I could maybe understand it. But the 15 millionth rerun of Sports Centre?
Now, it was about 9:45 on a Sunday morning when they did this. There are – oh, what? – 200,000 F1 fans watching the race? And TSN can’t wait to get back to a program that maybe – maybe – 15 or 20 people might be interested in watching at that hour on a Sunday morning?
I don’t get it. I’ll never get it.
As soon as Bernie offers up Internet coverage of F1 that I can hook up to my 43-inch plasma TV, I will gladly pay anything he wants, just so I never again have to be insulted by those TV people.
Because that’s what they're doing. Every time they pull the plug like they did yesterday, they’re giving the middle finger to every F1 auto racing fan in this country.
Let me see. The NASCAR race Saturday night ended at or about 10:35 p.m. But TSN didn’t get around to putting Sports Centre on the air till, what, 11:25 or so?
Mmmm. Why is it that they leave NASCAR on the air so long after the racing is finished and yet can’t wait to kill the F1 coverage?
Oh, silly me. I forgot. NASCAR and TSN are in business together, that’s why.
In any event, the Chevy Rock ‘n Roll 400 Saturday night reminded me of the last CART race at Nazareth Speedway in 2001 (Scott Dixon got his first Indy car win that day and the microphone cut out when Roger Penske went to say, "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines." He said it; we just didn’t hear it.)
Gary Morton and I sat there just about bored out of our skulls because the race started and it quickly became a fuel-economy run and nobody passed anybody and it was enough to put you to sleep. Kind of like the way the Richmond race turned out.
Saturday night, the drivers were up-front about it, though: the field for the Chase was set (okay, Clint Bowyer had to solidify his hold on 12th place) and nobody really had anything to prove. And nobody wanted to do anything stupid that would create a whole lot of unnecessary work for their teams in the week leading up to the first playoff race.
So they drove around and around and everybody stayed out of trouble.
Yes, Kyle Busch closed up on Hamlin in the last half-dozen laps to make a bit of a show of it, but he wasn’t seriously going to try to pass him and everybody knew it.
So, let the playoffs begin.
– Announcer Marty Reid did his best on Saturday night to make things sound exciting – "if so-and-so passes so-and-so, that will translate into a 20-point swing going into the Chase" – but it’s really tough to make chicken salad out of salami (haha, thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you?)
– Joe Gibbs knows, as only a professional sports coach knows, that nothing is ever a sure thing. When an interviewer asked him if Joe Gibbs Racing was the team to beat, he was denying it before the question was even finished.
"No, no, no," he said, before saying that this year’s Chase field is probably "the closest and best we’ve had."
He’s right about that. The top 12 drivers in this year’s Chase really are the top 12 drivers in NASCAR and the playoff races should give the NFL a run for its money on Sunday afternoons from now till November.
– If stick-thin Joey Logano drank as much Coca-Cola as he pretends to (he’s always swigging from a bottle of the stuff when the TV cameras start cranking) he’d weigh 200 pounds.
– I couldn’t believe Kyle Busch Saturday night. He keeps his nose clean all race and then butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth during all the interviews afterward. Smiling, congenial, charming. Was this an imposter?
Oh, wait a minute. It turns out that on Monday night, a new series is apparently going to start on ESPN in the U.S. called "Riding Shotgun with Kyle Busch."
So Kyle was in total PR mode Saturday night. Wouldn’t want to get the sponsors upset before the series even started, would we?
– Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished six laps behind the winner, Hamlin, on Saturday night. What is the matter with him?
Wickens wins GP3 race at Monza
Robert (Robbie) Wickens of Guelph and Toronto ended the inaugural GP3 Series season in perfect fashion with a victory in the weekend’s second race at Monza. He’d finished second in the first race on Saturday.
Daniel Morad of Markham, driving for the same Status Grand Prix team as Wickens (it’s owned by Vancouver businessman Teddy Yip Jr.), finished seventh (ninth in Saturday’s first race).
Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico won the championship. Gutierrez has a Toronto connection: he drove a season in the Formula BMW-USA Series for Team Autotecnica of Vaughan.
Wickens, who finished the year in second place in the championship, will likely race in GP2 next season, although there’s a chance – a chance – he could make the jump to F1.
Wickens, if he does do GP2 next season, will have to win the title if he harbours any hope of becoming an F1 driver and doesn’t make the move to the big league in 2011.
He finished second last year in the first year of the new FIA Formula 2 Series. That earned him a ticket right out of town from Red Bull racing director Helmut Marko, who had supported him the previous three years.
As Wickens himself said, "the name of the game is to win, and I didn’t."
That, unfortunately, was the story again this year but Wickens showed this weekend that, given the horses, he can beat just about anybody.
When the lights went out Sunday, he started seventh but was in second place by the first corner (shades of Paul Tracy!). He took the lead at the next corner and was never headed.
While Wickens will undoubtedly go on, Morad told the Star’s special F1 correspondent, Gerald Donaldson, that he wants to return to GP3 in 2011, where he plans to run for the championship.
Kennington wins NASCAR Canada race by a whisker
They needed a photo finish to determine the winner of the Wild Wing 300 presented by DriveWise at Barrie Speedway on Saturday night.
In the end, D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas edged Don Thomson Jr. of Hamilton by 0.015 seconds, which is what? Half a blink?
Pete Shepherd III of Brampton was third (and it’s great to see his career back on track after a year or two away from the action), with 2008 national champion Scott Steckly of Milverton fourth and current points leader J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge fifth.
Thomson, a five-time CASCAR champion, edged into the lead on the last lap between turns one and two by "moving" Kennington up toward the fence.
Kennington, who has never won a CASCAR or a NASCAR championship but is determined that this will be his year, backed off ever so slightly and then returned the favour between turns three and four by getting inside Thomson and moving him up the track.
It was then a flat-out, 50-yard drag race to the checkers and Kennington triumphed by about the chrome on his front bumper, moving his points total to within 21 markers of Fitzpatrick’s 1,778.
It looks like this NASCAR Canadian Tire Series championship – with just two races remaining at Riverside Speedway in Nova Scotia next Saturday night and Kawartha Speedway near Peterborough the following Saturday – will go right down to the wire.
P.S. There was controversy in this race. Kerry Micks of Mt. Albert, who finished 14th, was furious afterward because he felt he’d been held in the pits unjustly following a mid-race collision while he was running on the lead lap.
Micks, who reportedly wasn’t leaking any fluids, went to the pits for temporary repairs and planned to keep ducking in and out of the pits while the yellow was on, staying ahead of the pace car and remaining on the lead lap.
But a NASCAR official wouldn’t let him go and by the time he returned to the speedway, he was four laps down and his race was done.
The NASCAR official reportedly worked for Micks previously as his crew chief.
Conflicts of interest have no place anywhere, but particularly in car racing where a decision one way or another can make or break an effort.
I suspect we haven’t heard the end of this one.
P.P.S. Only 18 cars entered the race on Saturday night in Barrie, down significantly from the more than 30 that entered the race at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal several weeks ago. That is not good enough and NASCAR Canada has got to make it clear that teams can’t cherry pick races.
L’Estage, Nathalie Richard set record with rally win
Two of the most familiar names in Canadian rallysport, Antoine L’Estage and Nathalie Richard of Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., won the 2010 Rallye Défi at the weekend in a Mitsubishi.
L’Estage and Richard (L’Estage has already won the North American Rally Cup and the 2010 Rally America Championship this year), won the Rallye Défi – held just outside Montpellier, Que. – for a record fifth time.
L’Estage and Richard are now three points out of first place in the Canadian Rally Championship standings, a position currently held by Nathalie Richard’s brother Pat, of Squamish, B.C., and co-driver Alan Ockwell of Toronto, who finished second this weekend in a Subaru.
Third place this weekend went to Craig Henderson and Lyne Murphy of New Richmond, Que., also in a Subaru.
There are two rallies remaining in the Canadian championship – the Pacific Forest Rally at Merritt, B.C., the weekend of Oct. 1 and 2 and then the famous Rally of the Tall Pines at Bancroft, Nov. 19 and 20.
Wittmer, Rapone clinch touring car titles
Nick Wittmer of Montreal wasted little time showing his opponents his dust yesterday when the green flag dropped to start the final Castrol Canadian Touring Car Championship race of the season.
Wittmer, who won Saturday’s heat race, took the lead right off the bat and never let up over the 25-lap race distance, winning the Super Touring Class championship in the process.
Greg Pootmans of Toronto was second in Sunday’s race and Mathieu Audette of Ste-Ann-de-Lacs, Que., was third.
In Touring Class, Rapone, of Thornhill, held on to win the championship even though he finished second in class in Sunday’s finalé, losing to Michel Sallenbach of Roxton Pond, Que.
Karl Thomson of Toronto finished third in class.
– Dan Aitken Jr. of Belle River not only won his class but scored the overall win as well as the Quick 32 Sportsman Series presented by NAPA Auto Parts wrapped up its season.
The drag racers were rained out at Grand Bend on Labour Day weekend and had to finish things off yesterday at Toronto Motorsports Park near Cayuga.
Aitken, driving a big-block 1995 Ford Mustang in the Top Sportsman class, ran a 7:33 (183.93 miles an hour) in the event final over the Top Dragster of Bill Moloughney of Shawville, Que., who broke. . . .
– Mark Wilkins of Toronto and American Burt Frisselle finished fourth aboard the Woodbridge-based AIM Autosport Pacific Mobile/Biosign No. 61 Ford Riley Daytona Prototype in the final Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race of the year at Miller Motosports Park in Utah.
(Whew, what a mouthful.)
The race was won by – who else? – Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas driving for Chip Ganassi.
– Anthony Davidson and Nicolas Minassion won the Autosport 1,000 km at Silverstone in England in a Peugeot.
– On a sad note, Willem Fredrik (Wimp) Coerse of Oakville died Friday in hospital in Burlington.
Mr. Coerse and his wife and kids were part of the "Canadian invasion" of New York’s famed Oswego Speedway in the 1960s when Canadian drivers liked Gary Witter, Warren Coniam, Jack Greedy and Norm Mackereth went to Oswego to show the American hot-shoes who was boss.
Wimp’s son Brian Coerse raced supermodifieds at Oswego and then drove midgets with the Can-Am Midget Club.
Only a week ago, Wimp attended an old-timers’ reunion at Oswego.
He was 79.