1. F1 points race tightens with three GPs to go
2. NASCAR's phantom yellows explained using Bowyer as visual aid
3. Shane Hmiel critically injured; Canadian racer scores big win
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
I remember Indianapolis 500s where drivers have lost control on the parade or pace laps and crashed out of the big race before it even started.
Tom Sneva, Roberto Guerrero and the late Jim Malloy come to mind.
But I don’t think I’ve ever seen (or heard of) a driver crashing out of a Grand Prix while just driving around the circuit from the garage area to the dummy grid, Until yesterday (Sunday), that is.
Lucas di Grassi was just zapping around to where the cars get lined up for the start of the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit – where the motors are switched off and the drivers get out and mill around with their teams, sponsors, celebrities and reporters before getting down to business – when he lost control and completely destroyed his Virgin team racing car.
It’s very fortunate he also didn’t destroy himself.
But the elimination of one car was just a sign of things to come.
When the lights went out, all hell broke loose and before the race finally got under way on Lap 6 (Sebastien Vettel led from start to finish in a Red Bull-Renault, with teammate Mark Webber second and Fernando Alonso third for Ferrari full story here), four more cars had been eliminated. although none of the drivers was injured.
The first sign anything was amiss came when Vitaly Petrov’s yellow Renault flew out of the mid-pack beehive about a half-second after the race started and smashed nose first into the outside wall. It turned out that he’d gotten a terrific start but managed to sideswipe Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams on the way past and this caused him to lose control. (He was later penalized five grid places at the next Grand Prix.) Hulkenberg was knocked out of the race at that point, also.
Meantime, Felipe Masss also got a swell start and went flying up the inside but somehow got onto the grass, which was not wise. In attempting to get his Ferrari back onto the macadam, he creamed the Force India of Antonio Liuzzi and they both went flying off into a sand trap and directly to the bottom of the results sheets.
(Massa’s employer, Luca de Montezemolo, said later that he expects Massa to "surprise everybody" in the next three races. What he didn’t say is that if Massa doesn’t knock everybody’s socks off, he won’t be driving for Ferrari next year. . .)
Okay, wait. There’s more.
At the start, Robert Kubica had managed to get his Renault between Vettel and Webber, who had started one-two. So, as they trundled around behind the safety car, it was Vettel, then Kubica, then Webber.
All of a sudden, Kubica pulled off the road. It took a moment or two for the TV commentators, et al, to figure out what had happened and it turned out that his right rear wheel had come off.
How often does that happen in Formula One? Where a wheel just falls off a car when there isn't a crash, or whatever?
BBC pit reporter Lee McKenzie tried to get an explanation but was foiled. All Kubica would tell her was that "the wheel fell off."
Good thing it didn’t happen when you were going 190 miles an hour, Robert.
In any event, they finally got the race going and, just as quickly, it was over. The first three – Vettel, Webber, Alonso – stayed that way the entire race. The two McLarens were going to finish Lewis Hamilton fourth and Jenson Button fifth, but Hamilton lost third gear toward the end (and McLaren installed a new gearbox just before the race, costing Lewis five grid spots, so what to think about that?) and Button passed him for fourth.
Sixth went to Michael Schumacher who finally showed flashes of being his old self. He tried to pass his young teammate, Nico Rosberg, who’s had his measure all season, and couldn’t. But the old mongoose pushed and pushed his younger teammate so that Nico finally couldn’t take it anymore and flat out blew it, crashing heavily.
Although I’m sure Schumacher hoped his young rival wasn’t hurt, you can bet he was cackling with some glee as he flew past the crashing Rosberg. "Take that, junior," is probably what he was thinking.
In the end, and with three races remaining (although there very well may only be two because the next race in Korea is in doubt), Webber has a 14-point lead over Vettel and Alonso, who are tied for second, with Hamilton fourth, 28 points behind, and Button fifth, another three back.
This is getting really exciting. The championship will likely got down to the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
If Timo Glock is in fifth place at the start of the last lap, I’m not going to watch.
– One of the really neat things about Suzuka is that great big Ferris wheel. It dominates the circuit, unlike the original wheel at Le Mans that isn’t as big and is away from the track. You always know that F1 is at Suzuka when you see that Big Wheel.
– When Massa crashed and the cameras settled on the wrecked Ferrari, this is what Martin Brundle said: "(it’s looking) like Bambi when it was born – legs pointing every which way."
Do you think that was an impromptu remark or does he write clever things like that down to use on such occasions?
Discuss amongst yourselves.
– Rubens Barrichello obviously fuggetsaboutit. He gave Michael Schumacher plenty of room to pass, unlike Schumi’s stunt in Hungary when he just about put poor Rubens into the wall for daring to overtake him.
Is it because Rubens is a nice guy? Or that he didn’t know it was Schumacher?
Discuss, after you’ve decided whether Brundle has a quick wit or just prepares well.
– Hasn’t anyone told Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi that you’re not really supposed to pass in F1? He was passing people left, right and centre – and sometimes twice.
For instance, he passed Jaime Alguersuari once, then he went to the pits for tires. So he had to pass Alguersuari again, which appeared to brown off the Toro Rosso driver, who banged wheels with Kobayashi not once but twice to show his annoyance.
He also passed Barrichello (who didn’t?), Nick Heidfeld and Adrian Sutil. In fact, before he got past Rubens, he appeared to try a little NASCAR "bump and run" on him at the hairpin but it didn’t work.
He’s just an entertaining young guy.
– It was a weird telecast. I watched about 30 minutes of the "live" broadcast at 2 a.m. before falling asleep on the couch. They had side-by-side commercials – the race on the left and the commercial on the right – as they’ve been doing all season on TSN.
But when they repeated the race at 8 a.m., they went to full commercials, which meant leaving the race. Strange, considering you would think they’d just record the race live and then run the tape or whatever later.
– Hey, if they cancel the Korean GP, it will be nearly a month before we see F1 again – in November, from Brazil. What ever will we talk about?
Four years ago, Shane Hmiel was banned for life by NASCAR after failing three drug tests.
We’re not talking here about a little booze still in the system, as happened with Randy Lajoie, or what Jeremy Mayfield contends was an ingredient in over-the-counter cold medication, but really serious stuff.
I believe NASCAR did the right thing by banning Hmiel – after giving him every opportunity to rehabilitate himself, including arranging treatment, it was three strikes and you’re out – but I also have great sympathy for anyone suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction/dependency. Find me a family where it isn’t a problem.
Yup, and that includes Lindsay Lohan. People like her, and Shane Hmiel, suffer from an incurable disease. It can be arrested, however, and it’s wonderful to see people like them turn their lives around.
Shane Hmiel has been sober and drug-free for more than three years now and when he could no longer pursue a career in stock cars, he turned his attention to open wheel oval racing. This season, he’s been racing in three of the U.S. Auto Club’s national series – midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars (champ cars) on both dirt and pavement. His ultimate ambition? To start the Indianapolis 500.
Saturday night at the Action Track in Terre Haute, Ind., during time trials for a Silver Crown race, Hmiel’s car caught a rut in the dirt surface midway between turns three and four and flew into the guardrail roll-cage first, collapsing it video here.
He was terribly injured – head, neck and back – and is in hospital in Indianapolis in stable but critical condition.
Let’s all hope that Shane Hmiel can draw on the same courage and intestinal fortitude in his fight to get physically well as he’s shown in his determination to get better emotionally.
THOSE DAMN PHANTOM YELLOWS
If you ever wanted a perfect example of the phantom NASCAR "debris yellow," in which an excuse is invented to throw the yellow flag and close up the field, it was right there for all to see in the closing laps of yesterday’s Sprint Cup race at California Speedway in Fontana.
With the disgraced Clint Bowyer in the lead and looking for all the world like the eventual winner of the Pepsi Max 400 (Tony Stewart finally took the checkers, with Bowyer second and Chase leader Jimmie Johnson third full story here), NASCAR called for a yellow to pick up a piece of debris up against the fence on the backstretch.
(I say "disgraced" because Bowyer was docked 150 points, his car owner Richard Childress was docked 150 points and the crew chief and car chief were each suspended for six races and the crew chief fined $150,000 after Bowyer’s race-winning car was found to be illegal after New Hampshire.)
When the yellow was thrown, Bowyer was instantly upset. ". . . that piece of debris has been back there the whole run (since the last yellow)," he said. "Why now?"
Well, I’ll tell you why. NASCAR didn’t want Bowyer to win that race. And I guarantee you that the No. 33 car, Bowyer’s mount, is either getting the fine-tooth-comb treatment now, or soon will be again, because of what happened a few weeks ago.
There’s actually more to it. If Bowyer/Childress had taken their punishment and promised never to do anything like that again (their "crime" it had to do with the placement and angle of the chassis on the frame rails), then they’d probably be okay.
But because they fought the charges all the way through the appeals process rather than just taking their medicine, they are in the sanctioning body’s bad books and if it isn’t an engine teardown one week or a seizing of the chassis for "further examination" the next, it’ll be a phantom yellow, or yellows, that continue to give that team fits.
In the end, Bowyer got past Johnson and held on for second place, which was redemption for him, presumably, but he wasn’t in Victory Lane and that - you can bet - was fine by NASCAR.
In the end, Johnson holds a 36-point lead over Kevin Harvick, with six Chase races to go. Denny Hamlin is 54 behind, Geoff Gordon is 85 and Stewart is 107 back. Those five are the only drivers who now have any chance of winning the championship; in all reality, it’s between the top three.
Other Chase drivers Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch saw their seasons end because of mechanical failures (they’ll be racing next week, of course, but the championship is now out of reach) while Kurt Busch’s title hopes went out the window when he and David Regan crashed together.
That little contretemps was just one of them racin’ deals. Regan was trying to finish off a classic slide job by going up to the wall in front of Busch and Kurt wouldn’t back off when he saw what was happening.
The result? KA-BOOM.
In the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, won by Kyle B., Danica Patrick was driving her best race since trying NASCAR and was running 14th late in the contest when she was punted into the wall by some guy named James Buescher.
It’s kinda sad that some men just can’t handle being beaten by a girl.
Canadians figured prominently in two other U.S. racing stories this weekend.
– The winner of the Sunday modified feature headline race at Super D.I.R.T. Week held annually at the New York State Fairgrounds mile track in Syracuse was Stewart Friesen of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the first Canadian to win the big race in its 39-year-history.
When you beat guys like Brett Hearn, Tim McCreadie (Barefoot Bob’s kid), Billy Decker, Tim Fuller, Richie Tobias Jr. and Kenny Tremont – well, ya done good, kid.
– Anybody who reads my stuff knows that I’m not a big fan of points. If you race for a championship in a series, it’s my preference that the driver who wins the most races should win the title (because, in the end, that’s all that really matters).
So if the U.S. ARCA Racing stock car series was doing things my way, the 2010 championship would have gone to Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont., who won three of this year's 20 races, the most by anybody racing in that series.
Patrick Sheltra of Indiantown, Fla, won two races. He was awarded the championship yesterday after finishing fourth in the final race of the season at Rockingham, N.C.
Arpin missed two ARCA races while off doing the Nationwide Series for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s team or else the win margin might have been greater.
Steve Arpin’s got a bright future. It’s just going to take a little time.