TRACY SAYS HE'S CLOSE TO INDYCAR DEAL - BUT IS HE?
NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger hadn’t won a race in either the Sprint Cup stock car series or the old Champ Car Indy car series in five years but that drought came to an end Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway when he drove the Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype sports car past the checkers to win the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
Allmendinger, who shared his drive with IndyCar and ex-F1 racer Justin Wilson and two "gentlemen drivers," John Pew and Oswaldi Negri, defeated second-place finishers Ryan Dalziel (who started the marathon from pole), Allan McNish, Lucas Luhr, Alex Popow and Enzo Potolicchio by 5.198 seconds, which was pretty close after a complete day of racing that started at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The second-place car was also a Ford-Riley, as was the third-place finisher – also entered by Michael Shank Racing – that was driven by Felipe Nasr, Mike McDowell, Jorge Goncalvez and Gustavo Yacaman.
Allmendinger led the first-place finishing car in the Grand Touring class – a Porsche GT3 driven by Andy Lally, John Potter, Rene Rast and Richard Lietz – by 9.412 seconds at the checkers in a race that saw an average speed of 126.300 miles an hour for the prototypes and 118.031 for the GTs. There were 13 caution periods for a total of 64 laps.
Here is a link to the complete story but I have these observations:
– I know it’s an iconic race and that they said there was a record crowd in the infield (75,000, they say . . . ) but there’s something the matter when a speedway has seating for 165,000 people and the winning driver gets out of the car and waves to the crowd and there is absolutely nobody there.
Yes, in the middle of the night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, nobody is watching that race either. They are too busy partying. But when the race starts and when the race ends, there are thousands of people in the grandstands on both sides of the track, waving and cheering.
Not in Daytona, boy. I felt sorry for Allmendinger. He even had an American flag to wave and the only people standing in front of him in Victory Circle as he jumped out and let go with a winning war whoop were about 50 photographers.
It felt like a club race.
There were NASCAR drivers, IndyCar drivers, ex-F1 drivers and legendary sports car drivers in that field and yet it is obvious that there is next to no interest in that race so far as it being a spectator sport is concerned.
Which is really too bad. It was a good race and an exciting one. I mean, after 24 hours of racing there was five seconds between the winner and the second-place car and it can’t get much better than that.
– I love the holier-than-thou attitude experessed by many top racing drivers. Nothing is ever their fault or of their own doing. They are perfect.
Although I tried, I couldn’t watch the whole 24 hours of that race. I was dragged away, kicking and screaming, to go out for breakfast Sunday morning with my sweetheart and our youngest son. I got back just in time to see an interview with Allan McNish in which he shook his head and said (in so many words) what a numbskull Allemdinger was for running into him at 180 miles an hour.
A replay of the incident appeared to show Allmendinger moving up the track and clipping McNish, who was running beside him on the high side. "I don’t know what he was thinking," said the totally innocent-looking McNish.
So I thought to myself: "Maybe the Dinger should have been a bit more careful."
But lo and behold, 20 minutes later, Speed TV (which did its usual excellent job of televising the race) showed a replay of something that happened an hour or so earlier when Allmendinger pulled alongside McNish in the infield and made a move to pass, only to be pushed off the road by McNish.
"Aha," I said to myself. "So that’s it. McNish, the Innocent, started the fight. Allmendinger is a NASCAR driver now and that business on the high banks was just a little payback. And Mr. McNish is lucky the Dinger didn’t just ding him right up into the wall. What's that they say about, 'people who live in glass houses . . . ?' "
– Every time I hear Ryan Dalziel’s name (it’s pronounced Dee-all), I think of that town north of Pembroke on the Ottawa River called Des-Joachims. It’s pronounced "De Swisha."
– Although the Rolex 24 is a very important motor race, they mix and match drivers right up until the last minute. Although Mark Wilkins of Toronto was on the official entry list, his name was missing from the results. And Marco Andretti seemed to be added to the driver lineup of one car after the race was started.
What was scary is that Marco had never raced at Daytona before, had never sat in the car he was going to race, and wouldn’t arrive till 8 p.m. after testing an Indy car at Sebring earlier in the day. I know Marco is a good race driver, but doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous?
– It will be interesting to see if the cable commercials that played non-stop on the Speed Channel throughout the Rolex 24 ever make it onto network TV – the ones dealing with prostate problems and low male testosterone.
(By the way, every time I see Joe Theismann – he did the prostate pitch – I think of his rookie year with the Toronto Argonauts in 1971 when he was just 22. He came into the Globe and Mail, where I worked at the time, for an interview with the late sports editor, Jim Vipond. He looked like a million bucks, unlike most of the young athletes who play for the Leafs these days. He was in a three-piece grey suit and carried a briefcase. All the 30-something secretaries, who’d known for a few days that he was coming in, were all dolled up. He was greeted by a woman named Nancy, who was Vipond’s assistant. She took him into an office and when she came out, she looked somewhat cross. "What’s the matter?" I asked. "Aw, he’s just a kid," she snapped, as she stomped past.)
– Okay, here is the news of the day.
Paul Tracy was interviewed by the racing press corps and announced that he is "close" to signing a one-year deal with Michael Shank Racing for a full-time ride in the IZOD IndyCar Series that will, in fact, be a farewell tour.
However, Tracy also revealed that they are still working on a sponsorship deal and an engine deal for the season, which will start in less than two months.
Most IndyCar teams will be testing at Sebring this week, which means that even if things come together as hoped, this particular rookie team will be way behind everybody else.
Now, the significance of the timing of Tracy’s announcement is twofold:
First, he identified Michael Shank Racing as the team he would like to drive for if things can be worked out. That eliminates rumours about a return to Dale Coyne Racing, where he started his Indy car career at Long Beach in 1991.
Second, he essentially said that if he can’t run Indy cars, he would move immediately into sports cars and Michael Shank’s Grand Am team needs a driver of Tracy’s calibre, seeing as the two guys who won the Rolex 24 for Shank this weekend, Wilson and Allmendinger, won’t be available.
Paul Tracy is my favourite race driver and I want to see him wind up his career with dignity and class. But it’s very much a long shot because – if you read his quotes from the interviews he gave in Daytona at the weekend – he’s pretty much admitting he won’t be competitive.
"I still want to compete and drive," he said. "I still have the passion to drive. But at the level that it takes to run in IndyCar, at my age, 43, I think I could be more competitive and be able to compete and be in good equipment in sports cars."
If I was a sponsor being pitched to spend several millions of dollars to put him into an Indy car, my pen might run out of ink after reading that quote.
On the other hand, maybe he was pitching Shank to put him into the Daytona Prototype full-time . . .
Incidentally, Tracy finished ninth in the Rolex, driving - with others - a Doran Racing Dallara-Ford Daytona Prototype for 748 laps in 24 hours compared with the winning car’s 761 laps.
Here are where other Canadians finished:
– AIM Autosport of Woodbridge’s Ferrari 458, driven by full-season drivers Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal with the help of two others, finished eighth in the GT class (and 20th overall) after starting second in class. It was the team’s first race in GT after a successful run in the prototypes. Look for them to do better as the Grand Am season progresses.
– IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe of Oakville finished sixth in GT and 18th overall in a Mazda RX-8.
– Paul Dalla Lana of Toronto, who won the GT season championship last year, was 16th in the GT class (29th overall) in a BMW M3.
– Darryl O’Young and Brett Van Blankers of Vancouver finished 20th in GT and 33rd overall in a Porsche owned by Steve Paquette’s Bullet Racing out of Vancouver.
– Chris Cumming of Vancouver was 24th in GT in a Porsche, good for 39th overall.
– Taylor Hacquard of Vancouver was classified 37th in GT and 52nd overall in a Mazda RX.