HINCHCLIFFE SIXTH IN ALABAMA INDY CAR RACE
There were a couple of good April Fool jokes around Sunday.
For instance, Google, which has been testing a self-driving car in California for several years now, announced that its Google Racing team would enter a self-driving race car in NASCAR races by the middle of next season.
In a wonderful video, Jeff Gordon welcomes the experiment. “I’ve been out here for 20 years,” he said with a straight face, “and I need a vacation. . . . Thank God for technology.”
You can watch the video here
The Weather Network had a good one on Canada geese kidnapping a student at the University of Waterloo but the one I liked best concerned the proposed Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie.
This email landed in my in-box at mid-morning Sunday:
FORT ERIE SPEEDWAY GETS GREEN FLAG
Fort Erie Economic Development and officials from Canadian MotorSpeedway International announced today that the planned speedway development in Fort Erie will commence construction immediately at the site of the current Fort Erie horse racing track.
Following the news that the Fort Erie race track will lose its slots from the OLG and face the loss of hundreds of jobs, the town and CMSI representatives are wasting no time with re-construction and paving over of the horse track already beginning late Saturday night.
Well, I thought it was funny. . .
Not so funny is the situation four IZOD IndyCar Series teams are facing. They are the teams that signed up to run Lotus racing engines and they are hanging on by a thread.
Sebastien Bourdais, who finished ninth in Sunday’s second race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, which was won by Will Power with Scott Dixon second and Helio Castroneves third (full results here), has a Lotus engine in his car, but no spare.
Ditto Katherine Legge, Oriol Servia, Simona de Silvestro and Canadian Alex Tagliani (who didn’t complete even one lap of Sunday’s race before his engine expired).
As a result, none of those drivers or their teams will be able to attend the test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week that was arranged especially to test new engines and the new Dallara chassis at the site of the most important race on the IndyCar calendar, the Indianapolis 500, that will take place at the end of May.
What is particularly worrying is that never mind the teams that already have Lotus engines and no spares because they will probably be able to muddle through. But what will Indy-only teams do for power plants? Where will the six or seven cars needed to fill out the traditional 33-car field get engines?
Roger Penske mused a couple of weeks ago that the cars currently using Lotus engines will have to switch to Honda or Chevy engines if they simply want to make it through to the end of the season.
Lotus immediately pooh-poohed that, but the fact of the matter is that Roger Penske is rarely wrong and if I had to make a choice between what an engine manufacturer on very shaky ground says and what Roger Penske says, guess who I’m going with?
And if Penske’s correct (and I think he is), Honda and Chevy will be busy making enough engines to pacify teams already in the series, never mind the one-race-a-year-crowd.
So there’s a distinct possibility there could be fewer than 33 cars in the 2012 Indy 500, which would not be the end of the world but, on the other hand, would not look good and would send out a message the series wouldn’t want.
I was talking the other day to a man whose son is employed by a team in IndyCar and Dad was saying his kid is not impressed with the series’ leadership.
I look at the engine situation and I have to agree with him. How could this have happened?
What makes it worse is that CEO Randy Bernard was quoted on the IndyCar website Sunday as saying he expects 34 car-and-driver combinations to enter the “500,” including ex-F1 driver Jean Alesi.
But only hours before, HVM Racing principal Keith Wiggins told the Indianapolis Star that the deal with Alesi was off because there wasn’t enough money to make it work.
Meantime, Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe qualified well and finished well – although his finish wasn’t as good as his qualifying.
The Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year in 2011 turned the second-fastest time Saturday to sit beside pole-winner Castroneves. It was his first front-row start in the big leagues.
He ran most of the race in fourth place – where he finished the season-opener last weekend at St. Petersburg – but on the last restart, he was shuffled from fourth back to sixth, where he stayed until the checkers.
Give him some time, though. He’s going to win one of these races.
The other Canadian, Tagliani, was very disappointed to suffer engine trouble – again.
“We took the green flag, went into turn one and the engine just died,” he said. “It seems to be a pretty heavy mechanical failure what what I understand. . . I think our car was decent, but we’re having a lot of problems right now with the engine.”
His boss, Bryan Herta, was equally unhappy: “Everyone is working very hard to earn results and we are unhappy that we suffered another engine issue two weekends running.”
Two other observations before we move on:
– Scott Dixon is racing wonderfully for Chip Ganassi (he might have won that Alabama round if he hadn’t suffered a slight misfortune on his final pit stop) while teammate Dario Franchitti is struggling. I wonder why?
– In Winner’s Circle, Will Power leaped frontwards high off the side of his race car to land somewhat unsteadily. NASCAR’s Carl Edwards does a backflip off his car when he wins and is pretty much solid as a rock when he hits the ground (considering he's coming in backwards). Maybe Power should just step out of his car and forget the gymnastics because, compared to Edwards – well, there’s no comparison.
Over in NASCARland, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were running one-two in the final laps of the Sprint Cup race at Martinsville when David Reutimann suffered mechanical failure and had to stop on the speedway, bringing out a yellow.
NASCAR actually hauled Reutimann and car owner Tommy Baldwin into “the trailer” afterwards to make sure there hadn’t been any hanky panky (there wasn’t) but just about everybody except the two front-runners made a pit stop for fresh rubber before what was supposed to be the final restart.
So they waved the green flag and Clint Bowyer dive-bombed (there’s no other word for it) down the inside of Gordon going into Turn One and, before you could blink, Gordon was sideways and that turned Johnson around and they both crashed, allowing Ryan Newman to sneak past, as did A.J. Allmendinger, to win the race with Allmendinger second and Dale Earnhardt Jr. third (full results here).
It was a typical, tight, short-track stock car race with lots of bumping and tradin’ paint and crashing (just the sort of thing they want more of at Bristol, where they’ve decided to make some changes to that speedway to improve the racing - translation: generate more crashing).
Reutimann was beside himself with embarrassment, because he was getting it in the ear from the other drivers. Baldwin was calmer, suggesting the Florida driver tried to stay out on the speedway as long as he could to gain enough points so that his car, No. 10, could stay inside the top 35 in owner points and be locked into upcoming races.
It seems that the No. 10 is the car Danica Patrick drives when she makes her occasional appearances in Sprint Cup races and they’re now worried she won’t be able to make it into the races without that crutch – which I think is silly: Danica can go fast in a race car and will be able to qualify on her own.
In fact, I think it will be better for her to show she's got the Right Stuff rather than having to rely on a free pass.
There’s no NASCAR racing next weekend, as it’s Easter, and the IndyCars don’t race until two weeks from now at Long Beach and F1 is quiet as well.
What ever will we all do?
Other weekend racing:
Richard Westbrook and Antonio Garcia, driving a Corvette Daytona Prototype, won the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series race at Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday.
Sylvain Tremblay (who's originally from Montreal) and Jonathan Bomarito won the GT class in a Mazda RX-8, edging out the No. 69 AIM Autosport of Woodbridge Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Emil Assentato and Jeff Segal, which finished 10th overall.
“Barber is always a difficult track to get a good setup and on Friday we found a combination that really worked well,” said AIM team principal and race engineer Ian Willis. “Emil and Jeff both drove to the limit to achieve this tremendous result.”
The AIM Ferrari will be racing again in the Grand Prix of Miami April 27-29.
Paul Dalla Lana of Toronto co-drove to a 13th-place finish overall and fifth in the GT class.
In the Continental Tire race at Barber, Canadians who finished included:
Scott Maxwell of Toronto co-drove a Multimatic Motorsports Aston Martin Vantage to a second-place finish overall in the GS class. David Empringham of Toronto was fifth in GS. Ashley McCalmont of Ancaster was tenth in GS. Michael Valiante of Vancouver was 37th overall and 23rd in the ST class. Dalla Lana was classified 55th overall and 20th in GS. The top finishing Compass360 Racing Team of Toronto car was 21st overall and seventh in the ST class.
Finally, Ryan Villopoto of Minneola, Fla., who won the AMA Supercross event at Rogers Centre in Toronto last weekend, wrapped up the 2012 Supercross Championship this weekend by winning the event in Houston, Tex.
It’s the earliest that a rider has ever wrapped up a Supercross title. Villopoto said that's fine with him because now he can start preparing earlier for the outdoor motocross season.