It was an interesting weekend of racing, to say the least. Here are the headlines:
1. Target Chip Ganassi sweeps IndyCar podium at Pocono
2. Sebastian Vettel finally wins an F1 race in Germany
3. Johnson sweeps Daytona but bonus Big One is big story
Plus results of other weekend races.
1. Hinchcliffe crash an omen of better things in Toronto?
Chip Ganassi Racing, which has done absolutely next to nothing so far in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, made up for a lot of it Sunday when team cars finished one-two-three in the 400-mile race at Pocono International Raceway.
Scott Dixon finished first, Charlie Kimball second and Dario Franchitti third in the Indy cars' return to the Pennsylvania tri-oval that saw pole-sitter Marco Andretti fade to tenth because of poor fuel management, second-place starter Ryan Hunter-Reay assaulted in pit lane and third-place starter James Hinchcliffe crash out of the event at the first corner of the first lap (see below).
What started out as a great day for Andretti Autosport - three of their four cars were on the front row - turned out to be pretty much a stinker while Ganassi's gunners could do no wrong.
Dixon thus became the eighth winner in 11 races so far this season - Hinchcliffe remains the driver with the most victories: three. For Ganassi's sponsor, Target department stores, it was their 100th Indy car victory. For Honda, which powered the first three cars, it was their 200th victory in the series.
Tony Kanaan, who won the Indianapolis 500 and stood to win major moolah if he could win the three "triple crown" races at Pocono and California in addition to Indy, got a tad careless while passing Dixon mid-way through the race and clipped his back end, leaving the front wing on his own mount askew.
Kanaan's team noticed the irregularity before the driver did (or else he was pretending he didn't see it) and ordered him to pit for a new nose and wings before something negative happened and did serious harm to his person. That eliminated him from the victory chase.
Hunter-Reay was a victim of Sato's inability to slow his car down enough to enter the pits safely. Hunter-Reay was well into the pits and cruising along at the 60 mph speed limit when he was sideswiped by Sato who was travelling half again as fast.
The collision turned Hunter-Reay into the wall and although he returned to combat after repairs were made, his race was over. Sato, who took complete responsibility for misjudging his speed and apologized for the collision, was done for the day.
Hinchcliffe, who has a career-in-waiting in television and Internet journalism, spent time in the ABC booth starting at Lap 70 and offered some insights to compliment the work of play-by-play announcer Marty Reid and colour analysts Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever.
Line of the day, though, went to Cheever. During an early round of pit stops, part-time pay driver Pippa Mann found herself in the lead for a lap or two. Said Cheever, who's not a fan:
"That's a good place for her to be."
The rest of the top ten: Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti.
The second Canadian in the race, Montreal's Alex Tagliani, finished 17th.
James Hinchcliffe crashed on the first turn of the first lap of the first IZOD IndyCar Series race at Pocono International Raceway since 1989.
Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, who won the last oval race in the series at Iowa Speedway two weeks ago, said the car snapped on him midway through the turn and he was unable to control it, crashing hard into the outside wall after spinning.
Other than a banged-up knee, he was not injured.
Ironically, this could bode well for Hinchcliffe next weekend at the Honda Indy Toronto races. His pattern, at least through the early season races, was to win one week and then crash out the next. His joke going into Indianapolis was that he won every race he finished.
So by winning at Iowa and crashing at Pocono, it could be said that he's looking good heading into Toronto.
Infiniti Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring Sunday, the first time he's won his home race.
The rest of the top ten: Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes), Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault), Sergio Perez (McLaren), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Nico Hulkenburg (Sauber-Ferrari).
It was an exciting and interesting race with the top four finishing within seconds of each other. Raikkonen, in particular, closed on Vettel and was inside a second at the checkers. Alonso had pressured Grosjean in the closing laps and looked as if he would take a real run for the podium but fell back on the last lap.
Felipe Massa spun out early in the race and that might have sealed his fate with Ferrari going forward. And the race featured - for the second race in succession - something you rarely (if ever) see in racing.
You'll recall that a week ago, in the British Grand Prix, so many tires blew out that at one point they sent out a safety car and after the racing cars slowed down all the marshals and course workers were out on the track picking up bits of tires and other debris.
This week, Marussia driver Charles Pic pulled off when his engine blew up and after he got out of the car and walked away, it started to roll backwards and actually crossed the circuit before coming to a stop on the other side of the track.
Thankfully, few racing cars were in the vicinity and there were no problems caused by the driver-less runaway car.
"Congrations, Seb . . . you've won your home race. You've won the German Grand Prix. Well done!" said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on the cooldown lap.
"Wow, that was a tough one,' Vettel replied. "Thank you, boys."
- Mark Webber had a banzai start (for a change) and followed his teammate, Vettel, as both got past Hamilton at the start, dropping the pole-sitter to third after the first corner. Webber lost a wheel during a pit stop (it hit a cameraman, who suffered a broken collar bone and cracked ribs) and was a lap down but recovered to finish well into the points.
- The craziness of "defensive driving" in F1 (we call it blocking over here) probably cost Hamilton a better position at the start. He was so intent on trying to cut Vettel off from passing him on the run down to the first corner that he was helpless when Webber went around him on the other side. If he'd just kept his head down and held his ground on his own line, he probably would have been second out of the first turn and not third.
- As suggested above, it's highly unlikely that Massa will be back at Ferrari in 2014. Could Kimi wind up his career there? Or will Ferrari maybe give Jules Bianchi a shot?
- There was a great dice between Hamilton and Alonso early in the race. It's racing like that which makes F1 so terribly exciting.
- Pontificating can be a tough job (trust me, I know . . .). All the announcers were speculating that Raikkonen would try to make it to the end of the race rather than stopping for fresh rubber like his teammate Grosjean had done. They went on and on. So then Raikkonen pits for tires. Oops!
- What happened to Mercedes this home race weekend? Hamilton wins the pole but they completely botched Rosberg's qualifying. And neither car made it onto the podium. Somebody's going to have to take the fall there and I suggest Ross Braun's days are numbered.
Other racing Sunday:
- Quebec drivers Mathieu and Rémy Audette won the weekend’s two Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) races at Circuit ICAR at Mirabel Airport. Mathieu Audette won Saturday’s race while brother Rémy won on Sunday with Mathieu second for the Audette team's first-ever one-two finish.
- Here is a motorsport result story that's as big a surprise as reporting that Antoine L'Estage and Nathalie Richard had won another rally (which they did last weekend, come to think of it). Jordan Szoke of Brantford won the second round of the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship at Autodrome St-Eustache Sunday aboard a BMW S1000RR. Jodi Christie of Keene, Ont., was second on a Honda CBR1000RR and Alex Welsh of Uxbridge rode a Suzuki GSX-R1000 to third place.
- Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., won the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series' Jiffy Lube 100 presented by Snap-On race Sunday at Circuit ICAR. It was his second win in as many years. Scott Steckly of Milverton, Ont., was second and L.P. Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was third.
J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge arrived home fourth and Jeff Lapcevich of Grimsby was fifth. Rounding out the top ten: D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, Kerry Micks of Mt. Albert, J.F. Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres, Martin Roy of Napierville, Que., and Alex Guenette of Terrebonne, Que.
After four of 12 races, Kennington has a two-point lead on L.P. Dumoulin and three over Lapcevich. Fitzpatrick moved up to fourth, and Jason Hathaway of Dutton, Ont., dropped to fifth after late-race mechanical problems Sunday dropped him well down the finish order.
NASCAR outdid itself Saturday night. For the first time in living memory (at least in my memory, which is lengthy), it featured not just one Big One on the last lap of a race but two Big Ones.
Now, Jimmie Johnson won the Coke Zero 400 - which started life as the Firecracker 400, seeing as it's always run around the July 4 weekend - and that was memorable in that not since 1982 has one driver won both races at Daytona, the February 500 and the July 400, and it was Bobby Allison who did it then.
So that made the race memorable. But statistically, this particular Coke Zero 400 must make it into the record books because, as I said, how many other times does NASCAR have two big crashes on the same lap?
The race came down to a green-white-checkers following a crash in which Marcos Ambrose turned into Kasey Kahne and sent him flying into the infield wall.
After the white flag was thrown, with Johnson in the lead, the next flag shown - yellow, red or checkers - would mean the end of the race, as the announcers are always want to say. And as the field flew into Turn 2, a bunch of cars from about twelfth place on back started to pile up.
Surprise! NASCAR opted not to bring out the yellow and to let the leaders race to the finish line.
So as Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, et al, raced toward the start/finish line in the tri-oval portion of the speedway, lo and behold another bunch of cars got out of shape and we had Big One No. 2.
So Johnson won, Stewart was second, Harvick finished third, Clint Bowyer was fourth and Michael Waltrip (Michael Waltrip!) arrived home fifth.
1. NASCAR has now set a precedent in that on a green-white-checkers, you do not have to throw the yellow in the event of a crash on the last lap. You can let the field race to the finish.
Whether this is a good idea remains to be seen. Yes, it's more exciting to have cars race to the end. On the other hand, if somebody's seriously injured in the last-lap wreck, the sooner things get settled down and help arrives to tend to the hurt driver, the better.
Sometimes, seconds count.
2. Carl Edwards seems to fly into a blind rage when he's wrecked. Unlike Kyle Busch, who has a habit of saying threatening things, Edwards does things that could get people hurt.
One time at Atlanta, he drove the wrong way along pit road on his way back to the pits, which is a huge no-no and to this day I can't understand why NASCAR didn't discipline him for it big time.
Saturday night, he got his car going after the first accident on the last lap and drove around to officially cross the finish line but he drove through the grass to do it and people were out of vehicles and walking around as the result of the second accident (including Kyle Busch) and whether Edwards knows it or not, he could have hit somebody.
Elsewhere, Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won their third straight American Le Mans Series sports car race at Lime Rock, helped in no small way by Guy Smith's inability to get his safety harness tightened during a Dyson Racing pit stop.
Luhr and Graf, who will lead the ALMS contingent into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in two weeks for their annual stop at Old Mosport, had no trouble winning in their Muscle Milk Pickett Racing Honda Performance Development ARX-03.
Luhr and Chris Dyson traded the lead several times in the first hour and then both cars pitted. Luhr handed off to Graf without trouble. Dyson got out and Smith got in but then couldn't tighten his belts and when he finally took up the chase he was more than a lap behind.
John Edwards and Dirk Muller drove their BMW Z4 GTE to victory in the GT class.
Canadian Kyle Marcelli of Barrie, with teammate Chris Cumming, finished fourth in the Prototype Challenge class. And IndyCar Series driver Ryan Briscoe was first in LMP2, co-driving with Scott Tucker.
Marco Andretti won the pole this afternoon for Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 400 (fueled by Sunoco . . .) and James Hinchcliffe of Oakville will start third and on the outside of the front row for the three-wide start.
Andretti's run that averaged out to 221.273 miles an hour was a tick faster than second-place qualifyer Ryan Hunter-Reay's 220.892 mph.
Hinchcliffe's 220.431 run represented a near-sweep for Andretti Autosport drivers. E.J. Viso, the fourth Andretti driver, crashed, so didn't register a speed and will start 22nd. The final two cars in the 24-car field driven by Ryan Briscoe and Montreal's Alex Tagliani also didn't put in a qualifying run (Briscoe being at Lime Rock for the American Le Mans Series race there this afternoon and Tag crashing).
Willl Power and Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan will start fourth and fifth.
Other notables: Points leader Helio Castroneves will start sixth, top woman is Simona De Silvestro who will start tenth, Dario Franchitti qualified 18th and Justin Wilson, who is featured in this weekend's Toronto Star Wheels, will start 20th.
Said Hinchcliffe, after qualifying was over:
"The Go Daddy car ran pretty well. We haven't been this strong in practice and Marco has been the class of the field. We got some useful trips from him after his run, just teammates working together. I had a little bit of a moment in Turn One - it got a little loose on me battling at either end of the race track; the wind conditions running this light on downforce doesn't help. But it was a solid performance."
The question that has to be asked following this morning’s run for the pole at the German Grand Prix is what must Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg be thinking after he didn’t make it past Q2 and his British teammate, Lewis Hamilton, went on to top the times?
At the very last second in final qualifying, Hamilton knocked German rival Sebastian Vettel off pole with a time of one minute, 29.398 seconds, 0.103 seconds faster than the three-times world champion.
Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) and Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber-Ferrari). The last two drivers went out to scrub in tires for the race but didn’t go for a time.
The excuse Mercedes came up with for its failure to have a German driver in a German car on course for final German Grand Prix qualifying when the pole was at stake was that they felt the time he set early in Q2 would stand up.
So he was sitting in the garage, helpless to defend, when the usual and predictable last-minute banzai runs by everybody else were taking place. That his teammate was out there in the dying minutes and he wasn’t seems very strange to me indeed. He wound up 11th.
There were no tire issues during practice and qualifying, so Pirelli seems to have dodged a bullet.
An interesting note: several times during the qualifying broadcast, the announcers said Ricciardo was putting it to Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne in the fight for the open seat at Red Bull next year, now that Webber has officially announced his retirement from F1 to go sports car racing.
There seems to be an assumption that one of the two from the Red Bull "junior team" will move up. But what about Kimi Raikkonen’s alleged move to Red Bull?
I suspect the "silly season" will start soon, with all sorts of predictions about who will go where in 2014. If Kimi goes to Red Bull to partner Vettel, will the two Toro Rosso drivers get to race a third season or will they both be whacked like the last two? Is Felipe Massa safe at Ferrari? If not, who gets that seat? And will Jenson Button be around after this season at McLaren?
So many questions . . .
Meantime, Kyle Busch will start from pole for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, with Matt Kenseth second, Clint Bowyer third, Kasey Kahne fourth and Martin Truex Jr. fifth.
Danica Patrick dropped exactly 10 spots from her pole position for the Daytona 500 and starts 11th tonight ahead of her boss, Tony Stewart, who qualified 13th and Ryan Newman, who will start 21st.
(NASCAR silly season: where will Newman go in 2014? He's out at Stewart-Haas and hasn't really done much in recent years to deserve a top drive. Of course, neither has Jamie McMurray and a buch of others but that doesn't seem to mean much in NASCAR. . .)
A.J. Allmendinger, who just keeps popping up like a whack-a-mole (Indy cars one week, NASCAR one-offs the next), qualified 33rd.
The Indy cars are at Pocono for a Sunday race and will qualify this afternoon. And Lucas Luhr, driving for Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, won the pole position for Saturday's American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix. Luhr and Klaus Graf will lead the ALMS field - which will be racing at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in two weeks - when the green flag flies a little after 3 p.m. this afternoon.
For starting times of these and other races all weekend, be sure to check George’s TV Listings for Race Fans at wheels.ca (click here for link).
- NORRIS McDONALD