We now interrupt our tribute to great motorsport journalists and journalism to bring you some up-to-date off-season motor racing info:
Gary Grant wrote a terrific article for Toronto Star Wheels last Saturday in which he told how Canada's greatest rally co-driver, Nathalie Richard, had broken up with long-time boyfriend and rallysport driver extraordinaire, Antoine L'Estage, but was hoping to put another notch in her competition cane by teaming up with her brother, Patrick Richard, for the Rally of the Tall Pines.
(In case you missed it, click here.)
Unfortunately for Nathalie, she and her brother did not have the best of luck and multiple flat tires and a driveline seizure forced them to drop out of the season-ending national event near Bancroft last weekend. The rally was won by the team of Ontario driver Chris Martin and American co-driver Brian Johnson. L'Estage, of Ste-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and co-driver Craig Parry of Wales, finished second and, in so doing, L'Estage won the Canadian Rally Championship presented by Subaru (and supported by Yokohama) for the sixth time.
It was a wonderful year for L'Estage and his Mitsubishi Canada team. As well as the Canadian title, he also won the North American championship for about the 800th time.
That's an exaggeration, of course, but the Quebec star holds six North American championship titles (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), the six Canadian titles (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013) and one American national championship (2010). He has tallied up a total of 42 overall rally victories in Canada and the United States.
Antoine L'Estage is truly one of Canada's greatest athletes and I find it curious that his name has never even been mentioned as a possible candidate for Canadian Athlete of the Year. He has been a national champion and a continental champion numerous times in a form of motorsport that some call the most difficult. I suggest in order to get his name out there that L'Estage (or ASN Canada FIA) hire the same PR firm that got teenage Ferrari development driver Lance Stroll front page treatment in the Globe and Mail a year or two ago. This time, the cover of Maclean's might do it. . .
The Tall Pines brought the curtain down on the 2013 season but the 2014 season will get under way before we know it - in early February in fact, at Maniwaki, Que. (150 kms north of Ottawa) where the 49th Rallye Perce-Neige will be held.
- Here's great news about an old pro. Fans of Paul Page - the only voice of Indy car racing, as far as I am concerned - is back as the Voice of the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series on the IMS Radio Network, the Indianapolis Star is reporting.
- Dario Franchitti presented John Surtees with a lifetime achievement award at the Autosport Awards in Britain at the weekend and said later that he would like to continue in IndyCar with a team role at Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
This is the second or third time he's said publicly that he'd like to have a job at Ganassi and I'm surprised he's still doing it. Is he trying to drop the Chipster a hint? Have they not communicated about this? Or is he trying to embarrass Ganassi into giving him a job?
Sebastian Vettel was honoured as International Racing Driver of the Year and Lewis Hamilton was named British Competition Driver of the Year. F1 Rookie of the Year was Marussia driver Jules Bianchi and that was the one that stopped me cold. Sauber rookie driver Esteban Gutierrez outqualified Bianchi all season and scored six world championship points to Bianchi's zero. So how come?
- Sticking with F1 for a moment, Fernando Alonso has been ordered by that great, big, happy family called Ferrari to not Tweet anything about the Scuderia, or else. As a friend of mine said: It's only a matter of time.
Alonso reminds me of Paul Tracy in his last year at Andretti-Green Racing before Andretti pulled his team out of CART to join the IRL. Tracy had no intention of going to the IRL but the team was using his name to sell sponsorship for the following season. He was told that if he uttered a word about not being with the team going forward that he would be fined so heavily he would be living in the poorhouse forever. So he had to play the good soldier and keep his mouth shut till Jan. 1 of the following year when he could talk openly about what everybody already knew, that he would continue in CART with Player's-Forsythe Racing and not drive those "crapwagons" over on what was then the dark side.
To fully understand what I'm saying in those two paragraphs above, put 2 and 2 together.
- Moving right along, it was announced that at the Canadian Motorsports Expo Powered by Inside Track Motorsport News in February, the CASC-Ontario Region will showcase its various divisions. All the 2013 class champions will be on hand to answer questions and they'll have their vehicles with them.
Representatives from each car club – along with board members from the CASC – will be in attendance to talk to fans and to hand out calendars and schedules for the upcoming racing season. The Expo takes place Feb. 7, 8 and 9, 2014, in Hall 5 of The International Centre in Mississauga.
- A videotape of the annual induction ceremony of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame has been posted to its website and you can watch it by clicking here. Warning: I'm the MC. But this is the ceremony in which Canadian racing legend Ron Fellows was inducted, so if you're a fan of Fellows, take a look.
- Sad news, though. Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Gordie "240"
Bonin died Fri., Nov. 29, in Las Vegas at age 65. Bonin, Ron Hodgson and Gordon Jenner - all from Out West (the Edmonton area) - made up what is arguably the most successful drag racing team in Canadian motorsport history.
Bonin, the driver, won 9 NHRA Funny Car national events, the AHRA Top Fuel World Championship in 1989 and numerous other runoffs. Gordie also served as the NHRA’s director of marketing for six years. After a short retirement, Gordie returned to action two years ago, competing in the FIA’s European Top Fuel category.
- Finally, one of my favourite "stand on it" sprint car guys, Dave Darland of Lincoln, Ind., won the 73rd Turkey Grand Prix for midgets on the dirt at Perris Auto Speedway in California last Thursday night, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. In so doing, he joined a very select group.
Darland, Mel Kenyon and the late Stan Fox are the only drivers to win the legendary short-track race on both dirt and pavement. Started at Ascot Speedway in Los Angeles in the 1930s by J.C. Agajanian (he operated a large trash-removal enterprise in L.A. and liked to tell people he was in "the used food business"), the Grand Prix attracted many of auto racing's oval-track heroes over the years, from Parnelli Jones to A.J. Foyt to Gary Bettenhausen to Tony Stewart.
Darland won the Turkey Night GP in 2007 at the paved Irwindale Speedway in California. He is one of only five drivers to have ever won all three of the U.S. Auto Club's national racing championships - in sprint cars, midgets and dirt champ cars (the Silver Crown).
An open-wheel star who should be heading for the Indy cars and the Indy 500, Darland will soon follow in the footsteps of other open-cockpit champions - Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, et al - and head for (where else?) Daytona and NASCAR.
Such a pity.
- NORRIS McDONALD