So much racing news, so little time . . .
- Everything old is new again. Honda, which powered McLaren to 44 Grand Prix victories and several world championships between 1988 and 1992, announced today it would partner again with the legendary British marque, starting in 2015.
Of course, the previous run of success was due, in large part, to the driver lineup McLaren boasted in the late 1980s: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. In fact, in 1988, those two between them won 15 of the 16 GP races that year. Whether Jenson Button (who called the team's performance so far in 2013 "embarrassing," just the other day) and Sergio Perez can ever deliver the same results is debatable and you have to wonder whether a pilot shakeup might be in the cards as well.
Honda has been in and out of the sport over the years, leaving the last time after the 2008 season. For automakers, racing has always been about ROI (return on investment) and whether or not participation makes economic sense, even at the best of times. Five years ago there was an economic meltdown and Honda, as well as Toyota, decided to fold cards and wait for a better day.
In a release issued today, Honda said that beginning next year, "new F1 regulations require the introduction of a 1.6 litre direct injection turbocharged V6 engine with energy recovery systems. The opportunity to further develop these powertrain technologies through the challenge of racing is central to Honda’s decision to participate in F1.
"Throughout its history, Honda has passionately pursued improvements in the efficiency of the internal combustion engine and in more recent years, the development of pioneering energy management technologies such as hybrid systems. Participation in Formula 1 under these new regulations will encourage even further technological progress in both these areas."
The announcement means there will be no renewal of the contract McLaren has had with engine supplier Mercedes that goes back to 1995. It has not exactly been a fruitful partnership, with only one constructor's championship to the team's credit (and there are certainly no driver's or constructor's titles looming on the horizon this year).
Said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, at a media conference in Tokyo: "Honda has an unrivalled pedigree as a manufacturer of turbocharged engines, making it the perfect engine partner for McLaren as we strive to deliver future success in F1."
As mentioned, Honda has participated in F1 several times over the years, starting in 1964 when it designed and developed both the race car and the engine. That experiment ended in 1968. Starting in 1983, it supplied engines to Lotus, Williams and Tyrrell before settling in at McLaren in 1988, dropping out of the sport again after 1991.
Jacques Villeneuve's manager Craig Pollock talked Honda into returning to F1 in 2000 to supply engines to BAR and Jordan and then in 2004 the Japanese manufacturer bought the team. From then until 2008, it ran the team, as it had in the beginning back in the 1960s, as an "all Honda" operation.
- Twenty-nine drivers flashed around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday in a time somewhere between 40 and 41 seconds. That’s how close the competition is this year.
Dario Franchitti was fastest at 40:1363 seconds while 29th-fastest was Pippa Mann at 40:9476. Franchitti’s speed, incidentally, translates into 224.236 miles an hour while Mann went 219.793 mph.
Other notables: Townsend Bell, an Indy-only racer, was second fastest at 40:2295 seconds. Helio Castroneves was third quickest at 40:2327. Alex Tagliani of Montreal was fastest Canadian and eighth on the totem pole with a lap of 40:4768. The other Canuck, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, who was fastest Tuesday, slipped to 13th at 40:6009. Simona de Silvestro was fastest woman at 40:9353, just pipping Pippa’s 9476.
Michel Jourdain Jr. was the slowest of the 32 who practiced, turning a lap of 41:2774 (218:037 mph).
- Speaking of the Indy 500, check George’s TV Listings for Race Fans at wheels.ca for times of the Sportsnet coverage of time trials this Saturday and Sunday as well as for the race itself a week Sunday. And if you can’t get to a TV, and have satellite radio, Sirius XM (Channel 211) will be carrying most of the action as well, starting at 11 a.m. Saturday.
- The Grand Prix of Canada is fast approaching. As anybody who goes knows, there is more to watch on track at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve than the F1 cars. This week, organizers announced that the Ferrari Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada, the Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Formula Tour 1600 will each run two races on Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8. The Grand Prix itself, of course, goes to the post on Sunday, June 9.
- Speaking of the Porsche GT3 Cup, the Canadian Touring Cars and Formula 1600, they all will be in action this coming weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as the annual Victoria Day Weekend Speedfest takes to the track north of Bowmanville.
The headline event will be the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series stockers and D.J. Kennington, J.R. Fitzpatrick, Scott Steckly and the rest of the trans-Canada chargers — oops, better not forget Andrew Ranger — will be out to start their national series season off with a bang.
Touring car drivers looking to get rolling early include Benjamin Distaulo, Bob Attrell, Remy Audette, Nick Wittmer, Roger Ledoux, Damon Sharpe, Frank Blanchet and Michel Sallenbach.
Also on the card at Old Mosport will be the Trans-Am big iron thunder cars and the new Canadian Supercar Series.
- Speaking of touring cars (not really, but I’m looking for a segway), the German Touring Car Series (DTM) will be at Brands Hatch in England this weekend and Canadian Robert Wickens is hoping for a better result than two weeks ago at the opener in Germany when a mechanical problem forced him out after he qualified better than he has in his DTM career — fourth on the grid.
Said Wickens, in a release: “After not finishing at the start of the season, I'm itching to get back in my STIHL Mercedes AMG C-Coupé at Brands Hatch (Norris note: I bet he said that . . .) to prove that a top-notch result would have been possible in Hockenheim. With P4 on the grid, I've shown the kind of speed I can produce. The adrenaline rush of being in the shoot-out for pole position in Q4 for the first time was enormous - I could easily get used to that in the future. While a sketch map of Brands Hatch may look quite simple, it's a real driver's circuit that demands the utmost concentration over 98 laps. One single error and the race is as good as lost."
Good luck, Robert.
- Everybody seems to be excited that Derrick Walker has been signed by IndyCar to be president, operations and competition.
The competition is already pretty good. So what is this going to do so far as bums in the seats and eyeballs on race telecasts are concerned, which to my mind are IndyCar’s two biggest challenges.
Once again, we have a top dog at that organization listening to two or three Indy car journalists who think moves like this are swell.
Marketing is where this organization needs help. And in public relations.
Not media relations, public relations.
- Finally, the Brantford-area Ohsweken Speedway's 18th annual Opening Night will take the green flag on Friday at 7:30pm, and large fields are expected in all of the regular Friday night divisions.
The opening event of Ohsweken's season will include the Corr/Pak Merchandising Sprint Cars, Affordable Towing & Recovery Thunder Stocks, HRW Automotive Mini Stocks, and Gale’s Auto Aftermarket Bombers, with extra-distance features on tap for each.
- NORRIS McDONALD