1. Rosberg wins F1 race for Mercedes - what a coincidence
2. Power wins IndyCar race but Kanaan is real winner
3. NASCAR goes crazy over truck race at Rockingham. Really.
4. Other racing
Nico Rosberg won the first race of his 111-race Grand Prix career and he drove a Mercedes Silver Arrows into Victory Lane for the first time since 1955 to do it at Sunday’s Grand Prix of China.
The fact that shareholders at a Mercedes-Benz meeting last week called for the company to pull out of F1 racing and that the team is most unhappy with the way Bernie Ecclestone has been manipulating the signing of the new Concorde Agreement has nothing at all to do with the two surprising victories – apparently.
To get the nuts and bolts out of the way before getting into my latest conspiracy theory, Rosberg won the first pole of his career on Saturday and then ran away with Sunday’s race to finish well clear of second–place finisher Jenson Button, who was driving a McLaren powered by a Mercedes engine.
McLaren-Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was third, for the third time in three races this season, while Mark Webber finished fourth for Red Bull-Renault - his third straight fourth-place finish. Defending world champion Sebastien Vettel was fifth (complete results here).
They say the best time to tune into an NFL game is after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter and that was the case with Sunday’s Grand Prix, as all of the excitement happened in the last few laps.
With five laps to go in the 58-lap contest, Kimi Raikkonen was holding down second place for Lotus-Renault, with Vettel third, Button fourth, Webber fifth and Hamilton sixth. At the finish, it was Button second, Hamilton third, Webber fourth and Vettel fifth with Raikkonen all the way back in 14th as his two-stop gamble saw his tires disintegrate.
It was a good race with lots to talk about afterward, such as Michael Schumacher’s second retirement in three races (he’d started second but his crew failed to tighten his right-front wheel at the first pit stop and he was forced to pull off the circuit before he crashed), whether Button could have caught Rosberg if his crew hadn’t taken so long to tighten his left-rear tire on his final pit stop (nearly 10 seconds), and whether the Mercedes F-duct front wing system gives that team an unfair advantage (at least until everybody else copies it).
One side note:
I don’t want to sound like Don Cherry but F1 will rue the day it did not put a stop to side-by-side "racing" on pit lane. McLaren released Hamilton from a pit stop early in the race and Lotus gave Raikkonen the signal to go as Hamilton drew alongside. Raikkonen and Hamilton then went side-by-side till the end of the pit (albeit on the speed limiters), at which point Raikkonen gave way to Hamilton.
Analyst David Coulthard went so far as to say the pit lane "is part of the race track" but it shouldn’t be. As in IndyCar, teams should have to hold the driver till the coast is clear. Otherwise, there will be a collision in there one of these days and somebody will get hurt. That shouldn’t have to happen in order to force F1 to act.
Now F1 travels to Bahrain where the majority Shiite population feels oppressed by a minority Sunni family headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. This political unrest forced the cancellation of the race last year and there are again fears of revolution.
As Bob Varsha said on Speed TV Sunday, "We worry that this sporting event will turn into a news event." For that, we will have to wait and see.
Meantime, I have to say that I never believed that a car race could be fixed until it was proved that Nelson Piquet Jr., Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds conspired at the 2008 Grand Prix of Singapore to create a situation (Piquet would crash on purpose) that would benefit his teammate, Fernando Alonso, who then went on to win the race.
The reason they did this was because Renault had not won a race for close to two years and was reportedly considering leaving the sport.
In no way do I think Nico Rosberg or anybody else in Sunday’s Grand Prix did anything knowingly illegal or immoral, but I still find it really interesting that – on the heels of suggestions that Mercedes might not continue in the sport – the team suddenly has wonderful success.
When there is big business at play, and there are billions of dollars at stake, anything is possible. Anything. And it goes beyond Formula One. The National Hockey League’s mission statement is that come hell or high water, it will sell hockey in the United States. Ergo, it is no coincidence that, with the exception of the Vancouver Canucks, every professional hockey team in Canada stinks. Remember that, and believe it.
The Mercedes shareholders revolt is being led by a fund manager named Ingo Spech of the Daimler shareholder Union Investment. Worried that Mercedes is losing ground to rivals BMW and Audi, Spech called on Daimler to pull its Mercedes team out of F1, just as BMW withdrew several years ago. His motion reportedly drew support from other large investors.
In a parallel development, Ecclestone announced several weeks ago that he had agreed terms on a new contract with a "majority" of teams but not Williams and Mercedes.
Mercedes has not commented publicly but reports suggest the company - if it remains unhappy - could either challenge the contract, citing the European Union’s competition laws, or else walk away from F1.
So with Mercedes and its shareholders down in the dumps over its involvement in F1, what better medicine than success? So a company that hasn’t won a Grand Prix since 1955 - Juan Manuel Fangio was the driver then - suddenly wins one.
And to put an exclamation mark on that, there are Mercedes engines in all of the first three cars. And Nico Rosberg, who’s always shown lots of promise but hasn’t been able to follow through until now, suddenly delivers in spades.
It will be verrrry interesting, as Arte Johnson used to say, to see if Rosberg can keep it up.
Why do I say that?
Well, do you remember the Belgian Grand Prix of 2009? That was two years after two Indian businessmen bought the Spyker F1 team (which had previously been owned by Canadian businessman Alex Schnaider’s Midland Group, who’d bought it from Eddie Jordan) and renamed it Force India.
Force India had entered 29 races and hadn’t scored a point and there were suggestions that if it didn’t finish high enough in the standings to qualify for a share of F1's travel and TV money that it would either be shut down or put up for sale again.
That year, there were 20 cars in F1. Nobody wanted to lose another two. Veteran Force India driver Giancarlo Fisichella qualified most of the time at the back of the pack that season. In fact, three times in 20 races he was dead last; twice he was 19th, twice he was 18th – and, well, you get my drift.
The race before the Belgian GP that year was the European Grand prix at Valencia. Fisichella qualified 16th and finished 12th. The race after Belgium was in Italy, where he qualified 14th and finished ninth.
But at Belgium that year, he qualified on the pole – yes, really – and finished second in the race. The points he earned, plus the fourth-place finish at the Italian GP by his teammate, Adrien Sutil, gave the team enough points to finish high enough in the standings to qualify for financial aid.
What a coicidence. . .
As I said, if something has to happen in F1 (or any other mega-billion-dollar sport) to make somebody happy, it happens.
2. Kanaan wins Long Beach Grand Prix, Hinch second
Okay, Tony Kanaan didn't win. He officially finished fourth in Sunday's Grand Prix of Long Beach (official results here) but because the IZOD IndyCar Series penalized 14 of the 26 starters for unauthorized engine changes, and gave those 14 drivers 10-grid-position penalties, I think it must be taken into consideration when calculating who really won the race in California on Sunday.
Officially, Will Power won the race, with Simon Pagenaud second and Hinchcliffe third. Fourth was Kanaan and fifth was J.R. Hildebrand.
However, because of the stupidity of sticking to the engine-change rule rather than taking the spirit of the rule into consideration (which would have seen the penalties suspended – see my blogs on this in posts below), here is the way the race should really have been scored:
Kanaan qualified 10th but was made to start 19th (which is not a 10-grid-position penalty but this thing is so complicated that you will just have to bear with me). He officially finished fourth, which is an improvement of 15 positions. But because he was only penalized nine places instead of 10, we have to dock him a position, so he only improved 14 positions. But nobody did it better on Sunday in Long Beach than this.
Hinchcliffe qualified sixth but then was made to start 16th – a full 10-grid-position penalty. Because he eventually came home third, that means he improved his position 13 places, which puts him second behind Kanaan's 14, in my books.
Will Power finished third in my "race" because he qualified second, was made to start 12th, and then finished first for an improvement of 12 positions. Good for him – but not as good as Kanaan and Hinchcliffe.
Oh, before somebody says J.R. Hildebrand should have made it onto my podium, consider this: he qualified 16th, was only penalized four places instead of 10 (he should have had to go off 26th but you’d have to ask the geniuses at IndyCar why he didn’t) and so by improving his position from 20th to fifth, he made up 15 places but really only nine.
I’m going to stop now because I’m getting a headache. Let’s just hope IndyCar never does this to us again.
3. NASCAR tries to inject excitement into non-crashing boredom
After putting on two of the most boring big-league races in the history of NASCAR, the sanctioning body’s management group pulled out all the stops Sunday afternoon by arriving en masse at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina to watch a Camping World Series truck race that turned out to be about as boring as the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races that preceded it.
NASCAR is all about crashing. If there is no crashing, there is no excitement. The strategy of the drivers and teams is predicated on yellow flags necessitating pit stops where tire changes, fuel fill-ups and chassis changes can be completed.
No yellows means big trouble because, on top of everything else, the fans get restless.
Friday night’s Nationwide race at Texas Motor Speedway was a yawn (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. the winner). Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race there was no better (Greg Biffle the winner, with but two yellows – including one for a hat that blew out on the track). The commentators spent much of the time explaining why "long green runs" are bad for teams.
So Sunday afternoon, NASCAR president Mike Helton and his entourage flew into Rockingham to say how much NASCAR liked being back at one of its spiritual home tracks. Unfortunately, the truck race that followed (Kasey Kahne the winner, with James Buescher second (James who? See what I mean?) and Matt Crafton third (ditto) was about as unexciting as the two stock-car snoozers.
Rockingham used to be NASCAR’s third race of the season. For years and years, the series would start with the Daytona 500, then go north to Richmond, Va., for the second race, Rockingham for the third and Atlanta the fourth (usually held the same weekend as the start of Ontario’s March break, which used to guarantee a huge snowstorm for all those folks driving their kids to Myrtle Beach or Jacksonville).
But those races were cold for everybody. It was winter, after all. So NASCAR wised up and went west and that’s why, after Daytona, there are now races in sunny (or sunnier) southern California, Arizona and Nevada.
They made those changes eight years ago and since Rockingham only had one race on the NASCAR schedule at the time, it meant the end of racing at the facility. Traditional NASCAR fans were not happy
Owner Andy Hillenburg, a former racer, bought the place at auction five years and has been sprucing it up since. He finally convinced NASCAR to give him something – anything – and they responded by adding a truck race there to the schedule.
Hillenburg said he was happy with the turnout Sunday – the NASCAR communications folks used the term "nearly full grandstands" – but it could have been better. A lot better. In fact, there were a lot of empty seats. But that’s understandable, because truck racing ain’t Cup and Cup is what used to pack the place.
But it’s a start and Helton’s presence was a bit like a blessing from the Pope. The symbolism was obvious: keep tryin’, son, and someday you might see stock cars at this place again.
The bloom is off the NASCAR rose (and if there are any more races like the ones on the weekend, that rose will soon be wilting). Going forward, you can predict the strategy: it was a Southern sport to begin with; to revive it, what better way than to return it to its roots.
And there's probably no better place to do that, than at the Rock.
4. Other racing:
Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr, driving the Muscle Milk Honda Performance Development ARX-03 LMP1 car, won the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach for the second straight season Saturday.
Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin gave Corvette Racing its first victory at Long Beach since 2009 and its first in ALMS since Mosport last July by finishing first in the GT class.
Kyle Marcelli of Barrie finished fourth in the Prototype Challenge class. Tony Burgess of Toronto was eighth in PC.
In World of Outlaws Sprint Car Racing, Joey Saldana won the round at Paducah Speedway in Kentucky.
The ALMS and the Outlaws will both be racing in southern Ontario in July - the sports cars at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (nee Mosport) and the Outlaws at Ohswegen Speedway near Brantford.