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Monthly Archives: June 2007

Franchitti Takes Another at Richmond

This weekend the IRL Indycar Series was making it’s annual visit to the short track at Richmond Virginia. After last weeks crash filled race at Iowa Speedway noone knew what to expect, more of the same, or less of the same.

The 19 strong field did not disappoint, putting the crash fest of last week behind them, running an almost perfect race, so good in fact that the race record was raised to an average of 133mph plus, an indication of just how clean the race was.

For Penskes Sam Hornish Jr the race however did not get off to a good start, with him appearing to get on the gas too hard at the start, resulting in a spin, but luckily he did not hit anything and was able to carry on in the race, without even losing a lap.

The story of the day was once again Dario Franchitti. He spent almost the whole race in front of the field, not leading only 9 laps of the 250. He really was the class of the field and controlled the race the whole way, keeping everyone else at bay. The final caution of the day left only a 5 lap sprint to the checkered flag, and with Dixon and Wheldon breathing down his neck at the restart, Franchitti made sure he got a good jump on the field and was never headed, driving away form 2nd finisher Dixon, and 3rd placed Wheldon. Tony Kannan followed that trio home in 4th place.

So after last week, when Franchitti outlasted his opposition, this week he just drove away from all of the Championship contenders, the only way to win a race! The end of the race worked out well for Franchitti, but after qualifying yesterday things did not look quite so good. An imbalance in the cars handling meant he could only qualify in 12th position, so started the race from deep in the field.

After the race Franchitti was quoted as saying "The team took an educated guess on the setup for today, and it worked out!"

This win is Franchittis 3rd top three finish at Richmond in the last 3 years, and further adds to him being a Roadcourse and Short Oval Specialist, and now sees him with a 65 point lead in the season Championship over Scott Dixon, and with roadcourse tracks making up the next few rounds, Franchitti is in a great position to consolidate his Championship lead and try to take it out of reach of the chasing pack.

Where is Your Crew Chief

NASCAR has a history of suspending crew chiefs, and none more visible that the recent suspensions of Tony Eury Jr, Chad Kanaus (2nd time in just over 1 year) and Steve Latarte. This weekend at Loudon New Hampshire all three are not allowed in the garage area.

Now you would think that if these guys are suspended they would be sitting at home, kicking back with a beer watching tv, but reports have surfaced from the track that says no to this. It appears that the latest trendy thing for suspended crew chiefs to do is to come to work. Sure we know a suspended crew chief can go to work at the shop each day, and in the past we have known that they are communicating back and forth with their teams all weekend, but now it appears they are actually attending the track, not in their official capacity as crew chiefs, but as fans.

NASCAR of course could not do anything about this, as stopping anyone from getting into a public venue is almost impossible, so now we have the suspended crew chiefs all hanging out at the track, probably in a nice motor home somewhere high up, watching the action form afar, probably with a tv, and in constant, instant communication with their teams.

I know from my years in motorsport that the right person standing back form the action looking at the overall picture can be a huge advantage to a team. In my brothers earlier days of his career, he would come back to New Zealand every year for our annual Formula Pacific series in December/January/February (yes it is summer there during those months when it can be snowing on the East Coast of the US) and when my father had time if that year he was not too involved in the team, he would spend all his time standing back watching the other teams, watching our car on the track, and just generally standing back getting a view of everything that was going on. He would come back to us with some incredible information at times, stuff you just would never see while you had your head down working within the team. Usually in the pits you are so busy you just do not get a chance to see what everyone else is doing, whereas someone on the outside can see the whole overview.

With this in mind, could it be that these NASCAR teams with suspended crews are learning this valuable lesson and soon we may actually see the crew chiefs removed from their hands on positions, in favor of standing back and taking in the whole picture. Of course by then they will not be called Crew Chiefs, as the team still needs someone in control of the pit, but I am sure we will see a trend towards these superstar current crew chiefs becoming more like spotters, but for the team instead for the driver. I tell you watch this space ….

Pope Saves Formula One Racer

During the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, Polish Formula One driver Robert Kubica had a horrific crash, slamming a concrete barrier at very high speed. Kubica was taken to hospital, but miraculously he was released a day later with only bruises to show for the huge high speed crash.

This week he denied that he owes his life to the miraculous powers of the late Pope, John Paul II. Kubica hails from Krakow, the late pontiff’s home city, and has raced for years with John Paul’s name inscribed on his crash helmet.

The Polish local PAP news agency reported earlier that Kubica’s survival after slamming into a wall during this month’s Canadian Grand Prix could serve as evidence of a miracle in the Catholic Church’s beatification process of John Paul. The report quoted a local Church source.

Kubica said "I know nothing about this" after being passed fit to race again on Sunday at this weekends French Grand Prix. "In Poland there are many things that are reported that are not true. "I don’t know by whom I was saved, I don’t know if I was saved by someone. I’m here in one piece so I think that is very positive," he added.

Toyota First ever Nascar Nextel Cup Pole

History was made this afternoon at Loudon New Hampshire, when Dave Blaney the driver of the number 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota Camry took Toyota’s first ever pole position in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, in Toyota’s first year in the Nextel Cup series..

"The first pole for Toyota and, hopefully, that’s one step in a lot of successful days as far as poles and wins and the whole thing,” Blaney said. "I think we’ve been making some progress in getting some speed out of the cars; I think all the Toyota teams have." said Blaney.

Blaney ran early in qualifying, setting a best speed of 129.437 mph, and then had to wait while the rest of the field one by one took a shot at beating his lap time to take the coveted pole position away from him, however noone was able to beat Blaneys time, so he will line up in first position for sundays race, ahead of Kyle Bush, Reed Sorenson, Johnny Sauter and Ex Formula One, and last weeks race winner, Jaun Pablo Montoya.

McLaren Tries to Keep the Peace

Ron Dennis and the McLaren team are no strangers to inter team rivalry and all the problems associated with it, after all go back to the Prost/Lauda days and the Prost/Senna days and you will see some of the most headstrong Formula One drivers ever in the same camp.

Recent talk in the media is that Alonso feels that the team is favoring homeboy Lewis Hamilton (after all he has been with McLaren since he was 14 years old!). Whether this is really true, or just a media storm we probably will never know, but after a little time has passed it seems more and more likely to be media hype, rather than the strict truth, but of course where there is smoke there is fire ….

Getting back onto the subject at hand, McLaren has moved to remove any speculation that they are favoring one driver in the garage over another and recently their Engineering Director, Paddy Lowe explained:

"Within 30 seconds of either car coming to rest in a practice session, its driver has his own data sheet, showing every engineering parameter available, and an overlay from his team-mate’s car. They debrief at the same table, with engineers and strategists from both sides of the garage. Concealing information is impossible. "

This does mean that McLaren are doing everything in their power to make sure that both drivers are being looked after equally, and that there is a level playing field inside the team. At the end of the day McLaren as a team I am sure do not care which driver wins the races, so long as they finish 1 and 2, and McLaren win the Constructors Championship , which at the end of the day is the Championship Ron Dennis has always said means the most to him.

If you look at the drivers, Alonso is a two time World Champion, while Hamilton is in his first season. No matter what, Alonso commands the respect inside the team of being a two time World Champion, and Hamilton only in his first season has plenty of years to win championships, so there is no real reason for McLaren to favor one driver over another, absolutely none in the world.

Do Not Mess with the Car of Tomorrow!

That’s the message sent to the teams today from NASCAR.

It appears if you mess with anything on the Car of Tomorrow NASCAR will fine you $100,000.00, dock 100 points from your driver, dock 100 points from the Team Owner of the car involved and suspend your crew chief for at least 6 races and put them on probation for a long period of time. That is the punishment handed down to the 24 and 48 teams after arriving at Sonoma on the weekend with modified front fenders on their cars that NASCAR did not like.

NASCAR has said they are serious, and it looks like they are. The only question on anyones minds is what happens if a serious breach is detected ? Maybe we will see the first life bans handed down, or maybe they will build up to that by sitting someone out for the remainder of a season, or maybe they will build up to that one by just stripping someone of all their points for a season.

However you look at it NASCAR is serious and the teams had better take notice or the garages will be empty.

One Car Two Winners In Milwaukee

Saturday in Milwaukee in the Busch Series race saw something that has never been seen in the Bush Series before, a car in victory lane with two winners.

Denny Hamlin has been driving the number 20 car in the Busch Series this year, but with the Cup Series racing in Sonoma California this was always going to be a difficult weekend to make racing in both series work. Several racers, including Carl Edwards were attempting to do the double, and after a quick plane ride across the country, and a slower than he wanted ride in a golf cart, Carl just managed to get into his car for qualifying, with 2 minutes of the allotted 5 minute grace period left. Denny however chose to stay at Sonoma a little longer than Carl to try to sort out some problems he had with his cup car, and so missed qualifying in Milwaukee.

Subbing for him was the very capable Aric Almirola, a current truck series regular, and occasional Busch Series driver, one of the bright rising stars in NASCAR land. Aric did his job perfectly, grasping the chance of getting into a top line car, and putting it on pole position, a fantastic job, outrunning even runaway 07 series leader Carl Edwards.

The plan at that time was for Denny to fly in and start the race, however delays during the flight, plus his helicopter not being able to land at the track helipad due to cars being parked on it, meant that Denny did not make the start of the race, and Aric was in the car. Aric made a solid start, staying in the top three easily. Denny meanwhile was called on by the 66 team as Steve Wallace was not feeling well, and Denny was ready to jump into that car, but he never got there.

For whatever reason, and the team has not really commented on the exact reasons for the change, Denny was then told he was to get into the 20 car during the next caution, bringing the great run for Aric to a halt. At the next caution the driver change was made, and a clearly upset Almirola stormed away from the pit. It took Denny so long to get into the car with all the adjustments that had to be made, that he lost a complete lap, and had to work overtime to work his way into the position to get the "Lucky Dog" free pass to get back on the lead lap. He did do that, and despite a long green run, did get his lap back. Back on the lead lap he then stormed through the field, passing cars wherever and whenever he could, finally taking the lead back towards the end of the race, a lead he held on to for the win.

A fairytale ending, yes, perhaps, but probably an ending Aric Almirola could have duplicated without Dennys help, should he have been left in the car. The 20 car, along with the 60 of Carl Edwards were the class of the field, and I am sure Aric would have done it justice. The only explanation given for the turn of events was that this was the home of team sponsor Rockwell Automation, and that Rockwell Automation are the sponsors of Denny Hamlin.

In these days of mega dollar sponsorships this is probably a valid excuse to do this sort of thing. Denny Hamlin for his part could have refused to get in the car, but then, he is paid to drive, and is paid to do what the sponsors and team want him to do, so really there can be no blame bought upon Denny. As for Aric, he knew he was a sub for Denny, in Denny’s car. He did exactly what was asked of him, he drove the car flawlessly, put it on pole, and ran at the front during his stint in the car, handing it over in a comfortable 3rd place. No-one could ask anything more of Aric, yes he can be upset, but his stocks in NASCAR circles will have gone up after that event, everyone, including the media and team personnel were talking about this over the weekend, so apart from being upset about being pulled form the car, if Aric manages this event properly it could be the key for him to advance his career, after all a single win was the launchpad for the career of David Gilliand, now the driver of the 38 cup car, last year. After all, being talked about in any media is great, but Aric had the media to himself on this one, and even gets credited with his first Busch Series win. Not bad for a short days work!

Weekend of the Underdog .. or Not

It’s Sunday evening here on the West Coast of the US, which means all of the major racing series have finished their racing for the weekend. It’s almost been a weekend of the underdog in many of the top racing series around, but in some ways you can’t call the winners of these races underdogs.

In Champcar it off to the Cleveland Grand Prix, and it was veteran Paul Tracy making the grade. It’s been exactly two years since Paul’s last win at Cleveland in 2005, and it seems sometimes a racer is just destined to win no matter what they do in the race, and this was one of those days. It wasn’t your typical flag to flag win, but it was a win, and as everyone will tell you, a win is a win. En route to his win, Paul bashed and crashed his way through the race, and I am sure set a record for using the most number of nose cones in a race, three. If that’s what it takes to win, then so be it. I’ve always admired Paul, ever sine the first time I met him all those years ago in the late 1980’s in New Zealand where he was racing against my brother in Formula Pacific (Atlantic to all you in this country) for longtime New Zealand team owner Graeme Lawrence. Paul was a forceful racer back then, and along the long and winding path to today, nothing has changed. Way to go Paul!

Meanwhile over in the Indy Racing League, it was off to the shiny new house of Rusty Wallace in Iowa, and was a race of crash em while you can. Tomas Scheckter has been involved in his fair share of wrecks, but today he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was wrecked by Dan Wheldon so early in the race. Dario Franchitti was as usual rock steady and kept his head, while everyone crashed around him, and deserved the win. I’m sure he will be a little disappointed that he did not race all the usual suspects to take the win, but he really should count this as one of his best ever victories, as to finish first, first you must finish, and today he did that, while most of the other racers could not.

Switching over to NASCAR, who were in Wine Country at Sonoma in Northern California, it was unfortunately, a fuel mileage day. Robby Gordon led the race the way any charging racer should, from the front. His 16th place finish does not do him any justice, and in post race interviews he said that he was getting a quarter a lap less than the other Ford cars on gas mileage, which meant he had to stop for gas when many of the others did not. Hang in there Robby, you are a hell of a racer and it’s fantastic that you are hanging in there with your team, and you will win some more.

As for the winner, you cannot take anything away from him, Juan Pablo Montoya is the manof the moment, and now is only the 3rd ever foreign born racer to win a NASCAR race, the last being in 1974. He did a great job stretching his gas mileage to get to the end, even having enough fuel for a burnout and to get to victory lane. It was a roadcourse, but in the end it only took 16 races in NASCAR Nextel Cup for Juan to get to victory lane, an impressive feat for someone without the usual NASCAR type background. With a win behind him, I am sure it won’t be long before he gets it together and wins on an oval, after all in the second half of the season he will have run on at least some of the tracks as NASCAR visits them for the second time this year. Watch this space….

The final major motorsport from this weekend for me was the Moto GP race, held at a wet Donnington Park in England. Donnington is a very interesting track, with lots of elevation change, and in the wet can be really tricky. It was at that track in 1994 that my brother became a two time World Touring Car Champion, after winning it for the first time at Monza in Italy in 1993. Even back then the track was pretty slick, and it was interesting to hear the bike warriors making reference to the slickness of the track during the post race interviews.

Casey Stoner just continues to impress, riding with a maturity well beyond his years, and is taking the fight this year to Valintino Rossi like I don’t think anyone in the last few years has. In the wet, then drying conditions Casey was untouchable, and he looked after his super soft tires better than anyone else, and was rewarded with a great win. It was also great to see Colin Edwards in second. He has had a pretty up and down time in Moto GP, especially alongside Rossi, so it was great to see him on the podium.

Overall a pretty interesting weekend of racing, with some interesting stories along the way. Check back for some of them soon.

Jean Todt The Author

Jean Todt has had a long and distinguished career in motorsport, starting out as a rally co-driver, moving on to become sporting manager at Peugeot, and then on to Ferrari, where he was Formula One Team Principal, and latterly promoted to CEO of the Ferrari company itself.

Along the long and winding journey Jean Todt has also become an accomplished author, authoring and co-authoring a number of books related to his life experiences. Below we showcase a few of his works, some pretty interesting reading.

Small, sublime, and scorching hot: the popular Ferrari brick book now including the 2003 season! Renowned Formula 1 photographer Rainer W. Schlegelmilch has once again pushed racing photography to extremes this year. In addition to the winner and the highlights of the season, the popular brick book remains true to its concept and includes a chronological presentation of the more than 50-year Grand Prix history of the Scuderia Ferrari. Portraits of prominent Ferrari drivers and topics such as design, engineering, and statistics will not only raise the pulse of confirmed Ferrari devotees, but are also a must-read for all racing fans.

 

Inside Ferrari is an exclusive and intimate view inside Formula l’s most successful, most alluring and most secretive professional racing teams. This book provides a rare glimpse into the world famous Ferrari factory, inside the Ferrari garage and inside the Ferrari test track, capturing what it takes to be one of the world’s great sports teams.

The camera division of the Olympus Corporation Camera Company, a sponsor of the Ferrari Formula 1 team, commissioned Jon Nicholson to go behind the scenes at Ferrari and take exclusive photographs of its Fl Team at work — in preparation for races, and during races. Working as a team, Nicholson and racing journalist Maurice Hamilton created a candid profile that is packed with exciting stories and on-the-spot action photographs of behind-the-scenes workers and such internationally famous drivers as Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Here are (almost) all the secrets involving: The factory,The testing, The cars, The drivers, Racing, The Ferrari racing family.

No one else has ever been given such access to Ferrari, and this book will be a delight for millions of Formula 1 racing fans.

This biography of Michael Schumacher describes all of his childhood, his exceptional career, and his secrets. It exists since 1997 and has been fully updated at the end of the 2006 seasons – and possibly Michael’s 8th world title.

About the Author
Luc Domenjoz has covered more than 340 Grands Prix to date, and has been the biographer of Michael Schumacher since 1997.

A beautiful large format French language history of this famous European circuit.

Numerous photographs in black and white and color make this work worthwhile for the illustrations alone. 192 pages, hardbound and dust-jacketed.

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