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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.