Sunday, April 20, 2008

Danica Mania is trans-continental; Will Power dominates Champ Car swan song
The record books will show that Danica Patrick (above) and Will Power are both IndyCar series winners on April 20. Patrick's historic victory will revive "Danica Mania" at least this weekend at Kansas and of course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Power's dominating drive (anytime you jump from 4th to first on a standing start and lead 81 of 83 laps, that is certainly domination) will be a footnote to racing history. Don't sell Will short--once he figures out the Dallara chassis, he'll be a force to reckon with in the IndyCars. The top three (lower photo) were Power, rookie Franck Montagny (left) and Mario Dominguez (right)
If you were a racing fan, you would not have been disappointed with the weekend. The American LeMans Series event and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach had moments for everyone. Perhaps we've discovered another celebrity to make the move to a driver's seat...Jamie Little's win in the Pro Celebrity race was almost as popular as Danica's Japan victory. Jim Michaelian, Long Beach GP boss, just told me the weekend crowd was in the 170-175-thousand ballpark.
If you have ever been part of a reconciliation of a particularly nasty argument, you will know what the atmosphere was here. Yes, the stalwarts for each side had their moments, but the backbiting and caustic comments were mercifully not evident. Everyone involved seems to have moved forward. While there's a lot of ground to make up on NASCAR, the IndyCars have fallen into a cosmic conjunction of events that even 1801 International Speedway Boulevard cannot duplicate. For the sake of open wheel racing fans, the IndyCar community needs to take fair advantage of that set of circumstances.
We're taking a race break this weekend, so please stay tuned for our Race-Talk and Radio-Road-Test programs. We finished road test number 750 last week; it's a third generation model of the mini-van that kept the Big Three the Big Three...and it got an honest 25 miles per gallon on I-15 back from Las Vegas at or above the posted speed limits, with big time room.
Max Mosely to step down in 2009 from FIA Presidency--AP

Here's a link to the story. (Remember, links can and often do become inactive in time).;_ylt=A0WTUfu7jQtI2FABdwELMxIF

Who will replace him? Let us hope the replacement is not as arrogant or lacking in judgement as Mosely, and one who realizes that the appeal of F1 is not a dumbed-down tightly regulated series, but one with relevant, reasonable limits, which will again allow real innovation. The replacement should be able to work with racing kingpins like El Supremo (a/k/a Bernie Ecclestone); Brian France, Anton H. "Tony" George, and the various and sundry sports car series (LeMans).
Danica Patrick Makes Racing History

Patrick became the first woman to win a major open wheel auto race by passing Helio Castroneves with two laps to go, to win the Indy 300 at Twin Ring Motegi. Castroneves finished second; Scott Dixon, third. If you think Graham Rahal got some publicity for his win in St. Petersburg, you have seen nothing. I was working late here in Long Beach, and only got to see a monitor with the images. It is a big deal to see a dream come true--you could see it in Danica's eyes

NASCAR will certainly not be pleased in private that the first major auto racing win for a woman came in the IndyCar series. Shirley Muldowney, of course, has three NHRA championships and multiple wins--for purposes of this discussion, drag racing is in its own category.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Audis 1-2; Patron Acura sweep LeMans Prototype 1&2 classes in Long Beach

For the second race in a row...the number 2 factory Audi driven by Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner won overall honors in their LeMans Prototype 1 R10 Audi diesel. Third overall and first in the LMP 2 class was the Acura driven by Scott Sharp and David Brabham. Fourth and fifth were the Penske Porsche Spyders. Next American LeMans Series venue is at Miller Motorsports park outside Salt Lake City, Utah.
We'll recount the "last tango" for you tomorrow.

Wilson on pole for "Last Tango in Long Beach"; Tagliani and Perera start 2nd and 3rd

The Newman-Haas driver won his 7th Champ Car pole and first for the team with a speed of 105.898 miles an hour. Alex Tagliani starts second and Franck Perera 3rd. Graham Rahal starts 9th. All the drivers seem sad that the race will be the last for the turbocharged Cosworth Panoz DP-01 chassis...especially Tagliani and Paul Tracy, a four time winner at Long Beach, who will make his last start for owner Gerry Forsythe from 5th.

A lot of people hope the IndyCar series race in Japan can get underway...especially Wilson and Rahal...who can come away with points (unlike the Champ Car teams that did not join the IndyCar series).

We'll join you after the American LeMans Race with the overall winners and the LeMans Prototype Class winners.
Skinner, Little win Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race at Long Beach

Jamie Little (she of the ESPN/ABC NASCAR telecasts) and Mike Skinner (coaching A. J. Allmendinger of the Red Bull Toyota Sprint Cup team and driving a Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) were the Celebrity and Pro winners in the Pro-Celebrity event at Long Beach.

We'll update you with the American LeMans Series race winners and the last Champ Car qualifiers once they are decided.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Penske Porsche, Audi R10 LeMans Prototypes (1&2) set the pace in Long Beach

Timo Bernhard starts first overall in the LMP2 class in the Penske Porsche Spyder. That's the car that won at Sebring, and started on the pole at St. Petersburg. Lucas Luhr starts 6th overall in the LMP1 class. Since Sebring, Audi seems to have the temporary street circuits figured out...Luhr co drove the winning mount in St. Pete.

Newman-Haas Fast on Friday; Justin Wilson starts no worse than 2nd;

Gil deFerran makes return to cockpit; His ALMS team debuts in May

Justin Wilson likes Fridays, me thinks. Two weeks ago...he spent quality time near the front of the IndyCar pack in St. Petersburg. Today (4/18) Wilson was the fastest of the Panoz DP-01, soon to be obsolete, turbo powered Cosworth Champ Cars, 105.184 mph. He was followed by Oriol Servia (whose co-owner, Jimmy Vasser, returned for a final ride along Shoreline Drive), and Alex Tagliani, 3rd fastest.

Two time CART champion and Indy 500 winner Gil deFerran makes it official...he and teammate Simon Pagenaud debut another Acura LMP (LeMans Prototype) 2 Acura at Miller Motorsports Park on May 18 (fourth race of the ALMS season). We mentioned that would happen back in late January, when we went to testing at Sebring. deFerran was the sporting director for Honda's Formula One effort last year.

Also here is the Toyota Celebrity Pro-Am race...this year in Scion tC coupes. Mike Skinner (who's helping A. J. Allmendinger find some more speed in the Sprint Cup Series)is a past NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion. The defending NHRA Powerade Funny Car Champion, Tony Pedregon, and Top Fueler Whit Bazemore (who's on a hiatus, spending more time with his family) are also in the event...along with ESPN/ABC pit reporter Jamie Little.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jason Line, Cory McClenathan and Tim Wilkerson come up "Big in Vegas"
(top to bottom)

Don Schumacher Racing gets good news after the 100-thousand dollar whack to the wallet...Cory McClenathan breaks a winless streak that dates back to Richmond in driving past Antron Brown in the Top Fuel Final with a 4.654 run down the quarter mile. It's Cory Mac's 30th win in 52 final rounds.

Tim Wilkerson picked up the Funny Car win over Ashley Force with a 4.962 run. Ashley takes over the Funny Car point lead, becoming the first female driver to take over the point lead.

Jason Line won one for the sponsor team...Line's win (first of 2008) over Greg Stanfield with a 6.782 in the quarter mile, puts him into a flatfooted tie with defending Powerade Pro Stock Champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr. Line credits the chassis and not the 1,400 horsepower with the win.

The straight line warriors get a break this week before their next event outside Atlanta on April 25-27.

We'll rejoin you on Friday from the "last hurrah" for the Panoz DP-01 Champ Cars...the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
$100,000 for Bad Nitro--Don Schumacher Racing gets whacked in the wallet

NHRA announced a fine of $100,000 was levied on Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) for what the sanctioning body called a "fuel violation" prior to eliminations here at the NHRA Nationals. The announcement lacked specificity, but stated a reference to the fuel regulations on Page 64 in the 2008 Rule Book. Schumacher Racing was fined for a violation of the regulations on nitromethane (the fuel that is used in Top Fuel and Funny Cars). Nitromethane has to be supplied from official suppliers that NHRA designates. Fuel anywhere on the grounds (in the race car, or anywhere else) can be tested at anytime. The penalty (and we quote from the rule book here (Section 4-General Regulations):
"Any participant who violates any rule regarding nitromethane shall be banned from competition at the applicable event, or shall be subject to such other penalty deemed appropriate by NHRA."
How can they tell bad nitro: It must have some sort of dye (like the diesel fuel you buy at the pump) which will change color if the nitro has been sensitized or contaminated.
Short take: DSR's drivers keep their points (at least for the moment)...but the organization gets a six figure whack in the wallet. It's easier to make up the dollars than points.
DSR fields not just Tony Schumacher and Cory McClenathan in Top Fuel. Gary Scelzi, "Fast Jack Beckman" Jerry Tolliver and Ron Capps drive Funny Cars under the DSR banner. Capps and McClenathan have advanced to the semi finals.
UPDATE: Schumacher is appealing the fine. He came into the press room, and explained that he had a supply from a previously unapproved (since Gainesville it's been approved) nitromethane supplier. Under the letter of the regulation, it's illegal. Under the spirit, there's a difference in opinion, which concerns money and suppliers.
Kevin Harvick and NHRA Top Fuel Racing
The 2007 Daytona 500 winner and wife DeLana flew up from Phoenix this morning to take in the sights, sounds and smells of NHRA Powerade Drag Racing. They experienced 16,000 Top Fuel horsepower lighting off at one time by standing near the Christmas tree (the lights on the starting line) when Bob Vandergriff (with whom he is exploring the options of another NHRA team) met Antron Brown in the first round of eliminations. Brown advanced.
Harvick says the talks are in the early stages; he says the venture would help give his other sponsors some added value. He also says that NHRA Drag Racing is popular among other drivers in the Sprint Cup garage area.
It cannot hurt that H. A. "Humpy" Wheeler is building a drag strip at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Race NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas

This is Tony Schumacher's NHRA Top Fuel Dragster, sponsored by the US Army. Tony is a five time Powerade Top Fuel Champion, and was the number one qualifier this weekend. All of that is cool, no doubt. The coolest thing he did this weekend was when he ran on Friday, he carried some extra special cargo--a Congressional Medal of Honor, worn by an Army POW and awarded for what is called "conspicuous gallantry above and beyone the call of duty". When you see a recipent, you are in the presence of an American hero. It is a very big, inspirational deal.

A preview of some stuff on Race-Talk: You get to see me gather information on YouTube, thanks to Jeff Romack at GM Communications:
We'll post snapshots for the finalists in each of the pro categories and update you with tidbits later.
By the do realize with Saturday night's win, that the defending Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson is now sixth in points? The hand-wringers will have to find something else to wring their hands count him out at you own peril. And how about the 1-2 Childress Racing punch of Jeff Burton and Kevin "Happy" Harvick atop the Sprint Cup standings?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mystery solved...Who's #1 at the NHRA Nationals for Eliminations

The question we posed yesterday about a pushrod engine turning 10,300 rpm has been answered by one of Pro Stock's best--Jason Line, who qualified 2nd behind Kenny Koretsky. It's Kenny's first career #1 starting position. Jason told me that the engines make nearly 1,400 horsepower on two four barrel carburetors and racing gasoline. That's 1,400--or 175 horsepower per cylinder. Line should know...he fairly lives in the dyno room. Greg Anderson is not a slouch in that department either...Anderson helps build those monsters, and drives both of the Keith Black Summit Racing Pontiac GXPs in testing. The bump (the time that a driver had to beat to make final eliminations) was an ET (elapsed time) of 6.775 by Matt Hartford.

In Top Fuel, Tony Schumacher's time from yesterday (4.510) held up...and the US Army driver takes his first #1 qualifier of 2008. Doug Kalitta qualified 2nd. The bump was an ET of 5.017 by Steve Chrisman.

Funny Car Qualifying was the most interesting of the final qualifying runs. Like last year, John Force did not make it through Funny Car qualifying here at "The Strip", so his quest for 1,000 final round wins will have to wait until Atlanta. "We'll take our whipping and race (his three other cars) tomorrow" said the 14 time champion. In Houston, Robert Hight did not qualify for eliminations. Today, the John Force Racing driver ran the best run of qualifying on his last pass to become the number one qualifier, knocking Tim Wilkerson back to number 2. Hight was timed at 4.849. Last time he was here in October, he was also the top qualifier, but the racing gremlins that prowl the pits bit him...and he ended up losing the Funny Car title to Tony Pedregon by less than one round of points. The bump was an ET of 4.997 by "Fast Jack" Beckman. For the record, John Force ran a 5.020. This is what differentiates NHRA Pro Drag Racing--because there are no provisionals given to any driver--the true definition of "go or go home".

We'll rejoin you from "The Strip" on Sunday.

Day NHRA Nationals Qualifying
The snapshot above is a picture of the new design for the Chevy Impala of defending NHRA Powerade Funny Car Champion Tony Pedregon. The Palms is an establishment located a few miles south of here, where I'm told there are games of chance and accommodations which are sumptuous.
Some stories: Houston Pro Stock winner Greg Anderson did not make the 12 provisional qualifiers Friday. Anderson, driving a Pontiac sponsored by the event sponsor, has two chances to make final eliminations. If the car does not go fast enough, it goes home, sponsor and point standings notwithstanding. Update: Anderson is 9th after the third round of qualifying, and looks to be safely in final eliminations.
John Force has won 996 rounds of eliminations in his storied NHRA career. To win 1,000 this weekend, he would have to advance to the final round of eliminations and win. This is not a question of if, but when.
The weather will be hot on Sunday the two rounds today will go a long way to help the crew chiefs get their tune-up right.
Every one of the drivers I talk with is jacked up about the first annual Carolina Nationals, to be held at Lowe's Motor Speedway on September 11-14, 2008. The construction is proceeding almost as rapidly as the nitro cars in ideal conditions (like last night, when Tony Schumacher ran the 4.51..which will likely stand through this hot afternoon session).
We'll post the fastest of the pro categories...and tell you who went home after the second round of pro qualifying.

Friday, April 11, 2008

First Round of NHRA Nationals, Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Pro Stock--Kenny Koretsky (his first)--08 Pontiac GXP 6.724
Funny Car--Tim Wilkerson (3rd time in five races so far)--08 Chevy Impala 4.850
Top Fuel--Tony Schumacher (first time fast qualifier for 2008)--08 Hadman 4.510
We'll rejoin you tomorrow.

Greetings from "The Strip" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

10,300 rpm on gasoline with a pushrod V8? That's what the engine in "Professor" Warren Johnson's Pontiac was turning when it expired at Houston. Amazing what happens when the valve train gets out of sync with the piston.

One could not ask for better weather...high 70s to low 80's, a little breeze...and the ad hoc airshow (thanks to the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base--home of the Thunderbirds--and the place where Air Force fighter pilots hone their considerable skills).

We'll blog some pictures, tidbits and comments throughout the weekend...while we're getting interviews for future editions of "Race-Talk".

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION: As "Race-Talk" enters its 16th year of national syndication, we think it's important to remind you why I cover all forms of auto racing. The "Cliff Note" version is that covering auto racing is not unlike going to a buffet, and loading your plate up at the dessert station--you miss the variety, and have a limited experience. I pick up observations at NHRA Powerade Nationals, Sprint Cup extravaganzas, sports car races, open wheel races and FIA Formula One races that help me explain what goes on and put it in context. There are interesting things in all forms of racing that cross the so-called boundaries. It also helps me detect what Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once referred to as "bovine scatology". You don't deserve and I will not knowingly try to foist any of that BS on you. I will always identify comment and opinion as such, and double check facts before I blog something or say something on either "Race-Talk" or "Radio-Road-Test".

More later.

A short rant on the subject du jour in NASCAR...that is the revelation of Aaron Fike's use of heroin and racing under its influence, and NASCAR's lack of a mandatory drug testing policy.
How many more instances have there been? That is particularly shocking, and shows a monumental lack of judgement on Fike's part--his selfishness in using drugs put spectators, officials, fellow drivers and others involved in the process in jeopardy. It also calls into question NASCAR's policy--or lack therof.
The sanctioning body needs to get into the 21st century and institute a random, mandatory testing policy for illegal drugs for anyone who holds a NASCAR credential--from Brian France on down to any driver, team owner, team member or sponsor representative. The people who insure NASCAR need to make a call yesterday to tell the powers that be in NASCAR that it will pull the sanctioning body's coverage until such policy is in place.
Sprint needs to be on the phone with France as well.
Unfortunately, like the safety issues in the late 90's to early 2001, it will take a drug related injury--or worse--for the sanctioning body to finally do something. The track and garage area is dangerous enough on a quiet day; those who drive and work there need sober, clear judgement to do their jobs. If I'm there I accept the normal risks of being in a garage area and around a track. The risk of injury--or worse-- posed by the selfishness and subsequent bad judgement of a drug user is totally and always unacceptable.. It (drug use) affects more than the user.
As for the offenders, I believe that all people should get a second chance--and only a second chance--in routine cases. If the offender's drug use results in an injury or worse, or if the offender relapses, then the offender should be banned, and if monetary damages result, then restitution should be made.
The outside legal system takes a very dim (properly so) view of drivers who are under the influence of alcohol and drugs. NASCAR does as well--but needs to bring that aspect of its management, like it did with its timing and scoring, into the 21st century.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

19 years, 93 days and his first Checkered Flag
Graham Rahal beat one of IndyCar racing's best to notch a place in auto racing history. The son of team owner Bobby Rahal (a pretty good driver in his day if you recall). held off Helio Castroneves to win the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and start putting to rest the speculation about the former Champ Car drivers being able to make the transition to the less powerful Honda powered Dallara machines. Polesitter Tony Kanaan was third. Scott Dixon suffered mechanical woes...and dropped to second in points behind Castroneves. Kanaan is also third in points...Rahal (the youngest driver ever to win a major league open wheel race) now 4th. The IndyCar series takes a break to get ready for a doubleheader on two continents in two weeks...the former Champ Car drivers (Rahal, Wilson, Will Power, etc) will stay behind to race in Long Beach...while the rest of the drivers work out on the Motegi oval. Everyone who runs the "last hurrah" for the old Panoz/Cosworth chassis will get IndyCar'll see the IndyCars take on Shoreline drive, etc. Rahal says he's looking forward to Long Beach. There may be anywhere from 12-20 cars...and Paul Tracy will drive the last roundup for Forsythe Racing.
Bobby Rahal came up to the press work room to chat with a few any dad...even though his driver (Ryan Hunter-Reay) was running out of gas...Rahal the elder said he still thought of Graham as his little kid.
We'll rejoin you from Glitter Gulch with NHRA coverage next weekend.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Diesel Power outlasts Penske; Kanaan Knockout Pole Winner
The picture above is Marco Werner (left) and Lucas Luhr (right), drivers of the Audi AG #2 R10 diesel. Luhr pulled past the Penske Racing Porsche of Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard on the last restart, and won by .81 seconds. The heavier LMP1 prototypes (R10) were said to have a disadvantage to the lighter LMP2 prototypes (like the Porsche and Acuras). After a race where cars hit everything but the Florida Lottery...the Audi pulled to the lead.
Tony Kanaan starts on the pole for the IndyCar Grand Prix...with series newbies Will Power and Justin Wilson, starting 2nd and third. Defending and two time winner Helio Castroneves starts 4th. He and the 25 other cars have a 4 in 10 chance of dancing through the raindrops at St. Pete. The track has rubbered up from the American LeMans Race...IndyCar practice and qualifying...and Indy Lights practice and racing. Rain can spring up quickly and forcefully in Florida...but as Helio said after qualifying, "It (the weather) is the same for everybody." Kanaan said he hasn't gotten blisters on his hands in a qualifying session in a long time. What is surprising is that Scott Dixon is not in the top 10--the IndyCar series point leader starts 13th. The "knockout" qualifying will be in force for all road courses and street courses henceforth. It consists of two random draw sessions for half of the field...six from each session advance to round two. From Round Two, six go to the Fast 6 shootout, which ultimately decides the pole. Power ran 104 and change to advance to the Fast 6; Kanaan was fastest in the final 10 minute session...he notches pole number 9. Verdict--entertaining.
Saturday, April 5, 2008--Pre-Qualifying Notes

Greetings from St. Pete...where two time and defending winner Helio Castroneves set the fast time yesterday in practice...followed by Brazilian chum Tony Kanaan. The fastest of the transition drivers was Newman Haas Racing's Justin Wilson, who was 4th fastest.

Other notes--the ALMS is requiring its gasoline powered, spark ignition cars to run on a mixture of 10% ethanol at minimum. Every car sold in America since 1987 is capable of running on 10 % ethanol.

RANT Max Mosley is bringing attention to the FIA (World Automobile Racing Rulesmakers)--the kind they don't want. If you go to the British "News Of The World" website, you will read a lurid account of FIA President Mosely's visit with five prostitutes in Chelsea. Mosely's father Oswald was a most notorious Nazi sympathizer during World War Two. One one level, the libertarian in me says that Max's private romps should be kept private. One might think that Max would at least check for cameras before the festivities began. On another level, the Nazi stuff is absolutely abhorrent. I knew and know a lot of men who fought the exact kind of crap in World War Two that Mosely thought was cute--it calls into question his judgement to operate an organization in the best interests of world wide auto racing. If he were looking for a beating, I suspect that more than a few relatives of Nazi victims would be willing, able and motivated to give Mosely in reality what he sought in fantasy. Mosely's suing the News Of The World, and will be subject of an FIA hearing. What will happen to Mosely will more likely be decided by El Supremo, a/k/a Bernie Ecclestone. Because if Bernie starts to get more flak from his high rolling friends and sponsors on this issue...Mosely will be out the door so fast your head will swim, thanks to a palace coup which will be engineered in true Machiavellian style (with no fingerprints) by El Supremo. /RANT

Friday, April 04, 2008

Greetings from St. Pete with Snapshots
Top--one of the fuel tanks in the pits for the American LeMans Series race here. This particular type of racing fuel is related to E85 (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline) which is becoming more available at pumps near you. Cellulosic ethanol is made from wood, which if you think about it, makes a lot of sense...because the pressure to use corn stocks to make ethanol could be lessened. The Corvettes and Aston Martins will run on the cellulosic ethanol blend this weekend.
Second--one of the aforementioned Corvettes getting ready to practice before qualifying later today.
Third--The overall winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring for the "Captain", Roger Penske. This car is driven by Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas.
Bottom--the #7 Motorola Dallara Honda driven by Danica Patrick getting the thrice-over by the Andretti Green Racing team after practice. Justin Wilson (yep-one of those former Champ Car drivers who are now IndyCar series drivers) was the fastest in the first practice, clocking in at 102.014 miles an hour. Twenty six cars practiced. Patrick's car turned only 23 laps, with a best speed of 99.121 miles an hour.

Please remember that practice makes perfect...but in doesn't count until the green flag flies.