F1 Grand Prix of Singapore

Sebastian Vettel may be greatest athlete America doesn’t know

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Sebastian Vettel appears ready to equal his racing hero and German countryman Michael Schumacher and also Juan Manuel Fangio as the only drivers in Formula One history to win four consecutive World Championships. That alone places him in the Mount Rushmore of legends in the sport; since entering in 2007 as a teenager, Vettel has stormed through the F1 record books with nearly every single Grand Prix.

Schumacher’s all-time marks of 91 wins and 7 World Championships are eventually going to be in range for Vettel, who thus far has 35 and 3 at age 26. He’s already the youngest to win three titles. Schumacher had runs of seven and five straight wins in 2004, the year of his final title. Fangio never won more than three races in a row and won just 24 races in his career, but raced during an era when only nine to 11 Grands Prix were on the calendar.

Yet while his status among the all-time greats of F1 is being solidified, his awareness to an American fan base is not at the same level as his on-track achievements.

Compared to some of America’s most dominant and recognizable stick-and-ball athletes – such as LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and Tom Brady/Peyton Manning – Vettel matches up from a dominance and success level.

LeBron’s at least a third of the way to his “not three, not four, not five, not six” proclamation with back-to-back rings. Brady’s run of success netted three Super Bowls in a four-year run earlier this century. Woods’ streak included holding all four major titles at the same time from 2000 to 2001, and his total of 14 majors is still unrivaled among other golfers even though he’s been stuck on 14 since that U.S. Open win over Rocco Mediate in 2008.

And yet Vettel’s got a record streak that would trump them all, with four successive season-long championships assuming he caps it off this weekend in India. One site rates his marketability behind that of NBA star Blake Griffin and tennis player Sloane Stephens, not to mention fellow F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.

So why is he not as well-known in these parts? Several factors, actually.

The obvious, of course, was the lack of a United States Grand Prix until the event’s return at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas last year. Still, you can catch him for this year’s race on Nov. 17 on NBC, or in person at the track.

Looking historically, Vettel actually made his debut at the last USGP in Indianapolis in 2007 – as a then-long-haired, blonde, 19-year-old as an injury replacement for Robert Kubica at the BMW Sauber team. He scored a championship point with eighth place, the youngest driver to do so, and began his march on the record books.

Those who paid attention that weekend – and are F1 devotees – will know they witnessed the beginning of the legend. The more casual observers, though, likely would not have known of Vettel until the series’ return a year ago.

Second is his sponsor, Red Bull. For all its marketing brilliance over the years, Red Bull has not opted to make Vettel the focal point of its ads in the U.S. since he joined the team in 2009. There’s been more ads from new Red Bull partner Infiniti this year – one with generic Red Bull Formula 3 cars racing through streets I can think of off the top of my head – and Vettel’s not included directly.

Red Bull got more mileage from a marketing and buzz standpoint out of the “Red Bull Stratos” event last October, when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner free fell from more than 125,000 feet in space. It truly felt like “an event;” a Vettel Grand Prix win seems like “just another Sunday.”

You could argue Mobil 1 has made McLaren driver Jenson Button and, previously, Hamilton bigger names in the U.S. Hamilton and fellow Mobil 1 driver Tony Stewart memorably exchanged rides for a day in a made-for-TV 2011 event, and the two were in commercials together as well. This year, Button’s starred opposite “Smoke,” as the term “Soda cookies” has officially entered the vernacular.

All three – Vettel and the pair of English World Champions, Button and Hamilton – are much bigger on the other side of the pond compared to here. The Barclays Premier League has gained recent traction in the U.S., but it and F1 are the two major sports in England by contrast to here, where the NFL rules all.

Perhaps comparable examples for Vettel in the U.S. are Spanish soccer players Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta, who have won multiple titles with their club team, Barcelona, and international trophies with Spain. But a U.S. sports fan may be hard-pressed to pick either out of a crowd. The same applies to Vettel.

Third, and the issue all F1 stars worldwide all seem to have here, is that the races often come on in the overnight or early morning hours. Only the most devoted, fervent fans have the desire and passion to want to wake up that early, or stay up that late, to watch Grands Prix.

And with Vettel’s recent run of success – five straight victories heading into this weekend – it has the potential to turn fans off with the notion that a race is as good as decided before it even begins. Say what you will about what it takes to achieve that, but unless you’re a fan of dominance and watching the best at their peak, it can get old.

We know Vettel’s an excellent shoe and from those who cover him every Grand Prix weekend, he has a sunny disposition, quick wit, sharp, insightful answers to journalist questions and an enthusiasm for winning that is evident every time that finger waves “number one.”

It just hasn’t waved “number one” here in terms of awareness of his level of dominance.

Red Bull GRC: Second New River race officially cancelled

Deegan's rattled Ford. Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull GRC
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The second of two planned races at Red Bull Global Rallycross’ trip to MCAS New River was scrubbed on site due to heavy rain, lightning and unsafe track conditions.

And while the possibility existed Red Bull GRC could have gone with some sort of makeup round, in the end, the decision was made to cancel the race outright.

Here’s the official statement from Red Bull GRC:

“After the suspension of 2016 Championship Round 7 at Marine Corps Air Station New River due to severe weather, Red Bull Global Rallycross officials have announced the cancellation of the round in its entirety. Round 7 cannot be resumed due to the inability to replicate the race circumstances and facility at which it was originally contested. No points will be awarded for Round 7 and no make-up event will be scheduled.”

The series resumes this weekend at Washington, D.C. for the original Round 8, which will air LIVE, Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

Scott Speed won the lone race at New River as it turned out, and has now vaulted himself closer to Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammate Tanner Foust in the championship.

A number of 2017 race schedules are already coming into focus

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 18:  The Porsche Team 919 Hybrid of Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb leads the field at the start of the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 18, 2016 in Le Mans, France.  (Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images)
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As the summer of 2016 rolls into the final days of July and the beginning of August – a month in which several key non-NASCAR forms of motorsport, F1, IndyCar and Red Bull GRC go on extended breaks before the end of the month – it’s worth noting that many series already have a lot of ducks in a row for their 2017 schedules.

Let’s start first with the full 2016-2017 or 2017 schedules that have already been released, the FIA Formula E Championship and NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendars:

We’re then hearing of a couple other schedules which could be coming out in the next few weeks.

We hear the Pirelli World Challenge schedule might come out this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which would make sense because Mid-Ohio is traditionally the event where series stakeholders get a lay of the land on how the year’s gone and what’s to come for the following year.

Similarly next week at Road America, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge calendars. Road America in August has been the place where the calendar’s come out each of the last two years.

And INDYCAR is shooting to have its 2017 and perhaps 2018 (yes, seriously) calendars out in August. Whether that’s before Road America, where it announced its INDYCAR return last year, or after when the racing season pauses for a couple weeks, remains to be seen.

There’s already a number of dates that have been released for IMSA and IndyCar. Here’s what we know, below:

INDYCAR

  • St. Petersburg, March 9-12, 2017
  • Long Beach, April 7-9, 2017
  • Grand Prix of Indianapolis, May 11-13, 2017
  • Indianapolis 500, May 28, 2017
  • Detroit, June 2-4, 2017
  • Road America, June 25, 2017
  • Iowa, July 8-9, 2017
  • Toronto, July 13-16, 2017

Phoenix and Barber would figure to be set for April returns but it was forecast earlier this year by AZCentral.com that Phoenix, which ran April 2 this year, could move to the end of the month owing to the fact the NCAA Men’s Final Four is in Phoenix the weekend of April 1-2 with the semifinal games on Saturday, April 1. If it moves to the end of the month, that could shift Barber forward to the start of the month.

Texas Motor Speedway’s race would figure to be back to its June date. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma have been on World Challenge schedules so if we get a World Challenge schedule this weekend, perhaps we’ll see those dates.

The leftovers from 2016 then would be Pocono and Watkins Glen, which are on year-to-year contracts. Watkins Glen was added this year as an eleventh hour replacement for Boston, and it was thanks to some tireless and quick work by INDYCAR’s Jay Frye and Watkins Glen president Michael Printup – and their staffs – that they’ve got it done.

Gateway Motorsports Park has expressed interest in hosting an IndyCar race and there was also talk about Surfers’ Paradise late last month.

IMSA

  • Rolex 24 at Daytona, January 28-29, 2017
  • Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, March 15-18, 2017

Add Long Beach and Detroit’s dates from INDYCAR to that.

FIA WEC

  • Silverstone, April 14-16, 2017
  • Spa, May 6, 2017 (provisional)
  • Le Mans Test Day, June 4, 2017
  • Le Mans, June 17-18, 2017
  • Nürburgring, July 14-16, 2017

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted yesterday, the Nürburgring round would clash with the Montreal FIA Formula E round on July 15-16, which makes it a likelihood at least one of the events would move.

The second of four FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting of 2016 was held last month and usually at the third meeting, if not sooner, a number of draft calendars are released.

These are several pieces to the puzzle then, ahead of that next meeting.

Corvette Racing’s 100 wins have spanned 16 years, multiple eras

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The benchmark for North American sports car racing teams this century, arguably, has been Corvette Racing.

And on Saturday, the Corvette Racing team hit the century-win landmark.

A 1-2 finish led by longtime Corvette Racing stalwart Oliver Gavin, the winningest driver in Corvette Racing history, and newish recruit Tommy Milner, now in his sixth season of the team, occurred during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock.

“It is pretty amazing to get the 100th,” Gavin said. “We have had some great wins this year.  When you look at Daytona, that was phenomenal; Sebring too. Our Le Mans win last year. But to get the 100th is pretty special. I have to thank the team and everybody involved.  I have had a few of the wins with the team, but I have to say this is a pretty special one. To fight off the No. 67 car and having our teammates on the podium. It is pretty special for everyone at Corvette Racing!”

“I feel very lucky to say I was in the car that got the 100th win for this team, but you think about all the people that have worked on this team; all of the drivers; the crew, the marketing and PR people, everybody that have contributed to this, I just feel fortunate to be a part of that. It is good to get that monkey off of our back. It was a small monkey, but it was lingering,” Milner added.

The pair of Corvette C7.Rs have soldiered on despite being hampered by certain Balance of Performance adjustments – most noticeably at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans – and returned to the top step of the podium on Saturday following great drives from all four of the team’s drivers. Besides Gavin and Milner up front in the No. 4 car, the “King of Spain” Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen also scythed through the field to end second in the sister No. 3 car.

Corvette Racing first and foremost is a team though, and while it’s program manager Doug Fehan who has always been front-and-center for the Pratt & Miller outfit, the team’s crew is a huge reason why it has achieved the success it has since 1999.

“If you’re going to win your 100th race, you may as well do it with a 1-2 finish,” Fehan said after the race on Saturday.

“We never diminish the input the engineers have in giving the team great Corvettes, and the crew today just had  absolutely terrific pit stops. But today, this one goes to the drivers. On this race track and in these conditions, those guys brought it home. I’m tipping my hat to the drivers today.”

Added Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, “Achieving 100 victories is a tremendous accomplishment for Corvette Racing. It’s a testament to the dedication of all the crew members, engineers, drivers and our engine team members over the past 17 years. We certainly couldn’t have achieved this milestone without the support of our partners at Pratt & Miller, Mobil 1 and Michelin. Everyone with Corvette Racing operates as one team and embodies the competitive spirit of Chevrolet. We’re happy to share this success with our passionate Corvette owners and supporters.”

Here’s a great salute from the FIA World Endurance Championship paddock, from DailySportsCar editor Graham Goodwin.

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From a team release, here’s the breakdown of wins:

The Corvette Racing team made its first start Jan. 31, 1999 at Daytona. Since that time, the program has claimed championships and victories on endurance racing’s most prominent stages:

  • Ten manufacturer and team championships in the American Le Mans Series, plus nine driver titles
  • Eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • Three wins in the Rolex 24 including an overall victory in 2001
  • Ten class wins at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

Corvette Racing also claimed endurance racing’s Triple Crown in 2015 with wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. It was the first team in 15 years to accomplish the feat.

The tally of Corvette Racing victories spans a number of different series. In addition to its record at Le Mans, Corvette Racing has nine wins in the WeatherTech (formerly TUDOR) SportsCar Championship, 82 in the American Le Mans Series (a record for entrants) and one in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

Here’s a recap video and congratulatory message from Corvette Racing’s longtime tire technical partner, Michelin:

“We are pleased that since Corvette Racing switched to Michelin for the 2004 racing season, the last 75 wins have been with us,” said Ken Payne, technical director motorsports, Michelin North America.

“We want to congratulate our friends at Chevrolet, GM Motorsports, Pratt & Miller, and the entire Corvette Racing teams and drivers on this milestone win.”

Here’s a congratulatory message from longtime oil partner Mobil 1:

And here’s a list of all the past wins, via Autoweek.

The driver breakdown of past winners, by number of wins, is as follows:

  • Oliver Gavin (47; 2002-3, 2003-2, 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Johnny O’Connell (41; 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3)
  • Olivier Beretta (31; 2004-5, 2005-7, 2006-5, 2007-9, 2008-3, 2009-1, 2011-1)
  • Ron Fellows (30; 2000-1, 2001-7, 2002-8, 2003-3, 2004-5, 2005-3, 2006-1, 2008-2)
  • Jan Magnussen (30; 2004-2, 2005-2, 2006-2, 2007-3, 2008-8, 2009-3, 2010-1, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Antonio Garcia (11; 2009-2, 2011-1, 2013-3, 2014-3, 2015-2)
  • Tommy Milner (11; 2011-1, 2012-4, 2013-2, 2015-1, 2016-3)
  • Kelly Collins (6; 2000-1, 2001-1, 2002-2, 2003, 2)
  • Andy Pilgrim (5; 2000-2, 2001-1, 2002-2)
  • Franck Freon (4; 2000-1, 2001-2, 2003-1)
  • Max Papis (3; 2004-1, 2007-2)
  • Ryan Briscoe (2; 2015)
  • Marcel Fassler (2; 2016)
  • Chris Kniefel (1; 2001)
  • Scott Pruett (1; 2001)
  • Emmanuel Collard (1; 2010)
  • Richard Westbrook (1; 2013)
  • Jordan Taylor (1; 2015)

Justin Wilson honored with corner name at Snetterton

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British circuit Snetterton has renamed one of its corners in honor of Justin Wilson.

Wilson was killed last August after being struck by debris in a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Pocono, sustaining severe head injuries.

The British driver spent much of his junior career racing at tracks around the UK, including Snetterton.

Wilson won the inaugural Formula Palmer Audi title back in 1998, a series run by Snetterton owner and ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer, the track being part of his MotorSport Vision group.

Palmer worked with Wilson to help him get onto the F1 grid, and the two maintained a close friendship.

On Monday, officials at Snetterton announced that the Montreal hairpin has now been renamed the Wilson hairpin. A special corner board will be placed on the run towards the Wilson hairpin featuring his name and his iconic helmet design.

“Justin Wilson, the champion of my inaugural Formula Palmer Audi championship, thoroughly deserved the support which that success brought him, and it was enormously satisfying to watch him make the best possible use of every opportunity he had through to F1 and IndyCar racing,” Palmer said.

“But not only was Justin an outstanding racing driver, he was also the epitome of a true sportsman, earning universal respect and admiration.

“He leaves a lasting legacy that we will cherish and perpetuate, with the naming of Wilson corner at Snetterton an important part of that.”

Justin’s younger brother, Stefan, who raced at this year’s Indianapolis 500, added: “This is such an incredible gesture by MSV and I know Justin would be very honoured and humbled to learn that he has a corner here at Snetterton named after him.

“Snetterton has a special place in our memories as our dad raced here back in the 1960s and he would tell us stories of racing down the old Norwich straight. Plus, Justin and I raced here many times in our own careers.”

The first event to take place at Snetterton using the Wilson hairpin will be this weekend’s British Touring Car Championship round. All three races will take place on Sunday – what would have been Wilson’s 38th birthday.