Passion in racing is powerful, good, and needed more in 2014

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As a generally good gauge of the public consciousness at any particular moment, Twitter tends to erupt in moments of controversy, outrage or shock value. In the racing world, that’s usually after a big crash, a questionable team order issued on track or a jaw-dropping “Did you see that?!?” pass.

But back outside the racing bubble, the thing that made Twitter blow up yesterday was Richard Sherman’s now-infamous post-game interview following the Seattle Seahawks’ win in the NFC Championship Game. Sherman was, as you’d expect, purely jacked up on adrenaline after a game in which he’d made a game-saving defense of a Colin Kaepernick pass, which caused an interception. And he exploded.

Still, the man has a Master’s degree from Stanford and writes a weekly column for Peter King’s TheMMQB.com, so he’s clearly no dummy. He’s a bright individual, a talented player and able to enter into a state during the game where he can be so intense after the game, that it all came flying out in the immediate moments after it finished.

Motorsports has those moments, but they’re rarer. The immediate post-crash interview comes to mind, if a driver has only just got back to his pit and speaks to a pit reporter.

In IndyCar for example, I don’t remember the specifics of most 2013 victory lane interviews, but I do remember Will Power saying of Sebastien Bourdais, “He once was a champ, now he’s a chump” after the two collided at Detroit back in June. I remember when Scott Dixon went off at IndyCar Race Control in succession at Sonoma and Baltimore, which was even crazier because the Kiwi is so calm and collected.

Sadly, both Power and Dixon were penalized for their emotional outbursts. Power’s this past year was probation while Dixon got probation and earned a $30,000 fine. Power got the same fine in 2011 after his infamous – but legendary – “double-bird salute” to former Race Director Brian Barnhart at the series’ race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

If IndyCar is going to be in the headlines beyond the bubble which it currently exists, it needs that emotional moment – likely more than one – and it needs to not carry a penalty for expressing it in the heat of battle. I have to admit I’ve changed my stance on this. For consistency’s sake, enforcing the same penalty year-on-year made sense, and as Power and others had been docked for previous infractions, Dixon was justifiably fined last year to match. It’s a new year though, and with it comes a fresh opportunity to right this in the rulebook.

Emotion in other series is also hard to find. We often think of modern-day Formula One drivers as corporate, emotionless automatons devoid of the lady-killing charisma of James Hunt or the “don’t care what we say” attitudes of a Jacques Villeneuve or Eddie Irvine – two drivers I grew up with in my F1 fandom infancy in the ’90s. Truth of the matter is they aren’t, but that can be the stereotype from the outside.

Still, when Kimi Raikkonen answers a question in the old school, “don’t care” mentality with six or seven words or when Sebastian Vettel does donuts after winning, we dig it because it allows them to be them and it’s freeing from the shackles of being reined in by their corporate overlords.

NASCAR interviews are probably the worst for this. You often can’t get through a victory lane interview – which usually occurs after a TV ad break and delays the spontaneity to begin with – without the first half of the quote being some variation of “Oh man, I just want to thank Pepsi, Doritos, Taco Bell, KFC, Chevrolet, Mr. Owner, ‘Slugger’ and the crew,” before you get to any tangible sound that actually describes how you won the race. Or, more importantly, how it feels to win the race.

I get that the sponsor parade is a necessary evil of the victory lane interview, but I’d love to see more erupting in pure emotion first, then getting to your sponsors second. Want to talk about how to do a NASCAR victory lane interview? Watch Kurt Busch, in an unsponsored car, winning the July 2012 Nationwide Series race at Daytona for the underdog James Finch team. And take notes. (Wait, maybe being unsponsored is the key to this victory lane thing…)

Or, alternatively, just watch any John Force interview over the last two decades. Yes, the man is one of the greatest drag racers who has ever lived with 16 NHRA Funny Car championships. But he’s as widely revered as he is within the motorsports world as much for his mouth as his 4-second blasts at 300-plus mph.

There’s a reason Talladega Nights is as funny as it is, because Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby lampoons the sponsor-laden culture of NASCAR and comes up with a pair of catchphrases in Victory Lane: “Shake ‘n Bake,” and “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” To this day, those two are still part of the lexicon.

In today’s entertainment-over-populated, soundbite-heavy world, the simple fact is competition itself is not going to get racing back into the public sphere beyond the series’ bubbles. If it did, IndyCar would be the most popular and widely watched form of motorsports in North America.

It’s going to take a series of moments throughout 2014 of passion … of pure joy … of anger … of “What the hell did they just say?!?” to help propel any of the racing disciplines to greater heights.

Because if racing has moments in 2014 that catch on like Richard Sherman’s last night, that will only help to collectively grow the sport.

Scott Dixon makes young IndyCar fan’s day (VIDEO)

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After his significant accident in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Scott Dixon was almost more frustrated with the fact his Chip Ganassi Racing team would have to build up a new chassis to replace his one that flew several hundred feet after catapulting over Jay Howard.

But a young fan named Lucy put the accident into its proper perspective, as was discovered by Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network’s Jake Query in IndyCar’s fan mail.

Query got together with the IndyCar PR team and Dixon to eventually make Lucy’s dream come true, as she got to meet her favorite driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The full story from IndyCar.com is linked here; the full video is linked here.

This was highlighted during Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA show on NBCSN, which you can see above. You can see Verizon IndyCar Series’ KOHLER Grand Prix coverage from Road America live, Sunday on NBCSN at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Mercedes continuing to explore Formula E, October deadline on entry

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Mercedes has until October to make a final decision on entering the FIA Formula E championship and activating its option for a place on the grid in season five, when it would have to be a customer team.

Mercedes announced last October that it had secured an option on a place in Formula E from season five, becoming the latest manufacturer to express its serious interest in the all-electric series.

No updates have been forthcoming from Mercedes regarding its Formula E interest since then, although a number of personnel are understood to have attended the recent Berlin race as it continues to evaluate the series.

When asked by NBC Sports about Mercedes’ Formula E plans at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week, head of Mercedes-Benz motorsport Toto Wolff confirmed that an evaluation was still ongoing ahead of an October deadline to trigger its option.

“We are exploring Formula E at the moment and try to form an educated opinion,” Wolff said.

“It is something that is very different, although I think they’ve done a great job in establishing the series in a couple of years only.

“We are in a fact-finding moment and we will make up our mind until October.”

Mercedes missed the deadline to join Formula E in season five (2018/19) as a manufacturer, with nine companies being listed by the series back in March.

Should Mercedes want to enter Formula E in season five, it would have to do so as a customer team, enjoying a powertrain supply from another manufacturer.

“The rules are what they are. If we decide to enter Formula E, we will be a customer team in season five,” Wolff said.

“There’d be no other solution.”

Verstappen quickest in opening Azerbaijan GP practice

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Max Verstappen led Red Bull Racing to a one-two finish in the opening Formula 1 practice session ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, finishing half a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the top of the FP1 standings.

Verstappen and Ricciardo were able to make the most of low grip conditions at the Baku City Circuit through first practice, with a number of their rivals finding things more difficult and struggling to keep their cars on-track.

Verstappen recorded a fastest lap time of 1:44.410 in the Red Bull RB13 to take P1 overall, finishing four-tenths of a second clear of Ricciardo.

Sebastian Vettel took third place for Ferrari, half a second down on Verstappen at the front after squeezing a late lap in before a red flag stoppage in the closing stages of the session.

FP1 was halted when Sergio Perez became the first driver to crash at the tight Turn 8 section, carrying too much speed into the corner and clouting the barrier with his Force India car.

Despite the shunt, Perez ended the session fourth ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who failed to challenge the front-runners at the head of the field, finishing over a second behind Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth in the second Mercedes ahead of Esteban Ocon and Felipe Massa, with Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

Second practice in Baku begins at 9am ET live on the NBC Sports app before being re-aired on NBCSN at 2pm ET.

Road America weekend, Thursday notes

Brett Hundley with Will Power and Mario Andretti. Photo: IndyCar
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It’s a busy day of testing, practice and qualifying for all the series not named the Verizon IndyCar Series on Thursday at the KOHLER Grand Prix weekend.

IndyCar sessions begin on Friday and as such there wasn’t meant to be as much to report on that end… until late Thursday afternoon when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirmed Mikhail Aleshin’s temporary absence and Robert Wickens to fill in.

Meanwhile with Esteban Gutierrez having been confirmed for the rest of the season at Dale Coyne Racing, it’s anticipated he will have his first oval test next week at Iowa Speedway, to have his first running on an oval ahead of the July 9 Iowa Corn 300.

Here’s a couple other IndyCar notes…

DIXON’S SURPRISE TO A YOUNG FAN

Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network reporter Jake Query, who will also be hosting this weekend’s Indy Lights coverage from Road America on NBCSN, found a fan letter from a young girl named Lucy addressed to INDYCAR after Scott Dixon’s wild ride at the Indianapolis 500. Lucy proceeded to thank INDYCAR for its safety efforts in keeping Dixon intact.

Well, between the efforts of Query and the IndyCar PR staff, a meeting between the two was arranged. You can see the video of that, below.

PACKERS QB TAKES A RIDE WITH MARIO

Not that Packers QB though.

Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley had a ride today with Mario Andretti in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, the two-seat IndyCar. He posted on it below.

Elsewhere, here is a bit more from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and Pirelli World Challenge ranks.

MRTI

  • First practice is in the books for USF2000 and rather than Oliver Askew being on top for Cape Motorsports, it was actually the Pabst Racing team that went 1-2-3 with Dutchman Rinus VeeKay ahead of Guyana driver Calvin Ming and Brazilian Lucas Kohl. Not bad for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Askew was fourth, and David Malukas was an impressive fifth. Full results are here.
  • In first qualifying for Pro Mazda, Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni took the pole with a best time of 2:06.5835, ahead of Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin at 2:07.9055. Team Pelfrey’s trio of Carlos Cunha, TJ Fischer and Nikita Lastochkin completed the top five. Full results are here.
  • Overall, the USF2000 field grows by one from the projected 18 up to 19 with F4 driver Jacob Loomis moving up to Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda, filling in for Ayla Agren. Agren’s full-season teammates Robert Megennis and Kaylen Frederick paid tribute to Agren, who is still here this weekend, with tribute cool shirts.
  • Meanwhile the Pro Mazda field dips by two. Neither Phillippe Denes, who was seventh in points heading into the weekend, nor Kevin Davis is here. It leaves the field at 15 cars, including series debutantes Kris Wright (who has tested with JDC Motorsports), Dave Zavelson and Kevin Bury. Zavelson’s car number switches from 4, listed initially, to 2.
  • Max Hanratty, who returns, has a new livery on his No. 6 ArmsUp Motorsports entry.
  • Anthony Martin is confident any issues with his Cape Motorsports Pro Mazda car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course have been sorted. The Australian proved that point by leading the opening practice session with a best time of 2:13.1661 in mixed conditions. Full times from that are linked here.
  • The reduced USF2000 field sees a couple drivers here who may be back later this year but others who may be done for the year. Agren, out at Team Pelfrey this weekend, is here and working towards a return later this season. Her past teammate at Pelfrey, Luke Gabin, is also here and is unsure whether he’ll be back in action for Exclusive Autosport.
  • Meanwhile Darren Keane, who makes his debut with Newman Wachs Racing in USF2000 this weekend, is expected to return to the team for remaining races. He’ll miss Iowa Speedway but plans to return at Mid-Ohio. Ozz Negri coaches Keane in USF2000; Tom Dyer, another Acura NSX GT3 driver, coaches the Pelfrey USF2000 drivers.

PWC

  • The PWC grid drops by a couple this week with a couple changes in the GT and GTA ranks. Bentley Team Absolute is down to one car with Yufeng Luo not here in his No. 78 Bentley Continental GT3, leaving only Adderly Fong. Fong, however, will miss the Mid-Ohio weekend owing to a schedule clash with the China GT Championship. Pablo Perez Companc, who was also due to race in GTA in the No. 69 Mercedes-AMG GT3, is another no-show this weekend.
  • K-PAX Racing has eclipsed the 100-podium plateau in recent rounds. The team’s three-car lineup resumes this weekend with Alvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Mike Hedlund, Parente and Hedlund having just returned from the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Austin Versteeg makes his debut in the GTS class No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, a car that’s won this season in the hands of Nico Jamin. Jamin is here this weekend in his Andretti Autosport Indy Lights car.
  • PWC had several test and practice sessions during the day.