Remember the name Patrick Staropoli: Aspiring doctor by day, winning race car driver at night

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So much has been said over the years about Ryan Newman being one of the first full-fledged college graduates to race in NASCAR.

And he has the sheepskin from Purdue University, touting his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, to prove it.

But Newman may soon be knocked off his lofty educated throne.

Remember the name Patrick Staropoli – you may soon be talking about and seeing him in NASCAR’s three pro series — well, after he completes a few more years of medical school.

You see, Staropoli isn’t just a race car driver, he’s also on track to become a full-fledged MD in a few years.

You can just hear it now on the radio or TV: “And starting on the pole for the Daytona 500, Patrick – uh, err, make that Dr. Patrick Staropoli.”

That’s right, a former honors student at Harvard (where his degree is in neurobiology), Staropoli is now in his second year of medical school at the University of Miami.

But his alter-ego – “The Racing Doc” sounds good – is also coming off a great run last weekend in the K&N Pro Series West race at Irwindale Speedway, about 30 miles away from Auto Club Speedway.

Staropoli not only competed in the race, he actually won the whole darned thing, as well (see video below).

In fact, in his first season on the K&N tour, the suburban Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has finished no lower than 11th in the first four races (11th at New Smyrna, eighth at Daytona, sixth at Bristol and his March 22 cross-country triumph at Irwindale.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Staropoli’s story is that he requested a semester away from school to do independent research for the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, as well as driving for Bill McAnally Racing, which is part of the Michael Waltrip Developmental Driver team.

“I shuffled everything around in my life, taking time off school,” Staropoli told NASCAR.com, which interviewed him a few days before the Irwindale event. “I subleased my apartment in Miami so I can spend time with my race team, started working on the cars and really immersed myself as much as possible.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure to perform, but I feel like whether it was interviewing for Harvard or getting into med school, or now trying to make this happen on the racing side, I’m kind of used to it and up to the challenge.”

Ever since he first started racing go-karts in 2003, Staropoli has been nothing short of outstanding. Consider his outstanding overall racing record, including karts, Cyclones, FastKids, Fasttruck, Late Models and now K&N: 34 wins, 103 top-5′s, 127 top-10′s in 143 races.

Staropoli’s big break came last year when he outdistanced more than 6,000 entries in the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, with the top prize being a one-race ride in a K&N Pro West Series race.

Shortly thereafter, he caught the eyes of Waltrip’s organization and Peak-sponsored Danica Patrick, which ultimately led to what has now been five K&N starts thus far in 2014 (and six overall in his career).

“PEAK thought this competition would be a cool way to meet some unique racers,” Waltrip told NASCAR.com. “I think we met one. It’s just really, really fun for me to see the results of this competition and we had a whole lot of people to chose from.

“There were four or five on the track whose skills were similar with Patrick, who was at the top of the class. But he just had something about him, just a glow, an energy, a respect and appreciation for it that made a difference for me.”

Patrick’s father Nick had a lot to do not only with his son’s decision to race, but also to become a doctor. For it was the elder Staropoli who was seriously hurt while competing himself in a crash in 2001 at Hialeah Speedway in the family’s native Florida.

Patrick, then 12 years old, saw his father’s wreck (the throttle stock on his race car, sending him head-on and full-speed into the racetrack wall). And after watching his dad go through four months of rehab, Patrick decided to become a doctor.

“I remember as a kid being in awe of the whole process,” Staropoli said. “That stayed in my mind. And now I’m at the very place learning medicine where they saved my dad’s life. Kinda weird how it’s all worked out.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Below are videos of Staropoli’s first win last week at Irwindale, followed by winning the Peak challenge.

 

 

 

 

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Pirelli confirms tire picks for Hungarian Grand Prix

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Pirelli has confirmed its tire selection for July’s Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, with super-soft, soft and medium compounds to be made available to teams.

As in 2016, this year sees teams be given the choice of three compounds for each grand prix. The softest is reserved for qualifying, while at least one of the two hardest sets must be used in the race.

Pirelli announced on Thursday that it would be mirroring its selection from 2016, taking super-soft, soft and medium tires to the Hungaroring.

Drivers who make it through to Q3 will be required to complete the session on super-soft tires, and must use one set of either the soft or medium compound rubber in the race.

By way of comparison, the majority of drivers completed the race on a two-stop strategy through 2016, with Lewis Hamilton winning the grand prix.

Here’s a complete run-down of Pirelli’s tire picks so far this season.

Hamilton, Vettel return to lend their voices to ‘Cars 3’ (VIDEO)

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With less than one month to go until the release of Pixar’s new movie, Cars 3, Formula 1 world champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have both been confirmed in voice-acting roles.

The latest installment of the animated film series sees main character Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) face a new rival in the form of Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) and consider his racing future.

As in the first two instalments of the franchise, a number of racing figures are set to lend their voices, with three-time champion Hamilton being confirmed in the role of ‘Hamilton’, a voice command assistant to McQueen’s technician, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).

Hamilton shared a clip of his role on Twitter on Thursday, which you can watch below.

Hamilton previously appeared in 2011’s Cars 2 in a short segment as himself alongside NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon.

Four-time F1 champion Vettel will also be making a return in Cars 3, appearing in the German and Italian-language versions of the film in the same role as Hamilton.

“Since the first Cars film, I am a big fan and I found it very funny. When I had the opportunity in the second part to participate, I said: ‘Yes, gladly!'” Vettel said on his official website.

“I had never done something like this before. When I heard there was a third part, I was, of course, interested in being there again.”

A number of NASCAR drivers will also be appearing in Cars 3, with their characters being confirmed earlier this week.

Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for 24 Hours of Le Mans

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, which you can subscribe to here, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three time champion who returned from NASCAR’s premier series last year still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We haven’t made the announcement yet, but we have picked the driver, and we will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplanes and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelieveable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Wednesday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said the announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

Button enjoys ‘natural’ F1 return in Monaco, but hasn’t missed driving

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Jenson Button felt his return to a Formula 1 car in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix was “natural”, but admitted he hasn’t missed driving since stepping away from the sport.

Button appeared to have made his final F1 start in Abu Dhabi last November after stepping back from his McLaren race seat for 2017, only to be drafted in for the Monaco Grand Prix following Fernando Alonso’s decision to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Button passed on the opportunity to test the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car in Bahrain last month, making his run in FP1 on Thursday in Monaco his first taste of a new-style 2017 F1 car.

Nevertheless, the transition appeared seamless for Button, even though he has not driven an F1 car in seven months.

“As soon as I exited the pits, everything felt very natural,” Button said.

“The weirdest thing is when you’re behind a car or when you let a car past, because you look at it and it’s gigantic. Then you feel really uncomfortable because you think, maybe I am too close to the barriers.

“I’ve really enjoyed practice, both the long and short runs. FP2 was a bit of a struggle to really find my feet with the car. I’m braking so much later than what I’m used to here and carrying so much speed into the corners.

“Adjusting to that takes time, so with another day with the engineers and a look through the data, I’m confident that I can improve for Saturday.”

Button finished 14th in FP1 and 11th in FP2, lapping less than one-tenth of a second off the pace of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in the afternoon, giving McLaren hope of its first points of the season.

Button remains coy about his chances, though, insisting there is still more pace to be found.

“I haven’t really thought about where I hope to finish. It’s a very mixed-up grid at the moment which I’m sure will all change again on Saturday,” Button said.

“The guys understand where I’m coming from. They know what they need to do to improve the car to suit me a little bit more and to give me a little bit more confidence. Hopefully we’ll see a step in performance on Saturday.”

Will this one-off return stir a desire to be back racing full-time for Button? Don’t count on it.

“It was funny when I did the install lap this morning, I had a little giggle to myself,” Button revealed.

“Have I missed it? No, but when you jump in the car, you definitely enjoy the moments that you have.”