April 29 begins a three-day stretch of somber memories/anniversaries

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The Tuesday morning began with Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeting, simply, this:

Indeed today would have been Dale Earnhardt’s 63rd birthday. This year of course marks the return of the No. 3 to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ranks, and it was one of the biggest story lines heading into the season and the Daytona 500. Here’s a shot of Dale Sr., Dale Jr. and Kerry Earnhardt from the fall 2000 race at Michigan, as shot by Nigel Kinrade – the only race all three of them drove in together.

Earnhardt’s birthday anniversary today kicks off what is going to be a tough three-day stretch for the motorsports community, as memories of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix occur once more as that horrific weekend is now 20 years on.

This day, April 29, 1994, saw a savage accident incurred by then-second year driver Rubens Barrichello, in the Jordan 194, at Imola. He caught too much air going over a curb on the second-to-last chicane complex and his car somersaulted into the tire barriers, nearly clearing the catch fencing. Just as scary was the way the car was taken off, with Barrichello’s helmet moving at a rapid clip when the car was turned right side up. Fortunately he escaped with only minor injuries.

Wednesday, April 30, saw the first fatality on a Grand Prix weekend in a dozen years when Roland Ratzenberger’s Simtek crashed at high speed. A 33-year-old rookie, Ratzenberger had made it to Formula One after a long climb of the racing ladder; the Austrian was also due to race in that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota.

And of course, sadly, Thursday May 1 will mark 20 years since Ayrton Senna’s death in the San Marino Grand Prix. Numerous tributes, commemorative and other type pieces will occur with that date. Senna’s legend, if anything, has grown in the 20 years since 1994, and he remains a global icon and one of motorsport’s all-time heroes.

This week was always going to happen simply by the calendar moving forward every day, but it’s not going to be the easiest.

Audi bids farewell to Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich upon retirement

Audi Sport
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Audi bid farewell to its iconic head of motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, at its end-of-season ‘Race Night’ event in Germany on Friday upon his retirement.

Ullrich took over the reins as Audi’s head of motorsport in 1993 and stayed in the role for 23 years, overseeing its arrival in the prototype class of sports car racing and domination of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Ullrich stepped down from the position at the end of 2016, handing the reins over to ex-Audi DTM chief Dieter Gass, and attended his final racing event with the German marque at its first works Formula E outing in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Ullrich was honored at the Race Night event on Friday and thanked for his efforts in developing Audi into a force within global motorsport.

“In 566 factory-backed commitments during this period he celebrated 209 victories, 13 of them in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eleven in the 12-hour race at Sebring and nine in the ‘Petit Le Mans’ at Road Atlanta,” a piece on Ullrich’s tenure for Audi’s website reads.

“31 driver titles in super touring car racing, in the DTM and in the sports prototype category are credited to him. 57 campaigners were Audi factory drivers during Wolfgang Ullrich’s era and he was responsible for 18 new developments of racing cars – an impressive tally.”