Busch (left) and Karam (right).

The 2014 Indy 500 rookie voting should have been fit to be tied

8 Comments

Ties are not necessarily popular, but in some instances, they work.

Some Barclays Premier League matches and NHL hockey games are so hard fought by both squads that for one side to emerge ahead of the other doesn’t do justice to the other. After regulation and overtime, sometimes, draws happen.

And last night, a draw should have happened when it came to voting for the 2014 Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, because two first-year drivers performed extraordinarily this month under vastly different circumstances.

They are, of course, Kurt Busch and Sage Karam. While Busch captured the award, and justifiably, Karam’s efforts deserved a similar level of recognition.

Busch, now 35, has spent the last 15 years growing and developing in NASCAR. He’s won races, a Sprint Cup Series championship, then fallen out of favor with two of the sport’s most elite teams and performed an incredible career comeback after two years in the wilderness.

Karam, 19, was all of 5 years old when Busch started his first Sprint Cup race in 2000. But since he was 8, Karam and his family went to the mecca of open-wheel racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, dreaming of the day when he’d have the chance to race in the ‘500.

Busch enjoyed sampling whatever he could get his hands on away from Cup – Michel Jourdain’s Champ Car in 2003, an NHRA Pro Stock car and an Australian V8 Supercar to name a few.

Karam progressed through the traditional Mazda Road to Indy ladder, winning championships in USF2000 and Indy Lights, and winning races in Star Mazda.

Together, they arrived at this year’s Indianapolis 500 both with rookie status, but with completely different agendas and operations to work with.

For Busch, a preliminary test in 2013 with Andretti Autosport was the first step toward a debut that could serve as a major media and marketing storyline.

For Karam, his 2013 offseason was one of trying everything he could to graduate to a full-time ride in IndyCar through the efforts of his family, his management and his support team. While that didn’t occur, he did catch the eye of Chip Ganassi, who signed him to a developmental driver contract.

Karam dazzled in two sports car starts at Daytona and Sebring, drawing praise from Ganassi and his pair of Target-backed Indy 500 winners and series champions, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Ultimately Karam was able to put a deal together, in a one-off Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing Chevrolet that, while CGR-assisted, was almost entirely DRR-crewed. The car was the embodiment of the power of partnerships.

Karam had four unofficial teammates at CGR, plus CGR advisor Dario Franchitti; Busch had four actual teammates at Andretti Autosport.

Busch learned methodically; Karam learned rapidly and largely on his own, in the team’s first IndyCar start in a year.

They both had their one “Welcome to Indy, rookie,” moment.

Busch whacked the Turn 2 wall on the Monday before the race, and his No. 26 Suretone Entertainment Honda was trashed, requiring a backup car.

Karam had his on Carb Day when he lost it exiting Turn 4, but made an absolutely wicked save to hang onto his No. 22 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records/Brantley Gilbert Chevrolet from hitting either the inside retaining wall or the pit wall.

Karam starred during the Tag Heuer Pit Stop Competition, making it to the finals and stirring up the crowd with his celebrations.

In the race, both drove like veterans in avoiding the pitfalls that plagued so many others.

Karam made passes you wouldn’t expect many a veteran to try; Busch had catlike reflexes to avoid flying debris on two instances.

They both ended in the top 10, Busch in sixth and Karam in ninth, the two best drivers of a seven-pack of rookies that all finished the race.

While Busch was a first-timer on Sunday in IndyCar, Karam was a rookie. So giving just Busch the Rookie of the Year title doesn’t do justice to Karam’s effort all month.

It also opens up the Pandora’s Box where if a NASCAR driver comes into the Indianapolis 500 and does as well as Busch does, they could take the ROTY title almost by default.

What does that say for young drivers who come through the open-wheel ladder, traditionally, that they then have to battle NASCAR drivers to get the recognition for being the best standard first-timer at IndyCar’s most prestigious race?

Was Busch impressive all month? No question. But Karam’s efforts deserve the plaudits, as well.

We have a precedent for this, too, because in 2002 Alex Barron was the top finishing first-year driver in fourth, and Tomas Scheckter, who led the most laps, was the star attraction of the race before crashing off Turn 4. Both were awarded the co-ROTY honors.

In 2014, Busch was your top finisher, and Karam was the first-year star attraction.

But the voters got it wrong. Karam should have gotten a piece of the pie, as well.

Marcus Ericsson excited about Pascal Wehrlein’s arrival at Sauber for 2017

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JULY 02: Pascal Wehrlein of Germany driving the (94) Manor Racing MRT-Mercedes MRT05 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track ahead of Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on July 2, 2016 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marcus Ericsson is relishing the opportunity to work with Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber through the 2017 Formula 1 season, saying he rates the German driver highly.

Wehrlein made his F1 debut in 2016 with Manor, scoring just the second top-10 finish in the team’s history at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes junior was announced as a Sauber driver for 2017 on Monday, replacing Felipe Nasr after the Brazilian lost his financial backing.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Ericsson spoke warmly of Wehrlein’s arrival, believing that they will forge a strong partnership that will help Sauber to develop.

“I think it’s great news for me and Sauber. Pascal is a very fast and respected driver with a great CV,” Ericsson said.

“I think we can really push each other and the team forward, so I am looking forward to a great season.

“I honestly rate [Wehrlein] highly. He’s won the DTM championship and been part of the Mercedes family for a long time, so they seem to believe a lot in him.

“Of course my aim is to beat him – what else? – and I expect it to be a tough fight. But that’s exactly what I need in order to perform at my best.”

Sauber was at risk of collapsing at midway through the 2016 season, having struggled financially for some time before being taken over by Longbow Finance during the summer.

The team subsequently went on a recruitment drive, bringing in a number of management and engineering staff, with Ericsson noticing a difference.

“It definitely takes time, but I think it’s clear that if you look at the second half of last season we really made some big progress,” Ericsson said.

“And the aim is, of course, to continue that way in 2017. We’ve had some great people decide to join the team in the last couple of months and that also makes a difference.

“So all in all it feels like we’re moving in the right way. And with two young and hungry drivers in the cockpits we should be on a good run.”

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

Leave a comment

Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

yfr_editorial_use_pictures_16-php
© Yamaha MotoGP
Leave a comment

MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
© Red Bull Content Pool
Leave a comment

MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.