Even just as a threat, idea to drop Monza continues Italy’s recent F1 plight

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Yes, the FIA is based in France, and the origins of Formula One date to the first World Championship Grand Prix in England, but Italy has been as much a part of the fabric of Formula One as any other country in its 60-plus year history.

And quite honestly, I’m getting a bit sick of it getting treated like a redheaded stepchild instead of the valued country that has brought so much to F1’s lore.

News this morning that Bernie Ecclestone is planning to drop Monza from the F1 calendar after 2016 – hell, even the thought of him dropping Monza from the calendar – just makes my blood boil.

It’s akin to Bud Selig signing off his tenure as Major League Baseball Commissioner and saying MLB should drop Wrigley Field and/or Fenway Park in pursuit of some podunk new stadium in North Dakota or something. Or Roger Goodell lowering the boom on Lambeau Field and saying the National Football League is relocating the Green Bay Packers to Abu Dhabi, in the name of international expansion.

There’s four tracks that stand out more than any other on the modern-day calendar as historic venues: Monaco, Silverstone, Spa and Monza. Nurburgring, Montreal and Suzuka also are favorites, but they’re not staples going back to the beginning in 1950.

Monza has been the scene of so much fever – something that can’t be measured by dollars or commercial value.

Does Niki Lauda’s incredible comeback after his near-death accident at the Nurburgring in 1976 carry the same lore if it wasn’t on Ferrari’s home soil? Or does it even happen if Monza didn’t provide the perfect return? I doubt it.

Does the 1-2 for Ferrari in the 1988 Italian Grand Prix rank as one of the all-time great victories for the brand since it broke McLaren’s perfect season if it occurs at Estoril or Jerez, for instance? Hardly.

Does Michael Schumacher’s first Monza win for Ferrari in 1996 inspire the passion of the tifosi to think that after nearly 20 years in the doldrums, they actually were on the verge of an incredible run if it happened elsewhere? Again, unlikely.

These are but three iconic moments from this iconic circuit – a temple of speed where the level of fans’ volume matches the level of the cars (this year, they might exceed it for all we know).

The flood of fans onto the circuit post-race is one of the remaining links to a bygone era, and so refreshing to watch.

The loss of Monza – however presumptive – would be yet another blow to Italy’s current standing in modern day Formula One.

We’d basically be down to Ferrari and Scuderia Toro Rosso, and with no disrespect to STR, it’s hard to feel the same passion about them as a brand since they’re essentially the Red Bull junior team that its perennial underdog, Faenza-based predecessor, Minardi, brought about for 20+ years.

We haven’t had an Italian driver on the grid since 2011. Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella were both Grand Prix winners, but never able to reach stratospheric heights in the sport.

We’ve lost an entire generation of potential Italian F1 stars – Giorgio Pantano, Luca Filippi and likely Davide Valsecchi, the Lotus reserve passed over last fall – who didn’t have the budget or the timing needed to enter or stay in Formula One. Pantano’s 2004 season with Jordan didn’t accurately reflect his ability level; Filippi and Valsecchi, both GP2 stars, never got the chance.

Now, the mere thought of losing this circuit – one which still stirs the soul whenever the F1 fraternity heads there – just seems like another idea where potential dollars are trumping passion and history.

You can’t put a price tag on that.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”