Tony Stewart

Why Tony Stewart can’t resist danger, madness of dirt tracks

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Tony Stewart would rather race cars than do anything else on Earth. Athletes talk about loving their sport all the time, but you don’t see many Major League players taking swings at Independent League games on their days off, and you don’t see many PGA golfers hacking around at your local captain’s choice event, and you don’t catch too many NBA players going to Madison Square Garden on a Tuesday, to San Antonio on Friday and sticking a stop in Dayton in between to play in a YMCA game.

Tony Stewart does this kind of thing all the time, and if we are to have any chance of making sense of the senseless tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, we probably should begin there. We probably should begin with the fact that Canandaigua is a town of about 10,000 between Buffalo and Utica. Tony Stewart was racing there on a Saturday night just a few hours before a pretty crucial Sunday race for him in Watkins Glen. As of right now, Stewart is not in position to make the NASCAR playoff chase. He needed a good race. Still, he drove on the dirt an hour away.

Stewart does not just drive in these dirt track races where the winner gets a couple thousand dollars. He drives to win. He races hard and fast and on the edge. For Stewart, there would be no other point. A year ago in Canandaigua, he caused a 15-car wreck that badly hurt driver Alysha Ruggles — Stewart admitted afterward that he had been trying to get his car into a place where it didn’t fit. That’s the essence of most wrecks, of course, especially the bad ones. But you wouldn’t expect race car drivers and entrepreneurs worth, say, a hundred million dollars to make those risky moves on dirt in Canandaigua.

[MORE: What’s next for Tony Stewart, the person? | For Stewart, the businessman?]

Thing is, Stewart can’t help it. He’s a racing junkie — with all the depths and traps and darkness spinning in that word. He has expressed this: He needs it. He feels alive in a race car, alive when there’s danger swirling around him, alive when in that vortex of horsepower and torque and flying dirt and burning rubber. The rest of life pales for him. He needs it.

Saturday’s wreck — you have probably seen the gruesome video — happened when a 20-year-old driver named Kevin Ward Jr. was sliding around a turn, and Stewart slid toward the same spot. The rules of dirt track racing are ancient and mysterious and, like art, mean different things to different people. Ward obviously believed that Stewart had crossed the line and caused the wreck. Stewart has not given his opinion on the subject and, I suspect, never will.

Ward got out of the car and walked on the race track. This is madness, of course, but it is all madness, all adrenaline and muscle and pure zeal. There are a million dirt track stories but one I think often about is the time that Larry Phillips — who I called without argument the roughest, toughest, meanest, craziest and grouchiest son of a gun who ever climbed into a race car — was told that anyone who could break the track record at I-70 Speedway at Odessa (Mo.) would win five hundred bucks. He put his left foot below the brake, pressed the gas to the floor and never took it off as he tore around the track at a near-suicidal speed. When he got to the end, he had his hand out the window — he wanted his five hundred dollars.

“When he got out of the car,” his friend and crew chief James Ince said, “he was shaking.”

Madness. But it is this kind of madness, this kind of high that lifts some people up and out of the everyday. They simply cannot live in the everyday. You ask a race car driver, any race car driver, why they do something so dangerous and you are almost certain to get the blankest of looks because they cannot imagine life without it. Last year, a 22-year-old man named Josh Burton died when his sprint car crashed and flipped in a race in Bloomingon, Ind. “Josh always said that if he ever died, that’s what he wanted to be doing,” his mother told the New York Times, and that’s at the heart of thing.

After the crash, Ward got out of his car and walked on the track and pointed. He was looking for Stewart’s car. People ask: What did he hope to do when he got there? What message did he intend to send? But these questions, like questions of dying, don’t make much sense to race car drivers. When in the hyperactive atmosphere after a crash, drivers don’t have clear thoughts. Stewart himself had once walked on pit row and hurled his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s car after they had crashed.

Ward kept pointing and looking for Stewart’s car — and it appeared he had to do a quick stutter-step to avoid getting hit by a car in front of Stewart. The camera follows that car briefly then comes back in time to see Stewart’s car sideswipe Kevin Ward, killing him. Words cannot capture the awfulness.

[MORE: Full coverage of the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward Jr. incident]

Within minutes of it happening, there were theories everywhere. One report said that Stewart appeared to hit the throttle before hitting Ward. Another said that in this kind of racing, you sometimes have to hit the throttle to gain control of the car. There was mourning for Ward. There were motives assigned to Stewart. There was talk about the lighting at the track. There was talk about Stewart’s anger management issues as a driver. There was talk about … well, when something senseless like this happens there is always a lot of talk and never any answers.

We don’t know what was happening in Tony Stewart’s car. Was he trying to scare Ward? Was he blinded by the dirt and dimness of the track? Did he lose control? We don’t know. Like all deaths in racing, it will be investigated. And like all deaths in racing, no judgment will satisfy.

A handful of drivers die every year racing cars. Racing officials work hard to make it safer, and it does grow safer. But you can only make a moving car so safe — more than 30,000 people die in America every year from automobile accidents and that’s just getting from one place to another.

At the heart of racing is the danger. Nobody likes saying it, but it’s real. Danger is part of the reason drivers are so drawn to it, and danger is part of the reason millions of people around the country watch. You might have heard the story of Charles Blondin, the great tightrope walker. He was asked if he would ever perform with a net. He responded: “Who would watch that?”

Tony Stewart’s love of the danger and the thrills of racing put him in Canandaigua on a Saturday night. Drivers know, somewhere deep inside in places they would rather not go, that something awful can happen at any time on a race track. They could die. They also could cause death. People look to Tony Stewart to find answers. The one sure thing in all of this is that he can’t offer any.

Gianmaria Bruni’s switch to Porsche made official

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 2:  Gianmaria Bruni of Italy and Minardi keeps an eye on the timing monitors during practice for the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain Racing Circuit on April 2, 2004 in Sakhir, Bahrain.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Gianmaria Bruni’s future has formally been settled, with Porsche confirming Sunday the Italian will join the manufacturer after his past run at Ferrari starting in June.

The move settles months of speculation about the end of his time with Ferrari, where he’s achieved a wealth of success in the last decade in GT racing with Risi Competizione and AF Corse.

He’ll test in June and begin racing in July for the Porsche GT Team in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and both the timing and placement of his new role is intriguing.

There was no official comment from Bruni in the release, only one from Head of Porsche Motorsport, Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser.

“We’re delighted to welcome Gianmaria Bruni, one of the world’s top GT pilots, into our squad,” Walliser said. “He fits perfectly into our strong circle of works drivers and will join us for the second half of the season.”

So about the placement. Here’s where Porsche factory drivers have already been assigned this year:

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #1

Neel Jani (32), Switzerland
André Lotterer (35), Germany
Nick Tandy (32), Great Britain

LMP1 – 919 Hybrid #2

Earl Bamber (26), New Zealand
Timo Bernhard (35), Germany
Brendon Hartley (27), New Zealand

GT works drivers

Jörg Bergmeister (40), Germany
Michael Christensen (26), Denmark
Romain Dumas (38), France
Kévin Estre (28), France
Wolf Henzler (41), Germany
Richard Lietz (32), Austria
Frédéric Makowiecki (36), France
Sven Müller (24), Germany
Patrick Pilet (35), France
Patrick Long (35), USA
Laurens Vanthoor (25), Belgium
Dirk Werner (35), Germany

Of the GT drivers, Pilet and Werner (No. 911) and Estre and Vanthoor (No. 912) had been assigned to the season-long GT Le Mans class Porsche 911 RSR entries. As Bruni is set to replace one of the four, it’s worth noting Pilet is the only holdover from last year with the other three having raced either in different series (Estre) or for different manufacturers (Werner with BMW, Vanthoor with Audi) last year. Makowiecki (No. 911) and Lietz (No. 912) were announced as the respective third drivers at endurance races.

In the FIA World Endurance Championship, Makowiecki, Lietz and Christensen are three of the four full-season drivers for those pair of 911s in GTE-Pro. With Bergmeister and Henzler having full-time GT Daytona seats in IMSA and with Long being full-time in Pirelli World Challenge, it would seem to leave at least one of the other as-yet-unassigned works drivers – Dumas or Müller – in the catbird’s seat for the fourth WEC seat. However, Bruni’s IMSA arrival could see one of the IMSA drivers move to the WEC. Time will tell.

Bruni, as it is, won’t be able to race for Porsche until after Le Mans.

Jaguar narrowly misses out on maiden Formula E points in Buenos Aires

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Panasonic Jaguar Racing drivers Mitch Evans and Adam Carroll took the positives out of a mixed Formula E weekend in Buenos Aires that saw the team narrowly miss out on its maiden top-10 finish in the series.

Jaguar entered Formula E at the beginning of its third season, starting with the Hong Kong ePrix in October, but failed to score any points in its opening two events.

Evans set the tone for a breakthrough weekend for Jaguar in qualifying, topping Q1 and only being knocked out of the Super Pole places at the final moments of the group stages.

The New Zealander started the race seventh and remained inside the top 10 for much of the race, only for a five second penalty for speeding under a full course caution and late energy management issues to cause him to drop back to 13th at the flag.

“If you look at the bigger picture, I’ve got to be satisfied with today,” Evans said after the race.

“Qualifying was great, to be honest, I topped the group. If you ask me or the whole team if this would have happened after Marrakesh, we would have taken it with both hands. So it was a great confidence boost for everyone.

“We’ve been targeting qualifying just to get some track position for the race, and we proved that we’re going in the right direction with that. We’ll try and keep that consistent now.

“The race was going great until the pit stop, some were going longer, some were going same as me which allowed me to stay there a bit. I was feeling great. I hit my energy targets every lap. Second stint I really struggled for some reason. It’s something we’re going to look into.

“So it slipped away from me, the points just on the last lap. I was really on the edge of energy. I came out across the start/finish line on zero.”

Evans said that the result and performance proved that Jaguar can fight on-track with many of its seasoned rivals, offering the team a boost.

“I think as I said it’s been a good confidence boost for everyone. We know we can race with these guys, it’s just about refining everything now,” Evans said.

“On that second stint we’ve got to be a bit more aggressive on energy. Whether we can just extract a bit more out of the car and I can do a better job, let’s see.

“Overall it’s really encouraging for everyone, and I can’t wait for Mexico now.”

In the sister Jaguar I-Type, Carroll struggled with the setup on his car in qualifying and suffered an issue at the start that meant he was unable to pull away, resigning the Briton to P17 at the flag.

“Mitch did a brilliant job. It’s nice to see that he really got a lap out of it and it put him in a good position,” Carroll said.

“Personally I’m disappointed with the way it went for me. We’re normally pretty close, but it’s very encouraging for the team and for the future.”

Jaguar’s hunt for points will continue at the Mexico City ePrix on April 1.

Bird, Lopez, Buemi only drivers set to miss New York Formula E race

2016/2017 FIA Formula E Championship.
Buenos Aires ePrix, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Saturday 18 February 2017.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/LAT/Formula E
ref: Digital Image _SLA7592
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Despite fears that the clash between Formula E’s New York City race and the FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring would cause a headache for a number of drivers, just three are left with a dilemma.

Formula E and WEC previously shared a gentleman’s agreement to avoid hosting races on the same weekend as a number of drivers have plied their trade in both series.

The clash between New York and the Nürburgring came to light last summer, and looked set to impact a number of drivers who could be forced to miss one of their commitments.

DS Virgin Racing and AF Corse driver Sam Bird vented his frustration to NBC Sports earlier this week, saying that the clash put many at risk of jeopardizing their contracts.

Bird will miss the New York races on July 15 and 16 if no solution is found given his factory AF Corse commitments, as will DS Virgin Racing teammate Jose Maria Lopez, who will drive for Toyota’s LMP1 team at the Nürburgring.

The most notable absentee from New York will be defending Formula E champion and current series leader Sebastien Buemi, who also has to prioritize his duties with Toyota, potentially putting his title bid at risk.

However, it now appears that Bird, Lopez and Buemi will be the only three drivers to miss New York after many of Formula E’s other recent WEC racers confirmed they will put the all-electric series first.

Nicolas Prost and Nelson Piquet Jr. are part of Rebellion Racing’s LMP2 team in the WEC, but both confirmed to NBC Sports in Buenos Aires that they will race in New York, missing the Nürburgring race.

Another man who could have been affected was Adam Carroll, who raced with Gulf Racing in the WEC’s GTE Am class through 2016. However, the Briton also confirmed that he too will put Formula E first, racing with Jaguar in New York.

While a number of other Formula E drivers including Lucas di Grassi and Antonio Felix da Costa are exploring options to race in the WEC this year, the Nürburgring is not a round on their radar due to their commitments in New York.

DS Virgin Racing is likely to field reserve driver Alex Lynn in New York, with the 2014 GP3 Series champion telling NBC Sports that he expects to make his debut there. But the team will have one extra seat to fill for the round.

Renault e.dams has no reserve driver in place to deputize for Buemi, but many look to a Renault-affiliated racer to step into the seat.

Another option for both teams could be recent Formula 1 driver Esteban Gutierrez, who will make his Formula E debut in Mexico and is also slated to race in New York.

F1 2017 set to spark into life next week with car launches

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  The RB11 featuring the 2016 livery is unveiled during the launch event for PUMA and Red Bull Racing's 2016 Livery and Teamwear at Old Truman Brewery on February 17, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The official start of the new Formula 1 season in Australia may still be over a month away, but next week will see the 2017 racing year spark into life as all 10 teams launch their cars.

2017 will mark the beginning of a new era for F1 following an overhaul of the technical regulations, giving us faster, more radical looking cars.

With any rule change, a re-shuffle of the pecking order is possible, although defending champion team Mercedes will be keen to extend its run of three successive world title doubles to four.

Here’s a look at what’s on tap for F1 over the next eight days, taking us to the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona, Spain.

MONDAY FEBRUARY 20

Sauber will be the first team to reveal its new car in the flesh next week, with the C36 breaking cover on Monday. Sauber could be set to move away from its recent bold blue livery, potentially incorporating more white into the design as part of its 25th anniversary in F1 celebrations.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 21

Following Sauber, Renault is next up on the launch schedule, with the R.S.17 set to be unveiled in London on Tuesday. Nico Hulkenberg will be on hand for the launch following his move from Force India, with Jolyon Palmer continuing at Renault following his rookie campaign in 2016.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 22

Force India will follow suit on Wednesday, presenting the VJM10 car to the media at Silverstone. Sergio Perez is joined at the team by Esteban Ocon for 2017, the Frenchman having raced at Manor for the second half of last year.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 23

Thursday sees the first of the ‘big guns’ launch their 2017 car – and they come no bigger than Mercedes right now. The W08 will also be revealed at Silverstone before completing a filming run on-track, with both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas set to attend.

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 24

Friday is the first double-launch day as both Ferrari and McLaren reveal their cars. As is tradition, Ferrari will reveal its car at its test track at Fiorano, but the real talking point is McLaren’s unveil. A livery change is set to happen, with orange due to be incorporated somehow as a new era begins for the British team. McLaren will reveal its car at its factory in Woking, England.

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 25

We already know what Williams’ 2017 F1 car, the FW40, looks like after the team released a couple of renders earlier this week. However, the team will officially launch the car on Saturday ahead of the start of pre-season testing.

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 26

The day before testing begins in Barcelona is set to be the busiest. Red Bull and sister team Toro Rosso will both launch on Sunday, as will Haas ahead of its second season in F1. Toro Rosso is rumored to be planning a significant livery change for its car.

MONDAY FEBRUARY 27

With the launches done, next Monday will see testing begin in earnest in Barcelona. Running will take place each day until March 2, with another four-day test schedule for March 7-10.