F1’s Modern Wonder: Under the lights, Singapore shines brightly


Since the last Formula 1 grand prix in Italy, the news that has dominated the headlines is that advanced radio communications that look to improve a driver’s performance behind the wheel have been outlawed. From this weekend’s race onwards, they will largely be left alone in the car to deal with issues that would otherwise be resolved through instructions on the pit wall.

For many, this move comes at a bad time, given that we are halfway through a season that marked the greatest technical overhaul of the regulations in decades. However, others have praised the move as it takes the sport back to its roots: the onus is truly on the driver once again.

It’s the argument of old versus new. Do you like to cling onto the past and reminisce of ‘better times’, or do you prefer to look into the future?

For the latter, no single event better epitomizes modern day Formula 1 than the spectacular Singapore Grand Prix.

The idea of a night race had been toyed with for many years by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, but it did not come to fruition until 2008 when Marina Bay was lit up by thousands of floodlights. That year’s race has since gone down with great notoriety, given that it was fixed by Renault. Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered to crash and bring out a safety car to allow teammate Fernando Alonso to win the race; the plan worked, but the truth came out when Piquet was sacked and decided to get his own back.

From the word go though, Singapore has been a revelation in F1. There is something mouthwatering about the cars racing under the lights, shimmering as they dart through the city streets. The circuit itself is not the most inspiring layout, yet it does make for some thoroughly entertaining racing.

Further to this, we have the sheer physical and mental challenge of the race, which cannot be underestimated. As it is a night race, drivers must adjust to the timings so that they are at the peak of their powers well into the evening. As a result, the entire F1 paddock opts to stay on European time (the race is timed accordingly). Ordinarily, one will go to bed at 6am before getting up in the middle of the afternoon, with the earliest session starting at 6pm local time (FP1 on Friday). Throw in a sprinkling of jet lag, and you’re quickly struggling to stay awake. Kimi Raikkonen was yawning and rubbing his eyes through much of today’s press conference.

Out on track, the challenge does not stop there. Singapore’s climate is traditionally hot and humid, with rain showers possible (even if we are yet to sample a wet night race). In the car, drivers are pushing for almost two hours, making the final stages of the grand prix very difficult indeed. Hydration is key for any race, but perhaps more paramount here.

F1 races that are held in or near major cities are always special, and Singapore is no exception. Just as Melbourne, Montreal and Austin become dominated by the sport when it rolls into town, Singapore lives and breathes F1 for its week in the spotlight.

Last year, when in a taxi travelling from the airport to my hotel, I got talking to the driver and asked him whether the race was good for Singapore. He immediately started laughing and grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh yes!” he said in broken English. “For one week, the world looks at us. It is wonderful.”

And right there, you have why F1’s expansionist policy for grands prix is a good thing. It takes the sport to markets that are lucrative and can be made to work, even in smaller nations such as Singapore.

So why does Singapore succeed where India and Korea failed? The taxi driver’s comment goes a long way to providing the answer: everyone wants the race in Singapore. The government is more than happy to subsidize the race and provide some investment as it knows it will get it back through the influx of the F1 paddock and tourists. Korea and India did not enjoy the same kind of support, and could never work as investment opportunities given their location and all of the red tape surrounding the events. Singapore just gets on with things; it works so, so well.

After a stretch of races at what one might call ‘classic’ circuits – your Silverstones, your Hockenheims, your Spa and Monzas – it is refreshing to see Singapore come up next. Many dubbed it a gimmick when it joined the calendar back in 2008, but it has since become a mainstay on the schedule and, for many, one of the highlights of the year.

It has now formed a triumvirate of glamor events in F1. Before, we just had Monaco. Now, we have Singapore and Abu Dhabi to go alongside it. Abu Dhabi’s facility is far more impressive, but grossly so; it lacks the charm that Singapore has in abundance. One may even say that the lavish facade of Monaco is second to Singapore’s charm.

The stars will come out on Sunday for the sport’s second blue-chip event, but none can shine so brightly to detract from the on-track action. For the drivers, a race is a race: they’re all worth the same (except Abu Dhabi, thanks to double points). Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will both claim that this one means just as much as any other victory, but deep down, the champagne may just taste a little sweeter on the top step of the podium.

Whether you’re a racing fan or not, Singapore has that special something that makes it a must-watch for any sports enthusiast.

You can watch the Singapore Grand Prix live on NBCSN this Sunday from 7.30am ET.

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi bring their storied rivalry to a new level at Rolex 24

Ganassi Penske Rolex 24
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – To measure the impact of Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi squaring off for the first time in overall sports car wins (starting at the Rolex 24), look at the auto racing titans’ lineups.

There are 12 combined drivers across four entries representing Chip Ganassi Racing (competing as Cadillac Racing) and Team Penske (as Porsche Penske Motorsport) in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona.

And with the possible exception of six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, none of those behind the wheel is as famous and accomplished as the U.S. motorsports icons who will be sitting atop the pit stands at Daytona International Speedway.

In the NTT IndyCar Series, Penske and Ganassi are synonymous with success, having combined for 23 Indy 500 victories and 30 championships. They also competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for two decades with several signature wins for each.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN GTPRolex 24 at Daytona kicks off new golden era for sports cars

Until now, the rivalry never extended to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, where they competed in different classes from 2018-19 and have competed in the top category in differing times over the years.

But the 2023 season opener at Daytona will mark the beginning of a new era in which Ganassi and Penske will compete for sports car overall victories on two continents. A Ganassi Cadillac Racing V-LMDh and Porsche Penske Motorsports Penske 936 will run full time in both the premier prototype divisions of IMSA and the European-based World Endurance Championship – whose crown jewel is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Having two of the world’s biggest sports car races welcome the Ganassi-Penske battle seems only fitting in a season in which IMSA’s new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class is expected to introduce a stiffer level of competition.

“We obviously like beating each other,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “I think if you beat Penske, you know you’ve beaten someone. You’ve accomplished something great. It’s going to be the same as always. Just another platform at another track, but the rivalry will be just as heated I’m sure.

“On one hand, he’s always the first guy to call us out for a penalty or something. On the other hand, he’s also the first guy to congratulate me on a win, so I think it’s a healthy rivalry, but we certainly pound each other’s heads into the ground on race day. Monday through Friday it switches to more of a good relationship.”

After starting his career in sports cars, Penske also is looking forward to having a new arena to race Ganassi.

“There is a lot of anticipation and excitement about the Rolex 24 and the upcoming sports car season overall,” Penske said in a statement to NBC Sports statement. “With the new hybrid prototype formula ready to make its debut, and some great competition expected on the track between teams, drivers and manufacturers, there is a lot of momentum building right now. Porsche Penske Motorsport is excited to compete in both the IMSA WeatherTech Championship, as well as the FIA World Endurance Championship, this season and I can’t wait to see the No. 6 and No. 7 Porsche 963s in action at Daytona this weekend. We also look forward to bringing some new rivalries and storylines to the sport.

Roger Penske confers with Chip Ganassi before the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto (Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports Images).

“In the new IMSA GTP class, there should be a good competitive balance between Porsche, Cadillac, Acura and BMW. We have seen how the rivalry between Team Penske and Ganassi Racing has developed in the NTT IndyCar Series in recent years, and that could certainly extend to sports cars as our teams and drivers continue to develop the new formula and push the production on track in both IMSA and WEC. We will see how the competition plays out, starting this weekend, as we always enjoy racing against Chip and his teams.”

Though there have been some fiery moments over the years (Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power, anyone?), Ganassi vs. Penske mostly has been a story of respect between two organizations whose main strengths are people.

“It’s just the depth of the organizations going up against each other,” Ganassi said. “It’s not just he and I. It’s at every level of the organization.

“We’re smaller. I’d like to think we’re a little more nimble. This is all I do is race cars. I don’t have 200 car dealerships or a truck rental company or a transportation company. I just have racing is all I have.”

Heading into Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, here are the thoughts of Ganassi and Penske drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona:

Earl Bamber, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “When I grew up as a kid, I remember watching Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske battle each other for many years, obviously following Scott Dixon and his career in IndyCar (Bamber is a New Zealand native like Dixon). And when the opportunity came up to come and race for Chip, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of those teams you want to drive for in the world. It’s one of the biggest and most successful teams in the world. And then we’ve got Porsche, where I used to drive, with Penske. It’s going to be a phenomenal rivalry over the next couple of years and that rivalry continues between two absolute legends of our sport. Two people who have been the most successful. I hope we can get Cadillac and Chip their first Le Mans win. That’s obviously the ultimate goal for us and beat his old rival, Roger.

“Those two powerhouses of the sport, they definitely raise the bar. You’ve seen it in IndyCar for years and years. One finds something and the next pushes it forward and forward. You’ll see the same in sports car racing. We all saw what Chip Ganassi Racing did back in the day with the GT program. So no doubt we can do the same again. It’s the ultimate highest level of motorsport when it comes to sports car racing, and there’ll be no stone unturned to make sure that we’re winning these races. It will be a really great fight, great for the fans and great for the sport, because both of them love winning.”

Dane Cameron, No. 6 Porsche Penske: “I think anytime you have Chip and Roger come to town to start fighting for wins, it raises the profile of the whole thing. Hopefully it brings a few more eyes to everything. Certainly brings a lot of expectation with it as well, and I also think it reflects really strongly on the championship to show how competitive it is. They respect the championship and challenge, but when they come to town, they come to win for sure.”

Scott Dixon, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “The battle between Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske is always a fierce one. I obviously know it well from the IndyCar side. But I think it’s a lot more than that. It’s impressive to see a lot of the manufacturers that have come in for this battle. I imagine if it’s not from the first race but during the season that Penske and Ganassi will fight it out pretty hard.

“I think the rivalry between Chip Ganassi racing and Penske has always been strong and in a good way. There’s been some battles and the 2010s for me and other drivers when it gets fierce. Some disagreements here and there. But it’s always been a great pure battle, which is what I think these championships are made of and what brings the fans to the track. So I’d sum it up as a very healthy rivalry.”

Alex Lynn, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “Even as a little boy (growing up in England), you knew exactly who Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi were. You knew what their teams represented. For me to represent Chip and his team is a huge honor. I’m extremely motivated to try to add to his legacy and be part of the fabric of this team. I think having the battle between Penske and Ganassi is iconic. Also Porsche and Cadillac as brands, respectively, just adds to the occasion. Makes me smile even thinking about it knowing what we get to represent when the flag drops.”

Felipe Nasr, No. 7 Porsche Penske: “I think it’s fantastic especially because we’re merging the IMSA and WEC Series and giving the opportunity for teams like Penske and Ganassi to fight for overall victories. You look at the history of those teams, they’ve been on top. We always hear it from the IndyCar guys or the NASCAR side, you’re talking two big names in motorsports. You expect nothing but them fighting for wins. For sure Ganassi has strengths, and we have strengths as well. I’m pretty glad I have the opportunity to be representing Team Penske and continue to write history with them and Porsche is a great opportunity.”

Richard Westbrook, No. 02 Ganassi Cadillac: “The chance for the two most famous teams in America to go head to head in the Daytona 24 Hours and also the Le Mans 24 Hours. I expect that rivalry to keep going up more notches.”

Renger van der Zande, No. 01 Ganassi Cadillac: “Obviously, it’s such the big houses of racing in the U.S. Penske and Ganassi are taking it at each other. The rivalry is big. The best of the best. The most famous ones in the U.S.

“Ganassi is part of Cadillac. We’re the race team that runs the factory program for Cadillac. Penske is running it for Porsche, obviously a high brand as well. Those teams have their little rivalry, but they’re working for a bigger company, a bigger brand, which is Cadillac and Porsche. So those two premium brands taking on each other and then two of the best teams in America taking on each other. It’s very simple: Cadillac got the best team in the U.S. and Porsche got the best team in the U.S. So let’s see what happens. It’s going to be a cool fight.”