The Formula One fraternity has been keeping Jules Bianchi in their thoughts as he remains critical but stable in a Japanese hospital after his crash at Suzuka on Saturday night.
But they won’t have much more time to fully dwell on him, as F1 prepares for its inaugural Russian Grand Prix this weekend at Sochi Olympic Park.
After having to pack up quickly while absorbing the news regarding Bianchi – and while Typhoon Phanfone bore down upon Japan – teams and media are now migrating to the site of this year’s Winter Games to get an early start on preparations.
Meanwhile, several drivers have given their opening thoughts on the new Sochi Autodrom circuit and racing in Russia.
Last weekend’s third-place finisher, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, regards the circuit as a more fluid version of the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore with some sectors reminding him of Abu Dhabi and Korea in particular.
As with any new tracks, mistakes will likely be made as drivers get used to the course and figure out how far they can push it. But Vettel is also worried about Sochi’s surface.
“It will be quite slippery at the beginning of the weekend and I’m expecting a few driving errors, not only because the track is new for everyone, but also because the surface is still so green,” he said. “So it will be a while until we feel comfortable on the track.”
Meanwhile, Force India enters Sochi looking to extend their slim one-point lead over McLaren for fifth in the Constructor’s Championship. Both Force India men, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, have said that it will probably take 10 laps on the track before they can get a proper idea of things.
“Nobody knows the track so it will be the same situation for all of us,” said Perez. “We all start from zero.”
Certainly, it should be an intriguing affair by the Black Sea.
Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.
“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”
But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.
After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.
Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”
The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.
And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.
It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.
“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”
Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.
The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.
“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”
And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.
“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.