Smiling Through The Rain II: US fans’ resolve shines on Saturday

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Earlier this year, I wrote a piece following the British Grand Prix entitled “Smiling Through The Rain” after a damp weekend at Silverstone that saw Formula 1’s diehard fans stick it out and be rewarded with a breathless race.

So after Saturday’s washout at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, it is time for “Smiling Through The Rain II” (no ‘electric boogaloo’), looking back on one of the most bizarre days in the recent history of F1.

Following FP2’s cancellation on Friday and with worse weather due to hit Austin on Saturday thanks to Hurricane Patricia, most expected the day to be called off without a wheel being turned.

The FIA confirmed that a decision would be taken at 7am CT regarding the day, leaving those waiting to make their way to the track checking emails and refreshing Twitter for updates before braving the roads.

No decision came, though, prompting most to venture to COTA. However, the circuit told fans to stay away, saying that the gates would not be opened until midday – with practice due to start at 10am CT, a decision appeared to have been made.

However, much to chagrin of many of the fans in Austin who had hoped to see cars on track, FP3 went ahead as planned in front of empty grandstands, with conditions only just allowing for the cars to get out and complete some laps, knowing that it could have set the grid if qualifying was also rained out.

With the cars having gone out, COTA told fans to begin making their way to the track as qualifying was expected to start as planned at 1pm CT – when the worst of the weather was due to hit.

So we were left with the situation of fans having been kept out for FP3, be then told to come to the track in torrential rain, only to then have no cars on track and qualifying ultimately be postponed until Sunday morning. Memories of Indy ’05 came flashing back: another disaster for F1 in the USA.

What then followed was a show of F1’s human side, often hidden behind visors and race suits, that rewarded the fans who braved the conditions and kept singing away in the main grandstand donned in raincoats, clinging onto umbrellas that the wind kept trying to tug away.

We had breakdancing Force India mechanics, a Sauber tub rowing down the pit lane, a dance between Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, and even Alexander Rossi throwing a football around. Nico Rosberg kicked a soccer ball around with Niki Lauda and the Mercedes mechanics. Jos Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Sr. donned Toro Rosso race suits and jumped in their sons’ cars.

All the while, the fans were still there, refusing to budge until qualifying was definitely cancelled.

And when the call eventually came through, in a gracious move from Bernie Ecclestone, circuit chairman Bobby Epstein and Mayor of Austin Steve Adler, they were invited to come into the pit lane to meet the drivers, pose for pictures and get something out of a soggy day.

Saturday had the potential to be another disaster for F1 in the USA, but it actually turned into a remarkably positive experience.

Think Americans don’t ‘get’ F1? Try telling the thousands of fans who stuck it out in the rain at COTA, knowing they may not see a car on track. Try telling those who cheered at every glimpse of a driver in the pit lane. Try telling those who will be back today for more.

Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, but even she couldn’t rain on the fans’ parade on Saturday, in spite of her best efforts.

For those not at COTA, you can watch qualifying for the United States Grand Prix live on CNBC from 10am ET. The US GP then follows at 2:30pm ET on NBC.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”