Getty Images

Mexico City hosts F1 grand prix 1 month after earthquake

Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) The earthquake that struck Mexico City in September crumbled walls, killed more than 200 people and shook the confidence of this teeming city of 20 million people.

The track and the majestic concrete grandstand at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez escaped unscathed and the Formula One Mexican Grand Prix, with its enormous crowds, confetti and celebratory sombreros on the podium, will go on this weekend. It’s a chance for Mexico City to show the world that it is on the road to recovery, slow as it may be in some places.

For Mexican driver Sergio “Checo” Perez, the race is a chance to embrace the role of ambassador for the sport and his country in a time of need. Perez was in his hometown of Guadalajara when the magnitude 7.1 quake struck on Sept. 19, and he quickly donated about $165,000 (140,000 Euros) to victims. The track itself became a staging area for relief supplies in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Perez will wear a special helmet this week with a map of Mexico and the quake zone on top with the phrase “Todo Mexico Unido! (All Mexico United!)”

“It’s been a very tough couple of months for my country. What happened was horrible, but it was amazing to me not just how Mexico responded but the whole world,” Perez said Thursday. “I knew that I needed to do something for my people … (the helmet) is to remind everyone that we are together.”

With a race weekend expected to draw more than 300,000, the Mexican Grand Prix has a chance to throw a grand party for Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver is closing in on a fourth career F1 driver’s championship. He is aiming for his 10th win of the season and would need only to finish fifth or better Sunday to win the championship.

There’s no chance Hamilton will hang back and let others fight it out up front.

“I’m here to win,” Hamilton said. “I’m not going for anything else but No. 1 … I think to myself, how would I feel if finish fifth and win the world championship? I wouldn’t feel great. You want to be on top of the podium.”

The Briton has won five of the previous six races, including last week at the U.S. Grand Prix in Texas . His tear through the second half of the season seized the title chase from Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel, who must win the final three races and have some bad luck strike Mercedes to have a chance of catching him.

Vettel isn’t giving up. He finished second in the U.S. and plans to put the fight to Hamilton again.

“It’s not over,” Vettel said. “It’s not as much in our hands as much as we’d like, but we want to win the last three races.”

A victory and another season championship would spur new conversations about Hamilton’s legacy among the sport’s great drivers. Formula One’s first and only black driver would join Vettel and Alain Prost with four championships, and he would trail only Michael Schumacher (seven) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) in F1 history.

One of his peers already puts Hamilton in the top rung of drivers..

“Lewis is definitely one of the best drivers in the history of Formula One,” Williams driver Felipe Massa said. “You cannot really take him away or (put him) in a different level compared to Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna. He’s there.”

Hamilton’s first title came in 2008 when his fifth-place finish in the final race in Brazil – a position secured in the final turns – snatched the championship from Massa and Ferrari.

Mexico City is also a chance for Red Bull driver Max Verstappen to get past some recent controversy.

Verstappen and his team were furious last week when a third-place finish was taken away by a 5-second penalty for an illegal pass on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap. The demotion spoiled a brilliant drive up from 16th on the starting grid.

It was reminiscent of Verstappen’s race in Mexico in 2016 when officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and was bumped from the podium.

Mexico City will also be the second race for New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley. The former endurance driving champion and one-time Red Bull protege made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso last week and finished 13th. He drives this week in place of Russian Daniil Kvyat, whose future with the team has been in doubt all season.

Laguna Seca to host IndyCar for at least next three seasons

Getty Images
Leave a comment

INDYCAR made it official today: the 2019 season-ending race will move a couple of hours down the Northern California coast to WeatherTechRaceway Laguna Seca.

Sonoma Raceway, which has hosted INDYCAR since 2005 – including the last five season-ending races (that includes this year’s upcoming season finale) – will not be part of next season’s schedule.

Earlier today, the Monterey County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors, which oversees operation of the iconic racing facility, approved a three-year agreement with INDYCAR to host next year’s season finale on Sept. 20-22, 2019.

The remaining two race dates for 2020 and 2021 will be announced later, according to an INDYCAR media release.

The 2.238-mile permanent road course previously hosted CART and Champ Car World Series Indy car races from 1983 through 2004, including the season-ending races from 1989 through 1996.

“I can’t imagine a more attractive destination location for INDYCAR’s season finale,” Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said in a statement. “Monterey is a place people want to be, and we will bring all of our guests. I think it’s a great choice for us.”

Bobby Rahal, former CART/CCWS driver and current INDYCAR team co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four of the prior 22 previous Indy car races at Laguna Seca, all consecutively (1984-87).

“It’s great news, but I might be biased,” Rahal said. “I personally won four Indy car races there and won my first Can-Am race there. Our Indy car team won with Bryan Herta and Max Papis and our sports car team won IMSA races there.

“So I would almost bet you that Laguna Seca is the site of more victories for me as a driver and team owner combined of any track I’ve ever raced on.

“There is nothing better than the Monterey Bay area, and it’s a great circuit that always drew great crowds. So I’m thrilled to have Indy car racing coming back to a circuit I love so much. We will put on a good show, for sure.”

In addition to Rahal as a multiple winner, two-time winners at Laguna Seca were fellow current INDYCAR team co-owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta, INDYCAR on NBCSN analyst Paul Tracy, Danny Sullivan and Patrick Carpentier.

“The return of INDYCAR to its spiritual road racing home of Laguna Seca is a tremendous honor and testament to the appeal of Monterey, and through the support of the County of Monterey will provide a significant economic benefit to our area businesses,” said Timothy McGrane, CEO of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, “We are looking forward to creating more memories in race fans’ minds like Bobby Rahal’s four consecutive Indy car wins from 1984-1987, Mario Andretti’s farewell race in 1994 and Alex Zanardi’s last-lap overtaking of Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew in 1996 that simply became known as ‘The Pass.'”

NBC Sports Group has secured exclusive domestic television and digital media rights for INDYCAR races beginning in 2019. Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, agreed that Laguna Seca is an ideal venue to close out the schedule.

“We commend INDYCAR for returning to Laguna Seca, a historic track and an inspired place for the 2019 season finale,” Miller said. “The 2019 season will be our first as the exclusive media rights partner of INDYCAR, and we could not be more pleased to broadcast the championship from beautiful Monterrey.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski