Series moves from Bristol to California
The 2013 racing season is well and truly under way. Formula 1 joined NASCAR and NHRA with the Australian Grand Prix season opener last weekend, and the IZOD IndyCar series kicks off this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus was the surprise winner in Australia, where tires were the big story. Tires also will play a major role in Malaysia this weekend. Pirelli brought its medium and hard compound tires to cope with the expected high track temperatures, but the hard tires exhibited thermal degradation in Friday’s practice. Rain is likely on race day, so the intermediate and full wet rain tires may also get a workout. Friday’s practice went from wet to dry to wet, with Raikkonen atop the charts on dry tires. It looks like Lotus is ready to join the “front of the grid gang” with Red Bull and Ferrari. It remains to be seen whether McLaren and Mercedes can remain part of the group after disappointing performances in Australia. The McLaren factory in England has burned up much of their air freight budget sending new parts to Malaysia to cure the cars’ handling problems.
Tires also were the big issue at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol last weekend. Several of the Chevrolet teams suffered right front tire failure, including points leader Jimmie Johnson. Johnson’s collision with the wall put him two laps down in 22nd at the finish. Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon suffered a similar fate, finishing 34th. Their other teammate, Kasey Kahne, avoided the problem and went on to win the race. Johnson dropped to third in the standings, as Brad Keselowski took over the points lead, followed by another Hendrick driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2012 championship runner-up Clint Bowyer, and Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle in fifth. Kahne’s win elevated him to seventh in the standings. This weekend the Cup series races at California Speedway in Fontana, the fifth different-type race track in five races. The two-mile oval has produced somewhat ho-hum racing in the past, but maybe the Gen-6 car will add some excitement.
The Nationwide series stole the show at Bristol last weekend, with the late-race duel between veteran Kyle Busch and newcomer Kyle Larson providing a tremendous finish. After a rough start to the season, Larson is showing all the signs of becoming the next big star in NASCAR. He raced Busch clean, making up for the criticism he suffered after taking out the leader to win the K&N Pro Series Battle at the Beach at Daytona last month.
The IZOD IndyCar series season opener Sunday should be quite interesting. There are 25 entries for the street course race. Defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest in practice on Friday, followed by his Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe. Penske driver and perennial runner-up Will Power was third fastest, while Target-Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti was sixth. It certainly looks like Michael Andretti’s team can compete head to head with the Penske and Ganassi organizations that have dominated the sport the last few years.
Carson City’s own Mackena Bell will run her second K&N Pro Series East race of the season at Greenville-Pickens Speedway this weekend. After a disappointing finish at Bristol, Bell will be on a track that she knows well, having raced there in the Whelen All American Series the past couple of years. I tried to reach her by phone on Friday, but I’m pretty sure she’s very busy. Hopefully I’ll hear from her next week with a rundown on how things are going for her. In the meantime, I’ll follow her on Twitter and pick up any tidbits I can.
Speaking of Twitter, I have just signed up after years of resisting yet another time. But I have already picked up some interesting information, and a few good laughs. I’ll share with you a new segment on IndyCar driver Hinchcliffe’s Twitter feed called “Engineer Translation”:
Engineer: “We rendered the unit non-functional.”
Hinchcliffe: “So you broke it.”