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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bourdais Bids Champ Car Farewell

Sebastien Bourdais put an exclamation point on another Champ Car World Series title at the Grand Prix of Mexico City. The question remains as to what the Champ Car World Series will do without its champion?

Sebastien Bourdais put an exclamation point on another Champ Car World Series title at the Grand Prix of Mexico City. This is the Frenchman’s record fourth consecutive championship. Mexico City was his farewell race to the open wheel series. Bourdais announced that he would leave the Champ Car series to race in Formula 1 in 2008. He possesses great talent and should do well in the right situation in F1. The question remains as to what the Champ Car World Series will do without its champion?

In Sunday’s race, Bourdais was not challenged until the late going in a dull season ending race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit. Only a late race caution put the final result in doubt. With a handful of laps remaining, Will Power was able to close up on Bourdais’ rear wing under a full course yellow. However, when the green flag came out, Bourdais skillfully drove away from Power on his way to another victory.

Champ Car is a series that is struggling to find an identity. Sunday’s race and the Bourdais announcement have not helped. Without a proven champion, F1 cast- offs, and young talent, Sebastien leaves a series in crisis. Paul Tracy, an aging former champ, needed a rising star like Bourdais to offer challenges. Every good racing series has a protagonist and antagonist with similar talent and attitude.

The rest of the driver’s in Sunday’s race are young or unproven in the series. Will Power, Justin Wilson, and Robert Doornbos are the early favorites to contend for next year’s title. To further complicate matters for Champ Car, the series is poorly marketed. The race in Mexico City was telecast on ESPN2. This may have been the weekend’s best-kept secret. As an avid college football fan, the ESPN family of networks is a necessity on Saturdays. There was little or no mention of the race leading up to the 2 PM start. If the series wants to compete with the IRL and NASCAR, fans have to know where to find the races. Several seasons ago, the races were held on the old Outdoor Network and knowing what channel and when the race would be aired became a struggle.

French racing fans have had very little to cheer about since the retirement of F1 champion Alain Prost. Sebastien Bourdais is the real deal and should be fun to watch in F1. While he moves on to a future in F1, Champ Car is faced with a future that may not be so bright.

Bourdais photo courtesy AP Photo/Yves Logghe

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tokyo Sexwale: A Man of Commitment

This is the third installment of minority contributions to auto racing. Tokyo Sexwale’s commitment to his country and to the A1 GP may spread to the United States.

This is the third installment of minority contributions to auto racing. The owners and influential people in motorsports amassed their wealth in other ventures. Racing interest generally starts as a hobby. Tokyo Sexwale’s commitment to his country and to the A1 GP may spread to the United States. Some race team owners own businesses associated with the auto industry while others use money attained in fields not associated with racing.

Tokyo Sexwale’s interest in auto racing represents a larger meaning to a nation. Roger Penske, Rick Hendrick, nor any other team owners in motorsport have a background as impressive and controversial as Sexwale’s. Tokyo Sexwale is a South African businessman who has many interests outside of motorsport. Currently, he is the seat holder, which is equivalent to team president, for the South African A1 GP team. He is also on the South African committee to host the 2010 soccer World Cup.

The A1 GP World Cup of Motorsport pits country versus country in a worldwide competition. These races are contested on some of the world’s most famous racecourses. Africa played host to Formula 1 races in the past but was canceled due to apartheid. Ironically, Sexwale’s anti- apartheid stance is now bringing this form of racing back to South Africa.

Sexwale was imprisoned and served 13 years for suspicion of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government alongside Nelson Mandela. He attained a degree in business while in prison. Along with the largest risk management and insurance broker, AON, Sexwale has taken a stance of economic patriotism in Africa. Patriotism fuels the A1 GP and its popularity. Currently, South Africa is second in the championship.

Part of Sexwale’s commitment to A1 GP stems from his pursuit of economic prosperity and democracy in South Africa. Tokyo Sexwale wants to see the training of a development A1 GP team, including drivers, pit crew, and technical support. A development driver for Team South Africa, Stephen Simpson, has competed in the Indy Pro Series.
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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is this the End for Open Wheeled Racing in America?

The recent defection of Indy Racing League and Indy 500 champion, Dario Franchitti, may be the death knell for open- wheel racing in the United States.

Drivers from the Indy Racing League, Champ Car World Series, and Formula 1 are finding racing careers in stock car racing. The recent defection of Indy Racing League and Indy 500 champion, Dario Franchitti, may be the death knell for open- wheel racing in the United States.

NASCAR is clearly the champion of motorsports in America. At one time, NASCAR was the king of the south while the Champ Car World Series, formerly the Championship Auto Racing Teams, was reserved for fans with a more sophisticated racing palate. Then came the split between CART and Tony George. George was concerned with the direction that open wheel racing was going in terms of domestic driver development. Many of the best drivers were from other countries with very little American talent coming along. Tony George’s vision included great foreign talent being challenged by homegrown racers who cut their teeth behind the wheel of sprint cars and midgets.

CART did not agree and Tony George, as president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, decided to start his own series. The Indy Racing League was started with year old; non-turbocharged machines and raced only on ovals. The IRL has evolved but the damage has been done. Fans had to decide whether to follow a series comprised of road courses or one that featured ovals. The fans decided that ovals were better, but with a different type of car… stock cars and its fan friendly environment.

While the IRL and Champ Car squabbled about engine formulas and venues, NASCAR aggressively snatched curious fans and every ounce of sponsorship dollars. The logistical arguments, between the two racing factions, have further segmented the racing consumer market.

NASCAR has been able to watch Champ Car and IRL destroy one another without breaking a sweat. All NASCAR has to do now is sit back and observe the procession of former open wheel stars to the South. Joining Franchitti in NASCAR is former Formula 1 champ Jacques Villeneuve, Champ Car standout Patrick Carpentier, and America’s latest hope for Formula 1 greatness Scott Speed. This is an impressive list of drivers, with others to follow, who will leave the chaos of open wheel racing for the security of racing’s juggernaut, NASCAR.

NASCAR, you have come a long way baby. Gone are the days of good ol’ boy names like Hut and Buckshot. The entry list for Daytona 2008 will have an international appeal. If the star drivers from Champ Car and the IRL continue to fly south, open wheel racing and its rich history will be nothing more than a memory.

Franchitti photo by Kevin C. Cox/ Getty Images
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Friday, November 2, 2007

African- American Contributions to Motorsports

This is the second article in a series that chronicles the contributions of minorities to motorsports.

Many people hear the cries for more minority involvement in auto racing and fail to understand why. A common misconception is that black athletes are better suited for traditional sports and lack the knowledge necessary to participate in auto racing. Things are slowly starting to change, but there was a group of young men that dispelled this myth almost 24 years before the birth of NASCAR.

The Colored Speedway Association was a group of young black men that organized a race series for black drivers in the Midwest in 1924. This group of black businessmen and several white colleagues raised $50,000 to organize a 100 Mile Colored Speed Championship. The series featured black sprint car drivers and culminated with the annual Gold and Glory Sweepstakes at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. These drivers were prevented from racing in the Indianapolis 500 because of their skin color.

Segregation was the order of business in the 20’s and the Gold and Glory organizers tempted death on and off the track. Starting a black owned series was seen as overstepping the racial boundaries of the time. Today’s racing series need to attract more minority drivers, owners, and sponsors. First, they must acknowledge that access and education is paramount. There is minority interest in motorsports but finding ways into the industry is a tough task.

The Colored Speedway Association disbanded in 1936 but their contributions have stood the test of time. There would be no Chase Austin or Bill Lester if Wendell Scott, the only African- American to win a NASCAR race, had not followed his dream of racing.

African- Americans have a proud history in auto racing, but these stories are seldom told. The Colored Speedway Association was revolutionary and deserves a place in motorsport history. Many sports fans relate to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. However, the formation of the Colored Speedway Association was just as monumental.

Photo courtesy of Tom Stahl and WFYI Indianapolis
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Thursday, November 1, 2007

5 Ways that Racing Helps the Planet

As the world struggles to find ways to combat global warming, the racing industry begins to enact measures to reduce emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

Manufacturers have developed ways to make global motorsports cleaner and more environmentally friendly. To the non- race fan, a 3-hour race on a Sunday is an incredible waste of resources. However, a race serves as a competition as well as a high-speed research experiment. These are examples of what racing has done in the fight against global warming.

1. The Indy Racing League has mandated that all competitors use fuel- grade ethanol. Honda, the engine supplier for the series, made minor adjustments to the engine in order to run the new fuel. The fuel is supplied by Renova Energy of Idaho, which produces 10 million gallons of ethanol per year.

2. Audi, a manufacturer in the American Le Mans Series, developed the turbo- diesel R10 TDI racecar. The R10 utilizes a system that produces more horsepower while reducing fuel consumption. This system has eliminated the smell, cloud of pollution, and noise that is commonly associated with diesel power. Audi has applied these advancements to their production vehicle side.

3. The American Le Mans Series has mandated that each competitor use E10 fuel or clean diesel. E10 fuel is a 90 percent ethanol and 10 percent gasoline mixture. Ethanol is a renewable fuel source that is produced in the States, and releases less carbon dioxide when burned.

4. The sanctioning body of Formula 1, the FIA, has begun to look towards the use of biofuels by the year 2011. The FIA is actively looking for ways to cut costs in the development of an F1 car. One way is to use standard universal components on the body and power train that may cut fuel consumption in half.

5. NASCAR and its gas guzzling racecars have moved to unleaded racing fuel this season. This was done in an effort to lessen the environmental impact of 43 cars racing for the better part of Sunday afternoons.

The damage to the planet’s ozone, from auto emissions, is a political hot button. Race fans take heart, the lessons learned, from the racetrack regarding fuel consumption, are slowly finding their way to our street cars.

photo of Audi R10 TDI courtesy of
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