Tuesday, June 30, 2020

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: June 2020

We are halfway through 2020. Six months down, six to go. We can't even pretend things are going well or have been all that rosy. After these first six months, I think we all can't imagine what is to come.

There are some headlines from this month. Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We are going to start with a hypothetical, but one that almost happened 20 years ago, and could have completely shifted the motorsports world as we know it...

Revealed: IndyCar's Predecessor Made Bid To Buy Formula One
CART almost bought Formula One about 20 years ago.

I thought about dedicating a post to this exclusively, looking at all the ramifications of what happened in the world of motorsports if this deal did happen and wonder where we would be today, but let's not get too deep into this. I think we can cover the basics here.

CART was public traded at the time, was still reasonably successful but didn't have the Indianapolis 500 and that absence was soon going to bring CART to its knees. Purchasing Formula One, however, could have entirely swung the tide of The Split.

I don't think Formula One and CART merge to form some super series. Even in the late 1990s, Formula One teams were outspending CART teams by a country-mile. Penske would be lucky to keep up with Jordan at that time let alone compete with Ferrari and McLaren. I think we see two complementary series. CART is still an American-based series and has a handful of oval races but there are a few CART/Formula One weekends around the globe. CART becomes a development outlet for Formula One drivers, and we see CART-developed talent on the radar for more Formula One teams.

This deal keeps the CART owners invested. If CART owned Formula One, is Roger Penske bolting for the IRL in 2002? No. Is Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Kim Green, Bobby Rahal and David Letterman following in 2003? No.

The pressure would have been on Tony George and the IRL. George would either have to concede and be absorbed into this global conglomerate for open-wheel racing or he would have had to ask for more fire power from Bill France and NASCAR and that second option is the scariest.

The simplest thought is CART purchases Formula One, George sees he has no hope of beating that, lays down, partners with this mega-entity, restores the Indianapolis 500 to its former glory but makes sure the top IRL teams get shares, are a part of the club, reap the benefits from being included and reunification happens about eight years sooner.

Or George does the opposite of that and the only party that could have fought a CART/Formula One behemoth would be NASCAR. The IRL becomes more like NASCAR, NASCAR maybe even takes over sanctioning the IRL. We see Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress enter cars, IRL races are run on Saturdays of NASCAR weekends at Atlanta, Rockingham, Loudon, Pocono and Darlington, Ford gets forced over to the IRL, taking away Cosworth from CART teams. Maybe NASCAR twists Fords arm and makes sure to withdraw Cosworth from Formula One, which only really prevents Jaguar from becoming a team, but that is a minor blow for Formula One.

I am not sure how a CART/Formula One vs. IRL/NASCAR war would have played out from 2000 to 2020. I feel both sides would have gotten further apart, both would have stuck to what they were doing, both would still be separate to this day, and the Indianapolis 500 would be worse off.

I think the Indianapolis 500 would have become an open-wheel NASCAR race. We would have seen NASCAR send Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Bobby and Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett to the Indianapolis 500 every year while Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti could go without any hiccups. I think NASCAR's goal would be to make the Indianapolis 500 a de facto NASCAR race and capitalize on making sure the Indianapolis 500 winner is a NASCAR driver. If a NASCAR driver enters and wins the Indianapolis 500 then it is clear NASCAR is the superior series, all these open-wheel drivers are second-class, and these fans would tune into NASCAR for the 51 weekends outside the Indianapolis 500.

Oh, and we definitely have guaranteed positions for the Indianapolis 500 if this happens. The field probably would have expanded to 40 cars or 43 cars at this time. Bumping is long gone, and NASCAR probably owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway instead. I think NASCAR would snuff out of the Hulman-George family. NASCAR would pay them handsomely to go away and the family would be taken care of for the next nine generations, but NASCAR takes over the property and controls the most notable motorsports event in the United States.

I think the IRL and the Indianapolis 500 become even more American, which some of you are probably thinking doesn't sound so bad, but I think we all know it would not be as good as what we have today. The Indianapolis 500 is taken hostage in this scenario. It is the one bargaining chip Tony George would have had and he wasn't going to give it to a CART/Formula One superpower. He would have gone to NASCAR to be his protector, but NASCAR would have taken everything away from him. NASCAR would see the power it would wield if it controlled the Indianapolis 500 and not think twice about seizing it.

From one hypothetical to another...

WRC wants to return to key markets United States and China
The World Rally Championship has not run in the United States since 1988 and has not run in China since 1999. Between the two countries, they have hosted a combined six WRC events. If these were such key markets, why hasn't WRC been to either in the 21st century?

There is no interest in the United States for a WRC event and when I say no interest, I mean WRC could come and run a rally in this country and not even myself would notice.

I enjoy the World Rally Championship. I enjoy rallying. There is something about a car flying through the forest that is exhilarating and respectable. It can be some of the most breath-taking scenes in motorsports, but I know the interest isn't here in the United States, at least for it not to make a difference.

I thought there was a window, maybe ten or 12 years ago for a WRC in this country, when Rally America was doing well, and Travis Pastrana was involved. I thought perhaps the Olympus Rally could be resurrected or one of these rallies in the Michigan woods could work.

The problem with any American rally is it would take place in the middle of nowhere and I don't think the WRC teams would be all that impressed. The middle of Pennsylvania or somewhere in Maine or Michigan isn't worth it for the teams to come over.

I did think there could possibly be a desert rally somewhere outside of Las Vegas and the super stage could be held downtown near the strip. That could be worth it for the teams and it could end the season. Who wouldn't want to end a season in Las Vegas? Even if it was run around Las Vegas, it would be another obscure event in a city of obscure events. There is not enough interest in this country that would bring all the American rally fans to Las Vegas to support the world championship.

Moving on to two-wheels...

Rossi "more beatable" the longer he stays in MotoGP - Stoner
Everyone gets more beatable the longer he or she stays in something. Valentino Rossi is no different. Casey Stoner is pointing out the obvious. We all know this.

For the final eight years of Richard Petty's career, he was pretty damn beatable. Same was true for A.J. Foyt and the final decade of his IndyCar career. Jimmie Johnson's last two-and-a-half seasons are not going out on the highest note, but very few drivers walk away from the mountaintop. Most keep going, thinking another title is in the cards, another dozen trophies will be added to the trophy case only to come far short.

It has been odd watching Rossi's last few seasons. It has been 11 years since his last championship, which I hadn't realized was that long ago. He was championship runner-up for three consecutive seasons, and he cost himself the 2015 championship. He was seven points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo entering the finale but had to start last after kicking Marc Márquez while passing him in the penultimate round in Sepang. Rossi went from 26th to fourth in the Valencia finale but Lorenzo won the race and took the title by five points over Rossi.

Rossi could have had another title. If he had won a title five years ago, he would not appear as beatable as he is now. Rossi does have a career that doesn't appear will die, same as Kimi Räikkönen. I don't know if we will see Rossi get that one final triumph. I feel Rossi's career should have a grand exit. It's not going to feel fitting if his final season is eighth in the championship with his best race finish being fourth. It will probably be better than that but not a championship.

Speaking of drivers who walked away while on the mountaintop...

Top 10 Moments of Nico Rosberg Brilliance
Are there ten moments of Nico Rosberg brilliance? I know he won the World Drivers' Championship, but not much brilliance stands out.

I will admit, his first victory at Shanghai in 2012 was pretty good. That came out of nowhere. Outside of that, I am lost. Rosberg had a lot of brain fades and it counterbalances the good. He ended the 2015 season with three consecutive victories from pole position, and that is notable because he did it after Lewis Hamilton clinched the championship, but those victories came after Rosberg gave away the championship at Austin when he went wide while leading with nine laps to go.

The other thing I have to give Rosberg credit for is finishing the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. For someone who had been close to bulletproof all season, Rosberg suffered an ERS failure during the finale when he had a shot at the title. The team wanted him to retire the car, but Rosberg wanted to finish the season on the track. I applauded it then and I applaud it now.

Rosberg won a world championship but the biggest two moments from his championship season is Rosberg colliding with his teammate Hamilton on lap one in Barcelona and Rosberg colliding with his teammate Hamilton on the final lap in Austria. That says a lot about a driver.

Top 10: George Russell's best drives ranked
Russell is 22 years old and has done one season in Formula One. Can we give him a little more time for his career to develop before we start doing top ten lists for him?

I know he won a GP3 championship and a Formula Two championship, but if you are using junior series events to complete a list of best drives, then the list should not be created in the first place. Give Russell some time before we start creating specific lists for his career.

I know the pandemic has created a lot of holes and there are gaps for stories and pieces, but let's not be this desperate and turn George Russell's infant career into some nostalgia piece. He isn't old enough to be nostalgic about yet.

I am calling it a wrap on this headline exercise for a little bit. I want to try something new in July with all these motorsports series returning. Headlines could return in the future, but for now, on to something completely different. Let's see how that goes in July.