Issue 366, October 4, 2006

by Peter M. DeLorenzo

Editor's Note: Our Fumes column is written by our Publisher, Peter M. DeLorenzo (aka "Ethanol Boy" and formerly known as "Methanol Boy") - as it has been since Day One of this publication. - Janice J. Putman

That's great, Roger, but...

Detroit. Last Friday, Roger Penske and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made the joint announcement that the Detroit Grand Prix would be returning to its Belle Isle location next year on Labor Day weekend. The weekend's racing card includes a Sunday IRL race and for the first time - a Saturday American Le Mans Series race in a double-header racing weekend. Penske has done a tremendous job of late in trying to pull our city up by its lapels and get it moving again, spearheading the committee that worked hard to get last February's Super Bowl XL awarded to the city, and involving himself in many projects and planned "world-class" events aimed at sprucing up a city that's frankly been up against the ropes for a very long time now. And he is to be commended for that. But the Detroit Grand Prix is obviously a "natural" endeavor for Penske and something close to his heart (and close to his business interests), so I'm sure he's quite pleased that he could put together a deal between the city of Detroit and the Indy racing League to get this event back on the racing calendar. And it is a very good thing, although I have my reservations about it...

First of all, Penske is insisting to anyone who will listen that all of the issues that truly made the Belle Isle location difficult, frustrating and ultimately a turn-off will be addressed this time around. He insists that there will be a proper paved paddock, instead of a grass field that turns into a muddy bog every time it rains. Another one of the most frustrating aspects of the DGP at Belle Isle was that the average spectator couldn't see a damn thing, so Penske says there will be more grandstands and spectator viewing "mounds" or berms so that people can actually see something besides the pit straight, the start-finish line, and Turns 1 & 2. This would be a very good thing. And he suggests that the track itself will be revamped to improve "flow" and provide more passing opportunities - indeed, all good things too.

But ultimately, I wonder if he, or anyone for that matter, can do anything about the location of the race itself. Back in the old days of the real Detroit Grand Prix Formula 1 race and subsequent CART races, the Detroit Grand Prix circuit wound around the downtown area. The circuit had its moments, with a stunning main pit straight along the Detroit River and some fairly interesting bits and sections to go with it, but it was absurdly rough in spots - what with the Detroit winters taking their toll on the roads every year - and there were some areas with barely enough run-off room. But it was a gritty, gutty circuit that was insanely fast in places, and it seemed to mirror the tone and tempo of the city fairly well. I recall like it was yesterday seeing Ayrton Senna visibly wringing the neck of his Turbo-charged Lotus around the course - in the rain. It was simply a spectacular sight and a fantastic memory to this day.

After the city became tired of the disruptions necessary to stage the event right downtown, however, the race was moved to Belle Isle. There were reasons for optimism that this would be a great permanent home for the event that wouldn't disrupt the basic functions of the city. Racing fans were enthused at the prospect of a circuit where the cars could really be "opened-up" instead of racing from one 90 degree corner to the next. And in some respects, it was true. The circuit was faster and more like a "proper" road course - and only minutes from downtown! But all of that optimism evaporated after the first few running of the event, for the aforementioned reasons.

But there is one very big reason that I haven't covered yet - and that is the nature of the Belle Isle location itself.

Belle Isle presents some unusual logistical obstacles in that it is a large, picturesque island sitting in the middle of the Detroit River - just east of downtown. There is only one way on or off the island, and that is by way of a long, four-lane bridge. For normal use of the island, this arrangement works just great for ingress and egress. For the Detroit Grand Prix, it's your basic nightmare. Waits of two and three hours just to board buses to get off the island after the race (which was suggested at the time as the "best" way to get to and from the race) proved to be disastrous to the popularity of the event. And attendance and interest dwindled dramatically because of that one issue (along with the fact that the ticket prices were far too steep for not being able to see enough of what was going on).

Of course the City of Detroit has been less than cooperative in the past, insisting that the rest of the island stay open to the public on the race weekend. And even though it's a huge island, that's one stipulation, as you might imagine, that creates massive problems. If this city truly wants to be considered "world class" then its citizens can and should be able to put up with the inconvenience of having one weekend on the calendar when Belle Isle will be closed, that is if they care enough to look at the Big Picture of things - something that seems to be in short supply around these parts.

Penske says he has agreements with the City of Detroit that will allow him to make some permanent changes to the island's physical landscape to accommodate the staging of the race. But I have my doubts about the rest of the plans. The Detroit City Council is one of the most notoriously intransigent and nonsensical bodies on the face of the earth. Every time the city has appeared to be finally gaining its footing as a destination capable of putting on a "world-class" event, the Detroit City Council inevitably screws things up.

It was only by the sheer force of Penske's will that the Super Bowl even happened here last February.

It will take at least that much of an effort to make sure that the reborn Detroit Grand Prix has more than a shot at being successful this time around.

Publisher's Note: Our Autoextremist East Coast motorsports correspondent, A.J. Morning, filed the following report from the 2006 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, the premier event of the American Le Mans Series. - PMD

More with less: Petit Le Mans 2006

The view from the paddock
By A.J. Morning

A.J. Morning prepares for his ride around Road Atlanta in the Petersen/White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR last Thursday. A few journalists were offered the opportunity - and A.J.'s still talking about it!

Some series are all about big car counts. In NASCAR, every Nextel Cup race starts 43 cars, no matter how many "field-fillers" it takes to make the magic number and keep their TV contract up. Similarly, at Le Mans, the Daytona 24 Hours, or even the 12 Hours at Summit Point, car counts of 40+ or even 50+ are the order of the day for endurance racing. Over the span of 1000 miles (or 10 hours, which ever comes first), endurance races such as Petit Le Mans are typically wars of attrition, with sometimes half of the starting field retired before the checkered flag waves.

So, with a mere four cars from two teams (Corvette Racing C6.Rs and ProDrive Aston Martin DBR-9s) representing GT1 class, and an overall field for this year's ninth running of the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta of only 28 cars, some might have expected a smaller-than-average crowd and a less-than-stellar race. Whereas previous years have seen such exciting entries as the Maserati MC12, the Saleen S7-R, and the venerable Dodge Viper GTS-R making GT1 the class to watch, 2006 saw the field trimmed down to the Astons against a pair of handicapped Corvettes. 

When I say handicapped, I mean the Corvette Racing team, in response to their sheer performance dominance over the last few years, has been carrying 110 pounds (or about 50 kg) in extra weight, in addition to tighter air restrictors mandated by the series. Carrying the added load of a hog and breathing through the relative equivalent of a pair of Burger King straws doesn't help the Corvette team. 

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but it's never made sense to me to penalize a winner for winning, in the name of "competition." ProDrive knows how to make a car with 12 cylinders run like a scalded cat on a road course, as evidenced by their work on the Ferrari 550 Maranellos a few years back. Going into this year's Petit Le Mans, it was clear that, barring incident, the Aston Martins would finish 1-2. All Corvette could do was keep the heat on and be prepared for an opportunity that wouldn't arrive. 

On the other hand, while GT1 seemed to be on a diet of sorts (the Corvettes' extra ballast notwithstanding), P1 and P2 classes were bristling with a mix of both proven winners (Audi Sport North America, Dyson Racing, Zytek, and Creation Autosportif among them) as well as relatively new entries (Highcroft Racing, van der Steur, and Horag). No less than eight P1 cars and five P2 racers qualified and ran. 

Add to that the fact that GT2 class in 2006 has been a toss-up from one week to the next, with no one team able to establish clear dominance in the class - GT2 typically offers the best competition within its own ranks, and this year has been no exception. Teams from Panoz, Porsche, and Ferrari have all taken turns spraying champagne on the podium this year. 

But still, 28 cars?  Keep reading. 

Some fields start with 40 or 50 cars, and are down to about 20 at the end. This year, out of 28 starters, only six dropped out - 22 cars took the checkered flag after 394 laps at 9 hours and 16 minutes, which has to be close to a record for percentage still running at the end of a major endurance race. Starting a smaller field than you'd see at a Saturday night short-track race on a local oval, we still saw nearly as many finishers as we would at a proper Le Mans 24 Hours race. Sheer luck? Maybe. 

But, sheer luck is only a part of the story. What we didn't have was a bunch of backfill in the lineup that expired early, or only showed up just to make an appearance or collect some pocket change for filling-out the lineup. Twenty-eight cars showed up to race, and race they did. 

Does that mean a smaller field is better than a large 50-car extravaganza? Of course not - a big starting grid always looks good. Fans love it. The series loves it. Sponsors love it too. But once the chaff gets shaken loose in the early running, you're left with those who came to race and mean it. 

Speaking with BMW Team PTG driver Boris Said during Thursday night practice, Said remarked "Our M3 is old, it's not really a competitive car anymore, but it's still good and we're going to be running at the finish." Which, of course, he was. Boris and co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand ran down in back all night, but managed to stay clear of any off-track agricultural excursions and mechanical shit-happenings, and brought the car across the line sixth in class out of 10. 

The winner of GT2 class was the #31 Petersen/White Lightning Porsche 911 GT3 RSR piloted by Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Long, and Nic Jonsson. This group is no stranger to the top of the podium, but the win was quite a surprise - given that Bergmeister had waved off a pit stop to run one extra lap, and on that lap he suffered a tire puncture that eventually led to the tread separating from the wheel. After some time in the pits to get the Porsche back into shape, the team wasted no time storming back to the front and eventually taking the checkers first in class. 

In GT1, the Aston Martin/Corvette battle was close in the early hours, but the lead car of Tomas Enge and Darren Turner got the break they needed when the #4 Corvette of Olivier Beretta, Oliver Gavin, and Jan Magnussen had to spend what seemed like a week in the pits to change front brake rotors. The #3 Corvette of Ron Fellows, Johnny O'Connell, and Max Papis started from the class pole and looked strong in the early running, at least until O'Connell was forced off-track on two separate occasions. The #3 car also had to spend extra time in the pits to change brakes, as the extra ballast in the car took its toll on the binders. Ultimately, the multiple Le Mans-winning Corvette team had to settle for third and fourth in class. 

P2 has been the subject of considerable change in the last couple of years, as the DHL-sponsored Penske Porsche RS Spyders have cleaned up and taken the lead in the class from the Intersport team and its drivers Liz Halliday, Clint Field, and Jon Field. The Penske Porsches have at times been some of the quickest cars on the track, and one can only hope the Audis are still running in ALMS by the time Penske and Porsche decide to take the action to P1. 

In the meantime, Acura unveiled one of their new P2 cars at a pre-race press conference. Adrian Fernandez was on hand to introduce the new Acura Lola.  The new car, with Lowe's as sponsor (yes, the same Lowe's that sponsors the #48 in NASCAR as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway), looks dashing in its blue/silver livery. Given Honda's history of putting its money where its mouth is in its racing endeavors, the prospect for a few good shootouts in P2 next year among the three top teams is excellent. 

P1? Audi. True, Nic Minassian set the pole with a hot lap in his Creation CA06/H (a fast car with a name that makes "Audi R10" sound romantic), but after the first hour it was just a question of which silent-but-deadly Audi was going to win. Allan McNish and Dindo Capello did the honors this time, finishing a mere 4 laps ahead of the Zytek of Haruki Kurosawa, Johnny Mowlem, and Stefan Johansson. 

What else can we say about GT1 class?  For one thing, we need more manufacturers. I can't tell you how badly I wish Ford and DaimlerChrysler would direct the necessary resources (read: "spend the money") to get a strong Le Mans-winning presence back on the track. Both manufacturers have such a rich history in road racing, and currently build such outstanding road machines (Mustang, Viper) it's a shame not to see them running against the Corvettes and Astons. Yes, we all know Aston Martin is owned by Ford (at least, that's true as this is being written), but why wasn't there a Ford GT at Le Mans? Why was the only beautiful Ford GT at Sebring sitting in the infield, being admired by all the spectators? It's all about money, and it's no secret that Ford and GM have got serious cash-flow problems. Maybe if the annual motorsports budget at Ford was focused more on the big picture of motorsports and less on "racertainment," we might see some more excitement - not just in GT1 class, but around the racing world in general. The current Mustang Shelby GT 500 is an excellent car, and it needs to be matched up against the best road machines out there. 

The same goes for Dodge and their Viper program, though their involvement in SCCA/Speed World Challenge series is certainly noteworthy. Running as a support race to this year's Petit Le Mans, the World Challenge Touring and GT series both harkens back to the glory days of Trans Am racing, and looks ahead to the future of road racing in the Land of the Free. Dodge's direct involvement in their teams' Viper and SRT-4 efforts is no secret, as top representatives from Dodge Motorsports and their in-house SRT group maintain high visibility on the paddock. The Vipers are among the most competitive teams out there, with Tommy Archer leaving footprints on podiums everywhere, and the unforgettable Viper Competition Coupe of Bob Woodhouse turning heads at every corner. 

I can't describe the World Challenge GT series without mentioning the two Aston Martin DBRS-9s campaigned by Autosport Design with drivers Johnny Mowlem and Tom Papadopoulos. These cars look like they're doing 200 MPH just sitting still, and they're a blast to watch at speed. SCCA recently announced the extension of their contract with Speed Channel for the Touring and GT series through 2007, and I wish them a ton of good ratings. The more the ratings for sports cars on Speed, the better the likelihood that we'll see more of that, and maybe the channel won't have to break away from the show NASCAR Bush series qualifying. 

Besides, in what other series can you see a Cadillac not just race, but race against Vipers and Corvettes and Aston Martins and Audis, but actually win? 

That's all for now, I'll see you at the next pit stop.

 Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello, Audi Sport North America, Michelin. In winning the Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda CX-7 last Saturday, Allan McNish and Rinaldo Capello (Audi R10 TDI) were triumphant for the seventh time this season in the American Le Mans Series, a new LMP1 class record. McNish and Capello, who had already clinched the class championship at Mosport, gave Audi Sport North America the team title and Audi the class manufacturers crown by finishing four laps ahead of Stefan Johansson, Haruki Kurosawa and Johnny Mowlem in the Zytek 06S. Virtually unfettered by any serious competitive threat over the last seven years, Audi now has won 10 straight Road Atlanta races and seven straight at Petit Le Mans. "We knew we were only two drivers so it would be a tough race for us," Capello said. "Road Atlanta is a different track. You have to be full concentration. It was a tough race for us. We did a good job as a team all together and with the strategy. But if you look at the speed of the Zytek, I think without their problems it would have been really, really, tough for us."

Dominance, thy name is Audi. Dindo Capello and Allan McNish celebrate their win Saturday at Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda CX-7. (ALMS)

 Sascha Maassen, Timo Bernhard, Emmanuel Collard, Penske Racing, Porsche, Michelin. Penske Racing captured the LMP2 team championship, and Porsche won the class manufacturer's title as Sascha Maassen, Timo Bernhard and Emmanuel Collard won by a lap in LMP2 in the No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder, one lap ahead of the No. 7 team car of Lucas Luhr, Romain Dumas and Mike Rockenfeller. The winning drivers took advantage of problems encountered by Intersport Racing, which suffered steering rack issues late while leading. "We definitely had some concerns," Maassen said. "They were doing a great job the whole year. We knew we had to push and had a little bit of luck and yellows to catch them. We were running only 1.5 seconds ahead of them. We were happy they were having a problem and it made it easier for us." Maassen heads into the final round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 21 with a 4-point lead over teammate Lucas Luhr.

The Sascha Maassen/Timo Bernhard/Emmanuel Collard No. 6 Penske Racing Porsche RS Spyder captured the LMP2 class at Petit Le Mans. The Series' showpiece event was a huge success, with an estimated attendance of more than 90,000 - up 26 percent from 2005. (ALMS)

 Tomas Enge, Darren Turner, Prodrive, Aston Martin, Pirelli. Reveling in the "competition adjustments" showered on them in a desperate move by the ALMS to slow the Corvette Racing juggernaut in GT1, Tomas Enge and Darren Turner (No. 007 Prodrive Aston Martin DBR9) won the class at Petit Le Mans last Saturday, finishing a lap up on its Prodrive teammates - the No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 driven by Stephane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy. Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Jan Magnussen (No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R) finished third, two laps down from the leaders. "It was quite an exciting race from the word go," Turner said. "In the first 30 minutes we were aware of how good the Corvettes were. It seemed strange that at the same time the prototypes were lapping us, we were lapping the GT2 cars, which made it exciting." Corvette Racing still leads the team championship by 7 points heading to Monterey, with the same difference in the manufacturers championship.

The Stephane Sarrazin/Pedro Lamy No. 009 Aston Martin DBR9 (shown in practice on Friday) finished second in GT1 at Petit Le Mans. (ALMS)

 Patrick Long, Jorg Bergmeister, Nic Jonsson, Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing, Porsche, Michelin. Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister (with Nic Jonsson) drove their No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to a two-lap victory over the No. 61 Risi Competizione Ferrari 430 GT Berlinetta driven by Maurizio Mediani, Marino Franchitti and Anthony Lazzaro in GT2. Bergmeister had an eventful day, spinning in the esses during his opening stint without hitting anything (and without anyone hitting him). He also suffered a tire puncture in the third hour coming down the long backstretch, saving the car from another impact with the wall. "At first I felt pretty bad because the team called me in a lap early and I didn't have a chance to loosen up my belts and suit, so I stayed out one more lap and that's when the puncture happened," Bergmeister said. "I was lucky again that I didn't hit the wall. From then on we just pushed really hard until the end." Other GT2 front runners weren't so lucky. The No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari driven by Ralf Kelleners, Markus Palttala and Stephane Ortelli crashed, the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche driven by Robin Liddell, Marcel Tiemann and Dominik Farnbacher suffered a broken front controller arm, and the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche driven by Darren Law, Seth Neiman and Lonnie Pechnik suffered suspension damage. "Mike (Petersen, team owner) and Dale (White, team manager) come from an off-road background and have told us never to think about what could happen, but just to keep our heads up," Long said. With the win, Bergmeister moved within 4 points of Flying Lizard Motorsports' Johannes van Overbeek for the drivers crown. Risi leads Flying Lizard by 6 points for the team championship and Petersen/White Lightning by 10 points.

Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister (with Nic Jonsson) drove their No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR to a two-lap victory in GT2. (ALMS)

 Fernandez Racing. Owner/driver Adrian Fernandez confirmed last weekend that Luis Diaz will join him behind the wheel of the team's LMP2 prototype in Lowe's Fernandez Racing's inaugural season of Series competition. A month after completing an extremely successful shakedown test of its No. 15 Lowe's Acura-powered Lola, Fernandez announced the finishing touches to its 2007 American Le Mans Series program. "I am thrilled to announce today that Luis and I will be teammates in the American Le Mans Series next season," Fernandez said. "We tried to put a program together a few years ago where Luis and I would compete together, so this has always been in the back of our minds. With the great partners we have in Lowe's and Acura, adding Luis completes the extremely strong package we now have in place to enter our first season of American Le Mans Series competition. Luis is a good friend and I have a lot of respect for his talent and passion in racing. I am really excited for next season." Diaz, 28, of Mexico City, Mexico, was a former open-wheel rising star before an opportunity in 2004 led him into the sports car ranks. He has spent the past three seasons driving for Chip Ganassi Racing alongside co-driver Scott Pruett. "It is such an honor for me to be able to say that I am Adrian's teammate," said Diaz. "This really is something that I have dreamed about ever since I started watching him race. Adrian opened the doors for drivers to compete outside of Mexico, and has been a role model for all of us on the race track and off. The opportunity to join him and two great companies in Lowe's and Acura was, for me, a once in a lifetime chance." Lowe's Fernandez Racing will make its competitive debut at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.

Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz unveiled the No. 15 Lowe's Acura-powered Lola at Road Atlanta last weekend. (ALMS)

Luis Diaz and Adrian Fernandez pose for pictures in front of their Acura-powered Lola. (ALMS)

 Andy Pilgrim, Team Cadillac, Pratt&Miller. Andy Pilgrim (No. 1 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/On Star Cadillac CTS-V), of Boca Raton, Fla., captured his first SPEED World Challenge victory in more than 10 years in the SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT Championship at Road Atlanta last weekend. Tommy Archer (No. 5 c3controls/Dodge Motorsports Dodge SRT Viper), of Duluth, Minn., and Canadian Ron Fellows (No. 16 XM/Mobil 1/Motorola/On Star Cadillac CTS-V), finished second and third, respectively. Pilgrim turned the race's fastest lap with a 1:28.063 (103.834 mph) en route to the win by 2.777-seconds, while also setting a new average speed record of 102.467 mph. Lawson Aschenbach leads the SPEED GT point standings over Pilgrim by seven points, 214 to 207. Lou Gigliotti is third with 206, followed by Ricardo Imery (189) and Archer (186). Dodge extended its lead in the Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine with 55 points, followed by Cadillac and Porsche with 50, and Chevrolet with 35. The GT race from Road Atlanta will be broadcast Saturday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED Channel. The SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge GT Championship heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the season finale Oct. 20-22.

Andy Pilgrim en route to his first SPEED World Challenge win in more than 10 years at Road Atlanta last weekend. (Photo©2006 SCCA/Weber)

 Randy Pobst, Tri-Point Motorsports, Mazda. Local resident Randy Pobst (No. 73 Mazdaspeed/Tri-Point Motorsports Mazda 6) won the SCCA SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship at Road Atlanta last weekend by 2.403-seconds, at a record average speed of 95.911 mph. Chip Herr (No. 17 Valley Audi/Clear Capital/STaSIS Engineering Audi A4 ), of Lititz, Pa., was second, and Eric Curran (No. 43 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura RSX), of East Hampton, Mass., finished third, setting a new race lap record on lap four with a time of 1:34.120 (97.152 mph). It was Pobst's second victory this season and his 13th career SPEED World Challenge win. SPEED Touring Car Championship point leader Pierre Kleinubing, of Coconut Creek, Fla., drove his No. 42 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX to a fourth place finish, while his RealTime Racing teammate Brandon Davis, of Denver, finished fifth in his No. 20 Acura Certified Pre-Owned/RealTime Racing Acura TSX. Kleinubing, who has finished on the podium in seven of nine races, now leads Pobst in the Drivers' Championship by 11 points, 261 to 250. Herr is third with 211 points, followed by Peter Cunningham with 202 and Davis with 194. Curran's third place finish clinched the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER for Acura with 65 points, followed by Mazda (54), Audi (38), BMW (11) and Dodge (5). The race will be broadcast Saturday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. (EDT) on SPEED Channel. The next race for the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Touring Car Championship will be Oct. 20-22 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the season finale.

Randy Pobst captured his second SPEED Touring win of the year at Road Atlanta. (Photo©Mark Weber/SCCA)

 Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs Racing, Chevrolet. After Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) had to pit for a 
splash of fuel after running up front most of the day - then was 
docked for speeding on pit lane - Tony Stewart (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 
20 Home Depot Chevrolet) took over the lead at the Banquet 400 at 
Kansas Speedway last Sunday only to sputter to the flag, out of fuel. 
But the gamble paid off as Stewart took the win, with Casey Mears 
(Chip Ganassi Racing with Feliz Sabates No. 42 Havoline Dodge) 
finishing second, also out of fuel. Mark Martin (Roush Racing No. 6 
AAA Ford) finished third, Dale Jarrett (Robert Yates Racing No. 88 
UPS Ford) fourth, and Jeff Burton (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 
Cingular Wireless Chevrolet) was fifth. Jeff Gordon (Hendrick 
Motorsports No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) had a tough day, scrambling back 
into the top ten after having to avoid an incident on the track and 
ending up in the back of the field, but he fell victim to a faulty 
fuel pump, finishing a dismal 39th. Gordon dropped from second to 
sixth in the standings, 120 points behind leader Jeff Burton, who now 
leads sensational rookie Denny Hamlin by 69 points. Mark Martin is in 
third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Gordon, Dale 
Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.

Tony Stewart won the Banquet 400 at Kansas Speedway last Sunday - coasting across the finish line out of gas.(Photo©Bob LeSieur2006/GM)

Out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, Tony Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli gambled on their fuel strategy - and won. (Photo©Dorsey Patrick, 2006/GM)

Mark Martin had another strong run in his Roush Racing AAA Ford, finishing third in Kansas. (Photo by Autostock)

 The Indianapolis 500. Drivers Jeff Simmons of Rahal Letterman Racing and Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing drove Dallara/Honda/Firestone cars powered by a new new 3.5-liter Honda engine using 100-percent ethanol this past Monday, the first time that package was tested at Indy. For 2007, ethanol will power Honda's new 3.5-litre IndyCar Series engine, including the 91st Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 27. This breaks ground as the first use of ethanol, a renewable fuel derived from corn and other agricultural products, as the primary fuel in a major-league motor racing series. In 2006, the IndyCar Series used a fuel mixture of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent methanol - and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske and 2005 Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing were on hand Monday to drive cars configured with a 2006-model 3.0-liter engine using an ethanol-methanol fuel blend for comparison purposes. Simmons, who drives the No. 17 Ethanol-sponsored car co-owned by 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and late-night talk show host David Letterman, said changes in the performance of the car, with the new fuel and engine combination, are noticeable. "There's a difference, and it's all been positive so far," Simmons said. "It's great to be one of the guys to have the chance to run the new motor next year with the 100 percent ethanol. It seems to me, so far, we've got a broader power band. We're going through the corners better. It allows us to do some things with gearing whereas you had to be really precise with the gearing last year. We're able (today) to pull some really good speed even if we're a little off on the gearing." All four drivers returned for a second day of testing Oct. 3.

Jeff Simmons prepares to go out on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past Monday, his 3.5-liter Honda using 100-percent ethanol. (Shawn Payne/IMS)

Tony Kanaan climbs into his Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda/Firestone to check out the 2007 Honda engine and 100-percent ethanol fuel package. (Dana Garrett/IMS)

Jeff Simmons at speed at The Speedway last Monday afternoon. (Dana Garrett/IMS)

 NASCAR, Grand-Am. Now this is going to be interesting. NASCAR announced that it will stage a big road-racing weekend at the 2.709-mile Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, next August 3-4, 2007. The event will consist of a Busch series race as the featured attraction and a Grand-American Rolex Sports Car Series race on the same weekend card. Even though they're probably still sore about losing the Champ Car race up there, our Canadian road racing enthusiast friends are in for a treat, as the racing should be excellent.

 Michael Schumacher, Ferrari. The race for the 2006 FIA Formula 
One World Championship has come down to a battle between Ferrari's 
Michael Schumacher and Renault's Fernando Alonso. The drivers are now 
tied with 116 points each after the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend 
where Schumacher won the 91st Grand Prix of his career. If he can win 
one of the two remaining races this season, Schumacher will tie the 
combined victory total of the two drivers who are second and third in 
the record books. Alain Prost earned 51 wins, and Ayrton Senna won 41 
times. "For Japan and Brazil, we need to believe in our tire," Alonso 
said afterwards. At the moment both cars, Renault and Ferrari, have 
been since quite similar in terms of performance, and each race is 
dominated by the tires. So hopefully Michelin can give us something 
more for the last two races." The Japanese Grand Prix will be Oct. 8 
and the season finale in Brazil will be Oct. 22.

The Shanghai circuit in China provides a spectacular setting for the Chinese Grand Prix. Here, Nick Heidfeld dives into a corner in his BMW. (Courtesy of BMW)




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