It's time to shift gears

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

With the ruling yesterday by the FIA's international court of appeal that the double decker-diffusers developed by the Formula One teams -- Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams -- were legal, one has to wonder if NASCAR is falling further behind the learning curve in the world of auto racing.

In the past three seasons, NASCAR has jack booted innovative technical and aerodynamic advances by teams with heavy fines and draconian suspensions, all in the name of levelling the playing field.

Back-to-back-to-back Sprint Cup winning crew chief Chad Knaus, for example, has twice been knicked for $100,000 US, a huge loss in championship points and has had to sit out a dozen races all because he dared to interpret the rules in such a way to give the No. 48 Chevrolet team a better car on race day.

All this while the FIA said in its judgment on the diffusers (shaped section of the car underbody which improves the car's aerodynamic properties) that the three teams in question had every right to develop the part because there was nothing in the rule book prohibiting it.

Remember, ever since Henry Ford's first attempt to make his Model-T's go faster than the guy making cars in the next garage, racing has been at the forefront of auto ingenuity.

If it had not been for racing, modern safety staples such as seat belts, anti-lock brakes, radial ply tires -- even windshield wipers -- might never have been developed.

In Knaus' case, NASCAR fined and suspended him in 2007 after it found an irregularity in the No. 48's fenders. The car passed the template test -- the one in the rule book -- but track officials at Infineon Raceway didn't like it because it was different.

The message to all of NASCAR was clear: Don't try to be innovative.

In this era when auto manufacturers, and in turn, the auto racing industry, are fighting a global recession, one would hope that like the FIA yesterday, NASCAR might wake up to the fact that developing better, safer and more fuel-efficient race cars might just help both its image and its bottom line.

Same goes for the F-1 powerhouse Ferrari, McLaren and BMW teams, which had sought the court decision after race stewards in Australia and Malaysia -- where Brawn's Jenson Button won both Grands Prix -- ruled the diffusers were legal.

It was no secret at winter testing that Brawn, Toyota and Williams were getting significantly better performances from their race cars with the diffusers.

That the rest of the grid chose not to go ahead with their own development only can be seen as a huge mistake.

In the wake of yesterday's court ruling, Ferrari announced it is going ahead full bore to develop its own brand of diffuser.

As the old saying goes: It just may be a day late and a buck shy for this championship season.

A day at the beach

The IndyCar racing season makes its first stop in their cars this weekend at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, America's most famous and enduring street race.

What the race delivers this year might say a lot about the status of the former Champ Car World Series teams that were swallowed up after last season's race.

Will Power, the defending Long Beach champion, thinks the ex-Champ Car teams have a definite advantage on the narrow, twisting layout, even with the admittedly much slower IndyCar Dallaras.

"I would expect us to be three to four seconds a lap slower this year, it might be a different story with these cars," he said.

"With the push-to-pass feature in Champ Car, we had no problems getting a run on someone or passing. That might be a bit harder in the IndyCar because down the front straight into Turn 1 is the only place you can pass, unless you take a big risk or the other guy makes a mistake."

Finish lines

In last week's announcement about the proposed race track development in Canada's Niagara region the impression was left that it was primarily Middle East money backing the project. Azhar Mohammad, the Canadian-born and raised executive director of Emirates Consulting that is spearheading the project, sends a note to say there is considerable home-grown money being invested as well. "As the project will be Canadian, there is definitely Canadian investment content involved," he told Sun Media ... Rumour has it that the No. 26 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Jamie McMurray will be the odd team out when RFR has to drop a car next season.


Videos

Photos