TORONTO - The 2010 motor racing season is dead, the 2011 season starts today. And there is a lot to look forward to:
First, there is that six-pack of NASCAR Sprint Cup championships Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team started to take clear aim at the moment the champagne corks popped on their drive for five at Homestead Miami Speedway.
The big shake up at Hendrick that you might have noticed — with Jeff Gordon’s crew chief Steve Letarte moving over to the No. 88 Chevrolets of Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Alan Gustafson moving from Mark Martin's No. 5 Chevrolets to Gordon’s No. 24 squad and Lance McGrew moving over from the No. 88 team to be crew chief for Martin — left team Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus pretty much intact.
And as they say in Texas, that leaves Johnson and company locked and loaded for 2011.
Over in Formula One the celebration of Sebastian Vetell’s world championship campaign for Red Bull was still going on when internal fractures — and I use that term deliberately — re-surfaced between the team’s racing boss, Christian Horner, and his No. 2 driver, Mark Webber. It centres around the revelation in a new book that Webber suffered a broken shoulder while mountain biking on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix this past season.
According to the book, Mark Webber: Up Front, Webber kept the injury from the team by having his own medical team inject him with pain killers prior to the race. Horner and Red Bull were furious when details were made public: “I didn’t even know about the book, let alone the shoulder,” Horner told London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is obviously disappointing that Mark said nothing. It was an injury that did not appear to have any effect on his performance but all the same it would have been nice to know about it.”
Closer to home we have Paul Tracy still looking for a deal that would see him back in the IZOD IndyCar Series full time this season. Some racing commentators have wondered aloud why fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani has chosen to give China’s Ho-Pin Tung a second race car in his FAZZT Racing Team for 2011 while Tracy remains on the sidelines. Well, duh, doesn’t anyone remember that Tracy endlessly ridiculed Tagliani for refusing to take off his helmet during a fight at San Jose several seasons ago? Tags may be getting older but there is nothing wrong with his memory ... Speaking of Quebec race car drivers, the relatively unknown Maryeve Dufault has landed a plumb seat in the ARCA Racing Series with Tony Marks Racing for 2011. Dufault, 28, a native of Sorel, Que., who now makes her home in Southern California, is an associate of Tagliani in that she was part of the FAZZT team driver development program. She raced under the FAZZT banner in the NASCAR Canadian Tires Series events at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres this past season. The TMR team is slated to run the full 19-race ARCA season including Daytona in February with sponsorship from Dodge ... In the rich get richer department Penske Racing has announced it has nabbed American Automobile Association (AAA) sponsorship for its No. 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup team for Kurt Busch and its No. 3 IZOD IndyCar Series team for Helio Castroneves for 2011. We wonder how Roger Penske stole that deal out from under the nose of Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing, who had that sponsorship on the No. 6 Ford from back in Mark Martin’s days with RFR ... The words big money and local tracks don’t usually belong in the same sentence but Sunset Speedway, just south of Barrie, Ont., is hoping to change that with more than $100,000 in prize money available in 2011, including $50,000 in bonuses for class champions ... American Le Mans Series LMP champions David Brabham and Simon Pagenaud have been named to the All-American team by the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA). Brabham and Pagenaud join a line-up that includes Dario Franchitti, Jimmie Johnson, John Force and ALMS GT champs Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long. Of note is that of all the “all-American” honourees, only Johnson, Long and Force were born in the U.S.A.