On the surface, it would have appeared that two of the three major worldwide motor races last weekend were compelling as hell, and one was not.
The Le Mans 24 Hours featured its usual overload of drama and strategy, most of it coming when three of the four dominant Peugeot prototypes were forced from the second half of the 24-hour race with apparently the same engine problem. This let archrivals Audi claim a sweep of the podium positions in the premier P1 class and in the overall race.
Formula One put on its best dry-weather race of the year, with ease, at the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished 1-2 for McLaren in a race packed with action, passing and fascinating strategy.
There’s no doubt that Le Mans and Montreal were thrill shows. But I found Michigan to be quite interesting, too, because it was a rare sight of a team and driver in NASCAR simply crushing the competition.
Nobody wants to see races in any series decided by double-digit margins of victory every Sunday. Nobody wants to see winning drivers lead more than half the race every Sunday.
But what’s wrong with seeing it every once in a while? People appreciated the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 of 82 regular-season games en route to the NBA title. People appreciated the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who won the Super Bowl as an unbeaten team. People appreciated the 1927 Yankees.
And I appreciate that Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing are on an incredible roll right now, winning two in a row and five races together since the end of March.
So one question must be asked: Why was there a debris caution with less than 20 laps to go, when Hamlin led by 10 seconds? Did that make the end result of the race, Hamlin pulling away to a comfortable victory over Kasey Kahne after the final restart, any more thrilling for the fans?
Sorry, but I don’t think a team or driver should be penalized for brilliance. If Hamlin won by 10 seconds without a debris caution that Hamlin even admitted was dubious during Victory Lane interviews, it’s because he and JGR kicked everyone’s ass, fair and square. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Speaking of brilliance, Audi must be commended for its 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans. The German marque’s top two finishers ran like diesel-powered metronomes for 24 hours at the La Sarthe circuit in France, and the crew working on its third finisher showed fantastic resolve to keep the car running after an early accident while trying to lap a crippled BMW GT car.
It took a special kind of discipline for Audi to stay calm while rivals Peugeot ran ahead into the distance with its fleet of bubble-top diesel prototypes, seemingly headed for another victory. But Audi and steely team boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich know the ebbs and flows of Le Mans better than any team. Ullrich is one of motor racing’s great tacticians and hard men. He rules that team with an iron fist. I know I wouldn’t cross him.
Peugeot lacks that tactical nous. There was no need for it to push its prototypes to the limit on every lap, gaining three or four seconds per lap over the Audis. An advantage of one second per lap is more than enough over the span of a 24-hour race, but Peugeot boss Olivier Quesnel doesn’t seem to get that. Even after flames belched from the right side of the first Peugeot to fall out of the race, the team’s other cars continued to blister around the French countryside.
It made no sense. Neither did the racecraft of Peugeot driver Anthony Davidson.
Davidson was on a tear in a Peugeot 908 late in the race, trying to catch the leading Audis after losing four laps due to an electrical problem. He approached the GT2 class-leading Corvette in the Porsche Curves and ran it off the road, forcing the Corvette to spin and back heavily into the wall. The American-based Corvette team did a remarkable job to replace the back half of the car in just 31 minutes, but an engine problem later in the race sidelined the car for good.
The incident was so unnecessary. And the diminutive Davidson couldn’t help show a Napoleon complex and a lot of “I’m a former F1 driver” attitude when he took absolutely no blame for the accident and even had the gall to say “I don’t care” about Corvette losing the GT2 lead during an live, in-race interview with SPEED.
Get over yourself, Ant. Yes, you were in a faster car. Yes, you were driving it like you stole it in an effort to catch the Audis. But you also were trying to overtake a much less nimble car with much less downforce at a part of the circuit where passing is tough even for two high-downforce prototypes.
You screwed up, Ant. Man up and at least share some blame.
Speaking of blame, it would be hard to blame Michael Schumacher if he hung up his helmet for good after this season. His comeback tour has been a disaster, with the Canadian Grand Prix last Sunday in Montreal a new low point.
Seven-time World Champion Schumacher never has been the most ethical driver in F1 history, mastering the chop block to hold rivals at bay, famously ramming Jacques Villeneuve off the road in 1997 at Jerez and parking his crippled Ferrari on the circuit in qualifying in 2006 at Monaco to prevent Fernando Alonso from winning pole.
But Schumacher’s weaving and blocking last Sunday at Montreal were different. They were the signs of a desperate driver with no answers for the speed of his younger rivals, starting with teammate Nico Rosberg. Mercedes changed the wheelbase of its car to better suit Schumacher, whose driving style is different than Rosberg’s. But Nico still is beating him.
It’s a sad sight, much like watching Willie Mays fall down in the outfield while fielding a routine fly ball during his final year with the New York Mets. Hang it up, Michael, before you become the butt of too many jokes that cause people to forget your brilliance.
•This weekend: All three series that compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are in action this Sunday. So put down your World Cup vuvuzela and check out MotoGP at Silverstone (9:30 a.m. ET, SPEED), the IZOD IndyCar Series at Iowa (1:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS) and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma (3 p.m. ET, TNT).
•Song of the Week: Here’s a song I would love to see Peugeot’s Anthony Davidson sing karaoke-style in a tune-o-gram sent to Corvette Racing manager Doug Fehan and the entire team – the blistering “I Was Wrong” by the great Social Distortion. I don’t think Doug and his incredibly talented crew should hold their breath for a rendition by Ant, though.
Until next time, keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel … and don’t forget to visit IMS on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IndianapolisMotorSpeedway and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IndyTalk.