Friday, January 25, 2008

Rolex 24 Preview

The Rolex 24 begins tomorrow, and the race will air on FOX for a bit as well as the customary home of SPEED. This race has increasingly taken on an all-star feel, I admit one of the main reasons I watch is because of the drivers from other series that participate in the race. Last year, it was something watching Pruett and Montoya in Ganassi's car, as well as the other two contenders from Gainsco and SunTrust Racing. Ganassi is fielding one hell of a two-car operation, with drivers Pruett, Montoya, Dario Franchitti, and Memo Rojas in the #01 while Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Alex Lloyd, and Salvador Duran compete in the #02. That's what I call an all-star lineup. Penske has entered a car this year driven by a talented threesome, consisting of Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, and Kurt Busch. The Gainsco team has added Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser for this race, after Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney on their own won the DP title last year. The complete entry list can be found here for every division.

As per usual in this race, it will take more luck and equipment not failing than pure talent to win this race. Just thinking about it, last year these cars competed some 668 laps around the Daytona road course. Ganassi is looking to win the race for a third consecutive year, with Pruett himself looking for a seventh. My pick? The Gainsco team. Maybe if I start picking against Jimmie Johnson, he'll stop winning. It's worth a try. A complete preview ripe with information can be found here at Backstretch Motorsports.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Quick Hits: 01/20

My occasional news wrap-up from items in the last week or so... (if you notice, I won't post testing numbers, since I think they're useless)

Morgan McClure closes operations after 25 years
This shouldn't be a surprise, but it is still unfortunate to see. Gosh, I remember when this was one of the top teams in the sport with Ernie Irvan and Sterling Marlin, then Bobby Hamilton to an extent - then the fall began. Drivers were shuttled in and out of the #4, the team lost long-time sponsor Kodak, then began employing the service of drivers like Scott Wimmer, Mike Wallace, and most recently Ward Burton. The fact that the team remained and made a surprising amount of races is an accomplishment in itself. However, I think most could see the writing on the wall, and it was only a matter of time before the Abingdon, VA team would eventually stop competing.

To add to that...

State Water Heaters to join Scott Riggs in Haas #66 I can think of drivers I'd rather sponsor, but given how underrated the Haas operation is, might not be a bad move. I just wish they had kept Johnny Sauter in the #70, I think he had earned a second year.

Evernham attempts to catch Childress in number of crew chief changes Surprisingly he leaves the #9 alone, he moves Rodney Childers from the #10 to the #19 and Mike Shiplett from the Busch team to the #10 Cup team. We'll see if it pays off, or you can count on another change. Eventually it'll work, or so you'd think.

DEI gets some new sponsors: Principal Financial, Steak-umm, and Cub Cadet
OK, so Principal came with the Ginn merger, but they'll be on the #01 for Regan Smith in a number of races as the primary sponsor. Steak-umm will be on the #8 as a full-time associate sponsor and have one-race primary deals with Martin and on the #01. Cub Cadet moves from Brewco's #37 to become a full-time associate on the #1 with Martin Truex Jr.

Aarons sponsoring David Reutimann in first 5 races of season
Aarons will be the sponsor of the #00 until he departs for the #44, then Michael McDowell will take over. I had heard Dominos and Burger King would be back on the car, I guess we shall see. I still think they're moving him up too early.

Wood Brothers, JTG Racing split operations
In what has to be considered a strange move, the two teams have split their operations, yet continue to work together in every single aspect. Umm, ok. So now, the Wood Bros. have the #21 Cup car and the #21 Truck, while JTG has the #47 and #59 Nationwide cars and the #20 Truck. I think JTG will overtake the Wood Bros. since they'll have Ambrose, Bires, and Scott Lagasse.

Brent Sherman tests Indy Pro Series cars
God good almighty, who decided to let him drive one of those things? He can't crash one of them and come back out 60 laps down and crash again. Then again, he would be one and done... it's a toss-up.

Childress still looking for sponsorship of the #21 Nationwide entry
This worries me, because this is arguably one of the top 3 or top 5 cars in the series. Bobby Labonte will pilot the car for 15 races, but still looking for the rest with driver Tim McCreadie. Hey, McCreadie has some talent, someone put the money behind him.

CitiFinancial doing the "Dish Network plan" with Roush Fenway in Nationwide
Citi (didn't they just writedown billions?) will sponsor the Roush Fenway armada in the #'s 16, 17, and 60 this year. Perhaps Dish is shifting most of their money to Biffle's Cup effort?

Yates Racing: From championship contenders to "please sponsor us"
The Yates cars showed up at Daytona testing with the website on their cars, apparently because they have no sponsorship for the season. What a shame that a team with the storied #28 and two young (one talented) drivers and they can't get anyone to sign the checks. They've already shut down the Busch team, and you have to wonder if they have much time left. I sincerely hope they do.

Richard Johns out of the #60 truck, Terry Cook in
Well, that didn't take long. I think Johns showed that he had little discernible talent while piloting the #25 Busch car to 35th-place finishes. Cook should do well in that truck.

Later in the week, I'll tackle what has become my favorite sports car race of the year, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. To get ready, check out BM for the latest news coming from the event.

Friday, January 4, 2008

2008 Dakar Rally Cancelled

AP story:

Terror threat leads to cancellation of Dakar Rally

PARIS -- An attack linked to al-Qaida and terror threats against the Dakar Rally forced organizers to cancel the annual race on Friday, the eve of the 5,760-mile trek across North African desert scrubland and savannah.

It was the first time the automobile, motorbike and truck rally has been called off in its 30-year history. In a statement, organizers blamed "threats launched directly against the race by terrorist organizations." the Dec. 24 killings of a French family and international tensions.

The race's central appeal -- its course through African deserts, scrubland and savannas -- is also its weak point, making it difficult to protect thousands of people as they cross remote regions.

"No other decision but the cancellation of the sporting event could be taken," organizers said.

France, where the race organizers are based, had urged the rally to avoid Mauritania after the four family members were killed in an attack blamed on a terror cell that uses the Mauritanian desert as a hideout.

Officials say the cell is linked to the Algeria-based al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, which has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks, including the Dec. 11 twin suicide bombings at U.N. offices and a government building in Algiers, which killed at least 37 people.

Mauritania's foreign minister criticized the decision to scrap the race.

"This decision has no relationship with the actual security situation in Mauritania, a country that has always been stable and peaceful," said Foreign Minister Babah Sidi Abdallah.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he did not want to "stigmatize" Mauritania, but warned of the risks "in a very uncertain region and one crossed by the networks of al-Qaida in North Africa."

"We simply want those who risk a lot to benefit from our information," Kouchner told RTL radio. "We are warning them: It's dangerous."

Daniel Bilalian, head of sports at rally co-sponsor France Televisions, told Europe-1 radio there had been "direct threats aimed at the race by terror groups," without specifying.

Al-Qaida in North Africa, in a Dec. 29 statement posted on an Internet site that it often uses, criticized Mauritania's government for "providing suitable environments to the infidels for the rally." It did not directly call for attacks on the race or its participants.

In the past, terrorism fears have forced organizers to cancel individual stages or reroute the race. In 2000, several stages were scrapped after a threat forced organizers to airlift the entire race from Niger to Libya. Several stages were also called off in 2004, reportedly because of terror threats in Mali.

Rally director Etienne Lavigne only recently approved the Mauritanian stages after two stages planned for Mali were scrapped over concerns about al-Qaida's north Africa affiliate there.

The race, organized by the France-based Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), had been due to start in Lisbon, Portugal, on Saturday and finish in Dakar, Senegal, on Jan. 20. Eight of the stages were to take place in Mauritania. Some 550 car, truck and motorcycle drivers were expected.

Cyril Neveu, a five-time Dakar winner in the motorcycle category, acknowledged that the race could have been targeted by terrorists.

"It is a big caravan of more than 3,000 people," he told French broadcaster I-Tele. He said he respected the organizers' decision but added: "Many are going to be disappointed."

"Providing security from the first to the last competitor is an onerous job," Neveu added. "One cannot say that there was zero risk."

Only the father of the slain family survived the Dec. 24 attack, in a town 150 miles east of the Mauritanian capital as the family picnicked on the side of a road.

That attack was followed up be another four days later, when three Mauritanian soldiers manning a checkpoint were killed. Mauritania is a largely peaceful Islamic republic that has been rocked by the back-to-back attacks.

Authorities have blamed a terror "sleeper cell" linked to the Algeria-based al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa for the murders of the family. Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility for the killing of the soldiers.

The Mauritanian government had announced last week that it would mobilize a 3,000-man security force to ensure the race's safety.

Those in the country's tourism sector decried the loss, calling France's reaction "exaggerated and disproportionate."

"The worries expressed by the French are unfounded," said Mohamed El Moustapha Ould Cheibani, who heads a tour agency in Atar, a city 270 miles north of the capital, Nouakchott. "It's like getting punched in the back of our tourism industry."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Coming In A Few Days - The Dakar Rally

The Dakar Rally beings January 5th, and runs through January 20th. Over the course of the event, the competitors will go from Europe down into Africa and cover 9000 kilometers (I hear that's like over 5,000 miles... been too long since science class weights and measures, but I digress). Anyway, Robby Gordon has run this race in the last few years, adding some rooting interest to what many say is the "World's Most Dangerous Race." I can back that up with two stories: first, we have a story from the AFP here that tells us it's safe to visit the country after two terrorist attacks. I sure hope so. Second, I'll let you do a bit of work yourself, so go to Google and type in dakar rally death and just look at the number of articles that come up. I'm still interested in watching the world's best brave the desert, mud, and forests. Coverage airs on the Versus network.