Here’s the news from the world of motorsports:
• New Cars: Ferrari, Honda and Williams all had public unveilings for their 2006 cars this past week. Not a lot of earth-shaking news ensued, other than the fact that Williams has signed Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan as its second test driver. All three teams immediately hit the track for testing. Honda, with its first bespoke F1 car in 38 years, actually had two chassis complete and on the track. McLaren also tested its 2006 MP4-21 last week for the first time, but the team’s public debut is not due until next month.
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• Super Aguri Gets the Green Light: The Super Aguri F1 team, owned by former F1 driver Aguri Suzuki, got the official go-ahead from the FIA on Thursday, having posted a $48m bond with the FIA and received agreement from the 10 existing teams. The team will be running updated 2002 Arrows chassis with Honda engines initially, but plans to have their own new chassis ready to go by mid-season. Takuma Sato has been widely rumored to be one of the team’s drivers, but the other seat is subject to much speculation.
• Doctor in the House? One of the biggest guessing games in Formula 1 over the last couple of years has been “Who’s going to replace Michael Schumacher once he retires?” Of course, Italians would love to see an Italian in that seat, and what better Italian than Valentino Rossi, the iconic four-time Moto GP motorcycle champion? Rossi has had a couple of tests with Ferrari, and hasn’t done too badly. The team is throwing him into the deep water next week when he will test at Valencia with all the other F1 teams present. It will be interesting to see how “The Doctor” does.
• Media Tour Time: The annual NASCAR Media Tour took place in and around Charlotte last week, and we’ve already reported here about the big news, that being Toyota’s entry into Nextel Cup in 2007, its three teams and the planned phase-in of NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow.” To briefly recap, Toyota will campaign the Camry in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series, and will begin the Nextel Cup program with three teams, Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and the newly-formed Red Bull Racing. Busch teams were not announced. The “Car of Tomorrow” will begin a three-year phase-in in 2007, starting with short tracks and road courses in 2006, moving on to superspeedways in 2008 and adding the intermediate tracks in 2009. This will obsolete all existing rolling stock and cause a huge expense to the teams, but the cost will be somewhat offset by the the three-year roll-out and the fact that the car will be flexible enough to reduce team fleets from 17 to 10 cars.
• Vegas, Baby: All the teams are headed out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for what most of them consider the most important test of the year, during which they’ll get to see how their 2006 cars perform on a 1.5-mile track, which is representative of the majority of tracks they’ll race on (unlike the recent Daytona test). NASCAR has instituted strict new rules regarding testing, and mandated the Daytona and Vegas mega-tests to replace the multitude of single-car tests that gave the big multi-car teams an advantage. As a result, data gathered at Vegas this week will be crucial for the year ahead.
• Kentucky Lawsuit Proceeds: The ongoing anti-trust lawsuit brought by Kentucky Speedway against NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation took another step forward last Friday when a federal judge ordered that the suit could proceed. According to a report from the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman rejected motions from NASCAR to dismiss the case, as well as one from ISC to be dropped from the lawsuit. The suit alleges that NASCAR conspired with ISC to determine which tracks are allowed to host NASCAR races, and that Kentucky Speedway was left out in favor of other, ISC-owned tracks despite having better amenities. The case will now move on to the discovery phase, and the judge set a deadline of February 1, 2007 for completion of that phase.