This past weekend was the most wonderful time of the year, especially if you’re a racing fan. Memorial Day weekend is always the biggest racing weekend of the year, with the Formula 1 cars shrieking through the streets of Monte Carlo, the IRL Indy Cars blasting around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Nextel Cup stars testing their endurance in the series’ longest race, the 600-miler at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. If that weren’t enough, the NHRA’s thunder rolled at Heartland Park Topeka, and the Grand-Am Rolex Series’ GT cars were joined by the Grand-Am Cup Series at Lime Rock Park.
Formula 1: Alonso Reigns at Monaco
Renault’s defending World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso picked up his first-ever victory at the prestigious Grand Prix of Monaco in Monte Carlo on Sunday, cruising to a relatively easy victory over McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya. However, the big story of the weekend happened on Saturday in qualifying.
With seconds left to go in the session, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher appeared to have an error in judgment while negotiating the circuit’s penultimate corner, Rascasse. He came to a stop on the track without hitting anything and then stalled his car, bringing out the yellow flags and denying those behind him a chance to improve on their times. At the time, Schumacher was at the top of the time sheets. Alonso was on track to run a faster lap that he had to abort. Suspicions were immediately raised, and Renault protested Schumacher, saying he intentionally stopped on course to preserve the all-important pole position on the twisty, 2.075-mile street circuit that is notoriously difficult on which to pass. After eight hours of deliberation, the race stewards ruled in Renault’s favor, relegating Schumacher to the back of the grid.
In the race, Alonso led away from pole and had a smooth race to the finish. Behind him, second and third were not the places to be. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen passed second-starting Mark Webber’s Williams for second on Lap 2, and they ran in that order ahead of Raikkonen’s teammate Montoya through the first round of pit stops.
On Lap 47, Webber slowed and stopped with an engine fire, bringing out the safety car. Then, when the race resumed, Raikkonen pulled off, also with an engine fire. That promoted Montoya to second, ahead of Honda’s Rubens Barrichello, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Red Bull’s David Coulthard. Barrichello received a drive-through penalty, dropping him to fifth, and then Trulli’s car stopped on course with six laps remaining while running third. That elevated Coulthard to the final podium position, a first for the Red Bull team.
Barrichello held off Michael Schumacher, who had stormed from the pack of the grid with a one-stop strategy, for fourth, with Alonso’s teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, BMW-Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld (one lap down) and Trulli’s teammate Ralf Schumacher completing the points-paying positions.
The series heads north in two weeks for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Grand Prix of Monaco Top Five:
1) Fernando Alonso, No. 1 Renault, 78 laps
2) Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 4 McLaren/Mercedes, -14.567sec
3) David Coulthard, No. 14 Red Bull/Ferrari, -52.298sec
4) Rubens Barrichello, No. 11 Honda, -53.337sec
5) Michael Schumacher, No. 5 Ferrari, -53.830sec
Driver’s Championship: 1) Fernando Alonso, 64; 2) Michael Schumacher, 43; 3) Giancarlo Fisichella, 27; 4) Kimi Raikkonen, 27; 5) Juan Pablo Montoya, 23.
NASCAR: Kahne Snaps Johnson’s Charlotte Streak
Since 2003, Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte has been “Jimmie Johnson’s House.” The Lowe’s-sponsored Californian has a remarkable record of success there, having won eight races at the Charlotte facility since 2003 and four of the last five points races. If you can beat Johnson at Lowe’s, you’ve done a good day’s work. On Sunday night, Kasey Kahne put in a very good, and long, day’s work to snap Johnson’s streak in the traditional Memorial Day 600-miler.
Had you been paying attention, you might have seen the writing on the wall. Kahne’s car owner, Ray Evernham, has gotten his Dodges sorted out for the Atlanta, Texas and Charlotte 1.5-milers, all of which are similar in design. Kahne won at both Atlanta and Texas already this year, and qualified on the pole for last weekend’s All-Star Challenge at Charlotte. His teammates, Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield, qualified 1-2 for Sunday’s race and dominated the early going of the race.
As the race wound down, Kahne emerged as the dominant force, but Johnson was closing in on him as the race’s end neared. Kahne was able (no pun intended, honest) to hold him off and claim the win, forcing Johnson to settle for second. It was the first win at Charlotte by a Dodge since 1977 (Richard Petty).
Three Roush Racing Fords completed the top five, those of Carl Edwards (who spun once and came back from a lap down), Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth. Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Reed Sorenson completed the top 10.
As has been noted previously, the track was recently repaved, and NASCAR specified smaller, 13-gallon fuel cells and a hard-compound Goodyear tire to keep speeds low. This provided the teams with a number of challenges; the fuel cell necessitated almost twice as many pit stops as normal, putting added pressure on the pit crews, and the tires were very difficult with which to come to terms, causing a number of spins and crashes.
The crashing started right away, with veteran Dale Jarrett hitting the wall on the first lap (but with what appeared to be “help” from Robby Gordon). Also hitting the wall early was two-time and defending champ Tony Stewart, who was already hurting from a vicious hit in Saturday’s Busch Series race; he was transported to the hospital for x-rays, and was treated and released with a fractured right scapula. Other crash victims were Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch.