by Frank Santoroski @seveng1967
Labor Day weekend signifies the unofficial end of Summer for many as the school year begins, the temperatures begin to cool and Fall looms just around the corner. Auto racing enthusiasts will have the opportunity to enjoy an action-packed weekend as the three major series will compete on three of the most iconic race tracks in the world, with none of the races overlapping one another.
Those of us in the States can enjoy breakfast while watching the Formula One cars contest the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, spend the afternoon watching the Verizon IndyCar Series negotiate the challenging Watkins Glen circuit as their season winds down, and then settle in for a night race as the Bojangles’ Southern 500 goes down for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars at Darlington Raceway.
Formula One Grand Premio d’Italia Monza
When the Formula One Circus arrives at Monza this coming weekend, they will continue a tradition that dates back to the formation of the Formula One Series in 1950. Monza has been the host of the Italian Grand Prix every season, save for 1980, when the circuit was undergoing major renovations. The history of hosting Grand Prix cars goes back significantly further, holding its first event in 1923.
Monza is well-known for its long straightaways, tight turns and tremendously high speeds. The layout has changed over the years in an effort to improve safety on what was once one of Formula One’s most deadly tracks. The current modern Grand Prix course features 11 turns over 3.6 miles.
At one time, the facility had a high-banked, high-speed oval track as Indianapolis-style cars were invited to participate in the Race of Two Worlds. Now crumbling and overgrown with foliage, the old high-banks still stand, a tribute to days gone by.
This weekend, all eyes will be on the Ferrari cars as the stands will be packed to capacity with the rabid Ferrari fanbase known as the Tifosi. Ferrari has not brought home a victory in Monza since 2010, and the place will become absolutely electric if Ferrari pulls it off.
Ferrari enters their home country on the heels of recent announcements that both of their drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen, will be retained by the team in 2018.
Coming into Italy, Vettel holds a narrow seven-point lead in the championship standings over Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton. The battle between Vettel and Hamilton is a contest between two of the best that the sport has to offer as the men have a total of seven Championships between them (Vettel 4 – Hamilton 3). Hoping to play spoiler will be the aforementioned Räikkönen, a former World Champion himself, looking for his first win since 2013. Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, figures to be in the thick of the fight as well.
The Italian Grand Prix will be televised live on NBCSN on Sunday with pre-race analysis beginning at 7:00 AM EST followed by race coverage at 8:00 AM EST.
The INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Glen
The Verizon IndyCar Series added Watkins Glen International to their schedule in 2016 as an eleventh-hour replacement for the failed Boston Grand Prix, which was mired in legal red tape. Despite being put together on a short timetable, the event proved to be a success. Returning in 2017, the race looks to be safe on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
Watkins Glen has an on-again off-again history with Indy cars having hosted the CART Series from 1979-1981 and the IndyCar Series previously from 2005-2010.
Racing first began in the village of Watkins Glen, NY in 1948 through public roads. A permanent facility opened in 1956 with an eight turn, 2.35 mile long circuit. The track went through major renovations in 1970 and the course grew into a 3.4 mile track with eleven turns and 115 feet of elevation change.
Over the years, the facility, located in the picturesque Finger Lakes Region, has hosted Formula One, Sports Cars, Can-Am, Trans-AM, NASCAR as well as numerous vintage, historical and club racing events.
The INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Glen is the penultimate round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and the title fight is as close as ever.
The man of the moment in IndyCar is undoubtedly Josef Newgarden, who drives for Team Penske. The Tennessee native has been on a tear lately, winning three of the last four races and holding the Championship Lead. He holds a 31 point advantage over Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who is a four-time series champion looking to add a fifth.
With double points available at the season-ender in Sonoma the title is far from decided. Newgarden’s Penske teammates, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are all in the thick of the hunt while a few other big names, namely Graham Rahal and Alexander Rossi, also have a mathematical shot at the crown.
Tune into NBCSN at 1:30 pm EST on Sunday to catch the IndyCars.
The Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington
The Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series holds as much tradition as NASCAR itself. Debuting on Labor Day in 1950, it was the first NASCAR race run with a 500-mile distance. It was considered one of the crown-jewel events in the Cup series for many years, but as the series expanded, Darlington lost it’s spring date and found its Fall event pushed into November. The designation ‘Southern 500’ was dropped in 2005 and the date moved to the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend.
The ‘Southern 500’ name was restored in 2009, and in 2015 it returned to the Labor Day weekend where many felt it should have remained in the first place.
With the original date restored, Darligton promoters hatched the idea of having a throwback weekend. Many of the cars on the track will run retro paint schemes that pay homage to heroes of the past and days gone by. The pit crews and the television booth announcers get in on the fun, wearing vintage clothing making for a fun and interesting weekend.
Located in South Carolina, the Darlington Speedway is an asphalt 1.37 mi. oval with a unique profile that resembles the shape of an egg. Because turns three and four are tighter and flatter than turns one and two, it represents a real challenge for the drivers, earning the nickname “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
The nature of the course has seen a number of drivers over the years brush the wall, earning what is known as a “Darlington Stripe.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup points leader at the moment also happens to be the defending winner of the Southern 500. Martin Truex Jr., who drives the No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, has four wins on the season and a solid lock on the playoffs. Darlington is one of two remaining regular-season races before the Cup Playoffs begin. There are a number of drivers desperately needing a win to secure a playoff spot or risk elimination. Among those are Joey Logano, with a win in Richmond early this season that was disqualified from the playoff standings being noted as ‘encumbered.”
Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliot, Eric Jones and Clint Bowyer will also be names to watch as they fight for the remaining playoff spots.
Coverage of Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 will be carried by NBCSN beginning at 7:30 pm EST.