Motorsports

IndyCar designer has the formula for a good show

Special to The Globe and Mail

Someone should call F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and convince him to let IndyCar's Tony Cotman design some Formula One tracks.

That's the first thing that should have popped into race fans' minds after seeing the new 3.631-kilometre, 13-turn race course that will be the scene of Edmonton's fourth IndyCar event at its City Centre Airport in July. The move to a new layout was forced by the closure of the old runways previously used for the race.

The new layout looks fast, but it will likely be tough on brakes and tires and offer several good overtaking zones. The circuit on the airport's East runway has a 90-degree first turn and two hairpin corners on both sides of the circuit, all of which should offer good passing opportunities. All three are at the end of long straights, which should create plenty of action on track to keep fans interested during the July 22 race in Edmonton. The weekend also features the Firestone Indy Lights Series.

In Pictures: These Formula One drivers survived horrific crashes and lived to drive again, reports Jeff Pappone

In essence, the track is exactly the opposite of what Ecclestone's preferred F1 track designer, Hermann Tilke, would dream up. His designs have played a key role in creating yawn-inducing F1 events. His designs have become legend for making overtaking next to impossible and producing processional races.

His portfolio includes Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, Singapore's Marina Bay Street Circuit, and the street course in Valencia, Spain. He's also responsible for the new South Korean track that hosted its first grand prix late last year and is designing the new track for the Austin-based U.S. Grand Prix, which joins the calendar in 2012.

While F1 ringmaster Ecclestone looks to Tilke every time the sport need a new circuit, perhaps the Austin organizers would be wise to make a call to Tony Cotman, who should be known as the "anti-Tilke."

"One of the big things we needed to focus on with this course was how to make the show better, and I think we've achieved that," said Cotman, president of NZR Consulting Inc.

"There were restrictions relating to the airport, but I think we can create a much better actual racetrack for racing on and obviously that's what people come to see. It will be better."

So unlike F1, IndyCar's track designer heads to his drafting table with the goal of improving the show.

The old track was 3.154-kilometres and featured 14-corners. It essentially had just one place to pass at the end of the start-finish straight.

The new design is already getting positive reviews from drivers.

"The new one looks really cool, with some great passing opportunities which the last configuration lacked a bit," said Toronto driver James Hinchcliffe, who won the 2010 Indy Lights race in Edmonton.

"Edmonton was always known for being the most physical race, and I enjoyed that, but these new straights will take away a little bit of the challenge and give us more of a break over the lap. All the drivers' necks collectively thank the design team."

Hinchcliffe hopes to be in the field in Edmonton but he hasn't yet sealed a deal for an IndyCar seat in 2011. The Toronto native has tested twice with the legendary Newman-Haas team.

How to reach Formula One racer Robert Kubica

The Lotus-Renault team has set up a special e-mail address for fans who would like to send words of support and encouragement to injured F1 driver Robert Kubica, who almost lost his right hand in a rally crash last weekend. Notes can be sent to Kubica at fans@lotusrenaultgp.com.

The Lotus-Renault team will pass the messages to Kubica, who remains in an Italian hospital as he recovers from surgery following the accident. It may be a year before the Polish driver knows if he'll regain full use of his hand.

Kubica was critically injured when an Armco barrier pierced the floor of his Skoda in a crash during a rally event in Italy on Feb. 6 and almost severed his right arm in two places.

While his doctors feel Kubica will miss the entire 2011 F1 campaign, don't count out a return to his F1 car this season, something the 26-year-old insisted would happen in an interview last week with Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I want to get back on the track stronger than ever, because after these accidents you aren't what you were before, you improve. It happened to me in 2007 too, after the crash in Canada. I was out for a race and when I got back I was better," said Kubica, who recalls nothing of the accident.

"Since 2007, I'm stronger head-wise as a driver. And it will be the same again this time, when I'm back in good physical shape. I must return this year."

Kubica crashed heavily at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix when his car was pushed off the track by another driver at about 300 kilometres per hour and hit a retaining wall. He escaped with a concussion and a sore ankle, and returned to Montreal the next season to score his first F1 win.

He is slated for more surgery later this week.

Danicamania coming to Montreal

Danica Patrick will bring her stock car experiment to Montreal later this year when she races in the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The IndyCar driver who also races part-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series will be in her JR Motorsports Chevy when the cars hit the track for the Aug. 20 race.

But don't expect the media darling to win in Montreal after her performances in her first NASCAR season was lukewarm at best.

Patrick started 13 Nationwide races in 2010 and delivered an average finish of 28th. Her best result was a 19th place finish at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In Pictures: These Formula One drivers survived horrific crashes and lived to drive again, reports Jeff Pappone