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Motorsport Minutes w/ Matty G – Lap 2

By: Matthew Ganibi

“Boogity! Boogity! Boogity! Let’s go racing!” –  Darrell Waltrip, Hall of Fame NASCAR Driver & Former Fox Sports NASCAR color commentator

Howzit, Hawaiʻi?!

Before I begin this second edition of this motorsports series exclusive to ESPN Honolulu, I wanted to take a moment to send my love and Aloha to the Leahey ʻohana following the passing of beloved University of Hawai’i play-by-play voice – Jim Leahey. “Uncle Jim” or “Pops” was the golden voice behind many of our core memories tied to University of Hawai’i athletics. His exclamations of “Hawai’i wins! Hawai’i wins!” along with “that ball is Aloha!” on K5 served as the soundtrack to my childhood growing up as a UH fan and I will personally miss his mid-broadcast phrase “I hope this broadcast finds you well, wherever you may be throughout the magnificent Hawaiian Islands” along with his iconic sign off of “Mālama pono kekahi i kekahi” – which translates to care for one another. 

His play-by-play work served as some of my fondest memories growing up when I wasn’t able to attend UH games in-person. This was all thanks to his rich descriptions paired with impeccable vocabulary, which made every broadcast feel like I was watching the game with a loved one. His golden voice and enthusiasm made me wish that each broadcast would never end, but when it did, I always looked forward to his exclamations of “Hawai’i wins! Hawai’i wins!” and his closing remarks of “Mālama pono kekahi i kekahi.” Uncle Jim, Mahalo Nui Loa for giving Hawai’i only your very best and for being the companion we could rely on every time we tuned in to cheer on our dear Rainbow Warriors and Rainbow Wahine. To Aunty Toni, the three Leahey keiki (including current UH play-by-play voice & the host of Let’s Talk Sports on ESPN Honolulu: Kanoa Leahey) and the entire Leahey ʻohana – my love, hugs and prayers go to you all.

Lap 2 of this Motorsport Minutes series saw another eventful week, despite a few racing series still a few weeks away from going green with pre-season testing. Let’s take a lap and dive into the action from the world of NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1!

Truex Jr. reels in season-opening win in Los Angeles!

2023 marks the centennial anniversary for the world-famous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the 75thanniversary for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). This makes the bright lights of Los Angeles a fitting way to fire up the NASCAR’s diamond anniversary season. As the story goes in every motorsport race, only one driver can enjoy a Hollywood ending. The recipient of said Hollywood ending was 42-year old, New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr, driver of the number 19 Bass Pro Shops Club Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. Yes, THE Joe Gibbs – legendary Washington Commanders head coach.    

In the land of iconic Donut shops: Randy’s (famous for its rooftop larger than life donut featured in multiple movies), Donut Man, The Donut Hole and Christy’s (featured in the 2020 documentary Donut King), Sunday Donuts were served under the bright lights of the LA Coliseum. The 150-lap short track shootout situated atop the football field that traditionally plays host to USC Trojan football games, turned into a quarter-mile track and featured a 27-car racing lineup (75% of the usual 36 cars that lineup for typical races). Coincidentally, the race was broken up into a pair of 75-lap shootouts, which I would assume is an homage to NASCAR’s 75-year anniversary. 

The race was started with a performance by LA’s own Cypress Hill then proceeded with USC’s Heisman trophy winning quarterback serving as the Honorary Starter for the season-opening race waving the symbolic green flag from the steps of the LA Coliseum. Aric Almirola in Smithfield Foods Ford Mustang (aka: The Bacon Mobile) enjoyed a crispy start to the Clash by leading the 27-car field for the first 16 laps. Afterwards, Denny Hamlin’s number 11 Sport Clips Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry slipped underneath Almirola’s Mustang, which was pretty much it for the Bacon Mobile as the number 10 car would finish the Clash in 18th. Hamlin – a former Subway sandwich artist, went on to lead for the next 26 laps until he was given the classic short track bump and run by his driver Bubba Wallace of the number 23 Doordash 23XI Racing Toyota Camry. The 23XI Racing is a racing team that Denny Hamlin co-owns with NBA legend Michael “His Airness” Jordan and fields a pair of cars carrying the 23 & 45 numbers that The Jumpman donned throughout his illustrious 15-year career. Despite leading 40 laps and being in contention for a top-5 finish, Wallace finished a gut-wrenching 22nd following a late-race collision with race-runner up Austin Dillon. Wallace’s team owner Hamlin salvaged a 9th place finish overcoming a mid-race spin. Martin Truex Jr. grabbed the lead on Lap 125 from short-track specialist Ryan Preece – who passed Bubba Wallace and led for 43 laps until an electrical problem momentarily slowed him down, to reel in the season-opening victory.

The race concluded with a podium-style celebration complete with medal presentations to the race’s top 3 finishers reminiscent of the Olympic-style ceremony that was a part of the Coliseum’s history. Joining Truex Jr. on the podium were runner-up Austin Dillon (number 3 Get Bioethanol Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) and 3rd place finisher Kyle Busch (number 8 BetMGM Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet). Dillon – who is the nephew of team owner Richard Childress, edged out his new teammate Busch as Kyle is making the jump from Toyota to Chevrolet. Busch spent last with Coach Gibbs’ Toyota-powered racing team and was ultimately replaced by Ty Gibbs – the 20-year old grandson of Joe Gibbs. The Clash’s top-10 order was rounded out by: 4th) Alex Bowman (#48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet), 5th) Kyle Larson (#5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet), 6th) Tyler Reddick (#45 23XI Racing Toyota), 7th) Ryan Preece (#41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford), 8th) Ross Chastain (#1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet), 9th) Denny Hamlin (#11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) and 10th) William Byron (#24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet). 

NASCAR Cup Series will have this weekend off to make room for the Super Bowl. The following week will build up to the series’ premier race – the Daytona 500. The build up to race day will consist of qualifying to determine the first two starters of the 65th Daytona 500 (Feb. 15) along the 1st & 2nd Bluegreen Vacations Duels (to set the determine the starting order the rest of the racing field – both duels taking place on Feb 16). Prior to Sunday’s big race, NASCAR Cup Series’ development series will wave the green flag on their 2023 season with the NextEra Energy 250 on February 17th (Craftsman Truck Series) and the Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. 300 on February 18th (Xfinity Series). Sunday will mark the 65th running of the NASCAR Cup Series’ Daytona 500 (aka: America’s Great Race) with waving the green flag set to wave around 9:30 AM Hawaiʻi time. 

Warming up – IndyCar turns up the temperature with 2023 pre-season testing at The Thermal Club

The NTT IndyCar Series kicked off pre-season festivities in the Californian dessert with media day and pre-season testing in sunny Palm Springs. The American open-wheel series took to the newly built 17-turn, 3.067-mile circuit in the Palm Springs area with snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains serving as the testing sessions’ backdrop. The two-day test, which took place on February 2nd and 3rd, saw Honda-powered cars torching the track with blistering pace clocking in 4 of the 5 fastest times during each of the two testing sessions. 

American Colton Herta led Day 1 testing by posting a time of 1:39.3721 gliding his number 26 Gainbridge Andretti Honda through the unfamiliar confines of The Thermal Club. Danish superstar and ex-Formula 2 driver Christian Lundgaard delighted the time charts as he posted the second-best times in both sessions with his number 45 Shield Cleaners Rahal Letterman Honda (yes, famous comedian David Letterman co-owns a racing team – that’s no joke!): 1:39.3767 (Feb 2nd) and 1:38.5682 (Feb 3rd). Day 1 testing’s top 5 was rounded out by: Spaniard Alex Palou (NTT Data Chip Ganassi Honda) in 3rd, Frenchman Romain Grosjean (DHL Andretti Honda) in 4th and defending IndyCar champion Will Power (Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) in 5th. The 2nd day of testing saw super Swede, 2022 Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson posting the session’s best lap time of 1:38.4223 in his number 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Honda while fellow Nordic driver Christian Lundgaard came in right behind with a 1:38.5682 lap. Day 2’s top five was completed by: American Kyle Kirkwood (Auto Nation Andretti Honda) in 3rd, British driver Callum Ilott (Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) in 4th and Kiwi Marcus Armstrong (American Legion Chip Ganassi Honda) coming home 5th.

IndyCar’s 2023 season is set to wave the green flag on the weekend of March 3rd through 5th with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida. Kiwi Scott McLaughlin (driver of the number 3 Pennzoil Chevrolet for Team Penske) looks to repeat on his 2022 season-opening win at this same track while his Team Penske teammate Will Power (driver of the number 12 Verizon Chevrolet) will look to defend his 2022 series championship crown. The race is set to fire up around noon Eastern Standard Time and can be enjoyed live on NBC. 

Show me what you got – Haas and Red Bull unveil 2023 Formula 1 liveries, plus Ford to join forces with Red Bull Powertrains

January 31, 2023 – Haas VF23 unveiling 

American-owned MoneyGram Haas F1 Team kicked off the 2023 livery unveiling festivities with a no-nonsense unveiling of their VF-23 challenger for the upcoming Formula 1 season. Haas, which doesn’t post a lot of over-the-top marketing content when compared to its fellow Formula 1 teams, released photos and a brief video showing off the paint scheme’s details, which include the addition of black details as last year’s VF-22 was primarily dominated by just white and red colors following the removal of Russian driver Nikita Mazepin prior to the beginning of the 2022 season. I certainly enjoy the added detail to the VF-23 and am excited to see how the experienced driver pairing of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg will fair this season as the Danish-German duo have a combined 367 Grand Prix starts under their belts. 

February 3, 2023 – Red Bull RB19 unveiling 

Red Bull capped the week off with not only a livery reveal of their RB19 challenger, but also some surprising engine-related news. Ford has announced its agreement to partner with Red Bull Racing on the powertrain side effective 2026. This announcement will mark the iconic American brand’s return to F1 since their ownership of the Jaguar Racing Team, which was eventually sold off to Red Bull in 2004. Ford vs. Ferrari is back! Sort of. On the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Ford CEO Jim Farley was quoted saying “some CEOs are into golf, tennis or yachting. But I like racing.” 

In the meantime, Honda will continue to provide engine-related to Red Bull and their sister team Alpha Tauri until the end of 2025. The 2023 Red Bull looks to follow up on the successful season of last season’s RB18, which collected 18 total wins, Driver’s Championship (won by Dutch-Belgian driver Max Verstappen) and the 2022 Constructor’s Championship. 

Here’s what else is on deck in the world of racing: 

  • Following a week off, Formula E is set to electrify the streets of Hyderabad, India on Super Bowl weekend. This race will serve as the home race for Indian manufacturer Mahindra and both practice sessions can be enjoyed on the Formula E YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/@FIAFormulaE) while qualifying and E-Prix broadcasts can be enjoyed on CBS Sports HQ. Following his dominant weekend in Diriyah, Porsche driver Pascal Wehrlein enters the weekend in first place of the Formula E points standings with 68 points scored through 3 races. The Mauritian Magician looks to extend his 6-point lead over Jake “the Snake” Dennis.
  • Formula One livery unveiling season is underway and we have 8 teams left until the series goes green for pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on the weekend of February 23rd through 25th with the season-opening race being held at the same track the weekend of March 3rd through 5th. Here are the remaining livery reveals scheduled: 
    • February 6th: Williams
    • February 7th: Alfa Romeo
    • February 11th: Alpha Tauri
    • February 13h: Aston Martin & McLaren
    • February 14th: Ferrari
    • February 15th: Mercedes
    • February 16th: Alpine 
  • The award-winning Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive is set to release its 5th season on February 24, 2023. This season will recap the multiple storylines and behind the scenes drama from the 2022 Formula One season.
  • MotoGP will go green on March 10th with pre-season testing on March 10th and 16th the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Algarve, Portimão, Portugal. The season-opening Grande Prémio de Portugal will go green on March 26th also at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve. Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia (Italy) will look to defend his 2022 World Riders’ Champion crown this coming season.

That’s a wrap on lap two of Motorsports Minutes! Mahalo to you for taking the time to read this article and allowing me to share my passion for racing with you. 

Have a great week, Hawaiʻi. Until next week, keep it full throttle!