Track speed track: Road rage action repeats of big crash in October

MIAMI (AP) — Disaster at 228 kph?

Once a second-generation racer, track-racing champion Maverick Viñales has since his rookie year jettisoned the oval circuit and embraced the open-wheel element of his career. And in racing circles, a short crash during qualifying at the U.S. Grand Prix in October has been memorable for all the wrong reasons.

“This season has been a roller coaster, far from the one I’m used to,” Viñales said through a translator after back-to-back victories at Long Beach and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. “It has been a frustrating few months for sure.”

Viñales was eliminated from the pole-position shoot-out for the first turn in the U.S. Grand Prix, but he still managed to reach 220 kph as he recovered to finish 17th in the race. He escaped injury.

“After you’re told after a crash like that, you know that the car is not in the best shape,” Viñales said. “That was that kind of feeling when I came out of the crash. It wasn’t the worst crash I’ve ever been in, but it was the most common to happen this year.”

The IMSA Le Mans Prototype class is serious business at Daytona International Speedway, but visibility is limited in a two-lap qualifying run to 60 kph. However, a checkered flag short of 270 kph, which is the legal limit in racing, can also be issued. And so the laps were stopped in that final session, and Viñales was roundly criticized.

“After I crashed, I was really confused,” Viñales said. “When the checkered flag went off for the last time, it seemed as if there was a call to stop the laps. Those laps had always been a joke. We used to joke that the lap could be stopped, so we would go to another part of the circuit or some other place to continue the qualifying, and that would guarantee a starting spot. That did happen several times. We just didn’t enjoy qualifying that much because we were racing against each other to the finish, no matter what happens.”

Viñales will resume qualifying Friday when the GTE Pro class resumes competition after Wednesday’s rain-delayed season finale in Brazil. He is the defending champion, but that didn’t stop criticism from those who felt he should be penalized in some manner.

There are serious legal implications.

It’s perfectly legal for Viñales to start from the pole in Italy, a race run at a very low speed.

“At the start of the season, I didn’t have anyone who understood it completely, and I just made a few mistakes that were costly to my team and my organization, and I have to accept that and put that in the past,” Viñales said. “I’ll take the punishment they’ve given me, and I’ve learned the most important thing in racing is to have a good team around you and be confident that you have all the backing in the world.

“Just because I won the championship the last two years doesn’t mean I’m anything but a normal racer. But to go in with your name attached to your car doesn’t guarantee you will win it. I will tell myself that to be in a better position (in qualifying), especially in the future.”

Viñales won the GTE Pro class at the 2008 Indianapolis 500, and he’s now a standout in the GTE class with his Stewart Racing team that includes fellow Venezuelan Carlos Munoz and South African Ian Walker.

“I’ve always felt like my racing style matches up with what I’ve seen in other teams’ class cars,” Viñales said. “That’s always been a blessing to me, in terms of helping me and getting in the car. But I love going out and racing with the top guys in the class, and I love to compete on the highest level in the GTE class, but I don’t think it’s ideal that it means I have to go and fight the world champions on a Wednesday and the back-to-back winners on a Friday.”

Viñales does have a strategy for the remainder of the season.

“I’m not so bothered by criticism because I know that they’re at least trying their best to make their points up when they’re in the car,” Viñales said. “But it’s pretty useless to criticize for me. I’ve got to concentrate on making sure that I’m in good shape to finish the season and go after the championship. That’s my main focus.”

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