Taurus' Horoscope: New Rules Ahead

In their continuing effort to maintain parity among the makes of cars that compete in the Winston Cup, NASCAR officials seem to please no one.

The Ford camp, although it swept the first seven positions in last Sunday's Las Vegas 400, is incensed that NASCAR has changed rules so swiftly. A change in the aerodynamic qualities of the Taurus was made earlier this week, effective for Sunday's Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On the other side, owners and drivers of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix are incensed that the change was so slight, saying that it won't change the disparity in performance.

At the center of the storm is the Taurus, Ford's replacement this year for the discontinued Thunderbird.

The war of words started before the racing Taurus was ever built. General Motors people claimed that NASCAR made too many aerodynamic concessions, that the four-door Taurus in the showroom bore little resemblance to the sleek model on the race track. Ford people countered that they had not had enough development time to make the new model competitive.

The racing Taurus is 195 inches long, 71 1/2 inches wide and 51 inches high, compared to the production model, which is 197 1/2 inches long, 73 inches wide and 55.1 inches high. The race car also weighs 47 pounds more than the street model.

NASCAR, in an effort to reduce escalating speeds for all cars, introduced a new rule, called the "five-and-five," to take effect after the season-opening Daytona 500, which was exempt because it already had a carburetor restricter plate rule to slow the cars on its high banking.

The ruling mandated that both Fords and Chevrolets use five-inch rear spoilers and front air dams.

After only two races under the five-and-five rule, NASCAR this week pared a quarter-inch off the Ford's rear spoiler.

"It's unfair, it's unfair, it's unfair," wailed car owner Jack Roush, who had five of his Fords cars in the first 10 finishers last Sunday, including winner Mark Martin.

"The first reason it's unfair is that we Ford guys are being painted in a light of saying that we went off and brought forward this killer car and that we made a deliberate, conscious effort to upstage the rest of the competition and that we misled NASCAR or deceived them and perpetrated this terrible deed on them and that's not true.

"This car was a hip shot. In less than six months from the time it was conceived by Ford, it was presented to the race track. We aren't bad guys by having tricked or fooled or deceived anybody by bringing a car that was better than it should have been. We don't think it's better than it should be. We think it's competitive with the Thunderbird at the short tracks and it's not as good as the Thunderbird at the restricted races."

Yeah, right, says the Chevy side.

"That rule change isn't even a good Band-Aid," said Richard Childress, owner of the car driven by Dale Earnhardt.

And Felix Sabates, another Chevy owner: "It's like trying to stick you finger in the Hoover Dam to stop the leak. Ford just outsmarted everybody. I don't blame them. They were crying and crying and crying all winter when they knew they had a better car. The squeaky wheel really got the grease this time."

Added Ray Evernham, crew chief for Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon's Chevy, "Would six more bullets have helped Custer? That rule change is like giving Custer six more bullets at the Little Bighorn.

"What I don't like is that Ford was allowed to design a car specifically as a race car. The Monte Carlo is still a production car. There's no production Taurus to compare it to.

"And I don't like for them to keep saying they just want it to be equal and then they have a car that's twice as good aerodynamically. It's ruined the 1998 season for a lot of people. It's cost the Chevy owners millions of dollars."

Bill France Jr., NASCAR president, hit the nail on the head when he said, "I guess it's just not possible to make everybody happy. But we're going to continue to evaluate the performances of the various makes, just like we always do."

FORMULA ONE

One of the great mysteries of motor sports is how world championship series for Formula One automobiles and motorcycles can be contested without a race in the United States.

The F1 cars have not raced in the U.S. since the dismal affair on the streets of Phoenix in 1991 and the Grand Prix motorcycles have been silent on these shores since they raced at Laguna Seca Raceway in 1994.

Now the 1998 season is about to start and there still is no U.S. involvement, although F1 czar Bernie Eccelstone has apparently commissioned Chris Pook to find a site for a race in the States. However, after the job Eccelstone did in fleecing Phoenix of millions a few years ago, Pook may find the job difficult.

The Formula One season opens Sunday--Saturday here--with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne. As usual, it is bathed in controversy.

First, there is the continuing feud between champion Jacques Villeneuve and former champion Michael Schumacher, whose ill-advised attempt to knock Villeneuve out of the final race in Spain--and the championship--backfired. Schumacher, although he escaped a suspension, was stripped of his second-place finish in the 1997 standings.

Second, there is concern over the use of grooved tires, which replace the slicks used in dry racing conditions the last 25 years. The tire situation was further complicated when Goodyear announced that it was withdrawing from F1 racing after this year. Two major teams, Benetton and McLaren, switched to Bridgestone tires rather than wait.

The main protagonists, Villeneuve in the Williams car and Schumacher in the Ferrari, will both race on Goodyears.

Another change, designed to reduce speeds and increase safety in the aftermath of Ayrton Senna's fatal crash in 1994 at Imola, Italy, will mandate narrower cars. Nearly eight inches have been pared off their width, from 78 inches to 70.2.

To some, a positive aspect to this season is that the shadow of the Senna trial--at which Italian authorities charged car owner Frank Williams and members of his crew with responsibility for the accident--was lifted when all were cleared.

The Grand Prix motorcycle season will start March 29 at the Shah Alam course, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Unlike its auto counterpart, the cycles include an American presence in 1997 Superbike champion John Kocinski, who will ride for former Spanish GP champion Sito Pons. Kocinski won the 250cc GP crown in 1990 and also won the 500cc main event at Laguna Seca in 1993 before switching to superbikes.

"It is a shame that such an important country as the United States does not have a Grand Prix, but I believe our decision to put John on a competitive 500 may help get the United States fans excited about 500 racing again," Pons told Cycle News.

Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey and Erv Kanemoto will all field American-owned teams this season, but none has an American rider capable of challenging Australia's four-time champion, Mick Doohan. Before Doohan's first victory in 1995, Americans had won 12 of the last 15 Grand Prix titles.

SPEEDWAY MOTORCYCLES

World champion Greg Hancock of Costa Mesa and 1996 champion Billy Hamill of Monrovia, who left Southern California a few years ago to take on the best speedway motorcycle riders in the world in Europe, will make a rare hometown appearance Saturday night when Costa Mesa Speedway opens its 30th season with the Coors Light Spring Classic.

The weekly Saturday night season will begin April 18, but the Spring Classic might be the only local appearance of Hancock and Hamill, who will soon be returning to England and European championship racing.

Several other riders who competed in Europe last year are expected to be regulars at Costa Mesa this season. Among them are Josh Larsen, Chris Manchester, Dukie Ermolenko and Charlie Venegas.

Also racing Saturday night will be Mike Faria, who upset Hancock and Hamill in last year's U.S. championships, and long-time favorites Bobby Schwartz and Brad Oxley.

LAST LAPS

Two of the greatest superbike riders, Scott Russell and Miguel Duhamel, will renew their rivalry Sunday in the Daytona 200, the world's premier superbike race, on Daytona International Speedway's road course. Russell, known as "Mr. Daytona," is the only four-time winner, having won in 1992, '94, '95 and '97.

"I can do it again," says Russell, who will be on a Yamaha.

Duhamel won in 1991 and again in 1996 when his margin over Russell was .01 of a second, less than a wheel length. Duhamel, who rides a Honda, has also won four 600cc SuperSport titles at Daytona.

Desert and stadium off-road champion Ivan Stewart will introduce his new Protruck Stadium series Saturday night at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. To create interest in his revival of stadium racing, Stewart will race against four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser and controversial Robby Gordon in an IROC-type match race with all three in identically prepared Toyota Tacoma trucks. The series will visit the Coliseum on March 28.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Racing Schedules

1998 FORMULA ONE

* March 8--Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne.

* March 29--Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos, Sao Paulo.

* April 12--Argentine Grand Prix, Buenos Aires.

* April 26--San Marino Grand Prix, Imola, Italy.

* May 10--Spanish Grand Prix, Cataluna, Barcelona.

* May 24--Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo.

* June 7--Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Villeneuve, Montreal.

* June 28--x-French Grand Prix, Magnuy-Cours.

* July 12--British Grand Prix, Silverstone.

* July 26--Austrian Grand Prix, A1 Ring, Spielberg.

* Aug. 2--German Grand Prix, Hockenheim.

* Aug. 16--Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroing, Budapest.

* Aug. 30--x-Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps.

* Sept. 13--Italian Grand Prix, Monza.

* Sept. 27--Luxembourg Grand Prix, Nuerburgring, Germany.

* Nov. 1--Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka City.

x-provisional.

WORLD MOTORCYCLE ROAD RACING

* March 29--Shah Alam, Malaysia.

* April 5--Suzuka, Japan.

* April 19--Sentul, Indonesia.

* May 3--Jerez, Spain.

* May 17--Mugello, Italy.

* May 31--Le Castellet, France.

* June 14--Estoril, Portugal.

* June 27--Assan, Holland.

* July 5--Donington Park, England.

* July 19--TBA, Germany.

* Aug. 23--Brno, Czech Republic.

* Sept. 6--Imola, Italy.

* Sept. 20--Barcelona, Spain.

* Oct. 4--Phillip Island, Australia.

* Oct. 18--Jacarepagua, Brazil.

* Oct. 25--Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°