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What do you think about pickleball?

I thought so.

It’s the fastest-growing sport in America which, of course, says a lot about it. That and the fact that it’s the fastest-growing sport in southeast Queensland. And that it’s a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton and the ball is like a wiffle ball. I think it won’t be long before pickleball is more popular than Formula 1.

Not that new F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali hasn’t got some top ideas. (Stef left the Lambo company to join the Nasdaq-listed — FWONK — F1 Group, now back to a pre-COVID $50 but really driven by Liberty Media, owner of radio stations and baseball team the Atlanta Braves. Baseball is played with something like a wiffle ball.) There’s the three Saturday sprint races where Hamo and the lads (no women or others in this men’s club) decide who’s going on the front row of the grid by racing 100km, or 20 laps, without pit stops in an attempt to make Saturday at the track less boring and more commercial. I think Stef’s strategy to bring the biff back to F1 is another winner. Of course, Stef is doing this gently. At Imola last race, we saw Val Bottas and Georgey Russell slam their cars into each other at super speed. Britain’s Russell jumped out of his Williams (a car brand) to go and give Val, still sitting in his Merc (another car brand), a fistful of gloves. But no, Georgey wimped it and just whacked Val’s helmet, gave him the rude finger, uttered a few naughty words and stormed off.

But 18 readers, one friend but no family (amazing how much Coopers and sparkling burgundy you can drink at a wedding reception when it’s paid for by the bride’s father — that is, me), it’s a start. None of you probably watch rugby league (go the Roosters) but the world’s best game of footy, State of Origin, traditionally began with a huge blue between the two teams, the ratings peaked, the blue ended and ratings dropped. So, I can imagine Stef has had the eco-friendly lightbulb moment of going back to a Le Mans-type start where the drivers are standing around, the eco-friendly green light goes on, the blue begins and the first driver to floor a rival runs over to his car, gives the rude finger salute to his competitors and sticks the pedal to the metal. This goes on until all 20 of them are on the track. No need for stupid and boring qualifying sprints. We’re all with you Stef.

Now that the panic buying of hard assets, including any car with more than three wheels, is under way (who says there’s no inflation), time to do something for the kiddies. The Sultan, always a special at the Santa role at his Stepney HQ, is suggesting a lovely 2:3 scale D-Type child’s car, a small version of the legendary automobile used to win Le Mans from 1955-1957. Comes with temperature and voltage gauges, tachometer and speedometer, and is powered by a gas engine mounted in the rear. Guaranteed to catch fire as all good Jags and Range Rovers do. Dave Gooding is offering it at his online sale beginning on Monday for about $25k. Strangely and wokely Dave tells me: “This vehicle is sold only as a collector’s item and may not be suitable for operation by any child.” Guess that puts the Sultan out of play.

One of the world’s great auto engineers, Richard Parry-Jones, former boss of global product development at Ford, died last week in a tractor rollover on his farm in Wales. Parry-Jones spent over 40 years with the company and was responsible for classics like the Escort, Focus, Puma and Mondeo. He is famous for “the 50m test”, which he thought was more effective than driving at the limit on test tracks. Richard believed that in 50m, a good driver could know whether they were driving a good car or not. He also was a serious driver who would scare the shivers out of any passenger.

I only met Shane Navin a couple of times. Always during those long waits between stages on a rally when you talk to the drivers around you about deep intellectual issues like how the organisers could do it better if they only listened to us, what rally car you’d buy if you had unlimited money and how close you came to a prang on the last stage. He was a really, really good guy as most rally people are. He died in a crash in Targa Tasmania last week, as did Leigh Mundy and Dennis Neagle.

Amazingly the next thing we saw after reporting of the deaths were reports of the importance of Targa to the Tassie economy. No one sensible is talking about stopping the rally but, at a time when we have industrial manslaughter laws applying to normal businesses, it’s absolutely right for Motorsport Australia to establish a special investigatory tribunal to examine the two crashes and three deaths. It’s even better when Garry Connelly will lead the tribunal.

Garry (no relation) is deputy president of the FIA Institute, director of the Australian Institute of Motor Sport Safety, F1 and WTCC steward and FIA World Motorsport Council member. If tarmac rallying needs to change, speaking as a competitor and a person with a family, Garry is who I would trust to tell us what needs to be done.

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