Friday, July 28, 2006

And this weekend we have...

F1 in Germany, FIA GT at Spa, the WTCC in Mexico, the BTCC at Donington, ChampCar crashing its way around downtown San Jose, and the legendary Suzuka 8 Hours motorcycle endurance race.

To be fair, the main endurance race this weekend is the Proximus Spa 24 Hours, a round of the FIA GT series. All the usual suspects will be there, with the grid augmented by a number of local (slower) teams entering in the G2 class.

I'm short of time today, so will have to reserve any thoughts on the weekend's activities until later. Suffice to say I'm not going back to the San Jose Grand Prix until American open wheel racing can get its act together.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Google search answers here!

I've been looking at some of the Google searches that brought people here, and have found that the info they are looking for is not necessarily here. So it's time to address that:

Search: "Dani Pedrosa boring"
Answer: Yes, Dani Pedrosa is boring. Although he has the talent of Valentino Rossi, he lacks his huge charisma.

Search: "Laguna Seca, July 24th 2006, traffic shuttle problems"
Answer: July 24th was Monday, and as far as I know there were no shuttle problems on Monday because there were no shuttles on Monday LOL!

Search: "Fastest Le Mans lap"
Answer: The outright fastest race lap was on a previous circuit configuration in 1971 was 3:18.40 at 244.387km/h set by Jackie Oliver in a Porsche. The current fastest race lap is 3:31.211 set by Allan McNish in an Audi R10. The current overall best lap is 3:30.466 set by Dindo Capello in an Audi R10.

Search: "Fastest lap record Laguna Seca"
Answer: The fastest lap at Laguna in the current configuration was done by Helio Castroneves in an Reynard-Honda CART car at 1:07.722 in 2000. The fastest lap on a motorcycle is 1:22.670 by Nicky Hayden on a Honda RC211V MotoGP bike in 2005.

Search: "Paul Warwick accident"
Answer: Younger brother to Formula 1 driver Derek Warwick, Paul was killed in a Formula 2 race in 1991 at Oulton Park after a wishbone failure caused him to hit the armco at Knickerbrook at 140mph. He won the championship posthumously after winning all five races and scoring all five pole positions.

Search: "Martin Haven motor sport"
Answer: Martin Haven is a motor racing commentator, mainly for Eurosport, where his main gig is the WTCC. He also works occasionally for MotorsTV such as at this year's Le Mans 24 Hours. He is, in my opinion, one of the best commentators out there, mainly due to the fact that he is not afraid to speak his mind especially when it comes to calling out idiotic driving behavior.

Search: "Playboy MotoGP paddock"
Answer: Err... on newstands everywhere....? Uhm, Sete Gibernau's girlfriend? Not sure what this person was looking for but I don't think he'll find it here...

Search: "Dave Jefferies TT accident"
Answer: David Jefferies, one of the legends in Isle of Man TT history, was killed in 2003 practice at Crosby. Dave was the first guy to lap the TT Mountain course in under 18 minutes, and was a multiple-TT winner. The accident itself was caused by oil on the road left by a preceding bike, which was controversially not flagged by marshalls. Dave hit a utility pole at 160mph, which then fell down leaving wires strung across the track. Jim Moodie was the next rider through, and he was caught by the wires and came off his bike. Thankfully Moodie sustained only minor injuries.

Search: "FIM World Superbike torrent"
Answer: Send me an email if you're looking for racing torrents.

Search: "Has Max Biaggi secure any ride in 2007"
Answer: No, although apparently he played around in the Italian GT championship last month in a Camel-sponsored Viper. He may yet beat Rossi to a career on four wheels.

Search: "Who's fastest at Laguna Seca?"
Answer: Fastest at what? I know that I was faster walking up the hill than the three people I went with on Sunday. My friend Jaime was faster at eating his lunch than just about anyone else I saw. Anyone on a bike was faster at leaving the track than anyone in a car....

Search: "V8 supercar illegal test"
Answer: You've got me there, not sure what this is about. There is a great forum on V8 Supercars over at so you may find some answers there.

That's just a few of the searches. If you get here from a search, leave me a comment if you didn't find what you were after.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A tale of four champions

I do my best here to pay equal attention to cars and motorcycles, so I'll admit it's unusual for me to post about bikes twice in one day.

However, after watching coverage of this weekend's British Superbike races from Oulton Park it got me thinking about how the champions of the top four motorcycle road-racing series in 2005 are having a rough time of it in 2006.

Arguably the guy who's had it worst is Valentino Rossi in the MotoGP championship. He fell off at the very first corner of the very first race, as a result of a poor qualifying effot. When you're that far back on the grid you're always more likely to be involved in a first corner melee. Things didn't get much better after that. A series of poor results were variously attributed to the new frame on his Yamaha M1 and the new wider-profile Michelin tyres. Worst was yet to come as Vale crashed in France and broke his wrist, which had still not fully healed by Assen. Most recently, the hot weather at the US Grand Prix destroyed his tyre, causing him to slow enough to cook his engine. He now finds himself 51 points behind series leader Nicky Hayden, and (by his own admission) no chance of catching him.

Also in difficulties from the get-go was World Superbike champ Troy Corser. His main problem? Plainly put, it's his countryman Troy Bayliss, who returned to the series after three average years in MotoGP. Bayliss was immediately on the pace, and it didn't help that other contenders such as Nori Haga, James Toseland and team-mate Yukio Kagayama were all on-form. A bad race for Bayliss in Australia seemed to redress the balance a bit, but in race two Corser high-sided and was run over by Alex Barros. Corser continued on the defensive, and ended up crashing at Silverstone and Mugello. Even when Bayliss had another bad weekend, just a few days ago in Brno, Corser was unable to capitalize. In a perfect display of "kicking a man when he's down" Italian newcomer Michel Fabrizio stole a certain podium spot in race two with a very stout barging move at the last corner.

Mat Mladin knew that 2006 would see team-mate Ben Spies much stronger in the AMA US Superbike championship, but a sneaky win at the first race somehow tricked everyone into thinking Mladin still had the measure of the lanky young Texan. Alas, the tables turned, and turned fast, when Spies took both wins at the next round in Fontana on the way to a 6-race win streak. Mladin managed to pull things back a bit in Road America, but was helped by a red flag situation that erased a 6-second lead built up by Spies. Even when Spies failed to win at Miller, it wasn't because Mladin won it - Honda rider Jake Zemke was the interloper. At last weekend's one-race event at real-world furnace of Hades, Laguna Seca, Mladin couldn't even stay with the previously struggling Ducatis, Kawasakis and Hondas.

About the only guy who's had anything to cheer about has been Gregorio Lavilla in the afore-mentioned British Superbike series. Despite allowing Honda's Ryuichi Kiyonari, 2005 runner-up, the first win at a soaking Brands Hatch, Lavilla went on to dominate the first half of the season. Kiyo and Lavilla's Ducati team-mate Leon "Pocket Rocket" Haslam (son of "Rocket" Ron Haslam) both hung tough, racking up points with some solid podiums. This put them in a good place for when Lavilla's season went down the toilet. Lavilla crashed at Snetterton and Knockhill, and had a clutch failure last weekend at Oulton Park: three zero points finishes whilst Haslam and Kiyo grabbed a bagful of points.

The good news in all of this is that we have some close championships and possible new championship winners in all four series. That's good for racing, after a somewhat dull 2005 in which Rossi, Corser and Mladin ran away with it and Lavilla turned things around mid-season and then took off into the sunset.

Reflections on MotoGP here in the US

Now that I've had three days to recover from maybe the hottest day I've ever experienced, I feel my brain has safely un-addled itself enough to string together a sentence or two...

Man, was that HOT!?!?

I drove down to Laguna Seca on Friday morning with my father, who had never seen MotoGP bikes before, and we got to sample Laguna's new traffic solution, a huge offsite parking lot and a fleet of shuttle buses. It worked wonderfully on the way in, with no jams getting into the parking lot and no lines for the bus. We were very quickly at the track watching the AMA Superbike guys warming-up. I couldn't detect any aural evidence of the Ducatis using traction control, but of course that doesn't mean they weren't....

We chose turns 5 and 6 as our locations for MotoGP warm-up, which started half an hour late at 10:30am. By then it was already warm. Turn 6 in particular was a great spot, and we've enjoyed many an hour there in the past. Last year we never really saw much of it for one reason or another. Check out this pic of Valentino Rossi I got (not bad for a 3.2-megapixel point and shoot digital camera)

All in all, Friday was a great day. It didn't feel like there were 45,000 people there, as reported by the track. In fact, it seemed no more crowded than an ALMS raceday. The shuttle to get out was also very easy, and there was no traffic on Highway 1.

Sunday also promised much, with another easy trip into the track. This time we were with a couple of friends, neither of whom follow motorcycle racing and only one of whom actually rides. It wasn't long before we found out that all morning on-track activity was postponed until after the MotoGP race at 2pm, except for MotoGP warm-up. So once again it was up to turn 6, where our friends were blown away by the spectacle. But then it was a good three hours before the race. A trip around the corkscrew, a visit to a friend in the campsite and watching the riders parade around in the back of Mazda Miatas couldn't distract us from the searing heat - we were guzzling our water (after paying $4 per bottle on Friday we brought our own this time).

Another lesson learned from last year: eat at Ducati Island - they have the best food. After our tasty lunch we found a spot above turn 2 to watch the race from. There's plenty of reports elsewhere on the web about what actually happened, but suffice to say it was terrific and exciting, especially with Nicky Hayden bagging his second Laguna win and extending his points lead.

Now came a couple of AMA warm-up sessions followed by their races. In order to avoid the post-MotoGP crowd we opted to stick around for the Supersport race which ended up being quite exciting, bar Jamie Hacking's dominance. We then headed for the buses. This was where things started to go sour. The lines were HUGE! And what was worse was that they appeared to be completely static. Given the attendance figures that were published afterwards that indicated only a small difference in attendance between all three days, it seems as though something specific caused Sunday's problems. I've heard rumours about over-zealous police officers not allowing buses to turn left as they left the parking area for the track and having to go 10 miles in the wrong direction just to turn around. Just a rumour, mind you. Interestingly enough the people behind us were from England and told scary stories of trying to leave Donington, which is apparently much worse. I certainly remember traffic at the Group C race there in 1990, as well as at Monsters of Rock in 1994.

All in all, it was better than last year, but it sounds as though those on bikes came off best. So next year it's back to two wheels. Hopefully it won't be 105 degrees either....

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Comments for all

I've just changed the settings for this blog - now anyone can comment, even if they don't have a Blogger account. However, to combat inevitable spam, I've turned on word verification.

AMA Legalizes Traction Control

I should quickly note that the AMA has legalized traction control in its Superbike and Formula Xtreme classes (e.g. modified classes). It remains illegal in Superstock and Supersport classes unless the system uses stock sensors.

I'm generally against traction control in production-based motorcycle racing, as I've mentioned before, so on the hand I'm not pleased with this decision. However, it brings the AMA in line with the World and British Superbike championships, and finally levels the playing field between the factory entries. I have no doubt that Suzuki has been using traction control whilst Ducati haven't. If I'm right, we should expect to start seeing Neil Hodgson and Ben Bostrom running much closer to the front. They could in theory run the system this weekend at Laguna Seca if the lads in Italy get to Fed-Ex on time. More likely is that they'll test with it first and use it at Mid-Ohio. It's obvious that the 999 can run with the 4-cylinder bikes if it has traction control - just look at Greg Lavilla in BSB and Troy Bayliss in WSBK.

Weekend wrap-up

To be honest, I haven't gotten hold of the MotorsTV coverage of the Le Mans Series race from the Nurburgring, so can't yet comment on that (although I heard it was a cracker). I just got the BTCC race from Croft as well as the British Superbikes from Knockhill, so hopefully will get a chance to watch them later today.

What I DID see was MotoGP from the Sachsenring, and it was spectacular. Many pundits are saying that it was one of Valentino Rossi's finest rides, but to me it seemed no different to any of the other methodical, workmanlike victories he's secured in the past. The main thing that separates this one would be simply that he's coming from a position of weakness at the moment. Having said that, it appears as though his crew chief Jeremy Burgess once again solved some setup problems at the last minute, and that the Yamaha is finally coming good (after returning to the 2005 frame).

Behind Rossi, Marco Melandri once again showed another of his sporadic flashes of brilliance. If he could get some consistency together he'd certainly be much closer to the top of the championship, if not on it. There's no reason to believe he's any less talented than the other three guys he was fighting with in Germany. Meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa again showed that he's stupidly quick but lacks the chutzpah and experience when it counts. Dani does well when everything is working for him, but I've yet to see him ride around problems, and he invariably loses out in scrappy dogfights. That will undoubtedly change as time goes by and he'll certainly grab the title in the next two or three years.

Finally, Nicky Hayden did what he needed to do, as usual, but is finding himself increasingly backed into a corner whereby he has to ride for points, not wins. With a one race cushion he can just about afford to do that, but one mechanical DNF, a string of victories by Rossi, Pedrosa or Melandri or even another Donington-style poor weekend will put him back in the pack, and he'll have no choice but to start taking risks. I suspect Nicky doesn't like doing that, so the next few races will be a real test of his fortitude.

I'll see for myself on Friday when I head to Laguna Seca to watch these guys up close.

Over in American Le Mans, lots of things happened but once again CBS's coverage was so bad I struggled to keep up with what was going on. The jerky, stop-start, commercial-ridden, special-features-heavy broadcast was pretty much unwatchable, so I did just that... switched it off. This was perhaps the first time I've ever stopped watching a race on TV because the coverage was so staggeringly awful. Apparently it was a close one with the Penske Porsches closing down the leading Audi in the last hour, whilst the Aston Martins finally pulled a 1-2 over the heavily-handicapped Corvettes. It must be said that I'm not a Corvette fan, after their unforgivable parking of the cars with a huge lead during the 2001 Le Mans 24 Hours, but I do feel that they've achieved their success lately by simply being better. To handicap them until they're no longer the best seems a tad unfair.

Finally, Formula 1 in France.... I generally don't cover F1, especially because there's so many good F1 blogs out there (linky to the right ---->) so I'm just going to say that it's nice to see Schumacher working his way back into the championship. It would be great to see it go down to the final race. I think that would be good for Formula 1, a sport that is generally one of the more dull forms of racing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Midweek preview time

Formula 1 visits France sans Juan Pablo Montoya, so Pedro de la Rosa gets another go. I hope he enjoys it because in two weeks time we should expect to see either Lewis Hamilton or Gary Paffett in that seat. That would be great for British motor racing, and might convince me to watch another F1 race. After the string of Alonso victories I'm just too bored to watch anymore.

For the final MotoGP race before we get to see them in the flesh at Laguna Seca, the circus visits the Sachsenring in Germany. It's such an odd circuit, but makes for some tasty racing (think back to Sete Gibernau's last corner pass on Valentino back in 2003). If all goes according to plan, Colin Edwards will get his first MotoGP win, and Nicky Hayden will gather more points than Dani Pedrosa. What would suck would be another Colin Edwards 9th place run, Nicky Hayden crashing out and Rossi, Pedrosa and Melandri on the podium. Whatever happens, Nicky is guaranteed to arrive at Laguna with the championship lead, which can't be bad.

Both Le Mans series are racing this weekend, at Nurburgring in Germany and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. The LMS is certainly the more wide-open series, despite the relative dominance of the Pescarolo team thus far. An added bonus is that the Zytek will be running with some top-shelf drivers, Stefan Johanssen and Hideki Noda, and although it probably won't challenge for the win, should be good for another podium. In GT1, we'll see whether the Oreca Saleens will continue to be dominant - if so, they can expect handicapping, similar to what happened to Zakspeed Saleen in FIA GT.

Over here, the ALMS continues to suffer with smallish grids. Despite a couple of new arrivals this time, the accident between the BK Mazda and one of the Risi Ferraris at Lime Rock has prevented both cars from racing at Miller. It looks like we can only really expect decent grids at Petit Le Mans and Laguna Seca (which isn't too bad for those of us living near either track!).

Back in the homeland, the British Superbikes and British Touring Cars are both racing this weekend. What this means is that I need to get my ass in gear and watch the last round of the BTCC. In BSB, despite an air of dominance from Greg Lavilla, it's still tremendously close racing, and there's no doubt that these guys are really, really serious. For me, Leon Haslam has to be the star. In the tradition of Chris Walker, he's a Brit who is visibly aggressive on the bike and never, ever gives up. He deserves a win, and hopefully he'll get it this weekend.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Montoya moves to NASCAR - why???

I was discussing with my partner last night what could possibly have motivated Juan-Pablo Montoya to leave Formula 1 for a ride with Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team. She wasn't suprised to see him leaving F1, with his pretty dismal record of late, but was surprised that he should go to NASCAR, putting forward sportscar racing as a suitable alternative.

But the fact is that the only other circuit racing series that rivals F1 in terms of TV coverage, sponsorship dollars and pure fan following is NASCAR. JPM is not about to take a big paycut, nor reduce his high profile, so really his options were limited.

ChampCar and IRL don't offer the level of competition, paychecks and exposure that NASCAR does, and plumping for NASCAR doesn't necessarily preclude Montoya from jumping into sportscar racing at some point in the future. There's very few high-paying rides in sportscar racing (Audi, Corvette, Aston, Porsche come to mind), and a comparatively small number of races each year (a driver wishing to run as many ALMS and LMS races as possible this year would at most race 15 times during 2005).

So as you can see, JPM didn't really have too many choices given his requirements, and I for one would love to see a road racing guy jump into stock car racing and kick very large amounts of ass (search this blog for "Marcos Ambrose"....)

Monday, July 10, 2006

ALMS rumour-mongering

There's some interesting sportscar rumours to be found over at the new blog of Murphy, the former rumour bear. He's one of many talking about how Lister is moving to GT1 next year with a mystery partner with deep pockets. His comments on GT2S revolve around the continued non-arrival of Lexus, as well as what PTG will be doing next year (probably not racing their aged M3s...)

Funnily enough he hints that the Zytek chassis on its way to the US is not hybridized. This would point to it either being a full LMP1 chassis that hasn't yet raced or the chassis that belonged to Jota last year (which stays legal in ALMS this year). I was under the impression that Jota sold that car to Creation to form the basis of their second CA06H, and that the only car Zytek currently has is the 06S that ran at Le Mans. I see no reason why that wouldn't be the car to be campaigned in ALMS this year, but maybe Murphy knows something I don't.

There's continual gossip regarding who's running those Acura LMP2 cars next year. Despite the persistant rumours that up to three current IRL or ChampCar teams will be involved, the lack of certainty regarding the future for BOTH those series means that owners can't really commit to sportscar racing yet. Team Rahal, Andretti-Green, Newman-Haas and Fernandez Racing have all been mentioned. Although a separate sportscar effort for any of these teams would require significant resources, I'm sure that Honda will be able to help the teams find the money they need. After all, it's in Honda's best interests to have top-drawer professional teams running their four cars.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The WTCC - more fun than you think

Although I frequently claim to be a fan of touring cars, when it comes down to it I often lack the follow-through. It is definitely true that I think V8 Supercar racing is the business and that the DTM is great fun (provided the commentary is not from Milt Fitzwater, a man so boring he turned me off the series for two seasons on Speed TV). But honestly, V8 supercars are no more touring cars than NASCAR "stock" cars. DTM entries, like the Japanese SuperGT machines, are essentially built to "silhouette" rules - what's under the skin bears absolutely NO resemblance to their road-going cousins. They all use the same tranny and all have V8 engines regardless of whether the road car does or not. Hell, Audi refused to take part for the longest time because they were required to run rear-wheel-drive. When was the last time you heard of a RWD Audi?

The bottom line is that there are really only three true touring car championships in top flight motorsport: the British Touring Car Championship, the World Touring Car Championship and the Speed World Challenge Touring Class. Today I watched the WTCC - not the latest round from Brazil, but the previous one from Germany. Why so late? Well, I tend not to be motivated to watch any of the "smaller" touring car series. But when I actually do get around to it, guess what? That is some DAMN GREAT RACING! Door-banging, love-tapping, wheel-spinning action from start to finish. By the end of race two, the top six guys in the championship were separated by just three points!!! You don't usually see the cynical nudges that send a car around like in V8s, and these cars look a bloody handful to drive, unlike the uber-downforce, stuck-to-the-track stance of DTM. It helps that the coverage I get is from Eurosport, which has better picture quality than MotorsTV. An extra bonus is that it has Martin Haven and David Leslie commentating, one of the best TV racing commentary teams in the business (second only to Charlie Cox and Steve Parrish on the BBC coverage of MotoGP I reckon).

I still have the last round of the BTCC to watch, along with the Brazil round of the WTCC and, returning my attention to sportscars, the German FIA GT race. Now if only the World Cup and Tour de France would hurry up and finish I might get some time to watch racing...

Thursday, July 06, 2006


My spreadsheet of racing calendars shows NO events this weekend. That's right, none. No sportscar racing, no bike racing, no F1, no rallies, no touring cars, nada. How weird.

Gives me time to catch up a bit on last weekend's fun.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WRC makes some big changes

The biggest piece of news to come from the FIA's World Motor Sport Council meeting today is the replacement of three events on the calendar with three of the six candidate rallies that have run this year under FIA scrutiny. So we say goodbye to Cyprus, Turkey and Australia and hello to Ireland, Norway and Portugal.

What are we losing? Well, it has to be said that Cyprus and Turkey are very similar to the Acropolis event and have run in the past as successive events. Many team managers were calling for the removal of Cyprus because it always did major damage to cars and generally cost more in repairs than any other WRC event. I give the FIA 10 points for getting rid of this one.

Turkey is a newer event, so maybe deserved a bit more of a chance to prove itself. Of the three Eastern Mediterranean rallies, this was the fastest and most diverse, with major elevation changes accounting for occasionally unpredictable weather.

Australia is a very unique event, and in conjunction with New Zealand justifies the travel expense for teams to go Down Under. By removing one of these events it makes the per-rally travel costs for NZ go through the roof. I don't feel one can survive without the other. However the real problem for Oz is local. A well-publicized brou-ha-ha between the sport's sanctioning body in Australia and the government of Western Australia (which plays a big role in promoting the event) has put the whole thing in jeapordy. The FIA probably picked up on this and decided to drop Rally Australia until it can get itself sorted out. I'm sad to see it go, since the landscape and roads are so very different to every other WRC rally.

The best news to come out of the calendar changes is the arrival of a second snow event, this time in Norway. I saw a 7-minute review of the '06 Rally Norway and they certainly weren't short of the white stuff, unlike the Swedish which has struggled in recent years to provide the depth of snow and solid snowbanks necessary. Sweden and Norway will run on successive weekends, allowing snow-rally fanatics to get more out of a rally vacation to Scandinavia. Whether it will impact attendance at the Swedish Rally, with Norwegians choosing to stay home for their own event, remains to be seen. One final item of note is that Delta Airlines has direct flights daily from here in San Francisco to Copenhagen, which itself is now connected to Sweden by the Oresund Link, a combined road/rail bridge/tunnel. How easy is it to go see some WRC snow rallies now? Almost too easy....

The ejection of three gravel events makes way for a snow rally, a gravel rally and another tarmac rally, in the form of Rally Ireland. This reflects a growing diversity in tarmac events in the WRC, from the cracked twisty pavement of Corsica to the smooth, fast roads of Catalunya to the multiple surfaces of Germany. This is a good thing indeed. The Irish stages most resemble the parts of the German event that are not in the vineyards or the army bases - tight, twisty, damp and with poor visibility. It will be a true test of the drivers, and a continuation of the Irish heritage of motor racing on its own roads.

The final new event is actually not new at all. Rally Portugal was part of the championship up until 2001, but must continue to live with its bad reputation for crowd control. Hopefully things have changed for the better. This rally is probably most equivalent to the Turkey event, so questions will undoubtedly be raised as to which is actually the better rally. Being English I'm required to hate everything Portugese at the moment, so I'm going to have to say that I disagree with Portugal's inclusion in the calendar. Actually, that's the truth - I see no reason why it should be back in the Championship, especially with its history of spectator fatalities.