Thursday, August 31, 2006

Le Mans Series - More marshalls than spectators

I was watching this weekend's Le Mans Series race from Donington Park yesterday, and could not believe how few spectators there were out there. I'm not talking light, I'm talking practically empty! Simply put, it was sad. Not even laughable, just sad. To make things worse, those that were there have complained about lack of food vendors, poor commentary and a general sense of not knowing what's happening in the race.

The irony is that this was one of the best endurance racing grids assembled in a long time. Check out this photo if you're in any doubt. In contrast, the American Le Mans Series consistently draws large crowds and has a solid TV package showing either on network TV or Speed Channel, yet struggles to attract more than 22 cars.

So what the hell's going on here? Inevitably, pointy fingers are usually thrust in the direction of promoters, since the LMS has been quite open about the fact that it's up to promoters, not the LMS organizers, to, well, promote. In a world where 100,000 people will travel from the UK to Le Mans, surely more than a couple of thousand should be showing up to see the same cars on their own doorstep? Some of my fellow Ten-Tenths Forum members have noted that events at circuits owned by Jonathan Palmer's Motorsport Vision group are generally very well-promoted (e.g. the recent DTM round at Brands Hatch, and British Superbike at Cadwell Park), so a move from the generally poorly-promoted tracks like Silverstone or Donington should be something the LMS will want to consider.

It's not just England that's had this problem. Istanbul was even emptier, and the LMS has chosen to not return. Let that be a warning to you Donington.

TV Commentators

Probably the most important factor that contributes to enjoyment of racing on TV is the commentary team. Followers of this blog will know that I have pretty strong opinions on the topic, so I present to you my favourite racing MCs:

Leigh Diffey / Neil Crompton
- V8 Supercars: A typical duo, the anchor and the expert. What makes these guys work so well is that Diffey clearly knows the sport, and Crompton can hold his own in the anchor department too. Rather than just fill in the details that an ex-racer would know, he'll work with Diffey to build the drama and describe the action. The other thing about him is that he never misses anything. I often find that I'll pick up on details before commentators do, but that is rarely the case when Neil Crompton is on the job.

Martin Haven / David Leslie - WTCC: Martin Haven doesn't pull any punches. If he sees something that he thinks is wrong, there will be no sugar-coating, or attempts to see both sides of the story. It's this confidence and belief in his own opinion being the right one that makes for some very entertaining TV-watching. David Leslie is the perfect foil for him, since Leslie will always see the other side if he feels it's warranted. He's also very good at catching Haven's mistakes, a common situation with the best commentary teams.

Charlie Cox / Steve Parrish - MotoGP: When the international feed of World Superbike lost these guys, I felt it was a huge shame. Luckily their replacements have done pretty well, although it doesn't diminish how truly terrific Cox and Parrish are at motorcycle racing commentary. Cox is a tremendously likeable chap and he has an air of "true fan" about him. His background is in touring car racing, so he came late to watching bikes. As such, he's still in awe of the spectacle and this translates into really exciting, respectful and compelling commentary. Parrish is more hard-nosed. He's seen it all before, so is well-qualified to talk about it. The combination of hardened ex-racer and fan-with-a-microphone is the key to the success here.

John Hindhaugh - Sportscars and more: Hindy is the voice of sportscars. His funny northern accent is a refreshing change from the standard neutral accents of other commentators, and it lends an air of "hanging out at the pub" whenever he's on commentary. He's clearly an influential member of the ALMS and LMS paddock but always comes off as down-to-earth and humble. His true strength is in being able to communicate his knowledge without seeming like an expert. He's also very, very funny.

Murray Walker - Formula 1: Murray is long-retired, replaced on the British terrestrial F1 broadcasts by the annoying team of James Allen and Martin Brundle. To be honest, the US Speed Channel team is significantly better than Allen and Brundle. Murray will always be considered the voice of Formula 1, and over the years has become a cult figure with his numerous "Murrayisms", remarkable errors or hysterical use of grammar. When it comes to stating the obvious, recovering from an error by making another or mixing his metaphors, Murray was the king, and people loved him for it. The classic line of course is: "Unless I'm very much mistaken... I AM very much mistaken..."

Barry Nutley / Jamie Whitham - BSB: Barry Nutley is a solid commentator, but what makes this team great is the wacky Jamie Whitham. A brutally fast, exceptionally exciting racer up until about three years ago, Whitham is the archetypal northerner who says what he thinks and "bollocks to the lot of you if you don't agree"! I remember watching the BSB race from Oulton Park earlier this year and Whitham came out with not one, but four fantastic quotes:

  • "Doin' something like that's like spilling someone's pint in a Northern pub - there's going to be bother..."
  • "An angry James 'aydon's like a wounded fox - you wanna watch where ya go - he'll 'ave ya"
  • "Just another 'alf lap an' he can 'ave another fix of his diarrhea tablets"
  • "Oooh I love motorbikes, me, when it's this excitin'"

Jonathan Green / Scott Smart - WSBK: Green had the unenviable task of replacing Charlie Cox on the World Superbike commentary, and proved shouty and annoying for the first couple of years, especially when paired with James Haydon (who himself specialized in starting every sentance with "yeah, no"). However, when paired with Scott Smart (or Aussie endurance rider Warwick Nowland) things improved dramatically. Green no longer had to work so hard because his partners weren't afraid to talk, so he was able to concentrate on building drama. And guess what? He's actually one of the best in the biz for that particular skill. He gets extremely excited when there's drama on the track, and does well to communicate that.

Honorable mentions:
Ralph Shaheen: Used to be annoying but turns out that he's as big a fan as any of us, which makes it easier to deal with his voice.

Brian Drebber / Greg White: Dreb is off the Speed Channel coverage of AMA Superbikes, which is a shame. Luckily tall bald man Greg White is still there, and does well to strike a balance between being too technical and too simplistic.

Bob Varsha / David Hobbs / Steve Matchett: Undoubtedly a solid F1 commentary team. Varsha has years of experience, Hobbs is very funny, and Matchett very, very knowledgeable.

Dorsey Schrader: The saving grace of Speed's sportscar commentary, which is pretty awful normally.

Ben Edwards / Tim Harvey: ITV's commentators for the BTCC, always solid.

Nicky Grist: Never has an ex-racer been so uncomfortable in front of the camera, but he tries very hard and has a cult following as a result. I mean, the guy is a legend, he was Colin McRae's co-driver. How cool is that?

Go away:
Greg Creamer / Calvin Fish / Brian Till - The aforementioned dismal Speed Channel sportscar team.

Freddie Spencer: Uninspiring, full of crap and always seems to be trying to ingratiate himself with racers - the opposite of Martin Haven.

Derek Daly: Simply put, Daly is irritating.

Danny Sullivan: One of the more visible ex-racers in the US mainstream media, Sullivan is always there. Danny, just for once, stay home. Your voice is annoying and a reasonably successful career in CART doesn't make you an expert on everything else. I'll forever have bad associations with Sullivan since he appeared on the "educational" video shown at both of the last traffic schools I attended for speeding tickets. Shame on you Danny...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cadwell Park

Just finished watching the latest round of the British Superbike Championship, from Cadwell Park. I've never seen racing from this track before, but I've got to say, what an awesome place for racing! I've heard it referred to as the mini-Nurburgring but didn't really believe until today.

Basically, the track is in two distinct parts. From the startline it runs uphill into a long sweeping, open section. There are no trees, but there's topography changes and interesting corners. From there it runs back downhill into a very different, tight woodland section. The highlight of this is "The Mountain", a very sharp crest after a left-right esses, where bikes in particular regularly catch serious air.

After The Mountain, a twisty, wooded section that tends to hold the moisture (like Spa) ends with a couple of tight right-handers before coming back to the start line.

The only downside I would say is a bit of a lack of passing places, but it seems to me that it shares much in common with Sears Point - nice terrain, wide variety of corners, no long straights, awkward esses, and a favourite amongst both fans and racers. Look for a "racetrack hall of fame post" sometime soon, since this has got me thinking about what makes a great track...

Monday, August 28, 2006

V8 Supercars Mid-Season Roast

Well, not so much a roast (although some drivers in the Australian V8 Championship deserve it), more a "where are we at?" round-up before the endurance races...

As usual, it's a Ford team versus a Holden team for bragging rights at the top, but a look at the teams standings reveals that it's not as it has been in previous years. You'd expect that the factory Holden Racing Team would be scrapping with top Ford outfit Stone Brothers Racing, but in fact it's the Toll HSV Holdens that are up against Betta Electrical's Fords. And this is reflected in the driver standings too: Betta Electrical's Craig Lowndes leads Toll HSV's Rick Kelly and Garth Tander. All three drivers have had a cracking year, and it's virtually certain that one of these three will take the crown.

So the news is really more about who's underachieving. So in reverse order, the top seven "Shouldn't you be doing much better Fastest Lap Blog award":

  • SEVEN: Steven Richards - Richo was the model of consistency last year, but this year has found himself slightly off the pace. He also had a bad couple of rounds in Darwin (rd 5) and Oran Park (rd 7). His calm, professional approach should stand him in good stead for the enduros however...
  • SIX: James Courtney - In a season that somewhat mirrors the season the bloke he replaced is having in NASCAR, Courtney struggled to finish races early on but has now found the podium. There's no doubt he has talent, but his various huge crashes early on will demand strong finishes towards the end, in order to get a good place in the championship.
  • FIVE: Russell Ingall - "The Enforcer" hasn't been doing much enforcing this year, and has found himself in a Richo-style top 10 groove, with no wins. He simply doesn't have the pace this year, despite learning good lessons about consistency during last year's championship-winning run.
  • FOUR: Jason Bright - Brighty is the perennial hot/cold driver in the series. Sometimes he's terrific (witness his great run in 2004) and sometimes he completely loses the plot. The first three races found him in exactly that scenario, which is made worse by the fact his young team-mate Mark Winterbottom has found some great pace and is now a regular front-runner.
  • THREE: Todd Kelly - What can you say about a guy who has broken multiple gearsticks this season? They need to feed the boy less spinach or something, because he seems to be the only guy out there who breaks gearsticks. As HRT try to redesign the thing it creates more problems, and this, more than anything else, is the reason the Toddler languishes in 18th place.
  • TWO: Mark Skaife - Skaifey is having one of those bad-luck seasons. Last year his driving looked very ordinary, and he deserved his average results. This year he's back on pace, but either by crashes (taken out by Greg Murphy at Adelaide) or mechanicals (gearbox failure last week at Oran Park), the guy can't seem to catch a break. He's becoming the Kimi Raikkonen on V8 Supercars.
  • ONE: Greg Murphy - I'll make no bones about it, I'm a big Greg Murphy fan. So it pains me to see the guy who took his place at the HSV team, Garth Tander, in 3rd place, whilst Murph struggles with a car that couldn't stick to racetrack if it was nailed in place. Let's not pull any punches here: the SuperCheap Autos team is bloody awful and so are their cars, and Murph made a massive error in switching teams to join them. Hopefully he can find somewhere "betta" to go next year.
As you can see, having both Stone Brothers drivers and both HRT drivers in my Hall of Shame illustrates why those teams are off the pace. Happily, the two endurance races tend to turn everything on its head, and a number of these drivers have the experience to make the best of Sandown and Bathurst. After that, there's still four other sprint rounds, so it's certainly not over yet...

Friday, August 25, 2006

What's on?

Despite Blogger behaving badly today, I'm quickly going to summarize what's happening this weekend:

Formula 1: Istanbul, Turkey
Le Mans Endurance Series: Donington Park, England
British Superbike: Cadwell Park, England
Indy Racing League: Sears Point, CA
Rolex Sportscar Series: Sears Point, CA
Rally America: Ojibwe Forests Rally, MN

ALMS gains weight for Laguna

I'm certainly not a fan of either the Indy Racing League or the Rolex Sportscar Series, but having them race less than 40 miles away from me this weekend and not be able to go is more than a bit irritating. So instead I have to look to October 21st when the ALMS returns to Laguna Seca.

I haven't been to the Laguna ALMS event in three years since it always falls on the same weekend as the street fair I help organize, but this year it will be on the following weekend. This is great news, because it looks like there might actually be an ALMS grid worth watching for once, bigger than the paltry 22 cars that have started all the non-Sebring races this year. So in addition to the Audis, Dysons, Autocon, Highcroft and Intersport Lolas, Penske Porsches, Corvettes, Astons, Panozes, PTG BMWs, and sundry Porsche GT3s and Ferrari F430s, we'll have some "interlopers":

  • Creation are bringing over one, possibly two, of their LMP1 cars, perhaps to showcase them for sale as turnkey racecars for the '07 ALMS season (they won't be legal in Europe next year, but will be in the US)
  • Van der Steur Racing will have their fab new Radical for Ben Devlin
  • Horag Racing has a new Lola LMP2 to play with
  • BK Motorsport will be back with their Mazda-powered Courage LMP2 (even though many were predicting their demise due to alleged unpaid bills)
  • There's talk of Oreca bringing over one of their lightning-fast Saleens
  • Apparently a couple of teams have Ferrari F430s ready to race, in addition to the 2-3 currently in the ALMS
  • Tracy Krohn is said to be entering a 2-car Aston Martin team in 2007, but might have one ready for Laguna. YES PLEASE!!!
  • Zytek were said to be bringing their 06S for Johnny Herbert but that may fall through
All in all, it's shaping up to be quite a race, and given that it's four hours long and runs into the night, will be well worth the trip. Can't wait!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What do you call it? Rally?

Living in the US and being a follower and participant in rallying can be tough work sometimes. We don't get the WRC on TV, and most people have never heard of the sport. This involves a lot of 'splainin'. However I've figured out a solution, and it came to me as I watched the footage of this weekend's Rally Finland that I'd gotten hold of.

The solution: Figure out a way to show people 15 seconds of Rally Finland footage.

The bottom line is this: the best rally in the world is Rally Finland. The one event that communicates the thrill, the speed, the sheer freakin' insanity that is driving along gravel forest roads at average speeds over 100mph, is Finland. There's a reason they call it the spiritual home of rallying. It's because the essence of what makes stage rallying what it is will always be found in its most concentrated form in Finland.

Finland takes the prize for all of the following categories:

  • Fastest rally
  • Biggest injury-free crashes (Dani Sordo on Day 2 this year is a prime example)
  • Longest / highest jumps (Moksi and Ouninpohja)
  • Biggest crowds
  • Most spectators dressed as Santa Claus
  • Fastest "local" drivers (Janne Tuohino, Jussi Valimaki et al)
  • Largest field of pukka WRC-class cars (outside of Ireland)
  • Fastest stage (Ouninpohja - the section where it turns from the left/right lumpy country road onto the "main" road is simply sick - see below, it's after Phil Mills says "faster now"!!!)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

TT Article on Linksheaven

I was honoured to be asked by the excellent Formula 1 Linksheaven blog to write about the Isle of Man TT, and my article is now up there. Check it out...

Rally Organizing

After a weekend up in the Mendocino National Forest (the only National Forest in CA that isn't bisected by a paved road) I posted on SpecialStage about how fabulous the gravel roads up there are. I had a vague memory of a rally having once run up there, and whilst driving up to Lake Pillsbury I was struck by the notion that it would be a terrific rally stage. The surface was relatively smooth, the road pretty wide, it appeared to be regularly graded, and was close to a town that had a number of hotels and would serve well as a headquarters (that town being Ukiah).

My post sparked a host of responses, some reminiscing about previous rallies up there, and some showing enthusiasm for a rebirth of the event. Now I find myself thinking about what actually goes into organizing a rally. Not that I have time to do that, but others do, and I'm sure I'd be glad to help out (my background is in logistics and production so I kind of dig event management).

I suppose the biggest issue is securing the roads. If you can do that, everything else should be reasonably straightforward: secure an HQ hotel and space for service, grab about 100 volunteers, secure a sanctioning body, open up entries, get medical support, choose a route and create roadbooks. Simple, eh?

I've always had a huge amount of respect for organizers but have yet to actually work on an event - my point being that if I can spare the time to go to a rally, I'd rather be co-driving. Perhaps it's time to get involved with working an event. That said, I might be co-driving at the Reno Rally...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ducati takes its toys and goes home crying

Ducati have pulled out of the AMA Superbike championship, effective 2007. They say it's because they can't use their WSBK and BSB spec-bikes, and have to build special bikes to conform with the AMA rules. In addition, those AMA rules make it difficult for twins to compete with 4-cylinder bikes, and since they won't change until at least 2008, they're leaving.

This is a bummer, since it looks like Yamaha will be back in AMA next year, and we could have had factory presence from the top five manufacturers for the first time in ages. It also means we'll lose Neil Hodgson (but that was highly likely anyway).

I can't for the life of me figure out why the British, American and World series won't align their rules. I'm sure it's an ego and power thing. Whatever it is, the AMA need to figure something out, because it's getting REALLY tedious watching their races. In contrast, the second British Superbike race from Croft was one of the best superbike races I've seen in ages. If you haven't seen it, let me know, I'll point you in the direction of it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Championship leaders I.M.

Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden exchange a conversation on Yahoo IM:

Elbowz11: hey dude, how was your race
69TheKid: aw man, we couldn't get it done 2day
Elbowz11: nor could we - i busted my hand pretty good
69TheKid: hate to blame the boyz, 'cos they worked hard on the bike
Elbowz11: sucks dude - you wanna ride hard, but can't crash
Elbowz11: not sure i like leading the championship
69TheKid: try doing it with valentino and the spanish dwarf breathing down your neck
Elbowz11: guess i don't need to worry about that - hard to race in the world championship when you refuse to get on a plane
69TheKid: bro, what's up with that?
Elbowz11: hate flying man - scares the shit out of me
69TheKid: so can you beat mat
Elbowz11: sure - he's old and slow now
69TheKid: he was old and slow when i beat him :D
69TheKid: just remember, don't get messed up in the head from his games, and it's all yours
Elbowz11: wish i could tell you how to beat pedrosa, but my only advice for winning is be on a suzuki - guess that wouldn't work for u
69TheKid: no way, john's a crying wreck after every race
Elbowz11: so what happened yesterday?
69TheKid: can't bad-mouth big red, but the clutch was fucked, tires went off real bad too
Elbowz11: aw man, that sucks - at least i know my hand will heal...
69TheKid: so you gonna win?
Elbowz11: yeah. you?
69TheKid: as long as kenny doesn't keep stealing my points, the bike doesn't break, the tires stay good, pedrosa keeps not winning and i don't crash, then yeah, i'll win
Elbowz11: dude, gotta run, my mom's calling me down for dinner
69TheKid: you still love with your mom?
Elbowz11 has signed out

ALMS back on Speed Channel

I was so relieved to find the ALMS back on Speed Channel. For all it's faults, Speed still does a significantly better job at broadcasting endurance sportscar racing than CBS, and yesterday was a case in point. It comes down to this: there are two ways to watch endurance racing. The first is to watch in its entirety, whereby you understand how the race is unfolding, how each car got to where it is, and all the little details such as evolving issues with cars. Alternatively you can watch a nice, pre-packaged highlights show, where a commentator can guide you through the race and point out the important moments of the race. The problem comes when you attempt to do a cut-down show, where you can't get spoon-fed by commentators, nor can you see for yourself how things develop. This is the issue with CBS.

Thanks to the full coverage from Speed, it was easy to see how the #3 Corvette gained a lap during a caution period, how the top three cars finished within 7/10 of a second (when was the last time you saw that in F1???) and how the Penske Porsches managed to once again turn the "suck" knob all the way up to 11.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I'm in the middle of a very busy couple of weeks, so won't be posting again till at least next Monday...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Colin McRae is a GOD!!!

Okay, go here and then go here. Go on, don't came back until you've done that....

Are you done? Good. Now, does anyone want to disagree with the title of this post? Hmmm? Yes, I thought not.

There was never any doubt that the X Games would be a major boost for rallying in the US. But to have the event end like that? Well, nearby Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better. You have hotshot young American going up against legendary European world champ. They battle it out on the stages and end up separated by 0.5 of a second. In the meantime the young American goes off and completes the FIRST EVER DOUBLE BACKFLIP IN FREESTYLE MOTOCROSS COMPETITION!!! Tension builds as other competitors come out and try to overcome their deficits to the top two, but in the end it would always be Colin McRae versus Travis Pastrana. As McRae thundered into the stadium for the second time, he was clearly on target to beat Pastrana, but in typical Colin style he doesn't back off, and attacks the last jump with the tenacity of a dog in a butcher's shop. Over he rolls, and by now we're on our feet in front of the TV, screaming about how likely 4th placed-finisher Laughlin O'Sullivan will surely get the bronze medal. But no, Colin proves his status as a rallying deity by popping the clutch and engaging first whilst he's still in the middle of the roll, and driving full-on for the finish line as soon as all four wheels touch the ground again. In the end, he loses out to Travis by 0.52 of a second. Apart from the now-questionable ride by Floyd Landis into Morzine on the Tour de France three weeks ago, it's been a while since I've seen a sporting moment as exciting as that.

Let me break it down a little. Travis made it clear all week that although he was entered in four events at the X Games, it was the rallying that was most important to him. And he was also very clear about how big a thrill it was to be racing against Colin McRae. When Travis speaks, America listens. Don't underestimate the power of X Games media - this was very, very big, and congratulations to Rally America, the competitors, the TV producers and everyone else involved. It was a great piece of sport (and let's not dimiss X Games events as not being sports anymore - watching Shaun White attempt a 1080 on his skateboard more than 20 times or that amazing Pastrana backflip was far more impressive, and says more about human physical achievement than any basketball, ice hockey or American football I've ever seen.)

Colin, you're a God. And Travis, you're pretty damn good too.

Go Jens!

First off, I'm going to hold off on X-Games commentary for this post at least. It's too exciting to be buried in a "weekend wrap-up"-type posting.

I think it's fair to say that the happiest bloke in the world right now is Jenson Button. He finally broke his duck and won the Hungarian Grand Prix in bizarre circumstances. I've always felt that ole Jens was easily a potential winner, so I was pretty disappointed when he moved from Williams to what was BAR and is now Honda. Until you have a decent car under you, it doesn't matter how fast you are - you won't win (see a certain F. Alonso for more info - he never won any races in a Minardi....) Anyway, here's to our lad Button, God Save the Queen, blah, blah, blah. I'm wearing my Jenson t-shirt today to celebrate.

The other main racing activity this weekend was of the Superbike sort. The AMA series was at Mid-Ohio, and once again Ben Spies was dominant. I don't know what it'll take to get the non-Suzuki teams to be competitive, but right now (and actually for the past few years) this is getting pretty boring. I ended up fast-forwarding much of race two, as Spies cleared off, leaving Mat Mladin and Miguel Duhamel (two of my least favourite riders, Mladin being a prick and Duhamel being a corporate puppet) to fight for second.

Over at Brands Hatch, the World Superbike boys were fighting it out. I've seen race one, no thanks to Speed Channel who are showing the races on Tuesday. I'll watch race two tonight and might have a thing to say about it tomorrow.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Silly season

Why am I always surprised when silly season rumours start circulating this early in the year? Fact is that there's plenty of talk of who's going where in F1, MotoGP and Superbike. The phenomenon doesn't necessarily translate to the world of sportscar racing which tends to be a in a permanent state of silly season.

The big deal in F1 apparently seems to surround Michael Schumacher. Nick Damon was talking on Midweek Motorsport about how his future plans basically unlock a bunch of other moves for the rest of the paddock. If he retires, it's likely Kimi Raikkonen will replace him. If he doesn't, then Raikkonen will most likely take the other potential top slot, the seat at Renault. That leaves an empty seat over at McLaren, and a number of drivers without '07 contracts (most notably Mark Webber).

Over in the bike world, most discussion surrounds Carl Fogarty, Ducati, Max Biaggi and Neil Hodgson. It's unclear if Foggy's going to move to MotoGP or switch manufacturers in World Superbike. What is clear is that the Ducati team in AMA is living with an axe over its head. Ducati want Hodgson back in World Superbike, and there's talk of a "B" factory Ducati team run by Foggy. It's also mooted that the Foggy / Hodgson combo will be a satellite Ducati team in MotoGP, possibly with Max Biaggi coming on board. It's all very tantalizing...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

X Games Rally

Today sees the start of the X Games Rally. This is the first time a 4-wheel motorsport has been part of the X Games, and the first time that a national rally event will see network TV coverage.

First off, the good: it's got some of the best drivers, and that great TV coverage.

Now, the bad: Although it features some "real" rally stages, there's only 8 of them, they're all closed to spectators, there's only have 37 miles of actual stage mileage, and the results of the rally part of the event will be divided by five to emphasize the importance of the "superspecial" stage on Saturday.

The focus of the rally really comes down to that superspecial at the Home Depot Center on Saturday, which is not much more than a mile. I don't know if each driver gets multiple runs at it - I presume they do. I can understand why the rally needs to be packaged this way, but I can't help feeling a bit sad that rallying needs to "sell out" in this manner to get widespread coverage. Oh well, I'll continue to be happy that it brings more American eyes onto the sport.

The drivers involved are all awesome, and kudos to Rally America for getting Colin McRae involved. It will be great to see him up against the best the US has to offer. Travis Pastrana is probably the top guy on the scene right now, and after the completion of the first four stages, he leads McRae by about 8 seconds. Other US rally regulars include Matt Iorio (USRC champ), Ken Block (Travis' team-mate), Tanner Faust (PGT champ and Hollywood stunt-driver) and Andrew Comrie-Picard.

The X Games Rally also sees the return of some former US champs.

  • Paul Choiniere, who used to be Hyundai's lead factory driver, should go well, even if he is a little rusty. Pat Richard was incredibly dominant in 2004 and 2005, but hasn't raced at all in 2006. I expect him to go faster as the rally progresses.
  • Ramana Lagemann was the golden boy of US rallying back in '02 and '03 but somewhat slipped from the scene. He's got an Escort Cosworth for this event.
  • Rhys Millen has taken time out from his drifting schedule to bring his Evo VII out to play, but he has already suffered a mechanical DNF and won't feature at the top of the results.
  • Group N champ and and sole American WRC Mexico entrant in 2004 Wyeth Gubelmann got a last-minute call-up when Australian Andrew Pinker couldn't put together the sponsorship to run the event.
  • Finally, and most importantly (to me anyway) is my friend, and fellow San Franciscan, Lauchlin O'Sullivan. Lauchlin is probably the best driver in the US at knowing when to push and when to hold back, and this cerebral approach works well in the longer events. Hopefully in a short event like this he'll go hell for leather from the get-go.
So it looks to be a great fight, even if it's a sprint, and a good showcase for rallying. The TV coverage is on ABC at 2pm PDT this Saturday. I'll have to tape it since I'll be at Buttonwillow for a track day on my bike...