Monday, January 29, 2007

New racing business blog

A new motorsports management company, Hardcard Holdings, have an interesting blog on their site. Since they know the racing business from the inside, it provides some interesting thoughts. Check it out.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

2-wheel job-seekers

The silly-season merry-go-round has nearly come to a stop, and in the world of motorcycle racing there's a few riders who find themselves still looking for a seat. So who's filling out their unemployment forms or lining up at the dole queue?

Neil Hodgson: How can it be that one of the top superbike riders in the world is unemployed? The simple answer is that Hodgson was determined to get the factory Ducati World Superbike seat alongside Troy Bayliss, and didn't consider other options until it was too late. There is no doubt that there are a number of Superbike teams who would rather have him on their roster, but deadlines had to be met, and riders had to be signed, and now it's too late. Hodgson's choices are now very limited. He's hoping that Carl Fogarty can put something together using Ducatis, but 'ole Foggy doesn't seem to have the same level of talent finding sponsorship as he had riding Superbikes. Other options for Neil include the second seat at Yamaha France, or a possible seat alongside Rubens Xaus at Sterilgarda-Berik Ducati.

Garry McCoy: The man whose riding style is so distinctive, no-one wants to work with him. For a young MotoGP team like Ilmor, in desperate need of test data, McCoy was not the man for the job. Fair enough I say. But Garry is still lightning fast, and after a year in FIM Supermoto his remarkable bike-handling skills must surely be even better. Any motorcycle racing team looking for press would be well-advised to contact the dimunitive Australian. People love the guy, he's quick, and very exciting to watch. It's PR gold baby!

Scott Smart: Scott had a terrific year in British Superbike in 2004 on a Kawasaki, enough to bag him a ride with top Suzuki outfit Rizla Suzuki. Things started to go bad almost immediately, and he left mid-season to join semi-works team Vivaldi. Despite picking up a win for them in 2006 he left the team, and is now scrambling to find enough cash to run his own team, on Yamahas for 2007. At this point, it doesn't look very good. Should he fail, his options in British Superbike are slim (perhaps a reason he has tried to go it alone). Hawk Kawasaki have signed Peter Hickman, but it's unclear whether they'll be looking for a second rider. If they are, it would nice to see Scott back in green.

Giovanni Bussei: American fans will remember Bussei's extroverted character from a few races on the Ducati team at the tail-end of 2003. The heavily-goateed, curly-haired madman from Italy made a lot of friends, but ended up back in Europe. Since then he's ridden with the Bertocchi Kawasaki team, as well as filled in for injured riders at Ten Kate Honda. Sadly, it doesn't seem like he has much lined up for 2007, which is a shame, since he's clearly a very talented rider.

Chris Burns: Remember him? He raced the woeful WCM bike in MotoGP in 2003 and 2004, and has floated aaround the British racing scene since then, mopst notably taking the place of John McGuinness when he left AIM Yamaha in 2005. Burns is probably the unluckiest man in bike racing, and sadly most people forget that he's a former Superstock champion. Alas, it seems as though he's without a ride again in 2007.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

They made it

To follow up on my post a few days ago about Rolex team Southard Motorsports. See the webcam capture on the right. They made it. They basically built a brand new car in twelve days. Well done chaps! Good luck this weekend...

Weekend Menu - Week 4

Coming up this weekend:

  • Sno*Drift Rally, Atlanta, MI. Round 1 of the Rally America National Championship
  • AMA Supercross right here in San Francisco (no, I'm probably not going to bother - although riding in the dirt is terrific fun, I find watching motocross and supercross rather tedious)
  • 24 Hours of Daytona, FL. Round 1 of the Rolex Sportscar Series.
  • UAE International Rally, Al Aid, UAE. This was supposed to be round 1 of the FIA's Middle East Rally Championship, but has actually been CANCELLED.
Obviously the Daytona 24 is the biggest event of the weekend, and despite the absurdity of the those silly little Daytona Prototypes, this has all the makings of a classic endurance race. I coulnd't narrow down a list of potential winners to anything less than 18 choices. Daily Sportscar did the same, and I was pleased to find 16 of my picks overlapped with theirs. Strangely, they didn't pick the Sigalsport BMW (with Bill Auberlen and Karl Wendlinger as the drivers of note), which I think has a chance. I'm not the only one - Chuck Dressing mentioned them as a dark horse for the win on this week's Midweek Motorsport.

Monday, January 22, 2007


This weekend was probably the first decent weekend of racing of 2007. The Dakar Rally was finishing up, the WRC opened its season and A1GP returned from its break. But none of these events were even remotely exciting.

Seb Loeb and Citroen won again at the Monte Carlo Rally, despite having a new car (this always creates the potential for reliability issues), and to make things worse, his team-mate Dani Sordo came second. The stages were devoid of unpredictable ice and snow, like usual, making it more like watching the old San Remo Rally. The final insult was the third leg which featured one measly stage, a superspecial on the streets of Monaco. They didn't even utilize the whole F1 track, and missed out the best bits (Casino Square, Lowes hairpin and the tunnel). LAME.

The Dakar Rally reached the famed Lac Rose, with no major drama. I'll admit that the final stage around the lake is always a processional humdrum affair so I wasn't surprised. What was surprising was that this Dakar seemed rather short of its own excitement for the whole 17 days. Oh sure, there was the dramatic crash and retirement of motorcycle leader Marc Coma, two days from the end, as well as the woes of Volkswagen after the rest day, but apart from that it was a pretty tame affair, with the robotically reliable Stephane Peterhansel taking a ninth victory, and seventh in a row for Mitsubishi. To be honest, I still think the best Dakar was a few years back where they went across the top of Africa and ended in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.

Finally, Germany won in A1GP, again. This time they took both wins at Taupo, New Zealand.

Let's hope that the season starts to throw out some more interesting races and results soon. So, Chip Ganassi, don't you dare win the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona next weekend.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Great Calendar

My labour of love is complete. The global motorsport calendar is now online, and features 2007 schedules for 80+ national- and international-level racing series. Check it out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Will They Make It?

Here's something fun to check out: during the test days for this years Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, one of the privateer Daytona Prototype teams, Southard Motorsports, had a pretty hefty shunt. The car was significantly damaged and the team were left with three weeks to either (a) repair it; (b) lease an older chassis from someone else; or (c) purchase a new bare chassis and swap all the components from the damaged car to it.

Small privateer teams such as this often have a great ability to think outside the box, and this was no exception: they decided to install a webcam and post daily reports on the progress of the repair. If they had any sponsors, this would be great coverage...

Let's hope they succeed.

WRC Preview

With what must be the shortest winter break of any major motorsport, the World Rally Championship returns to action this weekend with the 75th running of the Monte Carlo Rally. Typically this event features unpredictable surfaces and weather, but the winner in the past few years has been anything but - if it wasn't for a slight slip on the first leg last year, Sebastien Loeb would have made it four wins in a row. Come to think of it, a small infringement in 2002 (tyre changing in parc ferme) was all that stopped Loeb from starting his run of victories one year earlier.

The Monte is not the best place to get a feel for the form of the year's WRC entrants due its unique nature, but that shouldn't stop us taking a look at the main contenders for 2007.

Citroen Total World Rally Team: Citroen return in full-factory guise this year with a new car, the C4, and it's this detail that casts some doubt over whether they'll be as dominant as they have been in the past. Admittedly the car has been testing for a year now, so should be well-developed, but no matter how hard a team tries, testing will never replicate the rigours of competition. They have possibly the greatest rally driver of all time behind the wheel of the 1 car, Seb Loeb, so if anyone can maximize the C4's performance, it's him. Joining him is the extremely fast Dani Sordo, whose development is mirroring Loeb's: initially fast on tarmac, improving on gravel but having some big spills in the process. Look at Loeb's results in 2002 to get an idea of where Sordo will finish.

BP Ford World Rally Team: Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen both performed extremely well in 2006, and there's no reason to doubt a repeat performance in 2007. Now that Mikko has learnt consistency, the big question is how hard will he push Marcus this year? The latest version of the Focus should have gotten past any teething troubles, unlike its Citroen rival, so expect a much closer battle this year.

Subaru World Rally Team: Subaru had their worst season since 1994 last year, and many people blamed that on the Pirelli tyres that only Subaru was using. Now they've switched to the same BF Goodrich rubber that everyone else is on, so the playing field is theoretically level again. This should return Petter Solberg to a competitive pace, and give Chris Atkinson no more excuses. It's a make or break year for the Aussie. I'm voting for "break".

OMV Kronos Citroen World Rally Team: In a marriage of convenience Kronos (without drivers or sponsors but with cars) joins up with Manfred Stohl (flush with OMV sponsorship but without a drive). This leaves Stohl's previous team, Bozian Peugeot, somewhat in the wilderness, and it is undetermined what they'll be doing in 2007. Kronos can expect a solid year with occasional podiums and consistent points finishes, especially with Swedish hotshot Daniel Carlsson in the second car for a number of events. Carlsson turned in an exceptional performance in a Mitsubishi at the Swedish Rally last year but couldn't find the funding for any additional drives. The Belgian outfit will be a significantly smaller operation than last year, when they functioned as a quasi-factory Citroen team.

Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team: Stobart return as Ford's "B" team, and rather sensibly have decided to not have Matthew Wilson be nominated for manufacturer points. That duty will fall to new signing Henning Solberg and young, fast Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. Wilson continues, but as a third driver. Solberg should be worth some mid-points finishes and if luck goes his way might pick up a podium. Latvala is the more exciting prospect - a 5th on Rally GB last year proved his talent, and he's got previous experience with Ford in the WRC and British championship. What may hold the team back a little is the fact they'll be running with one-year-old cars.

Munchi's Ford Rally Team: This will be Ford's third team, funded with sponsorship from Luis-Perez Companc. Partnering the beaver-like Argentinian will be Juan-Pablo Raies. Companc's beaver impressions went beyond appearance last year - he seemed to be very good at finding trees to munch on, and when he wasn't crashing, he was slow. The Red Bull Skoda team may be gone, but Munchi's will be a perfect successor for the title of "basement team". Incidentally, Munchi's is an Argentinian ice cream manufacturer, and their website shows some very tasty treats...

The others: We'll see the usual supporting cast this year, headed by Mitsubishi, who have committed to three events but will likely run most of the season, except perhaps for the long-haul rallies. Toni Gardemeister will be very quick, as usual, and will almost certainly upset the six manufacturer teams from time to time. Team-mate Xavier Pons will be less of a threat but has a full-season's experience to help him.

Irishman Gareth MacHale plans on doing 11 events, and will swap his venerable Focus WRC03 for something newer after Monte Carlo.

Khalid Al-Qassimi's plans finally came together, with a Subaru Impreza WRC his weapon of choice for a full-season campaign.

Gigi Galli has once again secured backing from Pirelli and will compete in eight rallies. He'll be using one of the PH Sport Citroen Xsaras this time around, possibly the chassis used so successfully by Gardemeister last year.

Other drivers we can expect to see from time to time include Francois Duval, Guy Wilks, Thomas Schie, Jan Kopecky, Janne Tuohino, Jussi Valimaki and Stephane Sarrazin.

Most tantalizing of all though will be the arrival of Suzuki towards the end of the year, and Travis Pastrana at three unnamed events in a Group N Subaru. Both new arrivals will be a taste of things to come in 2008 and beyond.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 3

Major national or international racing this weekend includes:

SCORE: Laughlin Desert Challenge, Laughlin, Nevada
WRC: Rallye Monte Carlo, Monaco
A1GP: Taupo, New Zealand
NZV8s: Taupo, New Zealand
AMA Supercross: Anaheim, California

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mitsubishi Mystery Part 2

No sooner do I write a nice, detailed analysis of the current Mitsubishi WRC situation than Mitsu put out a press release clarifying things...

So it turns out that this will simply be a privateer deal, along the lines of what Daniel Carlsson and Gigi Galli had last year. As for the details of what exactly happened behind the scenes between December 14th and now, well, nothing has yet emerged, and probably won't.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mitsubishi mystery

Back on December 14th we first heard whispers of a new Mitsubishi entry to the WRC. The story went that Toni Gardemeister and Khalid Al-Qassami would be run by MMSP in 2005 Lancer WRC cars. Given the line-up, it seemed clear that financial backing was coming from the Middle East. The rumour seemed to be confirmed when, not typically prone to reporting hearsay and rumour, posted the story the following day.

Within hours removed the news item, and by 12/18 Mitsubishi had announced it would not be returning in 2007 in an official capacity as a "manufacturer" entry. However, it still seemed as though a team would run the two cars with the same two drivers. Middle East money still seemed to be heavily involved.

Two days later, the entry list for the Monte Carlo Rally was released and the unnamed Mitsu team was on there, specifically listing Gardemeister and Al-Qassami in Lancer WRC05s. Nine days after that the list of Manufacturer entries in the WRC did not list a Mitsubishi team.

The Swedish Rally entry list was released on January 5th, and featured the same drivers listed as MMSP (Mitsubshi Motor Sports Program), albeit not as Manufacturer entries.

The confusing story became even more confusing when broke news on Jan 9th that Mitsubishi were not allowing the team to use its cars or its name. We did learn that the team was to be called the "Fly Emirates World Rally Team", but whether it would be able to continue, perhaps with a pair of Subaru WRC cars, remained a big question. So... back to square one.

Three days later, the team appeared to be back on track. Sort of. The Rally Norway entry list listed Gardemeister in a Lancer, this time alongside Citroen refugee Xevi Pons and Juha Haaninen, whilst Al-Qassami was listed in an Impreza WRC as the "Abu Dhabi Rally Team". It appeared as though Al-Qassami had grown impatient and taken his money elsewhere, whilst whoever was behind the Mitsu operation pushed forward.

A story on about Xavier Pons' role seemed to answer that "who" question. MMSP's ops manager confirmed that the team was no pipedream, but was looking to replace Al-Qassami's name due to the Saudi drivers' departure.

So what do we know now? I would guess that something like this happened: Mitsubishi wanted to return to the championship in a very limited way, not as a manufacturer, but on an event-by-event basis. When MMSP went about putting the program together they brought in Al-Qassami to help offset costs. A probable lack of communication between Mitsubishi and MMSP meant that there was no unified message to the media, one side believing it to be a full assault on the championship as a manufacturer, the other insisting it would not be (and that it would not support such an effort).

The good news is that we will see Mitsubishi in the WRC in 2007, with Toni Gardemeister and other top drivers, along with Khalid Al-Qassami in his own Subaru team. Any time that there's additional quality entries in the WRC, that's a good thing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Gary Paffett - where did it all go wrong?

One moment you're DTM champion and in line for a top Formula 1 seat, and next you're scrabbling around for a ride in a year-old DTM car. So, Gary Paffett, where did it all go wrong?

Paffett is without doubt a huge talent. His extensive background in karting and his innate technical ability served him well as he progressed through the ranks to end up in DTM. After a breakthrough first year in the extremely competitive series in a year-old car, he landed a coveted factory Mercedes seat and proceeded to take second in the championship in his first year with the team and the title in his second. Along the way he took nine victories, a remarkable feat in such a competitive series. Eschewing another year in DTM, he took a test role at McLaren's F1 team, with the hopes that he's get the race seat in 2007. He didn't get that seat, and, with the factory Mercedes DTM team complete, can only hope for a place with one of the customer teams in year-old machinery.

The main cause of Paffett's misery is a young man named Lewis Hamilton. The latest Great White Hope in British motor racing (even though he's black) has swooped in after taking the GP2 title, and taken the second McLaren race seat alongside Fernando Alonso. In any normal circumstances, Paffett's massive talent, youth and media-friendly manner would have guaranteed him a place in F1. Problem is, Hamilton is younger, faster and more interesting to the media. McLaren really had no choice, and by the time it became clear to Paffett that he was in trouble, all the other F1 seats had been taken.

He is undoubtedly faster than a lot of current F1 drivers, and younger and better looking than some of those. If I was Toyota (who I panned a couple of weeks ago for their pathetic F1 program) I'd hunt down Gary with an iron-clad promise of a multi-year race contract starting with 2008, along with a 2007 test role and a 2007 SuperGT seat to keep his racing chops sharp. After all, come '08 they MUST SURELY get rid of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, both of whom have outstayed their welcome in the sport. Imagine your second cousins who you've maybe only met once before, who have asked to crash for a few nights in your spare bedroom whilst on a round-the-world trip but are still there 4 weeks later... that's Ralf and Jarno.

Set against that kind of mundane talent, Paffett looks every bit the F1 superstar, so it's almost painful to see him pin his hopes on a company like Mercedes, who clearly have their interests elsewhere.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 2

For the only time this year, we have only one racing event this weekend on the global calendar:

AMA Supercross - Phoenix

Friday, January 05, 2007

Rally for motorcycles

Here's something interesting. Although motorcycles have been doing off-road events for as long as motorcycles have even existed, a true rally-format event has never been offered. Up until events have been limited to long-distance true off-road races like Baja, marathon rallies (multi-day Baja-style events), off-road enduros (which don't involve any road sections), scrambles or motocross. The concept of a series of relatively short closed stages connected by non-competitive open road sections is brand new to bikes, and will debut next month in the USA as part of the Sandblast Rally. Check out the press release here.

I think that this is a very positive thing. Any dialogue between 4-wheel and 2-wheel sports is always great to see, and additional opportunities for bike competition is cool too.

Some points of interest:

  • Bikes will need to be street legal, unlike most desert racers
  • Competitors will start in pairs
  • Sidecar teams will be allowed
  • We can expect up to six RallyMoto events in 2007
I'm going dirtbiking for the first time next week. And I've done a lot of rallying. Hmmmm......

Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 Predictions

Was nice to hear the Midweek Motorsport crew doing their 2007 predictions today, and it reminded me to put my own predictions together...

MotoGP: Dani Pedrosa
Why: A year in MotoGP, plus the new smaller 800s will suit him.

World Rally Championship: Marcus Gronholm
Why: Loeb will struggle with the new Citroen.

Formula 1: Kimi Raikonnen
Why: Alonso will be slower in the McLaren.

World Superbike: Noriyuki Haga
Why: That new Yamaha with the adjustable intake will be fast.

AMA Superbike: Eric Bostrom
Why: Same reason as Haga - that new Yamaha.

British Touring Cars: Jason Plato
Why: SEAT know Super 2000-spec cars better than anyone.

Champcar: Justin Wilson
Why: Bourdais will be dreaming of F1, da Matta is still out, Allmendinger is gone.

World Touring Cars: Jorg Muller
Why: Priaulx's lucky run is over.

DTM: Gary Paffett (as long as he gets an '07 car)
Why: He's angry and he's won it before.

V8 Supercars: Mark Skaife
Why: He used up all his bad luck in 2006.

British Superbike: Chris Walker (that's a purely emotional choice by the way)
Why: Not sure, something to do with wanting to win again.

IRL: Helio Castroneves (unless Andretti Green get things figured out, in which case I'd say Tony Kanaan)
Why: Because Andretti Green haven't got things figured out yet.

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick
Why: Look at his '06 stats - he knows how to win.

ALMS P1: Champion Audi (if they're there)
Why: Because they have no real competition

ALMS P2: Dyson Porsche (but will probably be Penske Porsche)
Why: Best Porsche driver line-up and they'll be faster than Acura.

ALMS GT1: Corvette (ugh)
Why: They have a cheater car not really based on a road car.

ALMS GT2: Flying Lizard Porsche
Why: It's fast new Porsche that should beat the Ferraris and Bergmeister is on board.

LMES P1: Peugeot (unless Audi comes in, in which case Audi)
Why: ACO rules favour diesels right now and Peugeot have the budget to win.

LMES P2: Barazi Epsilon
Why: Long shot, but their new Zytek might be quick.

LMES GT1: Oreca Saleen
Why: Most professional outfit in GT1 (yes, better than Larbre).

LMES GT2: Team LNT Panoz
Why: Lack of truly dedicated Porsche or Ferrari competition.

Le Mans P1: Audi
Why: Peugeot is too new to win this year.

Le Mans P2: Dyson (if they're there, if not I'll say RML MG-Lola)
Why: The Porsche is the fastest P2 car these days.

Le Mans GT1: Aston
Why: The law of averages - they have to win it once....

Le Mans GT2: Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari
Why: They're very good and know 24 hour races (Spa for example)

Grand Am Daytona Prototypes: Howard-Boss Pontiac-Crawford
Why: I'm no expert but the team is well-established with good drivers.

Japanese SuperGT: Do I look crazy? Absolutely impossible to predict a winner here but I'll narrow it down to either of the factory NSXs, either of the factory Nissans and either the Cerumo or Tom's Lexus. So there.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Martin Haven's Dakar blog

Top Eurosport commentator Martin Haven is off to the Dakar Rally for the first time and he's got a blog to prove it. You can find it here.

Martin's one of my favorite commentators and not often heard here in the USA, so I'm going to have to find the Eurosport coverage somewhere online.

Weekend Menu: Week 1

I've pretty much finished my Access database of 2007 racing events. It features 861 events, and covers everything from motocross to Formula 1, Irish road-racing to rallying. My criteria for inclusion was simply that the event had to be either national- or international-level. For example, the NASCAR Busch series is in, but not the NASCAR West series, which is regional. The US Rally Championship is there, but not the Eastern States Rally Championship. I had to be slighty judicious too, since some national series are simply not of interest to many beyond a core group of fans, whilst others have a higher level of respect. For example, I've included the British, American, Spanish, Australian and Japanese superbike championships, but not the Italian, German, French, Polish, Indian etc.

Right now I'm missing only a few series. If anyone comes across calendars for the following, please let me know:
CASCAR, Formula BMW (Britain, Asia and Germany, not the USA), GP Masters, Canadian Superbike, Canadian Rally Championship, Formula Nippon, IROC, MSA Tarmac Rally Championship, Italian and French GT series.

I'll post the full calendar somewhere online soon, but in the meantime I'm going to start a weekly post here called Midweek Menu. It will simply be a list of upcoming races worldwide for that weekend. Nothing more, no in-depth preview, just a list. I think people will be surprised just how much is going on at any given time. The busiest weekend has 31 different races listed!

Week 1 is a bit more modest:

  • AMA Supercross: Anaheim, CA
  • Dakar Rally: Starting in Lisbon, Portugal
  • Best in the Desert: Parker 250, NV