Friday, August 31, 2007

We've opted for wet tyres

The pitlane and first corner at Misano are recovering from being under 3 feet of water. Check out these incredible photos at Superbike Planet, as well as this corker from Motorcycle News for the full story:

I've no doubt that Sunday's MotoGP race will proceed as planned but it does make all the bitching and moaning about Laguna Seca's disintegrating track surface during the 2006 MotoGP event seem a little, err, trivial...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 35

MotoGP returns from its summer break and racing returns to Detroit's Belle Isle...

  • AMA Superbike - Road Atlanta, GA
  • DTM - Nurburgring, Germany
  • F3 Euroseries - Nurburgring, Germany
  • Ulster International Rally - Armagh, Northern Ireland (British Rally Championship, MSA Tarmac Rally Championship, Irish Tarmac Rally Championship)
  • Rally New Zealand - Hamilton, New Zealand (WRC and Production WRC)
  • Swedish Touring Cars - Knutstorp, Sweden
  • International GT Open - Oschersleben, Germany
  • Sony HD500 - California Speedway, CA (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Ameriquest 300 - California Speedway, CA (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Dundalk Road Races - Dundalk, Ireland (Real road racing)
  • Por Las Pampas Rally - San Martin de los Andes, Argentina (FIA Cross Country World Cup)
  • AMA Supermoto - Music City Motorplex, TN
  • Detroit Indy GP - Belle Isle, MI (Indy Racing League)
  • American Le Mans Series - Belle Isle, MI
  • British Touring Cars - Knockhill, Scotland
  • Porsche Carrera Cup GB - Knockhill, Scotland
  • Rally Sliven - Sliven, Bulgaria (European Rally Cup - East)
  • GP of Netherlands - Lierop, Netherlands (FIM Motocross GP)
  • Shop 'n' Save 150 - Gateway, IL (ARCA Remax Series)
  • Dodge Dealers RAM Tough 200 - Gateway, IL (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series)
  • AMA Motocross - Freestone County Raceway, TX
  • MotoGP - Misano, Italy

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Yesterday I saw someone's leg break.

I was watching the British Superbike championship from Cadwell Park, which has got to be one of the best damn circuits in the world, and the racing was close and exciting to watch as the riders crested the fabulous Mountain. Until, that is, Honda's rising star Leon Camier got it wrong on landing (yes, bikes get significant air as they come over the Mountain).

Leon's bike landed awkwardly and immediately threw him into a tank-slapper / high-side combo maneouver that landed him ferociously on his back. Worse was yet to come: the poor lad "bounced" and second time down his knee massively dislocated, lower leg flopping around like a sock full of lentils. Meanwhile he fractured his femur too.

Watching it, I thought his leg broke below the knee. If that had been the case his injuries would have been much more severe. Thankfully a dislocation usually looks worse than it is. The more innocuous-looking injury to his thigh will be the one that will keep him out of the sport until next season begins.

Despite the public perception of racing fans, it's safe to say we don't like to see accidents, especially in motorcycle racing. Camier was providing much more excitement on the track as he diced for position than he was flying through the air like a rag doll.

If you're curious to see the crash (and are not squeamish), you can find it on YouTube. I'm not going to embed it because as I just said, I don't feel racing is about accidents. But when these nasty crashes do happen it's a good reminder that it's a dangerous sport, and the guys and girls who do it are all extremely courageous. A bit mental maybe, but courageous nonetheless...

Friday, August 24, 2007


As I prepare for my trip to the Bathurst 1000, I've stopped by the Ten-Tenths Australia/NZ racing forum. As a regular on the 10/10ths sportscar board I've found it to be a very knowledgeable. welcoming, passionate group of racing fans. The Oz/NZ board is happily very similar, and they provided me with some great information about Bathurst. Along the way, a little bit of the Ford / Holden rivalry showed itself, something I was not surprised to see. My past visits to that board indicated that the Aussies get VERY passionate about which manufacturer they support. I've heard numerous stories of it turning into blind, ugly violence at the tracks, as well as an inordinate number of flame wars at 10/10ths.

It struck me that this kind of passion, so widespread in other forms of sport, is somewhat lacking in motorsport. Football (soccer to my American friends) is a shining example of how sport can incite such strong feeling amongst the fans of its participants. Football fans don't go to a game just for the sake of watching a game - they go to watch the fortunes of their team unfold. Such is the case with most of the stick and ball sports, especially at a high level where teams have the marketing and PR muscle to leverage the loyalty of their fans with merchandise and carefully-prepared tidbits of information leaked to the media to keep people interested.

Where can this be found in motorsport? Does anyone go to a race specifically to see their favourite driver or team beat the competition? Hardly ever, I would say. The flood of punters at Silverstone for the British GP this year to cheer on Lewis Hamilton might be a notable exception. But even the hordes of #8-flag-waving Dale Jr. fans at a NASCAR event would still probably be there even if Jr. wasn't. If Arsenal football club suddenly closed its doors, would Arsenal fans still go to football matches every weekend? I think not. This is the crux of the issue: is there anyone in motorsport that is a bigger draw than the sport itself? In Australia it is quite possible that the Ford / Holden rivalry is just that. We actually have substantive evidence for this: back in the 90s, when the Australian touring car championship switched over from homegrown muscle cars to European Group A regulations, attendance plummeted. When it went back to the V8 format, and the requisite two manufacturers, the series started a remarkable period of growth that continues unabated to this day.

Why is this phenomenon not found anywhere else in motorsport? Why aren't Kawasaki owners baying for the blood of Suzuki? Why aren't McLaren fans looking to find the nearest group of Ferrari tifosi to have a good old-fashioned fistfight with? Why isn't there a line of policemen set up between groups of Mitsubishi and Subaru fans at rallies?

I can only guess that the fundamental difference between stick and ball sports and motorsport is the added dimension of technology. In racing, the technology, be it cars, bikes, trucks or karts, represents a source of interest to spectators that will always be equal to or more compelling than those responsible for running it. Interestingly enough, it's the racing series where the technology is least-developed or most rigidly evened-out where you find the partisan crowds: NASCAR, V8 Supercars, A1GP, Japanese SuperGT and the IRL all seem to generate more loyalty from fans for drivers, teams or manufacturers than more open forms of racing such as sportscar racing, rallying or MotoGP.

Whatever the reason, it will be an eye-opening experience to sit amongst the rabid Ford and Holden fans at Bathurst. Yes, I will sneak a trip to the Holden merchandise booth, but the fruits of that excursion will stay in my backpack until I'm safely back in the USA...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Put that thing away

I'm amazed there aren't more rally drivers wandering around with terrible speech impediments. Hardly a single WRC broadcast goes by without at least one shot of a driver with his tongue sticking out like a five-year-old trying to draw the space shuttle. All it takes is one unseen rock in the road to clamp those knashers down on the guy's poor tongue, and then he's having problems saying words that begin with "th" for the rest of his life.

The presence of champion tongue-wrangler Francois Duval at last week's Rally Deutschland was a bold reminder of this oddest of racing habits. Toni Gardemeister is another with a badly-controlled tongue, and Petter Solberg (better known for a simple "mouth-wide-open" expression) has been known to do it too.

The question for me is whether this is a uniquely rally-centric habit? Or is it just more obvious due to the preponderance of open-face helmets? Perhaps Lewis Hamilton is waggling his tongue like any other 18-year-old schoolboy does in his dreams - it's just we can't see it. Or maybe even the great Valentino Rossi engages in Duval-style tongue-robics. We'll never know.

Weekend Menu - Week 34

It's a rematch of Lewis v Alonso, ALMS is in Canada and NASCAR tries to avoid the rain...

  • Grand Prix of Mosport - Mosport, Canada (American Le Mans Series)
  • Speed World Challenge - Mosport, Canada
  • Formula BMW USA - Mosport, Canada
  • IMSA Lites - Mosport, Canada
  • Star Mazda Series - Mosport, Canada
  • IMSA GT3 Cup - Mosport, Canada
  • All-Japan Superbikes - Sugo, Japan
  • Galway Summer Rally - Galway, Ireland (Irish Gravel Rally Championship)
  • Champcar World Series - Zolder, Belgium
  • British Superbike - Cadwell Park, England
  • Motorola 300 - Infineon Raceway, CA (Indy Racing League)
  • Indy Pro Series - Infineon Raceway, CA
  • Rolex Grand Am Sportscar Series - Infineon Raceway, CA
  • Petrol Ofisi Turkish GP - Istanbul Park, Turkey (Formula 1)
  • GP2 - Istanbul Park, Turkey
  • Porsche Supercup - Istanbul Park, Turkey
  • Ojibwe Forest Rally - Bemidji, MN (Rally America)
  • Governor's Cup 200 - Milwaukee Mile, WI (ARCA / Remax Series)
  • Barum Rally Zlin - Zlin, Czech Republic (FIA European Rally Championship)
  • Sharpie 500 - Bristol Motor Speedway, TN (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Food City 250 - Bristol Motor Speedway, TN (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • O'Reilly Auto Parts 200 - Bristol Motor Speedway, TN (NASCAR Craftsman Trucks)
  • AMA Motocross - Steel City Raceway, PA
  • TSCO Vegas to Reno - Las Vegas, NV (Best in the Desert series)
  • Rallye del Friuli - Udine, Italy (FIA European Rally Cup - Southwest)
  • World Touring Car Championship - Oschersleben, Germany
  • British GT - Thruxton
  • British F3 - Thruxton

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Go to a race - like the Bathurst 1000

I sometimes wonder if a lot of people out there in internet-land who follow racing actually ever go to see any. Perhaps people are too far from a racing venue. Or perhaps they think they prefer the gossip and intrigue that surrounds forms of racing like F1, NASCAR and MotoGP. Or maybe they feel that TV communicates the drama and excitement of the sport effectively.

Whatever the reason, people who don't see racing live and in person are probably missing out on the bulk of the thrill that motorsport has to offer.

TV, internet coverage and live timing and scoring are for me surrogates at best, acceptable substitutes for the real thing. But nothing beats the incredible sensory experience of watching a grid of MotoGP bikes crest turn 1 at Laguna Seca, or the flash of lights and glowing brake discs on a prototype sportscar as it emerges from the trees at Le Mans at night, or even the cracking of a World Rally Car's antilag system as it approaches a spectator point through the freezing Swedish forests.

If you love motorsport, you must see it live.

I love Australian V8 Supercar racing. So I just bought my plane ticket to go to this year's Bathurst 1000 race.

For me Bathurst was always a mysterious event, living somewhere in my mind alongside the Isle of Man TT, Baja 1000 and Dakar Rally, as something very far away, very important but completely foreign to me. When I first got Speedvision (now Speed Channel) on my cable TV I got to see Aussie V8 racing during the winter months, and got my first proper look at Bathurst. I'd become hooked on the V8s the moment I saw the first race of that season, but Bathurst took it to another level. To see those mighty cars thunder around such a treacherous, magnificent track for seven hours was utterly captivating. Last year, thanks to the magic of Bit Torrent, I was able to see the race in its entirety for the first time. I promised myself there and then that next next year I'd be at the track. I tend not to break these kinds of promises....

By the time I reach the end of the year, in 2007 I will have seen the Le Mans 24 Hours, the Bathurst 1000, MotoGP, the American Le Mans Series (twice), AMA Superbike (twice), ChampCar and the Rolex Grand-Am series. Not a bad year. In my spectating career, I've been lucky enough to have also seen World Superbike, Formula 1, three WRC events, Group C sportscars, British Touring Cars, European Touring Cars, FIA GT, three other trips to Le Mans, Pikes Peak, CART, and numerous historic races. After Bathurst I'll have travelled to the UK, USA, Canada, Sweden, France and Australia specifically to see racing. Each trip has been the result of meticulous planning, significant expense and lots of vacation time from work. But I have never, ever regretted a single moment. Because when the green flag waves, or the lights go out, or the clock starts there is nothing that can match the excitement of watching a vehicle on the limit, under the control of other-worldly talented individuals flash past a few short metres from my face. On Sunday October the 7th I'll get that thrill again at the top of Mount Panorama in New South Wales, Australia. I can't f**king wait!

Stay tuned for more Bathurst-related posts...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 33

This weekend's motorsport activities:

  • Zambia International Rally - Lusaka, Zambia (FIA African Rally Championship)\
  • Manx Grand Prix - Isle of Man Mountain Course (Real road racing)
  • MotoGP - Brno, Czech Republic
  • British Touring Cars - Brands Hatch, England
  • Formula Renault UK - Brands Hatch, England
  • Porsche Carrera Cup GB - Brands Hatch, England
  • 1000km of Spa - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (Le Mans Series)
  • World Series by Renault - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
  • RCM DMV Grenzlandrennen - Nurburgring, Germany (VLN Series)
  • Swedish Touring Cars - Karlskoga, Sweden
  • V8 Supercars - Oran Park, Australia
  • Fujitsu V8 Series - Oran Park, Australia
  • Allen Crowe 100 - Illinois State Fairgrounds, IL (ARCA Remax Series)
  • Ulster Grand Prix - Dundrod, Northern Ireland (Real road racing)
  • Star Mazda Series - Trois Rivieres, Canada
  • Pokka 1000km of Suzuka - Suzuka, Japan (Super GT)
  • AMA Superbike - Virginia International Raceway, VA
  • OMV ADAC Rallye Deutschland - Trier, Germany (World Rally Championship)
  • Gorman Ridge Rally - Frazier Park, CA (US Rally Championship)
  • Australian Superbike - Eastern Creek, Australia
  • Carfax 250 - Michigan International Speedway (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • GFS Marketplace 400 - Michigan International Speedway (NASCAR Nextel Cup)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Flip-flop Kwak

Maybe the weirdest post title ever...

Kawasaki have always painted their racebikes lime green. It didn't matter whether it was motocross, enduro, Grand Prix or Superbike, the colour was synonymous with Kawasaki.

This season in MotoGP they decided to switch to a classy-looking darker metallic green. I wasn't sold on it at the start of the year, having owned two Kawasakis myself and enjoyed the distinctive look of the lime green. However, when I saw the MotoGP bike in the flesh at Laguna Seca my mind was changed. The new more restrained forest green made the lime colour look boorish and over-the-top.

Sadly, pressure from Kwak fans worldwide has forced a change back to lime, effective this weekend. It goes to show how important heritage is the world of motorsport. Brand-loyalty is a holy grail for manufacturers (just look at the Ford / Holden rivalry in V8 Supercars in Australia - those fans are CRAZY!) Colours are an important part of the imagery and mystique that help maintain that loyalty. A drastic change of sponsor can undoubtedly do damage to hard work employed by numerous marketing flunkies at manufacturers. Remember when the Corvette team switched to a dark blue paint job for Le Mans in 2003? Or when the Yamaha World Superbike team ditched the traditional blue and white in favour of their sponsor's red and white scheme?

Anyway, take a look at the pictures below. What do you think is the best colour?

Here's the newer colour, on Randy de Puniet's crashed bike, leaning up against the marshalls' portapotty at Laguna this year:

And here's Shinya Nakano's bike from 2005:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Interview with X Games entrant Pat Moro

Hot on the heels of my post about how my friend and former team-mate Pat Moro was invited to the X Games Rally, a video production company has sent me video of an interview feature they did with Pat at the event. They're called Presspass Productions and the video is embedded below. Check out their YouTube page which has interviews with other X Games competitors, along with a host of other sport-related content. Thanks to Alex from Presspass for this.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Are we close to an Australian win in NASCAR?

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I've been following the progress of Australian V8 Supercars double-champion Marcos Ambrose in his transition to NASCAR. He is now in his second season in the USA, having competed last year in the Craftsman Truck Series, before stepping up to the Busch Series this year.

Many people expected to see Marcos make a couple of wild-card entries in the top-tier Nextel Cup when that championship arrived at the season's two road courses. The first, at Infineon Raceway back in June, didn't work out, so expectation was high that he'd get his chance at Watkins Glen this coming weekend. Sadly, funding issues seemed to consign that plan to the scrap heap. Until two days ago, that is....

Marcos was expected to run very well in the three Busch races scheduled for road courses. Back in March at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico he finished a creditable eighth in only his third Busch race. Three of the drivers ahead of him were also road-course veterens: Boris Said, Scott Pruett and controversial winner Juan Pablo Montoya (who had to nerf off Pruett to secure the victory).

Last weekend the Busch Series headed to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada. Ambrose was dominant for much of the race, despite being up against other road-course specialists such as Ron Fellows, Patrick Carpentier, Andy Pilgrim and Pruett. However, late in the race, one of racing's top all-rounders, Robby Gordon, attempted a pass on the Aussie. During the pass, Gordon got turned around. When the caution flags came out for an unrelated incident, Gordon returned the favour, costing Ambrose the win. An argument with NASCAR over where he should be in line resulted in Gordon's exclusion from the Busch results and ban from the next day's Nextel Cup race in Pocono. Ambrose recovered to 7th, which was disappointing considering he was a sure thing for the victory.

It was Tuesday that the big news came through: Robby Gordon had offered a seat to Marcos Ambrose in his second car for the Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen. It seemed extremely strange, given how furious Gordon had been about the events in Canada. Upon closer inspection though, it makes some sense. Gordon and Ambrose are actually rather good friends, and had made plans to go fishing together prior to the weekend. Robby also probably realized that this gesture might help his standing within the NASCAR community, and repair the damage he did to his reputation in taking the win away from the likeable Australian. Furthermore, there's a chance that Ambrose can run very well, despite it being his first race in the top class (on road courses, Busch and Nextel cars are not too dissimilar in behavior). It's not too difficult to put together a sponsor package when the sponsor can be shown that the chances of decent exposure are very high. If Marcos does indeed run well on Sunday, Camping World will be very pleased with their investment.

As we've come to expect from such a pleasant guy, Marcos' response to the odd turn of events was typically intelligent and conciliatory: “A bit of old outback Australian culture involved playing a game of Australian football, having a fight and then heading to the pub together for a beer. I guess this is a bit like that.”

Ambrose will also be running on Saturday in the Busch race, which he also goes into as one of the favourites.

Best of luck to him for both events...

Weekend Menu - Week 32

Not much racing internationally this weekend, but plenty going on here in the good ole USA:

  • Mario Andretti GP - Road America, WI (Champcar World Series)
  • American Le Mans Series - Road America, WI
  • Champcar Atlantics - Road America, WI
  • Star Mazda Series - Road America, WI
  • Formula BMW USA - Road America, WI
  • AMD at the Glen - Watkins Glen, NY (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Zippo 200 - Watkins Glen, NY (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Crown Royal 200 at the Glen - Watkins Glen, NY (Rolex Sportscar Series)
  • Michelin Budapest Rally - Budapest, Hungary (European Rally Cup Central)
  • Meijer Indy 300 - Kentucky Speedway, KY (Indy Racing League)
  • Indy Pro Series - Kentucky Speedway, KY
  • British GT - Silverstone, England
  • British Formula 3 - Silverstone, England
  • Nashville ARCA 200 - Nashville Superspeedway, TN (ARCA Remax Series)
  • Toyota Tundra 200 - Nashville Superspeedway, TN (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series)
  • Malaysian Rally - Johor, Malaysia (Asia-Pacific Rally Championship)
  • British Superbike - Croft, England
  • AMA Motocross - Spring Creek Motocross Park, MN
  • Oschersleben 24 Hours - Oschersleben, Germany (FIM World Endurance Championship)

Monday, August 06, 2007

Formula 1 is exciting (except on track)

In what I can only describe as an "inspired" decision, I chose to not watch the Hungarian Grand Prix. Instead I had to "make do" with some terrifically engaging racing in the form of World Superbikes from Brands Hatch, the X Games rallycar super-special and AMA Superbike (and even though it's not racing, the fascinating skateboard vert competition from the X Games).

By all accounts the F1 race was as dull as I expected it to be. In a form of motorsport where passing is as rare a filthy race transporter, a track where passing is virtually impossible pretty much consigns the race to Dullsville from the get-go.

However, when I came to check the news this morning it appeared as though it was a weekend filled with drama, centered around the English tabloids' favourite sportsman, Lewis Hamilton.

By all accounts, Lewis made an error in the final session of qualifying, when he ended up being first on track, against the wishes of the McLaren team. This messed up Fernando Alonso's strategy for the session, potentially bagging Lewis an extra lap (I'll admit I'm unclear on this point so hopefully someone more familiar with the story can fill me). During the final pitstop of the session, Alonso waited an extra few seconds in the pitbox, even though Lewis was waiting. Alonso was thus able to get one more flying lap, and Lewis was not. What followed was a delightfully colourful radio exchange between McLaren team boss Ron Dennis and his young protege that ended with Lewis telling Ron to "go fucking swivel." Nice.

Damage control was immediately in order and Ron rushed to the driver weigh-in, determined to alleviate the situation. Sadly for F1 pundits who live for this stuff the two drivers simply ignored each other. A dose of Senna/Irvine-style scrappage would have added to an already dramatic story.

Ron and Lewis apparently made up but Fernando refuses to talk to his team-mate. Stories are already circulating about how the Spaniard is talking to Renault about returning to them for 2008. It seems safe to say that in this war of egos, Lewis seems to be winning.

As a result of his pitlane activities, Alonso was docked five places and started the race from sixth. Unable to challenge for the win, he had to make do with watching his nemesis Hamilton take victory and extend his lead in the championship.

Once again, F1 proved to be truly compelling, a place where money, ego and technology are the three main driving forces. The racing thankfully took a backseat (again), which is good given that even when it is exciting, it is far less exciting than most of other forms of motorsport. I'm now convinced you can be a fan of the sport without ever watching a race, especially if you enjoy spy novels, boxing, CAD/CAM software and/or reality shows.

Friday, August 03, 2007

X Games entry

I'm extremely excited that one of the rally drivers I used to co-drive for, Ohio's Pat Moro, will be racing in this weekend's X Games. The event will basically be like a WRC super-special, in and around the Home Depot Center in LA and this year will feature a massive motocross-style jump. The top drivers in the country will be there, including Subaru USA team-mates Travis Pastrana and Ken Block and SYMS team drivers Andrew Pinker and Tanner Foust and they will all be joined again by former WRC champ Colin McRae.

To gain entry to the competition drivers needed to have scored well in the Rally America national championship, and most of the drivers appear at or near the top of the current championship standings. Organizers kept two final spots open that were considered "at-large" spots, and the choice of who was going to be picked was up to their discretion.

The announcement was made a week ago. One spot went to top US road-racer and occasional NASCAR driver Boris Said, who is heavily involved with the Sobe No Fear brand that sponsored Colin McRae's X Games Subaru last year (I followed Boris' progress earlier this year in NASCAR as I tried to learn more about it). The other place was given to current Rally America Production GT class leader Pat Moro.

A bit of background is necessary here: Pat is an experienced off-road motorcycle racer, who has done very well in GNCC enduro racing, and more recently in Supermoto. He turned to rallying in 2003 with a PGT-spec Subaru WRX that had a salvage title after being driven into a lake by the previous owner. Pat and his buddies rebuilt the car and he started racing some local SCCA rallies. I first raced with him at the opening event of the 2004 season at Sno*Drift in Michigan. I immediately found him to be fast and fearless, but it was also clear he needed a lot more experience (he overused the handbrake and got easily spooked by spectator areas for example). I'd been co-driving a lot and helped him learn how to think more strategically, use stage notes and worry less about the mechanical aspects of the car in order to focus on his driving. I ran with him again at Susquehannock Trail in Pennsylvania where we crashed heavily into a tree when he didn't pay attention to a "caution" call I made. After the car was repaired we did the Ojibwe Forests event in Minnesota. It was there that I started to see some positive changes in his style and approach. Later that season he took my advice about separating himself from car maintenance by bringing in a rally prep outfit to look after the car.

Due to my commitments in the music business I stopped rallying soon afterwards but followed Pat's progress. He didn't run much in 2005 and had a stop-start season in 2006 punctuated by crashes and DNFs. In 2007 he has run a perfect campaign. He's the first to admit that he's not the fastest guy out there, usually outpaced by PGT wildman Matthew Johnson, but Matt has had a few crashes (the most recent one has probably totaled his bright orange WRX) whilst Pat has put in consistent points finishes. As a result he leads PGT, and is actually tenth in the overall points standings. The only person above him in the points who didn't get invited to the X Games is Matt, who would probably not have been able to attend due to the state of his car.

As you can see, Pat's progression as a driver, his commitment to the sport and his 2007 season performance clearly indicate that he's worthy of the final X Games invite. Sadly, it seems as though some people in the American rally community disagree. In fact, the amount of complaining amongst US-based rallyists about the X Games is staggering. Here is an opportunity for the sport to have network TV coverage featuring the top drivers and best-prepped cars. It is true that it is not a "real" rally, but that doesn't actually matter. If it brings people to the sport that's a positive thing. If some of those people don't stick around because they don't like the actual format that's fine too. A percentage of these X Games-sourced new fans will continue to follow rallying. Exposure to multi-million dollar extreme sports sponsors is also not a bad thing!

I've always found rallyists to be a friendly, open group of people. Here in the US however there is always a cadre of them who insist on bitching and moaning about everything. Not a good thing for potential competitors, spectators and sponsors to see when they head to the main online discussion forum for American rallying, Let's hope that the spectacle this Sunday lunchtime will be sufficiently impressive to allow newcomers to the sport to overlook the whining old guard and instead embrace its potentially bright future.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Things looking up in the WRC

People really knock the World Rally Championship at the moment, but here we are halfway through the season, one day before Rally Finland, and we've got a lot to look forward to.

Despite the seeming invincibility of Sebastien Loeb, it is Marcus Gronholm who heads into the second half of the year with a nine-point lead. Poor performances by Loeb in Norway and Italy are to blame, despite outwinning Marcus by four to three. Seb does best when controlling from the front, but will the need to beat Marcus (rather than simply keep pace to score points) force him to make more uncharacteristic errors? Behind them Mikko Hirvonen continues to demonstrate that he's likely to be top dog once Marcus and Seb retire from the sport.

So we've got this tantalizing battle to look forward to, which is great, but there are indications that Subaru is on the brink of returning to form (how many times have we said that though?) Petter Solberg commented lately that they think they've uncovered the cause of all their poor performances. Chasing that very ghost took all of 2006, and has taken much of 2007. In the meantime Petter has been forced to overdrive, causing many more accidents that would normally be expected from the talented, hyperactive Norwegian. If it's true that Subaru are back on form, I wouldn't be surprised to see Solberg challenging Hirvonen in the championship before long.

The championship has also been bolstered by the addition of third cars for Ford and Subaru, in the hands of Khalid Al-Qassami and Xavier Pons respectively. Al-Qassami bring huge sponsorship money from Abu Dhabi, as well as some Middle East Rally Championship success (perhaps useful for next year's Jordanian Rally). He will run four events in 2007, then ten in 2008. Pons, who was so poor at Kronos Citroen last year that he was effectively replaced by Dani Sordo seems an odd choice for Subaru. However, I imagine that he also brings financial backing, giving the team the ability to run three cars and increase their data gathering and effective test mileage by 50%. The arrival of these two entries now gives us 14 WRC cars from the six manufacturer teams. These are bolstered by numerous private entries from hotshoes like Urmo Aava, Guy Wilks, and the ridiculously quick 17-year old Andreas Mikkelson, who's been turning heads in the Irish Tarmac Championship.

Another thing to look forward to in this year's WRC is the debut of Rally Ireland. I've been following Irish rallying this year, particularly the two events that featured Gronholm and Loeb, and those two drivers were given a damn good run for their money by the absolute headcase domestic drivers. The roads are very narrow but very quick, and the Irish drivers know how to go fast on them. What's more, Irish rallies regularly feature more WRC-spec cars than WRC events, so there's no shortage of competitive entries. I honestly expect locals like Eugene Donnelly to challenge for the podium when the WRC arrives on the Emerald Isle in November.

Finally, a new manufacturer will arrive this year, with Suzuki planning on running their WRC car for the first time in Corsica. I'm sure it will be slow and unreliable, but it's nice to see a completely new entrant. In 2008 they'll run a full season, and its possible we'll also see the return of Mitsubishi at that point too.

I think Mark Twain once said "the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated...."

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 31

The WRC is back after its two-month break, X Games is on, F1 is at one of its most boring tracks, and World Superbike has one its marquee events, at Brands Hatch...

  • Neste Oil Rally Finland - Jyvaskyla, Finland (World Rally Championship and Junior WRC)
  • Firestone Indy 400 - Michigan International Speedway, MI (Indy Racing League)
  • X Games - Home Depot Center, Los Angeles, CA (Rally America and AMA Supermoto Championship)
  • Mid-Antrim 150 - Clough, Northern Ireland (Real road racing)
  • AMA Superbike - Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course, OH
  • Rally Hebros - Plovdiv, Bulgaria (FIA European Rally Cup East)
  • Pennsylvania 500 - Pocono Raceway, PA (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Pennsylvania 200 - Pocono Raceway, PA (ARCA Remax Series)
  • Magyar Nagydij - Hungaroring, Hungary (Formula 1)
  • Porsche Supercup - Hungaroring, Hungary
  • GP2 - Hungaroring, Hungary
  • Grand Prix of Belgium - Namur, Belgium (FIM Motocross)
  • World Superbike. Supersport and Superstock - Brands Hatch, England
  • NASCAR Busch Series - Montreal, Canada
  • Grand Am Rolex Sportscar Series - Montreal, Canada
  • Toyota Rally South Australia - Tanunda, Australia (Australian Rally Championship)
  • Rally Vinho de Madeira - Funchal, Portugal (FIA European Rally Championship)