Sunday, September 30, 2007


The Fastest Lap is on vacation. In five hours I'll be on a Qantas flight to Sydney, and this time next week I'll be coming back from Mount Panorama and the Bathurst 1000. For one week, I live meat pies, Victoria Bitter and V8 Supercars.

Have a Hamilton-tastic, Biaggi-riffic week...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Dirty bikes

There's an interesting post over at Hardcard's blog. Although the underlying goal of the post is to attract clients for their motorsport consulting business, they make the very good point that motorcycles are really not as green as people give them credit for.

Compared to cars, bikes are generally lighter, have smaller engines and better fuel consumption. The world would be a better place if everyone who commuted solo in a car were to switch to motorcycles. But that doesn't mean they couldn't do better. As Hardcard point out, bikes don't have catalytic converters, and only those sold in California are required to have evaporative recirculation systems, to capture surplus vented unburned gasoline.

Motorcycle companies came very late to the fuel-injection party, and typically are much slower to incorporate new technologies. The reason for this is simple: on a bike, weight is everything, and the industry must wait for any innovations to be small enough to implement on a bike.

So although it seems as though the motorcycle industry "doesn't care", it's a fact of the product development cycle that makes motorcycles appear technologically backward.

Of course, MotoGP provides the perfect platform for the development of new motorcycle technology, outside of waiting for car development to miniaturize its innovations. Traction control from MotoGP has now finally made it to street bikes, with the new Kawasaki ZX10R, following other fun stuff such as radial brake cylinders and calipers, lightweight stubby exhaust pipes, mass-centralization and slipper clutches. So in order for green technologies to find their way into street bikes faster, I'd like to call for the FIM to look at ways of improving MotoGP's ecological profile. If a rule is written that mandates at least 10% of the energy utilized in braking be returned to the bike, or that bikes must run on ethanol or E85, or even that emissions be limited and measured, it would really hurry along positive environmentally-minded technology for street bikes.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bathurst Preview

I'm aware that the number of visitors to this blog who share my passion for the Australian V8 Supercars series is somewhat small, but I'm going to press on regardless since it's only three days until I leave for the Mountain...

The championship situation is rather easy to follow right now. The top two drivers are Rick Kelly and Garth Tander of the Toll HSV Dealer Team in Holdens. They are followed by Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes of the Vodafone-sponsored Triple Eight Ford team. Behind them are the two drivers from the Holden Racing Team, Todd Kelly and Mark Skaife. The top eight is rounded out by Steven Richards and Mark Winterbottom of Ford Performance Racing.

As luck would have it, each of these duos will be paired up in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 on Sunday October 7th and unsurprisingly they are considered to be the four teams with a chance of victory. (For more info on how driver pairings work in V8 Supercar enduro events check out this post)

So let's break it down... who's who and what's what, presented in order of who I think is most likely to win:

Vodafone Triple Eight Ford: Series veteren Craig Lowndes, three time championship-winner and double Bathurst-winner once again will race with Jamie Whincup, maybe the second-best of the current crop of "young drivers". It was this duo that won in 2006, a year that also saw Lowndes miss out on the championship by a tiny margin. Both drivers have incredible consistency and great pace, the car is fast and the team well-drilled. If these guys run into trouble, more than likely it will be because of someone else.

Toll HSV Holden Dealer Team: Engineered by the same folks who engineer the Holden Racing Team, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, these guys have perhaps the most raw speed, both in terms of car performance and driver ability. Rick Kelly and Garth Tander sit 1-2 in the championship at the moment, and only missed out on a win at the Sandown 500 because they were seperated, each running with a part-timer. Interestingly, these guys didn't run together last year either in a bizarre situation that saw Tander placed with the HRT team, and HRT driver and Rick's brother Todd Kelly share with Rick. The ruse worked for Rick who finished in 2nd, and was a dismal failure for Tander, whose team-mate Mark Skaife burned out the clutch on the start line and who was smashed into before the second corner. The biggest thing Toll HSV will have to overcome is their tendency to make the occasional silly mistake, such as Tander's rain light malfunctioning at Sandown. This year, with no funny business in the driver dept., and if they can avoid those mistakes, they have the goods to win.

Holden Racing Team: With such a rich history of Bathurst and championship victories, you can never bet against HRT, especially when 8-times championship winner and 4-times Bathurst winner Mark Skaife is involved. To be fair, "Skaifey" has been out in the wilderness for a couple of years, but his form seems to be improving dramatically. Team-mate Todd Kelly is also very quick, albeit one of those "always the bridesmaid, never the bride" kind of people. Not quite the fastest Holden team anymore but there's some real depth of talent here. If team manager Rob Starr can get the car setup properly, often an issue for HRT, and Skaife can avoid getting entangled in dogfights, a good result is in the offing. If it rains though, look elsewhere for the winner.

Ford Performance Racing: Funny how the top four teams all have British engineering behind them. Triple Eight are British, Toll HSV and HRT have Walkinshaw building their cars, and FPR are engineered by Prodrive, the guys responsible for the Subaru WRC team, Aston Martin's Le Mans-winning effort, and, as of 2008, an F1 team. However, just as in the WRC, Prodrive's V8 effort is not quite quick enough yet. There are often signs of promise, especially back in 2006 when Jason Bright was one of their drivers, or Sandown 2007 where Mark Winterbottom grabbed a pole position for them, but FPR struggle to convert this into top results. The signing this year of longtime Holden steerer Steven Richards has yet to bear much fruit, with the ginger-haired son of Bathurst legend Jim Richards exhibiting the same lower-top-10 performance that he had in previous years. Team-mate Mark Winterbottom is a much more exciting prospect, and his speed and consistency could be enough to score the win should any of the other top contenders run into trouble.

Stone Brothers Racing: After enjoying some rosy years with championships for Marcos Ambrose in 2003 and 2004 and Russell Ingall in 2005, SBR have struggled a little, most notably in filling the giant shoes of Ambrose. His replacement, former Jaguar F1 test-driver James Courtney, is finally starting to find his feet and did well to score a podium in last year's Bathurst 1000. SBR are the top team to NOT pair their regular drivers in the same car, but both of the fill-ins have solid Bathurst experience: Courtney shares with former SBR driver David Besnard, and Ingall is teamed with young hotshoe Luke Youlden, a partnership now in its third year. The team is well-known for its in-house engine program, and neither car should be short of power. It's unlikely that either car will win, probably due mainly to driver talent, but a 3rd and 4th in 2006 indicate that they can certainly be near the front.

Tasman Motorsport: The "best Holden that won't win" tag belongs here, to the team that fields two Kiwis, Jason Richards and Greg Murphy, and is owned by Murphy's dad Kevin. It's Greg that is the strong point of this team, with four Bathurst victories under his belt. It seems that no matter how badly a season is going for "Murph" he always delivers the goods at the Mountain. The last time he was in a competitive car at Bathurst, he won, and this year he's in the best car he's been in since then. He and Richards proved their worth at Sandown, by running top six until a bad call by officials sent them almost a lap down due to a poorly-deployed safety car. This triggered off a whole set of issues that snowballed and put them way down the order. Up to that point, they were undeniably quick. Although Tasman have struggled with rear grip issues all year both drivers have done well to learn how to drive around the problems. Aside from the technical difficulties, the hurdle that Tasman (and other "second division" teams) face is the possibility of getting involved in other people's dramas. At Bathurst, the safest place to be is out front - the further down the field you are, the more likely it is that you'll be involved in someone else's prang.

Garry Rogers Motorsport: Over the years Garry has carved out a niche for himself by hiring the brightest young drivers. This course of action has tended to consign him to positions just behind the front-runners, as opposed to actually challenging for wins. However, they have stood on the top of the box a number of times in their history, most notably in 2000 at Bathurst. This year, youngster Lee Holdsworth has shown great pace, and grabbed the round win at Oran Park. It's he that holds the key to Bathurst success for GRM this year, and it will be critical that he puts in a good qualifying time to put the car near the front. If he can do that, it will be easier for trouble-prone team-mate Dean Canto to get a clean race. Alongside Tasman and SBR, I'd place GRM in the "dark-horse" category for a podium.

There you have it, the top eight cars in this year's event.

Bathurst is always full of drama. Anyone who has ever raced the track on the numerous video games that it is featured on know how hairy the section at the top of the Mountain can be. One small mistake can spell instant retirement, and with little run-off there are rarely single-car incidents. Some would say this is why Bathurst can be a lottery, but the fact remains that the fastest teams usually win, because they stay near the front and out of harm's way.

Now all that remains is for the weather to stay good, and we'll have ourselves a great race.

(For anyone looking to find out how to find coverage of Bathurst online, shoot me an email)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Weekend Menu - Weeks 39 and 40

Since I'll be in Australia next week for the Bathurst 1000, here's a list of what's going on for the next two weekends.

September 28-30

  • FIA GT - Nogaro, France
  • Fuji TV Japanese Grand Prix - Fuji, Japan (Formula 1)
  • World Superbike - Vallelunga, Italy
  • Black River Stages - Harrisville, NY (US Rally Championship)
  • Belcar - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
  • Cork 20 International Rally - Cork, Ireland (Irish Tarmac Rally Championship)
  • Grand Finale - Mantorp, Sweden (Swedish Touring Cars)
  • ADAC Barbarossapreis - Nurburgring, Germany (VLN)
  • GP2 - Valencia, Spain
  • Spanish GT - Valencia, Spain
  • Banquet 400 - Kansas Speedway, KS (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Yellow Transportation 300 - Kansas Speedway, KS (NASCAR Bsuch Series)
  • Supermoto des Nations - Franciacorta, Italy (World Supermoto Championship)
  • ELPA Rally - Aegio, Greece (FIA European Rally Championship)
  • British GT - Rockingham, England
  • British F3 - Rockingham, England
  • Rally ORPI du Maroc - Agadir, Morocco (FIA Cross Country World Cup)
October 5-7
  • Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 - Mount Panorama, Australia (V8 Supercars)
  • Fujitsu V8 Supercars - Mount Panorama, Australia
  • Petit Le Mans - Road Atlanta, GA (American Le Mans Series)
  • Speed World Challenge - Road Atlanta, GA
  • IMSA Lites - Road Atlanta, GA
  • Star Mazda - Road Atlanta, GA
  • IMSA GT3 Cup - Road Atlanta, GA
  • Rally RACC Catalunya - Salou, Spain (WRC and Junior WRC)
  • Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai, China (Formula 1)
  • World Touring Car Championship - Monza, Italy
  • International GT Open - Monza, Italy
  • World Superbike - Magny-Cours, France
  • Las Vegas 300 - Las Vegas, NV (Best in the Desert)
  • Spanish CEV - Albacete, Spain
  • Prescott Rally - Prescott, AZ (US Rally Championship)
  • Rally Georgia - Tbilisi, Georgia (FIA European Rally Cup East)
  • International Rally Yorkshire - Pickering, England (British Rally Championship)
  • World Supermoto Championship - Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • UAW-Ford 500 - Talladega, AL (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • John Deere 250 - Talladega, AL (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series)
  • Food City 250 - Talladega, AL (ARCA Remax Series)

Friday, September 21, 2007

The enduro question

The Australian V8 Supercar championship is a slightly odd beast. It spends most of the year running its 31 regular drivers in three 100km sprint races each race weekend. But come September and October everything changes, as teams tackle the two traditional "enduro" events. For these races, teams must field two drivers per car, and prepare for fuel stops, mandatory front brake pad changes, extreme challenges to reliability and the myriad of possibilities for strategy.

The extra drivers for the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 come from a number of places. The bulk of them are from the second tier Fujitsu series (analogous to the Busch Series in NASCAR). These are usually the hot young guns who will be graduating to the main series soon anyway, and the enduros often function as "auditions" for them. Drivers who have retired from full-time drives, such as former champ Glenn Seton and former Bathurst winner Tony Longhurst, frequently come back for the enduros and you see the occasional driver from another touring car series, such as Alain Menu, Yvan Muller or Richard Lyons. Finally there are the "almost-made-its", guys who have skirted the fringes of V8 Supercars, never quite getting that full-time drive but staying in the game with the odd Fujitsu drive or a season in Australia's Porsche Carrera Cup.

The key thing about all these fill-in drivers, regardless of their racing pedigree, is that they are rarely as fast as the drivers who race in the series on a regular basis.

The hot news item in Australian motorsport this week regards the implications of how these pairings work. Some teams opt to put their two regular drivers in one car and the two part-timers in the second car. Others keep their main drivers in their own cars and put them each with the extra guys.

At Sandown, the front-running Ford team, Triple Eight (the team that runs Vauxhall's BTCC effort), paired their two regulars, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup, together. This created a powerhouse combination, and they destroyed the opposition, most of whom had kept their regulars in separate cars. The reasoning for not pairing your top guys is simple: if that one car is involved in a race-ending accident or mechanical failure, neither driver will score championship points. The Holden HSV Dealer Team (engineered and part-owned by Tom Walkinshaw), whose drivers Garth Tander and Rick Kelly were 1-2 in the championship prior to the race, went for the safe route. It was mildly successful: they came home 2nd and 4th and although they switched places in the championship, neither driver from the Triple Eight car was able to pass them in the table. Had Kelly and Tander been paired however, they could easily have won...

It was widely expected for HSV to go with that same strategy for Bathurst, a race that historically has a much greater tendency for accidents. Even if Triple Eight were to win again, HSV could still be pretty sure of getting at least one car home at or near the front, and maintain the championship lead.

But this is Bathurst...

In some circles, a Bathurst 1000 win is more important than a championship.Winners certainly get just as much publicity. So HSV are rolling the dice and placing Kelly and Tander together, and their enduro drivers Paul Radisich and Craig Baird in the other car. This is truly great news for V8 Supercar fans, because it means Lowndes and Whincup will have some very strong competition.

There's also talk that the second-best Ford team, Prodrive's FPR outfit will do the same, after splitting their regular drivers at Sandown too. And the other top Holden team, HRT, will pair up their regulars Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly. That had been their plan for Sandown too, but Skaife suffered appendicitis three days before the race and had to skip the event.

Finally, the third- and fourth-ranked Holden teams, Tasman Motorsport and Garry Rogers Motorsport are also pairing their regulars. This means that the only top team to stick with a split lineup is Ford's Stone Brothers Racing (who ran NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose to the V8 title twice). The good news for SBR is that both their fill-in drivers are nearly as capable as a series regular, and both cars have a legit shot at the podium.

The bottom line is this: with the last-minute changes in line-ups, there are now four teams who can definitely win, and four more with a chance at an upset. This year's race promises to be one of the most exciting for a long time.

And I'm going to be there. Excited? You betcha....

(I'll write a full race preview next week before I leave for Oz)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 38

This weekend's motorsport activities:

  • MotoGP - Motegi, Japan
  • DTM - Catalunya, Spain
  • F3 Euroseries - Catalunya, Spain
  • Boyne 100 - Tullyallen, Ireland (Real road racing)
  • YU Rally - Bajina-Basta, Serbia (FIA European Rally Cup East)
  • World Series by Renault - Magny-Cours, France
  • Colorado Rally - Steamboat Springs, CO (Rally America)
  • Dover 400 - Dover, DE (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Dover 200 - Dover, DE (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • British Superbike - Donington Park, England
  • Spanish GT - Albacete, Spain
  • World Touring Cars - Brands Hatch, England
  • Internaitonal GT Open - Brands Hatch, England
  • Smith's Las Vegas 350 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NV (NASCAR Craftsman Trucks)
  • FIA GT - Brno, Czech Republic
  • Rallye Centro de Portugal - Marinha Grande, Portugal (FIA European Rally Cup Southwest)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The meaning of legend

Indulge me for a moment as I lay out an analogy for you. As an active, professionally-trained musician I've learned over the years that success in music is not proportional to your musicianship. I worked for a year or so as a tour manager for a major-label punk-rock band. I was a much more skilled musician than any of the guys in that band, but they were the ones with the record deal, not me. As the tour rolled on , it became apparent why this was. Every night, they stepped out onto the stage and put on a great show, with fun banter, lots of jumping around, all the right rock 'n' roll moves, carefully-timed f-bombs and an air of unpredictability that keeps the crowd excited.

When I came off the road I realized I'd learned a lot, and it changed how I approached my music. The realization that the craft of music was a two-way street that involved more than just the band was a big step.

Colin McRae understood these fundamental principles. He came to understand that once you get to a certain level in motorsport you're not just in it for yourself anymore, and that even if you're not the one with the most innate talent you can still be a legend. This understanding lead him to work with Codemasters on the terrific Colin McRae Rally series of video games, that brought his name to an audience previously unfamiliar with rallying. It also manifested itself in his driving style, which was always exciting to watch, even as other drivers were using a newer, tidier approach that worked better with the modern generation of WRC cars and was clearly faster. His no-holds-barred attitude meant that rally fans always knew he was trying hard, one of the reasons he had a greater tendency to crash. This was a large part of the appeal of Colin. People love someone who never gives up, who always tries hard against apparently insurmountable odds and who would rather fail spectacularly than give up.

But most importantly, Colin's intuitive feel for dealing with people is what will live on in the hearts of everyone who ever knew him or followed his career through the media. His communication style, like his rallying, was open and honest. Colin would rather tell the truth, even if it was an unpleasant truth, than cover things up. I remember watching an interview with him after a rally in New Zealand, where a pace note issue had caused a crash: he was asked what had happened and he replied wryly "maybe you should ask the Welsh wizard", indicating his displeasure with co-driver Nicky Grist. That kind of openness is rare in professional sport, and with Colin it worked both ways. He was clearly a big fan of Travis Pastrana when he came over to compete against the freestyle motocrosser in the X-Games rally last year, and he showed it. He refused to act the "big shot" when he was up against the top American rallyists, and anyone who competed against him in either of the X-Games he took part in had nothing but good things to say about him, how he was always gracious and accomodating.

I know I just said "most importantly" at the start of the previous paragraph, but there is actually something else even more important: the fact that Colin was a husband, father and son. As tough as it is for the rallying community and for the world of sport in general to accept Colin's death, our pain is nothing compared to that of his wife Alison, his daughter Hollie and his parents Jimmy and Margaret, all of whom are facing the double tragedy of also losing Colin's son Johnny.

If there is a heaven, let's hope it's one big superspecial stage. If it is, Colin is either winning or crashing...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Colin McRae, 1968-2007

What a tragic day for motorsport Saturday turned out to be. I'm too sad about this to write anything at the moment except my send my deepest condolences to the McRae family. There's plenty of tributes on the web. I'll write more later.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The day after yesterday, in racing blogs

After my unashamedly immature outburst on the McLaren spying issue yesterday (I'm not the only one either, Ian at Suitcase of Courage is similarly incensed), leave it up to Clive over at F1 Insight to come up with a coherent post about why this decision is so unjust. Check it out...

Weekend Menu - Week 37

F1 returns to the bizniz of racing at Spa, it's one of the biggest races of the year for V8 Supercars, French bike nuts go mad at the Bol d'Or, and I'm off to Laguna Seca for the final round of the AMA Superbike championship:

  • Sandown 500 - Sandown, Australia (V8 Supercars)
  • Swedish Touring Cars - Sturup, Sweden
  • Nevada Rally Experience - Caliente, NV (Best in the Desert series)
  • Golden Tulip Rally - Nijverdal, Netherlands (FIA European Rally Cup North)
  • Portugese Grand Prix - Estoril, Portugal (MotoGP)
  • World Supermoto Championship - Busca, Italy
  • 1000km of Silverstone - Silverstone, England (Le Mans Series)
  • 6hr ADAC Ruhr-Pokal-Rennen - Nurburgring, Germany (VLN Championship)
  • Clare Stages Rally - Ennis, Ireland (Irish Gravel Rally Championship)
  • Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire Intl. Speedway, NH (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Sylvania 200 - New Hampshire Intl. Speedway, NH (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (FIA Formula 1)
  • GP2 - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
  • Porsche Supercup - Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
  • Yalta Rally - Quay, Ukraine (FIA European Rally Cup East)
  • Killarney Road Races - Killarney, Ireland (Real road racing)
  • Corona AMA Superbike Championships - Laguna Seca, CA (AMA Superbike)
  • Rally of the Great Lakes - Australia (Australian Rally Championship)
  • Grand Prix of Bulgaria - Sevlievo, Bulgaria (FIM Motocross GP)
  • Bol d'Or - Magny-Cours, France (FIM World Endurance Championship)
  • Grand Am Rolex Sportscar Series - Miller Motorsports Park, UT
  • Eddie Gilstrap Motors Fall Classic - Salem Speedway, IN (ARCA Remax Series)
  • Horacka Rally - Trebic, Czech Republic (FIA European Rally Cup Central)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The world has gone mad


My jaw has hit the floor. A team has been fined $100m and lost all its constructors points because a rogue employee received confidential materials from another team but clearly didn't end up using them. McLaren almost certainly didn't benefit in this whole thing. If anything Ferrari should be the ones most concerned and should be getting their own house in order. Luckily for them, the FIA has its tongue lodged permanently in their collective behind.

I mean, I always knew Formula 1 was a ridiculous "sport", sucking capital away from other (perhaps more worthy) forms of racing, forging no technical advances apart from those that serve itself, and generally making a mockery of the fundamental spirit of competition that fuels most motor sport.

But this stupid, brain-deadening, faux-spy-novel, Hollywood-film-star-level-of-drama drama is just one more nail in the coffin of a sport that seems intent on destroying itself from the inside out, under the tutelage of one psychotic man with a voracious appetite for power at all costs and another with a similar appetite for money (sorry for the run-on sentence, my anger precludes me from utilizing proper grammar right now)

The whole thing makes me sick. Stupid F1, you suck, I hate you, I can pretend I don't care but clearly I do, because this thing is bad for motor sport as a whole.

Would you ever see this kind of thing in MotoGP? No.

Get me to a club race, I need to see some PROPER racing...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Champ Car did, but doesn't want to anymore. The series announced today that they will not be returning to San Jose for a third time, discarding the track in a very large bin named "street circuits of the past" alongside defunct tracks like Birmingham (England), Caesar's Palace parking lot (Las Vegas), Miami and Vancouver.

The question is: will it be missed? The drivers for the most part hated it, with its tight confines, single passing zone, shortness and those VTA tram lines. Fans flocked to the race, but none can claim to have had a particularly good time with the poor sightlines, ridiculously crowded bridges and processional racing. The city of San Jose was indifferent, with the additional sales tax revenue offset by the cost of policing, road closures and cleanup much of which was not covered by the organizers. The political cost of displacing angry residents was also not insignificant.

There is a place in the grand pantheon of motorsport for street circuits. Staging a motor race slap-bang in the middle of a major city, whilst a logistical challenge, brings significant recognition to racing in general and the specific genre in particular. The Monaco Grand Prix is a perfect example of this. F1 puts up with all the extra BS and headache for one weekend in order to stage a remarkable event that serves as the "jewel in the crown" of the championship. Safety standards are "relaxed", teams suck it up and park and their transporters offsite, drivers accept that qualifying becomes the most important part of the weekend and fans eschew traditional spectating approaches simply for the pleasure of "being there".

But Monaco is unique on the F1 calendar. Yes, there are other street races such as Canada and Australia, but neither of those are to be found in the typically urban environment of a major downtown area. Champcar on the other hand has four races in just such a venue, and eight that can be classed as being on temporary courses. That leaves only six races at permanent, legitimate race tracks.

At some point, the advantages of street racing (exposure to new fans and sponsors) are outweighed by significant disadvantages. Too may street courses tend to undermine the credibility of a championship - "well if they're not racing on a track, surely it's not proper racing" being a thought process of a typical casual fan. It also means you don't get such committed, hard racing, as drivers spend much of their concentration avoiding walls instead of racing each other. Compare the terrific Mont-Tremblant race with such snoozefests as San Jose....

Next year Laguna Seca will take the place of San Jose. Consider this a victory for real racing, and not much of a loss for Champcar, which will still be able to showcase itself in the downtown parts of Toronto, Surfers Paradise and (probably) Las Vegas. Furthermore, it will probably still race close to Cleveland's downtown at the kooky (but good for racing) Burke-Lakefront Airport, right in the middle of the Southern California sprawl at one of the world's best street circuits, Long Beach, and within the conurbation of Houston at Reliant Park.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Endurance racing's best-kept secret

One race missing from yesterday's Midweek Menu that should have been on there is the Britcar 24 Hours. Britcar is basically an endurance-racing championship for primarily amateur drivers in production-based cars. The rules are set-up to allow as much variety as possible in the grids, and costs for teams are kept carefully in check to retain the spirit of the series. I recently heard one of the organizers say that if a car came along that didn't fit into the rules, they would "find a way to allow it to race".

But a funny thing happened after a couple of years... the racing was so good, the grids so fun and diverse and with very few other options for drivers who wanted to go endurance racing, the professionals started to show up. Britcar started to become a place for some of the top drivers to "blow off steam" in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. It also allowed amateur drivers to pit themselves against some of the top racers in the sport.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than at the crown jewel event of the championship, the Silverstone 24 Hours. First run in 2005, and benefitting from the groundwork already laid by Britcar in the previous few years, it was an instant success. The event grew in 2006, and the organizers brought in the Radio Le Mans team to provide track and web commentary.

The entry list in 2007 is extremely impressive. Big names from sportscar racing such as Martin Short, Jamie Campbell-Walter, David Leslie, Michael Vergers, Marcel Fassler and Cor Euser are joined by touring car pros like Anthony Reid, Fiona Leggate and Gareth Howell. Other notable entrants include BTCC organizer Alan Gow, Duke Video boss Peter Duke, Evo magazine writer Jethro Bovingdon and the entire BBC Top Gear team (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May and The Stig) who are filming the effort for an upcoming TV show. Check out this thread at for more info, and scroll down for some photos (the hilarious picture above is one of them, so photo credit and thanks to Arosamike from

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Smart move in a silly season

The motorcycle silly season is a thing to behold. With the differences between the top tier (MotoGP), the secondary tier (World Superbike) and tertiary tiers (domestic superbike championships, World Supersport and the like) somewhat smaller than their 4-wheeled equivalent, there is always a lot of movement.

Regularity of announcements for the forthcoming season happen on something of a bell-curve. Riders are naturally looking for the best seat possible, and these are usually the first to be confirmed. As these slots slowly get taken, desperation starts to kick in, as torrents of riders start to take their second, third or fourth choice rides. This is where the height of the silly season is to be found as mid-level riders rush to guarantee a paycheck. As things slow down, those left standing search for scraps, before finally a few riders remain unemployed, and choose to either take a sabbatical or retire altogether.

One of the riders who missed the boat last year is someone who has secured his future very early this year, 2003 World Superbike champ Neil Hodgson. Instead of waiting around for a possibly better ride in a possibly better championship, he took a good job with a good team in a good championship, signing for the factory Honda team in the American superbike series. There's a chance he could have found something better: Ducati may well be replacing Lorenzo Lanzi in World Superbike, and with Johnny Rea off to World Supersport with Ten Kate, the factory Honda team in British Superbike is hiring. But Hodgson didn't want to make the same mistake twice. He enjoyed his time living in Southern California for two years when he rode for the Ducati team in AMA Superbike in 2004 and 2005, so he's perfectly happy to be bringing his family back to the US, where he'll earn a very good salary.

Honda will have a brand new CBR1000rr superbike in 2008. Neil is no doubt hoping that it will be the machine that will finally topple the tediously superb Yoshimura Suzuki team in the top AMA class. Whilst it won't win any prizes for beauty, we as fans can only pray it will shake things up on the track, particularly with a skilled pilot such as "The Hodge" on board.

Welcome back to the US Neil Hodgson!

Weekend Menu - Week 36

Plenty of rallying this weekend, along with F1 in Italy and World Superbike in Germany:

  • International Rally New York - Monticello, NY (US Rally Championship)
  • Gran Premio Vodafone d'Italia - Monza, Italy (Formula One)
  • GP2 - Monza, Italy
  • Porsche Supercup - Monza, Italy
  • AMA Motocross - Glen Helen, CA
  • FIA GT - Adria, Italy
  • Chevy Rock 'n' Roll 400 - Richmond International Raceway, VA (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Emerson Radio 250 - Richmond International Raceway, VA (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Primm 300 - Primm, NV (SCORE)
  • World Superbike - Eurospeedway Lausitz, Germany
  • British GT - Croft, England
  • British F3 - Croft, England
  • Gudong Garam International Rally - Sulawesi, Indonesia (FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship)
  • Super GT - Motegi, Japan
  • Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 - Chicagoland Speedway, IL (Indy Racing League)
  • Indy Pro Series - Chicagoland Speedway, IL
  • Chicagoland ARCA 200 - Chicagoland Speedway, IL
  • Killalane Road Races - Loughshinney, Ireland (Real road racing)
  • Rally Principe d'Asturias - Oviedo, Spain (FIA European Rally Cup Southwest)
  • World Series by Renault - Donington Park, England
  • Formula Renault UK - Donington Park, England
  • Rally Defi Ste. Agathe - Ste. Agathe, Canada (Canadian Rally Championship)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Edge of the seat

Although I abandoned "weekend review" posts last year, it seems only right that I should reflect on a cracking weekend's racing in the ALMS and WRC. Having a three-day weekend to enjoy it also helped, especially with the lovely weather we've had here in San Francisco (finally...)

Marcus Gronholm and Seb Loeb delivered a complete nail-biter of a rally in New Zealand, featuring the closest finish ever in the history of the World Rally Championship, a scant 0.3 seconds. This is not how rallies are supposed to work. Generally you expect the bloke in second place to back off in the last few stages once it's clear he's not going to catch the leader. Not yesterday...

Marcus started the day about one second behind the Frenchman, and the lead see-sawed until the final stage. Seb went in 0.7 seconds behind, claimed back 0.4 seconds and ended up just missing out on the victory. It now leaves him one rally win (10 points) behind Gronholm. The balance of power is finely poised. The next two events are tarmac rallies that typically favour Seb: Catalunya and Corsica. After that is Rally Japan, which could go either way. The penultimate round is in Ireland. Although the surface is tarmac, and in theory should be best suited to Loeb, both drivers have done exploratory rallies in the Emerald Isle, making for a much more even playing field. The final rally will be in Wales, with the slippery gravel that might just be more Gronholm's cup of tea. The key for both of them will be to keep it on the road. If Marcus has a DNF with a corresponding win for Seb, they'll be even on points. If the opposite occurs, Seb might just have to kiss the championship goodbye.

Although the setting couldn't have been more different, the American Le Mans race in Detroit was very nearly as exciting as the WRC in New Zealand.

As much as I dislike seeing Audi win, due to their massive domination in Le Mans racing, I'm not too happy seeing them endure such a long losing streak (now 8 straight races). Part of it is down to the fact they've had some bad luck, but the bigger issue is that according to the rules, they shouldn't be losing. LMP2 cars, like the Penske Porsches that are so successful right now, are not supposed to win. They can be expected to challenge very occasionally on tight, slow tracks, but according to the ACO's rule book, LMP1 cars should rarely lose, especially when they are as highly-developed as the Audi R10.

Porsche were too frightened of Audi to enter LMP1. This was a bad decision for the fans who wanted to see a straight fight. To see Porsche win with an LMP2 car is like watching a badly-behaved kid get rewarded for beating up a classmate.

However, it has made for some great racing, in a season where it was expected that Audi would win everything! In Detroit on Saturday, where it was expected the Porsches would take advantage of the tight street layout, Audi looked to be taking a surprise win. However, with two laps to go, Romain Dumas in the Porsche managed to make a pass on Emanuele Pirro's Audi, and held on for the win. Pirro will have to take the blame after carelessly leaving the door open at one of the few points on the circuit where a pass was theoretically possible. Any of Pirro's three team-mates would probably not have made that same mistake.

All good fun stuff to watch....