Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sad Indy 500 fact

I was just listening to Globecast 0157's NASCAR review show and their North American correspondent Declan Brennan revealed this very sad fact:

"Next year there will be more past Indy 500 champions racing at the Daytona 500 than at the Indy 500."

Despite this, NASCAR's TV ratings continue to fall, as do those of ChampCar and the IRL. About the only US motorsport gaining viewers is the ALMS, but how many Indy 500 champions will be in that next year, I wonder?

Weekend Menu - Week 48

This is the last menu of the season - there's nothing else on my calendar for 2007. I suppose I should start work on the 2008 version...

  • Wales Rally GB - Cardiff, Wales (WRC, Production WRC and British Rally Championship)
  • Big Pond Grand Finale - Phillip Island, Australia (V8 Supercars and Fujitsu V8 Series)
  • Henderson's Terrible 400 - Pahrump, NV (Best in the Desert series)
  • Dubai International Rally - Dubai, UAE (Middle East Rally Championship)
Th-th-th-that's all folks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World Superbike latest

Motorcycle racing always yields the silliest silly season, and World Superbike has already thrown up some surprising changes for 2008.

The plum job of being Troy Bayliss' team-mate at the factory Ducati team fell to Michel Fabrizio. Many question whether the young Italian has the raw talent necessary and fear another Lorenzo Lanzi situation. Jonathan Rea had been offered the seat but bizarrely opted for a role with Ten Kate's supersport squad. Strange.

PSG-1 Kawasaki are still looking for another rider to work alongside big-eared Frenchman Regis Laconi, but in the meantime they've entered into a technical agreement with Team Pedercini to supply Kawasakis to the former Ducati satellite team. Riders for that squad will be Vittorio Iannuzzo and probably superstock grad Ayrton Badovini.

Alstare Suzuki have lost both Max Biaggi and title sponsor Corona, but picked up Fonsi Nieto and Max Neukirchner instead, as they expand to three riders. Rumours of a Brazilian oil company coming on board persist.

Biaggi has ended up alongside Ruben Xaus at Sterilgarda Ducati, on theoretically factory-spec Ducati 1098Rs. I suspect a lack of technical skills in that team will hamper Biaggi's run for the title.

Another team expanding to three riders is Ten Kate Honda, who brought flying Turk Kenan Sofuoglu up from their supersport team, joining GP refugee Carlos Checa, and double British Superbike champ Ryuichi Kiyonari. I don't see any of them winning the championship (in 2008 at least) but Ten Kate are always a force to be reckoned with.

Yamaha continue with '07 riders Nori Haga and Troy Corser. Surely '08 will be Haga's year?

Two teams step up to World Superbike from elsewhere. Althea Honda (formerly Italia Megabike) will augment their supersport program by entering Roby Rolfo on a CBR1000 in superbike. Paul Bird Motorsport will move from British Superbike, seemingly as part of a world domination effort from Bird, who also runs one of the top World Rally teams. Riders are yet to be announced, but I'd keep my eyes peeled for Gregorio Lavilla, Steve Martin and/or Makoto Tamada.

Elsewhere, DFXtreme Honda, Alto Evolution Honda, Yamaha France and SC Caracchi have yet to announce their line-ups.

Down in supersport, Andrew Pitt is back, landing a plum job alongside Johnny Rea at Ten Kate. Althea Honda have Gianluca Nannelli and former Yamaha Brit Superbike rider Tommy Hill (who broke his leg in testing today). Speaking of Yamaha, their top WSS team, Yamaha Germany, brings in 600cc specialist Fabien Foret to replace the terminally injured Kevin Curtain, alongside Broc Parkes. The main Kawasaki team, GiL Motorsport, have another supersport star in Katsuaki Fujiwara, and have also signed the sadly under-performing Chris Walker, who will be running in his third different championship in as many years.

Notable riders still jobless and prospect-less include Sebastien Charpentier, Alex Hofmann and Lorenzo Lanzi.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

GPS versus the fuzz

Okay, not strictly racing, but certainly to do with cars going fast, and of importance to any of us who drive on public streets...

A traffic commissioner in Santa Rosa, about 50 miles north of us in San Francisco, has upheld a speeding ticket despite evidence from the driver's car's GPS unit that showed him obeying the limit within 100 feet of where he was zapped with radar.

The driver in question, a 17-year-old, had a GPS installed by his parents who wanted to keep track of his driving, fearing that his interest in racing would spill over into anti-social driving habits.

The data from that unit, which checks the cars speed and location every thirty seconds, indicated he was doing 45mph at the exact location where the police officer allegedly measured his speed with radar, which was determined to be 62mph. The limit was 45mph.

The controversy about this in my mind is two fold. Firstly, the officer was not able to categorically state where the car was when he pulled the trigger on the radar gun, so the speed could have been measured plus or minus 100 feet from where the GPS reported the driver was doing 45mph. I think it's pretty likely that if the zap was 100 feet earlier, he could have been doing 62mph at that point, which is probably why the citation was upheld. A 17mph deceleration is achievable within 100 feet. However, surely the GPS data introduces sufficient reasonable doubt to nullify the ticket.

Secondly, and more importantly, if this GPS data had been used by the court to overturn the case it would set an exceptionally dangerous precedent. If a civilian can use that data to defend against a citation, it's not beyond the realms of reason for authorities to use it to prosecute a case. When that day comes, every single one of us will have lost a significant piece of personal freedom. The next step would be mandatory tracking devices in cars and on bikes that report real time position and speed data. Quite worrying....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lady Luck smiles

Two laps from the end of the penultimate round of the World Touring Car Championship in Macau, Andy Priaulx looked all but out of it. The British BMW driver, who won the championship the previous three years, had qualified badly and started the race in 12th. He had progressed only as far as 11th with 7 of the 9 laps complete and faced a serious problem....

Points standings going into round 21:

Priaulx: 81
Yvan Muller (SEAT): 81
Augusto Farfus (BMW): 71
James Thompson: 69

So with Muller leading race 1, and Farfus sitting in third, Priaulx was looking at being 10 points (a win) behind Muller, and 4 points ahead of Farfus. Making things worse, he was out of contention for 8th in the race, which would have put him on pole for race 2 due to the reverse grid rules.

"Stick a fork in him, he's DONE!", I thought.

Halfway through lap 8, fortune smiled on Priaulx in a very big way, as Muller coasted to a halt with a broken drivetrain. All was not saved though, because this elevated Farfus to 2nd and put him on 79 points, starting race 2 from 7th, whilst Priaulx still sat on 81, starting from 10th. Thompson was also now in the frame, potentially moving up to 73 points and starting 5th in race 2.

As the leaders headed into Macau's tortuous first major corner, Lisboa, on the final lap, Lady Luck didn't just smile on Priaulx - she stopped by his house in the middle of the night holding champagne and strawberries, wearing lacy lingerie, looking for a booty-call...

SEAT's Gabriele Tarquini attempted a very optimistic move on Augusto Farfus. When it didn't stick, he punted him in the back and turned him into the armco. Farfus' car sat motionless, battered, and his championship run looked over.

If nothing else happened, Priaulx was set to finish 9th, score no points and start 9th for race 2. He would stay on 81 points, Muller would do the same and Farfus would also not gain any points and stick on 71. Only James Thompson would make any ground, moving up to 75 points, and starting 6th on the grid. He would then need to come 2nd in race 2 to take the championship or win if Priaulx came 7th or 8th.

Lady Luck was not done though. As Priaulx answered the door and invited her inside, he discovered she'd brought her hot younger sister, Lady Disbelief.

The driver sitting in 8th was independent BMW entry Duncan Huisman. BMW bosses got on the radio and suggested Huisman let Priaulx past for 8th, thus getting him a valuable point, and more importantly pole position in race 2. Huisman did as he was told, and the championship became a formality at that point. Race 2 progressed as expected with Priaulx taking the win, and Thompson doing his best but unable to make up any ground in the standings.

I've always been impressed with Priaulx's WTCC and ETCC victories. He's fast, smart and has that winning spirit. This one though felt like a fluke. It should have been Muller's championship, and if not his, then Farfus'. Priaulx had struggled all weekend, and you can't have bad weekends n the WTCC.

Or maybe you can, if Lady Luck and her sister are feeling frisky...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Weekend Menu - Week 46

The last gasp of racing for 2007, and what a weekend it is. We're in the middle of the Baja 1000 right now, and there's V8 Supercars, Macau's annual racing fest, the WRC and the final NASCAR event of the year:

  • Macau Grand Prix - Guia Circuit, Macau (real road racing)
  • WTCC - Guia Circuit, Macau
  • Rally Ireland - Sligo, Ireland (WRC and Production Car WRC)
  • Ford 400 - Homestead-Miami, FL (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • Ford 300 - Homestead-Miami, FL (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Ford 200 - Homestead-Miami, FL (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series)
  • Spanish CEV - Valencia, Spain
  • Tasmania Challenge - Symmons Plain, Australia (V8 Supercars)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Automobile mag chooses the top 5 racing cars of all time

I was recently handed a copy of Automobile magazine. As a rule I tend to only read British car magazines (although I have a sub to American racing mag Racer), so I was quite surprised to find Automobile to be an enjoyable, engaging read, with a very high standard of journalism and interesting subject matter.

This issue's cover story was the 25 greatest cars of all time, broken down into five categories. This being a racing blog, the category of interest here was racing cars. Their choices were the Lotus 49, Porsche 917, Dodge Charger Daytona, Miller 91 and Auto Union.

An interesting group of cars.

Naturally I started to ponder my own list, and after quick consideration here's the five that come off the top of my head:

Porsche 956 / 962 - Whilst I agree that the Porsche 917 was a terrific car for it's power, speed and record of success, it was short-lived. The 956 and 962 were the dominant force in sportscar racing from 1983 all the way to 1989 and carried on racing for some time afterwards. They even won Le Mans in 1994 with a racing version of the road car version of the racing version, the Dauer 962. During that time period, these cars defined an era and brought massive success to the Porsche marque, due mainly to the innovative yet well-developed technologies that were utilized. The fuel-consumption constraints of Group C demanded new thinking from the Porsche factory, and the aluminium monocoque chassis was chief amongst the developments. The 917 burned bright and briefly, whilst the 956 and 962 burned just as bright but for a much longer period. For many, it's the archetypal endurance racing sportscar, and an icon of motorsport.

Lotus 25 - Although I agree with Automobile magazine that a Colin Chapman-designed F1 car should be included, I have to disagree with which one. Sure, the 49 was important for its use of the Cosworth V8, and the 78 was a major step forward in aerodynamic thinking, but I have to pick the 25, simply because its design paved the way for every single F1 car from that point to the present day. It was the first ever fully-stressed monocoque chassis, increasing stiffness threefold and halving weight. Further design details, such as the driver positioning and front suspension treatment, ensured that the 25 would be a winner. And win it did, with a 25% win rate in the hands of the legendary Jim Clark. I think it's safe to say that the Lotus 25 was basically the most influential F1 car of all time.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale - Although it would be tempting to put the Audi Quattro on this list, due to it being the first major 4WD contender in the WRC, the term "greatest" should not be confused with "first". Audi's early successes were due to a lack of viable competition, and once that competition showed up, Audi looked rather weak. They took 23 WRC wins with the Quattro. Lancia on the other hand managed double that with their Group A-spec Deltas, starting with the HF 4WD in 1987, and ending with the Integrale Evo 2 in 1993.

What made the Integrales special was that, like BMW's E30-spec M3, they were family-size road cars designed with sport as the primary focus, and as 4WD, turbo-charged 4-door rallycars, they paved the way for a new type of car. Subaru's Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo would be nothing without the Integrale. It has to stand as the greatest rallycar of all time, not least because it was true to rallying roots: taking your own, fairly normal car and trying to go as fast as possible from one place to another.

Audi R10 - Some (many?) might call this a controversial pick, but the R10 is possibly the most important racing car of all time. For any brand-new car to win Le Mans at its first attempt is a remarkable achievement. In fact, the R10 remains undefeated in long-distance endurance events, having won both Sebring 12 hour events, both Petits Le Mans and both Le Mans 24 hours races it has entered. But the most critical point is that it achieved all this whilst running on diesel fuel. Audi predicted that the future of racing would not lie with gasoline-powered vehicles, and set out to prove the point with the R10. Since the introduction of the car, the IRL has switched to a 98% ethanol fuel, the ALMS moved to a 10% ethanol mix and more alternative propulsion methods are showing up in racing everyday. None of that may have been Audi's idea, but the R10 showed that it was possible to win in motorsport without using regular gasoline, and as time marches on I believe that there will be little doubt that it is worthy to be considered as one of the top five greatest racing cars.

Spec Miata - The concept of low-cost, spec racing allows motorsport to be accessible to a much wider group of people, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the various forms of Spec Miata racing. For that reason alone, the Miata has to be considered one of the greatest racing cars ever. By its nature, racing is expensive, but nowhere does it say that it should be prohibitively so for the average person. A Miata can be purchased for less than $2000, modifications made to ensure rules-compliance for another $2000, and licensing, fuel, tyres and entry fees for that first race should come to another $1000. It is almost unbelievable that anyone can go racing for $5000, and even more remarkable that the car being raced can be driven home after a change of tyres. The Miata is racing for the masses, and that's perhaps as great an achievement as any of the other four cars I've listed.

Begin hurling your rotten tomatoes....

Friday, November 09, 2007

Winter viewing

One of the tragedies of the racing blogosphere is that Patrick's "Motorsport Ramblings" only features one post per week. He's a talented writer and clearly would rather dish up one excellent post than numerous mediocre ones, an honourable approach. This week he's hit on a fabulous topic: movies about racing. I strongly encourage you to go read it. As I mentioned in the comments of his post, my favourite racing movie is the "Dust to Glory" Baja 1000 documentary, produced by Dana Brown, son of Bruce Brown (the man behind "The Endless Summer" and "On Any Sunday").

[tangent alert] Although I despise being in water, I love surfing movies, and "The Endless Summer" is one of the best (incidentally, another great one is one of Dana Brown's other movies, "Step Into Liquid"). Two more worth a look are "Riding Giants" and the PBS special "Mavericks", both of which feature a surf mecca round the corner from me, Mavericks, in Half Moon Bay, CA. [end of tangent]

Anyway, go read Patrick's post, then with the winter closing, go rent the following great auto-, moto- or racing-related movies:

There you go. That should keep you busy, unless of course you decide to watch the movies that Patrick loathes...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Government or the ALMS...

News broke yesterday of the remarkable career change of British politician Lord Paul Drayson.

After making gazillions in the pharmaceutical industry, Drayson moved into government in 2005 as a junior defense minister, and was dubbed one of "Tony's Cronies" for his closeness to Tony Blair.

This year Drayson has been racing alongside Jonny Cocker in a Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS-9 in the British GT championship. His run was noteworthy for two reasons: firstly, he came second in the championship, not bad for a politician; and secondly because the Aston ran on bio-ethanol, and became the first GT car to win a race using that kind of fuel.

The opportunity has come up for him to move to the US to take part in the ALMS with Barwell, Cocker and Aston Martin, although the exact details remain unclear. There's talk of the car being a GT2-spec Aston V8 Vantage, along the lines of a test car that was spotted at Goodwood circuit earlier this week.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Blogrush: bye-bye

Anyone interested in how well Blogrush performed in bringing new traffic to this site should know that it was absolutely useless. I have deleted it...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Quote of the day by Valentino Rossi

After a crash in which he fractured three bones in his right hand, Vale joked "So I'm okay, but I was better before the crash!"

That's why this guy is such a superstar....

Friday, November 02, 2007

Airbags for motorcycle leathers

Motorcyclists in the future will look back on today as a very notable date in the history of motorcycling. For the first time ever, a motorcyclist was saved from injuries thanks to the deployment of a suit-mounted airbag system.

The system has been developed by Italian leathers manufacturer Dainese and is called "D-Air". Currently in the prototyping stages, it was being used by Italian 125cc rider Marco Simoncelli, who crashed in practice for this weekend's MotoGP event at Valencia.

It works through a combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes, cold-gas cylinders and encoded GPS signals between bike and rider. Complicated onboard diagnostics systems prevent unwanted inflation.

Apparently we'll see this technology in street apparel in about three years, and hopefully it will prove to be successful in reducing the numbers of deaths and injuries amongst street riders. Something else to remember is that if Dainese have done it, you can sure other leathers manufacturers are hard at work on their own versions....

Weekend Menu - Week 44

A little late, but here's the weekend's racing:

  • Golden West Cycle Avi 150 - Laughlin, NV (Best in the Desert)
  • MotoGP - Valencia, Spain
  • SuperGT - Fuji, Japan
  • Desert 400 - Bahrain (V8 Supercars)
  • Dickies 500 - Texas Motor Speedway, TX (NASCAR Nextel Cup)
  • O'Reilly Challenge - Texas Motor Speedway, TX (NASCAR Busch Series)
  • Silverado 350k - Texas Motor Speedway, TX (NASCAR Craftsman Trucks)
  • Rallye du Condruz-Huy - Huy, Belgium (FIA European Rally Cup North)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Japanese motorcycle racer

News broke today that the current champion of the All-Japan Superbike Championship, Atsushi Watanabe, is headed to England to join the Rizla Suzuki British Superbike team. This follows in what is turning out to be a grand tradition of top Japanese riders being placed in BSB, both to bag titles for their manufacturer bosses, as well as prime them for greater future success.

The first guy to do this was Suzuki's Yukio Kagayama. After success in Japan, Suzuki placed him with Rizla Suzuki in BSB in 2003, where his wild style and fun-loving, no-nonsense personality endeared him to fans, much like his good friend Noriyuki Haga in World Superbike. Kagayama had a great first half of the season before having a monstrous accident at Cadwell Park. A badly-broken pelvis and other assorted injuries kept him off the bike until 2004, where he took up where he left off. He finished third in BSB that year, and suitably primed for the world stage, Suzuki packed him off to WSBK's Alstare Suzuki team. His time there has proved to be up and down, but there's no doubting his raw speed, and the contribution BSB made to his development.

Following Kagayama from Japan to the UK was Ryuichi Kiyonari, who arrived in the UK in 2004, placed with the HM Plant factory Honda team by the Honda bosses in Japan. His first season was steady, paving the way for a serious title challenge in 2005. A broken ankle put him out for a few races in mid-'05, handing the title to Greg Lavilla. Kiyonari made up for it in both 2006 and 2007 by winning the BSB championship for Honda. Along the way he struggled to overcome the language barrier and was thus never able to capture the imagination of the fans like Kagayama or Haga have. With his work in Britain done, Honda have followed Suzuki's example and sent the fellow off to World Superbike, this time with the top-shelf Ten Kate Honda outfit.

Now Watanabe must follow in the footsteps of his countrymen Kagayama and Kiyonari. Apparently he is already hard at work on his English language skills, Suzuki learning from their experience with Kagayama how important it is that their riders can work with the media and fans. What we don't yet know is how fast he'll be. In the final round of the Japanese series, Honda brought Kiyonari in to ruin the party, and he took both wins. Watanabe could only manage 6th and 9th on his Yoshimura Suzuki, but to be fair was riding for finishes to get points, since he had a healthy lead in the championship and didn't need to battle for wins.

BSB has had a quick Japanese factory rider in its ranks for five years now, so it's nice to see that continue into 2008.