Sunday, January 27, 2008

The life of the racing fan

Getting up early to watch races. Scheduling non-motorsport weekend activities based on which races are on. Scouring the web for racing torrents. Driving vast distances to attend events. It's all part of being a dedicated racing fan, and with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona and the Monte Carlo Rally, it's all starting up again for a new season. After the dark days of December and January, we can now all look forward to the debuts of many championships and another great racing season. Thank goodness!

After a big 2007 in which I went to all kinds of races all over the world, 2008 will be a little quieter, partly due to a demanding new job. Having said that, I'm going to try to make the most of what is available locally, from Grand Am to Champcar to NASCAR to IRL to ALMS to AMA to MotoGP. I am planning a couple of trips further afield, including the return of World Superbike to the US, at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah at the end of May.

As I watch the final three minutes of the Daytona 24, it's nice to reflect on how cool this sport of racing is and how much there is to look forward to in 2008...


Call it my own little contribution to the worldwide web: I've put together another motorsport calendar. This little project grew out of an Excel spreadsheet I had been keeping for a number of years, highlighting all the racing I wanted to follow. Once it transitioned into an Access database it grew dramatically, powered by my slightly obsessive personality, and after exporting it to Excel and creating a webpage out of it, it was ready for publishing. Last year it featured 80 championships, this year 78.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Racing's top dogs come out for the Daytona 24

As much as I dislike the Rolex Sportscar Series, there's no doubt that they've done a good job of rebuilding the Daytona 24 Hours after its decline in the late 90s and early 00s. These days the Rolex 24 is something akin to summer (winter?) camp for top drivers of all disciplines, primarily financed by the wealthy team and car owners along with pay drivers.

Although the Daytona Prototype cars are ugly and slow, and the GT cars significantly slower than their ALMS counterparts, the sheer size and quality of the entry helps ensure that it's an entertaining event.

Just take a look at this incredible who's who of racing on the entry list:

American sportscar racing
Scott Pruett
Memo Rojas
Allan McNish
Ian James
Guy Cosmo
Wayne Taylor
Max Angelelli
Bill Auberlen
Joey Hand
Pat Long
Andy Wallace
Darren Law
David Donohue
Hurley Haywood
Terry Borcheller
Colin Braun
Oliver Gavin
Nic Jonnson
Memo Gidley
Jim Matthews
Marc Goossens
Johnny O'Connell
Jon Fogarty
Alex Gurney
Andy Pilgrim
Kelly Collins
Jan Magnussen
Ralf Kelleners
David Empringham
Nathan Swartzbaugh
Randy Pobst
Gunnar Jeannette
Johannes van Overbeek
Romain Dumas
Andy Lally
Lonnie Pechnik
Craig Stanton
Max Papis
David Murry
Wolf Henzler
Sacha Maassen
Jorg Bergmeister
Dirk Werner
Dominik Farnbacher
Timo Bernhard

American open wheel
Scott Dixon
Dan Wheldon
Alex Lloyd
Alex Barron
Ed Carpenter
AJ Foyt
Vitor Meira
Stephan Gregoire
Ryan Briscoe
Helio Castroneves
Michael Valiante
Ryan Dalziel
Milka Duno
Buddy Rice
Justin Wilson
Graham Rahal
Andrew Ranger
Ryan Hunter-Reay
Jimmy Vasser
Robert Doornbos

Stock cars
Dario Franchitti
Juan-Pablo Montoya
Bill Lester
John Andretti
AJ Allmendinger
Kurt Busch
Jimmie Johnson
Boris Said

European sportscar racing
Lucas Luhr
Mike Rockenfeller
Harold Primat
Tomas Enge
Justin Bell
Derek Bell
Fabio Babini
Stephane Ortelli
Matteo Bobbi
Antonio Garcia
Mike Newton
Tommy Erdos
Tom Kimber-Smith
Joao Barbosa
Eric van de Poele
Darren Turner
Fabrizio Gollin
Gabriele Gardel
Johnny Mowlem
Thomas Biagi
Robin Liddell
Tim Sugden
Emmanuelle Collard
Richard Westbrook
Richard Lietz
Patrick Huisman
Tim Bergmeister
Pierre Kaffer
Frank Stippler

European open wheel
Salvador Duran
Ricardo Zonta

Saturday, January 19, 2008

One minute superbike

The good folks over at Superbike Planet just posted a great YouTube video of Ducati Corse building one of their factory World Superbike 999R bikes shot in time-lapse.

Makes the pathetic 2-hour long process to check the sparkplugs on my old CBR600rr look rather lame...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

RIP Ouninpohja

The world's fastest rally stage, Rally Finland's Ouninpohja, has been axed for being too fast. The maximum recommended average speed on a gravel stage is 130km/h, or 81mph.

Back in 2004, Petter Solberg blitzed the 33.01km stage in 15 minutes, 19 seconds. There's amazing video of this on Youtube (and on my hard drive LOL!). The average speed of this run came out to 129.39km/h which was too close to the maximum speed for the FIA's comfort. For 2005 and 2006, the stage was split into two, resulting in stages with 129.54km/h and 128.10km/h average speeds. Once again, Ouninpohja was too fast.

For 2007, the organizers put the stage back together, this time with three chicanes installed to dramatically affect the times. The result: Marcus Gronholm comes within 0.5 seconds of Solberg's incredible 2004 time, meaning he was effectively going MUCH faster through the bulk of the stage.

It had become clear to the organizers that although they could keep Ouninpohja within the maximum average speed numerically (just), it wasn't in the spirit of the rule, and crews, spectators and marshalls were being put at greater risk.

Which is all a great shame, because as I've mentioned on this blog before, Rally Finland and its "queen stage" are a perfect example of the true essence of stage rallying. To lose part of that is a loss for rallying the world over.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The AMA Superbike Sale

The commercial rights for the AMA Superbike Championship are on the block, and not a moment too soon, given the massive mismanagement over the years. Moto journalist Dennis Noyes has an excellent series of articles about it over at the Speed Channel website. Check out part one and part two, and keep your eyes peeled for the final two parts in the next few days.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dakar is not dead

The ASO, organizers of the Dakar Rally, are certainly up against it. Although the event is terrific and well-loved by the motorsport community, mainstream media tends to focus on the more negative aspects of the rally, including competitor deaths, civilian injuries and deaths, kidnappings and terrorist threats.

This year it all proved too much after alleged Al Qaeda operatives threatened the race directly. Whether there was any substance to the threats was deemed irrelevent by organizers who felt they had no choice but to cancel the whole thing.

Should a similar threat occur next year, we can only imagine the outcome will be the same. So what next for the Dakar Rally? Surely it's too big a risk to run the race through these areas of unrest?

Many have suggested an alternative part of the world for the rally, Patagonia being one suggestion and the Asian steppes another. It's hard to say if the event would retain the same spirit if it moved out of Africa. Most people would agree that the real character of the event emerges in the middle of the event with a series of marathon stages crossing thousands of miles of dunes. A rally raid without this iconic group of stages would surely never feel like a "real" Dakar. After all, the last time the race deviated from its basic Morocco-Senegal path was when it crossed the top of north Africa and ended in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, and the plentiful dune stages helped the event retain its character, despite a vastly different final few days.

Perhaps a raid that includes the heavily-duned Gobi or Taklamakan Deserts in China might be the answer? Dunes are also very prevalent in the Arabian Desert which is the second-largest non-polar desert in the world.

For me, however, the issue needs to be addressed from the perspective of finding the best way to continue to run the event in Africa. If we assume that for now Algeria and Mauritania are off-limits, many other options exist. The event has run through Libya in the past, so it should be feasible to start in Europe, spend a day on a boat to Tunisia, then run through Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali and into Senegal. Those last three listed countries are all moderate, reasonably stable states and offer plenty of terrain that is so synonymous with the Dakar Rally.

Another option that comes to mind is doing it in southern Africa, taking in the dune areas of Namibia, after travelling through Zambia and Tanzania before ending in Cape Town.

Whatever the ASO comes up with I hope that the Dakar Rally is able to continue and do so without losing the character and challenge that makes it such an important and special race.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Status update

Things have been somewhat quiet here lately, a combination of Christmas commitments, a slow news period in racing and a transition to a new job with a new computer on my part. Let it be known however that I'm not missing any of what's going on, chiefly the cancellation of the Dakar Rally...