Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bookies everywhere agree - it's Jenson

I took a look at the betting lines on this weekend's Australian F1 Grand Prix over at Sports Interaction, and was pretty amazed at what I saw:

  1. Button - 5:1
  2. Raikkonen - 6:1
  3. Alonso - 8:1
  4. Massa - 8:1
  5. Barrichello - 8:1
  6. Hamilton - 11:1
  7. Kubica - 13:1
  8. Heidfeld - 23:1
  9. Vettel - 26:1
  10. Trulli - 30:1
  11. Glock - 35:1
  12. Kovalainen - 41:1
  13. Rosberg - 41:1
  14. Webber - 51:1
  15. Nakajima - 71:1
  16. Piquet - 81:1
  17. Bourdais - 201:1
  18. Sutil - 251:1
  19. Fisichella - 251:1
Not sure why there's no odds on Buemi, but whatever. There's some fascinating insight here into what the public's perception is of how the weekend will go. After all, odds are generally calculated based upon bets received thus far, after an initial setting of odds by the bookies. Seems that Brawn's testing times have gotten everyone's attention, but what is remarkable is that Button is the one seen as the most likely to win, despite Barrichello's better record, and greater experience in a front-running team.

So there's some bargains to be had here and the one I've put a few dollars on is young Nico Rosberg. The German Swede posted the second fastest time at the Jerez tests, and third fastest at Barcelona, yet languishes at 41:1. An each way bet seemed like a no-brainer, since picking a winner in an F1 race (especially the first of the season) can be notoriously difficult. For a $5 stake ($10 each way) a win pays about $250, and 2nd or 3rd nets $45. Not bad at all.

Given BMW and Toyota's steady progress through the off-season, they all looked good too, bar Kubica, whose 8:1 odds can't justify the money. For anyone who wants to live closer to the edge, Webber and Nakajima are both wildcards at 51:1 and 71:1 respectively. The Williams in particular looks great.

Nothing like a flutter to make things more interesting!

Monday, March 23, 2009

V8 Supercars get mangled

Watching the debut round of the Australian V8 Supercars championship this weekend reminded me of one particular aspect of these cars:

When V8 Supercars crash, they produce the most mangled wrecks in all of racing.

Most race cars these days are made with copious carbon fibre or aluminium chassis and body panels. Not V8 Supercars... these things are steel, and when they crash they warp and bend in the most magnificent way. Making things even more gnarly is the fact that unlike NASCAR which also uses steel panels and chassis, V8 Supercars are derived from production bodyshells as opposed to tubular space frames, so there's a whole shitload of production-formed steelwork underneath too. The good news for teams is that this means they (and local bodyshops) can do much of the crash repairs themselves using welding and normal metalforming techniques including bringing out big hammers. One of the joys of V8 Supercars is watching crew members wail on the cars with massive hand tools after a car has made contact with another car or with the scenery.

With such massive grids, fuelled by Aussie-man macho driving styles, the opportunities to watch steel get formed into new and bizarre shapes are frequent...

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The new Acura P1 car. Extremely good-looking car. And the sister car to the one pictured here grabbed pole at Sebring today, so it's quick too.

It is blessed relief from the new Audi which looks like someone painted up an old WR prototype in Audi colours, then softened it like butter in a microwave and made Hagrid from Harry Potter sit on the car. The word "fugly" comes to mind.

Given my appreciation of Japanese automotive technology, it's quite clear who to cheer for on Saturday's Sebring 12 Hours.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lapping Laguna Seca

In the period where this blog lay dormant, from September 2008 until February 2009, I had the pleasure of getting my Subaru WRX STi out to not just one, but two track days.

The first was at Laguna Seca, a track I knew pretty damn well from all the races I'd attended there, as well as my crazy virtual test drives before I bought the car. This was back in November, so the expectation was that the weather might be inclement. Luckily I convinced my father to join me in his Porsche Boxster, and his experience with track days in general and Laguna specifically proved to be great help.

We showed up to the Speed Ventures-organized day, surrounded in the paddock by everything from Ferrari 430s to Godzillas to a Mazda 3 and Infiniti M45. After a drivers' meeting I got a chance to sneak two sighting laps, which was hugely useful. My first impression was that the track seemed much smaller and more confined than either from the spectator areas or from Gran Turismo 4. The tyre wall on the outside of turn 3 was particularly worrying! I also noted how blind both the entry and apex of the Corkscrew were, requiring drivers to sight off a particular tree, conveniently marked with a cone.

My dad got to go out first, and I sat beside him to start learning the lines and braking points, as well as seeing the superb etiquette of a car track day (pointing people by if they're faster, something alien to me from my experience with motorcycle track days). It ensured the fast guys didn't get held up and the slower guys didn't feel pressured, both desirable goals.

Finally it was my turn. After a warm up lap I started to push the bright blue Rex, immediately discovering that once the needle hits 3000rpm, you need to start prepping for the upshift, because the 7000rpm redline is coming very soon. I'd set the rpm warning beep to come on at 6700rpm, but this soon proved too low. The key to performance was to keep that turbo spinning, and the flat four was constantly goading me into making it sing. In terms of handling, the phenomenal grip I'd experienced on the roads was clearly evident here, and it took some time before the limit on corner speed became mechanical rather than human. In some corners I vowed to never go full chat, simply to ensure I returned home with the car in the same condition as when I left.

Back in the paddock after the first session I reflected on the nature of the track. The gradients were massive and the characters of each corner so different that it felt like a series of mini challenges as opposed to one big one. What's the best line for the double apex Andretti hairpin? How late to brake for turn five? How much speed to carry into turn six? Where to shift in the Corkscrew complex? How to best string together the Corkscrew exit, turn nine and the Rainey Curve? All these questions come at you lap after lap, and very few were definitely answered by the end of the day.

The second session proved to be the fastest, as rain arrived after lunch. I managed to go faster than my Dad, although you'd expect an STi to spank a Boxster without too much trouble. By the end of this session I was unsure how to make any great gains, but this issue took a back seat for the rest of the day. Session three was slightly damp, so I focused initially on lines and braking points, then as it got wetter I looked to start experimenting with grip levels, seeing if I could start to get the car moving around beneath us (a tough job in a car that prefers to roll along like it's on rails). The best options for some tail-out fun were the uphill exit of turn 5, and the low-speed final hairpin, turn 11, and I took full advantage. Now that I'd learned the track, it was time to learn the car...

The fourth and final session was fully wet, and I managed to settle into a comfortable rhythm with a white STi and a red WRX. The three of us formed a dominant Subaru train, picking off cars one by one, regardless of their power, as they struggled on the soaking wet surface - Mazda RX8, Porsche 911, another Porsche, Nissan GTR, they each fell to the staggering capabilities of the Subarus, albeit piloted by track day newbies like myself. It was terrific fun, and proved that my fears ahead of time of it being wet were 180 degrees wrong. The wet track day is the best.

As we left the track my gas light came on. A glance at the odo and a quick calculation revealed a figure of 8mpg, which was hilarious in its political-incorrectness.

The next track day was at Southern California's Buttonwillow Raceway. Essentially a club-level circuit, there's no spectator facilities and very little to hit. The major challenges proved to be remembering the track, with its flat and featureless layout, and the soaking mud in the run off areas that threatened to turn any car turtle if they hit them at any kind of angle.

The main focus of this day was getting track time for my wife. One of the agreements we had made was that she would do a track day if I bought the car, so it was time to make good on this. Buttonwillow was a great place to start and once again the excellent Speed Ventures crew made it a well-run and unintimidating event. By her fourth session, with the help of an instructor, she'd finally gotten things to click, stringing together braking points, apexes and acceleration points to put together a clean and quick lap.

My experience with the day ended up finally putting me in a place where I was finding the car limiting my pace. Or to be more correct, the tyres. The Kumho Ecsta rubber was noisy and consistently letting me down on both turn-in and under acceleration, scrabbling for grip and making a big fuss of it at the same time. It's major selling points (cost and durability) seemed less important when you're trying to keep up with a 350z on track day rubber. Still, there's plenty of tread left on them, so it will be some time before I can upgrade.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The winner takes it all

Man, I've gone three years without quoting Abba on this blog. Damn you FIA!

Mornings for me, like most people I guess, are tough. I have to grapple with wardrobe decisions (something I hate), try to eat a bowl of generally disgusting high-fibre cereal, face up to yet another commute in the rain on my motorcycle, and do all this after being rudely separated from blissful unconsciousness by the alarm on my irritating and ineligible-for-an-upgrade-until-May cellphone.

It doesn't help when my well-intentioned and well-informed wife throws out a comment like "did you hear Formula 1 is going to decide its champion based on number of wins this year".

This is something we all feared - Mad Bernie's medals system. Surely this was too mad to ever make it? Well, welcome to F1, where madness is the norm and those with sanity are considered insane.

However, further reading on the topic slightly alleviated my unhappiness. Turns out that only the winner of the championship will be decided by number of wins. All other positions will still be determined by points. It's a huge roll of the dice by the FIA since a situation like last year could easily crop up again whereby the guy with the most points isn't the guy who won the most races. How will Joe Public understand that? The old system seems to work just fine in every other motorsport championship.

It works well beyond motorsport too. Imagine if the Tour de France used an equivalent of the new FIA system? Mark Cavendish would have won the 2008 Tour with four stage wins. Except he wouldn't, because he left the race to train for the Olympics. Which meant Stefan Schumacher and Riccardo Ricco would have tied with two wins and it would have gone back to the old system to determine which of them was the winner. Except it wouldn't, because Ricco was thrown off the Tour for a positive drug test. This would have elevated Alejandro Valverde, who came second to Ricco on stage 6 to two stage wins, now tied with Schumacher. Hang on though, Schumacher tested positive for drugs in a retest two months after the Tour ended, so Valverde in theory would be the only guy with two wins. Hang on again, because the organizers haven't officially undone the wins of Ricco and Schumacher, even though Schumacher was also later disqualified. So Cavendish didn't win because he withdrew. Ricco didn't win because he was thrown off the race. Schumacher didn't win because he was later disqualified. Valverde didn't win because Ricco's win on stage 6 still stands. That means that ALL other stage winners would have tied, so the decider would have been the old system, and finally we would have gotten the same winner, Carlos Sastre, after much confusion and many months of delay.

You know you're in trouble when the controversy-riddled Tour de France is used as example of how things SHOULD work....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A quick look at the calendar

This weekend sees the WRC in Cyprus and World Superbike in Qatar, both of which should be worth watching.

However, starting next week things get really cracking. The Sebring 12 Hours in the ALMS and V8 Supercars' season-opening Clipsal 500 are amongst the highlights of the motorsport year, and both are happening next weekend. They'll be backed up by AMA Superbike, World Touring Cars, A1GP and Japanese SuperGT to name but a few.

The weekend after that is notable for the first Formula 1 race of the year.

And once we get into April it's safe to say that the racing season is truly in full swing with action in F1, the WRC, World Superbike, the ALMS, the IRC's trip to Kenya and the start of the Le Mans Series, the Indy Racing League and the British Touring Car Championship.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Brawn can do it

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

The former Honda F1 team might actually not suck this year. Here's why:

  • Two drivers who are proven race-winners. Being stuck in that awful Honda for so long might have shortened some peoples' memory as to how talented Button and Barrichello actually are
  • Ross Brawn, he's good. I seem to remember he did rather well when he was in charge of a team running a wonky-mouthed German chap.
  • KERS. Those that have it, and have it working, have a distinct advantage. Sounds like Brawn do.
  • Mercedes engines. There's not a bad engine in F1 at the moment, but an engine that propelled the world champ last year is surely a better bet than one that propelled the Honda team.
  • The new regs. Everyone starts with a clean sheet this year. That has to be a distinct advantage to anyone who struggled with the previous regulation set.
  • It's not a new team. F1 has seen a myriad of new teams arrive, fail and leave. Brawn is not in this category, despite the general feeling of "newness". Having an established staff, facility and a complete understanding of all facets of the series (sporting, technical, commercial, political etc.) means they are at least on the level of Force India, as opposed to, say, Stupid Aguri.
Button for champ? Not likely. But Brawn being the laughing stock of the paddock again? Also not likely. And who doesn't love an underdog?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Daytona again

Weren't we just here? For some stock car race that I half care about? And before that, some sportscar race that I kind of take an interest in? Well, now it's a motorcycle race that is vaguely interesting. Every year the Daytona 200 should kick ass, and every year it kind of doesn't.

This time out we won't even have the benefit of live TV to analyze the kick-assed-ness of the whole thing, or lack thereof, as Speed Channel are moving to a tape-delayed "primetime special" format, whatever that is. Maybe it will be as lame as Pinks or one of the other shows I don't watch.

...tangent alert...

What DO I watch on Speed Channel these days? Not Dakar (because Versus have that, and even then I download the Eurosport coverage). Not the Daytona 24 Hours (because I was at a track day). Not World Superbike (tape delayed race two AGAIN, so Eurosport provided visuals). Not WRC (guess what, yes, Eurosport and Bit Torrent to the rescue again, same for the Monte Carlo Rally).

I'm paying $5 per month extra for this. And it's on my HD package now, so I'm clearly an idiot, on many levels.


Anyway, once again, the AMA has managed to split up the talent, with Suzuki vs. Yamaha vs. Ducati in the big-bike class and Yamaha vs. Kawasaki vs. Honda in the 600 class. Damn you all AGAIN. The one bright spot is that the gap that used to exist between the Suzukis and the 3rd place bike now seems to cover the top 10. So perhaps the racing will be good. Shame we'll have to wait two weeks to see it.

In the meantime, Eurosport will be on hand this weekend to show World Touring Cars and Intercontinental Rally Challenge and my laptop will be on hand to download it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Not a good start

Aston Martin's attempt at overall victory at Le Mans reminds me of the first few lines from the first song of Tenacious D's debut album: "I don't like that - so far, off to a bad start."

The car has yet to even run and Aston Martin Racing and their technical partners Lola are already squabbling over who has put the most amount of work into the car. Aston are trying to make out that the car is almost completely changed from its humble Lola tub origins, whilst Lola claim that Aston couldn't afford to buy the IP rights to call it anything that didn't include the Lola name, and that their statements otherwise are not in the spirit of their contract.

Last time I checked, this was not the kind of preparation Audi went through for Le Mans. Or Peugeot. Or even Pescarolo. Don't you think that there are more important things to focus on than whether it's a Lola, an Aston, a Lola-Aston or an Aston-Lola? Like beating the unbeatable VW group at La Sarthe in June?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Take that, Europe


That's the sound of an American bombshell dropping into the predominantly European World Superbike paddock. Anyone need a quick reminder about who invented Superbike racing...?

Okay, I admit that I'm English, but I'm never going back and the USA is my home, so I'm just going to go ahead and be pleased for Ben Elbowz Spies.

Not convinced he can do well yet? Dare I throw out the names Merkel, Polen, Russell, Kocinski and Edwards? I do dare.

What a pair of races that was. Elbowz, the Sultan of Slide, the Pocket Rocket, Baldy Laconi, Jakub (can I buy a vowel?) Smrz and Fabrizio all looked rather great. Corser, Xaus, Sykes, Kiyonari, Nakano, Byrne and Checa looked a bit rubbish. Biaggi, Neukirchner, Kagayama and Rea ran hot and cold. The season continues to look ace.

And riddle me this: you have two smaller European manufacturers coming into the series after either a long break or for the first time, with brand new, never-raced bikes and they show rather well. Then you have Kawasaki, who have been in WSBK for years, who might have been better off providing their riders with scooters. What the hell is going on?

Team Green, you are the laughing stock of the bike racing world. Even when you try to quit a series you can't do that properly. You suck.