Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Schumacher Incident

How will history view Michael Schumacher?

This question, more than any other, seems to be the one that has come out of the somewhat sad developments at the Monaco Grand Prix last weekend. Up and down the pitlane, and all across the media, a picture is being painted of a future in which Michael's questionable etiquette overshadows his remarkable record of success.

Somehow I just don't see that happening. When it comes to sport and history, it's usually numbers that stand the test of time, not stories, and Michael's numbers are remarkable: more wins than anyone else (86), owner of six of the top ten most successful seasons, joint holder for record of consecutive wins, highest number of pole positions (66), highest number of fastest laps (70), highest number of podiums (143), most consecutive podiums (19), highest number of points finishes (175), most career points (1258), and, most importantly, more championships than anyone else (7).

Yes, his tactics could be called cheating. Yes, his single-minded focus could be called boring. Yes, he stalled his car deliberately to balk flying laps by other drivers on Saturday. Yes, he deliberately knocked Damon Hill off the track in Adelaide in '94. In 25 years though, only F1 anoraks will talk about that. Unlike Maradona's "hand of god", Tonya Harding's assault on Nancy Kerrigan or Ben Johnson's Olympic doping, Schumacher's behavior cannot be instantly branded as "cheating". He's a very smart man who knows how to get close to the blurry line between "unsporting" and "cheating" and is willing to go there. There will be no asterisks next to his sporting records, which is testament to his sharp mind but sadly not to his complete inability to grasp the concept of "fair".

Will this help Schumacher decide to quit F1? I hope so. Motor racing, probably due to the huge risk involved, has tended to be less susceptible to unsporting conduct than other sports. As such, none of us who consider ourselves racing fans want Schumacher's tactics in the sport anymore.

On the radio

I was very flattered to have not one, but two of my emails read on John Hindhaugh's Midweek Motorsports internet radio show at Globecast 0157. They seemed somewhat surprised that anyone in the USA might be listening, but it was lunchtime for me, which works out well. One of their main topics this week was a fantasy Formula 1 grid populated only by F1 test-drivers! Highly entertaining, and should be available on-demand at this page of the 0157 website (episode 30 I think).

In case you didn't know, Hindy and his team are the voices of Radio Le Mans, as well as trackside commentary for ALMS and TV commentary for a lot of racing in Europe.

One more thing - I followed their betting advice last week and lost LOL!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Weekend betting update

Here's the results of my theoretical betting from the weekend:

$2 on Dan Wheldon to win the Indy 500: LOST (thanks to John Hindhaugh and the Midweek Motorsports guys for that nugget)
$2 on Michael Schumacher to win the Monaco GP: LOST
$2 on Michael Schumacher to come 1st, 2nd or 3rd: LOST
$2 on a Honda to win the Monaco GP: LOST

Not very pretty.

Isle of Man casualty scoreboard

Condition of riders in Isle of Man TT accidents so far this year:

Dead: 0
Critical: 3
Serious: 0
Comfortable: 1

Two of the riders in critical condition collided on Saturday. Jun Maeda has a badly broken pelvis and multiple injuries and his condition is said to be worsening. Seamus Greene has serious head trauma and has been transferred to a neuro unit in Liverpool.

Two riders died in a crash in the Pre-TT races last Saturday.

It's a pretty ugly beginning to the TT, worse than usual.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Isle of Man TT starts up, and more...

Saturday sees the start of this year's Isle of Man TT. For an idea of how completely mental this is, check out an onboard lap with telemetry here, and one with commentary by the late, great TT racer Steve Hislop here. The top team in real road racing is TAS Suzuki, who this year were slated to run New Zealander Bruce Anstey and up-and-coming Irishman Ryan Farquhar. At the last minute they added Adrian Archibald, who took David Jefferies TAS seat after Jefferies was killed in 2003. Archibald left TAS at the end of 2005, but is back in, replacing Farquhar, who's still recovering from a fractured arm suffered during the Cookstown 100 races earlier this year. The crash scared Farquhar badly enough that he's thinking of quitting the sport. BBC article here.

It's a two week affair, with practice in the first week and the races in the second. I like to follow the action by listening to Radio TT online. They play some pretty crap music, but do have commentary during practice sessions and races.

As I mentioned yesterday, it's the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, sadly with US coverage from ABC. Generally, any motorsport coverage on one of the big four networks is going to be rubbish, so I'll probably just catch up with what's going on via the internet. Since it's so hard to pass at Monaco, the qualifying session might actually be the best part of the weekend to watch, and thankfully that's always carried by Speed Channel. If Schumacher can throw down a quick lap, it will bode very well for the race. There may (or may not) be a small amount of money resting on the result (see yesterday's post).

World Superbike is at Silverstone, a track I've spent many a day at in my youth. As the battle of the Troys continues, a battle in the background over rule changes also rages on. At stake is the continued use of traction-control systems, as well as the possibility that V-twins may soon be allowed a maximum displacement increase of 200cc, to 1200cc. As for on-track action, I'll be watching young Tommy Hill, a BSB rider who has secured a wildcard ride, thanks to his team's switch to Pirelli tyres. In first day's qualifying, Hill is a fine 11th.

The Czech circuit of Brno hosts the second round of the FIA GT championship, and thanks to success ballast from round 1 it's doubtful that Maserati will win this one. The Zakspeed Saleen, which ran so well at Silverstone is my pick for the win, especially since their lead driver is Czech! Although only two FIA GT teams will be at Le Mans, we may get an indication of their form, most notably from the BMS Scuderia Aston Martin team.

Finally, it's the Indy 500 on Sunday. It's shaping up to be a very exciting race.... NOT! C'mon, oval racing is boring, especially 500 miles of it, with a field of 33 cars made up of a few top teams and a bunch of others that series owner Tony George has begged to come out and play. Skip it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Place your bets!

Time to put my money where my mouth is. As the World Cup approaches, I've been looking around for a site that does online betting. I figure it'll make things even more exciting if there's some coin resting on a result. Funny thing is, most of the European sites like BetandWin or William Hill don't accept bets from US residents. Initially I couldn't believe it to be true, but it turns out that since US gambling laws are so blurred, these companies would rather not deal with it. California is one of only three states that has a law on its books explicitely banning online gambling. However, no-one has EVER been prosecuted for it.

It turns out that there are plenty of online sports books that will take bets from the US, and I found one in particular called that's the official partner of Globecast 157, the internet radio station that carries Radio Le Mans and other motorsport content. So I started looking around at their available bets. Lo and behold they offer betting on Formula 1, including this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix.

Now it would be silly to admit in a public place to online gaming in California since that's a misdemeanor. But let's say if I had decided to place some bets, what would I have gone for? A solid choice would be Michael Schumacher to place, since he has such a good record there. A $2 bet will pay $6 if he wins and $2.80 if he's second or third. Alonso would have been a safer choice but would have paid very little. The "big money" bet however is on winning constructor. I'm a big fan of Jenson Button, and the lads on Globecast 0157's Midweek Motorsports show noted how good a record Rubens Barrichello has at Monaco, so I think it would be fun to go with Honda at 13-1 to win. It's a long shot, but if they don't I'd only be out $2. If they do, I'd be $26 the richer.

I may have a patriotic flutter on Dan Wheldon to take the Indy 500 as well. It doesn't pay much, I think he's at 9-4, but hey, he's a Brit like me, so as I said, time to put my money where my mouth is. If I'm such an expert on racing I needn't worry about losing any money LOL!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An Aussie overseas

Quick update on Aussie NASCAR Truck Series competitor Marcos Ambrose. Last time out at Charlotte, his first super-speedway, he qualified an astonishing third! Sadly, a crash on lap 4 ended his race. From this, it's clear he has the speed to do well. Now he just needs to learn his NASCAR racecraft.

Team Australia have signed on to sponsor Marcos, and his truck appeared in it's green and yellow livery for the first time. Hopefully the bright colours will stop other competitors from running into him, like at Martinsville and Gateway, when he was in an anonymous white truck.

Next race is this coming weekend at Mansfield Speedway in Ohio. Unfortunately this is a 1/2 mile oval, and it appears so far that Marcus does better on wide, fast, long tracks than these rinky-dink excuses for a racetrack.

Motor racing photo of the year

This pic has to be one of the best I've seen in ages. Although not technically perfect, it caught the essence of the action, which I think is far more important in motorsports photography. Just look at that trail of smoke that shows that the car is not only airborne, but travelling BACKWARDS!

The Aston Martin DBR9 flew 20 feet further than the first flight by the Wright brothers, in practice for the Mid-Ohio ALMS race! (didn't that Wright bros flight happen in Ohio too?)

The photographer who got it is Jon Williamson. Well done mate!

By the way, video evidence here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What happened to.....

Yes, yes, there's some racing I'd previewed but haven't commented on, so time for a catch-up session. Story of last weekend was rain, as it affected racing at Mondello, Brands Hatch and Infineon Raceway...

British Superbike: Rained out at Mondello Park. Enough said.

V8 Supercars: The Barbagallo round 10 days ago was nowhere near the crash-fest I predicted, as Steven Richards took the round win with strong showings by Mark Skaife, Mark Winterbottom and Garth Tander. My favourite driver, Greg Murphy, had another shocker of a weekend and now sits 19th (!!!) in the points.

WRC: Despite being the fastest out of the box, Marcus Gronholm once again retired, this time with an oil leak caused by a hidden rock. I firmly believe that in addition to being supremely talented, Seb Loeb is the luckiest man in racing. He hit the VERY SAME ROCK that Marcus hit, yet went on to win in Sardinia.

MotoGP: My prediction came true: Valentino Rossi was back on top at Le Mans. However, an engine failure forced him out of the race after he dominated all weekend. The top five places were filled by the top five in the championship: Hayden, Melandri, Capirossi, Stoner and Pedrosa.

US Rally Championship: A great run by American WRC entrant Wyeth Gubelmann bagged him the win in Washington. The event was said to be well-run with great roads and close competition.

World Touring Cars: Brands Hatch was absolutely SODDEN, in the wettest WTCC race yet. SEAT looked very dominant with sneaky Frenchman Yvan Muller getting the win in Race 1. Good strategy by BMW's Andy Priaulx put him on pole for race 2, and I was all set to write a post about how good he is until he threw it all away on cold tyres during a restart. As a result, Chevrolet got their first ever win in an FIA event with calm Swiss driver Alain Menu behind the wheel. Very entertaining stuff.

British Touring Cars: This was another event from two weekends back, and one that I didn't get a chance to see. Scottish madman Gordon Shedden managed to avoid taking himself or anyone else out (for a change) as he secured a win. Team-mate and defending champ Matt Neal got another one. Vauxhall's new guy and former multiple ETCC champ Fabrizio Giovanardi has started to show some pace too.

ALMS: Congrats to Porsche as they took their first official prototype win since the days of the 962 (technically the win at Le Mans in 1997 was under the Joest banner.) They also took second overall, and although questions remain as to reliability, as well as performance on faster tracks, it was great to see a new contender being successful in ALMS.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Report from Sunday's AMA race

Despite the fact that plans to go to Infineon Raceway for the AMA Superbike event had been in place for months, we still had not decided to actually go until 9:45 yesterday morning. The issue was that unlike most other tracks the AMA visits, if it rains at Infineon, bikes don't race. After significant rain on Saturday evening, and a damp start to Sunday, it looked like the 40 mile drive might be in vain. According to the event website however, if the Superbike race didn't happen, we'd get a full refund. We decided to take the risk and were pleased to see how clear things looked as headed north.

In order to avoid rain, the AMA had compressed the schedule, so we got to see Supersport and Superbike practice as soon as we had negotiated the dreadful traffic management system that Infineon had put in place. It had been three years since I'd last been to the track, so I was a little disoriented, but finally chose the new chicane at the end of the esses to watch the Superstock race from. It turned out to be a great spot and provided dramatic views of the ungodly-fast Jamie Hacking coming over the crest before braking for the chicane. Unfortunately, someone's blown engine resulted in a red-flag on lap 9. On the upside though, it gave us time to take the new underpass into the paddock, where we could get up-close to the bikes and teams. Nothing new for us of course, but still fun.

Finally the Superstock race was called, in order to get to the Superbike race (presumably the organizers were conscious that if they got THAT race in they wouldn't be liable for refunds!). I'd never seen an AMA race from the start line, which was quite a thrill, and we could still see the chicane and the final turn, two great passing spots. The race itself was not too dramatic, but it was certainly better than sitting at home wishing we'd gone to Infineon....

As the 600s came out for the Supersport, we began to feel drops of rain. I predicted we'd see a red flag by lap 5, which was two laps too optimistic. Confident that there'd be no more racing, we headed for home.

So what did we learn? Well, we learned that Ben Spies is the new Mat Mladin and vice-versa, at least when it comes to speed. We confirmed that Ben Bostrom is the new Eric Bostrom (a big name underachieving on a Ducati). We learned that having an AMA race in California in May does NOT guarantee a dry weekend. We learned that typically, Californian weather forecasts are overly pessimistic (to be honest we knew this already, which is why we took the gamble on actually going). And we learned that the upgrades to Infineon are actually really good, with lots of comfy seating, good sightlines, more passing places, a spacious paddock, a nice big grandstand and that terribly convenient underpass.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Not much time to write today - off to a wedding then playing a show with my band tonight.

In the meantime, here's what I'm following this weekend:

WRC - In Sardinia, a gravel rally, can Marcus beat Loeb?

MotoGP - Le Mans. Looks like Yamaha might be back to winning ways.

US Rally Championship - The resurrection of the legendary Olympus Rally. My friend Piers will be running first on the road!

AMA Superbike - If the rain holds off, all will be well - I'm going to this event. If it rains though, they don't race at Infineon. Which would suck.

American Le Mans - Mid Ohio, nicely repaved, a chance for the brittle Porsches to shine before the speedy Audi R10s return to the US.

DTM - Tight and twisty Oschersleben. Tom Kristensen is the pick of the Audis this weekend to defeat Bernd Schneider.

WTCC - Brands Hatch. Should be back to winning form for SEAT after being soundly whipped at Magny-Cours by BMW.

British Superbike - Mondello Park in Ireland. Bumpy and twisty, which should suit the Ducatis. But then again, seems like every circuit suits the Ducatis these days...

FIM Endurance Championship - It's the Albacete 8 hours, run exclusively in the dark.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fallen racers

I find that anytime I'm involved in high-speed activities on my bike or in a car, I always take a moment to acknowledge the risks. I think it's an important thing to do for someone like me who doesn't go racing for a living. I was at a trackday on Monday, so just went through this process and it got me thinking about those racers who have suffered fatal crashes (the fact I was watching motorcycle road racing from 2005 last night may also have something to do with my train of thought).

We spend so much time watching and talking about racing I think it's important to recognize every now and then that this is a dangerous business. Here's some of the folks that we've lost in the last fifteen years(why fifteen? - because I had to choose something or else this would be a really long and even more depressing blog entry):

Andy Caldecott - Desert racing - 1964-2006
Paul Dana - Indycar - 1975-2006
Fabrizio Meoni - Desert racing - 1957-2005
Richard Britten - Motorcycle road racing - 1970-2005
Michael Park - Rallying - 1966-2005
Richard Sainct - Desert Racing - 1970-2004
Daijiro Katoh - MotoGP - 1976-2003
Tony Renna - Indycar - 1976-2003
David Jefferies - Motorcycle road racing - 1972-2003
Mark Lovell - Rallying - 1960-2003
Roger Freeman - Rallying - 1951-2003
Possum Bourne - Rallying - 1956-2003
Dale Earnhardt - NASCAR - 1951-2001
Adam Petty - NASCAR - 1980-2000
Kenny Irwin - NASCAR - 1967-2000
Joey Dunlop - Motorcycle road racing - 1952-2000
Gonzalo Rodriguez - Indycar - 1972-1999
Greg Moore - Indycar - 1975-1999
Jeff Krosnoff - Indycar - 1964-1996
Ayrton Senna - Formula 1 - 1960-1994
Roland Ratzenberger - Formula 1 - 1960-1994
Neil Bonnett - NASCAR - 1946-1994
Paul Warwick - Formula 3000 - 1969-1991

There's a much bigger list at, an interesting (and very comprehensive) site that attempts to honour those who have passed whilst engaging in motorsport. Two very interesting things jump out when looking at the huge database of nearly 4000 names. Firstly, of the 985 motorcycle deaths, over 200 were at the Isle of Man. Secondly, there's a shockingly large number of spectators listed (22% of the total), most of whom were killed whilst spectating rallies. Something to bear in mind if I go to see Colin McRae run in the rallying event at the X-Games in August...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What's going on with Valentino Rossi?

Last Sunday saw young Dani Pedrosa claim his first MotoGP victory, no doubt with many more to come. In fact, the common opinion amongst MotoGP pundits is that Pedrosa is the next big superstar, and the one who'll take over from Valentino Rossi as THE man to beat. For this to happen, Rossi is going to have to stop dominating the sport. Well guess what? He has. Three of the first four races have gone to someone other than Rossi, and he's certainly not top of the championship. In a strange twist, the guy leading the title race hasn't won a race in 10 months (we're talking about Nicky Hayden of course).

So why this change of fortune for the 7-time champ? Rossi himself is quick to blame the bike. The 2006 Yamaha M1 has proven to be notoriously difficult to set-up, plagued by chatter (a vibration caused by the front wheel "skipping" off the ground at high frequency usually under hard braking). In Yamaha's case the cause of the chatter has been identified as the rear shock. Or the stiff frame. Or the new wider profile Michelin tyres. Or the front forks. As you can see there's many stories, but the most important detail is that Yamaha is bringing back the 2005 frame for the next race at Le Mans. So the safest bet is that the 2006 frame has proven to be too stiff. In the last few years motorcycle manufacturers have started to move away from ultra-stiff frames, noticing that some chassis flex is desirable in making the bike feel more stable, less twitchy and easier to ride. Honda's RC211V MotoGP bike has always had one of the most flexible frames even before it first raced, and is part of the reason that the Hondas have always been at or near the front.

But wait! If the bike is so bad, why was Colin Edwards able to secure third in Shanghai last week, whilst Rossi didn't? Well Rossi retired, and before he did so he was moving through the field at a rapid rate. Colin qualified much better than Valentino and was thus able to keep his head down, avoid too much dogfighting and survive out front, albeit behind the Repsol Honda lads. The bike is really not as bad as all that, it's just not the perfect machine that it has been for the last two years.

Bike development marches on, and if a manufacturer stands still they fall behind. Yamaha had no choice but to develop the M1, and the direction they went was plain wrong, wrong enough that not even the legendary Valentino Rossi was able to ride around the problems.

But the one thing that Vale should be most worried about has nothing to do with his bike. He should be worried about the miniscule Spaniard who won the last two 250cc world titles, Dani Pedrosa. There's no doubt that he is the most talented rider to arrive in MotoGP since Vale himself. Time will tell if he's actually better, and we won't know the truth until Yamaha finally sort out their 2006 M1. Maybe by Monday we'll have a better idea.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Other weekend fun

Apart from ALMS, which I wrote about yesterday, there's also races in MotoGP, F1, Le Mans Series, V8 Supercars, British Touring Cars and the fabulous Northwest 200 motorcycle street race.

Valentino Rossi is top of the practice sheets at Shanghai, where both sessions were run in the wet. Apparently all the issues that Yamaha have been facing were traced to the rear shock. Weather may play a part in Sunday's outcome, but regardless of conditions, we may see Yamaha's resurgence this weekend.

Formula 1 is in Spain, Fernando Alonso's home race. He'll be looking to avenge his loss to Michael Schumacher in Germany last week, but he'll need to up his game when it comes to speed on pit-stop out-laps, which is basically how Michael won at the Nurburgring.

The Le Mans Series has already had some drama at Spa, with a practice collision that has sent both Creation Autosportif and the PSI Corvette teams home. It has to be said that if it wasn't for bad luck, Creation wouldn't have any luck at all. A broken wishbone damaged the chassis tub, so they're going to spend next week fixing it before finding somewhere to test extensively before Le Mans. Despite a wise change to a 5-litre Judd engine, more suited to the sustained high speeds of Le Mans, I worry that their lack of race experience this year will prevent them from winning the June classic.

After three crash-fest race meetings, the Aussie V8s head waaaaaay out west to Barbagallo, near Perth. A good lap time there is 57 seconds, so it makes for a crowded, chaotic track. Once again it'll be a "last man standing" kind of weekend.

The BTCC is in action again, and who won't be cheering for plucky privateer Mike Jordan who won the second race at Mondello? After some luck with the reverse grid lottery he drove a controlled race the whole way, and really gave the big teams a poke in the eye. If nothing else it proves how quick the Honda Integras are, since Jordan is running one of last year's Team Halfords cars.

Finally, this weekend sees the biggest sporting event in Ireland take place, the Northwest 200 road races. The NW200 is also one of the biggest motorcycle races in the world, outnumbering the bulk of MotoGP races in terms of attendance. Entries include the usual death-defying madman who ply their trade on the closed-off public roads of Ireland and the Isle of Man. Top riders include Ryan Farquhar, Bruce Anstey, Adrian Archibald, Ian Lougher, John McGuinness and Martin Finnegan. The NW200 is also a good warm-up (and indicator of form) for the Isle of Man TT. Incidentally, rumours of the TT stopping after 2007 have now universally shifted to a date of 2010 instead. This is in spite of a deal signed by the Isle of Man government that guarantees the races will run until at least 2024....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

ALMS races around a parking lot

So there's only 24 entries and they're racing around a track created out of the parking lot for the Houston Astrodome, but Friday night's ALMS race may actually be a cracker. Listening in to John Hindhaugh calling the commentary during qualifying on Radio Le Mans today, it's clear that Audi are on the back foot, Porsche are looking great, and if Dyson can get their new Lola to be reliable, they might be in with a shot too.

Audi are running the venerable old R8 for three races before Le Mans, whilst they prep the new diesel R10 for the 24 hour race. After Le Mans, the R10 will be back in the US. Until then, they have to put up with the smaller restrictors and compromised aero package that the rules stipulate for prototypes based on the old LMP900 rules. The R10 fully conforms with the ACO's new LMP1 rules. Last year the rule changes cost Audi 4 seconds a lap at Le Mans, so the handicap will continue for three more races.

Porsche continue to develop their RS Spyder in the lightweight LMP2 class, in what is turning out to be the best example of how LMP2 cars can actually compete with LMP1, as the ACO originally intended. We may very well witness the first overall win for an LMP2 car at this event, since the tight twisty track better suits the light, agile chassis designs of the class.

The other potential winner is the Dyson team. They have two of the new Lola LMP1 cars, the B06/10. At Sebring they worked hard to iron out teething problems, and if the cars hold together, they have the speed to win. James Weaver put the 16 car on pole position during qualifying this evening, illustrating the competitiveness of the package. Unfortunately the team car of Chris Dyson and Guy Smith only ran eight laps today, sidelined by low oil pressure. The question is whether it can be fixed given the abbreviated nature of the race meeting.

Look for the Intersport team to pick up the pieces should anything go wrong with the top contenders. Their little Lola LMP2 car is incredibly reliable and on this bumpy track, that finds cars in first gear four times per lap, reliability will of course be key.

In the GT classes, well, let's just say Corvette v Aston Martin and Porsche v Ferrari. Some classic GT racing marques going at it hammer and tongs. [cue Monty Burns voice: "eeeeexcellent!"]

The race starts at 8pm Houston time, that's 5pm around here and 1am if you're in England. US residents will have to wait until Saturday lunchtime to watch the race, which is on CBS.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Women make their mark in racing

As I get ready for a trackday next week I'm reminded of how often at previous track days I've gotten my ass kicked by lady riders. In fact, the first instructor at my first ever track day was Kristen Hill, wife of top California club racer Ken Hill.

I like to consider myself somewhat of a liberal kind of chap, and have no problems with women being better than me at traditionally male pursuits. As such, I like to see women making more of a mark in racing, as I feel it helps legitimize the success of racers if they can say they've taken on the best in their category regardless of gender. So let's have a quick "women in racing" hall of fame, in no particular order and with no claims to have not missed anyone....

Michele Mouton: One of the top rally drivers in the early 80s, and came close to winning the WRC.

Claudia Hurtgen: Successful sportscar and touring car driver, class winner at the Daytona 24 Hours, and overall winner of the Historic Grand Prix at Monaco.

Sarah Fisher: Made her mark in the Indy Racing League and was the first woman to ever qualify on pole in a top single-seater race in the USA.

Louise Aitken-Walker: Ladies World Rally Champion in 1990, British Open Rally Champion, and very, very Scottish.

Giovanna Amati: The most recent of five women to compete in Formula 1, in a dreadful Brabham in 1992. Was very much limited by the car, not her racing chops. Went on to a successful career in sportscars.

Danica Patrick: If you don't know who Danica is, you're probably either (a) a cave-dweller or (b) a gay man. Either way, she's the most famous lady driver currently competing and a terrific role model for girls interested in getting into racing.

Lilian Bryner: Very successful GT racer, one of only two women to win a major 24 hour race (in this case, Spa).

Amanda Stretton: Known more for her TV work as a motorsports presenter, she's also a damn quick driver, and will no doubt one day achieve her goal to race at Le Mans. In the meantime she races in British GT, ASCAR and other series.

Ilka Minor: The top woman in the WRC right now, co-driver for Manfred Stohl, supremely calm in a rally car.

Erin Crocker: Young talent in NASCAR, part of Ford's female driver development program, running in ARCA, trucks and the Busch series.

Jutta Kleinschmidt: One of the few women who can currently claim to be in the top five of their chosen form of racing, Jutta has won Dakar and is currently a factory VW driver in the FIA Rally-Raid series where she's usually faster than Carlos Sainz!

Katja Poensgen: One of the top female motorcycle road racers in the world. She has raced in 250GP and European Superstock.

Susie Stoddart: Running in DTM this year with Mercedes. First race out at Hockenheim she finished very well, despite having pink mirrors...

Nathalie Richard: Guided top North American rally talent Pat Richard (her brother) to five championship wins in two years. If funding were to show up, she certainly has the talent to excel in WRC.

Vanina Ickx: Daughter of Le Mans legend Jacky, she's the other lady in DTM this year. She's run at Le Mans twice and is consistently fast.

Liz Halliday: Probably the top lady racer in sportscar racing at the moment, came second OVERALL at Sebring this year, and is surely in with a shout at a class win at Le Mans in 2006.

Tina Thorner: Although not a regular in the WRC anymore, Tina has been one of the most successful WRC lady co-drivers. These days she's competing with Giniel de Villiers in Rally Raid for VW.

Who have I missed? Many, I'm sure, and I'm open to comments. In the interests of time and conciseness I know I skipped Lyn St. James, Milka Duno, Fabrizia Pons, Katherine Legge, Melanie Troxel, Shirley Muldowney, Kristen Tabor, Chrissy Beavis and many more.

It's sad that it's even necessary to highlight successful female drivers and riders. There is absolutely no reason why motorsport should not be populated 50/50 by men and women. Yes, taking charge of a MotoGP bike takes strength, but if little Dani Pedrosa can do it, any women certainly could. Unfortunately it once again comes down to money. Most sponsors are reluctant to put their money behind women who race because the perception is that they won't be as successful as men, and therefore won't provide them with bang for their marketing bucks. And if there is one thing that all racers, men and women face in their climb to the top, it's the tough job of finding sponsors

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A quick look back

It's more than month since I started this blog, and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with how it's been going. I have a number of repeat visitors, and I've found that I can drive more people to this page simply by posting on relevent internet forums. In 40 days I've posted 35 times, so I think I've avoided being one of the 90% of people who start a blog and abruptly stop contributing to it a few days later for one reason or another.

Hopefully I've been able to pique readers' interest in forms of racing they may not be so familiar with, and in an ideal world someone interested in, say, sportscars may leave this blog with a greater understanding of motorcycle racing for example. Who knows? I like most forms of racing so it's hard to take a step back.

I'd like to see more comments, and I'd like to see more traffic, so for anyone who might be more experienced in the world of the blog, let me know if you have any tips.

Traction control in superbike racing

Brits have got it. Americans haven't. The World does and so does MotoGP.

I've been reading a lot lately about the use of traction control systems in superbike racing, and I'm just going to come straight out and say that such systems have no place in production-based racing classes - YET....

Superbike classes are for road bikes, with a certain amount of room for modifications that will improve performance. For example, although a Honda CBR1000rr doesn't come with top-of-the-line expensive Ohlins front forks, they are legal in most, if not all, superbike series. The key point however, is that if Joe Racer had the cash, he could buy the very same parts for his club-racer 1000rr.

Traction control is primarily a very expensive ECU box and a few extra sensors. How expensive? Well, when Max Biaggi was looking to hop into World Superbike, the Suzuki team said they couldn't afford the additional $350,000 for the Mitsubishi traction control for his bike. Not exactly Joe Racer territory! Ducati uses a Magneti Marelli system that is bespoke and not available for purchase by anyone else. Many top Superbike teams can't afford these systems because they're so expensive. Alex Barros, for example, doesn't have it. According to Honda Europe's Carlo Fiorani, the cost of the MotoGP traction control system would be more than the team's annual operational budget, which stands at $500,000.

It's clear that these systems are well outside the spirit of "go-faster" parts that are typically legal in superbike, like the Ohlins example I quoted above. Traction control belongs in MotoGP for now.

The day that a stock bike purchased off a showroom floor comes with such a system is the day that it should be legal in any superbike series. And that day may not be very far off. I can confidently predict that one of the big four Japanese manufacturers will offer some form of traction control on their bikes on or before the 2009 model year. That's less than 2 1/2 years from now, since '09 bikes will see the light of day around September '08.

Of course there will always be people moaning about how these systems will encourage riders to go at ever-faster speeds on the street, but I for one disagree. If such a system had been on my Honda CBR954rr in November 2004, it would have saved me a lot of time, money and pain. A simple mistake such as forgetting that a new back tyre had been installed the previous day would not have resulted in an ugly highside at low speed. Knowing I had traction control would not have made me go any faster in that scenario. More than likely I would have gotten a bit of a fright and ridden slower the rest of the day. Most street riders don't have the skills to utilize a traction control system to go faster. Instead, it will more than likely save their hides in a potential accident where the only cause is a talent shortfall.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rolex Sportscar Series in the flesh

From the day that the Grand American Roadracing Association formed, comparisons with the American Le Mans Series began. This was further bolstered by the creation of the Daytona Prototype category. I watched with interest as the upstart GARRA series battled with small crowds, low credibility and a lack of talented drivers.

Fast forward to 2006, and the Grand Am series is now divided into two: the Rolex Sportscar series for the Daytona Prototypes and higher-powered GT cars; and the Grand Am Cup for production cars. Both series have large grids and close racing. A number of top drivers now come to GARRA to race: Eddie Cheever, Andy Wallace, Jorg Bergmeister, Jonathan Cochet, Max Angelelli and Jan Magnussen to name but a few.

What a lot of ALMS fans seems to forget is this: GARRA and ALMS are not rivals. They are two totally different series, whose only similarities are in the number of drivers who compete in both, and cosmetic similarities between a few of the cars. What I discovered this weekend when I got to see GARRA for the first time is that both have their own niche and can happily co-exist.

ALMS is all about the best, fastest sportscars that coincidentally are all running to the same rules that Le Mans uses. It's not about weight penalties, parity between cars or big grids. You may only get 10 prototypes at an event but you can be damn sure they're really spectacular cars with superb drivers and solid financial backing. They'll bring big fancy trucks with big, fancy hospitality, and all team members will be wearing immaculate uniforms that match.

GARRA is about simpler technology that is easier to run and fund and is thus more readily available. The upside to this is nice big grids and tight racing. The downside is that cars can come off as a bit goofy or low-tech, and that many teams are not particularly well-funded or able to secure the services of top drivers.

The parity, low-tech and emphasis on large fields and tight racing is undoubtedly a result of the influence of the NASCAR personnel involved in the series. They know what makes the typical American race-goer tick, and they're trying to address that in a road-racing arena. They've done well, I have to say, and the series looks set to continue to thrive.

There's room for both championships. Just because I went to see the Rolex race yesterday doesn't mean I won't go to ALMS in October. I will for sure. I prefer the well-funded, high-tech ALMS cars and teams, as well as the heavy European influence. But I had fun yesterday - a lot of fun. The weather was nice, the crowd was light compared to MotoGP, it was easy to get into and out of the track, it wasn't very expensive and I watched some great racing.

Would I have had more fun at the FIA GT race at Silverstone on Sunday, with those great Aston Martins, Saleens, Maseratis and Ferraris? Probably not - it pissed it down with rain and if I'm going to attend a race I'll take sunshine over rain anyday even if I am watching a bunch of goofy little prototypes on Hoosier control tyres....

Friday, May 05, 2006


World Superbike will be at the ferociously noise-conscious Monza, and first qualifying is showing the Yamahas and Hondas back on pace. If anything, the race should be closer than the very exciting last two at Valencia. Wicked!

The Japanese SuperGT series gets their third race of the season, this time at the fabulous Fuji facility. This track is destined to host the Japanese round of the Formula 1 championship next year, so you can be sure this ain't no rinky-dink little place like Sugo or Tsukuba.

Speaking of Formula 1, they visit the clinical Sudschleife at the Nurburgring. After spending countless hours on the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo 4, I find the newer track to be terribly boring. Who's going to win? Jenson Button of course LOL! I'll be wearing my new Jenson t-shirt to show my support...

Actually, on Sunday I'll be at Laguna Seca to see those funny little Daytona Prototypes from the Rolex Sportscar Series. Despite their goofiness, they do put on a good show and a tight race, so I'm very much looking forward to it. I was unwittingly sucked in when the Daytona 24 Hours was on back earlier this year, and decided I wanted to see these strange cars in the flesh. Furthermore, after the chaos of Laguna at MotoGP last year, it's time for a more relaxed visit to this fantastic track. Best of all, $25 gets you in with paddock access to boot. Full report to follow early next week...

FIA GT kicks off

This weekend sees the start of the FIA GT championship at Silverstone. Technically this is where all the privateer GT teams get to play without fear of being beaten up by factory teams. In practice that means that there's no cars being run by Corvette Racing or Aston Martin Racing - but there are six Astons, and a C6 Corvette.

The most likely team to win with an Aston Martin is the hugely successful Italian BMS team. They've won both the FIA GT and LMES GT1 championships with Prodrive's last car, the Ferrari 550 Maranello. The Aston inherits much of the 550's technology, so reliability should be much better than a new car will typically show. Aston provided full support to Prodrive during development of the car, unlike Ferrari, and the DBR9 already has wins to show for it, Sebring 2005 being the most significant.

Also running the British beasts are Phoenix Racing (who have much experience with Opel in the DTM), Cirtek (who have already raced the Aston last year under the Russian Age banner) and Race Alliance, a new Austrian team with two cars, Red Bull backing and Karl Wendlinger in the line-up.

Primary opposition to these teams will come from reigning champions Vitaphone Racing and their magnificent Maserati MC12s. They have a little more than a year's worth of experience with the cars and four very quick drivers, so must start the season as favourites.

A number of other cars line up in the GT1 class, but probably not with much hope of taking the title. GLPK from Belgium has a Corvette C6, B-Sport Racing arrives with a troublesome but quick Lamborghini Murcielago, and two teams are running Saleen S7s.

GT2 features the usual raft of Porsche GT3s, but face stiff opposition from a number of teams running the Ferrari 430. The new car from Maranello has already shown pace at Sebring and Istanbul, and the JMB team should be the ones most likely to give the Porsche teams a run for their money.

Finally, this event sees the first race of the new European GT3 championship, designed for "gentleman" drivers. It's a great entry list, with 50-odd Corvettes, Vipers, Gallardos, 911s, Astons, Venturis etc. Should be quite a laugh.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Construction at Le Mans

After all my pontificating about the best bits of Le Mans, it turns out that much of the track has been torn up over the winter in a series of construction projects.

The first chicane before the Dunlop bridge has been tightened, and in doing so the track has moved away from the grandstand on the outside by quite some distance, approximately 50 metres.

Tertre Rouge is due to be re-profiled in 2007 , supposedly for safety, but the shallower angle will actually make entrance speeds to the Mulsanne Straight higher. What's worse however is that a new tramline that runs to the sports complex inside the track near Tertre Rouge has caused the demolition of the Tertre Rouge bar! What a tragedy! At least they're enlarging the embankment on the inside of the corner, so we'll just have to grab some beers and food and sit there at sunset instead.

The village / vendor area is undergoing massive changes, and to be honest that's probably for the best - it was never the finest part of the facility.

Maybe the worst news of all would be if the rumour was true of a chicane between Mulsanne Corner and Indianapolis. This would make the fastest part of the current track much slower, and remove a lot of what Le Mans is all about: sustained high speed racing.

GP Masters

I've never pretended to be much of a fan of open-wheel racing, so when I came across a download of the recent Grand Prix Masters race from Qatar I wasn't especially motivated to watch it. Until, that is, I saw that the commentary was from Murray Walker. My earliest memories of watching racing on TV involved Formula 1 in 1982, with Murray rocking the mic. I remember teams such as ATS and RAM along with more established outfits like Williams, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.

"Okay", I said, "I'll take a look at this GP has-beens thing". And I'm damn glad I did. The racing was tight and each driver was trying their hardest, even if they were clearly off the pace (stand up Patrick Tambay). Unsurprisingly, Nigel "The 'tache" Mansell was on pole, but right next to him was Christian Danner, who always struggled to be competitive in the woeful Zakspeed.

Once the race was underway, Mansell proved to be dominant, but behind him all hell was breaking loose. First, the luckless Riccardo Patrese couldn't get his car started and ended up starting from the pitlane half a lap down. Then the speedy Derek Warwick spun and found himself nearly in last. Then Hans Stuck tangled with Stefan Johanssen. A mechanical failure on Eliseo Salazar's car brought out the safety car, giving Warwick and Patrese a lifeline. This was soon followed by a second safety car period when Andrea de Cesaris (or Andrea de Crasheris as Murray noted his nickname had been) spun out of 4th place. By now, Eric Van de Poele was looking very racey, and had passed Eddie Cheever, Pierluigi Martini and Emerson Fittipaldi to get into third. And that's how it finished - Mansell, Danner and Van de Poele. All three drivers were clearly loving the racing, and their good humour was infectious. I caught myself with a silly grin on my face as Murray signed off.

It has to be said that this race was far tighter and more exciting than the bulk of F1 races these guys ever raced in, and I highly recommend it to any racing fan. Much credit must go to the drivers themselves though, who approached the event with the right level of dignity, humour and competitiveness to make for a terrific spectacle.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

WTCC fun, MotoGP pretends to be 125s and more

Time to reflect on some of the weekend's racing....

BMW showed upstarts SEAT how it's done in the World Touring Car Championship at Magny Cours in France. With the Alfa Romeos in woeful shape and struggling to do any better than about 20th, the Beemers took full advantage of their zippy starts to take both races. Wily campaigner (and defending champion) Andy Priaulx sat back in 8th in the first race when it became clear he wouldn't win, in order to claim pole for the second due to reverse grid rules. His strategy paid off, as he led from start to finish. Race one winner Dirk Muller was caught up in a typical touring car pile-up on the first lap, leaving Jorg Muller, his BMW Germany team-mate, to chase down James Thompson and Jordi Gene in the SEATs. After getting past both he set off after Priaulx, but eventually ran out of time. Priaulx has now knocked French ice-racing superstar Yvan Muller out of first place in the title race, which, being British, I'm not going to complain about!

I missed the first WTCC race of the season, but was pleased to see how big the field is, and how professional the teams are. It's nice tight racing without the angry argy-bargy of the British or Australian series.

Who'd have thought that 990cc prototype racing bikes could dogfight like 125s? Well apparently they can, especially if there's four hungry young lads all on the same bike, with only three MotoGP wins between them. Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa, Marco Melandri and Casey Stoner all the spent the best part of half the race passing each other on every single damn corner! Being a Hayden fan I was hoping to see him win his first non-US MotoGP race, but would have been happy for the cherub-faced young Stoner to pull off his first MotoGP win in only his third time out. Alas, the wily Melandri, who started 14th, was able to take it from Stoner with half a lap remaining after Nicky fell off the pace and Dani crashed. Not to toot my own horn, but I've been predicting just such a situation since the start of the season. The best news of all is that we might be in for this kind of racing for the whole year! Lovely...

In the "it's been a long time coming" department, Travis Pastrana finally took his first professional rally victory on Sunday at the Rim of the World Rally here in California. Well done Travis! I've met the lad at a number of events we've both been competing in, and he's super-friendly, very enthusiastic and a terrific ambassador for the sport. Perhaps his win at Rim indicates good form for the X-Games Rally in August. Second went to his team-mate, DC Shoes founder Ken Block, whilst the best-placed local driver was Kiwi Leon Styles in third.

Elsewhere in California, the AMA Superbike series again found arrogant Aussie Mat Mladin (or Mat M'Lady as he gets referred to in our household) on the back foot as team-mate Ben Spies took another double victory. Next race is in my neck of the woods as they come to Infineon Raceway, and I'll be on the spot to watch Mat get his rear-end handed to him again. Probably.

DTM and BSB reviews still to come...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Racing commentator rant

TO ALL RACING COMMENTATORS: A "sandwich" is named for it's filling, not for the bread. If there's three cars in a row, for example a BMW, then an Alfa Romeo, then a BMW, that's an Alfa Romeo sandwich, not a BMW sandwich. Got it? Sheesh...


Since I haven't yet seen the weekend's touring car races, or BSB, or finished watching WRC, I'll hold off on commenting on ANY of it. So there.

Instead, it's time to look at three racers who stay at the top levels of the sport but who don't have the results to back it up. Perhaps this is just an axe-grinding session, so if you disagree, either leave a comment or write your own blog!

BEN BOSTROM: Okay, he won the AMA Superbike championship in 1998, but did it without winning a single race. In '99 he was second in the championship with just one race win, whilst his win as a wildcard at Laguna Seca in World Superbike was enough to bag him a factory Ducati ride in 2000. So he's got the best superbike ride in the world from just two wins! This is where we start to see his performances not meet expectations. He was so bad, in fact, that Ducati moved him to a satellite team halfway through the season. In 2001 they had to form a separate factory team just so he could ride on Dunlops. He scored some wins in what was the best period of his career, before a disastrous 2002. In 2003 he returned to the AMA with his tail between his legs, expecting to come in and win. Surprise, surprise, performance didn't meet expectations and he ended up 4th with no wins, whilst in 2004, he managed only one, again at Laguna Seca. So, time to switch series again - back to World Superbike. And, guess what, another crappy year, although this time Ben would blame the team, instead of the tyres or the bike. So, back to the US, back on a Ducati, back to his non-winning ways. 2006 has been rubbish for BBoz so far. The bike is slow, yes, but his team-mate has beaten him at every round. Since 1998, Ben has won nine races, four of them at Laguna Seca. If they had a championship for dating supermodels though, Ben would be the Vale Rossi of that sport...

JACQUES VILLENEUVE: This gnome-like Canadian was a great driver in the CART Championship, but sadly his talent is not (and never has been) sufficient for sustained success in Formula 1. Sometimes racers progress further than their ability actually warrants, and that appears to be the case with Jacques. "But he won the F1 title in '97!" you cry! Yes, he did, but he lost it in 1996 to Damon Hill who had to take a seat with the struggling Arrows team in 1997, and thus removed himself from the title fight. Michael Schumacher was in his second year with Ferrari, developing a car that was still a long way off the pace of Villeneuve's Williams. Thus the door was open to a flukey win. This may sound a bit unfair, but I only have to point to JV's abysmal record since 1997: no wins and 5th overall in 1998; no points in 1999; no podiums in 2000; best results of two thirds in 2001; no podiums in 2002; only 6 points in 2003 and a solid thrashing from young team-mate Jenson Button. In 2004 he was without a ride until the last 3 races when he filled in at Renault. He pledged to help them secure second in the constructor's title, but failed to score any points and Renault finished third. For 2005 he signed for two years with Sauber, although the deal was done before the Renault debacle. Once again his team-mate beat him, and the only reason he stays with Sauber BMW for '06 is the probable penalty for Sauber in breaking the contract.

CHRIS ATKINSON: The Subaru WRC driver from Australia was signed after a remarkable run to 5th in the 2004 Australian round of the championship, in a group N Subaru. It was certainly a gamble on Subaru's part, but they believed they were scooping up a young talent who would be on pace after a few rallies in a WRC machine. They also wanted a new young driver to replace Mikko Hirvonen who endured a tough year with the team in 2004. However, Atkinson did no better than Hirvonen and ended 2005 in 12th place, with points finishes in only three rallies out of twelve entered. Subaru inisted it was a learning year for the boy, but when you're in the second fastest car you'd better be at least grabbing regular points, even if you can't match the experienced superstars of the sport. This year, he's secured points in three events, with sixth as his best finish. He's beaten on a regular basis by "privateers" like Dani Sordo and Manfred Stohl. Just like Villeneuve, Atkinson has risen beyond a level his talent can support. He's quicker than most Australian rally drivers, but sadly that's not good enough when you're up against drivers like Marcus Gronholm and Seb Loeb (or even second-tier drivers like Henning Solberg or Xavier Pons).