Friday, June 30, 2006

Another racing movie coming out

How cool is this?: The Doctor, the Tornado and the Kentucky Kid, a documentary by Mark Neale. He's the guy who did Faster. It's about last year's inaugural US MotoGP event at Laguna Seca.


As the cycling world is rocked to its foundations with yet another huge doping scandal the day before the Tour de France begins, it got me thinking about why we don't often see widespread cheating in motorsport.

Although physical fitness is an absolute necessity in motor racing, especially of the two-wheeled variety, the level of fitness required can be attained without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Now if someone was to come up with a drug that sharpened hand-eye coordination, improved the brain's ability to understand balance and g-forces or diminished a competitor's propensity for fear we might have to be more alert to this issue.

It should be noted that Noriyuki Haga lost the 2000 World Superbike championship due to points deducted for testing positive for ephedrine, a drug that assists with weight loss. In a sport where millions of dollars are invested to save mere ounces from machinery it's understandable that weight loss drugs might be appealing to riders who suffer from "slow metabolism" - hence the continued need for routine drug tests in motorsport.

The area where cheating is most common in racing is inevitably vehicle preparation. This kind of cheating is rife throughout the sport from the lowest levels to the very top. I've been to, and competed in, rallies where we knew for a fact that other competitors in our class were using non-regulation technology. In Rally America's Production GT class, designed for essentially stock turbo or 4WD cars, engine management systems with anti-lag devices, non-stock gear ratios, missing safety equipment (removed for weight reasons) and even illegal restrictors are commonplace. It's not unheard of for a car to pass through tech, have it's restrictor measured, then return to wherever the car is staying prior to the event and have the restrictor changed again. During the final service, the crew will swap out the illegal restrictor for a legal one in order to pass post-race tech. The solution to this of course is a Parc Ferme for cars after they pass through tech - something that would require extra resources such as space and manpower to initiate, which RA can't really spare.

If regional rally teams that aren't relying on prize money are getting up to these kind of tricks, imagine the lengths that professional racing teams are going to in order to gain an advantage! The highly publicized example in NASCAR at this year's Daytona 500 is a great example. Crew chief Chad Knaus had added a device that altered the height of the rear window of Jimmie Johnson's car to gain an aerodynamic advantage. A 2-race suspension and $35,000 fine seemed appropriate, until you realize that the team probably paid the fine, and Knaus would still be able to help direct the team's progress from offiste via cellphone, instant messanging or other technology.

The only real solution to these kinds of infractions should be informed by the approach that cycling organizations employ: extreme, draconian penalties. If the punishment is harsh enough, people won't cheat. In cycling, if you're caught cheating you get an instant two-year ban. Now that's a stiff punishment! Kudos to Formula 1 for handing down a two-race ban last year to BAR for fuel tank infractions. The cost to them through lost TV revenue and sponsorship income was substantial, and I'd like to see the rest of motorsport take cheating as seriously.

So, to answer my own question, why we don't see cheating in racing, I believe that it's simply because it is neither caught nor enforced often enough. The fact we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there, and I'm sorry to say that motorsport is no cleaner than any other kind of sport. Bummer.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

British Superbike Administrivia

I need to take back a portion of my complaint about the AMA's rules regarding red flags in the US Superbike championship. Turns out that the British Superbike championship does the same thing now e.g. use the results prior to the red flag to set the grid for the restart instead of banking the time gaps. Very silly, and cost Leon Haslam the race at Snetterton after he made a bad start after a red flag in race 2.

Also from Snetterton, James Haydon and Dean Thomas had a very nasty crash in which Haydon, who had missed the chicane, rejoined the track at low speed and was absolutely creamed by Dean Thomas' Kawasaki. Very, very ugly, and gave Thomas a punctured lung and broken ribs, whilst James re-injured his rotator cuff and also broke a rib. Sorry lads, get well soon.

F1 makes up with the US, and more

It was a year ago that the US Grand Prix debacle occurred, and it was probably the most shameful episode that the sport has ever seen. With a field of only six cars, four of which were the slowest F1 cars that season, fans had every right to be upset. What makes it worse is that their class-action lawsuit has been thrown out, making for one more blow to F1 in the USA. For me, the biggest loser that weekend was the public perception of road-course racing. I don't really care about F1's status here because to be honest it's kind of a silly genre of racing. But when the public equates "racing" exclusively with NASCAR, we know that any racing in the US that involves one or more right turns is facing a PR struggle.

This weekend, F1 returns to Indy, and they'd better do a much better job this year...

On a happier US racing note, ALMS is back in action at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Quite why ALMS chooses to race on a track with sub-one minute laps is beyond me, but they've been at it for years. The most noteworthy event will be the final outing for the Audi R8, before the Le Mans-winning R10s return for the next round at the Miller dustbowl. Due to the smallness of Lime Rock, those mean yellow Porsche LMP2s might well be in with a shout again. Odds are that the Dyson Lolas, the other main team with a shot at winning, won't...

Once again the planets have aligned to have three touring car series racing on the same weekend, in this case V8 Supercars in Oz, DTM at Brands Hatch and the WTCC in Brazil. This makes for a lot of downloading for me and a lot of sitting in front of the PC over the next few days. Woe is me.

The V8s are at Hidden Valley near Darwin. I'm a big fan of this track, partly because it's one of the most isolated tracks in the world and partly because it gets damn hot, making for silly mistakes from drivers, and lots of ensuing action. The V8 season continues to be highly unpredictable, so let me predict a winner... I'll have to say Todd Kelly, Mark Skaife's team-mate in the Holden Racing Team. Poor ole Todd's had some bad luck lately, especially at Barbagallo where he had not one, not two but three gearbox failures, two of which involved the whole gearstick coming off in his hand! Bizarre...

The WTCC makes the first of it's Western hemisphere visits, at Curitiba in Brazil. This is a new track for the WTCC lads, so it's unclear as to who will have the best form. One thing's for sure - they'll not want to cause too much damage to the cars since they'll not be returning to their shops in Europe before the next event in Mexico.

The DTM makes its first visit to Brands Hatch, a tantalizing prospect! It's a great track, and those cars are seriously quick. In the "isn't that funny" department, ex F1 world champ Damon Hill had a go in a Mercedes DTM car at the recent test at Brands. Although he enjoyed it, he made clear that his recent appointment as chair of the BRDC, the organization that runs the British GP, will limit his ability to get back into racing. Not to worry Damon, at least you can still play your "rock music", you long-haired aging rocker you.

The other notable race this weekend is FIA GT at Oschersleben in Germany. The GT commission has made some performance adjustments, so just as the Saleens were getting quick again, they've been smacked with a rear wing reduction. This same measure in Le Mans Series racing a few years back saw them shuffled to the "also-ran" category, so hopefully that won't happen here. I'm sure that those in charge of the series are eager to see some Astons at the front, but despite performance handicapping in other series (e.g. ALMS) it hasn't helped. Something is stopping the Aston DBR9 from winning, and I'd love to know what it is. Interestingly, those unfortunate folks at the Italian BMS Aston team have three cars, so even though they removed a couple of corners from one at Le Mans, they still have two fresh and shiny cars to run this weekend.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Colin v Nicky rematch

Thankfully my damaged arm seems to be healing enough to allow me to finally write another post, and not a moment too soon since we have a nice chunky weekend of racing ahead!

Although some of my favourite racing is happening this weekend including V8 Supercars and American Le Mans, I'd lying if I said I wasn't most excited about the MotoGP race at Donington in the UK. I have to say that last Saturday's Assen TT was one of the most nailbiting races I have ever watched, and that's not the first time I've said that this year about a MotoGP race. Despite the smaller grid this year, the MotoGP boys are really making a show of it, and best of all we have Nicky Hayden sitting right on top of the championship table! The last lap dogfight between himself and fellow "first European MotoGP victory"-seeking American Colin Edwards was mindblowing! You can't help but feel sorry for poor old Col' who lost the race and his first ever MotoGP win by falling at the very last corner.

So it's time for a rematch between the Texan Tornado and the Kentucky Kid, assuming that Valentino Rossi and real-life Oompa Loompa Loris Capirossi are still not fit. Colin goes well at Donington, and he'll be hungry for revenge. However, Nicky will have gotten his first non-Laguna win, and will be looking to consolidate his 42-point lead in the championship. A win is less of a big deal to Nicky now. If Col can get his bike working well, he might FINALLY get that win, which he definitely deserves. Anyone who saw his scraps with Troy Bayliss in WSBK at Imola in 2002 will never, ever question the man's ability to win world championship races.

To make things extra-exciting I ordered my tickets for the Laguna MotoGP race last week, so it's nice to finally be certain that I'm going this year.

Preview of this weekend's 4-wheel racing will follow tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Something cool about NASCAR

Will Ferrell plays a NASCAR driver in "Talladega Nights - The Ballad of Ricky Bobby". Said to be the "Anchorman" of NASCAR. Probably the best thing to look forward to is Ali G creator Sascha Baron Cohen playing a gay French Formula 1 driver....

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I regularly mention crashes in this blog. Yesterday I had one of my own as my bicycle's front wheel got caught in a train track, and I managed to do some decent damage to my elbow. Needless to say typing is tough right now, so it may be a few days before I can get back to my usual quality posts...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Motorsport Press Release of the Year

Goes to....

DR. CLAUDIO COSTA of the MotoGP Clinica Mobile (Mobile Hospital), for this update on the condition of the three riders injured at the start of Sunday's race:

This morning, Loris Capirossi left the Catalunya General Hospital with a smile on his lips, despite still suffering pains to his chest and abdomen and with bruises all over his body after the battle that he had to fight the day before, at the MotoGP race start.

That smile symbolically lights up the road that goes from Barcelona to Assen: on the Dutch circuit surround by green fields, Capirossi will ride his Desmosedici again in just a few days, and will once again be chasing his dreams.

Marco Melandri is still hospitalised in the same clinic, in a room in the Intensive Care department. The early diagnosis of head injury was fortunately modified to concussion after the hospital scans: concussion means no damage to the brain, just amnesia.

Marco could not remember anything after the accident. His memory is coming back now, although he can only remember what happened until just before the start of that fateful race. His left clavicle dislocation is less serious than we had first thought; his arm muscular stretching is luckily only mild. Marco is still suffering a lot of pain in his neck region, after rebelling against the threat of paralysis. The rider is well treated by the Spanish doctors, gathered around his bed like priests around the altar where Marco is celebrating his own resurrection.

Yesterday, the gods that had allowed a terrible accident to happen had also foreseen that the 3 riders would be able to use the resources hidden in the hearts of all human beings. Perhaps, the gods are not entirely malevolent. And they always spare a look from above for motorcyclists, who love to play chess against risk, danger and death, and during this troubling game, even manage to smile to the lady in black.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Reflections on Le Mans 2006

There's full-blown race-reports in many other places on the web, so it would be silly for me to try to wrap up 24 hours of racing in a humble blog. There are however a few things I must comment on about this weekend's 24 Heures du Mans...

Although I didn't necessarily want to see Audi win (again) the fact that they did will almost certainly have far-reaching consequences. In September the US is scheduled to tighten up diesel regulations, reducing sulphur content and making for cleaner fuel. In anticipation of this, many car manufacturers are readying their most technologically advanced diesel engines for the US retail market. Audi is one such company. The fact that they can advertise that their US-market diesel cars share the same engine technology as this year's Le Mans winner will certainly be a boost both for credibility and sales. And if Audi can kick-start new-generation diesel sales in the US, it will help others. A healthy rebirth of the diesel in the US market is obviously a very positive thing most notably for the air we all breathe, so I'm not underestimating the importance of what happened at Le Sarthe this weekend.

Prior to the race, the ACO announced that starting in 2010, LMP1 cars would be required to have a roof. Their motivation to do this is that coupes are easier for the public to relate to. I'm pleased that roofed prototypes will be returning to the Le Mans. Some of my favourite cars are from that breed: the Porsche 962, Jag XJR9, Porsche GT1 and Toyota GT1 for example. LMP2 will apparently stay open-topped. The good news is that the rule change is far enough away for manufacturers to prepare for it and not be upset about having to change any plans.

As for the race itself, I was surprised at how the LMP1 field completely fell apart. The expected "best non-Audi-or-Pescarolo" battle never really materialized and only the Zytek came even remotely close. The factory Courage effort in particular ended up being very weak, out-paced by the privateer Swiss Spirit Courage.

LMP2 was again a last-man standing-battle, but delivered three of the most spectacular moments of the race, including a Courage blowout at 180mph that destroyed the car in 6 distinct steps that all occurred in the space of about 8 seconds, and left a "Back to the Future"-style trail of fire in the grass. The other two moments involved the WR, firstly as it became airborne at the Ford chicane on Saturday and secondly as it burned to the ground on Sunday morning.

GT1 once again found its leaders challenging for overall podium positions. They are certainly more reliable than the prototype cars, and that counts for a lot over 24 hours. It was a tremendous shame that the Aston relinquished the lead with less than two hours to go. Of note in GT1 is the longevity of the Lamborghini. Many of the people on the 10/10ths forum predicted it would be the first retirement. It ended up being closer to the 20th retirement! A nice job by a really lovely car.

GT2 was a dogfight and served up some typical final hour drama. The Seikel Porsche looked set to take the win, but gearbox woes allowed the LNT Panoz to catch it with 30 minutes remaining.

Le Mans typically unfolds in a similar pattern. Saturday daylight hours are generally frenetic, and every drama seems more important. An extra minute in the pits means a lot more on Saturday than it does on Sunday when gaps are measured in laps not minutes. This makes for an exciting first 6 hours. This year was no different. Then night-time kicks in, and the pattern of survival comes to the fore. The air of mystery makes for compelling watching, as serious problems start to show themselves in this part of the race. By dawn on Sunday, things are settled down, and the 8am-2pm period is the one I find to be the dullest. In the US, this is 11pm to 3am, a time when your body is wanting to go to bed. Then, with two hours to go, urgency kicks in. Teams who are still strong start to calculate whether they can make up the two laps to the next car, whilst teams with issues are trying to get the car to the end. Unfortunately by now, most American viewers have gone to bed, me included. After waking up, we usually watch the video recording of the final hours, which means no Radio Le Mans and no live scoring. In future, we may plan to hit the hay at midnight and get up at 4am, to catch the final hours live. That, or get some Red Bull. We'll have to wait till 2008 to try it out, since next year we will be at the track...

Rant about AMA restarts

In European and world motorcycle racing, gaps between bikes are "banked" in a red flag scenario. The times of the pre-red-flag segment are added to the times of the post-red-flag segment, to determine the winner. This is the fairest way of doing it, but can be confusing for the fans, especially if the guy who takes the chequered flag first isn't the actual winner.

In the US, positions pre-red-flag determine only grid positions for the restart. If you're worked hard to get a 5-second lead, it's all for nothing. Yes, you can change tyres and make other changes between racing, but to me that's still very unfair.

I implore the AMA to adopt FIM rules for red-flags, including a parc ferme. I believe that a red flag indicates an interruption, not an end to racing, so everything should remain the same from the end of the last complete lap prior to the red flag.

Bank the time gaps and don't touch the bikes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bikes don't care about Le Mans

It should be noted that the AMA Superbike championship, MotoGP and the British Superbike Championship are all racing this weekend.

AMA will be at Miller Motorsports Park, a new track in desolate Utah that everyone's been raving about.

MotoGP is in bike-mad Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya. Catalans would probably argue that it isn't Spain, but I say it is, and it's my blog...

BSB is at Snetterton, one of those peculiar breed of British tracks developed from an old airfield. It's fast, REALLY fast.

Gonna be tough to bring myself to watch any of these after gorging on 4-wheel racing all weekend. Somehow I'll just have to get stuck in and do it!


As the world chooses which teams to get behind in the World Cup, it seems fitting to point out which teams at Le Mans to cheer for depending on your nationality...

Britain: Aston Martin (British team and cars, one British driver)

Holland: Racing for Holland (Dutch team, Dutch owner/driver)

USA: Corvette (US team and car, one US driver)

France: Pescarolo (French team, car and drivers)

Denmark: Zytek (Danish sponsors and drivers)

Japan: Courage #13 (Japanese sponsor and two Japanese drivers)

Germany: Audi (German car and team, two German drivers)

Russia: Convers MenX (Russian team, one Russian driver)

Switzerland: Swiss Spirit (Swiss team and drivers)

Portugal: ASM Racing (Portugese team and two Portugese drivers)

Italy: BMS Scuderia Italia (Italian team and drivers)

Belgium: G Force (Belgian team and two Belgian drivers)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Le Mans Preview Part 4: GT2 - Porsche vs the rest

It's a bit of a case of been-there-done-that in GT2, with a whole raft of Porsches in this, the slower of the two GT classes. The difference this year is that the non-Porsche entrants are very strong, and could quite easily win.

On the Porsche side of the fence, there are two teams who stand out as clear favourites. From the US, Flying Lizard bring an RSR with a great driver team that includes factory Porsche driver Pat Long and the very fast Johannes Van Overbeek. The Lizards have great experience in the ALMS, and are my tip for the GT2 win.

Close behind them should be the French IMSA-Matmut team, run by driver/owner Raymond Narac. IMSA have gotten their hands on Pat Long's Penske Porsche team Romain Dumas, and have also bagged some factory support after a great year in 2005. Should the Lizards have any mishaps, you can bet these guys will be ready to pick up the pieces.

Elsewhere in Porsche world, we've got teams from Belgium, England, Japan and Germany along with additional entries from France and the USA. Some tidbits of info on each....

Gordon Racing (Belgium): Watch for the legendary Gulf colours on this car.

Sebah Automotive (UK): A solid pay-driver line-up that includes Dane Thorkild Thyrring and Christian Reid. This is the black and bright blue car.

T2M and Team Taisan ADVAN (Japan): A couple of teams from Japan running Yokohama tyres. They may do a little better if it rains. They are the only teams running the old GT3RS model. T2M are yellow and Taisan are black and red.

Seikel (Germany): Squeeked in from the reserve list. This is in fact the Farnbacher Porsche entered under the Seikel name. A rather anonymous white paintjob with "Maldives" sponsorship.

Petersen-White Lightning (USA): The Petersen entry has basically been "bought" by Tracy Krohn's team, hence the presence of Tracy and his regular team-mates Nic Jonnson and Jorg Bergmeister. Should be pretty fast, and Petersen have actually won GT2 in the past. White car with Krohn's traditional bright green flashes.

Noel Del Bello (France): Another white Porsche with a ChampCar champion Seb Bourdais' dad Patrick in the lineup.

Okay, that's the boring old Porsches out of the way. Who's taking the fight to them?

Most significant is the pair of Panoz entries, one from Multimatic (who build the racing versions of the car) and Team LNT from England. Panoz won their class at Sebring, so if they can hold together, they could definitely win, probably with the Multimatic entry.

Ferrari have one representative in GT2 from the Scottish Ecurie Ecosse team. The new F430 has proven to be very fast, albeit a tad fragile. In the FIA GT race at Silverstone, 3 of them retired with the very same failure, so hopefully they've got that fixed.

Finally, in the "isn't that odd" category, those strange Dutch Spykers are back, with two cars that now have roofs. This should help improve aero efficiency and therefore top speed, and the other big help for speed will be the remarkable group of drivers they have. Most notably the hugely experienced Tom Coronel has signed on, along with fellow Dutch touring car ace Jeroem Bleekemolen. Also, returning to Le Mans for the first time since his outrageous somersault in a Merc in 1999, is Peter Dumbreck. Dumbreck actually just won a Japanese SuperGT race a few weeks ago, so still has some good pace.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Le Mans Preview Part 3: The Quick GT cars

Derived from real road cars, the GT classes at Le Mans tend to be a bit easier for the average Joe to understand, and this year both GT divisions feature some very strong entries. Today I'm going to take a look at the GT1 class, where the really elegant, really fast cars are to be found.

Leading the way are two factory teams, Corvette and Aston Martin. Corvette has had the upper hand in the American Le Mans Series lately, partly due to Aston's insistence on using Pirelli tyres which are, quite frankly, no good. For Le Mans, Aston switches back to Michelin. Corvette won at Le Mans last year with their C6R, so Aston will be desperate to win this time out. Corvette have arguably the better driver line up with Johnny O'Connell, Jan Magnussen, Max Papis, Ollie Gavin, Olivier Beretta and Ron Fellows. The stars in Aston's crew include Stephane Ortelli, Stephane Sarrazin, Tomas Enge and Darren Turner. Being British I can't help but root for the boys in green but I fear I may be disappointed again - Aston have the speed to win, but will probably fall down on reliability.

Behind the factory teams are some strong privateer efforts running Ferraris, Astons, a Corvette and a Saleen.

Russian Age Racing return with their Care Racing / Prodrive Ferrari 550, alongside a customer Aston Martin. British sportscar specialists Cirtek are running the team, although the mess of entities involved is confusing. The entries are in the name of Russian Age, since that's who was paying at the time entries opened. Since then, some of the Russian money has departed to the MenX team, allowing some room for British entrant Team Modena to take over the Russian Age Aston. Both cars are, and have always been, prepped and run by Cirtek. The bottom line is that Cirtek knows how to run an endurance race, the Ferrari has many years under its belt at Le Mans (this chassis, #3 of 10, has competed at Le Mans four times), and some of the drivers involved are very good indeed. The Aston looks strongest in this regard, with David Brabham, Nelson Piquet Jr. (son of the F1 legend) and top touring car driver Antonio Garcia.

The first Prodrive Ferrari 550, #1, was still being run, albeit not as competitively, until late last year by the Convers MenX team. For 2006 they've gotten hold of chassis #9, one of the newest 550s. This team is a combo of Convers Bank money that was with Russian Age last year, from Alexei Vasiliev, and Robert Pergl's Czech-sourced financing. It won't be a quick team, but it should make it to the end.

The third Ferrari in the field comes from French team Larbre. Already winners of the FIA GT championship in 2004 with this very car (chassis #8) and the Le Mans Series with an older 550, it was widely expected that they would enter their new Aston this year. Perhaps concerns over reliability convinced them to stick with the old Italian girl. They don't arrive with the strongest line-up, but should once again be there at the finish.

Larbre's main rival as top European GT1 privateer has always been BMS Scuderia Italia, who have also won the Le Mans series and the FIA GT championship. Unlike Larbre, BMS have opted to bring an Aston. They haven't performed particularly well in the first couple of FIA GT races of the season, and will find their Pirelli tyres a handicap. Luckily they have three extremely quick drivers: Christian Pescatori, Fabio Babini and Fabrizio Gollin. Expect retirement during the night...

The third Corvette in the field is an older C5R, from Luc Alphand Aventures. Luc is a former downhill skiing champ, and won the Dakar Rally this year - talk about an over-achiever! The C5 is actually better suited to Le Mans than the newer C6 due to its longer wheelbase and more aerodynamic body, but Luc will not be able to match the pace of the factory cars. He'll probably end up fighting for scraps with Larbre, BMS, Cirtek and......

Saleen! Finally we get to see a Saleen S7R back at Le Mans after two years without them. The ACEMCO team from the US might be the outside bet for a win in GT1. Saleens have already won their class in the Le Mans series this year, as well as an overall win in FIA GT, with the Oreca and Zakspeed teams respectively. If ACEMCO have access to the development parts that those two teams have, this will be one damn quick motor. As if a quick car isn't enough, they have one of the strongest driver rosters in the class including sportscar hotshots Terry Borcheller and Johnny Mowlem and a Fittipaldi, in this case Christian.

The lame duck entry in the class is the Japanese Lamborghini Owners Club entry, who bring one of the Murcielagos that they run in the Japanese Super GT championship. It's had its choking restrictors removed, and aero changed to conform to ACO regs, but has yet to run for 24 hours. Although Lambos are seen more frequently in GT racing these days, they still aren't even close in reliability in order to finish Le Mans. However, it does look the dogs bo***cks!!!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Le Mans Preview Part 2: LMP2

Whilst it's true that the glamour cars of Le Mans are the big LMP1s, the LMP2 class always throws out some great racing and is often home to the "never say die" attitude. Last year's LMP2 winner, the RML MG-Lola, spent a LOT of time in the pits, but in typical LMP2 "last man standing" fashion still won the class.
Since attrition plays such a huge role in this class, picking a winner is tough. Having said that, a few teams appear to have a better chance.

Defending champions RML return with the same car as last year, a Lola with an AER turbo engine. This year they have a not-so-secret weapon in the form of veteran sportscar ace (and former winner) Andy Wallace. Of course, anyone who saw Wallace in action with Creation in the Discovery documentary series may question whether he's a help or a hinderance!

American team Intersport Racing did a terrific job to come second overall at Sebring and come into Le Mans as favourites to win their class. Father and son team of Jon and Clint field will be ably supported by the sole woman in the field, Liz Halliday. On their side is some good experience and a lot of 2006 race mileage.

The dark horse is the very quick new Radical SR9, run by Martin Short's Rollcentre team. Shorty did very well in his last two visits to Le Mans with aging Dallara LMP1s, but this time he's in with a shout for a class win. The Radical is undoubtedly the fastest LMP2 car out there, and with Joao Barbosa behind the wheel will almost certainly be fastest in qualifying. The question is whether the car will hold together for 24 hours. A recent article I read in Racecar Engineering indicates that Radical have been very conservative in their design, so it wouldn't surprise me if it does. I don't mind saying that I shall be cheering for Shorty and his team.

The remaining entrants in the class pretty much all have a similar chance, although Juan Barazi's Courage team might be "best of the rest". They did very well at the Istanbul 1000kms, and the Courage-AER package is now well-proven. The other teams running the Courage include the US-based Miracle team, Belgian team G-Force and Frenchman Paul Belmondo, who has two cars entered. Miracle will be handicapped by their Kumho tyres, no doubt a choice heavily influenced by money. G-Force have had to completely rebuild their car after a crash at Spa. Even the tub was replaced, with fellow competitors Kruse Motorsport providing the all-important piece. Paul Belmondo once again shows up with a strong team, but is not favoured in our household, after his false allegations and filthy mouth in 2004. Karma is a cruel mistress however, and Belmondo will not drive this year after breaking his arm a few weeks ago.

So that leaves four other teams...

Hugh Chamberlain will be supporting an LMP2 team run for ASM Racing, a Portugese outfit owned by a rich Portugese businessman. This is the same car that crashed last year, and unfortunately was crashed at the test day too, removing three corners. The tub was undamaged, so Hugh should have it rebuilt for his wealthy customers in time for the race.

Scottish-born American Bill Binnie brings another Lola to Le Mans, this time with a Zytek engine which is undoubtedly where the big question mark lies. Zytek are known mainly for their engines for single-seaters, such as the A1GP cars. They are designed for dramatically shorter lifespans, so I personally doubt that Bill and his crew will see the finish.

Finally, a pair of typically odd French teams round out the LMP2 grid: Pierre Bruneau and Gerard Welter. Both are fielding the only examples of their chosen chassis, a Pilbeam and a WR respectively, and both are likely to plod around near the back of the leaderboard. The funny thing is that I expect both to be there at the finish too...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Le Mans Preview Part 1: Those fabulous LMP1 cars

Slow motorsport news weekend, so perhaps now is a good time for me to spew forth my thoughts on the upcoming 24 Heures du Mans. It's easiest to break it up into the different classes, so here goes...

In the Le Mans Prototype 1 (LM-P1) class, I think it's safe to say there are three groups of cars: the solid choices for winners, the cars that should do well, and those that have basically no chance whatsoever.

One of two teams should win it: either Audi with their new diesel-powered entries or Pescarolo with their constantly evolving cars that started life as Courage C60s. The Audis looked very fast at Sebring and grabbed the win. The eventual winner even started the race from pitlane. However, one of the two cars retired with engine problems, so they're not as bulletproof as Audi would have hoped. It has to be said that they didn't have such stiff competition there as they will have next weekend. It's the element of unpredictable reliability that Pescarolo are banking on. They've been refining their cars over the years, and go into the race with the fastest time at the test day under their belts. In addition, they have an extremely strong driver line-up and a great strategy. The 16 car will be driven by last year's pole winner, Emmanuel Collard, along with Erik Comas and the lightning-quick Nicolas Minassian. Minassian was supposed to be with British underdogs Creation Autosportif, but Pescarolo managed to pull off a last-minute poaching job and bring him back to the French team. This car will be the rabbit of the team, going out to set the pace (as well as take pole position) and force the Audis to go quick . Should the 16 have any problems (more likely with a higher pace) then the sister #17 car will be there to carry the hopes of the team. With WRC champ Seb Loeb, as well as current F1 driver Franck Montagny and former winner Eric Helary, it'll still be quick, but will be under instructions to run for reliability, not sheer pace.

Last year was said to be Pescarolo's best shot for the win, but with a question mark over the reliability of the Audis, it's definitely possible that the French team could take it this year. I for one hope so. It's a bit boring to see Audi always win.

The second group of cars, those that should run well but are unlikely to win, are all professionally-run outfits with quick cars. Best of this bunch should be the Creation team, who will now have Jamie Campbell-Walter back in the car, with the departure of Minassian to Pescarolo. Although not quite as fast as Nic, the fact that the other two drivers "bought" their places means that their overall potential has not significantly changed, and I'm sure that Henri Pescarolo paid Mike Jankowski, Creation's owner, a pretty penny to steal Nic away. Their car, an evolution of the old Reynard 02S, and a development of last year's car, now has a 5.0 litre Judd engine. The increased capacity means lower revs, less vibration and hopefully better reliability. Given that they've been to Le Mans before, they should do better than last year's 7th place. I'm going to say top 5.

Another car evolved from the old Reynard 02S is the Zytek 06S, entered by the factory and basically paid for by the Danish Essex Invest group. As such, all three drivers are Danish. Two of them, John Nielsen and Caspar Elgaard, are very quick indeed. The major points against this team are their choice of a 4.0 litre Judd, and the fact that the car has only run one race - it's VERY new. However, it is a spin-off of the older Zytek 04S, so there's some good experience there. If the car holds together, it should run consistent top-7 laps.

Jan Lammers' Racing for Holland team returns to Le Mans with his Dome prototype. Originally slated to have a Mugen engine, Jan decided at the last minute to switch to the 5.0 litre Judd. It meant he missed the last race at Spa, but he felt the risk was worth taking. It's not the newest version of the engine that Pescarolo and Creation have, but should still be on the pace. The biggest thing Racing for Holland have in their favour is the driver line-up: Jan himself, the hugely-experienced Stefan Johannsen (who my mother one met at a retreat here in California) and former F1 driver Alex Yoong from Malaysia. Traditionally the Domes have a poor record of reliability at Le Mans, so I reckon they'll end up with their usual result of something between 5th and 8th.

The French manufacturer Courage have a new car, built to full LMP1 spec (the Pescarolos, Creation, Dome and Zytek are all "hybrids" with tubs that don't conform to the new rule-set, but are eligible for this year only). The two Courages were very quick at Spa but still have some reliability issues to sort out. They also have Mugen engines which typically are less reliable than Judds, and are really the weak point of the cars. Of the two entries, the #13 should be fastest, with Jean-Marc Gounon, Shinji Nakano and Haruki Kurosawa on board.

Moving onto the three teams that really don't have a hope....

Lister are back again, with another new prototype, once again powered by a 6.0 litre Chevy. The car crashed at Spa, removing two corners, but it was rebuilt in time for the test day last weekend. Unfortunately Lister's prototypes are simply rubbish. 'Nuff said....

A new team, Swiss Spirit, arrive with another of the new Courages. Funnily enough, they've gone for the Judd engine, which in my opinion gives them an edge over the factory cars. However, their inexperience at Le Mans will probably mean they'll end up behind the other two Courages. Third place at Spa, and some quick drivers indicate some good pace, at least for 6 hours. I still chuckle at the concept of a Swiss racing team, given that motor racing is illegal in Switzerland!

Finally, the fantastic Hugh Chamberlain is back at Le Mans. Hugh really represents the spirit of Le Mans better than anyone else, and has such a great sense of humour. This year he has one of Lola's new LMP1 cars, the B06/10. His drivers are all steady and experienced, but as the Dyson team has shown here in the US, the turbocharged AER engine is a veritable grenade that will almost certainly go "bang" before 24 hours are up.

Tomorrow: LM-P2...

Friday, June 09, 2006


As the world focuses its attention on Germany for the World Cup finals, it's probably a good thing that the only event on my motorsport calendar this weekend is the British Grand Prix. There's no pro-level bike racing, no major touring car races, no WRC or US rallies and no sportscar races (they're all getting ready for the BIG one next weekend). I do know that both NASCAR and the IRL are racing this weekend but, well, that's oval racing innit? And that doesn't really feature on this blog...

In the meantime, in addition to catching up on last weekend's touring car races, we'll be cheering for England tomorrow morning as they take on Paraguay in the World Cup. Roooooooneeeeeeeeeyyyyyy!!!!! (yeah, I know he won't be playing yet, but still, it's an appropriately hooliganish chant).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

F1 Test Drivers

Today is Wednesday so that means it's Midweek Motorsport Day at Globecast 0157. The lads finished up going through their grid of 22 Formula 1 test drivers, so with all credit to them, I've written it out here.

Criteria for inclusion: For all these drivers test driving was the end of their F1 career (they either never got to drive F1 or attempted to rekindle a waning F1 career)

#22 - Chanoch Nissany - Hungarian who bought a ride and was far too slow
#21 - Andre Lotterer - the man who looks like a cat! Jag test driver who never actually ran
#20 - Ryan Briscoe - Crashed more single-seater cars than anyone else
#19 - James Courtney - Jag test driver in first Jag year, Alan Gow's prodigy
#18 - Jorg Muller - Michelin test driver, lost Petit Le Mans on 2nd-last lap
#17 - Tomas Scheckter - Jag test driver, arrested for picking up a hooker whilst in Jaguar team clothes and a Jaguar car!
#16 - Ricardo Sperafico - One of the many Sperafico brothers. Williams test driver
#15 - Patrick Lemarie - Mate of (and slower than) Villeneuve, who briefly drove for BAR
#14 - Max Papis - Test drove for Arrows but went on to a great career outside F1
#13 - Antonio Pizzonia - Crashed a Jag press car, badly injuring some journalists
#12 - Enrique Bernoldi - victim of Arrows failures
#11 - Bruno Junquiera - slower than Jenson Button, good driver, not brilliant
#10 - Pedro de la Rosa - ex-Jaguar test driver
#9 - Jean-Christophe Bouillion - Williams test driver, 1/2 season in Sauber
#8 - Nicola Larini -Former Ferrari test driver, podium in San Marino, became successful ETCC driver
#7 - Olivier Panis - Some question over Olivier's eligibility for the list it must be said
#6. Luciano Burti - Very tall. Tested with Ferrari and Jag.
#5. Ricardo Zonta - Sportscar and F3000 champ. Tested with BAR
#4. Marc Gene - 2nd year with Ferrari, after 3 years with Williams.
#3. Alex Wurz - Good sportscar driver. 6th season of testing. Very tall.
#2. Anthony Davidson - Tests with BAR. A distinct lack of momentum in his F1 career.
#1. Luca Badoer - 8th year of testing for Ferrari. Didn't even replace Schumacher after his accident at Silverstone in '99.

Remarkable the number of test-drivers Jaguar had...

On an entirely separate note, the MWM betting advice for this weekend's British Grand Prix was an each-way bet on Marc Webber, at 50-1. Sounds good to me - for a $4 investment ($2 each way), I could make $22 if Marc comes second or third, or $102 if he wins. Now, that's value betting, especially since Marc ran very well at Monaco until engine failure ended his race.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Jun Maeda, 1967-2006

Jun Maeda, the most successful Japanese motorcyclist to ever compete at the Isle of Man TT, has died of injuries sustained in a crash during last week's TT practice. It was Jun's eighth visit to the event, and he had hoped to build on progress made in 2003 when he got significant coaching from top road racer Martin Finnegan. Alas, it was not to be, as Jun and Irishman Seamus Greene collided with each other during Tuesday's practice session. Greene remains in critical condition. On days like this it's hard to get excited about the sport of real road racing. I'm in no hurry to visit the TT right now.

Deepest sympathies go out to Jun's family and friends.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Lauchlin in Wonderland

Congrats to my good buddy Lauchlin O'Sullivan, whose third place at the Susquehannock Trail Rally earned him a spot in the X-Games! The rally was won by Matt Iorio, followed by Travis Pastrana, both of whom have already secured invites to the X-Games. This meant that Lauchlin and fourth-placed finisher Andrew Pinker from Australia were rewarded with a chance to compete alongside the likes of Colin McRae!

Here's a pic of Lauchlin and I having a good old chinwag at my birthday party last year:

Bike racing wrap-up

Thanks to a temporary loss of my source for non-US racing, I only got to see the AMA and MotoGP races this weekend. I kept track of the TT and the Le Mans test day via the internet. As it stands right now I have no idea what happened in the British Superbike races, the Acropolis Rally or any of the three touring car events (Australian, British and World).

So anyway, I'll press on regardless...

The MotoGP race on Sunday was once again an absolute cracker. Many people (me included) have been talking up the resurgence of World Superbike this year, but the fact is that the tightest battles for the race lead have generally been in MotoGP, not WSBK. At one point in the Italian Grand Prix, a train of seven top riders were dicing for the lead. When Rossi made an error midway through the race he lost not one, not two, but three positions! The final outcome was one that the Italian crowd surely enjoyed: a win for Rossi and second place for Capirossi (an Italian on an Italian bike).

Nicky Hayden delivered another fine performance but once again was unable to secure the victory. It was another characteristic performance in which he ran with the top bikes without too much fuss. However, Nicky still seems to lack that final 5% confidence, not so much in his riding ability, which is equal to anyone except perhaps Rossi, but more in his belief that he can actually beat these guys. It's clear that he can. If you can pass Rossi for the lead of a race, then you can win. Nicky's Laguna win last year should have killed off that final shred of self-doubt, but I think that he (like many people) dismissed it as a fluke, due more to his track knowledge than any actual ability to win. What a shame - I'm sure the reason he won at Laguna was the simple belief that he COULD win. If he can go into every race like that, he will win the World Championship this year.

Back on this side of the pond, my prediction for the AMA Superbike races proved correct. This was the weekend that Mat Mladin stopped the rot. I was sure he'd win the first race, mainly because Mat is always sublimely good at Road America. Going into the second, I was expecting Ben Spies to fight back... which he did. Unfortunately, a red-flag mid-race wiped out his five second lead, allowed Mat to change his tyres (ruined in his fight back from a pathetic start) and basically gave him the equivelent of a re-boot after a potential "blue screen of death" situation. To be fair, the string of fast laps that Mat put in were insanely quick, and served to reiterate the fact that he is a remarkably talented guy.

Funny moment on the TV broadcast, as a quick interview with Ben Bostrom had him revealing that he was happy to roll around in 8th. Hate to say "I told you so"...

Over at the TT, John McGuinness got the job done in Superbike and broke the lap record twice. Not really surprising. Young Brit Ian Hutchinson put in a great performance, and went on to do very well in the Superstock race too, losing out to quick Kiwi Bruce Anstey. No additional serious injuries to report, but a few small crashes (I never understand how any crash at the TT can be small). The three riders in critical condition from earlier accidents have not improved.

I think I'll hold off on discussion of the Le Mans test day, and roll it all into one big preview article. Big news on this end is that planning for our annual Le Mans party is now underway, and tartiflette and merguez feature prominently in our plans. Yum!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Well done Liam!

Anyone who is a regular visitor to the Bay Area Riders Forum knows the name Liam Shubert, or "MotoLiam" as he's more widely known. Last year Liam, who had a strong background in motorcycle wrenching, took off for Barcelona to pursue his dream of working for a MotoGP team. Living by his wits, his remarkable ability to meet (and make friends with) MotoGP insiders and his huge passion for the sport, he spent all winter seeking a job. As the season started up, Liam was still without his dream job. However, he still managed to find some work with Luis D'Antin's non-GP projects, as well as with Spanish championship team Folch Yamaha.

Finally, this week, Liam was hired to work for the D'Antin Ducati MotoGP team. If ever there was an example of persistance paying off, this is it. Way to go Liam, all your supporters back in the US are extremely proud of you, man!

(photo credit: Liam Shubert)

Weekend preview (it's Le Mans test weekend too)

After a relatively quiet weekend a week ago, there's a lot happening in the next few days...

Le Mans testing: Sunday will offer us the best indication yet of the form guide for the 24 Hours. All the entrants will be there, along with most of the drivers. Radio coverage at Globecast 0157, and live timing and scoring on the ACO website.

WRC: Ah, the legendary Acropolis rally. Rough rallies like this have always been Ford's forte, so perhaps we'll finally see Marcus Gronholm overcome his terrible run of bad luck. Red Bull Skoda are along for the party again, and notable non-manufacturer entries include Dani Sordo, Jussi Valimaki, Alex Bengue, Jan Kopecky, Francois Duval and (finally) Toni Gardemeister, who has a Citroen Xsara for the weekend.

MotoGP: Nestled in a beautiful Tuscan valley, Mugello is the only current MotoGP circuit with a configuration that is unchanged from the 70s. So as Bob on MotoGPod says, you can get a good idea of how current riders stack up against Sheene, Roberts Sr., Mamola and other legends. The widely held opinion about this weekend's race is that Rossi will finally get his title chase back on track.

Rally America: Pennsylvania hosts the 30th running of the Susquehannock Trail Rally, traditionally one of the "powerhouse" US rallies. It's also the scene of the biggest crash of my rallying career (see pic). The added "spice" this weekend is that the top two finishers who haven't yet been invited to the X-Games will get a place. I'm rooting for my good friend and fellow San Franciscan Lauchlin O'Sullivan.

AMA: Can Ben Spies extend his win streak this weekend? My money says no, I think Mat M'Lady will finally strike back. Look for Honda, Kawasaki and Ducati to continue to suck. If only Yamaha were in the game too - I really think Jamie Hacking and Jason DiSalvo could be up front in Superbike. They looked so fast when I was at the last round at Infineon. Oh well.

Touring cars: The Aussies are at Winton, the World Touring Cars are at Oschersleben and the British guys are at Thruxton. A busy weekend worldwide for anyone in the business of straightening bent panels. I have a sneaking suspicion that BMW may do well in the WTCC this weekend. The tight corners of Oschersleben may suit the Beemers' superb traction under power.

BSB: The British Superbike folks go into battle at the notoriously tricky Mallory Park. Practice has already seen a lot of accidents (nothing serious), which proves how challenging the track is. Greg Lavilla continues to lead the title race by a huge margin, but Ryuichi Kiyonari has shown well in practice and might be up for it in the two races. And of course you never discount the terrific Shakey Byrne...

Isle of Man TT: This is it - after a week of practice, it's "game on", with the Superbike race on Saturday. John McGuinness set a blistering time on Wednesday and has to come in as favourite. Should he have any problems though, there's a number of riders who can pull off consistent 125-126mph laps, which should keep them in contention.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

TT Scoreboards

It would be somewhat morbid to only post news on TT accidents, so I should point out that yesterday's practice session saw John McGuinness post an unofficial fastest lap of 127.81mph. Windy conditions abated and saw Guy Martin and Ian Lougher both go very fast with laps of 126.41mph and 125.39mph respectively. The wind returned today, and McGuinness spent most of the day on his Superstock bike, so no records were broken. Martin improved his time with a 126.80mph and Bruce Anstey turned in a good time of 126.15mph.

Todays casualty list update:
Dave Molyneux - injured in sidecar crash today - arm and chest injuries
Craig Hallam - injured in sidecar crash today - road rash
David Bell - injured today - broken wrist
Robbie Sylvester - injured today - fractured leg
Keith Stewart - injured today - knee and rib injuries
Seamus Greene - injured on Tuesday - still critical but stable
Jun Maeda - injured on Tuesday - still critical
Doug Dano - injured on Saturday - discharged from hospital yesterday
James Cornell - injured on Saturday - still critical

Another rough day, although none of today's crashes appear to be especially serious. It sounds like Jun Maeda is in the worst condition, so I've got my fingers crossed that things improve for him soon.