Friday, September 29, 2006

Petit Le Mans is tomorrow

The third prong to sportscar "triple crown" (on the Le Mans racing side of things anyway) happens tomorrow: the Petit Le Mans. Race duration is 10 hours or 1000 miles, and most importantly the winners of each class get an automatic selection for next year's Le Mans 24 Hours. There is one caveat however: you gotta be running in ACO-spec. This means that if the Aston Martins take the weight break that has been handed to them by IMSA all year, and win, they don't get the pre-selection. This is not the end of the world for them, since they already have one entry for coming second in the 24 this year, and a second entry is almost 100% certain. It is also an issue for any teams running cars that are not legal LMP1 or LMP2 cars, for example the Lolas that Highcroft Racing and Autocon Racing have - they are actually older LMP675 cars and would have been ineligible to run in the 24 this year or any of the Le Mans Series races (the ALMS chose to "grandfather" them in order to boost its entry numbers.)

Not to keep harping on about the same thing over and over, but a 28-car entry at PLM is pretty poor, yet officials, media and even Radio Le Mans are all saying it's no big deal, the racing is great, the crowds are good, car count isn't important, the technology is fascinating, blah, blah... Well call me selfish but I want more cars in the ALMS. If the European series can get 45 entries, why can't we? Everyone is saying the LMS and ALMS are going from strength to strength, but until I see more entries I'm going to be skeptical. The old adage in sportscar racing is that you can't believe anything about new cars until they line up on the grid.

All that being said, I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow, and will be tuned in to Speed Channel and Radio Le Mans all day. I'll even forego a night of boozing tonight so I can wake up early to see the start!

(photo credit: American Le Mans Series)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Touring car update

It's a while since I've mentioned any of the touring car series, so time for a quick update...

British Touring Cars: Against all odds, SEAT's Jason Plato remains in contention going into the final round, thanks in part to a bizarre crash from championship leader Matt Neal at Brands Hatch. He snuck up the inside of Vauxhall's Tom Chilton two laps from the end of the third race, and found his car launched into the air after a wheel-on-wheel piece of contact. This unceremoniously dumped him into the gravel trap.

It seems like Neal's Team Halfords have it all their own way this year, so I'm hoping Jason Plato can pull it out of the bag. I like Jason, mainly because he's never afraid to speak his mind, regardless of how un-P.C. his comments might be.

World Touring Cars: A while back I wrote about how great this series is, and it has continued to be really, really close. As if to prove my point, the top two drivers in the championship (Andy Priaulx and James Thompson) both scored nothing at the last round in Turkey, giving Gabriele Tarquini and Rickard Rydell a chance to get back into the title fight. With four races left to go, the top 14 drivers are all mathematically capable of taking the championship. Realistically, it's the top 9 that could do it, with a spread of 14 points and 40 points on the table from Valencia and Macau.

German DTM: Although Audi's Tom Kristensen was very much in contention most of the year, a dismal run at Barcelona has given leader Bernd Schneider an 18 point lead with only 20 points remaining. Odds are that Bernd will take it at the next round at the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans. Now, I'm not afraid to admit to being wrong, so I'll refer you to this post. I didn't include Schneider in my list of 5 favourites to win, yet he's once again on form, which always spells misery for his DTM rivals.

Aussie V8 Supercars: The legendary Bathurst 1000 is just around the corner...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WRC bombshell

I'd never wish ill-fortune on anyone, but we have an interesting twist that follows on from my general bitch session about Rally Cyprus being boring.

Sebastien Loeb has broken his arm.

The poor fella, who suffers no issues during WRC events, has now managed to really make a mess of his run for the WRC crown by crashing his mountain bike. He'll miss Rally Turkey for sure, and time will tell if he's fixed by Australia at the end of October.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

WRC got dull

I have to admit to being a bit bored watching this weekend's World Rally event from Cyprus. It was the same old story: Marcus Gronholm starts well, Seb Loeb fights back, something causes Marcus to slip to second, then Seb stretches a lead and wins.

We saw drama befall the two other Citroens, but why doesn't Loeb ever suffer mechanical failures?

On the plus side, there was this terrific crash, skillfully executed by Spanish bricklayer Dani Sordo on a stage that wasn't even counting for time!!!:

Phillip-Gate drags on

The drama surrounding the lack of penalty applied to Valentino Rossi for passing under yellows at the Aussie GP continues.

The Speed Channel website has just posted a copy of a letter sent to the head of the FIM's road racing commission expressing displeasure that Rossi received no official sanctions despite the fact that he clearly passed Casey Stoner under yellow flags.

From what I can tell Rossi made the pass not once but twice. After the first pass he was repassed by Stoner, which under MotoGP rules means no penalty is necessary - Rossi redressed the situation himself. This is the pass that race officials saw. However, they missed the second pass, which definitely was under yellow and which was not redressed by Rossi on-track. Championship leader Nicky Hayden saw the whole thing and was sure a penalty would be applied - as such he didn't push any harder to catch Rossi, convinced that Rossi would lose some places and points at the end of the event.

However, MotoGP rules require penalties for passing under yellow be applied during the race. Since that didn't happen, nothing can now be done. Had Hayden known this would be the case, he says he would have pushed much harder, and this is the source of his displeasure about the whole thing.

Since the MotoGP championship will almost certainly go down to a matter of a point or two, this is a controversy that is not going away. At the heart of the issue is the fact that officials missed the infraction (something they openly admit to) and that the rules don't allow for post-race penalties. Both aspects of the issue need looking at, and need it immediately.

Click on the pic below to see the letter from Honda to the FIM. Photo credit: Speed Channel

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

News bites

Generally a slow newsweek in motorsport but some items that caught my ear:

  • Ilmor, the company that builds McLaren's Mercedes engines in F1 is planning on entering MotoGP in 2007 with it's own bike. This is not news. What is though is that they'll run it in the last two races of the season with the master of the rear wheel slide Garry McCoy on board.
  • The Spyker F1 project continues to move forward, with the latest development being a repainting of the car. As with most things Dutch it is now painted orange. To be honest I'm pulling for these guys, since they're a bona fide sportscar manufacturer who happen to have picked up some good financing from the Middle East and Dutch computer giant.
  • Next year is looking increasingly shakey for Carl Fogarty's World Superbike team. They have yet to line up a sponsor to replace Petronas, or pick a bike to run. Even worse, they've just lost star rider Steve Martin, who moves to his old team, DFX, to take the place of Frankie Chili, who is retiring.
  • This weekend will see the debut of the Lavaggi LMP1 car in the final round of the Le Mans Series.
  • It's been confirmed that Tommy Hayden will move from the Kawasaki team in AMA Superbike to Suzuki, taking the place of the aging, slowing Aaron Yates.
  • Former F1 driver Jean Alesi is about to be a former DTM driver too. He's had a tough season in a year-old car and is probably fed-up with being uncompetitive.
  • Suzuki clinched the World Endurance crown last weekend at the Bol d'Or (again). They've been the class of the field for a number of seasons.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The biggest silly season news yet

Despite an extremely busy week I can't help but post on the biggest "what are they doing next year" story to come through yet...

No, no, I'm not talking about Michael Schumacher retiring.

We're talking about Max Biaggi finally securing a ride with the Suzuki World Superbike team!

Actually, the Schumacher story is much bigger, especially as it means that Kimi Raikkonen will take his place at Ferrari. We'll finally have a completely open Formula 1 season next year, with Alonso in the awfully unreliable McLarens, Kimi struggling to gel with the Ferrari culture and a host of other drivers looking to make their name.

But back to Biaggi... the question is now raised as to who will be his team-mate. Troy Corser does not have a contract for 2007, and nor does Yukio Kagayama. There's talk that Troy and Max will be in the "A" Suzuki team and Yukio will pair with Max Neukirchner in a "B" team.

Finally, the menu for this weekend's racing includes MotoGP at Phillip Island, FIA GT in Mugello, British Superbike at Silverstone and the FIM's World Endurance Championship is at Magny Cours for the Bol D'Or.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Peter Brock, 1945-2006

I'm terribly saddened to have to write that one of Australia's biggest motorsport legends, Peter Brock, has died. After a hugely successful career in Australian touring car racing, Brock turned his attention to closed-road "targa"-style events, and it was in just such a race that he crashed into a tree earlier today.

Although he may not be as well known around the world as fellow Aussie racers Mick Doohan, Jack Brabham, Alan Jones or even modern stars such as Mark Webber or Chris Atkinson, in his homeland he was highly revered.

His biggest achievement was winning the Bathurst 1000 six times in seven years. He also won the Australian Touring Car Championship on three occasions and was a frequent visitor to the podium in that series. He was known for being a Holden stalwart throughout his career and was responsible for developing some very quick road-going specials that are still in high demand today.

I'm not going to pollute this post with too much finger-pointing, but I honestly believe Targa events are some of the most dangerous in motorsport. Every time I watch the Targa Newfoundland or Targa Tasmania I'm amazed at how drivers with very little experience are able to take extremely fast cars out onto generally quick roads. This is not the tightly controlled world of the WRC, which tends to run on more rural roads than Targas (less to hit and usually twistier) and has better safety support. Now I'm not saying that Brock was either inexperienced or that it was the fault of the event organizers, I'm just saying that the probability of further Targa fatalities shouldn't be underestimated given the generally "amateur" style of these races.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chris Walker wins

It's been a long time coming, but the British fans' favourite in World Superbike, Chris "The Stalker" Walker finally got a win in WSB at Assen on Sunday. Who'd have thought that after the first corner, where he was run off the track and rejoined in 26th, he'd win?

It was an outrageously wet race, so you can hardly say the circumstances were normal, but in these conditions The Stalker was the class of the field, consistently lapping 2-3 seconds a lap faster than anyone else.

It's hard to not like the Yorkshireman - modest, self-effacing, yet brutally aggressive on-track, you only need to watch his riding style to know that this bloke means business. All the more surprising that in conditions that demanded the smoothest inputs, he was able to tame the beast and stay on the bike when all around him the top superbike riders in the world were not.

Troy Corser was the first to go, with yet another DNF in what is becoming a nightmare second-half of the season. Before long championship leader Troy Bayliss was making regular off-track excursions, at one point distracting Yukio Kagayama so badly that the Suzuki rider crashed. Third time off the track Bayliss was done for good. This left Nitro Nori Haga in the position of taking back 25 valuable points and reigniting the championship race. Alas, Nori lowsided into the wet grass with no hope of getting going again. Next up was habitual crasher Ruben Xaus, who was enjoying a fine day out in the puddles until he pushed too hard. This left solid riders such as Andrew Pitt and Michel Fabrizio leading the race. If it hadn't been for Walker carving his way through the field, it's likely Pitt would've won. Fair play, though, he complimented Walker in the post-race interview, acknowledging that he'd been beaten fair and square.

It was undoubtedly the ride of Chris Walker's life, and one of the more sublime wet-weather rides I've ever seen. Most importantly a genuinely nice chap enjoyed the well-deserved moment of his life. Nice.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's Friday, so tell me what's happening

Okay, I will, and a lot is going this weekend:

The WRC is in Japan, so another chance for Marcus Gronholm to take back two more points from Seb Loeb. At this rate he only needs about 20 more rallies and he'll be champion....

World Superbike is in Assen, scene of Troy Bayliss' season-defining crash in 2002 that allowed Colin Edwards to fight for the title at the last race in Imola. Bayliss is back, and I'm sure he'll be very quick.

The AMA Superbike paddock heads to Road Atlanta. Surely another Suzuki-fest is on the cards but the question as usual is "which Suzuki will win?"

Canadians get a chance to see the ALMS this weekend at Mosport. This should be the last time we have to suffer small grids in the ALMS this season, since the final two rounds, the Petit Le Mans and the Laguna Seca 4 Hours, will be chock-full of new arrivals.

The World Touring Car Championship returns to Europe, Brno to be exact, after it's trip to the Western Hemisphere. As I discussed here, this series is extremely exciting, so I can't wait to see how the weight-handicapping lottery will affect the results.

I missed out on discussion of the last two rounds of the DTM from Norisring and Nurburgring, and therefore didn't get to mention how Bruno Spengler won his first two races for Mercedes. We'll see if he can continue the streak amongst the sand dunes of Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

Down in Australia, the V8 Supercars have their first of two enduro races, at Sandown Raceway. Check out my mid-season roast for more info.

The fourth of the touring car series in action this weekend is the British, who head north to Knockhill in Scotland. This one's always exciting - something about Knockhill makes for tight racing.

The FIA GT series has their second French race in two weeks, moving from Paul Ricard to Dijon. Lamborghini returns, along with the debut of a Pagani Zonda.

Finally, here in the States, the US Rally Championship is in Tennessee, for a tarmac event (not too many of those in the US). Entry list thus far is a bit thin, with 25 cars, so heopefully they'll snag a bunch of last-minute arrivals.

That's it. Luckily it's a three-day weekend, so plenty of time to keep track of all the weekend's goings-on.