Thursday, September 11, 2008

Here we go again

Time to finally break radio silence, and what a way to do it: a rant about this whole AMA situation.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the AMA Superbike championship has been the top US motorcycle racing series for many years, featuring the participation of all four Japanese manufacturers. However, it's had its problems:

  • A confusing set of rules which have changed a number of times and overlapping classes have caused a lack of continuity. Although the class structure appears to be kind of similar to the World and British championships with 1000cc Superbikes, 1000cc Superstock machines and 600cc Supersport bikes, the reality is very different. Superbike rules allow for a level of sophistication similar to that found in WSBK. This effectively shuts out privateers from winning, even a very well-funded satellite team like Jordan Suzuki. As such, they go play in Superstock, which features slick tyres, and then bring those Superstock bikes into the Superbike race, effectively forming a class within a class, a kind of "best of the rest" deal. Furthermore, there's a fourth class called Formula Xtreme, which is kind of a 600cc Superbike: much more leeway for modification and innovation. Once again you have the same problem, a couple of heavyweight manufacturer teams thrashing the pants of Supersport riders looking for extra track time.
  • The racing is DULL, DULL, DULL. For some reason, Suzuki have been dominant for years. In fact, in the last two seasons a non-Suzuki has only won ONE race of the 38 run. The pattern is always the same: the two Suzukis roar out front pull miles ahead and may or may not fight it out amongst themselves. Meanwhile the other manufacturers have a second battle (along with one or two satellite bikes) whilst the true privateers wander around on their Superstock bikes waiting to get lapped.
Clearly change was needed, and when the AMA sold the series to the NASCAR-affiliated Daytona Motorsports Group, change was coming. However, DMG came up with a wacky class structure that seemed to elevate the Formula Xtreme-ish 600 Superbike class to the level of headliner, with a lame-duck 1000cc Superstock-type class called Literbike playing second fiddle. The manufacturers, who may have been okay with some levelling of the playing field and adoption of BSB-style Superbike rules (which are more like Superstock and allow for closer competition), were furious. They needed the premier class to be 1000cc, and I have to agree with them there. It didn't work very well when the Daytona 200 switched to Formula Xtreme, so the lesson should have been learnt.

The damage was done. No amount of backpedaling could fix it and conciliatory gestures by DMG such as "local variance" rules couldn't divert the manufacturers from their chosen course of action, establishment of a rival series, called the US Superbike Championship. DMG fucked up. Their attempt to tighten up the racing by removing technology and power from the manufacturers was worthy, but they seemed to forget that no matter what happens, the Big Four had to be involved, because even though they cause poor racing, they bring money, prestige, cool bikes and the best riders with them.

The split is bad news, there's no doubt about it, and even though USSB is saying it's not like the CART/IRL split, the effects will be the same. Everyone will have to pick a side: mechanics, riders, teams, promoters, media, TV networks, and, worst of all, fans. I can see some privateers sticking with DMG, safe in the knowledge that with the factories gone they have a chance at being AMA Superbike champion. Riders like Chris Perez, Martin Cardenas, Scott Jensen, Tony Meiring and Ben Thompson all now have a legit shot at the title. I'd guess that most satellite teams e.g. those that aren't factories but that bring the big trucks like Corona Honda, Jordan Suzuki, Hotbodies Racing and Rockwall Honda will go to USSB. Teams that have done well in Formula Xtreme may stick with DMG, such as Boulder Motorsports and Pegram Racing, both of which run Ducatis. True privateers may end up cherrypicking the best races from either series.

I can't imagine what will happen next. One thing is for sure: we're doomed to sit through another season of desperately boring American Superbike racing, regardless of whose name sits at the top of the program.

Monday, August 18, 2008


As you can tell, this blog has been very quiet lately. A combination of factors, including other things that are demanding much of my attention and brainpower, as well as a general lack of inspiration to write are to blame. The midseason also tends to be less contentious than the start, end and period between racing seasons, and blogs thrive on contention.

I'll return to the blog once those factors cease to be factors. Until then, enjoy your summer (or winter if you're in the southern hemisphere...)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


An extremely important topic is under discussion today on the Midweek Motorsport podcast: have there ever been any major motorsport champions who had beards at the time of achieving their championships?

It appears that the answer is no, making me wonder whether having extensive sideburns is causing me to be slower at trackdays than I otherwise would be.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Onion meets Jalopnik

How the fuck did I miss this? From the depraved mind of Evo columnist and Top Gear script editor Richard Porter, Sniff Petrol is like The Onion for the automotive world. I've already wasted many minutes this afternoon trying to catch up. One of my favourite features is David "Crazy D" Coulthard's column in which he's talking like Ali G. Check it yo...

The annual US MotoGP review post

Since 2001 I haven't missed Laguna Seca's July motorcycle race weekend, with four years of World Superbike followed by 4 years of MotoGP. The transition from WSBK to MotoGP in 2005 was a tough one. On the one hand we were totally excited to see those amazing bikes and to have the biggest bike racing series there is in town. On the other hand we were shocked at the mind-numbing price gouging both in Monterey and at the track. The massive crowds only added to the misery making getting in and out of the track difficult, as well as getting around once there. Nicky Hayden's debut win helped make up for much of the negatives but I couldn't shake the feeling that something had been lost

The following year promised much but delivered little. Hayden won again, but it was less exciting, whilst the brain-frying 110 degree heat, coupled with a disastrous shuttle bus system for people who came in cars made for what was basically a shitty day. We had even foregone the usual plan of going for two days and staying in Monterey, gunshy of the hotel prices.

In 2007 we skipped the shuttle bus drama by riding in, although it turned out that they'd figured out the buses by then. It was this year that it seemed like Laguna Seca had finally gotten the hang of things, and the only major disappointment was the race, which turned out to be rather tedious.

This year again promised a dull race set against a backdrop of a well-run and easy-to-attend event. Anyone who watched the race knows that we were wrong on the first assumption, and I'm happy to say we were right about the second one. For the fourth year in a row we chose a different transportation option, going with the expensive (but worth it) VIP car parking pass. Getting in and out of the track was a breeze, and we were able to offset the cost of the pass by bringing our own food and beer, which wouldn't have been possible if we'd ridden or parked offsite and taken the shuttle.

Attendance was slightly down this year. In 2005 all 54,000 tickets sold out. For '06 the total available fell to 48,000, once again sold out, a feat repeated in 2007. This year there were 1,000 tickets left on the table - not bad at all. It felt busy, but it felt nice (see pic of me enjoying a drink above turn two!) and I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the day, so much so that I might consider returning to the two-day plan for 2009.

And what about that race? Valentino Rossi proved once again why he is the greatest rider of his generation and perhaps the greatest ever, and Casey Stoner showed an almost Gibernau-ish indignance after being beaten fair and square by the Italian. It was certainly popular with the crowd... check out this shot of their reaction as he crossed the finish line to take the win:

Monday, July 21, 2008

A racing companion

For most people (particularly men) who follow motorsport, it's a lonely pursuit. Unless they have equally enthusiastic friends who are into the sport, they're forced to find internet forums where they can have rewarding, meaningful discussions and engage in discourse about their hobby. I can imagine this could get frustrating.

Luckily for me, that's not the case. When I first met my partner K nine years ago, there was little indication that she had any interest in any sport, never mind motor racing. She didn't even have a TV, let alone cable and she'd never seen the Speedvision channel. A typical situation could have developed where one partner learns to tolerate the interests of another, but in this case something strange happened.

Straight off the bat, she developed a fondness for my cranky but lovable Alfa Romeo Milano. This was a good start. Then she began to come to races, beginning with a trip to the Wine Country Classic historic races at Sears Point. That weekend was brutally hot and could so easily have turned her off racing forever. It didn't, perhaps because historic racing presents such a friendly, low-key environment or maybe because she was able to witness first-hand my enthusiasm.

When I bought a motorcycle she was envious, having had a certain amount of experience in hanging out with the messenger biking crowd here in SF, as well as having learned to ride many years ago. It wasn't long before she was also on two wheels again. As my interest in motorcycles grew, so did my interest in motorcycle racing, so she was able to share in the process of learning about this new side of the sport.

It wasn't too hard a sell in 2002 when we went to Italy for three weeks to convince her that we needed a night in Milan (to ensure a visit to the Alfa Romeo museum the next day) and a night in Modena so we had time to visit Ferrari. She loved the Alfa facility (which felt more like a private collection) but was less excited about Ferrari, which was more of tourist trap.

Back in the US my interest in rallying began to increase, and before long I'd had a chance to go to the WRC event in Sweden which convinced me to learn how to co-drive. My first event saw K come along to work as a timing marshal. Despite the fact she stood on the side of a mountain in pouring rain for hours on end she continued to enjoy rallying. It was at this point that she revealed her mother had been a co-driver many years back. Aha! So it's in the genes! Now everything started to make sense....

Late in 2003 we both went to the WRC event in Wales. This was surely going to be the make-or-break moment. As we stood in freezing fog on the Rhondda stage on Sunday morning, with her favourite driver Carlos Sainz out of the rally two days prior, could she still muster excitement and enthusiasm? The answer came from behind a tightly-drawn hooded rain jacket... "yes!"

Pretty soon she was joining the annual pilgrimage to the July bike race at Laguna Seca, initially World Superbike, then MotoGP for the last four years, each year educating whichever newcomers had joined us that year.

It was only a matter of time before she came with me on the ultimate racing trip... a visit to the Le Mans 24 Hours. Sadly, the gods decided that since she was clearly able to cope with wet motorsport events, it would rain like the devil on Le Mans in 2007. Once again she kept her chin up, and was rewarded with a great time and apart from the first and last couple of hours, a dry race (and a dry pitwalk on the Friday, evidenced in the picture below). It was quite a step up from our annual Le Mans weekend barbecues back in San Francisco which she'd taken to leading the arrangement of.

She was even brave enough to come to see NASCAR this year. She got a very good look at Michael Waltrip:

So, where to next for my racing partner-in-crime? Well, after we take the plunge of actually becoming married, she can look forward to a little high-speed action herself, perhaps beginning with an autocross and then moving to some track days, now that we have a car worthy of such pursuits. If past experience is anything to go by, I should be ready to start buying tyres on a regular basis, as she proceeds to become equally excited by engaging in some on-track fun as I have been.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Audi, building their brand

Last week I took part in something called the Audi Driving Experience. This was a totally free event up at Sears Point. Let me say right off that this was a clear attempt to sell some 2009 Audi A4s, but beyond that it was clearly much more, and hints at the very clever approach that Audi have in regards to building their brand.

The day began with complimentary breakfast in the main area of their purpose-built Audi Experience complex at Sears Point. We were split into two groups and each went to a classroom for a briefing on what to expect and a quick overview of the new A4. We were told that we would be "test drivers" of the new A4, a car that many car magazines have yet to drive.

Next up was an autocross. We paired up with another attendee and each of us got one lap of the course in each of four cars: a Mercedes C300, Lexus IS250F, BMW 328xi and the A4 3.2 Quattro. All four cars were four-wheel-drive, with similar engine sizes and spec levels. To be fair, the Audi was the spendiest at an MSRP of $48,000 compared with the $38k Lexus, the cheapest. Chris, my partner for the morning and I chose well by starting with the Merc before progressing to the Lexus, then Beemer then Audi. Funnily enough, that was also the ascending order of perfomance, and Audi clearly did a good job of proving that the A4 is the best. Despite its horsepower advantage over its rivals, I found that the Quattro system was the best of the 4WD drivetrains, with no annoying chatter of the outside rear wheel under hard acceleration out of corners, something that the Merc and Lexus were especially guilty of.

A couple of things to note here. Firstly the two guys running the autocross course were familiar to me: former Mitsubishi USA factory rally driver Lauchlin O'Sullivan, who lives here in San Francisco and who I know pretty well; and Ramana Lagemann, former Subaru USA factory rally driver. Secondly, it was a great reminder of just how much fun an autocross is. Both Chris and I were not afraid to really cane the nuts off the cars. Other participants were a bit more timid. I came away resolute to get my Subaru STi to an autocross soon. It will also be an ideal introduction into performance driving for my fiancee K, who is itching to get the Scoob onto a track day soon.

After the autocross it was over to the pitlane, where we set up in some more A4s. More rally drivers were in attendance here including a former Production-GT class rival, Stephan Verdier. We were led onto the track by an instructor in a TT and each got five or so laps, with the instructor leading us around by means of example and through walkie-talkies installed in each car. It worked very well and I thoroughly enjoyed my laps. The A4 was a decent car to have beneath me too: predictable, with decent grunt and a nicely setup chassis that was soft enough for road conditions but stiff enough for a few harmless laps of Sears.

What became obvious throughout the morning was that Audi are one of the most brand-aware car manufacturers out there. They know that BMW owns the "best German sport-sedan" title in the minds of the public and their inferiority complex has led them to put a lot of dollars into efforts to prove themselves sportier. This is why it's Audi who have the last eight Le Mans wins (yes, 2003 was a Bentley-badged Audi) and why they spend millions of dollars every year on initiatives like the A4 Driving Experience. I think it works. If someone were to ask me what the sportiest German car manufacturer is, ten years ago there's no doubt that BMW would be the answer. These days I'd probably be just as likely to say Audi. If I was offered either a BMW M3 or an Audi RS4, I'd probably take the Audi. It would be a tossup between an RS6 and an M5, but the fact that a car like that can come close to the amazing M5 says loads. It was an S4 that was so very nearly my next car back in March, not an M3. And BMW's reticence to leverage their F1 efforts, still hiding behind the "Sauber" moniker whilst Audi are loud and proud about their dominance at Le Mans, is helping tip the scales Audi's way too.

I've always imagined my next car would be an Audi S-something. Their investment in brand-building through sportscar racing, along with giving me the keys to a new A4 for the morning have done nothing to undermine that prediction, that's for sure.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Been kinda quiet...

Yes, it's true, I've been very neglectful of this blog for the past couple of weeks but I've compiled a decent list of excuses to justify my lax approach:

  1. I got engaged to my longtime (9 years) partner K. Despite the fact that being so very anti-wedding we've decided to do a low-key thing at City Hall, we still wanted a party. So instead of a stuffy, expensive wedding reception, we're throwing an engagement party at the end of August. This is taking a little bit of planning to put together, so I've had slightly less spare time than usual. Look for a blog post very soon that will talk about how K is everything a male racing fan could ask for in a wife...
  2. There's a term in baseball, "the dog days of summer", which refers to that period which exists after the excitement of the early stages of the season and before interest rises towards the end of the season. This coincides with the end of summer, when the days are long, hot and (since most baseball stadiums are in cities) muggy, sticky, hazy with pollution and generally unpleasant. I find the middle of the racing season shares some similar characteristics. All of the pre-season questions have been answered, any surprises that might be thrown up have done so, and we're still a long way from the end so we're not quite at the "nail-biting tension" phase. As a result, finding something interesting to write about is more difficult, and I'd rather not write than write drivel.
  3. WRC is on a break and MotoGP is about to do the same.
  4. Let's face it, in the summer the last thing you want to be doing is sitting inside working on a laptop (unless you're in windy and cold San Francisco like me, in which case, sometimes you do, such as right now!)
How does all that sound? Convincing enough?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Watch out

Timekeeping has always been an integral part of motorsport, and as I've become more interested in watches lately I've become much more aware of how closely linked the two industries are. These relationships seem to always be win-win: watch manufacturers gain credibility by associating themselves with the glamorous, sporty and hi-tech image of motorsport; and racing series, teams and drivers gain credibility by associating with the precision craftsmanship and luxury image of high-end timepieces. Just flick through the pages of British motoring magazines to see what I mean - ads all over the place for TAG-Heuer, Oris, Chopard, Breitling and more. Often you find watch reviews in their editorial too. In fact, American weekly rag Autoweek ran a feature on auto-inspired watches last month.

So where can we find these relationships? Generally in three areas: "official timekeeper" roles, sponsorship and endorsements and naming rights.

Official timekeeping deals are usually done with a race or with a racing series. In exchange for providing hardware and manpower to help run timing and scoring, a watch manufacturer sees their name notated on every timing caption on TV. In addition they often get to use the name and branding of the series on their products. Back in the 80s I can clearly remember seeing the Longines name during every Formula 1 broadcast before it was replaced by TAG-Heuer. Another big timekeeping deal right now is MotoGP's association with Tissot, which has spawned a MotoGP watch. The blingiest of all the Swiss watches, Rolex, is official timekeeper at Le Mans, as evidenced by the big Rolex clock hanging above the pitlane entry.

Watch manufacturers have long had a sponsorship presence in motorsport. What caught my eye most recently was Oris' name on Williams F1 cars. The deal with Williams has resulted in a lovely range of WilliamsF1 watches too. Breitling, best known for their aviation-inspired chronometer watches, were all over the Bentley Le Mans efforts in 2001, '02 and '03. A spin-off watch range resulted (a bit gaudy for my taste, I have to admit). Sponsorships do not just come from high-end luxury Swiss manufacturers: mid-range Italian watchmaker Breil sponsor the racing operations of Ducati Corse.

The biggest area of interaction between watchmaking and motorsport is in endorsements and naming rights. There's a myriad of watch collections out there with famous racing names on them, from the Chopard Mille Miglia to the TAG-Heuer SLR to the Panerai Ferrari to Jacques Lemans' mid-priced F1 range. Many top racers also lend either their name or image to watches including Nicky Hayden (Tissot), Kimi Raikkonen (TAG-Heuer) and Michael Schumacher (Omega). Even Marcus Gronholm has a watch endorsement, although in his case he's gone for Japanese maker Orient. For a more tenuous racing connection, look no further than Steve McQueen's association with the utterly cool Heuer Monaco, the watch he wore in the movie Le Mans.

The racing / watch dynamic is extremely interesting and really comes with only one downside... cost. Most of the watches I mention above cost at least $1500 and can run up to $6000 in some cases. Ever wondered why there's so many emails in your junk mail folder with the subject line "Replica Watches" or something similar....?

Monday, June 30, 2008

NASCAR first-timer's report

I popped my NASCAR cherry last weekend, by going up to Infineon not just once, but twice.

Saturday morning I went up with a friend who does some design work for one of the drivers and had managed to snag us a couple of credentials. Having free entry makes it so much easier to leave early and not feel weird about it which was exactly our plan. Being on motorcycles alos made things easier since we could enter the main gate and park right next to the paddock (good tip if you're ever planning on going to Infineon).

When we arrived we immediately got a close-up of the cars at pit-in, where the entrance to the paddock was. They looked very, very big, projecting an impressive physical presence thanks to the brightly coloured liveries. Unfortunately, our supposed "all access" passes were no good whilst the Sprint Cup cars were on track. We'd have to wait until noon, when they were done, to get into the paddock area. In the meantime we took a stroll around the vendor area and then sat in the grandstands to watch practice and happy hour. It was pretty cool stuff, the cars seeming to be reaching high speeds in spite of themselves. One particular view, of the middle of the esses complex, had the cars loading up their left side over a small crest, the weight visibly shifting. The noise was also pretty spectacular, reminiscent of Australian V8 Supercars. Speaking of which, former Aussie V8 champ Marcos Ambrose was making his first Sprint Cup start, and had qualified an impressive 8th alongside fellow former road racer Robby Gordon. The field was actually very well stocked with road course veterans, including Scott Pruett, Max Papis, Ron Fellows and Boris Said.

Once the cars were finished with their sessions we were allowed into the Sprint Cup paddock area. I have never in all my life seen so many semi tractor-trailers lined up like that. It was pretty interesting. The cars themselves were mainly in the garages, although I did get a nice close-up look at Michael Waltrip's "Toyota". The quality of the construction and preparation of the cars was very high despite their relatively low-tech nature.

And that was that for Saturday.

Sunday was going to be different, mainly due to the massive amounts of people going. Once again we took the bikes and once again got parked pretty close to the track, with no major traffic issue going in. Our pit walk passes were great, allowing us to get close to virtually all the cars, as well as view the track from the hot pit area.

After a stroll around the merchandise area (impressive but nothing like the massive merch presence at Bathurst) we grabbed some lunch and headed for our seats at turn two. The pre-race was a bit of a drawn out affair but allowed everyone a chance to cheers for / boo their favorite / least favorite driver, which was good fun. Finally the race got underway, as 43 cars charged through the corner in front of us, amazingly without incident. It was quite a sight but (sorry for constant comparison to Bathurst, can't help it) nothing like as cool as a field of V8 Supercars.

The race unfolded in a sort of endurance-race fashion, as I found myself watching gaps and tracking strategy. The details of the race can be found elsewhere on the web but no-one will have a picture of this guy, the archetypal Dale Jr. fan, who raised his fist in support every time Jr. went by:

When all was said and done, we watched a pretty entertaining race, marred by too many late-race cautions, in which none of the road course specialists did well. It was a good day's racing though, made better by a painless exit from the track. Infineon clearly know how to handle traffic. Take that Laguna!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Carolla talks Top Gear USA

Popular Mechanics has the first major interview with Top Gear USA Clarkson-alike Adam Carolla on its website. In it Carolla debunks the myth that he'll have to be nice to cars from companies who advertise on the network, and mentions a few cars he'd like to drive on the show. An interesting read for sure, especially for those of us in the USA and/or fans of the snarky radio host.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Street racing

I'm reading a fascinating book right now called "The Driver". It's written by Alex Roy, a guy who became famous for setting the fastest time ever to complete the Cannonball Run, the drive from New York to Los Angeles. There's plenty of info about the origins of the Cannonball (and its successor, the US Express) here, but Roy did it independently of any organized event.

What's fascinating for me is what drives Roy. His book, which is very well written, captures the feelings of winning on four wheels that every racing driver strives for. The only difference here is that Roy does his racing on public roads. "That's terrible" you say. "He's putting the lives of innocent people in jeapordy!" True, but Roy's approach is exactly the same as any racing team: obsessive, over-the-top preparation, the spending of large amounts of money in an attempt to improve the chances of victory and a single-minded focus that seeks to eradicate any random factor that could disrupt his racing. To that end, you get the impression that his driving is probably significantly safer than the bulk of people he shares the Interstate highways with.

This is no mindless punk doing 100mph on a busy city street at 1am and mowing down pedestrians as they emerge from a local bar or taqueria. This is a man who compiles stacks of data detailing average speeds, expected weather, probabilities of detection and other pertinent info in an attempt to outwit The Man, Mother Nature and other monolithic opponents.

The outright Cannonball record was set in 1983, long after Brock Yates shut the race down, at a remarkable 32 hours and 7 minutes. That equates to 89mph average for the entire run, including periods where the car sits at 0mph getting filled with gas. As you can imagine, the real required speed is significantly higher. Factor in at least two rush hours and the potential for inclement weather and unexpected construction and it's unsurprising to find out that you simply must do sustained triple-digit speeds for much of the journey. Roy did just that, along with his like-minded co-driver Dave Maher. They managed to beat the record by more than an hour in their highly-modified E39 BMW M5. Their effort was captured in a soon-to-be-released movie called "32 Hours 7 Minutes".

So let me pose this question: is this racing? Is it any less racing than a World Rally? Some might say it bears more in common with the WRC of the 70s and early 80s than current WRC events do. I just watched coverage of the 1985 Lombard RAC Rally, the British round of the WRC that year. Teams were subjected to a huge mental strain, racing for countless hours every day for 5 days in a row. This is not something Sebastien Loeb has ever dealt with. Alex Roy, on the other hand, has.

The concept of vehicles at speed on public roads is something I find quite fascinating and I'm not quite sure why. It's slightly disturbing! I'm clearly not alone though - look at the legions of followers of real road racing (such as the Isle of Man TT), or all those who compete on events like the Silver State Classic, or anyone who has ever downloaded footage of the legendary Black Prince circumnavigating Paris' Peripherique in 20 minutes...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Becoming NASCAR Nation

Yes, it's true: I get to go to my first NASCAR race this weekend. I'll admit it's not a real NASCAR race since it features that very strange animal, a right-hand corner. Still, NASCAR put it on the Sprint Cup schedule so the drivers' loss is my gain...

What can I expect? It's hard to say when you're going to NASCAR in wine country. I'm sure there will be plenty of people there who aren't racing fans. Many of NASCAR's newer, bigger sponsors can be found in nearby Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the Bay Area, and this event serves as a big hospitality opportunity for them. I'm sure whatever local redneckery there is in Northern California will also decide to take their cars off the blocks in the front yard and come too. Then there's the gentrified WT crowd - these are the folks who make very good money as contractors or unionized workers and who buy those awful big pink tract homes with fake hacienda roof tiles in Bay Area sprawl communities like Tracy, Gilroy, American Canyon and Rohnert Park and who fill them with toy haulers, GMC Suburbans, dirt bikes and kids, whilst they always make sure to vote republican and make fun of San Francisco. I'm guessing that will be the bulk of the crowd since I see so goddamn many of these people as I travel around here.

So, a little like Bathurst then...

The similarities to Mount Panorama's "Great Race" may not stop there. We're dealing with an event of massive magnitude, the biggest sporting event west of the Rockies in fact, at a race track that dances up and down a hillside to the tune of a massive field of entries. The cars are not dissimilar either: pushrod V8s powering sedan-like chassis that bear little to no resemblance mechanically to the cars they're supposed to be based on. To be fair, NASCAR is much worse in this regard - at least V8 Supercars must start with a stock shell and chassis.

Like Bathurst, the race often turns on strategy. It's about 3 laps short of being a two-stop race, but the certainty of cautions opens the door to various strategies since gaining track position at Sears Point is so much harder than at most ovals.

I also expect outrageous traffic headaches going both in and out, so much so that my girlfriend and I are trying to figure out how to take our motorcycles, even though we have a third person coming with us. Traffic in that part of the Bay Area can be ferocious on Sunday afternoons at the best of times, so a little lane-splitting might come in handy.

Expect a full report next week.

Weekend Menu - Week 25

I'm seeing a race this weekend, but more on that later. Here's the menu:

  • Magny Cours, France: F1, GP2, Porsche Supercup
  • Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course, OH: Grand Am
  • Sears Point, CA: NASCAR Sprint Cup
  • Donington Park, England: MotoGP, 125 / 250cc GP
  • Milwaukee Mile, WI: NASCAR Nationwide Series and Craftsman Trucks
  • Iowa Speedway: Indycars, Indy Pro Series
  • Adria, Italy: FIA GT
  • Nurburgring, Germany: VLN
  • Sepang, Malaysia: Japanese SuperGT
  • Estoril, Portugal: FIM World Endurance
  • Dungannon, Northern Ireland: Bush Road Races
  • Trebic, Czech Rep.: Horacka Rally Trebic (European Rally Cup Central)
  • Sofia, Bulgaria: Victory Rally (European Rally Cup East)
  • Mooloolaba Beach, Australia: Coates Rally Queensland (Australian Rally Championship)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to do Le Mans

We didn't go to Le Mans this year, but here's how we made up for it:

  • Listened to coverage of qualifying whilst watching the Eurosport live streaming video via a European proxy
  • Moved the TV to the bedroom so that when we woke up on Saturday morning we just needed to push the power button and we were good to go. Also had the laptop on hand to tune into Radio Le Mans for audio (we muted the Speed Channel coverage) and for live timing and scoring
  • Had fresh coffee, baguettes and croissants for breakfast, just like we do when we're there
  • Then we moved the TV and laptop to the kitchen whilst we prepped for the evening's Le Mans party
  • Taped Andy Blackmore's superb spotters guide to the wall, crossing off retirements as they happened, like you find in the local Le Mans newspapers
  • Had people show up around 5pm, just before Speed Channel came back on, and made sure to only invite true Le Mans fans. The group this year was great!
  • Provided French cheese and crackers for appetizers
  • Drank Kronenbourg 1664 beer and French wine
  • Cooked roast chicken and tartiflette, grilled fresh, hand-stuffed halal merguez sausage and borrowed my mate Dave's deep fryer to do proper twice-fried French fries. Delicious!
  • For dessert we had tasty little European confectionaries
  • We stayed up until 11:30pm Pacific time, got 3 hours sleep (like we do at the track) then got up for the final 3 hours
That's about as authentic as you can get I think. It was a Le Mans to remember.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Someone peed in their pasta

Remarkable events have unfolded before anyone even turned a wheel in anger at Le Mans.

When the entry list was first published, many people questioned the inclusion an LMP2-spec Lucchini prototype entered by veteran Italian team Racing Box. The chassis was old and slow and other more worthy entries had been denied in order to allow it entry.

Part of the paperwork requirements at Le Mans is a certification from a car's manufacturer that the entry is as originally homologated, and if any changes have been made by the team that they haven't compromised the integrity of the tub.

Racing Box asked for this paperwork from Lucchini prior to the LMS race at Monza and received it, only to make some modifications afterwards (and before the Le Mans test day). When Lucchini heard about the modifications they informed Le Mans organizers, the ACO, that they were withdrawing their certification pending a re-inspection of the car. The ACO informed Racing Box of this development and the team made hasty arrangements to bring the car to Lucchini. On the day of the meeting, Lucchini's CEO called Racing Box to say he couldn't meet with them due to a bad back. Later that day he called again and said that he would meet with them to certify the car but only if they paid him 28,000 Euro!!! This amounted to extortion and Racing Box immediately called the police who raided Lucchini's premises and caught them trying to destroy documents.

Racing Box still turned up at Le Mans but failed scrutineering due to the missing paperwork. As a result, a second Epsilon Euskadi LMP1 coupe has taken its place with the powerhouse lineup of Stefan Johanssen, Jean-Marc Gounon and Shinji Nakano. Quite why this happened is unclear - we are well past the deadline for reserve entries to take a place, and Epsilon seemed *very* ready for the turn of events. Perhaps the ACO suspected that Racing Box would run into trouble and informed Epsilon that they might be offered another grid place.

There's much to this story that remains a mystery, but for now it's just one more piece of Le Mans' rich and sometimes bizarre history.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

BMW: Toyota's worst nightmare

Back in December 2006, I wrote a post about how Toyota should really be so much better than they are, not just in F1 but in all forms of motorsport. Here we are, 18 months later, and Toyota's generally poor showing in F1 has been brought into stark contrast by the remarkable first win for the BMW F1 team in Canada.

BMW seems almost to be the opposite of the behemoth that is Toyota. Perhaps the most successful "small" independent carmaker, they've made a point of generally kicking tail in every motorsport they've been in. Robert Kubica's win today is simply the latest in a long string of racing successes for the Munich-based manufacturer. Back in 1998 after a failed two-car Le Mans effort they radically revamped their V12LM prototype, realizing that revolution, not evolution was the way to go, and brought in the expertise of the Williams F1 design and engineering departments to help out. Whilst requiring more work, and representing greater risk of failure, it was this move that set the ball rolling for a victory at the Sarthe in 1999.

Since the return of the World Touring Car Championship in 2004, BMW has taken both drivers and manufacturers championships, always in the face of very stiff competition. Between 1973 and 1988 they won seven European Touring Car Championships, and the '88-'91 E30 M3 is often considered the most successful production-based racing car of all time.

When BMW brought their E46 M3 to the American Le Mans Series it was utterly dominant. It's not often that you see Porsche crying foul about another manufacturer cheating, but the success of the M3GTR drove them to such action. The car was swiftly banned for not complying with homologation numbers requirements. Next year sees the return of the M3 to the ALMS. I wonder how it will do? They're also going World Superbike racing in 2009 with a clean-sheet design, no doubt with series designs on the title.

And there's always the small matter of two Nurburgring 24 Hours victories with the aforementioned M3 GTR in 2004 and 2005.

For such a relatively small company, BMW have generally done a splendid job whenever they've gone racing. Toyota on the other hand have nothing but a string of failures to show for the ungodly amounts of money they've spent on their racing activities. The only bright spot in their racing portfolio is recent success in NASCAR, but based on this season's results, much of that is due to a certain Mr. Busch.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

World Superbike at Miller, a spectator perspective

We all know what happened in the races at Miller last weekend, so here's some non-racing observations from my first trip to this new track...

Event management was virtually flawless: Getting in and out of the facility was a piece of cake on all three days. Even on Sunday after the second WSBK race, when everybody left at the same time, it still only took about ten minutes to get out of the parking lot. From the checkered flag until I checked in at the airport took me 50 minutes, including a ten minute walk to my car and a twenty mile drive!

The schedule also ran to the minute - there were no red flags and any on-track incidents were handled quickly and effectively, no small feat given that the 4.5 mile track requires 250 marshals. The large run-off areas no doubt helped in this.

The crowd were great: Check this out from the track's CEO. I'd agree with him. People were courteous, friendly and it seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves. Every rider got a supportive cheer at the end of a race, and the enthusiasm during the press conference after WSBK race 1 was terrific.

The track still lacks soul: The very things that make Miller so great (plenty of space and high degree of safety) also rob it of soul. At the end of the day it's a flat circuit in the middle of a plain and all the runoff means that decent spectating spots are extremely rare. The entry to the Attitudes was pretty good, as was the Witchcraft corner. There's one small part of the straight between Tooele turn and Clubhouse corner that is quite dramatic. The best parts, strangely enough, are the pitlane entry and exit, both of which allow you to get very close to the bikes.

Biggest complaint: concessions: They make a big deal of the six "oasis" areas dotted around the circuit. These feature grass, restrooms and concessions. So I set off to walk the whole damn thing on Friday afternoon, having had some water before I started. Halfway round I was getting thirsty. I had discovered that there were no open concessions at the Tooele turn oasis, so I faced either a long walk back to the Clubhouse corner oasis or I could push on to the oasis at the southwest corner. I did the latter. When I got there, there was nothing - no food, no drink, nothing. I checked my map and found that there wasn't supposed to be anything there. My fault, but had the the cafe at Tooele turn been open I wouldn't find myself miles from water. Now I had to choose whether to wait for one of the very occasional shuttles, or continue walking back around to the cafe at Sunset corner. Since there was no sign of a shuttle I kept walking. By the time I got to Sunset I was utterly dehydrated.

The food and drink vendors that were there were not bad. The permanent cafes offered some decent platters with rice, beans and salad along with the tri-tip steak, whilst there was always a Mexican food vendor on hand. The shortage of vendors in general was brought sharply into focus on Sunday lunchtime - the lines were LOOOOOOONG.

Thanks for the pitwalk: Three times on Friday and twice on Saturday and Sunday the World Superbike pitlane was open for spectators. Not many people took advantage of this because the only place it was written was on a small sign at the east end of the lane. If people spend $15 on a paddock pass, they should be told that the things they want to see most (e.g. WSBK riders and bikes) can be viewed. Most paddock-goers only got to see the back of the garages.

Don't listen to me: I predicted that Ryuichi Kiyonari would do well this weekend. Instead, he sucked, with a poor qualifying position that forced him to battle for mid-pack places in both races. He made solid progress in each but was never in with a shout, unlike his team-mate.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 22

I'll be at Miller this weekend, but here's what else is on elsewhere:

  • Mugello, Italy: MotoGP, FIM 250/125cc
  • Lamia, Greece: WRC Acropolis Rally
  • Croft, England: BTCC, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Formula Renault UK
  • Pau, France: WTCC, F3 Euroseries
  • Miller Motorsports Park, UT: World Superbike, AMA Superbike
  • Ensenada, Mexico: Baja 500 (SCORE)
  • Milwaukee Mile, WI: Indycar and Indy Pro Series
  • Dover, DE: NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Craftsman Trucks
  • Valencia, Spain: GP2
  • Winton, Australia: Australian Superbike
  • Zolder, Belgium: Belcar
  • Spa, Belgium: International GT Open
  • Gellerason, Sweden: Swedish Touring Cars
  • Estoril, Portugal: Rally Transiberico (FIA Cross Country World Cup)
  • Hustopece, Czech Rep.: Agrotec Rally (European Rally Cup Central)
  • Kigali, Rwanda: Rwanda Mountain Gorilla Rally (FIA African Rally Championship)
  • Llandrindod Wells, Wales: Severn Valley Rally (MSA Gravel Championship)
  • Plovdiv, Bulgaria: Rally Hebros (European Rally Cup East)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miller World Superbike

My friend Chris and I fly out Friday morning for Salt Lake City, to go see the return of World Superbike to the USA. It should be a terrific weekend. Naturally I've been thinking a lot about what lies ahead and I reckon I've been hit by some divine inspiration about who's going to be a winner there...

Ryuichi Kiyonari.

Think about it: he was nearly a race-winner at Monza, a high-speed track with a long front straight, just like Miller. This time out, he won't be handicapped by being the only guy who hasn't been to the track before. They're ALL rookies this weekend. I think Kiyo's time has come.

Neukirchner's good for another win too, I reckon. That Gixxer is so quick.

Of course I'll be hoping for another Haga win because he's quite simply the coolest rider out there. Check back here next week for a report and some pics.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Nurburgring 24 Hours

It's weird to be out of town attending a wedding in Portland and to be listening to the Radio Le Mans coverage of the fabulous Nurburgring 24 Hours and watching streaming video on the event's website. It simply reinforces my opinion that 24 hour races are terrific fun, and if I was ever to return to competitive motorsport it would be with an eye towards taking part in one.

Just like last year's Britcar 24 Hours, this years N24 is stacked with incredible drivers and professional teams. Check it out:

Sportscar drivers: Timo Bernhard, Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas, Christophe Bouchut, Marc Basseng, Patrick Simon, Claudia Hurtgen, Tomas Enge, Karl Wendlinger, Dirk Muller, Dominik Schwager, Marino Franchitti, Emanuelle Collard, Richard Westbrook, Boris Said, Adam Sharpe, Vincent Vosse, Peter Dumbreck, Hans Stuck.

Touring car drivers: Tom Coronel, Duncan Huisman, Christian Abt, Stefan Mucke, Frank Stippler, Armin Hahne, Pierre Kaffer, Warren Luff, Frank Jelinski, Bernd Schneider, Jorg Muller, Augusto Farfus, Heinz-Harald Frentzen.

Rally drivers: Carlos Sainz, Giniel De Villiers, Dieter Depping.

Industry figures: Ulrich Bez, Hermann Tilke, Volker Strycek.

Journalists: Richard Meaden, Jethro Bovingdon.

What a lineup! And to think that there's nearly 300 cars out there, sharing pits with 6-8 cars per garage, racing on the mad bad Nordschleife in front of hundreds of thousands of drunk Germans. Fan-frickin-tastic!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Load of Bull

This may seem a little bit obvious, but Red Bull spend a lot of money on motorsport advertising, sponsorship and promotion.

It hit me this weekend, as everywhere I looked I saw the iconic logo and typeface, whether it was at Sears Point for the AMA Superbike round to reading Racer magazine to watching the WRC on television. So here's my Red Bull sighting list:

  • Nicky Hayden's helmet in the French round of MotoGP
  • The Red Bull trials demo behind the grandstand at Sears Point
  • The crazy huge Red Bull structure in the paddock of Sears Point which was there supporting....
  • ... the Red Bull Rookies Cup
  • The Citroen WRC cars which were competing on Rally Italia Sardinia, which had a number of stages that featured a...
  • ... Red Bull inflatable banner that went over the stage
  • Red Bull-specific vending stations at Sears Point
  • Saturday morning I happened to catch the bizarre NASCAR pitcrew challenge, won by the #83 team, sponsored by.... you guessed it.
  • Eric Bostrom's helmet in AMA Superbike
  • I checked the results of the Oregon Trail Rally to find Travis Pastrana had won in his Red Bull-sponsored Subaru
  • An article on the early arrival of F1's silly season featured a picture of Mark Webber, in his Red Bull-emblazoned racing suit
It's remarkable just how prevalent the Austrian energy drink is in motorsport. Any large-scale investment in the sport has to be considered a good thing, and Red Bull have contributed a huge amount. They've also opened the door to both the creation and promotion of other energy drinks which have chosen to use motorsport as a major marketing channel. Monster, Relentless, and Amp were all evident in motorsport activity over the weekend.

The only concern I have in regards to Red Bull is the massive impact it would have if it were to ever shift its focus elsewhere. I work for a non-profit organization and in this industry it's considered a very bad idea to take too much money from any one source, because the absence of that source would cripple the organization. Something to consider for the US MotoGP events, VW's Dakar outfit, KTM's racing teams, Andreas Aigner's rally team, two teams in F1, the NASCAR Red Bull team.... the list goes on....

On a related note: Red Bull is now legal in France (albeit due to a reformulation of its recipe).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Close finishes

Followers of World Superbike and World Supersport have had an absolute ball in the last two weeks. If you add up the finishing gaps of the top three riders in World Superbike's two races at Monza, and the top six in the Assen World Supersport race, you'd get a scant 1.165 seconds. That's about the length of time it takes an F1 driver to do a line of coke.

The Assen round of World Supersport was perhaps the closest, craziest bike race I've ever seen. The whole race was like a first lap, with finishing positions very much like what you'd expect to see as the riders come across the stripe for the first time, never mind the 17th....

Yesterday's WSBK round at Monza was another classic, but we've come to expect that from the Italian parkland track. The insane front straight, along with the typically Italian (read chaotic) chicanes make for great overtaking opportunities and we weren't disappointed in either race. What's more, the retirement of Troy Bayliss in race two, along with the superb performances by ice cool German Max Neukirchner and certifiably mental samurai Nori Haga helped make the championship a little less of a one-horse race than it has been so far.

Roll on the next round, which sees WSBK return to the USA, at Utah's Miller Motorsports Park. I'm going to brave that state's bizarre alcohol laws in order to check out this terrific championship. How fucking excited am I....?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Weekend Menu -Week 19

I've been a bit lax the last two weeks publishing the menu, so here's this week's:

  • Istanbul, Turkey: F1, Porsche Supercup, GP2
  • Darlington Raceway, SC: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • Monza, Italy: World Superbike and Supersport
  • Barbagallo, Australia: V8 Supercars
  • Spa, Belgium: Le Mans Series
  • Douglas, Isle of Man: Manx Rally
  • Albacete, Spain: FIM Endurance Championship
  • Tsukuba, Japan: All-Japan Superbikes
  • Idrija, Slovenia: Rally Saturnus (European Rally Cup Central)
  • Palermo, Italy: Targa Florio (European Rally Cup Southwest)
  • Canberra, Australia: Rally of Canberra
  • Dijon, France: FFSA GT and Belcar
  • Kentucky Speedway, KY: ARCA/Remax Series
  • Algarve, Portugal: Rally of Portugal (IRC)
  • Mugello, Italy: Italian GT
  • Nurburgring, Germany: VLN

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Irish road racing claims another victim

The sport of "real road racing" has claimed another victim, with the death of Martin Finnegan this weekend in the Tandragee 100 in Northern Ireland. This genre of motorcycle racing is well-known for its inherent danger thanks to the myriad of deaths at the Isle of Man TT over the years, but the frequent additional tragedies during the rest of the season every year tend to go less noticed. The last three years have seen the deaths of Richard Britton, John Donnan, Darran Lindsey and now Finnegan on the Irish roads, in addition to the more high profile losses at the TT that have included David Jefferies and Jun Maeda. Back in 2000 there were eight deaths in real road racing alone...

I'll never call for the banning of this type of racing, because those who do it know the risks, but almost always the news articles include a statement to the effect of "he leaves behind a wife and a young child". That was certainly the case with Finnegan, Lindsay and Britton. I guess I just wish these guys would transition to circuit racing once they become parents.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An interview with 0-60's editor

Yesterday I introduced you to 0-60 Magazine. Today, I chat with its editor...

Brian Scotto is the kind of guy you want to hate, given that his day job involves driving and talking about fast cars, but can't because he's such a nice chap. More importantly you're not allowed to because he's one of us. You know how most of the world just nods absent-mindedly and their eyes glass over when you talk excitedly about cars, bikes and/or racing? Don't you long for someone to talk with who actually gives two hoots about the difference between a first-gen and second-gen Lotus Elise or who understands the true importance of the Nordschleife? Scotto is one of those people, and he's transformed that passion about performance vehicles into an exciting new magazine.

Scotto comes from a VW background and in his teens and early twenties this led him to magazines such as Performance VW, European Car and tuner mags like Super Street, but as time went by he took a much broader interest in performance cars in general. It was here that he ran into problems. "None of what you call the 'buff books' here in the States really did it for me", he says. "I just didn't connect to Car & Driver even though I heard the legend of how awesome it was in the 70s." Salvation came when he discovered British imports: "Magazines like Car, Evo and Top Gear returned my interest in car mags, which in turn got me thinking about why we can't do an American magazine like this. After all, the Brit magazines are expensive and they do a lot of reviews of cars we just won't see in the US."

The plan for 0-60 started to form thee years ago, by which time Brian had three years of print journalism under his belt. He had firm ideas of how it should look: "We wanted something more exciting than other American magazines, something that focused on good storytelling and good photography and something that wasn't as concerned with the numbers, which is ironic since although we ended up calling it 0-60 we rarely use performance figures!"

There was an additional element that he wanted however. "A lot of us grew up modifying cars" he says, clarifying that "we might not all mod to the same level but we all speak that language. That's not something you see in the buff books. They're all about OEM, and the manufacturers themselves look at aftermarket as a different world. But look at Subaru - you can buy half their aftermarket parts over the counter. I have friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and the first thing they do when they buy a car is upgrade the suspension. So we're trying to blend that aftermarket feel and tie it in with OEM, so we're not Super Street mag, but we're also not Car & Driver."

The results are obvious, and Scotto and his team aren't afraid to make sacrifices in the name of quality. "There's been features that have come back with average photography and we've had to kill the story - we have a certain level of quality that we try to maintain" he says. "You've gotta make sure you have the best photos and that you use the best paper and we put a lot of attention on things like that."

Something I was eager to get Brian's take on was how he feels about the role of print media in a world dominated by the internet, and it was clear it's a subject he's thought about in depth: "Take the last two years, with sites like Jalopnik, you can get news way quicker than you ever can with a magazine, but if you look at the front of Motor Trend or Road & Track, they still spend a lot of time on news. It works for them, but because our readers are so much more focused than the average buff book reader, they've read it all before. And because we're a quarterly it's even less appropriate. This meant that we had to focus on storytelling. The article on driving the STI to the Arctic was 4100 words - there's no way you'd have read that on the internet, it gets a little tiring reading that much on the screen. So we realized that print media needed to be rethought, and to complement what you can get from the internet. We really just want to write great stories, like the Arctic feature, where you don't just report, you actually create the story. Funnily enough, that came out of Christian [Edstrom, Rally America co-driver champion who works as a copy editor on the magazine] and I watching Ice Road Truckers, and I said that we should go there and Christian said 'I fucking dare you', so next thing I know I'm on the phone with Subaru and we're looking at the date the road freezes, and we left the day after Christmas."

By now you're probably wondering what an interview like this is doing on a racing blog, but from reading the mag I was pretty sure that these guys would be mad racing enthusiasts. Turns out I was right. "In the first issue we did a feature on the Nurburgring 24 Hours" he began. "We stayed up for the whole thing and just soaked up the atmosphere. Then we headed up to Scotland and met up with Colin McRae before going down to France the next weekend for the Le Mans 24 Hours. So when we got back we had one month to print and we had to decide how to cover all this stuff. We could have gone the way of reporting about what happened, who won, that kind of thing, but anyone who really cares about the race will already know all that. So we took a different approach and asked ourselves about the culture behind the event. People build these massive viewing platforms and barbecue and bring their families, so we tried to capture the essence of what goes on, the things you don't normally see or hear about. We're not trying to compete with Racer or F1 magazine. This is us taking motorsports from a more lifestyle point of view."

They kept up the motorsport focus for issue two, when 0-60 looked at what makes the Mitsubishi Evo so special. Scotto notes that "we talked to all the people involved like Tommi Makinen and Ralliart's Andrew Cohen, and we also looked at the 1995 Safari Rally, which was the event that really put the Evo on the map. So we just tried to take a different look at it than a simple test drive."

Brian's words rang very true with me when he said "all of us are into motorsport here and in a way that's not limited to just following the results. Some people follow motorsport like kids in the States follow baseball, they know all the stats and details, but I think I think we realize that motorsport is the reason why we all get cool cars." Covering motorsport has not been easy for them however and Scotto and his team have had to constantly justify racing content to their publishers. "They ask us why there's so much racing in here and ask if this is a racing magazine. I try to tell them that I don't see racing as something separate from fast cars, it's part of everything we do and it's what makes all the great cars." It was great to hear Brian say "we try to remove all the politics from racing and focus on the bare essence of racing and what makes it awesome." Wise words Mr. Scotto...

So, what does the future hold for Brian and his band of petrolheads? The good news is that they'll be increasing the frequency of publication, moving to a bi-monthly or 8-per-year format. It's something he's looking forward to: "It's tough to work on a quarterly where if something doesn't work out it's dead, as opposed to changing things around and using it in the next issue like you would on a monthly. It also means that there's a greater chance that what you do won't get old on the news-stand." That very problem hit home for 0-60 after their very first issue, which featured an article about Colin McRae. Scotto had visited the ex-WRC driver, taken a ride in the infamous helicopter and spent a terrific evening listening to the Scot's tales of the WRC. The resulting story starts with how the photographer was so nervous to get into a heli with McCrash, and the photo that goes with it was Colin in his helicopter. It was all in good fun, but one month after the issue hit the streets Colin was killed. It was a tough situation: "Those who knew the issue had been out already saw it as the last ever story on McRae, but others who didn't thought we were just sick. The cover line was 'Crashing at McRae's' because we stayed the night there but the British media were furious because they didn't realize the timeline. It was a dark cloud on the first issue, but looking back now we just think about how special it was that we got to hang out with him."

It's nice to hear the editor of a US-based car magazine talk with such respect and reverence about someone so valued in the world of motorsport, and is further evidence that 0-60 is something that those of us who are in the USA and into racing would want to read religiously. If you need any other reason to dash down to Borders to pick it up, know that their upcoming occasional series of articles on homologation specials (think Porsche 959, Escort Cosworth, M3 etc.) is titled "Omologato Mr. Rubato"! Classic...

0-60, the savior of the US car magazine

I love Evo magazine. I've mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again and I don't apologize for it, because it's been my go-to car magazine for years. Its photography and design work, along with the high-quality paper it arrives on make it a pleasant thing to behold, and the journalism contained within is always interesting, irreverent and compelling. Plus they only write about performance cars which, let's face it, is what we all love. After all, who wants to read about the entry-level model in the Chevy Cobalt range?

The main problem with Evo is getting your hands on it. I still haven't figured what time each month to go to Fog City News, our excellent downtown newsagent that carries a myriad of international magazines, to pick it up. On one recent exploratory trip I was searching the stands in vain for Evo, but instead came across a magazine called "0-60". It was as big and glossy as any of the British car magazines but I noticed the word "hoonage" on the cover in reference to an article about the new Subaru STi. I'm pretty sure hoonage is not a term used in England, so I was now very intrigued about this journal. I flicked through the pages and noted similar production values to Evo, but this was clearly coming from the USA. There was an article about driving the new Lexus IS-F from San Francisco to Las Vegas, another about basic mods for a bugeye WRX, the cover story featuring the exact same Nissan GT-R that Evo had driven in their last issue and most fascinating of all, a terrific feature about driving the STi from Seattle up to the Arctic circle on one of Canada's legendary ice roads.

SOLD! I dashed back to office and whiled away the afternoon with actual work awaiting my chance to go home and actually read the magazine. After gobbling up the content from cover to cover, I sent the magazine's editor Brian Scotto an email asking if I could interview him for the blog. He agreed, and earlier this week I gave Brian a call to find out a bit more about the story behind this exciting new addition to the world of automotive media, an interview which I'll post tomorrow...

Monday, April 28, 2008


What a weekend for big accidents. We saw two entirely different yet highly disturbing crashes, both of which illustrated the potential danger of the sport, as well as the incredible ability of modern race cars to protect its occupant when things go wrong.

Here's exhibit A. Stephane Ortelli's LMP1 class prototype experienced some kind of mechanical failure during the Monza 1000km and veered abruptly to the right. At this point the aerodynamics, which are designed to prevent a car getting air (like the Mercedes CLRs at Le Mans in '99) took over because the car was sideways, and aero is not designed for sideways travel. The car launched into a massive barrel roll. As with most accidents of this type, they look far worse than they are - the gradual release of energy throughout the crash ensured that Ortelli never experienced life-threatening G-loading. The scariest thing about this one is how close the flying Oreca came to decapitating Allan McNish in the Audi:

Onto Exhibit B. In the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix, McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen also experienced a mechanical failure that forced the car to go somewhere it shouldn't. In his case, the car speared off the track and he made contact with the tyre wall at an angle of about 30 degrees whilst doing 137mph. Unlike Ortelli's crash, Kovalainen DID experience massive G-loads, perhaps equalling Robert Kubica's record-setting 75G load during his accident in Canada last year. It's worth noting that 100G is enough to kill most people. An additional aspect of this shunt that was scary was the fact that the car dived UNDER the tyre barrier, and no matter how low down the driver sits, his head is very much at risk in that kind of situation.

I'm not that surprised that Ortelli was relatively unharmed (save for a broken ankle) but the fact that Kovalainen survived with nothing more than concussion and some bumps and bruises is incredible. I have no doubt that the HANS device played a key role in his survival.

The gains in safety since the Imola '94 have been remarkable and it's weekends like this, where we could easily have been mourning the loss of one, perhaps even two, professional racing drivers, that are testament to the work put in by many on this critical issue.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The value of grassroots

I attended my first race event of 2008 today, the second round of the AFM season. AFM is the main sanctioning body for motorcycle circuit racing in Northern California, and they race at Infineon (that's Sears Point to most of us), Buttonwillow and Thunderhill. I had a vested interest in going: the guy who I sold my dirtbike to last week was racing, and I needed to give him the title for that bike, so I was able to do that and get to see some racing.

There were 12 races in total for the more than 20 classes of bikes, ensuring massive grids of between 50 and 65 bikes. Needless to say that there was plenty of action, but I was pleasantly surprised to not see a single crash all day long. The jewel in the crown of the AFM is Formula Pacific, a class reserved for only the fastest riders, in which any AFM-legal bike can be entered. The field is much smaller, something like 28 riders, and the racing is as fierce as you'll find in any national superbike race.

It was a great day of racing in beautiful, sunny 80 degree California weather and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The most significant aspect of the day for me was confirmation of something I've always assumed to be true but never really thought about: motorsport would be nothing without the thousands and thousands of amateur and semi-pro racers like you find in the AFM and other grassroots organizations around the world. There would be no top-level motorsport because there would be nowhere for racers to learn their craft and it's the entrants that are the core of any successful grassroots racing group. I spent a lot of time wandering around the paddock today and was amazed at the amount of money people spend on what is basically a hobby. There's very little income at this level, and racers are lucky to be able to get their consumables and some parts paid for via generous local sponsors. But despite this, they spend huge amounts of their own money on their racebikes or racecars, as well trailers, RVs, trucks, tools, safety gear and other necessary infrastructure. What's more, they spend countless hours prepping for races, as well as entire weekends racing. From their passion springs forth strong local racing organizations where the best and brightest young racers can build their careers and go on to be part of the more widely-recognized professional side of the sport.

I'm fully aware that no-one is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts - racers race because they love to race. But I think it's worthwhile every now and then to recognize the important role that they play in this sport.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dakar sans duneage

Those of us who are dyed-in-the-wool fans of Dakar (and who felt truly gutted by the cancellation of this year's event) have something to cling to, as right now the Central European Rally is in full swing. Imagine all the usual Dakar cast members throwing their multi-million dollar toys around forests in Romania and Hungary for seven whole days and you'll get the idea.

I've been remiss in talking about this event, simply because a) I forgot about it; and b) they (the organizers) didn't seem to do very much to make sure that racing nuts like me don't forget about it.

All is not lost! I have gotten my hands on the Eurosport coverage of the first four stages and plan on writing about it as soon I've watched them all.

Just to whet your appetite, I've seen two photos, one of a VW Touraeg race vehicle about 15 feet in the air coming off a jump and the other of a Mitsubishi Pajero and another Touraeg duelling side by side on a stage. This bodes rather well, even if an inspection of the route maps indicates a lot of liaison for very little actual racing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let the Danica post-mortem begin

I like to think of myself as a social liberal, generally nodding and agreeing with much of what I read on sites like and hear on NPR. Social liberals are also generally required to be sypathetic to the principles of feminism, so sign me up there too.

However, a brief article in Salon's "Broadsheet", a column dedicated to women's issues, sparked a furious debate that to me seemed to trivialize Danica Patrick's historic win in the Indycar series on Saturday. Luckily my partner K was on hand to bring the discussion back on topic and she made some well-considered and salient points. Further evidence that I'm rather a lucky guy to have a partner who knows the name of one of the engineers on Citroen's World Rally team...

Anyway, there's a couple of things going on here:

  • There will be some who will call the win a fluke. It is true she did not have the pace all day and was never able to get any closer to the front that fifth. However motorsport is not always about who's the fastest and I'm not sure even Danica would claim to have more natural talent than someone like Scott Dixon or Helio Castroneves. Sometimes winning takes balls and brains, which is what got the job done in this case. Her team came up with a great strategy and Danica executed it perfectly. In this regard she outdrove Castroneves, who was on the same strategy but overdrove early in his stint. When he started to second-guess his fuel reserves, Danica had the guts to risk going for the win. Good job Mrs. Hospenthal.
  • It is probably true that had she been a guy, she would have been dropped by AGR after 2007 and would never have been in a position to fight for victory in this race. Her performances in the IRL have been rather inconsistent, with a second, a third and two fourths in the first three years of her IRL career. Once again though, there is a flip-side to this, and it's the acceptance that a driver's value to a team goes beyond pure results. Danica is PR GOLD, and the attention she brings makes AGR a sponsorship magnet compared with other IRL teams. AGR have four drivers - they don't need all of them to be championship-winners. Having a diverse line-up in which each driver has their own specialties and positive attributes is smart team management.
  • Which brings me to point three. What has Danica done for women in motorsport? I just noted how her gender has probably kept her in the team when a guy might have been dropped. Is this good or bad? Is it better for a woman to be shown favoritism in this regard, or for her to never even break through to such a high level of motorsport? I think K put it perfectly when she alluded to how drivers will always leverage whatever they can to achieve success, her example being Tony Stewart's association with Subway. It may very well be considered "tacky" for Danica to show off her admittedly rather pleasing body in men's magazines, but I've seen male drivers do other equally tacky PR. I can see how feminists might be upset with her doing such things, but to be honest I think her racing career would be no different had she not - she's a media- and fan-friendly figure who attracts attention because of her gender, regardless of whether she's in a bikini or a racesuit. I don't believe women have to strip off to get ahead in racing, but an insistence on equal treatment as the guys get will not necessarily be the answer either. People want newsworthy stories and in Danica's case it's her gender that's the tagline. It's no different to Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti, who court similar (albeit less widespread) coverage because of their ages and family backgrounds. And dare we even mention the colour of Lewis Hamilton's skin?
It was a bizarre win, but a win nonetheless. It was a moment in history. It was something that women can be proud of, but I think that motorsport has even more reason to be proud. After all, there was never any doubt that a woman could do this, but there was doubt as to whether motorsport would ever let them. That doubt is now gone. Hooray for that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

British Superbike - it didn't snow

After the disappointment of the first round of British Superbike being postponed due to snow (check out the utterly bizarre pictures of Brands Hatch buried in the white stuff), it was great to watch round two play out at Thruxton today.

So what did we learn?

Cal Crutchlow really IS that talented: His debut season was on the Rizla Suzuki, a device invented with the sole purpose of turning kick-ass riders into also-rans. Despite this, he showed flashes of promise. Now that he's on the HM Plant Honda, it's clear he's a race winner. This is best exemplified by the fact he won a race...

Holy cow, Michael Rutter, you're not as over-the-hill as you seem: Rutter is probably benefitting in the same way that Max Biaggi and Ruben Xaus are in World Superbikes, by being on the 1200cc Ducati before regulation changes slow it down, as they inevitably will. Still, he spanked Leon Camier in race one, even though Camier is on the bigger budget and de-facto "factory" Airwaves Ducati.

Karl Harris isn't done yet: It appeared as though Harris was on a downward slide, having lost his factory Honda ride at the end of 2006, and then being booted by the privateer Hydrex Honda squad following an average 2007 season. However, he's adapted well to the Rob McElnea-run Yamaha, and if hadn't been for the fact he was bitch-slapped by Tom Sykes' flying Suzuki in race two, he could have placed very well. Nice that we'll have an additional "win-capable" rider challenging Airwaves and HM Plant every race.

We don't really miss Stobart: The loss of the Paul Bird Motorsport Stobart Honda team to World Superbikes might have been more keenly-felt if it wasn't for the fact that other teams seem to be in with a shout, chiefly Rutter's NW200 team and Harris' Yamaha squad.

Are the Leons feeling the pressure?: Neither Leon Camier nor Leon Haslam looked quite as sparkly as they should have done today. Haslam has probably got the best bike but seemed to be outridden by his team-mate Crutchlow, whilst the promise shown by Camier last year that should be fulfilled by being on one of the top two bikes has not yet been.

Watanabe, whatalearningcurve: Atsushi Watanabe doesn't yet look like the superstar that Ryuichi Kiyonari was. In fact he looked like a bit of a rookie, being bashed around by BSB mid-pack regulars. The fact he's on the Suzuki probably isn't helping, but they're the cards he's been dealt. I'd like to think he'll adjust quickly, along the lines of Kiyo in WSBK this year.

This should be a great year: I was concerned that losing Stobart, Kiyo, Lavilla and Walker would seriously detract from the championship. It looks like I needn't have worried.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 15

This weekend in the world of motorsport:

  • Hockenheim, Germany: DTM, F3 Euroseries
  • Rockingham, England: BTCC, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Formula Renault UK
  • Dubai, UAE: GP2 Asia, Speedcar Series
  • Shanghai, China: A1GP
  • Zolder, Belgium: Belcar
  • Knockhill, Scotland: British GT
  • Okayama, Japan: SuperGT
  • Nurburgring: VLN
  • Estoril, Portugal: MotoGP and 125/250GP
  • Salem Speedway, IN: ARCA/Remax Series
  • Phoenix Raceway: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • Pouembout, New Caledonia: Rallye de Nouvelle Caledonie (FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship)
  • Klatovy, Czech Republic: Mogul Sumava Rally Klatovy (FIA European Rally Cup - Central)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Indycar - go to your room!

Imagine the scene: an angry teenager has a fight with his parents and storms out of the house with the obligatory "I HATE YOU!" The clock ticks by and the parents move on from anger and transition into the worried phase. They start calling around to the boy's friends' parents. Then they call local hospitals. Finally, as they get ready to call the police they hear the front door open. Furious but relieved, they send the boy to his room. Meanwhile they admit to themselves that the anger was temporary but the love they have for the child will always be there since all the want is the best for him.

January 23rd 2008 marked the 13th anniversary of the announcement of the IRL. It's officially a teen.

And Sunday's race at St. Petersburg was like having the teen come home. As mad as we all have been about the CART/IRL split, we're just relieved that we're back to how we were before. The talent level is suitably high, driver backgrounds diverse, sponsorship present (and growing), grids are full and on racetracks that go right as well as left, the former ChampCar teams will be competitive, making for interesting races.

Watching St. Petes was like a throwback to '95. I really enjoyed the race and in particular I loved seeing the ChampCar refugees take it to the IRL regulars. It was close racing with some great performances from a number of drivers. Various strategies unfolded, incidents shuffled the field, caution periods kept the pack together and the changing conditions provided the canvas upon which a very appealing picture was painted.

It only took 13 years for me to get excited again about US open wheel racing. Now go to your room Indycar! You're grounded! (and you look hungry - would you like a sandwich?)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 14

Now we're up and running! A big weekend of racing lies ahead, including the start of British Superbikes and the Le Mans Series.

  • St. Petersburg, FL: American Le Mans, Indycar Series and the Indy Lights Series
  • Valencia, Spain: World Superbike and World Supersport
  • Bahrain: Formula 1, GP2, Speedcar and Porsche Supercup
  • Catalunya, Spain: 1000km of Catalunya (Le Mans Series)
  • Texas Motor Speedway, TX: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • Monza, Italy: Italian GT
  • Wakefield Park, Australia: Fujitsu V8 Series
  • Puebla, Mexico: World Touring Cars
  • Brands Hatch, England: British Superbike
  • Jedburgh, Scotland: Brick and Steel Border Counties Rally (MSA Gravel Rally Championship)
  • Busselton, Australia: QUIT Forest Rally (Australian Rally Championship)
  • Motegi, Japan: All-Japan Superbike Championship
  • Monticello, NY: Rally New York USA (US Rally Championship)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Brace yourselves for US Top Gear

Over at my favourite automotive pro-blog Jalopnik, Top Gear is highly-revered. So when some idiot from New Jersey comes by throwing down Clarkson impressions in a most nauseating fashion, you can bet there will be much knashing of teeth.

Best comment on the video comes from 1300ccsoffury who is equally appalled at the idea of Adam Carolla hosting the US version of Top Gear, and says:

Adam Carolla ruins everything he touches. He's like that guy from the Skittles commercial who turns things into Skittles when he touches them. Only replace the Skittles with disappointment.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Max Mosley - it is my OPINION that you are a piece of....

For a less inflammatory version, go here.

Okay, let's be perfectly clear, just so I don't have lawyers on my admirable-helping-underserved-youth-non-profit-job-salary-earning ass: in no way am I representing any of this post as FACT, but I personally FEEL that Max Mosley is a stinky dog turd of a human being. I would rather have my genitals slashed with broken glass than have him continue as the most powerful man in my favourite sport, although I wonder if something like that might actually get him off...

What people do in their own bedroom is their business. S&M doesn't freak me out, and I'll staunchly defend the rights of people to engage in sexual behavior of their choosing. However there's two additional issues here:

The first is that elements of what Mosley has been accused of doing, if proven to be true, constitute a serious criminal offence: it is alleged that he paid women for sex.

The second is that the scenario used in this particular mode of sexual expression is derogatory to a large group of people. Since Mosley is in charge of an INTERNATIONAL federation, he cannot be seen to insult any cultural group. If he does, it undermines his position and authority in a manner that would appear to make his continued work utterly untenable.

Up until now, I, like many, many others have vehemently disagreed with how he runs the FIA, but like it or not, it's his toy and he can play with it how he wants. Whether this sequence of events is true or not, the fact that he put himself in a situation that can produce such damning evidence, even it ultimately proves to be untrue (not sure how that can be, but anyway...) should be enough to make him step down. That would be the right and honourable course of action.

Although "right" and "honourable" don't seem to be concepts Max grasps very well, given his alleged behavior in that Chelsea dungeon.

One last thing: how sad is it that I had to spend significant time reading up on California defamation law before publishing this post? So one last time - I don't represent anything in this post as truth, it is all entirely my opinion.

Hey, even one more thing: all this goes down two days after Max's FIA predessor and one-time nemesis, Jean-Marie Balestre, dies. Weird. The ghost of JMB is already hard at work.

Monday, March 31, 2008

These guys are gods

Watching yesterday's MotoGP from Jerez in widescreen thanks to the BBC's great production values once again showed how unbelievably talented top-shelf motorcycle racers are. Some of them are even utterly cool dudes, to wit Colin Edwards. And Motorcycle Moment of the Year couldn't have gone to a nicer guy than the Texas Tornado himself. Check this craziness out: