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:

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I wrote a post earlier today about the story published in News of the World in which they alleged that Max Mosley was involved in a sordid S&M and Nazi-style roleplay session with prostitutes . I even published the post, stuffed full of as many disclaimers as I could think of.

However, until the story develops further the post returns to unpublished status. I'd hate to be made an example of. How fucking sad. Freedom of speech and all that...

David Leslie, 1953-2008

I'm sure the motoring press will carry decent, well-researched obituaries for Scottish touring car driver David Leslie, so there's no need for me to go into any great depth about his career. He was a great driver who enjoyed a reasonable amount of success in the BTCC, as well as in sportscar racing. He went on to do some great work as a commentator for Eurosport and MotorsTV, filling the role of expert on coverage of the WTCC, Le Mans Series and SuperGT amongst others.

I'd like to simply add one David Leslie memory I have to the wealth of others that people will be talking about as we remember the man.

It was back in 1997, at Laguna Seca. My father and I were down there for the fantastic Monterey Historic Sportscar races, and the highlight of the day was the historic Trans-Am race, featuring wonderful old muscle cars such as Camaros, Chargers, Mustangs and Challengers. Leslie was lined up in a Shelby Mustang 350 fastback, but for some reason had to start from the back of the grid. For ten spectacular laps the Scotsman showed his innate talent as he battled through to a worthy third-place, behind the legendary Parnelli Jones and Tommy Drissi's Camaro. It was one of those races that sticks in your mind, and I'm truly grateful to David Leslie for the entertainment he provided to us that day.

RIP David, and sympathies to his family.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 13

The Indycar and BTCC seasons open this weekend:

  • Brands Hatch, England: BTCC, Formula Renault UK, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
  • Homestead-Miami, FL: Indy Racing League, Indy Pro Series, Grand-Am Rolex Sportscar Series
  • Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina: Rally Argentina (WRC and Production WRC)
  • Nurburgring Nordschleife, Germany: VLN
  • Jerez, Spain: MotoGP, FIM 125GP and 250GP
  • Martinsville, VA: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Craftsman Truck Series
  • San Marino: Rally di San Marino (FIA European Rally Cup Southwest)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Formula 1, Top Gear-style

Rumours are flying in the UK that with the switch of F1 coverage from ITV to BBC next year, Top Gear's Richard Hammond is set to anchor the broadcasts. Furthermore, Jeremy Clarkson and James May, Hammond's co-presenters, may also wind up being involved.

I cannot decide how I feel about this idea. I love Top Gear. Despite all its chest-pumping, anti-American vitriol and Clarkson's brainless pontificating, it is a genuinely enjoyable TV show with rich content and extremely high production values. People complain about how TG emphasizes impractical, expensive cars and engages in childish stunts but if you took Top Gear and made it more "practical", less fancy, and with less cartoonish presenters, you'd have Fifth Gear. That show is still enjoyable but is nowhere near as compelling as Top Gear. Thinking about it though, it's the stories in TG that I find most compelling, not the personalities. In F1, we'd be subjected to more personality and less story, so it might get very irritating, very quickly. Even more worrying, despite winning an Emmy for "best unscripted documentary" or something, Top Gear is very tightly scripted, even the road tests, something that the F1 coverage won't be. How will they do without time to work out what they're going to say?

Still, it's an interesting idea. I'm curious to hear from those in the UK what they think of this...

Weekend Menu - Week 12

Here's a list of the weekend's major racing:

  • Sepang, Malaysia: F1, Speedcar, GP2
  • Nogaro, France: FFSA GT
  • Nashville Superspeedway, TN: NASCAR Nationwide Series
  • Oulton Park, England: British F3, British GT
  • Mombasa, Kenya: KCB Safari Rally Kenya (FIA African Rally Championship)
  • Derry, Northern Ireland: Circuit of Ireland Rally (Irish Tarmac Rally Championship)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What have we learned

One final post before I put this whole car shopping thing to bed.

It's been terrifically engaging to spend all this time deciding on a new car, and it's fair to say that I've learned a lot from the process.

Gran Turismo 4 does a great job of simulating a car's behavior. There is no doubt that the rough impressions I got from my Gran Turismo track test were borne out for the most part in the real world. According to GT4 I could expect the Audi to need to stay in the upper rev range, the Evo to handle sublimely well, the M5 to feel heavy despite its power, and the STi to be the most fun, and it was totally right

The heart always wins. My father is great example of this. He is the most logical, analytical person in the world, but when it comes to cars for himself he'll usually go with what his heart tells him, and for the most part has been happier for it. From the very start I wanted an STi, but I made myself think critically and devise intelligent and methodical approaches to making a decision. However, when all was said and done, and there seemed little reason to not pick the STi, that's what the choice was. Yes, the Volvo would be marginally more practical, lower profile, more mature and less likely to endanger our drivers licenses, but it couldn't offset the emotional component of the decision.

Always bring someone with you. I drove two cars without someone I know, but they were never really a factor. For the cars that were serious contenders, that second opinion counted for a huge amount. K's opinion was critical, since she's going to be driving the thing on a regular basis, but even with the Evo and M3, which she didn't drive, it would have been easy to second-guess myself without my father being present. Validation of a decision really helps.

Test drive it properly. A little cruise around city streets says nothing about a car, especially if you enjoy a spirited drive. The Audi S4 was unable to make a case for itself until I took the second one out around Twin Peaks. I got to know the car well and although I didn't love the power delivery or handling, it was able to frame itself as being either a serious challenger or not. It's worth the extra trouble to meet the owner in a location that affords you the opportunity for a proper drive. When it comes to selling a performance car, the owner should expect buyers to want to see the car in its best light.

Test driving cars is easy and fun: If you can put up with private sellers' scheduling games or salesmen's pressure tactics, it's pretty easy to get a drive in a good car, even if you're not in the market. We had talked about going to drive some cars that weren't even on our list, just for the fun of it, but ran out of time. There is nothing to stop us doing that though - some might say it is unethical but I call it a free market. Now if I could just find a Mustang that doesn't have an automatic transmission...

Take it to a shop.
Duh, this is obvious, but the peace of mind is worth as much as averting potential financial disaster. My stomach was in knots waiting for the result of the STi's checkover but it was easily worth it.

Never own a boring car. We are truly lucky to have such a wealth of interesting cars available to us, and in the US for such a small amount of money. When I first researched used car values and began to draw up a shortlist, I was amazed at what was out there. In 3 or 4 years time, when we'll want something a bit more grown-up, the Volvo will still be there waiting, newer Audi S4s, S6s and RS4s will be an option, Subaru's Legacy Spec B will be worth a look, Pontiac should have a GXP version of the G8 by then, the list goes on. Too often sellers told us they were getting rid of their car to get a minivan or SUV because they had a child, when in reality the car they were selling would have no problems accommodating their needs. They were simply choosing to accept a stereotypical path that says you must not own an interesting car when you have a family. As you can see, this is simply untrue. You can own an interesting car throughout your life, and the STi marks the start of that philosophy for me.

The US market has turned a corner. Yes, there's a number of interesting European performance cars we can't get our hands on. But for the most part, the cars I read about in Evo magazine are cars I can buy. Fifteen (maybe even ten) years ago this wasn't the case. But companies have taken the gamble to bring cars like the Evo, WRX, Volvo R cars and the GTO to US shores, and they've done pretty well for the most part. Gradually the US car-buying public is discovering performance motoring.

I'm a lucky guy. Too few men have an enthusiastic and supportive partner when it comes to car buying. Even though a recent article in one of K's culinary magazines stated that women are making a greater number of automotive decisions in their households, I doubt that it's yet to reach that 50/50 proportion, and even if it does, there's nothing to suggest that it's making the life of the traditional car decision maker, the guy, any easier. In my case, it did. K's mother has a history of being into fast cars, and luckily the genes passed on. Selling the idea of buying a performance car didn't take much work, and throughout the process K did a superb job of providing important input where needed without derailing the process that I had mapped out in my head. She saw the enjoyment I was getting and shared in that, and when the time came the decision was a joint one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Return of the virtual track test - now with 100% less virtual - Part 3

And so to the top three cars on my shopping list. Remember that I first drove all candidates virtually on the magnificent Gran Turismo 4 Playstation game. At that time I was looking to learn about handling and get an idea of how quick the cars were. Back then, the BMW M3 led the way ahead of a Mercedes E55 (standing in for a BMW M5), the Mitsubishi Evo 8 and the Subaru WRX STi.

By the time K and I sat down to choose our car, there were only three cars left. Thrown to the curb were the cheap-feeling GTI, torque-steering Acura TL, overly-heavy BMW M5, uninspiring WRX, poorly-badged GTO, boy-racer Evo and expensive M3.

Third: Audi S4: The first S4 we looked at was much more appealing than I expected, decked out in bright red with the distinctive chrome Audi "S" mirrors. Inside the seats were a combination of leather and suede, the suede parts ensuring there would be none of the summer sweatiness that leather can create. Trim was a nice perforated titanium. Our test drive revealed little about the car, other than it had some decent power and credible brakes. One week later I found myself in another S4, this one ugly in silver with an all-leather interior with wood trim. Although I wouldn't have bought that particular car, it was close by and offered the opportunity to see how it really performed. The owner tossed me the keys and said "see you in ten minutes". Free of suspicious eyes, I took the car up around Twin Peaks, whose rough asphalt, variety of corners and minimal traffic provided a good venue to see what the 2.7 litre biturbo could do.

Straight off the bat the car exhibited notable turbo lag and I was forced to stay above 4500rpm. This could get very old when looking to accelerate into a gap on the freeway or city streets. The first hairpin told me much about the German's handling: heavy tyre squeel, as the car lolled over onto its sidewalls, protesting all the way. Having said that, it stayed on line - it was just a less than fun way of going quickly. This car's brakes were just as good as the red car's and were one of the highlights of the drive.

The thing is this: for $15,000 (or less) the S4 is a great car. K really liked it, especially the way it balances performance with refinement. My budget stretched further though, and the remaining two cars were just better, goshdarnit. As we mulled the decision over homemade pasta and mussels and a lovely French white, lower scores for external aesthetics and driving dynamics spelled doom for the Audi. Let's be clear however: this was a contender right up to the end.

Second: Volvo S60R: Who would have thought a Volvo would be one of my top two choices? In retrospect, I shouldn't be surprised - it was the dark horse of the virtual track test, despite being represented by the front-drive T5 version.

We convened at the South Beach Marina to see a silver '04 S60R. Unlike the majority of Rs, this one came with the optional (albeit mandatory in my book) bodykit, that transformed it from boring family car on kick-ass running gear to impressive sports-sedan. It certainly looked the part, although silver would not be my ideal choice of colour.

A consistent complaint of mine about Volvos is the ugly treatment of centre consoles - they make 'em wide, with lots of space between switches. This one was no different. However the leather seats were comfy, the clocks attractive and the ergonomics good. Once on our way, the first thing I noticed was the very light power steering. This did not bode well for how the car would feel during more spirited driving, especially as the steering wheel itself was a little too thick for comfort. Once onto more deserted streets behind the baseball stadium the R showed its muscle: deep reserves of power, delivered calmly all across the rev range. On the few corners on our test route it had more poise than the Audi, which surprised us at the time since we assumed it to be heavier - later research indicated the Volvo to be marginally lighter. Up onto the freeway all was sedate, plush and effortless. Brakes were decent enough but not worth writing home about.

This particular example had been well-cared for, came with a decent service history and had just firmly established itself as a contender. This is the car we would buy.


...there was no such thing as a Subaru Impreza WRX STi.

We met the 2004 STi's owner at the top of Twin Peaks, with a test route planned out that took in some of San Francisco's best (few / only) drivers' roads. We waited as the clock ticked away before finally the bright white of the Scooby's HID headlights appeared in our mirrors. I'll be honest here: I've always loved the looks of this car - the flared arches, outrageous hood scoop and mad wing for me contribute to a coherent exciting profile. K thinks it's a bit silly and she's probably right. A quick walkaround of this car showed it to be in very nice shape. Time to hop in: we were greeted by a very attractive blue and black interior with the coolest, raciest seats known to man. They were also very comfortable. A twist of the key lit up the lovely red dials and the stock exhaust burbled away with its flat-four exhaust note. I pulled out of the parking lot and started my way down the hill. A stab of the throttle hinted at immense, immediate power, and the next corner promised of mind-bending grip. The run down to the bottom was very entertaining, but it wasn't until we started back up the other side that the blue rocket sealed the deal. The road was wide, empty and straight, so I punched it. I have never, ever felt such speed and power in a four-wheeled vehicle - it was intoxicating, I wanted more and wanted it NOW. Through the next few sweepers the STi remained utterly composed. Halfway up, the route turns right onto a smaller road with much tighter corners. Now we'd learn about grip. Each corner I went faster and faster, before one final hairpin in which I just piled on as much speed as I could. The rally-rep just STUCK. It was the proverbial on-rails experience.

Now it was K's turn. Taking it easy on the first few corners before the road straightened out I wasn't expecting her to pile on the beans quite as soon or as hard as she did. We were screaming down the hill, rushing headlong into a rough hairpin. At the last minute she lay on the fabulous Brembo brakes and all returned to calm. "Hello" I thought, "this might actually be a realistic option". By the end of her drive I could tell - she'd been bitten too.

Just to be sure, I drove a white 2006 STi a couple of days later, and had my mad driving dad check it out too. Performance was identical, but the plain black interior of this white car was less impressive. Still, it was nice to have my initial impressions confirmed.

The Decision
I dashed back on Sunday evening having driven the last of the cars, with no doubt in my mind. I was ready to call and make an offer on the STi there and then. K, in her infinite wisdom, wanted a more methodical approach. So out came the laptops (and wine) and a comparison list was drawn up. Fuel consumption, time to pay off based on the same monthly payments, trunk space, power to weight ratio and subjective ratings of aesthetics and driving dynamics were all analyzed and discussed. Remarkably, almost everything came out even. Yes, the STi has the smallest trunk, and the Audi is the heaviest, but for the most part the comparisons indicated that we were free to pick based on what we wanted, not what we "should" buy. K knew that the Volvo was fighting a losing battle. I asserted that if we bought the S60, I'd experience a twinge of disappointment every time I got in it, thinking that I could have had an STi. The writing was on the wall. With one final flourish in which I had to promise to contribute to the cost of her first track day in the car, the STi was chosen. A call to the owner, an offer, an acceptance and we were good to go.

In three days time, K and I become STi owners, and faster than virtually anything else we come across out on the public roads of America. Lock up your women, children and animals...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New blog

Just a quick shout out for a new racing blog, Starting Grid News. These guys (like me) cover all kinds of racing, which is great since it makes for an interesting read. Check it out!

Return of the virtual track test - now with 100% less virtual - Part 2

After using Gran Turismo 4 to track test cars I was considering buying, the time had come to do some real-world test drives. The lowest ranked cars can be found here.

Sixth: Pontiac GTO: I originally hadn't considered one of these cars, but there was one for sale close by, with a low price, and the sun was shining and I was feeling whimsical, so I decided to try it. First impressions are very good: it has a powerful presence, especially this one in black, and the interior was sporty, leathery and bespoke. Seats were positioned low, with the gearshift easily at-hand. We started off around town where it rumbled menacingly, hinting at the demonic Corvette motor under the hood. Then came time to get on the freeway, and I unleashed the full power on the on-ramp. WOW! The Goat is insane! It's like being picked up by a heavyweight UFC fighter and hurled across the ring, terrifying and impressive at the same time. Around corners its weight betrayed it somewhat, but it still felt very sporty and exciting. The two biggest drawbacks are sadly not easy to fix: the Pontiac badge, and the rather plain styling. I need to feel pride in my car when asked what I drive, and I need to be excited when I walk out of my house and see it sitting there. Neither of these things are possible with the GTO. Sounds shallow, yes, I know.

Fifth: Mitsubishi Evo 8: From the very beginning, K warned me that she would hate the Evo. As boy-racer-ish as the STi is, the Evo is worse, much worse in her eyes. I can see her point. The design of the STi is more coherent, whilst the Evo looks like a cheap Japanese econo-box that's been tortured by a bunch of import-tuner drifter-wannabes. A scan of the classifieds revealed that for the most part, Evos have been molested, whilst STi owners were more likely to keep their's stock. It was late in the game when I got into an Evo, this one a nice black colour with a few mods but not too many. Unlike in GT4, power delivery felt higher up the rev range than the STi, perhaps as a result of the grapefruit-shooter exhaust. When it did arrive, the power was massive and the little Lancer took off like a scalded cat. Handling was ridiculous: in one classic moment, after I had handed the reins over to my track-day-addict father, we were on a 360-degree freeway on-ramp doing a ridiculous speed only to find wood-chips all over the road at the bottom. Did the Evo care? Not a bit, it proceeded as though there was nothing there. The poor young owner of the car did - he let out an involuntary yelp, surely a highlight for me of this whole process!

One thing that can't be denied is the sheer shittiness of the interior of the Mitsubishi. It really is an utterly unpleasant place to spend any time. Seats are supportive but ugly and the dash screams cheap Korean shopping car a la Ssang-Yong or Kia. Since a driver spends more time looking at the inside than outside, this alone DQ'ed the Evo. One other quick note - freeway manners were very good, with little of the go-kart stiffness I expected.

Fourth: BMW M3: The M3 was the last car I drove. By the time I got to it, my mind was virtually made up, although I knew the M3 had the potential to forestall my decision if it was special enough. It wasn't.

I expect BMWs to be very, very nice inside. The M5 had been, if a bit too haughty. This car was nice, but not up to the level I would expect and demand, given the going rates for a used one. Where my father's old E36 M3 would close its doors with a nice "whoomph", this one returned more of a mechancal "clank". Inside, switchgear was flimsier than the E36, seats felt no better than any other car I'd been in and the overall effect was of a good car, not a great one. Once out on the road, Dad and I both wondered where the additional 100bhp over the E36 had gone, because it didn't feel any faster. Weight is surely a factor. Adding to the negative impression was the badly-geared 6-speed tranny. Most of the other 6-boxes I'd tried added the sixth as a pseudo-overdrive, decreasing fuel consumption and noise when freeway cruising. The Beemer instead used it to shorten the other 5 gears, making for overly-frequent shifts. Rather than aiding acceleration rates, it disrupted the flow of the drive.

On the plus side, it had that typically buttery power you expect from a BMW straight-six, and its handling is sublime: safe (with traction control engaged), predictable, usable and with potential for massive enjoyment. Is this enough to justify going to the very top of my budget range to buy, maintain and insure? The cost of a clutch job and set of tyres was beginning to scare me to death - the fact it wasn't worth it made my decision a whole lot easier.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Return of the virtual track test - now with 100% less virtual

Back in the winter, when racing was scarce and the Playstation was looking dusty, I did a virtual track test of a number of cars I was considering buying, having switched jobs and putting myself in the place of being able to afford some new wheels.

So it's time to update the blog on the process, because I've made my choice and am in the process of buying something. Apologies for the tenuous racing connection in this post, but a number of readers had asked about where things stood.

A quick review of the contenders: '00-'02 Audi S4, '00-'02 BMW M5, '04-'05 Acura TL, '04-'05 Subaru WRX STi, '04-'05 Volvo S60R, '06-'07 VW GTI, '02-'05 Subaru WRX, '03-'06 Mitsubishi Evo, '01-'03 BMW M3 and I took a test drive in one other car not on the list, an '05 Pontiac GTO.

Here's how they stacked up:

Tenth: VW GTI: Admittedly a wild-card choice from the start, given it's front-wheel-drive platform, I was seriously concerned my partner K would fall in love with it whilst I would be less excited. This example sat on the nicer 17" rims as opposed to the ugly 18"s, and was a nice dark grey, with a carbon fibre intake under the hood. From the get-go it felt eager, with a fun power delivery from the 2.0 FSI turbo engine. The brakes were strong but snatchy. The two major knocks against it were the blah handling and an aura of cheapness. It didn't suffer from too much torque steer, but there was little of the planted feel you get with a 4wd or that lively back end in a RWD car. And despite VW's best attempts to match sister brand Audi in fit and finish, there was no doubt that this was an econobox. The nail in the coffin was the potential depreciation nightmare buying a very recent economy car for $18,000. Thankfully, K hated the car, after a brutal battle with the transmission which left both car and driver refusing to talk to each other.

Ninth: Acura TL: Another virtual non-starter due its FWD platform, but I've always liked the look of these cars, so wanted to see how they were to drive. After much searching I found a stick-shift example at a local dealer. The interior was the antithesis of the VW: it was light, airy, comfortable, classy, high-tech and generally pleasant. Clocks were easy to read and cutting edge in design. On the road, the power of the 3.2 V6 was really impressive, its sub-6 second 0-60 time very believable, despite the car's weight. All was going well until I hit the freeway on-ramp, and stood on the loud pedal. My gentle steering input was ruined by vicious torque steer as the front wheels struggled to cope with that much power whilst turning too. This resulted in instant disqualification, although I really liked everything else about the car. If they move the drive to the proper end of the car, this would be a true BMW 5-series competitor.

Eighth: BMW M5: Speaking of the 5-series... We tried an immaculate black 2000 M5, although pootling around Redwood City didn't reveal much of the car's handling or performance. What we could gather was that it was immensely powerful with a turbine-smooth delivery. However there was no getting around the fact that this was a massive vehicle. There was little fun to be had here, with the austere interior reminding me of those people who have a "formal" living room. K quite rightly exercised her veto power here, feeling uncomfortable with the size of the vehicle. To make things worse, the driving position and long hood required her to raise the seat to see where she was going, which forced her long legs up against the dash. I think it's safe to say that this is for people who want a big car that happens to be fast, not vice versa. In other words, not us.

Seventh: Subaru WRX: To be fair, the poor Rex had the dubious distinction of being driven after the STi, so comparisons were inevitable. Furthermore, it was forced to be compared with our current car, a lively, characterful 17-year old Subaru Legacy wagon that seems to go faster the further it goes beyond 200,000 miles. This WRX was filthy, owned by clueless owners and was fitted with a stupid HKS blow-off valve and turbo-timer, so the odds were utterly stacked against it. The 40bhp more than our wagon seemed like a small difference, and the grip levels were so much lower than the DCCD-equipped STi that it made for a tedious drive. The interior was utterly boring (which I knew from my rally co-driving days) and the seats were very average. My suspicion is that given a more entertaining road and less irritating owners, barking warnings and directions from the back seat, we might have thought more of this one.

Stay tuned for the top six...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Weekend Menu - Week 11

What a weekend ahead of us! ALMS starts their season with the magnificent Sebring 12 Hours, and Formula 1 finally sets us free from all the winter page-filling and mud-slinging and actually goes racing...

  • Sebring Raceway, FL: 12 Hours of Sebring (ALMS), Speed World Challenge, Star Mazda, IMSA GT3 Cup and IMSA Lites
  • Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia: ING Australian GP (F1), V8 Supercars
  • Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico: A1GP
  • Suzuka, Japan: SuperGT
  • Eastern Creek, Australia: Australian Superbike
  • Bristol Motor Speedway, TN: NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series
  • San Felipe, Mexico: San Felipe 250 (SCORE desert racing)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Groundbreaking in motorcycle racing

It's worth noting two major shifts in motorcycle racing that are occurring this weekend:

1. MotoGP is running its first-ever night race, in Qatar on Sunday. After numerous tests, there was virtually unanimous agreement amongst riders, officials, press and spectators that it works very well. Formula 1 will stage its first night race later this year in Singapore, and no doubt everyone involved in that effort will be taking a close look at this Sunday's race.

One funny thing is how teams are tackling the unique challenges of running at night. Team members have struggled to identify their own bikes on track, so Kawasaki have placed an illuminated Japanese character on the front of their bikes. How's this for imagination: the character reads "front"!

2. The AMA has sold all of their Pro Racing properties to a consortium led by the boss of Grand-Am and Moto-ST, Roger Edmondsen, and boss of the Daytona Speedway, Jim France. Unlike Dorna and Flammini's deals with the FIM to lease commercial rights for MotoGP and World Superbike, this one has involved an actual sale. The only thing that is leased is the AMA name. I'm not sure whether this is the smartest move on the AMA's part, but it does indicate a strong motivation to be rid of Pro Racing once and for all. Now that it's in the hands of a proper commercial promoter, we can expect many changes to make the show more interesting and fan-oriented, although those changes will be brought in gradually throughout 2008 and over the off-season.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The open-wheel spiderweb

Much has already been written about the "reunification" of American open wheel racing, and I'm not sure I can add much to the chatter. But one thing that has struck me is the sheer reach and knock-on effect of the situation.

When Tony George and Kevin Kalkhoven were trying to hash out a schedule, the first issue was the clash of dates between Long Beach and Motegi. So they went to Honda, who own the Japanese track and asked to move the date, which Honda agreed to. Now the FIA stepped in, since the rescheduled date was too close to the F1 Japanese Grand Prix, and TG and KK were forced back to the drawing board. They came up with a compromise that sees both races running on the same weekend with equal points available to competitors in both events. Attendees to the Californian event will be robbed of the opportunity to see the newly reunited series and all the top names, instead having to put up with a last gasp of ChampCar. Who knows how many cars will actually show up? Thank goodness that the ALMS is also part of the event.

What about the people? How many people are going to lose their jobs? What will these people be facing on a day-to-day basis? How many mortgage payments will be missed? This is truly the butterfly effect in action. One person who has already been laid off is Shrek-alike Paul Tracy, whose former team boss was one of the main shareholders in ChampCar. Perhaps the financial toll of propping up ChampCar for years has proved too much, and Gerry Forsythe simply can't face starting over.

The bulk of ChampCar races are gone for 2008. My local race, which had been scheduled at Laguna Seca for May will once again have to go ahead as a standalone Grand-Am event. The cancellation of the Houston race has forced that entire event to postpone until 2009, despite a promise a few weeks ago that it could run as an ALMS event. This is bad news for the Risi Competizione Ferrari ALMS team who are based in Houston and use that race as a major opportunity for entertaining team sponsors and guests. How many local merchants are losing major contracts? I feel bad for the trucking company contracted to move those big concrete walls, but even worse for the low-income local residents who work for Reliant Park as parking lot attendants and t-shirted security and who are only paid when there are events.

Over in Australia, the Surfer's Paradise event will be going through some changes. The weakening of the Indycar side of that weekend in recent years was good news in part for V8 Supercars, which lately had attracted more interest in the weekend than ChampCar. That is set to change, even though this year it's likely to be a non-points event for the IRL, due to contractual obligations to Chicagoland Speedway which has a lock on being the season-closer. A reschedule is not possible due to the V8 Supercars race, which can't move. Next year, organizers will be able to pick a date that ensures the race will have championship significance.

So whilst everyone is purely focused on car counts and the bringing together of two sets of drivers, it's worth considering that this thing means much, much more to many people and organizations.

Weekend Menu - Week 10

MotoGP is back this weekend, and AMA kicks off with the Daytona 200.

  • Daytona Speedway, FL - AMA Superbike and the Daytona 200
  • Losail, Qatar - MotoGP and 125 and 250cc GP
  • Atlanta Motor Speedway - NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Craftsman Trucks
  • Eastern Creek, Australia - V8 Supercars
  • Teretonga Park, New Zealand - NZV8s