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.