Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Racecars and Street Cars

by Tammy

The stereotype of a racing fan is, among other traits, one who leaves the track so influenced by what they've watched that they imagine themselves the next Andretti or Earnhardt and speed away in his or her Chevy Malibu (or Mazda 3 or Ford Fusion) only to get a speeding ticket or wreck the car on the way home.

So here's my question: Racing fans out there, are you so intoxicated by watching speed at the track that you push your speed in the corners, heel-and-toe downshift, and aim for the apex in the corners? Do you speed?

(Note: I live in Los Angeles, so I count some amount of speeding as a given. But I'm talking about more than the standard 10 m.p.h above the speed limit that just might escape the notice of the cops.)

I've never wanted the fastest car money could buy. I've never wanted to go 100 m.p.h. anywhere, really, let alone on highways or in other situations where everyone else on the road wasn't prepared for it. (Yes, the irony of me writing about a racecar driver is not lost on me.) My husband, on the other hand, has occasionally pushed the speedometer higher than I ever would. And as a car guy, he's always fascinated with high horsepower and speed vehicles. Which is why one of the most interesting outcomes of being intimately involved with the racing world is that he has less desire to own or drive such a car than ever before.

The reason is that he's realized how different a real racecar is than any car you can buy for the street. (OK, Corvette fans, I can hear you shouting about Corvette models, such as the ZR1, which, I'll grant you is about as close to a racecar as you can get.) But the point is that after watching racecars tuned and prepped for the racetrack be driven within inches of their performance limits, the idea of having a car whose performance limits we'll never touch more than 20% of just seems like a waste.

Now, I'm not saying we don't appreciate high performance cars. But for our needs, we go with a good power-to-weight ratio so that what we drive feels fun, quick, and zippy.

What about all of you? Do you drive your Porsches, Corvettes, Mazda 3s and occasionally punch it up to far, far above the posted speed limit? Do you take your cars to the track? Or do you just dream of speed in your four-door sedan or mini-van? I don't judge....

Thursday, October 27, 2011


SIMON:I have an automotive bucket list. They are the cars I must drive before I die. Some of them are likely to kill me in the process but so be it.

My must-drives are:
1. A modern Grand Prix car. I’m not fussy. Any one will do. I just have to experience the pinnacle of the automotive brilliance.

2. A Ferrari
308GTS. Yes, that’s the Magnum PI car. It's a tad slow by modern standards, but I don't care. I’ve wanted one of these since I was ten years old and I was planning to buy one by the time I was 25. However, I blew my Ferrari fund on racing. In the space of 3yrs, I could have bought two.

3. Aston Martin DBS. I think Aston’s resurgence over the last decade is fantastic. They have the world’s most beautiful cars. Sorry Ferrari. Also they sound fabulous.

4. A Caterham Super Seven. If a sports car had to be reduced to its essence, it would be Colin Chapman’s Super Seven. It’s about handling, power and weight. Nothing else is necessary.

5. One of Jim Clark’s Grand Prix cars. Again, I’m not fussy. I just want to driven what he raced. It’s as simple as that.

6. The Jaguar XJ-13. It was the successor to the D-Type. Sort of. Never got beyond the prototype stage. It’s a tad exclusive seeing as there’s only one. It was my favorite matchbox car that I had as a kid. I’d spend hours just looking at it. This might be tough task, but it could happen.

This list could keep going, but I'll stop there. This is a nice list of awesomeness that I'd love to get my hands on, even just for a day. So what's on your list, Tam Tam?

TAMMY: My dying-to-drives aren't as likely to kill me because I'll be too petrified of messing them up to do much with them.

1. 1957 T-Bird. My dad owned one when I was growing up, but it left the family when I was 10. I'd like to tool around in one and look cool some day.

2. 1957 Corvette. (Sensing a theme here?) That may be my favorite car. At least of the moment.

3. A Jaguar E-Type. Simply awesome. I'm realizing that my list is mostly about how cool I'll look and feel driving around in them. Is that bad? Who cares. It's my list.

4. A New Bugatti. Just because it costs so freaking much. I'll make sure to put my husband in the passenger seat so he can chant "$100, $100, $100" with every passing mile to represent how much it costs. (I made that figure up, by the way.)

5. 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Oh yeah. The pinnacle of Detroit steele and futurama styling. Just enormous and absurd and awesome.

What about the rest of you? What's on your bucket list?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Admitting to the Appeal of Danger in Racing

by Tammy

For the second time in a week, a racer has died of injuries sustained in a race. This week it was Marco Simoncelli, a motorcycle racer in MotoGP, who was apparently dragged by his bike and hit by other riders who had nowhere to go. It's just a week since the death of Dan Wheldon at the Las Vegas IndyCar race, of course.

And not often mentioned, but equally felt in the racing world, was the death of off-road racing champion Rick Huseman in a small plane crash the same day as Wheldon. Has there been a deadlier week for motorsport? Perhaps there has, and the shock of this week has more to do with how few deaths there have been in recent years given all of the safety improvements.

I've spent a bit of time this week examining my own reaction to the danger of death in motorsport, and I've come to a few conclusions. I've gotten over my own (admittedly absurd) knee-jerk reaction that would effectively wrap all drivers in bubble wrap (or closed-cockpit cars). I like watching drivers struggle with the edge of control as they race each other, and if that means they spin off, brush a wall, crumple a fender, good. But I don't really ever like accidents that prevent a driver from continuing to race--not even for those guys I don't like and never want to see win. And I really don't like when drivers are really hurt.

I recognize the "have your cake and eat it too" aspect of those statements, however. Because you can't have drivers riding on the edge without the danger of big, small, and fatal wrecks. And I have to admit, while I don't want accidents to happen, or watch them in gory detail when they do, I am completely fascinated by the psyche of people who strap themselves into cars (or onto bikes) in spite of that danger. That's part of why I write about a driver, Kate Reilly, whose attitude is much like that I've heard from most of the racing world this week: sure, we realize the risk is there, but we take every precaution, trust in our equipment, and don't let the possibility prevent us from doing what we love and what we're good at.

Bottom line: humans are going to do stuff that could get themselves killed. Some activities are dumber and less regulated and protected than others (think running with the bulls in Pamplona, the Jackass movies, etc., all stuff I really won't watch). Humans will push limits, and occasionally we receive painful reminders of the potential consequences.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Fix IndyCar ... or Not

TAMMY: The only topic in the world of racing this week has been the passing of Dan Wheldon. The wind has been taken out of the sails of most in that world, and it's hard to contemplate another race (though there are still races to be run, including a typically fun one in Aussie V8 Supercars). That's not what this blog is about, however.

The conversation among drivers, industry insiders, fans, friends, and media has primarily centered on is How To Fix It. How to make sure it never happens again. How to feel like you're doing something to mitigate the grief. Every reaction and comment has been magnified and transmitted far beyond the norm, because of the increased attention of the media and therefore the world. Statements have been made by people who know what they're talking about and people who don't.

Suggestions have ranged from plexiglass catch "fencing" that would presumably bounce a car back onto the track but not tear it up, to closed-cockpit IndyCars that would offer more protection to the driver, to never allowing IndyCars to race 225 m.p.h., to ensuring they can't run in packs. I've stated many times before that I have a sportscar and road course bias, and I can't help thinking that IndyCar drivers would be a lot safer with a lid.

But I know Simon and others will argue for open-cockpit cars as being plenty safe. Simon, how would you "fix things," or would you change them at all?

SIMON: It’s a tough call. I think a lot of crap has been talked this week from various quarters that kind of feels like a mix between arse covering and thinly disguised attempts to say NASCAR is safer and better. At the end of the day, racing involves speed and crashes are inevitable and fatalities are a possibility and trying to pretend they aren’t is ridiculous.

I will say open-cockpit cars are safe. The driver is pretty well cocooned in there now. The driver’s head is supported from the sides and back. The driver sits very low now and their head doesn’t ride too high out of the cockpit like it did even ten years ago. Closed cockpit isn’t the answer. It’s been talked about before in F1 and it didn’t go far then and I think it has even less reason now. The issue comes down to escape routes. You enclose the cockpit and a driver will struggle to escape. The interesting thing that will come out of this crash will be the survival cell. Did anything fail and can it be improved. I’d be interested what comes out of the crash analysis.

I would like to see the design of Vegas Motorsport and for another oval, say Michigan or Indy, because the wall looked a little low on TV, so whether any design issues can be improved there.

For me, the big question is ovals themselves. The issue I have with ovals is that there's nowhere to go in a crash. There’s the wall. With a road course, there are gravel traps, tire walls and run off. A spins off on a road course, a car has somewhere to go. There’s room for the car to decelerate before hitting something. There isn’t with an oval. You hit an immovable object in the form of a wall. It’s a high speed impact combined with massive deceleration (or negative G). Physics takes over and there’s not a lot car design can do to change that. The interesting thing will be if anyone can calculate a survivable speed. It might not have made a difference if Dan had crashed at 200mph or 100mph. I would like to know whether there’s anything oval designers can do to soften the wall. Anything that can diffuse the energy would be a massive help. That would be my big fix.

That said, I think Sunday’s pileup was a perfect storm of elements that created something that is the exception and not the rule when it comes to crashes. Any attempts to un-write what happened with kneejerk solutions to help soothe the pain a lot of people are feeling will only create more problems.

TAMMY: Well, I agree on a few points. It was a perfect storm of bad stuff, any one of which hardly ever happens, but when taken together: disaster. I also agree that the situation requires slow study rather than knee-jerk response. I'm not so sure about the argument that closed-cockpit cars being hard to get out of. Look at sportscar racing. They get out of cars just fine. And the collar that IndyCar drivers have holding them in place seems awfully difficult for the drivers to manage. But perhaps it's the closed-cockpit of the IndyCar configuration that would be hard.

What do the rest of you think? Is there a way to fix things? What's the best approach?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


As most of you are probably aware, IndyCar driver, Dan Wheldon, died on Sunday. He succumbed to his injuries in a horrific crash at the IRL season finale held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I don’t want to talk about the crash or point fingers, but I just want to touch on some points that invariability get brought up in the aftermath of a tragedy like this.

Naturally the topics of speed and safety are raised. These cars go fast. Yes, they do. Are they faster than the engineering can support? I don’t think so. There have been times when the power has had the upper hand over handling and the sport has had to reel the power in. I don’t think we’re in that situation here. Some people have mentioned that NASCAR is a safer sport than open wheel and I would debate that. Ignoring Dale Earnhardt’s crash, look at Dario Franchitti’s NASCAR crash from a few years ago when he got tee-boned. His driver’s side caved in exposing him the elements. IndyCars are well-designed cars. Formula One incorporated some of their design features for front end crashes because they were superior. As with all single seaters, open canopy is an issue, but if you look at the current IndyCars, the driver’s head and neck is protected immensely. Those cars, like all racecars are built as well as they can be. Consider these vehicles are traveling two and three times freeway speeds and fatalities are a rarity in the sport. There's an element of risk in this sport and you accept it or you don’t compete.

My writing and racing buddy, Rick Helms made a valid point on Sunday. He said, “Racing drivers have the most remarkable ability to—on one hand—place themselves into amazingly dangerous situations while—at the same time—engaging in complete denial that this could by their day. Not one driver in the race at Vegas today strapped into the car fearful for his or her life.” And Rick is right. I don’t know if you call it compartmentalization or passion trumping good sense or plain denial, but I never once strapped myself into a racecar fearing for my life. I won’t say I wasn’t scared. Sometimes that six-point kept me from leaping the car and running for mummy. What scared me wasn’t dying or serious injury. I knew it was an option, but I had faith in my car that it would protect me. No, my overriding fear wasn’t death, but failing. I wanted to give it my all and cross that finish line with a result that meant something. Leaving the race with an expensive wreck or a DNF to my name scared me more.

Unfortunately, I’ve known a couple of drivers who died at races and it does affect me. I mourn the people I’ve known or admired every time I’m at a track where the tragedy happened or an anniversary rolls around. As much as I didn’t want it happen to me, no driver stopped me from getting back into a car again. It couldn’t dislodge my desire to race.

As for the crash, people have pointed fingers at the track design, inexperienced drivers and a number of other factors and while there may be some merit to these claims, crashes like involving lots of cars happen. They're rare, but they happen. Even though cars are racing wheel to wheel, you’d be surprised at the rhythm to a race. You have an awareness to what it happening around you. Even when someone spins out, the rhythm remains intact and the race continues. Unfortunately, there are those times a sequence of small crashes ignite a pileup. I was in a race where I was one of only four cars to survive the first two corners. It started with two cars coming together at the front of the pack, a couple of people overreacted to start other small crashes. This unsettled some of the remaining drivers and they took that uncertainty into the next corner wiping out more cars. The whole thing unfolded like a scene from a Final Destination movie and it was ugly and scary. As much as crashes involving large numbers of cars shouldn’t happen, they do and they will continue to do so. Stopping them is like claiming we should bring an end to winter. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’m not sure if I have a point to this piece other than to give a little insight. At the end of the day, a driver who I truly admired lost his life and I wish it could be taken back. I accept that tragedies like Dan’s happen, as does every racing driver and everybody should too.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Fiction Won't Break Your Heart

by Tammy

I write fiction. Murder mysteries set in the racing world. Which means that I cheerfully plot how and why someone dies. Sometimes it's someone who deserved to die. Sometimes it's not. Typically, the bad guy who did it is caught, and always in mysteries, readers have the satisfaction of knowing why it happened.

We say truth is stranger than fiction. The racing world today knows it's significantly more heatbreaking than fiction, too. A very good racecar driver died Sunday in the opening minutes of the last IndyCar race of the season. He won this year's Indy 500 (his second win). He'd tested the new 2012 IndyCar chassis, and one tweet I saw said he was excited about its safety measures. He was 33 and leaves behind a wife and two children.

Racing's an extremely dangerous sport and business. And sometimes there are no reasons why, bad things just happen. One such happened Sunday.

Rest in peace, Dan Wheldon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Picks for 2011 (with guests!)

This is an very unscientific poll. Which really means "the people Tammy could get to answer questions," even if they're not the most racing savvy.... (Thanks to Simon and frequent guest Steve Ulfelder!)

Tammy: American Le Mans Series
Shane: Formula 1
Miruna*: IndyCar. At least Indy has two guys trying for the title, not the whole group trying to catch the guy so far ahead that there's no way it'll happen, like F1.
Chet**: ALMS
Steve: Grand-Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. OK, I’m biased: I have several friends in this series; my company, Flatout Motorsports, built the Mazda MX-5 that won at Laguna Seca; and this is the only pro series I have any shot at ever actually driving in. But all that aside, Continental Tire features lots of elements race fans love: true production-based cars, multi-class competition, six or eight different marques with an honest shot at winning, and of course hard doorhandle-to-doorhandle racing.
Roger: ALMS
Simon: IRL

(*Miruna is a lifelong F1 fan.)
(**Chet is married to me and thus, I did not have to pay him to say this.)

BEST RACING ACTION (duo, teams, class, etc.)
Tammy: ALMS GT class
Shane: ALMS GT class
Miruna: Flying Lizards Porsche v. Risi Competizione Ferrari, last lap, Laguna Seca, ALMS GT class
Chet: ALMS GT class
Steve: There was lots of action in the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype class this year, as various teams did their damnedest to knock off Chip Ganassi Racing. For me, the best kept secret in bigtime racing is NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck series. While the Sprint Cup guys are calling their brokers all day, and Nationwide just doesn’t have enough strong competition, the truck guys race hard all night long, strategy be damned.
Roger: Hendrick Motorsports (NASCAR)
Simon: IRL

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (individual, team, series, etc.)
Tammy: Lewis Hamilton
Shane*: The 2012 IndyCar. An ugly, shitty spec racer somehow manages to get uglier, less compelling and loses its biggest star (Danica) to the second ugliest, shittiest spec series on the planet.
Miruna: All other Formula 1 teams besides Red Bull Racing.
Chet: Anyone wrecked out by Jamie Melo**
Steve: Hmm, are Danica Patrick and Dale Junior (yeah, yeah, I know he made the Chase. Yawn) even disappointments anymore, or have we come to expect their midpack finishes? I was disappointed that Brian Vickers and Red Bull racing didn’t mount a better effort in Sprint Cup; I think Vickers is a true wheel man just waiting for the right ride.
Roger***: The San Francisco Giants!
Simon: The decline of Williams F1

(*Shane is never one to hold back.)
(**Jamie Melo drives for Risi Competizione in the ALMS GT class. We are Corvette Racing and Flying Lizard Porsche fans in our household.)
(***Roger is Tammy's father. He doesn't know much about racing.)

Tammy: That Fernando Alonso wasn't as annoying as usual.
Shane: More manufacturers announce a return to Le Mans. Toyota and Nissan, specifically.
Miruna: Bruno Senna doing OK in F1. I didn't realize HRT was that bad.
Chet*: That Jamie Melo isn't the one killed in Dead Man's Switch, my wife's book.
Steve: The Indy 500, with JR Hildebrand wrecking in the final corner!
Roger: Danica Patrick
Simon: That Dan Weldon struggled to get a drive this year.

(*OK, I might have to pay my husband for that one.)

MOST ANNOYING (individual, team, series, etc.)
Tammy: Kyle Busch (with Fernando Alonso as a strong runner up)
Shane: The US media's continual fascination with NASCAR, the continued plight of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the first true hissy fit/meltdown that Danica Patrick has in NNS.
Miruna: Whiny Massa (That's Felipe Massa, F1.)
Chet: Jamie Melo
Steve: The answer to that question is always Kyle Busch.*
Roger: Kyle Busch*
Simon: I'll take the 5th on that one. :-)

(*This is why I adore Steve, even though we've never met, and why Roger and I are related.)

Tammy: Leena Gade, Race Engineer, Audi (first female race engineer to win Le Mans). (That's her in the photo.)
Shane: Jenson Button. Classy, seemingly a nice guy, unperturbed, loads of money, great taste in cars, and quietly loves watching as his success and demeanor cause Lewis Hamilton to slowly fall apart. Either that or Valentino Rossi, because the man seems incapable of not having fun in life.
Miruna: One of the guys in the winning Audi R18 at Le Mans.
Chet: I'm pretty satisfied being myself.
Steve: You know who I never liked as a driver but enjoy as a team owner? Michael Andretti. He’s got a strong IndyCar operation going, and he seems to take the whole thing seriously but not too seriously … I like his approach to the whole circus.
Roger: Helio Castroneves
Simon: Me 20yrs ago, starting out all over again. :-)

Tammy: This year: Jimmie Johnson might take it. Next year: ABDPODEJ (Anyone But Danica Patrick or Dale Earnhardt, Junior. I'm not happy saying it; I wish they'd fulfill their promise. But I don't see it happening.)
Shane: (for 2012) Button edges Vettel in F1 in 2012, but only barely. Corvette finally wins an ALMS GT championship, Sebastien Ogier wins in WRC and Valentino Rossi finally comes on form with his Ducati and wins MotoGP over Casey Stoner. NASCAR and IndyCar manage to go another entire year without me noticing, unless there's a giant fiery wreck somewhere, or Dale Jr. announces he's gay or is actually an illegal alien or something to really piss his fan base off.
Miruna: Dario Franchitti to take the Indy title again.
Chet: Whoever gets the most points with clean racing.
Steve: I wish I’d been asked this a few weeks ago, when many had declared Jimmie Johnson out of the Sprint Car running. I knew that dude would get back to the front. He is Joe Montana: makes it look easier than it is, always seems to show up when the money’s on the table. Although I and millions of others would like to see someone else win the crown, Number 48 will be Sprint Cup champion yet again.
Roger: The Oakland Raiders!
Simon: Anybody but the Raiders...

What do the rest of you think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DID NOT FINISH in the Winner's Circle

I'm in deadline hell this week, so I'm ignoring the world. Instead of dead cyber-air, I'm leaving you with some reviews for DID NOT FINISH, which has scored big with the trades: Kirkus, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Here's what they said:

"A killer who strikes in the middle of an event makes England’s car-racing circuit even more dangerous than usual.

"Aidy Westlake was orphaned by a car crash—his father and mother drove into a fatal accident on the way home from a race—but that hasn’t kept him from taking the wheel of a Formula Ford. A rookie driver in the middle of a crowded field, Aidy naturally looks up to Alex Fanning, whose performance so far favors him to win the Clark Paints Formula Ford Championship, and can’t imagine why Alex would be prepared to quit the circuit for his fiancée Alison Baker. The race that follows proves to be Alex’s last in more ways than one. Moments after the Ford driven by Derek Deacon, a brutish veteran competitor who’d already threatened to do whatever it took to win, nudged Alex’s car, it crashed and killed him. The other racers, close-knit to a fault, refuse to believe that Deacon bumped Alex on purpose. And the evidence supports them, because video footage of the crash has mysteriously disappeared from all the places most likely to have it, and Det. Len Brennan, of the Wiltshire Police, is obviously protecting Deacon. Aidy is determined to prove Deacon’s guilt, but when he and his only allies, his grandfather Steve and his mechanic Dylan, are threatened, beaten and arrested along with him, his detective work looks like a losing bet.

"Wood (Terminated, 2010, etc.) kicks off this new series with a streamlined narrative, a spot of believable romance and some deftly introduced tidbits about the British racing circuit. Think of Dick Francis’ early thrillers, especially Nerve, but with a lot more horsepower."

Library Journal:
"A third-generation racecar driver, Aidy Westlake might still be a rookie on the course, but his instincts for crime are right on track. He knows bully Derek Deacon threatened rival Alex Fanning the night before the race. Now Alex is dead, and Derek’s car was part of the fatal accident. Aidy is convinced it’s a homicide, and he goes to considerable lengths to avenge Alex’s untimely death, despite rebuffs from the police, race sponsors, and fellow drivers. With his best friend, Dylan, and grandfather Steve on his team, amateur detective Aidy keeps on digging until he manages to endanger those he loves. A breathtaking finale will linger long in readers’ minds. VERDICT Prepare to accelerate with Wood’s (Terminated) new series. His first-person narrative brings you close to the action and ratchets up the personal intensity."

Publishers Weekly:
"At the start of this agreeable first in a new car-racing series from Wood (Terminated), thuggish champion driver Derek Deacon threatens to kill a rival, Alex Fanning. When Fanning dies after Deacon collides with him during a race in a West Country regional championship, the police fail to interview vital witnesses, and authorities rush to label the crash an accident. In addition, someone orders the destruction of the official tape of the fatal race. Outraged, rookie driver Aidy Westlake begins his own investigation. Inexperienced but persistent, he turns up evidence of a criminal conspiracy that puts him and his friends in danger. Wood convincingly portrays Aidy’s awkward efforts at amateur detection as well as his gentle, tentative romance with the dead man’s fiancée, while entertainingly imparting information about the perils and exhilaration of single-seat Formula Ford racing. Dick Francis fans will find a lot to like."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Runaway Winners

by Tammy

When a single driver runs away with a season, is it fun to watch? Sebastian Vettel, the new 2011 Formula 1 champion, is merely the latest case in point. Jimmie Johnson in the first four consecutive years of NASCAR championship seasons was another. The seeming inevitability of Jimmie's first few championships (his fifth, in 2010, and the possibility of him winning this season are much longer-shots) have been credited by some with making NASCAR boring and losing the sport fans.

My lukewarm attention to NASCAR hasn't changed much, regardless of who's winning--and I've even watched final races a bit more the last two years to see if he can pull a championship off again. But I agree that when the result seems inevitable, as with Vettel (above) this year, I'm less likely to turn the races on.

Does the name of the driver running away with things make a difference? If it were Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for instance, there'd probably be an increase in viewers. But all drivers have people who both love and hate them, so I expect there will be as many die-hard fans who'll tune in with delight for any individual. I think the impact is felt more in the fans like me: we watch for the racing more than for one person to win, and we don't particularly like or dislike any one person at the expense of any other (OK, with one exception: Kyle Busch).

But with his 12 pole positions and nine wins (in 15 races), Vettel has been a monotonous presence at the top of the lists. While I admire his talent and accomplishment, I get the point already. And while there's been some good racing action, it's most often been for places 2-10, which takes some of the bloom from the rose. I've found myself watching broadcasts less than in past years, though I still read the summary articles and track what happens.

Which makes me wonder if there's something to be said after all for a series format like that of the Pirelli World Challenge, where series regulations spell out how race winners will be awarded ballast weight as a consequence of their wins. What do the rest of you think? Runaway winners, fun or boring?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tiger Tim

There hasn’t been much in the way of good movies made about motorsport, but I’d like to point you in the direction of a little known TV movie called FULL THROTTLE starring Rowan Atkinson. Made in the mid-90’s, it’s probably the best movie about motorsport. It’s a biopic about Sir Henry 'Tiger Tim' Birkin.

Set in the late 1920’s, Tiger Tim is a gentleman driver, a socialite and a tad eccentric, but he’s one of W.O. Bentley’s star drivers. Bentley dominance in motorsport is coming to an end now that Mercedes has started supercharging their cars. W.O. is a pragmatic man and won’t throw endless money into motorsport and rejects the idea of developing a ‘blower’ Bentley. This forces Tiger Tim to take matters into his own hands to develop the Blower Bentley and he doesn’t care how he does it and who he hurts.

FULL THROTTLE is a tragic tale about a man consumed by his passion. There's so much to love about him and so much to dislike. He’s a hero and a scoundrel. Rowan Atkinson is excellent as Tiger Tim.

If you get the chance to check out FULL THROTTLE, please do so. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Notes from a Sunday Race Day

by Tammy

After a trip to Atlanta for Petit Le Mans (I saw less of the race than I'd hoped, but spent a lot of time talking to race fans who like to read!), I decided that Sunday was devoted to doing as little as possible, and watching a lot of racing. Primary on the schedule is the two-hour recap of Petit in the afternoon (the view down the hill to Turn 12 at right), but at mid-day I flipped back and forth between NASCAR at Dover (New Hampshire) and IndyCar at Kentucky. Ovals, both. (Silly of the series to roll their races off at almost exactly the same time of day.)

Since what I like are the stories, here are some of the interesting ones that came up:
  • Tony Kanaan and Vitor Meira, IndyCar drivers, are both training for the Championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. That's a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run in a 17-hour timeframe. That's insane.
  • NASCAR threw a couple cautions for rain. I know, I know, they can't deal with rain on ovals. But it's boring. (Yes, sportscar and roadcourse snobbery in effect here.)
  • IndyCar looked like a farce for a while. As one Twitter user posted, "I mean ... is it that hard to go into the pits and stop? Left lane is for those about to pull in and right is for enter/exit." In one set of yellow-flag pit stops, there were two collisions and two cars running into crew members. It wasn't a good advertisement for the professionalism of the drivers in the series, sadly.
  • Of course, then IndyCar gave us a fairytale finish, with Ed Carpenter winning for the first time in 113 starts and giving team owner Sarah Fisher her first owner win. That win came after at least 15 laps of side-by-side racing with Dario Franchitti, and came with Ed's car's nose only about a foot in front of Dario's. Epic finish.
  • Racing breaks hearts as often as it brings joy to teams. The season-long (decades-long?) rivalry between Audi and Peugeot added another contentious chapter at Petit. Both teams had one of their two cars break and have to be retired. The other two clashed in a way that saw the Audi R18 out of the race, leaving the Peugeot to take the win of the race and the International Le Mans Cup (ILMX) season championship. Race control and Peugeot took the view that the clash was a racing incident. Audi had a different view.
  • After fighting through crowds at Petit Le Mans all weekend, it's strange to see stands for the ovals at Kentucky and Dover half-empty. Everyone tells me people like ovals because they're great to watch, since you can see the whole track from every seat, unlike road/street courses. Hmmm.
Did anyone else watch any of the races? Any other interesting storylines?