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, December 17, 2012

See You in Daytona!

by Tammy

As some of you may know, I'm currently writing the third Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, this one set at the 24 Hours of Daytona. I attended the race once, in 2007, and I've watched it many times. But I've never really been inside the race before. But that's all going to change come January.

No, I won't be driving a car. But I'll be doing the next best thing.

Through the generosity of Kevin Buckler (with me, right) and The Racer's Group (whose friendship and support goes all the way back to 2004), I'm going to embed as part of the TRG team for the race weekend. That means I'll be sitting in the pits for as many of the 24 hours as I can manage (I won't promise not to sneak off to find a stack of tires to take a nap on), and typing just as fast as my fingers will allow.

Not only will I be doing research (I've got two pages of notes about questions to ask already), but I'll also be posting to Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, both for myself, for TRG, and maybe for other media outlets.

So anyone who wants a photo of a hard-working writer, let me know, and I'll send one. And feel free to send me (@tkaehler) or TRG (@theracersgroup) questions throughout the race. I'll be happy to give you all the inside scoop I can about what it's really like in the pits for a 24 hour race ... from the excitement of the start to the dragging, cold hours of the night.

Stay tuned for more!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Gifts for the Race Fan

TAMMY: It's that time of year again, so Santa Simon and Elf Tammy are here to help you find the coolest gifts for your favorite race fans.

1. I've mentioned the racetrack coasters I got for my birthday this year, which I still enjoy the heck out of. Even better, you can test the race fan's dedication by seeing if they know all the tracks.

2. To go a step further on the track map idea, Griot's Garage will sell you wall hangings of track maps, so you can show your love in wood, on the wall.

3. Merchandise from Glass Hammer Racing, at the URL www.beatbyagirl.org (which is awesome). Glass Hammer exists to "encourage the interest and participation of young women in motorsports," and they do so by sponsoring, coaching, and providing scholarships for established or aspiring drivers (photo here from one such event, courtesy of Jessica Bean's Facebook page). Once-and-future (we hope) IndyCar racer Pippa Mann (second from left in the photo) works with young women through Glass Hammer, and I see the organization out there at a lot of races rallying around women in the industry.

4. Support a young racer. For example, Jessica Bean (who also works with GHR, in full black firesuit in photo), is trying to raise funds to get herself back in a midget racecar in 2013. You can donate through gofundme.com's page for Jessica. I donated last week, and I'll be looking for news on her season next year.

5. The experience of driving or riding-along in a stock car. At tracks across the country, you can strap into passenger or driver's seat of a real NASCAR stock car and take a few laps. (Simon, I think we need to arrange this the next time you're down in Los Angeles.)

Of course, it goes without saying that mysteries set in the racing world make the #1 gift, right?! Simon, what can you add to the list of good gift ideas?

SIMON: Ah, Christmas laps but once a year, so what to get that race fan in your life.  Here's my thoughts.

1. Buy tickets for a race in 2013. Whether you're into NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars, go see a race in the flesh. Dollar for dollar, motorsport is pretty good value for money compared to other sporting events or live entertainment in general.

2. Pre-order Tammy's next book, Braking Point (a title which she stole from me). Also check out our good pal, Steve Ulfelder's Conway Sax books.  Good people writing good books.

3. Tammy mentioned driving a stock car, but you could go a little smaller and affordable and buy that someone special a gft certificate to an indoor go-kart track.  They're all over the country, so you can't miss.

4. Steve Matchett has an interesting memoir called, The Mechanic's Tale.  It's an older book but still available. Warning: this book could leave oilstains.  :-)

I think that's all from me for this Xmas season, but if there's something you're hoping to find in your Christmas stocking, then call it out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

NASCAR's Early Days

by Tammy

I finally finished reading a book someone recommended a while back about the early days of NASCAR: Driving With the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels, and the Birth of NASCAR, by Neal Thompson.

The back-of-the-book copy sums it up better than I could:
Part Disney, part Vegas, part Barnum & Bailey, NASCAR is also a multibillion-dollar business and a cultural phenomenon that transcends geography, class, and gender. But dark secrets lurk in NASCAR’s past.

The bottom line Thompson tell us is that revisionist history would have NASCAR springing from the genius of Jim France on the sands of Daytona Beach ... which is only partially true. France had the iron will and the foresight to see what NASCAR could become (though how could he have envisioned the megalith it is today?). But daredevil drivers pushing souped-up cars to the limit? That came from moonshiners seeking to outrace the authorities on their tails.

What I most enjoyed, and why I recommend the book, wasn't the story of how criminals and illegal acts were the genesis of NASCAR (though that's amusing), but the stories of the early stars. Thompson clearly admires them too ... what they accomplished and against what odds. Men like Raymond Parks, the first, great team owner (who funded his racing efforts from his empire of illegal or slightly legal businesses); Red Vogt, the first genius mechanic, and Red Byron, NASCAR's first (and by some accounts, first two-time) champion. (Byron, by the way, won dozens of races and his championships with a leg full of shrapnel from WWII.)

Most of all, as history does, this book of NASCAR's history helps illuminate the present. The origins of the racing series in running 'shine and breaking the law explain some of the affinity the modern fan has for the rebels in the field today. NASCAR fans don't like their drivers too Yankee, too pretty-boy, or too polite, after all (hello, Tony Stewart? Kyle or Kurt Busch?). Through these drivers who push the limits and outrace (by car or mouth) the authorities, fans can live vicariously, dreaming of their own speed. And being glad we're not the ones crashing.

Have any of you read the book? Or did you know NASCAR's history already?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Health Check

by Simon


From time to time I like to check my health when it comes to condition as a petrol head and seeing as I've just had my physical-physical it seems a good time to check racing health. I’ve examined myself and I’m glad to say my lust for motorsports is still strong. Here are the results from tests:

1. I will forgo a stereo in my vehicle as long as I have a great sounding engine.

2. I will keep the air conditioning off so not to drain engine power.

3. Stick shift always trumps an automatic.

4. Pit lane is still the best place on earth.

5. I list exhaust fumes as one of my favorite smells.

6. I can’t look at a bend in the road without looking for the corner’s apex.

7. Hearing someone say, “Start your engines,” gives me chills.

8. Race circuits are special places.

9. You're only as good as your last lap time.

10. I still want to race cars. :-)

If you feel like you need to give yourself a health check, please do and share your results.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Wrapping Up Our Predictions

by Tammy

Early in the year, Simon and I set out our picks for who we thought would win season championships in various series. Along the way, a couple friends jumped in with their picks. I figured it's time to see how good we were at telling the future ... though let's just say, none of us should quit our day jobs.

Formula 1 Driver
SIMON: Jenson Button
TAMMY: Lewis Hamilton
RICK HUNT: Jenson Button
RICK HELMS: Sebastian Vettel

Verdict? Rick Helms pulls this one off, while Tammy and Simon/Rick Hunt are almost in a dead heat (2 points apart) for the McLaren drivers. 

Formula 1 Manufacturer
SIMON: Red Bull
TAMMY: McLaren
RICK HUNT: McLaren
RICK HELMS: Red Bull

Verdict?Simon and Rick Helms correctly pick Red Bull. Hey, at least Ferrari didn't win, right?

IndyCar Driver
SIMON: Dario Franchitti
TAMMY: Will Power
RICK HUNT: Will Power
RICK HELMS: Scott Dixon

Verdict? None of us picked the ultimate champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, but Tammy and Rick Hunt got closest with Will Power.

IndyCar Team
SIMON: Chip Ganassi
TAMMY: Penske (gotta go with the combo of Power, Castroneves, and Brisco)
RICK HUNT: Penske
RICK HELMS: Ganassi

Verdict? Tammy and Rick Hunt again; Penske drivers had a 422-point average to Ganassi's 348.

ALMS GT Driver
SIMON: Jan Magnussen (b/c I raced against him--once)
TAMMY: Patrick Long (maybe that's just hope)
RICK HUNT: Joey Hand
RICK HELMS: --------

Verdict? Simon comes the closest, with Jan Magnussen, who finished third in the GT drivers' ranks.

ALMS GT Team
SIMON: Paul Miller Racing
TAMMY: Corvette Racing!
RICK HUNT: Team RLL BMW
RICK HELMS: --------

Verdict? Corvette Racing, all the way! It was their year.

NASCAR Cup Driver
SIMON: Jeff Gordon (he's a local boy)
TAMMY: Carl Edwards (honestly, the bigger question is if Junior will win a race this year)
RICK HUNT: Jimmie Johnson
RICK HELMS: Greg Biffle

Verdict? Tammy fail. What happened to Carl this year, honestly? Jimmie, Biffle, and Gordon were all in the Chase with a chance. Kudos to Rick Hunt for the call (at least Rick Helms got his ABJJ result ... Anyone But Jimmie Johnson). (Photo from @keselowski.)

NASCAR Cup Team
SIMON: Chip Ganassi
TAMMY: Hendrick Motorsport
RICK HUNT: Hendrick Motorsport
RICK HELMS: Hendrick Motorsport

Verdict? Hendrick swept the board, placing all four of its drivers in the Chase, compared to neither of Ganassi's two. But we do have to give Montoya the moment of the year, however, for his wreck with the jet dryer back in February....


OVERALL TALLY? Tammy and Rick Hunt picked 4 winners correctly, Rick Helms picked 3, and Simon picked two. None of us should quit our day jobs.... Thanks for participating, all of you! Everyone start considering your picks for next year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Car Crusher

SIMON: Over Thanksgiving, I was on the road for a bit and naturally, it brought out my dark side and that gave me an idea for this week’s post. If you were a government overlord with the power to abolish any class of vehicle what would it be? Sports cars? Hatchbacks? SUVs? RVs? Hybrids? Electric cars? Sedans? Pickups? You can do it, like He-Man, you have the power, but you're going to have to give me a reason.

Personally, I would like to abolish Minivans. This was a close call with SUVs, but their 4WD abilities in rougher climbs ensured that they live to annoy me for another day, but not so when it comes to minivans. Now my distaste for minivans has nothing to do with elitism. I don’t like them because they make me nervous from a road user’s point of view. They're big, heavy, cumbersome, not particularly agile when loaded down and saddled with a high center of gravity. They're the automotive equivalent of a cannonball with the same destructive power. I would not want to be in one during a crash.

Okay, Tammy, you're the ogre in charge of the Department of Transport. Who are you dropping the hammer on?

TAMMY: It was OK for you to pass up SUVs, Simon, because I'm going to crush them. All of them, that is, except those that can be proven to be used off-road.

See, I don't mind if you're a rancher riding your fence line or actually driving your Jeep Cherokee out to the desert and then taking it on off-road runs across the wash (hi, dad!). But if you're a 5'2" soccer mom who only uses the vehicle's capacity for a half-day every month, and the rest of the time are unable to park wholly within a standard parking place? CRUSHED.

(I may be extra-sensitive because there's a female who's maybe 100-lbs soaking wet who parks a giant SUV in our parking structure every afternoon and can't manage to a) park straight in a spot or b) pull all the way forward. So her behemoth is an extra hazard when trying to exit the structure.)

So there's my verdict: you have to prove you need the utility part of that sports utility vehicle. I mean, otherwise, you should be driving a minivan, right, Simon?

What would the rest of you crush if you had the power?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Night Moves

By Simon

Following on from my comments about getting greater usage out of racetrack from last week, I’ve been pondering a new concept in racing—night racing. The idea would be to have a midweek race card consisting of four to five races. The races would be a 10-15 lap sprint races in order to provide a couple of hours nighttime entertainment.

Changes in the world of cricket gave me the idea for some new motor racing. Yes, that cricket. For the uninformed, test match cricket is five days. There's one day cricket, but even that is a full day commitment, but in recent years, Twenty20 cricket (a short form version of the game) has gained a lot of favor because the game is high tempo and takes a couple of hours to play out. Perfect for some after work entertainment.

I think this could be a lot of fun. Normally racing usually takes up a full day or weekend. This way, race fans can get a fast and furious (good name for a movie) sporting fix. Organizers could put together some specific night based race series featuring something like Mazda MX5’s, Formula Fords, Porsche, etc. The night series would operate outside of regular championships and could be touted as the “Champion of the Night” series.

This could be good. What do you think?

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Are You Thankful For About Racing?

by Tammy

The racing season is now over, and we're staring down the end of the year, as well. With Thanksgiving and all, I spent some time being thankful last week about my life in general. But I wanted to cover a few items I'm thankful for with regard to the world of racing.

Corvette Racing 2012 ALMS Champs: I'm pretty dang happy they pulled it out to win the season championship, their first in the (combined) GT class.

Last-race championship decisions: An awful lot of season championship battles came down to the last race of the year: F1, IndyCar, several of the ALMS classes. Well done with all of the battles, guys.

Pressdog, the blogger: A racing friend introduced me to the Pressdog's blog, and I have to say, he brightens my week. It's my dream to be a Woman of Pressdog (R).

The ALMS/Grand-Am merger: I still have some concerns about how this will turn out (specifically that it won't be a case of losing the good in favor of the ponderous), but I'm hopeful. If nothing else, I think change is good to shake things up. And if nothing else, it makes it really easy for me to transition Kate from the ALMS to the 24 Hours of Daytona for my third book in the series....

TrueCar Racing sponsoring a bunch of female racers: Yeah, I'm letting my feminism out. But I think it's fantastic that a company stepped up and sponsored six female racers across a variety of disciplines. It was neat to follow their tweets as they traveled en masse to races to support each other. I hope TrueCar keeps it up.

Twitter and passionate racing fans and friends everywhere: It's amazing how we can stay involved in the racing world these days from our desk or chair at home. Thank you Twitter, and thank you, committed Tweeters. I don't always agree with what everyone's saying, but I love the virtual community we've got. And what's even better is making true friends in that virtual world. (Find me there.)

So what about the rest of you? What were you especially thankful for in the 2012 racing season?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Underused

By Simon

I’m always a little concerned by how underused sports facilities are used in the US. There are some great NFL stadiums and they might only get used ten times a year at best. The same applies to race tracks. A bunch of them are rolled for special occasions. I was kind of shocked when I found out that Indianapolis speedway is used only three times a year for racing and the new F1 circuit in Austin is only being used once a year.

This situation kind of blows my mind because I’m used to seeing circuits used on a regular basis. Places like Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Hochenheim, etc. are in near constant use during the racing season. They have full racing calendars throughout the season, in addition to midweek testing and the tracks’ driving schools. Smaller tracks open up their parking areas for flea market rentals. These are truly working tracks in every sense of the word, so I’m baffled that so many facilities in the US allow themselves not to be used. With Indianapolis, the track is used for a bike GP, Indy and Nascar and the rest of the year relies on the museum to keep itself going. There's no race school and limited tested. And that’s a real shame as it’s a lovely facility.

These places may make a profit from a handful of events, but it’s a real eggs in one basket situation and that’s a little scary. Racetracks are expensive to maintain (ask the owners of the Korean and Indian GP tracks). They cover hundreds of acres and it’s criminal not use them to their fullest. So in this spirit of thanksgiving, I give thanks for racetracks everywhere and I hope they get to be used on a regular basis.

Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans in the e-room.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Win, Fail, and WTF?

by Tammy

Let's evaluate the racing weekend, shall we?

Formula 1: By all accounts, the U.S. Formula 1 race made a good showing this weekend. Consider: drivers seemed to like the track, fans packed the stands, and (gasp!) there was even a thrilling, on-track pass for the race win. (So the traffic in and out of the Circuit of the Americas was a drag ... we didn't experience that watching on television.) The results of this race even set up the last F1 race of the season as the championship decider. Bottom line: not just another boring F1 go-round. And in a good timezone for us to watch!
Score for F1 in the U.S. again? WIN

NASCAR: Jimmie was leading, Brad was mid-pack. One ahead in the Chase standings, then the other, then a tie. One hundred laps to go, and Jimmie stops for gas, guaranteeing he can get to the end with only one more stop. Brad doesn't stop, no one's sure he can save enough fuel to do a one-stop. Sixty-two laps to the end, Brad runs out of fuel, makes it to the pits, rejoins in 24th place (too low to secure the title). Fifty laps to go: horrors, Jimmie's crew misses a lug nut, he has to return to the pits, and he rejoins a lap down, 29th place. He seems out of it, but anything can happen in 49 laps, 48 laps....

And then something broke in the back of Jimmie's car, and they went to the garage. Day done. Season done.  Not the way anyone wanted to see them end. But as long as Brad can get his car around to the checkers (which he does), he's the champion. Everyone's happy for Roger Penske who wins (unbelievably) only his first NASCAR championship. Jimmie is classy in defeat in the media center, Brad is classy in the championship circle. Even Jeff "Mr. Retaliation" Gordon, who wins the race, is classy in the winner's circle.
Score for Penske: WIN
Score for Keselowski as Champ: WIN
Score for how Jimmie lost: FAIL

Hats: Rick Hendrick and Roger Penske reportedly swapped hats in the championship winner's circle when Hendrick (losing car owner) went to congratulate Penske (this apparently has history for the two men). And then there were the podium hats in Austin (seen on Hamilton, the race winner, to the right). Clever? Perhaps. But ... let's just say, once seen, can't ever be unseen.
Score for Hendrick/Penske hat swap: WIN
Score for one-of-a-kind Pirelli cowboy hats: WTF?

What do you all think? Do you agree? Do you want one of those cowboy hats?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Big Weekend Ahead

TAMMY: Two huge events in the racing world this weekend. Not only does Formula One returns to the United States, but also, NASCAR will crown a new champion. The question is, which one is bigger?

I'm voting the NASCAR champion, because of who it could possibly be. It's come down to Jimmie Johnston trying for a sixth championship ... though after a blown tire and a wall-slap last weekend, he doesn't have much choice of beating the frontrunner. That is, if Brad Keselowski can pull together a decent finish.

What I think is earth-shaking about Keselowski possibly winning the championship is that he represents the next generation of NASCAR. He's 28, and an avid Twitterer (@keselowski). He has been a brash, crazy rookie and newbie in the sport, but he's shown real maturity, especially this year. And talent, of course. But he's also captured everyone's imagination by tweeting from the car during red flags. Like the one last weekend (at right). And of course, the infamous red flag back at the Daytona 500, when Juan Pablo Montoya turned a jet dryer into a fireball.

So what will be more significant this weekend, NASCAR or the return of the lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous-racers show? NASCAR, because we'll either have a champion who's won six times in the past seven years, or we'll have a first-timer who reaches out to NASCAR fans in a way no other driver has.

But don't get me wrong, I'll be watching both.... What's your vote, Simon?

SIMON: Personally, I'll be watching F1. Don't think it'll be the bigger event, but it'll be the 1st time F1 will race on a proper race track since Watkins Glen. Since '81, F1 has arsed about on makeshift circuits (and parking lots if you consider the Vegas Grand Prix). Even Indy Speedway GP was a half-hearted attempt at a real track when they modified the infield. I hope Austin pulls this off because like I mentioned a few months ago, that F1 needs to race in countries where there's a racing culture and the US has it. I hope F1 remains in the US, so I'm rooting for it. I still question the need for a new track when the US has some established circuits that would make for a great F1 race.

TAMMY: Well, I agree that F1 could have run any number of great tracks that already existed in the U.S., but would that really have fed Bernie's ego the same way? But that's another post....

What about the rest of you, what will you be watching this weekend?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Donning My Other Helmet

This is a crazy week this week as I have six of my out of print books coming out again in print and audio book thanks to my new publisher, Thomas & Mercer and Brilliance Audio. I’m talking about these books (although I encourage you to check them out here), but I wanted to talk about my Aidy Westlake motor racing mysteries.

I need to finish the third Aidy adventure (title to be determined because Tammy stole it from me. What a thief!) because the interesting news is that the first Aidy book DID NOT FINISH is out of print in both hardback and paperback. Whatever is in stores is it. Not all is lost. You can find it as an eBook, but Audible is releasing an audio book soon.

I think a similar fate awaits HOT SEAT. There aren’t many copies of that around either, although thanks to Audible, you'll be able to listen to it. I guess what I’m saying is if you want to read these books, you need to jump on it now or risk losing out. :-)

Happy Wednesday to you all.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Appreciating The Iceman

by Tammy

I admit it, I used to think Kimi Raikkonen was a bit of a putz. No expression changes, ever. Seemingly bored by the whole Formula 1 thing, as proved by the fact that he ditched it to go rallying for a couple years (well, OK, he didn't get the contract he wanted, I assume). I mean, of course he could drive (and he wasn't as annoying as Alonso), but I didn't really care about him. But honestly? I've really enjoyed his return this year.

Why is that? I think it's simply that the audience has been having more fun with him. Because clearly, he hasn't changed at all....

Maybe it's that his new team, Lotus, is having fun with him (check out the Lotus F1 Team Facebook page for the evidence).

But the turning point for me was the radio transmissions from his winning run in Abu Dhabi, when he responded to his crew chief giving him updates with, "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing," and later, to a reminder to save the tires with, "Yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm doing it all the time. You don't have to remind me every second." (Link to actual transmissions.)

But under that stoic face, he's got a sense of humor. BBC Sport reports that Kimi had 500 tee-shirts bearing the quote "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing" delivered to his team. Further, he commented, "It's not the first time, and it's not the last. It's just a normal thing. People will probably try to make a big story out of it, but it happens every weekend."

So I say, let Kimi be Kimi, and enjoy him. And if you want to buy one of those tee-shirts, go "like" the image (also shown here) on the Lotus F1 Team page and maybe they'll produce and sell you one....

What do you think? Want a tee-shirt? Love or hate Kimi?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tales of Two Dream Rides

SIMON: I wanted to talk about dream cars today, but I wanted to put a twist on it. Instead of asking everyone about their dream car they'll never own, I want to soften it slightly. I want to know which car you'd like to own if money were no object and which car could you potentially own if you saved all your pennies and made a few sacrifices, such moved into a shed and gave your children away.

For me, my ultimate-money-no-object-ride would be the latest Aston Martin Vanquish. It’s around $300,000. Not totally outrageous in the money stakes. I’m not that kind of guy, but certainly out of my reach. So why the Vanquish? I know it’s not the fastest or the quickest, but c'mon, just look at it. It’s just so damn pretty.



But for my with-a-bit-of-luck-I-could-afford-one-of-these, I would choose the Porsche Cayman S. With a price tag around $60,000, I could pull this off. So why the Cayman? It’s a pretty car and looks more exclusive than its price portrays, but more importantly, it’s a car that you can live with. It’ll fit in a parking lot and it won’t ground out over speed bumps. But more importantly, I think Porsche came up with a nicely designed pocket rocket that’s easy on the bank account. I could see one in my future.



How about you, Tammy?

TAMMY:  I suppose I have less grandiose tastes than you, Simon. Thinking of "what would I go buy right now if money were no object," my thoughts go immediately to a car I've loved since I first saw it, sat in it, and got a hot lap around a track in it: the Audi R8. At only about $177,000, I could have my very own. I just think they look fantastic.

For my slightly more within reach dream car, I'd have to go more with pretty than a real driving car. Face it, I don't drive all that much these days (1.5 miles to work and 0.5 to the grocery store), but starting with my father's 1957 Thunderbird (yes, I grew up with that car), I've loved cars of the 1940s and 1950s. So with my $60,000 or so, I'd track down a classic 1957 Corvette. I would look kick-ass in that car.


So what about the rest of you? What are your dream purchases?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Glass Ceilings

By Simon

The issue of enclosed cockpits came up again at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after Nico Rosberg and Narain Karthikeyan crashed. See the film below.



I hope that enclosed cockpits don’t get introduced. They just give me the willies. I’ll admit that when I raced I would have a panic attack at the thought of rolling over in a gravel trap (and still do). I think sheer will prevented that happening on a couple of occasions. But the idea of rolling over with enclosed cockpit freaks me out even more. The last thing I’d want is to be upside down or have something on top of me and have my only means of escape blocked. At least with an open cockpit, you have some wiggle room for escape.

The interesting point made over the weekend in the light of this crash is that someone mentioned maybe it was a good idea to ask the drivers their feelings towards enclosed cockpits. Now there's a novelty.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Motor racing is a dangerous sport and it can’t be made bulletproof. Crashes are inevitable and crashes are curious animals in themselves. Cars can have all the safety systems in the world, but when the tires and wings have been sheared off, a racecar becomes an exercise in Newtonian physics—where a racecar in motion will remain in motion until an opposing force (usually in the form of a crash barrier) is imposed on it.

I’m all for safety and I’m willing to be open-minded, but kneejerk solutions are rarely the correct ones. The quest continues…

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Dream Ride

by Tammy

I've found the perfect Christmas gift (for me). Simon, are you listening?

We all know that the new Circuit of the Americas track will host its first race in two weeks when Formula 1 comes back to the United States. (We know this, right?) I won't be there, alas, because I'm slaving away over my next book. I know plenty of people who will be, and I'm sure I'll get there sometime in the next couple years, whether it's to see F1 or the ALMS next year.

But really, I want to get there for an entirely different purpose: a ride-along in an old Jordan F1 car. Yep, for the bargain (gulp) price of $999, you can take a few karting laps (to get used to the cornering forces, apparently), and then get a 2-3 lap ridealong in a modified F1 car, driven by a pro. Courtesy of Formula GP Experience (image from that site.)



Didier Theys is the champion driver figurehead for the product, and there are a few recognizable motorsports players also involved, such as Conquest Racing (an ALMS P2 team). I figure this is as close as I'll ever get to driving an F1 car. It's research, right??

Who's with me?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Jimmie Juggernaut

by Tammy

Maybe we should start calling Jimmie Johnson (and crew chief Chad Knaus) "the Closer." Sure, he cruised to the title in his first couple years of championships. But the last year certainly was a fight, and in more than one, he (and crew) demonstrated an uncanny ability to finish the year strong, pulling out a number of victories and strong finishes in the Chase.

And this year. No one's been talking about Jimmie. Not as much as they've been talking about Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin. But who's on top with three races to go this season? Who dominated at Martinsville this weekend, winning from pole?

Yep, this guy.

Can he be stopped? Who do you like to take the title in NASCAR this year?

Simon's pick (back to our fantasy picks) of Jeff Gordon (6th) is doing better than my pick of Carl Edwards (not in the Chase), and Rick Helms' choice of Greg Biffle (9th). But Rick Hunt outpicked us all by pegging Jimmie from the start.

It's not too late. I'm changing my vote to Jimmie.

P.S. Did you know he wrote (with help) and published a memoir/coffee-table book? Hmm, writing, racing ... maybe he wants to join a feisty little blog....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pros and Ams

TAMMY: Sportscar racing, more than other types (I think, correct me if I'm wrong), means professional racecar drivers sharing the track with amateurs. Granted, they're usually very good amateurs, but they often don't have the same level of experience as the pros. And that sometimes gets them in trouble.

Remember the huge crash at Le Mans this year, in which British pro Anthony Davidson's Toyota prototype flipped nose-over-tail and slammed into a tire barrier, fracturing two of Davidson's vertebrae? (See the video.) That involved a pro and an amateur, with the general consensus being that the amateur was responsible, as he just didn't understand how fast the prototype could and would maneuver.

There were two incidents at Petit caused by the same amateur driver, Peter LeSaffre in the Green Hornet Racing Porsche. The first was a dramatic upside-down slide by the Nissan Delta Wing during practice.



The second was impact with the Muscle Milk LMP2 car, which almost had enormous implications for the championship contender. Only heroic repair work by the Muscle Milk team enabled the car to get back out on track to complete the requisite number of laps and take the championship.

Tony DiZinno, Web editor for Racer magazine, wrote an excellent, thoughtful opinion piece this week reconsidering his initial stance that both incidents were LeSaffre's fault. Considering his points, I have to say I agree. However, I think it behooves amateur drivers to do a lot more studying of the other cars on the road, particularly closing speeds of prototypes at each racetrack. Similarly, as DiZinno points out, the pros need to cut the amateurs some slack also, and not expect every other driver on the road to react as a pro would

But I sure wouldn't get rid of the mix of pros and ams. What's your take, Simon?

SIMON: I wouldn't get rid of amateurs from pro racing, for one simple reason--Define pro??  Look at Romain Grosjean.  The best way to eliminate these incidents is through licensing.  There are different licenses needed for different types of racing and some series have low level license requirements.  All drivers need to earn their stripes and they will if they can't jump up a series until they have enough points finishes under their belts in a lower series.  Also I've mentioned before that mixed testing was a great learning tool.  I once tested with F3, F3000, Touring Cars and sports prototypes while I was driving a Formula Ford.  I had to have my wits about me with cars that cornered slower and cars that could catch me on a 1/3mile straight when I was hitting the braking area.  It taught me a lot about speed and manners.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Seasons' End

by Tammy

IndyCar, Grand-Am, and now the American Le Mans Series, all done for the year. All headed for the off-season now, the extra-silly-season.

For the ALMS, which wrapped up its season with a dramatic 9.5 hour Petit Le Mans on Saturday (that's the Turn 10a/b complex in the photo), and for Grand-Am, this means time finally to work on the specifics of the merger for 2014 (those in charge have promised decisions about the class structure for the merged series by the end of 2012). For teams in respective series, it means gearing up for a final, possibly lame-duck season as a separate entity. Because while they'll be preparing for 2013, their eyes will undoubtedly be on 2014. I can't imagine there won't be losers in the merger, but it's certainly too early to tell who that will be.

For IndyCar, F1, and NASCAR, it's time for drivers and sponsors to move teams and new deals to be struck. For fans, it's time to hunker down and either get friendly with Aussie V8 Supercar racing or haunt racing sites daily for the latest news. Maybe we do both. Certainly we spend some time trying to teach ourselves the new driver, sponsor, number combinations (for NASCAR, at least).

For me, it's time to do some of the above, plus a lot of writing on a new book. But I know I'll be following the off-season soap opera that is racing, avidly. Sometimes I think I like the stories about racing even more than the racing itself. I suppose that figures.

But hey, there's still a month of racing left! So until the fat lady sings, signaling the end of F1 (4 more races, finishing Nov. 25) and NASCAR (4 more races, finishing Nov. 18), I'll savor some of the year's last competition and look forward to 2013. Only 96 days until the 24 Hours of Daytona!

Who's with me? Are you done with racing for this year? Hanging on to the bitter end of F1 or NASCAR? Making travel plans for Daytona?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Petit Le Mans Tomorrow!

by Tammy

Simon is away being celebrated this weekend, but I'll be at home, sitting in front of the computer. Because Saturday is Petit Le Mans! I attended this race the last two years and have written about it in my next book, so it's a race I really enjoy.

Check out how cool this race poster is. That's the Delta Wing there on the right, and ahead, the 2012 GT champion Corvette! All of them sweeping down the hill at Road Atlanta into Turn 12. Great spot!

Will you be watching with me? Coverage starts at 8:30 a.m. Pacific/11:30 a.m. Eastern, on ESPN3.com. I'll also be posting a lot on Twitter: @tkaehler. Hope to see you around the mediaverse!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crash, Bang, Wallop!!

By Simon

I’m reading The Limit by Michael Cannell at the moment and which looks at racing in the 50’s and early 60’s. Naturally death rears its ugly head again and again with the upshot it’s had me reliving the crashes I’ve had and ones I’ve witnessed.

Crashes are funny things. Essentially, high speed crashes are living breathing monsters with a life of their own. You could walk away without a scratch or you find yourself in hospital. Personally, I walked away from 130mph impact after my car went airborne, but I broke two vertebrae going into a tire wall at 60mph. I won’t bore you with the details but the reason for these differing outcomes was safety harnesses. One was done up properly and the other wasn’t.

So the safety improvements have changed the dynamics of crash survival immensely, but there's one thing that can’t be changed (in theory) and that’s speed. Having seen the pile up at Belgian Grand Prix again, it reminded me that once the wheels have been sheared off a car, safety measures somewhat go out of the window and Newtonian physics takes over—a body in motion will remain in motion until an opposing force is enacted up on it (usually in the form of a crash barrier).

Velocity is a really killer. When I was learning to fly, I remember doing calculations with my instructor about crash survival rates. The numbers said that if I crashed 10knots under normal landing speed, my survival rate improved by 25%. Bring it in 20knots under normal landing speed, it wouldn’t ruffle my hair. In the light of calls for greater safety since Dan Wheldon’s death, the biggest safety improvement racing can implement is to reduce speed—but that isn't going to happen. It’s certainly something I wouldn’t want to see. The appeal of racing to me is controlling the uncontrollable.

So crashes are ugly but they are a part of the sport.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Speed and Pushing Limits

By Tammy

Two epic events happened this last weekend that made me spend some time pondering how and why humans push limits.

First, Los Angeles celebrated and cheered the Endeavour space shuttle on its final journey through the streets of LA to the California Science Center. A game of inches, that move was, with its arrival delayed some hours because crews needed to trim extra branches from trees and maneuver the shuttle sideways at times to clear historic trees and everyday residences. (Photo from my friend Miruna.)


The second event was Felix Baumgartner's attempt to skydive from the highest altitude ever (120,000 feet or 23 miles) and, along the way, break the sound barrier in only a spacesuit and helmet (meaning without being inside a capsule or vehicle). More than most record-breaking efforts, this one seems to generate head-shaking and pronouncements that "he's nuts." Certainly that's my opinion.

I sat there watching, wondering why I was doing so. I mean, the guy could have died. Why did I care? Why was I interested? And then I realized his attempt was just another means of pushing the boundaries of what we think humans are capable of. To quote the Olympics: faster, higher, stronger. Just like car racing.

So I suppose I followed the space shuttle's journey and watched Baumgartner free-fall for the same reason I watch racing: because while I'm not interested in pushing boundaries myself, I'm fascinated by those who have the strength, talent, and will to do so.

What about you all? Did you watch Felix Baumgartner? Do you want to push boundaries yourself?

Friday, October 12, 2012

When to Retire?


TAMMY: The sound of weeping you heard last week was because Michael Schumacher announced his retirement, for the second time, from Formula 1. And many F1 fans were sad.

Me? I say, "meh." I mean, one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time? Sure. More championships than anyone? Undeniable. Iconic to see him driving in person? Absolutely. But did I ever think he'd do anything with this comeback? Nope.

One name for you: Michael Jordan. I just don't think an athlete can retire near the end of his likely career, take a break for a couple years, then come back and enjoy the same level of success. The sport passes him by. The cars changed, in Schumi's case. I mean, great, if you just want to be out there competing, good for you. But I didn't honestly think he'd ever win again.

And so I have more good to say about someone like Reubens Barrichello, who took his forced retirement from F1 (he didn't get a ride with a team) in stride and went to race elsewhere. He's still practicing his skills, learning new cars and tracks, and having a great time by all accounts.

Basically, I believe a champion athlete that goes out at the top of his game will want to come back, which won't work out well for him (or her, I don't judge). I think it's more rational for those in whom the competitive fires burn so fiercely to keep racing, wherever they can, until they've exhausted all opportunities. Then again, where could Schumi have gone from the top of F1? Maybe nowhere.

What do you think, Simon? Should they go out while they're on top or stick around and fade away slowly?

SIMON: With all that Schumacher had achieved, I didn’t understand why he came back. He would be only diluting his record. But I do understand the reasoning. He’d said he wanted to help develop an F1 car for Mercedes and I get that. Mercedes have been supporting his career since his F3 days and he never got to drive for his sponsor. So from that perspective, it makes sense.

But to answer your question, Tam Tam, I think it’s always best to check out at the top. You never want to be that guy who can’t walk away—the sporting equivalent of the old guy in the night club.

Retirement doesn’t mean you have to leave the sport. You just find a new challenge. Look at Denny Hulme. He was racing Touring Cars in Australia until he died and was still competitive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schumacher racing in the DTM in the next year.

TAMMY: I don't disagree that one should go out on top ... but when they do, they seem to return and not be able to recapture lost glory. Anyone else with me? Anyone disagree?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing

By Simon

When I raced, double headers were a rare event. It usually coincided with a big holiday weekend where racing took place all weekend long—with a race taking place on consecutive days. The concept of double headers at every event was rare. I think the DTM (aka German touring cars) was the only series to do this. In recent years, most series in the UK and Europe are double headers and some are triple header events (in the case of the British Touring Car Championship) with three sprint races occurring in the same day. As much as this sounds like a good thing, I’m not a fan. I don’t think it’s good entertainment.

I understand the economic sense of double and triple header races. In the case of the BTCC, it’s a 30-race season that plays out at ten tracks over ten weekends. This setup cuts down the travel and helps keep budgets low. But I still don’t like them. I used to run on very tight budget and operated with very few spare parts and bought them as and when I needed them. But if I was involved in a double or triple header, I would need a full complement of spares to cover myself, which I would have never been able to afford. So a major shunt could not only take me out of the race, but could take me out of two or three races instead of having the luxury of time to fix the car for the next event.

I suppose the big thing here is that I don’t like this trend for double headers as the race card isn't as fun anymore. I liked race days when there used to be a 10-race program with ten different kinds of racing incorporating sedans, single seaters, historics, etc. Now, you have a race program with the same cars coming back up over and over again like Jason Voorhees and I think it takes the shine off the race going because the variety disappears. You really can have too much of a good thing, don’t you think?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reprise: Racecars and Street Cars

by Tammy (who was out of town last weekend, and is reprising an old favorite)

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....

Monday, October 1, 2012

Stop Copying Me!

by Tammy

Grand-Am Road Racing released their 2013 schedule at the end of last week, and it contained a few ... well, not surprises, given the coming merger, but features that would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

For one, Grand-Am is racing at Road Atlanta (owned by Dr. Panoz, who owns the ALMS). I'm hoping in return we see the ALMS at Watkins Glen (owned or closely affiliated with Grand-Am/NASCAR interests). But one race on the schedule almost made me fall over in shock.

You see... I started writing my second Kate Reilly Racing Mystery in 2006. Then I scrapped most of that idea and started it again in 2007. Ditto 2008, 2009 (you're getting the trend here). Every time I restarted it, I changed the two featured tracks and races.

I always knew it would include a visiting NASCAR star, and so at one point (probably in 2009), I decided that the star (Miles Hanson, who made it into the final version) wouldn't be present because he was racing in the ALMS. I came up with a much more far-fetched idea: the ALMS and Grand-Am would share a double-header race weekend for a SportsCar Summit.

Where did I set this unlikely, fictional event? At the Road America track in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

So imagine my shock when I saw that Grand-Am's 2013 schedule includes an August double-header weekend race event with the ALMS. At Road America.

Life imitates art? I suppose. But maybe the new Grand American Le Mans Series (or whatever they're going to call it) should put me on the payroll ... just sayin'.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Also-rans


SIMON: There's an interesting piece in Autosport this week about the lesser teams in F1 and their lack of progress.  Specifically, after millions of dollars, thousands of miles and hundreds of races, some teams have yet to register a championship point or show an inkling of improvement.  The point of the article was that if these teams aren’t improving, shouldn’t they cut their losses and stop and leave the racing to the competitive teams.

Having attended some Grand Prix where teams’ cars and engines are so off the pace it wasn’t funny, I understood the sentiment, but I thought the point was a little harsh.  I’m sure the teams at the back of the grid are trying just as hard as those at the front and you never know if one of these teams will come up with the next big design development.  Also no team stays at the top forever.  Look at Tyrell, Lotus (and I mean original Lotus and not rebadged Lotus) and even Ferrari.  These guys have seen their star rise then fall and rise again in Ferrari’s case.  Williams is a good case, a contender for twenty years and now a pack runner.  But there's the reverse also.  Braun (now Mercedes) and Red Bull didn’t exist a decade ago and now look at them.  So you never know when an also-ran could become the team to beat.

I suppose the two main issues I have with the article’s point are: I don’t like anyone pissing on someone’s dreams and aspirations irrespective of their chances and the idea of a grid limited to the top 5 best teams would make the sport very dull.

I know this point can be aimed at all motorsport.  There are teams in Indy, Nascar, etc. that just don’t seem to have it, so should they give up. What's your feeling, Tammy? 

TAMMY: I disagree with that article entirely, for a number of reasons. 

First, I agree with you, Simon, that any series with only "the competitive teams" racing would be dull. To begin with, there might be only six cars on the grid, instead of 30. Who wants to watch that?

Second, who's to say where "competitive" starts and ends? Just the podium? Just in the points? Certainly you can look at F1 and say Ferrari is competitive and Marussia is not, but where do you draw the line? Pastor Maldonado has only scored points in two races for Williams (I think), but one of those was a win. Otherwise, in the other 15 races or so, he's been lower than 10th. Is he uncompetitive?

Third, any team and driver that can make it to the F1 grid and run whatever percent of ultimate race-pace, as well as not completely screw things up for the other drivers on the road ... well, I think they deserve to be there. Make no mistake, they wouldn't be there if the drivers weren't at least baseline capable and the cars couldn't go fast and stick together for the required duration. Once you've reached that summit of racing (I also mean Indy, NASCAR, ALMS, etc.), it's nitpicking to call some competitive and some not.

Fourth, part of racing is dealing with the rest of the field, coping with the slower car that you have to get around, and overcoming--or losing with grace to--the perennial backmarker that has the race of his life. Racing isn't a car against the clock. It's against a field of different abilities (drivers) and capabilities (cars/engineering). Sure, sometimes I want the BMWs or Ferraris to get out of the Corvettes' way in the ALMS, so my favorites can win. But that wouldn't be racing.

What do the rest of you think? Should the "uncompetitive" ones not be in the race?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Well, I Wouldn’t Call It Cheating…

By Simon

I was speaking to a book club last week about DID NOT FINISH and an interesting point got raised. One person made the point that all racecars (like Formula Ford, Formula Three, etc.) are identical. To that I had a simple answer: All racecars are created equal but some are created more equal than others. :-)

Racecars are like snowflakes. No two are identical. Tolerances will dictate that one might be better than another. But ignoring that fact, racecars do get a helping hand. Engines are one major area of difference. There are “works” engines. The engine builders keep their best engines with the best performance back for the favored drivers and no matter how much money you have, you can’t just buy one of these engines. Is this wrong or illegal? No. People can sell whatever they want to whomever they want, but it does tilt the playing field a tad.

Works cars and engines are only one aspect of the inequality. Rules can be bent. Not broken, but bent. I can't say I didn’t pull some stunts. When I was short on money for tires, I had my “scruntineering” tires and my “race” tires. My scruntineering tires weren’t any good for racing, because they'd lost their grip, but they would pass the pre-race inspection. My race tires were down to the canvas and technically illegal, but stuck to the track like glue. So what I did was put the scrutineering tires for the inspection, get my signoff and the second I got back to the paddock, I switched the tires over. The scrutineers could kick you off the start line just before the race if they saw something they didn’t like. I dodged that bullet by draping a coat over each tire or have one of my pit crew sit on the wheels to cover my crime.

I don’t think there's a team or driver out there who hasn’t done something to give them an edge. It’s not cheating. It’s gamesmanship and that’s part of the sport. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Racing News Survey

by Tammy

I'm looking for your help today, because I want to make sure I'm getting the best information that's available out there about the racing world. So help me out, would you? What are your your favorite racing publications, Web sites, and blogs?

Magazines
Racer - I read this and love it
AutoSport - should I be reading this? (how do you keep up with a weekly?!)

Web sites
DailySportscar.com - love this for my sportscar fix
Crash.net - F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Motorcycles
PlanetF1.com - love this F1 news site (you have to check the winners and losers article after every race
OpenPaddock.net - I don't read this, but I am aware of it ... should I be reading?

Blogs
Pressdog.typepad.com - love, love, LOVE this IndyCar fan (I would KILL to be a Woman of Pressdog (r))
CorvetteBlogger.com - I mean, I have to

What am I missing? What are your favorites?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Racing and Drugs

TAMMY: One piece of news to come out of the racing world this week (though almost a footnote in the story of the wild IndyCar final race and championship) was that AJ Allmendinger, former open-wheel and NASCAR driver, was reinstated as eligible to race again, after completing NASCAR's Road to Recovery program. In very short order, it must be said. (Bob Pockrass tells the full story well. Photo from Allmendinger's Web site.)

Allmendinger's story is that he accepted what he thought was an energy pill from (what he thought was) a friend, and it turned out to be Adderall, a psychostimulant made up of amphetamine and another -amine. A banned substance. He was suspended for a positive drug test back at the end of June, and reinstated this week. The word around the oil can is that there are no more rides missing drivers for NASCAR next year, so he may need to go back to open-wheel (IndyCar at this point) to race at a top level. He's indicated he's open to that, and I saw one rumor saying Penske (who employed him in NASCAR) might be willing.

I'm glad for Allmendinger if he's innocent as described and able to pull out of this. I only know of one top-tier racer drummed out for drugs (Jeremy Mayfield), and in general, I find it hard to fathom the idea of racecar drivers messing themselves up with drugs. I mean, they're driving precisely and on the ragged edge of control. Why add something (besides caffeine) to that mix? But I suppose (I don't know, obviously) that being on drugs can make you feel like you can do no wrong.

So my question is, how many drivers and teams do you know of involved in drugs in one way or another? There's "involved with" that means taking them, and there's "involved with" that means smuggling. And I know Simon's got an opinion, as well as a storyline in Hot Seat, about the latter. So what's your input, Simon?

SIMON: Actually, I forgot about AJ case (sorry, AJ), because I was mulling over the idea of drug taking and racing for an upcoming Aidy storyline the other day.  I was thinking that we know about people bending the rules to make a car go faster, but not the driver. I was thinking about a drug to make a driver more focused, because motor racing is one of those sports where it's hard to see how doping would help an athlete. So to that end, I know only of two drugs-related motor racing cases. Two guys from Chip Ganassi's Nascar team were busted for trafficking last year and so was a team boss in the UK called Vic Lee, who was twice busted for trafficking. I don't know of drug taking drivers. I know drivers have been busted for DUI and that will get your racing license revoked (but not in the US). James Hunt had a drug and drink problem, but not while he was driving. On the whole, drivers are a clean living bunch.  :-)

TAMMY: I think I agree with you, Simon. I just can't imagine drivers throwing drugs into the mix, unless it's steroids to beef up their endurance and muscles to handle the G forces? Hmmm ... there's an idea.

Anyone else know of other cases or good drugs for us fiction writers to use and real drivers to avoid?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Professor Sid Watkins

by Simon
 
 
 
Professor Sid Watkins passed away last week.  If you're not sure who he was, he was Formula One's doctor and someone who pushed from greater driver safety.  Here was a great hero for the sport.  I'm on deadline this week, so I'm short on time, but I thought the NY Times' piece did the best right up on him and you can read it here

Monday, September 17, 2012

Name That Track

by Tammy

I got the greatest gift this weekend from my mother: a set of coasters with the outlines of famous racetracks. And to my surprise, I guessed what almost all of them were (this is not a game I'm very good at). The questions is, do you know them all?

My score: 5/6. I knew two outright, guessed three others correctly, and couldn't come up with one (though it should have been an obvious guess).

So what's your score? Can you name them all? (Go clockwise, from upper left....)

P.S. By the way, this is your first Christmas gift suggestion for the race fans on your list. Get them from Griot's Garage (don't look up the answers here!).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lewis Hamilton--Should He Stay or Should He Go?


Lewis Hamilton’s contract is about to expire with McLaren.  Supposedly, there's a new contract offer from McLaren, but Mercedes have supposedly made a big money offer to Hamilton.  So what should he do—stay or follow the money?

SIMON: it’s one of those tough decisions.  A sporting career is a short one so do you make sure you're set for life or do you for results.  Personally, I think Hamilton should stick with McLaren.  Yes, McLaren hasn’t done as well as they would have wanted over the last few seasons, but they're always there or there abouts.  You can’t say the same about Mercedes, despite their clout.  The cars seem competitive, but they are struggling to make it to the finish line.  As much as a big pay check is tempting, I would stick with McLaren.  They’ve been the benchmark in the sport over twenty-five years and it doesn’t look like changing.  If Hamilton wants a second title, McLaren is the best place to find it.

Thoughts Tammy?

TAMMY: My opinion comes down more to loyalty, which is perhaps misplaced in the business of racing. But in the words of the old saying (and a song), "dance with the guy who brung you," meaning, keep doing what's worked so far. And be loyal to the team that brought you through the ranks.

I'm sure it's tempting though, to jump ship. McLaren seems like it's plateaued the last couple years, just unable to take that last step up to first place. But I figure you've also got to look at history: McLaren's always been in the mix. Team fortunes wax and wane, but the really top teams always rise to the top again. I'd stay there and ride it out, not switch to a team that hasn't yet proven they can win. Not to mention that it'll take him a couple years to get settled (has anyone won on their debut year? Did Alonso?). 

And honestly, if you're going to go, go to Red Bull!

So I'm with you, Simon, I say stick around. These drivers never do listen to us though! Does anyone out there have a good reason why he should go? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gold for Alex Zanardi

by Simon

I thought this was very inspiring. Former F1 and IndyCar driver, Alex Zanardi won gold in the paralymics last week in the Men's Individual H4 Time Trial. For those who don’t remember, Zanardi lost both legs in a crash at a CART series race in 2001. He finished the 16km race in 12 minutes 11.13 seconds.

Cycling is a new challenge for Zanardi. Two years after the crash that claimed his legs, he returned to racing and he only retired from racing three years ago. Personally, I find this very uplifting. I can’t imagine suffering a devastating injury such as Zanardi then finding the will to get up and get going again. I like to think I would and I hope I would because I just hate to lose, especially to myself. So my hat goes off to Mr. Z. you're a credit to the human race (as are all the paralympians).

I do have say that Zanardi did have a small advantage for the race seeing as it took place at Brands Hatch, where he was once the lap record holder in Formula 3000. :-)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Best Laid Schemes

by Tammy

In his poem "To a Mouse," Robert Burns famously said, "The best laid schemes of mice and men/Go often awry." We all know this to be true, and most of the time our best laid plans are shot straight to hell. But once in a while, they turn up trumps.

The news last week of the merger between the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am (which Simon and I discussed on Friday) threw me for a loop. First, the surprise that it would happen. Second, wondering what it would mean to me.

See, in 2010, as I was preparing my first book for publication, I faced a dilemma. I'd written the book in 2005, which was before Lime Rock Park revamped its track and before the ALMS restructured its racing classes. So my book didn't match the current state of the world. At the time, I made the decision to add a note to the book asking for readers' indulgence, and leave it as-is.

Well, now the ALMS is changing again, but bigger. And I dodged a bullet that the ALMS will still be the ALMS in 2013, when my second book set in the ALMS is published (BRAKING POINTS, due out April 2013, set at Road America and Road Atlanta).

Where it gets interesting is because I'm starting to think about Book 3, which I plan to set at the 24 Hours of Daytona and hope to publish in early 2014. The nagging worry in the back of my head has been how to forge the same kind of contacts with teams and officials in Grand-Am that I have with the ALMS--contacts that are vital to do the kind of insider research I like to include.

But you see what happened here, didn't you? I think my work just got easier. Because now I'll know some teams (and even officials) in the new combined series whose first race will be the 24 Hours of Daytona 2014. Not to mention there will be a whole bunch of new drama to write about, with new competition, new rivalries, new rules, new suppliers ... and plenty of the above who've been left out in the cold, because, let's face it, we're downsizing from two series to one. Yeah, I can work with this.

But it just goes to show: you never know what's going to happen to change your plans, and you never know if the change will be for the better or worse. Has anyone out there had a situation where you thought a change would ruin everything, but found it was the best thing in the end?

Friday, September 7, 2012

And Then There Was One

TAMMY: An earthquake rocked the racing world this week: As of 2014, the American Le Mans Series and the Grand American Road Racing Series--the two premier sportscar racing series in the United States--will become one.

Let's look at what we sportscar racing fans stand to gain:
  1. Wide-open track choice. ALMS GT battle at Watkins Glen? NASCAR at Road Atlanta? Bring it on.
  2. No more trying to pump up car-counts in either series with lower-level classes (the competition in ALMS Challenge classes has been good, but you didn't need them when you had a robust class of manufacturer prototypes).
  3. The first string of commentators. Love them all, but I really, really miss Leigh Diffey and Dorsey Schroeder.
  4. A solid roster of manufacturers in one place, not halfsies in both.
  5. One series to point to and say "this is the best sportscar racing in the world." (Yes, that's US-centric, I know, but I'll argue ALMS GT is the best in the world right now, so it's not a stretch.)
I've decided what we have here is another case of Fred and Ginger. You know what they said about them? He gave her class, and she gave him sex appeal. In this case, it's the ALMS with the class and Grand Am with the sex appeal (money and muscle). It's just possible that the merger of the two series--both of which have struggled for manufacturers, car counts, and fans--is going to be spectacular.

I just hope we really do get the best of both worlds, and not the worst. Simon, what are your thoughts? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

SIMON: I'm actually happy about this because I think it will inject more competition. My issue with multi-class racing is that some classes end up with a handful of entries and it weakens the appeal, but the merger will make results a little harder to come by. Also with the bad economy, I think it makes it more cost effective to combine series so that the bad times aren't so apparent. Look at Euro F3 and there's just over a dozen entries. That series would benefit with merging with the British F3 series which also has small grids. I think over the last decade or so, motorsport has stretched itself a little thin with too much expansion. This merger is a step in the right direction.

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cockpitted

by Simon

There a pretty nasty pile up at the beginning of the Belgian Grand Prix Sunday. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The crash has raised the issue of enclosed cockpits for F1 cars (again). Not sure why this topic popped up because no driver took a hit to the noggin or anything, although there was a close call.



Personally as someone who drove single seaters with an open cockpit, I’m not in favor enclosed cockpits for open wheel cars of any kind. An enclosed cockpit isn't a perfect cure. How does a driver get out if the car rolls over? What does a driver do if the canopy is damaged? What about windscreen wipers? So a simple solution brings its own complications.

The truth is racing is dangerous. It can’t be made totally safe. It can only be made as safe our technology and design will allow and it pretty much is at the moment. Nowadays, a driver’s head is pretty well protected with all the bodywork surrounding the driver. The driver isn't anywhere as exposed as he was twenty years ago.

My feeling is keep improving driver safety but don’t box him in.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Big Shots Versus Poor Relations

by Tammy

Will Buxton, SPEED Channel's pit-lane reporter for Formula 1, posted a blog last week about the experience he had visiting the IndyCar race in Sonoma, CA, the other weekend. (Read the post.) To paraphrase, he loved it. 

Now, you have to figure that WillB (I hope he doesn't mind me calling him that) had the best treatment possible--access to all drivers, owners, bigwigs. But even so, he spent part of the race in the stands and he visited the fan zone. One of his comments is this: "It really feels like a community, not just between the teams, drivers, and media, but among the fans too." Then he says this: "The simple fact is, Indycar works. It works because it is fun. It works because it understand how racing should be and what the fans should get for the price of their ticket." 
I have two points to make about this: 

  1. His post confirms my growing impression of Formula 1. Sure, it's technologically advanced and impressive, and the biggest, most everything. But it takes itself pretty seriously. Pretentiously. It doesn't seem like much fun. WillB doesn't say this explicitly, just implicitly.
  2. I think that IndyCar v. F1 is a lot like ALMS v. NASCAR. One side of that equation seems bigger, cooler, more, and the other seems like the poor relation. But the poor relations in these cases give you a better experience and more access to the action. 
I know I've been spoiled by my experiences with the ALMS and the access I have there. In part, I've resisted attending more NASCAR races (only been to one) or any F1 races (not that any have been nearby), because I know I'm used to a lot of access, and I won't have that with NASCAR or F1. But I'm beginning to suspect I just won't enjoy them the same, with or without the access. 

So for everyone out there who loves watching live racing, I'm going to encourage you to go see the "poor relations." I'm talking about the ALMS and IndyCar, but also Grand-Am, World Challenge, Indy Lights (or whatever they call it now), SCCA weekends, historic races, or whatever. Sure, the lure of the money and the stars is appealing. But if you like to watch racing, there are plenty of places to get right up next to the action.


Friday, August 31, 2012

MIchael Andretti & IndyCar

SIMON: I like IndyCar. It’s entertaining, but it is the poor relation to Nascar, and I’m not sure why because I don’t find Nascar that interesting to watch. IndyCar’s poor relation status means that viewing figures aren’t that good and finances are tight. So what is a struggling championship to do? Possibly turn to Michael Andretti. There’s an interesting article/interview in Autosport with Michael. Not only is he a team owner, but his promotions company has stepped in to run and promote several of the IRL races. So with Michael being involved with so many layers of the championship, the big question is should Michael be given the keys to IndyCar altogether.

For me there's a conflict of interest issue here. Should a team owner also run the series? On the surface of it, I’d say no. if Michael A wants to run IndyCar, then he can’t run his team. He can own team, but he can’t direct his team’s affairs on race days. It would keep things clean and stop anyone from complaining (most of the time). It would certainly be interesting to see what he can do for the series that does need an image makeover. Then again, we could ask Bernie Ecclestone if he’d like a second job…

What are your thoughts Tammy?

TAMMY: I certainly see your point about a conflict of interest. I'd like to say, hey, we're all adults here, and even though he might put people in power to run things, that doesn't mean he'd be running things. Because we're all adults here and know that we shouldn't cheat or influence unduly. (And I know some of the people running things, such as the Baltimore GP this weekend. And they can be trusted to be impartial.) 

But in principle, I don't think the inmates should run the asylum. Being the power behind a couple race weekends? That's just running a wing or two of the building, not the whole mental institution. 

Then again, the Panoz Motor Sports Group ran in the American Le Mans Series, both of which were founded by Don Panoz (Dr. P, as he's known). I know those organizations were run as separate companies ... but it's the same sort of situation. (Though I can't say the Panoz cars got special treatment; they didn't do very well in the last years of their participation.)

So I'm with you, Simon, it wouldn't be appropriate. Then again, if you're giving me the choice between Michael A and Bernie E? I'd go ABB (anyone but Bernie). 

What do the rest of you think? If Michael A proves himself a great promoter and supporter, should he take an active role in the series? Or is that too much inbreeding?