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, April 30, 2012

What Success Requires

by Tammy

I'm writing, writing, writing these days (as is Simon; both of us are on deadline), so I'm pondering the whys and the how comes of racing more than I'm watching it. (Seriously, there's a moratorium on TV in my house until I finish this second manuscript.) And as I'm creating and exploring a multitude of characters in the racing world, I realized that in racing, as in life, it's not enough to only have talent.

Talent is a baseline, in racing as in any other endeavor. But you've got to have something else that gives you an edge. I heard a story about a guy who almost made it onto The Voice. He's a really good singer, but he had no story to bring tears to the masses. He had no hook. When it comes to selling a mystery, having a hook helps. I pitched myself as "The Dick Francis of auto racing, with a female racecar driver protagonist" (Simon will also claim to be the Dick Francis of auto racing, and I don't disagree. I think we can share the title).

When it comes to racing, you've got to have talent, but you've also got to have (forgive the pun) drive. Motivation, charisma. A story, connections. Something. I remember hearing a not-currently active driver who I'd seen race in years past described as "too nice to make it in racing." That's not to say you have to be a jerk to make it, but, let's be realistic. Willingness to win means a willingness to beat others. At some point, you've got to be willing to step on or bump aside the other guy to take the checkers first.

There's a business axiom that I quote often: Right, fast, or cheap. Pick two. 

Applied to racing, this might turn into something like this: Talent, story, or charisma. Pick two to survive. (By "charisma" I mean both the inner drive to succeed and the ability to communicate that to others.)

Of course, you won't do very well if you only have the story and charisma, but you'll still have opportunities. (Anna Kournikova, anyone? Admittedly, many will claim Danica falls into this category also.)

And if you have all three? Golden. Think Dale Earnhardt. Think Junior, if he can just start winning again (did you see the headlines from this weekend? didn't feature "Kyle Wins!" No, it featured Stepping Up His Performance because Junior finished second).

Certainly there are different levels of talent among drivers, from so-so, to good, to great, to exceptional. But I also believe that in life many of us have the same talents, but some people will be wildly successful not because of raw talent, but because of undefinable extras. Charisma, hook, lightning strikes. This is true in racing as in publishing as in life.

Friday, April 27, 2012

How To Own Shares in F1

Reports abound this week that CVC Capital Partners, the largest stakeholder of commercial rights to Formula 1 (the largest motorsports game there is), would be listing it for an IPO in Singapore. Reports have the the entity (it's hard to refer to "the commercial rights to a motorsports competition") valued north of $3 billion ... far short of Bernie Ecclestone's suggestion of $10 billion. But plenty of clams.

Two reports: in the Wall Street Journal and on MotorAuthority.

TAMMY: First of all, the money involved in F1 just boggles the mind. Second, genius of the rights-holder, because what fan doesn't want to own a piece of the action? Shoot, NASCAR fans buy a brand of beer or gas or motor oil because it supports their driver. The articles I've seen talk about CVC partners doing the work, but I can't help but wonder if Bernie is behind this, because the man seems to do nothing but figure out how to make more money. (He says he won't sell his 5.3% share of the rights, but that's an awful lot of value to borrow against.)

SIMON: I don't quite get this. Is F1 struggling for cash that it needs to raise more? I don't think so. If you look at how F1 is owned, it hurts the brain. Bernie has shell corporations for different parts that make up the whole. It's very confusing. The thing I don't get even more is why would Bernie would want to do this in the first place. He's had a tight grip on F1 for decades, but if he floats it, he'll lose a certain amount of control and with all those freely available shares, F1 is open to hostile takeover. Many English football teams have fallen a foul of this. Raise a bunch a cash in an IPO and then some billionaire comes in and buys the place out from under them. So it doesn't quite make sense to me and I think it's dangerous. F1 should be privately held so that outside interests don't sweep in to take over and make "changes."

Tam Tam, I like your point about buying a chunk of a sport you love for the sheer feel good factor of just owning a piece of heritage. I've done this. I bought shares in my soccer team a few years ago and wrote off the money, because it wasn't an financial inventment, but an emotional one. However with the F1 IPO being done in Singapore and not New York or London, I don't know what chance any of us have at owning a chunk of F1.

TAMMY: Oooooh, the idea of a hostile takeover getting Bernie out of there makes me giddy. Just think, races in old-school places like the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and not Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Hmmm, I bet we know people who know people in Singapore. Maybe if we get 300,000 of our closest friends, we could run things?

What do you all think? Will you buy a piece of Formula 1?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The French Are Back!!!

By Simon

On Friday, I mentioned I was saddened that F1 has dropped from its calendar countries that have a strong motor racing culture—France is one of those countries. The French Grand Prix was dropped a few years ago, but it looks as if Bernie Ecclestone has struck a new deal and the French GP is back.

However, instead of returning to Magny Cours which has been the home of the French GP for the last twenty years, it will take place at Paul Ricard, which was the on and off home to the French GP from 1970-1990. All sounds pretty fine and dandy until you take a look at the track. Regardless of whether you use to the long or short circuits, Paul Ricard has massive straights. The Mistral Straight is 1.8 km long! This makes Paul Ricard a mega fast track, but also one of those tracks where it’s easy to run out of revs, so it’ll be interesting how the gearing will go.
That said, Paul Ricard is a popular F1 test track, so I’m guessing it’ll have few surprises for most of the teams. It’ll certainly be interesting to see a modern F1 car turning wheels there again compared to the late 80’s.

Either way, Paul Ricard is a balls out track that'll hard on engines, which means it should make for a great race. :-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Road Atlanta Research

by Tammy

I'm deep into writing about a race. And not just any race, but an epic: Petit Le Mans. I turned my office upside down looking for my notes from racing school, which I attended there in 2006 (didn't find them, dammit!). And then I did a bunch of Googling.

Here's what I have to report, for the second time. It's really amazing what you can find on the Internet.

First of all, here's a lap of Road Atlanta in a Porsche, driven by my friend and favorite, Patrick Long.

Then there's a night lap in a Corvette, driven by Tommy Milner. Yowzer, how do you like 130m.p.h. through Turn 12?!

Imagine me watching both of those over and over and over again, counting shifts, squinting at the mph and gearing display on the Corvette video. And just enjoying the music of the V8.

Finally, for your track reference ... did you know there's a wikipedia (of sorts) for tracks? Yeah, So I spent some quality time on the Road Atlanta page there, as well.

Don't you love research? And YouTube?! Any favorite videos to share?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Racing, Politics, and Innovation

For this Discussion Friday, I thought we'd cover a couple timely and possibly controversial topics.

First topic: the DeltaWing racecar. Originally a concept for the new IndyCar chassis this year, the revolutionary design has found new life thanks to Dan Gurney, Duncan Dayton (Highcroft Racing), and Don Panoz (ALMS founder). They're taking this baby to Le Mans. And that should be really interesting.

(Photo from

The car (wing?) has been tested in a variety of locations, on a variety of tracks, and even in a variety of weather conditions. It hasn't flown yet (I mean that literally, which is good). It seems to turn corners. But it also inspires ... humor. (Many refer to it as the DeltaWang, because, I mean, look at it.)

SIMON: Yeah, I saw this news piece the other week and I'm a little skeptical over this design. It looks more in keeping with a landspeed car of the 50's (a la Campbell's Bluebird). This year's Indy cars have come out of the ugly factory, but I think they're better than the "Wing" design. I'm intrigued how it will corner and where the downforce will come from. Personally, I can't see how a narrow front track will work. It's always been the wider the better. I raced a car that went from a narrow to a wide track (about 4" wider) and it made a big difference. Where's the designer of this thing? I have questions.

TAMMY: My husband is a mechanical engineer, and he's never had a positive thing to say about the Wing. Since I trust him, I don't trust the car. It's really good as the subject of jokes, though. I think Le Mans is going to be really, really interesting.

Second topic: Bahrain. This weekend, Formula 1 races (after much discussion, grandstanding, and playing chicken) in Bahrain. Some of the natives (not sure how many, but they know how to burn things) are not happy about this. These are protesters against the current leadership, who view F1's arrival as tacit political support. Groups associated with F1 (the FIA, which is F1's leadership, and FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association) played "not it" over a decision last week, and the end result seems to be both sides shrugging and saying, "well, they don't think it's a problem, so let's go."

Should they?

SIMON: I understand why F1 is getting some flack over this, but people are displaying some selective memory here. Here's something to consider, why isn't anyone complaining about the Chinese Grand Prix over their human rights issues and I don't remember too many people making comment over the South African Grand Prix during the apartheid years. It might be in poor taste, but so is baconnaise.

On a personal level, I've not liked some of the changes in where F1 races. Bernie has ditched some great motor racing countries for places that will attract more TV and money and that's a little sad. For me, Barahain isn't a go-to destination. It's nice to have a race in that region, but who is going to attend? F1 should go where the fans are.

TAMMY: I'm all for racing as a positive statement about the success or resilience of a country or people, but F1 is a sport for the wealthy, like the rulers of Bahrain who built a fancy track to bring the racing. I don't know what I'd do if I were a team owner or driver, with lots of money already invested in arrangements to be there. But at least those folks have security. Someone like Will Buxton (on-the-ground reporter for SPEED) only gets some extra pairs of underpants. (I paraphrase his tweets, but will note: he made it clear SPEED gave him the choice of going or not.) Bottom line? I wouldn't go, purely for safety's sake. I wouldn't want my sport making a political statement. But obviously, I'm not Bernie....

What do you all think?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Formula Ford, A Love Story

By Simon

I’m very excited. Formula Ford is going through a change this year. Formula Ford was introduced in 1967 and was designed a breeding ground for drivers entering the sport. It’s open formula which means manufacturers can interpret the specifications as they want, although the engines are the same (within reason). This year, the cars are getting a new engine and the chassis specification has been given new rules.

Formula Ford is what I raced when I was a wee one and it’s a formula I have a lot of love for. The reason why is that the cars were real racing cars, both complex and
simple. They came with real racing gearboxes, tires, layout and engine—and it was adjustable. I could change ride heights, gear ratios, suspension geometry. You name it, I could do it. It’s a reason I like single seaters. I understand their sheer elegance.

Anyway, here’s a short video of what to expect this year. Yummy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thoughts on GPLB

by Tammy

Long Beach's days in the sun (and one in the pouring rain) have come and gone, and the racing world is starting to pull out of Southern California. If I didn't already, I'd know the race was over because of the increase in the number of private small jets taking off from the Long Beach airport between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m.

Surprisingly, even the appearance of F18s taking off from the airport (30 min before scheduled flyover time) isn't unusual; we get those every weekend (the jets, not the flyovers--or maybe it's that they do flyovers at my house EVERY weekend).

The race weekend was short (rain-shortened this year), packed with storylines, and full of amazing racing. I assume all of you watching will agree?

First, the ALMS race. I ran into Doug Fehan, program manager for Corvette Racing in the paddock on Saturday morning and asked him how everyone would deal with so little on-track time before the green flag (maybe 45 min of wet running Friday morning and about a lap of puddles during qualifying; that was it). Fehan assured me they weren't too worried, as "Corvette is usually pretty good right off the truck." Boy, was he right. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner in the #4 carried a commanding lead to the checkers, and even the troubled #3 (missing a hood after a first-lap incident) almost held on to the podium, ultimately finishing fourth.

The battles were fun to watch, the passing was well done, and there was only one full-course caution. Well done, boys! (The photo above was taken from my vantage point in one of the apartment towers overlooking the course, looking down onto the back straight and around to the hairpin.)

Then the main event.

The story of the weekend for IndyCar was of course the engine changes for all teams running Chevrolet motors, and associated 10-grid-position penalties. Most drivers took it philosophically, as growing pains for the new car and engine packages they're working with this year. And in the end, Chevy drivers needn't have worried: they filled seven of the top ten spots, including the top step of the podium (go, my fantasy pick, Will Power!). The IndyCar race featured passing, wrecks (but nothing drastic), fuel strategy, pit lane strategy, post-race penalties, a roadblock in the hairpin as the second half of the field tried to take the checkers, and some unbelievable driving (I'm lookin' at you, Simon Pagenaud). A little something for everyone.

And I even got to see the cars up close (pictures above and below). I still think they're weird looking, for instance, that back wheel is only nominally "open." What do you all think? And what did you think about the weekend's racing?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Go Grand Prix of Long Beach!

The trucks have rolled in, the drivers and teams have arrived, and the banners are almost posted. It's time for some racing!

First, however, it might be time for some rain, so it's going to be interesting to see what the ALMS teams do for their only practice session Friday morning if it's raining. It makes the most sense to not go out and risk the car when race day promises to be dry. But qualifying and/or racing with no other on-track minutes? Wild.

And a testament to how much the teams and Series want to be here in Southern California.

IndyCar teams should be in better shape with more practice time over three days. But I think so far weather is the story of the weekend. I'll be on-scene and will report back!

Here are a couple photos from the very tight ALMS paddock (lots of cars means not much space for their rigs!).

Simon, anything you want me to investigate for you?

Simon: I want to know how those Lotus powered IndyCars sound. I think they've bitten off more than they can chew racing in F1 and trying to be an engine builder. I'd like to know if those engines are on song. If they sound like a bag of nails, it's going to be a long season for 6 drivers. It'll also be interesting to see how the Indy cars perform this year on a tight street circuit. Remember the cars have more power, smaller wings and are weigh less. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the bumps.

Tammy: I'll try to report back. Of course, the breaking news I didn't hear until dinner is that Chevrolet replaced all engines on the cars they supply, so the (possibly better?) third of the field will all take a 10-spot penalty after qualifying. Someone was speculating that if Hondas are all up front, Lotuses are in the middle, and Chevys are at the back ... the first corner could be extremely messy. We'll see!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tin Tops

by Simon

On this blog, I’m much maligned and misunderstood about my liking for open wheel racing (yes, I am looking at you, Tammy). As much as I like single seaters, I would pretty much drive anything given the chance. I’m demonstrating this in the next Aidy Westlake book, HOT SEAT, as he switching from open wheel to saloon car racing.

Saloon car racing uses production based cars and is very popular in Europe. In HOT SEAT, Aidy takes part in the European Saloon Car Championship, which is something I invented for the book. If you're looking for something close to what I’m talking about, it’s touring cars. I talked a little bit touring cars a while ago and their dumb reverse grid rule. That said, I like touring cars, it’s fast and furious racing and is a spectacle for both driver and spectator.

However, instead of talking about touring cars, I thought I’d show you how entertaining the British Touring Car Championship is. The 1st triple header of the 2012 season of the BTCC was the other week and here’s the TV coverage. Warning: you will find this addictive. See you next week.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Ride of My Life

by Tammy

Thanks to a very good friend (lookin' at you, Shane Mahoney), I got to go to Media Day for the Grand Prix of Long Beach last Tuesday. First I talked my way into the soon-to-be IndyCar paddock area, then there I found a dozen or so race trailers and cars and a few dozen people. Cars were drifters, some Pirelli World Challenge GT Porsches (from TruSpeed Porsche at right), and a bunch of Scion TCs that the celebrities race in the, you guessed it, Celebrity Race next Saturday.

The people milling about were race teams, celebrities, race organizers, and media. And a handful of people like me: hangers-on, there for the free ride.

OK, that's not entirely true. I'd asked Shane if I could go see what all the fuss and show was about in the interests of research for my own racecar driver, Kate Reilly. That's when Shane said the magic words, "Sure, and we'll put you in a racecar for a ride."

I was there early.

Remember, everyone? Unlike Simon, I've never raced cars. I research, I imagine, and I write. Fortunately, it seems I'm good enough at all of those to give people insight into the mind of a driver. But as for the idea of me driving? I'm ... well, "a chicken shit" wouldn't be too far off.

On the other hand, any car in the hands of a professional? (Or skilled amateur, I'm not picky.) I will take any ride I can get. And love it.

I was all suited up and ready to go for the 10:45 session, when the checkered flag fell as I was waiting (I was to have been the third person at that time). Shane promised me a ride in the 1:15 session, so I grabbed some lunch and loitered, which I realize is no hardship for me. As a writer (and mostly an only child, let's be honest), I do just fine living in my own head for hours and days at a time. So I enjoyed sitting in the shade on a mid-70-degree day and watching what was going on.

I met some great people, too, in some of the journalists that were there for rides and information, including Kayte Deioma, a Long Beach photographer and writer who admitted she just can't stay away from the GPLB.

But my favorite person for the day (sorry, Shane) was driver Tomy Drissi, whose #47 Three Stooges Porsche (really) I got to ride in. (Thanks to Kayte for the photo of me and Tomy.)

I was a little nervous, I'll be honest. I've gotten lots of hot laps in street cars around racecourses, driven by some excellent people (including a lap around the LB circuit with ALMS and Radio Le Mans announcer John Hindhough, and yes, he did some narration of that lap for me!). And I was a passenger in the Panoz racecar built for my racing school, in the hands of Grand-Am champion Andrew Davis.

But this was my first honest-to-God, this-car-will-be-racing-next-week racecar to do more than sit and imagine in. I hear someone saying, "Could the reality possibly live up to all that hype?"

Yes. Yessssssssssssss. It was awesome.

Tomy took the precaution of telling me he'd give me a thumbs up sometime during our two laps to make sure I wanted him to keep going. When he did so, I couldn't get my thumb up in return fast enough. I almost thumbs-uped him from the first corner all the way through our laps, because I was having so much fun.

What was good for my research was a first-hand look at the concentration and focus a driver needs to maintain, because he (or she) is keeping a car at its limits at every moment.

What was good for my bragging rights was that we just touched 150 m.p.h. before braking for Turn 1 on the second lap. (Yes, that fast, even though he wasn't going 100%.)

So I owe huge thanks to TruSpeed, Shane, and Tomy for reminding me of the exhilaration and adventure that is racing. This is why I hunch over my keyboard day after day: to share the wonder and fun with the rest of the world.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Our Fantasy Picks

We're back to our Friday discussions! We know we're a little late with our picks, since the season's already begun, but we've decided on a friendly competition. You're all welcome to play along!

Here's how it will work. We'll each make picks in the categories below, and we'll check in monthly to see how each of us is doing, based on actual earned points/places for our picks. At the end of the seasons, we'll see who made the best predictions and ... well, the winner should get a prize. Maybe someone will have a good suggestion.

Formula 1 Driver
SIMON: Jenson Button
TAMMY: Lewis Hamilton

Formula 1 Manufacturer
SIMON: Red Bull
TAMMY: McLaren

IndyCar Driver
SIMON: Dario Franchitti
TAMMY: Will Power

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

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

SIMON: Paul Miller Racing
TAMMY: Corvette Racing!

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)

SIMON: Chip Ganassi
TAMMY: Hendrick Motorsport

Tell us your picks and follow along!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hard Charging

By Simon

Last year there was a bit of ruffled feathers over racing drivers were athletes. I can see why people would think that. Drivers do spend their career sitting down, but it’s tough on the body. You need physical strength and stamina to put up with the punishment of being hurtled at crazy speeds for lap after lap.

If you don’t believe me, allow me to present exhibit #1: Jenson Button.

Jenson took part in the Lavaman Triathlon in Waikoloa, Hawaii during his three-week break between races. It’s nice to have a hobby, I suppose. He completed the 1.5km swim, 40k bike ride, and 10k run in a little over two hours.

That’s impressive. I’m a pretty good road cyclist and it would have taken me an hour and quarter just to finish the bike portion. So don’t let me hear any of you dissing racing drivers aren’t athletes.

In other news, DID NOT FINISH is out in paperback in the US this week and the follow-up HOT SEAT came out in the UK in hardcover this week. I hope you'll pick up a copy.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Your Picks For The Year?

by Tammy

With the 12 Hours of Sebring three weeks ago, Formula 1 two weeks ago, and IndyCar last weekend, we have officially seen the start of the combined racing season. We've gotten a peek at how things might go in 2012.

There are a number of interesting storylines so far, as well as questions they bring up ...
  1. FORMULA 1: McLaren seems to have the edge, but can Hamilton and Button retain that advantage to claim a championship? Can Hamilton pull his erratic brilliance together and triumph again? Can Sauber make the podium again? Will Kimi keep scoring points and even win? Will Shumi ever have an impact?
    My vote: The rest of the teams will catch up quickly, and it'll be a free-for-all season (maybe that's just what I hope).

  2. INDYCAR: The Lotus engines seem to be at a disadvantage, which is especially disappointing for fans of Katherine Legge, making her return to the U.S. open-wheel ranks. How will the series do in popularity and viewership with fewer ovals on the schedule? Will the television coverage learn how to handle road/street racing better? How will Beaux Barfield do in race control?
    My vote: Beaux will rock the house and receive good reviews from drivers and fans (I realize I'm biased). I don't think Lotus will catch up significantly this year, but I'm hopeful for next year. I think there will be more ovals in next year's plan.

  3. NASCAR: Danica hasn't been as strong as Danicamania has been, which isn't her fault. Everyone still wants Junior to win (he was up to fourth in the first 20 laps of one race and the announcer said, "could this finally be his race?!"), and he hasn't yet (but hello, he's third in the standings through five races). Stewart still looks good, Kyle Busch has been calm so far, and Edwards hasn't done much yet. All of this will change with 31 more races to go. But will Danica win? Will Junior win? Will Smoke repeat? Will either Busch brother self-implode?
    My vote: Smoke winning multiple races this year is a certainty (he's already won one), and I'd say so is Busch-brother-bad-behavior. I hope the Wonder Twins win (Danica and Junior), but I don't know that I'd put money down.

  4. ALMS: What will the regular season races look like, now that all of the European teams have gone home?
    My vote: One thing's for certain, we'll still have the best racing, hands down, in the ALMS GT class. Take that to the bank.
What are your predictions? Who will have the most impact this year in your favorite racing series?