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, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

by Tammy

If you don't have barbeques today, than you're probably dealing with a meat hangover from yesterday. Certainly we've all got racing hangovers ... what a day of racing! Monaco, the Indy 500, and the Coke 600. All of that, and I'm focusing on Petit Le Mans for the story I'm writing.

I'm going to keep this brief except for a few shouts-out:

To Dario Franchitti for the Indy 500 win. I saw a tweet from someone saying they were tired of him winning, but I'm more tired of Chip winning. Besides, Dario sure can drive.

To Oriol Servia and DRR Panther Racing who took fourth in the Indy 500 and celebrated (I hear) like it was a win. A great job for a one-car team that isn't one of the big boys.

To Beaux Barfield for officiating his first Indy 500. You keep doing your new job with humor, grace, and skill. Have a great rest of the season. I hope you enjoyed it.

To Mark Webber for the F1 Monaco win. Nice to see him get his first win of the season (because the person I'm really tired of seeing win is Sebastian Vettel).

I'm sure there are plenty of others who deserve recognition for the weekend. Who were you impressed with or happy for?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Indy Weekend!

This weekend is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500. Will you all be watching?

TAMMY: I'll be watching ... with one eye, while watching my writing with the other (damn, these deadlines). I expect it to be a lot of things, including sad (as they celebrate last year's winner, Dan Wheldon), intriguing (as they cover the penalties handed out to 13 teams for rules violations), relevatory (as several teams race brand new engines after switching manufacturers to get away from the under-performing Lotus), and exciting (because, come on, Indy!). But I'm not sure I expect it to be a good race. This car and the engine packages are still very new. Plus, how often does a finish like last year's (when Wheldon won in the last turn because rookie J.R. Hildebrand hit the wall) happen? Not very.

SIMON: Yeah, I'll be watching betweening editing session.  I don't know what kind of race we can expect.  The 500 is like that.  My eye will be on Sara Fisher's team.  She has a promising driver in Josef Newgarden.  I think the most interesting thing is whether Honda can compete with Chevy.  It looked as if they were catching up, but Chevy's engines are the thing to beat this year.

TAMMY: I agree with you on the promising drivers. I like Newgarden also, and James Hinchcliff is absolutely hilarious out of the car ... so far he's translating that charisma into talent in-car as well. I'm also with you: I think it'll be a Chevy getting milk-doused at the end. 

What do our readers think? Do you agree with us? What are you excited to see?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

By Simon

I came across this flowchart during cyber travels and it made me laugh because it was spot on. What made me laugh even more was the fact that duct tape and WD-40 were two of my closest friends on my race team, along with silicon bath sealant, plastic cable ties and twist wire.

WD-40 was just a good a good temporary lubricant, but it made for a useful barrier the car the elements. After a race, I sprayed the wishbone suspension with WD-40 to keep the rain corroding them. A nice layer of WD-40 made it easy to wipe the dirt and dust that stuck to the surface. It helped keep the corrosion down.

Duct tape a racing team’s best friend. They run on the stuff. It ensures that bodywork doesn’t fly off and clips stay in place. For a fast and dirty repair, it’s the best bodywork repair material. It also makes for a great repair material. During one race, one of my competitors tossed out a fiberglass radiator pod. It was split and broken, but it didn’t look too bad, so I fished out of the trash and using duct tape, I pieced the thing back together and it was as good as new and I mean as good as new. At first glance, it looked like I’d constructed the pod from carbon fiber, only a close up lost revealed the truth. It survived twelve races on my car until the elements finally got to it, but it saved me a chunk of cash.

I learned the hard way that bath silicon sealant was a handy tool to have in the toolbox when an electrical connector shook loose. That’s the problem with racing. The common enemy is vibration and duct tape, bath sealant, cable ties and twist wire are the weapons against it. I’d pack every electrical connection with sealant. The silicon variety never dried hard or glued itself to everything. It absorbed the shock and when I was finished, I just pealed it off.

Cable ties kept every cable and pipe in place (and occasionally the odd piece of bodywork) and twist wire was the last line of defense in a major failure. If a camber bolt or something snapped, twist wire kept the wheel from flying off.

These seemingly insignificant items were more valuable to me than most everything in my toolbox. They saved me in a crunch situation and their safety value kept me from harm. This flowchart isn’t just a joke, but a way of life on pit road. :-)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Inspiration on the Web

by Tammy

I didn't watch the racing action this weekend (because I'm endlessly writing and revising), but I followed all of it online. I was also doing all kinds of research (again/still), and creating a Pinterest board for the book I'm working on, Kate Reilly #2. Its title is BRAKING POINTS, which I'm using before Simon can (I'm sure he'll get me back with some title in the future). You're welcome to check out the full Braking Points board.

But all of that got me thinking about how much fantastic stuff there is online. I flipped to and watched little numbers zooming around the virtual Indy track, showing me how drivers were doing on Pole Day and Bump Day. I watched the Preakness streaming online (I'm an equal-opportunity racing fan). And I followed Twitter for reports on IndyCar, NASCAR, and everything else at once.

But the best thing I found was this video, from Racer magazine's Pinterest board, about drivers and fitness. Because the description of what it's like to be driving a car is so fantastic ... and then they film a guy doing it (which is the goofy cover image).

To summarize: "You're riding a stationary bike that's balanced on the edge of a cliff, wearing a diving suit, sucking [air] through a straw, and they've got heaters on you. If you make one mistake, you fall off the cliff."

The point being this: they're athletes, with an incredible ability to focus. If this is the teaser, I look forward to the full video!

What was exciting for you guys this weekend?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thrilling Qualifying

by Tammy

I was awake for the very end of Formula 1's qualifying sessions at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona (map below) Saturday morning (yes, it was 6:00 a.m.; no, you don't want to know), running on a treadmill in a hotel fitness center that, amazingly, carried SPEED Channel.

Mind you, I haven't watched much F1 this year. Of course, I haven't watched much of any racing this year, given that I'm scrambling to a deadline and have chained myself to my computer.

But there I was, looking for entertainment as I (slowly) pounded out a couple miles. And I was as shocked as anyone to encounter an F1 qualifying session that made my heart pound. Seriously, I couldn't have written a more thrilling qualifying script (unless Kate was in Lewis Hamilton's shoes and car). This is what qualifying is supposed to be.

The clock ticked down. Teams waited, some planning to skip the qualifying session because they didn't have enough tires. Others were playing strategy. Lewis Hamilton was the only driver with a time on the board, a 1:22:56, the same time (within 15/100 of a second) as he'd set in all three rounds of qualifying.

Then, with less than three minutes to go, Rosberg, Perez, Raikkonen, Grojean, Alonso, Maldonado go out. So does Hamilton. Most of them begin their flying laps with 30, 20, or 15 seconds left on the qualifying clock. This is the only lap that will count.

Home-country hero Fernando Alonso circulates, and the crowd screams, because his times are leading the pack. He crosses the line in first place.

Seconds later, Pastor Maldonado (right) in the Williams-Renault takes pole away from Alonso in the Ferrari. Wait, what? Williams?!?! Seconds after that, Hamilton crosses the line a half-second faster than Maldonado and 0.7 seconds faster than his previous best, taking pole for McLaren Mercedes. The announcers were giddy, my jaw was on the floor. When's the last time F1 was this much fun? Was this unpredictable?

Of course, this was only a prelude to more shockers the rest of the weekend: Hamilton being stripped of pole for not having enough fuel in the car, Williams winning its first race since 2004, and a massive fire breaking out in the Williams pits after the race was over. Crazy weekend.

Did you all watch? Or did you have eyeballs on the Lady in Black?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Favorite Racing Reprise

We're both scrambling to deadlines, so we're going to reprise one of our very first conversations from about a year ago for those of you who might not have seen it or commented at the time. Tell us your opinion!

What's Your Favorite Kind of Racing? 

It's really the first discussion to have, isn't it? You need to know if you're talking to an open-wheel fanatic, an oval-lover, a NASCAR diehard, a rallying afficionado, or some other breed. Not that you (or we) can't be more than one at the same time. But it sets the stage....

TAMMY: I'll come right out and say it. I don't get ovals. Open-wheel is OK, but my heart is with sportscars on road courses. Even sportscars on street courses. But ovals ... sure, I'll watch them ... but I don't understand the appeal.

SIMON: From a spectator's point of view I get ovals. People want to see the whole track to take in all the action and ovals provide that. Most of the tracks in the UK are shrouded in trees and you get to see one corner, maybe two. Brands Hatch's "Indy" circuit is probably the only track in the UK with a clear view of the whole circuit. But as a driver, I'm with you, I'm a road course boy. Road courses have personality and that goes a long way with me. I'll drive a sports car, but I'd prefer open wheel. I hate the additional weight sports cars carry compared to a single seater. It's such a drag in comparison to a formula car that weighs as much as Blooming Onion at Outback. I'm all about power to weight and the less weight the better. I do have a soft spot for rallying too. I always to be a rally driver, but I found I was better on tarmac than dirt. But the unpredictability of a rally stage that varies from moment to moment is the ultimate driving experience. 

TAMMY: Rally drivers are nuts. Bonkers. Loopy. I mean, I sort of get it? But there's no real course, there are spectators everywhere, and you're highly likely to run straight into a tree. You people are nuts. But really, my fundamental problem with anything that isn't sportscar racing is single classes! Boring. Look how much fun it is to watch the strategy and the passing and the (controlled) chaos of multi-class racing. Two to five classes of cars on course at the same time, crazy speed differentials? Awesome. Just look at Le Mans last weekend. Awesome! I think multi-class racing requires an extra level of skill in planning on the driver's part that I find really, really cool to watch.

SIMON: I hear what you're saying about rallying--and what's your point? Everything you've described is awesome. Unpredictability of the the course, elements and the spectators is what makes it the ultimate driving challenge. Sounds like heaven on earth. I get what you're saying about multi-class racing. Some of my fondest memories of driving was 'mixed testing' where they'd let everyone and everything out on a track at once. So I'd be out there in my Formula Ford up against F3, Sports Prototypes, 911s, Ferrari Challenge cars, every kind of sedan based championship. It was organized chaos. The great thing about it is that you got a feel for how cars measured up. My Formula Ford could outlap most sports cars, but Sports Prototype could beat me on a 1/2 mile straight with a 1/4 mile head start. So I get it, multi-class racing is exciting. The downside is who's leading? It can get confusing for the spectator. And who really cares who wins in class. It's all about who's first over the line. Class matters when you're in the big one.

TAMMY: Hitting a tree, Simon! That's my point. So now you're saying the "ultimate driving challenge" is cheating death? I thought this racing was a sport (or maybe it isn't, but that's another blog topic), not just a means of proving manhood by outwitting death. I see your "who's leading," and toss it back to you: how can you tell who's leading in IndyCar or NASCAR or any single-car class when they're all lapping each other anyway--and when the cars all look the same? In all racing, you've got a leaderboard on-site or in a banner across the screen or the television coverage is focusing on the leader. At least in sportscar racing, you're watching cars that look different. And class wins don't count? You going to tell Ron Fellows that his Le Mans (class) wins didn't count? Sure they count. Sure they care who wins in class, especially now when some of the best racing is happening in the GT class. Sportscars, baby! At least the cars look different. 

SIMON: No, I'm not saying it's cheating death. I'm saying rallying has an extra component in that you're not only racing the field, you're racing the elements and a literal changing playing field. Now that's exciting. I'm telling you most people aren't going care as much about a class win than the outright winner. That's a fact. You tell people that you were 1st in class, but came 18th overall. People will want to meet the guy who came 1st overall. I can always tell who is leading. It's a Jedi thing. You wouldn't understand. :-)

TAMMY: I see, Obi Wan. What about the rest of you? What kind of racing is your favorite?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hot Dog!!

By Simon

My dachshund, Royston, like me, he loves cars, so he's traveled up and down the west coast with me. So he's a pretty well traveled dog. In that spirit, I want him to go places that no other dog has gone before. Last year, a photo of him rode in the last NASA Space Shuttle missions. He even has a little certificate saying so. This time, Royston image will be on the side of a Red Bull F1 car at the British Grand Prix this year.

How'd this happen you ask?

Well Red Bull is working with the charity Wings For Life, which funds spinal cord injury research, and for a 15 Euro donation, they will put a picture on the side in their Faces For Charity drive.
How could I turn this down? It’s F1, the British GP and the chance for my dog to be part of something special. :-)

If you'd like to take part yourself and put your picture alongside Royston's, do check out Faces For Charity.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Oh, The Emotion

by Tammy

Saturday was a particularly interesting day around racing for the emotion stirred up in a bunch of directions.

First, I felt shock and concern hearing about and then watching the violent accident Tim Bergmeister had at Fuji Speedway in a Porsche he was sharing with his brother Joerg (who I know slightly). He basically smacked a metal guardrail with the driver's door of his car at very, very high speed (link here if you want to see it, I'm not going to embed the video). The impact tore the door off the car, leaving the viewer able to see the driver with legs and arms at rest, not on pedals or the wheel. Tim is apparently all right, though there's some concern over the state of one lobe of his lung (fractured rib punctures, I believe).

Then the racing world held its breath watching Eric McClure go hard into the inside wall at Talladega. I can't be the only person who had flashbacks to Las Vegas in October. In this instance, the first scary moment was not seeing his window net come down. Then there were the swarms of workers around the car, and the cutting of the windscreen and peeling back of the roof. Finally the careful extraction of the driver onto a back-board and the rushing him to the life-flight helicopter.

McClure seems to be fine. There's been no real word on injuries, but there's been plenty of assurance the he was alert and talking to workers at every step along the way.

The universal reaction after the sigh of relief upon learning he'd be OK, was to say "thank goodness for HANS devices (above), SAFER barriers (at right, at Daytona), the Car of Tomorrow (NASCAR's redesign in part for safety), and big, protective seats." Agreed. I couldn't help but think that back in Dale Earnhardt's day, this crash would have killed McClure. Or Earnhardt's crash today wouldn't have killed him.

Then there was the melodrama and the petty feuds. In the heat of the last lap (the second two-lap-shootout to try to end the race, after the first one ended with McClure's crash and a lengthy red flag), Hornish pushed Danica into the wall (because of a tire going flat, apparently) and she retaliated by nudging him into the wall after the checkers.

Much was made in the Twitterverse of what a diva she is, that this is why people hate her. Many questions were asked about why she wasn't called to the NASCAR hauler and put on probation like Kyle Busch was for intentionally wrecking someone under yellow last year. (Beaux Barfield, IndyCar director of competition, made a good point in a Tweet: partly the decision whether to penalize or even reprimand is based on a pattern of behavior, or history; to extrapolate further, Danica doesn't have a track record for that, KyBu does.)

There was a lot of emotion swirling around about both events in the Nationwide race, with some people on Twitter making borderline offensive statements, others taking offense, still others defending, and on and on and on. Somewhere in that feed, I saw a quoted tweet in which someone had said to Ryan Truex, a driver in the race, "I hope you get hurt." Fortunately, this was making the rounds with "wtf?" kinds of comments and chastisement. (I'm still not sure why that was directed at Ryan Truex, unless he started one of the accidents?)

Now, I know this stuff happens. Sterling Marlin got death threats after starting the slide that sent Dale Earnhardt into the wall to his death. I'm writing a bit about similar passionate fan reaction in my second manuscript. But honestly ... I didn't expect to actually see it pop up in Twitter! When I write scenarios in my fiction, I figure I'm starting with real events and exaggerating them a WHOLE LOT.

But then, they say, truth is always stranger than fiction.

What did you all think about the accidents, reactions, and emotions this weekend?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Team Orders

SIMON: I’m not a fan of team orders. For those that don’t know, team orders is where a team will ask one of their drivers give away to their teammate to enable the other driver win or score points.

I don’t like team orders because it’s not right. Sport is about the best competitor winning. I get having teammates work together to benefit the team by slipstreaming during qualifying to help get a better time or not taking each other out, but actively telling one driver to sacrifice their position in a race for the betterment of their teammate is wrong. It cheapens the results, the sport and the spectator. I don’t care if a teammate doing better than the other will ruin the other teammate’s championship position. That’s racing.

And even if you benefit from team orders, it’s no fun because everyone knows your win is handed to you, so it’s a hollow victory. Who wants a championship title that comes with an asterisk next to it.

Maybe I’m a little too idealistic, what do you say, Tam-Tam.

TAMMY: Basically, I agree with you ... but there's an exception. For a single race win, it shouldn't happen. For the first 90% of the season, it shouldn't happen. But I find it hard to be so dogmatic when it comes to ensuring a season championship for a team who's fought to reach that step for years.

That happened with Dyson Racing (running Mazda engines in their LMP1s) in the second-to-last round of the ALMS at (Mazda Raceway) Laguna Seca. A late-race tire puncture put the championship-leading 16 car in third place behind its sister car the 20. A second place finish would clinch the season championship. So the team pulled the 20 into the pits to put the 16 in second. Even Chris Dyson (team founder Rob Dyson's son and one of the drivers of the 16) wasn't very happy about it in the moment. But it made sense. Dyson has been a stalwart participant in the ALMS for years, and they've been working hard to win a championship.

So I guess I'm saying team orders shouldn't be the norm, but I understand them in extraordinary circumstances. And I have to disagree with you, Simon, I don't think there are any asterisks next to those wins or championships. (Certainly the Dysons had gotten over any doubts by the last race and championship banquet.) When it comes to a season-long struggle, I think the manipulation of a results placing by one spot in a single race doesn't (and shouldn't) negate the quality of consistent results all season that got them in position to take the season title.

But maybe I'm too pragmatic? What do the rest of you say? Are you idealists like Simon or pragmatists like me?