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, July 30, 2012

Formula One in 1961

by Tammy

I've mentioned before that I'm relatively new to auto racing, so I'm still learning about its history. The more I learn, the more I am both intrigued and appalled at the men (some women, but not mentioned much, aside from my favorite, Denise McCluggage) who risked their lives in the early days of the sport. (Yes, they risk their lives even today, but to a degree that's orders of magnitude smaller.)

The Limit: Life and Death on the 1961 Grand Prix Circuit, by Michael Cannell, is a great book that provides a window into the psyches of the drivers who were involved. He is especially fascinated with American Phil Hill, who was a nervous, reluctant racer at first (and perhaps throughout), but who was compelled to race in spite of his understanding and fear of all that could go wrong. His Formula One championship went down in the racing world as sort of an afterthought to the toll of deaths that season, culminating in the death of title rival and Ferrari teammate Wolfgang von Trips in the final (championship-determining) race of the 1961 season.

The information that left me gasping at the start of the book was that by some calculations, racing drivers had only about a 33% survival rate in those days, which were right before the advent of seatbelts and other useful safety equipment.

I'm clearly a student of the current-day racecar driver, especially what motivates him or her to do what they do, in spite of risks and danger. Cannell's book gave me outstanding historical perspective on how far the sport (and risks) have come. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Evolution of a Series

TAMMY: I read with interest this week that the ACO (the sanctioning body that governs the 24 Hours of Le Mans and inspires the ALMS) was scrapping the last two rounds of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) because of a lack of entrants. Effectively, canceling the ELMS this year. The few extant ELMS teams will have a home at Petit Le Mans this year, which is great news for the ALMS and viewers.

The release from the ACO talks about the ELMS returning next year ... but I had to wonder, because those two canceled races were two of only four rounds the series was to have had. Was two endurance series too many for Europe? (I'm stretching things by considering the WEC or World Endurance Championship, started by the FIA this year, to be European when it's really worldwide.) Here in the U.S. we have two sportscar racing series (ALMS and Grand-Am), but we couldn't support two open-wheel racing series (CART/IRL = IndyCar). 

My first thought: It's pretty lucky (for me) the ALMS has survived into its second decade!
My second thought: I wonder what series that's around now will fade away?

The latter question is on my mind because of the article in Jalopnik about the Ten Greatest Failed Racing Series of All Time. Certainly it seems like the ELMS won't be around, even into next year. But what about the WEC? What about the lower-level "feeder" series that get less attention and less money but serve the vital role of grooming our future top-level champions?

I suppose I shouldn't fret about the loss of what I know now, because all things change, right, Simon?

SIMON: I think for a lot of series to survive, I think they need to join together. I think the UK got it right in the late 80's/early 90's. Formula 3, touring cars, Formula Vauxhall Lotus, Formula Renault, Ford Fiesta, etc. would race as part of a super line-up.  It helped with crowds and introduced people to a lot of different types of racing and built fan bases. Then touring cars and F3 (the two most popular series in the UK) went their separate ways and ran on different line-ups (taking some of these support series with them) and F3 suffered because of it and is still suffering (with small grids). I sort of see the same thing here with ELMS and the like. 

Sports car racing isn't the most popular type of motorsport in the UK and Europe (not as a series, but as a one off super race, yes). Could be something with the length of the races or something.  So I don't think they can "headline" and survive for too long. Throw in a competing series and someone will lose. The IRL killed CART. I think these smaller series work better playing second fiddle to a more popular form of racing. I think for ELMS, ALMS and any series that doesn't have a good billing with the public, should be a support race for something else. It makes economical sense and that equals sustained racing.

TAMMY: While I think it would be hard for ALMS or Grand-Am to give up top billing, I think all series do better when they combine forces for joint weekend, such as the ALMS with IndyCar at Long Beach, or Grand-Am with NASCAR at the Brickyard this weekend. It's an interesting idea. What do the rest of you think? What series out there today do you see going away? Or what do they need to do to survive?

Monday, July 23, 2012

GT Rivalries

by Tammy

Is there another series or class with such epic battles in the last few years as the American Le Mans Series GTs? The Mosport (OK, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) race this weekend gave us another amazing battle, with the top three cars nose to tail for nearly the last 45 minutes. The Flying Lizard Porsche held on to the top spot to win, though he was pressed hard by the Corvette in second and the ESM Ferrari in third.

But a lot of race viewers held their breaths while Jan Magnussen (Corvette) dogged Joerg Bergmeister's (Porsche) bumper, because of their history. Now, I don't know if there's any bad blood remaining between the two teams and drivers (since they're pros and this is racing), but I know that the Corvette fan world still hasn't forgotten or forgiven Joerg for sending (as they see it) Jan into the wall at the checkered flag of the Laguna Seca race in 2009 (video below).

Even if I don't totally agree with it, I understand Corvette fans' point of view. Because I hold my own grudge against Ferrari for a similar incident ... which is ironically the incident that I think dictated Joerg's actions in the video above against Corvette.

On the last lap of Sebring in 2007, Joerg and Jamie Melo (Ferrari) battled it out, trading the lead back and forth. Coming out of the last turn, Melo pushed Joerg left toward the wall, making Joerg have to lift to avoid crashing, therefore losing the win. (Video below, the best angle is the arial view starting at 3:04.)

Fast-forward to 2009 at Laguna Seca, and Joerg's in the middle of exactly the same battle. He couldn't afford to be pushed around again to lose, so he went for it, and Jan went into the wall. Like I say, I get why Corvette fans hate Joerg, because I dislike Jamie Melo and Risi Ferrari for the same reason. 

Now fast-forward to 2012, and you understand why many of us held our breaths as Jan looked for a last-lap pass on Joerg this weekend. He didn't have a chance to pull it off, as the Ferrari (a green one this time) slide under him, with a little bumping and banging, to take second place away. But it was some incredible racing by all three drivers.

So I say ALMS GT racing is currently the most competitive in the world. Who's with me? Who's arguing for another series/class?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Women in F1

SIMON: There was an interesting article in Autosport last week. Susie Wolff, who is Williams F1’s current development test driver and a competitor in the German touring car series, was being interviewed about whether women had a place in F1. The article was somewhat poignant as Spanish driver Maria de Villota suffered horrible injuries after crashing a Marussia F1 car after it malfunctioned (although Marussia are now denying it. This could become a story all by itself).

So can women cut it motorsport’s premier series? My answer is of course they can. Women are people too. A great driver is a great driver and their sex has little to do with it. This question about whether women can cut it comes up when a female driver breaks out, and there are quite a few women doing well in motorsport across the world. But so far, no woman has succeeded in F1. I think this has more to do with numbers than gender. There are thousands of guys going into motorsport with F1 aspirations, but only a handful of women. Hand in hand with that, of all those guys very few realize their dream. The same goes with women. Getting to F1 is like making it in American Idol, only a handful will make it prime time. The harsh reality is that for a woman to make it to F1 more women are needed in motorsport so that a great talent can be discovered. Your thoughts, Tammy.

TAMMY: My answer is (not surprisingly) also "of course they can." What I'm cheered by is that I haven't seen a single "oh, poor women, can't cut it" or "poor females, we can't endanger them" article since de Villota's accident. And thank goodness for that. I think it's a generational thing ... I was aghast at Denise McCluggage's story that she had a ride lined up for Le Mans with Briggs Cunningham (how cool would that have been?), but at that time, the French didn't allow women to race. (That's Denise in the center there, last year, with mutual friend Jill Amadio and me.)

But can you imagine a country or organizing body not allowing women to race today? I can't, thank goodness. After all, as my husband put it, we send women to war now. I don't think young women these days will ever stand for being told they can't do something because of their gender.

But Simon, I think you're also right that the scarcity of women at the highest levels of motorsport, like F1, is a numbers game. I'd hazard a guess that females were pretty scarce at the bottom of the racing ladder 15-20 years ago, meaning the number who've made it to the pro ranks today is even lower. I like to think the number is higher these days ... and just maybe the current crop of karting competitors contains a few girls who will someday be racing an F1 car through the streets of Monaco. I'd love to see it.

What do you all think? Can women cut it in F1?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hot Dog, Part 2

By Simon

A little while ago I mentioned that 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 of one of their cars as part of their Faces For Charity drive during the British Grand Prix.

Well, I donated to have a picture of my dog, Royston, on the side of an F1 car. It was fitting seeing as Royston was paralyzed and was taught to walk again.

The British GP has been and gone and here are the pictures of the car with the 25,000 other photos on it. I will give you a dollar if you can find Royston’s image. Seriously, I will.

Good for Red Bull, this was a very cool appeal.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Classic Dragsters in Long Beach

by Tammy

On Saturday, my husband and I had a lot of fun walking a mile over to the main drag in our part of Long Beach to check out the 7th annual Bixby Knolls Dragster Expo & Car Show. See, we're four miles from the old Lions Drag Strip that hosted roaring machines between 1955 and 1972. Between the area's tradition and the car-savvy of our district's city councilwoman (Rae Gabelich, widow of Gary Gabelich, a racecar driver who held the land-speed record at one time), we've had a dragster expo in town for the past few years. Plus a whole lot of cool cars on display.

This year the featured stars were Don "the Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "the Mongoose" McEwan, and their original funny-car racers, not to mention a dozen other classic dragsters, some of which were available for fans to sit inside, and some of which participated in the "Cacklefest." That was when a half-dozen of them fired up simultaneously, shaking hundreds of spectators to their very bones and shooting flames 15 feet in the air. It was spectacular in the twilight hours.

I added a few classic cars to my wishlist and introduced myself to Jim Michaelian, the president and CEO of the Long Beach Grand Prix. Mostly I marveled at the ongoing tradition of car culture in Southern California, whether it's racing, customizing, or preserving. There were some gorgeous examples on display!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Long & Winding Road

As I’ve mentioned before, I cycle instead of race now. I usually cycling alone, but I do ride with a small group of cycle chums on Thursday nights. Well, last week, I found out that one of gang was killed on his bike during a training ride. My friend’s death took me back to my racing days. A couple of the drivers I knew died racing. Their deaths, like Paul’s the other week, are a little hard to take. It’s easier to accept someone’s death when it due illness because illness is natural and something we don’t have a defense against. We never think the things we do for fun will kill us.

I’ll be honest it was a little weird going out on my bike last week. However, I plan to keep on riding. Naturally the question came up that maybe I should stop. It was a conversation I had with my mum when one of the drivers I knew was killed at a race. My mum wanted me to stop. I couldn’t then and I can’t now. Racing like cycling is something that makes me happy and I can’t walk away from that regardless of the risks.

When Dan Wheldon died last year, my writing and racing buddy, Rick Helms said, “Racing drivers have the most remarkable ability to—on one hand—place themselves into amazingly dangerous situations while—at the same time—engaging in complete denial that this could by their day. Not one driver in the race at Vegas today strapped into the car fearful for his or her life.” And Rick is right. I don’t know if you call it compartmentalization or passion trumping good sense or plain denial, but I never once strapped myself into a racecar fearing for my life and I feel no different riding on roads where careless drivers are in large numbers. I won’t say I’m not scared from time to time, but I’m more frightened of being frightened.

Occurrences like an untimely deaths acts as a reset. This incident has reminded me yet again that I’m mortal and I should be a little more careful and a little less reckless. An incident like this also reminds me to follow my passions and know that there's a price that I and my loved ones will pay. This is true for racecar drivers, cyclists and all pursuits of the heart.

Yours at speed,

Monday, July 9, 2012


by Tammy

Two races this weekend finished under yellow (were there more? the two I watched did), the ALMS race at Lime Rock and the IndyCar race at Toronto. In both cases, there were terrific battles taking place for key positions. In both cases, accidents happened with only a handful of laps/minutes to go in the race, and the races went full-course-caution.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from disappointed fans who watched a safety-car parade to the checkers, instead of last-lap battles.

So here's the question? Should other racing series adopt NASCAR's green-white-checker rule?

For those who don't know what it is, in brief: NASCAR makes one attempt for the race to finish under green, no matter the lap count, by throwing a green flag for cars, then a white the next time by, then the checker. If there's a caution on that first lap between green and white flags, they try again. If there's a caution after the white flag waves, the race is over (aka, once the white flag waves, the next flag ends it).

Gimmicky? Perhaps. But it does combat the disappointment of teams not fighting it out until the end.

Problematic? Possibly, especially for the ALMS, which is based on time, not laps. But that could probably be surmounted.

What do you all think? Should more series adopt the G-W-C?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What No Racing?

By Simon

It’s the 4th of July which means probably no one is reading this. You're probably out there having fun. The damned impertinence of you lot. Regardless, I’m going plow on because of the topic national holidays and racing is relevant to this week’s post. Now if this was England and it was a national holiday (and this place still would be England if it weren’t for some pesky war, but I’m getting off the point), this would be a big race day. While in the US, racing nearly always takes place on a Sunday. In the UK, national holidays are part of the racing calendar—from Easter through to end of summer. I think it’s a shame they don’t have races on national holidays in the US, as there's a bit of energy at the tracks from everybody doing something on a day off. So come on America, join the UK instead of separating from us and start racing on national holidays. Just think of all the tailgating you can do.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Checking Our Predictions

by Tammy
I decided it was time to check in and see how we were doing with the fantasy picks we've made. I'll take them category by category ...
F1 Driver
I'm kicking some behind here, with my pick, Lewis Hamilton, scoring 88 points to Jenson Button's 49 (the pick of both Simon and Rick Hunt).

F1 Team
But Simon's got me and Rick beat here, with his Red Bull pick scoring 176 to McLaren's 137 (my pick and Rick's).
IndyCar Driver
Again, Rick sided with the light (that would be me) with the pick of Will Power, who's outscoring Simon's pick of Dario Franchitti by 70 points (286 for Will, 216 for Dario).
IndyCar Team
I made an executive decision on scoring here, averaging driver totals, since Simon's pick of Ganassi has two drivers to my (and Rick's) pick of Penske. Result? Penske 251, Ganassi 244.
ALMS GT Driver
My sentimental choice of Patrick Long isn't working out so well for me (but the season is still young!), with 19 points, but Simon (Jan Magnussen 48) and Rick (Joey Hand 52) are neck and neck. Advantage: Rick.
I'm pleased to say that my Corvette Racing pick (62) is dominating the season so far, over Rick's Team RLL BMW (55). Simon's Paul Miller Racing (20) needs some encouragement or luck....
NASCAR Cup Driver
Rick has the pick of all of us, with Jimmie Johnson (610) ranking above my Carl Edwards (503) and Simon's Jeff Gordon (453). But the most amazing statistic here is Junior in second place, with a race win to his credit! That answers my biggest question. (And I agree with Rick that we should pick anew once the Chase field is set.)
Another average of driver totals, to compare the two drivers of Ganassi (Simon) to the four of Hendrick (me and Rick) ... and Hendrick is outscoring Ganassi by more than 100 points, 537 to 424. If only JMP got points for taking out the jet dryer.
So by my tally, Rick and I both have top picks in five categories (overlapping, obviously), and Simon has a top pick in one. What does this mean? Not a thing, except I get to needle Simon some....
Anyone else want to play along? Just submit your picks in the categories.