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.

Friday, September 28, 2012


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?

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

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

Blogs - love, love, LOVE this IndyCar fan (I would KILL to be a Woman of Pressdog (r)) - 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


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.