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.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Burning Rubber

By Simon
A lot of fuss was made last year over improving safety in F1 in light of several crashes that occurred.  If F1 wants to improve safety and cheaply, they should do one thing—don’t mess around with tires. 

Currently in F1, teams are allocated a limited number of tires per race.  The amount given to teams is to cover them for qualifying as well as the race. It’s not a generous allowance and drivers are using used as well new rubber in the race.  The idea is that it helps lower the cost of racing for the smaller teams and helps add drama to the race.

Sounds good, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s dangerous.

Having watched the Australian Grand Prix the other week, the Pirelli's tires—even their more durable tires—aren't that long lasting.  Tires weren’t wearing out.  They were disintegrating.  Teams ran out of tires and were forced to leave drivers on the track with shredded tires.  That’s an irresponsible state of affairs because it’s an unnecessary risk.  Last year, there were calls for expensive safety and logistically complicated solutions such as enclosed canopies to improve safety.  F1 wants to improve safety with a low cost solution; all they have to do is to take away tire limited. Let the teams use as many tires as they want.  It won’t take away all risk, but it’ll take away the unnecessary ones.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Steel Ovaries and Other Tidbits

by Tammy

There's a great new movement and blog that I love, and it has the strangest (or most hilarious) name: Steel Ovary Nation. It's all about supporting women racers, and probably women ass-kickers of any flavor, really.

Its participants, adherents, and supporters are part of the Steel Ovary Nation, or, if men prefer, they can be "Brovaries." Here's the explanation of how it all came about:

I'm a proud member of #SteelOvaryNation (written so because of Twitter, of course), and so is my fictional driver, Kate Reilly. In fact, thanks to Pressdog's efforts*, Kate's gotten hooked up with Shea Holbrook, the founder of the Nation, and will contribute to the blog. I also expect to take a good race-related #SteelOvaryNation photo once the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend rolls around (and my favorite race-weekend partners-in-crime come to town).

In other TFTR blog news, Simon and I caught up in person this past weekend at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in Colorado Springs. Aside from the unseasonable spring snowstorm, we had a great time and even got to share space on the same panel (The Sporting Side of Murder). Here we are playing nicely together in the book-signing room.

Racing news will resume next weekend!

*More fantastic news coming from Pressdog, who's named me the 25th Woman of Pressdog®! More info to come!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What do you we do with a problem like Lotus?

By Simon

Lotus won the first GP of the season...or did they? When is a Lotus not a Lotus?

That’s a real hard question to answer these days. Lotus is many things from what I can see and none of it is inspiring to me. Okay, let’s start with Lotus F1. At the Monaco Grand Prix, Lotus F1 celebrated 500 GPs, but they weren’t celebrating the history of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Mario Andretti. That’s because Lotus F1 is a rebranding of Renault F1, which was formerly Benetton, which was originally Toleman. So they were celebrating that history. Which must have been a very odd celebration as this Lotus incarnation is only half a dozen races old.

“Hey, hold on a second,” I hear you say, “but Lotus has been back for a couple of years.”

Actually, no. That was Lotus Racing. Tony Fernandez had the licensing rights to use the Lotus name, which he has now lost and the team is now called Caterham F1. You see Lotus F1 is owned by Genii Capital which is a branding partner (not sure what that means) of Group Lotus. And Group Lotus is a 2-part company that makes the sports cars and does special projects for the auto giants. I hope that’s clear now. If it isn’t, you're not alone.

So what about the Lotus engines that are currently underperforming in IndyCar? If you thought that might be connected to the F1 outfit, you’d be wrong. That’s something put out by Lotus Engineering arm of Group Lotus in cooperation with John Judd engine development outfit. Williams F1 fans will be groaning as they remember that temperamental engine of the late 80’s.

So what's all this mean? The Lotus “brand” seems very confused nowadays. It’s everywhere and nowhere. I truly admire the ambition but not the execution. They seem to want to emulate Colin Chapman’s legacy of being a Jack of all trade and master of all, but they don’t have the cash or someone like Chapman running the circus. They're just stretching themselves too thin. Personally, I don’t understand the decision to go into IndyCar without a major carmaker bankrolling them. Their F1 aspirations have roots in another racecar team which don’t use a Lotus engine. It all seems muddled and messy. I’m not sure if I’ve got all my facts straight as it was very hard to nail things down.

The upshot is that all these ambitions can only hurt Lotus’ image. While Lotus has never been the perfect company throughout its history, I fear that it’ll tarnish which is a car company that has turned out some awesome cars over the years and changed Grand Prix racing, and all this has the potential to hurt the sales of their road cars if all these various brands can’t pull it together.

I love the idea of a Lotus’ resurrection in motorsport, but Lotus in its racing form died when the F1 team stopped in ’94. However, I do hoped to be proved wrong.

A quick author’s note, this is an opinion piece and represent my thoughts and feelings and shouldn’t be taken as fact.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dishing Out Penalties

by Tammy

I learned something watching the 12 Hours of Sebring this weekend, or at least, I thought about something in a different way than I had before. I watch a lot of racing, but it seems there's always more nuance to absorb.

I'd always known being Race Director was a complicated job, given that decisions to enforce rules and ensure good racing have to be made quickly and consistently. In some instances, decisions are clear-cut: the timing loops in pit lane say a car was speeding, the car is assessed a penalty. I also know that there's strategy when calling a yellow and closing the pits so as not to hand any team an unfair advantage ... and that's often a matter of split-second timing on the part of the team in Race Control.

But what I hadn't considered--and what was brought home clearly in the Sebring race on Saturday--was the impact of penalties for avoidable contact. In principle, the idea of penalizing someone for making contact they could have avoided that hurts someone else's race makes sense. You want to stop drivers from using their cars to bash others out of the way.

But this is also racing. In NASCAR, "rubbin' is racin'" and all that. In IndyCar, contact can be disastrous. Sportscar racing lies somewhere between the two. There's some rubbing and leaning occasionally, but it's generally pretty clean racing (one of the SPEED commentators even praised the "old days" of totally clean racing, unlike the current day).

The issue is where the responsibilities lies, when there's contact between an overtaking car and a car being overtaken. The ALMS Race Director (Paul Walter, who I've met and like) took the approach on Saturday that it's the responsibility of the overtaking car, full stop. So there were a number of penalties assessed for contact that many people in addition to the penalized driver questioned. In particular, Richard Westbrook, driving the ultimately class-winning #4 Corvette, who said the Ferrari he was attempting to pass was being shown the blue ("faster car coming") flag and seemed to be (if I remember the incident correctly) almost even with the Ferrari before the side-to-side impact.

Here's where I started thinking. Sure, a penalized driver is going to complain, and the "victim" of that impact will probably agree with the penalty. But there was plenty of other buzz, starting with the television commentators, about a strict line of penalties for the overtaking car ONLY creating an environment where the driver of the car being overtaken doesn't have to watch what's happening around him/her. And I think that could be pretty injurious to the concept of multi-class and multi-talent (pros and ams together) racing.

So I think some of those calls may have been wrong, because when you race with multiple classes, you MUST be prepared at all times to pass or be passed. To me, that's one of the fundamental rules. The car being overtaken bears responsibility also for keeping racing clean.

Of course, I haven't reviewed tapes of the incidents in detail, and I'm no race director. This is a point of principle, not me saying Paul Walter sucks. This is me saying he's got a tougher job than I realized.

What do you all think? How does a race director keep the racing good and the penalties fair?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What's The Point?

By Simon

F1 is about to start its season and the drivers will be trying to grab as many points as they can and they can grab quite a few with 25 points going to the winner of a race and even a 10th place finish gets a point.

It all sounds good, but not to me. I don’t like the points system in F1. I know it’s changed over the years, but I preferred when only the first six drivers got points and not many at that. The points from 1st to 6th used to go 9-6-4-3-2-1. With points going down to 10th place for the modern race, it means half the starting grid will come away with a point and that comes off a little weak to me.

When points are that hard to come by, even a single championship point feels like a win. It meant something. It meant you got a point and you earned it. It meant you were a driver of note.

Now, I’m not trying to be curmudgeonly (but I kind of am) but I don’t want points easy to come by. I want it to be a battle. If this stuff was easy, everyone would be doing it. With so many people in the running for points, it kind of dilutes the significance. If Grand Prix racing is the pinnacle of the sport, then awards need to be few and far between, don’t you think?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Let the Racing Begin

by Tammy

I know, some of you will argue the racing year has begun already. I could argue that myself, having attended the first race of the year. But it feels like so long ago now that I was in Daytona for the 24 Hours. And NASCAR hasn't done much for me lately.

But next weekend ... it really begins.

Saturday at 10:45 a.m. Eastern the green flag will fly on one of the world's best endurance races: the 12 Hours of Sebring (poster image from I estimate about an hour and fifteen minute break before coverage of the Formula One opener begins, live from Australia. 

Once you sleep off your racing coma and get a couple work days in ... the next weekend brings you the second F1 race of the year, from Malaysia (home of the afternoon typhoons that always seem to impact the racing), and on Sunday, the first IndyCar race of the year from St. Pete.

Racing is finally back!!

I've got a sportscar racing bias, right? So I'll tell you what I'm looking forward to: the all-out battle for the last American Le Mans Series title. I'd love to see Dyson get it, for their hard work, commitment, and longevity. And I'd love to see Corvette Racing repeat. It'll also be interesting to see how various teams and suppliers start positioning themselves for 2014's combined sportscar series. (Stay tuned this Thursday for the announcement of the new Series name....)

On the IndyCar side, I'm more curious to see how fans react to the seemingly ongoing chaos that is Series leadership—though, as always, props to Beaux in the booth.

In F1? Well, I'll be mighty interested to see how Hamilton's going to fare with his new team. Was his move the mistake many (including me) thought it? Will he have the pace to play with the leaders? Will we see anyone but Vettel and Alonso at the top of the boards this year?

Anyone have any opinions, predictions, or different hopes? Bring it on, 2013, we're ready for you!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Corvette Confessions

by Tammy

I have a confession to make: I don't love all Corvettes.

Mind you, I don't love much from the 1970s and 1980s, let alone Corvettes from that era. And while I love the C6.R on the track and as the epitome of a racecar, I couldn't actually see myself owning or driving one.

But I think the new Corvette C7 could change my tune.

I spent Saturday at the Petersen Automotive Museum for their 60th Anniversary Corvette Celebration. I sat in a vendor booth chatting to everyone who walked by and made eye contact and selling some books. One of my usual questions in a situation like that is "What's the coolest thing you've seen today?"

But I realized the first time I asked the question how moot it was. The answer? The 2014 Stingray.

Sure, it was only a show model, with no real interior and, I'm sure, no engine or other underpinnings. Just the shell of the new design. Which didn't matter. It's still pretty awesome.

What with not really leaving my booth at all, I only managed a quick look and a couple photos on my way out of the event. But it's just as good in person as you've seen in the photos. Except maybe the back ... I'm still not convinced about that Camaro rear end. But the rest of it just might go a long way to making Corvettes appeal to a younger clientele (according to wikipedia, median owner age is 53, and 82% of owners are between 40 and 69 ... sure, some of that is price, but they don't have the same cool factor as a Ferrari, for instance).

One last confession: I like the new Stingray coupe better than the convertible (see it on the Corvette Blogger's site), in part because I think the line of the C-pillar is what gives this model some of its European supercar flair.

What do you all think? Do you like the new model? What about coupe versus convertible?