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, July 31, 2013

Young Upstarts

By Simon

Maybe I’m showing my age here, because I’m getting a little worried by the ages of some of the drivers in F1.  I know there’ll always be a young prodigy (see Emerson Fittipaldi) who'll burst onto the F1 stage years ahead of schedule, but a guy making it to F1 under twenty-three was the exception, not the rule.  Twenty years ago, twenty-five or twenty-six was the typical entry level for an F1 driver if you worked your way up the ranks (Formula Ford, Vauxhall Lotus or Renault, F3, F3000, etc).  With the demise of great breeder series like Vauxhall Lotus and the introduction of GP2 and GP3 that seemed to have undercut the rungs up the F1 ladder, there route from top to bottom is a swift one.  

What prompted this concern is that Sauber look set to offer Russian eighteen year old Sergey Sirotkin a seat next year. Yes, this deal seems in part to secure Sauber’s financial future, but ignoring that factor, the age of an F1 driver is dropping and I find that sad.  Now, I’m not bashing Sergey per se or because he's young.  He could be lightning in a jar, but what concerns me is what kind of drivers are we getting in F1.  I want the best and part of being the best is experience and the fast tracking of drivers to F1 before their time doesn’t seem the best thing.  Also I miss watching drivers learning their craft and making their way up the ranks. 


I guess I don’t F1 turning into a spectacle of raw talent.  I want to see some guys who’ve been around the block and know a thing or two out there.  Does this seem reasonable—or am I just getting old?  :-)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Already Silly Season?

by Tammy

It only seems like we're part way through the Formula 1 season, but already the speculation over next year's seats is running rampant.

Let's start with what we know:

  • Mark Webber is leaving Red Bull after this year to go drive the new Porsche LMP1 at Le Mans and in some endurance sportscar championship.
  • Hamilton finally won a race for Mercedes, so he's probably not likely to be looking to move.
  • Raikkonen actually appeared to smile on the podium this weekend, which means ... I don't know, because I'm so shocked he actually smiled.
  • Grosjean gets another penalty (is he turning into the class clown?).
And then there's what's been speculated:
  • Raikkonen going to Red Bull. 
  • Alonso going to Red Bull (on the basis of his manager, who does represent other drivers, meeting with Red Bull). (Photo from Morio.)
  • Toro Rosso teammates Ricciardo and Vergne are vying for the Red Bull seat.
The Alonso rumor seems the most unlikely to me. I mean, I can't actually imagine him ever leaving Ferrari, you know, not with all of that talk about compatible Latin temperaments.

At the same time, I don't think Kimi's going to leave Lotus now. They're doing better and better as the races wear on, and more, they just want Kimi to be Kimi. (Check out their Facebook page for the fun they have with him.)

Which leaves someone from the Toro Rosso squad. Or someone else? What other changes do you think we'll see in next year's linup? And isn't it too early to be thinking about this?!

Monday, July 22, 2013

What You See on the Road

by Tammy

I was in the Detroit area for a long weekend, and what surprised me the most—other than the bugs—was what I saw driving around on the roads with us.

I know I'm likely to see more GM and Ford products around, given that Detroit is their home base, but it was still surprising just how different the general view on the road was.

For instance, as we drove to the airport (Los Angeles International) last Thursday morning, on the 405 freeway, two Tesla Model Ss (top right) passed us within two minutes. Those were just the ones I saw. And generally, we're surrounded by BMWs of all stripes, and Toyota Prius is practically the state car.

In Southern California, my Buick Verano (bottom right) is so unusual as to be practically exotic, and with that coloring my perception, I kept being astonished to see Buick after Buick on the road and in parking lots in Michigan. Suddenly, I didn't feel quite so much the odd man out....

So my question is, what kinds of cars are prevalent on the roads where you live? Have you seen a Tesla Model S? Do you see many Porsches? Priuses? Is it all American iron?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Seinfeld, Coffee & Cars

By Simon

My life is in boxes at the moment as I prepare to move house, so this week's bit is a short one.  For the gear heads in the room, you'll know that Jerry Seinfeld is a big car nut, but what you might not know is that he has a web series called "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," where he interviews comics while featuring a classic car.  This week's car is a gorgeous '73 Porsche 911 Carrera RS.  So drool and laugh with Jerry.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover

by Tammy

It's taken me a long time to read Steve Matchett's The Mechanic's Tale: Life in the Pit-Lanes of Formula One. Not because it's a bad book—not at all. I've found the insight into the technology and work required absolutely fascinating.

Partly I stalled on the book for some weeks because, well, I'm a fiction reader first and foremost. So I was reading this one in the odd moments when I didn't need to dive into a story to be distracted from everyday stress. But also, I have to admit: I put the book away for a while because I find the cover image deeply disturbing (even though I presume there was no harm done to the man in the center of it). In the end, I simply never turned the book cover-up....

Strange, however, that I can watch videos of fatal crashes and feel sorry for the driver but not disturbed, and yet that cover gives me the shudders. I guess fire freaks me out the most.

Cover aside, though, I definitely recommend the book for a really interesting look at Formula One in the early- to mid-1990s, and for the first years of Michael Schumacher in the series. Matchett does like a good digression—as anyone who hears him on F1 coverage will already be aware—but he's a good narrator of his experiences, and the anecdotes of problems, frustrations, and successes are interesting.

Plus, for someone like me who doesn't have the long history of following F1, the book offers up an excellent slice of history.

Has anyone else read this or his first book Life in the Fast Lane? Any other good books on the history of F1 that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ignorance is Bliss and Useful

I was watching Top Gear the other week. Jeremy Clarkson was driving a Lotus T125, which is a quasi-F1 Grand Prix car that ordinary folk can rent for the day, as long as you have half a mil lying around.

Something Jeremy said caught my attention. He said he was having a mental problem with belting along at 160mph and leaving his braking to the 100yards before going into a corner. He was used to hitting the brakes 300yards before going into a big corner.

Maybe I’m a little dumb, but I never had that mental mind block. When people told me I could leave my braking late in my single seater, I believed them and after a half dozen laps, the car let me know how quickly it can stop for a corner.

But maybe that fearlessness came from the fact that I never knew what speed I was actually doing. The reason was simple: there was no speedometer in the car. It wasn’t important. The rev counter was the most important indicator in the car. Speed wasn’t important. How many revs I was pulling was. Revs told you where I was on the power band. The gearbox was fitted with specific gear ratios that best suited each track so that I would be pulling peak revs at the end of the straightaways. Speed was something that happened, but not something to monitor.

I suppose ignorance of the mph was helpful. Because it’s hard to tell 120 from 140 mph. It’s all quick. So it made me a little braver.

Whether I could say that now is a tough one to answer. Part of the reason there was never a speedometer in my cars was there wasn’t the room. The dashboard is tiny and I needed to fit in the pressure and temperature gauges and tachometer, etc. Just as I was leaving the sport, digital displays were coming in and they had everything on them, including the speed.

So maybe I wouldn’t be so brave if I knew how fast I was going.

Yours blindly,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Wrap Them Up in Cotton Wool

by Tammy

Watching Twitter during a race has to be almost as fascinating as watching the race itself—especially if it's NASCAR, and especially when there are wrecks.

NASCAR was at Daytona last weekend, which means restrictor plate racing (which I still don't understand the fun of) and the possibility of "the big one" because the cars are all bunched together with only parking-lot spacing between them as they do something like 200 m.p.h. Saturday night for the Cup race, there were a number of "big ones"—including two on the last lap alone.

But it was the big one that collected (and bounced and shredded) Denny Hamlin's car that was probably the most scary, given that he's wrecked badly already this season and hurt his back. (He seems to be fine; certainly he got out of the car and walked to the ambulance on his own steam.)

Two points about that accident stood out to me:

  1. It reminded me a lot of the kind of impact Dale Earnhardt had in his fatal wreck just a few hundred yards away, but with a dramatically different result. (Watch Hamlin's crash Saturday, and Earnhardt's crash in 2001.)
  2. Twitter lit up with the information that where Hamlin crashed, there were no SAFER barriers installed. Lots of people were outraged over that fact, and I gather that there were probability studies done about where they were most needed at Daytona International Speedway, and not every location around the 2.5 mile oval made the cut.
Here's my basic question: how much should tracks and series and organizing bodies try to protect drivers from impact?

That's going to sound harsh, and of course I don't want anyone seriously hurt. But should Daytona have SAFER barriers on both sides of the track, all the way around? Should Le Mans tear out trees along Tetre Rouge and put in more spongy barriers so that someone like Allan Simonsen isn't killed running into it? Should IndyCar or F1 cars have kevlar bubbles over the cockpit so no one's hurt like Felipe Massa or killed like Dan Wheldon? At what level of racing should the safest-possible seat (or belts or helmet or whatever) be mandated, so more aren't killed as Jason Leffler was? 

Do we wrap them up in cotton wool, these racing drivers? Where do we draw the line of trying to make an inherently dangerous activity safe? I don't know the answer....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ovals--There's More To It

By Simon
For my birthday, my wife told me she’d gotten me a track day in a NASCAR on an oval.  Woohoo, for a couple of reasons.  First, I’d never driven a NASCAR.  Second, I’d never driven on an oval.  As much as Tammy would have you believe I’m an open wheel purist, I’m not.  I love open wheel the best, but I will drive anything and have. I’ve driven open wheel, production cars, off road, so ovals and NASCAR are on the list—as are prototypes.  Just sayin’.

This Sunday I went out to the short oval in Stockton. It was a typical track day with a briefing before going out on the track.  I have to admit this was the first time I’d be on the track with headphones where a spotter would be constantly chatting to me, which seemed a little excessive until I realized the cars had no mirrors and you couldn’t see a damn thing out of the car front or rear.  I did like the trust I had with the spotter.  I moved when he told me and I had total faith he wasn’t talking me straight into another car.

Naturally, I had to be put in the “Little Guy” car and still needed a bolster cushion in order to reach the pedals.  This created a problem.  I was way too close to the steering wheel and everything was in my blind spot from gauges to the gear shifts (yes, there was two of them).  So it wasn’t the most comfortable or enjoyable track moment, but it was all in good fun.

Going on the track, I was reminded of a few things:
1.       Racecars are virtually undrivable at slow speeds.  It’s like driving a house brick without wheels.
2.       I forgot how much pressure you have to put on the brake pedal when you don’t have servo assist.  I almost slammed into the pace car.


Driving on an oval was interesting because it was somewhat counter intuitive to anything I’ve done before.  The instructor told me use power on the straights and lift on the corner.  Lift in the corners?  You only lift when you're on the brakes.  Lifting is cowardice.  You balance the car in the corner with the power.  That was surprisingly hardwired into my brain and I found myself on the gas in the bend.  But I’ve been watching the power and brake telemetry for IndyCars on ovals and they lifted through the bends and what's good for them is good for me, so I gave it a try and it kind of made sense.  And as much as this will sound weird, I felt like I was driving a go-kart.  Anyway, my time in the car came to an end.

I have to say I had fun and would have liked longer in the car to have explored it more, but there's always another time.  :-)  

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Price of Fame

by Tammy

In this day and age, if you're famous—or even remotely known—everyone's going to comment on you. To a large extent, this is the product of our digital age, where everyone has a forum for commenting (thank you, Twitter and Facebook) and where media outlets by the hundreds look to fill their pages. We have commentators, pundits, and opinion-writers. And bloggers. And tweeters. Everyone has a microphone and we all think someone out there wants to hear what we have to say.

I covered this issue in Braking Points with Racing's Ringer, an anonymous racing blogger who likes to sling a lot of mud and who took a severe disliking to Kate Reilly. The Ringer spent a lot of time in the book trying to damage Kate's reputation and tear her down emotionally. Truly, it wasn't hard to create that character, with all the examples around us.

Kate works hard to take the Ringer's beating in stride, reminding herself that she's got a job and a paycheck and supportive sponsors, friends, and family. Because those are what count. Those are what tell Kate—or any real driver—that he or she is doing a good job. Not the bloggers, fans, or even pundits.

I bring this up because it's come up, again, for Danica. Kyle Petty, current NASCAR commentator for SPEED, former pro driver, son of The King (Richard Petty), called Danica "a marketing machine," but "not a racecar driver." (Read more about it.)

Some of you are going to be cheering at the thought of Danica being taken down a peg (you know who you are). My response ranges between "And you were better than that, Kyle?" and "Scoreboard, doubters"—meaning, look whose name is on the marquee or driver roster.

Jalopnik summed up my first response spectacularly well, suggesting, "Let's make a deal here: If it takes more than 173 races for her to win a Sprint Cup race, which is how long it took you, then you can joke with your buddies about how you're a real race car driver and she's just some girl with a steering wheel." But I realize that response, while satisfying and entertaining is, pun intended, petty.

I side with Danica, who marvels that people tweet her wishing her ill (or even outright harm) ... yet they still follow her. In response to the furor over Petty's words, Danica spoke with the media on Friday. The bottom line for her is this: "It's a little bit funny, but the most important thing to me is that I can keep my team happy, we're moving in the right direction, that Go Daddy is happy and that when you walk out of the garage or walk around the track and meet a little girl that wants to grow up to be like you then you're doing something right -- those are the things that feel right." (Read more of her comments.)

In other words, focus on what you can control, worry about being employed, take your satisfaction from seeing proof that little girls are inspired by you. Ignore the talking heads.

And here's my punditry: She may not be the best that ever was, and she may or may not be worth all the hype. But she's making the most of an opportunity. Don't we all? You go, girl.

(photo from