Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 F1 Shanghai Grand Prix qualifying.

Pole man
Nico Rosberg got his first pole at the Shanghai Grand Prix. It has been a long time coming. Everyone was sure he would get one one day in his career, just figuring out when, was the problem. As it is every pundit is also very certain that he will 1 day get a win in F1. The problem is figuring out when.

With the pole position, Nico has increased his chances of getting a win. What should help even more is that he will have his teammate starting behind him. Mercedes has a number of options on how the can run the race. The team should advice Schumacher to only pass if he has a safe and clear line, or tell him to stay put.

If asked for a definitive prediction on tomorrow's race, we still believe there are drivers behind Rosberg who are able to crash his party, including his experienced and cunning teammate, Michael.

Q2 and lower
The cars qualyfing in 13th place and lower are all in pair order. Team cars of Williams, Force India, STR, Caterham, Marusia, and HRT, have all qualified in lockstep with the respective team leaders in front. Quite strange.

#1 in #11
Sebastian Vettel the driver of the #1 car, which is synonymous of the reigning champion, could only manage an 11th place qualifying. Considering is record setting run of pole position last year at 15, we almost did not expect him to qualify out of the top 10 this year. He did not score any point in the last race. Currently MArk Webber is ranked 4th in the championship standings, and Vettel 6th. Webber qualifed 7th for Shanghai. If the past couple years are any indication, what we have learned is that whatever Mark Webber is capable of, Vettel can very well outdo it. So with Webber qualifying 7th, if we apply our self developed "Vettel equation" to Webber's constant, Sebastian should have qualified in 3rd place.

So what's keeping "The Vet" from his 2012 potential? Perhaps he is still internally celebrating his great season. Indeed it was. Or he was so burdened by promotional work in the off season that he wasn't able to get a properly prepare on this campaign. Or yet again, the intense focus required to achieve such a phenomenal season as last year's, so drained him that the off season was not enough to recharge himself.

It also be that Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz, is satisfied with his 2 F1 crowns and has cut back the money he has been shoving into the team's bottomless pockets. Maybe they have now become a team with no more funding than any of the other top teams.

But we're still only 2 races into the season. There's still much to play for, Dietrich can always use a 3rd F1 championship.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Michael Waltrip, ACO driver rank

During LeMans 2011, one of the best driver interviews Justin Bell did was of Michael Waltrip. In the racing community, given that Waltrip has had a 27 year career in Nascar, he was a bit out of place at LeMans.

Yet, in his interviews, he was so vivid in his descriptions, it was so entertaining. Instead of the condescending nature Scott Pruett talked about international drivers, Waltrip was sincerely respectful and admiring, and gave just credit.

He described how he was going as fast as he could in his #71 AF Corse Ferrari, and out of nowhere a prototype would flash from behind and fly around a corner faster than he thought was possible.

About the Peugeots, he said they have so much ground force they suck up the air when they blow past and he has to hang on...or something of that sort.

Considering that he is a 2-time winner of the Daytona 500 in Nascar, 2001 and 2003, these comments are not to be taken lightly. He is a professional race car driver in his own sphere.

At Sebring while looking at the entry list for the WEC we noticed that next to his name there was a "P". The ACO uses a driver ranking system and Mr Waltrip was classified as a Platinum rated driver. The highest rank a driver can have. In Indycar speak guys in the platinum raking would be called road course specialists.

Michael Waltrip has accumulated nearly all of his racing experience in oval racing, so again in Indycar jargon, he would be termed an oval specialist.

At Sebring the #61 Ferrari 458 had Rui Aguas as it's hot shoe driver. He's a Ferrari factory test driver, and is a Silver ranked driver. But Michael Waltrip could never match his times, despite being ranked a platinum pilot.

Let's take a look at the Platimum driver criteria and see where Waltrip made the grade.....O.K aside the fact that he twice took home one of the world's most coveted race victories:

Platinum: Professional driver generally recognised as a well-known
driver on the international scene, under the age of 55, and satisfying at
least one of the following criteria :
- has held a Super Licence (for Formula 1)
- has won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright,
- has been a Works Driver, paid by a car manufacturer
- has finished in the top 10 of an F3000, CART/Champcar, IRL or
GP2 Championship,
- has finished in the top 6 of an F3 International Series
(British/EuroF3) or major international single-seater Championship
(example : World Series by Renault)
- is a driver whose performances and achievements, although not
being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as a
professional driver by the Sports Committee.

It's quite an extensive list, but only one qualifier is needed to make the cut. In Michael Waltrip's case the last criterion makes the case.

In most cases it's a pretty straight forward classification system, but as in everything they can sometimes be a few exceptions.

Toyota too good for endurance racing?

Sorry if you are confused by the our choice of title. One of the biggest news in the FIA WEC is Toyota withdrawing from Spa. The official reason for their withdrawal is that Nicolas Lapierre crashed during testing and severely damaged their lone chassis. Never mind that the Spa race was still a month away at the time of the crash. And even now, there's still 3 weeks left till the race. Never mind that they have a racing facility most teams can only dream of.

We only see the alibi of the crash as public relations posturing. Toyota can easily churn out 5 chassis, and have them shaken, tested, and ready to go for the Spa race. We think they're so far underwhelmed by the whole endurance racing arena. They would rather be rubbing shoulders with McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, and perhaps BMW as well, in a very competitive contest of elitism.

Then again, when you are as big and powerful as Toyota you can stir up things, and get the attention you deserve. Every ounce of news contributes to your popularity, even if it seems disappointing. We can only imagine that this train of events was the plan all along, to generate headlines, gain fan curiosity and support, and then finally make a very awaited and yearned for debut at La Sarthe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

GT1 or GT3

The FIA GT championship season began its season last weekend at Nogaro. We had eagerly anticipated the start of the season. Change is almost always good, and when it's not, adapting to change can be fun.

Broadcasting platform
On the GT1 website (, we noticed that they have switched their video distribution platform from DailyMotion to YouTube. That's actually a good change. We love underdogs, but videos on DailyMotion just seem to use up computer resources and their streaming is simply not as refined and polished as YouTube.

Of course YouTube is a giant compared to DailyMotion. But with the videos on YouTube now, that means the FIA GT's races are now accessible literally anywhere. Any net connectivity device not designed to play YouTube videos can almost be called outdated.

But being that we are located in the U.S of A, we could access GT3 videos fine, and as well as GT1 interviews and previews, however the GT1 qualifying and the races seemed to be off limits to U.S viewers. As of this writing at least.

On DailyMotion we could watch everything. Is it really worth it to Stephane Ratel to sensor out viewers from the largest market for these cars? Last year we could catch the races fine even though they were supposedly also broadcast in the U.S on Bloomberg TV.

Whatever the reason, for the exclusion, we're not at all convinced it's the right move.

GT3 and more GT3?
SRO has moved to have the GT1 world championship use GT3 cars this year. Very understandable since GT1 cars are aging, and with a GT3 car it allows teams to use them in other championships, so more return on investment.

But at Nogaro this weekend the "GT1" race had similar lap times to the GT3 race. The difference in GT1 and GT3 is supposed to be that GT1 does not restrict the use of accomplished professional drivers, and in the past they were also to have the most developed GT cars.

GT3 on the other hand has regulations to prevent accomplished pros to participate. But there are enlightened youngsters and "master" racers who can light up the track just as well as a thoroughbred racer.

The pole time in GT3 for Qualifying 2 was 1:26.602 and the Qualifying 3 pole time in GT1 was 1:26.138. In our opinion those times are too close. From a spectator's point of view the GT1 race will not look much different from a GT3 race, since the cars would be going at almost the same speeds.

Sure a keen observer might notice the superior skills during the GT1 race, but not a casual fan. To expand the sport, casual fans are the ones whose allegiance you want to gain. F1 is so popular because of its out of this world speed.

We think to really do justice to the GT1 moniker, the cars racing under that championship should be sped up. The last time actual GT1 cars visited Nogaro was in 2008. The pole time of 1:23.703 was set by Marcel Fassler driving a Corvette Z06. The GT2 pole time was 1.26.296 by Richard Westbrook in a Porsche RSR.

So the current GT3 machines used in GT1 are as fast as the GT2 machines of old (evolution we suppose). But given that the ACO's current GT2 now called "GTE" machines have also evolved and have acquired more technology (carbon brakes, full telemetry, GT1 wings and tires, etc) they are no doubt faster.

In order to give more appeal to it's product SRO has to loosen up the restrictors on the cars. Ideally they would make them as fast or faster than the GT1 cars of old to really spice up the show. The fans will notice, and they will clearly be able to differentiate the support race from the main show.

More speed can bring up other issues, such as cost hikes and wear and tear, but the gain in entertainment value would more than compensate for those minor problems.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Le Mans Prototype 1

The premier class of sports car racing. This is it. In 2008, Team Penske's LMP2 RS Spyder driven by Romain Dumas, Timo Bernhard and Emanuele Collard won overall. But that was more of an anomaly than the norm. Porsche has wisely decommissioned the RS Spyders to make sure they don't threaten Audi's R18. Timo and Romain are fighting alongside Audi now.

Not fully prepared

Dyson Racing Team #016. Lola B12/60 Mazda. Guy Smith, Chris Dyson, Steven Kane. Dyson racing is the defending ALMS LMP1 champion. Even though they earned that distinction in all fairness, the circumstances of the ALMS at the time (only 2
full season P1 entrants) greatly helped them. They have a new chassis, but the whole package together with this engine still has to be proven. Dyson is one of America's best sports car teams, but in recent years they have just been happy collecting checks from Mazda. In this race they're up against battle hardened teams and drivers.

Pescarolo Team #16. Pescarolo 01 Judd. Emmanuel Collard, Jean-Christophe Boullion, Julien Jousse. it's ironic that this is the Pescarolo 01's last race. In order for it to be entered, all the competitors had to approve of it and it is carrying an extra 15 kilos of weight penalty, as it is not current with the present regulations. The Pescarolo 01 was developed in 2006, and in 2007 when it was on the podium at LeMans against Peugeot and Audi we wondered aloud what it was not raced at Petit or Laguna Seca. Had it raced in America then, we believe Henri would have been able to sell more of them and been a stronger privateer manufacturer. The ALMS affords each competitor more marketing exposure than the LMS. Audi was not racing by themselves in P1 for exercise. A few American races would have gave it life. But now it is brought to the U.S to seal its racing chapter. Here's an idea...why not use an Oak Pescarolo?

JRM Racing #22. HPD ARX-03a. David Brabham, Peter Dumbreck, Karun Chandhok. JRM had campaigned 4 cars in the FIA GT1 championship and won the title. Here however they are new to the racing. They are well behind all the other teams in developing and prepping their chassis. Contrary to everyone else we believe Karun Chandhok and not David Brabham is the hot-shoe in this lineup. Don't be fooled by Chandhok's F1 forays. He simply didn't get a fair shot. Dumbreck and Brabham are very experienced, but they're not the drivers they used to be. They're here because James Rumsey expects them to outlast their competitors by staying out of trouble and bringing the car home (on the podium). It will start happening when the team learns the car better.

Good but not great

Strakka Racing #21. HPD ARX-03a. Nick Leventis, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane. Just as JRM, they also did not get their chassis early enough to optimally prepare for Sebring. We have loved watching their ascension in the sports car world, since their debut at LeMans with a Vitaphone branded DBR9. They have grown and improved by leaps and bounds. But this year they have really stepped into what the french would call "la cour des grands" (the big leagues). There's a lot more to learn.

OAK Racing #15. OAK Pescarolo Judd. Guillaume Moreau, Bertrand Baguette, Dominik Kraihamer. While perhaps a long shot , we would really love to see OAK Racing take a victory home. They have done everything worthy of a winner. The development, the commitment, the top drivers, it's all there. We think Bertrand Baguette might make the car seem faster than it actually is, because his skills are of F1 caliber. A faultless race can yield a miracle if anyone above them gets in trouble.

Rebellion Racing #13. Lola B11/60 Toyota. Andrea Belicchi, Harold Primat, Jeroen Bleekemolen. Jean Christophe Bouillon is gone from this lineup. We felt he was very crash prone and this #13 car could have had better results at many race. The 3 drivers here are together in this car for the first time, so we think it could be a bit of a disadvantage, compared to the #12. But their speed is not to be questioned. They might actually shoot up the order if everything goes perfectly.

Rebellion Racing #12. Lola B11/60 Toyota. Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani, Nick Heidfeld. The only new person here is Nick Heidfeld. He might need to get readjusted to endurance racing since it's been away for a while. But we think it will suit him better. He is a more steady and consistent type racer, than a driver constantly at the limit looking to shave fractions off a lap time.

The heavy hitters

Audi Sport Team Joest #1. Audi R18. André Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer, Marcel Fässler. It might be seen as a sign of contempt that we put the fastest Audi car behind a gasoline engined car and as the last of the diesels. But these drivers have not raced here before. And the dense traffic will surely catch their attention. The race will be more than just about speed.

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. HPD ARX-03a. Lucas Luhr, Klaus Graf, Simon Pagenaud. We're actually shocked to see that Lucas Luhr is the fastest driver in the car. Pagenaud is the most celebrated pilot here. For Lucas this is the best chance he has had yet to stick it to Audi. He used to be one of their drivers. But when he couldn't adapt to the DTM machines, he was let go. Audi wanted the luxury of being more flexible with their younger drivers. If Muscle Milk stay out of trouble and keep pushing, a podium spot is theirs. The odds of all 3 Audis running trouble free races are not very high.

Audi Sport Team Joest #3. Audi R18. Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas, Loïc Duval. The chemistry here is a bit disturbed. Romain and Timo have worked together for so long that Loïc might seem like an intruder for them. But he owns the lap record at LeMans so Audi didn't want to pass up the chance to nab him. Lest he falls in Toyota's lap.

Audi Sport Team Joest #2. Audi R18. Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen, Dindo Capello. A major win is very needed for Audi's longest tenants. They themselves can feel the pressure brewing. Their many mistakes in all major races serve as proof. They know very well the unpredictable nature of the race environment, and have always been good at staying out of trouble...until about 2 years ago. Having the lineup that has been together the longest and knowing the circuit perfectly will play to their advantage. And of course the other 2 cars will not actively engage them the way the will engage anyone else, being that they are the elders of the clan. Well Dr Ulrich, they won't right?

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Le Mans Prototype 2

LMP2 used to be the class of the last man standing. The last car still running was the winner. The cars were required to be so light that durable components could not be fitted to them. To remedy the problem, they have been made just as weighty as LMP1 cars, but with less power requirements. This has allowed them to be built cheaply. And by some accounts, LMP2 cars are cheaper to run for a season than a championship caliber program in GTE.

Just happy to be here.

Lotus #31. Lola B12/80 Lotus. Thomas Holzer, Mirco Schultis, Luca Moro. It almost seems as if this car is actually here literally to help make up the numbers. The 2 Rebellion entries will have a similar livery and they are expected to get more headlines, and are more serious contenders. The 3.5L V6 Toyota engine in the GT2 car never worked quite to satisfaction last year. We just hope it was reworked during the off season.

Gulf Racing Middle East #29. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Frederic Fatien, Keiko Ihara, Stefan Johansson. This car might get some premium exposure, for the presence of Keiko, a Japanese female driver. Apparently she used to be a podium girl and then decided she wanted to try the racing thing herself. Solid package regarding the chassis and engine, but aside from Stefan Johansson they are racing tourists.

Black Swan #54. Lola B11/60 Honda. Tim Pappas, Bret Curtis, Jon Fogarty. Lately it has been hard to imagine Tim Pappas in a lineup where he wasn't the least accomplished driver. He had penchant for surrounding himself with the best talent he could find. It was announced that Black Swan would be entered in P2 with a Lola-Honda, but it took quite a while for the car to appear on entry lists. We feel Bret Curtis is a gentleman driver. Even though he is an ace in Grand-Am, we don't remember the last time Jon Fogarty raced a LeMans type prototype. He could be out of his element. Even if he has had plenty of test sessions, nothing could possibly simulate the race ahead.

Gulf Racing Middle East #28. Lola B12/80 Nissan. Fabien Giroix, Maxime Jousse, Jean-Denis Deletraz. A stronger lineup than the #29 car. However these reworked Lolas are still very untested and unproven.

Looking for a solid result.

ADR-Delta #25. Oreca 03 Nissan. John Martin, Robbie Kerr, Tor Graves. Robbie Kerr is a highlight here, and we also happen to think they have a very refreshing livery. Thor Graves brings sponsorship from Thailand. Will they actively be going for the Michelin Green X Challenge crown?

Conquest Racing #37. Morgan Judd. Martin Plowman, David Heinemeier, Hansson, Francesco Dracone. With 2 open wheel youngsters they should have been ranked higher. But these 2 young guns have not done multi-class racing before and it still
needs to be seen how much patience they will have in dense traffic. David Heinemeier is moving over from the GTE Lotus to prototypes this year.

Greaves Motorsport #41. Zytek Z11SN Nissan. Christian Zugel, Elton Julian, Ricardo Gonzalez. It seems a Nissan engine is "de rigueur" for European LMP2 squads. Whatever chassis a team happens to get, they just make sure they complement it with a Nissan power plant as is the case here. The 3 drivers all drove in the ALMS last year. But they're now after new horizons. There are faster drivers and faster cars out there. Besides mandated bodywork requirements we're not sure if the Zytek has had any performance updates.

Signatech Nissan #23. Oreca 03 Nissan. Jordan Tresson, Franck Mailleux, Olivier Lombard. This is the team that made the Oreca-Nissan famous today. They were so dominant last season, that it made any other vehicle package a daft choice - given that you would pay the same or more for anything else. So why are they this low? In response to the great season the Oreca-Nissan had last year, everybody feared going out of business, so all the other chassis received significant improvements during the off-season. Not that Oreca has kept a pat hand either. In our view Signatech's lineup is almost downgraded from last year. But they're still Nissan's factory effort and are well-backed.

The heavy hitters.

OAK Racing #24. Morgan Judd. Jacques Nicolet, Matthieu Lahaye, Olivier Pla. Just seeing the level of dedication and respect Jacques Nicolet has treated matters regarding his racing activities has made us a fan of his. This team had 4 cars at Sebring, and the 24hr of LeMans last year. This year they only have 2 entered at Sebring. But they come with stronger lineups in both cars. The car has also been updated, and is also now called a Morgan. The update takes significant cues from last year's diesel challenging ARX-01e campaigned in last year's race by Highcroft. Very fast pro drivers flanking Jacques Nicolet. Could be one to watch, if some strong entries hit trouble.

Starworks Motorsports #44. HPD ARX-03b. Enzo Potolicchio, Ryan Dalziel,
Stephane Sarrazin.
We are not sure what his real name is. On various lists his first name has been Enzo, and on others it says Vincente. Either way, he is pulling out all the stops to ensure success. It was quite a surprise when it was announced that Peugeot's lead driver would be racing for Starworks. Stephane Sarrazin was the head tester at Peugeot, and was generally seen as the fastest and most reliable driver there. Ryan Dalziel is well entrenched in the Starworks team and seems to be the one the head honchos trust. However at the 24hr of Daytona they had Allan McnIsh in their squad, he had set the fastest lap of the race. Towards the end of the race they elected to have Dalziel hunt down the lead car, to no avail. Here in LeMans type racing Sarrazin is immensely more experienced than Dalziel, and probably just as fast or faster. We think the team would have to allow Stephane to do some crucial and decisive stints to make the most of his experience. That needs to be seen.

Level 5 Motorsports #055. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Christophe Bouchut, Joao Barbosa. Unless some of the Nissan teams decide to work together, or the Morgan teams decide to help each other get to the front, Level 5 will have an advantage over them. They have 2 cars and both of them will work to help each other. They're both essentially running just to get Scott Tucker the win. We believe this is the car he will nominate himself in for points, since this is the steady, and experienced lineup, the long distance masters. This is also the newer car of the two. So it should be a bit faster.

PeCom Racing #49. Oreca 03 Nissan. Luis Perez-Companc, Soheil Ayari, Pierre Kaffer. We would have picked this car for the win, if it wasn't for the fact that Level 5 has 2 cars working in sync. This car essentially has 3 professional drivers. Although Luis Perez-Companc (the PeCom in PeCom Racing), is bank rolling the operation, he is an enlightened gentleman driver. He can go blow for blow with the best pros in the field. Signatech's loss is this team's gain since Soheil Ayari is part of the mix. Being that AF Corse is the brain behind this mission, the obligatory Ferrari driver is imbedded, with Pierre Kaffer in presence.

Level 5 Motorsports #95. HPD ARX-03b. Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Luis Diaz. This entry is an older car than the #055. But Hunter-reay and Luis Diaz are flat out drivers. We suppose Scott Tucker will nominate himself in the newer car alongside the real endurance guys since they are more likely to get to the end by taking fewer risks and nursing the car home. But if all works well (as it could) this car will blow past the sister car, and will challenge the fastest drivers in this class. The only reason to reel them in would be if both cars are running in consecutive positions in the last hour of the race with no one challenging for position. If that does not materialize and everything goes well, they are a strong bet for the win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Endurance - Professional class

The The ALMS' GT field competes with the WEC's GTE-Pro class. In theory almost half of the 15 cars here can claim the win. While we have listed them in order of their perceived strength, in such a competitive field, intangibles such as cunning strategy calls, driver error, vehicle reliability, and just plain luck are the ones that will decide, who happens to lead the pack at the end of 12hrs.

Hoping for a good showing

Aston Martin Racing #97. The last top team to run an Aston Martin Vantage was JMW in the former LeMans Series. Their best result was a podium and a 3rd place finish at Silverstone. Darren Turner and Rob Bell were the drivers then. Darren Turner is once again part of this Prodrive factory effort along with Stefan Mucke and Adrian Fernandez. We lament the fact that they did not run all of the 2011 season with the Lola Aston Martin, especially at LeMans. Everyone seems to want them to do good here with this car. But all the teams here are very well funded operations, and that's just the minimum requirement to have any chance of a good placement among this field.

Extreme Speed Motorsports #02. Ed Brown, Anthony Lazzaro, and Jeff Segal will be the drivers of this car. Quite different than expected. That almost begs the question will Guy Cosmo be paired p with Ed Brown for the regular season, or will Lazzaro or Segal switch to the ALMS. We think Cosmo will resume his regular season duties with Ed Brown. With Jeff Segal's presence here it's actually quite refreshing to see top Grand-Am drivers try their hand in the ALMS.

Flying Lizards Motorsports #044. Andy Lally, Darren Law, and Seth Neiman. If the car is competitive compared to last year, this lineup can figure pretty high at the 24hr of LeMans in the GTE-Am ranks. In this mix of competitors the going will be tough. We also suspect this car does not have the same level of preparation as the lead #45 car.

Team Falken Tire #17. They may have got 2 very popular wins last year, but the longevity of their Falken tire compounds still needs to be proven. They might fare better in shorter races.

Paul Miller Racing #48. Last year it was as if they were not even on the grid. The TV commentators barely mentioned them. This time around we think they will be a bit more visible. They have switched from Yokohama rubbers to Dunlops. The latter is generally thought to be the second best tire compound. Bryce Miller may be the team owner's son, but in this lineup he is the least accomplished.

Just a bit more work and we're there

Extreme Speed Motorsports #01. In the past 2 years, the regular lineup in this car was Johannes Van Overbeek and Scott Sharp. Having watched Guy Cosmo in the #02 car out-qualify this car we always thought that for the team to get better result Guy Cosmo should be paired with Van Overbeek. Well for Sebring Guy Cosmo joins Sharp and Overbeek. But now we actually have another wish. Seeing that Jeff Segal is in the #02 car. An even better lineup would have been Segal, Cosmo, and Overbeek in this car. No?! O.K then, this lineup is just fine with us as well.

AF Corse #71. Ten years ago if you had a car with Andrea Bertolini and Olivier Beretta, that car would have been a sure contender. These GT warriors are not the thoroughbreds they once were. But their experience still makes them very valuable, they have seen it all. A 3rd driver still has to be named. Could it be......Mika?

BMW Motorsports #155. The M3 was a step above the rest last year. Since this is supposed to be the program's last year we do not see them having made any UN-required updates to their machines. Uwe Alzen and Jorg Mullen will be flanking Bill Auberlen. Uwe and Jorg are no longer in the prime of their careers, and they're more of touring car drivers now. Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand almost always shared a cockpit together, until they were split at the beginning of 2010. Since then Bill has done pretty well for himself, but Joey has become a benchmark for other GT drivers.

Team Felbermayr-Proton #77. This squad will be in direct competition with the Lizards' #45 car. Porsche has all of its 9 factory drivers in the race, and those 2 cars account for 6 of them. The 2 teams have often shared drivers throughout the years. Patrick Pilet, Marc Lieb, and Richard Lietz have all driven for Flying Lizard in the past.

Corvette racing #4. In the ALMS, Corvette racing remains the eternal fan favorites. But the pressure is mounting, to rack up race wins, an ALMS championship and more LeMans 24hr victories. Corvette's lineup has been shuffled for the second year in a row. This lineup is the more experienced, with Oliver Gavin, Richard Westbrook, and Tommy Milner.

The elite squads

BMW Motorsports #56. Joey Hand had en exemplary 2011 season. He was chosen to go to LeMans and is now one of BMW's DTM drivers. Usually Schnitzer which runs the BMW's sports car operations have gone to drivers the have worked with in the past to enter major races. So for Joey Hand to have been invited to LeMans he must have caught the attention of someone very high on the ladder. This year there are not any BMW in the ELMS or the WEC. Too bad because we would have wanted to see how this Rahal Letterman Lanigan team would have fared at LeMans and Spa. In our opinion it was always a stronger operation than the Schnitzer group. So why are they ranked so low? All indications are that this is the last year for the program, and Bobby Rahal is really starting to focus on Indycar racing. Joey Hand and Dirk Muller are proven ingredients, but Jonatan Summerton will be learning on the fly.

Flying Lizard Motorsports #45. This is a well-liked squad. Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister are very people Savvy. Even though it's a skill almost required from factory drivers, these 2 exude a calm charm that even watching them on TV they seem very approachable and you only want to believe that they are the good guys. But behind those good manners Pat and Jorg are ferocious and cunning competitors, and it has been evident in their multiple championships. Marco Holzer will be the third driver for Sebring. He was selected as a works driver ahead of Martin Ragginger. We gave them the nod ahead of the Proton #77 simply because they are somewhat in their arena.

Luxury Racing #59. Last year at Petit LeMans it seemed to us that Frederic Mackowecki was driving the car all by himself. Or did we only pay attention when he was driving because he made quite a few mistakes? He had never been to Road Atlanta at the time. But the team is sticking with him because he's a stud behind the wheel. At Sebring this year he will have Jean-Karl Vernay and Jaime Melo along side him. Risi Competizione is not fielding a car of their own, but they are behind the scenes here. Jean Karl-Vernay was Indy Lights champion in 2010, and was also 3rd in LPM2 at Petit LeMans last year. Jaime Melo is there to provide the experience, but in the last couple years with Risi he has not proven to be too reliable himself.

Corvette Racing #03. In the regular races the pairing of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen will be the best driver pairing Corvette has had in a while. But ultimate driver pairings haven't always worked out for the best. Things like pressure, and driver ego can blow the whole thing apart. For Sebring Jordan Taylor will be learning at the side of these two. He might already be just as fast as them. The LeMans style of racing is what he needs to get used to. Corvette is also desperate for success on home soil, and ALMS wins are a must. With the presence of European squads, a win here would definitely set their season in the right direction.

AF Corse #51. With Risi not officially campaigning this year, AF Corse has been given all the reins to officially represent Ferrari on all GT fronts. it seems the breadth of their operations has tripled in the last couple years. They came close to winning LeMans last year. Considering it was the 458's first season, it really speaks volume. For this season the car has been developed and refined. Being the only official Ferrari team, they really do not have to worry about stepping on anyone's toes. They can be deliberate in their actions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Endurance - Amateur class

The GTE-Am class is only recognized in the European LeMans Series and the World Endurance Championship. The only time an ALMS entry will directly race against them is at the LeMans 24hr. This category can be seen as the ACO's attempt to recognize the deep pocketed captains of industry who support the sport almost unconditionally. It makes it easier for them to actually win a championship and the LeMans 24hr.

Just happy to be here

AF Corse #61. Michael Waltrip is a former Nascar champion discovering new horizons in his racing twilight. Robert Kauffman is very famous in the Audi Paddock. He was piloting the AF Corse Ferrari at LeMans when the #1 Audi driven by Rocky, swerved to avoid a collision and ultimately crashed.

The #1 Audi at LeMans was also our personal favorite. Rui Aguas is Ferrari's embedded hot shoe here. But he is more of a factory test driver with a cushy gig, than a thoroughbred racer.

Luxury Racing #58. Pierre Ehret and Francois Jakubowski are long time gentleman ferrari racers. In the GTE amateur field Dominik Farnbacher can be considered one of the 3 best drivers. But the other 2 have more say than him. In long distance races last year the 458 Italia was the car to have. But it takes more than average talent to squeeze out the performance advantage.

Looking for a good result.

JWA-Avila #55. Bill Binnie returns to US sportscar racing. Had he won his bid for U.S Senate we wonder if he would be here now. If yes then this would have been one powerful and very carefully protected entry. The name might confuse some, but this team is James Watt Automotive. With Joel Camathias and Markus Palttala, Binnie has pretty good company. Their experience should ran kthem higher, but it takes a bit of practice to get used to some of the ALMS' race procedures to quickly formulate strategies on the fly.

Larbre Competition #70. It's arguable that the JWA-Avila team might have a better lineup and could finish ahead of this entry. But Christophe Bourret, Pascal Gibon, and Jean-Philippe Belloc have been a trio for a while. They're banking on a chemistry and formula they have developped between themselves to carry them through, and so are we. The car is solid and if they quickly master the circuit, they can even figure higher.

Team Felbermayr-Proton #88. Gianluca Roda has won the Porsche Cup for the past 2 seasons. And that's not a small feat. To put it into perspective, Porsche factory drivers Wolf Henzler and Marc Lieb are past winners, and so is BMW driver Dirk Werner. But Gianluca will not be getting a factory contract offer anytime soon. He actually races for pure recreation. So does Christian Ried his teammate - who actually represents "Proton". As in Felbermayr-Proton. The trio is completed by steady driver Paolo Ruberti.

The heavy hitters.

Larbre Competition #50. In 2011, they won LeMans and were the GTE-Am champions in the ILMC. For 2012 they come back even better with Pedro Lamy in place of Gabriele Gardel. But then again they were used to Gabriele. Pedro is new here and could possibly disrupt the chemistry they've built over the years. Sebring did not go to well for them last year. But despite not scoring points there they still managed to get the title. Larbre is really a top organization that can run with the best of them. But we have a feeling that Pratt and Miller is not allowing its GTE customers to run in the Pro class.

Krohn Racing #57. Aside from the car being updated from a F430 to a F458, everything else is the same as last year. But this ride is more complex and is designed to be pushed. At times Tracy Krohn has been able to stay out of others' way and at times their races have ended all too prematurely with him at the wheel. You just can't win them all. But either way, his resilience over the years has made him one of the most accomplished gentleman drivers on the grid. Michele Rugolo is a flat out racer who can match Larbre Competition's Pedro Lamy. Nic Jonsson is the middle ground between his 2 teammates in skills. But he's actually the team captain.

Friday, March 9, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Prototype Challenge class

For 2012, the ACO has decided that all series it sanctions should call this class LeMans Prototype Challenge. No big change in the American LeMans Series because that's been the standard appellation there, since these cars began running in 2010.

In the former LeMans series - now the European LeMans Series - this category was named Formula LeMans. So essentially the ELMS is switching its category name. We imagine they decided to adopt the ALMS' naming convention because it fits right in with the the other class names. Such as LMP1, LMP2, and LMPC. Instead of FLM.

Here are are our predictions:

Just happy to be here:

Core Autosport #06. There are no named drivers in this entry. it could either be a strong lineup or a midpack runner. But our haunch is that this entry will not see the green flag.

Merchant Services #7. Chapman Ducote took over Intersport racing's operations. So it's essentially the same team, just with new management. We will miss Jon Field's daring exploits on the track.

Muscle Milk Pickett Racing #5. While Muscle Milk's P1 entry is a strong contender for the ALMS P1 championship, and in a best case scenario a podium contender for the Sebring race, expectations are not so high for the LPMC entry.

Looking for a good result.

RSR Racing #9. Last year, with Bruno Junqueira at the wheel, the Jaguar XKR showed flashes of what it could be with more development. In LMPC where everyone has supposedly equal machinery, we can realistically expect far better performances from RSR. Bruno is as fast as any driver on this grid. But the team has been average to mediocre for so long and it might take them time to adjust to running among front runners. Tommy Drisi is in the car, but a 3rd driver has not been announced. He won a race in LMPC with Kyle Marcelli last year. The potential of this car could go higher or lower depending on who the 3rd person is.

Core Autosport #05. Colin Braun is back in sports car racing. Ever since his 2nd place in GT2 at LeMans in 2007, his sports car forays have been limited. He will be in the ALMS for a full season in 2012. Running in the Nascar truck series and the Nationwide series were surely a lot more financially rewarding than whatever he can expect to gain from the ALMS. But financial matters aside, finishing 20th out of a 45 car field can only be so satisfying. In LMPC he can
realistically aim for the podium during the season.

Dempsey Racing #025. Just having Patrick Dempsey in the car could have gave Corvette Racing some competition during the autograph session. Popularity contests aside, this is one of the best lineups in LMPC. Last year's pole position battle between Dane Cameron and Ryan Dalziel was very entertaining. It's realistic to expect Dane Cameron to claim the pole again. Duncan Ende is a solid driver, and Henri Richard is experienced. We didn't rank them higher because of the team being new to the ALMS. Rules, strategies, a new car, are all intangibles that come into play during a 12-hour race. To be honest we expected them to field a P2 entry for the season.

The heavy hitters.

Merchant Services Racing #8. Kyle Marcelli was one of the stars in LMPC last year. Had he been with a solid steady teammate he could have been champion. Talents like him make the ALMS' prototype challenge class worth watching. With a steady teammate this year this could be a championship contending entry.

Performance Tech Motorsports #18. Probably the most accomplished driver in the LMPC field, we always envisioned Raphael Matos landing in Formula 1 someday. It was a very realistic thought. He was simply that good. But F1 takes more than talent to crack. We're still a big fan of his and are looking forward to watching him fighting it out with Kyle Marcelli and Dane Cameron for pole position.

PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports #52. They get the nod over Performance Tech because of the presence of Mr Steady Hands, Butch Leitzinger. There's no blazing or sultry fast drivers here. But what they have is stability. Rundy Junco was the 3rd
man helping Gunnar Jeannette and Ricardo Gonzalez in long distance races last year. Butch Leitzinger was Dyson racing's finisher in the #20 car when they had the RS Spyder in 2008.

Monday, March 5, 2012

2012 12hrs of Sebring preview: Grand Touring Challenge

While the GTC class has been bashed (along with the LMPC class) as spec classes that do not belong in this type of racing, they have played their role perfectly; filling up the grid and adding the occasional suspense factor, etc.

In the ALMS, this class has the only cars that can be used in other series. They can be ran in the Grand-Am GT class, the SCCA World Challenge GT class, and the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge. That's 4 different series and almost 40 races in a year. Sure many of the races are at the same venues and during the same racing weekends, but that's still 39 different races for 2012.

From a privateer team owner's perspective, the versatility of the Porsche GT3 Cup, and the many opportunities to capitalize on that all-around utility, make them the most valuable cars on the ALMS grid.

There are 9 entries in the GTC class for the 60th 12hrs of Sebring. We have identified them in 3 groups.

Those just happy to be there:

Competition motorsports #024. Bob Faeta is the 2009 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup champion. Cort Wagner has lots of Grand-Am experience. His last drive at Sebring was in 2004. Michael Avenatti and his 2 co-drivers drove together at the 2012 24hrs of Daytona and finished 14th in class.

NGT motorsport's #031 entry. Nick Tandy was runner up in the Porsche Supercup in 2010, and won the 2012 24hrs of Daytona GT class driving for Magnus racing. We have never heard of his other 2 teammates, the father and son duo of Angel Andres Benitez Jr, and Angel Andres Benitez Sr of Venezuela. Tandy might flirt with pole position, but in the race we think the other 2 will be wide eyed when the prototypes fly past them.

Alex Job Racing's #022 entry. Leh Keen pretty much lived in Dirk Werner's shadow when they were paired at Farnbacher-Loles. But his GT racing credentials do not need any scrutiny. He was second in GT2 at LeMans in 2010. LP Dumoulin is French-Canadian and a Nascar Nationwide driver trying endurance racing. His foray into this new discipline won't be as celebrated as Michael Waltrip's. Cooper MacNeil is a 19-year old Canadian just looking for more experience.

We would like to become like the best:

JDX Racing #11. Their very striking metallic gold livery is sure to get them some camera time no matter what happens. Chris Cumming and Mark Bullitt drive in the IMSA GT3 cup. So they're familiar with the car. Michael Valiante is a racer. We would like to see how he would do in a LeMans prototype.

NGT Motorsports #30. Sean Edwards placed 4th in the Porsche Supercup championship in 2011. So he knows the car very well. He along with Henrique Cisneros, and Carlos Kauffmann had placed 10th in class in the Daytona 24hrs. A solid result considering there were over 35 GT entrants. They were 3rd in GTC last year at Sebring.

GMG Racing #32. Only 2 drivers are named. Team owner James Sofronas and Alex Welch. No thoroughbred racer...not yet maybe? But they have always been in the thick of things. They seem to have a good crew and that can make a difference. We also give them the coolest name award for Global Motorsports Group.

The heavy hitters:

Green Hornet Racing #34. Last year Tim Pappas won the GTC class at Sebring while flanked by Damien Faulkner and Sebastien Bleekemolen. The same racers for hire have been called in to flank Peter Lesaffre this year. Black Swan and Green Hornet were pretty much the same organization last year. So it should be a safe bet to say that the strategy, know-how, and tactics has been passed on. But the difference is Tim Pappas was a bit more skilled as far as Pro-Am drivers go. But they can certainly repeat the win again with Peter LeSaffre this time.

The Racer's Group #66. Spencer Pumpelly is the only driver named. But we do remember his many last year with Jeroen Bleekemolen from Black Swan. Team owner Kevin Buckler's winery has made a special Sebring 60th anniversary bottle of wine. What better way to sell the spirit than to win the race.

Alex Job Racing #023. Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell, Dion von Moltke. Since TRG's crew is so far uncomplete, this is the best crew in GTC as of now. The team knows how to win, they have locked up the podium here before, and they have the resources.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thoughts on Williams F1

Aside from their first year in F1 (1977) when they did not score a single point, 2011 was the worst year in F1 for Williams F1 when they only managed 5 constructor points. Never mind that the previous year they had totaled 69 whole points, yet they believed 2010 had been a mediocre season. Never mind that it had been the most constructors' points they had totaled in any of the past 5 years.

Perhaps the reason why their sights were set so high in 2010 might have been because of the arrival of rookie Nico Hulkenberg, whose pre-F1 resume is as exemplary as a young racing career gets. He had won at least 1 championship every year since 2005 before landing in F1.

The Williams team had imagined Nico to outdo whatever result Rubens Barrichello could achieve. Hulkenberg was outscored 47-22. Even so, as of now we still don't think he should have been replaced, and we doubt he would have been let go if the team was not in such a dire financial situation.

Bruno Senna is now the driver driver on the team, alongside Pastor Maldonado. Despite the fact that both drivers have attracted sponsors to the team, Embratel and PDVSA, respectively, during the launch of the new Williams car their race overalls simply looked second grade to us. The sponsors' patches on the main area of their uniforms are on patches which are sewn to the uniforms. The overall effect of the tailoring is decidedly out of place in the high end world of F1.

It could just be that such cost cutting measures, were some of the sacrifices they had to make to make sure they had a car that would give them a chance to be competitive. We'll gladly assume so.

On the issue of who is the team leader, Bruno Senna has 1 year of F1 experience ahead of Maldonado. However if money talks, Maldonado's sponsor PDVSA features more prominently on the car than Senna's Embratel. On their race suits PDVSA's sponsorship patch is the same size as Embratel's, but it's place right above it.

Despite the fact that he will have a much larger fan base and is more famous, until Senna distinguishes himself by his performance it should be a good bet that Maldonado is considered the go-to-guy by virtue of him waving a bigger check.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Seiji Ara...again

When it was announced that Pescarolo would be running a Dome in the LeMans 24 hours, it was also announced that the drivers would be Sebastien Bourdais and Nicolas Minassian, and the 3rd driver would be announced later.

We now know Seiji Ara will be that 3rd driver. From one standpoint it was a very predictable choice, and on the other hand he can be considered the most successful Japanese driver at La Sarthe. He was 4th overall in 2003 (second in class), and then won overall in 2004 at LeMans driving and R8 along with Rinaldo Capello and Tom Kristensen. However since then, Seiji's sports car forays have not been anything to brag about.

In 2009 driving a Porsche RS Spyder for Team Goh (that was a very well funded operation by the way), while the team was pretty much locked in 2nd place in P2 (behind Team Essex) Ara crashed into the PlayStation chicane with less than an hour to go.

We're not sure what happened at that time, but it seems as if the suspension might have gave way as he hit the brakes for the chicane.

We remember watching that race and actually envisioned the team allowing Sascha Maassen to bring the car home. Sure Seiji was the hometown hero, but Sascha was like an embedded resource Porsche had given the team. He knew the car in an out and would have probably sensed such defect (if there were any) and known how to nurse the package home.

The following year Seiji was one of the drivers for Swiss Racing Team, driving one of its Nissan GT-R entries in the FIA GT1 championship.

The Nissans were not competitive. Well...only the ones entered by Swiss Racing team, because Sumo Power also had Nissans and they were mixing it up with the mid-pack teams and even managed a couple wins.

While there's very little a competent pilot can do if a team is uncompetitive, or if a car is not properly prepared, we feel that a very good jockey would still show flashes of brilliance an even search for better rewarding opportunities.

Either way, the momentum of success in Ara's career has slowed down and at present there are other race car drivers in Japan who are currently riding a wave of success in their careers. To name a few: Takashi Kogure (GT500 champion in 2010), Juichi Wakisaka (multiple GT500 titles), and perhaps the most successful driver in Japan in the past decade and a half, Satoshi Motoyama, who has won multiple GT500 and Formula Nippon championships.

We're not sure how it came about that Seiji Ara was selected to drive in the Dome, but as far as us, he has become almost like a "cliché" choice. The announcement itself looses its pomp and excitement. We can almost predict approximately during a broadcast when a color commentator will remind us of his 2004 LeMans win.

It's not that we dislike Seiji, but the fanfare that has followed him has not yielded any substance as of late. We hope to be wrong this time around.