Monday, September 30, 2013

Circuit Of The Americas track versus FLM, DP, and LMP1

 One of the features about the Circuit of the Americas track that we have mixed feelings about, is the orange concrete bumps they have at many corners. The object is to dissuade drivers from cutting a corner too close. Those things have proven to be unforgiving. But their real crime in our judgment is that they rob the public of perhaps a great battle.

For a track with such generous run off room, don't these cement mounds defeat the purpose of the run off areas? 

 When Grand-Am had its race at the circuit, while fighting for position with Max Angeleli, Scott Pruett had an encounter with one of those boulders. The impact ripped off the front cover of the Telmex Ganassi Prototype, and they were taken out of the running for the win. This robbed the fans of a great battle

During the ALMS race at Circuit of the Americas, the Rocket Sport Racing Formula Challenge car driven by Bruno Junqueira also had a rendez-vous with one of the orange mounds, and it broke the front suspension. We think that was the end of their championship hopes.

In this case Junqueira was driving by himself and not in a close fight with anyone, so it was simply his fault for trying to short cut the corner. But still, real race fans really like to see all the competitors in the race. Too many crashes and the sport could fall prey to attrition.

In the Sunday race of the ALMS/WEC double-header weekend at the Circuit Of The America, while attempting to evade a Toyota LMP1 in hot pursuit, Marcel Fassler (who had passed the Toyota earlier) ran  over an orange mound, and had a spectacular launch. Unlike the competitors in the Daytona Prototype and the Formula Challenge car, the Audi R18 was able to continue as if almost nothing happened. The only thing that came off was the rear air diffuser by the tire.

One of the announcers did bring to light that the Audi survived its airborne experience much better than the Daytona Prototype did. Though the #1 Audi did have an electrical glitch later in the race, the car was still in one piece.

We can only attribute the reason for the E-Tron Quattro's durability to its nearly unlimited development costs. The Formula LeMans car suffered the most damage during its excursion, and it's also the least expensive for a team to run. The DP is slightly more in price than a cost capped LMP2.

Whereas the DP and the FLM09 were designed to be sold at a particular price point, the Audi on the other hand, to this day no one really knows how much each car costs to build and race. And probably only a few rare folks in the Audi clan know the real development costs of the prototypes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Missing Porsche P1 pilot

For their 2014 LMP1 campaign in the FIA WEC, Porsche has so far only announced 4 drivers. That exclusive list includes the manufacturer's flagship driver pair of Romain Dumas and Timo Bernard, Red Bull F1 driver, Mark Webber, and former Rebellion Racing driver Neel Jani. This being Porsche, you always knew they would have a strong lineup. But their announcements have left us wanting.

Patrick Long ran a full 2008 season with Penske Racing during the RS Spyder program. His teammate during that year was Sascha Maassen. Out of all Porsche's current factory drivers who drove the factory backed Penske RS Spyders, Patrick Long is the only one who has not been given the nod.

Lucas Luhr, Sascha Maassen, and Emmanuel Collard, were all factory drivers who drove the Penske Spyders. But none of them are still in the employ of the Stuttgart make. We almost expected Porsche's only American factory driver to be a shoe-in for the LMP1 drive. It's possible he is one of the drivers, but if that was so, he would have been announced well in advance. After all the U.S is their biggest market and the American viewing public is not one to be taken lightly.

At the last ALMS race in Austin, the big news from Porsche was their 2-car factory entry in next year's USCR championship with Core Autosport. Since that is the team Patrick is currently driving with, perhaps he will be with, it's likely he will be with them next year. Definitely not a bad gig, but prototype machinery is simply more enticing to watch, and him being in one of those exotic machines would make us and a whole lot of sports car racing fans in the U.S appreciate the WEC even more.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Champion's acclaim

During the podium celebration of the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, the reigning F1 champion was inexplicably booed by fans, after dominating the race. We did not watch F1 during the Michael Schumacher era to know how it felt, but we can now imagine. It has now been 3 straight races that Vettel has won. We enjoyed his dominance during 2011 and 2012, but this time around it is sort of becoming redundant. There's not thrill, no excitement, no unknown factor. Do we still have to follow the season?

The same person being the star of the show is almost no show at all. Not that we condone booing, but the show has become stale.

Having looked at the remaining F1 schedule, Sebastian Vettel has won before at the upcoming 4 races (Korea, Japan, India, and Abu Dhabi). He has had podium finishes at Brazil and the USA. Theoretically speaking, it's not such a long shot to imagine him sweeping the rest of the schedule or landing on the podium in all of them. He can win the championship by simply finishing on the podium. Even if Fernando Alonso were to win all the remaining races - which is a very, very long shot compared to Vettel - he will only come a valiant 2nd to Mr hat-trick.

With Lewis Hamilton incessantly already conceding the championship trophy to Vettel we wonder if he has the desire to even win another race this year. The only reason we can think of why Hamilton keeps saying the title fight is over, is probably that he has met all his team's objectives for the season and has decided to cruise and prepare for next season.

But we are counting on Alonso, Raikkonen, and even Mark Webber to get one win before leaving F1. It would also be good for Felipe Massa to get a win as well, because it will do wonders for his quest for a new ride.

But in retrospect we could say the boos were not really directed at Vettel, but rather at the rest of the top teams for failing to develop at the same pace as Red Bull Racing, and also to Formula 1 itself as an organization for failing to provide a competitive environment.

2014 Tudor USCR schedule

The ALMS and Grand-Am hybrid series beginning in 2014 has just announced its schedule. A 12-race schedule that everybody will not be completely satisfied with. But it's only normal. While it's a 12 race schedule, each class will only run at 11 venues.

That's right some tracks are deemed too narrow for the whole gang to come through. If you have followed Grand-Am in the past this should be nothing new to you. ALMS fans however need to grasp this concept. The 2 street course venues; Long Beach and Detroit will only have partial classes. VIR while not a street course has a rather narrow track, and there will only be a partial field there too. The way we see it, except for that Oak tree at one of the corners, Virginia International Raceway does have very generous runoff areas on the majority of the circuit. We would have elected to reduce the car count at Watkins Glen instead of at VIR. VIR however presents a very interesting scenario for the drivers in the GTE/GTLM class - the chance at an overall victory. LMPC will also run at VIR but in a separate race. All the factory GT drivers will have this race highlighted on their schedule.

Considering what happened at Baltimore this year during the ALMS race, we would have preferred to not see anymore street courses unless they were made wider. But at least we're free of Baltimore and of its train tracks.

One thing we are happy about the schedule is, the absence of Lime Rock Park. Yeah it's a racing Mecca in the Northeast, but we have our gripes about this circuit. That place used to be so bumpy it was like we could feel the bumps from our couch as the prototypes were bounding over the undulations. And it was just too easy for a competitor to go a lap down, way to sap off the energy of a race fan when your team gets buried by the track.

When you consider there's a 24hr race, a 12hr race, a 10hr race, a 6hr race, and either Laguna or Road America could possibly last 4 hrs, this schedule is a marathon. An expensive one at that too. Such a schedule can not be hoped to be consumed by casual fans, but rather the endurance loyalists.

2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Schedule:

Date Event
Jan 25-26-Daytona International Speedway (24hrs)
Mar 15----Sebring International Raceway (12hrs)
Apr 12----Long Beach Street Circuit (Only LMP2, DP and GTLM)
May 4-----Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
May 31----Detroit Belle Isle (Only LMP2, DP, LMPC, and GTD)
Jun 29----Watkins Glen International (6hrs)
Jul 13----Canadian Tire Motorsport
Jul 25----Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Aug 10----Road America
Aug 24----Virginia International Raceway (Only GTLM and GTD, and then LMPC)
Sep 20----Circuit of The Americas
Oct 4-----Road Atlanta (10hrs)

Monday, September 23, 2013

ALMS at Circuit of the Americas

After qualifying the Muscle Milk car, Lucas Luhr ran straight to the back of his team's pit monitors as if he was running from the reporter. We think he probably wanted to put on a show for all the European teams in attendance for the WEC race.

Perhaps he was a bit underwhelmed by his own qualifying performance since he only had a 3 second gap to the P2 polesitter.

Having compared the lap times of the P1, P2 and GTE cars from the ALMS to those of the WEC, the WEC cars had faster lap times in general.

In P1 Picket racing really did not have any competition so we can understand if they down-tuned their engine just to run a conservative race. They have already proved that they are a match for Rebellion.

In P2 all the ALMS cars are Hondas, which we think are comparable to any Oreca or Morgan P2 chassis. But however the ALMS cars are using standard Michelin tires, while the WEC teams all have Custom tailored Dunlop and Michelins. Meaning the WEC teams are having the tire companies make them tires specifically for their chassis' configuration. The ALMS teams however do not have that luxury.

As for GTE, it was said that the ALMS teams are using 2012 spec Michelin tires. With the series merging with Grand-Am in 2014 perhaps Michelin did not see it as wise investment to make 2013 tires for ALMS teams, not knowing which direction the GTE class would take in the future.

The ALMS GTE cars were as fast as the WEC's GTE-Am cars. Incidentally the WEC's GTE-Am cars use  equipment that is at least a year old.

During the ALMS race, it was almost incomprehensible why Extreme Speed's 01 car stopped just after a couple laps to change drivers. Scott Sharp perhaps does not consider himself on par on speed with Anthony Lazarro. But Sharp knows the car better and is used to faster speeds (Indycar, P1). So the little speed advantage Anthony might have on him, Scott makes up for it with his knowledge of the car and of the racing scene. Sharp is more familiar with ALMS racing.

In the GT battle we felt Corvette Racing could have repaired the #4 C6R to allow Milner and Gavin to continue on and at least get to the 70% of the race distance.

The BMW intra-team rivalry dragged on for too long. Every time the #55 car found itself ahead of the #56, it should have simply moved over. With 3 races to go, there should not be anymore "go for the win and in case that's not possible I will help my teammate". It should be "help the championship contender at all times".  Joey Hand has nothing at stake in the ALMS, the precious time Dirk Mueller spent fighting with him could have been better used to put pressure on Antonio Garcia.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Montoya the Indycar savior?

The news from the Indycar series is that Penske Racing has signed Juan Pablo Montoya for the 2014 Indycar season. Our reaction to this...happening is not one of jubilation.

Indycar can very well do without Montoya. Sure he was past champion, F1 star, Rolex Daytona 24h winner, and is well known in NASCAR as well. But at this stage in his racing career, Montoya has accomplished all he can and really has nothing to prove to anyone.

Indycar would do well to have Roger Penske put one of their rising stars into his 3rd car. When A.J Allmendinger was first given the ride at the beginning of the season, we wondered to ourselves what the team was hoping to accomplish by that move. A.J had a nice and solid run in Nascar, but did anyone seriously in the know about racing expect him to really contribute to the team? He had been away for too long from this type of racing. The reflexes had to be trained again and that could take some time.

We could say Montoya is a bit higher  up the ladder compared to A.J when it comes to his road racing skills and accomplishments. But he is also older (will be 38 in 2014), more accomplished and frankly, he really does not have to be here fending off tireless 20 year olds for a living. Generally, no motivation, no results.

The best marketing present Indycar can give itself would have been to have Roger Penske give the 3rd ride to the best rising star, who currently is Simon Pagenaud. But an even better deal would be to give it to a promising American driver not currently in a top ride: per us that discussion would settle towards Joseph Newgarden or our personal favorite, Graham Rahal. If either of those were offered the 3rd Penske ride with all the mechanical upgrades on Will Power and Helio Castroneves' cars, that would definitely boost the series appeal among younger and more casual fans.

The Indycar brain trust should start taking a slight hands on approach to the driver lineups to get the maximum marketing impact. On the other side of the pond this is an exercise that Bernie Ecclestone has become a master at. For example Indycar, should have pulled a few strings to retain Rubens Barrichello in the series.

We're still Charlie Kimball at Ganassi getting the same hardware as Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. He has shown enough maturity to merit the investment.... Another missed opportunity.

Track evaluation or secret speed test?

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway race track is considered the home of Indycar racing. But the Indycar series only races there once a year, and on the oval track. When it comes to the infield road course, there are Formula1 engineers and drivers that have more expertise concerning this road course than anyone currently in the Indycar Series.

Indycar last used the road course at the speedway in 2011 when Dan Wheldon was testing the current chassis.

We had longed to see an Indycar race on the road course, and even dreamed of the Indianapolis 500 flagship race being ran on the road course instead of the oval. We have not been avid fans of oval racing and Dan Wheldon's fatal accident on the Las Vegas Speedway oval has further relegated us to our conviction.

The curious factor in the IMS road course test is that we had never heard of a race car being tested on a track in order to determine its viability for future upgrades. We're only deeply passionate fans, so we might be wrong.

But we think the true reason for the Indycar test on the Indianapolis road course is to measure the Indycars' road speed against the speed of the F1 cars which last ran there in 2007.  If Indycars had similar speed to F1 machines on road courses that could be a marketing boon. But we doubt it would significantly improve the show itself.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ricciardo at Red Bull

His name is Daniel, and his last name is spelled R-I-C-C-I-A-R-D-O. Learn to spell it now and don't forget the two C's. Chances are you'll be blogging a lot about him next year, and even this year.

Almost every year in Formula 1 there's one very prized driving opportunity that comes up. And there are many drivers vying for that spot. The eventual winner of the prized seat is usually thoroughly analyzed and scrutinized against his other contenders.

Last year the coveted seat was Lewis Hamilton's seat at McLaren that was taken up by Sergio Perez. This year, the prized ride was the Red Bull seat alongside Sebastian Vettel.

We say, it's actually good news that Ricciardo ended up with it. Over the years there has been many drivers in Red Bull's driver development program who did not go farther than the company's sponsorship of their Formula Renault 3.5 or GP2 racing activities, and barely over a handful have made it to a full time F1 seat and only one SebastianVettel has been given the opportunity to really shine among the elites.

Daniel Ricciardo in effect becomes only the 2nd driver in Red Bull's driver development program to be confirmed at the Flagship Red Bull Racing team. This move actually validates the program as a bona fide step ladder. Now that he has been selected, look for his Toro Rosso teammate, Jean Eric Vergne, to do his best to outscore him in points the rest of the season as consolation for not being the one selected.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Token Privateer

We are still fuming at Rebellion Racing's decision to ditch the ALMS for the WEC. If they were really worried about escalating costs, and still some meaningful racing for 2013, the ALMS would have been a more than adequate choice rather than the WEC.

So far they haven't had a single overall victory (even though they did get overall race win points at Sebring but not the overall winner's trophies), despite racing in a global series we are willing to bet they have had less fan exposure than either Dyson racing much less Muscle Milk.

We can only speculate as to why they decided to leave the ALMS. We believe during the 3 races they had inthe ALMS this year, Rebellion's Lola B12/60 was already in its final evolution. Meaning the car had all the latest updates it would receive for the season Lola Cars was no longer developing the chassis. Despite being faster in qualifying than the Muscle Milk HPD ARX, in race trim Honda was more than a match for the Lola.

Yet for the first 3 races of the 2013 season, the Honda was running in its 2012 configuration, namely it was an ARX-03a, meaning it had the classical smaller front tires at the front and bigger ones at the rear. During that time at Sebring Muscle Milk was having the best of Rebellion until - ahem - Klaus Graf had a moment of over exuberance. But then Muscle Milk won the next 2 races.

After LeMans Muscle Milk's car became and ARX-03c, that's when it acquired the large front wheels which allow faster cornering, and incidentally it became a faster car. Given Muscle Milk's seemingly generous budget had it been necessary during the season they could have probably commisoned Wirth Research for a wing extension device Toyota pioneered, which might make them even more of a threat.

Maybe at the thought of all that Rebellion decided they rather be beaten by factory teams and collect their token Privateer trophy in the WEC rather than being beaten by an equal.

As we said above this is only pure speculation. In the ALMS they would have been a much more valuable entertainment component then they currently are in the WEC. Despite the global presence we even wonder if the WEC's viewership and fan participation is greater than that of the ALMS'.
On a side note, now that Muscle Milk has clinched the ALMS championship we would love to see them do a one off WEC race during the WEC/ALMS double header weekend at Circuit of the Americas (September 20th-22nd). This would only be logical. Strakka racing had a fully updated ARX-03c, but were not geared for victory the way Greg Pickett's troops are. So yeah we are longing to see how this Honda would do against the Audis and the Toyota.

Championship tactics?

During the ALMS' race at Road America, towards the end of the race, the #55 BMW Z4 was running in 7th place ahead of the #56. Dirk Muller who was driving the #56 car is in serious contention for the GT drivers title with the crew of the #4 Corvette.

We expected the BMW brain trust to give the order to #55 car to cede way to the #56 car so it could muster all the points it could but alas, they finished in those same positions. There was only a 1 point difference in the point haul of the 2 cars the 55 had 4 and the 56 had 3. But doesn't every little bit count.

Given that the manufacturer's and team titles are a longer shot (since Corvette racing leads both of those by over 20 points), BMW should be focusing on the drivers title in our opinion.
A similar incident reproduced itself again at Baltimore. Dirk Muller was leading the GT class, but then a slowdown at the chicane on the front straight caused a chain reaction and he lost his momentum and the 2 Corvettes drove around him. The #4 which is currently placed 1rst in  the GT championship was leading, and the #3 which is currently 4th in the drivers' standing was running second.But just before reaching turn 1 the #3 Corvette passed the #4 car.

In the end the 2 corvettes finished in that order. The win brought the #3 car into championship contention. However had the #3 car been ordered not to challenge its sister car, the crew of the #4 car would have increased their championship lead over Dirk Muller by leaps. They should have gotten maximum points.

Sure Dan Binks is the Crew Chief on the #3 car and is quite popular within the team and has given marvelous tours of the team's garage during race broadcasts, but for a factory team Corvette Racing (as well as the BMW RLL team) should be making more tactical and decisive decisions on track.