Friday, July 28, 2017

The "Great" dilemma

Or the "Magnus" dilemma. It's really the same thing. Since leaving the Weathertech championship, Magnus Racing has been fielding 2 cars in Pirelli World Challenge. An R8 LMS for team owner John Potter in the GTA class, and another for Audi factory driver Pierre Kaffer in the all professional GT class, where many other brands have their works drivers battling it out. But Kaffer has a few European race conflicts with PWC such as this weekend when he is at Spa for the 24hrs. Enter Spencer Pumpelly.

The team's part time driver Spencer Pumpelly, who has driven less rounds than Kaffer is placed higher in the driver standings. Any significant results he achieves in this weekend's double header round at Mid Ohio could give the team something to think about. Pumpelly could possibly land on the podium or finish in the top 5-10 in either or both races. 

Pierre Kaffer is no slouch, he has been relied on by many quality or well funded racing outfits; driving an Audi R8 LMP1 at Le mans in 2004 with Allan McNish and Frank Biela, a driver for Risi Competizione, and AF Corse under their PeCom racing moniker, and before this year the Bykolles WEC LMP1 team. Audi, Risi, and AF Corse appearing on his resume almost leaves you with no question of Kaffer's caliber. 

This year as an Audi factory driver he has been assigned to Magnus Racing in their factory supported #4 R8 LMS in Pirelli World Challenge, with full intentions on a championship assault (if BoP permits). The season started with some difficulty for Kaffer, finishing 19th and 15th in St Petersburg. He then finished 8th in Long Beach, an improvement over the frst 2 rounds. But not enough for a proud team working hand in hand with Brad Kettler at Audi Sport customer racing (and looking to prove that they're better than what the Weathertech championship gave them credit for).

In the Sprint X races, Kaffer was paired with Spencer Pumpelly, himself a consumate professional on the level of Kaffer, but unlike Kaffer he doesn't have factory gigs lining up his resume. Instead he has made a career of loaning himself out to wealthy racing enthusiasts and privateer team owners for Pro-Am championships jaunts.

Together Kaffer and Pumpelly have finished 28th and 5th in the VIR double header, and 5th again at CTMP (the Mosport name is better). The kicker was that when Kaffer was on his European racing duties for Audi in Blancpain, the team drafted in Dane Cameron for the Lime rock Sprint X double header. There they finished 2nd and 1st, the best points haul for any team that weekend, and no doubt reminding themselves they're one of the best groups out there. If Pumpelly distances himself substantially from Kaffer in the points standings this weekend, the thought of finishing out the season with him will surely cross the mind of some in the team. For those dramatically inclined Dane Cameron does not have Cadillac DPi duty for the next 2 Sprint X rounds in Utah and Texas.

In truth it will not be that easy to simply boot Pierre Kaffer out of the #4 car. There are contracts and agreements in place that must be taken into consideration. 

The results are better when Kaffer pairs up with Pumpelly, even better when Pumpelly pairs up with Cameron. Now the team will get to see how pumpelly gets on solo in the car. If he gives the team very solid results or a reason to celebrate in either race, Kaffer's return to the Magnus racing paddock could be quite awkward. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Indycar Toronto notes.

Packed grandstands

Two weekends ago, the indycar race in Toronto was one mightily entertaining affaire. One thing we noticed that the TV commentators did not seem to comment on was that the grandstands were full. It's either there were not that many grandstands and spectators had to pack into the stands availablr, or Indycar just has a fabulous Canadian following. In either case it would be wise to have a second race. Perhaps revive Edmonton, or even at CTMP (formerly Mosport).

James Hinchcliffe finishing on the podium was a plus for the series. He is just as competitive as anyone in the top teams. If Bernie Ecclestone ran Indycar he would pressure Chip Ganassi to drop Tony Kanaan and pickup The Mayor of Hinchtown. It's a win-win on all fronts: for fans, Chip Ganassi, Indycar, and it keeps Canadian fans loyal to the series.

Free Kanaan!

Despite his desire to keep racing, Tony Kanaan no longer has the burning desire to launch a sustained attack on the Indycar championship. He should be let go.

It's really not fun advocating for someone to be let go from their job. Given that i had a similar tidbit about Helio Castroneves, and now Kanaan, some might believe i'm just out to badmouth the series. Yet the reality is that there are younger drivers coming up the ranks who can be as good or better, but who simply need a chance.

The argument that drivers such as Helio and Kanaan are very popular with fans, and loosing them could decimate the fan base does not hold water. Rather Indycar is struggling for fans, so letting the younger generation into the series will bring novelty and boost attendance and viewership.

Carlos and Connor

What seemed like very promising careers last year has not delivered this year. In 2016 Carlos Munoz finished second in the Indy 500 behind teammate Alexander Rossi (if it had not been for a late call to pit...), and was the highest placed Andretti Autosport driver in the final driver standings. Connor Daly in his rookie season last year, dazzled with his passing and his ability to make opportunistic strategies work.

Now here they are at A.J Foyt Racing this year. No sponsorship to bring to the team, only their "A" game. But so far neither Munoz or Daly have been able to bring their "A" level game according to the team, and perhaps onlookers. This has got A.J Foyt frustrated. 

But from my observations over the years, i can say that unless you're bringing sponsorship to help the team along like Takuma Sato did, your season is doomed to mediocrity..maybe even your career. I did have hope to see either Munoz or daly score at least a couple top 5 results by now, yet sincerely these results are not their faults. An Indycar Connoisseur knows what the drivers are capable of. It's the team that's letting them down. The team should instead focus all resources on their engineering talent, strategy making and pitwork, similar to what Dale Coyne did in the last off season. The team's biggest assets now are these 2 drivers.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

F1 Live in London notes

Missing Hamilton

Lewis was repeatedly questioned about not being at the F1 Live in London fan event during the Silverstone drivers' press conference. The press had it out for him to let him know they were not at all happy. They were speaking on behalf of the fans. They had a point. Lewis is a tireless globetrotter. It's almost a let down to not show up for an event that benefits his career industry. His facebook account has documented his many escapades. Sometimes it seems he even parties less than a day before a race weekend, and is still able to hoist the winner's trophy on Sunday. Being the ultimate showman this was a golden opportunity to once again showcase his "brand" to a public that was going to cheer him on more than any other driver there.

What the reporters and no one else didn't realize is that the appearance of all the other drivers made the event mundane for Lewis. There was no excitement for him to be there. His persona is built on being different, exclusive, and controversial. He thrives in such circumstances. Skipping the event made him an even more valued commodity. 

Unless it's a competitive event, he doesn't just want to be one of many, where his run in Trafalgar Square would have been compared to that of other drivers. When it's a fan event where people's personal judgements are involved, he wants no contest, he wants to be the clear favorite.

The only way to make up for not showing up is to win the British Grand Prix. Preferably in convincing fashion.

Ricciardo on Bottas

During the driver's Thursday press conference Daniel Ricciardo said Bottas did not represent his country well. Since Riciardo's run was no contest the best and the bravest, with well placed doughnuts and burnouts, he was probably expecting Valtteri to be drifting the car around the streets as if rallying. It would have been eye catching to drift one of those F1 monsters on a city street, but required supreme car control with flawless execution.

The rivalry is real

When all the drivers had gathered on stage and Bottas came out with the mother of all champagne bottles and began to spray it on the crowd, he turned to spray it on the drivers and Kimi Raikkonen was the only driver to run away from the stage to avoid the spray. It seems like an innocent enough reaction, but it's not. Similar to how Lewis Hamilton ducked out from the champage shower during Nico Rosberg's championship celebration with the team. Kimi wants nothing to do with Bottas. As far as Kimi, they're simply racing rivals no countrymen brotherhood to celebrate.

F1 two seater

It was actually refreshing to see Formula1 roll out with their own two seater. A two seater has been a staple showcase for years in Indycar. Imitation is flattery. But a few improvements are in order: it looks cramped even though Naomi Campbell somehow managed to fit in the Silverstone winner's trophy. Also, they should make the two seater stall proof. It doesn't have to be operated like an F1 car. It just has to feel, look, and accelerate somewhat close to one.  It didn't look good when Jensen Button a former champion stalled the showcase piece with a VIP guest in tow. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

18 years in racing heaven

Helio Castroneves won the Indycar race in Iowa, and has dislodged his reigning champion teammate Simon Pagenaud in second place. There is starting to be talk that it would be ironic if he was to be replaced after winning the championship this year. Throughout his hall of fame career that has been the only knock on Castroneves' career - not winning a championship.

But the notion of Helio being ousted from Indycar is not of course without merit. Ever since Penske Racing moved to Indycar from CART, the only multi year full time drivers not to win a title for the team are Ryan Briscoe - whose moment of inattention after a pit stop at Motegi cost him the title in his second season with the team in 2009, and Juan Pablo Montoya who would have won the title had it not been for the double points at the last race of the season at Sonoma in 2015. All other drivers have won at least one crown for the Captain, Sam Hornish, Will Power, snd Simon Pagenaud. Joseph Newgarden is lining up for his ring fitting in the next few years.

Helio is in his 18th season with the team. He has become a very popular driver in the series and has won 3 Indy 500 races. Those accolades has enabled him to remain firmly entrenched in the Penske organization. Perhaps that confidence in his racing future has also worked against him. Maybe he played it safe sometimes instead of attacking, since he almost always approached the end of the season knowing what was next for him the following season.

Before the question of why should he be let go if he wins the title is answered, the question that should first be asked is should be allowed to win the title? Despite being second in the championship, can he be trusted or counted on to really mount a charge to deliver results in the crunch against Scott Dixon?

We already have our answer from 15 competitive seasons out of 18 for team Penske. Helio has had his chances. If he were to win the title, we think Helio himself should retire on a high note rather than be forced out. In case he isn't able to sustain his championship charge he should do his best to make sure Pagenaud or another Penske driver wins it for his beloved boss.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wearthertech championship 6hrs at the Glen

As hollowed a racing circuit as Watkins Glen is, I would suggest changes that I think would make it even better. The bus stop should go. Let that back straight be a flat out stretch. However turn 5 at the end of the back straight should be made a bit more squared exactly like turn one. Leading off turn 5 you would have a run off area, and a set of spaced out tire barriers. Tire barriers will damage a car while catching it, and gravel or sand traps would stop the car while preserving it. But a car coming back on track from there will leave a mess, reducing the racing line, and possibly causing other on track issues. That simple change to the track would do wonders, simply and brilliantly.

It was refreshing to see a mix of prototypes in the hunt for the win. However we could not help wondering. Had Rebellion been here, would they simply walk away with this thing and ride into the sunset triumphantly? At Sebring, Rebellion was close in performance to the Cadillacs, even though Neel Jani had to be on the ragged edge to keep the pace, but it was pretty close. The JDC/Miller Oreca 07 at the time was not on the pace of the Rebellion Oreca. The team is just not  on the level of Rebellion at setting up a P2 car. The Cadillacs were slowed after the sebring test, before Long Beach and then again before Detroit. Only then was the JDC Oreca starting to get a sniff of glory. 

At Watkins Glen, the PR1 Mathiassen Ligier JS P217 received assistance from Onroak and they also brought in Olivier Pla. The effort showed because the car was setting fastest laps during the race, and could have won it overall had it not been for a strategy blunder. Judging by 24hr of Lemans performances, we can assume that whatever performance achieved by a 2017 spec LMP2 Ligier, a 2017 spec LMP2 Oreca can outmatch it. Given that a Ligier was the fastest car in the field here, the Oreca at least in Stephen Simpson's grasp should have been faster. But it wasn't. Had rebellion shown up with an Oreca 07 fully on song (which they have the means to do), it would have blown away the whole field. Rebellion's 2 cars ran 1-2 at LeMans for the majority of the race before hitting troubles, so they have no lack of strategy and efforts. The cadillacs should be able to keep up with an Oreca 07 in optimum race trim.

We believe the Cadilac's have been pegged back too far. They should be taken back to their Detroit balance of performance adjustments, or just slightly below their Sebring performance level. Let the others do the work to catch up. We should not forget that Cadillac put in a lot of effort get these cars to their performance. Don't reward other's mediocrity. It should not be easy to win in the top category of a top rung championship. If or when Penske and Joest racing jump in the fold, they would be doing so with no shame of making their intentions clear, and no shyness about flaunting their racing resources. 

At Petit Lemans we hope not to see Rebellion or Penske with expertly set up Oreca 07's blowing away hobbled Cadillac DPi's. Long time entrants should not be left vulnerable to part time or new entrants coming in to wreak havoc. Unless of course those new part time or new entrants have also done a very good job. Until then free up the Caddies a bit. Their strength gives prestige to the series.

The BMW M6 finally has a win with Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims. This car has been plagued by its size. We don't think many in the team thought they would have a win. Next year they will have a BMW M8. In spy shots of the road car testing, it seems to be as big if not bigger than the M6. Unless it's extremely efficient in other areas besides aerodynamics, it too will have trouble being competitive and getting its first victory.

During an interview of Will Turner, owner of Turner Motorsport (#96 BMW M6 GT3), while talking about the speed of the Acura NSX's, he kept referring to them as Hondas. Honest slip up or underhandedly putting them down? Sure they are made by Honda, but they are the luxury brand, competing with BMW in the marketplace.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A pair of aces

Gianmaria Bruni is making his IMSA debut this weekend with Laurens Vanthoor as his teammate. This is one stout line up. Name wise this would have drawn so much attention in a Blancpain race somewhere in Europe. 

In essence Gianmaria has been considered the best factory GT driver over the past few years and Vanthoor has been considered the best hired gun available when you have cash and need a fast freelancer. Well it's arguable...this all a matter of opinion and public opinion is strong on those claims. The average IMSA fan might not be keen on them, but all GTLM drivers know about the reputation these two have built over in Europe. 

With all due respect to the WEC's GTE Pro class, and anything Blancpain has to offer, the close lap times, the close battles, and the all professional nature in GTLM has us thinking IMSA's GTLM class is the best GT racing in the world. With all their accolades overseas, they will be expected to earn their stripes all over again here in IMSA to salvage their carefully built reputations. Fellow competitors and even their own teammates (Pilet/Werner) in the sister #911 Porsche will be looking to take a bite out of this highly regarded pair.

While they will both of course work on achieving victories, Gimmi Bruni being the eldest, and to justify the trouble endured by Porsche in acquiring him, would quickly want to achieve success.

Call me Gimmi
At Sebring in 2012 when the WEC shared the Sebring and Petit LeMans races with the ALMS, Joey Hand who was leading the GT class and battling the #71 AF Corse Ferrari, was bumped by a Gianmaria Bruni in the #51 AF Corse that was several laps down. Gianmaria was attempting to give a hand to his teammates. The #71 AF Corse took the lead but had to slow down with a puncture before the checkered flag and that allowed Joey Hand to rightfully regain his P1 position. 

The ALMS GT class was being scored separately from the WEC's GTE Pro class. Meaning Joey Hand's car would have earned first place points for the ALMS and the #71 AF Corse would have earned first place points for the ILMC no matter in which order they had finished. But as racing drivers, everyone wanted that ultimate victory, because only the class winners would actually get the Sebring class winner's trophy. Joey Hand had some harsh words for Bruni in the post race interview and Bruni's car was excluded from the results. 

Aside from that blemish, with the WEC becoming as strong a championship as the ALMS/USCR, Bruni's status as a top factory ace rocketed, and he became the de facto #1 at AF Corse, a globe trotting and multi series competition winning outfit.