Monday, 24 December 2012

2012 In Motorsport (We Didn't Start The Car III)

2012 has been a busy year in racing, so what better way to look back on 12 months of on and off track action than to blend 70 (yep, I counted) of the top (and otherwise) stories of the (mostly) international racing stories in a terrifying array of rhyming couplets.


Seb Vettel, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rob Huff and Brad K
 J Lorenzo, Aussie Whincup, Sebastien Loeb

Gordon Shedden, Romain Grosjean, World Rally on television
Brand new leader South Korea, title on the way

Podium F-Bomb, Toyota lead at Le Mans
Ambrose, The King, The Glen, winners in Sprint Cup again

Fallen schumi off scene, Lewis to a new team
Merc off to Australia, DTM for Beamer

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Caterham get better of Charles Pic with Petrov
Grab umbrella crappy weather, Silverstone block

Whitmarsh says Perez, in comes Gutierrez
R8 – N-Ring – Twice around the clock

A.J. comes clean, Dodge have got the winning team
Last lap at Bathurst, Wilson wins at Fort Worth

Norbert Budapest, Villota crash in test
Massa’s pace, out of place, trouble with the gearbox

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Mini splits, Peugeot quits, Lola cars are in the pits
LMS fields poor, F1 postpones Jersey, sure

Davidson’s Mulsanne flip, Doc’s gone on a fishing trip
Tears over the Delta Wing, forget the ‘will it turn’ thing

Lotterer and Fassler, champions with Benoit
Tony’s helmet throw, Body kits a no-go

‘Tona dryer jet fire, Grosjean draws the Spa ire
Going wrong at Juncao, Leave Kimi alone now

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Ugly cars that can win, Sato in a late spin
Petit, WE-C, Rebel in invasion

Chevy out of touring cars, Britons balance turbo bars
Sir Frank Delight, Gordon and the Phoenix fight

Red Bull front wing flex, Mike Shank wins the Rolex
HRT gone away what could save them anyway?

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Lotus Indy engine, Power misses out again
Rosberg, Ostberg, D’aste Salzburg
Twitter bitter penalty, do not share telemetry
Ratel makes the final call, GT1 goes to the wall

Bottas get the F1 ride, cleaning up the track with Tide
Fuel checks, Cassill lets rip as Patrick wrecks
Belle Isle surface comes apart, NASCAR’s still got start and parks
End of US sportscars wars – I can’t take it anymore!

We didn’t start the car
The fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it


None the wiser? Find Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' and prepare to sing along.

N.B. I was going to write something to the tune of 'It's The End of the World As We Know It' by R.E.M., but you can't understand a word Michael Stipe says.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

X-ed Up: Going For A Spin Around Silverstone

If you ever get the chance to be whisked around Silverstone in a KTM X-Bow do it. Don’t hestitate, climb in (avoiding the fire extinguisher which will nestle betwixt your legs once your seated) and strap in (or get strapped in, that’s closer to the truth).

It was exactly this privilege I got at the annual media launch for the British Formula Three and GT Championships, thanks to the SRO Motorsports Group who run the series, the nice people organising the day and Marcus Clutton – the all-important man in the driving seat.

Now, in the spirit of total disclosure I have been a round Silverstone at pace before – in a Lotus Evora. However, that was a road going sportscar. The KTM, while you might still be able to drive it on the road would stretch the definition of “road car” to new lengths.

The sensations are totally different to the Lotus. In the KTM Marcus is less willing to take to the teeth chattering kerbs, particularly on corner exit. There is none of the feeling that you need to brace your feet against the footwell under braking I remember for the Lotus, though that is replaced with simply incredible wind noise and force as your head forces its own unaerodynamic way through the air. My be-helmeted bonce is chucked every which way down the Hanger Straight, including the disconcerting amount of lift as the air tries to take the helmet off.

One think you notice around Silverstone is that the corners all appear very tight compared to when you see them on TV. The Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel sweeps look like little more than mild inconveniences to straight line speed for an F1 car. Approach them in a KTM and they all look like hairpins – it gives you a whole new appreciation for the downforce allowing F1 cars to change direction the way they do.

Having been around Silverstone last year, there is one piece of track I’m particularly interested in as it’s new – the new Arena section.

Blitzing past the new pits – now only a few months from their official opening – the right-hander at Abbey is preceded by a lift, maybe a dab of brake for an apex speed of about 100mph in the KTM (I haven’t a clue how quick that is compared to a proper race lap), it’s about the same pace through left kink at Farm – it’s all too apparent why the high-speed corner loving Red Bulls of last year were so suited to these corners.

At the twin hairpins at Village and The Loop the road suddenly seems to narrow – if drivers are brave enough to run side-by-side from the first corner to here, then expect accidents a-plenty. There is also the chance of a bit of controversy – find yourself in an untenable position on the outside, and a straight hop across the run-off misses three corners and takes you out onto the Wellington (nee National) straight.

Out of the The Loop the left-hander at Aintree is simply an acceleration zone. It’s down into Brooklands that I notice the fastest speed – just shy of 120mph. It might not be that quick, but it’s more than enough to get the juices flowing.

The run into Stowe is almost certainly faster, but I’m too busy trying to keep my head still to glance at the digital speedo’ on the centre of the dashboard.

Running into Copse at the start of the third lap, the speed again, is just over 100mph….

Then it all goes a bit wrong.

Spinning from the passenger is a strange sensation – there’s obviously none of the steering feedback to gauge the car on, so as the back comes round a little, then snaps round the rest of the way, your balance has to race to catch up. I distinctly remember pointing sideways, maybe backwards, across the track, then rolling backwards across the tarmac run-off, me glancing over my shoulder to see where the strip of gravel on the outside is. I will never say ill of the FIA’s massive run-offs again.

As Marcus spins the tyres to get going again he lifts his hand off the gear lever in the centre of the car in apology. I couldn’t give a damn!

The spin, leads to a more cautious approach to the rest of the lap. Speed into Stowe the final time is dampened by the need to remove the run-off crud from the tyres (and even then there’s the merest hint that another spin is not very far away) and turn in speed at Abbey is down on the lap before.

Braking for Brooklands Marcus swings the car out wide and the black Predator Ferrari 430 swings up the inside. The car dwarfs the KTM – like being passed by a lorry in a normal road car – but was whoever is in the driving seat brakes for Luffield a fiery glow and lick of flame point back at me from the 430’s twin exhausts.

Nerdilly magical.

Online Streaming Should Go Pirate Radio

So Indycar have moved to stop the online streaming of races on their official website….

Now, the role of the internet in broadcasting and journalism in general is a pet topic of mine – wind me up and watch me go, sort of like one of those monkeys with a pair of cymbals, but I digress massively.

OK, let’s gloss over the fact that whenever I happened across the online stream for Indycar races it ran less than smoothly and made the race near impossible to follow. What Indycar had - officially sanctioned streaming is exactly what every sport should be doing to combat worries about the copyright infringement rife when anyone can hook TV to internet and stream coverage for all to see.

There are some people for whom online streaming is the only way to follow a race – or indeed any sport. These are not the people who simply don’t want to shell out for a subscription, these are the people who live in countries where there is simply no broadcast available.

If they wish to continue to follow moving images (when the stream’s actually running half way to decent) of Indycar they will be forced onto sites that offer less than legitimate streams for free.

In doing so Indycar, and its broadcasters, are missing out.

Bring people onto your site for an official, smooth, no-risk-of-the-man-shutting-it-down, stream and you can add them to you viewing figures. They should not be seen as counting instead of TV viewing figures, but counting towards TV viewing figures. If you’ve got an online audience, you could pick and choose which ads they see as the stream loads, or even during standard commercial breaks. The sort of people who watch an online stream are likely to come from a fairly small area of humanity. They’re not likely to be casual fans and they’re going to be tech and computer savvy. That sort of viewership offers a clear audience to go and pitch to advertisers. Money is the important thing here.

Sports broadcasters need to stop seeing internet streaming as the enemy. It has the potential to bring your product to whole new audiences who have no way of otherwise seeing it. Yes, the suits in Network Towers see an overnight TV rating as the be all and end all of everything, but they should be thinking of the potential online audience that they’re not reaching.

There is clearly an audience for online streaming. Watching the aforementioned illegitimate streams of the Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duels ahead of the Daytona 500, there was talk from South America, Europe, even Australia.

If they’ll watch a grainy, laggy feed for three hours, during the middle of the night what would they do if they were offered a proper, official stream during the middle of the night? And once into the official site they can stand up and be counted as those visiting the website and watching the coverage.

The UK Pirate Radio of the 1960s proved popular, so the BBC created Radio One.

Why shouldn’t online streaming follow the same pattern?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Rolex 24 - America's 24

I began my Rolex 24 preview on by trying to find a place for the race in the pantheon of endurance racing - alongside the races at Le Mans, Spa or the Nurburgring. You can read the preview here, or just take my word for it.

At the time it made sense. Le Mans is the 24 hour race, Daytona is just a 24 hour race.

However, somewhere during SPEED’s TV coverage of the event I realised that trying to put the Rolex 24 into the same bracket as Le Mans is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

It was the first time I’d followed the race as much as I did. Spurred on the presence of ex-F1 drivers Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, the fact the race is full of stories and British talent – Ross Kaiser, on both counts - and the fact that I have to sound like I know what I’m talking about occasionally.

The difference is this, and it sounds so simple. The Rolex 24 is America’s 24.

Strip away the international list of drivers and you get (eventually) American cars from American teams on an American track.

Everything at Daytona is so different from the European races I was trying to shoehorn it in with. And I’m not just referring to the fact that Reba McIntyre had her own press conference at the track.

Firstly, in the Daytona Prototype class you have cars that are not raced outside of North America. OK, so they’re not exactly automotive oil paintings, but I can give you worse, and it doesn’t matter that their not – in the overall scheme of things – that fast because they’re only racing against similar cars. There are the teams – what are the chances of Ganassi, to pick the obvious example, ever showing up at Le Mans.

Slim to none.

Secondly there is Daytona itself. The ‘roval’ track running on oval and road course could only really happen in America (yes, pedants I know about Rockingham, Lausitz and Calder Park). The stupefyingly high banking, and the images it produces, are almost the trademark of the race as the oval – so disparaged by Europe – is the trademark of American racing.

Of course bundled in with the fact the race it is so inherently American is that it is owned by NASCAR. And yes, the near endless parade of debris cautions got a little tiring, though it must be noted that the final one-lap shootout was exactly the right decision. Once the Spirit of Daytona Coyote had expelled it’s bodywork all over turn 6 with eight minutes to go there was little alternative than to throw a final caution flag.

The number of full course cautions is something that grates on some fans of European endurance, but Daytona doesn’t exactly lend itself to local yellow flags – who fancies running over the infield to pick up that piece of debris from the bottom of the banking? Secondly, the close racing it generates is something entirely different from what can be found in Europe.

When was the last time Le Mans finished with the top four cars on the lead lap?

When Joey Hand copped a 30 second stop-go penalty late on in the race it put the eventual winners 50 seconds behind, having been in the lead. In all but the closest battles at Le Mans or Spa such a penalty would only be a minor inconvenience before the car returned to pounding round the track in isolation.

I can appreciate the metronomic precision of car and driver needed to simply keep going for 24 hours, but throw in wheel to wheel racing for the lead right into the final minutes and you have me hooked.

The Rolex 24 is American endurance racing the way Sebring or Petit Le Mans never will be (at least under the ALMS banner). I’ll watching whatever I can of both races, but they will be different – more European – even the ALMS name concedes something to continent that gave the world croissant, bratwurst and Kraftwerk.

The Daytona 24, on the other hand is America’s endurance race.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Motorsports in 2010 Review (or We Didn't Start The Car) (II)

Seb Vettel and Dario, Red Bull and Fernando
Double J, Lorenzo Land, Sebastien Loeb

Red Bull’s hold of pole position, LMS of television
India joins South Korea – hosting a grand prix

McLaren’s F-Duct (onto wing air sucked)
Gillett, the King and Ray struggling with debts to pay

Richard Branson in heels, Lotus best of new teams
New champ has a little cry, Bridgestone Rubber goodbye

We didn’t start the car
Fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it

Spoiler back for C.O.T. V8 Super Courtney
Final laps, Will attacks, Helio’s ‘block’

Ratel’s new spell’s Bertolini Bartels
Beamer on the Nordschleife – Twice around the clock

HRT Christian Klien, Anderlecht’s the winning team
No new team will get the call, ee-jaf-jalla-juke-ll *

Strakka win in Budapest, Alabama snorefest
Turkish race, saving face – trouble is the team mate

Renault was backed by Lada
Russian cheques they’re cashing
Pay for Petrov’s crashing
Renault was backed by Lada
Their speed didn’t match it
Alonso couldn’t catch it

Tomizawa snatched away, Walkinshaw the other day
Gearbox palaver, Dindo balaclava

Hulkenburg claims the pole, Daytona pot hole
Edwards attempts homicide, NASCAR ratings still on slide

Carlos gets his Dakar win, Kimi keeps rolling
Ecclestone’s Hublot, U.S. team a no go

Peugoet blow on full attack, Audi win Le Mans back
GT1 is mighty fun, ACO don’t think so.

At last they parked Milka
She might be improving
Still she’s barely moving
At last they parked Milka
She’ll watch from the team pit
Now the fans will like it

Felipe Baby in review, Fernando’s faster than you
Newman Hamlin, pay drivers invasion

The firesuits on Delana, NASCAR Dani-mania
Ambrose ill hill, KV smash bill

Karthikeyan, Piquet, racing in the USA
Korea nearly washed away, wasn’t finished anyway

Rossi leaves Yamaha
Broken leg – no riding
Left Lorenzo gliding
Rossi leaves Yamaha
The success will judge it
Support will demand it

Lotus running everything, Schumel Shumi back again
Bahrain boring, Brand new scoring
Muller for the second time, Webber’s flipping airtime
Simona HVM, Japan Leeroy Jenkins

Surprised with the Delta Wing, sticking with Dallara thing
Belgian rains, Lewis wins, Button out, Vettel spins
Diffusers lose their second tier, KERS back after missing year
What is next then moving floors? I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the car
Fuel started burning
Wheels have started turning
We didn’t start the car
No we didn’t start it
But we’ll try to park it


Wondered what on eart you've just read? Have a listen to "We Didn't Start The Fire" by Billy Joel - cue it up and sing along - it really does work.

*This represents the name of the Icelandic Volcano - Eyjafjallajokull - that caused chaos in late April after its ash cloud cancelled the flights that would have returned much of the F1 circus back to Europe from the Chinese Grand Prix. It's not actually pronounced like this.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

2010 F1 Review - The Austrian Version

In honour of the F1 season of 2010 and Red Bull - the best thing to come out of Austria since the von Trapp Family Singers - here is a review of the season as you're unlikely to ever have thought of it.

And yes, this does fit into tune - I have been singing it for days.


F1 2010 - The Sound Of Music

There's a mad sort of singing from the pits of Red Bull
And the Milton Keynes people too
And round in the paddock and absurd little Bernerd
Is popping out to say "cuckoo"
Cuckoo, cuckoo

Regretfully he tells us
But firmly he compels us
To say goodbye.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodnight
Vettel, he took the title in the night

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu
Massa, Massa, Fernando's faster than yieu

So long, farewell, au revior, auf wiedersehen
Sutil is still to taste his first champagne

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye
The Hulk must leave his team and say goodbye
Fernie could win (if Petrov let him by)
Mark flit, Mark float, Mark fleetly flee, Mark fly!
F1 has gone to bed and so must I

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

Friday, 25 June 2010

Fighting For GT1 After Le Mans Snub

I am fighting the corner for GT1 cars.

During the festivities of the Le Mans 24 Hours the race’s organisers the ACO (Auto Club de l’ouest) announced that the 2010 race would be the final time that GT1 cars would be accepted into the starting field for the historic race.

Quite why they made this decision is up for debate.

The low turnout for the class? Only eight cars made the start of the race – though only the ACO will know how many tendered entries for the selection process back in February.

The fact that they are based on the rules of a championship the ACO doesn’t run?

Or the fact that that series is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an endurance series?

Personally I fear it was one of the latter two, and the GT1 teams’ own knowledge of them lead to the low turnout.

The field was thin and the outcome embarrassing, as a decade old car full beat the shiny, new GT1 World Championship machinery and their attendant big name drivers. But I still don’t think they have made the right decision by killing off the class.

If they want a better showing of GT cars then show the teams that SRO GT1 really does equal ACO GT1 – don’t burn the bridge at the first sign of trouble. Yes, most GT1 teams have chosen the SRO’s World Championship, but that may have a lot to do with the prestige of the title and the better coverage the series gets – not only because it has a TV deal that’s worth anything, but also because (for better or worse) their not fighting with three other classes, with their own storylines, winners and losers, for screen time.

In my opinion part of the reason GT2 is so strong is that in past years different series have been all but interchangeable. A team could run an LMS race, then go to the GT2 class of the old FIA GT series, then go and race GT Cup.

Offer the GT1 teams a decent deal to come Le Mans Series racing and they will – to bastardise Field of Dreams ‘let them come and they will build it’. If they’re regularly going endurance racing then they will build cars that can survive 24 hours, and have teams that can pull off the sort of repairs you expect from Le Mans.

Sure most of the class retired from the race – but that’s only five cars. Eight GT2 cars retired, but no-one is calling for that class to be hauled away from La Sarthe is disrespect.

Even more non-sensical in my opinion is the belief that the GT1 World Championship will shrivel and die because its teams can no longer go to Le Mans.

Utter bilge.

A series, even a sportscar series, doesn’t need that glistening jewel in June to survive. In the same week as the ACO said no more to GT1, BMW revealed plans to homologate a car for the series. If it’s run properly (and the SRO know how to run a series) the GT1 World Championship will survive. For all that Mr. Ratel might not like manufacturers probably like his series because the race cars look like road cars – even massively aspirational marques have something of a ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ ethos. That’s the one of the reasons BMW pulled out F1 after last season.

If you’ve not taken the time to watch a race this year, do so, it’s probably produced consistently the best races of any international series. Anywere .

Though admittedly not Le Mans.