Friday, 31 July 2009

All Filler, No Killer - The House-warming edition

All Filler, No Killer, NASCAR's most curiously titled and scatter brained review blog has a new home. Right here. We're still living out of the cardboard boxes, and we can't find half our stuff.

NASCAR wise it was week for being annoyed, but not surprised.

Let’s get this straight, the race was monumentally boring. The only reason I haven’t written a typically British strongly worded letter to NASCAR is because over here, on the same channel they went straight to the Indycar race in Edmonton, which made competitive origami or speed toe-nail cutting seem an applealing spectator sport.

But I wasn’t surprised, NASCAR have produced a nightmare of a car that loves clean air and hates anything else. As the latest peice of evidence I show you Juan Montoya. Clearing off at massive chunks of seconds a lap from everyone else in clean air, struggles to get past a kid who can’t buy a beer in traffic. I remember what a racing pass looked like, I have a VHS tape of one.

Then came the least surprising news of the week. Allstate are pulling the plug on their sponsorship of the Brickyard 400.

And that’s exactly why. Nobody (unless their checks are signed by NASCAR) reffered to the race as “The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard” (and yes, I expect my check to be in the post), it’s just the Brickyard 400, and a sponsor isn’t getting though to anyone worthwhile, if we all forget the race is actually sponsored.

Anyhoo, new home, same deal. Seven none-to-randomly are put in the electric chair of examination and sarcasm and then the dial is flicked to 11.

Joe Nemechek – Actual question that was asked by my nearest and dearest during the race. “Is there ever a weekend when Nemechek and Blaney aren’t out?” I then explained that they show up, pay lip service to racing park and are probably somewhere on the highway counting the cash by the time the race is over. “That doesn’t seem right,” she said. You see even she knows that Field Fillers aren’t good. However, Joe still managed to rob everyone of $142,216 for 21 laps work (which works out at $2708.88 per racing mile).........................10/10

Dave Blaney
– The other part of the Field Filler duo exposed by Girl Wonder, Dave managed to do two more laps than Joe. And how was he rewarded for this extreme feat of endurance, by taking home $400 less than Nemechek at $141,825 ($2467.39 per racing mile). Oh, and just to give you an idea of how these numbers compare, Jimmie Johnson took home the equivalent of $1120 per racing mile and Mark Martin banked a paltry $840 per mile! No wonder teams are queuing up for Sprint Cup starts. It must be said that these field filler analysis are money based because that’s all they understand....................10/10

David Gilliland – TRG are my favourite field fillers, in that they are only field fillers some weeks. This week they were not, as David took the car to 30th place, plus five bonus points for leading a lap. The team also confirmed this week, as I hinted at way back when, that they are tapping into their road racing heritage for the second road course race at Watkins Glen, by bringing in Andy Lally, who most recently runs in the Grand-Am series for the team, for his Sprint Cup debut. Lally is used to big sleek aerodynamic rear engine Porsches. His reaction to driving Sprint Cup Slab, opps I mean car, will probably not be printable...............7/10

John Andretti – John Andretti is the bench mark of mediocrity. He doesn’t crash (often), he doesn’t get mentioned by the TV team, they never have a pit reported to have “something on the #34 car”. He just goes round and round and round. This week’s monotony brought him home 32nd, for a 35th place start to further cement his anonymity in NASCAR............9/10

Kurt Busch – I don’t know whether the Captain was at Indy at the weekend, but if he was he probably didn’t realise it. His lead car, Busch, started the race 40th – that’s so low it’s not even on the scoring tower, and was then dealt a further blow by having a loose wheel (Kurt’s lucky, in F1 that’s a hanging offence now). From then he just pounded round and round, not losing another lap (he even overtook John Andretti although no-one noticed) and eventually finished 27th (which is good enough to get on the scoring tower)....................7/10

Elliott Sadler – The name’s Sadler, Elliott Sadler, license to make Robby Gordon go sideways. The guys at GEM are clearly bond fans, and their own Q must have developed a device to put out an oil slick to put off those behind him (Dale Jr.’s team are working on the same thing, though have been typically rubbish given their Indy test). Unfortunately for them no-one has ever black flagged Bond (but then, it just isn’t right to black flag an Aston Martin).....................9/10

Brian Vickers – Brian was the top Toyota was pretty much the entire afternoon (not that anyone notices the ‘Yotas anymore when it’s not The Human Shrub or Sliced Bread at the wheel) holding station in the top-5 for his third top-5 finish and a very respectable ninth top-10, as many as Carl Edwards. Vickers currently sits 15th in points, 120 points out the chase and the Tail End Charlie of a trio of the Toyota’s that are outside the chase looking in......................2/10

And the Brikkie goes to...........

Juan Pablo Montoya. Juan, Juan, Juan, nothing should surprise you about NASCAR anymore. Not only do they refuse to acknowledge technology more up to date that Stephensons Rocket, but their cars don’t even have speedometers, so you don’t know when you’re speeding, and that leads to calls that (more often than not) tend to ruin a day. But then, to make things worse you enter into a battle of words with the men in the yellow trailer. You threaten to kill them (this isn’t good whether you’re dealing with NASCAR officials or, well, anyone) then you start swearing on the lives of the wife and children that you didn’t speed. Basically with their understanding you just entered into a binding contract with an organisation who can change rules like the wind on the lives of your family. Expect Connie and kids to be shelling out hotdogs and Coors Light – the official beer of NASCAR – at Pocono.

Next Week

Poc Oh No! The Tiresome Triangle, 180 degrees of a cure for insomnia. Trying to help me get through it will be the Dodge trio of Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish, the Camry (and incidentally Field Filler) comrades of Joe Nemechek, Dave Blaney and Mike Skinner and a lone bow tie boy in Martin Truex Jr. And we’ll try and get scatter cushions, and maybe paint an accent wall in our new home.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sweet Home Alabama for Indycar?

Today the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama will confirm it has secured a place on the Indycar Series calendar for 2010.

For some it marks another step in the expansion of America’s premier open-wheel series, and another step on the road to recovery after the decades of bickering.

For me it marks folly, a decision that, while well, meaning is mistimed.

The race, titled the Grand Prix of Alabama, will be held at Barber, a venue that hosted a winter test for the Indycar Series, to rave reviews based both on the teams’ and drivers’ opinions of the track and the number of fans who turned out to see the event.

On the surface, it is a good thing. The Indycar series, post reunification, needs to find a balance between the different configurations of track – oval, street and road – it visits through the season. Another road course would help that and, Sunday’s please-can-a-plane-land-and-spice-this-thing-up-athon at Edmonton’s airport track, the road and street course produce some of Indycar’s better racing (although everything is relative).

However, take a look a little deeper at the announcement.

Barber Motorsports Park is in Alabama. NASCAR’s heartland, with Talladega’s monstrous Superspeedway lying 50miles or so away.

I’m sure there are open wheel fans in the traditional NASCAR states, Florida supports two Indycar events, and Indycar and NASCAR both race at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway. But immediately trying to nurture a start-up event in “rival territory” puts you at a disadvantage straight away.

Of course, if Indycar is ever to once more challenge NASCAR as America’s most popular Motorsport it will need to win some fans of the Stock Car series over, and Barber is as good a place to start doing that as any – not already saturated by open-wheel events, close to the captive audience of a major city, with the peripheral facilities that brings.

But why just now?

Even those of us who profess to be Indycar fans know that the series isn’t at the top of its game lately. Fields are thin, both in number and (let’s be honest here) talent. The series is being strangled by the dominance of the Penske and Ganassi outfits, and is facing the loss of Danica Patrick.

I know you may not like her, but I’m afraid she remains one of Indycar’s biggest marketing pluses.

Even star drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have been publically critical of the quality of racing the series has produced at the recent oval races at Iowa and Richmond. Even the Indy 500, Indycar’s world famous showpiece was dismissed as a boring race.

Now, my common sense dictates, if you’re going to try and conquer new ground and win new hearts, you want to make sure your own house is in order first. Think of like having a good business pitch if you’re looking for a new contract. You organise yourself so you know you’re going to put in the best performance possible.

On its current form if Indycar’s Alabama debut turns out to be a snorefest then any new fans the series has attracted to the series will be out the gates before half distance, and never come back.

To make matters worse there is the problem with the schedule that seems to be emerging. Press releases confirm the race will be held on the 9-11 April next year.

Hmmm, I wonder what else happens in Alabama in April? Oh, yes, that’s right, NASCAR’s spring Talladega race.

Indycar fans, feel free to put your head in your hands at the point.

A proto-2010 NASCAR calendar has the Talladega race on the May 2, which puts only two weekends between it and the Barber race.

Those conflicting dates, along with the spectre of the wounded economy is likely to knock on the head the support of many casual Indycar fans, maybe NASCAR fans contemplating a trip to Barber to get their first taste of open-wheel racing in the flesh. If they’ve already shelled out I-can-only-guess-how-much for tickets to Talladega they’re unlikely to want to pay much-less-amount for Indycar tickets.

And make them pick one race to attend, and I have more than a little inkling what one they’ll pick.

And that pick could decide the future of Indycar in Alabama.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Closed Cockpits are not the answer to F1's worries

After two chillingly similar accidents in two weeks have killed one driver and left another seriously ill in hospital there are is bound to be talk of safety.

And one concept that seems to be being brought up by fans, drivers and team bosses is a closed cockpit.

However, despite the shocking nature of recent events a closed canopy F1 car is certainly not the answer.

Now, just to clear this up, I’m not saying this on aesthetic value. Personally the mental image I have of a closed cockpit F1 car is far from ugly, and bear a striking resemblance to WWII fighter planes or the current machinery in the Red Bull Air Race (without the wings). However, I much prefer the closed coupe Le Mans prototypes, so I might just have a thing about roofs.

Obviously having another surface to stop or deflect debris before it reaches the driver lessens the chances of these kind of accidents occurring again.

However, the practicalities of having a closed cockpit F1 car boggle the mind when you begin to think about them.

Of course, the primary concern is safety. After all it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that having a roof between you and safety may not be a good thing.

Now, start putting a car in every conceivable position and situation you can. Upside down, on top of another car, on fire, filling with smoke or embedded in a tyre wall.

Very quickly the list of boxes any canopy needs to tick becomes long and contradictory.

You need something strong enough, perhaps up to the same standard as the main tub, to deflect the kind of debris that has sparked this debate, yet F1 teams, always after the smallest advantage will want it as light as possible.

You’re going to need something secure when the car is travelling at 300Kmph, you don’t want it flying off, or even opening, mid race, yet easy to remove once the car is stopped.

It has to be able to be opened easily from both the inside and outside. On the inside by a driver potentially blind from smoke or other gases, put Kimi Raikkonen in a canopy car when he had the KERS/Fire extinguisher/whatever problem in practice for Malaysia that had white smoke billowing up into the cockpit.

The locking mechanism has to be simple enough for the marshalls to operate quickly, with potentially every team having the same mechanism. When a car is on fire, a driver incapacitated the vital seconds track workers spend remembering whether the car has a canopy which opens from the left, right, slides forward or opens after knocking three times and the password is “sausages”.

Can you see a dozen or some coming up with the same mechanism? No.

Look at the range and variety in the cars that took to the grid in Melbourne in March. That’s what happens when F1 teams get a new rule. They couldn’t even agree on a KERS system, with BMW opting for a flywheel originally.

And that’s before you consider the designs that will appear in junior formula.

They would have to open from every conceivable angle. What would happen in a car with a canopy that opens on one side that side of the car damaged? In a situation when every second is vital you can’t have track workers waiting for the Jaws of Life to free a driver.

OK, and what if it rains.

The curvature that an F1 canopy would need (if we are preserving the level of vision afforded by an open cockpit) would render normal wipers useless, so what happens if it rains.

Well, fans of Touring Cars will be familiar with the chemical solution, often called Rain-ex, that a team will squirt on a windscreen to help the rain run off the screen quickly. But that’s not fool proof. Those cars have a wiper to work with the chemical, and you can’t expect a driver to pit just to have the chemicals applied if an unexpected rain shower appears.

And what about other things that will affect vision. What if a driver is behind a car dropping one of the various vital fluids in F1 cars?

His vision is stuffed.

What happens if a driver goes off and has his front wheels kicking up grass and dirt, not to mention the ever present rubber marbles, onto his screen. Worse still what if a driver is behind a car that goes off, and has the lifting power of four wheels throwing rubbish at him.

Of course, the obvious answer is screen tear-offs. A bigger version of the visor tear-offs we’re all used to seeing dispatched by F1 drivers several times a race. A whole screen tear-off exists in NASCAR, so it is possible, but unless a driver is going to come in everytime his vision is blocked by oil, water, grass or anything else, ruining his race, then having half blind drivers going round is as much a safety risk as the potential for flying debris injuries.

Then there is the fact that having a screen in front of you doesn’t automatically mean you’re safe. Look for footage of Austrailian Touring Car driver Craig Lowndes encountering a loose tyre at Bathurst. Even with a screen and a roof, the deformation is likely to make a closed cockpit F1 car very uncomfortable to say the least.

In the recent NASCAR restrictor plate melees, the cars of Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, all showed considerable deformation, and a whole in Edwards’ case, in their screens after impacts.

Of course the designs of V8 Supercar or NASCAR screens would be a million miles removed from F1 canopies, but the damages suffered in these cases show that a canopy is not the guaranteed fix it seems to be being made out to be.

The problem is that we are in danger of knee-jerking to a safety conclusion, something everyone agrees is bad, on the back of two (fairly) freak accidents.

If Henry Surtees has been three feet (milliseconds) behind where he was last Sunday the tyre would have bounced either harmlessly over his car, of landed on the nose of it, with Surtees, limping back to the pits or pulling off the track with a damaged front wing or front suspension.

If Mass had been six inches to the left of where he was the spring would have missed his helmet, glanced off the engine cover and maybe hit the rear wing, and the worst we’d be speaking of is Massa starting the Grand Prix tenth because of rear wing damage ruling him out of qualifying’s final session.

Of course, we’re not, and what happened happened, but everything should be kept in perspective.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Felipe Massa in Budapest Hospital after "Groundhog Day" accident

Have you ever had one of those moments when something you’ve only just heard about suddenly comes up in a random conversation?

Maybe it’s just me.

But the same thing was only just avoided in the world of motorsport this weekend.

Six days after we lost F2 driver Henry Surtees after he was struck on the head by a loose wheel from a car that had hit the barriers ahead of him, we seem to have frighteningly close to a Groundhog Day like follow up in Formula 1.

In the final minutes of the second part of qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix TV pictures cut away from showing the normal range of angles following drivers through the final corners, and over the finish line, to show a Ferrari embedded in a tyre wall, in an state similar to Heikki Kovalainen’s crash at Barcelona last year.

As marshalls poured over and round the wall to attend to the car, it became apparent that all was not well. One marshall signalled frantically for the medical car as it lapped the track at the end of the session.

Massa wasn’t out of the car.

One ambulance pulled up, then another. TV cameras focused in the normally unimportant scene of a track doctor walking down the pit lane.

No replays were being shown, everything was speculation. Just as motorsport was getting back to normal, fans were thinking the worse again.

Then, facts began to emerge. Massa had been struck on the head by a piece of debris.

Oh no, not again, we can’t do this again.

Track workers scoured the track walking in search lines as if searching for a murder weapon in a field.

Mass was out of the car, the pictures showed him moving. Rubens Barrichello, Massa’s countryman had spoken to him.

The fears abated.

However, Massa is possibly the luckiest man on the planet right now.

Disagree? Take a glance at the top picture on this Finnish website - , which despite my lack of Finnish language skills, at this point may be taken as genuine,

As you can see by the soft tissue (sorry, getting medical) damage the relatively thin visor appears to have afforded very little protection from the suspension spring that has been revealed as the culprit by TV replays.

If that spring had hit him in the centre of that visor, rather than a glancing blow to the side of the helmet, then. Well, I would be writing a totally different article right now.

By latest update, some three-and-a-half-hours after the event, while the official F1 website reports Massa as “safe” there are still some rather worrying words being used in updates. He remains in intensive care in a Budapest hospital, where he will be kept in for observation.

It is expected he will need surgery on the injury, which includes bone damage to the brain, and a serious concussion.

Thus he will not take the green flag tomorrow, while the rest of the his season is unclear, especially with F1 taking a month break before the next round.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Hello, I'm Adrian Sutil* Remember Me?

I am a Force India fan.

OK, correction. I was a Jordan fan, then I was a Midland fan, then I was a Spyker fan.

Now I am a Force India fan.

And as such I have been fenced into a corner over being a fan of the various drivers who have spun through the revolving door or the team over since the Yellow liveried cars shuffled from the last F1 track.

With a majority of the peddling “talent” the team have employed in the interim listening to or watching them race as a supporter has been like cheering on the bad guy in a Batman movie. You know they were not going to win, and even if they did win it wouldn’t be pretty and it just wouldn’t feel “right”.

However, now, the team appears to have two drivers who appear capable of scoring points, in a car that, likewise, appears capable of scoring points.

While Fisichella has the race finishes that put him closest to the point holy grail, having finished ninth at Monaco, it has been Adrian Sutil who has been more deserving of the any points that should fall the team’s way.

Put simply Adrian Sutil is an F1 driving gem, but one that no-one realises the value of, like Jet or something.

But this is nothing new. Cast your mind back to 2007 (yes, yes I know it hurts to think that far back), to the Monaco Grand Prix to example and to a rain marred practice session. And who, I hear you asking rhetorically was fastest in said session. Why, Adrian Sutil.

Whenever the conversation comes up as to who is the finest F1 driver when the wet stuff descends my answer, amid the Schumachers (who believe it’s still 2002) the Sennas (who believe it’s still 1992), the Vettels or Hamiltons, is always Adrian Sutil. I have actually been known to inject myself in the F1-related conversations of total strangers just to get this comment in (which is part of the reason why I am currently banned from at least 7 drinking establishments with a 15 minute drive of where I live) (not that I drink and drive).

On top of that Monaco practice run, I also put before you last year’s Monaco race, before Kimi-gate I, the Chinese GP earlier this year and his qualifying performance in the dry-wet-dry session at the Nurburgring.

Yet, now Sutil has a car worth of the description he is showing the pace to run up front in the dry, as he did in Germany, before Kimi-gate II. There’s only so much you can put down to an ability to drive in the wet and pure, dumb luck.

And so, I ask you, isn’t it time that Adrian Sutil graduated to a team (in all fairness to Force India) fitting of the talent he seems to possess?

He is currently (from what I can fathom) on a year-by-year contract at Force India, meaning he is (presumably) free to move elsewhere should he feel the need.

So, why is nobody seemingly willing to take the man on?

Everyone’s silly season talk has been of whether Fernando Alonso is going to Ferrari to replace either Kimi of Massa (or perhaps both, as Fernie seems to believe himself to be that good), Renault’s line-up, the six mystery seats at the three new teams, and whether Sebastien Loeb can ovoid stationary objects in rallying long enough to get an F1 drive, no-one appears to see Adrian moving from Force India.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Adrian should get a Ferrari drive (although the delicious irony in that career move cannot be underestimated), but surely, after what would be three full years with the minnows of F1 it is time Adrian Sutil got to sit at the top table of F1 (or at least stopped having to eat of a skip, with a fork).

*I'm not really Adrian Sutil, incase you were uncertain.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Today we were reminded of the danger

This is hardly the way I wanted to start off here, but doing anything else would be wrong right now.

If you are a motorsport fan of just about any kind, you should by now have heard about the accident that claimed the life of 18 year old Henry Surtees at Brands Hatch yesterday.

Exactly what happened is not my concern here. There dozens of print stories detailing the accident, and, of course, there are the obligatory videos in Youtube. If you want to watch them you can, but out of common decency I’m not going to post them here.

Motorsport is inherently dangerous. Many may claim that this flirtation with danger and speed is part of the appeal for drivers (alongside glory and money) and fans alike, who keep coming back, to the wheel, to the track and to the TV, week after week.

And while everyone knows of the danger you don’t expect anyone to die anymore.

Perhaps we have come too complacent about safety in motorsport. With the safety advances that have come in over the past few decades, most obviously items like the HANS device, we are all too used to seeing drivers destroy their cars, only to jump out, wave to the crowd and be back next week pushing for the win like nothing ever happened.

There was, no doubt, a time when racing fans constantly had their hearts in their mouths everytime there was an accident such was the level of mortality within the sport. Now crashes are seen as a crucial part of the entertainment value in racing, NASCAR’s constant promotion of “The Big One” ahead of races at Talladega or Daytona, being the primary example.

Of course, just as modern racing has got safer, it has also got more litigious.

In the more dangerous years a death in racing would probably have been greeted with weeks of sombre faces carrying on racing, acknowledging the danger and the mortality of the human race.

However, only hours after the accident, it was reported that an investigation was likely. Now, this may simply be down to “closure” for everyone involved, I fear that it may be equally down to the various parties covering their legal behinds. After all there are a lot of maybes, and what ifs.

What if the Westfield barrier had been at a better designed angle, rather than angled around a tree.

What if the wheel tethers on the car had been stronger, was the design of the car to blame.

Maybe it was just an accidental tragedy. A chain reaction of events that defied the law of averages and fell into place for one event.

Maybe today we were all reminded that motorsport is dangerous.