Formula E, Hydrogen, Indycar and much more

Another busy weekend of motorsport across the globe. Rossi stayed upright to beat Marquez at Assen in MotoGP following a last corner coming together in what was otherwise a pretty processional race. Unusual for races this year.

We had a double header of races at Battersea Park for Formula E which not unusually was a procession on what was a joke of a track. Goat track would be a better description. Joe Saward said it reminded him of a 1950's track, but he is wrong. A '50's track would have had the odd straw bale in front of trees, not a concrete wall. I don't know who thought a narrow two lane, bumpy, high crowned road in a park was a suitable venue to showcase their sport, but as I have said before, they did them selves no favors in doing so. It was so bad at the first corner it broke a car's suspension so they narrowed the track to one lane to avoid it, and started under a safety car. So whoever started on pole finished there. They fixed it for the Sunday race, but the anticipated first turn crash did not happen. In fact only two cars hit a wall all weekend. Amazing given the narrowness and tight man-made chicanes. One was a car problem, so we saw one driver error in two hours of racing. These guys are either the best there is or they were not trying. I suspect the latter. Yes we saw a couple of bits of biff and barge, but no one brushed a wall or took anyone out. A procession. And then the winner of the Sunday race is penalized for being able to get to the end with no battery power left. Good driving I would say, but no, he was docked 30 seconds and finished 15th. Go figure. It was fitting that this all took place in the shadow of one of London's main power stations, Battersea Power Station, a landmark. And no it is not solar or wind powered, just like the cars. 

Surprisingly NASCAR showed us the real future of automotive power, hydrogen. For the second time this year Toyota's hydrogen powered car was the pace car for the Sonoma race, and it goes on sale soon. If you wonder where the hydrogen will come from read this from Stanford University.

We saw something else at Sonoma, undersized and un-pinned safety barriers. Not what you would expect from a track owned by one of the major track owners in the world, Speedway Motorsports Inc. 

As surprising as that is we also saw at Watkins Glen, owned by International Speedway Corporation, i.e the France Family, a track with incorrectly built tire walls, concrete patches and apparently "sealer" in places like a patchwork quilt. Add rain and you have an incident packed event red flagged a couple of times. Now the commentator said it was sealer, but I cannot believe that the facility guys for ISC would use it instead of trackbond. Thankfully ISC is going to put their hand in their pocket and repave the track, about time. No excuse for concrete patches in a track with the asphalt technology we have now.

There is a rumor going around that ISC has put their hand up to operate the Laguna Seca Raceway. SCRAMP has run it since it's inception, but it is on County Park land, so they have to bid for the rights periodically. People have tried before without success, SCRAMP being a local charity they have a head start, but things could change. SCRAMP actually only operates it half of the days each year, Skip Barber having the rest for his racing school, and even then SCRAMP is only allowed 5 noisy weekends. I.E, big events like the MotoGP, Historics and the Tudor Sports cars. Gone are the days of 70,000 + crowds, so I have to ask why would ISC want it? Just because SMI has Sonoma? I can't see they want another road race on the calendar, and if they did they already own or operate Road Atlanta and Sebring. Watch this space with interest.

Then we had the Indycar race at Fontana. A great race apparently, but it depends who you ask. Some of the drivers thought it too dangerous, and the saga of the aero kits introduced this year goes on. It would seem they still do not understand them and each race is actually a test session, a dangerous situation. If they don't understand them go back to last year's body until you do. Hire Adrian Newey to sort it out, don't just tinker with it. Then there was the lack of spectators, 3 or 5 thousand depending on who you listen to. Either way not good. Robin Miller, usually an apologist and huckster for Indycar, has some scathing words on this clip from Racer Magazine. 

I went to the first race at Fontana which was an Indycar race in 100 degrees along with a lot of other people, a good crowd. We left half way through, too hot and too boring. So you can get a crowd at Fontana, even in summer. Fontana is not the only speedway not to attract spectators. New Hampshire gave up a couple of years ago, and Texas was not exactly packed. Indy is Indy, but still not the 400,000 of its heyday. Perhaps Indycars on ovals, its roots, does not work anymore. Certainly street tracks draw a crowd, but perhaps not quite as many as Robin thinks at Toronto. Not that many stands there even if he is talking about a three day total. Indycar has a problem, and it is not just the aero or speedways. The product is not pulling the fans. Too many foreigners, one make racing, or a combination of factors? All spectator racing is struggling, look at NASCAR, and let's not mention XFinity or the trucks with no one watching. Tudor Sports Cars has some loyal fans, but not enough. If you look at Le Mans with over 250'000 real attendees you can see what the fans want to watch, even if it is 24 hours, so short races are not the answer either.

Talking of Le Mans and the ACO I, like many people, are at a loss as to their plans for LMP2. I admit when it was introduced I saw it as a poor relation not worthy of my time to watch, but now with the variety of cars and top drivers it is a success. So why strangle it with limited chassis options and one engine supplier? Cost containment is the mantra, but judging by the entry this year at Le Mans no one is crying poor. Here in the US it is our top category with the DPs, not that they get a look in against the DPs, but at least it has the ability to bring interesting cars and technology like the Ligiers. IMSA is phasing out the DPs to go to an all LMP2 class at the top, but what are Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Mazda etc going to do with that? Ford is going to go GT racing that's what. I know IMSA are not going to adhere to the strict Le Mans rules, so what is the point? Time for the ACO to rethink the LMP2 rules.   

WEC 3 Hours of Spa and More Fire

Courtesy of Fox we got to see the 3 Hours of Spa on Saturday. Yes I know it was the 6 Hours of Spa, but Fox don't know that or don't care. The race started at 8:30 am our time, but what did Fox do? They started their air time at 8:30 and of course we had to have the intro, then an ad, then highlights of Silverstone and highlights of qualifying. Nearly ten minutes into the race we finally got to see it! We were listening to Radio le Mans on line commentary of course, and did so for the rest of the race despite John Hindhaugh being on the TV coverage. That is when it was not at an ad, or a promo for MotoGP and Laguna Seca sports cars. Then there was the necessary Fox commentator to let us know we were going to a break, and then talk on and on when they came back about things John was already covering. Either Fox wants to do this properly or don't bother. Keeping track of a 6 or 24 hour race with four classes is hard enough without all the breaks and nonsense. I know someone has to pay to air this, but most of the ads are about other Fox shows that are coming up. How many times do you have to tell us the baseball season has started?

Sorry for the rant. It was a good race, not quite up to the Silverstone edition, but enough, especially with the Audi strategy to win the race with not the fastest car. Toyota strangely off the pace, let's hope they sort that out for Le Mans.

Another crowded weekend of racing with the WEC, NASCAR, MotoGP and Tudor Sports Cars. Lorenzo dominated the race at Jerez, but I'm sure the 122,000 crowd did not care. Amazing place, only one way in and who cares? When I was there with KR's team we went in Sunday at 5 am and waited till midnight to leave, but the atmosphere was worth it. NASCAR also had their best crowd for many a race at Talladega, must all come for the crashes as the racing itself was not great. Laguna Seca by comparison was empty. I'm sure they will say it was a record crowd, but it was a sad sight. Again the racing did not set the world alight, the "key pass of the race"  was Westbrook coming out of the pits! The DP cars still dominate, so what is the future with the LMP2 class going to virtually a spec series? 

We saw once again at Talladega a flash fuel fire during refuelling with cans. They are supposed to be dry break nozzles, but fuel spills every time. This one was thankfully smaller than last week at Richmond, and it was good to see one team with full face helmets and balaclavas. Some other teams had balaclavas with open face helmets, but that still left the face exposed, so what's the point?  

Fuel Cans and Button Up Boots

For the largest motor racing organisation in the US NASCAR remains in the dark ages in some respects. Manual jacks with a guy running around carrying it. 5 stud wheels and big men carrying cans of fuel. We saw last night at Richmond what the inevitable consequence of that last item is, an inferno as the nozzle malfunctioned and fuel ignited, probably on the hot rotor of the rear wheel while the wheel was being changed. I feel for the three injured guys, especially the wheel changer, he must have been inside it. Why have the fuel cap over the rear wheel anyway? 

It does not take a malfunction for this to hapen though. We see at every pit stop fuel sloshing around as the can is withdrawn. What major race series in the world still fills cars from fuel cans? Even Indycar with what I would expect are far less budgets can afford dry break fuel rigs. We are no longer looking at good old boys in their stock cars, this is a highly professional sport run in the main by highly technically competent teams. So why do we still do this type of thing? Culture I expect, like the bumps around Sebring. As I have said before, if we did not change we would still be racing Roman Chariots. But then there would be no risk of fire. 

I commend the fire marshals, on the spot, fast reactions and had the fire out quickly. Well done, and brave too with open face helmets! Again, why would you ask someone to go to that conflagration with his face exposed? 

Mind Games

If I thought the previous weekend was busy then this last one was downright crazy. My wife always tells me sleep is over rated when I chide her for working too long, but having the F1 in China at 2 am Saturday and Sunday, NASCAR with night races Friday and Saturday, Silverstone 6 hour WEC starting at 7 am Sunday and rolling straight into MotoGP from Texas and Indycar from Louisiana made for a long, long weekend. 

Add to that the Masters Golf from Augusta that rounded off the day. Great examples of the mind games that sport is good at demonstrating. We saw Lewis psych out Nico in China, he is really getting into Nico's head. "He's driving very slow" complained Nico of Lewis. Well he should be easy to overtake then. Lewis played a very smart hand with that middle stint. Winning a race by a minute gets you no more points than winning by 3 seconds, winning at the slowest pace as Sir Stirling Moss used to say. It reminded me of the piece in "Days of Thunder" when the Crew Chief sends Tom Cruise out to do a stint and drive as fast as he liked. Of course the tires were shot well before the end of the stint, and when he went out again and ran a set pace the overall time was better. Maybe Lewis had just watched it on the plane.

The safety car with two laps ago seemed a trifle unnecessary, again a reaction to the Bianchi incident? Watching the marshals trying to move it through a gap in the pit wall gave truth to the old saying, "a Chinese fire drill." The car was near the end of the straight in clear view and up against the wall. A yellow flag should have covered it and left there until the end. It probably made no difference to the result, but we won't know will we? 

Jordan Spieth showed incredible mental strength in leading every round of the Masters, setting new records and holding off the challenge of champions like Phil Mickelson. Talent is never enough in either sport. They all have talent or they would not be out there, it is who wants it most and can keep control of his own performance in the heat of battle. You are racing or playing yourself after all.   

We saw plenty of talent and commitment in the Silverstone 6 hours. One of the commentators, one who actually does know racing, not just a talking head, said it was the best sports car race he had ever seen. It would be hard to argue with him. Porsche, Audi and Toyota all with different designs achieved the same ends over a lap with each showing strength in different places. The racing between Jani and Fessler was incredible, swapping the lead two or three times a lap, almost like a MotoGP race. Just wait for Spa and Le Mans. Fox is showing all the WEC rounds live here in the US, although live is a relative term. Half live it should be as were subjected to never ending ads, mostly for what's coming soon on Fox. We had two interruptions while they crossed to Austin to do a promo for the MotoGP!  At least we did not have the obligatory interview with Scott Atherton as we have to have in the Tudor Series, plus the "infomercials." We had to have the repeated "highlight packages" to interrupt a great race. If people can't be bothered to watch more than the last hour then that is their loss.

Nissan brought their cars, but did not race. Is this another publicity stunt like the Delta Wing? They even took them to the Manchester City ground to show off! I'm sorry Nissan, either race or go away. Enough "wacky racers." 

MotoGP threw up some odd racing with the usually close Moto3 seeing a runaway win by the young Englishman Kent. Moto2 was a bit more fought over but after Qatar that was to be expected. What was also to be expected was Marqez running off with the MotoGP, although there was some good racing behind with Rossi and the Ducatis. Not much of a crowd, I'm glad I was not paying for this and hopefully Red Bull did. Need some American riders out there, which we hope MotoAmerica can provide. 

Then we had the Swamp GP from NOLA. God knows what Europeans think when they tune in to watch our premier open wheel racing from a facility like this. Don't get me wrong, it is fine for what it was built for, but you have to be desperate to stage this race there. Michael Andretti's organization promoted this and he was bemoaning the weather on Saturday for the empty seats. I don't think it was the rain Michael. Why you would start qualifying at 5pm in Louisiana I don't know, but it was predictably washed out. The race was not much better, lots of yellows and flooded run offs. One magazine led off with a headline of Snakes, Alligators and Hogs, and they did not mean Harleys. I hope the Louisiana Tourist Board think they got their moneys worth, but downtown New Orleans might have been a better ad for them. 

I missed the WSB from Aragon and the BES from Monza as we do not get them. Just as well or I would have had no sleep at all. 

Quite A Weekend

For lovers of motorsport this last weekend offered us something of everything. F1, NASCAR, Indycar and MotoGP, and the VLN at Nurburgring. Of course we do not get to see the VLN in the US except when there is a bad accident. The Nissan going over a state of the art guard rail and debris fence is not something you see every day thank goodness, but it serves to remind us just how this sport can bite us if we drop our guard. In this instance the spectators climbed the fence designed to keep them back from the debris fence and sat immediately behind it. Had they not then they would not have been injured, sadly fataly for one of them. Rules are there for a reason, and bad things happen when they are not followed. I cringe when I see spectators at NASCAR events right behind the fence. Placing security there to try and keep them back only endangers the security. 

NASCAR was at Martinsville, which looks a lot like a demolition derby. A good show but it is pot luck who escapes with the least amount of damage to win. I talked about Harvick a week or so ago and his domination, but the guy who is really on it this year is Joey Logano. Won Daytona and has been in front every race, and usually in the top five at the end. Won the truck race Saturday, and looks very happy and relaxed out of the cars. So relaxed you wonder how he does it, but put him in the car and he is steely eyed and gives as good as he gets. He and Brad make a serious pair to be reckoned with for the Championship this year. 

Indycar kicked off it's season in St Pete's street track with totally predictable results. As soon as I saw the new for this year aero packages from Honda and Chevy I knew that there was going to pieces of cars laying all over the track. F1 front wings are vulnerable, but these are ridiculous both ends of the car. I know the designer think it is great to add all these little flips and winglets, but surely someone with some common sense in the teams should say that they are not going to last much beyond the first corner. New front wings going on galore and at what cost? Then there is the stream of full course yellows to pick this stuff up, and punctures when they don't. If I was paying to attend this I'd want my money back. Montoya has regained his zest for racing and showed Sunday he will be a driver to reckon with again, great to see. One of the true racers. We were actually seeing some good racing towards the end, but then Power had a brain fade and stuck his winglet laden nose up the inside of Montoya with the inevitable result. Whatever happened to "keep it simple stupid?" Call me old fashioned but look at cars like the Williams FW07. Simple to build, and simpler to fix, and won the Championship. The great McLarens look very plain against today's F1 cars, but it was great racing still, no winglets to puncture tires.

Speaking of that, Raikkonen has had no luck at all in the two races this year. As Barry Sheene used to say, "If he had a duck it would drown." Hit on the first lap in Melbourne and then a wheel problem, and this weekend he qualifies badly due to the team sending him out late in Q2, and then a puncture from a nose hitting his sidewall. He probably had the best drive after that from last to fourth. The Ferrari suits him this year and we are missing out on seeing him having a chance to really show his old form. The early safety car spoiled the race for me, but I'm sure there are plenty who will say it made the race. Would we have seen the safety car if Bianchi had not been so badly injured last year? I doubt it, but it is an understandable reaction. I was surprised to see the snatch tractor come out. Ericsson was only just in the gravel and there were enough marshals running toward it to push it out I thought. Would have let Ericsson continue, but there you are. I was equally surprised to see the Mercedes come in for tires. At that point I knew Vettel had this won. I don't know what the strategists at Mercedes were looking at. Telling Rosberg that he would finish second, but would have to pass Vettel at the end. He could not even see him let alone pass him. Some strange calls, and maybe there was a tire wear issue, but Rosberg went on to mediums for the last stint, which lasted, and Hamilton was put on hards, which baffled him too. No new mediums was the reason apparently. Pundits say Vettel would have won anyway, but he only beat Hamilton by 9 seconds with one less pit stop, which would have cost him 23 seconds. So if Mercedes had waited and also done 2 stops then Lewis would have won by 14 seconds, but is that too simplistic? I guess we will see in China if Ferrari has made that big a gain, and hopefully see Kimi in the mix this time.

Finally we had the best racing in the MotoGP in Qatar. MotoGP provides the best value for money as the show provides three equally exciting and competitive races on the same bill. No Porsche Cups or historic displays here, just full on racing. The MotoGP saw Marquez slip up at the first corner and then fight back to fifth, while four guys swapped places all race for the win, with the decision made on the last run up to the finish. Great stuff, just a pity no one in Qatar wants to go and see it. Marquez made the race for us, but the Ducati's showed they have finally sorted themselves out and can compete at the front. Should be a good year with Rossi still having the fitness and commitment and Lorenzo back in form. Moto2 was a little unusual with a lack of competition at the front, but what it lacked was more than made up by the Moto3 crowd. Yes a crowd, with riders going from first to tenth and back again in the length of a straight. Amazing stuff with riders from 15 years of age to old hands mixing it all race. Can't take your eyes off stuff. I for one did not like to see the 125 and 250cc classes go as it seemed that the replacements were now seen to be subordinate to the top class, instead of being an equal World Championship, but you cannot complain about the racing we now get to see.