September 2, 2015

Braaaap, Braaaap: Grand Prix cars used to sound like this

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I was invited up to Lime Rock ahead of their Historic Festival to have a look at some special Mercedes race cars.  Some of the Silver Arrows come from the Mercedes Classic collection and some from The Revs Institute,  the Miles Collier collection in Naples, Florida.

This one is one of the Revs cars,  a 1939 W154/39 raced by Von Brauchitsch and was rescued after World War 2 in Romania.   You should look it up, it's a fascinating story.

I wish I could convey smell over the internet : Castor Oil, Alcohols, NitroBenzene and Acetone. A wiff and you'll never forget despite all the destroyed brain cells!

3 Liter V12, 48 valves, twin superchargers, 88 Gallon fuel tank, 480 HP, 200 mph+... a beast.

Like all race cars of the era, you don't just get in and turn the key,  the engine block has to be warmed with a special heater, engine has to be fired first with a set of soft plugs when are then changed for the running ones before the actual run.

After the week end the car has to be completely drained and the engine flushed to get rid of the corrosive fuel which would damage the precious magnesium parts.

It's a joy to see cars like this one up close, the quality of the workmanship, the surprise of details like the hydraulically adjustable rear suspension (to compensate for fuel load).

Jochen Mass will be behind the wheel of the W154 this week end at Lime Rock while Sir Stirling Moss will be back behind the wheel of the famous 722 Mille Miglia car.

August 29, 2015

This is the Ferrari 488 GTE that will fight Ford GT at Le Mans.

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First pictures of Ferrari's first turbo race car since the F40 era.

The 488 GTE will challenge the Team Ganassi Ford GT  at Le Mans in 2016,  it should be an epic battle.

Seen here testing at Vallelunga driven by Gimmi Bruni and Davide Rigon, the 488 will be built both in GTE spec (cost 630,000 Euros) and in GT3 trim.

Both models are expected to debut at the 2016 Rolex Daytona 24  next January.

(via Autosprint)

August 28, 2015

Speed limits for track days is a terrible idea

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Recently Road & Track published an article suggesting speed limits be imposed at Track Days and "Driving Schools".   It got a quite a bit of play and discussion but,

It's a terrible idea.

The proposal is a 90 mph limit for beginners and 100 mph for experienced drivers.
It should be fairly obvious speed limits on a race track situation are unenforceable.   Speed gun every car and pull over all offenders?  Install GPS devices into every car to be individually checked after each session?  How?

The reason given for this is that today's cars are so capable that they are much faster than race cars of the past, minus the safety gear.

That is indeed true for speed and handling, yet a modern 2015 road car with 27 airbags and assorted safety feature might protect the occupant better than a 30 year old home built race car.
Given how track days are run by hundreds of different organizations, arbitrary speed limits will just drive clients to the "no speed limit" companies.

In all my years on track I have seen quite a number of crashes but I can can only think of one that happened on a straight and that was because of rain.   Most happened at speeds under 90 mph.
Heck, I've seen a bunch of cars totaled on parking lots while dodging cones at 60 mph!

Controlling a student is the job of the instructor and it is the job of the organizing entity to put him in a condition to do so.

Want to improve safety?

Don't cram sessions so that instructors have more time with their students before and after sessions.
Vet your instructors more carefully,  let's be honest, many are there just for the free track time and some for the ego trip.  Really great instructors are rare.

Want to slow cars down?

Build temporary chicanes with cones for beginner students.  Industry events for motoring journalists do versions of this.  It will not be popular but that's the proper way to limit approach speeds to corners.

Don't allow slicks and r-comps for beginners.

Organize skid pad sessions!

The article cites the death of several instructors  but it's worth noting that none of those deaths were caused by excessive speed as much as by borderline criminal negligence of circuit owners and organizers:

The death of the instructor in Florida at the now defunct Disney Raceway  can be blamed on the jackass who decided it would be ok to run the track backwards.

The death at Summit Point Raceway's Jefferson occurred on a low speed "fun drive" event and highlighted the need for tracks to get their act together when it comes to safety, trees should be nowhere a car could even remotely hit them.    Summit Point,  fun track that it is, has had safety standards straight from the 1960s.

It's up to the consumer to understand the safety level of some of these tracks:  you could drive 150 mph all day at COTA and be safe, you could get in big trouble at 60 mph elsewhere.    Organizations have to demand higher standards from tracks.

Of course on the opposite end is economics: it's a fact many tracks are struggling financially, new tracks are being built in the Country Club model, not open to the public.

Insurance premiums have gone up  at least 35% this past year, yet reputable organizers have no way of proving their events are any more or less safe than Sideswipe Bob's Open Track Mayhem Circus.

There is no sanctioning body in the US that can  grade procedures and quantify risks for each event.  

Two ways to go here:  in the UK,  our friends at Destination Nurburgring, tell us how they must submit to their insurers detailed descriptions and risk assessments for each event.  A lot of paperwork  but help comes via the Motor Sport Association, a national organization regulating motorsport activities, it furnishes certifications to underwriters.  By providing standards, the MSA helps both organizers and insurers.

The opposite would be Italy where tracks have their own coverage and they don’t ask organizers be insured. The person we spoke with said that in any case, coverage for these activities is so sketchy there, that chances of a company paying out are almost nil.

You are essentially on your own.

Take you pick but arbitrary speed limits are definitively not the right solution.

August 25, 2015

That day when Justin Wilson was faster than Schumacher.

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At six foot four,  Justin Wilson was not supposed to fit in a Formula One car.

In 2003, Paul Stoddard's Minardi built a car to fit him but when he changed teams towards the end of that season he had to fit in a Jaguar  originally built around Antonio Pizzonia's, a much shorter man.

How the team squeezed him in there and how he managed to race at all is a testament to his tenacity.

In 2003 F1 had a weird qualifying system with  single lap sessions on Friday and Saturday.
Friday session was essentially meaningless for the race because it was run on low fuel but it was the fastest of the two,  an all out single lap.

That day, in that session, on his debut for the team, Wilson outpaced Schumi.

It must have felt good.

August 23, 2015

Hamilton wins Mercedes class, Ferrari's gamble doesn't pay off.

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The 2015 Belgian GP would have been a great race without the two Mercedes  but there is no rule against dominating is there?

Lewis Hamilton proved once again he is the fastest Mercedes driver after the only other car in the same class botched the start.

As we've see in past races, the only chance anyone else on the grid has is to pass the Mercs on that first lap. Sergio Perez almost pulled it off but perhaps he was a bit too "honest" at Raidillon: where Hamilton put all four wheels off outside the white lines, straitening out the turn, Perez stayed within the limits losing out that little extra that allowed Lewis to stay ahead at the end of Kemmel.

You can't blame Hamilton for taking that line, the FIA has decided on selective track limits enforcement and most of the field abused the curbs there.

After that first half-lap the race for the win was all done.  Rosberg never really had anything for his teammate who further humiliated the German on the podium telling the world how he "allowed him" to get as close as he did... Ouch.

The other big story was Ferrari's one stop gamble. Vettel said Ferrari had gotten assurances from Pirelli the prime tire would last way longer than the 28 laps it did before exploding. Pirelli shot back they meant it's possible but not recommended.

Certainly two right rear failures at high speed on two different cars on tires that were far from chorded is odd though it's hard to believe the much abused curbing at Raidillon was not a factor: just before the failure, Vettel hit it very hard with attempting to keep Grosjean's Renault behind on the final lap.  
Ferrari has not been happy with Pirelli all year,  keep an eye on this story.

That said, glad to see the Scuderia go for it rather than accept a 4th place. Still, even if the strategy had payed off, Vettel was almost 40 seconds adrift of the Mercedes.
A hard wake up call for Maranello after the win in  Hungary.

If Lotus, Red Bull and Force India were the surprises at Spa, Williams has to be the biggest loser: It was supposed to be one of their track but the best they could do was a fortuitous P6 with Massa after the incredible mistake of mounting three options and one prime on Bottas'first stop.

The chances of Mercedes not winning in Monza in two weeks is essentially nil. We'll still watch but stick a fork into this championship, it's done.

1 - Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes W06) - 43 laps in 1.23’40”387
2 - Nico Rosberg (Mercedes W06) - 2"058
3 - Romain Grosjean (Lotus E23-Mercedes) - 37"988
4 - Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull RB11-Renault) - 45"692
5 - Sergio Perez (Force India VJM07-Mercedes) - 53"997
6 - Felipe Massa (Williams FW37-Mercedes) - 55"283
7 - Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari SF15-T) - 55"703
8 - Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso STR10-Renault) - 56"076
9 - Valtteri Bottas (Williams FW37-Mercedes) - 1'01"040
10 - Marcus Ericsson (Sauber C34-Ferrari) - 1'31"234
11 - Felipe Nasr (Sauber C34-Ferrari) - 1'42"311
12 - Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari SF15-T) - 1 lap
13 - Fernando Alonso (McLaren MP4/30-Honda) - 1 lap
14 - Jenson Button (McLaren MP4/30-Honda) - 1 lap
15 - Roberto Merhi (Manor 04-Ferrari) - 1 lap
16 - Will Stevens (Manor 04-Ferrari) - 1 lap


Carlos Sainz
Daniel Ricciardo
Pastor Maldonado
Nico Hulkenberg

August 22, 2015

Spa chewed up and spit out a few people on Saturday.

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De Jong was a lucky boy to escape without major injuries

On Saturday, Spa did its best to disprove those who think Motorsport has become too safe.

Fortunately for those involved,  fate and modern safety standards won out and none of the drivers involved suffered serious injuries in what, not that many years ago, would have been fatal crashes.

You could successfully argue that in more dangerous times nobody would have been crazy enough to try an outside pass into Blanchimont as Daniel De Jong did.  Given the choice however, I'll take the modern safety standards and the crazy drivers any day.

GP3  saw Jann Mardenborough spit out by Raidillon after losing it on the climb up from Eau Rouge.

It's the second huge crash for the Playstation GT Academy graduate this year,  the other being the tragic flip at the Nürburgring in the Nissan GTR.

Porsche Supercup was not immune.  Here, Michael Ammermueller inexplicably understeered off the track, again at Blanchimont, destroying his 991 GT3 Cup.

It wasn't just the drivers, circuit organizers had the bright idea to put ridged curbs on the outside of Raidillon.  The intent was to punish those who exceeded track limits but I'm pretty sure they miscalculated...

Sanity prevailed and those rumble strips have been removed.

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