October 29, 2014

Don't Panic about Ferrari

Much was written about Fiat-Chrysler's plan to spin off Ferrari today.   If mostly care about F1, I say don't worry about the Scuderia,  Williams has been a public company for a while now and it does not seem like much has changed there, except that the team has gotten better.

Ferrari still enjoys a "sweetheart " deal in F1.  You could argue that, as the only team to continuously contest in the series since the beginning 60 years ago, it deserves it.   In any case, Ferrari does not lose money on F1.

It's worth remembering Luca di Montezemolo had a plan to float Ferrari on the Singapore exchange at the turn of the century but FIAT at the time had a more immediate financial needs and the deal never came to pass.

Here is a letter from the new Chairman Sergio Marchionne laying out his case for this move. Judge for yourself.
If the fear is of a Ferrari the could become a ghost brand like Jaguar or Aston Martin,  I think there is no need to panic.   Maybe Fiat-Chrysler will not be Italian anymore but Ferrari will remain so because it would be nothing without that and it's masters seem to recognize that.

How do you ship a racing series across an ocean?

1 comment:

Well, obviously, you stack the cars first.

The US GP in Texas will see the Carrera Supercup boys,  the "A-Team" so to speak of Porsche's one make race series,  come over from Europe.    Their cars neatly packed in pairs minus their enormous rear wings.

Check out those pictures from the Carrera Cup official site

(hat tip Sergio Negroni)

October 28, 2014

American Endurance Racing.


Racing at Watkins Glen in late October, the trees blazing with fall colors, is simply glorious.   Axis of Oversteer  was recently invited to drive in twin 7.5 hour races by the new American Endurance Racing series and it was great!

Photos by Bob Magee

At Team Axis we have all been involved in competition of one kind or another, from SCCA Pro Solo autocross to Time Trial to NASA and PCA Club Racing to Carrera Cup and Ferrari Challenge.
Sprint races are great, we love the 11/10th-ness of it but endurance competition is also an integral part of the tin top experience, the pinnacles of racing with fenders being marathons:  Le Mans, The 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, Daytona, Sebring, Bathurst.

At some point, a true tracktard yearns for that sort of punishment.

CG has raced at the top of the pyramid: the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Bucket list taken care of  but ultimately he found the experience somewhat frustrating, cost/benefit wise.   As you can imagine, calling it expensive would be a wild understatement and the frustration of losing Sebring because of a faulty $10 brake pedal light switch is close to  unbearable.

At the opposite side of the spectrum is what is affectionately know as "crapcan racing" and right here let me get one thing out of the way:  Axis was banned from Lemons.

Apparently they did not appreciate efforts to actually race,  we like to race and, without taking anything away from those who enjoy comedy infused competition, that scene is just not for us.

Here's the rub for the endurance pining tracktards,  there is not much between the lofty heights of Pro/Am racing like Daytona  and the comedy of Lemons.      There are one off races Like 25 hours of Thunderhill and, closer to us, the 12 hour Devil in The Dark and there is Chump Car.

But what if you already take part it, let's say, NASA club racing and you feel the urge to endure? Where could you race your well prepared Honda Challenge or GTS or Spec E30 car for longer than 45 minutes?

This is where American Endurance Racing is hoping to fit in.  

AER was started by group of Chump car refugees who were unsatisfied with the direction of that series.   Their goal is a series with simple rules that can accommodate cars from SCCA, NASA, BMW and Porsche club racing as well as some faster Chump/Lemons cars.

And my goal here is to convince any club racers reading that it's a great idea.

AER invited Axis to race in their "VIP" car at the double 7.5 Hour Enduros at Watkins Glen.  It's the first time anyone has deemed Axis worth inviting to anything,  thank you AER!

So, club racers, what's your most expensive consumable?  I know, the whole car is a consumable but you probably spend enough on tires that the idea of back to back 7 hr races is daunting, right?

AER solves that by mandating 140+ street tires. Most people used Dunlop Direzza or Falken Azenis, I believe most people used the same tire for Friday practice and both of that 7.5 hour races.

But wait, I'm not going to put street tires on my race car, it will not be any fun, you say?

OK, it will be slower of course but not nearly as slow as you think.  If your car stays healthy you will set your fastest times towards the end of the race.   I set what was the fastest lap in one of the two cars I drove,  6 laps from the end of the 7.5 hour race.   Jeff "speedycop" Bloch drove another of the AER "press" SpecE30 to a 2:21.xx lap after pounding a well used set of Direzza for almost 90 minutes.
That's not slow, The lap record for SpecE30 at Watkins Glen, on Toyo RR is a high 2:18!

Street tires will, without a doubt, work your driving chops as will driving 90+ minute stints.  I drove three stints of over 90 minutes over two days and I can tell you I drove almost every one as fast as the car would go, I know I'm a better driver for it.

Josh Hughes busy running strategy 
Another great plus, you don't have to change to rains.  At the Glen where weather changed from freezing rain to bright sunshine a few times during the week end, this was very welcome.

What about pit stops?

The idea is to give those not willing to put a huge fuel cell and expensive filler equipment in their cars a chance so there is a mandated minimum number of stops based on the lengths of the race and each stop/driver change has to take a minimum of 3 minutes, pit in to pit out.

Classing is done based on qualifying times.  Sandbagging will only cause one to be moved up in class.

That's mostly it as far as rules.  At Watkins Glen,  while the field was more Chump car than Club Racers, the classing seems to work quite well with only a couple of adjustments needed.

The AER press cars were mostly BMW SpecE30s.  It would be fair to say that, while perfectly functional,  they were all less than impeccably prepared.  On the second day, Josh Hughes, Travis Okulski, Kyle Aaron and myself finished second in class despite a car that had become so slow, some of the local wildlife could climb the Esses faster.  No matter, we all drove the car as fast as it could possibly go for our full 90 minute plus stints, using practically no brakes around the track and having fun with futile passing attempts like this.

And then there is is that spirit of endurance.  One of the AER cars lost its transmission on the first day of practice, the guys were up until 4 am putting a new one in with the car on jacks.  Heroic and the car went on to a class win thanks in part to one of the top NASA club racers, the very fast Eric Wong.

The race winning car crashed hard on Friday, t-boning the safer barrier at the exit of turn 11 and smashing most of the front end.    I watched as the frame rails were pulled "straight" using a chain and a pick up truck, space for the radiator was made using a large sledge hammer.     The car was somehow buttoned up by Saturday morning and went on to two back to back overall wins thanks in no small part to some truly amazing driving in the rain by Pirelli World Challenge's Mike Skeen.

So, racers, I urge you to take a look,   the event was well run, cost is reasonable,  drivers are good and the atmosphere was super friendly and fun....  I mean, c'mob, someone actually showed up with a whole pig to BBQ!   It was delicious!

The final race of the 2014 season for AER will be at Lime Rock on November 21-22, bring your snow tires.  In 2015 AER will expand with races at Summit Point, New Jersey Motorsport Park, Watkins Glen and more.

October 26, 2014

The day the F1 pyramid scheme crashed: a rant.


F1, a pyramid scheme?  Too harsh?

Maybe a little but in the last few years, the main concern of F1 has been to raise higher and higher revenue for main investors rather than for the sport.  To prop up what has become a gargantuan and bloated system,  it's been a constant adding of new venues in unlikely places and teams of questionable  pedigree.

The Russian GP, it can be argued, was the epitome of where F1 now finds itself: a propaganda exercise for a dubious government on a dull, pointless track in a place, Sochi,  that has as much to do with auto racing as it had to do with the Olympics, coincidentally another grand event less and less people seem to care about anymore.

As it turns out the Russian GP was the venue where you saw a team, Caterham,  stop a car mid-race because they seemingly ran out of money and another, Marussia, only run one car because they really could not afford to run any cars but were in their home country so they had to do something.

Worse, Caterham lied about the reasons why they pulled
Kobayashi's healthy car into the pits and Marussia justified running only one car by saying it had been out of "respect" for Jules Bianchi, injured in the previous race in Japan.   This was a crummy, cynical manipulation by the team who used Bianchi's tragedy to mask their financial issues.  Caterham and Marussia will not race the remaining races this year, Marussia could not even scrape enough money together to run their American reserve driver at the American GP.

But as lousy at this looks, the best you could say it's that it was teams doing what they can to survive in a system that treats smaller teams as the filler they in fact are.   F1 always had crap teams but those small teams once had a chance.  Mclaren, Williams, Brabham, they all broke through because of their ingenuity and innovations.

That is unlikely to happen anymore, rules are more confining and the whole sport is designed to please the big auto manufacturers who now are essential for the survival of the  sport.  Mercedes, by some accounts, spent something like a half a billion dollars to get to where they are now,  dominating the sport.    After a couple of unspectacular years, they had made noises like they might lose interest, as Honda and Toyota before.   Next thing you know, Lewis Hamilton moves from Mclaren with the intervention of Bernie Ecclestone and Mercedes gets  "secret tests".  Now, the Silver Arrows are dominating the sport,   coincidence, I'm sure.    The same will happen with Ferrari soon. and so on.

Of course, as it stands, F1 has to act this way.  The sport needs big manufacturers to spend so that investor revenue expectations can be met.  Meanwhile it squeezes race promoters in ways that make it a huge financial burden for fans to go see races live.    When fans go, they are treated to a less than spectacular show.      Fans wanted to see Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel fight it out, not a battle of two Mercedes drivers with cars anyone on the grid could drive to a podium finish.

Cars may be amazing technical achievements, almost as fast as the V8 but using 30% less fuel, but I guarantee nobody cares about that.    I keep going back to that interview Alonso gave before Canada this year saying how these cars are boring, that you simply cannot push for more than two laps before you have to start saving fuel or tires or charge a battery.    Granted, we all know Fernando, like any racing driver, would not be complaining nearly as much if the Ferrari F14T was a rocket but, is it right to have F1 be about conservation?

Ok, ok, I know, racing was always about managing resources, fuel, tires, brakes. but you felt that choice was in the driver's hands and that a heroic push was always possible.  That's simply not so now.

I have followed F1 since I was a small child, longer than I care to admit at this point.  I could be described as F1's biggest fan, it would not be a huge exaggeration.  Yet, I'm losing interest.   If F1 is losing the likes of me, it's in much bigger trouble than it admits.

/rant, your turn.

October 21, 2014

Yes, LaFerrari is really. really fast

Fabio Mancini/Flickr

From crappy to proper driving:  let's revisit with our favorite LaFerrari driver at Monza.

Fabio Mancini/Flickr
Monza runs a version of the Nürburgring tourist days, a casual track day where you just show up, pay and go.  Before anyone gets all bent out of shape, this is what you are watching, helmets are not required because only street cars are allowed.

Now, that first lap in the video, straight out of pit lane, casually driven  while dodging assorted econoboxes and having to essentially park in a number of places, is still as sub 2 minute lap.

That is incredibly fast.  A Ferrari Challenge EVO on slicks driven by one of the fastest Challenge drivers on the planet will do 1:50 in qualifying.  The LaFerrari, on street legal tires, driven casually in shirtsleeves chatting with a friend in the right seat and going slow in the parts of the lap is less than ten seconds slower?  

That's just sick, Track Day World Championship winner for sure.

October 20, 2014

Battle of the knobs: US vs UK

They both use the "elbow on window" driving technique for better cornering but who prevails,

Left Hand Drive?

or Right Hand Drive?

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