Monday, December 10, 2018

No Substitute

(A/N: Written on Friday, December 6th, 2018)
Yesterday I found heaven. No, that’s not the jet lag talking. 
When I found out a few weeks ago that I was going to be invited to the Porsche Night of Champions by Porsche Motorsport North America, my heart leapt. It’s impossible to deny that Porsche is a brand very close to my heart. Those of you who know me know that I learned to drive in a Porsche. Driving in England and Australia felt normal for some strange reason, because I learned to shift from the passenger seat, using my left hand. On the way to pre-school, my dad would have me shift our Turbo, a car he got as a Champion driver. He would push in the clutch and I would have to listen to the revs to know when was the appropriate time to move the gear lever from 3rdto 4th, or reach as far away as possible to go from 3rdto 2nd
 I used to play in the Champion showroom when Dad was drinking coffee with Dave Maraj.  I’d be picking out a Porsche to be my first (dream) car, and Paul Householder would always pass me his business card, telling me to call him when I turned 16, that he would set me up. (For the record, my first car was a Toyota Celica. Great car, not a Porsche). 
Another frequent hang out spot was Formula 1 Motors in Miami, where Jaime Galceran would try to shift my bias towards Ferrari by letting me drive a go-kart adorned with Maranello stickers around his shop. I’d do hours of lapping around Maseratis, Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, and all sorts of exotics, but I only ever wanted to sit in and start the Porsches. And in fairness, I never wanted to get out of the kart. It was only when the brakes would get a bit hot and I’d have trouble not running into people walking by that my dad would suggest we take our leave.
I cheered as an 8 year-old when a Porsche won Le Mans, although I didn’t really understand what it meant. I just knew that my brand had won. As in any sport, my dad passed on who I should cheer for: The Oakland Raiders in the NFL, the Kiwis in America’s Cup yacht racing, Canada for every Olympic sport. In CART, Alex Zanardi was the man. IndyCar was always Dario, but let’s hope for a 1-2 finish with his teammate, Scott Dixon. Common pattern there? They all are a part of the Ganassi family, and Dad gets on really well with Chip! NASCAR, which we rarely watched, would always be best if Dale jr. won. Dad really respects him after he had that bad crash at Infineon and said it was driver error. Few drivers of his caliber would choose to not blame something else. Our sportscar allegiances were simple. Porsche, as a brand, is always a celebratory win. I always rooted for the good guys, and Dad would rave about Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister, Sascha Maasen and Timo Bernhard. When Audi rolled around in the big leagues with some familiar faces and good friends, they became staple favorites too. We always loved Risi Competizione, the little guys fighting against the factories. Bobby Rahal is a man that Dad respects beyond words, so when his team would win, it was worth a round of applause. Gary and Robin Pratt are dear family friends (they were at my parents’ small wedding 31 years ago) so when Corvette Racing took a W, it was like the family had won! Basically what I’m saying is I have reason to celebrate and be happy when every single one of our modern GTLM teams in the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship wins a race!
I was raised with many biases, but the only racecar I wanted a street car version of was a Porsche. We always had one in the garage, thanks to Champion, and so that musical exhaust was only a short walk away. Not that I would be allowed to take the car for a drive, but I was permitted to reverse it out of the garage for a bath!
Flash forward to two days ago, getting a boarding pass with the destination as “Stuttgart”. I could hardly contain my girlish enthusiasm! When we descended through the fog, the German countryside appeared. It was very similar to France, but very different. There’s something about the highways even that exude organization, control, order. It’s beautiful in its own way.
Yesterday morning, we checked into our hotel. It was described to me as “boutique” although it’s hardly a bed and breakfast by American standards. Every other floor of the Abacco is dedicated to one of the two major manufacturers whose base is located in Stuttart. My room is Mercedes Benz themed! There’s a picture across from my twin bed of a beautiful old 190SL from 1955.
In the lobby, there’s a quote from Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany in 1916, about how the horse will outlast the temporary automobile. The quote is inscribed in both German and English.
After a quick work out to get the endorphins going and to help stave off any travel exhaustion, it was time to go to the Holy Place. Having worshiped at the altar of Porsche for so many years, the idea of going to the Museum was like Christmas, birthday, Hanukkah, every holiday that gives you a present, wrapped into one.
Dave Engelman, who is my partner in staying out of crime this week, knows the Museum. He goes about 3 times a year, and as he pointed out, it’s always different. The cars on display are all fully functional. They all run, and are constantly being repositioned to different areas of the world. The total collection of cars is upwards of 300, but the museum might only have 100 or so actually in house at a time. Dan Gurney’s F1 Porsche, for example, is out traveling the world now but is usually housed next to his F2 car, which is present.
When you drive down the main road towards the museum, first you pass by an old brick building. It’s still in use today, the home of Dr. Porsche’s office and the PR department, amongst other things. Overhead is a bridge, where cars come off the line and go across the street (literally) to the painting area of the factory. As it has grown, the factory has taken more and more city blocks and, in typical Porsche fashion, not an inch of space is wasted. Who wants to wait for traffic to slow so they can move new cars? Not Porsche. Everything is contained and indoors, so the cars stay out of the weather until they’re complete.
Straight ahead is a monument built several years prior for Goodwood. It looks a bit like an Olympic torch, with three large white prongs, a Porsche several stories high in the air on the end of each. This is located at the center of a roundabout, with a large dealership on the right, the factory to the left, and the Museum straight ahead. The architecture itself of the Museum is worthy of praise. It’s futuristic and modern. If an alien saw it from the sky, it might land on top, thinking that this would be a technologically advanced center of learning. Of note, just up the street from the Museum and behind the dealership is the new manufacturing area where the electric cars will be built, so again Porsche is expanding and advancing while staying close to its roots.

Parking underground and coming into the atrium entrance is a less overwhelming sensation than walking through the main doors and below a giant reflective square, but turning directly around and seeing through the glass into the garage area makes up for that entirely. There are lifts adjacent to the window, and on them included an IndyCar and a 356 from Japan. The 356’s story is quite impressive too, as it’s not actually a part of the collection. A private owner decided that the car should be in the Museum for Porsche’s 70thbut he didn’t want to ship it. The only part of the journey that involved the car on a ship was the ferry ride to terrestrial Asia, and then the owner himself drove (yes you read that correctly) to Stuttgart! Frank, the Archivist who gave Dave and myself a tour of that, on which more to come later, said that the Museum staff was tracking his journey via Facebook. The owner was posting updates on his location. One day they went for a coffee in town and saw this beautiful 356 parked at the shop! When the owner came out and saw men wearing Porsche logo shirts looking at his car, he was surprised, but not as surprised as they were to see him! In broken language, (the Japanese owner spoke a little English) they joked at how fast he must have driven from the last known location to get here, and he smiled sheepishly. That’s a lot of miles to put on an older car, but since they were driven in a Porsche, they would be memorable.

Also in this garage where they repair and maintain was a stunning 917 in the full Gulf livery, a GT1 street car (20 were built and the Museum has 3), and a car that hit closer to home. There, sitting on a repair lift, was an early 1990s Turbo in almost the same color as the one Dad taught me to shift. Yup, I thought, today I’m home.
After a delicious lunch, (who’d have thought a spinach burger would make for a great vegetarian burger? Hey Bubba Burgers, get on this please!) it was time to buy our tickets and venture up the escalator to the clouds. If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll understand the reference to the Escalator to NoWhere, and that’s a bit what this felt like. If you’re not, picture an escalator that, when you look from the bottom to see where you’ll step off, there’s no end. You still can’t see a finishing point when you’re about half way up, which by the way is almost 2 stories. It isn’t until you’re about 10 feet away from it that you’re able to see it has an end. If ever I was put in charge of naming it, the escalator would be called a Rainbow, because there’s a pot of gold at the end!
Number 1 is there. The first Porsche, the original creation from 1938. Still a very shiny silver, with a red leather interior that bears the signs of the times. It has been slightly refurbished, especially since it was accidentally dropped out of an airplane, but the car is the start. That sets you up nicely for what becomes a spiral of classics. From number one, you make a hard left turn and walk in a counter-clockwise pattern, following the ages. There are machines built by Porsche before the company. Cars from the Great War are there, bulbous shapes and design ideas play out through different models, showing evolution pre-and post the Second World War.
There’s a beast that looks like a Formula One car, but pre-dates the creation of that series. Of course, there’s an old Volkswagen. It shifts as you continue round the corner to when the coupes first became roadsters, and the roofs became cloth. America’s influence on the Porsche market is displayed with Americana music and videos of people driving with the tops down along beaches.
As you round the room, there’s simply too much to describe in terms of the old streetcar glory. But it’s not all streetcars! The Porsche 597, a light military vehicle that was amphibious, sits next to a tractor!   There are glimpses of what could have been as well.
Ahead of the tractor sit two versions of what could have been, a longer looking 911 with 4 proper seats. The route they went with (thankfully) can fit two small children in the rear while this one could have fit teenagers. It looks a bit alien though, like the car was stretched in a panoramic picture.
Then start the racecars. 907, 908s, a 16 cylinder 917. A 908 LH sits ahead of the Pink Pig and alongside the Martini 917 LH. There’s a Gulf 917, then the Rothmans 962 suspended upside down from the roof.  A 935. A Camel GT Carrera RSR 3.0 in bright orange. A piece by piece display of a 12 cylinder engine. Too many cars with too much history to name them all. You walk back around a corner to a place of slight respite, a place to catch your breath and let all that you’ve just drawn in catch up with you. But no! Ahead is one of Kussmaul’s Dakar beasts, staring out the window. There are seats, incase you need a moment to give your weak knees a chance to gain some strength back. But you won’t want to be seated for long.
A modest trophy display is ahead on the right.
Victory mementos from Petit Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona, Nurburgring, Championships from SuperCup, ALMS, WEC. Too many trophies to read all their inscriptions, even if you spent a full day. Of course, one large on stands out. How could you miss the Le Mans prize? It sits proudly in the center, glistening amongst some of the other great accomplishments. This is by no means a complete collection. Even the Porsche Museum doesn’t have room enough for all the trophies they’ve earned.
Continuing along comes some of the more modern classics. Cup cars from the 944 to the 997.  The “Cars” car is there too, of course, and Sally is smiling at those who stop to capture her essence. Why wouldn’t she be smiling? She’s parked ahead of the GT1 street car and across from the GT1 Petit Le Mans winner. It’s a rare treat to see the racecar so close to the streetcar version too, and to be able to glance back and forth to the one you could drive on the street and the one you’d be arrested for thinking about driving on the street. 
The 2008 American Le Mans Series champion LMP2 Penske car sits proudly in front of a display where Patrick Long leads a field into turn 1, and a picture of Romain Dumas. I remember going to the St. Pete Grand Prix with Dad that year, walking into the Penske trailer, and meeting both of
them. It was a slightly surreal experience to see them represented next to the car when they’re so intertwined in my memory. I remember cheering for that car, and cheering for the Audi R10, feeling so perplexed as to who I’d want to actually win. Split loyalties, you see.

One more corner to round and this is where the truly “modern” technology begins. On spinning platforms sit the first Porsche hybrid, recently found in a barn. It was a stagecoach effectively, using fuel to power a battery pack. It has Porsche’s name inscribed on it, so they attribute this old wooden mover (still with metallic suspension, mind you) to the first hybrid. There’s a Cayenne with clear panels to show you how the hybrid system functions through the entire car. There’s a Boxter that actually was the first fully electric Porsche.  And there’s the 919 LH, the car that went faster around the Nurburgring than anything before, with a picture of Timo close by of course! 
Up the stairs to the final section is the newest addition to the family, the Taycan. Now let me just say this: I’m a huge fan of Tesla. Driving the Model S Roadster in 2013 was wickedly fun. I still say it’s one of the best cars I’ve ever driven because I felt so engaged with it the whole time. But the Taycan is by far the most beautiful electric car I’ve seen. With the headlights not illuminated, it doesn’t have that distinctive Porsche look, but I’ve been promised it’s up to snuff when they are. I really, really can’t wait to drive one.
Also worth mentioning are the original Boxter, which looks petite and simplistic next to today’s iteration, but I’m a fan of the creature comforts, and the 1 millionth Porsche 911 to roll off the line. It is in a rare deep green, the favorite color of Dr. Porsche.  Pretty staggering to think that there have been one million plus of those stunning cars to come out of the factory, and they all call back to the same design. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, and nothing about the 911 body-shape is wrong, in my opinion.
The Archive tour came next, and let’s just say that Porsche’s Museum has everything. From hand written cards detailing the earliest cars, their model numbers, interior and exterior colors, extras, tires, and when the warranty runs out, to smaller wind tunnel models of race cars designed well before the bigger versions were built, the Archives house pretty much everything you’d ever want to know. Hand written journals from the two Porsches who steered (pun fully intended) the company in its early days are nearly illegible yet they’ve been digitized. They’ve got pictures from every track, almost every event, every car. It’s not too well known that at one point Porsche built snow sleds, and the Archives house two of them. There’s a wall in the public section with boxes containing press releases about certain Porsche drivers, with one box labeled Bell-Belloc, and yes there was a folder for Adam, B.
Every racing book printed involving Porsche is in a library, with every edition from certain magazines bound into leatherback books. There’s instruction manuals from every car, racing posters from every event, helmets from drivers, Ferdinand Porsche’s death mask. It’s a historian nerd’s dream and I ate it all up!
The last stop of the day, of course had to be the gift shop, and yes, I indulged. My dream car has long been a GT3 RS. I first drove one in November 2008, and have wanted one ever since. My favorite color (and not just for a car) is Miami Blue, yes helped by the name.
Yesterday, I bought my first Porsche. It won’t be my last. It’s a 2018 GT3 RS in Miami Blue. It may be 1:18 scale, but it’s mine. I finally own my own Porsche. Belinda Carlisle got it right: Heaven is a place on Earth, and it’s located in Stuttgart. 


The LH is too long for a single picture.

IMSA proudly represented

This picture was not inverted!

944 Cup Car, just needs a Rothman's livery to be perfect!

Quite a successful PLM livery

Hiya Sally!

How you know you're in the right place

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Historian's Point of View

Those who fail to study history are bound to repeat it.

I suppose Corvette Racing doesn’t spend much time in retroflection then.

Since 2012, Corvette Racing drivers have won the ALMS GT or IMSA GTLM championship 3 times. In 2012 and 2016, their drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin took the honors for the 4 car, and in 2013 it was Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen in the number 3 who got the job done.
Last year, I joked with Tommy Milner before the first race that they were bound to win the championship. You see, there was a pattern I noticed. In 2011, Milner won the GT Class of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, then claimed the championship in 2012. In 2015, Milner, along side Gavin and Jordan Taylor, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. History was bound to repeat. And it did. Gavin and Milner had a dream season, with an incredible average finish of 3.27 during the 11-round championship. They bettered their average finish of 3.8 from 2012, when they won their first championship as a duo.

Not to be outdone by their teammates, in 2013 Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia stepped up to the plate. They beat the average finish set by the 4, establishing a 3.6 over 10 races.

2012 at Road Atlanta
So in 2012, the 4 won the championship. 2013 was the 3. 2016 was the 4 again. If history repeats, it should be the 3 in 2017, right? How about some numbers to really drive this home, and give you eerie back-of-the-neck-hair-raising stats?

In 2012, the 3 car finished 3rd in the championship with an average finish of 4.7, no wins but 5 podiums. In 2016, the 3 car finished 3rd in the championship with an average finish of 4.55, one win (VIR) and 5 podiums. They finished 2nd in the first race of the season (’12 Sebring ’16 Daytona), 2nd at Lime Rock and 6th at Road America both years.

In 2012, the 4 car won the championship by attaining 4 wins (Long Beach, Laguna Sega, Mid-Ohio, and VIR) and 7 podiums with no DNFs. In 2016, the 4 car again placed first in the championship with 4 wins (Daytona, Sebring, Lime Rock, and Road America) and 7 podiums, with one DNF (VIR). The drivers stood on the podium for all 3 of the first rounds of the championship both years as well.

2016 Champion, covered with the dirt from a 3rd place finish at Petit Le Mans.
Starting to see a pattern?

Now for the 3 car up-shift. In 2013, that car earned end of season honors with 3 wins (Laguna Seca, Baltimore, and CotA) , 6 podiums and one DNF (Sebring). That same year, the 4 finished 3rd in points, 2 wins (Sebring and Mosport), 4 podium visits and 1 DNF (CotA).

This year, the 3 has been mirroring 2013. They lead the points, 3 wins to date (Sebring, CotA, and VIR) with 4 podiums. Thus, if we are to match the numbers, the 3 will be on the podium for both of the final rounds of the 2017 season. The average finish for the 3 is, quite incredibly, 3.

Jordan Taylor in the pits at Le Mans 2017, driving the car that bears the number 3 in IMSA.

For the 4 crew, this hasn’t been the mirror of the 2013 season. Whereas they finished 3rd in points that year, it’d take a small miracle for that to happen in 2017. Their average finish is 6.56, with 1 win (Long Beach) and that was also their only trip to the podium this year. They’ve had 2 DNFs, as opposed to the 3’s flawless record.
Another bit of potential foreshadowing: in 2013, Dirk Mueller finished 2nd in GT points. He could very well, alongside Joey Hand, finish 2nd in points again this year.

So what does all this mean? Well, honestly nothing. Logic has no place in racing, and if you followed along with my IHG Podium Predictor 0 of 8 score, should rarely does.

Our 2014 champion in GT was Kuno Wittmer with SRT, a factory program introduced mid way through the 2012 championship. While we didn’t have a program start up half way through this season, I might just look a bit closer at Risi for next year, who only ran a half-season this year.  Then maybe another Porsche champion in 2019 to mirror the result of 2015 champion Patrick Pilet, and then money’s on the 4 to start this whole crazy cycle up again in 2020.

The numbers all add up for me. Maybe I’m just crazy.

But I do study history.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Grid Girls

Right now, there’s a division sweeping through the world.  People standing on both sides of the line think that they are right and that the other side is either crazy or stupid. Befalling the leaders is great stress; how to we please both sides? It simply isn’t possible! But a decision has been made, action has been taken, and naturally half of the feedback is negative. What am I talking about? The controversy surrounding Grid Girls, of course.
Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, girls were placed on the grid of a race. Cast your minds back to a time when most of us weren’t born.  A man had a dilemma. With so many beautiful cars on the grid, how do you make your car stand out? Then, he saw a pretty young girl and decided that was his solution, that racing as a whole would benefit by having her stand next to a beautiful car before the race started. This, he decided, would greatly benefit his team, because surely people would come over to appreciate the girl. Okay, okay, so I’ve completely fabricated this happening but that’s the way I imagine it having occurred in my fiction writing brain. Hopefully, that gave you, reader, a laugh at the very least. If not, sorry for wasting that last paragraph of your time.
In all seriousness though, I can speak about grid girls because I was one. Yes, you read that correctly. Before I decided to take racing seriously, I was simply a young woman who was enjoying a weekend at the track with her dad. Corvette Racing took pity on my dad, who was going crazy with me wandering around and bothering more people than helping. The year is 2011, the track was Mid-Ohio, and I had chosen to be at a race-track instead of walking across a stage to get my diploma from FSU (They mailed it anyway so who really cared?). Corvette Racing had me doing various jobs for them, including standing with the drivers during the autograph session to roll up posters, taking VIPs around and showing them how the hot pits work, and other various tasks. My big moment came when someone unraveled the American flag and asked if I wanted to hold it in front of the #3 car. I jumped at the opportunity, as all 18-year-old racing fans would.
One of the 2 Falken girls on the grid that day.
The ESM girl, standing to my left.
When I got to grid, I realized my mistake. Tommy Milner had not done me a favor by qualifying 8th that week. In the 7th position was the #01 of Extreme Speed Motorsports with their grid beauty. This woman was dressed in a skin-tight black outfit, adorned with a green checkered pattern down the side and, ahem, busty features that weren’t well hidden. In 9th, on the other side of me, was the #17 of Team Falken Tire. Anyone who has been to either an ALMS or TUSC race knows Team Falken Tire and their girls. These two ladies had white boots that came up to just below their knees, very short shorts, and tops that were like bands, covering the essentials. I remember so very clearly what the other ladies were wearing because what I had on did not even vaguely resemble what they did. Thanks to my need to be in the pits, I was in a firesuit. In keeping with tradition, it was not my personal firesuit and instead was about 5 sizes too large. I did have my Corvette Racing t-shirt on, but it covered everything. And let me just add here that the girls on either side of me were very fit and in excellent shape while I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in about 2 years. Not a good combination.
I was extremely self-conscious during the 20-minute period of being on the grid. On either side, photographers and fans alike were stopping to admire both the Ferrari and Porsche and, most notably, the women in front of those cars. Now, I was in front of a Corvette…in Ohio…and, by the way, the very Corvette that had just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans a month and a bit previously. Yet, most of the people walking by elected to either not take a picture of the car or else ask me to move a tiny bit as to cover only the front left headlight. One man could clearly see how embarrassed I was to be there and asked if I could take a picture with his son, holding the giant American flag in front of the Corvette.  I felt so proud to do this. We smiled and the little boy said thank you, before I saw them run over to the Falken girls and make the same request. Pride gone.
Proud American girl in front of an
American car, holding an American
My self-respect did come back, though, as the session wound down. A man came over to me with his two young daughters. He extended his right hand and said, “I just wanted to thank you for choosing to not be half naked on the grid. It sends a good message to my girls.” I nodded, not knowing what to say, and shook his hand. I think I told them to enjoy the race but honestly, I was so taken aback that I can’t remember my exact words. That one moment made the whole grid experience worthwhile. It no longer mattered that people didn’t want to take my picture because I was fully dressed and not as pretty as the girls on either side. I was content with the idea that maybe, unintentionally, I had made a little difference.
But all of that went away quickly as the race started. I pushed the entire experience to the back of my mind and enjoyed what was one of the best and by far the wettest ALMS races I had seen at the time.
It wasn’t until I decided to forge a career in the motorsports world that I realized how the use of grid girls could effect how people view women in the paddock. A pretty young girl, I’m sorry to say, was viewed as a potential grid girl, a driver’s girlfriend, or a temporary feature.
During my early ALMS days, working in the tv compound, I would take my lunch break to walk through the paddock. Some of the drivers remembered me from having met the year before with Dad.  As I spent more and more time with Marion of Marion’s Hospitality, enjoying our wonderful lunch chats, some people discovered my ambitions and started treating me like someone who was going to be around for a while. It is a hard thing, to be taken seriously in the paddock. It is even more difficult as a young woman to try and show that you belong when every other girl your age in the paddock isn’t trying to make a long-term career. Stereotypes were set and I had to prove that I wasn’t one.
After my first Le Mans, the attitude changed. A lot of people realized then that I wasn’t just a pretty face wandering aimlessly through the paddock, looking for either a driver to shack up with or a job with a team. I had to prove myself on an international stage before people would stop thinking of me as another girl to come and go from the series.
 All people have to earn respect in their work environment, no matter what field of work they are in. But as someone who had to prove she wasn’t just there to be an oogled at object, I can say that mine was an uphill battle.  And that battle persists. There are still people who argue that I have my job because of my looks. Well, people, I can guarantee that isn’t true. Aside from my bosses having said it over and over again, you don’t see us on the radio!

The saddest part is that my story is not unique. Every woman in the paddock has to prove that she belongs and isn’t just there. Whether she is working in PR, running a team, driving, engineering, or doing any number of jobs around, a woman in the paddock has to earn the respect of her peers and prove that she belongs. I hope that without the Grid Girls around, half naked and persisting the stereotypical role of women as lookers not workers, all of our struggles to be taken seriously just got a little easier.

Photo credit to Timea Flak

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

7 Hours of Sebring

12 7 Hours of Sebring

ALMS memorabilia: now a collectable. 

ESM's security system

"We're like an old married couple!" -Pat Long

Traffic jam

To discuss every detail about the 62nd running of the 12 Hours of Sebring would take more time than fans saw of actual green flag racing.  Needless to say, it was not a great race. Sure, there were some great moments when the cars were circulating at pace - when they ran at pace. Which could almost be transformed into a question: when did the cars run at pace? The first six hours after the green flag fell on Saturday morning felt like a bad trip to the dentist’s office. The last 20 minutes provided excellent driving, in more than one class. The trouble was with what happened in that period in between 10:15am and roughly 9:50pm.
A rare sight during the weekend: a green flag!
There were a couple of big points that stood out during the course of the race. The first was the broadcast.  Everyone has butchered a name or two in their broadcasting careers. It’s learning from that experience that shows how dedicated you are. Mispronouncing a very complex and foreign name might be forgivable once or twice, but on two separate occasions spaced out over 6 weeks is just poor. With the radio broadcast being played out over the speakers in the media center, everyone couldn’t help but notice that during the first two hours of the race, even the name of the track was said incorrectly. “Seb-bring” is how it was pronounced by the lead commentator, until the color guest corrected on track and a few driver names.
In fairness, I have mispronounced names as well. At Daytona last year, I was unsure of how to say Alex Popow’s name.  Was it said Pop-POW or Pop-OFF?  Instead of saying it the wrong way and then asking forgiveness after, I went and asked the man himself (for the record, it’s pronounced Pop-off). Easy solution to avoid a problem. Before going on the air with new names, I will typically sit down with someone who’s been in the business for a while and go over the pronunciation. And I always ask before an interview if I’m saying their name the correct way. Every now and then, we all slip up and I’m sure my mistakes are many. But at least I make an effort to correct them. Most of the drivers whose names I heard butchered were people who competed at Daytona. That’s more than a month to learn. But that effort wasn’t put forth.
One of the PC crashes
Okay, stepping off the soap-box. The next unavoidable area to discuss is flags. 11 cautions periods, 1 red flag. During a 12 hour race. That’s too many. I’m not saying race control flew too many flags either. The driving standard was pretty iffy in some areas. The PC category needs a solid looking over. That’s not to say all PC cars caused issues. Quite to the contrary, the RSR and CORE Autosport entries gave us some great entertainment as Bruno Junqueira, David Heinemeier-Hansson, Colin Braun, James Gue, Jon Bennett, and Duncan Ende battled it out for the win. It’s the other cars in the class who caused some headaches. Even the 3rd place PC entry finished 7 laps down on the lead battle. 10 PC cars started, and by my count, four had race ending crashes, two more had incidents that took them out of the running, and two others weren’t without their share of misfortune. Spins reigned common as even some of the more experienced drivers found themselves facing the wrong way on course. The PC cars are anything but easy to drive, given their current set ups and it really needs to be reexamined if this class should be driven by “gentlemen” or if for now, more underrated experienced drivers should take the helms.
The other cautions, not caused by PC cars, also stemmed from some questionable driving. The main one that comes to mind was in the middle of a series of cautions, when it appeared something broke on the Risi Competizione Ferrari.  The #62 went careening off T1, snapping right in the middle of a left hand turn. It was what happened after Malucelli managed to limp the car out of the tire barrier that caught everyone’s attention. Instead of waiting for a gap or the marshals to give him the all clear, the Ferrari pulled into a gaggle of cars, subsequently making contact with the #30 GTD Porsche and ending the race for the Momo NGT team as well. This caused another yellow and brought more stress to the Risi team that has already suffered enough bad luck for a lifetime. This is the same crew who had to pick up the pieces after that horrific crash at Daytona and now it appears they’ll have to do the same again. Florida hasn’t been kind to them.
The Viper fire, as seen from the media center
Another team who comes away from Sebring with less than fond memories is the Viper Exchange team, led by Ben Keating. While Keating was driving behind the safety car, his own GTD Viper started to get a little warmer than usual. Well, fast-forward about 30 minutes and his car was smelling like a barbeque. I saw the charred remains of the #33 as it was brought via flat bed and then carried by fork lift into it’s garage. It was a crispy shell of the car it once was, with the windshield disturbingly fried and crumpled. The car, as everyone is most likely aware, burned for far longer than it should have. Now, the marshals close by reacted as they should have. But a lack of IMSA safety crew left a stench through the paddock stronger than the charred Viper. It took too long to put that fire out. It’s easy to say retrospectively what should have been done. But as the car was burning, several murmurs through the media center about how this could have been avoided had the IMSA safety crew been on the job.
Who ordered theirs well done?
Everyone at the track is friendly, and we are one big family. Sometimes, we get mad at a cousin or brother who might do something we disagree with. Someone who took a lot of negative energy at Daytona (and unfortunately again at Sebring) was the race director Paul Walter. Paul is one of the most approachable guys at the track, someone who will make time for a race discussion. I saw him less than an hour before the race started, when he was in the pit lane. When I went over to wish him good luck for the race, he pulled me aside to talk about Daytona. Paul wanted my opinion on what happened. After a few minutes, he explained how they had issued a new bulletin (of which there are more than 70 and we are only in March, which is pretty funny) that, for one thing, details avoidable contact. He said that leaving racing room is one thing but you must respect your fellow competitors, a point he pushed in the drivers’ meeting at Sebring. I won’t go through detail by detail what we discussed but know this: when I walked away after talking to him, I felt much more confident in his decision-making. Even after the Sebring debacle, I feel that a big reminder is necessary. It isn’t just ONE guy up in race control making all of these calls; it’s a group. And if ONE person disagrees with the rest of the group, majority still rules. The calls are unanimous, but when was the last time everyone fully agreed on something? 
Beyond the behind the scenes politics, the attitude of the fans was outstanding! It seems as if the troubles we talk about online and those we constantly complain of were temporarily suspended while the cars were running around the track. People were appeased by the sights of their favorites, the sounds of the engines, and the smell of the tires and brakes. There’s something magical about racing that can bring us all together and it never fails to amaze me how once the cars are out, a peace settles over the viewers. Same can’t necessarily be said for those on the pit wall, but for the fans, all is good with the world when the cars are on track. After a race like that, it isn't only the track that goes cold once the race is done…the fans grow cold too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Was that really 12 hours???

What. A. Race.
After Saturday’s drama filled qualifying session where Mika Salo broke the previous qualifying record, only to have Maro Engel edge him out by 0.0835 seconds, it was a safe bet that the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour would not disappoint. And it didn’t. After 12 hours of racing, and 296 laps laid down, five cars were on the lead lap. Of those five, there was a Ferrari, two Mercedes, a McLaren, and an Audi. After 720 minutes of racing the gap from first to second was only 0.4 seconds. Insane doesn’t quite cut it.
Even before the race began, the main story was attrition. Four cars didn’t even make it to race day after severe accidents on Friday and Saturday. And on Sunday, it didn’t take long before cars started dropping out of the race.  All in all, twelve cars retired as Mount Panorama fought back. It threw everything, including kangaroos, at the drivers and the ones who finished found their own kind of victory.
While the main race deserves the bulk of the attention, a quick word needs to be said about the little team who found victory in more than one sense. Fiat Chrysler Australia sent three Abarths to run around the track. All three cars finished and, more importantly, all three cars gave racing room to avoid other competitors. A perfect example of their polite manners came with the last safety car period. Two of the Fiats were in between a huge battle and the team kindly pulled their cars into pit lane rather than have them be moving chicanes for the faster classes. Another thing Fiat did was to send “comfort packs” to the marshals, saying they worried the little cars would give the marshals extra work and the team wanted to apologize in advance. While it was a pleasant surprise that the little cars made it to the end, it was also a celebration that they raced cleanly and I applaud the team for a job well done.
Another team who surprised the field was Rotek Racing. The class B group, running an Audi R8, led the field overall twice! Richard Meins and David Gleason, along with superstars Oliver Gavin and Rob Huff shared driving duties. It was Gavin, the Corvette factory driver on loan, who electrified from the start. But it wasn’t a fairy tale ending for this car. A rare engine issue plagued the Audi and forced an early retirement of one of the early favorites. These guys aren’t down and out though. The Rotek team, based in Germany, should be back at the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring in June and I think they’ll be real contenders there.
Last year’s race was amazing. The caliber of drivers who turned out to challenge the mountain was impressive. But that was nothing compared to this year. Champions from Porsche Super Cup, the American Le Mans Series, World Touring Cars, Pirelli World Challenge, DTM and V8 Supercars (just to name a few) decided to compete in the Bathurst 12 Hour. What a show they put on! It wasn’t just the big names who surprised and delighted with superb performances, however. The young kids, aged 25 and under, caught a lot of attention too. Shane van Gisbergen, 24, probably got the most attention for his spectacular battles with the Erebus cars. He wheeled around the orange McLaren with finesse and a lack of regard for the laws of physics. At one point, Shane made a pass on the #1 car in a place where no one passes. Instead of being thrown violently into the wall due to lack of grip, Shane took the lead. The crowd roared and SVG became even more of a legend. Jack LeBrocq, 21, is another who hit his stride, as well as a dead kangaroo lying in the track due to a collision with the #23 car. Even though his aero was seriously deranged from that incident, Jack still manhandled the #63 Erebus Mercedes around the circuit, and set some lap times others couldn’t match. Around six hours into the race, his car found even more aero “updates” when it lost most of the front right paneling. I asked Jack if the car was a beast to handle and he replied, “No, it’s just more fun!” Clearly, a crazy naïve fellow. The last young gun I’ll mention is Earl Bamber. Earl, 23, already has attention on a global stage after his triumph in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia last year. Earl drove the Class B winning car at Bathurst, but had his highlight of the weekend hours before the finish. The Kiwi passed Patrick Long, a factory Porsche driver, after a good battle. He got out of the car beaming. I’ll be keeping an eye on him to do well in Super Cup, where he’ll be racing this year.
It’d be a mistake not to mention the final laps and the drama associated with them. The battle for the win came down to HTP and Maranello Motorsports. HTP were certain underdogs, who had to rebuild their car from a crash in Friday’s practice. Then in the early stages of the race, they also fix the front right wheel area, which put them six laps down. They overcame all of these obstacles to finish second, an admirable achievement. It looked for a while like the Mercedes would easily be able to overtake the leading Ferrari but then a brilliant move by the Ferrari would surprise us all. Time and time again, this pattern went on. Behind them, a battle for third raged on between the McLaren and the injured #63 Erebus Mercedes for third, ultimately resulting in the podium finish for the latter. But it was the Maranello Motorsports Ferrari who came out on top and got the win for their late friend, Allan Simonsen. Could you say they were meant to win? I think so. When I interviewed Craig Lowdnes a few hours before the end of the race, he said the heat really wasn’t helping their tyre wear. The track and ambient temperature started to drop shortly there after. Craig held off the charging Mercedes of HTP and took the win by a small margin, a mere 0.4 seconds after 12 hours of racing. I’d like to think the Ferrari had help from a fifth driver in that victory, one who wasn’t there on the entry list but who’s presence was felt everywhere around the track.

The Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour had it all, as far as endurance racing is concerned. Several well-known drivers from around the world tuned in and got envious of the fact that they weren’t there. Expect even more cars, big name drivers, and stunning battles from the 2015 race! Best part of all, it’s only 354 days away!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour Full Race

In case you happened to be busy Saturday and/or Sunday and missed the race, I'll not only forgive you, I'll give you a place to watch the whole thing! Just click below to see the entire 12 hours of coverage from Mount Panorama! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Daytona Review

David Hobbs summed up the weekend well. “We have some of the world’s best drivers racing here this weekend… mixed in with some of the world’s, er, not best drivers.” Thankfully, the differences in driving talent didn’t manifest in the way it has at other events, resulting in horrific accidents.  Driver’s, for the most part, respected when a faster car was coming by and acted accordingly. Although some drivers might beg to differ including Sebastien Bourdais who called a few on the track “terrorists.” In any case, the first race of the Tudor United SportsCar Challenge (TUSC) is in the record books and the 2014 season has begun! Here are some thoughts from the Rolex 24.

The Crowd: While this wasn’t by any means the largest crowd I’ve seen at this track, and the stands looked virtually empty, the infield was nearly full. Once when I left the warmth of the media center in the middle of the night to do some recon, I noticed upwards of a hundred people loitering by the garages. Die hard fans, I suppose, to still be awake and at the track near 2:00 am.  While the crowd did ebb and flow, there were a lot of RVs in the infield and a LOT of bonfires going Saturday night. It felt as if there was a good presence of fans at the track, although maybe not as many as last year. I do know that last year fighting the crowds, I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream. This year, I could maneuver with a bit more ease. All in all, it was a very good turn out for Daytona and I’m expecting a better one at Sebring.
Famous faces: For decades, this race has brought out the famous. I’m not talking about movie stars, but rather racing legends. Dario Franchitti, Allan McNish, Martin Brundle, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ron Fellows. All drivers with cases filled with trophies of their own, were here now to support teams or relatives. Having legends like these walking around the paddock only adds value and credibility to the series. If they deem the race important enough to attend, so should we.

Weather: It was cold. Simply stated, this Florida girl needed a snow jacket to stop shivering. In the middle of the night, when the media center is abandoned, the jacket was even needed inside. While the cars enjoy the cold, thick air, most of the people did not. Hopefully, Sebring in March will be warmer. If not, I’ll lodge a protest with nature.
Credentials: I have to say a BIG thank you to two people in particular. You know who you are. These two people helped me get credentials that allowed access to critical places to do my job. Without creds, I wouldn’t have been able to work in the hot pits and, therefore, wouldn’t have been able to add to social media for one company or gather information for a news outlet. I hope to be able to use the pass I received to continue to spread information to the fans as best I can! But again, thank you.

Now for race related topics: First and foremost are the somewhat controversial decisions made by race control. I am referring to what many are calling the late red flag and the quick yellow. When the explosion (because that’s what the contact looked like) of the #99 and #62 occurred, everyone in the media center gasped. The rest of the cars drove through the debris field once and we all fully expected them to come to a stop for a red flag. But the hat, at the top of our t.v. screens, stayed yellow. It took a full five minutes before the race was red flagged. Some of the drivers went by the scene of the wreck twice before stopping either on the front straight or meters behind where the accident occurred. My first thought was for the drivers’ emotional well-being. Last year, we lost far too many drivers in crashes. Imagine, being stuck in the infield, watching the crews work to extract someone you’ve seen in the paddock for years, someone you might’ve shared a beer with, someone you might consider a friend. Where does your mind go? How do you stay focused? What do you start thinking when the ambulance goes racing off and you get a view of mangled metal pieces that, only hours before, made up the fastest racecar of the bunch? Many, including me, had issues with how this event was handled: the length of time it took to wave the red flag, and where some of the cars were stopped on track.

            The second incident in question came with only 20 minutes to go in the race. Leh Keen experienced brake issues at turn two and nosed the Porsche 911 GT America into the tire barrier. He fired up the car again and was underway immediately. Yet, a full course yellow was waved right away, bunching up the cars and eliminating leads that had been built. The question left all of us thinking: was it a legitimate flag thrown for safety, was it a response to the criticism 20 hours earlier of the so called “late” red flag, or was it a flag thrown to bunch up the cars and build drama for an exciting end to the race? I personally look forward to hearing from Mr. Paul Walter as to exactly what happened behind the scenes for each incident. If there’s something to remember it’s that race director Walter has a reason for doing everything and most of the time he’s on the money.  He deserves respect for doing a job (much like Scot Elkins) that few would want to do.

And now, onto another questionable call: the time penalty for the 555 for avoiding contact. In talking to many people including marshals, drivers, and crew chiefs, all say that no one goes for a pass around turn 4 at speeds in excess of 120mph, and expects to stay on track, especially if you miss the apex by eight feet! The Audi R8LMS in question, driven by Markus Winkelhock, was already damaged. A few laps earlier, Winkelhock reported the car wasn’t handling well and it looked like he was having an issue with the rear suspension. Even so, he manhandled the car to the last lap. That’s when the #555 Ferrari of Level 5 and the #45 Audi of Flying Lizard Motorsports arrived at turn four, side by side. Pier Guidi driving the Ferrari actually did an amazing job of not hitting Winkelhock, and left the Audi room on the track. Winkelhock’s momentum and lack of grip, combined with too much speed, carried him into the grass, where he managed to recover. But by that time, the Ferrari had a clear advantage and drove to the finish. When the checkered flag fell, the car that avoided contact and crossed the line first was handed a penalty, pushing him back to fourth. The Audi was credited with the win. 

But, this wasn’t the final result. After hours of deliberation, Level 5 was awarded the win. The penalty for avoidable contact was rescinded and the stop + 75 seconds subtracted from the car’s record. But what won’t be corrected is the fact that Level5 did miss out on their podium celebration. Hours after, when the sun had set, the Ferrari was rolled into Victory Lane and the crew had some pictures taken. However, when the initial podium ceremony began, 4 GTD teams waited to receive their awards. Scott Tucker, Townsend Bell, and Bill Sweedler, 3 of the 5 drivers of the #555, arrived to take their trophies and pictures but were turned away, after being informed that they were not the winners. When the pictures were taken hours later, Tucker had already left the track and, therefore, wasn’t included. Level 5 were robbed of the initial enjoyment of winning but ultimately will go down in the history books as the car that crossed the line first in GTD. Watch out for them at Sebring where, you can be sure, they’ll come back with a vengeance.

GTLM Race: Well, if there was another class where drama ruled, it certainly was the GTLM category. At the green flag, 2 BMWS, 2 Ferraris, 2 Vipers, 2 Corvettes, 2 Porsches, and 1 Aston Martin fought tooth and nail for the win.  At the end of lap 1, it was Viper in the lead.  But only 25 minutes into the race, a Ferrari had taken top spot. Not long after, a Corvette put down the fastest lap time, only to be bested seconds later by a Porsche. And for the first few hours, it looked like any one of the manufacturers could drive to the front. That was, until attrition started to set in. 
Six hours into the race, the Aston Martin went behind the wall for the first of many stops. Only 30 minutes later, it was clear a Ferrari wasn’t going to win this class, when the #57 Krohn Racing entry started having electrical gremlins. Ferrari’s other GTLM car, the #62 Risi Competizione, had already retired. The #3 championship-winning Corvette had to retire early in the morning on Sunday due to water issues, leaving only the #4 to represent the bowtie brigade. But, with only hours to go, that car suffered gearbox issues that took them out of contention for the win. In a heartbreaking effort, both crews from the #3 and #4 worked tirelessly to get their remaining car back on track. The feeling of disappointment was palpable in that garage. The #4 had been fighting for the lead at the time it broke. It finished fifth.  The Vipers started the race in 1st and 3rd. After an overnight power steering failure, the pole car, #91,the little car that could,
dropped almost 10 laps down. The #93 had some issues in the night as well, that caused it too to fall out of contention for the win. But the #91 fought back, ending up on the podium. An impressive display for a program that began just over a year and a half ago. They will be contenders at the next round. BMW faced issues on Thursday, with the #55 damaged twice in two practices. That car proved to be
racing competitively and ultimately finishing second. BWM Team RLL should be very proud of their performance, especially seeing as they were fighting a dynasty. Which brings us to…

Porsche: At Le Mans last year, Porsche raced their brand new 911 RSR. The two cars they entered finished 1-2 in an extremely competitive class. So when Porsche announced that CORE Autosport would host their American program with the same cars, it was safe to assume they’d win some races this year. No surprise then when they won Daytona! In fact, Porsche is the most successful manufacturer in the history of the Rolex 24. They have 76 class wins, 22 overall, going back to 1968. They’ve won the GT class 27 times.  Think about that for a minute. 27 times in the 52-year history of the Daytona endurance, a Porsche has been victorious in the GT class alone. That would be like the Oakland Raiders winning the Super Bowl half of the times there’s been a Super Bowl! Now that’s dominance.  But Porsche’s win didn’t come in the 1-2 fashion they achieved last June. Rather, the #912, sister car of the winning #911, retired just shy of the 18 hour mark. The #912 had led a good deal of the race, and when it wasn’t leading, it was often second to the sister car. So with six hours to go, Porsche had only one bullet left in the gun. But one was enough to take the win. Porsche has proven time and time again how dominant they can be in endurance racing. I personally am looking forward to seeing how the other teams can challenge them in the remaining races.

Balance of Performance: While the cars were supposed to have been “equalized”, a few glaring mistakes stood out. The PC cars were slow, very slow, around the banking. At one point, a DP and a GTD car passed a PC car simultaneously coming into the tri-oval. In theory, that shouldn’t happen.  If this discrepancy is not addressed before Sebring, the PC cars will be passed by GTD cars along the 3 straights. What stood out even more was the lack of balance between the DP cars and P2 cars. Major props should be awarded to the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing crew who stuck with the DPs at Daytona for most of the race. The P2 cars need either similar DP attrition or a bit of help to get a podium at Sebring. The other discrepancy in terms of equal performance came with the Porsche 911 GT America. The GTD Porsches looked very slow. The highest finishing car was 3rd, and twelve of the twenty-nine entries were Porsches.

Media Coverage: Understandably, I can’t really comment on this without being biased. To keep things simple: Tommy Kendall and Brian Till provided excellent insight into the minds of the drivers and were fun to hear. In the media center, where I was exposed to the rest of the world’s coverage of the race, I heard either Fox Sports broadcast or MRN, depending on the time. Toeing the line, it’s fair to say that mispronouncing one driver name is forgivable. But saying multiple drivers’ names incorrectly time and time again is simply disrespectful. A lot of people expressed their views of the coverage on Facebook and Twitter. Ultimately, the cars looked great and the camera shots provided by the t.v. coverage allowed fans all over the world to enjoy the sights and sounds… when not in the seemingly endless commercial breaks.

At the end of 24 hours, Sebastien Bourdais, Joao Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, James Gue, Mark Wilkins, Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Richard Lietz, Scott Tucker, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler, and Jeff Segal won new watches and some big trophies, as well as the honor of having been victorious in the first race of TUSCC. They will now have their pictures taken during the Champions photo for as many years as they contest the Rolex 24. The next race is Sebring in about 6 weeks.  Until then, the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona has given more than enough to talk about!