I’m Watching… #6

I watch too much racing. Here are the races I watched in the few weeks before going away to Belgium, back in August. Sorry I’m late with this post!

American Le Mans Series
Mid-Ohio 2010

What a great race! The GT race was the undoubted highlight, multiple lead changes among several cars throughout the 2 hours and 45 minutes. Just as it looked like someone had settled in for the win there would be a twist and another car would be leading, great stuff. Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, BMW – no matter what it was it seemed to take a turn at leading. The GT2 class in the ALMS is arguably the best GT class anywhere in the world at the moment. The class battle was won by the Risi Ferrari team of Melo and Bruni.

The Prototype field was sparse and on a clear track probably would have been terrible, but on a narrow track with a large GT entry it became a fascinating test of who could work through the slower classes more effectively. Even with so few cars there was a good level of passing and strategy and it too was a good race. Dyson eventually won to take it’s first outright ALMS victory and beat the Highcroft entry by just half a second after 2hrs 45 minutes! Intersport’s Lola led much of the running but lost out with a poorly-timed driver change under yellow, dropping them to third. I get the Fields confused but one of them was very irate on the team radio when he realised the outcome of that decision – that frustation surely became insignificant when the car retired from the race with mechanical failure.

GTC was quite entertaining and LMPC seemed to be a case of nursing the cars home from what I recall. There was some good racing but I’m not a fan of spec series in endurance racing and particularly ACO/IMSA-sanctioned endurance racing. Open these classes up to competition – under heavy restriction if necessary – and I may well become a fan.

I watched this live on the ALMS website with video streaming complete with Radio Le Mans commentary – all sportscar races should be available this way.

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IndyCar Series
Mid-Ohio 2010

For an open-wheel race at Mid-Ohio this wasn’t too bad. I’ve seen some pretty dire ones over the years and this was among the better ones. You can hardly complain about a race when the top two finish half a second apart, the second major race at this venue in two days to achieve that feat, as Dario Franchitti managed to hold off a challenging Will Power all the way to the end. Justin Wilson was involved in a crash which was a shame as he was doing fairly well. The Andretti suite of cars were all generally quite slow for some reason, they seem to be getting worse on road courses.

The race was led for a large chunk by Alex Tagliani who’d switched to a different strategy to the rest of the field, he stopped early and was helped when a yellow followed not long after. Having started outside the top ten, the strategy worked and he wound up 4th. Tony Kanaan tried something similar but couldn’t make it work and had to make an extra stop.

I watched this live on the IndyCar website which seemed to be having a rare good day with a decent quality stream throughout.

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MotoGP
Brno 2010

Pedrosa took the lead after his now customary good start, this time from pole – that was until Lorenzo from the outside of the front row jumped both Pedrosa and Spies, knocking Dani to 3rd. A couple of laps later Pedrosa got his way past Spies and set about chasing Jorge. Dovisioso had a scary fall when he dropped it in front of a chasing pack of bikes who somehow missed both rider and bike lying on the track, luckily he was able to pick it up and continue but had to pit the bike as it had apparently been too damaged in the fall.

The Finn, Kallio, ran into the gravel just seconds after the BBC team praised his good performance – the curse of the commentator. Stoner took 3rd from Spies in a fairly straightforward move and that was pretty much it for the remaining 13 laps, though there was a nice battle for 8th in the closing stages – when Bautista fell at the very last corner. Lorenzo had the legs of Pedrosa and held him back to take yet another win.

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GP2 Series
Silverstone 2009

Feature - Romain Grosjean took an immediate lead off the start as most of the field had to avoid the stalled 4th-placed qualifier Jerome d’Ambrosio. There were a couple of spinners on lap one, Chandhok picked his way through the opening lap melee to move from 11th to 6th. It all settled into a rythym for several laps until Grosjean seemed to slow a little and allowed Valerio to challenge. Grosjean had speed on the straights but was slow through the corners and Valerio eventually made the pass into the Abbey chicane when Grosjean left the door wide open. This became the story the cameras followed as Grosjean did his best to fight off car after car.

Lucas di Grassi moved alongside Grosjean through Maggotts/Becketts and they tried to make it side-by-side through the sequence, but Grosjean couldn’t hold on and took to the grass. After the stops, Grosjean found himself heading a train of cars in 6th with Chandhok leading the chase. This became 5th with attrition and that was his position at the flag. Near the end, di Grassi and Perez raced a struggling Hulkenberg who seemed to have his own tyre troubles (the Perez battle was superb, he switched from side to side trying different lines through almost every corner as he tried to pass). Valerio held the lead to the end to take his first GP2 win, di Grassi 2nd and Hulkenberg 3rd with Perez a very close 4th – Perez was largely unseen but came from the very back with an early pitstop to almost reach the podium.

Sprint - After an extra formation lap for stalled cars, Maldonado took the lead from Zuber at the start with Chandhok 3rd. Di Grassi’s car wouldn’t move off the start but he eventually got going in 24th, but spun while setting fastest laps trying to catch the field. On the 3rd lap Petrov put a great move on Fillipi at Stowe, flying past him. Parente was making up lots of places. There was a long stint with no action until half distance when Razia tried to pass Clos for 13th but the cars collided, Razia retired on the spot and Clos had to pit for new tyres. A few laps later Fillipi seemed to lose pace completely, everyone started passing him. Drama at the end as Mortara’s engine blew and Clos spun into the middle of the track on the oil, causing a Safety Car with 3 laps to go, race over. Positions at the top remained unchanged as Maldonado won from Zuber and Chandhok.

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That’s all for now, I’ll be back soon with more racing I’ve been watching.

TMR Game – Week 36

Welcome to Week 36 of the Too Much Racing Game!

Quick-Start

Racing this week:

American Le Mans Series – Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta;
IndyCar Series - Homestead-Miami Speedway, Florida;
NASCAR Sprint Cup – Kansas Speedway;
World Rally Championship – Rallye de France, Alsace;

Usual restrictions apply, pick up to 7 drivers in any individual race up to a maximum of 10 drivers.

The cutoff is Saturday 2nd October at 4.59am BST (British Summer Time = GMT+1), that’s 11.59pm Friday night US EDT.

For the full results from Week 35, read on. Continue reading

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.2

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here and Thursday Pt.1 here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

Pitwalk!

This was all good fun but we were now missing the pitwalk, it was about 5.15pm so it was already halfway through and we had drivers and cars to try and see. We moved our cars out of the way and walked as quickly as possible past the various vendors, in through the La Source gate – and on to the track itself.

Wow! This came as a minor shock, I suppose I expected to be diverted over a bridge or under a tunnel to get to the infield but no, we were walking across La Source corner itself and into the pitlane exit! The place was bustling, La Source was packed with people and you could see hundreds on the main straight and yet more in the pitlane.


Gavin heading to the pitwalk / The famous house! / La Source exit

At this stage it was everyone for themselves, we instintively split up because we each knew we were running out of time and it was important to see as much as you could manage, plus we all had different interests. Some went rushing down pitlane, some checked out the new teams nearer our entrance. I hung around La Source for a little bit, looked at the steeper-than-expected run down the hill past the support paddock, and then walked into the pitlane where I found Lukeh and Lou had spotted David Croft and Anthony Davidson of BBC Radio 5 Live, in their trackies ready for their run (at every GP they run a lap of the track). I missed the conversation but was relayed it later, it seems Crofty remembered the pair having met at Goodwood earlier in the year! Lou had made a banner especially for them.

Here are a selection of photos from the pitwalk:



I also got a small amount of video:

Alternative link at Picasa in case the YouTube version is pulled (I can’t embed Picasa videos).

Somehow, and I still have no idea how they did it among all these people, Kathi and Emma appeared in front of us and started talking to us, and knew who we were. It took me a few moments to register that it was them! I think they must have found Lou or one of the others a few moments before? They been there since the pitlane opened and told us they’d managed to meet Bruno Senna and Rubens Barrichello, who’d come out of the pits to give signatures and meet the fans. Pretty cool! It was nearing 6pm and at the far end of pitlane security were getting a bit pushy, so Kathi and Emma were heading out. Since we’d only been there a short time we weren’t having that! I for one wasn’t planning to leave until I physically couldn’t stay any more.

That’s pretty much what happened. The guards worked their way down from pit in, and then split pitlane in half so those of us who hadn’t got that far were out of luck. Those with the ‘big teams’ were led out on to the main straight, the rest of us were trapped and had to return from whence we came, to pit exit. We took some more pics as we made our way slowly out.



There are a few more photos in my Spa Thursday album.

We soaked up the great atmosphere at La Source for a short while before making our way up the steep hill towards Franchorchamps village and our cars.

Evening

Next on the agenda was to book into the luxury mobile homes at the campsite, and unload all our bags. After working around the lanes with a short detour down a steep gravel track, we did just that! We were pleasantly surprised to find the homes were quite spacious, the bedrooms were a bit tight but we only needed them as somewhere to crash overnight and store clothes. The main living space was nice and open with a comfy seating area. A good choice and very well found by Kathi!

We were still one member short. Guille (pronounced sort of like ‘Geeche’) from Argentina was making his way to us from Paris via a train which had been delayed. The group split up, I and a couple of others went to pick up a bit of shopping and collect Guille, Bassano took Emma and Kathi to collect their bags from another town and a few stayed back at the site. We would rendezvous for steaks at the campsite restaurant.

Guille’s train seemed even more delayed than even he’d expected, the 3 of us meeting him were sat in the dark and wet station near some dodgy-looking taxi drivers! Eventually he arrived, I think quite tired after the journey from home including long flights, buses and trains, I think he appreciated that we’d put in orders for steak!

It really was a very good steak, I ate mine quickly enough that most of it was gone by the time I’d got a photo. I had to get a photo. For some reason they served it with melon and orange, really weird. The frites were disappointing, we’d been promised much but they were bog standard thin chips really. Beer was had. Steak and a glass of Hoegaarden is a nice combo.

We wanted to stay and make a night of it, but after the travelling and pitlane excitement were all so tired we had to retire to the homes for a chat in quieter surroundings – the site restaurant/pub got very loud and we wanted to be sociable especially with Guille, Emma and Kathi who we’d barely met. We all went back to one of the homes, talked, and tried to get the wifi to work so that we could comment at Sidepodcast, send tweets and perhaps put up some little blog posts. This didn’t really work, it was a real shame the wifi was unreliable in the girls’ home and was barely functional in the boys’ home. My plans for little blog updates over the weekend went out of the window there and then, and it was a struggle to get connected long enough for even the most basic message. Some people fared better than others, some could get on reasonably well all weekend whereas I had terrible trouble with it. Not to worry, blogs and social media could wait, we were being social in real life with fellow F1 and racing fans, and for us that was even more important.

All embedded photos and videos were taken by me (Patrick Wotton), I haven’t set up anything officially but you can consider them available for use under Creative Commons. Some of the linked media may be copyright, check details on the relevant pages.

Read on with the first part of Friday’s fun!

2010 Belgian GP – Thursday Pt.1

This post is part of my recap of the Belgian Grand Prix weekend and is about the Thursday before the race. Please see Tues/Weds here. Once again, I apologise for the lengthy delay.

The Road Trip

Following the Tuesday and Wednesday meetups I was still in London, to cut 3 hours off the journey time on Road Trip Day. From the hotel I was to cross South London to meet the others, we’d head to Kent to pick up two more, than take the EuroTunnel train to France for the drive to Belgium. A slight problem though, the week prior to the Grand Prix the organisers announced there would be a pitlane walkabout on Thursday – and if we stuck to our planned schedule there was no way we’d make it.

Cue urgent discussions in the pubs on Tuesday and Wednesday as we attempted to estimate the total journey time. Our original plan merely called for us to aim at the campsite near Spa and we’d get there whenever we got there, with no hurry the tunnel tickets were accordingly booked for lunchtime. Despite none of us having ever driven from London to Folkestone or from Calais to the other side of Belgium we came up with an estimated journey time with the use of Google Maps. We were to leave a couple of hours earlier than planned and push on as best as we could with as few stops as possible. We decided to aim directly for the racetrack, we could drop bags and pick up mobile home keys afterwards. Handily the standard EuroTunnel ticket allows you to be up to two hours early (or late) with no penalty. It was agreed if we got more than halfway there and it became clear there wasn’t a chance, we’d just follow the original plan, back down the speed and cruise on to the campsite. The pitlane walk started at 4.30pm. Our ETA was between 4 and 5pm. It was on.

We’re Off!

I departed the hotel only ten minutes later than planned, not bad for me on a non-work morning. ‘Not a problem,’ thinks I when I reach my car. ‘My sat-nav tells me it will only take 30 minutes and not the 50 I’d thought.’ Nnno. It took an hour! The traffic was heavy but not horrendous by London standards, though hitting every red light was extremely frustrating. Parts of London operate a ‘wave’ system so if you catch a green light you can ‘ride the wave’ of greens all the way. I caught reds. I’ve never known lights stay red for so long, or encountered so many in one run. Road closures did nothing to improve either my arrival time or my mood, and conspired to get me lost near the rendezvous point, not helped when the infernal sat-nav (voiced by Juan Pablo Montoya!) told me the destination was in a residential backroad some half mile away from the real location.

The others kindly agreed to come find me as I was lost and a little flustered by this stage, especially after the stellar efforts made by Chris and Pamela to get to the meeting point extra early from a distance away, it was silly to be even later when all I had to do was drive over and it really annoyed me! However, while I waiting for the others to get to me I decided this would be our hiccup for the day, I reckoned we were always going to have one, this would be it and I was relieved we’d got it out of the way so soon. It would be plain sailing from here.

Chris transferred to my car, then at about 8.20 (an hour late – sorry!) we set off down the A20 and M20 to Ashford to pick up Lou and Luke who were also riding in my car. The other car consisted of Bassano (driving), Gavin/Rubbergoat, Amy and Pamela.

We were very pleased to find we’d overestimated the journey time down to Kent – we’d allowed two hours including London traffic, and it only took us one hour. Bonus! Turns out the traffic was between me and the others, not between the meeting place and the motorway, useful to know if there’s a next time. So we picked up the others pretty much when we said we would, cue a huge relief from us all and me in particular. Both cars fully loaded, the road trip was on, we were set to go to Belgium!

Tunnel

The EuroTunnel shuttle was easy and hassle-free. It was quite spooky driving up to the unmanned check-in screen and have your name appear on the screen before you’ve even done anything – it scanned the car number plate! After a quick pitstop in the terminal we passed through passport control, the UK guys waved us straight through and the French just had a glance at our passports, nice and easy. The other car was delayed briefly as Amy and Pamela are from outside the EU, but no problems there either. For those not familiar with the tunnel, you have the curiosity of passing French customs while in the UK, legally you are then in France while physically still being in Kent. I’m not sure why this is still the case because travel between two EU countries is supposed to be unrestricted, border controls across the continent have been dismantled.

Then on to the train! Many people would find this unremarkable, it’s fair to say most of us are quite geeky and we were quite excited by it.

As each car slowly boarded, we were directed to the ramp to the upper floor. It had been drizzling so the ramp was wet, I left a gap to the car ahead so I wouldn’t have to stop on the ramp, went to put the power on and got a nice dose of wheelspin! Wheelspin on a train, a first for all of us in the car.

The train, once it gets going after all the safety announcements, only takes 35 minutes to travel under the Channel to Calais. Pretty sure it took us as long to get through security and the queues between the terminal and the train! When on the train we got out of the cars for a chat and a leg-stretch before the longer driving stint ahead.

Road Trip!

As you do all the passport checks before boarding, when leaving you drive straight off the train, along a service road and directly on to the autoroute – we were on our way! I’m not sure about Bassano but this was my first time driving outside the UK and on the right-hand side of the road. I’ve been a passenger many times, including a 10-hour run from the South of France to the tunnel. I found it really easy, I suppose because it was a two-lane motorway and the only thing to remember was the faster cars were on the left of the car not the right. It wasn’t like there were cars coming toward us on the opposite side.. not yet.

We quickly wound the cars up to pace, I was the lead car and I wanted to make the most of the 130km/h (80mph) speed limit in France and the 120km/h (75mph) limit in Belgium (and especially the higher French limit), but being careful not to stray over them because I’d been warned of hidden cameras along our route – French/Belgian examples aren’t as conspicuous as their UK equivalents and the fines are higher.

The French section was unremarkable, yet seemingly just as soon as we crossed into Belgium the driving standards changed completely. It was normal for drivers in the slow lane to pull into the fast lane no matter what was bearing down on them, no matter what speed they were doing, and only use their indicators when they were nearly across the gap, if at all. This isn’t ideal when you are pushing on. The pair of us each had to hit the brakes hard on many occasions including cars splitting us up. At home, slower traffic usually has enough sense to check the mirrors first!

There were plenty of near misses and not just with us but with a lot of traffic in the faster lane. It was just the same at slower speeds. In traffic such as the long 5mph Brussels jam, they thought nothing of cutting across two lanes of traffic in no more than 50 feet – not aided by some awful junction design which expected traffic to cross multiple lanes in well under a kilometre. A truck did that in front of me and I was worried he’d take out the nose of the car!

That traffic jam delayed us quite a bit, but after that despite the quirks of the locals we made really good progress, with just a couple of toilet/coffee/fuel stops which really were just quick stop-and-goes. I’d borrowed some radios, kids toys really and they weren’t great, but we managed to get messages to each other along the journey. Every time we stopped we called out “Box! Box! Box!” to tell the other car we were pitting!

Finding the Track

We arrived in the Ardennes area at about 4.30pm and got near the track at about 5pm. As we approached we had the slight problem of finding the right entrance, because this wasn’t a normal day for the public not all the gates were open. The maps provided with the tickets were very vague and were designed for Friday, Saturday and Sunday – there was no indication of where to go for the pit walk, or on the signs.

We followed our best guess at which of the 3 motorway exits to take and followed the signs to the track, when we heard a call over the radio from Gavin. We were on the old circuit! The main road meets it at a roundabout near the small town of Malmedy, we were heading ‘the wrong way’ along the classic circuit towards the modern circuit. It was surprisingly narrow for a race track (though for us it was a normal 2-lane country road) and surprisingly steep, I hadn’t realised just how steep this section was. It was barely recognisable as the old circuit as it had been kept up to modern road standards with smooth tarmac, painted lines, signs and the rest. Just before Les Combes it veered off to a bypass, the circuit has been permanent for some years now and the local roads have found a way around it.

After trying a gate or two we found our way to a roundabout near to La Source corner, we were just about to try our luck with the guards when someone shouted out – Jake and Martin!

Jake Humphrey and Martin Brundle from the BBC had driven over from London at the same time we did, in Martin’s classic Jaguar E-Type rigged with cameras for a special pre-race feature. They had parked up on the outside of this roundabout and were surrounded by people!

We quickly abandoned the cars, everyone grabbed cameras and went running over to them. I made sure the car was out of the way as best it could be, and locked, with all these people around I wasn’t keen to leave it unlocked and unattended when it had all our bags in it! I tried to find my camera but remembered I’d left it in my main bag, being the driver I assumed I wouldn’t need it until the paddock as I’d be too busy! Unfortunately I didn’t grab a photo, thankfully many of the rest of our group did. Martin with me and Lou; Jake and Martin with Pamela and Amy; So did Jake himself when he tweeted a photo of our group! We really had only been there ten minutes. Finally, Lou got a shot of that very same Twitpic moment from the other angle.

What a great welcome to Spa!

You can read Part 2 of Thursday’s adventures here.

TMR Game – Week 35

Welcome to Week 35 of the Too Much Racing Game!

Quick-Start

Racing this week:

Formula 1 – Singapore;
NASCAR Sprint Cup – Dover;

Usual restrictions apply, pick up to 7 drivers in any individual race up to a maximum of 10 drivers.

The cutoff is Saturday 25th September at 4.59am BST (British Summer Time = GMT+1), that’s 11.59pm Friday night US EDT.

For the full results from Week 34, read on. Continue reading

TMR Game – Week 34

Welcome to Week 34 of the Too Much Racing Game!

Quick-Start

Racing this week:

IndyCar Series – Motegi;
NASCAR Sprint Cup – Loudon;
DTM – Oschersleben;

Usual restrictions apply, pick up to 7 drivers in any individual race up to a maximum of 10 drivers.

The cutoff is Saturday 18th September at 4.59am BST (British Summer Time = GMT+1), that’s 11.59pm Friday night US EDT.

For the full results from Week 33, read on. Continue reading

Back from Silverstone

What an excellent day out, highly recommended even if the LMP1 battle fizzled out when McNish’s car did. So much else was going on on-track what with the petrol ‘sub-class’, the LMP2 fight was good and it also had a ‘sub-class’ of Formula Le Mans, and GT2 was as great a fight as it always is. At Abbey corner the Ferraris seemed to be the only ones in the entire field of 46 cars to take a huge chunk of kerb, many took a little bit and some gave it a wide berth.

The loss of GT1 is a real shame, the sole representative was the Larbre Saleen which looked the part and sounded fantastic, what a brilliant deep throaty engine noise. Surely a few more cars could have been found to send off the class in style, not that I want the class sent off. I’ve said before that I think there is still a place for GT1 in endurance racing, the cars under the new rules would surely become more reliable and faster over time.

I made a comment about RLM in my previous post and I should report that while I was in the areas the tannoy was loud enough to be heard*, there were no sarky comments from RLM about ‘not watching boring F1′ so thumbs up to them for that and indeed their coverage was as exceptional as always.

*The Belgians had theirs turned up FAR louder, Silverstone needs to do the same! Even the mighty Hindy couldn’t be heard, in fact some speakers weren’t even switched on.. I’m not expecting the audio to be heard over a car which is flashing past you, but it should be heard when the car is disappearing into the distance – often it wasn’t. Still, next time I’ll bring a radio.

I’ll bring a full report soon and there’ll be a photo gallery online Monday night.