IndyCar Reaction: St Petersburg GP 2012

Not the thrill-a-minute race we were promised but it was better than some make out. That’s not entirely surprising.

A Calm Race

IndyCar suffers from a longer off-season than most so the first race invariably gets hyped up quite a lot. If that race isn’t all-action, all the time, then a lot of fans get very disappointed and make unfair comments. IndyCar fans are a particularly vocal lot and quite a few rush to judgement.

Think it through logically though. This was the first race with a brand-new car, first we didn’t know how it would race and second there is a shortage of spares. Add in that this is a street race with bumps and concrete walls. Add in a smaller fuel cell than previous years, with new engines, leading to teams frantically trying to work the fuel numbers (and many failed). Add in the new Race Control with a different grasp on what they will accept and not accept, particularly on starts and on defending or blocking the drivers will have to get used to over a period of several races. Add in also, and not insignificantly, this was the first race since the drivers’ friend was killed alongside them, and it took place at his home.

Realistically the drivers were always going to take it easy at this one. I’d like to think they will be more likely to push the envelope at a track with a bigger margin for error, and the engineers will have the fuel mileage cracked now they have a race under their belts. We may still have to put up with fuel saving, however. When the fuel cell issue is resolved and they can be restored to normal size, I hope they have the option of making them slightly larger than before so the drivers can be allowed to actually push and race, we’ve seen too many fuel mileage races in the last few years and some drivers were saving throughout the whole St. Pete race. This can’t continue. Part of the fun of strategy races is the differential between tortoise and hare, it isn’t fun when everybody is made to be the tortoise.

Attention Diverted

All of this said, it was not entirely a processional race. The problem was the TV coverage giving us the sense that it was. This is not a new phenomenon, ESPN have done this countless times in the past. The other partner, Versus (now NBC Sports), is better but not always by a great margin. It isn’t as bad as some of the dire F1 races of the 1990s to early 2000s (the pre-FOM days), but it isn’t ideal.

Many passes were brought to us in replay, which is fine, you can’t be live everywhere. I understood why we missed the pass for the lead – we’d been watching Dixon and Helio driving around not passing each other for a while so it made sense to cut to a big group of cars where there might be passing. Just the luck of the TV crew that the pass happened just after they cut away! Now they could’ve had a spotter looking at the front straight to see if Helio was setting up a pass so they could cut back to it, and it seemed this didn’t happen, but we saw it soon after.

I’m actually more annoyed at the many other passes we missed entirely. People (including Pippa Mann) were tweeting live from the grandstands and were assurring us there was overtaking going on at turn 1 which wasn’t being picked up on TV or the big screens at the track. If we’d seen that racing people may have walked away from watching this race with a good impression not an indifferent one.

Given the levels of strategy involved in IndyCar racing, I would’ve appreciated a better explanation of what was going on. In a Safety Car period we were told the top 6 had not pitted and most others had, fine, what I didn’t pick up on at all was that the leading cars were on a 2-stop strategy and the rest a 3-stopper. I just assumed they’d decided to make their next stop later. Call me lazy, I’m probably very lazy at this, but from the UK F1 coverage (when we had refuelling in F1) I am used to being told how many stops people are planning to make based on what lap they come in. Yes, I know this is hard to do. I also think it would help more people understand what’s going on. To that end it was nice to see the ‘laps since pit’ column appear on live timing this year (thanks to @99forever I think it was for pointing that out) – I’d like a ‘total pit visits’ column too, please!

I watched the race on Sky and their pre-race featured a nice mix of their own interviews alongside ABC pieces, it was nicely done. They didn’t include ABC’s Wheldon tribute which received glowing praise on Twitter. While I’m unsure if that’s a good decision or not, I am certainly glad Sky chose not to air the crash again as that wasn’t needed at all, I wasn’t interested in seeing it again.

One of ABC’s good prerace pieces we did see was the comparison between 2011 and 2012 cars, that was a good explanation. I don’t know if they covered the differences between engines, I didn’t see anything on my coverage. Mid-race Sky lost the feed to Florida briefly but that’s the danger of satellite connections I suppose. It was very good to have at least a part of the race on the new Sky Sports F1 HD channel, which is available to those on Sky who don’t pay for the other Sky Sports channels and on a day with an F1 race when people would’ve seen the many trails for it. Sadly the delayed F1 replay took precedence over a live race in progress which was just a bizarre decision, so they bumped the first half of this race to ‘red button’ and online.


Isn’t it great to have engine competition again? No sooner than a Chevy engine took pole did Honda drivers start complaining they just didn’t have the mid-corner driveability of their rivals, even if they did have the top-end. Apparently when the Honda spools up it just goes – it just takes longer to get going. All do to with the choice of Chevy (and Lotus) to go with twin-turbos and Honda with a single. It may not be a big difference but I love that we now have a difference, and potentially it could change throughout the year as suppliers and teams play with setups and engine mappings.

On race day many of the Honda drivers struggled again, but one man didn’t. Scott Dixon was on fire and led for multiple laps. He seemed to be the only Honda entrant able to run up front consistently, and I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps his team nailed the setup of the DW12. Perhaps more of the Chevy teams just happen to have their chassis closer to the sweet spot than the Honda teams. The teams have been working together in each camp so it would make sense they might adopt similar setups at least to begin with.

Lotus were behind, as we all expected, yet they weren’t a million miles away. Perhaps by the standards of recent years they were, but not by the standards of open engine competition. They may have been at the back but they were still within 1.5 seconds of the frontrunner in any given session, except for Legge who was often a little further back.

I strongly recommend reading Marshall Pruett’s St. Pete Rewind for more of this sort of information as well as his view on the weekend as he saw it, touching on all aspects from technical traits, to race control decisions, to who’s been giving out press packs and who hasn’t. Marshall is one of the best around in any branch of our sport.

Star Newcomer

Many eyes were on Rubens Barrichello, despite this it was pleasing that ABC/ESPN didn’t spend the whole race ‘checking in’ with Rubens as they always did with Danica Patrick. They kept us up to date without piling on the pressure of expectation, that was left to those of us who know what he can do in the right car. So, how did he do? Sadly there’s only one word: underwhelming. That’s slightly unfair as he lost a lot of Friday running due to mechanical failure. Even so, and even in a series new to him, I still expected a professional of his experience to have bounced back on Saturday and Sunday to at least get close to his teammates if not beat them. As it was, he was nowhere near them. He’ll surely be happier on a more familiar style of track this weekend where I expect him to attack all the way.

Next Race

This weekend: Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham/Leeds, Alabama, USA

IndyCar pays a 3rd visit to the challenging natural terrain course with the quirky statues and art installations. It is also fairly narrow by modern standards though perhaps not if you compare it to somewhere like Mid-Ohio or Donington Park which are similar in nature. It also has a long straight so is a fast course, yet the slow twisty sections at each end break up the flow enough to make passing difficult. The most ideal location is the hairpin of turn five which has an undulating straight into a tight slow hairpin, and it is a downhill braking zone which makes it very difficult to judge the right braking point when trying to make a pass, or defend against one!

It is better than the most of the IndyCar bloggerati give it credit for, I think a lot of them just don’t like F1-style races which is what this course has provided on the last two visits. Contrary to popular belief there is passing here and it happens at turn five. It is up to the TV crew to show it to us.


F1 Reaction: Malaysian GP 2012

Rain! Showers and storms were forecast all weekend yet the F1 sessions were largely unaffected until race day. With limited wet running in pre-season this was our first look at the pace of the field in damp conditions.

Stars Of The Race

F1 has a new superstar in Sergio Perez. What a drive to get a mid-grid car into second place, not only keeping it there but pulling away from Lewis Hamilton for lap after lap (himself no slouch in the wet) AND catching Fernando Alonso. I think we all expected him to drop back after the stops for slicks, surely there was no way a Sauber could stay with a Ferrari. Especially a Sauber on hard compounds and a Ferrari on mediums. Yet that’s exactly what he did, after the stops the gap began to fall again! Very, very impressive. You can certainly see why Ferrari are so interested in him.

Such a shame that two small mistakes cost him the win. The first was the mistake in not slicks early enough, it was becoming clear slicks were up to 5 seconds per lap faster and so it turned out – staying out an extra lap lost him 5 seconds. I assumed that was a team decision but it could also be inexperience on his part. The other was a minor mistake in the final laps when he got a wheel on a wet kerb which sent him into the (thankfully tarmac) runoff.

Some idiots on the internet and maybe even the media (and Martin Whitmarsh come to that, perhaps jokingly) suggested it was a conspiracy, that he was asked to do it to allow Alonso to win in return for swapping with Massa later in the year.  I thought it was a joke, all good fun at the expense of the team buying engines from the leaders. Ha ha, fair enough. Yet others were being totally serious! Absolute nonsense of course, it was a straightforward error from a driver on the limit. We’re talking about a guy on the verge of his first Grand Prix win – he was never going to give it up.

The other star driver was Alonso himself, who insists this car is bad even though he leads the Championship. He’s in danger of sounding like Nigel Mansell, or Jason Plato. If the car really is bad then it is a remarkable achievement – I’m willing to believe it because surely even Massa isn’t bad enough of a driver to finish 15th just because it is raining, without having hit anyone as Button did. Mind you, Massa has done this before.
The conjecture on the Sky coverage was that this car overheats its tyres in the dry hence it is slow, yet that very same effect means it keeps the wet tyres heated and grippy and therefore fast whereas rivals can’t get the same heat into them. It sounds plausible to me, even at a hot Malaysia, and I’ve seen it happen in the past. It still doesn’t explain Massa though, unless he really is that bad in the wet!

Almost, But Not Quite

I’m sure Hamilton is kicking himself for scoring two poles in two weeks, twice converting them into finishing third. He seemed happier after this race, personally I think it was because he beat Jenson, it seems to matter a lot to him to beat his teammate.

The Red Bulls seemed to come alive in the last stint, suddenly they were on the pace and catching Hamilton. I’m not sure how Vettel hit Karthikeyan, it looks like he assumed he’d cleared the HRT when he hadn’t. Somehow Karthikeyan is the one with the penalty, I don’t know how that works as the guy was practically off the track already! For me it was a racing incident, with any blame to be apportioned going to Vettel.

Middle Order

Despite a great qualifying performance, Mercedes were absolulely nowhere in the race. Are these cars poor in the wet or is there more to it? Conversely the Lotuses were absolutely flying. Kimi Raikkonen used it to great effect to finish first of the ‘best of the rest’ (non McLaren/RBR/Ferrari), and he also set Fastest Lap. It was like he’d never been away. Sadly Grosjean was again out early, trying to pass Schumacher as the fast Lotus caught the slow Mercedes.

Congratulations to Williams for the first double points finish since.. who knows when? After two races they have already scored more points than in the whole of 2011, and this time it was Senna who impressed. 6th place was well-deserved and came with 4 stops, more than anyone else in the top ten (although Vettel also had had four and was on course to finish 4th). It remains to be seen what effect the surprise resignation of Adam Parr will have on the team. It can’t be helpful.

Good to see the two Force Indias in the top ten as well, not that I remember seeing anything of them on the TV coverage. They split Jean-Eric Vergne in the Toro Rosso who scored his first F1 points. Rounding out the top ten was Michael Schumacher scoring Mercedes’ first and only point of the 2012 season, an incredible stat given their qualifying pace over the last two weeks.

At The Back

Credit too to Marussia and HRT for registering finishes with both cars. Marussia’s cars are still slow but have gained reliability, a trait sorely lacking in their first two cars and a change I welcome. After HRT’s double-DNQ in Melbourne this was their first full race of the year – a slow start but making noticeable progress. They even ended up 10th for a time but only because they hadn’t pitted before the red flag. If they’d remained 7 seconds down on the frontrunners serious questions would have to be asked, as it is they picked roughly 1.5-2.0 seconds if you compare times in Q1 between the two events. Another slight improvement puts them on a par with Marussia, the battle for the wooden spoon is just as fraught as the one up front.


1. Alonso 35
2. Hamilton 30
3. Button 25
4. Webber 24
5. Perez 22

Alonso’s lead has to be considered temporary unless Ferrari are able to make some progress in dry-weather pace before China, or we get a string of wet races. The easy money says this year’s WDC will go to a McLaren driver – but which? Who would’ve put money on Vettel lying 6th after the first two races, with Perez ahead of him?! Worth noting that Kimi is 7th, and the Mercedes drivers will probably look very glum in Shanghai.

1. McLaren 55
2. Red Bull 42
3. Ferrari 35
4. Sauber 30
5. Lotus 16

Early days in the WCC but I think we already have our two title contenders up front. In fact given their race pace I’d almost be surprised if McLaren doesn’t walk the WCC in the way RBR has of late. Alonso has scored all of Ferrari’s points so far, Kimi has done the same for Lotus. Sauber will be very happy with 30 points given they only scored 44 all last year, and I’ve already mentioned Williams already up on their 2011 tally. We all expected Mercedes in that 4th spot, and Sauber 7th or worse. As I say, early days.

Next Race

April 15th: Chinese GP, Shanghai, China

A strange decision to open the year with a back-to-back pairing before a three-week gap, it strikes me as being an unnecessary loss of momentum, however I can see why the team personnel would appreciate a chance to go home after a couple of weeks away – particularly if any of them went to Australia straight from pre-season testing.

Shanghai is one of those races with a bad reputation and sometimes it is deserved, I barely remember some of the tedious races here, yet I well remember the last two events being pleasantly surprising. The unwinding corner into the long straight into a hairpin does make for a good combo even if the rest of this quite technical track promotes field spread. As with many tracks the best races here are when it rains.
It may not be a highlight of the year and being a Tilke design it is often derided, but it is not the worst among them by any means. It may not be Spa, it isn’t Barcelona either. Give it a chance.

2012 IndyCar Preview – Pt 2. Teams


Chip Ganassi Racing
Engine: Honda;
Drivers: Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, Charlie Kimball;

The champion team is obviously among the title favourites again. Franchitti and Dixon are the best pairing in the series and it will be a major struggle to beat them. I still put Dario ahead of Scott but the car changes this year could easily swing in the Kiwi’s favour.
The second, satellite team will do will with Rahal and I hope Kimball shows improvements too. Both should thrive with a second solid season without needing to chase a race seat.

Team Penske
Engine: Chevrolet;
Drivers: Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe;

Power has emerged as the best of the trio over a season, he’s almost unbeatable on road and street courses and is always improving on ovals. So much so, Will is my tip for the title this year. Word from testing is that this car suits Helio and Ryan more than the last one did in recent years, could we see the Helio of old at Indy (and elsewhere)? Will Briscoe finally again show the talent which got him a drive at this team in the first place? I hope so.

Andretti Autosport
Engine: Chevrolet;
Drivers: Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe;

A drop from 4 cars to 3 this year for Michael’s team. The big-name star is gone and Hinch moves across from Newman/Haas (who shockingly aren’t in the series this year) to take the vacant seat, which was originally earmarked for Wheldon. Perhaps the focus on 3 cars and the drop of the constant attention of the media on a single driver, will help the team recapture the form it lost some time ago. RHR should be the fastest driver but don’t count out the others.

KV Racing Technologies
Engine: Chevrolet;
Drivers; Tony Kanaan, Rubens Barrichello, EJ Viso;

If the Andretti team moves out of the media spotlight this year, this team moves into it. Sato is out but Barrichello is in, and there’s no doubt Rubens is the bigger name particularly since the series already has a strong following in Brazil. How will he transition from F1? I think it’ll be a mixed season for him.. much like his F1 seasons. I’m amazed that he’s so well-loved outside the F1 paddock as much as in it – if he scores a win expect everyone to go wild! Kanaan drove very well last year and seemed to enjoy himself more to boot, I hope the addition of his experienced friend helps him. Signs are that it may have helped Viso who seems to have calmed down a lot already, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog his drive in the 12 Hours was very mature. Good things could come to KV this year, a far cry from 2010’s crashfest.

AJ Foyt Enterprises
Engine: Honda;
Driver: Mike Conway;

Conway moves from Andretti to Foyt. A match made in heaven or a baptism of fire? I can’t call it. I know Conway is always quick on the city street courses and there are plenty of those this year, the team has a reputation though of preferring ovals. Fair? Not sure. They’re gradually getting better everywhere.

Panther Racing
Engine: Chevrolet;
Driver: JR Hildebrand;

Very good all-round driver, but an oval-specific team still looking to up their game elsewhere, much like Foyt. They are always making progress in that regard and this could be the year they make that leap forwards.

Lotus-Dragon Racing
Engine: Lotus;
Drivers: Sebastien Bourdais, Katherine Legge;

This deal seemed promised for some time yet only seemed to fully come together this week when an engine finally appeared for Seb on Thursday. A good team though, they should be among the top Lotus teams. Where that puts them in the overall field is another matter. Interesting to see Bourdais back in open wheelers, he would win races (maybe the title) if he were with a top Honda/Chevy team. Legge hasn’t been in an open wheel car for years and wasn’t stellar in DTM, so has lots to learn/relearn and lots to prove. She has a lot of respect among fans and the paddock but I wonder if that’s more due to surviving a horrible crash at Road America than actual talent. We’ll see.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engine: Honda;
Driver: Takuma Sato;

Great to see Rahal’s team back in IndyCar, and doing it without compromising the ALMS programme. Taku’s landed on his feet with RLL and I really think he’ll do well here. I am a big fan of both the man and his talent and I’d love it if he won a race, he just needs to stop bloody crashing! Could Bobby and his team be the people to knock it out of him?

Dale Coyne Racing
Engine: Honda;
Drivers: Justin Wilson, James Jakes;

Wilson returns to Coyne after a couple of years at DRR but I’m not sure why, they aren’t the fastest out there. He probably didn’t want a Lotus! He managed to get a win at Watkins Glen in 2009 so who knows, maybe he’ll do better than I expect. I don’t consider Jakes to be a hot talent and that opinion dates back to his GP2 days where he qualified well but couldn’t seem to race. He didn’t prove me wrong in IndyCar last year and will need to work hard to convince me this year.

Ed Carpenter Racing
Engine: Chevrolet;
Driver: Ed Carpenter;

I have a lot of respect for Ed for making this move. I never really liked him, what with his family connections to Tony George and the fact he raced for TG’s team. I gained that respect when he drove for the underdog Sarah Fisher Racing team and was still competive on ovals. Always an oval driver first, he and the team decided to tackle select road courses even though he was invariably at the back. He’s been improving throughout. He’s now set up his own team and will run the entire season in a year with a bigger road/street course focus. The only question mark I have is how well he will do as a one-car team with nobody to show him the road course ropes, away from ovals he needs an experienced team-mate.

Engine: Lotus;
Driver: Oriol Servia;

A good upper-midfield team, a very good underappreciated driver, a potentially uncompetive engine. Also a drop from several cars to just one although that probably wouldn’t worry Oriol. May well become the leading Lotus team and the team’s results will hinge on the performance of that engine.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
Engine: Honda;
Driver: Josef Newgarden;

A rookie in a one-car team in a season with new cars and engines. A talented rookie yes, and one I really think should have stuck to the F1 ladder. But even so… I don’t see how this will work well. And yet, in the first two practice sessions in St. Pete he was in the top 12. Remarkable. Want an underdog? You’ve got one.

Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports
Engine: Honda;
Driver: Simon Pagenaud;

It is about time Pagenaud got back into open-wheel. He had a stellar debut in Champ Car 5 years ago, before showing his worth in a variety of top sportscars including Peugeot, with whom he finished 2nd at Le Mans last year (alongside Bourdais). He also won the 2010 ALMS title with Highcroft and David Brabham.

Lotus-HVM Racing
Engine: Lotus;
Driver: Simona de Silvestro;

Simona is a real talent who like so many others could use a team-mate to learn from, sadly this is a one-car effort again potentially hampered by the engine. She’ll show good results when she can but unfortunately results this year may look worse than they could’ve been.

Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian
Engine: Lotus;
Driver: Alex Tagliani;

Tags is a decent driver but he doesn’t seem to ultimately ‘have it’, he’s been at upper-midfield level for years and can’t seem to make that last jump. BHA won the Indy 500 last year but then disappeared until the final two rounds whilst they went away to act as official test team for the new Dallara. As a result they have a lot of data of the car in its early stages which is probably redundant now, the car has evolved so much and the other teams have had plenty of testing to learn it for themselves. Midfield among Lotus runners, occasionally top among them and most likely so at Indy.


Paul Tracy and his legion of fans were hoping to have one last full-season deal as a farewell tour before retirement, and a full-season ride would’ve enabled him to put in more competitive performances than his patchy recent career suggested. Sadly this hasn’t transpired and he seems destined to end his career scratching around for a drive wherever he can, which is not the way a champion should go.

Michael Shank Racing couldn’t secure a deal in time, largely thanks to Dragon getting the TEAM money from the sanctioning body, but are hopeful of appearing later in the year. RLLR have another car coming from Indy onwards for Luca Filippi. Expect several deals to come together for Indy alone and, hopefully, for a few entries beyond that.

I don’t get the sense we’ll see a merry-go-round of drivers this year which makes the series look that much more professional.

2012 IndyCar Preview – Pt 1. All Change

The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season promises to be the most exciting in years. The reintroduction of engine competition alongside a brand new chassis will shake things up, even if the cream rises to the top as it surely will, these added variables will make the racing unpredictable. Add in shaken-up driver line-ups throughout the field (save the top runners) and the series has plenty of what racing fans crave: Unknowns.

A New Car

Much has been written about the Dallara DW12 IndyCar.

From the negatives (and my, IndyCar fans are the best in the world at being negative): It is too heavy at the rear. The sidepods are too big. It looks ugly from several angles. It isn’t different enough to the old car. It is too different to the old car. The engines sound more dull and are too quiet.

To the positives: From different angles it looks very good. The teams have done a fantastic job creating liveries and attracting sponsors. Despite fears of a 17 or 18 car grid we have an entry of 26 cars at St. Pete with more promised later. The engine isn’t as piercingly loud as the last one.

Both are part and parcel of a new chassis and engine package. You will never please everyone. And frankly some of the complaints are those you SHOULD hear when a new car comes in. Not everyone will like it straight away: I didn’t. Yet after weeks of winter testing I really do think it looks more like an IndyCar than the previous chassis did. Okay so yes, it is quite big for an open-wheel car. If it races well nobody will care.

That is the real question. Will it race well? Or will the car be too aero-dependent as most modern open wheel series cars around the world are these days? We hope to find out this Sunday, but we won’t have all the answers as St. Pete is as much a reflection of IndyCar pace as Albert Park is to F1 – in that it isn’t, really. We can get an idea but we won’t really know until the 2nd round.


At last! Engine competition! And a real shake-up in power plants this season. The last-gen Honda engine was built by Ilmor, but they’ve moved over to welcome-returnees Chevrolet. As a result the Chevys have been pace-setters in winter testing and in St. Pete practice sessions, aided significantly by being the engine of choice of Team Penske.

Honda are still present but this time are built in-house by HPD in California, you’ll recognise the name if you follow sportscar racing as they put together some of the quickest LMP1 and LMP2 car/engine combos at last week’s 12 Hours of Sebring . They also built the Honda engines in the CART era. These people know what they are doing. Honda have been just as competitive in testing as Chevy, again helped by having the series’ other top team, Chip Ganassi Racing, in their camp.

The third manufacturer is Lotus, with engines built by Engine Developments Ltd (known by everyone as Judd, after their founder). Lotus joined the party some months after Honda and Chevy and so have struggled to keep pace with their competitors, releasing their first engine some time later, taking to the track later, and having far fewer cars testing as they worked to build enough engines in time for the first race. One thing that has been reported is the good reliability of the engine, if true this could help them massively. What hasn’t helped was the complete radio silence from Lotus and Judd over the off-season, added to money troubles attributed to the Lotus Group. Will they still be around by the end of 2012, beginning 2013? Quite honestly so many people expected them not to appear in testing let alone show up supplying 5 cars at race 1 as they have, I think they’ll still be here.


16 races make up this year’s schedule compared to 17 last year, yet there are several changes to note.

Gone are New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Twin-Ring Motegi, Kentucky Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Controversially these are all oval tracks (however Motegi was switched to the road course last year after earthquake damage) and there are concerns that the replacements are not all ovals – the schedule is no longer balanced as a true test of versatility. There is truth to that and I hope the balance tips back again, even if only slightly. New Hampshire and Kentucky are great IndyCar tracks but drew abysmal ‘crowds’. Motegi has been replaced by an event in China (again controversially). Las Vegas is gone for reasons which should be obvious.

Add in the return of two tracks of old:  Detroit Belle Isle, Auto Club Speedway (a.k.a. Fontana). I’m no fan of Belle Isle, I think I’ve yet to see a good IndyCar/CART race there. ALMS managed to put on a good show but only because the mix of faster and slower classes affected the race. Fontana is a modern classic but there will always be concerns about it after the death of Greg Moore in 1999 (albeit the issue that killed him has long been resolved) but more particularly after Dan Wheldon last year – if the pack racing still exists this year should the series return to a big, fast oval? If the cars are more spread out, yet crucially are still able to pass, then let’s see it.

The retention of two troubled events should be celebrated by everybody. The Milwaukee Mile is a storied racetrack with a history stretching back a hundred years, not to mention it always puts on a great race – a personal favourite. Baltimore’s inaugural race alongside ALMS drew a huge crowd and both races were tense yet fun throughout, it really deserves another shot. It could easily be the ‘Long Beach of the Eastern US’.

* *

The first race is this weekend at St Petersburg, Florida. It starts at about 6pm BST – IndyCar is never exact with starts – but do tune in from 5.30pm to see the pre-race show as there will surely be tributes to Dan Wheldon, who lived in this city. The green flag will be waved by Holly Wheldon, sister of Dan.

See Part 2 of this preview for a run-down of the teams and drivers who will start the season.

Reaction: F1 Australian GP 2012

It was an enjoyable first race of the year, though perhaps not as exciting as some people claimed. Though I enjoyed it I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. I am not sure if this was tired grumpiness after 3 hours sleep following Sebring, only to be confronted with ad-ridden dodgy internet feeds. I don’t think so because I watched the BBC recap and didn’t feel hugely different.

The Race

The DRS was used to good effect in Melbourne. Whilst I don’t agree with it being used at every race, it was clear there wouldn’t have been a lot of overtaking here without it. Most passes I saw involved DRS on the front straight or the run between turns 2 and 3. Mind you, turn 3 is traditionally the best passing place on the circuit so perhaps it is harder to tell than is apparent.

There was some great racing in the field. Sebastian Vettel was forced to race rather than drive off imperiously, despite his critics saying he can’t pass he did exactly that.

I like McLaren and both of their drivers so colour me happy they were fast and up front! It was also a really nice change from blue. Albert Park is a quirky circuit and McLaren are always quick there – the question is still open as to the real form on a wide open course as we’ll see at Sepang. I also have a feeling Mark Webber will again make life ‘interesting’ for Sebastian Vettel as he did in 2010. I don’t think we’ll see as much of a McLaren walkover this season as this GP suggested. Even if they do we’ll have a real fight between Jenson and Lewis. We’re in for a fun year.

I was impressed by the pace of Mercedes and I think they are going to have a very good year, the achilles heel seems to be reliability. That could be down to the decision to skip the first test, less time to iron out the bugs. If they can make the car last the distance they will be on the podium often this year and could well score a win or two.

All credit to Fernando Alonso for dragging what is reportedly a dog of a Ferrari to 5th place as if they were still as relatively good to the opposition as they were last year.

Positive Movement

I said it in my pre-race previews here and on the Sidepodcast megamix – the press may be all over Raikkonen, but watch Romain Grosjean this year. What a different driver he is nowadays. Despite being taken out of the race early he showed a lot of people his true talent right the way through last weekend.

Williams! Wow, I’d hoped they would improve from 18th or 20th but I expected something like 12th-14th,  not a solid points run! But then the curse of Maldonado struck and he crashed, on the last lap would you believe it. Senna fared even worse. That doesn’t really matter though – they demonstrated a major improvement and that is very, very promising. Thank you Renault.

Great to see attacking drives from both Sauber guys being rewarded with a deserved double points finish. The car seems upper-midfield in race pace, if not qualifying pace, which is nice to see.

Caterham. I expected more from them than to still be a few tenths off the bottom of the midfield. That said, the signs are that Petrov is already better at dealing with life back here than was Trulli.

Marussia, despite being last they were only lapped twice (including the lap they were gifted back thanks to the Lucky Pack of Dogs) which is a glimmer of an improvement in speed compared to 3+ laps of the last two years. The real improvement is in getting both cars home at the first attempt after doing no pre-season testing, I give them a lot of credit for that. HRT were in the same boat and didn’t even qualify. It was nice to see the stewards actually apply the 107% rule for a change.


The BBC coverage of the weekend was excellent. I only have complaints about some action that was cut from the highlights but firstly I am a racing geek who wants to see it all, and secondly cuts were expected to happen. On the whole they showed a creditable amount of the race (and qualifying) for what are highlights shows.

The commentary line-up is already ahead of the terrestrial line-up of the past several years, Ben Edwards proving exactly why he should’ve been the one to pick up the baton from Murray Walker all those years ago. Fair enough he does dumb things down a little bit but that’s entirely due to the audience he is talking to – the casual, non-geek F1 fan. His predecessors did the same thing. What he adds is an extra level of excitement added to the gravitas of a professional play-by-play commentator. I prefer this to the conversational style of Brundle and DC last year. DC himself seems more at ease than I’ve ever heard him, partly I think due to the slightly more clear-cut analyst/colour role, and partly due to this being his 3rd season behind the mic and the growing confidence that brings.

The pre- and post-race segments weren’t long enough but there were never going to be in this format. The real test of how the BBC has changed its’ game in 2012 will be their first live race at the Chinese GP. As for their highlights shows, to attract viewers with this format they needed to produce some of the best quality content they’ve put together yet – so far, they’ve achieved it.

I do not have Sky Sports F1 and haven’t had the opportunity to see very much of it, so it would be unfair of me to comment on it. There is a chance I will find out for myself for the Malaysian GP.

Next Race

This weekend; Malaysian GP, Sepang, KL, Malaysia.

A very different prospect to Albert Park. Long, fast sweepers in high temperatures asking a lot of tyres, chassis, engine and aero performance. Add to this the potential for rain (even thunderstorms) and we have another hard-to-predict weekend!

Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012

The 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring promised much but only partly satisfied our need for answers. If anything it only got me looking forward even more to the coming season!

The Race

The first half of the race felt quite flat and I’m sure that’s as a result of the lack of action at the ultimate sharp end combined with the difficulties in actually trying to watch the race. I remember saying the race needed to improve.

The second half was much better, the coverage improved, and despite some big gaps the races tightened up as reliability struck. Could the repairs be made before the slower chasers made up the deficit? Could the fast delayed cars make up lost ground? Then you had both LMP2 and GT with cars on the same lap even after 11 hours! Aside from the outright win you couldn’t pick any class winner at any stage.

The race as a whole must have been a good one because the 12 hours flew by!

Continue reading “Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012”

2012 FIA WEC Preview

This year’s endurance racing calendar is something special, for the first time in 20 years we have a world championship for long-distance sportscar racing and it promises to develop into something big over the coming years.

It is a shame that one of the main instigators of the FIA World Endurance Championship, Peugeot, was forced to withdraw before the season. Audi vs Peugeot would’ve been even more fraught than we’ve seen in the past with a world title on the line! Toyota had already planned to join midseason. They, the FIA and the ACO should be applauded for working to have then enter more races than was originally planned and for adjusting the points system to allow dropped scores, so the LMP1 championship is mathematically still on the line even if Audi will surely win it comfortably.


The centrepiece is of course Le Mans, with a calendar featuring some of the best events of the international endurance racing calendar of the past few years, added to new events in Brazil, Japan and controversially, Bahrain.

A curious and notable absence is Petit Le Mans which will revert to being ALMS-only this year, not a popular decision and even worse when Bahrain was originally scheduled for the same weekend. That madness has been avoided but PLM still falls between two Asian WEC events on weekends either side of it, so it’ll be very difficult indeed for any WEC teams to compete in Georgia.

March 17th – 12 Hours of Sebring (with ALMS)
May 5th – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
June 3rd – Le Mans Test Day
June 16th – 24 Hours of Le Mans (with other invitiationals)
August 26th – 6 Hours of Silverstone
September 16th – 6 Hours of Sao Paulo
September 30th – 6 Hours of Bahrain
October 14th – 6 Hours of Fuji
Novmeber 11th – 6 Hours of Shanghai


In LMP1, the fight between the HPD teams Strakka, JRM and at Sebring, Muscle Milk should be tight and they’ll be up against the Lolas of Rebellion, and OAK and Pescarolo with their eponymous chassis. Throw in a mix of engines from HPD (Honda) to Toyota to Judd and at Sebring a Mazda as well. All the runners are on Michelins except for the Dunlops on the OAK and Dyson cars. Familiar names include Brabham, Prost, Chandhok, Heidfeld, Bleekemolen, Watts, Kane, Collard and Boullion.

LMP1 isn’t the only interest, there is a strong field in the petrol half of LMP1, and in LMP2 and the two GTE categories. At Sebring we have the added excitement of the ALMS contenders joining the fun, and at Le Mans we’ll see some of the best teams from the ALMS and ELMS join the WEC for the classic 24 Hours. Also at Le Mans we will see the race debut of the Delta Wing which promises to be very exciting – I hope it is reliable!

LMP2 is worth watching for once. No longer is it a collection of underfunded teams with cars which break down easily. There are solid entries from Signatech, OAK (again), Greaves, PeCom and even the GrandAm team Starworks are entering the WEC. Cars range from Lolas to Orecas to Zyteks to HPDs to Morgans (rebadged OAK) and engines from Nissan, Judd, HPD and Lotus. All cars are on Dunlops. The drivers may be less familiar but Starworks signed a coup with Stephane Sarrazin for the longer races.


GTE Pro features Fisichella and Bruni with AF Corse, in their other car Olivier Beretta switches from Corvette. They’re up against the similar car of Luxury Racing with Vernay, Melo and Makowiecki. Aston Martin rejoin the field after their LMP stints and they have Mucke, Turner and Fernandez. Felbermayr’s line-up of Lieb and Lietz is not to be doubted either. At Sebring of course they are joined by the very strong ALMS teams of Corvette, BMW and various Porsche teams.

GTE Am is for year-old cars and they must run at least one (or two?) amateur drivers. Larbre Competition have a couple of Corvettes and Pedro Lamy, AF Corse and Luxury also entered Ferraris here (including one for Michael Waltrip at least for Sebring), Felbermayr have another Porsche and don’t count out Krohn’s green Ferrari.


There are 35 cars signed up for the full season. These will be joined by ‘wild card’ entries through the year, though we don’t know the details yet.

At Sebring we add in the Prototype and GT Challenge classes for spec Orecas and Porsches respectively. 64 cars at Sebring, and 56 at Le Mans including the Delta Wing.

Even if Audi does win it all, the other classes should be interesting. Perhaps more interesting is this is the first ‘building’ year of the series, taking a step up from last year’s ILMC. After showing what it can do this year, who else might enter in 2013 and 2014? There are exciting years ahead!