The long off-season is ending! It has crept up on me quite quietly and the four or five posts I’d intended to write since New Year never came to be written, so I’ll condense a few thoughts here.
We’ve already seen several races this year, some of them were prestigious and some of them were very good, but really this weekend has to be considered the true start of the motorsport season, for two reasons: Firstly, it is the first weekend of the year with two properly major events (the Australian F1 GP and the 12 Hours of Sebring), secondly, from this weekend there isn’t really an off week from major racing until the end of November! The season starts properly this very weekend.
I didn’t get anything like as much done this off-season as I’d planned. Partly I have been enjoying the freedom to do as I like after work, partly I haven’t had the energy because I find a cold winter to be mentally draining, and partly I’ve felt I had a lot of time so kept pushing things back. As a result there are fewer blog posts written, fewer DVR or backlog races watched, and a whole side-project was left alone. Admittedly an old and dying computer slowed me down, which finally died recently – now I have a new PC for a new season and I can get cracking!
What have I been watching this off-season?
I love watching the Dakar every January. I was sceptical of the move from Africa and I don’t like the retention of the name, yet nobody can argue the new adventures in South America are not a challenge. They could be the toughest “Dakars” ever staged and the landscapes of Peru, Chile and Argentina are jaw-dropping.
This year was particularly tough with the race having no warm-up before hitting the tough desert stages. Usually the entrants get a few days to acclimatise to the daily slog by running hundreds of kilometres through more temperate stages, before being flung into the navigational challenge of the dunes.
This year the route was reversed – the Peruvian dunes came first. That had a knock-on effect on the retirement rate and the competitiveness of the race with some fairly big time gaps opening up relatively early. It was always going to be so with the route running in this direction. In a year lacking major manufacturer entrants (particularly in the car category) it was always going to be more spread out than in the past. It probably didn’t mean anything, normally the time gaps are irrelevant for the first week, before they hit the sand dunes, all this year did was set the gaps a week earlier than usual! Unfortunately this meant it seemed the race was over much earlier.
Still, the Dakar remains the toughest motor race on earth, especially for the bikers.
This is really an up-and-coming event now. More and more quality teams and drivers from over the world are gravitating to Dubai in January to get a race in during the otherwise dead off-season, and for some it acts as a nice breather from the cold winter! Perhaps for the Aussie entrants it is a nice breather from a hot summer.
The organisers (Creventic) are quite relaxed about the whole thing which is perfect, that’s exactly what you want from a non-championship race in January. If you have a GT or touring car call them up and they’ll tell you if it is eligible, and if it isn’t they might just create a class for it! This race has everything from GT3 cars all the way down to Renault Clio Cup cars modified for endurance racing, much like the German VLN series.
The GT3 class was much more interesting this year since the class was split in two – a Pro class and a Pro-Am class. In the past every car had to hit a ‘reference time’, go any faster and you’d be penalised. It spoiled the race last year. Thankfully for the Pro class those rules were dropped and it transformed the race – it was fast and frenetic from start to finish! It was also interesting to see how the identical Pro-Am cars matched up running with ‘amateur’ drivers and reference times – the fuel they saved meant more laps between pit stops, meaning some of these cars were in outright contention for many hours.
The winning Mercedes very much deserved it. I remember Sean Edwards and Jeroen Bleekemolen putting in brilliant drives, as did Claudia Hurtgen in the BMW who may have been the driver of the day with a brilliant fightback following a delay to that car, alas it wasn’t to be.
The entire race is available on YouTube (link to Part 1). If Sebring this weekend gets you motivated for sportscar racing or you’re at a loose end, you should watch some of it.
Dubai also runs the unique ‘Code 60’ system – instead of a Safety Car, purple flags are waved and the entire field slows to a speed limit of 60 km/h. It’s weird but it works! It potentially works because they’re so quick at towing cars back to the pits. That’s the other great thing – cars are allowed to be towed back, repaired and rejoined. None of this stupid ACO or FIA ‘outside assistance’ crap. Both concepts deserve serious further thought from the traditional grandees of racing.
GT and touring-style cars at Mount Panorama, you can’t ask for much better than that. I’ll argue with anyone – they look better than the V8 Supercars around there. Another Creventic-affiliated race and another which is growing very rapidly, more so than Dubai – this year’s race had twice as many entries as last year.
After a few hours it became a bit of a benefit for the leading Mercedes pair after everyone else had problems, though late-race rain storms suddenly threw everything into the air and made it unpredictable! The Mercs did hold on to win but the chasing Ferraris were faster for a while. Even with a big lead, you had to keep watching just to admire the talent to drive these cars at these speeds at such a track – vastly more entertaining than the featureless Dubai track. GT cars are slower in a straight line than the V8s but much faster through the twisty, narrow, concrete-walled sections along the top.
The entire race is available on Livestream where unfortunately the videos aren’t listed in the right order. Definitely, definitely watch for at least 5 or 10 minutes just to see GT cars on The Mountain, they look phenomenal.
Daytona is a star-studded race these days with drivers from all sorts of sportscar series joining visitors from IndyCar and NASCAR. As a race though it still feels like it is missing something. I don’t know what the something is but I think it could be that I don’t care about the cars. I hope that changes next year with the merged US sportscar series and two additional classes to enjoy, certainly the ex-ALMS GT class will be something to behold on the banking.
In the top class it was clear the BMWs were the favoured engines this year, they were clearly superior to the rest and it wasn’t down to BMW’s development – they had rule breaks in the name of ‘equalisation’ which very much worked for them. They breezed by the other cars. Still, you’ve got to drive the distance, not crash or stress and break the car, and work through the traffic, and that’s not easy to do so well done to Ganassi for the win. The GT class seemed to go one way then suddenly in the last hour it all changed, the Pro drivers in the Audis and Ferraris suddenly jumped to the front, top driving and great strategy.
All eyes turn to 2014. Oddly while Sebring may take a knock with the loss of international P1s, Daytona ought to be much improved next year with the ALMS GTs aboard.
I’ve been watching the 2011 WRC season. Vastly underrated especially by myself, when I actually started watching it I realised how wrong I had been. The competition may only have been between a couple of guys – Loeb and Ogier – but the old cliché is true, it only takes two cars to have a race. The small supporting cast could’ve picked up a win at any point. Ok so there were only about 7 regular scorers in the main WRC class but they’re all top drawer, and the SWRC guys provided another class to watch. I have four rallies left of the 14-round series and I’m trying to get them done quickly. I hope to follow it up with 2012
Earlier this week I watched last year’s ALMS Lime Rock race on ALMS.com where many races are archived. I’m not convinced top level multi-class racing belongs at such a short, tight track. It would be like trying to run an ALMS races at Brands Hatch Indy circuit – elbows out, lots of contact. On the other hand it would be the perfect touring car venue!
These days I’m more active on Twitter, it is just easier to shoot the breeze on there. I’d like to get back into the swing of blogging but I say that a lot and it is quite hard to stick to regimented schedule, equally as hard to blog freely to no schedule (‘oh, I’ll write about it tomorrow’).
Thankfully, Steph (of More Front Wing fame) has entered the multi-series arena with a great new site, I recommend you visit Last Turn Pass for articles and opinion on all sorts of racing series. She’s posting race reactions a little bit like I used to do 3 years go – though hers are in the superior bullet-point format – and it’ll be interesting to see if she can keep it up for longer than I did once we’re into the weekly grind of a season!
Then of course you have Leigh at the Motorsport Archive which is also a great multi-series resource, indeed congratulations are due to him as he joins the GP Week e-magazine.
To get back into the swing of short-form posting I plan to have something up here tonight about the United Sportscar reveal, as well as a few words about the upcoming F1 season.
I’d like to get back into doing a weekly roundup of things I’ve been watching!