I’m Watching… #2

This weekend was all about one race…. at least, it was supposed to be.

We all know that F1 races are quite boring this year. We also all know that the battle between Audi and Peugeot for overall honours over the 24 Hour race at Le Mans has turned into an epic annual contest which has been enthralling for several years now, with further depth through the classes.

Not this year.

Le Mans 24 Hours

I didn’t think the 2010 24 Hours was a classic, but a mediocre race at Le Mans is more evocative than a decent race at many other venues.

– LMP1

It promised much, but as early as Wednesday night’s qualifying session Peugeot laid down lap times so fast as to effectively smack down the improved Audi’s challenge in terms of an out and out race. This was going to be a reliability run rather than a strategic battle, and with Peugeot having successfully completed a 30-hour endurance test it looked all sewn up before the race had started.

As it turned out, Audi’s race pace wasn’t that poor and they seemed to be able to maintain their top pace for much longer – Peugeot had far faster cars but they couldn’t maintain 3m19s laps for long. This mean the French team held a 1 or 2 lap lead over the German team for a considerable amount of time, but no more. All of the seven cars were pushing.

In terms of an actual race, things went wrong early when a Safety Car period for Mansell’s crash split the frontrunners, giving the four Peugeots an extra minute over the three Audis. On the green flag the Audis held that gap for ages, proving they could’ve got amongst the Pug’s early on had they been given the chance. Once we were into the meat of the race the Peugeots were easily the things to have and they extended a gap, so there wasn’t much in the way of racing, either passing or on pit strategy.

This was ‘run until someone either wins or breaks’. Eventually all four Peugeots broke down or were involved in incidents (and one of them broke surprisingly early), and the Audis didn’t ran near-flawlessly save for an ‘off’ by TK. Win sealed, go home. It wasn’t enthralling waiting for something to happen for so many hours. Interestingly it was the faster car from each team that dropped back – that is unless the others were managing their pace while these two pushed to catch up) and while both cars put in their customary supreme stints overnight, it wasn’t for the win.. Didn’t grab me.

Petrol cars:  AMR were ‘best of the rest’ for nearly the whole race but died near the end, leaving ORECA’s other car to take the spoils. Not necessarily a bad result, it had been quicker than I’d expected it to be and could’ve won it on merit, but as it turned out it was the last car standing. Again though, not much of a race because the team I expected to really hustle AMR – Rebellion and its pair of Lolas – suffered all manner of difficulties, which was a shame. This sub-class turned into a survival of the fittest. I know that’s what Le Mans is about, I guess we’ve just been spoiled with a different type of fight in the past.

– LMP2

Two cars were the class of the field: the two HPD (nee Acura) chassis run by Strakka and Highcroft. I tipped Highcroft for the win because they are so good in the US and this is Strakka’s first year with the car, plus Highcroft had 3 good drivers and Strakka had 2+ 1 average. As it turned out it went the other way, Stakka’s experience of 24-hour racing shone through and they led the class throughout – well done to them. Highcroft were racing outside North America for the first time, in a 24 hour race for the first time, unfamiliar with the ACO’s different way of doing things and without as much support gear with them as they are used to. Highcroft ran into several difficulties during the race but they seemed to pick themselves up and push on, all credit to them. Unfortunately this meant the expected duel between the two never really materialised for any length of time.

There were a few other good teams – notably RML – but they couldn’t stay in contention, and there were the usual few makeweights/fieldfillers.

– GT1

Pathetic. To think that this class used to provide the best race in the field, and now the cars can barely finish let alone even beat GT2. In fairness to the class it has been completely neutered so that the power advantage it had is now reduced, they barely have a time advantage over the GT2s, while the extra weight and fuel consumption and therefore extra pit stops drops them back every time. I’m sure the development this style of racing is famous for would recover much of that over the coming years, they won’t be allowed the chance to find out, the class has been removed for 2011 in the mistaken belief the cars can’t be turned into endurance racers. Ostensibly this is because of the increasing cost of the previous regulations which did need addressing, but the ongoing bunfight between the SRO and ACO has lost us the chance to rebuild the class at a more reasonable cost – instead we get some lame GT2 sub-category for amateurs. A real shame.

– GT2

This class featured the best racing and the most contenders for victory, and the highlight of the entire race for me was the on-track race for the lead between the Corvette and the Risi Ferrari, the positions changing from straight to straight for several laps – at sunset, no less! That’s Le Mans fever right there. It was a real shame the Risi car suffered the gearbox problem, and then (much) later the two Corvettes had their own issues with one breaking the other apparently being pushed off track by a Peugeot, if not by physical contact then by not giving the ‘Vette the racing room. Attrition hit this class too, leaving the Felbermayr Porsche to take the win.

A very high attrition rate throughout the field this year, was that due to underfunded teams, a harder pace, or some other unknown reason? I have a feeling it is a mixture of those things. Still, new rules for 2011 and 2012 see the 24 move into a new era – let’s see what it brings.

F1: Canadian Grand Prix

What a race! This was easily the best Formula 1 race of the year. Every season F1 throws up two or three excellent races, this was one of them and the best F1 race I’ve seen since Brazil’s title decider last year. There was action throughout, split strategies and sometimes it seemed like guesswork. The soft tyres were entirely inappropriate for what turned out to be a far more abrasive track than Bridgestone anticipated, yet that was exactly what created such a good race. Could the softs last long enough? Had they brought a compound step higher this could’ve been another snorer. Thankfully Bridgestone won’t be around to make use of that lesson next year!

McLaren were expected to walk away from the rest with their F-Duct, but then they deployed their ‘interesting’ strategy of using the soft tyres first in the hope of a Safety Car that never came. And yet… it worked! I’ve no idea how they pulled it off, in a race with so many early stops it left the Lotus of Kovalainen in 7th for a short while it was difficult to know what was going on for a while, thankfully I had the aid of live timing else I’d have been completely lost.

One more note on Canada – did you see how full those stands were?! Absolutely brilliant, and I’m sure there were more than usual. Welcome back to the schedule, Montreal – you were missed.

Other

Among this glut of racing I managed to catch the England v USA World Cup game, which ended in a disappointing but perhaps expected draw. I have a feeling both teams can win their remaining games and will both qualify, I hope so.

I also booked my ticket to the Goodwood Festival of Speed! I’ll be there on the Sunday and I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m Watching… #1

The introduction to my TMR Game posts is often a recap of what I’ve been watching over the weekend just past, but as I was writing the post tonight I wondered if it would be better to write it as a post on its own every Monday/Tuesday. It gets across my thoughts on that week’s racing and cuts the Game posts down to size, which I’ve been pondering how to do for a while. Win-win!

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”false” link=”term=IndyCar+Texas&iid=9040101″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9040101/firestone-550k/firestone-550k.jpg?size=500&imageId=9040101″ width=”380″ height=”248″ /]

I stayed up most of Saturday night / Sunday morning to watch the excellent Texas IndyCar race along with the gang at Sidepodcast (and Twitter of course). Really good to get back on the fast ovals with Indy and Texas – I love the road courses but there’s something different about their oval races you just don’t see anywhere else. *cough*  Great to see the Andretti team back up front with a 2-3 finish. It was unfortunate what happened to de Silvestro – I’d planned to expand on that (and also recap Indy) in a dedicated IndyCar blog post but that has been delayed as I’ve been busy.

DTM and MotoGP clashes – as usual – and I watched the MotoGP as that’s usually the more entertaining of the two plus I can get it on my TV and the DTM would require a stream, though I wonder why I bothered because after the Pedrosa/Lorenzo thing was settled it was fairly boring. I’m just not getting excited about the current crop of riders, who the hell are they?

I don’t watch NASCAR Cup races (I’d watch highlights if I could), but I did catch the tag between Harvick and Logano on YouTube. What was that about? Commentary said they were going for the same gap, looked a little more suspect to me, perhaps not deliberate but maybe one didn’t back off when they may have done had it been someone else, apparently these guys have history..

Since I missed last week, what did I think of Turkey? Tense all the way through, the top four were pushing like hell throughout – it may not have come across on the TV screen but following the live timing a different member of the quartet set Fastest Lap with every pass. Then the clash! I jumped out of my seat. I never jump out of my seat. Vettel’s fault, clearly. Then the Maccas tried it! Sane heads prevailed and they took the 1-2.

What of the big race of that week, the 500? I LOVED IT. I’ve watched the Indy 500 since 2006 and this was the best yet. That’s not just for the racing but also the atmosphere, which was the most positive and forward-looking I’ve seen in my short tenure as a 500 fan – “unification” and the new management of the series are turning things around already. Many, like Pressdog, complained it was too much like an F1 race. So? It was like a very good F1 race or a very good sportscar endurance race. It had mystery, strategy, balls-out passes into tight corners (despite being an oval, at 230mph those turns are tight and the place only has one effective line), and top it off most of the front-runners hit trouble, so we had some different people in the top ten. Dario and team executed a near-perfect race. That’s fine – we watch this stuff to see the best of the best, this isn’t amateur hour – and if they hadn’t, we would’ve seen a non-Ganassi non-Penske winner. Roll on next year.

Another big one this week – Le Mans! Should be great. Mixed in with the welcome return of the Canadian GP and the stat of the World Cup, we’re in for a hell of a weekend.

[Photo credit:  IZOD IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway, Getty Images, via Picapp]

Race Review: GP2 Asia Sepang ’09

GP2 Asia Series 2008/09
Sepang, Malaysia
Held: 4&5 April 09
Commentary: Martin Haven & Gareth Rees

Continuing my Race Review catch up series, this was the primary support event to the Malaysian GP and is the penultimate round of the series.

Points coming in:

Kobayashi 39
Valsecchi 29
Hülkenberg 27
Perez 25
D’Ambrosio 23

Feature Race – 33 laps
(the Sprint Race is noted below)

Qualifying:
1. D’Ambrosio (DAMS)
2. Nunes (Piquet GP)
3. Jakes (Super Nova)
4. Kobayashi (DAMS)
5. Villa (Super Nova)
6. Petrov (Campos)

The top 22 are covered by under 1 second, which the guys say is a surprise, and as Gareth says “this isn’t Mallory Park this is a proper Grand Prix circuit”.

Drama as the coverage begins as D’Ambrosio has NOT taken his pole position! His car broke down on the warm-up lap and he had to pit, he won’t take the start, could rejoin later but will be many laps down.

The other omission is Nico Hülkenberg who is not racing this weekend, Pastor Maldonado has reclaimed the seat.

START

Several slow starts and the cars fan out wide, Villa stalls it from 5th on the grid. Lots of bumping and contact through that twiddly bit at the start of the lap.

Lots of side-by-side action throughout the first lap, but Mortara is out on lap one.
Nunes leads Petrov, Kobayashi and Maldonado.

32 to go – Parente passes..someone. Hard to tell. These liveries aren’t easy to ID.

30 – Perez started 18th but is already up to 10th.

27 – Nunes leads, in 2nd and 3rd Petrov and Kobayashi are all over each other!

26 – Early pit stop for Kobayashi. He was sort of caught behind Petrov.
Ooh, Petrov runs VERY wide and allows Jakes into 2nd place.

25 – Maldonado pushing hard runs wide, scoots across the grasscrete or whatever it is, rejoins with dirty tyres and some positions down. Gareth: “Typical Pastor”. The guys say he’s a charming chap but he’s a rough diamond.

Nice move by Yelmer Buurman on Vitaly Petrov, who is really struggling to get his car stopped yet still made Buurman work for it.

23 – Petrov loses another place as someone drafts him down the back straight, so he dives into the pits for new rear tyres.
Slow car on track: Razia crawling in 1st or maybe even coasting.

22 – Maldonado pits.. he’s got damage on the nose. He’s out in 15th with more yet to stop.

Shots of F1 personnel on the pit stand watching the race, including Nelson Piquet Jr and Felipe Massa. Remember this race happened shortly after F1 qualifying. Parente takes Gonzalez, who then pits..

20 – Nunes pits from the lead, as does Valsecchi who has a very slow stop with a sticking right rear.

19 – Perez has stopped in the pit entry, nearly blocking it. Dark clouds are approaching!
Perez has been pushed to his pit – replay and it looks like his radiator has been holed.

17 – Jakes is pushing Kobayashi for what will end up as 2nd after the pitstops.

15 – Al-Fardan finally makes his stop, the last to do so.

8 – Jakes is still close behind Kobayashi but can’t seem to do anything about it.

7 – Maldonado smokes his tyres in an attempt to pass Petrov, can’t make it by at the hairpin, tries it again at turn one and still can’t do it! Couple of flat-spots on those tyres now, Valsecchi watching on.

4 – Discussion on the merits of KERS and how GP2 could have it if F1 develops it to be cheap enough. Hmm, hindsight.. 🙂

3 – Maldonado makes an error and allows Parente to draw alongside, both have patience and Parente takes the position. Comment from Gareth that the Maldonado of old would’ve taken Parente out there and then.

2 – Maldonado and Valsecchi are close together as they lap a backmarker, both are just a little behind Petrov.

Diego Nunes wins!

Result:
1 Nunes (PiquetGP) 33 laps
2 Kobayashi (DAMS) +8.36s
3 Jakes (Super Nova) +9.15s
4 Rodriguez (PiquetGP) +13.87s
5 Buurman (Ocean) +16.81s
6 Petrov (Campos) +41.46s

Summary:
Pretty flat end to the race. Lots of drivers in little close groups but not seemingly able to do anything to make a pass. Good job from Nunes and Jakes, complete change of fortunes over previous form, well done. Amazingly, Al-Fardan came 9th after looking utterly hopeless back in Qatar.

Sprint Race – 22 laps

It is wet for Sunday’s race, which was held a couple of hours before the F1 race. As ever the grid is the result of the Feature with the top 8 reversed.

1 Valsecchi
2 Maldonado
3 Petrov
4 Buurman
5 Rodriguez
6 Jakes

As it turns out this race has been delayed by 30 minutes by the wet conditions and we will have a Safety Car start (and no formation lap).

START

Yamamoto has stalled at the start and so has one of the FMS cars, could be Chen. Both cars are pushed into the pitlane. Yamamoto gets fired but stops at the end of pitlane, while they are taking the engine cover off Chen’s car. I’m not sure why Yamamoto stopped, he has a green light which now turns red as the field comes by behind the SC to complete lap 1.

18 to go – Safety Car is in, green flag!
Contact on the last corner between Maldonado and Valsecchi.

A couple of spinners at turn two including James Jakes – that’s a shame after his race 1 run.

No rain but the track is very wet, the cars are kicking up spray so it is hard to see who is close behind someone.

17 – Maldonado tries several times and makes it by Valsecchi, Petrov’s coming with him. Meanwhile Buurman runs wide and loses a couple of places. I was doing the same at that corner on the Wii last night..

16 – Kobayashi brakes far too late and runs into the wide runoff at turn one, loses a position.

15 – Maldonado leads, followed by Petrov, Valsecchi, Nunes, Al Fardan, Buurman, Parente and Gonzalez. Kobayashi is 11th, D’Ambrosio 17th.

12 – The DPR cars are off course and out of the race.

Nice dive from Petrov at the final corner to pass Maldonado for the lead! Interesting to see Petrov is quite a bit faster today, relative the rest of the field.

11 – Petrov, Maldonado, Valsecchi, Nunes, Al Fardan, Gonzalez, Kobayashi, Buurman. Points only go to the top 6 in the Sprint though.

Petrov just set the fastest lap of the race. Apparently Jakes got the point for FL yesterday (Villa was faster, Jakes was fastest of the top ten finishers, a rule to prevent pitting for tyres and going for a time).

Replay of D’Ambrosio running off track into an area where several marshalls and a tractor were working on two cars already – dangerous stuff, he should’ve backed off under yellow and he didn’t. Commentary guys are saying he should get a penalty, I agree.

9 – Rodriguez off course, too much speed and into the gravel. I think he recovers eventually.
Pics of Razia walking back to the pits.

The track is drying now and there’s not much spray. Due to the Safety Car start and the wet conditions this is now a timed race and there are 11 minutes to go.

D’Ambrosio does indeed get a black flag, hooray for the stewards! Replay again, the car in front checks up and Jerome just drives by and off course. He pits and shuts down the engine – looks like a straight black flag and not a time penalty!

8mins – Replay of Al Fardan running wide at turn one, same way Rodriguez did.

Perez vs Gonzalez – Perez makes the pass through turns 1 and 2 but loses out at the switchback, he makes it stick a few corners later.

5mins – Nunes sets Fastest Lap. The guys are talking about setups, some of those who have gone for dry or intermediate setups should be getting faster than the guys with wet setups now.

2m30s – Parente is now fastest. Kobayashi is pressuring Al Fardan for 4th, he’s closed up but doesn’t seem to be able to make the move.

The clock hits zero, last lap.

Vitaly Petrov wins!

Kobayashi and Perez cross the line side-by-side!! Who got it? How did Perez get up to Kobayashi?
Replays: Perez gets the position by half a nose! Fantastic, and it was the final points place as well..

Result:
1 Petrov (Campos) 22 laps
2 Maldonado (ART) +2.91s
3 Valsecchi (Durango) +4.34s
4 Nunes (Piquet GP) +6.36s
5 Al Fardan (iSport) +21.54s
6 Perez (Campos) +24.49s

Summary:
A drying race track saw some desparate moves, some worked and some didn’t and it was fun to watch both those and the struggles to control the cars on the slippery surface.

POINTS:
1 Kobayashi 47
2 Valsecchi 34
3 Petrov 28
4 Hulkenberg 27
5 Rodriguez 27
6 Perez 26

Next up is final round of this GP2 Asia season supporting the Bahrain GP, and with 22 points available for two wins and two fastest laps it isn’t over yet.

Race Review: NASCAR Auto Club 500

2009 Auto Club 500
California Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California, USA
22 Feb 2009
Round 2 of 36

I watched the 1 hr highlights edition and will note edits with “[jump]”. There are a lot of edits.

I’ve decided to post this just for the hell of it – since I’m watching these short shows anyway in order to learn NASCAR for the 2010 season I may as well blog about them!

Green Flag

This is a fast 2 mile superspeedway, Jamie McMurray started on pole but fellow front-row man Jimmie Johnson takes the lead from the start. The guest starter is getting very animated on the stand!

After only two laps we jump to Lap 72.

[jump]
L72 – Johnson leads with Jeff Gordon in 2nd after Jeff passes Kurt Busch who was running a very high line.

L73 – Pit report saying Tony Stewart’s car is a little ‘loose’ but the commentary guys say it should get better as the track will come towards them later. He’s 6th.

Another pit report mentions the word ‘carburettor’. I chuckle.

L76 – Ex-F1 driver Scott Speed is in this race and he has been lapped, yet we’ve just been told 38 cars are on the lead lap. Oh dear.

L78 – Jeff Gordon takes the lead from his teammate, on-track pass.

[jump]
L119 – 21 of the 43 starters are on the lead lap, 41 cars are running. Replay of someone sliding the back end to avoid the wall!

Talk of the Chevrolets and Fords getting the best fuel mileage, and the Dodges and Toyotas not being as good. Interesting. This is what I like about multi-manufacturer competition, even if they are tightly controlled. I wonder which develops more power?

[jump]
L177 – Restart after a mystery yellow (we are not shown or told why). 73 laps to go, Matt Kenseth leads. Mark Martin’s car slides and his tyre smokes, he has to pit.

Johnson and Gordon are still in contention changing position between themselves.

Apparently they are using the brakes here more with the new car than they did with the old regulations. I’m surprised at this, I wouldn’t expect them to even touch the brakes here.

Even though these are heavily-edited highlights I can tell this race was pretty boring.

60 to go – Nice to see Montoya working his way up to 9th.

[jump]
L215 – Kenseth takes another restart. Again we do not see the reason for it. 35 to go. Now we talk to Dale Earnhardt Jr who is talking about something breaking with the engine, he’s very disappointed…

Kenseth builds a lead on the restart, then Gordon reels him in again when his tyres are up and working properly.

26 to go. Some good advice from the commentary for the rookies, stop trying to imitate the established stars and just drive the car the way you want to.

[jump]
15 to go – Nothing has changed except the gaps are growing. This is like an F1 race! We are told Gordon is cooling his tyres ready for another push at the end.

8 to go – Hamlin takes 4th from Kurt Busch.

We are told about a ‘Monster Moment’ and hear swooshy noises for graphics, no graphics appear on screen. This happens often on these highlights packages.

7 to go – The rookie Eric Almirola slows down with an apparent engine problem.
5 to go – Gordon is now pushing hard and catching Kenseth.
4 to go – ..and they are among lapped traffic.
2 to go – Kenseth has used the traffic to build a bigger gap, nicely played!

Final Lap

Matt Kenseth wins!! 2nd race win in a row after winning the Daytona 500, only the 4th driver to achieve feat of winning both Daytona and the race that followed it, the last time was in 1997.

Result (top 10):

1. Kenseth (Roush Fenway)
2. J.Gordon (Hendrick)
3. Ky.Busch (Gibbs)
4. Biffle (Roush Fenway)
5. Ku.Busch (Penske)
6. Hamlin (Gibbs)
7. Edwards (Roush Fenway)
8. Stewart (Stewart-Haas)
9. Johnson (Hendrick)
10. Vickers (Red Bull)

I’ve decided to include the teams rather than the manufacturers as NASCAR does it as I think it is more telling, and in any case that’s what I’m used to in other series.

Points (top 12):

1. Kenseth 385
2. J.Gordon -81
3. Ku.Busch -91
4. Stewart -91
5. Biffle -117
6. Bowyer -119
7. Waltrip -121
8. Ragan -123
9. Edwards -125
10. Montoya -129
11. Sadler -137
12. Reutimann -137

Still early days at this stage of course.

The next races were at Las Vegas and Atlanta but I don’t have those, so the next race I’ll see is the first visit of the year to Bristol.