Preview: 2008 Belgian GP

Race Preview: 2008 ING Grand Prix of Belgium
Spa-Francorchamps, nr. Francorchamps, Belgium
Round 13 of 18

Formula 1 heads to Belgium for the classic circuit at Spa-Francorchamps (or just Spa- its easier). This just-over-7km circuit in the Ardennes hills is famed for the rolling up and down nature of the track, for the driving skill required, and for the rain. The unique microclimate means it can rain at one side of the track and be dry at another – leading to strange calls from the pits if the rain is there and the rest of the place is dry, or vice versa!

The circuit used to be all public roads at 14.9km in length, until it was revised in 1983 to roughly the current length for safety reasons. Unlike other redevelopments, Spa retained it’s character in the new section between Les Combes and Stavelot. Only within the last five years or so has it become a full-time race track with traffic permanently diverted around it, allowing safety upgrades and a complete reprofiling of the last corner, the Bus Stop chicane, so-called because it used to leave the road and rejoin in the shape of the perimeter of a bus stop..

The pit facilities were demolished and rebuilt in time for last year’s event, with the start/finish straight actually becoming straight at long last! It used to be the back of the grid couldn’t see the start lights up front.

If you get a chance to watch a full onboard lap of this place – do so. Hell I’ll even provide the link.
Check this out: Mika vs Michael, Spa, 2000
Michael blocks him and tries to run him into the grass (for which he was widely criticised). This makes Mika mad. Watch him at Eau Rouge next time through, he almost loses it he’s so fast. He tries again next time. Enjoy the lap and the sound of those glorious V10s. I miss those, and I miss Mika fighting Michael.

Ferrari often dominate this race, but unlike other circuits where this happens, nobody minds at Spa because hey, we’re at Spa! Equally, nobody seems to mind only seeing the cars 44 times and having no victory / cooldown lap after the race, the cars are stopped after La Source. A cooldown lap here would take too long for TV. 44 laps of 7km is 308km, which brings us over the 300km per race guidelines. Personally I would like to see it extended it a little now the cars are more reliable than ever before.

My tip for the podium: Raikkonen to find some form and win, Hamilton 2nd, Kubica 3rd.
My tip for the weather: Dry qualifying – Wet race.
Let’s hope this doesn’t happen: 1998 race start with the biggest accident seen in years, luckily the worst injuries were to Irvine’s knee and DC’s pride. This is why the medical car follows them around and had already done so for years. Back in ’98 the teams were allowed one spare car between both drivers. Now they can’t have any which is a crazy rule.

Anyway, enjoy the race and let’s hope for more of the Mika 2000 and less of the DC 1998!

Check http://www.formula1.com to find out when the race starts in your local time zone and for kickass live timing replete with live text comments (Java needed for the timing), essential during those commercial interruptions.

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Race Notes: 2008 Detroit GP at Belle Isle

IRL IndyCar Series
Detroit Indy Grand Prix
The Raceway at Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan, USA

Coverage: IRL world feed from ESPN
Commentary: Gary Lee & Larry Rice
Pit reporters: Jack Arute, Vince Welch, Brienne Pedigo

I go into this with a bit of trepidation after reading on the DigitalSpy forum that the world feed commentary for this race was pretty bad compared to the usual standards. But after the debacle of the US coverage at Sonoma, the ad-fest truckfire-fest of California, I’m jumping in anyway!
It has been about a year since I last heard the international feed so let’s see if they have changed. Both of them know their stuff very well indeed, but they don’t have the ‘excitableness’ of the domestic feed, if that is even a word.

For the second week running I got spoiled so I know who the winner is. On Monday I went to GrandPrix.com, one of the best F1 news analysis sites there is, to be faced with the story at the top of the page. They don’t usually report every IndyCar race result although it looks like they are doing so more often this season.

Okay let’s start this thing.

Quick recap of how Sonoma changed the points standings, the gap is now 43 points. Now we go to Detroit which last year ‘created bad blood and bad memories’ because of the Dixon/Franchitti incident.
Titles. Same as the US coverage! Excellent, I like that.

Helicam over Detroit, pan to the Isle, nice. Clips of Helio at Sonoma, then qualifying at Detroit.
Dixon on pole, Helio starts 2nd!
Arute with Scott after quals: “I had a smoking lap going and seemed to balls it up in the middle of it. Just need one more point than Helio and we’re looking good.” You’ve been making fuel all year. Dixon says it’s going to come down to the wire.
Gary says this place is always – and sometimes impossible – to pass on.
Vince with Helio: “We’re going to take a lot of chances, was difficult. We have a very fast car. Going to be a lot of fun!”

Gary with the points, they put national flags on the graphic although Dan is shown with the English rather than British… why is that I wonder? Hah, hey Pressdog, Gary dropped a ‘markers’ reference!
Graphic showing how points are scored, bonus points for leading most laps.

Gary – Canada is the Northern border of the US but look at the map, North is Detroit and South is Canada, get out your maps and work that out! Goes on to some history of the place.
Larry – pretty amazing you can build a 900 acre island by hauling dirt out here.

I just noticed the Canadian flag alongside the US one on pit straight.

Graphic of previous winners, Kanaan last year and Helio in ’00/’01 in CART. Bruno J. and Servia also raced here with CART.

‘Drivers start your engines’ from a Detroit hockey player.

I found some Earl Grey in the cupboard while cleaning it out earlier, so that’s my drink of the race this evening. [……………………..] Here’s some space for you to make your own Jean-Luc Picard reference!

15 turn, 14 and a slight dogleg, 3.3km, 90 laps just under 300km. Gary is giving kilometres rather than miles for this international audience (despite us in the UK still on miles).

Start order complete with national flags:
Fast six: Dixon, Helio, Servia, Wilson, Briscoe, Rahal
Next six: RHR, Kanaan, Viso, Patrick, Wheldon, Power
Remainder: Andretti, Vitor, Manning, Mutoh, Foyt, Rice, Moraes, Carpenter, Tags is back!!, Camara, Duno, Junky, Roth, Scheckter
Roth will not start, Gary says “he’s been scratched”.

Good Q runs from N/H/L’s two guys and from KVR for Servia, but Power must have struggled.

Circuit guide – Onboard complete with map!

In the UK, Sky Sports would skip everything noted thus far to show us some people talking in a studio in London. Luckily I found this other recording..
Graphic:
Race distance 188.64 miles / 303.586km
Pit window 27-31 laps
Temp 30C
Gary – This is a holiday weekend in America.
Cars increasing speed, two wide, GREEN
Gary strangely quiet… no screaming and shouting about it…

L1 Duno spins already, local yellow.

YELLOW – we got FCY for this as the cars get halfway around the circuit.
Oh she made contact with Bruno. Did she turn in too soon or did you brake too late? She’s on the racing line so that’s why we’re yellow. Looks to me like six of one and half a dozen of the other, I call ‘racing incident’.

Gary says the racetrack isn’t very wide, 10 metres in places up to 20m in others. Love the use of a measuring system I can visualise. He also says this could be a timed race because of the cautions.
“Tagliani is a relief driver, Bernoldi with a wrist injury”. Caption says he usually races in NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

Lap 3 – Both Conquest cars pit to get off-sequence. I’m not sure if I were a team owner I would commit both cars. Scheckter is in. Gary says of Viso: you either love him or hate him.

Gary: “We anticipate these guys to get off-sequence. I remember the first race I did in Champ Car racing on television in 1981, Mike Mosely qualified dead last at Milwaukee and won the race by passing on the racetrack.”

Scheckter is still in the pits and is about to lose a lap. This team is hoping to go to 2 cars next season.

L4 – GREEN FLAG

Larry – you can see everyone wants to go into turn one pretty much single file, its not a slow enough corner. Tyres not up to temperature yet, sliding around.
This race track is very bumpy. Surface changes from asphalt to concrete to asphalt.

L6 Panther Racing are sending a transporter with supplies to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. Great gesture but they are still assholes for the next day firing Vitor BY EMAIL! You just don’t do that to a guy you’ve hired for what, four years?

L8 “Question mark right now, who is going to be Dixon’s team-mate next year? Wheldon’s contract not signed and guess who is here this weekend – Dario Franchitti. Could he be back in IndyCar” I had to laugh when I heard this given what we know now!

Brienne with Tomas: “Just broke another driveshaft. I’ve broken more driveshafts this year than I ever have.” Struggle to hear him over engines. They will try and get another driveshaft fitted and use the race as a test session as they don’t test much.

L10 – On this feed the captions for the drivers show useful facts and a slightly zoomed in flag of the driver. Oriol Servia has a degree in mechanical engineering. I didn’t know that. It’s such a shame that on forums and such the Americans seem so anti non-American drivers, they should use the flags on the domestic coverage. There are quite a few US flags in there.

L12 – Tone of the coverage is fairly flat and factual. I like the factual but it needs some excitement. So does the race. Wheldon pits, fuel only, we don’t cross to a pit reporter because frankly we don’t need to. I love not being patronised during an IRL race, a breath of fresh air.

L13 – Larry – around lap 20 we’ll see these frontrunners pitting
L14 – Wouldn’t mind a rundown of the field… Pictures are showing the leaders (and Danica). Oh! Power passed Patrick, banzai move and nearly loses it, well held. I think the divebomb is the only way to pass here. Send it up the inside and hope it works. Actually I think the ALMS guys relied on that last year.
L16 – focussing now on Bruno at the back, he hasn’t made any impression in this race since the start despite his experience here and in these types of cars generally.
Now aboard RHR for a little bit, cut to Wheldon who is catching Camara fast. Both stopped but Wheldon dropped back because his was under green. Dixon will be on these guys soon to lap them so Dan needs to get a move on.
Crash! Dan goes for it,t akes out Camara. Local yellow.

YELLOW – FCY – they held it for a few seconds then reverted to full course caution.
Wheldon is restarted.
Replay: Camara just turned in on him, Larry says he didn’t see him, didn’t intentionally take him out but just didn’t see him. Gary wonders how, Larry says no spotters here, nowhere to put ’em. Maybe they have a few dotted around the track.

L19 – Larry expecting everyone except Dixon and Helio to pit because they’ll want to stretch the mileage and go to say lap 30. He’s wrong, Dixon pits, but he’s right about Helio who stays out. Penske covers Dixon by pitting Briscoe. I’m not sure if that was a late call or if that was pre-planned by Penske, maybe it was a case of “do whatever Dixon does”.

Distinct lack of pit reporting on this coverage.
Pre-race interviews with Helio and Scott about the championship but we got back for the restart.

GREEN
Manning outside of Vitor, Patrick going past Milka who is 5 laps down, Vitor follows. Dixon is now 18th, make that 17th as he takes Rice.
Rahal takes a look at Rice but thinks better of it. Tags does the same to Ed at S/F with Dixon on the tail of both. A crash between Tags and Ed could end Dixon’s race, he needs to be careful!
L23 Ooh close..
Tagliani gets Ed in a very good move and is clearly faster, he pulls away. Dixon still bottled up.
L24 – Dixon gets Ed into turn one for 16th, he’s now 19 seconds behind the leaders. After half a lap he catches the train again, where Tags is now working on Bruno. There’s a long line of cars in front of them, can’t see who’s the one holding them up because the colour scheme on that car is so vague. Could be Mutoh. They keep pulling the leaderboard ticker so I can’t tell.

L27 – Up To Speed graphic appears but we don’t cross to the pits for the reports, we just get the map with the leader and current driver icons. Frustrating. I like those quickfire reports, I don’t see them in any other series.
Actually I’d quite like F1 /FOM to do this. Just run through the order with a map, timing, icons, without pit audio. Let the each TV company talk about each driver if they want to.

L31 – Larry – “The current frontrunners will be stopping soon. Looks like somebody is running slow back there..”
Servia pits from 3rd, looking to get out ahead of Dixon who is now 27sec back. Several others stop including Kanaan, we don’t see who the others are and are not told.
Remember Dixon did not change tyres.

L32 – Helio and Wilson pit from 1st and 2nd. Larry says pit speed is 96km/h.
Helio is out but Wilson has a slow stop, loses time but not position and actually gets out ahead of Servia.
Danica Patrick slow on the track, not at racing speed but not far off, enough to hold up others, blocks Rahal and Meira who go three wide – Vitor is punted off! He has a puncture. Danica parks it in the middle of the road, now Viso is in the wall. As this happens enough people have pitted that Dixon is now 5th.
Blatant blocking from Danica, that wasn’t defending (which IMO is okay), that was a block (which isn’t). Looked almost like a brake-test which is absolute no-no. Oh on the replay, something broke on the car, it doesn’t turn right (ha!) so she doesn’t make it around the corner.
Viso replay: runs wide and hits the wall, unassisted. Back end got loose but there’s no runoff so he hits the wall.
L35 – Danica somehow back to the pits, Vitor crawling around to get his tyre fixed. Wow lots of action at once! Okay let’s calm down…
L36 – Tagliani is two laps down. Did we see why? Can’t remember but I don’t think so.
Scheckter heads back out, unmentioned by the commentary. Danica is running again but the pits were closed when she pitted then.

Gary – too bad for Meira, in the last few races he moved from 18th to 11th in the points standings.
Gary – there’s a tunnel to Canada just a mile from here.
There’s a seemingly random fact of the day.

Vince – where are we next going to see Dario Franchitti? “I’m talking to Chip this afternoon and see what he says, we’ll see what happens with the 41 car”. 41 car is in NASCAR where they are obsessed by car numbers. Gary said he hopes Dario returns, he brought a lot to IndyCar. I agree, this year didn’t seem right without him. I’m glad he’s back for the real unification next year when the ChampCar guys are more up to speed on more tracks. Next year will be excellent with the type of competitiveness we’re seeing here at Detroit! Really mixing it together.

Road course points: Helio 190, Briscoe 154, Kanaan 153, Power 146, Servia 143, etc.

L39 – GREEN
Manning takes Mutoh. Moraes then gets Mutoh, Mutoh may have a problem. The problem may be with the car, may be the nut behind the wheel.
L41 – Wilson is pushing Helio, looking racey. Helio has clear air and is trying to pull a gap on Dixon, doesn’t need Justin in his mirrors!
Bruno and Manning touched on the last lap, replay. Manning braked and Bruno ran in a little hotter. IRL charges Darren with blocking and tells him to move behind Bruno! Did Manning brake too early to block Junky? Brian Barnhardt obviously thinks so..

L43 – Larry says Wilson was okay but not as fast as Helio in the 1st segment, now the car is better and he’s fast. Dixon won’t lose as many points as last weekend if he stays there. Gary says he’ll still lose up to 25 points if you count the bonus points so it could still go all the way to Chicago.
Larry suggests Dixon’s tyres may have gone off because he didn’t change them earlier and hasn’t pitted since.

L45 – Timing graphics show Wheldon has unlapped himself after his clash with Camara. I’m not sure how he did that, must have been during the Helio/Justin stops. Larry says Dixon will have to pit in about 3 laps, maybe 4.
We are at half distance.
RHR is closing on Dixon with Power coming along for the ride.

L48 – Helio laps Vitor and has opened a big gap to Wilson now. Oh man Duno is just in the way here. Run at full speed and let them through at the slow corners, don’t drop to 80% pace, it puts you in everybody’s way. You’d think someone lapped as often as this would know how to do it properly by now. Ironically she’d be lapped less often if she did this. This also applies to Marty Roth. BTW, Duno is better than Roth.

L52 – Penske are trying to salvage the burned out tubs of the cars in the fire last week, clean them up for use next year. The cars running here are the ones used in Sonoma last week.
L53 – Dixon is still out there but his tyres are shot. Marco is 11th being chased by Briscoe, who hasn’t been able to follow Dixon through on that same strategy, maybe he changed tyres which put him back more spots?
RHR has dropped a way behind Dixon now, Power looks faster, makes a move and gets bit of wing stuck on his own wing, probably his own wing come loose. Blasts by RHR now. Ryan is slowing, he has a flat. Power’s wing hit H-R’s tyre.
L55 – Dixon pits. Can he go 35 laps on a load of fuel? That’s the remaining distance. Might need a yellow. RHR pits to get that tyre changed. Power still circulating, you’d think they’d flag him to fix that.
Replay: Power got an overlap, Ryan turned in, fairly light contact but enough to derange the wing and cause a puncture.
L57 – Wilson pits. Should be his last stop. Kanaan is also in, Power is now in and takes a new nosecone. Briscoe also in.
Helio and Servia still need to pit.
L58 – Helio is now in. Larry thinks Helio came in quite quickly, maybe too fast?
Servia leads, temporarily. Helio was in and out and is still in 2nd, Gary says when Servia pits he will retake the lead.
L60 – Servia is in now. He emerges just behind Kanaan. Helio leads.
Bruno is in from 6th, will drop back several places to 11th. Emerges ahead of a charging Will Power.
Helio leads, Wilson +12, Kanaan +15 to Helio, Servia +18, Dixon +18, Moraes +30
Dixon is on the tail of Servia. Dixon wants those points for the title, Servia (and KVR) wants another good result on a road/street course because they might not get the chance on the oval next week.

L63 – Caption: Points as of right now: Helio will be 20 points behind Dixon if the race ends now.
Hell of a comeback to go from 75 to 20 points gap in two races.
Dixon takes a look inside Servia, thinks better of it. Both are catching Kanaan who seems stuck behind a slower-than-earlier Wilson.

Larry is saying he’s surprised at the pace of Dixon, he’s fast right now and should be saving fuel, short shifting etc., to make the 36 laps he needs since his last stop to to the end of the race. If he keeps this up he’ll need a splash and go.

Moraes has dropped from sixth (see above positions) to 11th, Rahal is now 6th at 30sec back from Helio.

Gary realises Scheckter is back on.

L65 – YELLOW – Wheldon in the tyre barrier. Moraes stopped in the runoff.
Gary – Did Wheldon do this to help his team-mate?
Larry – Ahhh I don’t think so!!
Gary – Nah I don’t think so.

Moraes is refired.
Replay – Wheldon by himself with a tyre donut on his side.
Moraes runs straight in to the runoff. Larry insists there must be liquid on the racetrack somewhere. These were independent incidents at different places, they didn’t take each other out.

L67 – Tagliani pits but he’s now 12 laps down, no clue as to why. Wheldon took his steering wheel off, can’t put it back on to refire the car, so he jumps out of the car.
This yellow will help Dixon’s mileage.

Replay of Helio winning in the Lola in 2000 and 2001, I keep forgetting how fantastic those cars looked… I watched CART in that era before moving away from it in ’02 when I lost access to Eurosport. ’07 was my first year back to what had become Champ Car and my first year with IndyCar. 2000/01 were great years of racing.

Gary is hoping this doesn’t become a timed event.

L70 – GREEN
Single-file through the first section.
16 cars are on the lead lap.
Wilson is faster in the tight sections, Helio is faster in the quick stuff.

Wilson going for a move while Gary is talking about Dancing With The Stars.
Whoa darting around everywhere. He’s suddenly at speed everywhere, was he saving fuel before??
Race Control has just said Helio has to give up the place for blocking!! FFS that’s stupid. He held his line, didn’t brake early, Justin was trying every move but Helio was solid. Nothing wrong there. That’s crazy.
Helio responds by pulling away!
Now he runs wide on the straight and lets Wilson through, but doesn’t lose too much, just breathes out of the throttle.
L73 – Larry agrees with the call, he says it was a blatant block. I disagree. This is not how I wanted to see Wilson win, I bet he’ll say the same when he gets out of the car. (note – I haven’t read his post-race quotes)
What happened anyway, I thought they gave several warnings before they actually moved someone?

The yellow closed up the field which put 6th-placed Rahal right behind Dixon, he’s close behind Dixon now. Bruno doing well, started 24th now 8th. We’ve got a slippery surface flag shown in the first sequence of corners.

L79 – Shots of Carl Haas replete with unlit cigar, as ever. Gary asks if he has actually ever smoked one of those cigars or just chewed them! A mention of Paul Newman.
L80 – we are switching to a timed race, they say we’ll be 2 or 3 laps short of the scheduled distance even though they are at full tilt now.
As L81 ticks over, the clock appears at 8m 15s to go.
Helio isn’t making an impression on Wilson. Ticker shows Rice is out, didn’t see why.
L83 5:50 The leaders are now 15 seconds up on 4th placed Servia, who is holding up Dixon, Rahal on his arse and another three cars close behind him. Ticker now lists Andretti as ‘Out’ – yet we get no mention of it.

L85 2:50 oh Rahal has to pit, splash and go they surmise. That’s a shame I was hoping for a good finish from him. We get a look at Marco now who is out of his car sitting on the pitwall. No clue as to the reason for his retirement.

Gary drops a ‘winningest’ which isn’t a word. During the BBC Olympic coverage they showed a clip from NBC where they used it, they couldn’t believe it! Took the piss out of them a bit there, asked if they could invent a word.

L87 White flag.

L88 – JUSTIN WILSON WINS!
Great job from Justin and the ecstatic Newman Haas team.
Results graphic broke so I’ll grab the other finishers shortly Helio is pissed, he’s still at race speed to get back to the pits.
Carl Haas: “It sure gives us a good feeling, wonderful, very very happy. We’ll try and speak to him [Paul Newman] and I’m sure he’s very happy.” Good thinking from Brienne to ask about him.

Wilson stalls on his in-lap trying to do a donut!
Helio is out of the car, shakes hands with his guys. Arute trying to get him.
Helio – “Let me tell, I’m happy, I do not have anything smart to say right now.” Walks off. Good thinking Helio, don’t say anything stupid get yourself fined!
Replay: He made one move on Wilson before retaking his line. I thought one move was allowed, that’s the F1 rule. Any more than one move and you get a penalty.

Wilson is refired and making his way home.

Results:
Wilson, Helio, TK, Servia, Dixon, RHR, Bruno, Power, Briscoe, Foyt 4, Mutoh, Manning, Rahal, Carpenter, Moraes (-1 lap), Patrick (-1), Meira (-4), Andretti (out), Rice (out), Wheldon (-22), Scheckter (-31), Tagliani (out), Duno (out), Viso (out), Camara (out)

Those crazy strategies finally worked out for Bruno, good result. Not sure why Dan wasn’t listed as ‘out’.

Wilson has arrived in pitlane.

Points:
Dixon 606
Helio -30
Kanaan -125 (+1 place)
Wheldon -142 (-1 place)
Briscoe -192
Patrick -247
Servia gains two spots, Andetti drops one, RHR up, Mutoh down.

Jack Arute with Tim Cindric, Penske: “Usually we get a warning, the officials today chose not to do that. Helio will do best to put +ve spin on it. Good to see Paul Newman and that group win a race. Don’t know what else we could’ve done. We’ve been racing in the series since 2002 and we’re not sure that’s occured.”

Vince with Wilson, take us to the blocking: “I had a great run, got the power down, he obviously didn’t, I started to overlap, I was looking to get by before the brake zone, he kept coming over and over until I thought we’d crash. We would have been ahead anyway. Great to finally get a win. This is the most important win of my career, this has been a long and difficult year, this one means a lot, and this one’s for you Paul.”
Classy.
Paul Newman, who is ill at the moment, has been calling him and wishing him well during the year.

Dixon: “You get guys 2 seconds off the pace on alternate strategies and you can’t pass them.” Thanks Newman-Haas for winning the race.

More replays of the Helio/Justin thing. The more I look the more I see a deliberate move by Helio to push Wilson off. It isn’t what I would call “blocking”. I would call it “trying to ram the guy into the wall”, so perhaps the penalty is deserved after all.. I’ll think more on this one.

I enjoyed the coverage of this race and I liked the competitiveness of the ex-CCWS teams here. I think this race will be more representative of what will happen in 2009 as a whole – including the ovals – than next week’s Chicagoland race will be – and that’s a good thing. Newman-Haas vs Penske vs Ganassi. Indy racing as it should be.

Okay I’m done here, catch you on Sunday for the F1 Belgian Grand Prix which is a race you WILL NOT miss if you are any kind of race fan. Best track in the world.
My next IndyCar notes will appear on Tuesday (or Monday if time permits) for the Chicagoland finale and you CAN’T miss that race.
Like I said before, for every Sonoma/Valencia double-header you get a great one and Spa/Chicagoland is exactly that.

I’m off to read everybody else’s Detroit notes – cheers.

I was at… BTCC Silverstone

On Sunday I made the 3 hour journey to Silverstone to see the British Touring Car Championship. You can view my photos here.

I usually go to the Thruxton round (which is half the distance away) but missed it for a family commitment. It was raining so I nearly didn’t go but my resolve to FINALLY see some racing in 2008 won through! Just ridiculous that this was my first race of the year, I’ve normally done at least one by mid-summer.

The journey time, plus being delayed by traffic in the rain, and the race timetable this weekend meant I missed Race 1 of 3 of the headline BTCC event, which I was pretty pissed off about because it ended as I was pulling into the car park. Not to worry – still over 5 hours of racing to go! BTCC races are run over 25 minutes and the support races are 15-20 minutes or so.

Short, sharp action is the order of the day which means the drivers take risks. There is also zero gap between races, as soon as one field enters pitlane at the end of a race the next field is leaving to form on the grid before their formation lap.

Once I’d moved from the car park and bought my ticket the SEAT Cupra race was under way, so I picked up a bratwurst roll and headed to the nearest stand where the view was pretty damned good. I found myself at Luffield corner, which is slow but has good sightlines. Thankfully it was a covered stand – the intermittent rain had returned.

I knew there was a break in the programme now and was now desperate for a hot cup of tea after the food and the drive, also I love to wander around getting different views and taking in the atmosphere – so I gave up this view. Little did I know that this was when the ’50 Years of BTCC’ parade of old cars was happening! Luckily I would meet them in the paddock later.

Tea bought and a wander had, I sat myself in a stand to drink the tea and warm up a bit, finding out that the chosen stand was on the pit straight. Unlike most events, this time I had no plan for where I would be at each race, just take it as it comes and explore. The pit walkabout had just started. I took a photo, sent a text and joined the long queue for the bridge.

It took a very long time to get over the bridge and it was a shame this was the only way in other than walking all the long way to Bridge corner and crossing there. So long that the gate to pitlane itself was closed when I arrived, I ‘only’ had access to the paddock – which is more access than with most racing series in this country!

I found Tom Chilton and Gordon Shedden of Team Halfords (the rebranded Team Dynamics). ‘Sonic’ (the hair) is being interviewed in the team hospitality unit, ‘Flash’ Gordon is the guy in the hat in the foreground. Deciding not to bug them I move on.

I had lots to see in the paddock and wanted to get back trackside before the Clio Cup started – those guys are nuts. It was then I found the historic touring cars from earlier.





I could hear engines firing up in the support paddock, which I never did find, this meant the Clio Cup guys were getting ready to go out. Plan: Quick nose in the back of the pits and then head back over.


(FRenaults were in pitlane not support paddock)

Trackside at Copse corner (turn 1), from this location the Clios were underwhelming, not much happened. I missed lap one getting back over that bloody bridge. I think what action there was was happening elsewhere. Also not much atmosphere as there were only a scattering of people here.

I took to a seat back on the start straight for the second BTCC race of the day. It wasn’t eventful from my position but a lot happened elsewhere, suddenly we were down to 15 cars from the 24+ starters. This is a good place to sit for the speed – but you don’t know what’s going on because the commentary can’t be heard over the engines.

There were three support races held between the 2nd and 3rd BTCC encounters. These were the Ginetti Juniors series for teenagers, the Formula Renault 2.0 UK series for developing talent, and the Porsche Carrera Cup GB. One pic from each:


I slipped away during the Ginettas to buy some merchandise, which I believe is a legal requirement at any race circuit. I certainly feel guilty if I leave a track having not bought any. I got the BTCC 50th Anniversary polo shirt in blue, which I recommend to anyone. Returning for the FRenault grid I sat through the rain to watch both this and the Porsche Cup. I’m not entirely sure why I did that, sheer determination to see as much racing as possible I think. Yet there was a covered grandstand a hundred feet away (albeit full).

Up next was BTCC race 3, the partly-reversed grid race. Top x positions from race 2 are reversed, where x is determined by a draw live on TV.

I enjoyed this one. The BMWs were shit-hot off the line, Jackson passed a complete row before my eyes! Amazing traction. Then later Turkington got knocked into a spin by Neal. You could better hear the commentary from this location, the end of the main stand, the large green one with ‘SILVERSTONE’ written along it.

And so the end! After being disappointed earlier I had significantly improved my mood as the racing went on, despite the rain, by the end I wanted more racing!

This time the BTCC closed proceedings, I have been to other tracks where there is a closing support race to help ease the traffic out. This ought to happen here because the new approach road doesn’t solve the problem of leaving the car parks.


Click this for the track map, they used the short layout, turn right at Becketts, rejoin at Priory.

On the whole, if you ever get the chance to visit the BTCC anywhere in the UK, make sure you do so, you get great racing all day long – as long as you pick your viewing spots wisely.

I’m happy I’ve finally attended a race in 2008. This may by the only one I make this year. I’d like to go to the Le Mans Series at Silverstone in a fortnight but I’m not sure if it will be possible yet.

Finally, there was a fairly big crowd at Silverstone, most of whom were in the covered stands. Check out Autosport.com’s photos of Superleague’s inaugural event at Donington Park where literally tens of people turned up! I’m glad I didn’t go there.

See you in a couple of days for the Detroit IRL notes. I already know the winner because I went to GrandPrix.com and got spoiled – I didn’t expect them to report it, they don’t always!

British Touring Cars

This is the 50th season of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), which started life as the British Saloon Championship. I’ve been to several BTCC meetings over the last few years and you can view photos from those events through the Picasa links on the right-hand side.

For the uninitiated, the BTCC is Britain’s premier motorsport category. The current format is for 3 races of about 20-25 minutes all held on the Sunday of the race meeting. Race 2 grid order is the finishing order of race 1. For the 3rd race the same is true apart from up front, where a random draw is held to determine how many positions are reversed. e.g. if 8 is chosen the poleman moves to 8th, the 8th-placed driver starts on pole. There are 10 of these race meetings per year making for 30 points-paying races.

The racing is a lot closer than the World series (WTCC) who’s drivers are less inclined to push each other. BTCC is very much ‘rubbing is racing’, I usually hate that phrase and I dislike it in every other series but the BTCC would not have its character without it.

I’m heading to Silverstone tomorrow where the 50th anniversary celebrations will be held (I’m not sure what those celebrations will be). Thruxton is my nearest round but I missed it for family reasons, and I need my fix before the season is over!

In preparation for this weekend I’ve been catching up with this year’s races, which I can’t see live as I don’t have ITV4. I ‘acquire’ them in the same way I get other stuff. So my GP2 plans went out the window and I watched BTCC at Snetterton, Oulton Park and Knockhill which immediately precedes Silverstone. Silverstone holds the penultimate meeting of the year, the season concludes at Brands Hatch 3 weeks from now.

BTCC currently uses the National layout at Silverstone, which is only just over a mile long and very fast. As a Grand Prix track it is also very wide. All this makes for a lot of two-wide oval-style action! I will return with pics and a report which I’ll post as soon as I get the chance!

If you have the chance to catch BTCC on TV, do so, it is great fun. It is live on ITV4 from just after midday with highlights shows dotted around hither and thither. Outside of the UK, I believe the full season is shown on a delayed basis on SPEED during the winter in the USA (& Canada?). Not sure if you guys get ‘as live’ or just the highlights. Keep watching those listings.

Note on Superleague: It starts this weekend and I said I’d do a preview. I was wrong, I haven’t had time and I can’t see myself getting interested enough to do one.

2008 IndyCar GP Sonoma


IRL IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma
ESPN2
Anchor: Marty Reid
Analysit: Scott Goodyear
Pitlane: Jack Arute, Vince Welch & Brienne ‘Petticoat’ Pedigo

80 laps of a dustbowl. Hungaroring mk2?

START ORDER
Fast Six: Helio, Briscoe, Power, Kanaan, Dixon, Servia
The rest: Wilson, RHR, Patrick, Andretti, Dominguez, Moraes, Bruno, Viso, Rahal, Wheldon, Scheckter, Meira, Bell, Mutoh, Manning, Rice, Carpenter, Foyt 4, Roth, Camara, Bernoldi.

Bernoldi set no time.

Luczo Dragon have been advertising in Autosport magazine for the last 3 weeks for a race engineer and mechanics, hopefully this means they are expanding for 2009. Good to see them (and Bell) back here.

Warm-up laps. They seem to be using a different configuration of track to last year, up the drag strip into a sharp right.

A quick mention of using the NASCAR bit at the end but only when the IRL feels like it. Bet the timing and scoring guys just loved that idea.

GREEN: 80 to go

Penskes lead them through. Piss-poor formation after row 3 but better than waving them off because it was untidy.. just send ’em and have a stern chat after.

Wilson fighting nicely. Go Justin! Got to beat the sponsor and driver thieves at KVR.

Dust kicked up by Bruno.

Made a move on Wheldon but was pushed wide.

Firestone have painted the tyre sidewalls white for the 4 drivers who can still mathematically win the title, for easy identification.

Scott says the drivers love the paddleshifters.

L5 Petticoat: KVR say there are no more ‘them and us’. They are the best of the rest, best non-Big 3 team. I call bullshit. Maybe on road courses but not on ovals, got to be both to be true BOTR. I nominate Panther.

Photos of Penske’s truck fire including heavily damaged cars. Great job from Penske to run 1-2 with their t-cars after that. Marty they said they managed to save their tractor which must be American for ‘truck’ because over here tractors work in fields. They seem to think the pickups in NASCAR are trucks.

L10 Not much going on here at the moment. Formation flying. Taking lessons from F1 circa 2000-2005. Vitor pits. Scratch what I said about them being best of the rest, that’s a stupid strategy. Always go long on a road course unless you are qualifying with race fuel or you are reacting to someone who’s already stopped.

L11 Wheldon in. Are they trying to beat the phantom safety car? Vince says they are trying to make the fuel last. That’s nuts. This is lap 11. ELEVEN. Run long and do a short stop halfway through. L11, 69 to go, how do you know what’s going to happen?

Now they insert a pre-record with Helio. That’s fine but just play the audio. I want to see cars on the track, that window over his shoulder is tiny. Bah.

L15 Vince says Penske’s luck got worse, a PR rep had their bag stolen with their laptop and other stuff.
I wonder what’s going on behind the top three? We haven’t been allowed to see it yet. One thing F1 does well (these days – very recently it wasn’t so) is they move back through the field if something is happening, or even if it isn’t, just to mix it up a bit.

YELLOW black car around, is that Roth? What’s he doing here? I thought was only doing ovals and leaving this stuff to the professionals.

Foyt also got into the dust. Roth gets refired and rejoins. In F1 he’d be DQ’d for ‘outside assistance’ which is potentially the most stupid rule in the world.

Scott talks about the different approach to turn 7 now. Explains the layout but doesn’t tell us why. Scott, WHY did they change it? To get more passing? Was the other way too dusty?

Yellow pitstops. Dixon up a spot, RHR up 2, Manning up 3!

L18 GREEN

Brisoe leads from Kanaan, Patrick, Rahal, none of whom stopped under yellow. Top 8 didn’t stop, maybe more.

We seem to be using a different pronunciation of ‘Jaime Camara’. RHR spins, rejoins. He took the Foyt line on to the dust, saved it, but the dirt on the tyres made him slow through the corner and Wilson pushed him around.

L23 Onboard with Power which is immediately obscured by the biggest graphic in the world.

Up To Speed
Vince: Briscoe on pole here in ’05 for Ganassi. Did not pit during the yellow. Can go to L27 or so.
Brie: Kanaan stayed out, working on fuel strategy. Q4 but has a loose car, bottoming out.
Danica similar strategy, also struggling with the car. Track temp is 126deg [that’s in old money].
Jack: Rahal is 4th and took Wilson’s setup for his car. Moraes is 5th, had some differences with Bruno last night (?).

Brie: Ed Q23 is now 6th [not bad but he’s not stopped, many others have]. Has Bryan Herta as road course advisor.
Jack: Viso pitted early to get out of sequence. Received visit from some guy I’ve never heard of who is apparently famous for sports somewhere.
Vince: Wheldon can do 9 more laps before he has to pit again. Missed a practice session, feels he’s behind compared to others.

Jack: Dominguez Q well, better than hoped. His pit bloke needed 50(fifty!) stitches after an ‘industrial accident’.
Brie: Vitor’s team not sure where their speed has gone.
ESPN’s pit crew are on fire!
Danica pits. No changes. Rahal in, wing adj. Jack Arute calls the car ‘specials’ as if this is a 1950s Indy 500.

L27 Briscoe and TK pit. No changes to either car. Wow big train as they exit. Brisoce beats most of them, TK does now, his pit guys were slower. Wilson takes Power! They are all stuck behind that slightly slower Conquest car, F1-style. Bernoldi I think, and he has the position legitimately.

Viso leading by way of pit sequence. Arute: Viso has been criticised by others but one high ranking person in the pits said under anonymity ‘if I were looking to hire a driver, I’d take Viso, you can teach a fast guy to slow down but not a slow guy to speed up’. Hello Marty Roth.
Dominguez is 3rd now.

L32 Bernoldi is defending well from the faster cars behind. He did this for an entire Monaco GP in an Arrows against Coulthard in a McLaren. DC had to start down the order, don’t recall why, it was expected he would slice through the back of the field like a hot knife through butter. Didn’t happen, Bernoldi held him. The rest of his F1 career was not notable for anything at all really.

L33 Bernoldi in, as is Manning. Briscoe got a warning from IRL officials for blocking, which is nonsense, this isn’t “after you, Claude”, this is racing, and solid defending is acceptable. Weaving and brake testing is not; changing lines taking air away is not. If you take the line early it’s fine isn’t it? These are oval rules applied to road courses and it doesn’t make sense.

I think Viso is auditioning for Pressdog’s circus clowns, Marty says he has been practicing his unicycle skills!

L35 Wheldon and Dominguez pit.
L36 Viso in, Helio now leads.

Notice how the cameras are completely ignoring the stands. Anyone know the attendance?

L39 Viso 12th after his stop. Power in. Power ran 13 laps, strategy change from KVR.
L40 Briscoe on a good strategy, says Marty. Scott says Briscoe knows ‘a-boat’ pit strategy and knows a-boat patience from his ALMS experience with Penske last year.

For some reason ESPN can’t keep a steady lap counter, either incrementing up or incrementing down. Pick one and stay with it please!

37 to go: Helio stops. Wilson also in, an ex John Herb car. Is that good or bad? I’ve never heard of him so I am assuming bad, although with N/H/L on the case it will surely get better. Dixon is in, Vince calls him ‘the champion’ because he’s so far ahead in points. RHR catches Wilson as Justin exits the pits. Good racing.

Now ESPN switch back to x of y laps.. that’s amazing, I didn’t plan that at all! L46 Bruno pits.
Jack: N/H/L had trouble getting the seat into this new car for Wilson. Same story for every new team with Wilson, heard it several times. Servia pits, exits between Dixon and Wilson, who is still fighting RHR.

L49 Great battle between TK and Helio but we can’t see it because ESPN are playing a prerecorded interview with TK. Ah here we go. Gets VERY close on several occasions.

One thing I hate about taking the US coverage is that they take a commercial break every 3 laps. I want to watch a race, not be sold to. I get that you need to sell ads to make money but please, there’s taking things too far.

L53 Briscoe pits. Emerges behind Viso but almost loses it on the hill, slows, gets going.
L54 TK pits. Nasty bump on pit entry. The whole pitlane is fairly bumpy. Patrick pits.
L56 Wheldon pits, a lap later Helio comes in. Helio beats Meira and Manning, Briscoe is behind that pair.
L58 Dixon is in. Penskes are catching a Conquest car. Dixon beats a train of cars coming up fast along the main straight.
L59 Power to get a drive-thru penalty for not coming to a complete stop when missing the chicane – for the third time! Wilson is in. Doesn’t take a full load of fuel, he doesn’t need to with 21 laps to go. Power takes his penalty.
L60 (20 to go) Viso pits from the lead. Penske now 1-2 again.

Marty says if positions remain as they are the points lead will drop from 78 points to 41. Personally I think that’s more to do with the fucked-up points system they use! Helio does get the bonus for leading most laps.

L63 I’m officially fed up with Side By Side as an excuse to run ads every 3 laps. I might switch back to the Intl feed next time because they are just taking the piss here. Has it always been this bad or are they pissed at losing to Versus? We should get a bonus for watching most commercials.

L66 Cars are fairly strung out now, not a great deal of racing going on. Not sure how Wilson dropped back to 12th, maybe a bad strategy. He was running well.

Another Up To Speed! 2 for 1 deal special offer

Vince: Helio will set a new record for wins in 7 consecutive season, ties Scott Sharp. So that’s not a new record then Vince, that’s a tie. Briscoe lapping Power. He has a comfort level to prevent overdriving.
Brienne: TK is getting lonely, wants team to talk to him.
Vince: Wheldon 4th (where’d he come from?). Avg road course finish of 15th, Vince says not good enough. Contract renewal time.

Brienne: For Patrick, 5th would be good enough. Best finish on road/street course this year.
Jack: Bruno needs a splash/go for fuel. Can’t make it (not for the first time this year, Jack). Meanwhie Viso is full-rich.
Brienne: Vitor – wonderful finish considering tough week they’ve had.
Jack: Rahal to go the distance, will not pit. Auctioning a helmet.
Brienne: Rice Q22nd now 10th. [not bad!]
Vince: Series points leader Dixon is 14th, car not running well. Complained that Briscoe ‘chopped him down’ when they were running together earlier. Goal: get the most from today. They don’t feel like they’ve done that.

L70 Another nice job from the team.

L72 Wow they did half a lap after ads, then went to more!! That’s nuts. There are actually rules against that in this country.

L73 Oh, a spin from Dominguez, drops from 12th rejoins 17th.

L75 Vince at Penske: a mention for the team, the men who don’t get the recognition for working long hours and put in the hard work.
Agree completely, avery good job to recover from their setbacks this week.

Dixon has made up a place or two through other cars having to pit for a splash of fuel. Points diff is now 43. He’s chasing Buddy Rice who is stretching the fuel mileage.
People have been congratulating him for the championship win but it isn’t official yet!

Question: The ticker says Marco is 14th but I don’t remember seeing him at any stage. Did you?

L77 Those same stops have moved Wilson up to 9th.
Helio hasn’t won in 29 races, this will finally end the streak!

L78 BANG Power hits the tyre barrier on the chicane runoff, the one he went through earlier. Brake issues? He’s off the racing line so we go local yellow only as the white flag flies at the line to signal L79.

Carpenter spins off at speed!

CHEQUERED FLAG – HELIO WINS!
Fence-climbing time once more, and its about time too! Briscoe 2nd, Kanaan 3rd.

Vince with Tim Cindric, Penske: Wasn’t easy when the yellow came out. See where we end up at the end of the year.

Helio climbs OVER the fence and in among the fans! Excellent.
Back down, Vince catches up. Roger: You’re the man. This group of guys are racers, I want to thank everybody who helped us the last several days.
A VERY EXCITEABLE Helio, I can’t catch what he’s saying at machine-gun speed. I mean I understand it but can’t transcribe, too fast.

Brienne with an irritated Dixon: Everything we did was wrong. Not sure why we didn’t pit when stuck behind a slower car and couldn’t get past.

Okay I gotta post this and get going, late now and need to be at work in the a.m.!

Results:
Helio, Briscoe, Kanaan, Wheldon, Patrick, Viso, Meira, Rahal, Wilson, Moraes, Rice, Dixon, Mutoh, Andretti, Servia, Dominguez, Bruno, RHR, Bell (-1), Foyt (-1), Bernoldi (-1), Manning (-1), Carpenter (-2), Camara (-2), Power (-3), Roth (-4), Scheckter (-24)

Rahal 8th and Wilson 9th, a good day for N/H/L relatively speaking. Can still do better. Anyone know why Tomas was so far back, I didn’t catch that on the coverage?

Points:
Dixon 578
Helio -43
Wheldon -124
Kanaan -130
Briscoe -186

Only two drivers remaining in the title race.

Up next: Detroit this weekend. Last year was boring as hell, the ALMS race was more exciting and that’s not supposed to happen. Year 2 of the Belle Isle Resurrection may just be better.

Okay I’m out of here, see ya Saturday for some words about the BTCC.

Just appeared on Autosport.com: Brisoe to rejoin the ALMS team for Detroit and Petit Le Mans. He’ll race both IRL and ALMS at Detroit!

F1 – European Grand Prix

2008 Formula 1 Telefonica Grand Prix of Europe
Valencia, Spain
Round 12 of 17
5.440 km (3.38 mile) street circuit
Race distance: 57 laps, 310.08 km, 192.66 miles

The Grand Prix of Europe, because we’re all one big happy European family!

Coverage: ITV1 *LIVE*
Anchor: Steve Rider
Analyst: Mark Blundell
Commentary: James Allen & Martin Brundle
Pitlane: Louise Goodman & Ted Kravitz

You can read my race preview here. I was unable to take notes live by computer when I watched the race, so my notes are hand-written. It’s now Monday and I’m trying to decipher them.. Quotes are paraphrased!

Pre-Race
The info comes thick and fast on the ITV pre-race, they do an excellent job which is only really let down by their main commentator (this is strange as he was one of the best pit reporters I’ve ever heard) and their over-emphasis on Lewis Hamilton. Coverage switches to the BBC in 2009, it’ll be interesting to see how they approach it.

12:05 British Summer Time / 13:05 local time in Valencia

Steve: “This is Valencia’s first F1 race, the track took 9 months to build. It is a high-speed layout with two or three potential passing places.” The track is around several America’s Cup racing yacht bases.

Mark: “This is the first time in years we’ve had a track with a flat out turn 1. I’m looking forward to it. New circuit, new race conditions. The warm temperatures should suit Ferrari. Brakes could be an issue.”

This is because like Montreal and Bahrain, there are several fast sections leading into tight, slow corners.

12:10 Interview with the guy who built the track, didn’t catch a name (not Tilke):
“This circuit cost 70m Euros to build but we’ll save money from now on, now we have the facilities. “
It took 700 workers 270 days to construct the circuit, they relaid the asphalt so we aren’t on normal streets, this is racetrack.

Alonso was fined 10,000 Euros for crossing the pit exit (or entry?) white line during practice. Can’t cross that line, not even an inch.

Trulli: “I like the city, I like the circuit environment, it doesn’t feel like a street track.”

A reported 112,000 fans are in attendance, later we learn the capacity is 120k and the promoters were disappointed not to get a sellout.

Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren test driver), interviewed because he is Spanish: “Great track, a great effort, safety is good. It will get stronger and better.”

Mark (who raced in CART for several years): “It’s like Montreal or the US street tracks. The teams are prepared, McLaren has a laser wot scans the circuit so they can put it into their computer.”
European street tracks are tight, fiddly affairs, there aren’t many in the US mould of wider more open layouts i.e. Long Beach or St Pete. There aren’t many European street tracks at all actually.
He was also referring to McLaren’s scanning system, we learned in qualifying that McL sent a team out several weeks ago with a scanner for their race simulator.

12:15 Here’s James with a quick report from qualifying, blink and you miss it, I did.
Talking to more drivers. Massa, Hamilton, Vettel.
Lewis: “Surprised there have been no shunts yet.” Only in F1 Lewis, the support race guys have been crashing everywhere. Who will win? “Whoever looks after their tyres and stays off the walls.”
Seb Vettel: “I made a mistake in turn 12 so could not improve, but I wasn’t going to be on pole anyway!”

Qualifying order:
Q3: MAS, HAM, KUB, RAI, KOV, VET, TRU, HEI, ROS, BOU
Knocked out in Q2: NAK, ALO, GLO, WEB, PIQ
Knocked out in Q1: BUT, COU, FIS, BAR, SUT

Steve: Surprises in qualifying?
Mark [I’ll summarise]: “Massa outstanding job. Vettel. Topsy turvy until the last session when the order returned to normal. Toro Rosso outpaced Red Bull.”

Now we go onboard with Felipe Massa during is pole lap yesterday, commentary from Martin Brundle who talks us around the corner entries, racing lines, gears, etc. I always look forward to this.
Martin: “5.44km, was very dusty but has improved as rubber down. Flag marshals will have to be on their toes as there are a lot of blind-entry corners at speed. The pole position spot was only moved to the clean side of the grid this morning.”
The cars are laying rubber on the racing line, over one half of the grid. The other half is still fairly dusty – same as Hungary. Pole was supposed to be on the dirty side. Later we learn it was changed before Qual but they weren’t given the info in the commentary box.

Feature: After quals, Red Bull drivers from both teams were taken out on an America’s Cup racing boat, the one Red Bull sponsors. While there they talked to Louise.
Bourdais: You’re used to this sort of track from America? “Not actually much like the USA. It’s unique. It’s an interesting track.” He’s referring to it being a normal racing surface but around streets.
DC (sitting next to Bourdais on the yacht): “The atmosphere will build over the coming years. We’re definitely not in America, I don’t see anyone eating hotdogs and hamburgers!”

12:24 Unusual that there are only grandstands here, no general admission. Even Monaco has a little GA section.

The America’s Cup is in a legal dispute over where to hold their event, so they might not even return to Valencia despite them building facilities for them. So they need to find another use: F1!
Bernie was interviewed before quals yesterday and said it was his idea.

DC again, this time on a balcony in pitlane: “It will be better in 5 years when the local redevelopment is complete.” Says something about being a dockyard.

Ted Kravitz: “This is like Monaco but with less money and more room to spread out.”

12:29 Team personnel are now on the grid and engines are firing up in the garages. As Steve and Mark babble about something, the first cars head out on their sighting laps.
Mark had tipped Massa for the title a few weeks back: “I’d better stick to my guns. Out front nobody can touch him, he struggles when he’s behind, and he’s starting on pole. Watch Hamilton, he always starts fast.”

12:36
Lewis: “We’re fast and consistant, happy to be on the front row.” About Massa passing him in Hungary: “No-one ever usually overtakes me, if they do its on the inside! Outside won’t happen again.” And Valencia? “Very wide, don’t get close to the walls, it’s like a car park!”
Have you sent a message to Team GB in Beijing to support them? (FFS what sort of question is that?): “Very proud of GB [looks at camera], very proud of you if you’re watching. Usain Bolt, gobsmacked at the speed of the Jamaicans.”

12:39 Martin’s gridwalk!
“Valencia has character, an unusual first corner, sitting on the grid they are looking at a wall. Corner feeds into the braking area for turn 2. GP2 got through there and they drive like its their last day on Earth. There is no perimeter road, no space for cranes so Safety Cars are expected. No F1 cars in the wall yet though.”
“Superb lap from Massa. Hot temps favour Ferrari. [why Martin, why?] 10-12 guys working on the cars on the grid.”
Michael Schumacher (honestly) is standing talking to Mario Theissen of BMW. No, he’s on the phone! Martin interrupts him anyway.
“Michael, sorry didn’t realise you were on the phone”
Schuey: “Honestly” [hah, his first word was ‘honestly’!] “Honestly, the cars and tyres are sensitive to temperatures.” Short answers today from Michael, there was that and some one word answers..
Martin asks if he’d like to drive here? “Maybe on a bike! Martin: “But you keep falling off! Isn’t it unsafe?”
“I thought so too a few years ago.”
“I know what you mean, I ride a road bike myself, thanks Michael and sorry for interrupting your phone call – Mario!” He grabs Mario Theissen who is talking to someone else. Michael says goodbye to Mario…
Mario: “Kubica in a good position, good chance. 1 stop for the cars at the back, 2 stops further up.” Martin: “Sorry to butt in!”.
Bumps into Bernie who is with the Mayor of Valencia, tries to motion Martin to talk to his esteemed guest but he ignores her completely. Bernie: “I’ve wanted a GP since my first time here. That was 14 months ago.” Martin: “I’m sure you’re pleased and so is the mayor, well done ma’am”. [words to that effect]
Walks along, finds Heidfeld: “Track is quite grippy, not our own rubber but should be nice. We took the safer option on brakes which is more comfortable anyway.”
Out of a break, into gridwalk, into the next break.. Commercials bunching means nearly race time.

12:47 Button with Louise: “Disappointing qualifying, we chose the wrong tyres.” Plan? “Go fast, don’t crash!”.
Ted with Alan Permaine, engine guru at Renault. Ted: “Seems to have become an engine circuit with long straights, you struggling?” Alan: “Don’t want to go into that too much for obvious reasons!” He said more but I didn’t take it down in my notes for some reason..

Almost ready to begin, one final ad break before the start, now we join James and Martin upstairs as the official F1 track graphics are rolling.

Barrichello and Sutil will be starting from the pit lane as they had to work on their gearbox after qualifying. That breaks the new ‘your gearbox has to last for 4 races’ rule. I’m not sure why they don’t just put them at the back.

13:02 Cars away on the Formation Lap
James: “This race is 57 laps which is 192 miles, the longest race of the year.”
My comments: F1 races last either 2 hours or 300 km, whichever is soonest. The scheduled laps are normally based on the 300 km but this one seems to be 10km more for no apparent reason. We don’t yet know how long this will be in terms of time, depends on SC. The next race (Spa) is long in terms of time, not sure on distance, the one after (Monza) is the shortest in time.

Grid forms up.

5..4..3..2..1..pause..GO!

57 to go: Everyone gets through the first turns, they are taking it carefully. Amazing sight through T1. Nope – someone in the wall at T3. Alonso is slow. Nakajima has a damaged front wing. DC has also dropped back.
Replay: Nakajima hit Alonso’s rear wing, both wings damaged. James: “Rear wing is structurally attached to the gearbox and will take up to 5 minutes to change. Front wing is easy – change the nose.”

L55: Massa is 8 points back from Hamilton with 6 races to run. Kovalainen gets Raikkonen on the start.

L54: Alonso is out of the car. He’d been told to wait while they fix it, looks like he’s done. Replay: He had to get out of it to avoid another car. Naka didn’t get out of it.

L53: DC runs at Piquet and gets him, nice move!
L52: Heidfeld lost a spot to Rosberg at the start for 8th. Sutil radio: “I’m faster I need to pass him!” Talking about his teammate Fisi.
Louise with Alonso: “2 races in Spain, 2 retirements. We tried to go out for the fans, they came to see me, too much damage to suspension and gearbox so impossible to go out now.”
L50: DC makes a run at Sutil, hits him and spins! Sutil continues.

L48: Kubica in 3rd is now 8.5s behind Hamilton, lost some time. Struggling with oversteer will fix it at next stop. Bourdais has a broken front wing element.

L46: Rubens runs wide, DC goes by him. Vettel is fast.
L45: Kimi 5th 17.8s back from Massa after 12 laps but may be quicker than Kovy. James talked about ‘field spread’, cars spread out more easily at some tracks due to configuration of straights/corners.

L43: Allen: “In F1 if 3 people gather they’ll end up talking about Massa. Is he good enough?” Championship material? Brundle: “He’s beating Schumacher and Raikkonen in the same car, he’s fast.” Massa pits! That’s early and unexpected even by McLaren. Expected 2 laps later. He’s out ahead of Kimi! Massa running heavy is ahead of a light Kimi, he’ll hold up Kimi, that’ll annoy him.
ITV are saying Big Mistake.

L41: Hamilton pits. Lots of dust. Is out behind Raikkonen. Vettel also in, back out 9th.
L40: Now the turn of Kubica and Raikkonen.
L38: Trulli in. Hamilton only gained 1 second over Massa on his stop.
L37: Kovy pits as does Rosberg. HK comes out alongside Heidfeld who hasn’t stopped.
L35: Nick pits now, out 11th, not great but some one-stoppers are ahead.

L34: They are saying Renault is generally down on power compared to the other manufacturers, and that Red Bull aren’t happy with the situation. Glock is asked about his tyres.

L31: Piquet has wing damage. Fisi hasn’t stopped yet, neither have Webber, Piquet, Glock, Button or Sutil.

L29: Hard tyres are getting better lap times as we go through the stint. Webber overshoots his pit box on the dust, hits his jack man. Everyone has to shuffle down a bit. Martin: If you go in too hot that can happen, but if you’re too careful you lose too much time.

L28: Team checks in with Glock again. No wing adjustment for Timo, he’s happy. During the next few laps he pits while we’re in an ad break. He’s 1-stopping and looking to beat Vettel who’s 2-stopping.

L25: This is fairly uneventful. I’m not gonna lie, I’m flipping between this and the Olympic Closing Ceremony which is just starting because a) this race is boring and b) I want to see London’s handover segment. If I miss anything tell me later ‘k?

L22: Hamilton struggling to match Massa’s pace, has he settled for 2nd and the championship points? Raikkonen is catching Kovy. The Ferraris *are* faster in these conditions. If I were McLaren I’d be hoping for cloud cover.

L19: Massa pits and is released into Sutil. Traffic already in pitlane has priority! You can try and beat him but once he’s there you’ve got to give way. Ferrari’s error, no doubt about it. Not Massa’s fault, he goes when the team tells him.

Incident involving car 2 under investigation.

L18: Hamilton pits. Emerges behind Massa. Vettel in.
L17: Kubica in.
L15: Sutil into the wall. Okay the tyre wall. Yellow flags at turn 2, they should be able to recover that without the SC as he’s in a runoff area.
Incident with car 2 will be sorted after the race.
Rosberg now into a runoff, continues.
L14: Kimi hit a man! He left his pit box with the fuel hose still attached, it took a guy with it. Kimi stops immediately. The mechanic is stretchered away to the medical centre. Replay: Kimi goes on the orange light. Ferrari have a light system rather than a man with a stop board. Supposed to wait for green, the orange lit and he went.

L11: Now his engine! Kimi’s engine has gone. Boom! He’s on the pit straight in front of everyone as well.. pulls to the side. This doesn’t help his points battle, and he might be relegated to Massa’s Helper.

L9: Kovalainen 4th is much quicker than Kubica 3rd. Catching him fast. Enough laps left? Fisi gets it wrong on the kerb.

L7: Louise with Kimi: Oh, she’s not got him, he’s walking past everyone, not talking. Will try to get him later.

L6: Team to Glock: “Rosberg catching you.” Shot of people on the funnel of the ship!

L5: Ferrari man to Ted [on Massa incident]: “Nobody lost time”.
Allen (bloke can’t hear him): “That’s not the point! It was an unsafe release, as the caption said.”
Massa’s conception was an unsafe release.

These last laps are really tedious. Where is the passing we were promised? Can I at least have a close battle? Some form of intrigue? No? Nothing?

L2: Brundle cottons on: “Not much overtaking. Hopefully the 2009 car regulations will bring overtaking back to F1.”
Allen: “Vettel is 10 km/h faster than Trulli on the straights here.”
Salient point there James..

L1: Brundle: “Great drive but rules are rules.” He’s been complaining for a while now that Massa should have been given a penalty. Expects a grid penalty next race.

Chequered Flag – Massa wins!
Hamilton 2nd then a biiig gap to Kubica 3rd and the chasing cars.

Finishing order:

MAS, HAM, KUB, KOV, TRU, VET, GLO, ROS, HEI, BOU, PIQ, WEB (-1), BUT (-1), FIS (-1), NAK (-1), BAR (-1), COU (-1)
DNF: RAI, SUT, ALO

Martin’s Driver of the Day? Sebastien Vettel.
I’d choose Glock because he had a much lower starting position and finished one place back from Vettel. Martin gives it to Vettel because of his ablity to run up front at speed.

Rob Smedley, race engineer for Massa: “We released him and he backed off [to let Sutil through]. Silly little incident let’s not dwell on it.” Then into the usual ‘great race’ platitudes the engineers give their drivers when they win.

James Allen says it: “Not a thriller but lots of drama.”
Martin Brundle: “Yes and Kubica is only 2 points behind Raikkonen now.”

This year has seen good racing and an even better points battle. Let’s look at the tables:

WDC
Hamilton 70
Massa 64
Kimi 57
Kubica 55
Kovy 43
Heidy 41

WCC
Ferrari 121
McLaren 113
BMW 96
Toyota 41
Renault 31
RBR 24

Full tables at www.formula1.com as is the transcript of the press conference, I haven’t read that, this is from the TV:

Massa: “Chose the right tyres yesterday. Pole, race, fastest lap what more to ask for? Start was just great, car improving lap by lap. Sutil not clever, should have let me by. I was the leader and he was the lapping (lapped) car.”
Uh, no, there has been a precedent for some time… you’re stopped and a guy is coming past, if there isn’t room for two wide you wait until he’s through.

Hamilton: “Strong weekend, problems healthwise. Nice new circuit, solid weekend. Track not too physical but hot.”
ITV decided that hearing from Kubica was none of our business so cut away to Steve and Mark babbling again, because that’s what we all want to hear.
Louise got a very quick comment from Sutil: “Car just appeared alongside me.”

I think his bit was edited because we’re quickly into the ITV F1 competition then dumped out into adverts and an old Carry On film. Seriously? I can understand Coronation Street, biggest soap in the country. But this shit? Nothing like cutting a post-race debrief short for a 1967 “comedy”.

I really hope the racing gets better next year because Valencia was a fantastic venue! One I would be tempted to visit.

Okay, so that concludes my notes for this event. Sorry if this is too long for you, whaddaya gonna do. Feedback is appreciated.

I missed the IRL at Sonoma on the big fuck-off TV, had to go elsewhere. I’ll catch it later in the week.

Preview – F1 European GP ’08

First up, I gave the blog a lick of paint.
I was messing around with Google earlier and discovered Pressdog’s old blog from 2006/07. I hadn’t seen it before – it was an identical maroon scheme to the one I was using until now!
I know it is a standard Blogger template but so that I’m not accused of ripping him off too much (hey, I already stole the race notes idea from him and others), I changed it to the more patriotic British Racing Green. OK, so it isn’t exactly BRG but whatever, close enough for me.
I like the header, I’m not so sure about the profile box – let me know what you think!

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F1 Preview: 2008 European Grand Prix
Streets of Valencia, Spain

The European Grand Prix has been running for several years now, largely as an excuse for a second German race during the Schumacher era, held at the Nürburgring. This year, the European GP returns to Spain for the first time since 1997 when it was held at Jerez, that controversial season-closer where Schumacher tried to ram Jacques Villeneuve off the road – only for the move to backfire and for JV to claim the title.

Circuit

Rather than Jerez, we go to a new street circuit around the America’s Cup marina in Valencia. The existing circuit outside town, good enough for F1 testing and races for MotoGP and World Touring, doesn’t have the facilities required of Bernie & Co (and, frankly, it sucks balls as a race track). Also the locals wanted to make better use of the facilities they builts for the yachts, and to get one over on Barcelona and Madrid…

This isn’t your usual street track. It looks wide, lots of runoff, and the track itself seems as smooth as any other race track from the photos I’ve seen. I guess it helps that it runs through an industrial area which can be developed accordingly, and not everyday downtown city streets.

The drivers are saying it will be like Melbourne or Montreal. Fast, but don’t get it wrong or you’ll hit a wall. One novelty is the swing bridge they will cross to get to the other side of the marina. Bridgestone are today (Thursday) saying it may cause punctures with the Super Soft compound they’ve brought, because the road on the bridge isn’t exactly aligned with the road surface on land. It is 15 mm off. It didn’t cause any trouble in the test event (a GT & F3 meeting) but F1 tyres are different. I hope their fears are unfounded, we’ll find out in practice tomorrow.

Form Guide

None as this is the first F1 event here. Right now the Ferrari and McLaren cars are roughly equal on pace, however they’ve just come off the back of a 3 week mid-summer break. The factories and wind tunnels do not stop working during the break. What developments will be on the cars this time out, and how will that affect the performance gap?

This will probably have a bigger bearing on the form than their performance at Melbourne and Montreal this year – although if this place is hard on tyres watch out for Hamilton struggling, he uses them more than Kovalainen and the McLaren generally uses them more than the Ferrari.
McLaren are fast on a single-lap run so my bet is on them for qualifying, but Ferrari are faster over a fuel stint, so they may well come good in the race, just as happened at Hungary. But with this development jump – who knows?

Rest of the field

The teams not in the title hunt are beginning to wind down their developments on the ’08 cars, with the completely new aero regulations coming in for ’09 they want to put their full attention on those cars earlier than usual. Perhaps the guys fighting for 4th in the WCC will still develop a little.
You should expect BMW after the main battle, followed by a big jumble of Red Bull, Renault and Toyota, hopefully also including Williams, Toro Rosso just behind, then Honda, then Force India.

SC

Being a street race, even a wide one, you can expect the Safety Car to be deployed. How this affects the race will depend on when it appears. If it happens midway through the pit sequence it will become a lottery because of the crazy-ass rules they are using this year. We might get another ‘Piquet at Hockenheim’ result.

Live Timing

I highly recommend the official live timing at http://www.formula1.com/ – this is essential during commerical breaks and useful the rest of the time. However it does make you frustrated when you see someone is fast, or you spot their strategy, and the TV guys miss it..

You have to sign up (for free) but that’s no big deal, you have to sign up to lots of sites nowadays, and the only emails I ever get from them are for the FIA/AMD surveys which are a ‘must do’ anyway. No spam from Bernie.
You also need Java installed, best thing is to just go to the timing screen and follow the instructions (when it is up make sure you switch to the Big option).
Not only does the timing look like the pitwall timing screens, which is ultra cool, there is also text commentary for those who are not near a TV or radio. It only updates as cars cross the finish line so if you are used to IRL or ALMS timing it may seem a bit wonky until you get used to it.

Done

Okay, I’m out of here. You’ll next see me with F1 notes on Monday – my first F1 notes! I will usually have them out just after the race but this week I’ll be at Dad’s doing house-sitting. The plus point is that I’ll catch the IndyCars live at Sonoma (on a big fuck-off 50 inch screen) instead of the delay I usually have to put up with, so I hope to get notes for those done by Tuesday.

See you then.