On Marco Andretti

This week the Word Butchers ask:

Does Marco Andretti improve or hurt his teammates at Andretti Green Racing?

I’d say probably both in a way, although he’s still improving year on year. His raw talent and speed isn’t in doubt but he seems to find himself in accidents maybe a little more often than maybe he ought to. Accidents cause a loss of track time (obviously), and that’s not what you need especially in a series as close as IndyCar where you need to be on top of conditions at all times.

With four drivers AGR can split the race weekend set-up workload and get results more quickly than other teams can – in theory, anyway. If you take out a chunk of time caused by crashes, his part of that is lost to the whole team. I’m including the races here, even then you lose valuable learning time. Even the most experienced drivers need that time because the cars, engines, tyres and circuits are always evolving even in a largely spec formula.

He’ll sort it out soon – I’m tipping him to do just that this year. He showed signs of it in ’08, it’ll come.

He’s showing an apparent change of attitude since the last part of the ’08 IRL season. The willingness to go to A1GP when he really didn’t need to take an unpaid drive in what is still a fairly obscure series, on his earnings and with his secure ride, I think it says a lot about how he’s willing to broaden his experience base and technical ability. I’m not sure how true that was before. I mean I don’t know if he genuinely wanted to be in the ALMS car, or if he was just parachuted in to help.. Those of you who watch those races may be able to answer that.

So yeah, in summary… If he keeps ending up in the wall or other cars, it hinders his teammates. Sometimes he shows a level of arrogance I don’t like, maybe that hinders things too, although in his defence perhaps that’s the only way to get anything in that team with Princess around.
On the other hand, his ever growing experience with these cars and his experience with another powerful single-seater will give him another reference point to work with. He’ll now approach the Dallara with a completely different mindset. This will help him and his teammates, particularly Mutoh who is still new to this stuff, and may also take some of the set-up pressure off of TK, which in turn will allow Tony to fight for the title… although I’m sure Marco is thinking of an assault on that himself.

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Weekend Preview: 11-Jan-08

Weekend Preview: 10th & 11th January 2009

Dakar Rally
The competitors reach the halfway stage of the famous endurance test over the weekend. Sensation today as a leading car entrant was disqualified for skipping part of the route! So that’s about all I know of the how the ’09 event is progressing. I’m backing Carlos Sainz to win! Mentally, not with an actual bet.. Info at www.dakar.com. TV on Eurosport, Versus, etc.

Toya Tires Dubai 24 Hours
Dubai Autodrome, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The circuit racing season kicks off with the first 24 Hour race of the year, featuring GT and Touring Car teams and drivers from Europe and Asia. It looks like most of them are running Porsche 997s of some description. Actually the only thing of note about this race is that one of the teams is running the new Audi R8 GT car.
This event takes place on Friday and ends on Saturday due to local customs regarding when they have their weekend.
I can’t find details of live TV coverage, although I’m not convinced you’d want them. MotorsTV usually has a half hour highlights package on extensive re-air in the weeks after the race, although that might only have been because they entered two cars last year. I watched it last year, pretty damned boring. I mean who wants to watch a 24 hour race on sandy roads through a desert? You have no bearings or reference points. Imagine the ALMS race at Utah but without the prototypes or people. If you’re as confused as I am about which brand-new Middle East venue is which, this is the one GP2 Asia visits and not F1 (Bahrain) or MotoGP (Qatar). In Dubai’s defence, lots of buildings are springing up nearby so it probably looks completely different now….
The official website is www.24hdubai.com although the Dubai Autodrome website is a far superior source of information.

New Zealand V8 Supercar
4 of 7 – Timaru, New Zealand
I’ve never heard of Timaru, I don’t know who’s racing, I have nothing to add.

Trophee Andros
4 of 7 – Lans-en-Vercors, France
Sideways ice racing at it’s best! Multiple F1 champion Alain Prost is racing again, I expect touring car man Yvan Muller is too. I have no clue where/when you can see this so check listings.

Autosport International
NEC, Birmingham, England
This isn’t a race, it is the annual racing ‘trade’ show at the NEC in Birmingham, being held from today until Sunday. Expect lots of transcripts of Q&As and comments appearing over at autosport.com from their featured guests on the main stage. If you get their RSS news feed that’ll be why it went crazy busy today! Last year they made several interviews available as audio clips, too (but I don’t think those will be in the feed). There are updates throughout the weekend on MotorsTV (Sky ch.413 and also available on Virgin Media).

Blog Note – Next week’s Preview may not appear due to the lack of racing. It’s January! What I will do over the weekend is summarise today’s FIA/FOTA releases as well as the highlights of what is coming out of Autosport International.

All-Racing Fantasy League

All-Racing Fantasy League
This is a reminder to check out Andy The SpeedGeek’s fantasy competition over at his blog. I mentioned it a few weeks back. This is a game where you pick 14 drivers across F1, IRL, NASCAR, ALMS and Grand-Am – but you are only allowed to commit 10 drivers on any given weekend… and that’s five road course and five oval drivers per weekend! A small number of drivers can be traded each week. It’ll be interesting to see how it all works in play.

The 2009 game gets under way in about ten days time with the pre-season draft, which needs to be done before the first event, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. Sign up now to get a shot at the good drivers! If you read several racing blogs you’ll know Andy from the comments sections of many of them, as well as his own of course.

I’ll be back on Thursday with my UOWWB ‘question of the week’ reply, and Friday with the weekend preview. Or it might be the other way. I might even push the boat out and do two posts in one day! I know, crazy!

Weekend Preview: 04-Jan-09

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts previewing the coming weekend’s racing. Yes, I know it is Saturday and the weekend already – I only thought of this idea this morning!

As you know in 2008 I posted a series of F1 race previews. To save repeating the same stuff before each race (and to shamelessly find a way to create more content) I thought it would be good to expand to cover more races and to write some very short comments about each of them. We’ll see how long this lasts shall we? Hah. The format will probably develop as more races take place per weekend from April. Okay, let’s begin:

Weekend Preview: 3rd & 4th January 2009

Dakar Rally: Today is Stage 1 of the 2009 Dakar, which this year takes place in Argentina and Chile. As usual hundreds of bikes, cars and a few trucks will be tackling the 9500kms over the coming fortnight including some drivers from other disciplines, such as Carlos Sainz (ex-WRC), Robby Gordon (NASCAR) and Ukyo Katayama (ex-F1). Stage 1 runs from Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa de la Pampa.
You can follow rally updates at www.dakar.com including live stage results.
TV coverage is on Eurosport in Europe, on Versus in North America, on Fox Sports Latin America in Central and South America and on ESPN Star Sports across Asia. I’m not sure how much is live and how much is daily highlights, take a look and find out! Other coverage partners can be found here. Unfortunately I can’t get any of the channels it’s on and I don’t want to be downloading updates every day. I miss having Eurosport, I want it back!

Message to IRL IndyCar fans in US/Canada: NOW would be a great time to check if you have the Versus channel. Go and have a look, watch some of their Dakar coverage and report back to: a) me because I’m curious, b) your favourite IRL blogs, and c) the likes of Cavin and Miller. Are they taking an official Dakar feed or a Eurosport feed, or are they providing their own content, commentary, etc? Is it any good?
The Dakar Rally is organised by the same people behind the Tour de France which is probably how this coverage deal came about.

Africa Race: Since the Dakar has moved out of Africa, for the time being at least, an alternative has been set up. It’s about the scale of the early Dakar rallies so there aren’t a huge number of competitors and the TV deals aren’t great (I can’t find where it will be shown). In any case, if you’re interested you can follow it at www.africarace.com and www.africarace-live.com.

That’s about the size of it for this weekend. Thanks for reading and I hope I’ll be able to continue this feature throughout the year. Feel free to include anything I’ve missed in the comments.

If anyone can tell me how to fix the mis-alignment in the footer of my posts please let me know. I was dicking about with the settings and it went out of line, I returned it to what it was and it didn’t fix itself.

This post was written with the aid of a Lemsip as I hate colds – at least I have Mario Kart!

News Round-Up

I hope everyone had a good New Year! I had a quiet one after spending the last two years in central London, and the previous one in Edinburgh (the Home of Hogmanay and the best New Year’s Eve street party in the world!). This year I just played a bit of Mario Kart Wii before heading into the middle of the little town I live in for the moment itself.

I thought I should catch up on some of the smaller bits of news I missed when I was revising for an exam in December, believe it or not when you summarise it a lot did actually happen even if it seemed very quiet day-to-day. And not all of it was bad, either. I’ll skip the things reported by my blogging colleagues at the time, I mean we’ve all seen that, right?

F1
– Big news in sponsorship as Vodafone takes their primary sponsorship from McLaren to Ferrari for 2009 onwards.

– Allianz will continue with WilliamsF1 for the forthcoming year, however technical partner Lenovo have instead joined McLaren. No word on the plans of RBS after the bank was bailed out by the British government a few months ago, my fellow taxpayers and I now own 60% of the company.

– Teams have been testing the KERS system and new aero package, to varying degrees. BMW, Honda and Williams were among the first to test the new gear, while Red Bull has been running with ’08 systems simulating ’09 rules.

IRL
– 2008 GP2 champ Giorgio Pantano is looking for a ride in the US after the F1 teams showed no interest in him.

– Penske continue to state that an announcement on Helio’s ride – i.e. will he drive or will there be a replacement – will be made ‘in the next few weeks’, although they’ve been saying that since November.

GP2
– Pastor Maldonado has signed with ART Grand Prix for the ’09 European series. His teammate is expected to be Nico Hulkenberg.

– The Asia series is continuing with what is becoming a regularly revolving cast of characters. Seems several teams are using it as an extended driver test for the main series.

– The February round of the Asia series at Dubai has been moved to Qatar, and will become a night event under the floodlights. MotoGP race under the lights there last year.

F2
– At least 20 drivers have been signed up to the revived F2 series for this year and it looks to be oversubscribed, in which case it will be capped at 24 drivers. So far 10 drivers have been officially announced by MSV and more are being added to this page every week, presumably in order to get more PR from staggered announcements which is a good move.

– Great to see Red Bull joining the party and helping legitimise the series further, alongside MotorSport Vision and WilliamsF1.

F3
– Carlin Motorsport have switched from Mercedes engines to Volkswagen, marking a big increase in VW’s presence in both the Euroseries and the British one. Carlin say they are following their backers Red Bull, who announced in November that all teams they are backing in F3 will run with VW.

– VW already confirmed they are dropping RC Motorsport, and will continue with Signature-Plus (both for the Euroseries), while in Britain they’ll join with T-Sport.

Sportscars
– The Le Mans pre-event Test Day has been cancelled to reduce the costs for both competitors and organisers. Wednesday’s qualifying has now become a mandatory practice session.

– Leo Mansell and dad Nigel tested the Ginetta-Zytek 07S LMP sportscar at Valencia. Meanwhile Leo’s brother Greg tested the World Series by Renault FR3.5 car in a group test at Paul Ricard, back in November.

– Barwell Motorsport will not going back to ALMS this year with their bio Aston Martin. They will instead enter the LMS and FIA GT3. I’m not sure if they’ll use that car but they will run Astons.

– BMW have been testing their GT2 class M3 in the US with World Touring Car drivers Andy Priaulx, Jorg Muller and Augusto Farfus. Priaulx says he’d like to take part in some ALMS races in the car, but Sebring clashes with a WTCC event at Puebla. Joey Hand and Bill Auberlen have been announced as the drivers of Rahal Letterman Racing’s M3.

– The Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone has been reduced to a 6-hour event for 2009 for cost containment reasons. Organisers hope to return the race to the full distance in 2010. It has only been running since 2005.

– Ex-Super Aguri driver Anthony Davidson tested a Peugeot 908 HDi at Paul Ricard and is the running for a race drive. Go Ant!

Other
– Both Subaru and Suzuki have pulled out of the World Rally Championship. Kawasaki looks set to announce a pull-out from MotoGP next week. Seems like the Japanese car and bike makers are in trouble.

– 1998 and 1999 F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen has become a driver manager, alongside his own manager Dider Coton.

– A1GP has agreed with the Chinese government to run two rounds per season for the next five years. Venues were not confirmed. A1 has raced in Shanghai, Beijing, Zhuhai and Chengdu since the series started in 2005.

– Organisers of the Surfers Paradise street race are building a pit/paddock complex for 40 teams in time for the ’09 event. That should be enough to service all of the A1GP and V8 Supercar teams.

– The Dakar Rally gets under way this week, but in Argentina. The African event was cancelled last year due to terrorist theats which prompted the move over the Atlantic, however a rival series called Africa Race has been set up and will be running at the same time albeit with far fewer numbers competing.

Blog
– Check out the Last.FM radio player in the white sidebar!

– The blog might be quieter than intended between now and June as I am in my final year of an accountancy course. It isn’t quite ‘Accountant’ level, its the level just below it, but that doesn’t make it easy! So I’ll be quite busy doing that.

– It’s New Year’s Day, I didn’t drink stupendous amounts last night yet my head still hurts because I have a cold, only a mild one but I HATE colds. Especially ones I pick up during a stock-take at work on NYE. I need a good rant so might come back soon to tell you all my pet peeves.

All stories shamelessely pilfered from the pages of the last several editions of Autosport magazine and reworded by me.

GP2 Top Ten 2008

For the final instalment in my trilogy of Top Tens of 2008, I’m going to take a brief look at the GP2 Series. Since 2005, GP2 has positioned itself as the official finishing school of F1, despite not having official links with the FIA itself, and being more closely aligned with the commercial arm of F1, the FOM/FOA group operated by a Mr B C Ecclestone. It is the replacement for the then-ailing F3000 International Series which seemed to end up sending most of its drivers to America instead of F1. There’s nothing wrong with racing in America, but this is perhaps not what the official F1 feeder series should be doing. Fans of the IRL might liken it to the Lights frontrunners going off to race in Formula Nippon.

Before we continue let me point you in the direction of the Too Much Racing Sidebar. If you scroll down to the white section you’ll notice a new Last.FM box has appeared above the one that was already there. What does this mean? You can now play my personal radio station! If you’ve ever wondered what crap I listen to when I write this stuff, now you can find out. That’s right, any music I’ve played via Winamp has been noted in Last.FM and is now available to you. Just hit Play and continue reading.
Remember if you navigate away (to write a comment, or visit another blog) it’ll stop playing, so you might want to hit the little icon on the bottom right of the red area to pop-out the player. I highly recommend Last.FM to anyone who listens to music through their computer.

2008 GP2 Series
For the avoidance of doubt I am only considering the main GP2 Series which raced in Europe, starting in Barcelona and ending in Monza. The Asia Series hasn’t been considered.

1. Lucas di Grassi (P3 – Barwa Campos Team)
After finishing the 2007 GP2 season runner-up in points, Lucas spent the winter alongside Nelson Piquet Jr sharing the double-duty of testing the Renault F1 car and doing development work on the new generation GP2 car/engine combo. When the F1 drive went to Nelson and the test role was reduced by the F1 regulations, Lucas found himself without much work. So in June he jumped in to the Barwa Campos Team to replace the underperforming rookie Ben Hanley, and after missing the first three weekends (i.e. six races) goes on to out-score everyone else in the remaining 7 weekends of the season to wind up 3rd in points, just narrowly beaten to 2nd by Bruno Senna and ahead of the highly-rated Romain Grosjean.
Okay so he tested the new car before anyone else, but since then everyone but him had run six races and most of the field had also done the inaugural Asia Series so you’ve got to say they’d caught up by then.
I reckon that’s pretty impressive.

2. Giorgio Pantano (P1 Champion – Racing Engineering)
Pantano had a good season, taking the previously unfancied Racing Engineering team and transforming them in to race-winners – just as he did with Campos the previous year and FMS the year before that. Giorgio seems to have decided that if nobody will take him in F1 or IndyCar, he’ll prove himself by becoming a good development driver as well as a fast racing driver. Okay so his chance in F1 has been and gone which is a shame (2004 feels like an age ago), but what chance an IndyCar ride in 2009? He can’t stay in GP2 yet again, that’s for sure. Perhaps he’ll work on improving the fortunes of A1GP Team Italy, or worse, some team in Superleague Formula. At least the guy with most Feature race wins won the title, as it should be.

3. Bruno Senna (P2 – iSport International)
Bruno had some excellent drives this year, but is still prone to silly mistakes and misjudgements. It won’t take long to knock those out of his system, but didn’t people say that this time a year ago? He’s definitely still improving yet somehow this still feels like a year of unfulfilled promises. If he doesn’t dominate in 2009 I’ll be very surprised.

4. Romain Grosjean (P4 – ART Grand Prix)
Romain was expected to walk this year’s title after his performances in F3 last year and GP2 Asia over the winter break. As it turned out, his ART car was a lot more ‘pointier’ than the opposition and this was something he seemed to struggle with, perhaps his style not suited to those characteristics. The rest of the grid’s cars seemed more docile, with some commentators suggesting this was the key to ART’s dominance in the early years of GP2. With a change of teams on the cards he’ll be good next year. Very good.

5. Pastor Maldonado (P5 – Piquet Sports)
The latest stupidly-quick-but-prone-to-crashing Venezuelan to come off the conveyor belt came on leaps and bounds this year. Last year he and Viso were pretty close, with Viso more consistent while Maldonado showed more long-term potential. This year Pastor demonstrated that potential to great effect with some excellent drives, but had a few too many retirements from races. Fast but erratic, and likes the old Banzai move even if it won’t work, just to show the others that he’ll do it.

6. Sebastien Buemi (P6 – Trust Team Arden)
The highly-rated Red Bull man was fair-to-middling, and perhaps a little overhyped. He was a very good A1GP driver in the Lola-Zytek, and seems to be slowly transferring those skills to GP2. It was a reasonable upper-midfield year and should be a title challenger next year. Seemed to always be around when others hit problems.

7. Jerome d’Ambrosio (P11 – DAMS)
This is a guy I didn’t rate at all going into the season. He seemed to make stupid errors early on which cost him a lot of points, but went on to impress me a lot through the year and if it wasn’t for that early form he’d be much higher in the points ranking and could easily have been 7th. Like Buemi he was one of the guys who was able to find good results when others threw them away, and was often up there on merit too, particuarly in the final rounds at Spa and Monza. One to watch with interest.

8. Vitaly Petrov (P7 – Barwa Campos Team)
Seems to have stopped making errors and has picked up some speed, but not quite there yet. He could use another year and looks like he’ll get exactly that. There’s not much more to say really.

9. Karun Chandhok (P10 – iSport International)
Karun seems to be one of those guys who always seems to be in the wrong place. He’s a fast driver and a professional one, yet seems to get involved in the pack when he maybe should be ahead of them given he’s in an iSport Dallara, one of the two top teams. This is possibly down to not getting enough out of qualifying, but he’s a good racer and runs very well when he qualifies up front. He works for it and goes for moves where others don’t. Perhaps he’s the new David Coulthard? One thing’s for sure: Vijay Mallya shouldn’t be dimissing him so readily.

10. Alvaro Parente (P8 – Super Nova Racing)
Alvaro had always struggled with a budget in every formula he’s raced in, so he knows a good fight. He impressed at the first round in Barcelona with a win in his first race and 7th in the reverse top-8 sprint race, but then seemed to drop back during the year. He’s a fast driver, a good guy, and deserves another year in GP2.

Other Surprises?
Luca Fillipi who should be in this list but fell out with ART, prompting a move to Arden, which didn’t seem to work either. He showed a huge amount of promise in 2007 and was expected to iron out the bumps this year. Didn’t happen. Shame. He needs a stellar 2009.

Mike Conway should have done better although he was with Trident..

Christian Bakkerud fell apart again with his customary back problems, ironic given his name, which is unfortunate because he was an excellent F3 driver.

What of 2009?
The backmarker BCN Competicion team has been bought by the ex-Jordan F1 driver (and now SEAT touring car driver) Tiago Monteiro and renamed as Ocean Racing Technology. With the team relocating from Spain to Portugal you can’t expect much improvement early on, but perhaps in the long-term?

We’re going to have an unmissable 2009 championship with Senna vs Maldonado vs Grosjean the main title fight, with probably Buemi and one or two others sticking their noses in with a few wins. I can’t wait!
In the meantime the ’08/’09 Asia Series is already under way with the 1st-generation cars. When I eventually get around to watching those races I may just post a little top ten as a warm-up to the main season.

In the meantime, have a great New Year, whatever you’re doing!

Cheers!

Happy Christmas (should you celebrate it) to my two or three regular readers and modest handful of occasional stoppers-by. Thanks to you all for making my first experience of blogging a pleasant one. I’ve certainly enjoyed learning about the World of Blogs* and all the racing fans living within it and I hope my sometimes overly-long comments on your blogs haven’t been too intrusive. For those who don’t have a blog but still visit here, thanks for dropping by! Keep coming and feel free to comment from time to time. You might find yourself becoming a blogger before you know it – I did.
*I just can’t bring myself to use the word ‘Blogosphere’.

I will return before New Year with a GP2 Top Ten to close out that little series of blogs. I think as we head into 2009 it will be time to stop looking back at 2008, so I’m thinking about little bits on all the changes coming up. We’ll see if I get around to that!

In the meantime have a great few days, whatever you’re doing. Don’t eat too much turkey or drink too much mulled wine!