Not Simply Going Around In Circles

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron visited the McLaren Group in Woking to launch the new McLaren Production Centre, where the McLaren MP4-12C sportscar will be constructed. I’m not one for PR stunts and especially not political PR stunts, but this one is really worth looking at.

The speeches from both Cameron and Ron Dennis, whilst also filled with the usual political guff we can largely ignore for the purposes of a racing blog, served as a timely reminder that motorsport solutions developed within the normally insular world of racing can be developed into real world applications.

As always the excellent Joe Saward was on the case, driving over from France  especially for the event, and provides the transcripts of both the McLaren CEO and the follow-up speech from the PM. Also see this other post.

Do read the full text at Joe’s site if you have the time. Here are some interesting excerpts about these technologies which caught my eye, some of which we knew about before but are worth revisiting. There’s also a fair amount of crowing which I’m not really a fan of, but at least with stats like these it is justifiable.

“McLaren [..] has won 20 Formula 1 world championships and 175 Formula 1 races – a total which equates to one in every four races that we’ve contested since 1966. We’ve also won the famous Indianapolis 500 race three times and the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours race at our first attempt.”
Ron Dennis

That’s astonishing. I’ll reiterate that because it is amazing to me. A quarter of all F1 races they’ve entered since 1966, they’ve won.

“[In 2012] McLaren Electronic Systems will be in a unique position. Because every single car in the world’s three premier motor racing series – in other words every single car in Formula 1, every single car in the IndyCar series and every single car in the most popular and successful racing series in the United States, NASCAR – will all be using engine control units made here in Woking.”
Ron Dennis

I’d include the World Endurance Championship as a premier world motorsport series but I’ll let him off as that’s new, and 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. This is quite the acheivement.

“The British cyclist Mark Cavendish, who’s here today, became a world champion this year on a Specialized road bike that was developed by McLaren Applied Technologies.”
Ron Dennis

I find this to be very cool. This isn’t the first F1-developed racing bike because in the 90s Chris Boardman rode one developed by the original Team Lotus. It is nice to see others following on with that work.

We’re working with the British Olympic Association on a number of sports and a number of British Olympians will therefore benefit from McLaren Applied Technologies during London 2012.
Ron Dennis

We’re gonna win medals, don’t you forget it.

It’s engineering so groundbreaking that when space scientists are looking for ideas they come to the brains of Formula 1. You remember Beagle 2? It was cased in a lightweight plastic first developed for Formula 1 exhaust systems.
David Cameron

You heard that right: space engineers come to F1 for ideas. This blows my tiny little mind.

Great Ormond Street [Children’s Hospital] saw how efficiently car wheels were changed in the pits so they worked with Formula 1 experts to streamline the transfer of patients into intensive care.
David Cameron

This isn’t so much about technology as about processes, this is about medical personnel learning from pit crews, the way in the pits the mechanics are timed to tenths of a second just to get that pitstop right. Everyone has to be positioned in the right place at exactly the right time – much like they do in intensive care. Put the right person in the right place at the right time and lives can be saved.

There are plenty of other examples both in these speeches and by looking around the web, and if you want to read about apprenticeships and schemes to help young engineers do go and read the full speeches. I have a lot to things to be critical about with the current political administration (and I do mean a lot of things), but science and engineering funding is not one of them.

In closing, I never used to be a fan of McLaren as a Formula 1 team and to this day they do make it hard sometimes, however these days I like them enough to own a couple of bright red ‘Victory Shirts’.

When they start expanding into different areas like this and using their knowledge for the better good (making a nice profit along the way – and why not?), it is difficult not to admire them for it. And they’ve re-entered sportscar racing with their shiny new MP4-12C which looks the business in GT3 race trim – almost good as the Audi R8 LMS!
The same applies to teams – or ‘businesses’, as the word ‘teams’ is a hangover from simpler times – such as WilliamsF1 who are doing similar work on non-F1 projects.

People say McLaren are grey, faceless and boring. Do you still think that now? I certainly don’t.

So there you go, motor racing isn’t just about cars following each other around in circles for a few hours every other Sunday.

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Attending the 2011 6 Hours of Silverstone

ILMC/LMS at Silverstone Wing
Sportscars Race Past Silverstone's New Pitlane (photo by P.Wotton)

Sportscar racing is something of a niche branch of motorsport, you don’t really find many casual fans except at Le Mans itself. It is a difficult form of racing to follow at times. Multiple classes, long races sometimes won or lost over laps not seconds.

I firmly believe it is worth the effort.

This apparent inaccessibility has been improved in recent years by the battle between Audi and Peugeot which has captivated many, especially since they’ve mixed well-known sportscar racers with drivers who made their name in Formula 1 and elsewhere.

Plus they built some really cool cars. That always helps.

The New

I got there late (no surprises) and parked up as the cars were on the grid. The best part of the new pit straight is that it is right next to the main car parks so it is very easy to be in the midst of the action straight away.. as long as there aren’t queues at the ticket desk and attendants who don’t recognise their own discount vouchers. Grr. Still, at least the queues meant there was a fairly good crowd, bigger than previous years, so you can’t complain too loudly.

This was the first time I’d seen the new pit buildings in action. I was at the Renault event just a few weeks ago and this area of the track was deserted and unused with all the action at the old pitlane. This time it was a living, breathing pitlane and the atmopshere was transformed. It looked soulless the other week but seeing it in action it just clicked, it works.

Continue reading “Attending the 2011 6 Hours of Silverstone”

Friday Favourites: 13 May 2011

Hello everyone, here is another in the irregular series highlighting some of the best of the motorsport web.

There is a lot of good stuff out there at the moment so I’m a way behind with my reading, apologies if I’ve not mentioned yours, and do feel free to follow up in the comments with anything worthwhile that you think people should see.

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20 Years On: The Cat That Owned The Cream
 – Adam Cooper / Autosport Plus (subscription required)

Even if you don’t like sportscars you should read this for the sheer number of F1 crossovers. you’ll be amazed as I was, I like sportscar racing but my knowledge of that era is limited to say the least. Just look at it though. The Jaguar XJR-14 is one of the best-looking race cars of all time, all classes. Adam Cooper relates how succesful it was and how it lead to a certain group of people to work together with great success not just in sportscars, but beyond..

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F1 Photographers Versus The Democratisation Of Media
– Mr C / Sidepodcast

The modernisation of written media is covered regularly, as print gives way to web and that in turn opens the way for good quality bloggers and amateur writers to get themselves noticed. It seems, in a motorsport context at least, the same hasn’t been spoken about when it comes to photography. Mr C explores the issue here, and a lively conversation ensued in the comments when an F1 photographer turned up to debate the issue.

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Centennial Interview Series

– More Front Wing

Steph and Paul have been pumping out an interview every day in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. It is a remarkable effort and there are some fantastic names involved from both past and present of Indy racing: Scott Dixon, Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti (yes… Mario Andretti), Gil de Ferran, Danny Sullivan, the list goes on. I must admit I’ve not had the time to delve into these properly yet but I certainly will be doing so soon.

Whilst there you should go back a couple of weeks and check out the interview with Keith Wiggins explaining the teams’ perspective on aero kits, and also this superb Twitter guide which should be read by every Twitter user, IndyCar fan or not.

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Formula INDYCAR

– Eric Hall / Another IndyCar Blog

Found on a blog I have only just discovered, this post from April raises the fascinating issue of IndyCar following the model set by Formula 1, which is essentially a European series expanding outwards. Eric suggests IndyCar should be a North American series expanding outwards, to a sustainable limit. I agree with him, I’ve often thought that’s exactly what IndyCar racing should be like, most of the races in North America with several elsewhere. Not only is this is a great idea, it is also well-argued in this post. I’ll be paying more attention to Eric’s writing!

He followed it up with a couple of posts about the ‘dream schedule’, part 1 and part 2.

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World of Sportscars, 5.10

– John Dagys / SpeedTV

A round-up of news from the ILMC/LMS round at Spa-Francorchamps, including a great 3-minute video from Level 5 Motorsports, an American Le Mans Series team who have made the jump to race a car in Europe this year as well as their ALMS campaign. Note this article is spread across two pages and it can be easy to miss the page divider on the Speed site.

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There have been many blog posts this week about the DRS wing in F1, I plan to join them over the weekend so I will link to some of them then. Do also keep an eye on the blog for a quick review of the Donington Historic which I ought to have written 10 days ago.

The Various Le Mans Series

Sportscar racing has always been a confusing branch of motorsport to follow. There are many fans of racing who could be potential sportscar fans but may be a bit bewildered by the variety. When discussing the Peugeot launch on Thursday,Christine and Mr C at Sidepodcast asked exactly what the ILMC actually is, and where it fits into the sportscar world. I thought I would answer that question with this blog post, but first let’s set the scene.

Here follows a fairly rough guide to sportscar racing and the collection under the ‘Le Mans’ label in particular.

Continue reading “The Various Le Mans Series”

World of Racing: 16 Jan 2011

Links posts. Often useful, these can sometimes be seen an easy route to blogging, simply sharing what’s around as a way to have something on your own blog. Never one to shy away from stealing a good idea which lazily gives me content, I present ‘World of Racing’, my interpretation of the ubiquitous links post!

I’ve noticed many posts in this style focus on one championship, so you’ve got F1 sites sharing F1 links and IndyCar sites sharing IndyCar links, which great and these blogs do it very well indeed, but I don’t see many cross-motorsport blogs doing the same which I think is odd. Whilst it is true many fans focus on one series as their preferred championship and they might not watch all the races of other series or read the dedicated blogs/news sites, perhaps they are interested enough in other championships to watch the occasional race, catch up with a bit of gossip or read an interesting post on the topic. That’s where I hope to come in.

Let’s get started with the first set of links!

Continue reading “World of Racing: 16 Jan 2011”

Off to Silverstone

I am going to the Autosport Silverstone 1000km today, the final round of the Le Mans Series and the first qualifier for what I suppose you could call the ‘trial’ Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, which this year is a series of 3 races comprising Silverstone, Petit Le Mans and a race at Zhuhai in China. The ILMC will be expanding substantially next season and could become the de facto ‘world championship’ in all but name for Le Mans-style racing, something that has been missing for many years.

The reason I am going is because it sees the first battle between Audi and Peugeot since Le Mans, it’ll surely be epic. I’m also going because I’ve never been to a race like it before and also because I need to see more live racing.

I’m not doing this to make a point. Unlike many other fans of sportscar racing I am not one of these snooty types who hold their nose up at Formula 1, there seem to be plenty in that community who take great pleasure in making their distaste of F1 known to all and sundry and making snidey sarcastic comments as if everyone agrees with them. In the 1990s it was cool for F1 fans to act this way about all other forms of racing. Thankfully I’ve noticed over the last couple of years this attitude has largely disappeared. It is a shame to see it rearing it’s ugly head amongst sportscar fans, a group I consider to be among the most ardent of motorsport fans and so a group I expect to have an appreciation of all forms of racing (even if they don’t like some of it). Unfortunately it seems some among RLM are guilty of this and I’m going to be very annoyed if I have to listen to that kind of diatribe all day on the tannoy or the radio (if I can find a radio).

I’m actually quite annoyed to be missing the Italian Grand Prix particularly with the grid the way it is and I’ve been agonising over whether I’m making the right choice. For the last two years I’ve bottled out in favour of watching Monza, this year after coming back from Spa I’ve got the trackside buzz back again and I want to get one more fix in before the winter arrives, so off I go.

It’ll be interesting to see how easy the race is to follow, I’ve heard multi-class racing is very difficult to follow in person. It should last about five and a half hours so I’m hoping to see the cars from many vantage points. I want to see the start from somewhere cool, either Becketts or Stowe, whichever I have time to get to. After that I’ll be wandering around the circuit trying out different stands, perhaps finding my way into the paddock at some point.

If you see me, I’ll probably be wearing a blue raincoat and a Goodwood hat, a bit like in this photo. In the unlikely event it is as warm and sunny as Saturday has been I guess you’ll have to just look for the hat.

I’ll be tweeting as much as I can during the day but I’m conscious of how much of my stupidly small data plan I’ll be using up, particularly after the continental trip. Since it is a little more than 3 hours from home each way you won’t see a wrap-up post until late evening or Monday, and I’ll probably save the full details until I’ve posted my Belgium wrap-ups.

Enjoy the GP and if you’re able to follow the LMS on Eurosport, RLM and live timing, enjoy that too.