Ten Years Of Too Much Racing

On August 5th, 2018, I reached a milestone:  10 years of blogging!

There have been periods of downtime along the way. On and off, I have been writing words about motor sport for a decade. And soon it’ll be 20 years since I first joined a Formula 1 newsgroup, at age 18 at the end of December 1998, which is where it all began. Now I am 38 and I feel very old.

The Changes Over A Decade

A lot has happened in the last decade. The blog was set up to look at F1, IndyCar, Le Mans and other endurance races, plus whatever else took my fancy.

For one thing the original version was on Blogspot and is still there.

First Blog

In 2008’s Formula 1 season, on the face of it it looks familiar:  the young upstart Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes-powered McLaren racing the Ferraris of defending champion Kimi Räikkönen and his team-mate Felipe Massa. It would be Hamilton’s first title – and Massa who would take it to the last race and win a legion of fans for his sportsmanship in defeat.

There the similarities end. It was the era of multiple manufacturers:  BMW were still with Sauber with Robert Kubica finishing 4th in points (including a race win). Honda and Toyota both still had their own full F1 teams. Fernando Alonso had gone back to the works Renault team after the “spygate” scandal – and this was the year the “crashgate” scandal would unfold. Tyres were grooved and V8 engines screamed and a lot of us complained it wasn’t as good as slick tyres and V10s.

In IndyCar the reset button had just been pressed. “The Split” of the CART/IRL war was over, the two factions had come together for the 2008 season. As it happened late in pre-season with very little time to prepare, the Champ Car teams had to adapt to the IRL cars in less than a month. They looked hopeless at Homestead-Miami as the IRL teams dominated, then just a week later Graham Rahal won at St Petersburg for Newman/Haas, giving hope to those of us who were on the Champ Car side of the fence.

It was a long road to recovery for IndyCar racing after that and it took a lot longer than I think anybody expected. They’re still travelling that road today. It took arguably until 2016 to really make traction. Now though, you have to say that after 10 years the series is in excellent health and has a bright future. The peak of quality was never in question all along, what’s changed is the depth of quality of both drivers and teams is the highest seen in 20 years. In some neat symmetry, Scott Dixon won the 2008 and 2018 titles. Dare I say this year he’s driving better than I’ve ever seen him. And the current cars are cool too, which wasn’t the case in 2008.

In sports car racing, the continual cycle of boom and bust is never far away from throwing in a curve ball.

In Europe we had the Le Mans Series, five races of 1000km with the Le Mans 24 Hours itself being a non-championship race. Audi and Peugeot went toe to toe in LMP1, a healthy field of privateers scoring podium finishes all year long when any of the lead quartet fell off. LMP2 was dominated by the Porsche Spyder which brought LMP1 engineering and reliability to a class previously renowned for cars breaking down.
We still had the glorious GT1s, Corvette C6 vs Aston Martin DBR9 vs Saleen S7-R. And GT2 was the Pro/Am Porsche vs Ferrari class with cars that were much closer to road-relevance than today’s GTs.

There was a defined route from ‘upgraded road car’ to ‘really mega road car on steroids’ to ‘baby prototype’ to ‘fast prototype’. Today we have ‘a prototype that looks like a GT’, then ‘fast prototype’ to ‘even faster really expensive prototype’. It feels like we’ve lost something along the way. I suppose that’s why LMP3 and GT4 now exist.

The good thing is we now have a World Championship – and we kept the European LMS underneath it so we’ve gained a load of racing. We had a great mini-era of LMP1 Hybrid in the WEC which was a joy to watch. The new era though, it all still needs work. Whatever happens to the WEC and LMP1, down at continental level, I’d argue the ELMS should adopt IMSA’s DPi as its top class.

Over in the US, the IMSA American Le Mans Series was at the height of the battle between a nearly equalised Audi LMP1 and Porsche LMP2. It had a strong GT2 field. And yet a rival series in Grand-Am with its own bespoke cars and NASCAR backing. Peaks and troughs in both series led to a merger for 2014. Lessons were learned from the bumpy and rushed IndyCar merger and the new-era IMSA has worked very hard to solve some tricky problems. That 2014 season was itself bumpy. But the recovery is happening very quickly, aided by the DPi concept of upgrading LMP2 cars and tapping into GTE and GT3 resources.

There is still a risk IMSA will take the backward step of having its own rules, Grand-Am style. They should avoid this and work to share platform with the ACO – even if it means running a “dumbed-down” version of the cars. Maybe it would work as a base platform for IMSA and ELMS, then if you want to go to WEC P1 you add a Special Nifty Widget that makes the car faster. (I specialise in these highly technical solutions.)

And then a wildcard. Formula E was launched. Like a cross between A1GP and Scalextric and the Toronto IndyCar track and a good dose of FIA weirdness. I’ve loved it since it started. Not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone else. I think the eco message has a problem when you jet the cars around the world and power them with generators. The tracks need a bit more space. But the racing is fun and frantic, the talent level is top notch and the future of cars is electric so you might as well have a championship for them now. Though I can’t help feeling it should’ve been a touring car or GT series, maybe a silhouette series with a spec chassis underneath and a manufacturers’ bodyshell to make it look like their road cars.

I don’t even have space to talk about the globalisation of LMP3, GT3, GT4 – and the remarkable TCR. All this has made previously national or regional events accessible to others around the world.

I haven’t even touched on MotoGP which year after year is the best racing around.

There’s an obsession with nostalgia in racing. I happen to think we’re in a golden era right now.

The Future

I know in my head what I want the blog to be. The same as it was in 2008 – short pieces of snippets every few days, intermingled with a lengthy weekly or fortnighly column. The problem is finding the time or the motivation in the depths of the season. You’ll have noticed I stopped the latest project back in July when the summer got too hot!

The goal is to get people to pay attention outside their own bubble, be that the F1 bubble, or the IndyCar bubble, or the sportscar bubble, or even the Formula E bubble these days.

I’ve tried various formats of race report, showing points progression and including race video, but few people read race reports, and I’m wary of video now due to copyright rules. I think the future of this site is in personal comment and reflection.

The racing e-calendars for iCal and Google Calendar will continue. They are laborious at times, yet very popular and a focal point of the blog. I even considered flipping it, so the calendars are front and centre and you had to hunt to find the blog posts.

As for the future of racing? We are in interesting times. We’re going back to the future.

IndyCar has shown the way. The nail-biting close finishes are gone. Instead we have cars visibly difficult to drive. They may not set lap records compared to last year’s very-high-downforce kits, but they do allow a difference between nailing the setup and missing it. Between top driver/team and those further back. And reducing the wake so cars can get close.

F1 needs to follow suit. It can find a way to do this while retaining the fastest cars. It also needs to go back to tyres that allow drivers to go flat out in a race. Cruising around to save super-ultra-hyper-soft tyres isn’t good enough and makes a mockery of changing the cars themselves to be faster.

Sports cars among GT racing is in rude health. They just need to be careful not to spend GT3 out of existence. In the prototypes there’s a golden opportunity lying just ahead, in blending LMP1 with DPi. If they get it right… well, special things could happen.

And Formula E will be the first of many series with what we presently call ‘alternative fuels’. Fast-charging electric cars are coming. Longer-range batteries are already here, with no need to swap cars in the 2019 season. Other electric series are coming. And elsewhere, hydrogen cars are coming.

The rest of the motor sport world needs to pay attention. If Governments are banning cars powered by fossil fuels from sale, how long will it be before they ban racing other than anything emission-free? 40 years? 30? 20?

The change over the next five years could be bigger than the whole of the last ten.

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COMMENT: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans

In some 17 years of following the race from afar, the 2018 edition wouldn’t rank in my top ten or fifteen. On the positive side there were some prominent highlights: a worthy winning team, a true test of endurance among the new LMP1 cars, some fascinating F1 visitors with very different approaches, a much better GT race than expected. And I once again enjoyed being a tiny part of the online endurance racing family.

Continue reading “COMMENT: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans”

Weekend Preview: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans

It’s the big one, the 24 Hours of Le Mans!

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

There are 60 cars with 180 drivers. 60 stories to follow. Three class races other than LMP1. Please do not belittle all of that just because the race for the win might be boring!

Continue reading “Weekend Preview: 16/17 June 2018 Le Mans”

Weekend Preview: 5/6 May 2018

Some of things happening this weekend.

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

Endurance sports cars are back!

If it isn’t raining I’ll be watching these delayed so you may only see a small weekend recap post on Tuesday.

Continue reading “Weekend Preview: 5/6 May 2018”

2018 Calendars: FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship)

2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship

FIA_WEC_logo   24_le_mans_logo_detail

The FIA’s global sports car championship featuring the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a series of 6 hour races in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Although Le Mans is a WEC round, the race attracts many non-championship cars from series such as the IMSA Weathertech Championship, the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series. These teams race for the win against the WEC teams but are ‘invisible’ when counting up WEC points.

This season marks the transition to a winter start with the finale being Le Mans itself. To get there they have created the one-off “Super Season”, more details below.

Google/iCal Calendar links:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For more championships click here.

Continue reading “2018 Calendars: FIA WEC (World Endurance Championship)”

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

2013 FIA WEC Schedule

I took a look at the F1 and IndyCar schedules the other week, I meant to follow them up straight away with this post but it slipped back.

On the same day the F1 calendar was announced the FIA World Motorsport Council also confirmed the schedule for the 2013 World Endurance Championship.

The 2012 season has proven to be a good start for the new series, taking the ILMC concept and expanding it with a proper identity and FIA backing. It is good to see the ACO and FIA working closely together and I hope it continues like this.

Good

Stability. Any new championship with a successful start will find it very tempting to add races here, there and everywhere in the 2nd and 3rd years. The FIA and ACO have avoided this temptation in order to continue to build the existing races and keep costs reigned in during the current economic climate. Choosing not to add races helps the teams and hopefully attracts some new ones, both of which have to be priorities right now. Sensible choice.

Rearranged race order. Silverstone becomes the opening round, Sao Paulo moves a month earlier to August, Bahrain becomes the final round. This is all part and parcel of a series finding a footing and trying events at different times. Some will work and some won’t. The race order has also been arranged such that the travel costs for the teams is a lot lower and sea freight can be utilised for some journeys, compared with using air freight all this year. The season is arranged into three blocks: Europe, the Americas, Asia.

US round retained. Keeping the merged ALMS/GrandAm racing with the WEC at the 12 Hours of Sebring was never going to work, so WEC had to look elsewhere. The one new event on the 2013 calendar is the 6 Hours of Austin at the Circuit of the Americas. I do think it is a positive for the WEC to have its own branded event in the US. That brings us on to a related point.

Double-headers. The WEC will tie-up with related series twice in the year. The opening round will see the ELMS race on Saturday at Silverstone with WEC on Sunday. Then in September, the ALMS will race on Saturday in Austin with the WEC following up the next day.
From a fan perspective this is a great idea to bring together the local flavours of LM racing with the world championship. While ELMS/ALMS race lengths aren’t confirmed, the WEC will race for 6 hours at each. Two days of racing for two sets of the most die-hard sportscar fans.

Race dates are more spread out. This year saw a lot of gaps until September when a long run of events began. This works in other series but you just can’t run 6-hour races on a week on / week off format, which we’re pretty much in the middle of right now. Teams don’t have the budget of F1 teams who do it for shorter races (remember these are Asian flyaways and most WEC teams are still European for now). Next year we will see one race per month, skipping July to recover from the 24 Hour, and finishing with two in November which are 20 days apart. Good scheduling.

Bad

Sebring. No getting around the loss of Sebring, even though it was for perfectly understandable reasons. Clearly combining the WEC and ALMS grids into one race was never going to be a long-term option, especially when the unified North American series begins in 2014 and their resulting changes to class structure. Even without that factor, the grid sizes and complexities of running two distinct races in one were too difficult to maintain. (Personally I’d have dropped the PC and GTC classes for that race.) But with the GrandAm/ALMS merger including ownership of Sebring it will clearly be a key race on their calendar from 2014 onwards.
There is an agreement between ALMS and WEC to allow a month before the first WEC round, to allow any WEC teams to compete at Sebring. Unsure how many will take up this offer as they won’t be scoring any points but some might like to go pot-hunting – I hope so.

Double-headers. I don’t know how likely it would’ve been, but running ALMS and ELMS at the same events as the WEC prevents the teams from those series entering as ‘wildcards’ into the WEC race. As negatives go it isn’t a big one as it would only affect one or two cars, but it did occur to me.
Actually on a personal level the only downside is having to find a hotel near Silverstone or having to do the 3 hour each way journey twice in two days. I may end up skipping ELMS but we’ll see what the entry list is like.
Oh and I don’t like the name ‘Super Endurance Weekend’. Hm. But this is something in common with the WEC which needs to have Le Mans in the title so people realise it isn’t Ironman triathlon or something.

Silverstone in April. As much as I love that the UK gets the first round, this is possibly the rainiest month in a country that gets a hell of a lot of rain. F1 raced at Silverstone in April one year and the place got waterlogged. Besides that I really enjoyed the warmth of a race into an August evening, can we do that every year instead?

Summary

A good solid progression from the first year of the WEC and the preliminary ILMC which preceded it. Spreading the series across a race per month is a great idea which walks the line between keeping it in the public eye against the needs of the teams to recover and repair after each round. I think it’ll work really well.

2013 World Endurance Championship Schedule

14 April – Silverstone, UK  [6 Hours] (with ELMS on Sat)
4 May – Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium [6 Hours] (Saturday)
22-23 June – Le Mans, France [24 Hours]
24 August – Sao Paulo, Brazil [6 Hours] (Saturday)
22 September – Austin, USA [6 Hours] (with ALMS on Sat)
20 October – Mt.Fuji, Japan [6 Hours]
10 November – Shanghai, China [6 Hours]
30 November – Bahrain [6 Hours] (Saturday)

Le Mans will offer double-points.

Next year the drivers in each class will be awarded titles. This year only overall results counted for the Drivers Championship so it was effectively an LMP1-only title. GTE Pro drivers will get a World Cup, LMP2 and GTE Am drivers will get a FIA Endurance Trophy. Personally I feel each class should win a World Championship, to do otherwise is confusing.

I’ve added these dates to my TMR Google/iCal calendars which you can import for your own use. If you subscribed earlier in the year these should be visible to you already.