IndyCar Amazing Race – Porsche Pics – Much More
We have an action packed issue this week. Editor Dom Miliano was in French Lick, IN for the Porsche National Convention and came back with some neat pictures. We also have some images from Thompson’s rain shortened Historic Vintage weekend and many good stories. (We at MMR often say there are only two things in life: good times and good stories.)
Michael Furman - Photographer
Our Car’s Yeah! Podcast is with Tina Van Curren, owner of Autobooks-Aerobooks, the enthusiast’s bookstore in Burbank CA since 1951. A-A has recently moved seven blocks and is this issue’s featured supplier from our Resource Directory.
Classic Classifieds this week features some interesting Porsches.
IMSA Tudor at Watkins Glen 6 Hours: Just Gets Better
The series is getting better with every race. Watkins Glen was amazing. The weather was the story. Dry, wet, rain, fog, it was all there. The Series leading Taylor Daytona Prototype Corvette dominated the race in the wet and the dry. With 45 minutes to go Ricky Taylor lost adhesion in the last turn before the pit straight and opened the door for the Westbrook Chevy to beat the Ganassi Ford. In Daytona GT, the non-factory Dodge Viper won with Marc Goosens. Astounding! GT LM was won by Porsche.
Ford at Le Mans
Ford released images of the race-prepared 2016 WEC Ford GT and it is beautiful. Ganassi will be running the effort and in a trackside interview, Scott Pruett confirmed that all is on schedule to introduce the car for the 2016 season. It will run the Ford six cylinder Eco-boost engine, which they ran at Watkins Glen and led much of the last part of the race, only to finish second when they needed a splash of fuel. Great racing and super coverage by Bob Varsha, Calvin Fish, and Tommy Kendall.
TK is our Hero
Congratulations Tommy Kendall on being inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame. Our home page video is of TK discussing his induction. Well done.
IndyCar: Amazing Race – How Rare Thou Art
Before a very small crowd, the IndyCar MTA-TV 500 at Fontana on Saturday took place at a horrible track and yet produced an incredible race.
The IndyCar race at Fontana was unquestionably the finest combination of bravery, skill, and foolhardiness seen in pro racing in decades. If the norms of our times prevail, someone will surely put an end to it. And some drivers will be torn as to whether it should be so.
Readers Warning: The following will ramble.
It began with Man’s beginning. The excitement of eliminating or evading the danger posed by animals or circumstances that might harm, was triggered by “fear”. Some would argue that, other than our fellow man, we have eliminated most of the natural sources that once prompted that fear. But we have retained the capacity to fear and modern man has found that overcoming danger can be both a challenge and a stimulant. Under stress, the body produces “adrenaline” which heightens the senses and sometimes allows the achievement of feats not ordinarily possible. It also produces a pleasant, and possibly addictive, “endogenous morphine” called “endorphins” which decrease the feelings of pain and lead to feelings of euphoria.
An aside: The entertainment industry has simulated and monetized our primal fears. Ferris Wheels at County Fairs stimulate our natural fear of heights and motion. Their modern cousins are the studio created “theme” rides. Here patrons strap themselves into pneumatically operated chairs for a predetermined, computer coordinated time. We are simultaneously bounced around, assaulted audibly and visually by loud noises, and all encompassing movie screens projecting the "fear" flavor of our choosing. Brilliant! The long and constant lines to experience these faux fears attest to our apparent craving to be so stimulated.
Again, in keeping with societal demands, racing has striven to eliminate any real fear of death and, like the studios with bouncing chairs, it simulates danger while tantalizing the viewer with morbid fears of possible disaster.
On June 30, 2013 nineteen firefighters were killed near Yarnell, Arizona when winds shifted, trapped, and killed them. It was the deadliest wildfire since 1991.
It sticks in my mind because I was traveling home in my 308 from a visit with friends in Phoenix. They suggested I take this particular route because the road offered beautiful scenery and the opportunity to ignore the speed limit on sweeping and scarcely patrolled roads. They were correct. As I was enjoying my car at a comfortable 85 MPH I saw and smelled the smoke from the wildfires and listened to the stories on my radio about the local firefighters, most well trained locals, who were battling it.
We will return to the speed I was traveling later.
As I write this it is almost two years ago to the day that this tragedy occurred and in hindsight the death of these men has been considered, by some, avoidable. In December of that year the Industrial Commission of Arizona deemed that the State had “knowingly put the protection of property ahead of safety and should have pulled the crews out earlier”. Their commander had made a choice to send them from a burned out area, where they were safe, to save a nearby town which had been evacuated. I am certain that every man who died was fearful to different degrees. I am also certain that every man saw the risk as a challenge for which he was prepared and excited. The excitement was caused by “fear”.
Fear is instinctive and a part of each of us. Men, particularly young ones, and women, more today than ever before, thrill at risk.
Another aside: Thirty years ago I was on a 40 foot sailboat off St. Vincent in the British Virgin Islands. We were returning to St. Vincent to repair our non-functioning engine when we were hit by a force 4 gale. The boat was well equipped. We were seven people aboard and we were running just enough sail to allow us to control our general direction. I know nothing about sailing, but I can take direction, so I was helping our hired captain in any way I could. The atmosphere was tense and we were all excited. At some point I noticed that a mop, lashed alongside the cabin had come loose and was in danger of falling overboard. Holding tightly to the rails on the cabin and the lines that ran from stanchion to stanchion around the boat I moved from the safety of the cockpit to “rescue” the mop. “Foolhardy” is a kind word for what I did. "Stupid" is more accurate. In those seas, with no lifejacket and a boat with no motor, the chances of the boat turning around and finding me would have been slim. Why did I do it??? Well, the feeling of fear and the sense of accomplishment from that 25 foot walk was exhilarating. I wouldn’t compare my stupidity with the bravery of those firefighters. But, it had to have crossed at least one firefighter’s mind that his choices were to stay comparatively "safe" in the middle of a burned out area in the middle of the day, or take a chance and save a bunch of buildings. To a man they went. And I understand that.
In my late teens, I was participating in a club race meet at Mosport, near Bowmansville, Ontario. The spot next to me in the paddock was occupied by a well-known Formula Vee driver. Race weekends are always very busy and though we had met before at other races we were just like all the other guys parked next to each other. We weren’t together but we would have helped each other. That’s how it was. He was killed on Saturday when his car went off the back straight.
They parked the wreck next to our pit and Sunday, mid-morning, when I came in after my race, it and all his “stuff” were gone. Just like that. We all said the right things about him being a great guy and a really good driver and how he died doing what he wanted to do. Not one of us ever thought that it would happen to us. Yet the reason we raced, to some extent, was to see just how close we could come to disaster, the edge, the limit, or numerous other words that implied disaster, perhaps death. But not likely to happen.
Back to when I was doing 85 in Arizona. I was 68 years old. Had I been 38 years old, I would have been doing 90. And had I been 18 years old I would have been testing the limits of adhesion. Badly, and with adrenaline.
As one ages, whether or not one matures, one learns. Whether by accident or by design those “learnings” define our thoughts and actions going forward. If one is the slightest bit introspective, they explain many things that seemed puzzling in the past.
Many years ago I watched a TV show about marathoners. Runners were being scientifically analyzed and compared to other athletes who competed in sprints. Basically, it was determined that to compete successfully in these two disciplines required distinctly different muscle fibers structures. The sprinters had “fast" twitch muscles which were quick and powerful. “Slow" muscles enabled the low intensity required for marathon running.
While this information defines and separates us physically, our aspirations don't recognize the difference. Upon reflection, this physiological fact of our being might shed light on events in our lives that have defined who we are and what we believe ourselves capable of being. My father was a gifted athlete who played hockey and baseball and competed well into his fifties against much younger men. He had excellent eyesight and physical dexterity. We had little in common. He was very competitive in nature and sports were very important to him. I imagine now that I must have been a disappointment.
A 10 mile foot race, at age 39, was the first time I realized I could run distances comfortably and competitively for my age and running became a life-long love. The knowledge that we all possess either “fast” or “slow” twitch muscle fibers color how I view all sports and my personal ability to excel in them. Particularly, motorsports.
Denise McCluggage told me that Sir Stirling Moss could pick flies out of the air and read the fine print in a certificate mounted on a wall across the room. I have heard the same extraordinary qualities attributed to Juan Manuel Fangio. The protagonist of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Test Pilot Chuck Yeager, is described as equally gifted. Defined by their natural abilities, these are special people who have found the occupation, niche, or sport which suits their set of particular physical attributes and allows them to succeed.
There is no doubt that today’s top drivers are all “fast” twitch equipped and gifted in additional complimentary ways such as size, eyesight, experience etc. Proof was on exhibit at the IndyCar race on June 27, 2015 at Fontana in California.
As we write this, Graham Rahal is the declared winner of the race. However, on lap 187 of 250, Rahal left the pits with a portion of the refueling rig attached to his car. It fell off at the track entrance and the race was yellow flagged. IndyCar did not assess a penalty immediately but allowed that they would review the incident after the race. Derek Walker, IndyCar’s competition manager, told the announce crew that the race stewards would definitely assess a penalty at race’s end. They fined him $5000. Not much in dollars but big in percentages when you calculate that the win paid $30,000.
The Race: Teams have complained to IndyCar that driving cars with similar aero packages and engine power creates an equality that results in what is called “pack” racing. The cars don’t have the power to get away from one another and are moved around on the track involuntarily as they pass and repass each other. The race was 250 laps on a two mile banked oval track with average race lap speeds of 215 mph and speed on the straights over 220 mph. From the drop of the flag “pack racing” was on. Official lead changes are measured once per lap at the start-finish line. There were a record 80 official lead changes. Certainly far more than twice that overall. The track is 75 feet wide with a 15 foot apron and the racing was often three and four cars wide with occasional moments of five wide racing. It was incredibly risky. All the leading drivers took part.
These are comment highlights from drivers and Team Managers after the race:
Will Power: What are we doing? What are we doing? As exciting as it is, it is insane. It is crazy! Crazy!
Tony Kanaan: It was a crazy race. It’s a great race for the fans but hopefully we get together and come up with a better solution.
Tim Cindric, Pres. Penske Racing: We talked about (putting an end to) this kind of racing. I am sure it is fun to watch but it is very difficult.
AJ Foyt: I enjoyed this kind of racing when I was doing it.
Marco Andretti: I enjoy it. It is definitely crazy. It was definitely great for the fans.
Juan Pablo Montoya: This was definitely crazy and sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.
Tony Brooks was a highly talented British driver who was the fourth winningest Grand Prix driver of the fifties behind Moss, Fangio, and Ascari. In a recent interview, Brooks, who retired early, said he felt that racing was too dangerous then. Three or four drivers per year were dying. It would be years and many more driver’s lives lost before track safety got us to where we are today. Ayrton Senna was the last F1 driver to die on a track. That was in 1994. In 1999, IndyCar's Greg Moore died at Fontana.
Overall, we take a couple of things away from the post race interviews. One, everyone interviewed said it was exciting. Most agreed it was dangerous. This is the best race we have seen in a long, long time. IT WAS EXCITING! We don’t want to see anyone hurt or killed but we do want to see more “exciting racing”. Don't change a thing.
Gordon Kirby: IndyCar racing has issues. Venues and scheduling leading the pack. This week’s Gordon Kirby column in MotorSport addresses these issues in detail. He feels that less downforce and more engines are the answer. Perhaps he is correct. In the meantime, while New Orleans was unquestionably a low point, since then Indy, Barber, and certainly Fontana, were a damn sight more entertaining.
Robin Miller: Always controversial and seemingly never concerned about political correctness. You don’t want to dance with him, he steps on toes. Miller has a similar take on dates and venues but agrees with us about how good that race on Saturday really was and has a message for IndyCar management. Watch his video.
Tracks Access Grows
This story was prompted by our visit to the Vintage Motorsports Festival at Thompson Speedway on June 20th. We had the opportunity to watch good people having a good time.
Automotive folklore tells us that the first auto race took place when the second car was built. That may be an exaggeration but it is likely true.
The first car races were point to point affairs, generally between towns along crazed-spectator-lined dirt roads. Once the cost to flora and fauna was calculated, the racing madmen and their equally mad followers were confined to circuits where they were encouraged to damage each other, but little else, to their hearts content.
The sport of driving like hell to get back to the spot from which you all started gradually adapted itself to the differing styles of mayhem the participants were most comfortable inflicting on each other. At the same time, as well heeled Europeans were strapping themselves to thin tubes and careening around paved circuits meant to resemble the country roads from which they were banned, Americans were throwing dirt at each other in powerful Champ Cars on unpaved ovals in every small town that owned a fair ground.
Tracks evolve in response to the evolution of the cars that run on them. No one track suits multiple racing disciplines, though many try. And, not by accident, the most successful tracks in each discipline are those that can limit the performance parameters of the vehicles using them. For instance, each year a small group of parochial Frenchmen convene to concoct a new set of rules that will encourage ambitious foreigners to spend fortunes building cars that will survive a 24 hour beating on their public roads. Historically French cars dominated something entitled the Index of Performance class. It was essentially an economy run in the middle of the fastest race in the world. Oddly, the rules always favored cars built by French manufacturers. It was eventually phased out. Today’s Prototype II class, a less powerful version of the exciting lead cars, is dominated by French chassis manufacturers. Our point here is that Le Mans dominates the WEC series and their rules dictate rules for all the other races in the WEC series.
IndyCar rules are made to best suit the Indianapolis Speedway and their premier event, the Indy 500. NASCAR is owned and governed by the family that owns and governs the Daytona Speedway. The most closely regulated, least consistent and most political set of rules is Formula 1. And the quality of the races reflect it. Owned by an investment company and operated by a brilliant manipulator, the governing rules of F1 are set by the FIA, a world motorsport sanctioning body based in Paris. Rules are made in consultation with committees appointed by the race teams. F1’s iconic track is a street circuit in a hilly tax refuge beside a sunny bay filled with 100+ foot long boats and on which passing is virtually impossible.
In the 21st Century a new landscape is emerging. The growth of vintage race car usage and the evolution of street cars suitable for track use are making possible the development of interesting private club road circuits. Spurred by the success of club venues, declining enrollment in driving schools, and independent track days, established road circuits are offering club memberships. They also offer the added cachet of history.
This plethora of options has given rise to a new phenomenon: club shopping. Drivers now have options that allow them to optimize their track experience by matching their abilities and their car capabilities with a track configuration that best suits them.
We have come a long way from WWII runways and hay bales. And then again… there is always Sebring.
Have a great Fourth!
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