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MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on May 2, 2014 Comments (0)

Alfas

Alfa: A Glorious Past—An Unpredictable Future

Regular subscribers may have noticed that mention of Alfa Romeo occurs frequently in our weekly screeds. The history of this glorious brand provides excellent fodder for our constant railings against the plastic look-alike offerings of Maserati, Jaguar and Buick.

Alfa Romeo has had two lives; a full rich one in Europe where its successful racing and fine street cars engendered a passion which endures around the world today. And another in America where its European accomplishments were generally unknown but where Alfa race cars soared sporadically in the sixties and seventies. Truth be told, it is best remembered in America for being Dustin Hoffmann’s ride in The Graduate.

Alfa

This week it was announced that Fiat would be removing Alfa from under the Ferrari–Maserati umbrella and making it a stand-alone company. In fact, Ferrari is the premium performance brand, and a struggling Maserati is not a close second. Porsche has that. Glorious as its past unquestionably is, today there is no room for Alfa Romeo in the Fiat garage. This week’s announcement is not accompanied by a hopeful plan or an encouraging narrative. Rather it has fueled speculation that Alfa Romeo is being positioned for sale. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it found a loving home.

Alfa 3 wheel

Alfa: History Flash

In keeping with the Alfa theme, contributor S. Scott Callan has provided us a reminder of Alfa’s glorious past from his book, Alfa Romeo: View from The Mouth of the Dragon.

Ferrari 250 GTO in Motion

Ferrari 250 GTO 1964

University of Rhode Island Film Professor, one time actor, and MMR subscriber Hal Hamilton forwarded a great video of Derek Hill narrating the history of and driving the Ferrari 250 GTO that his father drove to victory in several major races. This is about as close as many of us will ever get to the view from the passenger seat of this most beautiful of the 36 GTOs ever made.

Senna and RUSH

Motorsports magazines are reminding Ayrton Senna fans that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola. Autoweek carried Alain Prost’s fairly brief remembrance of their relationship in the most recent issue. As it happens, I saw RUSH last week and read the Prost piece shortly afterward. It occurred to me that the rivalry between Senna and Prost would have made a far better film.

Images

Our lead image and Alfa images this week are from Michael Keyser’s excellent book Racing Demons – Porsche and the Targa Florio.

And Michael Furman’s image this week is a great shot of the long tail 917 that lives at the Simeone in Philadelphia. Isn’t it stunning?

photo by Michael Furman, Porsche Long Tail 917

If you haven’t visited our Uncommon Classifieds recently, click here. There are a number of rare and interesting cars on offer at this time. Take a moment to dream, it’s good for you.

Have a great weekend and please share this with a friend.

Peter Bourassa


Alfa Romeo: View From the Mouth of the Dragon

Posted on May 1, 2014 Comments (0)

by S. Scott Callan

Alfa Romeo: View From the Mouth of the Dragon

“A note about the illustrations:

Some of the earliest automotive books received when I was young came from that great period of illustrated publications. These publications spoke of automotive design and engineering through the visual language of the pen and ink watercolor. These publications and their illustrations inspired my automotive enthusiasm and motivated me as a young artist. In the interest of taking the reader on a journey through the time period discussed, to fully appreciate the innovation of 1914 say, I have revisited this printing and graphic method dating from the turn of the 20th Century through nineteen forty.

For the engines I had a special interest in bringing alive the engineering; utilizing the printed page to bring forth the evolving performance of these engines in a method that inhabited the time, while animating them in third dimension representation. So here once again I revisit the period printing and graphic visual language of the pen and ink watercolor to bring forth an understanding of what Giuseppe Merosi, Vittorio Jano and Gioachino Colombo imagined and made metal.”

– S. Scott Callan

View the book on S. Scott Callan's website.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on April 25, 2014 Comments (0)

An Apology

Constant Contact is our MMR Newsletter distributor. Last Friday, a power outage affected their ability to supply images for our newsletter for over six hours. We apologize to our subscribers for this inconvenience.

F1 China

It has become clear that the new F1 cars come pre-sorted with a set of characteristics that cannot be tuned out. Drivers have to adapt to them or perish. The drivers for the Mercedes team seem quite equal in talent and also seem to have adapted to the car’s idiosyncrasies equally. That doesn’t mean that another driver might not do better, but we would never know until one tries. The Red Bull Team on the other hand is a different situation. Sebastian Vettel was the master of the previous chassis and his then teammate Mark Webber never got it to the same extent. But Vettel definitely hasn’t come to terms with the new chassis. The problem for him is that his new Red Bull teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, has. To the team, this means that the issues to be overcome are not so much the car, though it does need improvement, it is helping their #1 driver adapt to it. And to his credit, Vettel admits he is the problem. If he can resolve this problem he will come out of this not just a better driver but a different person.

Our lead image this week is from Denise McCluggage's column. Her story this week compares today’s cars with a time when a racing driver’s input was necessary to maximize the car's potential. You can also visit her website where you can see more Denise McCluggage images for sale. The remainder of the eye-candy on this page is from this year's Amelia Concours event. Enjoy!

Blue Highways

America is blessed with some wonderful and sometimes little used back roads. As more and better freeways are built for our transportation needs, these blue highways, as they are defined on most maps, are becoming the purview of car enthusiasts exercising cars that were probably built in the same time period. In Europe, the historic Mille Miglia is a huge affair for both spectators and participants and in America the Colorado Grand, the New England 1000 and the Copperstate are rallies giving drivers an opportunity to celebrate and exercise their vintage vehicles in the company of like minded individuals in beautiful settings. In the coming weeks we will have a report on the Mille Miglia from participant and MMR Newsletter subscriber Bruce Male. We will further explore this expanding form of motorsports entertainment and whether it can fit in your plans. So stay tuned.

At the Track and on TV

The Mitty (as in Walter Mitty) is fast establishing itself as the premier event of the vintage racing scene in America and it is this weekend at Road Atlanta. While not quite ready for prime time TV yet, if you are in that area, make the time to refresh your memories of great cars of our past. On the more contemporary front, IndyCar is at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama this weekend. This is the first race of this year on a proper road racing circuit and it will be interesting.

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to share this with a friend.

Peter Bourassa


My Word:
Driving a dilemma, …or driven by one

Posted on April 24, 2014 Comments (0)

By Denise McCluggage

A new race car is a compendium of promise and problems. Only the real world can reveal which predominates and chart the hoped-for realization of the designers’ vision. That route is either complicated or simplified by the other element now introduced to the mix: the driver.

The driver may, while simply standing there in his billboard suit, have the sort of talent and driving style that meshes neatly with the chance characteristics of this race car. Out of the box the car may fit the driver remarkably well or the driver is the sort that can overwhelm mismatches. Anyway the 2014 Renault RB10 and R­­­­ed Bull’s rookie Australian are off to a dancing start that delights almost everyone wearing the same logo—the designer, the engineers, the tire-changers, the crew chief. All…

Unless. Unless standing nearby in matching gear is a four-time world champion, the obvious Number One of the team. But his face is clouded by a puzzled frown, his jaw works slightly. The dance he and his all-but identical car are experiencing involves misheard melodies, trod on toes and a hitch in the rhythm.

You might recognize an imagined sketch of the Red Bull Formula 1 team with Sebastian Vettel and his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo. You might even think you know what has happened in 2014, like those posting their certitude on the internet. “I knew Vettel wasn’t that good. It was the car all those years.” “Ricciardo is making Vettel look silly!” “It wasn’t Vettel, it was the car.” ”It was the car.” Echoing off in the distance—“itwasthecar.” Oh, how Vettel’s non-fans are gloating!

My observations: at the least these people are premature in their judgment. Oh, they could be right, but most likely for the wrong reasons. And only a scant few of them have any real understanding of racing.

Ah, I am claiming more understanding than these ardent folk? Yes, I am. Long ago before there was a known Internet and Formula 1 racing was accessible to the few journalists frequenting the scene I was there. Close up. Watching, listening and talking to the principals over dinner.

First, I’ll tell you one thing I learned from that experience and from my own time racing sports cars. It is never “the car” or “the driver.” It is both. And before you brush it off with a brusque “of course” let me add: it is the car and the driver in a more interwoven manner than many are likely to imagine.

As illustration let me relate a story about when Dan Gurney came to Europe to drive a factory Ferrari. The photograph alongside these words shows Dan at a practice session at the Nurburgring. Phil Hill is interpreting to him what Team Manager Tavoni—blocked from view by Phil—is saying. Dan has just taken a few laps of the ‘Ring—it was Dan so they were impressively fast laps. But Tavoni is frustrated. He has asked Dan what would he like done to the car, what would he like changed. Dan has said, in effect: “Nothing. I like it. It’s fine.”

Phil Hill and Dan Gurney at Nurburgring

Dan had come bursting out of California, loaded with as much native talent as anyone was ever likely to see. He could climb into anything with wheels and drive it as well or better than anyone else could dream of. He was beating internationally experienced drivers. He was making headlines and it was clear he was going places. I later wrote in my paper Competition Press that obviously he would be America’s next champion. (I got it right; it was history that goofed.)

But here he was brand new to Europe and was in some odd way disappointing Ferrari’s team manager because he liked the factory’s car. What was going on?

Phil later told me that Dan was in effect too good for his own good. ”He can adjust to work with a car’s quirks and get a great performance. “That’s fine for the level at which he has been racing, but not on the international scene.” At the top, drivers were expected to work with the mechanics and engineers to adjust the car to compliment the driver’s style, augment his strong points and thus reach a performance level of car and driver in synergy.

Phil had come quickly to that understanding but had made a different mistake, “I’d tell the mechanics what they needed to do to fix a problem.” He laughed. That had broken some code of each to his own specialty. “I learned to tell them exactly what the car would do when I did this or that and what I wished it would do instead. It was like playing charades, but they came to see in their own way what it was I wanted. They did it and we were all happy.” Especially after Phil learned to do that not only in Italian but in Modenese, the local patois. They loved that.

Dan soon realized that as good as he was he was even better getting his race cars tweaked to suit his better self rather than dealing with what the car presented to him. He became so good at that he built his own race cars with admirable successes. (He even learned to adapt champagne to his unique preferences. It was Dan that began the now universal habit for race winners to spray the world with bubbly instead of ingesting it.)

Sebastian Vettel

But back to Red Bull and this year’s trials of a champion. Sebastian Vettel perhaps is less inclined, or perhaps even less able than his competitors, to adapt to a car’s flukes and foibles. (Clearly Ricciardo has had a smoother time of it this year than Vettel.) Historically Vettel has been extremely sensitive to characteristics of his race cars. Some will recall the struggle he had when blown diffusers were banned for 2012. (Thus, in brief, decreasing the downforce.) Mark Webber, the then Aussie teammate, had an easier time adapting than did Seb. But then something else came along and once again the downforce was more to Vettel’s liking and he was driving happy again.

The new V6 turbo cars are as short on downforce as they are on ear-punishing sound. I was wondering which drivers would have trouble with that. I was surprised that Vettel was one of them because I had watched in awe a truly supernatural performance of his in the rain last season. But maybe a general absence of grip, a friction-free swim in effect, is a different coping problem than rather sudden changes in slip angle front and rear can be.

RB10

Whatever it is about the RB10 that makes Vettel uncomfortable and makes him drive in such a way that tire wear becomes a problem etc. it is something he is aware of, unhappy about and is trying hard to figure out. As is the entire team. (Except maybe a clam-happy Daniel Ricciardo.)

Does being so dependent on getting your car to match your driving style make you less a driver than one who can adapt easily to whatever he is driving? If that adaptability makes you collect more points then the answer is yes. But it’s the season-end point-count that matters. Let’s wait for that.

No doubt the process of reworking a car to mesh with the driver takes time, precise communication between the driver and engineers and real-world testing. At this point though testing is racing so time is tight. But the result in the long run is more dependable and more successful. Four championships mean something.

It will be exciting if the Red Bull team can tailor the RB10 to Vettel. It may be character-building for Vettel if they can’t. And he has to change his style or flounder. Can he do that? Either way it behooves us all to watch the process and not jump to judgments too soon.

In the meantime are you not enjoying Hamilton and Rosberg, those “star” teammates, as well? Formula 1 this year, in spite of its goofy green notions, is mighty entertaining though I will be glad when it gets back to a time zone more compatible to my Mountain Time. (I refuse to watch racing in anything but real time.)

Am I, after all, as intransigent as Vettel?


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on April 18, 2014 Comments (0)

Amelia Island 2014

100 years of Maserati was celebrated at Amelia this year and we captured this image of the unique 450S Coupe as it was moving to take its place on the field. 

Our eye candy this week is taken from the MMR Classifieds. Our goal with the MMR Classifieds is to save you the trouble of sifting through thousands of images of vehicles. We will list 400 cars that are of interest to us. The sampling below should give you some idea of what to expect. 

Next week we begin our series on modern day rally-touring. The Michael Furman image was taken from his gallery on our site.

Horch 853 Cabriolet

Horch 853 Cabriolet

Around the Track

Sometime in the 1960s, a Canadian bass-baritone was singing the role of bad-guy Scarpia in Tosca at L’Opera in Paris. It was one of those nights when two other leads, the good guys, were just slightly off. He was fine. At the end of the second act Tosca stabs Scarpia and he falls to the floor. In the moment of silence allowed for the audience to appreciate the drama of the scene, a voice from the audience was clearly heard to say “Quel domage, ils ont tue le meilleur.” What a shame, they killed the best one.

We were prescient; a head did roll. The noble Domenicalli, Director of Ferrari Racing, has accepted full responsibility for Ferrari’s poor performance and resigned. Quel Domage. Stefano, who appeared to be a warm and funny man, was certainly a refreshing change from the sphinx-like Jean Todt. For that matter, Sir Frank and Sir Ron could hardly be described as cheerful. The former Mercedes duo of Ross Brawn and Norbert Haug never threatened Laurel and Hardy either. Must come with the territory.

Aston Martin DB 2 MK III

Aston Martin DB 2 MK III

Penske vs. Ganassi Battle on Track and Off

It was inevitable. Two great teams go head to head in multiple series for years and sooner or later one is going to say something nasty about the other. Surprisingly, the first public utterances come from the polished Penske team. Before the Long Beach IndyCar weekend, which neither team won, Autoweek reports that Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing, “tried a baseball analogy, making those in Ganassi colors see red. He said Team Penske is the New York Yankees and Ganassi Racing the Miami Marlins.” Ganassi responded that “from time to time Tim probably cashes lots of different checks in different currency that Roger doesn’t like cashing.” The sphinx-like Roger said not a word. Comes with the territory.

Allard K1-544 Sport

Allard K1-544 Sport

Long Beach Weekend

Saturday: The Tudor Sports Car Series race was the main event and even though the classes are still confusing, the racing was great. The final laps were flat-out racing in both the prototype and the GTLM production car classes. Ford Eco-Boost powered Riley with Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won for Ganassi in Prototype. In the GT Le Mans class Corvette won overall but the battle for second between another Corvette, the BMW, and the Viper was tremendous. It is amazing and a testament to the excellent work that IMSA has done to make cars as disparate as these so competitive with each other.

Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Torpedo de Lux

Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Torpedo de Lux

Sunday: The IndyCar feature race of the weekend was “wild”. Many harsh words exchanged but no fisticuffs and cars did collide; people who know better made dumb moves. And, while everyone talks about Ganassi and Penske teams as the powerhouses, it was the Andretti car driven by Ryan Hunter-Reay that led 51 laps and was followed by a second Andretti car driven by James Hinchcliff. Unfortunately they took each other out. Unkind words were spoken. So none of the big teams won. As for the race, it was excellent! Like most street tracks, Long Beach has issues but the pluses outweigh the shortcomings. The fact that the field is so deep, talented, and competitive makes for great racing. Amazingly, running a single car doesn’t appear to be a disadvantage. Single car teams made up the front row. Ed Carpenter Racing and driver Mike Conway won the race. It was fun to watch. The fuel and tire strategies, the quick young drivers and experienced veterans, a tight course with no run-offs, are the ingredients required for laughter and tears and there was plenty of the latter. If you are looking for an exciting change from F1, give this a try.

And, BTW, pass this on to a friend.

Peter Bourassa

1938 MG TA Tickford

1938 MG TA Tickford

 1932 Delage D8 SS Interior | Michael Furman, Photographer

1932 Delage D8 SS Interior | Michael Furman, Photographer