MMR Blog

Vintage Racing: Home of the Brave

Posted on September 4, 2014 Comments (2)

Several early Saturday mornings ago I was flipping TV channels between F1 practice and a rainy day’s ride at the Tour de France bicycle race.

Tour de France crash

Co-incidentally at virtually the same time on my TV an F1 car left the track at extremely high speed and hit the barrier wall head on at elevated speed. And several TdF riders went down on a muddy corner somewhere in France. The F1 driver walked away from an impact judged to measure 26 G’s of force which totally destroyed the car. He drove the next day. Two of the bicycle riders suffered broken collar bones, one had a broken arm and all were out of the biggest race of their year.

The following week I was in a modern shop that services vintage race cars. While Vintage racing organizations require the use of more safety equipment than was ever required in the day, it struck me that the cars themselves, as required, were as close to original as possible but most had better, safer tires and reliable engines, several had better brakes, and yet many were as unsafe today as they were originally. Shoulder harnesses are a big improvement over lap belts and helmets and fire suits hugely better, but roll bars appeared to be original and in images posted around the shop, some current drivers’ helmets exceeded them by 2 inches or more. Modern open wheel racing at the highest levels requires tethered wheels on single seaters, not here. Fuel cells are mandatory as are external electrical shut off switches. Very good. During practice three weeks ago at Virginia International Raceway a Porsche race car spun on oil at high speed and hit the tire barrier over a hundred yards away.

Spinning Corvette

Within seconds, a factory Corvette hit the same oil and, following the trajectory of the Porsche, crashed into it. The Corvette driver suffered a mild concussion and the Porsche driver had a broken arm. I shudder to think what would have happened had two vintage cars experienced the same crash. Changes to personal gear notwithstanding, the now faster and better handling 1940-50-60-70s race cars are easily as dangerous in a crash now as they were then.

Vintage racing was dangerous when it wasn’t vintage. At the front end of the grid the cars were prepared by professional race teams with proper equipment and were always in top condition. It would be a stretch to say that today’s vintage drivers, though unquestionably more experienced, could be as quick of hand or eye as they were 40 years ago.

MG-PA Special

Last weekend at Lime Rock, a vintage racer lost his life in an MG-PA Special. We love to watch those old cars race. And we all recognize that this isn’t tennis. Accidents will happen and people will be hurt. We also realize that cars must go through scrutineering before they are allowed on the track. We asked the question earlier in the year when a vintage “Penske” Camaro crashed at the Glen: Is it time for vintage racing governing bodies to take a closer look at the cars and the people who are racing to determine whether either or both are capable of handling the demands of their class of racing? After all, they are not alone out there.


Racing | IndyCar: Ends on a Whimper Not a Bang

Posted on September 4, 2014 Comments (0)

The IndyCar season came to a fast speedy, but listless, end last Saturday night in Fontana CA. Will Power is the new IndyCar Champion.

Tony Kanaan

He didn’t win the race and he didn’t have to. The race itself was interesting and Tony Kanaan deserved the win. But after all the hype about the championship, it lacked drama. All Power had to do was survive and be close to Helio Castroneves to win. In the end he beat him.

Helio was far more gracious in losing than Power was in winning and that will not serve Power well. The “gosh all I want to do is win” thing has to go away. Now he needs to be a Champion and class up.

The most interesting part of the marathon show was the interview the previously reticent Roger Penske gave to his former and at times least favorite employee, the now quite entertaining color commentator Paul Tracy. When asked what he looked for in a young driver he said: Three things. He must have won a race, he needs to be able to communicate with his engineers and he needs to be a saleable product to the sponsors. A basic and excellent formula.

The Penske Team won the championship fair and square but the Ganassi Team finished strong and the Andretti team, which dominated early, simply faded.

Auto Club Speedway logo

Unfortunately, the track determined the outcome of the race. Auto Club Speedway, once the title of a sixties pin-ball game is a horrible place to race. Built in 1997 by Roger Penske ISC group, the concept was to build a track that would rival Indy… only bigger and better. But it never worked out. The track turns out huge speeds but the surface is in such poor condition, it hasn’t been repaved in almost twenty years, that changing lanes at high speed is life threatening. The track is divided into five lanes separated by tar-filled lips that are not even or of the same consistency as the pavement. The whole track is simply dangerous.

This is not good racing, it shouldn’t be on the schedule let alone the final double points paying race. It highlights the biggest problem that the series has—poor quality tracks.

They have the teams, the drivers and even the rules to be the best series in the world. What they lack is real racing venues. Instead they have opted for circus circuits where they can terrify downtown sewer rats and race between makeshift highway barriers separating them from and cotton candy vendors and T-shirt stalls. Mercifully the Houston Parking Lot Grand Prix has been dumped, only eight more to go. Unfortunately, almost one half of their venues are a joke and the sooner they dump them the sooner they will become the serious series they once were under CART and are capable of being again.

Our humble suggestions: First—Forget South America, go to Europe; Dump downtown Toronto for two days of racing at Mosport; Drop Florida and Long Beach entirely. Go to Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca; Drop Detroit and go to Road America; Cancel Auto Club Debacle go to Montreal or Mont Tremblant.

Add four races in Europe and assume Spa and Monza are unavailable: Goodwood in England; Paul Ricard in France; Nurburgring in Germany; Portimao in Portugal.

What do you think?


Jonathan Williams

Posted on September 4, 2014 Comments (0)

Jonathan Williams

Jonathan William may not have had the opportunity to make as much history as his talent warranted, but his ability to convey what he witnessed, has informed and entertained us handsomely. His well turned phrase “Fortune does not always smile on the talented” may be an apt summation of his brief F1 career but masks a record of surprising accomplishment in F2 and F3. His passing has touched all who knew him and the words gentle man and gentleman will be on many a tongue in coming days. Read on …

Jonathan Williams


My Word: The Re-Discovery of Tin Cup

Posted on September 3, 2014 Comments (3)

By Denise McCluggage

Welcome to Historic Tin Cup

Car companies have gone through several stages in how they introduce the press to their new vehicles. And thus to readers of the publications represented. There was a time when the car makers spent lavishly. One might say even foolishly. The P.R. or marketing folks handed out first class plane tickets to deliver the writers to the posh resorts where the new vehicles were met with and driven. Just to prove that was foolish some of my colleagues would swap the single first class passage for two economy tickets (it was easier and fee-free in those days) and their wives were miraculously whisked to the same seaside or mountain spot.

On the q.t. (all hoped) and housed in a lesser hostelry. When his time at the “Ride and Drive” of the car company ended the writer would transfer to those more modest digs and stay on a few days. (Departure changes were free then, too.) The couple had a pleasant few days with no transportation cost to them.

One fellow journalist stretched his first-class tickets into as many miles as possible even if such a ruse involved more stops. He was compulsive about frequent flyer miles and could probably take every cousin he had around the world. My suggestion that maybe the host car company paid for first class seats so that the writers would be rested when they arrived met with a return suggestion that I mind my own business.

What the hospitality trade calls “room gifts” were equally lavish at that time. Pieces of superior luggage maybe. Almost always a racing jacket with the company logo. Wine. A welter of electronics. The European press really expected high-ticket items, even more than Americans. An oft-told story was a car introduction in which an American company was hosting a collection of European reporters. The gift was something like an iPod with a small note of “hope you enjoy this” or some such. In some rooms this was apparently left on the TV set.

Yep, you guessed it. At checkout time a few of the European journalists came off the elevators lugging a great armful of TV. Hearing of this we Americans tried to imagine embarrassed P.R. types struggling to deal with this cross-cultural misunderstanding.

All the excesses of hospitality faded even before the economy stumbled and car companies cut back to what was after all the essentials of getting a new model car into our hands in a pleasant setting with knowledgeable executives nearby to answer questions about the vehicle, its design and performance and a description of the marketing plans laid out for it. That’s what a public relations department was supposed to do.

Range Rover

The thing is some did it with more class, style and originality than others. And Louis Vuitton garment bags had nothing to do with it. The programs themselves were the draw. Bill Baker, a prince among P.R. people, ran such programs for Land Rover. Everyone wanted to be on a Bill Baker trip because his trips were always germane to the vehicle involved, always well organized and well-realized. And always great fun.

Great Divide Expedition

This week I will be in Colorado’s Rockies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of Bill Baker’s programs for Land Rover. The reunion is called the Great Divide Expedition. The original 25 years ago wended its way—working north to south, heading eastward now westward—over trails and passes that crossed that incredible line that split the country into watersheds, east or west. This trickle of melt from summit snowfall will find its way on this side of that pebble then farther on that side of that boulder, joining more glinting run offs, growing larger, more intentional. And quite obviously gaining a destination as these streamlets become creeks and rivers.

It’s the Atlantic ocean for one part of that tiny streamlet; the Pacific for another. That’s the drama of the Continental Divide. You see a drop join another drop, separate from another and a watershed is created before your eyes. Push down here and you’ve altered a destiny for a sun-melted Rocky Mountain snowflake.

Hey, that gets to me.

The Great Divide Expedition

When Bill Baker chose criss-crossing the Great Divide to show off Land Rover’s adept ways with steeps and deeps and rocks and ravines he did not know my family had a history with one of those passes. One called either Tin Cup Pass or St. Elmo’s depending on which way you’re heading. (Tin Cup is on the western slope.) My Daddy at seven or eight—a Kansas farm boy then—had been on a horse-drawn wagon from St. Elmo with his mother to visit his Uncle Will in Tin Cup, an active mining town as the 1800s tumbled toward the 20th Century.

Tin Cup Log Cabinc

In Tin Cup Daddy’s Uncle Will had a sturdy log house that stands to this day and had a store that succumbed to a downtown-devouring fire. The next year the other half of the downtown burned. By the 1930s Tin Cup had one year-round resident—a young man named, if I recall across the years, Ross Seton. He stayed through the snowed-in winter to keep an eye on his gold mine.

I was there in the ‘30s when I was just a few years older than Daddy had been his first visit. Memories pulled my Daddy back to the Colorado ghost town which his mother had not liked. She kept whispering promises of watermelon if he would say he wanted to go home to Kansas. Or so he would tell us as the sun, which oddly seemed to set in the East in Tin Cup, turned the mountain opposite a rosy pink every night.

Daddy’s grandmother is buried in Tin Cup in one of those mountain cemeteries with oddly elevated wooden fences around each grave. We found it on the Land Rover expedition when we went through Tin Cup on the way over the Continental Divide yet again. To St. Elmo. Hey, my kinfolk are in that rugged outpost that Bill Baker had sent a collection of Land Rovers through. And new Land Rovers will do the same this week with old people to drive them.

Tincup PAss Continental Divide

I don’t know if the anniversary visit to the Great Divide will visit either Tin Cup or St. Elmo this time. I’d rather just find out than ask. I’ll have memories stirred either way. There will be some of the original expedition drivers on this return. And Bill Baker will be among them which will represent a strong will and a stalwart spirit. He has spent much of his recent life in a battle with cancer and is recovering with effort.

As for me, I’ll be returning with a right hip and a right knee that are not original equipment. And a left hip soon to be discarded in similar fashion. I’m a lot older than my Daddy ever got to be. I haven’t been to Tin Cup since that first Land Rover trip. No matter what it will be a memorable weekend.

I wonder if the mountain is still pink as the sun drops into a mysterious East.

I know there will be no one lugging TV sets out of any hotel. And I’ve got an iPod, thanks.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on August 29, 2014 Comments (0)

 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 2014

The process of recovering from the events at Monterey Week has less to do with sleep than sorting out everything that happened there and how to tell the story to you, our loyal readers.

 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 2014

This week we will share the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance images in the Blind Pig Gallery on our website. I remember standing somewhere in the middle of the field, looking around at all the exceptional cars, the exceptional setting and saying to myself, for a car guy, this is the best place to be in the whole world today. Thank you Pebble Beach people.


Lime Rock Park Historic Festival poster

The Lime Rock Historic Festival will be the best place to be this weekend and we will be there beginning today. 

Vintage race cars will be on track today and tomorrow, Sunday will feature a huge concours and Monday it is back to racing. Tough to beat.

Please note that several notable cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection will be on display all weekend. For a sneak peek at what you'll see, here's a gallery featuring Tony Singer's photographs of the Ralph Lauren car collection in the exhibition “L’Art de L’Automobile”.

See you there.


Racing

Spa, VIR, and Sonoma are road courses and they benefit the sport hugely. Both the drivers and the spectators see racing as it was meant to be. No temporary pit, potholed streets, or concrete walls the whole way round. This past weekend may have been the most entertaining motorsports viewing of the year. So let’s get to it.

F1: Rosberg Turns Whine into Wine

Nico Rosberg

The soap opera goes on. Even after the summer break and the advancements made by Ferrari and Red Bull, Mercedes continues to be the class of the field. On a long track like Spa, they are as much as a second to two seconds better and in F1 that is huge. The drama of the show, decidedly different from the driving of the show continues to be the conflict between the drivers on the leading team. Meanwhile the driving spotlight falls on Red Bull’s Ricciardo, who is both good and lucky, and Williams’ Bottas, who is due a top step on the podium soon. He consistently does well while avoiding conflict. McLaren’s Magnussen’s fight with the far more experienced Alonso, Button, and Vettel on older tires was really entertaining.

Jackie Stewart

The Brits believe they invented F1. Since the F1 industry is based in Britain and Brits have held the major positions at most teams at some point, it is not difficult to understand from whence they come. All European countries support their F1 drivers and in England Button and Hamilton are national heroes. Since North Americans have not had F1 winners since the Villeneuves, our coverage has, of necessity, always had a British filter. Whether it is David Hobbs or before him Sir Jackie Stewart, we have always accepted their analysis of how the cow ate the cabbage. I enjoy reading Denise McCluggage’s view of F1. Unfettered by having to defend or promote an American hero, it seems to me that she writes about pure racing. Read her recent piece on Vettel’s whining. But getting back to the Brits. In Hamilton they have their classic tragically flawed hero. Possibly, and I stress “possibly”, the most naturally gifted driver on the grid, he understands the car and the racing but he is woefully pitiful in what we have previously referred to here as racecraft. His dilemma is that in partnering with Rosberg, who probably, and I stress “probably” is not as naturally gifted, is a master of racecraft. While unquestionably affected by being booed for his second place finish, he immediately explained that only a few of Lewis’s British fans were responsible, thereby marginalizing Hamilton’s constituency to a few rabid Brits, which can only have infuriated them more. Then, while Hamilton woefully pleads that he was in front and he had the line, Rosberg, when questioned, politely explains that he hasn’t yet seen the video and that it would be unfair to comment until he has. From what we could see on the US broadcast, Hamilton unquestionably had the line and didn’t leave room. Rosberg could have backed out earlier and was wrong to expect that Hamilton would leave him room. But he was too stubborn to avoid a collision and so they did. It cost Rosberg a pit stop for a new nose, and possibly the win and it cost Hamilton the race points he would have received for winning or finishing second. It is not hard to believe that had Hamilton’s tire not been cut he would have won the race and had absolutely no sympathy for Rosberg’s plight.

Mercedes was the big loser and management are understandably annoyed. This was an embarrassment to them, and they made both their employees aware of their displeasure. But the gamesmanship between Hamilton and Rosberg continued to fascinate. While Lewis dejectedly lamented his loss to the media, Rosberg, recognizing that the British press would never love him as they do their beloved Lewis, accepted that he could have backed off. His acceptance was brilliant and I wouldn’t find it hard to believe that once he got away from the embarrassing trophy presentation a little birdie whispered in his ear that this could work for him. In one fell swoop he mollified his team management, further incensed a constituency that Rosberg has little chance of winning over and sent a message to Hamilton not to do that again unless he wanted the same result. It was clever of Rosberg to accept some responsibility, even if he didn’t feel it or wasn’t in the slightest bit responsible. He won the points, which was his goal and handed Hamilton a lesson in the mind game known as racecraft.

The Rosberg-Hamilton situation is in many ways reminiscent of the Prost-Senna battles of their day. It is little remembered that while Senna enjoyed the adulation of the masses, he won but three world Championships to Prost’s four. Only two other drivers have won more. And in the end, to Prost, to Senna and to history, nothing mattered more.

IndyCar

Roger Penske

On a far friendlier and less Machiavellian note, the battle for the IndyCar Championship between the Penske drivers continued at the Northern California Sonoma road course. The long (2.4 mile) track, seemingly unaffected by the previous night’s earthquake hosted the second to last race of the season and the quick but erratic points leader and pole sitter Will Power blew the lead and a good points to finish tenth. He picked up 24 points to teammate Castroneves’ 12 giving him a 51 point lead going in to the final double-points paying race this weekend at Fontana California. A win at Fontana is worth 104 points; Power won it last October.

The winner of the Sonoma race was Scott Dixon who has emerged from the shadow of former team leader Dario Franchitti to finally be recognized for the excellent and clever driver he is. A third Penske driver, Juan Pablo Montoya also showed he will be a force to be reckoned with next year. The fiery Montoya has calmed somewhat since his first IndyCar go-around but he is still very feisty and he will definitely be a noisy challenger next year. He lead Sunday’s race at one point and finished fifth overall. This weekend’s race at the dreaded Fontana oval will be very exciting.

It was stated several times over the weekend that IndyCar has never been more competitive. This is difficult to prove but there is little doubt that this new product has the cars, the drivers, and the sponsorship base. It requires a larger enthusiast base and better quality venues. Once the latter has been addressed, the former will come.

Tudor United Sports Car Racing

The verdant VIR race track has only pavement in common with Sonoma. But that is the most important similarity. Virginia International Raceway is 3.3 miles long and hosted the 2 hours and 45 minutes that constituted last Sunday’s Oak Tree Grand Prix feature race for sports cars. Once again, kudos to the people who are adjusting the rules that allow their two series to come together and be competitive. 

Giancarlo Fisichella

The Risi 458 Ferrari driven by F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer beat back a Porsche, two BMWs, and a Viper to win a thrilling wire to wire all sports car race. The final ten minutes of this race were epic and the drivers fought bumper to bumper to produce a fantastically entertaining race.

Corvette continues to lead the series but Viper are giving them a great run and were exceptionally fast at VIR. The next race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) on September 19-20 (circle the date) will be equally interesting as this 3.4 mile track also favors big fast cars.

The final race in the series will be the Petit Le Mans 10-hour endurance race at Road Atlanta on October 3 & 4. Hopefully our hero Tommy Kendall will be co-driving this race in a Viper.

I must confess that the multiple classes in the United Sports Car series still confuse me and that at some tracks the combining of the prototype and sports cars just makes for cluttered racing. I have determined that I like both kinds of racing, simply not together.

 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance 2014