MMR Blog

2014 Predictions - Confusion Reigns

Posted on January 9, 2014 Comments (3)

As 2014 begins, F1 is praying that the decisions it made regarding engine and chassis will allow more teams to be competitive. Sports cars are struggling to find a formula that will be entertaining and also doesn’t exclude good racecars, and IndyCar is timorously emerging from its own stretch in the wilderness.

The business of racing is business. The public, that’s us, seeks entertainment. The racers, that’s them, seek fair competition and money. Between us and them is each series management. If management can satisfy both camps, everyone will be happy and they also will make money. History tells us that the only management style that has thus far satisfied both camps is one that is intelligent and autocratic with the ability to withstand pressure from teams, advertisers, suppliers, broadcasters and fans. No mean feat.

Bill France

Bernie Ecclestone

Only two people have managed to do that for a prolonged period and only one is alive. Big Bill France and Small Bernie Ecclestone ran/run their operations to suit their visions and the bottom line. Like them or not, both have made wealthy men of themselves and those who chose to follow them.

Here are some thoughts about three major series for 2014.

F1 – Difficult to Predict

If you believe that the four major components of a race team are engine, chassis, driver and management, the fact that two of them are in flux for everyone this year has created a level of excitement and anticipation for followers of F1. The advent of new engine and aero packages could wreak havoc with the current order. As we left them, Renault had the top engines and Red Bull had the top chassis.

Beginning with a clean sheet, it is theoretically anyone’s game. But if you believe that people win because they are experienced winners and appear to have the most talent, you have to give the nod to the Renault-Red Bull package. The fight for second could favor the Renault- Lotus package. Lotus arguably had the second best chassis last year and the same winning engine as Red Bull. But in the driver department, Grosjean has yet to mature to the Vettel/Alonso/Raikkonen/Hamilton level. Maldonado, despite his experience, is an unknown factor at this level.

The most solid one-two driver line-up belongs to Ferrari. Like their drivers, their management is solid and experienced. The engine-chassis portion of their package, we will learn about at the first race. And so will they.

McLaren, considered the engineering team, have proven to be weak in engineering. Plus, half their driver line-up is on a learning curve and their engine fate will be in the hands of Mercedes until next year.

Mercedes are the enigma and the enigma is fascinating. They have two strong drivers, and like everyone else, an unknown chassis/engine package. What makes them particularly interesting to follow is their management structure. Having recently fired Ross Brawn, the canniest racer in the paddock, they have new management which is unproven at this level. At the top sits Niki Lauda, the non-executive Chairman of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, and who, undoubtedly, at the very least, agreed to the Brawn dismissal. Totto Wolff, who has a racing history with Mercedes in the DTM series, is the Business Manager and Paddy Lowe, formerly Technical Director for McLaren will, be Sporting Director with responsibility for building the cars and running the team. They all report to the board.

Time will tell if firing Ross Brawn was a bright move. Last year when Mercedes appeared to be having a high level of tire degradation, it was Ross Braun who engineered a secret tire test that solved the problem and also contravened what many considered to be strict rules against such actions. Not many people in F1 could have done that. Fewer still could have come out of it with so few negative consequences. New Mercedes Business Director Toto Wolff will be benefitting from Brawn’s 2014 planning and efforts for the first part of this year but after that Toto will discover that, as Dorothy said, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Brawn has said he will take six months to review his options. Here’s a prediction: Don’t be too surprised if someone has suggested he not commit to anyone until the board sees how the new management team does. His track record in F1 management is considerably better than Niki’s, Toto’s, and Paddy’s put together. At the very least Mercedes should keep Brawn on retainer not simply for what he can add but to keep him from adding it to someone else’s pit box.

Toto Wolff’s interview with Fox sports regarding Lotus Renault’s delayed payment of their drivers was at best tactless and equally ill informed historically. If this is accurate reporting, it would indicate that Mr. Wolff will be exciting to watch, if only briefly.

Sadly, the remainder of the F1 field will continue to soldier on at the back of the grid.

Tudor Sports Car Series  A Shotgun Marriage

Two series, ALMS (American Le Mans Series) and Rolex Grand-Am, have struggled with confusing classes, hopeless schedules, and lack of the necessary funding to properly establish distinct products. They have now merged to form a new series, the Tudor Sports Car Series, that will allow cars from both series to be competitive.

Tudor, I recently was informed by a watch aficionado, is Rolex’s second line, just as Tissot is Omega’s. A fine watch, to be sure, but still an acknowledged cut below the top level. And it does pose a simple question: Why a second level product?

They face challenges. Merging at the second level will be difficult but made easier because major car manufacturers are involved. They see a link with sales in showrooms and they will find a way, with time, to accommodate the new rules. The Ferrari, Corvette, Porsche, and Viper people all want a system that will allow them to be competitive. They want the series to have value in the eyes of the consumers and if it does that, they can afford to build the cars and the teams to make it work.

The biggest problem is at the top of the ticket. The Grand Am Daytona Prototype was initially a France family product designed to impose on sports car racing what they imposed on NASCAR. They introduced it as the Car of Tomorrow (COTA). The fans didn’t buy the homogenization and it is now, happily, the Car of Yesterday. The initial Daytona Prototypes were ugly slugs and still remain hugely different from the ALMS FIA derived Prototypes that run at Le Mans and in the remainder of Europe. The difficulty is that both sides have huge investments in these cars and nobody wants to, and many can’t, make obsolete their equipment and start from scratch. Management is struggling to find a way to make them even without destroying the cars or the racing.

Now is the time for IndyCar to anoint a strong leader and to find either a much higher profile title sponsor or co-sponsor who can invest the needed funds to help the teams through the expensive transition they will need to make to stay in the game. Like NASCAR, their biggest event is also their first. The Daytona 24 hours will be held at the end of this month and we will learn then what progress has been made.

IndyCar: Chasing the Carrot – Getting the Stick

The four major components required for a successful IndyCar program differ somewhat from the four determined for F1. These are IndyCar's requirements for a strong series: Strong teams, affordable car/engine packages, decent venues, and strong visionary leadership.

They have the first two. Randy Barnard rescued open wheel racing in America from the inept stewardship of the Hulman family and in the process learned that no matter how bright or right you are, when you are beholding to the folks who created the mess you are cleaning up, the likelihood of them being clever enough to let you take a bow and a buck, is highly unlikely.

IndyCar management believe their destiny is bringing their races to downtown streets all over downtown America and obscure racetracks in the hinterlands. F1, by contrast, have enough confidence in their product to believe that people will pay a lot of money to see good racing on real race tracks no matter where in hell they are. Their problem is supplying a consistently good race.

IndyCar finally has good racing and a deep field of driver talent, but their venue lineup is a joke. Other than the Indy 500, Birmingham and Mid-Ohio, the remainder are second rate and hard to watch. Long Beach, the most celebrated, tries hard, but it isn’t Monaco. Monaco has movie stars, Long Beach has TV stars. Bumpy city streets between ugly cement walls and 20’ catch fences is hardly glamorous. Inexplicably, they persist in believing that Laguna Seca, Elkhart Lake, Lime Rock Park, and countless other interesting tracks couldn’t fill their coffers.

They have a great product that has the potential of someday rivaling F1 as they once almost did. But history has demonstrated that as long as the France family control the major venue and the series, it will continue to fumble on!


Epic Track Battles

Posted on December 19, 2013 Comments (0)

At the highest levels, the nature of racing doesn’t allow competitors to physically war with each other. Psychologically, of course, it goes on at all times.

The recent film RUSH prompted thought about what attracted the producers to the story. Was the story simply about a man’s willingness to endure any amount of pain to win a race? Was it about two dissimilar but equally talented men, battling to win a race. Or was it about a handsome neurotic man and his clever but unattractive friend battling to win a race in the visually dramatic and brutal world of F1. Having been around at the time, I recall my incredulity at Lauda’s willingness to endure incredible pain to win a car race. I didn’t think it was normal or brave and if I had been a driver on that grid I would have been very upset about driving at high speed around a man in that condition. It seemed more self-indulgent than brave at the time.

Rush

Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda in the movie RUSH.

The on-track driving battles and off track contempt between rivals rarely matched the animosity Prost and Senna exhibited towards each other. That was visible and palpable and dramatic. It was a good story. In American racing, A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones, both great drivers, appeared to have little time for each other but there were never fisticuffs in the pits.

The one exception was Villeneuve-Pironi. Teammates on the Ferrari Team in 1982, both were quick but Villeneuve was quicker. In equal cars at Imola they battled thru a diminished field to the last lap. Villeneuve believing that team orders were in place and that the leader was not to be passed by his teammate, saw the pit signal and eased off to save fuel. Pironi did not. He passed Villeneuve and stole his second Grand Prix victory. Villeneuve saw this as a betrayal of friendship and honor and swore he would never speak to Pironi again. Ferrari management did nothing. In the final moments of qualifying for the following race, with Pironi on pole, Villeneuve, on used tires, was doing a banzai lap when he came upon the car of Jochen Mass who was on a cool down lap. Mass saw him and moved off the racing line to let him by. But Villeneuve had already made his move to that space and went over Mass’s rear wheel. Villeneuve died. Later that year, at the then recently renamed Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Pironi was on the pole. His car stalled, he raised his arm and was avoided by all behind him but one. Ricardo Paletti hit Pironi’s car and died. Pironi’s legs were badly crushed. Five years later he died in a boat race.

Pironi Enzo Gilles

Didier Pironi, Enzo Ferrari, Gilles Villeneuve

Gilles

A young Gilles Villeneuve

Now that is a story.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on December 13, 2013 Comments (0)

Our images this week are paintings by the artist and enthusiast Roger Blanchard. These and other images and prints are available on his website; find them in the MMR Goods and Services Directory.

Fixing F1 – Step 6: Refereeing

The FIA spells out the rules which govern F1 racing. The rules relating to how the race is conducted and what the drivers must and mustn’t do are the responsibility of the FIA Race Director. A small group of racing experts, sometimes local, all part-time, often former drivers, supply input on individual racing incidents. They are called Race Stewards. A guest celebrity ex-driver is also part of the rules team for every race. In other words, well intentioned amateurs are making decisions that govern a billion dollar sport/business. Sir Jackie Stewart has been lobbying for professional stewards for this billion dollar industry. Good for him and for us! 

Jackie Stewart 2

Denise McCluggage

Denise McCluggage: The Centered Driver Workshop

January 28th, 2014

Two years ago Denise McCluggage visited New England and gave an enjoyable and informative series of talks to several local clubs and the MMR Community. This January 28th, Denise returns with an interactive driver’s workshop entitled The Centered Driver. The event is being offered first to the MMR Community. In January we will open it up to the public. Please read more about it and reserve your spot now. Our thanks to Michael Ricciardi and European Motorsports of Lawrence MA for making this event happen.

Ferrari Myth Calendar                                                        

Gunther Raupp’s annual Ferrari Myth Calendar is once again available from David Bull Publishing.

Ferrari Myth

An Uncommon Auction

Last Saturday, Dom Miliano and I, along with a number of MMR Community members, attended the Dragone Auctions in Westport Connecticut. The cars were stunning and many sold after the gavel had fallen. Highlights included the sale of a 1930 Packard Phaeton for $920K and an unrestored 1920 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost for $520K. As mentioned last week, this small auction is unique. It is focused on privately owned cars never before offered at auction.

Etre Bien Dans Ca Peau (To Be Well In One’s Skin)

Despite the less than positive aspects attributed to maturity, there are some things about aging that are totally positive. For instance, fashionable clothing gives way to wearing garments that serve a purpose other than style, like comfort and utility. The same goes for our cars. We once responded to questions about what we drive by first stating the year, then marque and model, as though the most recent date were the winner. At a recent gathering, I asked three friends what they were driving. One said an M-5, a second said a 5 Series, and the third mentioned a Mercedes 320. I drive an Allroad. We are all driving vehicles we like in which we are comfortable. All are fine and proven cars. None, like us, is new or in fashion. Then again, none of the newer models appear compelling enough to encourage a change. That might say something about both of us.

BMW

Peter Bourassa


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on December 6, 2013 Comments (2)

Fixing F1 – Step 5: Shared Engineering

If you have been following this series you recognize that we have had two goals in mind. First, to make F1 more entertaining for spectators and TV viewers and, second, to level the playing field among the competitors. The disparity in resources available to each team makes that last goal most difficult. Just last week grumblings were heard that the FIA needs to cap previously unlimited spending because Red Bull now spends considerably more than Fiat/Ferrari, Mercedes, and McLaren. So let’s consider the model followed by horse racing. Assume a car is worth a million dollars; the winning car of every third race is offered to the last place team for $1M. If, for some reason they don’t want it, it goes to the next lowest team and so on. Just a thought.

Formula 1 Back Marker

On a Similar Note

Gordon Kirby, well known author and motorsports correspondent, sent along a link to an interview he did with designer Nigel Bennett which discusses how F1 and IndyCar might be made more exciting.

Denise McCluggage: The Centered Driver Workshop – January 28th, 2014

Two years ago Denise McCluggage visited New England and gave an enjoyable and informative series of talks to several local clubs and the MMR Community. This January 28th, Denise returns with an interactive driver’s workshop entitled The Centered Driver. The event is being offered first to the MMR Community. In January we will open it up to the public. Please read more about it at and reserve your spot now. Our thanks to Michael Ricciardi and European Motorsports of Lawrence, MA for making this event happen.

A Conundrum

What to call it? In Italy, the 1960’s, automobile manufacturers bought serial numbers from the government in advance of building the cars. A form of pre-paid tax. Our feature car this week is a recently completed ISO A3/C. While several components, notably the 327 CID Chevy engine have been updated, the basic car, including the stamped period frame is either NOS (new old stock) or, in the case of the interior and many body panels, totally new. So what is it?

Going Fast Smoothly

Several years ago Porsche produced incontrovertible data which indicated that faster shifting, some call it “hard” or “speed” shifting reduced lap times dramatically. Though unquestionably slower, what we know as normal shifting is based on often personal evidence that the gearbox could not withstand the abuse of speed shifting. Metallurgy and transmission design have both moved light years ahead since the ‘50s and ‘60s. New racing transmissions are designed to withstand electronic milli-second paddle shifting and the clumsy “rowing” of those among us who still prefer a foot clutch. But what about vintage racing or simply good fast driving? Our video this week is of Jackie Stewart on the secrets of going fast.

A final note

The Porsche Carrera GT is an exceptional performance car. Few among us are capable of driving it near its limits. While we are saddened by the unexpected death of actor Paul Walker and his friend Roger Rodas, focusing blame on the car as the cause is just plain wrong. Had an innocent third party been injured or killed the public would have been rightly outraged. There are closed courses around the country offering ample opportunities to exercise these and similar cars in relative safety. Industrial parks are obviously not one of them.

Porsche Carrera GT

Dom Miliano and I hope to see you tomorrow at Dragone Auctions in Westport, CT. The show starts at 1:00PM. See you there.


MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on November 29, 2013 Comments (0)

Our images in this issue are by S. Scott Callan. The lead image is of an Alfa 8C shot at Pebble Beach several years ago. The Alfa Romeo – Paris badge is correct. (To view the rest of the images subscribe to our free community newsletter.)

1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Figoni Roadster

Scott's multi-faceted site, Velocity Group, is featured in this issue. Scott has also offered MMR subscribers a first look at his new E-Book, The King’s Eyes. This E-Book has an amazing added dimension designed to bring your reading experience to an entirely new level. We urge you to explore his Kickstarter presentation and learn about this exciting new product.

The King's Eyes by S. Scott Callan

Fixing F1 – Step Four: Making Qualifying Count

At the beginning of Saturday qualifying, NBC F1 announcer/commentator, Leigh Diffy, advised viewers the rarely uttered truth about F1. He said viewers should prepare themselves for the most exciting part of the F1 weekend. We agree. So let’s recognize its entertainment value and make it more important to the teams. Consider awarding points towards both Driver and Manufacturer Championships throughout the whole grid. That insures everyone will compete. Then reverse the grid order for the following day’s race. This is not a new concept and it insures interesting passing and team tactics. What think you?

Brazil and F1 Wrap-Up

The final race was oddly interesting. Throughout the race, the threat of rain hung over the event and anyone who watched qualifying was hoping it would materialize. We have some thoughts about the season and we share them with you here.

Denise McCluggage: The Centered Driver Workshop – January 28th, 2014

The response to last week’s announcement about Denise’s workshop was excellent. We urge you to set aside the date and register for an unforgettable master class in road and track driving. Tickets are limited.

Following up on Risk in Racing

We had a number of email comments from subscribers about our lament re the lack of risk in racing. I watched live the final Superbike race of the 2002 season. These races were run in two heats and at the end of the first heat, Honda racer Colin Edwards, The Texas Tornado, had won the Championship from Ducati rider Troy Bayliss. This is a 7:02 minute video of the second heat. Yes, there is a Racing God. And he loves motorcycle racers and fans of putting-it-on-the line racing:

Hope you had a great T-Day.

Peter Bourassa