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!

MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on October 30, 2013 Comments (0)

Our opening image is from Michael Furman’s book Curves of Steel. Classic & Sports Car is making it possible for MMR subscribers to receive this book in an offer detailed here.

Curves of Steel by Michael Furman

Penske Wins Race and Loses Championship

Will Power, aptly named Penske driver, won the finale of the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series at Auto Club Speedway in California on Sunday. Fellow New Zealander Scott Dixon finished fifth and one place ahead of Helio Castroneves, the driver who led the series for most of the season. Dixon and his Ganassi team are the deserved champions. A race management mistake by Roger Penske, who called Castroneves in while the pits were closed, didn’t help but this was a very odd race at a very odd place. It was a race with 28 lead changes and 11 different leaders and, as with so many other IndyCar races this year, the poor quality of the track was a factor. The 2-mile D-Shaped Oval was so dirty that radiators were plugging and face shields were being sandblasted all day. It is a dull track and will make a dull housing development. Hopefully soon.

TK’s Take on Final Petit Le Mans

Our hero, the brilliant and perceptive Tommy Kendall, and his Viper SRT Team, at one point led the GT class of the Petit Le Mans at a real race track, Road Atlanta, and finished fifth in Class. Tommy writes:

While it was a good finish, after the strength we showed all week and clearly having the fastest two cars there, to leave with a 5th and a 7th was definitely a disappointment. But, as I am fond of saying, if it was easy everyone would do it! That said, to be disappointed with a fifth shows how far this team has come so quickly. The progress by all involved in SRT Motorsports is truly remarkable.

He adds:

I appreciate the MMR Community’s support, as you are an esteemed, knowledgeable, and passionate group clearly possessing extraordinary taste! :-)

We did mention his perceptiveness?

F1 Then and Now: 1955 Belgian Grand Prix – Spa Video

Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections in the November issue of Motor Sport magazine mentions this video and it is on our home page for you. If only to give you an appreciation of how far F1 has come, view this video and compare it with what you will see in this weekend’s F1 Indian GP. It is also a study in bravery and talent.

Peter Bourassa

MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on October 12, 2013 Comments (0)

Santa Fe Concorso Continues…

Until Thursday, we had a note at the bottom of the editorial suggesting readers advise us on whether a move to a Saturday launch instead of Friday would be acceptable. Fate intervened and made the Friday launch impossible so here we are in your mailbox on a Saturday. We would nonetheless greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

In last week’s MMR Newsletter we mentioned, in error, that the Santa Fe Concorso’s winning NART Ferrari car was one of 17 made. Our thanks to diligent readers who pointed out that it is one of only ten built. This may have been the second potential heart stopper in recent days for owners of the other nine NART 275s who may read the MMR Newsletter. The first had to be waking up on the morning after the Monterey sale of another of that litter and learning that it had just sold for $27.5 million! That had to be a pleasant surprise. (Then again… think of the folks who had owned these cars and sold them over the years for considerably less.)

F1 in Korea

The Race of the Degrading Tires went again to Vettel. The ever exuberant Kimi finished second. Was it just my imagination or did the crowd not cheer him as lustily as it did before he announced he would be once again a Ferrari man? Fighting Ferrari and Red Bull with a Lotus is like being David against two Goliaths. Fighting against Red Bull with a Ferrari is hardly as heroic. But the pay is steady.

Tires in F1

I find the F1 tire issues both annoying and totally unnecessary. In the past you had two types of tires, wet and dry. You also had at least two tire manufacturers involved in each race. The competitor who was fastest and stopped least times would win. The winning tire was the best compromise of longevity and speed. That is what racing is about in every aspect. Fast, soft tires shed themselves into what are called marbles and eliminate safe passing areas. Passing is exciting. So how did we get here? Again, in the old days, manufacturers signed one or more of the top teams to use their tires. They paid the teams to develop cars and tire tested with them throughout the season. Tire wars were a part of the competition. At some point series organizers, or perhaps even a manufacturer, determined that all this money was going to the racers and that if the series mandated only one tire, a slice of that money could go to the series management. The tire manufacturer saved on the testing process, no longer negotiated with individual teams and at times even had the series named after itself. Even better, they always won and were never forced to develop a better tire than the competitor for the obvious reason… there wasn’t one. The fans hardly noticed or cared. Differing tire performance, fixed fuel consumption, and increasingly quick pit stops are all a part of manufactured drama for the F1 show. This is not as exciting as passing on the track. Some of us would rather just watch racing. On the track!

IndyCar in Houston has a Problem

We were wrong! Again! We mentioned last week that Castroneves had the series locked up with a 49 point lead and three races to go. Houston is another of those concrete canyon parking lot tracks and so bumpy that it was breaking cars. In the two races in Houston, held on consecutive days and both paying full points, Castroneves’s normally reliable Penske broke. His arch rival, Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished first and second and now leads his Penske rival by 25 points, going into the final race on October 19th at Fontana. A spectacular last lap accident injured Dario Franchitti and several spectators. None fatally, thank goodness. Viewing that accident makes you realize how far race safety has come. No one should ever be critically injured or die in a car race.

This week’s issue features more images and stories from the Santa Fe Concorso. Thank you to Royce Rumsey and Tim Considine for their wonderful images.

Have a great weekend!

Peter Bourassa

MMR Community Newsletter

Posted on October 3, 2013 Comments (0)

Santa Fe Concorso

The fourth iteration of the Santa Fe Concorso was like a coming of age party. Each year it has gotten better. There were enough significant cars on the field this year to insure that an invitation to next year’s event should be taken seriously by collectors.

The organizers are fully aware that hosting a Concorso in Santa Fe is a double edged sword. Santa Fe is hardly on the main road to anywhere and neither is it densely populated. This means fewer qualified local cars and a smaller base from which to draw spectators. On the other hand, Santa Fe is a deliciously manageable city with a unique style and character in one of nature’s more gently beautiful settings. This year’s event was very well attended yet, mercifully, it hasn’t reached the crowd sizes we saw at Amelia and Pebble Beach this year. The Sunday show was a culmination of two days of road tours and tasteful parties. Think, Pebble Beach writ small.

Best of Show – Elegance: John Hayden Groendyke’s imposing 1933 Delage D8S Sports Coupe. The Best of Show – Sport: Lawrence Auriana’s rare 1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spyder. This important car, one of only 17 built, was driven to a Second in Class by this year’s Santa Fe Concorso’s honoree Denise McCluggage and co-driver Pinkie Rollo in 1967.

A full gallery of our Santa Fe Concorso images will be posted to our website next week.

Racing Over the Age Limit

We received numerous interesting responses to our commentary about aging drivers and we share some with you. As ever with these issues, where you stand often depends on where you sit. Motorcycle collector, lawyer, and racer, Ken McGuire even shared his thoughts and an exciting image of four beautiful Bultacos lined up at the beginning of a race.

In F1 and IndyCar the Race for Second Remains Close

In F1, Vettel has won but the battle for second and third is still interesting with only 38 points separating them. In Indy Car, Castroneves will be difficult to unseat. The next four places are only 25 points apart. Both series run this weekend. F1 in South Korea and IndyCar runs a two race weekend, Saturday and Sunday in Houston.

MMR Fall/Winter Garage Tours

Don’t forget to sign up for our upcoming garage tours. Our calendar for these events is firming up as you read. These are Bring a Camera tours, which means that each visit will feature a special car to be photographed by you with instruction from a professional photographer. Tours will be limited in size.

Have a great weekend.

Peter Bourassa

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Indy’s 100th:Winning is the Sum of Many Parts | Part II

Posted on June 4, 2011 Comments (0)

The People

Despite the money spent to make it happen and the money to be won, the Indianapolis 500 is a race of “haves” and “have-nots” and there are far more “have-nots” than “haves”.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

Dan Wheldon sharing the milk

The large teams, Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, and Letterman Rahal bring in millions to run their operations. The middling teams KV Racing, Dreybold Rhinehart and other lesser knowns struggle all the time to bring in fresh money to keep going. Then there are the smaller one- and two-car efforts that rely on drivers who pay for their ride with either personal fortunes or corporate sponsors. They struggle to make the show and pray for the winnings to cover expenses. Although 33 cars line up to race at Indy, they are not all equal. Better funded teams have better equipment, better drivers and far less stress. But they do all have one thing in common. They are there because they are competitive and they love racing. While everyone comes to Indy to make money, money is only part of the story.

Dan Wheldon’s win was a great story and gives hope to everyone in the paddock. The Penskes and the Ganassis know that they were not beaten by a better driver or better equipment. It was race strategy and execution that allowed Weldon to win. And one more thing, a small thing called luck. His good luck and several other drivers’ bad luck.

Wheldon is a sympathetic character. He is talented, telegenic, and has a great story. He was cut from a permanent drive at the beginning of the year by lack of funding. Indy was his one chance this year to be noticed and perhaps pick up a ride for the remainder of the season or sign a contract with a big team for next season. He has won before and he knows just how important it is that the stars align for it to happen again. In an interview last week, he explained that he had several offers to drive but it was important that he have a car capable of winning. Car failure or a low place finish could mean the end of his career.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

When his friend Bryan Herta, a respected former top driver, now team owner, called to offer him a drive, Wheldon knew this wasn’t a top team and he bluntly explained his situation and asked one question, “Can you give me a car that can win?” His friend knew that the question wasn’t about a car; it was about a team that could execute under pressure, a team that could field equipment that was capable of winning the 500 mile race. That meant a team that would always get the same quality parts and pit lane support as the big guys. Tires and engines are the key components and getting the right parts is crucial. Those parts only go to the teams that the manufacturers deem capable of winning. And everyone in the pits knows this and knows who those teams are.

In the Winner’s Circle, when Dan Wheldon thanked Firestone and Honda he meant it and he had good reason. And all the people in the pits knew exactly what he meant. They took care of him. He got top stuff. As for his sponsors, those whose money made it possible, he mentioned them and he made their year. People who have never heard of Rast jeans before Sunday might just support a company that put its name on the side of a car that went against the big guys. Lots of people and companies at Indy won with Dan Wheldon.

But the biggest winner was the Indianapolis Speedway.