Month: February 2016

Alexander Rossi and The Great Motorsport’s Myth

I was surprised and a bit disappointed, that Alexander Rossi did not get the full time ride with Manor Grand Prix.  Rossi had a successful series of runs at the end of 2015, where he handily beat teammate Will Stevens.  His “ride”, however, was taken this year by a paying driver, Rio Haryanto.

When you look at at the racing records of Alexander Rossi and Rio Haryanto, there is no comparison.  In Formula BMW, Rossi won both the US and World Championship, Haryanto only won the Pacific Championship.  Rossi’s best championship finishes include a 4th in GP3, a 3rd in Formula Renault 3.5 and a 2nd in GP2.  Haryanto’s best finish is a 4th in GP2.

Online, the arguments began.

Haryanto, much like Pastor Moldano, has his national government paying for his ride in F1.  Moldano had the Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, pay his way.  When oil prices fell, the state could no longer pay and he is no longer in the sport.  In the case of Haryanto, the Indonesian state owned oil company Pertamina is footing the bill.

For the sport, I wonder if this is this good, bad or somewhere in between?  Are paying drivers really a problem?  In the end, this may be a good thing for Alexander Rossi.  I’ll get to that shortly.

A Quick History Lesson

Let’s look at this from a historical perspective.  In the early years, racing started out as a way for the new automobile industry to prove the strength, speed and durability of their cars. Racing has been used as a marketing vehicle for automakers from the very beginning of the sport.  Due to that, money has been integral to the sport since day one.  Racing has always been a business first and a passion second.  Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!

Drivers were hired for their speed and expertise.  Still, there are many who have essentially bought their way onto the track.  They paid for the sponsorship and wanted to drive the car.  Because we look at racing through the rose tinted glasses of “sport”, we expect the best drivers, and those with the best records and thus potential, to be highly valuable in this market.  That is, unfortunately for the fan, not the case.  Racing is a business. The first rule of business is first and foremost to stay in business.  When teams need money, they find a way.

Teams at the tail end of the grid need any money they can so to stay in business and therefore be able to compete.  Teams have taken many routes to get the money to just be there.  NASCAR is a perfect example of how economics can trump competition.  For many years, the “start and park” teams raced only a dozen or so laps, in order to get the guaranteed finishing money.  They pulled in to the pits so not to damage the cars and even save the tires for the next race.  In 2015, last place for the Daytona 500 earned $262,000.  They used the finishing money in order run the next race.

The “start and park” teams have been there for a long time, we never really noticed them.  That was until the economy dropped out in 2008, that we, the fan, saw them as an issue.  However, without those teams, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Front Row Racing would not be here today.

I believe when issues like this rise to the level where the fan see it, it is an indicator of the poor health of the sport.  As with my NASCAR example above, when the sport and the economy recovered from the financial doldrums, the issue eventually was resolved.

It is the same for F1.  With the loss of teams in recent years (Catherham F1 and HRT)and Marussia/Manor needing loans from Bernie Eccelstone to finish the season, 2014 and 2015 was extremely rough.  Though the financial problems are far from over, there is beginning to be an acceptance of issues.  People are talking and Bernie is still saying stupid things.  At least the problems can be addressed.

Drivers paying for rides are everywhere.  Sports car racing, for example, survives because of these pay to play drivers.  While imperfect and somewhat controversial, the FIA has developed their Driver Catagorization (rating) system in recognition of this.  IndyCar, too, has its pay to play drivers, with the Indy 500 itself littered with names like Patrick Bedard, Don and Bill Whittington, Randy Lanier, and John Paul Jr.  Bedard was a writer for Car & Driver who raced in 1983 and 1984.  Whittington, Lanier and Paul paid for their rides, at least early on, with money gained through their drug smuggling operations.  All three did serious jail time for their crimes.

Throughout the history of auto racing, there are three key truths.  Racing is about the money, not the sport.  Talent is secondary to money.  Regardless of what any sporting body says, fans are not the stakeholders of the sport.

Alexander Rossi

As for Alexander Rossi, I don’t want to see his talents wasted at the back end of the grid.  Manor Grand Prix has a history of financial issues and I don’t believe they will improve significantly in the near term.  While their car now has Mercedes power and they have a Mercedes factory driver in 2016 DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlin, I do not see it being very competitive this year.  Add to that, if they continue with financial issues, that could overshadow any effort on Rossi’s part.

Why pay to fail?  A year or two in Indycar, with consistently good finishes, could be the ticket to an F1 test, as it was for new team owner Michael Andretti.  That route has worked for F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve.

While we rail against pay drivers, keep in mind that three time F1 Champion Niki Lauda started out paying for his rides at March and BRM!

The Perfect Girlfriend

I will start this story with the admission that I do, in fact, own a 1986 Ferrari Testarossa.  Like many a man traversing through middle age, I had the opportunity to get one of my childhood dream cars. The first thing I learned, as a new owner of the Italian standard for luxury sports cars, nobody feels sorry for you when you own a Ferrari!  Guy’s, just keep that in mind.

With my wife out of town and my boys at a sleep over, I had the house all to myself.  It’s early Saturday night, and I decided to take my Italian girlfriend out for an evening drive.  Afterwards, we went to my favorite pub, TirNaNog, in Daytona Beach.  Leaving the Testarossa parked out front, I walked in for a pint.  I talked to the British ex-pat regulars for a while, discussing politics, religion and all those things we’re told to avoid in polite conversation.  As usual, I heard about a dozen different variations of the F-bomb, and enjoyed them all.

In walks a 30-something hipster and his girlfriend and with them, a herd of tatted scarf clad millennials.  After ordering their pints of PBR, the leader of the pack looks around and loudly asks the entire bar, “Whose Ferrari is that out front?”

“Mine,” I said.

“Nice car!”


“My GT-R is better!” he proudly boasts.

WOW!  I really should have seen that coming.  I look out the window, and, lo and behold, parked in front of my Rosso Corsa Italian is Godzilla herself, a dark silver Nissan GT-R.  Believe it or not, I was the one thinking “show-off!”  Go figure…

That has me thinking though, and at the pub, my brain and mouth are very rarely properly coordinated.  So, it’s ON!

“My friend,” I begin, “your car is better than mine, and in so many ways!  The GT-R has a twin turbo charged 3.8L V6 making 478bhp at 434ft/lbs of torque.  Her 6 speed dual clutch transmission can change gears in milliseconds, and it is attached to computer controlled 4-wheel drive system that actually makes Sebastian Loeb jealous.  With a 0 to 60 in 2 point very little seconds, I am told Nissan stole a launch control button left over from the Apollo Moon mission.

“She has more processing power than a Boeing 787 and I believe the air-conditioning has artificial intelligence.  It has power everything, and the front seats can move in so many different directions, it could be its own ride at Disney.  Oh, and that display!  WOW, what a piece of art meeting science.  My boys video games aren’t nearly as cool!

“At 30 years old, the Testarossa is an entirely different being.  Her 48 valve, 4.9L, 180º V-12 has 380bhp.  Her exhaust is not suppressed by turbo-chargers and inter-coolers, and the sounds she makes leaves men weak in the knees.  With a leisurely 0 to 60 of just under 6 seconds, she’s no longer among the quickest.  When you see the color of her cylinder heads, you realize you have a real life redhead on your hands, in both beauty and temperament.

“That wonderful piece of artistic engineering is attached to a traditional 5-speed synchromesh manual transmission with a chrome gated shifter and a small black knob mounted atop a thin steel shaft.  Your hand falls onto that knob as if Michelangelo himself designed it, putting it  there for you to caress her.  Her light clutch and short throw shifter make the act of changing gears like foreplay.  There is a search for perfection and you keep doing it and doing it, constantly trying to get it just right.

“She has neither power steering nor ABS.  The power windows with a mind of their own and the air conditioning has an intelligence that is more malevolent than artificial.  It is either off or set to Arctic freeze, or maybe, she wants to roast a turkey today.  You just never know!  Oh, and the radio, with its 2 speakers, sucked in 1987 and has not improved with age!

“Wrapping that package, however, is a work of absolute beauty.  Though her goal is a high top speed in a comfortable setting, she was drawn of pure emotion.  This car was one of the last Ferrari’s designed mostly on paper, using a pencil.  Artists were still in charge at a time before computers, when passion, not aerodynamics, ruled the design process.

“Let’s face it, your GT-R is the perfect girlfriend!  She is modestly attractive, and is as comfortable in tight jeans and a white tee shirt as she is in that small black dress she keeps for special occasions.  She can party all night long just as easily as she can get up early in the morning to take the kids to school, and pick up groceries on her way home.  She is easy to get along with and there is little to complain about.  When things do get crazy, she’ll hold her own and still get you home, safely, and tuck you into bed.  Maybe give you a little peck on the forehead.

“The Testarossa, on the other hand, is not your girlfriend.  As boys, we had her picture on our walls, above our beds.  We spent nights staring at her; wishing, dreaming, fantasizing.   She’s the one in the knee high boots with 4′ heels and the black leather miniskirt!  She enticed us with her beauty and exudes pure sex.  We longed to just get close to her, be with her, even for a moment.   We just knew we’d never have her.

“She is very high maintenance and requires a great deal of attention.  When the world gets wet and things get wild,  I can’t tell if she wants to tie me up and hurt me or demand that I take control and dominate her.  Then, without warning, she’ll change her mind!  What’s worse, I can’t get enough of it, I want more!  She’s an addiction that’s hard to explain.  It never gets old!

“Even with your girlfriend beside you, you stare at the redhead; wanting, needing, fantasizing! You can’t hide it, you want her, for just one night.  You know you can’t have her.  She’s right there, in front of you!  No longer the poster above your bed.  Jealous, your girlfriend won’t have any of it!  I can see it in her eyes, and yours.

“Your perfect girlfriend checks all the right boxes.  My supermodel, on the other hand, is imperfect; equally as beautiful as she is neurotic.  At the end of the evening, she is a Ferrari.  That, alone, says it all!

“So, cheer’s my friend.  This round’s on me.  Enjoy!  Lucky for us, swapping cars, even for an evening, is a lot easier than swapping girlfriends.  Maybe someday, you’ll have your chance!”

I paid my bill, and headed home to an empty house.  My hipster friend caught up with me at the light on International Speedway Boulevard at Peninsula.  Looking over his girlfriend, he opened her window, gave me a thumbs up and yelled “Nice car!”  The light turned green and he was gone, the GT-R’s taillights leaving a long red streak into the night, like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperspace.  Smiling, I realized hadn’t even released the clutch.

The Future of LMP2 is in IMSA’s Hands

While the future of IMSA is now tied to the successful implementation of the new FIA/ACO LMP2 rule, it is ironic that the future of the LMP2 formula itself is in IMSA’s hands. They are inseparably bound together due to many of the same forces which have F1 in the mess it currently stands.  The talks are ongoing, and we are all hoping to finish up the final rules soon.  It has been a chaotic rollout of information.

I was shocked by the the initial rules that rolled out in April of 2015.  Honestly, I thought it was some kind of late April Fool’s joke!  The choice of 4 chassis manufacturers surprised me, but it was the single engine manufacturer that threw me to the ground..

Later we found out that Jim France and Scott Atherton negotiated the IMSA variation, called DPi (for Daytona Prototype International), which allowed a level of manufacturer support not allowed in the FIA version.  “WhooHoo!!!” I said. Now that is in doubt, and a number of teams and manufacturers are in limbo, with decisions for 2017 needing to be made NOW.

The issue at hand is the cost to compete and who should compete where.  Regardless of which series a team is involved, anybody involved in sports car racing want to be able to race in one race, The 24hours of LeMans!  The goal of the LMP2 rules is to allow cars from the four international series the ability to race against each other, including at LeMans.

The ACO and FIA have very definite opinions as to who they feel should compete in which class.  The automobile manufacturers will be in LMP1, with its bespoke hybrid systems and totally custom cars. Rebellion and ByKolles LMP1 Privateer efforts are  notable exceptions.  Professional privateers will be in LMP2.  LMP3, the future of Prototype Challenge, is the spec prototype series with significantly lower cost.

The reality is something very different.  To compete with Audi, Porsche and Toyota, F1 levels of money are required to meet the formulas complex hybrid requirement, whose technology is at, or above, F1’s level of complexity.  Even the LMP1 Privateer formula are so restrictive that there are only 2 team participating for the LMP crumbs. For the long run, this is not beneficial for the sport.  Jim France, Scott Atherton and company see that, and understand the long term implications.  As we speak, IMSA searches to find the fine line where manufacturers and privateers alike could join IMSA’s ranks AND race at LeMans.  That seems to be proving difficult.

In my humble opinion, the FIA and ACO are sticking to an belief which continues to prove troublesome.  Nissan, the most recent entrant into LMP, quit after single season due to poor results.  There is more to their leaving the series than meets the eye.   It is in part due to an extremely aggressive (revolutionary?) vehicle design by Ben Bowlby, and Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn’s purchase of the Lotus F1 team for a true factory F1 presence.  In the end, it was not financially productive for Nissan to spend F1 money in LMP1 when that money could actually be spent in F1!

On this side of the pond, we have a different set of requirements.  At the 2016 Rolex24, we had 7 different motors in 6 different Prototype chassis’s. LMP2 is our top tier, and we have manufacturers interested in prototype racing in the US.     If the manufacturers wanted to spend F1 levels of money on racing, they would, and there is little we can do about it.  But Ford and GM, for example, are not going to spend millions of dollars in either top level series.  They are already spread thin in motorsports.  Honda, Mercedes and FIAT/Chrysler, through Ferrari, are already in F1.  As such, I don’t see any new manufacturers entering into LMP1.  Worse, Audi looks set to leave the sport in the near future, possibly for F1.  With only two manufacturers and two privateer teams, that might spell the end of the currently LMP1 formula, making the new LMP2  rules even more important.

Now think about this, has anyone wondered why Ford, with its history of success in all forms of motorsports (F1, LeMans, IndyCar and NASCAR) decided to build a new road car for GTE rather than a prototype for LMP1?  Why is Ford focusing on a LeMans class win rather than go for the overall win, as it did over 50 years ago?  Look at the Audi LMP1 and Mercedes F1 budgets.  Building a new road car from scratch, and racing it, is cost competitive to the cost of LMP1/F1, especially when you can sell the road car in the showroom!  Does anyone get the hint here?

Now back to IMSA here in the US.  As I understand it, the DPi rules allowed any manufacturer to put it’s homologated GT3 motor into any of the 4 approved chassis’s, along with model specific bodywork.  With that in mind, we could see a Cadillac prototype, using their V6TT from their ATS-V!

There seems to be more manufacturer interest in IMSA’s prototypes than anytime since the late 1990’s!  These rules have piqued the interest of several manufacturers not currently in US prototype racing, including Audi, Bentley, FIAT and Nissan!  The possibilities are spectacular!  Especially if they can go to LeMans!  It would be very fan friendly.

With that being said, this indecision between the FIA, ACO and IMSA has put worldwide  prototype racing in limbo. The current teams can not go forward with their plans to tie up with a manufacturer until the rules are settled upon.  And potentially new teams will have an even more difficulty getting up and running.  And this effects those other series, as they too are waiting on the rules to be finalized.  Many of those teams, such as SMP, are interested in doing the Daytona/Sebring/LeMans trifecta.  The rules must be flexible enough to allow this.

Time is running out, and it’s the fans who suffer for this.