Sunday, February 22, 2009

Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?

One of the original ideas behind this website when I started it back in 2006 was to yammer about more than just F1, IndyCar, NASCAR and whatever other major league motorsports that I might be thinking about. I actually sort of envisioned this as being a homeless man's Jalopnik, covering all sorts of minor-league motorsports (which guys like Junior Open Wheel Talent do better than I ever could, anyway) one day and high performance road car stuff another day and mundane-y thoughts on boring-ish road car stuff (like thoughts on the upcoming Ford Fiesta-in-America launch) another day. Well, my basic inability to post more than once every couple of weeks (at best) sort of submarined all of that, but...every day's a new day, right?

Motorsports and general fast car experiences are not exactly an every day occurrence in Eastern Nebraska. Sometimes, though, stuff comes up, and you've got to go ahead and do it, 'cause sometimes there's aren't second chances. Not to make what happened this weekend some sort of life-changing experience or epiphany or anything, but it did make for a far more interesting than normal Saturday afternoon.

A co-worker friend of mine approached me a few weeks ago, knowing that I'm a gearhead of sorts, and invited me along on an outing that his car club was doing. I'm not a big car club guy, I suppose because the cars I've owned ('88 Honda Accord, '99 Ford Contour, '05 Mazda6) are not really car club-worthy, but I thought this would be a good time to bend that general rule. These guys, being the area's preeminent Mopar club, were going to go check out the Woodhouse Viper Pit.

Some background: Bob Woodhouse has been a big-roller in Nebraska and national motorsports for the better part of the last 20 years. He's kind of a hitter in the car biz, as well, selling a few cars here and there. Anyway, he's possibly best known in motorsports circles as team owner of the Woodhouse SCCA World Challenge team, fielding Vipers in the GT class last year for the likes of Tommy Archer, Brian Simo, and Jeff Courtney.

Woodhouse Chrysler in Blair, Nebraska is the #1 Viper-selling Dodge dealer in the U.S. That sounds sort of crazy, but it's sort of obvious to see why...

Yeah, that's 25 Vipers under one roof, plus a few Shelby Cobras and some different stuff that people have recently traded in for Vipers. That, by my quick and rough math, is something on the order of 18,000 horsepower, all under one rather non-descript roof. They even had some full-blown Viper ACRs, which are possibly best known for making the all-time fastest lap by a street legal car at the Nurburgring.

Very, very cool. Alas, they wouldn't let me do any hot laps in the parking lot, but it was well worth the trip for the simple gawkability of the whole thing.

Huge, huge ups to Bill Pemberton and Mark Jorgensen at Woodhouse Chrysler, and thanks to my buddy Wade and the guys at High Impact Performance Mopar Auto Club for having me along. I survived my trip to the Viper Pit, but I've definitely been badly smitten/bitten.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Danica to F1! Yeah!.....or not

New rumor concerning the USF1 team that I wrote about last week: Danica Patrick is going to drive! Holy crap! She’ll be the first female F1 driver since the esteemed Giovanna Amati!

Let’s slow down for a minute, shall we?

While this breathless conjecture is sort of fun to think about, I can’t imagine that it’s anywhere near reality. First off, Danica has not won a road course race since…well…uh, the Toyota Pro-Am race at Long Beach in 2002. She’s not exactly the #1 American road racer these days. In fact, I don’t even think that her results in an IndyCar on road courses would place her in the top-10 on such a list. Second, I’m sure that she’s looking to get paid, and would not be willing to drive for such an effort for a reduced price. As other folks have pointed out, any retainer that you’d have to pay her to drive for you would be that much less money that you could spend on your new-from-scratch F1 car. Not a good idea right now.

I can’t believe that hardly anybody has floated my favorite “obvious” pick for an American driver for the USF1 team: Graham Rahal. I don’t know what the terms of his contract with N/H/L look like, but if he’s on a 3-year deal, then that’s done at the end of this year. Even if it’s not, I can’t imagine that his retainer is anywhere close to Danica’s, so he’d be far easier to buy out. He’s only a couple of years older than Connor Daly or Josef Newgarden (two other rumored USF1 drivers), has some pretty extensive experience in high HP/downforce cars (those other guys have none), and he has actually shown some interest in going to F1, which Danica has not and Scott Speed has said is long gone for him.

Other drivers don’t quite make sense for me, either. Bryan Herta, I think, is a tad too old to take on a completely different style of car and driving. Ryan Hunter-Reay, while quite competent on road courses, has not shown the sort of dominant form that one would expect of a serious F1 candidate, even back in his Atlantic days. He’s just fine in an IndyCar, but going up against Kimi and Lewis and Felipe and Fernando? I’m not seeing it.

As I mentioned in my last post, the other guy I’d go with would be Jonathon Summerton. Of all the people who have driven for the US in A1GP (Marco included), he’s had by far the best results, including a win in a feature race last year. Literally no other American has had any sort of international single-seater success in the last 10 years, except for maybe Patrick Long. However, Pat has probably been out of a single seater for too long now and picked up too many tin-top habits to truly be an F1 aspirant any more. Anyway, why roll the dice with any of these other folks, when Graham and Jonathon are basically ready to go right now?

This Danica thing absolutely has to be a publicity stunt to get people interested in the concept of an American F1 team. Either that, or they are hoping that some sponsor (or sponsors) will cough up $50 million on the condition that Danica is one of the drivers. In that case, an USF1 team with a sub-world class driver would be better than no USF1 team, but maybe not by much. Nice try, Ken Anderson, but I don’t think anybody’s buying it.

Monday, February 09, 2009


While enjoying the fantastic entertainment (read that: dozens of minutes of caution flag laps, and a "halftime" break that felt like it was 40 minutes long) during Saturday's NASCAR Sponsor Splatter (or, as my friend Rick calls it, the Tequiza Tangle), I had plenty of time to let my mind wander over the racing world's current events. I really managed to cover a lot of territory up there in the ol' brain bin. What's the car count going to look like in IndyCar this year? (20+, and that's fine, methinks.) Why does having the same size front tires as the rears make the new Acura LMP1 car look so weird and lumpy? (Dunno, they just do.) How could the FIA have screwed up the World Rally Championship so badly, when just a couple of years ago they had four or five manufacturers signed up long-term and a crop of drivers that includes possibly the greatest driver of all time? (Because screwing things up is what the FIA does best.) If a Porsche-engined car wins the next GrandAm race at VIR in April (three months off?!?), are we going to get to see a full-on kicking and screaming podium tantrum by Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett? (Yes.) Am I going to spend 2009 like I have the last three years and mainly write my blog posts in parentheticals? (...) (I hate me sometimes.)

But, the tastiest bit of racing-ish "news" that I kept coming back to during my NASCAR (and malted hops) induced slumber was the recent breathless conjecture over the supposedly forthcoming announcement of the new USF1-All-US-All-The-Time Formula 1 Team. Let me preface all of the following by saying that I'll be the first guy to hop aboard an All-American F1 effort. Believe me, I was one of those dudes going around racing message boards back around 1998 when BAR was just coming into the public consciousness (as a theoretical British-American concern), and debating who should be Jacques Villeneuve's teammate in '99. My pick was Jimmy Vasser, but if you've read me at all in the past, you get zero points for having guessed that. So, I'll be all about an American Formula 1 team, if it ever comes into being...

However. Wow. Where to start? The team's supposed principals are Peter Windsor (will he take along the unseen Jean-Michel, Pressdog?) and Ken Anderson. While I do not question either of those guys' credentials, are either of them really well versed enough in F1 circa-2009 to have a team up and running for 2010? Peter's been around F1 for, roughly, as long as Bernie Ecclestone's been interested in money, and Anderson's been around racing since before Rick Mears developed a limp, but recent F1 experience? Not so much. Windsor's been out of team management for the better part of the last decade, and while Anderson runs the Windshear wind tunnel, a fancy-shmancy wind tunnel does not an F1 team make (ask BAR/Honda; and besides, aren't wind tunnel hours being drastically cut by the FIA this year?). Also, has Anderson's recent history of projects been quite at a 100% hit rate of happening?

Sure, the arguments laid out by the always reliable Adam Cooper in that SpeedTV column I linked to above sound pretty decent. The FIA has slashed costs in F1 going forward. However, it's still going to take upwards of $50 million to start up and run a back marker F1 team. How many sponsors are floating around with that kind of cash right now? There are hundreds of recently laid-off NASCAR folks down in the Carolinas right now. Uh, those guys don't even use data acquisition during race weekends. Or fuel injection, ever, for that matter, let alone carbon fiber and titanium. All of the tube benders and sheet metal hangers in the world can't manifest an F1 car onto the grid in Melbourne in 14 months. A satellite base of operations can be had in Spain, with the Epsilon organization. OK, well, running a Renault World Series team and building a shoestring-ish LeMans prototype is still a world away from F1 (ask Prodrive or Dome about that). An off-the-shelf engine and transmission combo is supposed to be available for next year from Cosworth and Ricardo (big blue "R" represent!). OK, well, I'd feel a lot better about that being an option for 2010 if those pieces were running on dynos right now. Could 2012 or 2013 be a possibility for an all-new team? Sure. But 14 months from now? Hmmm. Maybe we all ought to take a deep breath and sit down before we all get too light headed about the whole thing.

Again, I really don't want to sound like the wet blanket here. I'm not one of those guys who think that the euros know better than we do, always, and that we could never catch up to them in an arena that they call their own personal playground. There are plenty of good people in the States who can wield a CAD digitizer or lay up carbon fiber with anybody in the world. I've worked with some of them. Unlike some of the greatly nuanced commenters on the SpeedTV article pages (have you read those guys? Yikes.), I also think that within a couple of years, the US could also have some top-line road racers who could be just about ready for F1. A kid named Rahal comes to mind. Another kid named Summerton has had some great results for a usually sub-par US A1GP team. If somebody were to come up with the $50 million to get a team off the ground in 3-4 years, I'm sure that that same somebody could probably front the necessary $3-4 million to get those two guys a season in GP2 or F2 to get them some European training.

I sort of hope I'm wrong on this. More details are supposedly due later in the week, or maybe they're even coming out right now, which would make this bit of word-hackery obsolete the moment I hit the "publish" button. Having a team on the grid in 2010 would be OK with me. On the other hand, I also think that US Formula 1 fans and fans of new F1 efforts the world over would be better served if the USF1 cake got a little more time to bake. That said, maybe an undercooked effort would turn out OK. After all, who knew that chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream would be so tasty?