Oct 31, 2009

Remembering Greg Moore (Apr. 22, 1975 - Oct. 31, 1999)

As hard as it is to believe, it’s been 10 years since Greg Moore died 10 laps into the 1999 CART finale at the California Speedway. He was only 24.

Yes, its sounds like a cliche, but Moore died just as his star was beginning to rise. Widely thought to be one of the most talented drivers to hit the series in years, Moore won five times and scored 17 podiums in 72 starts. His fatal crash came in the final race of 1999 just as he was preparing to make the jump to the powerful Penske Team in 2000.

“Sometimes I'm sitting around with Tony [Kanaan] or Max [Papis] and with some of the younger drivers like Marco [Andretti], and we tell them if Greg were here driving with Penske, there would be days we shouldn't even show up,” 2009 IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti told me a couple of years ago.

Franchitti recalled watching the 1996 CART season opener on television with Mercedes Motorsport boss Norbert Haug. At the time, Franchitti was racing in the FIA International Touring Car Championship.

“I said to Norbert: ‘Who's this kid driving up against the wall in the marbles blasting by everybody sideways?’ And then after the race this guy got out of the car wearing these little round glasses and that was Greg Moore. From that day on, he showed the world what he could do.”

A year later, a 22-year-old Moore became the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race when he took the chequered flag in Milwaukee.

Had Moore joined Penske, former Player’s teammate Patrick Carpentier feels he would have dominated and likely won multiple Indianapolis 500 and CART championships.

“I learned lots of stuff from him: Greg taught me how to get around Mid-Ohio where I won my first race in Champ Car. He was fast — very, very, fast,” Carpentier said.

“On ovals, Greg could run so close to the wall in the marbles and for the rest of us, it was impossible. Sometimes I think about him and where he would be today, and I think he would have had amazing success.”

Moore’s death brought many changes to racing, including spurring the development of the HANS device and the paving of infields at high-banked ovals to help cars stay on their wheels when they spun.

Two years ago, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame opened a new 800 sq. ft. Greg Moore Wing in its Vancouver museum. The new Canadian Motorsport Heritage Museum plans a permanent Greg Moore display when it opens next year.

“It was interesting for me to walk around and see the little bits and pieces that [his father] Rick had kept and people had donated,” Franchitti said at the Toronto Indy when asked about his visit to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. “I think the one thing that really sticks in my mind was seeing his first go-kart licence.”

That licence was the reason he raced under the No. 99. He was the 99th member of the Westwood Kart Track.

Team bosses speak some sense on British GP

While Bernie Ecclestone seems to have a take it or leave it attitude towards a Formula One race in England, the sport’s teams seem to understand history a bit better.

Asked in the regular press conference prior to the Abu Dhabi race to comment on Ecclestone’s suggestion that the sport does not need the British Grand Prix, the team bosses present disagreed.

Formula One is what it is because of the balance of races it has, the history it has, the heritage it has and the reason that Formula One as a championship and as a series is so attractive to countries like Abu Dhabi and the new races we're going to is because of that heritage and that history, and if we destroy that, then perhaps we don't remain as attractive for countries in the future,” said Brawn boss Ross Brawn.

“So we've got to get a balance between keeping the history and heritage of Formula One and the new opportunities we have at fantastic circuits like this, so I think it would be a tragedy if we lost Silverstone and I hope Bernie can find a solution with Silverstone to keep the race there.”

On the other hand, Ecclestone seems to have adopted a “take it or leave it” attitude toward the British Grand Prix, insisting that the deal he offered Silverstone is fair and will not be re-visited despite the circuit’s position that it’s not a viable deal.

“They've got a contract, if they want to sign it, we'd be delighted, if they don't want to sign, it's okay,” Ecclestone said in the paddock at Abu Dhabi. “But the negotiations are finished, we've been negotiating too long.”

Silverstone moved back into the F1 picture after Donington Park could not come up with the funds it needs to host the race. The circuit was to host the race for 10 seasons beginning in 2010. Silverstone has hosted the British Grand Prix since 1987.

“I really sincerely hope that now that the Donington bit appears to have stumbled, that a solution can be found between Silverstone and FOM, and I'm sure that every effort is being made to achieve that,” said Red Bull Boss Christian Horner.

“We would certainly see Silverstone as a great loss from the calendar should it not be there in 2010.”

Oct 30, 2009

Drivers seem to like Abu Dhabi

What the drivers are saying about the new Abu Dhabi circuit where McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton was quickest in the first practice while teammate Heikki Kovalainen topped the timesheets in the second practice.

Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: The circuit is cool – it's very smooth with good grip and the kerbs are nice. Turns Two and Three are not easy-flat, but, with the good balance of the car, they're fun. On the straight, KERS gives us an additional benefit. We can use it for maximum performance and it's worth three-and-a-half to four tenths. The light is no problem with our slightly tinted tear-off visors, which we could remove once the sun had set.

Sebastien Vettel, Red Bull: Abu Dhabi is a new circuit, so new conditions – including starting driving in the daylight and finishing the session at night, which is quite exciting. Obviously, the circuit was very green and slippery to begin with, but overall it's quite a thrill to drive, with some good corners. It's also pretty special to go under a hotel! Performance wise, we're looking quite good. We didn't know what to expect around here, but it seems as though we're quite competitive, although we will have to wait to see how competitive. Even though it's a new track, it was a normal Friday practice and we were testing which tire works best.

Jenson Button, Brawn: The Yas Marina circuit is certainly an interesting one. When you look at the layout, it doesn't seem that exciting but when you actually drive it, it's fantastic. The track has a bit of everything with high and low speed corners, positive and negative camber and the walls are pretty close to you most of the way round. We had a good first day of practice here with just a few balance issues to work on overnight.

Fernando Alonso, Renault: Today we experienced Yas Marina for the first time so we had to learn the circuit and work out the best way to set the car up. As we expected, the track was a bit dirty to begin with, but when more rubber was laid down I started to get a good feeling for the circuit and the car. We have a lot of information to look over tonight so that we can make some changes in the morning to find some more performance from the car before qualifying.

Nico Rosberg, Williams: I enjoyed driving the track for the first time today. It was dirty to begin with and then of course in the second session we were interested in the artificial lighting conditions in the dark and the effect on the tyres of the temperature dropping. Visibility-wise it was fine in the second practice session and again, the temperature change didn't seem to have too big an effect on us. The more unknown element is the choice of tire and it is hard to say which is better. In terms of set-up, we have definitely found a direction especially on the mechanical side. All in all, a good day which has given me confidence that we can score some points here this weekend.

Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: The track offers everything you can ask for. The tarmac is good and the lay-out is quite good with the first sector having the fast corners, the second sector providing this endless straight and a possibility for overtaking, and the third one being rather narrow and windy, but flowing nicely. I'm not happy with the car's set-up and balance yet. This is especially for a single quick lap as on the long runs the lap times were improving. The visibility during sunset and twilight wasn't an issue today. I hope this doesn't change if we get more dust in the air. In respect of the total darkness and floodlighting, I have the feeling it was brighter in Singapore.

Jarno Trulli, Toyota: I must say that was an enjoyable day for me and it was interesting to drive on the new track for the first time. It was good fun and I am looking forward to racing here. They have done a great job with the facilities and the track is really well built, so I am impressed. The first laps were difficult because there was just no grip, but that is normal for a new circuit like this and as the day went on the situation improved. Driving during twilight was a new experience for me and the view does change a little, with some shadows, but generally it is similar to Singapore so it's not a problem. All in all, the car seemed competitive and well-balanced so if we can improve again tomorrow we can have another strong weekend.

Rubens Barrichello, Brawn: First of all, I'm really pleased with the new track here in Abu Dhabi. The venue looks sensational and it's quite challenging to drive which is makes it a lot more fun for the drivers. The car felt good here over the two sessions and we were able to make several improvements over the course of the day. I'm quite happy with the balance and looking forward to tomorrow.

Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: This new circuit has some interesting features which we are not used to, like the tunnel and it's a nice feeling to start running in daylight and going into the dark. This morning was a bit difficult, but we improved the car quite a lot in the afternoon, so I am not unhappy. You have to consider that there is a huge difference in the track between the first session and the second, as it is a lot quicker in the evening when it's cooler. It was a bit difficult to get the tires working properly, especially the Option, but apart from that, the car is not too bad. Now we have to see what we can do for tomorrow, when it will be important to qualify well.

Excited Vickers prepared for the 'Big One'

My latest effort for Red Bull:

The key to winning at the Talladega Superspeedway is simple – stay out front to avoid the 'Big One' and have enough left to fight off challengers at the finish.

But the three, four and sometimes even five-wide, flat-out racing at the 2.66-mile Alabama tri-oval doesn't make it easy. Add 33-degree banked turns and restrictor plate-enabled packs and NASCAR's biggest track often becomes something of a lottery.

A restrictor plate is a device bolted between a car's carburettor and engine intake manifold that reduces horsepower by limiting the amount of fuel mixture reaching the combustion chamber. Used at Daytona and Talladega, the restrictor plates keep the cars bunched up in tight formations where one miscue can lead to disaster. And make no mistake, it's really a question of when — not if — the 'Big One' happens.

More at: http://bit.ly/NXV4t

Oct 29, 2009

It is said that timing is everything

So, one can't help but wonder what A.J. Allmendinger was thinking last night/early this morning when he got behind the wheel and then failed a sobriety test after being pulled over by police in Mooresville, N.C.

He was arrested for drunk driving. The legal limit in North Carolina is .08.

The incident came less than 24 hours after news that the NASCAR driver would move to the famed No. 43 at Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010, with sponsor Best Buy on the car.

No comment from the team as yet, but considering that Petty's team has historically stayed from any alcohol sponsors and even refused to race in the Nationwide Series when it was know as Busch (sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser among others).

Allmendinger, 27, is slated to driver the Petty No. 44 at the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend.

The 2003 Champ Car Atlantic Champion joined NASCAR in 2007 after being identified as a rising U.S. star in the now defunct Champ Car Series. He joined the fledgling Red Bull team behind the wheel of the No. 84.

He is 25th in the Sprint Cup standings with one top-5 (a third in his Daytona 500 debut) and four top-10s, driving the No. 44 for Petty this season.

It has not been a good month for NASCAR on the impaired driving front.

Less than a week ago, Michael Waltrip was involved in a Mooresville crash with a motorcycle where alcohol was thought to be a factor but he registered .06 when tested.

In Daytona Beach, J.C. France, a grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, was arrested early Thursday on suspicion of driving under the influence and drug-related charges.

Canadian tribute to racing classics

My latest column in the Globe and Mail:

When the Canadian Motorsports Heritage Museum (CMHM) opens its doors next year, racing fans will have two additional historic cars to drool over.

The CMHM is expected to announce today that it will add the late Greg Moore's Formula Ford 1600 from the early days of his open-wheel career and the original Chaparral 1 driven by Jim Hall, who also designed the car.

Moore's Formula Ford was donated by Jeremy Hinchcliffe, the father of Indy Lights driver James Hinchcliffe. The car was driven by Jeremy Hinchcliffe, a Maple Ridge, B.C., native, in the 1991 Esso Protec Formula Ford 1600 Championship, where he was named rookie of the year.

More at: http://bit.ly/2i77rk

Oct 27, 2009

A tale of two racers

In one corner, Jenson Button who clinched the F1 world championship in the season’s penultimate race in Brazil a week ago. In the other, Valentino Rossi, who clinched the MotoGP title in Sunday's penultimate round in Malaysia.

Button qualified 14th for his race to the title, albeit in changing conditions. Button’s effort was aided immensely by a pair of first lap incidents that eliminated four cars in front of him. And yes, he made a couple of good moves to climb to fifth by the end, although that was also helped by a flat tire suffered by Rubens Barrichello near the end of the race.

But after dominating the first half of the F1 season, no one could argue that Button did anything but back into the title.

Rossi’s story was a bit different. He also clinched with one event to go but his race was slightly different from Button’s.

While Rossi started on pole, he made a giant mistake at the start and ran wide in the first corner, which found him mired in 10th spot. From there he passed seven bikes to climb to third with about one-third of the race left and then reeled off several fastest laps in an effort to get to second by the end. One of the riders he overtook was title challenger and teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Once past, Rossi powered away to take third. That was a significant move as Rossi could have simply followed Lorenzo to the line and still won the title by virtue of the fourth place he would have picked up.

But it’s not really a fair comparison. Rossi took his seventh MotoGP/500-cc crown in 10 tries and his ninth world title overall, while it was Button’s first championship in 10 F1 seasons.

Rossi is perhaps the greatest racer in any sport, including seven time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher. The numbers don’t lie: Rossi has seven titles, 77 wins, and 58 poles in 10 seasons of MotoGP/500-cc competition, and a world title in both 250-cc and 125-cc. And he is only 30.

If Rossi races six more seasons to match Schumacher’s 16 in F1, the numbers say that even if he only had average years, “The Doctor” would have 123 wins, 93 poles, and 11 world championships in MotoGP/500-cc competition.

Unfortunately, Rossi does not get the recognition he deserves.

A new obstacle for Formula One in Montreal?

Alleged ties to organized crime, companies conspiring to fix the tendering process, and syndicates artificially inflating bids has added interest to the mayoral race in Montreal.

See: http://bit.ly/16W4xC

But while fun to watch and an fascinating study in corruption, a question remains: Will the growing controversy put Montreal's return to the Formula One calendar in jeopardy?

With public money under the microscope and the Canadian Grand Prix requiring $millions in logistics help, could gun shy civic politicians put the brakes on new contacts for the F1 race in Montreal.

Although the work would be done through the promoter group, perhaps the idea of committing $millions that soon after the election will be enough to make the city hesitate.

Although word is that a deal is done and an announcement is on the way, maybe the city will want to avoid signing a multi-million dollar deal in this climate of corruption.

Just a thought...

Oct 26, 2009

It's Sweet Virginia for Vickers

My latest story on Brian Vickers for http://www.redbull.com:

After five frustrating races where anything that could go wrong did, Brian Vickers' Twitter feed said it all: "Not bad. Was in the top five for a bit. Much better than the past few weeks. We will take it…"

Maybe it was having his 26th birthday on the eve of the Martinsville race. Perhaps it was the simple fact that a guy just can't have that much bad luck. Whatever it was, something actually went Vickers' way in a Chase race.

He started 24th in the Tums Fast Relief 500 and drove a trouble-free race to move up 13 spots to 11th at the chequered flag, a banner day considering the horrible luck the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver has experienced so far in his first Chase for the Cup. "I don't know what it is, I can't explain it, I can't figure it out," he said. "But our luck definitely turned on us once the Chase started."

More at: http://bit.ly/2DMjCJ

Tradition in Formula One? Not on Bernie's watch

Anyone having any doubts that Formula One is no longer about racing might want to pay attention.

In an interview with the Daily Express, Bernie Ecclestone says F1 does not need a British Grand Prix. Who is he kidding?

The comments were made after Donington Park filed to raise the cash it needed to host the race beginning next year. Despite the fact that Britain is a key market for the sport and a country that has hosted a grand prix since the beginning of F1, Ecclestone doesn't see its importance.

"Italy is a traditional race because they have always raced at Monza," he said.

"Monaco is traditional as they have always had the same track. Britain and France have raced at three different circuits. They want a cut-price deal because it is traditional. That's not traditional to me. Britain is not protected. I would like a new plane because it's traditional as I have had one for 40 years but no one is offering me a cheap deal. That's not how it works."

Unfortunately, it also doesn't work by offering racetrack contracts that are not commercially viable, which Ecclestone apparently has with Silverstone, which is the only option available for a 2010 British Grand Prix. To that Ecclestone simply said no one is forcing them to have a race.

But F1 is no longer about the fans or tradition or racing. It's all about money.

Imagine what the National Hockey League would do if the Montreal Canadiens looked to be threatened. Or what Mayor League Baseball would do if the New York Yankees were on the brink of failure.

Can anyone even contemplate NASCAR racing without a stop in Daytona? Or Charlotte. Or Martinsville?

But Formula One can go without Britain? France has already dropped off the calendar. Now it may be that only Monaco, Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix, and Spa Francorchamps in Belgium will remain as historic races as Formula One moves to its focus to the motorsport hotbeds of Abu Dhabi, or Bahrain, or Korea.

But then again, what else would fans expect from a sport whose former governing body president, Max Mosley, said only months ago that it did not need Ferrari?

Oct 23, 2009

Getting off the ground floor

My latest story on Brian Vickers for http://www.redbull.com:

Long shot doesn't even begin to describe Brian Vickers' chances of coming out on top of NASCAR's Chase for the Cup. Even if he were to win the last five Chase races, and led the most laps along the way, points leader Jimmie Johnson would have to finish 22nd or worse every time out for the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota driver to catch up.

And, with 10 other drivers between Vickers and Johnson in the Chase standings, even if the leader had a gigantic meltdown, odds are another car would take full advantage before the No. 83 made it into top spot.

"It's not very likely, but as far as I'm concerned, as long we're mathematically in it, we're in it. We're going to maintain that attitude for the rest of the year. Anything can happen," he said.

"Now, a lot is going to have to happen for us to get back in the hunt for the championship, but we're going to do our best: run as best as we can and finish as high as we can in the points. Where we finish is where we finish. Just enjoy it and try to learn something for next year."

More at: http://bit.ly/C3L3A

Todt wins FIA vote

The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile went for the status quo today electing former Ferrari Formula One boss Jean Todt as its president.

The chosen successor of retiring FIA president Max Mosley, Todt was seen by many as the continuity candidate. He gets a four-year term.

Before the vote, Todt said his team would look for consensus not confrontation.

"We want to further develop F1 so that it benefits all those involved, from teams to fans," he said.

"As the regulator of a hugely competitive and technically complex sport we will also establish an independent disciplinary panel to investigate breaches of the rules and to recommend the most appropriate response."

His plan includes commissioners for the various sports governed by the FIA, including F1.

He defeated former world rally champion Ari Vatanen, who campaigned on bring change and openness to the governing body.

The FIA general assembly has 221 delegates from sporting clubs in 132 countries. Todt won convincingly, 135-49, apparently recovering nicely from a perceived sag in support near the end of the campaign. Twelve voters abstained.

The campaign itself was marred by allegations of favouritism, intimidation and vote-buying.

FOTA chairman  Luca  di  Montezemolo congratulated Todt on his victory in the FIA presidential election, saying he expects the incoming president to bring a climate open to dialogue and constructive collaboration with the teams and FOTA.

"Formula  One  is  about  to  embark  on  a  new  phase," he said.

"All the stakeholders must work together with an eye to the future, to increase the credibility and interest generated by this sport, tackling the technical and environmental challenges that await it, while keeping unchanged, those characteristics that have made it one of the most popular disciplines on the world stage."

Vatanen expressed his doubts the new president would bring major change to the governing body.

"Let's hope I'm wrong," he said." He has got to renew it and if he doesn't get rid of the ancient guard and all the people who worked with Mosley, he won't succeed."

To complicate matters, Mosley stays on the scene in the FIA senate, and many feel he might still be able to exert influence on the organisation from that seat.

Oct 22, 2009

Election fever hits FIA

My latest column in the Globe and Mail explores tomorrow's election and the infighting that seems to be dividing the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile as it head to a vote to replace the outgoing Max Mosley.

A snippet:

The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) general assembly votes tomorrow to elect a new president after 16 years under Max Mosley's direction. It promises to be a divisive affair.

In one corner is Mosley's chosen successor, former Ferrari boss Jean Todt, who is seen as the status quo candidate, while in the other is independent candidate Ari Vatanen, a former world rally champion, who looks to have reform on his mind.

Unfortunately, the presidential campaign may be remembered for its infighting, impropriety and the inappropriateness of FIA officials' actions. And it points to a desperate need for new blood at the top of the FIA, which governs Formula One and several other racing championships, including world touring cars and world rally.

For more:  http://bit.ly/3Dc7i7

Oct 21, 2009

A painful coming of age

My latest story for Red Bull on Brian Vickers' Chase troubles.

After an incredible 10-race run to make Chase for the Cup, the Team Red Bull and Brian Vickers stumbled through the first five races of NASCAR's championship playoff.

With Vickers mired in 12th and last place in the Chase standings, 485 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, it might seem that all the team's hard work went for naught.

But veteran Canadian racer Ron Fellows feels that discounting the accomplishment of making the Chase as a third year team would be a mistake.  "They have done an awesome job, and it will just help them raise their game," says Fellows, a road course ringer in Sprint Cup and Nationwide events. He has four Nationwide victories to his credit.

More at: Red Bull International