Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Andretti Green Racing takes place on international stage

(By John Oreovicz on ESPN.com 12-19-08)

In the brutal economic environment afflicting international motorsports, most organizations are cutting back their operations. Not Andretti Green Racing.

The Indianapolis-based team owned by Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree is best known for its four-car effort in the IRL IndyCar Series. Two years ago, AGR expanded into the American Le Mans Series, fielding an Acura LMP-2 prototype, and the team took on a two-car Firestone Indy Lights program in 2008, winning the championship with Rafael Matos.

Although AGR's future ALMS participation is in doubt, the team has added a potentially more beneficial project: It has taken over preparation of Team USA's entry in A1GP, the self-proclaimed "World Cup of Motorsport." After fielding up-and-comer Charlie Kimball in the opening round of the 2008-09 A1GP championship, AGR has tentatively slated Marco Andretti to drive Team USA's entry for the remainder of the campaign, though Danica Patrick also might be tapped to compete.

A1GP was formed in 2005 as a quasi-competitor for F1, but with a twist: The drivers' names play second fiddle to their nationality. So technically, it's Switzerland vs. South Africa vs. New Zealand and on down the line, with a total of 23 countries currently participating.

The first A1GP spec car was a rather unattractive Lola chassis powered by a 550-horsepower Zytek V-8 that featured an "overtake" function similar to Champ Car's Push To Pass. For the 2008-09 season, an all-new chassis based on the 2004 Ferrari F1car was introduced, instantly bringing interest and credibility to A1GP. A new engine, also sourced from Ferrari, boosts output to 600 horsepower.

Until this year, A1GP's critics harped on the ugly car and the insanity of going up against F1. Yet, in its fourth season of competition, the series is showing signs of staying power. Unlike the defunct Champ Car World Series, A1GP successfully cracked the Far East market, staging successful events in China and Korea.

A few A1GP events, from a street race in Durban, South Africa, to a weekend at the classic Brands Hatch circuit in Great Britain, have attracted huge crowds. And the series recently scored a coup by landing the co-headliner role at the popular Surfers Paradise Australian V-8 Supercar round abandoned by the IRL IndyCar Series.

Conversely, America's attempt at staging an A1GP contest at Laguna Seca Raceway in March 2006 was marred by snow flurries and a conspicuous lack of fan support. The USA could return to the A1GP slate; the series has a vacant spot on its schedule on March 29, and the race just before that will be March 15 in Mexico City.

American road racers have struggled to gain respect on a worldwide basis since Mario Andretti won the Formula One World Championship 30 years ago. In fact, since Mario's son Michael lasted less than a full season of F1 with McLaren in 1993, Yankee pilots basically have been laughed right back to the States.

Scott Speed's recent 28-race F1 tenure was more of a marketing exercise than a genuine effort to put a competitive American into Grand Prix racing, and the quirky Californian certainly didn't enhance the country's reputation in the F1 paddock.

So maybe it is appropriate that Marco Andretti is being given the opportunity to show that Mario's championship wasn't necessarily the exception to the rule, and at the same time gain some redemption for Michael, whose perceived failure in F1 was dictated mostly by circumstances out of his control.

Not surprisingly, given that he had no prior testing, Marco struggled in his initial A1GP weekend at Chengdu, China, finishing 15th in the sprint race and eighth in the feature race. At Sepang, Malaysia, he was involved in a spectacular starting-line accident in the sprint race, but he rebounded to score an excellent third-place finish in the feature.

"That was great!" he exclaimed. "I think it was quite an accomplishment. We're not that familiar with the cars yet, and those cars react the opposite way that we would normally fix the problems because the way they are designed mechanically is so different.

"We just have to hit the ground running every race and try not to go down a wrong alley making changes because you don't have much track time," Marco continued. "We have to take stuff that has worked for us the last two races, tick those boxes and put that in the bank for when we have that problem again. It will take a little bit to overcome the adversity, but I see us in the winner's circle within the next couple races."

Marco acknowledged that there is pressure on him and the team to succeed. Americans are generally not taken seriously by European road racers, and of course he has that famous surname working both for and against him.

"It's us against the world over there, man," he said with a chuckle. "First of all, the whole F1 or European mentality is that they do not rate American drivers. They just don't. So we do have to get our act together as far as setups go because we've gotta win.

"The only negative is that if we're not winning races over there, it's not just a closed test session … people are watching."

For his part, Michael Andretti thinks his team's involvement in A1GP will be beneficial in at least two ways: It will gain publicity for Andretti Green Racing on a worldwide basis, and, more importantly, it will create plenty of high-horsepower seat time for Marco, who, at age 21, is still learning.

"That was the big carrot for us really when we initially were in contact about this series because in IndyCar, it's very difficult to get miles for our drivers because of the testing limitations," Michael said. "This is a great opportunity to put our guys in a really difficult series racing on road courses, as well as from the team side in getting our Andretti Green brand out there on a solid, international platform. This is a great, great way to do it."

Michael realizes that the Andretti name brings added pressure to his team and his son, but he strongly believes both are up to the job.

"Running up front is going to be our goal, and we're not kidding ourselves -- we know it's going to be really difficult," he said. "If we can put a good race car under him, [Marco] can go and show his stuff to the international crowd.

"We've been used to dealing with pressure, so I don't see it as being a problem," Michael added. "The real pressure is going to be coming from within the walls of our garage. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win, and that's what we are going to do here. We're not coming over here to just dillydally around -- we want to win races."

Marco also believes that competing in A1GP will make him a better Indy car driver, especially after a year when he and his AGR teammates struggled on road courses.

"The competition is unbelievable over there and the field is so tight, it's going to help when we come back to IndyCar on the road courses," he said. "There are no negatives, and it's the best possible scenario for the offseason. I mean, I'll drive a car every day if they let me!

"It will help me be fresh for St. Petersburg [the 2009 IndyCar Series opener in Florida]," Marco added. "You can run triathalons or whatever, but the best training for driving a race car is to drive a race car. And if you're physically there, you can think more clearly and slower and you're just in a better mindset."

Before AGR got involved, the Team USA A1GP franchise was run by Virginia businessman Rick Weidinger, who was a partner in the defunct Kelley Racing IndyCar Series team. Under Weidinger's guidance, Team USA scored a race win earlier this year with the old Lola in Shanghai, China, as 20-year-old Atlantic Championship front-runner Jonathan Summerton beat several highly regarded foreign F1 aspirants, including Neel Jani, Franck Montagny, Adam Carroll and Jonny Reid.

Jani, a former F1 tester who claimed three podium finishes in the Champ Car World Series in 2007, went on to win the 2007-08 A1GP championship for Switzerland. Jani has returned to defend Switzerland's A1GP title, and he relishes the opportunity to go up against established American stars such as Andretti and AGR.

"Even though they are big where they come from, that doesn't change anything and they are still competitors," Jani said. "If anything, as last year's champion, they should be thinking, 'I'm on the track with Neel Jani.'

"It's great for A1GP because they are very big names in the USA," he added. "But it's also great for them because in A1GP, you get real, hard European-style racing all on road courses. There is no fuel saving to think of, and it's flat out all the way. It will be hard for them, but nothing is impossible and at some stage we will have to count them as real competitors."

Detroit street circuit jettisoned for 2009

(by Tony DiZinno on Motorsport.com 12-18-08)

The IndyCar/American Le Mans Series double-header weekend at Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan, has been canceled for 2009. Late word today said that the event did not fit the business plans of race organizers amidst the current economic situation. IndyCar and ALMS teams agreed that the race "relied too much on corporate support".

The cancellation leaves IndyCar a 17-race schedule, with three weeks after the race at Chicagoland Speedway, a Saturday night event on August 29, and before the oval at Motegi, Japan on September 19. ALMS now scales back to ten events, leaving the weekend following Mosport, Canada open, with nearly a month-long break before Petit Le Mans.

Roger Penske oversaw and was the driving force to bring the event back to the streets of Detroit, and he has had a busy off-season. Penske Racing shifted their sportscar efforts from ALMS to Grand-Am's Rolex Series, with Porsche power, leaving their RS Spyder in the LM P2 class in the history books. Now, the race he helped get back on the schedule after giving the track a sizeable facelift is off.

Penske told Autoweek, "This is a real economic time of distress for everyone and we couldn't sit here and count on a lot of things happening that we know weren't going to happen, especially knowing we live in such a distressed area with unemployment and all the other things going on."

Detroit returned to an open-wheel calendar in 2007 following a six-year hiatus, and consecutive years at the track have featured good crowds if not great racing. Justin Wilson won this year's edition for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

Detroit. more than any other city, is feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis. The "big three" U.S. automakers, GM, Ford, and Chrysler are verging on bankruptcy and hoping for a bailout to survive this month and into next year, while hundreds or thousands lose their jobs.

And not only that, but Detroit could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of street races falling by the wayside. The series is scheduled to open with consecutive runs in the concrete canyons of St. Petersburg and Long Beach but could their events be next?

Each signed contracts to continue to at least 2013 earlier this year. However, with construction costs through the roof for these circuits, permanent road courses appear a better proposition at the moment.

Before today, Detroit was one of five temporary courses on the schedule, along with St. Pete and Long Beach and the two Canadian rounds in Toronto and Edmonton.

Official announcements from IndyCar and the ALMS are likely to come tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A taste of paradise

(from A1GP.com 12-15-08)

Next season’s A1GP debut at Surfers Paradise in Australia has sure got the drivers excited.
Could it be the sun-kissed beaches of the Gold Coast, the fantastic party atmosphere of the place, the enthusiastic and passionate crowd or the fact that it is one of the most famous auto racing street courses in the world?

Probably all of the above.

Last month, A1GP announced a five-year deal to take over from the IRL IndyCar series as the headline single-seater category at the event. The first race on the Queensland track, which has hosted 18 ‘Indy’ Car races since 1991, will be on the weekend of 22-25 October.

A1 Team USA’s Marco Andretti raced with his IndyCar team, Andretti Green Racing, at last October’s event, and has been going there since he was a child – his father Michael won the meeting back in 1994.

“I think A1GP will be a big draw there for sure,” Andretti told A1GP.com. “It’s an unbelievable event. You get a lot of support from the fans and there are plenty of good vantage points to watch. It’s a party city, I know that. You go out there and the fans are out of control!

“As a circuit, it really helps to know the track well, so if I am doing that race next year then it will benefit me. Knowing where the bumps are is key, because you will hit a bump half way through the weekend that you had no idea was there and you almost crash.

“It’s a street circuit so it’s obviously very bumpy, and whatever you can imagine is out there you’re going to hit it. You have to attack the kerbs to make the car work or else you are going to be slow.”

Australia’s John Martin was another racer who was at this year’s event, wining two of the weekend’s three races in the Formula 3 category.

“It’s got a bit of everything,” Martin said. “There’s a quad chicane out the back that’s really, really quick and you can use a lot of kerb which is a bit of a challenge for the car set-up wise. But then there is another section after that that’s quite slow.

“A1GP at Surfers Paradise will be awesome because so many people get revved up for that weekend, it is a massive weekend. There will be over 100,000 people just on Sunday, you won’t be able to move and everyone is there for a big party. It’s a really fun weekend for everyone involved.

“IndyCars were able to pass around there so I think A1GP will definitely be able to as well. Some people said we wouldn’t be able to pass at Chengdu either but we still made that alright. A1GP seems to make it possible to pass anywhere in the world.”

Martin added that he hopes to be Australia’s driver when A1GP makes its Gold Coast debut next October, but thinks that whoever is chosen will be the focus of attention.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself every round to do well, but in Surfers Paradise there will definitely be a lot more pressure on the Australian driver.

"Plus, being from Queensland there would be so many more people that I know there. I have people there booking rooms already, but at the end of the day I would just have to put that aside and go and do the job.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Opportunities knocking

(by Dave Lewandowski on indycar.com 12-15-08)

Less than 10 months ago, Indy Racing League founder and CEO Tony George seized an opportunity to unify North American open-wheel racing after a contentious and monetarily costly decade.

The 2008 season was quickly approaching, allowing little time to integrate and update teams that sought to transition to the IndyCar Series from Champ Car. While the process wasn't without headaches, results on and off the racetracks were immediate and portend for steady growth.

"I think the first year of unification went as well as anyone could have hoped," George said during a wide-ranging question and answer session. "There was plenty of opportunity to have not lived up to anyone's expectations. Given the late opportunity -- the season was about to start -- there's was a tremendous amount of challenge to be overcome. But everyone pulled together and made sure that the equipment was in the hands of the teams so they could go about their business."

Officials of the sanctioning Indy Racing League, manufacturers and teams worked with new entrants to get them up to speed as quickly as possible. With Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing winning on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in the second race of the season - becoming the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history - it validated the procedures and spirit of cooperation. Rahal was among the six first-time winners in the 2008 campaign, and one of nine different victors.

"After we got through the first couple of races, it was always my feeling that by Indianapolis we would really start to come together and I think we did," George said. "There was still some uncertainty in the minds of many that whether the (new teams) were going to be competitive. Getting to Indianapolis you had a couple of weeks of practice and four days of qualifying and then a 500-mile race with the big stage and the spotlight on everybody. I think it kind of settled everyone and that's when we started coming together as one.

"Up until that point, there was still a lot of talk about Champ Car drivers and IRL drivers, and I think we all became IndyCar teams at that point. We went from transition teams to we're all one series. I would view 2008 as a great success and I look forward to 2009."

Now the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Centennial Era, which kicks off in 2009, dovetails with unification under the IndyCar Series banner. The Speedway celebrates its 100th birthday next year, with programs and special events planned to commemorate its contributions to American automobile history and sports.

"It's nice to have a big milestone or a big anniversary to celebrate on the heels of unification," said George, the CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We look to take full advantage of the beginning of our Centennial Era celebration and I'm excited.

"I think unification was a long time coming, but it's now behind us and we have a very deep and competitive field of cars. We're all looking forward to next season. There will be some challenges pulling things together for next year, but we've been through the biggest challenge and I think that was pulling it together at all.

"I hear every day of more drivers that are interested in coming to the series and hear talk of new potential teams for next year. There will probably be one or two that don't return, but hopefully a team that comes in will be able to take advantage of this opportunity that's been created."

George also sees opportunities in the long term, such as two IndyCar Series seasons.

"In 2013, we'll be through our Centennial Era and our new technical package will have been introduced for a couple of years," George said. "I think you'll continue to see a predominantly North American-based championship. I think 16 to 20 races for what we do now is a comfortable number. I know there will be opportunities for us to do some more international outreach, whether it's through licensing or actually taking our product and creating a winter season.

"Drivers want to drive every week and if the operating budgets and sponsorships we depend on are there I think you could see us do as many as 22, 24 races a year. Or you could see something like ALMS has done in licensing our specifications, our name and brand for a European schedule."

After 13 years, Tony George nears his goal.

YAUMB: a motorsports blog
(yaumb.wordpress.com 1-24-08)

Open-wheel unity? Peace in our time?

It could happen, according to this story by Robin Miller.

That’s right - the Champ Car ship is sinking and Tony George is chucking life preservers into the knots of swimming survivors. Free cars and free engines for all Champ Car teams willing to run the full 2008 IRL schedule and voila! …an ad-hoc unification between the IRL and Champ Car.

What’s to inspire Champ Car teams to move from one dole to the other after years of pooh-poohing the IRL on principle? The fact that even backmarker ride-buying wankers are dissing the series as untenable, maybe? Perhaps.

In any event, it’s a hard offer to pass up… unless you are Gerry Forsythe, who hates Tony George and would willingly stab at George from Hell’s heart like Star Trek’s Khan. Gerry is likely brainstorming to find some way to counter Tony’s offer that will convince the Champ Car team owners not to defect - because if he doesn’t, then Tony wins, and apparently no victory is too Pyrrhic to keep Tony George from winning the open-wheel Civil War.

See, Tony George started the IRL for one reason and one reason only - to gain total control over American open-wheel racing. He thought it was his birthright and his due because he inherited the ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This whole decade-plus of stupidity in open-wheel racing has therefore been a battle of wills between George and Forsythe - the latter being the true financial power behind CART and now Champ Car.

Forsythe has ignored countless offers of unification between the two factions because the one thing he’ll never be able to stomach is ceding any sort of majority control of open-wheel racing to a man he considers to be an idiot. The problem is, this time he may not be able to do anything about it. The only owners that are resistant so far to this carte blanche deal are his fellow owner Kevin Kalkhoven and Eric Bachelart, a man who has his own full funding (a rarity in Champ Car) and who has historically had his lips planted firmly on Champ Car’s ass. And I don’t care how much money Forsythe has - ain’t no way he’s fielding 12 cars on his own.

So this is as close as we’ve gotten to a unified open-wheel series since 1995. Should be cause for celebration, right? Not so much. See, very few people are left who care about either side anymore. But for those who still care, what will a unified series do for them? Simply shift their existing animosities into a new context. Not even unification is going to erase the bitterness that hangs over open-wheel like a putrid cloud. Even if the sides unified tomorrow, it would still take many years of stability and lack of infighting to restore any sense of validity or importance to Indy-style racing in this country. And who really believes that the people still involved in this morass are capable of either stability or peacemaking with the other side?

Meh.

Unification doesn't look so bad now, does it?

from YAUMB: a motorsports blog
(yaumb.wordpress.com 12-8-08)
The bad news keeps flowing out of the motorsports industry at an alarming rate. The good news? The IndyCar series ironically has already proved it can continue competing with no money and 18 cars.

That’s right - in these hard recession-smacked economic times, a case could be made that the 10 years of the Split actually might prove to be worth something for open-wheel racing.

You could look at it this way - Tony George spent a decade learning how to operate open-wheel racing with very little corporate or fan interest, low car counts, and spending money out of his own pocket just to keep his series alive. Then unification happened, bringing just enough additional involvement from the defunct Champ Car series to keep car counts at their pre-unification levels going into one of racing’s leanest years in recent memory.

Make no mistake. If the two open-wheel series hadn’t unified before this economic crisis had hit, it would look a lot worse for IndyCar than it does right now. Champ Car would have still gone out of business but it’s questionable that the ex-Champ Car teams and drivers would have had the werewithal to move to IndyCars without the concessions George and the IRL had to make in terms of purses and subsidies in order for the unification to happen last season.

Now, let’s not give Tony any credit for having some sort of prescient foresight about this, because he didn’t. Rather, he got lucky again, just like he did in 1996 when the US 500 became a nationwide debacle and again when Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi decided to defect at the turn of the century. Still, you have to have done something right to be in a position to capitalize on luck, and it turns out that the current state of the IRL - no American automakers involved, no failing US corporations or banks taking critical sponsorship money away, and so forth - is one that is far more stable than many other domestic racing series such as ALMS and even NASCAR.

And it turns out that the 2011 introduction of the new IndyCar may be a delay that saves the series itself, since sinking that much capital into one’s inventory certainly doesn’t look as appetizing now that everyone is so pinched for cash.

No, Tony George isn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but you gotta admit that he’s a serendipity magnet.