Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Does The Continental Tire Cup Series Get No Love?

On 10-Tenths, there's a regular poster named "Speed King". He lives in Germany but watches American racing. Anyway we often agree on many subjects especially the Continental Tire Grand Am Cup. I refuse to link to Grand Am so you'll have to use Google.

The origins of this series go back to 1980's. It was originally the IMSA Firestone Firehawk series which was a rival to the SCCA Escort Endurance Championship. Both series features current Speed TV color analyst Calvin Fish and Dorsey Schroeder.

Calvin who came from a middle class background in Britain couldn't afford to continue his single seat career in Europe, decided to come to the States in the early 80's and has been here every since winning the Formula Atlantic Championship in 1987. He eventually linking up with Ford Motor Company and raced Saleen Mustangs in the Escort Series, along with Mustangs in IMSA GTO for Jack Roush.

Dorsey was a struggling Formula Atlantic driver in the late 70's. Forced with quitting racing or trying another more affordable series, he was able to take his last few dollars and purchase a Renault Spec Racer; He won the championship. He credited the series with changing his driving style which allowed him to succeed in the Firehawk series for Chrysler (Eagle), IMSA GTU (with Dodge). Later become IMSA GTO race winner and SCCA Trans Am Champion for Jack Roush.

A short history lesson, if you want to know more about Dorsey's early career, just Google his name with Renault Spec Racer, he did an interview back in the early 00's about this phase of his career which was make or break, its very interesting.

Anyway, the Firehawk series was enthusiastically supported by the manufactures. Chrysler Corp at the time used the series to promote its version of the Mitsubishi Eclipse; The Eagle Talon which Dorsey drove back when he was connected to Chrysler. Porsche even built factory prepared 944 Turbos for the series. They had two divisions and fields of 40-50 cars. The series was often featured on The Nashville Network (Diamond P Sports).

I used to find Eagle Talon ads in Car & Driver featuring the pictures of the Dynomax (Walker Exhaust) sponsored two-tone Blue and White Eagle Talon AWD's.

When Don Panoz bought IMSA in the late 90's from a ousted Andy Evans, changed the name back to IMSA from PSCR (Professional Sports Car Racing) and signed a deal with fledgling Speedvision Channel. With that partnership and Firestone leaving as series sponsor, it became the Speedvision Cup Series.

About the time Speedvision was bought by Fox and the name shorten to Speed, they sponsored the series for I think one more season (1998). Also about this time a faction of IMSA broke off and became USRRC. The management of the Speedvision series decided to go with this group instead of sticking with IMSA. SCCA entered in a partnership with USRRC and the series then became the Motorola Cup when it merged with the Motorola Cup Series out of Canada.

It then became the Koni Challenge Series where ITT/Koni supplied the teams with Koni dampers, the first series I think that had a single damper supplier. Finally at the end of the 2009 season it became the Continental Tire Cup, a spec tire series back to its origins (Firestone Firehawk).

With close racing and manufacture support you think this would be more popular than NASCAR. After all one of the main complaints of NASCAR Nation is that the Sprint Cup Series, Truck and Nationwide have nothing in common with the cars and trucks they drive everyday. This series has you covered, many people bought and owned Mazda MX6's, Honda Preludes, Honda Accords, Ford Mustangs, Pontiac Firebirds, BMW M3's, etc, etc.

I think lack of promotion to the base was part of it. The internet at the time wasn't broadband and mature yet. But I really think they could have gotten the grassroots, the owners of the street versions of these cars to support the series. The manufacturers didn't seem to leverage their dealer network to attach fans to the races or even watch it on TV.

This still continues, because most dealers have NO IDEA what your talking about if you mention Continental Tire Cup Series. Some of the forums reminisce about cars raced in this series by posting pictures.

I think a major problem is the series has no high profile drivers. Over the years drivers of other series would "moonlight" in this series but they were not high profile drivers and never became series regulars. One of the most famous drivers of these series is Randy Pobst. Hardly a house hold name but if your a hardcore road racing fan like myself, then his name is not foreign to you at all.

No major series is without its high profile drivers. Even Indy Car with most of its winning drivers of the last decade being born in South America, Canada or Europe they still have large fan followings in the States. Grand Am Cup has had occasional well known drivers drop in for cameo but seldom stayed in the series, usually at the request of a manufacture. Boris Said has found himself racing in this series do to his connections with Ford and BMW.

How can they solve this problem, is it even solvable?

Promotion -

Every manufacturer should be promoting this series through its dealer network by putting posters in the waiting room of the service center at the very least. They should also be sending out promotional items for the series, including videos.

My father worked for one of the larger Chevy dealers in the Los Angeles area for 13 years and didn't remember anybody mentioning any of the various names this series has been called.

Which is shocking since this series has been around in one form or another since 1986, making it 25 years old. The ALMS is 11 years old, SCCA World Challenge is about 25-26 years old.

Why aren't they promoting it?

TV -

Is tape delay really an option in this date and age of the internet? What are people suppose to do ignore web sites like Speed TV? Now if I haven't seen a race for example but recorded it, I will avoid web sites I know will have the results. This includes avoiding my own blog as I have RSS feeds on it and sometimes results of races are posted since I have feeds directly from Auto Sport Magazine and a few FIA series.

Internet Streaming is an option at least for those that want to watch it live. Since they are on Speed, I believe the races are shown live on Speed 2, but they have limited reach at the moment.

The product -

Get away from throwing Yellow Flags for even the slightest incident! In years past they would use local yellows to remove broken cars close to the racing line. Seldom is there a reason to throw a yellow unless the track is blocked. But even Grand Am Cup is guilty of throwing the debris caution!

The biggest problem is self promotion. They regularly have fields of 50-60 cars. I don't know what the entry fees are per event or for a season, but fields that large allow the series to stay afloat clearly.

I understand this is a feeder series to other Touring Car and GT series like the ALMS, World Challenge or Rolex Grand Am, but there's no reason for poor fan turnout, no promotion from key players and tape delayed TV broadcast.

Just beyond the half way point....

In Sports Car Racing, the half way point is usually Le Mans in a season. However that's not quite the case. The ILMC has 3 events left (Silverstone, Petit Le Mans, China). The ALMS has 5 events left (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Baltimore, Laguna Seca, Petit Le Mans). International GT Open 4 events (A1/Red Bull Ring, Portimao, Monza and Barcelona).

The FIA/SRO series have 3,2 and 2 events left between its three biggest series.

In any case we're far from finish and Championships are far from settled. But some news about 2012 is starting to trickle out. LMS recently announced it will drop LMP1 cars from its Pan-Euro series and add a ALMS-type GTC class but expanding it to include Ferrari Challenge cars. This is sort of a problem Ferrari Challenge Teams and a boon ($$$) for Michelotto who must develop an aero package for these cars since FC cars have no aero package to start with. Why not just allow the Grand Am version of the Ferrari F458 GT3 car???

For the ALMS I think this gives them the opening to make the changes they need to stay relevant. Grand Am was able to talk Michelotto into building a Grand Am spec car for the series. Thus far its only been Michelotto who builds these race cars for Ferrari that has committed to the new cars. Audi and Benz are being talked too, but I think they are in a wait and see what the ALMS does.

This is the time for the ALMS to be aggressive and allow FIA spec GT3 cars in GTC. You won't have to change anything or built special models These cars are only slightly more than Porsche Cup S cars which make up the GTC field now.

There some grumbling among the fan base that BMW leaving the ALMS is all but a done deal because of their commitment to DTM and DTM coming to America. They think because DTM is backed by the current Grand Am brain trust that this will automatically succeed and put the ALMS on the defensive. I say is WAY too early to make those assumptions and also know that by BMW dropping F1 can run several series and still not come up to the budget they spent on F1 every season.

They get vastly more value out of running GT cars and DTM than just F1 alone.

We can count on at least 99% of the current field of GT cars/teams to return in 2012. Beyond that, its anybody's guess, but I think BMW and Jaguar are SAFE for the moment. That means 16-17 cars per event and about 8-9 car battle for the podium = GREAT!

The problem is the drop off in the prototype classes. One part of me says drop Prototypes all together including LMPC and just run GT cars. You would have fields of 30-35 cars every event and if you have seen FIA GT3 or International GT Open races I have posted on my blog, you'll see its close, hard fought racing with very little domination by one car or one team.

FIA GT3 has seen the biggest growth in the past few seasons and continues to grow. This is the time to make the change and make it stick. I personally don't care if you keep LMP2 and LMPC as these classes will always be in the single digits. But I think when it drops to only two cars, it time to kill it, we did it with GT1 a season before the ACO did it, but we did it.

Making hard choices is why I have continued to support the ALMS.

Memo to Scott Elkins -

If you do nothing else but open GTC to FIA spec GT3 cars, it will move the series forward. It will increase fan support, you'll hear less about the availability of the "Stream" and the product or action on track will be BETTER if that's even possible.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bitching about FIA World GT1 Championship

As honorable Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but not his/her own facts"

Does this championship reflect poorly on Sports Car Racing? No and how in the hell should you know anyway? Because five of your friends agree with you, that's now fact??? They have no evidence of this and should state up front that this is OPINION, not FACT.

It seems Marc VDS is bent out of shape because Roush Engines didn't send them their order of replacement engines until after the 4th of July weekend. Okay so basically Belgian Holidays are more important than American one's? In the United States Independence Day is a Federal Holiday meaning most things are closed. Even if they were ready to ship, nobody was shipping on July 4th even if it was a Monday.

So these two issues combine to give people that never liked the series to start with fodder to kill it in the court of public opinion.

While I might agree that going with outdated GT1 cars MIGHT have been short-sighted, the concept of sprint races is just fine. It leads to hard racing, risky maneuvers and pushing on every lap. That makes the racing exciting and generally good.

With the recent announcement of the realignment of Sports Car and GT racing by the FIA, the types of cars allowed in the GT World Championship might expand. What I find interesting is only 2011 GT3 cars and 2009 GT2 cars will be allowed to run with the current GT1 cars.

Speaking of Marc VDS, they recently announced they will run what I believe is one of BMW Z4's currently ran by Shubert Engineering who fields Z4's in the European GT3 Championship. They have entered cars into the Spa 24hr race later this month. Marc VDS will also enter the Ford GT they normally use in GT3 competition and the updated Ford Mustang GT3 which showed promise last time it was seen during qualifying last season. They have stated they are investigating the GT3 version of the Z4 not only for this race but also the because of the recently announced changes in 2012 as they may drop the Ford GT and the rest of their Ford hardware. It would be a shame as they are the only Ford team left in International Competition besides the Roberston Racing Ford's currently in ALMS GT2 and the occasional RPM Ford GT that appears in some GT Open and Brit GP races.

When Matech's founder died suddenly, most of Ford development on the GT1 Ford GT's stopped. The Mustang program was taken over by Marc VDS last season. The car is built by Larry Holt and company at Multimatic in Canada with Ford's blessing.

Anyway, the point is the series is not bad for sports car racing (1) and (2) will be expanding. As long as they continue to have close competitive racing, people will watch, fans will show up and more fans will find out about the series.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Another Good ALMS Race In The Books

I've been waiting for the 2nd half of the season to start, though its more than half the season's races to run, including two opportunities for double points at Laguna Seca and Petit Le Mans.

Risi's DNF doesn't hurt not nearly as bad is it could have but does point to the gremlins still in the F458 even if its been victorious all over Europe. It also lead the majority of second half of the 24hrs of Le Mans only to fall to second with electrical problems in the final hour or so.

That is the only car in the field that can beat the BMW's on pace alone. I think what you have seen at Lime Rock is just a track well-suited to the Porsche 911. There aren't many of those left on the calender.
Next up is Mosport where Risi and the F430 has been really strong the last four races with podium finishes in all four including two victories and three victories in the last six races there. I expect for them to bounce back there. Also be on pace at Mid Ohio two weeks later since Toni Vilander was on pole last year.

GT is better than ever and any fan that's against a complete switch over to GT only series has rocks in their head. The best racing in America or Europe has GT cars in it with all the variety that fans always claim to desire.

The ILMC will take all the prototype entries, leaving only GTC, GT and LMPC. I wouldn't mind leaving LMPC as-is because it has been good for the series. GTC needs/has to expand to GT3 cars. Look at all the great cars in the FIA European GT3 series, all mostly competitive as well with Audi, BMW, Benz and Lambo all with victories this season. Even the Porsche's are competitive despite only having two cars the entire season.

If you really want to see GT3's battle tooth and nail and didn't see N24, the Spa 24hr race will kill any doubts you have remaining though you shouldn't have any. That will be a all out sprint race, battle royal for 24hrs around one of the best circuits on earth.

July will be an great month to be a GT fan with all the major series having at least one race this month.

Is anybody reading these things? Oh well, I'll keep posting.

Friday, July 8, 2011

More Web TV: International GT Open

The World never stands still and for those still stuck in the 1990's in terms of TV (Liner TV ie: Cable, Sat, Over The Air) more GT racing moves to the Internets...

International GT Open has a new web site just for the series and Web TV (Live/Replay Streaming) -

As I have said before, I watch 95% of my racing via the internet. Speed 2 would be the next best option, but having said that, its has limited reach currently, only four major carriers but they just added their largest one Dish Network - If you have a Dish Network DVR and its connected to the internet (this is key) than you'll have access.

Amazingly after almost three months off since Long Beach, there still some bitching from the ALMS fan base.

Streaming has never been problematic for me, especially since we switched to AT&T U-Verse. Always smooth as butter (unless its a technical problem with the web site). Even the latest updates to Internet Explorer 9 have improved streaming performance. There was a slight issue with dropped frames before but since Flash 10.3 and another update to IE9, is better than ever as I watched qualifying for the ALMS race at Lime Rock = Perfect

Other News and Opinions -

Now that I am done with A+ training, only thing left is to take the test which will happen around August. I will be adding a Windows Home Server to our network so I get started on learning how to admin a server and also great way to backup all my files and media. All the PC's on the network will have their own log-in and my Recorded TV content will be automatically archived to the server. I can finally get back some of the disk space that's been more than 80% full, which impacts disk performance.

I'm also going to upgrade the network to wireless N (802.11n) as its four/six times the speed of wireless B. This will improve data transfer between PC's and between all the PC's on the network and the server.

I find all this complaining about the ALMS streaming really funny. I am unemployed currently yet I can afford to make these upgrades. Not that expensive actually and even 25Mbps internet is not that expensive, especially if you aren't a big watcher of stuff on cable/pay tv. Even if you are, I will share my setup here soon, after I make the upgrades. Some people would like to think I'm on the cutting edge and I'm not.

When I show my setup you'll see that its not high end at all, but some smartly purchased items, usually discounted heavily or discontinued.

Until next time...

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