Thursday, April 17, 2014

Marginal Long Beach Races Postscript and Lots Of Action In Europe Easter Weekend (Updated!)

 To hear some of the spin coming out of the media on two very marginal sports car races at Long Beach is a bit galling. I understand the desire to make this merger work, but that doesn't diminish the fact that we still have problems.

Tudor United Sports Car Series -

 1) Ed Brown single-handedly ruined what could have been a good GTLM battle. The Pro-Am element rearing its ugly head.

 2) Questionable BoP between Daytona Prototypes and P2 Prototypes

 Sigh, this is why I beat up on Pro Am drivers. When not causing accidents, they get in the way of pro drivers. Even if they are in supposedly faster prototypes, they are tentative in medium speed turns and because of the lack of downforce are actually slower at corner entry and mid corner speed compared to a GTLM car.

 So until GTLM teams had to change strategy to get from behind Ed Brown. In the meantime, Antonio Garcia jumped Brown at the start and put him between himself and the #55 BMW.

 This resulted in a 10 second lead in about 8-9 laps and as we know with the close lap times in GT, that meant game over unless their was a caution period. When we didn't need one at the end of the Sebring race, we didn't get one here and the action on the track suffered a bit.

 Don't get me wrong the battle for 2-4 was very good, only broken up by pit stops which also broke up much of the battling for the podium.

 Scott Pruett won, but didn't I say that earlier?

 Barbosa and Fittipaldi lead the championship by a few scant points. Lots of racing left, but if the P2's can't break through, the murmuring will continue.

  Marshall Pruett said something on Mid-Week Motorsports on Wed (4/16) that I think should be kept in mind when you read my rantings about USC. He said that ESM because of its current makeup is not one of the fastest teams in the paddock. It's pretty obvious that Ed Brown is a typical Gentlemen driver and Scott Sharp is in the twilight of his career. Leaving Ryan Dalziel to do all the heavy lifting in the lead #1 Honda HPD.

 With Pickett/Muscle Milk missing Long Beach, all P2 hopes seemed to be put on the European Oak Racing team. On Twitter somebody said he believed Olivier Pla was the fastest driver in the paddock. I don't disagree, given his single seater experience. Its Oak's lack of track data that prevents me from giving them the nod. But I expect them to factor into the podium at Laguna Seca.

 Pirelli World Challenge -

 This race was about as exciting as the Tudor GTLM race, ho hum... I did expect Team Cadillac to do well, they have 3 years of data here. I picked Lazzaro because I thought if he could find his way past both Cadillacs, he would pull away as his car is better through the tricky bits because of the additional downforce. 

 That didn't happen, so he held station and finished 3rd.

 I don't think any performance balancing is needed. The teams that run GT3 cars need to step it up as Johnny O'Connell has already said, once the GT3 teams find the sweet spot, the Caddies will be toast and I don't disagree.

 This begs the question however, when this crossover happens and the GT3's dominate in the hot summer months, will GM do its typical thing and pull the plug instead of developing (via Pratt-Miller) a GM Customer Racing Program where they sell not just the Cadillac CTS-V R GT3 cars but the Corvette C7R GTLM car.

 That scenario is very possible, as Corvette Racing (P&M) has expressed interest in selling new cars to other teams. Previously they put last year's car up for sale where people could buy them. New cars are built for the team only and aren't available. Some people on the internet would have you believe the cars are available to anybody that wants to pay for them. That's simply untrue because many teams and individuals have expressed interest in buying new cars from GM.

 With the Callaway C7 program being delayed by Callaway Competition in Germany, this leaves a window open for Pratt & Miller to generate some income.

 Now that Dyson is entering the fray with Bentley's, not that Cadillac is direct competition but it certainly would like to be the high luxury brand that can compete with Bentley directly on the race track if not in the showroom.

 This is also a further poke in the eye at Tudor for not accepting full GT3 cars because it wanted to appease Porsche who doesn't have a GT3 based on its new 991 platform. All of it's resources have been burned on preparing GT Cup cars for the various championships around the world, building a handful of GTLM customer cars and of course the LMP1 program which according to rumors has been bleeding personal at a furious pace do to workload.

 The issue was talked about on Mid-Week Motorsports along with Marshall's previous comments about the quality of the P2 teams might be the cause of the lack of P2 success thus far.

 You can listen to this week's podcast here.

 While it seems like a slow Easter Weekend for domestic based series like Indycar and NASCAR, what else would you expect coming from a "Christian Nation"? That isn't the case in Europe as there's plenty of racing action.

 Blancpain Sprint Series (Formerly FIA GT Series/FIA GT1) -

 The new name brings familiar faces as not much as changed from last year. The biggest news coming into this season is the return of former CART Champion Alex Zanardi to the cockpit.

 Other new drivers to the series include Jeroen Bleekemolen who should be familiar to those of us that followed the ALMS, two-time GTC Champion and winner in the P2 class at Le Man back in the Porsche Spyder era. 

 He'll be driving for Grasser Racing along with Hari Proczyk who is pretty quick in these Reiter Engineering Lamborghini.

 If you're wondering why Nelson Piquet Jr. is missing from the NASCAR paddock its because he's returned to Europe to drive for Team Brazil-BMW.

 Seems to me theres plenty of interesting reasons to tune in this weekend. You can watch the stream here

 Other series - 

 Like I said there's plenty going on this weekend outside of America.

 As of 2am this morning Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole for the Chinese GP.

 World Touring Car Championship rolls into France as well (joining Blancpain) as it runs at the Paul Ricard TT circuit for the first time in a very long time and the first time in its current iteration.

 They are joined by the European Touring Car Championship as it starts its season.

 Also this weekend is the British Touring Car Champion @ Donington Park with its full lineup of support series.

 Finally the British GT Championship gets underway @ Oulton Park  

 World Endurance Championship (WEC) -

 The WEC season opener is already underway, you can listen to coverage of practice, qualifying and the race on radio lemans.

 Announced yesterday however is that the WEC stream will no longer be free outside of certain markets with connected TV's.

 In short, there's a app for iDevices and Android devices as well. Its available on both the iTunes store and Google Play Store.

 The live stream is also available for laptops and desktop computers.

 The cost is $27.99 US for the whole season (pre/post race, practice, qualifying and races) including the 24 hrs of Le Mans. I am fairly sure Fox Sports will be carrying the 24hr race so you may opt for the next tier which is $6.20 US. If you know you'll be away from a TV over the Le Mans weekend for $13.80 US you can have full access to the race weekend on your laptop or tablet.

 Some are outraged over this, but frankly considering you get most of your racing either as a part of a overall pay tv package (cable/sat) for which there is no premium cost as Fox Sports (Tudor), NBC Sports Network (Indycar + F1) and ESPN (NASCAR) are all available on most system as part of a basic package. You would pay a premium for HD broadcast, but still its not that expensive.

 You can avoid paying this fee if you are in UK/Mainland Europe as the WEC will be shown on Motors TV.

 These things are connected, let me explain. There is a way you can watch this and everything I mentioned above for free. But you'll need to invest in some hardware to do it. The price of hardware has been reduced to a point that anybody can afford it.

 Since the WEC is the first major series to do this, others may follow if it proves successful. So its best to prepare for future as this sort of thing will become more commonplace especially for Americans wanting to watch series outside the US, which admitted has small audience of its home country (F1 being the exception).

 I will prepare a tutorial on how to build a internet based PVR and also two ways you can get content onto your flat screen if you don't have a connected TV or even if you do. For example if you have a LG or Samsung Smart TV, you have a YouTube app. Unfortunately you can't watch the Blancpain GT series (Sprint and Endurance) because its Geo-blocked but you can watch German DTM in English via YouTube its not blocked.

 So having a smart tv is not a complete solution while mine is. More details to follow and in an effort to increase readership to my blog I may limit access to the tutorial.

 I can already tell you it will cost less than $100, which sounds like much more than the $28 for WEC or $37.30 for a full season of V8 Supercars but it will be less than a season of MotoGP ($137.83).

 I should also mention that if you want to watch WTCC or BTCC there's no more Speed2 and while Fox Sports has created another streaming website I currently don't have the URL for, I don't think they'll be carrying obscure series like the BTCC or WTCC in the States unless its planned for the off-season like they used to do on Speed/Speedvision.

 So the only other way you'll be able to watch this is through my tutorial if you're in the US.

 Keep checking back as I should have this up by the next WEC race at Spa.  


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Predictions - LBGP, PWC@LGBP, Tudor@LBGP, Blancpain@Monza, WTCC@Marrakech

 Disappointed I won't be attending the Toyota Long Beach GP weekend. Its just I had a financial setback at the start of the year, plus I dropped my expensive smartphone which the screen will take $160 to repair. So in the meantime I picked up an $70 Android phone that runs Jellybean (4.1) and is dual core but memory limitations put it on par with my Samsung Infuse 4G that's doing desktop/alarm clock duty.

 Anyway so with that here my predictions for the weekend, enjoy.

Verizon IndyCar Series -

 Hmmm, qualifying hasn't happen yet but going off practice times and previous history of strong performances, I think I'll go with Simon Pagenaud. He topped the timesheets yesterday afternoon and has many miles here in the ALMS and Indycar.

 For the second race in a row Takuma Sato is in the Top 3 in practice times. Some might be surprised, but I'm not. Given Sato's lower formula results this really shouldn't be shocking. F1 is much more about being in the right place at the right time, so his F1 career shouldn't be indicative of future performance. I expect him to win (defending race winner) in this series and win often, challenging for a series titles if he can clean up his penchant for over-aggressive driving.

 In fact I expect to see a Honda rebound here since Chevy sweep the podium in St. Pete.

Pirelli World Challenge -

 A near FIA spec GT3 car won this race last year (James Sofronas) so I expect a GT3 car to win this race which at some point we'll see if GM starts complaining.

 Mike Skeen was 3rd in practice in a car that's brand new to him and his team as they have abandoned the Nissan GTR. They had just taken delivery last weekend, but given the excellence of Audi Customer Sports (who have a busy weekend) this shouldn't be that shocking. The have fresh data from the Baku race a few months ago that ended the FIA GT series for 2013 and of course GMG's data from last year's victory.

 But he won't be my pick, we'll see if given the same equipment as everybody else he finally starts challenging for victories more often. I don't question his talent, we'll see if the team itself is up to it.

 My pick for the GT part of the GT/GT-A class will be Anthony Lazzaro. Its been a long time since Anthony has went to victory lane without sharing a car. In fact I think his last victory is at the 2005 Lime Rock Grand Prix in ALMS if I am not mistaken, if I am wrong correct me or I'll do a quick search later and fix it. But I don't think he's won a race alone since his Toyota Atlantic days. I think he won here in an Atlantic car, again if I am wrong let me know but I think I am right.

 He was strong at St. Pete so I expect him to challenge for the victory, especially if Tomas Enge is in Europe at the Blancpain Endurance Series season opener at Monza, which I thought as next weekend, nope the race is Sunday.

  I don't care much for the GTS classes so no comment on them, but I wish everybody a safe race.

Tudor United Sports Car Series -

 Unfortunately, I think the DP's will have their way which will further fuel speculation amongst the fanbase. I think another round of BoP is on the way. The P2's are still not back up to 2013 specs with the fear that the DP's would suffer. Well I would say their fears were not justified. It's hard to say without Muscle Milk/Nissan Pickett Racing being here, but that car is new them and they don't have enough miles on it yet. They opted not to come here this weekend because they didn't want to potentially tear up a brand new car. That might be the given reason, but I think the real reason is they believe BoP is unfairly tilted towards the heavily modified DP's who have thus far lead the most laps and taken two straight victories.

 So my pick is Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, enough said, let's move on.

 In GTLM (the only other class this weekend),  its hard to say and while my favorite team Risi is a bit handicapped without it fastest driver who's on probation and one race suspension from his boneheaded return to the track after wrecking his car at Sebring (Turn 1). They have drafted in Dane Cameron who's continued to impress since being given the chance to drive a DP and put it on pole at Road America last year. He turned the GTC class fastest lap during Sebring in the Tuner BMW Z4 GT3. In the limited practice they have had he's been on pace but not the ultimate pace.

 I think if they can avoid any problems, they may finish on the podium but I think any chance of winning is very slim. I just have no faith in Fisichella. I don't think he's even turned a race lap this year. Remember, Malucelli was in the car when Memo Gidley slammed into him. Gimmi Bruni started the race and was actually on the entry list at Long Beach until Risi announced Cameron was given the job.

 Fisichella qualified the car and will start 7th, just behind the factory Porsches (Core) and the factory SRT Vipers who seem to be struggling this weekend.

 I guess I should go ahead and pick who I think is going to win....

 I am going to go with Redondo Beach native Bill Auberlen and Former WTCC Champion Andy Priaulx. He and Maxime Martin who has been drafted into a DTM seat this season for BMW pretty much replacing Priaulx who struggled; surprised last season by winning here. No reason not to pick them again and I think Priaulx has a bit of extra of incentive that the other drivers in the paddock don't quite have.

 I am going to stop this post here, as the Tudor race is five hours at the time of this post and I don't have quite enough info on the other series to release my picks.

 Comeback in a few hours and I should have updated this post. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

A Few Things - Tudor LBGP Mini Preview, BES shaping up to be the best season yet, World Challenge better than Tudor? (Updated!)

Tudor rolls into Long Beach with 21 entries -

There are a few storylines going into the first sprint race of the new Tudor United Sports Car Championship.

 With Malucelli suspended for one race for the unsafe return to the track following his collision with the T1 tire wall at Sebring; Gimmi Bruni has been drafted into Risi to replace him. But that's not surprising. 

 The other driver is TBA. 

 If you remember from last season, the pairing of Bruni and Fisichella in the WEC was broken up due to two questionable performances by Fischella which put their defense of the 2012 championship in jeopardy.

 Ultimately AF Corse was able to defend their title and repeat as champions, but they paired Bruni with his old FIA GT GT2 class championship winning teammate in Toni Vilander who was teamed with current F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi in the other AF Corse WEC entry who couldn't find a suitable F1 seat last season.

 Its very possible Bruni doesn't want to be teamed with Fischi after almost losing the championship and with little track knowledge, maybe its better to bring in two hot shoes since Risi has had two straight DNF's at the two longest races with the most points on offer.

 If they can get a victory here, they could be back in the Team's Championship if the Driver's titles are completely out of reach at this point.

 I would look for Toni Vilander to again pair with Bruni for this race since both have track knowledge and have qualified well here before.

 My picks for this race sometime should be released sometime on Friday as I will be making my annual trek down to the City of Long Beach, the LBC.

 Tamiya is no longer offering completely free entry on Friday. Starting last year you now have to buy up to $10 worth of product or merchandise on their website. You haven't seen it yet on here but I am a huge Tamiya fan and have previously owned several Tamiya R/C cars/trucks. This won't be the first time I will be mentioning them here, so stay tuned.

 Those of you in California looking for reasonable discount on tickets to the Tudor race or the entire weekend, go Goldstar. Since 2011, I have been purchasing my tickets for the race from them. There prices are very good, you don't pay full pop. *Saturday's Tudor Race, Toyota Celeb Race, Formula Drift and Indycar Qualifying is now sold out on Goldstar, $48 on LBGP website. You can still purchase a ticket for all three days for same general admission price for Sunday Only ($55) and $20 less than if you purchased it off the LBGP website.

 DP's have won the first two races and IMSA sees no point in major BoP changes. Ganassi was helped out by one of those phantom caution periods that seem to follow NASCAR around. So in reality, maybe there doesn't need to be any adjustments since the bulk of the schedule will be high downforce tracks. The only team with previous data this weekend is Extreme Speed, since they ran their HPD chassis here last year. The DP's are completely different from how they were the last time they were here, I think that was 2005-2006. That doesn't mean simulators aren't working hard back at GM and Riley Technologies however. That said I expect the Sharp/Dalziel car to be fast right off the truck.

 The entry list dropped from a possible 25 cars down to 21 since Muscle Milk won't be making the grid. In their PR they said it was because they were behind in development, but many think its because they want some further BoP adjustments.

 This just in - Dane Cameron will be in the car with Fischella, here's the presser

 So does that mean....

World Challenge is the better GT/Road Racing series in America after only one event?

Well according to Elton Julian, who said as much after everyone is congratulating themselves for a successful weekend, despite Race #1 being rained out the day before.  Elton has driven cars in the ALMS and been an owner/team manager as well, he would be one to take his statement at face value.

 IMHO, one of the biggest mistakes IMSA made was appeasing its legacy supporter Porsche who had a new version of the its 911 Grand Am GT car already on the drawing board. Porsche is little stretched for resources and hasn't built enough 991 based 911 Cup cars for customers let alone design a new FIA GT3 spec car. Everybody is running the older 997 based car in GT3 spec. There is no ETA on a new GT3 car and they barely build new tubs for CORE Autosport in time Daytona. Falken got their car too late to run at Daytona.

 Its because of this seemingly small decision has benefited Pirelli World Challenge. I will be very interested in the lap times turned by the FIA GT3 cars compared to the GTLM in the Tudor series. GT3 cars because of their traction control (which is on GTLM cars) and ABS (which is not on GTLM cars) they have an advantage on slippery surfaces. A street course by nature is low grip, so I expect these cars to be just as fast if not faster around the Street of Long Beach.

 If they provide a better overall show than GTLM? There will be more questions than answers over in the Tudor camp.

Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series best seasons yet?

 I will reserve my thoughts on the Sprint series when more news comes out about potential grids.

 The grid for the season opener at Monza for the Endurance series however is shaping up to be a barn burner.

 HTP one of AMG's partner teams has thus far signed Harold Primat fresh off being replaced by Lee Holdsworth at Erebus-Mercedes (who won race 2 this weekend at Winton). The other drivers have been signed by HTP but I would look for defending champion Maximilian Buhk to be back in the car along with Maximilian Gotz (his ADAC GT teammate).

 Thus far there are no strong Ferrari teams as Kessel is focusing on ELMS and trying to get an automatic bid into the big race for 2015. Kessel will still contend in the Pro Am class, but they'll have a hard time beating defending Pro Am champs Nissan GT Academy - RJN, as they return with some of last year's drivers, Pro Am drivers champ Alex Buncombe and resent winners of the competition Nick McMillan (US winner) and Miguel Faisca (European winner). I am an ardent supporter of GT Academy and of course Gran Turismo is one of my all time favorite racing games. 

 These guys are very quick but lack experience so they should be classified as Sliver drivers but of course the true Captains of Industry in the UK who race in the British GT Championship (also run by SRO) didn't want to race these guys, especially after they won a race at the end of the 2012 season.

 There has been some driver movement and driver pairings broken up that I hope to cover with somebody connected to the series, stay tuned.

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