Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Some More Spa Shots

Maybe I have Spa on the brain because it's next up on the calendar.  Along with Monaco, it's the only Grand Prix I never miss on TV.  The tradition of "the best win at Spa consistently" continues: 5 wins each for Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, followed by Kimi Raikkonen's 3.

These shots are just to add some ambience and texture to my earlier post about Old Spa.  They include some shots of the segment of the course that was in use before 1971 and is still in use today.

New Spa (clockwise from left):  New Stavelot,  Blanchimont, Clubhouse, La Source hairpin, Eau Rouge, Kemmel Straight, New Les Combes (ess, lower right); Pouhon (the double-apex sweeper in the center).

1961 Belgian GP: Phil Hill leads Wolfgang Von Trips out of Raildillon onto the Kemmel Straight. The nearly flat-out Eau Rouge ess is concealed in the valley.  Ferrari 156's.  They finished in the same order.  This was Hill's World Championship year.  Von Trips's death in the last race of the year at Monza helped him clinch the title.

1965 Belgian GP: Richie Ginther, Honda RA-272, exiting Burneville.  Although the 272's 1.5-liter V-12 made massive power, the car was comparatively heavy and thus unsuccessful.  Ginther gave Honda its only GP victory in this era at the end of this season, in Mexico.

1966 Belgian GP: the remains of Jackie Stewart's crashed BRM in the Masta Kink.  This was the wreck mentioned in an earlier post that led to the passive safety movement in road racing.

1958 Belgian Grand Prix: Micahel Turner's painting of Tony Brooks's winning Vanwall on the Masta Straight.  There's a bit of artistic license here.  It's true enough that Masta is (mostly) flat, straight, and long--but it runs  through a valley.  You would not mistake it for the American midwest.

1971 1000 Kilometers: Pedro Rodriguez leads Derek Bell into the La Source hairpin in their Porsche 917's.  The exit of Club House is in the background.  This was the record-setting 156 m.p.h. sports car race.

1970 Belgian GP: Pedro Rodriguez's BRM P-153 in La Source.  He won this last Grand Prix held on the old course.

1967 Belgian Grand Prix (practice): Jim Clark's Lotus 49-Cosworth in the old pits.  The view is downhill toward Eau Rouge.  Colin Chapman (dark glasses) is concerned about something on the car.

1968 1000 Kilometers: Jacky Ickx and Brian Redman in the paddock.  This was Ickx's famous rain race in the Wyer-Gulf Ford GT-40, ably supported by Redman.  They were two of the most successful sports car drivers of their era.  Redman's expression in this picture is unusual.   He was and is famously outgoing and funny, which has led to a second career as a fast vintage car racer in the States who beats other racers regularly and then entertains them at  victory banquets.  He lives in Florida.  Ickx has lived in quiet retirement in Brussels for many years.  He held the record for Le Mans wins for decades, until recently surpassed by Audi driver Tom Kristensen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Geezer Trivia: What Is It?

1) What is it?
2)  How many were there?
3) What was the body made of?
4) How did it do?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Next New Thing in Formula 1?

Well...person, actually.  This is Romain Grosjean, the fastest "kid" in Formula 1 these days (he's 26).  Phonetically, he's Roman Grozjan.

I'm behind the curve in acknowledging his talent.  I've been waiting   for results that measure up to his promise.  Today he delivered: qualified 2nd at Hungary and finished 3rd.  Generally, in his first season in Formula 1, he has qualified better than his teammate Kimi Raikkonen but had various troubles in the race (some not of his own making).  Today Romain gave Lewis Hamilton, the winner, all he could handle in the first half of the race and was only demoted to 3rd by Raikkonen.  Lotus is getting better and Romain is making fewer mistakes.

I'll continue to root for Fernando Alonso this season, because, at my stage of life, it's always good to see age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm.  Also, Fernando is getting the most out of his car this season.

But Romain appears to be the real deal.  And I want to thank him for bringing aviator sunglasses back into fashion.  Enough, already, with those insect-eye lenses in bright plastic frames!

Pilgrimage To Meadowdale

Ghost of Good Times Past: aerial view of Meadowdale today.  McMansions and subdivisions were not there then.  Meadowdale is now "Raceway Woods," a Forest Preserve just north of West Dundee, IL.

Meadowdale was a great track with a too-short run, from 1958 to 1969.  It was long and fast: 3.3 miles with a 3/4-mile long front straight.  The straight was downhill after you'd picked up a good head of steam past the pits, but there was a rise at its end, which made initial braking and entry into "Little Monza" blind.  Can-Am cars never ran at Meadowdale, and might have become airborne here if they had.

The course had other safety issues: cars passed each other in opposite directions on the Back Straight, separated only by a guardrail.  A wreck halfway down the main straight might have spilled over the embankment onto the backside of the course below.  A wreck in Greg's Corkscrew might have spilled onto a public highway.  Both Monza bankings were guestimated, not engineered.  (Although, in its day, Meadowdale had a reputation for being a dangerous track, its record of fatalities was average.)

Meadowdale was built by a Chicago real estate developer who owned large tracts in the (then) far northwest suburbs, and wanted to draw attention to the area.  He named the bends after his children.  Previously it had been marginal farmland.  Shaw Creek bisected the Long Straight and the exit of Silo Turn.  The creek ran through culverts covered with fill--a lot of it in the case of the Long Straight.  The same topography that made it marginal farmland made it a fine road course.   

This track map is easier on the eyes.  The straight was level past the pits, then went downhill through Little Monza, the Silo Turn, and Len's Hairpin.  Then uphill to and through Serpentine, and Steffan's Straight (a sweeper).  The Back Straight and Doane's Corner were level, at the same elevation as the pit straight.  Monza Wall's base was too.

Meadowdale had the advantage of being just northwest of Chicago--an easy tow from as far east as Buffalo and Pittsburgh, and as far west as Minneapolis and St. Louis.  This area of the upper midwest was a hotbed of SCCA racing at the time.  It had the disadvantage of being within two hours of Road America, already established as a long, fast, track that was a driver favorite.  The powerful Chicago Region of the SCCA favored Road America.  So Meadowdale struggled from the beginning.  Adding USAC sports car and NASCAR races to the calendar in 1960 and 1961 didn't help: the SCCA was then hostile to pro racing and promoters who supported it.

Meadowdale got big SCCA races with fine entries in 1958, 1959, 1964, and 1968.  But it didn't get two major races per year like Road America, and it failed to get regular dates for the new SCCA pro races like the Can Am and the Trans Am in the mid and late 1960's.  The Track Trivia section in the photo above tells the story of Meadowdale's decline.  Abandoned, the property turned into an illegal dump.  Between 1994 and 2002, local authorities purchased outright or obtained set-asides of 327 acres.  In 1998 restoration of the area as a Forest Preserve began.  Today a bike trail in Raceway Woods Park follows the original course.  Once or twice a year, car clubs gather for shows or to honor Meadowdale's glory days.

Of all the purpose-built circuits of the late '50's and early '60's that went under later, Riverside Raceway's demise (in CA) is most sad--because of its significance to the history of road racing in the U.S.  But Meadowdale is a close second for me.  Most of the rest of them were shorter and slower, with less elevation change, and thus less challenging.  (Riverside and Meadowdale had some common features in their layouts.)  But, to continue a theme from some recent posts, Meadowdale had to change or go, even if it had been a financial success.  It's hard to see how evolving standards of passive safety could have been met without destroying the character of the course.  For example, Little Monza and Greg's Corkscrew would have had to go: no room for a runoff area and too close to a public highway.

But, to look on the bright side, Meadowdale's history is preserved and visible, and area residents have 300 acres of open space.  Riverside is now subdivisions and a shopping mall: it truly "went under."

If you want to know more, here's a link: http://meadowdaleraceway.homestead.com/

A Lotus Eleven enters Little Monza at the end of the Long Straight, first race at Meadowdale, September, 1958.

Jim Jeffords entering Silo in his Scarab.  Scarabs won the big-bore modified race three years in a row at Meadowdale.

The Silo Turn today.  The course followed the gravel path, not the current tarmac.

Jefford's Scarab being chased off Steffan's Straight onto the "Uphill" by Doc Wylie's Lola Mark I.

The "Uphill" today.  The trees on the left are about where the flag station was in the picture above.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Understeer Much?

Reed Rollo, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce, Virginia International Raceway, April, 1961.  Contrary to what you might think from this picture, Alfas were great-handling cars, dominating G and D Production for a decade.  Here, Mr. Rollo is following The Rule: look where you want to go, not where you're going.  His Alfa is not cooperating.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cobra Proto-prototype? The Ardent Alligator

Carroll Shelby rightly gets credit for the idea of sticking a big American V-8 into a light, European chassis: the Cobra.  But good ideas occur to lots of people, all the time.  The difference is execution.  Shelby made cars for sale, and became an icon.  Miles Collier was just looking for a better stick with which to beat his competition.

 Ardent Alligator, the day after Miles Collier won the 1949 Watkins Glen Grand Prix with it.  When in town, he garaged the car at Schuyler Motors.  Left to right: George Miller Sr., then-owner of the dealership, Collier, George Miller Jr.  Years later, the Cobra race team garaged here too when they raced at the Glen.  Miller Jr., who owned the dealership by then, was not a car buff.  He drove a Country Squire station wagon.  But he loved racers and racing.  He had a hand in starting the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen. 

Collier was one of the founders of the Sports Car Club of America at the end of World War Two.  Like many other founders, he was independently wealthy from his family's real estate investments.  (The Collier [racing car] Museum, owned and run by his heirs, is in Collier County, FL.)  The goal of the SCCA's founders was to road race their exotic cars.  The earliest races were through towns like Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton NY, Elkhart Lake WI, and Torrey Pines, CA.  (All of these towns later had purpose-built  road courses built "next door" to them.)

The original, down-the-main-drag, into the countryside, and back, Watkins Glen course.   Trains were stopped for the duration of practice on Saturday and the race on Sunday.  The current purpose-built course is just off this map at top.

Miles had an idea about how to beat his competition in the big car class.  He had a pre-war Riley Brooklands with a 1.1 liter engine.  Why not Go Big?  He installed a 3.9 liter Mercury flathead V-8 in it, and replaced all running gear, right out to the wire wheels, with Ford parts.  He needed to: the hot-rodded Merc put out 175 horsepower.  (The Merc was chosen over a Ford because it had two more head studs.  Flathead Fords were known for overheating when stressed, warping their heads.)  The car got its name from its green color and its Florida build.

You can guess the high point of this story.  Ardent Alligator won the second Watkins Glen Grand Prix, passing a "BuMerc" and a Ferrari 212 on the last lap to do it.  The BuMerc was a Buick engine in a Mercedes chassis--Miles was not the only one who had thought about an engine swap.  But he built a better mousetrap.  The little Riley handled better than the Mercedes.

The rest of the story is rather sad.  Miles's brother Sam was killed while leading the Watkins Glen Grand Prix a year later.  Miles retired from racing and sold Ardent Alligator.  He himself died young from natural causes in the 1950's.  The Collier legacy is the museum in Naples, FL.

Well...aside from his car.  It has been restored, and makes the vintage race car show rounds.  Miles never had an idea of making a living from racing or selling cars, like Carroll Shelby did.  But the  Ardent Alligator is another "Ford that beat Ferrari"--once.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Rant Inspired By Killboy's 07/21 Video

I vote for "a couple of l.e.o.'s sometimes," not "a bunch of l.e.o.'s doing public relations once in a while."  It's a false choice.

For one thing, being parked in a line of traffic on a hot summer day, losing time to make passes, is not my idea of being schmoozed.  It's my idea of being harassed.  For another, there is a reason I run a radar detector.  I don't go to the Dragon to look at the scenery.  A crowd of l.e.o.'s at a roadblock on the Dragon says "trolling" to me, not "public relations."  I don't, personally,  fall off the road (at least I haven't yet).  And I consider the odd speed citation as the cost of entertainment.  Routine patrolling is enough to keep scofflaws like me in line.   

Yes, it's a good idea to have some l.e.o.'s on or near the Dragon, some of the time.  A density of presence, say, like what we might expect in any other rural area.  There are squids of the two-legged variety.  A squid's gonna squid: one l.e.o. observing and citing him is enough.  There could be unruly citizens at either end.  Officers are trained to manage emergencies, like accidents.  And the unexpected, like windstorms.  They can summon other emergency responders fast.  (Try getting 911 on your cell on the Dragon.)  At the very least, they can escort 18-wheelers through.

But don't set up a roadblock and call it public relations.   Call it what it apparently was: complying with grant money requirements.  And why a "Sobriety Check" on the Dragon on a Saturday morning, instead of in Knoxville or Alcoa on a Saturday night?  Answer: To Send A Message.

True (as Killboy pointed out) the Dragon is a long way from anywhere, and most of it is in TN jurisdiction.  But Blount County and the THP seem to have been invited by NC to knock themselves out if they want it patrolled.  And they seem to be more than up to the challenge.  A TN l.e.o. can signal "presence" by running up to the DGMR for coffee and back.  Maybe park for a while at the Overlook.  Maybe make a couple of passes.  That sends a different kind of message than a roadblock on a Saturday morning.

OK...I feel better now...

Pilgrimage To Old Spa

I was able to photograph the old Spa-Francorchamps course in 2010.  It was a kind of pilgrimage.  With few exceptions, only the best drivers won at Spa.  Jimmy Clark, who famously hated the place, won four straight Belgian Grands Prix.  Other famous GP winners: Tazio Nuvolari, Rudi Caracciola, Juan Fangio (3 times), Alberto Ascari (twice), Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, and Bruce McLaren.

Spa still holds the record for the fastest sports car race ever run.  Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver averaged 156 m.p.h. for 1000 kilometers including pit stops in 1971.   The record is unlikely ever to be broken.  Courses that could, like Le Mans and Monza, have been adding chicanes for the past 40 years.

I was ambivalent about my pilgrimage.  Old Spa was insanely dangerous, even by the standards of the time.  Coming of age in that racing culture, I subscribed to the conventional wisdom then, that "a racer knows the risks when he gets into the car."  I'm now ashamed of that attitude.  Racing will always be dangerous.  But you shouldn't have to bet long odds on your own survival, against the house.  Passive safety is a good thing, even if it encourages some racers to take excessive risks.  These days, they bet (with the odds in their favor) that they will walk away from a steaming pile of junk.  Convictions aside, I still watch YouTube videos of Old Spa.  I am in awe of drivers who raced it.

A lap was flat-out or "just a lift," except for Les Combes and Stavelot: 130 m.p.h. sweepers, and Eau Rouge, the hairpin before the old start-finish line.  The movement toward passive safety in course design began with Jackie Stewart's crash in the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix.  After 1970, Grand Prix drivers refused to race there.  By 1977, Spa was closed even to small-bore sports car racing.  Being comprised of public roads, it could not be made safe by modern standards.

New Spa, which includes about 25% of the old track, is a purpose-built facility with state-of-the-art passive safety.  (New public roads now bypass this section of track.)  It remains my favorite course because Eau Rouge and Pouhon are so fast and hard to get perfectly, lap after lap.  It's about four miles long, half the length of Old Spa.

The Jacky Ickx/Brian Redman Ford GT-40 entering Les Combes in 1968: typical Spa road and weather conditions.
Ickx was the best rain driver of his generation, and this race cemented his reputation.  He waxed the field in appalling
conditions.  At the end of the first lap, he was entering Raidillon when the second-place car was entering La Source.

Track map: Old Spa, 1925-1977.  Pictures below are from Les Combes to past La Carriere.

Les Combes today.  A fast lefthand sweeper leading onto a downhill straight.

Entry to Burnenville.  A lift here, to settle and plant the car, then back into the throttle.  Burneville seems to go on
forever, in a racing car or a street car at 50 m.p.h.  Stirling Moss had a nearly career-ending crash here in 1960 when
the left rear suspension of his Lotus 18 Formula 1 car failed.

Malmedy: Burnenville straightens slightly before entering this right-left ess (the lefthander is just out of the picture).
Malmedy is flat-out unless your'e negotiating traffic.

The Masta Kink, looking against race direction.  The driver head-game in the 1950's was said to be to ask "Do you lift
for the kink?"  It was Jackie Stewart's crash here, in pouring rain, that led to the passive safety movement in racing.  He
was trapped in the car for an hour, sitting in a pool of gasoline, which gave him  the time and perspective to wonder if
there was a better way.  His perspective on "acceptable risk" shifted.  He inspired the Grand Prix Drivers' Association to
lobby for passive safety measures, which led to several threatened or actual strikes.  And he showed up at the next race
with a steering wheel wrench taped in the cockpit.

The house is at the exit of Stavelot, a 130 m.p.h. sweeper, which required shifting down 1 or 2 gears.

Entry to the La Carriere left-right sweeper.  This was a lift in a high-powered car; flat-out in a low-powered one.

Looking against race direction back toward La Carriere's exit.

Where New Spa rejoins Old Spa.  The exit of New Stavelot, sometimes called Frere (after the Belgian racer and
automotive journalist Paul Frere) is just visible here, over the tops of the vehicles.  The new course leaves the old
course just before Les Combes and winds through a valley to rejoin the old course here. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Reasonably Awesome

Mario Andretti, Newman-Haas Lola T-8700-Chevrolet, Road America, 1987: pole position, fastest lap, flag to flag.
The T-8700 was the prettiest CART racer, i.m.o. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cafe Suzie?

Kawasaki GS 550 E.  Can you see a cafe racer here?

My pal Larry has another project besides upgrading the chassis of his '03 Ford Focus.  He got this bike in barter for helping a fellow gearhead with a problem.  It's low milage because it wasn't running when he got it.  Still isn't.  Other than that, the bike is in fine shape.  Now that he's retired, he can look into the "won't start and run" problem.  After he finishes his other project, restoring his '81 VW Scirocco.

His excellent idea is to turn the Suzie into a cafe racer.  Right size, right look,  right color.  With a single-occupancy saddle and some other tossed parts, it might shed up to 100 lbs.  Were it my project,  I'd try to slide no turn signals, etc., past those fine folks at the DMV.  (Talk is cheap, Pilote.)

Larry rides a Honda 750 Nighthawk.  A tip of the helmet to him: I wouldn't even get on a bike at our age.    He is a cautious rider.  And he should be: our bones break easier and take longer to heal.  A cafe bike needs an aggressive rider.  So he'll probably flip the Suzie.  After a few rides.

He'll be sad to see it go because he knows, and I know, that we missed some Dragon Slayings while toiling in our respective corporate bureaucracies.  You know: those crummy jobs that allowed us to retire with good bennies in our 60's.  I don't know if youth is wasted on the young.  I do know that a cafe rider's brain is trapped inside my creaky body.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Good Rule

My sports car club has a rule: 4 wheels off, and you're black-flagged for a chat with the Steward.  I believe we have parked people for 4 wheels off, if they were a novice needing more instruction, or if they needed an Attitude Adjustment.

Nice to see a similar rule applied to Sebastian Vettel today at Hockenheim (20-second penalty).  IndyCar should have penalized Will Power for crossing the pit-out blend line at Edmonton.  At the ALMS race at Mosport, a Prototype driver was penalized for crossing the blend line into the pit-out lane to make a pass.  Good on Formula 1 and ALMS.

Got Torque?

McLaren M8F "Batmobile" Can-Am car replica.  This one has a modern aluminum DART engine "dressed" to look like the original Chevy 7-liter porcupine head (also aluminum).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My First Car

I wish I still had a picture of my first car.  The Polaroids are long gone.  It looked like this except for the details: red grille and silver wheels with better rubber.  This one is the first Mini produced, now in a British car museum.

Well has it been said that first cars are like first loves: never forgotten.  I was a broke college student, but had pulled together enough money to buy a small used motorcycle.  My mother was horrified.  Visions of me dead in the road filled her head.  "If we doubled your grubstake, would you buy a car?"  I didn't think I could find a decent car for that amount (which I recall as $600).

I heard about a kid who had a 7-year-old Mini for sale.  It turned out that he was an imported car mechanic, and had been preparing the car for sedan racing.  But he had come into some money, and had bought a new Hillman Imp, thinking it would be a better platform.  The "new" part, I get; the "better" part I don't--Minis were already legendary for playing David to everyone else's Goliath.  It had won the Monte Carlo Rally two or three times, and had been tearing up British sedan racing for years.

I had one such story myself.  In 1960, I'd been at Mid-Ohio when a Canadian brought the first Mini seen in them thar parts to an SCCA Regional race.  They ran him against the G and H Production cars (engines 40% bigger).  He lapped most of the field.  So they ran him in E and F Production.  He won.  So they ran him in C and D Production.  He finished halfway up the field, against cars with engines three times the size of his.  So I was kinda...ripe...as a Mini sales prospect.

My Mini was neither fish nor fowl: its race-prep was incomplete.  The upgrades included a racing-quality lap belt, a big Sun tach strapped to the steering column, wider, grippy, Dunlop SP-41 radials, a two-carb intake manifold, and a big Alfa Romeo resonator.  (It looked and sounded like those tuner cars we see these days with Borlas sticking out the back.)  The downgrade was a stripped interior, painted battleship grey.  With a brush.

"Put a heater in it and you've got a deal," I told the kid.  He ran some hose from the engine to an Alfa Romeo heater box attached to the dash with sheet-metal screws, and the car was mine.  Convection only: no defroster vents, no fan motor.  There was a valve in the hose to shut it off in summer.  In winter, you scraped the inside of the windshield.

I loved that car.  The Bad News was that, with a stock 850 c.c. engine, it peaked at about 65 m.p.h. for comfortable cruising.  No matter: all my driving then was two-lane.  The Good News was that you wore the car.  It drove like a go-kart with a roof: ridiculously fast around street corners.  It was rock-steady in faster bends.  Driving technique was simple: foot to the floor, always, unless shifting down.

Fast Forward 40 years.  The "New Mini" had been out for a few years.  I was at first charmed,  but increasingly disenchanted with the long-term road test reports.  The interior was too "Game Boy" for me, and my head hit the sunroof frame.  When my daughter bought a New Mini, I was disappointed: she belonged in a Japanese econobox, it seemed to me.  Longer and better acquaintance with her car has not changed my mind.  I myself had bought a Honda Civic Si, which I considered to be the real reincarnation of the original Mini-Cooper.  Then I stumbled across the car below in a small town in Belgium, in 2010.  This is a Mini: 

The Full Mini Monte: the paint and lights of this car are a "tribute" to the Monte Carlo Rally Minis.

Note the Nurburgring sticker on the trunk.  The owner lives about 60 miles from the 'Ring.  Alas, he spoke only French and I spoke only English, so we could not chat.  But I have no doubt that he knows, loves, and uses, what he has.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pro Tip: Race For Amenities, Not Just Wins

Before he worked for Ford (and later himself), John Wyer managed the Aston Martin racing team in the 1950's.  He was well-known for running a tight ship.  Anything less than meticulous preparation was not tolerated and drivers who failed to follow team orders were fired.  (This was in an era when drivers wore their egos on their sleeves, and would have been puzzled if told that they needed to brush up on their sponsorship skills.)  Wyer also insisted that the entire team (managers, mechanics, drivers) stay together in the same hotel when abroad.  He believed it built team spirit.

Wyer's taste for fine dining was also well-known.  He sought out good hotels; the deal-clincher was  food and drink.  In some years, he took scouting trips in late winter only to select a place to stay near that season's races.  "It was a dirty job..."

For Le Mans, the team always stayed at the Hotel de France in La Chartre sur-le-Loir.  It was 27 miles south of the track--another benefit as far as Wyer was concerned: no distractions.  The team was there for as long as two weeks before the race, because winning Le Mans was the main goal of Aston Martin's owner, David Brown.  It took them seven years, but everything came right in 1959 when Ferrari imploded and Aston-Martin finished 1-2, two laps ahead of the third place car.  Carroll Shelby, who was never heard from again, co-drove the winning car with Roy Salvadori (who really was rarely heard from again).

There was quite a party at the Hotel de France that night.

Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir, south of Le Mans.

Dining room, Hotel de France, La Chartre sur-le-Loir.  "Carroll Shelby imbibed here."

 Owners' Club Bennies: Stirling Moss ("seat stick") holds forth on what the DBR1 was like to the Aston-Martin Owner's
Club of the U.K., in the courtyard of the Hotel de France.  Moss never won Le Mans, but he won the Nurburgring 1000 km's three times, twice in a DBR 1.   His second win helped Aston to win the sports car championship in 1959.

Power Trio: John Wyer with David Yorke (left) and John Horsman (right).  They were the brain trust behind the Gulf  Ford GT-40 and Porsche 917 dominance of the 1968-1971 seasons.  In the 1950's, Yorke ran the Aston Martin team on race weekends when Wyer wasn't there.  (He also managed the Vanwall Formula 1 team.)  Horsman was an apprentice.  When Wyer started his own team in 1968, he recruited Horsman as Technical Director.  Yorke was Racing Manager.  Does Wyer look like a notorious gourmand and bon vivant in this picture?  Horsman called this expression his Death Ray Stare.  He didn't have to say anything.  You never overlooked or did it again, whatever it was.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Killboy's Weekly Dragon Videos

I'm enjoying them.  Always something I didn't know.  This week he said July and August can be slow. That was news to me; my first trip was at the end of July last year and it seemed like there was plenty of traffic.  But then, there were 75-100 people at the DGMR around noon in March too: the weather was so good that bikers from the "tri-state area" might have taken a day or two off.

It was also a surprise that Killboy will address "working and playing well with others" in his next video.  There are plenty of rants posted to the comments section of his blog, but I haven't noticed tension on the Dragon itself.  On the other hand, the 07/18 highlights show more squids than I've seen in long time...  At least the picture quality was way up this week, from the past two.

As Killboy often says, it's no big deal to use a pullout to let someone by, or to build a gap for yourself.  In March we made eight passes, running pretty hard.  Traffic was light.  We only had to use a pullout once to build a gap.  We would have had to use one to clear for a Pontiac G-8 except that he left DGMR before us.  At Crud Corner he left us for dead.  He was on the way back from the Overlook as we approached it.  There weren't many sport bikes on the Gap in March.  Mostly cruisers, Harleys, and some motards.

You can see some tribalism at DGMR.  But that's natural and many of them might have ridden in together.  People wander the tarmac to look at other rides.  Seemed pretty mellow to me.  So was the conversation at the Overlook.  If there's a problem with "working and playing well with others," I haven't seen it yet myself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trivia: American Four-Wheel Grand Prix Champions

Note: cheating is allowed.  Google as much as you like.  But the winner is the person who guessed best without checking.  You know who you are.

1) Name the two Americans who won the World Driving Championship.
2) What years?
3) Name the marque each one won with.
4) Name the grisly circumstance and location of our winners' clinching victory.

Extra Credit:
1) Name the chassis in addition to the marque (e.g., MP4 besides being a McLaren).
2) Why can't the U.S. get an American into a competitive GP ride?
3) Should we care?
4) Name three non-championship GP drivers from the US.

BIKER CHALLENGE: Write your own Moto GP questions and make Pilote look up the answers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Black & Gold Still Got A Hold (On Me)

Duncan Dayton in his ex-Andretti WDC-winning Lotus 79 at Laguna Seca.
Lotus 72 at the 2006 Monaco Historic Grand Prix.

It would be perfectly OK with me if Grand Prix racing went back to national colors: green for Britain, blue for France, silver or white for Germany, white with a blue stripe for the US.  Ferraris are red for a reason: it's the Italian national racing color.  No advertising.  Ain't gonna happen: Formula 1 cars and teams are named after colas and banks for a reason: the cost of being competitive.

But if we must endure sponsorship colors, the Lotus-John Player Special partnership remains my visual favorite.  The Player cigarette box was black with gold pin-stripes.  Viola!  A color scheme for the car.  They looked so classy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Don't Drink And Dragon (Paranoid's Version)

Actually, that should be obvious.  I was just looking for a catchy title for this post.  For that matter, you can't drink and Dragon: you'll be in the trees or down the bank by the 3rd bend.

What I was thinking about was the Sobriety Check on the Dragon over the July 4 weekend.  AS IF the authorities would run a "sobriety" roadblock on a Saturday morning.  Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and don't play one on my blog.  I may not have this precisely right:

I believe we have the Supremes to thank for these.  A lawsuit went "all the way up" several years ago.  The plaintiff argued "You can't stop everyone.  You have to have probable cause, or reasonable suspicion, or something."  The Supremes mulled it over and came back with "as long as the authorities have a public safety goal and are not being arbitrary--by just fishing for any potential violations--roadblocks are OK."  But if they think they have discovered a violation, the investigation may proceed.

In other words, l.e.o.'s can't go fishing.  But if they're just standing there on the dam, and there's a bite on their line...  It reminds me of "Clevinger's Trial" in Catch-22.  So the l.e.o.'s are gonna pick a holiday weekend and call it a Sobriety Check.  They're not gonna say "Well, a general roadblock just to remind everyone that we're around, and see what we can find...it just seemed like a good idea at the time."  What did they get when they trolled the Dragon?  One license without a motorcycle endorsement and maybe an improperly displayed plate, if the chatter on Killboy.com is to be believed.

And since the roadblock ruling, the Supremes have ruled that if something is "observable" to an officer, he/she need not ask your permission to search your vehicle.  Stuff in your car is evidence if it can be seen.  If Officer Friendly wants to put his head close to yours to get a better look, that's OK as long as he doesn't break the plane of your interior space with it, or his hand.  For instance, if you have to go into your glovebox for your registration and insurance.  If he asks you to step out of the car, consider a full search of your person to be legal if it's necessary in his judgement.  And shame on you if the officer casually asks "Can I look in the trunk?" and you answer "Sure." You have just agreed to a search of your vehicle as far as he wants to take it.

Actually, in the real world, lately, I have found l.e.o.'s to be courteous, professional, and with a lenient sense of humor.  Mostly.  I was busted for speed by a highway patrol officer a couple of years ago.  I have a good radar detector (Valentine 1), but he got me from the top of an on-ramp with instant-on laser.  It had snowed recently, and the berms were not fully cleared.  So I took care to find a well-plowed spot and to pull well off the Interstate, so he would not have to walk or stand in the road for the bust.  After he checked my papers, he returned and said "Thanks for the thoughtful pull-off.  Slow it down.  By the way, (smiling, pointing to my radar-detector) does that thing work?"

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Weekly (?-Hope Not) "Wind Tunnel" Rant

Robin Miller said tonight on "Wind Tunnel Extra" that the Cleveland airport race (when CART went there) was the best street racing he's seen.  He also said that, airport or not, Cleveland was a street race.

I agree with him on both points.  And I watched all the Cleveland races on TV except for the one that I attended in person.  They sucked just the same.  Removing Jersey Barriers does not a road race make.

Road Trips or Ego Trip?

There are 30,000 miles on the o.e.m. Michelin high-performance 4-season tires on my Civic Si.  Over the life of the car, one of them has lost pressure with increasing frequency.  The tire pressure lite now comes on every two weeks.  And it's always the same one that's lost 18% of its air.

The sensible thing to do would be to check for a pin-hole puncture.  The tires have at least another 10,000 miles in them.  They're OK in snow, and especially good through standing water on Interstates.  (I can track through water that used to float my 1994 Chrysler New Yorker.)  And they're good enough for my skill level on the Tail of the Dragon, or the occasional conga line at an HSAX drivers' school.

 Instead, I went to the Tire Rack website. It is an excellent shopping aid.  Why not use a minor problem as an excuse to upgrade?

The Good News is that there's a strong alloy wheel that weighs 5 lbs. less than most others.  That's a   significant saving in unsprung weight.  BTW, for a street-driven car, aggressively upgrading the size of your rims is a bad idea: weight is your enemy.  It expresses itself as rotational inertia: the flywheel effect doesn't help when you're accelerating or braking.  And an increase in unsprung weight may tax your suspension as it tries to keep the tire on the road over bumps.

The Bad News is that I can't find a grippier tire than those that came on the car without going to a summer-only tire.  And a radical one at that.  (That is, its construction as well as asymmetric tread pattern.)  The stickiest summer-only tires look like they would aquaplane more in deep water, not just spin in light snow.

So, after fantasizing about putting "big rubber" on my daily driver, I will probably mount o.e.m. replacement tires on lighter rims.  I won't slay the Dragon.  I just want to pet it now and then.  Nice Dragon!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Came For The Marketing, Stayed For The Car

Until recently, I thought I was a member of a tiny group who remember and love the Datsun 510.  But twice in the past month, somebody has said, more or less out of the blue, "I drove one of those--it was a hoot."  One of them I've known for years; we talk cars all the time.  It just happened that I hadn't mentioned that I owned a 510.  What jogged our memories was this:

BRE Datsun 510 "tribute" car, VSCDA race, Blackhawk Farms, June, 2012.  This restoration is remarkably faithful, down to its American Racing 4-spoke alloys.  The carbs are Solex, though, not Webers, with the biggest throats I've seen on a 510. The blue/white colors were for Mike Downs, BRE's second driver.  John Morton's car was red/white as shown below.
John Morton with the (restored) Datsun 510 he drove for Pete Brock in Trans Am races.  After winning the SCCA's      C-Production "amateur" championship with a 240-Z in 1970, Brock's team went undisguisedly pro to win the Under 2.5 Liter Division in Trans Am in 1971 and 1972. 
Back in the day: Morton contemplates his car (and probably Alfa GTVs and BMW 2002's) in the Lime Rock paddock.
Although BRE won two championships, the cat-fights were season-long, between closely matched cars.  Nissan had just introduced the 510 in the States and was looking for some publicity.  They got it.

The 510 was a marketing home run, at least in my subculture.  It was the first Japanese car to "leapfrog" in the U.S. market: not only did it not look like a cheap little car, it looked clean and stylish, like a Bimmer.  It was the first Japanese car to have an overhead cam engine.  It had fully independent rear suspension--unheard of in the econobox class.  The magazine testers raved about it being a "poor man's BMW."  And BRE (Brock Racing Enterprises) was winning the small bore class in pro sedan road racing.  We Euro-centrics had to admit that the 510 was a serious car: affordable, and superior in its class to anything else.  (Remember the Chevy Vega and the Ford Pinto?)

I had to have one.  And it had to have alloy wheels with wider tires.  It was my first "real" car, at least as far as I was concerned.  And I had to identify.  So some tape stripes went on as soon as it got home.  And a front air dam, purchased from BRE.  And more usefully, a rear anti-roll bar, the better to dial-out some understeer and go BMW-hunting:

Well...the Continental tires were terrible.  My driving skills weren't a lot better.  I almost spun it chasing a BMW 2002 through some twisties, as he disappeared into the distance.  That wasn't happening to John Morton.  

But it was a good car.  It did handle fairly well.  The engine was lively and powerful compared to other  econoboxes.  It had four doors because we had two small children.  It transported all of us, all over the upper Midwest, for eight years, until they were large children.  Luggage for four for a week was doable with thoughtful packing.  The interior was comfy and livable.  So was the car on Interstates--and a lot quieter and faster than the European sedans that Toyota and Nissan were busily running out of the U.S. market.

It never stranded me and parts were cheap.  It was still fun to drive even after it began to show rust.  I  sold it only because a promotion at work required a more presentable car, with air-conditioning, for calls on customers.  So I got a Mercury Zephyr.  And missed the 510 immediately.