The -30- Post

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When I was a print journalist, “30” was a message to the copy editor: the story is over.

After five years and over 300 posts, this is my 30 column for this blog.  In 2009, I began sharing my lifelong passion for motorsport with analysis and humor.  I wanted to talk about great drivers, great races, great cars, and great controversies.  I conceived of the blog as an online motorsport magazine, covering different aspects of the sport but also focused on the passion, the excitement, the joy of racing. Not a daily stat sheet; something broader.

I tried to provide readers with provocative writing accompanied by original images.  I had nothing to offer aside from limitless zeal, past experience as a sportswriter, and the belief that I had something to share.  I was also lucky to live near Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway, which collectively provide enough action to satisfy any race fan.

The blog grew bigger than I expected. Tens of thousands of visitors have viewed these pages since 2009, from over 140 countries.  I’ve engaged in a spirited debate over issues as diverse as F1 in the United States, the state of IndyCar racing, and the schism (and merger) of sports car racing.  I shared hundreds of posts and photographs, met fantastic personalities and drivers, and brought an inside look at some of the biggest racing series in the world (the World Touring Car Championship, IndyCar, the ALMS, Grand-Am, USF2000, and Pirelli World Challenge, to name a few).

However, over the last five years, my available time for the blog has dropped off due to real world concerns.  I want anything I do to be great and worth reading.  If it cannot be, because I do not have the time to devote, maybe it’s time to transition.  I’ll always be a racing fan and will always go to races, but I think this blog has seen its time come.

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F1/IndyCar: Simona leaps in – and out

Simona de Silvestro before a test in February at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo: S. Bloom)

Simona De Silvestro before a test last February at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo: S. Bloom)

Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro has announced a move from the IndyCar Series to a role as “affilate” driver with the Sauber F1 team.  De Silvestro’s signing makes her one of the few women drivers with a credible opportunity at an F1 drive.  De Silvestro will not act as the team’s test and reserve driver (those seats are filled), but she hopes to move into a race seat in 2015.

The decision wasn’t without controversy.  With memories of Bernie Ecclestone’s put-down of Danica Patrick still fresh (he called her “a domestic appliance”), De Silvestro rekindles the ongoing debate about whether men and women can compete on equal terms in racing.  One longtime F1 journalist, quoting rally driver Michele Mouton, noted the difference in upper body strength and psychological makeup.  Of course, De Silvestro has been driving an IndyCar without power steering on ovals for the last five years, whereas F1 cars have power steering and other aids not found in an IndyCar.  Her toughness is beyond question – she managed to race at Indianapolis with hands that were badly burned in an accident.

Predictably, long-suffering IndyCar fans viewed the move as a further sign of the apocalypse.  Forgetting that the traditional route to success in motor racing goes from IndyCar to F1, not the reverse, De Silvestro’s departure is thought to reflect a scarcity of opportunities for talented young drivers.  Last year, the grid included seven drivers 25 and under. Only two return with full-time rides this year (Josef Newgarden and Sebastian Saavedra).

The tradition of IndyCar drivers moving to F1, and back, is nothing new.  Jim Clark and Graham Hill were F1 champions who each won the Indy 500, and Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi came from F1 to win titles in America.  Drivers like Michael Andretti, Cristiano da Matta, Alex Zanardi, and Sebastien Bourdais struggled in F1.  Notably, none of those drivers served any form of F1 tutelage before leaping into the car.  They left IndyCar mid-career, at the height of success, and rapidly fell to earth.  Moreover, aside from Andretti’s time at McLaren, neither Bourdais (Torro Rosso), da Matta (Toyota) or Zanardi (Williams) were in the right team at the right time.  De Silvestro’s year on the bench may be the kind of transition required for such a move.

Under any rational analysis, De Silvestro’s move is a coup for her, for F1, and for IndyCar.  As a well-funded but young driver, De Silvestro never had her choice of rides among the top teams in IndyCar.  Her decision to pursue F1 is a savvy career decision, as opposed to a wasted year funding a ride at a smaller IndyCar team.  F1 teams like Sauber devote substantial resources to building, testing and racing their own car, an engineering opportunity De Silvestro will never find in IndyCar, which uses a spec chassis and engine package.  F1 is the height of engineering and technology; the same cannot be said for IndyCar.

And Sauber is no minnow.  Peter Sauber ran his Swiss sports car and F1 team for years before BMW came along with a major investment, eventually selling the team back to Sauber.  As a Swiss national, the media-friendly De Silvestro provides Sauber and F1 with a public relations coup.  Her departure from the IndyCar Series is not a loss for that series, but rather a gain for the sport. To view it any other way is to miss the point.

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Rolex 24 at Daytona: 1979 Mazda RX-7 – GTU killer

35 years ago: the RX-7

35 years ago: the RX-7

In 1979, Mazda took the sports car world by storm with a class win in the 24 Hours at Daytona.  Although the two RX-7’s qualified far down the grid, they moved through the field with a combination of agile handling and durability.  Finishing fifth overall against tough competition, the rotary-engined RX-7 made an indelible stamp on the American racing scene in its first major race.  The RX-7 was also of its kind to win at Daytona (Mazda had a class win with an RX-3 in 1975), and victory at Daytona set the stage for Mazda’s triumphant rotary victory at Le Mans in 1991.

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Daytona beckons – no rest for the wicked

BMW returns with the Z4 GTE. (Photo: S. Bloom)

BMW returns with the Z4 GTE. (Photo: S. Bloom)

The “Roar before the 24″ takes on a new complexion in the first unified race since the ALMS was acquired by the Grand-Am and renamed the Tudor United Sportscar Championship.  Three new classes of machinery will race each other for the first time later this month, as GTLM, P2 and PC cars will join the existing field of DP and GTD cars.

It hasn’t been an easy transition.  Tensions simmered throughout 2013 as IMSA officials, teams and partners struggled to draft a rulebook, agree on types of machinery, incorporate an FIA driver ranking system, and decide on a schedule.  Key among these decisions was the balance of performance, a voodoo metric that – in theory – will keep the DPs at the top of the food chain, with other classes following behind.  Early indications are that the balance of performance is (at least) within the ballpark.

It remains to be seen whether today’s times are an accurate barometer of what to expect in the 24 Hours.  In past years, allegations of sandbagging have dogged the event.  It wasn’t unusual to see a team post average numbers at the Roar, and show significant performance gains come race day.  IMSA officials claim to be combating this concern by establishing balance of performance levels at the Roar, enticing teams to put their best foot forward sooner rather than later.

The Roar also serves an important public relations service, allowing fans and media to get an early look at the car and driver pairings.  It’s only the third day of 2014, but the racing season is in full swing.

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60 for 60: Day 60 – Raising a glass

Cheers! (Photo: S. Bloom)

Cheers! (Photo: S. Bloom)

As New Year’s Eve approaches, we wrap our celebration of the year in motorsport. For the past 60 days, we’ve published our 60 favorite images – memorable moments from an exciting year.  We believe, and many agree, that 2013 was a bumper year for auto racing.  Of course, we’re always mindful that it was a difficult and tragic year, and Allan Simonsen, Sean Edwards, and Jason Leffler are never far from our thoughts.

Tragedy aside, this was a wonderful year on track.  In F1 and IndyCar, competition was tighter than ever, and while some criticized the means, the end was clearly worth it.  This was also the last year of separate American sports car racing series, and we bid a fond farewell to the ALMS as we look forward to the United series debut next month in Daytona.

We’ve enjoyed interacting with the motorsport community all season, via this blog, Twitter, and our visits to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway.  This blog would not be possible without the support and help of so many people, including Mazda, Avast Communications, Robb Holland, Sonoma Raceway media staff, the FIA WTCC press folks, the IndyCar PR department, IMSA staff, and many others.  We’re also grateful for the marshals and safety crew who keep us safe when we’re taking photographs of cars flying by just a few feet away.

We hope to bring more of the same in 2014, and we thank you for your support.  When we look back on 2013, we feel pretty much like the Honda engineer in this photo.

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60 for 60: Day 59 – On the edge of our seat

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For this blog, 2013 was a fantastic year.  We brought you coverage from IndyCar races, the World Touring Car Championship, the American Le Mans Series, the Grand-Am, and World Superbikes.  Every race was a privilege, and we are eternally indebted to the fine folks at Sonoma Raceway and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, our hosts for most of the year.

It’s never easy to choose the best images of the year. There are many favorite moments, exciting shots and poignant ones as well.  The photo above was chosen not necessarily for the quality, but for personal reasons.  There is no feeling like standing on the side of the circuit while the entire IndyCar field flies by at full throttle.  We are not racers, we merely write about them.  Every once in a while, we get as close to the action as anyone can possibly get without wearing a fire suit.  For the ability to experience all of this, and for your support, we are eternally grateful.

60 for 60: to celebrate the end of our racing year, we’re posting the 60 favorite images we captured this season, one each day from November 1 to December 31.

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60 for 60: Day 58 – Muscle car

Muscle Milk: bowing out on top.

Muscle Milk: bowing out on top.

We first attended an ALMS race in 2000.  After that first race, we attended all of the Bay Area races until the final event this year.  We fell in love with Le Mans racing (and the ALMS) because of the prototypes – the specially-built “monsters of the Mulsanne” that thrill with outright speed (and occasional airborne flight).

P1 prototypes did not survive the merger between the ALMS and the Grand-Am, and Muscle Milk’s Honda ARX-03 will be the final ALMS prototype champion.  Much credit to Klaus Graf and Lucas Luhr for two straight ALMS class championships.  The team is building a P2 car for the new Tudor United series, but we’ll always miss the sights and sounds of the big boys.  Off to Le Mans, I guess…..

60 for 60: to celebrate the end of our racing year, we’re posting the 60 favorite images we captured this season, one each day from November 1 to December 31.

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60 for 60: Day 57 – Inspiration

Michael Johnson.  (Photo: S. Bloom)

Michael Johnson. (Photo: S. Bloom)

We met Michael Johnson at the USF2000 race at Mazda Raceway in September.  Johnson is paralyzed from the waist down, but that doesn’t stop him from racing.  After losing the use of his legs following a motocross action at age 12, Johnson’s determination led him to pursue a career in auto racing.  With the help of a steering wheel that includes a brake and throttle, Johnson raced well enough to make the leap to Pro Mazda next year.

There are racers who have everything handed to them in life.  There are others who have to earn it, sleeping in the garage or working on their own cars.  There is also a third category: drivers who race against impossible odds.  Think of Alex Zanardi as but one example, but there are more.  Michael Johnson is one of those drivers.  A young man who gives new meaning to the term “effort”, and a new understanding of what it means to be inspired.

60 for 60: to celebrate the end of our racing year, we’re posting the 60 favorite images we captured this season, one each day from November 1 to December 31.

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60 for 60: Day 56 – A long hard road to the title

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In August, they said it was over.  Too far behind, they said.  Will never catch Castroneves, they said.  The pitlane contact penalty was thought to be the end of a title run that had ignited at Pocono and continued in Toronto.

They were wrong.  Scott Dixon wasn’t finished after a penalty at Sonoma, and he wasn’t finished after a disaster at Baltimore.  Entering Sonoma behind championship leader Helio Castroneves, the unassuming Kiwi persevered to take his third IndyCar title, marking him as one of the greats.

60 for 60: to celebrate the end of our racing year, we’re posting the 60 favorite images we captured this season, one each day from November 1 to December 31.

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60 for 60: Day 55 – Breaking his duck

Victory pose needs work. (Photo: S. Bloom)

Victory pose needs work. (Photo: S. Bloom)

It’s an honor to be present at a driver’s first victory in a series.  For Tom Chilton, that first win almost didn’t arrive.  At the end of 2012, Ford withdrew support for the Focus Chilton had been running in the WTCC.  Without a car or suitable team, Chilton’s future looked dim – until Ray Mallock stepped in.  Mallock and his RML outfit faced a bleak year without the factory support of its former patron, Chevrolet.  With the bow tie also officially bowing out of the series, the 2012 championship-winners fielded a pair of Cruzes for Yvan Muller and Chilton.  At Sonoma, Chilton put it all together and landed his first WTCC win.  Not bad for a guy who almost didn’t make the grid….

60 for 60: to celebrate the end of our racing year, we’re posting the 60 favorite images we captured this season, one each day from November 1 to December 31.

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