Tarso Marques turns 40

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I would feel awful if I didn’t acknowledge the landmark 40th birthday of one of my favorite drivers of all time. A driver who despite every attempt to reason with me and convince me that I can find better favorites to root for, remains solidly in my all-time favorite drivers list. It’s really tough to explain the admiration I have for former F1 backmarker Tarso Anibal Santanna Marques, that has somehow grown even after his days in the racing limelight have ended. Continue reading “Tarso Marques turns 40”

Fifteen Years after Fontana

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Motorsport is a cruel game that has left so many unfinished stories abruptly cut off before they ever really get good. Too many of them, in fact. But the fatal accident that claimed the life of Greg Moore fifteen years ago is one that leaves a profound, gaping void in the world of racing that is still felt today.

I touched on this briefly in my article written shortly after the Japanese Grand Prix and the near-fatal accident of Jules Bianchi. I never saw Greg Moore’s fatal crash. In fact, that was a year where I’d kind of lost interest in racing. As a child, I was a young kid of many aptitudes. That year, it just so happened that it was baseball and video games and professional wrestling. That year, racing had to go to the back-burner. Anyway, it turns out that I was out trick-or-treating with my mother the afternoon and evening of October 31st, 1999. The afternoon and evening in which Moore, starting his final race with Forsythe Racing after four seasons, spun his car at the exit of Turn 2 of what is now called Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, and at high speed, flipped violently and slammed into the inside-retaining wall, causing instantly fatal head and chest injuries. Greg Moore was only 24 years of age. The race continued on as if nothing had happened, even after his death was announced before half-distance. For most, including race winner Adrian Fernandez, now regrettably a winner of two races marred by the death of a fellow competitor, and newly-crowned rookie champion Juan Pablo Montoya, the news of Moore’s death was not broken to them until after the advertised 500-mile distance of the season finale at Fontana was complete.

I was lucky I wasn’t able to watch that. Instead, I decided to go out, around the neighborhood, seeing friends and neighbors as I walked around asking for candy in a silly costume. The privilege of youthful innocence. But eventually, I learned that Greg Moore had passed away. And not on SportsCenter or RPM2Night or the CNN Evening News. I was getting a haircut when I flipped through an issue of Automobile Magazine and got to a full-page spread that chronicled the year in racing in 1999. And towards the end, or at the end, a blurb appeared that kind of stunned me: “October: Racing World Loses Greg Moore.” As a kid, my first thought was that he’d just retired at the young age of 24 to do something else. Then the awful reality crept in of what that phrase actually meant. Greg Moore was gone. This was a driver I knew in the few years that I’d been watching CART, in its 1990s glory years. “That shouldn’t happen to a driver like him,” I thought.

The first racing fatality I can remember was that of Scott Brayton during practice in the 1996 Indianapolis 500. But I didn’t really know who Scott Brayton was. I didn’t know about his decade and a half as an Indycar journeyman from Boulder, Colorado, nor about the fact that he was the polesitter for that Indy 500 and the one the year before, nor about his status as the veteran face of the newly-created Indy Racing League, which I didn’t even know was a thing that existed at the time. All I knew was that he was somebody that was killed leading up to the Indianapolis 500. It was kind of sad, but it didn’t really affect me emotionally at the time.  That issue of Automobile was written before the staff could do a full tribute to Moore, but with enough time to memorialize Gonzalo Rodriguez, the 27-year-old Uruguayan rookie who had dazzled the international racing world in International Formula 3000, came over to CART on a partial schedule for Penske Racing, but was then killed in a grotesque practice crash at Laguna Seca. I didn’t learn about just how talented Rodriguez was until maybe…well, sadly enough, this year, the fifteenth anniversary of his passing. So while that was also sad, it wasn’t really a huge shock.

But Greg Moore was a name and a face that I’d recognized that wasn’t there any more. And that, I believe, was the moment, in the barber shop waiting for my haircut, when I really learned about how dangerous this racing thing really is. In addition to feeling the first glancing blow of heartache that now comes to me every time a prominent racing driver is killed or gravely injured.

Moore’s death fifteen years ago today is one that is the centerpiece of a web of tragedy, avoidable circumstances, and events that took place after his death that, if he had not died, would have drastically altered the entire landscape of motorsport as we know it today, from October 31st, 1999 all the way to October 31st, 2014. Continue reading “Fifteen Years after Fontana”

Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1

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He is the most accomplished driver under the age of 35 that has never started a Formula 1 race.

Until this weekend.

The news that Andre Lotterer, the ace driver of the Audi Sport Le Mans Prototype program(me), and who is also driving for legendary Toyota factory racing team TOM’s in the Super Formula championship in Japan, would be making his Formula 1 debut at this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix – at age 32 – was first reported on Monday, and came as even more of a shock as the news that broke later in the afternoon (or evening) that Toro Rosso will be making Max Verstappen the youngest driver in Formula 1 history next year, at age 17. Which is almost half of Lotterer’s current age.

At 32 years old, Lotterer is only a few months older than when former Audi teammate Allan McNish made his F1 debut for Toyota in 2002. He lasted just one year before going back to endurance racing. He is one year older than the last driver to make his Formula 1 debut past the age of 30 – Yuji Ide. In fact, those three men – Lotterer, McNish, and Ide, account for all of the Formula 1 rookies to have made their F1 debuts past the age of 30 since 1997. By the time fellow German Michael Schumacher turned 32, he had already won his third World Championship, and had passed Ayrton Senna for second on the all-time Grand Prix wins list. And by the time Senna himself was 32, he was already a three-time champion with McLaren after his legendary and controversial championship duels with Alain Prost, who at age 32, had won the first two of his four World Championships with McLaren, and was running down the all-time wins record of Sir Jackie Stewart, who himself was a two-time champion by age 32. By the time Stewart retired in 1973, he had passed the all-time wins record of Jim Clark, who himself had planned to retire after the 1968 season as the winningest driver in Formula 1 World Championship history at the time, before the tragic Formula 2 accident at the Hockenheimring that claimed his life…at the age of 32.

Yet also, at age 32, Damon Hill had just won his first Grand Prix for Williams a month shy of his 33rd birthday, and only one year after his Formula 1 debut for Brabham. The man who founded the team, the late Sir Jack Brabham, won both his first race and first World Championship in 1959 at the age of 33. Nigel Mansell, the man who former Lotus team director Peter Warr said would never win a Grand Prix “so long as he had a hole in his arse”, finally proved his old boss wrong when he won the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in a Williams-Honda, just two months after he had turned…32. Continue reading “Andre Lotterer’s Journey to Formula 1”

F1 2014 Goes Dry: It’s Not That Big a Deal

Codemasters’ F1 2014 is coming out on October 17th. And fans are angry. And they’re angry because…the version shown in the trailer looks like just a 2014 season update for F1 2013? They may have cut back features such as Classic Content? The next-gen version of the game isn’t coming out until early 2015?

No, no, and no. Take a look at these in-game screenshots of the Williams Martini Racing FW36.

Notice anything missing? Like the logos of their primary sponsor Martini? Or even the small bits of red running down the Martini “stripes” on the rear wing and engine cover?

Continue reading “F1 2014 Goes Dry: It’s Not That Big a Deal”

The Hypothetical Champ Car World Series Drivers’ Club of 2014

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On this date in 2004, Indianapolis bankruptcy judge Frank Otte ruled in favor of a bid placed by the collective of Gerry Forsythe, Kevin Kalkhoven, and Paul Gentilozzi – known as Open Wheel Racing Series, LLC – to acquire the assets of what was known, from 1979 to 2003, as Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). Their bid was accepted over a competing bid from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League (IRL) owner Tony George, which would have effectively ended the American open-wheel racing split that had been in existence since the formation of the Indy Racing League in 1996.

I thought about this anniversary yesterday, of all things, when the upstart Formula E series added eight new names to their pool of available drivers known as the Formula E Drivers’ Club. And looking at the list of freshly added talent that includes five IndyCar Series drivers, ten former Formula One drivers, and one driver from GP2, it didn’t look that impressive to some people. Zero F1 victories between all sixteen drivers, and out of them, only Takuma Sato won a race in a major series this past year. But I looked at it closer and thought to myself, “You know, this roster looks like the lineup for a reboot of the Champ Car World Series.”

And it’s not hard to see why – CART/Champ Car had a knack for attracting a lot of ex-Formula 1 talent and decent prospects from the European open-wheel ladder, and turning them into stars. Not just former F1 champions like Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi, or future F1 winners like Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya. Drivers like Alex Zanardi, who washed out of F1 before going onto mega-stardom in CART, or the likes of Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran, and Sebastien Bourdais, all accomplished drivers who all cut their teeth in the European ladder only to be passed up by F1 teams when it came time for them to move on, were a major part of the lifeblood of CART/Champ Car in the 1990s and 2000s.

So I thought to myself, “What if there was a reboot of the Champ Car World Series? And which active drivers from today would I place in the series’ pool of talent?”

I went out to pick twenty drivers (OWRS-era Champ Car, for all of its strengths, could never push the car count above 20) for a hypothetical “reboot” of the Champ Car World Series. My strategy for selecting drivers was to focus primarily on younger talent with loads of upside, both within the IndyCar Series and elsewhere. Only five out of the twenty drivers in this hypothetical drivers’ club are either in, or will be in their 30s by the end of 2014, and none are above the age of 35. I ensured that I had to pick at least six drivers that competed in at least one IndyCar Series race last season, and I had to pick at least one person in the second-tier Indy Lights series. I stayed away from anyone currently in F1 that wasn’t a race driver or a primary reserve driver. I could pick anyone I wanted under those parameters.

Click the link below to read my selections and my rationale for each.

Continue reading “The Hypothetical Champ Car World Series Drivers’ Club of 2014”