Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?

Katsumasa Chiyo began 2016 with another spectacular rally in the Bathurst 12 Hour, and if that won’t solidify his place among the best sports car racers in the world, what will?

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Image Credit – © NISMO Global

I spent the past weekend in a small-ish Alabama town called Anniston making an appearance at a local anime convention as a guest of honour. After a long, hectic day at the convention that involved two panels, one of which I can safely say I bombed, and knowing I would have to immediately drive back home at just past the crack of dawn, there I was, still awake at nearly 1 in the morning listening to the final laps of the Bathurst 12 Hour race on my phone.

Now, to set the scene, I’m staying in a luxurious, 19th century bed & breakfast run by a kind man who lives with his young sons. When I checked in that afternoon, there were dark chocolates sitting on the counter where I ultimately left my phone charger in my rush to head home the next day, and a white rose laid gently on the bed. This is a nicer place than I ever expected to be staying in for a night in central Alabama. It is really late. I’m put up in the house with the other guests, who are all either sleeping, or at least trying to. They have to get home the next day too. And it is so quiet and tranquil in this old, beautiful home that you can only hear the nearby train blasting its horn throughout the town as it departs for the next stop.

And then there’s me, recognizing the need for calm and quiet in the house, yet restraining myself about as hard as I could to do so because of a rally by Nissan Australia driver Katsumasa Chiyo that almost secured his team consecutive victories in the event.

Shane van Gisbergen has had the weekend of his young racing life, and he was basically driving the last few laps in his McLaren 650S GT3 in cruise control at the end to avoid throwing it all away in the last laps of the race. That’s not uncommon. Not when you, in essence, have the win in the bag after twelve hours of flat-out racing.

But what’s less common is for a lead of fourteen seconds, about the length of time it takes to drive the Bathurst circuit’s 1.1 kilometre Mountain Straight at speed, to be slashed down to just 1.276 seconds when the chequered flag fell on Van Gisbergen’s McLaren after 297 laps. Unless the lead car has a mechanical issue, a tyre blowout, or the driver just made a mistake and ran off the road or into a wall somewhere – if all they’re doing is just pacing themselves at the end, having already proven that they were the quickest team and driver combination all weekend long, that shouldn’t happen.

And yet, rattling off the Nissan GT-R GT3’s best laps of the entire weekend, at the very end of a grueling twelve hour endurance race, Katsumasa Chiyo closed to within a margin that made the final margin of victory closer than it had any right to have been. The record-breaking crowd roared in applause. The commentary team could not believe what they were seeing and calling for a worldwide audience. And back in Alabama, I was trying to hold back on screaming like a lunatic and trampling up and down the floor of this house like a stark-raving madman.

Chiyo just missed out on stealing the victory for Nissan, but he stole the show for the second consecutive year at Australia’s new great race, in a field containing some of the world’s greatest racing drivers.

Who, then, can deny the greatness of Katsumasa Chiyo?

Continue reading “Who can deny Chiyo’s greatness?”

An Open Letter to Mr. Takachiho Inoue

Dear Mr. Inoue,

On behalf of a grieving worldwide community of racing drivers, mechanics, journalists, and fans all around the globe, I would like to ask you to please take your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or whichever device you choose to post to social media, pick it up, and chuck it into the Monaco harbor, or at least outside your apartment window. At the bare minimum, just delete your Twitter app, your Facebook app, your Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, what have you – and have it wiped off your phone.

Do that real quick, and then take an indefinite amount of time to just shut the hell up.

For much of the last two and a half years since opening your Twitter account, you’ve been able to coast off the fact that you have been, to your credit, one of the most self-deprecating and good-humored backmarkers in Formula 1 history. Never a month goes by without a reference to the time you tried to put the fire out of your broken-down Footwork Hart in the 1995 Hungarian Grand Prix, only to be bowled over by the FIA Medical Car that ironically was meant to come to your aid and assistance. Maybe a reference to the time your awkward driving forced a shunt between title contenders Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill at Monza a month later. In 2013 you were named Autosport’s Worst F1 Driver in the last twenty years, and you were as proud of receiving that honor as if you had just won the Formula 1 World Championship.

You will always own up to your sub-par performances at backmarker teams in an eighteen-race career that saw you make relatively unheralded Footwork teammate Gianni Morbidelli look like a prime Alberto Ascari by comparison. It is that sort of driving that you now speak out against as a talent manager for young Japanese drivers, though to be quite frank, having the utterly forgettable, except when driving in a ninth-rate feeder series, Kimiya Sato be the shining star of your roster of managed talent reflects rather poorly on your overall ability in that category of racing as well (however, as a fan of the Super GT series, I will gladly welcome Mr. Sato with open arms this season as he takes on a part time role with JLOC in the GT300 class. The new Huracán GT3 will look nice in their livery.)

And like so many others, I was in on the act. I appreciated your sense of humor. It takes a special driver to look back at something that many other drivers would consider a humiliating experience with a humorous approach.

But I haven’t followed you on Twitter in some time, Mr. Inoue. To be quite honest, even as most people still adored you for owning up to being the worst driver of your generation with laughter and chuckles, I had grown quite weary, sick, and tired of you using Twitter as your open forum to snipe many of the active drivers and hard-working teams of Formula 1 for their failures, in an act of chucking rather large boulders through the front door of your all-glass mansion. I’d grown tired of you voicing your own xenophobic opinions about Formula 1’s newer markets – such as referring to Malaysia, the host of this weekend’s Formula 1 race, as a third-world country unfit for staging a race in the World Championship even after it being a constant for nearly two decades. That was a year ago actually, and it was ultimately the last straw before I decided to hit “unfollow” for myself.

Because I was sick and tired of following a retired professional racing driver who acted like a computer-illiterate knuckle dragger posting in the comments of a YouTube video. Not when there are other accounts that actually give back to the sport in a positive manner. Not when there are other, far more likeable former F1 backmarkers out there like the brilliant commentator Karun Chandhok, or the charming and upbeat Max Chilton, drivers who rarely if ever take to twitter bash other drivers and teams, only when it is absolutely warranted.

But that’s not why I’m writing this open letter today, using social media, just like yourself, to voice my own feelings and opinions. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Mr. Takachiho Inoue”

Great News

As of today I will be contributing to RaceDepartment.com as a motorsports writer.

My first assignment was the signing of Esteban Gutierrez by Scuderia Ferrari.

I still intend to write for A Motorsports Blog, but as my work hours have become plentiful and new commitments are added, it has taken up a lot of time. Thank you and I hope to hear your feedback.

Super GT Title Fights: GT300

Yesterday, I outlined the challengers for the GT500 championship in the 2014 Autobacs Super GT Series. Today, I look at Super GT’s second class. The one that has, historically, given us rotary-powered Miatas and AE86 Truenos competing as recently as the year 2000. The one that pits the finest FIA GT3 supercars against the pride of Japan and their purpose-built JAF GT300-spec cars. As mentioned before, there’s only one race remaining after the inaugural event in Thailand at Chang International Circuit on October 5th, and that’s the 250km race at Twin Ring Motegi in November. The weight handicaps have been slashed down to 1kg per point in GT300 as well, and only the top two teams are carrying fuel flow restrictions in addition to the maximum 50kg of lead ballast allowed, which means the championship-contending cars will be able to run closer to flat-out than they were over the summer.

Examining the primary contenders for the GT300 championship begins with a look at the three-headed monster that is BMW’s Super GT effort, which has combined for three victories and takes up three of the top five places in the championship table. They were expected to be strong this season, and my goodness, are they ever.



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Let me go into full nerd mode here for a split second. Hatsune Miku isn’t an anime character. She’s a Vocaloid. It’s a huge difference, y’all.

And once upon a time, the only thing Goodsmile Racing had going for it was the fact that they had Hatsune Miku on the car. Then in 2011, after two otherwise irrelevant campaigns where they were just lucky to make it onto the grid at all for most weekends, the team aligned with Japanese F1 alumni Ukyo Katayama, signed drifter-turned-GT racer Nobuteru Taniguchi, and bought a BMW Z4 GT3 that already won championships in Europe. They dominated the 2011 season with three victories, claiming the title in the process – the first for Taniguchi after nine seasons, the first for BMW as a manufacturer, and the first for an FIA GT3-specification car in the GT300 class. Fast-forward three years, Hatsune Miku is still the team’s title sponsor and mascot and will even be a musical guest on fellow BMW team owner David Letterman‘s Late Show next Wednesday, Goodsmile Racing has split from Studie AG, the outfit with whom they joined forces with to win the championship in 2011, and yet they’re still leading the championship with 56 points and back-to-back victories to open the season at Okayama and Fuji I. Even with a colossal eighty kilogram handicap accumulated in the first two races that weighed them down all summer (which will now be cut to a more manageable 56kg in Thailand) they are still in the lead after adding two top-5 finishes at Fuji II (4th) and a crucial 5th place at Suzuka. Both Taniguchi and co-driver Tatsuya Kataoka are both seeking their second GT300 championships as drivers – Kataoka won his in 2009, driving for Racing Project Bandoh in their famous WedsSport Lexus. Continue reading “Super GT Title Fights: GT300”

Super GT Title Fights: GT500

The Autobacs Super GT Series returns to action on October 5th at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand for the inaugural running of the Buriram United Super GT Race. Thailand succeeds Malaysia and the Sepang Circuit as the series’ lone fly-away event in the championship, after nearly fifteen years of Super GT cars racing at Sepang. This race, and then the final round of the championship at Twin Ring Motegi in November, will decide who comes away with the GT500 championship in 2014.

To make things more interesting, the weight handicaps that have been accumulated by all the teams over the first six races have now been reset to one kilogram per point scored. By letter of the law, teams are allowed a maximum of 50kg of physical lead ballast, with any additional success ballast added on as fuel flow restrictions. Those fuel flow restrictions create interesting strategic battles for endurance races like the one at the Suzuka 1000km this August, but with the remaining two events being 300km and 250km respectively, it was a good move for the series’ sanctioning body, the GTA, to “trim the fat” in a manner of speaking. It’s a much more extreme version of the Balance of Performance system from the World Endurance Championship and United SportsCar Championship, or the ballast systems used in the British Touring Car Championship and the DTM.

At least seven teams and driver combinations representing all three manufacturers in GT500 – Lexus, Nissan, and Honda – have a mathematical chance at winning the title with two races to go and a maximum of forty (40) points available. Let’s take a look at what’s at stake for these teams and their drivers.

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NISMO are the most successful team in the history of Super GT, having won the top class championship a record six times since 1993, and being a strong contender for the championship virtually every year they compete as the factory team in the Nissan stable. But after losing out on the 2011 championship despite claiming a series-leading three race victories with Satoshi Motoyama and Benoit Treluyer, NISMO went on a two-year winless drought that was finally snapped at the third round in Autopolis. To draw a comparison, this is like if Team Penske suffered a two-year winless streak in IndyCar. Even in the ultra-competitive GT500 class, this was a completely uncharacteristic run of futility for a successful and internationally-recognized organization. Now, after breaking their 18-race winless streak in June, and on the back of two consecutive 2nd-place finishes at Fuji II and Suzuka, NISMO drivers Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli hold a four-point lead in the standings with a total of 60 points. Continue reading “Super GT Title Fights: GT500”

The Case For Ryo Hirakawa in GP2

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In 1999, Eddie Irvine and Heinz-Harald Frentzen were second and third in the Formula 1 World Championship, posting career-best seasons they would never come close to replicating in their remaining careers. Ralf Schumacher carried an in-flux Williams organization to fifth in the World Constructors’ Championship by himself at age 23. Pedro de la Rosa scored a point on his F1 debut for a woeful Arrows squad. And Mika Salo got the F1 chance of a lifetime as Michael Schumacher’s injury substitute at Ferrari.

Not a single one of these drivers graduated to Formula 1 via the International Formula 3000 Championship, though. All of them were products of the Japanese Formula 3000 Championship, and its successor from 1996, the Formula Nippon championship. A series that ran on only one Formula 1 circuit (Suzuka) as opposed to the small handful of circuits International F3000 shared with Formula 1.

Fifteen years later, the series that currently exists as Super Formula is making small steps towards regaining that relevance as a genuine F1 feeder series. Very small steps, though.

Andre Lotterer’s Formula 1 appearance at the Belgian Grand Prix ended the same way the last noteworthy German F1 driver debuting at Spa in a green car’s outing did – a quiet mechanical failure and a DNF on Lap 2. In terms of intra-team performance, however, Lotterer outqualified teammate Marcus Ericsson – who, like Lotterer, has won championships in Japan with the TOM’s organization – by almost a full second in the wet conditions. This has raised questions as to whether or not Ericsson is a worthy F1 talent, but do give credit to Lotterer, one of the greatest active drivers in all of motorsport, for performing as admirably as can be under the circumstances and proving that he is Formula 1 material, even if his heart lies squarely in Le Mans.

Caterham were rumored to be eyeballing another TOM’s driver to appear in Free Practice 1 at the Japanese Grand Prix in October, only this time it was 24-year-old Andrea Caldarelli. Caldarelli has substituted for both Lotterer and his Audi teammate Loic Duval in Super Formula this year. He has previously tested for both Ferrari and Toyota’s F1 teams, and he currently sits 2nd in the GT500 standings in Super GT with a chance to become the youngest ever champion in the class. It is his commitment to the Super GT title fight that ultimately led him to turn down Caterham’s offer, and instead race in Thailand that weekend as the series heads to the new Chang International Circuit in Buriram for the penultimate round of the 2014 championship.

Lotterer became the first driver since former Super Aguri driver Sakon Yamamoto to graduate to Formula 1 via Japan’s top open-wheel championship and compete in a Formula 1 Grand Prix. Yamamoto’s appointment was eight long years ago, and with the creation of GP2, GP3, and the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, Super Formula has become, until recently, completely redundant as a feeder series to Formula 1, when it had seen its alumni reach the pinnacle of F1 success as recently as July 6th, 2003 – the day of Ralf Schumacher’s 6th and final F1 victory in Magny-Cours.

When they were still in the sport, Toyota groomed F1 hopefuls such as Kamui Kobayashi, Kohei Hirate, and Keisuke Kunimoto in the European ladder rather than in Japan. Takuma Sato, a dedicated Honda driver, only spent a year in the Japanese Formula 3 series before moving to Europe, and eventually winning the British Formula 3 Championship in 2001.

Toyota has been out of Formula 1 for five years, and have no intentions to return any time soon. But they’re the primary backers of the man that is now Japan’s top open-wheel prospect, and a driver that must now be introduced to the European open-wheel ladder via the GP2 Series in 2015 and given a chance to succeed in F1 – Ryo Hirakawa. Continue reading “The Case For Ryo Hirakawa in GP2”

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”