This is going to hell week on the Monterey Peninsula… Brooks is flying over today
from Heathrow to L.A. and Ford is stuffing him in a new Mustang GT convertible for
the week. My ride is a new Land Rover so I can navigate the polo fields of Pebble
Beach. For the first time in years I am not attempting to race anything at the
Monterey Historics which is fine with me for a change. Between us there are ten
events to cover and these are paying gigs ! Of course bunking down at Terry
Burkhart's PG beach house stocked with Grey Goose, Guinness and Jose Cuervo
will make it all worthwhile along with a Monterey Bay ( Waterloo ) sunset.
Anyone who remembers life before Nintendo will understand this. Remember
when we had to wait weeks, even months, to find out what happened at Le Mans
? Autoweek ( also known as Competition Press back then ) would have
something in a week or so. Autosport might as well been only available on the
moon for a kid growing up in San Pedro and television had the game of the week
and ABC's Wide World of Sports, which shockingly did cover La Sarthe
sometimes. I would pass the time with a slot car set waiting for Road & Track so I
could really get the story of what went on in detail.
Pure and easy
Today we have the opposite problem. Too much overload and immediate
information. But how much of that info can be trusted to be accurate. In an
alarming escalation, much of what hits the wireless first is taken as gospel and
only those who really give a damn look more carefully at what went down.
So who really cares out there and is it worth the effort ? All depends on what mood
you are in I suppose… I bring this up because doesn’t it seem like Le Mans was
so last year already ? All the events in the motorsport universe seem outdated by
the day’s end of a race and the last posting of a forum dweller.
Well, that's all part of what they want you to think buckaroos ! Move on, nothing to
see here…. problem is that I listened and I heard.
We all live in an Audi submarine…
Was that a race or a regatta ? A look at JB's gallery show conditions that are far
worse than that little monsoon we had back at La Sarthe in '01. Let us all praise
famous men. Having discarded his DTM cat box for a proper racecar, Allan McNish
confirmed his standing as one of the finest sportscar drivers of his or any other
generation. Team Oreca has had by all accounts a miserable season. Few team
managers know La Sarthe like Hughes de Chaunac but their Play Station Audi R8
was just not a serious contender in les 24 heures. By the time the LMES hit
Silverstone for the 1000K, a few changes were obvious in the Oreca squad.
Stephane Ortelli found himself partnered with his old pal from Le Mans '98 and the
effort took on a more purposeful seriousness. Professionalism has always been
a point for Oreca and it was time to return to form.
The weather was only part of the problem. The Creation boys were on a tear and
the advances the small team has made is nothing short of miraculous. They are
to the LMES what Dyson is to the ALMS, a case of heart and passion over funding.
Make no mistake, Creation should have won the 1000K land o' lakes just as
Dyson should have taken Portland. But we all know how cruel racing can be.
Should haves don’t count in the record books and those who saw a determined
McNish absolutely at the top of his game will remember this race for a long, long
Let's make up and be friendly…
The Oreca team celebrated the win more as a relief than a battle won. There was
none of that rah rah distasteful Audi flag waving nonsense that annoyed so many
people who watched or were at Portland after Weaver lost the race in the last
minute with a stricken Lola. The Dyson team picked up a lot of new fans with their
efforts this year and if Champion Audi wants to keep some from defecting, a bit
more sportsmanship should be in order. Having the TV camera following a
victorious Audi chauffeur over to the Dyson camp to offer condolences on a hard
fought battle would have been memorable and the right thing to do. Regardless,
haven’t we seen enough of those damn Audi flags since 2000, put ’em away.
Bib Over All - the four star final
I was supposed to be at Indy but was in Weissach that week and flew home for a
friend's wedding. I missed not only La Sarthe but also the greatest racing political
hatchet job in years. Isn't it strange how the Formula 1 mess at Indianapolis is a
virtual non-story today. True, the bibs were weapons of mass de-construction and
Pierre and Company blew it ( pun accepted ) big time. However, that is nothing
compared to the circus act put on by Max Mosley and the FIA. Ferrari gets the nod
for a strong supporting role as henchmen showing that no matter who is running
the show at Maranello, it is the old man ( above or below –you decide ) that still
has the influence.
The stewards also got in to the act without doing much fact checking. A story
quickly developed taken as factual that Michelin had tested at the speedway after
the resurfacing. Guess what, they had not. Michelin handled a written response to
that and several other key questions I asked in a rapid manner within a day after
Pierre Dupasquier, the Michelin motorsport director, is a decent and honorable
man. If he tells me that my bibendums are unsafe to use I am going to take him at
his word. Withdrawing from motorsports events for safety reasons is hardly
something novel for Michelin. I was there for two of them. Daytona when the Ferrari
512LM's had blow outs on the banking, destroying one of the cars and at Le Mans
in 1988 when a tire let go on the Sauber Mercedes at full song on Mulsanne. Were
they wrong and does Michelin have something to answer for ? Yes, but the
company handled it in a far more professional manner than the FIA or some of the
screaming F1 talking heads. It amazes me how many of these people need to get
out more often and away from the press room or their laptops. Pole position for
outrageousness goes to the individual that stated that as punishment, Michelin
should be banned from competing in the U.S. for a minimum of ten years. I should
publish his address so all those soccer moms with SUV's, mini vans and Lexus's
can send him their Bibs as a sign of solidarity. Get real.
THE SAFETY DANCE
Men without talent rejected the hay bale tire chicane idea and opted for the much
safer and sane pit lane approach. I agree, all that lose straw could block a
radiator. Better to have an incident in pit lane where there are only people. But hey,
it's F1…they're expendable. This is where the FIA really loses face. All this
hyperbole of safety being the big concern. Fines, summons to the World
Motorsport Council, penalties, beheadings… who then is going to lay a summons
on Max for the debacle in Pueblo concerning the recent FIA WTCC Race ? An
unfinished track, run off line and run off track ? If that is not an issue of safety, what
is ? The FIA regularly ignores its own regulations just don’t you do it. All of this
simply illustrates that the head of the FIA should not come from the ranks of F1.
Got safety ? Le Mans got chicanes and they now want to flatten the hump. On a
country road in France no less ? But don’t mess with Monaco… no sir. We must
respect tradition you understand. Whose safety are we respecting here Max ? The
two sets of rules, one for F1 and another for everyone else has to change and it is
up to the other series to start demanding accountability.
The war of words between the FIA and Michelin was a loss for the Concorde
Palace of Sin. For the price of a few tickets for the next USGP a major war was
averted. Pity… I would like to have seen who was standing at the end.
The Point ( Sears ) of no return…
Safety became an issue at the recent ALMS round at Sears Point. The pit out that
all visiting series must use has been constructed specifically for NASCAR and the
incident was predictable. Soares has already discussed the situation in his past
column so you know which side of the fence I come down on. I asked IMSA
officials for an explanation and they termed it a racing incident but they did go to
length to say how unfortunate the whole mess was. Taken at their word, you have
to assume the tapes were reviewed. What was not answered though is the
question as to why there was no flag station at that point. Should IMSA have the
final say as to safety and require the track to make changes ? If they don’t they
should and where were the drivers on this critical issue. The fact that Sears is not
a circuit that is part of the Panoz orbit and the track personal, while professional,
know that the ALMS is not a money maker along the lines of NASCAR. One
member of the press staff joked what a nice relaxed atmosphere following the
hectic pace of the previous NASCAR race. One major complaint making the
rounds was that track management tends to charge vendors NASCAR numbers
while drawing considerably smaller crowds. This, as any small businessperson
will tell you, is not cost effective and several will not return next year. As enjoyable
as having a round at Sears Point is, the ALMS has to look carefully at the cost
Sears Point was a great event if only for the fact that it was a chance to catch up
with Vanessa and her haute cuisine. For some reason her big white marquee
was situated in the communications compound and with an obnoxious Mazda
team near her tent entrance. The noisemakers were constantly working on their
Norelco and starting it up at inopportune times earning a stare from our lady of the
range and a visit from Larry. As it should be.
Travels with Lister
David Lister was in attendance at Sears Point by either default or Air France, take
your pick. He fired off a couple of thousand images, intimidated Regis and
generally had a good time. Lister loved the place, got on well with the PR personal
at the track and was ready to party. However, long term plans for a rave in the city
came to nothing due to a surprise visit by Dave’s mum and dad. This necessitated
a wardrobe change and Dave emerged looking quite smart in his white knee
socks, shorts, schoolboy blazer and tie. The comparison to heavy metal masters
AC/DC was not lost by those who witnessed this fashion plate.
Back to La Sarthe
It was a great result and one for the record books with the top three class spots
taken by teams based in the U.S. As usual, this accomplishment was all but
ignored by the mainstream press in this country. There were a number of great
opportunities that could have really brought up the awareness of the ALMS that
were not properly exploited. The Pratt brats wheeled the new Corvette back to the
top step but it was not an easy win and many felt, not deserved. GM will take it
nevertheless. The references to the ‘Vettes having brushed aside the challenge
from the Aston Martins is ludicrous. On paper, Ollie Gavin should be a faster driver
than Peter Kox. Maybe that is true if they are in identical cars. Gavin, no matter how
hard he tried, could not get the new ‘Vette past Kox in the Aston during the early
part of the race. The change of position finally came during a pit stop. So much for
having brushed aside the Astons. The penalties handed out to Darren Turner by
the ACO officials were on the borderline of stretched credibility. How many times
have cars had problems in the chicanes that have resulted in being brought in for
a visit to le penalty box ?
Jump in the fire…..
I had a chance conversation at Heathrow with a person who was on their way to
Le Mans while I was going to Stuttgart. What made the talk so interesting was that
she was an agency photographer who does a lot of fashion and model work but
was also quite knowledgeable on the history of La Sarthe. As she was leaving to
catch her flight, I asked her to send me a note on how her first visit went down. A
week after the race I received an email from her along with some images and a
long rant. To quote her:
“Would someone please explain to Mr.Fehan, Mr. Pratt and company, that while
their joy for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans is certainly understandable, their
standing in front of the winning drivers on the podium and nearly completely
blocking the drivers from the fans, TV and photographers is not. The podium is
where drivers celebrate and are celebrated. Having team principles standing front
and center, instead of behind or to the side is, well, I guess it is just plan stupid and
insulting, especially from a pr or advertising perspective. You certainly didn't see
Dr. Ulrich and Mr. Maraj in front of any of the Audi drivers during the podium. Alex
Job was gracious with the difficult job he had to do and yet, there he was smiling
behind Leo Hindery. Act like you have been there before.”
How the Job was done….
We all knew an Audi would win (although it was pretty damn close wasn’t it ?) and
most likely the Corvettes would pull it off. There was no such discussion
surrounding GT-2. A Porsche will always win. This year was to prove no different
although the chosen one failed to live up to the re-race hype. Petersen/White
Lightning had it all going for them, the better werks drivers, excellent assistance
from Porsche Weissach, the latest Michelins. Many wondered aloud as to why
Petersen were even running the race and why not just hand them the cup. So what
went wrong ? Alex Job was informed or suggested may be the right term that he
would be teaming up with BAM for an assault on La Sarthe. Drivers were to be
Marc Lieb and Mike Rockenfeller along with team principal Leo the Yankee.
Doughnuts were from Yokohama. Few, if any, gave the ALR/BAM operation much
of a chance against the Petersen GT-3. The hat trick ( pole, lap, race ) went to the
wrong guys and Leo got to see the view from the top slot far in to the maddening
crowd. Simply put, Alex Job managed a lesser squad to a brilliant win. In speaking
with Yokohama technicians, they give a lot of credit for this win because of their
past working relationship with AJR. The time spent getting the balance just right
for the softer sidewalls of the Yokohamas helped with the drivers confidence. Alex
Job states that tires were not an advantage but credits Lieb and Rockenfeller with
providing excellent feedback, which was critical in getting the car set up. An
obvious strong hand in dealing with Leo sealed the victory. Every driver wants his
maximum time in the car but there was no way that Leo could keep up the needed
pace in what has become a 24 hour sprint race. The two stints he did were
enough and no matter how down he may have felt watching the two kids at play,
holding the trophy for winning the class quickly proved that Alex Job made the right
And picking up Angel who just arrived from the coast….
AJR have gotten their act together in the ALMS reeling off a bushel of wins to take a
slim margin over the Petersen/White Lightning Porsche. The #23 was behind in
class points until Portland. Now with the second half of the season upon us, the
GT-2 champion will come down to who deals best with the pressure. AJR is now
in the catbird seat so it will be up to Petersen to respond.
The constant running footage of the Porsche LMP2 at Estoril during the Sears
Point coverage showed a new car taking laps that only proved the car existed.
There are those who think that the addition of Penske is a signal that the car is a
winner and can challenge the LMP1 category. Did anyone notice how big and
bouncy the Porsche looked at Estoril ? The car needs work, period. A few items to
consider: Penske will be running the car with hand picked drivers ala the factory.
Roger’s past success and winning efforts have been with his people. I don’t see
any of the current batch of werks shoes up there with Mark Donohue or a crew that
has a Greg Syfert. Appearances aside, obviously Penske is taking a different
approach to the LMP2 from the 917/10 and 917/30 efforts. Another point is the
constant babble on how the LMP2 is a contract job for PMNA/PCNA. However, who
owns both U.S. concerns but the mother ship. This blatant cover gives Porsche AG
cover if the project fails and a reason not to be at Le Mans with an official entry.
Fortunately this masquerade hasn’t fooled many. Porsche wants a winner and the
LMP2 debut will be closely watched. It could be Le Mans 1982 all over again or the
Indy 2708 at Laguna Seca. In racing, there are only absolutes.
Until after the Monterey madness…