Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Top 10+1 Forms of Automobile Racing

*WARNING! The following article contains opinions. In fact, it lacks almost any objective measures. Arguments are highly appreciated. Thank you!*

...and here we are. Losing all unnecessary words, let's just say, without racing, cars would be just boring metal-boxes, carrying people from A to B, pumping adrenalie no more than a ride on a subway would. But thank God for racing spirit, no sooner the second car left the factory, the setting has been paved for competitive purposes. So now, let's take the ultimate forms of CAR racing here. See if you get hooked on some of them.

10. Truck Racing
No, this is not the NASCAR pickup roundabout (although more exciting to watch them as "general" "stock" cars, IMHO). It is the real deal. The clash of the Titans. A complete nonsense this is - vehicles designed explicitly for commercial trafficing squeezing through corners side by side on tracks that were put down on blueprint with small, competitive one-seaters and motorcycles in mind. Howling tyres, clouds of vapour and smoke as the rig trucks drift on six wheels for the checkered flag. Like skyscrapers going down, the sight and the rumble of the action resembles some sort of apocalyptic scene from the end of the world. Mad Max would approve, too.

9. IndyCar
"Stone-age Formula 1" - one would think. And I agree, but that is the point. But let's hold the horses for a minute and get deeper a little bit. IndyCar is one of the oldest seres out there (not formally though), originating from the legendary Indianapolis 500. Since the dawn of formula 1, there has been a growing demand to extend the biggest motor racing event in the world to a series, thus CART was created. Indy cars in the beginning wore strinking resemblance of F1 cars, but as the time of aerodynamic design moved forward in the late 60s, they took a different direction in engineering - as Indy still being centered around Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other oval tracks. No wonder, general development still went towards engine power, even after F1 started backing down. In general, an Indy car is a much cheaper design than an F1, and lately it has become a spec series. Equal cars fighting through ovals and street circuits, being similar to F1 racers 20-25 years back (especially with the new formula from 2012), they sometimes bring the same excitement as those races back in the day. That alone makes it to be on the list.

8. Rallying - WRC & IRC
Although these are two different leagues and series, they should be mentioned together, as there are barely any difference between them - cars are even shared for the most part. Rallying is probably one of the oldest racing forms out there - cars going from A to a very distant B, crossing the finish line. Although the competition has moved since then to a Super Special mayhem, one gist is still there that cannot be compensated by anything - the complete inability of putting this on live TV. Heck, a whole event goes on for a full weekend, and cameras cannot be put everywhere. People tried and failed: a live SSS coverage is fun, but feels more of an X-games event for the purpose of showing off. It took time to realize: this is a race for the hardcores. For those people who are willing to go out in the forest, at night, in the snow, just to watch the flashes and thunder one at a time, for a few seconds. This is love at its deepest. Although downsizing in the past decades has left its negative mark on the popularity of the sport, it still deserves to be on the list.

7. Dakar
The true meaning of rallying. As detailed no. 9, Super Special explicit runs make up  a rallying event in the World Championship. Not in Dakar rallying. The greatness of a racing event is being indicated whether a whole series will grow out of it, as we saw it earlier, and as we will later on. The challenge on the African sand dunes has been altered from year to year due to political fear. First, not putting the finish line in Dakar, then moving out of Africa entirely, setting in South America. But the name is still there, symbolizing one of the toughest motoring competition known to mankind. Motorcycles, 4x4s, trucks unleashed into the endless savannah, hoping to see the checkered flag in the end, or to achieve a DNF alive for the worst. A journey through the wilderness. Not many motorsports earn its living of that.

6. NHRA Top Fuel
Racing at its main core, in the league of ultimates - concerning the duration of a race, the horsepowers involved, the g's, the top speed, the sound, the adrenaline. There is just no way to top this. F1 cars are always being compared to jet fighter planes, top fuel dragsters then should be matched up with rockets. They are indeed rockets with their 8000bhps, the "driver's" job is to aim the beak to the finish line 1,320 (or 1,000) feet away during those crucial 4 seconds. Nothing compares to the thunder and lightning experience these vehicles give. You have to see it for yourself.

5. Formula Off-Road
Take the previous two contestants and this is what you get. The other one would be top fuel sand drag racing. But this is more exciting. You have the nitrous fire-breathing V8 from a dragster, fitted with the same tyres with treads big enough for speedbumps, putting them in front of a vertical piece of mine-wall, and there you have it. Vehicles seemingly defying gravity, climbing up the wall as quick as other cars at a green-light start. Or put a lake between them and the finish line, and they would cross it easily... on the surface of the water. The craze that started in Iceland, is the most redneck motorsports of all, and it wasn't even invented in America - with this much fury at least. Insane drivers and vehicles. A much watch for every offroader and anyone in general, whoever saw a car at any point of his or her life.

4. DTM
Probably the most significant and yet most underrated spec-racing in existence - a perfect synthesis of NASCAR and touring car racing with a great hint of F1. Cars are very much like their Americans counterparts in their general layout, but they look ridiculously more fenomenal, running on tracks where ususally F1, touring car, and other prestigeous races are dominant. A defunct series with a magnificent revision and revival, quickly conquering Europe, stepping over to China, and rumors say, in 2013 a DTM NASCAR series for America will be launched due to the excessively successful formula. You get all the contacts that are acceptable in any NASCAR or touring car race, a real man-to-man fight, also, equipped with the sound of early 90s F1 cars. Take that, and consider Mercedes and Audi fighting against each other, clashing the Silver Arrows in numbers enough for a whole league. Plus, it is a haven for ex-F1 drivers, who now can show their more immediate, agressive faces pushing each other around. 2012 will see the return of BMW as well to complete German supremacy once more. There is scarcely anything to say against it.

3. Formula 1
The King of Motorsports remains the de facto King of Motorsports. De jure it is a little bit different, for it is a bad king lately. F1 suffers from a serious identity crisis, mostly since the beginning of the electronic age - concerning driver aids. Driving aids were banned, leglized and banned again due to the conflict of interests whether F1 is a drivers' skills sport or a technology-driven one. Literally. With driver aids turned on, it's more of a technological sport, turned off, it's less F1. Along with budget restrictions and simplifications, most of the great companies started losing interest lately, leading to a near split. I, myself have dealt with a possible solution, too, because the problem is permanent. Yet, it is still the ultimate benchmark of automobile racing and will be for a long, long time afterwards.

2. 24 Hours of Le Mans
If big car companies moved from F1, where are they now? Well, they are all here, between two small French villages. Seperated at birth, the Le Mans 24 Hours and F1 took very different routes, with the former gaining full attention of manufacturers. A win at Le Mans means a lot more to a company professionally than three world titles in a row in F1. Because the knowledge and know-how gained in F1 is being recycled into itself for the most part, experience gained from a 24 hours race here can be used on everyday cars as well. That's why it is no sacrilage that diesels are winning all the time lately, and most cars sold in Europe are diesels, too. This is the real proving grounds of automobile engineering. In addition, racing-wise, it is the perfect combination of man, machine and TEAM. A lot less individual sport than F1. Maybe this is one of the reasons there aren't as many followers of this sport as F1, people find it more difficult to build up a relation with it, whereas in F1 it is a lot more easier to get affected by the drivers themselves. The question in F1 is usually whether X driver would be faster than Y that year. In endurance racing, the main discussion travels around whether Peugeot could beat Audi once more or so. There are several series originating from this single event, but this is the holy ground, right here. In my opinion, the de jure King of Motorsports is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

1. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
What? How? I just claimed the Le Mans 24 Hours "KoM". How come it only came in second?  Because here is the "King of Motoring Challenge". You can't and won't stay up for 24 hours just to watch Le Mans, will you? I suspect everyone slept one hour or two in the early hours. But the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is very different. It is a well balanced combination of the most exciting motorsports. Of course, it is a hill climb. Which means, you get a solitary time attack with enourmous elevation. It resembles rallying a bit in this respect, even more when talking about cars, including ones that are sometimes basically indy cars converted for dirt roads, but most of the time, vehicles that recall the best days of Group B rallying and Japanese silhouette racing. And some more. Literally, there are no limits but the finish line in the clouds. Hereby I proclaim the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb the ultimate form of automobile competition.

+1. Drifting
Drifting deseves a whole different section, for it is much closer to figure skating than straight racing. Drifting is the motorsport for the YouTube generation who grew up on Group A and Group B videos back in the day. Drifting takes the most spectacular bits of rallying and touring cars, and extends it to a whole event. For sure, a car is most exciting to watch when going sideways. Especially when there are two or more of them trying to get to the front. And where else can you find a motorsport where small Japanese  four-banger hatchbacks are equals of monstrous American V8 and V10 supercars? Truly, truly a drivers' competition. All skill, all handling. That is all that matters for the most part.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Embracing Oval-Track Racing

Oval-track racing is one of the most controversial form of automobile competition. Some adore it, some hate it with disgust, yet it just won't go out of fashion, because - guess what - ovals are the oldest purpose-built tracks in the world. Want to argue with tradition?

The need for racetracks came very early on, as cars were still fresh and new, but people would want to watch head-to-head competition. Surely, there were already Grand Prix races on closed roads, but that didn't really satisfy the needs of the audience and drivers at the time. There were a few problems: roads were bumpy, and a car would quickly dissolve into the vanishing point on an open road.

Since people were pioneering land-speed record attempts, the faster the competition, the more exciting races were. So, if you take a long-long stretch of flawless piece of road, you can push the hell out of the car, and if you take both ends of it and form a circle, it goes infinitely. Plus, the audience can get a great view on ALL the happenings, ALL the time.

Thus, Brooklands and Indianapolis Motor Speedway was born in 1907 and 1909 respectively, and while the former had to close down only after 32 years of activity, the latter is still an living course. hosting - among many others - one of the most prestigeous races in the world.

Americans love ovals, most of their biggest IndyCar, NASCAR and other races are running on the banked turns.

And yes, everything has flaws.

First of all, you just can't race in the rain on an oval. That would be a direct act of suicide. It is just not possible to create a race under such circumstances with cars sliding around, hitting the walls. There would be simply no survivors of such an event after only 20 laps.

Secondly, the problems detailed above do exist anyway, would just be amplified by the rain tremendously. The other direct problem is the great chance of collision. Cars running around in packs at 200mph do open the door for a huge per cent of possibility of contacts, concluding in crashes. The happening that's being exciting for the eye, ruining the pace. Most of the races are series of racing 5 laps, then pacing 5 laps under yellow flag.

The diffenerces in the structure of the races (and hence the mentality of the two worlds) between of ovals and "road cources" are very similar to the ones of American and European football. American football is a fast-pace, full action combat for a few seconds, then strategic mind-game for long minutes. While as European football is more of a "timer has started, just go out and win" sort of attitude in this recpect. Most of the action that's been done on a road course can be squeezed into a few minutes of racing on an oval. People governing NASCAR know this and push the politics of the game into this direction

All this lead up to our most crucial point. Is it fun to watch races like these and is it fun to participate in them?

Referring back to the beginning, attending such an event you get a view like nowhere else. You see all the action, you hear all the roar, you smell everythig. Literally, it is a 360 degree surrounding sense-bombing. Whereas going on TV, it may not be so exciting. Especially when cars are completing their pace laps most of the duration of the races. So, if I had to be at a race and watch all the fun and circus, I would vote for an oval, but would fall asleep watching something like it on TV for four straight hours.

For the drivers? Since ovals are not that demanding for the body, drivers can spend a longer career in motor racing. While Schumacher and Barrichello are old lads in F1, they still may have at least 20 good years in any NASCAR series, and 10-12 in IndyCar.

I do watch oval racing, despite falling asleep eventually, and I still think we need more tracks like these, or similar. The Lausitzring was one great chance that ended up in tragedy, but a European can still watch e.g. the European Late Model Series for a gist of 'merican racing.

In fact, I believe the key in these is their live-audience drawing factor. We managed to find one great solution to get the action. the first one-on-one race of DTM in Munich Olympic Stadium will be held between July 16 and 17. There's an arena, there are the cars, there are turns, it seems all perfect. Two thumbs up.

We might not embrace oval tracks fully, but we will surely get the gist of it sooner or later.

(Watch the webcams on the right and see the track on the Olympic Stadium building. Hopefully we will get a great coverage through it, too.)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Days Worth Living For

by Gabor Bazso (aka Nino Karotta)

(Editor's Note: This article has been translated and republished from Karotta's personal blog with his permission. Karotta is editor of the Hungarian on-line magazine, TotalCar, and ex co-host of its spinoff TV-version. In addition, he is an amateur drifter, owning several cars. Do not duplicate or republish this without his permission. For more pictures, visit his blog here. And now sit back, 'cause we're taking a wild ride.)

Rolling on the freeway screaming, wearing a hideous grin on my face and being numb of blissful exhaustion. My eyes are sucked dry enough to evolve wrinkles due to the glowing firewall, and my backbone disks are being grinded by the racing undercarriage. Surrounded by the smell of the brake pads, rubber and gasoline and embraced by the peace of the inactive phone and the constant 120 kilometres per hour speed.

Driving on a reacetrack is a liquid feast cleansing to the mind. It leaves perfectly clear and delighted gyral ripples behind within the skull-space. Enough said, I exploit every given opportunity to go. That's how I got to the Euroring, where Gabor Weber - multiple Hungarian Clio Cup and 2010 champion of Seat Leon Eurocup - was to give a driving instruction. You can read about this and our domestic duel here. There's a comparative video at the end for hardcore apex-nerds.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New Disease: F1-N1 - The Malady of Formula 1

What is wrong with Formula 1?

In one word: boring.

Most people blame overengineering, the ridiculous rules, policy, etc. I agree most of those except 'overengineering'.

Let's think about this for a minute. Yes, Senna was awesome with the manual gearbox, clutch, and there was tremendous excitement on the track - overtakes, crashes, battles, you name it. It was all about racing, competing head-to-head on the track.

But would you really want that back? It may be exciting, or may not be. But sitting in your car on a Monday morning after a race would you realize that your Hyundai is equipped with more advanced technology than any 'F1' car out there.

And then it wouldn't be F1 anymore, would it?

Any stepping back in F1 technology is like Neil Armstrong saying 'Sorry guys, this is just ridiculous, I'm going back' on the Moonlander's ladder.

F1 is 'Formula 1'. The loud science lab of car manufacturing. It would be a huge loss of prestige if all that was taken away.

You want open-wheel excitement? Well, this is what GP2 and IndyCar about. Especially IndyCar. Identical cars with not so advanced know-how behind it. Cheap to enter, cheap to run. No big deal if you crash by 200mph in the 3rd turn of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On the contrary, F1 is the sport of geeks. Where off-season developments are as 'exciting' as Sundays. Yes, the drivers are great. They are bred to do this. But indeed, it is the battle of engineers.

So here's an idea. Since I hate drivers playing Kraftwerk songs on their steering wheel during races, let's just get rid of all the buttons and let them do the driving. Meanwhile, engineers back in the paddock could do all the work the drivers were forced to do up to this point, through a reinvented two-way telemetry system.

There could be a seperate point system for the driver-engineers, judged by a committee. Whoever does an excellent job with bad drivers or cars by pushing them more to the front with their cunning aid, could get points. Or whatever.

The thing is, there should be a separation: drivers should do the driving, engineers should do all the background tricks during races in addition the incredible job they have been done, and what the viewr gets is almost pure racing, where you don't need a calculator to decide whether the race will get exciting within 23 laps or not.

In fact, you don't go to a restaurant to learn all the cookery tricks. You go there to enjoy the product, regardless what the ingredients are, but knowing it is high class. That is the difference between a self-help and an exquisite restaurant.

So Bernie, let us just enjoy the meal and you guys do the cooking, is that a deal?