British GP Silverstone 2010

British GP Silverstone 2010
Hamilton gets pushed to the second row ready to start the British GP

Monday, 26 April 2010

A Scientific Study of Motorsport Nations

After spending twenty minutes yesterday trying to explain the concept of the football World Cup to Christian, I thought I’d had the breakthrough with it seemingly sinking in that Manchester United couldn’t play Brazil, until, in typical seven year old fashion, I was faced with a new poser; who would win in a world cup of motor racing? Frustrated at losing precious BTCC watching time, Christian was duly sent back to his room, with the instruction not to come back out until he was twenty five. The seed was sewn, though, and I started to consider his question. I could have dug out the A1 GP results for the time that the now ill fated series was running, but it wasn’t exactly conclusive in that respect, was it? There was no historical value to it, most drivers and teams that have made any impact on motorsport haven’t been anywhere near it, and the cars were identical – sourced from a single supplier. So how would I do it? I would look at the World’s most prominent racing nations and score them on certain areas; F1 World Champions, current top class drivers, race car production and national racing series, and see how they came out. Which countries would I choose to represent this highly scientific survey? I don’t suppose it would take long to assess the merits of motorsport achievement in Burma, Gabon or St Lucia. So I would select a few nations with the richest motorsport heritage. Here comes the controversial part; feel free to lodge displeasure at any omissions:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain and the United States. A special mention at this stage goes to Denny Hulme and Jody Scheckter, whose nation’s – New Zealand and South Africa are the only ones with a World Drivers Champion in F1 not to be considered, and to Russia, India, Poland and Switzerland, who all have current F1 drivers; it had to stop somewhere. Now let’s consider them individually:

Argentina – F1 World Champions – Juan Manuel Fangio (x5) 8/10. Current top class drivers – Jose Maria Lopez nearly made this year’s F1 grid (albeit with substantial state funding), but sank with the USF1 mess 1/10. Other – Potrero del Fuego in San Luis is probably the most picturesque circuit anywhere in the world, and will stage a round of this season’s FIA GT1 World Championship, while national touring car series, TC2000 (where Lopez is reigning champ) is in good health 4/10
TOTAL 14/30

Australia – F1 World Champions – Jack Brabham (x3), Alan Jones 8/10. Current top class drivers – Mark Webber, Jamie Whincup (Double V8 Supercar champ), Indycar stars Will Power and Ryan Briscoe, David Brabham (Current ALMS Champion and 2009 outright winner Le Mans 24 hr) and Daniel Ricciardo (2009 British F3 champ and Red Bull test and reserve driver) 7/10. Other – Great racing pedigree and infrastructure, V8 Supercar championship is thriving, where the Holden/Ford battle is almost tribal. Bathurst endurance race is iconic, and Melbourne is a favourite F1 destination 7/10
TOTAL 22/30

Austria – F1 World Champions – Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda (x3) 8/10. Current top drivers – FIA GT1 driver Karl Wendlinger, IRC’s Franz Wittman and 2009 British F3 runner-up Walter Grubmuller, whose Dad seems to have enough money to make up for any shortfall in his boy’s talent 2/10. Other – Red Bull F1 team hails from Austria, which has hosted many Grands Prix in the past, latterly at the A1 Ring 4/10
TOTAL 14/30

Brazil – F1 World Champions – Emerson Fittipaldi (x2), Nelson Piquet (x3), Ayrton Senna (x3) 9/10. Current top drivers – Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, veteran Rubens Barrichello, and F1 rookies Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi, Indy legends Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan and WTCC ace Augusto Farfus 8/10. Other – Interlagos has seen the F1 title decider in each of the last three years, and is always one of the most entertaining races on the calendar, Indycar, GT1 will also visit this term 5/10.
TOTAL 22/30

Canada – F1 World Champions – Jacques Villeneuve 5/10. Current top drivers – Villeneuve had been tipped to return to F1 this term, but didn’t, Bruno Spengler (DTM nearly man), Indycar legend Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani (Indycar) 5/10. Other – Gilles Villeneuve’s life was cut short and would surely have been F1 champion had it not, F1 returns to Montreal this year, while Indycar has two races in Canada, and NASCAR holds a Nationwide race there 6/10.
TOTAL 16/30

Finland – F1 World Champions – Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen (x2), Kimi Raikkonen 7/10. Current top drivers – Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen, Ford WRC stars Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, and Williams test and reserve driver Valtteri Bottas 6/10. Other – Climate doesn’t suit top level racing, although ideal for WRC round and other major rally events 4/10.
TOTAL 17/30

France – F1 World Champions – Alain Prost (x4) 7/10 Current top drivers – Sebastien Loeb (on his way to an unparalleled seventh straight WRC crown), Sebastien Ogier, F3 Euroseries champion Jules Bianchi (firmly on Ferrari’s F1 radar), touring car ace and former BTCC and WTCC champ Yvan Muller, Romain Grosjean and Sebastien Bourdais 7/10. Other – Le Mans (say no more). Has lost its F1 race at the moment although still represented by Renault team, Citroen dominate WRC, while Peugeot replicate this in IRC and won the 2009 24 hours. ART are clearly the top feeder series team in European motorsport, and World Series by Renault has become a huge series of events 9/10.
TOTAL 23/30

Germany – F1 World Champions – Michael Schumacher (x7) 9/10. Current top drivers – Schumacher heads a list of six F1 drivers comprising Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock, Adrian Sutil and Nico Hulkenberg. Double DTM champion Timo Scheider and current GT1 champion Michael Bartels 9/10. Other – Two of Europe’s most iconic circuits (Hockenheim and the Nurburgring) rotate the staging of the F1 round, whilst all top European based series’ visit the country. DTM is Europe’s premier touring car category, German based F3 Euroseries is struggling for numbers this term, but has launched the careers of many current F1 stars. Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW all have huge motorsport pedigree, only minus is lack of a presence in top level rally, with only Walter Rohrl’s two WRC titles in the early 80’s to consider 8/10.
TOTAL 26/30

Great Britain – F1 World Champions – Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill (x2), Jim Clark (x2), John Surtees, Jackie Stewart (x3), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button 10/10. Current top drivers – Hamilton and Button; the two latest F1 World champions. Reigning Indycar champ Dario Franchitti, and previous champ and Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon. DTM frontrunners, 2005 champ Gary Paffett, soon to be F1 driver Paul di Resta, Jamie Green and David Coulthard. IRC champion Kris Meeke, and triple WTCC champ Andy Priaulx 10/10. Other – Britain struggled to hold on to it’s F1 round this year, until Silverstone came to the rescue, like Germany, Britain holds rounds of most top European series’, and it’s BTCC is a great spectacle, although not on the scale of the DTM, while the British F3 series has become the top F3 championship in the world. The UK no longer manufactures large volumes of vehicles, although Ginetta and Aston Martin continue to thrive, and most F1 teams have their main base in the UK 7/10.
TOTAL 27/30

Italy – F1 World Champions – Nino Farina, Alberto Ascari (x2) 6/10. Current top drivers – Lotus F1’s Jarno Trulli and Ferrari test driver Giancarlo Fisichella, WTCC Gabriele Tarquini, GT1 champion Andrea Bertolini, Max Papis (the only European in the main NASCAR series) and double BTCC champ Fabrizio Giovanardi 6/10. Other – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Monza – brands which exude the spirit and history of F1, Auto GP and the Superstars touring car series are fast becoming big name championships on the European scene, and talk of a second Grand Prix around the streets of Rome will only add to the country’s racing stock 8/10.
TOTAL 20/30

Japan – F1 World Champions – None 0/10. Current top drivers – Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, Kazuki Nakajima, Indycar stars Hideki Mutoh and Takuma Sato, HRT reserve driver Sakon Yamamoto and British F3 frontrunner Daisuke Nakajima 5/10. Other – Japan holds a popular F1 race at Suzuka, Twin Ring Motegi holds the only Indycar race outside of the American continents, Japan holds top level rallies, and its Formula Nippon and Super GT championships are as big if not bigger, than any domestic series in Europe. Toyota’s withdrawal from F1 marked the end of Japanese involvement as an F1 constructor, but Toyota and Honda (especially their engine department) have massive F1 pedigree, Mazda have won Le Mans outright, and Nissan run a successful GT programme. Subaru and Mitsubishi have had huge success in rallying, producing two of the sports most iconic and successful challengers of all time, in the Impreza and Lancer Evolution respectively 9/10
TOTAL 14/30

Spain – F1 World Champions – Fernando Alonso (x2) 6/10. Current top drivers – Alonso (in my view the most talented driver on the F1 grid), fellow F1 drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Pedro de la Rosa, Le Mans winner and Ferrari tester Marc Gene, F2 champ Andy Soucek, and WRC Citroen driver Dani Sordo 7/10. Other – Spain holds two F1 rounds and all of the official F1 testing, due partly to its climate, but more to its excellent facilities. Three International rally events will be held this year, as will rounds of all of the top European series’. Carlos Sainz is a former double WRC champ and his son is moving quickly through the ranks of single seater racing, HRT is Spain’s first F1 entrant although their cars are made externally by Dallara 8/10.
TOTAL 21/30

United States – F1 World Champions – Phil Hill, Mario Andretti 6/10. Current top drivers – Jimmie Johnson has won four consecutive Sprint Cup titles, while Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart also star in the States’ top series. Indycar stars Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and the only woman ever to win a top level car race Danica Patrick (a PR man’s dream). Ken Block is a popular rally star and Alex Rossi is making waves in the junior formulae on this side of the pond 8/10. Other – The NASCAR brand, including its many series’ is a huge organisation, so much so that the US audience is totally switched off to F1 (a situation not helped by the 2005 US Grand Prix fiasco), and most single seater enthusiasts are mopped up by Indycar. Some of the world’s most iconic races take place in the States, including the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and Sebring 12hrs, while an F1 return is being mooted, either to Indianapolis, or as a New York street race 9/10.
TOTAL 23/30

1) Great Britain, 27; 2) Germany, 26; 3) United States, 23; 3) France, 23; 5) Brazil, 22; 5) Australia, 22; 7) Spain, 21; 8) Italy, 20; 9) Finland, 17; 10) Canada, 16.

So there we have it, its official, England beat Germany in the World Cup, and it’s been a long time since anyone said that. Scientific, of course it wasn’t, but I am not biased towards Britain in any way; I would be just as happy to see Webber, Massa or Alonso win the title this year as I would Lewis or JB. Doubtless people from this country will disagree with the scoring, as I’m sure people from other countries (the US and Germany, in particular) will argue the result, but I think before they start pulling holes in it, I’ll let Christian out of his bedroom, tell him it wasn’t such a silly question after all, and give him the answer he was after. Let’s hope they (or England at least) can make it a double in South Africa.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

2010 DTM Round 1 – Hockenheim

Paffett takes dominant victory in season opener

Gary Paffett scored a dominant opening victory in the Hockenheim sunshine as the 2010 DTM season burst into life. With his Mercedes team dominating the opening round, Paffett led home Bruno Spengler, Jamie Green and Paul Di Resta for a ‘Silver Arrows’ 1-2-3-4.
Martin Tomczyk got the jump on Paffett after the Briton ran wide for the second time on lap one, and the first few corners were dominated by the sight of chunks of carbon fibre flying off the 470 bhp machines, most of which came from the Mercedes of Di Resta who had a very feisty opening tour. Oliver Jarvis was an early casualty as he was forced to retire after contact caused by a clumsy move by Mercedes Maro Engel, who outbraked himself and ploughed into the right front corner of Jarvis’ A4.
Double champion Timo Scheider, who had qualified in a lowly ninth, got the jump on Mike Rockenfeller at the start and then survived a crude attempt by ‘Rocky’ to take the place back on lap 7. Alex Premat had made a great start from eleventh, climbing to sixth and running there until the pit stops began, with Mattias Ekstrom the first to blink, followed in quick succession by Spengler from fifth and Scheider.
Tomczyk had spent the time until the first pit stop window opening a small gap on Paffett, although his luck was to change on lap 11, when a tyre failure at turn one caused him to spin and handed the Mclaren test driver the lead, simultaneously promoting Green, who had been having a great race in the first of the older specification cars, to second.
Paffett came in for his first stop on lap 12 and came out ahead of the early stopping Ekstrom, who was briefly held up by Scot Susie Stoddart, whilst at the front, Premat, who was second on the road, became the second Audi driver to suffer tyre delamination on his left rear, after Tomczyk’s earlier problem, although fortunately for Premat, his failure occurred on the second half of the lap, leading to him losing less time than his colleague.
Green continued to lead on his long first stint, and when he came in on lap 21, it was clear his 17 second lead would not be enough to keep Paffett at bay, but it was a battle of the two extremes of strategy, to see if his super long stint would trump Ekstrom who had come in early. The answer was no, Green came out behind Paffett and Ekstrom, and ahead of Spengler in fourth and di Resta fifth, although still comfortably the leading older spec car.
Ekstrom returned to the pits on lap 23, leaving him with a sixteen lap final stint in an A4, which must have been a worry considering the fortunes of his Audi team mates in the tyre usage stakes, meanwhile Paffett covered him by stopping on the next lap, although he needn’t have worried himself with Ekstrom, who it was announced was under belated investigation for his first stop being taken before the opening of the pit stop window, meaning he was forced to return to the pits to make another stop so that he had completed the mandatory two stops during the window.
Further back, Ralf Schumacher had enjoyed a strong run through the field, David Coulthard had spent the afternoon learning about life in the lower reaches of the DTM, and Rockenfeller had finally managed to find a way past the lacklustre Scheider, as did Ekstrom after he returned from his extra stop behind the champion.
After the second round of stops were complete Paffett emerged with a comfortable lead over Green, who had Spengler in hot pursuit and di Resta in a distant fourth. The top Audi driver was Rockenfeller in an ‘08 car ahead of Ekstrom, Scheider and Spanish newcomer, Miguel Molina who had had a solid if unremarkable drive from thirteenth on the grid.
Green lost his second to Spengler with 7 to go, while further back Coulthard was battling not only Franky Cheng, but also a fast disintegrating door unit, to hold on to his thirteenth position.
Di Resta mounted a late charge on Green’s third place but he couldn’t get close enough to his compatriot and team mate, and it was refreshing to see that Norbert Haug was allowing them to fight fairly, it would have been harsh to ask Green to surrender a podium spot after being probably the driver of the day. Race winner Paffett dramatically stopped on the slowing down lap, leading to fears that he would be disqualified for running out of fuel, as had happened to him in the past, as DTM officials take a sample of fuel for testing at the end of the race from each car, and failing to be able to provide this leads to the driver being excluded. It transpired that he and Spengler had stopped due to their fuel situation being deemed so marginal that they thought it preferable to stop on circuit and be towed back, to ensure there was enough fuel for scrutineers to test.
Haug’s opposite number, Audi’s Wolfgang Ulrich looked glum faced, and as well he should, on a disastrous day for Audi, made even worse by the statistic that the last five champions have come from the stable that won the opening round, Could Mercedes baron spell be about to end? On this evidence, you would have to say it will be very difficult to stop the ‘Silver Arrows’ and Paffett in particular.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

2010 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Season Preview

Hockenheim will this weekend host the season opening round of the 2010 DTM, the eleventh season since the series was resurrected in 2000, where Mercedes will be hoping to end the dominance enjoyed by Audi, who have won the title in each of the last three years. Due to the cost reducing development freeze which restricts the teams from updating their 2009-spec contenders, the cars will remain unchanged, although there are new drivers, circuits and a rules package designed to give older 2008-spec cars a more level playing field on which to challenge the newer models. This change to the regulations allows 2008 cars to run 25 kilos lighter than 2009 cars, a tweak which has led to three of the four official pre season test days being headed by drivers of the older cars.
Leading the charge for honours this season will be Audi’s Timo Scheider, the German has won the last two titles and will be favourite to add an unprecedented third in a row, but it is difficult to decide who will be the biggest challenge to his attempt at rewriting the DTM history books. His main competition may well come from his own Abt Sportsline Audi team, who will run four other 2009-spec A4’s for 2007 champion Mattias Ekstrom, Briton Oliver Jarvis who moves up to a newer car after impressing last year, young Spaniard Miguel Molina and a new slim line Martin Tomczyk, fresh from shedding five kilos in a pre season attempt to bridge the gap to his compatriot. Team Rosberg will run a final 2009 Audi for Katherine Legge, as the 29 year old attempts to be the first female points scorer in the series. Three 2008-spec A4’s will be piloted by Audi prototype regulars, Mike Rockenfeller, Alex Premat and Markus Winkelhock, who will all be hoping to displace Mercedes’ Jamie Green as the top driver of an older car, after a remarkable season in 09 which saw the Briton triumph at the Norisring round. Mercedes will also field 08 C-Klasse’s for Susie Stoddart, Maro Engel, China’s Franky Cheng and David Coulthard, Britain’s all time record F1 points scorer and BBC pundit, who returns to competitive racing after a sabbatical in 2009, much to the delight of Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug: “David is a great race driver, a likeable person and very competent. He perfectly fits to us.” The latest Mercedes cars have a formidable driver line up, bursting with F1 experience including 2005 DTM champion and long time McLaren test driver, Gary Paffett, Force India test and reserve driver Paul di Resta, Canadian nearly man Bruno Spengler, and six time GP winner Ralf Schumacher, whose rapid pre season showings have belied the underwhelming form of his tin top career to date.
The racing format remains unchanged with a four part qualifying session preceding a single race of around 170 kilometres, and the series will feature six rounds in Germany including the traditional Hockenheim curtain raiser, although the series will not finish at the circuit this year as a finale around the streets of Shanghai has been shoe horned in after the second Hockenheim event. Brands Hatch retains the British round, but Dijon loses out to accommodate the trip to China and Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo Circuit replaces Barcelona as host to Spain’s round. The series continues to draw bumper crowds, with 110,000 fans attending the launch event at Wiesbaden at the weekend, and over 90,000 again expected to descend on the Rhine Valley on Sunday.
German title holder Scheider is focussed on the task in hand, and explained what it takes to win the coveted title at the recent test session in France, “The first few races of the season are particularly important. There you have to do well and score points. After that, the right spirit, a good car and a top team are decisive. And I have all of these”. Round 1 this weekend should be a good barometer for the prospects of the two manufacturers for the season, after all the manufacturer who has won the season opener has gone on to clinch the driver’s title in each of the last five seasons, but it is by no means the be all and end all, expect a fight to the wire before we will get to find out who will become 2010 champion in the Europe’s premier touring car series.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Round 3 & 4 Trofeo Abarth 500 GB – Silverstone

The Trofeo Abarth 500 GB rolled into Northamptonshire at the weekend, hoping to build on a successful opening round at Oulton Park at Easter. The series had managed to expand its numbers to 15 entries for this round with the addition of British GT driver John Gaw and Roger Green in guest cars and ex-BTCC driver Stefan Hodgetts entering the series in a Mardi Gras prepared machine.
It was Hodgetts who looked to have secured pole position in Saturday’s qualifying session, before Ben Winrow trumped him late on in the session, with championship leader and double winner from Oulton Park, Gareth Howell in third, albeit a second adrift.
The only change between the top three in race one was Hodgetts getting the jump on Winrow to claim his maiden Trofeo victory with Charlie Butler-Henderson following the trio home in fourth place ahead of Josh Wakefield and Benny Simonsen. Hodgetts also managed to post the fastest lap of the race to ensure he would start from pole for race two.
Winrow, starting from second in race two powered past Hodgetts at the start and the two pulled clear of Howell until Hodgetts retired with an engine problem, promoting Howell to second and Butler-Henderson to third, with Wakefield and Paul Smith rounding out the top five. It was a deserved first win of the season for former Clio Cup champ Winrow, who had been luckless in the opener in Cheshire, after falling off on lap one of the first race had left him with an uphill struggle for the rest of the weekend. “Stef’s a great driver, so once I got him, I just had to concentrate and put my head down and try to build a lead,” said Winrow after race two, “then it was a case of protecting the tyres and hanging on for the win.”
Howell leads the championship after four rounds, with a sixteen point lead over Advent team mate Butler-Henderson, Winrow is in third a further four back. Howell knows, however, that he needs to be closer to the pace of Hodgetts and Winrow, “I’m in front now, but I can’t keep following the boot-lids of these guys for much longer or they will creep ahead.” He will get the chance to put things straight when the series resumes at Cadwell Park in support of the British Superbike Championship on May 23rd & 24th.


Sorry for the brief silence on the page, I have had a hectic few days, I will not bore you with the details. Great news (for me anyway) this week as I had a reply from the Editor of a website called 'The Checkered Flag' here in the UK inviting me to be a regular contributor to the site. I accepted, obviously, and have been assigned to cover the DTM for the season. I will also be covering British F3 and any other UK series' which are not being picked up by the current editorial team, and which deserve a mention. I have submitted a 2010 DTM season preview, which should go online this afternoon, which I will also post on this blog (unless I am asked not to). The first small step.
I am on twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels and @daimccann and can now be read as a regular contributor on

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

How it all began: Part 2

After Spa in ’86 (and having spent the early hours in tears after Mansell’s Australian GP puncture – where he lost the title at the final round), our next F1 adventure would come a year later with another coach tour, this time to Hockenheim, to watch the German Grand Prix. My recollection of this trip is even cloudier; I remember that it was won by Nelson Piquet and that we had watched from the stadium section at the end of the lap. When we returned home from the race and watched the highlights, you could quite clearly make me out, wandering around the concrete steps towards the end of the race, the stand looking remarkably empty, I looked bored, that was probably because I’d been spoilt at Spa and Mansell was not winning this one. In the years following on from this, we started to take a tent and then a caravan and make weekends of it; we did Silverstone in ’88, followed by, in no particular order, a few trips to Le Mans, some more visits to Spa, lots of British Grands Prix and lots of national racing at Oulton Park. I have some wonderful memories of our travels, seeing Senna dominate in the wet, both at Silverstone in ’88 and his now legendary drive through the field in the European Grand Prix at Donington, and was in the Silverstone paddock at a Formula 3000 meeting watching a visibly shaken David Coulthard being interviewed about a possible Williams drive on the day the great man lost his life. I was at the Northamptonshire circuit to see not just Coulthard, but also Mansell, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill win their home race. I watched on a large screen at Pouhon as more than half of the cars piled up at Spa on the run down to Eau Rouge in ’98, allowing Hill to lead a historic Jordan 1-2, Halcyon days indeed.
Seven years prior to the Hill victory, in the days when F1 and its protagonists were accessible to its audience, my Dad and I were in the pit lane at Spa on the Thursday before the race, and my Dad called to Eddie Jordan, asking who would be replacing Bertrand Gachot, who had been incarcerated in the UK for a mace spray attack on a London cabbie, EJ replied that he wasn’t at liberty to say, but that it was a young German; we assumed it would be Heinz-Harald Frentzen, we were wrong, it was of course, Michael Schumacher, who went on to qualify seventh, only to succumb to a clutch failure on the first tour. I realise how this story may, to more contemporary F1 spectators, seem romanticised at best, but it was a totally different ball game then, Ferrari were seen as unfriendly because they had a tarpaulin over their cars in the garage. You could wander around the garages of most teams on a Wednesday and Thursday, I had many pictures taken sat in F1 cars of the era, in their pit garages. The paddocks were totally accessible, we would have to dodge the back of the trucks as they backed up to the garages, and then sit and watch them be unloaded and washed, it only really changed about the time that Bernie Ecclestone tightened his grip on the F1 purse strings with the ’97 Concorde Agreement. I didn’t realise at the time just how lucky I was, my Dad loved it as much as I did, we spent ten days one year between World Sportscars at the Nurburgring and F1 at Spa, we camped two years in a row on the outside of the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans, and joined the hordes invading the track to welcome Martin Brundle et al home in the Silk Cut liveried Jaguar. Looking back, if I had to pick a favourite memory, it would almost certainly be the first race I saw at Spa, I was only six, a year younger than Christian will be when I take him this year. My Dad was taken too young, just weeks after Christian was born, and I only hope I can do as much to help him enjoy it as my Dad did for me. Mansell and Hill have been replaced by Hamilton and Button, the tickets have seen inflation that the Zimbabwean Finance Minister would deem excessive, but the bond between a Father and his Son, is timeless.

How it all began: Part 1

I have bought tickets to take Christian to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix this year and it got me thinking about my first experiences of racing generally, and how I came to love the sport. My Dad had always enjoyed watching Formula 1 on television but had never attended a race, until 1986 when I was six years old, when he came home from work and told me that he had booked us a coach trip to go to Spa to watch the Belgian Grand Prix. I won’t pretend to be able to recall huge amounts about this particular weekend, or many of the others that will follow in this account, but I have some wonderful memories that I will share, please forgive the gaps. We travelled to London the day before the Page & Moy coach was collecting us and stayed with my Dad’s brother, spending the day doing the touristy bit around the capital, Buckingham Palace, Natural History Museum and the like. Next morning we boarded the coach, and then the ferry, and once on the continent the guide on the coach came around so that everyone could draw a sweepstake entry for the race winner, my Dad went first from our row and, due to there being more passengers than race entries, drew a piece of paper with the word ‘sorry’ written on it, he took it a lot better than I would have and joked that he would now be rooting for ‘Ayrton Sorry’. My fortunes were slightly better than those of my Dad, however, as my piece of paper said ‘Mansell’. Can you imagine, Nigel Mansell, the only driver I knew anything about, fast becoming my hero, and I had drawn him. We spent the Saturday night in Brussels, in a hotel overlooking the Atomium, and on Sunday morning we went to the Circuit to watch the race. It was a very hot day, so hot that later in the afternoon my body warmer that I was sitting on melted to the tar at Eau Rouge and my memories of the race are sketchy at best. I remember, obviously, that Senna was the arch enemy, and that from the inside of Eau Rouge, where we watched the race, I could see the cars coming down the hill towards me, but I could only just see the top of the roll bars as they came up the hill, because I was too little to see over the barriers. I remember my Dad’s excitement that Mansell was doing well, and then my disappointment to hear that he’d spun; surely he couldn’t still do it. Of course he could, this was Nigel Mansell, and he did, taking the victory and in the process winning me the top prize of £23 pounds in the sweep. We ran, or it felt like we did, back to the coach to pick up my money and went to the stalls opposite the old pits, where I duly spent all of my winnings on model F1 cars (you could get a lot for £23 in the days before Minichamps). We returned to the coach where I was greeted by cheers from the other passengers for my debut victory. What a way to start my love affair with Formula 1, watching from Eau Rouge as ‘our Nige’ won the Belgian GP, in the sun, with my Dad who was just as much my hero as Mansell could ever have been, and cleaning up in the sweepstake in the process; I often wonder if my passion for the sport would have burned so bright for so long had it not started with such a bang, anyway it’s hypothetical, it did and this was the start of a very special personal relationship, not only with Grand Prix racing, but also with Spa.
Part 2 will follow shortly.
Follow me on twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels

Friday, 9 April 2010

2010 Trofeo Abarth 500 GB – Oulton Park

Easter weekend saw the Trofeo Abarth 500 GB spring into life at Oulton Park and the signs were very encouraging for the fledgling one make series with some great racing from not only drivers who have made their names in some of the UK’s top racing series’, but also from a new breed of stars, most notably Denmark’s Benny Simonsen, who was fantastic in his first ever outing in a car race. Race one pole sitter, 2008 Clio Cup champion Ben Winrow, didn’t come back over Hilltop on lap 1, which handed the lead to ex-BTCC race winner Gareth Howell, who pulled a decent lead from James Blyth and Charlie Butler-Henderson, the latter having taken over the car due to be driven by sister Vicky, of Fifth Gear fame, who was away on presenting duties. Simonsen had spun at Old Hall on lap one, and went about carving his way through the field with great effect as he eventually relieved Blyth of third place late on. CBH by that time had got up into second place which he held on to, despite a late charge from Simonsen, who recorded the fastest lap in the process. A great first day for the Trofeo, and also for Advent Racing, who ran four of the top five finishers.
With the grid for Race two determined by fastest lap classifications from the first race, Simonsen and Howell lined up on the front row, with Winrow right at the back, having not completed a lap in Race one. Howell took the lead at the first corner and pulled out a good gap to Simonsen in the early laps, before the flying Dane fought his way back and retook the lead at Lodge on lap 6. He managed to hold off Howell until he had a moment at Old Hall on lap 14, where he ran wide and ended up on two wheels, Bond style (watch it, allowing Howell to retake the place, the pair were followed home by Winrow, who had made a superb battling effort to get up to third.
The series organisers should be very pleased with the result of their efforts; in a time when one make racing is struggling to attract numbers (see last weekends Clio Cup), 14 entries at the first event, with more in the pipeline, has to be seen as a good result against such a tough economic backdrop. These boys, I feel, are here to stay. Howell will take a six point championship lead over Simonsen to Silverstone on the 17th-18th of April, where the Trofeo will be supporting the opening rounds of the FIA Formula 2 championship.
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Christian’s autograph book: Part 2

Regular readers of the blog will know that we visited Oulton Park for the weekend’s opening rounds of the British F3 and British GT championships, avid readers (play along!) will know that I had promised an update on Christian’s not exactly bulging collection of motorsport autographs, hold on tight, this is it. Autographs 1-7 can be found in earlier, Part 1 post.

Oulton Park April 3rd-5th 2010
8. Alex Brundle, British F3. (Had come to watch a support race with the crowd at Old Hall in his overalls and seemed very nice. Will have to learn not to be so approachable if he reaches F1)
9. James Cole, 2009 Formula Ford Champion, British F3. (Had wandered out with team mate Brundle wearing some very dodgy shades)
10. Rupert Svendson-Cook, British F3. (Winner of Race 2)
11. Oli Webb, British F3. (2nd place to Vergne in Race 1 & 3)
12. Richard Dean, British GT (Signed a nice A3 poster of his United Autosports Audi that the team were giving away – the poster not the Audi)

Not a great haul, but from the five F3 drivers that were sent to face the fans, Christian already had three of their autographs, what are the chances of that, he only had nine in total at that point.
Next update will be after the FIA GT1 World Championship round at Silverstone in three weeks; Christian is hoping to get Romain Grosjean??

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Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Easter Weekend at Oulton Park: Monday

After a day in the real world on Easter Sunday, followed by an early night, it was up at sparrow-cheep on Monday, and off again to Oulton via McDonalds. I had decided to be bold and not use Jane (the name given to our SatNav); although after completing the 50 mile trip quite a few times I should really be able to manage it by now. This backfired as I took a wrong turn a few miles shy of the circuit, at which point Jane was duly removed from the glove box to provide assistance. We arrived just as the GT cars were completing their warm up, it’s a great feeling when you cross the road bridge over the circuit at Oulton’s main entrance, especially when you have Ferraris roaring around underneath. We were directed to park on the infield overlooking Cascades, and when we parked we were amazed, we had undoubtedly the best parking space anywhere in the history of the world. Ever. In the front row, high on the bank, with panoramic views of probably half a mile of the track, encompassing two of the best overtaking areas it has to offer; I didn’t want to get out, but I did.
Christian had decided that he wanted to watch the first race of the day, the reverse grid F3 sprint race from the start line, so we watched the VW qualifying from Lodge, and crossed the track as the session ended. We arrived opposite the pits just as the teams were starting to assemble on the grid, and I tried my best to be as inconspicuous as all the other men as we ogled the Cooper Tires grid girls. It was actually quite an eye opener watching some of these young kids going through their pre race routines, especially Daisuke Nakajima, who had his engineer stick some duct tape on the barrier, presumably as a marker to show him where to stop after the formation lap. I listened as two particularly dull sounding chaps dissected the previous day’s Malaysian GP, “They’re going to have to just dump a load of water on the track half way through each race” was countered with “They need to go back to having cars like these (Formula 3), there’d be loads of overtaking”. I wonder if they noticed that only James Calado overtook anyone after lap 1 in the main F3 race, from the whole of the top 10, they were probably too busy looking for a hosepipe. After the cars left for the parade lap, we legged it down to Old Hall to watch the start, which was impressive if uneventful, apart from Nakajima taking over from Gabriel Dias at the front, lap 2 was more eventful as Dias tried to reclaim the lead around the outside, off the drying line and entered into a predictable, but well saved 360, which left him at the back of the pack. The next lap saw impressive young Brit Rupert Svendson-Cook relieve the Japanese of the lead, again on the run out of Old Hall, a lead which he held to claim his maiden F3 win, at only the second attempt.
We crossed back to the infield after the race and watched the Formula Ford race from Druids, totally the other end of the circuit for those unfamiliar with OP, due to Christian’s constant wanderlust, and by the time we arrived there most of the expected frontrunners were missing from the action, although I never did find out why. We crossed the bridge to watch the first British GT race from the outside of Knickerbrook, my personal favourite spot, where we amazingly managed to stay for the duration of the one hour race. Let me give you some background on my son, Christian. Christian always manages to take a shine to an unexpected driver over the course of a race weekend, it was Michael Caine at the BTCC meeting last year who became the object of his obsession. This time it was his namesake (probably for that reason), Ginetta G50 driver, and Oulton Park race instructor Christian Dick, who would go on to take 1st and then 2nd in the GT4 class in Monday’s two, one hour races. Imagine my embarrassment, and everybody else's confusion, as, during a quiet moment after his Ginetta had roared past us and up clay hill, when Christian loudly exclaimed, “Dad, I absolutely love Dick”. Even the super sensible ear defender wearing family sat next to us turned to give a disapproving look.
After an extortionate lunch and a trip to the stalls for some discount Lewis Hamilton merchandise (which I craftilly got away with buying as this seasons as Lewis is #2 again) we stumbled across one of those 1990's simulators that looks like an airliner cockpit, which was playing a flying lap of Silverstone with Michael Schumacher (in a manual Benetton, so not exactly cutting edge), Christian persuaded me to take him on it, during which we were nearly reacquainted with my hot dog, although I'm sure I enjoyed the ride more than the small boy in front of me who ended up face down in the footwell.
We took advantage of the pitwalk, where we met some more F3 drivers and the now almost legendary Christian Dick (right), and got some rather nice free stuff from the United Autosports Audi team, before heading off to cascades to watch a great Abarth 500 race, in which Benny Simonsen, brother of GT ace Allan, confirmed what we thought on Saturday, that he is a hugely talented young man. Amazingly, we stayed at Cascades and watched Jean-Eric Vergne dominate the 40 minute F3 feature race, before heading back to our car, in cooling conditions, for the second GT race of the day. We saw the Barwell run Aston Martin crash head on into the tyre wall right in front of us, although that was the last action we did see from our fantastic vantage point as some fool in an orange VW transporter drove around the cordon and parked his tango'd monstrosity right in our eye line. We manoeuvred around the emptying embankment and found a spot which was almost as good to watch the MTECH Ferrari team take their second win of the day, and to witness the evergreen David Ashburn drive the wheels off his GT3 Porsche to take a great third place, rivalling Benny Simonsen for the drive of the day.
All in all another great day's racing at one of the best circuits the UK has to offer, we will be back here in June for the BTCC, but our next adventure of note will be to watch the GT1 World Championship at Silverstone in early May, I'll keep you posted.
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Easter Weekend at Oulton Park: Saturday

I have been waiting all winter for the chance to go and see some live action, and this weekend it finally came around as we headed off to Oulton Park for the British F3/British GT openers at my favourite non-F1 circuit. I bought my tickets on the day they went on sale, although due to there being no Sunday action at this meeting, we decided not to camp, but to travel first thing on both the qualifying day (Sat) and the race day (Mon). Christian was almost as excited as I was, and we had no trouble being up at 6.15, so we would have enough time to cram in a McDonalds breakfast and still get there for the first action at 9. Armed with the obligatory camera, autograph book and programme, we started the usual routine of finding a good place to watch then moving after one session either to the paddock, a food stand or the greener grass of a different spectator area. By lunch time on Saturday we had visited every corner of the circuit watching the practice and qualifying activity and decided to go and have a look around the paddock. Christian did his standing on the podium bit and we walked down the back of the pit garages, which for some reason contained the GT cars this year as opposed to the F3 teams which occupied them at last year’s event. There was an unexpected treat there in the form of a road going Pagani Zonda parked at the back of one of the garages. Next stop would be lunch from a burger van, I decided that I would push the boat out and had an £8 burger meal (not a misprint), and as I was putting my ketchup and mustard on it, I accidentally knocked a jug of milk all over some poor chaps food, leading to great embarrassment, I offered to replace the soggy hotdog, but the man insisted that it would be fine as it was. If you are reading and recognise yourself as this person, which is unlikely seeing as my current readership would struggle to form a five-a-side team, I am deeply and truly sorry, not only for the condition which my actions left your lunch, but also for the unpleasant smell which must have followed you around all day from your milk covered jeans, which you had failed to notice as I left the scene, beetroot faced.
Lunch eaten we returned to the circuit and watched the Ginetta G20 race, which this term benefits from a smattering of the new, more aesthetically pleasing G40, which due to its increased weight, and the lack of experience its new owners have of it, struggled for pace against the outgoing G20. We stayed at Old Hall corner for the second race of the day, the inaugural round of the Trofeo Abarth 500 GB, which we had been looking forward to ever since the announcement that the first round would take place on this weekend. It turned into a great race, even though we were deprived of seeing Ben Winrow challenge for honours due to an early retirement. Won by Gareth Howell from the super quick Benny Simonsen, brother of British GT ace Allan, who was contesting his first ever car race, and Charlie Butler-Henderson, brother of Fifth Gear presenter Vicky (which made me think maybe we could have a ‘Brother of a Celebrity’ championship, although this reality TV concept is probably already on the drawing board at Channel 5). Whilst watching the 500’s, it was great to see F3 driver’s Alex Brundle and James Cole mingling with the crowd at Old Hall so close to their championship debut’s, they had come down to watch the action and Christian lost no time in doorstepping his first pedallers of the weekend for autographs (more info in ‘Christian’s autograph book: Part 2’ later). Chapter 1 of the Jean-Eric Vergne show followed, which we were fortunate enough to be watching next to the parents of Welsh F3 star Hywel Lloyd, who seemed to be enjoying the race until their boy was crudely taken out early on by Carlin’s James Calado, leading to some wild gesticulation by Lloyd Sr. This kind of clumsiness has become a bit of a feature in Calado’s fledgling career, as evidenced by the Oulton commentator referring to him as James Collision, and was perhaps explained in a conversation I had last season with the Dad of a fellow Formula Renault driver, who shall remain nameless, who offered the view that Calado could afford to take bigger gambles, and risk accidents, because he enjoyed sponsorship and funding that many of his contemporaries could only dream of. A good day’s spectating was rounded off by the lack of traffic on the way out of the circuit, and we left thoroughly looking forward to the main action on Easter Monday.
Part 2 will follow in the next few days
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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

2010 British F3: Oulton Park – Round 1

The new British Formula 3 season kicked off this weekend at Oulton Park sporting a new three race per meeting format, but it was a familiar story as the Carlin team took both pole positions, three fastest laps and all three race wins. This seasons Red Bull backed entrant, Parisian, Jean-Eric Vergne, lived up to his billing of pre season favourite on Saturday by first securing a double pole position, and then winning the first race later the same day from Fortec’s Ollie Webb and Carlin team mate Adriano Buzaid. Vergne would have surely completed a clean sweep of the weekend were it not for the revised format which now incorporates a BTCC style reversed grid for the shorter race two, whereby the race one winner draws a number from 6 to 10, on the podium, to decide which of those race one finishers will start from pole, the rest of the leading group then have their positions reversed, for the half points race.
The first such draw of the season saw Hitech’s Gabriel Dias, 2009 national class runner up, on pole (below), alongside Double R’s Daisuke Nakajima. Nakajima made the better start, and on lap 2 Dias attempted to get back through by taking the outside at a damp Old Hall, the move sending him spinning down the field and eventually into retirement. Two laps later the Japanese was passed, again at Old Hall by series debutant Rupert Svendson-Cook in another Carlin machine. The young Briton managed to fend off his more experienced competitor to take a very impressive win, followed by Colombian Carlos Huertas and the Carlin duo, Buzaid and Vergne.
The 40 minute feature race was somewhat processional, with the top 10 positions remaining largely unchanged throughout the 40 minutes, Vergne won from pole, followed closely by the impressive Formula Renault UK graduate Webb and his compatriot Svendson-Cook.
Vergne, Webb and Svendson-Cook were the obvious stand out drivers of the weekend, although there were some encouraging signs from the likes of Malaysian Jazeman Jaafar and home grown talent Will Buller and Alex Brundle, all new to the machinery. The most disappointing showing was comfortably that of 2009 Formula BMW Europe champion Felipe Nasr of Raikkonen Robertson, whose crash on his first flying lap in qualifying left him languishing at the back of the field all weekend, and according to paddock sources, struggling to motivate himself, maybe he has been taking some lessons in that department from Kimi.
Most experts had tipped Vergne to go well this season, although few would have thought he would dominate in the fashion he did, great news to see, however, that it will be the British contingent that will now be considered his main rivals.
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Sunday, 4 April 2010


What a weekend of motorsport this Easter. I spent yesterday at Oulton Park watching the qualifying day of the British F3/GT meeting, including the inaugural race of the Trofeo Abarth GB, which was great fun, today I'm at home watching the Grand Prix from Malaysia, followed by the BTCC at Thruxton, and tomorrow it's back to Cheshire for the race day at Oulton. I feel spoilt! I will throw something more comprehensive together tomorrow night about the weekend, but a big congratulations to everyone involved with the Trofeo for putting together such a great series, and on a great start to it yesterday.
There will also be an edition of 'Christian's Autograph Book', and I will upload Christian's and my photos to the ifitsgot4wheels Flickr page.

Friday, 2 April 2010

2010 British Formula 3 Preview

It took some time for Red Bull’s junior driver programme to begin producing the goods, and in the meantime that has lead to some pretty ordinary drivers, by F1 standards at least, piloting their cars and that of sister team, Toro Rosso, Scott Speed and Sebastien Bourdais would likely fall into that bracket. In the last couple of years however, it has unearthed some real gems, Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Buemi immediately spring to mind, but the next batch are now knocking on the door of Formula 1. You may have noticed New Zealand’s Brendan Hartley hanging around the Toro Rosso garage last season (you may also, incorrectly but understandably, have thought that he was a Red Bull backed surfer dude, invited as a guest), or Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who was fastest in the three day young driver test last December at Jerez. You will have certainly seen Jaime Alguersuari this year and last and probably noticed him keep Michael Schumacher at bay for 30 laps last weekend at Melbourne. The last two, Alguersuari and Ricciardo, have something else in common; they have each won the British Formula 3 International Series in the last two years in a Red Bull backed, Carlin run machine. Who's next? Introducing Jean-Eric Vergne, the 19 year old Frenchman, who will be trying to complete a hat-trick of titles for Trevor Carlin’s crack F3 squad this term. Hugely talented, Vergne was runner up in both the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and West European Cup, and will this year dovetail a programme in British F3 with an assault on the Formula Renault 3.5 series with SG Formula. He has topped timesheets in testing in both categories this spring and it is a demonstration of the drinks giants’ faith in him that he is running for two top titles in 2010. He starts as favourite for the title, although Carlin teammates Adriano Buzaid, a 2009 race winner, and James Calado, who narrowly missed out on the 2009 Formula Renault UK title, may have something to say about that. Carlin will run another three drivers this term, taking their entry to six, whilst other expected fore-runners are sure to include ex-F2 ace Alex Brundle (yes it’s his son), Brit William Buller and Manor motorsport’s BMW Pacific champion Ryo Haryanto (look out for his Manor car running in the colours of the Virgin Racing F1 team). The only squad who look like they may give Carlin a run for their money is Double R, part owned by 2007 F1 champion, and now Citroen WRC crash tester, Kimi Raikkonen. They will be running a three car squad for Daisuke Nakajima, brother of ex-Williams F1 crash tester Kazuki, Carlos Huertas, and the super talented Felipe Nasr, 2009 BMW Europe champion. The series kicks off at Oulton Park this weekend with a revised format, extending the amount of races in the season to 30, and the reverse grid, half points races, should provide some extra entertainment. Vergne will be the one to watch, but it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he will triumph.
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Thursday, 1 April 2010

2010 British GT Championship Preview

I visited Oulton Park last Easter for the opening round of the British GT championship, and although suitably impressed, it was a little disappointing to see just 13 entries spanning both classes. The Rollcentre Mosler dominated proceedings, before it was later disqualified from the championship as an ineligible entry. We watched Astons, Ferraris and a Viper battling against the Jones brothers Ascari, which would go on to take overall GT3 honours at the final round at Brands Hatch, and a clutch of Ginetta G50s battling for the GT4 class win, but it could not quite compensate for the depleted grid. In fairness, the recession was at its deepest and these machines don’t come cheap, although this may make the fact that this year’s entry list is bustling with new names even more remarkable, as most of the 2010 entrants will have been putting their budgets together for this campaign against the same, bleak economic backdrop. What then, are the factors attributable to the rise in numbers, with some 23 cars showing on the provisional entry list which was released by promoter SRO last week?
There has been a tweaking of the classes, leading to more cars being eligible to compete in GT3; due to the fact homologated models of superseded FIA GT3 spec cars are now permitted. GT4, whose 2009 winner Jody Firth has not yet committed to a 2010 programme, will now incorporate the Supersport cars from last term. 2010 also marks the return of the Cup class, where amateur drivers get the chance to participate in the UK’s top GT series in either a Carrera Cup spec Porsche 911, or a Ferrari Challenge standard 430. Only two Cup class entries appear on the provisional list, including Carrera Cup GB star Glynn Geddie, however expect greater fluctuation of the numbers in this category due to teams and drivers dovetailing programmes with other series’.
SRO has also concentrated this season on attempting to avoid any clashes with other top series, something which has hindered its turnout in previous campaigns, and a comprehensive, delayed highlights package will be shown on Channel 4 and Motors TV in the UK, making sponsorship a more attractive proposition.
Last seasons front runners will all be chasing glory in the GT3 class, alongside champions Team Preci-Spark, the Viper of Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins will again be near the front, as will the eye catching US entered United Autosports Audi R8’s, which are entered into a part programme, including the season opener in Cheshire this weekend. Leading the GT3 Ferrari charge will be the Rosso Verde entry, again teaming up Hector Lester with Danish GT stalwart Allan Simonsen, MTECH’s Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, and Chad Racing, whose three car 430 squad features some of the most competitive driver line ups that the series has ever seen, while the Barwell-Cadena entered Aston Martin DBRS9 will expect to be in the mix.
Nine confirmed entries in the GT4 class will include a two car works Ginetta Cars squad, whose drivers are as yet unconfirmed, along with another five G50’s, whose drivers include G50 Cup graduates, 2009 champion Nathan Freke, and regular front-runner Christian Dick. The category will also feature a KTM X-Bow and a Lotus 2-Eleven.
So lets look forward to Oulton and the prospect of a good grid, there is no sight, or sound, in British motorsport quite like that of a good field of supercars roaring around one of the UK’s top venues. The fans and drivers will be hoping for a dry one, however, so there is no repeat of the carnage that wiped out half the field in the 2006 rain soaked meeting. A dry weekend is probably too big an ask, you can’t have it all.
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