Category Archives: Racing

Crossing That Fine Line

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Remember that fine line I wrote about a few months ago? It’s been crossed in my latest kart race. Here are all the gory details and lessons learned.

The day had started off like most racing Sundays. Get up early after staying up a little too late, get in the car and drive two hours to the track. Hustle to get everything together and onto the grid for practice.

Finishing the last race on tire cord really wasn’t fun so this time I had a new set of Bridgestones on and went out to break them in. In the process my GoPro camera flew off my helmet, fortunately without damage.

The second practice session went without incident but I was still breaking the tires in and not pushing it. So the stage was all set for the heat and feature race.

Starting from seventh on the grid was kind of fun because racing traffic is the only kind of traffic I like. But perhaps if I had remembered that discretion is the better part of valor, I wouldn’t have made the move I did at the start. Fortunately, there was enough room at that mystical location known as Turn One, a place where many a race has been lost, as we’ll see.

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Jalopy Racing – Part 3: The LeMonista, A Racing Series For All

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The following is the final of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” (Part 1) and “Our Road to Lemons” (Part 2) for previous entries. In John’s words…

In 24 Hours of Lemons racing, I’ve found more than just a great way to get on track. There are a growing number of budget race series. Chump Car is the best known alternative, and has been described to me as being more fun on the track but less so off of it. Each series offers something different.

Lemons doesn’t take itself too seriously, and encourages a little lunacy. Case in point, a team recently sent a photo of an Integra they wanted to buy for an upcoming race to a Lemons judge for approval. The judge sent back a craigslist ad for a 1950s Studebaker in their area. They bought that instead.

I enjoy the pageantry of Lemons and find its culture more accepting of newcomers and amateurs – failure is celebrated as long as you fail in style.

There is also a high degree of car nerdiness – many try to find rare or unusual cars to bring – and a fair degree of redneck ingenuity (I’ve seen a Holley carburetor stuck onto an E30 to keep it in the race). If you already race in SCCA or something more formal, I encourage you to try Lemons for the novelty factor.

The true benefits of Lemons racing aren’t necessarily the obvious ones. Don’t get me wrong, racing 150 other cars – none of which belong anywhere near a racetrack – is amazing.

I enjoy karting and will continue to do it as often as I can. But racing streetcars on a proper circuit against that many opponents is a completely different experience – one that is truly addictive. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

And you don’t need to start a team to do it. Many of the teams rent out spare places on their team for around $500 a weekend, which is a great way to try it out and get a taste.

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Jalopy Racing – Part 2: Our Road to Lemons [w/ Video]

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The following is part two in a series of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” for Part 1. In John’s words…

The idea to enter a 24 Hours of Lemons race was first raised in January 2011 on the F1 Meetup page. There was a race at Summit Point in June, so we decided to aim for that.

At that point we really didn’t know each other and had virtually no experience in racing. We decided to buy a previously raced car to make it easier, and found a Suzuki X-90 with a 1.8 liter Mazda Miata engine for sale.

The car had raced in several guises, including one as pop-up camper. When we got it, it had a blown head gasket from the last race, but had a roll cage, race seat and other safety equipment. As we started taking the engine apart, we realized it was in bad shape and decided to buy another one from a junk yard.

To understand just how amateur we were at this point, consider that the first couple of weekends we struggled to figure out how to remove the engine and replace the water pump. But we eventually managed to revamp the whole car, upgrade the brakes and suspension, clean up and repaint it, and somehow managed to turn up at Summit Point in June ready to race.
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2014 F1 Mid-Season Review

Sebastian Vettel leads Fernando Alonso at the 2014 German Grand Prix

Red Bull leads Ferrari at the German Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Red Bull.

It’s been about four months since the 2014 Formula One (F1) season began. We are just past the half way point with 10 of the 19 races in the books. So far the action has been pretty good, especially toward the mid-field and fears of F1 dullness have proven to be unfounded. However, the cars are more expensive, complicated and uglier than ever and the racing hasn’t improved – not that there hasn’t been good racing, it just hasn’t improved.

On-Track Action

Mercedes has won all but one race. Nico Rosberg, with four wins and one non-finish (DNF), leads the championship by 14 points over teammate Lewis Hamilton, who has five wins and two DNFs. At least the team has so far let the two drivers battle it out. Daniel Ricciardo, who managed to win one race for the formerly dominant Red Bull team, lies third in the points.

At this time last year there were five different winners from four different teams. Granted after that Sebastian Vettel won all nine of the races in the second half of the season, but what this year has shown is that these new regulations and technologies haven’t made a hill of beans difference in the quality of the action that a far less expensive rules package couldn’t have made.

Further, a lot of the action has been wrought through the continued use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which artificially gives a following car much more straightline speed since the leading car can’t use its system in that situation, and the appearance of the safety car at several races (most notably Bahrain), which also bunched up the field.

Other than Williams-Mercedes driver Felipe Massa securing pole position in Austria, the Mercedes team has claimed pole at the nine other races – five by Rosberg and four by Hamilton.
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Jalopy Racing – Part 1: So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons

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The following is part one of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. In John’s words…

Even at the grass roots level, motorsports has high barriers to entry. I have always had a passion for it, but never had the money, connections or opportunities to get involved other than crewing for a friend once in a while.

When I moved to D.C., I took the opportunity of a new start and reduced obligations to actively seek out ways to get more involved. I attended D.C.’s F1 Meet-up group and starting attending Volta GP kart races.

After an informal karting get together with the F1 Meet-up, we considered getting a group together to do an endurance arrive-and-drive kart event. This quickly grew into the idea of entering in a 24 Hours of Lemons race.

Before we knew it, someone had volunteered a car from a previous Lemons attempt and we had 10-20 guys wanting to be involved.

We drafted a team charter and opened a team bank account. Since the car we had wasn’t running and didn’t have the necessary safety gear, we decided to buy a previously raced car as an easy way to get involved.

As it turns out, Lemons legend Speedy Cop lived nearby and was selling one of his old cars – a Suzuki X-90 with a 1.8 Mazda Miata engine.  Speedy Cop has raced all sorts of weird and wonderful cars, including a “donk”, a pop-up camper, the Spirit of Lemons plane car (a Cessna fuselage on a minivan chassis), the Upside Down Camaro and most recently a twin engine Continental.

Speedy Cop, real name Jeff Bloch, was really supportive in helping us. Not only did he sell us the car, he’s also provided ongoing support and advice. We now run as an affiliated team, and our guys often race in his main cars. This open and supportive approach has been indicative of the culture of 24 Hours of Lemons, which is welcoming to new comers and offers a new avenue to get involved in grassroots motorsports.

The 24 Hours of Lemons is one of a number of grass-roots endurance road racing series that focus on low-budget cars and enjoy racing puns. The cars are supposed to only be worth $500, but at this point everyone cheats somewhat, and it’s just a matter of how much cheating you can get away with.

They run different classes so that the super cheaty cars (salvaged WRXs, MR2s and lots and lots of E30s/E36s) and the freakish, bizarre and slow can race their own kind. Safety related gear and upgrades do not count towards the $500, and even a basic car will still cost a couple of thousand dollars after installation of a roll cage, race seat and harness.

Between 4-6 people (the number of drivers per team at any race), this comes out to a couple of hundred dollars each. The races take place over two days, with about 6-7 hours of racing each day. If you run reliably at a decent pace, you will easily do 600 miles per event.

Make no mistake, it’s still not cheap. Even the minimum safety equipment will set you back $500, and each race weekend will cost between $300 – $500 [In racing, that’s cheap! – David], including race entry, fuel, accommodation, food etc. In our team, we each paid an upfront team entry fee (to buy the car and as a show of commitment), and pay $50 a month to the team account to cover other team expenses.

But when you compare it to most other race options, it’s a bargain – and competitive with some kart series and track days. It’s great bang-for-your-buck. But the real value comes from more than the racing, as you’ll see…

Read more about John and his team in Part 2: Our Road to Lemons.
All photos courtesy of John Watts & team

24 Hours of Le Mans Review [SPOILER ALERT]

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The 2014 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is now in the books. One of the three top contenders won the race as expected… but a whole lot of other things happened too. Here’s the short, short version of  events:

LMP-1

Audi took the overall and LMP-1 win with a 1-2 finish, an amazing 13th victory in 16 attempts, though it was not without drama. The third Audi (#3) and #8 Toyota were involved in a crash in wet conditions about 90 minutes into the race. The Audi was unable to continue while the Toyota limped back to the pits and was in the garage for about 50 minutes to repair the damage.

The winning team consisted of Marcel Fassler, Andre Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer in their R18 etron quattro. Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen was part of the team that finished second in the sister Audi after the car experienced turbo problems. His teammates were Lucas Di Grassi and Marc Gene, both ex-F1 drivers.

Gene was called in at the last minute to replace Loic Duval, who was not cleared to race as a precaution following the massive practice crash on Wednesday from which he fortunately emerged largely unscathed.
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24 Hours of Le Mans Preview: Porsche, Audi or Toyota?

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The 82nd running of the French classic takes place this weekend, June 14th and 15th, at the Circuit de la Sarthe, a high speed track nearly 8.5 miles in length. Fifty-six cars are entered across four classes of prototype race cars and production-based GT cars.

One surprising fact: Fully half of the entries are powered by Ferrari and Nissan (14 cars each). However, it is unlikely either will take the overall win since the top LMP-1 class is composed primarily of seven manufacturer-backed hybrid-electric prototypes from Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

The LMP-2 class has largely privateer teams running prototypes (17 cars), while the GTE Pro class has nine cars entered and the GTE Amateur class has 19 entries. However, some of those entries are really stretching the definition of  “amateur” with several ex-F1 drivers and Ben Collins (formerly The Stig on BBC’s Top Gear) in their line ups.
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Building A Better Race Car For Formula SAE


Last month I attended the annual Formula SAE competition at Michigan International Speedway as one of about 400 volunteers. My last outing there took place years ago as a student. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) sponsors a range of collegiate design competitions, and FSAE is one of the biggest.

Since 1981 teams of engineering students at an ever expanding roster of universities design, build, test and race their very own formula-style race cars each year. FSAE is where they go to race.

This year it was cold and dreary most of the time. Mobile phone signals weren’t great either. I could go on. But it’s not like it was much different from where it used to be held: The Pontiac Thunderdome Silverdome parking lot. Except back then pretty much no one had cell phones. But the real world doesn’t promise ideal conditions so this was as good a venue as any to put the cars to the test.

The rules are fairly open to encourage innovation: Create a race car for autocross courses within certain safety parameters, with a maximum engine displacement of 610 cc, and then race it against other teams that have done the same thing to see who does best.
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Racing and the Fine Line Between Courage and Foolishness


It’s been 14 years since I raced a racing kart. This past weekend I stepped back into it again, this time in the popular TaG (Touch and Go) class – a class I had never raced in before. I don’t know why I ever stopped.

What’s it like? You have to experience it for yourself to get the full effect. But the video (my new GoPro camera worked great) above can provide a bit of the flavor, and I’ll elaborate below.
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Ayrton Senna’s Final Race


Remembering the good times. Watch from 3:00 for the start of one of Senna’s greatest laps ever.

Twenty years ago today was a Sunday. I awoke earlier than usual and went to check that the VCR (yes, it was that long ago) was recording the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. Formula One coverage in the U.S. was sparse then, only available on ESPN and often with a strange start time like 7:50 a.m. Since I was already up, I decided to watch the race. It was to be one of the sport’s most tragic weekends and, unexpectedly, three-time F1 champion Ayrton Senna‘s final race.
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