What Can We Learn From the Russian GP?

After watching Nico Rossberg travel one lap on flat-spotted tires (tyres), changing to a new set and being able to complete the race with no more tire changes you have to wonder just how much are tires rigged to wear out.  The commentators felt that the Sochi Autodrome had a new and very smooth surface so it did not cause tire wear that is typical and causes race strategies to take into account more than one tire stop.

But if Pirelli can have a race tire that can easily last a full race without the often seen issues of heat degradation, blistering, etc., and performance that varies (sometimes drastically) from lap to lap – then what is stopping Pirelli from just supplying the perfect tire?

Does this mean that Pirelli can create a tire for each track that can last a race?  Since Pirelli had no experience with the Sochi track it appears that might be so.  If that is the case and Pirelli did (or was allowed by F1) provide long-lasting, grippy tires the races would be quite different.

In one aspect this season’s races have not been that different.  Mercedes won this race, and secured the constructor’s championship.  Mercedes powered F1 cars have dominated the 2014 season.  While Mercedes should be commended for what they have achieved, it certainly appears that they have enjoyed an “unfair advantage”.  How is that you say?  Well, F1 regulations put a freeze on engine modifications/engineering improvements once the season commences.  This means that Renault and Ferrari are stuck with what they have for all the races with the exception of some limited ECU tuning.  The power unit manufacturers can continue to develop their engines and power recovery units, they just cannot implement the improvements until the next season.  While Mercedes plays by the same rules it also means that they can make further improvements and continue to stay ahead.

So what’s wrong with that? It means that any changes made by the power unit manufacturers will no be exposed to the real racing environment and by the time they are introduced the teams will be stuck with the problems they encounter.

Especially with this year’s new power unit rules development is an iterative process that does not flourish in a stop-start schedule of 12 months.  I content that it would be far more exciting for the fans and provide a much more competitive environment if the manufacturers could continue with engineering advancements on the power units just as they can on the body/chassis designs.

Mercedes domination was clearly illustrated by Nico when he pitted on the first lap, changed tires and then was able to blast his way through the field to second place.  This was against not just the Red Bull Renault team, but the other Mercedes powered teams.  They are that good.

Factor in all the regulation constraints on the rest of the cars and F1 is dangerously edging toward a spec series and we all know what that can do to fan interest.  Mercedes has invested over $517 million on its power unit development.  Compare that to another $304 million spent to run the team itself.  That’s a huge investment with a big payoff and twice what they spent three years ago. So Mercedes is not interested in allowing power unit improvements during the season.

That will work until a competitor figures out how to leapfrog then and gains a competitive edge.

Oh yeah, and Honda is entering the fray next year, too.

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Almost as Good as Being There

Check out live.RacerConnect.com and the live video streaming of the NASA event at VIR today.  Coverage begins about 2:00 pm.

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A Big 3 Day Weekend at VIR

Virginia International Raceway has opened up the full course track to host several great events this Friday through Sunday.

The SportsCar Vintage Racing Association has come to VIR and brought along several classic vintage race cars.

This Saturday I spent a good part of the day enjoying the sights and sounds of vintage racing:

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Nissan had a great booth to show off some of their racing history:

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In addition they had a pair of racing simulators set up so you could try your hand at setting a record track time:

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TransAm racing is also being hosted at the track this weekend.  Today at noon there was qualifying and tomorrow, Sunday, will be the race, starting at 12:45 and going for 100 miles.  Tommy Kendal is on hand and enjoying the hot Chrysler cars:

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VIR is a beautiful track and the weather is fantastic.  Treat yourself to some fun and check out the events.

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Posted in Automobiles, Car Shows, Car Stuff, Cars, Racing, Road Racing, Sports Cars | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Formula E–Debuts

Olympic Park in Beijing China hosted the first of a series of races of this spec race.  It is the FIA’s attempt to create a Formula One type of racing experience but using all electric powered race cars.

Like the Indy series they all use the same chassis.  They do use 18” wheels.  The cars are all pretty much the same.  Within the constraints of electric power a single team car cannot complete a race so there is a mandatory car swap.

The cars consume so much electricity recharging that their impact on the city’s electrical grid is significant.

The fact that this is a series designed to replace the current Formula 1 is a bit disquieting.  The changes that have taken place in F1 have started moving the cars toward a spec-style formula which is putting off the fan base in a big way.

The Beijing race resulted in a crash and several yawns from the crowd of spectators.  I doubt that they will have much enthusiasm for attending another F-E race any time soon.

But there is another formula out there that should get a great deal of focus.

Its known as Formula Student and in the video above is the TU Delft car that wowed them at the Silverstone event with their performance and design innovation.

Notice the hub-less wheel design.  There are electric motors on all four corners. It has a one-stage planetary transmission resulting in a 50% weight saving over their last year’s design.  The wheels are 2kg lighter per corner.

The chassis was designed as a carbon fiber sandwich with an aluminum honeycomb center section. It weighs as much as a case of beer and is 3kg lighter than the previous chassis.

The whole electronic system was redesigned and uses their own battery management system.  Components were kept as close to each other as possible to reduce wiring and its associated interference. That reduced the number of wires per battery package from 40 to two.  Electrical energy is stored in an accumulator made of lithium polymer cells that are extremely lightweight.  If they had used batteries that are found in a normal car the weight would be 200kg instead of the 40kg it actually weighs.  It is extremely efficient with a 6.4kWh output.  With the regenerative braking they get 30% of their total power.

Instead of constraining Formula E with so many limits why don’t they open up the formula to creativity that you find these universities thriving in.  Their technology is not shrouded in secrecy either.  They just know that every year is a starting point for the next year’s worth of innovation.

And isn’t that what race fans are really looking for?

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Electric Cars, Racing | 1 Comment

Formula One–Please un-confuse me

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I have been a long-time fan of Formula 1.  I lived through the sixties with the no-seatbelt and drivers surrounded by fuel tank era.  I lived through the seventies with the wobbly wings attached directly to the suspension and the early aerodynamic experiments.  The eighties with their side-skirts and zero suspension travel times.  The nineties with the 1000+ horsepower qualifying engines.  Its always been more than a little crazy since it has always tried to be on the edge of the technology envelope.  But the regulations of late as well as the ones that are proposed (and likely) for the 2015 season have gotten to be just a bit wacky.

I mean standing starts after a safety car yellow?  Come on, most of the really bad stuff occurs at the initial standing start.  All the drivers are looking for an opportunity to gain positions and it will be even worse after a safety car period.  What is the FIA trying to do?  Instigate complete carnage?

I certainly welcomed the rationality of limiting the number of engines used during a season.  The days when engines would be cranked up just for qualifying and then swapped out for a race-day motor got just a little silly.  Certainly unrealistic from a budget standpoint, but to go to a limit of four engines (power units) per driver per season is asking a bit much out of a power plant that is run on the edge.  I don’t think that we want race strategies to be based on how many penalties have been accrued.  With this year only half way through, five drivers are on their forth engine and one is on his fifth (and last).  Sixteen drivers are on their third engine.  Resorting to a sixth power unit means a ten spot penalty.  But, if you qualify so low that you can’t be put back ten places the remainder are penalized the next race.  Other power components carry a five position penalty for exceeding 5 units.  With potential gearbox changes on top of power units you might need a refresher in calculus to figure out the post-qualifying grid.

Next year’s regulations continue to impose severe limits on aerodynamic testing.  Teams can only use one wind tunnel for the entire season and the time drops from 80 hours to 65 hours a week.  Wind-on time goes from 30 hours to 25 hours per week.  Using computers (CFD) to model will be cut back on power from 30 to 25 teraflops.  Track testing is also being limited.

On race weekends hours worked by team members will also be reduced which probably means larger teams so that the more work can get done in the allotted times.  Kind of like letting nine women make a baby in one month.  We might also see the end of heated tire covers unless they hold off until the move to 18” wheels and tires.

None of these things address what is really wrong with Formula One.  The isolation of the fan base.  Unless you are a retired rock star, or current actor, or have more money than most South American countries you can’t get anywhere meaningful at a race venue. 

With America’s open wheeled racing, the Indy series, you can spend $100 on a pass so that you can enter the garage area at Indianapolis Speedway.  The fans can actually connect with the teams and drivers there.  Its time to let the fans mingle with the races.  Get the trucks and trailers out of the area and let the fans see what is going on.  I mean really see what is going on.  All the secrecy that goes on is almost a joke.  After all, with all the people from media and other sources with their video gear and cameras – well, putting up a screen so the fans can’t see into the garage seems a little ridiculous.

Even Vettel appears to be sick of the current formula.  Technicalities limit innovation to the degree that not only are the fans not having much fun, but even the drivers are wondering what the point is.  Speaking of points – who had the nutty idea of doubling point on the last race of the season?

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Cars, Engines, F1, Modifying Cars, Racing, Road Racing, Sports Cars | 4 Comments

Tommy Kendall–TransAm–He’s Back!!

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Cars, Great Drivers, Life and Cars, Racing, Road Racing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cars That You Find on the Side of the Road

I always enjoy the little surprises that pop up on the side of the road while you are traveling from point A to point B.

If you aren’t careful you can go by them and miss what could be a wonderful trip down memory lane.

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It looks to be a 1962 or 1963 VW bug.  The fact that its swing axles were popped up with positive camber says that the engine had been removed.  Probably for a rebuild or a replacement.  Many years ago I had a 1962 that was an absolute blast to drive around in.

There were a couple of other classics that didn’t look like they would be on the road any time soon.

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Ahh, cars.  What memories.  Sigh.

Posted in Automobiles, Car Stuff, Cars, Life and Cars, Road Trips | 2 Comments