Jake | Tuesday 1st April 2014 | Formula 1

The last thing anyone needs is another idiot spouting opinions about the noise of the new 2014 Formula 1 engines. But now this is happening. You’re very welcome.

I left it a couple of races because honestly, I didn’t quite know what all the fuss was about after Australia. I enjoyed the tyres screeching as the cars left their pit boxes, but didn’t really notice much else.

Having paid more attention during the Malaysian Grand Prix, I guess it does sound different to last year – closer to MotoGP bikes, perhaps. But the noise has never impacted on my enjoyment of MotoGP.

Taking that point and running with it, Moto3 bikes sound less impressive than MotoGP, but that doesn’t stop Moto3 from providing some of the most consistently entertaining racing – on two wheels or four.

Maybe I’m different to a lot of F1 fans. In fact, I rather hope I am, given their reaction to the noise of an engine. To many, F1 is motorsport. A change to the sound coming out of their telly box is strange and frightening.

But if you consume a range of motorsports, I don’t think it’s possible to be concerned by it. Rally cars, touring cars, superbikes – they all sound different again, but does that make them more or less entertaining? No.

Nevertheless, there are simple solutions for those who find their hearing insufficiently damaged. At the track, for example, there could be a designated NOISY GRANDSTAND, with different sources of intolerable noise at each track. A Harrier Jump Jet could hover overhead at Silverstone; guns could be unrelentingly fired in the air at the Circuit of the Americas; something Belgian could happen at Spa.

Accidents may happen, and some people may die, but at least spectators would leave with an uncomfortable ringing in their ears.

Jake | Wednesday 19th March 2014 | Touring Cars

This year’s BTCC grid is remarkably good looking. It hasn’t always been; I still haven’t quite recovered from Jeff Smith’s 2011 livery. But this year’s cars are an impressively professional looking bunch.

Top of the pile in my world are newcomers United Autosports, who’ve come straight in with a couple of bloody smart looking cars in red, white and blue.

United Autosports, BTCC 2014

Fellow new team Rotek Racing have also shown up the established teams something rotten with this classy Oakley-sponsored effort.

Rotek Racing, BTCC 2014

Somewhat further up the colour spectrum, the third Motorbase Focus, run as Crabbie’s Racing, certainly stands out. And I like it for that.

Crabbie's Racing , BTCC 2014

An honourable mention must also go to Wix Racing, for refining their livery into a very tidy yellow effort. It looks good on the Mercedes-Benz A Class, doesn’t it?

WIX Racing, BTCC 2014 MG, BTCC 2014

Finally, the MG. Remarkably, they’ve come up with an even more elaborate team name: MG KX Momentum has become MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save. So, in effect, still ‘MG Tesco Tesco’. Like 2013 – and unlike 2012 – it looks fine.


Photo Credits
United Autosports: United Autosports – FlickrSome rights reserved
Rotek Racing: Rotek Racing
Crabbie’s Racing: Pranavian – FlickrSome rights reserved
Wix Racing: Bryan Janes – FlickrSome rights reserved
MG: Bryan Janes – FlickrSome rights reserved

Jake | Tuesday 18th March 2014 | Touring Cars

It certainly looks like the British Touring Car Championship has hit the sweet spot. The maturing NGTC regulations together with the new TOCA BTCC Licence, guaranteeing entry for the next three seasons, has chucked up a bonza grid of 31 entries.

Fabrizio Giovanardi, BTCC 2008

The return of champions Alain Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi has been widely celebrated, and rightly so: it’s bloody wonderful to see drivers of international repute back in our great national championship. But it’s not all roses.

Mat Jackson was the final addition to the grid – and, unusually, the only driver to be announced at today’s season launch at Donington Park. He’s back with Airwaves Racing, and rightly so.

Less fortunate was Tom Onslow-Cole, who is sitting out the 2014 season, and looking for opportunities in sports car racing. Like Mat Jackson, he’s a talented driver who’s come up the TOCA support classes, and in recent years has looked like he’s just been waiting for that final piece to fall into place to mount a title challenge – like Andrew Jordan did last year.

Tom Onslow-Cole, BTCC 2008

He should be on the grid. That he isn’t, and Jackson evidently struggled, shows that despite the outward health of the championship, money still plays a much bigger role in who’s on the grid than it would in an ideal world.

Frank Wrathall had been in the same category as Jackson and Onslow-Cole, but his absence from the championship is an altogether different matter: he was jailed for 21 months last month after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving. Which rather puts things into perspective.

Jake | Wednesday 15th January 2014 | Rally

WRC on BT Sport

The WRC has had a turbulent few years, particularly from a UK perspective, but as the new season starts there’s an embarrassment of positive stories.

After scraping together a UK TV deal to air highlights on ITV4 a couple of rallies into last season, that continues into 2014, along with an additional deal for extended coverage on BT Sport. That will take in live coverage as well as daily highlights, even if the BT Sport website is no help in finding out when it’s on.

Then there’s the sport itself. How will Robert Kubica fare in his first full time WRC campaign? How about Kris Meeke at Citroen? And will new manufacturer Hyundai do a Volkswagen, or more of a Suzuki – or worse, a Mini?

But more importantly: glasses

Thierry Neuville - orange glasses Thierry Neuville - blue glasses

That’s all good, but the best story is Thierry Neuville. After a storming 2013 season, finishing second in the championship in the factory-support-less Fiesta, this year the Belgian is Hyundai’s lead driver. Which is lovely for him. But it’s also good news for his glasses, which if there’s any justice, will rise in profile with the man himself.

Sebastien Bourdais

Glasses are quite rare in motorsport, and vaguely interesting glasses – Jari-Matti Latvala doesn’t count – even more so since Sebastien Bourdais stopped wearing that red pair he had back around his time in F1.

I don’t even wear glasses, so no vested interest here. They’re just a bit of interest on motorsport’s largely bland faces, aren’t they? And therefore to be encouraged.

Meanwhile…

Glasses or no, Sebastien Ogier continued where he left off by setting the fastest time on shakedown for Rallye Monte-Carlo today. Tantalisingly, Meeke was second.

Photo Credits
WRC on BT Sport: Hyundai
Thierry Neuville’s orange glasses: Florival fr – Wikimedia CommonsSome rights reserved
Thierry Neuville’s blue glasses: Hyundai
Sebastien Bourdais’s red glasses: Wikimedia Commons

Jake | Saturday 5th October 2013 | Formula 1

There is much to enjoy about the Korean Grand Prix. For one thing, there is great joy to be had reading about how much Formula 1 journalists hate going to Mokpo, because it’s not as exciting as somewhere like Singapore. Our collective hearts bleed for them.

But that’s not the best thing; the bleak scenery is. Specifically: the cranes and other industrial equipment of distant shipyards.

Korean Grand Prix shipyard

The circuit was meant to be a catalyst for development of the remote part of Korea in which it’s located, with an urban landscape supposed to pop up around the street-style section at the end of the lap. That’s not happened.

But I have a soft spot for brutal industrial landscapes, so in my mind the big red shipbuilding cranes have joined the Ferris wheel at Suzuka in the ranks of great Formula 1 scenery.

Photo Credit: lumiphoto – FlickrSome rights reserved

Jake | Sunday 29th September 2013 | Formula 1

Rush: Hunt & Lauda

I have opinions on Rush; of course I do. But in many ways they’re the least important.

My stupid opinions

So let’s get them out of the way. It’s good! – the performances especially. Daniel Brühl has been singled out for particular praise for his portrayal of Niki Lauda, but despite some serious reservations, for my money Chris Hemsworth’s James Hunt is just as impressive. I also rather enjoyed Christian McKay as Lord Hesketh – and it looked like he enjoyed chewing on that role too.

Although the film focuses on the 1976 season, I think the it covers the period prior to that better. The last third or so of the film feels slightly rushed (no pun intended, but I’ll take it), going from race to race with little time given to anything else.

More is made of the teams when Hunt is at Hesketh and Lauda at BRM. On the one hand, that’s understandable, given that those teams were rather more ‘colourful’. But on the other, there was real enmity between people at McLaren and Ferrari, and for me that doesn’t quite come across enough.

Rush: grid

The race footage is well done – the sheer noise is particularly effective – but it’s the human story that resonates. The film maybe loses sight of that for a period, while it goes about telling the – not quite incidental, but less engaging – numerical story of the season.

There has been criticism of the ‘Basil Exposition’ commentary, but I found it only realistically patronising. While it does get repetitive race after race, it’s a reasonable enough way of pushing on.

Personally, I got more out of the documentary Hunt vs Lauda: F1′s Greatest Racing Rivals, and to a lesser extent When Playboys Ruled the World. (At the time of writing, the former is available on the BBC iPlayer for a couple of days yet – and neither is hard to find on YouTube and the like.)

There’s some stunning archive footage in those programmes; it’s almost a shame not to see that paired up with a film-level budget and taken full advantage of, especially when Senna did something so special with it.

What the money says

But that’s me, and as far as this film is concerned, I’m not the average punter.

Senna ultimately took £3.2 million at the UK box office. Rush entered the UK box office chart at number 2, took the number 1 spot in its second week, and has taken £4.7 million to date.

In short: it’s done well. It’ll be interesting to see how it does in the US, where it’s just gone on general release.

What a better person thinks

I was quite taken aback by how much my girlfriend enjoyed it. Her first comment was that it was the first time in a long while that she’d forgotten she was in the cinema. Not because she fell asleep, but because she was engaged: knowing little more than Lauda doesn’t die, the remarkable story had maximum impact.

The story has a wide appeal, and Ron Howard has made it attractive to a wide audience, in a format that’s immensely marketable – in a way that a documentary wouldn’t have been. People who saw Senna generally enjoyed it, but it was a harder sell. Documentaries just are.

The good news for me is it’s had a similar effect as Senna: my girlfriend wants to try to take an interest in Formula 1 again. It won’t last, but for some it will – which is good news for the sport.

Jake | Saturday 28th September 2013 | General Nonsense

Forza Motorsport 5: Audi R18 at Laguna Seca

I’ll be honest, I thought it was the usual extreme creative license games can delight in taking. “A prototype sportscar, around Laguna Seca? That sounds like fun – in the same way as driving a Formula 1 car around Mallory Park.”

But proving further that I’m a sportscar racing ignoramus, I was wrong: LMP2 cars visit the circuit also known – less attractively – as Mazda Raceway, as part of the American Le Mans Series. Look, here’s Marino Franchitti winning earlier this year.

Nonetheless, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro is quite a fun car to have included in the Forza Motorsport 5 demo, even if the idea of LMP1 at Laguna Seca isn’t as far-fetched as I thought. Certainly it was too much for me to resist when I spent some time with the game at the Eurogamer Expo recently.

Forza 5: IndyCar

So, a new generation of consoles. Is Microsoft using the Xbox One to usher in a new generation of racing games? Well, not obviously, no. But there are some neat ideas, such as shoving your performance data to the cloud for processing, to endlessly tailor the AI in future races. It also features open-wheel single-seaters for the first time – IndyCar and classic F1.

It certainly looks terribly pretty, with a low sun clearly chosen for the demo to showcase some particularly distracting lighting effects. By ‘distracting’, I mean ‘realistic’. And also ‘it nearly made me crash once’.

It’s worth being careful with that word ‘realistic’ though. You’re not going to be mistaking this for the real thing; it’s the same lack of incidental imperfections which give away a CGI render.

As if inviting the comparison, there was an actual McLaren P1 on the stand. That was covered in an unavoidable thin layer of dust, while the McLaren P1 in the game was either perfectly gleaming, or perfectly damaged. None of this is a criticism, but it’s worth setting expectations given that we’ve got new hardware here.

forza5_bathurst

Whatever the fancy hardware and cloud-based shenanigans, the meat and potatoes is going to be driving cars around tracks – so how does it feel? A short time standing at a demo pod at a games show is never going to be the best place to judge, but so far so good.

One thing does feel different. The Xbox One pad has added individually vibrating triggers, which means you can feel the accelerator and brake pedal through your digits. The latter is particularly effective: leave it too late to hit the brakes and you’ll feel the squirming and wheel-locking through your left index finger. It’s a remarkably enjoyable sensation, especially noticeable when I was hooning around in the Ford Focus ST.

Of the cars on offer, the Focus ST was the most suited to the track. Throwing it around with a bit of BTCC attitude – rubbin’s racin’ – was most satisfying. There wasn’t really space to give the Audi R18 or McLaren P1 a proper run – clattering down the corkscrew in the R18 in particular felt rather clumsy – though suffice to say the added performance was obvious.

Forza 5: Mercedes 300SL

The old gull-wing Mercedes 300SL was a pleasant tootle around in comparison. It was also a reminder that steering wheels used to be massive. So much so that it was slightly in the way of the in-car view. Realism’s one thing, but couldn’t they have found a taller virtual gentleman driver?

Jake | Sunday 22nd September 2013 | Formula 1

The Singapore Grand Prix is an unusual event: it’s a night race; it’s a street race; it’s a new(ish) race that not only isn’t under threat, but is actively liked by drivers, teams, sponsors, journalists and fans alike.

But better than all of those: the walls around the track are painted a different colour in each sector.

Singapore Grand Prix: yellow walls

It’s best seen in an on-board lap of the track – yesterday’s pole lap by Sebastian Vettel, for example.

Ignoring the pesky advertising hoardings, the walls start out blue, change to green for the middle sector, and turn yellow to complete the lap. It’s such a simple thing, and it’s not desperately obvious, but I appreciate the unnecessary effort.

Singapore Grand Prix: blue walls Singapore Grand Prix: green walls

So: circuits of the world, more colour coded track furniture, please!

Photo Credits
Blue: Matt Clements – FlickrSome rights reserved
Green: Jorge Cancela – FlickrSome rights reserved
Yellow: JJ Hall – FlickrSome rights reserved

Jake | Thursday 22nd August 2013 | MotoGP, Superbikes

MotoGP: 46 & 99

For many riders, their bike number is a big part of their brand – Valentino Rossi and 46, for example.

But there are only so many one and two digit numbers to go round – 98 to be precise, excluding the rarely-seen 0 and champion-reserved 1. So there’s got to be some sharing going on between championships. But which numbers are the most popular? Let’s investigate the heck out of it.

The popular – and unpopular – bike numbers

Bike numbers

This is the full list of bike numbers in MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, World Superbikes, World Supersport and British Superbikes, scraped from those websites this week.

Even from that tiny thumbnail, you can see that smaller numbers are more popular – no surprise there.

Proving that riders are a superstitious bunch, the most popular bike number overall, and indeed the only one in use in all six of the championships, is lucky number 7. Next up are numbers 4, 5, 9, 11, 19 and 23, all in use in five of the six series.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of completely untouched bike numbers. Those include 1, because none of the current champions chose to adopt the number 1 plate; and 13, further proof that riders really are a superstitious bunch. The others are: 28, 48, 56, 62, 74, 75, 78, 79, 82, 83, 85, 90, 92 and 98.

Summaries

There are a lot of untouched bike numbers in the 70s, aren’t there? It’s not popular around there, as this breakdown by intervals of ten shows:

Bike Numbers Riders
0-9 30
10-19 26
20-29 22
30-39 15
40-49 14
50-59 13
60-69 19
70-79 8
80-89 10
90-99 12
100+ 2
Championship Average Bike Number
MotoGP 38
Moto2 42
Moto3 39
World Superbikes 41
World Supersport 40
British Superbikes 52

Average bike number by championship there, too. And those tables are related.

The two bike numbers in 100+ are both in British Superbikes – 127 for Robbin Harms, and a frankly ludicrous 303 for Keith Farmer. Fatboy Slim might have said that Everybody Needs a 303, but he wasn’t thinking of bike numbers. Other championships presumably dictate a maximum of two digits. Wisely.

And that’s why the average bike number in British Superbikes, at 52, is noticeably higher than the other championships, which range from 38 to 42.

Phwoar! Look at that branding

As I said at the start, a lot of riders use their bike number as part of their brand, and sensibly championships are getting more relaxed about how the number is displayed on the bike.

One of my favourites from recent years was Jorge Lorenzo’s 2011 number 1 plate, which he adopted after winning the championship in 2010. The construction of the number 1 from his initials, JL, was pleasingly subtle.

Jorge Lorenzo 1 Mika Kallio 36

A current favourite is Mika Kallio’s number 36 on his Marc VDS Moto2 bike, displayed as -36°, presumably referring to his chilly homeland of Finland. Very neat.

And finally, some maths – sorry

Incidentally, if I was a racer I’d choose one of the completely unused numbers. That’s 28, because it’s a perfect number, meaning that it equals the sum of its proper factors: 28 = 14 + 7 + 4 + 2 + 1.

Implying that, perhaps unsurprisingly, racers aren’t necessarily big fans of number theory, the other perfect number less than 100, 6 = 3 + 2 + 1, is in use in only two championships, which isn’t many compared to other small numbers.

Photo Credits
#46 & #99: mmphotography.it – FlickrSome rights reserved
Jorge Lorenzo #1: Tomohiko Tanabe – FlickrSome rights reserved
Mika Kallio #36: Ben Henderson / ImageNationPhotography – FlickrSome rights reserved

Jake | Friday 2nd August 2013 | MotoGP

Cal Crutchlow, 2013

What to make of Cal Crutchlow signing for Ducati? He must believe it to be the best decision, but some fans aren’t so keen. I think a consideration of probabilities helps here.

Podiums

What we – by which I mean British MotoGP fans – want is a British rider at the front. We’ve got that this year, with Crutchlow having bagged four podiums and a pole position so far. It’s not unreasonable to expect more of the same for the rest of the season – and indeed in 2014 had he stayed on the Tech 3 Yamaha.

By contrast, Ducati have had no podiums this year, and a only four in the past two seasons.

I think this is what British fans see: the probability of Crutchlow fighting at the front and grabbing a handful podium is greater at Tech 3 than at Ducati. And it’s a fair point, from a spectator’s point of view; the thought of Crutchlow languishing mid-pack on a Ducati is not exactly inspiring.

Race Wins

But no-one dreams of podiums; racers race to win. This is where it gets tricky.

The last time any satellite bike won a race was 2006, when the Gresini Honda was victorious with both Marco Melandri and Toni Elias.

Ducati, meanwhile, last won a race in 2010 – three times, thanks to Casey Stoner of course. Even excluding Stoner as a special case, it was still more recent than 2006 – Loris Capirossi took a win in 2007.

So where is Crutchlow more likely to take his first race win? It’s close. At Tech 3, on a satellite bike, he’ll struggle without something to level the playing field – wet weather or problems for the factory bikes; at Ducati he’ll need them to produce a better bike, or just ‘do a Stoner’ and somehow ride the heck out of it.

World Championships

Casey Stoner, Ducati, 2007

Race wins aren’t the end of it though: it’s all about being World Champion.

Here it gets a bit easier: satellite bikes don’t win championships. Never in the MotoGP era, and not in recent history before that – if ever. On the other side, Casey Stoner took his Ducati to the world title in 2007.

So undoubtedly Crutchlow stands a better chance of becoming world champion at Ducati than Tech 3. It might still be a long shot, but it’s better than the near as damn it zero chance at Tech 3.

The one certainty

This is all probabilities, chances and likelihoods. There only one certainty, and that’s that Crutchlow will earn more at Ducati. A racer’s career is relatively short, and opportunities are few and far between, so it’s only right that money be a factor.

If he’d stayed at Tech 3, Crutchlow would have had a very good chance of running at the front next year. In exchange for passing up that opportunity, he’s getting a factory bike which, if Ducati get their act together or Crutchlow can ‘do a Stoner’, could give him a chance at the world title – and the certainty of more money. Seems like a fair deal to me.

Photo Credits
Cal Crutchlow: Corentin Foucaut – FlickrSome rights reserved
Casey Stoner: Thomas Helbig – FlickrSome rights reserved

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