Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ciao, Emanuele.

ALMS finished up the season at Laguna Seca, and I still didn't get to go. Am hoping I can make it there next year.

The only real story of note was Emanuele Pirro leaving the Audi team. To many of you, you're probably thinking "Emanu-who?" but Pirro has been one of the most lively and interesting characters I've had the pleasure of getting to know these last few years. He's taught me a thing or two, and definitely made me laugh.

A few years ago, I was in the pits at Sebring with Lug and Gladys from the "Speed Freaks" TV show. We had just met, and were basically showing each other around the pit area. After they'd introduced me to Terry Borcheller (nice guy, good interview, and a damn fine racer in his own right), I saw Emanuele Pirro walk by and I asked "Emanuele, do you have a minute?"

I introduced him to the Speed Freaks, and we all got to talking shop with Pirro and Alan McNish. Alan was getting ready for a stint so he had to leave, but Pirro stayed with us. I like to ask the questions nobody else thinks of, so I put it to him: "Emanuele, I have a question - Ron Fellows said when Johnny O'Connell re-upped with Corvette, that 'he might as well, since we've been pissing in the same seat for so long'. How often does that happen?"

"Oh, it never happens - never! No no, never.... .... OK, one time it happens," he tells me "I am driving the car, early in my stint and I have to pee. I call on radio to my crew chief, I say 'I have to pee!' and he says 'it's OK, you go in the car.'" (We're all starting to fall apart laughing at this point) "I tell him, I can no pee in the car, I am driving! How can I pee while I am driving! He says too bad, you pee in the car or you wait. So I try and try, and I cannot pee... All the time, I am driving as fast as I can! IT TOOK ME 8 LAPS!"

When he got to "8 laps", I was literally clutching the fence wall to keep from falling down. He just delivered the story so matter-of-factly, so damn funny... It was one of the funniest moments I've had at the track, and I wish I'd been recording it at the time.

I took this shot of Emanuele last year at Atlanta, on the grid just before the start of the race:

Thank you, Emanuele, for being such a great driver, a fantastic interview, and a good friend.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Remembering PL Newman

With the death of Paul Newman (known in the racing community simply as "PL", the tributes to the beloved driver, team owner, benefactor and award-winning great American actor have been as astonishing in number as they have been deep in sentiment. When Newman died on September 26, the racing world didn't just lose a popular team owner -- everyone here lost a friend.

Lots of Hollywood-types have been known to make appearances at big races, some even suit up and get behind the wheel, but few have fallen in love with racing and devoted themselves to the sport in quite the way PL did. He had said that racing was "the first thing that I ever found I had any grace in," a statement that echoes like a song to those with Racer's Blood in their veins.

While the mainstream media reported (rightly so) that Newman had raised and donated huge sums of money to children’s charities and other causes, his generosity and leadership throughout the world of motorsports was and still is one of the greatest stories to be told about the man. And at no place was this story told better during the week than at the Mazda Atlantic Championship Series Awards banquet held on Friday night. Numerous racers and teams in the Atlantic series had the benefit of PL’s involvement, and his presence in that series – as with all the others in which he participated – will be missed for a long time to come.

All over the track, any series that competed, it seemed every car had a sticker remembering a racer modestly called PL Newman.

[excerpted from tomorrow's AE article]

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Road Atlanta 2008: The Gallery!

The story's not yet written, but the photos are in the can.


Comments, as always, are much appreciated. I think I've learned a couple of things about shooting with a little old pocket econocam - and I think some of the shots look quite good. That said, some of you are better at this than I am, and I'm always looking for criticism: I don't mind at all if it's harsh, really, I just want to learn more.

And... speaking of comments - I laced most of the pics with a goofy comment here or there. If it makes you laugh, then I did it right.

Enjoy. And watch for my article on this Wednesday.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Caption contest!

I took this shot about 85 seconds after it happened, right in front of me. Have fun in the comments.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Quote of the Day...

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." -- American Le Mans Series President/CEO Scott Atherton, issuing the challenge to other racing series to follow the lead of the ALMS into the age of Green Racing.

More later.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

FBI invades Road Atlanta? Day 2.1

Super-famous multiple Indy 500-winning driver Helio Castroneves (yes, the smiling Brazilian dude on "Dancing With The Stars") has just been arrested here at Road Atlanta. I was having a yummy catered dinner at Peugeot's hospitality suite when I got the news. Four big black Suburbans rolled in and took Castroneves, his sister, and his lawyer into custody. [edit: All I have been able to verify is that Helio is wanted on a Federal tax evasion charge, and later events have confirmed he was taken to Miami to appear before a judge, make bail, and get himself back to Atlanta. However, the original source for the info above, may not have been 100% reliable. If I did in fact get any of this wrong, well, shit...]

However, he is, as I write this, IN THE RACE CAR AND ON THE TRACK. He's listed on the leader board, and it's definitely his helmet visible just 50 feet away from where I'm sitting. Guess that lawyer of his really is quite good.

I may have inadvertently flirted my way into a job offer. Team Peugeot Total has a serious presence here in ALMS, and their team PR manager (a really cute French girl named Cecile, who speaks just enough English to order a burger) wants to know (1) how do I get an American on-board as liaison for the company in the US, and (2) do I know anything about racing? I won't get too far ahead of myself, especially with my rusty hold of the French language and my small-if-impressive contacts, but this is an interesting twist.

Of interest probably only to a friend at home, but since she never reads email I'll post here anyway:

Marco Andretti nearly ran me over with a golf cart, but was so humble and apologetic afterwards. He's a great kid. David Brabham and I got to talk shop at a conference earlier, before I visited the Patron hospitality suite. He's doing great, and I expect he'll kick serious ass on Saturday [Update - his car fell out of the race before Brabs ever got to turn a wheel. Damn!].

Lord Drayson is a total freakin' hoot. We spent about 20 minutes discussing Top Gear, E85, Tony Blair, Saturday Night Live, girls, and more Top Gear. If you watch the race on Saturday, the incredibly awesome Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT2 is his ride, and it's just a gorgeous machine. Far better than the DBR9, I think.

Tracy Krohn may just stick to Grand Am series next year. Too damn expensive to run here and there at once. Similar rumors about Penske/Porsche, but I'm not qualifying them as anything but rumors at this point.

Amanda Stretton is said to be here at the track. I still have my permission slip, too! :) [Update - I haven't been able to find Ms. Stretton. Oh well...]

Earl Fannin is not in good health. More cancer than a lab rat - bone cancer in his leg, a tumor on the back of his neck, the latter is inoperable. Talking with him is such a reality check, a reminder of just how damn tough I don't have it, and how damn easy I've gotten along this far. I wish him the best; the man is like a favorite uncle to me.

Road Atlanta in fast-forward, Day 2

Just back from the "Green Challenge Round Table Forum" being held in the administrative offices here at Road Atlanta. I met one to one with representatives from the American Le Mans Series, General Motors, Sebring Raceway, Mazda, as well as drivers David Brabham and Lord Drayson - the latter of whom insisted I just call him "Paul." I won't bore the crowd with too much minutiae, except to say that the cars you will drive in just a few years' time, will be powered by the technology that's being proven right now at the track.

At this year's Petit Le Mans, Audi's unstoppable R10 turbo diesel seems like old news at this point. Peugeot is back with their fantastic and amazingly fast 908 HDi racer, also running on diesel.

Chevy's two-car Corvette Racing team will be running on cellulosic E-85, which is ethanol NOT derived from corn, but from other biodegradable waste. The exhaust fumes from a race car running on E-85 will give you a nice buzz, too.

Wait, trick fuels aren't enough? How about a hybrid race car? Zytek has brought out a racer with an electric pack that might not win this endurance outing, but is quite the laboratory on wheels. It's fast (everything from Zytek is fast), it looks good, and it's the first racer I've seen that uses a partial-electric powerplant. We will see many more of these in years to come.

I have to give a nod here to Mazda and their sponsorship of the Atlantic open-wheel series. The series is celebrating its 35th year. They also fed me a very nice lunch. I thank everyone who feeds me :)

More stuff later, probably after Night Practice.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The road to Atlanta: Day 1.1

Braselton, GA --

Gas pumps everywhere with bags on the nozzles. People searching for gas and running the tank dry. Long lines leading to a dismal supply being tapped out in a few hours. People sleeping in their cars at gas pumps in order to be "the first" to get some petrol. This is the Southeast of America in the Fall of 2008. You'd think it was a page from the original script from "Mad Max."

Having heard from a friend in Georgia that there was a severe gas shortage following hurricanes Gustav and Ike (both of which were piddly thunderstorms when compared with Katrina in 2005), I set out from my home near DC with a pair of 5-gallon gas cans, loaded at $3.47 per gallon.

I'm glad I did.

Traveling down I-85 into North Carolina, prices visible from the highway start to creep upwards towards the $4/gallon mark and beyond, then... nothing. Most gas stations are open for snacks and coffee, but don't bother stopping if you need gasoline. It's the same in South Carolina and Georgia; there's just too little fuel to go around.

I found a Wilco station with regular unleaded for $3.63/gallon as soon as I crossed the border into SC, so I stopped to fuel up. I don't want to touch the 10 gallons I have in reserve unless I have to. Still, I've been averaging from 38-41 MPG in my backup car during the trip, which beats the pants off of most of the things we Americans still drive. Nice lady at the Wilco station refused to charge me for the 1L thermos and 16 oz cup of coffee I filled, too.

I'm still trying to understand the wisdom behind the idea of driving around on an empty gas tank and running out of fuel, during the process of aimlessly searching for a good supply in what is otherwise a vast desert of "NO GAS."

So, having managed the fuel situation well enough for the start of it, I headed South. As I often do on my way to Atlanta, I stopped in NC to visit with my dad. He was overjoyed that I'd brought along a new hard drive for his laptop -- the old Win2k image on the Dell I gave him a few years ago, just lost the registry, and became a big doorstop. The new drive is imaged up with XP, and his "old" hard drive is now in a USB enclosure to be used as external storage.

I arrived at the track this morning at 0330. Amazingly, there was a live person at the registration trailer who was able to get me credentialed-up and into the infield. I parked by the office, got cleaned up, enjoyed some coffee and watched the sunrise.

It's a damn good thing there are racecars all around me, because there's no internet here. No, wait, there is for some of the people here, but not me. Neither by iBook (which I'm writing this on) nor my trusty XP laptop will obtain an IP from the network here. Reason? Apparently neither of them supports WPA/AES cryp. Uhh... AES? WTF??? Yes, AES is stronger than TKIP. And no, it isn't workable under either of the wireless cards used by my laptops.

The meatball who's been put in charge of the network here, told me "uhh, see, I had read a website where it said that AES is faster than TKIP..." He apparently didn't read the rest of the article. I should be able to walk into this office with a 386 running Win95 and be able to connect to the network. It's a fucking media office at a race track, not the Pentagon! Too bad nobody else seems to realize this.

So, now that the racecars are done with their testing and practice sessions for the day, and since I don't have a hotel room to go to yet, I'm sitting in the office... offline.

[update: At 17:12 EDT, the meatball finally got himself out here, and switched the cryp on the router from WPA to WEP. Yes, the same WEP that Munchkin could break in 5 minutes if she wanted to, but I finally have signal!]