Open wheel racing: IRL and CART unification
March 5, 2008 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Over the past decade, as NASCAR's popularity has grown, and Formula 1 has expanded into new international markets, open wheel racing in the US has floundered along with 2 rival series: IRL and CART. With little sponsorship money, the loss of big-name drivers to retirement, F1 and NASCAR, this year's unification of IRL and CART was a long time coming, and may lead to a series that race fans may start caring about again.
posted by jaimev (73 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This can only be good news for the sport, though far too long overdue.

Sadly, it looks like the reunification has already claimed a victim as Forsythe Racing's Champcar division has announced they will close shop after this year's Long Beach race. Looks like Paul Tracy will be looking for a ride.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:12 PM on March 5, 2008


Man, this is causing a huge issue at present. It never occurred to me to post it here, as it is all about my industry. I didn't think people would be interested here!

But let's get one thing straight, this is not by any means a merger, despite the press around the name. This is a hostile takeover/walkover - Champ Car has been ripped apart and destroyed and only the series organisation will survive relatively easily. Several long established teams (including the Champ Car Atlantic team that won the support race series last year) have closed their doors or departments as a direct result of this. Many more teams will hit serious financial straits over this, and I predict at least 30% of the Champ Car teams that attempt to keep going into IRL (even with the massive financial packages given) will struggle to get through next winter.

This was simply left too late. The rumblings have been in the industry for several months now, but there simply (even with the free cars and large sweetener deals) isn't time for any of the Champ Car teams to produce a competitive package for this season, so they will have to suffer awful results while they try and regroup and learn entirely new cars and circuits from scratch as there is almost zero comparable data between the two types of car and (I think) no common circuits at all. Many sponsors that are used to podium finishes will be scratching their heads and wondering why they are at the back of the field and aren't wondering whether switching to sponsoring the IRL teams by mid season isn't a good idea...

This is not a constructive merger for the benefit of all. This is Tony George finally stamping out Champ Car as he's always wanted to do, and the industry will suffer as a result. The logistics involved in the Champ Car teams competing in the IRL (rather than sit with their thumbs up their arses or close up) is a horrific workload. I nearly went to work for a Champ Car team a year or so ago, and I'm not missing the extra money right now, I can tell you. I'm bloody glad I turned down that offer...

Now, of course, is also the worst possible time for instability in racing - there is no money at all out there at present, and even in our series (occasional support for Champ Car, but full professional series) there are hardly any drivers this year. Trying to create a successful series from this farce at such late notice is a tall, tall order. I predict much carnage.
posted by Brockles at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Doubtful.

The schism lasted too long for anyone to have any feelings outside apathy towards the reunification. It seems odd in retrospect, but at one time I (and most other racing fans I know) were equal Cart and F1 fans.

Kids have gravitated to import tuner events, while us old people have switched allegiances entirely to F1 (and even that can be difficult to maintain an interest in.) All the parties involved are guilty of killing open wheeled North American racing, it'll be very difficult to revive.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:13 PM on March 5, 2008


They're going to have a long road ahead of them to rebuild an audience; oval open-wheel racing simply isn't as interesting as NASCAR, since NASCAR has significantly more pit drama and bump 'n run action, and my understanding (please tell me if I'm wrong) is that they won't be running standard road courses very often.

As a race fan, until/unless I start seeing standard course racing in the rain (which, obviously, NASCAR will never do) I don't see any reason to watch -- the more advanced technology just isn't particularly compelling to me when compared to, say, two guys with airguns each trying to get ten lug nuts changed without getting run over.
posted by davejay at 2:37 PM on March 5, 2008


2008 is the year crude sustains over $100 (US) a barrel and OPEC tells the US to get its economy in order. Never mind, back to the fantasy at hand.
posted by mistersquid at 2:43 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, you've managed to summarize the problem nicely, and propose a solution if inadvertently mistersquid.

Open wheeled racing will not be relevant until it again sits at the pinnacle of automotive technology. Virtually all the features of the modern car were offshoots of racing, esp. F1. Todays road cars have far more tech (esp. electronic) onboard than a race car from any series.

The way forward for Indy is to become the first green series. Regenerative braking, hybrid drive and whatever else the brilliant engineers can come up with. It may be more suited to the deep pockets of F1, but I'd love a series run with no horsepower or engine size restriction, the only proviso being you only get X gallons of fuel to run the race. Do with it what you will.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:51 PM on March 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I hate NASCAR with a passion, and can only imagine what the world thinks of us for enjoying such a retarded sport.

Indycars became boring when they took the turbos out. So I am hoping that there can be some exciting racing this season, in spite of this.
posted by Sukiari at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dave: Not this year - it's too late to change the calendar - but my understanding is that there will be more of a balanced programme for next year, although I suspect it will still be oval orientated.


2008 is the year crude sustains over $100 (US) a barrel and OPEC tells the US to get its economy in order.


What on earth does this have to do with the price of oil and the US economy? Racing affects neither in any significant way.
posted by Brockles at 2:55 PM on March 5, 2008


mistersquid -- Here's the thing about carbon output and racing -- yes, it's fairly big waste of gas and a somewhat needless contributer to greenhouse gases. HOWEVER, I think it's okay, because it leads to better engine technology. With the limitations that the FIA imposes in terms of engine design, the teams are left to get the most amount of power out of whatever engine specs are given to them. My theory is that this, in turn, leads to more efficient engines, which is why mass produced engines get about 5% more efficient on average. Obviously, my theory has its issues, but I think in terms of aggravate net effect, we benefit more from this than not. It's a way for companies to spend more on R&D with the hopes of getting more than just their product out -- they get the cash prize or at least "street cred."

Now, consider that FIA is considering allowing hybrid technology and trying to shift the focus towards greener technologies -- this can only be good in the bigger picture.
posted by spiderskull at 2:56 PM on March 5, 2008


"The schism lasted too long for anyone to have any feelings outside apathy towards the reunification."

Yeah, if Tony George is still involved there's no way I will bother watching it.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:57 PM on March 5, 2008


Oh yeah, and fuck Nascar. It's utterly useless.
posted by spiderskull at 2:58 PM on March 5, 2008


Open wheeled racing will not be relevant until it again sits at the pinnacle of automotive technology.

I'm not sure what leads you to think that it doesn't remain there. F1 is going hybrid soon, and development programmes have already started. I built a racing car for Le Mans for a manufacturer that used hybrid technology way back in 1998, too.

The way forward for Indy is to become the first green series.

The problem is, as you suspect, finance. It isn't cost effective to produce a series with a common chassis and a small selection of engine manufacturers and still have high levels of innovation. It costs a tiny fraction of an F1 budget to run an IRL or Champ car team. A tiny, tiny, fraction. To produce any development of any worth and rate of progress, you need to throw money at it a bit. F1 is still the only sport that can generate that kind of money within automotive racing.

As a side note, lower cost formulae also need (to fill the grids) to allow all teams to be competitive. High rates of development preclude any means to ensure parity of equipment. Costs spiral, or people leave if they can't afford to compete. IRL and the associated teams are not capable of generating that revenue, and don't have the infrastructure or the technology companies to develop anything like that which you wish for. The level of racing and the technologies involved in the US is very much behind the UK and Europe.
posted by Brockles at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2008


I hate NASCAR with a passion, and can only imagine what the world thinks of us for enjoying such a retarded sport.

Oh yeah, and fuck Nascar. It's utterly useless.

Funny, I feel the same way about football, basketball and baseball.

Your favorite sport sucks.
posted by davejay at 3:12 PM on March 5, 2008


I'm waiting for a completely-automated racing league. Give it a power/weight ratio limit for classes and leave everything else entirely open to the teams. It would probably be more fun to watch if there was no more concern for killing drivers.
posted by Skorgu at 3:20 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, and fuck Nascar. It's utterly useless.

Interestingly (disregarding my sizeable contempt for NASCAR anyway, for a second) in terms of all the various justifications for modern motor racing, NASCAR IS almost entirely useless.

It contributes nothing at all to driver safety for road cars.
It contributes nothing for tyre development (oval racing with 3 tonne cars is too specialised).
It contributes very little for driver safety for any other race series.
It contributes nothing at all to engine, gearbox or any other aspect of development for modern road cars. Nothing in NASCAR is relevant to a car even 10 years old.
It has little to no environmental awareness.

The series is purely and simply a marketing exercise, and it constantly surprises me that more serious and professional racing series and companies have to defend themselves against much resistance, yet no-one levies these charges against NASCAR. Bloody good job for NASCAR, mind you, but it seems to get away with it.
posted by Brockles at 3:25 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


"oval racing with 3 tonne cars"

Come on now, they're only 3400 lbs. We're not racing Bentleys over here.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:42 PM on March 5, 2008


I was counting the fat arse driving it, too.
posted by Brockles at 3:52 PM on March 5, 2008


Indycars became boring when they took the turbos out.

It wasn't that -- F1 hasn't run with turbos for years. It was the spec engines and, far worse, the spec chassis. In the end, everyone is running basically the same car.

The idea of making CART/IRL "cheaper" is exactly what ruined it. CART was the cutting edge of open wheel racing in the US. By turning it into kit racing, the cutting edge teams went elsewhere.1 By then putting everything on oval, with identical cars, you get stock car like racing. Now, add open wheels, so you can't have any contact, and ground effects, so you can't draft, and you have boring stock car racing.

1) And, when the money ran out, they went away. Cutting edge racing with no money is not only not fun, it is anti-fun.
posted by eriko at 3:52 PM on March 5, 2008


Yeah, the spec chassis and engines do take some of the fun out of racing. But, F1 tends to ban anybody who makes an engine or car that is too good, anyway, so we basically have a sort of spec racing there too.

Look at the constant anal rape that Team Williams must endure every year in F1 - all their R&D down the shitter by the 3rd race.
posted by Sukiari at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2008


"I was counting the fat arse driving it, too."

Not a Robby Gordon fan, then?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:05 PM on March 5, 2008


CART was the cutting edge of open wheel racing in the US.

Er. CART was never the cutting edge of anything, they were all running customer cars, and there were no US companies involved in the development or manufacture of these customer cars. Also, develo0pment was necessarily static due to having to make 30 or so cars per season. There simple isn't time for in depth development. As for the US aspect: the main players were March (English) chassis (for a while before they went bust), Reynard (English, they went bust too) chassis against Lola (English - got bored and stopped doing it) Chassis dominating the grid, with Mercedes (English - built by Ilmor), Ford (English, built by Cosworth), Toyota (Japanese) and Mugen (Japanese) engines. Later on came G-Force (English) which got bought out by Panoz lock stock and barrel (and now make the current champ cars, which aren't much cop, to be honest).

So instead of all the grid having the same chassis, each half the grid had the same chassis as each other (with two oddball american cars ineffectively running at the back, with English engines for a season or two). So it really hasn't been all that different for years - possibly more than 20 or more. Turbo's were very much evident in those days, too, and the competition between each chassis manufacturer was half the variety, but they were by no means in even the same dimension as F1 is in Europe.

But yes, cutting costs was an issue, but it was also a necessity. There never was the money to support the two series, and the variety that disappeared when the two split was what made it interesting. When both series (by splitting) lost their innovation of circuits, it lost its edge. Splitting the necessarily small available money pot for racing that was of 'edge interest' when compared to NASCAR between two series was dumb, and took a very long time to fall on its arse and has damaged the sport in the process.
posted by Brockles at 4:10 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not a Robby Gordon fan, then?

Who?
posted by Brockles at 4:11 PM on March 5, 2008


Brockles must be a Jean Girard fan.
posted by Atreides at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2008


yet no-one levies these charges against NASCAR.

Probably for the same reason people care about fixed fights in boxing, but not in wrestling.
posted by davejay at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2008


But, F1 tends to ban anybody who makes an engine or car that is too good, anyway, so we basically have a sort of spec racing there too.

Oh, good lord. F1 couldn't be any further from spec if you tried. I'm not sure you understand either 'spec' or F1 at all.
posted by Brockles at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2008


Didn't there used to be an open wheel race in Indianapolis around Memorial Day? The Indy 400 or something like that?

That was fun stuff. Sit around on a late May afternoon watching Andretti and Unser go around in circles while Dad drank Coors.

It'd be nice if they were still doing that.
posted by dw at 4:14 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, hey, quick note: it's been fun watching Juan Pablo Montoya -- a driver I quite admire -- enter NASCAR and not do nearly as well as one might have expected. Stupid and pointless or not, NASCAR isn't easy.
posted by davejay at 4:21 PM on March 5, 2008


But seriously.

I never really understood NASCAR until I hung out with my NASCAR-loving relatives. NASCAR has three things F1 and the other American open wheel circuits don't have:

1. Personalities. Sure, F1 has personalities, but 8 year old kids in the South can quote Jimmie Johnson's media guide bio and already love/hate Jeff Gordon.

2. Personalities mean soap opera. The Dale Jr stuff had people glued to the media for a whole year.

3. Bumping and drafting and clumping. NASCAR races are crowded, and it's about knowing how to work and use the crowd to win. F1 attracts good, artistic drivers who know when to plunge into curves and when to brake, but it's a completely different form of racing.

4. The crashes. Americans, after all, love their spectacle.

5. The "state fair" atmosphere. It's a carnival of sorts at the track. People sit around, drink beer, be themselves.

Maybe it is all marketing, but it's still racing. It will never be as pretty as F1, but NASCAR has its origins in moonshiners racing their souped-up cars to evade the law, and there's always been something a little backwoods about it, even as they pull race after race out of the Deep South and move them further afield.
posted by dw at 4:58 PM on March 5, 2008


NASCAR would be much more entertaining if half the field started facing the opposite direction.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:02 PM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


"NASCAR has three things F1 and the other American open wheel circuits don't have:

1. Personalities. Sure, F1 has personalities, but 8 year old kids in the South can quote Jimmie Johnson's media guide bio and already love/hate Jeff Gordon.
2. Personalities mean soap opera. The Dale Jr stuff had people glued to the media for a whole year.
3. Bumping and drafting and clumping. NASCAR races are crowded, and it's about knowing how to work and use the crowd to win. F1 attracts good, artistic drivers who know when to plunge into curves and when to brake, but it's a completely different form of racing.
4. The crashes. Americans, after all, love their spectacle.
5. The "state fair" atmosphere. It's a carnival of sorts at the track. People sit around, drink beer, be themselves."


6. Fans who can count to three
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:37 PM on March 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


CART just made decision after decision that made the racing less and less interesting in its attempts to find new markets. Watching those big, bulky cars shufle their way around street courses so tight that in the Florida race the damn Atlantic cars were lapping faster was pure frustration. And rules like the pit windows that had to be explained every damn time gave the impression that all the racing was being controlled by the officials just to keep the show exciting, nearly as bad as the suspicious yellows near the end of so many NASCAR races. And silly gimmicks like push to pass buttons just reinforced the notion that the whole thing was just for show and not real racing.

It is admirable that guys like Gerry Forsythe and Kevin Kalkoven held out so long and really tried to make CART work, but every decision they made to try and save money or keep manufacturers on-board left the final product weaker and weaker, and eventually it became completely unwatchable.

Tony George's ego is only partly to blame for the death of CART, their inept concept of what people want to watch has just as much to do with it, sadly.

I hope the IRL cars can eventually turn into something resembling a graceful racing machines and not the monstrocities they are now, truck engines with barn doors strapped to the front and back, but I don't see it happening. I'll stick to F1 and the occasional sports car race.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:55 PM on March 5, 2008


Can we have a NASCAR event where the cars stand still and the grandstands rotate?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:59 PM on March 5, 2008


Many sponsors that are used to podium finishes will be scratching their heads and wondering why they are at the back of the field and aren't wondering whether switching to sponsoring the IRL teams by mid season isn't a good idea...

What sponsors?
posted by gyc at 7:07 PM on March 5, 2008


Walker Texas Ranger /= Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman
posted by Balisong at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's what, less than a dozen chassis in F1, all of which are more or less identical? Engines, which are mandated to be within a few % of each other?

How is F1 not 'spec'-like, especially considering the fact that anybody who is too innovative will never reap any reward?
posted by Sukiari at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2008


Sukiari you're missing the point by getting caught up in words. In F1 you have to build within a spec, of course, but you still have to build your own chassis and the engine manufacturers compete with each other. In a spec racing series all the teams get the same equipment handed to them from the same manufacturers. Good for go-karting and development series, but not at the top level of competition. And seeing Toyota and Honda pour hundreds of millions of dollars into their F1 programs and still not be able to beat McLaren and Ferrari tells me how valuable a history of engineering and racing experience trumps cash and it's why Formula One is forever fascinating to watch.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:31 PM on March 5, 2008


Me loves to watch the nascars go round and round and round and round and zzzzzzzzz
.
posted by notreally at 7:41 PM on March 5, 2008


Auto-racing. Now there is an intelligent use of petroleum resources if e'er I saw one.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:15 PM on March 5, 2008


There's what, less than a dozen chassis in F1, all of which are more or less identical? Engines, which are mandated to be within a few % of each other?

In the nicest possible way, everything you know about F1 is flawed. Space Coyote is being very nice about it, but has some excellent points. F1 is THE most free racing series in the world (not just auto racing, but all of it) in terms of freedom of development. There is a far bigger variety of designs, materials, concepts, working practices, methodologies than in any other sport you can think of.

There is also more R&D in F1 than in any other sport you can think of.

I'm sorry, but you clearly have no idea at all what Formula 1 is. Seriously.
posted by Brockles at 8:15 PM on March 5, 2008


Auto-racing. Now there is an intelligent use of petroleum resources if e'er I saw one.

Well, being as it makes your own use of petroleum-powered transport viable for a few more years longer by leading development in engine efficiency, I guess you're right.

But, ya know. We can always stunt any impetus for development and you can walk everywhere, if you want...
posted by Brockles at 8:17 PM on March 5, 2008


And, just because it is so wrong, I can't leave it alone:

"especially considering the fact that anybody who is too innovative will never reap any reward?"

To attach this to F1 is comical. Truly comical. Innovation is rife in Formula 1. More so than in any other competitive discipline that you can think of. In fact, probably more so than any other NON-competitive discipline you can think of (perhaps barring space travel).
posted by Brockles at 8:19 PM on March 5, 2008


As for the US aspect: the main players were March (English) chassis (for a while before they went bust), Reynard (English, they went bust too) chassis against Lola (English - got bored and stopped doing it) Chassis dominating the grid,

You have sort of missed the guy who kept winning. Penske Racing. Penske Chassis won many, many races -- he did run Lola and March chassis when his ran poorly -- and that was the years they lost. It was worth noting that many 2nd tier teams would much rather than Penske's chassis from last year than Reynard's chassis from the current year.

The lousy American constructor you're thinking of was Swift.
posted by eriko at 8:27 PM on March 5, 2008


But seriously.

I never really understood NASCAR until I hung out with my NASCAR-loving relatives. NASCAR has three things F1 and the other American open wheel circuits don't have:

1. Personalities. Sure, F1 has personalities, but 8 year old kids in the South can quote Jimmie Johnson's media guide bio and already love/hate Jeff Gordon.

2. Personalities mean soap opera. The Dale Jr stuff had people glued to the media for a whole year.

3. Bumping and drafting and clumping. NASCAR races are crowded, and it's about knowing how to work and use the crowd to win. F1 attracts good, artistic drivers who know when to plunge into curves and when to brake, but it's a completely different form of racing.

4. The crashes. Americans, after all, love their spectacle.

5. The "state fair" atmosphere. It's a carnival of sorts at the track. People sit around, drink beer, be themselves.

Maybe it is all marketing, but it's still racing. It will never be as pretty as F1, but NASCAR has its origins in moonshiners racing their souped-up cars to evade the law, and there's always been something a little backwoods about it, even as they pull race after race out of the Deep South and move them further afield.


Indeed. I grew up watching Unser, Foyd, Andretti in open cars and rooting for Nicki Lauder (god knows why) in F-1, but now I am entertained by Nascar. Tony Stewart rocks.

Go ahead Brockles, tell me what a pussy fool I am, but I enjoy NASCAR.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:06 PM on March 5, 2008


Most American open wheel cars run on methanol.

F1 in particular, and racing in a more general sense, is responsible for such nice present-day car features as traction control, fuel injection, semi-automatic transmissions, and much more. Audi is doing a lot of good for diesel as more viable mainstream fuel (well, it is in Europe already, not so much here), by crushing the competition in sports car (think Le Mans) racing. Not only are they furthering their own diesel technologies, but other manufacturers are seeing that diesel can be used as racing fuel and are using it as well. Diesel is normally more efficient than gasoline, even though it's output is generally more toxic. It's a tradeoff, but the German brands are also working at ways to clean up the output too.

Racing may seem like a waste, but don't dismiss it. It can and often does extend benefits down to everyday transportation.
posted by ninjew at 9:08 PM on March 5, 2008


I understand that F1 is innovative. I also understand that if anybody gets TOO innovative, their innovations are outlawed.
posted by Sukiari at 11:41 PM on March 5, 2008


Unless it's Ferrari; their innovations are usually permitted, even if they contravene the regulations, like last year's wheel covers. But certainly it's the general case; the FIA outlawed active suspension (mainly because Lotus was beating Ferrari).
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 12:00 AM on March 6, 2008


Most American open wheel cars run on methanol.

No, they don't. It's ethanol, and only IRL runs on it now (Champ car used to).

You have sort of missed the guy who kept winning. Penske Racing.

In the 70's and early 80's, yes. But they were never really competitive after Reynard hit the scene, which was 1994 (the last year Penske chassis won the championship). Even before that Lola had the upper hand for some considerable time. They weren't quite the dominant force that you are implying.

The lousy American constructor you're thinking of was Swift.

Yeah, I forgot them. But the one I actually had in mind was Eagle - I seem to recall them doing the 500 a few years, didn't they?

Go ahead Brockles, tell me what a pussy fool I am, but I enjoy NASCAR.

I don't get NASCAR in exactly the same way as I don't get WWF (or whatever it is called now). Mainly because I try and equate it with the motor racing that I have spent my life doing. But NASCAR is no more motor racing in that context than WWF is an Olympic Athletic sport. Except NASCAR is even more in the dark ages technologically than that analogy conveys. They have had some stunning TV concepts, and the interaction is fantastic, but that (to me) only highlights the fact that it is painfully obvious the sport itself is archaic and controlled (and indeed 'fixed') purely to be entertaining. I can see it being entertainment (but leaves me utterly cold) but it sure as hell isn't motor racing - it stopped being that in about 1970 when it stopped developing.

They still use Carbs, for god's sake! Even road cars dropped those 20 odd year ago...


I understand that F1 is innovative. I also understand that if anybody gets TOO innovative, their innovations are outlawed.

There is, however, a spectacularly massive chasm between your perception/presentation of F1 and a spec series. F1 is still by many times over the most innovative sport. Anywhere.
posted by Brockles at 5:41 AM on March 6, 2008


So having said all that, Brockles, you wanna square it with your statement that the gas-guzzlers are advancing technology and efficiency?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:34 AM on March 6, 2008


Where have I caused an issue with that?

Motor Racing promotes and pushes automotive development. NASCAR is a dinosaur that doesn't help anything but itself. That's what I've said all along, and I'm not sure where the issue is.
posted by Brockles at 6:46 AM on March 6, 2008


Haha. There's no arguing that F1 leads in development, but who the hell cares? The biggest difference between NASCAR and F1 is that Nascar showcases drivers and F1 showcases cars. The stock cars drivers spend 4 hours going through every corner in a controlled slide, whereas F1 'drivers' are on the track 2 hours basically playing a video game where they have to hit the right buttons at the right time. And if they accidentally get within 30 feet of another car they usually crash and burn.

Unlike the poster above, I was actually impressed with how well Montoya did in Nascar last year. But I wasn't exactly surprised when he seemed to set a new record for causing the most number of wrecks in a season.
posted by wabashbdw at 7:30 AM on March 6, 2008


The split sent me exclusively to F1, even though the races were at odd hours and at the time I had mostly no idea who anybody was. Before the split I'd watch CART and the occasional F1 race that happened to be on when I was home with time to spare, but after the split CART went through too many money-saving changes that took all the excitement out. I think the first "powered by Ford" season was when I gave up completely, but the racing had been pretty poor for a few seasons before that. The IRL was never interesting to me at all, since it seemed like a bunch of drivers who couldn't get hired anywhere else all driving the same slow car with no apparent advantage. Feh.

F1 is fascinating, but sadly it's as much for the off-track drama as for the actual racing. In some seasons, more so. We'll see how I do with this year's racing, since this will be the first season I haven't had satellite TV since I became a fan.
posted by fedward at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2008


F1 is still by many times over the most innovative sport. Anywhere.
posted by Brockles at 5:41 AM on March 6 [+] [!]


An informed proponent of Americas Cup racing could refute this. I'm unfortunately not informed. Americas Cup also doesn't lead to as many real world transferable technologies however. In terms of R&D, it's F1's only rival however.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:25 AM on March 6, 2008


An informed proponent of Americas Cup racing could refute this.

Actually, I'd disagree. I spent a large amount of time going through all the (public parts) of all the various Americas Cup teams in Valencia at the end of 2007. In terms of composite materials, it has comparable levels of innovation, but that is only one small aspect of F1. Some of the data logging concepts they have (the video analysis of the sail form was fascinating) is also interesting, but still limited in terms of the sheer volume of items monitored on even the cars several layers below F1.

Some of the F1 composites have led aviation technology, some have followed it, but the flow of this kind of technology from the two disciplines is still leading Americas Cup development, rather than the opposite.

I do agree that it is the only significant rival in terms of development pace, though. Anyone getting a chance to see the team information at their factories (and the science exhibition stuff in the city centre) should make an effort to see it. Interesting stuff.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 AM on March 6, 2008


I used to watch CART all the time (before the split). But there's no way I'm watching Tony George's league.

Hey Tony, too bad about that Indy 200, 600, 700, what was it again? I heard that used to be some kind of big deal.

You're better off watching F1 or MotoGP anyway.
posted by asusu at 10:19 AM on March 6, 2008


five fresh fish: to me at least efficiency and technology are what F1 spends so much time perfecting and which ironically makes it so boring to watch. Not even going into the lengths FIA goes to to slow the cars down to keep suicidal drivers alive, F1 is basically a refueling contest: whoever can run a fast-enough-not-to-get-passed lap consistently using the least fuel will make fewer pit stops and win.

Le Mans has these same constraints but far more time on track (24 hours) and lots of passing (mixed field) make it far more entertaining, e.g. the R10 just demolishing everyone last year by simply being more efficient.
posted by Skorgu at 12:00 PM on March 6, 2008


F1 is basically a refueling contest: whoever can run a fast-enough-not-to-get-passed lap consistently using the least fuel will make fewer pit stops and win.

Except that just about every team *could* run a 1-stop race if they wanted to, but run 2 or 3 stops instead. And it's often the losing teams who go with fewer stops. There are lots of other reasons to pit than your fuel forced you to. Using your tires up faster or keeping the weight down come to mind.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2008


You're right, I oversimplified. I was grouping all of those other concerns into "fast-enough-not-to-get-passed lap."
posted by Skorgu at 12:56 PM on March 6, 2008


But by the same token, NASCAR is a 15 minute (being generous) sprint race with a 3 3/4 hr warm up and crash avoidance exercise, with yellow flag rest periods.

Simplification kind of leaves out why either sport have worth to the respective fans, doesn't it?
posted by Brockles at 1:18 PM on March 6, 2008


I'd call that a fairly accurate simplification of NASCAR personally :)

I'm a WRC fan myself, much greater highlights:race ratio.
posted by Skorgu at 2:01 PM on March 6, 2008


I can see it being entertainment (but leaves me utterly cold) but it sure as hell isn't motor racing - it stopped being that in about 1970 when it stopped developing.

I don't understand this viewpoint at all.
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on March 6, 2008


Why not, though?

The bit that interests me about racing is the development, the 'made for purpose', uncompromising design and pushing components and concepts to the limit.

NASCAR just uses 40 (or more) year old design concepts and technology and legislates the crap out of them so you can't change them. NOthing on teh cars is relevant to even a 20 year old road car, never mind current ones.

They then drive around in a circle. Most of the time they don't even change gear on a lap.

I'm a race engineer. I'd be so bored I'd shoot myself at an oval. Especially after running the same damn car for 35 years (until last year) when the only thing you are compensating for is atmospherics and the current grip level of the tarmac/concrete.
posted by Brockles at 2:28 PM on March 6, 2008


You're right, I oversimplified. I was grouping all of those other concerns into "fast-enough-not-to-get-passed lap."

Sure, you over-simplified it to the point of being completely wrong. At least, as far as I can tell, I just watch it on TV. I don't recall any recent F1 championships, and very few races, being won by virtue of the team making fewer pit stops than anyone else. There was that one race in the rain last year where the pit strategy competition got seriously intense, but that had relatively little to do with fuel efficiency which, although it has some importance, is among the less important things in differentiating the teams. That might change in the future though...

"Mosley said that he wanted F1 to take a leading role in the development of new energy efficient technologies such as kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) and that this would allow F1 to defend itself against criticism from environmental groups. He told the PA, "The trouble is, Formula One is probably by far the most complex sport ever," remarked Mosley. But with Formula One, with the technology we are promoting, they will become cutting-edge technologies for the car industry. Bringing them into F1 accelerates their production out of all proportion."
posted by sfenders at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2008


Thanks to the IRL takeover of Champ car, the one race I manage to attend each year (two years running - whoo-hoo) has been canceled. Not that I actually watch the open wheel race; I go for my current favorite series the American Le Mans which runs the day before. I like to watch heavily modified sports cars compete with prototypes on the same course at the same time. Lots of passing and it's like watching three races occuring simultaneously, one for each class.

The attraction is watching cars that I might concievably drive, i.e. European sports cars. NASCAR on the other hand looks like a highly modified airport rental car fleet!
posted by Standeck at 3:17 PM on March 6, 2008


When visiting Alabama, don't say "Nascar sucks", "I'm bi" or "Hillary for president". And if you're a Jewish driver... "Denning has described an alarming degree of racism and bigotry in NASCAR, and was even told by colleagues that if she accepted Jesus he'd have better luck on the racetrack."
posted by iviken at 3:57 PM on March 6, 2008


Skorgu writes "I'm waiting for a completely-automated racing league. Give it a power/weight ratio limit for classes and leave everything else entirely open to the teams. "

A racing series with F1 funding and zero concern for human life would be awesome. You probably couldn't get feedback good enough thought to make it more than just a video game. Sure would like to see the cars race down the track though.

"I can see it being entertainment (but leaves me utterly cold) but it sure as hell isn't motor racing - it stopped being that in about 1970 when it stopped developing.

"I don't understand this viewpoint at all."


NASCAR essentially killed stock car racing in '71 when it effectively spiked the aero cars and made it plain they'd keep changing the rules to make them lose whenever they started getting competive. It's a shame really, the big three probably would have been more competive with the japanese imports in the last 30 years if innovation (besides ways to cheat) in NASCAR hadn't been curtailed.
posted by Mitheral at 7:34 PM on March 6, 2008


Where have I caused an issue with that? Motor Racing promotes and pushes automotive development. NASCAR is a dinosaur that doesn't help anything but itself. That's what I've said all along, and I'm not sure where the issue is.

Sorry, I read carelessly and thought you'd said F1 ran on ethanol, leaving NASCAR as the gas-guzzling ancient-tech sport.

Rally driving, that's where the real sport is. Insane speeds down insanely tight dirt tracks across varied and lethal terrain.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 PM on March 6, 2008


The bit that interests me about racing is the development, the 'made for purpose', uncompromising design and pushing components and concepts to the limit.

I guess it's just a fundamental viewpoint difference... is racing about the driver, or the car? I prefer something like IROC where it's all driver.
posted by smackfu at 6:18 AM on March 7, 2008


Well I still think that it's about both - easily 90% of my workload for the first half of each year is driver training. It only seems to be just about the car in F1 because it is so hard for the layperson to see what is the driver difference and which is down to the car.

Some extra visibility of that would help the sport no-end, but the driver is fundamentally as important in all racing disciplines - although the skill sets (and level) vary enormously.

In F1, for instance, the car can make up for the driver, or complement it - Schumacher wouldn't have been so head and shoulders above the others in a different car. Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve would never have won championships if they hadn't been in such a crushingly dominant car - neither are spectacularly good drivers (in the F1 context). Jean Alesi got some brilliant performances, but only relative to the chassis he was in - in a better car he would have won many races and possibly a championship. It's always about both elements.
posted by Brockles at 6:26 AM on March 7, 2008


Oh, and for reference, there is no such thing as a racing series where it is all driver. It is completely impossible to produce 'equal' cars - one will always be faster, handle better, produce more grip than another.
posted by Brockles at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2008


2008 is the year crude sustains over $100 (US) a barrel and OPEC tells the US to get its economy in order. Never mind, back to the fantasy at hand.

Auto-racing. Now there is an intelligent use of petroleum resources if e'er I saw one.


American open-wheel racing (whether IRL, Champ Car, or their predecessors) has not used gasoline in over 40 years.

But never mind, back to the fantasy at hand.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:52 AM on March 7, 2008


There is a hell of a lot more to american open wheel racing than those two (now one) formulas. And IRL is now the only one of them to use ethanol.
posted by Brockles at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2008


NASCAR just uses 40 (or more) year old design concepts and technology

Actually, they're all running Car Of Tomorrow now, so the "40 year old design" part isn't completely true.

I'm a race engineer. I'd be so bored I'd shoot myself at an oval.

You wouldn't be bored watching the chaos of Bristol? Seems like the kind of track where a race engineer just sets up a lawn chair and waits out the 500 yellows while having a delicious beverage then starts setting up for the closing 5 laps.
posted by dw at 10:49 PM on March 7, 2008


You'll note I didn't say '40 year old design', I said '40 year old design concepts' which is still entirely accurate and true.

The 'Car of Tomorrow' is a piece of marketing crap. It is simply exactly the same steel tube frame with just some slight spec changes. It is no more radical than the sort of step changes a Formula Ford chassis manufacturer may make between years in the 1970's. It is simply a change of spec to the same car, with a different set of templates for the outer surface. It is SO banal in its differences that it is even more damning of NASCAR teams that they whined so much about it being so 'different' as they haven't done any development in 30 years and had forgotten how to do it.

The car still uses every single one of the design elements it had before- tweaking a 40 year old design and not moving from that 40 year old design is not 'advancing'. The only thing that changed is the shape. So in terms of being current, nothing at all has changed.

Seems like the kind of track where a race engineer just sets up a lawn chair and waits out the 500 yellows while having a delicious beverage then starts setting up for the closing 5 laps.

I'm an engineer. I want to do something. I want a challenge. I don't want to sit on my arse and wait for a 5 lap sprint. You are confusing 'engineer' with 'spectator' - a set up that doesn't change other for temperature and tyre compound in 10 years is the same as asking you to continue using an abacus in your work - the answer will always be the same, and you'll only be able to do the same sort of calculations.
posted by Brockles at 7:41 AM on March 8, 2008


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