June 2016

Image by Chief Design Officer Daniel Simon / Roborace Ltd.Once Upon a Time

There was a time when if you fancied a nice juicy steak, you would pick up your pointed stick, murder a wildebeest, rub bits of wood together to start a fire, roast and tuck in. This was normal behaviour for millions of years. These days we simply point to a menu and a juicy steak arrives.

Normal behaviour changes. Nowadays we drive our cars. One day we will be driven by a computer. Self-driving cars are currently on test on a street near you. The amount of control varies. We already have self-parking, collision avoidance, and steering assistance where the driver still needs to be overseeing the actions of the computer. Gradually more and more self-driving features will enter the equation. Eventually whenever we need to travel, a driverless ‘pod’ will arrive and deliver us safely to our destination. We will no longer own cars that currently kill 1.25 million people per year. We will be amazed that once upon a time we actually owned cars, and even more shocking, we had absolute control of them.

Motorsport will also change. The first motor races were on public roads in the late 1800s. The first purpose built race track was Brooklands in the UK, which opened in 1907. Apart from the engineering and accident statistics, motor racing has not changed much. This beggars the question that when road-going vehicles are all state-owned, state-controlled pods, what will happen to motor racing? For now, Formula E electric race cars pacify the ‘greens’, and no doubt hydrogen race cars should do the same. Will there be driverless racing cars? Of course not, I hear you say. Well…, a concept race car already exists (picture above). It is called Robocar and is for a race series to follow Formula E. This will not be a car controlled by someone with a joystick. It will think for itself.

Unlike current computers, pods will not crash. We will be transported with no seat belts or airbags, and with the internal décor of a hotel lobby.  If the idea sounds egalitarian and utopian to the point of some impossible communist fantasy, fear not. Just as jet planes have three classes, so could pods. You may even have a pod-robot serve you a juicy steak in your gold-plated, diamond-studded, upper-class pod, whilst watching driverless race cars on the 3D hologram pod-screen. We will be living in a perfect world. Oh what fun….

May 2016

Monaco Historic10th Grand Prix de Monaco Historique

Grand Prix de Monaco HistoriqueBlog readers will be familiar with the glitzy Grand Prix in Monaco. Barring the odd world war, this glamourous event that has taken place annually in May since 1929. In 1997 the Automobile Club de Monaco had the brilliant idea of presenting a biannual Historic Race Meeting two weeks before the modern Formula One event.

It takes the principality six weeks to build the race circuit in the centre of the busy city, and another three weeks to dismantle it. With such a massive construction task, it makes sense to add the Historique to the infrastructure for F1 Monaco Grand Prix. With a slight deviation around a swimming pool, the 3.3km circuit layout is much the same as the 1929 layout but with many more safety features.

Invisible efficient technology has made historic cars very fast, and an exciting spectacle. Well trained trackside marshals, medics and hospitals now save lives that would otherwise have been lost. There have been four F1 deaths at Monaco. The most recent being Lorenzo Bandini in 1967. These were crashes that today would be survivable. The FIA has always been concerned about historic racing as this governing body fears that any serious accidents may impact modern racing and thereby the FIA’s income. Historic racing has considerable authority as it is such a boom industry. An irresistible force on a collision course with immovable object? Time will tell.

For the competitors, racing in the Monaco Historique is a costly business. Assuming that an entrant has the right car, he or she then has to pay a hefty entry fee, as well as the accommodation costs and transportation costs of his support team, and running costs for the race car. So one short race, where nothing bad happens, could easily cost the entrant well over £20,000. Or about £1000 per minute. But then this is peanuts compared with how much the modern F1 teams spend two weeks later.

Incidentally a 1billion dollar superyacht is under construction which will resemble a floating Monte Carlo, complete with a Monaco city scape of buildings, replica race track, casino, beach, lake, and much much more. It is easy to become blasé with millions and billions. A million seconds is just over 11 days. A billion seconds is nearly 32 years.

March 2016

It may be March 2016 but this blog goes back 100 million years.

The racing season has started and so has the driver coaching season. An essential part of my driver coaching is how to avoid contact and still be in front. To quote an old adage, ‘’To finish first; first you have to finish.’’

Racing a giant-killing Lotus 26R

Racing a giant-killing Lotus 26R

Human beings have been around for 2.5 million years, while early primates date back 100 million years. Man and primates have spent this time engaged in face-to-face combat. Motor racing is a form of combat that has been around for 140 years. Motor Racing is a non-contact sport that nevertheless comes with undesirable levels of contact. In percentage terms, motor racing has been with us for only 0.00014% of our combat evolution. This explains the reason for many race car crashes. The difference between a Neanderthal fight and the most common contact in motor racing is all about where you are looking.

Let me explain. I have previously written about the term ‘Racing Accident’. It is when two cars collide nearing the apex of a turn. One car dives up the inside as the other car turns in, and bang! Both drivers blame each other when in fact, blame can be apportioned on each collision. Each case is different but can be analysed easily now we have plenty of video evidence. Race commentators opt out of having to deliberate on this complicated subject by declaring a ‘racing accident’. There are many factors to each crash, so I shall only focus on the psychology of the drivers in question. In most cases a collision is not actively sought; although occasionally it is.

Picture the scene. Car-A is in front, and Car-B wants to overtake in the braking area of an approaching corner. The passing manoeuvre is the classic late braking up-the-inside job. The topic of these words is vision. Who is looking where? Car-B can see Car-A plainly. Car-A is in front, so the driver of Car-B has a perfect view of Car-A, and the approaching apex. At this point we need to understand what is going on in the head of the driver in Car-B. Because the driver of Car-B can see Car-A, 100 million years of combat evolution causes the driver of Car-B to think that the driver of Car-A is looking back at him. In reality, the driver of Car-A is looking at the rapidly approaching apex, just as a tennis player has his eyes fixed on a rapidly approaching tennis ball.

Moral of the story: don’t behave like a Neanderthal, race like a robot.

February 2016

Dinosaur vs Apple

The Detroit Motor Show has come and gone. It majors on new car technology and deploys countless concept cars, giving us food for thought for the future of motoring. My spies tell me that there was much banter regarding autonomous cars; a subject into which Dinosaur drivers have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Forward thinkers like Apple and Google are making a beeline to get driverless cars on a street near you; indeed some already are. Defining an autonomous car is not an exact science. It is a matter of where you draw the line. Auto-parking is now a common driverless function, as are collision avoidance systems. Mercedes sells a car that will automatically trundle along a freeway, and when it finds a slower car, it is able to change lane, overtake, and tuck back it. Current laws require the driver to have a ‘finger pressure’ on the steering in order for this to be legal.

As a car nut, I find the idea of being driven by a computer undesirable, but as a journalist it is my duty to report the facts and let you the reader come to an opinion. Anyway, back to the future, and let us imagine how a driverless car would cope with negotiating the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. For those not familiar with this road junction, it is a large roundabout with twelve entry points and has no traffic management. Lane markings would be impossible, not because of the French, but because the relatively short distances between each of the twelve road junctions is too short for any white lines to make sense. I love it. No doubt blog readers can think of other traffic fun spots.

When an autonomous car can negotiate such junctions without looking like someone on their first driving lesson, I will be impressed. Autonomous cars will be law abiding and super careful. It will be interesting to see how impatient dinosaur drivers (whose brains are massively bigger that the ‘brain’ in a driverless car) will behave. How will road rage work when it is Dinosaur vs Apple? How will the legal systems cope with driverless car accidents? How long before we have driverless racing cars?

Finally, is it ironic that the world’s largest preserved T-Rex Dinosaur is in a museum in Detroit?

January 2016

2016 is my 50th year in motorsport. Go to Racing Driver and then Race History for details.

The New Year will see me racing and co-driving several fabulous cars. Pictures in the photo gallery in due course.

Cars to be raced in 2016 include:

Lola T298

Lola T298, BMW M12.

Lola T298 – Built in 1979, chassis number HU-93 is powered by a 2 litre BMW M12 screamer that makes nearly 300bhp. The car weighs 610kg. With downforce, low frontal area and sticky slicks, these cars are capable of very quick lap times. This car will be supported and run by the professional outfit, John Danby Racing.

Datsun 240Z – This is an IMSA spec race car and is dramatic. A sister car to ‘Big Sam’ it is rare because it has plenty of period race history. Big slicks, big power and light weight, it is aimed at 1970s’ race series which are a growth industry. It looks great in its ‘works’ colours and drives beautifully. It is one of those cars where the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. This car will also be run by John Danby Racing.

1958 Lister Chevrolet Knobbly – The 5.8 litre V8, prepared by Knight Racing Services continues to be bullet-proof. Power is nothing without handling, and I had been struggling to find a competitive suspension set-up. Early in 2015 I sought some outside help and made some minor improvements. However, it was testing at Donington at the tail-end of 2015 when I developed a wonderful set-up, which knocked a colossal, and consistent, 4 seconds off my lap times. At first, my lap timer Jane Watson thought the stop watch had failed, repeated quick laps saw her leaping up and down on the pitwall. This improvement should see the Lister-Chevrolet on the front row in many races, and maybe also at the front of the Stirling Moss Trophy races where Chevy power is bizarrely restricted by a compulsory metal plate under the Holley. The ‘Dean Van Lines’ Lister Chevrolet Knobbly (chassis number BHL110) has impressive history and will be run by myself and my wife Jane Watson.

Aston Martin V8 – Like the Datsun 240Z, this is for 1970s’ race series but unlike the Japanese machine, the Aston is in FIA spec and therefore relatively unmodified, and we think, unique. It is better to drive than I had ever imagined, and quicker than forecast. Despite its speed it is eminently comfortable. We call it ‘The Rolls Royce”. It is developed and run by Andy Jebson’s Podium Preparation team.

Porsche 968 Turbo RS Le Mans – Between 1992 and 1994, Porsche built just four examples, and only one raced in period at Le Mans. An accident eliminated it. The recreation will be a faithful replica to FIA period spec. The 3 litre four-cylinder engine is no screamer, but the design lends itself to forced induction. The car is currently being built – and will be run by – the determined and talented Andy Jebson of Podium Preparation. Monster power is expected, and the car’s 50-50 weight distribution should make it user-friendly. Indeed it is said that Porsche’s bean-counters pulled the plug on the 968 Turbo RS in period because it was destined to be better than the 911. This car will remind me of my days racing the legendary 500bhp/790kg Alfa Romeo GTA Turbo. Race wins in the Porsche are the eventual goal although 2016 will be a build and development year for this car.

My work as a race coach and handling consultant will see me in several other cars during 2016. Back in December 2015 enquiries to improve man and machine for 2016 began. The diversity of the machines on the list range from an Austin Westminster to a GT40.

Returning to my 50 year racing anniversary, the oldest race driver I can think of is/was Tom Delaney who raced for 76 years. He competed until the year of his death in 2006, aged 95. I thought that 50 years in motorsport is a lot but with Karting open to 8-year olds, and a future life expectancy that could exceed 100 years, one day someone could proclaim 100 years in motorsport. Anyway.., if in 1966 you had told me in my modified Ford Anglia that I would still be racing in 2016, I would have been lost for words.

December 2015

 Formula One – The Next Two Years

Relaxing on a yacht in Monaco watching the Grand Prix is all very nice, but in the real world F1 spectators are voting with their feet as they become are a diminishing breed. The reasons for the decline could be that the ticket prices at many European circuits are exceedingly expensive, or that the show is not exciting enough, or maybe a combination of both. The circuits pay the F1 rulers vast sums for presenting a GP. The circuits’ main stream of income is from ticket prices. Just like football, the top of the sport is wallowing in wealth, which is paid for by those at the bottom – the spectators. Meanwhile those in the middle – in this case the non-manufacturer funded F1 teams – also struggle financially.

2017 Ferrari F1 Concept

2017 Ferrari F1 Concept

F1 sees a solution to this fiscal fiasco by issuing technical changes to the cars. 2016 will see – or rather hear – louder exhaust notes. Driver safety requirements will mean some extra padding. There will be a little more choice on tyre compounds. The rules on track limits (driving too far over the kerbs) will be tightened. There will be more engine modifications permitted during the season. Not much change there, although many more technical modifications are coming for the 2017 season.

The plan is to speed up lap times by around 5 seconds. The 2017 cars will look different; longer, wider, lower and larger rear wing, and wider tyres. To attain the target lap times, cornering speeds will need to be much higher, which means more downforce. While these mods will make the cars quicker, I suspect that overtaking will a rare event, which will impair the show. Maybe it is time for a radical change whilst continuing giving a nod to road car development. Tyres that only last five laps not being one of them; neither is 700kg car that can generate 1800kg of downforce.

So what would be your solution? The Americans fill their stadium seats by keeping ticket and team costs down, as well as providing plenty of action. While I do not crave for the gladiatorial nature of 200mph pack-racing in stadia, we should consider cherry picking the best from both sides of the Atlantic. None of which is possible while the current F1 regime is in power. If those at the top take their eyes off those at the bottom, those at the top might have to downsize their superyachts.

November 2015

 

In The Zone

A top sportsperson knows when he or she is ‘in the zone’. There is a marked difference between an excellent performance and the performance that comes from being in that higher place. Ayton Senna was a master of being in the zone; but what is the zone, and how do you get there?

Senna 'in the zone' Monaco - CopySports phycologists do their best with the mind games they use on athletes to get them to perform beyond expectations. The best race drivers are now athletes; such is the competitiveness in modern motorsport. While a good coach can do much, being in the zone has to come from within the driver. It also has to come from within the car. If the handling of a car does not suit the style of the driver, then that driver will not reach that higher zone.

Time for an example; let’s take any section of the Monaco GP street circuit. The cambers and gradients are constant booby-traps as the grip level is constantly changing. The track is narrow and tortuous. The barriers are right on the edge of that slender stretch of the world’s most chic tarmac. The driver is kept constantly busy with infinite control inputs and with 60 gear shifts per 3.3km lap. Drivers achieve a race finish at Monaco by using massive focus. However, those few who are in the zone are almost having an out of body experience. They have not only bonded with their car so that they feel as one, but are also as one with the immeasurable complications of the circuit.

Front and rear wheels of a racing car are rarely travelling line-astern, certainly not in the corners. Slip angles are present. These slip angles vary from one type of car to another; and likewise from the type of tyre. Modern F1 cars on slicks have small slip angles, historic race cars on vintage Dunlops are dramatically sideways. Even when an F1 car looks composed in a turn, it isn’t. A modern F1 driver is aware of his slip angles while a spectator is generally unaware. When a driver is in the zone he can place his sliding car millimetre-perfect onto any part of the track or kerb. Kerbs add another dimension as they affect grip level and require more rapid, miniscule and precise inputs to the controls. A driver who is in the zone does this automatically.

October 2015

The Blame Game

The governing bodies of global motor racing need to make up their minds whether motor racing is – or is not – a non-contact sport. Of course they will state that it is a non-contact sport. However, we can all find endless footage of race crashes. Let us forget F1 for now and think of the tens of thousands of race drivers worldwide.

rd 4 V8 Supercars Barbagallo Raceway Perth WA

Contact – then chaos….

As soon as there is a controversial crash, the commentators’ get-out clause is that there has been a ‘racing accident’ as if playing that magic card makes it all okay. Blame can be apportioned to all on-track accidents. Contact may be okay for TV or spectators, but it isn’t okay for the competitors. Some of these accidents are plainly the fault of one driver, while others concern multiple culpability. The classic collision is when someone dives up the inside of a car that is turning into an apex. The shouting match that follows is always the same, with each driver blaming the other. In reality both drivers are at fault but not necessarily on a 50-50 basis. It may be 80-20 or whatever.., but responsibility undoubtedly exists. It is not a racing accident, it is an accident. Sometimes contact is the result of an optimistic driver fantasizing about the path of an opponent’s car; a case of idiotic wishful thinking. Some accidents are deliberate. Some hot-heads should never be in possession of a race licence. Some drivers lack peripheral vision and are unaware of anything that is not close-up and dead-ahead. Some have poor car control; they apply opposite lock but do not understand the complexities of what comes next. Some struggle with ill-handling cars because they know no better. The list of shame goes on….

In the UK there are race series for young drivers like the Ginetta Junior Championship; open for 14 to 17-year-old. Much of the mischief is on YouTube. These kids are under huge parental pressure to become the next F1 champion; the odds of which don’t bare thinking about. Meanwhile, the skirmishes in International Touring Car races are notorious. As this bad behaviour filters down, lesser competitors suffer. That the governing bodies are doing nothing about contact in a non-contact sport says much, ie, that contact is kind of okay. Punishments are rare and hidden when they should be severe and publicised.

 

September 2015

Early September 2015

IMG_1022This year’s racing season has been busy and successful. Driver training has also been full of activity – more on this at the end of the season.

September means the Goodwood Revival, and once again the ‘Dean Van Lines’ Lister Chevrolet BHL110 will be racing in the Sussex Trophy. Goodwood has a great live feed on the web. You can watch all the action over the three days (11th to 13th).

Late September 2015

 

Driving Lister Corvette BHL110 at Goodwood

Driving Lister Corvette BHL110 at Good-wood

The 2015 Goodwood Revival has now come and gone. As always it was a spectacular event. Motorsport can be no better than this. Racing in the Sussex Trophy, the Lister Chevrolet finished 11th out of 30 cars. Development of the set-up continues. It is now simply a matter of the right spring and damper rates, and getting the best from the front antiroll bar. The permutations are considerable although achievable. In the battle to control these cars’ inherent oversteer, I had dialled in too much understeer. The understeer limits corner entry speed and causes the car to run wide and consequently be late on the power.

However, the Goodwood sector speed traps showed this Lister Chevrolet to be the fastest car in the race, in a straight line. So, a little more work on the set-up and BHL 110 will be a front runner. Not just any old front runner, but a front runner with the best of the best.