Wednesday, August 26, 2015

(Another) Shout-Out To Darryl Cannon

Darryl gave up riding several years ago.  On four wheels, he's as fast as any of the Dragon's regulars.

I'm off for a short trip to the Tail of the Dragon, and looking forward to hanging out with Darryl "Killboy" Cannon again.

Here's a link to a locally-produced half-hour TV show about the Dragon  It's basically three interviews.  The one with Darryl is in the middle and starts at 11:20.

It can be fairly said that he's a Dragon promoter, and of course he has a business interest in doing so. But  first came his love of the road, which I shared after my first pass.  When you push the limits in fast driving, "stuff happens."  Then there are the novices and idiots you may encounter coming the other way.  (I have learned to back out of it when I see oncoming traffic, until I know what I'm dealing with.)  Darryl gets that, and put it better elsewhere than he does in the video about selling crash photos: it's Bad Karma.

Watching him has taught me more about how to drive the Dragon than all the other (countless) Dragon videos combined.  And Darryl is one of the most decent people on the planet.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Today's Laugh

Two of my favorite cars, for entirely different reasons.  The Mini carried four adults at 100 k.p.h., it's design goal.
The 917 LH carried one adult at 385 k.p.h., it's design goal.  Both required a 6-footer to jackknife himself and
drop his butt to get in.  And the suitcases depicted in the Mini appear to be attache cases.  ;-)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Different Drummer (Lancia Lambda)

The video highlights the unusual engine note:

But most features of the car are unusual for the period: a unit body (and a 4-passenger performance car body at that), sliding pillar (independent) front suspension, a small V-4 o.h.c. engine.  Lancia never had the charisma of the other Italian marques (except maybe at home), but it never seemed to care.  Lancia just engineered and made cars that interested and challenged it.  Different drummer.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Rant Written For Me (Motor Homes)

Am reading and enjoying The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck.  It's about taking a covered wagon across the Oregon Trail in 2013.  On pages 122-125, he tees up motor homes.  His perspective is different from Top Gear's ridicule of caravans and caravaners, but just as therapeutic for those of us who hate these lumbering behemoths.  They are the bane of fast drivers and truckers everywhere.  I have driven the stretch of Highway 36 in Kansas that Buck describes.  It's arrow-straight and was almost deserted when I passed through.  It needs a higher speed limit. But I've seen the kind of driving and social behavior he describes often enough.  The ellipses and brackets are mine:

"Someday, when historians perform their 'why the Mayans declined' necropsy on American society, they will a time of high anxiety about energy resources and costs, millions of elderly people took to the road in the clumsiest, most inefficient vehicles... The lunacy of America is all right there, in the RV's.

"Highway 36 through Kansas is, essentially, a motorized ghetto for the massive Winnebago and Gulf Stream motor homes that American seniors... drive...  As they head out toward Yellowstone Park or to visit their grandchildren in Seattle, these road geriatrics follow the advice of their guidebooks and [follow] the 'Pony Express Highway' between St. Joe and Marysville, and then lumber up to highways 30 and 26 in Nebraska to... the Platte...

"Spending six figures for a McMansion... on a bus chassis is truly an adventure in bad taste... [T]he proud owners of a Winnebago Adventurer or a Newmar Mountain Aire would occasionally insist that we step inside their rig for an inspection tour.  Everything desired by America's gaudiest consumers is inside... immense flat-screen TV's in the kitchen and living room, microwaves big enough to stew a whole cow... whirlpool baths, extra dens and porches that extend off the sides by activating humming motors.  The designers at Winnebago and Gulf Stream seem to understand the Walter Mitty fantasies of American seniors... [T]he driver's seat is called the "pilot's cockpit."  The passenger side, which includes a laptop stand on the dashboard, is called the "copilot" seat.

"Of course, the RVers were thrilled to see a covered wagon... Opportunities to create traffic hazards are much coveted by RV couples, and they loved us.  They were relentlessly bad drivers and would sway their big [units] around the back of the wagon, rumble alongside at four miles per hour, just inches from the mules, and then open their windows and flash away with cell phone cameras for several minutes as traffic backed up behind them.

"Several times a day, packs of RV's would pass us on the highway, and then the drivers would stop a half mile ahead, positioning themselves to take better pictures.  They parked with about two feet of the [unit's] girth on the shoulder... with the remaining eight feet blocking our westbound lane.  The driver of an eastbound RV, curious about why the [unit] with Wisconsin plates had stopped, of course had to stop too, allegedly parking on the shoulder on his side of the highway.  There was just enough room in between for us to squeeze the wagon through this RV gauntlet...

"Apparently there is considerable gassing off of formaldehydes and vinyl parts inside a moving RV that causes aggressively boring men to consider themselves wildly funny..."  The Comradeship of the Road as felt and expressed by motor home people was lost on Buck.  Me too.

Professional drivers of 18-wheelers are used to being surrounded by idiots in 4-wheelers.  They expect us to cut them off with sketchy lane-crossings and the like, and allow extra margins for safety. But the astonishing lack of situational awareness of motor home drivers can defeat even a CDL holder.  We rarely see an 18-wheeler slam on his brakes.  But if he does, chances are it was for a motor home.  I always give them an extra wide berth too.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France (Olivier Gendebien)

Petrolicious wants to know if we have a spare $11 million, to which I can only respond "I wish."  Google "Petrolicious Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France" if you want to see more photos.

Hype over the car's availability at auction gives me an occasion to write a few lines about Olivier Gendebien.  He is remembered in the States today, if at all, as Phil Hill's co-driver in most of Phil's endurance racing wins.  Like Hill (until Phil put his foot down), Gendebien was considered by Enzo Ferrari to be a second-stringer: a sports car driver not fast enough for a ride in his Grand Prix cars.

Gendebien was an open road race specialist and independently wealthy.  He learned to drive fast, and enjoy it, in Zaire, when it was still the Belgian Congo, right after World War Two.  When he returned to Europe he settled on a racing career.  He won most consistently in races like the Mille Miglia and the Tour de France's "special stages."  These were events that put a premium on being fast on long stretches of road that you hadn't been able to learn.  The key was to run at 8- or 9-10's into bends you didn't know, all day long, without falling off the road or overstressing the car.

Gendebien was superb at that.  Most of his successes were in the early Ferrari 250 GT's.  He won the GT class in the Mille Miglia.  In the late 1950's he owned the Tour de France, giving the superleggera 3-liter V-12 LWB car its unofficial name.

Aways a Groomsman, never a Groom: Gendebien with Enzo Ferrari, the Father of the Bride.  Although Gendebien won
major sports car races for Enzo for nearly a decade, he was never given a shot at a Grand Prix ride--except in his own
home Grand Prix of Belgium--as one-off drives.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Notes on The LeMans GT's At Road America 2015

Watched the Tudor race on TV, as usual paying attention only to GT.  I was hoping to find stills or video for this post of the agricultural excursion at the end of the race that cost Risi Competizione second place, but nothing has shown up on the internet yet.  Risi had a good battle with the Porsche factory cars.  But it was evident (a lap or two earlier than the last lap "off" at Turn 13) that the 458 had run out of grip.  As usual, an excellent race.

I noticed that the jungle that had grown up from The Kink to Turn 13, about which I complained so bitterly two years ago, has been cut down.  The path from Canada Corner up to the Kink appears to have been repaired and widened.  Rows of golf carts were parked at the braking zone into Canada.  So one of my old favorite viewing areas has been restored to its former glory.  In lieu of a good picture of Risi at Road America, here's a short phone video of the car headed toward Canada Corner.  This is why it's is such a good viewing spot:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Local Car Show

It has become a running joke between Hotshoe and me that he has rarely met a cruise night he doesn't like, and I've been to my last one.  At least twice.  But when it's in your own town, 5 minutes away, it's hard not to grab your camera for a few snapshots.  The car count was low (20-25).  The rock band was terrible.  I don't want to sleep-walk past rows of open-hooded muscle cars any more.  This may have been my last cruise night. Until the next one that's 10 minutes away.  ;-)

Above and below: The sign next to the For Sale sign, with a picture, is of an intake manifold, "ready to bolt on."
If you have a Vision of a street rod, you can probably buy this one pretty cheap and complete it to taste.
I liked the front wheels, which remind me of the wheels on Altered coupes at the drags in the 1960's.

In 1983, an IROC Z came a poor third to a Toyota Supra and my final choice for a new car, a Mazda RX-7.  The quality of
materials and assembly of the Camaro was... low...  It's still a good-looking car, and I still have no regrets about my
decision 32 years ago.  The fit and finish of this car are very good, and suggest a full restoration.

I'm still a sucker for a C-2.  Independent rear suspension in 1963, followed by disc brakes in 1964.  Now yer gettin' it, GM.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Club Racer Scion FR-S

This is the first FR-S I've seen that was prepared for club racing.  My fellow corner workers and I were curious to see how it would do against hordes of Miatas.  One of them said "The FR-S is the new Miata," by which he meant an affordable, good-handling car that can be raced on a budget.  I'm not so confident about that.  The new Miata may be the new Miata.

'Nennycase, the FR-S and its owner did fine.  He qualified 5th or 6th for his race.  Got jumped at the start and fell way back going through Turns 1 and 2.  He may have been avoiding the carnage we've all come to expect at the start of Miata races--which didn't happen at all at Blackhawk Farms this weekend.  After that, he and the race settled down and he held station and may have gained a few spots.

The car is not fully built yet.  For example, it was still running a muffled exhaust.  Blackhawk was the owner's first race in this car, although I'm guessing it wasn't his first rodeo.  He was getting through Turn 3 just fine, with the power down early and a nice, neutral, stable, drift to the outside.  In club racer spec. the FR-S handles every bit as well as a Miata.

After lunch (and before his race) I chatted briefly with the owner in the paddock.  He likes the car's handling fine but, I gathered, he still hadn't found the outside of its envelope.  Based on what I saw, an FR-S that's fully prepared driven by a driver who's confident of its limits will give Spec. Miatas all they can handle.  The owner bought this car as salvage.  It had significant body damage but the frame is straight.  The elegant paint job is actually blue wrap.  The rest of his money went into the basic stuff: safety equipment, suspension, wheels, and tires.  He still doesn't have a lot of money in the car but is turning competitive lap times.  The FR-S is a club racing car with winning potential.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An As-Good-As-It-Gets Weekend

Olivier Beretta, 'tis said, cannot forgive Corvette Racing for firing him.  So he sticks it to GM whenever he can, which he
did again at Mid-Ohio to the Cadillac Division by continuing his points lead in the Pirelli World Challenge series.

I am too old and creaky and easily worn out to flag corners for my club for two days in a row.  So, with the wisdom of Solomon, I cut the baby in half.  On Saturday I watched the Pirelli World Challenge on my (large screen) desktop and on Sunday I worked for my club.

Watching road racing online is so much better than TV.  We lose most of the commercials.  The quality of the commentary is higher.  And we get the same well-directed camera coverage and angles.  At Mid-Ohio, one of the cameras was in the middle of Madness, at the bottom of the hill, which was my favorite viewing spot when I went to events there in the '60's and early '70's.  The effect on me was massively nostalgic.

The PWC GT's lap at 108 m.p.h., which is damned fast on the twisty Mid-Ohio course.  Between two classes, there were over 30 cars on track.  That's a lot for a 2.4 mile course.  The faster cars began lapping slower ones 20 minutes into a 50-minute race, but the driving was clean and full-course yellows were minimal.  It was a good race, and website viewing has its merits when the heat and humidity are high outside.

My "office" and associates on Sunday: the flag station at Blackhawk Farms' Turn 3.  This picture shows a Formula Atlantic
car getting a flat tow after his race was over.  He provided our only excitement of the day (and that's a good thing).  He
coasted to a stop at our station about 20 minutes into his 30-minute event.  He had lost a cylinder, and was very worried.
"Did you see any oil?"  We hadn't, and we all hoped it was a coil pack or something similarly cheap and easy to fix.

On Sunday I was on the road to Blackhawk Farms well before the sun came up and didn't get home until it was low in the sky.  Four hours of commuting and working from 8 to 5+ in the sun makes for exhaustion.  (Ambient temperature reached the low 90's, fortunately with a stiff breeze.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.)

But we had a lot of fun.  At a corner station, driving talent from sketchy at best to brilliant is on display.  (At BFR, Turn 3 has the best sight lines and is itself a difficult corner.)  You see odd cornering lines that shouldn't work, but do.  Watching races with other knowledgeable spectators is always a treat, and the gearhead talk when there's downtime is fun.  Club racing seems always to have a problem getting enough volunteers to adequately staff races.  I don't understand this.  If you can't afford to race, or if your skills are lacking (both, in my case), working a corner is the next best thing to being on track yourself.

And we saw some good racing.  Among the big-bores, a Mustang chased a big block Corvette for half an hour (my club's races are all that length).  The Mustang was never further back than 6 car lengths, and he stuck his nose in a couple of times.  It was glorious to watch them come through Turn 2, past our station at Turn 3 (a long carousel) and into 3A.  The Mustang's second and third gear ratios were very close, he wound the hell out his small block, and made up whatever distance was between them by the time they reached us.  On the two short straights, big block torque won the drag races.  In the end it prevailed, with an assist from at least one sketchy door-closing move.

In the last small-bore race of the day, a Honda CRX Si started at the back of the field and finished second.  Second!  Blackhawk is 2.0 miles around and you can't pass at all from Turn 3 through Turn 5 unless the driver ahead backs out of it and moves over to let you by.  So passing 20+ cars in a half hour, including some very well-driven Miatas, takes some doing.  It was a brilliant drive.  Extra props to the CRX for being one of the the noisiest, highest revving, car on the track.

Finally, a shout out to the drivers.  It was a very hot day to be encased in Nomex for 40-50 minutes, especially when the Red Mist descends.  "Our" driver's race ended at Turn 3 after only 20 minutes.  He was exhausted (we hydrated him).  He was worried (race-built engines are not cheap to repair).  It took him a lap or two to emerge from his own world, contained inside that helmet, to rejoin the wider one. He's a Weekend Warrior, aged about 50, as many club racers are.  He was driving a 1300 lb. car with 175 horsepower, wide sticky tires, and downforce.  These cars are thoroughbreds--they're only fast when they're close to the knife's edge.  If you think it's easy to be a club racer in a fast car, try it.  He remembered his manners, and thanked us volunteers for making the racing possible.  I wish I had remembered mine, and thanked him and his paddock-mates for the show they put on.

Three laps into his race, this car and driver were still right on the tail of the leading big-block C-4 Corvette.  We speculated
on his chances at our corner station.  "That's a big, heavy, car--he'll run out of brakes or tires or both" said I.  He didn't.
In June, I chatted with this driver in the paddock.  He's from mid-state Illinois and this is his first season.  In June he
finished second to a "real" Shelby Mustang GT 350 with a lot of beans in the hands of an experienced driver.  On
Sunday he finished second again in a very hard-fought duel.  It won't be long before he gets a win.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Purdy Car, Purdy Future

"It says here, Guerino, that she's a runner."  Maserati Tipo 60 "Birdcage" prototype, first test by a racing driver (Stirling
Moss, second from left), June 1959.  Guerino Bertocchi, Maserati's Competition Director is far left.  Moss's reaction?
"Can you have one ready for the race at Rouen in a couple of weeks?"  He won.  The 2.9 engine that allowed the Tipo
61 to run with the big dogs, and the iconic huge sheet of plexiglass to meet new FIA windshield regulations, came
over the next winter.