True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

It’s Not Where You Start…..

 

A wild weekend ended with a surprise winner.  Street course winners don’t come from last to win.  Sebastian Bourdais showed strength in practice, but a qualifying crash put him last on the starting grid. I thought he had a strong enough car to salvage a top 10. He won by more than nine seconds, passing Simon Pagenaud for the lead on lap 37 and not looking back. He was out of the lead only for pit stops the rest of the way.

The first part of the race was one of the best street races I’ve seen. Multiple passes, including two for the lead, close racing throughout the field, and two caution periods in the first 30 laps helped make it quite a show.  The caution free last part caused the field to get quite strung out with an occasional battle here and there. Overall, it was an above average St. Pete race.

I don’t think Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball  will be having dinner together anytime soon. They collided at Watkins Glen last year and had a first lap incident yesterday. I’m still not sure who was at fault yesterday.  It just seems Kimball is becoming a part of more than his share of these crashes in tight corners.

Power outage.  Will Power won the pole Saturday and was a strong favorite to win the race. He took the lead at the start, but was passed by James Hinchcliffe soon after the restart on lap 5. He made an early pit stop due to a  flat-spotted tire, hit an air hose on the way out, resulting in a drive through penalty. He worked his ay back to third before the engine began to sour.

He is still in a better position than he was after last year’s race, where he didn’t start yet almost won the championship.  Last year he left St. Pete with the single point for winning the pole. Do not count him out yet.

Other great drives yesterday- Rookie Ed Jones finished tenth, running a very steady, clean race. It was a very nice debut for his first Indycar race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his rear brakes in the morning warmup and crashed hard into the tires in turn 10. The accident reinforced everyone’s concerns about the brakes during the race, but except for Spencer  Pigot, there didn’t appear to be much of an issue. Hunter-Reay finished fourth, passing teammate Takuma Sato late.

Speaking of Pigot, before the brake issue, which happened as he entered the pits, he was having a great day. He moved to the top 10 quickly and was in position for a solid finish. He seems much more comfortable in his second year with the team.

Honda is definitely back in the game. They led all the practice sessions, just missed the pole, then dominated the race standings. There goes my theory that 2017 would be a 2016 rerun.

The Event

The crowd seemed to be stable, about the same as last year. It was wonderful to see and spend time with so many friends. It was just a great feeling to be back at an Indycar event.

The biggest issue was entering the track. I understand the need for security checks. This year the system was very inefficient, causing waiting lines of more than an hour according to some reports. I arrived later than I normally do on Saturday, a tale for another day, and was shocked at how long it took to move through the entrance. Some team staff were furious at having to wait to get in since they carried nothing with them. One said they were late for a meeting. They simply need more bag checkers and an express line for those with no bags. This was the worst it has been here.

The volunteer staff did their usual fine job. They are friendly and helpful. St. Petersburg is getting more and more community buy-in for the race. The mayor is fully behind the event.

Thursday I head to Sebring for my favorite sportscar race of the year, the 12 hours of Sebring.  I will be tweeting all weekend and have a report next week. I am anxious to see the midway upgrades they have done. They have also added a showing of the Steve McQueen movie, Le Mans. I think they should show half of it.

A New Look for Indycar Weekends; P2P Revised; Reds GetMore Track Time

Yesterday Indycar announced format changes for race weekends. Most of the new procedures affect road and street course events.  The oval  races at Phoenix and Gateway will have a new prerace look also. Some of the changes affect certain tracks only. Here are the changes, followed by my thoughts. Thanks to Eric Smith of Race Review Online for providing the list.

• Phoenix and Gateway qualifications: Qualifying at two oval tracks – Phoenix Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park – will be held on the same day as those Saturday night races. The first day of those two-day event weekends will focus on a pair of practice sessions, the latter falling within the same evening time slot as the race.

• Firestone alternate tires: At road and street courses, each car will receive an additional set of Firestone’s red-sidewall alternate tires, bringing the total to four sets of the softer-compound Firehawks available for the weekend and allowing teams to better gauge performance characteristics of the alternate tires in comparison to Firestone’s more-durable, black-sidewall, primary-compound tires prior to qualifications. Each entry must return one set of tires – either primary or alternate – following the first practice session of a weekend and another set – the opposite compound from the first returned set – following the second practice session.

• Overtake assist time allotment: Push-to-pass overtake assist in road and street races will be based on a maximum time allotment for each car instead of the number of uses. The events at the streets of St. Petersburg, Raceway at Belle Isle Park and Sonoma Raceway will have a total overtake time allotment of 150 seconds for each race, with the other road/street races set for 200 seconds. When a driver engages the overtake via a button on the steering wheel, it increases engine turbocharger boost pressure by 15 kilopascals (kPa) to 165 kPa – good for about 60 added horsepower. Once engaged, push-to-pass will run for a pre-established duration equivalent to approximately the time needed to drive the length of the track’s main straightaway (15-20 seconds). Drivers will now have the ability to disengage an overtake activation midway through its use to save time for a later use. In addition, push-to-pass will not be available at the start of a race or for any restarts, with the exception of a restart commencing with two laps remaining in the race.

• INDYCAR Grand Prix schedule: Verizon IndyCar Series on-track action at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will consist of two days, Friday and Saturday, May 12-13, to create a more action-packed event. All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder will still have track activity on Thursday, May 11.

• Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix qualifications: For the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix doubleheader in June, qualifying sessions for each race will see the field divided into two groups based on practice times, with 12 minutes of track time allotted for each qualifying group (with five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time). Previously, qualifying for the first race followed the advancement round format used at other road/street events. Qualifying groups for Belle Isle will be based on best lap times from the practice session immediately preceding Race 1 qualifications. If a car causes a red-flag situation during a qualifying session, its best two timed laps will be disallowed and it will not be permitted to continue in the session. One driver and entrant championship point will be awarded to the fastest car in each qualifying group on both days.

• Standardized road/street practice times: Practice sessions on the first day of most road/street course event weekends will have standardized start times of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. local. Each session will be 45 minutes in duration.

 My thoughts:

I love same day qualifying. It is hectic for the teams, but it really provides value for the fans. I have been to many races where the race starts in late afternoon and there are no support events.  A night practice for a night race makes sense, especially in the same time slot as the race. Indycars under the lights are an amazing sight. Unless there is a drastic change in weather in 24 hours, this will help teams know what to expect.

About time drivers are allowed to practice on the alternate reds during practice. I’ve always thought it was silly to not be able to practice on what you would use in qualifying. Another step helping the teams put on a better qualifying show. Thanks to Firestone for the extra work this involves making the extra sets available.

The push to pass change will make starts and restarts fairer and possibly safer.  I really like that a driver can decide not to use a full burst and save time for later. This is essentially is the same amount of time as before, but a driver could get more uses from it.  I wonder if all teams and the fans will be made aware of how much time other drivers have left. Indycar attempted to keep that information hidden for awhile last year, but that policy seemed to fade away.

Compressing the Indycar Grand Prix of Indianapolis schedule is a good idea. Thursday was mainly just let’s get the dust off the track day.  I like the idea of the three Mazda Road to Indy series getting the entire Thursday to themselves.  Anytime the future stars can get a showcase can only help Indycar in the long run.

The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix qualifying format makes sense for a couple reasons. The schedule at Belle Isle is really packed. It will free up 30-45 minutes of track time.  This is the procedure used for race 2 qualifying, so it standardizes the weekend’s qualifying procedure. One thing I would change is have the groups on Sunday based on Saturday’s starting positions rather than have the same groups both days.

I will like going to a track on the first event day knowing when the practice sessions are. I always take a copy of the schedule with me, but it will be nice to know the first session is at 11 and the second one is at 3.   Shortening the practice sessions to 45 minutes and allowing practice on the reds should make for more on track action during the sessions.

These are great changes for the Verizon Indycar Series. I like that they are trying to have practice sessions simulate qualifying and race conditions while providing more on track running.  Adapting procedures to the situations of different tracks is helpful as well.

Notes:

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced Copper Moon Coffee will be the team’s official coffee supplier through 2018. Will the steering wheels have an espresso button?

Zachary Claman DeMelo signed with Carlin for his second Indy Lights season.  I thought he showed steady improvement during the year. It appears there will be 12-14 cars on the Indy Lights grid. Considering that Schmidt is not entering the series this year, that is a nice number.

We are just 32 days away from the first practice day at St. Pete. I’m ready.

I’m working on my season preview, which I plan to publish March 1. I will be back before then.  You can’t get rid of me that easily.