A month’s time has passed since our Sunday mornings have held such excitement. The mandatory Formula One summer break has finally ended and we couldn’t be more excited to see what the second half of 2013 holds. If you’re just joining us, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has walked out to an early mid-season points lead, but don’t give up hope on a new world champion just yet. Yesterday’s free practice and today’s qualifying show a new trend.
Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton make good on summer promises with pole position Saturday, with a stunning show in Q3. With only seconds left on an already soaking Spa Circuit, Hamilton edges out pole from Vettel, pushing Mark Webber to third position and Nico Rosberg to fourth. Performance was stunning due to the conditions, but more remarkable was the tenacity of Force India’s Paul di Resta. Qualifying has been downright poor for di Resta this season, but after nudging his way into Q3, di Resta made the boldly started on the Intermediate compound – among a field buttoned up in dry tires. The tactic worked, cementing pole position for most of the Q3 duration, to be slid back to fifth as the clock ran out, tying di Resta’s best starting position.
Stroke of good luck or real progress in Woking? You decide. Jenson Button put his McLaren in sixth position following some good and bad practices this weekend. Perhaps McLaren has improved the car, but we suspect it’s just Button working at the limit. Remember, he won this race last year.
Rounding out the top ten are the Lotuses of Grosjean and Raikkonen, followed by the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa. Massa allegedly has been given his two-race ultimatum – perform or close the door on Ferrari. Stay tuned for a recap of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at historic Spa Francorchamps.
The clock reads 7:29 AM as I pull up to the entrance, but already the beasts have awoken. These creatures have huge wings, howl like Banshees, and spit fire, but you need not look for them in the pages of a fantasy novel. No, these monsters are very much alive, and their presence means only one things – it’s race weekend at Watkins Glen.
This past Fourth of July weekend, the Sports Car Club of America hosted the Majors Super Tour at Watkins Glen International. The race marked the end of the Eastern Conference Majors schedule; a tour encompassing a 12 race series and boy was it one to remember. Clear blue skies made for terrific conditions for drivers to squeeze every last second out of their cars as they screamed around this historic upstate circuit.
Rising above Seneca Lake, “the Glen” has been home to full throttle road racing since 1948, when Cameron Argetsinger organized a twenty-three car race around the outskirts of town, which became the first American road race since the end of World War II. Following a slew of accidents, the town built an official track in 1956, and has held numerous forms of racing since such as NASCAR, IndyCar, Trans-Am, and at it’s pinnacle – Formula One. The Glen served as home of the United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980, revered by many as they heyday of Formula One.
Just walking around the circuit was a case of sensory overload. At every turn I could smell that unmistakable whiff of cooked brakes, burnt rubber, and the sting of race fuel. And what a symphony of motorsport! Every ensemble filled the park, with the low bark from the American V8s, the whine from Formula-style cars, the wail of a rotary Mazda, and crackle from carbureted classics. It was truly a wide-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear kind of day.
I caught up with Gary Hutchinson, a driver in the C Sports Racer category, who gave some advice for amateur drivers looking to compete at the Majors level of the SCCA. “Keep pursuing coaching, no matter what level you’re at.” Hutchinson has raced in BMW sedans for over 9 years before climbing into his new track day racer, a black and red Radical SR3. “People lose races by hundredths of a second, a good instructor can help you drop a few tenths – or maybe even a few seconds – in one session.”
This 2013 season also marks the inaugural year of SCCA Majors racing. The trend of the increasing number of events on the Nationals club racing calendar has contributed to fewer and fewer cars entered in each race event, which has lead the SCCA to introduce the Majors class. This class embodies the highest level of sports car racing, bringing the best of the best together to compete at the ultimate level of wheel to wheel racing in the SCCA. But don’t worry, although the Nationals and Majors race events may overlap and combine at some venues – the points gained in both are attributed to their own individual standings. National events will score points for Divisional and National Championships, while Majors points will dictate standings within the four US Majors Conferences (Eastern, Mid-States, Northern, and Western).
Although this new adjustment to the SCCA hierarchy will take some time to adopt fully, seemingly the racers couldn’t be happier. We saw lots of full heats, close racing from front-runners and between stragglers, plus lots of great bring-what-you-got racers. Not everyone in the field is going to score points, but for these guys – getting to show off their cars and lay down their best laps is the real trophy at days end. So if you’ve got a Miata (nearly every driver did – there must have been over 100) or have even the slightest inkling of interest for motor racing, come on down to Watkins Glen and check out an event!
This weekend the F1 calendar took us to James May’s favorite place in the world… the Nurburgring, and what a race it was. Luckily we were spared from the Pirelli fireworks of the British GP as a new kevlar banded tire construction was used. No blowouts were a plus, especially since this drivers statement came out just before practice began. With tire tensions mounting, the weight was on Pirelli this weekend, and they delivered.
Lewis Hamilton looked good in qualifying to edge out the boys and put the Mercedes on pole, but thats about the extent of his dominance. Off the start the W04 was swarmed by the ever dominant Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber. Hamilton slowly made his way back to 5th at the end of lap 60. Sebastian Vettel finally takes a win at his home Grand Prix, but you get the sense that nobody really cared. Just a few weeks ago Vettel’s winning comments were cut short by exuberant Canadian’s chanting “A-LON-SO, A-LON-SO!”
Fernando Alonso put his Ferrari in 4th place thanks to tire strategy. Felipe Massa had another good start, but spun into the gravel and retired early. Mark Webber looked to be in good shape until a catastrophic accident occurred in the pits. Webber’s RB9 was released before his rear right tire was securely fastened and the tire broke free, impacting a cameraman. Thanks to a lengthy safety car, Webber fought his way back from last up to 7th. All the talk is about who will replace Webber at Red Bull, but Ferrari must be accepting CVs for Massa’s spot already this season. Maranello can’t be pleased with his performance.
And now the elephant in the corner. Lotus made a terrific showing on Sunday, locking out the second two podium slots (Kimi Raikkonen followed by Romain Grosjean). Whether it was down to the tires or midseason tweaking, the two E21’s looked mighty quick bearing down on the lead Red Bull. Even Vettel admitted “I’m very happy that the race ended after 60 laps and not 61 or 62.” Raikkonen closes the points gap between Alonso to 7.
McLaren begins to show some signs of life after finishing 6th and 8th (Jenson Button and Sergio Perez), largely in part to stellar driving. It looks like the days are numbered for Button at McLaren. Wonder how he’d fit in as Sebastian’s #2?
Oh yeah, Bianchi’s Marussia was on fire and rolled back across the track. Make’s you wonder what is going on in that factory…