The Losing End of Winning

April 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

hill 96

If we’re the best in our field, the last thing we expect to hear from our employer is that we’re being replaced by someone else who has accomplished less but might have more potential. That was the curious case of Damon Hill as he was on his way to winning the World Championship in 1996. It’s a scenario that took place over a three year period that ended up with Hill finding out during a race weekend that he would be replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1997.

The courting of Frentzen by the Williams team started in 1994 after the death of Ayrton Senna; Frank Williams was looking for someone to fill the now open seat and offered the position to Frentzen, then a Sauber driver and former Group C Mercedes Junior Team teammate to Michael Schumacher, who after his early season performances was looking like the man most likely to be world champion. Frentzen turned down the drive as the Sauber team (who ran the Group C Mercedes team) needed consistency after the near fatal crash of his teammate Karl Weindlinger. Williams appreciated his loyalty to the team and kept him in mind as future driver.

At this time Frentzen was highly rated by all in paddock. Schumacher was beginning the start of his reign and many viewed Frentzen, his former Mercedes teammate as being faster of the two but perhaps not as mentally strong. It’s also interesting to note that a former girlfriend of Frentzen’s is Mrs. Corinna Schumacher, the wife of Michael.

From 1991-1997 it was widely agreed upon that Williams had the best car in the paddock. It was shocking to Williams that they were being beaten by Schumacher and Benetton. The Williams philosophy was that driver was just another part on the car and it angered Hill when Williams brought back Nigel Mansell in the middle of the 1994 season when his IndyCar commitments would allow, leaving Hill who was supposed to be the number one driver and still in a title fight to feel as if the team had viewed him as second rate; a quality number two who could win a few races a year and provide great technical feedback to the team but not a superstar.

The 1994 season ended in controversy with the Hill/Schumacher collision in Adelaide and accusations of title winner Schumacher’s Benneton being illegal. The 1995 season was the first year of the raised nose Williams and Schumacher was even more dominant in the Benetton clinching the title with two races to go and Hill finishing second in the points but having a terrible second half of the year.

It’s believed that during this stretch when Hill was struggling was when Frentzen was signed for 1997.  Hill had a contract for 1996 and Jacques Villeneuve was joining the team for 1996.  1996 came along and Schumacher was now driving for Ferrari and Hill came into the season motivated to win at what many felt was his best chance at the world championship. It was during the summer while leading the championship that Hill found out at the German Grand Prix that Frentzen would be driving for Williams in 1997 and not him.

Hill went on to win the World Championship that year and continued what was a tradition of driver’s winning the world championship in a Williams and leaving. It started with Nelson Piquet in ’87, Mansell in ’92, Prost in ’93 and Hill in ’96. Hill would go onto to drive for the TWR Arrows team and later for Jordan giving the team their first win at Spa in ’98. It’s interesting to note it was the same Jordan team where Frentzen after struggling at Williams would go on to have the best form of his career.

Was it just Williams’ view that Hill was a really good number two and his poor result in 1995 was the reason that he was dropped from Williams? A few other scenarios come to mind. Was Williams aware in 1995 of Renault’s withdrawal from Formula 1 at the end of the 1997 season? Was the hiring of Frentzen a way of enticing BMW to partner up with Williams? By this point, F1 racing in Germany was at its peak; Mercedes was fully involved with McLaren and the men from Munich had been sniffing around F1 since the early 90’s.  Audi was also rumored on joining Formula 1 and where one of the big German manufacturers is, the other two are soon to follow.

It’s also interesting to point out that Renault was upset about Hill being dropped as they would be unable to have the number 1 on a Renault engined car for the third time with Williams in five seasons. Hill was also regarded as the best out of the four Renault engined drivers (himself, Villeneuve, Alesi and Berger) in giving technical feedback. There was also rumors that Renault was trying to have Hill replace Alesi in the Benneton for 1997 (important to note that Alesi was regarded as the worst at giving feedback).

Another alternative reason is money, Williams was notorious in its refusal to throw big money at drivers, Frank Williams was once quoted as saying that they spent more on Nigel Mansell’s salary in one year than they did on R&D. It’s possible that Hill priced himself out of a drive for 1997 like Mansell had done during his 1992 title season and found himself without a ride when his arch enemy Alan Prost was signed for 1993.

One final scenario (and the least likely) is the idea that Williams was betting against the success of Jacques Villeneuve. By the time Frentzen was signed, Villeneuve was confirmed at Williams for 1996. In the mid ’90’s CART was producing the best racing in the world and viewed as a rival to F1. Bernie Ecclestone fearing CART courted one of it’s biggest star’s in Villeneuve to F1 with promise of a frontline drive. The last CART star to venture to F1 was Michael Andretti in 1993 for McLaren which was complete disaster. Did Williams fear they were going to experience Andretti 2.0 and thought Villeneuve would only last a year and go back to CART with his tail between his legs?

While Hill did end up getting sacked he did what all of us aspire to do in our jobs; leave a place better than we found it.


Ruthless Champions

April 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm


Search for a definition of the word “ruthless” and you find it to mean “having no compassion for others or showing pity”. Perhaps when we try to define the greats of racing (especially those of the past thirty years) we can put ruthless next to car control, outright speed and the ability to adapt to conditions.

Go through the list of driver’s who have a won multiple world championships over the past thirty years and each can be defined as being ruthless in one way or another: Lauda, Prost, Senna, Piquet, Schumacher, Alonso and now add Sebastian Vettel to the list after the muti-21 incident. It’s possible that being ruthless is the key component that separates the very good from the great.

In a Motorsport Magazine podcast in 2012, Derrek Warwick told stories about the ruthless nature of two of the greats mentioned above. In 1986, Warwick had agreed in principle to drive for Lotus that season only to have Senna block him from being on the team. Senna viewed Warwick as a threat due to talent and being a British driver on a British team and instead approved of Johnny Dumfries (a decent driver in his own right but not on the level of Warwick). In 1991 Warwick nearly came to blows with Michael Schumacher after a week in which Warwick’s younger brother was killed in a British F3000 race and Schumacher chopped Derrek off while he was going for pole during a World Championship sportscar round. Warwick said Schumacher was only allowed to race the next day if he apologized to Warwick. which according to Warwick he did in a half hearted mumble.

The stories go on and on about the ruthlessness of these driver’s: Piquet saying Senna was a homosexual and the verbally abusing Nigel Mansell and his wife, Prost putting the pressure on to get Senna DQ’ed from the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, etc.

The rise of ruthlessness has much to do with decrease of ethics, standards and romanticism of Grand Prix racing. No longer is it pedestal which all is measured against but just another show.


2013 World of Wheels

April 1, 2013 at 8:40 pm


Sons of Taki take a trip to the 2013 Boston World of Wheels. Check out the photos here:

World of Wheels 2013

10K Fantasy Garage – Jonathan’s picks

March 30, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I’ll be the first to admit it, I’m not a beater guy. I like my cars new or fairly new and if it’s old, it better something somewhat nice. On top of that I’m a bit of a germaphobe, who knows who and what has been done in some vehicle that has 100K miles on it. I was expecting this to be very difficult for me, finding three cars for 10K when I’d probably have a tough time looking for one at 10K. So decided to have laugh and “buy” things that would give me some stories to tell

The Daily Driver ( I go home to my pipe and slippers buy) – 1990 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign – $3,000

The most class you can get for three grand, so what if it’s very thirsty and the electrical system acts like coke-fuelled Lindsey Lohan. You’re going to look great when the wipers don’t work or the windows go down in the middle of  rainstorm.  When you drive a car like this, no matter how crappy it is under the hood, people are going to think you’re from old money, went to an elite private school and you or a fellow male family member is named Nigel.

This car was found on Craigslist in North Andover, MA with the contact being a guy named Damien. He either fits the description above or someone looking to upgrade their baller status. The car is clean outside and the interior shows no marks from the last fox hunt.

The Weekend Ride (Only because I have the best AAA membership and a mechanic named Ralf is eternally indebted to me) – 1988 VW Scirocco 16v – $4,200


The rule of thumb on VW’s, especially old ones is that they’re fantastic cars…when they work. Whatever you pay for car, double the cost and that’s at least your yearly maintenance cost . Scirocco’s are your typical German: great ideas but poor execution/not being able to complete the job. This one (found on ebay) is said to have a rebuilt engine, new fuel injectors, new clutch, new brakes, new water pump. What the seller didn’t say was he’s now seeing a mental health professional and had to sell a kidney to cover the costs of the repairs.

The Can’t Be Killed Rust Warrior – 1985 Toyota Land Crusier – $2990

Land Cruiser

The true definition of a beater, this SUV refuses to die; rust, zombie apocalypse  and one or two nuclear holocausts couldn’t kill this Land Crusier. It looks like hell but so bad ass at the same time. Who cares if your feet might fall through the floor and you need to make sure your shots are up to date. Take this anywhere and you get respect.


Brett Quinn – A Sons of Taki Hero

March 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Legacy GT Update #2

The Leggy GT will live. Planet Subaru Service Manager  Brett Quinn called me this afternoon to give me the news. Subaru decided to cover the costs of the repairs to the Leggy GT, all I need to do was pay the small deductible (which is minimal in the grand scheme of things). Brett will now order new cylinder heads, a short block and turbo (basically I’m getting a whole new engine). I greatly appreciate Brett’s hard work over the past week in helping the Sons of Taki cause and allowing the Leggy to live.

I laughed as he was somewhat apologetic in that it may take a few weeks to get done, I told him I didn’t care; the fact that he did a great job and the wonderful people at Subaru decided to cover the cost was more than enough to satisfy me. Hell, I wasn’t losing my shirt by having to spend a fortune on repairs nor would I have to look for a new car when this one wasn’t paid off.

So once again, thank you Brett Quinn, if we ever make it big and have a Hall of Fame, you may be a candidate for our first class

When a Legacy GT becomes a Legacy

March 27, 2013 at 5:05 pm


What the sound of metal going through a wood chipper sounds like

What the sound of metal going through a wood chipper looks like


My relationship with my Legacy GT has hit an all time low. Over the weekend I was on my way to visit fellow Son of Taki Jeff Lavery for some burgers and car talk when the CEL came on. For my Leggy, this is a common occurrence especially since the car misfires and throws a CEL light in any temperature under 40 degrees. So I carried on; as I got closer to SOT’s Southern headquarters (of course being too late to turn around) I heard a clunk or two which wasn’t part of the Leggy’s monthly light show.

On the return trip to SOT’s coastal base, the noises got worse and more frequent as I got closer to home. Coming from a fairly Catholic family, I  began reciting every prayer I learned during 11 years of CCD and 8 combined years of Catholic High School and College. The car made it home but the sound it made when I stepped on the accelerator can only be described as pieces of metal being put in a wood chipper.

There are some great mechanics that maintain the SOT fleet and I had an oil change booked with one of them for two days later, so I contacted them and told them what the situation was and I would drop the car so they could look at it first thing the next morning (it being Sunday). I feared the worst, with it being a broken rod or a blown turbo

The plan was to drive the car to the shop which was a ten minute drive and have my SOT brother and real life brother Matt meet me there. Right in the middle of this trip is my office where I had to pick up some gear for a shoot that night. So I take off from my house with the chipper in full force, I get to the first traffic light and it dies. I fire it up and goes but in a very limp fashion. The only way I can get the car to move is by shifting it. I’m shifting to keep the car moving while praying it doesn’t die in the middle of a busy road and I can at least get to my office.

Thankfully the next light I encounter is green and I limp through that with the slow silver woodchipper and crawl into my office parking lot. I step out of the car and I’m hit with the sent of burning. I make the decision to call AAA and have them trailer it the two and half miles to its destination.

I get the call Monday afternoon from my shop with the diagnosis. The turbo has blown and was putting oil into the engine. The decision is made to send it over to the local Subaru dealership for further diagnosis and hopeful repair. Thankfully, a family member knows the service manager and was able to give him a heads up. I’ve dealt with this service manager in the past and my dealings with him have been very good.

So this leaves me carless for the time being with no timetable as to what the next step is? When will I get the car back? How much will the repair cost? Is it even worth repairing?

The last question is the one I don’t want to face as the car is less than five years old and will be paid off sometime this summer. The car doesn’t have an exorbitant amount of miles on it and I would like to keep it for a long time. My 1998 Grand Prix GT had almost as many miles as the Legacy GT did when I bought it and that ran like a true champion and was still in decent condition when I traded it in for the Legacy. The question is what to get? Do I go brand spanking new? Do I get a few years old? or do I go the Jeff Lavery route and throw caution to the wind and buy something eight years old with a decent amount of miles but is pure magic? There is an 08 R32 at Coastal VW on the lot with 30,000 odd miles on it…


I found out this morning from the Subaru Service Manager that the turbo was blown and they found pieces of metal in the oil pan. The car needs a new short block and a turbo, so basically a new engine with a total cost of $10,000. The hope is that Subaru will cover the cost (or most of it). If I end up going forward with the repairs, the Leggy will not be back on the road until close to mid April between authorization, ordering parts (insert the Fast and Furious line) and installation.

For now I am carless, bumming rides off of family members who have stepped up to the plate with their care and support. Being a car lover and on top of that being someone who is very independent; not having a car is a horrible feeling. I feel completely vulnerable and helpless, as if one of my major limbs has been torn off. It’s a feeling that it’s in the upper half of the worst feelings I’ve had in my life.

Mid April cannot come soon enough.

Multi 2112

March 26, 2013 at 12:11 pm
These two men will not be sharing a Red Bull together anytime soon

These two men will not be sharing a Red Bull together anytime soon


“Multi 21”. The order that Sebastian Vettel chose not to obey by his Red Bull team when he was instructed to hold his position behind his teammate Mark Webber at the GP of Malaysia. Red Bull gave the order for their driver’s to hold their positions, instead Vetel passed Webber and took a very hollow win that brings back memories of when Didier Pironi went against orders to pass his teammate Gilles Villeneuve and take the win at Imola in 1982 (a move which many feel led to Gilles’ death at Zolder).

I don’t think Webber will be killed at the next Grand Prix, but Vettel,the once innocent smiling schoolboy has become the ruthless villain; this all sounds very like another multi time world champion from Germany, one M. Schumacher. This incident was so terrible that even Red Bull racing guru Helmut Marko, a man who sees the world through Vettel glasses hasn’t been as defensive as Vettel as he normally is.

The question, how does Red Bull handle this? They have created a monster in Vettel, allowing him get whatever he wants and not facing responsibility or consequences for his actions. What action do they take? It’s inconceivable that they would suspend their star driver and best chance at a title. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz was not at all pleased with what happened and it’s supposedly been made clear to Sebastian that something like this won’t happen again.

But is it too little too late? Vettel has been groomed  by Red Bull since age 11, is 25, a three time world champion  and is rumored to have contract with Red Bull through 2016 while his teammate is 36 and on a one year deal.The team has been built around Vettel and he is their best chance of title so it’s possible that they may have to reap what they sow. How will the team react going forward? Will equal focus be placed on both cars now that they have much compassion for Webber? In regards to Red Bull team orders, are there any? Is it open warfare? Will one driver help the other late in the season if it came down to winning a title? If I were Webber I may think long and hard if Vettel needs help later in the season.

As for Webber, I’m saddened for him, there were rumors going around after what happened in Malaysia that was going to quit the team immediately but those have been denied by Webber’s father who has been vocal about the support his son has received from the team and from the entire F1 paddock. Let it be noted that Webber is one of the more beloved driver’s in the current crop while Vettel isn’t. Webber came up the hard way to F1 with stops at F3000, Sportscars and Minardi and has the image of being tough customer but also a team player. Perhaps Mark now regrets not signing with Ferrari and having Alonso as his teammate.

This brings up the question of team orders, which is a messy gray area. It’s something I’ve gone back and forth about. To me the one team order that should always apply is “Don’t crash your teammate” (something Vettel has done to Webber). I understand team orders late in the season when one driver is in contention for the championship while the other isn’t. The difference is that what happened took place at the second race of the season and isn’t the point of racing to win and beat the guy ahead of you?

Give ’em the bird

March 23, 2013 at 1:13 pm
Less twitter, more this

Less twitter, more this

Nascar was the first form of racing I fell in love with when I was four years old. As young child watching races on ESPN the colors and speed of the cars was my first step into loving motorsport. However, over the past few years I’ve become a bit discouraged with the sport I grew up loving. A majority of the races are 50-100 laps too long, the tracks are cookie cutter and many of the driver’s have become whinny babies.

My major annoyance with Nascar has been the passive aggressive nature of drivers and the use of twitter in their feuds. The latest example has been the Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano feud where the two have decided to feud less in person and on the track but more on twitter. Hamlin recently tweeted a remark about if Logano had an issue with him he has his “DM” and other social media/texting info.

I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t picture Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace or Cale Yarborough and the Allison brother’s stooping to such passive aggressive levels in their feuds back in the day. Driver’s tweeting feuds doesn’t excite fans; two driver’s running into each other during a race and having words after the race with a little pushing and shoving does. Then to really get the blood flowing, after the words and pushing, blasting each other on the track PA, to the TV cameras and to the media so it’s in the Monday morning sports section.

Remember this is a sport that many would say made it to the mainstream when Cale Yarborough fought the Allison brothers on live national TV during the 1979 Daytona 500. Hardly anyone remembers who won the race  but everyone remembers the fight.

Over the past few years there has been a decline in attendance and sponsorship dollars in Nascar. My solution is simple: ban the driver’s from twitter except for news related items, fan interaction and sponsor promotion. Have driver’s feud the way the legends of the sport did who allow the current breed of drivers to have multi-million dollar salaries and private jets.

The Butterfly Throttle Collector

March 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm


“And the small fame that you acquired. Has brought you into cult status but me you’re still a collector” – The Butterfly Collector by The Jam

What exactly defines a cult classic or cult status with a car? We all can throw out the names of several vehicles when asked the question but there isn’t a true definition of the phrase.

To me a cult classic at it’s basic is a unique car that has a religious following for one reason or another and can be  purchased (new or used) by a reasonable amount of members of the cult. Ferrari’s, Zonda’s are not cult classics; 1st generation VW GTI’s, E30’s and WRX’s are cult vehicles. These cars aren’t the fastest, the best handling or the magazine darlings but they earn their places because they offer something unique and special to the common man who is an auto enthusiast.

Part of the definition for me requires the car in question to be something not mainstream beloved and possibly be ultimate spec of the car anyone would buy. Look at cars such as Civic Si’s, the original SHO’s, 850R’s and Galant VR4’s. Their base models were everywhere and blindly bought by the masses with the purpose of just getting from point a to point b.

I look at my current car as being/with the potential to be a cult classic: the 4th Generation Legacy GT (The wagon has already achieved that status). The 4th generation Leggy GT offered an alternative to those wanting to be a bit different than everyone else who had a WRX or STI. The 4th generation allowed the driver to get the benefits of  it’s younger, wilder looking brother but without cops, thieves and the insurance companies breathing down our necks.Subaru has lost of the plot with the 5th generation Legacy making it a bloated four wheel drive Camry alternative. The new car may have more power and options but it lacks the soul of the previous generation.

Soul, that’s it, cult cars must be cars that most can afford but have soul.

Fuel for your thoughts

March 18, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Originally I was planning on talking about what occurred between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano this weekend at the Sprint Cup race at Bristol and their lame twitter war. I was going to write a post explaining how lame it is for these guys to basically give each other the modern day glove slap with no real venom and substance. When thinking about it, I realized my post would come off sounding like the transcript of a Ward Burton interview while on a Red Bull binge, so I saved it for later this week.

Instead I decided to post some of my favorite bench racing “what if” questions.

– What if Senna isn’t killed at Imola, how do the next few seasons shape up? Does Schumacher go to Ferrari in 1996? It was always believed that Senna would drive for Ferrari at some point.

-What if Henri Toivonen isn’t killed at the 1986 Tour de Course? Does he go on to be one of the all time greats? A multi time World Championship or the pre-McRae McRae? Does Group B continue and what happens to the proposed Group S?

-What if Al Holbert isn’t killed? Does his proposed open top Porsche GTP car get built and do Nissan and Toyota enjoy their dominance? Do we see the 959 in the US as a legal production car? How does the Porsche Indy Car program turn out?

-What if Tim Richmond doesn’t die of AIDS? How many championships does he win? Does he become Nascar’s first real mainstream star?

-What if Dale Earnhardt isn’t killed at the 2001 Daytona 500? How many more years does he continue to race? Does the “3” remain in Cup today? Does Dale Jr. ever leave DEI and would he be a champion by now?

– What if Indy Car owners didn’t stop caring about the talent in Sprint Cars? Would Jeff Gordon be a multi time Indy 500 champion? Would Nascar be as big as it is if the 24 was still racing open wheel cars?

-Speaking of Open Wheel cars, what if greedy owners and Tony George didn’t destroy what was the best racing series in the world in the 1990’s? Would CART be bigger than Nascar?

Visit Us On Twitter