A Road with Many Turns – Why There Are No Americans in F1 Part IV

June 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

The Last Chance?


Meet Alexander Rossi, a twenty-one year old from California who serves as the reserve driver for the Caterham F1 team. In addition to his reserve duties, Rossi drives for the Caterham team in GP2 and participated in the 24 hours of LeMans this past year.

If you look at the ladder Rossi has taken to get to his current position, it’s been straightforward and unlike his American predecessors in F1. Rossi starred in Skip Barber and Formula BMW but instead climbing the IndyCar ladder, Rossi jumped across the pond to Europe and has competed in series such as GP3, Formula Renault 3.5 and the previously mentioned GP2 series. Rossi isn’t a Red Bull protege like Scott Speed (and what seems like 90% of the young drivers in the world). His place in F1 has been achieved on merit. Rossi has proven his talent in the European training grounds so perhaps teams have viewed him as less of a risk than taking an American who has competed in only American series.

The path Rossi has taken is perhaps the path any American who really has a desire to get to F1 must take; jumping across the pond and taking on the world and competing in the traditional training grounds to get to F1. With Rossi being associated with one of the backmarker teams in F1, the chance of him getting a race seat sooner rather than later (especially with rumors flying that current Caterham driver Guido Van der Garde is on the hot seat). What Rossi must do if given the opportunity is perform better than the car is capable of and use it to get a seat with a better team and help destroy the stereotypes about American’s in F1.

No pressure Alex.

It’s Time for a Volkswagen BRZ

June 26, 2013 at 8:02 am

For the past few weeks, I cannot keep my mind off of oddball Volkswagens, especially those with a track record for being as reliable as often as a Kardashian is mistaken for an intelligent person. I’m talking about Vanagons, Sciroccos, and anything that came from the factory with a VR6. In particular, I have dedicated my search to a clean B3 Passat – yes, the one that looks like its perpetually frightened, thanks to its wide-eyed face and ticking timebomb of a motor.

While it’s not G60 levels of self-implosion, the first-generation of any motor is usually somewhat of a moving testbed, a prototype that you get the privilege of paying full price for without the pleasure of destroying when its mule-ish reliability wears thin. The factory gets to experience that joy, while you just find a way to live with it. However, it seems like the B3 is dying like it lived – quickly, and forgotten behind a mechanic’s service bay.


The reason I love this early Passat so much is because it was the most modern answer Volkswagen was willing to give to the windswept movement that has made most new cars look like a snow drift with headlamps. Instead, they took essentially the same rectangle-with-a-glass-bunker design language that defined every one of their cars and smoothed out the still-square headlights while rounding the very edges of the fenders. It was as if you could imagine ol’ Wolfgang screaming bloody murder that the suits wanted shapes that didn’t resemble a refrigerator and, after months of indifference, this is what he came up with. A gigantic brick of a middle finger to management, with a howling VR6 in the nose. God love ol’ Wolfgang.

My underlying affinity for cars like this is because they are no longer made, especially by the Germans. Congress began discussions recently that cars in the future will feature some sort of wi-fi labyrinth that will determine if a driver is using their phone when moving. Certainly we can all agree that distracted driving is a problem, but instead of improving drivers so they don’t kill themselves or each other behind the wheel, we once again further neuter the car from any sense of engagement because, well – most Americans have no interest in actually improving their response times or making the car the central focus of driving. From a styling standpoint, these amorphous blobs we now call “new cars” (I’m looking at you, Hyundai Elantra) are so lacking in design character that they’ve become both anonymous and identical to every other car on the road – all in the name of small improvements in fuel efficiency. I drive a boxy ’95 M3 that still gets 22 m.p.g. on the highway, a scant 6-8 miles difference (estimate) from today’s compacts. Big loss in the name of incremental efficiency gains.

I have to give the Japanese credit: they had the stones to see the BRZ asd FRS through to production, and they’ve been praised handsomely for it. It’s time for ze Germans – and who better than Volkswagen – to sell a stripped-down, rear or all-wheel drive platform with a nose-heavy VR6 and boxy styling. Otherwise, I’m going to keep looking for a Passat (like this one!), or a Vanagon, or Scirocco…or maybe a Quantum with Syncro….


An End of an Era: My Xterra

June 25, 2013 at 5:21 am

Picture 10823This post was inevitable, but extremely delayed due to my busy schedule and me applying to grad school.  May  29th, 2013 began like every other day off: catching up on sleep, followed up with a lunchtime Panera Bread run.  My 2000 Nissan Xterra, with around 155,000 miles was performing quite well for age.  However, as I turned the corner onto the main road, something went terribly wrong; I couldn’t accelerate to more than 20mph, while my tachometer hovered around 1000RPMs.  I knew that something was wrong, and had a gut feeling that this would not be an easy or inexpensive fix.  After letting the engine cool down for a bit, I was able to get it started and make it to my mechanic’s shop.  After running the codes, turns out I needed a new CAM sensor, along with a Knock Sensor.  This was going to cost me more than I hoped it would, which caused me to make one of my most recent, toughest, decisions: should I keep throwing money into the Xterra, or go with something new.  Well, obviously, I decided to trade the Xterra in for  a 2013 GMC Terrain.  This was an excellent upgrade, but I will always miss my Xterra.  Now, I can’t ram into massive snow banks while driving to work, or cruising through lake-sized puddles without any care.

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So, this post is dedicated to my 2000 solar yellow, Nissan Xterra, complete with a Whelen strobe kit, police scanner, and rear tail light guards.  Thank you for getting me to high school during my senior year, battling some of the worst traffic on the SouthEast Expressway.  Thank you for getting me to work in the worst weather conditions.  When the governor told people during a blizzard to stay off the road, and if they were caught, they’d be arrested, I had to drive 20 miles in the height of the blizzard for the EMS job, since I’m essential personnel.  My Xterra got me there safely and kicked ass in the 2 feet of snow on the unplowed roads.  Finally, thanks Xterra for 8 solid years of getting me all over the place safely without any major problems.  (Well, except for the time I lost my ABS in the middle of Roxbury).  I’ll definitely miss my Xterra, but I’m looking forward to what my GMC Terrain has in store for me.  Check back later on for my review of the Terrain thus far!

The Invisible Autocrosser

June 19, 2013 at 10:53 pm

For the past several weeks, I have joined millions of other Americans in being glued to the NBA playoffs and finals, as well as the race to the Stanley Cup in the NHL. Throughout all of this, I have been inundated with commercials showcasing athletes at their fiercest, pushing their bodies beyond the limits of endurance and replenishing valuable electrolytes with a plethora of Gatorade products.

I get it. They are the top of the physical specimen foodchain and deserve close-ups of battle scars and dripping sweat. But through all of this, I notice every commercial showcases most major sports leagues, even those that are months away from championship-caliber events. So here’s my question: where are the drivers?

E30 autocross

After autocrossing for the first time this season last weekend, I’m reminded how on even the most basic level, racing is exhausting. The level of concentration it demands. The way it forces you to improve every few minutes. The unpredictability of piloting a 3,000 lbs. hunk of steel as your primary means of improving your times. Memorizing a course after a brief walk-through. Analyzing what you did wrong in a five-minute break before you go back on the course and try to shave a tenth of a second off your last run. And so on.

Do I need to train for five hours a day, develop a ridiculous diet and hire a coach? No, but professional drivers do. And it’s about time they were represented in the media more widely than Ken Block and his various knock-offs. Hopefully, movies like Ron Howard’s forthcoming creation Drive will open some eyes to the grueling and competitive nature of major-league racing such as Formula 1. For now, I would like to see your average high-school soccer player settle into an ancient rear-wheel drive coupe and try not to sweat when navigating the Chicago Box.

A Road with Many Turns – Why there are no Americans in F1 Part III

June 12, 2013 at 11:40 am


Part II left off in 1995 when Elton Julian’s possible ride at Larrousse vanished due to financial reasons. 1995 can be seen as the turning point in the CART/F1 war with the emergence of the Indy Racing League (which could be another multi part post in itself). The emergence of the IRL divided open wheel racing in America which destroyed the power CART had as it no longer had the Indy 500 and allowed Nascar to develop into the 800 pound gorilla it became. The fall of CART and the rise of Nascar caused a change in direction in the development of young racers in America. Young drivers who wanted to be rich, famous and race in the biggest series only thought of Nascar as sponsors and manufacturers began throwing money at the series.

By the end of 90’s, CART was still offered great racing, but was no longer a threat to F1. It was now seen as a second rate series where there were some talented American’s racing against foreign drivers who were either “rejected” from F1 or waiting for an F1 seat to open up.

One of the criticisms of F1 during this time period was that in order for F1 to be a true World Championship, it needed to have a race in America. Many of sponsors and manufacturers in F1 viewed America as one of if not their biggest market. In 2000, F1 returned to America in 2000 with the USGP at Indy. Yes, the famed brickyard built a road course inside the oval. Perhaps it was Bernie Ecclestone’s way of saying thank you to Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss and IRL creator Tony George for starting the IRL and destroying CART.

The first USGP was a major success with and estimated crowd of 225,000 which is estimated to be the largest attendance for a Grand Prix in the modern era. The races after however were less attended and featured controversies such as the 2002 Ferrari “Dead Heat” and the 2005 race where all the Michelin teams withdrew after the formation lap leaving only six Bridgestone shod cars left to run the race. The 2007 race was the last USGP held at IMS due to dwindling attendance, the high sanction fees of having a Grand Prix and lack of a title sponsor

In 1997, Red Bull entered the US market. Red Bull was already know to fans european racing as it sponsored teams and drivers in a wide variety of series including F1. Trying to link their passion for racing with their new market of America; in 2002 Red Bull teamed up retired CART star and former F1 driver Danny Sullivan to create the Red Bull Driver Search. The program’s goal was to create an American F1 Champion, by taking young American talent and develop them in the open wheel racing ladder with Red Bull backing.

One of the first driver’s chosen was young karter with the perfect name for a racing driver: Scott Speed. Speed was a young karting star from California who had shown promise by winning the Formula Russell Championship in 2001. In addition to living up to his name, Speed was young, good looking, personable and very much an individual; the type of driver Red Bull could easily market.

Speed’s first year under Red Bull’s wing was a disaster. Speed was running in British F3 championship when he began suffering from Ulcerative Colitis and had to return to the US to take care of his condition. 2004 was a better year for Speed as he won Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and the German Formula Renault championship in Red Bull colors. For 2005, Speed was promoted to GP2 and finished 3rd in the Championship. In addition to his Gp2 duties, Speed also acted as the Red Bull F1 team’s test driver at Canadian and US GP’s.

By 2005 it looked as if the US would finally have an American in F1 with Speed having success in the European Formula ladder, something an American hadn’t done in many years. Speed with combination of talent, Red Bull backing and the need for F1 to make ground in the US had a solid chance at being in F1.

Speed was not the only young talent Red Bull had under their wings. By 2005, it seemed as if 90% the young promising driver’s on earth were involved in the Red Bull Junior Program. In 2005, Red Bull bought the struggling Minardi F1 team and re named it Toro Rosso. Toro Rosso acted as junior team to Red Bull’s main F1 squad. A place where there young talent could develop in F1 without being on the main squad.

For 2006, Speed was a Toro Rosso driver, a team part owned by Red Bull and run by Franz Tost and Gerhard Berger. Speed and Toro Rosso struggled with reliability and crashes, usually finishing in the bottom half of the table. As the season went on it became clearer that he was favorite son of the Red Bull duo of owner Dietrich Mateschitz and racing guru Dr. Helmut Marko and not team principles Tost and Berger.

In 2007 was beginning of the end, Speed was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver late in the pre-season and was tipped by many to be on the hot seat. Speed suffered with poor reliability and crashes. Speed’s time as an F1 driver would end with European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Tension were high in the Toro Rosso camp between the drivers (Speed and Tonio Liuzzi) and Team Principles Tost and Berger. Speed went public with the tension telling the media that weekend that the team was trying to get rid of him and Liuzzi. The principles blamed the drivers for team underperforming while the driver’s blamed the car and poor management.

As for the race, Speed started 18th on the grid. One highlight of Speed and the Toro Rosso was that they worked well in the wet. Earlier in the season, Speed had been the fastest in a wet session at the Monaco GP. The European GP became a rain soaked race, Speed worked his way up from is lowly starting position a up to 6th when everything began to unravel.

The Toro Rosso pit crew expected Liuzzi to come in first and fumbled Speed’s pit stop, over a minute was lost during Speed’s pit stop. During this long stop, the rain became worse. After his pit stop, racing into turn one. Speed followed five other cars into the gravel trap. After this, the race was red flagged and Speed was forced to retire.

When returning to his garage, an upset Speed was met by a just as upset Tost. Tost yelled at Speed for crashing and Speed in return yelled at Tost for the botched  pit stop. When Speed turned away, he was then punched in the back by Tost, Speed walked away and was then grabbed by Tost and shoved against a garage wall. Speed moved into the center of the garage and in front of the whole team told Tost that if he wanted to punch him to do it in front of the whole team. Tost declined, Speed then told Berger that if Tost ever touched him again he would knock him out.

On July 31st, Speed was released from his Toro Rosso contract and replaced by Sebastian Vettel (what ever happened to him). It would be the last time that an American would be part of the driver line up (not counting 3rd and test driver’s) for an F1 team.

So why did something that seemed so promising go so wrong? First, the shotgun marriage of the team and drivers was a failure with Tost and Berger being “forced” to take young Red Bull drivers. In association with that there were differences in why the team was not performing up to expectations. Team management blamed the drivers while driver’s said the car was not able to do what was expected.

Second, one of the criticisms of Speed in the wake of the everything that had gone wrong was his demeanor. Speed’s confident attitude was received by some as cock and arrogant. Acclaimed F1 Pundit Peter Windsor blamed Red Bull driver coaching and development in part for Speed’s failure in that Speed wasn’t self critical enough. Windsor noted that Red Bull driver’s have not been taught self assessment and blame others for the lack of result.

While Speed may have burnt the Red Bull F1 bridge, they were not ready to let go of their investment. After F1, Speed with Red Bull backing started a Nascar career. The Red Bull/Speed Nascar partnership was unsuccessful and Speed was released by the Red Bull team at the end of 2009. Speed currently drives for a backmarker team in the Sprint Cup series.

The F1 circus would return to US in 2012 with the Austin Grand Prix with no American F1 drivers on the grid which takes us to Part IV. Is there anyone on the horizon and what will it take to get an American into F1.

Crapwagon of the Day – The Fast and Furious Probe

June 12, 2013 at 10:56 am

Found this gem outside the office today. The Ford Probe is a terrible car to begin with,throw in the color yellow and THEN add a terrible fast and furious bodykit and you’ve got yourself a crapwagon of the top kind. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be here. Do those air intakes by the rear fender help in anyway?


Crap(truck)Wagon: Ford F-150

June 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

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This gem was found in the South End of  Boston, an area known for it’s money, and up until this point, it’s nice vehicles.  Don’t be fooled by the bumper falling off; it actually doubled as a plow in this year’s February blizzard!  Other than the bumper, it looks to be in pretty decent condition.  However, the bumper, which is more than likely held on by zip ties, makes this Ford F-150 our latest crap wagon (Or truck)!

The Forever Car

June 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Recently, my brother shared an article that discussed how a Porsche 911 was the author’s “Forever Car”  – a car that he would never sell unless it was physically impossible to retain it. As some of you may know, I recently acquired a 1995 E36 M3 coupe on a bit of a whim, and I can say this: it has the stuff forever cars are made of.


I don’t know what it is, but older vehicles for me capture a mixture of qualities that today’s new cars and trucks can’t re-create, features that appeal to the senses and slip further and further out of grasp with each platform change or model update. I suppose people from every era say the same thing about how generational shifts aren’t moving us forward, whether it’s the type of service you receive in a restaurant to the price of a good pair of shoes. As I grow older, I find myself somewhat ambivalent about most of the changes we’re experiencing.  I can appreciate a good mobile phone, and eating organics can only serve to improve my health. But throwing down $30 large for a soulless rolling technology convention just isn’t going to happen.

The M3 is full of instant sensory gratification, from the way it just makes noise – it sounds fast when you’re creeping out of a parking space. It is eerily silent when you’re sitting in traffic, save for a rich mixture giving it a pulse at idle. The exhaust is bassy, full of bumps and pops when coasting down a hill. The intake noises, from the whine in first gear to the air horn-like blat it gives at full throttle, is nothing any new car can offer without acoustical support from some electronically manufactured soundwave. Kids today think all car movies are filmed with CGI, thanks to Fast & The Furious. The M3 is Ronin compared to Tokyo Drift. 

It looks natural. It’s a normal 3-Series coupe, from the side skirts to the trunk lid, yet a set of chunky wheels and aero kit transform it, with the 235-series rubber poking out from the fender. It’s as if the designers knew all along the ordinary E36 would accommodate such enhancements, even when there were no plans to bring the M3 to the U.S. Today’s  performance variants need lowered suspensions, 19 inch wheels with tire monitors, LED lighting and 500-watt stereos to convey performance; the M3 accomplishes the same without a bumping system and Von Dutch pinstripes.

Most of all, it’s a giant middle finger to our throwaway society. It’s got 153,000 miles of memories, and is testament to a proactive maintenance schedule and passionate owners. Today’s gadget-hounds and window shoppers find contentment knowing they’ve purchased the latest and the greatest, and tremble with the realization that newer and better will be here in six months – or worse yet, next door. Good for them, I suppose. Hope that new infotainment system keeps them occupied – God forbid they actually find driving engaging enough.

And that might be the bottom line of all of this. If you enjoy driving, you find pleasure in the tactile sensations of older vehicles, from the smell of fuel wafting through weathered gaskets and the rough leather patches of a worn steering wheel with hand-stitched M colors. If you just want to ensure your ego can keep up with the Joneses, your driveway will become a revolving door. If you want a forever car, you buy an M3.

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