Senna

This is a reblog of a wonderful article written by the great Will Buxton.  I just wanted to make a little comment of my own.

So, as you know I am a huge F1 fan. Unlike Will here, I didn’t discover F1 until far latter in my life. I can only go back and watch footage, read race reports and listen to interviews about what Ayrton Senna was like, or even Schumacher for that matter.

I really encourage you all to read this, F1 fan or not. Imola in 1994 was a tragic weekend, but it was a weekend that brought about the huge safety measures that we have in F1 today. Senna was F1’s last death. I hope it will always remain so.

A few years ago, to celebrate what would have been Senna’s 50th birthday, Top Gear put together a really amazing tribute.

While Lewis Hamilton may not be my favorite F1 driver, I can’t discount his talent.  This is a video of him driving Senna’s McLaren Mp4/4 and talking about what Senna meant to him.

The Buxton Blog

I never met Ayrton Senna. I never even saw him drive in the flesh. And so I’m afraid that this article will give you no amazing new insight into him as a person or as a racing driver on the 20th anniversary of his passing. But May 1st 1994 changed my life forever, and would come to influence every day of my life that followed.

In 1994 I was a 13 year old chorister at Worcester Cathedral. As such, Sundays were always busy; Eucharist in the morning, home for Sunday lunch, then back to the Cathedral for Evensong. I sung so many times and for so many years in that magnificent place of worship that, over 20 years later, it has all pretty much merged into one. Except for that one Mayday.

I remember leaving the house to go and sing Evensong, wondering whether my hero was alive or dead…

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Top 10 Favorite Formula 1 Circuits

These are my top 10 favorite Formula 1 circuits. First off, I want to point out that I’ve only been watching the sport since 2009, so I didn’t include any circuits that have not held races since then, like Imola or Paul Ricard for example.

If this goes well, I might create another map featuring non-F1 tracks like Le Mans or Laguna Seca.

Also, this is my personal list. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

1. Suzuka Circuit
Home of the Japanese Grand Prix.  This used to be the final race of the season leading to some epic showdowns.  The most famous are the title deciding races between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988, 1989 and 1990.

The Honda-owned track is beautifully laid out, crossing over itself and making a figure eight if viewed from above.

There are so many wonderful corners such as the S curves or the fast right-hander Degner curve, but none can match 130R, the nearly flat-out 130-meter radius turn 15.  The speed drivers pull through this corner is astounding.  One slip-up and they’ll end up in a fence, just like Allan McNish in 2002.

Watching drivers master this circuit is something else.  It amazes me when someone manages to do it so right, like Sebastian Vettel has done in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013.

I’ve played enough Gran Turismo to know this course like the back of my hand.  Of all the races on the F1 calendar, the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is the one I want to see most.

2. Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Spa is home to the Belgian Grand Prix.  This is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar at 7.004km, which is down from the original 14.1 km layout.

This is also one of the fastest tracks out there.  Sebastian Vettel’s record lap of the current circuit in 2009 had an average speed of 235 kph.

The racing is almost always amazing.  With the long layout, it can be raining on one end of the course while the sun is shining on the other.  This leads to some interesting car set-ups and great overtaking.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Eau Rouge, one of the most famous and difficult corners in the world.  Drivers will take this corner flat-out, going downhill before suddenly turning right and going uphill.  If you fail to take this corner correctly, you won’t be set up for the long straight that follows.

This is a speed comparison between F1 cars and FIA GT cars at Eau Rouge.

3. Silverstone Circuit

Home of the British Grand Prix and the second longest circuit on the calendar at a distance of 5.901km.

Of historical note, in 1950 Silverstone  hosted the first race in the first Formula One World Championship.  Before that, the track was actually an RAF airfield.  The original track was essentially just marked out with barrels around the airfield that first year.

The track has changed a lot in the past 64 years, but it still produces some of the best racing out there.  The technical, high-speed corners favor drivers willing to push the limits of their car’s grip.

4. Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace – Interlagos

Interlagos, home of the Brazilian Grand Prix, sits in the middle of Sao Paulo and has been both the first and final race on the calendar.

This is a short-circuit, coming in at only 4.309km long.  The track rests on a hill, giving it a bit of an uphill/downhill feel.

Sebastian Vettel’s drive in the 2012 race led me to fall in love with this course.  Dropping down to 22 in the order and fighting the rain, Vettel came back to finish fourth and clinch his third consecutive title.  The look in Fernando Alonso’s eyes after the race are something I’ll never forget.  That season he fought tooth and nail with Vettel, only to be lose out in the end.

5. Autodromo Nazionale Monza

The land of Ferrari.

That should sum of the feel of Monza, home of the Italian Grand Prix.

This track has held an F1 race every year from 1950 to now, save 1980 when the track was being revamped.

This is the fastest track on the F1 calendar, with an average speed of 250 kph and the drivers at full throttle for 74 percent of the lap.  This leads to some clever engineering on the cars, the goal being to reduce drag and gain top speed, which is about 340 kph.

While there are only eight corners, a driver must attack each one perfectly in order to get on the power early and maximize the use of the long straights.

Rubens Barrichello’s 2004 lap record still stands 10 years on, unlikely to be broken in this age of downsized engines and focus on efficiency over outright speed.  It is a must-watch video.

6. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

The Canadian Grand Prix takes place on a man-made island in the St. Lawrence River in Montreal, Canada.  The circuit is named after Canadian Gilles Villeneuve, widely considered one of the greatest F1 drivers to never win a championship, who passed away in an accident in 1982.

This track has produced some spectacular racing.  My personal favorite is the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.

This race was the longest race in F1 history, due to a long rain delay.  Winner Jenson Button’s final time was 4 hours 4 minutes 39.537 seconds.

Button fought through tire punctures, five pit stops, an accident that knocked his teammate out of the race, and serving a penalty that put him in last place to make 27 on-track overtakes and win the race on the final lap.

7. Istanbul Park

While Istanbul Park and the Turkish Grand Prix are no longer part of the F1 calendar, the track made quite a mark in its short history.

The final few laps of the 2010 race were some of the most stressful both Red Bull and McLaren fans have ever experienced.  One team won out, the other ended up in a feud that didn’t end until Mark Webber retired at the end of 2013.

Istanbul Park features one of my favorite corners, the four-apex turn 8.  Drivers must hit every one, every lap in order to get around faster than the other guy.  The on-board footage here is fantastic.  I count every apex aloud as the driver flies through this sweeping left-hander.

It saddens me to know that great tracks like Istanbul are dropped in favor of newer, flashier circuits.

8. Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit – Albert Park

OK, so I know the Australian Grand Prix might not be the favorite of a lot of F1 fans, but the 2009 race  was the first grand prix I ever watched.

Late in 2008, I decided I wanted to start watching Formula 1.  I can’t recall what prompted it.  Maybe I was bored of NASCAR.  Maybe I just wanted to be that one guy who talks about that one thing that no one else is into, but doesn’t notice so he keeps on.

Well, I’ve accomplished my goal.

The 2009 Australian Grand Prix was the start of something wonderful, both for me and for F1.  Brawn GP, the team built from the ashes of the former Honda F1 outfit, made a turnaround that people still talk about to this day.

The team wasn’t even sure they could make it to the grid.  They had no money, no sponsors and no engine supplier.  Brawn essentially retrofitted a Mercedes-Benz engine in the place of the Honda motor and sent it out.

Jenson Button went on to win six of the first seven races and the 2009 World Driver’s Championship, while Brawn GP captured the World Constructor’s Championship.  At the end of the season, Button was signed by McLaren and Mercedes-Benz bought out Brawn GP and turned it into a factory works team.

Now, I don’t recall many details of the race, other than Button won, but I don’t think it matters.  It piqued my interest, and I’m still watching races today, always looking forward to the next.

9. Circuit of the Americas

This is supposed to be the race that saves F1 in the United States.  We’ll see in a few years time.  Maybe if Gene Haas’ team works out and NBC continues to give coverage, it could finally work.

While they’ve only been racing on this track since 2012, the potential is there.  The racing has been exciting, the location seems great and the drivers seem to enjoy it while still finding a challenge.

My favorite feature has to be the steep uphill climb to turn 1.

From the bottom.

From the top.

Imagine trying to judge a braking point while going uphill.  You lose speed in the climb, so you’re forced to accelerate harder to make up for it.  Your braking distance is shortened because of the speed loss, but because of the way the track widens, there is no “proper” racing line to take, making it difficult to judge when and where to brake.

Brake too early and you let the other guy pass you.  Brake too late and you’ll run off the track.

10. Marina Bay Street Circuit

Home of the Singapore Grand Prix and F1’s first night race.

This track gets a lot of flak.  It’s understandable.  The race is long, the track is hot and because it uses public roads, it can be a bit of a rough ride for the drivers.

I don’t care.  I really enjoy watching this race.  I feel it’s the closest thing I’ll get to an endurance race in F1.  Driving these cars isn’t supposed to be for the faint of heart.

This circuit is really stunning at night.  Watching the cars go around this track is like nothing else.  You can see blue flames spitting from the exhaust and the red glow of the brake discs.  The drivers’ eyes are visible through their thinly-tinted visors.  Drivers who don’t watch themselves and take too much curb pay the price.

Singapore is a race I’ll show to a friend who has never watched F1.  The sights and sounds distract from the occasionally bland racing, but if you really want to see a driver work, watch Singapore.

‘Murica

So Gene Haas was granted entry in the 2015 Formula 1 world championship today.  There hasn’t been an American F1 team since the ’80s, and the failed USF1 entry in 2010 made me wonder if one could ever compete.

Now, this is all tentative.  I’ll believe it when I see them on the grid in Australia next year, but I believe Haas Formula LLC has the best chance in a while.  Haas’ NASCAR team has won a championship, and he has the money behind him to be competitive.

The two biggest questions in my mind are who will supply the chassis/engine and where will the team be based.  As much as I would love for it to be a truly American based team, it makes sense to base their operations in Europe.

Now he just has to get some talent in the seat.

 

Audio slideshows: enjoying the fruits of the students’ labors

I want to say thanks to everyone in the class.

Michael Fuhlhage, Ph.D.

The students in Multimedia Journalism voted on one another’s audio slideshows after we did a screening and critique in class last week. Winners got their choice of two versions of Auburn University College of Liberal Arts T-shirts as a reward. Around here, that means either orange on blue or blue on orange. Either’s a great option.

Hands down, the students’ favorite was Reese Counts’ piece on a Triumph Motorcycles shop not far from campus on Opelika Road, a place called Skinner’s. As you’ll see, Counts had free range of the place, and access means a world of possibilities when shooting still photos.

Kate Seckinger’s piece on Chick-Fil-A took second prize. You can see the rest of the audio slideshows by clicking the links below. Please enjoy!

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A Tribute to a Classic

At the end of 2013, Volkswagen ceased production of the Type 2, known around the world by several names: Transporter, Kombi, or Microbus, Bus or Camper.  The Type 2 has been in continuous production since 1950, a remarkable 63 years.

This vehicle is an icon.  It followed the Beetle, officially known as the Type 1, as Volkswagen’s second automobile.  While sales in the United States ended years ago, production continued elsewhere.  The last Kombi rolled off the line in Brazil on December 20.

Volkswagen put together a great little video dedicated to the Type 2’s life, legacy and importance.  If you’ve ever felt any connection to or have even seen a Type 2 on the road, I encourage you watch this.  It is one of the greatest tribute videos I’ve ever seen.

 

New England’s Own

Playing out in the woods is typical for an 11-year-old boy.  Learning how to drive isn’t normally part of those endeavors, but Ezra Dyer was left alone deep inside the Maine wilderness with his 10-year-old brother and a 1982 Subaru wagon.

“The car was either un-drivable or not street legal,” Dyer said.

Today, Dyer is an automotive journalist who writes news and reviews for Automobile Magazine, The New York Times, Delta Sky Magazine and Men’s Journal.  He also produces videos for Yahoo! Autos and has a regular humor column in The Improper Bostonian, along with the occasional freelance article here and there.

The Subaru in the woods belonged to Dyer’s parents who couldn’t sell the rusted-out old wagon for even $500.  They decided to let the boys drive it around their property.  “Their speed limiter was to not teach us how to shift into second,” Dyer said.  “I eventually figured out that if you push the pedal and push the lever to go into first, you could push the pedal and pull the lever to go into second.”

Years later, with the help of Subaru of America, his brother and a Bobcat track loader, Dyer would turn that property into a mini rally circuit, reliving his childhood in a new Subaru wagon.

Dyer grew up in Jefferson, Maine, a town of just a few thousand and no cable television.  At the age of 15, Dyer purchased his first car, a 1985 IROC-Z Camaro, from a local priest.  “In Maine at the time, you could get a full driver’s license at 15,” Dyer said.  “The IROC had far too much power for a 15 year old.”

After graduating high school, Dyer studied English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.  There, he wrote for The Colby Echo, the weekly college newspaper.

“That paper had very little oversight,” Dyer said. “I could pretty much write about whatever.”  Dyer eventually started a weekly column about cars.

Dyer didn’t intend to become an automotive journalist.  “I think as a kid growing up I would have loved to do that,” he said.  “The only thing I’m halfway decent at is writing.  That’s why I studied English”

After graduating and moving to Boston, Dyer began writing for The Improper Bostonian, where he still has a column.  One week, he turned his humor column into a car column because he wanted to write about something different.

At age 23 and living in Boston, Dyer heard about the demise of the manufacturing of the Camaro at the end of 2002.  He wrote to Automobile Magazine and suggested they have him write about it.

Executive editor Mark Gilles called Dyer to turn him down.  Dyer’s response was to send the article in anyway, a story about his personal ’85 IROC.  That article, titled “For Those About to ‘Roc, I Salute You,” appeared in the December 2001 issue of Automobile.

Automobile Magazine editor-in-chief Jean Jennings said there was one sentence that got the article published:”Justified or not, the general public associates IROC ownership with a vast panoply of unsavory behavioral traits, from storing leftover Spaghetti-Os in empty Cool Whip containers to passing out with a lip full of Skoal and waking up with tobacco juice in your mullet.”

In a 2005 issue of Automobile Magazine, Jennings praised Dyer.

“Ezra Dyer was heaven-sent.” Jennings said.  “Actually, Ezra Dyer came from Boston, which, if you’ve ever driven there, is more like hell.”

Dyer’s first press car was a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a 405 horsepower, bright-blue sports car from Kentucky.

Years later, he challenged Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a race in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a story in Esquire.  Earnhardt Jr. was to drive a Chevrolet Cobalt SS while Dyer drove at newer model Corvette Z06, only one of three built at the time.  The point of the race was to prove that the Z06 was a “great equalizer,” negating the talents of a professional driver.  Dyer won, albeit with a 300-horsepower advantage.

Dyer’s daily ride changes from week to week as press cars come and go from his home in North Carolina.  Last week, he was testing both a Lincoln MKZ and a Jaguar XJR, though he said it is unusual to have two cars at once.

His wife Heather transports their two children around in a Lincoln MKT.  Dyer does own a Ford Bronco that, unusually, has a Power Stroke diesel under the hood.  The installation of that engine was featured in Automobile Magazine.

Dyer doesn’t know what the best car he has ever driven might be, but he can name a type of car.  “The genre of car I think is the coolest is the mid-engine V8 cars like the Ferrari 458 or the McLaren 12C,” Dyer said.  “Those mid-engine 2-seat cars are just loud, fast and crazy looking.”

On the other hand, Dyer enjoys a bad car every once in a while.  “I’m always pleased when I find something bad,” he said.  “It’s easier to be funny.”

The worst vehicle Dyer ever drove was a rented Ford RV he used for a friend’s bachelor party.  He described it as “evil driving,” saying expansion joints on the highway would cause it to “start corkscrewing.”

“At least you could fit a few guys inside,” Dyer said.

Dyer isn’t afraid to be critical in his articles, calling out bad cars when he drives them.  “The thing you wrestle with is remembering the humans,” he said.  “A lot of people worked on this.  At the end of the day you have to write what you write.

“I’m not worried about what the Nissan people think me,” he said, referring to his critical review of the Nissan Versa Note in The New York Times.  “I love the Nissan GTR.”

Dyer wrote a critical review of the Lotus Evora in The New York Times, despite his friendship with a Lotus PR manager.

“I received a response that was longer than my article,” he said.  “There was no dead pedal!  You design this whole car from scratch, put in some useless back seats that push everything forward and leave no place for your left foot and still wonder why people prefer the Porsche!”

“I don’t think I’m afraid to be negative,” Dyer said.  “My editors might.”

He did say that he hasn’t driven a BMW since he hinted that the BMW M6 he drove might have been a “cheater.”   “I took it to a dyno and it measured 577 horsepower,” Dyer said.  The M6 is only rated at a maximum of 575 horsepower, and a percentage of that is lost through the drivetrain.  A typical loss would be around 15 percent.

While he never accused anyone of being purposely misleading, saying that a car’s horsepower can vary under certain conditions, Dyer said he does believe the cars journalists get are “top notch.”

Dyer said his assignments vary by publication.  “Sometimes, I come up with my own,” he said.  “It’s important to think about logistics.”  So Dyer wrote an article about finding the perfect po’ boy sandwich.  “If you think of a fun story it translates to something interesting.”

The article was featured in Automobile’s “Ultimate Fantasies” issue.  “Everyone else’s idea seemed crazy,” he said.  “Mine was just a road trip to New Orleans in an Aston Martin.”  Other articles were about driving a Ferrari in Italy and your personal vehicle on the Autobahn in Germany.

Dyer’s favorite road trip was taking an ICON FJ40 Land Cruiser through Colorado over the course of a week with his wife.

“ICON said go have fun and have an outdoors adventure,” Dyer said.  “We were staying at these cool places, fly fishing, camping and hiking.  We even saw Ice Cube in concert.”  The article, titled “Straight Outta Aspen,” was featured in Popular Mechanics.