Archive for BTCC

Thruxton BTCC sees Vauxhall leave the series

Posted in Transport with tags , , , on April 28, 2009 by Apollo

I seem to recall becoming interested in watching BTCC races about the time Andy Rouse was preparing Ford Cosworths that defeated just about anything else that dared take to the track. These were proper Cosworths, based on the Sierra bodyshell, and not the little Escort based runabout of later years (or even the Saphire). That’s not to belittle the Escort, it’s just that the referring to “The Ford Cosworth” nowadays seems to bring references only to the pretender, and not the original beast from the track. However, the relevant comment here is that Ford were later to pull out of the BTCC.

They were joined in leaving by BMW, and the BTCC grid looked pretty bare as they had arguably become the stars at the time.

There has been considerable change as various manufacturers have come and gone from the grid in recent years, with some surprising names appearing, but none have disgraced themselves. They may not have won, but they did bring some innovation, and I’m sure there are some watchers who would have lost their shirts betting against the diesel fuelled cars.

As an aside, I also seem to recall that back in those days, when teams like Rouse, or Lotus in F1, dominated their series, the fans enjoyed this, and part of the fun was watching the competition try to catch up with them over two or three seasons. Nowadays, the opposite seems to be true, and instead of applauding a dominant team for getting things “right”, and working to match and exceed their abilities, the solution seems to have become to complain, and have them handicapped and brought down to eliminate their advantage – or, even easier,  just accuse them of cheating.

Thruxton saw the announcement that Vauxhall were to leave the series at the end of the current season, and that’s going to be a pity, as it’s been interesting to see how their front-wheel drive cars went from being written off by the armchair experts, to cars that fought from the front of the grid.

I remember the driver’s being given normal road cars during one of the Knockhill event, as part of entertainment laid on between the main races. I can’t recall who was driving, but by then Honda had joined the series, and the notable part of the show lap was the Honda (Accord I think) which would leave the hairpin in a cloud of white smoke as the road tyres just couldn’t cope with the output from the engine. Some said front-wheel drive cars would never cope or win – I guess they were wrong.

Along with the Vauxhall announcement came the news that the word-wide troubles of the automotive industry were about to claim another victim, and GM confirmed that the Pontiac brand name was to be killed off by 2010.

Although the so-called energy crisis and environmental concerns mean that we would have been unlikely to see a real GTO or Trans Am in future, that just about ensures the classic status of the original cars now.

Almost as bad as the news of the end of Pontiac was the usual dreadful news story that went out on TV to accompany it, as a female reporter took a seat inside a certain black Trans Am which survied a 1980’s TV series and tried vainly to sound knowledgeable on the Pontiac story and the model types, and referred to that certain black Trans Am as “The Kit”.

The rest of us will carry on knowing this one as KITT.

GT racing still to be found

Posted in Transport with tags , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by Apollo

The return of GT racing (on Channel 4) this morning was a refreshing change to the current Formula 1 and the British Touring Car Championship coverage – in a way, it was almost reminiscent of the lesser coverage the big two used to receive before they were ruined by the rulebook, the attractions of the advertisers and sponsors, and the celebrity status the drivers now enjoy.

F1 is hung up on the rulebook, lawyers, and courts, probably sparked off by Alonso the Rat’s activities a few yers back, when he was ready to use any means available to get Hamilton out of his way. The money side remains silly, as Renault Team principal Flavio Briatore said he and technical director Bob Bell, plus engineering chief Pat Symonds, would take a 20% reduction in salary, while the second level of staff will enjoy a 10% cut, and everybody else gets a 5% cut. I might not have found this laughable if Briatore wasn’t a multi-millionaire that need not take any money out of the team at all. Now, the news that the millionaires of F1 were not goig to take money out of their expensive Scalextric sets they bought, and leave the workers with their full paypackets would be something noteworthy – but I won’t hold my breath waiting for that one.

The BTCC has gone from events of decent duration that used to let proper races develop between the drivers, and has become three short sprints that are good for the advertisers and TV coverage, and has allow the drivers to be shoved on camera more often, but always reach the chequered flag just as they begin to get interesting. I was once able to wander the length of the track while a race was on, and stop at interesting corners, now I would have to run just to get halfway around before any race was over.

Both F1 and the BTCC seem to suffer from a common malaise, namely that the outcome can more likely be determined not by the racing, the car, or the driver, but by somebody tripping.

I used to dismiss GT racing because it had the appearance of being the plaything of the rich, with Porsche, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Ascari, Viper, Ferrari, etc on the track, but have come to appreciate the longer races and tactics that come into play.

The GT cars are no strangers to technical specifactions and endurance, but suffer none of the F1 problems of mechanical hiatus or rulebook hysteria – not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it’s not the norm. Nor do they have the short race option of crashing and bashing one another off the track, and giving the TV cameras something to focus on endlessly and even produce special programmes of nothing but crashes – not to say it doesn’t happen, just that it’s not the norm.

Best of all possibly, is that the drivers are generally not well known celebrities, and there’s none of the embarrassing grovelling by the cameras and commentators. While the driver pool contains many well known names, they tend to be professional who are not completely devoted only to the one class of racing. The commentary is also devoid of the hysteria that seems to accompany the interesting bits of the other TV races, especially the BTCC.

The downside of the GT coverage is that you have to get up early on a Saturday morning to watch it as you have your breakfast, and that it has only a half hour slot, which means something in the order of less than 20 minutes’ coverage of the racing on track by the time you deduct the start and finish of the programme, the ad-break halfway through, and any news to be reported from the preceding week. If they run any special coverage of the cars, track, or drivers, then even that 20 minutes can be substantially reduced and become little more than footage of racing incidents, rather than racing.

I better shut up, or someone might see the comment and decide that those few minutes are not worth televising, and we’ll lose them too as the coverage is dropped – or some sponsor will “discover” GT racing and it will be chopped into sprints for the ad-breaks, and the drivers will be promoted to screen idols, and any over twenty-somethings will be forced into retiral as grey-haired old wrinklies, not welcome on camera.

BTCC still on ITV – unfortunately

Posted in Transport with tags , on April 7, 2009 by Apollo

Seeing the F1 coverage return to the BBC last week was an event not fully appreciated until coverage of the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) returned his week with the season opening at Brands Hatch.

The low quality showed up almost immediately with a cheap shot at F1 and the BBC when the commentator opened with reference to the races not being settled in the wind tunnel or international court.

Having had two F1 racces without the irritating distractions that the commercialised BTCC coverage suffers, it was a painful start that began almost immediately with a hard hitting musical score with a heavy beat. This is usually played too loud, drowning out commentary, and played too often. I like my music hard and loud – just not all the time and attached to everything I’m trying to hear.

Next up was the driver worship, and the endless posing and posturing of the privileged few gets a bit much, as their faces are pushed into arty intro shots at every opportunity during the opening title sequences. If you saw it once it wouldn’t be too bad, but repeated race after race it begins to make you feel sick.

Did I mention the music yet? Hammered in on each ad break as well.

Did I mention the ad breaks?

Bad enough at the best of times, every break begins and ends with a sponsor tag. Apparently some genius (presumably a highly paid consultant) thinks these are made more effective by making them “interesting” with a little animation or story of some sort. Well, that may be true (emphasis on ‘may’) it only applies once or twice, and by the end of an afternoon when these are repeated time after time after time… then they are just deeply irritating.

I don’t even know what they advertise or plug, but whatever it is, I will go to whatever lengths I have to avoid it, and go to a competing product – if I ever need whatever it is.

Don’t know how the racing went, there didn’t seem to be any time for it in between the titles, adverts, music, adverts, sponsor tags, adverts, driver whorship sessions, adverts…

Yup, ok, I’m only kidding. They did cover some of the racing, and even did it without music – the commentators could do with tranquilisers on occasion though.

France F1

Posted in Venting with tags , , , on June 29, 2008 by Apollo

The fiasco that took place at the F1 race held in France this year reminded of a number of thoughts from the past.

Senna and Schumacher are considered to be great drivers, but to be perfectly frank, while they may have some skill and been able to pair themselves with a car provider that maximised their skills, after the French race I was left wondering if they would have been such great and successful drivers if they were on the track today, and subject to the application of the governing body’s rules and regulations in the same way as, for example, Lewis Hamilton.

In their day, and by their own admission at later interviews, both Schumacher and Senna forced their way to the podium at the expense of other, by little more than bullying, and moves that one would imagine would see them penalised by stop/go penalties, or black-flagging nowadays. Today, we have driver’s accusing one another of dangerous driving, and putting lives at risk, yet in the days of Senna and Schumacher it seems that driving another car of road, or even simply crashing into them to ensure they couldn’t score any points in a race was acceptable, and even admitted after the event.

While I can see the idea behind the regulations that shove drivers back down the grid if engines and gearboxes are changed ahead of schedule, does this nonsense really save all that much cash given the size of an F1 budget, and the amount drivers can extort from the teams for deigning to drive for them? The BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) is now pointless, as “success ballast” as added to shove any winners to the back of the grid, and the any hope of watching any trends develop is wiped out by grid reversals and handicapping dependent on the type of engine/fuel/drive used by the car. In the “good old days”, the various categories developed their own groups on the track and had to weave through one another. Now the pack is just an amorphous mass circulating the track, and it’s too much hard work trying to work out which is which.

You can’t help but feel that we’re no longer watching the team/driver racing and competing fro the trophy/title, but watching to see who has the best mind working away in a back room with a spreadsheet, and deciding the whole outcome in advance by fiddling with the numbers and deciding everything in advance.