Street-legal Porsche 962

MotorHEAD モーターヘッド // Racing In The street : Group C Porsche 962 from on Vimeo.

When I was a little boy, I had a calendar that featured stunning photography of these amazing endurance racing cars made by Porsche.  They were some of the most successful cars in any type of racing and Stefan Bellof set the record at the Nurburgring in a similar 956 back in 1983 – in almost thirty years, no one has ever gone faster around that most challenging race track.

This video, about a 962 that is street-legal in Japan, speaks to all my pre-adolescent fantasies.  I still think this is the most stunning and extraordinary vehicle every constructed.

Niki Lauda: epic heroism in defeat

I have just completed Tom Rubython‘s satisfying re-telling of Formula One’s extraordinary 1976 season.  It’s one of the most the most incredible stories, in sports or otherwise, that I’ve ever come across.  No wonder Ron Howard and Peter Morgan are currently working on a big-budget Hollywood movie, not based on the book, but telling the same story.

In 1976, 27 year-old Austrian Niki Lauda was the reigning champion of Formula One racing.  Although people in the United States lack a taste for the sport, it is truly the most glamorous and elite version of auto racing on the planet.  Lauda raced for Ferrari and had the car and the skill to defend his title, a feat that would instantly cement his reputation among the greatest drivers of all time.

But the British McLaren team, with their flamboyant, pot smoking, playboy driver James Hunt, had other plans.  McLaren had a great car that year and, despite his extreme partying and womanizing, Hunt possessed extraordinary talent behind the wheel.  From the beginning of the season, it was all about Lauda vs. Hunt, with the Austrian having the advantage going into the height of summer.

Formula One racing, even today, is all about going to the limit, the limit of what the rules will allow, the limit of what the car is capable of, the limit of what the driver can manage without losing his mind.  A race course with straights and turns means constant breaking, accelerating and shifting.  Going into a turn, for example, a driver may gain an advantage by breaking later.  But if the driver breaks too late, the results could be fatal.  There are similar decisions countless times through the course of just a single lap as the driver tries to wring the fastest time possible from the car.

But, what happened to Niki Lauda in Germany that summer, may not have been about pushing too hard, driving recklessly, or an improperly engineered car.  It may have been any one of those things, but the cause of his magnificent crash remains largely unknown. What is clear is that Lauda was engulfed in flame, caused to inhale toxic fumes and nearly lost his life.  Because he was using an illegal helmet, the burns to his head and face were particularly horrifying.

It is impressive that Lauda survived.  But it is unheard of the he returned to the racetrack to drive in the Italian Grand Prix just six weeks later.

And that is why this story is so amazing.  Here is a case of a man who went up to, and then well beyond, the limit of his physical and psychological capabilities.  Lauda was so competitive and so possessed by the need to win that he further disfigured himself by donning his helmet (now legal) when his facial wounds were not yet healed.

If Lauda had won a second consecutive championship under such circumstances, we might talk about him the way we talk about Muhammad Ali, the greatest ever.  But the way he lost makes the story even more intriguing.  By coming back, he was able to maintain his lead over Hunt by the slimmest of margins, causing the last race to be determinative.  But the Japanese Grand Prix was drenched by a downpour and, after just a couple laps, an emotionally and mentally spent Lauda stopped his car and got out.  At the very end, after all he had been through, he simply could not go on in the rain.  He couldn’t see because doctor’s weren’t done reconstructing his eyelids, which had been burned off.  I shudder to think how he could have reeled himself in from the insanity that made him come back so soon, too soon, in the first place.  For me, that return to sanity, from so far beyond the brink, is the true heroism of this story.

The movie probably won’t get it right.  Ron Howard tweets about everything he’s doing to make it authentic, and he has what appear to be talented young actors to recreate this unique moment in the history of motorsport, but I will set my expectations low.  In the meantime, we have books and videos on YouTube and even Mr. Lauda himself, who is regularly on the F1 circuit as a consultant for Ferrari.  And while his insights into racing and his wily wit delight us, we will probably never know what really happened that year, the demons he faced, gave into, and then overcame.

I don’t make the #f1 rules, but Ferrari doesn’t follow them

Felipe Massa, who did not want to win the German Grand Prix on Sunday

It’s really very simple – no team orders.  For those of you who don’t follow Formula 1 racing, but care enough to have read this far, here is the simple version.  This is individual competition.  Yes, each team has two drivers, but they are intended to compete against one another.  This is especially important for the audience, as we get to see what a driver is really made of when he goes wheel-to-wheel against his teammate in an identical vehicle.  Yes, there is a “constructor’s championship” which means the team with the most points, but the true glory is the driver’s championship.  That is where the beautiful dance of man and machine comes together to form the poetry that is F1.

The problem arises when a team with one driver ahead in the points has it’s other driver ahead in the race.  “Team orders” refers to the race-leading driver giving way to the points-leading driver in order to give that particular team the best chance of winning the driver’s championship.

It’s been an interesting year Ferrari.  After being historically dominant between 1999 and 2004 (winning every constructor championship and 5 out of 6 driver championship with Michael Schumacher), the prancing hoarse had not much pace in 2009.  This year, the results have been mixed with the team ending up on the podium only three times up until the German Grand Prix this past weekend.  But going into Hockenheim, there was every indication that drivers Massa and Alonso would have fast cars to compete with Red Bull and McLaren.  Those reports proved true with the cars qualifying 2 and 3 behind Sebatian Vettel’s Red Bull on pole.

Felipe Massa is an incredibly gifted young driver from Brazil.  He carries the weight of millions of Ayrton Senna fans from his homeland who live and breath the sport to honor the departed hero.  He got ahead of his teammate, two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and made his way to a comfortable, as passing can be quite difficult in this sport unless someone makes a significant error.  Massa is not prone to such errors.  And yet, with 21 laps remaining in the 67 lap race, he received a notification that the 2d place Alonso’s car was faster (an outright lie as fuel and set-up were, for all intents and purposes identical) and that he should let the Spaniard pass.  Massa dutifully got out of the way and Alonso drove on to the checkered flag.  For this flagrant violation, Ferrari has been fined $100,000, but with no loss of points for either driver or team.

I agree with the rules to the extent that I want to see if Massa is strong enough to hold off a VERY determined Alonso.  I see that it’s much better for Ferrari’s hopes of getting the greatest benefit in both the constructor’s and driver’s championships, but that does not take away from the shameful way that the team ignores the rules.  That’s blatant arrogance, and this is not the first time.  The fans deserve to see the drivers race.

Afternoon links, retweets and goodies

Start with this beautiful tourist video of our fair city from 1977, courtesy Philebrity:

@AnswerDave is one of the great sports humorists I follow on Twitter.  He and the folks at Big League Stew have found a great animated feature of Doc Ellis’ 1970 no-hitter for the Pirates, supposedly while he was tripping on acid.  There is an online petition urging MLB to find and air a video of the game.  It’s a veritable certainty that the poswers-that-be will not want to glorify Ellis’ claimed drug use, but it is a charming part of Baseball lore.  Here’s the animated feature, which should clearly win an Oscar of some kind:

In the world of F1, Jenson Button will be driving for McLaren next year.  This will be the first time two British champions will be on a British team since Graham Hill and Jim Clark back in 1968 – RULE BRITANNIA!

Here’s two links to Synthtopia that made me smile.

  1. First one is a live Berlin School jam with Moog modulars.  The set-up may not be as big as Tangerine Dream or Kieth Emerson, but it’s still pretty cool how people can pull this off, even in the age of computer synths and sequences.
  2. The second is a beautiful glimpse of Vangelis current virtual orchestra set-up, including great footage of the genius at work.

Here’s an AP article, via The American Blues Blog, that provides information about the birthplace of Robert Johnson.

Last week put up a bunch of artwork by Shusei Nagaoka, who created artwork in the 70’s for Deep Purple, ELO and Star Trek.


Finally, there’s a whole mess of great music available for immediate download over at ParisDJs.  What are you waiting for?