True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Advertisements

101st 500 Preview- Almost as Many Storylines as the Number of Races

An international star, engine reliability, a struggling power team, and  an intriguing front row have come together to create what should be a competitive, compelling race on Sunday.  All these factors should come into play at some point during the race. Fernando Alonso has created quite a buzz as he goes into his first race. He seems to be comfortable in the car and on the track. Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves look for the final piece of their legacies.  Honda teams hope they have engines that will go the distance. Local hero Ed Carpenter couldn’t win the race from either of his pole starts, but he is hoping that starting second works out better. Alexander Rossi, the defending champion, backs up his title with a front row start.

Alonso has been Indy’s media star this month.  The international exposure hasn’t hurt.  He has done very well so far. I expect him to do well in the  race, and finish in the top ten, perhaps even a top five.  Pit stops will be a key factor for him as well as race traffic. During Monday’s practice he seemed very much at ease passing other cars. How he handles the flying start in a three wide formation may tell us how his race might go.

Honda cars very much have the advantage at the track, but their engines have had issues during the month.  At least five have blown, including two in the Grand Prix.  Can one last the distance and win? Alonso’s engine had a precautionary change before qualifying Sunday. Honda also lost a strong contender with Sebastien Bourdais’ crash last Saturday.

Team Penske has symbolized the struggles Chevy has had this month. They seem to have less straight line speed than the Hondas.  Chevrolet entries had trouble keeping pace with the Hondas Monday.  Will Power,  Ed Carpenter , J.R. Hildebrand, and Sage Karam seem to be the best of the bowties.  Still, I look for the Penske cars of Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Josef Newgarden to be players toward the middle of the race. I think Montoya will move up quickly.

Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Ryan Hunter-Reay  are the strongest Hondas. Hunter-Reay will be in the top five very quickly, and will battle for the lead after the first stop. If the Andretti team can avoid the gremlins that have plagued their cars all season, the race will be between these three.  In Monday’s practice, Dixon and Kanaan looked the strongest on track.

Ed Carpenter will contend early. If he can stay out of trouble, he will be one to watch near the end.  He has the speed to stay with the Hondas. His teammate Hildebrand should also also be in the mix.  We may see an early charge to the front by Carpenter unless Dixon pulls away at the start.

Dark horses- Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Alonso, and Ed Jones should all have great days. Jones has been quietly going about his rookie season. I would not dismiss his chances for a good finish.  Rossi will provide a strong title defense. Marco could erase years of frustration and set up for a decent season.

Turn 2-  This was a challenging part of the track last weekend. In addition to the terrifying Bourdais crash, several cars clipped the wall in nearly the same spot. The wall in front of the Fuzzy’s suite may not stay white for long. I hope everyone gets through on lap 1.

Oh yes- I’m supposed to make a prediction. I am going against recent history here. Scott Dixon will win his second 500.  He has not had the engine issues other Hondas have had.  It has been eight years since we’ve had a winner from pole, so the timing is right. It has also been six years since someone has won from the first three rows.  He will lead the majority of laps, but this will not be an easy win.

The rest of the race:

Rookie of the Year– Fernando Alonso will probably win this, although Ed Jones will make a very strong case for himself.

Cautions-  7 for 55 laps.

Highest Placing Chevy– Will Power, a top 5

First out-  Jack Harvey

 

Honoring A Legend- The A. J. Foyt Exhibition at the IMS Museum

First, a bit of news: Spencer Pigot has been confirmed as a driver for Juncos Racing in the Indianapolis 500. he will drive car no. 11, with sponsorship from Oceanfront Recovery, an organization involved in helping people overcome issues with opioids. This will be Pigot’s second 500. he drove last year for Rahal letterman Lanigan. Sebastian Saavedra has been announced as the driver of the second Juncos car.  These two cars and the entry from Lazier Racing brings the car count to 33.  I don’t believe this to be fully firm at this point.

 

The Speedway legends I grew up with are all in or nearing their 80’s.  They race during what I consider the Golden Age of Indycar racing.  Foyt,  Andretti, Jones, the Unser brothers, and Gurney would race almost anything on almost any kind of track- pavement, dirt, oval, road course. When the checkered flag waved, it was highly likely that A. J. Foyt was the first to see it.

Full disclosure- I was a crazy Foyt fan back then. Yes, I appreciated the skills and talents of the other drivers, but Foyt was my man. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I had a chance to see his entire career on display.

Virtually every car he drove, including the four he drove to his 500 wins, is on display.  One car I didn’t see was the car he and Dan Gurney drove to victory in LeMans in 1967.  I  was really looking forward to seeing that one. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the exhibit, however. Several of the cars I had completely forgotten about, like the Scarab MK IV from 1964. A. J. won 3 races in 1964 driving for Lance Reventlow.

One poignant entry was the 1981 Coyote, the last coyote chassis Foyt produced.

The cars and their histories are displayed clearly. It would take a while to read every word. I have all summer. The display is at the Museum until October. Even more intriguing than the the cars was all the memorabilia and photos. People apparently donated things from their private collections for the show. Make sure to walk to the display room in the back.  The most fascinating item to me was a set of micro-miniatures cars, replicas of many Foyt’s Indy 500 cars, labeled by year. The photo collection the walls, including a couple of murals take you back in history.

I plan to return to see the exhibit in more depth later this year.  I will close with some photos, including a mural of A. J. on dirt.foytexhibit 025

foytexhibit 024
This is the car Foyt drove to the first of his 67 wins in Indycar. The Scarab is the blue car in the background.
foytexhibit 020
The car A. J. Foyt drove at Indianapolis his rookie year, 1958
foytexhibit 021
Midget racer from the early 1960’s.

The Greatest 33 Non-Winners: Final Grid

What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot.  There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).

I  noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids,  and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups.  Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.

To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.

The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes.  Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.

So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:

Row 1

Michael Andretti

Rex Mays

Ted Horn

Row 2

Harry Hartz

Marco Andretti

Lloyd Ruby

Row 3

Gary Bettenhausen

Ralph Hepburn

Roberto Guerrero

Row 4

Scott Goodyear

Carlos Munoz

Robby Gordon

Row 5

Eddie Sachs

Tony Stewart

Jack McGrath

Row 6

Wally Dallenbach

Tomas Sheckter

Will Power

Row 7

Danica Patrick

Tony Bettenhausen

Joe Leonard

Row 8

Jimmy Snyder

Ed Carpenter

Danny Ongais

Row 9

Pancho Carter

Mel Kenyon

Kevin Cogan

Row 10

Vitor Meira

Russ Snowberger

Paul Russo

Row 11

Tom Alley

Johnny Thomson

George Snider

it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.

I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.

 

 

 

 

 

The Race Fans’ Christmas Gift Guide

Race fans are always happy to receive gifts, especially gifts related to racing.  Here are some suggestions for the race fan on your list, including many gifts that I have enjoyed over the years.

One of the best things I’ve received is tickets to a race. Many fans say they would be happy to go to more races if they had the budget. Race tickets  as a gift are a big help in making races more affordable. If you have never been to an Indycar race, get one for yourself as well. It’s silly to let your friend go alone.

A ride in an Indycar 2-seater will delight any Indycar fan.  It was one of the best I ever got. The ride is good at any track offering them.  There are sometimes discounts on Groupon.  It’s the best way to see what driving an Indycar is all about.

My friend George Phillips, in his Oilpressure.com column yesterday,talks about the Indy Racing Experience. You get to drive an Indycar on your own at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.This is something I want to try in the next couple of years.  If you haven’t read this column before, check it out.  It is always a good read.

Have friends who collect things?  We fans are eager to get our hands on anything related to racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum has lots of things for the collector. They are currently having daily sales on selected items. They also have a clearance sale in mid-November with incredible deals. Also, check eBay for items like old programs and ticket stubs.

Books about racing, especially racing history, are one thing I can’t get enough of.  I highly recommend Black Noon by Art Garner. It tells the story of the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and talks about how the events of that day came to be and their lasting effects on racing  The author does a great job profiling Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. This is one of the best books on the history of the 500 I have read.

Beast by Jade Gurss details Roger Penske and Imor engineering developing the Mercedes badged engine that dominated the 1994 500.  It was not as easy as it appeared. Gurss also discusses the brewing storm that led to the split in 1996. Even though you know the outcome, the narrative creates a suspenseful conclusion.

I have not read Lionheart by Andy Hallberry and Jeff Olson. I anticipate receiving it in a few days.  I have heard great things about it, and I will share my thoughts in January. The IMS Museum shop has it online for purchase.

Trivia buffs will enjoy Pat Kennedy’s compilations of trivia questions. He has two volumes of How Much Do You really know about the Indianapolis 500?, The Official Indy 500 Trivia Book, and Indy 500 Recaps, the Short Chute Edition.  The recaps book has a summary of every race and a results table for each race.

Other books I have enjoyed are Vukovich by Bob Gates and Umbrella Mike by Brock Yates. Umbrella Mike tells the story of Mike Boyle, whose cars won three Indianapolis 500s, including the famous Maserati car driven by Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940.

Hard Luck Llloyd by John Lingle is a biography of Llloyd Ruby, a great racer who almost won the 500 several times, but bad luck always seemed to thwart his trip to Victory Lane.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season. I will be back after the first of the year when I settle in following my southern migration.