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.

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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

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

The Head and the Heart- Another Fan’s Greatest 33 Non-Winners Grid

Tuesday afternoon I received a grid from Patti Nolen.  Patti blogs on wordpress under the name ikissedthebricks. She recently wrote a book review of Chris Workman’s The Spectacle. Check out her blog.  Patti put a lot of research into creating her grid.

Here’s how Patti approached building her grid:

” I first ranked the drivers I knew. Then I researched everyone on the list.- not extensively but looked up everyone. Then I ranked them… Most of it was from my heart and then checked the statistics to see how they matched up.Finally I waited to see if I changed my mind and after all the interviews with Dan Gurney the past week I did change my mind and moved him up.  Mostly I had a ton of fun and learned something.” (bold mine)

Here is Patti’s grid:
1 Michael Andretti
2 Harry Hartz
3 Scott Goodyear
4 Lloyd Ruby
5 Gary Bettenhausen
6 Rex Mays
7 Ted Horn
8 Eddie Sachs
9 Marco Andretti
10 Robby Gordon
11Carlos Munoz
12 Tony Stewart
13 Roberto Guerrero
14 Vitor Meira
15 Tony Bettenhausen
16 Dan Gurney
17 Danica Patrick
18 Will Power
19 Ed Carpenter
20 Ralph Hepburn
21 Mel Kenyon
22 Paul Tracy
23 Joe Leonard
24 Pancho Carter
25 Eddie Hearne
26 Johnny Thomson
27 Jack McGrath
28 Duke Nalon
29 Tomas Scheckter
30 Danny Ongais
31 Kevin Cogan
32 Teo Fabi
33 Johnny Boyd

 

Please have your grids in by May 2. I would like to put out the final grid on the first day of practice for the 500, May 15.  Thanks.

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip […]

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.

 

ICYMI: St. Pete Preview- Penske Party on the Beach

Opening Race Weekend is finally here. Gosh, it seems like it’s been a long time.  The Firestone Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – green flag Sunday at 12:30 on ABC -again begins the season. This is my fifth time at this race.  I have seen this event grow a lot since my first trip here, especially the last two years.

Friday’s practices may tell us how much the Hondas have improved. We will also get to see how Ganassi and Foyt cars are adjusting to their new engines and aero packages. Honda believes they will be better since the same package as last year is mandated for this year. Of course, Chevy has likely made some gains as well. Qualifying will be the main indicator of where Honda stands.

As far as the race, Penske dominates this race. The team has won eight of the twelve races here, including the last two and three of the last four.  I don’t see a change in this trend. One Penske driver is particularly motivated to win this race.  Will Power won the pole last year but missed the race due to what was believed to be a concussion.  Sitting out probably cost him the season title. Look for Will in Victory Lane Sunday. He easily could be joined by two teammates on the podium, though I would not rule out a Honda driver sneaking in there.

I am eager to see how the new push to pass format plays out.  Drivers have 150 seconds total to use as they wish. each push can last up to 15 seconds if they wish. It cannot be used at the start of the race or on restarts except for a restart with 2 laps or fewer left. I hope there isn’t ever a restart that late.  Will starts be more bunched up? I’m glad I’m sitting in Turn 1.

Things that may take a while to adjust to:

Scott Dixon in a blue car

J R Hildebrand in the 21

Josef Newgarden in the 2

A number 4 Foyt car

Bourdais in the 18

 

Great Idea:

Just before I began writing this piece on Wednesday, I saw a tweet from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports called “Our Starting Lineup”.  It listed the race pit crew by position, their faces placed around a car outline. These guys work hard and it’s great that their team is recognizing them in this way. I hope other teams follow this example.

I will send out reports from the track Friday and Saturday. Let me know if there is any information you’d like me to get and I’ll do my best to get it to you. If you’re going to the race, I hope to meet you if I haven’t yet.

 

Who Will Make the Cut?

Thanks to all who nominated drivers for the Greatest 33 Non Winners project. I have learned a lot from doing this. First, Indycar fans not only are passionate, but they are knowledgeable and respect the sport’s past. I always thought that, but in discussions with some people, including some I do not know well, this came through loud and clear. Second, some drivers I thought would look great statistically did come out so well in comparison. I was quite surprised by some drivers’ overall records, both good and bad. In any case, this has been a lot of fun so far.

I am looking to cut my 58 nominees down to 50. After the race at St. Pete next week, I will announce the 50 finalists for you to choose and grid. I am using a statistical formula based on poles, front row starts, laps led, top 5 and top 10 finishes. I have not been surprised by who the top 10 are, although the order was not quite what I though it would be. A couple current drivers fared very well.

Part of the grid will be chosen with my head and part of it with my heart. That is just natural.  Keep in mind this is all for fun. I hope this helps fill the gap between St. Pete and Long Beach.

Here are the drivers with the most nominations:

Michael Andretti     8

Rex Mays                     5

Scott Goodyear           5

Lloyd Ruby                    5

Harry Hartz                  4

Ted Horn                       4

Vito Meira                     4

Robby Gordon               4

I’ll be back Monday with the dreaded season preview and some Indycar news.