Sunday, April 23, 2006

Meet Max, my insane friend

I hope no law enforcement people read my blog.

On Anzac Day, after remembering the fallen, I set off to the office with Becky and Sam, to get them out of Mum's hair. Omi was off riding horses with her new horsey friend.

No, I wasn't being a workaholic. I had transferred Max to the warehouse in readiness for a CAMS logbook inspection and needed to finish off a few things on him.

Yes, I call my race kart "Max". Very unoriginal since the engine model name is FR125 Max. So I am sure I am not the first. I have also been known to occasionally talk to him. It. Whatever.

Sam and Becky rode around the warehouse on bikes, building ramps and generally trying to hurt themselves. Business as usual.

I know it doesn't look like it but Max needs to lose weight

Max was all prepped and ready for, I hope, a trip to Winton on Friday for a practice. But I thought, maybe I should make sure the engine will fire up. So I did, and Max made all the right noises.

Then I thought, I can struggle Max down off his stand and just get him moving around the warehouse and maybe out into the carpark. With Phillip Island gearing, it's not going to get off the slipping clutch but at least I can check steering alignment and ensure the clutch is working and make sure the new bodywork isn't bottoming out. So I did.

Then I thought, well, my office's industrial street is all but deserted on public holidays. The road is about as long as Phillip Island's main straight (although the views are not as nice). Maybe if I can get him down the kerbing onto the road I can just stretch his legs. Just once, to make sure everything's working.

With such tall gearing and dry clutch it was like this; Max and I drone down the road, building up speed very, very slowly. Eventually I feel the clutch grab and the engine driving directly, but still the motor is way off it's powerband so he continues to lazily, almost embarrasingly accelerate. He's vibrating so much I almost cannot focus.

I reckon watching these karts in a race from a standing start to turn one will resemble an army of elderlies on their buggys heading to the bank on pension day.

Then, I estimate at around 90 kays (your scale of speed is distorted at that height, or just when you're driving a small race vehicle illegally on a public road) Max jumps out of the phone box with his superman cape on. He lights up his big wick and takes off like a missile. Everything gets smooth, and violently fast. Verrrry bloooooody faaaaaasst.

Max didn't stop accelerating. By the time I went screaming past the warehouse, and a wide-eyed Becky and Sam, it must have been around 140km/h.

So there you are. 0-100km/h will take up most of your lunch break. 100km/h to Lord knows a nanosecond.

I've always wanted to drive something that scares the absolute knackers out of me. I think I've found it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How to go motor racing in 2,768 easy steps

It all started when Sam, freshly excited about seeing his first big motor race, came home with a poster a friend from school had given him. His first poster. Ah yes, I used to put posters of racing cars on my wall when I was a kid. Memories.

Problem was, this poster was of a race driver who I don't like. One who shall remain named as Dick Johnson.

For those who don't know the Dick Johnson story, it goes basically like this; Dick bought a race car. Dick raced at Bathurst in 1980. Dick tripped over a rock and crashed his race car. Dick cried and whinged. "A Holden fan threw a rock at me. It's a conspiracy" (Dick didn't think that the rock could have dislodged by natural causes, did Dick). So everyone got sick of Dick. Everyone threw money at Dick to stop him complaining. Dick bought a new race car. Dick went on to become very succesful, didn't Dick. And Dick hasn't really stopped complaining since.

The moral of the story is, if you whinge loud enough everyone will pay for you to go motor racing. It pays to be a Dick.

So I said to Sam "I'll get you a better poster than that one. Daddy has lots of posters in the shed". But, silly Daddy had a big clean out a few weeks ago and threw out most of his old posters, thinking "what will I ever use these posters for??". Bad father. I forgot I had a 7 year old son who likes racing cars. D'OH!!!

But I salvaged one, and we had a presentation ceremony to officially award Sam with his very first bedroom wall poster:

Although he could have a perfectly good poster of Dick Johnson on his wall, Sam dutifully obeyed his Dad and accepted this 2006 GP promotional poster until we find something with somebody decent on it. Someone who doesn't complain much.

I haven't got the heart to tell Dad this is a crappy poster

Anyhoo, while I was rummaging around in the garage I noticed my old go kart. Well, it isn't really old, it's just neglected. I bought it a couple of years ago, buzzed around the local track and vowed one day to get may licence and race again.

Recently we took some colleagues and customers indoor kart racing. I failed to toe the line and won by way too much, although I did offer to take a dive and let a customer win, my boss told me not to worry and just go knock myself out. He meant it metaphorically, I presume . Whilst basking in my triumphant glory I bored everybody senseless getting all nostalgic about the good old days when I used to race and how I wish I could drum up some funds to get the little 125cc beast back on track.

My boss probably got sick of my whingeing, so he offered to sponsor me. How's that for poetic justice. I have now become a Dick.

Instead of going for the "Sprint" kart formula (otherwise known as "Formula Ego") I have opted for the more subtle class of superkarts- racing these potent little machines on real road circuits instead of the little mini golf course ones.

There are some things I will miss about the short course racing. I will miss having some pubescent little maniac use me as a brake because his Daddy, who bought him a kart when he was 5 (to live his own unfulfilled dreams through his child), will pay for all his damage. I will miss the overworked track officials giving me a black flag for an infringement committed by someone else. But most of all I will miss the go kart retailers.

Before and during photos. This is what a naked go-kart looks like. No, it's not the black thing with the wheels. That's the trolley.

One quirk about superkart formula as opposed to sprint is that it involves using bits which aren't available at the many sprint kart shops. This can be annoying, but there are advantages of not having to go to sprint kart shops; Most are owned and run by people with loads of cash, who only set up the shop to help their spoilt brat go racing. So, they have no intention of being remotely helpful to you since you may become good and beat their kid. Therefore shopping at these places, which should be pleasurable for any red blooded rev-head is actually a highly traumatic and belittling experience.

When you go in and ask for something unusual like, for example, a tyre that is black and round, they stare at you with an expression of dismay which says "what, are you stupid?? As if I'd have something like that. Now go away I'm on the phone with someone REALLY important". And forget asking them to explain something technical. If you don't know how to adjust your own power valve, then you shouldn't be kart racing. Leave it for us real competitors.

(I should mention one exception - Ian Wiliams Tuning in Torrensville, S.A. Great guy, Kingwilly. There's a plug. A go kart shop run by a human being. AND he sells superkart stuff.)

starting to look like something useable, with a steering wheel

But no. The real problem with superkarting is that it is run under the authority of CAMS, the Confederation Against Motor Sport. This means in order to get a licence you must fill out a telephone-book sized application, get a medical check and a reference from ASIO, then sell your children to pay for it. Then you must make some minor modifications to the vehicle itself before having it inspected for a log book. That's like registration for a race vehicle, although I presume, unlike road cars, they actually LET you put go fast bits on it without calling you a darstardly crim. After all this is the whole point of a race vehicle- to go fast.

These "minor modifications" involve everything from tie-wiring little nuts and bolts, putting wet-weather lights on the back so the competitor behind you has something to aim at, the list goes on, and on, and on. Here is a list of some safety-related modifications and the logic behind them:

- we must use massive big dinner plate-like washers on your seat mounting because, apparently, some goon recently crashed and the seat stays jabbed him and broke a rib.

- we must insert a timber dowel into the hollow steering column since somebody's steering column once collapsed in an incident. So now when we crash, the dowel will splinter and skewer us through the heart like a stake. Perhaps CAMS are superstitious and hope that Dracula has recently taken up kart racing.

- we must drill and tie-wire any bolt not secured by a nyloc nut. This is to stop them coming off at high speed and "compromising" the competitor behind. But we only have to tie them to eachother. This means if one comes off it takes the other ones with it, so there's a whole heap of bolts hittng somebody in the face instead of just one.

They must get their safety tips from the same people who give us the "Speed Cameras love you" commercials.

Now with the bit that goes vrooom

You see, motor racing is run not by motorsport enthusiasts, but by insurance companies. You cannot really blame the Confederation of Alarmist Manic Safety. Motorsport has simply fallen prey to the public liability curse like everything else. Every time a track marshal trips over a blade of grass, CAMS must fill out a hideously massive slab or reports or their premiums will become so high Bill Gates could not even afford to race his ride-on lawnmower.

(Don't laugh. There is actually such a thing as ride on lawnmower racing)

So, the world is actually run by insurance companies, contrary to popular conspiracy theories about Freemasons. Unless of course the Freemasons are all managers of insurance companies.

So, as I torture over installing an extra seat to carry an OH & S officer with me as I race, or trying to write a thesis on the CAMS manual, I must remember I'm one step closer to getting back on track. And I'm sure it will all be worth it.

Besides, if I keep complaining I might get me some more cash.

Monday, April 03, 2006

So great it's spooky

As many of you know I don't officially acknowledge the new year has begun until the start of the Formula One season. Traditionally this happens in Melbourne on the March long weekend. This year however, March was mostly taken up with those pesky Commonwealth Games, which were nowhere near as interesting or bloodthirsty as the Winter Olympics. Subsequently, the race that Melbourne so expensively poached from Adelaide ten years ago was delayed until the March/ April weekend just gone.

In fact, Melbourne has been so scrambled by an overdose of sport they even resorted to playing a football game on a Monday night. The poor Melbournians are hungover from so much sport. When they boast about being the sports capital of the known universe, you can scarcely disagree. It's only when they start claiming to be the arts and culture capital that you just smile politely and say "Yep. Sure. Righto".

No really, Melbourne loves the arts. That's why the highly professional Melbourne Symphony Orchestra were told they had to play at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony...without being paid. Oh yeah. We love the arts. As long as it's performed at a sporting event.

Great city. Pity about the...

...constantly crappy weather

So, as I was saying, because of the Commgames the Grand Prix got moved to round 3 which kind of spoiled all the intrigue and mystery. We already know that Renault are going to dominate the whole season. So the AGP lost it's round 1 status, which, according to AGP boss and professional snob Ron Walker, is purely temporary- next year we'll have the No 1 round status again. However, some Euro F1 boffins may disagree. You see, they liked having the season opener in Bahrain because it meant they could get their long- awaited F1 fix on telly at a civilised Sunday morning hour, one that gives them an excuse not to go to church. Much better rather than the 3am Melbourne GP timeslot.

Personally, I think that's just their problem for being 8 hours behind us. Surely Bernie Ecclestone has enough sway to bribe the Greenwich Observatory to set the clocks forward 8 hours just for the first week of F1 season.

Besides, even the European Union should know not to mess with Ron Walker. In the first year of F1 in Melbourne, ignorant journalists scrambled to ask the newly arrived F1 superstars stupid questions like "what do you think of the track??". Michael Schumacher said something like "it's nothing special". Which is true. All a driver cares about is the track's challenges. Albert Park is just a road around a lake. All the corners (or chicanes) look the same. It is flat and there are bugger-all overtaking opportunities. It's boring.

Ron Walker was outraged, calling the two times World Champion an "overpaid prima donna" and demanded that he apologise to the people of Melbourne for "the things he said about Melbourne". After all, this circuit is magnificent. It has a nice lake (filled up every year with gazillions of megalitres in a state with severe water restrictions) and palm trees. And the spectacular Melbourne skyline in the background.

Funny. Schumacher never said anything about Melbourne. It's just that he's raced at the 'Ring, Spa Francorchamps, Le Mans, Interlagos. Ergo, Albert Park is nothing special.

So don't mess with Ron Walker. He'll cry.

As ever I take up my coveted role as track marshal, the lowest form of official life on the volunteer list. Get up at 5.30am, get home at 8pm. The lowest form of life, but the best seat in the house. It means I get to take pictures like this:

The popular Turn 9. There were lots of Columbians, playing drums.

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

I believe the pictures are rightfully mine, however, I must be careful using the term "Formula One" since this combination of letters is owned by Bernie Ecclestone and some large banks and they may sue me if they read this blog.

This year sees Sam's first Formula One experience. Naturally his Dad was more than a little concerned that he would enjoy it, instead of run away frightened the moment a course car drives past and go off to become a ballet dancer.

Well okay, he doesn't look so thrilled here

So, Sharon, Sam, and Adelaide guest Martin parked at Turn 9 to spectate while I stood at Turn 10 waiting to rescue any distressed F1 superstars from flaming crashed vehicles. But some years you get posted on a corner where nothing happens. So all I can do is watch the cars go past, several meters closer than anyone else and pretend to be important.

There are a few other bonuses of this job. For example, you can walk into pitlane after the day's proceedings have concluded, and not get menaced by some powertripping security person. Then you can get in the way of important F1 personnel.

One year, Ron Walker did attempt to prevent volunteer marshals from having a pitlane walk so as to free up more time for corporate pit walks. Fortunately he was given an education on how many volunteers his prized even would get if that happened.

So, since I wasn't getting chased away for being a pleb, I took some time and took some more nice pictures...

Presumably someone remembered to put that wheelnut back on

It's like a children's playground, except these ones actually look after their toys

The "red ones go faster" thing is a myth. They actually go slower and crash

Methinks F1 debutante Nico Rosberg has neck problems. Either that or he's really cold. Oh yeah, it's Melbourne..

If only Australian mechanics worked this fast instead of just saying "come back at 5 and hopefully it'll be ready"

Sometimes I wonder about this volunteer official thing. Is it all worth it or should I just lash out, spoil myself and get a nice grandstand.

The race? Well, Montoya spun on the warmup lap (duh), Klien crashed violently at Turn 9 showering Sharon and Sam with bits of polystyrene foam, Schumacher made a rare mistake and crashed after getting passed by a car that used to be a Minardi, Button's Honda engine detonated metres before the finish line, and somebody won. But that wasn't the real highlight of the weekend.

In recent years there have been second generation drivers coming into Formula One. Some have simply had a name, some have talent, some have both. Certainly the name open doors, and therefore cynics disregard the talent. Damon Hill and Jacques Villenueve were the names of the 1990's. Villenueve showed some class but outstayed his welcome by returning later, wearing grungy baggy overalls and acting differently to everybody else. The most recent addition to F1's nostalgic names is Nico Rosberg, the German son of Finn Keke, World Champ 1982 and last of the chainsmoking F1 drivers. Nelson Piquet junior is currently in the A1 GP World Cup Series and looks good.

But while the masses fussed over F1 and the macho Aussie V8's, in the much overlooked support category of Formula 3 there was a second generation name that caused goosebumps...

no caption needed

Am I just being sentimetal...or does he even look like the great man?

No doubt this name opened some doors. But it's far more than just a name. Bruno is good. Extremely good. How do I know this is not just my tragic F1 nostalgic heart talking?

Because I got to stand near the side of the track and see Bruno Senna demolish the field in 3 races, the first barely hours after getting off a plane from Brazil and having never even sat in the car. I got to stand trackside and see him attack that first lap hard on cold tyres just like his uncle did 23 years ago, then pile drive his pursuers with several consecutive fastest laps...then win like it's all so easy. Close up, I got to see a Senna demolish his opposition. Something I thought I'd never see again. It's so great it's spooky.

I think I'll stick to this volunteer marshall gig for a little while longer. Best seat in the house.