Month: June 2013

Death at Paul Ricard, Le Mans, Isle of Man, Bridgeport Speedway…


Italian entrepreneur and racing driver Andrea Mame has died Sunday at Paul Ricard in a Lamborghini Trofeo event.

That sentence won’t appear anywhere in a newspaper in the USA tomorrow. But thanks to the internet and social media, it’s simple to find out who has died or been seriously injured in motorsport this weekend. My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Andrea Mame, but I feel I need to do more than just keep them in my thoughts.

As I write this the F1 British GP is taking place on questionable tires. Three punctures on track and damage to race leader Sebastian Vettel’s tyres forced an extended safety car period, when perhaps the event should have been red flagged for a rethink. But the high stakes involved, the need to keep the executive boxes happy and the money flowing into the F1 coffers, seems to have trumped safety.

The common view towards safety in racing has become a nostalgic complacency. When we look back at the 1970’s we jokingly speak of it as an era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous. True, racing was unquestionably more dangerous several decades ago, but that’s no excuse for the complacency plaguing motorsport. The idea that it has become over sanitized: too safe. There is no such thing as too safe.

Not when the stakes are so high. And we’re not just talking about drivers lives but spectators as well, as can be seen from incidents at Daytona and the Isle of Man TT earlier this season. As the linked articles point out, these types of incidence should serve as wake up calls for racing.

I first became aware of the problem with unreported deaths in motorsport when I went to Europe in 1985 to try my luck at racing. I attended the basic Winfield Driving School and lapped the then dilapidated Goodwood circuit in a Formula Ford. But what really got my attention was the weekly death toll reported in my favorite German magazine, Motorsport Aktuelle. It seems that year, a week didn’t go by but that some young driver or rider was killed in karting, motorcycles, rallying, or club racing.

This was brought home to me again when I revisited Germany in 2009 and picked up a copy of the weekly motorsport news, to find an article on the death of Thomas Knopper at the German national karting championships. At the time I was back in kart racing and, since I haven’t raced since, maybe that news was enough to sober up a middle aged father about the risks of being out on the track.

With the recent double accidents at the Isle of Man TT, the death earlier this year of a young (12 year old) motorcycle racer in the USA, two motorcycle racers paralyzed in the last month, the tragedy at Le Mans, the tragedy at Bridgeport, the tragedy at Paul Ricard and some events I’m probably forgetting, I have started waging a public campaign to get the FIA to begin monitoring racing accidents with a complete database of every accident resulting in serious injury across the globe.

This is an excellent first step in reupping the safety crusade, and not surprisingly when I queried a well respected motorsport journalist on ths topic, he asked: what’s the point? The point is…(I thought, fuming) …to make racing safer by studying the ocean of data that is out there after accidents occur.

I was shocked when I attended the IMIS Safety Seminars at Indianapolis last December and discovered that no such database exists.

Today, we have telemetry on practically every aspect of high end motorsport vehicles. Even in club races, most events are captured on video. So, by combining the findings of all serious racing incidents we are bound to come up with better solutions for safety in racing. More data, more studies, more science, makes that virtually inevitable.

One thing that I would strongly oppose however, are knee jerk reactions to accidents at places like LeMans or the Isle of Man TT. Reactions that call for mindless “cut down all the trees” or simply ending the TT solutions. There are too many examples of racing existing in a dangerous world, to make changing the dangerous world a viable option.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the Jackie Stewart era of safety lobbying, dangerous situations will always exist in racing. I am of the personal opinion, and this is only me (and I have never done this) that a driver sweeping past a farmhouse at the old Spa circuit has a different mentality towards risk, than a young charger who feels overly confident in his safety blasting through Eau Rouge today.

Safer barriers, a trademarked product, now used extensively in oval racing in the USA need to be looked at for more situations. I realize this means high cost retrofitting for dirt tracks around the USA, so I’m not suggesting this be mandated. But if mandated, this would be a far better use for the money pouring into high end racing series like NASCAR and Formula One, than a new $100 million mansion or more executive box seats. Executives, who apparently, can’t be bothered with driver safety as once again tyre safety looms large over Formula One.

Nurburgring Track Options for Simracing Plentiful


Here is an interesting compendium of possible track reconfigurations considered shortly after Niki Lauda’s near fatal crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. Eventually, as the maps show, we ended up with the Nurburgring GP F/D configurations that are used today.

I’m most interested in the configuration shown below, for a couple of reasons. First, it might be historically correct to assume that this could have become a shortened version of the Nordschleife. If I understand the website’s data, they are saying that this was an actual proposed shortening of the track considered in the late 70’s. That alone makes it an interesting alternative track for simracing.

Second, some of the roads and (of course) all of the topography exist IRL, so GPS could be used to map the proposed track and create an alternative Nurburgring Nordschleife-Kurz for simracing. I suppose, that could be said about any track configuration anywhere, so not a very strong argument.

Nürburgring, 1976 proposal

Here is another view of the alleged proposed shortened Nordschleife.

So, the question becomes: was this layout ever actually proposed as an alternative to the Nordschleife, or is this just internet mythology. Since the proposed track doesn’t include many existing roads, it lacks a connection with reality that would make it more interesting. And, it would have been an expensive anachronism even in the late 70’s to have developed such a track.

For further speculation on possible simracing track layouts, check out this racedepartment discussion. Simracers and modellers will undoubtedly continue to develop old/new track models and track development tools are edging ever closer to the point where the casual gamer will be able to link with Google maps can create hiw own home town grand prix circuit.

Much thanks to the creator of the website where I found most of this information: Guido d’ Carli. I hope I can find him to give him proper credit. Thanks for checking this out and any speculation or real information would be greatly appreciated.

 

Gran Turismo: Deep Forest Raceway Found


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A Chaparral-2A sits on pole at one of the few races held at Greenwood Roadway during it’s brief three year life span as an active race track (photo courtesy of Greenwoodroadway.com).

Please find track map and photos below to verify the discovery of Deep Forest Raceway, a supposedly non-existent track in the legendary PS3  Gran Turismo series, next to a corn field in Iowa.

So, expect Gran Turismo Guru and principal architect Kazunori Yamauchi to fess up and move Deep Forest from the mythical “Original Circuits” of Gran Turismo, to the Real World section in the game. Deep Forest Raceway is a disguised version of Greenwood Roadway, an actual (though now defunct) road circuit in south central Iowa, about 45 minutes south of Des Moines.

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As can be seen from the two maps (Greenwood Roadway on top, Deep Forest below) the track layouts are very similar. Not identical, but very similar. Similar enough, that if an investor were to decide to renovate Greenwood Roadway, it would be very easy to create a reasonable duplicate of Deep Forest Raceway from the Gran Turismo Series.

What can’t be seen from the maps is the identical nature of the topography of the two tracks. Driving on both tracks, the rise and fall of the circuit is virtually identical. The two highest points on both are at the end of the back straight (in the tunnels on Deep Forest Raceway) or at the ninety degree bends in the middle section, and the lowest two points are at the start of the back straight and at the hairpin at the end of the main straight.

The original Greenwood pit location is slightly different than the virtual track. But again, in about the right place and even on the right side of the track. The sensation, though, of driving the real track is eerily reminiscent of driving the virtual track simply because the rise and fall of the two layouts is so close to identical.

There being virtually no historical significance to Greenwood Roadway, the real track set in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, there’s no reason  the Gran Turismo Series developers would have felt any qualms in “improving” the track to fit their needs.

The double ninety degree bends in the middle of the track have a nice rhythm that isn’t apparent in the real circuit. Ditto for the fast sweepers at the end of the lap. With no signature corners (EG. Eau Rouge at Spa, White House at Le Mans) to emulate, the Gran Turismo developers were free to improve on a slightly simpler layout. There are corners on the actual circuit that would have been pretty scary taken flat out, especially noting the proximity to the track of the rusting ruins of Armco barriers.

There are no mountains around the Greenwood Roadway in Iowa, and of course no tunnels to race through. The track topography is very similar, but the real topography is markedly different. That said, the real track is located in a beautiful rural setting in the rolling hills that cover most of the state. The asphalt is still intact although nowhere near what one would call a road anymore. More like a paved path to the past of American road racing.

The two tracks are very similar in layout and design, but by no means identical. First, the real circuit is a full three miles in length, while it’s scaled down virtual double-ganger measures only 2,24 miles in length: a three-quarter scale model.

The real track was developed in the 1960’s by a consortium of well to do Des Moines businessmen/racers/land speculators who realized that Lake Red Rock was being built nearby and expected the explosive growth of racing in the mid-sixties to continue unabated. Unfortunately, the track fell on hard times quickly and in its prime only hosted a handful of races.

It continued on, being used for local club events into at least the 1970’s with some photos online of an Iowa Mustang club that gained access in this century, although this would have been purely for historical purposes and maybe a blast down the mostly intact main straight

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This is the view heading down the main straight into the hairpin. On the left of the photo you can see the track snaking back uphill.

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Same view in Gran Turismo.5.

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This is the view from approximately half way down the back straight looking at the sweeping left-hander as the track falls away back downhill.

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View much closer to the sweeper at the end of the straight in Gran Turismo 5.

There might be a move afoot to resuscitate the old track as a type of motorsport country club, similar to other tracks that have proved popular around the country. If revived the track would add to an impressive compilation of motorsport facilities in south central Iowa, including: the Iowa Speedway in Newton, the famed dirt track at Knoxville and the almost equally famous dragstrip at Eddyville. All of these facilities, with the inclusion of Greenwood Roadway would be within a 30 mile radius centered approximately on Lake Red Rock just outside Knoxville.

If the plan does come to fruition, fans of Sony’s Gran Turismo racing simulator could find that a circuit that only exists on the PS3 is brought to life, reviving a lost gem in the Iowa countryside. Potential investors in any scheme to revive the track should seriously study the potential benefits of creating a replica of a track that is well known to the fans of the Gran Turismo series, which in five iterations has sold over 70 million copies worldwide. It might seem far fetched to expect Japanese tourists to travel to Iowa for a track day made famous on Japan’s most famous console racing title.It’s been said before when fantasy meets reality in Iowa: if you build it, they will come.

Special thanks to the current owners of the property who most graciously allowed me access to photograph and videotape at the track. And to greenwoodraodway.com, for the usage of historical photos.