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Mon Dieu – Le Mans really is the greatest racing event in the world!

Originally published in SimRacer Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 7)

Monday, June 1, 2015, 11:00 – Executive VP Steve Myers calls me down to his office for an unscheduled meeting.  I walk down the hall to see what is so urgent and arrive to find VP of Art & Production Greg Hill and Associate Producer Kevin Iannarelli already discussing something. Steve is not one to start a meeting with friendly chit-chat so he gets right to the point – We came to an agreement with Le Mans and we need to laser scan and photo reference next week. Are you available to go to France this weekend? Of course the only sensible response is oui! It’s days like this that I really like my job 🙂

Greg spends the next couple of days making travel arrangements – no small feat to find hotel rooms for six people one week out from the biggest endurance race in the world! The rest of my week was a whirlwind as I attempted to wrap up several projects and plan for the trip.  I experienced a minor scare on Friday when I couldn’t find my passport – luckily my wife knew where it was!

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Sunday, June 7, 2015 – Off to the airport. Since direct flights from Boston to Paris were unreasonably priced on short notice we opted for the scenic route through Iceland. It turned out to be quit enjoyable and I plan to make a longer stop on the volcanic island nation the next time I head across the pond. Sunday turned into Monday and next thing you know we were sitting in traffic on the peripherique around Paris. Several hours — and a couple of coffees  – later, we were in the central square of the village of Le Mans to meet our track contact and pick up our credentials. Public scrutineering was in full force and it was great to see so many cars and fans already taking in the event. Full media access and two passes to drive our cars on the circuit. You can’t get better access than that!

Once credentials had been sorted we headed to the circuit. Since we couldn’t get on the track surface until Wednesday we immediately began photographing trackside objects. We split up into several teams and began wearing out our cameras.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015 – After a really long day, about 36 hours without sleep, we were feeling a little fresher having slept in to about 7:30. Today’s assignments were similar to Monday’s as we still couldn’t get on the track surface. Photographing the trees, homes and business along Mulsanne straight was fun, even when we were be watched by curious homeowners and sometimes yelled at. We weren’t doing anything nefarious but if you look at it from the homeowner’s perspective it is a bit weird to have half a dozen Americans shooting photos of your house and property. No police were called, no one was arrested and most importantly no one was hurt in the making of this virtual track. We did nearly lose one of our photographers when he inadvertently stepped in a post-hole that was dug for the temporary armco and left uncovered. Luckily he was uninjured; more importantly, his cameras were also undamaged.

I think the best way to get a real sense of just how long the Mulsanne straight is, is to walk it. I goes on forever!

Jack Davidson and I even managed to do a short interview with American racing driver Jordan Taylor. He happens to be an avid iRacer and races for Corvette Racing in the #64 car – yep, that’s right, the same car that won GTELM Pro class! So much for the iRacing curse. You can see some of his interview here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 – Having made very good progress on trackside objects the past two days – six photographers lets you cover a lot of ground – we planned to arrive early at the track to see if we could get on the racing surface before our allotted time of 12-2pm. Getting there early paid off as we were able to get on closer to 11 and stayed until after 3pm. Unfortunately this day also brought us some rain. Not a big deal for the photography but the laser scanner was not too happy. A good quality scan would have to wait until Thursday, which coincidentally, was the last time we would be allowed on the racing surface. No one said it, but I think we all went to bed with a final thought, prayer or wish for a clear day tomorrow. If we didn’t get the scan on Thursday it would literally have to wait an entire year.

Thursday, June 11, 2015 – The day began with checking out of our hotel as we need to move further away from the track since all of the rooms nearby Le Mans had already been booked for the race weekend. Once at the track we were able to get on the racing surface a little early again. Thankfully the weather was perfect and the laser scanner was able to capture the precise detail that you have grown accustomed too. Again, we divided into teams and were able to finish photographing everything we needed – the track surface, barriors, signs, light poles, fences, gravel traps, houses, corner worker stations, garages, grandstands, etc. If you can see it from the track, we have pictures of it! Once again we were yelled at, this time by some corner workers who didn’t understand or frankly really care why we were on THEIR track. The one police officer who did stop me seemed fine once I showed her my credential – got to love the all access pass!  We finished up in the evening and half of the crew headed back to Paris to catch a flight the next morning. The rest of us moved to our new hotel, about an hour from the track in the beautiful town of Chartres.

Friday, June 12, 2015 – We had planned to use Friday to finish up the trackside photography but since we were done with that and there wasn’t much on track activity we decided to head to Paris for the day and see some of the sites. It’s a beautiful city and a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I won’t bore you with the details of our walking tour but I will say it was great to be back in Paris. I lived in the city many, many years ago and this was my first time back. Felt a little like going home again.

Saturday, June 13, 2015 – Early alarm so we could get to the track and beat the traffic. I guess we should have left a couple of hours earlier if we wanted to get in before the crowds. Luckily our all access passes still worked and we were able to find a nice parking spot in the infield not far from the paddock. Today was our chance to see, experience and photograph the facility in a race setting:  the crowds, the carnival, the pits, corner workers, the shops and displays. Everything had really come alive and the circuit had a completely different feel now that several hundred thousand race fans had arrived.

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We watched the pre-race ceremonies and start of the race from a balcony near the media center – it’s a great place vantage point.  We could see the tens of thousands of spectators jammed on the front straight. I have been to countless races and never experienced anything like this. The Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring 12 hour, even the Indy 500 pales in comparison to the Le Mans experience.

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We shot more photographs throughout the afternoon and into the night. We’ll use these for reference so we can incorporate the atmosphere into our digital version of the circuit.  As you can imagine the track has a completely different look and feel once it is populated with race fans!

Having worked until literally the middle of the night and then driving an hour back to our hotel we were completely wiped out. We never did manage to make it back to the track Sunday as we needed to catch up on some sleep. We eventually hit the road and headed back to Paris for the night so we could catch an early flight back Boston.

It’s hard to put into words what it was like to be at Le Mans and to be a small part of the team that is bringing iRacers this great track. Everything came together so quickly and thanks in large part to Greg’s ability to plan, organize and keep us on track (see what I did there?) the trip was a huge success. We even managed to keep this all a secret. None of us posted anything on social media about being at the race. No one wore any iRacing gear – quite a change for a marketing guy like myself who lives and breathes our brand and almost always wears something with the iRacing logo emblazened on it. I actually had to go out and purchase a couple of new shirts before I left as literally 90% of my shirts say iRacing on them!

With more than 35,000 photos, a complete laser scan and even video reference of laps driven in the rental car we have everything we need to recreate this iconic track.

While the release of this track is still a long way off, I know that we’ll bring you the absolute best version possible. From the perfectly modeled track surface, to the subtle details on the houses lining the circuit – it will be unlike anything you have ever seen and it will be worth the wait, I promise.

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Link

Road Racing in America

Road Racing in America

My latest blog post at iRacing.com


Racing is crazy, let’s keep it that way

In the wake of Dan Wheldon’s tragic death in an Indy Car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway everyone and their brother has written something about it. Make the cars safer. Slow them down. Reduce the downforce. Fix the tracks. Some have even suggested that it is time to ban motorsports all together. Everyone is entitled to an opinion – it’s a free country and blogging is free too – but most of these so-called experts are nothing more than professional talkers who actual gain more when there is a tragedy like this as people actually read what they write. If Wheldon hadn’t been killed I suspect I wouldn’t have seen more than a side blurb in the main stream media regarding the race. With the tragedy all of a sudden everyone is a motorsport expert.

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The one solution that I haven’t seen suggested anywhere is simulation. Why not get rid of the cars all-together and make the professional drivers race online. The technology already exists. It’s called iRacing.com (yes I work for the company). You can race a virtual Indycar, NASCAR Cup car, Formula One car or practically anything else. It is completely safe, low emissions and very inexpensive. What’s not to like? I suppose the safety equipment manufacturers would lose out but they could start making sim racing equipment instead as the market would surely grow.

So what do you think? Ludicrous? Absolutely. Without real-world motorsports there is no sport of racing online. The danger, the speeds and the ridiculousness of real world motorsports are what make sim-racing possible. Those of us who do sim race know that we are not actually racing. We know that we can’t crash and get hurt or killed. We know that we don’t have the high cost of fuel and tires to worry about. That’s why it is so appealing to us – duh.

Motorsport has always been dangerous. It has also continued to get safer. If you think that the motorsport community only thinks about safety when someone is killed you are sorely mistaken. Next year’s Indy car, the safer DW12, was well under development (ironically with Wheldon as a test driver) well before the accident. The media only talks about safety when it sells papers or TV ratings.

Let’s not let the media guide motorsport. Let those who know what they are doing make the decisions – drivers, sanctioning bodies, car designers. These are the people that can actually make a difference. They already have and they will continue to as long as we let them do their jobs.

RIP Dan and every other driver who has lost their life doing what they love.


my flag – {Posted 9.11.2011}

September 11, 2001

I rushed home from work after watching the second tower fall to the ground live on TV. I felt compelled to pick up my then one-year-old son from the pre-school he was attending as if having him near me could keep him safer from these acts of violence. Laura worked in the same school but I felt I needed to bring him home anyway. I watched hours of coverage throughout the day – I was and still am a news junkie so I needed more information. I couldn’t stop watching, listening and reading well into the evening.

I don’t remember the specific moment when it happened. I suddenly felt compelled to raise a flag outside our home. The problem was I had not gotten around to purchasing one. No problem, I’ll just go pick one up.

I went to the closest store I thought would carry American flags – Kmart. I walked the aisles looking for the flag section. Nothing. Finally, I asked an employee. He looked at me like I had two heads and said they only carry flags around the fourth of July. Really? That seemed rather disappointing given everything that had happened today.

On to my next stop. HomeDepot. Surely this hearty American store would have something. Again I walked the aisles. Nothing. I found a salesperson and asked for some help locating the flags. To my dismay I got the same response I received in Kmart. They only carry flags in June and July. This was going to be harder than I hoped.

Next, I stopped into several pharmacies as they seem to carry a little bit of everything these days. Nothing. I didn’t even bother to ask after I walked the aisles. It was getting late. Stores were closed or closing very soon. I needed to get a flag. I needed to find one soon. I remembered there was another store down the road that would still be open. I headed that direction.

The number of cars in the parking lot signaled I had made it before closing. This American institution must have something with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on it. Instead of aimlessly walking the aisles I decide to ask for help right off the bat. This time the response to my flag request was yes! I was told the aisle and I headed straight there. Sure enough, there was a rack full of flags. It was the first time I had smiled all day. Thank you Walmart.

I grabbed the largest one they had and brought it to the checkout line, paid, and headed home. I immediately hung it on the railing of our deck. I didn’t manage to find a pole to go with the flag so this would have to do.

It was a simple thing to do, but somehow it made me feel a little better. We still didn’t know much about what had happened but I felt like as long we could still fly American flags somehow, somehow, we would all get through this. I knew things would never be the same, but we would get through this.

 

September 11, 2011

Ten years later. Ryan is 11 going on 16. Connor is 7 going on 11. The boys are old enough to have heard about 9/11 but neither really understands it. I can’t say that I do either. Today seemed like a good day to tell them a little bit more about it. What can you tell kids though? How about my flag?

I still have that flag I looked so hard for on 9/11. I stopped flying it years ago as it shows some wear – a few small holes and a couple of stains. As a Boy Scout, I was taught to respect a flag and that you shouldn’t fly damaged ones so I had purchased a sturdier nylon replacement that I fly year-round. My 9/11 flag has been tucked away in my garage for a while and I haven’t really known what to do with it.

I dug out the flag and asked the boys to help me with a project. They are always eager to help when tools are involved. A hammer, a couple of nails and a small ladder were all I would need for today’s project. As I climbed the ladder and put the first nail in I told the boys the story of my 9/11 flag. It was a little cathartic.

The flag was now flying again. It looks good on the side of our house. I think I’ll fly it again next year, and the year after that. I hope that anyone who sees it will forgive me for flying a flag with some holes in it. If they knew the story I bet they would.


Twice around the clock, well not exactly. . .

I was off to Daytona, again. I’ve been there a number of times over the years  for everything from Rennsport Reunion, to test days and the Rolex 24. I’ve been to the Rolex 24 as a fan, as a vendor and as a car sponsor. This time would be different as I was working for a team that was competing in the twice around the clock race. In case you are wondering, no, they don’t let me drive. I am the PR guy for Mitchum Motorsports. I also shoot photos for the team. This year we were entering a Porsche 997 in the Rolex 24 along with our two Camaros we run full time in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.

The 86 car on track

Our weekend started strong, with both of our Camaros finishing in the top ten in the season opener. The entire Mitchum team was feeling good about our results Friday afternoon. Both Camaros had struggled in qualifying yet finished with good championship points. No one said it, but I think everyone was hoping the same would hold true for the #86 Porsche in the 24.

Mitchum’s driver lineup for the 24 included two-time class winner Randy Pobst and three rookie drivers – Joey Atterbury, Cooper MacNeil and Derek Whitis. While rookie drivers in the Rolex series, all three have plenty of experience racing. Atterbury competed in the Continental Challenge in 2010, Cooper placed second in the SCCA National Runoffs last fall and Derek runs Freedom Autosport, another Continental Tire team where he races Mazda MX5’s regularly. Our plan was to start our veteran driver, keep the nose clean and see where things shook out when the sun came up. Sounded pretty simple to me.

Randy took the green flag at 3:30pm . By about 3:31pm, as I watched from the photographers’ coral in the international horseshoe, the #86 car was into the outside wall. James Gue in the #41 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8 made contact with our car and pushed Randy off into the grass and ultimately into the wall. I can’t express in words how gut wrenching it is to see your team car go off track and into a wall on lap one of a 24 hour race. It was almost surreal. The amount of time and effort, not to mention money, that goes into a Rolex 24 entry is mind boggling, and to see your hopes dashed on lap one is a feeling I don’t wish on my worst enemy.

Randy off on lap 1.

Over the team radio I hear Randy report he is in the wall and then a calm and collected Chris Mitchum (team principal) responds with directions to the driver and crew. We went straight to the garage to assess the damage and affect repairs. The team did an outstanding job of fixing what they could and getting the car back on track.

Randy finished his stint, albeit with a less than perfect car, and turned the reigns over to Cooper who drove exceptionally well for his first Rolex race. Joey was next in the car for a double stint and he too kept the car out of trouble before turning it over to Derek just after the sun went down. Unfortunately another RX8 would cause problems for us. Heading into the infield portion of the circuit, the offending RX8 dropped fluid all over the racing line. Derek found the fluid before the flagmen did and he was into the wall, further damaging the left side of the car.

After another trip to the garage Derek was back on track and keeping a good pace. We weren’t going to get our laps back but if you follow endurance racing you know that just by clicking off laps you can often improve your position – lots of cars have problems over the course of the race.

My close encounter with an RX8

Sometime during Derek’s stint, while I was once again shooting pictures in the international horseshoe, I got to experience the impact of a car first hand. As I stood against the blue guardrail I was panning my camera to capture an image of a car rounding the corner, I heard the crowd behind me get really loud all of sudden (keep in mind I was wearing a crew headset and cars were racing at speed so it is hard to hear much of anything). It suddenly registered with me that something was happening near me so I spun to look back down the track toward pit out. Just as I turned my head another RX8 slammed in the guardrail exactly where I was standing and abruptly came to a stop. Water from the tire barrier splashed on me just as I felt the impact. Wow, that was close!  After the car was pulled out and taken to the garage I did notice a few of my fellow photographers giving me nods and smiles – signally they had all been there before and they knew the feeling I had just experienced. No harm, no foul, right? Once my heart rate returned to normal I started snapping pictures once again. I also swore that I wouldn’t tell my wife Laura this story, oh well.

Back to the race. Derek would find himself in the garage again after a big spin in the bus stop. The car was towed back slowly as we were concerned we had lost the engine. After a thorough checking out of the car, including a visit by a Porsche Motorsports engineer, it was determined we were ok. Cooper would head back out on track for his second stint of the race.

After just a couple of more laps I heard the call on the radio that we were off in the bus stop again. This time there was contact with the wall which would put an end to our Rolex 24. The entire crew worked so hard leading up to the race and especially during, in order to keep the car racing. It was definitely a huge disappointment to not finish but a great experience none-the-less.

The 86 shows some wear after multiple on track incidents.

If you have never been to the Rolex 24, I highly recommend it. There really is nothing else like it in this country. The Sebring race is only 12 hours and the six hours at the Glen is, well, just six hours. To put this race length into perspective, we raced for about nine hours before we had to retire. I found a hotel room at about 2am Sunday morning after packing up my gear at the track, slept for a few hours, hopped on an earlier flight which touched down in Manchester at 3:15 in the afternoon. As I was walking down the jet way it occurred to me that the race wasn’t even over yet.


hear me roar

It’s time for the Roar before the 24 again. Three final days to get the cars, drivers and crews ready for America’s premier sports car race – the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I am headed to Daytona with Mitchum Motorsports to support their two car effort – the #6.2 Camaro in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the #86 Porsche in the Rolex Series. This isn’t my first trip to the twice around the clock race, but it is the first time as truly part of a team.

Last year I was there as a sponsor of the #99 Gainsco car as well as a Mustang in the Continental Tire series. Prior years I was there in a vendor role, showing off iRacing.com to the teams and fans. I am really looking forward the opportunity to document this historic race for Mitchum Motorsports in both words and images.

The Roar Before the 24 will serve as a warm-up for the team. We’ll find the right setups, practice pit stops and get comfortable with everything. I’ll do the same and find some spots to shoot the cars on track as well as work the media center to get the word out about Mitchum’s two cars.

Daytona here we come!


Is it really over?

Vettel on his way to being the youngest F1 Champion ever.

Is it really over? I can’t believe it’s that time of year again. My least favorite season – it’s fall here in New England, but past the time when foliage is up. It’s getting colder.  Leaves are covering my yard.  It’s too early for any real snow.  It’s dark when I leave the office in the evening.   What’s not to like??? What really gets me down this time of year is the fact that the racing season is essentially over. Formula One crowned the youngest world champion ever just a few short weeks ago and Jimmie Johnson is king in the NASCAR world, again. GRAND-AM, ALMS and pretty much everything else we have TV coverage for has finished as well.

Upon reflection, I can’t remember a year where more titles went down to the last race of the season (F1, Indy Car, NASCAR Sprint Cup) or one with more surprise victories(Rolex 24, Daytona 500, Brickyard 400). For me, it was truly a great season for motorsports. My wife will tell you I watched far too many hours of racing on my DVR, but it was worth it. Racing is such an exciting sport, I just can’t get enough of it. Some of the highlights for me are below:

  • The unknown team with the unsponsored car, Action Express Racing, winning the Rolex 24, beating the dominant Ganassi team along the way
  • Jamie McMurray winning the Daytona 500
  • Sebastian Vettel winning the World Championship in the last race of the year, having never lead the points at any point in the season
  • Jimmie Johnson winning his fifth consecutive championship
  • Peugeot winning the Sebring 12 hour race
  • Audi winning Le Mans, again
  • Chip Ganassi winning the Daytona 500, Indy 500, Brickyard 400, Indy Car Championship and GRAND-AM Rolex Series championship
  • Greger Huttu winning 15 out of 16 iRacing Drivers World Championship Road races on his way to winning the crown of best road racing sim racer
  • Richard Towler winning the NASCAR iRacing Series World Championship and being runner up in the iRacing World Championship Road Racing

Jimmie Johnson heads out on track and to his 5th consecutive title.

There were many more exciting moments in racing this year. What’s your most memorable?

What’s mine? It’s a tie for me – JJ’ 5th and Vettel’s 1st.


Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

We are about to release the Williams FW31 at iRacing.com so I thought now would be a good time to revisit the age old question. . . . . Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

Is Jimmie Johnson, the four time reigning champion in NASCAR’s highest level series, better than Lewis Hamilton, F1 star and past champion? What is more difficult, driving a 3,450 lbs brawny stock car shaped like a brick with a gigantic V8 under the hood or driving a sculpted 620 kg open wheel car with a 2.4liter V8 that revs to 18,000 rpm?

Jimmie Johnson at NHMS in September 2010.

Sure there have been publicity stunts where drivers from each series swapped cars for a couple of laps, but they never really had enough time to get up to speed with the new cars. And what about the F1 drivers that moved to NASCAR like Juan Pablo Montoya? He was fairly successful in F1 when he ran in a top performing car but he has yet to see the same level of success in NASCAR as of yet. He also won a few races on oval tracks in Indy cars so he definitely gets the whole turning left thing. Does this mean that it takes more skill to race in NASCAR compared to F1? If that is the case how come the less successful NASCAR drivers aren’t jumping ship joining F1, surely they could win there if they are as talented as NASCAR commentators make them out to be.

Let’s face it, winning at these levels is hard to do. You really are racing the best of the best (minus the back markers who seem to buy their way into the series). You need skill, equipment, luck, as well as a team that can back you up. In NASCAR, where the cars are so similar between the teams, JJ clearly has the edge on everyone right now. No doubt about his skill as a driver, Hendrick cars are fast, he somehow misses the ‘big one’ more often than not and he has one of the smartest crew chiefs and most reliable teams in NASCAR. On the other hand, Formula one puts more emphasis on the equipment since each team build their own car from the ground up. To win, drivers still need skill, luck and a solid team, but there is not much a driver can do if the car he is driving is inferior to the rest of the field.

Hamilton, Alonso and Button in Montreal June 2010

In F1, qualifying is crucial. It is very hard to pass due to current car regulations, although it is getting better, so drivers need to be able to turn that ‘golden lap’ when the pressure is on. In NASCAR, qualifying rarely selects the race winner – it is basically used to sell more tickets and ads on TV. Qualifying only matters for the few that might not make the field, and several of these guys don’t even plan to race the entire distance (maybe that is where Nick Wirth got the idea to design the Virgin Racing F1 cars with fuel tanks too small to complete a race). One might even argue that in order to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race you first need to just survive the 300-400 laps before the final caution, and then race to the finish. Does merely surviving 480 miles at Daytona so you can race the final 15 minutes make you a more skilled driver than someone who has to race all out for an entire Grand Prix?

So where does this leave us? NASCAR or F1? Remember, so far Jimmie Johnson won all of his championships without ever winning a race in which he had to turn right. I suspect we’ll never know for sure and we certainly won’t all agree who is better. My opinion is that F1 drivers are more skilled behind the wheel – they drive their cars on the edge at ten-tenths all of the time, race in variable conditions including rain and have so much less room for error with the fragile carbon fiber suspensions.  NASCAR drivers, well none of that applies.

Who thinks I’m wrong? Oh and by the way, this is not a debate about which makes better racing for the fans, I am saving that one for another blog entry.


Saving the world one race at a time

My latest blog entry is posted on iRacing.com, check it out!

June 7, 2010

A couple of months ago I was so persuaded by a trailer video of Battlefield 2: Bad Company that I simply had to go out and buy the game –  it was video a coworker forwarded to me following a discussion about running a video contest here at iRacing. I hadn’t played a FPS game in years but I had always enjoyed them so I figured why not?  Besides, I was always pretty good at these types of games back in the day so the online multi-player versions should be a piece of cake. . . .

Off to Best Buy I went and, after picking up the game and a new mouse, I was ready to kick some a$$. I moved my driving chassis out of the way and sat down to dive into my new game. I immediately jumped into a multi-player session and was summarily killed. After respawning I was killed again. Wow, this is a little different than what I expected. After about 30 minutes of this lather, rinse repeat process I decided I should maybe try the offline version. This way I could learn the basics, get familiar with the controls and most importantly, get a few kills under my belt. This turned out to be the wise choice.

. . . read the rest at http://www.iRacing.com.


Game or Simulation?

My latest blog entry is posted on iRacing.com, check it out!

What makes a game a simulation or a simulation a game or are they the same thing? Is it all just marketing or is there a real difference? . . . . . . . .


Daytona Is Where I Want To Be

What a weekend for iRacing! The RACC runoffs, the Rolex 2.4 and our involvement in the Rolex 24. Sean Siff and  I were in Daytona this past weekend supporting our teams and many drivers who were competing for the coveted Rolex watch.

Our weekend in Daytona started-off a bit ominously as it appeared the iRacing curse had struck again. The curse is not really a curse but more of a string of bad racing luck. The two cars we sponsored last year both were wrecked on track – Marcos Ambrose’s Camry at Pocono and the Daytona Prototype shared by Ambrose and Carl Edwards didn’t even make the green flag at Montreal. I had hoped we were starting with a clean slate this year but just as we arrived at the track on Thursday I received an e-mail from the office informing me that Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked the GAINSCO car.  Yes, the very car we had partnered with for the Rolex 24! At first I thought the e-mail was a joke but I quickly realized it was not.

As soon as we got to the infield of the track we headed straight to the 99 car’s garage to survey the damage. Initial reports were not good as the team was planning to go back to Texas to get the backup car. They were hopeful they would be ready with a new car in time for the race-no guarantees though. This was not good but there was nothing we could do at this point so we moved on to meet with our other driver, Andrew Caddell. Andrew was driving for Rehegan Racing in a Mustang, competing in the Fresh From Florida 200 in the Continental Challenge Series. This is the support race that will be aired on SPEED on February 13 at 7 p.m. eastern time.

Andrew is an iRacer and an accomplished racer in the real-world having won the Mustang Challenge series for the past two years. iRacing was sponsoring Andrew for this race in his orange Mustang. Our logos were featured on the doors and the roof. Andrew and his co-driver Kenny Wilden were struggling in practice, only managing to post a top 15 time. Eventually the team sorted out the setup and Andrew was able to qualify third. After Andrew provided his blog update we called it a day and planned to regroup Friday morning.

An early wake-up and straight to the track to check on our cars and get some interviews for 3 Wide Life, a racing show for which iRacing is the primary sponsor. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the 99 team was able to repair the car over the night after Jimmie Johnson used his personal helicopter and jet to shuttle parts to the track. In fact, the car was already on track when we arrived! Things were looking up for iRacing!

A few more driver interviews were completed including Jimmie Johnson and Alex Gurney, and then it was time for the Continental Challenge race. We were lucky enough to get to the grid in time to wish Andrew luck and then watched the race from the pit stall with the rest of the team. What a great place to watch a race! Caddell made a clean start and the race was going well until the first caution. Upon the restart the car developed a problem, it was down on power. It turns out it was due to a cracked header. The car was still handling well and Andrew managed to hold onto a top ten finish, which is a testament to his driving ability.

After the Continental Race, we headed to the Gainsco corporate party where we were demoing our software to Gainsco employees and the drivers of the 99 car – Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (a long-time iRacer), Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser. After some brief words by Bob Stallings (team owner) and a Q&A session with the drivers the driving competition began. Obviously we were running the DP at Daytona. Bob Stallings posted a time of 1:59.802. Jimmie went next laid down a really quick time right off the bat, he posted a 1:43.703 on his first flying lap. Jon Fogarty went third and put up a time of 1:54.122. Alex then posted the fast lap of the driver competition, a 1:42.537 and the crowd went wild. It was a lot of fun coaching these world class drivers and all of them noted how great the software was.

Saturday morning was another early day to the track. Our mission was to track down another iRacer competing in the Rolex 24, Justin Wilson. We wanted to get a quick interview for 3 Wide Life and managed to meet up with Justin at his RV. The interview took place on the walk from the RV lot to the drivers meeting. It was sheer madness fighting through the crowded infield while trying to keep the camera and mic focused on Justin. Kudos to the crew from 3 Wide Life!

At 3:30 pm the race got underway and the 99 car was running well. The team settled into a comfortable fifth place. Positions changed as cars adopted different pit stop strategies but the car was in a good spot when we left for the evening. I wasn’t about to attempt the all nighter!  In the middle of the night the car did head to the garage for some minor work which put it down a couple of laps but, when we arrived at the track in the morning, things were still looking good for a possible podium finish for the Red Dragon. Unfortunately that all changed around noon, when there was less than 4 hours to go. Jimmy Vasser reported on the team radio that he was showing zero oil pressure. He pulled it off the track and it was towed back the garage where the team ultimately diagnosed an oil pump belt failure. The race was over for the 99 team.

While we were certainly hoping for a victory in the Rolex 24 (I was secretly hoping for a new watch) the entire event was a huge success for iRacing regardless of the finish. We got tons of exposure to racing fans both at the track and around the world, and three of the top four finishing cars had iRacers on their driving teams (P1 – Joao Barbosa/Action Express, P2 -Justin Wilson/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, P-4 Colin Braun/Krohn Racing). Being part of the race weekend was a fantastic way to connect to motorsport fans. Daytona really is the place to be this time of year!



It’s the most wonderful time of year

Living in the northeast US I am used to cold, snowy winters, I actually enjoy them. What I don’t like about winter is that it is the off-season of motorsports. Sure there is still some racing going on around the world but none of it is covered on US television so essentially motorsports is on winter break. Now winter is still here but it is the end of January which means racing is about to start again!

Anything is possible at this point in the season. Whomever you root for – the championship is still a possibility. New rules and new teams add questions and intrigue. How will the new COT spoiler work, who will be behind the wheel when USF1 debuts their cars? How will Danica fair in a stock car and will she win the Indy 500? The questions only increase the anticipation. The racing gods have yet to bestow any victories or take away any dreams. It really is the best time of year for race fans.

This year I am even more excited about the start of the racing season than usual. So much is going on at iRacing – the official NASCAR series are about to start, we just signed a deal with Williams F1 to bring the FW32 to the sim, the iRacing Rolex 2.4 is this weekend, we have partnered with the #99 Gainsco car for the Rolex 24 (you’ll see our logo on the rear wing) and we sponsored Andrew Caddell’s Mustang in the Continental Challenge race at Daytona. As a diehard motorsports fan I have always anticipated this time of year, but always as a fan. Now I actually feel as if I am part of the world wide racing community.

This weekend’s iRacing Rolex 2.4 is sure to be a great event; unfortunately I’ll miss it as I will be in Daytona for the Rolex 24. I’ll be tweeting live updates from the track and garages though. Keep tabs on the iRacing cars by following iRacing on Twitter and becoming a fan on Facebook. I ‘m disappointed to miss the iRacing Rolex 2.4 but thrilled to be part of the official opening of the 2010 racing season.

What has you most energized about the upcoming season? NASCAR, F1, sports cars, iRacing? Will the drama in the paddock be more interesting than the battles on the track? Let me know what excites you about 2010 motorsports.

iRacers to watch at the Rolex 24:
Alex Gurney #99 Gainsco Riley DP
Justin Wilson #01 BMW Riley DP
AJ Allmendinger #6 Ford Riley DP
Colin Braun #75 Ford Lola DP
Derek Johnston #77 Ford Dallara
Jordan Taylor #30 Mazda RX8
Spencer Pumpelly #71 Porsche GT3

Continental Challenge
Barry Waddell #99 BMW M3
Andrew Caddell #59 Ford Mustang
Trevor Hopwood #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Adam Burrows #12 Kia Forte Coupe
Josh Hurley #181 VW GTI


Danica or Michael?

Danica Patrick will don fenders in 2010, joining NASCAR part-time.

Danica goes NASCAR. Schumacher returns to Formula One. Coincidence? Both NASCAR and F1 will benefit from such high profile names joining (or rejoining). The fans will eat it up. TV ratings, ticket sales and merchandise sales will be up. And let’s not forget about ad revenue. I ‘m not saying that NASCAR or F1 are responsible for Danica and Michael becoming the stars of their sports but I am sure they both hand their hands in it – at the very least making it as easy as possible for them to go racing. Why else would they make these moves – money or ego perhaps?

How about Danica and Michael’s competitive drive. Neither racer needs the money but they both seem to crave the limelight and the thrill of racing, who can blame them really. Racing is an adrenalin filled sport and to have the opportunity to race at the highest levels of motorsport is every racers dream. For Michael and Danica living the dream is what racing is all about.

Shuey makes his return to F1 in 2010.

Who do you think will have the larger impact on their series?


Going Clutchless

It all began at the Glen – turn one of my last on track session. I stepped on the clutch as I was braking, beginning my shift down two gears just prior to turn in. I pushed the shift lever forward but I couldn’t find my gear. So I tried pushing again, and again nothing. I quickly checked my mirrors again to make sure no one was closing rapidly, thankfully no one was near. As my heart rate went up I thought about what all of my PCA driver instructors over the years had told me to do when something doesn’t go as planned – don’t panic!

I kept my 944 S2 on line through the corner so as not to do anything too abruptly. Once I exited the corner I pulled off line. I continued to try and find a gear as I was coasting down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I still hadn’t found a gear and now I realized there was no place to pull my car off track! As I came to a stop I whacked the shift lever forward as hard I could, partly out of frustration and partly out of desperation. This time it worked. I had found first gear! I checked my mirrors and looked for a flagger. No cars in sight so I slowly pulled forward limping back to pit lane. I managed to force my way up to third gear by the time I got to the bus stop.

I pulled into the paddock and my crew chief (my father) asked how my run was and I told him what happened. We looked under the hood and under the car and found nothing that looked out of place so we took the car for a short drive around the paddock. Shifting was difficult but nowhere near as bad as it was in turn one. As I debated if I should drive all the way back to New Hampshire with this problem or hire a wrecker my father offered me a tow. He unloaded his racecar car and loaded my car. He towed me seven hours home, spent the night and then drove back to the Glen to pick up his car and drive home to Virginia. Can you say Father of the Year! Thanks again Dad.

After consultation with everyone I know and some I didn’t, I concluded my clutch was shot. It was fitted with the older, rubber center clutch and this was textbook symptoms of failure. After pricing out a clutch job I decided I would try to do this myself (“myself” actually means with the help of a half dozen Porsche Club members, my father and a certified mechanic).

A friend offered her garage equiped with a car lift, and another offered his transmission jack and still many others offered ideas and strategies. Next my father came back to NH specifically to help with the job. I prepped the car a bit before he arrived by removing the exhaust and some other miscellaneous parts. My father had consulted with his mechanic Robert in Williamsburg, VA prior to visiting. Robert actually loaned us some tools and extra parts that he thought we would need, and boy did we need them! He also made himself available via phone for questions.

My father and I spent two full days under, inside and on top of my car before he had to leave. I was able to finish the job the following weekend in a couple of hours. The job required more patience and muscle than technical ability. Once you get everything apart it really only goes back together one way. Just make sure you connect your ground wires correctly if you want the car to start – ask me how I know some time.

I really want to thank everybody who helped – Judy, Edgar, Robert and especially my father. I saved a ton of money doing it by ‘myself’ and learned a whole lot about my car.


Hex-a-what?

The worlds of motorsport, both real world and online, are continuing to blend into one. I had the opportunity to drive the Cruden Hexatech simulator this past week at the Performance Racing industry show (PRI) in Orlando, FL and it is really pretty remarkable. Incredibly smooth motion including the ability to simulate yaw which I have not found in any of the other motion platforms I have driven. Being able to feel the back end of the car you are driving move around in a corner is incredibly important when it comes to replicating a real life driving experience.

The 6-axis Cruden Simulator

Race drivers who wish to sharpen their driving skills would no doubt find the simulator useful, albeit a bit pricey – $300K. The average sim racer will likely find it impractical in terms of size and price but if given the opportunity I do recommend you give the Cruden a test drive.

Now if only they had been running iRacing software I think the experience would have nearly perfect! iRacing’s track modeling and car physics are more precise than what I drove on the Cruden and would add a lot to the experience.  Yes, I am a bit biased as I work for iRacing but there really is no equal to laser scanned tracks with millimeter accuracy.

Combining multi axis motion with incredibly accurate track and car models will continue to grow as a way for racers to practice and hone their skills. Testing and training on a simulator is cheaper, safer and less time consuming than going to the track and in this economy what team wouldn’t want that.