Posted by jdpenna in Ferrari Challenge

The American contingent represented themselves well at the Ferrari Challenge World Finals at the Tuscan racetrack of Mugello in Italy. Scott Tucker scored a pair of eight places over all and two first places among the Americans which gave him enough points to secure second place overall in the American championship. Zak Brown did not make the trip and dropped to sixth overall.   “ I was disappointed but previous commitments prevented me from making the trip to Italy.  I hope to be there next year,” Brown said.
“All in all 2008 was a productive year for the Scottsdale/Della Penna Ferrari challenge team.  We won the biggest race of the season in Montreal, had a couple of podium finishes with Zak and had a great weekend in New Jersey with Pablo” added John Della Penna.  “ We look forward to 2009.”

Posted by jdpenna in From The Pit Lane

F1

This season was one of the most competitive in the history of Formula 1.  The title battle went back and fourth between Ferrari and McLaren; even BMW Sauber led the championship for a short time. The new season starts as soon as the checkered flag falls on the last race.   After 4,000 miles of racing in 17 events across that many countries the fact that the championship came down to the last three hundred meters of the last race of the season is nothing short of amazing.
There was so much development on the part of all the teams especially Ferrari and McLaren; it was truly an amazing season to witness.   Every season starts the same way with ten teams interpreting the rules handed out by the FIA and building their cars to the rules based on what they think is the best and most competitive design. This year the level of competition and development was the highest and most expensive in the history of the sport.
As the season went on, both top running teams embarked in massive development programs which made the McLaren MP24 2.5 seconds faster at the end of the season than it was at the beginning. The difference in performance between these two teams was often measured in hundredths and thousandths of a second but at the end of a day the championship was not decided so much by performance but by the mistakes made during the season by both teams.  Take away just one of the mistakes made by either driver or team and the point’s race would not have been as close.
2009 will be different; new rules will change the cars dramatically; less down-force, slick tires, and the KER system are some of the major changes that will be implemented. By now thousands of hours and many development parts have been tested in the wind tunnels and seven poster rigs at the respective factories to finalize the design of the new cars. As in 2008, teams will start with a design, which will not be frozen; rather they will start with cars that will continue to be developed throughout the season. In the old days teams would freeze the design at some point before the beginning of the next season and go into production with the cars.  Development through the season was limited to small aero pieces, some geometry changes, and engine and gearbox changes. Now the whole design seems to be in a state of flex.  McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and Toyota were a good example of that this year; their cars continued to evolve with each race.  In the case of McLaren and Ferrari they didn’t have any choice; the competitiveness of the championship demanded it.  One thing that is not yet clear is what impact the global economic slow down will have on F1.   With the way the car industry is doing here in the US and all over the world it’s hard to believe that some sort of effect will not be seen in F1.  While it is still the premier form of racing in the world it is still hard to justify the price tag, maybe F1 will need a bailout too.

IRL

If the stock market and auto executives begging for a bailout in Washington are any indication of the current state of the nation, American racing could see one of the worst seasons ever in 2009.  At a time when the IRL needs to revamp their formula with new chassis in 2010 and at a time when engine manufacturer’s involvement is desperately needed in American open wheel racing, this economic slow down could not have come at a worse time. Tony George made a big investment in open wheel racing last year which finally prevailed over the rival Chap-Car series; he gave all the Champ Car teams, who committed to a full season in 2008, cars and engines for the season, as well as a piece of the participation fund which was about $1.0 million dollars that helped a lot of teams survive.  That made for better fields and more competition, but 2009 will be different.  There is virtually no sponsorship money out there and car manufacturers are out of the game for the foreseeable future.  So what does that mean for the IRL? I think the smaller teams are in for a very difficult year and some of them will not make it.  The fact is that no matter what Tony and the IRL do in 2009 to help the competitors, you still need lots of money to do a whole season of Indy car racing in 2009. Even if they get free engines again and use the chassis they have, there is still travel, personnel, fixed overhead and oh yes, crash damage just to mention a few.   The bottom line is that you need at least $4.0 million to $5.0 million even with the help of IRL to be a full time competitor and is almost impossible to find that kind of sponsorship money out there today. So what can we expect in 2009? I think that we’ll go back to the 18 to 20 car fields and they may not be the same 18 to 20 cars every race. It’s unfortunate that this recession happened just when open-wheel racing could finally make a come back.
The bad news extends beyond open wheel racing as well, NASCAR teams are experiencing trouble selling sponsorship too but their situation is slightly different.   They are coming off the greatest boom run in their history; teams have gotten big and very expensive to run making their budgets hard to manage.   We’ve already seen some teams go out of business and others consolidate like the Ganassi and DEI marriage of convenience. Oddly enough I think many NASCAR teams may be more vulnerable than their IRL counterparts but it may not be as noticeable because they have so many teams.  In the last ten years or so the IRL teams were tightening their belts and looking for ways to be more efficient while NASCAR teams experienced unprecedented growth and bigger budgets with big infrastructures making it harder to lean out.  It’s going to be interesting to see how everything develops. Maybe this will be an opportunity for sponsors to see value in open-wheel racing with the IRL and the Indy 500.  I guess we’ll see.

Posted by jdpenna in John Della Penna

Paul passed away last week and to me that marks the end of an era; an era when Hollywood stars were in fact bigger than life; when they had an air of dignity and class rarely seen anymore amongst today’s version of Hollywood stars and even more rare amongst us regular mortals.
I had the pleasure of knowing Paul Newman although not very well; I used to see him from time to time when he owned a Can Am team that was based at Laguna Seca Raceway. I met him for the first time about twenty-five years ago when I was representing Willy T, Ribbs.  He invited into his motor home at Moroso during a Trans Am race.  I was I awe as we sat there during his lunch brake. His deep voice still resonates in my memory form that meeting. I saw him casually several times after that never exchanging more than a casual hello, and then one day he called my home.  I will never forget Cindy’s face when she told me Paul Newman is on the line and he wants to talk to you… what? I could not imagine what it could be about.  I nervously picked up the phone and after collecting myself I calmly said, “Hello Paul how are you?”   “I am well thank you. I just wanted to call you and welcome you to CART,” he said.  I was floored; we had just made the press announcement that we were going to compete in CART in 1997 and beyond.  I had heard that some of the other team owners were happy I was joining the series especially in light of the split, but he was the only one that called me. We spoke for a few minutes about my plans and hung up. From then on we always exchanged pleasantries when we saw each other at the track. He loved racing and he loved CART; he loved his open wheel team and as much as he was admired all over the world he admired fast drivers more, like Mario, Michael and Nigel.  He was a fierce competitor, I saw him drive on a number of occasions and I think he would have traded many if not all of his of his acting accomplishments for one professional racing championship. Last time I worked with him was during the San Jose Grand Prix when I helped organize a Go Kart race to raise money for charity.  He came, he raced and he charmed a bunch of Silicon Valley CEOs and did it wit a smile. I am sure the acting community will miss him, but I think the racing community will miss him more; he was a great ambassador for the sport and even a greater one for human kind. I know I am a better person for having known him.

Posted by jdpenna in From The Pit Lane

The race weekend was filled with excitement as F1 made their debut in Singapore; the first night race for these guys on a true street course, filled with tight corners and tricky chicanes, all in the middle of bustling down town city streets.
It rained Friday morning before practice leaving everyone wondering if there would be more rain.  During practice Hamilton and Masa were quickest with Kimi and Kubica in third and fourth.  Mark Weber hit the barriers during the first practice session and several other cars including Coulthard’s, Piquet’s and Trulli spun out.   During qualifying Massa proved to be quickest clenching the pole, with Hamilton, Kimi and Kubica behind him, in the order.  The race started quickly with Massa pulling ahead with a good lead.  Hamilton followed behind him waiting for a moment to pass.  The first quarter of the race was uneventful; Massa had a steady lead.  Massa then decided to pit during a yellow and that’s when disaster struck.  The team was still refueling when the pit light turned from red to green.  Massa charged ahead and ripped the fuel line out of the tank, dragging it all along pit lane, spewing gasoline all over, nearly injuring a few of his crew guys.  Massa pulled over the side of the pits and waited for his crew to dislodge the line.  Kimi then entered to pit, causing Massa to wait even longer for help.  After about 20 seconds or so, the crew ran down and wrestled with the line out of the fuel tank.  Massa eventually got back on to the track in dead last.  There were some movements up front and some crashes and spins in the back.  Kimi crashed in lap 58 and Massa spun leaving him to finish 13th.  Hamilton finished 3rd extending his lead over Massa by seven points.  Alonso won, running steady all race long, with Rosberg right behind him in 2nd place.  McLaren leads the championship by 1 point above Ferrari.  These guys have three more races to straighten it out and if Ferrari wants to pull ahead I suggest they get their stuff together.  Next is the Japanese Grand Prix October 10-12th.

A Word on Ferrari’s Mistakes

Ferrari was a very tightly run team when Russ Brawn was there and it seemed to stay pretty much that way for the first season or so after he left but I think his departure was really felt this year. Brawn’s philosophy is that if something is not reliable it should not be used in race conditions even if it proves to be an advantage. The reason for that is simple and it goes back to the basics of racing; to finish first, first you must finish. Ferrari has made too many mistakes as a team and had too many failures this season to really deserve to win the championship.  Singapore was a typical example of that. Massa did everything he had to do to fight for the title but the team let him down as it has many times this season.  I am not sure how the pit spot and release lights work, I can only assume that they are connected to some kind of motion or proximity sensor that signals the green light when the fuel nozzle is detached from the car, maybe it is hooked up to the handles of the nozzle so when the fuel guy pulls out, it activates the green light. But whatever it is, it didn’t work this time and it is not the first time, they had a similar problem with Kimi earlier in the year. So maybe the old paddle should have been used until the light system was completely reliable. I am sure that if Russ were still there that would have been the case. Making more mistakes than your competitors is very costly in F1 but making the same mistakes more than once is terminal. I think McLaren is way to smart and well trained to screw up now.  I think this championship is over for Ferrari and I predict McLaren will win it all in 2008.