Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing

Dan Wheldon when he was riding his wave of popularity at the beginning of the 2006 season (photo of 2006 Indy Downforce fan club promo, with signature - similar to the 2003 trade show handout). The previous year he had won the Indy 5oo and the 2005 IndyCar Series Championship over Tony Kanaan, Sam Hornish, Jr., Dario Franchitti, and Scott Sharp. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2011)

Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing

There was a time, not long ago, that Dan Wheldon was just like any other aspiring driver with some talent, lucky to be associated with a young, but experienced racing team, stood in an exhibition hall, next to a nicely painted Jim Beam logoed car, to sign autographs on images of himself standing next to a race car printed on light cardboard. This image of Dan Wheldon happened at a trade show in Las Vegas a few years back (2003) before he became the championship winning driver, 2-time Indy 500 winner, motorsports color commentator, and ambassador to American open wheel racing Dan Weldon people have become familiar with over the last half decade or so.

Dan was working a promotional appearance at the Las Vegas Convention Center highlighting the fact that he had just became a member of the Andretti Green Racing organization (replacing Michael Andretti as a driver) in the Indianapolis Racing League (now named IndyCar Series) and there he stood next to his Jim Beam Special Dallara happy to meet and greet people as he shook hands and handed out signed promotional printed images of himself in a similar pose. Being a race car driver isn't all "rockstar" glory ... it requires a lot of hard work.

This year has seen a growth in the stature of the gentle, and unassuming British character (the public, promotional persona), who has not only won the 2011 Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but has taken to working races behind the microphone.

Last weekend, the IndyCar Series (ICS) visited the cornfields of Iowa to run the 9th race in a 18 race season. The Iowa Corn 250 is run on a very tight, banked turn, .875-mile oval that, at race speed, takes only about 19 seconds to lap, and through this very fast lap action, Dan Wheldon proved himself as capable an announcer as he is an accomplished driver.

To those who watched the broadcast, carried by VERSUS cable channel for a unique Saturday night-time presentation, Dan Wheldon embraced the fast paced, event-filled three hours as if he'd been doing this microphone stuff for years. The broadcast pre-race featured a Formula 1 style pit lane interview walk with famed auto-writer Robin Miller and Dan, each taking a row of the two-row staging of the cars along pit lane. On the broadcast, first Robin, and then Dan (back and forth) would walk up to drivers, car owners, and engineers and create a quick one or two question interview that proved to be extremely entertaining. It's always fun to be able to catch a Ganassi or Penske off guard, especially since they rarely ever are, but this was the feel and pace of the segment - fairly smooth and spontaneous. Dan was really in the commentator zone when he was interviewing Dario Franchitti, when he said "This is my job" ... Dario graciously retorted "Oh no its not. Ahhh, you know where your job is ... [on the track]!" It makes one ask, just who was caught off-guard now?

During the race, however, is where Dan Wheldon really shined. Even though the cars were going around the oval at under 19 seconds a lap, Dan had the uncanny knack of having the broadcast presence of almost slowing down the action at moments so that the viewer felt as though they were in the cockpit and had the control of the car while it circled the track. The action did not slow down on the screen, Dan did not talk slowly, but the explanation and engagement with the viewing audience in Dan's style, translated itself to a kinda' audio slower (not slow) motion.

Forces have a funny way of working their way into situations. The fact that Dan Wheldon isn't driving for another ICS season championship in 2011 is a tragedy and all American open wheel racing fans see this. Until this situation is rectified, the same American open wheel racing fans may at least be able to have more color commentary from Dan Wheldon in future ICS races this season.

... notes from The EDJE

(Article first published as Dan Wheldon ... Championship Winning Driver, 2-Time Indy 500 Winner, Motorsports Color Commentator, Ambassador to American Open Wheel Racing on Technorati)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus

Nigel Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula One World Champion said: “What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. This is a very special place, Hethel, and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg.” [ctrl-click photo to launch YouTube video taken at the event] Image Credit: Lotus Group (2011)

From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus

Group Lotus has had a pretty great week for its brand and its addition to motor culture history.

Earlier this week, across the pond in England, Nigel Mansell officially opened Group Lotus’s revised and restored Hethel test track with a roar from the 1981 Essex-Lotus 81B in which he started his glorious Formula One career more than 30-years-ago.

Mansell led a convoy of seven stunning racing cars from the Lotus stable, including the innovative 1980 Type 88 twin-chassis car – which the rule makers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.

This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel tarmac since the early 1990s. The layout of the 2.2 mile circuit had changed very little, with one extra corner added, but the new asphalt and larger run off areas are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing. Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the new era of Lotus products, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy.

"A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model line up, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand," said Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO. "A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was the opening of our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track and not a major achievement in itself, and I agree. However, mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that step-by-step our vision is becoming a reality. It shows our entire workforce and our partners that we are delivering on our promises."

In addition to a spacious new workshop, the Hethel test track will soon be accompanied by a new pit building and hospitality suite.

On this side of the pond here in little ol' Iowa, the crucible of motor culture, where the IndyCar Series (ICS) will be holding its ninth race in a 18 race season, former F1 Japanese driver, Takuma Sato notched his first pole position in the ICS and in his career.

In qualifying for the Iowa Corn 250 held at the .875-mile oval at Iowa Speedway, the KV Racing Technology-Lotus team No. 5 Dallara beat out Danica Patrick, driving the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport. In keeping P2, Danica earned her first front-row start since Nashville Superspeedway in 2008.

"I want to say a big thank you to the whole team, the fans, the sponsors and everyone who has supported me,"
said Sato, who is coming off an eighth-place finish in the Milwaukee 225 (starting fifth). "It is a fantastic achievement. I knew we were going to be competitive because of last year (started seventh), and this morning I was truly comfortable in the car. I could feel where we needed to be with the setup for qualifying. Working so closely today with the three KVRT-Lotus drivers, working so closely with my engineers, we had a great answer."

The joy was short lived, however, when three hours later in the final practice session, the first Japanese driver to earn a pole position in IndyCar made contact with the No. 77 car driven by Alex Tagliani and the two cars slid into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. No one was injured but this may alter the starting order when the checkered flag drops at 8:00pm ET Saturday, June 25, 2011.

Regardless, Dany Bahar has to be happy with the successes this week - the unexpected delivery of promises here and those expected over there.

... notes from The EDJE

UPDATE from the Iowa Corn 250:

Takuma Sato raced upfront very well against Dario Franchitti but crashed out during the last round of pitstops. Teammate, Tony Kanaan was able to race hard to the end with Marco Andretti, swapping places P1 and P2 until Marco got the better of him.

KVRT-Lotus brought home a P2 podium finish and Tony Kanaan moves up to 4th place in the IndyCar Series season points championship.

(Article first published as From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus on Technorati)