Ingram's Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram
US F1 Ready For Busch?
If NASCAR Valley is the source for America's next Formula One car, it seems fitting that Kyle Busch is being wooed by the US F1 team.
We might have learned more about KB's ability in F1 machinery last year when he was invited by Toyota to test its car. But NASCAR officials insisted that Busch attend the Nationwide Series banquet held on the same weekend the test was being run in Japan.
Busch has found his way to the front in any type of machinery he's driven on all manner of tracks, so maybe the real question mark resides with the car itself.
Can US F1's pluck and inventiveness get a car onto the grid this year, then attract drivers of its choice in Year II, the first year Busch is available? That challenge falls to Ken Anderson, an accomplished designer and team principal.
In Europe, Anderson and the US F1 team are getting short shrift when it comes to Year I. There seems to be little appreciation for either cost-cutting among the F1 regulars, who vetoed a price cap for 2010, or how much infrastructure exists in the area around Mooresville, N.C., formerly known as the Redneck Riviera and now recognized as Race City USA.
In Mooresville alone, one can find a 40 percent scale model wind tunnel run by Penske Technology Group, a full-scale tunnel purpose-built for NASCAR vehicles at AeroDyn, and Windshear, the only moving ground plane wind tunnel for all full-size vehicles in North America, which was built by Anderson and funded by Haas Automation.
The high tech blowers are just the tip of the iceberg in an era when computer simulations, seven-post shake rigs, kinetics and compliance machines, carbon fiber rear wings, ultra-sophisticated shocks, etc., are standard gear in NASCAR. Theoretically, NASCAR participants have a greater challenge than F1 in getting a far heavier car through corners at higher speeds on less tire and downforce. The key is that stock car racing gets it all done more cheaply.
Introduced by the rule makers at the FIA, the idea of a price cap became the crucial issue in the genesis of US F1. The FIA's pursuit of lower costs opened the door for new constructors willing to accept a budget cap of 40 million British pounds (roughly $65 million) and demonstrate a season could be done for considerably less than what teams like Ferrari and McLaren are currently spending. Interestingly, the Virgin Group's sponsorship of the championship Brawn GP team this year amounted to about $400,000 per race. So evidently, US F1 ought to be able to find success without a budget equal to the government of a small country.
Initially, those under the cap were to run engines with no rev limit and constantly adjustable wings, an idea subsequently scrapped under the new Concorde agreement but still effective in getting new teams started. Two other start-up teams are also entered for the 2010 season, Manor Grand Prix and Campos Grand Prix. Their cars are being built by well known specialists at Wirth Engineering in England and Dallara Cars in Italy, respectively. So there's less concern about their cars showing up. The Euro-centric consensus is that US F1 is least likely to make the grid for the season opener in 2010.
One supposes that this is the reason race results are not mailed in. Given the involvement of YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley's expertise and investment capacity, and operations leader Peter Windsor's savvy in dealing with all the ever-churning political issues in F1, there's reason to look forward to seeing US F1 on the grid in Bahrain to kick off the 2010 season.
There's impatience to see the Year I car, which will literally break cover in the next month or so when the carbon fiber tub is submitted to the FIA for crash testing -- in line with the time frame of other F1 teams, which expect to be testing in January.
We're told that Cosworth, returning to F1 after three years off, will supply the horsepower to US F1 in a done deal. This in a racing series where agreements in principle often turn to confetti. The firm commitment with Cosworth was recently brought into question, in fact, by driver Alexander Wurz after he declined a job following an interview with US F1.
Last week, when Williams Grand Prix Engineering joined the Cosworth banner, jilting Renault, and Red Bull Racing also began to bandy about the Cosworth name as an engine supplier for next year, the question arose whether the company could also supply Manor, Campos and US F1 as previously agreed. Once again, the rumor mill considered US F1 to be the odd one out.
Being the odd ones out is familiar territory in F1 for the Americans during the last two decades when NASCAR rose to prominence and various aspirants came to naught in pursuit of the Grand Prix arena, the saga of Scott Speed being the most recent example.
The expectations in-house at US F1 are quite high, high enough that the team plans to have Hurley's posse record and post much of the goings-on during the 2010 season at the team's web site.
US F1 is beginning to ring of concision and hustle along with good ol' American pluck and ingenuity. Just how far up the grid that carries these lads -- and who will be driving -- remains to be seen. In theory, Year II is when the biggest gains arrive. That's when a slightly higher salary cap is scheduled to come into place for all F1 teams.
Quote of the Week: Peter Windsor, the lead operations officer at US F1, talks about how he and team principal Ken Anderson met stake holder Chad Hurley. This comment is taken from an interview with Windsor located at the FIA's official web site: www.formula1.com/news/interviews/2009/9/9875.html
"Ken and I -- with a very good support team behind us -- did a series of presentations around the US last winter, in the dark days of the recession. When there was all doom and gloom globally and nobody wanted to do anything, we were out in America just doing road shows on the East and West Coast. We had a good team of people putting together a collection of potential partners and investors in the company and at one of them Chad was invited through 'a friend of a friend of a friend' and although I didn't get to meet him that night of the presentation, I think Ken shook hands with him -- but that was about it. But obviously our presentation was very much in the YouTube mould -- guys starting small in the back of an office somewhere, coming up with a great idea, working hard -- and that's to some extent what we hope to be doing.
"I think Chad liked that idea and invited us to a working breakfast the next morning in Silicon Valley. Ken and I went there and it went on for about four hours. Chad asked a lot of intelligent questions -- the politics, the technology, the people, the television, the media, everything, and we obviously covered all that to his satisfaction because from then on he was pretty much on board with what we wanted to do. He could see that despite Formula One not having a great profile in America right now -- for a number of reasons, like no driver, no team, no race right now -- its strength as a global television sport in a recession is resilient. There are a lot of statistics that show that live televised sport is resilient to economic downturns and he loved that idea. I think he also loved the idea of Americans taking on the big guns and proving that we can do it. He did believe in us -- and here he is, believing in us. I cannot tell you how nice it feels to have somebody as nice as Chad behind us. It's a great honour and privilege for us being associated with him."
On The Tube: Along with Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, a Virginia native, remains the only driver to win a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville other than a Hendrick Motorsports driver in the five years since the tragic crash of Hendrick plane near the track. They drive for good teams, but Hamlin and the Hendrick competitors also just seem to bring more motivation to winning at Martinsville. ...Every great American sport has a Polish American star. Names like Nagurski, Musial and Krzyzewski come to mind. And Alan Kulwicki. Next year, Brad Keselowski steps up to the Sprint Cup full time. ...Given the way he advanced through the field to win the Nationwide Series race in Memphis, some might see a similarity between football's Bronco Nagurski and Keselowski, who is sure to shake things up in the Cup with Penske Racing.
Tech talk: How good has the Robert Yates-designed cylinder head been for the Ford V-8 engines? Introduced in 1991 by Yates, then chosen by Ford as its "out of the box" head mandated by new NASCAR rules in 1992, the Yates head is still going strong. It will be replaced next year by the new FR9 from Ford, which will make its debut this weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway. Chevy, meanwhile, has changed its cylinder head three times since 1992, including the current R07. Interestingly, the Chevy R07 cylinder head adopted the alternating valve configuration when it appeared in 2007. The Yates head and now the new FR9 have had the alternating valve configuration ever since when, i.e. the original Ford Cleveland block.
See ya! ...At the races.
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.