Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Tarmac, it's not just the black stuff under the wheels

Tarmac (short for tarmacadam, a portmanteau for tar-penetration macadam) is a type of road surface. Tarmac refers to a material patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1901. The term is also used, with varying degrees of correctness, for a variety of other materials, including tar-grouted macadam, Tarvia, bituminous surface treatments and even modern asphalt concrete.

What is it about tarmac that can excite so much passion for petrol heads? To ordinary people with normal lives and an interest in Italian food for instance, it’s just a bit of road from point A to point B. But stick some armco around it and paint a black and white chequered strip in the middle of a straight bit and suddenly it takes on a beauty and majesty that transcends ordinary everyday Tarmac and makes it a Motor Racing Track.

Give bits of the strip of tarmac names like Blanchimont, Curve Grande, Eau Rouge, Tetre Rouge and the Mulsanne straight and things really start to ramp up. The hairs on the back of the neck begin to raise, the shiver in the spine starts to spread and the petrol head starts to hear the voices of motor races long past. The sounds and smells of events long forgotten begin to stir in the memory and they are transported back to the moment Mansell passed Piquet down the hanger straight into Stowe, when Schumacher and Hakkinen fought up the Kemmel straight into Les Combes. Jackie Ickx walking across the Le Mans pit straight to get into his car in 1969
But not just moments of excitement and joy, moments of pain and loss too. Senna leaving the tarmac at Tamburello and not getting out of his car. Lauda engulfed in a fireball on the tarmac of Bergwerk at the Nordschleife. Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes leaving the tarmac of the Le Mans pit straight and scything into the packed grandstand

The moment a driver steps into the car and lights it up, is the moment that he goes out to battle the tarmac to tame the thin ribbon of history and write a new page, that’s what we live for, those are the moment when mere tarmac means life and death. This weekend there a two strip of tarmac that will sort the brave and the good from the pay per drive and the weekend warriors. New chapters will be written about this weekend and you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you were alive when history was written.

Le Mans. It’s like mainlining petrol straight into your eyeball, it’s like Mickey mouse on speed and your very first shag all rolled into 24hours. The cars are big and grunty and loud and screamy and fast and dirty and brutal and delicate and there right in from of you, wanting to be loved and daring you to come just a little closer. You have not lived until you’ve felt a Corvette V8 thunder past you, brake discs glowing, spitting flames as it down shifts into Tetre Rouge and then on into the black night of the Mulsanne straight at 200mph the engine note roaring “HERE I AM mmmmwwwwhahaHAHAHAHAAHAHAH” the red tails lights filling the night air. Seconds later an Aston Martin V12 screams past you and Audi whispers behind, “love us, come with us in to the night”.

It’s going to be a wet race and that means speed isn’t important. Not screwing up and keeping four patches of Michelins finest in contact with the Tarmac is what counts. Last year Audi failed to turn up to the party with a car that was too cleaver for its own good, France went loopy as Peugeot claimed a One – Two finish. This year the Audi is a better car than last year but can they beat a Peugeot that is balls out fast and desperate to win back to back. My monies on the French Peugeot squad of Minassian, Montagny and Sarrazin to beat Audis old boys Kristensen, McNish and Capello.

But I’ll be rooting for the family Mansell to finish in their first race at the Circuit De La Sarthe. Sans ‘tash and a good bit lighter than his Indy days Nigel is back with his two boys to take on the might of Audi Peugeot, Audi, Aston Martin and Oreca. He stands no chance what so ever of winning, just finishing will be a victory for him. But they’ll be 50,000 Brits on the wall cheering him on like we did at Silverstone all those years ago.

Meanwhile in Canada the speed junkies are gearing up for their 2 hour fix of Bernie’s babes. This is going to be a McLaren benefit gig..... No, wait trust me. Turkey was all about the Redbulls and their high speed corning handling car. Had Vettel not got all unnecessary, they’d have got a One – Two. Just like I predicted. I can’t be held responsible for Germanic insanity okay. The McLarens were right up their arses, I agree, but they couldn’t stay in touch with Vettel and Webber through turn 8.

Canada has no high speed corner; it’s a circuit of two halves. A long twisty section through the woods down one half. And a balls out eye wateringly fast bit along the St Lawrence Seaway up the other. McLaren and their sorted F’aduck means they can run more wing for the twisty bits and still stay ahead of the chasing pack on the fast bit.

Once they get to the end of the fast bit, they have perhaps one of the best chicanes in formula one. It a right left flick, taken at balls out speed in qualifying. But it demands a great deal of respect. If they get the right flick in wrong, they’ll hit the left flick very extremely wrong and the next thing they’re doing is leaving a big long dirty skid mark and bits of very extremely expensive car down the side of the wall of champions. There’s no run off here, no comfy armchairs and AstroTurf to meander across. There’s a dirty great big solid wall grinning at them ready to suck them and spit them out. It’s had some very famous names smeared across it over the years and doesn’t give a monkeys about reputation. All are welcome.

So Hamilton or Button for the win, if it stays dry Hamilton would be favourite. Throw in a bit of rain (maybe) Button has the smarts to win.

Not too far behind them, got to be the Redbulls. It’s all sweetness and light after the *ahem* incident last week. Webber has been given a contract for 2011 so he’s all sweetness and light. Vettel proved he could beat the Ozzy, just not finish the move. Both have a lot to prove now, but I think they’ll be all “after you sir”, “No I insist, you first dear boy” for the next couple of races. Taking out you team mate from the win is the cardinal sin after all.

I have a feeling that Kubica will go well here. The Renaults looking pretty handy after all and the French boys seems to have a bit of the old flair back whilst Petrov was unlucky not to be in the top ten last time out. They could start to trouble the bigger boys at this rate.

Ferrari seem to be going back to the good old days of having no clue what’s going on and blaming each other in a keystone cops kind of way. Others have pointed out that Alonso, normally the racing drivers racing driver, is cocking things up with no help from anyone else. A jump start in China, a needless crash in Monaco and failing to qualify in Turkey. Not the mistakes one usually expects from a two times world champion. Is he frustrated or losing his touch. Meanwhile Massa drops further and further down the pecking order. A bad result here and the papers will start to turn on him.

Mickey seems to have got the handle on Rosberg now. But the car isn’t a front line challenger and Mickey isn’t beating the young Mr Rosberg like he used to beat his other team mates. Also the FIA are starting to ask difficult questions about the new roll over/air intake scoop on the re badged Brawn and I think Mercedes will soon be saying this is a “Development” year and they’re looking to 2011 for the big breakthrough.

I think it’ll be the usual suspects in the top ten this weekend. However keep an eye out for Sutil. The Force India is on one of their target tracks and Sutil should be there or there abouts. A mistake from the bigger boys could see him in Q3 and then maybe top 5 beckons. Choose between him and Petrov for the top 10.

As for the rest, who cares?

But wait a second; the Tail End Charlie Challenge is at an interesting juncture. Lotus has not been the fastest for the last two races now. In Monaco, that waste of racing overalls Trulli had to attempt to roughly mount the HRT of Chandhok to save the good name of Lotus (More by luck than judgement from the HRT though). The Virgins beat the HRT’s and the Lotus boys in Turkey and I think maybe it’s time to start looking at the performance of the Virgins and ask if they’ve final caught and passed the Lotus chaps. The Virgin always had the straight line speed over the Lotus, HRT just has no speed at all, and straight line speed is what counts here. It was just a bit spit and saw dust in its construction. Maybe they’ve ironed out the kinks and are starting to move ahead of the other Tail End Charlies.

Screw the F1 though; Le Mans is where it’s going to be at this year. LMP1, LMP2, GT1 And GT2, four classes of cars, 56 car, 168 drivers, 24 ex Formula drivers, 1 Formula One champion and an eight times winner. 24 hours, twice round the clock. If you have any petrol in your veins find a TV at 2pm (UK time) this Saturday, and watch the greatest race on tarmac.


  1. Cheers, it was a hot and sweat keyboard after the all of that. Helpped in part by a cheeky bottle of red ;)

  2. Just postin to let you know I sometimes read this! Harj