March 31, 2006
Sorry if this gives any of you a sense of deja vu, but I've had to repost this article as part of solving the technical problems that I mentioned in an earlier post. The article remains the same, so if you're already read it, you're not missing out on any new content or stuff like that.
Portsmouth is a city that I publically despise, yet at the same time I still have a soft spot for it. As the capital city of east Hampshire (and maybe all of Hampshire, but I'm sure some Southampton people will refute that ;)), the Portsmouth people are a people who were proud of their rough, run-down and generally under-developed corner of the south coast. I use the past tense because, in the last few years, Portsmouth has seen some fairly dramatic changes that compensate for its other unpleasantries. The most notable of these changes is the construction of the centrepiece of the Gunwharf Quays shopping/entertainment complex.
Completed in late 2005, the Spinnaker Tower was origanally intended to be the focal point of the city's millennium celebrations. However, high-level bureaucratic incompentance ensured that the Spinnaker was delivered many years later than promised, and massively overbudget. But it was well worth waiting for; it's fantastic. It has the same appeal as the London Eye; it's an attractive structure that offers some brilliant views, although in this case you get to see the sea instead of the Houses of Parliment. It's interesting to note that you can't really see that much of Portmouth itself from the Tower, which was probably a concious design decision ;). However you do get views like this.
No post-processing here, kids, apart from a resize.
Back to ground level, Gunwharf Quays would still be a lovely development without the Spinnaker. Using land next reclaimed from the sea, Gunwharf really adds value to city (and therefore the south coast). It's a highly commercialised area with the usual mix of shops, a variety of restaurants, a cinema, bowling alley and some high-value flats to boot. It's even got the largest submerged underground car park in Europe as well, would you believe! Unsuprisingly they don't really harp on about that in their tourist promotion material :-p
Moving away from the coast, the centre of Portsmouth recently saw the well-documented demolition of the horrific, unused Tricorn Centre. This sizeable 60s shopping centre, lovely crafted out of the finest concrete, towered over the central shopping centre district. For as long as I can remember, the structure has been abandoned, and it's destruction was welcomed by all but a nominal, awkward few. Although the site of the Tricorn has only been replaced with a large car-park, the city feels much fresher without this symbol of economic failure on prominant display.
The next major development under way in Portsmouth is as a result of the work of this man.
Milan Mandaric (centre, blue jacket) is a hero amongst the citizens of Portsmouth, although his stock may have fallen a touch in recent times. When he bought the city's ailing football club, he injected a hefty amount of capital; and perhaps more importantly, a large amount of hope. Pompey (I'll refer to Portsmouth F.C as 'Pompey'; locals refer to the city itself as 'Pompey' as well) is a club that has spent many, many years barely escaping relegation from Division 1; only for the local press to confidently predict a certain promotion to the Premiership the next season 8-). I guess the local press for every non-Premiership club does the same, though.
Mandaric's efforts paid off. Pompey were able to secure some players who were way too good for Division 1, such as Paul Merson and Robert Prosinecki. They started to play some excellent football as well; they were a pleasure to watch. Combined with the brilliant atmosphere at Fratton Park and Division 1-price tickets, match tickets in those days were well worth the money. Pompey walked Division 1, and as you may well be aware have remained in the Premiership ever since (although that may not be the case for much longer).
However, the club's promotion to the Premiership gave the city another boost. You can't underestimate the pride that comes with seeing your team on Match of the Day every weekend, and this is what the people of Portsmouth feel. Pompey had the fans, the players, and the support of the city in place; all that they lacked was a worthy stadium for Premier League football.
This is soon to change. Fratton Park was pretty small even for a Division 1 ground, and it's nice to see that it's lasted for this long in the Premiership without too many complaints. However, Pompey could easily get 25,000 people in for each match, maybe as much as 35,000; so Fratton Park's ~20,000 capacity is hurting club revenues. Mandaric always knew this, and year or so ago began developing the land around the stadium, which used to be an old rail yard. First thing was the contruction of an industrial estate, which is something that the Fratton area of the city will greatly benefit from. There is now a long-winded plan to eventually construct a new stadium, which will be much more suitable for a Premiership club. Whether Pompey will still be in the Premiership by the time the stadium is built, who knows. I doubt it, given that they have an appalling squad at the moment, but at least it means Division 1 ticket prices again :-D
So in light of all these developments, why do I still despise the city? Good question, and to be honest I don't really know. I guess it stems from the fact that for so long, the city had only a handful of plus points, surrounded by some properly rough, oppressive areas. However, Portsmouth will never be the finest place in the world, even if the very-welcome developments continue, but as the city of my birth I guess I should really just love it for what it is :-p.
March 30, 2006
I turned down the opportunity to go to Silverstone today.
Today, a mate of mine, one of the most skilled drivers that I know, is giving passenger rides round the circuit, in his car.
He has an Ariel Atom 300.
Instead, I'm spending the day teaching myself topology and group theory.
If I don't get a First, it won't be through lack of dedication.
Call the doctor.
March 29, 2006
March 28, 2006
I'm glad to say that, as hoped, the BUKC race at Clay turned out to be nice and dry. Before Wednesday, four of the six races I'd done this season had been in greasy/damp conditions, so it was great to really be able to push the limit of the karts and feel them working. Having been pottering round in the wet so often, to be able to hang on powerslides out of corners, and experience the massive acceleration at work again, was a joy. However the day was, as has so often been the case for Warwick Motorsport in 2006, a bittersweet one.
The 6 sprint races of Round 7 took place in the morning, with each four-man team entering one driver in four races and sitting out the other two. By and large, this round was a bitch for Warwick…the As came 8th overall; whilst the Bs and Cs were 24th and 38th respectively. There once was a time when the Bs would have been pleased with coming 24th, but happily those days are long behind us :-D. There were some notable individual performances from some of our drivers though; and (raises own trumpet to mouth and blows, hard; apologies for doing so) I managed to take my highest sprint-race finish ever! Woohoo! A whopping 5th position from 12th on the grid…my prior best sprint finish was somewhere in the low teens, which isn't especially specatular. However, my result was made dissapointingly easier by this incident during the first lap, shortly after crossing the start/finish line:
This little pileup was one of the biggest I've seen in the BUKC. My Warwick C counterpart (making his dry BUKC debut) had started from 4th on the grid (grid positions are randomly allocated, btw) and managed to get airbourne after some guy gave him a massive shunt from behind. This particular corner is not the one to get punted off at, since it comes at the end of the fastest straight on the circuit, so you're doing maybe 60–70mph. Now, it doesn't take a genius to work out that when you're airbourne, you don't have much traction…and consequently my Warwick C teammate flew (literally) into the gravel. This guy that sent him airbourne also lost control, and it seems the pair of them managed to collect all the karts around them as they spun out. In total about 10 karts were taken out; I believe all of them were able to continue, and my teammate's nemisis got a severe reprimand from the race steward.
However, since I started from 12th on the grid, I was right behind when all this chaos unfolded. Happily I've always been good at keeping my nose clean whilst racing, so I managed to find a gap through the outside of the corner and managed to sneak round all of the spinning karts. Unfortunately there wasn't much grip through this particular gap, and so about four or five karts sneaked past me up the inside. Oh well….that was still about six or seven places gained almost straight away. I then drove pretty well for the rest of the race, had a super-smooth pitstop and brought home the goods. Get in.
The afternoon saw the three hour-long endurance races of Round 8. Each team enters a pair of drivers into two of the races, and sits out the other race. This round was much better for the As and Bs, although the Cs kept getting punted off and having their kart/s broken. Although the karts are allocated randomly to each team at the start of every race, the Bs ended up using the same kart for both races…which sucked, because it had 'gash' brakes. Even my flambouyant fresher teammate, who wouldn't back out of a risky overtaking move if his life depended on it, told me it was impossible to outbrake people with this particular kart. I heeded his advice; and unfortunately the gash brakes meant I had to compromise my braking distances. This meant I ended up having a suprisingly entertainly battle with a comrade from York, whom the formbook suggested was considerably slower than me. However, he kept outbraking me, but would then overshoot the apexes and I'd reclaim the position at the exit of the corner. Credit to him for keeping the racing clean; out of mutual respect he refrained from punting me off with a risky move, which I was genuinely impressed with. If I was in his position, I wouldn't have been quite so generous with myself ;-)
Regardless, despite the gashness of the brakes, me and my teammate managed to bring it home in 11th. Not bad. Unfortunately it would have been 9th position, but some backmarkers decided it would be amusing to try and take me out with two or three laps remaining…which I was not impressed with. I came up behind this bunch of about four or five backmarkers, and dispatched the first three with ease. The next two were to almost be my undoing…I was much quicker than the first guy through the chicane, so I got a good run at him and just drove round the outside of him along the proceeding straight. The next guy was only a few kart lengths up the road. Since he was clearly not that good, I decided to outbrake him (erk! earlier warning ignored!) and drive up the inside at the hairpin at the end of the straight. Not wise. As we were turning in, I was level with him and would have been ahead by the end of the corner. However, the first guy decided to outbrake himself for some reason and drives into the back of me. He forces the back end of my kart to step out of line, and so to keep it facing in the right direction I put on opposite lock, and stamp on the brakes. Happily this just about keeps me facing forwards, but the kart had slowed down dramatically and almost stalls…since it's clutchless, if you stop in one of these things, the engine dies. Fortunately I just about manage to coax the engine back into life, and into the meaty bit of the torque curve, but not before 7–8 karts have zipped past me. Including two guys who were chasing me for position. Bah.
However, the other B-team pairing also finished their race in 11th. I was very impressed with this, as that pairing (one of which was my flambouyant fresher teammate) had started to develop a reputation for crashing out. They kept things clean and drove really well, and the B-team finished the round in 13th overall. Not bad when you consider the brakes on our kart were gash, did I mention that? :-D
The As brought things home in 8th again, which was pleasing, as most of their endurance races this season have been a bit poor. The Cs were down in 42nd…one of their worst performances of the season. However, they did finish both endurance races in the pits with a broken kart :-s
Not wishing to sound like a broken record, but the announcement of the final Championship positions for the season were…bittersweet. Warwick C came 32nd, the Bs in 23rd and the As in 7th, out of 59. Last year, those results were 43rd, 28th and 6th out of 55. So, dissapointment for the As, but we're extremely pleased for the Bs and Cs. The three teams ahead of the Bs were Kingston A, Bristol A and York A, who are three fairly-well respected teams…indeed, the Bs are the 'sixth best B-team in the country' :-p.
So, despite the lack of a headline-grabbing result for the As, 2006 has been an excellent year overall for Warwick Motorsport, with the emergence of some serious talent from the Bs and Cs. Hopefully these new hopefuls will soon make the transition from merely 'very good' to 'race winner'...time will tell. Shame I (most likely) won't be around to see it happen, with this probably being my last BUKC race. I've raced against FRenault champions, GT drivers and Formula 1 hopefuls in the BUKC, and loved every minute of it. I'm also pleased to say that I've had a 100% appearance record in every BUKC race over the last three years..and I'm grateful for the people in the club who gave me the opportunity to do that.
(On a side note, did you know Nico Rosberg almost took up an Aerodynamics degree with Imperial? If he had, then it would have been us racing against him this year instead of likes of McLaren and Ferrari :-o. There's an interesting thought…)
If you've made it this far through this fairly sizeable post, then congrats…you're either a member of Motorsport, bored and looking for any outlets of procrastination, or very keen. If you're in the latter camp, I leave you with this thought, and blatant plug. One of our finds of the season had had NO prior experience of karting – in any form – since join Warwick Motorsport at the start of the year. In his third BUKC race he finished in 4th out of 35. It took me three years to finish 5th, and I'd been indoor karting for years before uni! So, if you're interested, please do get involved…we really do welcome newcomers to the fold and are proud of our non-elitist attitudes. You may turn out to be one of these naturally gifted people that can just win races without even trying ;)..and honestly, if you're into F1 it does give you a better insight into what is going on out on the track. Racing is always racing.
March 20, 2006
Not long to go now before the 2006 British Universities Karting Championship draws to a close on Wednesday, at Clay Pigeon Raceway in Dorset. So called because, unsuprisingly, there's a clay pigeon shooting range right next to the track. It looks like Brookes A have already got the championship in the bag, but behind them, things are fairly tight. Warwick A certainly have a chance of getting into the top 5 if things go their way. If they did, it would be a real acheivement – they've finished 6th for the past three years and have been a bit under-strength this season, unlike Warwick B and C.
It looks like the Bs and Cs will certainly take their highest ever championship finishing positions as well. As I mentioned in a previous post, both teams have been much stronger this year than in previous seasons. I think the squad that we are taking to Clay is going to be a bit weaker than the squad we've taken to the other races, but they should still put in some decent performances. It will be interesting to see how all of the Warwick teams stack up against SiY's team as well, who will be making a 'guest appearance' in the BUKC. His team probably won't have the depth to challenge for overall success, but I'll be pleased if either the Bs or Cs can get the better of them.
On a personal level, as much as I'm looking forward to the race, it saddens me to think that it will (almost certainly) be my last BUKC race for Warwick Motorsport. I'm confident that I can get a decent finish to round things off. I also have some personal battles to deal with as well…I have friends from the Coventry and Birmingham karting clubs with whom I have struck up some enjoyable rivalries with, so I hope to end my BUKC career by utterly destroying them :-D. I hope I'll have the chance to race SiY on track as well…it will be interesting to see if I've improved relative to him over the past year.
Annoyingly I learnt some really useful driving techniques at the last race (why oh why didn't I pick those up when I was a fresher!?) and I reckon I'll be able to apply them extremely well at Clay. Especially if it's dry…I'm much better in the dry than in the wet; and Clay is much more of challenge in the dry. Since it's a relatively high-speed circuit (the average lap speed is around 45mph for a good lap at Clay, however Buckmore Park is the quickest BUKC track, with an everage speed of 57mph for a good lap…not bad considering it's got four tight hairpins :-o), it's much more enjoyable in the dry. When the rain starts to fall, the grip on the karts we use really suffers, since we exclusively use fully-slick, hard-compound tyres. Consequently speeds drop considerably, especially at Clay, where many of the corners are just flat-out in the dry. In the wet, instead of trying to nail the perfect line through these corners to carry the speed, it's more a matter of just staying on track. Which means going much slower than usual…which isn't as fun. It's still an enjoyable challenge though, of course :-D.
March 19, 2006
The Grand Prix this morning was an interesting one. It wasn't anywhere near as spectacular as Bahrain, however it gave us another indication of how the season is going to develop. My first point is Jense, who is a cause for concern. Despite only being ten seconds off the lead at the end of the race, he still doesn't look like he's got the fight in him to take a win. Not intending to contradict myself, I would still be very suprised if he did not visit the top step of the podium this season. However, I think this will only come about if he's in the right place at the right time, when the other guys around him are having diffuclties. It will be the sort of race where him, Montoya and one of the Williams sneak onto the podium…the sort of race where the really big players (Ferrari, Renault, Raikkonen) have fallen by the wayside.
Which brings me nicely onto my next point…McLaren. Kimi's season is already looking like it will go the same way that it did last season, which would be a shame for us all. Also, am I the only person who thinks that the MP4-21 is really, really ugly? The media seem to love it, but they've seen it up close. I guess I should reserve judgement for myself until I see it at the Silverstone test sesh on the 26th April.
<quick plug>By the way, Warwick Motorsport will be going to watch that test, there's going to be a considerable number of teams there and it's FREE to get in! Bit of a bargin. I'll sling more details up nearer the time…but if you've never seen/heard an F1 car in anger, you really should join us. Regardless of whether you like F1 or not, these cars are absolutely stunning. Whenever I see one being driven as hard as it will go, I'm always astonished by the thought that people actually RACE these monsters? 22 on track at the same time? Legends, the lot of them.</quick plug>
More worrying for McLaren is Montoya…without any major issues he just hasn't performed this season, and today he was extremely average. Which is strange, considering he is supposed to be fighting for the one remaining McLaren seat for next season. Maybe he's already given up hope; more likely he knows something that we don't. Even more likely than both of those….he's just not very good.
Which once again seamlessly links into my next point, Nico Rosberg, who is indeed very good. He gave a legendary qually performance, especially considering that Webber is regarded (perhaps overrated) as a qually specialist. However Nico didn't have time today to make up for his appalling start. He got off the line cleanly enough, and fair play to him for trying to defend himself against Webber, but he carelessly compromised the pair of them and allowed Alonso to just walk into third. Driving your teammate into the wall at the start is all well and good, it's just not an intelligent thing to do when you both have quicker cars behind you to fend off. Once Alonso was past, the two Williams then fell down the order much too quickly for my liking, and as far as I could see this all stemmed from that start.
Bit of a minger with the two V8 Cossies going as well, which was suprising. I thought that with their extensive pre-season testing, they'd be pretty good with reliability. Top marks for Nico's pyrotechnics though, impressive work.
I suppose I should mention Fisichella as well, considering he won the race 8). He drove well, but to be honest the only challenge was from Alonso, which wasn't too much of a problem. As James Allen pointed out, he's the 'forgotten man' of F1 (probably the only reasonable statement Allen made in commentary all weekend), so it was nice to see him justifying his Renault seat. I hope that in Melbourne, McLaren and Ferrari (and my beloved Williams, hope springs eternal 8)) will be able to push the Renaults harder. Melbourne always produces a great race, so if the competition develops at the sharp end of the field, it should be pretty good indeed.
March 15, 2006
Time for some more shameless self-promotion. Last night saw the publication of the official results from rounds 5 and 6 of the British Universities Karting Championship, which took place last Wednesday at the fantastic Buckmore Park circuit. Round 6 in particular was particularly notable, as Warwick's B-team really produced the goods and recorded their highest BUKC finish since records began, and by some margin. They finished…wait for it…11th!!! Doesn't sound overwhelmingly impressive, does it? Even considering that there were 50 teams racing? And our prior best finish was a mere 20th place last year? And that we beat all the other universities' B-teams? Here I am, just before nailing some guy driving for Loughborough B (boo! hsss!):
Oh well, we (I say 'we' cos I race for Warwick B, hence the shameless self promotion ;)) were all pretty pleased with ourselves. This year we've been fortunate to have some pretty decent karters join the club. We've not had any new talent coming in ready to win races straight out of the box, but we do more than enough talent to really own the midfield of the BUKC. Indeed, so much so that the B team has spent a lot of time this year fighting off (and succumbing to) the attentions of Warwick C, which is great.
At the start of the year we were hopeful that the Bs would be able to challenge Warwick A, who really do have some top-class karters. Happily, the Bs have done a reasonable job of keeping the As keen. Indeed, the As had a bit of a mare in round 6 and finished 23rd :s. Oh well. Anyway, it all looks good for next year though…hopefully some of the stars of the Bs this year will turn into race winners, and surely some top-class karters will join the club next year. Next week sees the final two rounds of BUKC 2006 take place at Clay Pigeon Raceway in Dorset, and hopefully all the Warwick teams will deliver the goods. Unless this bloke, who is also racing, decides to punt us all off cos he's scared we'll all be quicker than him ;-)
March 14, 2006
The parents of a friend of mine recently had the good fortune of aquiring a brand-spanking new Ford Focus, a mkII. Much of what my friend has to say about it concurs with the popular opinions of the mkII in the specialist press (which bodes well for journalistic integrity). Technically it is a better car, but, look at it.
Nice, yes? It's alright. This is the ST version with a few extra body mods on it to make it look better (and a few unseen mods to make it quicker, but that's beside the point). However, compare it to its mkI equivalent, the Focus RS.
I would contest that this is a much nicer looking car; the detailing is better, the design is fresher and the face is much more, uhh, purposeful. When the mkI Focus was launched, it was a direct replacement for the Escort, which was one of the most tedious-looking cars Ford, if not the industry, has ever produced. As a consequence, with its radical, edgy styling (representing a new design direction for Ford, which they used in other models), the mkI Focus was revolutionary.
Happily this change of direction was a massive success for Ford, and now you can barely go outside without seeing a mkI Focus. The public loves them, and not without reason. The styling (both inside and out…the interior was almost as radical as the exterior), combined with the class-leading dynamics and reasonable pricing, makes it a clear leader in the mid-size hatchback segment. Perhaps the ultimate endorsement of this is the amount of people in the Motorsport club with a Focus ;-), the 1.8 is a great engine and the handling characteristics are nice and predictable…and it's comfortable too. If any Ford advertising executives are reading then you can happily use our recommendation in future advertising campaigns, in exchange for a small fee/fleet of STs :-p. Ahem…
(On a less tongue-in-cheek side note, the dynamics of the mkI Focus are so impressive that I believe Aston Martin used the Focus as one of many benchmark cars in the development of the recent V8 Vantage.)
Apparantly the mkII Focus also improves on the dynamics of the mkI, which is nice. Why though, has Ford decided to tone down the styling? Was that a conscious decision, or did the Ford top brass geniunely think that the mkII is, visually, an improvement? It's hard to tell; for example consider the recent Chris Bangle-designed BMWs, the styling of which has provoked miles of column inches themselves. Did BMW deliberately seek to attract attention to their model range with such controversial styling, or did they misguidedly think that they'd designed some impressive-looking cars? However, there are sound reasons why Ford would decide to tone down the styling, with the success of the mkI the mkII does not need to make such an impact on the marketplace; the Focus brand is already well-established.
So, perhaps toning down of the styling is an attempt to widen the demographic appeal of the mkII. Perhaps they decided to take the mkII along a different design direction in order to reinvigorate sales, theory being that the mere 'newness' of the mkII will attract more sales (and encourage old Focus customers to trade-in their mkIs for a mkII, which coincidently is excatly what my friend's parents have done). Incidently Jaguar has come under critisism for doing the opposite with the new XJ. Despite being technically a vast improvement over the previous-generation XJ, it looks the same as the old one, and so the majority of people aren't even aware that a new model XJ has even been released.
However, the old XJ was facing severe competition from the likes of BMW's 7-series and Mercedes' S- and E-Class cars. The Focus, on the other hand, has remained at the top of the sales charts pretty much since the day it was launched in the late nineties until it was withdrawn from sale with the introduction of the mkII. Hence, there is little need for Ford to go with a significant design change, for the better or the worse. However, once again, I could be wrong. Perhaps Ford felt that the market for the Focus was about to reach saturation point, and by releasing a new version of the car, they would be able to keep Focus sales strong without seeing any drop-off. In which case, good move, but it's a shame that Ford elected to make this move with a car that is considerably less-striking than the mkI.
March 13, 2006
In late February Panasonic issued a press release detailing the specifications for its first entry into the blossoming digital SLR market, the Lumix DMC-L1, and a new Leica lens to go with it. It all looks very impressive. Indeed, the online digital photography world seems to be most enamored with it. Its the first dSLR with a full-time 'live view' feature, a 'Supersonic Wave Filter' dust reduction system to keep the MOS sensor clean when swapping lenses, and the lens even has a built-in optical image stabiliser. This as all very clever. However, I'm not overly impressed.
Why would you want to buy an L1 when Panasonic already manufacture the SLR-busting DMC-FZ30? This is a whopping camera, with a 12x optical zoom (the largest of any fixed-lense digital camera, did you know), 8MP (half a MP up on the L1, but that's an irrelevance), optical image stabilisation and a flip-out LCD screen (with the 'live view' as standard, of course 8-)). It's also got all the manual controls that you'll ever need. The only advantages the L1 seems to have over the FZ30 are a better sensor, compatibility with the new high-capacity SDHC memory cards, and, err, the ability to change lenses. All this will probably come at a minimum £200 premium over the FZ30 (which retails for just under £500) as well, which seems a bit unneccesary.
However, Panasonic's desire to move into the dSLR market is indeed a wise one. The Canon EOS 20D is everywhere, you see a lot of them around, and Panasonic rightly want a peice of the pie. I personally think that the FZ30 is a better product than the EOS 20D, but perhaps it gets overlooked for not being an SLR. Shame really, the only difference is that you can't screw off the lense and you can always see what you're taking pictures of ;-). I think that perhaps the perception of Panasonic's brand (in photography) is weaker because it does not have an SLR model to act a flagship for the range, despite the brilliance of the FZx0 series.
I can see why you'd want to buy that lense though…optical image stabilisation rocks, and to be able to retro-fit that to your dSLR is massive. However, isn't most dSLR work done using a tripod anyway, since they're more likely to be in the hands of professionals? Surely this makes O.I.S a bit of an irrelevance. I guess if you're a sports photographer then it will still be give you some considerable assitance, but I don't really know enough about pro photography to make an educated comment.
I guess the sort of people after an L1 will be these professionals – I have no desire to ever use a different lense, my trusty FZ20 has all the range you'll need (although I wouldn't say no to some more wide-angle) – who need the extra quality that the L1 sensor brings. Fair play. I guess that kind of answers my question. However, I'm only an rookie when it comes to photography, so have I underestimated the magnificance of the L1? Probably 8-).