Hot August Nights will be wrapping up as you read this. I have avoided the show for the last couple of years, mostly to avoid the crowds.
Our local show, the Silver Dollar Car Classic, satisfied my urge to see beautiful machinery last weekend. Unfortunately, in counterpoint to all the wonderful classics and radical customs, there was a blight on the automotive world parked in the Pony Express Pavilion all weekend.
I refer, of course, to the Pontiac Aztek on display there. This has to be the ugliest mass-produced vehicle since the AMC Gremlin, a total waste of metal and plastic. What were the designers of this monstrosity thinking?
When Chrysler Corporation can do things like the Viper, the Prowler, and the PT Cruiser, why does GM have to visit something like the Aztek on the automotive public? Hopefully, they won't sell any and GM will quit building them soon.
- Now that I've vented my spleen on the subject of automotive aesthetics, on to other topics. First, congratulations to a couple of new winners crowned last weekend ... Rubens Barichello in the Formula 1 German Grand Prix (victory podium caption: "Frazier Wins Grand Prix"), and Christiano Da Matta at the Chicago CART race.
The neat thing about it is that the two drivers are former roommates, sharing digs when they were moving up through the lesser European series a few years back.
New CART CEO Bobby Rahal has his hands full trying to juggle the desires of team owners, engine manufacturers, fans, track owners, and TV. The biggest challenge he faces right now is how to slow the cars down and improve the quality of the racing.
The two obvious areas for lowering speeds are aerodynamics and power. Rahal is convinced that reducing power (CART cars are now putting out about 900 horsepower) is the way to create a better "show" for the fans. Since CART cars are turbocharged, reducing boost would seem to be the simplest way to go about cutting back power, using a "popoff" valve set to something less than the current 40 inches of boost.
The engine manufacturers, predictably, don't agree, as they would have to do some expensive engineering to optimize engine design for the reduced boost. However, with only seven months until the first race of the 2001 season, chassis manufacturers are already well into their new designs, and a dramatic change in the aero rules would put them behind the 8-ball.
I'm betting Bobby is wishing he hadn't raised his hand when they asked for volunteers to replace Andrew Craig. The problem is that due to the makeup of CART - he's a negotiator instead of a dictator, trying to balance the demands of too many entities with their own agendas.
Ford and Toyota want an engine formula with equivalency to the IRL so they can run at Indy, while Honda wants to stay with a high-tech, turbocharged powerplant. Honda is R&D-driven, while the other two are driven by marketing considerations. Ilmor (Mercedes), the fourth CART engine supplier, just wants to sell (make that lease) race engines.
The one advantage the IRL has over CART these days is that the IRL has one man (Tony George) making the rules. The problem is that he makes them capriciously, more with an aim to hurting CART than to promote racing.
- Well, the ranks of American drivers in CART has just increased. It was announced earlier this week that Memo Gidley has replaced Norberto Fontana permanently on the Della Penna Motorsports team. Gidley's performance at Michigan and Chicago, where he scored a pair of 10th place finishes, convinced John Della Penna that the team would be better off with Memo at the wheel.
He knows all the CART tracks from his Formula Atlantic days, whereas Fontana, who raced in Europe before coming to CART, faced a new situation every weekend. As I've said before, Memo has a lot of talent, and it's great to see him with a full-time ride.
- Finally, congratulations to local Legends ace Mike Morrissey Jr., who traveled to Las Vegas last weekend and came away with a fourth-place finish at the LVMS dirt track.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org