Thursday, November 26, 2009

The 2009 Motorsport Awards...well, the ones that count anyway

Okey dokey, let's get this thing done...yeah, I know what you're thinking and trust me, I already know so here's the apology; I'm sorry for posting this before the final round of the V8 Supercars is raced.

Rookie of the Year -
a reasonably tough choice in the end to be honest as I'm not going to go with logic and, instead, give it to the man who won it last year (albeit in a lower category); Joey Logano. Not only did he have big shoes to fill by stepping into the car that Tony Stewart drove for a decade, he also had the weight of expectation resting on those young shoulders with all the whispers about him being 'the next great thing'. He got off to a slow start, but soon found his groove to put in several strong races, including his win at Loudon. A possible threat to make the Chase next year.

Best Race of the Year - the Indycars at Kentucky. A spine-tingling duel for the win between Ryan Briscoe and Ed Carpenter that lasted the final 10 laps fully justified the mid-season changes to make the oval races more exciting. The final F1 race along with the Bristol night race went close...but not quite close enough.

Qualifier of the Year - Sebastian Vettel knew he had to pull out all stops at Japan to keep his slim hopes alive for winning the championship. He didn't do a whole lot of laps since he was saving his engine but he still easily planted his Red Bull Renault on pole, then set about winning the race the next day.

Team of the Year -
Brawn GP for winning both the drivers' and constructors' title after only becoming a team a few weeks prior to the season starting.

Pit Crew of the Year - Brawn GP gets the nod for this as well. Many times Jenson found himself behind a driver, only for his crew to squeak him ahead at the pitstops. Often times it's those vital tenths of a second that win or lose you the championship.

Driver of the Year -
Dario Franchitti. Having spent a year trying to make it in NASCAR, he eventually went back to the thing he's best at; winning races, and the title, in Indycar.

Person of the Year
Rick Hendrick...1, 2 and 3 in the points, nuff said?

And now the fun ones -

Personality of the Year - Valentino Rossi. The charismatic Italian just keeps on keeping on in the MotoGP series. His sense of humour can be rather difficult to follow at times but no one can doubt that he is one of a kind.

Crash of the Year
- Nelson Phillipe and Will Power at the Sonoma Indycar race during practice. Yes, the Talladega crashes were more spectacular, but nowhere near as horrifying.

Surprise of the Year
that Marcos Ambrose didn't win my RotY award! No, seriously I am giving it to Marcos for his stunning drive at Bristol in March...the first glimpse we got that he was more than just a road course guy.

Miracle of the Year
- that, for the third straight year, winning the Daytona 500 seems to be a jinx on that driver. Do you think we could get a petition going demanding Jimmie win it next year just to see if it really is a jinx?

Worst Looking Car Livery of the Year
Jeff Gordon's 'Transformers 2' car at Lowe's. I'm sorry, but Jeff the decepticons...the evil guys? Come on, give me a break!

Bone-headed Overtaking Attempt of the Year
a tough category as there were a few good candidates (Hamlin wrecking both Reutimann and Ambrose on his way to winning at Pocono and Scott Dixon at the start of the Indycar race at Sonoma spring to mind) but it's going to Jarno Trulli. The Italian thought he'd take advantage of Adrian Sutil at the Brazilian GP when Sutil slowed as Kimi had no front wing in front of him. Alas, Jarno didn't get the memo about there being no vision out of the side and back of a F1 car as its mirrors are nothing more than token gestures. So it was no great surprise when he ended up on the grass before careering back on to the track, slamming into Sutil and taking them both out on turn 4...of lap 1. Trulli then had another brainfade as he proceeded to blame Sutil for the whole thing for the remainder of the season.

The Dental School Award (aka, the award that made the most jaws drop)
Matt Crafton decided the only way he could make points up on Ron Hornaday at Gateway was to barge his way to the front. First he took out Todd Bodine when Todd blocked on a restart, then, after I'm sure most people went "he won't do that again" did the same thing to Hornaday. NASCAR gave him a penalty for rough driving...possibly the easiest decision the officials made this year.

The 'Carved from Stone' Award (aka the person that stood up when the heat was on)
might be a touch early, but it's going to Jamie Whincup. Not only did he have to put up with all the talk about what he'd be doing in 2010, he also had to race with a team who knew they were switching manufacturers for the next season. Despite that, he looks set to repeat as V8 Supercar champion.

The 'Red Bull' Award (since it gives you wings) - Quite a few people clearly wanted to win this award but it came down to three (sorry Matt Kenseth but you missed out); Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman. In the end, I went with Mr Newman for his acrobatics at Talladega. hopefully the US Army will redeem him some frequent flyer points :)

The Lucky Bugger Award -
Carl Edwards for being in the right place at the right time when Marcos Ambrose made his one and only mistake at Montreal.

And that's all she wrote for 2009...let me know of any candidates I may have missed :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Zealand to take on the World...Cup

Until this weekend, never in the history of the FIFA World Cup have both Australia and New Zealand qualified.

The main reason is that both those countries were in the Oceania group and therefore had to battle each other before getting to a two-game playoff with either a team from Asia or a team from South America.

Up until 2005, there had only been two times in the Cups' history that either team made it; 1974 in Germany for the Aussies and 1982 in Spain for the Kiwis. However, the goalposts got moved a little after Australia broke ranks from Oceania and were allowed to be included under Asia. This left the reputation of Oceania's incredible 2005/2006 (Australia's qualification and subsequent performance at the World Cup is one of Australia's greatest sporting memories) squarely on the shoulders of New Zealand's 'All Whites'.

They didn't disappoint.

Facing off against Bahrain, they were able to keep the score to 0-0 in the desert before the return leg in Wellington this weekend. It took a strong header from Rory Fallon and a brilliant performance by goalkeeper Mark Paston, but it was enough to send the Kiwis into a similar euphoria that Australian football had in 2005 after pipping Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out.

The hero of the night; keeper, Mark Paston, saves a penalty shot in the second half.

While the chances are pretty slim, I dream of being able to post an article called 'The (formerly known) Trans-Tasman Traveller presents a Trans-Tasman Battle!'...we can only wait until the draw is done I guess. One thing is for sure though; if Australia were the underdogs in 2006, New Zealand will have that title this time around.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Aussie is staying!

At least, for a little while. This is straight from the article on Yahoo! Australia:

Australian driver Marcos Ambrose has cemented his place in the competitive US NASCAR series with a new two-year deal. Ambrose, who was at the centre of a controversial and spectacular multi-car collision last weekend, is secure after an agreement between his JTG Daugherty Racing outfit and the Michael Waltrip Racing stable.

The two companies agreed that they would operate in partnership under a technical alliance for 2010-11. Ambrose said he was encouraged by the continuity that this deal brings to his racing program. He said he had already gained a lot from the relationship as part of an impressive first season in the top-flight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

JTG Daugherty Racing operates out of the Michael Waltrip Racing facility in Cornelius, North Carolina, with engineering and mechanical responsibilities all fully-integrated into the MWR operation.

"It's great news that we have realigned with MWR," Ambrose said. "We've been very successful this year and we even came close to winning a race or two. We've been solid in the points all season long and this was just our first year working together as a full-time Cup operation. We are really looking forward to 2010 and continuing our work with MWR."

This is great news and I hope that Marcos escapes the dreaded 'sophomore slump' next year :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

10 years on...

While today doesn't mark it to the date, it does mark it to the day for me; the first Tuesday morning in November holds a fair bit of memories for me. It's the day of the Melbourne cup (arguably the most famous horse race in the Southern Hemisphere) and it's also the day that I saw the crash that claimed the life of Greg Moore, my racing idol.

Greg drove for the Forsythe team in, back then, the CART series. He was but 20 when he made his debut at Homestead in 1996, took his first podium a few weeks later at the Gold Coast (the first openwheel race I'd seen live...well, I went for qualifying, not the race but you know what I mean). He lost out on RotY honours to some bloke called Alex Zanardi...who went on to win the next two championships before a failed move to F1 in 1999.

Moore didn't capture his first win until 1997 at the famed Milwaukee Mile, holding off a fast finishing Michael Andretti and becoming the, then, youngest race winner in a major racing series. He backed it up a week later around the streets of Detroit when the guys running 1-2 ran out of fuel on the final lap. He wound up seventh at years end, an improvement from ninth in his rookie year. He bettered that in 1998 when he finished fifth...but 1999 wasn't going to continue that trend.

Greg Moore in his 'office'.

He started off that season with a bang, winning the season opener at Homestead but that was as good as it got. The Mercedes-Benz engine that powered his #99 Players Reynard was past its prime and Greg struggled with trying to compensate for it. He ended up finishing the year in tenth and was set to join Penske Racing for 2000, partnering Gil deFerren.

But it never happened.

Going into lap 10 of the final race at Fontana, Greg lost control of his car and as it hit the access road, rolled upsidedown and smashed into the concrete wall without scrubbing off much speed. The commentators knew the accident was a bad one and didn't show any replays of it. Upon impact he suffered massive head, brain, neck, and other internal injuries. He was extricated by the medical team, and airlifted to a hospital nearby. All efforts to resuscitate him failed and, at the age of just 24, Greg Moore was pronounced dead while the race was still on. The Forsythe team retired their second car, driven by Patrick Carpentier, mid-race on finding out while all other drivers were unaware of Greg's death until the end of the race. The track put all flags at half mast, and CART ordered that there would be no victory celebrations for either the race, or the newly-decided championship.

CART retired his car number (although since the merger, the number is not retired by the Indy Racing League. The Atlantic Championship, which is still owned and operated by the former Champ Car organisation, has kept the number retired), and presented a trophy annually called the Greg Moore Legacy Award. It is given every year to a driver who best typifies Moore's legacy of outstanding talent on track, as well as displaying a dynamic personality with fans, media, and within the CART community. Since Greg was a product of the CART ladder system, having competed in the Indy Lights Championship from 1993-95 and won the series title in 1995 (winning 10 of the 12 races), drivers from the Atlantic Championship series were also eligible for the award. Moore was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2000.

To this day, I have only ever watched the crash twice; the first being when I saw the race on that Tuesday morning. I live, not even half an hour from where Greg grew up...but I'm not sure I could go there without breaking down. Moore was a well liked guy, who all of his competitors agreed that he'd probably go on to win multiple titles. He was also one hell of a race car driver and I will remember him for the move he made on Zanardi to win at Rio in 1998.

Thank you for reading.

Greg Moore (April 22, 1975 - October 31, 1999)
Nationality - Canadian
Team(s) - Player's Forsythe Racing
Race starts - 72
Championships - 0
Wins - 5
Podium finishes - 17
Pole positions - 5
First race - 1996 Grand Prix of Miami
First win - 1997 Milwaukee 200
Last win - 1999 Grand Prix of Miami

Monday, November 2, 2009

Does parity produce better racing?

**please note this is not about yesterdays Cup race, it is more about the racing in general. I'm refraining from saying anything about yesterday since I never saw the race**

It's an interesting question. Most of us believe that seeing the entire field being covered by the blink of an eye in qualifying should lead to a cracker of a race, yes?

But why?

When you really sit down and think about it, parity means equality...equality means the better drivers should be able to work their way through the 'lesser' drivers...but equality also means you have virtually no chance of passing the guy in front as they're, theoretically at least, spitting out identical lap times to you.

The only way any overtaking happens is when the guy behind is significantly faster than the guy in front, yes? So how can that happen when the cars are equal? Different tyre compounds has been used in F1 and Indycar the last few years and has been a hit or miss deal but it's not practical for NASCAR. Slipsteaming/drafting can work...except that the guy you've just passed can also use the same tactic. Outbraking also works...provided you don't overshoot and let them by on the exit. What about that 'push to pass' button then? Given that a similar system is being scrapped in F1 for next year and NASCAR refuses to be dragged into the 21st century with technology, that means the Indycars can keep that idea to themselves.

Besides, it's not like their championships ever go down to the wire or anything *rolls eyes*

So to answer the question, does it?

In the lower formulae, certainly (watch a formula ford race and you'll see what I mean). But it doesn't work at the highest level of the sport. So where does it all go wrong? Personally, I think it is the tyres...the lower classes don't have as wide a tyre yet provide amazing racing (as does the motorcyle racing now i think about it...same thing though, very small contact patch between the rubber and the road).

Perhaps it's time to trial a narrower wheel. Yes, the teams and drivers will whinge and complain about having less grip and how the car is undriveable but hey, they are supposed to be the elite so they'll adjust given enough time.

Besides, a narrower tyre may not work and it'd be a moot point anyway...only one way to find out though *shrugs*

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Not sports related in any way, shape or form...apologies if you were expecting that. Instead, here's a little section from the WHP Canada/Australia website:

"I am currently in Canada on a WHP work permit, can I re-apply to the WHP?
Yes. There will be no limit to the number of times you can participate under the program as long as you continue to meet the age criteria and all other admissibility and eligibility requirements. You do not have to wait for your current work permit to expire before reapplying."

That means as soon as the 2010 permit stuff goes up, I can reapply and all I have to do, from reading the rest of the FAQ list, is go to the Sumas crossing and get a new shiny permit. I'm rather chuffed now :D

Thursday, September 24, 2009

TNQC & TNRC - Loudon

Alrighty then, the Chase field for both titles are set and these are the drivers who made it and by how much driver 13 missed out by in the order of their standings after Richmond.

Firstly, the QC - Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Juan Montoya, David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr and Greg Biffle.

Denny Hamlin missed out by 46 points in the end but had no shot at making it in anyway once Truex planted his #1 Chevy on the front row (Denny needed to take the pole and hope Martin qualified no better than 17th). Actually, Denny did leapfrog over Tony Stewart as Tony could have settled for second on the grid in that scenario and knocked out Denny as he was 51 points behind Truex before Richmond...but neither happened so it doesn't matter.

To the RC then - Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Juan Montoya make it in.

Ryan Newman was the unlucky guy this time as it was all set up for him; Montoya didn't score a point at Richmond so had Ryan won, he'd have bumped Juan...oddly enough, the other 11 guys were locked in regardless (I accept cheques, Mr Kenseth *grin*).

No bonus points were given to the points leader after Richmond as neither 'pre-playoffs' title was already wrapped up.

As it stood prior to the Loudon weekend, here's how the top 12 lined up via the bonus points (4 per pole/win).

Tez's NASCAR Qualifying Championship - Chase field:

=1 - Mark Martin (24 points, 6 poles)
=1 - Brian Vickers (24 points, 6 poles)
=3 - David Reutimann (8 points, 2 poles)
=3 - Martin Truex Jr (8 points, 2 poles)
=5 - Kyle Busch (4 points, 1 pole)
=5 - Jimmie Johnson (4 points, 1 pole)
=5 - Juan Montoya (4 points, 1 pole)
=5 - Ryan Newman (4 points, 1 pole)
=9 - Greg Biffle
=9 - Kurt Busch
=9 - Jeff Gordon
=9 - Kasey Kahne

Tez's NASCAR Race Championship - Chase field:

1 - Mark Martin (16 points, 4 wins)
=2 - Jimmie Johnson (12 points, 3 wins)
=2 - Tony Stewart (12 points, 3 wins)
=4 - Denny Hamlin (8 points, 2 wins)
=4 - Kasey Kahne (8 points, 2 wins)
=4 - Matt Kenseth (8 points, 2 wins)
=7 - Kurt Busch (4 points, 1 win)
=7 - Jeff Gordon (4 points, 1 win)
=7 - Brian Vickers (4 points, 1 win)
=10 - Greg Biffle
=10 - Carl Edwards
=10 - Juan Montoya

So it's the ol...uh, experienced guy out front as the cars rolled off the transporters.

And, after the first round of the Chase, here's how things sit.

Tez's NASCAR Qualifying Championship - after Chase round 1:

1 - Mark Martin (29 points, 6 poles)
=2 - Brian Vickers (25 points, 6 poles)
=2 - Juan Montoya (25 points, 2 poles)
4 - Martin Truex Jr (22 points, 2 poles)
=5 - Kyle Busch (16 points, 1 pole)
=5 - Kurt Busch (16 points)
7 - David Reutimann (14 points, 2 poles)
8 - Jeff Gordon (10 points)
=9 - Jimmie Johnson (8 points, 1 pole)
=9 - Kasey Kahne (8 points)
11 - Ryan Newman (7 points, 1 pole)
12 - Greg Biffle (2 points)

Hamlin (393) leads Stewart (372), Marcos Ambrose (261) and Scott Speed (241) for the, probably not-so, coveted 13th spot.

Tez's NASCAR Race Championship - after Chase round 1:

1 - Mark Martin (27 points, 5 wins)
2 - Jimmie Johnson (18 points, 3 wins)
3 - Denny Hamlin (16 points, 2 wins)
4 - Tony Stewart (14.5 points, 3 wins)
=5 - Matt Kenseth (9 points, 2 wins)
=5 - Kurt Busch (9 points, 1 win)
7 - Kasey Kahne (8.5 points, 2 wins)
=8 - Brian Vickers (7 points, 1 win)
=8 - Juan Montoya (7 points)
10 - Jeff Gordon (6 points, 1 win)
11 - Greg Biffle (4 points)
12 - Carl Edwards (1.5 points)

Ryan Newman (407) has a slender lead over Clint Bowyer (400.5), Kyle Busch (379) and David Reutimann (356) as we head to Dover for round 2 or 28...depending on which title you're looking at :P

At this stage, things aren't looking that great for the defending champions (Jimmie in the QC and Carl in the RC) but there's a lot of action still to be played out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Prodigal Son Returns?

At least, that's what Ford are hoping will happen with the announcement this week that Richard Petty Motorsports have signed a letter of intent to merge with Yates and race under the Ford banner next year. That means that Kasey Kahne, after seven years, will have the blue oval on his suit rather than the funky ram...and that my stuff will all be out of date I just realised, thanks Kasey *rolls eyes*

So what does that mean (my sulking over the aforementioned merchandise not included)?

Well, that should give Ford a second organisation capable of running at the front reasonably often. However, it will also leave Penske as being the sole Dodge team and, as Chevy have proven over the years, putting your eggs in more than one basket tends to give you better options should a team not be up to snuff in a particular year (DEI last year for example).

Being the top team for a manufacturer does have its perks; just look at the stunning, pre-chase, season JGR had with Kyle Busch and Toyota last year but it remains to be seen whether Penske can pull off the same kind of thing. One has to remember though that while JGR were, without a doubt, the top Toyota team, Red Bull and MWR were able to snap at their heels on the odd occasion...Dodge won't have that luxury next year now Petty have jumped ship.

The Bud man is set to become a Ford man too.

As far as I can tell, Kahne left Ford in 2003, citing the reason that they weren't giving him the support needed for him to ascend to the Cup level. Ford didn't really like that and, in the end, things turned ugly and Kasey was forced to pay an undisclosed amount to Ford as compensation. So will the old saying of 'time heals all wounds' be proven true or will salt get poured onto said wound instead? We shall see I guess.

But what about 2009, will this hinder a late season charge by Kahne?

Possibly not given it was this team who, with Evernham's help, managed to get Dodge back into NASCAR. It was Kahne who scored the new Charger's first win at Richmond in 2005 and it was also this team who lured the, arguably, most recognisible paint scheme when Budweiser became their main sponsor last year. That's not a bad list of achievements car #9 has behind them and, with Kurt Busch's recent poor form in comparison, it may very well be Kahne who provides Dodge with their best shot of a title.

And I highly doubt Dodge would mind rubbing that in Ford's nose next year if he can pull it off.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's the Finals

Not that I'm expecting anyone to really read this given the contents but I haven't done a non-motorsport blog on here since...uh...since I joined apparently. Ahem, moving on.

Ahh yes, September. The month where Spring is, supposed to be, brought into action to fend off the evil dryness of a Southern Hemisphere winter. It's also the month where both the NRL and AFL seasons reach their conclusions with the top 8 teams qualifying for the playoffs.

NRL first since I've been into that for longer than the AFL *laugh*

With the final round currently under way, only the top six are assured of playing next week. The battle for the last two spots hinges entirely on the Newcastle vs Penrith match as the West Tigers shocked the second-placed Bulldogs last night to be sitting in eighth right now. However, that is only on points difference over Newcastle and a single point ahead of Penrith and since you get two points for a win and one for a draw, that rules out Wests from making it.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Dragons clinched the top spot due to the result last night. Not bad for a first time coach...well, with this team anyway. Wayne Bennett joined the team this year having spent the last 20 at Brisbane. Under his reign, the Broncos won the title in all six appearances (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006) and have not missed out on September action since 1991. Since the swap to a top 8 playoff in 1995 (1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5...the two lowest ranked teams that lose are eliminated), I think I'm right in saying that no team that has finished eighth has managed to knock off the minor premiers and I see no reason why that trend won't continue this year.

As usual, the Broncos will rely heavily on their captain; Darren Lockyer.

So a prediction then...well, recent history suggests that St George will bomb out so I'd have to say the final will be between the Bulldogs (2nd) and Melbourne (4th). I'd put your money on a different combination given my apalling record of tipping though ;)

To the AFL now where the finals started last night with Adelaide smashing (and thus eliminating) Essendon. The other elimination game pits Brisbane against Carlton in Brisbane. The AFL top 8 system works far better to me...the bottom four do the elimination games while the top four battle it out for the week off. That leaves no room for the potential bottom four all winning, thus booting out the teams who finished third and fourth like in the NRL.

Anyway, I digress. St Kilda go into the finals as the clear favourite having only lost a couple games all season so I'd expect them to make the grand final. Their opponent...I'd have to go with the second placed Geelong to be honest. They've been red hot the last few years and I see no reason why they can't make the final again.

All of Brisbane will be hoping that Voss can translate his playing days to his coaching ones.

As for 'my teams' from Brisbane...well, the Broncos did better than I thought given the first coach change in the clubs' history while the Lions (also with a coach change as Leigh Matthews, the man who led the team to four straight grand finals from 2001 to 2004, winning the first three left, replaced by former club captain and legend, Michael Voss) reached the finals for the first time since their loss to Port Adelaide in the 2004 grand final. I think the Broncos might make it to week two but I'm not sure the Lions can overcome their injury woes to beat Carlton.

Either way, it'll be a big month in Australia...and for the second straight year, I will be unable to watch any of it, dagnammit!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Shocked into silence

To quote Anthony Hudson, AFL commentator, "I see it, but I do not believe it!"

I reckon every driver must have that nightmare; to have thoroughly dominated a race, only to have to taken away in the blink of an eye. It happened to Denny Hamlin at Richmond last year, it happened to Felipe Massa at Hungary last year, it happened to Juan Montoya at Indy a few weeks's a never-ending list for sure.

But I'm not as sure if it's happened to one driver at one track for three straight years...until yesterday at any rate.

It's safe to say that Montreal and Marcos Ambrose have a somewhat love-hate relationship as the track appears to fit Ambrose's driving style like a glove. When the, then Busch series, came to play in F1's sandbox in 2007, it was the rookie who looked set to take the win. When the, now Nationwide series, made history by racing in the rain for the first time, it was the sophomore who looked set to take the win. And just when it looked like Marcos would finally get redemption, we saw that lightning doesn't just strike twice, it does it three times.

It started so well with Marcos scoring his second career Nationwide pole.

I don't think anyone can say that Carl Edwards didn't deserve to win yesterday. For sure, he was close enough to make Marcos protect the inside line and that could only happen if he was close enough to make him do that in the first place (ahh, good old circular reasoning...have to love it at times *laugh*). However, I also don't think that anyone would say Marcos Ambrose deserved to not win yesterday.

He was sublime in the wet qualifying session on Saturday, being over a second faster than Carl who started alongside him for this race. He was equally good on every single restart, whether he was the guy who had to pick when to nail the throttle pedal or when he was making his way up the field after pitstops. And he was incredible to watch during the green flag laps, regardless if they were dry or wet, often leaping out to a lead that very few were able to reel back in.

I must say that seeing Carl closing on Ambrose in the final two laps, I was concerned. As good as Marcos is on any road course, he seems to be slower than most drivers at the apex of turns when you have to brake heavily. Once beyond that point though, there are very few areas where anyone can touch him...but, as any driver can attest to, it only takes a tiny slip on corner exit to lose momentum down a straight, and Marcos did appear to lose out a liitle most of the day off the hairpin. Not that it mattered as he had built up a comfortable enough lead through the rest of the lap to keep everyone behind him.

Until lap 76 anyway.

I don't confess to being a race technician so I don't know exactly how much work the #47 team did in comparison to the #60 team when changing over to a wet setup, but I do know that the more a car is changed for the rain, the worse it is to drive when it isn't raining. So maybe Carl had the benefit of a slightly better car in the conditions we had at race's end? Whatever the case, he managed to force Ambrose to make his one and only mistake all day and, yet again, a win at Montreal slipped through those Tasmanian fingers.

Unfortunately for Ambrose, this wasn't the order they finished in.

Marcos summed it up like this: “I'm jinxed around this joint, I'll tell you now. I mean, we had 15,000 restarts and got away with them all. I feel pretty devastated because I’ve let my boys down and we came here to win and anything less than that was a disappointment.”

While that could be considered a little harsh given the clinic he put on all race, you can't argue the devastation he was feeling. But isn't that why we watch the theatre that is motorsport, to see how the story plays out? Sometimes the guy with the best car wins, other times he doesn't.

That is a part of always has been and it always will be.

So, kudos to Carl Edwards for doing what so many must have thought was the impossible yesterday; snatching victory from the jaws of defeat...he better have bought Marcos a Molson last night. Although, given how stunned and numb I was, maybe the Aussie wouldn't have felt it anyway.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Was this the turning point?

Every driver has one; a race that can be pin-pointed as being the one that moved them from pretender to contender.

The last few months have seen some interesting things written about Marcos Ambrose; the two most intriguing, to me anyway, was the debate on whether Ambrose or David Ragan will be next in line to score their first Cup win and the other being a poll taken yesterday during the race on yahoo if Tony Stewart or Marcos was the surprise of the year.

Let's address the first article; will it be the man everyone was raving over at the last third of the 2008 season or will it be the tough-as-nails Aussie who, even when he has a bad day, says how lucky he is to be in NASCAR?

On paper prior to the Daytona 500, it was a no-brainer; Ragan was with the top Ford team while Ambrose was driving for a brand new team that had raced in less Cup races than I have fingers. Indeed, I predicted David to make the Chase while Marcos would be lucky to end up in the top 25...I couldn't have been more wrong if I tried now, could I? *laugh*

Ok, hands up if you had Marcos in with a shot for the Chase this year?

For whatever reason, the #6 UPS Ford Fusion has been struggling for the majority of 2009 while the #47 Little Debbie Toyota Camry has been flying high. It wasn't much of a surprise to anyone that Ambrose would challenge on the road courses of Infineon and Watkins Glen, but the way he has taken to the ovals has raised more than a few eyebrows and dropped even more jaws. He arrived at Bristol in March and, using strategy to get to the front, somehow came away with a top ten even though he drove the last 100 odd laps on six cylinders. He backed that up with great drives at Martinsville, Talladega, Richmond, Daytona and Pocono (ignoring the road courses) before arriving back at Bristol last night.

And boy, did he put on a show.

Starting mid pack, he steadily made his way towards the front, content with following in Jimmie Johnson's wake. Ambrose's charge didn't halt when he got to the top ten either as he brushed aside Chase contenders Juan Montoya, Greg Biffle and David Reutimann, then had the audacity to come on the radio and say "Jimmie who?" when Johnson let him through - yes, the three-time Champ let this rookie go, that's how good the #47 was at that stage of the race - and just to add a cherry on top of his cake, passed Kyle Busch around the outside for third...all before we reached half distance. Over a long run, I doubt there was a car quicker than his, even Mark Martin would have had trouble keeping pace with Ambrose.

Marcos proved that the March race was no fluke.

Unlike in March, Ambrose kept all eight cylinders to the end and, in his best race of his NASCAR career so far, he wound up a career-oval-best third and his stock rose some more notches. While his 2010 semi-teammate, Martin Truex Jr, had a strong run going until blowing a tyre, he must have been grinning from ear-to-ear inside his helmet with the way all the MWR cars were running. This has been a breakthrough year for MWR with Reutimann getting their first win and still a mathematical chance of making the Chase but it's been Ambrose who has been the star in my mind.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot about the poll. The end result went in Tony's favour as I expected...but only just; 52% plays 48%.

I think it's easily safe to say that Marcos Ambrose has arrived. He's no longer a road-ringer, but a fully-fledged NASCAR driver and I do believe he'll get that first win before David Ragan does. If he can escape the pesky 'sophomore slump' that has struck a few drivers in the past, he could very well find himself in the Chase for 2010...complete with bonus points for winning a race or two.

And if that is the case, it can be traced back to that one hot August night in Bristol; the race Marcos Ambrose cemented his place in the Cup series.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TNQC & TNRC - Michigan

Righto, I haven't updated this since Mr Keselowski shocked us all by winning at 'dega...not fun adding all these up let me tell you *laugh*

A quick recap of the way this works;
- points are awarded as per an old V8 Supercar points system that only went down to 17th place.
- races less than 400 miles in length or do not achieve 75% of the scheduled distance get half points.
- washouts in qualifying do not count.

I'll just list the top 20 of each one as there are 51 drivers who have scored points in the QC while 43 have done so in the RC.

Tez's NASCAR Qualifying Championship - after round 23:

1 – Brian Vickers, 601 points (6 poles)
2 – Jimmie Johnson, 594 points (1 pole)
3 – Mark Martin, 582 points (4 poles)
4 – Kyle Busch, 558 points (1 pole)
5 – Jeff Gordon, 444 points
6 – David Reutimann, 426 points (2 poles)
7 – Juan Montoya, 420 points (1 pole)
8 – Kasey Kahne, 399 points
9 – Kurt Busch, 395 points
10 – Ryan Newman, 394 points (1 pole)
11 – Greg Biffle, 319 points
12 – Tony Stewart, 285 points
13 – Martin Truex Jr, 279 points (1 pole)
14 – Denny Hamlin, 258 points
15 – Marcos Ambrose, 240 points
16 – Scott Speed, 183 points
17 – Matt Kenseth, 172 points (1 pole)
18 – Joey Logano, 156 points
19 – Sam Hornish Jr, 153 points
20 – Clint Bowyer, 145 points

Tez's NASCAR Race Championship - after 23 rounds:

1 – Tony Stewart, 712.5 points (3 wins)
2 – Jeff Gordon, 669 points (1 win)
3 – Jimmie Johnson, 586.5 points (3 wins)
4 – Mark Martin, 467 points (4 wins)
5 – Denny Hamlin, 438 points (1 win)
6 – Kurt Busch, 437 points (1 win)
7 – Carl Edwards, 421 points
8 – Brian Vickers, 399 points (1 win)
9 – Greg Biffle, 390.5 points
10 – Matt Kenseth, 374.5 points (2 wins)
11 – Clint Bowyer, 360 points
12 – Juan Montoya, 346.5 points
13 – Kasey Kahne, 345.5 points (1 win)
14 – Ryan Newman, 320 points
15 – David Reutimann, 291 points (1 win)
16 – Kyle Busch, 275.5 points (3 wins)
17 – Marcos Ambrose, 221.5 points
18 – Kevin Harvick, 214 points
19 – Dale Earnhardt Jr, 208.5 points
20 – Jeff Burton, 205.5 points

I suppose the main surprises is exactly how different my top 12 in the RC is from the official one and how close Gordon still is to Stewart...all to play for with three chances left for those outside to sneak in.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ambrose goes back-to-back at Watkins Glen

First things first, big thanks to everyone on here since it's been a few days and anyone could have posted but I'm going to have to believe you're letting me do the honours since it's 'my guy' :)

Ok, last years Nationwide race at Watkins Glen saw Marcos score his first victory in the States...but he was incredibly lucky since the guys he was racing ran out of fuel. He led just a handful of laps all day, one around the time of his final pitstop and then at the end. This wasn't quite the drive one had expected of the Aussie given his dominance in the rain of Montreal the week before. However, he hadn't gotten any wins by being dominant and every driver would gladly take a win on fuel mileage over none at all. But it was still via fuel mileage...and, like rain-shortened races, there is always a debate amongst fans whether winning like that should count.

Well, Marcos certainly ended any doubts over that last weekend.

In his first start in a Nationwide car since Homestead last November, Marcos proved that 2008 was no fluke and qualified second, shaking the rust off with a lap record that Kevin Harvick only just managed to beat right at the end of qualifying. I won't bore everyone with a full race-recap as there's only one part of the race that got people talking; Marcos' bold pass on Kyle Busch with a dozen or so laps to go.

There are those who will say it was dirty and those who will hail it as a fantastic piece of opportunistic driving and I'm not going to bother trying to sway you either way. It takes huge confidence in your fellow racer to put your entire race in their hands, forcing them to choose between letting you go or wrecking both cars. Marcos knew this, heck, he's tried some spectacular moves in the V8's...with varying degrees of success.

Who says you can't pass the leader on a road course anymore?

But the main reason why he figured this pass would work was who he was racing against; a title contender.

Ignore, if you can, Kyle's reputation, and put yourself in his shoes for a minute. You're racing a full season in an effort to win the championship and have a handy points lead over the guy in second. Are you really going to risk a collision with a driver who's only going to race a couple times in the year and losing, more or less, half that points gap? On such momentum can a title be decided.

I didn't think you would.

Kyle did exactly what he had to do; stay in the race to consolidate his points lead over Carl Edwards. Marcos did exactly what he had to do; put Kyle in a position where he had to back off. In doing so, he erased the murmurs from a year ago and proved that yes, Marcos Ambrose is indeed a racer and will fight against the best when he has the equipment. This is his fourth year in NASCAR so he's got a decent amount of experience now and most people expected him to contend for the win on road courses in the Cup series this year, let alone the two Nationwide events he was booked in for.

Last Saturday, Marcos proved those expectations were put on the right guy...and gave his fans some funky new pictures to have as their computer background at the same time *laugh*

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Team Vodafone switches sides for 2010

There were grumbling in the V8 supercar paddock last year about the possibility of the Champion team changing from Ford to Holden given that Ford were not putting their support behind them. Indeed, such was the strength of that rumour that Team Vodafone ditched the large blue 'Ford' decal that dorns the front windscreen (Australian sport, Australian terms so deal with it *laugh*).

Fast forward some eight months and we find the rumour to be true.

Jamie Whincup (the 2008 champion and current points leader) and Craig Lowndes (three time series Champion, ironically all with Holden) will be swapping the blue oval for the red lion. Ordinarily this wouldn't be such a huge deal...teams flip flop depending on who looks to be the better option after all (why else would Robby Gordon go through each manufacturer in the last 4 years?)...but this isn't a midfield team. The equivalent would be Rick Hendrick holding a press conference tomorrow saying they'd be using Dodges for 2010.

Lowndes behind the wheel of his Triple Eight Ford.

Now, unlike a lot of V8 fans, I'm not all that fussed over which brand to support as I have my favourite drivers and follow them, regardless of what they drive. But this is a pretty big thing as it also answers the question of whether Whincup would head offshore or stay in V8 Supercars.

Team Vodafone came into the series in 2004, under the umbrella of Triple Eight Racing. They had a proven pedigree in motorsport, having won 12 British Touring Car titles but struggled in their debut year, the drivers finishing 19th (Paul Radisich) and 28th (Max Wilson) in points. 2005 saw Craig Lowndes join the team in place of Radisich and Steve Ellery replacing Wilson. Lowndes nearly snatched the title away from the, at the time, all-conquering Stone Brothers Racing duo of Russell Ingall and Marcos Ambrose but still, second place in the points was a huge form reversal from the year before.

Jamie Whincup was then put in Ellery's seat for 2006, making an immediate impression by winning the first race of the season at Adelaide. This also marked the beginning of their Bathurst domination. 2007 saw no driver changes but the sponsor did; out went Betta Electrical and in came Vodafone. This didn't really slow them down but the championship eluded them yet again, this time Whincup got beat out by Garth Tander.

Whincup leads the field...a usual sight in 2009.

Which leads us nicely to now.

Having thoroughly dominated 2008 and the first half of 2009, why did Ford let them go? Only they know but Holden must be relishing the idea of rubbing Ford's noses in it when the 2010 season opener comes around.

Statistics for Triple Eight Racing/Team Vodafone since 2004:
race wins - 11
round wins - 20
pole positions - 4
driver titles - 1 (2008)
constructor titles - 1 (2008)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Have the wheels fallen off Brawn GP?

For the first seven races of the 2009 F1 season, Brawn (and Jenson Button in particular) could do no wrong. They thumped everyone in all but the torrential rain-affected race in China, even when others looked to have the car to beat (namely Vettel at Turkey). As the circus hit the summer months, most people expected that form to continue, despite the recent updates to their closest challenger; Red Bull Renault.

However, that hasn't eventuated. Ok, so the Silverstone and Nurburgring domination by RBR can be explained away by the colder temperatures while the Brawn chassis seems to be like Jack Lemon and likes it hot...please note I said 'like Jack Lemon', not 'the car is a lemon'. However, the last race at Hungary can only be explained by one thing; they no longer have the best car on the grid.

RBR, Williams, Ferrari and, now, McLaren as well as Renault have seemed to, at the very least caught up if not surpassed the Brawn in performance. In a race where the Brawns were hoping to turn the tables on RBR, it didn't happen. Not only did one of their cars miss Q3 for the first time, the championship leader could only manage the eighth best time, giving him a few KERS cars in front of him as well as the dirty side of the grid...not the best place to start. Then in the race, things didn't get much better and the second best thing for Button (the best being Vettel having to retire obviously) was he was able to find a bit of speed in the second stint which allowed him to leapfrog Trulli for seventh while Barrichello could do no better than tenth.

The demonstration that was Australia now seems so very far away.

So what's going on?

Once a shoe-in for both titles, Brawn suddenly find themselves looking over their shoulder as RBR have come on strong and another couple of races like Hungary will see that lead reduced to nothing. As it stands, Button has 18.5 points over Webber while it's 15.5 between the two Constructors...still healthy, but not exactly the dead-certs it was before Silverstone.

This is starting to remind me a little of 1998 when McLaren bolted out of the gates, yet Ferrari were able to close the gap as the season went on, taking the title race to the final round in Japan. The only difference is that, unlike McLaren back then, it's doubtful that Brawn have the resources and/or money necessary to fight off RBR.

There is one saving grace....and that is RBR haven't yet thrown their weight behind just one of their drivers so Webber and Vettel have been taking points off each other. However, it might not matter as the title fight may be between those two now anyway.

We'll find out soon enough once their month hiatus is done.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If at first you don't succeed...

Mark Webber entered F1 in 2002 with a bang, netting fifth place (worth two points back then) in his first race driving a Minardi. Yes he was helped by a first corner accident which, basically, took out 8 of the 22 cars but he still had to fend off a hard charging Mika Salo for the final ten laps. The rest of the year didn't quite continue that incredible result (that was Minardi's first points since Marc Gene's sixth place effort at the Nurburgring in 1999) but the platform was set and Jaguar snapped him up for the next season.

Mark produced one of his finest drives in his debut race; 5th at the Aussie GP in '02.

After producing the qualifying lap of his, then short, F1 career in Brazil (third), he then equalled it at Hungary later in the season, causing most people to believe he was just a 'one lap specialist'. That form continued on in 2004, where he hauled the underperforming 'big cat' onto the front row for the first time. Such was his ability to get more out of the car than was thought, Williams wasted no time in signing him to fill the shoes of McLaren bound, Juan Montoya.

At Jaguar, Mark proved that given the right car, he could match it at the front.

2005 also saw the first year Mark was up against some seriously good opposition in the other team car; namely Nick Heidfeld...who, as most of you already know, I say is the most underrated driver on the grid. It was a frustrating year all in all, given how well Williams finished 2004. Monaco was the highlight when he outmuscled the Champion elect, Fernando Alonso, a few laps after watching his teammate do the same, to score his first podium, following Nick home in third. The lowlight came, ironically, the next race where, having started on the second row, he collided with Montoya at turn one, and then watched as Heidfeld finished second.

Mark finished that year with his "must beat your teammate" record still intact, scoring 36 points to Nick's 28 but 2006 saw the BMW powerplant leave Williams and follow Heidfeld to Sauber, meaning yet another new teammate for Webber. Nico Rosberg was the man and, with Cosworth power, both drivers started the year with a hiss and a roar. They were helped that Williams were the next best Bridgestone shod team, behind Ferrari, so any weekend when the Bridgies were the tyre to have, the Williams' were able to hang near the front. A point proved at Monaco where Mark was in a position to win the race, being as close as he was to both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen...but it wasn't to be as, not for the first time that year, mechanical issues sidelined the Australian.

Sadly a common sight during his time at Williams; another breakdown.

He was touted as the driver to replace Alonso (who had signed for McLaren) at the all-conquering Renault team, but instead chose to join Red Bull as teammate to David Coulthard...a move that, until this year, one couldn't really figure out why he went as he passed up the same seat in favour of the Williams in 2005. Mark said he was a little awed at going to "Fernando's team" and possibly felt he wouldn't be able to produce his best. 2007 saw him get his second podium finish, again a third, and his second chance of a potential win. This time, it was the youthful exuberance of Sebastian Vettel who ruined that opportunity as he clouted Mark while under safety car conditions. It wouldn't be the the last he heard the name 'Vettel' either.

The Red Bull 'B' team, Toro Rosso, had Ferrari power for 2008 while Red Bull had Renault. While Vettel flourished in the second half of the year, Webber began to struggle as the Renault's lack of horsepower started to make things difficult to make progress with the car. Indeed, some pundits were curious as to why Vettel was picked as Coulthard's replacement at Red Bull when his current car was faster.

Enter Adrian Newey; design genius.

The man behind the Williams' of the early 1990's and the McLaren's of the late 1990' other words, whenever tricky rules were put in place, Newey tended to find the best design...2009 saw a lot of rule changes.

Finally, Mark gets his paws on a competitive car.

It also saw what most people expected to be Webber's downfall, a catch 22 situation as, for the first time, he had a fast car capable of producing the results but the guy he had to beat was being hailed as the next big thing in racing. And oh yeah, he suffered a broken leg and shoulder from a bike crash during the offseason so the first half of 2009 he's driven with a metal rod in his leg.

He watched as Sebastian scored Red Bull's first win in China, with Mark coming home second. But he wasn't about to go quietly into the night and, while Vettel had the upper hand in qualfying, Webber started to turn the tide during the races. Going into last weekends' race at the Nurburgring, Vettel had just 3.5 points on Webber...not bad for a bloke who no one gave much of a chance to match the young German.

It was Mark who got the pole on Vettel's home turf, and it was Mark who drove away from everyone during the race. Such was his performance, that had he not backed off at the end or been hit with a drivethrough penalty for 'rough driving' at the start, Webber would have gone close to beating Vettel by 30 seconds...or half a second a lap. Either way you want to put it, Mark thumped everyone at Germany and it was a very popular win for a guy who is pretty well liked. Webber has a knack for getting the most, sometimes more, out of the car and that kind of driver usually doesn't have to wait seven years to be given the equipment his talent deserves...but that just made it all the more special.

It took 8 years for Mark and 28 years for Australia, but the Aussie anthem got dusted off at last!

Hearing his emotion over the radio on the cool down lap, hearing that Australian anthem being played on the podium and the flag hoisted high above for the first time since 1981 made this Aussie very, very proud.

I think BBC commentator and ex-F1 driver, Martin Brundle, summed it up best; he's been a nearly-man, and now he's turned it into a really-man. And here's an interesting stat to finish off with - until last weekend, there had been only two Aussies to have won a Grand Prix; Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones...and both of them went on to win F1 championships.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Milwaukee Mile - birth of a legend

I just heard on 'Windtunnel' that Milwaukee may be losing its Indycar race from next year. If that is the case, seeing as though NASCAR don't visit there (for the Cup boys anyway), I must say that will be a horrible day in motorsport to lose, in my mind anyway, the real 'magic mile' (sorry, Loudon, but you're far too boring to have such a title).

The mile is the oldest racing facility in the USA and was also the place where my racing idol scored his first win in CART...yes, I know I said I'd wait until later in the year to do my tribute to him and I think I still will anyway but this was too good an opportunity to pass up on.

So who was it and why did they become my idol? Well, if the 'gm99' in my username doesn't give you the answer, allow me to explain; it all began on March 3, 1996. Being an F1 fan, I was curious to see the series that Jacques Villeneuve did so well in before moving to F1. Now, the free-to-air TV coverage showed all the CART races Monday at midnight...which was rather poor timing given I was still at high school so the VCR got a work out that year with all those races as well as the F1 ones *laugh*

Anyway, the first race of 1996 was also the first race of the CART/IRL split but that wasn't the only change. Firing up the race after school on the Tuesday and I saw the telltale light blue/dark blue/white livery of, what I thought, was Villeneuve's replacement. I was wrong as Team Green was using a yellow and red scheme with the number 1 signifying them as the defending years champion...the guy I was watching turned out to be a 20 year old debutant Canadian by the name of Greg Moore.

Moore strapped into his #99 Forsthye Racing Mercedes Benz Reynard.

Greg rallied from a lap down to finish lucky dog in CART and eventual race winner, Jimmy Vasser, said after the race that he was happy they didn't do another 30 laps or so since Greg's #99 Reynard was easily the fastest car on the track. He followed that up with third place at 'my track' a few weeks later at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. That race marked my first ever visit to an openwheel race and after that I was pretty much hooked.

However, I digress...the Milwaukee Mile. Yes, that was the place Greg took his first win in 1997 becoming, at the time, the youngest ever winner of a major race series at the tender age of 21. I must confess to not recalling much of the race but I do remember that pitstops were crucial as was fuel mileage.

Michael Andretti had the best car but it was the #99 who pushed their fuel all the way and Greg somehow was able to keep Michael behind him. Greg managed to go back-to-back, winning the next race at Belle Isle, again on fuel mileage...the guys running 1-2 both ran out on the last lap gifting him the win.

Greg may have only had 5 wins and 72 starts in his career but that only told part of the story for he was set to get the equipment his talent so richly deserved when he joined Penske for the 2000 season...unfortunately, we'll never know how that would have panned out.

I attribute Greg as being the reason I became interested in oval racing in the first place so if Milwaukee does go, I will most certainly be rasing a glass to toast it...and to remember that day in 1997.

The Ambrose Angle - Halftime hooter

Ok, first things first; my usual panther avatar (for the 'follow' thingy) has taken a backseat on this website so far as it is a bitmap which isn't an 'allowed' file on here. Once I find the right program on the laptop to change it, I shall have Diego back and roaring.

On to business then. As the season is now 50% done, Ambrose has the following stats; 2 top fives, 5 top tens, 18th in the points and still ahead of past race winners McMurray, Harvick, Truex Jr and Earnhardt Jr...not bad for a bloke who is a rookie in all but the Raybestos eyes. Had things gone differently at Infineon, Marcos may very well have walked away with the win and had his team decided to 'do a Rueti' and gamble more, he may have even pipped Joey Logano to the line a week later at Loudon.

Not sure about making many saves, but he's certainly been getting a fair few shots on goal this season.

But neither happened. Ambrose had to make his way from the back at the first road course of the year and opted for the safety of a fuel stop at Loudon so his win column still remains blank...but for how much longer?

The Australian has been the surprise of the year, surpassing his semi-teammate, David Reutimann, as he continues to punch well above his weight, particularly on the tracks I fully expected him to struggle at. His top tens include places like Bristol, Daytona and Talladega...he never showed that kind of performance in the Trucks or Nationwide series but it seems he was either bluffing or the Cup car suits his driving style. I think the latter given the resemblence between the 2009 Cup car and the 2005 V8 Supercar (his last year before heading Stateside).

After Richmond, his crew chief believed Marcos could win on an oval before a road course. Now I had my doubts about that, even after his 4th place at Talladega at that time, but now I just don't know. The only tracks he seems to be struggling with are the 2 mile ones but I am having a tough time thinking of many left in the season (Fontana has one as does Michigan but is that it?) so that leaves him a good dozen places in which to spring a...well, it probably wouldn't be a surprise anymore as Marcos has shown he does belong in the highest level of the sport. Even his pitcrew have picked up their performance as was evidenced at Pocono, Sonoma and Daytona.

For what's it's worth, I still believe Watkins Glen will provide him his best shot at a win but Pocono is before that and who knows what can happen at that track...but overall, I'd rate JTG Daugherty's first half of 2009 a solid B+, pushing into an A- at times.