Michael Rockich Blog

Michael Rockich's insight and information about the World of Cars.
Everything on the Michael Rockich Blog is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily reflective or indicative of the opinions and positions of All Car Central Publishing's staff and members.

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May 20, 2011

Ferrari Challenge at Infineon Raceway, Wrap-Up

Ferrari 430s on Track

The Ferrari Challenge took place April 28 - May 1 at Infineon Raceway and was exceptionally well represented in all respects. Drivers, pit crews, paddocks, corrals, spectators, and oh yes, the races - were all revving. The Ferrari corral was loaded to say the least. I will note just a few of the models that I noticed, often with multiple copies present in their polished glory: Dino, 308 GTS Quattrovalvole, 512TR Testarosa, F40, 430 including Scuderia, and the new 458 Italia on display with appropriate plaque of vitals.

Ferrari 430s and 458s Race

The paddocks were also well occupied. Models lining the stalls included 430, 458 Italia, Enzo-like FXX, 599 and 599XX Programme, and F1s in the Ferrari F1 Clienti Programme. Mechanics and owner-drivers looked efficient as they prepared their cars for the contests.

Ferrari 430s and 458s Race

In the paddocks and also at trackside I tried to speak with a number of the Ferrari F1 pit crew and mechanics in hopes of gleaning information about mechanical issues, performance, and set up. It was not difficult to tell they were authentic as beautiful Italian flowed back to me in brief musical-sounding phrases, which my French and English could not translate.

Ferrari FXX Looks Fast, is Fast

Except over lunch, at all times during the day either practice, qualifying, or actual racing took place. Other events such as parade laps also had their moments. The main racing events were grouped as 430s and 458s, FXXs and 599s, the F1 Clienti Programme, and the group of Ferrari street cars.

Formula 1 Pit Crew, Add 10 People for Grand Prix Racing

In the main event Ferrari's new model 458 Italia took the first three places in both races. See my photos for evidence that the action was competitive. Podium places for Race 1, April 30: 1st, #55, 458, Scott Tucker, Leawood, KS, Boardwalk Ferrari, 2nd, #22, 458, Enzo Potolicchio, Caracas, Venezuela, Ferrari of Fort Lauderdale, 3rd, #20, 458, Cooper MacNeil, Hinsdale, IL, Ferrari of Houston.

F1 Ready to Launch

Podium places for Race #2, May 1: 1st, #22, 458, Enzo Potolicchio, Caracas, Venezuela, Ferrari of Fort Lauderdale, 2nd, #77, 458, Harry Cheung, San Francisco, CA, Ferrari of Silicon Valley, 3rd, #20, 458, Cooper MacNeil, Hinsdale, IL, Ferrari of Houston.

F1 Steering Wheel - Simple Controls While Passing Time at 200+ mph

Several Ferrari Formula One cars in the Ferrari F1 Clienti Programme were on track. Models ranged from recent to a 1989 12 cylinder. When seen in person these cars offer spellbinding impact. Most impressive, I watched them appear in view a good distance away exiting Turn 11, the south hairpin. Plainly audible was the series of very short, shrieking bursts of the engine turning 17,000 RPM as the pilots remained in each of seven gears only an instant due to their prodigious acceleration and operation in a narrow RPM band. Almost instantly the cars were upon me at the grandstand, and just as quickly disappeared into the uphill bend.

The New Ferrari 458 Italia

Many owners of street-going Ferraris took the ultimate plunge and opted to participate on track too. The turnout was quite large including many of the cars from the Ferrari corral. I suggest adding the Ferrari Challenge to your "not to be missed list" of car events.

You can contact me through the site. Just use the 'Contact' Form and address it to M Rockich in the 'Text Submittal' line.

Michael Rockich


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May 15, 2011

Ferrari Challenge Racing Days at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca 2011

Ferrari F40, Mazda Raceway 2010

The Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca will host an episode of the 2011 Ferrari Challenge May 20-22 in the form of Ferrari Racing Days. Ferrari will be out in force with a variety of cars on track. The main contenders are the 430 and the new 458 Italia. All cars are driven by non professional drivers, as Ferrari's intent is to get owners to experience racing a Ferrari in direct competition on some of the world's greatest race tracks.

Also on track in competition will be the 860-horsepower Ferrari FXX supercars, and recent model Formula One cars employing the pneumatic valve system which permit engines to turn 17,000 RPM. These unique engines make a characteristic shriek and are not to be missed. Other Ferrari F1 cars sporting V12 engines are likely to be on track too. Many of these cars from the Italian constructor are rarely seen, and large Italian pit crews will service them.

The Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca is a race course of 2.238 miles in counter clockwise length. It includes four right turns, six left turns, an esse, and the exciting Corkscrew. The track covers an elevation range of 180 feet and provides plenty of challenge for the drivers as well as excitement and various vantage points for the fans.

The paddocks, which are open to the public, usually provide plenty of opportunity to view the race cars at close hand while they are being prepared to race. The transportation of attendees in the form of various exotic car marques can be found to admire in the parking areas and car corrals also. Ferraris should abound.

You can contact me through the site. Just use the 'Contact' Form and address it to M Rockich in the 'Text Submittal' line.

Michael Rockich


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May 5, 2011

Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival 2011

Can-Am Cars in Preparation in Paddocks
Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival, Infineon Raceway, California 2010

The Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival will take place June 4-5 at Infineon Raceway. This event was known as the Wine Country Classic before 2010. It is an excellent venue to watch historic race cars in wheel to wheel action on track which performed in prior years. About a quarter hour from Sonoma, California, Infineon Raceway is a 2.52 mile curvy road course featuring 12 turns and more than 160 feet of elevation change.

McLaren is the featured marque this year. Bruce McLaren founded this legendary racing team in 1963. McLaren is an arch rival of Ferrari in Grand Prix racing. They also produced cars that competed in the now defunct Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am). Both McLaren types are anticipated at the Festival.

Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette, Ferrari, and many more marques are also expected to race. I have attended this event for years and can say I would not want to miss it. The Festival is loaded with vintage racing cars, sports cars, Can-Am cars, and Formula 1 race cars of many marques.

There are three ways to view the cars, be they race cars or transportation of attendees and drivers. Watch them on track of course. Also view the cars on a stroll through the paddocks where the cars are prepared for qualification and racing. Finally, do not overlook the car corrals which are organized by marque. Porsche often has one of the largest corrals. A walk through the parking areas can also turn up some gems like the several Ford GTs I found once, each red and parked side by side.

If you do not wish to travel offshore or to Canada to view a Grand Prix race, you can watch vintage F1 cars race at the Festival. Most F1 cars in attendance were formerly driven by top F1 drivers, sometimes Driver's World Champions. F1s are usually plentiful and they put on a good show.

The Can-Am race cars are one of my favorites. Featuring unlimited, massive engines they produce such torque and acceleration that one owner/driver was led to say that after stepping out of his Can-Am car and then pressing on the accelerator in his F1, it felt like the F1 was broken. However let's not forget the agility advantage of the F1s slicing through the turns like no other can. When the Can-Am cars fire up, sometimes with a loud bang, they produce a symphony of rolling thunder.

Finally, don't miss the Wine Country Pavilion. It will provide food and wine samples from the Sonoma and Napa valleys at no additional charge to those with race tickets. Notable Bay Area chef Victor Scargle will participate.

You can contact me through the site. Just use the 'Contact' Form and address it to M Rockich in the 'Text Submittal' line.

Michael Rockich


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April 25, 2011

The Grand Prix of Australia 2011

The Formula One Grand Prix season opened in Melbourne Australia after the real opener at Bahrain was cancelled due to political unrest. Bahrain may be rescheduled later this year. The main contenders found that they were not abler to take the bull by the horns, but rather the Bull made it clear and present that its horns are quite sharp, probably sharper than last season, at least in Sebastian Vettle's car.

Vettle's domination was fairly complete, although Hamilton put in a good performance finishing second despite damage to the underside of his McLaren. Ferrari is not quite on the cutting edge yet. The top finishers in order were Sebastian Vettle with RBR-Renault, Lewis Hamilton with McLaren-Mercedes, and Vitaly Petrov with Renault who replaced the injured Robert Kubica.

A number of new drivers were on the track including Paul di Resta with Force India-Mercedes, Sergio Perez with Sauber-Ferrari, Pastor Maldonado with Williams-Cosworth, Narain Karthikeyan with HRT-Cosworth, and Jerome d'Ambrosio with Virgin-Cosworth. Perez drove a very competitive race, and di Resta's skills are impressive.

The 107% rule was put to the test by HRT with an appeal. Both cars logged times outside the qualifying time of 107%, but the FIA declined to allow HRT to race.

We note that the more things change, the more they remain the same. More precisely, as the FIA rules frequently change focusing on safety and environmental impact, F1 performance is often reduced. Yet often the clever teams quickly find ways to claw back performance resulting in no net performance change, and sometimes gains.

Often ignored, tires have one of the most profound impacts on F1's performance. Pirelli has returned as the tire supplier to F1 for the first time in 20 years. The Pirelli F1 tire is expected to degrade at a faster rate by design in the interest of more pit stops lending to more exciting racing. As expected, the amount of clag that built up on track was like a field of pebbles. And after roughly ten laps, especially when the tires were pushed and heated, the drop in performance was like falling of a cliff.

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) is back, although Red Bull's apparently failed to function. It really did not seem to matter in their case.

Probably the most interesting change, introduced in the interest of alleviating the problem of overtaking, is the introduction of the Drag Reduction System (DRS). At a button push, the rear wing splits horizontally reducing drag and down force and adding about 12 mph in speed. DRS will only deploy on the trailing car, when it is within one second or less of the car in front, and at a specific place on the track.

The hottest duel in the first 11 laps at Melbourne was between 2009 World Drivers' Champion Jensen Button, and 2008 near- World Drivers' Champion (1 point) Felipe Massa. As he sometimes does at the start, Massa jumped three cars at the first turn, including that of teammate Alonzo. Massa's Ferrari and Button's McLaren-Mercedes drove two abreast time and again as Button frantically tried to overtake Massa. The very first test of the DRS in competition was about to be made. Jenson pushed his button, the wing split, and….nothing happened. Button could not overtake. Worse, Button's view to the rear deteriorated as Massa's teammate Alonzo had pulled nearly to Button's gearbox - a Ferrari sandwich.

Deciding things could be better, Jenson selected an option that can work but with associated risk. He took a side tributary shortening the race track and passed Massa. Alonzo also passed Massa.

The rules state that a car leaving the track must give back any positions gained. Button interpreted the rules after his own fashion, and refused to give back either position. The race stewards apparently took a dim view of this and hit Button with a drive through penalty costing him far more than giving back the two positions would have. Later Eurosport - reported “Button claimed Massa had pushed him off the track during their fight.” Fast forward about 40 laps. Button's view forward again indicated red - Massa's Ferrari. Once again Button pushed his button, DRS deployed, and this time Jenson overtook Massa. Proof of design concept vindicated? But Massa immediately stopped to change tires, his rubber exhausted. Was the factor rubber, or the split wing? Tune in for more later in the season.

Unless otherwise noted, the narrative of the events in this race was taken from the comprehensive coverage by Speed TV, with commentators Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, Steve Matchett, and Will Buxton.

You can contact me through the site. Just use the 'Contact' Form and address it to M Rockich in the 'Text Submittal' line.

Michael Rockich


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February 22, 2011

Ferrari Challenge North America

Pace Car
Ferrari Challenge, Infineon Raceway, California 2010

The Ferrari Challenge is in progress for the 2011 season in North America. What that means is the opportunity to go to one of the top race tracks in the USA and view or drive a real thoroughbred sports car in competition.

Privateers have long played a significant role in Ferrari's racing activities. This was one of Enzo Ferrari's fondest wishes. He believed Ferraris were made to be raced, and not only to sit in a garage or get an occasional airing.

The Ferrari Challenge began in 1993, and expanded to North America in 1994. US Ferrari owners have the opportunity to experience many of USA's finest tracks while sharing camaraderie with fellow Ferrari owners. The series has also appeared on television.

The first Ferrari raced in the Challenge was the 348. As newer Ferraris appeared, the 355 and 360, special Challenge versions of these cars were incorporated in the race. Since 2006 the F430 Challenge has been the car raced. In 2011 the new 458 Italia can join the 430.

The 430s raced in the Challenge employ the same stock 490 horsepower engine as road-going Ferraris. Modifications to the cars are tightly restricted, but do incorporate a number of significant track-oriented modifications and other features not previously used in Challenge cars. These are Ferrari purpose built race cars and must be procured new, or as a pre owned racing vehicle. During the racing season, preparation and support of the race cars is performed by authorized Ferrari dealer teams with engines sealed for the race.

The Ferrari Challenge is organized by Ferrari North America and its authorized dealers. The Challenge is sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association (GrandAm). Fans of historic race cars should note that the Ferrari Shell Historic Challenge is another racing series for owners of historic race cars, specifically Ferrari, Maserati, and Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo. This series is also held at race tracks in North America.

To level the playing field, the competition is not open to professional race drivers, and certain others. Watching the race closely can be exciting, as the drivers seem to be pushing their cars near the limit, and in a proficient manner.

I usually view the Challenge at the two race tracks in my area. One is Infineon Raceway at Sears Point in Sonoma County. Infineon is a major race track featuring more than 160 feet of elevation change from its highest to lowest points, with numerous vantage points around track. The track gets its share of use. On track activity is scheduled at Infineon Raceway an average of 340 days per year, and includes a large racing offering of automobile road course, motorcycle, dragster, as well as historic car racing including Formula 1 and Can Am.

The other track is the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey County. Another major course, its length is 2.238 miles in counter clockwise direction, and includes six left turns, four right turns, an esse, and the famous Corkscrew. This track has an elevation range of 180 feet. Laguna Seca hosts major types of racing including automobile road course, motorcycle, dragster, and also historic car racing with Formula 1 and Can Am.

At both venues spectators can view the race cars at close hand in the paddock and garage areas which are open to the public. Various exotic car marques can usually be found to admire in the parking areas also.

To find the dates of the race in your area, see "Schedule" online at Details for driver registration are also found there, as well as many other things you might wish to know. Alternatively, contact the Challenge Manager at Ferrari North America.

You can contact me through the site. Just use the 'Contact' Form and address it to M Rockich in the 'Text Submittal' line.

Michael Rockich