A Visit to the Zentrum at the BMW Factory in Spartanburg, SC

Another stop on the first day of my South Carolina/North Carolina road trip was the Zentrum at the BMW factory in Spartanburg, SC. Located just off of I-85 at Exit 60, the Zentrum is a combination museum and showroom that shows off both BMW’s history and their current products. Prominently displayed near the center of the C-shaped museum is an M3 GT2 car raced in the American Le Mans Series from 2009 to 2012; as a sports car racing fan, I was thrilled to see it. Having it so prominently placed shows how seriously BMW takes their motorsport. Among the historic cars in the Zentrum is the first car to roll off of Spartanburg’s production line, a 318 signed by over 700 of the factory’s employees. They also have a first generation 1986 M3 road car on display. Other historic BMW cars are a 1934 BMW 319 and a 1930 Ihle DIXI, the car that debuted BMW’s signature grille. Showcasing their new automobile technology is a beautiful black i8 electric sports car. Another classic BMW, an iconic Isetta takes center stage in the Zentrum’s cafe. If you find yourself in or near Spartanburg or Greenville, the Zentrum is definitely a place to stop in and visit.

Some of the inside photos in this post were taken with my Google Pixel 3 phone in “Night Sight” mode. Night Sight is designed for taking photos in dark conditions and I found it to be great for taking photos inside of museums. Some museums are dark inside and others discourage the use of flash photography for preservation reasons, so the Night Sight mode enabled me to take better photos in the museums without using a flash. If you’ve got a Google phone and haven’t tried out Night Sight yet, I highly recommend it for any low light environment.

A Radio Geek’s Thoughts on Formula 1’s Radio Regulations

For those not familiar, over the last few seasons, Formula 1 has set regulations which have drastically limited the information that the engineers and crew on the pit wall can give their drivers during the race. Key among those restrictions are information on strategy and car system settings; according to Formula 1 these regulations are supposed to put more of the race in the hands of the drivers and make the racing better for the fans. As both a radio geek and a motor sports fan, I think I have a bit of different perspective on Formula 1’s radio regulations than some other fans do and a couple of pieces of radio traffic presented during yesterday’s race from Baku solidified my thoughts on the regulations.

The sport, teams, and drivers like to point out that modern Formula 1 (F1) race cars are more like jet fighters than race cars and in a sense they’re right. In addition to their incredible acceleration and handling and the G-forces they create, the systems in modern F1 race cars are incredibly complex. Almost every surface on a F1 race cars’ steering wheel except for where the hand grips are is covered by a dial, switch, or display. It has to be difficult for anyone to remember what all of these controls do, much less drive on the limit while first figuring out which setting you need to switch to and then making that change. The current radio regulations, however, prevent the teams from helping the driver out with decisions and suggestion on which system settings to select and use.

Twice during yesterday’s race drivers were having performance issues with the car that in one instance were eventually fixed by a driver making the correct system settings (Lewis Hamilton) and one in which a fix could have been possible by a driver making system setting changes (Kimi Raikkonen). In both instances, the drivers radioed their team for help and in both instances were told they weren’t allowed to help them.  After 10 plus laps, Hamilton eventually found a system setting that fixed his performance issues and as far as I know Raikkonen’s were never fixed. The problem with Hamilton’s issue is that took him out of a fight for a podium (top 3) finishing position and prevented the fans from seeing him fight with the third place driver for that position. Depriving the fans of seeing a battle for position is making the racing better?

As mentioned, F1 likes to compare the race cars to jet fighters; if this is the case, then the drivers could likewise be compared to fighter pilots. Well,  one of my interests in radio is military monitoring. I listen to jet fighters and fighter pilots on the radio. Based on my observations of both, I think that if that if F1 wants to make the jet fighter comparison then we should also make a comparison with fighter pilot radio communications. Just like F1 drivers, fighter pilots occasionally have issues with their aircraft and systems. When that happens, they usually use the radio to talk to their wingman about it; the wingman will pull out a book on the aircraft and they’ll discuss the problem and find a fix. If that doesn’t work and they’re close enough to their home base the next step is to radio their squadron Base or Ops and work with them to find a solution. When they do so, they’re not told “We can’t answer that” like F1 drivers are now told by their engineers and teams. Sometimes fighters are controlled by radar operators on the ground or in airborne warning and control aircraft during fights. If a F1 driver asks about strategy or race tactics, he isn’t given guidance like a fighter pilot receives from a controller, he’s told by the team that they can’t give him an answer.

Both the F1 driver and fighter pilot are controlling complex, high-speed machines equipped with radios in a high stress environment. Fighter pilots are allowed to make use of their radios to solve problems with their aircraft and to get information that improves their performance, and make tactical and strategic decisions. F1 drivers are denied the ability to use their radios for the same purpose. In my opinion, making adjustments that improve a car’s performance, changing race strategy/tactics based on other teams’ and drivers’ actions, and changing strategy/tactics based on changing conditions only make the racing better for the fans, not worse. It’s time for F1 to relax their radio rules and give their drivers back some of the same tools that fighter pilots have available.


In the Log: W9IMS for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500

Savannah – I don’t set many goals in my hobbies, but I did set an amateur radio goal for 2016: to work W9IMS for this year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s a milestone race for IndyCar, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for motor sport as a whole so as an IndyCar and motor sport fan I wanted to get the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Amateur Radio Club in the log. The club operates under the callsign W9IMS and they do special event stations for each race at the Speedway. They always have nice QSL cards, so contacts with them are eagerly sought after by hams who are and aren’t motor sport fans.

Front of the W9IMS 2010 Indianapolis 500 QSL Card featuring race winner Dario Franchitti
Front of the W9IMS 2010 Indianapolis 500 QSL Card featuring race winner Dario Franchitti

Back of the W9IMS QSL Card for the 2010 Indianapolis 500
Back of the W9IMS QSL Card for the 2010 Indianapolis 500

Front of the 2011 W9IMS Indianapolis 500 QSL Card featuring race winner Dan Wheldon
Front of the 2011 W9IMS Indianapolis 500 QSL Card featuring race winner Dan Wheldon

Back of the 2011 W9IMS Indianapolis 500 QSL Card
Back of the 2011 W9IMS Indianapolis 500 QSL Card

This morning I fired up the mobile HF station after watching qualifying for the Grand Prix of Monaco, found W9IMS calling on 7.238 and they came back to me after my first call! 40 Meters is not the best band for my mobile station, so I was surprised at how easy it was. I looked around 20 Meters for them later in the afternoon but couldn’t find them (although they were still at it on 40 Meters) so I won’t be picking them up on multiple bands this year. Two weeks ago, I also worked W9IMS on 40 Meters for their IndyCar Angie’s List Grand Prix (on the road course at IMS) special event, so even though the mobile station’s best bands are 14, 15, and 10 Meters, the repaired FT-857D is definitely working on 40 Meters.

I’ll be sending out QSL cards for both the 500 and Angie’s List races on Tuesday; when I receive the QSL Cards from W9IMS later this year, I’ll make sure to post them here.

Thoughts on the 2015 WEC Season

For me, the most interesting racing of the 2015 season came from the World Endurance Championship (WEC). Even though there were some dominating season long performances the racing was almost always not just good, but great. It goes beyond that, however. When you look at the LMP1 class, the jump in performance between 2014 and 2015 is simply amazing. For that reason alone, the 2015 WEC season is one of the history books. As I look back over 2015 I realize that, for me, the most impressive race car of the 2015 season and my choice for Racer of the Year come from the WEC.

The performance jump in LMP1 between 2014 and 2015 was nothing short of amazing. I can’t remember such a difference from one season to the next. Toyota improved their performance by something around 2 seconds a lap. That sounds impressive enough, but even with that level of gain they got their tails handed to them by Audi and Porsche. Audi and Porsche were able to better their performance in 2014 season by something in the neighborhood of 4 seconds in 2015! The speed Audi and Porsche had at Le Mans prompted rules changes to slow them down there in 2016!  Many will try to tell you that F1 is the pinnacle of racing technology, but right now the pinnacle of racing technology is the WEC. What Audi, Porsche, and Toyota are doing with hybrid power units is incredible.

My choice for race car of the year didn’t require a second’s thought. It is the Porsche 919. I’m an Audi fan, albeit a conflicted one because the VW scandal, but you can’t help but be impressed by what the 919 did in 2015. In its maiden season in 2014, the 919 used a battery system to store hybrid energy while Audi used a flywheel and Toyota a supercapacitor. Particularly in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but also in the regular 6 hour races of 2014, it seemed that the battery system on the 919 degraded towards the end of the races, no doubt because of heat and charge/discharge cycles. Over the off-season Porsche obviously found a fix because the 919 was no slower at the end of this season’s races as it was at the start of them. Fast the car was, too… Audi was close, but to truly have a chance at winning this season they almost always had to hope for Porsche to have problems. It’s become obvious that batteries are the way to go for hybrid energy storage because both Audi and Toyota have announced they’re switching to battery systems for 2016. This highlights the benefits that LMP1 racing can and will have for road cars:  improvements to battery system technology and control systems that can handle the stresses of motor spot will eventually find their way to road going hybrid cars.

The 2015 Porsche 919 (photo from Porsche's website)
The 2015 Porsche 919 (photo from Porsche’s website)

My choice for racer of the year didn’t require much thought either. Once again, Nick Tandy was my instant choice. Nick Tandy was simply incredible in a variety of machinery this year: LMP1 and LMP2 in the WEC and GTLM in IMSA.. He was on the Porsche LMP1 team that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall in a car that was not a full season entry. He drove for KCMG in LMP2 in most other WEC races and helped propel them to second in the LMP2 championship. He drove GTLM (GTE-Pro) in the IMSA Tudor Championship and was part of the Porsche domination in that class, including a brilliant overall victory in the rain at Petit Le Mans. Often times his stints were simply amazing in whatever he was driving.

The 2015 WEC season was truly one that will be remembered for a long time to come. I know the term legend gets tossed around a lot these days, but I truly believe that the 2015 Porsche 919 will be remembered in the future as a legendary race car much like we now look back at the Porsche 917. I also believe that Nick Tandy is a racer who is potentially a legend in the making. I can’t wait to see what both do in 2016.

Questioning My Audi Fanhood

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a motor sport related post, mostly because I’ve seen so few races live this season. Most of the time my work schedule has prevented me from watching live on TV, so I’ve been watching on DVR or You Tube. That’s been disappointing because watching delayed isn’t nearly as fun as watching live; without the benefit of timing and scoring and information coming in from social media, it’s much harder to keep up with strategy. That said, at least I’ve been able to watch… On to the point of this post, however – recent events have caused me to question my support of a manufacturer I’ve long respected. I’ve been an Audi fan for years because of their sportsmanship and emphasis on engineering. Actions by their motor sports chief in DTM and by their parent company with road cars have brought me to question how much I want to continue cheering for Audi in their motor sports endeavors.

One of the reasons I became a fan of Audi was sportsmanship. Particularly at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, they seemed to be the model of sportsmanship in both victory and defeat. When they won, they were gracious to their opponents and invited them to take part in celebrations. In defeat they were also gracious, often the first to congratulate the winning team. Audi gave their drivers second chances, even after making huge mistakes in the biggest of races (Mike Rockenfeller at Le Mans (Mike Rockenfeller at Le Mans in 2007 comes to mind). In today’s world of professional sports, it was an attitude that was refreshing. On 2 August 2015 at the DTM race in Spielberg, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Audi’s Motor Sports chief ordered driver Timo Scheider to “schieb ihn raus” (push him out) during his race with Robert Wickens and Pascal Wehrlein. Scheider punted Wickens’ car which caused Wickens to hit Wehrlein’s car, spinning them both (at the time Wehrlein was leading the DTM championship). Schieder was suspended for one race and Ullrich was banned from DTM for the rest of the season. Needless to say, I found this very disappointing. After thinking about it, however I decided to treat Ullrich’s and Audi’s action at Spielberg as a one off. Compared to previous behavior, it seemed to be a bizarre and unique event and I decided not to let it color my opinion of Audi.

Throughout Audi’s recent motor sports history, I’ve loved how they used technology such as all wheel drive and turbo direct injection (TDI). I loved how they brought diesel engines into the top level of motor sports in Le Mans prototypes. VW and Audi used motor sports to help promote their diesel road cars as fuel efficient and clean. In the past week, it has been revealed that Volkswagen and Audi (VW is Audi’s parent company) have equipped their diesel cars in North America with a “defeat device” that allowed the engines to meet emissions requirements during tests but exceed them during normal driving, circumventing emission regulations while claiming to be environmentally friendly. I love the idea of winning through engineering excellence or technological advancement, but it has to be within the rules. This is a clear example of using technology and engineering to break and circumvent the rules, which brings us back to sportsmanship. While the “defeat device” had nothing to do with their motor sport engines, the device is still a clear attempt at cheating, and they cheated successfully for a good while. Cheating is hardly being sporting. It makes you wonder if the engine seal problem Audi had at Le Mans wasn’t an error, perhaps there was more to it…

After Spielberg, I could reason things away but I can’t do that after the issue with the diesel engine “defeat devices.” I’ve thought long and hard about it and I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to support Audi right now. I can’t support a manufacturer that was party to a cheat on this level. Perhaps one day VW Group and Audi will atone for what they did and I’ll be able to again support them, but for now I just can’t do it with a good conscience.