Saturday, March 3, 2012

Video games + V8 supercars

I've recently been playing Forza Motorsport 4, and I've found what seems to be the least drivable car of the game -- an Australian V8 Supercar (Holden Commodore, but anyway).

This leads me to wonder whether I need to be paying more attention to V8 Supercars in general. Why?

Because I've played a LOT of racing games (Pole Position, anyone?), and I've never met a car quite this uncontrollable... It requires a level of finesse, even with supporting systems (including some not actually available on the car)... Now, I realize that this isn't necessarily evidence of the ACTUAL drivability of the vehicles. Indeed, it's in my job description to know the limits of driving simulation (we call it fidelity, but anyway). Still, when a game includes NASCAR stock cars (also V8-powered beasts with little electronic support to keep them in line), and THOSE vehicles are more easily tamed than a Supercar? Even relative validity (which is supported by simulation) suggests that Aussie racers are crazy.

With apologies to Marcos Ambrose (aka the Tasmanian Devil).

And as for whether video games are actually 'simulations' (indeed, I've made the argument against that position many times) -- In this instance.... Meh.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One more day.....

....before the Daytona 500, and things are already getting interesting.

On the Sprint Cup side, Danica got wrecked out in the first Duel Thursday, on the last lap. After winning the pole in the Nationwide Series, she got wrecked on lap 49 by her teammate (whoops).

Both the Truck and Nationwide races ended with relative unknowns winning after late accidents mixed up the running orders. It sets quite a stage for tomorrow's feature.

Some random thoughts while I'm procrastinating....

1) While it's merely bemusing now, Danica's probably going to have to tone down the frustration and attitude on the radio... Her language was colorful even to me, and they can only redact so much. Her reputation had taken a hit in IndyCar for her temper, but if it continues along that vein in NASCAR, eventually she'll be viewed more like the Busch brothers than like her bosses, Junior and Tony.

She can't be fined for what she says over the radio (at least not for profanity-laced rants), but NASCAR's social structure can be a bit sensitive. Also, because she is such a popular subject for the media, any judgment by the masses may have a major impact on her future marketability.

Maybe I'm over-analyzing it (after all, that's more or less my job), but there is a tendency for women to be held to higher standards than men... want references for that?

2) Although it's unlikely, I have to wonder if I'm partly to blame for the wreck-fests this weekend. A distracted driving researcher (me) in conversations with NASCAR's director of safety MIGHT have had an impact on the restriction of cross-team chatter. Or not. Regardless, it's definitely played a role in the racing (combined with smaller radiators, lower water pressures, etc). On one hand, it's nice that the drivers are back to typically chattering with their crew chief and spotters, rather than other drivers, spotters, and who knows who else. On the other, while spotters are back to making and maintaining deals, verbal communication is just not quite as fast when you add in extra links (i.e., the reason drivers started communicating directly in the first place).

Restrictor plate racing makes these cars more sensitive to the dynamics of airflow... to take advantage of said dynamics, they have to run close together, either in tandem or in packs (we've seen both throughout the past week). Running close together pretty much guarantees contact between vehicles, which pretty much guarantees someone will at some point wreck, and wreck a few others in the process.

Drafting will be a necessary evil for the major superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega). I can see several reasons for why NASCAR chose to restrict communication as well as airflow through the throttle body. It makes for a more entertaining show, especially compared to the "two-car tango". Still, from a cognition standpoint, dependence on verbal communication is hardly optimal when performance is critical. It will be intriguing to see what workaround the teams find this time.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Two months later....

....give or take a week, and enthusiasm is still running high.

This could be dangerous.

Also, McLaren's new car (MP4-27) is a beautiful piece of machinery. Best of luck to Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button behind the wheel. There's been some interesting changes to the tech specs for Formula 1 this year (as occur every year, usually throughout it)... we'll have to see how they play out. But I'm still cheering on McLaren most loudly. ;-)

It's now pretty much official that a trip to Road America, a fabulous road course facility up in Wisconsin is in the works. I've attended a few oval races, from dirt to asphalt short tracks to the massive Talladega Superspeedway, but this will be my first road course event to attend in person. Having the opportunity to actually see race operations up close and personal should be AWESOME!! but I'm just guessing here.

I've decided to stick with stock cars for now, because I know the most about them (F1 comment above notwithstanding)... but in the end, I really like the challenges that road courses offer. Next step (maybe) will be to see a street circuit in action. Those, however, will require expanding from stock cars into open-wheel. IndyCar, anyone?

Yeah. Being a Chick Speed Geek is starting to pay off. Now, if I can just remember to post here......

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Motorsports Geek Level Up.

Okay, just to be clear, the International Motorsports Industry Show was amazing. Amazingly awesome. And fantastic. Yes, most of my time was spent in the Safety and Technical Conference, but a lot of the attendees are THE brains among the sanctioning bodies, the technical advances, and SAFETY advances of course... It was awesome.

Even better? They didn't think I was crazy. Admittedly, they've never really seen me in action outside the conference. It was a bit overwhelming to know that what I said actually had an impact on these guys, who are masters of their craft.

And I'm in with them now??

Is it completely inappropriate to giggle and grin like a fool?

Oh, and based on (not terribly secret) insider information, Austin race is still on.

But it's F1, so nothing is really guaranteed until at least after qualifying.

See? Some real information is here too! (Now, back to grinning like a fool)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Indy. For motorsports. Woo!

So.... in the morning I'll finally have the opportunity to present my ideas about human performance research in motorsports to (in theory) a group of motorsports engineers.

This is both exciting and a bit freaky. But hey, what else would you expect someone to be doing in Indianapolis? (okay, yeah, Lucas Oil Stadium is across the street, but this isn't really the year to watch the Colts).

Anyway, more on what's actually at the IMIS Safety and Technical Conference tomorrow.

Some follow-up.... Austin's new facility is still up the air. Steve Addington will be Tony Stewart's crew chief next year, and a different Busch brother (Kurt) is looking for work. For a very Busch-like attitude problem.

More craziness later; just because it's the off-season doesn't mean things slow down.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Darian Grubb -- in or out?

As already covered, the combination of Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb brought home a Sprint Cup title.

But by that point, so it appears, Grubb already knew he was out of a job.

Some perspective is required to make sense of firing (and then reversing?) a now-championship crew chief.

Tony Stewart is a hard-charger, driven to success and quick to strike when frustration mounts. Frustration brings out both the best and the worst in Tony, and prior to the Chase itself, this season was almost nothing but frustration for the #14 team as a whole.

It looks like maybe Grubb, like his driver and employer, also excels under pressure.

Grubb has argued that the team rallied together, closer than before, once word came down that he was out. It happens, but now the real questions begin...

...given the position he was in before, would he *want* to stay at Stewart-Haas Racing, in any capacity? Is this family man willing to walk what he now knows is a knife's edge?

Tony is enough of a man to own up to what now appears to be a premature, if not outright bad, call. But he's still Tony. When the frustration mounts again, the same situation might rear its ugly head.

I greatly respect Tony, and I greatly respect Darian. But there are definitely two different personalities in the mix here. How willing to forgive (no option to forget)?

...And on the geeky side, what exactly is it going to take for motorsports teams to start looking at interpersonal relations in some fashion that isn't akin to shuffling a deck and 'defined' by vague terms like 'chemistry'?? (Why yes, I am teaching industrial psychology next semester; what gave it away?)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smoke wins in Homestead-Miami

...and brings home the Sprint Cup trophy for the third time (although really, it's only been the 'Sprint Cup' trophy twice, I think? -- but that's another ramble).

What makes this time special, given that Tony Stewart's done this three times before?

1) His only real chance to win the championship was to win the race. He did so.
2) He won on a tiebreaker based on number of wins... 5-1. A tie. In the Sprint Cup series. Seriously??
3) All those wins came IN THE CHASE. He won 1/2 of the Chase races. After going winless prior to the Chase, he dominated the 'playoff'.
4) First owner-driver to win the championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992, although there are some major differences in the level of outside support provided in the current sport.

Given that Tony is one of the major investors in the International Motorsports Industry Show, I'm sorta hoping the Sprint Cup trophy makes the trip to the Indiana Convention Center, despite the fact that potentially seeing it in person doesn't really mean anything (for a lowly, if geeky, spectator like me)... Regardless, I rather doubt that it will... ah, well.