Sunday, 29 July 2007

Catching Up: Edmonton Grand Prix, Part 2

Champ cars look like F1 cars, and the teams would like you to think that they're right up there with F1, but they're not. Every F1 car chassis is different; every Champ Car chassis comes from one manufacturer (Panoz). Every F1 engine is different, and they peak at 19,000 RPM; Every Champ Car engine comes from Ford Cosworth, and maxes out at 12,000 RPM. F1 tires are groved to slow the cars down; Champ races on slicks. So yes, the cars look the same, but it's a world of difference between the two. That's how Paul Stoddart & Minardi can spend 5 years in F1 and only score 1 point, and be DFL in every season (and most races), but when they switch to Champ with a former F1 driver (Robert Doornbos), they can be top of the points.

The dominant Champ driver is Sebastien Bordais, who is from Le Mans, France and (apparantly) has an ego bigger than Nigel Mansel ever did. Mr. Bordais has won 3 straight Champ Car titles racing for Newman/Haas/Lannigan racing, and is on his way to winning a 4th. Being French, he believe he has a God-given right to drive for the Renault F1 team, but as long as Flavio Briatore is with the team, that will never happen. Accordingly, Mr. Bordais is under contract to and has been testing with Scudaria Torro Rosso of F1, trying to take the place of either Scott Speed (the only American driver in F1) or Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Mark my words, Mr. Bordais is very good both from a driving and strategy perspective, and he won the race. But as I noted in my Montreal posts, you go to the practice sessions to see good guys screw up, and Mr. Bordais was no exception.

Champ Car features Canadian drivers, Alex Tagliani, who managed to crunch with Robert Doornbos right in front of us during the race...

...and the always entertaining Paul Tracy (seen here after spinning out on Turn 1 in practice).

We actually had bets that Mr. Tracy (who normally drives quite well but is seriously struggling this season, and managed to only qualify 15th on the starting grid) to wipe out in Turn 3 during the first lap of the race, taking several cars with him. He had "off track excursions" at that turn in every practice and during each qualifying session. But to his credit, he held it together for the race, and finshed a very, very respectable 5th.

In Montreal, the stands are jam packed, and the race sells out. Champ Car in Edmonton not so much...

That's Mr Tracy successfully defending Bruno Junquiera,

Given that the cars are the same, it's the small things in racing that make the difference. Like wing settings and which tire you're actually going to race on. It's always entertaining how teams try to hide this info. For instance, when the cars are pulled from the paddock to the track, they cover stuff up and roll out on tires they won't use.

But there are similarities to F1, the biggest being that when they race, they really race. Mr. Bordais started second; here he is going into Turn 1 already ahead of the entertainingly named Will Power, the pole sitter.

And Montreal could learn from Edmonton in a few areas.

1) Montreal has CRAPPY food on the island. In Edmonton last year, there must have been 50 different food vendors, and you could get everything from Greek to Pizza to Pasta to salads; this year, not so much, and thank goodness Extreme Pita and Mr. Sub showed up on Saturday. But Fat Frank's jalapeno chedder smokies make great second breakfast, so Edmonton wins, hands down.

2) The ratio of porta potties to people in Montreal is about 10,000 people per potty. Accordingly, the lineups are always long, and by Sunday, they're disgusting. I swear Edmonton has 1 porta potty per person.

3) Champ Car lets you get close to the cars and the action. You can buy a pit walk through pass, allowing you a one time wander down pit lane (you can't stay, but you can saunter slowly and get great photos). You can buy a paddock pass, and be in the back with all the trailers & mechanics. The cars are moved through the crowds, so you get up close & personal for great photo ops.

The only time you get to do that with F1 in Montreal is either by showing up on Thursday when the teams are setting up (I've never managed to do that) or at the end of the race along with 50,000 other people, and shoot your photos through the fence after pushing through the other 500 people who have the same idea.

4) Champ Car hosts a drivers autograph session. If you want, you can meet every one of them (though it's usually crowded, and only lasts an hour, so practically, I think you could meet 2 or 3 at most). In Montreal, F1 drivers are as rare as Liberals in Calgary; there but hiding in the shadows. You always hear stories of how Raikonnen was at this bar, or Alonso was at that restaurant, but you never actually see them.

So Edmonton is fun, but it's a radically different experience than Montreal. I think I'll keep going to both.

Thanks to Mike, Hilda, John, Elizabeth, Robbie, Indie, Yoko, Celeste, the gecko and all the fish for allowing up to invade their house, and the incredible dinner at Koutouki's (the belly dancer, conga line, and food were all great).

Kitchen Week 10

Work re-started in earnest, as much needs to be done prior to countertops arriving early next week. Actually, only two important things became active: painting and the final coat on the floors.

First came painting the ceilings and covering up the holes in the walls.

Thence the walls, both Chinaberry and Elk Tan

Then all the uninstalled stuff ended up on the counters again so the floors could get done.

We were out again on Friday as the final coat went on the floors, and they look GREAT.

The project is nearing completion. This week, the countertops come, then the remainder of the upper cabinets get installed, then the appliances arrive (bye bye old leaky fridge in the garage), then cabinet trim gets done, final plumbing & electrical -- and apparantly we will be done in 10 working days.

And I will be glad.

Hog's Back/Threepoint Creek: 21 km of Hot Hiking

About once a year, we opt for a long, full day hike somewhere. This year, I chose the Hog's Back/Threepoint Creek loop, a 21.2 km circle. This long trail follows a reclaimed fire road for a part of the way, following the course of Threepoint Creek, and takes you to a canyon I was told is the "Grand Canyon of the Kananaskis".

This hike was not without some misadventures. For starters, about 3 km in, I was intent on studying my GPS and I slid off the trail, scraping my knee and elbow (a little blood never hurt anyone). Second, it was about 29°, and we ran out of water. We were on the trail 6 hours, and basically started rationing around 2:30, as we were down to less than 700 ml. But one of the first "issues" was this sign at the start of the Hog's Back section.

I (correctly) guessed that there was unrepaired trail damage from the flood of 2005. About 1 km past that sign, the trail, now 100 m above the river, was crossing a very steep undercut bank. Sure enough, the entire hillside was missing, including the trail. I wanted to get photos, but getting out of there wasn't too safe (it involved scambling up a gravel/shale scree slope at 50° angle, grabbing onto trees as we went). I figured that was it for the wrecked trail sections that caused the closure, and it almost was. There were also two creek crossings that had been washed away.

However, after that the trail got better, except for a lot of downed trees. Then it went zooming up an incredibly steep 250 m climb (which just about melted us, as a lot of it was in the glaring hot sun). This got us up to this view.

The trail hugs the lip of the ridge on the right. Just past here is the "obvious lunch stop" - the top of another awsome undercut bank.

Many people stop here and turn back. In fact, I downloaded a GPS route map that did just that. But this is not the "Grand Canyon" I was promised. Tantalizingly in the distance was the start of the canyon, so we decided to press on.

The trail conditions got worse, with even more downed trees, and damage from dirt bikes that arent's supposed to be here (this is south of the McLean Creek OHV zone). I suspect that there's been no maintenance in a few years because remember, the trail is actually closed. The trail sort of undulated up and down a bit, in mostly shaded forest, with occasional glimpses of the canyon ahead. It's shaped like a hockey stock, and here's the blade part starting to show up.

Then suddenly you get on top of a grassy ridge with a panorama over the blade of the stick...

and a spectacular view up the canyon.

It was here that we consolidated water & found we were down to less than a litre, with 10+km of trail to get back to the car. Rather than retrace our steps up and down the hills and through all the bad deadfall, we opted for the longer but flatter (sort of) fire road route. We expected it to be infinitly more boring (we were right), and covered in used horse food (which it was). It started with nice views up the Quirk Creek valley, with Nihai Ridge and Powderface Ridge in the distance.

But then it turned into a long, hot, dusty 330 m decent that took 3 1/2 hours to get back to the car, with the only interesting parts being the 7 creek crossings where we stopped to cool off and soak our headbands...

...and the wildlife. We saw an owl fly though the forest, but got no pictures (I think it was a Barred Owl). We saw a number of porcupine chewed trees. We saw lots of red squirrels...

and a Three-Toed Woodpecker.

The trail was covered in spider webs, some of which were occupied. I think this is a Cross Spider, but it could be an Orb Weaver.

And we saw signs of other animals: several sets of cougar tracks, and either cougar or bear scratched trees.

The hike stats: Parked the car at 1,439 m ASL and started hiking at 10:20 AM. Lunch at 1,642 m at 12:15 pm, with a 45 min stop. The great vista was at 1,742 m at 2:00 pm. Back to the car at 5:20 PM.

Did we like the hike? It was OK. Would we do the hike again? Probably not. The vistas are nice, but only start showing up after a 5 km trek through a boring forest. The trail needs a lot of work to become usable again. If you want to do this, I suggest mountain biking up the fire road to the second Hog's Back junction, walking the 10 minutes up to the spectacular canyon view, and riding home.

And bring a lot more water than you think you need, expecially if it's 30° out.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Catching Up: Edmonton Grand Prix, Part 1 (including Mario Andretti)

We went up to the Edmonton Champ Car race last weekend. We stay with our good friends Mike and Hilda, their "kids" John and Elizabeth, and their fleet of cars. I'm not sure how a family of 4 ends up with 5 cars, but that's what they have. They also always have a menagerie of pets. These days, it includes (but appears to not be limited to):
• Yoko, the bird killing cat (two birds down while we were there);
• Celeste, the old and frail cat,
• John's gecko;
• Robbie, a wonderful 1 year old sheltie who appeared to love me because I played frisbee with him 3 times a day all weeeknd, and
• Indie, who seems to own the place (especially the room we were in)

• and Charlotte, a Jewel Spider who spins a wickedly thick web each night in front of their screen door.

Mike and I went to University together (far too many stories, with the best being the ones we won't share). Mike and John come with me to Montreal for the F1 race, and we spent the weekend in Edmonton comparing the two races. One is on a picturesque landscaped island, one is on the hot barren tarmac of an airfield.

Both attract race babe scenery.

Edmonton has non-race entertainment, primarily (duh) in the air. You get CF-18's roaring around, sometimes very low.

You get helicopters...

and you get the Snowbirds.

Both feature support races. In Montreal, it's the Ferrari Challenge, Formula 1600 and Formula BMW. In Edmonton, it was the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club (NASCC), a Nascar Canadian Tire series race, and Formula Atlantic (the latter being a series owned by Champ cars as a developmental series for new drivers).

First the NASCC. Essentially, you can race anything with sufficient safety gear. There was GTP1, GTP2, GT1, GT2, GT3, Gt4 and Vintage class cars all racing at once. Look at the variety of cars in the start corner.

Look carefully in the above, and you can make out Corvettes, RX-7s, various Porsche models, Chevys, BMWs, a Honda Civic, a Fiero, a Neon, an MG, a Triumph, a Charger, a Volvo P1800, a Lotus Europa (my mom's car dealership sold those in 1978), Fiats, Alfas - well, the list goes on. Karen said the race looked like "the Deerfoot on a good day". Probably correct. You had fast cars, old cars, people driving badly, people spinning out, a few bumps and the odd slowpoke.

NASCAR doesn't interest me. The only unique thing was seeing the car sponsored by the Conservative party.

Also, during the race, there were at least two cars spilling fuel on each lap. This is a lousy photo, but you can see the gas pouring out.

Formula Atlantic is a standard class car, with identical chassis, motors, gearboxes, brakes, et al, so it's a race of driver skill (sort of). It was at least an interesting race, and you get two for the price of one. FA has two races on the weekend, and races are always better than practice. FA cars are pretty serious, and they race for keeps. Note Mr. Red Bull smokin' the tires trying to pass the green & yellow car.

One nifty thing about Formula Atlantic? Frankie Munoz, the guy who played Malcolm in the Middle, is in the series.

I admire Frankie's dedication, and he's driving race cars and I'm not, but he should stick to acting. He was DFL (dead f*#%ing last) of the cars actually racing in both races. I think he managed to pass one or two cars, but he was only like 3 minutes behind the winner.

One other part of Champ Car that I will expand on in the next post is that there's this love/hate thing going on with Formula 1. Champ Car isn't at the F1 level, but likes to think it is. Paul Stoddart was the owner of the Minardi F1 team, who placed DFL for several seasons and lost a lot of money doing it. Paul moved Minardi to Champ Car. He took his old Minardi cars, cut them in half, added a second cockpit, and thus begat F1x2 cars that you can buy a ride in.

There's three of these cars. Zoldt Baumgartner, Minardi's F1 driver in 2004, was driving one. Mario Domingez, Champ Car driver for a few seasons was driving the second. And the third black car? None other than Mario Andretti himself.

Here's Mr. Andretti, talking to Mr. Stoddart.

There was a 50+ year old lady standing beside me while I was taking these shots, drooling over Mario. I told her to drool over muilti-billionaire Stoddart, because with him, you could buy Mario as often as you wanted...

My one disappointment, for the second year in a row, was not seeing my hero Paul Newman. Newman/Hass/Lannigan racing is always winning Champ Car, and Paul shows to most races. I last saw him in person in Edmonton in 1982 or so, when he owned a CanAm series car and was up for a race. Ask me sometime about that story.

Next post? The Champ Car race itself.