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Старый 21.06.2013   #1
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In my last post I left off with Charles on cloud nine after qualifying in ninth, which put him on the front row for WTCC race two at Moscow Raceway. But as you Speedhunters can probably already tell, things did not go exactly as planned.

With the opportunity to start on the front row and with the lap times that Charles was pulling off, there was a good chance that he could have earned his first podium in his second year competing in the global series.

The racing gods that day did not see it that way, they had other plans for the young Chinese driver.

It was such a beautiful day at the track that it almost looked like a painting. Fans from all over the Moscow area made the trek to check out touring car racing.

It was surprisingly hot the whole weekend, so after every practice session the drivers would hang their suits out to let them dry.

The officials wanted to make sure everything ran perfectly, security was very tight and for the first time ever I had to walk through metal detectors entering a race track.

The first thing on the agenda for race day was an opportunity for the fans to meet the drivers during the autograph session.

Charles is always one of the first drivers to attend and one of the last ones to leave, he just loves taking photos and giving out stickers.

The star of the FIA WTCC series, Yvan Muller, was also nearby. He was starting on pole for race one and starting in 10th position for race two. As I mentioned in my last article, he was leading the points race by almost double, so he was most definitely the favorite to win both races that day.

Charles and his teammate Franz Engstler enjoyed the sun and had a great time meeting fans, but it was time to get serious.

In the drivers meeting they went over the procedures for the two race starts. Race one would be a rolling start, and race two would be a standing start, which gives the rear-wheel-drive cars a chance to make up a few positions right from the start.

The drivers jumped in their cars for a quick 15-minute session to warm everything up. This was the last chance to put down a fast lap or two and maybe practice some stop-starts going out of the pit lane.

The Russian fans were very hardcore and many of them came for qualifying day. The locals seem very proud of the world class facility that was built in their backyard, and they did their best to enjoy it.

With just a few moments to go, the drivers get ready to pull out onto the front straight for the grid walk. Pitted right next door to the Liqui-Moly Team Engstler pit box was Darryl O’Young, another Hong Kong native.

He too is struggling with the handicap of the aging BMW 3 series chassis and power plant, and although driving for a factory-backed team helps it’s still not enough for him to be a frontrunner in the series.

It’s a wonder why BMW has not stepped in to the series to help out as there are still eight teams competing with the 320 TC.

Team chassis engineer Gabby checks his watch and it’s time to go. All he was hoping for was a clean first race, so Charles would have a shot at a podium finish in the second race.

With 40 WTCC race starts it all comes down to this moment. This was the big one – this one meant the most. All of his family back home in Hong Kong were watching on live TV.

Charles pulled out of the pits and joined the rest of the grid on the front straight.

This is one of my favorite moments of these type of events. It really gives the fans a chance to feel like they are a part of the race.

I headed down to the outside of turn one and made sure I got a great spot to shoot the start. From my experience, there is almost always an incident as 30 touring cars try to enter the same corner at the same time.

The drivers were given one warm-up lap to prepare for the 13-lap sprint race…

… then before I knew it, the pack of touring cars were coming at me at full speed with Yvan Muller leading the pack.

All of the cars bunched up super-tight going into the first corner and I thought to myself there is no way everyone will come out of this clean. I was concentrated in my viewfinder, but out of the corner of my left eye I noticed an incident in the middle of the pack.

I put down my camera to see who got caught in the scuffle and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My heart sank and I stopped taking photos. I just kind of stood there.

After I watched Charles crawl out of the car I realized that I was not shooting. He ran towards the outside of the track and once again I picked up my camera and started firing away, but in the back of my mind I was wondering what had happened. There were just so many cars I hadn’t seen a darn thing.

I yelled at Charles asking what happened, and all he could say was that one moment he was starting the race and the next he was sideways on the track. He seemed to be in a little shock.

Then I heard someone yelling “Charles!”. It was a fan who had come down from the stands to ask for an autograph. I thought to myself, what an inopportune time, although it actually helped because it got Charles out of the daze that he was in.

With no tow vehicle in sight we both watched the track workers struggle to move the car. The race was red flagged with 11 laps remaining.

Charles told me that he felt about five hard hits, and that his hand was sore. I figured he must have been holding his steering wheel tight when the incident occurred.



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Старый 21.06.2013   #2
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After watching his on-board footage, and outside footage from WTCC, the team pieced together what happened. He was hit from behind going into the turn and there was absolutely nothing he could have done to avoid it.

More time went by. As the track was still very new the marshals are somewhat inexperienced in dealing with major incidents.

Charles was unscathed, but he could not believe what happened to him. He even told me that he tried to stay to the inside of the track as much as possible just so he can avoid getting smashed into from any dive bombers from behind.

After the marshals pushed the car out of harms way Charles had a chance to check out the damage. It was not as bad as he thought and limited mostly to cosmetics. But the radiator, front crash box, and both tie rods needed to be replaced.

I checked out the BMW that hit him and it looked much worse. Even if his team could have fixed it, the driver, Fredy Barth, injured his arm and was not in a condition to race again.

There was no way for Charles to communicate to the team as the radio was no longer working, I ran over to the pits and showed the pictures of the damage to the mechanics and they laid out all the necessary parts for the repair. All they needed was the car to arrive.

The tow truck finally arrived, but it was not a flat bed and there was no way it could tow the damaged BMW all the way back to the pits.

Time was running out as the race had already restarted. The team had only had 15 minutes in between races to repair the car.

It’s fair game for the team to repair the car during the race, but Charles’ BMW was nowhere to be found.

Everyone was so anxious. There was still a chance Charles could start at the front of the line in race two, but that window of opportunity was disappearing fast.

Finally the track marshals sourced a flatbed to extract the car and bring it back to pit lane, but it took over 45 minutes.

There was only four laps remaining in the race, so the team had less than 30 minutes to fix the car. If they went over the allotted time they would be penalized and Charles would have to start at the back of the grid.

The crew chief for Liqui-Moly team Engstler protested with the FIA asking for some extra time to fix the car due to the tardiness of the inexperienced extraction crew and the fact that the incident was clearly not Charles’ fault. But the FIA stewards were not having it.

It was all hands on deck as soon as the car was lowered, so I did my best to stay out of everyone’s way.

The repairs started with the large German fellow smashing his hand on the hood, which got everyones attention. After four or five smashes, the hood was straight again, and everyone went back to work.

The original bumper was still back at turn one, but it was not salvageable anyways.

This crew is so fun to watch because it is made up of Germans, Italians and British, and their driver is Chinese. Sometimes things get lost in translation, but not this time. There were very little words exchanged between the boys.

The race was over and the team was barely removing the damaged parts. Things were not looking good for Charles.

But little-by-little the car started to look whole again. All Charles could do was stand and watch on as the clock ticked down.

It’s a wonder how these guys get around without tripping over each other.

Just five minutes to go before parc ferme rules were in effect and the team was already adding water to the brand new radiator.

Things were looking good. I figured that it would come down to the wire, but the car was almost ready.

There was just a few more temporary fixes that needed to be done. At this point Charles was thinking of trying to push the team to let him take the car out in it’s current condition without an alignment, just so he would have the chance to start the race at the front row, but he bit his lip and did not say anything, because he knew that was not the right thing to do.

A quick check of the alignment and it all looked good. The car was ready. It seemed like they were going to make it.

Even Charles’ girlfriend/manager had been helping out by taping up the missing quarter panel. She got her five seconds of fame.

I took one final photo of the team bleeding the coolant while the car was running.I figured it was going to pull out any moment so once again I headed out to turn one.

I waited and waited, and the car finally appeared. But it did not go to the front of the grid. The team did not finish the car in time and they had to break parc ferme.

Apparently as they were about to roll out one of the mechanics noticed the front right coilover was completely bent in half. They went 15 minutes over the time limit replacing the damper assembly.

Even though Charles started from the last row he easily passed three cars right off the bat. The BMW was running pretty well with a minor oversteer on left turns which was manageable. Not bad for a 45 minute repair job after a major incident!

However, a few turns into the first lap of the race and bad luck struck again. One of the local drivers who petitioned to the FIA to be in the race crashed into Charles after trying to pass in a gap that did not exist.




He was sandwiched between two cars. This time the right-side kingpin broke and once again the car was disabled.

I never saw Charles come by on the second lap so I figured he either got taken out again, or something on the car gave away from the first incident. I went on to follow the rest of the race and the battle between Mehdi Bennani in the BMW 320TC and Michel NYKJÆR in the Chevy Cruze.

Lap after lap Michel tried to make the pass as the Chevy was clearly much faster, but as the laps went by Michel was getting slower and slower due to tire wear. With four laps to go Michel made a very clean pass on the inside and not long afterward Mehdi got passed again by points leader Yvan Muller.

With two laps remaining Robb Huff in his SEAT Leon made the move on Mehdi in his BMW as he struggled to stay within podium range.

Hesitant to getting passed Mehdi closed the gap which resulted in contact…

… which eventually spun him out. Yet again it was an all front-wheel-drive podium.

Some cars may be more handicapped than others, but it still does not make it any less exciting. Although because the cars are already limited in horsepower, just a little bump in power makes such a huge difference.

Next year there will be very big changes, and it is rumored that the FIA will rewrite much of the rulebook for much closer racing.

I am very excited to see how it will all play out as Citroën will be entering the series as an official manufacturer and has World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb on-board for the entire season.

As for Charles Ng, it honestly seems like he just can’t catch a break. After reviewing the incident, the team found out that it was not caused by the BMW that crashed into Charles – it was actually a chain reaction caused by a car behind. There is still the second half of the season left for him to once again prove that he is worthy to start on the front row. I will check on his progress again when he comes stateside to Infineon Raceway. Until then, enjoy the desktops!

Larry Chen
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Старый 21.06.2013   #3
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I recently interviewed 10 drivers on the Formula Drift grid asking what motivates them, and one of their responses really struck a chord with me. I asked Chelsea Denofa about the five battles needed to earn a win in Formula Drift. He told me that he never thought of it that way, because it’s never just five simple battles, it’s actually a countless amount one after the other. From mechanical issues, to simply getting the racecar to the event, the easiest part is getting behind the wheel and driving. The only way you will ever find yourself on the podium is if you take things one battle at a time.

That logic can be applied across every type of motorsport. It most definitely applies a privateer racing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. My good friend Charles Ng drives for Liqui Moly team Engstler and he is one of the many privateers who follow the world wide series.

This was his second year and I’ve been to two of his races before. Both were during his rookie year– one in Sonoma and the other in Macau.

He invited me over to check out round six in Russia which was held at Moscow Raceway, which is located just a few kilometers outside of the city center. As it’s still relatively new, this would be the inaugural WTCC race on this track.

WTCC races are broadcast all over the world, but it’s very hard to find in depth stories from behind the scenes, especially the lesser known privateers. So how many battles does Charles and his team have to overcome for this single event? More than I could have ever imagined.

It started with Moscow traffic. Coming from someone who lives in Los Angeles, I can honestly say Moscow has got to have the worst traffic in the world. Beijing probably has the worst congestion, but there were plenty of times where I was fearful for my life, which may have had something to do with the amount of drivers speeding, on the wrong side of the road.

It’s very rare for us Asian tourists Speedhunters to see the walls outside of a race track when we go to cover an event, so I really took the opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of Moscow.

Red Square was as beautiful as I imagined it. The colors and architecture were like nothing I have seen before.

If only this race was on the streets of Moscow – then again it would only make the traffic worse. As my Russian drifter friend put it, the traffic will eat your soul.

Many of the teams stayed near the city center, which proved difficult as there was a two or three hour commute to the track even though the distance was just 75 kilometers. We opted to stay near the track in the countryside, which came with its own challenges.

I did not speak a lick of Russian, and the locals spoke even less English. So we had to resort to drawings when it came time to order food at the local restaurants. I did know how to order one local dish called borscht, which is a beet soup, and was always very delicious.

It was worth it though as the Russian countryside during this time of the year is stunning to say the least.

The track was brand-spanking new and it looked like it was created out of Lego. It was built with the hope that one day F1 will grace its many corners.

As a tradition, on setup day Charles takes his rental car on the track and goes for some hot laps. It was his first time at Moscow Raceway, so he took this time to learn it and memorize it. Of course there was occasional lap traffic in the form of cherry pickers and lawn mowers.

After driving the course Charles jogs around it a few times. It’s the perfect way to get very intimate with each and every corner, and also a great way to stay in shape.

Liqui Moly team Engstler is owned by Franz Engstler, who is also Charles’ teammate. He’s very experienced having raced for over 30 years.

The two drivers campaign the BMW 320 TC in a field of a variety of different touring cars. As all WTCC cars are regulated to, it’s powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine.

The chassis has been competing in the series since the inception, so it is over eight years old. BMW actually started off dominating the series in the beginning, but as time went on and more manufacturers joined the class, the chassis got slower and slower. Now it is a very rare occasion to see a 3 series on the podium.

I had a chance to sit in Charles’ car to feel it out for myself. I was told to try the brake pedal and see how stiff it was compared to a street car. It is very hard to modulate the brake pressure in this car, not only because it doesn’t have ABS, but also because it runs massive negative front camber – over six and a half degrees.

Charles was born and raised in Hong Kong, so being a Chinese native his family is very superstitious. There were little trinkets littered around the car that were blessed by certain temples and monks, and to join in on the tradition a team mechanic’s wife made a little bracelet for good luck. They looped it into a gusset in the roll cage.

The team stocks many of these carbon fiber mirrors because on street courses Charles gets really close to the walls and knocks them off easily. Although, since they were on a real race track they had nothing to worry about, which is great as the team is on a privateer’s budget and each of these mirrors costs 800 euro.

KW is a WTCC sponsor and the Engstler team run the same stuff in their cars. The engineers used Friday’s practice session to dial in the optimum setting.

With the field being so competitive – especially between the BMWs – the cars are very strung out and are setup to drive on the absolute limit.

It’s a very fine line between being fast and over-driving the car. With the inclement weather it was hard to nail down a good setting.

When it’s too hot the tires get very greasy and it is very hard to find any traction, but if it rains the front-wheel-drive cars have a huge advantage over the rear-wheel-drive BMWs. The weather has to be just perfect – preferably with some cloud cover – for the Bavarian-built machines to keep up.
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Старый 21.06.2013   #4
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I love watching touring car racing as it’s usually a recipe for lots of passing and extremely close races that almost always come down to the last corner. However, it’s a little sad to see how this year’s championship points are stacked so far. Only six events deep, the leading Chevy Cruze driven by Yvan Muller has almost double the amount of points over the second place driver.

I just wish the cars were more equal as it is very clear that some cars in the series have much more horsepower than others – some say even as much as 30hp. That is almost ten percent more than what many of the BMWs in the series are running. With six events remaining it’ll be extremely hard for second placed Gabriele Tarquini in his Honda Civic to catch up to Muller.

This year – with the addition of a round of racing in Russia – local car manufacturer Lada has jumped on board the WTCC.

For its first time in the championship, Lada Sport is running a two car team with Russian driver, Mikhail Kozlovsky and British driver, James Thompson.

I got the feeling that the locals were not too keen on these cars as they see street versions of the Granata everyday, but I thought they looked great. The locals call them Lada Grenades for some reason, but they were very fast and also noticeably smaller than the rest of the cars on grid. I am very happy to see manufacturers like Lada taking a shot at the WTCC.

As test day came to an end the battles continued for the young driver and his team. The car was not down-shifting properly and Charles was finding himself having to force it into gear. The mechanics tried their best, but they could not diagnose the problem.

After every session Charles goes over sector times and strategies with Gabby, the team chassis engineer. The times that he was pulling were not very impressive and there was lots of work left to do if they want to qualify in a good position.

One of the most important factors in getting a good qualifying position is tire management. Each round every team, no matter how big or small, gets an allowance of 12 tires. That means that they really have to budget their tires and be very selective about when to use old sets that they have saved up, or when to use a fresh set. It is very important to also save enough tires for the actual races.

This was my office for the week. The media center was completely brand new and there were no coffee stains or funky odors.

At the end of the day I found Charles sitting next to me as I went through photos. He was watching replays and videos of people driving the track on Youtube to further research the course and see how different people tackle the tighter corners.

Qualifying day is always very stressful for the drivers and the teams as it sets a precedent for the rest of the weekend.

Media from all over the world were out in force as always and the spokesmodels appeared to be loving every moment of it.

Charles did not eat much at lunch as he had way too much on his mind. The BMWs were having a really hard time on this course with the front-wheel-drive cars consistently lapping over one second faster. The worst part was, he and everyone else on the grid knew that there was much more left in the Chevys as they tend to sandbag their practice laps.

They really can unlock their true potential during qualifying, but to make things worse for the rear-wheel-drive car, there were ominous-looking rain clouds lurking nearby as the session was about to start.

Qualifying is fairly straightforward in WTCC. All the cars go out at the same time and have 20 minutes to put down a fast lap.

Out of the entire grid the 12 fastest cars get to move onto the second qualifying session where they can further improve their time without a full grid of traffic in the way.

In the wet the front-wheel-drive cars are easily four seconds faster per lap, and with the power handicap there would be no way any BMW would get into the second qualifying session.

It doesn’t matter how much these teams were handicapped, each and every one of them were essentially in a race of their own – whether gunning to become the top finishing privateer, or finishing in the overall top 10.

For example, Charles has never made it into the second qualifying session, but it’s only his second year in the series. Many of the drivers have been there since the beginning. Round-by-round he pulls out of the pits for qualifying in hopes to run a lap quick enough for Q2.

He was driving against some of the best touring car drivers in the world and being the top finishing BMW is a win in itself.

The only way the slower cars can pull a fast qualifying lap is if they draft someone faster than them. The Chevys, on the other hand, seem to have enough power to run fast laps without having to draft anyone.

So far the Chevys have been in the low 1:43 range while most of the BMWs were hovering around the high 1:44 range. At this point Charles was in 20th place. It was not looking good.

After two quick warm up laps on old tires it was time to pit and switch to brand new slicks for a single fast lap.

Charles pulled in and the team scrambled to get the car back out as time was running out.

The new tires have been sitting in the tire warmers so they will be nice and sticky right off the bat.

The team used an electric blower to cool down the turbo. Charles will need every bit of horsepower they can squeeze out of the 1.6-liter turbo.

It was a crapshoot as cars started to pull out. There was no telling if you will end up behind a faster car that will let you draft behind. If you wait too long then there is a chance that you will run out of time.

The Lada Sport team scrambled to get their star driver back out for a fast lap. These Ladas were very fast on the straightaway so they were perfect to draft behind if you were in a BMW.

Charles pulled out of the pits in hopes of catching the slipstream of a Chevy, but it was too late. So he waited. Then a Lada whizzed by him, followed by another. He followed.

The Lada was very fast, and drafting behind it seemed to have worked. After crossing the line Charles looked down at his time and he could not believe it. He was in sixth place outright.

The Lada that Charles drafted behind was in third, but his time was fast enough for a ticket into Q2 for the very first time.

So what did he do differently from before? Practically nothing at all. There was so much luck involved, and he explained to me that it’s very hard to find a car to draft behind, as they have to be on a fast lap as well. All too often he finds someone, just to have them shut down before the end of the lap, which is what happened in Macau last year.

Although, there were two tricks that he applied this time. After thoroughly studying the course he figured out that you really have to play the waiting game while driving its many tight corners and be very timely with the throttle. It pains him to wait, but just a little oversteer coming out of the corner will be enough to slow you down.

And then there was the last corner before the finish line. Fredric Aasbø told me that all drifters have a bag of tricks, and they use them when it comes time. Charles used a trick out of his bag, but what is interesting is he learned this trick from a fellow driver just a few days earlier.

When I was competing in local Auto-X competitions it was constantly drilled into my head that it is better to enter a corner “slow in fast out” instead of “fast in dead out.” The way this track was timed allowed Charles to essentially cheat the timer, because the beam was very close to the exit of the last corner. Basically, instead of entering the final corner in a fashion that would allow for the best straightaway speed, he entered it braking as late as possible, because as soon as he exited the corner, the lap was done. It’s such a simple trick, but it was very effective.

The clouds opened up and it started to rain, the second qualifying session was over and Charles ended up in ninth position. So why was the team so happy? It’s not like he got pole! Well, in a way he did…

In WTCC there are two races every weekend, and the second race has a reverse-grid start from 10th place.

So, qualifying in ninth means Charles will get to start on the front row in race two. It means he gets a good shot at the podium.

Hugs were aplenty in the pits that afternoon. Charles thanked his crew for such a wonderful car and he thanked his girlfriend as well, who also is his manager, for sticking by his side.

Gabby congratulated this kid who grew up in Hong Kong with dreams to become a professional racing driver. But he had stern words for Charles: “save the car in race one, so you can do well in race two”

This was a personal victory for the young driver, and with a little bit of luck, he could finish well in the main race.

In an attempt to slow down the Chevys they are given a 40 kilogram handicap, but that does not slow them down much. No matter what racing series it is there will always be someone faster – it could never be truly equal. In a way I think it helps, because it really pushes the privateers to do their absolute best.

I’ll pick the story up in my next post, which will focus on race day. For now enjoy the desktops from behind the iron curtain.

Larry Chen
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Кто бы мог подумать, пилот пишет что Лада вери фаст
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moscow, raceway, russia, wtcc

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