Sunday, March 17, 2013

ALMS: The Best Racing on Television

I am pretty sick and decided I needed to rest all day.  I have been laying on the couch watching TV and luckily I checked the SPEED channel which was showing the 12 Hours of Sebring, an ALMS (American LeMans Series) race.  I have always been interested in this type of racing but I have rarely had an entire day to dedicate to watch a race. 

 

I don't watch racing every weekend but I try to watch at least the beginning and the end of the Daytona 500 every year, the final race of NASCAR season if I will decide a champion, and the occasional Formula 1 race.

I'm not really  NASCAR hater and I used to enjoy it a few years ago but it is pretty boring and I dislike the fact that, for the most part, the cars only make left turns.  I know stock car racing is very difficult and takes a high degree of skill but it makes for boring racing.  Another beef I have with NASCAR is the cars themselves.  I have no idea why the are called "stock cars" because they are not "stock."  Toyota doesn't make a two door Camry, a v8 Camry, or a rear wheel drive Camry.  If a person went out a bought a Camry looking for a sports car, or even a fast car, they would be greatly disappointed.  The same distinctions apply to all the so called "stock cars." I just pick on the Camry because it is by far the dullest car represented in stock car racing.

The cars in NASCAR are essentially identical tube chassis' with fake, one piece, bodies thrown on top of them. 

Notice a Difference?
 











Another problem I have with NASCAR is that, if there is even the slightest drizzle, they wont race.  Finally, NASCAR has too many cautions, if there is anything on the track larger than a grain of sand the caution flag goes up.

F1 is a little better than NASCAR because there is actual turning in it.  However, its not much better.  It is pretty dull, there are very few passes on the track per race.  The cars are undoubtedly the most advanced race cars in the world, the drivers are probably the best in the world, but that doesn't make the racing exciting. 


Booooorrrriiiinnnggg
 A problem shared by F1 and NASCAR is that there is very little difference between the cars.  I know F1 is not technically a "spec" series (all cars must be exactly the same) but its pretty close.  All F1 cars must be the same weight and have the same type of engine.  While F1 teams are allowed to change tire types during races, (such as from wet to dry) they all use the same tire manufacturer. 

Also, like with NASCAR, a fan can not go and buy a car that is even remotely close to an F1 car.  There's no "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" for either series.  As a car fan this takes the fun out for me.  I like to be able to see somewhat "real" cars duking it out on a race track.

Enter ALMS.  The 12 Hours of Sebring is some of the most exciting racing I have ever watched on TV.  There is more action in five minutes of ALMS racing than an entire F1 race. There was at least two or more position battles going on at any one time.  I can't say how gratifying it is as a car fan in general to see new Viper GTS-R's locked in constant battles with BMW Z4's, Ferrari 458 Italia's and Corvette C6-R's.  There are also 911's but they didn't spend a whole lot of time jockeying for first.

The great thing about the GT class is that they are based on production cars and the cars are all different from each other within loose specifications as described below:

"Production-based, moderately modified two-wheel drive race cars comprise the GT class – Aston Martin Vantage, BMW M3 GT, Corvette C6.R, Ferrari F458 Italia, Lotus Evora and Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The GT cars share many similarities to their showroom brands. With top speeds of up to 180 mph, these elite GTs produce between 450-500 horsepower and have a minimum weight of 1,245 kilograms (2,745 pounds).All GT race cars have green Leader Lights and green car numbers."


GT ALMS Race Car Class

Source.  The prototype classes also feature exciting racing and major differences between the cars.  For example, the Audi's, which seem to dominate all, use turbo-diesel-hybrid engines, the other cars use gas engines.  Neither NASCAR nor F1 allow such major differences between the cars.  I like the idea of a competition between design philosophies and technology as much as I like competition between drivers.

Another great thing is the lack of cautions.  There was all kinds of crap all over the track by the end of race, including pieces of bumper, but no caution was called.  The drivers were expected to simply drive around the obstacles, this is a feat of driving skill that NASCAR drivers are apparently incapable of.

I can't stress enough how exciting the racing is.  As mentioned earlier, in the GT class it was the story of the Viper GTS-R vs everyone else.  To me, this was a great marketing victory for the Viper and renewed my excitement about a car I had pretty much written off as playing second fiddle to the Zr-1.  The drivers did not look like they were battling the car, they seemed to have the most power, and, most important in endurance racing, they didn't break!



Despite the Viper's dominance for most of the day, the ultimate hero was the Corvette C6-R.  The C6-R was a lap down for most of the race due to penalties and electrical problems.  However, with about an hour left in the race (about 11:00 pm) the Corvette team started setting the pace and catching up with the field.  With about 7 minutes left in the race the Corvette was in second place behind a Ferrari 458 Italia.  The Italia's driver buckled under the pressure from driving at night and having the 'Vette in his rear view mirror and took a turn a little too fast and went wide, the Corvette made the pass.  With about three minutes left in the race the Corvette was running out of gas due to how hard they had to push to take the lead and then fight off the Ferrari but they managed to hold on for the win.

This brings me to another important point about the brilliance of ALMS racing.  Durability.  This racing series allows manufacturers to torture test their technology.  Its not just about who has the fastest car, but who has the most durable car. 

In sum, if you are a fan of cars, a fan of car racing, or a fan of both, check out ALMS on SPEED on online.  It is the best racing on TV.

To learn more about ALMS, check out their website at http://www.alms.com/

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Initial Thoughts on the Mclaren P1

Rumors and a steady stream of teasers have been floating around regarding the McLaren P1 for quite some time.  Initially, the rumor was that this car would be a true successor to the McLaren F1, that it would be a world beater.  It certainly looks the part.
It certainly looks like a proper hypercar.

Needless to say, as a child of the 90's and early 2000's car culture, I was very excited.  There's nothing more fun than a good old fashioned hypercar war...just ask the teenagers of the '70's (Lamborghini Countach vs Ferrari 512 Berlinetta Boxer), the 80's (Porsche 959 vs Ferrari F-40 or GTO), the 90's who were spoiled with the Jaguar XJ220, the Bugatti EB110, the Ferrari F50, Lamborghini Diablo and the McLaren F1, and last but not least, the teens of the early 2000's who had the Ferrari Enzo, the Porsche Carerra GT, and the Mercedes SLR McLaren.

From my point of view, its been about 10 years, the Bugatti Veyron has been the king of the production car castle for too long and it is far too ugly. I was excited by the prospect of McLaren attempting to take back the throne it held from 1992 through 2005.

    
                                                       Ahhh....the glory days.

However, McLaren was quick to dampen the excitement when they announced, "the aim is not necessarily to be the fastest in absolute top speed but to be the quickest and most rewarding series production road car on a circuit." source  Please allow me to translate this, "we can't beat or even approach Bugatti so we are just going to pretend we don't care."  Great, there went my excitement over the second coming of the great hypercar wars of yore.

Here are the numbers according to Motortrend:
903 hp and 664 lb-ft. According to McLaren, 727 hp and 531 lb-ft will be provided by a twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V-8, an upgraded version of the 12C’s engine running an additional 3 psi of boost. Additional thrust will be donated to the accelerative cause by a McLaren-built electric motor mounted to the back of the engine and producing up to 176 hp and 192 lb-ft. All that power is shunted to the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All said and done, McLaren says the P1 will hit 62 mph in less than three seconds, 124 mph in less than seven seconds and 186 mph in less than 17 seconds (that’s 5 seconds faster than the McLaren F1).

Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/exotic/1303_mclaren_p1_first_look/#ixzz2NAzJJ5w5    
These are impressive numbers no doubt.  I'm sure this car will be an amazing all around car.  As a supercar, I would be gushing with praise.  But this car is priced as a hypercar ($1.3m) so I am analyzing it as a hypercar.

In reality, the translation above could also say, "we can't beat or even approach the last hypercar we built so we are just going to pretend we aren't trying to." Frankly, I don't understand how or why McLaren thinks its okay to charge $1.3m for a car that, by some metrics, is not as good as their previous $800k+ car.  I'm sure this car will demolish the F1 around a track but that's not what hypercars are all about.  First and foremost, hypercar wars are supposed to be a high stakes game of one-upsmanship.  Hypercars are all about the numbers, what is possible, not what is practical.  The majority of people with enough money to afford a hypercar barely even drive them, much less race them on a track. On the same token, they probably spend even less time pushing their cars' top speed limits.  A hypercar should be  performance without compromise.  It should accelerate quickly, handle well, and have an insanely high top speed.  Its an opportunity for a manufacturer to say, "this is the fastest car we can make."


I know it seems silly to be ranting about McLaren throwing in the towel when their customers are unlikely to ever drive their cars at 200+ miles per hour but that is sort of the point of the hypercar.  Its not what hypercars actually do that makes them special.  If that were the case, a P1 can probably sit in a private garage just as well as an F1 can.  What makes hypercars special is what they are capable of doing, what they do in magazines and comparison tests, how they look on kids and teenager's walls, and what they do in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts (most of whom will never own one) around the world.

I doubt magazines will have the urge to race a P1 against an F18.
 Its just not that special.
To this day I can still rattle off a McLaren F1's top speed and 0-60 time from memory (240mph and 3.2 seconds). I'd be surprised if anyone will be able to recall a Gumpert Apollo's 'ring time 11 years later from memory.  I suspect that the P1 will be overshadowed by the F1 in the annals of time in similar fashion.

The other issue faced by the P1 is the the MP4-12C.  I suspect its "street cred" (or more likely "wall cred") will be harmed by the fact that it uses a tuned version of the MP4-12C's engine coupled with a KERS hybrid system.  Also, its interior looks very similar to its younger sibling. Which is strange considering the price premium.  The F1 had very unique interior, notice where the guy is sitting in the picture above.

P1 Interior
Mp4-12c Interior
Furthermore, in addition to the F1, the P1's credibility is being challenged by its little brother, the MP$-12c.  The P1 will likely not be fast enough to justify its price compared to the MP4-12c.  The MP4-12c does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds and tops out at 205mph.  McLaren says the P1 will do 0-60 in "under 3 seconds" and top out at limited 217mph.  Impressive no doubt, but not terribly so considering most of the hypercars of days past were at that level over 10 years ago, the last gen 911 turbo does 0-60 in about 2.9 seconds, and the current crop of supercars (458 Italia, Zr-1, MP4-12c, Aventador, etc...) are within spitting distance.

The current crop of supercars cost half as as much as the P1.  The P1 is not twice as good as those cars.

I'm not sure what the issue is but we seem to have hit a plateau in hypercar development.  I include the Veyron in this statement because, even though it has an amazing top speed, it is not very fast around a track (comparatively speaking of course).  Hypercars should be amazing on all major performance metrics: handling, acceleration and top speed.  In a vacuum I would be head-over-heels for this car but its just not enough of a leap beyond past hypercars or current supercars to justify its extravagant price.                                                                                       

I love the diffuser.

I'm well aware that I'm being a little ridiculous.  Hypercar buyers don't care about price (If you have to ask, you don't belong!), they will likely never test the car's top speed and the P1 offers much more practical and useable performance than the hypercars of the past. But, as mentioned, hypercars are all about numbers. Hypercars are not supposed to contain compromises. The hypercars of the past were head and shoulders above the supercars of their time in acceleration, top speed, and handling.  Today, the difference between supercars and hypercars is just not big enough to justify the price.

In conclusion, the McLaren P1 will likely be an incredible performance car.  I look forward to comparisons between it and the recently unveiled LaFerrari.  However, this car will never get out of the F1's shadow and won't enjoy the esteem of the hypercars of the past as time goes on, not necessarily because this is a bad car, but because the current supercars are such good cars.

For more information about this awesome car and to view my sources, check out the links below:

Jalopnik-P1
Road and Track-P1
Car And Driver-F1
Road and Track-90's hypercar comparison

Friday, March 8, 2013

Venture Capital: The Vocabulary

As my title and background indicate, I am currently a recovering lawyer.  After many years of education and a little over a year of practicing law, I decided to take a different route in life.  I quit private practice and joined a venture capital firm.  Needless to say, my world has been turned upside down (in a good way).  
I'm not there yet...but hopefully someday.

I plan to share many misadventures and maybe even a little advice for entrepreneurs as I develop and mature in my career.

One of the first major differences I noticed between law and finance is that the finance world has a vocabulary of its own that takes a little time to get used to.  Below are some examples and some translations.  After all, if you want to walk the walk, you gotta learn to talk the talk.





Finance Vocabulary 101:

1) Ding: the least severe form of telling someone they are wrong.
     -"Ding him on that valuation"

2) Rap on the knuckles: the second most severe form of telling someone they are wrong.
          -"I've told him twenty times not to do that, go, give him a rap on the knuckles and make sure he doesn't do it again."

3) Settle someone's hash: the most severe form of telling someone they are wrong.
          -"hold my drink, I need to go settle this guy's hash."

4) Shake some trees: to inquire further when being given the run around.
           -"its weird they haven't given you that, you better go down and shake some trees."

5) Circle back: to address something on a later date
           -"I'm gonna circle back with you on Monday for those financials"

6) Ring my bell: to remind someone of something later.
          -"ring my bell about this on Monday."

7) Haircut: a decrease in money.
           -"I took a haircut when I came here!" or "they are in danger of defaulting on their debt, we have to  take a 50% haircut in our portfolio."

8) Pushback: to argue with.
           -"Did you get any pushback on the valuation?"

9) Burn some calories: to do work.
           -"He's lazy, he's not gonna burn any calories on this."

10) Banker's Hours: to only work 9-5.
          -"Jeeze, its 4:55 and your packing up? What, are you on banker's hours?"

11) Cherry on Top: to take a small piece of a deal or finish out a financing round without leading such deal or financing round.
         -"Look, I'm capped at $500,000 and you're looking to raise $3.5m so I can't lead this deal, I'm just looking to be the cherry on top."

I'll try to keep updating this as time goes on.  But, entrepreneurs, if you are making a pitch to a VC and you hear a sentence that starts with "I'm gonna give you a little pushback..." be prepared to defend your position!