Daniel’s Fitness Diary #1 Part 2 – “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time”

Previously on Daniel’s Fitness Diary:  “A kid got fat, grew up, got fatter, didn’t care and ended up in hospital being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.”

Sitting in the hospital being told you’ve potentially ruined your life is a humbling experience.  I’m sure that people can take it in different ways, but for me sitting there on the evening of 22nd December being poked and prodded I didn’t know what to think.  The hospital managed to do all the tests they needed to do in one evening, so I was allowed home without having to stay over.  Despite having resolved to change myself, I didn’t really know where to start. 

Looking back on that period now, eight months later, I made a big mistake in going back to work the next day with no time off.  I knew full well I shouldn’t have done, I was in a state of mild shock.  But the fact that for the first time in my life I was looking at a calendar year without taking a single day off I didn’t want a blemish on my record meant that I went into work and somehow got through the day.  The next day though, Christmas Eve, would turn out to be the first time that the changes I would have to make really showed themselves. 

A tradition in our department is that on Christmas Eve those of us that haven’t taken the day off as holiday bring in something towards a buffet lunch.  I can’t remember exactly what I bought in now, but what was there was the usual fattening and sugary stuff like crisps, cake and pastry-based items.  The problem was, being that close to the diagnosis I didn’t know what I was able or not able to eat.  I felt like a leper standing there, stifling away tears – I did a lot of emotion hiding at that time.  I just couldn’t eat anything that was laid out, as I didn’t know what it would do to me.  In the end I just had a couple of the Indian snacks, which in hindsight probably had some of the most fat on them due to their pastry!

I can’t remember if it was that day, or another day around then, that I overheard some of my workmates talking about me and how I was handling my diabetes.  I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I really didn’t – I was about to walk around a blind entranceway into the office they were in but upon hearing my name being mentioned I of course stopped and listened – I defy anyone not to do the same, especially in the emotional state that I was in at that time.  They were saying that I was over-reacting with how I was handling with it, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d made out.  They even had a laugh at it.  I ran to the toilet in tears, without revealing my presence, and did my best not to talk to any of them again that day any more than I had politely or professionally had to.  In fact, it must have been that same day, as I went home for Christmas absolutely bewildered and really at the bottom of my emotions.  I’d been there once before, back in 1997 when my education came crashing around me – but this time I didn’t do the stupid thing I tried (and clearly failed) to do back then.

That Christmas Eve afternoon was a bit of an epiphany for me.  I’d been picked up by my Dad since I never trust the buses home at Christmas (I waited for hours the first Christmas there), and as he dropped me off at home I don’t think he’d have been aware of how I was truly feeling – when I want to, I’m quite good at hiding my emotions.  Well, except anger – I’m crap at hiding that (even anger against myself). 

Anyway, at that point I decided that they were right, I was over-reacting.  Completely.  Oh, even now I can’t just forget what was being said, but from the information available it was understandable, so it’s not a grudge I bear.  But it got me surfing the internet looking for how people live with Diabetes and I quickly came to the realisation that what I had was nowhere near as bad as it can get.  I recognised that I’d become complacent in my life, and I realised that my lifestyle as I knew it was at its end.  Enough was enough and it was time for a change.

Gone would be the “mixed fry” chip shop meal (medium portion of chips, large battered sausage, fishcake, pineapple fritter and large baked beans), large meals at KFC, a couple of chocolate bars and three packets of crisps a day.  I planned that eventually gone would be the nights of staying sat on my arse, taking stupid football message boards seriously or winding people up just because I thought they were mostly a bunch of country bumpkins with no lives.  I had to have a new mindset, but I wasn’t arrogant enough to think it’d be easy.

Christmas Day came and went, notable for being the first year ever that I’d been given a Chocolate Orange and not polished it off in about ten minutes.  This one actually took me over a week – my research had shown I could still eat chocolate, but the word that kept being repeated was “moderation”, and so in those early days that was the “diet” I followed. 

I didn’t try to eat better, just less and nothing overtly stupid.  Amazingly, it worked and at my first weigh in just one week after my diagnosis I’d lost a couple of pounds.  It may seem trivial now, but at the time that was a real catalyst – it showed that I was capable of losing weight with only a small amount of effort and gave me the drive that’s led me to where I am now.

I went home and sat and considered my next move.  If I was to really get serious about this losing weight thing, my sheer personality meant that I had to try and do it in a way that made me seem better than I am (I’ve always been up my own arse, with no apology for that).  The Doctor had talked to me about controlling my nutritional intake, and I knew from work (I’ve not mentioned it in this blog before, so for newbies to my writings I work in the office of a bagged salad company) just how importantly nutritional tables are used at food manufacturers.  I resolved to create my own database, since that’s one thing at least I have a talent for – and it would control everything.


I didn’t envisage this becoming as long as it is – and certainly didn’t expect the second part would be about so short a time period.  If nothing else it’s an important record of my feelings so it’s helped me to write it down.  More soon, anyway – and at this point I can’t see the third part not being the conclusion, but you never know.

Until next time…


Daniel’s Fitness Diary #1 Part 1 – “Here I Am, Now There I Were”

Hello and welcome to the first in what will be an occasional series of ‘blogs looking at my weight loss and attempts to get some kind of level of fitness.  To start with though, I’d better introduce myself and show just why the changes in my life are such a revolution.

As you may have gathered from my profile on whatever site you’re reading this on, my name is Daniel Francis and I am 32 years old.  I live in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire in England but am originally from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England.  I moved to Burton back in 1984 when my father became the landlord of a pub called “The Appleby”, a move that changed our lives.  Back in Shrewsbury we hadn’t been quite as well off as we were in Burton, and within a year or two of arriving here I’d gone from being stick-thin to the class fatty thanks to the sheer abundance of food I now had available to me.  I’d do the “bottling-up” for my Dad in the pub, in exchange for a little bit of pocket money, followed by hours sat on the pub’s arcade machine stuffing my face with Mars Bars I’d taken from the stock behind the bar.

Over the years to come, I pretty much forgot what it was like to be “fit” – I skipped PE classes whenever I could (“luckily”, as a spoilt only child for most of my childhood – I was 12 before my brother came along -  my mother was around my little finger, providing a note whenever it was a week I didn’t fancy the activity), played only a little football at break times and instead of going out of an evening I’d stay in playing whatever latest computer console had come out, or with my action figures.  Basically, I was the stereotypical lazy geek.  I may occasionally walk to school or take my bike, but only when my parents’ car wasn’t available and I was mostly to be found in my bedroom rather than out in the fields playing football like my friends.

My teenage years were pretty similar to my child ones.  I still didn’t do much PE, I ate whatever I liked and frankly I look back on that young self now with disgust.  I barely left my bedroom other than to go to school or motor racing events, preferring to spend my time acting out on screen or in my head the sort of thing I should have been going out and doing.  Once I bought a car at the age of 17 I started to go out more – but merely driving myself to local retail parks and fast food outlets, or to the occasional football match it wasn’t really anything conducive to an active lifestyle and the weight continued to pile on.

In my twenties I was bitten by the football bug, and spent my weekends following my beloved Shrewsbury Town home and away, even building up a reasonable level of fitness by playing the odd ten minutes of football for their supporters’ team.  But I was still well within the “obese” bracket, and in no way was “fit”.  Somehow, in spite of my size and personality I managed to meet some fantastic women who gave my life a modicum of interest and purpose, and I always tried to make them feel wanted with whatever gifts I could buy. 

At around this time a friend of mine at the time gave me a “hospital-approved diet” that “guaranteed” major weight loss.  Basically, you had a slice of melon for breakfast, the same for lunch and chicken and pasta in the evening.  This you did every night, expect for one day a week when you could eat however you wanted.

Suffice to say it worked, but at a price.  I was probably about 19 stone when I started it, and was down to 17 within a month.  My body couldn’t handle such a ridiculous change though, and I was off work for a month feeling quite sorry for myself.  The weight was soon back on.  Eventually my whole lifestyle caused me no end of issues – I’d been funding my activities for years on a succession of credit cards and when I eventually found myself redundant (I never really recovered the trust at work after that month off) and my payment interest and fines skyrocketed.  My life was at rock bottom, and I just holed myself up in my room during the week, meeting easy women off the internet most weekends after football matches all over the country for the sort of reasons you should be able to guess.

Then I met Emma Boyle.  She wasn’t like the sort of women I’d met in the months leading up to the fateful day I started talking to her in an MSN Chat Room (also fateful as the day that my car’s engine blew up after 71,000 miles in a couple of years).  She only lived about 15 miles away, and we agreed to meet up the following weekend.  A proper romance soon blossomed, and we were spending weekends and Wednesday evenings together. 

She forced me to sort my life out – I found a job (only as a date checker in Morrisons, but at least it gave me some money coming in), and she convinced me to go to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to have my finances sorted out.  It led to me becoming bankrupt at the age of 24, and I’m sure many women wouldn’t have put up with the sort of person I was back then or someone in that sort of situation.  At this stage I weighed approximately 20 stone.
Over the years to come, we settled down to a life living together and I’d moved jobs a couple of times to put myself in a decent position financially.  By mid-2009 we were totally comfortable together, and I’d ballooned to over 26 stone.  Life was happy enough, I didn’t have too many pressing concerns – I was happy in my job and I had no problem with eating whatever I liked whenever I liked. 

That all changed on December 22nd 2009 though – I’d been ill a few weeks, my trousers had gotten looser despite me eating as much as ever but it was nothing too bad to keep me off work - but I’d been going to bed once I got home in the evening feeling absolutely drained.  In the end I went to see my Doctor, and have doing a couple of little tests and weighing me (I weighed 155.5kg, or 24st7lb or 343lbs at this point) he packed me off to Accident and Emergency Department at the hospital where I was later diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  I was ordered to lose weight, or face the prospect of developing Type 1 Diabetes more quickly.  My life came crashing down around me.


This is turning into a much bigger entry than I anticipated, so I’m splitting it here and will continue it in a few days.

Until next time…


Daniel’s Wedding Diary – 3 months to go

You may think I’ve forgotten to write this for the last couple of weeks.  But I didn’t.  Well not forget, anyway – more like “I wrote fifteen weeks to go, got ill, didn’t post it, didn’t have time for fourteen weeks to go, hit on the idea to go monthly”.  I think it’s for the best, as I had next to beggar all to write about in those two weeks that I didn’t post.  And yes, the wedding is on November 12th so I realise I’m a day late – but I started writing this on the 12th so that counts, doesn’t it? ;)

By doing this monthly, there should always be something I can talk about.  But firstly, I must extend a warm welcome to anybody reading this on myfitnesspal.com – the newest place I’m copying it to.  Basically, since I’ve not actually mentioned this before, I’m getting married on the 12th November 2010 and I’ve been blogging regularly about what we’ve been doing in preparation (even when we haven’t really done anything).  If for some bizarre reason you like my ramblings, previous blogs are available in a few locations – the blog is also posted on my Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/tmls313), LiveJournal (http://tmls.livejournal.com) and Digital Spy (http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/forums/blog.php?u=105786).  Another little note for those MFP users, this blog doesn’t have anything to do with fitness, but I’m going to be doing an occasional fitness one talking about my progress.

So anyway, what’s happened since the last ‘blog when I had sixteen weeks to go still?  Well, as I suggested in that ‘blog we went with a few members of Emma’s family to The Yard in Swadlincote, where we’re having the meal after the wedding (still not sure it can be called a “Reception”).  It went OK, and as it was a Sunday we were able to choose from the sort of dishes we’re expecting to have available for the day itself.  In fact, tomorrow morning (as I write this, on Friday 13th August – ooh, Friday the 13th I hadn’t noticed that!) Emma and I will be meeting the lady at The Yard, Jo, in order to sort out what we’re having on the menu – guests should then get that once the choices have been printed.  There’ll be a good few options anyway – we know ourselves how awkward it is when a menu is forced on you so want to give as many choices as are feasible.

Last weekend we did some booking for the mini-honeymoon we’re having straight after the wedding.  Sadly, I’ve lost the battle of going to see Shrewsbury Town FC at nearby-to-where-we’re-staying Stevenage – we’ve booked tickets to see “Love Never Dies”, which is the sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera”.  Joy.  I’ve never seen the first one, though Emma’s got the DVD of the movie and I have a song or two come up on shuffle on my iPhone on occasion – how bad can it be?  Then, on the Sunday we’ve got tickets to The Sherlock Holmes Museum, cunningly situated in Baker Street.  So at least I get to bore her as much as she’s boring me!

Emma’s still having trouble finding the right pair of shoes.  I actually wrote in the unpublished ‘blog that I thought she’d found them, but then two days after I wrote that she sent them back.  Honestly, I despair – it’s only shoes after all.  I’m hoping to wear my Converse.  Suspect I might not get to though.  Oh well, I have other geeky things about my suit for the day.  Not saying what though, but someone once said that a certain aspect of it is “cool” – though it’s not a Fez.  Emma rejected that idea!  The cufflinks I’m wearing are special, too.

So as I look at these next three months, it still seems like an age away.  Though in many ways it’s not – after all it’s been nearly two months now since we first arranged it.  Oh, I’ve just noticed another thing about the date.  It’s 13 weeks to go, and it’s the 13th.  Good job 13 is my lucky number or that would be a hell of a worry.

Until next time…


Daniel’s Wedding Diary: 16 weeks to go

Only a short one this week – as I suspected last week, not a lot’s happened on the wedding front to be honest.  I made a decision that I am going to write something every week, if only to mark the progression of time – but I’ll try to do it without much waffle if I can: even if that means that there’s only a paragraph or two.

The main thing of note that has happened this week has been that we’ve finally got a photographer!  A friend of mine who does some great work like this has stepped in to sort out that last of the “big things we’ve got to sort from scratch” so we’re finally heading down the main road now.  Still lots to do of course, though.

This Sunday Emma and I will be joining some of her family at the venue we’re going to after the wedding for one of the regular meals we have there.  The menu we’re looking to put together will be based on this Sunday lunch menu, with a few of the meals trimmed off, so this will be a mini-rehearsal.  We’ll also use this to chat to the people there about table layouts, so we can get an idea of where to seat people.  That’s something I’m sure will be a big headache!  As I write this we’re not 100% on whether we’ll have a “Top Table” or not, but are leaning towards having one as it’s all part of it isn’t it?

One other bit of good news we’ve got is that with the RSVP date on the invitations having been set for the end of July, we’re getting replies in now – and so far no-one’s said they can’t come, even those who will have to come a fair distance (Brighton, one of them) for what’s in effect just a few hours up here and on a Friday to boot.  It’s quite humbling that people will put themselves out like that for you, and I know we’re both very grateful.  It’s a shame we couldn’t have a few more people there, as I know there are those that Emma and I would have liked to be able to invite, but you have to stop somewhere, and we wanted it fairly intimate.  But we’ve got at least one couple coming from Salop that means there’s at least some representation from my beloved home county.

The other thing I’ve been putting my mind to is how to convince Emma that since Town are playing just a few miles away from where we’re staying on the weekend of the wedding that we should take in the game.  I suspect that’s going to be a losing battle though, but you never know.  Saying that, we’re meant to be going to see Phantom of the Opera 2 or something (I haven’t seen the first) so it’s probably impossible.  Ho hum.

Well that’s it for another week.  Next week I'll be playing it by ear!

Until next time…


Daniel's Wedding Diary: 17 weeks to go

I've got a problem with writing this diary with so long to go - it really shows how the time is dragging!  17 weeks still seems like ages, but I'm sure that won't be the case when I get to ten weeks to go in the first week of September.  But here we are anyway, just under four months to go and we've had another tick added to the checklist of things to do (don't worry, it's a metaphorical checklist - I'm not that groomzilla about it.  Emma might have one though).  Oh, and by the way, I *did* hit the five stone lost figure last night, thanks to a whopping five pounds lost in one day made it 5st3lbs lost in total.  Then Emma got on the scales and she lost 5lbs too – at which point I decided that leaving the Wii Balance Board on the Wii Yoga Mat was a bad idea.  A quick change over and I was back to where I was.  Bugger.

Last Saturday we paid the deposit on the Bridal Car.  We're having a Mercedes C Class from Capital Limousines of Swadlincote.  Sure, it's nothing fancy but we said all along we were doing this on a budget and it's costing us not even a quarter of the price of a Rolls Royce.  We're having it to do four runs in total, and it's a part-solution to what's certainly a logistical nightmare.   

Emma’s Dad’s putting on mini-buses for those coming from Coalville way, which leaves us just with having to work out how to get my parents and Emma’s parents to the reception, since Emma and I will be in the car as per tradition.  We also have to get home from the reception, since we’ve not booked the car for that.  But I’ve got ideas of ways to do it, but it all adds up to a very busy morning!

One of the things I’ve really worked on this week is the playlist for the ceremony itself I mentioned last week.  I’ve now decided to put its composition onto Fate itself by putting my iPhone onto shuffle on a randomly generated playlist and writing down whatever grabs my attention.  The shortlist’s now looking very interesting, though I’m not sure if “Smack My Bitch Up” and “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” will make the final cut.  A couple of very surprising, smoochy tracks that even I wouldn’t associate with my tastes in music are in the running though, so this plan’s working well.

I’ve also been working on my Stag Night.  Or, rather, Stag Nights.  At present count, I’ve just about got three – one on the 30th October in Burton itself, for those associated with either the Burton Supporter’s Team or the Burton Messageboard that I used to help out on (and if anyone from either of those who wants to come you’re more than welcome, any excuse for a piss-up!  Although I don’t actually drink now, conscious decision from the diabetes – the sugar-reducing effects of alcohol would limit me to two pints, and where’s the fun in that?), one for just family the Saturday afterwards and then on the 8th November (and this is the tenuous one hence me saying “just about got three”) it’ll be back to Burton town centre where I’ll butt-in on my Dad’s weekly Monday night drinks with people from the place we used to work at. 

I suppose there could be a fourth for those I work with now, but I don’t think we’d get enough numbers.  I don’t think there’s a precedent for just announcing one and seeing who’ll turn up, either.  I’d have loved to have done one with Shrewsbury fans too (any excuse to go out in Shrewsbury is fine by me) – but I pissed most of them off so we’ll forget that!

As I write this, we’ve not really got much planned for this weekend that’s wedding related so I might not do a diary next week.

Until next time…


Daniel’s Wedding Diary: 18 weeks to go

Hello, I’m back.  I abandoned blogging a few months ago as I re-focused my life, dumping stupid internet frivolities like messageboards (hey, it’s like smoking – there’s nothing more critical than someone who’s given it up) and doing my best to lose as much weight as possible.  It’s worked, as I’m now down to 19st7lb from 24st4lb and I’ve not stopped.  Hopefully I’ll hit that 5 stone mark in the next week or so.

Those who know me reading this, or those on my Facebook, will know that Emma and I have announced our wedding.  It’s taking place on 12th November 2010 at Burton Registry Office, and if you haven’t had an invitation yet then I’m sorry – we’re keeping it quite restricted, with only 40 people there.  Since Emma comes from a large family, it’s mostly them coming and only some of the closest friends and colleagues.  That being said, with Emma’s family being Scottish I’m sure the bar bill will be the same as a bigger group!  Casual racism aside, both Emma and I are absolutely made up that we’re finally getting it done.  We’ve been engaged since 12th February 2003 (I couldn’t wait until the 14th) so it’s been a long time coming.

So why am I blogging again, I hear you cry.  Well, regular readers will have already realised I enjoy making these as much as for myself as anyone else, and I wanted to have somewhere to take a note of what we’ve been doing in preparation for the wedding.

It’s a massive task, and so much to sort out.  I’ve started to understand why a number of people asked “that soon?” when I told the date, despite me thinking that it was a long way off.  So far we’ve arranged the wedding itself, the wedding car (we pay the deposit on it tomorrow and whilst it’s not a roller or a limo it’ll do the job we want it to), booked the meal afterwards (we’re not having a full reception – it keeps the cost down and we don’t “do” being the centre of attention) and have a good lead on the cake.  Oh, and Emma’s sorted her dress – but I can’t comment on that as, per tradition, I’ve not seen it.  It’s coming from a proper bridal shop anyway, just opposite the Forbidden Planet store in Leicester, so at least I’ve got somewhere to go if I have to go with her to any fittings.

We’ve still got to sort out a photographer, but my parents are paying for that.  I had hoped to have a video done too (well, a DVD I suppose in this modern age) but they’re just too expensive.  We’re still going to be paying a couple of grand between us all, so much for our original plan of doing it as cheap as possible.

With all that happening though, I’m not sure it’s fully hit me yet.  I’m far calmer than Emma over it, to the point where I just see it as being so far in the future.  There’s still over four months to go yet, and as I sit here on a sunny July evening thinking that it’ll only be just over a month to Christmas when we do it I just can’t seem to get any nerves.  Emma’s like a kid in a candy store, all squeals and excitement whilst I’m so laid back about it – it’s quite weird.  I’m sure it’ll hit me some time though, and it’s not a case of me being the typical bloke strung along into doing it – I’m the one that’s been pestering her for years to get it over and done with after all, and it was my idea to do it when we are doing it.

Anyway, my biggest headache at the moment is the playlist I need to put together for the wedding itself.  We’ve been given the option of providing a CD to act as the soundtrack for the ceremony, and it’s something I really want to put loads of effort into – to the point where I’ve told Emma to leave it to me.

But it’s really difficult.  These songs have got to mean something, but be in the background.  Emma’s asked me not to do anything of her type of music - slow and slushy (you know, like Westlife) as it’ll make her cry.  Well, there’s no danger of that seeing as it’d make me cry too, though in a “get this crap off” kind of way.  Fact is, she’s going to cry anyway so that can’t really be a consideration.  I’m thinking that I’ll go for acoustic versions of whatever I choose where possible, as that should blend in better and opens up some of the heavier genres potentially.  But I’m not totally sure where to start – so far I’ve got three probable tracks and that’s it.  Suggestions are welcome.

That’s it for now; I don’t want to make these wedding blogs too long.  If all goes to plan I’ll be back next week – unless nothing happens of note.

Until next time,


My name is Daniel and I am a Tim Harvey fan


This weekend sees the return of what is probably my favourite of all the motorsports series I’ve followed in the 20 years since I was first exposed to four-wheeled fun – the British Touring Car Championship.

For those not aware of what the “BTCC” is, it’s a national race series for production-based cars, like this:

It’s been going for over fifty years now, and every round is shown live or almost-live on ITV4.  Over the years some ex Formula One drivers have taken part – Gabriele Tarquini, Gianni Morbidelli, Jim Clark, Stirling Moss, Johnny Herbert, Julian Bailey and even Nigel Mansell – but it’s generally the local drivers that have made bigger names for themselves.

Whilst men like John Cleland, Matt Neal, Tim Harvey, Andy Rouse, Gerry Marshall, Rob Gravett, Win Percy or Colin Turkington may not be household names, to me and many like me they are known as Driving Gods and Tim Harvey.  Only joking, Tim!

To do this preview I’m going to tell you the story of what I’ve seen following the BTCC for over twenty years.  I remember my first BTCC race well, way back in 1992.  That was the year that the aforementioned Tim Harvey took his only championship, beating John Cleland in an awesome final round at Silverstone.  I watched the regular season on TV, aged 14, just as I had done for a few years by then – since about 1988 I think.  It was shown on the BBC, with commentary by Murray Walker.  That last race was particularly memorable – Harvey (BMW) and Cleland (Vauxhall) had gone into the final round separated by just a single point.  I was captivated watching on TV – this was the days before the internet, I didn’t read any of the motorsport press at the time and Ceefax barely covered the BTCC so I hadn’t a clue who was going to win.

During the race, Harvey and Cleland ran together most of the time, behind the now late Will Hoy (left, with me in 1994).  With two laps to go Harvey, ever the racer, made an attempt to get past Hoy, forcing both wide (Hoy onto the grass) and Cleland nipped up the inside of both of them – putting himself firmly in position for the championship.  Harvey’s team-mate Steve Soper also got past so now it was Cleland – Soper – Harvey.  Soper managed to pass Cleland, the fiery Scotsman Cleland showing his displeasure by making obscene hand gestures.

Cleland then tried to pass Soper back, but Harvey was close enough to make an attempt around the outside, which was blocked but he used his first pass as a dummy and sailed up the inside.  Naturally, Soper then let Harvey through to give him a bit of a buffer.  Cleland, now desperately in need of something big to happen to win the championship, dived inside Soper a few corners later – only for Soper to close the door, sending the Vauxhall onto two wheels.  Cleland managed to get past – only for Soper to then dive back up the inside, cutting onto the grass and taking both out.  It was as controversial as it got, and Cleland and Soper never got on again.

I loved it, and forced my Dad to take me to my first ever circuit race - as such, my entire motorsport watching passion is thanks to Tim Harvey.  Eek.  This first race was the 1992 TOCA Shootout at Donington, a non-championship BTCC race with incredibly complicated rules and completely artificial racing thanks to a safety car being deployed whenever the field spread out too much.  I forget who it was won by, my biggest memory coming as a result another driver who’s no longer with us, Kieth O’Dor, flipping his car over the catch fencing right in front of where we were sitting.  It was scary stuff, and certainly a great bit of excitement for a 14 year old.  I was hooked.

In 1993 we only managed to make one meeting, the TOCA Shootout again.  This time though, there were a few more people there thanks to one Nigel Mansell making a guest appearance.  Frankly, it was hell.  Mansell-mania was still sweeping the country, this was just after he added the IndyCar crown to his F1 title and I’d liken it to the feeling fans of lower-league football teams have should their team get to Wembley – the place was full of people there who didn’t care about the BTCC, confused by why Mansell’s car had a roof on it.  It may have only been my second race, but I already felt a little bit of superiority over these beer-swillers since we’d been the year before.

Racing at this time was Tiff Needell, who at one time was a household name as a presenter on the original version of Top Gear and later Fifth Gear.  Running just behind Mansell in the race, Mansell lost the car coming out of the Old Hairpin fishtailing side-to-side before clipping the front end of Tiff’s Vauxhall and spearing off into a bridge.  The spectators collectively gasped as blankets were set up around Mansell’s car – even in those days, before the Senna/Ratzenberger F1 tragedies of a year later we thought something tragic had happened.  In the end he was just shook up a bit, and we faced a mammoth 3 hour journey home.  Not good considering we’re only twenty minutes away.

1994 was when I was 16 and my Dad and I started to go racing more regularly.  We took in other championships like the DTM (Germany’s faster Touring car series) but the BTCC remained close to our hearts, taking in both rounds that took place at Donington that year, which is remembered for two cars – the awesome Alfa Romeo 155, which re-wrote the rulebook on aerodynamics, and the Volvo 850 estate… which also was something to do with aerodynamics, and bricks.  I was completely an Alfa fan, loving their cheekiness of having special aerodynamic bits in the boot of the car when it was being “homologated” (the design was registered inside and out with the organisers so that it wouldn’t be changed during the year and you could only use what was on or in the car itself), and with ex-F1 driver Gabriele Tarquini being a driver from the seminal Microprose F1GP game I loved their dominance.  In fact, in that picture of me at the top of the page with Will Hoy you can see my Alfa cap – signed by Tarquini, his team-mate Giampiero Simoni and, um, Tim Harvey.  Oh and Jackie Stewart.  I wish I knew where it was now.

My Alfa devotion didn’t last long though.  Since by now my Dad was driving a Vauxhall, I was supporting them in 1995.  The Cavalier that year was an awesome car, and I recorded every race off the television – and still have that tape put away to this day.  We managed to attend both Donington rounds too (and the DTM again).  Another big story for me that year was Kelvin Burt driving for Ford – I knew him to say hello to, thanks to him helping out at a local kart track I spent too much time at, and some work he did at Donington of which I was a member of the supporters club by then.

Vauxhall had decided to scrap the Cavalier for 1996, and introduced the Vectra which was a bit of a dog – especially when up against the four wheel drive Audi A4 of the German Frank Biela that dominated the championship that season.  To be honest, it wasn’t that memorable a season, what I remember most was hearing of Kieth O’dor’s death in Germany, which was unbelievable.  But I was there for the Donington rounds as usual, still loving it.

1997 though was very different.  It was the first season that I had my own car (a red Ford Fiesta) and finally had the independence to go and see what I wanted.  I didn’t go to any circuit other than Donington, but now I was there for both days, I went to pre-season tests – the works (even going to most other events at Donington, including the Bike Grand Prix which was amazing).  It was the year that Jason Plato made his debut, I remember him taking pole in the qualifying session for the first race whilst I was sat on the roof of my car down by the Spitfire on the circuit.

By the following year I’d got a proper job and the motorsport bug really hit – with of course the BTCC at the centre.  I’d now got enough money to get a reasonable car, and it was no coincidence that I bought myself a Vauxhall Cavalier – white, just like the cars that won the title in 1995.  I loved that car, a four-door saloon that was far too big for a young driver like me.  Having that car I of course joined the Vauxhall fan club to show my support.  I actually won a competition early that year to spend a day in the pits with the team at a test, but my nasty old boss wouldn’t let me go, so the Vauxhall team graciously allowed me to have some tickets in hospitality at the Donington rounds – I’d done some hospitality at some club events the season before but this was another level, which I’d love to do again (but probably won’t!)

This was the season I really followed the BTCC around.  I made it to Silverstone twice, Donington both times as usual (including a great performance in the wet from a returning Nigel Mansell) and took my longest journey at that point to Thruxton for a couple of mid-season races, even parking next to reigning champion Alain Menu on race day, who was happy to stop for a chat.

In 1999 I again did the Donington and Silverstone rounds, but it was apparent that at this point the cars were starting to get just a bit too fast and the series too professional.  Nissan dominated the year, Frenchman Laurent Aiello and the late David Leslie taking a one-two in the standings.  This was also the first season without Tim Harvey, who I’d labelled a bit of a crasher at this point – whichever race I went to, he seemed to crash off at the first corner.

2000 was a watershed year for the championship.  Although I’d started my love affair with Shrewsbury Town by this point, I was still committed to the BTCC and managed to get to the Donington and Silverstone rounds again.  Grids were down at this point, the series had just become too expensive – resulting in a “Class B” being added.  The organisers tried to innovate though, and the last round at Silverstone was held as a night race.  This was the only race event my brother ever came with me too, and whilst I loved it he didn’t get bitten by the bug!

The following year it was all change, as new regulations meant much lower costs and smaller cars.  Vauxhall now ran the Astra, and it destroyed the field in a manner not seen since the late 80s when the Ford RS2000s were running.  To be honest, I didn’t really like the new cars – Super Touring, as the previous regulations were called, were in their heyday a much more exciting prospect.  I still managed to get to the Donington rounds, but that was all that year – I’d discovered women.

2002 only saw me do one round at Donington, and it was another season of dominance for the Astra.  It was a year that I started to have loads of personal problems, and by the end of the year I was unemployed and on the verge of bankruptcy so touring cars were the last thing on my mind.  I still watched on TV, but I honestly remember nothing about it, or the next few years.

It wasn’t until the end of 2004 that I managed to see a race again, and even then that was a special one-off.  They’d announced there’d be a “BTCC Masters” race after the last round at Donington, with loads of older drivers returning and my Dad made sure we went.  It was really enjoyable and I wish they’d done it again. 

But that was it for a few more years – life got in the way.  I had very little money and by this time was in a committed relationship so I didn’t go at all.  Then last year my Dad had a crazy idea to go and see the DTM once more, now at Brands Hatch.  In the months leading up to it, I wasn’t bitten by the bug again but I was certainly intrigued enough to see what it was like now - and when my Dad won tickets to the “A Question of Motorsport” Honda event before the BTCC at Silverstone we just had to go.  It was a fantastic evening in the company of ex-F1 driver Johnny Herbert and – of course – Tim Harvey.  At the end of it there was a raffle, including multiple pairs of tickets to the races at Silverstone the next day. 

Little did I know that this would be such a turning point.  I really fancied going to the race, and put all my hopes on winning.  When we didn’t, I was despondent.  I’d noticed though that the gentleman two rows in front of us’s son had been given tickets by Tim Harvey just for being a kid, but they were already going the next day so offered them to the people behind them, who declined since they were already going too.  As soon as the raffle finished, I was straight up to the bloke and asked him if I could buy the tickets off him.  He refused, and gave me them for free – a fantastic bit of generosity.  I was overjoyed, deep down I knew that the old fire for watching motorsport was back and made plans with my Dad for the next day.  When we got back to the car another chap came up to us, and asked me if I wanted his tickets he’d won in the raffle since he was already going.  If I was religious I’d say it was God’s way of making sure I put my life back to where it was.  But I’m not, so what a fantastic coincidence.

The next day at Silverstone was amazing.  We just slipped back into it so quickly – walking round the circuit, trawling through the pits… just like we used to.  The racing was great and it was as if we’d never been away.  In the years I’d stopped doing everything I used to do I’d been to Shrewsbury matches probably a dozen or more times (not that I admitted to that on Blue and Amber – they like to see me as someone who never goes, and that suited the TMLS character), but it didn’t feel as right as this.  I’m a motorsport fan first and foremost, not a football fan.  As we sat on the grandstand, watching the Belgian Grand Prix on TVCatchup on my iPhone, we looked forward to the DTM at Brands Hatch that was the following week.  We were doing an epic three days there, and I knew then that it wouldn’t be the last race I went to.  And when we were at the DTM, we decided it definitely wasn’t.

We were back at Brands within a month for the BTCC finale.  We’d missed a round at Rockingham in the middle due to being elsewhere, and due to fatigue from a stupidly early drive (we weren’t staying over) we stopped at the car all day on the hill facing the paddock.  The atmosphere was amazing, and equal to ten Shrewsbury matches (not sure if that says something about the Shrewsbury support – probably does if we’re talking about the new ground).  It just felt so natural to be there, and we were treated to some great racing and my pick for the title, Colin Turkington, prevailing.

Over the winter I started to make plans for a 2010 of motorsport.  For a few months I planned to go to every round, something I’d never done.  When I finally sat down and worked out that meant 2500 miles of driving I soon changed my mind, but we’ve worked out a plan to do about half the season.  This year we’re going to Thruxton this weekend for the opening round – staying over on Saturday night so that we can go to qualifying earlier that day (and meaning a very mad rush back to the hotel to catch the new Dr Who series).  It feels great to be back, now let’s hope for an awesome season!

The first thing that catches your eye looking at the entry list is the lack of a car number 1, as Turkington isn’t defending his championship thanks to lack of sponsorship – hopefully he’ll be out later in the year though.  As such, the man to beat this year once again will be Jason Plato.  He’s racing a Ray Mallock Chevrolet under the Silverline name once again, but this time it’s the Cruze rather than the “reasonably priced” Lacetti.  The Cruze has been a great car in the World Touring Car Championship, and has looked quick in testing.  Certainly one to beat.  Team-mate Alex MacDowell is new to the series, but was runner-up in the Clios last year so shouldn’t be too far off the pace.

The team most likely to challenge Plato are “Honda Racing Team”, who really are Team Dynamics, but now under a works banner.  Matt Neal returns to drive for his father’s squad, and should be up there from the start - he's always done well in the team, thriving in the family atmosphere.  His biggest problem has always been his tendency to be a bit over-aggressive, but he knows how to win a championship so can never be discounted.  Alongside him is the fast but under-funded Gordon Shedden, finally back in a full-time drive after a stop-start year in the previous season driving for the Cartridge World team.  "Flash" Could be a dark horse for the championship, and race wins should be a certainty.

The third of what are probably six front-running teams this year are Airwaves BMW.  Mat Jackson’s heading the squad, and surely must be up at the front after proving himself a fan favourite last year in the Chevrolet.  Jackson’s performances in the BMW in 2008 were fantastic, and he’ll be front-runner for sure.  Alongside him is Steven Kane, the former BRDC Autosport Young Driver of the Year.  Kane put some in some good showings as Jackson’s team-mate in 2008, and the renewal of the partnership should see him build on that.  Might take the odd race win, but he’s got a learning curve having been out of the series last year.

Also in BMWs are the pair driving for West Surrey Racing, who last year competed as Team RAC – taking Turkington to the title.  Rob Collard moves over from the Airwaves team, and proved himself to be a front-runner last year and could be a true contender this time around.  West Surrey's pedigree cannot be argued against - they were the team that took Ayrton Senna to the British Formula 3 title nearly thirty years ago.  Collard could well be worth a punt.  Alongside him is Andy Neate who's making a long awaited debut.  Neate was meant to drive for the team last year, but a massive accident in the 2008 BRITCAR 24 hours at Silverstone (the one which BBC Top Gear entered) left him with a broken neck and he had to spend a year out.  He showed a lot of promise before the injury.

Next up, Triple Eight Race Engineering - the former works Team VXR Vauxhall team have been up at the front for years, but without the Vauxhall backing this year they could drop a little pace.  Add in to that an inexperienced lead driver in Phil Glew apparently leading the team and they might not be quite at the top of the timesheets straight away.  But the team are sound and shouldn’t be too far off come the end of the season.  Formula Renault champion Dean Smith has tested with an eye on the second seat, but with so much single-seater promise it might not be the right thing for him to do at this stage of his career.  Could the seat be begging for Turkington?

The last of the expected front-runners, Team AON, were without doubt the most improved team over the season last year, and with Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole returning to drive the Ford Focuses they should be able to finish where they left off.  Chilton could be a decent shout for a winner on the long straights of Thruxton, the power advantage the Focus enjoys was evident down the long straights at Brands Hatch last year.  Onslow-Cole has been one of the BTCC nearly men of the last couple of years, and has the pace – he just needs to now take this opportunity to underline it.

Just outside what I’d expect to be the “big six” are the Techspeed drivers, once again backed by sunshine.co.uk, John George and crowd favourite Paul O’Neil.  George tooled around at the back for most of 2009, and the years before it, and has the reputation of being a bit of a gentleman driver – being in charge of a successful mobile phone company called JAG Communication certainly lends weight to that theory.  But the Techspeed cars weren’t far off the pace last year, so he’s got a good opportunity in front of him.  O’Neil, winner of the BTCC.net Fans’ Trophy last year, is best known outside of racing as being the former Sporty Spice’s half-brother – and she’s turned up occasionally to support him.  We saw quite a few times last season though that he’s a decent racer, undoubtedly his best performance coming at Snetterton when he took a fantastic third place.  He’s also one of the nicest racing drivers you could meet.


As usual, there are a number of Independents who’ll make up the rest of the field, able to benefit should the reverse grid be favourable in the third race.  Newcomers Forster Motorsport have proven to be a popular team during the pre-season, having an interesting Twitter account and keeping potential fans updated.  Another of the crowd favourites, Dave Pinkney, returns in his own team once again after driving for Team Dynamics last year.  Tom Boardman rejoins the grid in a SEAT Léon for Special Tuning UK after driving in the WTCC, and Martin Johnson is back in an Astra coupe again. Lea Wood steps up from the Welsh Sports and Saloon Car Championship in a Honda Integra for Central Group racing; Matt Hamilton’s back in a Honda Civic for TH Motorsport.

The other two cars are probably the more exciting of the non-front running independents.  Andrew Jordan’s back racing for his father’s new team Pirtek Racing in a Vauxhall Vectra after a season in the works model.  Jordan proved himself to be fast, and his Dad knows how to prepare a winning car.  They won’t be up at the front too often, but could well spring a surprise or two.  Finally, the last entrant is Shaun Hollamby and the AmDMilltekRacing.com team – on paper that’s no more special than the other independents, but as the car’s a Volkswagen Golf that hasn’t been seen in the series before it could prove very popular.  The pictures of the car from the pre-season show it to have been immaculately prepared and even if it’s not on the pace it should be good to look at.

As for the circuit… Thruxton is hailed as “The Fastest Circuit in Britain” and there’s no doubt about that.  Since my Grand Prix track previews based on my computer gaming knowledge have proven popular, here’s a look at it in detail:

Heading over the start-finish line, the first corner is a sweeping right hander that often causes opening lap collisions as the exit isn’t open enough for cars being two or three wide.  There’s then a flat-out left-handed kink, which doesn’t see too much drama as that’s already happened.

The third corner is the first part of the chicane famous for plenty of panel-bashing over the years.  The first part is a ninety-degree right, but there’s no time to think as you’re straight into the almost ninety-degree left afterwards.  Then it’s a right kink that the cars can take flat if they’ve got the right line accelerating all the way.  If you’re on your own, it’s an important part of the circuit as a good exit sets you up for the best speeds for the straights that make up most of the rest of the circuit.

The first straight isn’t overly long, but it feeds into a fast left hand-right hand combination that you might need to drop a gear for – depending on what sort of grip your car’s got.  The right hand part of it is constantly turning, if you have lifted for the first part it’s taken flat out under acceleration.  The interesting part of the circuit here is that no spectators are allowed around this section – it’s just too fast and dangerous, there have been some absolutely massive crashes over the years.  Once you’re finally through the right hander, there’s a short straight and another right kink – into the fastest part of the circuit.

One of the things you notice from the track map is that the straights really aren’t all that straight – but they’re smooth long turns, that are as good as a straight.  At the end of this main straight though is the difficult and very slow chicane – made all the more awkward by the straight having a tighter right hander at the end of it right in the braking zone for the chicane.  This is where the main spectator grandstands are, and where we’ll be on Sunday.  Plenty of overtaking here, and plenty of mistakes too.  After the chicane, it’s back onto the curving pit-straight and round you go again.

Well that’s it – if you’ve managed to read all that, thanks a lot!  Here’s to a good weekend of racing.  Don't forget you can watch the all the racing live on ITV4 - this Sunday from 11am.  Commentators are Ben Edwards... and of course Tim Harvey.

Until next time…


All photos are (C) Daniel Francis 2010.  None may be reproduced or used in any way without permission.
Thruxton diagram and corners reproduced/amended under the Creative Commons 3.0 licence.  Original file created by Will Pittenger.

Ini Harus Pergi Beberapa Tempat ... (Part 2)

OK then, I admit it.  This blog was written all in one and shouldn’t really have been split in two.  But frankly, yesterday’s was running just a little too long even for my tastes, so I decided a split was a good idea.  So let’s just get straight on with the track guide:

Sepang’s another of those circuits I’ve played loads of times on the computer, but it’s not one I’d consider myself to be that much of a specialist (as much as you can be in a game) in, like I would an Albert Park, Monaco, Silverstone, Spa or Monza.  I don’t think I’ve ever played it online, and I wouldn’t consider it amongst my favourite tracks.  Still, it’s one I’d consider to provide decent overtaking spots, and there’s always a chance of rain  so it should be a good race.  As long as the rain’s not as hard as last year.


Heading down the fairly long main straight into the first corner, drivers need to change their psychology a little bit to normal, as the curving nature of the hairpin that is Turn 1 requires a much later apex than appears at first glance.  As they exit the turn, you immediately have to change direction for the left-handed Turn 2 and for this reason you’ll often see cars give a little more room when being overtaken in the first part so they’ve got a better position for the second. 

Sometimes though, especially on the first lap, cars will manage to stay side by side all the way into Turn 3, which is a flat-out sweeping right-hander leading onto a reasonably sized straight.  Oh, and is it just me or does that picture above look a little like the Devil’s Hairpin at Mallory Park?  Now THAT would be somewhere to see an F1 race!

After the straight coming out of Turn 3, Turn 4 is a 90° right hander so if they’re still side-by-side then they won’t be coming out.  Turns 5 and 6 are fast sweepers, taken flat-out by the current cars.  6 used to be a little tricky, a bump in the middle of it would upset the car quite a lot, causing you to run a little too wide coming out, but we saw last year that had been sorted.

Turn 7’s another 90° right-hander, but the camber allows you to take it a good bit faster than the first one so it’s more of a kink – but you’re straight away into Turn 8, which looks a little more open on that map but is actually tighter than you’d think, and you really have to fight the car to settle it if you want to take it smoothly – which is important, as there’s a decent straight afterwards.

Heading into Turn 9 is another overtaking spot, and it’s tight enough that if you’ve got the inside line it’s only the very brave who’ll be able to keep alongside and re-pass back into Turn 10.  Turn 10 is flat out, but by the time you’re at a decent speed you’re braking for Turn 11, which is another 90° right hander.  You might see some overtaking into there, but not not too much as any cars closely behind will have lost their front-end aerodynamics in 10 and had to back off slightly.

Down another short straight into turn twelve, no overtaking here as it’s a fast left-handed kink, which is quickly followed by a similar right-hander that feeds into the very awkward Turn 14.  14’s my least favourite corner on the circuit; all your instincts tell you the racing line is to hug the inside of 13 like you would any other similar corner, but you’re straight into 14 so if you do that you compromise your entry there, meaning you’re slower out and at a disadvantage down the mammoth straight that follows.

The straight that leads from 14 into Turn 15 seems to go on forever, and in a wet race must be incredibly scary – 15 is a second gear left-hander, that you really have to hit the brakes for, and in the wet you’re completly unsighted.  We saw a fair bit of carnage around here in last year’s monsoon.  In the dry it’s not too bad, but it’s easy enough to miss your braking point if someone’s making a pass, and you often see cars just skirting acros the entrance to the pitlane on the outside of the turn and over the grass back onto the main straight.  Then it’s a straight run down to Turn 1 and we start all over again...


Still to come this week, my preview of the first round of the British Touring Car Championship, for which I shall be at Thruxton in attendance.

Ini Harus Pergi Beberapa Tempat ... (Part 1)

I’ve had a bad weekend, all considered.  I missed watching the Australian Grand Prix live thanks to having some kind of illness that robbed me of any energy I had, Shrewsbury had yet another loss that illness again robbed me of watching my traditional first hour of Wrestlemania.  Still though, my recent blogs have been well received by the target audiences so less about me and more about the subject.  Like last week, I’m doing a couple of blogs this week.  Part 2 of this blog will appear tomorrow, and Wednesday or Thursday will see my preview of the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship, but today I’m going to look back at the Australian Grand Prix and forward to next Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

I’m sure all the naysayers who bemoaned the lack of overtaking in the Bahrain Grand Prix will have been much more entertained by the race around Albert Park.  It underlined the old Murray Walker saying perfectly – “for excitement in Formula One, just add water.”  At the same time, there was a good race for those of us who watch F1 for the strategy, with different pit-stop strategies resulting in a lot of potential changes to look out for.

I have to admit, with me not being 100% I missed the F1 Forum and I haven’t read too much of the aftermath other than a quick flick over Autosport.com.  There’s still plenty to talk about though, so here’s my almost-regular team by team feature with a few more bits added (but no pictures this week – royalty-free pictures don’t tend to be available this quick!):

McLaren – Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton – Qualified: 11th; Race: 6th 5/10

Jenson Button – Q: 4th; R: 1st 10/10

“It should have been a one-two” exclaimed Lewis Hamilton.  Well, yes – maybe it could, if he had the same size cahunas as his team-mate.  Button’s call early in the race to switch to slicks proved to be right on the money – sure, he had a slight off straight away that might have meant Vettel would have had him covered if he didn’t retire, but he proved to be the spiritual successor to Alain Prost that so many of us thought he was with an intelligent, smooth race just as it was needed. 

Australia brings out the worst in Hamilton – last year he was proven to be a dirty liar, this year he’s shown that he’s a petulant little swine who doesn’t like it when things don’t go his way.  His boss Martin Whitmarsh mentioned in the BBC qualifying show that Lewis hadn’t taken his arrest the previous night very well mentally (he was showing off a burnout at the wheel of a Mercedes road car – in front of the local cops who promptly nicked him for reckless driving), possibly resulting in a poor qualifying performance.  Come the race, he had a great little start that saw him pass two other cars, but he went along with the team strategy rather than reading the race himself, and a superfluous second pit-stop robbed him of any chance of a podium finish – actually no, that’s wrong.  His inability to capitalise on the fresher tyres by passing Alonso robbed him of it.

Some my blame the aerodynamics for that, but he managed to pass other cars – including the other Ferrari, and he was close enough a couple of times but didn’t take it.  I still believe he’s naturally faster than Button, but he’s got completely the wrong attitude – going on the radio to moan about the team’s strategy, a childish little “I’m going to find out” when asked who made the call… sure, I know that privately drivers have to be selfish in order to drive themselves on.  Over the years I’ve met some absolute w**kers (Ralf Schumacher I’m looking at you), but it’s not befitting of a McLaren driver to be so public about it – that was Alonso’s undoing.  That said, it wasn’t his fault he was taken off by Webber and was lucky to finish 6th – albeit in the shadow of Button.

Malaysia: Whilst you’d hope for more of the same from Button, for all the good decision making he made there was as much of a case for it being in the “right place at the right time” and he’ll do well to get a podium if it stays dry.  Hamilton simply has to have a better weekend; I’d expect him to bounce back with a podium whatever the weather.


Robert Kubica – Q: 9th; R: 2nd 10/10

Vitaly Petrov – Q: 18th; R: Spun out 2/10

A fantastic drive to second for Kubica, and you’d have been given decent odds on that after qualifying, let alone before the weekend.  The conditions may have played a part, that much was certain, but they’re the same for everybody and it was the sort of race that brings the best drivers to the fore.  It certainly makes it look like the Renault chassis is a sound base for the team to build on, and who knows – perhaps a race in similar conditions towards the end of the year could mean “lumping on” could be worth it. 

As for Petrov… well, that was a weekend to forget.  With the new teams still languishing at the bottom of the timesheets there was only going to be one of the drivers from the “established” teams not make it to the second qualifying session – and it shouldn’t have been someone in a Renault, especially considering that his team-mate made it to the third Qualifying session.

Malaysia:  Unless we see the conditions in Sepang that we saw last year, it’ll be hard for Kubica to capitalise on this podium, expect to seem him in the lower part of the top 10.  Petrov must do better or he risks looking like a Grosjean.


Fernando Alonso – Q: 3rd; R: 4th 8/10

Felipe Massa – Q: 5th; R: 3rd 8/10

Some might say I’ve marked down the Ferraris a little bit – what they did was solid enough and it was a mostly uneventful run to third and fourth place finishes.  Alonso’s race was almost scuppered by a touch he had with Button at the start, but the team admitted that was a racing incident.  They shouldn’t have been behind Kubica, but weren’t able to pass him thanks to their almost-threadbare tyres, and Massa showed he’s not quite at his team-mate’s level by not being able to keep Hamilton behind when he was trying to pass, and was lucky not to suffer a puncture from it.

Malaysia:  Sure to have another solid weekend and Alonso won’t want Massa to beat him on the track again.  If something happens to the Red Bulls (again), expect another 1-2.


Michael Schumacher – Q: 7th; R: 10th 6/10

Nico Rosberg – Q: 6th; R: 5th 8/10

Oh dear.  After some promising practice sessions where Schumi was fastest of all, he looked like he’d finally gone back to his old self – until Rosberg banged the time in when it mattered and outqualified him.  Never mind though, when it became obvious it was going to rain we expected the usual virtuoso performance from the regenmeister.  But it didn’t happen.  Instead, a broken wing on the first stop necessitated a quick change under the pace car, and upon the re-start Schumi decided to spend twenty laps or so behind the Toro Rosso of Alguersari.  This wasn’t the Schumacher of old.  Despatching of de la Rosa a bit more easily, Schumi took the final point in tenth – not the best earned one of his long career, and a comeback that’s looking a bit like Mansell’s in 1995.  How long before we find out the chassis is too small and Nick Heidfeld takes over?

Rosberg had a better time of it despite going on the extra stop strategy that proved to be slower, and whilst Hamilton was closing on Alonso and Webber closing on Hamilton, Rosberg was closing on both of them showing a decent turn of speed, inheriting fifth when Webber took Hamilton off.

Malaysia:  I can’t believe Schumacher will be off Rosberg’s pace for too long, but Malaysia might be too soon.  I expect Rosberg to be capable of challenging for the podium, with Michael not too far behind.

Force India – Mercedes

Adrian Sutil – Q: 10th; R: Engine failure after 10 laps 7/10

Vitantonio Liuzzi – Q: 13th; R: 7th 8/10

Another decent race for Liuzzi, as he took more points with a decent 7th place finish adding to the 9th place he had in Bahrain.  How many points that is I haven’t a clue thanks to the silly new points system (he’s got 8 points overall – ridiculous for a 7th and a 9th, in the good old days he’d have had a big fat 0!).  He did a decent job of keeping Barrichello behind him too.  Sutil did very well to get into the third qualifying session, edging out Hamilton, but didn’t get the chance to capitalise on it when his engine let go.  A shame, as that Force India’s looking racey and I still rate him over Liuzzi.

Malaysia:  They’ve got a good little car there; both are capable points scorers so expect to see them around about 8th.

Williams – Cosworth

Rubens Barrichello – Q: 8th; R: 8th 8/10

Nico Hulkenberg – Q: 15th; R: Retired on the first lap due to a collision 5/10

It was all about the eights for the ever-dependable Barrichello, qualifying and finishing in the same position – so what other rating could I give him?  It’s a shame he wasn’t able to use his experience to get past Liuzzi at the end, but he’s showing he’s still got the speed he had last year.  Nico Hulkenberg was taken out by Krazy Kobayashi on the first lap, and had been disappointing in qualifying.

Malaysia:  Same sort of prospects as Force India, but Barrichello’s experience could move him a place or two higher.  Hulkenberg surely has to show his promise soon, expect points if he keeps it on the track.

Red Bull – Renault

Sebastian Vettel – Q: 1st; R: Brake failure after 25 laps 10/10

Mark Webber – Q: 2nd; R: 9th 7/10

It was a massively disappointing weekend for the Red Bull team, who underlined once again that when it comes to outright speed, they’ve got the fastest car in the field.  An absolute stonker of a qualifying lap from Vettel saw him claim pole with a swagger not seen since Schumacher’s glory days, with a time that was just unbelievable.  Last week I previewed the race using my knowledge of the track from playing Grand Prix 4, and I don’t think I ever managed to set a time anywhere near that around Albert Park – it was THAT ridiculous.  He was walking the race too, his only challenge would have come from Button had he not gone off after changing tyres.  Brake failure was a bitter pill to have to swallow, and you have to wonder if he’s going to need the points the car’s lost him come the end of the year – imagine had the same things happened to Button this time last year.

Mark Webber was in an unenviable position all weekend.  The Aussie fans expected the world from him, with one lucky race goer on Shrewsbury Town’s Blue and Amber forum saying they treated him as if he was a World Champion.  Perhaps this all went to his head in the race, as something got in the way for a silly mistake towards the end when he took out Hamilton in a very reckless manner.  He was a very lucky boy to finish 9th.

Malaysia:  “Fast but fragile” will probably still apply in Malaysia, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another front row lockout.  Still, Vettel’s got to finish sooner rather than later, and when he does it’ll be on the top step most likely.  Webber does well around Malaysia, so could be up there.

Toro Rosso – Ferrari

Sebastian Buemi – Q: 12th; R: Spun off on the first lap 6/10

Jaime Alguersari – Q: 17th R: 11th 6/10

A good qualifying performance from Buemi showed that my accusations of the team going back to their Minardi days may have been a bit premature, but spinning as part of the collision with Kobayashi and Hulkenberg meant he wasn’t able to do what Vettel did in a wet race a couple of years ago.  Alguersari will be able to tell his grandchildren of the race he managed to prevent Michael Schumacher from overtaking him, and he finished just a couple of seconds behind the Mercedes as the best non-points scorer.

Malaysia:  Destined for a season in the upper-midfield, and that’ll be the case here.

BMW Sauber – Ferrari

Pedro de la Rosa – Q: 14th; R: 12th 6/10

Kamui Kobayashi – Q: 16th R: Collision on the first lap 5/10

Sauber continued to disappoint compared to their pre-season performance and as the BBC pointed out that’s now looking more like a case of running the car light in order to attract sponsors – which doesn’t appear to have worked judging by the amount of space on the car.  De la Rosa settled into a decent rhythm during the race, moving up to 12th from 14th, but wasn’t able to replicate his countryman Alguersari’s ability to keep Schumacher behind, the Sauber being despatched far quicker than the Toro Rosso.  Kobayashi suffered a front wing failure on the opening lap, spearing him into Hulkenberg.  Shame, as he looked a decent prospect in the wet during the Japanese Grand Prix last year.

Malaysia:  Their version of McLaren’s F-Duct could come in handy on the long straights of Sepang, should they decide to race it, but it’s not going to propel them forward enough than to challenge for the back end of the points positions.  Expect Kobayashi to go well if it’s a monsoon.

Lotus – Cosworth

Jarno Trulli – Q: 20th R: Did not start (Hydraulic failure) 7/10

Heikki Kovaleinen – Q: 19th R: 13th 8/10

Another race, another finish for the team I’ve thrown my support behind.  It’s unfair to comment on Kovaleinen’s race, since it was really just a glorified test session for the team.  Still, saying that, he only finished two laps behind – whilst you could point to the fact that it’s a shorter lap in Albert Park than that of Bahrain, it looked like progress – and compared favourably to the other newbies, who he’d also qualified in front of.  Lights to flag pole/victory in Class B as some are calling it.  Trulli failed to start after his hydraulics gave up just before the start, having qualified just behind his team-mate.

Malaysia:  Another glorified test session, but it’s their home race (whilst called “Lotus”, really they’re “Team Malaysia F1”) so expect them to get a lot of attention.  Were this the days of full tank qualifying I’d expect them to pull a trick to see them up the grid a little bit, but that can’t be done now so the best they can hope for is more of the same – and both cars to start.

Hispania Racing Team – Cosworth

Karun Chandhok – Q: 22nd R: 14th 7/10

Bruno Senna – Q: 21st R: Hydraulics failure on the fourth lap 7/10

It was a promising weekend for HRT, with their cars outqualifying the Virgins and a fantastic first finish for both Chandhok and the team, albeit five laps adrift (and three behind the Lotus).  Like Lotus, it’s unfair to comment on their race with it being just a chance to put some mileage on the car, and sadly a couple of times Chandhok showed his inexperience by getting in the way of faster cars.  Senna had a quiet weekend – he qualified well, but the car failed too early for him to get any meaningful information on the car.

Malaysia:  Not sure they’re capable of getting both cars to the finish yet, but like Lotus it’s another test session.

Virgin Racing – Cosworth

Timo Glock – Q: 23rd R: Suspension failure on lap 41 6/10

Lucas di Grassi – Q: 24th R: Hydraulics failure on lap 26 6/10

Managing to complete 67 laps between the two cars during the race was the highlight for the team who went from being the fastest of the newcomers in qualifying in Bahrain to the slowest in qualifying here.  As with the other newcomers, this was no more than a test session.

Malaysia:  As with the other new teams, this is a test session – but Branson would love to see his team do well in Air Asia (Lotus owners)’s backyard, so could see some tricks.  We know they won’t make the finish unless there are safety cars, thanks to a fuel tank that won’t quite make it to the end of the race.

TOMORROW:  Track Preview

It’s 2010 and time for Wrestlemania

I promised long ago on this blog that I’d do one on wrestling some time.  Yes, I know, I’m 32 years old.  But I’ve been watching wrestling since I was at Junior School, when we’d catch WWF or WCW (the two main wrestling companies) programming on Central only in a 3am slot.  Obviously we’d tape it, and at school you could often see tapes swapped around.  A few years later it was on Sky, but I wasn’t one of the lucky ones to get it quickly. 

Thankfully a school friend of mine, Chris Laban, wrote summaries of what had been aired that I just loved reading and kept me in touch.  When the Summerslam Pay-Per-View was at Wembley stadium in 1992, I was one of the unlucky ones who didn’t go.  I remember being so jealous of another of those school friends, Peter Stringer, going to it.  It was a year after that we finally had Sky installed.  Finally I was able to watch it all myself, and I was a huge fan. 

I watched it for the rest of the 90s going to my first live event in 1999.  It was at the NEC, and was a WCW event.  WCW were the main rival to the WWF by then, and this was just about at the top of their height.  The main event that evening was Ric Flair vs. Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig – two of my favourite stars over the years, and I felt honoured to have seen a Ric Flair match in person.  Plus the 21 year old me loved seeing a girl called Stacey Keibler (then “Miss Hancock”) – male fans will know what I mean!

My fandom carried on into the 2000s – until about 2002, when some personal issues of mine meant I lost Sky at around the time WWF became WWE.  That lasted until 2006, when I finally had my Sky back and I was able to slip into watching it again effortlessly – especially thanks to the fact I was (and still am) a lurker and very occasional poster on Digital Spy’s WWE thread, which I still think is one of the best discussion places for WWE.  I wish I had more time to post there.

But the one thing that has been a highlight throughout that time has been Wrestlemania.  In 1992, I borrowed a tape of it from Chris (as I had done for all the previous ones).  1993, I went to another school friend’s house to watch it – Vincent Bailey.  I’d been spoiled that Hulk Hogan would win the title there by Channel 4’s teen Teletext page “Buzz” – but I’d just thought that was a typical journalist lack of knowledge, as I knew full well he wasn’t in the title match – only for him to come out at the very end of the show and take the title.  Oops.  1994, Wrestlemania X – the first I watched at home, and loved the Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart match, and this was the first bit of wrestling I remember watching with my then four year old brother Alex. 

In 1995 I stayed up and watched it for the first time, as I did for the rest of the decade.  Wrestlemania X-Seven in 2001 is still my all-time favourite pay-per-view event.  The next one I’d see though wasn’t until 2007 and Wrestlemania 23.  Alex and I clubbed together and paid for it (which we hadn’t done before, as up until the point I stopped watching they were free) and still loved it.  Wrestlemania 24 had Ric Flair’s retirement match, proving that wrestling could make me cry.  Then last year there was the 25th anniversary show, and what is still my favourite match of all time with the guy I’ve always followed, The Undertaker (even when it wasn’t cool to), against Shawn Michaels.

Now I know what any non-watchers are thinking.  It’s fake.  Well, so is most of TV.  Do you think Coronation Street’s real?  That Gordon Ramsey really went up and down the country trying all the different restaurants? What about Italian football?  Fact is, it’s drama.  It’s ballet with violence, as I recently heard someone call it and to be honest I don’t think it’s that much different from the Sci-Fi I always go on about. 

There’s a story, there’s action – what more could a man want?  Fake is really the wrong word.  It’s a scripted and choreographed drama - like Glee (only with less cheese).  I have no problem admitting to watching it at my age – why should someone stop watching something they enjoy just because some others think you should?  I admit to being a geek all the time… this is just another thing I’m geeky over.

But anyway, this weekend is Wrestlemania 26 from Phoenix, Arizona.  I’ve already booked it on the Sky.  I won’t be staying up to watch it – working Monday – but I’m anticipating a Wrestlemania night on Monday evening as I sit and watch the four hour spectacular.  But keeping with the “previews” direction that my blog has been going recently (don’t forget to check out the Australian Grand Prix preview, and next week should see a BTCC preview), I thought I’d take a look of it match by match.  But first, I thought I’d take a look at who’s going in to the Hall of Fame – as that’s when Wrestlemania weekend truly begins for me.

Antonio Inoki inducted by Stan Hansen

I’ll admit I know only a little bit about Inoki – with that little bit being that he was the guy who fought Mohammed Ali in a boxer versus wrestler match.

“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase inducted by Ted DiBiase (Jr) & Brett DiBiase

Now this is someone I definitely know.  DiBiase was around during what for me was the early 90s heyday of the WWF (yes, even more so than the Attitude area of the late 90s/early 00s) and was one of those guys I absolutely loved to hate.  Great on the mic and great in the ring, DiBiase may never have held the WWF Championship (officially) but he was right at the top for me.

Wendi Richter inducted by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

I do actually remember her, not from the time but from when I watched the videos of previous Wrestlemanias – she was part of the “Rock and Wrestling” era, and I remember her in the cartoon too.  Technically decent, she may not be as big a name as a Trish Stratus or a Lita of recent years, or even a Sensational Sherri around her era, but deserves to be in there.

“Mad Dog” Vachon inducted by Pat Patterson

One of those old greats we hear people like Jim Ross (WWE commentator par excellence) eulogise over, and know to my generation of fans as “Luna’s father”.  From what the record books say, maybe not the most locked in Hall of Fame entrant but fair enough.

Bob Uecker inducted by Dick Ebersol

A celebrity inductee, he’s a baseball commentator who had two memorable appearances at Wrestlemanias 3 and 4.  But I don’t like the idea of celebrity inductees, so shouldn’t be in there.

Gorgeous George (inducted by:  TBA)

Any student of the industry will know the name Gorgeous George.  He was the person who set the scene for those that came after him, and since he was at his height in the 40s and 50s that’s a lot of people who owed their personas to him.  The quintessential heel (bad guy), it can easily be argued that if it weren’t for him there’d have been no “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Stu Hart expected to be inducted by Bret “Hitman” Hart or members of the Hart family

I was a massive Bret Hart fan, and a highlight of his matches in the 90s was when his parents would be shown.  But more than that, he trained some of the best mat wrestlers that have been seen whilst I’ve been watching.  Bret, Davey Boy Smith, Chris Benoit, Owen Hart, Chris Jericho, Edge, Christian… the list goes on.  Perhaps the main inductee in my view.

So that’s the Hall of Fame, and possibly one of the weaker line-ups in recent years from a mainstream point of view.  Now though, onto Wrestlemania itself.

Unannounced Divas Match

Really, who cares?  Clearly not the WWE, seeing as they haven’t even said there’s going to be one.  The toilet break match, which might even not be shown on the event itself if it’s on the pre-show.

Winner:  Melina in a shock return

Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk in a Street Fight

I’ve quite enjoyed the build-up to this match.  We’ve seen a very creepy CM Punk, and I think the “Straight Edge Society” gimmick could be something very big if handled correctly.  The interaction a couple of weeks ago on Smackdown! when Rey brought his young daughter out to celebrate her birthday was probably as adult a gimmick as we’ll get in this PG-friendly WWE of the moment.  If Rey loses he has to join the Straight Edge Society – and for that reason, I think that’s the only outcome here even if I don’t think it’ll be a clean finish.  That is, unless the knee surgery Rey’s due to have means he needs to go off TV for a while…

Winner:  CM Punk

Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase

The split of legacy hasn’t worked as well as it should have done.  DiBiase is a star in the making, but hasn’t taken his chance.  It’s a shame, as he’s as promising as any I’ve seen.  Rhodes is just someone I’ve never rated.  He’s not got the looks, and he hasn’t convinced me he’s got half the talent his old man has.  They’ve slowly been turning Orton face (good guy) over the last few months, which is disappointing as I think he was arguably the top heel within the company.  It’s also disappointing that you’ve got three stars with famous fathers but they’ve not used them in the build up.

Winner:  Randy Orton

Triple H vs. Sheamus

I’ll admit it – I’m the one.  I like Sheamus.  I first spotted him on the now defunct “The Wrestling Channel” on Sky a good four years ago, wrestling in a UK promotion.  Clearly he had “it” and being a bit of a monster but decent on the mic I could see him going a long way.  Sadly though, whilst it appears WWE shared my views of him by giving him a shock, long (by today’s standards) run with the title last year he just didn’t convince the rest of the fans.  Opponent Triple H is reportedly a big friend, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sheamus win this one for that reason.  Triple H winning just doesn’t really serve any purpose considering the relatively small amount of build-up there’s been.

Winner:  Sheamus

ShoMiz (The Miz & The Big Show) (C) vs. John Morrison & R-Truth for the Unified Tag Team Championships

I’m a big fan of The Miz.  I’m a big fan of John Morrison.  Recently, after seeing more of him on NXT and Smackdown!, I’m a big fan of R-Truth.  I can even recognise that Show’s capable of some decent stuff.  But I have a feeling that this match just isn’t going to work.  I’ve not liked ShoMiz as a tag team, and you can’t help but feel that Morrison and Truth have been chucked together to capitalise on their individual success.  If the Divas match actually is on the pre-show, this could be the time to go to the toilet.

Winner:  John Morrison & R-Truth

Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Vince McMahon No Holds Barred

The match 12 years in the making, and it’s going to be a brawl.  We’ve taken nearly three months to get to what’s been one of the most anticipated match-ups for recent years, and it should have been a roller coaster ride getting here.  Only… it didn’t quite work, did it?  The whole “Bret’s broken his leg… oh no he hasn’t” angle just seemed one thing too many, and the other problem with this match is that there really can be only one outcome – Bret wins by putting Vince in the sharpshooter.  The saving grace for that is that Bret’s advertised to still be with the company next month – what would give him a reason to stay if he wins the match?  Still, I’m not sure WWE’s bookers (writers) are that clever…

Winner:  Bret “The Hitman” Hart

Christian vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Jack Swagger vs. MVP vs. Matt Hardy vs. Evan Bourne vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston in a “Money In The Bank” Ladder Match

The Money In The Bank match is usually one of the highlights of Wrestlemania, and this year should be no exception.  That is, if it can overcome the handicap of having ten men in it instead of the usual eight – personally, I wouldn’t have bothered with Kane or Dolph Ziggler in it.  The key to picking a winner in this is looking at who’ll fit in best with a future storyline title win – although since no-one who’s ever cashed in the contract that’s suspended above the ring has failed to win the Championship, we must be due for an unsuccessful one some time.  So, looking at the participants… Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Evan Bourne – there’s no money to be made from any of them having a title run.  Shelton Benjamin, Jack Swagger, and MVP – I think they’re destined to be “nearly” men. 

That leaves it between Christian, Matt Hardy, Drew McIntyre and Kofi Kingston.  My head says it should be Christian, but I know McMahon’s not keen on him.  Kofi Kingston had a chance at a big run last year, but didn’t really reach the heights he should have done.  Matt Hardy would be a fan-pleasing move, and could be a way to take attention from brother Jeff being in the rival TNA promotion.  Drew McIntyre’s McMahon’s chosen one if the dirt sheets (independent news sites that spout A LOT of lies) are to be believed, and it could be a good way to set him on the path to the top.  The biggest question though will be over who takes the big bump (look like they hurt themselves the most by doing something outrageous), it was Shelton last year and I’d expect it to be Evan Bourne this year.

Winner:  Christian

Batista (C) vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship

This should be the most over-rated match on the whole card, but over the last few weeks we’ve seen Batista giving some fantastic promos to the point where I’m actually quite looking forward to seeing how Cena beats him.  Personally, I think Batista will walk out with the belt, even if Cena wins the match.  This could be the last match of the night, but it shouldn’t be.

Winner:  John Cena (but not Champion)

The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels Undertaker’s Wrestlemania winning streak vs. Shawn’s career in a No-Disqualification match

This should be the last match of the night!  Of course, looking at it with any ounce of common sense says there’s no way Undertaker will lose his 18-0 winning streak.  Shawn’s beaten up a bit, and wouldn’t retire properly anyway – he’d be back within a year, there’s not been the right build-up (like with Ric Flair two years ago).  Still… it’s WWE and they do like to surprise you.  But I really can’t see it – I think it’ll go down the way so many other observers think, with Triple H coming out towards the end and robbing Michaels of the shock win right as he’s about to score it.  Shawn will then be gone until the Royal Rumble at least, when Undie gives his blessing for a return since he didn’t beat Shawn fairly.

Winner:  The Undertaker

Chris Jericho vs. Edge

This won’t be the last match of the night, but it was the first we knew about.  The build-up really hasn’t worked; they’ve tried too hard to get Edge’s “SPEAR! SPEAR! SPEAR!” chant to catch on and it’s not really been taken by the fans.  What I’d like to see here is Edge to take a hard-fought win, be on the verge of collapse… only for his old friend Christian to come out and cash in his Money In The Bank from earlier – and possibly even have Edge win it.  But he won’t.  This has got “halfway-through main even that the heel wins” written all over it, and you can’t say Jericho doesn’t deserve another Wrestlemania moment.  Well, unless you saw him during the week singing Karaoke with David Arquette dressed as Randy Savage.  That was just bizarre.

Winner:  Chris Jericho

All in all then, I think it’ll be a decent show.  Sure, there are some disappointing looking matches there, but there always is and sometimes they’re so much better than we expect.  My biggest disappointment is that Jim Ross says he’s not going to be making a return to the commentary for this… but hopefully they’re just saying that.