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2013 Formula 1 Malaysian GP Race Recap: Sepang
Mar 24, 2013 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

Congratulations are in order for Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel following F1's Round 2 of the 2013 season in Malaysia. While Vettel's win is nothing too out of the ordinary these days, the means by which he attained said victory has clearly stirred things up a bit.

What was believed to be the case after teammate Mark Webber's vitriolic comments on the podium was later confirmed in the paddock by team boss, Christian Horner; Vettel disobeyed team orders and took the fight directly to his teammate, thereby winning a race that he was asked not to. Webber stated that he had turned his engine down when he came under attack by Vettel. Part of me is torn by Vettel's move.

For one, the uncompromising, ultra-competitive racer in me can empathize with Vettel's actions. He is a racing driver who exists to win, which was convincingly on display at Sepang. On the other hand, to cause a substantial disturbance within F1's strongest team this early in the season in a totally self-serving move could tremendously backfire. Seb's apology and insistence that the move wasn't done deliberately falls on cynically deaf ears, in my opinion. It was the most tightly-contested pass of the race. Besides at the start of the race, one does not find oneself wheel-to-wheel for any extended period of time in an F1 race. Ever. It's easy to apologize when you've won.

Fortunately for Vettel's sake, this won't backfire. As Webber bluntly stated during the podium interview, "Seb made his own decisions and will have protection as usual." This is undoubtedly true. Attitude or not, there isn't a single team up and down the grid who would pass up on the opportunity to welcome Vettel to their team. Furthermore, there exists the notion that in order to cement his legacy, Vettel will likely need to prove that he can continue his winning ways with another team. Vettel is still young and arguably getting better. Webber probably isn't. Unfortunately, Webber doesn't have much to stand on in this situation other than his own driving abilities and the fact is that Red Bull would like to keep Vettel around. Make no mistake, Red Bull is Vettel's team.

Christian Horner's body language during his post-race interview with Will Buxton portrayed a team boss who was flummoxed by the state of his team and apprehensive at the prospect of having a megastar driver who clearly ignores the orders of his boss. Where's F1's version of Phil Jackson when you need him? In the end, it won't make much of a difference as they still have the fastest car and insanely-competitive drivers. This isn't likely to be a major detraction from Red Bull's efforts unless Turkey 2010 continues to repeat itself over and over, which it won't.

Speaking of drivers ignoring team orders, Fernando Alonso, you kill me. The unfortunate thing is that he probably never got a chance to see the severity of his mangled front wing. If he had, he would have undoubtedly brought the car in for a nose-job, as it appeared his Ferrari team was imploring him to do. Despite the damage due to first lap contact with Vettel's car, Alonso's car performance wasn't detrimental enough to warrant the stop alone. With the rapidly drying track, it theoretically made sense to milk the slightly crippled Ferrari for a lap or three until he could make an aggressively-timed stop to change noses and change to slick tires. Sadly, he didn't account for the fact that his own front wing would take him out of the race almost immediately after electing to blow by the pit lane entrance and stay out on the track. As I had mentioned in my preview article[see below], if Ferrari does not win early and win often, Red Bull will be able to walk away with the 2013 season. With everything at Red Bull heating up internally, the competition there will eclipse Ferrari's performance potential.

If that drama wasn't enough, we witnessed substantial tension between Nico Rosberg and Ross Brawn at Mercedes today as well. Nico was clearly at odds with his team's order to stay behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, despite pleading that his car was faster. While it became evident that strategy and fuel preservation were of paramount concern for Mercedes team boss Brawn, this did nothing to cool Rosberg's nerves, who after the race implored Brawn to, "Remember this one." Wow, pretty bold. It shows that Rosberg has confidence though, and it indicates that the Mercedes car still is a fairly strong contender.

Mercedes teammate Hamilton was awfully gracious all day. First, he paid his former McLaren team an unexpected visit by stopping in their pit lane in the heat of the race. Then he went so far as to say that his teammate, Rosberg should have been standing on the podium instead. "Would I let him past in the future? I probably would." Interesting. We'll see if that sentiment continues into the season.

Condolences to the Force India team after an abysmal race. I don't know quite know what happened with their wheel nuts (Jenson Button is probably wondering the same thing), but it was disheartening to see both cars wheeled into their garage following complete failure in the pits.

Also frustrating was to see Kimi Raikonnen have such difficulty passing McLaren's Sergio Perez for what seemed to be the entire race. This would have likely been a non-issue had he not been penalized three grid spots in qualifying due to allegedly impeding Nico Rosberg.

Theoretically, after two rounds of the 2013 season, the whole thing is still up for grabs. But with Alonso taking himself out early, Kimi losing to teammate Grosjean and competitive tensions running high at Red Bull, conditions are perfect for Red Bull to develop some serious traction. Then again, they could very well implode as well. It's their season to lose and at the moment, it doesn't look as though they have any intentions of giving up anything. At least not if Vettel has anything to say about it.

If it does become a one-team race, let's hope there's at least some more drama to go along with it.

Written by: Michael Ostby
2013 Formula 1 Season Preview
Mar 22, 2013 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

Whether through divine intervention or dumb luck, my 2013 Formula 1 season preview article did not manage to make it to the presses of the internets. In retrospect, this was a blessing in disguise as it allows me save myself from embarrassment in some of my predictions. Then again, who am I kidding? I have no shame.

Rather than completely re-write the article, I'll weigh in on where things are and where they may end up at the end of the year. Disclaimer: I'm not an expert, just a pretty big fan who has no overwhelming favorites and enjoys F1 just as much for its off-track developments as the action that happens on it.

Tires, tires tires*
Before the season had started, I stated that the Pirelli tires were now much more of a known entity to the teams. But if the first round in Melbourne revealed anything, the only known entity is an unquantifiable degree of tire degradation. As we saw in Melbourne, it looked like either Lotus' car was exceptionally kind to the tires or Kimi Raikkonen found a form we haven't witnessed since he drove for McLaren and blew everyone out of the water, including his teammate (sorry, Juan Pablo). There's no question that Red Bull still has the fastest car, but the ever-present reliability concerns aside, their car certainly doesn't seem to be rather amenable to the tires, either.

Secondly, at first glance there doesn't appear to be a gaping loophole in the technical rulebook which would allow a mass-damper, flexi-wing, active ride height, double-blown diffuser'ed car to slip right through on the way to a dominant string of victories, which means that this will reward the teams that have done their homework and carried the right momentum from 2012 into the new season. One race into the 2013 season, it appears that Ferrari and Lotus look seriously strong. Mercedes' drastically improved strength is a welcome change, but bear in mind that Mercedes was a substantial contender all the way up through Monaco last season. While McLaren-defect Lewis Hamilton is trying to downplay their capabilities, here's to hoping that Mercedes is more like the Lotus of last year and not the Mercedes of 2012.

My guess is that Ferrari will stay strong all season long, but ultimately Red Bull will get this tire conundrum figured out and ruin everyone else's party before the end of the year. Lotus will impress and Kimi will boast an impressive points haul, but since they are no longer a Renault works outfit, the lack of resources may see them attempting to play catch-up in the last few races. Maybe someone can "prod" Eric Lux of sponsor Genii Capital to throw in some more cash? [insert your favorite Adrian Sutil joke here]

*If the 2013 season completely unfolds without a technological advantage being banned, it probably just means that the Red Bull outfit hasn't amassed enough of a points gap. Don't be surprised if something gets banned on Red Bull's cars before the season is over.

Red Bull will repeat, yet again
Let the record show that I have begrudgingly, yet accurately given the nod to Red Bull for the past two years, and this year is no different. Last year's championship was theirs to lose, and try as they might, Adrian Newey's overall brilliance and Sebastian Vettel's amazing driving wouldn't allow it in the end. Their single-lap pace is still undisputable, but at the moment they appear to be behind the 8-ball with the tires. Rest assured, they will sort this out, and when they do, the other teams will be in trouble.

Ferrari is the only team that will legitimately challenge
...but will only have a legitimate shot if they can win early in the season. If not, Red Bull will convincingly walk away with the whole thing. Bear in mind, it's entirely probable that the duo of Alonso and Massa could give Red Bull a run for their money in the overall Constructors' Championship, but that all depends on which Massa shows up this year. Even following the first race, I still maintain this position. Lotus excites me, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm not fully convinced they'll have the longevity and development prowess to keep the momentum.

Don't get things confused; Vettel is legendary, but Alonso is from another dimension. What he did last year shouldn't have been possible. Even more encouraging is that allegedly this year Ferrari decided to build a car worth driving. Now just pray that Romain Grosjean's Lotus doesn't find it.

Hamilton's move to Mercedes will prove to be a better move than Perez's move to fill his seat
While I've never been a huge fan of Hamilton, I fully support his move of finally moving out of Ron Dennis' basement and striking out on his own.

While congratulations are in order for McLaren on snagging some of that Carlos Slim money that Mexican driver Sergio Perez undoubtedly brings with him (it's no surprise that this is Vodafone's last year as a major McLaren partner), it won't mean much if there's nothing left of the poor driver by next season.

Naturally, I convey my condolences to Sergio Perez. Why? With the exception of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button typically leaves his teammates in worse shape than they arrived. While it could be argued that some of his counterparts weren't in their prime when he went up against them, this list is nonetheless thought provoking:

Trulli -> never really did anything wrong, but Button's departure from Renault allowed Trulli to get decimated by Alonso, which was punishment in itself
Villeneuve -> former F1 champion who post-Button left F1, tried to come back, got embarrassed by Alonso, struggled at Sauber, sold less than 1,000 copies of his music album, went to NASCAR
Sato -> never fully arrived in F1. Putting around in Indycars
Barrichello -> went crazy and started spouting conspiracy theories (possibly a delayed reaction from his Schumacher days), was dropped by Brawndercedes and then drove (poorly) for Williams. Now putting around in Indycars.

So is Sergio Perez as tough as Lewis Hamilton? Hard to say. The potential Mexican superstar is good, but I'm not convinced he's tough enough to handle the pressure for a whole season. If he does manage to survive, he will enjoy a long and successful career in F1, no doubt.

Besides all of this, Hamilton's move will prove to be the right choice as Mercedes will finally take a step forward in the right direction. Look to see Mercedes upset McLaren on more than a few occasions, especially early on in 2013.

There will not be 11 teams after this season
HRT's persistence in not dying until the end of the 2012 season was a feat to be marveled. The fact that all the backmarker teams dropped pay drivers for even BIGGER pay drivers is a bad sign. Either Caterham or Marussia will call it quits. Hopefully someone will prove me wrong here.

Last year I said that 2012 couldn't get better than 2011. I was wrong. I initially thought that 2013 could not possibly be better than 2012. The more I think about it, this train of thought does the sport a disservice. With everything that occurs in F1, there is more than enough to keep a fan intrigued, so to continually compare one season to the next is a bit of wasted energy. That being said though, the action on the track must be there. So far, it looks like it is.

Be sure to soak up the high-revving 2.4L V8 engines in all their glory, as they're gone after this year.

Even if Red Bull and Vettel end up owning the season in 2013, the battle amongst the rest of the drivers and teams from the front to the back of the grid will be worth watching. Let's hope for some terrific battles both on the track and in the garage and let the season begin!

Things I want to see in 2013:
- 8 different winners in the first 8 different races
Come on, that's not a lot to ask, right?
- Romain Grosjean to keep his nose clean..and intact
- Massa to reward Ferrari's perplexing level of faith in him
- Kamui Kobayashi back in F1
- To witness Kimi completely lose it over the radio...and then win in an even more decisive fashion
- Geido van der Garde to be replaced by Narain Karthekeyan
- A knock-down, drag-out fight between Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus
- Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg to show that they're both forces to be reckoned with
- Approved media credentials this time around for TunerPlayground esteemed journalists in Austin
- Flavio Briatore
- Cheaper tickets and lodging prices for Austin. This is an issue all unto itself, but I will refrain from expanding upon this. All I know is that IF I do attend again this year (which I would love to do), I don't believe I'll be spending $400 for a grandstand ticket. Luckily, I'm a diehard fan and will gladly line up at the gates before they open in order to stake my claim to a grassy Turn 1 seat with my General Admission ticket
- Force India to continue to surprise as they did in Melbourne

Drivers' Championship Predictions
1 Vettel
2 Alonso
3 Raikkonen
4 Hamilton
5 Button
6 Webber
7 Massa
8 Rosberg
9 Perez
10 Grosjean

Constructors' Championship
1 Red Bull
2 Ferrari
3 Lotus
4 Mercedes
5 McLaren
6 Force India
7 Sauber
8 Williams
9 Toro Rosso
10 Marussia
11 Caterham

Written by: Michael Ostby
FIA World Touring Car Championship at Sonoma Raceway
Sep 24, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

Coming off of an eventful week, which commenced with grueling testing in 105-degree heat at Buttonwillow on Sunday, an exclusive tire test with the all-new Bridgestone Potenza RE-11A on Wednesday, and celebrating TunerPlayground & Prima-Racing team member, Bao Vu's birthday Saturday night, one would assume that Sunday would be an ideal opportunity to sleep in and rest before the work week. That would be the sensible thing to do, right? Well, maybe such would be the case if the FIA World Touring Car Championship wasn't stateside for the first time in its existence. Alas, the series was indeed in town, and we weren't about to miss it.

We arrived early, well ahead of schedule which afforded us ample time to check out our friend Knick Jimenez's new eGarage Porsche build (in collaboration with RWB USA). Sporting a gorgeous color, beautifully accentuated lines and much wider presence than that of the common man's 993, the car showed like a true classic.

We made our way over to the WTCC garages only to find the entire area virtually devoid of life. Given that the track was cold, our keen deductive reasoning skills led us to the grid, at which point we were met face-to-face with some of the world's road racing touring cars. Getting up close allowed us to see just how impressive the engineering was on these cars. To the naked eye, and from a considerable distance, these cars may not appear to be much different to their road-going counterparts. A closer look would point to some pretty interesting work around the suspension and aero departments, especially looking at the flat underbody design of the cars.

The grid was abuzz before the first of two races and while the atmosphere was certainly electric, we wanted to ensure a prime viewing spot as well, so we eventually made the trek uphill to Turn 2 (but not before Tom was stopped by a female photographer from Germany who wanted a photo with his t-shirt). Little did we know that during Race 1 we'd witness an eventful pile-up on the opening lap which added an interesting twist as six cars were impacted by the early incident.

The racing was incredibly tight and fast, providing some of the most exciting wheel to wheel racing that this author has seen. If one were to take their eyes off the action, one need only be called back to attention by emphatic roars from the grandstand crowd with each moment.

Watching the run-up to Turn 2 was testament to how hard these guys were driving. It wasn't uncommon to see a puff of smoke as cars were locking up their wheels (often the rears) pretty regularly, thereby sending the cars across the cresting right-hand turn in either an a slight oversteer motion (for the rear-wheel drive BMWs) or a surprisingly smooth tripod rotation (for the front-wheel drive Chevy,Seat, and Ford cars). The Chevy Cruze cars appeared exceptionally well-composed in the handling department and it was impressive watching the cars navigate the undulating rhythm of Sonoma's corners and elevation changes. Often, the three cars driven by Alain Menu, Yvan Muller and Robert Huff looked as though they were driving in formation as the three Chevy works cars ruled the track. That said, the racing was still infinitely entertaining. While the crowd was much lighter than it was for the Indy race a few weeks ago, it was a much more excitable, passionate crowd, and the racing provided a far better spectacle.

In between the two WTCC races we decided to stop by the Maserati MC Trofeo World Series VIP Hospitality lounge as guests of Patrick Dempsey Racing (aka McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy) to enjoy a delicious assortment of food, wine and desserts. As we made our way around the delectable spread we discovered that clearly, Maserati doesn't mess around when catering to the upper crust. Following our sampling of the menu and a relaxing chat on the sofa, we were ready to give our outstretched pinky fingers a break and headed out to watch the second race, which additionally did not disappoint.

For the most part, the racing in its entirety was thrilling, including nearly all of the support races. From a spectator's viewpoint, the product that was put out on the tarmac was outstanding. We thoroughly enjoyed watching the world's premiere touring car series. One has to ask though, will they come back? For a racing series that boasts a worldwide TV viewership level that is second only to Formula One, a modestly-attended event is probably not ideal for the FIA. Sonoma Raceway is the perfect setting for the FIA WTCC's North American stop. One can only hope that in the years that follow, this event will continue to build on the momentum it has already built for itself in its inaugural event.

Written by: Michael Ostby

Special thanks to Maserati, Eric Gearhart, Patrick Dempsey, and Greg Tracy for showing us a great time!
The Potenza RE-11A's first laps in North America were on Irene
Sep 21, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground
The other night we had teased everyone by posing the question of what would happen when one of the world's leading tire manufacturers brought a street-going, ultra high performance tire to North America for the first time. Well now it's time for us to share.

Wednesday September 19, 2012 - After months of careful quiet planning, the day finally arrived. We were told to meet the Bridgestone team at the site of the US Naval Air Station in Alameda. We knew that we'd be testing their existing RE-11 tires against the all-new RE-11A and that the track would be awaiting us at the airbase. Accompanying us on our duties was none other than our trusty Honda S2000 aka "Irene" and a borrowed Mitsubishi Evolution 9. Also in attendance was our tow vehicle, loaded to the gills with wheels for each of the cars.

When we crossed through the security gate onto the old air base, we were simply awestruck by the sight; over to our right the view was framed by towering cargo ships docked alongside the Port of Oakland, while to our left was a row of old hangars, converted for business use and further behind the hangars was a panoramic view of the San Francisco Bay and Peninsula. Dead-ahead was an outstretched strip of aging runway, a fleet of Bridgestone trucks and a sea of cones set against the backdrop of the downtown San Francisco skyline.

We joined up with the Bridgestone team who was busy setting up for the day. Realtime Logistics provided just about everything else imaginable; most critically, lightning-quick tire mounting and dismounting. The morning would commence with drivers Andrie Hartanto, Tom Tang and Michael Ostby putting Irene and the Evo through its paces around the constructed course on the runway. The Bridgestone engineers handed us some evaluation forms for us to review prior to our cone-dodging in order to properly immerse ourselves in the mindset necessary to evaluate the tires.

Now, when it comes to cone dodging, only Andrie Hartanto could boast any autocross experience. To make matters even more interesting, the track layout, while somewhat technical in nature, was also incredibly fast for that of an autocross layout. This provided a broad spectrum of loading situations for the tires including heavy acceleration, cornering, fast transitions, a high-speed heaving braking section and even a slalom section. Each portion of the track added its own unique element and truly provided a dynamic environment to punish the tires. Andrie commented about these aspects after taking a brisk jog around the course to get a better feel for the layout. If you're wondering, his jogging time around the course was 240.5 seconds. Quite respectable!

Andrie Hartanto took Irene out on the current Potenza RE-11 tires wasting no time whatsoever in getting up to speed, displaying the tenacity and focus of a true professional. Tom spent some time coming to grips with the new track in the S2000 as well and Michael did his best to collect as many cones while going sideways and backwards in both cars. After a few more attempts everyone seemed to settle in and times appeared to drop to a consistent level after a few more attempts. Andrie had the S2000 down to a 42.2-second run, Tom managed a 48.1 and in the Evo, Michael finally managed find a clean run at a time of 45.8.

Following the testing of the Bridgestone Potenza RE-11, we took a break to head towards the trucks for lunch. An amazing lunch was served as we set up station under the impressive double canopy setup. The pasta was obscenely tasty and of course, the cookies didn't fail to disappoint, either, but before we knew it, it was time to get back at it and switch to the highly anticipated RE-11A tires. Once we had swapped wheels and tires, it was back to business.

Andrie had the honors of setting the Potenza RE-11A tires off on their maiden test run on the North American continent, launching the S2000 without hesitation and instantly turning in his fastest time of the day. Subsequent sessions saw the times fall even further until Andrie had successfully knocked a full second off of his time in Irene. In the Evo, Andrie was able to improve his fastest time with the RE-11A by nearly a full second again. Tom took the honors of shaving off the most time with the RE-11A by dropping a full two seconds, thus highlighting the confidence factor provided by Bridgestone's next generation tire. Michael, in a rare feat of consistency, was able to string together four consecutive runs (out of 5) on the RE-11A tires, improving to a 44.1 time.

Following each driver's set of runs and completion of the evaluation, the drivers de-briefed individually with Bridgestone's think-tank to discuss how the new RE-11A stacked up to current RE-11 model. Drivers were somewhat sequestered so as not to be influenced by each other's opinions or feedback. While the timing stand certainly didn't lie, the actual feedback was clearly of major significance to Bridgestone and we were happy to oblige in providing direct, unfiltered commentary.

"If I'm being honest, I was pretty reserved in my feedback at first because I was taken aback by the difference in the RE-11A tires. It took me awhile to register what had just happened. I mean, after all, the times on the RE-11 had plateaued near the end of my runs, but once I had switched to the RE-11A, I found that the track continued to open up for me. The amount of cones I managed to accumulate on the RE-11 was a pretty good indicator that I wasn't managing the threshold of the tires very well. This is particularly embarrassing since I've been driving on the RE-11 tires since 2009, but they've always rewarded smooth and linear inputs. At times, I'd even say that the RE-11 have done so to a fault," driver Michael Ostby explained.

Ostby continued, "Now you compare that to the RE-11A, where I was able to easily extract a number of clean runs and that's one thing, but on top of that, I didn't want to stop. Not just because I was having fun doing my first autocross type of event, but because I don't really think I was completely pushing the limits of these tires, yet. Whatever Bridgestone has done for their new compound with the RE-11A, it's definitely noticeable. If I could use three words to describe the new RE-11A tires, it would be predictable, soft and fast." Ostby then went on to elaborate, "Tire slip is linear and progressive. In that, I mean that when the slip angle of the tires got to be a little more fun, you still knew where the car was headed at all times. At no point did I feel the car's handling or tire travel was peaky or overly twitchy. Even better, the tires offered substantial feedback to the point of where it was easy to dial in the necessary inputs to keep the car running near the edge, although I don't think I was completely getting the most out of the tires. The level of feedback was somewhat confusing considering that the tires were soft and grippy. I didn't expect it at all once I started driving, but Bridgestone made it happen. I'd be very interested to try driving on these again."

Andrie Hartanto added, "When comparing to the RE-11, the RE-11A's overall grip is much better. The turn-in has improved and there are marginal improvements in braking as well. True, I did mention to the guys that I felt the car suffered from more understeer with the RE-11A, but that's a result of a tire that is easier to control on oversteer. I'm very impressed with this tire, especially after having the opportunity to test them back to back. Both tires' characteristics really were exposed during this test and I think enthusiasts will be pretty happy with this tire."

With the testing completed, it was clear that Bridgestone had truly brought their "A" game (pun only marginally intentional) with the Potenza RE-11A. The team was certainly impressed with the steps Bridgestone had made from the RE-11 to the RE-11A. Moreover, it was clearly evidenced by the ear-to-ear grins that each of the TunerPlayground/Prima-Racing drivers got to experience a bit of childhood fantasy in getting to be a part of the test. "Who hasn't wanted to take their car and tear it up on a runway?" Tom Tang quipped. "We've had perfect weather, a great group of people, an amazing setting for testing and some pretty impressive tires that Bridgestone brought over just for us from Japan. I'm sure we'd all be hard-pressed to come up with a better way to spend a day outside of the office. To be honest, it felt like we were filming an episode of Top Gear. Completely surreal."

TunerPlayground and Prima Racing would like to express its deepest gratitude to Bridgestone, especially Rod Stotsenburg, Robert Saul and Timothy Netzel of Bridgestone; to Jesus Villareal of American Auto-X for running timing and for constructing a course that not only pushed the drivers and the tires, but had a high speed element for us road course guys, too, and to Realtime Logistics for all the support and coordination and ensuring that things went smoothly. Lastly, a big thanks to Teena Wu for taking things in stride as Michael Ostby subjected your Evo to a relentless barrage of cones. TunerPlayground and Prima-Racing would also like to thank its partners, supporters and fans.

Lastly, we're excited to announce the official release date for the Potenza RE-11A is TBD. But we'd have to say, they're well worth the wait!
TunerPlayground x Bridgestone announce new Potenza RE-11A
Sep 18, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

September 18, 2012 - What happens when one of the world's leading tire manufacturers decides to bring a street-going, ultra high performance tire to North America for the first time? Find out with the TunerPlayground & Prima Racing team as drivers Andrie Hartanto, Tom Tang and Michael Ostby test out the all-new, Bridgestone Potenza RE11A in an undisclosed testing facility within the Greater San Francisco Bay Area!

"Our team has had the benefit of logging a number of hours on the Bridgestone Potenza RE11 tires. With the news coming from Bridgestone that the RE11A tires should boast significant improvements from the previous generation, tomorrow should prove to be a very exciting day," remarked lead driver & team technical director, Andrie Hartanto.

"We know the guys at TunerPlayground & Prima Racing will give us some honest and constructive feedback and we're thrilled to utilize both their vehicles and their experience so that we can quantify the magnitude of improvement that RE11A brings to the table," Rod Stotsenburg (Performance Marketing & Events Manager at Bridgestone) commented.

It will mark the first time ever that the Bridgestone Potenza RE11A tires will touch the tarmac of North America. TunerPlayground & Prima Racing's dedicated racing team will be on-site and behind the wheel, working in conjunction with Bridgestone and their engineers to put the new and improved Potenza RE11A through its paces.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for live updates tomorrow: www.Facebook.com/TunerPlayground
TunerPlayground x GoPro at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
Aug 27, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

Heading out to the track on any given weekend may not be an anomaly for us as of late, however doing so without our cars, tools or truck & trailer isn't something that we're accustomed to. This weekend we decided to leave the driving to the professionals and kick back to enjoy the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, as well as support our friends, Craig Moore and Don Istook of the Arc Racing Audi (and VW) World Challenge team, as well as our friend Carl Rydquist (driver of the Berk Technology 135i) who was piloting a Mazda RX-8 on Sunday.

Despite leaving the S2000 and RSX at home, it wouldn't be a race event without one of us getting out on-track. This time however, it was the lovely Courtney Diep (TunerPlayground assistant events coordinator) who graced Sonoma Raceway's tarmac (formerly known as Infineon) as the official Arc Racing flag girl during their World Challenge TC race. The race offered genuine excitement as the closely contended TC and B-Spec field battled all the way from start to finish.

Following the World Challenge race, we grabbed something to eat in the vendor midway while walking around to admire the displays. It was at this point when I was implored to tackle one food vendor's "deep-fried burrito." Never shy to back down from a challenge, okay, let's face it; I wanted to eat a deep-fried burrito (isn't that essentially a chimichanga anyway?) but I was deeply saddened to learn that all of the deep-fried burritos had been sold-out. At this point I begrudgingly settled for what can only be described as the world's most awful eight dollar hot dog. Where was our resident trackside chef, Lee-Anne during all this? Actually, she was eating an equally awful hot dog as well. All was not lost though, as foodies Tom and Courtney chose a tasty BBQ chicken plate option.

As we made our way from the main grandstand area uphill to Turn 2, we encountered the sprawling GoPro VIP hospitality tent and surrounding grounds. The layout was certainly befitting of the title sponsor for the event complete with a massive tent, viewing screens galore, food, drinks, giant bean bags on the lawn between Turn 1 and Turn 2 and sporting by far, the lowest beer belly per-capita ratio this author has ever seen in a hospitality area.

At one point while in the GoPro hospitality area I was in complete amazement and in a state of sheer overload. On one hand, there was the anticipation of what was sure to be an exciting IndyCar race, but then, as I sipped on my ice-cold beer to wash down what could only be described as one of the most decadent-tasting brownies ever to be found at a race track and took another bite of the superbly-appointed sandwich that all but nearly erased the memory and nausea-inducing aftertaste of the world's most awful eight dollar hot dog, I looked over my shoulder at the DJ table as in bewilderment I had discovered that the Luchador-mask-adorned DJ had successfully pulled off a dubstep mixup of Led Zeppelin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," and wait, was that a gigantic tank I just saw heading backwards down the track?

Needless to say, the event was rather impressive and spending it with the folks at GoPro made it all that much better. After all, we're huge fans of theirs and they've been great supporters of us with their products this season (shameless plug alert: have you seen our most recent GoPro Exclusive video featuring multiple GoPro Hero2 cameras in action? If not, view it here: http://vimeo.com/47232242), so being a guest of theirs was a huge privilege.

So besides the super swanky GoPro hospitality, awesome company and delectable food (everything after the hot dog), the on-track action wasn't too shabby. Well, to be honest, the racing wasn't mind-blowing, however seeing the new DW12 chassis in action definitely was. The chassis update has been long overdue for what seems like a decade. The racing was clean, tight and fast with Penske drivers Will Power and Ryan Briscoe putting on a clinic with Briscoe pulling out the win during some late race drama. Also exciting for us Formula One fans however, was witnessing new IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello's best performance yet. Even more exciting however was stealing a quick picture in the paddock with the racing icon.

In all, it was an eventful time at the track and it was nice to enjoy the action without any pressure. Of course, a special thank you goes out to Art Cervantes and the team at GoPro for their unequivocal hospitality and support.

Written by: Michael Ostby
Irene, please don't be so mean
Aug 15, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground
Engine Tuning at Blacktrax Performance
Jul 26, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

The TunerPlayground and Prima Racing team boasts an extensive level of experience and resourcefulness, which has afforded the crew the capability to accomplish just about anything. However sometimes the greatest strength one can possess is to know your limitations and rely on the competencies of others.

Enter BlackTrax Performance. The team has enjoyed a strong relationship with Jei, Aki, and Natalie for some time. BlackTrax Performance's tuning expertise is unparalleled and they are more than just a valuable resource to the team, they truly are partners in our efforts.

These guys have been around for over ten years and not only have they remained relevant, but they've thrived in one of the most ruthless environments that could ever beset a small business. They've done so by not only doing nearly everything from fabrication, engine building, suspension and engine tuning, etc., but doing it well. Most notably and as mentioned earlier, they boast a tuning prowess that cannot be touched in the Bay Area.

We arrived after work to perform some dyno tuning on the RSX first. We were thrilled at the prospect of jumping from 196whp and 139ft/lbs of torque to something closer to Andrie's previous (and identical) K24 build, which yielded 240whp and 187 ft/lbs of torque, which would be a night and day difference.

Jei Chang took his time, diligently tuning through the various RPM ranges, adding seamless power throughout the entire powerband. After meticulous detail was spent getting things right, Jei ran the car through its paces however the numbers came up short. Undaunted, Jei continued to find additional improvements until it was determined that the car had reached its utmost range of power.

The final numbers came in at 225whp and 186ft/lbs of torque, which was amazing for me. After all, this is a massive improvement from what I've had for as long as I can remember. Sure, it was a bit disappointing to not make similar numbers on an identical motor, but let's face it; the intake on the RSX was inferior to that of the TSX, the header was limited to that of the TSX and the RSX is also outfitted with a catalytic converter. These factors combined easily influenced the delta in power and torque numbers from Andrie's previous, yet identical K24. The difference in the intake and exhaust end of the powerplant was directly evidenced in BlackTrax Performance's Dynapack and we quickly learned what we'd need to change in order to achieve better power. Regardless, I left having full confidence that we were able to extract the most performance possible given the current equipment.

After the RSX was finished, Irene was up next. Tuning wouldn't be as comprehensive as it was on the RSX given that we were only testing the a new throttle body. Jei quickly determined that there were no significant improvements to be had with new equipment however temperatures were hotter than the last time the S2000 visited the shop. We elected to keep the parts on the car however we will test again following the arrival of additional parts, which when combined, may make a bit bigger of an improvement.

Although we were somewhat disappointed that our throttle body experiment hadn't worked out as planned, we certainly were satisfied and grateful to the time taken and the expertise given by the crew at BlackTrax Performance. Learning experiences are invaluable, and understanding exactly where we stand is exceedingly important, especially when running a budget. After all, continually throwing money in a never-ending guessing game is of no benefit to us. Understanding where to focus next is well worth the effort, and for that, we can't thank our parnter BlackTrax Performance enough for their extensive knowledgebase, their time and their efforts.

For more about Blacktrax, visit them online: www.Blacktrax.net

Written by: Michael Ostby
TunerPlayground x Prima Racing Team: In 2 Places At Once
Jun 27, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

What a weekend! To say that we were busy would be a serious disservice to the team and our efforts as we managed to place ourselves in two places at once. While I was fortunate enough to be selected for Super Street Magazine's FF Battle 4 down in the LA area Friday and competing at Streets of Willow Saturday, Andrie Hartanto and our S2000, Irene, were busy both testing and competing in the NASA TTA class at Buttonwillow.

In the interest of trying to save vacation days at work (in case we elect to run the RSX in this time attack event in November) and money, I opted to only take Friday off, despite the fact that we needed to have the RSX at Raceline USA in Temple City early Friday morning. That meant getting up around 1am to get ready and make the 6-7 hour drive to SoCal. As luck would have it, I was far too excited to sleep and managed to survive the drive on less than 2 hours of sleep.

Friday's dyno day was eventful aside from the fact that no numbers were given, as results were being reserved strictly for the purpose being published in the magazine. The process of upholding the integrity of the story is admirable and everyone certainly did their part as we were all kept in the dark. It's a shame too, as the RSX has always been uncharacteristically down on power, yet as of late, driving it has felt better. That being said, the quite-frequent but minor misfire has always been a bit of a concern and as such, I was hoping to find out just how far off the mark I was.

It was a privilege to finally see a lot of the cars I had heard about for years as well as meet a lot of the guys behind them. Having nothing to do and nowhere to go, my wife and I joined rivals and Southern Californian counterparts Ken Suen and Alex Peng for an extraordinarily tasty (and cheap) dim sum brunch at Sea Harbour Seafood. Thanks for letting us in on an awesome treat guys!

Following my first experience in serious LA traffic and four hours later, we found ourselves in beautiful Lancaster, left with the task of resting up before the track day that followed. Unfortunately I was once again too excited to sleep and found myself up well beyond reason. I spent the evening killing time, putting on decals and going for a late night food run with Nick Caster and Simon Pavlick, chatting it up Loi Song, Big Mike and contemplating the optimal yoga positions for discussing political opinions with our good friends Clint Boisdeau and Brenda.

Saturday's competition started out in a very exciting way. All weekend long there was the talk about how the General tires would hold up. Nothing however can prepare one for the experience except for experience. Since Streets of Willow was a brand new track for me, I spent a good amount of time studying it beforehand. The tires were a blast to drive on. Lateral grip was very solid for a 480-treadwear tire. It became apparent that inputs had to be very deliberate and precise in order for the car to do what was needed. If there was one gripe that could be made about their performance, it was that under anything but the slightest braking the tires became very difficult to handle. This meant no late braking and a pre-meditated braking strategy. Heading into turn 10 downhill, I got it wrong a number of times, but one of the most amusing was when I found the paved section of the track between turn 10 and the front straightaway. I sheepishly waved to Oscar Jackson Jr. in CR-Z and Ken Suen in his FA5 as they went past before jumping onto the straightaway.

Near the end of the day, the track grew warmer and it became evident that the first two sessions yielded the fastest times. Were my lap times enough to surprise some of the favored heavyweights in the competition? I can't give anything away, but I'll say that I was incredibly pleased with how things looked on my lap timer.

The fourth session was by far the most enjoyable. Knowing that we weren't in a position to set the world on fire with fast lap times, Ken Suen in Big Red (FA5) and myself decided to push the General tires and give the on-track photographers a show. The FR Shootout boys were sliding around all day, so we decided to do some tail dragging and have some fun. Oddly enough, I discovered that given the tires' characteristics, sometimes tossing the car into a rotation through a few of the corners produced positive results. I wasn't able to string a full lap together, so perhaps Formula D isn't calling my name after all. Unfortunately, this wasn't optimal for the long-term performance, but it was a great time nonetheless.

It was all smiles until we discovered that the RSX's radiator had leaked nearly its entire contents onto the paddock surface, thereby preventing me from both the photoshoot and the drag race portion. While at one point it looked as though this would spell disaster and leave us stranded from heading home, our saving grace came in the form of Jesse Navarro, Juan Navarro, Clint Boisdeau and Graham Downey and family. Jesse and Juan lent a hand as we removed the J's Racing front-end of the RSX and began checking hoses and the radiator itself. It wasn't until we fully removed the radiator that we discovered a hole in the lower rear portion of the radiator where the lower radiator support bolt had screwed its way through the metal. This was a disaster 6 years in the making due to the radiator sitting lower than the stock one. Years of driving and friction against the bolt slowly caused a hole to be developed that finally gave way. We set off for the local Autozone for some JB Weld to patch the hole and Graham offered to tow us back in his rig as a backup plan.

Fortunately, the JB Weld held pressure well enough to make the trip back, and for that I am exceedingly grateful for all the help I received. Rather than make the entire trek up to the Bay Area, we elected to stop in Buttonwillow to lend our support to Andrie and the rest of the team who were there for the NASA weekend. The rest of the Prima Racing crew spent the day hard at work revising the aero to Irene as well as making a few adjustments after an already very successful Saturday. Andrie Hartanto had performed in his usual fashion, dominating the TTA field on the CCW1 configuration, despite being on street rubber. Sunday brought with it even more excitement as the crew had worked through the night to build a new front aero package. By morning, Andrie looked to push even further.

Let me be very clear, as good of a driver as I think I MAY be, watching Andrie at work serves as a huge source of inspiration and humility. I am fortunate to now be working with such a skilled mentor. Whenever Andrie speaks, I listen. Whenever he drives, I watch. He drives in a way I can only hope to be able to replicate. To add to this, his ability to set up and understand the engineering surrounding a car's performance is something I know I'll never be able to fully attain, but I do my best to grasp as much as I can. I can't say that Andrie was in rare form on Sunday because that would imply that at some point he wasn't consistently pushing himself and the car to its limits. It is fair to say that his performance was very much business as usual, as extraordinary as that might seem to the rest of us.

In the final session of the day, Andrie pulled out such a commanding gap within the TT field of cars that within two laps he was already off the front straightaway before the next competitor had even entered the final corner. The speed, tenacity and consistency he possesses is nothing short of amazing. He piloted Irene to a new best for the car at 2:04.371 while running on narrower tires than we had run during the entire program. Following the commanding laps run during the third session of the day, we decided to pack up for an early departure with another TTA victory for Irene firmly in hand.

By the end of the weekend I had walked away with far more than I expected. I had caught up with old friends, made a ton of new ones, learned how to drive in a way completely different to what I had been used to, learned how to cope far different tires than I had ever experienced while on a new track, learned how to change a radiator and make an emergency repair, learned the irreplaceable value of sleep and watched the team and Andrie again perform at an incredibly high level.
The weekend was a success for me, no matter the setbacks and complications. Either way, I feel I represented rather well given that I don't believe anyone really favored the RSX to be much of a standout. I can't wait to see how I actually did during the track portion of the event, but like I said, if my laptimer serves correct, I think I'll have surprised more than a few people when the November article of Super Street is released. One can only hope, right?

Thanks again to all of the competitors and participants I met at Super Street's FF Battle 4, to Super Street Magazine, Raceline USA and General Tire for a terrific event, Enkei Wheels, Challenge, Seen It!, J's Racing, Joey Lee and the Chronicles for showing the car some love, Jesse Navarro and Juan Navarro, and of course the TunerPlayground/Prima Racing Team for an unforgettable weekend.

Written by: Michael Ostby

Special thanks to Loi Song at Sport Car Motion for supplying some of the photos in this post!
Leng Yein at the 2012 Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix
Mar 25, 2012 | 0 COMMENTS | POSTED BY TunerPlayground

TunerPlayground exclusive-model Leng Yein is at it again! Many of you remember her 2011 US Tour when she visited us and worked as an Official Spokesmodel during SEMA in Las Vegas...an Official Spokesmodel for the inaugural North American Festival Of Speed...and as a special guest & host for various events & parties (all while juggling photoshoots with several magaazines) in Los Angeles and San Francisco...oh, and did we mention that this was all within a 2 week period?!

Well we're happy to say that Leng Yein has been busy as ever back home in Asia doing what she does best, being beautiful, well-spoken, and working at some of the most prestigious events known to man...including this year's Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix at Sepang this weekend.

Leng Yein hanging out with Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger (girlfriend of former world champion Lewis Hamilton, driver for McLaren Mercedes)

We're absolutely thrilled to see Leng Yein being invited as a special VIP guest with the Scuderia Ferrari team, and coincidentally we'd also like to congratulate Fernando Alonso on his outstanding victory from last night's very intense race which took place over the course of two halves as it rained so heavily in the beginning a red flag was out and the race was stopped for over thirty minutes.

For the full race recap be sure to visit: www.Formula1.com

Also be sure to visit Leng Yein on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LengYein and follow her on Twitter: @LengYein

Stay tuned on when you can expect to see Leng Yein back in the US this year!
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