(This weekend, we called the bizarre, slow driving antics of World Touring Car Championship qualifying from Salzburg into question. Touring car driver and Jalopnik contributor Robb Holland took issue with our account. This is his response. - T.O.)
I rarely take another Jalop contributor to task for their writings. Lord knows I'd hate to have someone second guessing all of my random musing on this site. That being said, Michael, you have offended the sensibilities of my fellow competitors. I demand you meet me on the field of honor (Sonoma Raceway will suffice) for failing to write a piece that fairly explained the full situation before calling us "so called race car drivers" and looking, hopefully sarcastically, for our racing licenses.
There are two ex-F1 drivers, two GT1 World Champions, two multi-time ice racing champions, several Le Mans (that's Le Mans not LeMons) and Daytona winners amongst the ranks of these "so called drivers". If that's not enough for you, arguably the best driver in the world, Sebastian Loeb, thinks enough of the series to bring a full factory effort with him to the WTCC next season. Thats a lot of talent for "so called race car drivers".
Now to the facts of what caused the situation:
1) While it is an amazingly beautiful track, the Salzburgring is another one of several drag strip race tracks that the WTCC visits in a season. Monza, Marrakech, Shanghai, and Russia all have, to varying degrees, several slow corners followed by agonizingly long straights that make drafting a key component in any fast lap. If you are not drafting then you will not set a competitive lap time no matter how well you drive.
In a series where the top 15 are often separated by less than 1.5 seconds, losing a half a second by not being in the draft is inconceivable. That's one of the reason why British Touring Car races are so entertaining is that all of the tracks are 1.5 mile bull rings that encourage close contact racing that the fans enjoy so much.
2) The Salzburgring is also famous for another debacle which happened last year when several of the leading cars suffered left front tire failure in race 2 due to the high cornering loads that the track generates in several corners. The more laps you do at speed the more stress you place on that tire, the more chance that it will fail.
It is that combination of factors that made for a farce of a qualifying session. What is the point of going to attempt a fast lap if, when you lead first, your lap will not only be slowest of all the cars behind you but also you will stress your tires in doing so which then exponentially increase the chance that they will fail during the race. The situation here is not unlike the current situation in F1, where you have drivers driving at far less then maximum to make the tires last until the end. Odd though as somehow I don't see anyone criticizing the F1 drivers for that situation.
Our job as "so called drivers" is to drive within the limit of the rules to win. If that means going slowly to best position yourself for the race then so be it. We don't like it but thats the way the rules are written.
Unfortunately in racing these days, the fastest driver isn't necessarily the one crossing the line first at the end of the day.
See you at Sonoma.