Race of Champions comes to Wembley

Race of Champions 2007 Wembley

After hosting the traditional end-of-season motor sport event in Paris at the State de France for three years, the organisers of the Race of Champions (Michèle Mouton and Fredrik Johnson) decided to change venue for 2007.

It may have been years behind schedule and cost a huge amount of resources to construct, but the new Wembley Stadium in North London was a truly impressive sight when racing cars took central stage.

Back in 2004, when I went to Paris to attend my first Race of Champions I was amazed by the quality of racing from the best drivers from the world of Formula One, rallying, touring cars and single-seaters. The atmosphere – with the fans cheering on their favourite drivers as they tear around the figure-of-eight circuit with tyre smoke – was electric! And when the news came through regarding the event coming to London, I wanted my friends to come along and experience it themselves!

I invited some good friends from the TokyoToys forum who are interested in motor racing. Even though Ashlea, Chris and Michael couldn’t afford the tickets (and to be honest, it was expensive) I was more than happy to pair for them. In fact, it was my special Christmas treat to make them attend the event!

On the day, I meet up with Yas at Baker Street tube station to have a spot of lunch with other TT members. We had a nice Italian meal in a nearby restaurant and it was quite amusing to see the waitress cutting some slices into Amy’s pizza, as she was having trouble with her blunt knife!

After eating, we made our way to Wembley by taking a direct (and very fast) route on the Metropolitan line. After stepping out of the tube station, the first sight you see is the impressive spanning archway over Wembley Stadium.

Chris was running late at this point so we agree to meet him at the entrance point. He finally arrived some time later and we our way in and towards our stand. Initially, I was worried that the seating arrangement at the far end of the stadium wouldn’t offer any good views but when we got to our seats, we had a spectacular vantage point overlooking the figure-of-eight race track!

The event was highly entertaining despite the harsh winter winds! We were absolutely freezing our arses off but the track activities kept our spirits warm.

Double DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom won the main Race of Champions after beating the seven-times Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher in a series of tense heats. But Michael had the last laugh as Team Germany won the Nations Cup with fellow colleague Sebastian Vettel.

The most amusing moment in the Race of Champions was when Schumacher stalled on the start and finish line! Michael was even overtaken on the track by new McLaren signing Heikki Kovalainen. This was the high point for the Finn as he would later crashed out in spectacular fashion in a dramatic race with Andy Priaulx.

After the fun day out, we all made our own way home and once back, I was happy to see the many photographs and videos posted on Facebook by the others! Reading the various comments on that popular socialising website, everyone was ecstatic about the event and Yas in particular was looking forward to attending the event next year. For Michael, he was fond to see his idol Schumacher racing while Ashlea and Chris enjoyed the whole experience. Same time next year everyone?

Kovalainen joins McLaren

Kovalainen Renault

Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen has joined the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team as Lewis Hamilton new team-mate for the 2008 world championship.

The young Formula One rookie impressed the Woking-based outfit despite a shaky start at Renault. Heikki initially struggle to drive the R27 due to a lack of a decent balance – which in effect dented his confidence in driving.

His performances improved over the course of the season with his best-ever finish in the wet dramatic race at the Fuji Speedway, finishing behind race winner Hamilton.

By joining McLaren, Heikki has a wonderful opportunity to showcase his talent with a race-winning car. In addition, it will be fascinating to see if Lewis can handle another fast team-mate.

Pedro de la Rose remains as the third driver, with Gary Paffett staying on board as tester.

Stylish Heroes promos from the BBC

Claire Bennet BBC2

The stars of hit sci-fi television drama Heroes have appeared in a series of video clips promoting the BBC2 brand.

These four promotional clips – featuring the characters Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), her father Noah (Jack Coleman) and the brothers Peter and Nathan Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia and Adrian Pasdar respectively) – were shot for BBC2 when the actors were in London recently (perhaps during the World Heroes Tour?).

The clips feature each of the actors walking towards, and looking through, a cut-out of the channel’s “2” logo, which acts as a window into their psyche.

For Claire, the indestructible cheerleader is looking through the number “2” and seeing herself shattering. Noah’s viewpoint involves a room full of eyes watching his every step… Peter can see himself becoming the exploding man, while brother Nathan must be the scarecrow considering how many black crows are flying towards you!

The four idents are made by Red Bee Media and will join the fourteen new “window on the world” BBC2 promotional clips that were introduced earlier this year. These new idents are to replace the channel’s previous playful, fluffy idents.

BBC2 is seeking to bolster its brand, starting with these stylish Heroes promos, as part of a new project, 2Dimensions, focusing on the network’s key on-screen talent. All will use the “2” as a window.

I have to admit these promos work great. The visual style and music come together well matching the personality of these four Heroes. I particular like Claire’s shattering into million of pieces!

Check out the four clips attached.

Claire “Broken Doll”

Bennet “Eye See You”

Peter “Leap of Faith”

Nathan “Black Flock”

Alonso returns back to Renault

 Alonso cockpit

Double world champion Fernando Alonso has return back to his spiritual home that is the Renault F1 team for the 2008 championship. The Spaniard will partner rising Brazilian star Nelsinho Piquet, son of three times world champion Nelson Piquet.

The new line-up means Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella without a drive for next season, though it later emerges that Kovalainen will partner Lewis Hamilton at McLaren in 2008. As for Fisichella, he is hoping to land the race drive at the new Force India team (formerly Spyker).

It wasn’t a surprise for Alonso to go back to Flavio Briatore’s team to be honest. After suffering a traumatic first season at McLaren in 2007 racing against both Ron Dennis and young hotshot that is Hamilton, his decision to move back to Renault was a right choice for both parties.

Alonso will earn around £25m as part of his two-year contract at Renault. The Spaniard will become the highest paid driver in the post-Schumacher era of Formula One, though he has a ‘get out’ clause if he wishes to join Ferrari and team up with Kimi Raikkonen in the near future.

As for Nelson Piquet Jr, this opportunity to race alongside the world champion will be a massive benefit for the GP2 race winner. The Brazilian can learn the ropes and perhaps might beat his highly rated team-mate in the races!

The 2008 world championship will be crucial for Briatore, as the team suffered it most disappointing season since 2002. After taking the championship double (drivers’ and constructors’ title) in 2005 and 2006, it was shocking to see the former champions suffer with a lack of decent race result. The best result in 2007 was Kovalainen’s superb second place in a rain-lashed Japanese Grand Prix.

Hopefully next year will bring good fortune for Briatore, Alonso and Piquet Jr but it will be a tough challenge against the mighty Ferrari and McLaren race teams. Let see how competitive the new Renault R28 chassis will be.

Heroes Volume 2 review

Heroes Season 2 cast

After eleven episodes Volume 2 of Heroes is now over and due to the writer strike, it is unclear whether Volume 3 will re-commence. In the meantime, I can reflect back on the past season of Heroes (warning: contains spoilers).

The first volume was nothing short of spectacular with fascinating characters and exciting storylines that became the show to watch on television. It is not surprising how popular it became after twenty-three nail biting episodes, that you would expect the following season to continue this thrilling drama.

Unfortunately, the hype of Heroes means fans were expecting too much. We wanted more action sequences and another face-off with Peter versus Sylar. Instead we got a slow start with a couple of quite frankly, tedious episodes in Volume 2.

The first episode introduces a set of new characters including Maya, Alejandro, West, Monica, Adam, Elle and Bob. Immediately I wasn’t a fan of the so-called ‘Wonder Twins’ a.k.a. Maya and Alejandro. Maya’s special ability was her ‘tears of doom’ in which people around her will drop dead whenever she cries… To reverse the effect (and make everyone around her back alive), twin brother Alejandro can heal by holding her hand.

Claire Bear’s new boyfriend (West) was also annoying. Yes, he fancy the former cheerleader by hiding in the trees ‘admiring’ her but the whole romance sequences between the pair made this part of the show feel like a teen drama – something straight out of The O.C.

As for Monica, she was kind of cool with a unique ability in replicating any physical motion after watching it. But I found it infuriating that she didn’t watch enough videos on her iPod to escape from that thug who caught her trying to retrieve back Micah’s comic books. That resulted in Niki coming to the rescue but dying in a fireball…

Adam Monroe/Takezo Kensei on the other hand was a revelation. He turns out to be the main villain who wants to unleash the Shanti virus on the world. David Anders plays this character so well (he was also a bad guy on spy drama Alias) and I enjoy the way he manipulating both Hiro and Peter that he was doing the right thing. Silly Heroes!

As for Elle, at first I thought she was a bitch! Kristen Bell played the girl with the ability to throw balls of electricity straight out of her hands. She killed Peter’s Irish girlfriend’s brother by frying him! In the final episode, she turns to the good side by helping to capture Sylar to please her father Bob.

Bob is the head of The Company in which both Noah and Mohinder try to bring down. Working under cover the doctor was easily influence by Bob by believing that he was doing the right thing by creating a cure for the deadly virus. But it turns out to be the other effect…

As for the regular characters, they still play a part in the series but I was shocked in how stupid they became! Volume 2 was titled ‘Generations’ but it should be renamed as ‘Gullible’ as Peter, Mohinder, Claire and Hiro simple lack any brain cells between them! You wanted to scream in frustration and I still can’t forgive Dr. Suresh shooting Noah in the eye(!) just because he doesn’t know whom to trust… Of course, The Company exploiting him, but I thought Noah was on your side so you just shoot him instead?

Matt Parkman was the only character that had an interesting storyline with a progression in his power to read people’s mind. He used this to his advantage in trapping his own father after experiencing first handily in a mindf*** episode (Fight or Flight).

And the re-introduction of D.L. in one episode (Four Months Ago…) and then killing him off some minutes later was a waste. What was the point in bringing Niki’s husband back? In addition, the whole New Orleans storyline involving Micah and Monica was weak. Saving a bunch of comic books (and a medal) was more important than saving 93% of the world’s population? Oh, please(!)

As for Sylar, it was frustrating that he only got his power back in the final episode (Powerless) after injecting himself with Claire Bear’s blood. I like how he runs around decapitating people head’s off to absorb their power in season 1. Here in season 2, he spent most of his time flirting with ‘tears of doom’!

But the moment that annoyed me the most was when he was isolated in the middle of nowhere after killing that shape-shifting woman. In the following episode he was lying unconscious in the middle of the road… How did he get there?!

But the biggest annoyance was Peter Petrelli. He was by far the best character on the show. Peter has the ability to fly, can generate nuclear in his hands, travel through time and be able to walk through walls and yet, if only his brain was functioning a bit more, he could have prevented the destruction of the world by using a bit of common sense… Plus, whatever happened to his Irish girlfriend? She doesn’t exist in the present because she was capture in the future…

And what about Hiro – the fans favourite? Well, the loveable Japanese geek was stuck in ancient Japan trying to help out the great Takezo Kensei in becoming a hero. He eventually returns to the present time to stop Kensei – now Adam – in destroying the world!

In conclusion, season 2 wasn’t on par with the first season. The fact that the writer’s strike is still ongoing reveal how poorly constructed these eleven episodes were. It felt rushed and the second half of the season began to hit it stride, before it ended prematurely… Even Tim Kring, the series creator, admitted he should have focus the virus storyline quicker into Volume 2 than introducing a love story for Claire and West and a host of new characters like Maya and Alejandro.

Volume 3: Villains will be interesting. Can Heroes regain its form by providing more shocking moments? I hope so as still one of the most entertaining television shows around. Plus I do fancy Claire being indestructible and the return of the evil Sylar!

Leaf’s Xbox 360 RROD

Xbox 360 RROD graphic

My Xbox 360 committed suicide this month by giving me the dreaded three red lights a.k.a. the Red Ring of Death. I was shocked when this occur especially as my friend was playing quite well on Expert mode in Guitar Hero II

The whole screen froze and when we tried to reset the console, the familiar red lights flashed away. To be honest, I was heading towards the console’s deathbed in the past couple of weeks when it crashed ten times in a space of an hour! In that period, I replayed the same race in Project Gotham Racing 4 without making past the first corner… To see white lines and square blocks appearing on my Samsung HDTV during a game and on the Xbox 360 loading screen means there is something seriously going wrong inside the machine.

I called up customer support immediately and after explaining the problem, I arrange a pick-up to get it repaired. The good news is that I don’t need to pay for the repair as Microsoft has a three-year warranty. The bad news is I won’t get my Xbox 360 for the next three to four weeks so in the meantime I can continue my quest in Super Mario Galaxy on the reliable Nintendo Wii! But in all seriousness, Microsoft is aware of the RROD situation. In fact, I discover that Microsoft receives numerous amounts of broken Xbox 360s with this problem EVERYDAY!

I hope I get it back in the New Year, as I desperately want to play Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock with the new wireless guitar controller. Plus, I have to finish off those remaining levels in Bioshock (feel embarrass that I yet to complete it). Fingers cross my Xbox 360 is running fine without any more problems when I get it back.

Loeb wins title while Hirvonen scores Rally GB win

Loeb champion  2007

Citroen star Sebastien Loeb has clinched his fourth consecutive World Rally Championship after a caution run to third place behind the dominate Fords of Mikko Hirvonen and title rival Marcus Gronholm on the Rally GB.

Gronholm need to out-score his championship rival Loeb by seven points in the season finale to snatch the title in his final rally before retiring from full-time competition. In the end, the Finn admitted he lost the opportunity after crashing out in the previous event, the Rally of Ireland.

Having led the drivers’ standings for most of the year, Gronholm said he still rued the crash in Ireland that had allowed Loeb to take the points lead going into the finale.

“I am disappointed of course, but it was a difficult rally this one, and we lost the title in Ireland,” he said.

For Loeb, this result means he is one of the most successful rally drivers of the modern era. To take his fourth crowd is an impressive achievement and when interviewed after finishing third, the Frenchman couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.

“It’s incredible,” said Loeb. “To get the championship with only four points lead is not the same as getting it with 40 points (lead) like some years ago. It’s a really, really good moment.”

When asked if this was his most difficult championship battle yet, Loeb replied: “For sure, no comparison.”

Even though the Rally GB was overshadowed by the Loeb versus Gronholm title battle, it was Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen who actually won the event. It was the Finn’s third win of the season but on the final special stage, he nearly lost control of his car!

“We went off, and I didn’t plan it!” Hirvonen joked. “This season has been absolutely fantastic, and finishing it like this is the best preparation for next year.”

Indeed, next year WRC is just around the corner with the Rally of Monte Carlo in January. With Marcus Gronholm hanging up his helmet – who will challenge the mighty Sebastien Loeb? No doubt 2008 will be another fascinating contest between these great rally drivers in all kinds of track surfaces and conditions.