Q & A: The F1-IndyCar contest . . . . . . and a few penalty points

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Provided the drivers were of equal skill, which vehicle would win if you pitched an Indy machine against a Formula One car?

The Formula One car would win every time. Its less regulated, more powerful and costly engine gives it an enormous power advantage. On twisty tracks and street circuits there would be no competition. IndyCars can lap banked ovals at over 220 mph, but a Formula One car, if geared for maximum speed and running with less speed-killing 'wing', would better that significantly. - Colm McKeogh, Dublin.

The answer to this would depend very much on the venue and distance of the race. On an oval circuit the IndyCar would have the advantage. This stems from two main reasons.

First, Indycars have a stepped floor to generate downforce, and a Fl car would have to compromise its aerodynamics by using a larger wing (inverted aerofoil at the back to give it similar downforce). Second, Fl engines are not designed for running continuously at the high revs which ovals require, and would simply explode.

On a street circuit such as Monaco, or a flat GP circuit like Silverstone, the Fl car would be considerably faster. This is because it is much lighter. Together with similar horsepower, this provides more acceleration. Fatter tyres let it corner at much higher speeds, and carbon-fibre brakes drastically reduce the braking distance.

I have assumed that the race will not be more than 200 miles (the maximum GP distance) because whilst Indycars can be refuelled during a race Fl cars cannot and would have to be raced with one eye firmly on the fuel gauge. - A Nehmet, London WC1.

Have any Britons ever succeeded in the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada?

Yes. I know of two British-born players currently playing in the NHL.

Steve Thomas, born in Stockport in 1963, plays left wing for the New York Islanders. He is formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks. Thomas has a record of 526 games played, 206 goals, and 249 assists for a total of 455 points. He is the second-highest scorer in the team.

Owen Nolan, born in Belfast in 1972, plays right wing for the Quebec Nordiques. He was drafted first overall in the 1990 entry draft. Nolan has a record of 201 games played, 45 goals, and 41 assists for a total of 86 points. The physical side of the game is much in evidence in Nolan's play. - Colin Dodds, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The increase from three points to four for a try was introduced to reduce the effect of penalties on results. Taking Triple Crown games, how did the 10 years before and after the rule change compare for tries and penalties scored?

Simply looking at the numbers of penalties kicked compared with tries scored does not show the effect of penalties on a game. The issue is a lot more complicated and far more intersting than that, as a detailed analysis of the results of all Five Natioins matches in the four completed decades wince the Second World War will show.

The figures are as follows:

Tries Pens

1947-1956 278 115

1957-1966 223 125

1967-1976 297 289

1977-1986 278 432

On the face of it, the fact that penalties have increased over the period by almost 300 per cent would appear to confirm the accepted wisdom that penalties are having an increasing effect on results of internationals. Not so, however. No more games are being won by penalties now than 40 years ago.

The following table confirms this. Matches won by the team scoring the greater number of tries:

1947-1956: 74%

1957-1966: 61%

1967-1976: 76%

1977-1986: 62%

The explanation is simple - referees make sure, unintentionally or otherwise, that penalties cancel each other out so that if one team kicks four penalties the chances are that the other team will kick two, three or four. The net effect of penalties is therefore no different than 40 years ago.

But it does not end there. Further detailed analysis shows that as far as penalty goals are concerned, at international level at least, home teams appear to be favoured by referees. The following statistic could win a few bets - in all International Board matches played between 1947 and 1986, when the away team has scored fewer tries, it has won on penalties only eight times in more than 700 matches. What can be said, therefore, is that the penalty is far from being the king it is claimed to be. - Corris Thomas, Cardiff.

When was the last time England fielded a cricket Test side all born in England? Who were the players?

The last occasion when England fielded an all-English born Test XI occurred more recently than might be supposed. It was the third Test of the 1989 series v Australia, the XI being Graham Gooch (born Leytonstone), Tim Curtis (Chislehurst), David Gower (Tunbridge Wells), Chris Tavare (Orpington), Kim Barnett (Stoke), Ian Botham (Heswall), Jack Russell (Stroud), John Emburey (Peckham), Angus Fraser (Billinge), Graham Dilley (Dartford), and Paul Jarvis (Redcar).

All-English born XIs have taken the field on two other occasions in the past six years; in the bicentenary Test v Australia in Sydney in 1988 and the notorious Faisalabad Test v Pakistan in 1987.

In the period from 1977-78 to 1981-82 sides born entirely in England appeared on 24 occasions, including all seven Tests of Keith Fletcher's tour of India and Sri Lanka in the latter year. The arrival of Allan Lamb in 1982 largely ensured that this period came to an end.

Those who pine for the days when every Test team was pure English born and bred can seek no reassurance in the 22 years prior to 1977-78. In those years on only one occasion (third Test v India, 1967) did an all-English born team appear. The frequent appearances of Cowdrey (born Bangalore), Dexter (born Milan), d'Oliveira and Greig (both born South Africa), along with occasional selections such as Russell and Larter (both Scottish) and Jeff Jones (Welsh) largely account for this.

Before the Second World War the amateurs who always made up part of the Test team were often the sons of colonists, Warner and Jardine being prime examples (born in Trinidad and India respectively). Like many other golden ages, that in which the England cricket team comprised only English- born players simply never existed. - Peter Hoare, Bristol.

Has a passing bird ever been hit by a conversion or drop-goal attempt in rugby union, preventing the ball passing between the posts and depriving the kicker of his score? Come to that, have any other creatures had a bearing on the results of any important sporting occasion?

Four or five years ago, in a baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, the Yankees' Dave Winfield hit a long fly-ball which struck a seagull in flight and killed it. Whether or not this had any outcome on the score of the game, I cannot say. What I can report is that Mr Winfield was cited by the Toronto police for cruelty to animals - an offence in Canada. - Peter Hall, London W6.

The Test cricket grounds of Australia - notably the Adelaide Oval - regularly accommodate quite large flocks of seagulls in the outfield, and from time to time they are struck and injured by the ball. I don't think such an incident has ever determined the outcome of an Ashes series. - Simon Wood, Wells.

ANSWERS PLEASE

The Pontypool rugby team last week contained an M Taylor, a P Taylor and a B Taylor. Not long ago Llanelli could field J Davies, N Davies, C Davies and S Davies in the backs with P Davies in the forwards. So what is the highest number of players with the same surname to play for a rugby, football, or cricket team? - Robert Ewart, Rye.

In 1899 A E J Collins scored 628 not out in a match at Clifton College. I believe the rest of the team managed little more than 200 runs between them. Are the circumstances of this innings recorded? Was Collins' batting career in any way remarkable before the innings? What was his record for the season, and subsequently? - C J Lill, London E5.

In cross-country skiing, is it the first person round the course who carves out the ruts that the others follow? If not, who or what makes them? And how are the ruts formed in ski-jumping? - Ian Simpson, Edinburgh.

This season Tottenham have played Manchester City four times and won every time. Is this a unique achievement? Have any English League teams met five or more times in a season, not including cup replays? - J Hebden, Enfield.

What is the highest number of left- handed batsmen to have played for England in a Test match? And what is the biggest partnership for England by two left-handed batsmen? - David Morris, Glasgow G61.

Has an Oxbridge football blue ever played professionally? - Keith Markland, Ilkley.

Has a Football League match ever kicked off later than 8pm? And what is the earliest time a match has kicked off? - Darren Tunstall, Bexhill-on-Sea.

If you know the answers to any of these questions, or have a sporting question of your own you would like answered, write to:

(Photograph omitted)

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