Monday, November 9, 2009

ected heavy understeer. Nice surprise. We're currently driving ours with the sports package and 20 inch wheels which suit the design well and ride comfor
ble suspension is spot on in sport and sport+ modes. The 5 GT handles well given its size. In corners the nose stays where you want it instead of the exp
So far so good! Engine in the 550i variant is a bruiser when you ask it to be and a sedate, comfortable cruiser when you want to settle down. The adjusta

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I like the 550i GT much more than I expected in person. Has a lot of DNA from the CS Concept

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Top Gear Sunday Brunch #3

The other day I was researching the concept of anti-lag after watching a bunch of Group B rally and turbocharged engine videos and found this old gem. It's a great little concept produced by Prodrive - the same Prodrive that ran an E30 M3 rally car as well as ran Subaru's highly successful WRC team with the WRX STi's at the hands of legendary Collin McRae. If that's not enough, David Richards and his company Prodrive are now the co-owners of Aston Martin and their racing team along with a few Middle Eastern equity firms.

But I digress, this is the Prodrive P2 and its a car predicated on the idea of anti-lag, which is essentially the concept of maintaining the rotational speed of the turbocharger so that when the driver lifts his foot off the throttle to apply the brakes the turbo doesn't lose rotation speed. With traditional turbocharged engines, the turbos spool up at a preset engine speed (revolutions) and the power provided by the turbocharger becomes available to the driver. However, lifting off the throttle causing the engine revs to fall, there can be a "lag time" before the engine gets back up to the revolutions it needs to feed the engine power once the driver is back on the throttle. With an anti-lag system, it helps keep the turbo spooled up even when the engine revs fall when the driver lifts off of the throttle. Thus, with the turbo staying spooled up at its optimal speed and power is readily available as soon as the driver is able to reapply the throttle.

OK, lesson over - watch what this car does to Clarkson!

WTCC coming to the United States?

Well, it is the World Touring Car Championship so why not expand the races outside of Europe? Thankfully, the WTCC added tracks to the 2009 calendar for Mexico, Japan and South America and according to the head promoter of the WTCC Marcello Lotti he would love to see a WTCC race or two as early as the 2011 race year on possibly Laguna Seca and the Homestead street track in Miami.

Even better is that this would encourage more manufacturers to enter the WTCC to compete against BMW, Chevrolet and SEAT and their 320Si, Lacetti and Leons, respectively. One possible addition would be Ford who are eyeing the possibility of enrolling in the FIA-sanctioned event with the new 2010 Focus. When asked about where would the races likely be held, Lotti said he would like to host the races in the South due to a wider acceptance of small cars.

We're hoping the U.S. gets the races as it would be great to see a true touring car competition on U.S. soil as the KONI Challenge and Speed World Touring Car Challenge don't seem to have as much traction as they deserve. In terms of marketing, the hope would be that many of the smaller cars that companies like Chevrolet and Ford are beginning to gear themselves toward in the U.S. market might be given a second look by Americans when they see the capabilities of these cars on the track. Is win on Sunday, sell on Monday a dead slogan? We certainly hope not. With the WTCC racing in North America we could see the added benefit of companies like BMW actually building more demand for their 4-cylinder cars that many enthusiasts have missed for so many years since the E36 318ti went out of production. Personally, I'd love to see homologation cars such as the E90 32oSi being sold stateside as most of the world is privy to these special edition cars.

For those that don't know, the WTCC has been around since 1987 as a sort of upgrade to the European Touring Car Championship that had been around for years and years. The WTCC carried many of the same principles of the ETCC with cars that had to be homologated and as close to road-going spec as possible, typically with caps on engine displacement and horsepower to keep the competition close. Cars like the original E30 M3 and Ford Sierra gained particular notoriety with their dominance in the sport. As the series progressed other manufacturers came and went such as Audi throughout the 1990s with the then-new A4, Volvo with one of their wagons and the Russian manufacturer Lada even taking the opportunity to through a car into the mix.
Any quite a mix it is! WTCC is known for a lot of paint swapping as you have a tremendous number of cars typically on cramped circuits such as Brands Hatch, Pau and Macau. Some of the most recent closer calls were when Jason Plato's SEAT Leon was rammed from behind on the long downhill turn at Brands Hatch, caught air at the rear of the car and then managed to steer out of it with his front-wheel-drive hatchback or when Englster's BMW ran into the pace car when it veered onto the Pau circuit in front of him. You also have interesting stories like Alex Zanardi, who lost both his legs below the knees in a CART accident, still remaining highly competitive in a modified BMW 320Si.
Under the current Super 2000 regulations, none of the engines can have a displacement greater than 2,000cc and you find a well-mixed field of cars that are both rear-wheel and front-wheel driven compared to NASCAR of even Formula One with strictly rear-driven cars. Given the current state of the auto industry, this could be a bit of a shot in the arm for motorsport and offer a bit of variety to American gearheads. As as a U.S. taxpayer and thereby de facto shareholder in GM, I'd love to see the Lacetti/Cobalt tearing up circuits around this great country.

(Source: Autoblog)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ford GT Back in Racing

The original Ford GT40 was conceived as a form of revenge by Henry Ford II against Enzo Ferrari. After toying with Henry "The Deuce" Ford II about the acquisition of Ferrari in the mid-1960's, The Deuce couldn't have that so he had his engineers very quickly pull together the car that would be the GT40. "GT" for Gran Turismo (or great race/tour) and "40" as the car was only 40 inches tall. In winning spec and after a few rough "teething" years for Ford Advanced Vehicles, the GT40 was fitted with a 7.0L V8 and the hands of racing greats Bruce McLaren, Ken Miles, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon the GT40 began to win races and took a 1-2-3 win at the 1966 Le Mans. The Deuce was finally able to thumb his nose at Il Commendatore by showing him up at the race that Ferrari had so dominated Le Mans for so many years.

Decades passed before Ford would release the new GT - a road-going sports car to commemorate the race car that had won them so many victories during the golden era of racing. However, this car wasn't built as a sports car to be raced but more as a road-going sports car for enthusiasts to show that Ford can still build a sports car to compete with the likes of Ferrari. Unfortunately, the GT came out at the time to battle the Ferrari 360 as it began to end its life cycle and Maranello began to usher out the then-new F430.

However, one group decided to resurrect the racing spec Ford GT and take to the tracks. Doran Racing, who also compete in the Grand Am Rolex Series, decided to build 6 Ford GT racing spec cars to do battle in the GT2 class of the ALMS. To keep the GT competitive Doran replaced more or less every body panel with carbon fiber-made panels and in the process sealed many of the close gaps in standard body panels that can create unwanted drag. The Doran GT's also received a widebody kit as well as a massive rear wing for increased grip. In terms of the engine, Doran is hold a modified 5.0L naturally aspirated V8 compared to the standard 5.4L supercharged V8. However, much like the original GT40, this GT-R has had a difficult birth into motorsports.

While the construction of the car was, overall, easier than converting a typical road car to race spec, the GT-R has had less than easy path to winning results. But, that doesn't keep the GT-R from competition nor has it since its 2008 introduction to ALMS and being one of the most distinctive cars on the grid with it's very wide, low stance. Ironically though, the GT40 had a number of years where it was completely uncompetitive, barely, if at all, finishing races before Carroll Shelby and his crew stepped in to up the ante of the GT40 with a 7.0L V8 and revised suspension work. It was then that The Deuce was able to bloody the nose of Enzo Ferrari himself on the very same tracks on which he built his reputation. We're hoping to see the Doran GT-R carry the same successes of the GT40 of yesteryear as it progresses into its career Stateside.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Top Gear Sunday Brunch #2

The 2010 Z4? Cuts right to my heart with an incredible engine, drop-dead gorgeous looks and a drop top. The Nissan 370Z? Cuts right to the heart of my budget and has better power output, brakes and suspension. However, I'll leave it to Jezza to sort out the details between the two all-new coupes.

I'd also recommend you ignore the stupid dinosaur references, they don't make a lot of sense and I'm pretty sure you'll never get chased down in a Nissan by a 'raptor.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The New Mercedes SLS AMG: Design Disappointment

Gone are the days of original car designs. Period. Beg to differ? Only a few concepts have struck a chord with me in the last few years with regard to innovative design versus the recycled, tired ideas that have been done over and over ad nauseum.

Gone are the days of cars like Ferrari F40, the McLaren F1, the Porsche 550 Spyder, the original Mustang, the Miura; cars built by passion and purpose dictating design. Cars that people dreamed up and built to build a car that the world hadn't seen yet, cars immortalized in a poster that would be hung on a little kid's wall for him to dream up his own car of the future. Those dreams have been replaced by cars built by profits and dividends and the fallout from such decisions made by faceless suits inside companies have taken their toll on the current generation of supercars.

We live in a world of a Ford Mustang with a "retro" design - and a Challenger and Camaro, Fiat 500 and MINI Cooper. In other words, a complete lack of creativity or "safe" design for companies to thrive off of the victories of yesterday. What's worse is the most recent victim of this trend: the iconic Mercedes 300SL. The car that, for many, defined Mercedes and ushered them into a world of exquisite taste and money-is-no-object styling and features in a post-World War II era.

The 300SL Gullwing, as it was known for it's upward folding doors, has already fallen victim to the hackneyed retro design of the McLaren-Mercedes SLR - the failed child of two motorsport giants as a car that was too long, too heavy and too boring in it's execution. Now, Mercedes feels that it hasn't done enough to show a lack of creativity on their part so they've recreated the 300SL Gullwing ... again... with the new SLS AMG - a 300SL Gullwing inspiration in terms of exterior and interior. However, in terms of execution, instead of bringing new ideas an innovation to a model, Mercedes has taken the same design and just redrawn the same shape with upgrades for 2010 - this is also a car that serves as an answer to a question that wasn't asked.

These designs bother me, while supercars answer questions never asked in the first place they still make a case for new, innovative, on-the-edge thought on how a car can be designed. But, in this case, that answered a question not asked by the car market with a same, tired answer. By playing it safe with a design for a flagship car, Mercedes has shot itself in the foot in one of its biggest times of need. Playing it safe with supercars rarely works out in a company's favor, supercars are supposed to be radical, outrageous and insanely expensive. Clinical, safe, organized - not words one would associate with a highly sought after car. While this car is fast, I think this is a car that, much like the SLR, will largely be a sales flop after 2-year leases end and everyone moves on to the latest and greatest - leaving Mercedes out a significant chunk of change and heavy on further brand dilution as this car, with no real innovation, doesn't leave much to compel buyers.

(Source: Autoblog)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Block vs. Dyrdek: Biggie Smalls Edition

As we've shown you, big man at DC Shoes Ken Block has already demonstrated the abilities of the 2009 rally-prepped Subaru STi around the airbase that is his test track.

In this clip we see Ken Block, in his prepped STi again, going head to head with his mini marketing machine and skate pro Rob Dyrdek, in his own prepped STi...kinda. This is a quick video showing off the Gymkhana drifting skills of the duo in it's own unique style. Being a fan of the show Rob and Big, I can't say this surprises me to see some of the risk they're taking in the video, then again, the use of the Benny Hill theme song makes it all worth while.

Be sure to watch around the 1:30 mark for the incredible change of direction Block makes with his STi around the cones - then compare it to Rob's attempt.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

BMW Wins Me Over With New Concept

I'm pretty far from being a fan of the "green" movement of the last few years in the auto industry. With Chevy promising the Volt and Toyota providing the Prius which does more damage than it does good in the long run, green cars have left a lot to be desired. However, BMW has just corrected that, at least in my mind.

With the new Vision EfficientDynamics Concept, BMW has actually built an epically beautiful big coupe that returns over 50 miles per gallon and a sub-5 second 0 to 60 sprint. These figures are achieved via two electric motors, one attached to each axle, and a - wait for it - 3 cylinder diesel engine only good for 163HP. However, with the two electric motors, total output is put up over the 350HP mark, all while returning a dry weight of just under 3,100 lbs. Finally, a car company that gets it! Cut weight and performance and efficiency can increase. BMW achieved a lower weight figure by a combination of light weight materials and more innovative design.

This new concept comes in a 2+2 arrangement with a singular door on each side permitting access to both the front and rear seats making this a comfortable coupe for 4 adults. The coupe also take advantage of a heavy application of LED lighting as well as special, light sensitive glass on each door that can become more transparent or opaque depending on the level of light. In addition to the use of LEDs, many styling cues from this coupe have been picked up from the achingly beautiful M1 Coupe Homage that was released at the 2008 Concours d'Elegance in Italy. Frankly, if BMW, or any other car manufacturer for that matter, can produce fun, competent vehicles that look like this while providing similar performance figures then we can see a reason for wanting to go green - only with the promise of wonderful exhaust notes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Mini!

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Mini Cooper, brainchild of the legendary Sir Alec Issigonis. This car is the face of the UK and became a world icon through its starring role in The Italian Job of the 1960's and 2000's along with great success in racing circuits throughout the last 5 decades. We're pretty excited to see the Mini brand continue its legacy for another 50 years with its combination of fun factor and excellent city car!

Must read for Motorheads

I've found myself reading a lot of 1960's and early 1970's sportscar and Formula One books lately, not sure why but my collect has ended up that way. I plan on deviating from that soon to read the new Pat Conroy book. My current list of books includes:

- Winning Is Not Enough: The Autobiography of Jackie Stewart
- Racing in the Rain
- McLaren Memories: A Biography of Bruce McLaren
- Go Like Hell

The last book is one I actually managed to finish before jumping to something else. For those that don't know, Go Like Hell by A.J. Baime chronicles Ford's unrelenting assault on Le Mans in an effort to stop the winning streak of Ferrari.

As a quick recap for those unfamiliar, in the early 1960's, Henry Ford II toyed with the idea of buying Ferrari and actually got into very in-depth, protracted negotiations. Things began to draw to a close and it was thought that the papers would be inked and a great American car dynasty was to acquire a great Italian car dynasty. However, it wasn't to be so as Ferrari pulled out of negotiations at the last minute. Infuriated at the idea of being toyed with himself, the Deuce set out to protect his namesake and beat Ferrari at his own game. From that moment on, Ford set out to win Le Mans. This moment would prove to be the decision that spurred the creation of one of Ford's most notable cars aside from the Model T or Mustang, the Ford GT40.

Baime's book is brief at just under 300 pages but manages to accomplish quite a bit in its few pages. Focusing on the two battling captains of industry, Ford vs. Ferrari, but shows them in very different light as broken men hell-bent on the same goal: Win Le Mans, be the fastest. However, Baime goes on to give you significant insight into the men behind the wheel of the Ferrari 330 P3's and Ford GT40's, introducing readers to people such as Ken Miles, a driver that should have won Le Mans in 1966 but due to politics, ultimately lost out to McLaren in a near dead heat finish. The reader is also given insight into Carroll Shelby and his company and the magnitude of his influence on the Ford racing program in the 1960's.

For motorheads looking for a quick read about one of the best stories of the Golden Era of Motorsports then definitely pick up a copy of Go Like Hell. This book belongs in any petrolhead/motorhead's personal library!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What you've missed in Formula One since the last race...

In recent years especially, F1 has become a very dynamic environment. With regulation changes, teams constantly threatening to quit, point systems increases and decreases - it can be a lot to follow. However, even more has changed since the last race a few weeks ago at the Hungaroring. Just to hit some of the highlights:

- Most importantly, after his severe accident during Qualifying 2, Felipe Massa has left Europe and returned to Brazil under the care of his own physicians. He's expected to make likely a full recovery and should regain sight in his left eye. However, it has yet to be determined when he will be fit enough to return to the cockpit of the Ferrari F60 - or if he will.

- Herr Michael Shuchmacher, yes the Michael Schumacher who won 7 World Driver's Championships during his time with the Benetton and Ferrari teams, came out of retirement to assume the duties and seat of Felipe Massa after his accident at the Hungaroring. Schumacher began training in last year's F50 Formula One car as a means of preparation to test both his fitness of driving and to get him ready to step into the F60. Ferrari attempted to have Schumacher put into the F60 for testing purposes but was to do so under the guise of a promotional event. After protests from other teams of mid-season testing, Shuchmacher was relegated back to the F50. Everyone got very excited to hear that he would debut once more at the Valencia circuit this coming weekend - possibly allowing everyone the opportunity to see if Schumi "still has it."

- And Schumacher retires from Formula One again...As soon as it started it was over. During some fitness evaluations around the Fiorano test circuit in Maranello, it was revealed that Schumi's neck was having a difficult time holding up to the tremendous g forces that an F1 driver is typically subjected to. After a neck injury sustained during a sport bike race in February, Schumacher had some small fractures at the base of his skull, injuries that could prove very, very traumatic if he was to continue to pushing the limits of his neck's abilities in the seat of an F1 car. Everyone was disappointed again. With a severe lack of options at hand, Ferrari promoted up Luca Badoer, their test driver, to the seat of Massa's F60. Badoer hasn't sat in a competitive F1 seat since 1999 and as a result, his lack of familiarity with the car showed with a qualifying time leaving him dead last on the grid.

- BMW quits Formula One. That's right, after what looked to be a very promising season that has ended in lukewarm results, BMW decided that less than four full seasons is adequate time to fully judge and evaluate a professional race team. So, BMW is pulling its funding leaving Sauber more or less without a backer. Mario Theissen, Director of BMW Motorsports and BMW Sauber team principal seems soured by the whole situation and it would not surprise me if he left the company entirely at the end of the season with him currently looking for buyer of the BMW Sauber team. In terms of drivers, rumor has it that Kubica could take the open spot at Renault when Fernando Alonso vacates the team that has been so good to him to take Kimi Raikkonen's position at Ferrari. Raikkonen plans to move onto the Fiat WRC team after his Ferrari contract is up to follow in a great heritage of Finnish drivers that dominate rallying.

- Oh, did we mention for the 500th time that Alonso is moving to Ferrari? Plenty of rumors have come out that he'll make such a move and he's kept it no secret that he would love nothing more than to end his career with the team of the Prancing Horse. It's likely to happen as Alonso has a bit of an open-ended contract with Renault and Raikkonen's interest in F1 has waned severely in recent months in addition to rumors he might buy out his remaining year of his contract with Scuderia Ferrari. Also, Alonso is the only logical choice of experienced racer to join Ferrari with the potential seat changes in the 2010 season.

- One pleasant surprise of the season has been Mark Webber's performance. Mark is currently just shy of 20 points behind the points leader Jenson Button. With Brawn GP's loss of pace over the last few races and with Webber and Red Bull nipping at their heels, Webber has an outside chance to win the world championship. Frankly, we're hoping to see Red Bull pull off the surprise of the season and win at least a Driver's Championship.

For those who want to watch the race live, mercifully coverage has been moved from Fox back to the Speed Channel so the race kicks off at 7:30AM tomorrow morning for the pre-race and race in the...interesting...Valencia Urban Circuit.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Customer Is Always Wrong!

Saw this on CNN and I actually posted this more for other reasons than just the hot Gallardo Spider. The main reason? This dude's hair. Seriously, look at him. He looks like Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future. That's not a compliment either, I think this dude popped a flux capacitor into the back of the firewall between the sport seats.

Anyway, I think this video is also silly because it sounds as if this guy bought a sports car that has squeaky brakes and that's his complaint. Is that a legit complaint in a Lambo? With modern sports cars and ceramic brakes, are people not aware that this is a possible side effect?

Clarkson said it best: " convertibles are bad because with the top is down, everyone can see how much of a dork you are."

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Better European Grand Prix

This week we'll see the start of the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Spain - the first race back after the serious accident that kept Ferrari's Felipe Massa out of the Hungary GP only to be replaced by Ferrari test driver Badoer for the upcoming race.

This year we're seeing the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone host the prestigious European Grand Prix at the very boring Valencia Urban circuit...again. For those that don't know, the Urban circuit in Valencia is essentially a track that is made up of a large Mediterranean shipyard with a full circuit carved around it. It's a very dull track on which to hold a race as it comes with a very gray and blue, dull backdrop to the very fast, vivid cars. Speaking of the cars, as this circuit is so narrow, don't expect much passing around the angular 3.367 mile track. Last year, this was anticipated(by Ecclestone) to be one of the most interesting and fast circuits, excluding the Singapore GP, of the tracks added to the season last year and most critics and fans felt that wasn't the case.

Rewind to 24 years earlier to 1985 European Grand Prix at the storied Brands Hatch circuit in the United Kingdom. If you look at some of the names, they've not changed - we still see a Rosberg, a Piquet and McLaren and Ferrari and BMW-engined car on the grid. However, the race played out in a far more dramatic and interesting scene than the 2009 European Grand Prix will. In 1985, we see that Niki Lauda has just won his last world championship the year before, a young Ayrton Senna is cutting his teeth at Lotus, and Nigel Mansell manages to win his first Grand Prix victory in his new Williams-Honda after 72 starts and a career already spanning nearly 5 years. Did we mention it was full-on into the Turbo Era of Formula One? Quite the interesting time for a sport and ironically, we find the current state of F1 in such a state of flux with regulations.

Check out the video below of an enthusiastic Murray Walker and mellow James Hunt commenting on the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.

Worst. Text. Message. Ever.

Sebastian Bourdais is an accomplished racer. Coming from a strong career in the Champ Car Series he came highly recommended for the European series such as Le Mans and even Formula One. Debuting with the Toro Rosso team - the Ferrari-engined Red Bull cars. For Le Mans, 2009 showed Bourdais an incredible finish in second place in his second year at the helm of Peugeot 908HDi. So, he has a very impressive career.

Except in Formula One. Heralded as one of the drivers to beat in 2008, the year of his debut, Bourdais has had lackluster results to date only having placed 7th. However, many will claim that the Toro Rosso team is the "second tier" team of the overall Red Bull group with most of the support going to Webber and Vettel on the "tier one" team running the Renault engines. While that may be blatantly obvious to everyone, Bourdais has still gotten the axe. But that's not the worst part. How did he find out that his multi-million dollar contract with the Red Bull team?

Through a text message.

That's right, through a regular old SMS text message from Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz at ol' Dietrich just couldn't be bothered to pick up the phone and let one of his top 4 drivers that they were splitting ways. What's next for Bourdais? We're not quite sure which series we'll find him in but hopefully he doesn't get dumped again like someone's high school boyfriend.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Top Gear Sunday Brunch

I like to get up early on Sunday mornings and catch a few episodes of Top Gear via YouTube while I make breakfast. It's just a good way to start off the last day of the weekend.

Anyway, I thought I would start of a series of doing this with the second half of the Brits vs. zee Germans, it's the better half of this feature. In just under 10 minutes they managed to show two Mini Cooper S's dueling on the legendary Zolder track, two Bowler Wildcats going head to head and then a race with Captain Slow against Tim Shrick in an Aston DBRS9 and Porsche GT3RS. It's got a lot of great content in one nice, neat little package. Check it out.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ford on the Offensive

Today, Ford posted a sales gain for the first time in a long time and this past weekend, Ford claimed a victory against one of the kings of WRC: Subaru. At this past weekend's X Games we saw the Subaru STi of Travis Pastrana, stunt man and biker, versus 1999 Indy 500 champ Kenny Brack in the all-new rally-prepped Ford Fiesta.

It all started to look bad for the Ford after the first jump which sheared most of the rear bumper off but the Subaru lost the battle when Pastrana hung the tail of the Subaru out a hair too far clipping a wall. This ultimately sent the Subaru the wrong way and into a wall while the Fiesta jetted across the finish line. A big win for the blue oval indeed as the X Games are typically a Subaru-won event. Maybe things could turn around for Detroit after all?

Vintage McLarens Out in the Open

McLaren, as a company, has evolved tremendously since its inception in 1964. After being acquired by Ron Dennis in the early 80's the company no longer bore much resemblance to the company Bruce McLaren tried to build. However, that doesn't keep us from enjoying the fruits of McLaren's labor during the Meadow Brook Concours.

Autoblog has posted a great gallery of the vintage Papaya Orange McLarens with the M8 that won so much in the Can Am Series during the heyday of "The Bruce and Denny Show." Other former McLaren racers present were the M16 open wheeler used in Indy Car as well as another Can Am car, the M20. If you have an appreciation for impressive, vintage high performance machinery then hit the jump and check out the incredible gallery of Bruce McLaren's namesake.

(Source: Autoblog)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Good Ole Days of BMW in F1

With BMW pulling out of Formula One, we thought we'd take a look at BMW's past endeavor into Formula One.

It's the early 1980's, pastel suits haven't yet come into fashion and BMW has teamed Brabham, who supplied a the chassis, to create what started as a shaky F1 team into a World Champion. With Nelson Piquet and Ricardo Patrese as drivers in the BT-5X cars powered by the 4-cylinder BMW M10 engine. The M10 had been around for nearly 26 years at that point and gone from 75HP in the BMW 1600's to pushing out close to 1,500HP once turbocharged. In 1983, after the age of ground effects has just disappeared and the arrow-shaped Brabham BMW of Nelson Piquet proved nearly unbeatable.

The video below covers BMW Motorsport as a whole but has a heavy focus on the early 80's in Formula One - so enjoy it and relish in BMW's better years of racing! Also be sure to check out the other videos that are a continuation of this one after part I is complete.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Strangest Week In F1....Evar!

I've only been watching F1 a few short years but this has probably been one of the strangest/surprising in the history of F1 - let alone how this season has played out.

The season was off to a crazy start with the Honda factory team losing corporate sponsorship and then within a month becoming Brawn GP - only to then go on and dominate the first 6 or so races of the season followed by a strong showing by the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber. Frankly, it's the near antithesis of last season with second-tier teams in the lead and tier-one teams at the back of the grid. Things continued to be turned on their head this week as Ferrari's Felipe Massa was struck in the skull by a spring that had fallen from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP during Qualifying 2 on Saturday before the Grand Prix at the Hungaroring. Many were floored as this was the scariest moment of F1 in recent memory, maybe worse was the crash of Robert Kubica and his 75g crash at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. Thankfully, Massa has received corrective surgery for his skull and has received a prognosis of making a full recovery.
Speaking of BMW, in other deeply saddening news to me personally, the boys from Munich pulled the plug on what could have been an excellent program. After only 3 years as a constructor and partner to the Sauber group, BMW is bowing out of Formula One as they can no longer justify the money and luke-warm performance given the poor situation the world economy finds itself in. This news came as a shock to both BMW drivers Kubica and Heidfeld, probably shocking as a company that carries a strong motorsport history is giving up so early in a campaign in F1. Without getting too far into my own personal feelings of BMW and its current direction, I think this is a poor move. For example, look at Ferrari's very limited success in the 1980's after Jody Scheckter's 1979 World Championship. What could have happened if they'd given up after 3 seasons of mixed results?

Oh and with Ferrari did I mention that Michael Schumacher is a driver for Scuderia Ferrari - again? Yes, I had to read the title of the article on Jalopnik twice after Wednesday's announcement of BMW leaving F1. So, the 7 times World Champion 40 year old former driver is now returning to the team that gave him so much success. As a "temporary" stand-in driver for the injured Felipe Massa for the rest of the season, Schumacher should definitely mix things up with Brawn reeling from Red Bull's successes and Hamilton winning the last GP, things are most certainly off kilter. I personally think that this could lead to one of a season finale possibly more exciting than last year. With Schumi holding more World titles than most of the field combined, it should be very interesting to finally see Hamilton and Schumi go toe-to-toe.

One thing is for sure, Rubens is certainly kicking himself for essentially providing Schumacher a way to easily reenter F1 and likely be the source of all of Rubens problems for the rest of the season. I'm sure Brawn GP's engineers will appreciate not taking the blame for everything.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Forgotten McLaren: The M6 GT

When car enthusiasts hear the name McLaren, only one car typically comes to mind: The McLaren F1. How couldn't this car come to mind? Gordon Murray's purpose built, function-dictating-form car that held the record of fastest production car for over a decade? With its specially built S70 V12 engine built by BMW M Division, no ABS, and a three-seat layout with the driver at the center of the car - it's hard not to find something to like/adore about the McLaren F1. Only in the last 3 to 5 years have we seen vehicles that can surpass the F1 in terms of speed and price. With a rate 106 cars made, you're lucky if you only pay about $2 million to pick one of them up.

However, people forget that the F1 was not the first road-going McLaren. In fact 26 years earlier, the man himself, Bruce McLaren, developed his own road car: The M6 GT.

The M6GT was a born like many other incredible road cars such as the BMW M3 or Ford RS200; through homologation requirements for racing. In 1968, Bruce began to put together a plan to develop a car to race in the Group 6 series - but to then take the Group 6 car and have it double as serious Le Mans contender. However, as part of the requirements to participate in Group 6, the engines had to have a displacement no larger than three liters. In Bruce's mind, they could not build a fast, competitive car with an engine displacement that low as the Chevrolet engines McLaren used only proved fast a higher displacements. As a result, Bruce then moved to the idea of producing a Group 4 car which allowed a 5 liter displacement. A caveat of the Group 4 regulations was that 50 road cars had to be produced for a car to eligible to race.

However, this proved to be a problem for the small, Kiwi-owned shop as it was already spread thin with the cars it was fielding in Formula One and Can Am for Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme in their terrific winning combination known as the "Bruce and Denny Show." To make it all work, McLaren commissioned Trojan, a manufacturing group, to build the production cars in-line with the original design provided my McLaren's group. The car-to-be, the M6GT, was built off of the M6 chassis that proved so successful during the "Bruce and Denny Show" of the previous Can Am season that housed a small-block Chevrolet V8 with the difference being the coupe body the wrapped around the car compared to the open top Can Am McLarens. Everything looked to be lining up perfectly for a competitive car for the 1969 season for Le Mans.

But it was not to be. By January 1969 and with the launch of the M6GT, the Group 5 regulations changed requiring only 25 cars to be built and Porsche was quickly working on the soon-to-be infamous Porsche 917. As a result, the M6GT would likely prove uncompetitive against uber-fast Porsches so, the idea of taking the M6GT to Le Mans was dropped. However, Bruce had the idea of continuing construction of the road cars and commissioned one of two or three cars from Trojan as his personal vehicle to begin the process of evaluating what a proper McLaren road car should be. A fast, no-expense-spared, sports car that had no rival.

It's said that Bruce actually drove his M6GT road car to the Goodwood track that fateful day June 2, 1970. Bruce had arrived that morning at the track to conduct testing on the new Can Am M8D. During the afternoon testing on a high-speed section of the track, one of the rear aerodynamic components failed, destabilizing Bruce's car and sending it off-track into a concrete pavilion, drawing closed the far-too-short life of a motorsport legend. With the death of Bruce and the McLaren team reeling in shock, the production car plans died with Bruce on the Goodwood circuit. However, Bruce's personal M6GT was purchased by long-time friend and partner-in-racing, Denny Hulme. Hulme then placed the car in a museum in Bruce's hometown of Auckland, New Zealand before the car was eventually sold into a private collection.

However, the M6GT was to be the first true McLaren road-going car, decades before F1. Bruce's car personified all of the things the F1 ultimately would to be. With it's 5.7L Chevy V8, 370HP and a double wishbone suspension and lithe, 1700 lbs body gave the car serious performance. The engine and light body coupled to the excellent suspension made the M6GT a car that 5 years after it was built, was getting excellent reviews by Road and Track as one of the fastest cars of the time. Little did everyone know that the M6GT was to be the forefather of what much of the car world regard as the best sports car ever built - a dream born and built by Bruce McLaren and ultimately carried out by Gordon Murray and Ron Dennis in the F1 while the M6GT fell between the cracks of history as a 3 car production run before the face of McLaren began to evolve into its current iteration. Well, we think that Bruce would be very proud of the cars that have come to bear his name, years after his inspirational but forgotten M6GT graced the back roads of Great Britian.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Day at the BMW M School

M cars are the ultimate BMWs. They are BMW's without compromise in terms of performance for the package they're wrapped in(excluding the new SUV-based M vehicles). But with the M3, M5 and M6, you're getting well thought-out platforms with race engineering dumped in for good and high-revving, naturally aspirated engines with big, fat tires to keep grip.

My Uncle attended M School a few years ago after picking up his E39 M5 and after hearing about it second-hand, I was sold within maybe 30 seconds. My buddy Horatiu, owner and managing editor of BMW Blog, probably the largest BMW-dedicated news site on the internet, hooked us up for a free trip to the one day M School.

We spent the morning in the classroom learning how to correctly balance a car for braking into a turn and how best to get a car back under control during understeer and the even more unfriendly oversteer. After that, we broke into teams and hit the track, my team in the M3 sedans first with the DCT (double-clutch transmission) to do some closed course track work and get familiar with the M3's handling before we jumped into M5's and the M6's to practice car control skills in the wet, learning what a 3,800 lbs, 500HP M6 will do with no stability control on and a generous right foot.

By the end of the day, I'd gotten the M3 well sorted out and logged a 23.38 second run on the closed M3 circuit after starting the session with a 28+ second run, so I shaved 5 or so seconds off of my lap times. Not bad! You can check out the article here on BMW Blog and I've yet to figure out how I can post a large gallery here so I'm working to post more pictures. Here's a quick tease with some low quality pics for now from Facebook here for Day 1 and here for Day 2.

Top Gear Season 13 - Meeeeeh

I'm a big Top Gear fan, it's probably one of the best car/variety shows on TV. I especially like it because my girlfriend willingly watches the show due to the entertainment factor provided by the "diverse" personalities of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. Many times the personalities of the hosts actually outweigh the high performance and high price tags of the cars they show.

I just watched the most recent episode of Top Gear(Season 13, Episode 4) and it feels a little obvious that the budget cuts mandated by the BBC are in full effect of the Top Gear set. The three big pieces featured are Jezza in an Evolution VII versus the British Army, the Ford Focus RS versus the Renault R26.R, and a Porsche Panamera versus - wait for it - the British mail system. The first two aren't bad, I especially enjoyed the Evo versus Army portion as a Browning .50 cal bore down on the little Mitsu. I felt like the Focus RS spent most of it's time running around the track with the Renault which doesn't really show off the impressive figures of either car or the Focus' ability to be a borderline rally car you can drive every day. The Porsche Panamera - the world's ugliest car, is essentially driven across Britain by Hamster and Captain Slow in one of the more boring pieces they've done - no silly stunts, no photo finish. Just two British guys driving an ugly Porsche.

4 episodes in, Season 13 leaves me a little cold with it's special features. The Ken Block scaring May in a Subaru STi piece was cool, as was Michael Schumacher's interview and joking reveal as the Stig after a epic lap in the Ferrari FXX. But the train race, buying a car for a 17-year old and the very short Bugatti versus McLaren F1 pieces just don't seem to do the show as a whole justice, feeling somewhat flat and uninspired compared to, say, the Ford Fiesta in a mall chased by a Corvette or landing on a beachhead during a British assault practice from last season. Hopefully, the rest of the season will start to pick up as I'd hate to think my favorite show is starting to lose its touch. Check out part I of the Evo and Focus parts below and see what you think.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Ford RS200: I'll buy American!

"Buy American" isn't something people think much of these days and it shows.
However, perhaps things would be different, if this were, you know, 1984 and, well, Europe.

Ford, however, had an excellent product to market in 1984 with its Group B homologation special the RS200. After a failed, flawed attempt to produce a follow-up Escort rally car, Ford decided to turn lemons into lemonade - taking the failed program and working to bring something salvageable to Group B. In doing so, Ford put together a dynamite mid-mounted engine with the then-new permanent four-wheel-drive to do battle with the dominating Audi Quattro already making a name for itself in rallying.

Engine wizards Cosworth (See Cosworth DFV engine for a glimpse at their excellent products) managed to get their hands on the turbocharged 1.8L 4 banger and tuned it out 350 to 450 HP depending on how and when it was tuned. Road cars delivered a potent 250HP with optional kits to tune out similar power. However, in 1986 at the height of Group B racing, the RS200, which proved to be somewhat uncompetitive, was involved in two horrific crashes which ultimately led to the FIA disbanding the Group B series, the reason the RS200 was created.

With the death of Group B for 1987 and Ford's continued development of the Evolution model of the RS200 it seemed the life of the little Ford was coming to an untimely end. However, the FIA that nearly killed the RS200 ultimately saved it with the advent of the European Championship for Rally Drivers with the 650HP RS200 Evolution aiding Martin Schanche in clinching the 1991 European Rallycross title. However, by 1992, after an attempt at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb record, the RS200 found itself at the end of its life cycle - going into racing history as an incredible, frighteningly powerful all-wheel-drive car that stood toe-to-toe with the likes of other insane Group B rally cars.

However, that still left the 200 or so homologated road going cars. Many of the cars can still be found on sale today with the original output of 250HP being tuned out via kits to produce horsepower closer to the race-spec engines. Beyond that, many owners eventually upgraded the car's suspension, brakes and engine via more kits that duplicated some of what Ford had put into the RS200 Evolution. In terms of these cars, the vast majority are found in Europe though, occasionally, an RS200 can be spied for sale in the United States. However, if you would like to pick up one of the historic rally cars - you can expect to drop a minimum of $200,000 for this little piece of history!

Check these videos below for the history of the RS200:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ken Block terrifies James May in the new Scubbie STi

Top Gear's James May is a lucky man. Yes, he's the butt of practically every other joke by Clarkson and Hammond and yes, he's Captain Slow for a reason. But when it comes to features regarding famous racers, Capt'n Slow runs with the fastest of the fast. A few seasons ago, May spent a day with F1 legend Jackie Stewart in a TVR learning how to drive properly quick. Last season, Mr. May was then taught my double World Champion Mika Hakkinen how to go off-roading in a beat up old Volvo against a couple of children and the elderly across Finland.

However, May tops it all in the piece where he gets to play passenger to Ken Block in the all-new Subaru STi rally car. Block, an uber accomplished rally driver and businessman, proceeds to careen around a airliner junkyard. How does J.May take the excursion? Check it out via the high-def feed below.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Back on line, back on duty

We're back up and running keep an eye out for more content coming soon