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