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.