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.