Saturday, October 8, 2011

2011 Petit Le Mans in Photos

Last weekend (Yeah, this post is late!) I was lucky enough to attend the 14th Petit Le Mans at the beautiful Road Atlanta. It must be said that if you enjoy racing then the longer endurance races like Petit Le Mans(and really any race that is part of the ILMC) in North America are great just because of the turnout from the teams.

BMW M3 into turn 1

I was able to attend it due wholly to my association with and, aside from ripping the crotch out of my pants while scaling the pit wall, I had a great time! Audi brought their powerful but near silent R18's - the first closed cockpit answer from Audi to the reigning Peugeot 908's(at least in the US).In the GT class BMW had already locked up the team and driver championships but were still angling for an overall victory for the manufacturer's championship - however, they found themselves wedged behind an AF Corse Ferrari 458GT who eeked out pole position.

Audi R18 thru turn 1

Road Atlanta, and ALMS races themselves, are great to attend just for the high level of access it grants to all fans to the paddock and teams - something that lends to heightened interest by fans. Petit Le Mans opens up the grid for about 30 minutes with all cars and drivers in attendance to give fans a closer look at the machinery they're about to watch duke it out for the next 10 hours or 1,000 miles - whichever comes first. The field is so packed and the race so long there are bound to be a few retirements. The Lotus Evora seemed to struggle all day keeping grip before letting go and crashing out late in the day. There were also a few LMPs that has some off's and weren't able to re-enter the race.

Two wide into 12

Once the race kicks off - everyone settles in to their favorite spot on the track (usually the ones with the most shade) to see gleaming hunks of steel blast around the wavy, tree-laden hills of North Georgia. I found, as many already know, that Turn 10 is a great place to be and is what amounts to basically a mid-sized valley of red Georgia clay with a massive slab of asphalt snaking through, into a gravel pit, and up over a massive hill. I found this to be one of the best spots on the track to grab shots of the cars as they braked for 10 and climbed the hill and under the Audi bridge. Another great spot to shoot photos is the top of 5 to watch the cars pour into and up through the Esses on the back half of the track - unfortunately, I didn't make it over that way this year.
Augusto Farfus
I did manage to get a few decent shots while I was there. Here is a link to the Flickr gallery and I've included a few shots here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vacationing in a McLaren MP4-12c

I'm a bit nonplussed by the generic styling of the McLaren MP4-12c but equally excited about what it seems capable of. If the car is truly as good as described then it may be that the Ferrari 458 is going to quickly find itself in the number 2 spot of this segment.

Regardless of all of that, I just got back from nearly a week of fishing, drinking, biking and swimming in the Florida Keys - a few days and over 2,000 miles in the newest baby McLaren still sounds like it might be a better proposition...Autocar seemed to think so!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mk I Ford Escort Rebuilt - Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Of all places, a British Ford Escort Mk I of rallying lore has turned up in Abu Dhabi for a quick restoration. Though, the quick restoration has turned into a 3 year project - it looks like things are going quite well. So far, the major upgrades are a full cage, a replacement 2,000cc Ford Duratec 4 cylinder and the deletion of leaf springs - all for good cause!

If the upgrades aren't enough for you - then hopefully the period orange will push you over the edge.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just Because It's Great...

I'm eagerly awaiting the Senna debut on a wider scale in the U.S. - apparently coming this July. However, Top Gear did a great job summing up Ayrton Senna's career in a nearly 20 minute segment from a season or two ago. I happened to watch it again this morning and it gets me excited for the full film on his racing career.

In case you haven't watched this yet - check it out now. Then I won't be alone in waiting in agony to see the full film!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quick Canon 60D Review

I've been a Nikon fan since picking up a D40 during the Christmas of 2008. This was further reinforced by the fact that I'd inherited a large number of older, manual focus NIKKOR lenses.

However, after watching a large number of videos of car reviews and just general camera-related videos I quickly caught onto the fact that Canon makes the best videos you can ask for in the DSLR market. I've gone from a D40 to a D5000 (for video) to my current camera - the Nikon D90 coupled with a handful of lenses. I've been impressed with the image quality of Nikon and I love the build quality of the D90. It feels like a tank and conveys a very solid feel to it with high quality plastics. The replacement camera - the D7000 - reportedly takes things a step further with two card slots and a higher megapixel CMOS sensor and better video frame rates, resolutions and in-video autofocus.

The D90 has unfortunately been a disappointment when it comes to video. With a mono mic and no auxillary port to plug in a external mic, you're more or less stuck with either terrible sound from the tiny onboard mic or having to use an external mic and then sync up the audio with the video in post-production. The other big issue with the D90 video function is the jpeg-based codec which seems to create a significant amount of shutter roll if the camera or subject is moving too much. I've had a hard time trying to work around that.

Hence the 60D. I picked it up from Best Buy during the 14 day return period just to confirm if I would like the camera or not. I've not shot with Canons before but of any other camera manufacturer - they are the most direct competitor to Nikon at every price point and feature. The 60D is said to be an evolution of the 50D and carries with it much of the guts of the notoriously good 7D. All good things - plus it has a 3.0 inch 1.04 million dot VGA screen that articulates. Some don't like that feature but I think its fantastic for shooting video - which was my main interest in the 60D. Speaking of the LCD display - it's quite beautiful, it makes every shot look clean and bright - perhaps deceivingly so as sometimes I was a little disappointed in lens shake I saw on my laptop that I didn't necessarily detect when reviewing a shot in-camera.

Nikon D90 @ 165mm @ f/10.0:
Risi 458 GT

Other benefits are the in-camera audio control, 720P HD video at 60 frames per second and 1080P at 24 and 30 fps. First off, this thing is smooth at 60 fps in 720P. I played with that setting while in a moving car and had significantly less shutter roll and very sharp picture quality. Motion seems far less disruptive to the video than my experience with either my D5000 or D90. The stereo mic is also much less sensitive to my hands adjusting the lens or playing with settings while recording. That said, the autofocus on the EF-S 18-135mm kit lens is very, very loud compared to the Nikons and you will hear some "whirring" while recording if you try to autofocus. However, this can thankfully be offset as the 60D comes with an input jack for an external mic to sync up the sound and video at once. I haven't had a chance to play with this feature yet but it's reassuring to know its there compared to my D90 or even the newer D3100. Canon has made a point of adding this feature to most, if not all, of their line-up and its definitely a feature Nikon needs to get onboard with.

Build quality on the Canon feels a little disappointing compared to the Nikon, though. The body feels plasticy and almost a bit hollow despite a nice overall weight. The lens feels like a bigger disappointment with a lot of play in the lens tube from the body of the lens. It also feels like a lesser quality plastic - that said, the lens does take quite sharp pictures. The EF-S 18-55mm lens has a received a bit of criticism for not doing the most for the user in terms of sharpness but I didn't detect any of that with the 18-135mm. It's also nice to have an extra 30mm of zoom over the similar Nikon 18-105mm lens that comes with the D90/D7000.

Canon 60D @ 135mm @ f/9.0:

My only other qualms with the 60D are the controls - I do prefer Nikon's layout and ergonomics over Canon. The D90/D7000 has two wheels - one just below the shutter button on the front and one at the back and to the right of the view finder - easily actuated by the index finger and thumb without moving the camera from your face to tweak the shutter speed and aperture. The 60D executes the same function but instead of a rear-mounted dial for the shutter speed it makes due with a wheel further down the rear of the camera by the LCD - harder to reach and actuate without moving the camera from your face.

Canon also made a poor decision ergonomically by the need to press a button before you're able to move the camera settings dial on the top left of the camera - hard to do in a snap. Additionally, the menus feel less refined/intuitive compared to Nikon's interface.

I'm still on the fence with the Canon 60D at the end of the day. I really love the ergonomics of Nikon. It's hard to make a justification for the 60D given the picture quality is very similar. The 60D as a video camera AND DSLR is where it really shines for someone who's getting into videography/photography for the first time or needs a slightly more affordable camera than the 7D. I haven't tried Nikon's latest offering in the D7000 yet but I get the impression that the Canons still have the upper hand with video.

I've included sample videos that I shot with the D90 and then the 60D - both were run through Final Cut Express to process. The D90 video is from the 2011 12 Hours of Sebring and shot in 720P at 24 frames per second while the 60D was shot in 720P at 60 fps and a simple video in the car and of the pets. The quality should improve with your own results, I'm still working through how to get the best output possible from Final Cut.

Nikon D90 - shot with 18-55mm VR lens and 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens

Canon 60D - shot with 18-135mm VR lens

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Historic Cars of Historic Savannah

Surprising how many interesting little cars cropped up this weekend while in Savannah, Georgia. We cruised up I-95 for a quick weekend getaway and stayed in downtown historic Savannah right off of the waterfront. Most of the trip seemed to revolve around eating at the local places like Uncle Bubba's Oyster House and the Lady and Sons restaurant (if you know who Paula Deen is then you know these places). I'm definitely not complaining though - best Southern food I've had in a long time!

Lady & Sons

On the second day of the trip, I had to get up early and walk from the hotel up River Street (great spot on the waterfront - pinnacle of the Historic area) and over the Congress Street to get in line for a reservation at Lady & Sons restaurant. After about an hour of waiting, I made the reservation and began to head back to the hotel at which point I unsurprisingly got lost. The silver lining was that I stumbled across this original, off-white Toyota Land Cruiser in daily driver shape. I love original SUVs because they were actually built for utility - not hauling kids to school. This particular model is an FJ40 and had a few signs of rust but was in otherwise great shape. I'm unsure of the year but my guess is its one of the earlier model years.

4 Wheel Drive!

I shot these on my Nikon D90 with a NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8 so I couldn't frame these as well as I'd liked but it worked(I also had to get back for breakfast!) After lunch, we stopped by the Murphy House in Chipewa Square and I found this Mercedes-Benz 220 Diesel parked right out front. I wandered around and snapped a few photos of it. This W115 had a great little "200,000KM" badge on the front (almost 125,000 miles) and was accompanied by the earlier "100,000KM" badge. Given the wear and tear of the Benz I'd say it's done far more miles than that. The lamp and bumper over the tail pipe looks like it too quite a bit of soot from heavy diesel exhaust. The paint looked gone and the wheels were showing rust but the car seemed to fit in perfectly amongst the old world buildings in Savannah.

nose of the 220

220 Diesel

After that, I spotted a standard looking but fit E28 5 Series hiding out in the parking deck of the hotel. The 5er came with period square driving lamps under the front bumper. I happened to see a few other E28's scattered around some of the small squares and diving across back alleys. Old German iron seems to be the perfect car of choice for Historic Savannah!

E28 hiding in the parking deck

Monday, February 14, 2011

Racing with Clean Diesels

Found this little gem after poking around for historic racing footage. It's a small documentary of the inaugural season of the Volkswagen TDI Cup from 2008. The TDI Cup pits equally-matched Jetta TDI's against one another with the focus on determining which of the thirty drivers selected should go pro.

Volkswagen's intent is to build a feeder series that whittles 600 drivers down to 100 and on down to 30 as the best of the series. The point being to both highlight the up and coming drivers between 16 and 26 years old and the efficient-yet-still-quite-enjoyable Jetta diesel.

From first glance, one would think that a diesel race series would be a boring but from the footage it appears to be anything but! Cars slamming into each other, flipping, spinning and running into the armco is far more exciting and plays out across some wonderful North American tracks like Mid-Ohio, Road America and the VIR.

This is great little documentary to see what its like in the feeder series in North America. I believe it's two parts - I'm looking for the second part of the documentary. Also attached is the 2009 documentary in full with some of the drivers from the original series reprising their helmets for a few more laps in the Jetta's as veteran drivers. Either way, interesting to see such young drivers compete for a professional drive - some still under 20 years old! The racing seen in this series is in many ways more intense and interesting than many of the U.S.-based racing series' you'll see.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why I'm a Nikon Fan...

I love my Nikon D90 - and my love is reaffirmed through Sir Jackie Stewart's own appreciation of the brand - as exhibited here.

via Tumblr of Coolamundo

Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

At 4:30AM I departed for the 49th 24 Hours of Daytona in sunny Daytona Beach, Florida - mercifully less than 2 hours South of my place. I piled into a tastefully modified E46 330i with heavy Dinan upgrades and was blasted down to Bill France Boulevard and by 8:30AM on race day I was putzing around the paddock.

I ran into a friend, Steve Maguire of United BMW of Roswell, and a handful of instructors from the BMW M School who I'd had the pleasure of learning from previously. After very little coercing on their part, I was seated in the passenger seat of a 2011 E90 M3 Competition Package and off for a hot lap around the freshly paved Daytona circuit. More on that lap is here on BMWBlog - who was nice enough to get me down to Daytona in the first place!

After the lap, we got out and tried to sneak into the Brumos Porsche Panamera S that was pounding around the circuit courtesy of the legend Hurley Haywood. However, after digging for well-fitted helmets in the Brumos bin they shut down the VIP sessions for the historic racers to take some laps.

After the historics the big dogs rolled out and kicked off the 49th 24 Hours of Daytona. I was really happy to see the Brumos Porsche team back in 911's to compete with - theirs was a 997 GT3 Cup Car. I spoke with the team principal(who also owns the team) and their philosophy changed to one that they should only compete in vehicles which they sell on the showroom floor. I especially loved their tribute to former co-owner Bob Snodgrass with the name "Bob" in place of the typical "GT3" badging. I inquired about Hurley Haywood's retirement after last year and apparently as soon as he saw the car for the 2011 season the retirement was off!

As the racing kicked off I found my way into the pits for a while to observe each team's pits - I saw Joey Hand, the soon-to-be-winner in the Chip Ganassi Racing pits and fellow BMW GT driver Bill Auberlen in the Turner Motorsport pits ready to drive the M3 in GT class. Unfortunately, both the the Brumos GT3 and Turner M3 ran into problems throughout the night and spent extended amounts of time in the pits for repairs. Shame to see two great teams sidelined by mechanical issues.

By morning, the BMW-Dinan-powered Daytona Prototypes were on the move and trying to find a gap between the Porsche Action Express Racing DP cars. Joey Hand drove an incredible triple stint and came out complaining of a numb right foot - rightfully so! However, Joey's driving is probably the reason the Chip Ganassi car ultimately won the race.

Even more unbelievable was that after the last caution lap, the final 2 minutes of the race still came down to a sprint race for the BMW's to hold off the Porsche's and taking the 1-2 finish. Ironically, it was the 01 car in first and the 02 car in second! Great to see the youngest Rahal win his first 24 Hours of Daytona and Joey Hand win as well in his first attempt!

I put together a few of my favorite photos below. The full Flickr gallery is here.

BMW M3 burn outs!



Ferrari 330

Vintage Brumos Porsche 911 S



I'm Lazy

Sorry for the long pause between posts - between work and everything else - it's been a busy few months. I hope to be posting more often!