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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eco Velocity 2012

For 1600px versions of all these images, go here. Some of them are a bit blurry around the edges, though...
Earlier this month, I went to the second ever Eco Velocity car show (read about the first one here). There were a few distinct differences this year, such as having a roof over our heads and a much longer test drive route - three "First Impressions" reviews inside - but it didn't quite live up to last year's show for a couple of reasons. Chief among those reasons is Kevin McCloud. Nevertheless, it provided an opportunity to get to know environmentalist motoring today. So I did. Mostly...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Random Thoughts - Mazda Are Cool, Not All Crossovers Suck

Hipster Dacia Duster Pikes Peak had GT-R power before Nissan thought it was cool. Also rocks of varying heaviness.
As well as cars, I'm passionate about music. I like to think the variety in my music collection is diverse, with plenty of rock (with varying heaviness), some jazz, some classical, plenty of electric music, a few soundtracks and so on, and I make a point to only listen to good stuff. I don't care (or even know) who's in the charts, because it doesn't in any way mean that it's actually good. People just love to buy crap, you see, which is why Big Brother and US sitcoms get so much airtime (and so many rehashes) on TV. Anyway, while I have my prejudices about music, you'll occasionally stumble upon a song from a pop group or some drainpipe indie band in my collection. I know music like that is all the same, unimaginative, commercialised and various other things that make it wrong and bad, but sometimes you just can't help it. Sometimes it just sounds good to me and I don't care. As long as I don't start buying lots of the same kind of music, it's not the worst thing if I get one song by Black Eyed Peas or whomever.

It's the same with these crossover SUVs. I know they're bad for a number of reasons; They're too tall and heavy to be as agile or efficient as a "normal" car (although in this extreme genre-busting age we're in, I'm not entirely sure what "normal" is anymore...), but at the same time they're too low, often too front-wheel-drive and generally not adept enough at being off-roaders either. They're designed purely to make money and not to be more fun than a hatchback or to be actual mud-pluggers, or to be any more practical than the MPV segment so strongly threatened by their uprising. They're bought by idiots who thing big chunky cars are inherently safer than others - they're not - and they're bought by idiots who want to look more "rugged" or "cooler" or richer than people who buy more appropriate cars. Basically, they're stupid status symbols. I know this, I hope you know this, and my opinion on trendy lifestyle vehicles* will take some serious brute force to be changed. But, like an actually-bearable pop song, there seems to be an exception or two...

Monday, 28 May 2012

Video Monday - They Think It's All Over...

27/5/12, 4:10, 78781 views (when posted)

The Indianapolis 500, the self-proclaimed "greatest spectacle in racing" (although frankly F1 cars at Monaco make for a much greater spectacle despite the general lack of overtaking IMHO) and part of motorsport's "Triple Crown" along with the LM24 and the Monaco GP, has seen plenty of action in its 101-year history. Even last year, when a rookie was all set to win, he let go of it at the very last corner of the 500-mile race when he ran wide to pass a backmarker and slammed into the wall, allowing Dan Wheldon through to take the win. This year, it was similarly dramatic in the closing stages, as former BAR-Honda/Super Aguri F1 driver Takuma Sato tried pulling a cheeky move on Dario Franchitti at the 796th of 800 left turns. Click play to see the result.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Video Sunday - 30 Years Since An Epic Conclusion

24/4/07, 2:23, 103567 views (when posted)

So the 70th Monaco Grand Prix came and went today, with rain threatening but never really arriving until the chequered flag was waved. I won't spoil the result if you haven't seen it, but let's just say that it was more tense than it was action-packed towards the end, and that a record was broken. At any rate, thirty years ago at the 1982 Monco Grand Prix, the race winner seemed obvious... and then it wasn't. Several times over. I'll let Murray Walker and James Hunt take you through it.

Formula 1 - Spanish Grand Prix 2012

Circuit de Cataluña
Five things about the race:
> Without knowing the starting grid, you'd never guess who won.
> Pit strategy proved more important than DRS at the front.
> Lotus are still fast.
> McLaren struggled, with Jenson Button complaining of a lack of balance.
> Schumacher vs Senna not as enticing a battle as it sounds on this occasion.

The topsy-turvy nature of the 2012 Formula 1 season continued at round 5 of 20, the Spanish Grand Prix at the Cataluña Circuit in Montmeló, near Barcelona, where Venezuelan driver Pastor Maldonado managed to be second-fastest in Friday Practice... and then again in the final qualifying session, a session he never reached last year in his first ever F1 season. After Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying altogether because his last (and fastest) lap was done with too little fuel in it, Maldonado was then promoted to become the first ever Venezuelan pole-sitter in the sport. This after qualifying 21st and failing to finish at the previous race in Bahrain. Was it chance? Has the Williams FW34 come on leaps and bounds during the in-season test week at Mugello? Does the aero balance just happen to be best-suited to this track? It was something of a mystery. Less of a mystery was Fernando Alonso outperforming his car again to start 3rd on the grid at his home race (although it's a proven fact that being at your home race adds around 30bhp to your car), only to be bumped up to 2nd following Hamilton's demotion to last place before the race had even started.

It looked easy for the Spañard - when you can go from 4th to 1st at the start of the Spanish GP in a competitive car, surely overtaking a relative newbie who's considered a "pay driver" (rather than a "skilled driver") in a midfield team is as easy as getting your team mate to move over for you? Hmm...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mazda And Alfa Romeo Tentatively Sign Best Deal Ever

It's all about the maths, really. (8C used to symbolise AR styling, not because of the V8)
The facts are these: The Mazda MX-5 is the best cheap sports car money can buy, and pretty much has been since it first appeared in 1989 (in no small part because it was channelling the original Lotus Elan and the MGB Roadster in its design and philosophy). Alfa Romeo, nine times out of ten, make beautiful, soul-stirring cars that are beautiful, stylish, soul-stirring, pretty and, er, all those words again. Now, we hear that Mazda and Alfa Romeo have signed a "non-binding Memorandum of Understanding" to co-produce a new small FR-layout roadster each, with Mazda doing the next-gen MX-5 and Alfa Romeo putting their own engine and bodywork on top to make a "new Spider", one that won't be chubby and underwhelming to drive like the recent Brera Spider and may take inspiration from the Pininfarina 2uettottanta Concept. Can you see a downside here? I can't.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Video Sunday - A Bit One-Sided

14/5/12, 8:27, 59936 views (when posted)

The oldest race track in the world is Brooklands in Surrey, England. Opened in 1907, it was used not only to hold motor races, but for record attempts as well, be it top speed, average speed, or anything else that can be done on a big oval with a straight going up the middle (the latter element also making it one of Britain's first airfields). In 1939 it was closed and became an air base in the second world war, as plane factories popped up. Sadly a combination of bomb damage and neglect - including later aero factories cutting through the track or building hangars on it - have lead to it becoming an incomplete relic, with companies buying out defunct buildings and turning part of the track into a car park and even some houses being built on it. I hate that...

Europe's second-oldest track is the Autodromo Sitges-Terramar near Sitges in Spain, which opened in 1923. Unlike Brooklands, the simple oval layout remains unscathed in its 89 years, save for some plant life sprouting up and the un-restored road surface becoming even bumpier than before (neither track was smooth or had barriers, making speed record attempts all the more dangerous and unbelievably ballsy considering the machines used). This means that the first track ever to hold a Grand Prix is still drivable, if you're brave enough to try beating the old course record.

Of course, having a modern racing car with a rear wing you could serve dinner on does help deal with the unnerving road surface, but the video above still shows the Audi R8 LMS jumping over some of the track surface because it's so bumpy. It would be far too scary to race on in an age when deaths are avoided at all costs, as just going over a bump on the very steep banking could send you flying over the edge at tremendous speed. Hence, he's flying solo. Enjoy some grade-A bravery. Then consider doing it in an enormous plane-engined monster on bike-width crossply tyres. With no seat belt.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Obscure Japanese Sports Car Of The Week: Vemac RD200

Vemac RD200
First off, I may have posted a picture of the Vemac RD200 in last week's entry on the Tommy Kaira ZZ and said it was the ZZ-III you get in Gran Turismo 2. It is not. That's because it's the RD200. By Vemac. But who are Vemac? It may sound like a vacuum cleaner company, but they actually make this little Honda-powered sports car, once again in the mould of the Lotus Elise/Exige, once again built in England but technically a Japanese car (sold primarily in Japan, as it happens), and once again something that entered the GT300 class in SUPER GT, except that this car is - I think - still going. I'll try to pick something a little different next week...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

GREAT NEWS!!!

GREAT NEWS!


The New Dacia Dokker is about to go on sale in... Morocco!

But wait... THERE'S MORE!!
The Kangoo-based Dokker will also be available as a van!

MMMM, nice!!

So anyway, Toyota's in-house racing team Gazoo Racing has fitted a turbo AND a supercharger to the GT 86 to make a concept car which LITERALLY... has a silly name. Nevertheless, the Toyota GRMN Sports FR Concept features 320bhp and some go-faster bodywork. It will also remain as a concept. People have been trying to guess since the BRZ/86 came out which forced induction device will eventually appear (even though neither company has actually said that will happen), so Gazoo Racing have decided to spite them by putting both types on for a 60% power increase. Kinda cool. Also, at least three articles are on their way... at the same time. Sort of.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

What Makes British Transport Design Unique?

The first and last Minis ever, separated by 41 years.
I wrote this for my final major project for college, and thought readers might be interested:

It's easy to spot a classic British car. As well as instantly-recognisable icons like the Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5 and the Land Rover Defender (not to mention the black taxi and Routemaster bus), our cars have always had a distinct look about them. But what is that look? What makes British transport design unique?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Williams Garage On Fire After Spanish Grand Prix (No Race Spoilers In Article)

Bruno Senna's Williams-Renault FW34, possibly a write-off.
 NOTE - the race winner is mentioned in the linked articles and the video. Don't click if you haven't seen it yet!

After the eventful Spanish Grand Prix, the Williams F1 garage caught fire after a KERS explosion caused what's suspected to be a fuel fire. Members of numerous teams rushed in to help as the blaze caused acrid black smoke to billow out of the Williams garage at both ends, helping to control the fire before emergency services arrived. Bruno Senna's car - the only one in the garage at that time for reasons I'll describe in the race report at some point later - was caught in the fire and suspected to be destroyed.

There were nine injuries in total, none serious. Sir Frank Williams - celebrating his 70th birthday - was with others in the team motorhome across the way, quelling any rumours that it was caused by 70 birthday candles being lit at once. However, one engineer at Force India F1 has been taken to the medical centre for smoke inhalation (but is said by the team to be OK). Caterham F1 say that "A couple of our guys got injuries, burns and maybe one broken wrist", and apparently one Williams team member also has minor injuries. According to this article, nobody in the upstairs hospitality area was injured due to the concrete construction of the garage.

You can get live updates on a custom Twitter feed thingamy here.

Here's a video from the BBC F1 Forum... until it's taken down for copyright reasons:

13/5/12, 6:32, 305 views (when posted)

As the extent of the injuries don't get worse than one case of smoke inhalation, one possible broken wrist and one person with burnt legs, it's not as bad as it could've been, and I hope those who came off worse recover quickly. No drivers or bosses were involved.

Video Sunday - XXX Ferrari Action

10/5/12, 7:23, 59204 views (when posted)

I'm not sure this video needs much of an introduction, frankly. The Ferrari Corse Clienti program allows owners of their extreme 'XX' models to have a track day together, this time at Monza. Featuring the FXX, FXX Evoluzione, 599XX and 599XX Evoluzione with active aero which I can't tell if it's working, this is an aural delight like precious few other things, as it exclusively features semi-racecars revving ~800bhp V12s past 9000rpm. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Porsche 918 Spyder Spotted In Skin-Tight Retro Camouflage

                             Porsche 917                                                                                         Porsche 918
The Porsche 917 needs no introduction. Nor does the phenomenon of global warming. Modern times mean we can't all scoot around in V8 sports cars and such like, so Porsche has injected some conscience into its successor to the epic Carrera GT, as well as showing a rare bit of retro love by calling it 918 and referencing the 917 (see what they did there?) with some 1970 stripes on the matte black camo. If you haven't heard of the 918 Spyder yet, where the hell have you been? Don't worry though, all will become clear in a few paragraphs' time.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Nissan Juke-R Is A Dream Forza Drivetrain Swap Made Real

I believe the term is "ugly but effective". At least it has presence...
Normally, I do not care about Dubai (or other Arab Emirates therein). I used to get green reading about 21-year-olds with 21 supercars and be irritated by the fact that their obscene amounts of money allowed them to just casually break records for man-made objects (biggest artificial island, tallest building, dullest Grand Prix circuit, etc.), but much like crossover SUVs, prestige SUVs and increasingly ridiculous BMW niche variants, I've recently got to the point where I'm so worn down by it that I just don't have the energy to moan about it any more. So when I read about something preposterous being made in that soulless money pit in the Arab desert, or that BMW is considering an X7 crossover, I just think "Y'know what? Go for it. Just go nuts. I won't be surprised, and I won't care either". However, sometimes things pop up that prevent me from losing the will to live, such as this, the Nissan Juke-R, which thanks to some exceedingly rich oil sheiks in the land of the sand, is now going to be built officially by Nissan. Briefly.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Video Sunday - Three-Times World Banter Champion

6/7/10, 9:37, 19849 views (when posted)

Ayrton Senna was on TV a lot, usually when he was in an F1 car bashing into Alain Prost or dazzling the world with his wet-weather driving skills, but here's something you don't necessarily see that often; the great triple champion appearing in part of a Japanese variety show in 1993, showing a great sense of humour while some karting happens. I suppose when you're regarded like he was and you get dragged onto TV shows often, you might as well have some fun with it. That he does with some decent banter (via a translator and in his second language, no less) and a brief flexing of his muscles in a go-kart. Enjoy!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Video Saturday - For That Price You Could Have A BRZ

2/5/12, 12:18, 82265 Views (When Posted)

Yes, the Toyota GT 86/Subaru BRZ has had almost as much hype up to this point as the Nissan GT-R (R35) did in 2007, and has been the subject of much discussion on the internet and in magazines. I think I may have posted about the Toyota more times than any other single car on here, only because of what it promises. Alas, in America, where you're only allowed to like American things, the common phrase that's popped up is "no thanks, for that price, you could have a V6 Mustang". Well, in the US, you can. But I don't care.

Up to the point where the "Pony Car" was mentioned, I had never even vaguely considered comparing a lithe, agile lightweight sports car against a big beefy slab like the Mustang, or even the 370Z-bothering Hyundai Genesis Coupé (don't snort, it's actually very good from what I hear), because they're an entirely different kettle of fish. Nevertheless, Motor Trend has caught wind of this quote and put it to the test, by bringing together a BRZ and a V6 Mustang on both road and track. The light and precise Scoobyota will always be my preference to the comparatively flabby and wallowy Mustang (with its "spongey" brakes according to the video), especially as if you're going to buy a Mustang, you want a V8 one, because that's the whole point of it. Why make do with a lacklustre 'Stang when you could instead enjoy this purpose-built sports car for what we now know to be only £25,000 (also $25k in ths US)? Anyway, enjoy the video.

If you want to see the BRZ against more appropriate rivals, see this comparison by Autocar.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Video - Ayrton Senna's Ghost Turns 18 Today

29/11/11, 16:11 mins, 219,539 Views (When Posted)

Today (or yesterday, by the time I post this) marked the 18th anniversary of the passing of one of motorsport's all-time greats, and one of very few men who deserve the hype they get: Ayrton Senna da Silva. His unmatched driving skill at the helm of some of F1's most fearsome machines ever (especially in the wet) was teamed with a calm and yet incredibly passionate personality to make a man worthy of a BAFTA-winning movie, who gave millions to help those less fortunate in his home country of Brazil and won three Formula 1 World Driver's Championships, although not without controversy.

I could go on further, but you'll no doubt have read plenty of tributes already, so instead find 16 minutes to watch TopGear's brilliant, brilliant tribute to him and the age he raced in. I've seen it three times before and watching it just now gave me goosebumps. We're very unlikely to get another Ayrton Senna in our life time (despite his nephew's best efforts).

Also, if the V6 Turbo engines that arrive in 2014 sound anything like that MP4/4, I'm all for it!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Obscure Japanese Sports Car Of The Week: Tommy Kaira ZZ/ASL Garaiya

ZZ-S (left), Garaiya (right)
After last week's obscure Japanese sports car, the Inter Proto Series Kuruma, this week features a car (or cars) that you'll at least recognise from Gran Turismo and a few other Japanese racing games: The Tommy Kaira ZZ and its eventual platform sister, the ASL Garaiya. Think of it as an Elise of the rising sun from a tuning company better-known for putting multi-storey rear wings on Nissans and Subarus, and later a mini-supercar from the company who bought them, Autobacs (like Halfords in the UK, except Halfords have never made/sold a whole car), via one in a long line of flash-in-the-pan small British sports car companies.