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Archive for April, 2014

BTCC 2014 Review: Unpredictable Weather and Titanic Battles at Donington Park

Following a volcanic return to form, the monumental BTCC machine thundered on to Donington Park. The first three rounds at Brands Hatch were filled with truly top class touring car action. Some of the biggest talking points included the surprising pace of the Honda Yuasa team, who were challenging for the top 3 places having claimed they would struggle. There was of course the stellar drive by reigning champion Andrew Jordan, taking two race wins, alongside Jason Plato who proved the MG was as competitive as ever. Further down the grid, Rob Austin had a legendary drive from the back of the grid, while also after a string of bad luck, returning legend Alain Menu charged from 16th to 5th in the final race of the day. On the other hand, Giovanardi and the rest of the Ford team lacked pace, while Marc ‘the man who beat Button’ Hynes failed to impress after a pre-season filled with hype and seemingly empty anticipation.

The championship moved on Donington…

  • Were we going to see the Honda domination continue?
  • Can Rob Austin finally shake off his bad luck and score some consistent results?
  • Can ‘The Man Who Beat Button’ finally live up to his name?
  • Will the Fords find pace and performance?
  • And those pesky eBay BMWs, will they sneak the top spot again?
And its go go go for Donington Park!

And its go go go for Donington Park! Image Credit: BTCC.net

Qualifying

It must be said that qualifying revealed similar results to that of Brands Hatch; the MG and Honda team were colelctively the fastest teams, followed closely by the ever improving Team BMR cars. I was however surprised by ‘The Man Who Beat Button’; Marc Hynes bagged himself a 10th place in front of the developing Ford of Giovanardi. The best Rob Austin could manage was a lowly 16th place, nearly a whole second off the pace.

It would seem the field was shaping up for the year. Was the result going to be as predictable?

Race Day

As race day rolled around, the drivers were greeted with one of the most exciting things about British motorsport; unpredictable weather conditions. The forecast predicted heavy rain to dampen proceedings, and in some ways this was an accurate statement. With the first race drawing closer, the track was indeed wet but it was showing signs of getting considerably more dry. Having planted his MG on pole position, Plato shot off into a lead that he was destined to keep throughout the race. Considering his worries regarding reliability after the first round at Brands Hatch, it would seem those demons have long since been vanquished. To describe the MG outfit as dominant in the first race would be an understatement.

This processional display was merely repeated in the second race of the day, although this time it was Sam Tordoff who took the first place honours. In both of the first two races it was very much a Honda, BMW and MG party as it usually is. But, considering this involves 8 different cars essentially, it still provides some close racing. The first two races most definitely proved that the Honda team has little to worry about regarding the performance of its new estate racer; the Civic Tourers were easily able to keep up with the leaders and challenge for the top places.

The reverse grid system usually makes for an interesting final race of the day. Sadly, the grid for the third race merely reversed the BMWs, MGs and Hondas, not really changing anything from the norm. But that most definitely did not mean that the race was in any way boring. The track had finally dried out as the cars took to the grid for the third race, and just like at Brands Hatch, Colin Turkington in his BMW shot off into a lead that many thought he would keep throughout. Alas, what actually happened was a race with one of THE most thrilling conclusions you could ever ask for. Gordon Shedden was on an absolute flyer having started 4th on the grid; he had got past his team mate Matt Neal and MG driver Jason Plato and as the race began to enter its final few moments he went all hell for leather.

Usually, gaps between drivers are measured by fractions of seconds, but in the case of Shedden you could visibly see his power burst up behind Turkington on the last lap. As they exited coppice onto the final main straight, Shedden caught Turkington’s eBay shaped slipstream and, living up to his name, Flash went for it. He pulled out of the slipstream and attempted a monumental move around the outside of Shedden going into the chicane. Needless to say, it wasn’t as successful as Shedden had probably imagined it would be. The pair made contact and flew off into the infield at the chicane. Taking a more rally-based route, Shedden exited the corner in front to take the first ever win for an estate car, while an annoyed Turkington was left wondering where it all went wrong.

I was less on the edge of my seat and more on the floor shouting at my monitor. It is overtaking like that that makes me love the BTCC as much as I do. Turkington thought he had the race sewn up, to only succumb to the legendary drive of ‘Flash’ Gordon on the final corner of the final lap. The magnitude of excellence shown by that final corner flourish gave me flashbacks of one of the most famous finishes to any motor race; the final round of the 1992 BTCC season. 3 drivers, 1 title. Final 3 laps. I could explain it, or you could just watch this.

Shedden and Turkington conclude their last lap skirmish with a final corner coming together. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Shedden and Turkington conclude their last lap skirmish with a final corner coming together. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Controversy Over Race 3 Result

Following the epic conclusion to the race, Turkington and the eBay team launched an appeal against the victory of Gordon Shedden. They argued that because Shedden had cut the track, he had gained an unfair advantage and by the rules set forth by the championship, had to give the place back. This is especially relevant because 2014 is seeing the harsher enforcement of track limits; if a car takes more than 2 wheels off the track at any corner, they may be given a penalty, having been deemed to have gained an advantage. I just think it is circuit organizers trying to cut costs on track management, but maybe I am but a cynic. Who knows.

The appeal was over ruled, and I believe that this was the right decision. First of all, the notion that Shedden gained an advantage by cutting the track would be valid if it wasn’t for the fact that Turkington too had to go off track as a result of the corner collision. Some would say that Shedden’s move was harsh, but technically speaking Turkington did not have to shut the door. When you watch the replays, it is clear that the overtake came as a result of nothing more than a racing incident.

Finally, this is touring cars not Formula One. It has always been a sport full of rubbing, scraping and spins, usually because of the intense nature of the championship. Minus the Giovanardi era of the BTCC where the drivers resorted to bullying tactics to get the place, incidents have never really been intentional and just the result of raw motorsport. One of the reasons I love the BTCC is the absence of politics; F1 in recent years has been crippled with accusations, investigations and stewards inquiries, resulting in post race penalties. The BTCC is about the driver, the team and the car coming together in the ultimate theatre of competition, and nothing more. Politics has taken over the rest of our lives, so can we not just have one politics free haven in the BTCC?

The final race was a historic first victory for an Estate in the BTCC. Volvo would be proud. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The final race was a historic first victory for an Estate in the BTCC. Volvo would be proud. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Donington Drama Explained

The Cost of all that Carnage

As is often the case with those Touring Car terrors, Donington Park was not without incident. I would not want to be the accountant of United Autosport or Rotek Racing after seeing the state of James Cole’s and Robb Holland’s cars in race two. After a coming together with Audi’s Robb Holland, the pair went shooting off the soaking track at Redgate and Cole’s car was absolutely ruined. It says a great deal about the safety of these modern machines that he managed to climb out the car without injury. Neither could place the blame on each other; both were attempting to avoid a coming together involving Austin, Stockton and Clarke.

Speaking of Austin, the great and wonderful Rob had another weekend filled with bad luck. In the first race, he made a gamble to change onto intermediate tyres on the drying track, but after a lengthy pit stop and too little of an advantage all he could manage was a solitary point for fastest lap. Race two saw poor Austin spin thanks to a coming together by Stockton and Clarke, and then finally the third race he was rather rear ended by Tom Ingram which led him to retire. Speaking to Touring Car Times, Austin feels that once again he has lost out in a car that should be competitive; he remarked,

There has been some moronic driving out there from some people which has affected both me and Hunter.

It seems that some remnants of the Giovanardi era remain after all…

And then there was Alain Menu, who had mixed fortunes across the weekend. He qualified an amazing 6th, only to finish 13th in race one. In race two, after minor contact with another driver his car went onto the grass and shot down the hill and across the track; the wet grass provided little traction for the Swiss spinner. His out of control car shot into the path of the rest of the field, who all did a phenomenal job avoiding him. Of all these people, my admiration goes out to Chris Stockton who managed to avoid the flying Menu by mere inches without really lifting off. That takes the kind of balls that only a racing driver possesses. In the case of both of Menu and Stockton, I would imagine they were very much needing a change of underwear after that, and rightly so!

Both Cole and Holland walked away from this high speed wreckage with nothing more than some bumps and bruises. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Both Cole and Holland walked away from this high speed wreckage with nothing more than some bumps and bruises. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Drives of the Day

After an inspired qualifying drive by ‘The Man Who Beat Button’, Mr Hynes was looking good to finally prove his pre-season hype and put in some stellar performances. In the first race he got himself a strong 11th place finish, which in a field of 31 cars is no easy feat. Perhaps I was wrong after all. As it turns out, his success was short lived. He finished the second race in 23rd, only to then not finish the third race at all. I am still seeing the mistakes usually associated with inexperienced drivers. But he will get there I’m sure. Eventually!

On the other hand, after a quiet first race weekend at Brands Hatch in the BTCC, Glynn Geddie in the United Autosport Avensis forced himself into the spotlight at Donington. Gaining significant finishes of 17th then a 13th, he is showing the growing potential of his new BTCC team. Similarly, Matt Jackson and even Giovanardi are starting to find pace in their Airwaves Fords. Jackson managed a 4th place in the final race of the day. Are we finally seeing the return of Ford to former glories?

Remember after Brands Hatch where Jason Plato said it was impossible to drive from the back of the grid to a top 10 finish? Well if anyone was going to prove him wrong it was going to be his former Williams Renault team mate Alain Menu. After his horrifying moment in race two, Menu drove up to a storming 9th by the end of the final race of the day. This man deserves a race win soon. If only he can sort out his first two race performances he will be on for a high championship finish this year. This is why Menu is the ultimate driver.

Finally, there was my favourite Squelch (Dan Welch), who finally returned to the championship after missing the first round at Brands Hatch. He is definitely showing promise with a 19th and two 21st finishes. His car is still very much in development so it shows exciting potential for the rest of the year. I would love nothing more than to see Squelch on the podium. He definitely deserves it!

After narrowly missing vehicular chaos with Menu, Chris Stockton drove like a true superstar and was fighting for high places. Image Credit: BTCC.net

After narrowly missing vehicular chaos with Menu, Chris Stockton drove like a true superstar and was fighting for high places. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Power to the Max: Chris has been Stocking up on Talent

Of all the drives over the weekend, I must say I was most impressed with Chris Stockton in his Chevrolet. At Brands Hatch, it is fair to say that I didn’t really have much of an opinion of him at all. He was just one of the drivers battling for position at the bottom end of the field. Well, needless to say he must want my attention because since the races at Donington, he fast became one of my drivers of the weekend. Looking at the results alone (24th, DNF and 19th) you would not have thought he was anything too impressive, but when you watch him in the races over the weekend you will see the transformation that has taken place.

The Power Maxxed Chevrolet and Stockton put in a truly inspired charge through the field, and throwing caution to the wind when it came to passing the out of control Menu. Stockton was sadly plagued by the fierce competition of the other drivers which did drop him back, but he pushed none the less. He is definitely climbing his way up the ranks, and at this rate he will be hitting top 10s in the next few race weekends.

Championship positions after Donington Park:

1

Andrew Jordan

Pirtek Racing

87

2

Jason Plato

MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save

87

3

Gordon Shedden

Honda Yuasa Racing

86

4

Colin Turkington

eBay Motors

84

5

Matt Neal

Honda Yuasa Racing

79

6

Sam Tordoff

MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save

57

7

Rob Collard

eBay Motors

56

8

Mat Jackson

Airwaves Racing

38

9

Aron Smith

Chrome Edition Restart Racing

32

10

Tom Ingram

Speedworks Motorsport

27

 

After his god-like drive through the field in the final race, Alain Menu now leads the Jack Sears trophy (which is worked out based on number of overtakes throughout the season) with 42 points, with the two Robs (Austin and Collard) tied on second with 34.

It may have only been two rounds but its needless to say that the 2014 BTCC championship is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons in recent years. And with the BTCC menace moving onto Thruxton this weekend, who knows what will happen..

Donington was one of the best weekends of racing I have seen in a long time, in any series. It had everything from unpredictability, to champion drives to all or nothing moves for ultimate victory. What more could you ask for?

Both returning champions, Menu and Giovanardi have said of all tracks on the calendar they are most excited to return to Thruxton. Fast. Flat Out. Fearless.

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69 for live updates across the weekend!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Duelling Turbos: Kia Pro_Cee’d GT and Fia 500C Abarth Esseesse

Fiat Abarth right front

Pro_Cee'd profileTwo households, both alike in dignity…..the opening line to Shakespeare’s evergreen “Romeo and Juliet” applies equally to two wonderful turbocharged vehicles A Wheel Thing squired for a week: the mental Fiat 500 Abarth Esseesse and Kia’s sublimely potent Pro_Cee’d GT.

Engine wise there’s not much in it size wise, 1.4L under the Abarth’s pert bonnet and 1.6L for the Kia’s scalloped cover. The compact Fiat finds 118kw and a healthy 230Nm of torque while Kia throws out 150kW and a more than useful 265Nm. Impressively, that figure is on tap from 1750 to 4500 revs, meaning even in sixth gear (manual only at this stage, a smart move to attract proper drivers), a gentle (well, maybe 2012-Fiat-500-Abarth-enginenot so gentle nudge) of the loud pedal at freeway speeds sees the inside of a jail cell in seconds. The test car from Fiat came with a five speed auto, with a somewhat counterintuitive push button gear selector (1 for the actual drive, R for reverse, N for neutral and A/M for the box or you to do the work via the flappy paddles) and an excessively jerky change. Under full acceleration, the Abart slingshots forward with alacrity, with a measure of torque steer pulling the tiny car off to the left. Fiat Abarth consoleThere is a system Pro_Cee'd enginecalled Torque Transfer Control which minimises this and it works pretty well. There’s joy to be had by driving the Abarth hard; the sound. Oh dear deity, the sound. A combination of banshee, lion roar and porn film, the quad tipped exhaust emits noise of the most beautiful kind for such a car in its class. There’s a rasp, a braaaaarp! as the gears change (shaking the passengers back and forth as it does so) and when in fifth, Fiat Abarth dashtakes a deep breath before farting fire and and brimstone when the loud (and in this case most definitely loud) pedal is given its instructions. Pro_Cee'd dash 2Punt it into corners, there’s a growl from the exhaust as the transmision changes down bt the slightly higher seating position leaves the body’s COG (centre of gravity) higher than in the lower slung Kia, with the brain wondering at extra angle in a turn. The Kia, on the other hand, is more restrained in the aural department but manages to break the laws of physics as the horizon suddenly appears in your lap. Pro_Cee'd noseWith the dash display a switchable TFT screen, displaying either a normal speedometer or a digital readout with torque and boost pressure, numbers Pro_Cee'd dash 1change quicker than a farmer slams a beer on a hot day. The slick gear lever, a perfectly weighted clutch pedal, a free spinning engine and that mountain of torque form a perfect storm, launching the Pro-Cee’d GT cleanly off the line, a muted yet sprited buzz from the 1.6L, with more noise from the wind flow over the driver’s outside mirror than anything, the Pro_Cee'd rearshort throw change snapping delightfully through the gate as zero to oh myyyyyyyyyyyyy arrives in an eyeblink, even in top gear. There’s the barest tug at the tiller from torque steer as the suspension firms up (sometimes being a touch too jiggly, needing a little more initial compliance) abosrbing most of the imperfections on the road. In contrast, the Fiat’s short suspension and rubber band thick tyres find a five cent piece and enlarge it to a football. Steering in both is sharp, precise, with the 500’s communicating harder bumps with more definition, thanks to the super short travel Fiat Abarth roofsuspension and tyres. There’s a surprising lack of wind noise in the Abarth, over the cloth roof, but naturally is noticeable when semi retracted. The good thing here is being able to listen to that burbling exhaust, all snap crackle pop of it.

Pro_Cee'd right rear quarterBoth share a common body shape, a three door hatch configuration, although in vastly different proportions. The Abarth is a short, squat, rounded, almost eggshell profile; the Pro_Cee’d, the very first of its lineage in Australia, is perhaps more of the traditional hatch style. There’s a long bonnet flowing into a steeply angled windscreen before terminating in a taut and pert bum. Fiat throws in a full retracting cloth roof for the Abarth, programmed in a three or four stop routine whilst the Pro_Cee’d came sans sunroof.
Fiat Abarth left profileThe only hard edges on the Abarth are on the shutlines; it’s near impossible to find a Pro_Cee'd wheelstraight line apart from the doors and bonnet. The GT is much the same, even the swage line from hawkeye headlight to protuberant tail light is soft edged. The Abarth has warpaint that clearly identifies its intent, displayed on both flanks plus a couple of vents in the front bumper. The Kia has the new quad LED driving lights and two cornering lamps, bright to start then fade as the car straightens. Looks cool but the real worth is questionable. The petite Fiat rides 12 spoke, 17 inch, cast aluminuim wheels, painted white and wrapped in Michelin rubber. Each vehicle gets red brake calipers and both haul down with alacrity when the non-go pedal is needed. The Kia gets grippy Michelins also, 225/40s on 18s that look fantastic in grey and machined alloy.

Interiors on both are subtle and understated; sports seats (GT printed on the Kia’s), comfortable, cloth and leather; grippy steering wheels Pro_Cee'd interior 2with piano black on the GT’s matching the plastic surrounding the dials Fiat Abarth interior(the GT’s needs to be thicker), the Sport button mounted dash top in the Fiat (leave it on, Normal mode is MUCH less fun with no overboost), a perhaps somewhat restrained console look for the Kia with cleanly marked controls, with the Abarth retaining the signature circular look of the 500. An oddity in the Kia with the dual zone climate control, to me, if a light is lit on a button I would think it means both zones are controlled via one dial. In this case it means the zones are separate and that’s counter intuitive. Room in the Kia is good, with two kids, two adults and reasonable cargo space (380L seats up); not unexpectedly, the Fiat struggles in cargo space and back seat room, with barely enough leg room for two kids. The GT has wide opening doors however the lower seating position makes it somewhat harder to lever a body from the superb sports seat. The lack Pro_Cee'd bootof extra glass topside does make Fiat Abarth bootthe GT a little claustrophobic with its all black interior while the Fiat’s folding roof takes getting topless to a new level. Neither were fitted with satnav, with the Slovakian buit Kia (yes, they do build outside of Korea) not having an Australian compatible setup. Soundwise the Fiat was fitted with that well known (cough) Interscope setup whilst the Korean came with a bespoke installation; quality in the Abarth was surprisingly good, with decent bass, even with the roof down. Pro_Cee'd taillightThe Kia’s didn’t get a huge workout but did sound mostly ok. What was notable about the view from the Kia’s seat was how reflective the inside of the windscreen is; even with a largely matt black interior it was reflected and was definitely distracting. A non reflective coating for the inside would be MOST handy.

Quite frankly, there is a market for both cars and there’s appeal from each. The Abarth Esseesse has that wonderful, snarly exhaust; the Pro_Cee’d GT has immense driveability. Economy from the small Italian is touted as 6.5L/100km…it’s a small tank, not much bigger than a Fiat Abarth fullroofcan of soft drink at 35L and “proper driving” saw closer to over 8L/100. Kia lobs a 53L tank into the GT, with a claimed 7.4L/100 combined. A Wheel Thing saw that but only on a long freeway run. On a day to day basis though, the GT takes the Abarth to town; a fluid gear change, the interior room, Pro_Cee'd seatsthe immense useability of the engine score the goals. For A Wheel Thing, the Kia takes the points however the the Fiat is by no means disgraced. Price wise….the Fiat suffers from a near $40K price point with the GT landing near $10K cheaper. Dollar for dollar the Kia is a clear leader and that, combined with its overall friendliness, hands the Duel of Turbo crown to the Koreans.

Head to www.fiat.com.au and www.kia.com.au for info and pricing for your area (RRP at time of writing is approx$30 K for the Kia and $39K for the Fiat plus ORCs)

What They Didn’t Teach At Driving School

More years ago than I really like to think about, I got a few lessons from a professional driving instructor before I went and sat the practical driving test for my licence.  To this day, I’m really, really good at three-point turns, which was the main skill that my lessons covered – as far as I can remember; it was quite a few years ago.

driver ed 4Driving schools and “proper” driving courses are usually great at covering the basic skills of driving – road rules, use of gears, use of brakes, watching out for hazards, changing lanes and so forth.  This is the sort of driver education most of us think about when the topic of training young drivers comes up. A few of us also think about the track-based courses, where you get to practice handling a car in a “risky” situation in a comparatively safe place.  They’ve certainly got their merits, if you’re lucky enough to have access and/or the funds to attend one of these courses.

However, there are a number of things that they don’t teach you in these courses.  They just can’t, for simple logistic reasons.  There are some things that you have to learn the hard way (hopefully not too hard!).  Things like the following:

  • Backing a trailer down a windy driveway.  I still can’t do this very well, although I don’t usually have to, as my other half is an expert at it. (Niche market, anybody?)
  • Coupling up a trailer, caravan or other thing to be towed.
  • Driving with a caravan or horse trailer on the back.  A lot of driving instructor vehicles tend to be little hatchbacks along the lines of Suzuki Swifts, which may explain this one.
  • How to tow another vehicle that’s broken down – and how to “drive” the car that’s being towed.
  • Driving at night.  Driving instructors have a life…  (More niche market potential here.)
  • Driving long-distance and learning how to cope with fatigue.
  • Driving in extreme weather conditions – heavy rain, frost, snow, fog, strong winds…  You can’t arrange what the weather is going to do during your scheduled slot, no matter how much you want to practice driving in wet weather.  I suppose a very good track-based course might be able to give some practical training in these under controlled conditions with the use of fog machines and fire hoses, but the cost of these would be through the roof.  I guess simulators might be able to do it but again, these are pricey.
  • Driving in extreme weather conditions while towing.
  • Driving through a mob of sheep or cows being moved down the road.

I was going to add driving a 4×4, as this was something I had to learn the hard way when my folks got a Mitsubishi Chariot, but there are proper courses for off-road driving in a 4×4 these days.

Where you learn to drive can also affect what’s covered by a “proper” driving course, as opposed to the teaching you get from your parents.  Teenagers learning to drive in rural areas get good at open-road driving, dirt roads and going through stock, but aren’t so hot at multi-lane roundabouts and parking in tight spaces. With urban teenagers, it’s the reverse.  So if you’ve got a teenager, make sure that you get them to drive in a lot of contexts.  As a parent of a teenager learning to drive, I’m certainly going to make sure that my son gets a go at all of these as much as possible.

The Ford River Rouge Complex

Ford in Australia is, unfortunately, dying.  It has received a mortal wound and is going through the process of twitching and groaning before ultimately giving up the ghost, more’s the pity.  However, the same can’t be said of Ford in other parts of the world.  So to cheer all my fellow Ford fans up, here’s a bit of info about one of the oldest and possibly largest Ford factories: the Ford River Rouge Complex in Detroit, founded in 1917, which started manufacturing Model Ts since the late 1920s and still at work churning out Fords today.

The Ford River Rouge Complex, often just known as “The Rouge”, has been called one of the wonders of the industrial world and “a city without residents”.  It’s got its own transport system – right from the beginning, it had 100 miles of railroad track and its own internal bus system as well as its own electricity generators.  It was a completely self-sufficient factory: raw materials came in at one end and finished cars came out of the other.  Even the plastic parts originally came from soybean derived oils grown in Ford-owned fields and the rubber came from a Ford-owned plantation in Brazil.  Today, it’s not quite as self-sufficient or as big, but it’s still pretty impressive. It covers 600 acres and employs over 6000 people.

Originally, the factory buildings were designed to be reasonably pleasant to work in, with lots of glass all over the show so that it felt light and spacious for the workers inside.  Today, it’s still doing the architectural design for living thing, with the largest “living roof” in the world to tackle stormwater, and has lots of green space all around the place as well as other eco-friendly features to minimise pollution.

river rouge

However, all has not been rosy for the Rouge over the years and this massive complex did nearly close its doors in the early 1990s when they decided to stop making the Mustang there.  Sure, they were still churning out Dearborn trucks from The Rouge (and still do), but there were howls of protest.  People wanted to save the Mustang and keep the Rouge in production.  Happily, both the Mustang and the Rouge stayed – although the Mustangs are being made elsewhere.  The Rouge is still being redeveloped, with the Henry Ford Museum being closely linked with the Rouge and sharing the site, as well as running tours through the plant.  (Hmmm…  Ford Australia, take note.)  They’re still in the redevelopment process, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

One of the few actual Ford vehicles made at this heritage factory is the Ford F150. We don’t get this over here, as the Powers That Be at Ford have said that the Aussie-made Ford Ranger does the job for this part of the world and they won’t be making the F150 with right-hand-drive.  The F150 is, however, one of the best-selling vehicles in the USA (and has been for over 30 years) and is a tough, stylish ute (or “pickup truck”, as our American friends call it).  With any luck – and I’m guessing here – this will change, given that (a) Ford Australia is shutting its doors, (b) Ford USA is coming out with a new F150 soon and (c) we like our utes over here.  Fingers crossed, everybody.

ford F150

 

Easter and the roads.

When it comes to public holidays, they’re much more visible when it comes to a police presence and news of fatal accidents. Yet there’s no real reason as to why these should be, as there are no real reasons why people should die on the roads. At the time of writing there’s been close to ten lives lost, large single vehicle and single person crashes. Yet, on a 600 kilometre round trip to north on Newcastle, NSW, covering Good Friday and Saturday, the amount of truly and utterly pathetic, dangerous driving I witnessed begs the question of why weren’t there more crashes? This includes a woman in her white LandRover Discover 4, travelling at 150 km/h, tail gating and failing to indicate in packed traffic. There was the young lass in her bright mauve Toyota Yaris with the words “Hahaha you just been passed by a girl” proudly stickered to the back window….except she was doing 90 in a 110 kmh zone, sitting in the right lane with two kilometres of traffic behind her and having angry drivers pass her on her left…

Police presence? Yes, plenty sitting in their usual spots and certainly not helping traffic flow at the twin servos on the M1, forcing speeds down to 40 kmh or so, whilst plenty of other drivers continued to fail to adhere to the basics of driving. State and federal roads ministers continually bleat about road safety, yet wonder why there’s increased public backlash when more and more speed cameras are rolled out. Driver safety and education groups shake their heads in disbelief yet more and more drivers get away with such as: failing to indicate, running amber and red lights, not giving sufficient lighting to a vehicle. Here’s the wording about indicating straight from the NSW Government Legislation website:

Division 1 Change of direction signals

44   Division does not apply to entering or leaving a roundabout

This Division does not apply to a driver entering, in or leaving a roundabout.

Note. Part 9 deals with giving change of direction signals when entering or leaving a roundabout.

45   What is changing direction

(1)  A driver changes direction if the driver changes direction to the left or the driver changes direction to the right.

(2)  A driver changes direction to the left by doing any of the following:

(a)  turning left,

(b)  changing marked lanes to the left,

(c)  diverging to the left,

(d)  entering a marked lane, or a line of traffic, to the left,

(e)  moving to the left from a stationary position,

(f)  turning left into a marked lane, or a line of traffic, from a median strip parking area,

(g)  at a T-intersection where the continuing road curves to the right—leaving the continuing road to proceed straight ahead onto the terminating road.

Note 1. Marked lane and median strip parking area are defined in the Dictionary.

Note 2. For the meaning of left, see rule 351 (1).

(3)  A driver changes direction to the right by doing any of the following:

(a)  turning right,

(b)  changing marked lanes to the right,

(c)  diverging to the right,

(d)  entering a marked lane, or a line of traffic, to the right,

(e)  moving to the right from a stationary position,

(f)  turning right into a marked lane, or a line of traffic, from a median strip parking area,

(g)  making a U-turn,

(h)  at a T-intersection where the continuing road curves to the left—leaving the continuing road to proceed straight ahead onto the terminating road.

Note 1. U-turn is defined in the Dictionary.

Note 2. For the meaning of right, see rule 351 (2).

Examples for subrules (2) (g) and (3) (h).

Example 1

Driver indicating change of direction at a T-intersection where the continuing road curves to the right and the driver is proceeding straight ahead onto the terminating road

Example 2

Driver indicating change of direction at a T-intersection where the continuing road curves to the left and the driver is proceeding straight ahead onto the terminating road

46   Giving a left change of direction signal

(1)  Before a driver changes direction to the left, the driver must give a left change of direction signal in accordance with rule 47 for long enough to comply with subrule (2) and, if subrule (3) applies to the driver, that subrule.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

Note. Changes direction to the left is defined in rule 45 (2).

(2)  The driver must give the change of direction signal for long enough to give sufficient warning to other drivers and pedestrians.

(3)  If the driver is about to change direction by moving from a stationary position at the side of the road or in a median strip parking area, the driver must give the change of direction signal for at least 5 seconds before the driver changes direction.

Note. Median strip parking area is defined in the Dictionary.

(4)  The driver must stop giving the change of direction signal as soon as the driver completes the change of direction.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

(5)  This rule does not apply to a driver if the driver’s vehicle is not fitted with direction indicator lights.

Note. Driver’s vehicle is defined in the Dictionary.

47   How to give a left change of direction signal

The driver of a vehicle must give a left change of direction signal by operating the vehicle’s left direction indicator lights.

48   Giving a right change of direction signal

(1)  Before a driver changes direction to the right, the driver must give a right change of direction signal in accordance with rule 49 for long enough to comply with subrule (2) and, if subrule (3) applies to the driver, that subrule.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

Note. Changes direction to the right is defined in rule 45 (3).

(2)  The driver must give the change of direction signal for long enough to give sufficient warning to other drivers and pedestrians.

(3)  If the driver is about to change direction by moving from a stationary position at the side of the road or in a median strip parking area, the driver must give the change of direction signal for at least 5 seconds before the driver changes direction.

Note. Median strip parking area is defined in the Dictionary.

(3A)  Subrule (3) does not apply to the rider of a bicycle that is stopped in traffic but not parked.

(4)  The driver must stop giving the change of direction signal as soon as the driver completes the change of direction.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

(5)  This rule does not apply to:

(a)  the driver of a tram that is not fitted with direction indicator lights, or

(b)  the rider of a bicycle making a hook turn.

Note 1. Bicycle and tram are defined in the Dictionary.

Note 2. Rules 34 and 35 deal with bicycles making hook turns.

49   How to give a right change of direction signal

(1)  The driver of a vehicle must give a right change of direction signal by operating the vehicle’s right direction indicator lights.

(2)  However, if the vehicle’s direction indicator lights are not in working order or are not clearly visible, or the vehicle is not fitted with direction indicator lights, the driver must give the change of direction signal by giving a hand signal in accordance with rule 50, or using a mechanical signalling device fitted to the vehicle.

Note. Mechanical signalling device is defined in the Dictionary.

50   How to give a right change of direction signal by giving a hand signal

To give a hand signal for changing direction to the right, the driver must extend the right arm and hand horizontally and at right angles from the right side of the vehicle, with the hand open and the palm facing the direction of travel.

Example.

Giving a hand signal for changing direction to the right

51   When use of direction indicator lights permitted

The driver of a vehicle must not operate a direction indicator light except:

(a)  to give a change of direction signal when the driver is required to give the signal under these Rules, or

(b)  as part of the vehicle’s hazard warning lights.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

And: 57   Stopping for a yellow traffic light or arrow

(1)  A driver approaching or at traffic lights showing a yellow traffic light must stop:

(a)  if there is a stop line at or near the traffic lights and the driver can stop safely before reaching the stop line—as near as practicable to, but before reaching, the stop line, or

(b)  if there is no stop line at or near the traffic lights and the driver can stop safely before reaching the traffic lights—as near as practicable to, but before reaching, the nearest or only traffic lights, or

(c)  if the traffic lights are at an intersection and the driver cannot stop safely in accordance with paragraph (a) or (b), but can stop safely before entering the intersection—before entering the intersection,

and must not proceed past the stop line or nearest or only traffic lights, or into the intersection (as the case may be), until the traffic lights show a green or flashing yellow traffic light or no traffic light.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

Note. Enter, intersection, stop line and yellow traffic light are defined in the Dictionary.

(2)  A driver approaching or at traffic arrows showing a yellow traffic arrow who is turning in the direction indicated by the arrow must stop:

(a)  if there is a stop line at or near the traffic arrows and the driver can stop safely before reaching the stop line—as near as practicable to, but before reaching, the stop line, or

(b)  if there is no stop line at or near the traffic arrows and the driver can stop safely before reaching the traffic arrows—as near as practicable to, but before reaching, the nearest or only traffic arrows, or

(c)  if the traffic arrows are at an intersection and the driver cannot stop safely in accordance with paragraph (a) or (b), but can stop safely before entering the intersection—before entering the intersection,

and must not proceed past the stop line or nearest or only traffic arrows, or into the intersection (as the case may be), until the traffic arrows show a green or flashing yellow traffic arrow or no traffic arrow.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

Note. Enter, intersection, stop line and yellow traffic arrow are defined in the Dictionary.

(3)  If the traffic lights or traffic arrows (as the case may be) are at an intersection and the driver is not able to stop safely under subrule (1) or (2) (as the case may be) and enters the intersection, the driver must leave the intersection as soon as the driver can do so safely.

Maximum penalty: 20 penalty units.

Note 1. Intersection does not include a road related area—see the definition in the Dictionary.

Note 2. This rule applies to a driver turning left using a slip lane only if the yellow traffic light or yellow traffic arrow (as the case may be) applies to the slip lane—see Part 20, Divisions 2 and 3, especially rules 330 and 345.

Classic Cars: Jaguar E-Type.

In the automotive world it’s not uncommon to have a design regarded as a classic. Ferrari’s 248, Holden’s 48-215, Ford’s GT40, Aston Martin’s DB5 and Jaguar’s evergreen E-Type. Enzo Ferrari called the E-Type “the most beautiful car ever made.” Controversial due to its phallic styling, especially when painted red, its immensely long bonnet in comparison to its compact cabin gives it proportions at odds to its handling. A svelte, curvaceous car, it’s still regarded as outstandingly beautiful over fifty years later. Spread over three distinct series, the Series 1 was released, initially intended as an export market item only, in March of 1961. Early models came fitted with Jag’s stalwart 3.8L six cylinder, fitted with the beautiful triple SU carbies, pumping 198kW and 325 Nm of torque. Towards the end of 1964, just as The Beatles really began their climb to stardom, the 3.8L was ditched and replaced with the torquier 4.2L, up to 384Nm. Chrome bumper strips, a small air intake, glass covered headlights and centrally mounted exhaust tips give it away externally, whilst the interior looked almost the same between the two. Another external ID was the difference in badging with the 3.8L showing simply “Jaguar” whereas the 4.2L had “Jaguar 4.2 Litre E-Type”. Tyres were laughably skinny by today’s standard, finishing off with high profile 185 rubber on 15 inch wire Jaguar E-type_1961_1 Jaguar-E-Type S1 rearwheels. A 2+2 version was also made available in 1966, being slightly longer and with a different roofline as well. Underneath at the rear was Jaguar’s now famed independent rear suspension. Production of the S1 concluded in 1968

 

 

 

 

The series 2 was released with open headlights, larger and relocated indicators, a larger “mouth” and electric fans fitted to the radiator. Different seats were fitted, in a different style to the originals which some Jaguarphiles claimed didn’t suit even though they are said to be more comfortable. Aircon and power steering were made available as options. Finishing up in 1971 there were nearly nineteen thousand made: Series 2 production numbers: fixed head coupe saw 4855, convertibles 8628 and the 2+2 had 5326.Jag E Type S2Jag E Type S2 2+2

 

 

 

 

 

The series 3 ran through to 1975; of major note was the addition of the wonderfully smooth 5.3L V12. The fixed head coupe was discontinued, the 2+2 and convertible came only with the V12 (proudly identified by the badging). Another visual ID was the change to a slatted grille, wider wheel arches and massive blocks of rubber on the bumpers for the American market. Just short of eight thousand convertibles were made and an almost even amount of 2+2s.Jaguar E-Type Series 3 1971-1974 rear frdeurope jagheritage

Revered, respected and renowned world wide, the Jaguar E-Type is truly a classic car.

BTCC 2014 Review: Bringing the Thunder to Brands Hatch

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

After months of excitement and anticipation, the time finally came for the first round of the 2014 Dunlop British Touring Car Championship. There was no better proving ground than the hallowed tarmac of Brands Hatch in Kent. The Indy circuit provides a sub-50 second thrash of a lap, demanding both high speed and perfect handling. It will come as no surprise (based on the monumental BTCC-based output I am prone to) that this championship has and probably will always be my favourite motor sport series. So one can only imagine my uncontrollable happiness to be first hand witness to the rebirth of a racing phoenix on the weekend of March 29th/30th.

The return of the true champions of motor sport also coincided with the new-look F1 series, with their fancy power-block-drive-train-why-is-it-not-just-called-an-engine. A week previous to the Touring Car return had seen the first race in the F1 calendar fail spectacularly to impress the general public. Since then of course, F1 has proven these new rules can work, but it is still far from convincing many. Could the full NGTC low cost, close racing Touring Cars show the big boys how to start a race season?

A blistering 31 car grid. 7 previous champions. Full NGTC outfit. Supported by an amazing BTC package including Renault Clio Cup UK, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Formula Ford, Ginetta Junior and the Ginetta G50s, the weekend promised something special.  This was going to be good.

The BTCC grid were all fired up and ready to go. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The BTCC grid were all fired up and ready to go. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Qualifying

Before any racing got underway, there was still the issue of qualifying to get through. The word thrilling does not do justice to what I was privileged enough to witness on that Saturday. Crowd favourite Rob Austin complained about his 11th position start for the first race; usually I have no time for comments like this. This time was an exception however, considering Austin was only 0.260 seconds off the pole time. I completely understand his frustration; his car is massively competitive yet due to the clever NGTC rules, he is only 11th. In fact, of the 30 cars that turned up for the first race weekend, the top 23 all qualified within one second of each other. If that isn’t competitive then I don’t know what is. Granted, the top 5 positions were filled with the ever familiar faces of Jordan, Plato, Turkington, Neal and Shedden, but no one can deny the level of competition present in the championship this year.

As the cars lined up on the grid for the start of the first race, you could feel the magic in the air. Nobody knew what was going to happen.

As the flag dropped on the 2014 season, it was all out action from the off to the flag. Image Credit: BTCC.net

As the flag dropped on the 2014 season, it was all out action until the flag was waved. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Race Day

For those who were watching on television, the first two races may have appeared to be a continuation of form from last year. It was very much a Honda, MG and BMW affair, with Jordan taking the first two races rather comfortably. But, in the midfield the changes of position were constant and mostly all very well undertaken. It was all rather thrilling. In terms of the usual suspects, it was quite interesting to see an uncharacteristic set of problems appear for Jason Plato in the MG team, who after a podium finish in the first race, had to start the race from the back. It was fascinating to see him carving his way through the field up to 11th by the end of the race. In a post-race interview, Plato said that he did the best he could and ‘to get from last to the top 10 was basically impossible’. Considering this was the most successful touring car driver ever saying this, you must admit you would be pretty inclined to believe it.

It may have been a common occurrence to see the works Honda team fighting for the top positions, but it came as a considerable shock to many. The Yuasa Honda team had introduced their new estate Civic (the ‘Tourer’) to the surprise of many, and pre-season testing would have given the impression that they may not be as competitive straight away. Yet they come to Brands Hatch (a track they specifically mentioned would be tricky for them) and were as strong as ever. In many ways I should be happy for the Honda team that they have managed to get good performance from their new model. Yet, I find myself audibly exhaling with a hint of frustration; for the last few years the Honda team has been so utterly dominant that I was hoping for a change. And if this was their weak track, I can see them doing rather well at Donington Park next weekend. My feelings aside, well done to them, the new car may be a bit of a shock to the eyes, but it definitely works.

Plato managed to well deserved podiums over the opening 3 rounds. Image Credit: Adam Johnson

Plato managed two well deserved podiums over the opening 3 rounds. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

Jordan and Plato have assumed their usual positions at the top. Is a new rivalry forming? Image Credit: BTCC.net

Jordan and Plato have assumed their usual positions at the top. Is a new rivalry forming? Image Credit: BTCC.net

The third and final race of the day has always mixed up the action somewhat, due to the reverse grid system that is used. The clever thing is that the drivers have no clue how many positions will be reversed; the number is picked out of a hat after the second race. So where once you would see drivers purposely slowing to get themselves 10th and therefore pole for race three, now nobody knows. All rather exciting really. The reverse grid greatly benefited the eBay BMW team, who began the third race with the perfect start and a formation fly into the first few laps. This began to fall apart when the limits of Nick Foster’s talent began to show. I do feel sorry for him, because he really does suffer with the ‘other driver’ syndrome. It is clear through example that he lacks the same ability as Collard and Turkington, and this was shown at Brands when he slipped from his early lead to 19th by the end of the race.

Formation flying: the eBay motors BMWs proved they have the performance to challenge for the title this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Formation flying: the eBay motors BMWs proved they have the performance to challenge for the title this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

After the first round of the championship, the points totals are somewhat predictable, yet still interesting nonetheless:

  1. Andrew Jordan – 47 points
  2. Matt Neal – 45 points
  3. Colin Turkington – 44 points
  4. Gordon Shedden – 40 points
  5. Jason Plato – 38 points
  6. Rob Collard – 34 points
  7. Adam Morgan – 18 points
  8. Sam Tordoff – 17 points
  9. Nick Foster – 16 points
  10. Rob Austin – 16 points

The old flames may be dominating the top of the table, but the first round at Brands Hatch did definitely raise some interesting talking points that may change the course of the championship over the year.

Talking Points from Brands Hatch

Towards the rear…

I often find that with many motor sport series that some of the best talking points come from those who occupy the back of the grid. The 2014 BTCC season appears to be no different. There are some towards the back who I believe are only there because they have not yet had the development or experience to challenge the top end. One example of this is the wonderfully named Simon Belcher in the Toyota Avensis; he may have occupied the back of the pack most of the weekend but his lap times were plummeting. I suspect he may be reaching the high mid-pack and maybe even a top 10 by the end of the year. And then of course there is United Autosports who have their fingers in many a motor sport pie (usually GT based series); they have now decided to enter the BTCC with James Cole and Glynn Geddie. Given their previous successes, after a few races and further work they will be much further up the grid. It will be nice to see a fellow Glynn on the podium!

Someone else I definitely had my eye on was the sole American entry Robb Holland in his Audi S3 saloon. Not only does he have one of the best personalities in the field, but I foresee a great future for him. If he follows the path of the Rob, like Austin before him, he will soon be sticking it to the big boys. Same goes for the young Jack Clarke in the Crabbies racing Ford; he may not follow the path of the Rob, but I just cannot wait to see a car sponsored by alcoholic ginger beer at the front.

The American Robb Holland may follow his fellow Rob (Austin) into greatness. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

The American Robb Holland may follow his fellow Rob (Austin) into greatness. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

Ollie Jackson and 'The Man Who Beat Button' (Marc Hynes) were both unimpressive at Brands, but hey its only the first round. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Ollie Jackson and ‘The Man Who Beat Button’ (Marc Hynes) were both unimpressive at Brands. In the case of Jackson he seemed to enjoy being a flamethrower most of the time so I shall let him off, but hey its only the first round. Image Credit: BTCC.net

As much as I reward greatness in eternal praise through words, I also rather enjoy a bit of naming and shaming. Two names stand out more than any other; the first of these being Marc Hynes, or should I say ‘The Man Who Beat Button’. Ever since he was a confirmed entry to this years championship, he has only been referred to as the man who beat Jenson Button to the F3 championship many moons ago. Considering his wildly amazing reputation (he is also a driver trainer for the Marussia F1 team), I was expecting him to be the next Gabrielle Tarquini and storm the championship and blow everyone away on his first attempt. He may be ‘The Man Who Beat Button’, but over the weekend it seemed that he was more ‘The Man Who Was Beaten By Everyone’. If it wasn’t for the fact he had received so much hype I wouldn’t be so critical, but his performance was the ultimate characterization of exhaustive disappointment. His crowning moment was undoubtedly his destruction of the ever ridiculous Martin Depper.

I almost feel sorry for Martin Depper; as the team mate to the mighty Andrew Jordan he was rather embarrassing to watch. He was disqualified in race one, and then failed to finish both race two and race three. It takes a special kind of fail to manage that, especially with a team that is a proven race AND championship winner. He appeared to lack any form of pace or potential. He has gone from being ‘the other one’ in the Pirtek team to nothing but a slow and deep exhale, laced in exhaustion and derision.

The bottom bread in the Pirtek sandwich, Jordan leading and Depper far, far down at the back. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The bottom bread in the Pirtek sandwich, Jordan leading and Depper far, far down at the back. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The Shining Lights of the BTCC

At the other end of the scale, there were of course those who massively impressed across the weekend. The first of these is Tom Ingram, in the Speedworks Avensis. Ingram is a 3-time winner of the BTC support Ginetta G50 championship, and in his debut race weekend in the BTCC, he blew me away. He qualified sixth, and put in strong performances across the weekend. If he is not a race winner by the end of the year, then I will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Sadly however, following two superb top 10 finishes, in race 3 he had an unfortunate coming together with Alain Menu which prematurely ended his race. I take my hat off to the Speedworks Team, they have done a fantastic job this year and they could not have chosen a better driver to lead their charge to glory.

The car hitting the wall, is a Toyota! Ingram suffered an unfortunate crash in race 3. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The car hitting the wall, is a Toyota! Ingram suffered an unfortunate crash in race 3. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Rob Austin, the ultimate fan favourite among the current generation of touring car drivers certainly did not disappoint at Brands Hatch over the weekend. He finished a stunning 5th in the first race, proving he had lost none of his skill and talent from last year. Sadly, a mechanical problem ruled him out of race two, meaning he started from the back for race three. Now, do you remember that Plato had said it was impossible to get from the back to a top 10 finish was impossible? (Do remember that he was driving a factory MG). The flying Austin managed to get from last to 11th, and was mere meters away from 10th. If Austin was not marred by crippling bad luck, he would most definitely be a champion. If him and his Sherman continue on this upward trend, they will soon take final victory they deserve.

Similarly, I was blown away by the WIX racing Mercedes of Adam Morgan; mot only does it look spectacular but Mr Morgan knows how to drive that machine well. He put in consistent performances across the weekend and was constantly competitive. He will earn himself a few race wins this year, that I am sure of.

Rob Austin and the amazing Sherman (his new Exocet Audi) were stunning at Brands. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The Power of the Four Rings. Rob Austin and the amazing Sherman (his new Exocet Audi) were stunning at Brands. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR (Brilliant Motor Racing)

In my humble yet passionate opinion, the team that impressed me most over the course of the first three rounds was team BMR. Warren Scott, Aron Smith and Alain Menu definitely thrust themselves into the limelight. Scott and Smith proved that the BMR boys know exactly how to make a race car that works both aggressively and consistently. The return of Alain Menu to the sport that made his name was one of the most exciting things to come out of the close season, and unlike ‘The Man Who Beat Button’ and Giovanardi in some respects, he categorically lived up to the reputation and expectation that preceeded him. Where Giovanardi (a former champion of the 00’s) struggled to find pace and performance, Menu returned to ultimate driver mode.

He may have suffered a spin at the first corner of the first race, and then struggled on the option tyres in race two, but race 3 changed that. He had made his way from the back of the grid to 17th in race two, but race three saw him blister his way up to 5th overall, defeating names such as Giovanardi and Flash Gordon in the works Honda. Having the chance to watch the return of a true legend to the BTCC at my favourite track was the perfect mix of excitement, worry, thrills, drama and general joy. Menu joins the BTCC from the WTCC, which saw one of the worst displays of touring car racing recently in Morocco. If this form continues, and with a little more development and experience, I would not be surprised to see Menu challenging for the title either this year or next year. With a cheeky wink and the love-able self confidence, this is exactly why Alain Menu is the ultimate touring car driver in my eyes.

Team BMR will soon reign after their great show. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR will soon reign after their great show. Image Credit: BTCC.net

And so, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that the BTCC is back and better than ever. It is such a shame that the WTCC has the ‘world’ status considering the shambolic race weekend that was had. Ultimate touring cars? After what I witnessed at Brands Hatch, it is clear that the BTCC should once again reign as THE international touring car championship. In a field of 30 cars, all of whom are improving by the race, who knows what will happen this year. Hard, thrilling and exciting races.

For full results from Brands Hatch, please visit: http://www.btcc.net/results/

The next round at Donington is fast approaching. This year will be something special.

Can the titans be toppled? Will we see the rise of a new star? Will a blast from the past steal ultimate victory?

Only time will tell…

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

 

Passion for the Prancing Horse: Ferrari Racing Days.

20140411_135855 20140412_110135Scuderia Ferrari, that’s what the letters SF stand for on the emblem for perhaps the most passion inspiring brand ever. Ferrari. Sydney Motorsport Park hosted the first ever Ferrari Racing Days weekend in Australia; covering April 11 to 13 which was an ideal opportunity to showcase the brand and, as it happened, the circuit.20140412_11055620140412_160816

Essentially, the FRD weekend was to show off the brand, by virtue of building a mini showroom, exhibiting some classic cars, running a few F1 cars covering some thirty years of Ferrari F1 history and inviting some privileged owners to drive their cars on the circuit. But the sheer exposure of the black horse on a yellow shield locally and, more importantly, internationally by having a round of the Ferrari 458 Speciale Pirelli Trofeo Challenge which included drivers from Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the USA is priceless. Two races, over two days, plus twenty odd pilots seeing a circuit they’ve never driven on and being able to take that experience back to their home cities. An added attraction was the parade of cars, on Sydney’s freeway system, from the city to the circuit, of approximately 150 cars. Infrastructure was a major part of the event; in the paddock there were two entrances joined by a red carpet, joining a children’s entertainment area that also had the genuine F1 car driven by Michael Schumacher. A showroom with five cars, some classic cars such as a F40, F50 and Enzo, development cars in the form of the FXX and 599XX plus some truly historic cars added to the spectacle. On track were examples of Ferrari history, from a 348 Testarossa to the new California and more.20140412_16080320140412_104508

A highlight of the weekend was former racer and current F1 test driver for Ferrari, Marc Gene’, running the 2009 F1 car as campaigned by Kimi Raikkonen. Also, for the first time at Sydney Motorsport Park, were more than one genuine F1 car, as opposed to the sungle RB7 Red Bull car run by Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo as part of the Top Gear Festival. The combination of V8, turbo, V10 and V12 cars added an incredible sight and sound sensation, complete with Gene’ signing off with a crowd thrilling burnout.

Although the weather wasn’t the best, the attraction of the brand was such that over five thousand people came along to absorb the sights and sounds of the first Ferrari Racing Days at Sydney Motorsport Park.

Biofuels – What’s Currently Being Researched?

There’s no doubt about it: there is only a limited amount of fossil fuel in the world. Even running around in hybrid or purely electric vehicles may only go part of the way towards solving the problem, depending on how the electricity used to power the cars in question is generated. If the electricity is generated by an oil-fuelled generator, electric cars merely move the issue of burning fossil fuels further along the production line.  If the electricity is generated using something sustainable, then that’s less of a problem.

Enter biodiesel and other biofuels.  Biodiesel is almost just like normal diesel except that it can be refined from vegetable and animal fats.  At the moment, these oils are a tad more acidic than regular diesel, so biodiesel, if used pure (B100) has a tendency to wear out the rubber hoses and gaskets inside your vehicle.  Car manufacturers are beginning to respond by making cars with bits that can handle biodiesel, but at the moment, only a few cars can handle pure B100.  The Saab 93 Biopower is one example.  Most require a blend, although this may be starting to change. Car manufacturers aren’t stupid.

The other main biofuel is ethanol, which can be mixed with petrol and used to power that sort of engine. Ethanol is an alcohol produced by fermenting suitably sugary feedstocks.  It’s really popular in Brazil, which has a massive sugarcane industry and all petrol in Brazil has at least 25% ethanol in it. We use a bit over here, too, also using waste from the sugar industry, although we don’t use as much as Brazil does.

However, all is not rosy in the world of biofuels and biodiesel. Yes, a good chunk of waste bits and pieces can be used to produce biodiesel and ethanol. However, leftovers aren’t going to be enough to power the world’s fleet of vehicles.  This means that feedstock will have to be grown somewhere. There’s only a limited amount of land, so feedstocks are going to compete for land and water (and other resources such as fertiliser and labour) with crops grown for human consumption and for animal consumption.  This is where a lot of research is being concentrated: how can we solve this problem?

Sorghum - a potential FFF plant.

Sorghum – a potential FFF plant.

One thing that is being researched in this area is finding suitable plants that are multipurpose – the so-called FFF (Food, Fodder and Feedstock) varieties. There’s been some pleasing results with varieties of sorghum, a grain used widely in Africa, where the grain is used for people, the leaves are fed to cattle and the sugary stems are used for ethanol production.  Research is looking into which varieties are the best and whether or not breeders can come up with the perfect variety. Sweetcorn is another potential FFF plant.  Along the same lines, they’re looking into plants that can be grown on not-so-hot land and thus taking up fewer resources – a recent paper published in the specialist journal Biotechnology for Biofuels proposed agave cactus as a possibility.

Another strand of research is looking into finding bacteria that do a great job of fermenting waste material and turning it into ethanol. If they can find some really good strains that can ferment just about any plant material, then this widens the scope for what can be used as feedstock.

The Jatropha bush.

The Jatropha bush.

On the biodiesel side of things, as well as hunting for crops that produce decent oil but don’t compete for resources too heavily.  So far, the best crop is the jatropha shrub, which doesn’t mind drought, is poisonous enough to not have many pest problems and produces a really oily nut. The leftovers after the nut has been pressed for oil can be used for other bits and pieces, such as pesticides, medicines (yep) and as an ethanol feedstock.  The issue here is that jatropha wasn’t originally a crop plant, so they’re working on finding good varieties that grow well on marginal land but produce a whacking big crop.

Also on the biodiesel front, they’re looking into algae. Some algae are oilier than you might think and could be used to produce biodiesel.  The good thing about algae is that they can be grown on land that’s useless for farming other things, and they can be grown on wastewater – settlement ponds at the local sewage works are looking very promising so far.  Of course, they’ve got to find the right strains of algae that produce the most oil, improve the extraction and harvesting process, and find a way to do all this commercially.

Algae even looks green.

Algae even looks green.

Raising the Bahr for F1 2014

bahrainf1

Over the weekend, the F1 monster machine made its way to the blistering shores of Bahrain. In the past, the Grand Prix at Bahrain has got itself a rather negative reputation, with accusations of both processional and lack luster racing. This in many ways is down to the laborious and ever repetitive circuit design by the grand emperor of tedium Hermann Tilke. An interesting side note, did you know that if you start typing his name into Google, the suggested searches include ‘Hermann Tilke boring’ and ‘Hermann Tilke ruining F1’. What does that tell you? Anyway, the first two races of the new season were hardly anything too spectacular given the level of media hype that has surrounded this new era of Formula One. So when Bahrain came around this weekend, I wasn’t really expecting very much.

And then the race happened, which in turn made this happen…

An accurate reconstruction of my response to the Bahrain GP

An accurate reconstruction of my response to the Bahrain GP

What was so good about the race? 

Well firstly, and most importantly, the race at Bahrain was finally A RACE. The 57 lap race was filled with overtaking left, right and center, which truly was a refreshing sight for the sport. It takes a special kind of race to have position changes on every single lap, from the front to the back of the grid. The battles between the Force Indias, Williams and Red Bull were a sight to behold. Considering what has happened in the past, I had actually forgotten that Red Bull knew how to race. The addition of the safety car towards the end of the race was a stroke of genius (it is almost like Bernie Ecclestone had planned this to happen all along); the final 12 laps were crazy. For the first time,  No one was really able to predict how the cars would finish.

  • The Mercedes Civil War – When it was Red Bull dominating the standings, the fans became bored and almost annoyed at the predictable nature of the results. Chances are, unless the other teams play the biggest game of catch up in history, that this year Mercedes will do the same thing. However, I am of the belief that after the last few developmental years, Mercedes deserve the success they are receiving this year. But most impressively, the F1 world is loving the revolutionary ‘no team orders’ approach to racing. For many years, F1 has been plagued by politics and team orders, considering that usually the teams have a clear lead driver. But what happens when you have two of arguably the best drivers in the field on the same team? Simple, drop any pretense of rules and let them race and just hope they don’t take each other off. The race between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was absolutely stunning. The race finished and only a second separated them. The safety car lost Lewis Hamilton his advantage over Nico, and on ever degrading tyres he somehow managed to hold off the advantages of Rosberg to win the race. If this is the case for the rest of the year, I am willing to overlook the fact that Mercedes can pull out a 25 second lead in 12 laps (totally crazy right?)
  • Red Bull Does Give You Wings – Well, if you’re Ricciardo anyway. Daniel Riccardo has had truly rotten luck so far in 2014, with a disqualification in Melbourne and a 10 place grid drop at Bahrain. He started the race in 13th and finished in 4th. The man was on fire. My favourite moment came when Vettel was told over the radio, “Daniel is faster than you, please let him past”. Such an utterly beautiful moment; the wonderchild has been told his team mate is faster and he has to move over. It brings back sweet memories of “Fernando is faster than you”, mixed with the ever succulent taste of, “not bad for a number two driver”. Ricciardo is fast becoming one of the new rising stars of Formula One. Move over Vettel, you are the wonderchild no more.
I couldn't resist

I couldn’t resist

  •  Use the Force (India) – For the last few years, Force India have been somewhat of a midfield runner, until now of course. Perez scored an excellent 3rd place in Bahrain, fending off the final charge of Red Bull Ricciardo. My main praise however is centered on Nico Hulkenberg, who charged up from a disappointing 11th place grid slot to an overall 5th position. While watching the coverage, the Hulk stole a great deal of screen time due to his relentless charge past many a foe. This is the kind of determination I love about motor sport. And the overtaking was clean, thank god.
  • The Will of the Williams – The overall finishing positions of Massa and Bottas do not truly reflect the plucky effort they put in throughout the race. Massa had one of the greatest starts I have seen in F1, while Bottas continued his ever impressive run this year, pushing on through in the thick of it right until the end. I think the Williams deserved a higher finish than they managed, but full credit to them. The Williams boys are proving that Williams do still have what it takes.

Just to keep the balance, here is what didn’t go too well…

As great as the race was, there were some elements that did not hold that same level of awesomeness. The first of these was the sad result of Jenson Button in the McLaren. In what was his 25oth GP start, Jenson retired a mere 2 laps from the end of the race, having put in a strong performance throughout. McLaren were aware that they did not have the race pace to keep them challenging for the higher positions, but Button defied the odds and was running in the top end for most of the race before his McLaren gave up the fight. Well, at least he won his 100th race.

And then of course, this happened...

And then of course, this happened…

The picture you see before has definitely done the rounds in the media. What you are seeing is the moment that Maldonado lost all semblance of sanity and reason and completely wiped out poor old Gutierrez. Many have tried to explain what actually happened there; alas there is only one thing that can be said…

Maldonado happened.

Lotus have had an absolute shocker of a season so far, and this incident has hardly helped matters. The new noses on the cars clearly act as a scoop, so when Maldonado’s car met the side of the Sauber, there was only one outcome. Say what you want about it, but it did make for a great picture.

So after Bahrain, the critics are silenced and F1 is great again, right?

Wrong.

One good race does not save a whole series. The fanboys and fangirls are now using this ONE race to say that the argument is over. Granted, Formula One has managed to make the Bahrain circuit exciting, but until this level of racing becomes consistent then I will not be fully convinced. Furthermore, the Bahrain GP was a race full of overtaking, close racing and tension, and people are acting like this was the greatest spectacle ever. It was pretty amazing, but everything I have just mentioned is the common factor in all motorsport. I am happy that F1 has returned to what it should be (possibly), but it is still relevant to point out that most other forms of motorsport have been doing this consistently for years.

My favourite quote regarding the race comes in the form of a tweet:

“@BTCCCrazy: F1 did a seriously good #BTCC impression at the #BahrainGP – terrific racing!”

Let’s hope this quality of racing remains throughout the rest of the F1 season, and who knows, if they continue to do such a good impression of the British Touring Car Championship, then even I may finally become a convert. All we need now is to end the talk of fuel and tire conservation in the first 10 laps of the race and we are sorted.

F1 has definitely raised the Bahr for the rest of the year.

Formula One 2014: Bring It On!

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Peace and Love!