Archive for November, 2014
There’s something to be said for being the “little” brother or sister, in that unused and brand nwe stuff comes your way. With Skoda becoming part of the VW Group in 2000, the door was opened to taking advantage of the family lineage and sourcing from the parts bin, both brand new and “hand me downs” that are virtually brand new. Skoda’s undergone a resurgence, as a result and one of the key parts to that has been the Octavia. It’s a been a delightful week with the top of the range RS wagon, now in its third iteration.
Turbos and four cylinder engines go together like whisky and ice. Skoda’s married a turbo to a 2.0L powerplant to get a 162kW/350Nm belter, with pull from 3000 rpm like a shuttle launch. There’s a six speed double clutch automatic transmission attached and is programmed for Eco, Normal, Sport and Individual settings, accessible via a button in the centre console and shown on the touch screen in the dash. It’s an immensely usable combination, moves quickly and quietly through the gears in normal mode however the DSG’s mechanism does make shifting into Drive from Reverse a “wait for it” proposition. In Sports mode it opens the aural taps, allowing a growl from the engine to complement a more immediate response. However, even on a straight and long back road to allow a good clip, it required a manual shift from fourth into fifth and sixth only to have the computer to bring it back to fourth. Economy suffers, as a result. Skoda claims 6.6L per 100 km and that’s not unachievable if driven in Eco mode.
It’s an evolution of the previous design, with a somehow more integrated look. It’s a more tapered roll off for the roof on this RS wagon, looking less slab sided than the previous model, thanks to a creaseline along the flanks and in the lower doors, folding slightly inwards. The wagon looks sleek, sitting low at just 1465mm and it’s 4659mm long and 1814mm wide, providing a huge amount of cargo andarm/leg space thanks to the 2686mm wheelbase, maximising internal room. The reverse moustache grille sits nicely between the edgy headlights, themselves supported by thin lines of LEDs. It’s angular, handsome and in a Stormtrooper combination of black and white, carries a subtle air of menace. Panel and shut lines are tight and there’s a reassuring “thunk” when closing the door. Roof rails complete the picture, one that would look well suited to your garage.
Alloys are unusual and a matter of personal choice, with brake dust quickly dulling the sheen. Rubber is Bridgestone 225/40/18s.
On The Inside.
588L of cargo room sit nicely within the wagon’s shapely rear with seats up. The lower stance of the wagon makes loading it up a breeze, along with the high opening tailgate. There’s a plastic strap hanging down, a surprisingly useful item yet looks oddly out of place as well. The passenger side part of the cargo space has the subwoofer unit for the excellent Canton audio system; it’s clear, punchy and well defined in its quality.
Seating is fantastic; driver and passenger get sports bucket seats, with a red highlight and RS embossing, which are immensely supportive and not once felt uncomfortable. The black leather is enhanced with red stiching; it looks great and of a good quality. Getting into the right seat position to drive was easy; once done the driver is greeted by the classy looking monochrome info screen, a nicely sculpted steering wheel and the presence sensing touch screen for navigation, sound and the RS options. It’s a beautiful workspace and roomy enough given the Octavia’s dimensions.
There’s plenty of tech to play with; the RS button glows red when pressed, there’s parking assistance and collision avoidance noises as well.
Suspension wise, it’s a ripper. There’s enough sportiness with a dash of compliance to suit most drivers that would buy the RS, it’s wonderfully damped and handled all speed bumps and off camber corners equally. It’s deft, adept and fun to drive. Torque steer is minimal but you can feel the front wheels loading up at times, mostly when coming into a tight turn but there’s never a feeling of breaking away underneath. It’s a confidence inspiring chassis, as are the engine and transmission. It’s an almost perfectly balanced combination, bar the turbo lag in normal mode and the schizoid desire to hang on to fourth in Sports. When wound up, especially in the Sports mode, the Octavia RS wagon, hoists its skirts, changes them magically into a red cape and flies. That metallic roar from the front excites and titilates, adding to the presence of the Octavia when used in anger.
However, that delay, sometimes, in selecting Drive when moving from Reverse, can spook the computer, especially when rushed and it’s an uneasy sensation, not one you want to experience when you’re in a hurry thanks to oncoming traffic. Economy was decent, ending up at around 7.5L per 100 kilometres.
At just under $44K, with great luggage space, easy to access fun and a spirited engine/gearbox to motorvate you. Fit and finish is high, it’s a comfortable workspace and isn’t too hard on the eye as well. Skoda is on a clear winner here, thanks to big brother (or sister) Volkswagen.
For information on the Octavia and other great Skoda cars, head to www.skoda.com.au
The Car: Skoda Octavia RS wagon.
Engine: 2.0L petrol, tubrocharged.
Transmission: DSG, double clutch automatic.
Power/Torque: 162kW/350Nm, @ 6400/1500-4400rpm.
Fuel: 98RON unleaded.
Dimensions in mm (L x W x H): 4685 x 1814 (excl. mirrors) x 1452.
Weight: 1458kg (dry).
Economy (claimed), combined/urban/highway, litres per 100 km: 6.6, 8.3, 5.6.
Tyres, wheels: 225/40, 18 inch.
Cargo: 588L/1716L (seats up/down).
Price: $43940 (auto).
As the 2014 motorsport year draws to a close, it may be fair to say that it has been a year of the three R’s: revolution, resurgence and resurrection. Formula One introduced its brand new regulations, the BTCC has returned to a state of high popularity unseen in recent years, and the Blancpain series has thrown GT racing back into the hearts of the fans. In no way is this list exhaustive but most importantly it has been a year of extensive media coverage. As a motorsport journalist, I am able to talk to a wide range of industry experts about all things racing and throughout my interactions, there has been one common denominator, one elephant on the race track; what on earth has happened to the World Touring Car Championship?
“…the what? Oh the WTCC! I had almost forgotten about that”
There was a time when the WTCC was deserving of its title; not only did it encompass the globe with the different rounds, but with names like Priaulx, the Mullers, Farfus Jnr, Tarquini, Giovanardi and Menu it produced some truly world class racing. However, over the last few years it has suffered a decline in popularity and arguably, quality. Just to add the icing of lost hope to the cake of disappointment, 2014 has all but destroyed the reputation of this once great championship. And it all comes down to one name, Citroen.
As with many sports, the very start of the close season has so far been awash with announcements regarding the 2015 season. The one which I am most looking forward to is the return of Volvo as a factory team to WTCC; personally I would prefer them to come back to the BTCC (where they enjoyed huge popularity and success in the 90s) but still. Volvo plan on entering the latter half of the 2015 season to then attack the full 2016 championship after an initial scout. Other news includes an announcement by Honda that they will endure an intense winter of testing so as to catch the Citroen team, while Citroen themselves are joining up with Sebastian Loeb Racing so as to field a 5-car team, giving Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua (the first official Chinese winner in an FIA event) a full season drive. Finally, LADA have announced a new partnership with ORECA, fielding the new Vesta model. Rob Huff is positive about the 2015 season saying about the old Grantas model,
“If we can win in this, we can win in anything”
And let’s be honest, to get the LADA to a race win at Macau, while also beating champion Lopez to fastest lap is no small feat; with a vastly improved car who knows what he may achieve next year. LADA world championship anyone?
The one common factor that links these announcements for 2015 is of course the Citroen team; more specifically the utter dominance of the Citroen team in 2014. I can remember back to the first race of the year in Marrakech where I sat down, excited to watch a new WTCC season unfold. By the end of that first race weekend I had near as well makes no difference lost all interest in the sport. I have never had any issue when it comes to one team out performing others in a race series; in many ways it shows the quality and hard work of the team. However, when this performance becomes total dominance, leaving the other teams with absolutely no hope of catching them, I begin to think it has gone too far. Wherever Citroen would start, they would be at the front before you could say ‘maybe there is hope’. I would often see a Honda leading the field around, but as soon as the charging Citroens caught up, it was only a predictable matter of corners before all was lost. The performance gap would be something similar to that of a Caterham attempting to stay in front of a Mercedes in Formula One. It doesn’t make for the biggest spectacle when it is so horribly predictable.
It was quite common knowledge that the reason for Citroen to have complete control (and then a little more on top) was their high development and consequently high costs that set them apart from the rest of the field. Similarities can be drawn between WTCC and F1; there has been a significant drop in ratings and high criticism of the sport when there has been one dominant team that has romped away to victory leaving the others almost dead in the water. The sad thing is, if you took Citroen out the equation there would be an immense level of competition in the WTCC; any one of numerous drivers could have walked away with the championship. However, when it comes to mass media coverage and general views regarding a series, the opinionated eye has always been fixed on the front of the grid. If the cameras had focused on the mid pack battles in WTCC or even F1 for that matter, the general view on the championships would have been significantly more positive. But with all the focus on Citroen, it has given the impression that the series has become stale and predictable. And the sad thing is, these days media coverage is everything. If you receive bad press, the prevailing opinion will then start to follow its press masters view. I would never try and claim that I am above such delusions; I too have fallen foul to media coverage and as such have convinced myself that the championship has gone downhill.
Taking the media effect out the equation for a minute, there are other aspects of the sport that I have been disappointed with in 2014. I will make it clear now that I have always been a massive supporter of affordability in motorsport; cost capping gives new teams a chance to not only compete in championships but have a shot at high place finishes at the same time. And yet Citroen have surged into the championship with high costs to match their high development. Now they have won the championship rather convincingly, Honda are following suit with their winter of high intensity testing and development programs. Logical thought would also suggest that if Volvo wish to be competitive in the championship, they too will have to up the cost to keep up with the big names.
There was a time where increasing financial costs was common in motorsport; an economy existed that could support such a regime. It may come as somewhat as a shock to hear though that the world has been suffering what many would call a bit of an economic issue over the last few years. Money is not as easily available as it once was. The example I always like to draw from my arsenal at this point is that of the BTCC. The Super Touring era in the 1990s saw team costs spiraling horrendously out of control, as the manufacturers tried to out-do each other and get to the top of the standings, most often with paid-drivers from the F1 spectrum. The new NGTC regulations have stripped down the costs of the championship while also tightening up the regulations with the intention of achieving a balance of performance. As a result, the 2014 season has been one of the best in many years; almost any of the drivers could win a race, all fighting for that number one spot. There was a beautiful time not that many years ago where there were shared regulations between the BTCC and WTCC; how wonderful would it be to see this come back once more and have even larger grids on both fronts?
My final issue with WTCC manifests itself as both a technical and aesthetic point. One of the reasons I have always been drawn to touring car racing over any other series has been the similarity between the race cars and the cars we see on the road. After all, it is hard to imagine that your Mercedes A-Class is anything like that of Lewis Hamilton’s, but you can see an obvious comparison to the Mercedes of Adam Morgan in the BTCC. You may not have the added power or aerodynamic ability, but as a motorsport fan it does give a primal rush of excitement to imagine yourself driving a race winning touring car, while on your way to the shops. But when it comes to the WTCC, well I am not quite sure what has happened this year. Not only do the cars look rather flimsy, but based on some of the impacts this year, do very much physically follow suit. There was once a time where the cars would get battered and bruised in the intense race action, but plough on right until the very end.
These days, one impact and the car is near on ruined. Most importantly mind you, these new cars resemble more alien space craft than their road going counterparts; with all the extra wings and this new ‘beefy’ look, it is hard to see the original car there at all. I am aware that this does provide extra performance and no where in the rules does it state the cars must look a certain way, but it does remove that level of relate-ability that I have always cherished about touring cars. May I remind the FIA that this is motorsport not body building; we do not need steroid induced muscle cars.
The comments I make may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I do believe there must be some unspoken explanation behind the WTCC losing a lot of supporters in 2014. Why else would so many people have forgotten about the WTCC? I have spoken a lot in this article about money; I do believe that the increased cost of motorsport is driving away a lot of potential competitors, especially as we are living in a time where money is not so readily available. The result of not imposing a cost cap, like that of the BTCC is the ridiculous performance gap that has now been created between Citroen and the rest of the field; a gap that only began to reduce at the end of the season. In no universe could I criticise anyone for believing that I am placing blame on Citroen; at the end of the day however Citroen are operating within the stated regulations and have done nothing underhand or wrong. My scathing eye therefore must turn towards a higher power, the governing body that is the FIA. Ever since the demise of the FIA GT series, I have been rather skeptical of the FIA’s ability to govern a motorsport series. The debate surrounding FIA and Formula One especially hardly paints a beautiful landscape of their abilities.
If I were therefore to offer a change, I would suggest a cost cap on spending which would bring in more independent teams to create a larger field, as well as remove any gaps in performance between the cars. By removing a championship that has one team that out-performs the other, it may create a highly competitive, highly exciting race series that has any number of drivers eligible for the title. With the other teams driving up the development machine, it will of course increase the cost, which I will be happy with if it makes the championship more competitive. But is it sustainable? How long will a high cost championship last in the current climate?
With new announcements coming thick and fast in the off season, I look forward to the 2015 season with a renewed hope that the championship can return to a state of high quality, high drama racing. For a championship that has ‘World’ status, it deserves a level of competitiveness that can live up to its name. The chance to race a touring car on circuits across the world is one not offered by just anyone.
2015 is a time for change. It is a time for something new. Let’s make it happen!
Follow the conversation on Twitter @lewisglynn69
Keep Driving People!
Peace and Love!
Dear, oh, dear… do I detect a slight note of misogyny in my fellow blogger’s post “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (a title that, incidentally, Ray Bradbury nicked from Shakespeare’s Macbeth)? The first example is a female P-plater, there’s references to a granny driver and there’s a photo of a woman who doesn’t look that old in this complaint about bad driving.
I have absolutely no complaints about the actual examples of bad driving. And it may be pure coincidence that the bad driver first mentioned happened to be female. However, there is a long tradition in motoring of misogyny and general sneering at woman drivers. Whether it’s the advertising tradition of putting bikini babes on the bonnets of cars for sale, car racing games that assume that the player is a bloke or comments like “driving like a grandmother” or calling a particularly sizzling sports car a “chick magnet”, it’s been going on for a long time and does make things a tad more difficult if you’re female and a driver. Even those “pink parks for women only” that have appeared in some parts of the world are patronizing and annoying.
You’ve also got the whole “women aren’t good with machinery and don’t know anything” attitude that can be taken by mechanics. This is best exemplified by what cropped up when I was trying to find an image for an earlier post of mine about women doing car repairs. The vast majority of images that Google popped up for me either showed a woman staring at an open bonnet looking helpless and hopeless, or else it showed some cheesecake babe bending over the bonnet (or lying on her back showing only a pair of trim bare legs) with sexily smeared grease on her face, skimpy shorts and a crop top. There are a few that do show women trying to look moderately competent but these are so obviously posed – you’re not going to make me believe that anybody is going to wear a long-sleeved white top to tinker about under the bonnet or wear a swishy skirt, dangly hair or high heels.
It gets worse than just popular images, too. Fortunately, it hasn’t happened to me, but you hear stories about mechanics charging women more than men for work done or giving poorer service. You also get the impression that women don’t exist if you go into your typical automotive supply shops – a patronizing “well, your husband would probably prefer this for his car” sort of attitude. Hello? There are a lot of single, divorced and widowed women out there who have their own cars, thank you very much. And even the ones who do have a bloke of their own may be doing their own car maintenance. In some households, it may be the woman’s responsibility (or just her turn) to take the car in for a service.
Anybody can have a rant – and you’re more than welcome to tell your stories about what it’s like to be a woman taking a car into the mechanics’ – but it’s something else to actually do something about the situation. So, if you’re a woman, here’s some actions you can take:
- Educate yourself. You are less likely to be ripped off by a mechanic if you show that you know something about what you’re talking about. For example, don’t say that “it’s making funny noises” or “this little red light keeps coming on”. Instead, try something specific – “the cam belt needs replacing,” “it’s due for a service,” and “the automatic transmission needs flushing”. Also learn a bit of the technical lingo so you know what your mechanic is talking about.
- Learn how to do your own repairs and maintenance. This doesn’t require Y chromosomes or testosterone.
- Drive properly (everybody should do this – male and female).
- Be prepared to walk away from any mechanic who is patronizing, rude or who tries to bamboozle you.
- Don’t just put up with things. Ask the mechanic to explain technical lingo and try to look interested. Complain to the management (or walk away) if there’s visible in-your-face pinups or porn where customers can see it (this includes the customer loo). If you’ve got the kids, ask for something that they can do while you’re waiting and/or a place to change nappies. Send back freebie calendars with “bonnet babes”.
Here’s to a world where the difference between good drivers and bad, or between car nuts and those who are ho-hum doesn’t depend on gender!
Go somewhere else if you are expecting to find a sizzling read about my steamy encounters with tall, blue-eyed blonds with angular faces and high cheekbones. For one thing, although I have had a couple of order generic viagra male friends from Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, I never even flirted with them. What’s more, the blue-eyed blond I married is from Down Under, and I’m not going to spill the beans about that. This is supposed to be an automotive blog, so for anything steamy and Swedish, you’ll have to wait until I put out a Mills & Boon romance with a hero named Eric. Instead, this is about two of the nicest cars I have driven, both of them Swedish.
First of all, there was the Saab 9000, a.k.a. The Valkyrie. This was a deep pewter grey sedan that some of my friend dubbed “The Euro Beast”. This was my first encounter with Swedish cars – I had already encountered my share of French (Simca), German (VW), British (Morris, Austin) and Italian (Alfa Romeo) vehicles and was prepared for this new European model to be similar. It wasn’t. It was better. It had such an excellent blend of practicality and luxury that I forgave it all of its quirks, like the way that the interior cloth lining fell off the roof because it had been designed for the colder Swedish climate rather than the warmer one down here. I forgave it the way that it had to sit in the garage for yonks every time it needed a spare part that had to be imported and took three weeks to arrive on the boat from Europe. I loved that massive boot, the heated leather seats and its super-responsive acceleration. It was roomy, it was beautiful, it was fun to drive, and I was really sorry when the day came to trade it in for an Isuzu Bighorn so my husband, the blue-eyed blond mentioned above, could do a bit more with his contracting business and take the family on 4×4 outings.
Now, I have my new love. This is a Volvo S70 sedan, dark blue and nicknamed Hilda (from the letters on the rego plate). I have only recently picked up this little beauty for much less than it was worth and I am in love with Swedish design all over again. So far, its only fault has been that it has a tendency to creep over the speed limit when I’m not paying attention (it doesn’t have cruise control). The alarm is also a bit on the quirky side – yesterday, it decided to set the alarm off when I opened the door to get out of the car after driving for 45 minutes – but I’m figuring this out. It has the smoothest gear changes I’ve ever felt in an automatic, it corners like a dream and it is nicely frugal on the gas. I’m not sure exactly why the Frenchman I bought it off said that “Zis is a woman’s car”. There’s nothing particularly girly about the mag wheels or those comfy leather seats. Is it because the boot is big enough to take heaps of groceries? Is it because the back seat is wide enough for plenty of kids needing to be taken to school? Is it because of the lighted mirror on the passenger side sunshade? Is it because of the multitude of storage compartments around the place? Is it because it has the Volvo reputation for safety? I’m still trying to figure this one out. Anyone else got any ideas?
I am also hoping that this latest Swedish love affair will be a long-lasting one.
Happy driving whether you’re in a Swedish car or not,
Summer 2014 is nearly upon us for us here in Australia and it’s a perfect time to look at some basics of car care. But where to start…of course, you can do it at home or take it to a service centre/mechanic.
Well, there’s two logical starting points with one being the engine and the other being the tyres. Let’s look at the rubber first. A crucial point is tyre pressure. Why? Having an under or overinflated tyre causes excessive tread wear, can cause sidewall damage, limits the size of contact on the road and can affect the performance of your braking system. The sidewall of the tyre will have the MAXIMUM pressure recommended for the tyres on your car; the tyres themselves will be of a certain size in diameter, width and sidewall height with that information also stencilled into the sidewall. This is important as certain sized tyres should be fitted to your car and therefore the pressure for them will vary. Somewhere inside your car (generally on the pillar between the front and rear doors) should be a placard with the right tyre pressures for your particular tyres and car.
Engine wise, the savvy utilise certain times of the year to perform basic maintenance. The most common would be changing the oil and it’s not as hard as it sounds. Naturally, safety should be your first priority so invest in some good thick gloves and eye protection, if you’re intending on doing this at home. A good drive to warm up the current oil (makes it easier to drain), jack up the car, loosen (but not remove the sump plug) and slide in an appropriate holder. Taking due car, remove the plug and remember that the oil will be hot. Using an oil filter remover, swap the old filter for new once the oil has finished draining, wait for the engine to cool off and, after reinserting the sump plug, pour into the top of the engine your chosen oil. But which oil? Your user manual that came with the car will have that info. If not, then contact the manufacturer of your vehicle. Fresh oil lessens interior engine wear nd will help in fuel consumption.
If your chosen chariot is of a more user friendly style, you should also be able to change your own spark plugs. Again, new plugs will aid fuel efficiency providing you set the gap at the end of the plug correctly, by burning the fuel more effectively, reduces emissions and will give better driveability. There’s different kinds of plugs so do please check what plugs your car has before buying.
Your airconditioning system may need a regas. It’s a great opportunity to take this to a licensed service centre and have them check for leaks from potentially corroded connections or cracked pipes. Yes, it may cost a few dollars but when that cost is spread over a number of years…then there’s windscreen wipers. Being rubber, they suffer from UV exposure plus, if not cleaned regularly, can trap and scratch windscreens from embedded particles of dirt and dust. While your at it, check the level of wiper fluid (it’s in a bottle in the engine bay) and if it needs topping up, your local automotive retailer specialist store can provide.
On a hot day, we keep cool, with fans, aircon or fluids and your car is the same. Radiator fluid may fail to be efficient over time (depending on your car and its cooling system) so a check in your user manual or with your car’s maker will advise just how much and possibly what TYPE of radiator fluid your chariot needs. Depending on the car you have, there will be a drain plug at the base of the radiator. Once drained, flush the system with water and follow the directions in regards to refilling.
These all presume, once again, that your car can be self serviced. If not, then, again, please refer to an authorised service centre. And be prepared for safer driving during the summer months!
All good things must come to an end. It’s time to go out with a bang. There is truly an ocean of clichés that could be used to describe the final race weekend of a motorsport series. We cannot forget however, that clichés are named thusly for a very important reason; repetition of events across time. The closing race weekend of the year represents one final chance for the competitors to prove their worth, to settle the rivalries that have raged all year and to prove once and for all who deserves to walk away as the ultimate victor.
The action in the British Truck Racing Championship had raged with a blazing intensity throughout the year; one final battlefield lay before them. The BTRC has one of the most exciting race formats throughout the known motor-verse; the field is split into two divisions with the slower division two trucks starting at a set time ahead of the brutal division one beasts. Race order is decided purely on track position so the division one trucks must catch and overtake those in division two to achieve victory. This format is similar to that of banger racing and BTCC 2001, and in many ways is the perfect combination of the two, what with the hard racing and ‘no panel left straight’ approach.
It has been emblazoned into the annals of motorsport that any series ending at Brands Hatch must face the brutal majesty of the Kentish weather. It had all come down to this. It was time. To paraphrase King Theoden from Lord Of The Rings…
“The horns of the Helm Hammer-Trucks, shall sound at Brands Hatch…one last time!”
For the spectators, including the author of these words you see before you, conditions on race day made for a harrowing yet unforgettable experience. The weather was both a curse and a gift, providing some of the most jaw-droppingly entertaining racing that has ever laid tyre to tarmac. The omnipotent Kentish spirits made true their promises that day; the skies let forth their legions of rain, wind and bitter chills in an all-out assault on Brands Hatch.
Going into the weekend, the British Trucks had championship honours up for grabs in both divisions. There has never been anything more spectacular than watching an onslaught (that is the collective term for racing trucks now) of trucks slip, slide and slam their way around a track as exciting as Brands. With Formula E spearheading the new ‘green’ motorsport initiative, it is clear that the memo had not reached the truck drivers; smoking and spitting flames as they strained the very limits of their planet-killing 1,000BHP engines.
The two Truck races were nothing short of an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride dominated by incident, red flags and shortened races. The conditions were so treacherous trucks were even seen to be losing control during safety car periods. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for the drivers. Incidents during car races may be shocking, but when you see a multiple tonne truck barrelling into a wall or into the path of a truck moving at around 100mph, it really is time to buy yourself some new underwear. Nevertheless, what happened that day was something that those spectators lucky enough to be there will never forget. It was truly some of the purest racing anyone could see. No driver aids. No talk of tyres. No politics. It was refreshing, and not just because of all the rain.
Despite a spectacular late championship charge by Chris Levett in his Renault, division one honours went to the legend that is Mat Summerfield who claimed the crown, adding a third successive championship to his impressive tally. In division two, an almighty clash of titans raged between Simon Reid and Ryan Smith. Smith became almighty lord of the lunge and rain master supreme in an epic drive that saw him nearly take the crown from Reid. Despite his gargantuan efforts the best he could manage was 2nd, as Reid did enough to secure championship superiority.
As the British Truck racers roared and refreshed the true meaning of motorsport, the support series made sure the meeting would go down as one of the greatest of the year. The Tin Top Saloons Championship is one of the cheapest entries into the dazzling world of motorsport, with seasons available from only £5,000. The series consists of multiple classes, which depend on the level of modification and engine size, yet all cars are not that far removed from their road going originals. Everything from Hondas, Rovers, Toyotas and Citroens were taking part; you could even say this was the ‘first car’ championship.
There was everything from back-of-the-grid charges from a distinctive blue Rover, Metros mistaking the meeting for a rally cross event and the plucky #69 Toyota Starlett who fought his way to an impressive victory. He lost places. He gained places. You could say he was going both ways. It may be out the view of the great media machine, but it truly is an amazing series that in terms of spectacle can rival the names up in the big leagues.
The seductive saloon sweetness was not yet complete; The Quaife Motorsport Saloons take basic touring car tasters to another level. Operating in a similar fashion to the Tin Tops, these ‘Touring Cars for the everyday man’ produced an immense grid including a Holden Commodore of the variety you would usually find in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship. As ever, the rounds were dominated by the unstoppable force of Quaife nature that is Rod Birley. Close racing, high drama. You can’t go wrong really.
If there was an award for craziest series of the weekend, the only winner could be that of the Legends. The Legends are mad enough in the dry, let alone when you add wind, rain and a slippery track into the mix. Drivers decided Graham Hill bend was to be ignored, because clearly a rally cross route across the grass is the more exciting way around. Across the 6 races, there were 5 different winners. To put that into perspective, over one weekend there were more race winners than there can possibly be across the entire 2014 Formula One season. How anyone can keep up with the consistent action from first to last place without blowing a valve in excitement is hard to tell. What can definitely be said is the Legends are simply insanity personified in motorsport. Simple as.
If that was not enough, there was one more succulent treat in the form of the Pickup Truck Racing Championship. Entering the weekend, the season long battle between Pete Stevens and Michael Smith raged on until the very end. As the closing race began, either driver could grab the title. Smith and Stevens spent nearly the whole race side by side, interrupted only when they collided and Stevens was demoted down the field. What followed was one of the most spectacular drives ever performed by one driver, smashing in lap record after lap record and tearing through the field.
As the race drew to a close Smith and Stevens were once again door handle to door handle, trading paint and swapping places. The great spirits exacted their final wish and the unlucky Stevens ran into yet another collision, this time with a non-championship rival. The usually calm and collected Stevens showed his rage in the post race interviews; it takes a lot of courage as an interviewer to ask a driver about how he was just knocked out of a championship he was set to win. However, incidents aside the Pickup Trucks were outstanding to watch; the driving skill required to captain these brutal vessels is off the chart, yet they made it look easy. That is real racing.
An added bonus to the events that went down on that day was the absolute pleasure of following the racing with the unrivalled commentary of Downforce Radio, who were there in association with Stopwatch Hospitality. Through the vocal talents of Jake Sanson and Adam Johnson, there was a genuine feeling that you could see every slice of the action, whether you were in attendance or not. The raw emotion and passion is truly unrivalled; there is no better race day commentary. If Downforce is the commentary, then it can only be Stopwatch Hospitality who are to be the location for race day; best circuit views, behind the scenes access and a warm friendly atmosphere make it the undisputed best place to spend your day.
The day was rounded off with somewhat of a bang; an immense truck parade that covered every section of tarmac on track and a firework display that filled the sky in a fanfare of explosive sensory pleasure. Even the famous Coca-Cola Christmas Truck was thrown in to top it all off; the holidays are coming and it is time to get excited. In many ways, the closing round of the British Truck Racing Championship proved that even throughout a time of turmoil in the F1 universe and loss of faith in world series such as the World Touring Car Championship, there still exists pure motorsport at its very best.
No mass media influence. No tyrannical sport director. No politics. Just racing. Raw, amazing racing.
Refreshing isn’t it?
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Peace and Love!
Kia’s Sportage is, possibly, the one vehicle from the Korean company, that exemplifies just how far they’ve come in a comparatively short space of time. The first Sportage was an average looking, average performing, plasticky mid sizer when released in 1993 and is now a great looking, sensationally performing, non plasticky mid sizer in 2014.
It’s been on the shortlist to review the Sportage and was eventually lobbed the keys to the diesel powered SLi, clad in Kia’s “Sand Track” metallic paint. The question was, simply, is the Sportage worth the fuss?
As Tom Jones said, it’s not unusual. What he meant is that diesels have more torque than their petroleum powered siblings, with 392 torques on offer from the 2.0L diesel, as opposed to almost half that in the same sized petrol donk. It’s available between an immensely usable 1800 to 2500 revolutions per minute rather than 4000. What is unusual is the power; it’s 135 killerwatts at 4000 rpm, with the petrol throwing out 122 kW at 6200 revs. Hooked up to the six speed auto (the only flavour available with the diesel), it means near perfect power availability, with the get up and go turning into a low revving grunt factor. The auto itself is seamless in its changing, smooth and rarely anything other than delicious. With a surprisingly hefty 1700 odd kilos to move, it’s disconcerting to see the speedo swing around so easily. Even with an AWD system (part time and lockable), it’ll cause the front tyres to scrabble for grip before hooking up and moving the bulk with alacrity.
The Sportage would have to be parked near a very angry mob to be described as anything other than sweet. It’s an engaging mix of feminine curves at the rear and masculine edges at the front. By bringing in Peter Schreyer, a hugely respected designer, Kia’s identification of design as a core element in its future growth has come to fruition. There’s the “tiger” grille, an instantly identifiable part of a Kia; a well proportioned look, a somewhat overthick rear pillar but it’s a harmonious presence none the less. It’s a comparatively compact design; at 4440mmlong it somehow packs a wheelbase of 2640 mm. It’s broad at 1855 mm and reasonably tall at 1640 mm, meaning there’s plenty of usable space inside (1353L, seats folded). There’s stylish 17 inch alloys, clad with 225/60 rubber, pushed to each corner to help maximise internal space. The Sportage finishes with a bluff, truncated, upright tail that seems to work, rounded as it is against the angular front.
On The Inside.
Kia works to the “If it ain’t broke” philosophy; showing common DNA yet manages to make their cars individual. You’ll recognise design elements from the Sorento to Sportage to Rio to Cerato; it’s a smart commonality and looks great in the Sportage. The driver gets a chunky and comfortable steering wheel, classy but simple to use controls, clearly marked speedo and tacho dials framing a clear colour LCD screen. A sweeping, curving dash houses vertically slatted aircon vents, a large touchscreen for navigation and audio (although Kia insists, like it’s cousin, Hyundai, in not providing Radio Data Service info) sitting above a somewhat awkwardly places aircon control panel, placed at an angle and recessed in, itself sitting above the Auxiliary and USB inputs that sit further back into the dash itself.
The gear lever is elegantly housed in a circular insert, just ahead of a grab handle and cupholders, centred between two cloth and leather seats. There’s a tasteful mix of black and a dull aluminuim look, providing a friendly contrast level. The rear has the now familiar 60/40 split fold setup plus cargo blind, providing 564L of cargo space with the seats up and 1353L folded flat.
On The Road.
The Sportage rolls on a 2640 mm wheelbase, with wheels varying between 16 inch diameter for the entry level Si, 17 inch for the Si Premium and SLi then 18 for the PLatinum. Tyres on the 17 inch are Hankook’s 225/60 and provide a good measure of grip. As a part time all wheel drive setup, drive is sent to the front wheels and to the rear on demand if the centre diff isn’t locked. There’s some understeer, as a result, with the system powering the front through the turns. Handling, though, is instinctive, with cognitive thought put to one side as the Sportage feels more like a comfort oriented sports car, following directions, absorbing most bumps competently but does pogo and wallow through uneven surfaces.
The engine can be a light switch, if not driven with a practiced right foot; there’s nothing below 1800 revs then it kicks in like an electric shock, front tyres scrabbling and the gears punching through as the tacho swings around, drops and swings again. Acceleration is ferocious when asked, docile otherwise and a lovely, progressive brake system instills confidence. The steering is light but doesn’t disassociate the driver from the road and there’s minimal roll when hustled. Safety wise the Sportage gets Downhill Brake Control across the range, as is Emergency Stop Signal, Hill start Assist Control, rear parking sensors and airbags all round. It’s a largely enjoyable, user friendly and family perfect package.
The Sportage SLi provided has a recommended retail of $37790.00 with metallic paint listed as a $520 option. For a family of four, it’s one of a few ideally sized and priced vehicles in the SUV style. Sure, there’s the Sorento but, for some, that may be too big, but then there’s the Cerato, leaving Sportage right in the middle and plenty of bang for the buck. The Sportage is compact, great value, nimble, comfortable, well featured and the diesel is both economical and a hoot to drive. Although Kia lacks a station wagon option, the Sportage is the next best thing. Throw in Kia’s new seven year warranty and it’s a package that’s near nigh unstoppable.
For details: http://www.kia.com.au/cars/suvs/sportage/5-seats
For A Wheel Thing TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZjK4MkdDEE&feature=em-upload_owner
Kia Sportage SLi AWD @ $37790.00 + ORCs and options.
Claimed Consumption: 7.2L/9.1L/6.1L per 100 km (combined/urban/highway).
Transmission: six speed automatic with sports mode.
Dimensions: 4440 mm x 1855 mm x 1640 mm (L x W x H)
Wheelbase: 2640 mm.
Cargo: 564L/1353L (seats up/down).
Wheels: 225/60 R17.
Towing: 1600 kg braked.
Apologies to Mr Bradbury for pinching his title, but it’s so incredibly appropriate for this contribution.
Driving a car appears to be, for some, more of an act of witchcraft than an ability; more an act of guesswork than education. It’s not a black art, it truly isn’t, it’s a simple mix of being observant, being coordinated and exhibiting common sense. Yes, yes, I understand the laughter at that last one, as it’s been legislated into obscurity, courtesy of political correctness and idiots.
What’s sparked this discussion, you ask? Simple; a close encounter with something dangerous. In this case, it was a young P plater female…well, driver isn’t the right word…perhaps, person that has no idea of basic driving rules. Properly educated and reasonably settled in attitude drivers know that, when you come to a T junction intersection, you slow, look to your right and stop for oncoming traffic. When it’s safe, you then continue. This simple piece of road safety was utterly beyond this person; with NO look to the right and NO intention of slowing, she gaily sailed through, opposite locked for a left hand turn before barely giving my oncoming car room to brake. her exit speed would have been at least 50 kilometres per hour. Something wicked this way comes.
When there’s a stop sign at an intersection, it’s generally recognised by intelligent, considerate drivers, that you stop at this intersection. Thankfully, most people do so. However, there seems to be varying interpretations of what to do with the indicators on a car. It’s not a problem if it’s a four way and the driver intends on going straight. It’s a different story when you intend on going right or left and even less complicated when the stop sign is for the road that is the vertical part of a T. Witness the mature aged lady in her medium class AWD, stopping correctly but having “a broken indicator” on numerous occasions. A simple tip, dear readers: when you come to an intersection and you’re NOT going straight ahead, the road rules of Australia stipulate you MUST give sufficient indication. For this lady, oncoming traffic would have had no idea which way she was going. Something wicked this way comes.
During my recent involvement with a major world brand’s new luxury car launch, our team leader, a renowned driver educator, remarked upon the driving styles of the participants; one hand on the wheel, one arm hanging out the window and seat leaning back. These were vehicle sales staff he was talking about…again, it’s pretty simple. When you get into a car as a driver, you should always check your seating position, ensuring the mirrors (rear and wing) give you as much rear view as possible. BOTH hands should be on the wheel and your arms extended from your body and slightly angled, not with your body and arms hunched up over the steering wheel like the stereotypical “grandma” driver. With the overwhelming majority of cars on the road having airbags, the hunched over the wheel position is physically more dangerous to the driver if, for obvious reasons, the steering wheel airbag is set off. Guess which chest they’ll hurt more? Guess which arm stands more chance of being severely damaged (not to mention sun damaged!) from a side on impact? Guess which driver has less control of the vehicle? Something wicked this way comes.
When it’s dusk (that means when the sun is going beddybyes), it’s cloudy, it’s raining, it’s foggy, it’s not just a smart idea (and lawful, at that) to have some level of lighting turned on, it’s also a SAFE idea to do so. Why’s that, you ask? Here’s a parallel story: in WW2 sailors were banned from smoking a cigarette on deck as that tiny, tiny glow was distinguishable from miles away, against a dark background, using shipboard observing devices. Simply out, any form of lighting when it’s dark makes something easier to see in the dark. Think about that the next time you drive your dark coloured or silver painted (melds WONDERFULLY into the background) car in the circumstances described…Something wicked this way comes.
When it comes to that magical device known as a traffic light, it seems most drivers failed the colour vision part of their test (what, you mean there ISN’T one????) due to the truly extraordinary amount of cars and trucks, controlled by non computerised humans, that don’t know what the lights at the top and middle mean. Hmmm, red is bad, amber is not so bad so……go figure. If you’re one of the drivers that thinks red means go, think again. When it’s green, everything is sweet. When it slides into amber, it’s now a good time to think about two things: how far away from the stop line you are and how long it will take to stop. If it’s red before you’ve crossed the line, well then, who’s a naughty boy/girl then? yup, something wicked this way comes.
Bottom line is this: driving a vehicle SAFELY isn’t hard. It truly, really isn’t. Slow down/stop at t junctions; slow down/stop for amber/red lights; use headlights and indicators. If you think this is below you or can’t be bothered but STILL think you’re a good and safe driver, then, please, hand in your license. You’re not good. You’re not safe. You’re dangerous.
Today is November 11th – Armistice Day and the UK’s day for remembering soldiers who were killed in the wars, kind of like ANZAC Day here in Australia and New Zealand. So in honour of the day, let’s take a little look at a particular car that played a role in detonating World War 1.
The car in question was a Gräf and Stift Double Phaeton built in 1911. It was smooth, large and luxurious, having the grand total of two cylinders and having a maximum power output of 32 horsepower – heady stuff back then! Gräf and Stift was a company that was just breaking into the new field of automobiles, and was based in Vienna, Austria. They specialised in luxury cars popular with royalty, and buses and trams. Over the years, the luxury cars have dropped by the wayside, and Gräf and Stift kept on going with the buses. In fact, they still do make the buses, although the company got the new name MAN Nutzfahrzeuge Österreich AG courtesy of a bunch of mergers (a bit of a mouthful but probably easy to say if you speak German).
The fateful Gräf and Stift Double Phaeton was the property of Count Franz von Harrach rather than Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The Archduke certainly had motor vehicles of his own – in fact, he once employed the brilliant Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche as his chauffeur when Herr Porsche was doing his compulsory stint in the military. Fans of the 911 and the Boxter are probably very grateful that Austro-Daimler bagged him once his military service was over. Just think what the world would have missed if Porsche had stayed on in royal service and had continued as the Archduke’s chauffeur. Instead, the car’s owner was the driver that day.
Why did they choose that particular car for the Archduke for his motorcade procession through the streets of Sarajavo? It was probably because it was large and luxurious, and because it was a soft-top convertible so the Archduke and his wife, Duchess Sophie, could be seen sitting side by side – something slightly controversial and radical, given that she was not of royal birth and it was a “morganatic” marriage. The Rules said that because of her humble origins, she could only be by his side if he was acting in a military capacity but not on other state occasions. As the Archduke was going on an official inspection of the Bosnian Army, they took the chance to appear in public together and to be seen as a proper royal couple. Hence the need for a large car with an open top so they could be in comfort.
Would a different car have changed the course of history by making it harder for an assassin to have reached the Archduke? Possibly. The more closed in design of the 1910 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost would have protected him. The lack of a running board on the 1910 Mercedes Skiff, plus the extra “windscreen” in front of the back seat could have made it harder for the assassin to get close to the royal couple.
The fact that it was a soft-top saved them during the initial assassination attempt where a bomb was thrown at the motorcade. This bomb hit the Gräf and Stift Double Phaeton all right, but it hit the folded down soft top and bounced off, rolling under another car, where it exploded, wounding a number of the crowd. Ultimately, this led to a change in plans that saw the route of the procession being changed so the Archduke and the Duchess could visit the wounded in hospital. Unfortunately, some of the drivers weren’t informed of this change, and some started heading along the original route. During the few moments when the mistake was being realised and cars were being reversed to get back on the right road, a Serbian rebel named Gavrilo Princip saw his chance and stepped in with a pistol…
Then everything went mad across Europe as treaties and alliances called one country after another into conflict, with the colonies across the world following suit.
It’s interesting to speculate about what would have happened to the automotive world if World War I had not broken out. The desire for better weapons and more efficient troop transport spurred development and design. Would technology have been delayed without this spur? Perhaps… but perhaps not. The glamour sport of motor racing was doing its bit to encourage development (nothing’s changed there!), so who knows?
And what happened to the Gräf and Stift Double Phaeton? Because of its significance in history, it has been preserved in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the drive team for the launch of a new entrant into the luxury car field, the Hyundai Genesis. Yes, Hyundai Genesis. Don’t laugh because you’ve read Hyundai and luxury car in the same sentence, it is a remarkably well engineered, thought out and produced vehicle, topping out at just $82000. It’s a big car with a massive interior, thanks to a 5 metre length and 3 metre wheelbase. There’s design elements for the exterior reminiscent of some other brands, with the front being commented on most as being Aston Martin. That’s perhaps due to the winged emblem front and centre on the panel edge leading into the bonnet. There’s only one indication of who the maker is, with the Hyundai H on the bootlid. There’s three models in the range, starting in the mid $60K bracket, with the Sensory and Ultimate pack offerings being the trio.
The leading edge is an upright, bluff looking part of the car, sweeping over a long bonnet (housing the 3.8L V6, 232 kW/397 Nm powerplant) into an almost coupe like roofline before tapering off into a a short tail housing a good sized boot. It’s a cohesive and handsome design. The interior is a reflection of the outside, with deeply sculpted seats front and rear, with heating and cooling for the front, heating in the rear, full electric adjustment for driver and passenger plus memory seating, electric sunblind for the rear window, photochromatic glass for the sunroof and heated wing mirrors (which dip when reverse is selected). There’s adaptive cruise control to play with; think an extension of cruise control which merely has you travel at a preset speed, this uses a camera to track the vehicle in front to keep the Genesis at a set time gap (one to four seconds) behind the vehicle in front and will bring the Genesis to a stop at velocities up to 80 km/h. Over that, Genesis expects the human factor to come into play and steer the car out of trouble. There’s four other cameras as well; front, rear, with two in the side mirrors that will display a 360 degree view on the 9.2 inch 720p display screen, plus offer a choice of four angles front/side/rear. A downlight is the switchgear; although smartly and simply laid out, they lack the luxury look and feel expected, being of typical high quality but hard set Hyundai plastic; there’s also a harsh feeling pocket on the rear of the front seats, devoid of the same velour lining found in the door pockets and soft open/close clamshell centre console locker. The “entry level” Genesis gets plenty of tech such as Hill Start Assist, tyre pressure monitoring, the afore mentioned smart cruise control with the Sensory throwing in Head Up Display, rear cross traffic alert, the around view monitoring system and powered steering column whilst the Ultimate gets the panoramic glass sunroof, the sound proofed acoustic glass and more. A nice touch is a LED light that shines the Genesis logo from each wing mirror to the ground. There’s audio controls and front passenger seat controls in a fold down section in the rear seat, allowing those that prefer to be driven rather than drive themselves to move the seat for room and choose their own music. Both features are lockable via the menu system activated from the steering wheel buttons.
The eight speed transmission is Hyundai’s; smooth, fluid, seamless, imperceptible in gear changes unless the right foot is a heavy one. There’s a snarl from the front through the induction system but barely an exhaust note, thanks to the high level of exterior noise insulation. It will accelerate nicely, thank you muchly, with an almost double clutch feel to the changes when really pressed…again it’s a seamless transition with no sign of hesitation. On the roads chosen for the demonstration drives, a good mix of flat and straight roads versus speed humps and tight corners plus a few roundabouts, the Genesis is composed, compliant with a feel stopping short of sporty without compromising the comfort level of the ride. Variable ratio steering tightens up the turning, surprising many in the drive sessions with just how compact a turning circle the Genesis displays. Fuel consumption is quoted as 11.2L/100 km combined, with some urban legs about 13L/100 km. This is not unexpected and will trouble those only of the penny pinching persuasion. Hyundai says the target market is the affluent, professional style aged from 40 to 60; certainly the Genesis garnered plenty of attention, with the test cars in while, black, blue, silver and grey catching the eyes of many as we drove in convoy.
The hurdles Hyundai faces are not insurmountable, but they are well entrenched in the Australian automotive psyche. The mere mention of Hyundai still brings stifled giggles or remembrances of years gone by. Hyundai acknowledge this by offering a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty with service costs built into those five years. Hyundai will also offer a conditional buy back price (contact Hyundai for details). Naturally, the most criticism will come from those that haven’t and won’t drive it, as it’s “just a Hyundai”. That fact means there’s no great loss to Hyundai as they don’t need that clientele; what they will get are people willing to be open minded and see the Genesis for what it is. A New Beginning and New Thinking. Click here for details: http://www.hyundai.com.au/vehicles/genesis?gclid=COia6r6S78ECFQYwjgodRi0AmQ&gclsrc=ds#intro
A big thanks to Ian Luff’s Drive to Survive group for having me involved.