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Archive for April, 2015

How World War 1 Changed Cars

Well, I hope everybody took a pause to “remember them” over the past weekend – ANZAC weekend.  It’s been 100 years since the disastrous landings in Gallipoli, and it’s this sort of anniversary that gets people in a thoughtful mood.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

Renault taxis take French troops to Marne.

It’s interesting to speculate on how cars would have been different if World War 1 had never happened.  Cars had indeed been invented prior to the outbreak of war – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was riding in an open-top car when he was assassinated, triggering the whole stupid mess. But the war stimulated development of the automobile and accelerated progress.  Heaps of car manufacturers managed to get off the ground because of their involvement in producing cars (and tanks and motorbikes and aeroplanes) for their respective sides.  Renault started churning out war transport units, especially after heaps of Renault taxis were commandeered to take French troops to the battle lines after Germany invaded.  BMW and Citroen got started with serious auto production, although they turned to making cars after the war was over, as they had invested heavily in R&D and in manufacturing plants.

A few other ways that World War 1 changed cars around the world include the following:

  1. Mass production.  The wartime demand for lots of identically made gear churned out really quickly opened people’s eyes to the efficiency of assembly lines.  According to one historian, WWI was a “war of production” where the side who could crank out the most tanks, machine guns, aeroplanes, etc. had the edge.  Ford had begun pioneering assembly lines and time-and-motion efficiency measures before the US was dragged into the war; however, other car manufacturers quickly cottoned onto the idea. This meant that once the war was over, the technology was there and the factory lines were there, so they were used for making cars. And they still are.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

    Rosie the Riveter and friends making Tin Lizzies on the Ford production line.

  2. Social change led to more demand for cars. The war took heaps of guys off the farms and out of the factories and sent them around the world, giving them glimpses of the exotic. At the same time, it became respectable for middle-class women to stop sitting around being decorative and to work (who do you think was working on the assembly line when the men were fighting?). The new outlook on life and the desire to travel led to demand for cars (helped, no doubt, by advertising by the car manufacturers). Bicycles and the train, which had been the norm prior to the war, just didn’t cut it any longer.  The old class system was dead and cars weren’t just a luxury for the aristocracy and the wealthy.
  3. Petrol and diesel became the fuels of choice.  Prior to WW1, fossil fuels weren’t the only way to go.  Manufacturers were playing around with things like steam and electricity. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, electric cars were actually pretty popular because they were quiet. However, the advantages of gasoline over these other fuels became apparent during the war. The fact that the Allied forces (who had the new automotive technologies) had also managed to bag large chunks of the oil-rich Middle East that had been part of the Ottoman Empire might also have had something to do with this.
  4. Petrol stations.  As cars became more affordable (thanks to mass production) and more desirable (thanks to social change), fuelling stations had to be provided. All across the world, bowsers sprang up.  Before that, people had to carry their own gas or imitate Bertha Benz and pick up a container or so of fuel from any shop that sold it.
  5. Paying in instalments. Car manufacturers wanted to sell cars.  People wanted to buy them.  However, not everyone had the ready cash straight away to purchase a car outright. So car dealers started allowing people to pay in instalments. This was a way for makers of medium-priced cars to compete with the really cheap players like Ford (and later Volkswagen).
  6. Sealed roads. Cars wore roads down more than bicycles and carriages did (trains, obviously, stayed off the roads). This meant that as the car grew in popularity, more roads needed to be tarsealed to keep them in good condition.  The history of roads would probably make another good post in itself, so I’ll probably have to save that for another time.

Safe and happy driving,

Megan

 

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Ford Focus ST

The Ford Focus has been lauded for its looks and sharp handling since its release over fifteen years ago; A Wheel Thing checks out the 2015 ST with six speed manual and 2.0L turbo four.Ford Focus ST 1

Powersource.
Two litres. Turbo. Slick shifting six speed manual. Is it a goer? Oh, yes, very much. These numbers tell the story: 186 kilowatts (5500 rpm). 360 Newton metres of torque between 2000 and 4500 revs. Ford’s EcoBoost technology makes this an immensely flexible engine around town, allows safe overtaking and feeds a somewhat annoying drone into the cabin once the tacho sees 2500 rpm.

Ford quotes a combined fuel economy of 7.4L per 100 kilometres; the best A Wheel Thing saw was on a highway run, at 7.8L per 100 kilometres….the tank has a 62 litre capacity and will take 92 to 98 RON unleaded.Ford Focus ST 3

The Suit.
It’s largely unchanged from the Focus that landed here two years ago; rounded and angular, a pushed out to each corner stance provides an aggressive pose. At the front, there’s the familiar truncated triangle design with the grille hiding the upright sides and a shutter for the intake system.
The profile flows into an ovoid shape, has colour coded handles for the doors on the ST and finishes with an impressive rear deck spoiler. The hatch lid itself is well balanced and can be lifted with one finger.Ford Focus ST 2
Headlights are underpinned by LED daylight running lights and come with a self leveling system as well; the tail lights have two horizontal bars, with an almost neon light look to them. It’s a striking and eye catching design, helped by the bright gold paint the test car came clad in.
Rolling stock is 225/45/18s.Ford Focus ST 7

On The Inside.
Of immediate note are the Recaro seats for driver and passenger; you sit down into them and they’re trimmed in body colour. In this case, it’s a retina searing yellow (complete with sporty red ST embossing), contrasting with the charcoal black, inlaid to the supportive and body encompassing seats. They’re well padded, wrap around you and lack only heating for colder climates.Ford Focus ST 6
The dash is familiar in layout and display, with a predominantly blue hue, there’s the multi-leveled information screens accessed via the steering wheel buttons, with the upper centre console also housing both a trio of gauges, including turbo boost, and the larger map and information screen. They’re clear to read, clearly laid out and information is easily accessed. sadly, Ford persists with the inbuilt Sony head unit (no digital tuner, in this case) and its damnable button layout.Ford Focus ST 4
For the driver, the ST gets a thick and chunky steering wheel, complete with chrome inlay at the bottom with ST engraved in…painted red, so you know it’s a sports hatch.
Rear seat room is fine, thanks to the wheelbase, allowing plenty of leg room, not to mention shoulder and hip room. Even the hatch cargo section has plenty of space for a weekend away for four people.Ford Focus ST 5

On The Road.
It’s here that the ST shows its strengths; it’s a sledgehammer mix of grunt and subtlety, raw power and finesse. There’s the typical off boost hesitancy of a turbo engine before that 360 Newton metres comes on stream; gently used, it’ll pull the ST around nicely, with the old “even grandma can drive it” truism but, when prodded into anger, it’ll hook up, tacho zinging around the dial, turbo boost gauge rising and the cabin feedback note becoming more pervasive. A snick of the smooth and well weighted gear lever, a push of the nicely calibrated clutch pedal and illegality is shown on the speedo. Yes, there’s a touch of torque steer when on boost however the front differential system does a solid job of minimising that.
Rolling acceleration, when on boost, is stupendous; off boost but in the torque band, it’s as easily to drive as it is to drink a glass of water
Braking is beautiful, modulated perfectly, becoming almost an extension of the body, with no lack of confidence in the system. It’ll haul up the ST safe;y, time and time again, with no qualms. Of note, however, was the road noise transmitted into the cabin; it’s excessive, intrusive and wearisome.
Handling is pin point precise; the steering ratio is a tick under 3.5 turns lock to lock, meaning rapid response. The suspension is supple, fluid, even allowing for the sports feeling the ST is endowed with. Its wheelbase and wide track give a surefooted feel across all sorts of road terrain, from tarmac to the concrete freeway between Goulburn and Canberra to the rougher and more unkempt roads in suburbia.

Head over to Ford’s website, www.ford.com.au and follow the links to the Focus.private_fleet_logo

 

All Eyes on Cook after Spectacular Donington Drive

Cook3

Nothing but truly remarkable racing was the order of the day as the BTCC took on the twists and turns of the Donington Park circuit. Any attempt at predicting the result was an impossible task, which led to nail biting action and legendary battles. The star of the day would emerge as none other than #RacingForHeroes driver Josh Cook, who received the most live television coverage of any other driver across the weekend. Following his sensational sixth in qualifying, Josh’s performance on race day has more than proven his worth as a future champion of the BTCC.   

Ever since the opening race weekend of the year at Brands Hatch, Cook has caught the eye of the entire touring car community with his strong consistent driving ability. As a graduate of the Clio Cup, Cook is no stranger to close quarter racing. He may well be a rookie in the series, but after his performances already this season you would be mistaken for thinking he is a long serving name within the ranks.

In the first two races, Josh delivered two strong drives, finishing 13th and 7th respectively. What was noticeable across all the teams on race day was the effect of the soft tyre on race performance. While many other drivers on the soft tyre would slip down the ranks in race one, Josh Cook was able to deliver a balanced drive that left him one of the highest soft tyre finishers.

Cook’s 7th place finish in race two left him in the running for the reverse grid pole in race three. Following the scandal with Rob Austin at Brands Hatch which saw him admitting to purposely choosing himself for pole, the reverse grid draw would be changed so that an independent party would undertake the responsibility. So when it was revealed that Josh Cook had secured his first ever BTCC pole position for race three, the satisfaction was even sweeter. Ahead of the final race, Cook was both optimistic and aware of the challenge ahead,

“The car has had pace all weekend. I am just looking forward to what we can do. A podium is realistic, but it won’t be easy”

Power Maxed were on flying form

Power Maxed were on flying form

The final race of the day would go down as one of the greatest BTCC races this year, but in recent memory. Initially Cook lost out to the fast starting Collard, but it was not long before Cook was right up on the BMW bumper. The charging Cook soon took Collard and set about building up a strong lead out front. From the moment the lights went out, the touring car world got behind Cook in a massive show of support that lit up the social media streams.

However, following an incident between Jack Goff and Sam Tordoff the safety car was deployed on track, bunching the field up and losing Cook what was his ever growing lead. Even with a masterful restart from Josh as the safety car peeled in, the hard charging Aron Smith in the BMR Volkswagen was soon on Cook’s tail.

Despite Smith’s best efforts, there is no intimidating a Clio driver and Cook held firm out front. As the laps began to count down it was beginning to look like Cook could hold off Smith, until the two came together at the Craner Curves sending them both shooting off onto the grass. Somehow both drivers managed to recover with astonishing car control and would both continue to the end. Although initially annoyed, stating that the Power Maxed crew had that race in the bag, Cook believed it was nothing more than a racing incident,

He came up to me and we’ve shook hands, its racing. If we didn’t have things like that then it would be boring to watch, I say more of it to be honest

The final few laps were just as thrilling as those that preceded them; with Cook on a recovery drive he soon made his way back up to the leading group who were squabbling from position. As the chequered flag dropped, Cook crossed the line in 7th which is a momentous achievement considering his off.

The battle for the lead between Cook and Smith was intense

The battle for the lead between Cook and Smith was intense

The weekend may have been dominated by the big names at BMR and Honda, but the true spotlight from Donington should fall on none other than Josh Cook. His racing ability was proven last year in the Clio Cup UK and his transition into the BTCC has already shown staggering results. He may be a rookie in this series, but he is a seasoned racer with a refined set of skills,

“When I see a car in front I don’t look at the name in the window. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just an obstacle in my way!”

Moving forward onto the next round of the championship at Thruxton in May, Cook lies 13th in the drivers’ standings on 27 points and 1st in the Jack Sears Trophy with 100 points; his nearest challenger is Kieran Gallagher on 83. Having praised the ever increasing speed and performance of the car over the Donington weekend, Josh Cook is hoping to move even further up the grid.

The first six rounds of the championship have undoubtedly proven that the British Touring Car Championship is one of the greatest race series around the world, and Josh Cook has cemented his position as a rising star and unquestionably a future champion.

Josh Cook, #RacingForHeroes, Dave Newsham and Power Maxed - a combination not to be messed with

Josh Cook, Dave Newsham and Power Maxed – a combination not to be messed with

Josh Cook and #RacingForHeroes – Supporting our injured through motorsport

Driving for change, and that change is happening.

Please follow our journey on Twitter: @RacingForHeroes

And of course my journey is ever ongoing: @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

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H4H CHARITY_PARTNER[1]

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel.

A Wheel Thing was penciled in to drive the petrol version however a slight scheduling rearrangement had us in the diesel instead. A long country drive to the mid south coast of NSW proved an ideal test.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel

Powersource.
There’s a range of engines available for the small midsizer SUV, including 1.5L EcoBoost engines. The diesel fitted to the Titanium is a 2.0L unit, with a redline starting at 4500 revs, max torque of 400 Nm from 2000 rpm through to 2500 and maximum kilowattage of 132 at 3500 revs.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel engine

The transmission is a simple to use auto, with six forward ratios and a lever seen in other brands. It’s slick, smooth and the Sports mode is redundant, as the torque available is more than enough for any style of driving.

The manual change is done via a rocker switch on the top right of the lever, with the lever itself (too easily) pushed into the final slot rearward, leaving the driver somewhat nonplussed as to why revs have climbed but the gear change hasn’t happened. The now more user friendly sideways motion to select Sports should be employed here.

The Suit.
Based, as it is, on Ford’s massively successful Focus range, there’s a clear resemblance to the donor design. Naturally there’s extra ride height atop the 19 inch alloys and Continental tyres, with front and rear designs inspired by the Focus sheetmetal. It’s not hugely different to the preceding model but enough to look newer.

The front bumper has two deeply inset sheets of plastic, almost looking like radiators, with a V creaseline starting low down before running full length and taking the eye to the jewel style tail light set.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel front
The electronic tailgate has a false bottom, with a plastic attachment that appears as if it’s meant to stay attached when the tailgate lifts up. The rear is tidy, overall, the front is a bit “busy” with the amount of visual interference there.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel rear

In profile, the Kuga has a pronounced wedge shape, with that crease line from the front running parallel to one on the lower doors, with both flanked by broad shouldered wheel arches and the windows terminating in a definite triangle piece atop the rear lights. It’s got a measure of masculinity about it and is appealing to both men and women.

The dimensions help with its presence: 4524 x 1838 x 1701 mm and the Kuga sits on a 2690 mm wheelbase; clearance is just under 20 mm while approach and departure angles are 21.2 and 27.7 degrees.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel wheel

Rubber is Euro spec Continentals, 235/45 on a 19 inch alloy.

On The Inside.
It’s a virtual carbon copy of the Focus, bar the airline style tray tables on the rear of the driver and passenger front seats. There’s comfortable seating for five, a reasonable 406L of cargo space with the seats up (a lick over 1600L with rear seats folded), the deplorable console layout for the radio etc (the Titanium does come with, joy of joys, a DAB tuner!) and some easy to read selectable info on both the driver’s and console screens.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel console

Interior room is well used: a considerable 1421 mm of shoulder room for the front seat passengers, 1398 mm for the rear and with leg room at 934 mm for the rear seat, there’s certainly no feeling of being hemmed in. Fabrics and plastics are of a high quality, with a soft touch feel to the trim. Safety is taken care of via airbags aplenty, including thorax and pelvis, there’s Hill Start Assist, Trailer Sway Control, 3 12V sockets and more.
For those that like a bit of space, there’s a glass roof as well.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel interior

 

On The Road.
The “Control Blade” rear suspension, along with the McPherson strut front provides superlative handling across almost all road surfaces, with minimal noise intrusion. It’s got a quick steering rack which makes parking a doddle, as are lane changes. Suspension setup is firm to start, with just enough initial give to not allow too many bumps in.2015 Ford Kuga Titanium Diesel cargo

Acceleration is responsive to the lightest touch when on boost, but is a touch toey from idle to “on”, where it’s like a lightswitch, with something….something….then BANG! as the torque suddenly manifests. Although the spec sheet says the Titanium is an all wheel drive car, there’s moments of very noticeable torque steer as the gears change under heavy acceleration.

Braking is beautifully balanced, with a wonderfully modulated pressure point as you squeeze down and there’s a hint of touch; down further and there’s a linear expression of slowing as you do. It’s confident and confidence inspiring.

The Kuga Titanium also has radar assisted crash avoidance technology, which also doubles as a cruise control activated system; it reads the car in front and will slow or accelerate as required, with a preset speed logged in to the cruise control system. That same radar setup will alert you to a vehicle slowing suddenly in front and will flash lights and sound an alarm.

The Kuga Titanium has a kerb weight of 1782 kilograms, it’s noticeable in the fuel economy. Drinking from a 60 litre tank, Ford quotes 5.6L per 100 kilometres (combined); on a trip to Bega, the famed cheesemaking area of NSW, the dial barely moved from 7.7L per 100 km. Admittedly that was with a bit of luggage and two adults plus two kids, but it was somewhat disconcerting to see the dial sitting a just a quarter full at Cooma.

The distance from home to there? Just 404 kilometres…The return journey saw cruise control used from the southern end of Lake George, just north of Canberra to Campbelltown; economy improved marginally, to 6.6L/100 kms. It’s some way off, on a highway cycle, the claimed combined cycle from Ford. Towing is 1500 kg, braked.

The Wrap.
Although, ostensibly, an all wheel drive capable vehicle, it wasn’t taken off road during the week as tarmac is where 99.999 ad infinitum % of these kind of vehicle will live. It’s roomy enough for a family, comfortable enough, user friendly enough bar the centre console layout and it’s certainly a handsome enough looker.
It rides and handles and goes well enough, however the diesel engine economy seemed to be the sticking point.

The range starts from $31K, with the Titanium a not inconsiderable price of near as dammit $51500 without options and metallic paint…it’s a fair ask, compared to its competitors.
For details and pricing, head to http://www.ford.com.au/suv/2015-kuga/specifications/spec-options

For A Wheel Thing TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pVVo3c4tHY&feature=em-upload_owner
private_fleet_logo

The President and The Beast

Obama_Limo“The Beast” is the nickname of the customized limo of the President of the US of A – a sort of land-based equivalent of Air Force 1.  While the name might make certain groups of conspiracy theorists-cum-Biblical fundamentalists have all sorts of conniptions, The Beast is certainly quite an impressive vehicle.  It’s almost worth becoming President for – or at least becoming the Presidential chauffeur.  That’s if you pass the driving test as well as the safety check – the driver has to be able to do advanced level police-style manoeuvres for evasion if needed.

Although the official marque of The Beast is (no, not 666) Cadillac, the current Beast is actually based on a Chevrolet Kodiak, which means that although it looks like a limousine, it’s a ute at heart.  Looks-wise, it’s got many of the classic Cadillac hallmarks, such as the lights and the overall styling. What you might not know is that the outside of The Beast that you can see isn’t actually metal but removable fibreglass panels that look swish while covering the titanium, aluminium, steel and ceramic panelling underneath.

The full list of specs for The Beast is classified information, but they’ve let us know a few little bits and pieces about it, either to deter us from attempting to assassinate anybody, to reassure us that assassinations are unlikely or to make us very, very envious. Or not.

There is not just one Beast but there are 12 identical ones, all tucked away in a very secure underground garage somewhere so they can be trotted out in rotation while the others get fixed.

The Specs of The Beast:

Seating: Seven: two front seats, a rear-facing middle row and two in the very back (this is where the President plus his (or, in the future, her) significant other or sidekick sits). A glass partition separates front and rear, and the rear seats can do the lot when it comes to reclining and adjustment. There’s also a table that can fold up and down in between the middle and rear row.

In-car communications: A highly sophisticated communications console is included somewhere in The Beast. For obvious security reasons, the full details are not available, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s probably a lot better than what you’ve got in your car. One detail that is available to ordinary Muggles like you and me is that there’s a link that talks to everything else in the accompanying motorcade. There’s also a satellite phone with a hotline to the Pentagon and the Vice President.  The car has night vision cameras.  Five antennae can be counted coming off the trunk, so there are probably way more communications networks talking to The Beast. Conspiracy theorists are free to speculate as to whether The Beast is in touch with alien craft.

Safety and security: The Beast can withstand biochemical attacks, bullets, grenades and fire, with 8-inch thick doors and some very serious armour plating, including underneath the car.  The bulletproof glass is 5 inches thick and is sealed against biochemical attack.  Other passive safety features (i.e. those that kick in after or during an accident) include a chauffeur who is a Secret Service member trained in CPR (although he’s not permanently fitted to the car), a blood bank well stocked with the President’s blood type, and a bodyguard in the front seat. Only the driver’s window opens: to a mere 3 inches down.  There are rumours that The Beast is fitted with tear gas cannons.  Rumours also abound about grenade launchers but we can’t confirm this.

Fuel economy: The engine (reportedly a V8) manages 29 L/100 km, so they’d better have a good source of fuel handy (no, we won’t get into the possible politics of this). Diesel is the fuel of choice, as it’s less volatile than petrol and thus less likely to explode if attacked.  The fuel tank is surrounded by foam armour so The Beast won’t become a fireball if the tank scores a direct hit.   (Poking around on a few other websites for info suggests that it’s actually run on petrol – so who really knows?)

Tyres: Kelvar-reinforced run-flats made by Goodyear. The steel wheels can keep going even if the tyre blows out completely rather than merely getting flat.

Weight: that’s classified information but it’s pretty darn hefty thanks to all that armour, so it’s a lot.  Smart cookies might be able to work out the weight from a combination of the fuel economy and the 0–60 mph time.

Length: 18 feet long

Performance: The 0–60 mph time is 15 seconds, which makes underpowered LPG vans looks speedy.  Top speed is reportedly 60 mph.

Ground clearance: Could be better, as demonstrated by one incident in Dublin.

Actually, I think that I like my own Volvo better. It might not have the armour plating and the communications but it’s got better fuel economy, better acceleration and much better ground clearance. And it’s less of a hassle for the local mechanic.

Safe and happy driving,

Megan

Sensational Sixth for Cook in Donington Qualifying

Photo Credit: marekp.co.uk / #RacingForHeroes

Photo Credit: marekp.co.uk / #RacingForHeroes

After a thrilling opening race weekend at Brands Hatch, the BTCC juggernaut rumbles on to Donington Park. As the sun was shining beautifully upon the circuit, the serenity would soon be shattered as the cars took to the track. After a solid two free practice sessions, Josh Cook and #RacingForHeroes were out to impress in qualifying. And impress is exactly what he did.

One of the brilliant things that makes the BTCC such an iconic and thrilling series is the genuine levels of unpredictability at each race. From one race to the next no two things are ever the same. The introduction of new weight penalties for 2015 has certainly added to the entertainment and will most likely see new faces at the front of the grid as a result.

Following their impressive first race weekend at Brands Hatch, everyone at Power Maxed Racing had high hopes moving into Donington Park. Josh Cook and everyone at #RacingForHeroes made an impressive debut in the championship at Brands Hatch, scoring two Jack Sears Trophy wins and challenging the big names consistently. The last time Cook cruised the tarmac of Donington Park, it was at the series Media Day at which he was ultra competitive.

The two free practice sessions gave Cook confidence, delivering consistently strong times around the 1:10 mark which would have seen him just outside the top 10. Mike Bushell in the AmD Tuning Ford Focus had set the benchmark for the Jack Sears competitors and it was beginning to look like the 2014 Clio Cup UK champion would out-qualify the 2014 Clio Cup UK vice champion. Or so we thought.

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

As qualifying got underway, Cook made his intentions clear from the outset. This was a man on a mission. When Priaulx pulled off the track and brought out a temporary suspension of the session, Cook lay in the mid-pack. But as the green flag waved, it all started to come together. Taking advantage of gaps in the traffic and a tow from other cars on a hot lap, Cook stormed to a 1:10.119 and an eventual 6th position.

To top off an already jaw dropping afternoon, Dave Newsham put the other Power Maxed car in 10th, securing a truly outstanding performance for the team. It is a true testament to the hard work put in by everyone at Power Maxed Racing to transform the team from what it was last year to battling for the top positions in 2015.

Bring on race day!

You can follow all the action on social media:

Facebook: RacingForHeroes

Twitter: @RacingForHeroes

#RacingForHeroes – supporting our injured through motorsport.

Its time to drive for change

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for all my usual rantings @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Image Credit: #RacingforHeroes

H4H CHARITY_PARTNER[1]

Has the BTCC just stolen the show?

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

The British Touring Car Championship blasted back onto the scene at Brands Hatch for the opening round of the 2015 season. As the dust clears on what can only be described as a sensation return to form, the time has come for some evaluation. With other world series underway, how has the BTCC fared? The world of motorsport is ultimately for the collective enjoyment of the drivers, teams and fans. And after what I had the pleasure of witnessing on Easter Weekend, I am starting to believe. Has the BTCC stolen the show?

From the outset, not that it really needs stating, I must mention that as a passionate fan of the BTCC this may just be a little biased. But I am a firm believer that everything is subjective, as objectivity does not exist. But that’s another story. Having followed the series from my childhood years in the 90s I have been a first hand witness to the changes and evolution undergone by the series. From the days of astronomical budgets and worldwide glory, to the years of lacking driving standards, I have been there for all of it. Since the introduction of the NGTC regulations, the championship began to take a sudden turn for the better, with a staggering 31 car grid last year. How could that be topped? Was it possible? As I made my way home from the opening round at Brands Hatch, the answer was all too clear. Not only has the BTCC managed to outdo its dizzying heights of 2014, but it might have killed it all stone dead and just stolen the show all together.

I realise that this is a bold statement to make but when the evidence is there it is hard to deny. My first point comes from a few months back where the BTCC was voted by Autosport as one of the greatest touring car series in the world, only falling behind DTM. On that note, I do find it ironic that the BTCC was voted one of the worlds best, far above the WTCC which you would have assumed would be the top touring series. But more on that later. All of this took place in the close season, before the BTCC had taken to the track for the first round at Brands Hatch. Having been there for every moment of the first BTCC race weekend of the year, I can categorically say that things have changed. And what an amazing change it is.

This is not staged, that is how close the finish was. Image Credit: BTCC.net

This is not staged, that is how close the finish was. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Just look at the intense criticism launched at Bernie Ecclestone and F1 recently; teams threatening to leave and dwindling attendance figures. The world is being sent into a laborious pit of predictability with the consistent Mercedes domination, broken on occasion by the plucky Ferrari of Vettel. I could even use almost the same description for the state of the WTCC, except there is no breaking Citroen domination. They are everywhere, and there is no stopping them. So while the FIA continues its relentless offensive on the state of world motorsports, the BTCC stands firm.

Even before the racing began, let us not forget that the championship has been blessed by not one, but two teams that are raising money and awareness for charities. Infiniti with Support Our Paras alongside the #RacingForHeroes (as part of Power Maxed Racing who are an official partner of Help for Heroes) represent a true first in motorsport, and a step forward in the effect motorsport can have in wider society. In both cases, not only are these teams supporting their individual charities, but they are both aim to give our injured veterans a chance to work as part of a race team. You read all the time in the news the sad stories of ex-soldiers who are struggling to make a living, so it is so inspiring and almost revolutionary for the BTCC to be having such concepts as this. Hopefully from their example, the rest of the motorsport world can follow.

The BTCC / TOCA format is the biggest and most successful in Europe and every year it goes from strength to strength. From the 3-race format of the BTCC which makes perfect viewing for both on-track and television audiences (especially at a time when people want instantly accessible action, and not longer endurance viewing), to the outstanding support package, the overall weekend feel is one you will get nowhere else. The rejuvenated Clio Cup and Carrera Cup UK saw non-stop action throughout the weekend. The Porsches last year were often when people would lose interest, but there was no way I was going to take my eyes off the action for even a single second this year. The two Ginetta championships showcase both young talent and those hoping to transition into GT racing, and the skills are undeniable. Finally, the introduction of the MSA Formula for 2015 proved to be a never ending thrill ride alongside the touring cars. Most fitting was the moment that Ricky Collard won his first race, just before his dad Rob Collard went out and won the first BTCC round of the year.

A truly multi-generational win for a multi-talented family in a multi-faceted race series.

In case you were worrying, I have not yet forgotten the racing itself from Brands Hatch. As they say, it is better to save the best for last. Throughout the mid 00’s, it was often the case that there would be the one dominant team or driver that would consistently fill the top places. Even in the last few years, the winner may not have been so clear cut but it was usually a combination of WSR, Honda and MG in the top places, often even the same for the reverse grid too. The impressive pace of Tingram and Morgan can only get better over time, and they are slowly but surely climbing up the order. Furthermore, fan favourite Austin and team mate Abbott have been showing that they are a team to be taken seriously in the Exocet Audi A4s. Well, if of course we forget the whole ball-gate scandal.

The BTCC still has drama a plenty in 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The BTCC still has drama a plenty in 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The results from Brands Hatch reflect the unpredictability that will make this years championship beyond exciting. Let us not forget that the gaps between first and second across the three races were 0.4, 0.04 and 0.1. If that is not close racing I don’t know what is. Long gone are the days where they might be a run away winner who wraps the race up by the first corner. If the success of the first rounds could be summed up in one single moment, then the battle between Shedden and Priaulx for victory in the second race is that moment. If you are going to make a return to the BTCC after going off and triple conquering the world championship, then securing pole for the first race and engaging in one of the most entertaining battles of the weekend for the win is definitely how to do it. Many doubted Priaulx’s abilities upon his return, but it is safe to say that they have been silenced.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Jack Sears contenders are showing that rookies can show the establishment what’s what. Josh Cook especially managed an overall 3rd in first practice, and spent the rest of the weekend battling with some big names like Rob Collard, team mate Dave Newsham and Rob Austin. I foresee the battle between Cook and Bushell (in the AmD Ford) throughout the year will be fierce and spectacular. They may not be a new team, but the new look BMR boys have taken the BTCC field by storm already. Interestingly, it is Aron Smith who is fast becoming the man to watch for the 2015 title, over the two double champions Plato and Turkington. Will it be two titles in a row for the Irish in the BTCC?

Team BMR are looking good for a title challenge this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR are looking good for a title challenge this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The overall quality of the racing from Brands Hatch was sensational, whether you were concentrating on the action at the front, mid-pack or even towards the back. In fact, one of my fondest memories of the weekend comes from race two where there was a train of 12 cars nose-to-tail from the green light to the chequered flag. The NGTC regulations have created a series with such an emphasis on performance parity yet retaining variety that the resultant races are jam packed full of action, drama and entertainment. The added aspect of the mysterious soft tyre has also played a significant part in proceedings already. We saw Priaulx fall off the edge of a cliff he didn’t even know was there in the first race, Collard driving backwards in the second race and Plato charging one step forward then taking two steps back in the final race. Surprisingly (or not) the Hondas seemed to manage the soft tyre in a way that Matt Neal was still able to take the final race win of the day. I have never been one to praise ‘tyre talk’ politics in race series but the soft tyre has added a whole new level of unpredictability that will change from track to track. Planning for the unexpected is difficult, which will throw up some surprises across the 2015 season.

The standings going into Donington this weekend reflect the excitement that is yet to come in 2015. Who would have expected to see Jack Goff in an equal points lead with Matt Neal, with Plato suspiciously absent from the top 10? And with Priaulx on such form, will he really afford to be able to miss some race weekends this year if he has a title to be fighting for?

1 Matt Neal Honda Yuasa Racing 37
2 Jack Goff MG Triple Eight Racing 37
3 Aron Smith Team BMR 36
4 Andy Priaulx Team IHG Rewards Club 34
5 Gordon Shedden Honda Yuasa Racing 32
6 Colin Turkington Team BMR 30
7 Adam Morgan WIX Racing 27
8 Tom Ingram Speedworks Motorsport 26
9 Sam Tordoff Team JCT600 with GardX 23
10 Rob Collard Team JCT600 with GardX 21
Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Can Priaulx continue his success in 2015? Photo Credit: BTCC.net

We may have only had the opening round of the year, but the BTCC is fast becoming THE motorsport series to follow in the 2015 season. It has had everything from triumphant returns to the championship, close battles and even controversy in the ‘Ball-Gate’ scandal with Rob Austin. With ever increasing track side and television audiences in Britain and the rest of the world, following their favourite drivers and manufacturers, what is there not to love? And unlike some other series, tickets are affordable and a weekends entertainment can be had for £35 or so. Compare that to your average F1 ticket.

With the backbone of the NGTC regulations keeping costs down and focusing on pure thoroughbred racing over strategy and single make domination, the British Touring Car Championship may have just become the best race series in the world in 2015.

Follow me on Twitter for all the latest motorsport updates @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

 

Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Continues Its Record Run.

Mercedes-Benz, one of the oldest vehicle makers on the planet, is rightly known for its broad range of passenger vehicles. Not unsurprisingly, in certain quarters, their commercial vehicles garner just as much acclaim. A well known nameplate for M-B Commercial Vehicles is the Sprinter, a vehicle I have great personal affection for as it’s one of the first vehicles I sold in my car sales career.

In its category, the large van market, the Sprinter has recently been named the number one seller for the seventeenth year in a row, for the Australia/Pacific region. There’d be very few, if any, passenger cars, that can say they’ve the same history. Sprinter first sold in Australia in 1998, with a then reasonable 369 units sold, with 2014 moving 2144 Sprinters, leaving its competitors some distance behind.

It’s not just here that Sprinter has made its mark, with an increase of 16%, worldwide the model has increased by 9%, moving over 294, 000 units worldwide. Sprinter’s variations and reliability have also solidly entrenched the model in the heart and souls of many, including one Australian.2015-Mercedes-Benz-Sprinter-Super-High-Roof

Rewind to 1998, a year that saw Australia realising the new millenium was nearly upon us and businesses were worried about a possible worldwide computer failure called the Y2K bug. Robin Culkin-Lawrence no doubt had this in the back of his mind, thanks to his newly established olive grove and plant growing businesses. Robin was based in a small town in Victoria’s Otway Ranges, Birregurra, and needed a vehicle that was reliable and dependable. Robin purchased one of the 369 Sprinters sold in 1998 and now has a fleet of vehicles, including three Sprinters.

So taken with the three pointed star brand, Robin says: ” “I must admit I think Mercedes-Benz will be part our business for a long time to come.” And of the Sprinter? “”The Sprinter is also better on brakes and terrific on fuel. At the end of the year all this adds up to quite a few extra dollars in our pocket.” Robin’s grown his businesses to the point that Birregurra Olive Grove and Plants Direct Australia now have him not so hands on: “I leave that up to our team. They are up and down the highway at least once a day, doing many miles. As an incentive, staff are allowed to take the vehicles home on the proviso they are washed and cleaned.”

Sprinter continues to make its mark on the Australian market, with a 51% share of the van market in December 2014.

Cook Cruzes in Impressive BTCC Debut

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After a long winter of silence, the BTCC exploded back onto the scene in the opening round at Brands Hatch last weekend. For Josh Cook and the #RacingForHeroes team, it was the first time to see the results of their immense efforts over the close season with the Power Maxed Chevrolet Cruze. The Saturday saw Cook setting the early pace in tricky practice conditions. From an eventual 20th in qualifying, Josh gave an outstanding performance throughout race day, proving that #RacingForHeroes were not to be taken lightly in the 2015 season.

Conditions on the Saturday were at best, problematic with bursts of rain throughout the morning before drying up into the afternoon. The opening practice session saw #RacingForHeroes leading the way for many of the other teams, with Josh setting consistently competitive times, ending the session in an outstanding 3rd place outright. As qualifying rolled around, Cook would find himself battling a misfire throughout the session, yet still managed to plant his Chevrolet on 20th for race day with a time of 49.517. To only be a second off the pace is a true testament to the immense talents present in both the team and Josh as a driver.

As the day dawned on race day tensions were high, the first race of the season in any series is often explosively unpredictable and the BTCC is most definitely no exception; it is the only time of the year when no driver has success ballast on the car and most importantly, nothing to lose and everything to prove. With Cook starting in 20th, many would say he was out of the danger zone at the front and could get his head down and drive his way to a strong result.

Josh was on fighting form throughout the weekend

Josh was on fighting form throughout the weekend

The first race saw Josh Cook drive nothing short of an exceptional race, fighting his way up from 20th to 13th. From the outset there was nothing but undeniable pace from Cook as he powered his way through the ranks. Among those taking the flag behind him were big names such as Rob Austin, Sam Tordoff and the other Power Maxed driver Dave Newsham. On top of these successes was Cook’s convincing win in the Jack Sears Trophy by a whopping 13 seconds over AMD man Bushell.

New rules for 2015 mean that the starting positions for race two are determined by the fastest lap set in the first race, which saw Cook line up 17th. The television screens focused a great deal of attention on the battle that raged up front, but what they missed was the near twelve car nose-to-tail train in the mid-pack. As part of this group, Josh took advantage of the apparent weakness of the soft tyre and made some strong passes including on winner of the first race Rob Collard who was sinking like the Titanic down the order. As the chequered flag dropped, the #RacingForHeroes crossed the line 14th ahead of Newsham, once again taking the Jack Sears win by 13 seconds.

The superb success of Cook was brought to an end in the final race of the day when a problem with the car caused him to retire during the safety car period. The biggest shame was that the team had worked out a strategy to deal with the problems with grip drop-off from the soft tyre. It was not all disappointment for Power Maxed; Dave Newsham got a superb 9th overall, giving the team its first top 10 of the year.

The only way is up for Cook and #RacingForHeroes

The only way is up for Cook and #RacingForHeroes

After a strong first race weekend, #RacingForHeroes left Brands Hatch with their car having secured two Jack Sears victories alongside a 13th and 14th outright. Josh Cook now lies second in the Jack Sears standings to Bushell, while 18th in the overall driver’s championship. If it was not for the problems that hampered Cook in the final race, he would have likely had a clean sweep of Jack Sears wins. For a rookie it is truly an outstanding achievement to become instantly competitive and be battling with some of the long established name in the BTCC game.

Moving forward to Donington Park, the only way is up for #RacingForHeroes. With such success in their opening weekend, it is only a matter of time before Cook cracks the top ten and even fights for a podium. Power Maxed and #RacingForHeroes form a fiery combination that will drive for nothing except victory, and will not stop until they get there.

And remember, with very turn of the wheel, every apex and every overtake; Josh Cook and #RacingForHeroes are racing in support of all our injured veterans and Help For Heroes. This is the time.

Don’t forget to follow the progress of #RacingForHeroes on social media:

Twitter: @racingforheroes

Facebook: www.facebook.com/racingforheroes

This is #RacingForHeroes. Driving For Change

 For all my usual motoring madness, don’t forget @lewisglynn69 on Twitter

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

Image Credit: #RacingforHeroes

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All photos credited to: #RacingForHeroes / marekp.co.uk

Private Fleet Car Review: 2015 Ford Falcon XR8.

Australia has had a long love affair with the V8 engine; be it homegrown or imported, it’s been a big part of our automotive history. In 2014, Ford Australia’s FPV division was shut down and the popular XR8 name resurrected. A Wheel Thing spent a week with a living dinosaur.2015 Ford Falcon XR8 2

Powersource.
The 5.0L V8 was once a staple item for Holden; Ford has, largely, stayed with it and in this case, it’s a blown block too. The numbers are impressive: the “Miami”

335 kilowatts and 570 torques hit the road via a six speed manual (a real man’s transmission). Air is breathed in and breathed out via 32 valves, four for each cylinder, with that air forced into those eight cylinders via a huffing and puffing Harrop supercharger.2015 Ford Falcon XR8 3
The torque figure is the important one; it kicks in from 2200 and stays there until 5500 rev, just below the point where peak power is delivered. These numbers combine to provide a virtually seamless level of acceleration and almost unrivalled overtaking ability.
Playing with six speeds manually is delightful, made even more so thanks to a smooth clutch, a light one at that considering what it has to deal with and a gearbox that’s largely free from recalcitrance. It’s a pretty smooth and well weighted mechanism, a clearly defined gate and a decently balanced pickup point for the clutch. It’s a bit jerky and stuttery from cold but warms up and smooths out quickly. Quite simply, it made using that mammoth torque an utter delight.

The Suit.
See my review of the XR6; apart from the bonnet bulge now extending through to the windscreen compared to the previous XR8 and FPV models, different 19 inch alloys and the addition of four exhaust tips, there’s no difference…..not exactly shouting that this is a hero model, sadly.
Kerb weight is a not inconsiderable 1861 kilograms, however…2015 Ford Falcon XR8 5

On the Inside.
Identical, down to the lack of keyless start, to the XR6. Bar, of course, the fact that there’s a clutch pedal and a manually operated gear selector….2015 Ford Falcon XR8 4

On The Road.
It’s here that the 8 differentiates itself from the 6. It’s a combination of using flint to start a fire and 21st century explosives. The whole procedure is pretty simple; sit in, strap in and, in the words of Russell Crowe in “Gladiator”, unleash hell.2015 Ford Falcon XR8 5
Although the lack of a starter button somewhat diminishes the experience, the half dozen or so revs before the whoomph from the rear end is a pointer to the demon that lurks within. It rapidly settles down into a quiet, restrained rumble, a hint of blower belt whine from the ….a gentle stab of the accelerator, a lift of the clutch and 500 odd torques move the beast forward.
Given its druthers, the 5.0L will shrink the horizon, collapse eyeballs and shatter the laws of physics, leaving a mix of supercharger wail and a snorting, bellowing roar from the quad tipped exhausts behind. The somewhat notchy gear lever is moved rapidly through the gate, the engine revving slightly as it comes off the clutchplate.2015 Ford Falcon XR8 1

Under light throttle, there’s a hesitancy to start moving, especially when cold, before the revs pick up and the torque again makes its presence known. In 5th gear around town, there’s barely a need to change gear, with a simple flex of the ankle being all that’s required to move along.
It’s a razor sharp, yet user friendly setup, as is the chassis. Although wafer thin sidewalls clad the alloys, the suspension rarely allows a harsh ride through, such is the work on the suspension and it provides an immense measure of confidence, as does the almost thought activated steering.

The Wrap.
Compared to the somewhat lighter yet more lethargic XR6, the XR8 is a revelation thanks to the quad cammed monster bolted between the front shock towers. It really is a case of “What do we need? More powerrrrrrrr” to extract the most from the chassis, long regarded as a highlight for Falcon. It’s no wonder that around a third of the current sales figures are of the V8.
Although the interior is ancient, in design terms, the electronics are simple to use, easy to read and that engine lights the candle. Long live the XR8.
For details: http://www.ford.com.au/cars/ultimate-falcon/specifications/spec-options
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