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Archive for February, 2015

2015 Volvo S60 Polestar: The Review

In late 2014, I had the pleasure of the company of the S60 Polestar; a slightly revamped version was released shortly after and I check out the differences.Volvo Polestar profile

Powersource.
Take a three litre capacity straight six and bolt on an uprated twin scroll “hairdryer”, and you’ll have one more killer watt delivered 250 revs lower than before (now 258 kW at 5250 revs with Polestar engineredline of 6500). The monstrous torque delivery remains the same at over 500 Nm (3000 to 4750 revs) and puts power down via all four paws through a six speed auto with specific Polestar calibration. It’s moving a slightly less heavier vehicle, at 1766 kg, as opposed to 1770 kg previously but rated overall economy remains at 10.2L/100 km. Polestar gets an extra level of tech, with Launch Control, adjustable suspension thanks to Ohlins, Brembo brakes, power’s put down via the Generation 5 Haldex AWD system and the engine breathes out via stainless steel pipes. Fuel tank size remains unchanged at 67.5L.

The Suit.Volvo Polestar front
The 2015 S60 Polestar is a compact looking, short tailed, long bonneted beauty, with overt and subtle curves, plus the same single sensually curved crease line joining the headlights to the rear lights. It’s not tall at just 1484mm in height, is compact at 4635mm in length andVolvo Polestar rear has front/rear track of 1588mm/1585mm, sits on a wheelbase of 2776mm and has had some minor but noticeable external Polestar additions, including a restyled front bumper with extra chin on Polestar, a larger bootlip spoiler, different looking and bigger alloys, up one inch in diameter to 20 instead of 19. The design of the wheels has changed more to a tuning fork style and looks fantastic. There’s the same gloss look black highlights for the external mirrors, doors and grille, with Polestar badging.

The Interior.
Passengers are spoiled by being given comfortable and supportive Polestar highlighted leather Polestar front seatsseats, which are both electrically motivated in Polestar and heated for front and back. Being black leather, it would be nice to have a cooling option for Australia’s hotter conditions. There’s the floating centre console (a semi carbon fibre look) and the gorgeous fully digital dash display. Polestar gets “Engineered By Polestar” in the door sills. Volvo Polestar sillIt’s a comfortable workspace, a good looking one however the compact design did make it cozy for three in the back, with 1401mm shoulder room and 1359mm hip room on offer, plus just 852mm leg room. The overall size of the car also contributes to the comparatively small boot space, at just 380L, but there is a ski port through to the main cabin.
The information screens that Volvo allows you to choose, including the “Themes” look great, as Volvo Polestar dashdoes the satnav, however I still query the way the info is set up to be accessed, with the various jog dials and buttons only working for what is on the screen. The former start system, that required a key fob to be inserted and press a button, has now changed to being keyless in the sense the slot handily provided for the fob now doesn’t need the fob to be put there. There’s plenty of tech on board, including CitySafe, a radar system that’ll apply the brakes automatically if it senses a vehicle (or anything big enough) in its path, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Volvo Polestar rear seatsInformation System and more. Naturally, there’s plenty of unseen driver aids like ABS, traction control and more safety with airbags aplenty.
The headlight switch is down to the right, above the driver’s knee, as are switches for boot and petrol lid; they work however, ergonomically, they’re out of line of sight. The tiller has a couple of flat spots left and right, just enough to place the palms and get a secure grip plus there’s a velour on the inside to help with that grip.Volvo Polestar boot
The sound system is from Harmon Kardon, a high end manufacturer and, via 12 speakers, sounds clear with depth, punch and separation. The interface to find or store a different station is still unforgivably fiddly.
Being physically unchanged in regards to dimensions, it’s still a comfortable situation for four but three abreast would be a squeeze in the back seat.

On The Road.
The Polestar does have a “woofle” to the exhaust on startup and idle whilst getting a touch metallic and a mite drony under way…When given the command, the six draws a deep breath and spits out torque. Acceleration? The six speed in the Polestar is reactive enough, rarely found wanting for the right ratio and is quick to move via Sports mode. There’s proprietary software on board, allowing the ‘box to be put in Sports mode, play with the traction control or DTSC as it’s known, however I can’t help but feel that if a seven or eight speed box was fitted the economy of the car would improve…but that torque….wow, it winds up quickly from idle, getting into rapid motivation territory very quickly.
Polestar gear leverIt’s taut, the suspension in the Polestar, and there’s enough suppleness to provide a measure of comfort, a measure of compliance with just enough give initially to not break the teeth. Tipping the Polestar into turns also produced surefooted handling, with minimal push on understeer backed up by a settling of the chassis when the go pedal was pressed, the rear squatting onto its haunches.
Polestar is a hard edged vehicle, to the point that it’s sometimes uncomfortable on anything other than a reasonably flat surface, with cat’s eyes roadside more than noticeable, making smaller speedhumps (car parks) and bigger (roads) bad enough to jolt a person momentarily Polestar badgefrom their seat. It does feel as if more initial compliance has been dialled into the suspension (MacPherson strut front, multi link rear, Ohlins two stage adjustable shocks) as the smaller bumps and lumps that niggled before didn’t seem as noticeable as before, surely a good thing.
Although the car comes with adjustable suspension, front and rear, it’s only done manually, via the bottom of the front right strut and from inside the boot atop the left rear. This would infer that it’s only to be done via experienced people, rather than offering an electronically adjustable setup from within the cabin.

The Wrap.
It’s a technofest under the skin, it’s a pretty looking car, it’s comfortable seating wise and seated four well enough. I handed it over, swapping to a V40 diesel, still uncertain as to how I felt about it overall, as I did with the previous version. It was that uncertainty that continued to both irritate and baffle me. The changes were minor, both inside and out, with a somewhat more purposeful look to the Polestar with the chin and rear wing additions. It goes hard, needs a more involving exhaust note and economy will, naturally suffer when the slipper is sunk. That’s teh price you pay for fun. But, on an emotional level, it had me excited but not willing to commit 100%, almost an automotive one night stand that you kind of want to have a gain with the same person…
To make up your own mind, go to www.volvo.com.au and follow the links to check out the S60 range and book yourself a test drive.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh92J2om2lw&feature=em-upload_owner

The Car: Volvo S60 Polestar.
Engine: 3.0L petrol, turbo, straight six.
Power/Torque: 258kW @ 5250 rpm, 500+ Nm @ 3000 to 4750 rpm.
Fuel: 98 RON.
Tank: 67.5L.
Weight: 1766kg.
Economy: 6.4L/100 km (combined). 8.7L/100km (city)/5.1L/100km (highway). 10.2L/100km (combined), 14.5L/100 km (city), 7.3L/100km (highway).
Transmission: Six speed automatic via all wheels.
Emissions: EURO6.
Dimensions (LxWxH in mm): 4635 x 1825 x 1484.
Wheelbase/Track: 2776mm, 1588/1585mm (front and rear).
Wheels: 8 x 20 inch, 245 x 35 Michelins.
Cargo/Luggage: 380L.
Price: $99950 + ORCs.
As tested: $102640 (included optional sunroof at $2650.00)private_fleet_logo

BTCC Memorable Drives: How to React to Progress (Or Not)

Image Credit: Touringcartimes.com/ PSP Images

Image Credit: Touringcartimes.com/ PSP Images

Throughout the vibrant history of the British championship, there has always come a time when the organisers and race officials are faced with a dilemma. In any other walk of life, such a conundrum would be nothing but an occasion for celebration. However, when it comes to the delicate world of motorsport regulations, such happenings can never be so simple. For this latest edition of BTCC Memorable Drives, we shall delve into the world of how teams have pushed the boundaries of regulations. For those wizards of BTCC history, you will know I am talking about Alfa Romeo in 1994 and Audi in 1996 specifically. 

It is not very often that you will find me discussing rules and regulations at any great length; there comes a point when I believe the very essence of a sport can be ruined when politics take hold. The modern Formula One championship springs to mind, but that is for another time. On very rare occasions however, when rules and regulations are applied more creatively by teams, they become the catalyst for change in championships. The British Touring Car Championship is no exception to such happenings. The first of these was the 1994 season and the infamous Alfa Romeo ‘wing debacle’ as I shall name it henceforth.

When the Super Touring regulations were first introduced, the specifications were as follows:

  1. minimum of 4.20 metres (13.8 ft) in length
  2. 4 doors
  3. No more than 2 litres engine capacity, or six cylinders were permitted, and the engine was required to be normally aspirated
  4. For homologation, initially at least 2500 units of the model used must have been produced

The introduction of these rules were meant to simply the previous multi-class racing that were in place up until the end of the 1990 season. For the first 3 years of their life, these regulations worked stupendously well, creating fast intense and action-packed racing that became globally famous. However, as 1994 loomed something was about to change. 1994 was the year of THAT Alfa Romeo.

The Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone from 1994. Image Credit: Simon Lewis

The Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone from 1994. Image Credit: Simon Lewis

After the Alfa Romeo (driven by Tarquini and Simoni) dominated the first 5 rounds of the season, Ford and Vauxhall made an official complaint to the FIA regarding the legality of the Alfa Romeo 155 Silverstone in the championship. The BTCC car had a move-able front spoiler, acting as a splitter, and an extendable rear spoiler, giving the car more downforce. Usually, such a combination would be disallowed. But this is where the genius of the Alfa Romeo team shone through. Alfa Romeo had also homologated 2500 155 Silverstone models to be sold in the UK, so that their 1.8 litre car with a higher rev limit could enter. Furthermore, this model was sold with the extendable spoiler brackets as extras one would have to attach themselves.

So technically speaking, Alfa had found a perfect sized loop hole in the regulations to make their car completely legal. However, the complaints made suggested that although the car could enter, it went against the spirit of the championship. As such, the FIA eventually banned the extra wings on the cars and decreed that the cars could only re-enter the championship if they ran with the spoilers in the retracted position. Eventually, Tarquini did still win the 1994 championship, but things would never be the same. In 1995, the regulations were changed so that all teams were allowed to use aerodynamic aids on their cars to iron out the performance disparity between the cars. On top of that, the number of production units increased from 2500 to 25,000 to reduce manufacturers producing homologation specials.

The officials must have been happy with that episode sorted out.. “Our problems our solved!”, they rejoiced. Or so they thought…

The all-conquering 4WD Audi of Frank Biela in '96. Image Credit: Autocar

The all-conquering 4WD Audi of Frank Biela in ’96. Image Credit: Autocar

After the 1994 shenanigans, it was Audi’s turn in 1996 to do their best on taking the media spotlight. After entering its 4WD Audi A4, it came as no surprise to anyone that they utterly dominated the championship, with Biela taking overall honours. Unlike the case of the Alfa Romeo however, Audi were not twisting any of the regulations. Nowhere did it specify that Super Touring cars could only be powered by no more than 2-wheels. In a similar fashion to the RWD BMWs of previous years, for 1997 Audi were imposed with weight penalties in an attempt to even out the added performance of 4WD with the FWD and RWD cars.

Towards the latter part of the 1997 championship following an appeal the weight penalty was reduced, which gave Biela an end of season charge, but not enough to stop the eternally determined Menu from taking the title. The 1998 championship saw a new addition to the regulations which stated that all cars that entered the championship must be powered and driven by only 2 of their 4 wheels. As a result, the Audi A4 of 1998 was the FWD version instead of the previous 4WD machine.

Was it the forward thinking of Alfa and Audi that forged the Super Touring Era into the stuff of legend?

Was it the forward thinking of Alfa and Audi that forged the Super Touring Era into the stuff of legend?

These two examples do raise an interesting area of debate; how should governing bodies react to instances such as this? As I touched upon in the introduction to this piece, in any other walk of life innovation is celebrated as progress ‘toward a brighter future’. However, when this is is a sporting occurence, the reaction is of course different. For the FIA, the rules are there to be adhered to. Or are they?

The classic saying ‘rules are made to be broken’ is more than applicable to this argument. If we were to approach this argument scientifically, then the actions of Audi and Alfa Romeo are almost completely justified. An old theory suggests that hypotheses are created with the aim of being disproved; it is only through critiquing the flaws that a concept can be improved for the future. In many ways, it was Alfa Romeo in 1994 that paved the way for the great racing of the late 90s. Furthermore, pushing the boundaries of the rules will inspire the other teams to work hard to catch up and come up with their own innovations. Similarly, the monstrous 4WD system in the Audi team forced the other teams to develop their own cars to match the pace of the Audis. Added power, performance and handling as a reaction to these people? Sounds like a good end result for me. After all, if rules were never broken, we could never move forward to more exciting opportunities.

On the other hand, the case made against Alfa Romeo by Ford and Vauxhall in 1994 does raise an interesting issue. Although everything Alfa did that year was within the scope of the rules, many felt that they did not adhere to the ‘spirit’ of the championship. I have always found this a fascinating phrase; they may not be written down but their power can often overthrow the legality of governance in the right circumstance. The BTCC has always been so special since its evolution from gentleman racers giving their cars a good run on a Sunday afternoon. That family feel has always been above the racing rivalries; a group of equally matched racers fighting for their deserved place on the podium. When Alfa came along in 1994 with their huge budgets and clever corner cutting, it almost took the fun away. It was utterly ridiculous how much of an advantage the Alfa team had in those first few races, and the races where Alfa had withdrawn the racing returned to how it always used to be.

And yes, it was the work of Alfa and Audi that paved the way for the late 90s BTCC memories. However, let us not also forget how else Alfa Romeo changed the BTCC. It became a global championship of big budgets, big names and a loss of that original BTCC magic of the 1950s. Independent drivers were forced out the championship simply through the budget needed to be competitive. The championship became much more corporate, driven by sponsorship and paid drivers. If it was not for Alfa Romeo in 1994, coming in with their ex-F1 driver and field destroying red rockets, then the championship may have retained its Super Touring status for longer into the 21st century.

1993, the year before everything changed. Image Credit: Pistonheads.com

1993, the year before everything changed. Image Credit: Pistonheads.com

I have been wrestling with this debate for quite some time now, and I will admit that I am still unsure of my viewpoint. I feel that the argument ‘everything happens for a reason’ is far too philosophical and too much of an easy excuse for me to get away with. On the one hand, I love watching people pushing the limits of what is possible, but on the other seeing a national institution transform into a corporate exercise as a result is not so nice. At the end of the day, I always love seeing BTCC teams take a brave step forward. The actions of the governing bodies are justified to ban teams or force them to change, as long as then they take that as a point of consideration for adapting the rules. However, as with the case of late 90s team budgets, care should be taken to make sure that it doesn’t then bring too many negative changes. For example, the added aerodynamic upgrades was a great leveler and made for some sensational racing, but the big money ex-F1 drivers replacing homegrown talent and driving the costs skywards did eventually spell doom for the Super Tourers.

…and then I remember that if it was not for the Super Touring era ending, the new look touring cars would never have arisen which of course led to the simple yet perfect NGTC regulations of today. There is a chance I may be over thinking this.

What would you do when faced with such a dilemma? Would you adapt the rules to suit the new forward thinking or retain the current rules and force these teams back into line? 

Let me know your thoughts!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

The Big Weekend: Bathurst 12 Hour and V8 Supercars Supertest.

The most anticipated motorsport showdown in Australia came to a head on February 8th, with Sydney Motorsport Park playing host to the V8 Supercars Supertest while Australia’s legendary mountain racetrack, Mt Panorama, was home to a large international contingent for the annual Liqui-Moly 12 Hour.

Politics aside. it was horses for courses as each event catered for their own audience; the Supertest showcased some world premieres, namely new livery, the debut of the final Australian Ford Falcon FG-X plus the new aero package for Nissan’s Altimas, new cameras mounted on cars and, importantly for the category, debuting the broadcast between the Ten network amd Fox Sports Australia, complete with new graphics and logos.

It was also the first time the testing had been held over two days, allowing the teams more data logging and a chance to utilise old tyres left from the 2014 season. It opened up a new format, with Saturday (a coolish day, as it turned out) having a three hour session to close out the first day before moving to the traditional track walk after a two hour opener then concluding with a full field shootout.

The aerodynamic changes to Nissan’s Altima (ironically, available with a four or six cylinder, only) appeared to pay off, with the Kelly brothers topping the time sheets, plus the overall gap between first and twenty fifth was well under two and a half seconds.
There’s some conjecture as to how relevant these times were, given the teams were using 2014 rubber and were restricted to using new tyres for the shootout only. Ford driver and co-winner of the 2014 Bathurst 1000, Chaz Mostert, was ultimately the quickest but by an incredible 0.008th of a second and just 6/100ths of a second off fourth place getter, team mate Mark Winterbottom, banking a cool $2500chaz-mostert-v8-e1423371290763.

At Mt Panorama it was a dream fest for fans of Aston Martin, Bentley, Audi, Ferrari, Porsche and V8 powered Mazdas, plus the circuit had the pleasure of the company of Felix Baumgartner. Don’t recognise the name? Perhaps thinking of someone jumping from a balloon a number of kilometres about the earth’s surface may help.

The race started just before six am and would soon see the return of Australia’s favourite hopping creature to the circuit, bringing out the first of what would be over twenty safety cars. The term “rubbin’s racing” would very quickly be seen throughout the race, with numerous contacts throughout the twelve hours, including racing royalty David Brabham being pushed into the wall by an Aston Martin. An Australian engineered MARC entry, one of the V8 powered Mazda3’s, had an incredible impact at Skyline, skipping straight across the “kitty litter” and impacting, at high speed, the tyre bundles, destroying the bodywork in a cloud of dust.

Nissan had entered here as well, with the GT-R; naturally whispers of the return of “Godzilla”, in respect of the early ’90’s beat that was almost unstoppable, started to circulate and so it was. With just ten minutes to go, a one lap safety car period bunched up the field, with a Bentley leading and desperately holding off a n Aston Martin, Audi and GT-R. On the final lap at the final turn, positions changed and the GT-R, driven by a young Japanese man, Katsumasa Chiyo, that had participated in an academy, an academy that took people that were good drivers in a console computer game, became the winner.

2015_B12Hr_Sun_SS1_1381

Decoding Automotive Alphabet Soup

alphabet soupDo your eyes glaze over when you read some descriptions of new car models? I know mine do occasionally. It’s not because the new car isn’t exciting or anything like that. It’s the alphabet soup. Yes, I know that a lot of technical mechanical terms are rather long winded and it’s easier to just use an acronym.  Who talks about deoxyribonucleic acid instead of DNA?

However, if you’re not particularly mechanically minded and are just on the lookout for a new car, all these strings of letters can be a bit confusing.  Do you want an SUV with EBD and DOHC? Or an MPV with LPG and A/C?  To make things worse, one marque might use a particular string of letters for a particular feature but another manufacturer will use a completely different acronym.

So just to help you navigate this alphabet maze, I’ll try to be a GPS (global positioning system – uses satellites and a grid system to pinpoint exact locations across the planet. Often involves maps which update themselves with “You are Here” dots).  There – that’s one taken care of!

DOHC: Double overhead cam(shaft). One of the camshafts operates the engine intake valves while the other operates the exhaust valve.  Engines with DOHC are more efficient than those with SOHC (single overhead cam).

EBD: Emergency Brake Distribution. Usually found alongside ABS brakes (see below). This system makes sure that when you bang on the brakes, the right amount of power gets to the right wheels to stop safely depending on your vehicle’s load and speed, plus the conditions…. without skidding.

ABS: Anti Brake Skid. Stops your wheels locking up with sudden braking. If your wheels lock up during emergency braking, you are likely to skid and lose control.

BA: Brake Assist. A cunning device that “reads” how hard you’re stamping on the brake pedal and supplies extra power to the braking system if it thinks you’re doing an emergency stop.

LPG: Liquid petroleum gas.  A fuel for your car that usually (a) costs less and (b) doesn’t produce as much nasty stuff in the exhaust. Needs the engine to be converted. Popular with family cars with big engines (e.g. Ford Falcons ). LPG is the stuff that comes in the cylinder for your gas barbecue. Don’t attempt to fill an LPG car from one of these cylinders or vice versa.

AWD: All Wheel Drive. Means that the drivetrain powers all four wheel. Yes, this is the same as four-wheel drive (aka 4×4 or 4WD). Usually used for city vehicles that are too sophisticated to associate themselves with tough, rugged Outback-style 4x4s.

SUV: Sports Utility Vehicle. A kind of cross between a big classic 4×4 and your typical family station wagon. Usually has AWD and a bit more ground clearance.  Has lots of towing ability and seating space.

ESC: Electronic Stability Control. This usually combines all the anti-skidding stuff in brakes plus traction control to make sure that the car stays on the road more or less where you want it to during a skid or during cornering.  Also known as ESP (electronic stability program), VDC (vehicle dynamic control) and heaps of other names – every manufacturer seems compelled to come up with their own acronym.

MPV: Multi Person Vehicle. A big car with lots of seats (usually seven) spread over three rows. Has more of a nose on it than a van.

CVVT: Continuous Variable Valve Timing. Inside your engine, the valves controlling what’s going in and out of the combustion chamber could open and close at the same rate. Not with CVVT – this fine-tunes how long each one’s open for to make your engine burn more efficiently.

A/C: Air conditioning. Do I really need to explain what this is?

EFI: Electronic Fuel Injection. A very precise way of delivering the fuel to the engine. Another efficiency measure. It’s all about efficiency these days.

HEV: Hybrid Electric Vehicle. A car with an electric motor to back up the fossil-fuel fired one.  You also hear about PHEVs. This stands for “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” – same sort of thing but easier to charge.

RPM (usually rpm): revolutions per minute.  Used to measure the speed at which your engine is turning over.  Your rev counter probably drops the last three digits off.

LSD. Not the hallucinogenic drug from the 1960s and 70s. Not “pounds, shilling and pence” either. This stands for “limited slip differential”. This system makes sure that if one of the wheels slips, all the power goes to the other wheels instead. Usually seen in four-wheel drives.

LED: Light-emitting diode. Glows like a regular lightbulb but doesn’t use as much power or blow as often as regular ones.  Because they produce bright lights, last for ages and don’t use much electricity, they’re becoming increasingly popular. More common in cars than in homes… at least for now!

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display. What an information display panel probably uses.  Most screens use this technology these days.

VTOL. Vertical take-off and landing. If you are looking at a vehicle that has this, it isn’t a car.  You are looking at a jet.

Safe and happy driving,

Megan

Should the BTCC go International?

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

The BTCC has always been fundamentally been a British institution, despite a considerable overseas invasion throughout the 1990s. However, news has come forth across the oceans from the far off land of Macau. The city circuit that resides there has for many years played host to the action-packed final round of the World Touring Car Championship. The tight, twisty terror represents a true test for any race driver; one wrong move and its not only a position you lose but many of your body panels. However, there now exists a void since the departure of the WTCC. The vacuum left behind can only be filled by a top-class touring car series; it is therefore no surprise that the organisers have approached the BTCC. And with the latest news that the championship is to be aired in the states, one question remains. Should the BTCC go international?

It comes as no surprise to hear that the British Touring Car Championship has always competed on British soil in all of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But never before has this master of touring car series travelled across the oceans to foreign lands. As a life long lover of the BTCC, this genuinely does come as a bit of a surprise. In the 1990s, the series did undergo somewhat of an invasion for international forces; throughout the Super Touring era the BTCC was undoubtedly not just one of the best touring car series, but one of the best motorsport series in the world as a whole. It made perfect sense then that across the latter part of the 90s name such as Aiello, Tarquini, Kox, Kristensen, Muller, Boullion, Rydell, Morbidelli, Radermaker and Menu began to drive the British driver to near extinction.

Considering the international status of the BTCC, I was always surprised that they never had any overseas races, either as part of the championship or just as an exhibition. In terms of ‘special’ races, the BTCC did have the Snetterton (’99 and ’00) and Silverstone (2000) night races, as well as the British GP support for many years. In recent years, the Australian V8 Supercar Championship has travelled across the water to have rounds in China, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. The CEO James Warburton believes that the strength of the championship lies in keeping an Australian championship mostly in Australia, but having unique overseas events can only compliment the series.

Since the departure of the WTCC as a regular race at the Macau circuit, organisers are searching for another series that would slot in along side the F3, GT and bike races. It has been reported that numerous BTCC teams (that remain unnamed) have been approached about the idea, most of whom have expressed an interest. In addition, another suggested series is the newly formed TCR International, which is run by the FIA. A fascinating thought struck me when I realized that the FIA has lifted the NGTC regulations from the BTCC for use in other national touring car series. Yes you probably are thinking what I am thinking; could there be a one off showcase at Macau that brings in cars from across other national series and the BTCC. The ultimate NGTC touring car event.

TCR International uses the same NGTC regulations as the BTCC. Image Credit: SEAT Sport

National FIA Touring Car series will use the same NGTC regulations as the BTCC. Image Credit: SEAT Sport

Before we go any further, I would now like to play devils advocate on myself, just before my head disappears too far into the clouds. It is all very well in saying how amazing it would be to have either a BTCC event or even a mixed race at Macau, but is it actually a feasible concept? It may be that the crown jewel of the current BTCC may in fact also be the poison dagger. The NGTC regulations were created to avoid the monumental costs of the Super Touring era and make it easier for smaller independent outfits to enter.

The usual Macau event takes place in mid-November, which would fall outside the usual BTCC season. Hypothetically therefore, the race would have to be run as a stand-alone event. It may indeed be a high profile event that acts as a showcase of the British championship, but what about the costs? If the round(s) had no championship worth as it were, would teams want to send their drivers and cars out to compete? What if the cars were involved in a series accident? During the championship accidents are almost par for the course, but to have it happen in a one-off event mean the teams may as well throw their money away right there and then. Just to increase the chances of incident, do remember that Macau is a tight street circuit that is prone to large accidents. For the smaller independent outfits on the grid, it is definitely a financial risk that might even endanger the appearance of the teams in the next seasons’ championship.

Despite my own attempts at shrouding this idea in negativity, I do believe that if the Macau race ever comes to fruition it will be fantastic for both the sport and the spectators. In the last few days, it has been announced that the BTCC will enter somewhat of a reincarnation of previous international prestige; a deal has been made with the CBS Sports network to broadcast hour-long reviews of BTCC rounds. To put that into perspective, in both the US and Canada the CBS network goes out to over 60 million families, a whole new frontier for the all-conquering series. On top of that, TorqueTV.com will be running an ‘on-demand’ style service to re-live the highlights for up to 90 days after each race weekend.

As I have previously stated, the appeal of the championship lies in its British heritage, regardless of its international reputation. I am in no way suggesting that the BTCC head abroad and start invading WTCC turf. In exactly the same vein as the comments made by James Warburton, the strength of the BTCC is retaining the British backdrop. To remove that may remove some of the 60 year old magic that drives the sport. However, considering the overseas excitement, it would be a nice gesture to acknowledge the global fan-base by bringing a motorsport series they love to them. Knowing that any sports series understands and appreciates its fan is a sure-fire way of obtaining lifelong followers. If Macau were to happen and be successful, I would like to see the BTCC competing in one off events at different circuits across the world over different years.

Can you imagine the BTCC field streaming down the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca? Image Credit: Porsche Official

Can you imagine the BTCC field streaming down the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca? Image Credit: Porsche Official

To utilise the obvious advantages (business, financial, sponorship and fan-based) of heading to areas with a high concentration of BTCC fans is almost a no-brainer. Not only would the fans benefit, but it would give the touring car drivers the opportunity to race on circuits that they may not have had the opportunity to based on their limited budgets. On top of everything else I have said in support of such an enterprise, the chance to join forces with the other touring series would be a great way to bring together touring car drivers from across the globe in order to see who truly is the best. Imagine if you will a race event similar to the Formula Ford festivals where there are multiple heats where drivers progress and qualify for the final. A whole weekend of intense touring car action. Personally, I cannot think of a better way to spend a weekend.

If I was therefore to answer my original question then yes, I do think that BTCC should go international. However, they must excercise extreme caution so as not to alienate their British audience in search of exotic glory and riches. Financial difficulties may be a concern, but exposure in new territories may bring with it new business and new opportunities.

What do you think? Should the BTCC consider taking its high octane action overseas?

What circuits would you love to see the field racing on? What about taking on Bathurst supporting the V8 Supercar Series?

Would you want to see a merging of the BTCC series and other touring car championships?

Let me know your thoughts!

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69 for all my auto-antics!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

BTCC Memorable Drives: Two Toyotas, One Barrier

That's what you call an action shot. Image Credit: popscreen.com

That’s what you call an action shot. Image Credit: popscreen.com

For any motorsport team, there surely can be no better feeling than having one of the most competitive driver line ups on the grid. As the 1992 British Touring Car Championship rolled around, it was the Toyota team of previous champions Will Hoy and Andy Rouse that entered the season with this undeniable feeling of confidence and expectations. The two best drivers in arguably the strongest car on the grid. What could possibly go wrong? As the championship reached Brands Hatch, they were about to find out. 

The 1991 BTCC season was the inaugural year that the then brand new 2.0 litre formula was run on British soil; the previous multi-class operation had been thrown into the pages of history and replaced with a single class, high action championship. For many of the teams, 1991 had been a season of learning and development to acclimatize to this new era of racing. Therefore, as the engines roared into life for the 1992 season, the teams were ready to launch their full arsenal upon the tarmac in search of honour and glory.

The returning Vauxhall pairing of Jeff Allam and 1989 champion John Cleland were statistically the team to beat; both were proven race winners in a car that had already endured two previous seasons in the 2.0 litre specification. BMW had gone back to the drawing board for 1992, entering the brand new 318is in place of the now retired M3 for drivers Steve Soper and Tim Harvey. It would take a long time for the new BMW to become competitive. A handful of other teams including Vauxhalls, BMWs and even a Mazda completed the grid. There was however one other team.

 

Throughout 1991, Rouse developed his Toyota Carina into a strong contender. Image Credit: retrorides.proboards.com

Image Credit: retrorides.proboards.com

Will Hoy took his BMW M3 to the 1991 title. Image Credit: BTCCCrazy.co.uk

Image Credit: BTCCCrazy.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1991, the Kaliber Toyota team of Andy Rouse and Gary Ayles had endured a character building first year in a 2.0 litre machine. However, by the end of the season, Rouse was a proven race winner and completed the championship in 3rd position. To build on 1991 successes, Rouse joined forces with champion Will Hoy, who also brought with him his Securicor sponsorship from his BMW M3. The resulting car turned out to be a high-performance beast that quickly became everyone’s favourite for the championship. Not only that, but the Toyota team had arguably the two greatest touring car stars of the day driving for them. The titans of touring cars in ’92 were definitely going to be Toyota.

The first four rounds of the 1992 championship (Silverstone, Thruxton, Oulton Park and Snetterton) were very much dominated by Toyota and Vauxhall. Thanks to a somewhat memorable spin by Cleland at Oulton Park, it was Rouse that led the standings going into the fifth round at the Brands Hatch GP circuit. What had been clear throughout the opening rounds of the season was just how consistently competitive both the Toyota cars were. Watching back the footage from the ’92 season review, you can see that because the team was made up of the two best drivers in the field, they challenged and pushed each other throughout each race; You could draw a comparison between them and the on-track battles between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in the recent 2014 F1 championship. Both cars/drivers have such incredible pace that they would make each other faster and faster. However, unlike Hamilton-Rosberg example, Hoy and Rouse had a solid friendship outside of the cars; there was none of this petty behaviour that became shockingly common in the F1 last year.

The original promotional poster used for the '92 Toyota team

The original promo used for the ’92 Toyota team. The perfect combination of Rouse and Hoy

Such harmony however was about to take a drastic tumble off a considerably gargantuan rock face. As with previous rounds, the race began with the two Toyotas battling with John Cleland in the Vauxhall. After swapping positions the two team mates found themselves side by side as they entered the famous GP loop of Brands Hatch. Andy Rouse edged ahead of Hoy, but heading into Westfields Hoy made his move up the inside. At first, it was a true execution of two great drivers battling at the edge of grip, performance and sanity. But then Hoy’s car moved left…

Words cannot truly describe what happens next. As such, here is the moment for you all to see:

BTCC 1992: Hoy and Rouse Crash at Brands Hatch

Added to the explosion of drama as the cars go searing off into the barrier at 120mph, you cannot forget the commentary of the one and only Murray Walker. He is a man whose voice IS motorsport:

“And, they’re off! Both of them off! Wha- Incredible!”

“And Rouse’s body language says rage and fury!”

Who is to blame for the incident? For some people, it appeared to be nothing more than a racing incident where two cars got too close together on track. For others, the blame can be placed on Will Hoy. After all, it was Will who made the decision to charge up the inside and his car that appeared to move over the left causing the incident. You can tell by the reaction of Rouse that he certainly did not see it as his fault, especially that these are the cars that he himself had engineered. Perhaps Hoy should not have made the move, but if perhaps Rouse had driven faster he wouldn’t have been overtaken in the first place. Furthermore, when you watch the footage, it appears (to me anyway) that Hoy’s car hit a small bump in the road that slightly unsettled the car; usually this wouldn’t cause any issue but when you have a car immediately to your left, well you saw what happened.

At the time, the incident was nothing more than the door handle to door handle action that you would get in any race. However, if we now fast forward to the famous final race of the ’92 season. The season ending race at Silverstone has become famous in its own right; 3 drivers, 1 title. However, what if the Toyota’s had never had that crash at Brands Hatch?

What if Rouse and Hoy did not crash that day? Image Credit: hispaniatecnica.com

What if Rouse and Hoy did not crash that day? Image Credit: hispaniatecnica.com

Let us assume Hoy had successfully completed the pass and finished the Brands Hatch race in 2nd position. That would add an extra 18 to his final total, meaning the championship would have been his and not Tim Harvey’s. Furthermore, Rouse would have found himself in a top 3 finishing position in the championship. Also please note that further points scores would have been affected from Brands as everyone else would have finished 2 places lower. Even with the astonishing development of the BMW team throughout the year, it was Toyota that (again I believe) had the strongest car and driver line up.

Essentially, the bottom line is that Toyota lost the championship at Brands Hatch. Is this a real life example of Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect? One race, one bump in the road, one incident that changed the entire course of the 1992 British Touring Car Championship.

Don’t forget to follow all my motorsport rantings on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

The Biofuel Dilemma

DieselFuel_195121818The push for more sustainable sources of energy for our cars is intensifying.  Biodiesel and ethanol are getting more and more common.  Slurping through large amounts of fossil fuel is considered irresponsible, as is belching out a lot of greenhouse gases.  In this sort of climate (both the metaphorical climate of opinion and the actual one, which is supposed to be changing), biofuels are looking like a very sexy option.

However, there is a bit of a problem when it comes to biofuels.  You see, while it seems like a great idea to grow a crop that can be turned into fuel, there are a few snags.  All commercially grown crops take up land, and they require nutrients and water.  This means that they’re competing with other crops – like the ones that you and I eat.  And this is where the problem lies: if we’re going to do away with world hunger, the people who are currently starving are going to have to eat something.  And that something will have to grow somewhere.

They tell us that it’s going to become more difficult to find enough land and other resources to feed the world.  This means that even if biofuels don’t increase, there’s going to be issues with growing enough food to feed us all.  On the one hand, we want to get from A to B more sustainably.  On the other hand, we don’t want people to die from malnutrition.  So what’s the answer?  Biofuel or not biofuel?  Should corn go to feeding people or to making oil to power vehicles?  (Let’s not even start on the feeding people versus feeding cattle debate.)  Which is the best option for the thinking person who cares for the planet and other human beings?

The answer is to keep on thinking and to look at the wider issue.  First of all, the food problem.  It might not be as difficult to produce enough food to feed everybody on the planet as you think.  For a start off, a large chunk of us (especially in the Western world) could probably eat less and be better off for it.  Secondly, an awful lot of the food grown in the world today ends up going to waste.  Some is damaged by pests and rotten weather while it’s in the field.  Some doesn’t make it onto the market courtesy of bureaucracy, food regulations and other rhubarb like that – things like the European Union’s standards that state the colour, shape and size of vegetables that are permitted on the market, even though wonky carrots and cucumbers with more than a certain amount of curvature.  A lot of perfectly edible gets dumped along the food pathway – things that are still good but are past their sell-by date, for example.  Thirdly, we can all have a go at growing our own fruit and veg. We can feed a hungry world, people, if we really try!

One has to wonder why all this dumped and wasted food doesn’t end up being turned into biofuels.  It certainly is possible.  One wonders why this hasn’t been tried yet.  Which brings me neatly to the next part of tackling the food vs biofuel dilemma.  Often, biofuels such as ethanol can be made from waste products of the food industry.  Take sugarcane – which is where most of Australia’s ethanol comes from.  The juice gets extracted and taken to the refinery to be turned into what goes into our morning coffee, plus other goodies such as golden syrup and molasses (used as a dietary supplement for dairy cows).  The leftover bits of cane are broken down to make ethanol.  The only snag here is that the leftovers are often quite woody, which means that it’s harder to break down and turn into ethanol.  In the world of biofuels, finding bacteria that are capable of breaking down tough woody stuff is a very hot topic. We might snigger at research papers that rave about the potential of some bacteria strain found in panda poop (actual example) but these bacteria might be the best way of turning, say, sawdust into what you put in your Toyota Corolla.

The third option for solving the dilemma is to find sources of biofuel that don’t compete with food crops for resources.  Things that grow on bad soil or on bad water are particularly popular.  This is where things like jatropha comes in.  Jatropha grows like a weed on bad soil… and it produces oil-bearing seeds that make great biodiesel.  To give you an idea of how well it can grow on marginal land, a close relative of the species that produces the best oil has been banned in Western Australia as an invasive weed.  The other biggie is algae.  Algae can be grown on sewage (something we’re not exactly going to run out of) and some strains produce a good dollop of oil that can be turned into biodiesel.  The hunt is on to find the best types of algae that produce the most bang for the buck.  Again, it doesn’t pay to snigger about research papers that rave about things that grow on sewage.

Algae even looks green.

So what is the average Aussie driver to do in the attempt to “think globally and act locally” when it comes to the biofuel dilemma?

  • As always, conserve fuel when driving (better for your wallet, too).
  • Avoid wasting food, as this means that there’ll be less chance of fuel crops having to compete with food crops (also better for your wallet).
  • Grow your own food.  You might not be able to grow your own biodiesel crop but you can grow your own tomatoes and lettuces.  Every little bit helps.  If we all grew our own, a few more farmers could concentrate on growing biofuel instead.
  • Use biofuels in your vehicle as often as possible – if we keep up the demand, the producers will know to keep up the supply.