Thursday, October 30, 2014

"The Loooong Race," Pilote Gets His Alfa Groove Back (2 of 2)

I arrived at Blackhawk around lunchtime with the understanding that the vintage race would be in the afternoon.  It was the first event.  The second race was for open wheel cars and the third race was for Miatas.  The big-bore cars would run last.  As all races ran for 50 minutes, I decided to bail early, before the Spec. Miata carnage was over at 4:00, having seen only the vintage race.  Which turned out to be excellent, for an Alfiste like me, as described below.  It was a great End Of Season Bash, a fond memory for the cabin fever days ahead.

Gridding up: the MGB is not a large car, so this driver is sitting on the floor or he has a weight advantage over some of
his competitors.  The lines of the B seemed a leap forward over the A when it was introduced, and they still appeal.

Gridding up: this Porsche 356 C had no trouble getting and staying ahead of my beloved Alfas, a reversal the old
D Production days in the SCCA.  The Triumph TR-4 in the background was not highly placed.

Gridding up: the race-within-the-race was between these two Alfa GTA/GTV's.  Foreground: Barbara Nevoral
"represents" for the Vintage Sports Car Drivers Association.  Background: John Saccameno does likewise for
my own North Suburban Sports Car Club.

In the race, this 3-series Bimmer had no trouble running off and hiding from the rest of the field.  Including a B Sedan
Mustang, which tried to outbrake him into Turn 1 early in the race: cloud of smoke, after which he drifted rearward.
This picture shows the new (to me, anyway) 200-foot runoff area at the end of the front straight.  It used to be that,
if you outbraked yourself into Turn 1, you wound up in boggy, high, scrub brush.  Blackhawk put in some landfill
and planted it with grass.  One of many improvements by the new owners over the past few years.

Behind the Bimmer, the Porsche ran his own race: never threatened or threatening, although he (and everyone) had
plenty of lapped traffic to deal with.  It was a nice, full, field for an end-of-year event.

Barbara and John had to drive hard to get around this MGB, which then faded.  John gradually closed the gap to Barb,
from 10 car-lengths down to 5, with apparently better luck in traffic.  They swam like sharks through the fishes, even
if some of the fishes were snails, being lapped.  From where I stood, at Turn 1, they drove fast and mistake-free for
50 minutes.  Turn 1 is not easy to drive.  You must get down 1 or 2 gears for a late apex, and you must hold the car
tight on exit to set up for the best entry into Turns 2-3.  As I said to John after the race, "Who needs passing to
enjoy a great race?"  As John said to me, "Barb kicked my ass this time."

Above and below: afterglow.  Barbara and John were paddocked together and spent a half-hour reliving the race.  They
had close-up views of a lot of... stuff... while driving hard in their own mistake-free race.  Barbara is behind her car,
John is sitting in the doorway of his trailer.  The styling of Bertone's Alfa coupes, especially the GTA/GTV, pulls
my chain like few other contemporaries.  Great looking (and driving) cars!

Above and below: a nod to the fastest Porsche 356 I've seen in many a day.  Mr. Rick Gurolnick has built himself
quite a ride, and knows how to drive it.  The "side pipe" is probably for the benefit of trackside decibel meters;
most 356's run "stinger" exhausts.  As for styling... I've never considered the "bathtub" looks of the 356 as
anything but ugly.  Butzi's sainted 911 is an entirely different matter, as regular readers know.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"The Loooong Race," Ambience Post (1 of 2)

"The Looong Race" is always the last event of my club's season, always at Blackhawk Farms, at the end of October.  The point of it is that drivers get 45 minutes or more of seat time, not the usual half hour.

Normally the weather is dependably crummy: temperatures in the 30's or 40's, with horizontal precipitation.  So I never go.  This year, temperatures were in the high 60's with a cloudless sky and a light breeze from the southwest.  So I went, and took a jacket. It wasn't needed.

While Blackhawk may not be as challenging as, say, Autobahn Country Club's South Loop, its autumn ambience is much better.  It has a nice mix of Maples, Oaks, and Evergreens.  It has a decent basic restaurant and good spectator sight-lines.  This ambience post includes two Seldom Seens at Midwest Council events.

Vintage racers chase each other through Turn 2 toward the Corner Station at Turn 3.  Not typical late-October weather.

OK, this is just a guess, but I'm thinking there isn't much to do in Wind Lake but eat, party, and bat fish.  So you
cheeseheads from Wind Lake have a standing invitation to come down any time for an Asian Carp fish-batting
party on the Illinois River.  We will show you a good time: world class fish batting.  (See the YouTube vids.)

The Pilote-Approved Corner Worker's car.  No, silly, the Civic Si.  Turn 6 at Blackhawk Farms.

My camera, and iPhoto's editing tools, normally produce beautiful pictures with spot-on color.  But I cannot get this
one to reproduce the absolutely gorgeous highly-oxegenated-blood tone of Ferrari's red.  It's not tomato, and it has
no purple/blue tones in it, like this pic.  I have sneered at the styling of the nose of the Modena series of Ferraris.
But there's not much to complain about from the side and rear.

Another thing seldom-seen at Midwest Council events: a real-deal Porsche GT 3.  I have no idea what class he ran in,
and didn't stick around to see the "big bore" race at the end of the day.  But it's a safe bet that he won.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

First In-Person Look: 2015 Mustang

Above: 2015 Mustang suspension.  In front, "nothing to see here, folks, move along," except that a strut tower K-brace
is standard on the 2.3 liter four-cylinder turbo, GT Performance Package, and all convertibles.  In back, the geometry
reminds me of my own Honda Civic Si and some other designs.  Ford claims that it reduces nose-dive and squat in
braking and acceleration.  The hub carriers and lower links are aluminum, reducing unsprung weight.

Below: You get a bigger (stiffer) rear bar on the four-cylinder turbo Performance Package and the GT coupe, and a
still bigger one on the GT Track Package.  Probably the biggest rear bar and its brackets could be bought over the
parts counter and bolted into the turbo four: dial out some understeer!

You can't see much of the new i.r.s., and how its geometry works, even if you lie down on the showroom floor and
embarrass your salesman (if not yourself).

The new Mustang with independent rear suspension looks to be a very nice car, and an improvement on the S-197 in both handling and looks.  (That is, over the 2010-2014 car; I still prefer the looks of the 2005-2009 "retro" S-197.)  But it's still big, and heavy: a pony car, not a sports car.  And I got a sticker shock.  My dealer's 4-cylinder turbo, not heavily-optioned, has an MSRP of $34K.  His V-8 GT, which has a $400 paint job, 19-inch wheels, a rear-view camera, and navigation, has an MSRP of $41K.  The latter is about 18% more than the MSRP for my lightly-optioned 2008 V-8 GT convertible.

So I won't be spending my children's inheritance for improved handling.  But if I were, the turbo four coupe with light aftermarket wheels, summer-only tires, and the biggest rear stabilizer bar would intrigue me as a wannabe Tail Of The Dragon slayer.  I was shown some text in in-house promotion materials to the effect that Ford has altered the steering geometry to improve feel.  Hmmmm...  Lack of steering feel has been a complaint of mine about Ford products (including my own Mustang) for decades.  The 2.0 liter turbo four in Hotshoe's Focus ST is powerful with good driveability, and a similar engine over the front wheels of the new Mustang removes maybe 200 lbs. of weight where it needs it the most.

Above and below: the 2.3 liter turbo version.  The 2015 car remains way too "Origami" for my taste, with creases all
over the place.  It doesn't have the clean, retro, lines of the 2005-2009 car, but it's better than the 2010-2014 car.
One exception is the "true fastback" roof line and quarter window, which work quite well.

Above and below: the 5.0 V-8 GT on my dealer's showroom floor.  From the front and rear, the 2015 Mustang is a
Cookie Monster: better than the 2010-2014 S-197, but not as delicious as my own "retro" 2008 car.  Or
Watchtower's 2009 Bullitt--the best-looking modern Mustang of them all.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fun With A Search Term

Stirling Moss gives Phil Hill a Lap of Honor at the Goodwood Revival.

This post title was one I gave up over a year ago because the queries just weren't no fun no more.  A curse or blessing of this blog is that people now get to it with serious queries.  May they depart more satisfied than when they arrived.  But this query is too much fun to pass up: "Was Phil Hill as fast as Sterling [sic] Moss?"

The short answer is no.

But then Phil was World Champion in 1961 and Stirling famously never was, although he won far more Grands Prix.  Stirling won sports car races on difficult circuits like the Nurburgring.  Then there was his legendary Mille Miglia win in 1955.  Phil didn't win as much on hard circuits and didn't enter the Mille Miglia.  Phil won other major endurance races, including LeMans three times.  Stirling didn't.  Phil won his last major race (Brands Hatch, in a Chaparral), and never had a serious accident.  Stirling had two, including one that ended his career.  Do you suppose they could have had a lively discussion about the relative merits of their driving talent?

At least Phil and Stirling were contemporaries.  So this query makes more sense than those bench-racing-with-beer questions like "Who was better, Juan Fangio or Michael Schumacher?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

(Slightly) Off-Topic: 2120 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

2120 S. Michigan is now a privately-owned blues museum (picture taken in 2008).

I'm re-reading Nadine Cohodas's excellent Turning Blues Into Gold: The Chess Brothers And The Legendary Chess Records.  The amount of great R&B that came out of 2120 still astonishes me:
Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and more.  The Rolling Stones recorded a few tracks at 2120 in 1964, as a kind of tribute to their own heros.  As well they should have.

2120 was fairly luxurious digs for an independent label.  Chess had formerly been in a storefront at 4858 South Cottage Grove.  The earlier blues hits by Muddy, Walter, and Wolf were recorded at Universal Studios.  At 2120 the business offices and inventory were downstairs; the recording studio was upstairs.  Although it was long and narrow, not an ideal shape, it was refurbished as a sound-proof studio and upgraded at least once.  The control room overlooked the street through the large windows seen above.

I've made my own pilgrimage to 2120.  For me, the building is a memorial to the idea that extraordinary things can be done in the most ordinary surroundings.  And I've already found some obscure Chess singles on iTunes.  After finishing the book this time, I'm gonna use the index to ransack iTunes for a new road mix.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lola T 70 In-Car From The Goodwood Revival (2014)

Goodwood: oddly, in-car camera footage often fails to show elevation changes and off-camber bends as dramatically
difficult as they are in fact.  For example, Madgwick is off-camber on the outside, the hill in St. Mary's changes the
ideal line, and Lavant and Woodcote have multiple apexes.  Harder to drive than it looks.

A year ago I posted a link to Kenny Brack's rain race in a Ford GT 40 at the 2013 Revival--an awesome sideways drive in which I, at least, didn't doubt his car control.  Here's a link to Lola T-70 in the dry that had me on the edge of my seat.  The video is in HD.  It runs 26 minutes; visibility is decreased from the middle onwards by bug splats and a low sun.

I've seen a few Can-Am car in-car videos, and am impressed with how hard these cars are to control.  I had the same feeling at the only Can-Am race I saw "live," at Mid-Ohio in 1971.  Even well into the aero era, it was obvious that the McLaren M8F and the Lola T 260 were a handful for world-class drivers like Denny Hulme, Peter Revson, and Jackie Stewart.  The driving technique appeared to be to get the car slowed, tip-toe around the bend, get it straightened out, bury the throttle, and hang on.  Repeat.

In the hands of mere mortals, T 70's and other early Can-Am cars seem to be even more of a... handful.
Watch the steering wheel in the vid.  The driver has to really tippy-toe until the tires warm up.  There's a lot of counter-steering going on.  He has "moments," often in traffic, at about 7, 10, and 14 minutes. And a big one at 16 minutes.  It appears that even a good driver can't really stay ahead of an early Can-Am car.  He has to hope to be able to catch the car when it begins to get out from under him, which it will.

Above and below: two views of the Lola T 70 in typical Can-Am specification.  Neither car is the one in the video, but all
three are similar.  In the mid-'60's, at the dawn of the aero era, the T 70 gave Chaparral and McLaren  all they could
handle in the "unlimited" Can-Am series (and won a championship).  The T 70 also did well in British national
races and was a contender in FIA races, with small-block V-8's.  But it was obsoleted when rear wings and a
more scientific approach to front aerodynamics came to Can-Am.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brave New World

I've ranted about self-driving cars before, and so will here just paraphrase some expert I happened to see on C-SPAN:

"As best I can forecast, dual-control cars [computer-operated but human over-rideable] will be on roads by 2020.  Computer-controlled cars that drivers cannot over-ride will be on roads by 2030.  By 2040, human-driven cars will be banned from certain roads because they are too dangerous."

He was not lamenting the passing of "driver-driven" cars.  Nobody on the panel was.  From what I could tell (channel-surfing to and away from the broadcast), the panel was composed of computer tech/"smart grid" experts, transportation safety experts (including air and rail), and insurance industry people.  Google and several car companies have already invested heavily in driverless car technology, and I believe that California and a couple of other states have now granted waivers for "beta" testing on designated public roads.

The prevailing hypothesis on the expert panel seemed to be "How and when can we make highways operate like the air traffic control system?"  The main barrier to computer-controlled cars appears to be electronic infrastructure that supports "smart highways."  The prevailing opinion seemed to be "Why wouldn't you want to use your time more productively and safely than in actually driving a car?"

And maybe computer-controlled cars do make more sense in a wired world.  At best, the number of Americans who care about cars and driving skillfully is 10% of the population.  We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, can go fish.  Figuratively if not literally.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Winningest 917 (?)

Brian Redman turns into the La Source hairpin at Spa-Francorchamps in 1970, in 917-014 [029]  As a matter of trivia,
I learned on the most recent stroll through my 917 archives that the "full-width, no-center-airfoil Horsman K-tail" was
used only once: here, at Spa, in 1970.  After the 1970 Spa race, the Wyer team used their Horsman tail with the center
airfoil or the Porsche-developed twin-fin tail.  They used the former where the need for rear downforce trumped the
the need for low drag (e.g., Monza) and the latter where the circumstance was reversed (e.g., LeMans).

Regular readers know my obsession with Porsche 917 chassis history.  There is some confusion about chassis numbers (for a variety of reasons), so I decided to cross-check my re-reading of John Horsman's memoir, Racing in the Rain, with Janos Wimpffen's Time And Two Seats.  The latter is the go-to source for the history of FIA sports car racing.  One reason for confusion, as Horsman points out, is that Wyer-Gulf's seven original chassis were returned to Porsche in the winter of 1970-71 for crack-testing and refurbishment.  Porsche renumbered them, considering them "new" in their scheme of things. Horsman retained the old numbers because they corresponded with his racing records and parts inventory/history.

It turns out that there's only one minor discrepancy between Horsman and Wimpffen.  917-026 appears to be an original-build number, rebuilt and raced as a spyder (031) after its Wyer days.  Wimpffen records 031 for a Wyer race-entry.  The other "dualies" line up without discrepancy: 004 became 017, 013 became 034, 014 became 029, and 015 became 035.  These numbers also correspond with the chassis history on

Fellow 917 freaks will remember the famous photo of 25 cars lined up for FIA inspection in the Porsche yard in March, 1969.  It begs the question of how one of the early chassis supplied to Wyer (004) could be renumbered as a car already built (017).  A likely explanation is that some of the original 25-car build was cannibalized to provide parts (including chassis) as cars were crashed or intentionally broken in destructive testing.

Having sorted the discrepancies as best I could, I wondered which was the winningest 917 of all?  Of course this is debatable.  Is a LeMans win worth more than other races?  (Wyer-Gulf didn't win LeMans for Porsche, although they won the championship in 1970 and 1971.)  Should non-championship races be counted?  Do you go only by number of wins, or count podium finishes too?

I go by podium finishes in championship events, and my nominee is... 014 [029].  Over two seasons, its record was: 2nd at Daytona, 1st at Spa, 2nd at Watkins Glen, 1st at Buenos Aires, 3rd at Brands Hatch, 2nd at Spa, and 2nd at Watkins Glen.  013 [034] and 016 both had more wins (3 each).  But neither of them matched 014 [029's] long string of podiums, and it trailed them by only one win.

Either way, the drivers' names for all three cars are a Who's Who of the early 1970's: Jo Siffert, Brian Redman, Derek Bell, Pedro Rodriguez, and Jackie Oliver.  If Ferdinand Piech hadn't nixed Wyer's nomination of David Hobbs as a driver in 1970, his name would probably be on this list.  Talk about chariots of the gods!

Note: After writing this post, I learned that Porsche 917: Archives And Works Catalogue 1968-1975 is available in an English edition as of 01/01/15.  I've pre-ordered it.  As earlier noted of my German edition, it is the last word on 917 chassis numbers from Porsche's viewpoint.  Maybe it will clear up the minor mysteries of 004 [017] and 026 [031].

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fun Old Photos

Some of these pix evoke a time I barely remember myself--not to mention the cars.  Some of them bring a nostalgic smile ('Stylin'" with an afro and a Porsche 911).  One of them is, as one caption says, a harbinger of the future (a Honda Civic with a roof rack full of bicyles).

Thanks to the Motor Life Blog for posting the pix and member Xavi Hernandez Querada for the link:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

(Another) Pleasant Surprise From Honda

Steering response and feel: not a problem.

Got a warranty extension notice from Honda: "On some 2006-09 Civic Si vehicles, the electric power steering may feel heavier than normal or is hard to turn, particularly when the vehicle is not moving.  To ensure your confidence in our product, American Honda is extending the warranty of the electric power steering to 10 years...or 150,000 miles...  No action is required on your part."

The first surprise was small: the extension itself.  I've come to regard Honda's quality and "We've got your back, owner" as second to none.  The next surprise was moderate: who turns the steering on his vehicle when it's not moving?  Unless, maybe, you're stuck in a tight three-point turn situation? It unduly stresses the alignment and components.  Doesn't everybody know that?

The third, and large surprise was that my car has electric power steering.  I just assumed it was hydraulic, and never bothered to look.  Not that it could be easily seen in the cramped engine compartment.  Road testers have been complaining about a lack of feel from electric power steering, compared to hydraulic, particularly on high-end cars.  One of the many things I love about my Si is its direct, communicative, steering.  Who knew?  Chalk another one up for Honda: they know how to do electric power steering.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Cure For Unbundling: Bundling

The "gissel," as I then called it: a no-brainer in a bundled, limited-choice, situation.

There's an ad running on TV about how great it is to get one free checked bag on an airline if you use the right credit card.  Before deregulation, airlines were glad to get passengers.  Flying cost more, but we had more room.  (In those pre-hijacking, pre-terrorism, days you could also say goodbye or hello at the gate to the people who were dropping you off or picking you up, and just walk onto the plane.)  Having to use my credit card to rack up "points" so I can check a bag free is not a big marketing coup with me.

The airlines, and other retailers, have been "unbundling" services in an effort to help the top line of their profit & loss statements.  I remember my career employer doing the same thing at the wholesale level in the '80's and '90's--and for the same reason.  We needed to improve our gross margin rate.  We increased our minimum order, rates for direct labor, and added surcharges for scrap, handling, and delivery.  Activities previously considered "overhead" were turned into "profit centers."

Phone companies have done it.  Hospitals have done it.  Banks have done it.  I have to pay a ridiculous $30 fee to stop payment on a check at my bank, even though I have a substantial CD with them.  That would have been unheard of years ago.  Of course, banks and vendors don't want people to write checks in the first place: they want us to do electronic transfers for everything.  Even though their systems have been repeatedly hacked.  It's hard to think of a service-oriented industry that hasn't "unbundled" in recent decades.

I don't like to be unbundled.  I like it simple--with less freedom of choice.  Take buying a new car.  The American approach has always been to unbundle.  The option list is extensive (as I discovered when I bought my Mustang).  It was tedious to go through the list with my salesman.  By contrast, the Japanese, after they had achieved market penetration with economy cars, offered us three choices: stripped, medium, or loaded.  This may have been because the cars were assembled in Japan and were on the high seas.  Special-ordered cars were more trouble than they were worth to the Japanese when the lead time was 3 months or more.  Or maybe it just reflected Japanese consumer culture.  This practice persists long after Japanese carmakers put up assembly plants in North America.

The equipment level was (and still is) almost entirely dependent on which model you chose.  To illustrate, I'll use my 1983 Mazda RX-7.  (My Honda Civic Si is a poor one, because Honda considers it almost a different car.  Everything is standard: it's the power train that comes at a significant price premium.)

The RX-7 came in three trim levels: S, GS, and GSL.  Here's how Mazda segmented them:

The S (base car) came with narrower tires on steel wheels.  Upgrade not offered.  Limited options, most of which were standard on the GS.  The message was clear: "You want a nicer car, to your own taste or otherwise?  Buy a GS."

The GS came with better interior lighting, upholstery, steering wheel, remote trunk release, an armrest with storage, remote-controlled side mirrors, and halogen headlights.  You got wider tires, but had to pay extra for alloy wheels.

On the GSL, you got everything on the GS plus alloy wheels, cruise control, electric windows, a rear window wiper, a sunroof, and the best stereo.  The only thing I didn't care about was the stereo.  For me, the GSL was a no-brainer.  And I didn't have to spend 40 minutes in the salesman's cubicle, resisting his multiple tries to "upsell" me.

I don't recall the price spread between the trim levels, but it was probably about 10% more for a GS and 10% more again for the GSL.  With several models within a nameplate, how many choices more than three within a model do you need?  Hail to the Japanese for simplifying car-buying!

Then there's the Porsche approach: "You want our fastest car?  We're gonna de-content it and charge you more--much more.  And then we're gonna make attractive things like carbon-ceramic brakes a hugely expensive option on top of that."

Of course, a seller can take bundling too far.  My cable TV plan is one level higher than basic.  It gets me about 10 channels that I want--and 49 that I don't.  I would love to have the "American car-buying plan" for cable: cherry-pick the channels.

Or a seller can take bundling way too far.  Despite the airlines' claims, you have only two choices: unpleasant confinement for an undetermined amount of time (first class), or the same with torture added (tourist class).  For the airlines, "unbundling" simply means allowing the victim to select the instruments of torture.  Independently, years apart, without discussing it, Hotshoe, Watchtower, and I have each concluded that we've taken our last airliner trip.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Racing In The Rain" By John Horsman

I'm re-reading this excellent memoir.  There's no need to summarize it here; it has been reviewed in many places since it was published in 2006.  Also, the book's "insider" accounts of developing the Ford GT 40 and Porsche 917 have been touched on in this blog and elsewhere.  It's still in print.

So I will only say here that it is a delightful read.  Horsman's clear, forthright, no-nonsense writing style provides a "you are there" dramatic tension that keeps me turning the pages.  The book covers his entire career as a race engineer, from his earliest days with John Wyer at Aston Martin (alas, after the DBR1 era) into the early 1980's, after Wyer-Gulf was disbanded.

If you like to get into the weeds of Porsche 917 development (and I do), Racing In The Rain and Paul Frere's The Racing Porsches (long out of print) are the definitive narrative accounts. Horsman covers it from the Wyer-Gulf perspective, and Frere from Porsche's.  The differences are instructive and amusing.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Commercial Free!

The Falken Tire Porsche RSR won the GTLM class at Petit LeMans, making it two Petits in a row for the team and
helping Porsche to clinch the 2014 manufacturers title in the United Sports Car series.  But there are still five
competitive makes in this "rules holdover" from the defunct but excellent ALMS series.  After years of dual
radiators and various aerodynamic approaches to the front end of the car, Porsche finally has a decent-
looking 911 race car again in 2014.  And it does evoke the RSR's of the mid 1970's...

For a variety of reasons, I didn't watch much sports car racing on TV this summer.  And I decided to take a pass on flagging my club's fall Autobahn Country Club event this weekend.  (Lucky for me: the weather was even more windy, cold, and rainy than last year--which itself was unseasonably crummy.)  So I was free to watch Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta, which was available as a live stream internet video from the IMSA website.

The Fox TV coverage was superb, with good camera angles and direction.  The bonus was that when Fox cut to a commercial, the IMSA website just ran whichever shots the director cut to, with live sound. It's great to watch a race without being shouted at by people selling things.  I wound up watching about 6 of the 10 hours of coverage, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

A realization crept over me as I watched: it is helpful, and makes the racing more enjoyable, if you have been to the course, as I was to Road Atlanta in 2012.  I now have a much better sense of the flow of the course, how fast (or slow) the corners really are, and the best lines.  Before I went to Road Atlanta, I was a bit at sea watching it on TV.  I still am a bit at sea watching a race at Sonoma, Laguna Seca, or Virginia International (to name three course I've not been to).  This time, watching Road Atlanta on TV was like watching an event at Mid-Ohio or Road America or Watkins Glen.  My ability to understand "what it's like out there" was much enhanced.

So V.I.R. is now on my bucket list: gotta get there in the next few years!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lancia Stratos

Thanks to Top Gear for reminding me of the Lancia Stratos, which came and went in small numbers at an astronomical price.  And at a time when I was paying more attention to raising my toddlers and Formula 1 and Can-Am racing than rally cars.  But I remember vaguely noting its killer looks.

The Stratos was in production 1972-1974.  492 were built.  It was purpose-designed for the World Rally Championship and completely impractical for road use.  It had a cramped cockpit and no luggage space.  Probably even fewer would have been built if the FIA hadn't required 500 for homologation. Today, I suppose, the cars not retained for the factory rally team or sold to other pro teams would be marketed as track day cars.

The Stratos won the World Rally Championship in '74, '75, and '76.  It had 18 WRC victories ending in 1981.  It was the last successful 2wd rally car and was only eliminated as a threat to win by the 4wd Audi Quattro.  It began life as an attempt by the coachbuilder Nuccio Bertone to do some business with Lancia, which traditionally used PininFarina.  Bertone knew that Lancia was planning an assault on the WRC.  The car's beautiful lines resulted from both Bertone's pen (he didn't do many turkeys) and the fact that no compromise was necessary for practical use.

The engine was Ferrari's 2.4 liter, Vittorio Jano-designed, Dino V-6, which went back 20 years to 1958. In the Stratos, it made 190 h.p. in street spec, which resulted in a 0-60 time just under 5 seconds--very quick even by today's standards.  The WRC engine with 12 valves made 275 h.p.  The later 24-valve version made 320 h.p.

What a "toy!"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Purdy Car, Purdy Picture

The original Lotus Elite had some technical problems, not the least of which was suspension loads fed directly into an inadequately reinforced fiberglass unit body.  Not a recipe for structural durability.  But the car, with its 1.1 liter all-aluminum Coventry-Climax s.o.h.c. engine, achieved Colin Chapman's first, last, and always engineering goal: lightness.  The very sophisticated specification, including state-of-the-art suspension, came at a price to match.  But the firm couldn't make a profit on the Elite.  It probably would have bankrupted Lotus but for robust sales of the Lotus 7.

I remember a couple who drove from Cincinnati to Cleveland, and stayed for two nights, to get their Elite fixed and tuned, because nobody in Cincinnati could get it right.  On the other hand, David Hobbs and Frank Gardner won the 1.3 liter GT class at LeMans, and finished 8th overall (!), in a Team Lotus Elite, in 1962.  It was Hobbo's first international win.