Monday, March 30, 2015

My New Favorite T-Shirt

Move over, Dragon and Risi Competizione shirts.  Who says you can't get great graphic design on tees?  Available from
Vic Elford's website.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thoughts On Almost Three Years Of Blogging

The "country source of blog hits" map from today.

This blog needs more posters--that was my original idea, and the reason for the plural title.  More voices!  Any regular reader who wants to give it a whirl can be set up as a poster.  My only request as Moderator is that the subject matter stay near the subtitle's... title... : sports cars, road racing, and the Tail of the Dragon.  Leave a comment on any post if you want to contact me.

I'm running out of useful things to say, at least on a regular and frequent basis.  A couple of regular readers have taken a pass on posting.  And I'll be the first to admit that it can be time-consuming.  The more you care about your writing, and finding good pictures to go with it, the longer it takes.

About a year and a half ago, I had what turned out to be a minor problem with my iMac.  It was quickly and satisfactorily solved by Apple's help people (in a store).  I mentioned that I thought the source of my problem might be a worm/bug/bot attack from overseas, probably Russia.  My Apple helper pooh-poohed this idea (and it was not the cause of my problem).  No functionality problems since.  I keep my software enhancements and antivirus rigorously up-to-date.

But I remain convinced that blogs are a primary target of hackers.  How else to explain the map above? Aside from the usual suspects like the U.S., France, Germany, and Britain, by far the largest number of hits are from Russia, the Ukraine, and Bulgaria.  None of those places strike me as passionate about this blog's topics.

Interestingly, Russia appears sporadically but with huge numbers of hits.  The Ukraine is slow but steady, punching far above its presumed weight.  China isn't really on the radar.  This is consistent with what I've read about worm/bug/bot attacks.  The Russians tend to be state-sponsored and heavy-handed, leaving a strong evidence trail behind them.  Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans tend to be freelancers, like those Nigerian Princes who want us to send them money.  The Chinese are also state-sponsored, but very sophisticated about who and what they target, leaving little evidence of their activity.  China has bigger fish to fry than "sports cars, road racing, and the Tail of the Dragon."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Not Your Customary Porsche Cruise Night

I love a picture of a rally car hustling through a hairpin on opposite lock--but especially an original Porsche 911, at night,
with a bank of lights on the front.  Can you hear the driver goosing and feathering the throttle of that flat 6, trying to
get all the power down?

When Vic Elford, theretofore a rally specialist, won the 1968 Mote Carlo Rally for Porsche, it launched an association in
sports car racing that helped to take both Quick Vic and Porsche to the top.  Elford was always the man to beat at true
road races like the Targa Florio and long circuits like the Nurburgring.  But he was fast everywhere. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Is Here!

Hotshoe and I have come to regard our club's Indoor Driving School as the official advent of spring. Members are incentivized to "work" it with conga line laps in our street cars behind an experienced wheel-to-wheel racer (in his street car).  That's a chance to recalibrate our brains from snow and ice to normal braking points and heel-and-toe downshifts.  It has become our tune-up for our spring Tail of the Dragon run.  And a chance to reconnect with our gearhead buddies who race or work race events.

After 16 laps of Blackhawk Farms, speed-limited to 50 m.p.h. but with the corners taken at 7-8/10's, I returned home to catch the last four hours of live-streamed Sebring.  It's a reality-check to push your own street car (and yourself) hard and then watch GTLM BMW's, 'Vettes, Ferraris, and Porsches corner dead flat at over twice your speed.  Long before I joined this sports car club, Sebring was the signifier of spring for me.  For some, it's baseball training camps.  For some, it's Daffodils or Dogwoods.  Once a gearhead, always a gearhead, I suppose.

Kurt Vonnegut working on a novel, or maybe an English Professor working on a
lecture, right?  Actually it's Scott Durbin, my club's President, setting up the vids
and slide show for the morning part of the Indoor School.  Scott knows whereof
he speaks: he took a Formula Ford that was an also-ran before he owned it to
the sharp end of the grid and a club championship.

John Saccameno, Scott's co-presenter in the morning session, holds forth to the assembled multitude (about 30 newbies).
John is also an excellent journeyman driver who's lovely Alfa GTA/GTV has appeared in this blog more than once.

Run Whatcha Brung I: a sample of the daily drivers owned by people who show up at the Indoor School, interested in
High Speed Autocrossing: a late-model Mustang, a BMW Z, a Chevy Cobalt, a Porsche, and all manner of Japanese

Run Whatcha Brung II (not the trucks...).

Run Whatcha Brung III: a C 3 Corvette, a Chevy Vega-Cosworth, and a Miata.

The Vega-Cosworth caught Hotshoe's and my attention.  Hotshoe owned and loved one; I've always thought that it was one
of the lovely cars that General Motors did when John DeLorean was President.  This one has had its problematic o.e.m.
fuel injection replaced with one huge side-draft Weber carburetor.

Ahead of its time: if the Vega-Cosworth had been done right in the specification and assembly quality departments, it
could have preceded the Golf GTI as the First Hot Hatch.

False-gridded for conga-line laps of Blackhawk Farms, surrounded by my fellow Run Whatcha Brung-ers (a corner of the
purple Dodge Challenger, the late-model Mustang, a Triumph TR-4, and the Vega-Cosworth are in this shot).  My line's
leader was driving the Infiniti G-35 in front of me, and he did know the lines around Blackhawk Farms.  This old dog
learned a couple of new tricks.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"...That's Not A Knife... THIS Is A Knife..."

2015 Mustang Shelby GT 350 nose.

2009 Honda Civic Si nose.

OK, yet another post with an admittedly personal slant. ;-)   I asked an acquaintance what he thought of the Chicago Auto Show.  Actually, he didn't have a lot to say.  He enjoyed the Show (always goes, always does) but, aside from being knocked out by the new Ford GT, his only comment was "I liked the new Mustang Shelby GT 350.  I'm getting used to it.  I even like the slope nose."

One of the many things I like about my '09 Honda Civic Si is its front end styling.  I didn't recall the latest Mustang as having a sloped nose.  So I looked it up.  And now I wish I'd had the presence of mind to respond like Crocodile Dundee: "That's not a sloped nose, this is a sloped nose."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Boredom & Surprise (2015 Australian GP)

2015 McLaren-Honda: so far, "not with a bang, but with a ffsssssttttt."

Mercedes ran off and hid from the rest of the field, taking up where they left off as 2014 Champions--except by an even bigger margin.  Lewis Hamilton came close to lapping the 5th place car.  Ho, hum...

But Ferrari appears to have something for Williams to think about, and a much more driveable car for Vettel and Raikkonen.  Even the Ferrari-engined Sauber had pace.  The TV presenters said Ferrari has found 80 more horsepower.  How is that possible?  Even Lotus had pace, with Romain Grosjean toward the sharp end of the starting grid, until the team imploded (again) with various mishaps.  So the race for "best of the rest" will be interesting this year.

The astonishing news, for me, was that the Honda power train in the McLaren has way sketchy reliability.  Jensen Button's last-place finish was a result of the longest time the Honda has been able to run to date.  The TV presenters said the problems center around overheating and the KERS system, which is blowing seals, and which result from tight packaging of the power train.  It's a giant heat sink (well... as giant as any components in F-1 get...).

Well... OK...  But Honda's specialty is engineering, especially engines and power trains.  Everybody had problems with power trains and KERS last year.  Honda had a year to watch and learn.  I expected much more from them: fast and reliable out-of-the-box.  Oh, well... it's fun to root for underdogs and I'm a Honda Fan in the First Degree.  Also, Jensen Button was retained for 2015 after very shabby treatment about his contract by McLaren at the end of last season.  I smell Honda's influence there (Jensen still has a ride) and am a big Fernando Alonso fan as well.  So there is plenty of reason to watch the races this year.  I just hope McLaren-Honda doesn't turn out to be the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Browns of F-1.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Shout Out To The Mazda Miata

Above and below: The Gen 4 (2016) Miata remains state-of-the-art for a small-bore high-production roadster.

The previous post about the new Fiat 124 Spider, and the recent Top Gear piece on  the new Mazda Miata, remind me to give it a shout out.  Richard Hammond said the new Miata is still great fun.  Duh.  He made a point James May has made several times: that a rear-drive car with 50/50 balance on narrow tires is a hoot.  He also said that it weighs 200 lbs. less than the previous generation and remains the same size as the original Miata.  That's quite an accomplishment in an era of crush zones, door beams, and airbags.

The Miata anchored the low end of my "bang for the buck" spreadsheet in the aughts, when I was thinking about new cars to buy.  I couldn't find a better low-cost benchmark car until the Gen 8 Honda Civic Si came out.  At the time, I knew a guy who loved his Gen 3 MazdaSpeed (turbo) Miata.  He said it had a lot of grunt.  (It was, however, too expensive to anchor the low-price end of the spreadsheet.)  For that matter, back-in-the-day, I thought the Gen 1 Miata was a much better car than its closest competitor, the Toyota MR 2.  I drove a Miata only once.  City streets didn't allow me to push its envelope.  But the ergonomics, controls, and steering lived up to their rave press notices.

I'll be the first to admit that the Miata isn't a great road trip car.  But it's no accident that a Tail of the Dragon "local" bought a used one to build into his new slayer--on the recommendation of another local. Killboy's new FR-S might be a better platform: it has the rigidity of a coupe.  But then you can't put your coupe's top down.

So the Miata is still going strong after almost 20 years (and donating a platform to the new Fiat Spider). It has an undeserved reputation in the U.S. for being "a girl's car."  Were British and Italian roadsters of the '50's and '60's girls' cars?  Is one of the best affordable slayer platforms a girl's car?  The Miata has always been macho enough for me...  See, for example, Spec. Miata, where "rubbin' is racin'" and corner workers dread the carnage.  Come to think of it, two of the better club racers I know are women.  Neither is dumb enough to sign up for the rebuild costs of the Spec. Miata class.  Maybe women are smarter than men.   ;-)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


The styling cues from the '60's Fiat 124 Spider are more than OK with me.  But some of the preview pix have the car
looking a lot more like the (also updated) Mazda X-5 Miata.  Mine would lose these wheels for some minimalist OZ's.

The new Alfa Spider, based on the Mazda Miata platform, turns out to be the new Fiat 124 Spider.  Sigh...  It's understandable, perhaps, if Fiat wants to move a lot more units at an affordable price.  But I'd have loved to see a hard-core little brother for the 4 C, reviving the Alfa Spider name and a peaky motore Italiano.  Also, the Alfa-badged concept car had a unique look while "referring" to traditional Alfa styling cues.  It's hard to do a small-bore roadster that doesn't look generic, but the prototype Alfa pulled it off.

Above and below: the Fiat 124 Spider was a good-looking car, especially before the '70's era of Rubber Baby Buggy
Bumpers.  Yet another classy Pininfarina design.  Non-standard wheels on this one.  I remember it as a fun, if not
thrilling, car to drive.

What might have been.  But I suppose a price point in the mid-$40,000's doesn't make a lot of sense when the Alfa 4 C,
a semi-supercar, is sitting on the same showroom floor with a price point in the $50,000's.  Even though each car would
appeal to a completely different kind of buyer.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Class Reptilia, Family V-Twin, Genus Lacerta, Species Iguana

Photo from Daytona Bike Week by Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort.

OK, I'm prejudiced, but an Iguana on a Harley makes as much sense as a Harley on the Dragon.  ;-)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Another Harry Metcalfe Video

Metcalfe and I differ on the Testarossa's looks: I thought it was ugly then and still do.

Metcalfe sings the praises of his Testarossa's practicality: comfort, visibility, luggage space, and creature comforts that work.  He rightly says it's more a GT than a supercar.  Surely it must be one of the most livable Ferraris ever made.  But I'd take one of the more modern hard-edged Ferraris that he doesn't like in a heartbeat over the Testarossa, especially the 458 Italia.  But then if wishes were Ferraris, Pilote would ride... er... drive.

Around 1987, it fell to me to get a Testarossa weighed.  Two guys showed up at the steel distributorship where I worked in a Testarossa and asked if they could borrow our truck scale.  My recollection is that it weighed a bit south of 4000 lbs. with driver and fuel--maybe 3850?  That was on the heavy side in those days.  Alas, they didn't rev it so I didn't hear that sound that Metcalfe and I love.  Metcalfe says the Testarossa is not big for a supercar--it's smaller than his Countach.  It looked big to me: length and especially width.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Belaboring The Obvious (Driving Talent)

To really belabor the obvious, note the angle of the car to the paint stripe, the angle of the front tires to the car, and the
amount of body roll.  It's like that joke about breakfast: the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.  Here, F-1
driver Daniel Ricciardo is the "Star in the Reasonably Priced Car" on Top Gear.

All Hail Daniel Ricciardo!  A gearhead buddy sent me this link.  He put "Greatness" in the subject line.

Can't argue with that.  Great drivers have a sixth sense about the limits; they can quickly and consistently drive at or slightly over them.  This got me to thinking about driver skill gradations.  Our old friend the bell curve is a useful way to do that.

Toward the center of the curve are the friends and family we all ride and drive with.  These people are alarmed when they feel a car's tires generating slip angle.  It's their canary in the coal mine: this car is going too fast.  I'm gonna to crash it, or worse, he's gonna crash it and I'm stuck here in the passenger seat.  Slow down.  What's the problem with driving a tall, square-rigged, crossover SUV if you don't care about body roll?  None.  "I can see better from my taller perch."

Closer to the sharp end of the curve, but still in the fat part,  are "sporting" drivers like... me.   We are more than comfortable at side loads in excess of 0.5 g's.  Squealing tires do not alarm us.  We can easily tell the difference between a good-handling car and a bad one.  And handling is a priority for us.  But we're 8/10's drivers because our limited skills can get us on the wrong side of the car's limits--especially a really good-handling car.  It's hard for us to find a car's precise limits.

Then we have club racers, used to driving prepared cars on slick tires, consistently near or at the limits of braking and cornering capability, able to vary their lines through corners or alter them in wheel-to-wheel traffic as necessary.  They can drive a car with high and precise g-force limits all summer long with few mistakes.  But few of them have what it takes to be a champion in a national season-long points chase.  That requires even more pace, closer to the limit, with no mistakes.  The bell curve has flattened out, but we're not near the pointy end yet.

The best amateurs are repeat champions or graduate to pro racing.  A car salesman, a good friend who mentored me, once said of our dealership's owner (a three-time SCCA Champion), "He's not that good, you know.  He only drives small-bore cars."  The salesman had never driven against a clock or competition.  Just the same, I'll grant his point, as far as it went: our employer had not raced big-bore modifieds against the household names in road racing.  But he regularly stomped his class competitors and had a remarkable record of top-three finishes.  To race at this level, you need serious driving talent.  Decades later, the champion told me he had chased Joe Buzzetta in near-equal Porsche Spyders at Virginia International Raceway, and just could not catch him.  Buzzetta went on to be a Porsche factory driver, but only briefly, and he didn't reach the top rank in pro sports car racing.  There are, I'd guess, maybe 500-1000 drivers this good at any one time in the U.S.

Then we have pro drivers with consistent rides and long careers in pro series.  We're near the pointy end of the bell curve.  You don't drive for long in this segment of the curve, even if your racer has fenders, unless you've already been a demonstrated winner who's mistakes are very rare.  And you probably have a special talent.  Maybe you're a demon qualifier.  Or can move forward from mid-grid on race day. Scott Dixon (IndyCar) consistently uses less fuel than his competitors.

I remember, a few years ago, watching Fernando Alonso's Benetton hold off Michael Schumacher's Ferrari for several laps.  Alonso wasn't blocking, Michael just could not find a way past in a faster car. Last year, Daniel Ricciardo consistently out-qualified his World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel, and drove his Red Bull with its underpowered Renault engine to the front to win some races.  He gave Mercedes and Williams all they could handle, and more.  Drivers like these are at the pointy, pointy end of the bell curve: the best of the best.  A hot lap in "a reasonably priced car" is a day at the beach for them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Harry's Hooty XJ C 12-Cylinder

I've usually enjoyed Harry Metcalfe's cars and videos.  He has a penchant for offbeat, overlooked, or dismissed cars.  He has a layman's interest in engineering.  It's good to see that he now has his own video channel.  This car's power and torque aren't impressive by current standards, especially for a 5.3 (!) liter, but the V-12 sound is great, and it's easy to see why the car is so much fun to drive.  Here's the link to his interesting "one of two" Jag:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Purdy Car, Grainy Picture

Jim Clark, Lotus 49-Cosworth, Belgian Grand Prix, 1967.  Clark finished 6h, one lap down, after leading, with mechanical
woes.  Here he is just completing his braking and getting ready for turn-in into the La Source hairpin (note the angle of
his head and how the road is beginning to bank right at the right side of the picture).  It's surprising how few shots
were taken from this superb angle at Old Spa.  I don't know who the photographer was, but he got a good one.