Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

It’s been a massive two weeks for Motorsport of all disciplines. As I write this Lewis Hamilton has just taken pole position in the second running of the Korean Grand Prix and Casey Stoner has just taken one more pole for tomorrow’s Australian Moto Grand Prix at Phillip Island. I’m a long way away from being a Motorcycle enthusiast so if you’re after more information about this I suggest you find another blog.

Last week is what I want to talk about here. I didn’t move far from the couch last weekend. Well, that’s not entirely true. Saturday I had to work. I was, however, able to catch most of the Top Ten Shootout for the 49th running of the Bathurst Endurance Race at Mount Panorama but sadly missed qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. This was because I took the family out to see Harry Kewell’s first ever game in Australia. It was a thrilling end to end display that unfortunately finished in a 0-0 draw. Harry was brilliant, but, couldn’t quite drag Melbourne Victory over the line despite setting up some excellent scoring chances.

Sunday was where it was at. It was a continuous nine hour display of some of the best Motorsport action one will ever see. Japan’s Suzuka Grand Prix circuit once again showed why the old tracks are still better than the new tracks. The actual end result was pretty much written, as it was only a matter of time before Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel clinched the final point he needed to become the youngest ever two-time World Driver’s Champion. The race itself was a great display with a three way battle between Vettel, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Button eventually claiming victory from Alonso.

Before the Japanese Grand Prix though, was the annual V8 Supercars race around Mount Panorama. A long time ago I used to watch V8 Supercars quite frequently. I would follow the races quite closely to see what’s what. Time changes all though, and, eventually faced with spiralling costs, V8 Supercars has openly embraced standardised parts. All that is different on the cars now is the engine, although they are both 5.0 litre V8’s, and body shell. The cars are essentially the same. They bear as much resemblance to the road-going version as a kite does to a jumbo jet. While this ensures that racing is close it does, to my mind, give it a slightly manufactured feel. The actual cars themselves are 40mm shorter than the road-going version too.

Nonetheless, V8 Supercars remains the pinnacle of motor racing here in Australia. It’s widely regarded worldwide with any number of well-known International drivers lining up to have a go. The Gold Coast race next weekend has attracted a few NASCAR and Indy Car drivers to the field, although we will be one short, more on that in a moment. But, last weekend it was all about ‘The Mountain’.

It’s the one race a year I watch religiously. I watched it as a child with my father, together we cheered on Peter Brock. It brings back pleasant memories. The race itself has undergone a few changes in recent years. Back in the good ol’ days of Group A, B and C as many as 130 cars were lined up on the grid; V8 Commodores and Falcons sharing the limelight with Toyota Corolla’s, Jaguar Xj12’s and BMW M3’s. Has it been improved since then, well I don’t think so and I still wistfully think on those days.

Even non-motoring types know about the Bathurst race, it’s an Australian institution, like the Platypus. But for those who live under rocks, it is 161 laps around one of the most arduous and demanding circuits in the world today. That’s right, ‘the world’. I can think of perhaps only two more circuits in the world that have the mystique and wonder of ours, Germany’s Nurburgring, otherwise known as ‘the Green Hell’, or Le Mans. You could possibly add USA’s Laguna Seca circuit but really, apart from one corner that track is pretty much standard fare. No, Mount Panorama is special and we should be grateful that we have it.

This year’s event didn’t disappoint either. Like most endurance events the driver’s spent the first 140 laps setting themselves up for the final charge home. It was a case of gently, gently for most teams, David Besnard aside. There are a number of driver’s who have made the last twenty or so laps of the Bathurst 1000 their own. Peter Brock, Alan Moffat, Jim Richards, Dick Johnson. All had the ability to take their cars and find that little bit extra and really produce something special. Craig Lowndes, if not already, should also be added to that list.

Lowndes started the final 20 laps around 15 seconds down on the leader and eventual winner, Garth Tander. Craig grabbed his car by the scruff of the neck and produced qualifying speed laps again and again, until, going into the last lap, he was bang on the bumper of Tander. Garth made his car extra wide and was able to hold him off but it was a brilliant drive by Lowndes and should be forever remembered in the upper pantheon of motor racing performances. All hail ‘The Mountain’, once again it has produced some of the greatest driving the world will ever see.

Now, unfortunately, some sad news. I awoke this morning to the news that tragedy had struck at the Indy Car event in Las Vegas. After a massive 15-car pile-up, where many drivers were injured, Dan Wheldon was declared dead. For those who didn’t know of him Dan was one of those quiet, unassuming blokes that Motorsport is full of. Hugely affable and extremely likeable, he had raced everywhere and everything. He was due to race alongside James Courtney this coming weekend on the Gold Coast. I wish to offer my condolences to his family and team-mates. Dan Wheldon, you will be missed.

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Ayrton Senna

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Cars
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Honesty is probably the best place to start here. I didn’t care much for Ayrton Senna da Silva when he was driving in Formula One. To qualify that a little, I was only in my teens. I didn’t really see him as a man either; he was just a yellow helmet in a car repeatedly taking points off my hero, Alain Prost. When I first started watching Formula 1, I was around ten years old.  Ayrton Senna was just starting out with Toleman F1 and Alain Prost was the man of the moment. I quickly hitched my wagon behind him and McLaren. McLaren are still the team I follow today, almost with religious fervour.

The battle of Senna and Prost was not truly joined until the 1988 season when they were teamed together at McLaren. McLaren took 15 out of the 16 races that season and still remains one of the greatest achievements in Formula 1 history. The problem here was that it sparked a war within the team. Prost became convinced that Senna was getting better equipment and different instructions from the team. There is a great anecdote from commentating legend Murray Walker which highlights this fact. Mr Walker was waiting to interview Prost after a qualifying session and Prost asked him to wait by the McLaren motor home until the post-qualifying debriefing session finished. Murray waited for some time, hours passed before Prost exited in a huff. “Goodness Alain,” said Walker, “what could you have possibly been talking about for all that time?’ Prost quickly replied, “Oh, the debrief finished ages ago, I just didn’t want to be first to leave.”

The war continued into the 1989 season and ended when Prost left the team and joined Ferrari for 1990. I was a little miffed by this, I still supported McLaren, but I would never support Senna. This upstart had come into the team and forced out my man, Prost was ever the hero and Senna the villain. When Senna left McLaren and joined Williams in 1994 I was happy. I could proudly support my team once more. In 1993 Williams were clearly the dominant team with their all-singing, all-dancing, active everything FW-15C. With Alain Prost back at the wheel for his last season, they won quickly and easily. Senna wanted to join the team with the fastest car and at that time it was Williams. Prost went, Senna came in.

The regulatory body had different ideas and late in the piece changed the regulations to ban these advancements. How much this would have to do with Senna’s death early in the 1994 season has never, to my mind, been properly investigated as most of the focus was placed on the Williams F1 team. Williams had to scramble to remove the aids and then rebuild the car without them. It takes months to design an F1 car, to make sure that all the pieces work together. The Williams car was designed around their clever suspension and I have always wondered if that by removing it the car became un-driveable. In the previous three races Senna struggled to find a set-up, struggled to find pace in the car. That something broke on the car is beyond doubt but still, I wonder if he simply drove beyond the limits of the car once too often.

I will always remember watching the San Marino Grand Prix. I still remember exactly where I was. When Senna crashed in that race, and was later pronounced dead I remember feeling, well, nothing. No emotion whatsoever. The next race came about a fortnight later. At this time Channel 9 had the broadcasting rights to Formula 1 in Australia. Because of this there was no lead up to the races itself. If you were lucky you caught snippets of qualifying highlights on the Sunday sports programs, otherwise, as far as Australia was concerned Formula 1 didn’t exist. Also remember that there was no internet, no easy way to quickly came to terms with what had occurred in the preceding sessions. I had no idea what was planned for the next race at Monaco.

The cars were on their parade lap when Channel 9 moved to the ‘live feed’. They slowly moved into the grid spots and it quickly became apparent that the two spots at the front were not going to be filled. It had been decided that in honour of Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, who also died at San Marino, the two front spots would remain free. Then they came, in a great endless torrent my tears starting flowing. It suddenly dawned on me that two great men were gone, one largely greater than the other, but both still great. I would never again see the familiar yellow helmet hunting down rivals and doing things with a car that often left mouths agape. The memory of that moment still causes goosebumps and it is one that I will never forget.

So it came to pass, about four weeks ago, that I found myself in a movie cinema, staring at the screen. Those same scenes from the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix flashed up and, once again, so did the tears. If you still have not seen the Ayrton Senna movie, remarkably enough called, Senna, then I would urge you to do so. My views about Ayrton Senna have largely changed over time. The man was a saint. Not on the race track, but in the real world. He was still quite happy to be a villain on the track but this movie confirmed everything I have read since his death. He was a private individual, deeply religious, who loved racing but hated the bullshit that came with it, the politics, the movie captures this beautifully.

Ayrton Senna was an enigma. His work behind the wheel of Formula 1 cars is well documented, what is, or was, not so widely known is his work with charity organisations in his beloved Brazil. Ayrton came from wealth. The poverty in Brazil upset him greatly, particularly the way it affected children. With the majority of Brazilian sport stars of the time, it was almost standard to become famous and then pretend that you had never heard of Brazil. Ayrton wasn’t like this, he was immensely proud of his Brazilian heritage. In time he set up the Senna Foundation which has since raised millions of dollars to help hospitals and children’s services. During the movie you begin to understand why his death hit the country hard, think Diana but a whole lot bigger.

I don’t think the world will ever see another Ayrton Senna. Others have won more races, won more championships, but no-one ever drove a car quite like Ayrton. For two hours he kept the car on knife edge, doing fuel economy equations in his head. Others have done more in charity, helped more people but Senna’s name lives on in Brazil as the good work of the Senna Foundation continues, his sister Vivianne at the helm. Strangely enough his greatest rival, Alain Prost, is one of the directors. No, we will never see another Senna and the world will be poorer for it.

Ayrton Senna da Silva (21 March 1960 – 1 May 1994)

“Nada Pode Me Separar Do Amor De Deus”

What’s Going On In F1?

Posted: August 7, 2011 in Cars
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I love Formula One. I mean I really love it, to the point where it’s been commented on more than once, as I’ve walked into work on a Monday morning, all bleary eyed due to staying up all hours watching the latest race. I find it deeply satisfying that we, as in Australia, also have our own official round of the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) Formula One World Championship. Unlike my editors at The King’s Tribune, I can’t think of a better way for our State Government to spend $50-odd million of taxpayers money, if indeed that is the actual figure.

What I find perplexing about this though, more than the actual amount, is that the Australian Grand Prix is wholly funded by the Victorian State Government. Other Grand Prix around the world are funded at a Federal level and used as a marketing tool for that particular country’s tourism industry. This may be a solution for further down the track as hosting a round of the World Championship becomes even more expensive. It may also lead to a ‘sharing’ concept with different cities in Australia taking their turn to host the round. For this to work though Australian State Governments will have to adopt a ‘whole Australia’ concept rather than the State V. State outlook they currently have.

There is also the issue of where to race as Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit is currently the only FIA approved track within Australia and the development of race tracks is an immensely expensive proposition. The idea of Formula One cars racing their way around Bathurst’s Mount Panorama is the stuff of dreams but I’m not entirely sure it’s a dream that’s viable. Transport to and from that particular circuit is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. But where there is a will there is a way and Jenson Button driving his McLaren, ‘over the hill’, could only be a good thing, as far as pushing that particular barrow goes.

This is not the point I want to make today though. I am also not going to give you any overview into the season thus far as there are other websites and blog’s where you can gain that information. What I would like to do is highlight some issues that have been bugging me about Formula One for some time.

I have been watching Formula One for many years, knee high to grasshoppers and all that. In that time I have witnessed many changes to my beloved sport. The turbo era came and went, ideas such as sliding skirts, ground effect and increasingly exotic materials, most of which have now been banned, were also introduced. The late 1980’s and early 90’s, were particularly exciting as the cars of this time had active everything and the lap times tumbled.

Falling lap times were an issue for the ruling body as not only did this mean that races, 300 km long, were been completed more quickly, meaning fans were seeing less of the cars they’d come to see, but the cars were travelling faster and faster and driver safety became a concern. So turbocharging went, sliding skirts were outlawed and active suspension and braking was banned. Exotic materials, such as Beryllium, are no longer allowed in engine manufacture and the track width of cars was reduced, supposedly to improve overtaking.

So the FIA made rules and regulations to try and slow the cars down. Every year new laws come into effect which all are supposed to improve the ‘show’. For instance, qualifying has changed its format approximately 4 times in the last ten years. As a result of all this rule changing the cars are just about as fast as they’ve ever been. The FIA have also been particularly interested in lowering the cost of Formula 1. The reason for this is to make entering F1 cheaper and therefore more encouraging to other teams.

The cost of F1 is prohibitive. Every year, over $2 billion is spent taking the ‘show’ around the globe and that, as they say, is real money. But, as it currently stands the new teams that have come into Formula 1, Virgin, Lotus, HRT, have probably done more to hamper F1 then help it on its way. This may change along the way but it will only come when those particular teams start spending more money. There are signs at Virgin and Lotus that good things are to come but they are a long way, years and years, from winning races.

I have a problem with all of this. Formula 1 is supposed to be expensive. It’s supposed to be an exhibition of technology and driving skill. At the moment we have long life engines that have to last four or five races each. Gearboxes are now supposed to last something like eight races each. It used to be that these parts were pulled out and stripped down after every session. Finish a practice session, pull the engine and gearbox out of the car and replace it with a brand new combination. Qualifying soon, well pull the practice engine out and put in the qualifying one that revs well over 20,000 RPM.

Formula 1 used to be the technological pinnacle of motor sports. There are many road car technologies that came from F1. Active suspension came from F1, carbon brakes came from F1, semi-automatic gearboxes came from F1. It’s not really the case any longer. F1 has borrowed KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) from road cars. While I agree that KERS is an important and worthwhile technology I don’t really think Formula 1 is the correct forum for it. Every year the maximum RPM an engine can achieve has been made lower and lower. From over 20,000 RPM it’s dropped to 19,000, then 18,000. From 2014 we go from 2.4l V8 engines to 1.6l V6’s with a top RPM of 14,000. Please, can someone stop the madness.

What I don’t understand is that the FIA are all about saving costs. Nothing could be more expensive than developing a new engine and making it reliable enough to not only last one 300 km race, but four 300 km races. This is not Formula 1 as I knew it growing up. We are no longer watching cars that have been designed to wring the very last drop of performance out of their respective packages. More often than not, due to refueling no longer being allowed, we are watching giant economy runs where the drivers are been ordered to turn down the ‘wick’ and not race each other. All to ensure that no extra damage is done to the engine so that it can be used next race.

More often than not we know what the result is going to be after the final pit stop as the guys worry about the next race and look after their equipment. I just want to see racing again, right to the chequered flag. I just want to see drivers drive without worrying about their fuel level or their tyres. I just want my Formula One back.

The SUV Conundrum

Posted: July 30, 2011 in Cars
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Okay, we’re going to get a little interactive here. Hands up if you own one of the following; Ford Territory, Subaru Tribeca, BMW X3 – X6, Toyota RAV4 or Kluger, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento or Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander, Holden Captiva, Mercedes M-Class, Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V or any other so-called SUV.

Right, got them up, good, now keep them up if you can tell me why. Seriously, what made you buy one of these over a regular station wagon? For the life of me I can’t figure it out and I deal with pretty much every one of the aforementioned vehicles on a daily basis. Where, you might ask? In the scrub? No. Out on a mountain trail? Again, no. In fact I deal with them on the daily school run. This makes the mystery of these vehicles run ever deeper.

In the commercials for these cars we see families leaving the city behind and heading into the bush. We see them climbing mountain roads and heading into regions that even Sir Ranulph Fiennes would balk at, towing a boat! They are the ultimate answer to a question that nobody has ever asked.

When the first SUV, or Sports Utility Vehicle, lobbed onto our shores, motoring journalists across the nation didn’t even know how to refer to them. The first term used was Soft Off-Roader and referred to the Toyota RAV4. Off-roader? Most of these things would have trouble climbing a leafy driveway. So that one was scrubbed and we borrowed the term SUV from the Americans.

When I think about the term SUV in its entirety I can’t even work out how that one fits. Let’s break it up. S stands for Sports. When I think of Sports and how it relates to vehicles I think Lotus Elise/Exige, I think Porsche 911, I think touring cars and Formula One. In other words I think lightweight track cars that make the driver and car connect in a way that ensures driving nirvana. I sure as hell don’t think of a near two-tonne lumbering barge that even when you really give it the beans has trouble getting to one hundred km/h inside double figures.

U stands for utility. Once you tick the option for the extra row of seats, (and yes, I’ll admit that having seven seats can be handy), the luggage capacity for one of these is reduced to the size of a hand-bag. So unless you’re carrying the average super-models lunch you’re going to run into problems trying to fit the shopping in, let alone heading out to Bunnings to pick up supplies for that little DIY project. Utility in Australia means just that. The Holden Ute, the Ford Ute, Toyota HiLux and others. They’re one-tonners and they get the job done. How many tradies do you see on-site with their Captivas waiting in the wings?

V stands for Vehicle, and when you get right down to it that’s what you’re buying. Forget everything else. At best they’re a niche market that’s gone mainstream. I would conservatively suggest that 85% of these vehicles are driven by women and I sometimes watch and wonder what they are thinking when they’re struggling to get into a Shopping Centre car park or trying to perform a three-point turn. I’m not suggesting that male drivers could do these manoeuvres any better, I’m just trying to point out they’re a big car and big cars are harder to park than smaller cars. It’s just common sense.

A friend recently bought a Ford Territory and I posed the question to him. Why? The best he could come up with was that it has a high-driving position. Personally, I hate a high driving position for a number of reasons. One, you’re high, and that means you’re further removed from the road and therefore less likely to be able to feel what the car is doing. Two, you’re high, this means that your centre of gravity is too. This is why back in the early days of these vehicles had a nasty tendency to fall over when navigating a slight bend. When it all comes down to it the only reason to buy a vehicle with a high driving position is so you can see over all the other idiots that have bought these stupid vehicles.

In Europe, sales figures of SUV’s have plummeted as the public have drifted back to station wagons. They have realised that there is no distinct benefit to buying one. You get no extra room, no extra features and a worse driving experience. Because these vehicles also have a token 4WD option you get a massive amount of weight which in turn pushes your fuel costs up until even people like me, with massive V8’s, are laughing at you as you fill your tank for the third time that week.

For example, as some of you may have read, last year I drove from Melbourne to Surfers Paradise in my V8. This was a trip that my father in law did in a Hyundai Sportage V6 not so long ago. The results: I managed 5000 kms at a combined average fuel use of 10.4l / 100 km. The Hyundai managed just 12.5l / 100 km. It was basically the same trip except I had more in town running which should have made my figures a whole lot worse.

Then you get that special idiot who’s bought one of these who comes out with the standard, “I like having the option of going off-road.” Yeah, really, how’s that working out for you Sparky? Let’s face facts, the closest any of these will go to being off-road is parking on someone’s nature strip, and even that will be a struggle. They are a compromise, they are supposed to drive like a car on the road and perform like a Range Rover when they’re off it. What we end up with is something that can’t do either. A real off-road driver buys a LandCruiser or a Range Rover which is fantastic in the scrub but handles like a boat on the road, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. No compromise and no excuses, they are what they are, dedicated off-road machines.

The SUV is a category of vehicle that should never have existed. There was no need for them then and no need for them now. The sales figures though suggest otherwise and prove that the idiots are indeed breeding. I urge you all, if you’re considering buying one of these mutants, take a wagon for a drive before making your final decision. You will thank me for it later.

This articles was first published in the May 2010 issue of The King’s Tribune.

Cars and the Souls of Nations

Posted: July 27, 2011 in Cars

As a self confessed car enthusiast I try to get my hands on all sorts of car based literature, the better to keep up with recent vehicular releases. As such, amongst other publications, I always buy the Friday Herald-Sun for its Cars Guide. I like the Cars Guide editor, Paul Gover. I’ve never actually met the man, but he writes from his motorist soul and usually makes a great deal of sense. I don’t agree with everything he’s written but I’m sure that doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

One of our recent disagreements came up about six months ago, when Nissan chose to unleash the brand new GT-R on our roads. The Nissan GT-R has always been a favourite of mine, but it has been missing from the local showrooms since around 1992, when it was known worldwide as the Skyline. For years after World War 2 when Japan’s industries were getting back up and running, Japan’s various car brands only really built quirky little fuel efficient cars. Eventually, they tried their hand at building supercars and to do this copied the obvious source, Ferrari. Their versions were solidly built, reliable and the performance was almost there, but something was missing and they were relegated to being what they were: cheap knock-offs.

The Skyline GT-R changed all that. This was Nissan saying to the world “we don’t need to copy you or anyone else and we are quite capable of making our own supercars thank you”. The GT-R brought performance motoring to the masses, with supercar qualities at a reasonable price. The new generation of GT-R continues this tradition. It has better performance than a Lamborghini Gallardo but, at around $160 000, is a third of the price. It has also controversially broken the 7:30 minute lap around the famous Nurburgring circuit in Germany, usually the domain of much more expensive Porsche 911’s.

The source of my disagreement with Mr Gover is this. He claimed that the GT-R did nothing to excite him. The problem is, the car, being so technologically advanced, made normal driving boring. Everyday road use is so far below its capabilities you may as well be driving a Camry for the feel you garner from it at regular highway speeds.

I haven’t driven this car and unless the lottery gods smile upon me I probably never will, but Gover’s sentiments are being echoed by all motoring journalists around the world. The GT-R does not come alive until you are on a racetrack taking it to the very limit of physics and very probably approaching quantum. In essence, he wrote that for everyday driving the car has a wooden feel and it has no soul.

To fully explain my point of view, and what I mean by a vehicle having soul, I’ll have to go back a little further. All cars have a national identity and to prove it I’ll throw a few brands and their performance cars at you.

It is hard to think of Italy without thinking of the prancing Ferrari stallion at Maranello. Ferrari build cars full of fiery red blooded passion, which will kill you if you even think of taking liberties. This sentiment is copied down the road at Lamborghini even if it is now run by Germans.

When you think of Great Britain, you think whinging poms, bad food and worse weather but, you also think of James Bond which inevitably leads you to Aston Martins and Jaguars. And, nothing says British like a Rolls-Royce. I know that Rolls-Royce is now built in Germany, an Egyptian consortium owns Aston Martin and Indian car giant Tata owns Jaguar but the soul of Britain has been retained.

Speaking of Germany, just try and tell me their cars don’t remind you of the people, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the BMW M5 and Audi’s RS4 in particular. They are taciturn, stern cars but when you let them out of the box they are out for a good time. The French on the other hand, have better things to do than build cars; imbibing wine and cheese while making love but, when they take a break from these things they build quirky, fashionable cars that fit the people like a glove, I’m thinking mainly Renault and Citroen here.

America’s national motoring identity is without a doubt the Ford Mustang. It is big, brash and has trouble thinking laterally (read cornering), but, Americans introduced the world to muscle cars. They tend to be simple creatures with basic chassis, brakes and interiors but they have huge engines and I am a fan, not so much of the people but definitely their vehicles.

We Australians should be proud of our performance vehicles, while not as complex as the British they are more advanced then the Americans; particularly when it comes to lateral thinking (again read cornering), and, I’d like to think representative of the people that live here.

This brings me back to Japan. Japan is the enigma of the motoring world. Looking at their brands does nothing to help matters. Suzuki builds fun little cars for young people, Honda builds cars for pensioners (don’t try and deny it Honda the evidence is there), while Toyota builds cars for people who aren’t paying attention. The other Japanese brands Mitsubishi, Subaru and of course Nissan basically try and build all things to all people. Nissan are perhaps the most confusing of the bunch. They build the Micra which, despite a funky outer appearance, is as dull as wallpaper paste, all the way to the all-conquering GT-R and the source of my disagreement with Mr Gover.

You see, I think the GT-R and other Japanese cars do have soul. When I think of Japan I think of an industrious people, efficiency and cutting edge technology. When I think of cars like the GT-R, Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX I think the same thing. The GT-R is an amazing technological achievement, which has electronically controlled active everything. There is almost more computer power in this car than at NASA. For example, it assesses the position of the car 100 times a second and makes adjustments to the suspension and power output automatically while never bothering to ask the driver what her or she thinks about it. While this gives it performance second to almost none, I have no doubt, at 60 km/h, it dulls the driving experience somewhat.

My argument though, is why can’t technology and efficiency be the Japanese answer to the passion you get from Ferrari, the old boys network of Britain and the strict German uncle who occasionally, lets his hair down and heads out to see Kraftwerk. I realise that buying a car like the GT-R and trying to drive it to work every day may not be that much fun but, that one day, when the racetrack is open to the public and you release the GT-R’s full potential, I promise all will be forgiven.

This article first appeared in the March 2010 issue of The King’s Tribune.

Love The Beast

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Cars
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All Australians know Eric Bana as a Hollywood darling come from the streets of Tullamarine in Victoria. What most probably don’t know is that Bana has a hobby. As often as he can Eric pilots his Porsche 911 GT3 in the Australian GT3 Championship. Eric also still owns the first car he ever purchased, a Ford XB Falcon coupe, nicknamed ‘The Beast’.

This lays the framework for Love The Beast. I realise that this film has been out for a while now but due to its limited cinema release, and the difficulty of finding a rental shop that stocks it, I only saw it recently. This review will also serve as companion to the next series of articles I will write.

Love The Beast is a documentary based on two of the great loves in Bana’s life, racing and his Falcon. It documents the build-up to Bana’s participation in the 2007 Targa Tasmania and the preparation that the Falcon must undergo to become a fully fledged racing car.

Interspersed with this are interviews that Bana conducts with Jay Leno, Dr Phil McGraw and my personal hero, Jeremy Clarkson. The interviews are all related to a person’s relationship with their vehicles of choice. Dr. Phil’s specific brand of psychobabble is quite revealing, while Leno and Clarkson speak from the heart as motoring enthusiasts. For those that don’t know Jay Leno owns quite possibly the world’s largest collections of vehicles and we get to have a quick walkthrough of his premises, consisting of about four large sheds and we get to hear Clarkson refer to Bana’s car as ‘crap’.

The film covers Bana’s history with the Targa Tasmania. He first competed in this event in 1997, which was the first time his Falcon became a racing car. Armed with no knowledge and limited practical experience Bana and four friends run ‘The Beast’ in Targa and finish third in their class. At the end of the event Bana swore that he would continue to compete in this event. However, working commitments mean, that ten years later, 2007 is his first real opportunity.

So, with his four friends from the 1997 event and his mum and dad, Bana’s participation in the 2007 event is filmed. Other guest appearances include long time Targa participants as well as Bathurst 1000 and Targa legend, Jim Richards. Although the Herald-Sun, and other news outlets, reported the outcome of Bana’s race I won’t repeat it here on the outside chance that you, dear reader, didn’t catch it.

What struck me most about this film isn’t the cars, although that is what the film is about, but, the people involved. The way that cars bring people together is captured so elegantly and seamlessly that you don’t realise it at the time of watching. This is a film about family and friendship as much as metal and one of the standout movies that I have recently seen.

Do you want a star rating? Do you want me to try and objectively qualify the quality of this film? Well, I’m not gonna play that game. The film was exceptional as I have mentioned but it wasn’t perfect. It inspired me to the point that I now really want to buy an old car and fix it up with my own sons. The way the film was laid out and presented was good and the building of tension, even though I knew the outcome, had me riveted. The best I can do is to say that I would recommend it to everyone, especially non-car people, so that they may understand what it means to have a special connection with a piece of metal. Just like Bana and his ‘Beast’.

This article first appeared in the March 2010 issue of The King’s Tribune.

Petrol Power Is Here To Stay

Posted: July 14, 2011 in Cars

It’s the reflections issue. I’ve only written three pieces for this ol’ magazine, so in reality the only thing I can reflect on is how the hell I’ve put on so much weight in the last six months. I’m tipping excessive food intake and no exercise. So, rather than reflect, I’m revolting and writing a whole brand new piece.

The Tokyo Motor Show was on just recently. Apparently, the majority of brands decided that, instead of going to Tokyo, they would just eschew the whole event, drink beer in Germany and then present their new vehicles and concepts at Frankfurt. Can’t say I blame them really.

This left the organisers of the Tokyo event with a rather large conundrum; not least because even the Japanese brands had followed the lead of their European and American cousins and buggered off to Oktoberfest as well. After much grovelling and begging, the Japanese brands decided to send their new range of electric vehicles.

This got me thinking about the future of motoring, not only in this country, but in the rest of the world as well.

The electric vehicles on display were all of the plug-in variety, even the hybrids. Mitsubishi are probably the most advanced in the field of plug-in electric car with their iMiev. I’ll admit that the iMiev car is pretty handy, around the city. Its range is still tiny (approx 250 km) compared to petrol and hybrids and Mitsubishi themselves have admitted that without proper infrastructure eg. recharge points, at car parks and other locations the iMiev remains a pipe dream for most Australians. Requests to the Australian Federal and State Governments for commitments relating to recharge points have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

I can see the government’s point though. If the whole of Australia goes for electric motoring how are they going to make any money out of it? At present the Government earns about 60 cents a litre from the sale of petrol. This means that every time I fill my 70 litre petrol tank I am giving the Government $42.00 for them to supposedly spend on road work and infrastructure development. Apart from the GST applied to the purchase of electricity to recharge the car; they’re not going to make any money from electric cars.

The technology involved in the internal combustion engine is old and, I would estimate, about 50 years out of date. General Motors have had a car that runs on water since the early 70’s and the idea of an electric car has been around now since….well, since the birth of electricity probably. But these ideas have never advanced any further than they are now. Why is that?

Putting my conspiracy hat on I would suggest that there is a major link between the car companies and the oil companies. To suggest otherwise would be naïve. Therefore I can’t see any major advances in electric technology until the oil runs out. Even hybrids, filthy hybrids, are just a temporary solution so that the use of oil power continues.

Why don’t I like hybrids I hear you ask? There has been a study recently that shows a Toyota Prius owned over three years, including all the mining of raw materials and producing the bits in factories, has the same global impact as owning a Land Rover Discovery 3, which is only a small step down from setting off a nuclear bomb for warmth. Hybrids mainly use NiMh batteries that are good for about three years before needing to be replaced, and where we dump the old batteries is problematic. In a collision there is the chance that the batteries will split and dump their acidic insides all over the place. But worst of all, why do all hybrids look like a normal car that has been pre-collided? Does the style of a vehicle even matter to the average person anymore? Show me a good looking hybrid and I’ll give you a decent wad of hard earned.

I like the idea of electric cars, but we haven’t nailed it yet. At this point in time I’m putting my star behind hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Although extracting it for use in electricity generation is a little time consuming, approximately 4 kg of liquid hydrogen will provide a vehicle with enough power to do 400 + km. Hydrogen, when burnt in fuel cells, gives off water vapour and that’s all. No horrible burnt hydrocarbons to stink up the place. The refuelling infrastructure would be similar to what we are using now and best of all, for the Government could tax it like they tax petrol. So why is everyone sitting on their hands? Why aren’t we producing Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars by the millions?

Oh yeah. Oil. Texas tea. Black gold. There is still bucket loads of it waiting to be liberated from its underground prison. There is still money to be made. Make no mistake, this stuff will be pumped from the ground until there is no more. When we get to the end of our supply there will no doubt be a massive global war to control what is left. A war to end all wars. There will probably be millions and millions, perhaps billions, of people killed.

Oh well, at least I’ll have the roads to myself.

This article first appeared in the December 2009 issue of the The King’s Tribune.