Friday, September 12, 2008

The Chase begins in New Hampshire, Italian GP, NHRA action too

NASCAR’s fifth annual Chase for the Championship opens Sunday at the Sylvania 300 in Loudon, N.H., where 12 drivers begin a 10-race “playoff” for the Sprint Cup. But unlike most playoffs and tournaments that systematically eliminate losers, every Chase driver plays every game--along with 31 other drivers who can’t win the Cup but can impact who does.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a 1-mile, relatively flat, hard-to-pass track where drivers cover 300 laps quickly. Denny Hamlin won in the summer of 2007 and Clint Bowyer won the fall race that opened the ’07 Chase. Kurt Busch won this summer’s rain-shortened race after Tony Stewart dominated, leading almost half the laps before losing after a late-race pit stop.

Among Chase drivers, Jeff Burton leads with four New Hampshire wins. Jeff Gordon has three, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart two each, and Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Bowyer have one each. Kurt Busch (three), Ryan Newman (two) and Robby Gordon and Joe Nemechek (one each) are the only non-Chasers in Sunday’s field with NHMS wins.

Kyle Busch, who has won eight times so far this year, opens the playoff with a 30-point lead over six-time winner Carl Edwards, a 40-point lead over four-time winner Johnson and 70-point leads over one-time winners Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowyer, Hamlin and Burton. Kyle Busch’s lead is 80 points over winless Stewart, Greg Biffle, Gordon, Harvick and Matt Kenseth.

Teams will practice Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, qualify Friday afternoon at 3:15, then race Sunday afternoon at 2. The Craftsman Truck Series has a 200-lap support race at 3 Saturday afternoon.

WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

WHEN: Sept. 14

TV: 1 p.m. Eastern, ABC

DURATION: 300 laps

TRACK LENGTH: 1.058 miles



Monza, by all accounts, is one of the Grand Prix calendar’s most colorful events to attend. The Ferrari-mad tifosi always come out in droves, and the atmosphere at the circuit is nothing short of fantastic, with even the most jaded of journalists always sure to make the trip. But after the stunning conclusion to last weekend’s Belgian GP, it is going to take a lot for the Italian event to provide anywhere near the same entertainment. Perhaps there is a ray of hope, though, as the forecast calls for rain throughout the weekend.

Damp and changing conditions certainly brought the Belgian race to life, with McLaren-Mercedes team leader Lewis Hamilton throwing down with Ferrari’s defending world champion, Kimi Raikkonen. The two title contenders swapped the lead back and forth several times and ran off the road together as rain fell--before Raikkonen finally lost control and smashed into a trackside barrier, effectively handing the race to Hamilton.

But once Hamilton had celebrated on the podium and completed the postrace press conference, the race stewards announced that they were adding 25 seconds to Hamilton’s overall time because they felt he gained an unfair advantage on Raikkonen when he cut a chicane. Never mind that Hamilton immediately allowed Raikkonen to repass him, before Hamilton outbraked the Ferrari into the first turn to take the lead once more. Until McLaren’s appeal is heard, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa is the Belgian GP winner, and he now trails Hamilton by just two points with six races remaining. Raikkonen is 19 points out of the lead, and given his overall performances lately--Belgium excluded--he appears to be out of the title fight.

WHERE: Autodromo Nazionale Monza

WHEN: Sept. 14

TV: 7:30 a.m. Eastern, Speed

DURATION: 53 laps

LAST YEAR’S WINNER: Fernando Alonso



WHERE: Lowe’s Motor Speedway

WHEN: Sept. 14 (final eliminations)

TV: 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2

LAST YEAR’S WINNERS: None (new event for 2008)


WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

WHEN: Sept. 13

TV: 2:30 p.m. Eastern, Speed

DURATION: 200 laps



2008 Mazda 5

As-tested price: $22,075
Drivetrain: 2.3-liter I4; fwd, five-speed automatic
Output: 153 hp @ 6500 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Curb weight: 3475 lb
Fuel economy (EPA/AW): 23/22.9 mpg
Options: Satellite radio ($430); pearl paint ($200); compass/auto-dimming mirror ($200)

OUR TAKE: We were engaged in an e-mail conversation with some old college friends, three or four of whom were bemoaning the fact that they couldn't seem to find a small minivan, when--poof!--this Mazda showed up on our doorstep. It seemed just the vehicle for their needs.

Our report to them: We like the sticker price, and though fuel economywas not stellar, it certainly betters a full-size minivan's. It never hesitated, even as the snow piled high, even when pulling out of a slushy, drifty parking spot, even when easing out of an uncleared, sloped driveway. It's also a fine-looking vehicle, more like a station wagon than a true minivan, except for the sliding doors. The interior was lovely, with attractive styling, good materials and nice ergonomics; we especially liked the nearly vertical and forward placement of the shifter. Rear space seemed adequate for adults in the middle row and children in the third row, and power was sufficient if not eager, handling sure-footed. The ride was surprisingly smooth and quiet.

Seriously, there are no good reasons why vehicles like the Mazda 5 aren't flooding our highways and grocery-store parking lots. This has to be one of the most right-sized, practical vehicles on the market today.

Detroit Auto Show 2008: AutoWeek's Best Of


Cynics might say the 2009 ZR1 is nothing more than a Corvette with a bad-boy V8 stuffed into the engine bay--a stance taken initially by some AW editors, who questioned its Best in Show worthiness. But that line of thinking sells this supercar short.

Yes, the supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 will produce at least 620 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque, putting the ZR1 in the upper echelon of the numbers game, no matter who comes out to play. It also features an adjustable suspension, carbon-fiber bodywork, some unique exterior pieces, carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, variable steering and a close-ratio six-speed gearbox.

The sum is a whole lot greater than the collective parts: This is a JATO rocket on wheels that moves the Corvette up yet another rung on the performance-car ladder and leaves almost all competitors jinking like an F-22 Raptor to avoid certain destruction. Perhaps more significant, new fuel-economy standards that mandate a corporate average fuel economy of 35 mpg by 2020 likely mean that Chevy--or any domestic automaker-will not produce a car remotely comparable to this one for years to come. So remember the 2008 North American International Auto Show as the first time you laid eyes on the most balls-to-the-wall factory Corvette of all time.

Still not convinced? Walk the floor, take everything in, and consider: Badge snobbery and concept cars aside, there is no other machine parked on the Cobo show floor that we look forward to driving more than the ZR1. Case closed.


Audi R8 TDI concept

Cadillac CTS Coupe concept

Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Mazda Furai concept

Volkswagen Passat CC


Audi had guitar-wielding rock Bryan Adams on hand to help unveil its spectacular new R8 V12 TDI concept. The gravelly-voiced Canadian musician was an appropriate choice of sidekick, because this Audi rocks.

As if the standard R8's 420-hp, 4.2-liter V8 gasoline engine isn't enough, Audi has shoehorned its upcoming 500-hp, 6.0-liter V12 common-rail diesel powerplant into the back of its low-slung two-seater, creating the world's first diesel-powered supercar in the process. It's the diesel's whopping 738 lb-ft of torque that really steals the show--more than double that offered by the standard R8--and all of it is maintained between 1750 and 3000 rpm. The figures speak for themselves: 0 to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed in excess of 186 mph. Add a more muscular body and gee-whiz instruments, and you've got a surefire recipe for fun.


Audi R8 TDI Concept

BMW 1 Series convertible

Dodge ZEO concept

Hummer HX concept

Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

FORD F-150

Green cars, those electrified and biofueled machines flooding show floors of late, reflect the most significant trend in the industry, with individual models such as the Saturn Flextreme increasingly forecasting a future of less oil consumption and reduced tailpipe emissions. But by just about any quantitative measure, the most significant vehicle in the world today is the Ford F-150, a single nameplate that outsells most automotive marketing divisions (Ford sells more F-Series trucks than Chrysler sells vehicles, period). So when the big Blue Oval decides to update its sales juggernaut--and if the update is done well--we take notice.

The 2009 F-150 redo starts with a fresh exterior design, but according to Ford, the truck also will boast better towing and hauling specs, though the automaker wouldn't reveal the exact numbers.

A bevy of new features should broaden the truck's appeal to prospective buyers, including integrated side and tailgate steps to ease access to the bed, as well as a standard capless fuel-filler system. Available information and entertainment options include the Sync hands-free interface, navigation with real-time traffic and weather and a premium Sony sound system.

Standard safety features run the gamut, from stability-, roll- and trailer-sway-control systems to a rearview camera and an available integrated trailer-brake controller. Ford adds a trim level to the top end, too, a luxury package called Platinum that features an exclusive satin-chrome grille with mesh inserts, 10-way powered captain's chairs, wood and aluminum interior trim and 20-inch polished-aluminum wheels.

Given all that, the F-150 wasn't an automatic shoo-in for our Most Significant award, as Ford featured two other contenders for the title: the Explorer America concept and the Verve sedan concept. Both vehicles represent important segments for the struggling automaker, and we liked what we saw in terms of the direction Ford wants to take for each.


Dodge Ram

Ford Explorer America concept

Ford F-150

Ford Verve concept

MARKET: 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8

Mecum Auction

Des Moines, Iowa

July 26, 2008

Hemi, 6.1 liters, automatic transmission. Hemi orange pearl coat with black leather. As new, 85 miles on odometer. No nicks, chips or dents. Includes option package 22X, sunroof and GPS. Original list price before any hoped-for discounts or expected dealer adjustments was $41,985.

SOLD AT $52,500
Why take a new car to a classic-car auction? As famous bank robber Willie Sutton said, "That's where the money is." The history of late-model cars showing up at collector events is a long and storied one. Some 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertibles brought way more than list price even before the production line closed. Other recent sales to the "I gotta have it now, how much does it cost?" crowd have included Plymouth Prowlers, Chevrolet SSRs and numerous Corvettes--all now depreciating assets.

Paying for someone else's place in line is a tradition some call the Greater Fool Theory. You get in early, buy your car and market it before you put any miles on it and production catches up with demand. For the Eldorado in 1976, word was out that the end of the full-size American convertible was upon us. Midsize cars became full-size cars, and convertibles continued after a brief respite. Rising gas prices, possible sinking demand and the beginning of the 2009 model year are the game changers here. Who's the greater fool? You figure it out.


ESCAPE ROADS: 1920 Templar Experimental Roadster

Flamboyantly professing that its product was the automotive heir to the Order of Knights Templar (formed in the 12th century during the Crusades), the Templar Motors Corp. was born in 1917 in Cleveland.
During seven years, the company produced 6,000 luxury vehicles in models that were in some ways technically advanced. It offered such high-tech toys for the time as electric searchlights, tilt steering wheels (nicknamed "fat man's" wheels) and air compressors.

An experimental Templar roadster was the first automotive use of four-wheel brakes. Cannonball Baker, the man who would be NASCAR's first president and the inspiration for the 1980s film Cannonball Run, drove this vehicle from New York to Los Angeles in a record-breaking 1920 ride to demonstrate that Templars were durable and safe, equipped with a new four-wheel mechanical brake system.
In addition to having special brakes, Baker's Templar was custom-built and had a topless aluminum body. The three-speed car had a 43-hp, four-cylinder, overhead-valve engine.

From July 28 to Aug. 4, driving on dusty and rutted roads, Baker and mechanic Arthur Holliday barreled through rain and mud in six days, 17 hours and 33 minutes. Baker supposedly never took off his shoes. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he was lionized by the media for his driving feat. Two months later, piloting the same Templar, Baker crossed six mountain ranges during his record-breaking two-day, four-hour, 1,642-mile Three Flags Run from Mexico to Canada.

Baker's roadster was returned to Templar's factory after his 1920 rides, rebodied and outfitted with a six-cylinder engine.

John L. Smith of Newburgh, Ind., owns two of the estimated 30 Templars known to be in existence, including the one Baker drove, which Smith acquired in the 1960s. As a throw-in, he was given the car's original four-cylinder engine. He has refurbished the car, restored the original engine and put it back under the hood.
"The original four-wheel mechanical brakes did not make for a pleasurable drive, because power steering didn't exist," Smith said. "Baker needed to be strong as an ox to handle that '20 roadster. He was so strong that he had driven motorcycles and a Stutz cross-country. Even on a paved road, the four-wheel-brake Templar handles like a log wagon compared with the two-wheel-brake models Templar Motors manufactured. I can't imagine driving my car far on a dirt road, let alone for six days straight. The company's engineers obviously had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to get four-wheel brakes moving together smoothly with the car's steering mechanism."

In the four years following Baker's run, Templar's engineers tried to improve their four-wheel-brake engineering as other companies also successfully experimented with new brake technology. Duesenberg began selling a four-wheel-hydraulic-brake car in 1923. By the time Templar developed a driver-friendly, four-wheel-brake car in 1924, the company was, for a variety of reasons, nearly out of business.




Rompetori Lohja 2003

Thursday, September 4, 2008