Posted by: Jerry Garrett | July 29, 2014

Please Note: Dodge’s Hellcat Is Not A Car

Dodge's Hellcat is not a car.

Dodge’s Hellcat is not a car.

 

Appearances can be deceiving.

Dodge’s 707-horsepower Hellcat is not a car.

It’s an engine.

It just happens that, right now, the only place you can buy one is in a $60,000 Dodge Challenger muscle car.

The introduction of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat generated a lot of press, and new buzz around the retro-themed Challenger. Rightly so. No muscle car has ever been blessed with so much horsepower.

But an engine is a module that is transportable.

So, the question is: What other installations might be possible for the Hellcat?

The "naked" Hellcat

The “naked” Hellcat

The Dodge Charger was expected to be the next recipient. A Hellcat in a Charger would make it the most powerful sedan ever built. (That would easily top the current crop of speedy sedans from the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-AMG, which all consigned to the “mere” 600-horsepower realm.)

The Los Angeles Auto Show in November would probably be an apropos venue for introducing such a car, which would carry a 2015 model year designation.

What would such a car would look like?  Very much like the 2015 Charger sedan, which was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January.

A hint this was in the cards for the Charger? Earlier in 2014, Chrysler included a “2015 Dodge Charger 6.2L SC SRT” when it participated in a third-party engine rating test with the Society of Automotive Engineers. No, the word “Hellcat” was not specifically used, the engine’s specifications match those of the Hellcat.

And what specifications they are: A 6.2-liter V8 engine with the company’s first use of a production supercharger, which results in 707 horsepower and 621 pounds-feet of torque. For a good explanation of the Hellcat’s internals and how it does what it does, check out this article on Chrysler’s media site.

(The Challenger Hellcat is not the first instance of a 700-plus horsepower version; aftermarket tuners have been installing superchargers on Hemi engines, and squeezing 700 and more horsepower out of them, since at least 2009.)

So what other installations might we speculate about, that might receive Hellcat heart transplants? Well, don’t expect one in the Viper. It doesn’t fit.

Jerry Garrett

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 29, 2014

A Journey of War & Remembrance: The Marne To The Rhine

IMG_7322

A panorama of our Audi R8 on a peaceful byway, once a bloody battlefield, in France’s Champagne region. (JG Photo)

MEAUX, France

“What river is this?”

“The Marne, at least that is what the navigation system says,” replied Sherry, my companion on an impromptu drive through Champagne country in northeastern France.

The bucolic Marne, thru the eyes of Paul Cezanne

“Oh the Marne has a lot of history around it,” said I, the history major. “In World War I there was a famous battle fought around here. The French defeated the Germans because all the taxi drivers of Paris rushed car loads of soldiers out here in the middle of the night to reinforce the army.”

In fact – I had no idea how right I was – the battle had been fought exactly here, in Meaux, where we were driving at the moment I related this little historical tidbit. Right at the gates of Meaux, through which we driving on streets like “Rue de la Victoire” and “Rue de Verdun”.

Another fascinating coincidence: That famous Battle of the Marne had occurred 100 years before (actually early September 1914), and the centennial celebrations were just starting in the city and the surrounding countryside, which were adorned with flags, flowers and remembrances for the occasion. The Germans were turned away, and not only was Meaux saved, but also Paris which is only 45 miles away, and by extension all of France.

Later in that same war, the Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 was similarly decisive, and was instrumental in the final defeat of Germany 100 days later.

But, driving along in a loaned Audi R8 which we were returning to Germany, we were largely clueless about the history we had stumbled onto (my bachelors degree in 20th Century world history, notwithstanding). The R8 has a largely inscrutable navigation system that will generally offer you three possible routes of travel to your chosen destination.

Champagne region: Worth fighting for?

Champagne region: Worth fighting for?

One is fastest, another is shortest, and the third seems to be the scenic route (a.k.a. “roads you should probably never take a $200,000 car on”).

We were being sent along a route the car had chosen for us, to a B&B on the north side of Reims – the Champagne capital of the world. It was an enchanting drive, on this perfect summer day, through countryside that could not have appeared more serene. But besides the Marne, some other signs along the road, and places we traveled through, the names seemed awfully familiar: Chateau Thierry, Loivre, Tardenois, Fismes and Belleau Wood – this latter I recognized as the battlefield where American Marines made a distinguished, heroic, historic stand.

Essentially, the navigation system was taking us along the route of numerous German retreats – rather magnanimous, considering where the car was from.

A typical French war memorial

A typical French war memorial

We passed large American cemeteries – one located on a peaceful country hillside was especially poignant – that are still carefully and respectfully tended (there are three major American cemeteries in this part of France). Every little village seemed to have a monument erected in its center, honoring the war dead, 1914-1918. A large number of them also had monuments to the World War II casualties that were suffered in the same town. In fact, these same areas had been invaded, ravaged and pillaged countless times down through the centuries; we found one battlefield where a monument informed us Attila and the Huns had been defeated there in 451 (the Battle of Chalons-en-Champagne)!

An informative series of articles appearing this week in The New York Times, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the 75th anniversary of the start of World War II and subsequent conflicts, points out that after centuries of conflict this region has been left in merciful peace the last seven decades or so. That’s probably some kind of record!

In summer, with the red poppies in bloom, the fields full of wheat, corn, canola and sugar beets, it seems hard to imagine wars were once fought here. The fields, in fact, are an indication of wariness surrounding considerations of other uses for these areas: Many areas are still laced with unexploded bombs, grenades, mortar shells and other ordnance. Many fields are still littered with war paraphernalia, soldiers’ personal artifacts and even bodies still in uniform. Farmers are careful not to disturb these fields any deeper than a plow might go.

The American Cemetery at Oise-Aisne (Wikipedia)

Our journey continued through the French countryside up into the Ardennes Forest, through Sedan at the end of the silly Maginot Line, to Bastogne which is remembered for WWII’s decisive Battle of the Bulge. These strategic roads, which were once the thoroughfares of conquering hordes, are now in many places little more than the width of an R8.

We lingered for three days in this area, taking in all the sights we could see, including a detour into Luxembourg to see how that small country was devastated by war. In one fair-sized town bordering Germany, we noticed that several of the old buildings have been left as they were in 1945 – pockmarked by hundreds of bullets and mortar shells.

After a few leisurely days exploring this area, we crossed the Rhine River near the site of the famous bridge at Remagen (now gone). That uneventfully completed a Marne-to-Rhine journey (300 miles) that would have taken months, if not years, and cost millions of lives a hundred years before.

It is unthinkable now that such events could have occurred in the stunningly beautiful, tranquil countryside we had just visited. Wars continue around the world, and regrettably probably always will, but it seems along the route of remembrance our R8 took us on, thankfully, people have finally learned the lessons of history.

Jerry Garrett

June 28, 2014 (100 years to the day, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Serbia – which triggered the World To End All Wars)

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 13, 2014

300,000 Racing Fans Converging on Le Mans

Le Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans! (lemans24tour.com)

LE MANS, France

A crowd approaching 300,000 people was converging here for the start today of the 82nd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race – the largest attendance at a sports event in the world this year.

“They announced a crowd of 255,000 here last year, and they expect to beat that significantly this year; I expect them to be close to 300,000 this year,” said John Hindhaugh, a radio announcer, historian and tour packager for the event, in an interview. “We put up a ‘pop-up hotel’ in the infield this year, with 200 rooms, and they were all sold out by December. Up to 85,000 people will be coming to the race from England alone.”

Large contingents are also expected from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the United States and Japan – not to mention France itself.

National Geographic lists the Le Mans endurance race, which has been going on here since 1923, at No. 1 on its list of the world’s top ten sporting events – with a larger single-day crowd than any single World Cup soccer or Olympic event. The Indianapolis 500 is believed to have previously attracted larger crowds – that event’s attendance has never been officially announced – but interest has fallen somewhat in recent years.

“Le Mans is fantastic, spectacular – like nothing else I’ve ever seen or felt,” said Allan McNish, who retired last year after winning the race for a third time, in an interview here Thursday. “It’s the most daunting place I’ve ever driven.”

The appeal of speed, skill and stamina seems to provide an increasingly irresistible lure for racing fans.

“This year, it is possibly the most important race here in a generation,” Hindhaugh said. He cited new regulations that make the race cars more relatable to street cars, and a three-way battle between Audi, Toyota and Porsche factory teams as special points of interest.

“This race has become more relevant, thanks to Audi,” Hindhaugh added, “because they’ve made it relevant” over the past 15 years with the implementation of innovations such as turbocharged diesel engines, modular drivetrain components, regenerative hybrid electric systems, and advanced lighting. “The technologies they have introduced at Le Mans have gone directly into their road cars. A guy who looks at an Audi Le Mans racer can truly say, ‘What’s in that is what is in my A6’ or whatever Audi he might drive. The R8 road car is a direct descendant of the Le Mans R8s.

“And it is not just Audi that brings racing technology to road cars. Wipers, disc brakes, even tire sizes, compounds and treads have been perfected at Le Mans.”

Dunlop, the tire company, claims in an ad that Le Mans racing helped them figure out a solution to aquaplaning – when tires “float” over rain-soaked roads, rather than cut through the water and continue to grip.

This year, organizers have felt compelled to tweak the rules, in an attempt to neutralize Audi’s hegemony – the German luxury manufacturer’s entries are going for their 13th victory in the past 15 years. The fuel allotment for Audi’s diesel hybrids has been cut significantly, vis a vis their petrol-powered rivals at Toyota and Porsche.

“They are being expected to maintain efficiency, power and reliability, while making do with 25 per cent less fuel,” Hindhaugh said. “Despite that, I expect them to have higher top speeds, faster lap times, and to break their race distance records.”

Still, the Audi teams seem to be running closer to the ragged edge of control, to try and keep up. While Toyota has won both contests in the World Endurance Championship leading up to Le Mans, Audi has destroyed two cars. A third, driven by Loic Duval, one of McNish’s teammates on last year’s winning car, was added to the Audi junkyard Wednesday when Duval lost control, and flipped his car into a concrete barrier.

A backup chassis was permitted to replace it, and rebuilt overnight; but Duval was ruled medically unfit to compete. That leaves only Tom Kristensen, who has won this event as a co-driver a record nine times, in competition from last year’s winning entry.

Porsche has also shown surprising strength, in its first official factory-backed effort here since 1998.

“All three of them have got something to prove,” McNish said. “The Le Mans trophy is the one that is missing from Toyota’s cabinet. Porsche is not subtle about their desire to win this race, and show up Audi; signing driver Mark Webber away from the Red Bull Formula One team is an indication of that. And Audi wants to prove that at Le Mans it is still at home.”

Other marques represented include Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Nissan and Ferrari.

For manufacturers, Hindhaugh said, “Le Mans is a 200-mile-per-hour laboratory.”

Jerry Garrett

June 14, 2014

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | June 13, 2014

Ten Free, Common Sense Tips For Tire Safety

Tires are the only things connecting your car to the road (smartreadwear.com)

 

Tire safety is a lot bigger deal than most drivers seem to understand. Tires are the only things that connect your car to the road. If there is anything wrong with any of those four rubber doughnuts, you and your family are not going to as safe as you could or should be in your car.

Having safe tires is not hard. It doesn’t take an engineering degree, or mechanic’s training. It is not rocket science. But there is an easy, common sense checklist of a few things that you can do to insure safer tires – and safer motoring. Best of all, following these tips will NOT cost you any money!

Here are some tips:

George cannot lie about your tread wear!

1. Tread is your friend. Treads provide traction. Worn treads mean less traction. On wet roads, the treads help channel water away, and limit aquaplaning (a situation where your tires are actually floating on water and not making contact with the road). Check your tread by using a quarter to measure how much wear your tires are showing. If you can see the top of George Washington’s head when the coin is inserted into the tread, you have less than 4/32nds of an inch of tread remaining. Time to look for new tires. In most states, 2/32nds is the legal minimum.

2. Another tip about tread wear: Check the whole tire. Make sure it is wearing the same all across the face of the tread. If your tread is thinner on the inside or the outside of the tread, something is not right with your car’s suspension tuning. Don’t be afraid to have it checked or adjusted. Don’t wait for things to fall apart. Suspension alignment is cheaper than suspension repair. Cupping, or irregular patches of wear can point to worn out, damaged or defective shock absorbers; cupping also makes for a rough ride. Visual inspection of the tire is an important safety consideration, but don’t try to guesstimate whether your tires are road-worthy or not, just by noting that they are round.

Professionals can rotate tires quite quickly.

3. Rotating your tires every 6,000-8,000 miles is another inexpensive way to maximize tire life, and minimize traction loss. If your car is front-wheel-drive, your front tires will work harder than your back ones; the same is true in reverse if your car is rear-wheel drive. Spread the workload around by swapping front tires to the back and vice versa (in an X pattern). A lot of tire retailers will do this for free, to try and win your business.

4. Do you own a tire pressure gauge? You should (if you don’t, you can also borrow one pretty easily; if you buy one, invest in a decent gauge, not a toy). It’s not hard to take the valve cap off and test your tire pressure . Your tires should all have the same air pressure. Even variations of a pound or two can make a big difference in handling, or whether your car goes down the road straight (if it doesn’t that’s a clue you have a problem to address).

5. Check your tire pressures when the tires are cold, or cool. Air pressure registers higher in a hot tire; not an accurate measurement!

Air up carefully! (Disneyshorts)

6. Make sure each tire’s air stem has a valve cap, and that each cap is snugly tightened. A tire without a valve cap will lose air pretty quick, not matter how good, expensive or new the tire is. If you are missing a valve cap, just go to a tire store; they will probably give you one.

7. Air up. How do you know what is the right air pressure for your tires? Here’s a tip: Don’t go by what you see on the tire. On the sidewall of every tire (by law) is its maximum inflation pressure. You don’t want that. The inflation number you want is on a sticker on the doorjamb of the driver’s door, or inside your glove compartment door (or, as a backup, in your owner’s manual). Check tire pressure at least once a month – or before a long road trip, for sure. You know all those peeled tire treads you see along the road – especially during summer? Those are from tires that didn’t have enough air pressure in them; the tread came unglued (the technical term is “de-laminated”) from the belts underneath it and tore off. De-lamination is very dangerous, at highway speeds. (Bonus tip: Did you know that in a pinch, you can even use a bicycle pump to add air to your car tires? It works, although it is slow and some effort is involved!)

8. Also, make sure the tires on your car are right size. If you bought your car used, there is a chance they might not be – particularly if your car was customized at all.

Be sure to adjust tire pressures for family trips!

9. Adjust your tire pressure if you are carrying extra weight – such as people and/or cargo – or pulling a trailer of some kind. Towing a boat or camper, adding a luggage rack to increase cargo capacity on a family vacation, or even hauling a full load of American-sized adults may require you to increase your tire pressure to accommodate the additional weight of the load. Check your owner’s manual for what they refer to as “alternate recommended pressures”. (Conversely, if you are driving a truck or 4×4 off-road, there may be a recommendation for a softer air pressure; if you take air out, though, remember to put air back in when you get back on the pavement!)

Check that spare!

Check that spare!

10. Check your spare tire too! Do you even know where your spare is, or how to change it in an emergency? Spare tires can easily lose a pound or two of air a month, even when they are sitting around doing nothing in your trunk! You don’t want to hear the language of someone who changes a flat tire, only to find the spare tire is also flat!

Sorry to sound like a know-it-all. I’m not, for sure. But these are some common sense tips that I’ve learned (some the hard way!) over decades of testing tires, for over two million miles!

Besides insuring your safety, taking care of your tires could make them last an additional 5,000 miles or more. Now that’s a free tip that could make you some money!

(Editor’s Note: A thanks to our friends at Michelin and TireRack.com for reminding us that the first week in June is National Tire Safety Week!)

Jerry Garrett

June 13, 2014

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 29, 2014

How Ryan Hunter-Reay Won The 2014 Indianapolis 500

Finish of the 2014 Indy 500 with Castroneves (left) Hunter-Reay (right) (Shahrzad Karimzadeh photo)

Finish of the 2014 Indy 500 with Helio Castroneves (left) Ryan Hunter-Reay (right) (Shahrzad Karimzadeh photo)

INDIANAPOLIS

Ryan Hunter-Reay held off Helio Castroneves on the final lap to win the 2014 Indianapolis 500 by 0.0600 of a second. It was the second-closest finish in 98 runnings of the 500.

So how did Hunter-Reay, who had never won Indy, manage to hold off Castroneves, who had already won it three times? That’s a subject that will probably be debated indefinitely.

The lead changed hands between those two drivers five times in the race’s final six laps.

On a restart after a red-flag race stoppage, Hunter-Reay had the lead, with 19 other drivers who were still on the lead lap, right on his tailpipe. Closest to him were Castroneves and Marco Andretti (who lost to Sam Hornish in 2006 by 0.0635 of a second – the previous second-closest finish).

When the drivers were waiting out the red flag, to be able to return to racing, Hunter-Reay’s car owner, Michael Andretti, said, “Go win it. You’re the best driver out there, go win it.” Hunter-Reay appreciated the vote of confidence in his driving ability; but he also believed he had the best car. It was difficult for Michael Andretti to say that, given that his son was also right in the middle of it. But Michael had seen a couple of instances earlier in the race where Marco’s car came up short trying to pass Hunter-Reay’s. “I think he was running too much downforce,” Michael said.

When the green flag flew, Hunter-Reay had the lead. But Castroneves quickly passed him on the inside going into turn one. It was a textbook slip-streaming move that is almost impossible to defend against with today’s IndyCar aerodynamic package. The lead car punches a big hole in the air; the trailing car gets essentially a free ride. The challenger can build up momentum in diverted air behind the leader, then swing out to the side, and his momentum will carry him past.

Castroneves almost carried Andretti right behind him too, which would have probably spelled the end of Hunter-Reay’s chances. But Hunter-Reay was able to defend his position. Andretti had to back out of the throttle, although by the time the lead trio got to turn three, Andretti was threatening once again to pass Hunter-Reay.

Castroneves benefited a little from the duel between the Andretti teammates, and managed to hold the lead past the start-finish line completing lap 196 and beginning lap 197. Castroneves was still in front, as he towed the field down the backstretch behind him. He blocked the low line on the track, seemingly daring anyone who wanted to pass him to have to go the “long way around” on the outside of his car.

That’s when Hunter-Reay made the move of the race. Instead of going outside, or backing off (the most prudent choice), he darted onto the track’s inside apron – off the racing surface – and nearly into the infield grass. The move so faked out the ABC cameras covering the race, Hunter-Reay darted out of the shot. No one seemed to get a decent picture of it.

How close did Hunter-Reay come to going off the track? “I cut a little grass,” he laughed. “But I made it happen.”

Had he gotten his wheels into the slippery grass at better than 220 m.p.h., it likely would have been over for him, Castroneves, Andretti and any number of other close pursuers who would have had little time to avoid a chain reaction crash among the frontrunners.

What Hunter-Reay did, by the laws of physics, shouldn’t have worked. Normally a turn like No. 3 at Indy is taken with the widest possible entry, near the outside wall, with a cut to the inside apex, before letting the car drift back out to the outside wall at the end of the corner (entering the “short chute” straightaway). This is carrying the maximum arc through the corner, so the maximum speed can be maintained. Hunter-Reay went into the corner on the inside, and had to make a much sharper turn, hit that apex, while still carrying carry his speed over 220 m.p.h., to the end of the turn. This was an un-tried line, and from a physics standpoint, nearly impossible.

“We had never run that line before,” he said. “Not all month, in practice, or anything.” Nor had anyone else in Indy history!

He didn’t know if he could go into that corner at that sharp of an angle and still carry his speed, keep traction to his tires, and keep from sliding out to the short chute’s outside wall, upon his exit from the corner (Gordon Smiley was killed here, trying to carry to much speed into the short chute, in 1982). “Maybe I was going to get pushed off in three and go into the wall,” Hunter-Reay said. “I was going to be ‘in the gray'” or “marbles”, as the diabolical debris outside the racing line is called.

He said he had decided he was willing to “do anything I could to win this race. Luckily that was enough to make it happen.”

Castroneves said he was startled by Hunter-Reay’s totally unexpected move. “I used every inch,” he said of the racing line. “I tried to not leave any room, but he was able to find some room there. Once you put the nose inside, nothing you can do in terms of blocking. Trust me.”

Ironically, it was Hunter-Reay who had sized up his competition for this final few laps and decided, “I was racing Helio and Marco, so I knew there was going to be no funny business. We were going to race each other hard, take our line and stick to it. There wasn’t going to be an unexpected move at the wrong time or something sketchy.” So the wild card ended up once being again Hunter-Reay himself, who had been roundly criticized at the Long Beach race earlier in the season for a “sketchy” move that caused a chain-reaction crash that took out most of the race leaders.

Michael Andretti said this time Hunter-Reay’s boldness paid off – for him, at least.

“It was a daredevil move,” Andretti said. “I think that was the move that won the race. I think he caught Helio completely off guard and threw off his plan for the rest of the race.”

Indeed, Castroneves seemed to be improvising strategy the rest of the way. It took Castroneves more than a lap to get back into a position to catch Hunter-Reay and re-take the lead. At the end of lap 198, as the two leaders passed the start-finish line again, Castroneves made another standard slipstream pass on the inside.

It was fairly easy and predictable that Hunter-Reay would return the favor a lap later, and pass Castroneves at the start finish line as lap 199 ended and the white flag waved for the final lap.

Hunter-Reay was now weighing his next move. “I didn’t want to be leading at the wrong time,” he said, “which is what I did wrong last year.”

Castroneves sized up the competition. He and Marco were running essentially the same line. Hunter-Reay was able to get away with running a different line – particularly dangerously low lines in and out of corners. “That’s why we were able to go back and forth, back and forth,” he said. Castroneves thought he might just have a surprise of his own for Hunter-Reay coming out of the last turn, heading for the checkered flag. He figured Hunter-Reay would defend his position on the track’s low line coming out of the corner, and Castroneves would try to draft past him – on the outside.

Castroneves said, “I thought, ‘I’m going to get him on turn four. This is going to be great!'”

Hunter-Reay said he believed his car was better coming off of turns two and four at that point. Hunter-Reay was worried that staying high would open the door to Castroneves to dart inside of him – just like Castroneves had done to him on the previous laps – and like Hornish had done to Marco Andretti in 2006.

“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Hunter-Reay; he decided to pinch his car as low to the inside line as he could through turn four.

He did indeed defend the low line against Castroneves – so low he was nearly in the grass again (ABC missed it again, pre-occupied with reaction shots from Hunter-Reay’s wife Becca and Castroneves’ girlfriend Adriana in the pits).

Then Hunter-Reay came “off of turn four so low that Helio couldn’t draft up as well. I think that was the difference. Had I come off high he’d have been right in my slipstream, and probably would have gone by.”

But when he had his chance, with a clear route to the outside, Castroneves said his car didn’t respond. “Suddenly my car wasn’t pulling enough,” he said. “Especially because I noticed the wind. I was going against it. I’m like, ‘Go, go, go!’ As soon as I passed the pit entrance, I’m like, ‘This is going to be close!’  And it was close!”

"It was close!" (LAT)

“It was close!” (LAT)

Castroneves was just catching Hunter-Reay’s right rear wheel as they crossed the one yard stripe of bricks at the finish line. By the time both cars had completely crossed it, Castroneves nosed ahead. But the race was over. Hunter-Reay had taken the checkered flag first. Andretti three-tenths of a second back in third, was now Indy’s all-time hard-luck loser: two Indy 500s lost by a total of .38 of one second.

“As expected, the race was ridiculously close and competitive,” Hunter-Reay said. “I’m just glad I picked the right time to go.”

While Hunter-Reay was jubilantly celebrating, Castroneves remained in his car for many minutes, trying to gather his composure.

“I was just trying to collect my thoughts and make sure I say the right things,” he said of his disappointment at missing a fourth Indy win. “I’m glad I did that because it is frustrating to be so close to something that only a few guys did. To Ryan Hunter-Reay, great race. He did everything he could. I did everything I could. Definitely unbelievable.”

Hunter-Reay said, “This is what I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid. It’s amazing. It hasn’t yet sunk in.”

Hunter-Reay’s victory won him almost $2.5 million.

Jerry Garrett

May 28, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 24, 2014

2014 Indianapolis 500: Back Home Again In Indiana

 

The start of the Indianapolis 500, as seen last year. (IMS Photo)

The start of the Indianapolis 500, as seen last year. (IMS Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS

A few minutes before the traditional command for drivers to start their engines for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, the entertainer Jim Nabors will, for the final time, serenade the hundreds of thousands in attendance with his unique rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

It is not the state song (“On The Banks of the Wabash” is) but since 1946 it has become the unofficial anthem of the 500, and something of a call to the faithful to gather in person or in spirit once again for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

This year’s event features a rather large helping of nostalgia, even by Indy’s tradition-steeped standards. Nabors, a couple of weeks short of his 84th birthday, says this is his final year of performing the number he first sang here in 1972. “This is it,” he confirmed.

He will be saluted, as will those the sport has lost in the past year; that list is long and full of Indy legends, such as ace crew chief George Bignotti, car builder A.J. Watson, colorful businessman Andy Granatelli, driver and engineer Jack Brabham, and Gary Bettenhausen, a star of one of Indy’s most storied racing families.

Beyond that, there will be no shortage of story lines, as the 33 starters line up in 11 rows three-abreast for the traditional and treacherous flying start, and the ensuing 200 laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile “Brickyard” oval.

For one, the field – from pole winner Ed Carpenter’s 231.067 m.p.h. qualifying average to last place starter Buddy Lazier’s 227.920 – is the fastest in Indy history. And the difference between the fastest and slowest qualifiers is a matter of mere seconds. That should portend an even more competitive race than last year’s barn-burner, with its record of 68 lead changes among 14 drivers.

Who is capable of winning this year? More than half the field, if past performance is any indication. Twenty starters have previously won an Indy car race at some time in their careers; seven are past series champions. Another champion, Kurt Busch from Nascar, is attempting a rare “double” – racing at both Indy and Charlotte on the same day.

Busch said he was “intrigued” by the challenge of Indy, and found its lure too compelling to pass up when he was offered the chance to drive for a top team like Andretti Autosport.

“I think the fans in general are also intrigued,” he said in an interview, “not only by what I am attempting, but by the race in general.”

The particular allure of being back home again in Indiana this year also proved irresistible for past champions Lazier, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve – who last raced here 19 years ago. No one, according to speedway archives, has ever gone so many years between starts at Indy.

That trio is among six past champions in this year’s starting field; the others are series regulars Scott Dixon, three-time winner Helio Castroneves and defending champ Tony Kanaan.

Kanaan’s chances for rare back-to-back wins would seem to be improved by starting in an even better car than he rode to Victory Circle last year. He has inherited three-time winner Dario Franchitti’s former ride; Franchitti suffered career-ending injuries in a crash last October in Houston. Mostly recovered now from a broken back and several other bones, plus a serious concussion, Franchitti will be on the grounds, but only as a commentator on the broadcast of the race.

Castroneves, starting fourth, would seem to be well-positioned in his quest to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the race’s only four-time winners. Foyt and Mears will be among those in attendance, although the ailing Unser will not, speedway officials said.

Mario Andretti, the 1969 winner, has been entertaining lucky fans and dignitaries with pre-race 180 m.p.h. rides around the track in a special two-seat race car. One of his passengers earlier in the month was a 102-year-old woman, who complained that Andretti wouldn’t lead-foot it to 200 m.p.h.

Andretti, understandably, will be rooting for his grandson Marco, starting sixth, to end the family’s 45-year victory drought. Besides Marco Andretti and Kurt Busch, the potent Andretti Autosport lineup includes IndyCar series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Muñoz, last year’s 500 runnerup. Hinchcliffe qualified second fastest, despite being knocked unconscious in an incident May 10 in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. When Hinchcliffe’s status was uncertain for several days after the accident, Mario Andretti, now 74, strode into the team’s garage and announced, “I’m ready.”

Other top contenders include Will Power, the third front row starter, who won the most recent IndyCar oval track race; Ryan Briscoe, a former Indy pole starter; Simon Pagenaud, the G.P. of Indy winner; the versatile Justin Wilson; and J.R. Hildebrand, the hard-luck driver who crashed one turn short of victory in the 2011 race.

Hildebrand, starting ninth, is a teammate this year to Carpenter, another driver who is hoping for his luck to change. Carpenter, a stepson of former speedway CEO Tony George, has been the fastest qualifier two years in a row now, but has never finished higher than fifth in 11 tries. The last pole sitter to go on to win the race was Castroneves in 2009.

Only one woman, Pippa Mann, is among the starters. The youngest driver is 19-year-old rookie Sage Karam, who will miss his high school graduation to compete here. Another first-year driver is Mikhail Aleshin, the first Russian driver to compete at Indy.

 

Jerry Garrett

May 24, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 19, 2014

1000 Miglia 2014: A Win For Lancia, Mozzi & Mantua

Giordano Mozzi & wife Stefania Biacca celebrate winning the 1000 Miglia 2014.

Giordano Mozzi & wife Stefania Biacca celebrate winning the 1000 Miglia 2014.

 

Giordano Mozzi, with his wife Stefania Biacca alongside as his navigator, drove his 1928 Lancia Lambda Tipo 221 to victory Sunday in the 2014 edition of the 1000 Miglia.

The event celebrates the historic Mille Miglia road race, which was run 24 times on Italian highways (that remained open to the public) between 1927 and 1957 – until being stopped for safety concerns. It starts in Brescia and goes to Rome and back over much of the original course, through four festive days that bring much of northern Italy to a stop to celebrate it.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 3.28.34 PMMozzi, a businessman from Mantua, also won the event in 2011, driving a 1933 Aston Martin. “During these sports events,” Mozzi wrote in a post on his website (www.giordanomozzi.com), “I firstly compete with myself and against the chronometer, trying to lower my average timing, and then I compete against my rivals. I only look for victory in a fair and clean way, with no tricks or unsporting behaviour in case of mistakes.”

He adds, “Car racing is about shaking hands, giving my compliments and clapping who did better than me, just in case they did it in a fair way. And then it’s about going back home on Sunday evening, tired but after another beautiful experience lived in good company and with my beautiful historic car.”

Beautiful sentiments! No wonder the 1000 Miglia is called the “world’s most beautiful race.”

The 1000 Miglia features pre-1958 cars that would have been eligible to run in the original race. It attracts hundreds of entries from around the world, with a vast array of immaculate classic cars, and a fascinating lineup of drivers. Timed sections at various closed-course sessions determine the winning points.

This year’s field included entertainer Jay Leno paired with Jaguar designer Ian Callum in a 1951 XK120. Actor Jeremy Irons also competed, as did several auto industry executives like former Tata Motors CEO Carl-Peter Forster, designer Andrea Zagato and former grand prix racers Jochen Mass, Jacky Ickx, Martin Brundle and Bruno Senna.

Jerry Garrettt

May 19, 2014

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 14, 2014

Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail: The Riders Arrive In NYC!

Don Emde, organizer of the Cannon Ball Baker Centennial ride, poses with Lady Liberty in NYC. (Ty Van Hooydonk photo)

Don Emde, organizer of the Cannon Ball Baker Centennial ride, poses with Lady Liberty in NYC. (Ty Van Hooydonk photo)

(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we have been recounting the daily exploits of a group of enthusiasts who have been re-creating Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker’s record-setting motorcycle run from San Diego to New York City of 11 days in 1914.)

Riders in the “Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail: Centennial Ride” arrived in New York City’s Battery Park today, as scheduled, at the completion of their 3,000-plus mile ride from San Diego. The ride, more than three years in the planning, made an effort to follow – as closely as now possible – the route that Erwin G. Baker took to set the trans-continental speed record on a motorcycle 100 years earlier.

Exactly 100 years earlier, to the day, Baker had ridden into Manhattan at the conclusion of his epic journey.

Crew shot at Battery Park in Manhattan.

Crew shot at Battery Park in Manhattan.

Baker’s ride on a seven-horsepower Indian twin took 11 days plus 12 hours, and cut the existing motorcycle record nearly in half – as a bonus, he also beat the car record by more than four days. His feat earned him the nickname “Cannon Ball” from journalists, who likened him to an unstoppable Illinois Central Railroad train of the same name. The sobriquet stuck, and remained with him throughout his life, as he went on to set more than 140 international speed records over the course of his legendary career.

More to come

Jerry Garrett

May 14, 2014

 

Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Edition, along Lake Como.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe Waterspeed Edition, along Lake Como.

A special deep blue Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé, commemorating a 77-year-old world record speed run on water, will be unveiled to the public May 23-25 at the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este. The famed concorso, the European equivalent of America’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, is set along the shores of Lake Como in Cernobbio, Italy.

It was on an adjacent lake in northern Italy, Lake Maggiore, where on September 1, 1937, Sir Malcolm Campbell established a world-record speed of 126.33 m.p.h. on water, in his famous Bluebird K3 (a.k.a. “Miss England”) speedboat. Of interest to Rolls-Royce aficionados, of course, was that the boat was powered by a Rolls-Royce R Engine.

Editor's Note: A 20-year restoration of Bluebird K3 was completed in 2013. (UKboats.com)

Editor’s Note: A 20-year restoration of Bluebird K3 was completed in 2013. (UKboats.com)

Only 35 of the Waterspeed Collection cars will ever be built; Rolls-Royce expects no trouble selling the entire collection, despite a base price of $759,890.

The special cars feature a number of one-of-a-kind touches from the marque’s Bespoke Collection. I include Rolls-Royce’s verbatim description here, as it is – in and of itself – something of a rhapsody in blue (my bold face emphases are added):

“Waterspeed Collection Phantom Drophead Coupés feature a number of exclusively created Bespoke design and engineering features, perfectly executed to create a thoroughly contemporary tribute to Campbell’s famous craft.

The brilliant blue only found in an Italian lake!

The brilliant blue only found in an Italian lake!

“The car is finished in a specially developed ‘Maggiore Blue’ exterior paint, inspired by Bluebird’s famous colour scheme. Nine layers of paint are applied before an exhaustive process of hand-sanding and the application of a cutting-edge powdered lacquer is undertaken to ensure an impeccable finish. For the first time in Rolls-Royce history the exterior finish extends to the engine, creating a visually striking homage to the power behind Campbell’s records.

A Rolls-Royce first: A blue engine!

A Rolls-Royce first: A blue engine!

The finish also adorns the car’s specially developed, fully-polished eleven-spoke wheels for the first time, providing a subtle decorative accent.

“The exterior is completed with a hand-painted coachline that culminates in a Bluebird motif with the design taking Rolls-Royce’s master coachline painter four hours to apply by hand.

“Phantom Drophead Coupé’s traditional teak decking to the rear makes way for brushed steel. Each piece of material is individually panel-beaten by hand for 70 hours following initial mechanical pressing. A Rolls-Royce craftsperson will then hand-brush the metal for over 10 hours – showcasing the fastidious attention to detail and commitment to hand-craftsmanship that informs everything undertaken at the Home of Rolls-Royce.

The Waterspeed Collection's bespoke cabin.

The Waterspeed Collection’s bespoke cabin.

“The car’s Maggiore Blue exterior finish is subtly echoed on the interior via accents on the dashboard that perfectly complement the Windchill Grey interior leather scheme. The marque’s hallmark attention to detail extends to the application of hand-engraved door armrest tunnel caps featuring a new interpretation of Campbell’s famous Bluebird motif. The armrests alone take eight hours to complete. Abachi wood also makes its Rolls-Royce debut in Waterspeed. By nature the material is cool to the touch with a satin-like tactility, and is bookmatched at an angle to echo the wake left by a boat moving at speed.

“Further reference to Campbell’s craft is made via a new interpretation of the famous ‘power reserve’ dial.

"Into the blue" at about 160 m.p.h.

“Into the blue” (at left, full power) at about 160 m.p.h.

As the driver presses on, the dial moves backwards towards a yellow and blue zone, echoing Campbell’s original K3 boat’s ‘going into the blue’ at maximum engine revolutions. A Bespoke front-lit clock adorned with Bluebird’s infinity symbol and dials hewn from a billet of aluminium evokes K3 further. Direct tribute to the records is paid in the glovebox, with a hand-embroidered panel expressing the records Campbell achieved at Lake Maggiore and Coniston Water. Finally, the steering wheel is presented in two-tone for the very first time, with Maggiore Blue accents balancing perfectly with traditional black leather to complete a beautifully conceived interior design scheme.”

Whew!

A sneak preview today introduced the car to the media, ahead of its public debut in two weeks.

In attendance was Donald Wales, the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell (who, unlike most boat racers of the era, died of natural causes in 1948). Wales pronounced the Waterspeed Phantom an appropriate homage: “The extraordinary attention to detail and commitment to engineering excellence so evident in these motor cars perfectly echoes the lengths my grandfather and his colleagues went to in their pursuit of the waterspeed records.”

Jerry Garrett

May 12, 2014

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 11, 2014

Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail: Stopping To Honor Baker

Baker's grave, Crown Hill Cem.

Baker’s grave, Crown Hill Cem.

(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we are recounting the daily exploits of a group of enthusiasts is re-creating the ride 100 years ago of Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, who set a trans-continental motorcycle record time from San Diego to New York City of 11 days, May 3-14, 1914. They are on the home stretch.)

INDIANAPOLIS

“Indianapolis is where Erwin G. Baker was raised and lived throughout his life,” group leader Don Emde, the motorcycle hall of famer, in his instructions to the riders. “Tonight we’ll celebrate our arrival in his hometown!” The group planned to visit the famous Brickyard, where Baker helped make his reputation, and the grave in local Crown Hill Cemetery where he was buried; he died in 1960.

Baker was well known, not only in Indianapolis, but throughout the entire state of Indiana where folks were proud to call him a native son. After all, he had already set a number of pretty unbelievable time, speed and distance records on motorcycles for the day, plus he had won a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 on the first day the track opened for competition.

On his planned trans-continental ride from San Diego to New York City, Baker was already well behind, thanks to storms, extreme heat and cold, horrible roads and attacks by wild dogs he had already encountered along the way. He was also nursing skinned knees, elbows and hands from a crash in Kansas two days earlier.

He entered Indiana on the 10th day of his ride. He intended to go full throttle and make up as much lost time as he could the rest of the way, but he didn’t want to be rude to the Hooisers who showed him a typical dose of local hospitality. (“Hoosier Hospitality is no accident!” is a state motto.)

At Terre Haute, where it always seems to be raining (old speedway joke…) he was informed by law enforcement that he could pass right through, with no worries about the speed limit. The top speed of his seven-horsepower Indian twin, however, was barely 50 m.p.h.

“Being a native of Indiana, everyone was out to welcome me,” he wrote in his logbook, “and the message was sent, ‘Clear the road. I am a-coming.’ As I passed through small towns and villages the natives were standing on the roadsides with umbrellas up, waiting for me.”

At lunchtime, he made Indianapolis.

“At last I was home in my native city, with my folks and ravenouts,” he wrote. A banquet had been prepared for him. Not wishing to be rude, he stayed and enjoyed the feast for two and a half hours. After that he got on his Indian and rode off again at top speed.

It was estimated he might make Dayton, Ohio, in five hours; instead, he got there in three – surprising a group of motorcyclists who had planned to ride out to meet him. They were ready, however, to gas up his bike and top up the oil. And away he went again.

More motorcyclists were waiting for him when he arrived in Columbus. Having ridden 376 miles that day, despite rain, well-wishers and banquets, Baker decided to rest up for the night. He still had over 500 miles to go.

Jerry Garrett

May 11, 2014

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 10, 2014

NEIGHBORS: What Abercrombie & Fitch Store Was That?

Abercrombie & Fitch in L.A.

Abercrombie & Fitch in L.A.

HOLLYWOOD

One of the great gags in the movie, “Neighbors” (aka “Bad Neighbours” in the UK), starring Zac Efron and Seth Rogen, was filmed outside an Abercrombie & Fitch store.

Was that a real A&F store?

Yes. It was not a set.

Okay, which store?

The answer is the one on Universal City Walk in Los Angeles.

Although the movie was released on May 9, 2014, the scene was filmed more than a year earlier – in April 2013 – when the movie was still known in pre-production as “Townies”.

A couple of other interesting trivia bits:

The scene was the second one shot, in the sequence of all scenes shot for the movie.

Efron - bad for business!

Efron – bad for business!

The scene was almost completely improvised. Efron, shirtless like an A&F model,  didn’t know Rogen would remove his shirt and pose shirtless with Efron as well. (This helped break the ice between the two, as Efron initially thought Rogen might be a jerk.)

A&F was anxious for filming to end quickly, because they said Efron and Rogen were chasing away customers.

Efron said he was very uncomfortable filming the scene at all, and couldn’t wait for it to end. “Posing as an Abercrombie & Fitch model out in front of a store – that,” Efron said, “was like my worst nightmare!”

Jerry Garrett

May 9, 2014

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | May 10, 2014

Finding Cannon Ball’s Trail: The Day Baker Crashed

 

Nothing could kept Baker off his bike for long.

Nothing could kept Baker off his bike for long – not even a crash nasty enough to summon a doctor.

(Editor’s Note: In this series of reports, we are recounting the daily exploits of Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, and his record-setting motorcycle run from San Diego to New York City of 11 days in 1914. A group of enthusiasts is re-creating his ride in 2014, and I am trying to keep up with them.)

On Day 7 of E. G. Baker’s ride from San Diego to New York City, in hopes of setting a transcontinental speed record, he crashed.

Riding through Kansas, on parts of the famed Santa Fe Trail, Baker was riding hard to catch up from previous delays caused by storms, getting stuck, running out of gas, and having to back-track to avoid road damage and washed-out bridges. It seemed interest in his ride was growing, and crowds were getting larger as he navigated through Kansas.

“I got into Dodge City O.K.,” he wrote in his logbook, “and had dinner, and the boys fixed me up with gasoline and lubricating oil. They wanted me to stop over and look at their new racetrack. But they forgot that I was out knocking minutes of a record.” Although he did eventually pass the place, and acknowledge, he kept riding hard.

“From Dodge City I rode right for Great Bend,” he continued. “Speck Warner, the Indian agent at Ellsworth, Kansas, met me 30 miles west of Great Bend, riding with me into Ellsworth, 80 miles.”

That’s where Baker had his second nasty encounter with wild dogs. Back on the third day of the trip, while riding through Apache territory, two dogs had attacked him; he had to dispatch them with the long-barrel .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that he had been given by a colleague worried about what he might encounter along the foreboding route ahead. But Baker had personally emerged unscathed from that encounter.

This time he wasn’t so lucky.

“We had an interruption caused by a large shepherd dog,” he wrote, “which came very near to putting me out of my transcontinental trip.”

The dog went after his front tire. Despite efforts to shoo the dog away, it would not cease its attack.

“The dog seemed to have a great desire for the Goodyear tire on my front wheel,” Baker explained, dryly adding, “But my desire for this time was still greater!”

The dog was relentless and kept lunging at the tire until it became tangled in the wheel, and caused Baker to fly off the bike. It crashed hard, but he crashed even harder. He slid along on his knees and elbows.

“I kept the tire,” he said, “and the dog lost his life.”

Baker got his bike running again, but he needed a doctor. Reaching Ellsworth, a doctor attended him and bandaged his wounds.

Would Baker rest up a couple of days? It would do him good, the doctor advised. Speck Warner also tried to get Baker to take it easy.

Baker wouldn’t hear of it. “I had a good meal,” he said, “and went to bed.”

The next morning, he was up early, on his bike, and speeding toward Missouri – like a Cannonball.

(P.S. The group of riders re-creating Baker’s trip 100 years later rode into Kansas City today, soaked from a severe thunderstorm. But themselves still unstoppable.)

Jerry Garrett

May 10, 2014

 

 

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