Wednesday, 29 July 2009

F1 Racing Letter

I think this was essentially my first foray into writing. I wrote a letter to F1 racing magazine and it got published and made me suddenly think that there might be people out there actually interested in my opinion! I was hooked! It was published in May 2006.

I think the 2/3 year freeze on engine specifications is a good move by the FIA but I cant help feeling that they could have gone further.

Currently, engine manufacturers are frittering away in excess of £1 billion annually on internal combustion petrol engines which are essentially an obsolete technology.

Wouldn't this money be better spent in search of more ecological means of propulsion? This would be of benefit to cars normal people drive everyday and isn't seeking benefits such as these one of the reasons car manufacturers give for being involved in F1?

For as long as F1 continues to use non-renewable resources, it will not be at the pinnacle of motorsport technology as it currently purports to be.

The Styling of the Ferrari 458 Italia

I really admire Chris Harris as a motoring writer. Chris Harris of Autocar (Chris on Camera) and Driver's Republic fame. He talks about actively refusing to comment on a car's aesthetics when he's writing about it because he feels that since looks are subjective, commenting on whether a car is good-looking or not is largely pointless.

I agree with this to a degree but also feel I have to defend the looks of the Ferrari 458 Italia. I like the way it looks and that's because I've spent a bit of time studying it and trying to work out why the designers made some of the decisions they did.

It's easy to see that the creases exist to direct air towards the the opening just ahead of the C-pillar that serves as an engine intake. It's a typical layout for racing cars but the evolution from the intakes of the 360 and 430 to this are ingenious!

The rather unusual triple-exhaust is obviously an homage to the F40 [200mph+, mid-engine, V8 berlinetta] but I've also heard they're functional and form part of an active exhaust system. The middle pipe works all the time and the outer two are only activated at high revs so the 458 can be quiet when quiet when you're pootling and vociferous when you're in 'attack' mode.

I think it helps us form a more sympathetic opinion of a car's aesthetics if we try to understand why each styling detail exists. I personally like the 458's styling because it doesn't seem to incorporate any superfluous details. I'm pretty confident every little crease and curve serves a functional purpose. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, they are all influenced by aerodynamics.

Not surprising then to hear the 458 generates 140kg of downforce at 125mph.

BMW M3 coupe

I spent a couple of days at evo Magazine in the summer of 2008 and Ollie Marriage took me out for a spin in the BMW M3 that was part of their fast fleet at the time. I wrote 500 words on the experience and they follow below:

The M3 is quite frequently accused of not being the most subtle of cars. I think that perception stems purely from people knowing what it is when they see one rather than the mildly bulging wheel-arches around the shiny wheels and the M-Sport badges working together with the black roof to shout a tad too loudly. You have to know what you are looking for to differentiate it from a normal 3 series coupe, the easiest tell-tale being the shape of the mirrors. This might work against justifying its £50k plus price tag in eyes of the show-offs amongst us but it my eyes at least, the subtlety is endearing.

I'll admit to being a bit blasé approaching the car in the car park but only because I have seen so many of them on the road. The first thing that caught my attention and suggested I should perhaps revisit my opinions was the engine's idle once the start-button was depressed. Oddly lumpen, a shade too loud and really quite sinister; it gave me the impression BMW had left it that way for a reason.

On the move, at a steady 50 - 60 mph in 4th or 5th, everything is all very civilised as it would be in any modern car, sporting or not. The 'audibles‚' are the road noise from the wide semi-slick tyres and the air conditioning. 6th is present and has more work to do for economy on a motorway cruise than keeping everything hush under the aluminium bonnet. One would also expect the cabin of a 'sports car‚' to be a bit spartan but the M3 most definitely isn't. Apart from the big iDrive screen, the inclusion of cup holders was quite interesting but perhaps forgivable owing to their location on passenger's side of the cabin.

Onto exploring the more manic side of the M3 we started by rolling along, barely above idle, in third before flooring the throttle pedal, a road tester's trick it turns out. It reveals where the torque lies in the rev range. There was an obvious lump around 3,000rpm then again around 5,000rpm as the Bi-VANOS variable valve lift and control system worked its magic. Past this, power delivery was linear all the way up to the redline although I have to admit to getting a bit scared every time the tachometer needle nudged 8,000rpm.

8,000rpm meant an almost naughty roar from the 414bhp V8, appropriate really because barring 1st gear, 8,000rpm meant illegal speeds. Huge powerful brakes and super-grippy tyres meant we could lose the speed just as quickly as we'd picked it up and on that B-road today with farm traffic, blind bends and crests - not-to-mention the 'bizzies' never being far enough away, the fun‚ could only really be indulged in in bursts. Whenever we backed off and the revs fell away [accompanied by some tasty flywheel-whir], the duality in the M3's persona was highlighted.

It also existed at corner exits where catching bumps while accelerating out, made the DSC (dynamic stability control) kick in perceptibly retarding the throttle and making the dampers work in double-time to keep the body under control. The moment the bumps stopped though, the jittering stopped too to be replaced by what could only be described as 'serenity'. I was only left aware of the potential performance of the E92 M3 when it was teased out. The rest of the time, it just sat there, never nagging, waiting for you to call it up. Sitting in the same non-descript way the M3 had sat in the Evo car-park.

Back therein, engine switched off and belts unbuckled for graceful egress, the BMW M3 earned a little bit more respect and a tad more menace in my eyes. I'm glad I saw what lay beneath though god forbid if we'd ended up on a racetrack and asked it to really break a sweat. I'm glad I didn't have to do any of the driving because I'd have simply been out of my depth.

My Entry for the Driver's Republic Subaru Impreza Competition

This is my entry for a competition that ran on Driver's Republic just before it folded. A winner was never drawn but basically, the idea was to write 200 words on what you thought was 'The Essence of Subaru'. It was obviously a sponsored feature but the prize was a chance to long-term test a Subaru Impreza. My entry went as follows...

'Subaru', in my head, are manufacturer who tried rallying once, enjoyed some early success and spent the rest of the intervening years trying to replicate it and despite failing, choosing to tout their ‘motorsport pedigree' every time it came to flogging one of their road cars. I think their board realising this had something to do with their decision to pull out of the WRC in 2008. Motorsport was essentially a distraction from their raison d'ĂȘtre, i.e. building road cars.

All their road cars have had the obvious, boxer engine and AWD in common throughout the years but beneath those superficial hallmarks, lies what I think is the essence of Subaru. They have never been about pretention or class as I’m sure you’ll agree their pricing and styling policies attest to.

From what I've heard and read from those who have had the good fortune to drive them, I can't help but conclude, Subaru are about building all-weather, all-road, driving machines to afford as much driving pleasure to novice as to driving god.

In a word, the essence of Subaru is 'accessibility'.

First Post

I've decided to write a blog after working in the magazine publishing industry for a while. I'm not a journalist but I got into it chiefly because I'm a petrolhead and I have a fair few opinions on cars that I like to be able to vent from time to time.

I'm going to start with a few pieces I wrote for magazines that weren't published and another one which will form a bit of a commentary on the aesthetics of the 458 Italia. Hope you enjoy them and come back because I intend to post quite regularly!