Archive for March, 2010

Major performance upgrade announced by Virgin Racing

March 29, 2010


Playstation Generation?

March 25, 2010

I’m really looking forward to seeing some more Drifting and UK Time Attack this year. These two sports originated in Japan and have been growing rapidly in popularity over the last few years. The nature of this worldwide growth got me thinking.

I’m in my mid 20s and as a result I’ve grown up with the Gran Turismo games on Playstation and latterly Forza Motorsport on Xbox. I’m from a generation of videogame driving fans that can instantly identify the difference between an S13, 14 or 15 Nissan Sylvia or can name several  Japanese tuning houses even without any prompting. It’s an immersion in Japanese car culture that people like me have now had for over 10 years. Kids have spent 100s of hours tuning, prepping and racing their cars to compete in the events that the games offer.

Drifting and Time Attack are ‘tuner sports’ with a style all of thier own. Both require modifications to factory spec road cars for thier chosen purpose. With drifting, set up is key, you don’t need a million bhp to light up the rears, you do need a  predictable torque curve and finely tuned suspension. With Time Attack you seemingly do need to go mental on the power as well as a trick setup, as the top guys ably demonstrate. Has our exposure to Japanese car culture in games lead to us being interested in that kind of motorsport now we’re old enough to go out and spectate or compete ourselves?

This is our chance to see the real cars, similar to the ones in our Gran Turismo garages being tuned to the hilt and put through their paces. The languages of car tuning and car setup are intrinsic to these games and events, camber, castor, spring rate, ride height, final drive, high lift cams, balanced crankshafts, these are all terms that we are now familiar with. We may not have understood it all when we first ventured in to the upgrade shop in Gran Turismo 1, but that was released 12 years ago. There’s been regular iterations of the franchise ever since, the technical stuff must have sunk in along the way.

Maybe I’m looking at it in isolation, there’s probably other factors at work as well, the proliferation of videos and the like over the internet in the last 10 years has revolutionised how events are promoted. I grew up following rallying, mainly through my dad, so my world was Astra GTEs and Sierra Cosworths.  Personally speaking, before Gran Turismo 1, I’d never heard of a ‘Skyline’ or an ‘AE86’, but look at how much of a cult following those cars have now.  I dare say this is no different to kids in the 60s playing with Dinky toys then going on to compete in Escorts and Sunbeams once they grew up. I just think it’s cool that Drifting, Time Attack and other developing car cultures are being propagated around the world by the games that portray them.

The British Drift Championship begins at Silverstone on 10th & 11th April as part of the International Style & Tuning Show (ISTS)

The UK Time Attack Series opens at Oulton Park on the 24th April as part of Modified Live

Dirty Weekend

March 22, 2010

I visited a Hill Rally this weekend near Stratford in Warwickshire. It’s not a form of motorsport that I’m that familiar with to be honest. A mate of mine does them in a chopped down, roofless V8 LR Defender, I’d not seen him in a while so I thought I’d pop along.

The event was organised by a local club, the Midland Rover Owner’s Club and was only down the road. It was a ‘Comp Safari’, from what I can gather this works like a cross between a rally special stage and a trials course. It’s against the clock but the terrain is very rough (as you’d expect) so the crews have to temper their speed with caution to avoid getting stuck, or worse.

We had heavy rain the day before, which softened up the ground a treat, creating deep ruts filled with water. This made for a much more challenging course for the crews, which added to the entertainment.

It was a good day, my mate Steve managed to knacker his gearbox by lunchtime though. Come to think of it, I don’t know if he’s ever actually finished an event! Very cheap to watch (free) and quite safe by off road motorsport standards (as long as you don’t stand somewhere stupid). Even in this small club meet there was some real trick stuff (Bowler Wildcats and the like) and an awesome V8 soundtrack.

Good clean fun. Well, sort of.

Brilliant Epynt

March 15, 2010

Last weekend, Epynt, near Brecon in Wales was the venue for the opening round of the 2010 Richard Egger Insurance MSA Asphalt Rally Championship.

Epynt Military Ranges are MOD land that is opened up a few times a year to host some of the fastest Tarmac rallies in the country. Narrow ribbons of tarmac weave their way across hillsides and through mock German villages, built to simulate fighting the Russians in WWIII. I love the place, mainly because it’s so sodding quick. The rally consisted of 6 stages, two layouts repeated three times, with each stage being about 12 miles long. It’s a mix of flat out sections over jumps and long, sweeping bends with the occasional tight, technical section thrown in to keep the average speed down. The weather was about as good as you get; Epynt seems to it’s own weather system, but it behaved itself on this occasion. It was chilly to begin with and quite windy, but crucially, it was dry.

After spectating on the event for a few years now, it seems to me that being quick here requires above all else, trust. The driver must first trust the notes that their navigator is calling, miss read a corner here and the consequences can be expensive and painful. The driver also needs to trust the car. He/she must believe that it will grip when they enter a string of 5/6th gear bends. They must know that the suspension will cope with the crests and not spit the car off in a direction of it’s own choosing when landing.

As usual, there was a real mix of machinery on the event. From ex works Impreza, Focus and Fabia WRC cars right down to 1.3 Minis and Novas. Add in to the mix a Metro 6R4, a very special, and rapid Audi S3, numerous Mk2 Escorts and a clutch of Darrians, made it a varied and exciting mix of tarmac weaponry.

The most spectacular viewing point of the day was a crest on stages 4-6. They ran in the opposite direction to those in the morning. This meant that instead of approaching the crest after twisty climb, the crews would now be hitting it after a flat, half mile straight.

The quickest crews were arriving at this point well in excess of 100 mph. The seemingly gentle kink launched the cars in to the air with breathtaking ease. The wind at this point was briskly gusting across the track, creating an intermittent, but fiendish cross wind. The cars were airborne for a good two seconds and seeing them buffet in the air as the wind hit was both thrilling a quite terrifying. There’s been some big accidents over the years at this point, the crews understand the risks but still display incredible commitment.

The event was won by Peter Lloyd/Graham Handly in thier Subaru S12 WRC by a margin of 37s over Steve Simpson/Mark Booth in another WRC Impreza.

Special mention must go the 3rd placed crew of Simon Mauger/Chris Butcher who beat a raft of far more exotic machinery in their Mk2 Escort.

The sight of these cars flying through the air only a couple of meters from where you’re standing is utterly intoxicating. These crews are performing absolute heroics and long may it continue. The guys in the BMW below typify the spirit of the event, brilliant.