Thursday, September 10, 2020

Passing the Trident: Maserati Unveils The MC20 Super Sports Car

Photo Credit: Maserati North America Inc.

Founded more than 105 years ago, Italian luxury car builder Maserati has manufactured creations blending the exclusive, high-end luxury with passionate sports car athleticism. While Maserati spent recent years championing their Levante sport utility vehicle as well as the Ghibli and the heavily-updated Quattroporte premium sedans, fans of the brand eagerly awaited the time more personalized driving experiences connected to the Trident logo. The long-anticipated replacement to the GranTurismo and GranCabrio grand tourer line, excepted to borrow design language communicated with the elegant Alfieri concept car, is planned for sale either next year or 2022. With September 9th MMXX: Time to be audacious” event, Maserati took the covers off their exceptionally powerful, lightweight MC20.

Radiant in an elegant yet race car-like appearance, the Maserati MC20 is said to be the start of a new era for the Italian automobile company. The MC20 (a name combining Maserati Corse and 20 for the year 2020) is a two-seat, mid-engined performance car with tightly wrapped body panels honed through over two thousand hours in a wind tunnel. More than a thousand hours of simulations using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) has also been used to shape the super sports car. Maserati’s first production application featuring lightweight carbon fiber monocoque construction, the MC20's design allows a driver to experience an exceptionally high weight to power ratio while maintaining strong rigidity. Introducing their MC20 to the world in a coupe body style, Maserati states that a convertible version is in the cards for the future.

Photo Credit: Maserati North America Inc.


The Maserati MC20's key source of performance is a new racing-derived Nettuno engine. The twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 powerplant is Maserati’s first in-house developed engine in more than 20 years. Generating an astounding 621 horsepower and 538 lb.-ft. of torque, the MC20's  V-6 power unit contains patented Maserati Twin Combustion ignition technology as well as an engine fuel delivery system featuring direct injection and port injection. A dry sump oiling system with fully variable oil pump as well as an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is paired with Maserati’s Nettuno powerplant. 

Photo Credit: Maserati North America Inc.

Weighing 3,306 pounds, the weight to power ratio of the Maserati MC20's is recorded at 5.3 pounds per horsepower. Acceleration from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour (0 to 62 miles per hour) is realized in 2.9 seconds while the top speed of the MC20 is advertised at 325 kilometers per hour (202 miles per hour). The rear-wheel driven, mid-engined supercar’s handling is supported by front and rear double-wishbone suspension with virtual steering axle as well as limited slip self-locking rear differential (An electronic differential is optional). Providing steady means to counter the Maserati MC20's 621 horsepower, ventilated disc brakes include front Brembo six-piston calipers.

Entering the vehicle through butterfly-style opening doors, the driver and passenger of the MC20 rides in high-tech performance atmosphere. Strategically placed controls with steering wheel-mounted controls provide both a driver-focused experience and a clean dashboard layout. This appearance is aided by a pair of 10-inch screens. One serves as the driver`s instrument display of the Maserati MC20 while the other is the multimedia unit. The Maserati Multimedia System is paired with Maserati Connect featuring up-to-date navigation, WiFi hotspot and Amazon Alexa connectivity. Luggage space for the MC20 is modest totalling 150 liters (50 liters at the front and 100 behind the vehicle`s occupants). 

Photo Credit: Maserati North America Inc.

The MC20 is Maserati’s fifth mid-engined production vehicle and the first since the limited edition, Ferrari-based MC12. Maserati has grand plans behind the car that is being produced with pride in Modena, Italy. Along with desires to parlay the Maserati MC20 into a return to motorsports for the brand, the Italian auto company also indicates the potential to introduce a fully electric version of the super sport car.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

An Off-Roading Legend’s New Charge: The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

The figurehead of the Jeep brand, the image of the Wrangler is a storied shape in automotive history created by necessity. The military-developed four-wheel drive vehicle related to the modern Jeep Wrangler was manufactured as a specialized mode of transportation for reliability handling rough terrain. Since the end of the second world war, the vehicle was steadily contemporized over the decades improving its looks, function and comfort. When the latest generation Wrangler was introduced in 2018, FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) retained much of its rugged off-roading personality but applied the flexibility to accept advanced technologies. Along with a powerful Pentastar V-6 engine, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler arrived with the choice of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that included the additional electric power punch of an eTorque system. For 2021, the introduction of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid allows drivers to chart a new path with the popular sport utility vehicle.

Based on the four-door Wrangler body style, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s heart is an advanced powertrain operating in conjunction with a full-time four-wheel drive system. Primary electric power for the plug-in hybrid Wrangler arrives from two motor generators with one replacing the traditional alternator and the other mounted ahead of the transmission. Collectively generating up to 147 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, the electric motors are fed by a 400-volt, 96-cell lithium-ion battery pack featuring a nickel manganese cobalt anatomy. Capable of carrying the Wrangler 4xe up to 25 miles without burning gasoline, the electric power system is paired with long-lasting regenerative braking. A gasoline-powered, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission allows the plug-in hybrid Jeep to reach greater ranges and conventional on-road and off-road performance.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

The plug-in hybrid powertrain installed in the 2021 Wrangler 4xe can be operated in three main modes. With the Wrangler 4xe E Selec Modes, driver can choose to drive the sport utility vehicle in an ‘Electric’ setting or two selectable modes combining the electric motors and gasoline engine. A ‘Hybrid’ mode serves as a default setting or an ‘eSave’ mode that primarily uses the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s maximum available momentum is 375 horsepower and 470 lb.-ft. of torque.  Fuel economy for the plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle is rated at 50 MPGe.   

Available in three trim levels (base 4xe, Sahara 4xe and Rubicon 4xe), the Wrangler 4xe boasts Jeep’s familiar, confident four-wheel drive appearance on the outside. The four-door platform is situated on a 118.4-inch wheelbase with a nimble 64.4-inch track. The base and Sahara versions of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe come equipped with an SELEC-TRAC transfer case, standard open front and rear differentials as well as Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza tires mounted to 20-inch cast-aluminum wheels. The Rubicon trimmed model contains a more robust off-road package with BF Goodrich Ko2 All-Terrain tires paired with 17-inch polished wheels, Tru-Lok electronic locking differentials and a Rock-Trac 4x4 system. High-pressure gas-charged monotube shock absorbers with MTV technology comes equipped on the Sahara and Rubicon version of the Wrangler 4xe. With the Rubicon 4xe, off-roading prowess for the plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle features an approach angle of 43.8 degrees, departure angle of 35.6 degrees and a ground clearance of 18.8 inches.  

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

Appearing much like a conventional gasoline-powered four-door Wrangler, the 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe features a subtle amount of specialized design cues. Rubicon-trimmed models are accented by Electric Blue colouring applied to the tow hooks and ‘Rubicon’ naming on the hood. Ten exterior colour options are offered with the 2021 Wrangler 4xe. With the battery pack tucked neatly under the second-row seating bench, the Wrangler 4xe’s interior maintains a comfortable five-passenger capacity. Electric Blue coloured stitching is found inside Jeep Wrangler 4xe with Rubicon trim models. 

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America

Arriving for sale in early 2021, the Jeep Wrangler 4xe’s debut is actually a long-pledged vehicle. In the late 2000s, Chrysler’s ENVI program was heavily involved in conceiving electrified products from Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands. A plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler Unlimited was one of several concept vehicles shown off prior to the demise of ENVI following Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy and purchase into Fiat Group. 

While the Wrangler 4xe will be the first plug-in hybrid Jeep to be sold in United States and Canada, Renegade 4xe and Compass 4xe models are already found in European showrooms. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Teasing the New Jeep Wagoneer

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Celebrating 75 years as a brand in 2020, Jeep has always emphasized versatility in conventional and unconventional means. Though the four-wheel drive and impressive off-road capabilities initially defined Jeep’s identity, there was a long-running marketing push by the marque to present their vehicles as an upscale product that can reach peaks few sedans would reach. Starting in the late 1990s, a growing driving consumer base entered the domain of the Jeep brand.  

First appearing in the 1963 model year, the Jeep Wagoneer was a longtime entrant in the sport utility vehicle category as a modern, premium product for its time. Sculpted by highly influential industrial designer Brooks Stevens, the original Jeep Wagoneer presented features attracting urban and suburban dwellers as much as drivers requiring a durable four-wheel drive vehicle. The SJ platform version of the Wagoneer endured the Jeep brand’s ownership by Kaiser Motors, American Motor Corporation and later Chrysler before being discontinued in 1991. A one-year appearance as a luxury level of the Grand Cherokee in 1993 under the Grand Wagoneer moniker was the most recent use of the Jeep signature model. Heading into 2021, the Wagoneer name is once again being set to establish iconic luxury. 

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) has trumpeted the return of the Wagoneer ahead of a full unveiling on September 3rd with a series of teaser photos. On August 21st, an initial announcement included two images with the wording “Coming September 3 ...” featuring one shot appearing like a grille assembly with lettering W-A-G visible. Two more recent releases from FCA came with additional teaser images coupled with less secretive wording stating the debut a new Wagoneer accompanied with the reveal of an electrified Wrangler 4xe. The second media release also included an overhead shot of what is anticipated to be the new Jeep Wagoneer. Ahead of the official reveal, two facts that are safe to assume are that the Wagoneer will be Jeep’s luxury flagship and has the capacity for three-row seating.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

During FCA Capital Markets Day held back in 2018, the auto company delivered a comprehensive outlook for their business strategy to analysts, investors and media that featured an opening address from CEO Sergio Marchionne (less than two months ahead of his untimely death). Among the announcements made was a road map for Jeep’s 2022 model lineup. Predicting that the crossover utility vehicle market would account for a more sizable portion of their total sales and revenue, FCA intended to greatly expand the Jeep global product range. With a five-vehicle portfolio in 2018, up to eleven products were estimated for the 2022 model year including a pickup truck that has most recently been realized as the Gladiator. Part of the 2022 outlook for the Jeep brand was a new, large scale sport utility vehicle named the Wagoneer.

FCA and Jeep will officially debut the new Wagoneer on a Youtube stream on September 3rd at 9 a.m. EDT. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Two Times for Takuma: Sato Wins 2020 Indianapolis 500

Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski

The Indianapolis 500 ran for its 104th time in history under less than traditional circumstances for 2020. Held on a date in late August without any fans in the stands, the open wheel race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval operated in a less than traditional way. However, the combination of the national anthem and “Back Home Again in Indiana” being sung, track owner Roger Penske gave the command to start engines and the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Pace Car took a 33-car field off pit lane towards the green flag provided an illusion close to the typical Memorial weekend 200-lap contest.

Becoming the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Takuma Sato is now in the illustrious company of multiple winners of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Taking the lead of the 500-mile race on lap 185, Sato fended off charges from New Zealand native Scott Dixon through the late laps until a caution on lap 196 solidified his place in victory lane for the 2020 event. 

Sato piloted his #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-owned Honda-powered Dallara to his second time at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. “This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. HPD and Honda gave us a lot of power, a lot fuel mileage, and my boys. They sacrifice a lot. I can’t thank all of the people.”, said Sato as the PeopleReady-sponsored sat in the new, elevated victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Photo Credit: Joe Skibinski

With 21 lead changes over 200 laps, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 field started with Marco Andretti serving as the pole sitter. Despite positioned in the top spot, the #98 US Concrete car of Andretti would not lead a single lap in the race. Completing the full distance of the Indy 500, Marco Andretti finished in 13th place.

The 33-car thinned quickly when on lap 4 the #51 car of James Davidson suffered an unusual mechanical issue as the front right wheel quickly erupted in fire. One of seven caution periods during the 104th Indianapolis 500, it’s fortunate to note that Davidson as well as the drivers involved in subsequent matters requiring a yellow flag did not suffer serious injuries. More serious accidents on track occurred on lap 92 and lap 196. The lap 92 incident took place as the field was returning to green after the cleanup for the #41 A.J. Foyt Enterprises car of Dalton Kellett. Conor Daly’s #47 Ed Carpenter Racing vehicle went for a spun coming off of turn four causing a tire smoke screen that led to Indy 500 rookie Oliver Askew also losing control. Askew’s #7 Arrow McLaren SP race car spun on cold tires and collided into the inside wall ahead of pit lane. The accident ended the day for both Daly and Askew.

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

What was the final caution for this year’s race, 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot suffered a scary-looking crash. Spinning in turn 4, the driver of #45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing hit the turn’s SAFER barrier before continuing down the front stretch before colliding with the soft barrier at the pit road entry. Spencer Pigot was taken to a local hospital following his severe crash but was discharged later on Sunday night.  

Though Takuma Sato captured the glory of the Borg-Warner Trophy by crossing the finish line first after 500 miles, Scott Dixon commanded much of this year’s open wheel classic at the Brickyard. The #9 Chip Ganassi Racing car and driver held the lead for 111 laps. At lap 80, Dixon had pulled out a 10.945-second lead over the second place position prior to a caution for Canadian driver Dalton Kellett’s impact with the wall. 

The start of the second half of the 2020 Indianapolis 500, Scott Dixon was in a heated but well-orchestrated battle with Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi. Unfortunately, a pit road incident on lap 124 ended hope of seeing more of the #9 PNC Bank and #27 NAPA/AutoNation cars fighting towards the end of the race. Officials ruled the Andretti Autosport team performed an unsafe release with Alexander Rossi’s race placing the 2016 Indy 500 winner to the rear of the field. Although Rossi made some impressive moves to climb back up the race order early into a run, he lost control of his #27 car on lap 144 concluding a 2020 attempt for victory. 

Photo Credit: James Black

For Scott Dixon, his chances to claim a third Indianapolis 500 win were quashed with Spencer Pigot’s late crash. With four laps remaining, the NTT IndyCar Series allowed the race to run to the chequered flag under the yellow flag. Many fans and even race commentators may have preferred that a red flag would have been shown potentially setting up a final short sprint to the finish where Scott Dixon may have challenged Takuma Sato. Dixon does leave the Indy 500 with the perk of having a massive lead in the 2020 drivers’ standings 84 points ahead of Josef Newgarden.

After showing supremacy on Indy 500 Pole Day, Honda engines made a similarly strong performance in the race. Honda-powered entrants led 179 of the 200 laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval and propelled the top-four finishers in the 2020 Indianapolis 500. Behind Sato and Dixon, Graham Rahal brought his #15 car to a third place result tying his best effort in the event. Racing for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan for his second Indy 500, last year’s rookie of the race Santino Ferrucci crossed the line in fourth with Honda power.

Purchasing the NTT IndyCar Series as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway late last year, Roger Penske may have witnessed one of his race team’s weaker performances at the prestigious 500-mile race in recent history. While Simon Pagenaud led 14 laps and Will Power was out in front for two laps, Team Penske was not a true contender at the front. In the final results, the #1 car of Josef Newgarden was the most successful with fifth place but struggled to keep up to the fastest Hondas. 

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

Along other notable finishers of the 2020 Indianapolis 500 includes Patricio O’Ward who finished sixth in his first outing at the great race. O’Ward’s performance in the #5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet was good enough to secure the prize of Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. One spot behind the Mexican rookie in the race results was James Hinchcliffe who drove the #29 Gensys car to 7th place recorded as the highest finish among the Andretti Autosport entries. This race is likely to be Hinchcliffe’s final NTT IndyCar Series appearance for the 2020 season as he was intended to only run a three-race stint. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves made his 19th career start in the great race in a one-off drive with Team Penske. Qualifying in 28th place (his deepest grid position ever in the 500-mile race) Castroneves took his #3 car to a respectable 11th place finishing spot. Making his third and potentially final attempt at a triple crown in motorsports (consisting of the Indy 500, 24 Hour of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix), Fernando Alonso competed with a McLaren-affiliated team once more. Alonso crossed the line in the #66 Arrow McLaren SP car in one lap down in 21st place. Attracting a lot of buzz during his attempts to win the Indianapolis 500, the two-time Formula 1 world champion signed a deal in July that will see him return to Renault’s F1 team. Renault is unwilling to allow Alonso to compete in the Indianapolis 500 into the future since the traditional Indy 500 date falls on Formula 1's Monaco Grand Prix. 

Overall, the 104th Indianapolis 500 concluded as a successful race despite the many challenges due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic. A competitive, safe event, the absence of fans was definitely notable as Takuma Sato celebrated his win. With the completion of the 2020 race, there is much hope that the 2021 race could be triumphant return to a traditional format.  

2020 Indianapolis 500
NTT IndyCar Series
Race Results