Thursday, July 30, 2015

Polar Alignment: Volvo Takes Total Control of Polestar

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

It is an art for a premium automobile brand to provide a special aura around their vehicles. Historically, there are two ways to win over an affluent clientele. The first method is luxury features such as leather seating and advanced technology suites provide a comfort-oriented impression of high-end motoring. Another way a premium marque attracts special prominence is through performance. While luxury cars would often deliver more than enough power for a boulevard ride, the recent direction has been to infusing outright, pavement-burning high-performance into a model line-up. In doing so, boutique performance groups have grown inside popular luxury brands. BMW has their M models, Cadillac features a V line and Mercedes-Benz adds sensationalism to their vehicle lin-up through AMG.

In 2013, Volvo joined the tailored high-performance fight through a partnership with a Swedish motorsport team. Founded in 1996, Polestar Racing instantly developed a relationship with Volvo on the track in touring cars. After 13 years of facilitating a racing problem using Volvo vehicles, Polestar was appointed an official performance partner with the auto company. In 2013, Volvo drew Polestar into the production car spotlight with special versions of the S60 and V60 serving as the first examples of a merging Swedish personality. Produced in limited numbers, Canadian offerings from the Polestar line for 2015 consisted of an S60 and V60 variant. The 345-horsepower vehicle line is equipped with a twin-scroll Borg Warner turbocharger, Ohlins shocks as well as a full-flow exhaust in addition to reworked exterior and interior styling. Only 750 versions of the Volvo S60 Polestar and V60 Polestar have been produced for a worldwide market.

Earlier this month, the temptation of Polestar vehicles proved even too irresistible for Volvo Cars. On July 14th, Volvo announced they have acquired a whole ownership of Polestar’s Performance and the Polestar brand making the motorsport-bred organization an in-house operation inside the Swedish automaker. A company founded by Christian Dahl as a race team, Polestar will continue to stand for performance by Volvo vehicles. "We are extremely satisfied with the way the performance business with Volvo has developed. But we are a racing team first and foremost. This is an opportunity to return our full attention to our core business – to develop and race Volvo cars," said Dahl. The former owner of Polestar will be part of the new 100-percent volvo-owned entity but retains his race team which he will rename.

Foreseeing sales between 1,000 and 1,500 cars per year attached to the Polestar brand, Volvo wants to maintain an exclusivity with the performance line for the interim basis. President and chief executive of Volvo Cars HÃ¥kan Samuelsson explained, "Driving a Volvo Polestar is a special experience. We have decided to bring this experience to more Volvo drivers, placing the full resources of Volvo behind the development of Polestar as the model name for our high performance cars," The automaker also hints they are seeking to use the nameplate in connection with twin engine electrification hybrid powertrain technology.

In fact, the relationship between Volvo and Polestar has taken a page from the Mercedes AMG book. At one time two completely different companies, Mercedes-Benz and AMG eventually realized the importance of formal togetherness. In 1999, Mercedes-Benz began unification with the German performance house. The current Mercedes AMG was formed in 2005 guaranteeing the tri-star badge would have an exclusive factory identification for potent street machines.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Special Cause Attracts $50,000 US for Mazda MX-5 Launch Edition

Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations

At the beginning of the Bruce Springsteen music video for his classic hit "Born to Run", I remember him saying "Nobody wins unless everybody wins". In a world where these victories are difficult to come by, it is truly amazing when a great number of us benefit positively. With one special model of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 sold in the United States last weekend, there were plenty of winners.

The Launch Edition version of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is dressed-up version of the top-tiered Grand Touring model of the new roadster. Accounting as the first 1,000 models of the fourth-generation sports car, the MX-5 Launch Edition also includes Advanced Keyless Entry and comes with a branded Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker. Priced aa $30,495 for a six-speed manual or $31,570 for the six-speed automatic gearbox model, preregistration was required on a special website for the opportunity to buy a limited issue 2016 Mazda MX-5 Launch Edition. For one individual who might have missed out on a Launch Edition model through dealership channels, a nearly $20,000 additional cost allowed a driver to claim a compact roadster.

At auction, a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Launch Edition was sold on Saturday, July 11th for $50,000. While the buyer obtained one of the first examples of the hottest new cars of 2016, the highest bidder is not considered the main benefactor. Part of the St. Jude's Hope for the Hamptons fundraising event, all the money placed towards the car goes to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The MX-5 Launch Edition was donated through the Mazda Drive for Good program setup by Mazda North American Operations to help children seeking desperately-needed medical care.

For everyone awaiting to presence of the 2016 MX-6 in the United States and Canada, the vehicle is one step closer to showrooms near us. Late last month, the first examples of North American-bound new-generation Mazda MX-5 roadster have arrived in on American soil after a trip over the Atlantic onboard the Phoenix Leader cargo ship.

Car FYI Car of the Month for May 2015: James Hinchcliffe's Dallara-Honda IndyCar

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

The past few months have been a busy time. It has been my deepest regrets I fell behind on the Car FYI Car of the Month updates. One occupation of time has been the rapidly moving 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series. A tight season started in late March and ending in late August, the 16-race schedule quickly flooded towards the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 99th Indy 500. A race won by a brilliant performance by Juan-Pablo Montoya, the Team Penske organization secured its 16th win in the race.

However, up until the green flag flew for the Memorial Day weekend classic event, The majority of focus for the Month of May activities at the speedway was foreshadowed by a wicked Monday practice crash. The accident resulting in a broken right front suspension component on the #5 car fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports sent James Hinchcliffe violently into a wall. Thankfully by no small effort of the Holmatro Safety Team, Hinchcliffe received prompt medical treatment that in many account saved the Canadian's life.

For May, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara-Honda driven by James Hinchcliffe the Car FYI Car of the Month. The reasoning for it is capturing both strong positive and negative outcomes following the activities for the 2015 event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The positive side reflects on a skillfully built racing car. Under the Honda body kit (an addition for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season) is a fourth-generation Dallara IR-12 chassis. First introduced to the IndyCar Series in 2012, the Dallara monocoque was developed as an advancement in open wheel racing vehicles. Through almost 100 runnings of the Indianapolis 500 at the 2.5-mile race track, speed proved to be a deadly adversary for drivers. 41 drivers have lost their lives in Indy-type vehicles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While safety was an afterthought until some exceptionally fatal accidents in the 1970s caused promoters and engineers to shift focus away from raw speed. The Dallara IR-12 chassis used for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season has been developed through dummy-based crash testing in a manner like passenger cars. Dealing with potentially more extreme speed and performance than found on the street, the car in concert with driver protection features such as a helmet and HANS device has greatly improved the chances of survivability in open wheel racing.

As a downside to the May 2015 Car of the Month recipient is some teething problems with the all-new body panels issued by both Honda and competitor Chevrolet. The first year of what was a long-promised adaptation of unique bodywork on the Dallara chassis, the 2015 Indy 500 premiered the oval/superspeedway configuration of new aerodynamic packages. The body kit packages produced by Honda and Chevrolet both garnered unappealing headlines over the month of May activities on the Brickyard oval. After several IndyCar crashes where cars went airborne at some point, the series zeal for near record-breaking track speeds appeared risky. After Ed Carpenter's practice crash just ahead of Saturday qualifying, teams were regulated to abandon a qualifying-only aerodynamics package. James Hinchcliffe's crash occurred in race day prep but still involved wheels leaving the ground. Despite concerns, the Indy 500 race was a safe event with the Chevrolet/Honda body kits combined with the Dallara chassis providing an competitive, entertaining spectacle.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Has Mazda’s North American Diesel Ambitions Stalled?

Mazda SkyActiv Prototype Race Car

Heavily popular in much of Europe to the point they would sometimes outpace gasoline engines, diesel powerplants exists as a niche item in North America. Large-scale interest in diesel powerplants in North America was a by-product of high gasoline prices in 2008. Although gas prices have dropped from impairing highs, many auto companies were still committed to offer diesel engine options. Attached to building small, affordable cars, Japanese auto brand Mazda created an uproar in 2012 when they pledged to include a diesel engine as part of their upcoming Mazda6 sedan and CX-5 crossover vehicle for North American consumers. Part of Mazda’s campaign to convince American and Canadian audiences to the effectiveness of their so-called SkyActiv-D engine took place in sports car racing. After three years, there have been signs Mazda’s diesel marketing tool is running out of momentum.

Since May, it has been rumoured the SpeedSource team fielding Mazda’s diesel-powered prototype effort in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship has been pursuing a change in powerplant. For the past two seasons, Speedsource operated a twin-turbocharged version of the Mazda 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D engine inside a Lola-powered LMP2 category machine. With approval from Mazda’s head office in Japan, Speedsource wants to drop the diesel engine in favour of a gasoline engine. It’s been suggested that a modified version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder by AER from the 2015 Indy Lights series is being eyed by the team.

The Mazda Prototype was first campaigned in 2014 after the merger of the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Series. Unlike Audi and Peugeot who found relatively quick success using diesel engine power, Mazda and SpeedSource effort with the race car resulted in limited celebrations over the 2014 and ongoing 2015 sports car series season. To date, the best effort for the Mazda Prototype with the SkyActiv-D diesel has been a sixth-place finish. For the majority of competition, the struggle has been to keep the diesel-powered prototype car running.

Issues on the track with the SkyActiv-D engine is compounded by the fact Mazda has not yet provided a road vehicle with the diesel powerplant. In Canada, the planned release of the 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D engine was for the spring of last year. As of February of 2015, Car FYI received notice from Mazda that the diesel engine program for production cars is still ongoing with "..further development is required to deliver the right balance between fuel economy and Mazda-appropriate driving performance." Further news on the SkyActiv-D engine’s inclusion on the Mazda6, CX-5 or any other vehicle from the automaker for the United States and Canada has not been provided.

The following video is a 3-D presentation captured at the 2014 Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto of the Mazda prototype show car.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Snapshots of Historical Canadian Motorsport's Cars

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Canada is a great land with great people. As a Canadian, I am happy each and every year on July 1st to celebrate a collective greatness with my countrymates. Barbeques, fireworks and the proud displays of the Maple Leaf flag is some of the ways Canada Day is remembered each year. During my Canada Day, I spent time reviewing photos I have taken over the years of race cars.

While it took me some time to prepare my presentation, I proudly display for you a sampling of Canadian motorsport history.

1986: Paul Tracy's Kroll Racing Frissbee-Chevrolet

Paul Tracy CanAm Car CIAS 2010
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Auto racing enthusiasts of the 1960s and 1970s would fondly celebrate the Can-Am Series. Auto racing greats such as Penske Racing's first superstar Mark Donohue, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Formula 1 race team founder Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme are just a few big names that wheeled some of the most exotic sports cars on the planet during the era. Along with some established and soon-to-be legends racing in the Can-Am Series, a fair share of young drivers got their start in the sports car challenge. Al Unser Jr. won the 1982 championship years before he reached superstar status in Indy cars. The Can-Am Series was also the scene where a young Paul Tracy captured victory in a 1986 race at Mosport. The 2003 Champ Car champion (and arguably also an Indy 500 winner like Unser Jr.) drove a Kroll Racing-owned Frissbee-Chevrolet to a win in the final race of the 1986 Can-Am season when he was 17-years-old.

The race car chassis was known as Frissbee and proved very popular in the latter years of Can-Am. The Frissbee was originally derived from a Lola T330 open wheel car design used in the Formula 5000 racing during the 1970s.

1992: Scott Goodyear's Mackenzie Lola-Chevrolet

Scott Goodyear 1992 IndyCar
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Scott Goodyear had a storied open wheel racing career. The Toronto-area native twice won the 500-mile CART race at Michigan International Speedway in the 1990s and later grabbed three victories in the Indy Racing League. However, Goodyear is most famous for his near-misses at the Indianapolis 500. One of those losses came in 1995 when a mistimed acceleration on a lap-190 restart resulted in him passing the pace car handing the Borg Warner Trophy to Jacques Villeneuve. On two other occasions, Scott Goodyear's effort resulted in a second-place finish.

In 1992, the first runner-up at the Indy 500 came in a record-setting close finish. Scott Goodyear and the Walker Racing #15 Mackenzie Financial Services-sponsored car qualified in the 33rd and final spot but thrusted towards a near win coming to the checkered flag. By just 0.043 seconds, Al Unser Jr. was able to hold off Goodyear.

2009: James Hinchcliffe Indy Lights Car

James Hinchcliffe Indy Lights Car 2009 Honda Indy Toronto
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Taken almost six years ago, this picture of an Indy Lights car may not appear on the surface to measure-up to historic status. However, this 2009 image of James Hinchcliffe driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsport's at the 2009 Honda Indy Toronto with the Indy Lights series seems like a picture that could become more significant in the future. Even back then, Hinchtown attracted a big crowd. On that weekend, he finished 3rd (equaling a career-best). We continue to wish James Hinchcliffe best of luck in a swift and speedy recovery.

2000: Multimatic Motorsports Lola-Nissan

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

This year's 24 Hours of Le Mans featured two Canadians. Both Chris Cummings and Paul Dalla Lana had an opportunity to greatness in their racing crashes come to an end (in the case of Dalla Lana, it wasn't until the last hour of the classic endurance race). While 2015 fell short on promise for our country's drivers, Canada had something big to celebrate patriotically 15 years ago.

Finishing 25th overall, the #32 Multimatic Motorsports' Lola B2K/40 with Nissan engine power claimed the top position in the LMP675 category. A race team based in Markham, Ontario, red and white practically flowed through the brake lines and engine oiling system of the class-winning car. While the chassis was a Lola B2K/40 design, it was built by the Canadian race team. An all-Canadian driving team consisting of Scott Maxwell, John Graham and Greg Wilkins piloted the vehicle for each of the 274 laps it completed on-route to the 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP675 class win.

1984: Jacques Villeneuve's Canadian Tire March-Cosworth

Jacques Villeneuve 76 Canadian Tire IndyCar Front Shot
Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

When you hear the name Jacques Villeneuve, us with general knowledge of Canadian motorsports would attach the name to the 1995 Indy 500 winner and 1997 Formula 1 champion. However, it would amuse many (as well as confuse) to know of Uncle Jacques. The brother of Gilles Villeneuve, the older Jacques also participated in motorsports. He attempted to follow his brother's path to Formula 1 but failed to qualify in all three races tries. Uncle Jacques' more successful career came with racing Indy cars. From 1982 to 1992, Villeneuve started in 36 races with the majority occurring between 1984 and 1986. His crowning achievement was a win at Road America in 1985 where he became the first Canadian to win a CART-sanctioned race.

I'm afraid I have to make an educated guess about this particular car but I believe it is a March chassis used in the 1984 season. According to some quick research I did, Villeneuve's and the Canadian Tire Racing team did run a March 83C chassis through at least the early part of the 1984 season.


2001: Chevrolet Corvette C5-R

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona was one of those races I count myself lucky to have witnessed in any form. Thanks to Speed Channel (recently re-established in Canada as the Fox Racing Channel), I was able to watch not only the Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Earnhardt Jr. sharing a #3 Chevrolet Corvette but the #2 Corvette C5.R roll to an overall victory. Co-driven by Canadian Ron Fellows, there was certainly some pleasure watching him claim such a prestigious honour. The early 2000s was a bizarre time in sports car racing at Daytona International Speedway where the faster prototypes were beaten by slower GT cars. In 2000, a Dodge Viper won overall and the 2003 was won by a Porsche 911 GT3-RS machine.

As part of a celebration to Ron Fellows earning his path into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, a small display was put together beside the Auto Exotica exhibit at the 2014 Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto.

The 2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona win was only one of many triumphs by the Windsor-born Canadian racer. One of the charter members of Corvette Racing and instrumental in the development of the C5.R, his career with the team from 1999 to 2007 included three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, two Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring wins and an American Le Mans Series GTS championship in 2003. Prior and after wins with Corvette Racing, Fellows also achieved a lot as a road racing specialist in NASCAR. How our Governor General's office has chosen to deny Ron Fellows' achievements as anything less than Order of Canada worthy is sad. This country is great for people like Fellows who explore great, new depths in the human experience and succeeds in a manner that gains world acclaim.

For a more detailed look at the display of Ron Fellows' racing career, I compiled the following YouTube video.