Sunday, November 22, 2015

Confession Of A Former Jeff Gordon Anti-Fan

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy



Just 400 miles are all that remains of 2015 competition in the top stock car racing series in the world. The conclusion of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season at Homestead-Miami Speedway once again guarantees 43 drivers will attempt to take the checkered flag for the last event of the year. Four drivers enter the race with the opportunity of being crowned the series champion, depending on the outcome at Homestead-Miami Speedway. For the majority of the field though, victory or defeat is simply a reason to come back next year. Jeff Gordon has a chance of claiming the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup title but has planned the outcome to this race that will hold a note of permanency to a career of 23 years.

Jeff Gordon will be starting this race vehicle’s engine for the final time in competition. The #24 Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports final drive by the currently four-time champion in NASCAR’s top series is forged with some impressive superstar credentials. In 796 NASCAR Sprint Cup events, Gordon has won 93 times including 3 Daytona 500s, 5 Brickyard 400s and 3 All-Star race wins. Successes worthy of respect and admiration, the peak of Jeff Gordon’s career is noted for a period where grandstands of fans used to boo the driver of the #24 machine. At home watching every race, I used to do the exact same thing through the late 1990s through to the early 2000s. About 15 years ago, I would be celebrating the occurrence gleefully for a time where ‘Wonder Boy’ could stop accumulating victories.

I started following NASCAR in the mid-1990s initially propelled by my desire to see a General Motors vehicle in victory lane. As a young person, you would think that a driver like Jeff Gordon driving a Chevrolet Lumina or Monte Carlo has my cheers. Well, initially I was celebratory to the idea of Gordon winning in the colourful DuPont race car. However, the true devotion of my fan dedication became a black car wearing a #3 and GM Goodwrench wording. I remembered when Jeff Gordon his first Cup championship in 1995 thinking even though he beat Dale Earnhardt I found reasons to appreciate the 24-year-old’s achievements looking at the season-end standings.

So when did my attitude towards to Rainbow Warrior turn so stormy? Something happened in the middle of 1996 and a 10-race winning season for Jeff Gordon. It was also the year where Dale Earnhardt suffered the nasty Talladega crash where it seemed it took something out of the momentum of the #3 Chevrolet that took years to recover. Was it a case I felt Gordon were taking victories away from my favourite driver that caused some anger towards the #24 car? There was the North Wilkesboro Speedway race where Gordon won with Earnhardt finishing in the runner-up spot. However, it wasn’t like #3 Goodwrench Chevrolet was in contention for every race Gordon won. Maybe it is just a simple sport fan preference such as disliking the Kansas City Royals World Series win when they beat the Toronto Blue Jays. Maybe if you were a Toronto baseball you pretended the World Series didn’t even exist since 1993.

Along with the frequent winning, I also had an issue with the way Jeff Gordon was advertised with NASCAR. NASCAR and media affiliated with the stock car racing sanctioning body were almost endlessly trying to sell us on how great the driver of the DuPont-sponsored car was. For a driver with just a few seasons in the auto racing series, there sometimes seem to be little more than recent success to justify claims of greatness. While it seemed debatable in the late 1990s, there was some prophecy behind the hype as we consider Jeff Gordon’s career in 2015.

Jeff Gordon also appeared to be one of the first NASCAR drivers to have a persona that was heavily-controlled by handlers. Other drivers of the series obviously had some appreciation for how to behave throughout professional racing history previously but the feedback from Jeff Gordon sometimes came off like a press release. It was hard to truly understand soul of a driver who followed a routine of wooing as well as thanking his team and sponsors after every race in a manner it seemed like a broken record.

Near the end of the century, my Jeff Gordon hatred was at an all-time high. Eventually, my mom found a sponge brick for me to hurl at the television screen anytime the #24 car appeared (I’ve been wondering where that sponge brick was this year when the Canadian election was preventing me to thoroughly appreciate the rare summer we receive in this country). From watching pre-race driver introductions, I knew I was not alone in my distaste for the constantly victorious Gordon. It actually seems odd in retrospect to believe the intensity of the booing at races. Recently, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have also received equal contempt from fans but only after earning a villain-like reputation on the race. In contrast, Jeff Gordon drove clean and simply won a lot of races.

A turning point of my personality hostility towards Gordon came at Watkins Glen in 2003 following a late race accident. Despite how much I despised Jeff Gordon, I never wanted him to be seriously hurt or placed in a situation where he would be harmed. A hard crash for the #24 car, I was relieved that he was able to leave the vehicle. What really made me side with Gordon was his less-than textbook trip to the medical care in the ambulance. He was vocal in criticizing the response after his accident as well slow arrival to be evaluated. So soon after Dale Earnhardt’s passing as well several other high-profile NASCAR fatalities, I could completely understand why a driver would be so impassioned in concern for medical attention. There have also been other moments where Jeff Gordon appeared unchained and more of a personality beyond a brand.


Jeff Gordon #24 3M Chevrolet SS at 2015 Motorama
Photo Credit Chris Nagy

Changing my boos into cheers over the years, the Jeff Gordon I was watching him became a seasoned veteran. The wins appeared harder fought with the reality that almost every new driver to the series wanted to be the latest ‘Wonder Boy’. Even in my anti-Gordon era, I remembered one race victory at Martinsville in 1997 that truly admired. Early in the race, the #24 car spun and lost track position (can’t remember if it was due to a flat tire). On the tight short track, Jeff Gordon charged through masterfully to take the win. Some races more than others showed how much of a truly gifted racer Jeff Gordon was behind the wheel. Later in his career as he passed Dale Earnhardt’s win total and later the 84 victories of Darrell Waltrip to become the all-time leader in the NASCAR Cup Series’ modern era, there was no thought in my mind that contradicted the belief this occurrence was meant to be.

At Martinsville this year (win #93), there was never a moment I was more enthusiastic to see Jeff Gordon win. Based on the circumstances, it was almost ranked as high as a Dale Earnhardt Jr victory. This has been a scenario I would not have fathomed in the 1990s. It’s one person who can silence a critic, it takes an outstanding one who can tun a critic into a fan.

Enjoy your last run in the #24 car today Jeff Gordon and thank you for very a villain as well as a hero in this NASCAR fan’s life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Karma Plug-in Hybrid Rising From the Ashes with BMW Power

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The electrified auto sector has moved at a rapid pace in the past five years. Back then, Tesla Motors only attracted attention through the production of the odd all-electric roadster while the Nissan Leaf all-electric car and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt were only entering the marketplace. Another car garnering attention during the infancy of the electric vehicle renaissance was prepared by a Californian based company Fisker Automotive.

A premium vehicle designed by the same person behind the Aston Martin DB9, the Fisker Karma was a plug-in hybrid luxury car was heavily plagued during its short production run. Production itself was delayed by two years with the first sale examples of the Karma arriving in 2011. When the remnants of Hurricane Sandy hit the upper-part of the United States in November 2012, a large quantity of Fisker Karmas was ultimately written-off when they were caught in the massive flood. The vehicle itself was also affected by an early recall resulting from two high-profile fires. These factors as well as the overall financial state of the start-up auto company brought an end to Fisker Automotive in late 2013.

The Wanxiang Group purchased the remains of the bankrupt independent automaker in 2014 with plans to restart production for a premium plug-in hybrid vehicle. Renaming the company Karma Automotive, the organization has entered an important agreement providing momentum to their targeted 2016 re-launch.

Making an agreement with BMW, the upcoming Karma plug-in hybrid car will be supplied with crucial powertrain components. Including high voltage battery charging system and other systems added for electrified driving, Karma Automotive celebrates being involved with the reputable German company. CEO of Karma Automotive Tim Corcoran comments, "The Wanxiang Group is giving Karma Automotive the opportunity to bring a stunning car back to the market, and the partnership with BMW and their outstanding track record is a great fit for the future,". "I'm personally excited and incredibly proud we will be integrating the sophistication, integrity and character of the BMW powertrain into our own. Karma Automotive products and ultimately our customers will be the greatest benefactors of this fantastic relationship." said the co-founder of the company now-called Karma Automotive Bernhard Koehler. 


Photo Credit: Karma Automotive



In addition to buying Fisker Automotive, the Wanxiang Group had also acquired battery maker A123 System's consumer business (A123 Systems supplied the battery technology for the original Fisker Karma). A123 Systems and BMW have already been involved in automotive collaborative projects. BMW has used the company's technologies in ActiveHybrid versions of the 3-Series and 5-Series in recent years.

The new Karma Automotive company acknowledges its past but remains devoted to providing an "Emotionally Charged" vehicle to the auto marketplace.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Royal Canadian Mint Enters Fast Lane with NASCAR Medallion



Photo Credit; Royal Canadian Mint

Canada's history with NASCAR competition has been a colourful affair. Richard Petty winning his first Cup division series race at the old CNE Speedway in Toronto in 1959, the late Earl Ross' first and currently only Cup victory by a Canadian on the ever-popular Martinsville Speedway in 1974 and Ron Fellows' six road racing wins in two of the stock car racing series' three major touring divisions have been moments the patriotic red and white fans of motorsports have been proud of. This season, Calgary, Alberta native Cameron Hayley's rookie season effort in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and crew chief of the #78 Furniture Row Racing Cole Pearn have shown future greatness is in the cards. As the 2015 NASCAR racing season is nearing a close, the Royal Canadian Mint has put some definition to the popular racing spectacle with the release of a detailed silver medallion.

Struck in 1 oz., 99.99% pure silver, the royal Canadian Mint has created an officially-licensed medallion to invoke the spirit of stock car racing organization. The NASCAR-licensed medallion features a designed crafted Arturo Rotondo and is limited in production for a release of 30,000 examples.

Photo Credit; Royal Canadian Mint

Detailed in silver and accented an all-colour NASCAR logo with a black background, the front face of the medallion features a regular scene from each race; a victorious stock car. Under a victory lap, a driver of the winning Chevrolet SS in this medallion design holds out the chequered flag among a motorsport crowd in a grandstand. On the other side of this Royal Canadian Mint keepsake depicts a racing wheel/tire with the NASCAR logo in silver at the top and '2016' at the bottom.

The limited edition NASCAR-licensed Medallion is offered through the Royal Canadian Mint website to Canadian and American customers at the price of $49.95 CDN.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Toyota's Ultimate Utility Vehicle is the Meanest Minivan Ever

Photo Credit: Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.


During the early 1990s, the family vehicle market was under the spell of the spacious minivans. Providing enough room for parents, kids, pets and provisions for a weekend, minivans often suffered from a lack of excitement due to underpowered engines as well as bland handling. Drivers demanding a more spirited family hauler were accommodated with a growing crop of sport utility vehicles as well as crossover vehicles in the past 20 years.

While the minivan market lost its lustre to some automotive players, Toyota’s Sienna is currently accepted as a gold standard for hauling the typical North American family. Propelled by a 266-horsepower V-6 engine and available with all-wheel drive, the Sienna proves to be a humble performer on the city roads, suburban streets as well as on highways. If participating a trip across harsh North American terrain, something more ultimate may be needed. At the 2015 SEMA Show, The Toyota Sienna can be shown in a completely different light where the limits for the minivan appearance are pushed way off its normal course with the Ultimate Utility Vehicle.

Appearing like a Sienna on steroids, Toyota’s Ultimate Utility Vehicle (UUV) is actually not as it entirely seems. The unibody minivan structure has been adapted to accept a frame from a Tacoma 4x4 truck. The Toyota UUV is engineered with long-travel suspension allowing up to 15.75 inches of movement designed to be a terrain-conquering setup. Suspension travel reacts to a 33-inch diameter Nitto Mud Grappler tires mounted to Monster Energy 539B wheels. The off-road equipment assures the modified minivan will climb and trek across surfaces varying greatly from what is found in suburbia.

The four-wheel drive fusion of a minivan and small truck also incorporates unique door operations. Due to the Toyota UUV’s design, the Sienna door opening pattern had to be abandoned. Instead, the front passenger and driver’s door is hinged in a suicide-style. The typical rear sliding doors on the UUV are replaced by motorized doors that slide out.

Built not only to like menacing, the Toyota UUV was constructed for a purpose. Following its appearance at the 2015 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the UUV will be a command vehicle in Toyota’s Ever-Better Expedition. The Ever-Better Expedition is a more than 16,500-mile adventure trek involving nine vehicles travelling through extreme areas. Having already completed a hot, summery portion of the journey in North America, the Ever-Better Expedition will have nine Toyota vehicles challenge cold, ice-covered trails in Alaska as well as Canada.

Featuring a macho exterior that can take occupants far away from civilization, the Toyota Ultimate Utility Vehicle is fitted with all kinds of high-tech gear making the off-roader a mobile home base. Serving as the command centre for the upcoming North American Ever-Better Expedition, the UUV includes Wi-Fi internet access, as well as a TracVision mobile satellite television receiver. A 17-inch computer monitor, 60-inch Sony LED television and a 2,500-watt JBL audio system are outfitted inside the modified interior. Captain’s chairs incorporating laptop tray tables are found inside the Toyota UUV. A Flir M-324xp night vision high-definition imaging camera system is also fitted for the occupants to better monitor surroundings in darker areas. With the technology at their disposal inside the UUV, Toyota engineers will be able to monitor every vehicle taking part in the Ever-Better Expedition. Results will be communicated to Toyota’s headquarters using Skype.

In addition to the UUV, other vehicles participating in Toyota’s Ever-Better Expedition include a Highlander, RAV4 and a LC 200 (an Australian version of the Land Cruiser) serving as a torch-bearer. The entire North American trip is slated to take 110 days.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Luxury for Hyundai Undergoes a True Genesis

Photo Credit: Hyundai Motor America

It's only a human condition to judge ourselves in the company we keep. It is also natural for even comfortable individuals to seek a higher status. For automakers, having a foothold in the general automobile market is often not enough. After-all, why would Cadillac and Lincoln exist when a Chevrolet or Ford is well-suited to most drivers? Entering the luxury car market provides the chance to explore heightened vehicle refinement, greater technology and generally a higher profit margin per vehicle sold.

In the late 1980s, Japanese auto companies that made gains as a producer of vehicles demanded by the general driving public entered the premium product genre. Honda created Acura, Nissan created Infiniti and Toyota founded the Lexus brand. Starting in December, Hyundai will become the latest entrant into the premium automobile industry.

Hyundai will elevate the name of their Genesis rear-wheel drive sedan to the forefront described as a 'Modern Premium' marque. Identified with a wing-like emblem, the new Genesis premium marque will be defined by its own unique designs. Starting with the sedan, this new luxury make will consist of six vehicles by 2020. The Genesis brand products will be identified through an alphanumeric naming structure. Incorporating a 'G', the Genesis brand products will be assigned a double-digit number. The naming will appear similar to what was recently adopted by Infiniti.


Photo Credit: Chris Nagy



One quality stated to be found in the upcoming Genesis luxury brand is a heightened focus on customer-friendly interfaces. Embracing smart technologies as well as other electronic efficiencies and connectivity solutions, the brand does not aspire to inundate the occupants with every technological touch said to be the goal of other luxury car companies."We have created the new Genesis brand with the complete focus on our customers who want smart ownership experiences that same time and effort, with practical innovations that enhance satisfaction," said vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Company Euisan Chung.

The new Genesis brand will be guided by Luc Donckerwolke starting in the middle of 2016. Donckerwolke joins Hyundai from Volkswagen Group. Hired from Audi who has been working with Hyundai and Kia since 2005, Peter Schreyer will be in charge of the Prestige Design Division that will shape the new luxury vehicle line. Launching in North American, Korea, China and Middle East, Genesis is also being eyed for expansion in Europe as well as other parts on the Asian continent.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Honda’s New Baja Race Truck Teases 2017 Ridgeline Styling

Photo Credit: Honda


A fundamental goal of every automaker is to prove the endurance of their vehicles to the public. For the toughest vehicles hoping to make an impression with customers, the SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race across the terrain of a Mexican desert is among the most gruelling. A race that has been won by Ford Broncos, Chevrolet trucks and a Volkswagen-powered Meyers Manx, Toyota trucks were also some of the victorious vehicle entrants who inherit some impressive bragging rights to sell their trucks to buyers.

Along with measuring the integrity of production-based trucks as well as race-purpose buggies, major auto manufacturers have also found the Baja 1000 event as a proving ground for new ideas. In 2013, Ford tested their2.7-liter EcoBoost powerplant in the competition as an extreme field test ahead of availability on the 2015 Ford F-150. Later this month, Honda will compete with a prelude to their next Ridgeline pickup truck.  

After a two-year absence, the Honda Ridgeline is scheduled for a return for the 2017 model year. Ahead of the premiere of the production version of the next generation Ridgeline, attendees at the 2015 SEMA Show in Las Vegas are being treated to a peek at the new truck. Wearing red, white and black Honda livery, the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck promotes some showroom relevant elements. Though the vehicle set to compete in the unlimited class is a purpose-built desert racing vehicle built on a tube-frame chassis, the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck is said to feature several nods to the upcoming 2017 return of the street version of the utility vehicle.


Photo Credit: Honda



According to Honda, the Baja off-road racing truck carefully replicates the front fascia, hood, red and side profile. You can detect headlights similar to the 2016 Pilot as well as what appears to be a more defined, squarer bed compared to the previous generation Ridgeline. "While this race truck is unique and different from the production Ridgeline, it does a nice job of expressing not only our styling direction but also the fact that the Ridgeline, for all its unique qualities, has been and will continue to be a pickup with true truck capability." said president of Honda Performance Development Art St. Cyr.

The Honda Ridgeline Baja Race Truck performance is sourced from a 3.5 twin-turbocharged HR35TT engine prepared by Honda Performance Development (HPD). Producing up to 550 horsepower, the HPD six-cylinder powerplant incorporates components to be found in the 2017 Honda Ridgeline’s engine. The engine block, cylinder heads and crankshaft are intended for use in the upcoming production truck.


Photo Credit: Honda



For the 2015 Score Baja 1000, Honda is teaming up with Proctor Racing Group to build the special Ridgeline in pursuit of the auto brand’s first overall victory in an automobile class (Car or Truck). On two wheels, Honda has a more storied history on the Baja California desert that predates the running of the organized off-road event. In 1962, a Honda CL72 Scrambler was torture-tested in a manner that earned kudos for the motorcycle as well as the course. In the Baja 1000, Honda motorcycles have 25 wins including 18 scored in a consecutive fashion from 1996 to 2013.

The desert racing-prepared 2017 Honda Ridgeline will be competing in the 48th SCORE Baja 1000 from November 19th to the 21st.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Rotary Revisited in Mazda RX-Vision Concept

Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations



The Tokyo Motor Show is one of the longest running Asian auto shows, the Japanese exhibition has gained a reputation for showing the world many possible futures for the automobile. Hosted as a biennial event, Japan’s native auto companies is tasked with assembling some bold ideas in concept car forms featuring far-out styling and radical new technologies.

Back in 1964, Mazda showed the Cosmo sports car displaying a different engine concept. For the 2015 edition of the Tokyo Motor Show is guaranteed already to be living up to the aspirations days ahead of the doors opening to the public. Among a vast line-up of concept cars premiering in Tokyo is Mazda’s revival of their rotary engine technology.


Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations



A front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car, the Mazda RX-Vision Concept is explored as a continuation to the spirit of the Cosmo as well as the RX-7 high-performance car. Shaped through the influence of Mazda’s KODO design philosophy, the RX-Vision wears a familiar production-like grille at the end of a long hood. The hood positioning creates an exceptionally exotic appearance for the Mazda combined with a sharply raked windshield. At the rear of the concept car, taillights have more than a passing resemblance to the last generation RX-7.

Mazda reminds the world with the RX-Vision Concept their rotary engine development is still ongoing. Often referred to as a Wankel engine, Mazda’s Rotary engine uses a three-sided rotor instead of pistons. Known for boasting a strong power-to-weight ratio and needing fewer parts to operate, Mazda had been the forerunner in bringing the Wankel rotary engine to a widely-publicized manner. In the past, this type of engine configuration has been looked at by General Motors and Mercedes-Benz. There was even plans to equip Wankel rotary engines with the Jeep brand when it was owned by the American Motors Corporation in the 1970s. Mazda is one of few companies that have been able to make rotary powerplants a production reality. Advantages of the rotary engine has also contended with some serious negative points with fuel economy and emissions being a problem. The issue of controlling emissions was still a problem when Mazda sold the RX-8 leading the sports car’s demise.


Photo Credit: Mazda North American Operations



With the Mazda RX-Vision Concept, the new rotary engine is identified as a SkyActiv-R. While there is no details provided on the possible rotary engine of the future but does say it addresses all the disadvantages of the previous generation model of the powerplant.