Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ram Introduces the Tungsten Touch for 2018 Pickups

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

A highly dense element known for its high-melting, the precious metal known as tungsten probably does not receive the same attention for exoticness as gold or platinum. Tungsten has found its way into way applications in recent years including jewelry, electronics, high performance fields like auto racing and aerospace. For the 2018 Ram full-sized truck line, tungsten is set to join elite metal range with luxury vehicle status. The 2018 model year Ram Limited Tungsten Edition will represent the latest among the truck line’s growing premium trim options.

The Tungsten Edition is an upgrade over the Limited level for the Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 featuring some of the most opulent touches incorporated in a pickup truck. Employing an ample amount of Tungsten Chrome details for the grille and accents, the unique shine of the Ram Limited Tungsten Edition is accompanied by body-colour matching components. Tailgate lettering of the Limited Tungsten Edition model blends into the rear appearance with harmony. The 2018 Ram Limited Tungsten Edition pickup truck also uses sport inspiration for the exterior look. Ram added the black surround treatment found on the Sport trim version of the pickup truck while the Ram 1500 model receives a special hood. Air suspension comes standard on the Ram 1500 Limited Tungsten Edition while the Heavy Duty levels of the 6-foot, 4-inch truck bed includes a RamBox.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Adhering to a new high watermark for luxury, the 2018 Ram Limited Tungsten Edition’s cabin is the first in the full-sized pickup truck category to feature a suede headliner. The premium headliner is accompanied with genuine wood interior trim pieces as well as high-grade leather finished in “Natura Plus” Frost and Indigo coloring. Along with the special interior features of the Tungsten Edition, an 8.4-inch Uconnect radio system, heated and ventilated seating, heated steering wheel, power adjustable pedals and connectivity through Apple CarPlay as well as Android Auto is standard equipment.

Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

According to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, customers seeking high capacity towing and hauling is also widely adopting luxury-appointed versions of their popular Ram product. The automaker acknowledges that more than 40 percent of the one-ton capacity Ram 3500 pickup truck line is sold with the top-three luxury trim levels. FCA’s Head of Ram Brand Mike Manley explains, “The new Tungsten Edition is an example of how Ram directly responds to customer input by offering the industry’s most luxurious pickup. Premium truck buyers will recognize the attention to detail, surrounded by quality materials.”

Scheduled for release for the third quarter of this year, the Limited Tungsten Edition is a combination of two tough elements commanding respect among exotic tastes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

An In-Depth History of Toyota’s Le Mans Curse

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

Everybody loves a winner! The familiar title of a William Bell song of the 1970s, the words would imply Japanese auto giant Toyota attracts a great deal of affection. Residing either at the top or around the top for the world’s leading automobile seller, the company’s reputation is also bolstered by efforts in the competitive test of auto racing. Once again, Toyota turns focus towards the French town of Le Mans and the Circuit de la Sarthe in an effort to find love at a famous daylong sports car racing event. With a fleet of three TS050 Hybrid prototype race cars, Toyota looked to capture their highly-sought first overall win at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Victors two big American races, the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500, Toyota’s racing credentials over the years are included past successes in rally car racing and desert off-road racing. Sports car racing also is an avenue of competition where the Japanese brand enjoyed triumphs. A collaborative effort with Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers, the Toyota MKIII sports car was a dominant force in the IMSA GTP class. From 1991 to 1993, the All-American Racers’ entry won 21 of the 27 races the MKIII entered including the 24-Hour race at Daytona in the latest year.

Entering the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota had a good sporting chance to claim its first-ever overall victory at the historic endurance challenge adding to the manufacturer’s motorsport clout. With only six total entries on the top-tier LMP1 category for 2017, Toyota’s three cars would contest against two Porsche 919 Hybrids and an Austrian-based ByKolles Racing Team running a Nismo-powered vehicle. As apparent by the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans field, no plans materialized for a customer-backed competition running the Audi R18 e-tron quattro race car that was parked when the German factory pulled funding for their Audi Sport Team Joest organization after last year.

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

As I was proceeding to pursue my original intentions for this article, I intended to have it finished before or during the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, as the race entered 10th hour of competition, top two Toyota TS050 prototypes in contention to win the event was victims of the auto brand’s curse in the French endurance classic. After leading much of the early part of the event, the #7 Toyota Gazoo Racing car has been retired after suffering a suspected clutch failure. Minutes later, the #9 team car suffered a left rear tire puncture after contact with a P2 class competitor. Catching on fire briefly as it limped back to its garage for serving, the #9 Toyota fell short of returning to pit lane on electric power. As of the 10th hour mark, the #8 Toyota Gazoo Racing race machine is still registered as running but is well off from the lead lap. Sebestian Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson did last the whole 24 hour timed distance. Nine laps behind the overall victor of the 2017 race, The sole remaining Toyota race car picked up spots as the race progressed to finish 8th place overall recorded as one of two who has completed the event (other being the winning #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid shared by Timo Bernard, Brendon Hartney and Earl Bamber). The recently completed 24 Hours of Le Mans race only solidifies the curse for Toyota competitors.

First appearing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1985, Toyota was originally supported by the Japanese  Tom’s Team and Dome. In the final two years of the C2 class, Toyota won in 1992 with Trust Racing Team and with the Y’s Racing Team/SARD in 1993. The 1992 24 Hours of Le Mans would also be the first time a C1 class Toyota entry with a 3.5-liter V-10 engine competed for top race honours. Competing in the car called the Toyota TS010, the Toyota Team Tom’s racer finished behind the winning Peugeot 905 Evo 1B in the overall runner-up position (the first of five occasions that manufacturer would settle for second place with the latest coming in 2016). The third iteration of the car was also prepared for the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. The SARD race team entered the Toyota 94C-V in the newly-formed LMP1 category taking class honours as well as the runner-up spot. The 1994 effort featured the driving team of Italian Mauro Martini, future Formula 1 star Eddie Irvine and Jeff Krosnoff who died in a crash two years later at the Molson Indy in Toronto.

Photo Credti: Toyota Great Britain

While class victories would be enough to satisfy many manufacturers such as Chevrolet’s Corvette Racing program, Toyota has been coveting ownership of an overall win title at the 24-hour race since the first runner-up finish in 1992. After finishing in second-place again in the 1994 race, the automaker or its partners were led to the realization they needed a new kind of race car to win at Le Mans. The radical GT-One vehicle was developed for competition based on the GT1 rules at the time. An advanced closed-cockpit race car was styled by Dallara and ran a twin-turbocharged R36V V8 engine. The Toyota GT-One was campaigned at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in association with the Toyota Team Europe organization (now known as Toyota Motorsport GmbH). While intended to be a production car category for high-performance machines, GT1 regulations were heavily exploited by manufacturers to create a purpose-built race car. Toyota was no exception to creatively translating the class rules building just two road legal versions of the vehicle.

Debuting in 1998, the Toyota GT-One was without doubt a pure assault against the competition for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Entering a three-car team, Toyota Team Europe’s opening effort with the GT-One revealed tremendous speed and pace. In the final hour of the 1998 event, the #29 team car was in contention for the elusive overall victory for Toyota but suffered a transmission failure. The #27 Toyota GT-One driven by an all-Japanese driver lineup of Ukyo Katayama, Toshio Suzuki and Keiichi Tsuchiya finished 9th. Returning the next year again with three cars, the Toyota GT-Ones returned as an even stronger force. Claiming the top-two spots in qualifying for the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans, hard luck again fell for two of their vehicles in the race. Tire problems plagued all three cars with only one GT-One surviving for the end. Again, it was the Japanese driver squad that survived to finish second despite a late-race tire failure. Before the tire issue, that Toyota GT-One machine was gaining on the lead BMW V12 LMR. The 1998 and 1999 races were the only times the GT-One would compete at the track but cemented the early notion that Toyota may be cursed or jinxed at the sports car race. It would not be until 2012 that Toyota would again challenge Le Mans.

Photo Credit: Jack Webster

A competitor in the newly-formed FIA World Endurance Championship in 2012, Toyota revealed a gasoline/electric hybrid-powered prototype sports car. Represented with two entries, the Toyota TS030 Hybrid LMP1 machine’s debut at the year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans ended in a double retirement early in the event. The car performed better in the 2013 endurance race grabbing 2nd and 4th splitting the Audi Sport Team Joest organization’s three-car team. An updated TS040 Hybrid LMP1 took pole at the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans race but would again lead to speculation of the Toyota curse. Leading the race, the #7 car suffered an electrical failure prior to the 14-hour mark. After an unremarkable 2015 effort, Toyota reinvested into the TS050 Hybrid that mated a turbocharged 2.4-liter V-6 engine with an electrical power unit. Proving to be a fast race machine in  the 2016 race, the #5 Toyota TS050 Hybrid led into the very late going of the event only to be victim of horrible fortune. In the final minutes, the Toyota race car suffered a power loss that was later caused by a failed connector between turbocharged and intercooler. The #5 car failed to finish as a Porsche 919 Hybrid flew to the win. The remaining #6 Toyota TS050 Hybrid grabbed second place overall for the fifth time for the manufacturer.

Photo Credit: Toyota Great Britain

When two of the three Toyota TS050 Hybrid cars retired in the 10th hour of this year’s Le Mans, the anguish of the defeat was something that was felt beyond just the team’s personnel. After all these years, other teams and the general sports car racing following public sensed and expressed hurt for the Toyota racing effort. While auto racing doesn’t provide any guarantees for a victory to a well-deserving team, it’s obvious there would be a fantastic celebration if fortunes lift the Toyota curse at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The 1967 Indy 500: When An STP-Sponsored Turbine Almost Changed Racing

Photo Credit: Uncredited Photographer/IMS LLC

Racing has always been the ultimate proving ground for automobiles. Not only has competition promoted innovations big and small, race cars have also influenced overall vehicle appearance. At the 1967 Indianapolis 500, the STP-Paxton TurboCar fielded by the late Andy Granatelli provided a shocking example of how much racing at the speedway evolved over 56 years.

Ever since the first 500-mile event was held at the 2.5-mile rectangular oval Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911, the winning Marmon Wasp with a rearview mirror paved the way for what would be a grand showcase of automotive development. Accompanying “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” advancements in automobile technology showed greater sophistication with every passing decade in the quest for more speed. During the 1920s and 1930s, American race car designer Henry Miller offered groundbreaking engines to the Indianapolis 500. Miller also gave front-wheel drive technology its first prominent exhibition to the world at Indy. For the early 1950s, Cummins diesel-engined vehicle disrupted the field of gasoline race cars. At a time where diesel power was only starting to gain acceptance mainly with locomotives in North America, the Cummins Diesel Special’s 1952 pole-sitting effort by driver Fred Agabashian occurred at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway more than 50 years before Audi found success at Le Mans with their R10 sports car. That same 1952 Indianapolis 500 saw Troy Ruttman as victorious using a Hilborn fuel injection system.

The 1960s history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was reshaped by a modern renaissance of rear-engined vehicles. The evolution started with a ninth-place run by the late Sir Jack Brabham driving a Cooper in 1961. Four years later, Jim Clark’s Ford-powered Team Lotus effort claimed the milestone Indy win that forever tipped the scale in favour of rear-engined machines at the Indianapolis 500. As front-engined roadster style racers were rapidly declared obsolete as the late 1960s approached, another presence was preparing to polarize motorsports. A group led by legendry team owner and STP president Andy Granatelli generated noise by competing with turbine power over a brief but memorable period.

Photo Credit: Image from Uncredited Photo Slide

Seen as potentially more efficient than typical internal combustion engine designs in automotive applications, turbine propulsion was strongly viewed as a realistic advancement in road cars through the 1950s through to the 1970s. Turbine engines would feature fewer moving parts and generate better fuel economy than the powerplants commonly associated in normal automobiles. The closest the propulsion system came to being accepted on the road was when  Chrysler created 50 purpose-built, Ghia-bodied turbine cars were offered for evaluation by the public. As the technology was gaining momentum, it was only natural for the propulsion style would be race-tested. A Rover BRM Turbine Car ran at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as an experimental entry from 1963 to 1965. After an attempt to compete in the 1966 Indy 500 failed by Granatelli and company with a turbine car, the STP-Paxton TurboCar would bring what some believed to be the future of automobiles to the Brickyard.  

The radical 1967 effort was fielded by an experienced team. Battling to win the Indianapolis 500 since 1946, Andy Granatelli along with his brothers Joseph and Vincent had one major advantage as they raced into the 1960s in the form of STP Corporation. An engine treatment company spun-off of from the Studebaker auto company, STP was skilfully managed by Andy Granatelli with the aid of exposure through racing at the 2.5-mile track. Attempting to take victory using various types of vehicles including Ferguson race cars powered by supercharged Novi engines, Granatelli brought the Day-Glo Red STP-Paxton TurboCar to the speedway anticipating to create a scene before, during and after the 1967 event. The vehicle made several appearances in popular car magazines as well as the cover of Hot Rod May 1967 issue. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the welcome for eh STP-Paxton TurboCar ranged from marvel to disgust by some identifying it as an unfair match. To certify the on-track effort, famed American racer and 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones took the wheel for what could have been (and nearly was) a second taste of the milk at the track.

Photo Credit: Image from Uncredited Photo Slide

The STP-Paxton TurboCar’s movement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came courtesy of a Canadian contribution. A modified turboprop PT6 engine supplied by Pratt & Whitney Canada served as turbine power for the 1967 Indianapolis 500 effort. Developed in the late 1950s and entered into production in 1963, the PT6 turboprop engine continues to be built to this day. Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6 engine remains known as a powerful yet reliable design. Known as the ST6B turbine, the STP-Paxton TurboCar’s 550-horsepower power unit was channelled through a four-wheel drive system (also an exotic mechanical attribute for its time). A transmission was specially prepared for the vehicle.

While the extremely unorthodox Pratt & Whitney-sourced powerplant was singled-out as technologically astonishing, the STP-Paxton TurboCar in its entirely was an advanced engineering and construction. For 1967, much of the technology behind the STP-Paxton TurboCar was cutting-edge. Recorded to have cost $28,000 at the time according to a Hot Rod magazine article, computers played a major role in the construction of the turbine-powered Indy car. Wind-tunnel testing was also an integral in providing the ideal layout for an advanced race car contending at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Beneath the heavily aerodynamically-contoured shape, the STP-Paxton TurboCar structure was a beam-type chassis where the driver’s compartment was positioned on the right and the turbine engine was on the left.

Photo Credit: Uncredited Photographer/IMS LLC

The month of May of 1967 served as the period of truth for turbine dreams. Andy Granatelli, Parnelli Jones and the STP-Paxton TurboCar convincingly cracked the 33-car field with a 6th place starting spot while Mario Andretti took the year’s Indianapolis 500 pole. When the green flag dropped, the Day-Glo Red race car stormed to the lead on the first lap. The 1967 Indianapolis 500 featured only three drivers at the front with Parnelli Jones owning the top spot for 171 of the race’s 200 laps. With four laps remaining, a failure of a gearcase bearing was enough to deny Jones and the STP-Paxton TurboCar of victory at the Brickyard. A.J. Foyt won the 1967 Indianapolis 500 in a Ford-powered Coyote race car. The Granatelli team settled for a sixth-place result as the super-expensive was ultimately defeated by a six-dollar part. Andy Granatelli would return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a new set of Lotus-based turbines in the following year (a story you’ll go into greater depth for another time).

The 1960s is cemented as perhaps the last decade where absolutely diabolical ideas and engineering could easily compete in at the speedway. After two years of threatening for the win at Indy, turbine cars were banned from competition in 1969. Four-wheel drivetrains would also be prohibited guaranteeing the continuing dominance of rear-wheel drive at the Indianapolis 500 shortly after the turbine. The STP-Paxton TurboCar made for a memorable chapter that almost turned into the start of a completely different book.