Falling Cars, Falling Records and Falling Snow at 2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

Pikes Peak Hill Climb crash

I’ve driven the Pikes Peak hill climb.

Okay, maybe not the Hill Climb, in capital letters, like the one that took place on the Colorado mountain this weekend, but I’ve driven up Pikes Peak for an entirely separate occasion. It took me a good 30 minutes to negotiate the switchbacks, curves, dirt sections of road and harrowing vistas of road ending in sky.

That drive gives me a new appreciation for the brave souls who actually compete in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, a flat-out timed race to the summit. Compared to my time of a rather leisurely 30-40 minutes, the competitors make the 12.42-mile 156-turn drive in about 10 minutes.

But at least I didn’t fly off a cliff and roll 10 times down the side of the mountain when I made the drive. That, plus falling snow and falling records dominated this year’s Hill Climb.

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Toyota Gets Serious About Performance with TMG Line

Toyota TMG Motorsport

The words “Toyota” and “performance” aren’t often spoken in the same sentence these days.

Toyota, though, is getting serious about building performance cars, as the Lexus LFA, Lexus IS F and Scion FR-S are tearing up tracks and backroads across the world.

Now, it seems Toyota may want to take things even further by creating performance versions of existing models. The company is thinking big, too, like along the lines of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG line.

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Green Update: Hypercar Hybrids from Porsche and Ferrari

Design study for the F70

We have written about the incredible Porsche 918 hybrid before, with details here and here. Now, 918 Spyder prototypes have been spotted testing, looking a little like the old 917 race cars (see pix here).

The 918 will produce some 770 hp from a V8 and “two independent electric motors, one on the front and one in the drive line, acting on the rear wheels.” All this with decent fuel economy. Production is expected by the end of 2013, so you have time to save up the $850K it will cost.

The new Ferrari F70 is expected to replace the Enzo and may come to market around the same time as the 918, according to Automotive News. The F70 will probably cost more than the Porsche, but has some amazing technology, which we will illustrate below.

Why are these companies building such monster cars?

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Shelby’s Gone. Any More Like Him?

Shelby with a Ford GT40

Shelby and the Ford GT40

Caroll Shelby (1923-2012), whom tgriffith wrote about today, was one of the last true Car Guys. There just won’t be any more like him.

Here’s why. Shelby’s career began with sports-car racing, and there he made his greatest mark. He could never have created the Cobra or the muscle cars that followed had he not raced for Aston Martin, Maserati, and finally won Le Mans as driver, constructor and team manager—the only person ever to do that.

That was the great era of sports-car racing—the late ‘50s-early ‘60s—when the sport had a very big following and a bunch of grand individualists. Pete Lyons offers this tidbit in his tribute to Shelby:

“Old Man Ferrari offered me a job and I said, ‘Well, Mr. Ferrari, I have a family, three children, what kinda money?’ He says, ‘Oh, it’s an honor to drive for Ferrari.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I can’t afford the honor.’ And I had a deal with John Wyer, anyway, and I had another deal with Maserati. I had a choice of four or five different offers. So I turned Ferrari down.”

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F.A. Porsche Dies, and Germany Is Winning the Car Wars

2012 Porsche 911 Cabriolet

World War II was of course not the end for Germany, though the country was pulverized. The three Porsches, all named Ferdinand, were still alive, but it was Ferry, son of the founder, who brought the car company to fame and success in the late 1940s.

His Porsche 356 took the prototype Volkswagen—created under Hitler in the 1930s but not produced till after the war—and made it a smartly engineered, rear-engine, desirable sports car. And it caught on in the U.S.

The third Ferdinand (F.A., right), who died last week at 76, in my view really made the company with his 1963 design of the 911 (Type 901), a complete departure from the 356 with a 6-cylinder (some few 912 fours were made) and a more functional and beautiful design that has endured to this day.

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More Geneva: the Lotus Exige S Roadster

Lotus Exige, side view

A few folks have been modifying present Lotus Exige S cars, converting them into soft-tops (see comment by wallabyguy here), but now the factory does it for you. And it has made other alterations to make this a most desirable sports car.

This is part of Lotus’s comeback story. The firm has had lots of ups and downs but has always kept to the “less is more” mantra, and its new cars are finally getting the styling right as well. I think owner Proton (Malaysia) has done well by them.

The Exige S Roadster gives what is basically a track and rally car a little more class and some upgrades in appearance. Worldcarfans called it “an Elise with a bigger engine,” but now it’s better-looking too.

Performance comes from a blown 3.5-liter V6 (345 hp) that moves you to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and 0-100 in 8.5. Top speed is 145 mph. Best is its light weight—about 2,400 pounds. A 6-speed manual is standard; you can order Lotus’s Serial Precision Shift (SPS), with paddles and automated shifting.

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Daytona 500 crash

I know, it brings in a lot of money even though attendance keeps dropping. It’s a spectacle, yes, though so was throwing Christians to the lions. It takes some skill to drive 200 mph in a pack. Skill does not equate to sport.

The recent series of fiascos at the Daytona 500 just confirms what we all know from watching South Park’s 2010 send-up of NASCAR (wherein Cartman gets Vagisil to sponsor his car after he ingests a tube to make him stupid).

The race was first postponed because of rain, which the media made much of (“first time in 54 years the race has been postponed!”). They also made a continual big deal over Danica Patrick, who’s pretty but not a very good driver. Where are the black drivers, by the way?

Anyway, after a restart, one Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a track dryer that spilled 200 gallons of jet fuel and caused a massive fire and a two-hour cleanup. Then more crashes, 12 caution flags, and more left-turning in cars that all look the same and use old technology to keep speeds down.

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Peugeot Out, Toyota In for Le Mans Race

Toyota TS030 Hybrid

World racing fans were shocked last week when Peugeot, after some real successes, abruptly withdrew from the Le Mans LMP (Le Mans Prototype) 24-hour competition.

Peugeot has had a great back-and-forth duel with Audi, both running turbodiesels, particularly last year, when the team lost by some 13.8 seconds after much lead-changing. Peugeots finished second through fifth, however, and won in 2009 (and also won the 12-hour Sebring race last year), while Audi took the crown seven years prior. Peugeot’s radical aero changes forced Audi to redesign its R18.

The reason Peugeot quit is money. Peugeot-Citröen has been struggling and has had to cut back to save 6,000 jobs. The company is putting its resources into new product launches, including hybrids.

The race in June will still be fascinating, however. You’ll see Toyota’s new entry, the TS030 hybrid (with support from a 3.4-liter V8 gas engine) and a new kind of capacitor storage. The car (above) is still testing and working out in Europe.

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Man Hopes to Set New Land Speed Record of 2,000 MPH

Bloodhound SSC

The Bloodhound SSC: Can it be beaten?

“Dad, did you know the fastest car ever went 2,300 miles per hour?”

These were the words of my 9-year-old son yesterday morning, as we were discussing the top speed of various supercars.

“I don’t think so — it seems like the current land speed record is somewhere around 700 miles an hour,” I replied.

“No,” he said, “A car went 2,300… but then it blew up.”

I don’t know where he got his facts, but the current land speed record is 763 mph, set by the Thrust SSC all the way back in 1997. A new vehicle, dubbed the Bloodhound SuperSonic Car and funded through various UK sources, plans to set a new record in 2013 by hitting 1,000 mph.

That’s slow, though, compared with what a California man has planned.

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Subaru BRZ May Revive the Lightweight, Affordable Sports Car

The BRZ was shown in Tokyo last month, and a bunch of reviewers got to drive it at Subaru’s test track. There were very few niggling comments; most everyone loved the handling of the car and its broad power band.

After so many years of idiotic horsepower wars, muscle-car wars, 0-60 mph wars, maybe it’s finally time to look at what a sports car should be—light, fast and tossable—and how to make one that the rest of us can afford to buy.

The BRZ promises super handing and decent performance (200 hp; 150 lb-ft of torque) at “less than” a $25,000 promised base price when it comes to the U.S. in May. Autoweek’s Mark Vaughn described driving the car:

If driven wimpily, you will say the 2013 BRZ understeers, which is true. But if tossed gleefully into corners like you really mean it, you will find that the BRZ first understeers and then oversteers, depending on how sensitive you are to the car’s balance. Our first laps around Subaru’s Tochigi handling course and giant skidpad were done a little too gingerly, since it was still a little damp and there is just about no runoff on the road course. There’s where we felt the understeer. Subsequent laps, driven with greater throttle input, demonstrated a delightful balance that allowed us to hang the tail out by lifting off to bring the back end over then getting back on it to keep it hanging out there.  The transition was as easy and progressive as we wanted to make it.

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