Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Dakar Rally 2012

The Dakar Rally no longer runs from Paris to Dakar, Senegal; in fact, it’s entirely swapped continents due to the instability of its homeland, but for me, the underpublicized endurance race remains one of the toughest tests of man and machine in modern motorsport. Traversing three countries, the route writhes through deserts and mountains as the riders and drivers battle from Mar del Plata in south-east Argentina, through Chile, finishing in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

France’s Stephane Peterhansel took the 2012 crown after the final stage on January 15th, driving a heavily modified Mini Countryman. An impressive fourth car class win for the Frenchman gave him his tenth victory in the Dakar after six motorcycle titles in the Nineties. The two-wheeled honours this year went to Peterhansel’s countryman Red Bull's Cyril Despres on his KTM machine. Recognising his achievement, Depres admitted: “This is my fourth Dakar title and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them, but this one seems even more special than the rest. This race really came down to the wire and the result was not decided until the very last minute.”
Meanwhile, the mighty truck class, open to monsters weighing over 3,500kg, was comfortably won by Dutchman Gerrard De Rooy in his 900 horsepower Iveco.

2012’s Dakar was not without controversy - American driver Robby Gordon’s indignation at questions over his Hummer’s legality provoked this response: “I just proved that Minis are for girls, because we beat them by twenty minutes [on one stage]...”
Be sure to keep a close eye on Red Bull's official Dakar site for more Dakar 2012 reactions and exclusives. It reports on all the action on and off the road and you'll find exclusive videos, blogs and vidoes on this gruelling endurance event.

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Friday, 13 January 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Big Mac WILL Beat Big Bug (..?)

I've a mate, a thoroughly nice petrolhead mate, who now works for McLaren Automotive. He was in my year at school, and now he works on the MP4-12C assembly line in Woking. Jealousy abound.

Anyhow, after a chance meeting on New Year's Eve, I got to talking with him about his fantastic job, and tried, via the dirty trick of buying several too many rounds for us, to get him to spill the beans on some upcoming McLaren projects. Dishonourable and downright dastardly I know, but journalism is my priority. What with work commitments around the festive period, I've only just got round to sharing this on TyreRoar.

To be fair to the chap in question, he was steadfast in his silence. I wasn't able to prise anything out of him about the MP4-12C 'Superlegerra Scuderia' style model - the powered up, lightened version that'll no doubt be on the way towards the end of this year. Thankfully, a helpful video popped up on YouTube this week appearing to show a 12C 'HS' (High Sport) with a dealer-confirmed 675bhp and GT3 aping aero. Tantalising stuff.

A grainy shot says the soft top will be a hard top - eh?
My jovial interrogation also failed to bear fruit on the 12C convertible subject. Will the car have a folding carbon fibre or aluminium panel, a targa or a cloth roof? Will it be at Frankfurt or Geneva this year? Not a sausage was let on. And of course, Formula One titbits were a dead end too. The Offical Secrets Act has got nothing on Ron's minions.

I did get something though. It might be complete bobbins, a red herring to throw me off the scent or satisfy my pestering, or it could be rumour mill speculation from inside McLaren itself, but what I was told is this. The super, mega-McLaren, the F1-successor hypercar in development currently, will be faster, in terms of acceleration and top speed, than the Bugatti Veyron - while producing less power.

This is far less clear cut than it initially appears. Although the mega-McLaren will apparently accelerate faster, we don't know in what discipline this is. 0-60? Will it be slower to 60mph but faster to 100, or 125? And unless McLaren go for all-wheel drive, how are they going to transmit such power onto the road to gain a sub 2.5 0-60 dash? Very trick launch control, and KERS? The lightweight route also beckons - with a Veyron being the porky side of two tonnes, beating the bulge could be half the battle won.

And so to top speed top trumps. A Bugatti Veyron (notice we're not talking SuperSport here, I was explicitly referred to the 'standard' Veyron 16.4 by the lad) tops out at 253mph. As we know, going incrementally faster at very high speeds requires exponentially more oomph, hence why a SuperSport gets 196bhp more than a normal Veyron, to achieve a further 15mph. But as I've said, I was told the halo McLaren will produce less brake horsepower than the Veyron. Surely then, given mass is a negligible factor at double ton speeds, a ridiculously slippery body shape is the only way to achieve such high velocity? And how will such a design mesh with McLaren's legendary packaging, usability and downforce requirements? I'm baffled.

I suspect the reason that I'm baffled is that my tipsy mate got thoroughly fed up of me badgering him for a story on what Macca are up to, and said something ludicrous enough to make me think, but far enough away from the truth to protect Ron Dennis' brainchild.

Just remember, if the Big Mac does see off the Bugatti, you know where you heard it first.


Monday, 9 January 2012

Touchdown In The Enzo-ne

Here's a little something which didn't really fit in with my required pieces for or Gridlock Magazine, that I wanted to share here.

Driving a heavily laden but healthy Ka to Birmingham for the spring uni semester yesterday morning, I was joined at some traffic lights just outside Kettering, by this:

Please excuse the poor picture. I was rather excited, fumbling with a camera phone while trying to take a subtle photograph and watch the lights. Simultaneously my other hand was fumbling for the electric window switches and the radio off button. I wanted to hear this.

I've loved the Ferrari Enzo since it first emerged in 2002. (yes it's 'Enzo Ferrari' strictly, but for simplicity's sake, I'll address it a s a car, not a man here.) I've always been a huge fan of the dramatic, angular F1-styling, the unique noise, and its 'definitiveness'. Its 650bhp has been well surpassed now by Pagani, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, but the Enzo remains for me my favourite supercar, and the definitve Ferrari flagship. In my opinion, the 288 GTO is the finest-looking car ever created, the F40 also an undoubted legend. But Enzo is king.

I took these pictures at the 2006 British Motor Show, the first time I'd ever seen one in the carbon fibre, a solitary encounter until Sunday 9th January 2012.

I first clocked the pointed snout of ENZ6 in the rear view mirror. It then lined up alongside as the traffic lights ahead mercifully halted our progress. A curt nod from the Oakley-shaded driver acknowledged my enthusiasm for his vehicle. On this quiet Sunday morning, there we were, two chaps, in two wildly varying cars, sat feet apart, waiting for the lights to flick to green. The entire 30 second episode is burned into my memory.

Predictably, the traffic light grand prix wasn't a close one. My colleague in the Enzo gamely let me gain a twenty yard lead when the green bulb illuminated. I took off as swiftly as I dared, trying to preserve my slightly whiny clutch and not appear a complete moron in seriously challenging a halo Ferrari. Then he did the decent thing and nailed the Fandango.

I should really have videoed what happened next, but maintaining steady filming was beyond my multitasking talents; changing gear manually and steering a shopping trolley away from a £650,000 exotic charging hard three feet away was more of a priority. What can I put into words? The fullness and power of the sound, of induction howl from within the engine bay, mixed with a furious row exiting the exhaust pipes was pretty astounding. The sound rose to a familiar crescendo I'd heard in a thousand YouTube clips, but in person the sound pierces the ear, burrowing into the brain and resonating, with enormous volume while maintaining a tuneful pitch. I'm not sure if ENZ6 has had the poplar Tubi Style exhaust conversion, but from where I was perched, this was not a silenced machine.

Equally impressive was the speed the Enzo carried, with the merest suggestion of nose dive and body roll, into the roundabout ahead, before diving off at the first left and turning third gear into a dollop of orchestral carbon dioxide once again. I suppose it's easy to forget these poster cars aren't just supermodels, the Enzo is still a very serious piece of dynamic kit, with outrageous mechanical and aerodynamic grip.


I sometimes have doubts about the motoring journalism targets I've set myself. I'm all too aware I've directed my education, time and resources towards a career in which there are very many willing applicants for a tiny handful of nationwide jobs. With an impending mountain of student debt and the onrush of 'The Real World' come summer graduation, I often wonder if forfeiting writing in return for some long division ability while at school might have afforded me better long term prospects. I worry.

Thirty second encounters like the one I was lucky enough to enjoy yesterday reaffirm my love for all cars, my resolute joy in writing about them, and my determination to succeed in combining the two, long term. I hope you'll follow that with interest.

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