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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BMW Unveils Its Futuristic Super Sedan -- Is This the New 9 Series?

BMW's Future Vision Luxury concept car is widely believed to be a preview of the 2016 BMW 9 Series, a new high-end sedan. Photo credit: BMW Group.

How do you know that the global luxury-car market is booming?
Here's one way: When BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) doesn't think its big and opulent 7 Series sedans are big and opulent enough to serve as the top of its luxury-car lineup anymore.

BMW took the wraps off of the car you see above in Beijing on Sunday. Officially, it's just a concept, but it's widely believed to be a preview of an upcoming super-BMW sedan called the 9 Series.

It's new territory for the German luxury-car maker. BMW owns the Rolls-Royce brand, but it has never tried to move into this level of the market -- a step up from its already-expensive 7 Series -- with a BMW-brand sedan.

Why would it be planning to do so now

Why does BMW want a 9 Series?

Because it could make a lot of money.

Luxury vehicles of all kinds have seen big sales growth since the recession, outpacing mainstream vehicle sales growth in many parts of the world -- including Europe, the U.S., and China. And the outlook continues to be bright.

A lot of that growth has happened at the lower end of the market. But there has also been growth at the high end, as newly wealthy people in places like China look for increasingly different, increasingly exclusive offerings.

 In recent years, Rolls-Royce and Bentley have rolled out lower-end (for them) models, trying to reach customers for whom a BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes-Benz S Class might not be... enough.
Naturally, BMW and Mercedes would like to hold on to those customers -- or at least, to create their own extra-premium models to try to bridge the gap (and collect the extra-premium profits).

BMW's concept car features an exceptionally plush interior. Photo credit: BMW.
BMW surely has data suggesting that there's a good-sized market in that lofty neighborhood. And it knows full well that a model at that price tier could be a very profitable offering, at least on a per-sale basis.

How profitable? It's hard to say. Profit margins on specific vehicle models are closely guarded secrets, at BMW or at any other automaker.  But it's well known that profit margins on luxury vehicles are higher than those on mass-market cars -- and as you move further upmarket, those profits can get very big.

Consider this example from one of BMW's key rivals. Volkswagen Group  (NASDAQOTH: VLKAY  ) builds and sells vehicles under a bunch of different brands, but in terms of profits, its big three brands are VW, Audi, and Porsche. 

Last year, the VW brand sold 5,932,300 vehicles all around the world, and made about 2.9 billion euros in profits, or about 488 euros ($675) per vehicle sold.

 But Audi, which competes directly in BMW's league, made just over 3,400 euros (just over $4,700) per vehicle sold -- and Porsche, which is positioned further up-market, made almost 16,000 euros ($22,150) for every vehicle it sold.

So it's reasonable to think that BMW could price a 9 Series in a way that would deliver it substantial profits on each sale. 

So what is this thing?

 For now it's just a concept, and it has a concept-car name: "BMW Future Vision Luxury". BMW's press release says that the Future Vision Luxury "furnishes a long-term outlook on the perception of modern luxury for the BMW brand."

That is to say, one stage beyond the 7 Series. The Future Vision Luxury concept is 280 millimeters (about 11 inches) longer than the longest version of the 7 Series, and even more opulent inside.

Super-strong carbon fiber allowed BMW to make the door openings extra wide. Photo credit: BMW Group.
It looks like a very big, very well-appointed, very expensive BMW sedan.The interior features lots of wood and leather, but in light tones and relatively delicate arrangements, giving a feeling of spaciousness.

And it incorporates a lot of high technology. The seat frames and interior panels are made of carbon fiber, BMW says -- an exceptionally light and strong (and expensive) material.

It's so strong that BMW was able to incorporate the car's roof pillars into the front seat backs. That allowed BMW to make an extra-wide opening for the rear door, for easier access to the lavish back-seat area -- which includes its own touchscreen system.

A very plush back seat, for a very important market

Why so much emphasis on back-seat appointments?

 It's not because the 9 Series is designed for limo-service duty, it's because of the way cars like these are used in the Chinese market.

In China, luxury-car buyers (and sometimes, mainstream-car buyers) often hire drivers and ride in back.

 Automakers doing business in China have been putting increasing emphasis on rear-seat legroom and comfort. Those needs become even more important in high-end cars like this one.

But as I said, this isn't limited to the vehicles we think of as luxury cars. Ford (NYSE: F  ) didn't need to change much when it turned the American-market Escape SUV into the Chinese-market Kuga SUV, but one key change it did make was to alter the seat structures to give back-seat passengers more legroom. (They got nicer leather, too.) 

Rear-seat comfort and amenities will be especially important with a car like the upcoming BMW 9 Series, at least in China -- and customers in Europe and the U.S. are unlikely to object.

The 9 Series is coming -- and it will have competition

Several years ago, Daimler (NASDAQOTH: DDAIF 
 ) tried to enter this market with a brand called Maybach that was slotted above its vaunted Mercedes-Benz brand.

The Maybachs were gorgeous, huge, and extremely expensive sedans -- but the name didn't resonate with buyers, and Daimler shut it down after a few years. But it's coming back, this time as a super version of Mercedes' top-of-the-line S-Class sedans.

Daimler is widely expected to show the Mercedes-Benz S600 Maybach this fall, at the Guangzhou and Los Angeles shows. Analysts think that a production version of BMW's 9 Series is likely to follow, sometime next year.

What do you think? Can the world's luxury market support a new class of BMWs and Mercedes that could cost well over $200,000? Or is this a step too far? Scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Project CARS Racing Simulator As Good As Reality [video]


@ BOLD RIDE                          

It’s no secret that video games are becoming insanely realistic, but even so, we are always left surprised when a game (or in this case a racing sim) makes a major leap forward. Take Project  CARS, for instance.

 It is positioning itself to be a next-generation racing simulator, which takes itself a little more seriously than simply a video game. If this new video from the company is any indicator, we’re prepared to take it seriously too.

The video shows the two BMWs on a lap of Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca. One side shows the simulator, while the other shows real-life footage of the track. See if you can cover up the bottom part of your screen and determine which is which:

The resemblance is uncanny. Walls, fences, trees, buildings– even spectators, are all incredibly realistic.

 We would like to see more action from this game to see where it stacks up against Forza and Gran Turismo, but from the looks of it, Project CARS is the real deal.

 We’ll be sure to take it for a “test drive” when it launches in November for PS4, Xbox One, WiiU, PC and Stream OS.

17 World-Class Concepts On Display in Atlanta Starting in May



If you’re in or around the Atlanta area beginning in May, you definitely don’t want to miss this. 17 of the world’s most amazing, eye-catching concept cars will be on display at the High Museum of Art Atlanta from May 21st through September 7th. So don’t worry, there’s plenty of time.

These 17 concepts will span the 1930s to the 21st century. A few of the brands included will be the likes of Bugatti, Porsche, Ferrari, and GM, and all of these concepts, at one point or another, “pushed the limits of imagination and foreshadowed the future of design.

1935 Bugatti Aerolithe Coupe Designed by Jean Bugatti

1936 Stout Scarab Designed by Willaim Stout
Stout Scarab

1942 L’Oeuf électrique Designed by Paul Arzens

Loeuf Electric Concept

1953 GM Firebird I Designed by Harley Earl


1970 Lancia Bertone Stratos HF Zero Designed by Marcello Gandini


2008 BMW GINA Light Visionary Model Designed by Christopher Bangle

front_hoch_spline5_ 002

2015 Chevy SS To Benefit From Manual Transmission, Magnetic Ride: Report Posted



2014 Chevrolet SS
2014 Chevrolet SS

At the launch of the Chevrolet SS muscle sedan last year, many were sad to learn that the car. missed out on many of the cool items offered on versions of the car sold overseas, particularly a manual transmission. According to a new report, the 2015 model year will see the SS offered with a conventional manual and some other upgrades.
Motor Trend, citing an inside source, reports that the 2015 Chevy SS will be available with a six-speed manual and magnetic ride dampers. The latter should make the car, which already benefits from a really well calibrated ride, even better.

Unfortunately, there’s been no mention of any
engine. upgrades, which means the 2015 SS will likely continue to come with the current 2014 model’s 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 rated at 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. With the current six-speed auto, the SS will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds. A manual will likely see that time improved slightly.

The 2015 Chevy SS is expected to make an appearance at the 2014 Woodward Dream Cruise in mid-August before going on sale shortly after.

Chevy Performance Meets Mucho Legroom in our New Project: SSleeper


Four-door vehicles are no stranger to the drag racing scene. Wagons, sedans, even minivans have made tire-burning launches from countless blacktops across the country.
We decided that the time was right to get in on the action with the relatively fresh 2007 Trailblazer SS that plopped into our garage not but three months ago. But this was no ordinary Trailblazer. 


They say that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. We stared into the aby-SS (see what I did there?), and staring back at us was a metallic midsize ready to blaze a fiery trail down the asphalt.

For this first stage of Trailblazer improvement, we set about making mods to the suspension, courtesy of a rear suspension kit from Spohn, a sway bar kit from Belltech, and a coilover conversion kit from KW Shocks. We also replaced the oil in the diff and engine thanks to some fresh lubricants from DRIVEN Racing Oil.

What’s so Super Sport-y about It?

Back in the early of the 2000s, General Motors introduced the world to the GMT (short for GM Truck) 360 platform, an evolution of the earlier GMT 325/330 line that included models like S10, Envoy, and Blazer. The first production model, the 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada, was debuted in February 2001.

Research and development of the Trailblazer SS fell upon the shoulders of two men: John Heinricy, renowned SCCA racer and former director of GM’s Performance Division, and Tom Wallace, former Corvette chief engineer.

 The Trailblazer SS was an exercise in speculation, merging kid-schlepping with hot-rodding. Or, put another way, it was the saving grace for dads everywhere forced to give up their coupe and studio flat for a four-door and house.

By far the biggest thing that makes this a real SS is the engine. Stock Trailblazers, Envoys, and Bravadas had an inline 4.2L 6-cylinder engine rated at an SAE 285hp and 276 lb.-ft. of torque, which was great for soccer moms. However the SS version received the SAE-rated 395hp, 400 lb.-ft., 364 cubic inch, 6.0L LS2 engine. From there the Trailblazer SS has lots of other upgrades to complement the engine.

Potential for GreatneSS

At the Irwindale Drag Strip, SSleeper made an eighth-mile run of 9.62 seconds @ 74.8 mph. That would put its quarter-mile time in the high 14′s. Not bad for a stock kid schlepper, eh?

The Nürburgring-tuned suspension is a key feature of the SS. Comprised of 25% stiffer springs and a 10% larger front sway bar, as well as a Stabilitrak electronic stability system, the suspension allows the car to handle corners like its slimmer Corvette cousin.

 And just like the Corvette, the engineers gave the Trailblazer its own special touches for braking: a custom-tuned ABS, 12.8-inch front rotors, and twin-piston calipers stuffed with C6 brake pads.

Carbuyers could slap on the SS package to the Trailblazer for a good chunk of change–$5,270–bringing the sticker price to around $35,000 for the 2WD LS model, or $40,000 for the AWD LT model.

 A pretty penny, but a worthwhile one if you ask us.
And when you look at them now, the prices on these four-doors have dropped off significantly. According to Kelly Blue Book, one with the options seen in our specimen can fetch between 10-12 grand in a private sale.

However, we had to settle the first big question: where to begin? We opted for some basic maintenance, suspension mods, and got our ducks in a row by ordering some swell new parts from the likes of Granatelli, Corsa, Airaid, and more.

The engine sits awaiting some fresh oil.
                       The engine sits awaiting some fresh oil.
Day 1: Fluids and Brakes and Dynos, Oh My!
We started with some initial maintenance on the fluids. Our good friends at Driven Racing Oil supplied us with some much-needed fluids to get everything lubed up and ready for the track.

The Driven gear oil maintains an excellent viscous quality throughout multiple levels of activity across hours of abuse.
For the rear differential, Synthetic Gear Oil–now called Racing Gear Oil (p/n 04231)–to improve operating temperatures and protect against the high shear we’d encounter when we took the car racing.

 The long-lasting viscosity stats were great, too; tests showed that the oil would last well for several hours, while still providing that same great level of lubrication and shear protection.

In fact, over the course of six hours of driving, testing showed that the oil would indeed maintain an ideal viscosity. Starting at about 19 centistokes, the oil would only degrade down to 18 at the test’s end.

It was an easy enough swap, too. All we had to do was drain the sludge out of the diff and pour in the appropriate amount of oil. We then shifted our attention to the front of the Trailblazer to check out how the engine oil was doing.

Driven’s LS30 engine oil was a sound choice, if for nothing else than the excellent viscous and sound-dampening qualities.
We drained the motor oil too, and in its place applied a few quarts of the DRIVEN LS30 oil (p/n 02907). Just like with the Racing Gear Oil, we expected that this product would deliver great performance, especially considering the research and development put into the oil.

Lake Speed Jr. of DRIVEN was able to share with us some of the added benefits of using the LS30 oil with our engine. “What makes LS30 different is its ability to work in synchrony with the LS motor. Other oils will eventually break down into a 5W-20 rating, but LS30 is engineered specifically not to break down,” said Speed Jr.

“This makes the oil maintain proper viscosity for longer. And it’s perfect for engine that will undergo internal changes too, like cams, lifters, and so on.”

That done, our last step was to slap on some fresh factory brake rotors to the front wheels. Finally, it was time for the dyno.

Our baseline run produced the following results: 296hp and 285 lb-ft. of torque.
Our baseline run produced the following results: 296.0 hp and 285 .2 lb-ft. of torque.

Day 2: Suspension Upgrades 

Phase 2 of SSleeper’s evolution was now underway, as we moved on to installing the suspension upgrades. To be more specific, we were looking to upgrade the following: the Panhard bar, the control arms, the coil-overs up front, rear air bags, and the sway bar.

Meanwhile, rubber bushings and bump stops would need replacing too. When all was said and done, we would need to inspect the steering as well.

We got SSleeper up on a lift and went to town on the suspension. We started removing the sway bar by unbolting the sway bar from the in-links and mounts on the chassis. The sway bar didn’t put up too much of a fight, requiring just a tad of finesse to remove the bar completely from the car.

Our replacement sway bar, made by Belltech (p/n 5530), was a great choice for a couple of reasons. First, we liked that the company used cold-formed solid steel construction and swaged ends, so we could trust the durability and reliability.
Second, we liked that the bar came ready to install with performance polyurethane bushings, while also looking great with a powder coated silver to match the body’s paint. This sway bar just seemed like a sensible match.

The control arms and air bags were next. A few more nuts and bolts were removed, and they came off with a little finesse. With that done, we started to unpack our Spohn Rear Suspension Package (p/n TB-RSKIT) and examine the contents.

Included in the kit is an adjustable Panhard bar, lower control arms, and upper control arms. We opted for the black ones with chromoly steel construction, and ordered our control arms to be adjustable as well.

Spohn’s own Dan Brown was able to answer some pressing questions about this kit, “Of course, the biggest benefit you’ll find is the improved handling. Reduced wheel hop will make for a more beneficial racing experience, thanks to the stiffer control arms and bushings offering the tires better traction.”

One thing we noticed right away was how much lighter these parts were than stock. They’d be far tougher too, owing to the chromoly construction.

Brown added, “We ran a lot of different tests as far as what material lasted the longest. We now offer the the kit in either mild steel or chromoly construction, but if you’re looking for improved durability and lighter weight, chromoly is the answer.”

The Panhard bar and control arms got a base adjustment, but we are going to hold off on installing them for a while. Meanwhile, we went about removing the factory-installed air bag suspension to make way for the new coil-overs that came as part of our KW Variant 3 coil-over kit (p/n 35261009), from KW Shocks.

Part and parcel of the SS’s performance options, these air bags were initially a major feature of the SS package when they were introduced back in the mid-2000s. They’ve since proven poor substitutes for the analog style, as they became prone to leaking and making excessive noise due to the compressor.


Thus, the KW kit was a two-bird-one-stone solution; one we were happy to do if it meant better reliability and performance down the road, as well as a wide range of adjustability. This stems from the separate and independently adjustable rebound and compression damping integrated into the shock absorbers, easily modified with an Allen wrench.

Chris Marion from KW gave us some quick pointers on the kit’s standout features, “Our headquarters in Germany does all its testing in-house, and what we found with the SS was that it benefitted best from stainless steel shocks.

 We used a composite spring perch that’s self-lubricating to keep it from sticking, and had the springs coated and braided like all of our other fine products.”

“Since the SS is more for performance driving, we had to have a system to match. The problem was we needed to inspire confidence in driving–it’s all about consistency. And with this kit, we found the answer.”

Afterwards, we replaced the bump stops, which were noticeably well-worn and beginning to shred. 

We went up to the front of the Trailblazer and did a similar routine to the front struts. This was a bit more time-consuming, however, as we had to disassemble the strut from the car, the spring from the tower, and also the brake lines.

With the struts removed, we measured the adjustments we would have to make for the KW replacements. Since 40-70mm was the range of height we could choose from (measuring from the lower fastening screw to the spring seat), we opted to set them at the median: 55mm. We made sure the threads were clean, installed them, and hooked everything back up.

Sadly, the post-op test drive would have to wait just a little while longer. We ended day two of our journey and went home to SSleep.

Day 3: Suspension Upgrades, Continued

Cody sets the new right-side control arm in place.

Refreshed and reinvigorated, we tackled the task of removing and replacing the stock springs and Panhard bar. We made sure to do a final check on all our measurements for proper fitment.

With the Spohn bar and KW springs installed, we situated the shocks and control arms back into their proper place. But first, we had to find our true pinion angle.

We took our angle finder and accordingly found our vehicle would be better suited to -2° for its high performance intentions. As a helpful hint, Spohn recommends that you determine the direction and number of flats (1/6 of a turn) to figure out how many turns you make in order to adjust 1 degree of negative true pinion angle. That way, you’d be ready for making adjustments on the fly when you’re at the track.

We had lowered the car by about an inch on all sides when all was said and done.

We had lowered the car by about an inch on all sides when all was said and done.
Lowering SSleeper back on all fours, we busted out our trusty tape measure once again and measured from the floor to the edge of the fender. It turns out that we lowered the car by about an inch on both sides, and we were satisfied with the results.

Riding Impressions


A day after the installation was completed, we took the SS for a joy ride around the back streets of our hometown here in Murrieta, California. A barren eight-mile stretch of asphalt near the office, with a winding road leading to a dead end, should prove nicely just how well the ride has improved.

An overall view of the underbody.
An overall view of the underbody.

Coming up on the eight-mile, and not a soul in sight, we gunned the engine down the road, eventually curving right into a 45-degree incline. Significantly reduced body roll was great to see, no doubt thanks to the Belltech sway bar, while the Trailblazer’s ability to absorb the crests and pits of the undulating road made us grateful for the KW suspension system keeping everything steady and comfortable.

We were surprised with the overall responsiveness of the ride, too. The stiffer front shocks were able to handle sudden braking better than before, allowing us to see the road ahead more clearly. If we wanted, we could make them softer too, and do it on the fly using a simple Allen tool.

At the end of the day, the differences were worlds apart: better handling, better response, and an all-around more comfortable ride were just a few of the thoughts that came to mind as we put the SS through its paces. These parts have made an incredible mark upon the ride comfort of this particular Chevy.

A substantial increase to the suspension, as well as boosting the life of our differential and engine, afforded us a great deal of confidence in the machine as we awaited our next phase: power mods!
 Stay tuned for our next chapter in Project SSleeper as we cover new parts including a full CORSA exhaust system, Granatelli coils, Airaid intake, and more.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


A company named some how made it past the firewalls on my computer, making it impossible to post my blogs today. I apologize that I was unable to post any blogs today (4.29.14).

I hope to have this problem fixed by tomorrow (4.30.14). I thank you for you patience.

Bob Yeager


Your Ride: 1960 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster


@ BOLD RIDE                          

1960 Corvette 3

When one of our readers, Bob, decided to take his wife Mary Ellen on a special Valentine’s day trip to the Pacific Northwest, little did Mary Ellen know, it would be a trip she wouldn’t soon forget. Read their full story:

How did you acquire your ride?

I want you to meet our Gracie B. My Husband Bob surprised me with her for Valentines Day. He told me to pack an overnight bag for our Valentines date, I was intrigued.

 We drove to the airport and as soon we were in the air on our way to the Pacific Northwest. A nice guy picked us up and took us to see Gracie B.

It was pouring outside which it does in Renton, Washington. They opened a garage door and there she was. Best valentines gift ever! Bob bought my car on Ebay and we were going to drive her back home to California.

 They begged us to ship her saying she hasn’t been in the rain for 20 years. Sat in an old barn and came out to drive the homecoming queen around the football stadium. Nope we were going to see how she did on the road.

1960 Corvette 2

Well the ragtop leaked at the windshield and we were soaked in ten minutes. Bob got some free newspapers at the minimart and put them on top of the windshield and clamped the top down tight. Problem solved.

She had on old nylon tires and kinda drifted where she pleased. You have to drive these cars and we sure paid attention. I had told Bob if he ever wanted to get me a classic he could get me a 1960 Corvette because it had the most chrome of any classic corvette. I loved the Horizon blue and white best of all.

Does it have a name?

She is named after my parents, Ethel Grace and Bob. My dad loved classics and I sure wish he could have lived to get in gracieB and take a bold ride.

What do you feel like when you drive it?

I feel like Queen of the road when we take her out for a drive.

What would you change about your car, if anything?

Youngsters always want to know what kind of car she is. I wouldn’t change one thing about her, she is a stock car and why mess with perfection.

1960 Corvette

Dream accessory for it and why?

We bought a hard top for her and that was my dream accessory.  So I’m good.


GM Will Restrict Z/28 Parts Supply to Prevent Clones


On the restricted list: The Z/28′s breathtakingly expensive carbon brakes
When the ZL1 Camaro was first introduced back in 2012, even before the production cars were hitting the streets, clever Camaro owners had already built look-alike “clones” using parts ordered through dealership parts counters.

While spare parts have to be produced and made available for collision repair and warranty work, Chevrolet will apparently restrict sales of almost 40 different part numbers in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to the Z/28.

Interestingly, the “wickerbill” adjustable rear spoiler doesn’t seem to be on the restricted list… user R6P reports that before dealership parts departments can order these Z/28-specific bits, they’ll have to provide vehicle and owner information, and parts replaced for warranty claims will have to be returned for analysis. The apparent intent is to preserve the rarity and value of the new “ultimate track Camaro,” and isn’t completely unprecedented in GM history.

In light of the fact that last year at SEMA, Chevy Performance was touting parts packages that allow you to do things like put ZL1 brakes on your V6 5th gen, the blanket restriction on such a wide range of parts may not be a “forever” thing, but we’re sure that collectors and speculators shelling out a fat stack of Zedongs to acquire one of the 500 first-year cars will be happy to see their investment at least temporarily protected from copycats.


Z/28 Restricted Parts List

  • 22958646 ROTOR-FRT BRK
  • 22958647 ROTOR-RR BRK
  • 22958658 CALIPER ASM-FRT BRK
  • 22958607 CALIPER ASM-FRT BRK
  • 22958637 CALIPER ASM-RR BRK
  • 22958634 CALIPER ASM-RR BRK
  • 23179350 MOLDING ASM-RKR PNL
  • 23179351 MOLDING ASM-RKR PNL
  • 23487228 SCOOP ASM-HOOD AIR
  • 23468210 EMBLEM – FRT GRILL (Flow Tie)
  • 22954889 WHEEL ASM-STRG
  • 22873225 WHEEL-FRT
  • 22873227 WHEEL-RR
  • 23179322 FLARE ASM-F/FDR
  • 23179323 FLARE ASM-F/FDR
  • 23179324 FLARE ASM-RR WHL OPG
  • 23179325 FLARE ASM-RR WHL OPG
  • 22908036 EMBLEM ASM – E/Gate
  • 22908498 EMBLEM ASM – FRT GRL
  • 22894294 SEAT ASM-FRT
  • 22894302 SEAT ASM-FRT
  • 23473010 SHAFT ASM-RR WHL DRV
  • 23473011 SHAFT ASM-RR WHL DRV
  • 23468208 GRILLE – FRT UPR
  • 22925211 PLATE – F/FDR VEH NA
  • 22972716 COVER – D/SEAT BK
  • 22972708 COVER – P/SEAT BK
  • 23104737 SPOILER – F/END
  • 22997723 FASCIA – FRT BPR
  • 22985096 FASCIA – RR BPR LWR
  • 22968219 COVER – FRT FOG LP OPG
  • 22966600 COVER – A/CL HSG
  • 23468209 PLATE – FRT GRL EMB BKG






Column: No NASCAR penalty needed for Va. scrap

By JENNA FRYER (AP Auto Racing Writer)                   

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Quick quiz: Who won the 1979 Daytona 500?The answer, of course, is Richard Petty.

But very few people - if any - equate that race with ''The King'' grabbing the sixth of his seven Daytona 500 victories. That race is instead infamous for the last-lap crash between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough as they raced for the lead. The crash sparked a three-man fight after Allison's brother, Bobby, pulled up to the accident scene.

The brawl in the closing moments of the first race to be broadcast live in its entirety was a monumental moment for NASCAR, and the lasting image as the traditionally Southern sport officially announced its arrival on the national scene.

Fast forward 35 years later to Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, where tempers flared after the race. It seemed much ado about nothing when Brad Keselowski stomped down pit road to angrily wag his finger at Matt Kenseth in a scene that was just enough to keep viewers from changing the channel, but not enough to generate any real excitement.

Then things got really interesting.

An overhead camera happened to catch Casey Mears confronting Marcos Ambrose in the garage. About? Who knows. The two were racing each other for 18th place and Fox hardly had its cameras tuned to that battle.

But something happened between the two to get Mears upset, and his anger only grew as Ambrose seemed to dismiss him and turn away. So Mears grabbed the Australian, shoved him a bit and Ambrose responded with a right hook to Mears' eye. It was hard enough to draw blood and knock Mears' hat from atop his head.
NASCAR is reviewing the incident and considering whether to discipline either of the drivers in its Tuesday penalty notices.

If the sanctioning body is smart, it will close the file and move on to Talladega without taking any action against either driver.

Forget for a minute that it was a fight that put NASCAR on the national map, and that hard-scrabble, passionate drivers who aren't afraid of confrontation are the bedrock of the sport. To this day, it's those incidents that generate the most conversation. Joey Logano's late pass of Kenseth, Keselowski and Jeff Gordon to win the race didn't garner many national headlines on Sunday, but Ambrose's shot to Mears' face most certainly did.

The decision to leave Ambrose and Mears alone isn't about the attention that a fight draws to the sport.

It's about short-track racing on a Saturday night and the emotions that come from driving hard on tight tracks and in close quarters. Fans watch Bristol and Martinsville and Richmond fully expecting to be treated to bumping and banging and the post-race confrontations that come from explosive tempers.

The incidents are celebrated and find their way into promotional materials for the tracks and NASCAR itself.

Taking that into account, Mears can't be punished for confronting Ambrose after the race. Something happened on the track that infuriated him enough to seek out Ambrose.

That conversation happened to take place in the garage, NASCAR's version of the office place, and it happened in a flurry of frenetic, post-race activity. Drivers return their cars to the haulers after the race, and at Richmond, the haulers are lined up in tight quarters.

Crews are working furiously to pack up the car and the equipment, fans are milling about trying to chase down their favorite driver, reporters are rushing to seek out interviews before the parties slip away in the darkness.

In that setting, Ambrose was grabbed and then shoved by a fellow driver. He reacted violently with a punch that might have startled Floyd Mayweather Jr., let alone Mears.

Should Ambrose be punished for defending himself? For reacting in a heated moment? Absolutely not. It wasn't a sucker punch, it didn't put any crew members or fans in danger, and Mears himself seemed to take it in stride.

The morning after he was punched, Mears ran in Jimmie Johnson's charity race and acknowledged Ambrose ''got me pretty good with that shot'' in an interview with

''Out of all the NASCAR fights or punches or when you see people swinging, usually it's a lot of fly-swatting. He actually connected so that was pretty good,'' Mears said. ''Everybody gets mad after those races when everybody is trying so hard. It's a passionate sport, obviously.

 It's tough when you first get out of the car, when you don't have a good chance to cool off, it escalates pretty quick.''

Indeed, the culture of short-track racing is an expectation of post-race fireworks.

Unless NASCAR wants to remove that element and expectation, it should leave Ambrose and Mears alone.

Driving the BMW i8, the world's most advanced car


BMW i8

How does it work?

More than any other new vehicle, the BMW i8 requires this explanation up front — not just for the dull process of turning energy to motion, but for the whole enterprise of a $135,700 supercar designed for maximum eco appeal with styling from the 23rd century. And last week, I was among the first to find out.

In BMW engineer speak, the 2015 i8 is properly called a “plug-in electric hybrid sports car” — one with a 129-hp electric motor driving the front wheels and a turbocharged,1.5-liter three-cylinder engine with 228 hp driving the rear axle.

 Since I last drove a prototype of the i8 in August, some fine-tuning of the all-important software and electrical power unit has been done by the Munich madhatters, but the i8 remains the giddy thrill and conversation piece it was then.

I can already sense the comments that 357 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque for a $137,000 car is, like, a complete rip-off, man. That someone can buy two Ford Mustang Shelby GT500s for the price, blow an i8 away when the light turns green, and put the rest in a bank account.

 I wish them peace and happiness with this, but pure speed isn’t the point of the i8, although it can hustle to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds or less when set up in Sport mode.

The i8 looks like no other car, and its complex drivetrain (with two transmissions, a lithium-ion battery pack and more software than the starship Enterprise) leaves us grasping for comparisons.

 Up in the hills and pushing it hard, the i8 did pretty damned well in upholding BMW’s ancient mantra of “ultimate driving machine.” As I rolled along around the wealthier provinces of Southern California, I eventually came to one that made some sense.

 In overall performance and feel, I kept coming up with the smaller and lighter 321-hp Porsche Cayman S — though the Cayman S is dynamically the superior car and rather dramatically less fuel efficient depending on how I drive it.

While the front e-motor gets a two-speed transmission – first gear good up to 75 miles per hour, second on up to the 155-mph maximum – the rear gas engine gets a six-speed automatic you can leave to shift by itself or which you can shift manually via the console lever (only in Sport) or by using the steering wheel paddles.

 Once I got all the various new drive rhythms of the i8 imbedded in my subconscious and inner ear, the play time up and down the gears was entertaining. Both the electro-mechanical steering and adaptive dampers of the suspension are outstanding.

But there were a couple of refinement issues for me (and for other testers) on these launch cars that caused healthy conversation. The first one was the less than seamless transitions when going from the 129-hp front-wheel-drive eDrive to the all-wheel-drive 357-hp parallel hybrid mode in either Comfort or Sport.

 There is a slight feel of driveline shunt every so often, and I mean slight, but enough of it to make me wrinkle my nose whenever it happens. Between the software, the central electric brain, and a secondary 15-hp e-motor attached to the rear engine to in part help with these transitions, every so often an order or two gets missed.

Then, when a wheel happens to leave the pavement over a bump while in motion in the all-wheel-drive parallel hybrid state, the brakes blip on the axle with the momentarily lifted wheel. The subsequent resumption of normal all-wheel motion after all rubber re-meets the road can be less than smooth.

 The BMW engineer in charge tells me that the near full arrest of rotation on the one axle is done as a safety measure, in order to protect the drivetrain against the possibility of the lifted wheel or wheels spinning freely and risking damage to the system, since there’s no mechanical link between front and rear. Again, this needs a little tweaking, and I was assured that the software changes will carry on once i8 deliveries begin.

In straightforward momentum and handling, the i8 takes your sports car thrills to a different level. One of the more serious bits to decide was what tires to use, since the i8 needs to be a thrilling driving machine and not an extremely suped-up Honda Insight.

BMW i has elected to give journalists the wider and less tall optional set of 20-inch tires to test – 215/45 front and 235/40 rear. These Bridgestone Potenzas do a good job overall, even while promising less rolling resistance and, in theory, less lateral grip.
The logic in these skinny 20s is: what one loses in width of footprint, one gains in footprint length. Added assistance comes in no small part from a micro-managing stability control that is smooth in these conditions over good pavement. Any lateral slip movement is relatively neutral and what little controlled tail wag happens gets wrangled well without killing the fun.

Weight distribution is 47 percent front and 53 percent rear, which also helps in keeping things handled even if grip limits are exceeded.

Another big helper dynamically is the low stance of the i8. The central rotational point of the is just 17.8 inches from the ground, the lowest of any BMW by a good bit. This and the natural ultra-stiffness of the underlying aluminum and carbon-composite body and chassis make for an extremely satisfying sports car in any pilot’s hands

I do enjoy the i8 design inside and out; the only exterior bit that might wear on the eyes after a while of looking at it being the very busy rear end fascia. It didn’t take long for it to seem like a scowling Transformer-bot staring at me. But go for the pricy Pure Impulse trim – sorry, world – and the darker exterior detailing takes some of the scowl away from the contrasting color scheme everyone was testing this day.

The slick front seats look the part, but could offer just a little bit more lower back support and side support during the most assertive driving moments. Sadly, the rear seats of this 2+2 sport coupe are utterly useless for anyone over horse-jockey tall – even more so than in a Porsche 911. Leg room is actually acceptable back there, but, if you want rear seating for average humans with heads, wait for the spider version of the i8 that’ll have those rear passengers singing the praises while catching flies in their teeth.

The roughly 6 cubic feet of luggage space in the rear is also tight, though two gym-style weekend bags could be wiggled in to fit. BMW i and Louis Vuitton have designed an optional carbon fiber themed custom set of luggage to look good and to fit into every nook and cranny perfectly. It was ultra sunny by the ocean and the large rear thermal glass could have been doing a better job; the hard plastic bits in back became scorching hot to the touch.

How green is it? It’s always tough to say, and EPA figures were yet to come at the time of this test, but the European numbers should theoretically translate into a hybrid-mode Eco Pro figure of around 35 miles per U.S. gallon. The lithium-ion battery pack that sits the length of the central tunnel through the passenger cabin has a 5.2 kWh useable capacity and can get a full recharge from the extra-cost wall box in as little as 1.5 hours, or up to 2.5 hours from a household outlet.

 Driven shrewdly under appropriate road conditions, the battery energy can be replenished while in motion in as little as ten minutes via the rear three-cylinder engine and/or while under lightest throttle in the flatlands. Full electric driving can power 22 miles when not exceeding 75 mph. So, your mpg figure will vary widely depending on how you drive and the topography in your area.

 Clever hyper-milers could easily reach 60 mpg or more — just don’t drive behind these folks if you are susceptible to road rage.
If it’s any indicator, my i8 managed to not only dramatically upstage a Bugatti Veyron parked along legendary Highway 1 in downtown Malibu, but did the same alongside a newly delivered Tornado Orange McLaren 650S spider.

Who knows how many more heads will turn once the optional carbon composite wheelset, and laser headlights come online by the end of 2014? Not to mention the i8 spider — which should arrive just as the valets of high-end hotels tire of parking the i8 coupe out front. The new age of BMW supercars has arrived, and it works quite well.