Sunday, March 29, 2015

Malaysia Grand Prix: 10 Questions Answered!

We made 10 bold and brilliant predictions about the race held earlier today, (and I mean EARLY today, as in 3am here on live TV from Malaysia). How did we do?

10: Did McLaren-Honda score any points? As we predicted: Not even close, so we're 1-0!

9: Which Williams driver does best? Again, we nailed it as far as Bottas being ahead, but I got greedy and predicted 3rd place while he finished 5th. Close enough, we'll call that a win, two in a row for 2-0!

8: Wrong!  I had picked the Sauber team to get both drivers into the top ten, and I was wrong on both. Zero points for Sauber today, only one car finished thanks to Ericcson going into the gravel and retiring early on lap 3 or 4.  At least Nasr finished the race, just not in the points. No undefeated predictions, we're 2-1.

7:  Predicting the last placed Manor team I made an easy pick and said they would at least be on the track, so that's correct for 3-1.  Brian did a great job by further saying 1 of the cars would get TO the race, and he was totally correct on that one too! However his prediction of neither car FINISHING the race was proven wrong with Merhi managing to last the distance! Good for Manor!
6: We both guessed CORRECTLY that Lewis Hamilton would not repeat his victory in Australia, but we both INCORRECTLY thought he would be replace by Nico Rosberg taking the win. We got it half right with Lewis finishing 2nd, but both missed that Ferrari driver Sebastien Vettel would win. Mmm, at 50-50, I'll avoid the temptation to round up and say we tied, so our record is now 3-1-1.  Just pretend it's like ice hockey and you still get a point for a tie!

5:  Very close on my Lotus guess, I thought 1 car would finish the race (and got THAT part right!), and I also hinted that the one driver would be Grosjean and I got THAT part right, but then again I blew it by saying he would finish in the points, and he did not. So, WRONG, down to 3-2-1.

4:  Brian and I split on where Ricciardo of Red Bull would finish (he finished 10th), but I correctly said he'd be trailing both Williams and both Ferrari cars. Brian had boldly stated Ricciardo would get ahead of one of the Ferraris, and for most of the race that was true when Kimi had a flat in the 2nd lap and was in LAST place. However, by the end, Kimi was way up in 4th and Ricciardo was behind. One of us was right, one was wrong, another 50-50, so make it another tie!  3-2-2.

The judges have just looked at the REPLAY on this one, and noted that Brian wrote "I like Ricciardo, so I think he's going to surprise at least one of the Ferrari powered cars."  Their ruling is that Brian VERY CLEVERLY said Ricciardo would defeat a Ferrari "POWERED" car, not "A" Ferrari car, so they have given Brian credit for his answer, and changed the scoreboard to 4-2-1.

Always read the fine print!

 3:  WRONG on this one, when I predicted Sauber driver Felipe Nasr would be the best placed rookie. Way off, he was behind several other rookies, such as both Toro Rosso drivers Verstappen and Sainz Jr.   DOH!  Now 4-3-1 with only two more points to go!

 2: This was my easy one, as in "what F1 shirt would I wear" during the race! You'd think I'd just wear what I picked, but getting up at 2:30 in the AM and considering it was freezing cold in my house, I put on a plain sweatshirt and a blanket to keep warm.  I'll know better next time! 4-4-1. One pick to go will decide if we're above .500 with a winning record or not!

1:  Let's review the question here "How many cars will be running at the end of the race". I guessed 14 and Brian guessed 16.  OK, first of all, there were NOT 16 cars running at the end, so we have to disallow that answer. I COULD argue that  with 15 cars running that technically there were (take a deep breath) "14 cars RUNNING at the end", although there was one more too. I'll have to invoke a new ruling here, and, uh, well, maybe we could, uh, well, just AVERAGE our two guesses! Yes, that's it, we'll do it as a TEAM and combine our answers!

OK, add 14 and 16, and that's about 30, and if you divide by two that leaves, uh, well, 15!  Hey, we NAILED IT!  Final prediction score: 5-4-1.  GO TEAM NMS!!!!!  

The next F1 race will again be in the middle of the night since it takes place in China, so we've got until April 19th to get some sleep and do some more predictions for you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Formula 1 Malaysia This Sunday: 10 Questions!

F1 returns to action this Sunday, and while we're early in the season there are a lot of questions about how this year will unfold. Team performance, which drivers will shine, can the rookies do well, how will the fans turn out, etc.  Here we go with TOP TEN QUESTIONS FOR MALAYSIA, along with our CRAZY WILD GUESS ANSWERS! You can get current info on races, drivers, standings, and more at the official...  FORMULA 1 LINK

10: Fernando Alonso has been give the OK by doctors to race for McLaren, so here's the question: Is the McLaren Honda chasis and power  unit good enough for him and Jenson Button to finish in the top 10 and score points?
     NMS Prediction: Not this week! Try again later!

9: Valtteri Bottas from Williams also has the medical green light for this weekend after missing the race in Australia, so how will he stack up against his team mate Felipe Massa?
     NMS: Bottas continues his great form from last year, and should finish on the podium in 3rd place, ahead of Massa. 

8: The Sauber team came out of nowhere in the last race ("nowhere" is defined as "didn't score ANY points in all of 2014") to put both cars in the top 10 and score points, so, can they double-dip and repeat this week?
     NMS: In the words of the magic 8 ball: "All signs point to yes"

7:  A team that DID score points in 2014 for the first time ever was Manor, so, given that they didn't even get a car on track at the last race, will they actually BE in the race this week?
     NMS: This is a loaded question, there is no way to know, but we'll take a guess at YES they will actually have two cars, complete with wheels and engines, running on the track at some point during the three practice sessions, qualifying, and the race. No guarantee of how many of those events they will complete, but at least 1!
     Brian: I'm going to predict at least one car makes it to the race but will leave the race early with mechanical problems.  Maybe next race they'll get a car to the checker.

6: Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton seemed to have an easy start to the season with taking pole position and winning the race. Will anything change?
     NMS: Maybe, so let's just go ahead and predict that either rain will knock him back or a mechanical issue to Hamilton's car will allow his Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg to take the win!      Brian: Malaysia is super hot and sweaty and something will get in Lewis's eye and Rosberg wins this with Hamilton in 2nd.

5:  Both drivers from Lotus, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado had issues and did not finish the Australian Grand Prix, so how will they do this weekend?
     NMS: Again going out on a limb here, I think only 1 of them will finish the race in the points, and the one who's name rhymes with "Maldonado" will crash out.

4:  Last year we saw Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo win three of the races and overall have a great season, but so far this year the Red Bull guys aren't quite at that pace.  Let's narrow down the question here and ask: Can Ricciardo finish ahead of the Williams cars or the Ferrari cars?
     NMS: Sorry, but no. The Williams and Ferrari teams are just getting warmed up and will put all 4 of their drivers ahead of anyone from Red Bull.
     Brian: I like Ricciardo, so I think he's going to surprise at least one of the Ferrari powered cars.

3:  We have a lot of rookies in F1 this year, and right now it looks like Felipe Nasr of Sauber (5th place in Australia) might be the best of the lot. Can Sauber stay ahead of  the two Toro Rosso rookies Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz, and the Marussia rookies Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens? (Stevens drove one race for Caterham last year, but we'll still put him the rookie pack).
     NMS: Oh yes, Nasr leads this bunch!

2: Which F1 team shirt should I wear to watch the race? While my wardrobe is not complete, the choices are only Ferrari or McLaren, so I've got at least a 50% chance of guessing correctly!
     NMS: Leaning towards the McLaren shirt in an effort to help Button and Alonso get the car going faster!
     Brian: I have to go with the winners here and wear a Mercedes shirt.

1:  How many cars will be running at the end of the race? It's still early in the season, so typically I'd expect several cars to have mechanical issues and driver errors, so with a starting grid of 20 drivers this weekend, just pick a number from 1-20.  Hint: Australia saw only 11 cars running at the end.
     NMS: With possibly Manor actually running this time, I think we should still see some problems, but more cars finishing than last time: let's call it 14 finishers!
     Brian: I'll say 16, but none of them Manor cars.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Are Americans Ready for the Ram Van Built in Turkey?

The new for 2015 Ram ProMaster City van is headed our way, and thanks to FIAT engineers in Italy, we'll get a US version of the FIAT Doblo van. Hold on to your Made in the USA hats, batten down your Made In Italy Hatches, because believe it or not, this vehicle is built in Turkey, so that just might be a first for cars in the US!  Here's a great review from the New York Daily News: NY Daily News LINK

Here at Nixon Motor Sports we're no strangers to foreign built cars since we're happily driving the Japanese built Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Mexican built FIAT 500 Abarth, (and in the past, the VW Rabbit, VW Fox, Nissan Sentra, etc.),  but TURKEY?  THE VAN IS BUILT IN THE COUNTRY OF TURKEY?????

The facts are that all the major manufacturers probably build cars in multiple countries around the world, so it's not a big shock when you look at it that way. Let's walk around the van we saw at the Motor Trend Auto Show in Richmond VA and see what we find!

Note that the final assembly point is Bursa Turkey, but the engine and transmission are built in the US.  So, buy one of these vans and you can tell people your van already has 10,000 miles on the engine, on less than a gallon of gas!

 Here's the full window sticker, you can click on it for a better view.  If you need a work van or a cargo van that only has two seats, and has a big flat space for stuff in the back, this might be the perfect van for you!

Base price: $25,655
Vehicle Shown: $27,505
21mpg in the city
29mpg highway
Here's the name badge on the door, RAM ProMaster CITY.  Not sure if that really rolls off the tongue, but hey, a RAM should be tough, a PRO is a professional, a Master is an expert, and a city is uh, a city.

I'm still thinking about a van built in Turkey, so sorry if I don't come up with any witty sayings on the reverse of RAM is MAR.
OK, it's a smallish city van, probably ideal for delivering big 3-dimensional rectangular objects, like Ikea furniture, boxes of basketballs, and those funky rectangular shaped 2 gallon jugs of milk (do they even make those anymore?).
 Side view, nice sliding doors on both sides for easy access.  If you can see in there, there is a solid floor-to-ceiling wall between the seats and the cargo area, so even if you put your kids in back you're not going to be able to hear them on the way to Grandma's house. Hmmm, now if there were some SEATS back there...
From the rear, you can see the two doors open wide, allowing full access to the cargo area, ideal for sliding in whatever large big rectangular and square items you need to put in there. Heck, I bet you could even squeeze in some round objects or odd shaped cowboy hats in there in the USA!
Here we're looking mostly down at the floor of the van from the open side door, trying to show you the tie down hooks like in the lower left corner, near the lower right, and in the upper right quadrant.   And in the upper left now that I look at it. 

Shoot, just look near all four corners and you'll find a handy D ring thing to tie stuff down.
 Here's Mario behind the wheel.  Unfortunately they weren't offering any test drives, so my only report is that in the very short time I sat in the seat I pushed it back to where I felt was a good range for driving, but I think you can see that this put the seat back up against the wall. I'm not a tall person, so while there is a ton of head room (which comes in handy if you're driving with a helmet on, or have Marge Simpson hair), you might want to check this out for driver leg room.
Then again, driving in the city, how long will you be sitting?

Not my best photo, but you can see the van has a steering wheel, dash, and is an automatic. Lots of knobs and it does everything you need a van to do I guess.

How will the FIAT-Doblo-Ram-ProMaster-City sell in the US?  Too soon to tell, but I'm going to predict it will be very popular, and you're bound to see one on the road soon.

However, I'm pretty darn sure that the Fiat Chrysler Automobile company would prefer you just don't call it the Turkey Van.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

May Track Day Confirmed: Time to Upgrade

NMS South is excited to announce our confirmed entry of the 99 Miata in the May 16th and 17th track sessions at Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP) with NASA!  To prepare for that track time there are a few upgrades the car needs for safety. While we're at it, the car is getting numerous upgrades to prepare it fully to the specifications allowed in ES class SCCA autocross.  The parts have started arriving and more will be ordered as the team prepares for a full weekend of installations in mid-April.
Shocks, clutch kit, and swaybar with accessories.  More to come...
-New clutch (current one is aging and slipping)
-New shocks (adjustable Koni shocks, specialized bumpstops, bushings)
-New front sway bar with adjustable end-links (to help work with the shock upgrades)
-Rollbar (for required track safety and generally good idea)
-Second set of stock seats, which will have all foam removed to let me sit down in the car for better rollbar clearance (thanks again to Kyle for snagging a good deal at a local junkyard!)
-Brake pads (more aggressive compound for heavy-duty track use)
-Tons of stickers and even a tshirt

April is going to be the Miata's biggest month yet!  Check back in a few weeks to see how the work progresses.

FIAT First Autocross 2015 Report!

Sorry that I didn't throw more alliteration into the title, like Fantastic FIAT Fun First Frivolity Fumes! Maybe Autocross Always Anchors Awesome Achievements or something like that!

Here's a report on the first autocross of the year, and a look at some "behind the scenes" stuff that doesn't directly involve driving your car. It takes a lot of effort to set up the course, run the timing system, pick up cones out there that get knocked over, and then clean it all up at the end of the day.

Tire pressure checked, lug nuts torqued, ready to rock!

Sunday I drove in the Tidewater Sports Car Club's first autocross event of the year, and thanks to all the club members for putting on a great event!  In the metropolis that is Pungo Virginia, at a former airfield, there still exists enough square feet of pavement for autocross events, and from March thru November the TSCC holds one autocross event per month, usually in Pungo. You've got to love a spot like this because other than the exact longitude and latitude, the best directions to the Pungo airfield always start with "It's just north of Pungo Pizza"!  Plus it's really fun to say Pungo and realize that not too far from the over developed beachfront and suburbia of Virginia Beach you can still find a part of America that has horses and farms and abandoned airfields!  But enough introduction, on to the competition!

The serious drivers bring their cars to autocross in trailers!
Nixon Motor Sports North (that's me), took first place in the G Street class at the first TSCC autocross of 2015, by soundly defeating the narrowly besting....OK, by being the only car in the GS class!  There, now you know the truth!   Otherwise I'm pretty much done with reporting "First in class, and Fastest Italian Car of the Day", and "Only Italian Car of the Day".

For the full results of this event, check out this link:
TSCC Autocross #1 Results 

Walk and learn the course before driving!

First Run: time of 43.328 and no cones hit and I stayed on course, so that felt really wonderful after not autocrossing since October. With no other cars in my class or even modified Abarths in other classes, my only competition was to see if I could improve on each of the next runs.  Competing against yourself and trying to improve is probably just as much fun as fighting with another driver over another tenth of a second in competition.

Race control trailer, home of timing and scoring, announcer

Second Run: time of 43.571 (again a clean run, but...) CRAP it was slower than the first run! Not bad consistency to be within two tenths of a second, but slower = slower. After this result I sat in my car and mentally reviewed the course to figure out where I thought I could pick up some more time and go faster on the next run.  I decided that the lane-changing section was my best spot to gain time.

Lined up on grid, on the way to start line

Third Run: time of 42.925  was clean AND faster, so I was back to being happy again!  Before the fourth and final run I watched a few other cars driving, trying to learn how to get around the course faster, and then fired up the GoPro camera again to go for a faster time.

Kart on the start line

Fourth Run: time of 42.680 again clean and my fastest time for the day, so I was happy about that!  From the first run I'd managed to knock off 7/10ths of a second, so while that wasn't anywhere near the  36 seconds run time of the fastest cars of the day, at least I'd managed to get a little improvement.

You can see the video of this run at:
Video on Facebook 

Start line timer

That's it for the first event, so now it's time to start counting the days until the next event on April 19th!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Autocross Demonstration Day!

On Saturday March 21st, the Tidewater Sports Car Club held a free demonstration of what autocross is all about.  For anyone that enjoys driving their car in a very safe but competitive environment, autocross is great and the most popular form of auto sports all over the country.

You can get more information at the TSCC Facebook page for this event at:  Demonstration Day  or go to the club link on the right side of this blog!

Here are some photos from the demo day, with a variety of cars that compete.  Just about any car you drive every day can be used in autocross too.  Stay tuned later this week for the results from the first autocross of the year with the TSCC folks.  One preview hint: Look for the NMS FIAT to take FID or "Fastest Italian of the Day".










Andre Goncalves walking the course before an event.

Jeremy Garrido: "I just autocrossed for the first time" smile!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Motor Trend Auto Show PART TWO

All righty then, let's cut to the chase and check out the coolest cars at the Richmond Motor Trend Auto Show this weekend!
It's not red, but it does wear the Stallion Rampante on the front grill from Modena Italy, so maybe the name Ferrari rings a bell?

This is not a two seater sports car, but the Ferrari FF, which translates to all wheel drive, with 4 seats.  WHAT?  A Ferrari that you could actually use to haul more than one supermodel with no luggage?

YES! Plenty of room and horsepower for THREE supermodels with a little bit of luggage!


The BMW i3.  No, it's not made by Apple with the letter i, that's just BMW's way of letting you know it's an awesome all electric car.  Brian and I test drove the i3 last year, and it was quite impressive on the road, and it was nice for two lane and highway driving.

What we didn't know last year was the price once it got to the US, and now I can tell you that the window sticker I saw on this one was $51,000.
It's still an awesome bit of technology, but just a bit pricier than say the FIAT 500e electric.

Sorry this is out of focus, but trust me, this is the BMW window sticker that says it's a 51,000 dollar car.

On the positive side, it gets the equivalent of 124 MILES PER GALLON, so that's not all bad!

Bond....James Bond!

I mean, JAGUAR.....F Type

Back in the old E Type days of Jaguar, in other words, "the 60s", you might have heard of this convertible referred to as a DHC.

Double hellaciously cool?   No.

Dueling Hemi Car?   No.

Drop Head Coupe!  Yes!

I have to confess I'm not familiar with the company that builds this thing, but this "thing" seems to be an aluminum Cobra roadster replica.

Man, I bet it would look good without the body, it's just that cool!

Hey wait a minute, it DOES look cool without the body on it. Wait a minute and I'll show you!

Not bad I'd say!


Hmmm, it's a 4 seater convertible.

Wait a minute, looks like the BMW logo on the steering wheel.

2 series?   No.

4 series?   No.

Something else?   Yes.

OK, I give up.

An M6.  Remember, in BMW lingo the letter M means crazy powerful.

Well shoot, those nice car making Bavarians from the Hoffbrau Haus, or Munchen, or Munich surely would be making some fine automobiles that just about ANYONE could afford right?

Let's take a look at one more window sticker for this nice high performing German 4 seater convertible.  How bad can it be?

It's $131,000 bad!

Well, it does average all of 16mpg averaged between  highway and city!

And you get 4 years/50,000 miles of free maintenance, so that's worth a lot!

One feature (for $1900) is the Driver Assistance Plus, which includes an "Active Driving Assistant".

I think his name is Rolf. Or maybe Sebastian Vettel.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Motor Trend Auto Show: Richmond VA Report PART 1

March 20-22 is the Motor Trend magazine sponsored Auto Show in Richmond VA, and after visiting on Friday, here are a few highlights and photos posted below.  Worth noting here, and a big thanks to Motor Trend, is that for your paid admission you also get a year's subscription of Motor Trend magazine!  You can't beat FREE!  Also, thanks for offering a discount to military attendees, we appreciate that!  And an extra special THANK YOU to the guy that handed me two free tickets just before I bought some! I think they were a promo from Food Lion grocery stores!

Here are some of the highlights from today's visit:

FIAT: they had their cute little FIAT 500 on display, a larger 500L, and a car like mine, the 160hp FIAT Abarth.  The new Abarth remains very much the same, but I noticed the USB port is now on the center console where you can get to it, instead of buried in the back of the glove compartment! The cup holders have been upgraded, so I guess that makes it just about perfect now!

DODGE VIPER: It's an American made Dodge car with cool red valve covers, and it's a VIPER! Go ahead, name one car named after a snake that isn't cool....I'll wait....

COBRA?          COOL!!!

HABU?    (a modified Miata)  COOL!!!!!

OK, those are the only other snake names for a car I can think of, so since they are all COOL, there you have it. Just name your car after a snake and it's cool!   Well, maybe not Garter Snake.

I think I'll make drift car and call it...   SIDEWINDER!!!!          COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Richmond International Raceway: This was the car they had on display, so being in another town with a NASCAR track tends to be a big deal! They were having a contest to give away something, my guess was tickets to the race in Richmond, so stop by the show and enter!

Speaking of NASCAR, since we're in AMERICA, here's a truck that is plainly labeled as BUILD IN TEXAS!  I don't think it gets any more American than that, unless they had a grill cooking up some BBQ and Budweisers in the bed of this camo-Texas-Tacoma-Toyota-Truck!

While we're on the subject of America and Snakes, here's the Ford Shelby Cobra Mustang GT350.  Simply take the longest living Muscle Car or Pony Car, give it a V8, then ship it to the Shelby folks for MORE POWER and more AERODYNAMIC stuff like front splitters and rear wings and who knows what other kind of magic-mojo-motor-madness under the hood, and it ends up looking something like this!

OK, here in Part One of this report we started with some Italian cars from FIAT, then moved into the meat and potatoes and snakes and trucks of America, so here's one quick return to Italy with not one, but TWO LAMBORGHINIS!  If I win the 51 million dollar Mega Millions tonight, I'll go buy one or two of these.  Stay tuned for PART TWO from the Richmond Motor Trend Auto Show!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Earning Free Track Driving Time (part 2)

Overlooking the start/finish line from the control tower and up hill past turn 12.
This weekend I was back at Road Atlanta with the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) working the series of races and driving education events.
The flags were on stand-by for the wet start to running on Saturday.
Back in December I worked at the flagging station at turn 1 and this weekend I was right back at the same corner.  I was hoping to see a different section of the track this time, but turn 1 is a pretty good spot, right at the end of the long front straight as the cars charge pretty quickly up a right hand corner up a pretty large hill.
Looking back at turn 1 (counter race-direction).  You don't get a real sense of how steep the hill is in the photo, but you can just barely make out the turn 1 worker station green roof  a little to the right of dead center in the picture.
The weekend seemed to be a complete flash back to December with a chilly, misty, rainy day on Saturday.  Luckily the weather completely turned around by Saturday evening and by Sunday we had a beautiful clear-sky day for racing.
View down pit road at sunrise on Sunday.
Saturday evening a few of us walked 2+ mile track (in the day light this time).  The amount of elevation change throughout the course is really impressive.  One of my favorite parts of the track walk was some paint and damage left on a barrier just past turn 7.  Hopefully the driver was okay from whenever the incident occurred, but the almost exact imprint of the car on the barrier was pretty cool.
Car imprint artwork near turn 7.
Overall it was a pretty safe driving weekend for almost all of the participants.  With two working weekends in the bag, I'm doing some final car preparations and getting ready to do some on-track driving (hopefully) in May with NASA at Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP),  Stay tuned!
Control tower at sunrise.