Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Haas F1 Team Announces Driver!

Today in a press conference at the Haas F1 team headquarters in Kannapolis North Carolina, team founder Gene Haas announced that one of their drivers for the 2016 Formula 1 season will be current Lotus team driver Romain Grosjean. Grosjean has several years of experience in F1, and has a total of 10 podiums, or top 3 race finishes in his 78 race career. For a brand new US based F1 team to sign a talented driver like Romain is a great step forward as the Haas team seeks to be competitive on track next year, and not settle for being the last place two cars on the grid.

While the identity of the Haas team second driver has not yet been confirmed, the Nixon Motor Sports team was not available for comment on the availability of their autocross drivers for moving up to Formula 1. Odds-makers in Las Vegas put the odds at what was quoted as "infinity to one" that either NMS driver would be driving in F1 "any time in the next millennium, or EVER" to quote an anonymous source.

Full details of the Haas F1 team can be found on their official website: HAAS F1 TEAM LINK

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Weekend Plans = Formula 1 Japan!

This weekend's race for Formula 1 FORMULA 1 LINK was in Japan. Good news: MORE RACING! Bad news: The time difference from Japan means Sunday's race was live at 2AM Eastern! Oh well, who needed to sleep anyway!

Following last week's exciting race in Singapore, here's a few questions to be answered this weekend:

-Can Mercedes return to their dominating form after failing to finish on the podium a week ago?  YES, Hamilton 1st and Rosberg 2nd mean Mercedes continue to have their way with the rest of the field.

-Can Sebastian Vettel or Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari repeat their win and 3rd place from last week? No, but Vettel was 3rd and Raikkonen finished 4th, so a good weekend against the dominate Silver Arrows.

-Will the rain in practice sessions 1 and 2 on Friday return for qualifying or the race? No, luckily it was all dry the rest of the way.

-Can American driver Alexander Rossi repeat his debut last weekend and again not only finish the race, but also beat his team mate Will Stevens who has driven all the races this year? YES, Rossi was able to get ahead of Stevens near the end of the race for two reasons. First, Stevens spun with Rossi just behind him, and both driver's managed to continue without making contact, and that's where Rossi got ahead of the other Manor car. Also, Stevens had to pull into the pits an extra time to serve a 5 second penalty for speeding on the pit lane earlier in the race.

-Who will Haas F1 announce as their drivers for next year? HAAS F1 TEAM LINK   We have to wait until 11am Eastern time on Tuesday to find out...all rumors point to current Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, and someone like Esteban Guiterrez as two drivers for  Haas next year. Tuesday we should learn at least one name if not both.

-What will happen with the Lotus team and their financial challenges? This is a tough one, but at least they had a pretty good race in  Japan! Long term money problems will also have the team Lotus fate affected by a British court ruling this week. Most likely they end up getting sold to Renault, which is the next question. One indicator of the team's money problems is that the crew working at the race in Japan this weekend had to be fed by the other teams, and reports are that they haven't received their pay lately. Not good.

-Will French auto maker and current engine-only supplier Renault close a deal to take over and run their factory team for next year? Probably yes!

As far as the brand new Haas F1 team goes, they have a press conference scheduled for Tuesday next week to make some driver announcements! As the first American team to enter F1 (next year) in many years, I'm just going to suggest that it's our patriotic duty to cheer for these guys no matter what next year!

The USA doesn't have a huge amount of F1 history, but with former world champions such as Mario Andretti and Phil Hill to claim as our own, we can do it again with the Haas team!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Traction Control OFF

This past weekend, the NMS Fiesta took 2nd of 2 drivers in the HS class at a joint CCR / SCR SCCA autocross at the Michelin Proving Grounds here in South Carolina.  Brian was well off the pace, hanging back on average 2 second.
The Fiesta lies in wait with NMS support team members Kyle and Philip's vehicles.

The first place car in HS was another Molten Orange Fiesta ST, but with the benefit of arguably top of the line rubber for 2016 and an upgraded swaybar.  Brian continued to push the car harder and harder, over-driving the limited traction stock tires.  Despite the loss, the #86 car came home in the top 1/3 of drivers for the day and achieved the goal of not being afraid to keep that right foot down as much as possible.

Post event analysis revealed that the traction control or ESC (electronic stability control) was left on for the entire event.  Under normal driving conditions, the ESC works to control slipping wheels and keep drivers safe, however in race applications, it saps power and prevents the car from responding as desired at it's limits.  Upon returning to the site and same course the following day to help run a charity autocross, the ESC was disabled to reveal an easy drop of almost a full second.  Easily another second was in the car if the driver were able to ease back and get a clean run in.
New "ESC OFF!" reminder recently installed in the #86 HS car.
The NMS Risk Management department has concluded the addition of a new sticker inside the Fiesta is required for all future events to prevent such "blatant stupidity" and "unnecessary loss of perfectly good performance".  Above we see the sticker is quite visible even in low light conditions.

Brian could not be reached for comment following this incident.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Virginia Autocross Report

Grid on left, cars leaving and entering the circuit

At the Pungo International Raceway Super Speedway of Awesomeness (really an abandoned airfield just barely big enough to autocross on), the ol' #77 FIAT took another first place out of a field of one in G Street! Also placing 29th on PAX time out of 76 drivers, it was another fun day of auto cross in Virginia. And just for fun, I'll say again (because I can) FASTEST ITALIAN CAR OF THE DAY! You can find all the Tidewater Sports Car Club results on their web site:  TSCC

Three Karts racing this time, fun to watch!

Congrats also to my favorite F1 team Ferrari for taking first and third at the Singapore Grand Prix today! The win gives Sebastian Vettel his 42nd career victory and moves him ahead of Ayrton Senna into 3rd place in all time F1 wins!

Even this Ford Ranger (race prepped) autocrossed!
 Sunday was beautiful weather-wise, and as an added bonus we had a few very noisy jet fly-overs from the nearby Oceana Air Show in the afternoon!

The FIAT and friends wait their turn
 NMS-North will return to autocross action in October, and I expect to see a report from NMS-South very soon to update us on how things went in South Carolina. Formula 1 returns on September 27th in Japan,  so there is plenty of auto racing going on in the world!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Auto Auction Action!

Looking for a bargain? Need a car to either drive, race, or repair?

Supra! But does it even run?

If you said "yes", then attending an auto auction is for YOU!

There are all kinds of auto auctions around the country, and even if you don't need a new car they can be fun to attend and dream about finding that cool car, or just maybe the bargain of the century! If you are looking for a LeMons race car that costs under $500, an auction might just be the place to find it! If you don't know what LeMons racing is, check out this link:  24 Hours of LeMons!

Mustang convertible

On a certain government installation near me, they hold quarterly auto auctions of abandoned vehicles, and this week I stopped by during my lunch hour just to see what kind of cars were available. They had 37 vehicles up for auction, and the entertaining part about it was a professional auction company that comes in and runs the event. They did all the fast talking auction lingo, and  managed to sell every vehicle in under an hour! Let's make it clear that auctioneers do NOT mess around, since I'm sure their job is to help sell everything as quickly as possible.

97 Camaro. Check out the unique paint job!

While it was mostly cars, a few trucks and mini-vans, there was also a few jet-skis, a Jon boat, and a little boat trailer there, so apparently people leave all  kinds of stuff laying around this particular installation! They publish a list of what will be up for auction ahead of time, so it's easy to find out what kind of stuff might be available, although to find out the condition of anything you have to go there and check it out before the auction. At this location, they open up two days before the auction for prospective buyers to inspect the vehicles, which I would certainly recommend if you are seriously thinking about buying at auction. There is no guarantee that any car will work, have 4 tires, be complete, etc.

Ride in style in a Cadillac

Monday, September 14, 2015

NMS Returns to Autocross Action This Weekend!

Brian #86

Subtitle: Why do you guys have this blog anyway?

We will both be competing in Sports Car Club of America Autocross events this weekend, with Brian driving the number 86 Fiesta ST in South Carolina and Robert in the number 77 Abarth in Virginia. With the Fiesta Brian has just started competing in the H Street class, and a quick look at registration so far has just one other car in his class, another Fiesta ST! That should lead to some tough competition as the two drivers in similar cars see who can get the fastest time.

Farther north, Robert has entered in the G Street class, and in a common pattern we've seen this year, there aren't any other cars in his class right now. If there were, they'd be something like other Abarths, VW Golfs, or the Ford Focus ST.

Running the Krispy Kreme Challenge

We have this blog just to share our interest in auto crossing and automobile driving of all kinds. Beyond the safety of autocross events, we've started to branch out into other motor sports events, primarily Brian with his experience in a rally cross event and doing some High Performance Driver Education events on the track at Carolina Motorports Park. Rally cross is just like an autocross, except that instead of on a paved parking lot, the course is set up with cones in a field and might include grass, mud, gravel, dirt, etc. As you might imagine, a rally cross event will be a bit bumpier and involve a bit more of stress on the car suspension.

Along the way we've attended various car shows, raced go-karts, taken test drives, attended the Jaguar Drive Alive and Ford Ecoboost Challenge, and a couple of charity events where for a small donation you get to drive your car on a track like NASCAR's tracks in Charlotte, Martinsville, and Darlington. While these events are not competition, they are a lot of fun if you are interested in cars and learning more about other vehicles as well as what your car can do. Put another way, it's the only way I've legally driven my FIAT over 100mph!

Bob #77

Another interest of mine has been following Formula 1 racing very closely, and Indy, NASCAR and other types of motor racing a little bit too. This coming weekend will be the F1 race in Singapore, so we'll see if the Mercedes winning streak continues, or if my favorite team that rhymes with Ferrari can win again. 

Back on the topic of autocross, with the small number of competitors in my class, I just want to be clear that when I get to say something like "FIAT TAKES FIRST PLACE" when there weren't any other competitors in the class, we're just having a bit of fun. On the other hand, if that fun somehow misleads the new Haas Formula 1 race team to hire us to drive in Formula 1 next year, that would be a good thing too!

Realistically, I'm having fun just driving at these events and meeting other people with similar interests. In the bigger competition where we can compare our performance with all drivers in all classes, our goals are to be at least in the top half of all drivers, and ideally top 25-33% on a good day. We can't control how many other drivers show up at events, (or if they're any good), but over the course of a season in say 9 events with upwards of 200 competitors at a time, the overall placing relative to everyone else is one way to see how we're improving against other drivers.

Maybe some day we'll crank it up and visit the annual Nationals in Lincoln Nebraska and compete with the best drivers from the entire country too.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

FIAT 500X Test Drive

You might be aware of the little FIAT 500 that has been on sale in the US since 2012, and that several other versions of the small car have come along too. The 500 Gucci Edition, 1957 Edition, Turbo, GQ Edition, and my favorite the 500 Abarth!

Then FIAT started bringing the larger 500L to our shores, and while it's sales have not been spectacular, at least it gives FIAT a bigger vehicle to offer buyers. Unlike the regular 500 that is built in Mexico, the 500L comes from Europe.

The newest model here in the US is what I drove the other day, the 500X, which compares size wise with the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, and the Ford Escape small SUV type of vehicles. What the 500X brings to the party is all wheel drive in it's higher end models, and a reasonable $20,000 price range for the base model.

In a short test drive on a busy highway, I found the standard gear box easy to use, and the X rode smoothly like any new car should. Sitting up higher than in my Abarth was a bit of a change, but it's certainly not gigantic like a full size pickup truck or Escalade either.

If you're looking for a car to haul 4 people and some luggage in the back, I can recommend that you consider the 500X, especially if you need a small SUV that can provide four wheel drive when needed. If you're a fan of Italian style, you might even be proud that the merger of FIAT and Chrysler means that either the 500X has a bit of Jeep in it, or that some of the new Jeep models have some FIAT in them too, since several models share some of the same components.

Prices start at $20,000 and range up around $30,000 with tons of options and features.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Looking Up at a Party

Two autocross events and about 35 autocross runs later, the tires were ready to rotate on the Fiesta this week.  After helping replace a thermostat on the rallycross Focus, I took the opportunity to get my car up on the lift to take a quick look and expedite the tire rotation.

 The exhaust is showing a pretty cool color effect from all of the heat the little turbo engine is generating.  Either that, or the Fiesta is enhanced with mood ring technology for quick diagnostic of how your car is feeling that day.
 Rear suspension...spring, shock, brakes...yep, car parts.

 Engine, transmission, and hey! That oil filter looks pretty easy to access!
Keen eyes will note the red rubbery plastic exhaust hanger in the first picture, whereas this one (closer to the engine toward the front of the car) is blue.  The blue felt more flexible than the red one.  The intention seems to be that the hangers near the engine (where there is more vibration and movement) allow more flexibility, but they become more firm as you move to the rear of the car to dampen the movement and prevent it from hitting the car and clanking around.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Praising a Boring Car: Our Camry at 100,000 Miles!

In a nutshell, our 2011 Toyota Camry has passed the 100,000 mile mark, and other than a bad hair day in Milwaukee (had to replace the original battery) during a recent trip has proven to be a reliable piece of equipment that gets around 34mpg on the highway. This is the smaller engine 4 cylinder XLE model, so while we splurged on leather seats, dual climate settings, and a sunroof, we cheaped out on the smaller motor too.

The Camry is a huge seller in the US because of those qualities, plus that fact that it will swallow a huge amount of suitcases or groceries in the trunk. It rides smoothly with three normal sized people in the back seat, and as Larry the Cable Guy would say, can "Get 'er Done"!

In other words, it's the exact opposite of what you want to drive and have fun with; would be terrible at an autocross or any kind of high performance event, and is so exciting to look at that one magazine review basically said something like "My hand brushed up against the Camry exterior and fell asleep".

So, that day in Milwaukee was exciting because the car just did not turn over in the morning. If you're at home with a bunch of tools and another vehicle this isn't much of a big deal!  But if you're out of town and are ready to head out for another day of fun and adventure it kind of stinks and makes you curse every automobile every built, because you just KNOW that they are ALL just waiting to die and leave you stranded when it stinks the most.

The top 3 days that cars choose to die include: 1-The Day You Pay it Off, 2-The Day The Warranty Expires, and the dreaded 3-First Day You Take It Home. This day in Milwaukee was just a few days after it was paid off, and turned out to be only a dead battery. Hey, the original battery lasted over 5 years so I can't complain too much about that! Thanks to the friendly Holiday Inn worker that helped me out, and thanks to my wife for reminding me that we had jumper cables in the trunk!

After a quick jump, driving to an O'Reilly autoparts store, and purchasing one battery, I took advantage of their loaner tools (one adjustable wrench), and the car started right up with the new battery. All in all not much of a delay, and the rest of the trip went smoothly in the mighty Camry.

Monday, September 7, 2015

September Autocross = Victory!

On the same day as the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the NMS FIAT proudly waved the Italian flag and took first place in G Street! On a quickly drying surface at Pungo VA, the Abarth also took a midfield 18th overall out of 37 drivers as each competitor used five runs to complete the course as fast as possible. As for the real Ferrari F1 team, they managed a respectable 2nd and 5th on Sunday, with Sebastian Vettel leading team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Grid Controller for 2nd Run Group

The NMS FIAT 500 will return to action at Pungo with the Tidewater Sports Car Club on Sunday September 20th.

Two Morgans!

Course Walk, Hoping for DRY!

How to make friends, share your canopy!

The view from grid as the first car starts

Drivers meeting looking serious

Saturday, September 5, 2015

50% off = 100% success

The Fiesta, like many new sporty cars comes with skinny, sticky summer tires.  They're great for autocross, but they get bumpy on the street and can be more easily damaged if you hit a pothole the wrong way.  Did I mention that once the weather gets below 40 degrees they like to slide around? They do.
Fiesta has more than enough room for all your pull-it-yourself parts needs!

Much like with the Miata, I remedied this by having a second set of wheels with not-as-skinny all season tires.  If our area received more snow regularly, it would be worth having this second set as snow / winter tires instead of the all seasons.  A few weeks back we confirmed the older Focus wheels work nicely on the Fiesta and going from a 17" wheel down to the 15" Focus wheels also lets me use the all season tires that rode on the Miata (magically they're the same size for both cars!).
Tough to see very well from the picture, but the new tires were pretty nasty but in decent shape for 10 year old wheels.

This weekend LKQ (similar to Bob's post about Pick N Pull a few weeks back) was having a 50% off sale, so I woke up early on a Saturday (again) and got up to Greenville to snag a full set of wheels for about $100.  Big thanks to Big Kyle for scouting the lot Friday before the sale started to make sure there were wheels in stock before I made the trip.
The tires were BAD.  Real BAD.  Luckily that saved me money since I was putting my good tires on.
Now that they're all cleaned up, I can take everthing down the street to all have it installed so the Fiesta will be ready for drives up to Ohio and VA in October when the weather is starting to cool down.

Fresh and clean Focus wheel will dry for a bit and then have some good tires mounted.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Automotive Highlights at "The Henry Ford"


(or "What I did on summer vacation part V)

Previously on this blog you might have seen some of the non-automotive highlights at The Henry Ford, so let's just look at the cars this time!

EDSEL! Some cars are famous for NOT selling!
The front grill of the Edsel was it's biggest drawback.

Right off the bat I'll show you two of the coolest cars in the history of ever if you are a fan of motor racing. Let's take a look at these two cars from 1965 and 1967, both powered by Ford, but famous for winning different world famous races.

Up to 1965 the Indy 500 had ALWAYS been won by front engine cars, but then it all changed with this very car, the rear engine Lotus driven by Jimmy Clark. This was Lotus and Clark's third try at Indy, and they won it all with both poll position and victory on race day. EVERY Indy winner since has been a rear engine car too. This car combined the light weight and technology of Colin Chapman's Lotus cars from Europe with a Ford engine.

Fast forward two years, and in 1967 it was time for Ford themselves to also build a car with a Ford engine that went overseas and won the 24 hours of LeMans. With American drivers A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney behind the wheel, this was a huge victory for Ford, said to be inspired after Enzo Ferrari had rejected an offer from Ford to buy his Ferrari company, which led to Ford going all out to beat the Italians at the most famous endurance race in the world.

For the American Ford company to go to European racing and finally beat the Ferraris was a big deal. One of my car buddy friends saw the following photos of this winning Ford and said "I'd be bowing down to this car in person!".

Another nice display was the following collection of Presidential vehicles, which pretty much spans the entire 20th Century, starting with a carriage used by Teddy Roosevelt!

The first motorized Presidential limo was this Lincoln, the Sunshine Special that was built for FDR, but also used by Truman.

Next in line in the Presidential fleet came this little number, a 1950 Lincoln "Bubbletop that was used from 1950 to 1967.

In 1961 this Lincoln was added to the stable, and was used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

The latest car on display was this 1972 Lincoln used by Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. I think they refer to it as the Reagan Car because this was the car being used the day he was shot in Washington DC.

Here you can see the special rear bumper that folds down to become a platform for security personnel, as well as the handlebar that pops up from the trunk lid.