Three years ago, I was invited to compete in the Dodge Viper Cup, a spec series for the company’s heady Viper ACR-X, the factory-built, fire-breathing, racing version of its slightly more humble ...
 
 
You wouldn’t believe this story if it were a Hollywood movie. It is quite simply an over-the-top but true tale of a son fulfilling the quest of his murdered father. The dad was one of racing’s most ...
 
 
After picking up this 2015 McLaren 650S Spider car from McLaren Toronto at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, I spent the better part of the weekend driving it on my home turf, under sunny autumnal skies ...
 
 
My first up-close encounter with Cadillac’s new two-door variant of the ATS came late last year at the GM’s Dearborn, Michigan facility. Alongside the all-new Colorado mid-size pickup, the company ...
 
 
Wow! It’s hard to believe that summer is long gone and we are already facing winter. Atlantic Region Motor Sports (ARMS) and its member clubs have been living and breathing motorsports virtually ...
 
 
The first time I drove the Dodge Challenger wasn’t back in the summer of ’71 (I wasn’t event born yet) and, no, it wasn’t an original coupe from the last days of the penultimate muscle car era. But ...
 
 
Frankly, if someone had asked me prior to the launch event for the 2015 Acura TLX to explain what a Red Carpet Athlete is, I probably would have only been able to muster a blank stare. It would not ...
 
 
The LFA Supercar is one heck of a car that, for a few short years, fulfilled its duty as the pinnacle of Lexus high-performance. Well out of the price range for most new car buyers, I would have ...
 
 
Ford’s 2015 Mustang is arguably the most anticipated car to launch in 2014. Up against steep competition with the likes of BMW’s M3 and M4, Dodge’s Hellcat, the Camaro Z/28 and even Jaguar’s F-Type ...
 
 
Right now, Formula 1 teams are toiling away building new cars for the 2015 season that gets underway in Australia on March 15. Just like 2014, there will be plenty of intrigue and drama, including ...
 
Three years ago, I was invited to compete in the Dodge Viper Cup, a spec series for the company’s heady Viper ACR-X, the factory-built, fire-breathing, racing version of its slightly more humble ACR road car.With Michelin slicks, some meaningful aerodynamics, horrible sightlines from the driver’s seat and a cockpit with temperatures that easily reach over 50° C, it was going to require a bit of a learning curve before I could master this Viper, but what did I know? I was successfully campaigning a Honda Civic in American club racing and at the top of my game.Dodge’s Viper Cup series included a wide range of drivers, primarily club racers (all of whom had a real need for speed), to blokes who now race in the pro ranks, like Viper Cup champion Ben Keating, to Chrysler’s now motorsports President and CEO, Ralph Gilles. The Canadian-raised Gilles is one of a small number of auto industry executives who can talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to his love for automotive. Yes, this CEO can wring the neck of any racecar and I’ve raced with him, or more accurately, against him, outside of Viper Cup as well. He can drive.Before the season began, the good folks at Chrysler asked me for my choice of race weekends and as much as I desperately wanted to race at Daytona, the smart money (meaning the folks who were going to let me race their very fast racecar that costs well over 100 grand) rightly pointed me to the event at Virginia International Raceway, or VIR as all of my friends call it. VIR is a historic sports car circuit, tucked into Virginia just over the North Carolina border and in fact, unless you’re coming in by helicopter, the only way to get to the track is through North Carolina.July in Virginia, as always, is hot and humid – think of peak Ontario summer on steroids – and racing a car that generates a tremendous amount of heat is perhaps one of the plain craziest things one can do. Racing a Civic doesn’t require much physical training, but I figured the snake from Motown might demand a little more out of me, so I trained for weeks beforehand.Still, nothing prepared me for the experience that was racing a Viper. When I first sat in my car, the crew told me, “Don’t worry about your mirrors because you can’t see out of the car anyway.” Sitting there in the garage, it seemed like the mirrors would be useful, but as soon as I rolled out on track for my test session I realized that I couldn’t see a darn thing. Well-known West Coast racer Cindy Lux, proprietor of Lux Performance Group along with her husband Fred, was tasked by Dodge to prepare the company’s two race cars reserved for celebrities and media blokes like myself. With her depth of experience, Lux was a ledger of Viper driving wisdom and early on she told me, “Use the torque of the V10, don’t worry about revving it out,” and for my first few sessions I did exactly that.Until Kuno Wittmer arrived at the track, that is. Back then, Wittmer was Viper’s factory driver, but he was driving the car in the Pirelli World Challenge, not the recent IMSA SRT Viper GTLM. The Montreal-based racer had taken me for a spin in his Viper the year before, so I immediately started to pick his brain about getting the most out of ACR-X. He told me, “Forget torque, drive the horsepower!” with a sly smile. That I did, and picked up a few tenths in my next session. By the time I took the green flag in race one, I was still learning the car and, in the first few laps I made some passes, going from 13th to eighth. Race two presented a different problem: I cut a tire on my first hot lap in qualifying. I was on pace for sixth or seventh place on the grid, but fighting oversteer in the last few corners of that lap put me in P13 again. After a dramatic start, I was able to pass a few more cars before settling into the race. In the sprint format that the Viper Cup raced, I couldn’t catch the lead pack, so I finished in eighth again. They say – or at least I do – that you never really know a car until you race one, and since the day I raced that Viper ACR-X, I’ve been a fan of this crazy, hairy-chested, American supercar.Fast forward a few months and my friends from Viper surprised everyone at the 2012 New York Auto Show with an announcement that they were going racing in IMSA for the 2013 season to battle it out with the factory programs from Corvette, Porsche, Aston Martin and BMW. Plus, they were going back to Le Mans, where the Viper GTS-R made its mark on the racing world with three class wins in days gone by.In the meantime, SRT gets involved at the other end of the racing spectrum with the Fiat 500 in SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge. One day while diligently doing my job of testing a Lamborghini Aventador, my phone rings and displays a Detroit phone number. Since the Aventador is so darn loud, I decide to let the call go to voicemail. When I finally park, it turns out the call is from my old pal, Gary Johnson, SRT Racing Manager for Chrysler, asking me if I’d like to race their Fiat 500. A few weeks later, I’m in Brainerd, Minnesota for rounds 11 and 12 of Pirelli World Challenge, and I finally lay my eyes upon the SRT Motorsports Fiat 500. The Fiat competes in Touring Class B, otherwise known as B Spec, a category that’s developed in the last few years to encourage low-cost, production car racing.B Spec was founded on a relatively simple open book of rules that are intended to equalize performance – and keep costs down – for sub-compact cars. The World Challenge TCB field is filled with Honda Fits, Ford Fiestas, Mini Coopers and the like. For my weekend in the car, I was the lone Fiat driver.SRT’s 500 had been raced during the 2014 season by a range of drivers with mixed results, but the racer in me thinks that a lack of a consistent driver and the resulting development is putting me behind the proverbial eight ball. Indeed, as much fun as the Fiat is to drive – and as exciting as the concept is – this 500 can use a little help. During every session, I have no trouble staying with my competitors through the corners, but on every straight they are able to pass me and pull away – with or without a draft – and I’m not able to make gains by jumping back into their draft. As a driver, I’m never one to give up, so during my races, I click off fast laps, as fast as that little 500 can go, with so much consistency that my lap chart makes it looks like I’m a robot.While the 500 wasn’t the car I’d hoped for (it just needs a couple of simple, rules-approved changes to be on pace), racing in Pirelli World Challenge was a blast. Competition in the TCB category is undeniably professional and the good folks preparing SRT’s Fiat did an exceptional job of doing everything possible to get some additional speed out of the car.A few weeks later, the SRT Viper racing team celebrated its 2014 championship at Petit Le Mans and I couldn’t be happier for this group of hard-working racers. The next day, with heavy hearts I’m sure, Chrysler announced the end of the SRT Viper racing program. Sure, it’s always good to go out on top, but fans and competitors alike are undoubtedly saddened by the loss of those thundering V10s.Racing has changed since Viper first drove at Le Mans in 1996 and, perhaps the old adage of win on Sunday, sell on Monday is outmoded. With the success of an almost endless number of customer racing programs in recent years, perhaps the trick is to put race cars in the hands of customers, so they can race on Sunday, then go to work on Monday.While I haven’t asked the question to Viper folks, I think we’re going to see another ACR-X factory built racer in the near future. If I were a betting man, I’d bet we’ll see another Viper Cup series and just like before, Canadians Wittmer will develop the car, while Gilles will be back behind the wheel in heated competition.
You wouldn’t believe this story if it were a Hollywood movie. It is quite simply an over-the-top but true tale of a son fulfilling the quest of his murdered father. The dad was one of racing’s most colourful characters and innovators, the late Mickey Thompson. Here’s the severely condensed version of how Danny Thompson took his father’s streamliner out of storage and rebuilt it for a land speed record attempt at Bonneville. The Challenger II was built by Mickey and chief mechanic, Fritz Voight, to break the 400 mph record for a piston-powered, wheel-driven car. They had come achingly close in 1960 with the Challenger I, with four supercharged Pontiac motors. The Challenger II was a sleeker design with two Ford engines and Mickey did run 406 mph, but was unable to make the back-up run in the opposite direction, as required by FIA rules, within one hour due to a mechanical failure. Then the rains came and the salt flats were flooded preventing another attempt. The LSR racing was put to the side while Mickey developed his other racing cars and stadium Trophy Truck racing series. The years go by and Mickey still has the dream of getting that 400+ mph LSR record and asks his son to help restore Challenger II and be the driver. Not long after the father and son team up on this quest does tragedy strike the family when Mickey and his wife, Danny’s step-mother, are brutally murdered at their home north of Hollywood in March 1988. The LSR project comes to a halt as the family comes to terms with this loss. On the 50th anniversary of his father’s original 406 mph run, Danny pulls the Challenger II from a storage container - untouched for more than 40 years - and brought it to his Huntington Beach race shop to begin the extensive process of restoring, retrofitting and updating the vehicle to today’s safety standards. Danny needs to lay his father’s business to rest and that means using the original Challenger II – a vehicle that hasn’t run since 1968 – to break a world land speed record. “I’ve raced all sorts of other things,” says Danny Thompson. “I’ve driven Formula cars, off-road stuff, motorcycles. I drove for Ford for three years as a paid driver, but I came back to Bonneville. It’s like where a son was born, and a father died. I kind of stopped going there voluntarily after my dad died but I asked myself, ‘What do you do now?’ As I got older, I started thinking about Bonneville again.” Danny was 59-years-old when be began the five-year project to bring the old racecar back to the salt. The new version of Challenger II is about three feet longer and has a larger vertical stabilizer for the higher speeds. Its power comes from a pair of nitro-fueled Hemi V8 engines in an all-wheel-drive configuration. The engines are dry blocks or waterless, so most of the cooling is provided by the fuel. Overall horsepower is approximately double that of the original Ford SOHC 427 cubic-inch motors, from 600 front engine and 1,200 rear engine to an even 2,000 horsepower each. The 1968 Challenger II was 1,800 horsepower; the 2014 version has 4,000 horsepower. A test run in June on the much shorter track on the dry lakebed at El Mirage proved to be very promising. The engines ran well and the car was stable to 200 mph. The goal at Bonneville would be significantly faster. The first time the Challenger II gets salt on her special M/T tires is at the 2014 USFRA Test and Tune event one month later. The car passes technical inspection with flying colours and the next day the dual engines are fired up on alcohol. “We got to run the car on the salt, and I can’t describe how cool it was,” Thompson recalls. “We made a clean 246 mph checkout pass early that morning.” Rising wind speeds delayed a second run until the next day when Danny hit 317 mph on the three-mile long course. The Challenger II needs five miles to reach her potential top speed and safely stop using her dual parachutes, however. Finally, August arrived and Danny and his team of 22 people headed north from Los Angeles to the 2014 Edition of Speedweek. But, like everyone else, many of whom had travelled from Europe, Danny discovered a shallow salt lake that stretched to the horizon. Just as his father had been foiled from making his record run by floodwaters, Mother Nature had played a cruelly ironic trick on Danny. “Sure we were disappointed, but we were never discouraged,” he says. “The car was still ready to run. We went back home and sorted through details that required additional time over the three weeks before World of Speed when we could make the next attempt on the record.” The Challenger II team reconvened in September and the car was prepared for its first five mile run down the course. The track was somewhat rough for the first couple of miles from the flooding, but it smoothed out. “I ran 390 mph on the first run when the fire bottles released inside the cockpit and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of me,” chuckles Thompson. “I had no vision at all and realized by this time I was nearing the end of the eight mile course. So I gently steered off the course and hoped I wouldn’t get stuck in the soft salt and mud.” Danny safely stopped the car after popping open the canopy at 80 mph. He later discovered the cable release for the extinguishers was too tight and the massive negative G-load from opening the chute had pulled the pins on the bottles. The next day the crew was looking forward to a good run and, after solving a fuel issue, the Challenger went 419 mph, meaning that Danny had surpassed his father’s top speed of 406 mph and thus lifted a huge weight from his shoulders. From now on, Danny will be racing for his own legacy and his mother, Judy Creach, who was present trackside in the run-off area to greet her son with a hug. The following day would be the most trying as Danny and his team had to make their follow-up run that must equal or exceed the previous days speed in order to be awarded the record for their class. This was only the car’s third full run on a long course. “We started out a little later in the day than I would have liked, which gave the salt time to warm up and soften,” recalls Thompson. “That said, the surface was much better than yesterday, and the car felt more composed during the run. “The Challenger never left the line so hard. When the tach hit 6,000 rpm one of the clutches blew and the car dropped into neutral and I guided it off the course.” Once again, in a bizarre repetition of history, the rains came while spare parts were being flown into Wendover and Challenger would not get her record. At least not yet. But there’s plenty of potential in Challenger II as the dual motors have been burning only a 70-percent dose of nitromethane so far. Danny has more time on his hands than ever before as he waits for Speedweek 2015 when he will take another kick at the can, so to speak. For a man who has spent the past five years working seven days a week, easily 12 hours a day making an old, dilapidated streamliner into a bona fide contender for the world’s fastest car, having to wait that long will be a challenge in itself. Hopefully, the waiting will be the hardest part.
After picking up this 2015 McLaren 650S Spider car from McLaren Toronto at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, I spent the better part of the weekend driving it on my home turf, under sunny autumnal skies on some of my favourite roads with my favourite driving partners – my camera and my GoPro – to see if it’s as amazing as it’s touted to be. Part of the Pfaff Automotive dealer network, McLaren Toronto is one of two places in Canada where you can purchase this F1-inspired supercar. McLaren Vancouver is the other. I captured an hour’s worth of GoPro footage and took plenty of photographs, but there was no shortage of people eager to risk a hefty fine to snap a couple photos of the car and upload them to social media while driving. Some were willing to risk even more, cutting one another off with inches to spare in traffic. I’m pretty sure we were trending. Truth be told, I loved every second of the attention the 650S drew. From the front, the 650S looks like the McLaren P1. From the rear, the hindquarters taken from the 12C make it look like a spaceship! It certainly screams ‘Hey, look at me!’ and it blasts off like a rocket. That it costs more than many houses, I can only imagine what the neighbours were thinking. The interior is all business. The business of pure, unadulterated driving nirvana. Things are spartan in the low-slung cabin. It’s not cramped at all, it’s quite ergonomic actually; built more for high-performance and speed than it is comfort or luxury. Storage space is in short supply (perhaps by design) – there’s not even a glovebox, and the cupholders are tucked up under the angled centre console making them awkward to access. The rest of the cockpit is decked out with several yards of decadent, optional carbon fibre for various panels and trim pieces and top-quality leathers that certify the cockpit as high-end. There are buttons and switches to control everything, including the seven-speed seamless shift dual clutch gearbox. While I wasn’t overly impressed with the performance of McLaren’s Iris touchscreen interface (it is intuitive, but slow), I do like that there are no redundant controls on the steering wheel. This is a driver’s car after all – one that can get you into a lot trouble. Rather, it’s a car you can get into a lot of trouble with. In hot water with the spouse – “Slow down, honey!” Boiling water with the mistress (if you’ve got one) – “Go faster!” Or up the creek with the law – “Pull over!” But I digress. The McLaren 641-hp twin-turbocharged V8 engine spews aural magnificence from the sport exhaust, and the 500 lb-ft of torque it produces is more than capable of turning cold rubber into smoking hot matchsticks in a matter of seconds. It redlines at 8,500, and makes 95 percent of its power right in the sweet spot between 3,000 and 7,000 rpm. That translates into mind-boggling performance. Most supercar aficionados aren’t too concerned about fuel consumption, but those who are will be delighted to discover the 650S is rated an optimistic 11.7 L/100 km combined. As it were, I managed to overcome my primal urges and observe restraint with my right foot; and, after pouring 83 litres of Ultra 94 fuel into the M838T dry sump engine and putting 613 km on the odometer, it adds up to 13.5 L/100 km in the real world. That’s darn right respectable by supercar standards, but it could be even better if it were to have an automatic stop/start function that’s now common on many high-end performance cars. With a top speed of 333 km/h (207 mph), the 650S is one seriously fast car. Not as fast as its legendary predecessor, the McLaren F1 road car, which held the world record for top speed in a production car at 386.7 km/h (240.3 mph) almost two decades ago. The 650S isn’t vying for the title of “world’s fastest” anymore – there are several faster cars out there, including the $845,000 Porsche 918 Spyder – but it is quicker than the F1 by a full second from 0-100 km/h! Not only that, it runs the quarter mile in 10.6 seconds at 222 km/h, and does a standing kilometre in 19 seconds flat. My knees are wobbly just thinking about it. Officially, McLaren says it will do 0-100 km/h in three seconds flat, which is faster than any other road car I’ve tested, including its predecessor the 12C (3.1 s), Porsche 997 Turbo S (3.3 s), Audi R8 V10 Spyder (4.3 s). It is also capable of going from 0-200 km/h in only 8.6 seconds. That’s as fast as fast as the Mazda 6 zoom-zooms to 100 klicks. More amazing, perhaps: the massive 394 mm front and 380 mm rear carbon ceramic brake rotors (optional), active Airbrake rear spoiler and Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires bestow amazing stopping power. The 650S decelerates from 100-0 km/h in 30.7 metres (101 ft), 200-0 in 124 m (407 ft) and 271 m (889 ft) from 300-0 km/h. On public roads, passing cars is like swatting flies, and 80 to 120 happens in the blink of an eye. I didn’t try the launch control feature, but a five-second stab on the throttle fires it like a missile to speeds that are hyper-illegal on any monitored road in the galaxy anyway. The 650S’s carbon fibre monocell chassis is rigid, strong and highly responsive. And because of its F1-derived flat underbody and rear diffuser, the faster the McLaren is driven, the more it sticks to the road. It’s not harsh or bumpy when driving around town at the speed limit, and the ride is remarkably smooth and well-composed when cruising along on the highway in the normal (default) or sport handling and transmission modes. It truly does come to life, however, when it’s in its element on the racetrack in sport or track modes, so I feel extra lucky that McLaren Toronto was able to arrange an exclusive track test on the Grand Prix road course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) during the final Pfaff Tuning track day of the season. There are several driver modes, normal being the default. Once activated, you can dial in any combination of normal, sport and track settings for handling and shifting via two control knobs on the centre console. The left side changes its handling characteristics, including the roll stiffness and ESC settings, while the right side changes the throttle response, shift maps and noise levels on the fly. Gearshifts are already lightning fast and seamless in automatic mode, and only improve as you dial in more performance per above. The paddle shifters provide an even stronger bond with the car and the track in manual shifting mode. Winter mode is also available. Traction control is disabled in track mode, but the car is still glued to the corners thanks to McLaren’s open differential and brake steer feature. Factoring in speed and steering angle, this banned-from-F1 system uses the rear brakes to manage grip, control understeer and oversteer when cornering at speed; and could make even Robert Kubica look like a hero. The P Zero Corsa tires are grippy, quiet and capable at speed. Combining double wishbones with coil springs and pneumatically-controlled hydraulic dampers, McLaren’s ProActive Chassis Control automatically controls the suspension depending on what mode the car is in. Body roll is already close to non-existent, and you can firm up the ride to your liking depending on where you are. Compared to the 12C, the 650S offers a much more refined ride in every respect. With all the extra power it’s got, there are few cars that it can’t run with. The 650S’ active aerodynamics come into play on the kilometre-long, uphill Andretti straight where the DRS system lowers the rear spoiler to provide fast, straight-line speed. At the end of the straight where you’re carrying some very serious speed, the airbrake pops the spoiler up under hard braking to instantly increase rear downforce by 20 percent to turn a panic stop into smooth sailing. I’m braking after the Canadian Tire bridge, but it’s still too early. The highest speed I saw at the end of the straight is 253 km/h, but former Pfaff racecar driver Kyle Marcelli was clocked doing over 275 km/h there earlier in the year. The 650S is available in a hardtop coupe that starts at $385,000. It is 40 kilograms lighter and 20 grand less than the as-tested Pearl White Spider model and its electric targa top. The former is perhaps better suited to for hardcore track enthusiasts while the latter might be more befitting of an everyday supercar. Both will impress on the road or the racetrack, so it’s really a matter of preference more than anything. For the same base price of the 650S, one could buy a 2015 Audi R8 V10 plus Coupe ($187,800) and have enough left over for a 2015 Corvette Z06 when it goes on sale in late spring. The total cost of options on this car ($77,645, see essentials for detailed pricing) adds up to more than enough for a new Porsche Boxster or Cayman S. And, all of the carbon fibre here could offset the cost of a Subaru WRX STI, which, incidentally, is the first car I would buy if I were to win the lottery. There’s no way of dancing around it – purchasing a 650S will cost you a pretty penny, but the whole experience behind the wheel is quite engaging whether you’re driving on the road or on the track. It does both extremely well, but while public roads will only give you a taste of this car’s massive potential, you’ll most certainly need to become a track day regular if you are to get anywhere near this car’s stratospheric limits. If owning an elite supercar is at the top of your list, the 650S most certainly qualifies. And if driving a supercar – I mean really driving it – is also a priority, Pfaff has that covered too, via its own CTMP track days. Compared to other supercars out there, the 650S is not at all plebeian. Nor is it gaudy. And yes, it is amazing! I wouldn’t change a thing. ESSENTIALS2015 McLaren 650S SpiderBase Price: $305,500As tested: $382,710 (before dealer options & charges)Engine: 3.8L twin-turbocharged 90° V8 (M838T)Horsepower: 641 bhp @ 7,250 rpmTorque: 500 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpmDry Weight: 1,370 kgConfiguration: RMRTransmission: 7-speed dual clutch gearboxTires: Pirelli P Zero Corsa (235/35 R19 front, R305/30 R20 rear) Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy.): 13.5 L/100 km (613 km)Warranty (mos / km): 36 / unlimited Options on test vehicle ($77,645): Elite "Pearl White" paint ($6,040); carbon fibre diffuser ($4,700), carbon fibre engine covers ($3,360); carbon fibre exterior upgrade – rear bumper, door blade, front splitter ($12,520); sport exhaust ($7,080); alloy oil/coolant caps ($530); electric/heated memory seats ($4,030); contrast stitching – dash/steering wheel; matching steering wheel ($610); carbon fibre interior upgrade ($4,700); carbon fibre seat backs ($4,700); branded carbon fibre sill panel /w model logo ($3,960); carbon fibre wheel arches ($3,360); extended carbon fibre interior upgrade ($6,670); Meridian surround sound upgrade ($4,540); parking sensors (2,420); rear parking camera ($1,520); fire extinguisher (210); warning triangle and first aid kit ($70); carbon brakes ($1,350); forged wheels ($3,630); car cover ($680). 
My first up-close encounter with Cadillac’s new two-door variant of the ATS came late last year at the GM’s Dearborn, Michigan facility. Alongside the all-new Colorado mid-size pickup, the company was also showcasing its new 4G in-car Wi-Fi and entertainment technology on the 2014 Impala, as well as the cream of the crop, the C7 Corvette Z06, which at this point consisted of nothing more than a full-size painted clay model and cutaway version. Incomplete or not, the full size had the full effect. The assignment for the trip was two-fold, and being given the opportunity, it was clear that my focus for Ignition Luxury & Performance would in fact be about, luxury and performance. I had driven the ATS sedan earlier in the year at a special #ATSDrive event at CTMP Mosport, hauling the six-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive 2.0 Turbo around the Grand Prix circuit at high speed. I was duly impressed by Cadillac’s then-newest offering, so when I found out I would also be seeing the “new and improved” Coupe, I was very interested to see what was in store. Coming full circle from my Dearborn trip, the Corvette Z06 was featured in-depth in our Spring 2014 issue, “5 Cars you Must Drive,” looking directly at the exotic technologies packed into the North American supercar, for anything but exotic prices. The Canadian launch of this newest ATS coupe is the culmination of a long and anticipated wait that began the first instance the curtains were drawn on that cold December day last year. The four-door sedan had done extremely well in the year leading up to the press unveil. It was named the 2013 North American Car of the Year at the Detroit auto show and, in the four months leading up to the coupe unveil, Cadillac was consistently beating or demolishing its 2012 sales numbers, up 10 percent in September and October, then 11 percent in November. When the bell rang on 2013, Cadillac had outsold its previous year by an astounding 28 percent, due largely to the XTS and ATS sedan. The sedan exceeded company sales expectations by as much as 15 percent, but for the lower, longer and wider ATS coupe, Executive Design Director Andrew Smith and his team would not be caught sitting on the laurels of success. “This was an opportunity to do something very expressive,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s not trying too hard; it’s a really confident vehicle. I think it will appeal to different people than the sedan as well.” It marks a changing of the guard at the company long seen as the luxury “boatmaker” of the industry; cars that had creature comforts and were fantastic for bourgeoisie businessmen, but had little to compare when it came to the likes of their sportier, agile European counterparts. The larger CTS coupe paved the way, and now the ATS coupe has refined the sleeker, bolder and sharper representation the Cadillac brand – not only in design, but driving character. It’s also the first Cadillac to carry the company’s revised crest. “The ATS is an important step in overall vehicle design for us,” Cadillac Product Manager Scott Meldrum says. “It’s monumental for the identity of Cadillac.”  The coupe takes what I consider the top two engines from the sedan’s three: an updated version of the 2.0-litre inline-four turbo, outputting 272 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, and the 3.6-litre V6 with 321 horsepower at 6,800 rpm. The 2.5-litre, 202 horsepower ECOTECH stays in the sedan and will likely not make the move to its new sibling. My formal test happens to and from Wellington, Ontario, about two hours east of Toronto as part of the Cadillac-hosted Canadian launch. With Cadillac’s Director of Communications, David Caldwell in the passenger seat, I embark on an insightful and informative drive. The route is well-known to motorists and riders for its purposeful flow, moderating speeds and sheer driving freedom, all obvious, especially when driving through the beautiful changing colours of fall. I opt for the 3.6-litre, rear-wheel-drive "Premium” coupe. The six-speed paddle-shift automatic is the only transmission available for the 3.6 (the 2.0 T has a six-speed manual option), but in automatic mode and the normal drive setting, it allows me to test the ATS how many people will likely drive it in slower, stop-and-go traffic. Not surprisingly, it's comfortable and quiet. Auto shifting from the Hyrdra-Matic is also smooth, but throttle response is more impressive than I expected. Even in normal mode, there is very little lag, something I’m not used to from previous automatic Cadillacs of this size. Part and parcel of the Cadillac’s comfort stems from GM’s magnetic ride control (non-Premium models get sport-tuned shocks and struts). Personally, it’s one of the most exciting aspects of the car, if not solely because it’s the exact same system employed by the heralded C7 Stingray. The Premium trim-exclusive suspension is fully operational at all times, reading surface conditions up to 1,000 times per second and keeping the 51/49 weighted vehicle balanced for more precise control. When we escape the city and highway 401 for the lake shore, a quick mode change from tour to sport engages the magnetorheological fluid controlling the four corners, and I flip the transmission to manual mode to get the most out of the car and the test. Firstly, the adjustment in handling is obvious, but it doesn't require a change in driving style. The mode switch simply sets the ATS to what you’d naturally expect. Paddle shifts are quick and precise, further accented by the sturdy metal triggers. The speed-sensitive, electric-assisted ZF steering rack operates pointedly with excellent feedback, making me forget this is supposed to be a luxury car – not a sport coupe. The Premium coupe’s standard four-piston, fixed Brembos further reinforce that notion. Riding higher into the revs, the exhaust puts out a note that lets you know this American V6 is serious. Even the optional safety features put a smile on my face. There are no beeps or flashing lights if you’re being lazy or about to make an error behind the wheel. Instead, your seat vibrates subtly as if you’re driving over rumble strips. If you’re being really bad, the lane keep assist will actually steer the car back into the lane smoothly and progressively if you cross the median or shoulder line when you’re not supposed to. It can easily be overridden, but it's neither impeding or forceful. It feels just right. Put simply, this is a car that I want to drive again. While he won’t admit it flat out, Caldwell is quick to point out that, although Cadillac doesn’t consider itself a direct competitor with certain European marques, the numbers are there to back up the ATS’s performance. The smaller 2.0-litre Turbo for example, puts out more torque and achieves a 0-96 km/h time faster than the BMW 428i, Mercedes-Benz C250, Audi A5 and Infiniti Q60. It outputs higher horsepower than each of them as well, save for the Q60. And it does that at a cost that’s $2,660 to $5,560 less than each of them. In combination with the drive, after closely examining the comfort and interior details of the various test cars from the event, it’s clear that – competition or not – the new ATS coupe can more than hold its own against the best. It may be why the company has been actively expanding to markets across the globe, first confirmed by Smith, then again by Caldwell, who, during a stopover, made remarks about Cadillac’s recent expansion into China with the long-wheelbase ATS-L. “This car would be very appealing in Europe,” Smith says. “It’s an obvious fit for Europe… and certainly we’re excited about China as well.” Truth be told, of the Detroit Big Three, GM seems to be the only one putting its foot forward in the compact luxury class. Some may see it as jumping into a shark tank, but Smith simply sees it as an opportunity for success. If there was ever a reason, the ATS just might be it. “It’s interesting not coming in as an American and having an idea of what Cadillac is,” Smith says. “What I want to do globally is not shy away from being American. It is the American luxury car brand.” Specifications2015 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Coupe RWD PremiumBase Price: $53,635 ($52,665 AWD)Engine: 3.6L V6Horsepower: 321 hp @ 6,800 rpmTorque: 275 @ 4,800 rpmCurb Weight: 1,601 kgConfiguration: FRTransmission: 6-speed paddleshift automaticTires: 225/40 R18 front, 255/35 R18 rear Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy.): 12.8 / 8.4 L/100kmWarranty (mos. / km): 48 / 80,000 kmNotable Options: Driver assist package ($3,555); Track Performance Package ($525); Power sunroof ($1,395)
Wow! It’s hard to believe that summer is long gone and we are already facing winter. Atlantic Region Motor Sports (ARMS) and its member clubs have been living and breathing motorsports virtually every weekend since the first of May right on through to the middle of October. Events included both Regional and Club Championships in Karting, AutoSlalom, Lapping, Time Attack, RallyCross, RallySprint, Performance Rally, Navigational Rally and Road Racing. Plus, the 2014 ASN Canada FIA Canadian AutoSlalom Championship presented by Toyo Tires was held at Slemon Park on Prince Edward Island.“What now?” you might ask. “Sit back and take it easy for the winter and plan for next season?” A nice, long break would be nice and it’s certainly something everyone needs after six months of motorsports to recuperate, rejuvenate, relax and refocus for the 2015 season. But for ARMS and its clubs, however, it is time for awards banquets and annual general meetings. After all, the trophies need to be given out to the many championship winners after six months of racing.The 2014 ARMS AGM and awards banquet will be held at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites, Magnetic Hill in Moncton, NB on November 7th to the 9th. This is a great three-day event with a meet and greet on Friday evening followed by two days of meetings and capped off by the popular awards gala on Saturday evening where there are many awards, winners, great food and lots of fun had by all who attend. The ARMS AGM is hosted by the Moncton Motor Sport Club is year, and is also celebrating its 50th anniversary.The ARMS member clubs will also be holding their AGMs over the winter to elect new executives and plan for the 2015 competition season.So, after six months of racing and all of the awards are given out, it’s time to sit back and relax in the warmth of the house or tinkering with the racecar in the garage for the winter, right? Wrong! In fact, RallyCross season is starting for those not scared of a little cold, snow and ice. Three of our clubs are gearing up for their Winter RallyCross series.First up is the Bluenose Autosport Club with its 12th Annual BAC RallyCross Challenge Series; a nine-event series split between Scotia Speed World and Atlantic Motor Sport Park. It starts November 23rd at Scotia Speed World. Check out the BAC website (www.bluenoseautosport.ca) for more information.The Moncton Motor Sport Club and Fredericton Motorsport Club will be hosting a couple of events in January and February, too. The dates and locations are still to be confirmed, so visit the MMSC and FMC websites – www.mmsc.ca and www.frederictonmotorsportsclub.ca – for the latest updates, respectively.There’s never a shortage of motorsports in Atlantic Canada over the winter months. You just need to dress a little warmer. So, come on out and join us at one of these rallycross events and have some fun playing in the snow again like when you were a kid! We look forward to seeing you.
The first time I drove the Dodge Challenger wasn’t back in the summer of ’71 (I wasn’t event born yet) and, no, it wasn’t an original coupe from the last days of the penultimate muscle car era. But it feels like just yesterday that I and the then-new 2009 Challenger SRT bonded on the high-performance test track during AJAC’s annual “TestFest” event. In actuality, it was fall 2008, and the big, orange Dodge’s 425-horsepower 6.1-litre Hemi V8 could steer its big, fat rear end through the slalom portions of the track, and then fire it like a gunshot down the long straightaway with 420 lb-ft of wallop. The voluminous cockpit made me feel like an ant piloting a tank - one with a gargantuan shift knob and tiny windows. Fast-forward to today and the Challenger SRT has changed quite a bit. It is more refined inside and out, and better in practically every respect. And although it has gained a new moniker, almost nowhere on this car will you find the word “Hellcat.” There is an SRT Hellcat badge on the cover of the all-new supercharged 6.2-litre Hemi V8, and the front quarter panels proudly display the word “Supercharged.” Developing a whopping 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, not only is this engine the most powerful V8 that Chrysler Group LLC has ever produced, it is also the first production V8 to be supercharged. A forged steel crankshaft, powder-forged connecting rods, high-load bushings, diamond-like carbon-coated piston pins and high-strength forged alloy pistons are just a few of the upgrades here, but SRT has gone through the whole car looking for ways to improve it. It doesn’t happen magically. “You have to plan for all the stuff we did,” says Daryl Smith, SRT engineering. “We had to upgrade the trans, both transmissions, a new clutch, the driveline. We put a 230 mm brand new rear end on the car, the half shafts that go with it and all the way through.” Each Hellcat comes with three key fobs: two red and one black. The latter caps performance at 500 horsepower, however, the red key unlocks all 707 horses and torque potential via improved pedal response and throttle mapping. There is also valet mode that dramatically cuts the power and works with either key (which do provide similar performance up to 500 horsepower) by simply punching a four-digit code into the computer. Although a total redesign is still a year or two down the road, the entire 2015 Challenger lineup has been privy to some noticeable enhancements. All welcome. Built at Chrysler’s Brampton, Ontario assembly plant, the 2015 Challenger is available in eight trim levels: SXT, SXT Plus, R/T, R/T Shaker, Scat Pack, Scat Pack Shaker, SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat. Depending on the model, a 3.6L Pentastar V6 and a slew of V8s are available. Outwardly, the latest Challenger comes with a new front fascia design, an all-new split grille and a more pronounced power-bulge aluminum hood. These aren’t just for show either. The tri-vented hood design comes by way of the Viper, and it boasts a dedicated cold air intake vent that’s in addition to the Hellcat-exclusive ram air intake neatly hidden in plain sight inside the passenger-side parking lamp. The lower grille is designed to come out easily to improve engine cooling for would-be track warriors, too. Halo HID headlights adorn the front end while the rear gets split LED taillights along with a unique, taller SRT spoiler. The subtle 1971 Challenger-inspired exterior enhancements carry over to the cockpit, which features a driver-focused layout that interfaces with a larger 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen multimedia centre and new seven-inch customizable in-cluster display that brings added convenience to this modern muscle car. Other Hellcat cabin enhancements include high-performance seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel with thumb bumps and larger paddle shifters, and red signature cluster face.Driving Impressions The drive route starts in downtown Portland and heads east running alongside the Columbia River before crossing the Bridge of the Gods into Washington Stage and turning back west on the Lewis and Clark Highway (Hwy. 14). You might think a car with such power would be a handful on public roads, but that isn’t the case. It isn’t the least bit skittish on smooth pavement; it’s perfectly happy to settle into a gear and cruise until the heart is content. The solid rear axle does add some excitement and a bumpier ride, but on the whole it purrs softly like a normal, domesticated house kitty most of the time rather than a feral cat. The SRT-tuned three-mode adaptive damping system suspension ensures the car can be set up the way you like. Four available drive modes – default, sport, track and custom – allow for the individual control of the horsepower, transmission shift speeds, steering, paddle shifters, traction and suspension. Sport mode provides a sporty but compliant ride over the default mode. Body roll is not really an issue as the chassis is quite stiff, even in the normal mode. Track mode does firm up the SRT-tuned Bilstein dampers automatically for maximum handling, so it’s fortuitous that Portland International Raceway (PIR) is my ultimate destination for the day. That hulking body is a bit livelier on the 12-corner, 3.17-kilometre long PIR road course where Dodge has brought out a stacked lineup of Challengers to “go out and have some fun” with. We’re starting from the PIR dragstrip, which spills out onto the front straight, so the first thing to note is braking as the Hellcat has already climbed to 220 km/h before those 390-mm, six-piston front and 330-mm, four-piston rear Brembos have to do any work. No worries though as they are capable of stopping the car from 97 km/h in 33.2 metres (109 feet) according to independent tests. Despite constant and heavy abuse from several drivers, the brakes fared particularly well and managed to resist warping and fade for the better part of the day. The standard six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual (carried over with enhancements) more than holds its own paired with a twin-disc clutch. An eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission with paddle shifters is also available on SRT models (the “392” has a naturally-aspirated 6.4-litre Hemi V8 producing 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft). Hydraulic power-assisted steering (not available on the 392) empowers the driver with great feedback and control. And thanks to its performance-tuned asymmetric limited slip differential, the Hellcat pulls a full G in most corners. It is predictable when getting back onto the throttle to attack the front and back straights, and it goes from 80 to 200 km/h in about 12 seconds, according to the AiM Smarty Cam logger I had hooked up – my fastest recorded lap is 1:34.67, but there’s no reason I couldn’t shave five or more seconds with some practice. Did I mention the SRT Hellcat is fast as hell? Well, it is, and it does 0-100 km/h in roughly 3.8 seconds with a top speed of 328.3 km/h (204 mph). In experienced hands, it is capable of big, long smoky burnouts that would make even the most seasoned track marshals / officials blush. The National Hot Road Association (NHRA) has certified the Hellcat’s quarter-mile capabilities on both street legal drag radials and on the Pirelli P Zero production tires: 10.8 seconds at 202.8 km/h (126 mph) and 11.2 at 201.2 km/h (125 mph), respectively. The built-in SRT Performance Pages app estimates my best effort on the PIR dragstrip at 12.1 seconds and 186.7 km/h (116 mph), and that is using the launch control feature. Sixty-four-thousand is not too much for Dodge to ask for the SRT Hellcat. It might just be too little, actually. It doesn’t drive like a tank anymore and the cockpit has been improved in spades. It is worth every dollar, and if having the ultimate performance muscle car is your thing, there are few cars with horsepower-to-dollar ratios as good as this.  ESSENTIALS
2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat
Base Price: $63,995
Engine: 6.2L supercharged Hemi V8
Horsepower: 707 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 4,0000 rpm
Dry Weight: 1,795 kg
Configuration: FR
Transmission: 6-speed manualTires: Pirelli P Zero (275/35 R19 front, 255/30 R19 rear)Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy.): TBA L/100 km
Warranty (mos / km): 36 / 60,000
Frankly, if someone had asked me prior to the launch event for the 2015 Acura TLX to explain what a Red Carpet Athlete is, I probably would have only been able to muster a blank stare. It would not have registered anything in my mind at all. Nothing. Well, now that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to sample the TLX, I know that the moniker is Acura’s definition of its all-new mid-size: a sedan that delivers dynamic design, a premium feel and the synergy of man and machine that offers spirited performance that is at the will of the driver. It sounds impressive (and a bit cumbersome), but I’m not entirely sure it fits, as I’ll explain later. At any rate, for those who may not be aware of the goings on within Honda’s luxury brand, the TLX is replacing both the TSX and the TL within the Acura lineup. It’s a two-for-one swap, and the stakes are high. While sales of the brand’s SUVs have remained healthy in Canada, the same cannot be said on the car side where things have been trending downward for some time. Through August 31, sales of the TSX and TL are down 58.9 and 14.9 percent respectively from 2013, and even the compact ILX, introduced in late 2012 as a 2013 model, has sold 20.2 percent fewer units. Overall, Acura Canada sales have decreased by 5.6 percent for the year through August 31. Given these trends, Acura hopes the TLX will not only to succeed in its segment, but it will also serve as a key plank in an effort to revitalize the brand in general. Achieving such lofty goals will be a tall order, as the segment Acura intends to compete in with the TLX is crowded with impressive entries, including the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series and the Infiniti Q50.DESIGN From a size standpoint the TLX slots in between the former TSX and TL, but rides on the same wheelbase as the latter. Acura wanted to create a greater size differential between the TLX and the larger RLX, hence the decision to shrink the former’s dimensions (i.e. lower roofline, shorter front and rear overhangs). Made of 68 per cent high-strength materials, the TLX has 21 per cent greater torsional stiffness than the outgoing TL, and 25 per cent greater mount rigidity, which contributes to reduced engine vibration noise. In terms of aesthetics, the TLX carries the Acura family resemblance; prominent (though less ugly) front aluminum grille, jewel-eye LED headlights (LEDs are used liberally on this car, including the taillights, fog lights and license plate area) wrapped in handsome, though not terribly exciting, sheet metal. Overall, it’s a look that brand devotees will likely approve of even if the rest of us (like yours truly) were hoping for something a bit more adventurous. The feeling of familiarity carries over into the cabin of the TLX where logic and simple elegance prevail. The materials aren’t the most expensive, but there are enough soft-touch plastics, exposed stitching and metal-plated trim bits to remind you that you are indeed driving an Acura. The power leather-appointed seats are comfortable and offer good support, while the analog instrument cluster and twin screens governing the infotainment system, navigation and climate controls look pretty and are easy to use. And – hallelujah! – the centre stack also features glove-friendly, redundant hard switches for frequently used climate controls. While the look and feel of the TLX feels more like an evolution than a major sea change, the same cannot be said under the skin. There’s much new here. First up: powertrains. The TLX is powered by two new engines and transmissions that are available in three basic configurations; the entry level car is front driver powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that generates 206 horsepower and 182 lb-ft torque and is mated to an eight-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic with a torque converter. The V6-powered cars (front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive) feature a 3.5-litre powerplant that pumps out 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque through a nine-speed automatic. On the handling front, all TLXs ride on a front MacPherson strut / rear multi-link suspension. A next-gen version of Acura’s familiar Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is available on the V6 model. This unit features a redesigned rear differential that is smaller, lighter and saves trunk space over the version featured in the TL. The other two models (the four-cylinder and FWD V6) come with two technologies that work in conjunction; Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) and Agile Handling Assist (AHA). P-AWS turns the rear wheels to help the car rotate through corners. At low to medium speeds the rears will turn in the opposite direction of the fronts, and at higher speeds they turn in the same direction. AHA, as the name suggests, improves agility at low speeds and at mid-high speeds it will cause the rear wheels to ‘toe in’ (or turn in) slightly to help the TLX’s cornering abilityIMPRESSIONS On the road, all three TLXs acquit themselves quite well on the smooth and undulating roads of Northern Virginia and neighbouring West Virginia and, true to Acura’s positioning of the TLX as three cars in one, each one feels different from the other. The four-cylinder is the most engaging and fun to drive, thanks in larger measure to better steering feedback, a rev-happy engine and the quick-shifting eight-speed DCT. The torque converter provides plenty of hustle off the line, especially when the driving mode is set to Sport-plus (Eco, Normal and Sport are the other driving modes that are standard issue on all TLXs). The two V6 models offer more power and a slightly quieter interior, but they’re not as fun to drive. Sure, spirited driving is possible thanks to the available driving modes and paddle shifters, but the steering lacks the sharp road feel of the four-cylinder model. Both make for nice highway cruisers, however, and like the base TLX, they have excellent brakes. CONCLUSION Replacing two models with one is tricky business to say the least, but with the TLX it appears Acura at least has a fighting chance to succeed in the crowded and ultra-competitive mid-level luxury segment. That said, despite the snappy driving dynamics of the four-cylinder model, impressive amounts of new technology across the entire lineup and a good value-for-money proposition, the TLX doesn’t quicken the pulse quite like Acura intends. The styling is a bit vanilla, the performance (especially with the V6 models) is a bit too ordinary and the interior, while very good, can’t match the best on offer from the competition. Bottom line, the TLX is better than the cars it replaces, but it’s much more evolutionary than revolutionary. Given the way in which Acura’s sales numbers have been trending now might have been the perfect time to really shake the brand up with an entry that really departs from the tried and true and excites the car buying public. Instead, they’ve created what is sure to be a competent performer that hews pretty closely to the well-travelled ground the brand has been on for the past several years. Only time will tell if it was the right choice.   SPECIFICATIONSPRICE RANGE: $37,164 – $49,664
ENGINE: 2.4L 4 cyl. / 3.5L V6
HORESEPOWER / TORQUE: 206 hp / 182 lb-ft (4-cyl.); 290 hp / 267 lb-ft (V6)
DRY WEIGHT: 1,580 kg (4-cyl.) / 1,631 kg (V6)CONFIGURATION: FF
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed DCT (4-cyl.) / 9-speed automatic (V6)
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 km, city / hwy / combined): 9.6 / 6.6 / 8.3 (4 cyl.); 11.2 / 6.9 / 9.2 (V6)
WARRANTY: 4 years / 80,000 km
The LFA Supercar is one heck of a car that, for a few short years, fulfilled its duty as the pinnacle of Lexus high-performance. Well out of the price range for most new car buyers, I would have given my left testicle – kidney at least – just to drive it for a few minutes, but it never materialized.The RC series is the new, aggressive face of Lexus, and the RC F succeeds the LFA as the automaker’s halo product. More importantly, perhaps, company president and CEO Akio Toyoda believes that performance, not just luxury, will be the company’s guiding light for future product, and critical to the success of Lexus as a global luxury and performance brand. Building on the higher-volume RC 350 and RC 350 F Sport rear-wheel-drive coupes, the RC F is a true high-performance luxury coupe that is lower, wider and longer than its cousins. Lexus Canada says it will account for 10 percent of all RC sales in the first year. The goal is 1,000 units. From a design and engineering standpoint, Lexus wanted a platform that makes a statement at first sight – one that would stand up to badges such as AMG, M and RS. Using a GS section in the front for wide wheels, an IS C centre section for rigidity, IS rear section for a short rear overhang and GS suspension, bushings and other enhancements, the GS/IS underpinnings ensure the RC series is a sporty, aggressive and fun-to-drive platform. An all-wheel-drive version will also be available; and the RC 350 F Sport (RWD only) does have rear-wheel steering that adds up to two degrees of steering angle. It wasn’t at the launch event, but the RC F is already pretty impressive without it. “It is designed for anybody to drive,” says Yukihiko Yaguchi, the car’s Chief Engineer. Yaguchi-san has been with Toyota and Lexus since 1977; and has been responsible for many key Lexus vehicles, including the original GS 400 and IS F. The “F” in all this madness refers to the Fuji Speedway, which is where this car has been developed and refined just like its IS F and LFA predecessors. Of course, the Nürburgring Nordschleife was also important for benchmarking the RC F. As the new flagship for Lexus, expect to see a lot of the RC F on TV, the Internet and in print. And, much like other performance flagships – the Acura NSX, Chevrolet Corvette, Dodge Viper, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage, for example – expect to see raced-out versions of it competing around the world, too. There are already six teams competing in Japan’s exciting Super GT Championship with a pair of RC Fs narrowly leading the eight-race 2014 championship over two GT-Rs and an NSX-GT with one race remaining. To date, four of the GT500-class victories belong to teams running the new RC F race car; and the 540-horsepower RC F GT Concept shown at the Geneva Motor Show last spring will soon provide even more customers factory support from Toyota/Lexus and its subsidiaries for other series’ worldwide in 2015. For the everyday buyer, Lexus makes three key promises about the RC F: first is that it provides a feeling of limitless power; second, that it’s incredibly responsive; and, third, it comes with a visceral sound experience.And it does deliver. Helping on that latter promise is the newly-developed five-litre V8, which mates with an eight-speed direct shift automatic that sends 467 horsepower and 389 lb-ft of torque through either a Torsen rear limited slip differential or torque vectoring differential (TVD). The latter is optional, and found on the RC F Performance Package model (for an extra $7,400) along with upgraded 19-inch alloy wheels, a carbon fibre roof, spoiler and trim that’s good for 6.6 kg in total weight reduction. As for the base RC F, the list of standard features and technologies on the $80,800 coupe is hardly basic – the car already comes with a uniquely-tuned suspension benchmarked on the Fuji Speedway, big Brembo brakes, 19-inch wheels with performance tires and a speed-activated rear spoiler. In either configuration, the howling V8 sounds amazing, thanks to quad tailpipes inspired by the LFA supercar and active sound control technology on the intake side. The electronic, power-assisted, sport-tuned steering is quite amazing and provides precise feedback; the heated, leather-wrapped wheel with paddle shifters is the perfect size and has good weight to it. It’s even better on the racetrack where all the other elements come together to maximize driving fun. The transmission boasts sequential operation and several driving modes, including M (or manual), Sport, Sport S+, as well as normal. Gear changes happen in a tenth of a second in M mode (using the paddles or the tiptronic shifter), while the Lexus G-AI shift control logic uses on-board G sensors to increase dynamic performance in the sport modes under high-load situations such as track days.Furthermore, the engine and transmission cooling systems have been designed to increase track day suitability; and, the RC F is the world’s first vehicle available with a TVD, which electronically optimizes torque distribution to each rear wheel, regardless of throttle position. Unlike the standard Torsen diff, but similar to the driving modes, the TVD can be set to normal, slalom, track and expert modes, allowing the driver to fine-tune the vehicle dynamics integrated management (VDIM) system for the conditions. On the track, the TVD makes the car noticeably more predictable than the Torsen-equipped car, so it is certainly worth the extra money. The RC F’s lack of a manual transmission may be considered an annoyance, however, the automatic is surprisingly good, impressing during the road test as well the 22-turn, 6.6-kilometre Monticello Motor Club road course where Lexus has been letting journalists flog on it for an entire week. The Brembo brakes provide good initial bite and resist fade well, but are showing signs of abuse from hard track use by my peers throughout the week. The multi-coloured, adaptive instrumentation is inspired by the LFA and avionics, and adds all sorts of goodies like a digital stopwatch and lap timers, G-force and torque distribution meters and more. The standard seven-inch VGA centre multi-display makes it easy to interface with the vehicle, although it is set quite far back and low into the dash that it will be difficult for some to see the entire screen. The remote touchpad interface is extremely sensitive, but does get easier to control the more your fingers get used to it. The RC F-specific seats are comfy and supportive for cruising or spirited driving, whether in the heat of summer or throes of winter. A host of comfort and convenience technologies, including a new climate control system and 17-speaker Mark Levinson Clari-Fi audio system, combine to make the interior a wonderful place to spend time. Standard safety features on the car include a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, pre-collision, eight SRS airbags and more. The 2015 RC F is undoubtedly the best Lexus I have ever driven. It’s miles better than the original 2007 IS F sedan, and its light years ahead of the original Spectra Mica Blue 1998 GS400 sedan my friend loaned me while I was in town after the New York auto show last April. Whereas the latter feels like you’re rolling around town on a big, purple, puffy couch, the RC F is a proper GT car with a bright future on the road and in racing circles. So bright, in fact, that Lexus had to make it available in Solar Flare Orange so that all will see it coming. It’s amazing to see how far Lexus has come in its 16 years. That said, with its spiritual links to Toyota and the automaker’s performance and racing heritage, there is one key entry on the list of halo cars I mentioned near the top that I am bubbling over with anticipation to have come back into production. And that’s the next generation Toyota Supra, which I believe Toyoda-san and company have been hiding in plain sight in the form of the Toyota FT-1 Concept since its unveiling at last year’s Detroit auto show. It is only a matter of time before the elite assassin returns from its exile (now 13 years and counting), as this Future Toyota (hence FT) is already available to test drive virtually in Gran Turismo 6 on the Sony PlayStation. I will be completely shocked and utterly disappointed if that doesn’t happen by 2017, but the RC F will certainly help tide people over until that does happen. A wise Yoda once said: “Always two there are. A master and an apprentice.” But which one is the apprentice. ESSENTIALS2015 Lexus RC FBase Price: $80,800Engine: 5.0L V8Horsepower: 467 hpTorque: 389 lb-ftDry Weight: 1,795 kgConfiguration: FRTransmission: 8-speed automaticTires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport (275/35 R19 front, 255/30 R19 rear)Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy. / comb.): 15.2 / 9.5 / 12.6 L/100 kmWarranty (mos / km): 36 / unlimited By the Numbers$173.20/hp (base MSRP)93.4 hp/L (engine displacement)293.4 hp/ton (horsepower to weight)12.6 L 100/km (combined rating) Notable options: Performance package ($7,400) – Torque Vectoring Differential, 19-in. forged wheels, carbon fibre trim, carbon fibre roof, carbon fibre spoiler.
Ford’s 2015 Mustang is arguably the most anticipated car to launch in 2014. Up against steep competition with the likes of BMW’s M3 and M4, Dodge’s Hellcat, the Camaro Z/28 and even Jaguar’s F-Type R Coupe, the Mustang is boldly claiming its position in the fight for car of the year.Rumours had been flying since the announcement of the redesigned 2015 in regards to the new pony car’s technological packages and trim offerings. But the major anticipation surrounded Ford’s inclusion of the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine, and the monumental move away from the solid rear axle that had graced (and compromised) the Mustang since the beginning, in favour of a completely independent suspension in the front and rear. Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak had the unenviable task of taking what had been a chief stablemate among America’s best, and reimagining it to line up on the global stage where it could play the part of multiple characters. But how would these changes affect the personality of Ford’s most prized possession? Would they detract from the experience of what makes the Mustang unique? There were some bold decisions to make in the car’s golden anniversary, but the time had finally come to start a new chapter.Setting the stage for the Mustang’s 50th anniversary launch program, Ford could not have chosen a more appropriate location in Los Angeles and the surrounding area of Mulholland Drive. The technical, mountainous roads have graced the silver screen countless times, and the postcard views of Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway are the perfect stage to embody all that the Mustang represents.From the outset, it’s easy to see the variations this current model has over its predecessors. Height has been reduced by an inch-and-a-half and the body is wider by the same margin, with a significantly wider, staggered track patch in the front and rear. It loses 14 or 29 kg, respectively, depending on whether it’s equipped with the manual or automatic transmission. The strengthened approach in the front end is highlighted by a larger, more exposed fascia that’s accented by triple LED bars inside each of the HID headlamp housings – hearkening to the Mustang’s triple taillamp configuration and subtly hinting that this Mustang is a technological leap ahead of its previous self. Aerodynamics have been thoroughly revised, and the EcoBoost version gets active grille shutters. The fastback rear is undoubtedly curvier and more modern and, while longer than its predecessors, still completes the unquestionable silhouette of the fabled Ford. Our GT tester appears to come straight out of a time-warped version of Bullitt, dressed in Guard Green, though with a slightly more silver tinge than the ’68 Fastback driven by Steve McQueen. Complete with the optional performance package, the 19-inch black wheels and hulking six-piston Brembo front brakes further separate the modern car from its famous counterpart. Instead of McQueen’s Persols, I’m sporting a pair of Wayfarers, but hey, it’s close enough to live out the fantasy.The modern renovations carry onward to the cabin where it’s clearly Mustang and clearly refined. Ford's efforts in caring for the interior feel of the car have become increasingly evident over the past few years, and this time in the Mustang, not a single stone is left unturned. Materials and textures have all been considered; everything has a tact, quality feel that doesn’t go unnoticed. The stitched leather trim and machined aluminum panels give a perfect balance of boldness, sport and class. It’s also evident in the instrumentation. For the first time, the entire Mustang lineup is push start in both automatic and manual transmissions. Standard on our Premium GT model and the Premium EcoBoost, the driver and front passenger are treated to heated and cooled seats. Infotainment is controlled using Ford’s SYNC system from an eight-inch, full-colour touchscreen with a complementary two-inch display in the main instrument cluster for easy viewing when toggling adjustments on the console or steering wheel. We had some issues with navigation inputs - not finding locations, specifically - although it's something that can surely be sorted with a quick update. But it’s four shiny toggle switches beside the ignition button that catch your attention and pique your curiosity when sitting in any version of the new Mustang for the first time. Furthest left is the hazard indicator. Nothing big. Right of that is a toggle to turn traction control on and off. That’s getting somewhere. Beside that sits a switch with a steering wheel. This little addition makes use of the new electronic steering modes that actually allow drivers to adjust the stiffness and input/reactivity level in any given driving situation. You can set it up for comfort, normal and sport. It’s great for adjusting between city and highway driving. But climbing through the Hollywood Hills and into driving nirvana, you can guess what mode we leave it in.To match the steering settings, the final and most important toggle says “MODE.” As Captain Obvious might suggest, this changes between the three available modes and adjusts throttle input and suspension dampening accordingly. With upgraded springs on Premium 2.3- and 5.0-litre models, those settings become much more magical. Suffice to say, the engineers at Ford know what they are doing when it comes to the interior design. Next to the BMW M4, this is the only other car that I have driven this year that has (and even more so) figured out proper seating height. At 6’1”, it feels as comfortable and adjustable as I could’ve asked, and it’s the only vehicle that doesn’t require me to make sacrifices in one area or another to get seated properly and comfortably. From $20,000 to $220,000 cars, that’s a big nod to Ford. Perhaps the optional $1,800 Recaro sport seats also have something to do with it.The revised V8 carries that instant growl on startup, patiently waiting until the right moment to let loose. Compared to last year, this pony outputs 15 more horsepower and 10 lb-ft more torque for an incredible power-to-weight ratio of 3.85 kg per horsepower. It’s also the first time across the range that, no matter which engine you choose, you have no less than 300 horses at your disposal - V8, V6 or inline-four. The horsepower-per-dollar ratio is equally as impressive.Upon takeoff, the Mustang’s clutch actuation feels near perfect. Input and engagement are well-weighted and appropriate for everyday driving, while still matching the potential of each of the 5.0’s 435 horses. The performance package also aids in the sport character this modern pony car possesses, swapping the GT’s standard 3.31:1 gear set for a 3.73 for even greater engine response, driven through a Torsen differential. Driving enthusiasts, rejoice! The fact is, this latest Mustang is all about putting power exactly where it should be: on the ground. Even without the performance package and LSD, the all-new suspension gives the car an added level of confidence that translates directly to the driver. Having driven my share of ’Stangs over the years, including a 1970 Boss 302, 1988 5.0 LX, a 2013 California Special and my own 1996 GT, the 2015 treads on completely new ground in its handling and stability, which should be evident to even the least discerning driver.In the front, engineers have constructed a new double-ball joint strut suspension and thicker stabilizer bar that helps point the car directly and effectively, while helping trim out vehicle pitch and roll for excellent communication with the new electronic steering package.But starting our test drive going uphill into the open California roads? That is one heck of a way to start off a test in the newest and most trimmed-out pony. I couldn’t think of a better way to shake out a brand new rear end than climbing through the winding terrain, waiting for the off chance that we get a nice tank slapper.I loved my ’96 GT when I had it. I hadn’t done too much to it, but when I originally bought it off a police officer in 2003, it had never been in the rain. It was ECU flashed to Cobra-spec, ran a MagnaFlow performance cat-back, CAI, Eibach sport springs and Cobra wheels. It wasn’t much, but it was definitely fun to drive.Whenever I drove that car, the solid rear axle would kick out, jump, pull – basically whatever it wanted, it could do. It took a bit of finessing to learn off the start, but it was a blast once I figured it out. Most of the time, I understand the call for an independent rear setup, but wow, that live rear was a ton of fun.In any case, the new Mustang has moved on from said primitive technologies in favour of the independent rear. But somehow, it hasn’t taken away from that Mustang experience. In older models, to rush the car you have to get it balanced, dig the rear into the ground, ease into the gas and work out of a turn. With the 2015, you’re definitely not required to do that, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded in spades.Weight distribution has been optimized 53/47, front to rear (52/48 with the lighter EcoBoost engine), and increased chassis rigidity provides 28 percent more torsional stiffness than the 2014 (15 on convertible), and it's noticeable.From the driver’s seat, everything seems calm and composed and just how it should be. The car is being hustled and it’s responding. I’m able to lay my tires exactly where I want at speed and, when there’s a need for an extra stab at the throttle, it stays were I want and holds on just enough to remind me it should still be respected. After all, with the performance package, the 2015 GT is essentially better than the company’s latest Boss 302. "We already set a very high standard for Mustang driving dynamics with the 2012 Mustang Boss 302, and our goal was to go above and beyond that with the performance pack on this new car,” says Pericak. “We added a lot of content to the new Mustang in order to hit our performance targets and meet today’s customer expectations.” “From day one, we knew that if we were going to build a new Mustang, we had to do it right,” he adds. “We built a new Mustang from the ground up that is quicker, better-looking, more refined and more efficient, without losing any of the raw appeal that people have associated with Mustang for half-a-century.”At a time when cars are becoming tech-savvy and ultra modern, the Mustang lets its performance do all the talking. It shares the same grocery list of safety and infotainment options as its top performance luxury competitors, with double the airbags, traffic safety alerts and adaptive cruise, but when you look at it – when you get inside – none of that matters, because you realize you’re in the best Mustang and, arguably, the best pony car, of all time. 2015 Ford Mustang GTBase Price: $36,999 (Base GT)Price as Tested (before taxes): $42,499 (GT Premium) w/ GT Performance Package (+$3,700)Engine: 5.0L Ti-VCT V8Horsepower/Torque: 435 hp @ 6,500 rpm / 400 lb-ft @ 6,500 rpmConfiguration: FR w/ LSDTransmission: 6-speed manual w/ hill start assist / 6-speed paddle shift automaticCurb Weight: 1,680 kg (3,705 lb.)Fuel Economy Ratings (city/hwy./comb.): 14.7 / 9.4 / 12.4 L/100 kmWarranty: 5 years / 100,000 kmOptions on Test Vehicle: GT Premium Package w/ equipment group 401A (standard features +$2,000 – Shaker Pro audio system, memory mirrors and driver seat, blind-spot and cross-traffic indicators), Performance Package (strut tower brace, large radiator, unique chassis tuning, upsized front/rear swar bars, heavy-duty front springs, gauge pack (oil pressure & vacuum), K-brace, Brembo 6-piston front brake calipers & larger rotors, Ebony black aluminum wheels (19x9 front, 19x9.5 rear), Summer-only tires (255/40R19 front, 275/40R19 rear), unique stability control, EPAS & ABS tuning, 3.73 Torsen rear axle, engine turned aluminum panel appliques, spoiler not included), adaptive cruise control ($1,600), Recaro sport leather seats ($1,800).
Right now, Formula 1 teams are toiling away building new cars for the 2015 season that gets underway in Australia on March 15. Just like 2014, there will be plenty of intrigue and drama, including three burning topics: radio bans, the re-surging Williams team and teenage driver Max Verstappen. Radio Restrictions At the Singapore Grand Prix last September, the FIA announced it would strictly enforce the regulation: “The driver must drive the car alone and unaided.” As such, the FIA forbade a wide range of radio communications from the pits to the driver that would improve the performance of the car or the driver. After tense discussions with the teams, however, the FIA backed off. While it still restricted driver aid-related radio messages, it did permit some car-related messages for the balance of the 2014 season. This was a case of the FIA making a sweeping rule change without realizing the full implications. Quite simply, the 2014 cars are very complicated things. With a brand-new power unit and things such as energy levels in the batteries, or fuel consumption, they need to be monitored by the engineers who can then inform the drivers. There would have been times when drivers would not have been able to finish races without this vital information. As for the driver coaching side of things, many of the drivers said they didn’t care, but they welcomed the changes because they could now prove their skills. Secretly however, some are dreading the changes, like one driver who frequently asks if he is in the right gear for a particular corner. So while the FIA relaxed its radio rules for the rest of 2014, the teams will be very restricted in the amount of technical information they can deliver to their drivers in 2015. The idea is to make the drivers’ job more difficult by forbidding, for example (as fans often heard on TV last year), chatter from the Mercedes pit informing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg where one driver is gaining or losing speed on the track compared to the other. Some of the drivers had to go back to school during the off-season to learn things that have been fed to them by radio communication in the past. Among the messages now banned: telling the driver how to manage his tires, race pace, fuel consumption use and/or engine settings. “We will have to go to the bigger (steering wheel) dashboard in 2015 as that can display more information, and perhaps in terms of what we can send to the dashboard,” notes Williams Head of Vehicle Performance, Rob Smedley. “We are going to have to get heavily into driver training, not only in the simulator but in winter testing as well. The way that we operate on the pit wall will have to change as well.” Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo believes the drivers will adapt. “Go-karting was great,” he says. “Just by ourselves, the steering wheel and the pedals and that was it. It was probably more peaceful. As you grow up through the formulas, you start with radios, it is the first thing, and then you get more, and buttons, and this and that. You get used to it and adapt to it. Regarding the radio ban, it will be fine. If there is a bit more on us, then so be it. We will adapt.” In the past, if a driver was told his teammate was going five km/h faster in a corner, then he did not have to explore the limits himself because he knew the car could do it. It certainly is going to be more difficult now to extract all the speed out of the cars, but the cream always rises to the top. Resurgent Williams After scoring a paltry total of just five points in 2013, Williams made a huge step in 2014 when it consistently earned points and battled with Ferrari for third place in the constructors’ championship. Can Williams make similar progress from 2014 to 2015?“It gets harder,” concedes Williams’ Chief Technical Officer, Pat Symonds. “The jump from ninth to third or fourth in the constructors’ championship is a very difficult one, but the jump from third or fourth to first is probably twice as difficult. What I want to do is not think too much of 2015 at the moment, but of 2016. I am very ambitious for 2016 – I want that 2015 to be a good dress rehearsal for 2016.” What are The Team Plan's for 2016? “We have to be in a position to challenge for the championship,” Symonds answers. “People ask us what are your targets? Of course your targets are to win the championship, that’s everyone’s target, but it is not realistic. What is a real target for 2016, if we win the championship or not, to be able to say: ‘Yeah we fought for it.’”McLaren and Ferrari were not up to their usual standards in 2014. If they can get their acts together during the off-season with a new engine package and driver lineup, then Williams will face much stiffer competition in 2015. Then again, Williams is a much stronger team than it has been in years. Age is Just a Number Max Verstappen will make history at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix when, at age 17, he will become the youngest-ever driver to start a Formula 1 race. He will obliterate the mark set by Jaime Alguesuari, who made his debut at age 19 years and 125 days.Alguesuari’s Formula 1 career fizzled out after just two-and-a-half seasons. On the other hand, Sebastian Vettel was 19 years and 350-days-old when he started his first Grand Prix. He amassed four consecutive world championships by just 26 years of age.Each of these three drivers are products of Red Bull’s Young Driver Program, which will ruthlessly drop drivers it does not believe have the talent to advance. Verstappen will drive for Red Bull’s junior team Toro Rosso, just like Vettel and Alguesuari did.Verstappen, son of ex-F1 driver Jos Verstappen, is remarkably mature and immensely talented.“I’m just calm,” he says of the upcoming F1 season. “The only thing you can do is your best. If you don’t have the talent you won’t get here. The age does not matter.”Kimi Raikkonen was in a similar position when he jumped from karting to Formula 1 in 2001 after just 23 races in formula cars. Ignition asked him if it was better to learn on the job in Formula 1, or if would it have been better to spend another year in a junior series? At the time, Raikkonen had offers to race for Sauber in Formula 1 or in the Japanese F3 series.“It was not very hard to choose between those two,” he said. “You take a chance because it might be the only chance you get to go to F1. I did pretty well out of it. I don’t think it would have made me any more ready for F1 to have done another year of some other series. Luckily, I had one year of Formula Renault with the wings so it helped a bit.”Fernando Alonso, when asked by Ignition about young drivers getting into Formula 1, summed it up nicely. “Sometimes you’re ready for Formula 1 [at age] 17,” he says. “Sometimes only when you’re 29, and sometimes you’re never ready!”Will Verstappen succeed? Only time will tell.
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