This is our “Future” issue, so naturally, the question on most of our minds is, ‘What’s next?’ The ebb and flow of the automotive industry is a reflection of what’s happening with the technology ...
 
 
By now, you surely know that using your phone while driving is very frowned upon. If you’re spotted by the police using a hand-held device while driving you can find yourself heading home with a ...
 
 
I’m in the heart of Kohler country to test drive the new 2015 BMW M3 (F80) and M4 (F82). The village of Kohler, Wisconsin has been chosen to launch these fraternal Bavarian beauties not because of ...
 
 
Originally created with the goal of winning the World Rally Championship, the Subaru WRX has been a popular enthusiast choice since its 1992 launch. A turbocharged version of the Subaru Impreza, ...
 
 
Following a pair of championships, including the inaugural title in 2007, and a second crown in 2009, Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Quebec has only run one more full season in the NASCAR Canadian ...
 
 
ACC held its first race of the season on May 23-25, which marked a very late start to the season in BC. Suffice to say, many racers were very eager to get back on track. The delay was a result of ...
 
 
MS has a growing Performance Rally segment with a performance rally and rally sprint events organized by the Bluenose Autosport Club.The Ledwidge Lookoff Rally is back for 2014 with more stages, ...
 
 
It’s been a fruitful several months since late summer last year when all the rumours were confirmed, that there was a serious effort underway to develop a new motorsport facility in the South ...
 
 
If you ever want to feel like you’re from the future, just roll through the city streets behind the wheel of a Cadillac ELR. Few press cars I have ever driven elicited as many stares and as much ...
 
 
Attending one of the world’s greatest endurance races is overwhelming, but taking in two of them over subsequent weekends is absolutely mind bending. While I’ve watched both the 24 Hours of Le Mans ...
 
This is our “Future” issue, so naturally, the question on most of our minds is, ‘What’s next?’ The ebb and flow of the automotive industry is a reflection of what’s happening with the technology sector (and vice versa). And as we’ve seen, the current state is filled with plenty of excitement... and bigger questions than ever before.What technologies could improve our experience and convenience? Will they ever make their way into our vehicles? Are self-driving cars really possible, or is the industry just caught up in hype?Ford Futurist Sheryl Connelly has the tough task of trying to find those answers. “My job is to look outside the automotive industry,” Connelly says. “I have this unusual title of ‘Futurist,’ which is a bit of an anomaly because I spend most of my time reminding people that no one can predict the future. We have a three-year lead-time to build a car. So the challenge is that anytime a designer or engineer sits down to design the next iteration or model year – whatever it is – they have to anticipate what the future is going to hold. Since we have no crystal ball, one of the things we can use are trends. We pull from social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas, and those are the five forces we think will shape the landscape.”It’s hard enough to predict what will happen in one year, but multiply that by three and take into account each of these five factors and the crystal ball appears pretty hazy all of a sudden. Still, there are ideas, physical concepts and existing technologies that can provide us with a starting point as to what the future of automotive tech may bring. Laser HeadlightsAudi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have taken the reigns on the difficult task of reinventing the light bulb. The result? Lasers. It’s difficult to get more advanced than that, but despite the incredible range and greater vision they provide, it seems North America isn’t jumping on the idea as quickly as Europe. The problem is, while the extended range is a huge positive, the threat of light refraction on windshields and through other (oncoming) light sources that could possibly ‘blind’ other drivers is keeping lawmakers here from amending legislation in their favour. Automakers, however, are doing their best to convince transportation ministries that their tech is safe for everyone on the road. Where the Autonomous Cars Live - The Big Kahuna, The Future of the Automobile and The Enthusiast’s Worst Enemy The good thing for us wheel turners and pedal pushers is, we’ll likely never experience a complete domination of self-driving cars on our streets – in our lifetime or beyond. Driving is a right of transport. But the likelihood of finding autonomous cars in downtown cores, dedicated highway lanes and suburbia in the next five to 10 years is getting closer to reality every day. There are already plenty of existing technologies that have helped create a foundation for self-driving cars, including park assist, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist – the promise of autonomy reducing accidents and helping traffic flow is too enticing to pass up. Past roadblocks preventing fully-automated cars on public roads (legalities and politics) have given way to real world testing in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China. Currently, California, Florida, Nevada and Michigan have all legalized road testing. Britain recently launched its own program, while municipalities in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy are also preparing for some sort of autonomous integration in core areas as well. Last December, Ontario’s Ministry of Transpiration became the first Canadian jurisdiction to develop a strategy for testing and autonomous legalization. A five-year pilot project would allow drivers to test self-driving cars in controlled conditions, under the condition that steering and pedal intervention are possible if the technology were to fail. California has played a key role – as it usually does in automotive tech – as the most progressive in autonomous vehicle implementation. In May, the state adopted testing regulations that allow road tests for autonomous vehicle manufacturers and third-party vehicle modifiers, effective September 16. The bill was issued by Gov. Edmund Brown at Google’s headquarters, which speaks volumes about the seriousness of the Internet giant’s autonomous intent. Selfie Concerns?But what happens if something goes wrong? In addition to politics and existing transportation legislation, autonomous cars pose a huge conundrum for insurance companies and liability. Currently, liability laws are fairly straightforward. But with the possibility with autonomous, or even semi-autonomous technology on the horizon, some major restructuring needs to be done. Should an accident occur, who would be responsible, the manufacturer or the driver? Does the fault lie with the system or the driver who engaged it improperly? What if it involves an autonomous car and a human-driven car? Or better, two autonomous cars? A number of jurisdictions and lawmakers are investigating these possibilities closely, and according to Reuters, Germany is considering the use of ‘black boxes,’ or data recorders, which opens another line of questions regarding cost and privacy. In the end, it will require some major paperwork on behalf of insurance companies and lawmakers around the globe. Going Digital Another key component to future tech is enabling connectivity, while still improving safety. “I think the new way we interact with a car is through these digital devices,” Connelly says. “They become an extension of us – by the music that we bring with us, the streaming – something that is more reflective of who we are and what our priorities are. “The problem is [offering that connectivity] when your hands are on the wheel, your eyes on the road and your mind on the drive.” In 2013, distracted driving accounted for 20 to 30% of all collisions and 2,406 deaths in Canada, according to Young Drivers of Canada. Undoubtedly, smartphones and electronic devices are a contributing factor. Although laws exist to discourage users from texting and browsing while driving, tomorrow’s vehicles will include more technology than ever before, placing the onus of safety on automakers like never before. And that perhaps, is their greatest argument in favour of self-driving vehicles. 
By now, you surely know that using your phone while driving is very frowned upon. If you’re spotted by the police using a hand-held device while driving you can find yourself heading home with a hefty fine, not to mention that driving distracted is a danger to yourself and everyone on the road.Bluetooth has been available in cars for quite a while now, but it doesn’t have as much functionality as some would like. Serving as a hands-free way to take calls and send messages is one thing, but what about navigation and entertainment from your playlists or favourite apps?Previously unveiled as “iOS in the Car” at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2013, Apple got people talking about the future of hands-free devices in the vehicle. Now, it has been formally released under the moniker “CarPlay” and it seems to have answered the prayers of tech-savvy commuters – namely those with iPhones. Apple’s CarPlay aims to work seamlessly with the iPhone to enable full functionality without distracting from the task at hand: driving. The new system works through a Lightning cable with an iPhone 5 (or newer), running at least iOS 7.1. CarPlay takes the place of the vehicle’s built-in display and can provide directions from Apple Maps, make calls, send and receive messages and, of course, play music from iTunes playlists. Using the already brilliant Siri AI system, Apple has developed voice control that is specifically designed for driving scenarios. Siri can be instructed to make calls, send texts, find places and open apps. The built-in CarPlay system will also utilize vehicle controls (knobs, buttons, touchscreens, etc.), along with re-imagined and approved apps. Podcasts, Beats Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Stitcher are among those currently available. You may have noticed that I said CarPlay takes the place of the “built-in” display. That’s because CarPlay is being rolled out as optional equipment on Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo vehicles this year, with the majority of manufacturers following suit in the future. That’s all well and good, but what about your existing daily driver? There’s good news on that front as well as the car audio aftermarket is not far behind the Apple wave. Pioneer has announced a firmware update for its five 2014 NEX in-dash multimedia receiver models (AVIC-8000NEX, AVIC-7000NEX, AVIC-6000NEX, AVIC 5000NEX and AVH-4000NEX). The update will bring CarPlay functionality to current and future Pioneer NEX multimedia LCD screens. “Pioneer’s years of expertise integrating smartphone connectivity into the automotive environment has provided us the opportunity to be among the first to offer CarPlay to drivers,” said Ted Cardenas, Vice President of Marketing for the Car Electronics Division of Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. “By providing an aftermarket option, Pioneer’s 2014 in-dash multimedia systems give many iPhone owners the ability to add CarPlay to their current vehicles.” The firmware update is all you need to get started, but there are also plans for fully-integrated CarPlay products from Pioneer. Alpine also announced a product that will launch at the end of 2014. Whether they are planning a firmware update similar to Pioneer or produce new CarPlay hardware is yet to be confirmed. The announcement of Apple and its system comes at a time when Android has dominated the in-car market. The truth is Android has been fully supported in the car in one way or another for quite some time now. It was actually Apple that had been left out. Aftermarket audio standbys like Sony, Kenwood, Clarion and JVC have released similar multimedia receivers that give the user control via smartphone apps. These devices enable navigation, selection of playlists, radio stations and select apps through a mounted touchscreen phone. The systems can also take calls and send and receive messages, but only support voice control for Android users, leaving Apple consumers to use Siri in place of a prioritized system. Not to be left out, Google has announced its counter to Apple’s CarPlay: Android Auto. Revealed at Google’s I/O 2014 conference, Android Auto aims to do exactly what CarPlay does, as well as support OEM manufacturers’ own apps, like vehicle diagnostics, roadside assistance and more. Android Auto will be offered for a wide range of vehicles that haven’t announced an Apple partnership, but it has been announced for those that have as well. Hyundai, Honda and Volvo are among the few that aim to share both of the tech giants’ in-car endeavors. Ideally, having this crossover will eliminate your vehicle choice based on which smartphone you happen to have. Both Android Auto and CarPlay have similar architecture, so manufacturers that support both Apple and Google are aiming to make the choice as easy as connecting whichever you would like to use. If you have an Android device, simply connect via MicroUSB; if you have an iPhone, it will require a Lightning cable. Whether you’re planning on buying a new car or a new head unit, the hands-free multimedia market is prepared for the next evolution of connectivity. There’s no doubt that additional automotive and audio manufacturers will jump on the CarPlay rocket as it takes off. If you’re a smartphone customer who is unsure about in-car connectivity, the future seems easier and brighter than ever.
I’m in the heart of Kohler country to test drive the new 2015 BMW M3 (F80) and M4 (F82). The village of Kohler, Wisconsin has been chosen to launch these fraternal Bavarian beauties not because of its great deals on bathroom faucets or kitchen sinks, but because everywhere you look you’d swear you’re smack dab in the middle of Bavaria, Germany. At least that’s what Ludwig Willisch, President and CEO of BMW North America, says to his guests during dinner at the Irish Barn at Whistling Straits. Willisch is the former head of BMW’s global motorsports and performance arm, M. Across the table from me is its head of engineering, Albert Biermann. Seated next to me is John Edwards, BMW Team RLL driver, and, in between him and the former, is his teammate, veteran road and endurance racing champion, Bill Auberlen. They all know a thing or two about what M really means, and by the time the main course comes out, I’m completely glutted. “Unless you got out of the wrong side of the bed, how could anyone not be happy to be here, spending a day on this historic track with the new M3 sedan and M4 coupe?!” Willisch hits the nail on the head with that opening in his media address the next morning in the paddock at Road America. Notwithstanding the Nürburgring and/or perhaps Ignition’s home track (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), there may not be a better place anywhere to get behind the wheel of M’s latest stalwarts. Sure, there are perfectly suitable race tracks in North America, Europe and elsewhere, but there is just something about this particular stretch of blacktop that makes it the perfect place. I haven’t driven a 3 Series since the E90 version came out, but I have driven the new 4 Series a ton since its launch, starting with the 435i xDrive coupe at AJAC’s annual TestFest event last fall. I drove it again – along with the rear-wheel-drive version – at Circuit iCar for my BMW Winter Driver Training in February. And, I got to drive a really sweet 435i xDrive M Performance Edition in greater Toronto traffic the week before going to Road America for my graduation. Each and every experience was better than the previous one; so, naturally, my first move upon completing the mandatory orientation laps, was to make a B-line straight for this Austin Yellow metallic M4, and have at it on the legendary 6.515-kilometre (4.084-mile) road course! Returning to the inline-six and with twin turbos for the first time, the F8X boasts two percent more power and 38 percent more torque that goes through either a six-speed manual gearbox or optional automatic seven-speed M double-clutch transmission (DCT) with Drivelogic. Its boosted 3.0L inline-six making 425 “upper Bavarian horses” and 406 lb-ft of torque from 1,850 to 5,500 rpm, the new M-tuned S55 engine is ready, willing and able to obey my right foot. I was only able to test the DCT though, which isn’t a bad thing as it comes by way of the amazing 1M Coupe and the final drive is based on the M5 and M6 models. It also features downshift rev-matching (the slick manual does too) that’s so well-tuned it’s practically imperceptible. The S55 must throw a punch above its class too because it delivers a nice kick in the pants every time I click the right paddle to upshift exiting the corners. Note the M1 and M2 buttons on the left side of the steering wheel – the M settings stored in M2 have throttle response, electronic damper control (EDC) and steering set to sport plus mode. DSC is in M dynamic mode (MDM), the transmission in S3 and the heads-up display in M-specific mode to provide the full M Performance effect. The M1 button is pre-programmed with settings for less experienced drivers. I really love this feature – an easy way to switch between dry and wet setups, or track and street setups, for example. The DCT is 12 kg (26.4 lbs) lighter than the outgoing (E92) gearbox, and is enhanced with a twin-plate clutch (third-gen) and improved synchronization. I’m only using the paddle shifters because, heck, this is Road America and I much prefer testing the brakes than missing a braking point and flying off the track at the end of one of its three long straightaways. BMW is wise to have equipped these cars with the optional (and pricey) 400/380 mm carbon ceramic M Performance brakes with six-piston front and four-piston rear fixed calipers. They’re seven kg (15.5 lbs) lighter, more quiet (at low speeds too), have great initial bite with nice pedal feel (a bit grabby on the street until you get used to them) and are more than capable of withstanding my humble track skills. The M3 and M4 have identical 0-100 km/h times – 4.1 seconds for the DCT and 4.3 seconds for the 6MT – and BMW claims the F8X is 15 seconds faster on Nürburgring than the E92 M3. While I can’t verify either claim, I can tell you these cars beg to be driven fast at a venue like this. They’re fast into corners and they’re fast coming out of corners, even going uphill under the Corvette bridge right before the 112-degree blind left-hander. And thanks to the electronically-controlled multi-plate LSD active M differential that can go from open to closed in 150 ms, and sensors that monitor driving conditions and style, wheel speed, engine torque and other parameters, the car replies with balanced handling and virtually no understeer. BMW’s holistic lightweight approach to design sees the use of carbon fibre on the M3 roof for the first time, an aluminum suspension, front fenders, hood and lightweight front and rear seats. At 1,601 kg (3,530 lbs), the M4 is five kg (11 lbs) lighter than the four-door – roughly the weight of the one-piece CFRP driveshaft. It’s also worth noting the M4 coupe is the first M car that is lighter than its predecessor – by ~81.65 kg (plus/minus 180 lbs) I’m told. The lightweight, rigid chassis further benefits from the one of the better electric steering racks out there (as far as performance cars go), and the 15:1 ratio provides a good balance of performance and comfort. Steering response is incredibly direct and precise for an electric assist, with good weight and solid feedback. Combined with meaty Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires shod with 255/40 and 255/40 ZR18 tires in the front and rear, these cars just eat Road America up – with or without the optional electronically-controlled dampers. The tires are very quiet and don’t wail in protest at every turn. You get all the bells and whistles inside the driver focused cockpit, and the seats are really comfy and supportive. Adjustable thigh support is missing, along with a cooling function for the seats, but everything else seems to be in order. One really cool new feature on these cars is the integration of the GoPro App into BMW’s ConnectedDrive system. Connect a Hero 3, control it through the iDrive system, choose from several preset shooing and camera modes, and use the live preview to make sure you’ve got it pointed in the right place to capture stunning video. For track days at places like this, it’s very handy. Both the M3 and M4 are truly enjoyable, well-balanced and predictable at the limit. And getting to drive them at Road America really allowed me to explore their potential in an environment many BMW M owners could call their second home. In the end, my fastest lap turned out to be a respectable 2:39.26 according to the GPS data our Aim Smartycam HD captured on one of my six, four-lap stints with the car. I didn’t have a separate datalogger connected so I don’t have any further numbers to crunch or theoretical fastest lap times to report, but shaving another four of five seconds doesn’t seem unrealistic. I reckon Auberlen would knock another five to 10 seconds off that, and that would put the F8X in with some impressive company.   Are the F80 BMW M3 and M4 the best M Performance cars BMW has ever sold? Perhaps. If I had to pick one, even as a family man, it would most definitely be the M4. Its look better, and feels slightly better balanced and quicker than the sedan. The M5 and M6 seem like overkill after driving these, but if you really must have the V8... go for it! And for a lot less money, you can get many of the same technologies on these M3 and M4. That said, start putting check marks into boxes next to the more expensive options and it isn’t long before the sticker starts pushing $100 grand. That said, the M Performance Edition 435i xDrive I tested would seem to be a perfectly suitable every day car with enough M panache to impress. Not saying the M3 or M4 aren’t impressive. That’s obviously not the case, but if track days aren’t things you think about when you’re not out at the track, then perhaps M Performance Edition is enough M for you. If you’re anything like us over here at Ignition though, then you’ll probably want the genuine article. It is pretty close to perfect. 2015 BMW M3 Sedan (F80) & M4 Coupe (F82)
Base Price: $74,000 / $75,000
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo inline-6
Horsepower / Torque: 425 hp / 406 lb-ft
Configuration: FR
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 7-speed DCT
Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy. / comb.): 13.7 / 9.0 / 11.6 (manual), 13.9 / 9.7 / 12.0 (auto) L/100 km
Warranty (mos / km): 48 / 80,000Notable options: M Double Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic ($3,900), M Carbon Ceramic Brakes ($8,500), adaptive M suspension ($900), metallic paint ($895), active LED headlights ($2,000)
Originally created with the goal of winning the World Rally Championship, the Subaru WRX has been a popular enthusiast choice since its 1992 launch. A turbocharged version of the Subaru Impreza, the WRC 555 took second in its 1993 WRC debut with Finn Ari Vatanen piloting on home soil. In 1995, Colin McRae hot-shoed the Prodrive-built 555 to his first WRC drivers’ championship. McRae was instrumental in helping Subaru secure three straight constructor titles from 1995 to 1997, and his rivalry with Mitsubishi factory driver Tommi Mäkinen is the stuff of legend. The road-going version, the first STI, came in 1992 as the WRX STi version 1, followed by several more revisions, including stripped-down “RA” versions for amateur rally enthusiasts, all the way up to 2000 before the redesigned second-gen “bug-eye” STi was launched. The 1998 WRX STi 22B is still regarded by many as the high water mark for the platform despite only 424 models being produced. As of last year, it became legal to import the 22B into Canada. Finding one, however, could take a lifetime. The WRX and STI were still largely foreign entities until the early 2000s, but had no trouble earning legendary status even though they were only sold in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. It wasn’t until 2001 that the bug-eyed WRX was finally brought over to the U.S. as a 2002 model year; two years after the WRX platform had been redesigned. The first USDM STi model appeared two years later, followed closely by the third-gen STi in 2005. North Americans were falling in love with the car even though it came with a 2.5L motor that couldn’t match the 2.0L screamer the rest of the world was used to. Still, the car sold well as the legend continued to grow. Subaru has openly said its WRC successes are responsible for increased sales of the Impreza WRX. So, when it announced it was pulling out of the sport entirely at the end of the 2008 season, things started to get interesting. Not only did the company’s motorsports focus shift away from rally entirely, but it did so just as Subaru introduced a new version of its flagship performance car in 2008. This too, signalled a new direction for the platform. The third generation WRX STI brought with it two body styles, and a new motorsports mandate. Having conquered the WRC, the focus shifted to dominating road courses and endurance races. In particular, the 24 Hours of Nürburgring is right in STI’s crosshairs. The WRX STI got longer, taller and more powerful thanks to a new two-litre turbocharged Boxer four making 304 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. In addition to the traditional sedan, the five-door STI hatchback makes it first appearance thanks, in part, to the lobbying and development efforts of Petter Solberg, who drove for the Subaru World Rally Team (SWRT) from 2000 to 2008. Solberg became the first Norwegian to win the driver’s championship in 2003 (his first and only). STI, of course, is short for Subaru Tecnica International, and the Nürburgring Nordschliefe has been an important proving ground for Subaru since the early ’90s, so entering a WRX STI into the 24-hour race in 2008 was more an evolution than a revolution. Entering the hatchback, however, may have been. The STI hatch was campaigned in the VLN endurance series from 2008 to 2010 with good results, but nothing big time. Tommi Mäkinen’s amazing seven-minute, 55-second lap in April 2010 driving a 2011MY four-door sedan is still the fastest ever for a production STI – check it out at www.youtu.be/2To_5XjIaMk – and just might be the bigger coup. It certainly helped tip the scales for STI, as it was the redesigned widebody four-door WRX STI that won the SP 3T class in 2011 and 2012. The team placed second in the 2013 24-hour race, and was not happy with the result. The team returned to the ring this past June to compete in the 42nd running of the race with its new racecar. After qualifying first in SP 3T, things were looking good for the race. Lady luck, however, threw in a flat tire and five-minute penalty for passing under a caution that could not be recovered from, and the team took the checkered flag fourth in class after running hard for more than 3,500 km on the most demanding of race courses anywhere. The 2013 model I drove last summer was a blast, and it manhandled everything I could throw at it – backroads covered in dirt and gravel, twisty and undulating cottage roads, major highways and even the hard-packed clay racing surface of the Brighton Speedway. (Check out our video here: www.prnmag.com/2013wrxstivideo). I was so impressed by it that I skipped right over the 2014 model, which is practically identical, and waited patiently for the 2015s to come out. Driving Impressions My chance to drive the 2015 WRX STI finally came during a Subaru Canada club event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park earlier this year. It wasn’t a full day of flat-out, white-knuckled lapping, but it was a great opportunity to get some seat time, feel out the changes and preview the new DDT. First is the steering. Wow! What an improvement! The hydraulic-assisted rack boasts an improved ratio (now 13:1 from 15:1), which translates into crisp, direct and responsive direction changes with excellent feedback. The play in the wheel is gone, and even the slightest feedback is felt through the smaller, meatier flat-bottom sport steering wheel. Dare I say it is better than the M3 or M4? Yes I do, and yes it is. The suspension and chassis have been stiffened too. Everything from the crossmembers, stabilizer bars, bushings and the addition of stiffening plates have had a big impact on performance. Front and rear spring rates are up by 22 and six percent respectively, which has improved the suspension’s lateral stiffness by 14% in the front and 38% in the rear. Roll stiffness is up 24%, and this is still just the suspension. The chassis itself is significantly stronger thanks to increased use of high-strength steels. Torsional rigidity and bending rigidity are both up approximately 40% and 30% respectively, and the new engine also sits lower and further back for better balance. Combined with a 24 mm longer wheelbase and active torque vectoring, the car handles like its on magnets. It is flatter through corners, to the tune of 16% less body roll, and boasts 0.97 Gs of road-holding ability. The fact the car now only comes in one body style might have something to do with it. No, it has everything to do with it. Not having a hatchback meant that engineering and development efforts didn’t have to be split down the middle. For 2015, the 2.5L FA-series engine has only minor changes. Namely a remapped ECU, new intercooler tank and a sound creator that pumps intake noise into the cabin during middle to high engine speed and acceleration. That ECU has been retuned for enhanced accelerator responsiveness and more precise control over boost pressure and other variables that affect the power band. As a result, SI-Drive delivers greatly improved throttle response in all three modes (I, S and S#). The multi-mode VDC system has three levels – on, traction mode (cancels VDS and TCS only) and off (VDS, TCS and torque vectoring are fully off) – to take advantage of the 290 lb-ft of torque vis a vis the STI’s symmetrical AWD system. Three differentials, including a Helical-type front LSD, rear Torsen LSD and a driver-controlled centre diff for ultimate control, are exclusive to the STI AWD system. Depending on the trim, the 2015 STI weighs between 1,527 kg and 1,564 kg. Available trims include the base, sport and sport tech. Any of them can run from 0-100 km/h under five seconds. There is no launch control function, however, it launches like a rocket when the revs are up above 6,000 rpm and TCS off. And from the eight-way adjustable heated leather/Alcantara seats, you can really feel that oomph! The Brembo high-performance brakes with 326 mm front and 316 mm rear ventilated discs, and four-piston front and two-piston rear calipers are rock-solid for road and light track use, but will require some upgrades in the form of pads, lines and fluid to fully exploit the new chassis. Likewise, the cockpit has been elevated to a level that rivals the German and Japanese alternatives out there, and yet remains functional for driving fast. Thinner A-pillars provide better visibility, while rich-looking appointments and details abound, including soft-touch materials for the dashboard, door trim and centre console armrest, have upped the refinement factor. A new multi-information display with 4.3-inch LCD screen provides a multitude of vehicle system functions, including a standard rear camera display, digital boost gauge, audio, Bluetooth and climate control settings as well as a VDC screen showing traction control operation. The 2015 WRX STI includes a long list of standard features. Dual-zone automatic climate control, dual-mode heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer are only the beginning. The new six-speaker AM/FM/CD standard audio system integrates Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod control capability, iTunes Tagging, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (subscription required), USB port and a 3.5 mm auxiliary audio input jack. Numerous compartments located in and around the centre console hold phones, USB drives and MP3 players. While all of its changes have made the 2015 WRX STI a real road course killer, it’s equally at home on regular roads where it will spend the majority of its time. My only complaint is the head unit. It is not user-friendly, hard to adjust and just seeing the screen is next to impossible if the sun is anywhere but directly in front of the car. Is it a deal breaker? Not at all, but it is a sore thumb on an otherwise fantastic package. The original STi was an all-out rally car built more for the street. Those capabilities still exist, but this latest version is much easier and more comfy to drive. Its more aggressive look isn’t for show either – it has the bite to back up its bark – and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of this thing because, of all the STI’s I’ve driven over the years (almost all of the North American generations), it is absolutely the best one yet. Without further ado, watch our companion video of the 2015 Subaru WRX STI from the Subaru Club Event online at www.prnmag.com/2015wrxstivideo. ESSENTIALS
2015 Subaru WRX STI
Base Price: $37,995
Engine: 2.5L 4-cyl. Boxer
Horsepower / Torque: 305 hp / 290 lb-ft
Configuration: FA
Transmission: 6-speed close-ratio manual
Fuel Economy Ratings (city / hwy.): 12.3 / 8.6 L/100 km
Warranty (mos / km): 36 /60,000
Following a pair of championships, including the inaugural title in 2007, and a second crown in 2009, Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Quebec has only run one more full season in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Racing Series since that 2009 trophy. After securing a car from the D.J.K. Racing stable and sponsorship from MOPAR Performance in 2014, Ranger will be taking another stab at his third championship.So far that attempt has been a roller coaster ride for the 27-year-old as he saw the 2014 season start off on the highest of highs, winning the pole at the season-opening event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. An unapproved adjustment would force him to start at the back, but he was quickly inside the top 10, and on his way to a podium finish before an electronic issue saw him plunge from a top-three run to a 21st place finish.It was more of the same during race number two, as late race contact knocked him out of a top-five spot with just a few laps to go, resulting in a 12th place finish at Autodrome Chaudière.“At that point, we just needed a break,” Ranger said. “We were running well and had a great car at both races, but just had some bad events happen.”Ranger was looking for something to turn the season around, and the therapy came in the form of Circuit ICAR – a track he was victorious at in 2012 and 2013 – while coming up two laps short in 2011 as he was involved in an accident while leading with a pair to go. At ICAR, Ranger dominated, taking the pole and leading the most laps en route to his third straight victory at the technical circuit. “It was great to get back into victory lane,” he explained. “Finally, at ICAR we were able to put everything together.” If win number one wasn’t enough for him, the following weekend Ranger went back to victory lane during the series’ inaugural visit to Edmonton International Raceway. This time he was the hunter late in the event as he passed Alex Tagliani with 35 laps to go in regulation before holding off Jason Hathaway in a green-white-checkered finish. With the victory, Ranger was also able to equal another milestone, as he tied D.J. Kennington for most career Canadian Tire Series wins with 19. This finish put Ranger right into the thick of the championship battle at the one-third mark of the season, moving him to third just 12 points behind J.R. Fitzpatrick and L.P. Doumoulin.Having come up through karting and open wheel circles quite successfully, Ranger’s appreciation of the full-bodied stock cars has come full-circle. “These cars are fun to drive. They are heavy, have a lot of horsepower, and there are a number of competitive teams.”And D.J.K. Racing is one of them. “I like the fact that it’s a two-year deal with a great company. I’ve raced against D.J. Kennington for years in Canada and in the Nationwide Series, and I know the cars that he prepares are fast,” said Ranger. “The series has a lot of races in Quebec now, and it’s great for our fans and sponsors.”In addition to his ventures north of the border, Ranger will continue to compete in the U.S. in 2014 with a part-time schedule behind the wheel for MDS Motorsports out of Vermont. Ranger explained, “It’s a great deal with them, because they are in Vermont, so it’s only 1.5 hours away from my house. With them I don’t have to bring money, I can just show up and concentrate on racing. They have a few different race cars and trucks, and a great sponsor with Waste Management, so they can pick and choose where we go to race. I’ve gotten some good exposure racing with them for the past few seasons. We’ve done about 15 races a year for the past four years in ARCA, K&N and Nationwide, and we have done well and won some races.” As far as full-time rides and the chance to hop into championship equipment, he continued, “Car owners know who I am, but I’m facing the same problem that D.J., Pete Shepherd and J.R. Fitzpatrick did, and that is money. In IndyCar when Alex Tagliani, Patrick Carpentier and Jacques Villeneuve were racing, they had Player’s money, but there are very few Canadian companies that would spend the amount of money it takes to be competitive in the U.S.” The question of whether Ranger can ever crack the line-up south of the boarder won’t be answered immediately. But one thing has become evident early in the 2014 season: the two-time champion hasn’t lost a step and should be in the thick of the title race as he looks to add a third NCATS championship trophy to his mantle.
ACC held its first race of the season on May 23-25, which marked a very late start to the season in BC. Suffice to say, many racers were very eager to get back on track. The delay was a result of much rain this spring, which delayed paving on the drag strip and parts of the road course at Mission Raceway Park. With the paving on the road course complete, it was time for a full weekend of racing. The weather created challenges during the weekend with rain on Friday; Saturday was a lot drier, but when Sunday rolled around the rain had returned. Friday was open for a practice day. Saturday’s schedule included the first novice practices and race as well as sessions for time attack. There were also races for open- and closed-wheel groups. The novice races are held for drivers who have completed a recognized driver training program. These drivers have to complete three novice races under observation. When they have completed these three races under the observation of the Novice Race Director they can be upgraded to a senior race licence. Once they have a senior race licence, they will be allowed to enter races on both the Saturday and Sunday. The novice grid was not that large as there had only been one driver training held at that point. There was good on-track action with the novices practicing the skills they had learned during driver training. Sunday had races for open wheel and closed wheel cars as well as sessions for vintage cars. The entry was strong in all groups with lots of on track action. The Vintage Racing Club of British Columbia (VRCBC) will be holding their annual British Columbia Historic Motor Races at Mission Raceway Park on the weekend of August 15-17. This is always an excellent event with some great racing and fantastic old cars on track and on display in the paddock. The weekend also has some great social events with BBQs on Friday evening and the Trackside Gala on Saturday evening. Put this event on your calendar and come out and have some fun. Knox Mountain Hill Climb was held in Kelowna in central BC over the Victoria Day long weekend and, as always, it was an excellent event. The entry was down a little this year, but this allowed everybody to have more runs. A second hill climb is in the planning stages for BC. It will be held in Nakusp. The tentative date is September 20-21, 2014. This is a huge undertaking by a small dedicated group of car enthusiasts, and they have strong support from the community. We wish them well with their efforts. Autoslalom is in full swing throughout the province. In the Okanagan Valley, the Okanagan British Car Club is a very active autoslalom group that holds events in Kelowna on Thursday evenings and in the city of Vernon on Sundays. For more info on the Okanagan British Car Club please visit www.obcc.ca
MS has a growing Performance Rally segment with a performance rally and rally sprint events organized by the Bluenose Autosport Club.The Ledwidge Lookoff Rally is back for 2014 with more stages, new kilometres and more opportunity to see the cars in action! Now in its fourth year, the organizers and volunteers are set to make this August’s event as exciting as last year’s inaugural and sensational return to full-fledged Regional Rally in Atlantic Canada. The hot weather and the thrilling gravel stages through Conrad Quarry’s lunar landscape in Dartmouth and Ledwidge’s green hills in Tennecape attracted both local and national entries last year, resulting in a tight battle for top position. The struggle for first amongst the drivers made for a great show for competitors and spectators alike. Shubenacadie’s Jonathan Conrad, with veteran co-driver Clarke Paynter emerged victorious to take first in Production Class and the rally overall.This year promises to be even more exciting with the return of spectator stages on Saturday evening in the city of Dartmouth. On Sunday, the rally moves to the northern shore of Hants county for 108 km of twisting terrain over 12 stages.“I’ve never been so excited to wear a snow suit in the blazing summer sun!” said competitor Gordon Sleigh, referring to the particular joy of wearing Nomex safety gear in hot weather. Heat and dirt aside though, entrants are clearly excited about the upcoming stages and all the cars are being eagerly prepped for the event. Anticipation is growing for drivers, co-drivers, organizers and volunteers alike. This year will require more volunteers than ever before, as the locations of the stages become more far-flung.“We are going to have multiple volunteer teams up and running simultaneously for this one,” said organizer Ron McKenzie. “We have more ground to cover, but still want our volunteers to have a chance to see and enjoy the action. We plan to have enough people that everyone has lots to do, and still has a great time.”The Ledwidge Lookoff Rally kicks off on August 23 and 24, 2014. Competitors should email the organizer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for assistance planning their trip and for details on the out-of-province travel cost assistance program. Additional information can be found on the rally website www.lookoffrally.com.
It’s been a fruitful several months since late summer last year when all the rumours were confirmed, that there was a serious effort underway to develop a new motorsport facility in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia, and operate it as a membership-based ‘motorsport country club’ just like a golf or tennis club. As winter turned to spring, which is early in the desert climate of Osoyoos, the folks who are putting together this project called Area 27 decided it would be a great idea to hold a big social event where existing and prospective members could get together for a weekend of fun. Of course, since the love of driving high-performance automobiles is the common thread that runs through everyone involved, the event quickly became a road rally, and the first annual Area 27 Rally would be run from May 30 to June 1.Of course, even the most avid enthusiasts do not live by driving alone, and the weekend’s activities were quickly filled out by such niceties as gourmet meals, wine tasting and the presence of a few of Canada’s motorsport legends, including track designer Jacques Villeneuve and Area 27’s new chief driver trainer, Richard Spenard. Unfortunately, Jacques couldn’t make it, having been summoned to Europe to test his rallycross car, so Patrick Carpentier ably filled in, and has since decided that he will also be doing some driver coaching at Area 27 alongside Spenard.It was natural for the Rally’s home base for the weekend to be at the wonderful Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa, as both it and Area 27 are located on Osoyoos Indian Band land. Upon arrival on Friday afternoon, many of the exotic cars were already parked around the circle outside the main building, providing a sense of anticipation.Friday evening, in the Desert Cultural Centre, we were welcomed to the event and to the Resort by Chief Clarence Louie. It was the first chance most of the members had had to hear this visionary First Nations leader speak, and he left no doubt that he is a strong supporter of the project.  The next morning dawned sunny and warm. Following breakfast, Spenard got the crowd warmed up with some stories, driving tips and an overview of the rally. The main point was that it was in no way to be a competitive event. There would be several groups of roughly 10 cars heading out on a staggered schedule to follow behind a group leader, either an Area 27 Founding Member or special guest. The roads chosen for the route were well off the beaten path of Highway 97 through the Okanagan Valley, winding and hilly, largely devoid of traffic and, therefore, ideal for having plenty of fun in all the high-end performance cars. Some speed limits might have been exceeded a couple of times, but there was nothing crazy and no encounters with the constabulary. On that level, the rally was a huge success!Given that the Okanagan is wine country, it was no surprise that the pleasures of the grape played a big part in the event. For lunch, everyone gathered at the Poplar Grove Vineyard, northeast of Penticton and high on a hill with a wonderful panoramic view of the lake and valley below. And to get the evening started after the rally, several wineries set up booths at the resort for tasting before dinner. One of them was the Osoyoos Band’s own winery, Nk’Mip Cellars, which kindly supplied several bottles for each table at dinner, and a splendid time was had by all!The other big attraction that evening was the presence of VRX Racing Simulators (www.vrx.ca) with their simply amazingly realistic machine that was on sale for $55,000. Many of the world’s great tracks could be “driven, as we have seen before, but there was one track that nobody has yet seen. That’s right – Area 27 was on the simulator, accurately realistic down to the millimetre! The technology employed is so advanced that all the work designer Jacques Villeneuve and construction contractor Trevor Seibert have done so far has enabled the generation of a completely realistic simulated driving experience. You could say this was a popular seat all evening, and that this track will challenge everyone up to the most experienced racer. It likely played a big part in the signing up of another dozen members over the weekend.The approval process for the project is moving along, with the federal government departments  expected to provide the ‘go-ahead’ at the end of this month for the ‘designation vote’ by the Osoyoos Indian Band members, followed by the vote itself in September, with a positive result getting Area 27 construction started soon thereafter. Given that the winter weather in the South Okanagan is so dry, Seibert hopes to get his equipment on site by early fall and get some work done before Christmas, and then get going in earnest by early spring. With that kind of schedule, the pavement should be down by late summer 2015.A new era will begin, but between now and then, all the members and other enthusiasts who made the first annual Area 27 Rally such a big success can probably expect another event or two along the same lines. They will be a good warm-up for the first day that real cars actually turn laps at Area 27.  
If you ever want to feel like you’re from the future, just roll through the city streets behind the wheel of a Cadillac ELR. Few press cars I have ever driven elicited as many stares and as much neck straining (some would have surely rotated a full 360 degrees were such a thing possible) as Caddy’s new plug-in hybrid. And just by looking at it, it’s not hard to see why. Based on the Converj concept that made its debut way back in 2009 at the North American International Auto Show, the ELR retains much of the concept look and feel of its ancestor. Given that it’s a car that runs primarily on electricity, this circumstance is not likely coincidental. Suffice it to say, if the future automotive landscape is dominated by cars like this one, I’m looking forward to it.Built on GM’s compact Delta II platform, which also underpins the Chevrolet Volt (both cars are built in the same Detroit plant), the front-wheel-drive ELR coupe is powered by a variant of the Voltec drive system utilized by the four-door Chevy. The system is comprised of a 117-135 kW electric motor, a 55 kW generator motor, a four-cylinder gas generator (engine) and a 16.5 kWh battery pack. Power is put to the ground through an automatic transmission. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pegs the ELR with an all-electric range of 59 km (37 miles), and a total range of 552 km (340 miles) but, as we all know, real world figures vary. Charging times also vary, but EPA testing suggests a full charge (from empty) will take approximately 13 hours using a standard 120-volt household outlet. A 240-volt charging station (available separately) will cut that time roughly in half to about five hours.Despite its compact size, the ELR is still a Cadillac and, as result, it doesn’t come cheap. In Canada, it comes in one well-stocked trim with an MSRP of $78,250. My tester came equipped with a few extras, including upgraded leather seats (finished in Kona brown), 20-inch aluminum wheels and a host of accident avoidance gadgetry (adaptive cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, side blind zone alert, etc.). As with all electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the ELR is eligible for purchase incentive programs organized and funded by provincial governments in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Individual rebates vary by jurisdiction and vehicle. Unlike the United States, Canada currently does not offer a federal incentive program, much to the consternation of manufacturers and car buyers alike. More on all of this later. Driving Impressions On the ambitiousness scale, the Cadillac ELR is at least a 12 in the eyes of this writer. Everything about it, from the powertrain to the exterior design to the high quality interior materials and glitzy graphical user interface, or GUI, screams of lofty aims. As mentioned earlier, this car really turns heads. The populace seems to find it to be irresistible. The ELR is a real looker, in a futuristic, not-of-this-earth kind of way. When I first picked it up, I thought it looked like a concept not approved for being driven on public roads. Space-age, indeed!Its exterior lines retain much from the Converj, stretching tightly over the 4,724 mm length in a fashionable, wedge-shaped fashion. The family resemblance is obvious, but not so much that it can’t be distinguished from other Cadillac models. To these eyes, it’s a handsome piece of machinery made all the more attractive by the rising beltline, small windows and sharply raked A and C pillars.In keeping with the idea of unbroken lines, the ELR has a pair of very unique door handles. There is no actual handle, but rather a touch pad on the inside, which opens the door once the presence of the key fob has been detected. Very cool. Despite being aware of its compact platform, I still found the ELR to be smaller than I imagined, but impressive nevertheless, especially on the inside. Cadillac used its best stuff to finish the interior and it has paid off handsomely. Every surface is pleasing to the touch, and befits a car that costs north of $80,000. The variety of materials – Alcantara, leather and a mix of soft touch and piano black plastics – create a nice mix of textures and shapes that are visually appealing and suit the ELR’s up-market aspirations. Even the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system, which looks and operates like so many others I’ve tested recently, has been customized to suit this plug-in Caddy. Monitoring energy usage, battery drain and available electric range is fairly straightforward, but does require a bit of fiddling given the deep functionality the system offers. It’s best discovered when the car isn’t moving. One other note about CUE: the glitzy animations and sound effects accompanying every start-up and shut-off are pretty entertaining the first few times, but considerably less so as time wore on. After a while, I felt like looking for an off switch, which I’m not sure even exists. I didn’t wind up looking too far into it, so I can’t say for certain. Those distractions aside, the ELR is quite pleasing to drive. Despite the snug cabin, the driving position is comfortable, due in no small part to the leather, eight-way adjustable powered driver’s seat, which provides good support all the way around. The smallish, thick-rimmed steering wheel also feels good and can be easily adjusted to suit different driving positions. On the road, the ELR is whisper quiet in all-electric mode. Not hearing anything at start-up (aside from the racket generated by the CUE system) did take a little getting used to, but the lack of engine noise made me more aware of things like road and wind noise. Neither are especially bothersome, but they are more noticeable in this car. Acceleration was impressive and the handling felt secure. All in all, it felt like a normal car.As with many modern vehicles, the ELR offers several different driving modes that alter the car’s efficiency and performance. The four on offer here are: Tour, Hold, Mountain and Sport. Tour is the default setting, Hold allows for electric power to be held for later use (i.e. city driving), Sport sharpens the steering and throttle response and stiffens the suspension settings, and Mountain saves electric power for climbing steep grades.Given that I was driving the ELR in a combination of city and highway driving, I chose to leave the car in Tour mode the entire time it was in my possession. I did this primarily because I wanted to see if range and fuel efficiency would change despite travelling the same route to and from work each day.Spoiler alert – the variance was minor. Basically, I was able to drive about half of my Oshawa-Toronto commute (58.6 km one way) on electric power. The morning drive was done in electric power and the late afternoon trek home utilized the gas-powered generator. Not a bad trade-off, in my view, given that I was basically halving my normal gas consumption. The 1.4-litre gas generator seamlessly engages once the battery is fully drained, and while its operation is a bit noisy, it’s not unduly harsh. The ELR’s cabin is a tranquil place regardless of the power source. My ability to utilize more of the electric capabilities certainly would have improved had I been able to charge the car while at work, but as I discovered during my time with the ELR, public charging capacity in the Greater Toronto Area is a bit sparse (see sidebar).Speaking of charging, my experience with the ELR proved to be a bit of a confounding experience. Let me preface this by saying I was expecting it might take a bit longer than the prescribed 13 hours to fully charge the battery from empty. I live in an older building where power is shared among six apartments, so I figured it might take a bit longer than if I were a house-dweller and the power isn’t being shared in multiple ways.With that said, I was more than a bit surprised to discover that my building, which has standard 8-Amp service and 120-volt outlets, could not charge the ELR in less than 18 hours. During the work week when I was only able to charge the car for 12-14 hours, I would usually only get an 80% charge (~50 km range). It was only during the weekend, when I could leave it plugged in closer to 18 hours that I was able to bring the level up to 100% (60 km+ range). Experiences vary, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest that mine is typical – it very likely isn’t. Given that the majority of ELR buyers will likely be able to house the car in a garage complete with a 240-volt home charging station, long charge times are probably not going to be of much concern. Despite the longer charge times, the ELR is a very impressive car. I come away from the experience impressed with the manner in which GM has been able to combine an incredible amount of sophisticated technology with forward-looking design and impressive assembly quality to create a car that’s also enjoyable to drive. While GM’s decision to go the route of building range-extending vehicles rather than pure electrics might not please every environmentalist, I firmly believe this route offers the best compromise between improved fuel economy and driveability. This is the way to encourage more car buyers to consider hybrid vehicles, in my view. Range anxiety isn’t a concern here.The ELR may be a niche car in a niche market, but it could be a sign of things to come not only for Cadillac, but other luxury car brands that want to deliver a premium driving experience with a vastly improved carbon footprint. GM will likely only sell a few hundred ELRs a year combined in North America, but with plans to expand sales to China and Europe in the coming years, there’s plenty of room for growth.  SPECIFICATIONS2014 Cadillac ELR BASE PRICE: $78,250PRICE AS TESTED (BEFORE TAXES): $86,505 PROPULSION: 117-135 kW drive motor; 1.4L 4-cyl. gas generatorHORSEPOWER / TORQUE: 157 hp / 295 lb-ft (electric drive); 84 hp (gas generator) CONFIGURATION: FF
TRANSMISSION: Voltec drive systemFUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (all electric – Lₑ* / 100 km): 2.8 / 2.9 / 2.9; (gas generator) 7.6 / 6.7 / 7.2 (city / hwy. / combined)BASIC WARRANTY: 48 months / 80,000 km OPTIONS ON TEST VEHICLE  Kona Brown / Jet Black Accents ($2,575)semi-aniline leather seats Safety Package ($2,095)Adaptive Cruise Control Luxury Package ($1,785)20-inch ultra bright machined aluminum wheelsrear cross traffic alertside blind zone alertIntellibeam automatic high beam control  ADDITIONAL CHARGES
Destination and delivery ($1,700) * Lₑ (L equivalent): 8.9 kWh is the equivalent amount of electrical energy in one litre of gasoline
Attending one of the world’s greatest endurance races is overwhelming, but taking in two of them over subsequent weekends is absolutely mind bending. While I’ve watched both the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Nürburgring 24 for years, this was the first time I was fortunate enough to attend these historic events. France’s great sports car race through the countryside is the great-granddaddy of all sports car races. It predates the 12 Hours of Sebring by 27 years and is nearly four decades older than the 24 Hours of Daytona. It attracts the top competitors – cars, teams, and drivers – from around the globe, and tests their mettle in what many consider the most important sports car race. Audi has been the dominant manufacturer for the last 15 years, winning 13 races overall during that time. In that decade-and-a-half, Le Mans has become a showcase for the latest in automotive technology, which has dovetailed perfectly with Audi’s product strategy. In many ways, Le Mans is a better competitive outlet than Formula One, which most fans consider the pinnacle of motorsport. Audi’s latest LMP1 racer, the R18 e-tron quattro, embodies the latest automotive technologies, including lightweight construction and a hybrid-diesel drivetrain. The hybrid portion of the R18 drives the front wheels, which makes this racing car uniquely all-wheel drive and authentically quattro. Even the diesel engine uses advanced energy saving technology like an electric turbocharger. This Audi is the epitome of a modern, efficient racing machine. Although Audi has been successful in this modern age, there are never any guarantees in endurance racing and this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans marked the return of the biggest name in sports car racing, Porsche. With sixteen overall wins, Porsche made its motor racing reputation at Le Mans and for 2014 they arrived with an all-new LMP1 competitor, the 919 Hybrid. At the drop of the flag, Toyota’s LMP1 TS040 Hybrid ran away with the race, leaving the Germans in their wake. Watching my first in-person laps at Le Mans was surprising. Despite hearing that the Audis were notoriously quiet, there really isn’t anything that can prepare you to experience 200 mph prototypes not screaming, but simply cutting through the air. Even when they leave your field of view, they’re remarkably quiet. Perhaps with advanced drivetrains like these, “quiet performance” is the future of motoring. For Audi, it’s not just what happens on track. The German automaker invites hundreds of guests from around the globe to experience the race while fully immersed in the brand of Audi. As their guest, I experienced not just the most important endurance race, but endless diversions. There were shuttles to trackside locations that I recognized from decades of watching the race on television, multiple hospitality buildings and virtual races in the R18 e-tron quattro on Xbox’s Forza Motorsport 5. For me, the highlight was a pair of brilliant kart races just inside the circuit. Another literal highlight was the announcement of the special edition Audi R8 LMX supercar with real laser-based headlamps. Unfortunately, we won’t see it on this side of the pond because, alas, headlights made of frickin’ laser beams will never be legal here. With all of the things to do at the circuit, including a little sleep, there was also a race going on, and by the end of the 24 hours, Audi had emerged victorious. It was no walk in the park though. The Toyotas and Porsches were quick, but Audi won this year’s competition through the team’s hard earned tenacity and reliability. Mere days later, I found myself in western Germany at the historic town of Nürburg for the annual race around the clock at the circuit Sir Jackie Steward dubbed “The Green Hell.” At 24 kilometres in length, it is the longest road course to hold sanctioned competition, and has countless turns and challenges for the drivers. In some ways, the Nürburgring 24 is similar to Le Mans, but in most ways it can’t be more different. There are a number of manufacturers present, both officially and otherwise, with many of them entering multiple cars. For example, Toyota’s unofficial works team, Gazoo Racing, entered four cars – two Lexus LFAs, one IS-F and one Toyota 86 (known on our shores as the Scion FR-S). McLaren had two MP4-12C GT3 horses in this race, while there were countless Porsche 911s, Mercedes-Benz SLS GT3s, Audi R8 LMS Ultras and factory-prepared Nissan GT-Rs in the competition. Aston Martin’s works effort was more fitting with the character of the Nürburgring 24. During the weekend, I’d heard this race described as the world’s biggest club race, and that is perhaps the most accurate description. With a half-dozen cars and teams sharing one garage, the camaraderie in the paddock and garages is far from the hostile, closed feeling you experience at a top level professional race. With a test centre located at the Nürburgring, Aston Martin was well prepared to support a number of cars, notably the GT3-spec, V12 Vantage (appropriately sporting No. 007) driven by its works drivers, Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Pedro Lamy, fresh from racing at Le Mans the previous weekend. Aston Martin also supported a number of V8 Vantage racers, notably two N430s for the race, including one for Aston Martin CEO, Dr. Ulrich Bez, as well as one for motoring journalists Chris Harris and Dickie Meaden, who paired with Aston Martin’s in-house Nürburgring Test Centre specialist. The N430 is same production car we’ll soon get in North America, but under the V8 Vantage GT name. At the start of the race weekend, over 200 cars enter the race, which means there are at minimum 800 drivers at the Nürburgring 24. I can’t imagine what that drivers’ meeting looks like. With just team personnel, nevermind the fans, all of the hotels are fully booked within the vicinity of Nürburg, which is why most fans choose to camp at the circuit. The normally reserved Germans let loose during the race, treating it as a non-stop, long weekend party, which just happens to take place at a racing circuit during a motor race. Bonfires, fireworks, strange parties and who knows what else happen all around the circuit. One driver told me he could determine which corner he was driving through by the smell. That’s right – the smell of the corner. The factory 007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage eventually finished fifth overall, after a very exciting two-lap race to the finish against the BMW Z4 of Team Schubert. At the checkered flag, the No. 007 Vantage was two laps down on the winning Audi R8 and, notably, the Aston Martin Test Centre car finished a remarkable second in class. “To compete in Nürburgring 24 Hours and finish in the top five is no mean feat,” says Aston Martin’s Head of Motorsport, David King. “To come here with only one car against the might of the German car industry was a challenge, but the team rose to it magnificently, and showed that a win in the near future is within our reach.” “Many of the drivers competing with us this weekend aren’t professional racing drivers, but you wouldn’t know that from working with them. The level of professionalism has been impressive and we are proud to have them racing with the Aston Martin wings.”
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