2014 Russian Grand Prix

It’s hard not to connect the dots between propaganda and today’s Russian Grand Prix. But despite, the world feed director’s fascination with cutting to shots of Putin and Bernie chumming it up in a luxury suite, there was indeed a race to be had.

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I use the word race in the broadest sense because it was hard to not to be reminded of Valencia in today’s inaugural Russian Grand Prix. More a procession than anything else, it was at most an opportunity for Mercedes to clinch their first ever World Constructors Championship.

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F1 Grand Prix of Russia

At this point it would be a long shot for Lewis Hamilton not to clinch his second WDC in November. The momentum has clearly shifted in his favor as mechanical and confidence issues have slightly derailed Nico Rosberg’s charge. It’s hard not to feel slightly bad for Rosberg who’s done his best to be supportive of his teammate and accept responsibility for his actions in Belgium. Hamilton appears to be the far less receptive of the two teammates during podium celebrations and team interviews.

Jenson Button on track.

Elsewhere on the grid, it was an uneventful race. McLaren showed signs of life with Jenson Button securing one of his best results of the season. His future at McLaren is certainly up in the air amidst rumors that he’s been given an offer to join Mark Webber at Porsche next year – how awesome would that be?

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Valtteri Bottas continued to show signs of brilliance following an outstanding performance in qualifying yesterday. Williams should be the example to all of the ailing teams in the paddock – yes, Ferrari and McLaren included.

F1 Grand Prix of Russia

Things were less desirable for Red Bull and Ferrari the former unable to stay on the pace and the latter counting the days until they can put another terrible season in the history books.

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Even further back, a respectful gesture from Marussia choosing not to race Jules Bianchi’s car this afternoon and one of the most mind boggling moves of the season in Caterham choosing to retire Kamui Kobayashi for no apparent reason. Kobayashi said in an interview it was due to a lack of spare parts – horrendous.

GP RUSSIA F1/2014

The 2015 driver market continues to be in a state of limbo as Sebastian Vettel has yet to announce his contract with Ferrari and Fernando Alonso weighs his options. The way things stand right now, it’s looking more and more likely that Alonso may end up having to take some time away from the sport next season due to the lack of an open seat.

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All-in-all a pretty uninteresting Russian Grand Prix and hardly a viable replacement to the much maligned Korean Grand Prix. It’s hard not to be cynical of any new arrival to the Formula 1 calendar as geometric street circuits become the majority. Azerbaijan could be joining the World Championship as soon as 2016. My only question is were Paul Ricard and Imola fully booked?

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It’s unbelievable how quickly this 2014 season has flown by. There’s only 3 races to go as the teams head to Austin for the USGP in 3 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

2014 Italian Grand Prix

Just like that, the European leg of the 2014 Formula 1 season was over…

GP ITALIA F1/2014

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The lead up for today’s Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza was almost completely overshadowed by F1’s rumor mill. Between the talk of Luca di Montezemolo leaving Ferrari, the contract extensions of both Williams drivers and the ongoing melodrama at Mercedes, everyone seems to have forgotten there was a race to be held.

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At this point the situation at Mercedes has created a 50-50 divide amongst fans and the media. The British tabloids are out for Rosberg’s head while the Germans would love to see Hamilton’s championship hopes extinguished. Ultimately it’s a useless debate and something the F1 media will look back on and wonder what the hell they were thinking, blowing this up to the degree they have. BBC’s 5 Live F1 broadcast has become a biweekly gossip column with Jeanie Gow and James Allen foaming at the mouth over the Mercedes driver updates. The whole thing is absurd and a commentary on how uninteresting (or in-comprehensive) the technical side of the sport has become in 2014. Ultimately one of the Mercedes drivers will take the WDC and the other (likely Hamilton) will be the odd man out.

GP ITALIA F1/2014

News has surfaced that Hamilton would have to take a pay cut to stay with Mercedes beyond his current contract. It’s a very good possibility he’ll look for a drive elsewhere in 2015 and have no trouble finding one as he’ll still be in the prime of his career. McLaren will certainly want him back and depending on Vettel’s status, Red Bull could be another option. That’s very far in the future and all speculative, but Mercedes has always felt like a layover for Hamilton, much the way McLaren was for Fernando Alonso. All of that being said, today’s victory at Monza was one that will surely give him a confidence boost heading into Singapore.

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After suffering his share of bad luck this season, it was a throwback drive from Felipe Massa to clinch 3rd overall. The pace of the Mercedes-powered FW36 was strong all weekend and Massa was able to make to most of a very good start.

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F1 Grand Prix of Italy - Previews

The Red Bull’s weren’t ideally suited for the long, fast straights of Monza, but improvements in this second half of the season have kept both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettle on the pace. Ricciardo continues to be the best part of the show every weekend with some brilliant driving through the field. Some excellent wheel-to-wheel battles with his teammate resulted in the advantage going to Ricciardo through the end of the race. Vettel has struggled with the RB10 all season long, although his pace has been improving. Ricciardo has the innate ability to save his best driving for the end of the race and it’s something that continues to set him apart this season. There’s still the very real possibility that he could make a run for the WDC, especially with all of the infighting going on at Mercedes.

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Jenson Button on track.

Further back McLaren showed signs of life. Jenson Button did some of his best driving of the season throughout the weekend and his teammate Kevin Magnussen fought at the front of the pack for a majority of the race. For the second Grand Prix in a row, Magnussen was given a 5 second time penalty for allegedly “forcing” the Williams of Valtteri Bottas off track in turn 1. This is just another part of a much larger argument that the stewards are no longer letting the drivers race. The penalty was unreasonably harsh and feels more like the FIA making an example than anything else – Bottas’s race wasn’t affected, nothing was damaged, let the show go on. With the uncertainty of what’s to happen at McLaren next season, Magnussen feels compelled to prove his value to the team and rightfully so. For as good as Button has been in the past, he’s largely been shown up by his younger teammates the last 2 seasons.

Kevin Magnussen makes a pit stop.

If McLaren do indeed decide to make a driver change, Magnussen may be the unfortunate casualty for no other reasons than age and experience. Honda will be keen to have a veteran driver on the team to help develop and test their new V6 turbo power units. Button, who already has a great relationship with auto maker will likely be kept around at McLaren if it comes down to one or the other. Granted, all of this is mere speculation.

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Elsewhere it was an embarrassing showing for the Scuderia at their home race. Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari hasn’t worked out the way he or the team had hoped it would. It’s been a trying season for both parties as Raikkonen has struggled with the new car and the team have missed out on valuable points in the Constructor’s Championship.

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GP ITALIA F1/2014

Fernando Alonso looked promising heading into today’s battle and there was that ever present thought (as there always is) that he might be able to pull off a big finish despite the hurdles. Those hopes were quickly dismissed when in  lap 28 an ERS failure prematurely ended Alonso’s race. To add insult to injury, talk around the paddock is that Fiat want Luca di Montezemolo out as President of Ferrari. This weekend’s lackluster performance at home surely won’t help di Montezemolo’s chances but it would be an extremely unwise move on John Elkann’s part. In recent years, the Ferrari President has been one of the few remaining voices of reason in F1. Critics are also quick to forget that it was di Montezemolo who saved the Scuderia from similar circumstances in the 90’s when he brought in Ross Brawn and Michael Schumacher.

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All-in-all a decent race and probably helped by the stunning surroundings in which it was held. Monza is the kind of track that should have a permanent foundation on the Formula 1 calendar. The best leg of the season continues as the teams head to Singapore and then onto Japan. The next month should be fun.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

D Language R205 Impreza

It’s been a few years since D Language came onto the scene with their R205 Impreza. According to their website, they’re a cooperate IT design and consulting company that started a motor sports division. The whole thing sounds very Japanese and it’s still unclear whether D Language is an actual tuning shop and retailer or just a team of individuals who compete in racing – apparently Tarzan Yamada is (was) one of their sponsored drivers.

Their R205 time attack racer has certainly evolved over the years and is looking more sporty than ever in the latest Varis aero.

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The carbon under tray looks particularly good paired with the canards on the front bumper.

Imprezas have become increasingly less common at Tsukuba Super Battles so it’s nice to see cars like the D Language R205 staying relevant and challenging the competition.

Photo courtesy of Varis.

 

The Journey, Not The Destination

It’s not about the destination, but the journey we take to get there. No truer words could be said about Chris Fontecchio’s 2006 WRX Limited.

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Something has been happening the last few years in the Subaru community. What was once bought solely for a lack of other options has now taken on a legendary status amongst Impreza owners. The GDA was the first iteration of the WRX to be sold in America and for many, the car’s love-hate looks were a point of heated debate. Now however, the car has aged like a fine wine and the bugeye has become one of the most sought after Imprezas. As newer models have gotten chunkier and more cumbersome, the aggressive rally styling of the GDA has put it in the discussion of becoming a future classic. The thought of owning a bugeye is easy enough, but finding one that hasn’t been used and abused is another matter entirely.

What if you didn’t need to find one though, what if you just built your own? That’s exactly what Chris set out to do.

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What started life as a daily driven 2006 WRX Limited has become a track car in the making and the passion project of an owner who does things the old school way. By day, Chris is an engine tech and he’s put all of his knowledge and skill to use building the car himself.

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It’s hard work and the drive to produce a truly unique Impreza that has seen Chris’ car with 2 engine builds and a complete JDM bugeye front end conversion.

What we have here could be the ideal GD Impreza – bugeye looks with an updated interior and all the benefits of a built (2006) STI EJ257.

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Under the hood lies an EFI Logics tuned EJ257 short block with 255 heads and 257 cams. A Garrett GTX3076R aids the car in achieving 341 whp and 326 tq at 19 psi.

The attention to detail on Chris’ Impreza is truly stunning and the selection of parts even more so. It’s a conversation we’ve had time and time again on ACLASS and in this age of knockoffs, taking the time to source the real deal deserves proper admiration.

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For now the interior remains fully intact with some upgrades including a very plush Prova alcantara steering wheel which Chris calls the best mod, hands down. The alcantara trimmed, full interior may eventually give way to a roll cage as the car takes on more track day duties.

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As nice as the interior is, it’s the exterior that really sets off this Impreza’s looks. The car has been repainted with 3 coats of European WRB for a shine that’s a slightly darker than standard. To protect the new paint job, Chris has had 70% of the exterior wrapped in clear bra to prevent rock chips. Up front an STI V2 front lip has been custom molded to be seamless, while JDM side spats round off the new look. At the back, a Do-Luck carbon trunk adds subtle sportiness.

It’s the kind of exterior I love because it’s a car that truly appeals to enthusiasts. To the untrained eye, Chris’ Impreza could be just another sports sedan, but to those who know, the car is full of details waiting to be discovered.

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So where does the journey go from here? It continues forever of course. Chris will never sell the car and probably never finish it. The exterior is on pause for now while he focuses on power and handling. Despite it’s flawless condition, this is a car that gets used both on the street and at the track.

I’m always going on about the complete build – a car that perfectly blends looks with performance because one cannot exist without the other. Chris continues to succeed with this in a way few other Subaru owners are. This is a project both old and new Subaru owners can be excited about for many years to come because like wine, it will only keep getting better with age.

A big thank you to Chris Fontecchio for reaching out over Instagram and sharing his car with me! Check out the comments section for the full parts list.

Photos courtesy of Serg Rangel.

2014 Hungarian Grand Prix

We all watch Formula 1 because we want to see the most skilled drivers in the world do what they do best. Today’s Hungarian Grand Prix give us so much of that and more.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews

12 miles outside of Budapest stands the Hungaroring, a venue that’s been somewhat lost in a long pecking order of Formula 1 Grands Prix. However it’s at this small, twisty track where we’ve seen some of the very best driving on the calendar – today was no exception and may go down as the most exciting race we’ve seen in  2014.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

Today’s race was really about 3 stars defying the odds and digging deep. Daniel Ricciardo, who’s taken the challenge of driving for a top flight team and owned it with class. Lewis Hamilton, who after another mechanical meltdown in qualifying, started from pit lane for the second week in a row. Fernando Alonso, who’s struggled all season with another skittish creation from the Scuderia. In many ways these 3 drivers, above all others, should be fighting at the front of the pack every Sunday.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

For the casual Formula 1 fan, Daniel Ricciardo has come from virtually nowhere. There were a lot of discussions coming into the season over how Ricciardo would handle the move up from Toro Rosso. Would he make his own mark or would he succumb to the pressures of being Vettel’s number 2? Those questions were answered early on in the season and he’s since become the dominant driver at Red Bull. While his teammate has continued to struggle with the new V6 power units and a less than ideal RB10 chassis, Ricciardo has made the car work for him and been all smiles throughout the process. The Australian has proven all season long that he has every right to be up front battling World Champions, as exhibited last weekend in Germany and today in Hungary. He’s the dark horse of Formula 1 right now and could be the biggest threat to the 1-2 punch of Mercedes. With Alonso’s endorsement, the Scuderia will surely be seeing what they can do to coax the Australian into a future contract.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton can’t seem to catch a break lately and has been experiencing Felipe Massa levels of bad luck. After a brilliant drive from pit lane to a podium finish at Hockenheim, it was déjà vu in Budapest after his car was engulfed in flames during Saturday’s Q1. Sunday would see another start from pit lane for Hamilton and another pole for his teammate Nico Rosberg. It’s been hard to argue the conspiracy theorists over German favoritism at the Mercedes camp, but in reality what good would the team favoring Rosberg actually do? Hamilton over the years has been a driver of extremes – epically fast, skilled and riddled with bad luck. On the notoriously tight and difficult to pass Hungaroring, Hamilton yet again drove to epic levels, navigating his way through the field to take the fight up front. Midway through the race, he was ordered to let his teammate through. It was a strange request considering Rosberg was over a second behind at the time. Hamilton challenged the order and didn’t relinquish the position, which probably saved him later in the race.

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GP UNGHERIA F1/2014

Despite epic drives from Ricciardo and Hamilton, it was Fernando Alonso who was the true hero in Hungary. Alonso managed only his second podium of the season, but it was as good as a win for the Scuderia who have struggled all season long. The 2nd place finish was hard fought and Alonso managed one hell of a stint for 10 laps on ruined tires. Despite the car, Alonso manages to pull 110% from it every race weekend, it really is astounding. Some of the other, more vocal drivers on the grid should be talking notes on how it’s done. The way he managed to hold off 2 superior cars for as long as he did was world class and hopefully the beginning of many more podium finishes for Alonso this season.

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F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

Weather played a major role in today’s race and tire strategy was crucial. Some teams like Mercedes got it right, while others namely McLaren did their drivers in on poor strategies. Given the conditions, there were real possibilities Jenson Button could’ve been fighting up front at the end of the race, however a bad call from the team to put him on inters ruined any hopes of a podium. Others lost control entirely and suffered major crashes including Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Force India’s Sergio Perez. Neither of the Force India cars finished, closing the door on the long running points streak Nico Hulkenberg had.

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Jenson Button in the pit lane.

A disheveled Nico Rosberg looked to have been crying prior to the media scrum following the race. The reality is that the German is an inferior driver to his teammate, he just has the good fortune of driving the most competitive car on the grid. Given the field were completely equal in terms of performance, Rosberg would contend for a spot in the top 10, but not be fighting up front. Should he win the WDC this year, it’s likely to be a 1 and done. The true stars of the show were alive and well in Hungary. It was a battle between 3 of the most naturally gifted drivers in international motor sport and it was quite a show.

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

F1 Grand Prix of Hungary

We’re past the halfway mark of the 2014 season – it’s absolutely flown by hasn’t it? The annual summer holiday will take us through the end of August to some of the sport’s truly epic Grands Prix at Spa Francorchamps and Monza. In the meantime, bravo Hungary!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.