racing

Prodrive’s Isle Of Man STI

The current (VA) STI has never really done it for me. A car that was cultivated after the relationship between Subaru and Toyota began and it appears too much of the latter seeped into its styling. AFTER /DRIVE described it as “corporate ugly” and I agree with them. The design-by-committee handbook has become the standard for Subaru’s entire lineup. If the new Toyota GT-86 (BRZ) and Impreza are any indicators, the future isn’t looking promising either.

The good news is we can always count on racing outfits and the performance market to show a car’s true potential. Prodrive is a name that’s become synonymous with Subaru and the two have teamed up to produce a car with one goal – set a new lap record at the Isle of Man.

isle_man_va_sti_01

Road & Track were the first to show pictures of the car and it’s a stunning thing.

isle_man_va_sti_02

Three parts WRC, GT and Time Attack, it shows the potential of the VA STI when the right people (Prodrive) get a hold of it.

isle_man_va_sti_03

Driver Mark Higgins will attempt the lap record before this year’s Isle of Man TT. No performance figures have been released, but expect more details about the car in the coming months.

Now if Prodive could just put that aero kit into production, I may rethink my position on the VA STI.

Photos courtesy of James Gibson.

Formula 1 2016: 5 Bold Predictions

It’s around this time every year that anticipation begins to build for another season of Formula 1. After what feels like a very long winter break, the teams are back at it with pre-season testing in Barcelona! With the season opener in Melbourne a month away, here are my 5 bold predictions for the 2016 season:

Lewis Hamilton will not be World Champion in 2016

f1_monza_15_03

After dominant success the last two seasons, Mercedes would not be wise to underestimate their competition. Heading into year three of the new technical regulations means the playing field has been leveled and the likes of Ferrari are tired of playing second fiddle to the Silver Arrows. In 2016, Mercedes may face their most challenging season yet, both internally and externally. Lewis Hamilton has gone to great lengths to build his brand outside of Formula 1 and with the most dominant car two years running, the balance between racing and celebrity has been manageable. Across the garage however, a very motivated Nico Rosberg, one who showed excellent pace winning the final 3 races of 2015. Some would argue the team gifted Rosberg the wins after Hamilton wrapped up his second consecutive World Championship in Austin. Rosberg wanted it more and that’s a very dangerous thing for Hamilton, who spent most of the offseason in the public eye while his teammate and rivals at Ferrari have quietly been developing their strategies for 2016. Winning back-to-back championships is one of the most difficult feats in sports, winning three in a row, a rarity. Look for Rosberg and Vettel to fight for the honors in 2016.

Max Verstappen will win his first Formula 1 Grand Prix

Australian F1 Grand Prix - Practice

Any doubters of Max Verstappen’s place in Formula 1 were silenced early into the 2015 season. Verstappen wrapped up his rookie year with 10 top 10 finishes and 49 points. With Toro Rosso back to using Ferrari engines, expectations are for a more competitive car. Verstappen’s willingness to go for it will find him taking advantage when opportunity strikes. Talk of a drive at Red Bull was premature last season, but the same narrative will likely find it’s way into the headlines again in 2016. Depending on how the RB12 performs this season, we may see more occurrences of the junior team showing up big brother. If a victory is to come, expect it early in the season while the teams work out their teething problems. Could we see something in Melbourne?

Three World Champions are racing in their final Formula 1 seasons

Fernando Alonso.

Formula 1’s changing of the guard started with Mark Webber’s departure in 2013. The former Red Bull driver experienced an excellent transition to the World Endurance Championship, a transition not gone unnoticed by the Formula 1 paddock. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg further emphasized the WEC’s appeal by winning the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Porsche 919 Hybrid. Formula 1 has since responded by scheduling this year’s European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan on the same weekend as Le Mans. This has many including Fernando Alonso questioning if the Formula 1 circus is even worth it anymore. After a dismal 2015 back with his former team McLaren, the veteran World Champion may seek greener pastures. He’s not alone and 2016 could also be the final Formula 1 season for his teammate Jenson Button. Button was rumored to be out at McLaren midway through 2015, but the team seemingly kept the veteran as a courtesy after sticking it out and being a consummate professional. That courtesy will likely last for a season alone and unless the unthinkable happens and McLaren win a Constructor’s Championship, they’ll be keen to rebuild at least one side of the garage with the surplus of young talent including Stoffel Vandoorne waiting in the wings. The same scenario seems likely for Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. Despite the chemistry with teammate Sebastian Vettel, Raikkonen’s at times disinterest with the sport and a lack of pace may open the coveted seat for many others vying a drive for the Scuderia.

McLaren will go another season without a title sponsor

mclaren_mp4_31_test_01

Less a racing prediction but nonetheless telling of what McLaren has become. The last couple years have been the most challenging in the team’s long history. The transition to Honda power units was fractured to say the least, but apart from the expected technical road blocks, instability behind the scenes seems to be where McLaren are the most challenged. Ron Dennis put himself back in charge of the team after the departure of Martin Whitmarsh in 2013. Many have argued that Dennis isn’t up to the the task and that his old school philosophy has done more harm than good. McLaren now enter their third consecutive season without a title sponsor after ending their relationship with Vodafone in 2013. With the reveal of the 2016 MP4-31 earlier this week, the lack of a title sponsor is apparent and highly unusual for one of the biggest teams in the sport. Lets hope for better things to come in 2016 as McLaren inch ever close to becoming the Manchester United of Formula 1.

2016 will produce better racing

There’s little chance this season will produce such a predictable outcome for a couple reasons. Firstly, the teams are finally beginning to refine their approaches to the new technical regulations. Secondly, the sport as a whole cannot afford to have another repeat of last season.

f1_monaco_2015_02

Mercedes did their homework well in advance of the new technical regulations taking effect. Their preparation paid off in the form of World Driver’s and Constructor’s Championships two years in a row. However, now the other teams are catching up, specifically Ferrari. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel was the only non-Mercedes driver to win. Expect to see more of Vettel on the top step this season and perhaps a handful of other drivers.

bernie_jean_01

As a sport, Formula 1 is facing it’s biggest challenge ever and continues to fight for relevancy amidst tumbling viewing figures. With series’ like the World Endurance Championship offering greater technical innovation and excitement, the pinnacle of motorsport now finds itself on the defensive. Gestures like scheduling the European Grand Prix on the same weekend as Le Mans isn’t the way to keep the fans favor. However, better racing on track and more reliance on the drivers’ abilities will help repair some of the damage to the sport’s reputation. Ultimately we all want to see the top drivers in the world doing what they do best, fighting for every position at the absolute limit. With yet more technical regulations proposed for 2017, Formula 1 may be wise to reconsider. While better viewing options and ticket prices have a long way to go, the first step is good racing. We should be seeing some of that again in 2016.

There we have it – 5 bold predictions for 2016. I’m keen to hear your predictions in the comments. One thing we can all agree on is that it’s great to see the start of another Formula 1 season!

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Is The New Top Gear A Complete Mess?

Earlier today it was announced that ‘Friends’ star and petrolhead Matt LeBlanc will join Chris Evans on the Top Gear reboot. Huh?

top_gear_evans_leblanc_01

We’re all familiar with LeBlanc’s previous appearances as a guest on the BBC motoring show, but naming the actor as a host feels a bit left field. The announcement comes after recent rumors that Chris Harris and Sabine Schmitz would join Evans as the show’s other new hosts. Neither have confirmed whether or not they’ll be taking part, but Schmitz did appear to be with Evans during a recent bout of car sickness on set. There have also been reports of unrest between show producers and Evans who wants the same creative control Jeremy Clarkson had at the helm. For obvious reasons, nervous BBC executives are keeping much tighter reigns on the reboot.

LeBlanc will join production immediately with the other hosts announced shortly. Clearly the BBC will be eager to get the show back on air before Clarkson, Hammond and May premier on Amazon Prime.

I’m not sure we needed another Top Gear reboot. Lets be honest, it was the chemistry between the three hosts that kept everyone coming back long after the show stopped being about cars. Even if the old show hadn’t come to the abrupt end that it did, it was already nearing the end of its run. With all the excellent automotive content online from /DRIVE, Harris himself, EVO and many others, this reboot feels a bit Top Gear Australia.

harris_schmitz_01

What would the chemistry be like between LeBlanc, Harris, Schmitz and Evans? My first thoughts of Harris and Schmitz when thrown into the rumor mill were that they were too good for Evans who seems more content looking at cars than driving them. It’s the most coveted gig in the automotive world, however the BBC seems like they need this to be a hit a little too badly, they seem a bit desperate.

clarkson_hammond_may_01

Ultimately the fans will decide if the new Top Gear is worth watching. I joined Amazon Prime last month.

Photos courtesy of BBC & Amazon.

Renault Plays It Safe With A Boring New F1 Livery

Renault marked its return to Formula 1 with a new driver lineup and a completely uninspired “launch” livery earlier today. The factory team is back in the sport for the first time since 2011 after taking over the struggling Lotus team.

renault_livery_01

The Renault factory team and the prospect its iconic yellow livery making a return to Formula 1 was very exciting news at the end of 2015. In recent years the grid has become a black and white film with varying shades of grey, Renault yellow would’ve injected some much needed technicolor.

renault_livery_02

Unfortunately that probably won’t be the case. Much in the same way McLaren-Honda teased hints of day-glo last season, Renault have played it safe by keeping things more neutral. The gesture probably serves as an effort to leave as much blank canvas for sponsors as possible.

renault_livery_03

While the fact that it’s a launch livery could signal changes come the start of the season, it’s just another small letdown where the current conservative, corporate climate of the sport overrules fun. In much the same way drivers have been barred from changing their helmet designs throughout the season, Formula 1’s liveries offer no creativity and it’s a shame.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic & Renault.

Volvo’s Evil S60 Polestar TC1 WTCC Racer

The World Touring Car Championship just got a little darker with its latest entry, Volvo’s S60 Polestar TC1.

volvo_polestar_wtcc_01

volvo_polestar_wtcc_02

The TC1 makes a strong case for race cars that look far superior without their sponsorship liveries.

The car’s turbocharged 4-cylinder puts out 400 horsepower, a figure lower than expected and part of the WTCC’s 2016 regulations.

volvo_polestar_wtcc_03

volvo_polestar_wtcc_04

volvo_polestar_wtcc_05

Volvo have signed a multi-year deal with the WTCC so we’ll be seeing the TC1 for years to come.

Photos courtesy of Volvo.

2015 Singapore Grand Prix

f1_sg_2015_01

At some point it was decided that the Singapore Grand Prix was one of the marquee events of the Formula 1 season. While the nighttime backdrop of one of Asia’s premier cities is certainly stunning, the racing has always been kind of a slog. Sunday’s 61 lap running felt like a 2 hour chore compared to the brisk Italian Grand Prix 2 weeks ago. While it was refreshing to see neither Silver Arrow finish on the podium, Sebastian Vettel’s commanding drive from pole to the top step was very much the same plot we’ve seen all season long with a different actor in the title role.

f1_sg_2015_02

f1_sg_2015_03

NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey did his very best to make sure we all knew that Lewis Hamilton was 1 win away from tying Ayrton Senna’s record in Singapore. Despite Hamilton and Nico Rosberg qualifying 5th and 6th respectively, it didn’t stop the network’s bias for Mercedes as the drivers were featured almost exclusively in the broadcast’s opening montage. What happened instead was the more significant achievement of race winner Sebastian Vettel becoming the 3rd all-time most successful driver in Formula 1.

f1_sg_2015_04

f1_sg_2015_05

f1_sg_2015_09

Daniel Ricciardo in the RB11 didn’t really have a shot at beating Vettel and ultimately finished 2nd. The numerous safety cars which have become synonymous with Singapore presented plenty of opportunities for a scrap but overtaking on the Marina Bay Circuit is a near impossible task. Ricciardo’s best opportunity was ruined when a lunatic fan entered the track on lap 37 – a gate onto the track which was left unguarded may have had something to do with it. The oversight is yet another occurrence where negligence by the staff at a flyaway race may have produced costly and dangerous results. Remember the trackside marshals’s treatment of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso in China earlier this year?

f1_sg_2015_12

Singapore saw the retirements of more big name drivers than any Grand Prix this season. McLaren executed a now routine showing of retiring both cars due to gearbox issues. This came after Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both had opportunities to score points. While it’s convenient for all fingers to point at Honda, Button’s overtaking tactics and the pit crew suffering from a bout of heat stroke didn’t help turn things around.

f1_sg_2015_14

f1_sg_2015_08

The mishaps continued with a collision involving Force India’s Nico Hulkenburg and the Williams of Felipe Massa exiting pit lane. The crash ultimately ended the races of both drivers with Hulkenberg receiving a 3 grid spot penalty for next week’s Japanese Grand Prix. It was a hasty ruling from the stewards who probably should have waited until the race was over and clearer heads prevailed. 50/50 blame could be taken from the situation but I’m of the opinion that Hulkenberg had the right of way. Surprisingly the 5th retirement of the day was the Mercedes of Hamilton who’s car lost power from a coupler issue on the turbo.

f1_sg_2015_07

f1_sg_2015_13

Meanwhile, the Formula 1 drinking game just got more interesting with the addition of “American Alexander Rossi”. Rossi seems like a great guy and deserved of the Manor drive for the remaining 5 races, but this really is a non-story that took up way too much of the race broadcast. No folks, contrary to what Diffey or the NBCSN team might have you believe, there is absolutely no chance of Rossi winning a Formula 1 Grand Prix in a Manor and it’s highly likely he won’t score any points either. The day’s other non-story, Ferrari mechanics exhibiting “thug-like” behavior and shoving photographers aside to celebrate Vettel’s win on pit lane.

f1_sg_2015_06

What is becoming more and more clear every race weekend is that Formula 1 really isn’t that great anymore. It is in many ways like Sir Elton John. The days of hitting the high notes on ‘Tiny Dancer’ are long gone, but fans still amass because of what the singer was, not who he’s become. Formula 1 has a rich and celebrated history and most of us suffer through the current product because we’re still hanging onto that history. “This is Formula 1” we tell ourselves, hoping that this race will be different. The reality however is that there hasn’t been a genuinely great race since Bahrain in 2014 and Britain the year before that. It’s a sport that on average produces one good showing a season and when you consider the other 19 races are duds, that’s a poor success rate.

f1_sg_2015_10

Members of the Formula 1 media have been quick to combat this notion. Will Buxton told all of us to get over it following the Italian Grand Prix. He and many others hark back to the days of Ferrari-Shumacher dominance, but ultimately they’re as guilty as we are for using the past to justify the present. Too often are we concerned with Formula 1’s history, always hoping to find a way to weave it into the modern context of the sport. The MLB also does this as they become increasingly irrelevant on a playing field dominated by the NFL, NBA and European football. The only thing any of us should be concerned with is what is right in front of us and what’s in front of us isn’t Formula 1, it’s not even racing.

f1_sg_2015_11

The Japanese Grand Prix is next weekend and Suzuka should favor the Silver Arrows who will likely be back on form after today’s misstep.

f1_sg_2015_15

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

Top Secret Revisited

aclass_top_secret_d1_s15_15_02

I’ve been doing ACLASS since 2008 and it’s pretty crazy to think that this December will be the blog’s 7th anniversary. I often look over the site’s stats and analytics and it comes as little surprise that my Top Secret features from 2010 remain some of the most popular. Considering those were written 5 years ago, I figured the photos could use a little updating and resizing to take advantage of the blog’s wider layout. I encourage new and regular readers alike to check out each feature, see how much Japan’s tuning industry has changed and revisit some of Smokey Nagata’s most famous creations.

Visit the links below for Parts 1, 2 and 3!

Top Secret: Part I

Top Secret: Part II

Top Secret: Part III

 

2015 Italian Grand Prix

The notion that rules are meant to be broken holds especially true in Formula 1. The sport wouldn’t have evolved to the point it has, had teams not constantly teetered on the fringes of legality. However, Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza presents a different conundrum because the rules are no longer being enforced by the FIA.

f1_monza_15_01

f1_monza_15_02

The 2015 F1 campaign has been a dull one. There have been moments at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, but for the most part it’s been a one horse race. Mercedes’s dominance has them leading races by nearly 30 seconds and for everyone that isn’t a fan of the Silver Arrows, it’s been a continually difficult procession to watch. Within Mercedes, it’s Lewis Hamilton’s championship to lose. Whatever challenge Nico Rosberg hoped to bring in the latter half of the season seems to be slipping further and further away. It’s not just the mental battle that Rosberg has been at odds with, but the team aren’t even arming him with the same equipment on race day. At Monza, Rosberg ran an older power unit heading into its 6th race. The inevitable happened just 3 laps from the finish when Rosberg’s engine failed and Mercedes endured their first mechanical retirement of the season.

f1_monza_15_03

Hamilton on the other hand has been showing unbelievable pace and poise all season. Seemly gone are the emotional outbursts and competitive lulls Hamilton’s been known to have in the past. The now self-managed Hamilton is older, more confident in himself and his abilities on track – winning also helps. Sporting blonde locks at Monza, he drove to a commanding win, his second Italian Grand Prix victory. However, it was discovered during the proceedings that his tire pressure was not within the legal limits of the sporting regulations. The development was followed by a message from Hamilton’s engineers to crank up the pace for the remainder of the race. Watching it unfold, it seemed an odd call for such a comfortable lead, but it soon became clear that Mercedes wanted to finish with as big a gap as possible, bracing for a potential time penalty to follow the race. During the post-race press conference it was revealed to Hamilton by James Allen that Mercedes were being investigated by the FIA for not meeting the tire pressure regulations and that his left-rear tire was 0.3 PSI below the minimum starting pressure issued by Pirelli. The investigation to follow was swift and resulted in no punishment for Mercedes who retained all of their points from the day.

f1_monza_15_04

What will now follow is a debate that will have everyone divided when they really shouldn’t be. A ruling open to interpretation should have been one that costed Mercedes and made an example for the rest of the teams which have been increasingly getting away with infringements that would not have been tolerated in the past. Just 2 weeks ago, nearly every driver on the grid carved their own course through Spa-Francorchamps when the white lines of multiple corners were violated with (in many cases) all 4 wheels off track. No penalties were given at the Belgian Grand Prix and Sunday saw yet another violation of the sporting regulations met without penalty.

f1_monza_15_05

Whether you blame the ruling on Hamilton’s popularity, Mercedes’s overwhelming contribution to the sport or any other theory is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is if the rules are in place they must be followed. Would the FIA have had such a passive response towards a team running a higher fuel flow setting or a wing adjustment beyond the rules? It’s yet another debacle for a sport that can’t afford any more bad PR.

f1_monza_15_07

Much of the talk heading into Singapore will be about rules and it’s very likely the governing body will be much stricter as the season plays out. What should really be considered more is the much larger issue of the sport’s reliance on technology and how that’s impacting the role of driver skill. F1 has reached a point where the penalties, retirements and pitstops are the only things that impact the results. Combine that with an FIA unable to govern the sport and you’re left with the 2015 season we’re in.

f1_monza_15_06

Elsewhere, valiant efforts from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’s Felipe Massa. The current and former Scuderia were the best of the rest and earned well-deserved second and third place finishes respectively. The rest of the top 10 saw standard performances. Kimi Raikkonen did his best to regain as many places as possible after a horrendous start from the front row. He finished 5th behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.

f1_monza_15_08

McLaren’s woes continued with Fernando Alonso enduring another retirement and Jenson Button nursing the car to a meager 14th. Reports say the McLaren-Honda relationship is beginning to crumble. Honda’s Chief Motorsport Officer Yasuhisa Arai was heavily questioned by the media at Monza and asked if he had apologized to the team’s drivers for the engine’s performance. Apparently McLaren are asking for Arai to be removed from the operation. At this point the team is almost unrecognizable and with next season’s preparations already beginning, things aren’t looking optimistic.

f1_monza_15_09

f1_monza_15_10

f1_monza_15_11

There is no sight quite like the Tifosi swarming around the podium at Monza. It’s the kind of scene we should be seeing at more venues but as F1 moves into new, uncharted territories for higher financial gains, the question of Monza remaining on the calendar beyond 2016 is a controversial issue.

f1_monza_15_12

Bernie Ecclestone wants more money from the race organizers and is threatening to pull it from the World Championship. It’s absurd that Monza getting dropped is even a consideration. Nowhere is the sport better represented by the fans than in Italy and it’s the kind of value that Bernie cannot put a price tag on. The heritage races of F1 must be preserved.

f1_monza_15_13

The teams are headed back to Asia for the Singapore Grand Prix in 2 weeks.

Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.

35 Seconds

German racing driving and D Motor presenter Tim Schrick shows off his Lightspeed Classic Porsche 911.

The combination of car and driver makes for 35 seconds of the most exciting automotive footage I’ve seen in ages.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time editing footage and I can assure you, creating this clip probably wasn’t easy. But as they say, art which appears effortless is often the most difficult to create. It’s an homage to all classic 911s and the star of this video isn’t unlike the very popular Singers we’ve all lusted over in recent years.

The music is pretty brilliant as well.

Video courtesy of Tim Schrick.

Luke Huxham Is Creating The New Look Of Japanese Tuning

Nissan’s board of directors should put Luke Huxham in charge of their marketing department. The director/cinematographer has a way of capturing Japanese tuner cars, specifically the Nissan GT-R in ways few others (including Top Gear/BBC) can. His latest homage to Japan’s most famous automotive lineage comes in the form of a tribute with Nobuteru “NOB” Taniguchi at the wheels of two iconic machines from HKS – the R35 GT1000+ and the R32 GTR Gr.A. Turn up the speakers and enjoy in beautiful 4K.

Then there’s the Motorhead Hill Climb…

Huxham is not only gifting viewers with the kind of accessibility to these cars rarely seen before, but more importantly creating the new visual identity of the Japanese tuning industry. Where Video Option and Best Motoring’s Hot Version provided coverage in a quirky, uniquely Japanese kind of way, Huxham is doing the opposite. Gone are the comedic intro spots and umbrella girls and in their place; glorious visual imagery, tightly packaged graphics and cinematic quality sound. The combination of which presents Japan’s cars, drivers and the culture that fuels them with the respect and an intensity they so deserve.

Anyone who loves JDM will always have a soft spot for the touge battles of Hot Version or car reviews of Video Option. This however is the new JDM where European cars share the stage with the country’s domestic offerings, social media has enabled limitless accessibility and Luke Huxham is capturing it all on film.

Videos courtesy of Luke Huxham, Motorhead and HKS.