Tuesday 31 January 2012

Road - World’s top car

Now here’s a bit of fun. Men like lists, don’t they? And apparently women do too, although not necessarily the same kind of lists that blokes come up with. Anyway, the 2012 World Car Awards hosted by Bridgestone Corporation will take place at the New York International Auto Show on Thursday, April 5, 2012.  

There are two big titles, the 2012 World Car of the Year, and the 2012 World Performance Car, and the top ten finalists in each category have just been announced. So if you fancy a bit of fun, write down your favourites and keep them safe till April and see if you’re right.

The top ten contenders for the 2012 World Car of the Year are:
Audi A6 Sedan / Avant
Audi Q3
BMW 1 Series
BMW 3 Series
Chevrolet Volt / Opel/Vauxhall Ampera
Citroen DS5
Ford Focus
Land Rover Evoque
Porsche 911
Volkswagen Up!

The 2012 World Performance Car will be chosen from:
Audi RS 3 Sportback
BMW 1 Series M Coupé
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Ferrari FF
Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4
McLaren MP4-12C
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG
Mercedes-Benz C-63 Coupe AMG Black Series
Porsche 911

The judging panel comprises a total of sixty-six (66) international automotive journalists from all around the world. There is however a serious omission in this celebrated line-up. There are no Scottish judges, just 4 from England and one from Ireland!

There is one more judging stage to go through this coming month when the judges will select their top three from each category and these will be announced at the Geneva International Motor Show on March 6th so if you’re playing the game, you’ll be able to see if you’re on the right track.

Previous World Car of the Year winners were the Nissan LEAF in 2011, the Volkswagen Polo in 2010, the Volkswagen Golf in 2009, the Mazda2 / Mazda Demio in 2008, the Lexus LS460 in 2007, the BMW 3-Series in 2006, and the Audi A6 in 2005.

Previous World Performance Car winners were the Ferrari 458 Italia in 2011, the Audi R8 V10 in 2010, the Nissan GT-R in 2009, the Audi R8 in 2008, the Audi RS4 in 2007 and the Porsche Cayman S in 2006.

That might help to give you some idea of the way the judges will be thinking but it wouldn’t surprise me if the ‘political correctnessers’ go for the Chevrolet Volt ahead of the Volkswagen Up! at the expense of the Range Rover Evoque, while the Performance Car category might just a get a cheeky surprise from the BMW 1 series M Coupe. Go on, gie it a birl.

Monday 30 January 2012

Rally - MINI's first big win

MINI scored its first international Rally victory at the weekend when Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari won the Qatar International Rally, the first round of the 2012 Middle East Rally Championship (MERC).

Driving a MINI John Cooper Works Super Production Car (SPC) rally car, Al Kuwari and his co-driving brother, Nasser Al-Kuwari, emerged victorious by a margin of 2m 24.9s and confirmed their first career MERC win and a debut success for the Prodrive-built and Tok Sport-run car.

The MINI SPC is the regional rally specification of the MINI World Rally Car. The cars are nearly identical except that the SPC runs with a smaller engine restrictor (30 mm versus 33 mm) and a smaller rear wing.

David Richards from Prodrive commented: “It is particularly fitting that the MINI’s first international win has come in Qatar, as this was also Prodrive’s first ever rally back in 1984 in the inaugural year of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, when Saeed Al Hajri took victory in our Rothmans Porsche 911 SC RS.  Saeed went on to win the Middle East Rally Championship that year; let’s hope Abdulaziz can do the same.”

A few more successes like this and who knows, BMW might just think about sticking a few more Euros into the pot and get Kris Meeke back in the driving seat. Fingers crossed.

And besides it gives us the chance to look at a real rally car again - see pic opposite.

And here's another wee treat. Give your ears an aural massage with this wee promotional video of the Rothmans Dakar Porsche - but turn the sound up, as far as it will go. Magic, pure magic.

Road - Ford's wee sweetie

Ford's boss Alan Mulally with the new engine

Ford’s new 1 litre EcoBoost engine goes on sale next month, installed initially in a Ford Focus, but soon to be available in other models. This latest 3 cylinder, turbo motor joins the existing 1.6 and 2 litre EcoBoost engines already on sale.

The whole point of these new engines is to get emissions down, power up, and use less fuel while doing it.

This latest entry level 99 bhp (100 PS) unit has a 58.9 mpg ‘combined’ consumption figure and outright best-in-class petrol CO2 emissions of 109 g/km. The ‘bigger’ version produces 123 bhp (125 PS) and generates 170 Nm peak torque (200 Nm with overboost) between 1,400 and 4,500 rpm, giving it the highest power density of any Ford production engine to date. When fitted in a 5 door Focus it is expected to deliver a combined fuel economy of 56.5 mpg and low petrol CO2 emissions of 114g/km.

On these figures, both versions of the engine will qualify for zero vehicle excise duty in the first year and then £20 (100 PS) and £30 (125 PS) per annum thereafter.  Compared with the current 1.6-litre 105 PS and 125 PS engines, this represents savings of £115 in year one and £95 and £85 respectively in subsequent years.

And with the ongoing price of petrol headed in one direction only, these sort of figures will start to make even the most serious petrolhead think carefully about future purchases.

Road - Car Hire by the Hour

Now here’s an idea that might appeal to some penny pinching or variety-starved motorists, Europcar has become the first UK company to launch a car and van hire by the hour service.

Ideal for those folks who have a Z4 in the drive and need an MPV to ferry the grown-up weans and friends to the airport at holiday time, or for those who just need a van to collect some big bits bought on Ebay.  Who knows, it might even suit those two-car families who might no longer really need a second car – just an excuse get rid of it and buy a bike!

Although prices start from just £10 an hour for car hire and £11 an hour for van, there is a minimum ‘two-hour hire rate’ rule, plus the usual insurance and licence limitations, but the idea certainly has merit.

Friday 27 January 2012

Road - Getting lost

When it comes to SatNav the name Bosch doesn’t exactly tickle the thinking box, but the company has been around in the field of electronics ever since man found that a spark could set petrol alight inside a cylinder.

Anyway, the mapping side of things is easy to get hold of these days so it boils down to what you do with it that makes the difference between those SatNavs that guide you home and the others that send you up a dead end.

Taking things a stage further, Bosch has designed this latest system for Smart Phones, and it is available to download from iTunes as an App, although there is no word of an Android version as yet, nor a pedestrian mode.

But what it has going for it are the 3D maps with landmarks and buildings dotted around the landscape to help those unfortunates who can’t work a 2D map printed on a sheet of paper, and another thing, you can key in a list of intermediate destinations, i.e. suitable for those on a delivery run!

Naturally there are a few other gimmicks including an ‘EcoNavigation’ option which assigns a route based on fuel efficiency and ‘Plus Routes’ which claims to offer ‘real time re-routing’ suggestions if our tarmac arteries get clogged up with static traffic.

And if you’re really stuck on a night time navigation rally, perhaps the ‘Driver Assistance’ mode will be of assistance. It calculates the severity of upcoming bends in the road and proposes an optimum speed to help drivers avoid unwanted surprises and increase road safety. In other words – cheating.

Whether it will replace a ‘proper’ custom built device, like a Garmin (but not that Dutch made device, I hate them) who knows, but Bosch is offering the App for an introductory promotional price of £26.99

For a limited time, Bosch Navigation 1.5 can be downloaded at the promotional price of£26.99 (regular price £44.99).  

It is available to download from the App Store as of now.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Rally - Getting into the Spirit - Not!

Further to yesterday’s wee story about the Glasgow start at Clydebank for this year’s Monte Carlo Classic Rally on Sunday, there is confirmation that over 80 cars will start from Clydebank College. There is no detailed entry list as yet, but by all accounts there will be plenty to see.

Competitor and chief organiser Douglas Anderson will also have an additional task to undertake as sets off on the rally in his Triumph Herald. The man is on a  mission to personally present Prince Albert with a bottle of the local Auchentoshan malt whisky.

Alistair McDonald, Auchentoshan Distillery Manager believes the rally will provide a great tonic for Auchentoshan Distillery and all the businesses in the area.

“We are a local business and we feel it is important we get involved in the rally,” he said. “It is a fantastic event and I hope the Prince enjoys his bottle and gives us his opinion. He will be welcome to come to our 5 Star Visitor Centre any time he is in Scotland.”

As for Douglas, the safe transport of the bottle is not his only concern: “The biggest difficulty might be keeping the seal on the bottle, as my co-driver is partial to a dram now and again!” Amen to that, especially if they get snowed-in on some of these Alpine passes.

Spectating at the start is free so why not pop along for a nosey.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Rally - Monte Carlo or Rust!

This coming Sunday, Clydebank will have something in common with Monte Carlo and the world of glitzy motor sport. Apart from the idyllic seaside setting, stunning architectural beauty and tempting, flavoursome ethnic cuisine, it will have an array of historic cars.

At 5.24 pm, the Glasgow start of this year’s Monte Carlo Classic Rally (for pre 1980 cars) will get underway with the first car leaving College Square, Queen’s Quay start ramp at Clydebank College. If you fancy going, the Post Code is G81 1BF if you can’t use a map and have to rely on the SatNav!

However, the cars will be gathering from 1.00 pm and there will other attractions on site to while away the time before darkness descends and the rallyists set off. There is no full Entry List as of yet although the organisers are expecting a total of 300 cars or more starting from a number of locations around Europe including Barcelona, Oslo, Reims, Torino, Warsaw and of course Glasgow.

Last year around 6,000 hardy souls turned up in Blythswood Square in the city centre to wave the heroes off on their epic 3500 km trek across Europe – in the depths of Winter.

So if you've got nothing better to do, get yourself down there and give them a cheer.

Road - Audi Ache

Deep doors obscure high sills!
Aerodynamics are dangerous. I’ve got the bruise to prove it. The trouble with manufacturers these days is that they are having to make their latest automotive creations ever more slippery. These sleek, smooth, curvy lines from the front of a vehicle tapering towards the rear are designed to cut through the air with the minimum of ease using less energy to generate forward propulsion which in theory results in less fuel being used.

This has resulted in steeply raked windscreens with acutely inclined A pillars. That inevitably means that the roof line is pretty much lower at its leading edge. Usually it’s not a problem, but with an SUV which has a high sill and a high seat cushion coupled to a lower roofline, that means a smaller door aperture for the driver and passenger to climb in.

And therein lies the problem. A couple of times last year I banged my head cos I hadn’t ducked hard enough as I climbed in. And I did it again last week when the Audi Q3 arrived.  Compared to the Q7 and Q5 this is the baby of the SUV family, but it still required a leg up and over the sill, aim the buttocks at the seat cushion and duck while diving in.

I didn’t duck low enough. I gave myself a fearful clatter on the roof. Fortunately without damage to the metalwork and paint, and no blood stains. But by goad it hurt.

So I set off driving the thing thinking bad thoughts and car crushers, but by the time the car went away this morning, I was actually beginning to like it, and like it quite a lot.

For a start it goes well. The 7 spd auto transmission has an S setting (for Sport!), and paddles, and that makes the most of the 175 bhp 2 litre turbo diesel while the Quattro drivetrain makes the most of the transmission and roadholding.

And once I started liking it I couldn’t help myself. The seats are quite deeply sculpted and supportive but the seat cushion was a bit short for the long legged - till I discovered that the front bolster slid out to provide more thigh support. Bliss.

So Audi’s done it again, built another impressive and capable motor, with prices starting from around 25 grand – but doesn’t include crash helmets.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Road - Opperchancity Knocks

Following on from last Friday’s snippet about the chance to win a free trip to Barcelona for the F1 Grand Prix just by taking an Infiniti for a test drive, here’s news of another wee free competition. If anyone out there has ever fancied being a Jeremy, a Richard or a James, Citroën might just have the opperchancity for you. There’s just one we drawback, you’ll need to be a Facebooker.

Fortunately, the competition is very simple to enter and it’s all explained on the ‘DS5 Star Experience’ tab on Citroën UK’s official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/citroenuk). What they want you to do is write between 50 and 100 words on why you deserve to be one of the first to drive the brand new Citroën DS5.

The competition closes on 31 January at 6 pm and the five successful candidates will then be selected. The winners and their guests will fly out to the south of France on Friday 10 February, returning on Sunday 12 February during which time they will spend the weekend in a five star hotel in St Tropez and get the chance to spend some time on the roads reviewing the new DS5.

A number of ‘fun and distinctive experiences’ have also been arranged with the winners being filmed throughout the weekend so they can present their own video reviews of the car.

There is also a video explaining the competition at: http://youtu.be/x6t4P8KjAMI

It sounds like a big dose of fun – especially at this cold, wet and dreich time of year.

Monday 23 January 2012

Blethers - Eating out

Well, that was a first. Haggis Pakora. With peppercorn sauce. Stopped off at Craigend Nursery for a spot of lunch, and this was the day's special. And this being the season of Rabbie Burns' nights, it seemed churlish not to to try it.

The verdict? The portion was too small. Four pakoras rather than three would have done the trick. Mind you had there been a bigger portion there wouldn't have been any room for the big dod of apple pie which followed. But back to the pakora, this was not to be confused with the battered lumps of deep fried sheeps' bits which can be bought in chippies, this was non greasy spicy haggis meatballs with a light crispy coating. Scrumptious. And with the peppercorm sauce, culinary heaven. It was so good, I just had to sit a wee while afterwards savouring the taste, before tackling the apple pie.

So where is this gastronimical garden of delight? Craigend is one of those garden centres with tea-rooms attached and it's just outside Mollinsburn, a quaint southern central Highland village on the outskirts of Cumbernauld. The trouble is, the opening of the new stretch of the nearby M80 makes it more accessible to passing trade. Maybe I shouldn't tell anyone about it.

Friday 20 January 2012

Road - Test drive to Spain

At first, I thought this was an Invitation – ‘Test-drive an Infiniti to the Spanish Grand Prix’, but it wasn’t. It was simply a sneaky, eye-catching headline to grab the gullible. And I fell for it.

However, there is a chance to win yourself a free trip to the Spanish Grand Prix in May. All you have to do is take a test drive at an Infiniti dealer before March 15 and win a chance in a free prize draw to go to Spain.

The prize is a ‘VIP experience’ at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona which includes return flights, up to three nights’ accommodation in a classy hotel, privileged access to the Red Bull Racing hospitality suite, and entry to the Paddock area with tours of the pit-lane.  The winners will also get a bag of Red Bull Racing goodies.

It will be an unforgettable weekend for just five lucky couples to be drawn across Europe.  So as a certain other advert says – It could be you!

To try one of Infiniti’s range of performance cars, and to be automatically entered in the prize draw, contact one of Infiniti’s network of specialist Centres. Their locations can be found by logging onto www.infiniti.eu

However, the only one in Scotland is the new Infiniti Centre Glasgow, 4 Braille Crescent, Braehead, Renfrew PA4 0DJ.

But a word to the wise, a friend of mine had a bad experience the last time he was in Barcelona – and he hasn’t been back since!

Road - High and Mighty

Spotted this weird device at the LAMMA show, and no, it’s not a wheeled garage for Ranger Rovers, it’s simply a graphic way of demonstrating just how much clearance a self propelled crop sprayer can have.

Built by Agrifac in the Netherlands, the Condor self-propelled sprayer has a 200 cm ground clearance and the fold-out spraying arms open up to a working width of 48 metres – that’s nearly 80 feet sticking out on either side of the ‘tractor’ unit, and wider than a light aircraft wingspan, by a long way. Just imagine how many cyclists and pedestrians you could bowl over as you trundle along the byways if you happened to leave the spraying booms deployed!

The on-board tanks can carry anything from 2800 up to 7200 litres of crop spraying material and the whole system can be automatically controlled spraying from 50 to 250 litres per hectare depending on the location, the crop and the need.

It also features GPS automatic section control so no areas are inadvertently sprayed twice or missed, but it’s the hydraulically controlled legs that make this machine different and allow it to work on all types of crop no matter what the plant size.

Anyway, I just thought it looked rather different. Imagine turning up at the night club to pick up your daughter after a night out in this – yes, it’s got a passenger seat in it too! I wonder if I can get one on press appraisal?

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Road - Great Wall Steed

Last week it was the glamour of petrolhead heaven, the Autosports Show at the NEC, this week it was the wide open and windswept spaces of the LAMMA show at the old Newark airfield showground. This was the 31st running of the UK’s biggest agricultural machinery show and it was the biggest yet with well over 750 trade stands at the show, 160 more than last year.

But it’s not just tractors and combine harvesters, there were a few other items that would appeal to anyone with an interest in motoring.

For instance, how about having a Great Wall parked in your driveway? This pickup truck from China, which bears a passing resemblance  to an Isuzu Rodeo, is being imported by International Motors, who also happen to import the Isuzu Rodeo! Whatever, this new Steed from Great Wall is aimed at a different sector of the market, a sort of entry level 4x4 pickup if you will. Towing limit is a mere two tonnes with its two litre engine but payload is still 1050 kgs.

For 14 grand (plus VAT) you get a lot of kit with full leather, heated front seats, Bluetooth, aircon and alloys plus a six speed manual gearbox with Hi and Lo ratios, It runs in RWD with 'switch on the fly' 4WD.

It must be tough too, it sells well in South Africa and Australia as well as China.

I also saw more new Ford Ranger pickups in one place than ever before. This latest version of the Ranger is available to order at present, but not yet generally available, although dealers are currently awaiting their first deliveries for their eager customers, including a friend of mine who emailed me just yesterday wondering if I knew when they were expected to land in the UK.

I made a couple of calls and found out that the first batch of the South African built machines is UK bound on a large ship after being delayed when the factory was flooded during some wild storms recently.
Now this is a tractor!

There were a few of the new Rangers, which are bigger than the outgoing model, on various stands around the show including this Wildtrak model in bronze, exactly the spec my mate has ordered – which made me wonder if this is his vehicle, on show in Englandshire, before being shipped up to him?

When he reads this he’ll go daft!

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Road - Ford's puddle jumper

I like the Ford Fiesta. And after last week I like it even more, which was odd, because when I first saw last week’s test car it was squatting on a set of giant alloys with elastic bands wrapped around them.

In other words, this was a car for small boys or testosteronised teens, not the more mature adult wishing to keep a low profile. Adding to the tinselised appeal was a set of twin chrome tipped exhaust pipes sticking out the back which provided quite a fruity sound when fired up. Nope, I thought this shrinking violet wasn’t going to enjoy this.

I was wrong. When the driver came to take it away this morning, I was really sorry to see it go.

Despite the fact that it was sitting on 205/40 x 17 Bridgestones the ride was surprisingly jolt-free even on the worst of Lanarkshire’s winter blighted roads. If Ford can make a car ride this well on such skimpy rubber, then why can’t others at twice the price?

The independent front suspension and twist beam rear axle provides a fairly firm ride, and yet the shock absorbers soaked up the bumps without any jarring or pitching around. It was both sporty and comfortable, and stuck to the road like chewing gum to the wean’s jersey.

Adding to the appeal was the latest 1.6 litre Ti-VCT (Twin Independent Variable Camshaft Timing) engine which produces a relatively modest 120 bhp and has a dual personality. It can be quite docile up to 3000 rpm, but once it hits 4000 rpm it starts to snarl like a terrier pup and sparkle like a glitter ball.

It’s not the fastest thing on four wheels, but it handles so well it feels as though it could cope with a lot more power, but seriously it has enough to provide a barrowload of fun and could probably put a smile on Victor Meldrew’s face.

If I was being nitpicky, I could criticise the tyres for ‘tracking’ and following undulations and white lines on the road, but the steering is so nice that it’s not really an issue. Coupled to this willing little engine, the five speed ‘box is a good match, and it doesn’t need a six speeder to get the best out of it.

In other words, Ford's done it again, and made a small car with big appeal.

Race - Morgan at Le Mans

Charles Morgan with Jacques Nicolet (Photo: Jan Sedlacek)
Each year thousands of race fans head off to Le Mans in June for the annual 24 Hour race including a heckuva lot of folk from up here. The good news is that there will be another British team to cheer on.

Morgan Motor Company and OAK Racing are joining forces to enter a Morgan badged team. Built by Onroak Automotive, OAK Racing’s constructor department, which is based at the Technoparc des 24 Heures in Le Mans, the 2012 OAK-Pescarolo LMP2 cars will compete as Morgan LMP2s.

OAK Racing will enter one Morgan LMP2 in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship where they will seek to emulate the achievement of the Morgan Super Sport that took class victory at the 1962 Le Mans 24 Hours. 2012 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of their success. 

Charles Morgan, Chairman and CEO of Morgan Motor Company: “Whilst Morgan sports cars enjoy a great history we have also gained a reputation for pioneering new technology, and I believe LMP2 represents a superb proving ground in which to develop innovative new methods.

“Our partnership presents the opportunity for the next generation of Morgans to embrace new technological advances, particularly with the implementation of materials such as carbon fibre and top level aerodynamics, elements that are key to LMP2 cars. What’s more, we now have the chance to develop efficient, high-end performance machinery.”

Jacques Nicolet, President of OAK Racing: “In Morgan I feel the same passion that has inspired me since childhood, as well as the 'family spirit' that I hope I have been able to create at OAK Racing. Who better than Morgan to embody the gentlemen drivers’ spirit needed for LMP2 competition?

“What really cements this union is our common interest in both the Le Mans 24 Hours and endurance racing as a whole. The 2012 running of the 24 Hours will not only represent the fiftieth anniversary of Morgan’s class win at the race but also a celebration of our new partnership.”

Friday 13 January 2012

Rally - Wherza burds?

Driving north on the M6 through Birmingham on a Friday afternoon provides the ideal opperchancity to do a bit of thinking.  After all, midlands motorists spend most of their time going nowhere as the traffic is thicker than Auntie Moira’s porridge. Even thicker than the time she mistook the bag of B&Q’s wallpaper paste for the oatmeal!

Anyway, sitting there doing nowt listening to the traffic alerts from those cheerful, gormless studio based numpties who have no idea of the effect that their inane airwave banter is inflicting on the thousands of frustrated drivers sitting their chewing their steering wheels, watching wrinkles forming, their hair turning grey and wishing they carried an axe in the boot, the thought suddenly flashed up – Frank McAvennie had the right idea.

I suddenly thought, perhaps rallying could benefit from the great man’s homespun philosophy.

I refer of course to attempts to generate more TV coverage and media exposure for world rallying. What we need is less metal and more lycra. It would appear to even the most casual observer at the Autosports show that rallying is distinctly lacking in lycra support.

Motor racing is rife with it and it’s abundant in biking. Going by the numbers of youths and young men posing with the show dollies while their mates captured their slevvering satisfaction on their camera phones, it occurred to me that rallying needs more of that. 

The only time we get a bit of excitement in the service park is when the Pirelli girls come to town. And even here numbers are dropping. Either political correctness has struck rallying or it's too damn cold in Kielder for such fashionable frippery and frivolity.

Even the Red Bull girls in the Scottish Rally Championship dress appropriately for the average Scottish rally fan - Ugg boots, Dr Who scarves, woolly mittens and football manager anoraks.The only sun tan they'll ever get is out of a spray can.

Male models!
In other words, the sooner we get a bit more lycra int the sport, the more the TV cameras will film it, the newspapers picture it, and the young lads (plus not so young, middle-aged and elderly) will follow it.
Thank you Frank for the inspiration.

Rally - Team UK

It has just been announced at the Autosports International show that The Motor Sports Association has confirmed the young drivers who have been selected to form this year’s Team UK national squad.

Of primary interest to us lot up here, John MacCrone and Stuart Loudon will represent rallying with James Wozencroft taking over the role of National Rally coach. Joining John in the Drivers’ line-up are young Welshman Elfyn Evans and Northern Ireland’s Mark Donnelly.

National Co-driver Coach Nicky Grist will assume responsibility for teaching two young Welsh co-drivers, Andrew Edwards and James Morgan joining Stuart Loudon.

On the motor racing side of things it was encouraging to note that Sutherland’s Lewis Williamson will be part of the 7 man race squad under the guidance of National Race Coach David Brabham.

Road - Underage drivers

Although not really a Scottish news snippet, there may be some grownups getting constantly pestered by their desperate-to-drive weans  who would be interested in an initiative underway down south.

MINI is to supply MotorSport Vision with a fleet of its MINI One models for its YoungDrive programme. The scheme is designed to offer children as young as 11 years old (and a minimum of 4' 8" tall) the chance to have their first taste of motoring.

The dual controlled MINI Ones are available at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Bedford Autodrome and each car features a DSA-approved instructor who will teach young drivers essential skills in a traffic-free environment to prepare them for hitting the roads for real when they're old enough.

Jonathan Palmer, owner of Motorsport Vision said: "Our renowned YoungDrive programme is a fun and informative course that's designed to give a positive first experience for new drivers and its popularity has grown significantly over the past few years."

There's just one wee problem, maybe some of the youngsters will want to boycott anything MINI after the Kris Meeke setback!

Thursday 12 January 2012

Rally - Where to WRC?

Ford Motorsport’s Gerard Quinn and M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson appeared on the Autosport stage and were interviewed in front of the masses regarding Ford’s plans for the 2012 World Rally Championship.

There were no politically incorrect or embarrassing questions, but the crack was good and it would appear that the signing of Petter Solberg has gone down well with Ford and the fans. At least we’ve got someone with a spark of personality in a works car this season! But we still need a Brit up there, eh?

There was one little revelation though. Apparently the team had to hold Latvala back on a few events last year to let Hirvonen take more points. So if that’s the case and he’s let off the leash a bit more this year then that should give Loeb a bit of a fright. Fingers crossed!

Behind the rallying scenes there is still a lot uncertainty about TV coverage and trying to fire up the public imagination, but rallying does need more personalities to generate a fan following. Ford has committed for this year and next but the sport at the highest level needs to do more to excite the casuals  and enthuse the faithful.

If ever the sport needed another Clark, Vatanen or McRae, rallying needs it now.

Rally - At the Show

The thing about the Autosports International Show is not just the shiny metal, sticky rubber or hundreds of horsepowers,  it has as much to do with catching up with faces old and new.

It comes at that time of year and ahead of the new season when folk are virtually unrecognisable in their Sunday best and scrubbed faces as opposed to sweaty ovies and grubby paws. Half an hour into the show and hands are already sore from multiple handshakes, thumps on the shoulder and that latest invention to strike fear into the manly sport of rallying, the man-hug!

And then it’s down to the real reason for being there, inspecting the cars, the bits and the tools, and thankfully there is lots to see, although I wonder if stands are smaller this year? Either they are better stocked, or just packing everything into smaller space because hiring a stand at this show is not for the financially faint hearted.

There appear to be more static exhibits this year filling up the space that bigger trade stands of time gone by are not taking. Everyone is cutting back and yet there is an encouraging buzz about the place and the sport.

It was nice to see Densport taking a stand there to show off three of their latest creations – two of which are coming to Scotland.

Tommy Morris has bought an ‘ultimate’ MkII Ford Escort and it has gone on show ahead of him taking delivery of the car, but John Marshall spotted the car in build at Densport and promptly ordered one for himself, so his is there too. And both are automotive sculptures of great beauty.

Roy Millington was on hand too, to talk about his latest 320 bhp version of his 2.5 litre engine which will rev reliably to 8800 rpm and generates 250 ft/lbs of torque.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Road - Sex on Wheels

Unfortunately it’s only a concept, but depending on the feedback at the Detroit show and forthcoming Geneva show in Europe, who knows, this gorgeous NSX concept could become reality.

Most brands need a halo model these days, that is PR-speak for something that will draw the punters into a showroom to help them flog the more mundane stuff, so this should dothe trick quite nicely.

Badged as an Acura in the USA, the new Honda NSX, which is expected to go on sale in the next three years, will be developed by Honda R&D Americas and manufactured in Ohio. However, the vehicle on show looked very much like a finished model.

Using lightweight materials and a mid-mounted V6 engine, the NSX Concept employs several new technologies, including an innovative new Sport Hybrid SH-AWD® (Super Handling All Wheel Drive™) hybrid system. So who came up with that moniker I wonder?

Anyway, the car will utilise a unique 2 Electric Motor Drive Unit with a bilateral torque adjustable control system. This new hybrid all-wheel-drive system can instantly generate negative or positive torque to the front wheels during cornering. In addition to the electric motors will be a 306 bhp, 3.5 litre, VTEC® V6 engine with direct-injection and a dual clutch transmission with built-in electric motor.

Price? Who knows, but it’ll be dearer than a Jazz!

Road - Electric Beetle

Volkswagen has a number of new machines at the Detroit show, including this all-electric Beetle. The
two-seat E-Bugster has an 85 kWh electric motor which can propel it from 0 to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds, and offers a range of at least 110 miles from the 28.3 kWh lithium-ion batteries.  

The engineers have also overcome one of the biggest drawbacks to owning an electric car by providing it with a fast-charging function which allows complete recharging in just 35 minutes.

The quick charging system was developed in co-operation with Audi, BMW, Daimler, Porsche, Ford and General Motors/Opel.  This allows charging via a 230 Volt European domestic outlet or via ultra-fast DC sources at specific charging stations. 

The E-Bugster also incorporates an on-board re-charging facility whereby kinetic energy is transformed into electricity and stored in the battery.  Applying the brakes increases the intensity of regeneration and this is indicated to the driver in the instrument panel.  Other instruments include driving range and battery status indicators, and a meter that shows how much energy the driver is requesting via the accelerator pedal.

At 4,278 mm long and 1,838 mm wide, the E-Bugster is the same length as a standard Beetle but 30 mm wider, while the new roof lowers the height by around 90 mm to 1,400 mm. 

The E-Bugster has another trick up its sleeve. When the ‘Start’ button is pressed, the interior is bathed in white light, then blue light.  It starts with a light pulse in the instrument cluster which then spreads through a one millimetre-wide strip into the doors and around the air nozzles.

It makes you wonder just how quickly the weans could drain the battery if they were playing with it!

Road - Ford in Detroit

The North American International Auto Show opened its doors to the press this week in Detroit, but there’s more to this year’s show than cars purely for the American market. In these days of ‘global cars’ foreign shows often provide glimpses of what’s in store for us. Like the new Ford Fusion for instance, which was revealed in Detroit this week.

And while the Ford Fusion will go on sale in America later this year, European customers will have to wait till 2013 for the new Ford Mondeo.

With economy and emissions well to the fore, the new Fusion will showcase a number of technological advances including the choice of three petrol powered options including hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. They’re not so keen on diesel over there as yet, so we’ll have to wait till the Geneva show later this year to see what Ford has planned for us.

The new Fusion will also incorporate seven ‘essential’ new technologies, including a Lane Keeping System, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®), adaptive cruise control, active park assist, and MyFord Touch®, the latest interactive vehicle operation system and in-car entertainment interface. Ford will also offer an automatic start/stop system and there’s talk of a 4WD version.

The 4 cylinder, 1.6 litre and 2 litre EcoBoost engines will be joined by a new 4 cylinder, 2 litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gasoline with new lithium-ion batteries that save weight and generate more power than previous nickel-metal hydride batteries. This will replace the current 2.5 litre engine.

And for those who enjoy driving for its own sake, Ford have promised to deliver “a driver’s car” with specially tuned electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), MacPherson strut front suspension and an all-new premium-level multilink rear suspension.

Road - Yaris surprise

The Toyota Yaris is a perfect example of Toyota's approach to automobile manufacturing. Get the engineering right and worry about the styling afterwards. At least that's how it seems to those of us on the outside.

So when the Yaris was delivered two weeks ago, I wasn't quite full of enthusiasm at the thought, but after a wheen of miles over two weeks I changed my opinion quite radically.

The metamorphosis happened one day when I was running late and needed to press on and started to explore the hitherto unexplored regions at the top end of the rev counter. It's no road rocket, but honestly get this pensioner perambulator above 4000 rpm and it becomes quite entertaining, with a six speed close-ratio gearbox allowing the driver to make the most of its modest 98 bhp.

Complementing the performance is the degree of comfort inside. It really is a full four seater including those in the back who won't have to put their legs in their pockets to get in. As for the driving position, I found it quite superb and added to the fun factor, making it feel quicker than it actually was. The seats are quite broad and flat, and because of that, they will accommodate most shapes and sizes, including the overfed festive face-stuffers who had to relax a couple of buttons after the Christmas pud.

So although not a fan of the styling, I can't fault the engineering. Prices start from just over 12 and half grand for the five door, 1300 motor, and maybe we'll all have to re-think our opinion that this small Toyota is just for the elderly. It put a smile on my face.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Rally - Glendinning Wins

Michale Glendinning and Paul Hughes scored a maiden win in their new Subaru on to-day's Grant Construction Stages Rally at Knockhill. The pair pulled out a slender lead over the first two tests and then just pulled away from the rest of the 44 car entry to win by over 40 seconds from Mark McCulloch.

Glendinning (38m 15s) was full of praise for his new DMack tyres at the end of the 'test session' but it was surely young Mark McCulloch (38m 59s) who scored the 'drive of the day' on only his second outing in the 1600cc Proton. 

There was little change to the finishing order once the organisers had sorted out the Notional times caused by a couple of incidents on the fifth stage with Gareth White finishing a scintillating third (39m 26s) in his Citroen and giving the crowds an entertaining lift on the final stage of the day harrying a 2 litre Ford Escort on the fast expanses of Knockhill tarmac.

Fourth was Jim Sharp (39m 27s), from Ian Forgan (39m 49s) and Bruce Hay sixth in his wee Nova on 40m 01s. Ross Hunter was 7th in the Peugeot 205 (40m 06s), from Chris Collie (40m 41s), Neil Thomson in a Corsa (41m 22s) and rounding off the top ten was Wattie Warwick on 41m 22s.

Last year's winner, John Rintoul, failed to finish when a wire broke on the throttle position sensor stranding the car mid stage and Dale Robertson's excellent run and rally lead disappeared when the engine "shit itself", apparently a technical expression which will need to be explained to those of a more tender disposition.

Rally - Glendinning in Control

With 6 stages gone (from 8) on to-day's Grant Construction Stages Rally at Knockhill, Mike Glendinning has extended his lead at the head of the 42 car entry (31m 20s) and is now just over a minute clear of Mark McCulloch, but places behind them are not quite so certain.

Following an incident at the Flying Finish of Stage 5 when Stuart Baillie cowped his Subaru on its ear on the glaury surface, a number of cars behind him were delayed and given Notional times, and the organisers are deep in consultation seeking an acceptable outcome - rather than cancel the stage, which is always the last resort in such instances.

So positions are currently provisional pending a decision, with Gareth White in third place (32m 46s) in the wee Citroen ahead of Jim Sharp (32m 34s), Ian Forgan (33m 35s) and Bruce Hay in sixth place on 32m 50s.

Ross Hunter bis currently 7th in the Peugeot (33m 00s) ahead of Chris Collie (33m 42s), Wattie Warwick (43m 06s) and Des Campbell on 34m 07s, so it's all pretty close behind the top two.

However, the cars are now lining up for the final two stages but already the lights are on at Knockhill and the organisers are keen to get the final two stages run before it gets dark. And yet again, the weather has changed. A bitterly cold, cutting wind has blown away the rain and dense low cloud so folks can actually see after a very foggy couple of runs earlier.

A point worth noting is that there is no danger to spectators from polar bears - it's too cold for them up here!

Rally - Monte Carlo at Knockhill

DMack's WRC Monte Carlo tyre - at Knockhill
First time out in the ex-Cronin/Evans TegSport Impreza, Michael Glendinning leads a rather damp and misty Grant Construction Stages Rally at Knockhill. It is also his first time in a LHD car and using a Hans device and new helmet, instead of his more familiar kit, so it's all new. "I was shittin meself at the start of the first stage," said Michael, "I wasn't comfortable and there's all these new switches and controls to remember." He's also trying out DMack's new Monte Carlo WRC tyres and has promised to give Dick a call after the rally to tell him how well they did.

Regardless of that, he's now got a 29 second lead (19m 04s) over second place Mark McCulloch in the 1600 Proton (19m 33s).

John Rintoul has worked his way back up to third (19m 34s) after his disastrous start to the day on the first stage and has designs on young Mark's second place, but he's not making much impact on Glendinning's times - yet!

Dale Robertson is fourth (19m 46s) having sorted out his earlier problem. "The tyres had different profiles on the first two stages so they were winding the diffs up," said Dale, "but we've now got a better matched set on." Only one second behind Dale is Ian Forgan (19m 47s) with Jim Sharp back in his own Subaru (19m 57s) after the |Galloway Hills outing in a hired car and completes the top six.

Gareth White and Bruce Hay are still in the top ten but the wee cars are losing out to the 4WD brigade now that the mud is cleared off the stage surfaces a wee bit.

Sadly, early rally leader Doug Brydon is on his way home: "A rear drive shaft broke just at the split near the end of the second stage," said Doug, "but we finished the stage, still had the lead and then changed the driveshaft. It was looking good till we reversed it out and then tried to drive forward, and it started making a horrible grinding noise - it's the wrong shaft! So we're out."

Rally - Dawn over Knockhill

Now there's a sight you don't see every day, dawn breaking over Knockhill. It was very mild early this morning, but it's now cold and there's a smirr of rain in the air. 

Arriving at the circuit in the dark this morning ahead of the Grant |Construction Stages Rally, it was very mild and the paddock was already full of cars and vans and abuzz with excitement and anticipation.

The Knockhill staff were at the gate handing out welcome packs to everyone with a brochure, discount voucher and stage maps for the day's activities and there was the welcoming smell of tea and bacon butties wafting across the serried ranks of badly parked rally team entourages!

Somer of the buildings had taken quite a battering in last week's storms but Stuart Gray and Ian Forrest were remarkably upbeat and repair work on roofs and gable ends was already well underway but still well pleased that the facilitirs had borne the brunt of such a fierce storm so well. In fact on the way up to Knockhill this morning there was more evidence of damage with trees down and branches scattered across roads so the fact that the circuit is open for business is testament to the team's sterling efforts at Knockhill.

Anyway, with 2 stages gone Doug Drydon (Subaru) has taken a 2 second lead over Michael Glendinning (Subaru) with Jim Sharp (Subaru) a further 8 seconds behind.

Mark McCulloch is 4th, second time out in his new Proton 1600 giving it a shakedown ahead of the British Rally Challenge which he will be contesting this coming season. He did the Christmas Stages two weeks ago in the car and finished 17th but wasn't happy with the handling, so he's changed the suspension and is much happier today.

Last year's winner John Rintoul (Mitsubishi) lost nearly 20 seconds on the first stage this morning with a 'hoor' of a spin on the damp, greasy surface and Stuart Baillie lost a chunk of time too "aquaplaning on mud" and wiped the front bumper off on a tyre marker, so they both have some serious time to make up.

Bruce Hay is a remarkable 5th in the Nova ahead of Ian Forgan in the wildly oversteering MkII with Gareth White 7th in the wee Citroen from Ross Hunter in the Peug 205 so it would appear to be awfy slippy out there especially for the more powerful cars - and it's still raining.

Friday 6 January 2012

Road – No more SORN?

One of the pledges made by the present Government when seeking our support at the last General Election was to cut red tape. Well, it appears that the cutting is about to start.

According to Transport Secretary Justine Greening the snip is under way with a simplified procedure for the Statutory Off Road Notification, or SORN. Once drivers have notified the DVLA that their vehicle is off the road they will no longer have to go through the weary process of annual SORN renewal. That should help those who have ‘collections’ of cars and motor bikes cluttering up the garden and driveway, including a certain rally driver in the north east whose collection of Triumph Dolomites currently numbers 19 - at the last count!

Plans are also afoot to dispense with the regulation which requires motorists to hold a paper counterpart to their driving licence, and this will be done away with by 2015.

As for the issue of hard-copies of V5C vehicle registration certificates, these will only be issued to fleet operators when needed, and that will be rolled out to private motorists in due course.

Justine Greening said: “Motorists shouldn’t have to keep numerous bits of paper just to prove they can drive and have bought insurance – we live in a digital age and we need to embrace that. Reducing the number of rules and regulations in our life is absolutely vital to removing barriers to economic growth and increasing individual freedoms.”

Other proposed changes include removing the need for an insurance certificate. The Department for Transport will work with the insurance industry on removing the need for motorists to have to hold an insurance certificate. But before you think this is a loopy idea which will result in more un-insured cars on our roads, the DfT will ensure that a system will be put in place to check existing databases for insurance under new Continuous Insurance Enforcement rules. The DVLA’s records are compared regularly with the Motor Insurance Database (MID) to identify registered keepers of vehicles that appear to have no insurance.

Parking and permissions is another area rife for clarification, and Local Authorities will now have to ensure business interests are properly considered as part of any future proposed Workplace Parking Levy scheme. They must show they have properly and effectively consulted local businesses, have addressed any proper concerns raised and secured support from the local business community.

As part of this ongoing process, attention will be paid to other issues affecting motorists such as improved road signage (to help those already helplessly lost by following their SatNavs!) and speed limits which are currently under review.

You’ll also be pleased to note that bicycles must have bells and there will be a maximum permitted length of dog lead used by dog walkers on certain roads. This is to try and control those infernal ‘fishing reel’ type jobs which stretch from one side of the road to the other and are specifically designed to trip up pedestrians, cyclists and baby buggies.

It’s not much, but it’s a start, although the SORN headache will provide welcome relief for some of us.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Rally - 2012 Blast Off

Brrrr! It wis awfy cauld last year!
Winners of last year’s Grant Construction Stages Rally at Knockhill, John and Jim Rintoul head the entry for this year’s event which gets the Scottish rallying season underway this coming Sunday, the 8th of January.

Border Ecosse Car Club have got over 40 entries for the season-opener and it looks as though there will be some new cars getting an airing.

The first stage will start at 8.30 am and it should be all over by 4 pm with the cars being flagged off at 30 second intervals.

Hopefully, conditions this weekend will be better than the white-out which greeted crews last year, but having said that, it was a great spectacle and most of the crews enjoyed it.

The entry fee is £8 (£4 conc./U12 free) for spectators but only a fiver if you book in advance on the Knockhill website.  However, when I tried it this morning there was an answering machine message which said the circuit was shut until Friday the 6th of January!

Top ten seeds are listed below but there’s a full entry list and more info on the website at: 

Entry List:
1 John Rintoul/Jim Rintoul (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 8)
2 Michael Glendinning/Paul Hughes (Subaru Impreza)
3 Jim Sharp/TBA (Subaru Impreza)
4 Dale Robertson/Paul McGuire (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9)
5 Doug Brydon/Dave O’Brian (Subaru Impreza)
6 Stuart Baillie/Dave Cranston (Subaru Imprez)
7 Alan Gardiner/Robin Nicholson (Ford Escort MkII)
8 Stuart Walker/Caroline Will Mitsubishi Lancer EVO 9)
9 Scott McMinn/Steven Marshall (Subaru Impreza)
10 Mark McCulloch/Mairi Riddick (Proton Satria)