Thursday, 31 May 2012

Road - Beating the AA


Not content with launching a new bargain priced pickup on to the market, Chinese manufacturer Great Wall have come up with a rather unique roadside recovery service to back up the 3 year Warranty on their Steed pickup.

Instead of contracting out to the AA, RAC or Green Flag they have chosen to instigate their very own highly personal service.

This service has numerous benefits. Fossil fuel costs are cut to a minimum, CO2 emissions are reduced, and if the ‘recovery team’ turns up late no-one is likely to argue with it/him!

Only kidding, but I couldn’t resist it.

Great Wall is in fact sponsoring the strongman competition ‘Giants Live’ at Leeds on June 23. This is part of the 2012 ‘World’s Strongest Man’ international championship. 
 
British strongmen taking part include Jay Hughes, Terry Hollands, Laurence Shahlaei and Mark Felix (England), Ken Nowicki (Scotland) and Richard Smith (Wales). 

The photo doesn’t say who this gentleman is, but if I ever do meet him, I’ll be very polite.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Road - On yer bike


ŠKODA AUTO has just unveiled its 2012 range of bicycles which might come as something of a surprise to those who didn’t realise that they make bicycles as well as cars. And just like the cars, the prices are creeping up! But also, just like the cars, the quality is there too and there are seven models to choose from.

Coinciding with the announcement, both Juho Hänninen and Jan Kopecký, have been named ambassadors for the 2012 ŠKODA bicycle and accessory range.

“Bicycles are an essential part of our training,” said Jan, “Before every rally, we clock up several hundred kilometres.”

This year’s range includes an ‘MTB’ model and ‘MTB Full’ with a full-suspension frame, or there is the ‘Cross’ which is more versatile.  There is also an 8.4 kilogramme ‘Road’ racer with an aluminium frame and carbon fork. 

And just so they don’t feel left out, the weans can opt for an ‘MTB-Junior’, which is dimensioned to fit a child but has similar technology to the adult bikes. This includes a lockable front fork and 21-speed transmission.

ŠKODA actually has a long history of bicycle racing and supports a number of cycling teams in Europe.

Just don’t expect to find them in the Halfords ‘Cut Price Sale’ collection!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Rally - Jim Clark Rally info


There’s a full Entry list on the website for all the events on this weekend’s Jim Clark Rally weekend at Duns and Kelso, from Friday 1st June to Sunday 3rd June.

Also a timetable and a list of all stages, although to get maps and directions you’ll need to buy an event programme. However, the old hands will ken fine where they are!

Rally HQ will be at Kelso Racecourse Friday and Saturday and the High School in Duns on Sunday.

Rally - Find a Rally Star


John MacCrone's Ford Fiesta R2
Calling all Car Clubs, especially those with a talented rally driving youngster. With a closing date of 30th June, entries for a new competition will need to be in quickly.

Oil company, Castrol EDGE  and ‘Motorsport News’ are organising a ‘Search for a Rally Star’ competition over the next few weeks.

At stake is a prize-drive on a national rally in a Ford Fiesta R2 supported by M-Sport and Castrol EDGE. The car will sport the same livery as the M-Sport run Ford World Rally Team cars, and the winner will receive testing and tuition from M-Sport before the event.

All that’s needed from each entrant is a letter of support from their motor club. The contest is open to all UK and Ireland residents aged 18 and over. A panel of judges will select six finalists, who will be invited to Rallyday at Castle Combe on August 18 to take part in a series of driving and assessment tests. The judges will take their performance in that event into consideration when selecting a winner.

This is not simply a young driver contest as some competitive experience would be useful. The assessment at Rally Day at Castle Combe for the six finalists will include some driving.

Motor clubs can support as many entries as they like - so there’s no chance of favouritism. Although there is as much chance of this leading to a ‘works’ drive as Scottish midgies becoming vegetarian, any chance of enhancing CVs and getting a bit of national exposure is to be welcomed.

Entries should be sent to: mn.rallystar@haymarket.com

The closing date is June 30, 2012, so do it now!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Road - Highland Ranger


If I was surprised by the amount of interest generated by the Mercedes-Benz E220 and the Skoda Yeti which I had recently, then I was quite taken aback by the interest shown in the latest arrival. It was the 3.2 litre Ford Ranger Wildtrak. No doubt the glowing bronze, WAGged orange paintwork attracted additional attention, but on my arrival at the Fort Augustus Gravel  Sprint last weekend, it attracted interest like midgies to a peely wally English tourist.

Not content with looking, it was a case of ‘Open it up and let us sit in it mister.’ Considering these were mostly rally types, the 3 tonne towing limit was part of the appeal, but so too was the spacious cabin. Another potential punter wondered if it would double up as a family car. Not only does he run a rally car, but he has a property development business so was interested in its use as a business vehicle and therefore able to claim the 20% VAT back.

Naturally, fuel consumption was uppermost in folks minds, but on the 150 mile trip north up Loch Lomond-side and through Glencoe I was getting 29.6 mpg. Not bad from a 3.2 litre oil burner and a vehicle with the aerodynamic slipperiness of a caber. And I wasn’t hanging about despite the numbers of the early rising, Munro-bagging woolly hats and clumpy boots cluttering up the verges.

But it just shows how much I know. There was no Spec sheet in the Ranger when it arrived so when I started it up and drove it north I actually thought it was a V6, it sounded so gruff and good.  On the way back I thought about it some more and decided it wasn’t a V6, and yet it had power and torque to spare to get past campervans, caravans and other finger pointing tourists ogling the sights as they weaved around the Highland roads.

So I checked. The V6 is only for the American, South African and Australian markets. What the British top spec pickup had was the 5 cylinder unit out of the biggest of the Ford Transits. No wonder it sounded so good, and no wonder it had the poke to deal with dodderers, although there are two other versions of the pickup with 125 PS and 150 PS versions of the four cylinder, 2.2 litre engine.

As for ride quality. No fears. The previous Ford Ranger had the best ride quality of any pickup on the market. To put that in perspective, you will never get as good a ride in a pickup as any other ‘soft-roading’ SUV. That’s down to the suspension. To qualify as a business vehicle, a pickup must have a payload in excess of 1 tonne, and on that basis it needs a set of beefy springs at the back to cope.

That does not always translate to a smooth and supple ride for everyday use, and is also one of the reasons many folk using it for domestic duties put a couple of bags of sand, or a ladies handbag (or whatever) in the back to take the sting out of the leaf springs.

Despite that, Ford had made a heckuva job sorting out the quality of ride in the old Ranger and they’ve done it again with this one. For sure, it still jiggles a wee bit on uneven surfaces, but it does have an energetic ability to soak up bumps and undulations with only the sharper edged pot holes and Edinburgh’s cobbled streets generating a jiggly ride.

And here's a thought, the ride quality of the new Ranger is far superior to some supposed overstuffed exec saloons which have sexy giant alloys clothed in rubber bands - and I know which I would rather have - and has more presence!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Road - Messing about in Mud

New bodywork is exceptionally attractive
Phew, it was hot in the quarry. It was like the inside of a Sumo wrestler's jockstrap. You could see the heat, or it might have been steam, rising from assorted footwear all around. Fortunately it was a wide open and airy place so cheesy smells were not an issue!

Anyway, the lads from Jason Sharpe Motorsport had designed a pretty impressive off-road course in the base of the quarry and despite the heatwave, there was plenty of water around turning the limestone sand to cement coloured claggy mud.

Apart from the usual elephant footsteps (to show off the axle articulation), ultra steep inclines and declines (tackled with all feet off the pedals) and boggy holes (illustrating the impressive traction) there were a couple of daunting slopes to test the rollover angle.

Apparently, anything over 47 degrees will tip a D-Max on to its ear, and these were 46.5 degrees. At least they felt that way. The Isuzu was more inclined to slip sideways than roll, but it didn’t, although anyone who had taken a full cooked breakfast earlier this morning would have been regretting it, as it slopped around inside.

Admittedly much of the course could have been tackled in two wheel drive, but it was easy to switch between four wheel drive and lo-ratio 4WD with the turn of a dial, even on the move. Electronics have taken much of the fun and skill (guesswork?) out of serious off-roading these days, but on the other hand, it has made the exercise a lot safer, especially for numpties.

There was one really scary drop that I thought would have defeated the D-Max. It consisted of a run along the top of an embankment then a sharp 90 degree turn over the steep slope. It was so steep, that as the pickup turned round and dropped down, the front offside wheel was pawing the air until the weight transfer dropped it down simultaneously lifting the nearside rear wheel completely off the deck. In other words, for some of the manoeuvre, the pickup was travelling in two wheel drive mode because the other two weren’t doing anything at all.

I really thought I was going to end up like a Swiss roll inside a tin box, but on the basis that this was someone else’s vehicle, I’m game for anything. The pickup slipped and slithered worryingly during the turning manoeuvre, but as soon as the four wheels bit the dust, the electronics started clicking and clattering like a couple of old gossips with badly fitted dentures and slowed the descent to a much more controlled fall off a cliff.

That was impressive. So too was the trip down an L shaped ‘canal’. It’s one thing driving down a canal, it’s quite another not knowing what’s around the corner. Again, the self preservation mode kicked in and I could relax knowing that the team had already driven through it and were sure there were no sump-crackers hidden under the surface, or alligators sunning themselves on the banks waiting for the tinned food to arrive – and get stuck!

In other words, the new Isuzu D-Max is a hugely capable off-roader, but very few owners will ever take it to this extreme. On the other hand, it’s reassuring to know that when the snow falls or flood levels rise that certain pickup owners will still be able to get to Tesco’s.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Road - Isuzu goes Top Gun


The new Isuzu D-Max - and friend!
Launching a new vehicle into the marketplace is not simply a matter of sticking a few journalists in the machine and hoping they will write nice things about it. There is the issue of motivating and training dealers and getting some of the bigger customers and fleet buyers to come and have a look away from the office and away from other distractions.

Because of all that, the manufacturer tries to make the launch event memorable so that this too will influence opinion. Not that a bunch of cynical commercial vehicle journalists could be swayed by such obvious tactics, but it does impress the dealers and potential buyers.

Ambitious - eh?
On that basis, the theme for the Isuzu D-Max pickup launch was ‘Top Gun’. The airline theme was enhanced by the used of inflated hangar style marquees at Fairford while at the off-road venue, a challenging course had been laid out to assess the abilities of the ‘Top Guns’ who would be driving the pickups. Over the course of the next ten days, 93 dealers and staff would be invited on a daily basis plus a host of customers, but the press went first!

Isuzu staff were resplendent in their own corporate uniforms, but the event support staff girls were in very smart, bright red hostess style tailored suits while the guys were in one-piece aviator flight suits and all wore aviator style shades!
Base model with steel wheels

The only trouble was, the sun was beating down relentlessly on the aerodrome tarmac and on the limestone quarry where the off-road course had been laid out. It was hotter than a small Hammond in the Masai Mara. This led the driver instructors at the quarry to modify the dress code to try and keep cool - underneath the flight suits most of them were ‘au naturel’.

As for the pickup it’s certainly an improvement on the previous Rodeo. It’s longer and wider which makes for a more roomy cabin and the new 163 hp, 2.5 litre twin turbo engine with 6 speed gearbox did everything that was asked of it. But don’t go thinking this is a civilised urban warrior, the ride is very firm although the seats soak up the worst of it. That’s because this pickup is more suited to work than showing-off. Whereas some other manufacturers have aimed their pickups primarily at the leisure and lifestyle market, Isuzu continues to address the needs of farmers, forestry workers, construction firms and utility companies.

And yet, stick half a tonne in the back and the D-Max is transformed. It rides like a kiddies’ bouncy castle.

So if you want a vehicle that will work hard for its keep, yet double up as acceptable family transport at the weekend, the new D-Max is well worth a look. 

Prices start from fifteen grand going up to twenty two (plus VAT) but the clincher is – a 5 year warranty. No other pickup manufacturer can match that.

Tomorrow I’ll put up some pics from the off-road course.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Rally - Reay didn't cut - much!

I struggled to get a strong mobile signal at Inchnacardoch at the weekend so didn't put up any action pics. However, I couldn't resist this one. The winner maintains he 'didn't cut' and that he was in the middle of the road at all times. You be the judge.

There's a full report on the Fort Augustus Gravel Sprint up on the website now, as of last night, if you want any more info than was put here on Saturday (see below).

Monday, 21 May 2012

Road - Become a writer


Despite what I have said in the past, there are many folk out there who still think the life of a freelance motoring writer is glamorous, exciting, life-enhancing and mind-enriching, with lots of overseas trips and luxury hotels, fluffy towels and room service, tapas and cocktails with wee umbrellas, rich food and gorgeous PR girls. Oh, and some driving too.

On the other hand, it can be wet, windy and cold while sitting in the back of a car in a Service Area on the M6 trying to write up a feature on the laptop before your free hour’s worth of Wi-Fi access is used up following the purchase of an extortionately priced carton of watery cardboard flavoured coffee bean grindings and floor sweepings. And all because the deadline is looming.

Journalists and photographers live their life by deadlines. If they miss it, it’s an ear-bashing at best, sacked or no fee at worst. That means no time for shopping in exotic locations, lounging by the pool on assignment, and no time for the bar in airports. The deadline is the red lined, rev limit before the engine goes bang.

Gone are the days of 3 day press trips, business class air fares, five course meals and free bars. Now it’s a flight out one afternoon and back the next, queuing for hours to get through security and passport control, fighting for the arm-rest on a Queasyjet, stale air and wet armpits, a dry choke on the in-flight sandwich and dislodging it with some tepid, coloured water. And still trying to write up hastily written notes taken during the trip.

Or not. In this case, it’s off to the Cotswolds tomorrow for the launch of the new Isuzu D-Max pickup.

But here’s the thing. Isuzu are launching a wee competition for any poor misguided soul who is still hankering after a life as a motoring hack.

Isuzu UK will give eight folk the chance to experience a day in the life of a motoring journalist, test driving the new Isuzu D-Max pickup, which goes on sale next month.  The competition winners will undergo a full product briefing before taking the pickup on a comprehensive road driving route and then tackling a purpose-designed off-road course.

To apply, entrants must submit up to 200 words detailing why they should win one of the eight places at: www.isuzu.co.uk/journalist, where the full competition rules and terms and conditions are also available.  The closing date for entries is 4 June.

During the event, the winners will be encouraged to use their own social media channels to inform and entertain their family, friends and followers.  Following the event, the winners can also submit a test drive report to Isuzu which will be featured on the Isuzu D-Max website.

So if you do fancy it, why not have a go - and do it now. Maybe I should have a go myself, or maybe not, I’d probably get gubbed!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Rally - MacKay wins


Andy Horne does panel beating!
Reay MacKay won the Stravaigers Lodge Fort Augustus Gravel Sprint by 2.2 seconds from David Wilson but as the event sponsor when asked how he felt about collecting his own prize, replied: “I’ve been gubbed for the past five years on this event, so I don’t feel at all guilty about winning!”

He actually set his best of six times on the third run of the day by which time the Inchnacardoch forest road was starting to cut up on the corners and at the hairpin, and few folk bettered their earlier times – apart from Wilson.

MacKay’s pace was impressive, but Wilson’s was flamboyant and he set his best time on the fifth run having ruined a very promising fourth stage time: “I might just have caught Reay on that one – but I put it off at the hairpin!”

Third quickest was Dougal Brown but like Wilson was trying right to the end, maybe a bit too hard for he slid off the road on his fifth run and clouted the front near side corner on a tree. No mechanical damage, just cosmetic.

Kevin Ronaldson set the fourth best time in his Subaru ahead of the top 2WD runner, Ian Cattanach in his Sunbeam having set his best time of the day on the opening test and then missed out on the afternoon runs when his gearbox started blowing oil out of a seal.

Neil Morrison was sixth in his Sunbeam having set his best time on the second stage before the diff bolts sheared and he lost all drive. With the two Sunbeams unable to run in the afternoon, Alex Pirie thought he might have been in with a shout for the top 2WD award in his Corsa.

He had missed out on the first two stages when a stub axle sheared and although he got going later in the morning, the deteriorating conditions frustrated his attempts to improve and he finished just two seconds adrift – that equates to a second a mile over the 2 mile stage.

Fastest Times of the Day:
1 Reay MacKay (Subaru WRC) 1m 50.4s
2 David Wilson (Mitsubishi EVO9) 1m 52.8s
3 Dougal Brown (Mitsubishi EVO9) 1m 56.4s
4 Kevin Ronaldson (Subaru) 2m 03.8s
5 Ian Cattanach (Talbot Sunbeam) 2m 09.4s
6 Neil Morrison (Talbot Sunbeam) 2m 10.9s
7 Alex Pirie (Corsa) 2m 11.2s
8 Richard Ramsay (Subaru) 2m 11.3s
9 Andrew Morrison (Ford Escort) 2m 12.9s
10 Alasdair Graham (Ford Escort) 2m 12.9s

Rally - MacKay in control


Reay MacKay is leading the Stravaigers Lodge Fort Augustus Gravel Sprint after the first three of the day’s 6 stages here in Inchnacardoch Forest just outside Fort Augustus.

With a borrowed gearbox (he still hasn’t got the parts from Hewland for his own box yet!) in the Subaru WRC, he has a 3 second lead over David Wilson in the Lancer. Mind you, the Highland Hotshot is lucky to be second:  “I spun it just after the Finish on the first stage,” said David, “I thought it was the ‘Pearly Gates’ this time as I was going backwards.” Fortunately not.

Dougal Brown is another 3 seconds adrift in his Lancer so there’s all to play for this afternoon yet.

Young Adam Horne smacked the nose of the Honda Civic on his first run but faither Andy hooked it up to the Transporter’s towbar and pulled it out. The radiator is actually bent, but didn’t burst, so he’s still going.

And running Course Car duties today is former Scottish Rally Champion Jimmy Christie: “I bought back a car I had 5 years ago, an EVO6, and this is its first run out.” As for future plans he said: “I think I’ll do the Speyside then take it from there.”

Fastest Times of the Day (so far after 3 of 6 stages):
1 Reay MacKay (Subaru WRC) 1m 50.4s
2 David Wilson (Mitsubishi EVO9) 1m 53.3s
3 Dougal Brown (Mitsubishi EVO9) 1m 56.4s
4 Kevin Ronaldson (Subaru) 2m 06.6s
5 John MacKintosh (Toyota MR2) 2m 07.0s
6 Ian Cattanach (Talbot Sunbeam) 2m 09.4s
7 Neil Morrison (Talbot Sunbeam) 2m 10.9s
8 Richard Ramsay (Subaru) 2m 11.3s
9 Alasdair Graham (Ford Escort) 2m 12.9s
10 Stephen Ronaldson (Talbot Sunbeam) 2m 13.2s

Friday, 18 May 2012

Road - Skodaciously good


The odd thing was, this week’s press car attracted almost as much interest as last week’s, and yet the two are worlds apart in image – although that situation is changing these days. Whereas the Merc generated pangs of male desire, this week’s Skoda Yeti attracted the school-run brigade.

Rugged enough to mix it with the serious 4x4s on the school run, yet ‘green’ enough to allow users to be smug when they pull up outside the school gates in the shadow of some giant shouty auto-chav Gucci travel bag.

In fact, the lady in the Honda Jazz stopped by once on the way to school and then again on the way back for a second look having dropped off her wean.

And that’s where this particular Yeti scores. It’s the ‘Greenline’ model which has been optimised for fuel efficiency and is only two wheel drive. That means it’s not quick, but it’s frugal.

And therein lies the biggest surprise. With a modest 105 hp and a nought to 60 time of 12 seconds, the sporting motorist wouldn’t give it a second glance. That would be their loss. It’s a hoot to drive.

The car rides and runs well, is quick through the five gears once on the move and drives like it shouldn’t. It’s as much fun on a twisty road as an MX5, but everything happens slower so you get more time to savour it.

And because it has an SUV style body it has bags of room inside for four/five adults, a decent boot and flexible seating to carry all manner of shopping needs and domestic junk. In other words it’s a remarkably good family car.

The only drawback is that putting one of these on the road won’t give you any change out of 20 grand. In other words, Skoda is not a cheap brand anymore, but the good news is that it lives up to its name and its price tag.

On that basis, there’s nothing abominable about this Yeti.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Bike - Good News Story


What is 18 years of age, built like a twiglet and goes like a bumble bee with its bum on fire? John McPhee.

The Oban youngster is following in the wheeltracks of Donnie MacLeod, Niall MacKenzie, Steve Hislop and Stuart Easton and rapidly making a name for himself in motor cycle racing.

Backed by the Racing Steps Foundation the KRP rider has been awarded one of the two wildcard entries to next month's MotoGP World Championship fifth round at Catalunya on the third of June.

McPhee currently lies second in Spain's CEV Buckler Moto3 Championship and this will be his fifth Grand Prix wildcard. Previously he raced in the superseded 125GP category, claiming his best result - and first World Championship point for 15th - at the British Grand Prix last year before going one better at the season-ending round at Valencia.

His selection recognises the progress he has made since stepping up to the new 250cc four stroke class in the CEV series in April. He finished his first season in the ultra-competitive Spanish championship in 10th place in the rider standings in the 125GP series last year and has racked up podium finishes in each of the successor Moto3 rounds staged so far.

John welcomed the wildcard saying: "I'm delighted and really excited about it. I secured top 15 finishes in the Grand Prix at Silverstone and Valencia last year in the old 125 two-stroke class so obviously the aim is to try and better that this time around. I'm under not under any illusions as to how hard that's going to be. But I'll definitely be giving it my best shot.”

"The new KRP bike has shown itself to be competitive in the CEV championship and gets better race-by-race as the team introduces new parts and tweaks. So Catalunya will be a good test as to where we stand in relation to the bikes being run by the Grand Prix teams.”

Gaun yersel Jock.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Blethers - Illuminating idea




One of life’s more dazzling, and yet intensely annoying, inventions these days is bi-xenon headlamps. I know they are not supposed to dazzle other drivers, and they are supposed to adjust automatically to oncoming traffic, but they still friggin’ annoy folk.

And that’s the ones that work. All too often the adjustment has failed or is slow, or the lights are out of alignment leaving you seeing spots as they go by. And that’s when weather conditions are good. When it’s wet and dreich the effect can be positively dangerous.

They also don’t seem to consider those of us who live in hilly countries. Every time an oncoming car crests a rise, they dazzle the poor sods coming towards them, because they don’t react quickly enough to cope. Even ‘sleeping policeman’ and speed bumps  in built up areas cause a flash like a paparazzi’s camera when coming towards you.

Surely we don’t need lights this bright when there is a blanket speed limit of 70 mph in this country, do we? The only time we need to turn night into sunlit day is when rallying through forests in the wee sma’ hours.

So that’s why a new idea from Mercedes-Benz sounds interesting. Buried away in the 20 page (and that’s the short version) Mercedes-Benz E Class Press Pack is an explanation of the optional ‘Intelligent Light System’ which unfortunately wasn’t fitted to the E220 I was driving last week, but I wish it had been. It would have been good to try it out.

This new system has five separate modes, but the really interesting one is the ‘Adaptive High Beam Assist’ which uses a camera on the windscreen to recognise oncoming traffic and vehicles moving ahead. This controls the headlamps so that their beams do not reach the other vehicle while providing good illumination. The range of the dipped headlamp beams can be extended from 65 to up to 300 metres. If the road ahead is clear, the system performs a gentle transition to high beam.

There’s a ‘Motorway mode’ too, which comes on automatically when driving above 56 mph and increases the driver’s range of vision by up to 60 per cent. This lighting function is activated in two stages: the Intelligent Light System first increases the output of the bi-xenon lamps from 35 to 38 watts providing better illumination of the road ahead and verges. The second stage activates at 68 mph and above, when the beam of the bi-xenon module on the driver’s side is elevated slightly. Motorway mode has a range of around 120 metres, and the driver is able to see about 50 metres further at the centre of this cone of light than with conventional low-beam headlamps.

Other attributes are enhanced fog lamps and headlamps which swivel when cornering. All very cunning and interesting.

And for those cars which don’t have such an intelligent system, how about a certain Aston Martin DB5 - with machine guns behind the sidelights. That would fix ‘em!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Air - It's a Honda


This is a Honda, but not as we know it. The Honda Aircraft Company has just successfully completed its first test flight of its fourth conforming flight test aircraft, the ‘F3’. This latest HondaJet test model demonstrates the latest new product enhancements in its avionics and cabin management systems.

These include a new 60/40 display configuration on the Garmin® G3000 Primary Flight Displays for the flight deck, a new Cabin Management System (CMS) and updated production aircraft interior. The new available CMS enables passengers to use a wireless mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone, to view real time flight information and to control the HondaJet cabin’s lighting, temperature, music, and window shades for enhanced comfort and productivity.

The Honda Aircraft Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Honda Motors Inc. and was founded in 2006 following more than 20 years of aeronautical research and development. Headquartered in North Carolina, the company has a 500,000 square feet R&D, Manufacturing and Administration facility to develop, produce, market and support the aircraft with HondaJet dealers.

The HondaJet is the fastest, highest-flying, most quiet and most fuel efficient in its class. The two highly fuel-efficient GE Honda HF120 turbofan jet engines are uniquely mounted in over-the-wing-engine configuration to improve performance and fuel efficiency by reducing aerodynamic drag.

Honda's first-ever commercial aircraft therefore lives up to the company's reputation for superior performance, efficiency, and value. No doubt Mr. Soichiro Honda would be very proud of the Honda Aircraft as it fulfills one of his long-standing dreams to advance human mobility skyward.

 “The Power of Dreams” right enough, eh?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Road - Class act


Whatever it is, the Merc still has it. Audi has thrown millions at image, BMW at engineering and Jaguar style, but nothing quite turns heads in my neighbourhood as the three pointed star. Does that say more about the neighbours than about the car?

The last time a car caused such envious looks was the Range Rover Evoque and before that – another Merc.

There was a time when Merc had fallen out of fashion, but it’s back, and the E220 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY parked outside my house has had grown men peering in the windows at the leather and small boys casting envious looks at the gunsight on the grille.

It’s not as blatant as a Bentley or as ostentatious as a Roller, but the new shape does have presence. It also has the engineering to match. On a return trip to Aberdeen and back, I was getting 50.5 mpg and that was without really trying, just normal ‘go with the flow’ motoring.

The car had the optional 7 speed automatic ‘box (6 spd is standard), which added 1500 quid to the price, and which made the most of the 170 hp from the 4 cylinder diesel. There was no real need for the steering wheel paddles as it changed gear as quickly as anyone would need buying this type of car, although there is a ‘Sport’ version, but it’s another 4 grand more.

It’s a roomy, comfy cruiser, but it’s fitted with low rolling resistance tyres as part of the BlueEFFICIENCY package, so although you hear the thump over pot holes, you don’t really feel it as the Merc’s suspension makes a good job of soaking it up, even with 17 inch rims.

So what has the new Mercedes got that others haven’t? In a word – Class. The use of the word ‘Class’ to separate the model range like ‘B’ Class, ‘C’ Class and ‘S’ Class is a marketing triumph. No need for fancy names and checking to see if the chosen model name means something rude in another  language, the use of this single word imparts something that even an overloaded WAG can’t buy – class.

The big surprise is the price. It’s comparable with a top end Ford or Vauxhall. Now I know Ford and Vauxhall have made huge strides forward over recent years in quality, comfort and reliability, but so has Merc.

On that basis, Merc is back. The only downside is that the man came to take it back yesterday.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Road - Lada to rise again


The news that Renault and Nissan are investing some $750m in Avtovaz, Russia’s top-selling carmaker, prompted thoughts (fears?) that the endearing Lada Riva will be revived.

It brought back happy memories of the Lada Challenge, a very cheap way of getting into rallying in the 80s when a complete car could be bought for a hundred quid (and that was a dear one, fifty quid was the going rate at the time!) at a local scrappie – sorry vehicle recycling centre.

In 1200 cc form the cars were virtually unbreakable and therefore ideal for newcomers to the sport. They were also very simple mechanically, and a doddle to maintain. It was also very difficult to have a high speed accident, since horsepower and aerodynamics were in short supply, and with the outcome usually being that whatever the Lada hit, came off worst.

Currently, Renault, Nissan and Avtovaz between them sell about one in three cars in Russia’s 2.7m-strong car market. Carlos Ghosn, Renault and Nissan’s chief executive, said they will support the Russian company with platforms and technologies, and to use “the enormous resources that they have on the Russian market for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of Renault/Nissan”. By the time Renault and Nissan have paid their staged payments, they will hold a majority 67.13 per cent stake in the joint venture by 2014.

Avtovaz makes Lada cars at one of the world’s largest car plants in the Volga river city of Tolyatti, and although it nearly went under during the financial crisis in 2009, Vladimir Putin waded in with an ultimatum to Renault to help keep the company afloat. It was kept afloat!

More recently, Russia’s market has revived and is now Renault and Nissan’s third-largest after China and the US.

Note: There is no truth in the rumour that when Irn Bru ran out of girders in the early 80s, they bought a job lot of Ladas to tide them over. They bought some old Hillman Hunters instead.

Road - Dead battery!


Come on we’ve all done it, at some time. Letting batteries go flat. Whether it be on a classic car or bike, or just a little used vehicle, the sun comes out, and desire flickers in your driving shoes – but doesn’t when you switch on the ignition!

Anyway, I was taken by this latest gadget from Gunson. Their new  Smart Battery Alert (part number 77119) gadget simply fits on to the battery terminals and constantly monitors the battery voltage.

It doesn’t wait until the battery has gone flat. If the battery voltage drops below 12.2 volts an audible warning is triggered and bleeps every ten seconds.

The unit is small and easily positioned on the top or at the side of the battery and is in the shops at around fifteen quid, a modest outlay for the peace of mind knowing that your pride and joy will be ready and waiting – provided it is stored within earshot of the house!

More details from: www.gunson.co.uk

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Blethers - Tying the knot


The wedding venue
I didn’t make the DCC Stages Rally at Ingliston on Saturday nor the Rally Time Trial at Kames on Sunday due to a friend’s wedding in Stonehaven on Saturday.

So although Bruce Edwards in the Darrian won on Saturday from Alan Gardiner in the Escort Mk1 and Ross Fernie was third in the Subaru, and Blair McCulloch scored his first ever outright event win in his Nova on Sunday, I saw nothing.

Instead I was some 130 miles to the north enjoying the unusual delights of an unusual wedding. In place of hymns we sang along to Morecambe & Wise’ greatest hit, ‘Bring me Sunshine’, and the equally foot tapping ‘I’m gonna be 500 Miles ‘ originally sung by the Proclaimers, although rather more tunefully than our version - but what it lacked in musicality was bolstered by enthusiasm.

Traditional music
Instead of a traditional wedding feast we had venison and instead of sausage rolls and sannies for late evening nourishment, we had stovies – the ideal ballast for the ‘water of life’. There was no central heating, just an open fire, and no tiled roof over our heads, just canvas. And the loo was on wheels just outside the venue to the left under the trees!

And instead of music we had a ‘proper’ ceilidh band, by ‘proper’ I mean one of those ensembles who teach the steps by way of a musical warm-up and then encourage and cajole everyone to get up and kick the light fantastic. It was the right approach since there were a number of ‘furriners’ amongst the guests, and not just English folk, a Canadian and some French!

The wedding ceremony was rather different too and there wasn’t a dog collar in sight, instead the bride and groom ‘tied the knot’ in the rather more traditional celtic fashion of ‘handfasting’.

Different? Yes.  Enjoyable? Hugely. And tonight I’ll raise a glass of Lagavullin to George and Rosalind, with best wishes - Slàinte, sonas agus beartas – and ‘lang may yer lum reek’ too, just as it did in the tepee!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rally - New Peugeot 208 R2


Running ahead of next week’s Tour de Corse Rally, the fourth round of the IRC, will be the new Peugeot 208 R2. Driven by Stéphane Sarrazin and Benjamin Veillas this will be the first public outing of the replacement for the current 207 RC Rallye.

Two other versions will be revealed later in the year. A circuit race car, similar in spec to the R2, will appear first followed by an R5 version which will take over from the 207 Super 2000 rally car at national and international level. It is due to be unveiled in September.

The 208 R2 ran for the first time at the end of 2011 and Peugeot is upbeat about its chances against the R2 cars of Ford, Renault and Citroën. The 208's bodyshell is approximately 40 kg lighter than the 207 while extensive weight-saving work has lowered the centre of gravity, which coupled with the long wheelbase and short overhangs should provide outstanding road holding.

The naturally-aspirated, 1600cc engine is based on the 1.6 VTi available for certain versions of the 208 road car, with the engineers claiming that the 185 hp was achieved with ease despite the strict regulations governing the use of standard parts.

The gearbox, too, is new. Identical to the 207 S2000, the 208 R2 has a five-speed, manual, sequential gearbox with the lever mounted on the steering column.  The lever is much shorter and also positioned higher, while the shift is more direct and precise because it is in line with the gearbox. The system is much more rigid since it is shorter and lighter. The gearbox itself features innovative cooling with an air duct at the front of the car which channels cooling air to fins built into the front part of the casing which help dissipate heat and cool the oil.

The car sits on three-way adjustable dampers, plus a new, bespoke adjustable hydraulic bump stop which has been developed in association with Öhlins. The R2 also features a specific wishbone arrangement which increases suspension travel.

Hydraulic steering replaces the standard car's electric power steering system and is fitted to a higher-ratio hydraulic rack.

The gravel and asphalt versions of the 208 R2 will both be available in kit form for a price of €37,500 net (c£30,500). This price includes a fully-built engine. A fully built car (gravel or asphalt version) is priced at €57,500 net (c£46,700).

Two kits will be available to convert the asphalt version of the car to gravel trim, or the gravel version of the car to asphalt trim.

Peugeot Sport Racing Shop will take orders now - for delivery in November, so you've got time for your Lottery numbers to come up.

British enthusiasts will be able to get their first glimpse of the new car on the Ulster Rally in August – provided it gets through its Homologation OK, which it will!

Trial - Six Days in the Saddle

This is a 35mm slide from the 1987 event!

One of the best kept secrets in the British motor sporting calendar gets under way on Monday (7th May) at Fort William. The Scottish Six Days Trial doesn’t get the coverage it deserves in the ‘popular’ press, so the only folk ‘in the know’ are the motor cycle enthusiasts.

And yet this is one of the biggest and most spectacular events in the UK motorised calendar. Over 270 riders will be taking part this year from 17 foreign nations, such as Andorra, Austria, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, plus many European countries, as well as all the home nations.

Over the course of six days the riders will tackle an average of 30 ‘Observed Sections’ each day, and this is where the competition takes place. The riders are supposed to traverse these sections ‘feet up’ i.e. no footing and paddling to maintain balance as that constitutes penalty points. And if that sounds simple, you ignore one little fact – the organisers are a bunch of masochistic sadists. The kind of people who put whoopee cushions in cathedrals, and tie kittens to buses. They make the Sections as difficult as possible by sending the riders up waterfalls, across rocky streams, through muddy bogs and throw in the occasional six foot boulder which has to be climbed, on a bike – and this has to be seen to be believed. And all in the name of sport.

Again from the 1987 event
Adding to the joy (misery?) there is a daily time schedule. Riders have to complete each day’s route without speeding between the Sections or speeding on the roads, just like in a Special Stage Rally. Each day takes the riders from the Fort William start and back again through and over some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. By the end of the week they will have travelled around 700 competitive miles over some of the roughest terrain in the UK and the majority will be well and truly knackered. And all that creaking and groaning you will hear at Parc Ferme at the end of each day’s run will not be from swinging arms and tortured tyres, it will be from aching joints and peched-out lungs.

And then there’s the weather. One thing Scotland has in abundance. In the past I have seen frozen riders being lifted off their bikes at the end of a day’s ‘sport’. Sometimes just too wabbit to manage it themselves, other times having been frozen to the handlebars riding over snow covered mountain tops. This is truly an extreme event, but truly a wonderful spectacle.

It is also very reminiscent of following stage rallies of old, as half the fun is finding the Sections out in the middle of nowhere, close to the back of beyond. Although the organisers issue maps and details, finding some of the ‘accessible’ Sections is as easy as eating porridge with chopsticks.

The legend that is Sammy Miller - 1987 again
So once you have found your chosen vantage point the idea is just to lie back in the heather or coory under a brolly till you hear the melodic chatter of two-strokes and four-strokes coming through the glens and then pick your spot and marvel at the antics of all these foolhardy souls. And if they do record a ‘clean’ you’ll know about it, because the spectators applaud. None of this chanting and whooping nonsense. Just a very polite appreciation of skill, technique, throttle control and balance. Trials spectators are a very genteel bunch.

This is one of the last great free sporting spectacles in the world (OK, so there are some car park charges, but these support local communities) and it’s an event not to be missed, even if you don’t like motor cycles. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Just once.

Full information at: http://www.ssdt.org/

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Road - Grand Tourer


I’ve spent the past week in a Vauxhall Astra GTC and I must admit I was a bit ambivalent about it – till I took it to Kames the other morning to see the old cars on the Scottish Malts tour. There was nothing outstanding about the car and nothing bad, but for a car in the ‘hot-hatch’ category, it lacked a certain fizz, like a bottle of flat Irn-Bru.

Driving south on the M74 from Hamilton I took the slip-road past Happendon services and on to the A70, Douglas to Muirkirk road, and there I had a revelation. I saw the light. The Astra GTC is not a sports car, it’s a proper grand tourer - using the original meaning of the words.

In that ten mile stretch of tarmac fluidity there are no hairpins. Even the tighter corners round Glenbuck Loch serve only to provide a satisfying and enjoyable change of direction. As for the rest, the mixture of bends, complexes and short straights ensured a thoroughly entertaining twiddle on the steering and satisfying squeeze on the accelerator.

Wider than the previous Astra, this latest model has much more stability, allowing the driver to make more of the 1.6 litre turbo four’s 178 bhp. That means it can carry more speed into and through the corners rather than all this business of stamping on the brakes, down the gears and then getting on the gas on the other side.

More relaxed and just as quick, hence the ‘GT’ thoughts.

On the run back from Kames, that opinion was reinforced and the drive back up the motorway was conducted in a more mellow and thoughtful frame of mind. Maybe it’s an age thing, but this would be the ideal car for a run from Scotland to Le Mans with all the camping gear in the boot.

Instead of arriving breathless, excited and unable to comprehend the foreign tent erection instructions, the GTC driver would arrive relaxed, refreshed and ready for the fiendish far-eastern canvas challenge devised by an out-of-work Taiwanese monkey smuggler hell bent on exacting his revenge on the civilised western world which put him out of his original trade.

In other words, the ‘Grand Tourer Car’ badge on the Astra’s rump is a true description of the GTC’s real purpose in life.