Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Open Wheel Racing Merger Details

Indy Car Series Logo

Today's IRL press conference provided the official details of the "merger" between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series:
  • The "new" series will keep the name Indy Racing League
  • Teams will use the IRL's Dallara-Hondas.
  • The season will start with a race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29
  • The Long Beach Grand Prix and the Indy Japan 300 will both be run on April 20.
    • Old Champ Car teams that are making the switch to the IRL will contest the Long Beach GP for IRL points and prize money using their equipment from the 2007 season
  • All events scheduled to be on the 2008 Champ Car calendar are under consideration for possible integration into the 2009 IRL calendar, and in fact as many as possible will be integrated into the 2008 season
    • Long Beach is confirmed to have a place on the 2009 calendar
  • Champ Car teams that can commit to the full 2008 season are receiving $1.2 million, plus leased cars and engines to aid in the transition

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Open-Wheel Split Over

Indy Car World Series Logo


The persistent dream of any fan of either the Champ Car World Series or the Indy Racing League has finally arrived: The two series are set to merge in time for the start of the 2008 racing season.

For 11 years the series have been separate entities, fighting for teams, sponsors, and fans. Originally a matter of ovals vs. road courses, each series diluted itself to become all things to all people, with neither accomplishing the desired result.

Robin Miller's article at has all of the currently-available details, but the important points follow:
  • Tony George, founder and current leader of the IRL, has offered free cars and $1.2 million to any Champ Car team that wishes to defect and is able to commit to the entire season.
  • Four current Champ Car teams have committed to the switch, with at least one more probable, bringing at least eight cars to the current IRL lineup.
  • The IRL is planning to integrate four current Champ Car race locations and dates into the 2008 calendar, including the Long Beach GP scheduled for April 20.
The result isn't so much a merger as Champ Car finally going under and the IRL salvaging the larger pieces. Few people, even die-hard fans of Champ Car, would argue that even this result is significantly better than two independent series. With any luck, the combination of the best open-wheel drivers, teams, and venues will attract long-lost fans and sponsors and return North American open-wheel racing to the top shelf.

The deal is officially done, per Robin Miller's follow-up article.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The end of Viper

According to Jalopnik, the Dodge Viper will be discontinued, presumably as part of Cerberus-owned Chrysler's "Project Genesis" turnaround plan.

It's always unfortunate when a performance car goes extinct, if for no other reason than thins out the "biodiversity" in the car ecosystem. Gearheads like to compare stats, pros and cons, and pit cars against each other, both in reality and in our heads. But frankly I think this is the right business decision. Continuing the Viper just doesn't make sense.

The Viper made a lot of sense when it debuted back in 1992. Let's think back to what the performance car world was like in 1991. Horsepower was on a different scale. The Corvette made 245 hp. If you wanted a performance Mopar your choices were a turbo K-car (e.g. the 224hp Dodge Sprit R/T) or a rebadged Mitsubishi (e.g. the 195hp Eagle Talon). Then the 1992 model year rolled around. The 'Vette was upgraded to the all new, high-tech, "Gen-II" V8 making 300 hp. And the Viper debuted with 400 horsepower. That 400 was an ungodly, extravagant, jaw-dropping number. Dodge finally had a car that could sell posters and make it into video games. It was an exotic beast.

Over the following 16 years, that exoticness became the Viper's Achilles' heel. GM kept the Corvette's development costs low by using a highly tuned variant of their workhorse GenII/GenIII/GenIV V8s, and spread those costs among tens of thousands of sales every year. Meanwhile just about every major component of the Viper was unique to the Viper (except for the flash-in-the-pan Ram SRT10); the snake sold a few thousand units in the good years, and a few hundred in the bad. Over time GM's R&D outpaced Mopar's, and the Viper's initial performance advantage eroded to nothing.

How do things look here in model year 2008? Well, horsepower is up. Plebeian family cars like the V6 Chevy Malibu or V6 Dodge Charger make more horsepower than that '91 Corvette. In 2006 the 500hp, $63,800 Viper was bested by the 505hp, $60,300 Corvette Z06. After massive effort, the Viper was upgrated to 600hp, only to be toppled again by the forthcoming 620+hp Corvette ZR1.

To Chrysler's credit, it has a whole crop of legitimate enthusiast cars in its SRT lineup. Like the Corvette and unlike the Viper, the SRT cars use hopped-up variants of volume production engines, are mass produced in quantity, and are priced within reach of middle class buyers. And they're just hot enough to sell posters and make it into video games -- especially the SRT4 and upcoming Challenger. So what's the point of the Viper? Why bother developing the single-application engine, or keep that factory open, when Chrysler has other halo cars and can't hope to keep up with the Corvette?

There's also the business reality that higher CAFE standards loom, Chrysler leans heavily on its pickup truck and large car sales, and its latest generation of small and midsize cars are generally considered failures. Even worse, every other major manufacturer has some kind of fuel-saving technology up its sleeve: direct injection, hybrids, smaller turbocharged engines, or a small diesel. Chrysler doesn't. Shifting resources makes sense.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Taurus SHO

1994 Ford Taurus SHO
Recently a hilarious Craigslist ad for a 1994 Ford Taurus SHO made its rounds on the Internet (and has now been unfortunately removed). The SHO seems like a laughable concept now, and it's possible that it was laughable at the time as well. However, the idea of a factory-tuned sedan is hardly a bad one as shown by the Cadillac V, Mercedes AMG, Audi S, and BMW M cars. Further, Ford could certainly use a kick in the pants, as they've been churning out nothing but yawners (with the exception of the various Shelby Mustangs) for a few years.
The Big Three have admittedly been against the ropes for those same few years, but Ford is doing the best of acting the part. GM responded to the announcements of their imminent death by peppering the market with incredible cars and trucks of nearly every variety. Chrysler is riding the wave of optimism generated when they were pulled (thrown?) from the clutches of Mercedes Benz. Ford, on the other hand, has made careful and effective improvements to their products while somehow managing to avoid telling anyone about them.
A return of the SVT program would certainly help to draw attention to some of their better products. The Focus and the Fusion (and the Milan and MKZ) would respond well to a performance boost, and would draw attention to their capable platforms. A current-generation Taurus SHO may not have the same flavor as those from the 90's, but there is certainly room in the Ford lineup for a power boost. John Coletti, where are you?

Friday, February 01, 2008

The next time you laugh at a scooter....

9 times out of 10, when I see someone riding a scooter around town, I have to laugh. It just looks funny. I don't know why but it does. However after seeing an article for the Piaggio MP3 500, I will have to eat my own words. This scooter moves with a 500cc engine making 40HP. That is not too bad for a small scooter. The real interesting part to this motorized bicycle is that it is really a tricycle. Thats right 3 wheels. With two wheels in the front and the one rear wheel this scooter is built for cornering. Similar to swaying on a normal motorcycle. Take a look at the Piaggio website. Oh did I mention the top speed is 90MPH.
Piaggio MP3 500

They Don't Make Cars Like They Used To

Leafing through an auto mag from sometime around 2003 revealed the following ad:

Ford Mustang Ad

The obvious intent is to imply that the Mustang has old-school power, brawn, and attitude. Looking at it through the eyes of a 2003 Mustang driver, who is all-too-aware that the underlying chassis is from 1979 resulting in old-school (meaning archaic and ineffective) handling and body control, it takes on an entirely different meaning.