March 01, 2007

An Open Letter

Fellow citizens,

No doubt by now, many of you will be aware of the terrible plague that is striking down certain sections of our glorious nation’s core transport infrastructure. I urge you now, dear friends, to brace yourselves. Do not fall into the trap of complacency when considering the terrible disease that stands before us. It is inevitable that this can only get worse. I fear that after we narrowly avoided the extinction of the human race, when our wise Government swatted away the DEADLY BIRD FLU with copies of the Daily Mail soaked in disinfectant, many of us feel that such a torment will never face us again. Gird yourselves. DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL has already reached our shores, and this very day, there are people walking amongst us who have already felt its pain.

I demand that the Government take immediate action to halt the spread of DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL. The cause of this horrific ailment remains a mystery to us all, and I call for the Government to use every resource at its disposal to identify where it comes from. Already rumors are circulating that an excess of exotic substances, such as silicon, ethanol, or hydrogrogen dioxide, are to blame. These substances are invisible to the human eye; consequently we are defenseless against them. It is imperative that our leaders fight to gain an understanding of the seemingly random spread of this monsterous catastrophe, before it is too late.

Of more concern, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL becomes airbourne and mutates into human form. Indeed, it may already have happened – the following report came from a valiant Englishman this very afternoon:

Well get this…I bought some Potato Waffles from Tesco in Milton, Cambridge on Saturday and ate half of them last night. Since then I have been experiencing stomach ache and some spluttering, symptoms not unlike those described on here. I went to my local main dealer about it who said I needed a new stomach, bowel and an enema and they couldn’t fit me in for any of them until next week. But my GP says I just need a big sh*t and a lie down and I’ll be fine. I just don’t know who to believe…

Clearly confusion is already beginning to take hold among the populace – but this need not be the case. We can prevail. Stay indoors. Stockpile food. Do not ingest any oil-based fuels, lest they orginated from the same source as the DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL. The Government will have no choice but to soon face up this disaster, and amass a stockpile of DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL vaccines for mass distribution. Until that time, take no risks. Exercise extreme caution should your young or your elderly being to show the symptoms. We will prevail.

And remember, there is no need for expensive repair bills until that time…the damage from automotive-type DEADLY TESCO UNLEADED PETROL may be minimised by immediate treatment with a tank or two of petrol from a brand who actually specialise in petrol, for example, Shell V-Power or BP Ultimate. I would not recommend this treatment for the human form – instead, immediately alerting your nearest medical professional is a much wiser course of action.

Stay away from contamination,

A concerned diesel-user


November 18, 2006

Star

This is one of a series of films made starring Clive Owen indulging in some top-rate hoonage. This, as far as I can recall, is easily the best of the lot…enjoy.


September 25, 2006

Is it wrong that I'm actually crying with laughter?!

Given recent events, this seems a highly topical video…

:D:D:D


September 10, 2006

Tevez, Spyker, and Formula One

I was extremely pleased when today it was formally announced that the remains of the old Jordan F1 team has been sold to Spyker, a small Dutch supercar manufacturer. Well, kind of. It’s a pretty bizarre transaction. Allow me a brief history lesson to set the scene.

As many of you will know, two years ago Jordan was sold to Midland, an obscure, but seemingly very rich, Russian company. Restructured and rebranded under the unevocative moniker of MF1 (Midland Formula One? Could they have come up with a more uninspiring name even if they tried?), they moved swiftly towards the back of the grid. MF1 took even less time in losing the affections of Jordan’s formerly very strong fan base.

It quickly became apparant that Midland weren’t quite prepared for trying to build a decent racing team, and were only in it to try and gain some brand exposure. I still can’t tell you what Midland actually do, and I’ve never heard of them outside the context of Formula One, so that hasn’t really happened. No-one will really notice you anyway unless you’re any good (like, pretty much all the other teams on the grid) or really cool (like Super Aguri). MF1 have been rubbish. I think this largely stems from a lack of motivation and funding, from the top of the Midland board, to get results.

When Midland realised that running a Formula One team is actually quite hard, they began to look to sell MF1 for a profit. They had bought Jordan for a knock-down price, and to give Midland credit they did make the team finacially stable. Rumors of the names of potential buyers circulated, Midland made token attempts at pretending to want to be staying in F1 for the long term, and life went on.

Stepping back a bit further in time to October 2000, the Birmingham Motor Show saw the world debut of the Spyker C8 Spyder. Having orginally ceased trading in 1925, the rebirth of Spyker was not one that many people really cared about, but the astonishing elegance of the C8 Spyder certainly grabbed attention. The car was full of gorgeous quirks, such as the gaping radiatior grill, the handbrake positioned in the passenger footwell, and the lush interior, sprinkled with toggle switches. Plus, and this is probably the most important factor, ‘Spyker’ is a really cool word.

C12 LaTurbie

Just for the record, this isn’t the C8 Spyder, but the most recent version of that model, the C12 LaTurbie.

The last ten years or so has seen many tiny startup supercar manufacturers arrive in a brief blaze of publicity, only to vanish into obscurity (and liquidation) in less time that it takes their products to do the 0-60 run. That’s not long at all. I expected Spyker to go the same way, but I’m glad to say that they quickly found their place in the market, and have recorded impressive growth since. However, they remain tiny in comparison to the traditional supercar names of Ferrari, Lamborghini and even Pagani.

This brings us back to the present moment. Rumors recently emerged that this tiny supercar manufacturer would be buying MF1. In a similar manner to the Tevez and Maschareno affair, this didn’t quite seem to make sense. Why would they do it? Where does the money come from? There are some pretty hefty manufacturers thinking about getting into F1, and plenty of existing teams are keen to start running their own ‘B-teams’. The easiest way to do this is by buying another team. Spyker are not one of these hefty manufacturers, and they don’t need to get into F1 to improve the quality of their business. Consequently the only reason that I think they’ve got into F1 is sheer enthusiasm. Evidence of this, and the source of the money, is provided by looking at the latest member of the Spkyer board.

Michiel Mol has been involved in Formula One for many number of years as a sponsor, largely through his Dutch media group Lost Boys. I don’t know much about Lost Boys, except that their simple typed logo looks insanely cool on racing overalls. They’ve backed a variety of teams and drivers, most notably Jos Verstappen and Arrows. Now, in a similar manner to Dietrich Mateschitz and Red Bull, Mol has decided to take an active role in F1 by buying into it, providing some major finance for Spyker’s deal.

I also suspect that Mol approached Spyker with the idea first, but no matter. Either way he’s helped to introduce a wonderful new name into Formula One, one that’s very far removed from the mainstream names traditionally associated with the sport. BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Renault, and…Spyker? Cool. I think having the Spyker banner above the door will be a big help in transforming MF1 into a remotivated, interesting race team, and one that will be worth following. I hope they swiftly move to clear out all the lingering remains of MF1, and plaster the car in as many Spyker logos as they possibly can, as soon as possible.

They do, however, need to be careful to maintain the mystique surrounding the brand. It’s the mystique of the product that really bring in Spyker’s clients, so they definately do not need the mass-market appeal that comes with being a manufacturer in Formula One. If they can do that, and actually turn out a performance, then we have an excellent new team in the sport.

And in other news…the most successful racing driver of all time announced his retirement today…


August 27, 2006

Hands on with the Golf GTI

Yesterday I continued my quest for a new car by checking out the VW Golf. I walked into the local dealership and asked about the GTI, which is towards the top of my budget. The dealer responded by offering to let me try the GTI, and also recommended the lesser GT TSI 170 and GT TDI models, which are usefully cheaper than the GTI. I had never considered these other models, since I'd like something with a bit of sparkle, but the dealer's recommendations were surprisingly wise…and full of Q–car appeal.

First car I took for a run out was the GT TSI 170. The ‘TSI’ signifies that the car has a clever 'twin–charged' 1.4ltr petrol engine. Sounds weedy, but the 'twin–charged' bit means that the engine has a turbo– and super–charger, which work in conjunction to supposedly give the performance of a normal, naturally–aspirated 2.3ltr engine. And, I was pleased to find that it most certainly did have that sort of performance. The TSI 170 pulled like a train throughout the rev range, overtaking traffic was easy peasy, and it was super–smooth along the motorway. I think it cruised at 70mph at some ridiculously low rpm, something like 2,200rpm, so it was very quiet indeed. Considering the red line is a touch over 6,000rpm, and it was hushed throughout the rev range, it's fair to say that long–distance high–speed cruising in this car would be a very pleasant experience.

It was extremely impressive, and to be honest, had the GTI been as fast as the surprisingly rapid GT 170 was, then I would have been far from disappointed. However, the GTI was much faster. Indeed, it was so capable, that driving at legal speeds on the motorway demanded more attention than hitting the sorts of speeds that have Daily Mail readers wetting themselves. The GTI isn’t just about straight–line speeds, though; it can most certainly handle the twisty stuff.

The dealer gave me a good demo of this when we left the forecourt, with him driving. He started telling me about the ESP system, which applies the brakes on each wheel individually to alter the attitude of the car; and how good it was for safety, performance, and the like. He then asked if I was a nervous passenger, to which I replied no. He then launched into a series of single–handed four–wheel drifts around one of the large roundabouts on the edge of town, whilst telling me about how the in–car computer takes care of the handling and all that gumpf. It was easy. And fast. I didn’t try anything quite that extreme when I got behind the wheel, but I could certainly see what he was on about. Amazing stuff.

However, the GTI was just too amazing for me; it was just too easy to travel at really rapid speeds. This is good, but as I like to enjoy the process of driving – I want to have to work to make a good pace. In a GTI, to feel like you're going fast, you actually have to be going seriously fast. You will have lots of fun whilst doing it, though. But since I'm stepping up from the family 306, which may as well be a wind–up toy car compared to the GTI, I can get just as much of a kick, at much more legal speeds, in a less capable car. I could always turn off the ESP to liven things up, but when there’s the technology at your disposal, it strikes me as being careless to not take advantage of it ;)

Finally we finished by trying the GT TDI. Since the 306 is a diesel, I have developed a love of low–down torque, so I had to try it to see whether it suited my driving style better. To be honest, it didn't really. It did perform extremely well, pretty much the same as the TSI 170, and the top end of the engine was amazing. However, I don't think I've ever heard such an unpleasant–sounding diesel. When you consider it's also more expensive than the TSI 170, I decided not to add it to the shortlist.

All three Golfs were fantastic. They were spacious, practical, and nicely equipped. They look ok, and in a stereotypically German manner, were full of clever little touches. I suspect that I would also find it too easy in the TSI 170 to make a rapid pace, as with the GTI. I might go back later to try the lesser TSI 140, which might be weedy enough to make driving, in a legal fashion, a worthwhile experience.

However, I did try a car today that did a much better job of satisfying that particular quality, with quite some style, and I may record my thoughts on it later in the week. I'll give you a clue though…it's French, it's small, and it’s probably on Fernando Alonso’s company car list :D


August 21, 2006

Brabus'd

Having reached the stage in life where I no longer have to live on a student's budget, I'm now in the market for getting myself a nice new set of wheels. As in, an entire new car, not just a set of nice alloys. So this morning I went down to Portsmouth to check out some motors. I'd drawn up a brief shortlist, mostly consisting of products from VW Group manufacturers.

First up on the list from the VW Group was the Seat Leon FR. It looks good on the outside, and not too bad on the inside, except for the atrocious 'ergonomic' gearstick. It looks like a really cheap PC gaming joystick, but worse. Unfortunately the dealer didn't have an FR for me to test, so I can only assume the gearstick works better when you're on the move. I'll go back later for a test drive.

Then whilst on my way to see the Audi dealer, I saw a Smart Roadster–Coupe Brabus on a DaimlerChrysler dealership's forecourt. So I went in, took a look, and then took it out for a drive round Portsmouth with the very helpful dealer in the passenger seat. I like the way the car looks…it's got plenty of presence, despite being tiny. However, being tiny means that it will be great for the cross–town commute in the morning to get the train into London, with some respectable fuel consumption from the miniscule engine.

The driving experience in this Smart is also great. All the car journalists go on and on about how it feels like a miniature supercar, with the pops and whistles from the turbo, and a surprisingly aggressive growl from the three–cylinder engine. And, from my brief experience, those journalists were right; it sounds wonderful. The suspension also felt spot on, it was nice and firm but still comfortable, which is how I like it.

It wasn't all supercar–sweetness though, the semi–automatic gearbox is awful. The dealer said that with time, you can adjust your driving style to help smooth the gearchanges; but I think we can all agree that shouldn't have to be the case. Under full acceleration (which by Porsche standards is admittedly sluggish, but you'll never ever have so much fun going so slowly in a road car) you could feel the speed ebbing away whilst the gearbox pondered over the next gear change. It would have been quicker to get a spanner out and physically moved the gear selector thingy in the gearbox yourself.

In 'manual' mode, where you change gear using some nice paddles on the steering wheel, or pushing the gearstick itself, the situation wasn't much better. Although the changes did seem quicker (the dealer pointed out that you're more likely to think that a gearchange is quicker in manual mode, because you know when you've requested the gearchange), there was still too much delay. And I'm sure that the gearbox changed up a gear by itself at one point when I clattered into the rev limiter…which is a reasonable thing to do, but nowhere near 'manual' enough for my liking. And to add to the gearbox issues, I also felt that the power steering was too over–assisted, which could be a problem when blasting down my favourite backroad.

It is a great car, with some brilliant touches, but it's also flawed. I could also do with some rear seats…but, it's a Brabus , so I'd like to think I could overlook that. Also, when the asking price for this particular ex–demo car is almost £15k, that doesn't leave me much money to get a second car for transporting thing like friends around. I could get a well used E39 M5 for £15k…now there's a thought…

Next, I moved onto the Audi dealer. The discontinued Audi A2 is a car built with an emphasis on efficiency in a similar manner to that of the Smart. They had a used A2 in stock which I took a look at, and it was nice enough inside. The cabin was nice and airy, thanks to a massive sunroof, and it felt like a 'proper' car, which was a nice surprise. However, from the outside, it does look like a toy car, which quickly killed my interest.

The Audi is not the only Audi on the shortlist. I then moved onto the A4 Avant, which I think is a wonderful looking car. It’s got a lovely shape to it, I quite like the massive grill, and it was extremely impressive inside. Oddly, when sat in the back it felt very cramped, but it was very comfortable. The cabin also lacked that 'certain something', that indescribable factor that makes a car feel just right. I couldn't say why, but it didn't feel very welcoming. Which is something it shared in common with this particular Audi dealer, who seemed very keen to not entertain my mildly over–optimistic desire to purchase one of his products :D

Finally I went to the BMW dealer over the road, to explore a natural A4 Avant rival…the 3–series Touring. Of course, I’m not looking for one of the new, extremely ugly 3–series; but rather one of the previous–generation models. Happily the 3–series cabin did have that 'certain something', even though, it lacked the all of the A4’s buttons and switches, which is something I do like. The dealer was also a world apart from his Audi counterpart, and was very keen to help me identify the right spec model, which he did. But, as good as the 3–series is, I just don’t think I’m a 3–series person. It’s too common.

So my search for a new car will go on for a while yet. However, whilst I was driving home in the family 306, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn't feel like a piece of tat, considering that I'd taken a good look round some pretty pleasant cars today. The handling was nice, the engine pulled well, the cabin was light and airy….maybe a 306 GTI–6 would do the job, and that would be considerably cheaper than one of these German automobiles. But, perhaps, not quite as satisfying.


August 06, 2006

Enjoy it while it lasts

I never thought we would ever see this sight.

Jenson deserved the victory today, everything fell into place for him and he simply drove the best race. By and large he kept his nose clean, ran an excellent strategy, and managed to stay calm when the win was still within touching distance. He wouldn't have been the first racing driver to throw it into the wall, when their first race victory is within touching distance.

I'll be interested to see if this does have a noticable effect on him, and the team, in the next few races, as the media seems to think it will. Somehow I don't think the 'Mika Hakkinen phenomenon' will repeat itself for Jense, and I hope he doesn't come back down to earth with too much of a bang in Turkey. Surely a return to mediocrity is inevitable though…

Oh yeah, and was I the only one who almost collapsed with disgust at the sickening commentary from Allen and Davidson when Jense crossed the line :–D!?


July 08, 2006

2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day Two

Follow-up to 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day One from Semi-Perfectionism

Mark Webber was walking around today wearing the classic Top Gear t–shirt saying, "I AM THE STIG". What a legend :D

One of these was buzzing around as well.

GR4


July 07, 2006

2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Day One

I can't let the first day of Goodwood pass without a mention in the blogosphere, so I leave you with this until I can be bothered to write something a bit more descriptive. They do say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so I guess this will be enough.

FXX Programme


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