The truth comes out following the Wahta Springs 300

Alex Tagliani's car slides backwards down the track following contact on a late race restart, but contact with whom?

Alex Tagliani’s car slides backwards down the track following contact on a late race restart, but contact with whom?

As the second last event of the year for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, the Barrie Speedway round is always exciting and there is always a lot of bumping and banging. There is usually some off track excitement following the race as well as tempers run hot. Occasionally, competitors who are eager to find someone to blame end up running off at the mouth, only to end up with egg on their face when they are proven wrong later.

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In the closing stages of the Wahta Springs 300, the #95 of Anthony Simone appeared to be holding up the #25 of Joey McColm, as the pair battled for lap after lap. Simone experienced a drivetrain failure, which left oil on the track, causing McColm into the back of the 95, spinning him into the wall. Simone didn’t see it that way, and blamed the failure to be a result of the hit.

As expected, the restart following the clean up of that incident proved to be hard fought. Moments later, as the pack continued to battle, the #18 of Indycar and NASCAR regular Alex Tagliani got very loose and bounced around between the #25 and the wall, before spinning backwards down the front straight. If I recall correctly, there were 6 laps left at this point.

That mess was cleaned up and the green, white, checkers dash to the finish took place, with Jason Hathaway taking the win following a clean and fast race.
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Review: 2014 Nissan Sentra SL

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Nissan is on a roll these days. With strong sales of their new super mini, the Micra, the compact Versa, and their best selling vehicle, the Rogue small SUV, no other auto brand has added as much volume to the Canadian auto industry’s sales total than Nissan. In fact in the non-luxury segment, Nissan is the fastest growing auto brand in Canada.

When it comes to their offerings, Nissan has always been one to take chances. From the all-electric LEAF, to the funky Juke and Cube, and on the other end of the spectrum, the absolutely bonkers GTR “Godzilla”, it’s easy to forget that Nissan also produces some pretty mainstream mass produced vehicles for the everyday commuter who just wants an reasonably-priced, reasonably-sized car for going to work and back.

The Nissan Sentra is indeed one of these vehicles, with the name brand having been around for since the early 1980’s.

One of my earliest childhood memories was riding in my aunt’s Nissan Sentra over 2 decades ago. And in fact, even though she is in her 70’s now, she has owned nothing but Sentras for her whole driving “career”.

With this in mind, I thought that it was high time that I delve into what exactly has made the Sentra the household name that it is.

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A look back

We Canadians love our compact cars. The Civic is the number one selling car in Canada followed by the Hyundai Elantra, then the Toyota Corolla.

While the Sentra can’t lay claim to such sales volume, it has been the plucky underdog that has been around for 30 years. And anecdotally, I do see plenty on the streets of the Greater Vancouver area.

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For for the 2013 model year, this 7th generation Sentra was completely redesigned inside and out, with styling cues borrowed from Nissan’s Altima and Maxima sedans.

In fact it’s quite easy to think of it as a 7/8 scale Altima. The Sentra does look great at first glance, albeit its styling is probably not going to quicken your pulse that much.

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Chrome door handles, LED accented headlamps and LED taillamps are standard across all trim levels and they add a bit of flare to what is otherwise a pretty conservative and non-offensive design. I suppose the good news is that it is a design that should age quite well.

My test vehicle was the top of the range SL model with all of the trimmings including heated leather seats up front, aluminum alloy wheels, a Bose Premium audio system, GPS Navigation, and dual zone climate control.

Overview

If you have a soft spot in your heart for the “crazy” Sentra SE-R Spec V of yesteryear, you will be a little sad. For those of you not in the know, the Spec V was a sport compact version of the Sentra with a 200hp engine and a sub 0-100 km/hr time. It even had a 6 speed manual, lowered sport suspension, and a Torsen limited slip front differential.

With this latest Sentra however, fuel economy is the name and space plus efficiency is the game. Like Nissan’s latest offerings such as the Pathfinder and the Rogue, the redesigned car focuses on class-leading design standards inside and out, and not at all on performance driving.

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Built on a new platform that is lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, Nissan has been able to shave an extra 150 lbs off the curb weight while still providing one of the largest interior volumes in class.

In the name of aerodynamic efficiency, the new car is 15mm lower, 30 mm narrower, and the drag coefficient has been significant reduced from 0.34 to 0.29. Nissan claims that all of this should translate into 13 percent less fuel consumption.

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The official fuel consumption ratings for the CVT-equipped model is 6.6L/100 kms in the city and 5.0L/100 kms on the highway. Since this car is likely to be used as a commuter vehicle, I spent 80% of my time testing it in the city.

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With the normally aspirated 1.8L 4-cylinder engine’s modest peak output of 130 hp and 128 ft-lbs of torque, I found myself frequently flooring the throttle pedal to motivate the car on on-ramps or during passing maneuvers.

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Nissan says that the revised engine has been redesigned with a variety of measures to reduce fuel consumption. These include a longer stroke to improve combustion speed and efficiency, and reductions in internal friction.

However my real world findings weren’t quite as spectacular as the advertised numbers. I averaged only 8.5L/100 kms over my test week, likely because I had to make the little engine work hard more often than not. Part of blame can also be assigned to the Xtronic CVT.

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Although Nissan says that the CVT has been retuned, I still found it slow to react mainly when accelerating from a dead stop. Acceleration is not immediately congruent to the high revs that the CVT allows the engine to sit at and there is still that much loathed rubber band effect. As I quickly found out, one must leave a little bit more room when making left hand turns across oncoming traffic from a standstill.

Being a driving enthusiast, I fully admit to being more lead footed than the average motorist so your mileage may vary. However it is something to consider when carrying a full load of passengers.

A cabin that is a class-above

But the Sentra does have a few saving graces. One of which is its fantastically spacious cabin.

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Just step into the interior and you’ll notice that the lowered beltline has enhanced outward visibility for passengers, creating an overall sense of spaciousness.

Compared with the previous Sentra, the 2014 model sports a 15 mm longer wheelbase and 58 mm longer overall width. Total interior volume improves from 3,137.5 litres to 3,143 litres.

Through some clever fine-tuning of the dimensions, the Sentra is one of the roomiest sedans in its class. Not only is there more usable trunk space (now at 428 litres) but enhanced rear legroom as well. At 950 mm (37.4”), the Sentra has one of the most generous amounts of rear legroom in its class.

It’s not just space that is impresses. Although I could do without the fake looking plood (plastic wood) trim in my SL level tester, the high quality soft-touch instrument panel, dash, door armrests, and leather seats all feel like they’re borrowed from its big brother Altima.

A reputation for quality and reliability

I like the Altima and I really wanted to like the Sentra. So much so that I approached random owners of the car and asked them why they chose it over the Corolla, Civic, or even the Mazda3.

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The results were resoundingly one-sided: value-for-money in relation to the space and quality. Many owners previously also had Nissans in the family so there was a high brand loyalty due to the expected reliability from both the Nissan brand name and the Sentra model name.

This latest Sentra will be unlikely to blow your socks off from a performance standpoint. However if you’re looking for an point A-to-B commuter car with a long standing reputation for quality and reliability, or if one with mid-size roominess in a compact-size exterior, be sure to give the Sentra some consideration!

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2014 Nissan Sentra SL sticker

Car Life makes these racers HAPPY

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I am a firm believer that those of us who work in and around the motorsport world have the best jobs on the planet, and yet I have never seen so many people having as much fun at the track as they are in this video.

Shot at a recent Formula Drift/Motor Games event at Fuji Speedway, the video features competitors, crew and even media getting their groove on to Pharrell Williams “Happy”. Popular Super GT racer Max Orido even gets in on the action.

I think we need more smiles in North American paddocks.

Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel 4WD Hemi V8

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.11.18 AM-3Back in the late 1990’s, auto manufacturers were scrambling to add more variations of the SUV theme “song” to their line-up. Gas prices were low and North Americans were in love with their sport utes. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.11.27 AM-4Dodge made quite an entry to the SUV marketplace with the Durango in 1998. Based on their new (at the time) Dakota pickup truck, the Durango offered up to seven passenger seating, the most cargo space in its class, and thanks to the body-on-frame construction, 3.5 tons of towing capacity. Buyers were so smitten by the trucky first generation Durango that they even ignored the tail lamps that were borrowed from the Dodge Caravan minivan. The rest, as they say, is history. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.11.46 AM-6 This latest Durango still wears Dodge’s signature crosshair grill but the latest iteration is now aggressively slanted forward. It’s a look that has worked well with other members of the Dodge line-up and the Ram pickup truck family, so why mess with success? Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.13.05 AM-12 To launch the latest Durango, Dodge recruited Ron Burgundy (as played by Will Ferrell) in a series of risqué but funny ads. While the TV spots were hardly about the new Durango, they were a clever tie-in to the latest Anchorman movie and worked well to increase engagement with the brand. Let’s take a look to see what Ron Burgundy likes so much about his favourite SUV!

Ride and Drive

Now in its third generation, the latest Durango has also matured with the tastes of the current marketplace. It still retains its three rows of seats and the ability to hold a sizable amount of luggage space. It can still tow up to a max of 6200 pounds with the V6 and 7200 pounds with the V8 (about 1000-2000 pounds more than its competitors). Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.12.17 AM-9However in this day and age where car-like crossovers rule the roads, the Durango is no longer based on the body-on-frame construction of the Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Instead, it shares its platform with the highly regarded Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact this latest Durango is built alongside the Jeep and shares everything from its running gear, powertrain, and even some chassis components. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.12.56 AM-11This is ”a good thing” as Martha Stewart would say, because the platform is a derivative based on the current generation Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV. Thanks to the platform sharing, the Durango has some great chassis tuning and feels almost teutonic when it comes to body control. Handling is responsive for such a large vehicle, and the ride is composed and comfortable. IMG_5863-1 The suspension is four-wheel independent and there are isolated front and rear suspension cradles paired with variable-rate springs at each corner. IMG_5862-49 My test vehicle was also equipped with the optional trailer tow package ($795) with includes rear self-levelling air suspension, a class IV hitch, and more. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.11.37 AM-5Spacious, quiet, and comfortable, the Durango combines civility and capability in a full-sized SUV. Part of the reason for this refinement is the new eight-speed automatic transmission that is paired with both the V6 and V8 engine choices. Not only are shifts smooth but also quick. If you’re feeling a bit more sporty, a quick pull of the steering wheel paddles will place gear changes in your hand.

Most Durangos come with a 290hp 3.6L V6 but my top-of-the-range Durango four-wheel-drive tester was equipped with the powerful 360hp Hemi 5.7L V8 engine.

Equipped as such, the Durango felt as if it had a hot rod’s engine shoved under the hood. Not only was there a classic V8 hemi engine note, but also a delightfully sporty exhaust note. With 390 ft-lbs of torque on hand, passing is effortless and acceleration is brisk.

However shift it into seventh or eighth gear and the Durango quietens down. It becomes a composed and comfortable long distance cruiser with relatively good fuel economy. thanks to the tall overdrive gears and the fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation system that idle four cylinders under light engine loads. IMG_5810-16Transport Canada lists the Durango V8’s fuel consumption as 15.1L/100 kms in the city, and 9.1L/100 kms on the highway. I averaged 14L/100 kms in mix highway and city driving. Hemi V8 Durangos can also be equipped with a low range 4WD transfer case for extra torque in extremely conditions such as deep snow, mud, sand, or even pulling a boat out of the water on a slippery boat ramp.

Interior

In order to make this a comfortable modern day family cruiser, Dodge has gone to great efforts to upgrade the cabin. Gone are the hard plastic trim pieces. In their place is high quality grained plastic, soft touch surfaces, and top grain leather. IMG_5829-29 The Citadel version is the top-of-the-range model and includes a long list of standard equipment including heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and luxury leather trimmed seats.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of the tan leather/black dash combination, I was a fan of the superior level of comfort afforded by all seating positions.

The big front seats are firm but padded well, almost up to German standards. They were comfortable over long hauls but could use a bit more lateral support. There is excellent leg, shoulder, head, and foot room in the second row seats, and the third row is even large enough for full-sized adults.

All rear passengers will be comfortable too with limo-style dedicated rear climate control system with satellite controls out back.

IMG_5833-32 As expected, with the third row up, cargo room is a bit skimpy. However you can still fit a few mid sized duffel bags and a couple of small suitcases if you don’t mind loading the cargo area up to the roof.

Surprisingly, the Durango’s front passenger seat can be folded flat, allowing for long objects (such as ladders) to be stowed and transported in the vehicle with the power tailgate closed. My test vehicle was equipped with the second row Captain Chairs option which sacrifices passenger carrying capacity for more comfort.

This option substitutes the second row bench seat with two individually adjustable fold/tumble bucket seats ($600) and a large centre console with armrest and storage ($250). With this option, the Durango’s passenger capacity drops from seven to six people.

Regardless of whichever seating configuration you choose, your rear passengers will be entertained by the excellent dual screen Blu-Ray rear entertainment system ($2,150 option) which includes a multitude of input options for each individual screen. Up front, the driver and front passenger have their own infotainment system in the form of Chrysler’s large 8.4” UConnect touchscreen. This is one of the largest LCD screens in the industry and its responsiveness is impressive. It’s definitely something that Ford and GM could learn from for their own systems.

Traditional knobs/buttons and a logical user interface with large icons compliment the touchscreen’s responsiveness making the overall infotainment experience very pleasant and easy to use. On the active safety front, the rear backup camera with dynamic guidelines is displayed on the large UConnect screen and works well to alleviate the typical SUV issue of rear visibility. IMG_5823-26 The Durango is also available with an both a forward collision warning system with active cruise control, and a blindspot warning system that even has cross traffic detection to warn you of vehicles closing fast from behind or vehicles approaching off to the sides while you are backing up.

Wrap-up

Previous truck based Durangos were great for off-roading and towing but light on refinement. This latest Durango retains much of what owners loved about the previous truck but also adds on heaps of refinement and proper road manners.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.11.08 AM-2 Perhaps the Durango’s biggest challenge is its name and the potential association with its body-on-frame predecessors. If you’re looking for a full-sized SUV that can handle six or seven passengers in comfort, tow more than the average mid-sized SUV, but yet has European road manners without the teutonic price tag, the Durango deserved some strong consideration! Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 9.10.57 AM-1 2014 Dodge Durango Citadel AWD sticker

Jessi Lang meets a vintage T/A Chevy

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Driving an Infiniti. To a Mazda sponsored track. To drive a Chevy. Gotta love the little ironies that working in automotive media throws at us sometimes!

After spending a year in rehab following a devastating car accident, Jessi Lang takes the bull by the horns so to speak with her first automotive assignment. As part of Motor Trend’s lead up to the Monterey Historics, Lang had the opportunity to take a couple of hot laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in a full on ’69 Camaro Z/28 from the glory days of the Trans Am series. Sadly, a couple was all she got in, as the beast clocked in at 113 db, which is above the sound limits at the track.

Even though my Dad raced an AMX and not a Camaro, I am oh so jealous!

Source: Motor Trend via Youtube

NHRA offers up some explosive action in super slow-mo

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Just in case there was ever any question as to what form of motorsport comes the closest to a full on apocalypse, the NHRA has released this compilation of super high frame rate videos that show just how bad it can be when it all goes wrong.

Tommy Kendall returns to Trans Am

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This morning’s news comes out of the Trans Am paddock, where it has been announced that four time T/A series champion Tommy Kendall will be returning to the iconic racing series, at the wheel of a bright green Dodge Challenger SRT in the TA2 category. The first outing for the Miller Racing prepared Challenger will be this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

The timing is perfect to put guys like Paul Tracy, Tony Stewart, Montoya and even Villeneuve in to showroom based cars. Mustang, Camaro, Challenger: all are back (or still) in showrooms. Bring on BMW’s 1 series and Nissan’s 370Z for a bit of nostalgic spice to the group. Run the cars in a showroom stock configuration again so the fans can relate. Think those drivers above won’t add enough excitement? How about bringing in guys like Michael Andretti, Little Al, David Donohue to add in a bit more historic star power? If memory serves, I think Unser may have driven the tubie cars at some point in the Eighties. The time couldn’t be better for auto manufacturers to be involved in a series like this. Indeed they could once again benefit from Win on Sunday….

I wrote those words back in 2008, when the T/A series had just been re-launched after a bit of a hiatus. Six years later, it looks like they are finally beginning to pull the package together.

The T/A folks are understandably chuffed to have the entry in the field for a number of reasons. Kendall spent some time away from the driver’s seat and while he may not offer the immediate name recognition as a driver with a name like Andretti, many younger fans know his personality as a motorsport color commentator and host of a few television shows on Speed, which certainly gives the driver more star power than anyone else in the field.
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Monterey 2014: Steve McQueen’s 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4

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There was a time when a classic car auction catalog was just that, a book. Maybe in colour, maybe just ink on newsprint. Thankfully, the internet has changed that and auction houses can now create actual content which engages viewers. Not only does this content enlighten prospective buyers, but it allows the auction house to truly showcase what makes a car special.

Some, like the car in the video below are just so much more special than others.

Canadian auction giant RM Auctions will be selling this classic Ferrari, once owned by the king of cool, Steve McQueen, on Saturday at Monterey. It is expected to fetch somewhere between eight to twelve million bucks.

The short film includes commentary by some of the guys who cared for the car during its time with the actor, and offers a bit of a glimpse into the man himself.

Source RM Auctions via Youtube

Dodge Charger Hellcat: The horsepower madness grows

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

Just in case the Challenger Hellcat wasn’t enough for you, the Dodge Boys have dropped the Hellcat engine into the recently revised Charger, to create the world’s most powerful, quickest and fastest sedan.

Thanks to 12% more slippery aero, the Charger will top out at 5 mph more than the Challenger. For the record, that means that this family hauler will do 204 Miles Per Hour!

It will get there quickly too….

0-60 = 3.7 seconds.

11 seconds flat in the quarter mile.

All of this comes straight from the showroom, complete with street tires.

Check out this morning’s media reveal at the Vinsetta Garage on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

Stay In, Stay Safe – The Kevin Ward Jr. Rule

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By now you no doubt already know that there was an incident at a dirt track in up-state New York over the weekend that resulted in the death of 20 year old Kevin Ward Jr. when he was struck by a competitor’s car. That car happened to be driven by NASCAR star Tony Stewart.

Unlike seemingly every other media outlet, The Garage Blog will not be displaying the sole video of the incident out of respect to Ward’s family and good taste in general. Viewing the video does nobody any good, especially not those who know nothing about motorsports or more specifically, sprint car racing.

Likewise, I have never seen winged sprint cars race in person, nor have I driven one of the very specialized machines, so I can’t comment on things like visibility and lack of control at low speeds. Nor should you, or any of these other mainstream media talking heads.

What I will say is that the testosterone fueled displays of anger that have become common place at race tracks across the planet have gotten out of hand and have to stop.

There was a time when oval track racers with a beef would beat the tar out of each other in the paddock, pit lane or even the winner’s circle, after a race. At some point that was outlawed and driver’s began showing their displeasure trackside, as the driver they were angry with passed by under yellow. Usually the display includes a shaken fist, a flipped bird or even a thrown helmet. Childish behaviour at best, tragic at worst as we have learned this weekend.

In road racing, it is a very common rule that the driver of a car which is stopped on track must remain in their car, with safety equipment intact, until given the all clear to exit the car by safety workers. The exception to this is when the car is on fire. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is that inside the car is the safest place for a driver to be while the track is still hot. From an attitudinal standpoint, the combination of rage, adrenaline and possibly even disorientation following a crash is not a good one when it comes to walking around a live track.

Tragedy in motorsport often leads to innovation and the creation of new rules designed to protect those involved in the sport. To that end, musician and oval track racer Derick Hamrick has started a petition to vote for the creation of The Kevin Ward Jr. Rule, with the tagline Stay In, Stay Safe which puts a name to what the road racing crowd has done for years.

I think it is a great idea. If you agree, please click on the link below and sign the petition.

Stay In, Stay Safe – The Kevin Ward Jr. Rule Petition