Seed 9 Rally

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Surrounded by the flashing lights and omnipresent din of casino games in Las Vegas, it’s easy to forget that the city is smack dab in the middle of nowhere. In a week filled with the spectacle of SEMA along with NHRA Toyota Nationals, SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by TRAXXAS, and Red Bull Global Rallycross season finals, it’s easy to not seek life – or motorsports – outside of The Strip. About 35 miles out into the nowhere around Las Vegas is a essentially a crossroads called Jean, Nevada, with a casino, a gas station, women’s prison, and a small town whose entrance is choked by a rather formidable biker bar. Everything else is desert, dirt roads, and rattle snake holes. Lots and lots of rattle snake holes.

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It is out on these Joshua tree and rock-lined gravel roads of Wilson Pass where the Seed 9 Rally took place on Saturday, November 9, 2014, the weekend after SEMA and its associated events. The regional stage rally and the last race of 2014 in the Bilstein Southwest RallyCup Series drew 22 teams from Arizona, Colorado, California, Ecuador, and even China with a wide range of experience. The rally cars ran the gamut as well, ranging from a 1971 Datsun 240Z, a 1994 Ford Ranger, to a 2013 Toyota GT86. Not the most inviting terrain for spectators, the course wound uphill to a turnaround, dotted with the occasional race official, volunteer, and photographer. Total mileage for is 35 with all stages completed. The first stage began around 2:30 in the afternoon.

Once the two safety cars drove past, the first team of David Sterckx and John Reed barreled by in a 2011 Subaru WRX STI. Billows of dust undulated behind each car as the teams came through one by one, snaking along the course, adding layers of dust between the road and the setting sun. Early on in the course was a deep gully – some teams slowed down to navigate, but a couple teams were caught by surprise and hit it too fast; all cars made it past, but a few cars were worse for wear. As in all stage rallies, time is of the essence – teams were looking to beat course bests as well as other driver’s personal bests.

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The sun finished setting as the racers looped back down the course for the service break. The Gold Strike Casino lot was lit up with work lights under tarps as team mechanics worked feverishly on the cars, adjusting here, welding there. The informal atmosphere of the parking lot paddock, drivers and supporters alike friendly and chatty, is one of the many positive aspects of regional and grassroots racing. Pro Tip – the best grilled chicken ever tasted can be found in the paddocks at Seed 9. While some lamented the challenges of competing with heavily funded teams, it was agreed that all in all it was fun.

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At this point, my friend Lecia and I had to leave. Exhausted from SEMA, needing another layer of fleece, still rattled from narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with an either tweaked out, suicidal, psychopathic (or all of the above) Harley rider driving the wrong way in our lane, and not really able to shoot much at night amongst rattle snakes anyway, we hit the highway back to Las Vegas. The rally continued on in the dark desert, and David Sterckx scored the best time of 29:08, George Plsek second with 33:17, and Doug Chernis in third with a time of 35:37.

Next year’s date has been announced – November 25, 2015. One more Pro Tip: If you drive a Prius, rent a Jeep for the day.

#HOONICORN!

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Can’t get enough of the Hoonicorn from Ken Block’s just-released Gymkhana SEVEN? Haven’t seen it yet and want a preview? We got it. Launched at SEMA in the Ford booth, the highly awesomely insanely modified all-wheel drive 1965 notchback Mustang was emblazoned with Ken Block’s Hoonigan racing logos and racing #43. A Roush Yates V-8 engine pumps out a roaring 845 horsepower, and the body sits on custom Pirelli Trofeo R tires. Matte black graphics, roll cage, carbon fiber body panels… eh, you just really want to see the photos, don’t you?

Red Bull Global Rallycross Heads to Las Vegas

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2014 SEMA in Las Vegas is coming up quickly – the first week of November – and at the same time, so are the Red Bull Global Rallycross season finals. It has been an interesting year for GRC, between new series sponsors, a slightly less global schedule taking place almost exclusively in North America, and a less diverse Ford-heavy grid shared with Hyundai, Subaru, Volkswagen, and random appearances by others.

Of the four top competitors looking at the championship, three drive Ford Fiesta STs – Ken Block, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Joni Wiman. Scott Speed – by no means the odd man out, having won three races in 2014 – drives a Volkswagen Polo.

Piquet Jr. had a pretty impressive streak going on with four podium finishes in the Supercar division until the Los Angeles double-header this past September. Still, an extremely tough competitor to watch out for, along with Ken Block, who won in Las Vegas in 2013 and had an impressive five podium finishes in 2014 – two of them in LA. The competitive Wiman also brags four podiums in 2014.
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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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