BMW wins crash filled Continental Tire race in Daytona

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The first Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge is in the books following an exciting race at Daytona that saw fierce battles and lots of contact. The fifth caution period of the race came out with just 12 minutes left in the race and the race finished under yellow. The Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen and Toronto driver Paul dalla Lana too the checkers first.

It was a tough race for some other Canadian competitors as John Farano, Frank Blanchet, Michael Valiente, Ashley McCalmont all crashed out, as did the Theetge brothers. Blanchet’s co-driver Damon Sharpe went back out after the initial incident and then was crashed out by two other cars.

IMPA Test Days Part II

Welcome back to The Garage for coverage of day two of the International Motoring Press Association’s annual Test Days event, held in the beautiful New York Catskill Mountains. Whereas on day one we were free to drive the surrounding roads of our home base, Monticello Motor Club, today it was all about taking to the race track, and access to a rigorous off-road course.

When taking to a race track, I generally prefer to go with something on the mild side to get used to the track. In this case I picked a MINI Cooper Roadster. Dogged with an automatic tranny and not enough power to get you into any sort of trouble, the MINI was ideal to acclimate myself to the track. Satisfied, I turned my sites to something a with more bark-the BMW Alpina B7. Under the hood lies a 4.4L twin turbo V-8 cranking out 500hp. On the track, you are aware of the B7′s size and weight, but she is seriously fast. A 2013 Ford Mustang GT hit the track with a 30 second lead in front of me, and I caught up to it.

I did sample a V-6 powered Mustang for the first time. I don’t mind Mustang’s at all on the street, but I’ve driven Mustangs on a race track a few times now, and each time I am reminded how awful these cars perform on a track. No confidence in these cars at all, with twitchy handling and not nearly enough steering communication.

Yes, driving flat out on a race track is great fun, but slogging along at 5mph on an intense off-road course if equally exhilarating. For starters, I was given a ride in a Land Rover LR3 with an off-road expert to familiarize myself with the course. Once done, I surveyed the trucks available to us, and settled on the Nissan Frontier. The Nissan’s smaller size and off-road package seemed like a safe pick for my first run. The Frontier was an ace at the difficult course, but after riding in the Land Rover, the Frontier felt primitive and very basic. After the Nissan I went for the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which was positively amazing. All in all a fantastic course with some extremely capable vehicles.

Having satiated my urge to go off-road, it was time to get back on the track. I made my way to where Porsche was stationed. Sure, there was a wait, but I put my name in to track the all-new Porsche Boxster S and the 911 Carrera S. After a wait, it was time to hop in the Boxster. With the other cars, I was on my own on the track, but Porsche had driving coaches on board, with the intent to make us push the cars harder and go faster. So upon hopping in the Boxster, I am greeted by Andrew Davis, who races a Porsche 911 GT3 in the Rolex Grand Am series for Brumos Porsche. That’s right, a Grand Am driver is riding shotgun, giving me tips on how to maximize a Boxster on a race track! The Boxster feels fabulous and unflappable-very easy to drive fast and incredibly forgiving.

Next up was the latest Porsche 911, a car that holds a lot of meaning to me as I own one myself. I was nearly beside myself when I climbed in to find none other than David Donohue, Daytona 24 winner and son of the legendary Mark Donohue sitting in the passenger seat. I quickly informed David that I was about to turn in a truly awful lap as I tried to process the racing goodness seated beside me. In the Boxster, Andrew was pretty laid back, but in the 911, it was totally different riding with David. And it was awesome. David let me in on the racer’s mindset. How far ahead you are looking-even two corners ahead of myself. And he pushed me-when I wanted to back off on throttle, he insisted I go all in. The 911 is radically different from the Boxster, and David had me pushing the car hard enough I was getting sideways in a $100,000 car without breaking a sweat. Some people say if you haven’t scared the crap out of yourself, you weren’t going fast enough. With ace racer David Donohue as my co-pilot, I can safely say he pushed me to my limit, and the tail-heavy 911 as well. It’s an experience I will treasure for life.

And on that note, that concludes my coverage of the 2012 IMPA Test Days event. I was able to sample some of the most remarkable vehicles on the market in gorgeous settings on bucolic country roads, fantastic race track and challenging off-road course. Thanks for joining us in our coverage, and we look forward to Test Days in 2013.

Review: 2012 BMW 328i

The BMW 3-series. She is the Gold Standard. The sport sedan against which all others are judged against. The rules of entry level sport sedans are written by BMW, and even its competitors concede to that fact. And when a new 3-series arrives, well, it is big news. And for 2012, a new 3-series four door sedan has arrived. The Garage had patiently waited for months to get access to this car, as we were so impressed with the last generation 335i convertible we reviewed last year.

No one denies the 3-series legacy, but as a former E30 325 owner, I was especially keen to see what BMW had cooked up. And when my red 328i was delivered to my door, it was like serendipity, as my 325i was also red, and was the car I owned when I started to date the woman who has now been my wife since 1998.

That said, upon receiving the 328i, it looked fairly large. Sleek and sophisticated without a doubt, but the compact style of prior 3-series seems to have been lost. Attention to detail is absolutely meticulous, and BMW ranks at the top of the stack for quality and execution. Although it appears larger than prior 3-series, the car is graceful, elegant, and sporty. I emphasize elegant, a quality prior 3-series did not really have. They do now. If I had any complaint, it is the dual kidney grille is no longer set by itself.

As you would expect, the cockpit is driver focused. The iDrive is workable, but still inferior to its premium Japanese competition for ease of use. Seats were perfectly comfortable, and easy to find a perfect driving position. Thankfully, the gauges are still clear as day, it just takes some getting used to the other tech the new 3 offers. The new 3 is not opulent, but rather adheres to the German standard of old-nothing fancy. That said, I loved the supportive seats and the simple, no nonsense interior. The quality of materials and workmanship are exceptional.

BMW has given up on its model number reflecting the engine displacement under the hood, as our 328i is powered by a 2.oL turbo four rated at 240hp. Our test car was blessed with a six-speed manual, though an 8-speed automatic is an option. Ever present overseas, the new 3-series harkens the return of a four cylinder BMW to our shores. The little turbo four makes an impressive bark at start-up. The car was plenty quick merging on the highway, in passing, and was quite at home on back roads. You can still order up a six cylinder, but in the real world, the four was more than adequate. And it’s tough to argue with EPA fuel economy ratings of 23/34 MPG city/highway.

In the effort to preserve fuel, the 328i features stop/start technology. Meaning, you bring the car to a halt, and instead of idling, the engine shuts down, and starts up again once you depress the clutch. The trouble is, this engine, as I said, has a bark on ignition, so this is a fairly abrupt process, with plenty of noise and vibration. This is something that my passengers complained about as a real annoyance. Worse, on a blazing hot week in July, in stop and go traffic, each time the engine shut down, we lost a lot of cold air from the AC. Again, something my passengers, or myself for that matter were not happy about. The only way around the problem was to set the climate control to MAX, which kept the engine running at all times. I see the need to conserve fuel, but this system is in serious need of fine tuning. I am honestly surprised BMW rolled this technology out in its current state.

BMW still considers themselves the makers of the Ultimate Driving Machine, and I am pleased to say the 328i was a joy to drive. Handling, steering and braking were flawless and befitting the roundel on the hood. The trouble is, the competition is closing the gap, namely the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, with the Infiniti G37 nipping at the 3′s heels. I’d still say the BMW is the most rewarding to drive, but the playing field is getting more level all the time.

The 2012 BMW 328i four door starts at $34,900USD. Standard equipment includes Driving Dynamics Control, iDrive, HD Radio and 17″ alloys. Our test car added Melbourne Metallic red paint, Sport Line Package (includes sport steering wheel, 18″ alloys, M suspension, sport seats, brushed aluminum trim), Premium Package (includes keyless entry, moonroof, auto dimming mirrors, power seats), Premium Sound Package (XM Satellite radio, Harmon Kardon audio), Technology Package (Navigation and head up display), heated seats, park distance control, xenon headlights, and BMW Assist. Including destination, our 328i had a sticker price of $50,370. That’s quite a chunk of change, and as tested, more money than a base Audi S4. At this price I was incredulous our car did not have a back-up camera.

Don’t get me wrong, the new 3-series is a great sports sedan, and is likely still the best. But I never heard the ‘Hallejuah’ chorus. I thought I’d be hearing Carly Simon reinforce it with ‘Nobody Does it Better’ from James Bond fame. Because in my lifetime I’ve had many similar moments driving many BMW’s…but not this one. I can’t point to a specific fault. Maybe it’s because the competition is now catching up. BMW, the 3-series is still the best around, but your enemies are getting ever closer.

Watch a kid crash his Mom’s M3 in the desert

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that handing the keys to an M3 and sending him out on a twisty desert road will not end well. Add in a GoPro and you have a recipe for a record of the impending disaster as the kid attempts to prove just how fast he really is. In this teaser clip from an upcoming episode of Mischief TV, we see just how badly this scenario can play out on a road in rural Arizona.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway might just be heaven on earth

When Bridgestone invited us to a new product launch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, I was somewhat wistful as I thought about the passing of Dan Wheldon at the speedway at the final race of last year’s Indycar season. I knew it would be tough to visit the track without thinking of the popular driver. Still, I had never been to the Speedway (or Vegas for that matter) so I was excited to visit. All I can say is WOW!

Ferrari. Lamborghini. Andretti. Race cars. Fighter planes. Race tracks.

All in one place! LVMS is the kind of place that gearheads dream of.

Arriving on a shuttle, the first building one notices in a long strand of racing businesses is Shelby’s headquarters. As we drover further into the complex, I was blown away by the sheer size of the place. The only big speedway I have been to is Pocono, and LVMS is easily 3 times the size. There are race tracks all over the place. We saw 2 road courses, the big oval, a bullring, an off road truck course and there is the NHRA drag strip. Just massive.

Throughout the day, the background was filled with the sounds of the U.S. Airforce, as pilots performed training maneuvers. The day before, guests were treated to a real show as the Thunderbirds did some practice.

When a Shelby Cobra went by on a test drive, you knew it was the real deal.

To guide their tire industry attendees and us media types through the day, Bridgestone had assembled a star studded cast of drivers. Our instructors in the early morning included Pierre Kleinubing, Peter Cunningham and Burt Frissell. Later on, the big surprise came as we learned that Mario Andretti was also on hand and would be joining us for lunch.

Before lunch though, we had to flog a BMW 3 Series around a fast autocross course, before heading over to Exotics Racing, where we would get to play with a collection of Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s. I drove a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550 for the first time. For a machine with 550 or so horsepower, it was surprisingly manageable. Equally surprising was how high the limits of the car are. With just five laps, I was nowhere close to exploring the limits of the car. It would be fun to have a bit more seat time to actually get comfortable with the limits of the bull.

To get a taste of our day, head past the jump to check out our photo gallery.
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The Abandoned BMW Dealership

I caught a story on Jalopnik that I have been following, and just had to share with our readers. It seems through BMW online forums, word got out of an abandoned BMW dealer in Oakville, Ontario. Apparently, the building you see above is the former Citation Motors, who, for some unknown reason, lost their license in 1988, and locked the doors. The business was reopened in Toronto under the name Downtown BMW, which closed in 2002.

Now, for a business that shut its doors twenty three years ago, it would be safe to assume the grounds are completely overgrown, the building falling down, and little to see, right? Wrong. Amazingly, the property has been maintained all this time. Those who found the property claim it looks as if it could open for business tomorrow. But it gets better-there are two cars-an E24 5-series and a 635CSi that were essentially rolled off the car carrier, onto the showroom floor, and have not moved since 1988.

It’s safe to assume both cars have only double digit kilometers on the odometer. It’s incredible to see this pair of cars completely frozen in time. From people who have made the trek to the former Citation Motors, the shop is also full of BMW’s, and apparently a black 635CSi in similar condition to the car in the showroom. There is also an underground level, and I can only imagine what lurks under that still clean showroom floor. Jalopnik reports that the property is now for sale, carrying a price tag of $3.6 million, with the assumption all the buildings contents are included.

I confess, I am an admirer of abandoned buildings of all kinds, but it’s typically for the slow, progressive decay that captivates me. Yet, there is something undeniably curious, and fascinating about a BMW dealer that closed its doors over two decades ago, but has been completely maintained, containing cars built in 1988, yet are essentially factory new and unused. It staggers the imagination.

Review: 2011 MINI Countryman

When the MINI Cooper was reinvented from its new parents at BMW, some critics were quick to lump it into the group of the VW New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser as a neat take on a retro design, but where do you go from there? Unlike the now discontinued PT Cruiser, and (finally) redesigned Beetle, the MINI Cooper is well into its second generation. The MINI Clubman added some additional interior practicality and luggage space, but seems oddly proportioned, and is still not a practical family car. For 2011, MINI expanded the line with a mini-crossover, the Countryman. But can MINI build a four door crossover that remains true to the core traits that make a MINI a MINI? Read on…

As far as appearance goes, the Countryman is a dead ringer for a MINI. Yes, it is bigger in every respect than a Cooper, but a quick walk around the car shows there is no excess here. The Countryman is sporty, compact and premium in looks and execution all around, just as any modern MINI should. Our test car, finished in Royal Grey Metallic included the Sport Package, which added 18″ black alloys and black hood stripes definitely adding some snarl to an already snappy looking car. I can understand how MINI fans must have been nervous at the prospect of a four door crossover bearing the MINI badge, but the designers here positively nailed it. Well done.

Anyone who has ever turned a wheel in the current MINI Coopers will feel instantly at home in the Countryman. Which is a mixed blessing, depending on what you want from an interior. If you prefer a dash layout you can operate in your sleep, I’ll kindly direct you to your nearest Honda/Toyota dealer. The MINI continues to be about style inside and out, and as such, you better be prepared to take a minute to get the lay of the land, and know what switch does what. As always, an enormous speedometer dominates the central dash, which I consider essentially useless. In a week of living with the MINI, I don’t think I ever looked at it, relying instead on the digital speedo found in the tachometer. The thin red LED audio display was remarkable for its dearth of information. What’s that song playing on XM Radio? Who knows, you have to scroll through station/artist/song info one at a time to find out.

But, that’s what the MINI is about, and it makes no apologies for putting style above all else. To its credit, the interior is extremely well put together, and I cannot fault the quality of materials. Seats are supportive and comfortable, and there was plenty of room for my family of three. The Countryman features four individual bucket seats (but we hear a rear bench seat will be offered). The Countryman featured a central rail floor console that ran from the bottom of the dash to the back of the rear seats. The rail contains an eyeglass case, and two cupholders, but the novelty is they are adjustable, and I appreciated I could perfectly align the cupholder to be within reach of my son in his car seat.

The MINI Countryman is available in two flavors, Base and S. Base models are front-wheel drive with a 1.6L four rated at 121hp, available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. While the base offers good fuel economy, acceleration will be leisurely at best. The enthusiast will want to go straight to the S, using the same 1.6L engine, but in turbocharged form, with 181hp on tap. As with the base car, a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered. Unlike the base car, S buyers have the option of ALL4, for, you guessed it, all-wheel drive. Our test car was an S ALL4 paired with the automatic-top-spec but also the heaviest. I was thrilled to find our Countryman full of plenty of pep around town, and quick passing on the highway was never an issue. Handling-something MINI fans hold dear-is exceptional. No, I’m sorry, it’s shocking a crossover can possibly handle nearly as well as a MINI Cooper. Steering feel is beyond reproach in this class of car. Rejoice, MINI fans. Even with four doors, four wheel drive, AND an automatic, the Countryman feels and drives just as a MINI should. I’ve driven many crossovers, but never smiled as much as when I was at the wheel of the Countryman.

So, what does all this crossover fun cost? Our Countryman S ALL4 had a base price of $26,950USD. A friendly reminder here that BMW is the parent company, and in typical German fashion, the price starts rising rapidly as option boxes get checked. Having said that, our test car added optional extras like metallic paint, cloth/leather seating, Cold Weather Package (power folding mirrors, heated mirrors/washer jets, heated seats), Sport Package, Premium Package (dual pane panoramic sunroof, auto climate control, Harmon Kardon audio), and other extras for a grand total of $35,900, including destination. Folks unfamiliar with MINI’s were shocked at the price for a crossover this size, and basically dismissed it as way overpriced for what you get.

No matter. MINI isn’t after the average crossover shopper. Face it, the guy checking out a Chevy Equinox is not cross-shopping the Countryman. What MINI has managed to do is usher in an entire new group of buyers to the brand. Case in point. Years ago, while attending a car show, and pushing our then infant child in a stroller, my wife was smitten with a MINI Cooper. A salesman, sensing her enthusiasm, walked up to us, and sheepishly said ‘The back seat will hold a car seat.” I didn’t disagree with him, but I also didn’t want to have to rent a U-Haul trailer whenever we had to go away for a weekend. MINI has now built a car suitable for small families yet retains all of the qualities that have made MINI so well-loved by its core of devoted enthusiasts.

Yes, the Countryman is not without compromise. Dodgy ergonomics, less cargo room, firm ride and premium price tag won’t give the competition any sleepless nights. But for the small family whose always craved a MINI, or simply a small crossover that offers pure driving entertainment few rivals can deliver, the Countryman is highly recommended. So much so, in fact, the Countryman is on this family”s shopping list for when our current VW’s lease is up, and that is about the highest praise I can give any car.

On board with Sasha Anis for 2 Banzai laps of Mosport

One of the most exciting drives of the season so far in the Castrol Canadian Touring Car season has to be Sasha Anis’ blast from the back to the fourth in just 2 laps of Mosport last weekend at the Vortex Brake Pads 200.
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BimmerWorld Making Great Strides With GRAND-AM BMW M3 V8s

BimmerWorld press release

Dublin, VA. BimmerWorld Racing entered the Bosch Engineering 200 with strong expectations for a successful weekend, and managed to come away with a top 10 finish with one of its BMW M3 V8s, but it was the potential shown by the big BMWs that has the team riding a high.

Strong qualifying performances by both M3s at Virginia International Raceway–the team’s home track–was the first indicator that the BMW experts have made big strides with the Bavarian machines.

“We’ve used VIR as a test track to gauge our progress for quite some time,” said BimmerWorld owner/driver James Clay. “It demands everything possible from a racecar, and it also exposes any weaknesses that need to be addressed. We still have more speed to find with our BimmerWorld M3 V8s, but after an intense beginning to the year where we started from scratch with brand-new cars, we’re happy to see how competitive our GS cars have become.”

Bob Michaelian and Ken Wilden brought the No. 78 Bizrate.com BimmerWorld BMW M3 V8 home in 10th at VIR, while the No. 79 Johnstone Supply M3 V8, driven by Clay and Seth Thomas, qualified a season-best third but only made it to Lap 26 of the 56-lap race.
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Memories of Summer at the Mosport DDT

While Mosport looks lovely under a blanket of snow and driving events on ice are fine and dandy, most of us here in The Garage are already yearning for higher levels of grip and the heat of the summer sun.

We may have to wait a few months for some heat at our fave track, but our good friend Duncan Johnson has just sent out this video which is sure to warm the soul on a cold Winter evening. Shot at Mosport’s Driver Development Track by Eshel Zweig, Johnson and friends have some fun flogging an M3, a Porsche and a rather evil sounding Vette.
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