Higgins and Drew Dominate at New England Forest Rally

For the 25th anniversary of the New England Forest Rally based in Newry, Maine –  and encompassing rally stages in both Maine and near Errol, New Hampshire – speculation was high. Subaru’s rally team –  Dave Higgins and co-driver Craig Drew – were so far undefeated this season, but some formidable competition was posing a serious challenge. Would the streak continue to win the championship with Adam Yeoman (2011 Rally America Rookie of the Year) and Jordan Schulze, the inimitable Ken Block with Alex Gelsomino, Dave Sterckx with Renaud Jamoul, Nick Roberts / Rhianon Gelsomino, and team mate Travis Pastrana and Chrissie Beavis in the mix?


Higgins and Drew

In short – yes. And there was some bad rally juju for the others along the way. After hanging tight in second place, FY Racing’s Yeoman and Schulze were out after Stage 10 with a ball joint failure. Sterckx and Jamoul had a flat on day one and lost three minutes, then on the second day – in stage 11 of 13 – lost another two minutes to an electrical issue, knocking them out of podium contention.

As early as Stage 2, Pastrana / Beavis were facing some disappointment; the car had some frantic repairs on the side of Route 5 heading to the start of the stage, arriving around four minutes late. They couldn’t continue, however, and after a couple of donuts for the fans and marshalls hanging out at the start, it was back to service for the team – Pastrana saying that they would definitely be back on Saturday to start Stage 4.

Pastrana Donut

Block and Gelsomino weren’t without their own challenges. Block struggled with some engine issues, and had to finish the sixth stage with a throttle pedal zip-tied together after losing a disagreement with a bank. Roberts / Gelsomino had a flat in Stage 1, rolled in Stage 2, then the engine lost power in Stage 5 and they couldn’t continue after stalling on the way to service.

NEFR-Block

NEFR_Roberts-Gelsomino

Ultimately, Higgins and Drew handily maintained their winning streak coming in first overall to win the championship, with Block / Gelsomino in second, and Pastrana / Beavis making up some incredible time for the third place.

Beyond the battle for the top three podium spots and the chance to spray some champagne, there was a whole lot of other things going on at NEFR. Lucy Block, married to some guy named Ken, drove an Ford Fiesta R2 with the best livery this side of the Martini-inspired Porsche.

NEFR-HeyLucy

porsche-guh

M-Sport partnered with partnered with Team O’Neil to introduce some new Fiestas to the American market with Ramana Lagemann driving a Ford Fiesta R5 2000cc, and  Brendan Reeves piloting the R2 1000cc. Ken Block is also in an M-Sport, the Fiesta HFHV.

NEFR-Ramana

Another surprise entry to NEFR was Colombian Gustavo Yacaman, better known for driving a Ligier LMP2 in the FIA World Endurance Championship. While he competed in GRC Lites in 2013, NEFR was his first stage rally, racing in a 2WD 2009 B-Spec Honda Fit.

The New England Forest Rally is held in otherwise serene forests on either side of the Maine and New Hampshire border chock full of beautiful views, thick pine trees, lots and lots of mosquitos, deer flies, and the looming spectre of a wayward moose. Fortunately, there are way more spectators than mooses, and it gets quite crowded from the Parc Expose to the final stage. Congratulations to all winners, both national and regional – and congratulations to the New England Forest Rally for 25 years of success.

BMW M3 driver attacks Lebanese hill climb

orange m3

There are those who think they can drive, those who can drive and then there are those who are fast. You could say that Garo Haroutiounian falls into the latter category.

Watch in awe as this dude tears up the Falougha hill climb in Lebanon.

Source: YouTube via Jalopnik

Meet the Jagerbomb – E30 M3

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This may come as a surprise to some, but the first generation BMW M3 was the first unobtainable German car to catch my eye that wasn’t a P-car. You have to remember that in the early to mid Eighties in Ontario, Audis were garbage and by then, most BMW 2002s had succumbed to rust. Volkswagens were super cool, but also attainable enough that I had buddies who drove them.

The M3 was a revelation for what it was, as much as what it wasn’t. It was a no holds barred street fighter, built to go fast and it looked the part. For the time, the M3’s rear spoiler and fat fenders were as outrageous as those on a Subaru are today. What is wasn’t was comfortable, or quiet. It was everything that North American cars weren’t, and for that, I loved it.

I would still love to have one.

Thanks to my teenage obsession with building plastic model cars, there was one M3 race car that stood out in my mind. It was bright orange and wore advertising from the Jagermeister brand. At the time, I knew it was booze, but didn’t realize how prominent that brand would later become as party people started doing Jager shots.

The folks at the Box One Collective hooked up with CG Motorsports to have a look at their latest creation, a 500 horsepower recreation called the Jagerbomb.

Evil.

This badass 11 year old drives better than you do!

driftkid

Earlier this morning, Ken Block’s Facebook page shared a quick clip of a 9 1/2 year old kid drifting an E30 BMW and doing a pretty darned awesome job of it. The clip was short and poor quality, so I decided to do a bit of digging. Turns out that the kid is from Cyprus and his name is Stavros Grillis. He is supposedly the youngest drifter in the World. I can’t substantiate that, but I doubt there are many other 9 year olds driving drift cars.
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Behold the awesomeness of an M3 rally car

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Back before 4 wheel drive monsters took over the rally scene, the stages were populated by rear wheel drive cars with the exception of Minis of course. Those cars were a thing of beauty to see when driven by a master. Swinging a rear driver down a stage road is almost more of an art than anything.

Ramana Lagemann is an artist of the first order, making a BMW M3 dance on gravel like nobody’s business. This onboard footage was shot last weekend at the Oregon Trail Rally, where Lagemann attached stage 15 as friend of The Garage Nathalie Richard calls notes from the shotgun seat. Around 3:25 the road opens up and the M3 really starts to howl.

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.

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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.

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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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