Thursday, July 29, 2010

Long Travel Magazine: The New Kid...

Still primarily a niche market, true off-road racing saw a new entry to the magazine arena this month.

Long Travel magazine has debuted and is likely only available to you if you are in the Western US as I could not find an issue at either Barnes & Noble or Wal Mart (the two outlets that I have been told will carry this title) and had to have mine mailed from AZ. Regardless, if it can reach a decent sized market and cause other outlets (online and otherwise) to step up their games then I am all for it.

The current 0ff-road market for magazines falls into either the slow (rock crawling, trail riding, "jeeping", etc.) or the fast (desert, rally, rock racing, etc.) and only one magazine, Dirt Sports, has been able to successfully cover both arenas though remains primarily a desert racing outlet.

All off-road oriented media outlets suffer from a lack of real news reporting, low budgets and a tendency to pander to their advertisers. While this isn't much different from mainstream auto outlets (Motortrends recent praising of the new V6 Mustang without ever having driven it comes to mind) it still isn't a good thing.

Long Travel magazine suffers from some of these same issues. Its faults include poor copy editing with a number of typographical (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) errors. For a supposed professional publication it is really unacceptable to find these, yet month after month an otherwise excellent magazine like Dirt Sports has similar issues. I don't know if its that the publishers don't care or don't respect their readers but it's kind of sad and insulting.

An additional fault with Long Travel appears to be its lack of content. Clearly it could have used more and more varied material and likely intended to contain more but for one reason or another did not--for instance, they do a nice detailed job on the build of a Chevrolet Silverado covering everything from a suspension kit to a bed cage and they break the build down into four parts. In parts 2, 3 and 4 we are told "in last month's issue..." clearly indicating that the original intention was to spread the details out over a number of issues but instead put all four parts of the build into a single issue--either they were scrapping for content to fill out the magazine or again, the copy editor botched the job and didn't cut these references out.

So you probably think I hate the magazine. I don't. I actually read it cover to cover and found it had a lot to offer.

The magazine covered the grassroots MORR (MidWest Off Road Racing) organization which no one else has, had some solid info on how to set up a Lowrance GPS, had a couple of nice vehicle features, and a great interview with Pat Dailey (one of the founders of Fast-Aid, a group that benefits injured racers/support crew). There is truly some solid work contained in these pages.

If Long Travel can not overload their mag with the vehicle features (everyone has seen enough nice paint jobs and shiny lift kits by now, only show us something new or special) and focus on giving the reader something truly unique, it could become worth a subscription.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just A Reminder...

That Nissans, a Titan in fact, have run very successfully in the desert Southwest of the United States. Seen here is the Nissan Titan of Bob Graham at the 2004 Baja 1000. Not only did it finish the race, but it finished second in class.

Somewhere in California it sits, likely still in Bob's possession wasting away...

Get Your Vitamin C (while driving)

I'm a big fan of Nissan (obvious) but even I get a bit squeamish when it comes to the "nanny-ism" that is creeping into future auto designs. From incessant beeping when you don't buckle your seatbelt, to cars that will apply the brakes when IT thinks you are entering a dangerous situation, to WOT restrictions and now to...aerosol vitamins?

Yes, now Nissan is in the process of implementing a HVAC system for its vehicles that will provide you with your daily dose of Vitamin C by blowing a breathable version into your face. Now is it just me or are we continuing to go down an unnecessary path? I want my car designers to focus on making my cars more fun to drive, more reliable, less expensive, safer, better looking, etc., etc.

I'm sure that they would argue that they are fully capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time--that's not the point. I'm sure they have the ability to design new cars and useful auto applications while at the same time wasting resources on efforts like this, I just want them to STOP wasting resources (time, money, brainpower) on unneeded, unwanted rabbit-hole things like this and use them to move forward on items that do present an everyday concern to consumers. Is that so wrong?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mini to Enter WRC in 2011...

Confirming what had been rumored, speculated, suggested and partially revealed, Mini has announced their entry on a part time basis into the WRC for 2011 and full time entry in 2012.

While this is welcome news for the WRC as it will create more interest in the series with another factory program besides the current Ford and Citroen efforts--assuming that neither Ford or Citroen decide to pull up stakes and go elsewhere.

WRC efforts are an expense greater than just about any motorsport outside of F1 and if you aren't guaranteed to win and gain the exposure that comes along with it, its hard to justify the cost and thus the WRC is always on the edge of losing manufacturer interest (see Subaru). Additionally, one has to wonder how long Mini will stay in this game if results don't follow, which already in question given the questionable appropriatness of the Mini Clubman body and setup for top level WRC competition--The Citroen, Ford and recent Subaru efforts have all revolved around smaller (presumably) and lighter vehicles...

Monday, July 26, 2010

I'll Take Two Please.

The delicious blonde above goes by the name of Bonita Norris. Not only is she easy on the eyes but she is an accomplished and driven mountaineer as well having recently become the youngest woman (22 years old) from the U.K. to summit Everest in May of this year.

Norris signed on with Nissan to become the spokesperson for the Juke in the U.K. saying that she loves to support a vehicle designed, engineered and built in the U.K. and will be using the funds from Nissan to support her next expedition which is to the South Pole in 2012.

Unfortunately as an exclusively U.K. celebrity/athlete we will not be seeing images of Bonita here Stateside. Hopefully Nissan comes up with a U.S. equivalent. Suggestions?

Endurance V8 Powered Buggy Makes Off-Road Magazine...

Proving once again that you need not stick with the boring, overdone, everyone has one, LS series engine for a powerplant, comes this peach of a buggy.

Power is supplied here by the V-8 grunt of a Titan's VK56DE. This is an engine with which the owner should be intimately familiar as he owns two Titans. This is one dedicated Nissan enthusiast. To read more follow the following link to the Off-Road Magazine article...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

ALMS...Not For the Light of Wallet...

So I was in Northwestern Connecticut this weekend for a host of reasons but as party to all that I realized there was a big American Le Mans Series event going on at Lime Rock raceway and that I would be practically next door and after completing an appointment I had nearby I'd try and attend the event as well...

Well, so much for that...While there are activities at the track all day long on this past Saturday, the premier race would only begin around 2pm and last just a few hours. So I figured (silly me) that here we are in the middle of nowhere Connecticut and the ALMS is not exactly the highest of high profile series, and I was only looking to attend roughly 1/2 the day of racing and thus tickets would be relatively affordable.


Whether it was a Lime Rock policy or an ALMS policy the first issue was that there was no tiered pricing. Once size fits all...and that one size was $70 a person. That's $70 a person to a facility with no true seating, poor sight lines, lots of obstructed views and not exactly the Taj Mahal of amenities. Not only that but there seemed to be no desire to discount tickets to those who showed up for only part of the day. So I did the smart thing and walked away.

Given the number of Porsche, Land Rover, Lexus, etc., vehicles in the parking lot it appears I am not part of their target audience anyway so I doubt either ALMS or Lime Rock lose much sleep over turning away the less affluent but this is just another example of why road racing in America had withered on the vine and is now the sole purview of those who only pay others to turn a wrench while the "common folk" turn to dumbed down--but cheaper and more accessible forms of racing like NAPCAR....

Baja Karelia (May, 21. - 23.)

The penultimate race of Russian CCR championship was held in Republic of Karelia close to Finnish borders. Winner of previous round Alexander Mironenko won a short prologue but gaps between the main contenders were in seconds. Two seconds behind were Boris Gadasin and Alexander Zheludov.

Organizers prepared just one special stage which was run four times. It wasn’t easy as tracks were narrow with many stones and dust didn’t make it easier. Mironenko was the first on track and also the first to change the punctured tyre. Zheludov had an advantage because he already knew Karelia’s tracks from rally. But Gadasin was faster and therefore first after Saturday. Mironenko returned to top 3 overtaking Ilya Kuznetsov.

Before the Sunday’s stage rain soaked the terrain but without consequences for competitors. Zheludov tried to defeat Gadasin but failed to reach his goal. Gadasin maintained the lead and won his first race on home soil this year. Mironenko finished third. Kuznetsov started the last special with 11 second advantage on Bogdan Novitskiy but finished with 45 second loss. Sixth overall was Alexander Olejnikov winner of T2 class. He was chased by a bunch of Land Cruisers they just haven’t found the way how to catch him.

Overall classification:
1. Boris Gadasin / Vladimir Demyanenko  G-Force Proto  3:39:06
2. Alexander Zheludov / Andrey Rudnickiy  Mitsubishi L200  + 01:46
3. Alexander Mironenko / Sergey Lebedev  Nissan Frontier  + 10:37
4. Bogdan Novickiy / Vitali Yevtekhov  G-Force Proto  + 18:00
5. Ilya Kuznetsov / Andrej Neshin  Mitsubishi L200  + 18:45
6. Alexander Oleynikov / Alexej Kuzmich  Nissan Patrol  + 28:46

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Khazar Steppe (April, 23. - 25.)

The second race of Russian CCR championship took place in April in Astrakhan region which is known for its plain and vast steppes. Although four crews of last year’s top 5 were missing there were enough candidates for the first place. Among them were leader of FIA Baja Cup Bogdan Novitskiy with team colleague Boris Gadasin (both G-Force Proto) and national championship leader Alexander Zheludov (Mitsubishi L200).

Novitskiy fulfilled the expectations and won the prologue ahead of Zheludov and Alexander Mironenko (Nissan Frontier). Gadasin was significantly delayed by stone that hit and damaged the brakes. He eliminated most of his loss on Saturday’s navigationally difficult stage. This one’s was, for a change, cruel to Novitskiy - he spent 20 minutes repairing the accelerate rod. His first position was suddenly Mironenko’s first place.

Fourth place in general rankings belonged to Alexander Olejnikov (Nissan Patrol), the fastest one of T2 cars. He was followed by another T2 Patrol driven by Alexei Yashkov. The extraordinary status Kamaz trucks have nowadays was proved once again on this rally. Young gun Eduard Nikolaev, guided by six time Dakar winner Vladimir Chagin, was sixth overall after Saturday leaving 25 other rivals behind.

Sunday was the day of Gadasin’s brutal attack. He was fast, much faster than Mironenko. He was virtual leader already before the last section when mechanical malfunction stopped him. Skilled rally driver Zheludov is fast but still has some bad rally habits. Like sitting comfortably in a car while his co-driver is digging the car out of sand trap they are stuck in… Nevertheless he withdrew few kilometers later. And as Novitskiy failed to complete the race as well Mironenko was left on top alone.

After more than 200 kilometers Mironenko celebrated his win ahead of Ilya Kuznetsov (Mitsubishi L200) and Roman Briskindov (Mitsubishi Pajero). Eduard Nikolaev improved his position by two places and finished fourth overall. Vladimir Frolov took T2 winning position (Mitsubishi Pajero), Nissans grabbed third and fourth thanks to Olejnikov and Igor Sadovskiy.

Overall classification:
1. Alexander Mironenko / Sergey Lebedev  Nissan Frontier  6:10:02
2. Ilya Kuznetsov / Andrej Neshin  Mitsubishi Pajero  + 27:21
3. Roman Briskindov / Alexej Alexandrov  Mitsubishi Pajero  + 33:00
4. Eduard Nikolaev / Vyatcheslav Kizukaev / Vladimir Chagin  Kamaz 4326  + 40:36
5. Yuri Borovikov / Vladimir Rogozhin  VAZ 2123  + 56:53
6. Vladimir Frolov / Yevgeni Kalatchev  Mitsubishi Pajero  + 57:53

Friday, July 23, 2010

Prohun 500 race review

Hungarian race Prohun 500 was the longest race of this year’s Central European Zone for cross country rallies and most probably also the hottest one. The temperature very rarely dropped below 35°C and in some occasions exceeded 40°C (around 100°F).

In this tropical weather the competitors had to cover 1000 kilometers of which more than 500 were against time. Stages were mostly straight and fast with very few technical parts which favored high-capacity engines like those in Opel Antara RR. But it was László Palik with SA-built Navara who led the pack after two specials. Close to the end of the third special he missed the turn and broke two ribs in an accident. He was out. Much sooner than skilled Palik ended the race for Andrea Várkonyi. In Hungary very popular TV announcer rolled her car twice just 200 meters after the start.

Her team boss Balázs Szalay fought hard for the first place with another Navara namely that of Erik Korda. At the end of stage 1 rally driver Korda was 1 min 10 sec. slower. The third was Károly Fazekas with another overpowered car BMW X5 followed by two Opels driven by Péter Rónai and Ferenc Vörös. In T2 class Slovakian crew Juraj Ulrich / Danka Ulrichová won all five specials. Oh, they drove home-built Nissan Navara 4.0, didn’t I mention it before?

On Saturday it was even hotter with two short but very intensive rains during fifth and sixth special. Thankfully it didn’t do much harm to cars. Lásló Liszi was penalized and fell down the order, Ferenc Vöros finished ninth special with damaged exhaust muffler and therefore poisoned by carbon oxide. That’s another one out of the race. Korda won three specials of the day same as Szalay but Opel pilot was faster. Nissan occupied places 5 to 7 thanks to Zoltán Bálint (with ex-Palik Navara) Pál Lónyai and Imre Varga. T2 Navara of Ulrich stayed on top of class ranking ahead of Toyota LC 120 and Mitsubishi Pajero, both Polish.

Last four specials on Sunday Korda attacked as hard as he could. Still he finished second behind Szalay. Considering his Navara had the engine of half the capacity of Szalay’s Antara it was sort of expected result. And even with 41,5 points loss in general classification his Korda still has a chance to be national champion. From the very beginning third Fazekas finished… third. The bad luck of Opel Dakar Team, except Szalay’s win of course, ended with withdrawal of Péter Rónai. The fourth place was free for army guy Bálint. Fifth came home Lónyai and sixth Varga - that is four Nissans in top six.

By flawless ride, tenth overall and first in T2 class, finished Slovak Navara of Juraj Ulrich 15 minutes ahead of Polish Alexander Sachanbinski. Desperately last was Márton Kristóf with Nissan Navara. He skipped 4 specials and with huge time penalty there was no chance for better place. His car is brand new and under development so let’s give him some time. And one last Nissan to mention is Navara of Zoltán Csányi. Practically regular road car dominated Sandlander Challenge trophy.

Overall ranking:
1. Balázs Szalay - László Bunkoczi Opel Antara RR 4:50:51
2. Erik Korda - György Tóth Nissan Navara + 01:40
3. Károly Fazekas - Péter Maurer BMW X5 + 07:40
4. Zoltán Bálint - Dániel Marton Nissan Navara + 45:49
5. Pál Lónyai - Zoltán Garamvölgi Nissan Navara + 53:08
10. Juraj Ulrich - Daniela Ulrichová Nissan Navara + 1:58:05

Here are some photos of Nissans, more of them and others on my photo gallery on this link:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Would Someone Please Tell the Euros...

that weenie techno music with some high pitched female singing in the background just does not work for off-road racing videos?? Man, that music ALMOST killed this video for me. Fortunately it was saved by all the great Nissan Navaras in action.

This is all footage from last weeks Prohun 500 in Hungary. I am trying to find out the results of the event now as the homepage for the Prohun 500 has not been updated and there are few news articles on the event and none are in English...Will update ASAP with the finishing order...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Datsunland...Kinda Like Disneyland...

at least for Datsun/Nissan enthusiasts...
Just came across a small blurb today on a small museum opened by one of the original employees at Datsun in its earlies days. Located in SoCal this museum has some truly great pieces of memorabilia on hand--and even better stories.
Like this gem from the linked article below: Did you know why Toyota's FJ was so popular in the U.S. to the point that they are still well known today some 40 years later and Toyota reinvented the vehicle as a modern SUV in recent times? Well, one major factor was that a handshake agreement between Datsun and Toyota in the 60's kept Datsun from importing its famous offroad machine, the Patrol, to the U.S. so long as Toyota kept from importing its 2000GT sports cars so that Datsun could succeed with its 240Z!
Its nuggets like that which should drive you to visit the museum if ever in the Murrieta, CA area...

Peter North's 300ZX on Ebay...

Peter North...yes...that Peter North, has his white 300ZX for sale on Ebay right now. Its a real nice ride with a new(er) engine and tons of upgrades. Plus its not so over done as to be gaudy and in very good condition as opposed to most of the 300ZXs on the road today.

If you are a male and in your late 20's to 30's you are likely well aware of Peter North's "fame" and if you want to "ride like a porn star" this may be your best chance...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nissan Takes Two of Three Podium Spots in ABSA Off-Road Event...

The ABSA Sun City 400 is routinely rated as one of the best off-road races in South Africa and thus the world. It is additionally one of the world's toughest.

It is with great pleasure then that this past weekend's results ended with two Nissan Navaras on the podium. The full story can be read here: Sun City 400 Results. The three Nissan Navaras entered in the event all finished, coming in 1st, 3rd and 9th out of 17 entries which saw eight DNFs. It says something that all three Nissans crossed the finish line when the attrition rate was nearing 50%.

The big news to me is that privateer efforts continue to succeed. Without factory backing and manning underfunded efforts the Nissan privateers have performed at a level on par or better than the full factory Toyota effort in South Africa now run by the former Nissan Motorsports South Africa director Glynn Hall. The situation just screams about the quality of machines that Hall turned out during his time with Nissan. As with their Dakar efforts the Nissan vehicles maintain a world class level of competitiveness long after the factory support is gone.

The ABSA Off-Road season is now 1/2 over with four of the eight events out of the way. We'll have to wait a few days to see the updated season standings for both drivers and Manufacturers though this may put Nissan within striking distance of Ford, who with Toyota run the two factory efforts in South Africa. It would be an amazing accomplishment if the Privateer efforts could come close to or surpass a full factory effort like Fords.

The next ABSA off-road event is the Carnival City event on Aug. 28th.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Rally America: NEFR Concludes Season...

The shortened Rally America season came to an end yesterday in the woods of Maine.

Running only a six event program due to the addition of a true Rallycross series at the end of the Summer/beginning of Fall Rally America crowned its champion, marking the first time in five years that Travis Pastrana and a Subaru would not be in the top spot.

TP ran a more limited schedule in '10, skipping two events to participate in number of motorcycle exhibitions in Australia. TP won two of the four events he entered and DNF'd in the other two, including this weekends NEFR where he was leading the event by a substantial margin until dumping his engine oil and grinding to a halt in the last two stages. Also of note here is that Subaru's other top driver, Dave Mirra, did not show for the event despite a shot at grabbing season podium position nearly by just showing up.

Another significant story was Ken Blocks DNF on Stage 4 (video above) of the event. Continuing his series of poor performances Block attributed his crash to a mechanical issue that prevented his suspension from operating properly, though with four DNFs in five Rally America events and also crashing out of every WRC event entered by Block in '10, it is not over stating the facts when saying that Block is in over his head. I don't believe Ford was looking for seven DNFs in eight global events when they signed Block to drive for them...

The event winner and season champion was Antoine L'Estage with Nathalie Richard as co-driver. The Canadian duo ran consistently all year, finished every event and grabbed two wins, three seconds and a third place on the season. They and their Mitsubishi were truly the class of the series.

Bill Bacon, the NH based privateer had to change a tire early on in the NEFR but rebounded to finish the event (he also finished EVERY event on the season) in sixth position and ended the year in second overall--also in a Mitsubishi EVO.

Congrats to both Antoine and Bill as they run underfunded, under-supported and under-appreciated efforts against much larger budgets, newer vehicles and some major factory support and yet ended up besting them all.

A final note here--Take a look at the Rally America home page: Rally America.

Notice the heavy Ford presence? A year or two ago it was Subaru. Rally America moved a section of its corporate headquarters into the same building as the Vermont Sports Car and have never been shy about supporting (visibly or with a wink and a nod) the manufacturer who funds the most visible teams in their series and that pendulum now appears to have swung towards Ford and away from Subaru.

With Pastrana skipping two events and Mirra skipping the final event and Subaru's waning interest in rallying as a whole, Ford has stepped up with Block's RA and WRC teams and will be a dominant force at both the XGames and the upcoming Rallycross series. With the Fiesta just starting to be released you should see some major Ford funding in Rally America over the next two to three years.

In the meantime, privateer efforts will struggle on for the pure love of the sport...and sometimes, love wins out over money...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Things I Learned on Vacation #2...

#2) That Coastal Carolinians LOVE their Nissan Titans/Frontiers...

My goodness...While on the Outer Banks I could not swing a dead crab without bumping into a Nissan Titan/Frontier. Seriously...I would put them up at something near 20% or higher of the trucks that I saw down there which is WAY above their national sales averages.

They were being used in all sorts of ways from towing small boats or campers to hauling fishing gear to just being used as general contractor/recreation vehicles.

I was shocked at their numbers and was trying to mull over the reason during my week and 1/2 there and I came up with one major reason: They are the perfect "light duty" vehicles.

If you want to tow a whopping 30 foot center console boat capable of hitting up the gulf stream or pulling a stable full of horses or trailer full of I-beams, you go get yourself something like a Ford F-350 diesel or the like. But...the majority of buyers in the coastal Carolina area are instead hauling surfboards, kiteboarding equipment, small inshore boats, lumber and cedar shingles for houses, etc.---"light duty" demands. There are no farms here, no cattle, no hay, little construction equipment. There is only a single major road so there is no real road repair duty, there are no hills...The major stressors requiring REAL heavy duty trucks are largely absent in Coastal Carolina and thus things like reliability, cost of ownership, adaptability, etc. become more important factors than peak torque, HP and hauling capabilities--attributing to the large number of OLD Toyota trucks present but few new Tundras.

Hopefully Nissan can take this info to heart and generate another generation of Titans and Frontiers as good or better than the current generation and market them more appropriately to the American masses. International buyers know the value of the Frontier already as they scoop up the Navara in droves and if Nissan could market the Nissan and Titan to the vast majority of truck buyers who don't haul a broken down cement truck behind them on a regular basis and simply need a reliable, hard working truck into which they can throw their tools and toys, they could make substantial gains...

And it looks like Nissan may WANT to evidenced by the recent "Nissan Truck Day" held in Texas and attended by numerous engineers and marketing bigwigs from Nissan, they are serious about continuing and improving upon the Nissan truck lineup. Take a gander at the event and understand that Nissan WANTS the consumers input.

What I Learned on Vacation...

No matter how much you think you know, you really don't know that much (the above picture is NOT of me, but certainly could have been)...

Example #1--as an avid offroader with many years experience on the rocks, sand, snow and mud in various vehicles I initially balked at taking my parents Hyundai Santa Fe (borrowed for its ability to tow a pop-up trailer) out onto the sand of the North Carolina beaches I was visiting. In years past I had taken my Nissan Xterra out on these very same beaches with ease, traversing up and down the coast with nary a worry. But not possessing a true 4WD system and street tires I just didn't want to chance it...Then I spied a Ford Escape coming up at me off the beach in fine form and without pause, also with street tires.

Bah, I said, if a Ford Escape can run the sand so can the Santa Fe--a near identical "soft-roader" of Korean build. So off we went...and promptly ground to a halt within 10 yards of leaving the pavement...Why oh why didn't I listen to my first instinct? The deep soft sand completely and utterly confounded the Santa Fe's AWD system. The only wheel ever to spin was always the one hanging in the loosest of sands, obtaining no grip and leaving the vehicle without the ability to move anywhere. Yes the tires were aired down, yes I tried rocking the vehicle back and forth, blah, blah, blah...The fancy dancy computer system and completely open differentials left the vehicle without the ability to put a single pound of torque to the "ground" where it counted.

I was promptly pulled from the sand by a local driving a nice Chevrolet Silverado who looked at my Massachusetts plates, my Korean soft-roader, wife and kid in the car and pasty white skin and must have thought to himself "Just another Mass-hole getting his dumbass in where he doesn't belong" and I can't say I blame him, though I sputtered a bunch of excuses about the vehicle being borrowed, not being from Massachusetts and having been out on these beaches in my own vehicle in the past...but it didn't really make me feel any better...If you need a vehicle to tow a small pop-up trailer and carry the family the Santa Fe is great...just don't try taking it out on the beach or dunes...