Thursday, December 30, 2010

Africa Eco Race: Day 2

Stage 2 of 12 is now over.  Today's stage upped the Special Stage distance to 318 km and saw Jacky Loomans Nissan improve significantly.

In 7th and more than 11 minutes back of the leader on Day 1, Loomans and his Nissan proved much stronger on Day 2, crossing the finish line in 3rd place for the day, only 5 minutes back of the Stage 2 winner and moving up to 4th overall, again now only 5 minutes behind the overall leader Jerome Pelichit and his Bowler.

Jean Louis Schlesser is having a down event for him thus far and sits in 8th overall after two stages some 57 minutes adrift...

Safety Cage Finished...

Notice I said "Safety Cage".

The entire cage is NOT complete and won't be for some time.

The rear still needs some down bracing and triangulation back to the main cage, but that won't happen until the new leaf springs are ready to go in and shock mounts on the rear bracing will also be built to have them come up through the bed.

The front of the cage, specifically the engine cage, will await the front suspension parts so that the upper shock mounts can be integrated into that part of the cage.

So, for now, the truck could pass its safety inspection and go racing...but its far from complete.

The Things They Carried: A Book Review...

I picked this book up at a local used book store for a couple bucks as I had seen it recommended in a recent WSJ article regarding well crafted, first person perspective novels about war in general.

Much like my recent review of The Ouroboros Wave, The Things They Carried, is more a collection of short stories and remembrances than it is a single work.  Some of these short stories had been published elsewhere before being collected here and some are new.  All blur the line between fiction and reality with the author coming out and telling the reader that he is doing so in order to impress upon his audience more emotional weight than would be generated by a mere regurgitation of the facts.

Mr. O'Brien is a gifted writer.  The stories here, all told from the perspective of one "Tim O'Brien" are well crafted and the language clean and simple.  The action is brutal but not over the top--there seems to be a dark humor in even the most grotesque of circumstances.  Some of these stories stirred genuine emotions of sadness and grief within me which is not something that happens very often from the written word.

I neither served in, nor grew up around the Vietnam conflict and so I have little point of reference as to Mr. O'Brien's guilt as to having served there and will make no statement of opinion as to his feelings surrounding his participation in and/or righteousness (or lack thereof) of the Vietnam war.  As a work of fiction this collection is as solid as any around.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Africa Eco Race: Day 1

No its not the Dakar...but it is in Africa and it is retracing the same terrain travelled by the Dakar race in its original form.  Scrutineering over, taking the ferry across to Morocco and away we go...

Damn French seem to have filled the entrance ranks of the event--and that's a shame--but at least they are showing that a rather large event CAN take place through this geography/territory/countries without significant terrorist or criminal involvement.  Every year this event goes on successfully it makes the lack of a return by the ASO to the African continent look like its more related to money than the security concerns they site.

Regardless, Day 1 of the Africa Eco Race is over.  Buggies are dominating the top of the leader board though the top Nissan effort of Jacky Loomans stands in 7th place some 11 minutes back, one spot in front of last year's winner Jean Louis Schlesser, who, despite his world class equipment and talent has remained steadfastly loyal to racing in Africa.

Africa Eco Race Day 1 Standings...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Nissan Ship: The City of St. Petersburg

Nissan is now working on being "green" with their ship transports as well as their vehicles.  Check this behemoth out.  It is "The City of St. Petersburg".

This car transport will ply the North Sea bringing vehicles back and forth between various points in Europe.  Supposedly the newly designed "bubble" front end, greatly reduces wind resistance and improves the ship's fuel economy.  Given that the largest cargo ships in the world burn the equivalent of 15 tons of fuel per hour and about 100,000 tons of fuel per year the 800 tons of fuel that the "bubble nose" saves is a benefit of less than 1%...Ummm...yeah...I think the engineers and welders responsible for this bubble nose could have been better off working on something else...

"Nissan Motors is making headlines not for its environmentally-friendly electric cars, but for a massive ship that will transport them.

The transport car carrier called “The City of St. Petersburg” weighs 21,000 tons. It is the first carrier of its kind to incorporate a unique design, cutting air resistance by nearly 50 percent.

[Satoshi Yako,Nissan Motors]: "You can say that the ship’s spherical prow design is the world’s first. Thanks to this aerodynamic design we expect to see a substantial reduction in the ship’s fuel consumption.”

The car manufacturer hopes to cut down fuel consumption by 800 tons - the equivalent of 2,500 tons a year of CO2 emissions.

The ship is heading to Europe, where it hopes to be the most effective.

[Satoshi Yako, Nissan Motors]: "This ship will be mainly put in use in European coastal waters, especially in the North Sea where there are strong winds. We hope that northern Europe is where the aerodynamic design is especially effective.”

The ship has space for 2,000 cars and will be put into use to transport vehicles to Northern Europe and Russia from Nissan’s factories in the United Kingdom and Spain."

Monday, December 27, 2010

The "Other" Dakar Race: Africa Eco Race 2011

With scrutineering having begun today I figured I should list the entrants in the race that has "replaced" the Dakar in Africa over the past few years.  Running over much of the same geography that the traditional Dakar race has in years past (Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal) the Africa Eco Race has been slowly building its vehicle/entrant count, though the names involved are decidedly not of the class of those currently in South America.

Still...given the number of shady groups filtering through the wastelands of Northern Africa currently, and the lower funding/security that the Africa Eco Race is sure to have compared to the Dakar events, this is not an event for the weak of heart...

The Nissan entrants (so far, there may be one more) in the Africa Eco Race 2011 are:

#301  Jacky Loomans, Frits Driesmans
#332  Antoine Sanchez, Andre Ascione
#366  Yves Marie Dulioust, Thierry Maury
#367  Serge Floris, Pierrick Legendre

Updates on the race beginning today can be found here:  Africa Eco Race 2011

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Nissan Endurance Racing Team...

Ahh...another sign that Nissan is creeping (albeit slowly) back into the top ranks of various racing series around the world.

Here we have the new, French team of Sbarta Racing (no website found just yet) who has announced that they are contesting the 2011 LeMans series and the 24 Hours of Lemans in an Oreca chassis powered by a V8 Nismo engine.  My interest in international and endurance motorsports continues to increase...

Press release: Here...
Sbarta Racing: Facebook Page...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dakar 2011 Nissan Entries...

As I did last year I will list all of the Nissan vehicles and their drivers/co-drivers that are entered in the 2011 Dakar.  I have less hope of a good performance out of a Nissan this year than I did in 2010 but, hopefully I will be surprised.  The race begins 1/1/11.

#306  Nani Roma, Gilles Picard, Nissan Overdrive
#312  Christian Lavielle, Jean Michel Polato, Team Dessoude
#317  Andrew "Alfie" Cox, Jurgen Schroder, Nissan Overdrive
#324  Alexander Mironenko, Sergey Lebedev, Nissan Overdrive
#330  Boris Garafulic, Laurent Lichtleuchter, Nissan Overdrive
#331  Francisco Luis E Silvia Inocencio, Jorge Pedro Noronha Velosa, Nissan Overdrive/Red Line Offroad
#334  David Deslandes, Alain Brousse, Team Dessoude
#339  Frederic Chavigny, Willy Alcaraz, Team Dessoude
#381  Carlos Machado de Oliveira, Ricardo Manuel Trejeira Corticadas, Team Dessoude
#434  Hongzhi Guo, Denis Schurger, Team Dessoude
#435  Juan Carlos Caceres Simons, Oscar Juan Rocha Rivero, Peru Rally Raid Motorsports
#443  Roberti Hernan Javier, Mauro Esteban Lipez, Raid 4x4 TV Team
#451 Adriano Vagnini, Mauricio Jeromin, Raid 4x4 TV Team

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fire Claude Julien...

Easiest decision in Boston sports right now...

After watch the debacle that was a 3-0 shutout loss by the Bruins last night it became clear (if it wasn't already) that this team is not ready to contend for anything at the moment.

With a team that is at or above the salary cap and filled with a number of skilled players who are locked into long term contracts (admittedly the result of the GM and not the coach), Julien has what he has and is not going to be seeing any major moves come his way to shake up the roster or improve the skill he has on hand.  Nor is he likely to make wholesale changes to his defensive minded "system".

Claude's system has resulted in the lowest goals allowed total in the league--but also results in a team that can't score and can't come from behind.  When the Bruins get down a goal you know the game is lost because they'll continue to play defense and ignore the need to score.  Julien's recent and multiple benchings of Tyler Seguin makes me think that players are so afraid of not conforming to the "system" that it is impeding their ability to score.  Do you really want that kind of coach overseeing the development of the #2 pick in the draft, someone with incredible scoring ability?

Has Claude helped turn things around in Boston?  Certainly.  He helped provide a stabilizing force on the Bruins bench when they were the worst team in the league.  He and his system can keep the team from falling too far as they will never be ones to consistently let up easy goals.  The downside is that they will remain "trapped" for lack of a better word, in Julien's system as long as he is there and will not (as evidenced by his record of taking teams to, but not deep, in the playoffs) realize their full potential.

Despite the Bruins good start and second place standings in their division, they are currently the LAST team eligible for the playoffs and barely ahead of the 9th place team in the conference.  Does Chiarelli, Neely and the Jacobs family really want to risk missing the playoffs??  The Bruins have (had?) a chance to get back on the front pages of the Boston sports scene with the down year and ratings the Sox had in '10, the aging Celtics and supposedly rebuilding Pats...But that was so three months ago.  Now its clear the Pats are Super Bowl contenders, the Celtics (while old) still have enough gas in the tank to take another run, and the Sox are on a spending spree of epic proportions to try and grab another ring.

If the Bruins are not going to be overshadowed and overlooked they need to win--now...

Hey Claude, thanks for the memories (!?!) but now its time for you to go and for the Bruins to get beyond your mini-mite style of coaching--and quickly...

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'll keep this short and bitter as it really doesn't merit a mention at all.

The NBC "World of Adventure Sports" show from 12/19 that contained an hour of coverage of the 2011 SCORE Baja 1000 was the lowest rated sports program on network TV for the weekend.

Its 0.3 rating was only 1/4 the audience garned by LOORRS and its racing broadcast on CBS back on 11/28 and is a non-change from the 0.3 and 0.4 of the previous two World of Adventure Sports broadcasts that contained "Rally" coverage of Pastrana's record run up Mt. Washington and then the first RallyCross event at New Jersey Motorsports Park.  Soooo....its a non-event...a 0.3 likely equates to the number of dead people out there who left their TV on NBC shortly before they died...SCORE has not moved the needle...LOORRS certainly has...

"ESPN Sports Saturday"
NCAA Fall Highlight Show
NCAA Basketball: (regional)
NCAA Basketball: Texas-North Carolina
Winter Dew Tour
Ironman Triathlon (taped)
"The NFL Today"
"NFL on CBS": (regional)
"NFL on CBS": Jets-Steelers (92%)
"Fox NFL Sunday"
"NFL on Fox": (single)
World of Adventure Sports (taped)
Winter Dew Tour
"Football Night in America"
"Sunday Night Football": Packers-Patriots

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ouroboros Wave: A Book Review...

I was a big sci-fi geek as a kid.

My dad was an electrical engineer who fed me a constant stream of "kid friendly" sci-fi authors (Norton, Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) when I was young.  Despite having a significant impact on how I think today in terms of my beliefs regarding a whole host of issues, I ceased being an "active" fan of sci-fi novels a long time ago.  While I would always stop by the "new" sci-fi section of my local bookstores and peruse the offerings, I cannot remember the last time I actually read, let alone bought, a real sci-fi novel (I don't classify Lovecraft as sci-fi, though some of his tales surely qualify).

That changed this past week.

Out shopping for books for my family's Christmas gifts I made my usual stop by the sci-fi section and ran across the above book.  Its black and white cover differentiated it from the usual flying Ferrari through the pink clouds of some far off, lush planet.  Then I saw the author's name--Jyouji Hayashi, and the fact that this was an English translation of his Japanese work...hmmm...not the typical American or Western sci-fi drivel?  Tell me more.

Reading the synopsis on the back cover sealed the deal as it divulged that the content didn't surround some far off time or some farcical premise.

So what about the actual book?

Well, first off it is not a novel.  It is a 250+ page collection of six separate and loosely connected novellas.  Each one of the six take place along a timeline that spans the years 2123 to 2171, progressing chronologically as the book moves forward.  Some characters reappear from novella to novella, some don't, but there are plenty of touchstones contained within each section so that you always know you are inside the universe Hayashi has created.

The topic of the novellas surrounds mankind's push into the outer solar system, the evolution of societies and how they differentiate from one another once "land" beyond Earth becomes inhabited and human/AI reactions to potential discovery of intelligent life beyond our own.

Whether its the result of the translation or is true to the author, the book is extremely readable and retains the reader's interest from beginning to end as each page brings new revelations.  Definitely a book for the "harder" sci-fi fans, there are lengthy discussions of artificial intelligence, black holes, gravity waves and other more advanced concepts but discussions don't devolve into scientific lectures, remaining at a level sufficient to educate but not confuse the reader.

Characters are also not forgotten amidst the science as while most remain fairly superficial in their portrayal, they are not cardboard cutouts--its just that when the science and overarching analysis of that science is the focus, the bit character players are merely a medium through which to describe various events and not the focus itself.

Hayashi has a host of novels to his name in Japan with The Ouroboros Wave being the first of his works to be translated into English and whose previous topics encompassed military fiction, fantasy and sci-fi.  This is hands down the best (if a bit uneven with the initial novellas in the collection being significantly stronger than the ending ones) sci-fi book I have read in a loooooong time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Last Batch from the New England Auto Show...

 This is the final batch of the few pictures taken at the New England International Auto Show last week.

First we have the "new" Nissan Quest minivan.  While entirely new here in the US with Nissan not producing a minivan in '10, the "new" Quest is actually the same vehicle that has been produced in Japan as the El Grand for quite some time (though this is the newest version of the El Grand).  More boxy but with a better nose and more features than the previous Quest this should at least get Nissan back in the minivan game but I don't see anything here to make Odyssey or Sienna owners jump ship.

 Then we have some old American steel...The blue Challenger is actually the product of Dube's Customs vehicle--the same shop that does the paint and body work for the NISMO Stuff Frontier.  It won first place at the Auto show for custom vehicles...

 Here is one of the styling queues on the new Saab 9-5.  I like the way it looks in this case...its just not functional--boooo....
 And lastly, what I maintain is still the most beautiful vehicle on the market...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pearl Jam Quote O' the Day...

Death came around, forced to hear its song,...

And know tomorrow can't be depended on.

From the 2006 album Pearl Jam and the song "Life Wasted"

Monday, December 13, 2010

25 Hours of Thunderhill: Awesome Sentra Effort...

Great story here about a really great Nissan effort.

This Sentra of Krider/Kramer racing performed incredibly at this 25 hour long tarmac event.  Though they didn't win, just surviving such a race--like the Dakar, 24 Hours of Daytona, Baja 1000, etc., is in my mind the truest test of man and machine out there.  Congrats to them on their finish.

Krider/Kramer 25 Hours of Thunderhill diary...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Siddhartha: A Book Review

Finished up this book today and I'll have to go back and reread it in the future.

This is one of those novels that despite is length (only 122 pages) demands multiple reads in order to gather all you can from it.

For the record I am about as far from a neo-hippy, be and let be, Buddhist, vegetarian, numb-nut as you can get.  Yet, I connected with numerous themes contained herein.  I may not believe in a "God" with a capital G but I do have a tendency to believe in fate.  I believe in education but I don't believe in teachers.  I believe that life is best lived rather than watched.

Its many of these themes that I found within Siddhartha and that would best be learned by so many today.  We would all be better off if more people paid less attention to their small problems and understood that all aspects of life--pain, suffering, happiness, love, loss, loneliness, passion, anger, etc., etc., are all part of the human experience, all have their worth and none can be avoided.  Embrace them all and that life has to offer...

Cause unlike many Eastern teachings, chances are, you've only got one go around at it...

All that being said, the book itself is eminently readable despite its translation from German and significant incorporation of Indian themes and language.  Its structure is also plain and accessible as it merely follows the life of the protagonist from his youth as he leaves his parents home, through adulthood and finally coming round full circle as he watches his own son leave home.  And there's the rub.  One cannot fully understand or comprehend the human experience until one has gone through the entirety of human experience--and one cannot pass the wisdom gained from such with words alone, no matter how great the teacher.  One has to go out and live life in order to understand it...

By all means, sit down with a couple good cups of tea (not coffee) and engross will not be worse off for it...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Door Bars, Dash Bar and More...

 It's moving so quick now I can hardly keep track.  Lots and lots of additions today, including the movement of the rear, upper, door bar, up about six inches so that it connected at a point of intersection, strengthening the design.  There is still the issue of the down bars of the rear "star" of the cage that need to be gusseted or triangulated to improve their strength...but we will deal with that shortly...Otherwise I am getting great comments from around the interweb and lots of good/useful feedback.  Thanks!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Cage Updates...

Fewer pictures but definately more progress...door bars coming to life, harness bar in place...Damn...looking like a real race vehicle...I can hardly believe it.

Nissan Versa B-Segment Racing Coming to the US??

Buried at the bottom of an article from Racer Magazine today was a statement by Nissan Motorsports of North America Senior Manager Ron Stukenburg stating that Nissan is heavily considering entering a new B-series spec class of racing here in the US using the Versa platform.

He was evidently attending the annual PRI event in Florida this week where Honda and Mazda have unveiled racing versions on their B-segment vehicles (the Fit and Mazda2).  The b-segment class is to be across a number of organizations including the SCCA and NASA beginning in 2012 with the exact specs for the class to come out in a few weeks.

Ron's presence at the PRI event and comments mean only good things for Nissan racers in North America. Even if they don't get back into off-road (rally, short-course or desert) having them back in motorsports is a good thing any way you look at it.  I would anticipate a Nissan "backed" effort rather than a full factory team but any b-segment racer from Nissan should look remarkably like the Tiida from China Touring Car Championship pictured above, where the Chinese version of the Versa has been running well for a number of years now.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cage Update!! we're talking...this is the basic workup of the cage.  Tomorrow it gets dropped down and has the top of each weld completed before being welded to the body itself.  Like I said...moving right along now...The basic cage design is based off of the one that Baja Bill Holmes has in his Rally F150 and that was remarked upon by Rally America tech director Mike Hurst as being quite well done.  As always...comments, concerns, and critiques are welcome.

Eibach Releases Nissan Juke Springs and Spacers...

In one of (if not the) first series of aftermarket parts for the recently released Nissan Juke, Eibach has announced the availability of a set of lowering springs and wheel spacers.

Now if only they'd make a real Rally version of this vehicle...That would be cool....

Eibach announces aftermarket products for the Juke...

NISMO Stuff's Man of the Year 2010: Elon Musk

Perhaps this is a bit premature as the Dragon capsule is still circling the Earth and has yet to splash down intact into the waters off of Mexico but I'll go out on a limb and assume it will complete its mission with flying colors and declare Elon Musk my NISMO Stuff 2010 "Man of the Year". (update: the Dragon capsule landed perfectly and being recovered by ships in the Pacific currently)

No, he didn't win a Super Bowl like Sports Illustrated's MOTY, nor is he as well known as I'm sure Time Magazine's Man/Person/Whatever of the year award will be. His impact on our lives and strikingly, the future of humanity (no hyperbole here) has the potential to turn Musk into one of the greats of history, rather than a non-entity as Time's recent award winners (Bernake?? Obama??) are already looking to become.

So, what has Musk done and doing?

Well, his privately held company SpaceX has become one of two companies tasked with resupplying the space station after the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle in 2011 and just today launched the first privately funded, manned capable, earth returning capsule into orbit and is due to bring it back in about an hour--the first time this has ever been done by a non-governmental entity.

Musk's stated priority is to get mankind out of its birthing place and headed down the road of interstellar colonization. Musk is not a Bill Gates style billionaire. He has big ideas and is willing to take big risks to bring them to life. He is not interested in bringing Microsoft computers to every classroom.
He understands that life on Earth is fragile and doomed to extinction if we continually look inward and are not pushing out. SpaceX, along with companies such as Scaled Composites are truly out on the real bleeding edge of science, engineering and discovery and deserve much more support than they are currently given.

Then we have Musk's more visible and known entity--Tesla Motors. The builder of high end, electric sports cars was taken public earlier this year and formed a significant partnership with Toyota, generated hundreds if not thousands of jobs, nearly singlehandedly pulled GM into developing the Volt, bought up the giant NUMMI plant in LA to make its vehicles and turned a company that about one year ago was down to its final few million dollars in investment capital into one now worth $3 billion dollars.

Tesla Motors is the first automobile company since Ford in 1936 to go public when it did so earlier this year and whatever happens, will be viewed as one of the progenitors of the modern electric vehicle movement. My own hunch is that Tesla Motors will either be gobbled up by some other auto company or will eventually disappear under the pressure and resources of larger automotive entities. Regardless Musk stuck his own nose and capital (several hundred million dollars) out there to develop an idea and product of his own and has made it a success and a world leader in its industry, from the ground up in a remarkably short period of time.

Oh, and did I mention he still retains hands on control of both SpaceX and Tesla? Busy guy that Musk.

Born in South Africa with a BS in Economics from Wharton and a BA in Physics from the same U Penn., Musk is no trust fund baby and made his own bones with the development and eventual sale of PayPal to Ebay. In his late 30's, with sights firmly set on the future and so much under his belt already, one wonders what could be accomplished if only our government or those with real funding (Gates, Ellison, Buffett, Slim, etc. as Musk's original source of funds pales in comparison to these listed titans) got up off their rotting bottoms and had an original idea or dream.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mini and Volvo to Enter Dakar?? Wah-What?!?

Yes, while Nissan has eliminated their factory offroad efforts, while Ford sleeps, Toyota naps, GM (well, who cares what GM does...) drools, and Mitsubishi scrambles, two of the more unlikely auto manufacturers are getting in on the cross-country rally and Dakar game.

Just in the last few days both Mini (supported by its BMW parent) and Volvo (via Volvo of Sweden) have announced big time Rally-Raid teams.

Mini's effort is actually up and running as of this moment and will compete in just a few weeks in the 2011 Dakar in South America with the Mini All4 Racing team and experienced Dakar driver Guerlain Chicherit, sponsored by Monster Energy and as part of the BMW X-Raid team.  The Mini Cross-Country vehicle is a bit shorter and lower than the BMW X3s that make up the rest of the seven car X-Raid team and it should be very competitive right out of the box.

The Volvo team will be a two car effort and will not begin racing until later in '11 competing in the FIA Cross Country World Cup and then in the 2012 Dakar as well.  Volvo of Sweden is looking to create a stir using an all female driver tandem of Tina Thoerner and Jutta Kleinschmidt.  The vehicle will be an XC60 and driven by a 2.4L engine.

Given my taste for unusual and underdog racing efforts, you know I'll be pulling for these guys!

Mini team info...
Volvo team info...

Even More New England Auto Show...

The above is a not very descriptive shot of the new 2011 Ford Explorer.  No, it won't be as rugged or capable as the old school Explorers.  Yes it is a far better than any Explorer made in the past 15 years (at least).
The handsome rear end (can I say that?) of the new Ford Focus, looking much bigger and more robust that a "compact" car should.
The aggressive front of the new Ford Focus.  Angular without being sharp, smooth without being bubbled.  Another well put together design.

And lastly, Travis Pastrana's last Subaru rally car.  A shame really as no one will be able to fill his shoes on a combination of talent and public relations mastery level.