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Update August, 2019

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Remember the Dodge Charger Daytona?

Dodge Charger Daytona

The winged Dodge Charger Daytona was in 1970 just an amazing aerodynamic projectile.  In the NASCAR competition it was almost unbeatable.

Though NASCAR didn’t specifically ban wing cars from participating, Bill France’s ruling that Daytonas, Superbirds, and all other such “special cars” be limited to engines for the 1971 season, effectively did. The advantage of the Hemi and other big-block V-8s proved too much for the racing teams, so rather than run the smaller engines, those teams – and the manufacturers supporting them – dropped the wings and other aero devices.

Perhaps the hardest-hit of those teams was Nord Krauskopf’s K&K Insurance team, which had won the overall NASCAR championship in 1970 with 11 outright wins, 13 poles, and 38 top 10 finishes. Bobby Isaac, who started out racing on dirt tracks, drove Krauskopf’s Harry Hyde-prepared Daytona to that championship.

The question posed, all these years later, is just how fast were these cars?  Isaac drove the Daytona to a record qualifying speed – 199.658 MPH at Talladega – and in the offseason after winning the championship, he took it back to Talladega to set a closed-course speed record of 201.104 MPH, a record that would end up standing for more than a dozen years.

Members of the K&K team had speculated about how fast the #71 car really was and what it could do if unlimited by NASCAR rules or racetracks.  The venue for this was the Bonneville salt flats and they recorded 216.945 MPH (330 KMH), a record for a stock-bodied car with a flying-start, followed by a 182.174 MPH record for a stock-bodied car with a standing start. 

Isaac then started chasing endurance speed records on a 10-mile oval on the salt, sliding the car like he would any dirt-track car around the oval’s curves. In total, he and the team left the salt with 28 records and a good idea what their car really was capable of.


The auto industry is in trouble

San Francisco (AP) — Tesla lost US$408 million in its latest quarter as it struggles to prove it can make money selling electric cars at mass-market prices.

The setback had already been telegraphed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.  Still, it underscored Tesla's ongoing challenges and helps explain why the company's shares have plunged by more than 20 percent this year.

Tesla has sustained losses of more than $6 billion since its inception, but Musk promised a year ago that the road ahead would be paved with profits. The Palo Alto, California, company made good on that pledge with a profit of $451 million during the final half of last year. But it has now posted successive quarterly losses totaling $1.1 billion in the first half of this year.

The latest losses came despite Tesla selling more electric cars — 95,356 — than in any other quarter in its history.  The company remains behind the sales pace needed to realize Musk's goal of delivering 360,000 to 400,000 cars this year.

But just reaching the lower-end of Musk's car-delivery goal for this year may prove difficult.  That's because the U.S. has reduced its tax incentive for electric car purchases, which will be phased out entirely at the end of the year.

Tesla is pinning its hopes largely on its lowest-priced vehicle so far, the Model 3 sedan, which starts at $35,000.  That's comparable to other mass-market cars, but many analysts doubt the company can make money on the Model 3 at its starting price.  Tesla other's cars, the Model S and Model X, both sell for more than $70,000 — far beyond the reach of most consumers.

However, it’s not just Tesla in financial trouble.

Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, says it lost 1.2 billion euros in the second quarter as the company booked 4.2 billion euros in one-time charges for troubles with diesel vehicles and air bag recalls.

The quarterly loss was the company's first since 2009 and a bumpy start for new CEO Ola Kallenius, who took over from Dieter Zetsche on May 22 and since then has had to issue two profit warnings.

The Stuttgart-based company is under investigation in Germany and the U.S. and faces U.S. civil lawsuits in connection with its cars' diesel emissions.  It also is facing increased expenses for recalling cars with faulty air bags from supplier Takata, (losses suffered by other automakers, too).

Regulators in the U.S. and Europe have cracked down on diesel emissions after Volkswagen was caught in 2015 using software to cheat on U.S. diesel emissions tests.  The Volkswagen scandal led to renewed scrutiny of emissions from regulators, forcing Daimler and others to recall vehicles and update their emissions software.

On top of that, Daimler like other automakers has to finance the development of new technologies such as battery-powered cars, self-driving cars and services such as car-sharing or taxi-hailing that work through smartphone apps.  Slowing growth in China, the world's largest auto market, and U.S.-China trade tensions are creating further headwinds for the industry.

The company said it expected "significant improvement" in its earnings performance during the second half of the year. However, it has already said full-year earnings will be significantly below last year's.

Kallenius said the company would review its product portfolio and intensify efforts to reduce costs.

"Our focus for the second half of this year is on improving our operating performance and cash-flow generation," he said.

Pressed for details about the company's cost-cutting efforts during a conference call with reporters, Kallenius deferred giving details until a presentation for investors in November. The company has said its cost program will not involve layoffs.

 Mercedes AMG A 45.


What did we learn from the Hungarian GP?

A high speed procession became a cliff hanger at the finish.

When pole-sitter Max Verstappen (Red Bull) won the start and Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) bungled it, we thought the race was over.  Initially, the way the race was unfolding did nothing to hold spectators’ attention.

Bottas needed a new front wing after squabbling with team leader Lewis Hamilton on the first lap so dropped out of the equation, and will result in a new set of overalls for the Finn next year.  Any color but silver.

Another driver who will be lining up at the tailor shop for new driving suits next year will be Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) who finished sixth in Hungary and was never in the hunt for top positions.  When your team mate can win Grands Prix and you are nowhere, the transfer window is open.

In the initial stages of the race, with Verstappen bolting, everyone was expecting Ferrari number one Sebastian Vettel to come up with an action plan.  The only car he was in close quarters with was his own team mate, Charles Leclerc, with the Ferrari’s finishing third and fourth and not even keeping the others in sight.  Ferrari management will not be pleased to see their cars finish over one minute behind.

The first tyre changes came around lap 25 and Verstappen kept his first position after the round of pit stops was over.  At that stage the only driver making up positions was Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) who started from last following engine maladies with the exploding motors.  Ricciardo’s progress through the field was halted by Magnussen (Haas) who was very adept at moving side to side, also known as blocking.

In the meantime, Hamilton had caught up with Verstappen, but was unable to pass.  A brave decision by Mercedes pit wall brought Hamilton in on Lap 49 to get fresh rubber, an advantage – but now Hamilton rejoined 20 seconds behind Verstappen.  A disadvantage.

At this stage, everyone was trying to guess when and whether Hamilton would catch Verstappen, and even if he did, would he be able to pass?

Hamilton then put in a series of fastest laps, carving up to 2 seconds a lap from Verstappen’s lead.  By the time there was 9 laps to go, Hamilton was 10 seconds behind.  By the time there was three laps to go, Hamilton was filling Verstappens mirrors, and cleanly executed a clinical pass and powered away.

Verstappen’s only consolation on losing what looked like a certain win was to come in and change tyres and set the new lap record.

The battle at the front was so exciting that the other drivers were forgotten, but mention should be made of Charles Leclerc who was fourth for Ferrari, Carlos Sainz (McLaren) fifth, in front of the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly.  Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen was seventh, Bottas was eighth with Lando Norris (McLaren) ninth in front of the Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon.

The annual “holiday” is up next, with the first GP back being Spa on September 1.


Reliability ratings

J.D. Power's 2018 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study measures the number of problems reported by consumers who have owned 2015 model-year vehicles for three years.

The study found that vehicle dependability increased 9 percent over the 2017 study, which was the first increase since 2013.

"For the most part, automotive manufacturers continue to meet consumers' vehicle dependability expectations," J.D. Power vice president of global automotive Dave Sargent said in a press release.  "A 9 percent improvement is extremely impressive, and vehicle dependability is, without question, at its best level ever."

Lexus topped the survey for the seventh consecutive year with a score of 99 reported problems per 100 vehicles, while the industry average was 142.  Porsche, Buick, Infiniti, and Kia rounded out the top-five.  However, Lexus still has a dreadful front with the “spindle grille”.

Whilst those figures are indeed impressive, the ongoing problems with defective items supplied to the manufacturer continues from tier one and downwards.  The Takata air-bag saga is not over yet.  There will be further ramifications with the diesel ‘cheating’ scandal which has expanded from being a VW problem, to just about any diesel manufacturer, and that includes Mercedes.  One cannot help the feeling that VW has been made the whipping boy in this diesel debacle.

Lexus RC 350.

Hungarian GP this weekend


Hot on the heels of the German GP, the next is the Hungarian GP. As a racing venue, Hungary has a long history, with its first GP run in 1906, and regular events in Budapest since 1926.  Built with state backing, and laid out in a natural amphitheater, the Hungaroring opened in 1986 and attracted an estimated 200,000 spectators.

Though the event was well organized, and the hosts very appreciative, it was felt that the 4km Hungaroring had been laid out more in the style of a twisty street circuit rather than a bespoke road track.  There were few opportunities for overtaking, though things were eased from 1989 when a tight corner was by-passed and the lap distance became slightly less than 4km.

However, it remains a circuit that is not high on any of the drivers’ lists, unless you are after a piece of quick action behind the pits, as the Hungarian government actually erected (nice word in the sex scene) some mobile brothels a few years ago (sponsored by Viagra?).  I think they are still in use today!

After the British and German GPs, will we get the same sort of racing?  Find out this weekend. 

We watch from Fletchers Folly these days, where you will find Kim and Goy Fletcher. It’s located on Siam Country Club Road, opposite Maxxis Tyres and 300 meters before the Mitkamol (Chicken) intersection. We get there early around 7 p.m. and have something to eat and wet the whistle before the racing begins at 8 p.m., while watching the HD channel, which is so much sharper than the others.  Why don’t you join me at around 7 p.m. for a natter and some food and amber liquids and then sit down for the Grand Prix.


Corvette goes mid-engine for first time to raise performance

Tom Krisher

Corvette C8

Warren, Michigan. (AP) — When you first lay eyes on the new 2020 Corvette, a modern version of the classic American sports car isn't the first thing that pops into your head.

Instead, you think Lamborghini, Lotus, McLaren.

The eighth-generation 'Vette, dubbed C8, is radically different from its predecessors, which for 66 years had the engine in the front. This time, engineers moved the General Motors' trademark small-block V8 behind the passenger compartment. It's so close to the driver that the belt running the water pump and other accessories is only a foot away.

Also gone are the traditional long hood and large, sweeping front fenders, replaced by a downward-sloping snub nose and short fenders. In the back, there's a big, tapered hatch that opens to a small trunk and the low-sitting all-new 6.2-liter, 495 horsepower engine.

So why change the thing?

"We were reaching the performance limitations of a front-engine car," explained Tadge Juechter, the Corvette's chief engineer, ahead of a glitzy unveiling in a World War II dirigible hangar in Orange County, California.

With a mid-engine, the flagship of GM's Chevrolet brand will have the weight balance and center of gravity of a race car, rivaling European competitors and leaving behind sports sedans and ever-more-powerful muscle cars that were getting close to outperforming the current 'Vette.

"We're asking people to spend a lot of money for this car, and people want it to be the best performer all around," Juechter said.

GM President Mark Reuss said the C8 will start below US$60,000, 7 percent more than the current Corvette's base price of US$55,900. Prices of other versions weren't announced but the current car can run well over US$100,000 with options, still thousands cheaper most than European competitors.

GM says the new version, with an optional ZR1 performance package, will go from zero to 60 mph (96.6 kilometers per hour) in under three seconds, the fastest Corvette ever and about a full second quicker than all but one high-performance version of the outgoing Vette.

The "cab forward" design with a short hood looks way different, but GM executives say they aren't worried that it will alienate Corvette purists who want the classic long hood and the big V8 in the front.

Harlan Charles, the car's marketing manager, said mid-engine Corvettes had for years been rumored to be the next generation so it wasn't unexpected. GM also is hoping the change will help draw in younger buyers who may not have considered a Corvette in the past.

George Borke, a member of Village Vettes Corvette Club in The Villages, Florida, a huge retirement community, said he hasn't heard anyone in the 425-member club complain about the new design. "I think after 60 years it's time for a change," said Borke, who owns a current generation "C7," bought when the car was last redesigned in the 2014 model year.

The new car has two trunks, one in the front that can hold an airline-spec carry-on bag and a laptop computer case.  Under the rear hatch behind the engine is another space that can hold two sets of golf clubs.

Even though it's a performance car, Juechter said the Corvette can go from eight cylinders to four to save fuel. Some owners get close to 30 mpg on the freeway with the current model, and Juechter said he expects that to be true with the new one. Full mileage tests aren't finished, he said.

Engineers also took great pains to make the new car quiet on the highway, with heat shields and ample insulation to cut engine noise.

Even though the car has an aluminum center structure and a carbon fiber bumper beam, it still weighs a little more than the current model.  It's also slightly less aerodynamic due to large air intake vents on the sides to help cool the engine. The new Corvette comes with a custom-designed fast-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with two tall top gears. It also will be made with right-hand-drive for international markets.

Higher-performance versions are coming, although Juechter wouldn't say if the C8 is designed to hold a battery and electric motor.


What did we learn from the German GP?

Well, we learned that it rains in Germany. We also saw that a cool head and treading carefully pays off in those slippery situations and can produce some unexpected results.

The race started on a wet track, and the 20 cars managed to avoid one another through the first corner. That on its own was rather amazing, especially as Verstappen (Red Bull) fluffed his start and lost several places, while the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas then took up their customary 1-2 at the head of the train. At that early stage, groans were heard all round.

With the rain alternating in intensity, the pit managers then struggled between wets, intermediates and dry’s. None of the tyre combinations really suited the circuit, as parts of the track were wet, and other parts on the same lap were dry. This led to the downfall of Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Bottas (Mercedes) who had just inherited the lead, to crash with a clear track ahead of him, Hulkenberg (Renault), Sainz (McLaren) and Hamilton (Mercedes). Daniel Ricciardo had another Renault engine turn into a hand grenade, but he was very used to that from the last 12 months of disasters with the French engine, he is now a fluent Francophone with “Merde” and “Sacre bleu”.

In the middle of all the crashes, spins, safety cars and virtual safety cars there were some excellent drives. Vettel came from 20th and last to end up second; Albon (Toro Rosso) up as high as fourth in his rookie year and first time in the wet and even challenging Hamilton. Lance Stroll was up to 4th at one stage (Yes, THAT Lance Stroll of “Buy me a race team Daddy”) and Robert (One Wing) Kubica (Williams) being credited with 10th place and a point after all the stewards had finished handing out time penalties and the finishers bonus.

The final words from the podium:

Verstappen (First): "It was amazing to win, it was really tricky out there to make the right calls, you had to be focused.  I made a nice 360, I enjoyed that. It was about trying to not make too many mistakes. You learn over the years I'm very happy with the result."

Vettel (Second): "It was a long race at some stage it felt never ending. It was great fun, it was tough with the conditions and tough to read what was the smartest move. Before the last safety car it was straight-forward, I was fast and could time it right and people were being cautious into the first corner and I had DRS and I could get the moves in the back straight."

Kvyat (Third): "It was amazing to be back on the podium.  Incredible with Toro Rosso to bring a podium back to the team is amazing. I'm really happy. It was a horror movie with a black comedy. At some point I thought the race was done, but it was incredible, a rollercoaster, just like my career."

So there you are - The answer to the F1 boredom is obviously a wet track!


Police stop 4 kids who drove SUV 600 miles down Aussie coast

Rod McGuirk

Canberra, Australia (AP) — Four children aged 10 to 14 packed fishing rods in a parent's SUV, left a farewell note then drove more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) down the Australian east coast before they were stopped by police the next day after two fuel thefts and one aborted pursuit, officers said.

When the children were stopped by police near Grafton in New South Wales state, they locked the doors and refused to get out, Acting Police Inspector Darren Williams said.

A police officer used a baton to break a window of the 2004 Nissan Patrol, which had been reported stolen by worried parents, Williams said.

Police were not sure which child or children drove or why they left Rockhampton in Queensland state. The children are a 14-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl.

Williams said they possibly shared the driving.

"It's a long way and I couldn't imagine one person actually driving all that way in two days," Williams told reporters.

The children are suspected of failing to pay for fuel at Outback gas stations in the Queensland town of Banana and the New South Wales town of Warialda, police said.

They were also chased by police in the New South Wales town of Glen Innes, where a 13-year-old was suspected to be driving, Williams said.

"There was a short pursuit up there with the Highway Patrol and due to the age of the driver and the road conditions, that was terminated by the Highway Patrol officers ... and the general duties police that were involved," he said.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Remember the Dodge Charger Daytona?

Hungarian GP this weekend