Automakers: Italy (Part 5b)

Link to Part 1 of Italian Auto Makers

This summer we did a 6 part series on US Auto Makers starting with July 4th. It’s time to continue with Italian car makers. Part A covered luxury sports car makers, but today lets cover members of the fifth largest car conglomerate in the world (by sales).

For those who don’t know, or have never heard of Stellantis, you are not alone. They’re new (16 January 2021) and we covered them under US makers since the core of the company is Chrysler. You can learn all about the parent company at this link. Italy accounts for five out of the 16 car brands managed by Stellantis from their headquarters in Amsterdam.

Abarth (1949–present)

While a relatively new name to the US market, Abarth has been around since 1949, when it was founded by Italo-Austrian Carlo Abarth. While it is currently the Italian performance division of Stellantis making racing and road cars, it was not always so.

Italian soccer player, entrepreneur and racecar driver Piero Dusio, founded the Cisitalia racing team, but in 1948 Piero fled to Argentina leaving a man named Armando Scagliarini to pick up the pieces. Along with the other assets of the folded car company Scagliarini inherited it’s sporting director Carlo Abarth.  Scagliarini decided to rebuild the business around Abarth, naming it after him and creating it’s emblem to honor Carlos Astrological sign Scorpio.

1950 Abarth 204A

From the complete and partial racers Cisitalia had in stock, Abarth began hiring experienced drivers like  Tazio NuvolariFranco Cortese and Piero Taruffi, and began winning races.

The races made money but the stock and trade of Abarth in the early days was manufacturing aftermarket parts for FiatLancia, Cisitalia and Simca cars.

In 1951 Abarth moved it’s headquarters to Turin and started building a more formal relationship with Fiat. Abarth continued to win races due in part to their brilliant exhaust designs. Thanks to Fiat, they brought their exhaust systems to production cars.

Abarth 595 under Fiat Ownership

Noteworthy: Believe it or not some Original Abarth LD exhausts are now valuable collectors’ items with some replica being made and stamped Abarth without permission from Fiat.

In 1971 Carlo sold Abarth to Fiat, who turned it into their racing division. Fiat didn’t do Hill Climb or Sport Prototype racing so the sold that off to Enzo Osella who found a great deal of success with it, and continued to race in the rally circuit.

Three things all the Zonda’s have in common: they max out around 215 MPH, they go 0-60 in less than 3.5 seconds, and they all look hot.

On 1 October 1981, Abarth & C. ceased to exist and was replaced by Fiat Auto Gestione Sportiva. In the 80s, the name was slapped onto some performance cars, and Fiat used the brand to designate a trim/model level in 2000s. 2007 Abarth was reborn as an an independent unit, controlled 100% by Fiat, to create and sell passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.  

The first models launched were the Abarth Grande Punto, they went on to make 16 more car models that basically all looked alike, while the parent company changed it’s name a few times. In In 2017, Abarth collaborated with Yamaha to produce a limited-edition motorcycle, but it has otherwise been a solid small car maker with little to set it apart and no resemblance of it’s former racing glory.

Alfa Romeo (1910–present)

Founded 24 June 1910, Alpha Romeo is the old man of this group. Headquartered in Turin, Piedmont, Italy (the Detroit of Italy), AR sells cars world wide, with it’s main markets being the US, Canada, and Europe. Currently AR is known for luxury cars but they were best know for sport-oriented vehicles have been heavily involved in car racing since a year after they began.

We don’t really know who founded Alpha Romeo, probably a man named Ugo Stella and other investors because at the time of its birth AR was an “anonymous” company, which means the investors names weren’t public. In fact the “A” in Alpha stands the Italian word for anonymous, “Anonima.” The rest to the acronym stands for “Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.” The founders built their first factory in Milan where they were able to snatch up manufacturing space from the Portello Factory which was closing up shop. AR continued to make cars at the Portello Factory until 1960.

Romeo came from engineer, entrepreneur, and politician Nicola Romeo, who took over the factory during WWI to make more important things for the war effort. When the war ended they went back to racing making Torpedo 20–30 HP in 1920. Alfa Romeo won the inaugural world championship for Grand Prix cars in 1925 and as an engine maker AR was favored by private race teams. In fact, Enzo Ferrari founded the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 as an Alfa Romeo racing team.

The A.L.F.A. 24 hp was the first car made by Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili (A.L.F.A.) in 1910

On the business side, Alpha Romeo has a complicated history that’s very much tied to the fortunes of Italy herself and the ways Italy chose to handle their economy after WWII. Italy has always been a bit more socialist than the US and as part of an extensive 1933 Italian state industrial bailout/ re-organization Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI), and remained under government control until it was sold to Fiat in 1986.

Italian worker unrest and the government ownership caused a lot of trouble for AR, including building a factory in the south to make a new compact car in the 1970s. AR’s finances remained in the red much of their existence. They did, however, continue to build great racers and win a lot of races though to be fair the racing portion of AR was privatized.

When I see an Alfa Romeo go by, I tip my hat.

Henry Ford talking with Ugo Gobbato in 1939
Giulietta Spider

Things changed when Fiat took over.

Here’s what happened. In the early 80’s Alpha Romeo was suffering and draining money from the Italian government who’s main goal was jobs for Italian workers. They attempted a joint venture with Nissan, but the companies were simply not compatible.  

Fiat was approached with a joint venture, but Ford offered a cash infusion in exchange for enough ownership and authority to restructure the company, which they couldn’t guarantee would allow current staff to retain their jobs. Fiat stepped up and took over A.R. which kept the Italian car maker entirely in Italian control. Fiat also guaranteed that all workers would stay in their jobs. The only sticky point was a desire by Alfa Romeo’s then-President Ettore Massacesi to never build an Alpha Romeo car with a Fiat engine. The deal was done by the end of 1986.

The resulting cars from the takeover retained AR’s avant-garde styling and sporting panache without losing Fiat’s understanding of economy and production efficiency. When Fiat bought Maserati back from Ferrari they created a luxury sports division.

In 2007 Fiat reorganized as Fiat Group with 4 divisions of which Alpha Romeo was one. In 2010 Alpha Romeo turned 100, however there was little cause to celebrate. International sales had been trending down since 2001 and they continued to decline until today, despite the merger with Chrysler and eventual formation of Stellantis Italy.

Fiat (1899–present)

Fiat formed in 1899 when Giovanni Agnelli and 8 other investors decided to launch an automobile manufacturer in Turin. In fact the name Fiat is an acronym of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino or Turin Auto Factory.

Their 35 staff cranked out 24 Fiat 4 HP cars. From these humble beginnings Fiat would grow to be that largest car maker in Italy, then Europe, and third largest in the world for many decades. Fiat of the 1970’s employed more than 100,000 employees an pumped out 1.4 million cars a year.

Fiat has also produced Fiat has also manufactured railway engines, military vehicles, farm tractors, aircraft, and weapons such as their water-cooled machine gun for WWI & WWII, and won awards such as their nine European Car of the Year

Murcielago R-GT 

Noteworthy: In 1910 Fiat manufactured cars in  PoughkeepsieNY, which were sign of wealth among Americans at the time. In fact, a Fiat in 1918 would cost you $6,400 when you could buy a Ford Model T for $525.

Both WWI and WWII interrupted car production for the war effort (the American plant closed for good) and soon after WWI the sociality party took over the Fiat factory causing Agnelli to resign in protest. After WWII the Agnelli were again forced out of the company as a result of their ties to  Benito Mussolini. Giovanni’s grandson, Gianni, took over again as general manager in 1963 (later chairman until 1996).

Of course Fiat would ultimately join with Chrysler to form FCA and then later with French car conglomerate PSA to form Stellantis. Fiat’s secret to success was knowing the home market and then expanding to nearby markets with similar needs for a similar product. Hence Fiat has always made “City Cars” for small urban drivers. See examples below…

Fiat Punto
Fiat 500X

If you look closely at the pictures above you’ll see that these are in fact two different cars.

Lancia 

(1906–present)

 Lancia & C., a manufacturing concern founded in 1906 in Torino by Vincenzo Lancia (1881–1937) and Claudio Fogolin back in 1906.

Lancia is one of those car names that gets bounced around car talk circles but the average person has probably never seen one. Even in the UK and Ireland where Lancia’s were sold until 2015 (although these were technically rebadged Chryslers.)

Noteworthy: Lancia had a long tradition in rally racing, winning more manufacturers awards than any competitor until 1992 when they stopped racing. (They still hold more awards than any other brand, BTW).

If you live in Italy these days you definitely know Lancia, not only as the historic maker of cars they were but as the maker of the second best-selling car in Italy, the Lancia Ypsilon. This is currently Lancia’s only product.

Ypsilon by Lancia

What happened?

Lancia’s founders were both race car drivers for Fiat. They created the “Tipo 51” which looked like an old time fire truck, but sold well enough. They also exported parts to an America assembler who sold the cars under the name SGV.

When Lancia died in 1910, his widow and son brought on designer Vittorio Jano who created some of their best selling models. What Lancia is best known for is innovation. They’re the first people to put a complete electrical system in a car (1913). They first used the monocoque or unibody chassis and the five speed gearbox. They also invented the ‘Sliding Pillar‘ independent front suspension that incorporated the spring and hydraulic damper into a single unit on their Lambda (produced from 1922 to 1931).

Lancia Delta S4 Group B rally car

The down side of all this innovation, and there are more, is that each production model is unique. When your primary goal is invention instead of finding a market need to meet it’s difficult sell enough units to remain viable. What it does do is make you a target for acquisition as other car company’s want your patents.

In 1969 Fiat acquired Lancia but maintained the distinctive Lancia marque with models like the StratosGamma and Beta, which made money for Fiat. In fact Fiat had just attained full control of Autobianchi which it put under the Lancia brand.

When Fiat reorganized to a group of four in 2007 Lancia became one of the four. It was the merger with Chrysler that proved to be Lancia’s demise. The brand was built on innovation and unique design. Producing rebadged Chryslers failed completely.

Will Stellantis prove to be the death blow for Lancia? It’s too soon to tell, but Stellantis has signaled its intentions to rebuild the brand by including it in a group with Alfa Romeo and DS Automobiles which are commissioned to create new models in 2024. The also appointed Luca Napolitano CEO, and Jean-Pierre Ploué its chief designer. The rumor is they will develop three new models, all EV’s – a replacement for their successful city car (Ypsilon), a cross over, and a hatchback.

Noteworthy: the documentary “Elegance on the Move,” celebrates Lancia’s 115th anniversary.

Maserati 

(1914–present)

The Maserati brother all worked in auto manufacture and they founded the company that would bare their name in 1914 to produce race cars.

Maserati’s racing success was top of the range with wins against the German powerhouse , Auto Union and Mercedes on the European circuit and even an indie 500 win. Then in 1957 tragedy struck at the Mille Miglia race when a worn tire caused a wreck, killing Spanish driver Alfonso de Portago, his co-driver/navigator Edmund Nelson, and nine spectators 5 of whom were children.

Maserati quit racing as a team, but continued to make cars for independent racers. They chose to focus on road-going grand tourers from that point on. The 3500 GT became the marque’s first series-produced car designed from scratch which came out the same year as their racing tragedy. Available in two-door coupe and convertible, the 3500 GT took production from a few dozen to a few hundred cars annually.

Noteworthy: Mohamad Reza Pahlavi (aka the Shah of Persia) wanted a road going GT with one of Masarati’s racing engines so they built him the 5000 GT with a 450S racing engine. This was a popular redesign and they sold another 33 of them over the next few decades.

Masarati also introduced four more models before 1967; the two-seater Mistral coupé in 1963 and Spider in 1964, the Quattroporte a sedan literally called the “four-door,” and the Ghibli coupé.

Citroën

To understand what happened in 1968 we need to know a couple things. First is that Alfieri Maserati, the families primary driver for racing, died in 1932. His brothers ran the business for another five years, before selling to Adolfo Orsi and family. the brothers stayed on with their company as engineers for another 10 years. After moving the headquarters from Bologna to its modern location in Modena, Orsi brought on engineer Giulio Alfieri, who not only contributed to winning racecars before 1957 but also lead the team who created the 3500 GT which saved the car company from going under when they left racing.

Tipo C114 Maserati V6 in a Citroën SM

Under Adolfo Orsi, in 1968, Maserati began a joint venture with Citroen to make engines for their new four-seat front-wheel-drive coupé called the SM. Citroen ended up in control of Maserati, but it wasn’t all bad. With stable Citroen financing and hydraulics and Maserati’s expertise and engines Alfieri was able to launch a series of ambitious designs.

This lead to four models, although the  Quattroporte II with it’s more powerful engine, was never put into full production do to financial issues.

The Fuel Crisis of the early 70’s destroyed the market for large engine touring cars. Citroen it’s self went bankrupt and reformed with Peugeot into a conglomerate to survive. In 1975 Citroen, announced a plan to liquidate Maserati, which the Italian government along with many local politicians fought as best they could. The plan was halted when a buyer came forward, saving 800 jobs.

 Alejandro de Tomaso was a racecar driver, turned industrialist, turned owner and designer of cars. He fired Alfieri on day one and produced at least three car models that relatively flopped. He finally had a win with the Biturbo, a compact front-enginerear-drive coupé in the 1980’s. The Biturbo used a V6 designed by Alfieri of course, and it became the basis for all the models of Masirati going forward for 10 years. The cars got snazzier names and sleeker designs, updated performance enhancement, but were all based in the same framework.

Noteworthy: Maserati competed fiercely to construct a V16 town car for Benito Mussolini before Ferry Porsche of Volkswagen built one for Adolf Hitler. This failed.

By 1989 De Tomaso bought the Italian government out of their share of his company. De Tomaso also owned a share of an Italian car and scooter maker called Innocenti, but the two companies remained separate. Fiat began buying both Innocenti and Maserati stock beginning the transition to a single car maker under Italian control and the Maserati name.

Maserati 3200 GT

On 19 May 1993, De Tomaso sold the last 51% of his shares to Fiat, who continued to build versions of the Biturbo for several years. Fiat had purchased majority control of Chrysler in 2011 as a result of their bankruptcy. So Chrysler was again in business with Maserati. As Citroën had joined PSA Peugeot Citroën this meant with the 2021 creation of Stellantis, Maserati was now entwined with nearly all it’s former partners save for De Tomaso. Maserati is the only company in the group to be quite so connected to all the partners independent of the final merger.

But first Ferrari?!?! Yep

Fiat pulled an interesting maneuver in 1997 selling 50% of Maserati to long-time rival Ferrari, which Fiat owned entirely. The result was a new factory to replace the 1940’s style factory and complete redesigns of each of their models. The new Maserati re-entered the American market which became it’s biggest cash cow. They also re-entered racing, winning the teams championship for world FIA GT championship three consecutive times in the early 2000’s.

4-door full-size saloon

In 2007 Fiat split Maserati away from Ferrari and joined them to Alpha Romeo, which finally started them making a profit. In 2010, Fiat through Abarth into the brand group but this didn’t result in shared technology or joint projects, although it did allow Maserati to focus on directly competing with Mercedes and BMW. As of 2014 Maserati had hit a market saturation point, where they would sell about 70,000 units a year. They decided to stay there, rather than create down-market versions of their cars to appeal to a lower price point.

What will be the fate of Maserati under Stellantis? There are are currently no big plans to change things, beyond of course creating EV versions of all their models.

The Worst Disaster in Racing History

June 11, 1955…Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France…

Context

Shown above is the modern track, not the 1955 track.

Le Mans is a famous endurance race that takes place over 24 straight hours. It began in 1923 and is the world’s oldest active endurance racing event. This years event will begin Saturday, June 11th and end Sunday, June 12th.

Most races are fixed distance and the car that arrives first wins. In endurance racing the time is set and the car that drives the longest distance in that time is the winner. The Triple Crown of Motorsports is comprised of the La Mans, the Indie 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix. Unlike the pure speed priority of most races, endurance racing calls on teams to consider both speed and a strategy that avoids mechanical breakdown.

The Background of the 55′ Disaster

Since the Le Mans began in 1923 the track had been shortened a bit and widened a bit, and they’d resurfaced it after WWII. The grandstands and pits had been rebuilt and they’d added a 4 foot wide earthen bank between the track and the stands. That was it. In 1923 the top speed of race cars was 60 MPH. In 1955 it was 170 MPH.

Ferrari, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz had all won before and all brought new cars specially designed for this race. The teams also brought the best drivers of the time, including Pierre Levegh a Frenchman who’d tried to do the Le Mans solo in 52′ but failed in hour 23. Also in the field were Eugenio Castellotti for Ferrari, Mike Hawthorn for Jaguar, and Juan Manuel Fangio for for Mercedes-Benz.

The race began at 4 pm local time with the three favorites building a quick lead while the rest of the teams played more conservatively to preserve their cars. By 5pm Castellotti had dropped back a bit to let team Jag and Merc battle each other for lead–setting new lap records each time around. By lap 35 it was time for the lead cars to take their first pit stop.

The First 3 Things to Go Wrong

If the first problem is that the racers are highly competitive and willing to take risks. This is also what makes racing exciting and is inherent to the nature of the sport. What can be done is making the sport as safe as possible without making it lose its excitement. The only reason to mention it as the first thing to go wrong is that these drivers were particularly keyed up and actively battling for lead.

This matters because one might expect things like driver error late in a 24 hour race when fatigue impairs judgement, but this accident happened early when focus was high–aside from needed to win.

The second issue, as mentioned is that track wasn’t modernized to handle the current speed of racing. The third issue, which is somewhat inseparable from a race like this is advanced technology on cars. Usually tech advantages cause problems like part failure causing a team to lose the race. In this case advanced disc brakes on the Jaguar worked a bit too well.

As Hawthorn rounded the last big corner before the pit he lapped two competitors in rapid succession, Levegh in his Merc and Lance Macklin in his Austin Healey. Macklin moved over to let Hawthorn by putting him directly behind where Hawthorn needed to go to make the pit row.

Problem #4

As Hawthorn jammed in front of Macklin to exit he applied his disk breaks. There wasn’t a designated deceleration lane prior to the pit, in fact their was a bit of a right-hand kink. Hawthorn had to brake hard, Macklin dodged left while braking hard.

Meanwhile Fangio was in process of lapping Levegh. Macklins dodge left connected with Levegh’s front right panel causing both cars to break loose of their tires grip on the road. Levegh, being a veteran of the sport was able to throw his arm up in warning to Fangio, before his car ran up on the back of Macklins car, launching it into the air. Fangio closed his eyes and sailed through the carnage unscathed.

Problem #5

None of the drivers at the time wore seat belts, believing they’d rather be thrown clear of an accident than be burned alive inside should the unthinkable happen. Levegh was thrown clear of the car as it flipped end over end, 260 feet toward and over the crowd. Levegh’s skull was crushed on impact. The car crashed into the stairs for the grandstand and blew apart sending debris out like shrapnel into the stands.

The heavier parts like the engine, radiator, and front suspension continued forward another 330 feet crushing all in the path. The hood spun forward decapitating tightly packed spectators before they could flinch.

Problem #7

What remained of the Levegh’s car landed on the embankment upside down and the gas tank burst into flames. The heat from the fire ignited the composite alloy of the car’s body–which had a high magnesium content. The resulting explosion showered the audience and the track with flaming magnesium which can’t be put out by water. Unfortunately early responders didn’t know that, and the car burned as a fireball for many more hours before it could be put out.

Macklins car, rebounded off the left side wall of the track and veered back across the track and through the pit lane wall, almost scraping down the side of every car and crew that was already in the pit. It did hit a police man, a photographer and two race officials seriously injuring all.

The Fallout

Hawthorn overshot his pit so he stopped his Jag and got out, his crew demanded he get back in for another lap, trying to get him away from the chaos. When he pulled in on the next lap he was devastated and taking responsibility. Although track layout was ultimately blamed for the disaster.

John Michael Hawthorn

American driver John Fitch was suited up and ready to take Levegh’s place when they pitted in, he watched the accident with Levegh’s wife. After half an hour he realized he should call his family to tell them he wasn’t one of 84 dead or 120 injured.

They Kept Racing

Surprisingly they continued the race. Director Charles Faroux didn’t stop the race. He later justified his decision saying that the crowds leaving all at once would only clog up roads needed for emergency vehicles. He also didn’t want to get sued by every major car company involved for breach of contract. Sadly, there was reason to believe that might happen based on similar tragedies.

Team Mercedes-Benz fought to pull out of the race, but it took until midnight to get team owners in Germany to agree to it. At 1:45 AM they quietly pulled their cars into the pit, and packed up. The were running 1st and 3rd.

With the Merc’s out of the race and the Ferrari’s all destroyed of broken, team Jag won by five laps. There was no victory celebration, partly due to rain, but they got a picture of Hawthorn on his car sipping his victory Champaign. That didn’t play well in the French press. Although it should be noted that when several countries suspended Motorsports, including France, the lifted the ban prior to the next running of Le Mans.

Enough countries did’t ban motorsports, (America for one) or lifted the ban later in the year, that the world sportscar championship season could finish and crown Mercedes-Benz ultimate victor. Merc then withdrew from racing until the 80’s. A number of drivers retired as well, some at the end of the season. Macklin after another fatal crash later that year.

Modern Pits in daylight

Hawthorn took a lot of blame from the press, claiming he’d cut in front of Macklin and slammed on his brakes. Team Jag tried to question Levegh and Macklin’s reflexes. It took until 1975 for Road & Track Magazine and Paul Fre’re (second place finisher at the 55 Le Mans) to clear up what had happened. By converting still pics of the carnage into video it was clear that the last minute jog in the track before the straight away lined the drivers up with the stands and gave little room to exit to the pit lane at 120 plus miles per hour. Hawthorn would have had to wait to lap any of the cars well before the pits were visible in order to go slow enough to exit without hard breaking. He knew what his car could do, but not what the other cars could do in response.

As it turns out the government inquiry cleared all the drivers, and the teams, but found that the track design caused the spectator death.

A Sad Footnote

In publishing his autobiography, Challenge Me the Race, Hawthorn took no responsibility for the accident on himself or his equipment, leaving Macklin feeling blamed as the only other principle involved. He sued for libel. The action went unresolved when Macklin died in a non-racing car accident on the Guildford bypass (1959) while overtaking a Merc in his Jag.

The Track, who’s problems had been pointed out by drivers since 1953, was fixed.

Best Road Course Tracks Open To The Public

Road Atlanta Track

Road course tracks are meant for people who love to use their vehicles for sports. If you love driving around a track, you might be interested in learning which road courses are open to the public. You will find many courses closed to the public, leaving you feeling discouraged. However, there are a few around the U.S. that may be worth the trip just to test them out. Take a look at the best road course tracks open to the public for use.

Lime Rock Park

You may have heard of Lakeville, Connecticut, but if you haven’t, you should be aware that this town has America’s longest track. This is known as Lime Rock Park, and it is open to the public. It was built in the mid-50s and what makes this track so unique is that it was built with the natural terrain in mind. This construction makes it a more challenging track for racers.

Homestead Miami Speedway

Miami is one of the places most of us love to vacation. The beaches are lovely, the sun is hot, but on top of the fantastic weather is a massive speedway open to the public. In the south of Miami, you will notice a large track with a standard setup. This track hosts professional races and has days where anyone can use the track with their cars. It’s time you check out this road course in Miami.

Watkins Glen

You may have heard of “The Glen if you love racing.” It is one of the oldest race tracks in America. What you may not have known is that they host days where the track is open for the public to use. No matter who is driving, this track provides a good show because of the variety of elevations and straights on the track. It’s time to drive to Watkins Glen, New York, to view this amazing track.

Virginia International Raceway

This is a fun and budget-friendly track for the public to use in Virginia. It is also surrounded by beautiful vegetation. The broad fields and lofty trees are reminiscent of parts of the United Kingdom. Coincidentally, the track, with its narrow lanes and sharp curves, seems to reflect that. Therefore, if you find yourself in Alton, Virginia, with nothing to do, pay a visit to this fantastic road course.

Road Atlanta Track

Atlanta is known for being a city full of fun activities, but if you love cars and racing, there is a track waiting for you right outside the city. In the past, Road Atlanta has hosted several illustrious racing series and featured some of the sport’s greatest drivers. High-speed bends and straights are interspersed throughout the course to truly put a vehicle to the test. Use their rental service to receive a competent automobile, no matter what you drive.

Sonoma Raceway

Even though its road course is challenging, the oval course is also open to the public. Before going into Sonoma, California, it’s best to practice first. Although this is for all drivers, it is a challenging track to start with. If you are experienced, it can be fun, but this is not the course to practice on if you are inexperienced.

Circuit of The Americas

Everything’s bigger in Texas, right? Well, in this case, that statement may be right. Circuit of The Americas, also known as COTA, is one of the most well-built tracks in America and is occasionally open for the public to use. Austin, Texas, is one of the best places to go as a tourist and has a lot to offer anyone who loves to race.

E-racers – Grand Turismo and Forza

It seems that the virtual world of racing is as interesting as the real world of racing. As always, it depends on how you like your thrills.

Grand Turismo

Starting with the Grand Turismo brand; Grand Turismo 7 has been linked with the Porsche brand since 2017. It’s different from designing a car as it’s all about what it feels like to be behind the wheel and although you need to know something about the interior and the paintwork this isn’t the main focus.

The Deep Forest Roadway is apparently back as is the Trial Mountain and the High-Speed Ring.

This is the first year that a Porsche has been developed for the game, as if it were a concept car or one-off. It’s not a car you’d see on the road now, it’s far too futuristic an aesthetic.

Porsche Taycan

It needs to look and feel as if it were a Porsche-in other words, have the correct proportions and the iconic light strip which is linked with the brand. It has a hologram display in a curved shape which is also linked with Porsche and has the low seat associated with a racing car. Although these features wouldn’t necessarily work in real life.

The LED headlights are certainly reminiscent of the Porsche but to be clearer it is most similar to a Taycan, a Porsche electric sports car.

The titanium and carbon casing that the car were accounted for in the weight and wind dynamics effect on the cars handling. Funny enough, made sure that interior appears to be made out of vegan elements. Not sure why a car that doesn’t actually exist in real life needs to go that far, but…there you have it.

The display reacts to the steering wheel/controller as quickly as it can be. There are a number of mysteries under the hood which the game merely hints at.

Apparently, creating a concept car so real your competitors could potentially steel your design ideas from it’s avatar in a racing game is a concern for Porsche. Remember when automakers tried to keep people from viewing their design models so you couldn’t reverse engineer them—well, now adays you might be able to do it from a digital footprint.

Forza Horizon 7

Forza Horizon 7 has introduced speedsters such as the Lamborghini Aventador and various other vehicles recognizable to road users such as the 2011 Ferrari. There is also the 1939 Maserati which might only be considered highly recognizable to vintage car experts.

Do people buy the Forza Horizon for the different qualities of car horns which can be heard? It’s highly unlikely, but they made the horn sounds accurate and we nerds thank them for adding a new level detail to the gameplay.

Unfortunately, its predecessor Forza Motorsport 7 stopped being available in online stores in September 2021. The only way to buy it as a boxed copy is now second hand.

1939 Maserati

This seems to be the way of things; gone are the days of owning a physical copy of a game. People must prefer to buy it online and play it online without a physical box or file that you can hold.

Even if you delete Forza Motorsport 7 and similar games you can redownload it for nothing (in a similar way as you can redownload apps).

As of December 2021, there’s no news of the game which is simply called Forza Motorsport, or the one called Forza Motorsport 8. Project Woodstock is also linked to Forza but again there’s scant news about these projects.

This keeps everything guessing about the latest fads, so it probably keeps online racers intrigued. We’d love to write a post about how racing game developers are pushing designers to innovate real cars, or something along those lines, but game developers don’t seem to be able to push themselves to release their own games on time. So we’ll work with what we have. Look for updates as they become available.

Truck Racing

From the UK Desk

Truck racing began in Atlanta in 1979. Unfortunately, the speed of the trucks are limited at 160 mph and no truck can weigh greater than 5500 Kg. Before the race the trucks need to be rolled into position. It tries to be a non-contact sport but the odd crash is not uncommon.

The first truck race was on dirt and the truck was not adapted. This has now changed; in the UK there is a special division – Division 1 – where all the trucks, including the braking and suspension, have been especially adapted.

In 1982 a top speed of 132 mph was at the Texas World Speedway. After 1986 the tag axle was removed, getting rid of 2000 pounds. The Bandit Big Rig Series began in 2017. It included the Hickory Motor Prize. Points were awarded in the qualifying rounds and included heat races, shootout races, challenge races and ultimately the final.

The FIA European Truck Racing Championship or ETRC includes events which have been running for thirty years. The championship, which attracts families, according to their website, usually has around 400,000 spectators or so.

The trucks are not supposed to emit black smoke and this will get them banned from the event if it happens twice in a row. The two categories are Chrome and Titan, the Chrome division plays for the Goodyear Cup. There are drivers and team categories too.

Each Competition takes place over two days. A day generally includes half an hour of practise followed by qualifying events and finally the championship race. The winner is the one allocated the most points.

Baja Trucks

A different type of truck racing involves trophy trucks or Baja trucks/trick trucks. Instead of the usual circuits this is off-road racing using high powered engines. The trucks are considered street legal but have been especially designed. There are minimal rules for each truck’s production.

When it began the trucks varied in design so drastically that no truck was the same. Over time a group of engineering firms got involved. The downside of this was that the trucks began to lose their individuality.

It’s weird but for a long period the trucks were two-wheel drive, but they now incorporate an all-wheel drive feature. Ford and Chevrolet engines are commonly most used. An air restrictor is required if the truck uses a turbo engine.

In order to maneuver against the terrain of the desert the minimum weight has to be 1,600 Kg. The gearboxes used have a choice of either being three speed or six speed.

Pickup Racing

Pickup truck racing has modified trucks which are more drivable in racing terms than most trucks but still aren’t as aerodynamic as the usual racing cars.

The NASCAR Truck Series began in 1995 and the electrical equipment and aerodynamics involved have evolved over time.

Whatever type of truck racing you decide to attend you are guaranteed a special event, which despite the size of the vehicle, still has some of the best racing drivers out there. 

The Future of Racing

There’s not much coverage of electric cars in racing, we tend to associate it with gas guzzlers, even if these types of racers are out there. It’s noteworthy that hybrid powertrains replaced diesel more or less from 2014 on, so EV’s could be the future. As long as the car is lightweight the power source is open to interpretation. Unsurprisingly the racing fraternity is always after the next best thing so electric may just be the start.

Many countries and cities are looking to ban combustion engines so eventually electric cars will be the standard for all races.

Potential Adaptations

Just because the car is electric doesn’t mean needs look that different from a traditional racing car, which might surprise some early EV designers. One thing that is true of EV’s is that the lack of noise creeps out most people, so racing will need to find a way to add some noise or risk driving away their fans. Now the noise of traditional racing is excessive, potentially giving ear damage to pit crews, so maybe they don’t need to be as loud as they are now, but some accommodation must be made.

EV’s require charging a battery, presumably a race car would require more powerful chargers than domestic EV cars.

What Likely Won’t Change

Future cars will likely still be made of carbon fiber and they have to fit legal standards. Aerodynamics is important but each race also has a set of rules which you have to comply with. Le Mans for instance has more leeway than the more conventional races, such as Formula One.

Social media presence will remain a big component for teams. Pictures are currently uploaded to places like Facebook as well as “access all areas” content. (It’s not literally access to all areas by the way there will always be secrets withheld.)

Future Types of Races

Many sports have gone entirely virtual. The rise of Esports has created leagues in every traditional sport from bowling to basketball, as well as gladiatorial first person shooters. Racing is no exception and seems a natural fit since the racing industry pours millions into virtual simulators to enhance their ability to win IRL races.

Also many racing events are exceedingly short, about five minutes and so people tend to look at the esports or displays of rally cars at the track.

Esport play areas have proved popular in recent years, but you can also use computers to look at aerodynamics and performance as well as the physics of engines.

Future Broadcast

You could broadcast events on free to air channels which rely on advertising, a brilliant way to show the race to as many people as possible. Or we could see an uptake in Pay Per View events, or online only events coming out of Covid Lockdowns—however the latter seems extremely unlikely.

Future of Drivers?

Racing using automatic cars is quite a new phenomenon, the first Roborace, as it was called, was in 2015. Instead of relying on a driver to win, the strategy depends on programming the reflexes to be as strong as possible. Robodrivers all for analysing and re-analysing the statistics to see what works. Despite the name roborace its intention is to mix the skills of virtual and physical technology together.

The teams too are unfamiliar, namely the sponsors Arrival, Acronis, Michelin, Nvidia and Trimble. The robocars are built around a teardrop shape running on four electric motors using optics and radar in order to reach the speed of about 190mph.

The Near Future of Racing

For the new season of conventional racing which is due to start in 2022 they are looking at virtual design, experimenting with altering environmental changes such as weather in the simulated world, even looking at stress testing and which tires are the best.

The industry may be moving from America and towards Asia. There’s always a huge amount of competition out there; things will always evolve.

Racing Myths

By P Wimsett

There are too many myths about racing, but they include the idea that only women win races, cheating still occurs, that all racing drivers make thousands, there are a fair number of drivers or small teams which only make a modest amount of money. The rise of racing video games makes people think that even racing drivers keep their mind active by playing video games – sorry but that’s not true.

What is true is that racers at NASCAR need to be fit in both the physical and mental sense of the word. Also, part of the job–long hours, extremes in temperature and coping with the strongest of G forces in a way reminiscent of being an astronaut.

G-Forces

To survive the G forces, they need a strong level of concentration as well as a huge upper body strength and the amount of care an athlete takes on their body. In cornering, the body encounters 4-6G where 6G is six times their own weight. These forces attack repeatedly during a race, which may last for two hours or more.

Because of the dangers of cornering your instinct is to check your speed when you encounter a bend. This is where the skill comes in. It may be this speed reduction which loses you the race so what you need to learn is how to corner at an unsafe speed.

Racing Gets Faster Every Year:

The truth is that racing gets safer every year. You’d expect cars to get faster and faster, and they could, but changes to rules and racetracks and even regulations on the mechanics of the cars are designed to make them safer. So, in many ways racing has become less entertaining. Many people feel nostalgic for the cars from the 70s and 80s as this has become a divisive paradox in the sport the goal is to entertain or there’s no ticket sales, but also to address safety concerns.

Despite more regular checks people have been found guilty of cheating.

Many people believe that cars don’t even overtake each other anymore. Although it is true that passing is extremely difficult on certain chicanes such as the Monaco Grand Prix, no one has actually regulated that drivers can’t pass each other. That would miss the point of racing entirely. But passing along with wrecks are less common.

It is tricky even to stay close to other cars due what is known as “wake” – the emissions which come out of a car- even affecting the tire performance if you go too near. The drag reduction system helps a bit, but people are prone to criticize it as being an additional aid.

Racing is Bad for the Environment:

Racing is seen as environmentally unfriendly. However, NASCAR are looking into reducing car emissions and planting trees and no doubt other race regulators are doing the same.

These days, Race Drivers are Boring.

People do complain about the lack of personalities in the racing world. It’s notable that many drivers stay away from the limelight. The fame they achieve tends to come from their skill on the track, rather than their charisma. While the NFL and NBA have championed certain causes, they’ve also lost a lot of popularity. The racing organizations have wisely kept their racers politically neutral at least until they retire. But drivers may not lean toward drama in their personal lives. They love what they do and, aside from a few rivalries, they avoid being a soap opera in the public eye.

Too Competitive:

Finally, there are those who complain that today’s world has got too competitive, especially in something like Formula One. Racing is at its core, competition. NASCAR had it’s start in rum runners trying to stay ahead of revenuers. Compared to that, regulated racing seems pretty tame.

It seems like an empty argument though as racing was always about one team achieving dominance. The idea of a level playing field may seem fairer to some. Many team sports have gone to a salary cap for this reason. But in the America’s truly traditional sports, like Baseball and NASCAR money is a competitive advantage. The Yankees will always have the best players money can buy and in racing, where great equipment matters, it should shock no one that the team with the most money to invest is going to win more.

The Great Racing Car Teams

Farrari Racing

Top racing teams include McLaren, Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull. The reasons these teams stay on or near the top year after year is because they recruit the best race car drivers and support the best engines.

As with anything else, money can buy success, but only to a limited degree. Ferrari seems to be one of the highest funded – a cool 300 million according to a recent New York Times article.

Financial crises are not good for any business, but the successful race teams become smaller and more streamlined.

Qualities of a good Driver:

Sometimes it is about luck, finding the right drivers for instance. It’s a high-pressure job and in order to race effectively, drivers must stay in shape — it’s not only steering a car. The most easily overlooked aspect of racing is the teamwork. Drivers must be able to communicate constantly with their team, via radio, and work to make good decisions as a team.

Let’s look over the different teams:

Mercedes racing began in 1954. Along with Auto-Union cars they acquired the name of Silver Arrows. This is because German cars tended to race in silver, though they did have white cars too such as the Blintez Benz. Even now many German cars are referred to as being colored “Silver Arrow Gray”.

Red Bull Racing

The team currently uses AMG-Petronas cars which are silver with a green – or possibly turquoise- trim. In 2020 Merc introduced black livery in support of Black Lives Support.

Ferrari’s racing team is Scuderia Ferrari known also as the Prancing Horse. Confusingly though other teams can still use Ferrari engines and it makes sense for them to do so as they are one of the most efficient, both on the racetrack and off. Strange it may seem, although the team was created by Enzo Ferrari they originally used Alfa Romeo engines instead of Ferrari ones. Although it seems a long time ago it wasn’t until 1947 that they used Ferrari engines. This was due to Alfa Romeo’s teething troubles at the period.

Their supporters are known as the tifosi (please note they do support other Italian cars though!) who famously cheer when the cars go past them. Italians are one of the biggest fan groups of motor racing. As with the domestic cars Ferrari race cars have a strong red hue.

The Williams team was formed in 1977 in the Spanish Grand Prix. Although it used Ford, Honda and Renault engines it also used the lesser-known Judd and Cosworth engines. Judd and Cosworth don’t make ordinary cars, just the racing engines.

Red Bull has also used Cosworth engines as well as Ferrari and Renault engines. In 2019 they changed to Honda. In order to support future drivers, they also have a Red Bull junior team.

Whether it comes down to getting the lucky breaks, or being able to finance a team well, these great teams have and will continue to field some of the most winning drivers on the circuit.

Testing A Car’s Aerodynamics

A number of companies are dropping wind tunnels in favor of virtual simulation. Against what people may think, the computer simulation gives a better idea of reality than wind tunnels.

Propulsion, also known as drag, has a complicated relationship with the speed of the vehicle. As the speed doubles the drag goes up to four times that much.

Using wind tunnels to test cars goes all the way back to 1960. Things that can be tested include the design, speed, fuel efficiency and how the driver handles the car, the latter is especially important in assisting racecar drivers to know how to perform in the toughest conditions.

For a car to turn corners at 200mph requires the aerodynamics to be tested and retested. Racecar designers will actually use wind to artificially increase the cars weight to improve its traction and handling. They do this by adding spoilers and fins in order to increase the downforce.

It’s important that the peak of the roof is far enough forward, which not only adds to the aerodynamics it means there is more headroom for the back seat.

BMWs are tested in the Aerodynamic Test Center, which recreated road speed and air speed, up to a massive 300 km/h. The difficulty here is that you need a prototype vehicle to start with.

The variables investigated include the drag, lift, side forces, pitch, yaw, and roll.

The lift is the opposite to the drag, an upward force countering the weight of the object.

The pitch is a rotation by side parts of the vehicle, it isn’t that noticeable unless you are talking about the wing of a plane or the sail of a yacht.

The yaw is the rotation of the vehicle’s nose whereas the roll is the rotation of the whole vehicle’s body, usually in a crash.

In reducing these variables, the car becomes easier to handle. To prevent a car skidding on the road, you need to know the yaw and the drag especially, to prevent the car flipping over you need to know the roll force, but also the load and pitch forces. Ultimately whatever happens to a car is a result of all these forces interacting with one another. If a car is unstable it will be harder to control.

Flow Field

The areas that are affected by the aerodynamics of a vehicle is known as a “flow field”. It all comes down to optimization, making the car as easy to handle as it can be. This include lengthening the car, which effects the flow field” to make the car more aerodynamic as well as fuel effective–the pressure is distributed around the vehicle. The “flow field” is a picture of the drag, lift and the side forces and is shaped in a similar way to the car itself.

After the indoor stuff the cars are tested on the racetrack. They require 200 hours in all.

Another way of carrying out test is modelling, at around 30-60% of the production size. It’s a way to carry out similar tests but to save on running costs.

It’s best to understand how your car operates in tests so you know where the potential liabilities are. A car only drives well because its aerodynamics have been well thought out.

What Is A Rocket Bike?

There are two types of rocket bike: a manual cycle with added rocket power (or what appears to be rocket power) and a motorbike with additional power. They are often thought of as stunt bikes, because they lack deceleration and are impractical for the highway, but stunt bikes is its own category, which just happens to also not be street legal. While most stunt bikes you won’t see on the road, it’s definitely just as well that you will not see a rocket bike of any description on the road.

Early Rocket Bikes:

Early versions of the Rocket bike include Germans Fritz von Hopel, and Richter. Fritz von Hopel bolted six booster rockets to what was a 22hp (horsepower) motorcycle called “The Monster,” but he was stalled by the German government. He finally created a rocket powered motorcycle in 1929. Richter in 1931 had a less than successful test run; his bike exploded. This was also in Germany.

Rocket Bikes Today:

You might expect that we have mastered the skill by now, but the thing about being a stuntman is that things can always go wrong. It’s best to always be prepared. Names currently associated with rocket bikes include Eric Teboul, Francois Gissy, Fred Rombelberg, Rick Jojatt and the most famous, Evel Knievel.

So, let’s take these doers of daring-do one by one.

Eric Teboul who gained the nickname “Rocketman” by achieving speeds of 220mph. The bike ran on hydrogen peroxide which is broken down into oxygen and a massive cloud of steam, coming out of its exhaust nozzle. It will accelerate until it runs out of fuel.

Francois Gissy sped up to 207mph, the bike was made to be lightweight, looking more than an e-bike rather than a motorbike. Silver powder provides the “secret ingredient” to the thrust. He also developed a bike which had a speed of 249mph called “The Spine Crusher” though it is difficult to maintain such speeds.

Fred Rompelberg reached a speed of 286mph, though it had to be towed by a racecar for a bit. He achieved 0-60 in 11 seconds in a home-built rocket bike.

Most infamous is definitely Evel Knievel whose rocket bike was developed by experts including US Robert Truax. The goal was to jump the Snake River Canyon. The jump took place September 8, 1974. It’s a little hard to think of a rocket bikes taking off at a trajectory, but not flying as such. As long as there is no wings it’s a power assisted jump—not a flight.

Technically the bike cleared the canyon, but a parachute was deployed too early; the high winds affected the trajectory causing a technical fall. The bike reached speeds of 250mph; he was lucky to have survived.

Rick Jojatt known as The Human Fly used rocket power to jump 27 buses. He may not have appreciated the fame as he disappeared soon after achieving the stunt.

What is the fastest speed of anyone on rocket bike?

The leader has changed hands several times. In 1999, The Mach 3 Challenger (sponsored by Gillette) piloted by Richard Brown achieved a speed of 365mph. Then along comes Rocky Robinson with a bike called “Jet reaction” which was powered by a gas turbine achieved a speed of 376 mph.

Several bikes are lined up with over 425 pounds of torque to make attempts at breaking the 400 mph mark, we’ll soon see.

Is it about the records? Francois Gissy says that when he gets old he may settle down to the comfort of a motorcycle. This is the kind of people we are dealing with; those who think the speed of a motorbike is too geriatric.