Even over my cell phone’s weak, tinny speakers, the Corvette’s supercharged V8 sounds all lumpy and cammed and gorgeous. “Dad, you HAVE to listen to this.” He huddles over the phone along with my cousin Jared as I hit ‘Play’. In the video, the striking blue ‘Vette idles with a heavy snarl, then exhales under revs with a tearing, ripping bellow and slows idles back down into a meaty whubwhubwhubwhub. “Oh man. That car sounds like it’s about 200 feet deep,” he says through a grin.
The standard Corvette needs no introduction, but I think this model does. Pictured here is the seventh-generation (C7) Stingray Z06, the first ‘Vette to wear the ‘Stingray’ badge since the third-generation car in 1976, and the most powerful car General Motors has ever produced. Reserved especially for Corvettes, the Z06 moniker derives from a long lineage of hot Corvettes dating back to the mid-1960’s, and denotes the cream of Chevy’s performance know-how. When a one of these cars rolls by with that badge, it means something special. This particular Z06 is adorned with the (confusingly named) Z07 package, and makes a crazy 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque from its 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine. Give it the beans, and the Z06 rips from zero to 60 mph in three seconds dead, and abuses the quarter-mile run in just over 11 seconds. I don’t care what definition you use, this is a really, really fast car. If you opt to spec your car out in Z07 trim, things get even more wild – it transforms into a fully operational battle station, complete with carbon-ceramic brakes, carbon fiber body panels and aero kit, super sticky tires, and a revised suspension setup.
In the flesh, the Z06 is so aggressively styled it’s actually a little intimidating – give it a sideways glance and it’s easy to imagine the ‘Vette whipping out a switchblade and wanting to start some trouble. It’s all wide hips, big wheels, scoops, cuts, and wings. There is no confusing this car with a wannabe track toy. Every opening on the Z06 is functional – the carbon-fiber slats on the hood suck heat away from the engine, the front splitter pushes the nose of the car into the pavement, while the vertical wing out back keeps the rear tires planted at speed, and the various other holes and protrusions funnel cool air to where it’s needed most.
With the Z06, Chevy took the already capable Corvette platform and slathered on every go-fast bin in the warehouse to create not just a fast Corvette, but a world-class supercar that can hang with (or embarrass) the best cars in the world. The Z06 looks the business, has the performance to back it up, and arrives with zero pretensions of dominance, because dominance is already understood. Poseurs will inevitably buy this car, as they do with any car of this magnitude, but the essence of the Z06 is pure: it’s a supercar that demands skill and respect to extract it’s true performance. It also represents the rare but wonderful occurrence where a global behemoth like GM shows what it is capable of by setting the bureaucracy aside, buckling up, and putting the pedal to the freaking metal.
It’s fascinating how automobiles can embody human emotions and ideas. For example, if you wanted to define “finesse” in the automotive realm, cars like the Lotus Elise or Mazda Miata would fit the bill perfectly. Both are lightweight, nimble, and give a sense of connection and fluidity like few others can. When describing the essence of those cars, Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s famous philosophy, “Simplify, then add lightness” couldn’t ring more true. The car featured in this edition of Cars in the Wild, the Dodge Viper R/T 10, is exactly none of those things.
If the Elise is a scapel, the Viper is a rusty sledgehammer; if the Miata is a happy Terrier who’s eager to frolic and play, the Viper is an irritated pit viper who’s thinking about making a lunge at your face. The early Dodge Vipers contributed greatly to the stereotype that America’s supercars are really only good for going in straight line. Refined? An exquisite handler? A predictable gentleman’s racer? These things the Viper is not. But, what it may lack in traditional measurements of performance, it more than makes up for in character and excitement. I mean, just look at it – that hood! Those steamroller tires! The center exit exhaust! You get the impression that Dodge just kind of slid some money across the table to a group of wild eyed engineers and said, “Well, it needs to say Dodge on the car somewhere, and having it actually work would be great, but other than that, have fun.”
This particular car is a second generation model, produced between 1996 and 2002. Under that endless hood lies a colossal 8.0-liter V10, which can trace its roots back to the first-generation Viper’s Lamborghini-designed engine. Despite its monstrous size, the engine actually only develops 415 horsepower. Still, these second-gen Vipers were a marked improvement in every way over the original car. It’s faster and lighter, and while it looks similar, there were enough changes to warrant calling it a new generation model. The Viper mauls its way to 60 mph in about four seconds (which is properly quick, even by today’s standards), and runs onto a 185 mph top speed. And, while crisp handling dynamics are not this car’s forte, cornering and performance limits are high enough to make it worthy of the supercar mantle.
As the Viper has evolved, not only has it finally become more refined, but the performance threshold has continued to climb. Much of this is due to the car’s success in a variety of racing series. The current-generation Viper comes packing an even larger engine (8.4-liters!) and makes 640 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque. With the help of carbon fiber and aluminum, it is lighter and sharper than any versions before it, and with dollops of leather and plenty of Fiat money, it’s now more comfortable and upscale than any other Viper as well. While time and development have improved it’s maturity, it’s core DNA still reflects the original car’s recipe of intensity and brute force over delicacy and finesse.
There is no shortage of supercars that are superior to the Viper – some accelerate faster, others are better on a racetrack or have a more prestigious pedigree – with nearly all costing many times more. But, few can pull off the level of panache and intensity of this legendary all-American bruiser. The Dodge Viper, like the Chevrolet Corvette, brings a unique brand of performance to the table at a price that people other than oil tycoons and Crown Princes can afford. Flaws and all, the world would be a far duller place without the Viper, and that’s why we love it. *cue billowing American flags and fireworks*
Queen City Cars & Coffee is back! The past two years hosting this show have been absolute blast, and I’m stoked to be putting it on again this year. Last year, over 90 cars attended, about 30 more than the first year. For QC3 (just made that name up right now and I dig it) the goal is set at 125 cars. Let’s rally together and make it happen! Invite your friends, invite their friends, invite people that aren’t your friends, invite your grandma, your neighbor, the guy who cleans your septic tank, it doesn’t matter. Just invite them. I genuinely think we have the chance to create something epic and put the Manchester car scene on the map. This year’s show is on Saturday, September 13 from 8am to 12pm at the Arms Parking Lot in Manchester, NH. Be sure to follow @_DoranD_ and @TopDeadCenter on Twitter for updates. I’m beyond fired up for this, and I can’t wait to see everyone there!
This entry of ‘Cars in the Wild’ is a little different for a couple of reasons. First, two particularly significant cars with deep connections to the future of the automobile were recently spotted prowling the streets. And secondly, the automotive landscape is in the beginning stages of several major changes. One of these cars is a great example of how change can be executed correctly, while the other should just be executed.
CTW #1 – Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is arguably the most exciting to come from America for generations. While it is not a hypercar, a track slaying racer, or a rival for a Rolls-Royce in terms of opulence, what the Model S is, is a the first fully electric vehicle that could be a viable substitute for an internal combustion engined car. Considering the dismal fate of the great majority of electric cars that came before the Model S, that is a significant accomplishment. The reason for that is many-fold, and one of the major differences in the man behind the Model S and Tesla itself.
Elon Musk is an interesting dude and the very definition of an entrepreneur. He made his first gazillion or so dollars by founding PayPal and since then, has gone on to start a private space exploration company (SpaceX), create the largest provider of solar systems in the country (SolarCity), and Tesla, a California-based car company whose mission is nothing less than to revolutionize the way the world moves. Tesla’s first car, the Roadster, was a low volume electric sportscar based on the Lotus Elise. Its price tag of over $100,000 meant that it was well out of reach of most people, but it served a greater purpose of proving to the world that an EV could be just as fast, if not faster, than many traditionally powered sportscars.
The second phase in Tesla’s plan for Ultimate Global Revolution is the Model S. This particular example was spotted in sunny San Diego, California and was the very first Model S I saw in person. Under the stunning exterior is a 100% electric powertrain and an 85 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that makes 420 horsepower and is good for an EPA estimated 265 miles. The consternation over usable mileage—a.k.a. range anxiety—has always been the Achilles heel of the electric car, but the Model S is the first EV to have a driving range nearly comparable to gas powered cars. And not only does it have great range, the Model S is also properly fast. Like, 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph fast. The Model S Signature Performance edition (best range, most power) rings in at about $100K, but unlike the Tesla Roadster, will be built in significantly larger quantities and is playing ball in the luxury sedan segment where prices like that aren’t uncommon. While the Model S can perform and make sense in the real world, it’s by no means perfect. But, it is likely the best electric car ever made, is a benchmark for future EV efforts, and will impact the future of the automobile in powerful ways. Proof? Watch THIS, THIS, and THIS.
CTW #2 – Fisker Karma
And then there is the Fisker Karma. These two cars really couldn’t be any more different. Where the Model S is a pure EV, the Karma’s electrification is similar to the one found in the Chevrolet Volt. Under the sculpted hood resides two power plants—a pair of 161 horsepower electric motors that are responsible for the car’s primary propulsion, and a General Motors sourced 2.0-liter 260 horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine. The normal gas engine is engaged when either the battery pack is depleted or when the ‘Sport’ mode is selected. Instead of driving the wheels itself, the four-banger actaully charges a generator that electrically powers the drivetrain. On the road, the Karma achieves a 52 mpg equivalent which is good, but not great. Fully juiced up, the Karma only has a range of 230 miles, which is also a bit disappointing.
But undoubtedly the most disappointing thing about the Fisker Karma is the way the entire project has been executed. Since it’s launch, the Karma has been plagued by recalls, poor reviews, and instances of literally bursting into flames. All the while, Fisker has had to deal with lawsuits, being on the brink of bankruptcy for what seems like forever, and having the brand’s namesake, Henrik Fisker, leave the company. To top it off, for each Karma the company sells (they retail for about $110,000), it costs roughly $600,000 to make. It doesn’t take Warren Buffet to figure out that’s not exactly what you would call a “sustainable business model.” Karma’s are being sold on eBay right now for barely $50,000. Oh, and one more thing—Justin Beiber owns one and it’s chrome. *gags*
The automotive landscape is changing quickly—you know big things are afoot when Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche all cook up hybrid hypercars. It’s a shame about the Karma, it had such potential. But, it’s the success that is the Tesla Model S that’s the even bigger story. Bring on the electric revolution.
– Many thanks and much respect to Dave Tracy for the shots of the Karma!
Over the past few years, I have made the journey to bustling downtown Manhattan and the Jacob Javits Center a number of times for the New York International Auto Show. If you have never been, I highly recommend going, even if you aren’t a car carrying gearhead. Several stories tall, multiple blocks long, and many thousands of square feet, seeing the Javits Center is reason enough to go. I had always gone to simply ogle expensive machinery, but this most recent trip was my first time there for “work” and the media days that precede the show.
As I wandered around the show on the first day, waiting for my good friend Daniel Chin to arrive, I might as well have been wearing a sign that said, “Hello! My name is nOOb.” Case in point—most of the manufacturers had coffee, snacks, and water at their booths. As I slowly shuffled past, body racked with cravings for caffeine, my only thought was, “Can I actually have some? Is it ok to take?” Opting to not cause a scene and generally chickening out, I didn’t take any. Later, Danny assured me that it was okay to take as much as I wanted. So I did.
Once I figured things out, I had an absolute blast at the show. I met terrific people, connected with old friends, and came away with a greater understanding about how major auto shows work and what they mean to the industry. Car wise, NYIAS didn’t disappoint. There were a number of exciting global reveals, plenty of exotic machinery to drool over, and enough free food and drink to keep me satiated, if only momentarily. Now, without any further ado, here are my top five most significant cars from the show. Enjoy!
1.) 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
As Danny and I took our seats for the Chevrolet press conference, a Chevy employee walked around handing out small black rubber boxes. I looked up at her quizzically. Seeing my confusion, she handed me one and said, “Earplugs.” Oh, silly me, of course we need earplugs for a press conference, that just makes sense. A minute later and it all became clear—the intro videos, sound effects, and music were absolutely deafening. Despite that, what happened next was rather special.
The utter saturation of the internet with automotive rumors, spy photos, and speculation, makes it nigh on impossible for manufacturer’s to keep anything a secret. Generally, the media has a solid idea of what each manufacturer will be revealing before the auto show even begins. All the other cars Chevy revealed during their press conference—the new SS, the 2014 Camaro, and the C7 Corvette convertible—were known beforehand. What we didn’t expect was to see the rebirth of one of the most famous nameplates in Chevrolet’s history: the Z/28.
Here to give you a bit of backstory behind the famous moniker is Stephen Rust, a life-long car enthusiast and former Chrysler Competitive Intelligence Specialist.
“Even a vision-impaired genealogist could easily track the lineage of the 2014 Z/28 back to the original 1967edition. Chevrolet produced the first-gen Z/28 in order to homologate the car so it could compete in SCCA’s Trans Am competition, easily one of the most competitive racing series in the world at that time. The stock 1967 Z/28… came with a 302 cubic-inch mill that was (under) rated at 290 horsepower. That engine, along with the standard Corvette-derived LT-1 engine, were said to be some of the closest to pure racing engines that Chevrolet had ever released to the public. Though I still feel that the Jeep Cherokee is/was the most significant vehicle of the show, it was the debut of the new Z/28 that moved me the most.”
All the exterior modifications on the Z/28 are functional and very badass. It comes with a honkin’ front splitter, a rear diffuser out back, lightweight wheels, carbon ceramic brakes, and sticky tires to name a few. And please, Chevy, whatever you do, offer this car with the glorious pearlescent matte white paint that the show car was adorned in.
Under the hood, the Z/28 is equipped with a naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V-8 engine that produces 500 horsepower and 470 pound feet of torque. The car also weighs some 300 pounds less than the beastly supercharged Camaro ZL1, the same car the Z/28 will replace as king of the Camaro heap. Befitting the Z/28’s track-focused nature, Chevrolet deleted the car’s sound deadening, made air conditioning an optional extra, took out the carpeting in the trunk, and deleted six of the standard Camaro’s seven speakers. They kept one speaker so occupants could hear the seatbelt chime. Awesome.
2.) Subaru WRX Concept
Of all the cars show at NYIAS, this is the one I was most excited about. Turbochargers and Subarus are about as famous as hotdogs and ketchup. When I heard the rumors that Subaru would be unveiling a concept of what is arguably the company’s most famous vehicle, I found myself dreaming of forced induction and tube shaped processed meat products.
When the fog machines stopped and the strobe lights from the introduction ceremony dimmed, it was clear Subaru had taken an entirely new tact when it came to styling. Gone were the droopy, awkward features of the current WRX and STi, and in their place were sharp, muscular lines and flares and scoops in all the right places. I especially loved the green accents around the tailpipes. Again, cue Stephen Rust:
“Judging by crowd reaction in New York, I suspect that the design study that Subaru displayed will carry over fairly closely to production. Subaru has a styling and performance hit on its hands if the production car closely follows the concept that was shown; a more-than-worthy successor to the current gen car.”
In talking with some of the Subaru brass, I learned that the next WRX wasn’t years away from production, but it was only a matter of months before we would learn more about the final product. They remained mum on details like the interior (we couldn’t see inside), performance (it will likely be fantastic), and horsepower (rumor has it that the production car will make between 275 and 300 horsepower), but we do know that some kind of turbocharged powerplant will find its way under the hood. Long live tradition.
3.) 2014 Cadillac CTS
The CTS is a big deal for Cadillac. When it was launched back in 2002, it marked the beginning of Cadillac’s now familiar “art & science” design theme, and heralded a major perception shift within the company that resulted in the General Motors rescuing the Cadillac brand from the pit of woeful mediocrity that it had steeped in for so long.
When I first saw the new CTS, sitting all pretty on its rotating pedestal, I actually mistook it for the Cadillac’s smaller sedan, the ATS. That upright grille, those headlights that arch up onto the front fenders, the character line that runs from the front wheels to the taillights are all deeply reminiscent of the ATS’s softer styling language. And I have to admit, I’m a little unsure of the end result. While the ATS is certainly an attractive car, I feel the CTS draws one-too-many visual cues from its baby brother.
Marc Urbano is a renowned automotive photographer who currently shoots for Road & Track magazine. I first met Marc when I was an intern at R&T during the summer of 2006, and was psyched to run into him at the show. Certainly a man with a better eye for car styling than mine, Marc was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts on the new CTS’s looks.
“The ATS is a handsome car so the CTS is pulling from a solid design already. The current CTS is nicely designed car already and this evolution continues in that trend. I love the updated front end styling…. the lower nose of the CTS as opposed to the ATS really makes the car look more muscular. All the lines flow nicely into the front end and the headlight treatment is clean and unique, not following Audi’s design nor adding LEDs just to have them. You can really visually tell that the car has gained length and wheelbase as compared to the current car. The rear end treatment is also clean… but the rear wheel arches seem less pronounced than the current CTS. It makes for a less dramatic and muscular rear profile. While I’m a big fan of the current CTS’s styling, it was time for a design refresh. I think Cadillac stuck to BMW’s design philosophy that it has with the 3-Series—evolutionary changes. Why drastically change a good thing?”
Regardless of how it looks, it is exciting to see Cadillac seriously bringing the heat to the established players in this market segment. It was fully Cadillac’s intent with the 2014 CTS to bring it closer to the stalwart sport sedans from Germany, the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes-Benz E Class. To bring it more in line with the competition, the CTS gets two inches added to its wheelbase and another five inches added to its overall length. In base-model form, the CTS also weighs an impressive 200 pounds lighter than a BMW 528i.
Customers will have the choice of three engine options, at least until the fire breathing CTS-V hits (no definitely word yet on when that will be). The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower. Next in line is a naturally aspirated 3.6 V-6 engine that makes 321 horsepower. But honestly, you can forget all that. What you really want is the new Vsport performance package. Tick the ‘Vsport’ option box, and you get Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential, a heavy duty cooling package designed for track use, aggressive tires, and a absolute beast of an engine—a twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 420 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, the Vsport should rip to 60 miles per hour in about 4.6 seconds. There is nothing a healthy dose of prodigious horsepower can’t fix.
4.) 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG
I was at the gym the other day and NBC aired a segment that perfectly described the new CLA. The program was all about how luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and BMW are reaching further and further downmarket by creating cars that are substantially less expensive than what the brands normally produce. And as someone who doesn’t have 100k in their car budget (yet), the idea of a fast, four door, all-wheel drive German sedan that costs under $50,000 makes me tingly all over. The base CLA starts at under $30,000, and the CLA 45 AMG begins at $47,450; puny numbers when compared with the rest of the Three Pointed Star’s range.
To create the CLA 45 AMG, MB hands a standard CLA sedan over to the wizards at their AMG tuning division. They start by shoving a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood—an engine MB claims is the most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine in the world. This diminutive powerplant cranks out an outrageous 360 horsepower 332 pound feet of torque, enough to propel the car to 60 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds. Normally, the crown jewel of any AMG model is the volcanically powerful V-8 engine shoehorned into the engine bay, but not with the CLA.
To make things even more interesting, the CLA 45 also comes with MB’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It also receives the full compliment of AMG upgrades including more aggressive suspension, model specific wheels, carbon fiber exterior, and interior enhancements. Visually, the CLA 45 AMG is a knockout. I’m a big fan of the twin sweeping lines on the doors, the incuts underneath the taillights, and the deep, aggressive air intakes up front. On the inside, it is all luscious dark leather, brushed aluminum, and carbon fiber. The only questionable element was the fixed screen above the air vents. Why no retract, MB? While MBs have never really been my idea of a dream car, I think I could make room for the CLA 45 AMG.
5.) 2014 LandRoverRange Rover Sport
I had reservations about including the Range Rover Sport in this article for two reasons. First, the new Jeep Cherokee made a compelling argument for being on this list as it, like the Camaro Z/28, revives a storied nameplate from the annals of history. And secondly, for all intents and purposes, this appears to be just another Range Rover. I decided to include it because Land Rover is currently in the midst of a total brand refresh and I think this new Range Rover Sport is a guaranteed blockbuster.
The Land Rover press conference was all loud music, flashing lights, and Daniel Craig cameos (he was there the night before at the invite-only reveal). Being a rookie, I got to the press conference late and had to stand at the back of the throng of journos who surrounded the Land Rover booth. I had to make do with hoisting my camera up in the air and shooting blindly. The pictures were, predictably, crap. But because car journalists have car ADD, they lose interest in a vehicle rather quickly and you can go take pictures unmolested. Lesson learned.
The Range Rover Sport is known for its on- and off-road prowess, incredible luxury, and utter disregard for cost. It is also an absolute pig when it comes to weight and fuel economy. Part of the shift happening at Land Rover is a move towards greater fuel economy and lighter weight vehicles. For the 2014 Sport, Land Rover managed to shed some 800 pounds over the previous model, thanks in large part to a new aluminum structure. The benefits of the diet will surely be seen in fuel mileage (the company hasn’t released those figures yet) and a significant bump in performance. Speaking of performance, opt for the supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine, and 60 miles per hour will be crushed in under five seconds.
Like all Land Rovers, when the pavement ends, the Sport should be just as capable as it is dominating the glittering boulevard. It comes with a host of off-road equipment like locking differentials, Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system, and a ridiculous wading depth of 33.5 inches. For reference, that’s nearly the average height of a four-year old child.
Visually, the new Range Rover Sport benefits from the same styling elements that we first saw on the Evoque and are currently in use on the recently refreshed Range Rover. In person, the Sport looks terrific—more lithe and compact than the full fat Range Rover, but it still carries that undeniably imposing presence that made the first gen car such a hit. And who can’t love those LED headlights? I’d say it is worthy member of this list.
– Many thanks and much respect to Danny Chin for being my tour guide, Stephen Rust for his time and energy for this interview, and to Danny Choy, Diego Rosenberg, Johnathan Li, Marc Urbano, and Chris Cantle for putting up with me being a complete nOOb.
When the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 first hit the world stage back in 2007, it had about the same affect as when Nissan unleashed its new GTR—people looked at each other in stunned disbelief and said, “It can do what? And it costs how much?” The Zr1, like the GTR, serves up a heaping platter of world crushing power and performance for substantially less coin than its European rivals. And, unlike more cultured and refined cars like the Ferrari 458 or Porsche GT2, the ZR1 serves up its power in typical American fashion—it takes that heaping platter, smashes it in your face, then punches you square in the gut. The ZR1 is raw, barely refined, and elects to dispense its heavy ordnance with reckless abandon rather than calculated precision. Need proof? See HERE, HERE, and HERE. And dear, sweet Lord, the sound it makes! Listen to THIS!
The ZR1 develops 638 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine, making it the most powerful engine General Motors has ever produced. And unlike so many powerful American cars before it, the ZR1 can actually handle. Like, go around both left and right hand corners. It handles so well in fact that it currently holds the ninth fastest time at the famous Nurburgring circuit in Germany with a blistering lap time of 7 minutes and 19.63 seconds. Only dedicated track cars or soul-shatteringly expensive exotics like the Gumpert Apollo have set faster times than Chevrolet’s American bruiser.
One of the best parts about the ZR1 is that while it is an all-around better car than any of the Corvettes before it, it’s still sensationally vulgar. From the steamroller sized rear tires, to its massively flared wheel arches, to the clear plastic cutout in the hood that allows you to see the supercharger, from every angle the ZR1 looks like a steroid-popping gym meathead with a torn muscle shirt, practically begging you to watch as it flexes its rippling biceps.
And that’s all the more reason to love this car. It’s bombastic style along with its shattering performance, “reasonable” pricetag (just north of $110,000), and dynamic revolution of the American musclecar make it one of the most desirable cars on the road today, and will forever have a reserved spot in the TDC Dream Garage. America, f**k yeah!
In this edition of ‘The Torque Tube’, TDC caught up with Bruce Ledoux from Guardian Angel Motorsports on his participation in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. This year marked the 50th anniversary of this legendary race on the steep banking at the Daytona Speedway, and it proved to be a memorable weekend for everyone involved. To learn more about GAM, check out their website HERE, and also read their previous ‘Torque Tube’ feature. Enjoy!
How did team GAM end up finishing throughout the weekend?
Bruce was involved in an accident back at the beginning of January during the “Roar Before the 24″ practice race. He slid into the wall and ended up with minor injuries. Fortunately, the crash wasn’t too serious and he was able to take part in the race weekend at Daytona. This year, Bruce competed behind the wheel of a Mazda MX5 in the support race that takes place before the Rolex 24 hour race. Another GAM driver, Eric Curran, drove a Chevrolet Camaro in the 24 hour race.
“My three hour race last year was with over 60 cars, this year it was over 80… It was packed, packed, packed… It brought out a lot of competitive people and I thought that was a neat part of the equation for us… We didn’t get good seat time in the car before qualifying so when I got in the car, I was still pretty jittery from the accident.
“When I got in the car to drive it, the seat was pretty far back, too far back actually and when I sat in it, in the garage, my line of sight was actually underneath the steering wheel and over the dashboard… The clutch was at the end of my toe and I had to actually lurch forward to grab the shift lever if we were in the odd gears because it was too far forward… We didn’t have any time so I just jumped in the car.
I had two snap spins from missing my downshifts because I couldn’t get my hands on the [gear lever] right… So, we brought the car in and made some adjustments and the next time I got in the car was actually qualifying and I was feeling a ton of pressure. I hadn’t been in the car at all to do any fast laps, so we just stickered it up and shot me out there… I was delighted to find that of the four MX-5’s that were out there, I qualified P2!”
The Mazda MX5 is a phenomenal race car, but at a big, fast track like Daytona, it’s immediately at a disadvantage car because of its lack of horsepower. In the hands of the right driver, however, it can be a seriously competitive machine
“Fast forward to race day and it’s pouring… I mean, pouring. For some reason, our guys decided to send us out on the parade laps on slicks, and I was doing maybe 35 or 40 miles per hour, and the guy in front of me [slowed] up and I just brushed my brake pedal and shot toward the wall… My nerves were really, really frayed as we went into the start of the race… The green flag dropped and I don’t know where it came from, but the car just felt like a million dollars. I was able to move seven spots in the first two turns… Then we went into the bus stop in the back and I was able to divebomb a few guys and get up into the 13th or 14th position up from 26th. The car came to life, the chassis was fantastic and I was able to run pretty hard.
We run a Mazda RX8 differential in the car and it’s slightly different than the stock differential… Come to find out, when one wheel is doing two mph faster than the other wheel on the banking, it gets the diff pretty hot, which makes the casing expand, which caused it to spring a leak. So, it started burning up… It got to the point where our straightaway speed was down 10 mph. When you’re full throttle for 26 seconds or so like when you’re at Daytona, that drop in speed is crippling.”
Despite lack of speed and the differential working against them, the team was able to maneuver through the field all the way up to P12. “We were thinking we had a top 10 finish on our hands, and that’s when the diff blew up with 22 minutes left in the race. And that was it, party’s over.” Naturally, the team was heartbroken with the result. Overall, however, when Bruce looked at the car’s performance before it broke—being ahead of all the other MX5s by five or six places, and this being the first time the team had fielded a Grand Am car—he was thrilled with how everything turned out.
Fast forward once more to the 24 hour race, and Eric Curran and his team are basically driving the wheels off their car. They were cranking through the field and posting great lap times. “I logged onto the internet [to check the current lap times] at 4 in the morning, and they were turning laps that were only half a second off their qualifying times…. What was amazing was that we were at hour 13, and they were still flogging a car like it was qualifying.”
The thing about endurance racing is that it’s not all about your fastest lap time. A lot of the challenge of these races is finding the balance between outright performance and conserving the car. And, like so many other competitors, Eric’s car suffered a major mechanical failure and wasn’t able to finish the race. “The car gave up at the 21 hour mark and they were really upset about that. They had all really, really worked hard.”
How did you involve the families and kids from The Starlight Foundation who came to the race?
“We were giving them what we called a ‘Great Escape’—They could come down and basically forget about life for a couple of hours and escape all of the pressures that they are dealing with. We got them into the track, we got pictures with the cars, we got to have four kids push the car with the crew and the drivers out onto the gird as the team was being announced, it was very, very cool.
“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the impact that seeing these kids would have.[The kids] got around the car and there was an eerie silence. No one was talking within 50 yards of the car, there were few dry eyes; it was so profound.”
More than the racing, this weekend solidified for Bruce that the things he and GAM are doing is genuinely having an impact that extends way beyond the track. “There was one guy there named Eric, he’s mid-teens and in a wheelchair… We headed out to the chain link fence right at turn three… About an hour later, Linda and I walk by and Eric is not only standing out of his chair with his dad, but he’s stuck to the fence. He’s got his fingers through the fence and he’s just elated with what he’s seeing. His parents sent us an email after and said that they can’t remember the last time that he was standing out of his chair for as long as he was… You just can’t put a value on that.”
What was another highlight of the weekend?
“Another family that showed up has a fifteen year old girl who’s in a wheelchair and it’s difficult for her to communicate. She was being introduced to [one of GAM’s sponsors, Jason] that was there. The father said, ‘Thank you for doing this, we don’t go out because of her being in the wheelchair.’ So, Jason said, ‘I feel so badly for you, Elexis.’ And she said, ‘Oh, don’t feel badly for me, I’m a fighter.’ Jason couldn’t believe it, he was totally blown away and burst into tears. It was off the hook.”
Despite having both cars not finish their races, the entire event was a major success for GAM; there is even the potential a NASCAR race will be named for them. Through GAM and the efforts of Bruce and Linda Ledoux, the thrill, excitement, and camaraderie of racing at Daytona was given to people who may otherwise never make it to the track.
“All in all, even thought we didn’t post great finishes for either car, we won in the paddock… One of the things I’m learning when I stand outside and look at this is reframing your expectations and what you’re hoping to get from your outing has to include winning in the paddock and translating that sense of good feeling and voyage to all the people who can’t be there. That’s our mission.”
– Many thanks and much respect once again to Bruce Ledoux for his time and energy for this interview. Be sure to visit Guardian Angel’s website and support their tremendous cause!
It’s not every day that you see a Chevrolet Corvair chillin’ in the parking lot of a Hannafords. Or anywhere for that matter. When the Corvair hit the showroom in 1960, it was the only rear-engined, air cooled American car on the market, and it was awarded Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year award. Throughout it’s lifetime, the Corvair spawned a multitude of different variants including the convertible pictured here, a coupe, a panel van, a hotted up and turbocharged “Monza” version, among others. Performance, especially handling, was not the Corvair’s forte. In fact, GM faced lawsuits because of suspected unsafe handling due to it’s swing axle rear suspension setup. The car has an interesting history that’s definitely worth reading about. In the meantime, check out the photo below!