Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Most Anticipated New York Auto Show Debuts

With the New York Auto Show quickly approaching let's take a look at some of the most anticipated debuts from New York.

Number 5: Porsche Panamera S. As if the Panamera didn't already have enough horsepower to shame many supercars in a drag race Porsche has decided to give its five door hatch 50 additional horsepower.

Number 4: Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Mercedes finally puts its great-sounding 6.3 liter AMG V8 in a coupe to challenge the BMW M3, Audi RS5 and Cadillac CTS-V. The C63 AMG coupe would place higher but we have already seen how the coupe will look thus losing some excitement.

Number 3: Lexus LF-Gh. This hybrid concept should do a good job of previewing the next generation of the GS sedan that is certainly due for an update. In a hotly contested segment Lexus will need a great design to stand out and hopefully we see one in New York.

Number 2: Jeep Grand Cheeroke SRT8. The latest Grand Cheeroke has been well received by both the press and the public alike. The 470 horsepower 6.4 liter Hemi V8 will transform the offroader into a 911 chasing beast.

Number 1: Volkswagen Beetle. The actual third generation Beetle might not make it to the auto show floor but Volkswagen will introduce the latest Beetle in NYC the day before the New York auto show in a similar fashion to the Katy Perry concert Jetta introduction of last summer. The Beetle tops the list because it has the potential to drum up interest in Volkswagen much in the same way the original New Beetle did over a decade ago.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Commercial Review: Corvette's Just To Be Fair

I gave high ratings to the last Corvette commercial that I saw, but this new one has a serious stretching the truth problem. First let's start with the positives, the commercial features the Corvette which was a competitive product for Chevy even when the rest of its car division was not. Second it features Corvette's involvement in ALMS racing which has some of the most exciting production based racing in the world. However, the main argument of the commercial is that Corvette had to "dial back" the ZR1's power output to race in ALMS. While it is true that the production Corvette ZR1 makes more power than the GT racing version there is also a little fact that gets in the way, rules. The governing body that runs the 24 Hours of Le Mans and creates ALMS rules does an excellent job of equalizing different types of engines to create competitive racing. The rules specify that a supercharged engine can at most have a displacement of 4 liters. Thus the GT Corvette cannot use a "dialed back" version of the ZR1 engine and in fact it uses a modified Z06 engine (take a look at a truthful Corvette Racing video about the GT engine below) The upcoming C7 Corvette is said to use the next generation of the legendary smallblock with 5.5 liters of displacement as its base engine with a power output of around 430-450 horsepower. Mathematically, Corvette would likely need to "add power to go racing" instead of "dialing it back by about 168 horsepower". The discrepancy between the claim in the commercial and reality is particularly shameful because the ZR1 does perfectly fine on its own without the need to stretch the truth as the production ZR1 is quicker around a track than the production versions of BMWs, Porsches and Ferraris that the GT Corvette competes against on the track.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Peugeot Wins 2011 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring

Billed as the most open Sebring in years the 2011 edition certainly did not disappoint. An old car won the race, a gasoline powered entry finished second and the fastest car of the race only managed a third place finish. The privateer Oreca Matmut team running the Peugeot 908 HDI FAP won the 59th edition of America's top endurance race Saturday. Using a rule restricted version of the first generation 908 Oreca was not as quick as the brand new factory 908 but Nicolas Lapierre, Loic Duval, and Olivier Panis ran a clean race to take victory. In second place the brand new gasoline Highcroft Racing Honda piloted by David Brabham, Marino Franchitti, and Simon Pagenaud proved that the new ACO rules are fair by running competitive times compared to the diesels. In third the new Peugeot 908 driven by Frank Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin, and Pedro Lamy were only able to manage a third place finish even with the fastest race car on the track. A few minor track and pit stop mistakes were enough to neutralize the factory Peugeot. Along with the factory Peugeots Audi Sport Team Joest was the co-favorite to win the race, but on-track incidents relegated Audi to a fourth and fifth overall in a disappointing race. Two consecutive flat tires caused the number 1 Audi to lose numerous laps early in the race. A little later the number 2 Audi suffered damage when it was hit by the number 7 Peugeot causing both cars lengthy repairs.

In the tightly contested GT category the BMW Motorsport team of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller, and Andy Priaulx took victory along with tenths place overall. As usual in the past few years the GT division had close racing until the last few hours with numerous cars taking the lead with excellent passing. Throughout most of the race the top five in GT were separated by less than five seconds. The 55 BMW and 03 Corvette rounded out the GT podium.

In P2 the Lola Honda of Scott Tucker, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Luis Diaz took the honors. The Genoa Racing team of Jens Petersen, Dane Cameron and Michael Guasch won the Le Mans Prototype category along with ninth place overall. Black Swan Racing team of Tim Pappas, Damien Faulkner, and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen were victorious in the 911 GT3 Cup.

Below is the Sebring top ten . Also check out our hourly update post for detailed Sebring obvservations.

1. (5) Nicolas Lapierre, France; Loic Duval; Olivier Panis, France; Peugeot 908 HDI FAP (1, LMP1), 332.
2. (7) David Brabham, Maidenhead; Marino Franchitti, Edinburgh, Scotland; Simon Pagenaud, Montmorrillon; HPD ARX-01e (2, LMP1), 332.
3. (1) Franck Montagny, Grandvaux; Stephane Sarrazin, Ales; Pedro Lamy, Lisbon; Peugeot 908 (3, LMP1), 332.
4. (4) Allan McNish, Monte Carlo; Dindo Capello, Canelli; Tom Kristensen, Monte Carlo; Audi R15+ TDI (4, LMP1), 327.
5. (2) Mike Rockenfeller, Monte Carlo; Timo Bernhard, Dittweiler; Romain Dumas, Ales; Audi R15+ TDI (5, LMP1), 326.
6. (10) Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, NY; Guy Smith, Bracken, Yorkshire; Jay Cochran, Palm Beach, FL; Lola B09 86/Mazda (6, LMP1), 324.
7. (8) Neel Jani; Jeroen Bleekemolen, Monte Carlo, ; Nicolas Prost; Lola B10/60 Coupe (7, LMP1), 320.
8. (3) Alexander Wurz, Monte Carlo; Marc Gene, Barcelona; Anthony Davidson, Brackley, Northamptonshire; Peugeot 908 (8, LMP1), 315.
9. (12) Michael Guasch, Pleasant Hill, CA; Jens Petersen, Dusseldorf; Dane Cameron, Sonoma, CA; Oreca FLM09 (1, LMPC), 312.
10. (25) Dirk Mueller, Monte Carlo; Joey Hand, Sacramento, CA; Andy Priaulx; BMW M3 GT (1, GT), 312.

See the rest of the finishers here along with race details.

Sebring Live Updates

You can watch the race on ESPN3 or at the ALMS website. Follow the race order with timing and scoring here.

At the start:

Peugeot leads while Audi takes second and third but by the next lap Peugeot is back to first and second. In GT Oliver Gavin takes the lead while BMW is fighting the Ferrari of Bruni for second. Bruni takes back the lead 10 minutes later. The BMW of Dirk Mueller loses its tire after contact with the Level 5 Honda. First caution comes when the Lamborghini is stranded on the grass with a broken wheel. Jamie Melo takes the GT lead shortly after the restart. At first hour The number 1 Audi loses many laps two to cut left rear tires. Hour and a half into the race McNish takes a 45 second after a pit stop. A second caution comes for a LMC car stranded on the track and wipes out McNish's lead.

Hour Three
A third caution comes out two hours into the race with the Patrick Long bouncing into the Corvette of Jan Magnussen spinning both cars, however the Ferrari of Johannes van Overbeek took the worst with a strong hit into the tire wall after contact with the Corvette. At the top of the field The number 2 Audi of Tom Kristensen is close behind chasing the number 8 Peugeot of Sarrazin. In P2 Luis Diaz had taken over the lead in his Lola Honda over the Nissan Oreca of Lucas Ordonez for some laps before having to pit. Kristensen took the overall lead shortly after the Peugeot pit stop but pitted himself shortly at the 9 hour mark.

Hour Four
BMW is first and second in GT with Ferrari of Mika Salo third. The fourth caution of the race comes out on lap 99 of the race after a Porsche caught fire. The caution has bunched up the front of the field with the Peugeot only 10 seconds ahead of the Audi. However the green racing was short lived with an another caution for the AJR Porsche stuck on the straight.

Hour Five
After the restart the number 7 Peugeot hit the number 2 Audi and should be getting a penalty if it gets back out after repairs. The race for the overall win is essentially over now. With that said, Simon Pagenaud has overtaken the number 8 Peugeot for the overall lead with an excellent and most importantly clean pass when Peugoet was slowed down by some traffic. Only moments later a sixth yellow came out after a car in the tire wall.

Hour Six
The Honda Performance Development P1 has lost the overall lead after the latest restart but has been able to remain second with Marino Franchitti a few seconds ahead of last year's 908 driven by Oliver Panis. Meanwhile Jamie Melo in the new 458 Italia us first in GT with the next four in GT less than five seconds behind.

Half Way Through The Race

Six hours after the race began there is another full course yellow. Thanks to all of the caution periods there is close racing for the lead and GT. Soon after the restart the Oreca 908 HDI Fap takes over second place overall. After the restart the racing is extremely competitive in GT as demonstrated by Toni Vilander's excellent clean pass on Tommy Milner for third in GT. A little later Pierre Kafer was able to take advantage of a slight mistake by Dirk Mueller to take the GT lead.

Hour Eight

With five hours left 'till the checkered flag the race is once again under yellow for the time being. After the restart the Oreca Peugeot leads with the David Brabham piloted Honda 6 seconds back and the factory Peugeot 10 seconds back. Pierre Kafer continues to lead GT with the BMWs 4 and 8 seconds back.

Hour Nine

Another caution and another restart gave Loic Duval and Oreca an opportunity to overtake the Brabam's HPD effort with a little more than 4 hours remaining.

Hour Ten

Things seemed to have slowed down for a bit as the race approached three hours left. A pit-stop had the leader change its front bodywork to fix broken louvers. Immediately after the pit-sop Pedro Lamy spun the previously race leading 908. The spin and the long pit stop have put the factory 908 in third. Andy Priaulx continues to lead GT and has opened up a 25 second lead over Giancarlo Fisichella in the F430.

Two Hours To Go

With two hours left and the circuit completely dark Sebring is not in its homestretch. Nicolas Lapierre leads with Simon Pagenaud seconds and Pedro Lamy chasing after his spin. BMW continues to place first in second in GT. The P2 category has found its competitors visiting the pit-lane frequently, Ryan Hunter-Reay leads overall in his Lola-Honda but is only 29th overall.

One Hour To Go

With a little under an hour left in the race Pagenaud leads the race having just inherited the lead when the Oreca 908 pitted. Loic Duval in the Oreca is 17 seconds behind Pagenaud and the new factory 908 is 39 seconds behind the leader. All three competitors for first place will likely need at least another pit-stop. Pagenaud and Montagny can significantly improve their odds of winning if they can stay out about 10 more minutes and guarantee only one final pit-stop. We are in for a great last 50 minutes!

The final pit stops are over and Duval leads in his Oreca 908 HDI FAP with Pagenaud's Honda 34 seconds behind, the factory 908 is third 58 seconds behind. It's now up to the drivers in the last 30 minutes!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2011 Sebring Preview

With the first official practice sessions over it's time to preview the upcoming 59th running of Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. This year's edition of one of the most grueling races in the world is filled with exciting new changes.This year Sebring is not only the opening round of the American Le Mans Series, it also serves as the opening round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, an international series centered around the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the top of the 56 car field significant changes make P1 racing as open as it has been in years. New regulations have resulted in brand new machines from Peugeot, Aston Martin, and Audi. Unfortunately only Peugeot has its new race car, the 908, at Sebring. Audi is racing an updated version of last year's Le Mans winner which they are calling the R15++. Joining the P1 ranks this year is the Honda Performance Development effort. Peugeot and Audi have traded posting fastest times in the first few sessions with Honda and Aston Martin closely behind. New rules for 2011 have slowed down the diesel competitors creating close competition at the top. With the ACO closely watching all lap times and ready to slow down cars that are too quick it we might not see the true pace of some of the front runners until the green flag drops.

Regulation changes have resulted in a significantly larger gap between P1 and P2 categories, nevertheless the Nissan powered Oreca has enjoyed a sizable advantage in early testing over the Honda powered Lola.

The GT field this year looks to be as close as ever with Ferrari (represented by the new 458 Italia and the old 430), Porsche, Covette and BMW posting very similar times through the early sessions. As in P1 a true favorite might not emerge until the race begins.

This year Sebring will be streamed live in its entirety on ESPN3 and the ALMS website. Live coverage begins Friday for qualifying at 2:55PM (EST) with the race coverage starting at 10:115 AM Eastern time on Saturday.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Automotive Power Rankings Geneva Motorshow Edition

For those of you that follow sports you know that power rankings is all about the teams that are at the top of the game. With that in mind let's take a look at the first installment of Kill It With Fire power rankings. In this edition we'll rank the brands solely based on their performance at the Geneva Motorshow and ignore for a moment their sales, recalls and comparison tests results. These rankings are based on the impact, style, and "wow" factor of both production and concept debuts in Geneva. In other words the winners are the ones that made the most noise in Geneva.



Lamborghini takes first place with its show stopping Aventador LP-700-4. 700 horsepower from a brand new V12 and incredible styling make Lamborghini the undisputed Geneva winner.


Volkswagen and Audi

The Golf convertible and Tiguan debuts weren't the greatest but the Bulli, A3 and Guigaro styled concept gave VW and Audi a great Geneva portfolio.



The Agera looks poised to be a legitimate Veyron challenger, the available ski box is an interesting touch.



The FF is Ferrari's first hatchback, patented all wheel system with two gearboxes is intriguing.


Alfa Romeo

The 4C's lightweight and great styling would be a great launch product when Alfa comes to the states.



The PhoeniX Concept features great styling and proves that Saab is looking ahead.


Nissan and Infiniti

The Nissan Esflow and the Infiniti Etherea feature adventurous styling perfect for an autoshow. On the production front the Micra features the return of the Miller cycle engine.



The Threewheeler is a great blast from the past.



Toyota is taking its time developing its new coupe but the second generation FT-86 looks great.



The Captur and R-Space continue Renault's great concept car lineage.



The vintage styled X-Type looked intriguing but isn't likely to see production from Jaguar.


Aston Martin

The Virage looks great like all other Aston Martins before



The XKR-S celebrates the 50th anniversary of the E-Type



The 102-EX is a Phantom with batteries under the hood and electric motors in place of the fuel tank.



The Grancabrio gains a Sport version that adds additional performance to the standard great looks



Mazda will get its styling mojo back if it can translate the Minagi CUV concept to reality with minimal changes.



The C-Class coupe features a classy if somewhat traditional coupe design.



The ConnectedDrive concept is the high-tech take on the roadster


De Tomaso

Will De Tomaso make a comeback with the Deauville? Only time will tell.



Neither the Ranger nor the B-Max will be coming to the states.



The i40 continues Hyundai's expressive styling momentum. It is essentially a Sonata Wagon that's not cleared for US sales yet.



GM is clearly saving its best for domestic auto shows as the Cruze hatchback is little to get excited about.



The Rio and Picante look good for compacts but aren't terribly exciting.



The Ypsilon loses out to its corporate cousin the Fiat 500 in styling and the rebadged Chryslers look exactly like rebadged Chryslers.



The Skoda Design Concept is too subtle for a concept.

Friday, March 4, 2011

February 2011 Sales Recap

With gas prices surging upwards the conventional thinking would have car sales falling, yet the complete opposite was true in February. As a whole the auto industry recorded a 27% improvement over February of 2010 and posted a 13.4 million sales pace for the year. The best performing brands all posted unheard of improvements of over 70% compared to last year. Fueled by an almost doubling of pickup sales the Ram sub-brand posted an 81% increase in sales. As a whole Dodge was up 22%. February was an exceptionally strong month for General Motors. Its luxury oriented Buick brand was up 73% while Cadillac up by 70%. Chevrolet was up 43% to lead the biggest sellers with Toyota right behind with a 41.8% improvement. Toyota's luxury division Lexus did not fair as well only managing a 0.2% improvement. Of the remaining mainstream brands only Lincoln and Chrysler posted declines for the month. It will be interesting to see how the sales trend progresses over the next few months and if the rising fuel prices take a toll on sales.

As before Kill With Fire will continue to monitor sales of electric vehicles, Chevrolet sold 281 Volts and Nissan delivered 67 Leafs to customers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A3 Sedan Concept

A few days ago Audi released some sketches of its Geneva A3 "nothcback" concept but now it's time to take a look at the actual concept along with a few additional specs. Audi says that the 408 horsepower 2.5 liter turbo 5 cylinder will propel the A3 to 60 in only 4.1 seconds or about as quick as the current TT-RS. A low weight of only 3,395 pounds helps achieve the acceleration figure as well as contributing to a 26 combined mpg rating on the European fuel economy tests. Using our propriety estimation techniques we guesstimate that such an A3 would achieve around 18/28 mpg on the EPA test. Take a look at the photos of the concept below.