Opinion

Opinion | The BTCC needs to decide what it wants to be

The fallout from the recent Silverstone rounds of the 2017 British Touring Car Championship isn’t going to go away. ESM’s Editor gets stuck in to the debate.

Things should be perfect in the BTCC world right now. The grid is packed, fans are flocking to circuits, and ITV is broadcasting the entire race package live and free from subscription. It might not have the same number of manufacturers throwing huge budgets around like the peak of the 1990s, but all that aside, the British Touring Car Championship should be in rude health. But it’s not.

If you’ve read the report from our BTCC Correspondent on the events that took place at Silverstone last weekend, you’ll know that driving standards are a subject nobody can escape from. The fact that Mr. BTCC himself – and Series Director – Alan Gow had to wade in and release a statement specifically addressing the issue, suggests how serious this mess is. However, Silverstone wasn’t the only rounds which saw driving that could be classed as poor and unprofessional.

Both Snetterton and Knockhill saw races ended for drivers thanks to contact from other competitors. Andrew Jordan’s statement at the weekend that some drivers lack ‘spatial awareness’ may be true, but the carnage created by his mistake at Knockhill means that nobody on the grid can take a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude on this issue.

BTCC 2017 (C) BTCC

Gow asserts that the drivers themselves are the root cause of the problem which, of course, is the obvious assumption to make. Nobody but the 32 individuals out on track can decide whether to ‘bung an optimistic pass up the inside’ or perpetually nudge the back bumper of the car in front to unsettle it. Only they cause those actions, and there is only so much the race organisers and stewards can do. Yet if drivers are doing this, surely it’s because of the situation that has been allowed to fester. For some on the grid, the chance of being penalised seems low, and in many respects the BTCC likes to make hay from contact and controversy. (more…)

BTCC 2017 | Brands Hatch Indy – What did we learn?

British Touring Car Championship fans rejoiced at the weekend as the first of ten Sundays were taken over by the sound of purring engines and screeching tyres. After the first round of action, what have we learnt?

BTCC 2017 | Brands Hatch Indy

With the grid being as strong as ever, it was important that reigning champion Gordon Shedden made a good start at Brands if he wishes to retain the trophy for a third successive season. And he did. Come 6pm on Sunday evening, Shedden was once again top of the pile following a win, second and a seventh. It appears clear at this early stage that his main challengers will be from the BMW trio of Colin Turkington, Rob Collard and Andrew Jordan as well as his teammate, Matt Neal. I would suggest there’s an outside chance of Tom Ingram realistically challenging Shedden too, if he can maintain his opening round form for the season.

Turkington looked like he’d never been away from the BMW 1-series, with which he won the championship in 2014, despite a two year absence with Subaru. His teammates, however, are still ahead of him in the points chart showing how competitive the BMW was at the weekend and will be, again, over the season. Turkington, of course, was not helped by Neal wiping him out off the start line in the opening race.

BTCC 2017 | Brands Hatch Indy

A similar fate ruined Turkington’s former teammate Jason Plato in the second race too. Worryingly for Plato though, he and his teammates’ Subarus never looked competitive all weekend. A few regulation changes to the Subaru Levorg over the close season certainly looked to have ‘worked’, depending on your point of view. They will need to find some solutions quickly if Plato wishes to mount a serious title challenge this time around. (more…)

Top Seven New Cars of 2016 | With Ned Jasper

Yeah, 2016 probably won’t go down as a vintage year in terms of global politics and current affairs. However, when it comes to new cars, it’s most certainly been a classic! As the man who has covered the biggest new releases for ESM this year, our man Ned Jasper picks his top seven.

Top 7 New Cars of 2016

Well, here it is. Christmas time 2016. That means festive tunes fill the airwaves, trees go up and presents are bought. That also means that it’s nearly the end of 2016. So let’s take a look back at some of the greatest new cars to come out this year. This is ESM’s top five new cars of 2016. Actually, it’s not. There were so many good contenders this year that we stretched it to seven! Yes, yes, I know I said that last year as well, but this year we really have had some rather special cars released. Here they are:

7. Porsche 718 Boxster S2016 718 Boxster SI know what you’re thinking. Great intro, best cars of 2016, and now I’m presenting you with a Porsche Boxster. What is going on? I had my reservations about this one too. This is the baby Porsche, only with fewer cylinders and a turbocharger. Not really a recipe for success is it? However, it’s been 11 months since this little gem was released and, I must say, it’s grown on me.

First, let’s talk about the heart of this little orange and black tiger. It’s down two cylinders from the previous model, but it’s up one turbo and a whole heap of power. What’s more, the Boxster S has a variable vane turbo – not necessarily something you would expect to find from this class of car.

So what about the rest of it? Underneath we have the same mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, sports car with a manual gearbox (PDK is available, too) that’s been entertaining drivers for nearly two decades. Despite the engine alterations, the recipe remains unchanged with superb handling and excellent composure. Only this time with a little more grunt. Well worthy of the number 7 spot.

 

6. McLaren 570GT2016 McLaren 570GT

You would think that with 562bhp, and a top speed of 204mph, the 570GT would undoubtedly be the fastest hatchback in the world. The thing is, it’s not even the fastest hatchback on this list – told you it was a good year! What the 570GT is, though, is a remarkable piece of British engineering. Not only is it a comfortable, usable supercar, it’s also stunningly good to look at, and actually practical.

First, the looks: unlike the other cars in the McLaren range, the 570GT is a little more mature. There’s no lurid paint and no stripped out interior on this show car. Instead we’ve got rich silver-grey paint, mixed with deep red leather. This car is, in my eyes, the best-looking McLaren of the lot. Now, I said it was a practical hatchback, and I wasn’t lying. In total, the 570GT has 370 litres of luggage space. Sure, it’s split between two different enclosures, but that’s still more space than a Ford Focus.

The 570GT is a remarkable piece of engineering and surely serves as proof that we’re living in a new age. No wonder McLaren has just churned out its 10,000th car!

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Editorial | Volkswagen to end World Rally Championship commitment

Another week, another Volkswagen Group motorsport project gets canned. After the end of Audi’s Le Mans campaign, now comes the closure of VW’s highly successful rally programme. ESM’s Editor reflects.

VW Polo R WRC

Just three days after winning the 2016 Rally GB, along with more World Championship titles, Volkswagen officially that there will be no 2017 WRC campaign. The official reason is that the brand must ‘realign’ priorities in the face of enormous challenges. Whilst the statement from Volkswagen is at pains to avoid any reference to last year’s emissions scandal, this is clearly a knock-on effect from dieselgate.

With litigation and product recalls requiring Volkswagen to set aside billions of euros, continuing an expensive motorsport campaign in the WRC becomes a difficult thing to justify. In addition, it may well be that the Volkswagen brand wants to keep a low profile until the fall-out from dieselgate is completely sorted. It’s worth noting that VW-branded cars didn’t appear in this year’s latest Forza Horizon 3 game on the Microsoft Xbox, due to undisclosed licensing issues. Having been paraded through the global media as a cheat, perhaps Volkswagen wants to avoid rubbing noses in the dirt. Literally.

VW Polo R WRC

What’s more depressing is that Volkswagen Motorsport’s campaign with the Polo R WRC has been nothing short of flawless. From entering in 2013, to now, Volkswagen has taken 42 rally wins from 51 entries – that’s more than 83%! It means the Polo R WRC has notched up four drivers’ titles with Sébastien Ogier, four co-drivers’ titles with Julien Ingrassia, and four Manufacturers’ championships. Whilst cynics and critics will point to contemporary WRC being at its lowest ebb in generations – they’re not wrong – it’s still an amazing performance.

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Opinion – Why contemporary F1 is boring, statistically

The Hungarian Grand Prix is often regarded as being a processional affair, with limited overtaking opportunities. This weekend’s event is therefore unlikely to liven up a Formula 1 era that is the most one-sided in a generation. ESM’s editor has donned his anorak and crunched the numbers from 1998 to present.2016 Mercedes AMG F1 HamiltonCast your mind back to the year 2000 and you might recall the Millennium Dome, fears of the ‘Millennium Bug’ or even just the Willenium. Yeah, the latter really did happen. If you’re a Formula 1 fan you might remember it as the year Ferrari and Michael Schumacher started out on a five-year long display of hegemony over the World Championship.

But, after watching Lewis Hamilton take another victory at the British Grand Prix, it got us wondering as to whether the current Mercedes AMG streak out ranks even the 2000-2004 Ferrari era for dominance. Surprisingly it does, and by a fairly significant margin!

Let’s break it down to the most basic numbers in terms of wins during those title-claiming periods. For Ferrari this is from the 2000 Australian Grand Prix, to the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix. That covers some 85 races in total, of which Ferrari won 57 of them. In percentage terms that’s 67%, so just over two-thirds were won by the Scuderia in that seemingly endless period of Ferrari success.Ferrari F1 Dominance StatsSince the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, which saw the introduction of the new engine regulations, there has been 48 races. That’s counting the 2016 British Grand Prix – won by Lewis Hamilton, of course. In that period Mercedes AMG have taken 41 victories! Yes, seriously, in two and a half years, only seven races have been won by non-Mercedes drivers. That gives Mercedes AMG a win percentage of a staggering 85%!

Even more considerable is that they’ve claimed 94% of pole positions (45/48) in that time frame. For comparison, Ferrari only managed 59% of poles during their era of dominance. Taking over two-thirds of all fastest laps since the beginning of 2014, must also make Mercedes feel pretty smug about just how far ahead of the game they are.Mercedes AMG F1 DominanceEven in comparison to Red Bull, who many claimed to have made F1 dull during the period of Vettel domination, Mercedes-AMG still stands far ahead. With four back-to-back titles, Red Bull took wins in just over half (53%) of the 77 races entered. Pole positions percentages are also lower (66%) compared to Mercedes, with fastest laps at less than half  (45%) in total. Those who bemoaned the seemingly constant chain of Red Bull wins might be a little surprised, although Vettel’s nine-race winning streak at the end of 2013 is perhaps what people remember.
Red Bull Racing F1 Dominance Stats

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Opinion – Why the resignation of Chris Evans gives hope for Top Gear

With news that Chris Evans has, quite publicly, quit as a Top Gear presenter after just one series, ESM reflects on what it means for the show.Top Gear Chris EvansIn a world where someone resigning from a top job has become almost commonplace, that Chris Evans threw the towel in quite so soon after the end of Top Gear’s series 23 is still a little surprising. Faced with falling viewer figures, despite the almost desperate protestations from Evans that they didn’t show the true picture, his position looked untenable. On social media much of the ire of Top Gear viewers was directed at him personally. News of a police investigation over historic accusations from the 1990s were probably the nail in the coffin.

Perhaps it’s also proof that the UK hasn’t become completely “anti-expert” in outlook, despite what the recent EU referendum might suggest. Whilst nobody can deny Evans is passionate about cars he isn’t an automotive journalist and, as the lead on a motoring show, that’s potentially a big deal. No, Matt Le Blanc isn’t a journalist, and nor is Sabine Schmitz or even Eddie Jordan, but they weren’t the ones plastered on the front of magazines and across adverts. He was the poster boy for the ‘new’ Top Gear and therefore the one most likely to take the flack if it failed.

It won’t have helped that not a week went by without some news story of a producer quitting, in-fighting between Evans and Le Blanc, and the cringeworthy spectacle of him puking his guts after being in-car with Sabine Schmitz. Whilst the latter might have been a way to try to inject some lighthearted humour, and make him appear human, it did little but make him seem unsuited to a job that involves testing performance cars. Becoming emotional and crying his eyes out over the McLaren F1 was also awkward and embarrassing to watch.

Evans had an almost unwinnable situation. He would never be Clarkson, yet had the job of anchoring Top Gear faced with an audience almost expecting him, and it, to fail. Whoever was the lead presenter for series 23 of Top Gear would have faced a metaphorical kicking from the media and those who watched each week. To counter that would have needed an almost superhuman dose of personality, knowledge and charm. Sadly, despite all his previous successes, Evans lacked those when it came to a motoring show.

For someone who owns a plethora of expensive supercars and classics, he ultimately failed to communicate that passion and excitement in a way that made his features palatable. Contrast that with the successes of Chris Harris and Rory Reid in conveying how a car makes you feel, but with some form of critical analysis, and the gulf between them and Evans becomes all too apparent. From the first episode we complained about how Evans seemed to be shouting constantly and, as the series continued, his voiceovers seemed to also be read with the basic delivery of a primary school presentation. (more…)

Opinion – Season 23 ‘New’ Top Gear and Extra Gear

So, after months of speculation and hype, the latest version of Top Gear finally arrived. The reaction across social media and wider has been almost universally poor. ESM’s editor explores why it missed the mark.

2016 Dodge Viper ACR

Spoiler alert: Imagine this, but with Chris Evans shouting in your face, and you’re basically there.

I’ll admit that I’d grown tired of the previous incarnation of Top Gear. The format had become stale, Clarkson had disappeared even further up his own backside, and the whole thing appeared to have been lingering around just a little too long. I always remember Clarkson writing that they’d stop making TG when it became obvious the time had come – fate seemingly ensured that happened.

Which begs the question as to why, with the possibility of completely blank slate and an almost limitless budget, did the BBC and Chris Evans decide to do nothing but remake old ‘new’ TG but with different people?

What staggers me is that this approach appeals to almost nobody. Loyal fans of Clarkson, Hammond and May have departed to await Amazon’s The Grand Tour so clearly this new TG wasn’t going to attract them back. Chris Evans doing a Clarkson impression is not the same as the real thing. You can dress yourself in a bear costume, make bear noises, and even shit in the woods, but it doesn’t make you a bear. In the same way shouting, and leaving slightly too long a… pause doesn’t make you a Clarkson.Top Gear StigYet, by slavishly copying the format and style of the previous iteration of TG, it means the latest version does nothing to attract new viewers. One of the key issues was the fact the actual setup and structure of the programme had become boring, yet the producers did zero effort to move away from it. Even the overwrought editing of videos remains, making it hard to actually see or hear the car you’re meant to be focussing on. So that’s impressive work in managing to appeal to no one and ostracize everyone – not even Clarkson et. al managed that.

Perhaps that is what enrages and disappoints me the most. The BBC had a huge opportunity to take TG in a different direction, just as Clarkson and Andy Wilman had done 14 years ago, but completely choked. What we’re left with is a product that manages to be inferior to its predecessor. This is like a car being given a mid-lifecycle facelift, where the accountants decide they need to save some money so cutback on equipment and features. Yes it might look newer, but underneath you’re left with less than you would have previously got for your money. There’s now no chemistry between Matt LeBlanc and Evans, no controversial comments, and zero innovation.

Think taking a Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette to the Fallon Naval Air Station is a new idea? No. Jesse Crosse did that back in 2005, but had the sense to include a Ford Mustang as well. But he didn’t feel the need to SHOUT ALL THE BLOODY TIME or strap pointless lasers and missiles to the cars. He also managed to actually form opinions, rather than just regurgitate from a press release. (more…)

Opinion – Seven fast estates we want to see built

The number of performance estates seems to have expanded massively in recent years but, here at ESM, that’s not enough for us. No, we’re greedy, and we want to see even more quick wagons on the market. To help we’ve come up with a septet that we think should happen.

Fast VW Estates

These aren’t just ‘pie in the sky’ ideas – we’ve picked out ones that, due to the wonders of modular platforms, could probably happen without too much engineering work. We’ve also rated them for desirability and feasibility, just to help point those manufacturers in the right direction…

1. BMW M3 Touring
BMW M3 TouringBMW has flirted with M Touring versions of the larger M5 twice in the past, and even went so far as building a concept E46 M3 Touring which never saw the light of day. Is now the time for a compact BMW performance estate?

The concept of a 431hp twin-turbocharged 3 Series Touring is rather appealing and, we imagine, adding M3 modifications to the estate bodyshell would make for quite an attractive proposition. Plus, BMW appears committed to covering every possible market niche these days, so this would just be one more addition. Think of it as karma for the 2 Series Active Tourer.

Sadly, market demand apparently means that this one falls quite far down the list of possibilities. BMW models are required to have global appeal and an M3 Touring is something that would seemingly only sell in Europe. Audi with the RS4, and Mercedes-Benz with the C 63 AMG, have somehow transgressed this problem, but the men in Munich aren’t convinced. Alpina is already doing a rather good job of building rapid 3 Series wagons, which doesn’t help our case.

Verdict
Desirability – 8/10
Feasibility – 6/10
Likelihood – 0/10 Probably more chance of an 2 Series Active Tourer M

2. Ford Focus RS EstateFocus RS EstateAlthough the hatchback might have only finally emerged, what better time to add a rapid load-lugger to the lineup as well.

The Focus RS hatch is a fairly awesome piece of kit, so making it more practical can only be a good thing, surely? Plus there’s already a Focus ST estate on sale, proving demand exists for quick wagons wearing the Blue Oval badge. With the Volkswagen Golf R notching up sales, there’s certainly buyers out there for estates based on extremely rapid hatchbacks. Plus, the thought of engaging Drift mode whilst on the way to the recycling centre has huge appeal.

Ford is already struggling to meet demand for the Focus RS hatch, so adding an estate variant might just be too much to handle. Although, as the RS is built on a regular production line with extra bits added later, surely there would be scope to squeeze a limited edition in there? There’s no precedent for RS estates, and we imagine that’s the excuse Ford would use to bat this away, but everything has to start somewhere. Also, this rendering by X-Tomi Design shows how good it could look.

Verdict
Desirability – 9/10
Feasibility – 8/10
Likelihood – 6.5/10 We’re still hoping on some ultra-limited edition opportunities.

3. Volkswagen Golf GTI Estate
04 VWYeah, this one pretty much only came to mind to help our OCD with VW’s current estate model range. As part of the performance estate lineup there’s a GTD, and an R, Variant but there’s no GTI version! That’s something which happens to unnerve us, ever so slightly, so we’d be a lot happier if Volkswagen just filled that gap. (more…)

Opinion – Should we get that excited about the 2017 WRC Polo?

With changes afoot for the 2017 World Rally Championship, why is EngageSportMode’s editor failing to get excited about the prospect of a 380hp Polo?

2017 Volkswagen Polo R WRC Concept

Here’s the deal. I’ve owned five different Volkswagen Polos in 14 years, including an R-Line and two different GTI versions. As such, it’s fair to say I’m something of a fan of VW’s supermini offering. I’ve also been into rallying since I was – to engage James May mode – a small boy, and have been mightily impressed with Volkswagen Motorsport’s complete domination of the WRC for the past three years. So why on earth am I not excited and entranced by the 2017 Polo WRC Concept show above?

The press release details should be whetting my appetite, even if the artwork rendering isn’t. The promise of more power – up to 380hp – in a lighter, wider, more extravagant body should be welcome news to any petrolhead. They’ll even be allowed to use an electronic centre differential to control the transmission of power, and the overall aim is to make the cars far more spectacular than before. With huge spoilers, flared arches and a ginormous rear wing the promise is certainly there. But what does that mean for us mere mortals who have to drive normal roads cars, and don’t get to play with WRC machinery? Probably very little. (more…)

Ned Jasper – Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition. Something different?

Bentley has a new special edition of the Continental GT. Is this how a sporting luxury car should look? Ned Jasper gives his opinion.

2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition Coupe 001This is the Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition. It’s the fastest production Bentley ever, with 633bhp on tap and a top speed of 206MPH. It also has enough torque to move a mountain – 620lb-ft – and a 0-62 time that will worry the likes of the Aston Martin Vanquish – 3.9 seconds. But, more importantly, it features a colour scheme, which has turned this article into more of an opinionated piece than anything else. Warning, rant to follow…

If you’re going to spend the best part of £200,000 on a new set of wheels, the chances are you’re going to want something rather special. You’re going to want this. To some, it’s nothing more than another Continental, this time with yellow mirror caps, but in my eyes (you might agree), it is the pure expression of everything that is great about the automotive world. It is bold, it is brash, but it is oh so perfect. Bare with me.

The world of über GT cars is a thriving market sector, with entrants coming from all over the globe. Whilst they may come in some of the most exotic and shapes and sizes, they are, for the most part, safe and err… boring, colour wise. How often do you see a Mercedes S-Class coupe in bright lime yellow, or orange, or even red? Maybe I’m wrong, perhaps the use of extravagant colours detracts from the overall class and desirability of a car. But, the fact remains; if you’re going to spend such an extravagant amount of money, shouldn’t the car you buy be extravagant too?

2016 Bentley Continental GT Speed Black Edition 003

Whilst the addition of these bold colours could be seen upon as overbearingly ostentatious, it does, however, emphasise the quintessential elegance and style of what a Bentley should be, and what the GT Black Edition is. The way in which Bentley have almost re-envisioned how quality is defined, the juxtaposition of two profoundly different aspects of  what is probably best described as art, is simply breathtaking. Have I lost you? Think of it this way. You’ve got the traditional classy stereotype, dark leather, silver and piano black wood inlays, polished aluminium, all of which create a vision of grandeur. Yet, it’s been combined with the fairy, ‘in yer face’ Cyber Yellow and Red additions. The kind of colours you would expect to see in a sweet jar or spray painted on a wall as part of an abstract graffiti painting. (more…)